Tuesday, February 28, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #67

Issue #67 of White Dwarf (July 1985) is one I remember very well, largely for a single article with which I became quite enamored after having read it at the time (more on that soon). Featuring a cover by Mark Bromley, this issue is also fixed in my memory because it was the last issue I received by subscription. I still continued to read the magazine for some time after this, but I never again had a subscription to it. Precisely why I ended my subscription I can't recall; it may have been simple laziness on my part. 

Ian Livingstone's editorial notes that, "after nearly ten years of running a poor second to the USA in the creation of fantasy games ... Britain is quickly catching up." Though intended as a boast – and a bit of self-promotional for Games Workshop's products – there's a great deal of truth in this. By the mid-1980s, the industry leader, TSR, felt like a spent force, even to a fanboy such as I. No other American company ever achieved the same level of success or reach until the '90s, leaving an opening for a new top dog. Warhammer, still on the rise at the time, would soon become the juggernaut it remains today. 

The issue's articles begin with the cleverly named "Haunters of the Dark" by Graeme Davis. Over the course of three densely-packed pages, Davis offers up rules and ideas for handling ghosts in Call of Cthulhu. This is the article that made the issue for me in my youth, as I was much impressed not only with the content of the article itself but the possibilities it opened up. In my teen years, CoC was my go-to game for horror. While the game provided some support for non-Mythos adversaries, that was never the focus of the game. This article was a step toward correcting that and I adored it. 

"Open Box" opens with a very fair but largely negative review of Pacesetter's Star Ace (5 out of 10), a science fiction game whose mix of ideas never managed to gel. Also reviewed is Monster Coliseum for the Avalon Hill edition of RuneQuest, which fares only slightly better (6 out of 10). Finally, there are reviews for three Dragonlance modules: Dragons of Flame (7 out of 10), Dragons of Hope (8 out of 10), and Dragons of Desolation (9 out of 10). In retrospect, it's quite fascinating to be reminded of just how well received Dragonlance was at the time. While the reviews here are not wholly without criticisms, the overall tone is positive. Though I remain convinced that, on balance, Dragonlance was a net negative for the development of D&D, there really was a hunger at the time for what the Hickman Revolution was offering.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" laments the pace at which fantasy and science fiction books are being published – and his own inability to keep pace with reviewing them. Consequently, he decides not even to try, focusing instead on longer reviews of fewer books than one lots of rapid fire bullet point reviews of everything that comes across his desk. Even so, Langford still manages to review slightly more than a half-dozen books in this month's column, which is nothing to sneeze at. The standout is his review of Brian Aldiss's Helliconia Summer, the final book in what Langford calls "an impressive trilogy." I couldn't agree more.

"Loam Wolves" by Barry Atkins is a fun little article that introduces "barbarian" magic to replace standard battle magic in RuneQuest. As its title suggests, the magic takes the form of runes drawn with moist earth upon the body of a barbarian, imbuing him with certain powers for a duration of time. While not mind-blowing by any means, it's a solid, flavorful article of the sort I generally like. "Peking Duck" by Phil Masters is a superhero brawl set in and around a Chinese restaurant, the Fo Yen Wok. Statted for both Champions and Golden Heroes, the article is also notable for the appearance of yet more terrible graphic design choices by the White Dwarf staff. Behold!

"Worldly Wiles" by Anna Price discusses "social customs in Traveller." It's a fairly innocuous examination of how to flesh out the societies and cultures of new worlds by reference to history and science fiction literature – nothing special. "A Murder at Flaxton" by Michael Heaton, meanwhile, is much more interesting. It's a low-level AD&D scenario set in a seaside town beset by smugglers and slavers, filled with lots of hidden secrets and memorable NPCs. Though the situation presented in the scenario is far from innovative, Heaton handles it well. I think it could serve as an enjoyable kick-off of a new campaign.

