Tuesday, March 29, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #32

Issue #32 of White Dwarf (August 1982) is both the very first monthly issue of the magazine and the first issue I ever owned. I bought it while traveling with my family a couple of months before my thirteenth birthday. I'd heard of White Dwarf, of course, and might even have seen a copy or two in the possession of the older roleplayers I knew, but I can't recall ever reading an issue cover to cover before this one. Consequently, reaching this issue in this series represents an important milestone: the point where my knowledge of the issues I'm discussing is founded on past experience.

This issue had a lasting effect on my imagination, in part because of its outstanding cover by Jim Burns. I really taken with its depiction of retro-futuristic prop fighter planes, not to mention the two downed airmen facing off against an alien tiger-thing. I can't imagine how much time I spent staring at this cover, picking out details and trying to figure out a way to work a scenario like this into one of my games (which I finally did in a Traveller campaign set on a TL5 world).  

The issue begins with an odd article that nevertheless fascinated me at the time. Entitled "Lore of the Ring" by Stephen Bland, it provides D&D stats for Tolkien's rings of power, as well as the Nâzgul and their winged steeds. Needless to say, it's all a bit silly, inasmuch as I can't really see any circumstance where a D&D referee would seriously consider including even one of the lesser rings in his campaign. On the other hand, the Nâzgul are undeniably cool, especially when accompanied by one of Russ Nicholson's illustrations. I never made use any Nâzgul either, but, believe me, I was tempted ...

Next up is "STL: Slower-Than-Light Ships in Traveller" by Marcus Rowland. I loved this article, too, which includes an overview of the topic, rules expansions for use with the Traveller starship construction rules, sample STL ships, and several patron encounters. It's very well done and succeeded in piquing my youthful interest in ramships and lightjammers. Also related to Traveller is "Striker: Design of Civilian Vehicles for Traveller" by Bob McWilliams. The author talks briefly about the vehicle design system of Striker and how complex they are (an understatement). He then presents a vehicle design of his own – a gravcar – and kicks off a design competition, in which he asks readers to submit their own Striker designs. How I wanted to participate in this contest! Unfortunately, I never saw a copy of the rules until many years later, so this dream was unattainable.

Paul Vernon's "The Town Planner" continues with another installment, "Designing Towns and Cities." He focuses on several related topics, such as background, topography, population, and denizens, all of which Vernon then uses to offer advice on drawing and keying a map of the place. It's good stuff; I loved this as a kid. My only complaint is that it's too short and could easily have occupied many more pages. "A World of Your Own" is a short article by none other than Ken St. Andre, in which he, in between snarking about Dungeons & Dragons, counsels readers to make Tunnels & Trolls their own by changing it in any way that suits them. I find it hard to argue with him, but then I largely feel the same about any RPG.

"Open Box" offers just four reviews this month, starting with Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium. The reviewer is effusive in his praise and gives it a 9 out of 10. Bushido and its only published adventure, Valley of the Mists, meanwhile both receive perfect scores. I admire Bushido as much as the next guy, but is it really a better game than Call of Cthulhu? Finally, there's the Mattel D&D electronic game, which receives a 4 out of 10. I have a strange fondness for this game born out of fond memories, but even I have to admit that, objectively speaking, it's not a very good game, even by the primitive standards of electronic games in the early 1980s.

"Chaos from Mount Dorren" by Phil Masters is a fun little AD&D "mini-scenario" of the type that White Dwarf so frequently published. The characters come across a prosperous little town whose caravans are being attacked by unknown assailants. The town's rulers offer a reward to anyone who can get to the bottom of this. The basic scenario is a well-worn one but Masters offers enough twists and turns that it still feels fresh. "Rune Rites" provides game stats for a monster (the cyclops) and Griselda, one of the signature characters in Oliver Dickinson's delightful Pavis stories from previous issues. 

"Fiend Factory" focuses this time on "Little Things" by providing statistics for five small monsters for use with D&D. Because I have a soft spot for low-level monsters, I've always liked this article. I'm particularly fond of the wyrmlets – weird disc-shaped monsters with arms and legs that can combine to form a more powerful wyrmling with powers commensurate with the number of wyrmlets that join together. The issue ends with "Drug Use and Abuse in D&D," which, I must confess, never did much for me. Author Graeme Davis provides some basic rules for addiction, along with several examples of fantasy narcotics. I have little doubt this might be useful in some campaigns, but I never made use of them in my own.

And there we have it: the first issue of White Dwarf I ever owned. Re-reading it for this post, I think it holds up quite well, being a good mix of authors and topics. This was the issue that kept me on the look-out for additional issues in the months to come. I'm glad to see that, unlike some things I once adored as a younger person, this one still holds up decades later.


