Tuesday, October 11, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #53

Issue #53 of White Dwarf (May 1984) boasts a cover by Angus Fieldhouse depicting wgar appear to be orcs in the service of Saruman from The Lord of the Rings – notice the sigil of the white hand on their shields and battle standard. If so, it's an odd choice, since the issue contains a scenario for use with Warhammer based on the Battle of Pelennor Fields in which Saruman's forces did not participate, having already been defeated at Helm's Deep a couple of weeks prior. Even so, I like the illustration quite a bit; it nicely encapsulates many of the features I strongly associate with the Games Workshop "house style" for artwork.

Editor Ian Livingstone touches again on the issue of the roleplaying hobby's continued growth. He opines that gamers "who have been in the hobby for many years" might be "a little peeved" that "thousands of newcomers who view the hobby less seriously" than they have intruded their "exclusive" domain. It's an age-old aspect of the hobby, one I've experienced from both sides. If nothing else, this simply proves that there really is nothing new under the sun. Livingstone states that White Dwarf will continue to assist newcomers "by publishing introductory articles and scenarios," but that it would not do so "at the expense of its main editorial features." Whatever one thinks of this approach, I think it's instructive to consider that Games Workshop still exists today, while most of the other mainstays of the hobby, most notably TSR, no longer do so. 

Part 2 of Marcus Rowland's introduction to RPGs, "The Name of the Game," appears in this issue. This time, he focuses on games other than Dungeons & Dragons, starting with RuneQuest, which receives the bulk of the article's coverage. Rowland's comments on RQ are interesting. He emphasizes its detailed setting of Gloratha, its unique magic systems, its religions and cults, and, above all, its combat system, which he calls "the main reason for the game's success." He also includes brief discussions of several other RPGs: Tunnels & Trolls, Chivalry & Sorcery, Warhammer, and Man, Myth & Magic – quite an odd assortment to me, but perhaps this reflects the idiosyncrasies of the UK market in the mid-1980s.  

"Minas Tirith" by Joe Dever is a huge article that presents the Battle of Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King as the basis for a Warhammer fantasy battle scenario. The scenario is designed for two sides, the forces of Gondor and its allies and the forces of the Witch-King of Angmar. Of course, each side has enough units and sub-factions, not to mention named characters, that it would be quite easy to divvy them up into several players. The article includes not only stats for all the forces but suggestions of miniature figures appropriate to represent them. Though I've never been much of a miniature wargames player, I found the article weirdly inspirational and wished I could somehow get the opportunity to play it.

"Open Box" starts its reviews by looking at Games Workshop's Caverns of the Dead, an ostensibly system-neutral (yet obviously intended for D&D) boxed scenario that includes lots of maps and even a referee's screen. The reviewer rates it 7 out of 10 and notes that it's not quite as good a value for the money as a typical D&D module. Two more Fighting Fantasy books, Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King are reviewed, each earning 8 out of 10. I have a personal affection for Deathtrap Dungeon, due to its difficulty, which greatly appealed to me at the time. Finally, there's a review of Scouts for Traveller (7 out of 10). 

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" comments upon another of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, Isaac Asimov's The Robots of Dawn, and Diana Wynne Jones's The Homeworld Bounders, among a few others. Meanwhile, "The Moonbane" is a piece of original fiction, "a short tale of gothic horror" by Chris Elliot and Richard Edwards. Much more interesting – to me anyway – are the latest installments of the comics "Gobbledigook," "The Travellers," and "Thrud the Barbarian." Also more interesting is Lewis Pulsipher's "Sign Here Please ...," a brief rumination on making pacts with devils in the context of fantasy roleplaying games. 

"The Naked Orc" by Rufus Wedderburn is "a study of orcish society." In some ways, it's a bit like Dragon's "Ecology of ..." series, except that it's focused on the politics and sociology of orcs rather than their biology. It's fine, I suppose, though there's nothing particularly clever or revelatory about it. "Spare Parts" is a Car Wars article written by none other than the game's creator, Steve Jackson himself (apparently written on his British namesake's typewriter while on a visit to England). It's mostly a puff piece in which Jackson talks about his plans for game, including a computer version from Origin (which did indeed come out in 1985).

Part 2 of Dave Morris and Yve Newnham's "The Castle of Lost Souls" solo adventure appears here, continuing the scenario begun in the previous issue. "Three of a Kind" by Michael Clarke presents three NPCs for use with Traveller; they can be used either as patrons or antagonists. "Of Oak, Ash, and Mistletoe" by Robert Dale is a collection of spells drawn from Celtic myth for use with RuneQuest. "Under Siege" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk is a discussion of sieges in the context of miniatures wargaming, complete photographs. 

