Tuesday, October 25, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #55

Issue #55 of White Dwarf (July 1984), with its cover by Les Edwards, is one I remember quite well, in part because it was published during the time when Games Workshop USA was located in Columbia, Maryland. Maryland being my home at the time, this situation made it much easier for me to find issues of WD, both current and back issues. The fact that the cover was science fictional in nature probably also plays a part in my memory of it.

In his editorial, Ian Livingstone mentions that TSR "had to sack about 150 employees during the last year and several other companies have ceased trading." 1984 was definitely a significant year for the history of both TSR and the wider hobby, though of course I didn't realize it at the time. Livingstone goes on to say that "this is not the end; it merely signals change." He suggests that "adventure gaming," as he calls it, is still growing in popularity and that book companies and computer games companies will benefit from the "changing desires" of the buying public. He was probably more correct in his prognostications than he imagined.

The final installment in Marcus L. Rowland's "The Name of the Game" focuses on RPGs other than fantasy and science fiction. He puts particular emphasis on superhero and espionage games, though games like Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, and Car Wars also get nods. The main benefit of articles like this is historical; they're a good snapshot of the time in which they were published. Speaking of history, "Spiderbite" by Oliver Johnson is an introductory scenario for both D&D and AD&D whose premise involves historical research. The characters are approached by a cleric of scholarly bent who wishes to learn more about an ancient tomb complex located in the jungles of the south. Though short and relatively straightforward, the tomb is a well-done little dungeon seemingly inspired by the adventures of Indiana Jones and other pulp treasure seekers.

"Open Box" reviews a number of notable products, starting with Forces of Fantasy, the first supplement for Warhammer, which scores 7 out of 10. Four (A)D&D modules are also reviewed: Temple of Death (10 out of 10), The Assassin's Knot (7 out of 10), Tomb of Martek (9 out of 10), and Ravenloft (8 out of 10). I find it fascinating that the reviewer, Dave Morris, gave Temple of Death a perfect score, his only complaint being that it was written for Expert rather than Advanced D&D. Equally fascinating is his complaint that Ravenloft is the module's "series of tedious puns" – a fair criticism but far from the worst aspect of this highly influential scenario. Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective is viewed with great favor (9 out of 10), as are three volumes Commander's SSD Books for use with Starfleet Battles (all scoring 9 out of 10). 

I suppose it's a reflection of how poorly read I am compared to Dave Langford that only one of the books he reviews in this month's "Critical Mass" – Stephen R. Donaldson's Daughter of Regals – has ever graced my shelves. Actually, that's not true: he also mentions Moorcock's The Weird of the White Wolf and Bane of the Black Sword, though he says nothing much about them. Much more intriguing is "The Unquiet Grave" by Phil Holmes, in which he takes a look at the undead as portrayed in myth and literature, with an eye toward their use in fantasy RPGs. "Punks in 2034" is a short and self-explanatory Car Wars article by Steve Jackson (the USA one, not the UK one). It wouldn't be the '80s without some punks, after all ...

"Man and Beast" by Tom Parry and Jerry Vaughn is a treatment of zoolatry – animal worship – as the basis for cults in AD&D. The article provides information on initiation and advancement within the cults, as well as animal talismans, which are magic items that grant various powers related to the cult's animal patron. Interestingly, advancement within a cult isn't tied to a character's experience level, but is something independent of it. I rather suspect that the idea behind this is derived from the cults of RuneQuest – not that I mind, since cults are one of the most compelling ideas in RQ.

Part 4 of Dave Morris and Yve Newnham's "The Castle of Lost Souls" solo adventure appears in this issue and is as enjoyable as the previous parts. Normally, I skip over the letters page; I will make an exception this issue, because of the following "letter," which I found amusing:

As usual, we get more "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers." There's also "Flying the Flag" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk, which talks at some length about the trials and tribulations of creating flags and standards for use with miniature figures. It's a surprisingly interesting article and I say that as someone who's never been much of a miniatures guy. "Mystic Triptych," as its name suggests, is a collection of three small articles for use with RuneQuest, my favorite being Oliver Johnson's stats for the night shriekers from Dougal Dixon's After Man. 

"The Gods of the Shapelings" by Fred Lee Cain is a follow-up of sorts to last month's "Fiend Factory," which introduce the naturally invisible shapeling race. Their gods are written up Deities & Demigods-style and are vaguely interesting (which is more than can be said of the shapelings themselves). "Arch Enemies in FRP" by J.H. Dickson is about what you'd expect: a bit of advice to the referee about making memorable enemies. Finally, there's "The Edge of Infinity" by Marcus L. Rowland, an excellent Ttraveller piece that considers alternate approaches to sector design, including curved and folded space, in addition to wormholes and parallel dimensions. Good stuff!

Though this issue is one I remember well, it's not one of my favorites. That's no knock against it, mind you. Rather, it's (yet more) recognition that it's difficult to put together a consistently excellent periodical, since it's so dependent on its submissions. With luck, next issue will be one of the greats.

1 comment:

  1. From a historical perspective, I find the letters pages of White Dwarf very interesting indeed. They give a fascinating view of what people were thinking and doing in the period.

    I admit the latter Dwarf letters aren't quite up to par with the earlier dwarfs (e.g., 7-20), where debates on many rules and play style issues relating to D&D still of relevance to the OSR (especially when Gary Gygax was still writing in to chat with his critics...)