Tuesday, September 27, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #51

Issue #51 of White Dwarf (March 1984) features a cover by Iain McCaig, an artist many will know from his work in the film industry, as well as his album covers. The issue is also notable for its editorial by Ian Livingstone, in which he states that the magazine continues to expand in size (and price) and that it would soon be available at newsstands. The expansion of its availability is important, I think, because it's an indication of the relative popularity of RPGs in the UK at the time. On the other side of the Atlantic, I don't believe I ever saw a copy of White Dwarf – or Dragon for that matter – at a newsstand, but that's probably just a reflection of differences in the British and American periodical markets at the time.

"Gifts from the Gods" by Thomas Mullen is, according to its subtitle, an examination of "religion and magic in AD&D." The two-page article is an interesting and thoughtful one. Mullen points out the confused nature of the cleric class, drawing inspiration as it does from Christianity and various flavors of paganism. He proposes that referees should give greater thought to religion in their campaigns and modify the cleric class to accord with whatever he decides. This might necessitate altering the cleric's abilities, restrictions, and spell list. It's hard to disagree with what Mullen suggests here. By this point in D&D's history, I suspect his perspective was becoming much more widespread among the game's players (and even designers) and likely encouraged TSR's decision in Second Edition to alter the presentation of the class.

"Open Box" kicks off with a review of the Cthulhu Companion, which gets decently high marks (7 out of 10), with the reviewer grousing that the supplement is mostly of use to Keepers rather than players. Chaosium's Superworld, a game I've still never seen, let alone played, gets the same score and compares the game favorably to Games Workshop's own Golden Heroes (a game I did own and play). FGU's Daredevils receives a score of 8 out of 10; that seems frankly high to me, though Daredevils is probably one of the better designed RPGs FGU ever published. Reviewed along with the game itself is the second Daredevil Adventures collection (the first being included in the Daredevils boxed set), earning a score of 7 out of 10. Wrapping up the reviews is Knight Hawks (8 out of 10).

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" discusses a number of frankly forgettable contemporary SF and fantasy books. Much more interesting in my opinion are his thoughts on how "terribly inbred" the world of publishing is and how much influence "The Old Boy Network" has on what is published and what is not. Nearly four decades later, I gather not much has changed in this regard, at least when it comes to "mainstream" publishers, though desktop publishing and print-on-demand have begun to make it possible for authors to sidestep the apparatus of the old publishers and make their work directly available to readers. It's an amazing development in my opinion and one of the few unalloyed goods to come out of wired age.

"Watch Out, There's a Thief About" by Richard Hanniwell introduces thieves for use with Warhammer Fantasy Battles. It's a fun little article, particularly if you have fond memories of what Warhammer was like before it started to take itself too seriously. "All in the Family" is another bit of RuneQuest fiction by Oliver Dickinson that follows the adventures of Griselda and her comrades in the city of New Pavis. "Extending UPPs for NPCs" by Bob McWilliams is a Traveller article, in which the author suggests adding four new characteristics to help the referee better describe NPCs. They are: Loyalty, Determination, Charisma, and Luck. The intention behind all these new characteristics is that they take some of the burden off the referee in deciding how a NPC might behave in a given situation. For example, Loyalty indicates how likely a NPC is to stick by his employer, while Determination measures how likely he is to give up when a task becomes too difficult. While I appreciate the intent behind this article, I'm not entirely persuaded this is the best way to achieve its intended goal.

"The Black Broo of Dyskund" by Ken Rolston is, by its own admission, a "cavern crawl" for use with RuneQuest. Reminiscent of Snakepipe Hollow, the scenario is a deadly one, filled with lots of dangerous enemies devoted to Chaos, including a rune priest of Thanatar. Rolston states that the adventure is intended to be a companion piece of sorts to Cults of Terror and I think it certainly succeeds on that score. It's an impressive piece of work that presages Rolston's stint as the developer of RQ during the days its renaissance at Avalon Hill

"A Ballad of Times Past" by Dave Morris and Yve Newnham is an AD&D scenario for characters of 4th-5th level. Like several previous AD&D adventures in the magazine, this one takes place in its own setting, one reminiscent of late Dark Ages Britain and where magic is much scarcer than it is in traditional D&D settings. The scenario itself, which involves a quest to protect a dragon, is a bit heavy-handed in places, particularly when it comes to lengthy passages of NPC dialog. Nevertheless, it has a very distinct flavor of its own that's worthy in its own right. I found myself wishing there were additional scenarios set on the island of Beorsca.

