Wednesday, June 15, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #38

Issue #38 of White Dwarf (February 1983) features a cover by Nicholas Bibby, an artist who'd later go on to become a sculptor for Asgard and Citadel Miniatures. The issue begins with part three of Andy Slack's "An Introduction to Traveller," which focuses on scenarios. Interestingly, Slack presents patrons as central to the idea of scenarios in Traveller, which certainly makes sense, given the publishing history of the game. Likewise, he emphasizes the utility of what he calls the "improvisational style" of refereeing – a kind of "just in time" approach to coming up with details – as a good way to keep a campaign moving briskly. Perhaps I am unduly prejudiced by my own preference for such an approach, but I found Slack's advocacy a refreshing change of pace from most articles on the subject of refereeing, most of which emphasize exhaustive preparation beforehand as the norm.

Speaking of Traveller, "Open Box" begins with an extensive review of The Traveller Book, which I have previously called "the perfect RPG book." The reviewer, Phil Masters, thought well of it, too, though not as well as I do, as he gave it "only" a 9 out of 10. Also reviewed is Dicing With Dragons, a book – one of several released around this time – intended to introduce newcomers to the still largely unknown hobby of roleplaying. I own a copy and think it's a pretty good example of its type. The reviewer, Marcus L. Rowland, agreed and gave it a score of 9 out of 10. Finally, there's a joint review of Traitor and The Spirit Stones, two scenarios for use with Chaosium's Thieves' World. Until I read this review (which judges both 7 out of 10), I'd forgotten about the existence of these adventures, which I never owned but whose advertisements I remember from old FASA catalogs.

"Faerie Denizens" by Alan E. Paul is a follow-up to last month's "Faeries" article. Paull presents a collection of nine new AD&D monsters drawn from British and Celtic folklore, ranging from redcaps to spriggans to phookas. It's an excellent assortment of new monsters, varied in the abilities and disposition toward non-faerie creatures. As I've said many times before, I'm a sucker for monster write-ups drawn from real world myths and legends, so I'm likely biased strongly in favor of articles of this sort. Nevertheless, I think Paull did a genuinely good job here.

"Questworld" is a very short article by Oliver Dickinson and Bob McWilliams, in which they provide an overview of the RuneQuest's oft-forgotten non-Gloranthan setting for the game. More than that, the article highlights the fact that Chaosium was actively seeking outside submissions from writers interested in developing Questworld. I've long been intrigued by this path not taken for RuneQuest, so I was glad to see this article, however short. One of these weeks I should dedicate a post or two about Questworld and its development (or lack thereof).

"Khazad Dûm" is an AD&D scenario written by Lewis Pulsipher. As its title suggests, the adventure is set in Tolkien's Middle-earth, specifically the abandoned dwarven city known to later generations as Moria. Pulsipher presents this as a beginners' scenario, complete with pregenerated characters based on those in The Fellowship of the Ring. The game stats he provides for the characters are interesting, with Gandalf being judged an 8th-level cleric – shades of Gary Gygax! – Aragorn a "ranger-paladin" hybrid, and Frodo a 2nd-level fighter, to cite just three examples. Pulsipher's version of Moria is a thoroughly D&D-ized one, with spiders, ghouls, and wights being presents alongside the more obvious goblins, orcs, and trolls. It's a simultaneously odd yet compelling vision of the place, one that rather powerfully evokes odd goulash of fantasy inspirations and influences of the era. Rather than being critical of it, I find myself charmed.

"Digital Dragons" by Noel Williams is another article that evokes the era, but in a different way. Williams opines about the ways in which personal computers might eventually prove important in the hobby. Many of his intuitions have since proven correct but it took a lot longer for them to come to pass than he probably expected in 1983. "Monsters Have Feelings Too" by Oliver MacDonald is much what you'd expect: it's an exhortation to referees to make better use of monsters by considering not just their abilities but also how they might think about the world. Accompanying the article is one possible illustration of this advice in the form of :Extracts from the Uruk-Hai Battle Manual" by Graeme Davis. It's presented as a short in-setting document that outlines the strategy and tactics to be employed by orcs under different circumstances. There are thus sections of the use of spells and traps, appropriate weapons and armor, and the use of terrain, among many other topics. It's quite well done and useful, though it's written in a clear, concise way that is at odds with my own natural conception of orcs as not being particularly deep thinkers, but your mileage may vary.

"Lords of the Spirit World" by Dave Morris provides rules for powerful spirits for use with RuneQuest. The article, though short, is a welcome one, especially in RQ games where spirit magic plays an important role. Meanwhile, "Treasure Chest" presents five new spells for AD&D, none of which really struck me as groundbreaking. Mind you, I have never been the target audience for new spells – I think AD&D already has more than enough in the Players Handbook – but, even so, these aren't anything speical.

Issue #38 of White Dwarf is a good one, at least from a nostalgia point of view. Several times while reading it I was transported back to the bygone world of four decades ago, when fantasy roleplaying still possessed a wild, untamed energy to it I don't think it's possessed in many years. 


  1. written in a clear, concise way that is at odds with my own natural conception of orcs as not being particularly deep thinkers

    Anything is better than having orcs talk like the dumb gangster in Bugs Bunny cartoons the way TSR started doing in the mid 80s...

  2. The opening article struck me serendipitously, as Traveller has consumed my recent gaming endeavors.

    I've run Traveller multiple times, and I understand the desire to randomly generate campaigns. I ran GURPS Traveller for over a year in 2020. The amount of preparation that can go into a science fiction campaign can overwhelm. That said, Mongoose Traveller (at least the 1st edition, which is the only one I own) did a better job preserving random generation than GURPS, although I still prefer GURPS rules.

    I often read that the GURPS rules are too lethal, but I found Mongoose Traveller to be worse in that respect. I ran Mongoose Traveller 8-10 years ago and found it to be one of the most lethal systems I'd run.

    I like the notion about patrons as well.

  3. How many faerie denizens did The Dragon write up? The spriggan sounds familiar, but I know for certain that the pooka was featured (though more inspired by the James Stewart movie, as I recall).

    Slightly off-topic, but Bundle of Holding is currently featuring the Keith brothers’ Traveller works (including some previously unpublished works?):

    1. Thanks for the tip about the Keith brothers. I loved their work for Traveller and this included a lot I was missing.

    2. This is most of the content of the FFE CD-ROM Classic Traveller Apocrypha III for less. It does seem to be missing the issues of The Traveller Chronicle zine that is on the CD-ROM

  4. As an observation, the article by Robert Aspirin in Mayfair Games Dark Folk supplement was well written and formed my opinions on what i thought orcs would be like. Sadly, in this phase of gaming, the lads i gamed with would only accept TSR material, no substitutes!

  5. That cover is fantastic. It reminds me of the Nightshade Press covers for the Clark Ashton Smith collections.