Tuesday, December 20, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #62

Issue #62 of White Dwarf (February 1985) gives us another cover by Chris Achilleos, whose work was, by this point, a common sight on the cover of many different Games Workshop publications – not that I minded. In this issue's editorial, Ian Livingstone notes that the trend of "making role-playing games based on well-known characters" seems likely to continue, based in part on the fact that several miniatures companies "are now making licensed ranges of character figures." He cites as an example of what he means Grenadier's Lord of the Rings figure, whose existence I had completely forgotten until reading this editorial. Talk about a blast from the past!

"A Place of Damp and Darkness" by Garth Nix is a fun little article about "adventuring in the depths of cities," by which he means primarily sewers. Though short, the article is quite inspiring, with discussions of drains, tunnels, cisterns, barges, and more, as well as the seeds of scenarios involving sewers. It's genuinely great stuff, though I do wish it had White Dwarf hadn't attempted to get all fancy with its layout and used black text on a gray background. It was hard enough to read when I was a teenager and now, as an old man, it's even more difficult.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" reviews multiple books that are sequels to previous published ones, such as So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams. He thinks very little of it, calling it "full of padding" and "guff," though he notes that Adams would likely "agree with me all the way to the bank." He also excoriates Anne McCaffrey's The Survivors: Dinosaur Planet II: "the writing's slipshod and the science dodgy." Is it wrong that I only really enjoy Langford's column when he's in high dudgeon and speaking ill of the books he's reviewing? For good or for ill, those are the most fun to read; the rest of the time my eyes tend to glaze over.

"Open Box" features dueling reviews of a sort, in this case looking at two different superhero RPGs reviewed by the same person (Marcus L. Rowland). The first is Games Workshop's own Golden Heroes, which receives a 10 out of 10 score. This is based largely on two factors. The first is that the game is UK-focused and thus likely of greater interest and utility to the majority of White Dwarf readers. The second is that Golden Heroes is very focused on campaign play, with its improvement system tied closely into that focus. Rowland finds this quite congenial and I can't say that I disagree with him. He also reviews TSR's Marvel Super Heroes (8 out of 10), along with multiple supplements for it: The Breeder Bombs (7 out of 10), Time Trap (6 out of 10), Murderworld (6 out of 10), Judges Screen (4 out of 10), and Avengers Assembled (8 out of 10). Overall, Rowland likes MSH, but is critical of the way it seemingly limits itself to an established comics setting. He also finds its rules much more "simplistic" than those of Golden Heroes. 

"Struck by Lightning" by Dave Morris and Robert Dale is a collection of rune spells (for RuneQuest, naturally) derived from Celtic myth and legend, like the breath of Llyr and Balor's eye. They're all well done and flavorful. Part of "The Dark Usurper" by Jon Sutherland and Gareth Hill is yet another escape from prison Fighting Fantasy scenario, only this time you play the duke's rightful heir rather than one of his guardsmen. It's a little shorter than its predecessor, which probably helps mitigate its repetitiveness somewhat. "En Garde" by Gary Drabwell is an (in my opinion) unnecessarily complicated percentile system to handle parrying in AD&D combat. While I genuinely understand the desire to spice up the game's very stylized combat system, adding a calculation that tallies level, class, Strength, Dexterity, weapon speed factor, and more is not the way to do it. 

Much more interesting is Jae Campbell's "An Alien Werewolf in London," a Traveller adventure that involves a time travel experiment on Terra gone wrong. A wolf-like Vargr has made use of an Ancient device – a temporal matter transporter, or T-Matt – and traveled back to London in 1888. Suffice to say, the characters must also travel back in time to bring him back, lest the course of history be altered irrevocably. It's an admittedly clichéd premise, especially with the Jack the Ripper angle, but I like it in spite of myself. 

