Tuesday, April 26, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #35

Issue #35 of White Dwarf (October 1982) features a wonderfully evocative cover by Les Edwards. Covers like this one highlight one of the most visible differences between WD and Dragon. Dragon's cover artwork was, in general, very good, but much of it felt "game-y" to me, whereas White Dwarf's cover illustrations looked like the kind you might see on fantasy and science fiction novels – no surprise, since many of the pieces originally did appear on novels). 

Ian Livingstone's editorial references an unnamed survey of unit sales of RPGs in the USA. According to this survey, the ten top selling games are, in order: D&D, AD&D, Traveller, The Fantasy Trip, Top Secret, Chivalry & Sorcery, Tunnels & Trolls, RuneQuest, Space Opera, and Arduin Grimoire. Quite the list, isn't it? I'm not at all surprised to see both D&D and AD&D there; the same goes for Traveller. With the exception RuneQuest and perhaps Tunnels & Trolls, I wouldn't have expected any of the others to be on the list at all, never mind in the top ten.

"The Necromancer" is a new AD&D character class by Lewis Pulsipher. The class is interesting in two respects. The first is that it's limited only to evil aligned characters, much like the assassin (or the death master). The second is that it's not, strictly speaking, a sub-class of magic-user but is instead a unique class all its own. Consequently, it doesn't have spells but "abilities," rated according to "grades," ranked from 1 to 5. Many of these reproduce the effects of certain existing spells (e.g. animated dead, feign death, speak with dead, etc.) but the majority of them are original and focus on the creation and control of undead beings. The class is distinctive and well done and would work well as the basis for an antagonist. I'm not so sure I'd allow its use for a player character, but then I long ago lost the taste for evil PCs.

"... We Have a Referee Malfunction" by Bob McWilliams is a short, humorous article about how a Traveller referee should handle situations that don't go as planned in a session. While it's clearly satirical in purpose, McWilliams nevertheless presents some genuinely useful ideas in the article. "Green Horizon" by Marcus L. Rowland is a stand-alone Traveller scenario in which the players take on the roles of alien beings – the Ksiffchi – whose ship misjumps and winds up in orbit around a primitive planet. Due to the misjump, the ship is damaged and the crew of the vessel have no choice but to land on the planet and attempt to find the parts they require to effect the repairs. The twist is that the primitive world is, in fact, Earth and the Ksiffchi have arrived in June 1944. If you've ever wanted to play a sci-fi adventure where marsupial-like aliens face off against Nazis, "Green Horizon" is for you.

"Open Box" starts its reviews with the Games Workshop boardgame of Judge Dredd (9 out of 10). Next up are five different TSR modules for D&D and AD&D: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (9 out of 10), The Secret of Bone Hill (8 out of 10), Against the Giants (10 out of 10), Palace of the Silver Princess (10 out of 10), and Castle Amber (6 out of 10). As you can see, it's both an odd collection of modules and an odd array of ratings. I'm particularly baffled by the high rating of Palace of the Silver Princess, which, while it has much to recommend it, is not even close to being in the same category as the Giants modules. Likewise, I take some offense at the mediocre rating of Castle Amber, but I readily admit my affection for the things probably blinds me to some of its flaws. Finally, there's a review of Chaosium's Borderlands, which receives a 10 out of 10. 

"Lashing Out" by Phil Masters is a surprisingly long article on introducing whips into Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to ordinary whips, Masters also presents multiple magical whips, some of which have unusual effects (like the whip of lightning). "Weapon Quest" by Andrew Brice offers up multiple new weapons for use with RuneQuest. Part II of Lewis Pulsipher's "A Guide to Dungeon Mastering" tackles the subjects of "Monsters & Magic." This encompasses not just the choice and placement of monsters and magic items in a dungeon, but also the use of magic and magic items by monsters. As with its predecessor, the advice is solid for it time, but, from the vantage point of 2022, there's hardly anything here I've not before.

"Lord of Kanuu" by John R. Gordon presents a new monster – the spidron – and a mini-scenario in which to use it. The spidron is a malignant green liquid that can disguise itself under a robe to appear as if it is a humanoid being. Instead of being silly, it's strangely creepy, partly, I think, because of the spidron's use of drugs to create zombie-like minions from ordinary people. The author says that he was inspired by an episode of the television show The Tomorrow People. Never having seen the show (that I can recall), I wonder if any readers who have might be able to identify the story that inspired him.

Aside from "The Necromancer" (about which I nevertheless have some issues), issue #35 doesn't stand out in my opinion. It's not a bad issue by any means, but it doesn't quite rise above the level of "workmanlike." That's no criticism. It's difficult to produce exceptional material on a monthly basis; the fact that it ever happens is, frankly, remarkable.


  1. This might be the first issue of WD that I read - belonging to a big brother (away at university) of a friend. The necromancer stuck in my mind as a class as an ideal enemy that you really wanted to beat. I thought that it was NPC only, but I cant be sure. Reading it in 1983, 11yo me didn't really get how beastly the class was, and adult me is a bit more squeamish about how LP presented the class. Part of me thinks that it was LP's own little joke to see how evil a class he could write and get it published. I bet that there's zero percent chance that TSR would've published it as it seems to be petrol for the Satanic Panic / Moral Majority mob.

  2. I think the spidron is from the story "The Vanishing Earth" from the first series of The Tomorrow People.

  3. The Tomorrow People episode was the Vanishing Earth from season 1. There's a one-off alien villain in it called the Spidron whose abilities include transforming into a green liquid.

  4. "With the exception RuneQuest and perhaps Tunnels & Trolls, I wouldn't have expected any of the others to be on the list at all, never mind in the top ten."

    I have my doubts about that survey myself, but The Fantasy Trip being in the top 10 wouldn't shock me. By 1982 Metagaming's position in the industry was probably just past its peak, In The Labyrinth had come out a couple of years before, the sales on the two precursor microgames had been phenomenal (IIRC only Ogre and GEV had outperformed Melee & Wizard), most or all of the little mini-modules had come out and I think Tollenkar's Lair (the only "big" module) as well. Add to that the fact that Metagaming stuff was really well-distributed for 80s gaming product - you could find their games in chain toy and book stores and even many newstands - and the TFT books were probably pretty big sellers for their era.

    Also a little hard to believe that either or both of Champions or Villains & Vigilantes weren't on that list. V&V's revised edition dropped around that time, and Champs was just getting 2nd edition. Neither were brand new in 1982, and they were certainly in the forefront of their sub-genre by a large margin (and would be till Marvel came out from TSR in 1984)..

  5. "I thought that it was NPC only"
    I'm pretty sure every class published in Dragon was NPC only. I don't know about White Dwarf.

    1. The classes in the early Dragon issues were not NPC only. I don't think any White Dwarf classes were NPC only (hmm, saw a list on Dragonsfoot that some later White Dwarf classes were NPC only). Dragon shut down alternate PC classes pretty quickly, and the best were in The Strategic Review (Bard, Ranger, Illusionist). Many were submitted as PC classes, but editing removed the XP amounts...

  6. This must be an issue I missed -- that Marcus L Rowland adventure would have been on the table in 5 minutes flat if J had known about it at the time.

  7. The very first issue of WD I ever purchased. Good issue.