Tuesday, June 28, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #40

I have no idea what artist Emmanuel's cover to issue #40 of White Dwarf (April 1983) is supposed to depict. Despite that, it's exactly the kind of cover I strongly associate with the magazine: weirdly evocative and vaguely science fictional or fantasy in its subject matter. Somewhat relatedly, Ian Livingstone's editorial notes that fantasy RPGs remain much more popular than science fiction ones and he wonders why that is. It's a question I regularly ponder myself. The closest I've come to an answer is that fantasy is a more strongly codified and, therefore, familiar gaming genre, where even those RPGs that deviate from the Tolkien-descended consensus tacitly acknowledge its supremacy. The same is not true of science fiction, with its welter of sub-genres and approaches.

"Zen and the Art of Adventure Gaming" by Dave Morris reminds us that we're solidly into the '80s and its fascination with all things Japanese. His article is an attempt to present feudal Japan in RuneQuest terms, with new weapons, armor, and skills, in addition to a very brief treatment of kami and magic. Being on something of a RuneQuest kick lately, I found this article a welcome one, though its brevity limits its utility considerably. I now find myself regretting that I never picked up Land of Ninja during the years when Avalon Hill was publishing RQ under license from Chaosium.

"Dungeon Master General" by Alan E. Paull presents a system for handling large scale combats in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Paull's system is a relatively simple one that eschews miniatures and downplays precise measurements in favor of speed and ease of use. Consequently, the system is loose and relies on referee judgment and common sense in many areas, such as the adjudication of morale. Not having used it myself, I can't speak to how well it works, but I nevertheless appreciate articles like this. I've long been of the opinion that D&D is in need of a mass combat system that does not expect the referee to break out a sand table every time he wishes to simulate a clash between armies. Paull's system may or may not succeed in doing this to most people's satisfaction – I suspect the latter – but it's a worthy project nonetheless.

Dave Langford's second "Critical Mass" column focuses on two authors whose works have been discussed on this blog in the past: Robert Asprin and Stephen R. Donaldson. In the case of Asprin, Langford reviews Myth Conceptions, the third in the author's Myth series. Langford doesn't think much of the book or its humor; I can't say that I disagree with him. It's very difficult to write a series of humorous novels without eventually descending into an unintentional parody and that's more or less what happened to Asprin. As for Donaldson, Langford reviews White Gold Wielder, the third and final book in the second trilogy of Thomas Covenant. Langford doesn't think better of this novel and, again, I can't really disagree with him. The second trilogy showed promise early on, with the protagonist being much less awful than he was in his previous outing, but it's still a convoluted, self-serious slog with a couple of interesting ideas that don't justify the time I invested in reading it.

"Open Box" reviews Soloquest 2: Scorpion Hall for RuneQuest, giving it an 8 out of 10. Also reviewed are a quarter of AD&D modules: Hidden Shrine of the Tamoachan (8 out of 10), Ghost Tower of Inverness (8 out of 10), White Plume Mountain (8 out of 10), and Dwellers of the Forbidden City (5 out of 10). Perhaps I am biased, but I find it difficult to believe that Dwellers of the Forbidden City rates only a 5 or that either Ghost Tower of Inverness or White Plume Mountain, both of which are contrived funhouse modules, deserve ratings as high as they received. Chacun à son goût. Illuminati receives a 7 out of 10, while Starstone, a generic fantasy module published by Northern Sages (and with which I am unfamiliar) receives a 9 out of 10.

"The Eagle Hunt" by Marcus L. Rowland is an AD&D scenario for 1st–3rd level characters. Its premise is that an ancient artifact, the titular Green Eagle, has been stolen from the king's treasure vault and the two detectives dispatched to locate it have themselves gone missing, thereby necessitating a public reward of 20,000gp for anyone who can recover it. "The Eagle Hunt" is a lengthy and engaging adventure, quite different from the usual low-level scenarios one regularly sees. Likewise, the Green Eagle's true purpose, if discovered, has the potential to open up interesting possibilities in a D&D campaign.

"Trading" by Oliver Dickinson presents a simple trade system for use with RuneQuest, one vaguely reminiscent of that found in Traveller (not that that's a bad thing). Speaking of Traveller, Andy Slack offers up "Explorer Class Scoutships," a detailed look at a new type of starship, complete with game stats and deckplans. Part II of "Inhuman Gods" by Phil Masters treats readers to the deities of yet more non-human beings, such as the firenewts, flinds, and frogmen. "RuneQuest Characters" by Nelson Cunningham provides the code for a GAP (game assistance program) intended to generate random RQ characters. I love that the article includes a section entitled "What to do when it crashes." Good times! Finally, "Treasure Chest" gives us six more D&D magic items, because we can never have too many magic items, can we?

Issue #40 is a very strong issue, filled with plenty of meaty and imaginative articles, many of which have a unique flair that differentiates them from what I saw in the pages of Dragon and other American gaming periodicals of the same era. Re-reading this issue, I found myself unexpectedly nostalgic for the White Dwarf of old, before the magazine became wholly devoted to Warhammer and its spin-offs. I consider myself fortunate to entered the hobby at the time I did. We shall not see its like again.


  1. A lot of these covers remind me of Omni’s covers from approximately the same period.

  2. I have Starstone, but never played it. It looks like a very good small campaign within a much detailed setting. It was quite favorably reviewed in other places as well. I never took the time to properly prepare it. There was a scenario in WD34 which is a prequel to it.
    And now, I have a itch to master it....Old Shool Essentials? Dragon Warriors? Wizards Realm? Noooo!!!!

    1. Thank you. I was going to post a link myself.

  3. "Eagle Hunt" is a favourite of mine; I put the Green Eagle into my adventure Forgive Us as one of the random treasures in the thieves' vault, but I think it was to obscure a reference to be recognised!

  4. Emmanuel seemed to fall out of favour with the Games Workshop people very quickly; he (I assume a "he", I could be wrong) also did the cover for the second Fighting Fantasy gamebook (Citadel of Chaos) roundabout this time, but that artwork was replaced in a second edition, and the original artwork never reused.

    This was also, I believe, his final WD cover.

    Looking back, the replacement artwork was very generic, whereas Emmanuel's original, in common with his WD covers and other work elsewhere, was very striking, distinct, but probably a bit too distinct for mainstream acceptance. With hindsight I definitely prefer it.

    Some cursory web searching reveals absolutely no information about this otherwise mysterious artist; one for the "whatever happened to?" pile, for sure.

  5. Dammit, Maliszewsky! You convinced me to buy this one for the Part II of "Inhuman Gods" article. I may as well just give NobleKnight Games my bank account number if you keep writing wonderful articles detailing awesome old gaming stuff!
    All kidding aside, I'm running a thing with Firenewts and another with Frog Men so I couldn't resist, even if the players will have no idea I'm using super old school sources for my Canon lore, I will know, and that makes me far beyond a reasonable degree of gleeful for so small and obscure a detail.