Tuesday, December 28, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #21

Issue #21 of White Dwarf (October/November 1980) begins with an editorial by Ian Livingstone in which he opines about magic systems in fantasy roleplaying games. "Not wishing to sit on the fence," Livingstone stakes the claim that D&D's Vancian system is "now a little outdated." He then lauds "the power point system of RuneQuest" as being "more logical." While I have no problem with Livingstone's preference for RQ's system over that of D&D, I find his claim that the latter's system is "outdated" odd. What does that term even mean in this context? The suggestion that RuneQuest's system is "more logical" is equally odd, especially given that Livingstone notes earlier in his own editorial that "there is no real way of testing the fallibility of each system." He's right about that, which is why all we have are personal preferences.

"Lore of the Land" by Andrew Finch is a collection of four new D&D character classes based on characters from the Thomas Covenant novels of Stephen R. Donaldson. Three of these classes are spellcasters, while the fourth one is the bloodguard, which are broadly similar to monks. "Merchants" by Roger E. Moore describes one more D&D character class, the merchant of the title. In Moore's version, merchants are similar to thieves and bards, in that they possess a variety of percentile-based skills focused on personal interactions. The class is clearly very specialized but I can certainly see its appeal.

"Open Box" presents three longer reviews, the first of which is for GDW's Azhanti High Lightning (garnering a score of 8 out of 10). Also reviewed are a pair of micro-games from Task Force Games, Intruder (6 out of 10) and Valkenburg Castle (8 out of 10). I never saw the two games reviewed here, but micro-games were quite trendy in the hobby for a time, with some of them, such as Ogre, proving quite successful and influential. "Survival!" by Bob McWilliams is an example of such a mini-game, whose complete rules and game map are included in this issue/ The game is solitaire, with the player taking the role of Jardine, the sole survivor of a starship whose lifeboat crash landed on the world of Coryphire. The world is uninhabited, but there is an Imperial Scout Service Aid Station located on it. By braving Coryphire's wildlife and environment, he might be able to reach the station alive. 

"Treasure Chest" presents fifteen new D&D spells submitted by a variety of authors, including such notables as Roger E. Moore and Mark Galeotti. "Fiend Factory" does something very interesting. Instead of simply presenting seven new D&D monsters, they're all contextualized within a wilderness area known as "One-Eye Canyon." It's quite clever in my opinion and made me much more interested in the new monsters than I have been in previous installments of "Fiend Factory." 

Bob McWilliams pens another "Starbase" column, this time presenting a short scenario – more of a situation really – involving a wilderness trek during a winter storm. It's fascinating to me how many early Traveller adventures take place in the wilderness or battles against the elements. It's definitely not what I imagine most people think of when they hear the words "science fiction adventure in the far future." The issue ends with "Tomb of the Maharaja" by S. Hartley. It's a short adventure set in an ostensibly Indian-themed dungeon, but that felt to me more like something out of ancient Egypt, complete with a mummy at the end. 

Issue #21 felt like a slight step backwards for White Dwarf, especially after a string of truly excellent issues. That's the nature of submission-driven magazines, I suppose, so I can't judge the issue too harshly, even if its content wasn't quite as appealing to me as that in its immediate predecessors.


  1. Hmm, never saw this one. Thoughts:

    Re: Runequest magic being "more logical" I don't want my magic system to be logical. It's magic. It should be pretty much the opposite of logical, without much hard-coded internal consistency even.

    The idea of a Thomas Covenant RPG article really dates this issue. Donaldson's popularity was near its peak in 1980, and it was going to drop off fast in the near future. These days his rapist protag is about as welcome in most circles as the prospect of new Pepe le Pew cartoons - and for similar reasons.

    FWIW, Intruder was an "Alien" knockoff game, noteworthy for working well as a solo game. Pretty hard too, the xeno usually wins IME.

    Valkenberg Castle was about a disowned noble and his hirelings trying to liberate his family's castle from the orcs, evil wizards, and miscellaneous nasties squatting in it. It's quite good, and plays like one of those early D&D games where the party has dozens of NPC men at arms along to help clear the dungeon. Noteworthy for having a nice, well thought out map with multiple entry points and several levels with different ways to move between them. You could even opt to come in through the cave entrance where the dragon lives and then try to fight your way up from the dungeon level into the castle proper, but that was usually doing things the hard way.

    The combat system did a good job of reflecting how you needed elbow room to fight properly, with doors and narrow corridors restricting the amount of damage either side could do to one another while wide rooms and the dragon lair let you really exploit a numerical advantage to deal damage fast. It's not quite unique (Metagaming's Lords of Underearth did something similar) but it's unusual. Really a good game, one of Metagaming's best, and well worth grabbing a copy if you can find one. There's also optional rules for modern firearms and grenades, which are suitably deadly - apparently the generic fantasy setting is actually post-apoc, and there's mention of time-displaced WW2 German soldiers showing up for the baddies.

    Had no idea Survival showed up in WD first, but Task Force Games reprinted it as part of a two-games-in-one microgame alongside Barbarian. The latter is just awful, but Survival is a solid solo game with some replay value, added to by Nexus Magazine adding a "safari hunt" scenario, and I think a "Most Dangerous Game" one as well.

    Fiend Factory sounds interesting. Kind of a combo platter of setting, monster ecology, and critter stats for a change,eh?

    1. Is that why Donaldson is unappreciated now? The novels divided readers even then but other protagonists raped (e.g., Cugel) and even recently shows like Game of Thrones haven’t shied away from egregious sexual violence. I haven’t read Donaldson at all but I thought the reader wasn’t meant to sympathize with Covenant.

      Or could it be just because of the age of the books or maybe the writing wasn’t good? Nick Lowe’s savaging is worth reading:


  2. I didn't realize Donaldson's work had fallen out of favor. That's unfortunate.

  3. It appears Task Force Games also translated Survival into a computer game for the Atari 410 (https://mocagh.org/miscgame/survival-manual.pdf).

    1. Interesting, hadn't seem that one. I note the critters in it actually got art instead of just counter silhouettes.

      Pretty sure the planet name Coryphire got reused in some other TFG product line too. Maybe Star Fleet Battles or Starfire? Wasn't anything important, just a casual nod in a scenario or fiction piece.