Tuesday, September 7, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #8

Issue #8 of White Dwarf (August/September 1978) features a very striking cover by Derek Hayes. The story depicts a scene from Rowland Flynn's short story, "The Valley of the Four Winds," which appears later in the same issue (about which more shortly). Ian Livingstone's editorial returns to two common subjects of his pieces: first, that the USA produces more games than does the UK and, second, that "traditionalists" are slow to accept that "the presence of monsters and magic does not mean the absence of skill in play." If nothing else, these editorials offer one perspective on the British gaming scene in the late '70s, a perspective of which I might otherwise not be aware.

"Monster Modelling" by Mervyn Lemon is a wonderfully practical short article, in which the author provides four examples of how to turn wire, tissue paper, and other bits of household materials into miniature figures. The article includes fairly detailed diagrams on how Lemon created the monsters, much to my pleasure. Being utterly lacking in handicrafts, this is a subject that fascinates me. The "Fiend Factory" returns with eight more monsters for use with Dungeons & Dragons, including the tween, the carbuncle, and the coffer corpse, all of which would later be reprinted in the Fiend Folio.

Lewis Pulsipher offers up "Critical Hits," which is a relatively simple system for handling, in his words, "the odd chances of combat." Interestingly, Pulsipher's approach requires first a natural roll of 20 followed by a second roll that must be high enough to hit the target's armor class. This is similar to the approach adopted in Third Edition D&D and makes critical hits rarer than the 5% chance found in many other systems from the same era. If a critical hit is indicated, there's a d20 roll on a table to determine the effect, with double damage occurring only on rolls of 17–20 (all other rolls indicate some sort of temporary impairment, such as the shield arm becoming useless or unconsciousness). All things considered, it's not a bad system.

Part IV of Brian Asbury's eponymous "Asbury System" – the last part, he explains – focuses on percentile abilities, such as those employed by thieves and bards. Each success in using these abilities grants experience points, with diminishing returns. As I have said before, while I genuinely appreciate what Asbury is attempting to do with his system, I'm not sure the added complexity and bookkeeping justifies its use. "The Man-Beast" by Greg Foster is a new character class for D&D, representing a character who, through the use of a magic ring, can transform between being, well, a man or a beast. The class is thus similar to being a lycanthrope and is intended primarily for characters "with a tendency towards evil." I'm honestly a bit baffled by it, but I nevertheless enjoy seeing weird experiments like this one. They're a good reminder of the reckless inventiveness that the early hobby encouraged.

"Open Box" includes reviews of FGU's Space Marines miniatures rules, Starships & Spacemen, TSR's Monster Manual, and War of Wizards. All these products get good reviews, with the Monster Manual receiving the most effusive praise. Meanwhile, the "Letters" page contains four missives from readers and previous authors responding to comments and criticisms. The most interesting of these is Roger Musson's reply to Gary Gygax's intemperate letter in issue #7. By and large, Musson takes Gygax's criticisms in good spirit, which is to his credit. At the end of his reply, he nevertheless cannot resist – and I do not blame him – calling out Gygax's hyperbole:

Well said.

David Lloyd's "Kalgar" comic continues, followed by part one of the aforementioned short story by Rowland Flynn, "The Valley of the Four Winds." When I saw the title, I initially thought of the adventure scenario for FGU's Bushido, which has the same name. Instead, it appears to relate to a collection of figures produced by Miniatures Figurines Ltd. of Southampton. An advertisement depicting the figures appears on the page immediately after the short story.
This issue felt strangely light by comparison to previous ones, even though it's the same length (28 pages) as its immediate predecessors. Perhaps it's my imagination, but there appeared to be more advertisements, several of them full-page in size, in this issue than there had been previously. True or not, issue #8 is not a stand-out one for me. If anything, it's yet another reminder of just how difficult it has always been to produce consistent quality in a periodical. With even my minimal experience in this area, I have great sympathy for what Ian Livingstone and his crew were doing, which is why I find it difficult to offer much criticism when an issue does not fully seize my attention. On to issue #9!


  1. I remember I got this issue new directly from Games Workshop store in Hammersmith.

    The War of Wizards review doesn't mention it, but my understanding is that was an Empire of the Petal Throne spinoff. Do you know how much, if any, EPT content is in it? I've never seen a copy.

    The review of Starships and Spacemen by Don Turnball, he likes it much more than he did Traveller (which he predicted would likely fail). [A few issues later he'll remark how wrong he was... but I can see his point. Traveller really took off after the first few supplements introduced the Imperium setting...)

    I thought the Man-Beast illustration was very evocative and inhuman, not at all werewolf-like. I used the man-beast and the interesting Carbuncle creature in my campaign. I'd guess the man-beast was intended as more of a Mister Hyde creation than a werewolf.

    Also notable: I remember Issue #8 my parents some mild concern (I was 12-13) thanks to the many nude miniatures in the Lost World of Atlantis advert (inside front cover) and the sex scene in the Kalgar cartoon! For a brief time (issues 8,10,13 in particular) WD was evidently attempting to live up to the 70s standards of the Eldritch Wizardry cover!

    1. @David Pulver I owned a copy of War of the Wizards, it was (as you might guess) a board game solidly set in Tekumel, representing formal magical duels between two parties. There's a bit of background fluff explaining the structure of a duel and loads of familiar spell names and summonable critters, but it doesn't add a whole lot to the setting lore. Not a particularly balanced game IME but playable, and it has an interesting mechanic where both duelists lob magical effects and conjured monsters at each which then move along a track (representing the arena) until they either get blocked/expended on an enemy spell/critter or reach the opponent and do terrible things to them.

      Pretty good look at the components and various editions over here:


      TL;DR It's okay but not great, and you're not missing out on much if you never own it. Some nice EPT-style art on teh game board, though.

  2. Re: More US game than UK ones, in 1978 the US population was 222 million to about 56 million in the UK. They likely had relatively similar numbers of gamers per capita and broadly similar "first world" economies that afforded the income for hobby expenses poorer countries simply couldn't support as well. It's hardly surprising that the US produced more games than the UK with almost four times as many potential game designers in the population pool.

  3. I'm enjoying these reviews thanks. My understanding is that Rowland Flynn was a pen name of Ian Livingstone himself. The range of figures came first, designed by Dick Higgs of Minifigs, followed by Ian's story in White Dwarf which paved the way for the later release of the GW board game of the same name ( which also contained the story in a seperate booklet).

  4. Valley of Four Winds was also a hex-and-counter wargame designed by Lew Pulsipher, which probably included the exact same short story and was certainly based on the (quirky) miniature range - or more accurately, both were based on the fiction. Played okay, albeit nothing to write home about beyond the peculiar setting. Kind of like a less impressive version of Dragon Pass or Divine Right in that respect. Game mechanics meh, setting weird and compelling.

    BGG listing here: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2531/valley-four-winds

    It was known locally as the Telly Savalas bord game, for obvious reasons. :)

  5. Interesting side note for the review of Monster Manual - "But of course this is not a Tablet from Mount Sinai - from what I know of Gary Gygax's philosophy, he would not object to DMs making changes which suited them in such matters." - this as a follow-up to Don's choice to keep shadows a non-undead creature.

  6. Do you know anywhere these early issues can be bought or read? I would love to look at some of these articles for myself, but it seems none of them have made it onto the internet.

    1. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/h9q4d6moaqro21c/AAD8L2XBaiDU0vovKCi6-Y_va?dl=0