Tuesday, April 19, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #34

Issue #34 of White Dwarf (October 1982) features a cover by Emmanuel, the artist responsible for the cover of the Fiend Folio. Although it's a very simple piece in terms of composition, I've always been quite taken with it. Almost as interesting is the fact that the cover describes the issue's AD&D adventure, "Troubles at Embertrees," as "epic." Such hyperbolic language is commonplace nowadays, but I was rather surprised to see it used here. I'll have a little more to say on this topic when we look at the adventure in question.

"Droids" by Andy Slack is yet another attempt to provide rules for robots in Traveller, which somewhat inexplicably lacked them (and wouldn't get official rules for them until 1986). Unlike many such articles, Slack doesn't present a system for creating robots patterned after the rules for starship construction (or vehicles in Striker). Instead, he simply offers up many examples of robot models, such as robodocs, valet droids, and guardbots. It's a reasonable approach and one I personally like, since I've rarely cared much for "build-your-own" systems, though I imagine it would be something of a disappointment for the gearheads that Traveller tends to attract.

"Space Invader" by Mike Costello is a brief article discussing the pros and cons of purchasing a "microcomputer," as personal computers were sometimes called back then, for use with RPGs. The article is mostly of interest as a historical artifact from the dawn of the PC era. On many levels, the same can be said of Part I of Lewis Pulsipher's "A Guide to Dungeon Mastering." In this article, Pulsipher covers many well-worn topics about how to create and set up adventures. While most of his advice is solid, I don't think any of it would come as a surprise to referees today, since what he says had long since passed into the realm of conventional wisdom. That's no knock against the article, only an acknowledgment that there's been a lot of water under the bridge in the last four years (!).

"Open Box" reviews three RPG products, starting with Cults of Terror for RuneQuest, which receives a rating of only 6 out of 10. Why it's judged relatively harshly is unclear from the review, since the reviewer calls it "tremendous stuff." Meanwhile, FGU's Aftermath! is given 10 out of 10, albeit by a different reviewer, and even I, a fan of the game, think that's a bit much. Finally, Chaosium's Worlds of Wonder receives 7 out of 10; this seems fair, given that three included games are more "skeletons" than fully-fleshed out systems. "Runebeasts" presents two new monsters for use with RuneQuest, in this case the humanoid pterodactyls known as the Vrak and the Nachak, weasel-like beings associated with the Darkness and Disorder runes.

"Trouble at Embertrees" by Paul Vernon is a lengthy introductory scenario for use with AD&D characters of levels 1–2. Like so many White Dwarf scenarios, this one is presented in tiny, dense type and is filled with loads of details, some of them quite extraneous to the actual play of the adventure. The basic set-up is that the characters are hired by a woodcarver who wants them to investigate rumors of strange goings-on at Embertrees, a remote village named after the magical Embertree that grows nearby. Once at Embertrees, the characters are thrown into a mess of conflicting factions, allegiances, and secrets, all presented in a way I found both intriguing and downright confusing. I think there's a good adventure here, buried under all the detail, but it's hard to determine, based on its organization (or, rather, lack thereof). Whether it deserves to be touted as "epic," I can't rightly say, but there can be little doubt that there's a lot here for the referee to wade through before he even thinks of running it.

"Morality in Traveller" is an odd little article by Bob McWilliams in which the author is reacting to the apparent fact that many Traveller characters behave badly in adventures and campaigns, owing in part to the game's lack of a morality/alignment system à la D&D. It's a very strange thing to say in my opinion, but then I rarely had to deal with the kind of amoral behavior McWilliams alludes to. Duncan Bisatt's "The Mahwrs" introduces a bat-like alien race for use with Traveller – nothing to write home about in my opinion.

"Fiend Factory" this months focuses on "More Dead than Alive," meaning five new types of undead or undead-like creatures. I'm a sucker for new undead, so I enjoyed this article more than I expected. Finally, "Treasure Chest" details five new magical weapons, another favorite topic of mine, though I can't say any of the five detailed here are stand outs.

