Tuesday, September 20, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #50

Issue #50 of White Dwarf (February 1984) is an important milestone for the magazine, marking nearly seven years of continuous publication since its premier in June 1977. The cover, by Terry Oakes, is an odd choice for such a momentous issue. It's a re-use of an earlier painting used as the cover for the 1980 UK paperback edition of William Hope Hodgson's House on the Borderland. Why it was chosen in this instance, I have no idea, though the swine-things from the story are sometimes cited as possible precursors to the pig-faced orcs of which old school D&D fans such as myself as so fond.

Garth Nix's "A Few Small Formalities …" kicks off the issue proper, with a humorous discussion of the use and abuse of bureaucratic red tape in Traveller. Accompanying the article are four sample forms the referee can inflict on players when their characters must interact with meddlesome local planetary rules and regulations. I've always enjoyed articles of this kind, but then I'm also fond of scenarios like the infamous "Exit Visa" from The Traveller Book, too, so perhaps I'm a poor judge of such things.

"Open Box" reviews a large number of interesting RPG products in this issue, starting with Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, which receives a rating of 7 out of 10. There are also reviews of several Middle-earth Role Playing supplements: A Campaign and Adventure Guidebook (6 out of 10), Angmar – Land of the Witch King (7 out of 10), The Court of Ardor (7 out of 10), Umbar – Haven of the Corsairs (7 out of 10), Northern Mirkwood – The Wood Elves' Realm (8 out of 10), and Southern Mirkwood – Haunt of the Necromancer (8 out of 10). Reading these reviews fills me with a great deal of nostalgia for the days of Iron Crown Enterprise's series of Middle-earth sourcebooks, only a few of which I ever actually owned. The issue's last review is Tarsus for Traveller, which receives a much deserved 9 out of 10 rating.  

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" is fascinating to me in that it regularly reviews books I never heard of, let alone read. This installment of the column is no different. The only book Langford discusses with which I am directly familiar is Helliconia Summer by Brian Aldiss, of which he thinks very highly (I was less impressed; my favorite of his novels has always been Non-Stop). Meanwhile, "White Dwarf Personalities" by Phil Masters and Steve Gilham is a fun little piece in which people and characters associated with the magazine, such as Ian Livingstone, Thrud the Barbarian, and the eponymous White Dwarf are given RPG stats for either AD&D or RuneQuest (sometimes both). 

Speaking of Thrud, we get new episodes of his comic, along with Gobbledigook, and The Travellers. "Divinations and the Divine" by Jim Bambra is a workmanlike article on clerics in AD&D, focusing on the role of the class both in play and within the fictional "society" of a campaign. It's fine for what it is and clearly geared toward newcomers, but it's vastly better than many of the beginner's articles that White Dwarf ran in its early issues. "The Watchers of Walberswick" by Jon Sutherland is a short introductory scenario for use with Call of Cthulhu, dealing with the Deep Ones along the Suffolk coast of England. It's a solid, straightforward piece of work that could easily serve as the start of a new UK-based campaign.

"RuneQuest Hardware" by Dean Aston is a collection of new equipment for use with RQ. The items in question are an odd group, running the gamut from the mundane (nunchaku – hey, it was the '80s) to the exotic (magic talismans) and downright weird (hollow panel detector). Part 2 of "The Key to Tirandor" by Mike Polling brings a part of AD&D characters inside the titular city. The city is a very strange place, even by the standards of a fantasy roleplaying game, but there's an explanation for its many oddities – the city is an illusion, a projection of an insane dreamer's imagination – and discovering this truth is what the scenario is about. I have mixed feelings about this myself, though I recognize that there's a lot to be said in favor of breaking the usual mold of D&D adventures. 

"Have Computer, Will Travel" by Marcus L. Rowland presents a couple of BASIC computer programs to aid in the creation of vehicles in Striker. I can't rightly comment on their utility, but, like the inclusion of nunchaku earlier, the inclusion of a computer program in a RPG magazine is a hallmark of the 1980s. "Going Up" by Lewis Pulsipher presents a new system for advancement in D&D that dispenses with experience points altogether, opting instead for tracking the number of sessions in which a character participates as a gauge of advancement. It's an interesting idea, especially for it time, though I am unsure of how it would work in practice. 

"One Ring to Rule Them All" by Charles Vasey is a lengthy examination of Iron Crown's Fellowship of the Ring fantasy boardgame. Part review, part strategy guide, it's the kind of article that would probably appeal most to those who've played the game in question. Since I have not, there's not much more I can say about it. "An Assassins Special" by M.J. Stock, on the other hand, describes four new items for use by assassins in AD&D, ranging from the garotte to a dagger of slaying. It's another workmanlike article whose utility depends almost entirely on whether or not a referee sees the need for more specialized equipment in his campaign. Finally, there's "Baelpen Bulletins," which collects news items from the far-flung corners of the hobby scene, including several tidbits that never came to pass (such as FASA's Battlestar Galactica RPG and Close Simulation's Road Warrior RPG).

Milestone issues are always a challenge, I suspect, because there's a natural expectation that their content will necessarily be "special" in some way. That mostly wasn't the case here and that's no knock against the issue. For the most part, issue #50 is simply another decent, if unexceptional, issue of White Dwarf. The main thing that it does well is present a wide variety of content covering many different games from many different companies, which is no small thing. Here's to the next fifty issues!


  1. I'm surprised that ICE's Middle Earth sourcebooks only got above average votes...

  2. I wrote a review of the Fellowship of the Ring boardgame many years ago. Well, it was more of a reply to a review.

    It's here if anyone is interested--

  3. 'The cover, by Terry Oakes, is an odd choice for such a momentous issue"

    I've never seen this issue, nor am I familiar with the original work it was on. Looking at the cover before I read your article, I thought the picture represents (and does so very well) the title of the CoC adventure listed. Seems obvious to me(?).

  4. Oh, Garth Nix. Big fan of his books as a kid, neat to see him pop up every once in a while.

  5. I didn't realise that he was a gamer. Kewl