Tuesday, January 4, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #22

Issue #22 of White Dwarf (December 1980/January 1981) features an unusual cover by Eddie Jones. I've mentioned in previous posts in this series how often WD covers mixed science fiction and fantasy elements. They did it so often that I've come to see it as one of the calling cards of British gaming. The arbitrary boundaries between genres seem much stronger in North America, likely due to the pernicious influence of marketing on this side of the Atlantic. I must sheepishly confess that I once accepted it unquestioningly and have since come to regret that. Live and learn!

Ian Livingstone's editorial concerns the subject of the "best" RPG system. He offers no opinion of his own, preferring to state that the matter is, on some level, "purely a matter of taste." At the same time, he does suggest that it is the GM, not the rules, "who makes or breaks a campaign." As a younger man, I probably had some fairly strong opinions on this matter. Nowadays, I find the question almost nonsensical. With a couple of exceptions, rules have had rarely been the decisive element in my most enjoyable roleplaying experiences. Even when they were, it was more likely the people with whom I was playing who had the biggest impact – and that remains true to this day.

"Games Day '80" is a short article, accompanied by many photographs, recounting the events of the convention held in September 1980. There's sadly not much to note here, though some of the photos have a certain charm to them, particularly those depicting the Commodore PET computers on display at the con. "3D Dungeon Design" by Mervyn Lemon is another short article, this one offering ideas for using polystyrene to create tiles for use with fantasy miniatures. "Robe and Blaster" by Rick D. Stuart expands the rules of Traveller with benefits for characters who possess a high social standing. This is a topic about which I recall seeing many articles over the years, suggesting it was commonly seen as a "hole" in need of filling in the rules. 

"Treasure Chest" presents eight new magic items by a variety of authors, including Roger E. Moore and Phil Masters. I remember Moore well from his contributions to Dragon, but I didn't realize until recently that he had written articles so widely. "Open Box" reviews four games, starting with Mythology by Yaquinto Games (9 out of 10) and Stellar Conquest by Metagaming (9 out of 10). Also reviewed is Asteroid Zero-Four by Task Force Gaming (6 out of 10) and The Gateway Bestiary by Chaosium (6 out of 10). 

"Black Priests" by Lewis Pulsipher is a cleric sub-class that's more or less intended for evil cultists. It's a strange and very specialized class, focused on summoning monsters by appealing to dark gods. "The Search for the Temple of Golden Spire" by Barney Sloane is a tournament adventure for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The scenario consists of a small wilderness area dotted with multiple ruins and other locales, including the titular temple. The basic set-up of the adventure is solid, though its actual execution is somewhat banal. The maps are quite nice, though, but that's typical of White Dwarf.

"Port Facilities" by S.L.A. McIntyre is another Traveller article, this time expanding on the types of facilities and services available at each type of starport. This issue's installment of the "Fiend Factory" presents "the Heavy Brigade," which are powerful, singular monsters, such as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Ungoliant, Queen of the Spiders. I like the idea behind such monsters, though none of those presented do much for me. Finally, "What the Numbers Mean" by Lewis Pulsipher is a brief examination of the meaning of ability scores in D&D. The intent behind it is to contextualize the range of scores from 3 to 18 within the wider human population in order to make sense of them. It's OK so far as it goes, but the article too short to offer any deep insights.

White Dwarf inches ever closer to the era with which I am more familiar. I continue to enjoy this exploration of its earlier days, though, since, if nothing else, they provide a window on the early 1980s that is a useful counterpoint to the way roleplaying, as a hobby and as an entertainment, has developed in the decades since.


  1. With respect to the cover art, it's important to remember that White Dwarf was named deliberately to have two meanings - the fantasy idea of a Dwarf, and the astronomical one. Ian Livingstone wanted a title that reflected both fantasy and sci-fi.

    1. One wonders if "Red Giant" and "Blue Giant" came up while they were workshopping the magazine's title. Because of course they workshopped it, it's right in their company name. :)

    2. Folio Works did eventually publish Red Giant, so the title didn't go to waste.

    3. Before this comment, I never thought of the possible double meaning. My brain just short-circuited to the astronomical sense. (Who ever talks about “white dwarfs” in fantasy?). How many other people did the same?

  2. Ian's maybe giving a little too much credit to the GM and not enough to the players, but I'll agree the rules are a relatively minor impact. It's the social dynamics of the everyone sitting at the table that makes or breaks a game IME.

    Obsessing over finding the "best rules" strikes me as a futile exercise, and arguing over the subject just fuels divisions like the D&D Edition Wars.

  3. While I doubt that it has much currency with Americans (or rebellious Scots like myself) Ian Livingstone was awarded a knighthood in the New Year Honours List.


    He does deserve the credit for his efforts in gaming.

  4. Yes, indeed. It is now Sir Ian Livingstone. I first became aware of his work through the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the mid-80s, which were fantastic! It would be many years later that I'd learn of his overall impact on gaming, as I'd never looked into White Dwarf, or Games Workshop's efforts.