"Creatures in Exile" by Paul Harden is a translation of the creatures and characters of Julian May's The Saga of the Exiles into AD&D terms. Never having read these books, I can't comment on how faithfully they're presented. I will only reiterate my long-standing amazement at how often articles like this one are published. I've never cared much about using D&D to play in a literary setting myself, but it would seem this is a common desire. "RuneQuest Economics" by Russell Massey teases out the implications of the costs of various items and services in Glorantha, with an eye toward tweaking them in the name of "realism." This, too, is a fairly common type of article in gaming magazines and one I likewise have little interest in myself – to each his own.

Naturally, we get new installments of "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers," all of which I continue to enjoy. There's also "A Page of Many Things," an odd collection of short articles. One presents information about dungeon carts (including a schematic) for the hauling of treasure, another rules for drowning in D&D, and lastly a thief-themed word search. Odd though this medley is, I'm sympathetic to the editor's need to plug holes in each issue's layout with little bits of text that might also be of interest to readers. Having done this myself many times while preparing a new issue of The Excellent Travelling Volume, I can hardly pass judgment.

With this issue, White Dwarf is settling down into a comfortable rhythm in terms of content and presentation. No longer is the magazine solely devoted to Dungeons & Dragons. Most issues now contain a wider variety of material for a wider variety of games. Likewise, there is a new generation of writers appearing in the bylines, some of whom will go on to become significant members of the hobby in the years to come. While not as anarchically creative as its early days, White Dwarf remains an excellent periodical during this time and well worth re-visiting. 


  1. "Chaosium's Superworld, a game I've still never seen, let alone played, gets the same score and compares the game favorably to Games Workshop's own Golden Heroes (a game I did own and play). "

    You should fix that, it's an interesting bit of gaming history and still quite playable. The pdf is a mere $9.95, and the other supplements are available if you decide you want the whole range..


  2. are there any CoC supplements that are more for players than Keepers? I mean, I guess the investigators handbook, but everything else on my shelf is for keepers

    1. There are a few gun books, which always seemed to be missing the point of the game.

  3. I'm running the RQ3 version of Black Broo of Dyskund right now, or a part of it. When I first saw the scenario, I instantly recognized the map as being a part of Wind Cave in South Dakota, we had visited the cave in 1978, and I've used the map I got then to better understand the scenario map...

    1. Perhaps tomorrow night the PCs will take out TWO Thanatar Rune Priests (they chased a floating skull Thanatar Rune Priest from the Rubble to Dyskund Caverns... adding my own twist to the scenario). We've been adventuring in Dyskund Caverns for about a year now (every other week 2 hour Roll20 sessions, with a bunch missed due to real life intrusions of mine or the players).

    2. And they did. An epic battle, including a 40 round chase with repeated Demoralize (floating skull against PCs) and Mobility (cast by one PC on himself and 2 others) spells. They finally caught the skull in one of the butterfly nets made by the smith PC (one of the chasers, who was killed by the skull's Shade practically the first 30 minutes of play by that player, said PC resurrected - and later resurrected AGAIN...). Sadly the smith PC's player has been missing in action for months now. The smith finally hid (so he couldn't be Demoralized again), cast Bladesharp 4, and stepped out and hit the skull. He didn't kill it, and let it free (breaking the net), but he got one more attack and connected for very good damage and cleaved it in half. The other Rune Priest was taken out by Flaming Sword cast on an NPC Humakti's sword.

      And epic end to the quest!