"Parlour Game" by Stephen Dudley is a terrific article on a topic I loathe: spiders. The article provides lots of information about the hunting practices of spiders, as well as their use of webs to achieve similar goals. Obviously, not every referee will care about this sort of thing, but, in an adventure that heavily features eight-legged baddies, the additional detail might well be useful. "The Vivimancer" by Steve Palmer introduces a strange new "monster," a bodhisattva-like being returned to the land of the living after death to aid "goodly characters in their struggle against evil." The vivimancer is a powerful healer and foe of undead, demons, and devils. As presented, I suppose it'd be useful as an ally to the PCs rather than as a front-line combatant, which I don't mind (too much).

"The Magic Frame" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk discusses the ins and outs of photographing miniatures. Specifically, the article talks about the best kinds of cameras and equipment for doing so, which is a topic I'd never really considered before. "Traveling Light" describes a collection of special magical and mundane backpacks, like messenger packs, which teleport items from one backpack to another to which it is connected. I appreciate minor magical items of this sort. The issue also includes further installments of "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers," as usual. The last one is noteworthy this month, because it not only concludes a long-running storyline, it also does so by recourse to a random dice roll à la 76 Patrons.

As I said at the beginning of this post, this is an issue I remember well. The issues that follow are hazier in my memory, so it will be fascinating to re-read them. I wonder how much of their content will seem genuinely new to me and how much I'll begin to recall once I've had the chance to peruse them again. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Long Haul

I ended my recent review of The Spinward Extents for the Mongoose edition of Traveller by noting that reading the book "left me wanting to start a campaign in this region of space" and I meant that. Over the past few days, I've felt a powerful lust for doing just this. It's a feeling I haven't felt in a while, in large part, I imagine, because I'm already refereeing two ongoing campaigns: House of Worms for Empire of the Petal Throne and Barrett's Raiders for Twilight: 2000. Though I don't post about them all that often, they're both going strong and I don't anticipate either one of them ending anytime soon. 

It's been general experience that having an ongoing, regularly-played – preferably weekly – campaign is a surefire inoculation against the ravages of "gamer attention deficit disorder."  For as long as I've been involved in the hobby, gamer ADD has been a great scourge, one that's only become more insidious as the number of roleplaying games available has increased. In my youth, there were only so many RPGs and thus the temptation to abandon one and pick up another was not as great as today. The present age, though, is blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with a surfeit of RPGs about every conceivable subject matter, thereby increasing the temptation to take up with one of them, despite already playing another.

I've mentioned this desire to start up a Traveller campaign to others and they've been little help in steeling my resolve against it. "Go for it," they say, "you've got the time to referee another campaign, don't you?" Others tell me, "Traveller is your favorite RPG. Why wouldn't you want to start up a campaign? It'll be fun." This is all true. I do love Traveller and I do have the time. Despite this, my will is unyielding, my resistance remains strong and for a very simple reason: I initiate every campaign with the expectation that it will last for years. If I don't feel confident that I can achieve that, I don't see much point in refereeing.

I am very committed to long campaigns. Certainly, not all of my campaigns have succeeded in lasting multiple years and indeed many of them have not lasted even a single year. Yet, that remains my ideal, the thing I hope for every time I decide to invite people to join me in playing a RPG. Anything less than that feels frivolous and simply not worth my time. I'm of an age where I have no interest in flitting like a butterfly from one game to the next. I want to put a campaign properly through its paces, exploring every inch of it with my players and, in my opinion, that can only be done by devoting years to the endeavor. Anything less holds little appeal to me.

Refereeing a long campaign lasting years isn't something one can do casually. It demands not just time but dedication on the part of both the referee and the players. This is, in my experience, not always easy, especially at this present moment in history when distractions abound and compete for our attention. The perseverance required to stick with a single RPG and play it loyally sometimes seems to be in short supply. This is why I considered myself particularly blessed in having not one but two groups of players who show up week after week to play in my campaigns (though there is, to be fair, considerable overlap between the two groups). 

So, for the time being, refereeing a Traveller campaign will have to wait – and that's fine.