"Slave Hunt" is this month's installment of "Fiend Factory." Like many of the early installments of the feature, editor Albie Fiore weaves a loose scenario around four new monsters for use with D&D. The new monsters, all submitted by different authors, are all small humanoid creatures of various kinds, none of them particularly notable in my opinion – but that's a common problem of new monsters for the game. Finally, there's "Bits and Pieces," a random collection of material for Dungeons & Dragons. While the material isn't particularly memorable, it's listed as having been collected by Roger E. Moore, who was already an editor at Dragon at the time and would go on to be its editor-in-chief in 1986.

This is another solid issue of White Dwarf with a diverse range of articles covering a variety of games. What I most notice is the growing presence of articles dedicated to Warhammer and miniatures wargaming more generally. This is a trend that will only increase in the coming years and eventually lead to the magazine's becoming explicitly a house organ of Games Workshop in a way that it hadn't been previously. It also would lead to my ceasing to read, since I read primarily for its coverage of D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and Traveller.


  1. This is not an issue I had, and I'm curious whether "the Naked Orc" included female and/or young orcs?

    1. Yes, it gives stats for females and young, and says under what circumstances they might fight (e.g. youngsters might fight to protect their mother) in comparison to the Monster Manual which just treats them as Orcs with lesser stats.

  2. Each time I read one of your reviews of White Dwarf, I regret not picking-up the issue in the 80s, but in my defense, I don’t recall ever seeing them in my FLGS. I wasn’t big on RPG magazines, buying only about five issues of Dragon over its run, and about 10 issues of Dungeon over its run, but White Dwarf would’ve definitely struck a chord with me with its solo adventures, which I was completely absorbed with at the time. The authors, as well, are a who's who among the top solo gamebook authors of the day, or would be in the next few years to come--Morris, Dever, Livingstone.

    “The Castle of Lost Souls,” became a full solo adventure gamebook by Dave Morris for the Golden Dragon Gamebook series. I can only wonder what it looked like here, likely abridged or not expanded into a full length book by this time.

    The paragraph on Joe Dever’s piece reminds me of an offshoot to his Lone Wolf series, that being Grey Star the Wizard (a four book series taking place in the “world of Lone Wolf”). In it, the main bad guy is the Wytch-King, which could have been influenced in this piece by the Witch-King of Angmar? (For the record, and to be complete, Dever also wrote a four book solo adventure series called Freeway Warrior, where you play Cal Phoenix in a Mad Max/Road Warrior style of gamebook, which was quite good as well).

    Good stuff. I wish I’d seen it at the time, and seen the formative stages of some bigger works that were to come.

  3. it's funny you mention that they (GW) are still around, but really, they aren't. there is a company with that name, but they don't really make RPGs at all now, just minis and wargames. the RPGs are all licensed out to other, smaller companies. No amount of starter sets changes that.

    1. "Just minis and wargames" rather dramatically overlooks the fact that, for better or worse, GW has produced at least five of the top-selling and most widely recognized minis games in history, and are arguably far more important in their corner of the gaming hobby than TSR ever was. While their own in-house RPGs are a faded memory now, two of their IPs have had multiple RPGs done under license by some pretty big names in the industry, and the slowly-growing AoS setting has one RPG and will likely have more over time. The company is almost unrecognizable from what it once was and is widely and quite deservedly hated (even by many of its own customers) for predatory business practices and wholly unreasonable pricing, but give them credit where it's due. GW is a titan in their industry on a scale only rivalled by WotC - and even they'd be behind if it weren't for the golden combo of Magic and D&D.

      And changed as they are, there's still more actual GW left than, say, the company currently claiming to be TSR, or the one calling itself FASA.

    2. While it's true that the company's still called Games Workshop - and please correct me if I'm wrong - but I believe they were going bust and shortly before this issue IL & SJ sold them to Brian Ansell who incorporated them into Citadel Miniatures (previously partly owned by Games Workshop). That is, I believe from shortly before this issue Games Workshop only existed in name-only - and the company was rapidly redeployed to be a marketing vehicle to sell Citadel miniatures. The remaining remnants of old Games Workshop didn't last long as I recall, most old GW employees leaving, and it's been Citadel Minatures through-and-through since the late 80s. So - succesful as they are - it's a bit as if WoTC had rebranded themselves to be TSR when they bought them.

  4. ""Spare Parts" is a Car Wars article written by none other than the game's creator, Steve Jackson himself (apparently written on his British namesake's typewriter while on a visit to England). It's mostly a puff piece in which Jackson talks about his plans for game, including a computer version from Origin (which did indeed come out in 1985)."

    And how timely this review, in that last week SJ made Autoduel (that 1985 game) available at Warehouse 23 for One Thin Buck.