Tuesday, June 7, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #37

Issue #37 of White Dwarf (January 1983) features a cover by Emmanuel that I assume is inspired by an article within entitled "Faeries," about which I'll speak presently. Like all of Emmanuel's previous covers (including that of the Fiend Folio), it's quite striking and very different than the kind of artwork I instinctively associate with RPG magazines. That may say more about my own narrow perspectives, I don't know. Regardless, it's a strangely compelling piece and is a good reminder that "fantasy" artwork isn't limited to the technically proficient but soulless style seen too often on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ian Livingstone's editorial begins by focusing on the relative decline in the British pound compared to the US dollar and its adverse effect on the pricing of imported goods, like RPGs. This, in turn, leads him to wonder why, seven years after the arrival of Dungeons & Dragons, there is still no commercially viable British competitor. Games Workshop would, of course, rectify this matter in time, starting with (I believe) Golden Heroes in 1984, followed by Judge Dredd in 1985, and, of course, Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play in 1986. 

"Faeries" by Alan E. Paul discusses, as its subtitle explains, "AD&D and the Land of Faerie." The article is basically an overview of British and Celtic folkloric notions about fairies, fairy creatures, and the otherworldly realm whence they come, with an eye toward incorporating these things into an AD&D game. It's a good effort and genuinely interesting, though I am generally well inclined toward attempts to introduce some authenticity into D&D's deracinated monster roster. However, "Faerie" is very light on specifics and contains no rules or rules modifications to aid the referee in this goal. Consequently, I found myself wanting more.

Andy Slack continues his "Introduction to Traveller," this time offering advice to referees. Like its predecessor, it's well done for what it is, though, as I perpetually say when approaching articles like this one, it's difficult to judge it properly decades after so many of its insights have passed into conventional wisdom. On the other hand, "Bloodsuckers" by Marcus L. Rowland is an unambiguously excellent article. As its title implies, it's about vampires, specifically for use with Dungeons & Dragons. What Rowland does is present referees with a "vampire construction kit" filled with lots of ideas and options. They're presented in the form of random tables, but the referee could just as easily choose those options he prefers. The end result is a much more varied – and unpredictable – kind of undead monster.

"Open Box" reviews three products this month, starting with Chaosium's SoloQuest for use with RuneQuest, which the reviewer judged excellent, giving it a 9 out of 10. Slightly less well received (7 out of 10) was TSR's Star Frontiers. Reviewer Andy Slack it less "realistic" and more "action adventure" oriented than Traveller, which is a fair, if common, knock against the game. Finally, there's Crasimoff's World, a play-by-mail fantasy RPG of which I've never heard. The reviewer likes it well enough (8 out of 10), though it's hard to understand fully what the game was like to play. Mind you, PBM gaming is a huge black hole in my own experience of the hobby, so I must admit to having a general difficulty in comprehending how they worked in practice.

"The City in the Swamp" by Graeme Davis is a remarkable AD&D scenario for characters of levels 5–7. The premise is that a gray slaad had been sent to spread some chaos on the Prime Material Plane and failed. Rather than return to Limbo in disgrace, he instead fled into a swamp to hide among the toad-like gralthi (a new monster race). A death slaad was sent to do the job the gray slaad failed to do and then, shapechanged into human form, he hires a group of player characters to go into the swamp and deal with his wayward kin. It's a very unusual set-up but a clever one that reminds me of a little of a lost story of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or even Elric. My only real complaint is that it's difficult to read, as many White Dwarf articles were, thanks to both its small font size and its being printed on silhouetted pages.

"D&D Scenarios" by Lewis Pulsipher is a collection of brief adventure ideas for Dungeons & Dragons. 
 When I say "brief," I mean it. None of the ideas is fully fleshed out and most are only a paragraph or two long. Like the "Introduction to Traveller" piece earlier, it's hard to judge articles like this in retrospect. I can only say that I wasn't inspired, let alone blown away, by any of the ideas presented here. How much of that reflects my current vantage point is hard to say. Much more compelling was this month's installment of the "Fiend Factory," which presents four new monster species, the standout being the weed-delvers, a race of ancient cephalopods that ruled the seas eons ago. Also called the Wet Ones, the weed-delvers come in three varieties and are Chaotic Neutral in alignment, meaning the referee can use them in a multitude of ways, not simply as straight up antagonists.

"Magic Quest" offers up three new spells and one magic item for RuneQuest, while "Starbase" provides a prospecting vehicle for Traveller (complete with a schematic diagram). Finally, "Encumbrance without Tears" is an optional, simpler encumbrance system for use with AD&D. There's no question that this system is better than the standard version, but it's still too number-heavy for my present tastes. Mind you, I've never been a stickler about encumbrance, so I'm probably not the intended audience for articles like this.

This is a very good issue, buoyed in large part because of the excellent vampire article and the terrific AD&D scenario. Both heavily remind of the things I liked best about White Dwarf when I was a reader of the magazine in the early to mid-1980s. Both also encapsulate a certain intangible quality that I strongly associate with "British fantasy." They're both excellent palate cleansers for gamers like myself whose earliest experiences of fantasy are limited primarily to created by Americans (and American game companies). Good stuff!

1 comment:

  1. The AD&D scenario became a big part of my campaign, with consequences still in play to the present day. The ghralthi and their city in the swamp are (IMO) inspired by Karl Edward Wagner's Kane novel "Bloodstone".