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: Hiero's Journey

Since this will likely be the last Pulp Fantasy Gallery post for a while, I thought I'd change things up a bit and go for something a little different this week. Sterling Lanier's 1973 novel, Hiero's Journey, is a work of post-apocalyptic science fantasy of which I am very fond. It also enjoys the unique distinction of being mentioned by name in both Gary Gygax's Appendix N and Tom Wham and Timothy Jones's foreword to the first edition of Gamma World. 

While I'll have a lot more to say about Gamma World over the course of the next week or so, right now I want to focus only on the cover illustrations to Hiero's Journey. Here's the original one, from a hardcover published by Chilton with artwork by Jack Freas. The cover would be re-used for a 1975 hardcover from Sidgwick & Jackson.

The following year, Bantam released a paperback edition as part of its "Frederik Pohl Selection" series. The cover artist is unknown.
1976 saw the arrival of yet another paperback, this time from Panther, with art by Gino D'Achille. This is the first cover that clearly depicts something from the novel. Note, too, the cover blurb invoking The Lord of the Rings, which, by this time, had become the gold standard for the broader "fantasy" genre.
Del Rey/Ballantine's 1983 edition is the one I owned as a kid. The cover is especially memorable to me, thanks to the artwork of Darrell K. Sweet. This cover would be re-used several times over the course of the next decade.
Thanks to the Science Fiction Book Club, the novel gets a new cover by Kevin Johnson in 1984.
A new Panther edition appeared in 1985, with yet another cover by Gino D'Achille, making him the only artist to illustrate the novel twice. Interestingly, his second cover looks to be a variation on the scene depicted on the 1976 edition.

Saturday, February 25, 2023


Though I am fairly certain I'd seen this before – indeed I had to check the archive of this blog to be sure I'd not posted on it long ago – a close friend of mine recently pointed me toward this series of videos that present episodes from the 1978 UK television program, Battleground. Each episode focuses on a different battle, such as the Battle of Edgehill from the English Civil War, the Battle of Waterloo from the Napoleonic Wars, or the Battle of Gettysburg from the US Civil War, and then shows a tabletop miniatures version of that battle as played out by two opponents.

The episodes are weirdly engrossing, particularly to someone such as myself, whose direct experience of miniatures wargaming is very limited. They all include a historical overview of the battle in question by the show's presenter, Ed Woodward, followed by the wargame proper. Though the quality of the posted videos is not high, you can nevertheless appreciate how much work went into the terrain and the miniatures used in them. Frankly, watching videos like this makes me wish I had the time, space, and money to devote myself to the hobby, because it looks like a lot of fun.

Anyway, take a look at Woodward's introduction to the series. It's short, very charming, and gives a good sense of the general tenor of the entire series. If you like it, you can then watch whole episodes, using the link above.

Friday, February 24, 2023

REVIEW: The Spinward Extents

When it comes to Traveller, my preference these days is for what has come to be called "classic" Traveller – GDW's game of science fiction adventure in the far future as published between the years 1977 and 1986. This is the period during which I first became acquainted with the game, so my preference is at least partly born out of nostalgia for those heady days of my youth. At the same time, I also have a genuine philosophical preference for the earliest iteration of Traveller, as I think it's the most elegant and easy-to-use of all editions of the game. Like OD&D, which preceded it by only three years, I find classic Traveller a great foundation on which to build freewheeling and enjoyable SF RPG campaigns.

Because classic Traveller is no longer in print – though you can purchase PDFs (and some POD books) of its entire run through DriveThruRPG – it's not necessarily the best choice for enticing newcomers to take a look at the game. Fortunately, Mongoose Publishing has been producing a new, very playable edition of Traveller since 2008. Though it's not my preferred version, I nevertheless enjoy it and am, in fact, currently playing in a campaign that uses its rules. Currently in its second, revised edition, Mongoose Traveller (as it is sometimes known) is probably the best edition and most accessible version of the game since classic, thanks in no small part to its continued support in the form of supplements and adventures.