This is another solid, workmanlike issue, though, with the exception of "Trouble at Embertrees," of whose actual value I am still not certain, most of its contents are utterly ephemeral. I don't mean to be harsh; that is the nature of periodicals, after all, even ones as storied as White Dwarf. Still, I will confess to some small disappointment that issue #34 was not as memorable as its immediate predecessors.

13 comments:

  1. Rating Cults of Terror at 6/10 is borderline insanity, it's barely a step behind Cults of Prax for any Gloranthan campaign that uses Chaos as some of their baddies...which should be almost all of them. Wouldn't give Aftermath even that much, and certainly not a perfect score.

    There appear to be pdfs of Trouble at Embertrees online for anyone curious. It was one of several scenarios in the same "Starstone County" setting, the others which were published as Starstone in 1982:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starstone

    I recall seeing pretty positive reviews for the setting back in the day (and wiki supports my memories on that) but never saw it in person.

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    1. I still have my copy of Stars tone which is a very evocative and detailed setting & adventures for low level characters. It essentially works as a demonstration of how to use Vernon's WD articles in practice.

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    2. The 6 out of 10 for Cults of Terror was actually a misprint - it was supposed to be a 9. (Corrected in the letters page of issue #36.)

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    3. That's very good to know! Thanks for pointing that out.

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    4. @Daily Dwarf That seems a lot more reasonable. Bothe the old Cults books were pretty phenomenal for their day, and hold up well even forty years later.

      @Captain Blag If wiki is to be believed there were only 3000 copies of Starstone printed, so that's a nice bit of history in your collection.

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  2. 'Trouble at Embertrees' is a very well remembered scenario is British gaming circles and quite highly regarded. I suspect, mostly for its flavour and detail more than anything else. One thing to note with the scenario is that although it is set in the same world as Starstone, it would be difficult to run the scenario as part of the campaign.

    Anyway, more details and review of Starstone here:

    http://rlyehreviews.blogspot.com/2015/09/retrospective-starstone.html

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  3. I would have thought the ratings should be flipped, so--

    Cults of Terror -- 10/10
    Worlds of Wonder -- 7/10
    Aftermath! -- 6/10.

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  4. I always found the D&D or AD&D scenarios in WD annoying or disappointing in some way. I preferred the RQ and traveller ones even although I wasn't playing either game. Part of the annoyance was the tiny text or often text with a dark green or blue background.

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    1. Hoo boy, I can relate to your complaint about the text background. I don't know if there's a scientific or medical term for it, but I flat-out cannot read text when there's insufficient contrast with the background. Black text on blue or green background. White text on yellow background. Red text on orange background. Etc.

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    2. Only gets worse the older you get, too.

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  5. Aftermath! was a huge influence on me from a visual, and fictional perspective. At the time I got the set when it was released the members of my group were all working on our own version of a "modern day" slightly futuristic to significantly futuristic WWWIII/Post WWIII military RPG (like GDW would do with T2K a few years later). Various friends were always borrowing my A! box to steal ideas from. But as a system, like most FGU games of the time, it was a mess and we didn't want anything to do with it at the table. I'd have to be very generous to give it a "6".

    Glad to see the CoT rating was later fixed. Fantastic supplement.

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  6. "Morality in Traveller" brought to mind Michael Andre-Driussi’s essay, “Deciphering the Text Foundations of Traveller”, from 2005:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20170320195237/http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10119

    He credits Traveller for creating a hard-SF subgenre with a noir morality, inspired by the picaresque framework of D&D. His breakdown of the tasks in “76 Patrons” is amusing:

    “… The remaining majority of 70 percent are criminal activities, including eight burglaries (five in a Watergate style), four assassinations (two of them political leaders), two cases each of hijacking and kidnapping, and one noteworthy case of global terrorism with a weapon of mass destruction.“

    The article is well worth the read. I think it predates Applecline’s book on Traveller’s text sources.

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