Tuesday, November 2, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #15

The cover to issue #15 of White Dwarf (October/November 1979) is one that is seared into my memory. Though I wouldn't read, let alone buy, a copy of the magazine for several more years, I vividly recall seeing this particular cover, painted by Eddie Jones. I saw it sometime in early 1980, shortly after I'd started playing RPGs and had no idea what White Dwarf was or why the Hammer horror werewolf (from 1961's The Curse of the Werewolf) was featured on it. I believe my memories of this issue are reinforced by the fact that Games Workshop included it, along with several others, in their promotional advertising around the same period of time.

The issue begins with Roger Musson's "How to Lose Hit Points … and Survive." The article offers a lengthy (two and a half pages) alternative damage system for use with Dungeons & Dragons, one that suggests that some attacks deal hit point damage while others deal Constitution damage. Musson's idea is that hit points represent "energy and combat resources" rather than the capacity to withstand physical damage. They're a marker of fatigue, training, and luck, while Constitution is a truer representation of a character's ability to take wounds. It's an interesting idea and one I've seen suggested in other contexts over the years. Never having used a system like this, I couldn't see with any certainty if it works well or if it bogs the game down unnecessarily. Regardless, I found the article enjoyable in a way I usually don't when the author is suggesting a major overhaul of a core rules element of D&D.

Andy Slack's "Expanding Universe" for Traveller continues in this issue. This part, the third in the series, focuses on star system generation, aliens, and robots, three topics not covered in the three little black books of the 1977 boxed set. As usual, the additions Slack suggests are sensible and very much in keeping with the original rules of Traveller. In particular, I liked his largely straightforward means of determining the useful characteristics of planets, such as surface temperature, day length, and native lifeforms. They're much simpler than those that would be presented in Book 6: Scouts years later.

"The Barbarian" is a two-player game by Ian Livingstone. One player takes the role of a barbarian, named Vaarn, who is attempting to find a magic sword and shield by which he can bring about the reunification of mankind, whose civilization has fallen into decadence. The other plays the various creatures who oppose him in this quest. The rules are fairly simple, using two six-sided dice, and the issue includes a hex map and some counters to be cut out and used. The game reminds me a bit of a combination of Yaquinto's Hero and Heritage's Barbarian Prince, though much less complex than either of them. 

Don Turnbull's "Descent into the Depths of the Earth" isn't a review of the D-series modules, which Turnbull had already done in a previous issue. Rather, it's a collection of suggestions for referees who intend to run those modules. Turnbull rightly points out that D1, D2, and D3 are all quite complex, filled with large combats, and, in a couple of cases, quite spare in details. Consequently, he draws attention to these instances and offers suggestions on how best to deal with them in play. Of particular interest to me is Turnbull's insistence that "figures or counters" be used to aid in the adjudication of many combats. 

"Open Box" reviews two Metagaming microgames, Ice War (5 out of 10) and Black Hole (9 out of 10), as well as King Arthur's Knights by Chaosium (7 out of 10). The latter game is designed by Greg Stafford and demonstrates the late, great designer's lifelong fascination with the Arthurian cycle of legends. Also reviewed are three Judges Guild Traveller support products: Traveller Shield (7 out of 10), Traveller Logbook (9 out of 10), and Starships and Spacecraft (5 out of 10). Closing out the section is a very positive (9 out of 10) review of GDW's Animal Encounters for Traveller, a product I own but have never got much use out of over the years. 

"Treasure Chest" is a very eclectic mix this month, starting with the usual collection of new magic items, but also including a system for "Determining Weight and Height" based on numerous factors (yawn!), an alternative to level drain (non-permanent Strength and Constitution points are lost instead), and advice on deciding which creatures are affected by the casting of a sleep spell. Articles like these are a reminder that gamers have always enjoyed arguing about and tinkering with rules. "Fiend Factory" offers up its usual selection of monsters for D&D none of which stood out as noteworthy in my biased opinion.

White Dwarf is now starting to look and feel more like the magazine I'd first pick up three years in the future. The mix of articles feels very like what I remember, in particular the heavy support for Traveller, alongside D&D. The only thing that's really missing are more articles about RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, two other mainstays of the magazine from the period when I read it regularly. In the case of CoC, that's understandable, since it won't be published until 1981 and RQ was featured in the previous issue. Still, it's fascinating watching the magazine come into itself.   


  1. Still before my time with the mag by a few years. Striking cover though, certainly would have drawn my eye if I'd ever seen it before.

    The Barbarian game was (re)printed(?) by Task Force Games as part of the dual Survival/the Barbarian minigame, which came out in 1979. Not sure if there were any major revisions but the description of the gameplay here seems to be the same as the TFG version I'm familiar with. I'm not clear on which came first even, given the identical publication year. The game I know was entirely lackluster, with limited replay value and little in the way of meaningful choices to be made. Survival was better, and pretty much worth the cost of buying the two games bundled as one.

    The reviewer on the two Metagaming micros is out of his mind and certainly doesn't agree with other contemporary reviews. Ice War was a fantastic little game with tremendous replay value due to the many options in how to construct and use both sides' (very different) forces. Better than many full-sized wargames that cost 3-5 times as much. Black Hole is a shallow and quite limited game that depends entirely on a single gimmick - the map represents a donut-shaped asteroid - for what little novelty it has. It could certainly have been something special but it's handicapped by a very bland combat system and lack of unit variety or force diversity. Both games are predictably minimalist about components, with ugly maps and counters you need to cut apart yourself. Still, Ice War is a 9/10 for me, and Black Hole tops at 3/10, almost entirely because of the groundbreaking map idea.

  2. A great cover that harkens back to a simpler time in the hobby; a depiction of Oliver Reed from The Curse of the Werewolf, uncredited?

    It reminds me of the Melnibonean Mythos, the Cthulhu Mythos, and the Nehwon Mythos in Deities and Demigods, without royalties to their creators, not to mention everything from Tolkien that was in the core game.

    Once the hobby grew big enough to get attention, these appropriations were excised, or vehemently denied.

    But for a while there, the hobby was still small enough to slip by unnoticed.

    1. "...Nehwon Mythos in Deities and Demigods, without royalties to their creators..."

      I can't speak for royalties, but the Nehwon section of the book was done with Leiber's permission. He and Gygax were personal friends, at least to some degree.

      You're also perpetuating a dubious but common interpretation of the actual situation with the Moorcock and Lovecraft work in D&D, which is pretty well explained here among other places:


      TL;DR TSR did seek and get permission to use all this stuff, but the people who granted it were sloppy as hell and may not have really had the right to do so.

    2. Thanks for the heads up. I hadn't heard that story.

      Does Ward or DM David ever explain why the copyright page doesn't reserve the rights to Moorcock, Leiber or Arkham?

      Or why the pretty lengthy Credits and Acknowledgements section doesn't thank Moorcock, Leiber or Arkham?

    3. Not that I know of. Does seem like everyone involved (excepting possibly Chaosium) was being kind of sloppy about the legalese, though.

      There's some further commentary at the link under E8, although I can't vouch for its accuracy:


      Leiber definitely didn't have any beef with TSR, which is why his work is still in the later printing and further Lankhmar stuff came out later. The urban myth that the Nehwon mythos stuff got yanked out is just that - a myth, persistent though it may be.

  3. Fascinating! The alternate damage system appears remarkably similar to Into the Odds damage and "New School Revival" (a shoddy term if there ever was one) concept of seperates HP as Flesh and Grit which heal at different rates.