One of its most recent supplements is The Spinward Extents, a massive, 368-page hardcover book devoted to describing the disputed border region between the Third Imperium, the Zhodani Consulate, the Aslan Hierate and the Vargr. Given my avowed love of frontiers, this is like catnip to me. The fact that the tome also updates and expands upon the old Paranoia Press sectors, the Beyond and the Vanguard Reaches, only added to its appeal. The Paranoia Press sectors long had a reputation among Traveller fans for being a bit wilder and woollier than the more sober and even staid tone of GDW's own pre-generated sectors. I was thus intensely curious to see what Mongoose had decided to do with them, hoping that they might find a way to keep the reckless inventiveness of the original material while squaring it better with the overall tenor of the Third Imperium setting.

I am very pleased to say that my hopes were largely fulfilled. Though not without flaws, The Spinward Extents is a fine supplement, providing the referee everything he needs in order to run many adventures and indeed entire campaigns in the Beyond and Vanguard Reaches sectors. Before discussing the meat of the book itself, I'd like to write briefly about its physical qualities. As I already noted, the book is big, perhaps a little too big in my opinion. The book's size makes it a little unwieldy as a reference book, particularly given that its index cursory and its table of contents non-existent. This makes finding specific information within its nearly-400 pages difficult at times, though not impossibly so.

The Spinward Extents is full-color throughout, in very stark contrast to the restrained, mostly black and white interiors of classic Traveller materials. That said, the layout is clean and legible. Illustrations of varying quality abound, most of them depicting sophonts, planetscapes, and new starships. Each of these starships also gets deckplans, which are generally serviceable, though rarely as attractive as those of GDW's heyday. The same is true of the sector and subsector maps, which are much "busier" than I'd prefer. Speaking of which, the book also includes two poster-sized maps of the Beyond and the Vanguard Reaches. Despite my qualms about the esthetics of their presentation, they do a very good job of providing a macro-view of the region's sectors.

As one might expect, the book is divided roughly into two parts, with each half devoted to one sector. Each half uses a similar format, starting with a brief introduction, followed by a historical timeline of important events, and then descriptions of the major interstellar states within the sector. One of the main attractions of a region of space like this is its political diversity (and instability) compared to the sclerotic Imperium. Many government descriptions also include starship designs unique to their forces, along with game stats and the aforementioned illustrations and deckplans. Non-governmental organizations (and their starships and special equipment) also receive descriptions, as do non-human sophonts. 

Each of the sectors' sixteen subsectors gets several pages devoted to it, starting with an overview and a listing of its Universal World Profiles, the string of letters and numbers that describe a star system's primary inhabited body (planet or asteroid belt). Between three and six worlds are singled out for additional detail, in order to give some sense of the flavor of each subsector. In some cases, a world description might include additional game-related material, like a mapped location, an animal native to it, or yet more unique starships – there are a lot of new starships in this book. The material in the subsector write-ups forms the bulk of The Spinward Extents and is quite varied, giving players and referees alike plenty of ideas for characters and scenarios. All in all, it's reasonably well done.

As I said earlier in this review, my hopes for The Spinward Extents were largely fulfilled and that's no mean feat. I am a diehard Traveller fan of long standing, who knows the Third Imperium setting like the back of my hand. I am thus the proverbial tough audience for products like this and my complaints are mostly quibbles about esthetic choices. Reading this book left me wanting to start a campaign in this region of space, since it offered me plenty of little seeds that I could easily imagine flowering into exciting science fiction adventures. Even more, I found myself interested in Mongoose's other supplements, something I never expected to happen. In the end, I suppose that's the highest recommendation of all.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Gary Gygax on the BBC

Excerpted from a 1982 episode of the documentary series, Fields of Play, entitled "Why do we play tabletop games?" Thanks to Thaddeus Moore for the pointer.