  1. "I bought it while traveling with my family a couple of months before my thirteenth birthday."

    Thirteen? Kee-rist, I'm that much older than you? How the blazes did that happen?

  2. "... in part because of its outstanding cover by Jim Burns."

    Originally commissioned for and used on the cover of one of the many editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Beyond the Farthest Star.

  3. "Bushido and its only published adventure, Valley of the Mists, meanwhile both receive perfect scores. I admire Bushido as much as the next guy, but is it really a better game than Call of Cthulhu?"

    No. No, it is not. Not even compared to first edition CoC, which I'll admit had some rough edges by Chaosium's high standards. A six or seven out of ten, sure, maybe even an eight back in the day, but it is not the Bo Derek of gaming. Wonder how many copies FGU sells a year at this point. They've still got hardcopies of the core set, albeit in one bound volume rather than the old box set. At $18 it's really hard to argue about the value there. There's even three "new" adventures past Valley of the Mists, so it's had some support.

    FGU's a strange company. They're still selling stuff from the dawn of roleplaying (albeit often as pdfs) but have a trickle of new product that comes out so quietly it's easy to miss it completely.

  4. Bushido was a great game, but suffered somewhat from clunky complexity and some odd choices in the rules. I seem to remember it also needed a GM and players who were more willing to accept it for the way it was, but I can't be more specific after all these years. 6 or 7 out of 10 would have been a very fair rating. I did have some great times with it though, and have fond memories of a Samurai character who used Tea Ceremony to humiliate his enemies.

    I do recall a second adventure, Takishido's Debt IIRC, being advertised, but never saw a copy.

    1. Thinking further on it, I'd even go to 8 on the boxed set. I had both the earlier ziplock baggie set and the boxed set (so I guess I'm biased - or a sucker for new rules) and the boxed version cleaned up some stuff nicely. Certainly an attractive and well-presented product for its time, one of the best that FGU produced.

      One of my players was a Tea Ceremony Terror too. Years later I played with him in a Legend of Five Rings game and he played a Crane clan courtier. Go figure. :)

    2. I'm in two Bushido play by post games and I'm loving them. I don't find it all that clunky.

  5. Every time you review an issue of White Dwarf, the names mentioned always bring back memories of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, an outstanding series of solo adventure gamebooks. I never owned any issues or had any connection at all with White Dwarf, so the names to me speak solely of FF.

    Names like Russ Nicholson, the artist whose work appeared in so many of those gamebooks. Of course, everyone has heard of Steve Jackson (the UK Steve Jackson) and Ian Livingstone, but even here, the mention of Graeme Davis rings a bell. Yes, he wrote the FF gamebook, Midnight Rogue, a FF wherein you play the titular MR. I believe he authored one or more of the UK modules for AD&D as well, but the titles escape me right now.

    So, the memories are there, the names are there, even if they aren't for the reasons intended in the piece. Ah, nostalgia!

  6. We liked Bushido. One of our group, a thoughtful lad from Potternewton in Leeds was already committing to Buddhism at 16, and he was very helpful as our GM at explaining a society he had not experienced but had a decent reading knowledge of. Nothing daunted us then, although he wouldn't let me be a female Bushi. I cut a swathe through many ronin and beasties both alive and not so who were deserving of my blade. I like to think that he led me to my eventual two decades and continuing life in Asia. I definitely got into Kurosawa at Uni and could get the context thanks to role-playing. I now know many Japanese people, none who are undead as far as I know or deserving of a special attack move, but I doubt I still have any hope of properly doing the game justice.

    1. For a long time I stayed away from samurai/ninja games because I felt so unprepared. I have consumed almost none of the media. But then I joined an L5R play by post, and with the GM (and other players) offering some coaching, I realized that I didn't need to be so intimidated and I decided to start a Bushido play by post. I ended up handing it off to another player more because I found trying to follow the Valley of the Mists module impossible on top of not having a handle on the setting. After playing in that play by post and another, I considered that samurai/ninja could be done nicely with my 1980s college friend's home brew, Cold Iron, and decided to start another play by post. I'm focusing more on "monster hunting" and dealing with supernatural events than high society stuff and making my own scenario. With that I feel like it's going a lot better, and I have the comfort of a system I know well to lean on. I think it's going to be fun. There are three of us that form the core of all three play by posts, with each of us running one of the games. One of the players/GMs is very knowledgeable (plus his wife is Japanese...) so that provides a lot of comfort. The other player is also reasonably knowledgeable.