Tuesday, May 10, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #36

Issue #36 of White Dwarf (December 1982) features a cover by Brian Bolland, one of the comics artists most closely associated with Judge Dredd. At the time this issue appeared, I was only dimly aware of the existence of Dredd as a character. What little I did know was gleaned from the pages of White Dwarf, as I'll soon discuss.

Appropriately, the issue kicks off with an article by Ian Livingstone, in which he talks about the creation and history of the Judge Dredd comic. He then uses that as a springboard to talk about the design of the Judge Dredd boardgame reviewed in the previous issue. This is an article I remember quite well, since it was likely my first serious introduction to Dredd, Mega-City One, and the bizarre rogues gallery of perps that inhabit it. It'd still be several more years, I think, before I laid hands on a copy of the Judge Dredd comic, but I nevertheless has fond memories of this issue and Livingstone's article.

The "Fiend Factory" serves up but a single new monster for use with Dungeons & Dragons this month – "The Loculi" by Eric Hall. The titular creatures are intelligent reptilians with a wide range of abilities, including spells and psionic abilities. In addition, their combat effectiveness, not to mention their likelihood to own and employ magic items, increases with age, as demonstrated on an accompanying table. The loculi are thus flexible opponents, equally suitable for characters of any level. Sadly, beyond their combat abilities, there's not much more to the loculi. We learn very little of their society or culture, which is a shame, because I think there's potential here.

Part 1 of Andy Slack's "An Introduction to Traveller" focuses on both players and characters. As presented, it's remarkably basic in its approach, with lots of attention given to explaining the meanings of character ability scores, dice rolling, even hexadecimal notation. As with those "intro to D&D" articles that appeared in the pages of Imagine, I find myself wondering once again the purpose of articles like this or the target audience. I can only presume that it's for readers of White Dwarf who are as ignorant of Traveller as I was at the time of Judge Dredd. If so, I would guess they'd find the article useful, though it's tough going for anyone with much familiarity with the game beforehand. 

Another Traveller article is "Sector and Starburst" by Marcus L. Rowland, which presents the code for two ZX81 programs. Both programs generate sector for the game, with the latter doing so in a more minimalist fashion. Obviously, this article las almost no use today except as a museum piece – I'm completely unfamiliar with the ZX81 computer – but I got a kick out of it nonetheless. The early days of consumer computers coincided with my entry into the hobby of roleplaying and will thus be forever linked in my memory. Seeing articles like this triggered a powerful wave of nostalgia.

"The Druid's Grove" by Mark Byng is a fascinating and fun little aid for use with AD&D. Its purpose is to provide a map and ancillary rules for adjudicating the trials by combat needed for druids to advance beyond 11th level, since members of the class must beat their superiors to do so. This isn't something every campaign will need, but I appreciate its inclusion nonetheless, not least because it makes it any effort to liven up the combat with hazardous terrain and flora and fauna that could prove beneficial or detrimental. This is the kind of article that White Dwarf would do from time to time that really captured my imagination, even if I never had an opportunity to use it.

"Open Box" reviews several new items, starting with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (10 out of 10), followed by Trollpak, which somehow only rates a 9 out of 10. Yaquinto's Pirates and Plunder RPG also rates a 10 out of 10, which only adds to my sense that WD's reviews were often wildly out of a sync with my own perceptions. Finally, there are reviews of several FASA Traveller products: Merchant Class Ships (8 out of 10), Aslan Mercenary Ships (7 out of 10), and the FCI Consumer Guide (9 out of 10) – again, all very positive reviews. I'm not one who relishes negative reviews and indeed sometimes feels that too many reviews are unduly negative. However, neither do I see much value in overly effusive reviews. Perhaps it's the numerical rating system that's distorting things.

"Rules Additions" by Simon Early is a strangely titled introductory scenario for RuneQuest that is written in a way to challenge a wide variety of the characters' skills to succeed. The main "rules additions" handle one character assisting another in their tasks. "More Necromantic Abilities" by Graeme Davis is a follow-up to the previous issue's "The Necromancer." Here, Davis provides thirteen new powers for use by the class.

Finally, Lewis Pulsipher's "A Guide to Dungeon Mastering" series concludes with Part III. He talks a bit about the importance of keeping a campaign difficult enough to hold the players' interests, lest they reach high level too easily. He goes further in suggesting that D&D doesn't handle high-level play very well from a mechanical perspective and that, as a result, there will be a host of issues a referee must contend with. Finally, he emphasizes the need for each referee to pursue his role in a fashion that gives him the most enjoyment. Though I disagree with some of his observations, I nevertheless found this installment of the series my favorite. I generally enjoy reading about the philosophy of refereeing and this article is no different in this regard.

As I say repeatedly, periodicals are almost always a mixed bag, though I find that White Dwarf, perhaps due to its smaller pool of talent, tends to be much more wild in its variability, with some issues being profoundly mediocre and others being transcendent. Issue #36 tends more toward the former, though I retain a personal affection for the issue, because of my memories of having read it at the tender age of thirteen. 

6 comments:

  1. Personally, I would have awarded Trollpak 10/10 and Warlock of Firetop Mountain 8/10.

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  2. Missed that issue of WD. The ZX81 is a personal computer from back in the day. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are still being used. A former coworker from about 20+ years ago was using the American version to produce her church's Sunday programs. Some of those PC's are still being used here and there. ­čśü

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  3. "...again, all very positive reviews. I'm not one who relishes negative reviews and indeed sometimes feels that too many reviews are unduly negative. However, neither do I see much value in overly effusive reviews. Perhaps it's the numerical rating system that's distorting things."

    They gave Pirates & Plunder a 10/10 review. There's no chance of getting anything but puff reviews out of someone who'd do that. The game, like all of Yaquinto's RPGs, was a trash fire even by 1980s standards.

    Many magazines were terrible about giving honestly negative reviews back in this period, and even much later. One of the things I liked most about The Space Gamer was that it was relatively merciless in its reviews and unafraid to call a bad game bad. If nothing else it made them stand out from the crowd, and even at their meanest they didn't come across as petty as the occasional negative review in Dragon did. Some of that may be bias on my part - TSR was at least perceived as the big boy in the gaming industry, so when they critiqued some smaller company's efforts it felt like they were bullying, where neither Metagaming nor SJG were ever anywhere near operating on the same scale as TSR.

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  4. The ZX81 was licensed and cloned and released in the US as the Timex Sinclair 1000, so you may know it by that name.

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  5. Pirates & Plunder is the worst gaming disappointment of my life. There isn't even ant rules for ships and ship combat. WTF?

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    1. Timeship and Man, Myth & Magic were equally lousy IMO. Wasn't kidding when I called Yaquinto's RPGs trash fires. They had a few good-to-excellent board games during their brief existence but their plunge into the RPG market was uniformly disastrous.

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