A Complete Timeline of Early D&D Scenarios

Over at his blog, Explore: Beneath & Beyond, Joe Nuttall has put together an excellent series of posts in which he presents a complete timeline early D&D scenarios from 1971(!) to 1979. If you're at all interested in the early history of the hobby, I highly recommend that you take a look at them, along with Joe's other content. 

Be warned: time flies while reading these posts! I must confess I lost a couple of hours while I was reading and re-reading their details. Good stuff!

Gygax vs Gygax

Earlier this year, I commented on the fact that most of Gary Gygax's published D&D modules were aimed at the higher levels of play. Yet, he also wrote two adventures geared toward beginning-level characters that are widely recognized as absolute classics, The Village of Hommlet and The Keep on the Borderlands. Indeed, they're among the most well known Dungeons & Dragons adventures ever published and, even now, exercise considerable influence over how both game designers and game players conceive of a beginner's adventure.

As one might imagine, there are a number of similarities between the two adventures, starting with the fact that they both first appeared in 1979. In addition, each proclaims itself to be an "introductory" module. Further, their basic scenarios are very much alike: the titular isolated community is menaced by the lurking threats of Chaos and Evil and it is up to the newly arrived player characters to investigate and, if possible, stem their growing tide. In prose to rival his description of the Drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu, Gygax explains the broad situation thusly in The Keep on the Borderlands:
The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies – dwarves, elves, and halflings – who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. 
Truly evocative stuff in my opinion, providing some insight into how Gygax conceived of the "world" of Dungeons & Dragons and the role of adventurers within it.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few differences between the two modules and it's these that most interest me. The most immediately apparent one is the game line for which each was published. The Keep on the Borderlands bears a banner in its upper lefthand corner, "For Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set," while The Village of Hommlet prominently displays the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons logo – a logo so large, in fact, that it dwarfs the actual title of the module itself. Though I cannot be certain, I suspect that it's this difference – Basic D&D versus AD&D that might explain many of the other differences.

Take, for example, the quote from The Keep on the Borderlands above. The equivalent bit of background in The Village of Hommlet is much longer and not nearly so evocative, reading more like a history – and a dry one at that – of Hommlet and the battle against the forces of the Temple of Elemental Evil: "Hommlet grew from a farm or two, a rest house, and a smithy. The road brought a sufficient number of travellers and merchant wagons to attract tradesmen ..." and so on. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, but it's not particularly inspiring. It comes across like a lecture by a sage rather than a call to adventure.

On the other hand, Hommlet's background is so much more specific than that presented in The Keep on the Borderlands. Whereas module T1's background section gives us lots of names – Oerik, Verbobonc, Nyr Dyv, Dyvers, Nulb, and more – B2 instead offers us "the Realm of mankind," "the Keep," "the Borderlands," and "the Caves of Chaos." Certainly these have a mythic quality to them, like something out of a fairytale or legend, but their purposeful lack of specificity works against the kind of groundedness I feel is necessary to prevent a fantasy setting from "floating away," if you get my meaning. 

This lack of specificity applies to the entirety of The Keep on the Borderlands. There are, for instance, no named NPCs in the entire module. Gygax only gives us "the smith," "the barkeep," "the scribe," "the castellan." Even "the Mad Hermit" lacks a name, as does "the evil priest" who oversees "the temple of evil chaos" within the Caves of Chaos. In Hommlet, though, we meet many named individuals, like the brothers Elmo and Otis, Ostler Gundigoot, proprietor of the Inn of the Welcome Wench, Black Jay the herdsman, Canon Terjon, Burne and Rufus, and many more. Hommlet feels very much like a real place, one whose inhabitants are more than just cardboard cut-outs..

Mind you, these differences might simply reflect different intentions. The Keep on the Borderlands is much more clearly intended to be a teaching module, as the extensive Notes for the Dungeon Master make clear. The lack of specificity may have been intended so that individual referees could more easily alter the module and its contents to suit his own tastes and the nature of his own campaign. Meanwhile, The Village of Hommlet, while still introductory in nature, is intended, at least in part, to The World of Greyhawk setting and its conflicts. 

