Tuesday, November 29, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #59

Issue #59 of White Dwarf (November 1984), with its cover by Peter Andrew Jones, is another issue I remember well, since it was published during the run of years when I had a subscription to the magazine. In his editorial, Ian Livingstone notes that the "Fiend Factory" feature, which began all the way back in issue #6 and many of whose entries formed the basis for TSR's Fiend Folio, would now be presenting new monsters for more RPGs than just Dungeons & Dragons. Small though this change is, it is nevertheless an important turning point in the history of White Dwarf and reflects, I think, the rise to prominence of other games on the UK scene. 

The issue begins with "The Mad Gods' Omelette," a parodic fantasy short story by Dave Langford. It's actually quite funny in the way it skewers the increasing self-seriousness of the contemporary works in the genre, particularly those that took their cues from Moorcock. One of my favorite bits in the story is a comment by the protagonist Erryj, possessor of "the black, runecarved artificial leg Slugbane," upon hearing that "the Dark Gods walk the earth once more."

"The Dark Gods?" Erryj gave Dylan Worm a searching glance. "Aye, I have heard tell of such. Speak you of the Elder Gods? ... The Younger Gods? The Dead Gods? The Agnostic Gods?" With each utterance, a greater stillness filled the room.
As I said, it's quite funny and much more enjoyable than Langford's "Critical Mass" column this or any other month. Mind you, this month's installment of the book review column holds some interest in that Langford looks at William Gibson's first novel, Neuromancer, which he likes a great deal, though he criticizes its "frenetic" pace. I suppose it wouldn't be a proper "Critical Mass" column if Langford didn't find fault in nearly everything he reviews.

"Open Box" takes a look at three different adventures for Call of Cthulhu: The Curse of the Chthonians (9 out of 10) from Chaosium, Glozel est Authentique! (5 out of 10) from TOME, and The Horrible Secret of Moneghan Island (7 out of 10) from Grenadier. These reviews are all fair, based on my own experience. Also reviewed are the Gamemaster Pack and For Your Information for James Bond 007, which earn 4 out of 10 and 3 out of 10 respectively. This continues the trend of giving rather negative reviews to James Bond 007 RPG products, something I find inexplicable, given my own fondness for the game. On the other hand, neither of the reviewed products are exceptional in any way, so perhaps they are fairer than it might seem on first glance. Finally, there's a review of Chaosium's Ringworld, which receives a mediocre 6 out of 10, even though the reviewer praises both the background information and the rules set – odd!

"The Ninja" by Chris Elliott and Richard Matthews is yet another stab at a ninja character class for AD&D. Though there are a few new wrinkles – such as non-magical "spells" – the class is just another Japanese-flavored assassin variant with too many abilities. The class is intended to be used in conjunction with "Hour of the Tiger," an AD&D scenario also included in this issue. The adventure involves the infiltration of an imperial palace and demands stealth and cunning, not to mention reconnaissance, to succeed. It's well done and probably challenging, particularly to players for whom brute force is standard operating procedure.

Marcus Rowland's "A Matter of Faith" presents four religious cults for use with a variety of modern-day RPGs, such as Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes; Top Secret, James Bond 007, Superworld, Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Golden Heroes, and Villains & Vigilantes. The cults range from The Temple of Excellence, Inc., which teaches that transcendence is possible through the acquisition of skills, to Technodeology, which believes that God does not yet exist and must be created as a computer. Rowland fleshes out each cult briefly and provides notes for customizing it for the RPG in which it's used. Very good stuff!

"Two Decks are Better than One" is a Car Wars article by Steve Jackson about the inclusion of double-decker buses into the game. "Eye of Newt and Tongue of Bat" by Graeme Davis is the first part of a series of articles intended to provide a system for the manufacture of magic items in AD&D. This installment focuses on staves, wands, and scrolls. I've long liked the idea of a system like this in principle, because I think that the process of creating new magic items should be both involved and interesting. However, most such systems offer only tedium without much else and, sadly, this system isn't much different.

"On the Road" by Anna Price is an outline for a RuneQuest scenario in which the characters accompany a caravan across the Plains of Prax. Though skeletonic, it provides enough detail, including several random tables, to make the overall situation compelling. "A Brush with the Lore" by Gary Chalk and Joe Dever tackles the matter of choosing an appropriate brush and paints for miniatures. "Core" introduces the Consular Office of Reconnaissance and Exploration, a Zhodani organization intended to be used as antagonists in an ongoing Traveller campaign. Like many such things, it's fine for what it is, but not especially memorable. 

"Gladiators in RuneQuest" by Matthew Pook briefly discusses the matter of blood sports in the game, while "Pit Fighting" by James Waterfield contextualizes somewhat the practice within the setting of Glorantha. "The Great Hunt" by Simon Iff describes the Reavers, powerful minions of the demon prince Orcus who do his bidding on the Prime Material Plane. This article includes lots of background material about the Reavers and their origins, as well as their activities. Though very high-powered, I immediately saw uses for these creatures in certain campaigns. "Ars Arcana" by Kiel Stephens continues to look at unusual uses for D&D spells and does so quite engagingly. Any article that can teach me a few new tricks for a game I've been playing for decades earns a gold star.

This is a very good issue, filled with lots of variety, in addition to old favorites like "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers." To my mind, this is peak White Dwarf and is what I think of when I think of the magazine in its heyday. 


  1. I believe that a media reviewer needs to be calibrated to be useful. So, if a movie reviewer hated Star Wars, I knew that his reviews were useful - in that what he hated I'd probably love, and vice versa. Langford loved the Book of the New Sun and hated Battlefield: Earth, so his reviews were useful to me because his tastes aligned with mine.

  2. This was one of the first issues I bought, although I backfilled as far as i could in later years. I think it was the Car Wars article that sold me this time, although I'd been marveling at the covers for quite a few issues by this point as well. Different Worlds was still winning out for my limited purchasing budget most of teh time, though.

    Recall being mildly peeved because our RQ GM insisted we couldn't read the "On the Road" article until he said so since he intended to use it. Little did I know he wound up taking parts of it for multiple journeys in Prax over the next year. I think I still don't technically have permission to read it. :)

    "Finally, there's a review of Chaosium's Ringworld, which receives a mediocre 6 out of 10, even though the reviewer praises both the background information and the rules set – odd!"

    That's more than odd, it's absurd. Great boxed set, and while the Companion was worth getting it wasn't really needed. Very complete and well-written RPG that deserves at least an 8/10. If it had been a little more ambitious and included more on the rest of Known Space it'd be an easy 9/10, but I can't really complain about a setting that includes more actual land area than all the rest of the human worlds combined by several orders of magnitude.

    Wonder if Niven is averse to the idea of a modern RPG based on his work? Known Space is a lot more fleshed out now than back then.

    1. "Finally, there's a review of Chaosium's Ringworld, which receives a mediocre 6 out of 10, even though the reviewer praises both the background information and the rules set – odd!"
      "That's more than odd, it's absurd."

      I think I've mentioned this before, but it was reported that the ratings in White Dwarf were not assigned by the persons writing the reviews, but instead by a harried editor . Rumor also had it that Games Workshop would sometimes skew ratings up for things it was acting as a middleman for, but I've never seen that confirmed.

  3. Do we assume that Joe Dever is the guy who did Lone Wolf gamebooks?

  4. The Pookie has been sighted! In the oh my gosh so deep past.