Tuesday, August 9, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #45

Issue #45 of White Dwarf (September 1983), featuring a very weird cover by Gary Ward, is an important one in the history of the magazine, at least for me. First, this issue marks the premier of two new comic strips, both of which are very dear to me. Ian Livingstone would seem to agree, since he uses his editorial to announce this fact and urges readers to give the new comics "a chance to settle in." I gather from his comments that not all readers like comics in their gaming magazines, which is understandable, as gaming comics tend to be very hit or miss (mostly the latter, in my experience). Second, this issue also marks the appearance of the very first battle scenario for Warhammer in the pages of White Dwarf. It is an omen for things to come.

The issue kicks off with "Open Box," which reviews Avalon Hill's Wizards. This is a game I regularly saw in game stores but never owned or played. The reviewer, Alan E. Paull, found its presentation somewhat frustration, but liked its gameplay enough to give it 7 out of 10. Meanwhile, Oliver Dickinson gives Pavis 9 out of 10, which is, I think, a little stingy. The older I get, the more I have come to appreciate the output of Chaosium in the late '70s and early '80s, with Pavis and Big Rubble among its masterpieces. Also reviewed are three modules for AD&D and one for D&D: Tomb of the Lizard King (9 out of 10), Pharaoh (10 out of 10), Oasis of the White Palm (10 out of 10), and Blizzard Pass (6 out of 10) respectively. With the exception of Blizzard Pass, I think these ratings are a bit generous, but tastes differ, of course, and I recall thinking much better of the "Desert of Desolation" series at the time than I do now.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" spends most of its space on a lengthy review of C.J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station, which was the winner of the previous year's Hugo Award for best novel (for what it's worth). Langford seems genuinely well disposed toward Cherryh as a writer, but doesn't think this is her best effort. He also does quick reviews of three other books, including Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, which is an admittedly strange book to review in White Dwarf, though "Critical Mass" frequently devoted itself to books other than those that could easily be called fantasy or science fiction. 

Part 2 of Dave Morris's "Dealing with Demons" focuses on lesser demons, describing them and their abilities for use with RuneQuest. The article's main attraction, in my opinion, is that these demons are (mostly) original rather than drawing on real world myths and legends. It's a clever approach to the topic, I think, though they're a good fit for RQ's Glorantha setting is another matter (assuming that was the intention, since the article is silent on the matter). "Gateway to Adventure" by Bob McWilliams is a "cameo" adventure, which is a coinage of McWilliams for "small scenes or themes that could be fitted into an ongoing campaign." In this case, the cameo is about researching an interplanetary transport device – the titular Gateway – that leads somewhere else. McWilliams doesn't provide any information on what's beyond the gate, leaving that to the referee to decide, which is admittedly a little unsatisfying. On the other hand, the set-up is fairly good and it's an unusual one for Traveller, which is a plus.

"Stop, Thief!!" by Marcus L. Rowland is a short article detailing the contents, along with individual weight and costs, of the items in a typical thieves' kit. I personally don't care for this level of detail, but I can appreciate its utility in certain circumstances. Part 4 of Daniel Collerton's "Irilian" is as good as its predecessors. In addition to the usual mix of local businesses, this installment describes the town's guards, bureaucracy, and ruling council. It's packed with the kind of detail that a referee needs if he intends to use a town as regular locale for his campaign. There's also an adventure set in the town relating to religious corruption and false relics – good stuff!

As I mentioned earlier, this issue marks the debuts of two new comic strips. The first is Thrud the Barbarian by Carl Critchlow. Thrud is a delightful parody of Conan and his mighty-thewed knock-offs. Most of Thrud's adventures involve random mayhem and destruction as a result of his penchant for attacking first and then thinking later, if at all. I'm especially fond of his encounter with an Elric clone, but most of his stories are great. Also premiering in this issue is Mark Harrison's The Travellers, which is a similarly broad parody of science fiction, filtered through the lens of GDW's Traveller. If anything, it's even more delightful than Thrud and I simply adored it back in the day (and still do).

"Divinations" by Oliver Dickinson is largely a collection of errata and clarifications to RuneQuest and RQ products. As such, it's only of interest to diehard fans. "Thistlewood" is a Warhammer Fantasy Battles scenario intended for two, four, or six players, plus an umpire. The scenario is a fairly typical "defend a sleepy little village against invaders" kind of thing, but it's filled with lots of charming details and information from the early days of Warhammer, before it became the behemoth of later years, so I find it strangely compelling nonetheless. Of particular note is the fact that the scenario is written by Joe Dever, best known for his work on the Lone Wolf series of gamebooks.

"Fiend Factory" offers up four new elemental monsters for use with D&D and AD&D. The somewhat misnamed "Elemental Items" by Daniel Hooke is actually a collection of eight new magic items that pertain to the para-elemental planes. Finally, "Super Mole" is a gossip column about the RPG industry, written by an anonymous author, after the fashion of Gigi D'Arne of Different Worlds but without the bitchiness. Most of the gossip is ephemeral stuff that has little lasting value, but I did find the section relating to Chaosium and its licensing of RuneQuest to Avalon Hill fascinating. According to Super Mole, Greg Stafford stated that the Chaosium crew simply wanted to design games and had no interest in "printing, selling, credit control," and the more tedious, business-related aspects of producing RPG materials. This is something I've long suspected to be the case (and indeed may have read somewhere else), but it's fascinating to see it stated here so baldly.

Issue #45 is another solid one. White Dwarf has really hit its stride in my opinion, though I am undoubtedly biased, since I'm now well into the run of issues with which I am most familiar. We're not quite yet at the point when I was a regular subscriber, though that will come soon and I'm rather excited to revisit those particular issues. In the meantime, though, I continue to enjoy these revisits to one of the truly great magazine's of our hobby.


  1. Probably my favourite issue,
    because of Thistlewood, the first Warhammer scenario to appear in WD. I've refought it so many times and now, 40 years on, own Joe's original figures which appear in the pictures.

  2. assuming that was the intention, since the article is silent on the matter

    I think it's been established that the demonology and summoning rules were intended for QuestWorld, but were orphaned when that project died.

    I had always assumed that QW died because of the Avalon Hill sale, with AH not interested in supporting other settings, but I wasn't sure of the timing. With the AH sale being mentioned in the same issue as potential QW content being printed, it seems that was indeed the case.

    1. That was my understanding, although I don't have written proof of it. My experience with Avalon Hill was that they never liked fantasy and never understood role playing.

  3. Gary Ward, along with Edward Crosby, did the very evocative woodcut-style internal B&W artwork for Fighting Fantasy gamebook #9 Caverns of the Snow Witch, as well as some for the later Titan world book for the FF milieu.