I likewise liked Part 4 of "Eye of Newt and Wing of Bat" by Graeme Davis and Anthony R. Allan. This installment focuses on the manufacture of magic swords and other weapons and somehow feels a lot more useful and, dare I say, fun than previous ones. In part, I imagine it's because the forging of a magic sword has a much stronger literary and legendary pedigree than the crafting of most other magic items. Also, Davis and Allan come up with a nice schema for categorizing magic swords that gives the whole thing some much needed flair. I suspect I'm simply biased on this matter, as this part is in most respects little different than its predecessors, except in subject matter. Go figure.

"O Caber" by John Chapman presents three new monsters for use with Dungeons & Dragons, all of whom are spirits released from pine trees by a powerful druid. Sadly, these did little for me, especially given that the author had difficulty coming up with any interesting adventure seeds for using them. Marginally more compelling is John Grandidge's "Hermits and Hags," though it suffers from the same problem as "A Place of Damp and Darkness" by having black text on a gray background that is hard to read. They're both eccentric spellcasting NPC types encountered in the wilderness, with hags having a decidedly more sinister nature. 

"Crawling Chaos" is a new Call of Cthulhu column, edited by Marc Gascoigne. The premier column translates several of Brian Lumley's Mythos creations into CoC terms. Joe Dever and Gary Chalk's "Facing Facts" is a detailed overview of the ins and outs of painting faces on miniature figures. As ever, this is fascinating, even to someone such as myself, who never painted many minis. "The Scrap Pile" is a random collection of tidbits written by Steve Jackson for use with Car Wars, such as expanded power rules and an erratum about double-decker buses. Jackson also notes that, as of October 1984, Car Wars had surpassed 100,000 copies sold, which just boggles my mind. Finally, we get new episodes of "Thrud the Barbarian," "The Travellers," and "Gobbledigook."

I was pleasantly surprised by this issue of White Dwarf and was genuinely happy to have had the chance to re-read it. 


  1. No matter how good Golden Heroes may be, it's beyond me how MSH could be considered "inferior".

    1. How you feel about a given supers ruleset is going to depend a lot on what you're looking for, and that's entirely subjective. Golden Heroes was written with homebrew settings in mind rather than trying to be faithful to published comics the way Marvel was. While Marvel can handle other settings (homebrew or published) it's main thrust (and all of its adventures) centers on Marvel characters. If you don't like Marvel, that's going to be a flaw, not a feature.

      GH also spends a fair bit of its word count on an advancement system that resembles the ones in other RPGs of its period, which is something that many people regard as unwanted or inappropriate for simulating comic norms where heroes don't steadily improve over time, they stay largely the same over time unless they go through some kind of reboot or massive power change - and even those frequently revert back to the "old" norm after time. Marvel's characters also advance, but the way you often spend karma during play slows permanent growth down a bit. Someone who doesn't like traditional RPG advancement for supers will probably prefer Marvel's approach.

  2. "Jackson also notes that, as of October 1984, Car Wars had surpassed 100,000 copies sold, which just boggles my mind."

    Car Wars was a big deal in the 80s, at least in the US. It was as easy to find players for it as it was to find D&D groups for the back half of the decade, although it faded pretty fast afterward. I think its downfall was the result of product glut - the franchise had a staggering number of releases during its run, which gradually drove the game's complexity up to the point where recruiting new players got difficult.

    That said, its longevity (about a decade at its peak) was at least partly due to steady support from SJG. I'd also credit its adaptability. It could just be a simple arena dueling game like it started out, but it could also handle highway and urban fights, had fairly extensive mechanics for running campaigns, and gave the drivers and gunners just enough detail and advancement options that it the game straddled the line between wargame and very light RPG. Had an amazing amount of worldbuilding for a wargame, more than enough to roleplay in even before GURPS Autoduel finally came along. In that regard it reminds me a lot of Battletech.

    Really not a fan of the current version of the game, which feels very dumbed-down and limited to me even compared to the original ziplock-bag version way back when - and it doesn't seem to have had much success drawing a new generation of players, which I assume was the point of the redesign.