Tuesday, January 10, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #63

Issue #63 of White Dwarf (March 1985) is graced with a cover by Italian-born artist Gino D'Achille, who is probably most well-known for the work he did on the Ballantine editions of the Barsoom novels from 1973 (or the DAW Gor books, if that's more your preference). In his editorial, Ian Livingstone continues to ponder the state of the hobby, with particular emphasis placed on the peculiar ways that licensed properties are divvied up among companies. He notes, for example, that Games Workshop publishes the Doctor Who boardgame, while FASA publishes the RPG. He also notes that, while TSR publishes Battle System ("which sounds like Warhammer"), Citadel produces the official AD&D miniatures line. Livingstone's correct to note the oddity of this, but it's been pretty much par for the course for as long as the licensing of media properties has existed (and remains so to this day).

The issue kicks off with "Arms and the Man" by Michael Holman, which builds on Andy Slack's article on vehicle combat in Traveller from White Dwarf #43. Holman introduces a number of new vehicle systems, including offensive ones, as well as an expanded vehicle combat procedure. It's all good stuff, though it highlights, as did Slack's article before it, just how much Traveller needed vehicular combat rules simpler than those in Striker

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" occasionally elicits my interest – not so this month, which is why I will pass over it without comment. Much more compelling to me is "Open Box," which very positively reviews Toon (9 out of 10), a game for which I have more affection than is probably justified. Also positively reviewed are a pair of videogames from Triffid Software, The Secret River and The Wizard's Citadel, which score a combined 8 out of 10 (somehow). I must admit I was surprised to see videogames reviewed in "Open Box." In the past, such things appeared in a separate column, "Microview," but I suspect it had been axed sometime prior to this. There's a side by side review of FASA's Star Trek III Starship Combat Game and Task Force's Star Fleet Battles Volume II. The comparison is not completely fair, since SFB Volume II is not a stand-alone product but a supplement. Even so, White Dwarf gives them 8 and 7 out of 10 respectively. Finally, there are reviews of the D&D modules, The Veiled Society (9 out of 10) and Quest for the Heartstone (4 out of 10). I'll be looking at the latter in a separate post tomorrow.

Part 5 of Graeme Davis's Eye of Newt and Wing of Bat concludes by tackling miscellaneous magic items. This is probably the least satisfying entry in the series, because it looks at only a small percentage of the miscellaneous items found in the Dungeon Masters Guide and presents no unified system for handling their manufacture. On the one hand, that's understandable, given the diversity of the miscellaneous magic items. However, the point of the series is to present a system to aid referees and players in adjudicating the creation of magic items. Without that, I think it's a little less useful than it might have otherwise been.

Carl Critchlow gives us the first part of "Thrud the Destroyer," which amusingly riffs off both the awful second Conan movie and The Magnificent Seven – fun stuff, as always. "The Travellers" and "Gobbledigook" are also enjoyable, though neither compares to this month's "Thrud." The third and final part of Jon Sutherland and Gareth Hill's "The Dark Usurper" Fighting Fantasy scenario appears in this issue, too. It's much like the previous parts, which is to say, passable as a solitaire scenario, though nowhere near as good as even an average full-length Fighting Fantasy book.

Much more compelling is Marcus L. Rowland's "Draw the Blinds on Yesterday," a Call of Cthulhu scenario set in the 1980s. The adventure concerns a missing flight between Athens, Grece and London, England, thanks to an unsuccessful attempt to summon Cthugha from Fomalhaut. Also involved is the last surviving Gorgon, an extraterrestrial species that is the origin of the myths of Medusa and her sisters. It's a delightfully bonkers scenario that somehow works, despite (because of?) its strange mix of elements. 

"Setting the Scene" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk is another fascinating miniatures-oriented article. This time, the authors look at the pitfalls of how best to make use of miniatures and scenery at the table. It's a topic I'd never really considered before, given my limited use of miniatures over the years. As usual, Dever and Chalk do a fine job of briefly laying out the problems and offering solutions, accompanied by useful color photographs. Every time I read one of their articles, I find myself deeply regretting that I never bothered to take up miniatures painting back when I still had the eyesight and hand-eye coordination to make a serious go of it. The folly of youth!

"Howzat!" by Mark Wilkinson, David Bailey, and Richard Bramah is humorous RuneQuest article that presents the rules (and game mechanics) for "elfball," a Gloranthan analog to cricket. There are even a few new spells for use during the game, like batting trance and team spirit, as well as additional spells for use by umpires. It's silly but fun, the kind of thing that I long considered a distinctive aspect of the UK game scene in the '80s. "A Not So Lonely Mountain" presents a pair of short scenarios involving the characters' ascent up a mountain – and the monsters they encounter along the way. I like this style of introducing new opponents in a RPG and wish it was done more often.

"Imperial Trooper" by Nic Weeks is look at the elite military forces of the Imperium of Traveller. It's mostly "fluff," in that it introduces no new rules or equipment for use with the game and, on that score, is good enough, though it does differ somewhat from GDW's own presentation of similar topics elsewhere. Concluding the issue is James Carmichael's "Help for the Hobbit Abroad," which presents some halfling-specific magic items, like pots of cooking and the pipe of the storyeller. (One of these years someone will figure out something to do with halflings that's more interesting than simply being Tolkien's hobbits with the serial numbers filed off – or, better yet, jettison them entirely!)

And so we come to the end of another issue of White Dwarf. As usual, it's a mixed bag, filled with a wide variety of material geared toward an equally wide variety of games. That was always White Dwarf's great strength when compared to Dragon and its relentless focus on Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, this sometimes meant that some issues of White Dwarf might not be as interesting to me as others, but that was a chance I was willing to take at the time. Re-reading these issues remains a delightful trip down memory lane; I look forward to the next one.


  1. It's hard not to like Toon. The game's got its warts, but still sits near the top of my list for "comedy" TTRPGs alongside Ghostbusters, Pandemonium, Teenagers From Outer Space and Paranoia.

    "(One of these years someone will figure out something to do with halflings that's more interesting than simply being Tolkien's hobbits with the serial numbers filed off – or, better yet, jettison them entirely!)"

    It's been done already. Dark Sun's halflings are cannibals whose ancestors are responsible for mass genocide and the current state of the (dying) world. 4e halflings were nomadic riverfolk with a taste for both travel and adventure, noted for their agility and daring. Many GMs use them as their game's "little fey folk" instead of gnomes, with the elves as the taller faerie.

    My homebrews generally cast them as genetic relatives of humanity who've diverged enough to be their own species. Both are found dwelling in the same communities alongside ogres who are the "big guy" end of the human diversification spectrum - a concept inspired by Skyrealms of Jorune, albeit more extreme. Smallfolk and tallfolk are a bit rarer than the plainfolk, but they all see each other as kin and stick together against outside threats, That's a big part of why humanity as a whole is the dominant kindred in the world, really rivalled only by the more divided but more numerous goblin-blooded.

    1. Hi Dick! Did the one article by Gregory Rihn in Dragon issue 44 influence your take on humanoids? Curious if we werent the only ones. Thanks Dick!

  2. I "love" Conan the Derstroyer. It's an absolutely spot on D&D adventure.

    1. I feel sad to see how much negative criticism Conan the Destroyer gets online because I also love that movie. It's a fun adventure in a fantasy setting. It probably helps that I saw it as a young child and have never really gotten into Conan for it to bother me.