Also, as I mentioned earlier in this post, I suspect the fact that B2 is a Basic module while T1 is an Advanced one likewise plays a role. While both The Village of Hommlet and The Keep on the Borderlands are intended for beginning characters, only module B2 is also intended for beginning players. Module T1 is an adventure for the 1st-level characters of already experienced players overseen by an already experienced referee. The Keep on the Borderlands, contrariwise, truly was written as "Baby's First D&D Module" for everyone involved, hence its lack of specificity. Neither approach is inherently superior to the other. Rather, they are written according to the needs of very different audiences, as they should be.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Retrospective: Challenge

The first issue of The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society appeared in 1979 as a (theoretically) quarterly magazine devoted to GDW's science fiction RPG, Traveller. At that time, Traveller was the company's only actively supported roleplaying game, so it made sense that its sole periodical would be devoted wholly to it. With the publication of Twilight: 2000 in 1984, however, the situation had changed and GDW decided that a gaming magazine with a wider scope was needed. 

That magazine was Challenge and its advent in 1986 was initially controversial, at least among Traveller fans. Its inaugural issue was not designated "No. 1" but rather "No. 25," on the basis that it was a continuation of JTAS rather than being its replacement. This was done in large part to assuage the concerns of Traveller fans who feared that GDW was abandoning their beloved game in favor of Twilight: 2000. To further allay their fears, issue no. 25 devoted all of its Traveller articles in a separate section in its center pages that mimicked the format and layout of the original JTAS. Loren Wiseman's opening editorial even notes that "the center 8 pages are designed to be removed" by "those not interested in Twilight: 2000," thereby preserving the illusion that JTAS still existed.

This situation did not last long, however. The combination of the popularity of Twilight: 2000 and the release of its sci-fi sequel, Traveller: 2300later that same year put an end to this internal JTAS section after only three issues. If GDW received any complaints about this, the company could quite correctly argue that the coverage of Traveller had not decreased on an issue-by-issue basis, only that other GDW games were now placed on equal footing. Moreover, given that Challenge was appearing bimonthly rather than quarterly as JTAS had been, the amount of new Traveller material released each year was actually increasing. It helped, too, that the quality of Challenge's Traveller articles remained high, thanks in no small part to the many JTAS writers who continued to pen material for the new magazine.

Even so, the Traveller fans were correct in their original anxieties. As time went on and GDW expanded its catalog of roleplaying games, the amount of space devoted to Traveller – and eventually its ill-named successor, MegaTraveller – started to decline. The articles remained quite good, by and large, but there were a lot fewer of them, a situation that only worsened when Challenge expanded its coverage yet again, in 1988, to include non-GDW games, like Battletech, Star Trek, and Star Wars, among many others. It was around this time that the magazine changed its subtitle from "GDW's Magazine of Adventure Gaming" to "GDW's Magazine of Futuristic Gaming" (and, later, "The Magazine of Science-Fiction Gaming"), since its focus remained RPGs that could broadly be called "sci-fi" in their content.

Devoted fan of Traveller that I was – and am – I was never as put off by this expansion of scope as were some of my older contemporaries. The mere fact that I now had a gaming magazine devoted solely to science fiction games was more than enough to win my allegiance. Challenge was thus an excellent companion to Dragon, whose focus on SF had always been spotty (all the more so after the ending of the "Ares Section" not long after Challenge first appeared). Consequently, it soon became my favorite RPG periodical. 

Challenge was also where I first tried my hand at professional RPG writing. My very first published credit, "Contact: Answerin" appeared in issue no. 55 (December 1991) and, over the next few years, right up until the magazine's demise in 1995, my byline appeared quite regularly in its pages. This fact probably plays some role in my affection for Challenge, though not all of it. The magazine excelled in the area of adventures, with a good amount of its regular content being clever scenarios for a wide variety of SF RPGs. It also included equally clever rules expansions and options, which were just as welcome at my table. 

