Tuesday, January 17, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #64

Issue #64 of White Dwarf (April 1985) features a cover by Peter Andrew Jones that, as so many previous covers of the magazine have, mixes elements of fantasy and science fiction. Meanwhile, Ian Livingstone's editorial discusses his visit to Planet Photon in Dallas, Texas, the originator of the "laser tag" phenomenon of the '80s and '90s. What I find interesting is that Livingstone seems to think, as many people did at the time, that "real" roleplaying was an inevitability and that venues like Planet Photon were the first steps on that road. Nearly forty years later, I'm still unconvinced that even VR technology will ever prove more than a novelty.

"News of the World" by Jon Smithers is a lengthy article that looks at "government, law, and conflict in fantasy campaigns." It's basically an extended examination of how the referee can use governments and their laws to foster compelling conflicts in a RPG campaign. It's a worthy topic and the article is decent enough. My main complaint is that Smithers devotes a lot of space to a single type of conflict, war, while reducing less blatant forms of conflict to afterthoughts.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" is, as I've commented before, a source of frustration to me. Most columns I find rather dull, in large part because it's difficult to muster much interest in decades-old reviews of books I've never read (and, in many cases, never heard of). At the same time, it's clear that Langford is a talented and often witty writer, though I have long suspected that, like many reviewers, he played to his audience by amping up his negativity and general curmudgeonliness – not that I'd know anything about that. Amusingly, this month's column begins by noting that readers have complained he has become "too nice." Langford is, of course, mock appalled at this and explains that, if the charge is true, it's only because that "publishers have hit on the idea of offering [him] good stuff." He then proceeds to gush over Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic, thereby undermining what he just said. (I kid ... maybe? I realize I'll be a pariah by admitting this, but I've never liked Pratchett's writing and find the Discworld series rather puerile, but there it is, my dark secret revealed.)

"Open Box" devotes most of its two pags to a massive review of the third edition of RuneQuest. This is the edition published by Avalon Hill, which caused a stir at the time for both its price and its removal of Glorantha as the default campaign setting of the game in favor of "Mythic Earth." Overall, the reviewer, Oliver Dickinson, seems pleased with the new edition (9 out of 10). Also reviewed is Secret of the Ancients for GDW's Traveller, an adventure the reviewer, Marcus L. Rowland, liked better than I did (7 out of 10). That said, he recognizes its many flaws and recommends it primarily for completists and those deeply invested in the backstory of the Third Imperium setting.

If you're looking for something in a Traveller vein that's more fun, I present you with the issue's installment of Mark Harrison's The Travellers comic. This month, we're treated to "Gavin's Swan Song," as the titular xeno-hating psychopath indulges in ultra-violence while singing the following:
I'm sure it speaks poorly of me that I found – and still find – this quite funny. This issue's "Thrud the Barbarian" and "Gobbledigook" are amusing, too, but it's The Travellers I still remember all these years later.

"Starfall" by Marcus L. Rowland is a terrific (and long) adventure written for use with FASA's Star Trek. The scenario involves a distress call from a civilian Klingon vessel in the vicinity of the Neutral Zone. The twist is that, while the distress signal is genuine and the Klingons aboard are political dissenters fleeing execution by the Empire, they're also extreme hardlines who believe that the Empire is too soft in its dealings with the Federation. The whole thing has a delightfully late Cold War quality to it – go figure; it's from 1985 – making it one of my favorite Star Trek adventures of all time. I had a lot of fun using it back in the day.

"Megavillains" by Simon Burley and Peter Haines is the inaugural entry in the new "Heroes & Villains" feature for Games Workshop's Golden Heroes (which I really must write a post on someday). The article presents Earthlord, an angry elemental earth-spirit angry at the despoiling of the Earth. Ho-hum. Much more interesting is "Dawn of Unlight" by Graham Staplehurst, which presents an adventure in Middle-earth's Mirkwood for both AD&D and Middle-earth Role Playing. The scenario features a cult of Men devoted to Ungoliant, which creeped me out as a younger person, but then I hate and fear spiders. Because of that I was weirdly fascinated by this adventure, as well as by its AD&D conversion. Around this time, I was in the midst of one of my periodic fits of obsession with Tolkien and "Dawn of Unlight" scratched that itch.

"Dark Agents of the Night" by Phil Masters is yet another article about ninjas, this time focusing on modern, science fiction, and superhero games. For what it is, the article is fine, even good, because it includes examples of how to make use of ninjas in these genres. However, I simply cannot understand why White Dwarf published so many articles about ninjas in its pages – oh, right, yes I do: it was the 1980s. "Trogaar" is the name of this month's "Fiend Factory," presenting four new (A)D&D monsters themed around the desert: sand golem, desert orc, cactus cat, and sand sniper. I hate to snark at these, since they're all serviceable but mostly obvious additions to D&D menagerie and I find it hard to muster any enthusiasm for any of them.

"Bearers of the Mark" by Steve Williams and Mark White is a cult for use with Call of Cthulhu. It's fine but rather vague in its immediate utility. For example, many details are left (intentionally?) undescribed, meaning that the Keeper will need to do a fair bit of work before including the cult in his own campaign. "Proxy Painting" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk is another good piece relating to minis painting. This time, they tackle the subject of painting services that, for a fee, will paint your figures for you. The article is accompanied by photos of these services' handiwork. As a non-painter, I found this article particularly fascinating. Finally, there is "Spells for Friends" by Martin Fowler and David Marsh, which offers up six new D&D spells that provide benefits to two individuals bound by the spell. It's a solid idea and some of the spells look like they'd be handy in certain campaigns.

Issue #64 is one of those issues that I remember quite well, primarily because of its two big adventures, both of which I liked a great deal. Re-reading them now in preparation for this post was enjoyable. They served as great reminders of why I subscribed to White Dwarf during my high school years. It's a pity the magazine would, within a few more years, become little more than an advertisement for Warhammer. 


  1. " (I kid ... maybe? I realize I'll be a pariah by admitting this, but I've never liked Pratchett's writing and find the Discworld series rather puerile, but there it is, my dark secret revealed.)"

    You and me both.

    1. I like him better than Piers Anthony or Robert Asprin when it comes to fantasy comedy, but the overwhelming appeal eludes me as well. They get slightly better as time goes by and his writing gets more polished, but I think I still favor his early scifi work like Strata.

      Then again, I feel exactly the same about George RR Martin. The man peaked with the stories collected in Tuf Voyaging as far as I'm concerned.

  2. I remember that Travellers strip! Fantastic - to the tune of "It's Raining Men" by the Weathergirls. All together now - "let's laser them, hallelujah let's laser them, amen!" Wonderful, great memories James thank you

  3. I had the misfortune to be born too late & only start buying White Dwarf with issue 84. Its devastating, heartbreaking transition to a minis catalogue was only a year or so later.

  4. Staplehurst's "Dawn of Unlight" was one of my all time favourite adventures from WD.
    In fact, I used it as the inspiration for a Middle-earth campaign I ran a few years ago ("The Spider Cult of Mirkwood"): https://akraticwizardry.blogspot.com/2018/07/spider-cult-of-mirkwood-campaign.html