Tuesday, August 16, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #46

Issue #46 of White Dwarf (October 1983), with its striking cover by Gary Mayes, is one I owned but about which I have few strong memories. I'm not entirely sure why that is, because it's not a bad issue by any means. Were I to guess, I imagine it has more to do with the fact that many of its preceding issues are simply so good that, by comparison, it seems less remarkable. That's actually a fairly common problem during the early '80s when it comes to RPG products more generally: there was a surfeit of good material being published at the time, so much so that it's easy to overlook some of it in retrospect.

Phil Palmer's "Strangers in the Night" kicks off the issue. It's an article devoted to the subject of wandering monsters in AD&D. Palmer's musing on the matter are quite good in my opinion, emphasizing the need to tailor wandering monster tables to the locale to which they're connected, as well as the utility of including random events among their entries. This isn't groundbreaking advice by any means, but it's the kind of thing that gets overlooked, even by experienced referees, so I appreciate his discussion of it.

"Open Box" offers up lengthy reviews of three products, starting with the RuneQuest Companion, which earns an 8 out of 10. Also reviewed is the second edition of FGU's Chivalry & Sorcery. This, too, receives a rating of 8 out of 10, which surprised me somewhat. C&S has a deserved reputation for being quite complex and I assumed that would be held against the game. However, C&S also has a lot of genuinely clever ideas within its pages (e.g. its magic system) and the reviewer felt that those ideas more than outweighed its mechanical unwieldiness. Finally, there's the Mayfair boardgame Sanctuary, based on the Thieves' World series, which received a 7 out of 10. 

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" column is very hit or miss with me, in part because the books he reviews vary considerably in content. That's completely understandable, of course. However, it does mean, especially when I re-read these columns, that my interest is often commensurate with whether I've read the books in question. Since this issue's column doesn't include a single book I can recall having read, I'll confess to my eyes glazing over a bit. Apologies to all the Langford fans out there! 

Charles Vasey looks at two fantasy boardgames at some length, Dragonhunt and Titan, both from Avalon Hill. Vasey likes both games, though he gives Titan a slight edge in terms of its design. On the other hand, Dragonhunt seems to him to be more truly fantastical in terms of its presentation and overall subject matter. I own a copy of Dragonhunt, but have never played it, so I can't speak to his claims. I've sadly never set eyes upon Titan, a game that interests me, since it was designed by the late, great TSR artist, Dave Trampier. 

Part 3 of Dave Morris's "Dealing with Demons" is the finale of this series describing demons for use with RuneQuest. It's a very good entry for the same reason that Part 2 was: the demons detailed here are wholly original creations without any basis in existing folklore or mythology. I appreciate the creativity that went into imagining these dark beings, not to mention his enumeration of the books and authors that inspired him. "Worldly Power" by Phil Masters presents a handful of new government types for use with the Traveller world generation system, along with a few adventure seeds that make use of them. This is a perfectly fine article. However, as a Traveller snob, I find most of the material unnecessary, since the existing Traveller government codes can handle nearly all of those Masters proposes without the need for creating new codes.

"The Wizard's Library" by Lewis Pulsipher is a genuinely interesting article. In it, he proposes to look for inspiration for RPGs in non-RPG books. Hardly revolution, you might say and you'd be correct if the books he proposes to use were fiction. Instead, he suggests looking to non-fiction books, such as history, archeology, and architecture books, among others. Like so many things Pulsipher writes, none of this is revolutionary but it's clever nonetheless and might serve as a source of unlikely inspiration for harried referees looking to spice up their campaigns.

Part 5 of Daniel Collerton's "Irilian" presents yet another section of the city, complete with a map, along with an adventure set in this area. The focus this time is on guilds, companies, and societies within the city. There's also a full map of a wizard tower that plays an important role in the accompanying scenario. As with previous entries, this is all very well done and its true value lies not so much in any individual installment as in the piling up of details that lead to a fuller picture of Irilian and its inhabitants. As I believe I mentioned before, in my youth, I found Irilian so well done that I dropped it right into my old campaign setting, albeit under a different name. This is an excellent series and proof of why White Dwarf was such a terrific magazine once upon a time.

"Play-by-Mail Games" by A.D. Young is an overview of computer-moderated PBM games, which, apparently, was a new and interesting thing at the time. Though I never participated in any PBM games, despite my interest, I (again) must confess that this article never got my full attention. That's not a comment on its quality, so much as its age. Neither of the games discussed – Empyrean and Heroic Fantasy – ever crossed my radar back in the day and neither sounds sufficiently interesting even as historical curiosities, alas.

We get more Thrud, The Travellers, and Gobbledigook, which makes me happy, especially the first two comics. "Death in Green" is a D&D/AD&D mini-scenario dealing with yet another secluded rural village that has come under attack by unknown forces. In this case, the forces are a variety of plant monsters – six kinds in fact – that are this month's "Fiend Factory" entries. "Swashbuckler!," meanwhile, is a collection of rules suggestions for spicing up combat in RuneQuest with moves worthy of Errol Flynn. Finally, there's "The Hellwalk Spell" by Lewis Pulsipher. Inspired by Roger Zelazny's Amber series, the spell transports its target to a pocket dimension, where they must engage in combat against random foes. As a one-off challenge, this could be fun, I suppose. However, I think it would get tedious if it were used too often in a game.

As you can see, this is a perfectly fine issue, filled with a variety of different articles for many different games. Unfortunately, with the exception of the latest Irilian entry, none of them really grabbed my attention in the way previous issues' articles did.  Though I stand by the theory I advanced at the beginning of this post, another possibility occurs to me. During this period, White Dwarf was rapidly expanding, adding more content with each issue, including several new columns devoted to other aspects of gaming beyond roleplaying. It could be that the addition of these new pages diluted the perceived goodness of the other articles to such an extent that I no longer saw some issues as being as good as they actually were. I'll keep this in mind as I look at future issues.

1 comment:

  1. I really wish someone picked up Titan and published it again, with a separate booklet including variants to speed it up, and other popular optional rules.
    I've seen on bgg that there is also a pdf document of the planned expansion that added magic and more characters and creatures, I'd love to see that too.