Until I started writing this post, I'd half-forgotten how much I'd enjoyed reading and writing for Challenge. As with my thoughts about its publisher, GDW, thinking back on Challenge – and the times during which it flowered – ushers in some feelings of wistfulness and melancholy in me. Ah, well ...

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

For Every Era ...

As I mentioned in my Retrospective post, I haven't played a lot of GURPS, though I've long admired the ambition of its design. I recall seeing advertisements for the game in various gaming magazines long before I ever opened a copy of the rulebook. This one, from early 1985, really piqued my interest in GURPS, in large part because of the artwork, which had the kind of sober, serious – even a little dull – style that I often find compelling. 

White Dwarf: Issue #66

Issue #66 of White Dwarf (June 1985) is once again graced by a Chris Achilleos cover illustration. I've always been very fond of his artwork and this piece is no exception. This issue also marks another step, albeit a small one, down the road toward Games Workshop's transformation into an all-Warhammer-all-the-time company. Ian Livingstone's editorial opines that "there is obviously a resurgence of interest in wargaming," with the growing popularity of Warhammer Fantasy Battle being offered as evidence of this. I suspect his prognostication would ultimately prove correct. Warhammer's success was real and lasting; it played a huge role in revitalizing the field of miniatures wargaming, a segment of the larger hobby that continues to be very successful (and profitable) today. 

Speaking of miniatures wargaming, this issue's "Open Box" kicks off with a positive (7 out of 10) review of FASA's Battledroids, the earliest iteration of the Battletech line of games. Slightly more glowing (8 out of 10) is its review of the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle Rules. There's also a review of the 48K Spectrum version of Talisman (7 out of 10). Rounding out the reviews are The Halls of the Dwarven Kings (8 out of 10) and not one but two Fighting Fantasy gamebooks: House of Hell and talisman of Death (both 9 out of 10). I owned and enjoyed House of Hell, which has a modern day haunted house setting. It also included a Fear score that increases as the reader's character deals with more frights within the titular locale. Once the score reaches a high enough number, the character is "scared to death." The mechanic introduces an interesting dynamic, as the reader tries to avoid encounters, since each one contributes to the Fear score and its inevitable consequences.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" laments the "fantasy explosion" in publishing with words I could almost have written: "SF is my true love ... Fie on fantasy: for me the highest literary values consist of megalmaniac computers, hyperspatial leaps and colliding black holes." He then goes on to review multiple fantasy books he considers "consistently better than the SF." Interestingly – or perhaps simply indicative of my own cramped tastes – the only one of these great fantasies he mentions that I recognize is Piers Anthony's On a Pale Horse, the first of his "Incarnations of Immortality" series – and I don't count myself a fan. Langford nevertheless does review a few SF books, including E.C. Tubb's twenty-second Dumarest of Terra novel, The Terra Data. In his review, he notes that "beyond rotten sentences [it] has a plot resembling the previous ones: hero Dumarest tepidly pursued by omniscient yet inept Cybers, fights through unconquerable barriers of padding to obtain secret whereabouts of lost Earth, only to suffer his 22nd failure. Soporific." Cruel but accurate (and I say this as a fan of Tubb).

"The Road Goes Ever On" by Graham Staplehurst is a very nice overview/review of Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle-earth Role Playing and some of its supplements. Reading it again almost made me want to dust off my copy of MERP and give it a whirl again. Part Four of the "Thrud the Destroyer" saga continues, as the evil necromancer To-Me Ku-Pa employs dark sorcery to summon "the essence of evil throughout time." Behold!

"A Web in the Dark" by Simon Burley presents rules suggestions for adapting Spider-Man and similar superheroes to Games Workshop's Golden Heroes (which I need to review one day). "Once Risen, Twice Shy" by Steve Williams and Barney Sloane is a fun collection of documents – news clippings, handwritten notes, reports – that outline a grisly scenario for use with Call of Cthulhu. It's all quite well done and evocative. My only complaint is that the layout of the issue would make it difficult to easily photocopy and use the documents in play. Meanwhile, "Ambush!" by D.P. O'Connor is a three-page treatment of how best to simulate ambushes in Warhammer miniatures battles. 

"The Horse of the Invisible" by A.J. Bradbury is an excellent Call of Cthulhu scenario adapted from the William Hope Hodgson story of the same name. The adventure is lengthy, detailed, and, above all, dangerous – as the best CoC adventures are – well done. "The Philosopher's Stone" by David Whiteland is another lengthy and detailed scenario, this time for AD&D characters of levels 1-2. As its title suggests, the adventure involves alchemy and quite cleverly makes use of alchemical mixtures and reactions as part of resolving it. I loved this scenario in my youth and used it to good effect in kicking off a new campaign in my high school era setting.

"The Silent Hater" is a well done installment of "Fiend Factory," which strings together five different AD&D monsters and a map to create the outlines of an adventure for the enterprising referee to drop into his campaign. This is "Fiend Factory" at its best in my opinion and I was always glad to see them. On the other hand, "The Rings of Alignment" by Graeme Drysdale does little for me. There are five such artifact-level rings – one each for Law, Chaos, Good, Evil, and Neutrality – each with their own powerful guardian and special powers to those who wear them, either singly or in conjunction with others. I suppose such magic items have their place in certain kinds of campaigns, but I've rarely found them all that useful.

"Open House" is Joe Dever and Gary Chalk's report Citadel Miniatures' "Open Days," which attracted over 2000 gamers to the company's factory to participate in miniatures battles and painting competitions. The article includes photos of some of the winners of the latter and they are, of course, quite impressive. I find myself, as always, wishing I'd taken up miniatures painting when I was younger. Oh well! Closing out the issue are new episodes of both "The Travellers" and "Gobbledigook."

All in all, this is another worthwhile issue, filled with several excellent articles. That said, the increasing presence of Warhammer and related things is quite clear. I can't say that I blame Games Workshop for emphasizing their own products, especially at a time when they're growing in popularity. However, never having been a miniatures wargamer of any kind, let alone a player of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, I could see the writing on the wall. It wasn't too much longer before I ceased reading White Dwarf and turned my attention elsewhere.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Inspirations of Gamma World

Based on the comments to the second part of my recent post on My Top 10 Non-D&D RPGs, my opinion that Gamma World should be viewed more as an example of the "dying earth" fantasy genre than as an example of straight-up post-apocalyptic science fiction was well received. This got me to thinking a bit more about Gamma World and its inspirations. While I suspect I'll dig more deeply into this in future posts, for the moment I wanted to present what editors Tom Wham and Timothy Jones had to say on this matter.

In their May 21, 1978 foreword to the first edition of the game, they write:

Drawing inspiration from such works as The Long Afternoon of Earth by Brian Aldiss, Starman's Son by Andre Norton, Hiero's Journey by Sterling Lanier, and Ralph Bakshi's animated feature film Wizards, the referee of a GAMMA WORLD campaign fleshes out the game, adding any details he or she deems necessary, and thereby creating a unique world in which day-to-day survival is in doubt. The rules are flexible enough to allow for a variety of approaches to the game – anything from strictly "hard" science-fiction attention to physical probabilities to a free-flowing Bakshian combination of science-fiction and fantasy.

What's apparent from this section of the foreword is that, as written, Gamma World was intended to be a fairly open-ended set of rules without a specific feel beyond whatever the referee introduced into his own campaign. In this respect, it's not unlike Dungeons & Dragons (and indeed most other early RPGs). The explicit inspirations mentioned above are eclectic, though none of them strike me as particularly "hard science fiction." The fact that every edition of the game that I ever owned (1st through 3rd) called itself a science fantasy game is telling.

Still, I think this is a topic worthy of further discussion. I believe there is more going here than is popularly imagined. If nothing else, it'll be yet more grist for my delving into the literary origins of roleplaying games.

Pulp Fantasy Gallery: Three Hearts and Three Lions

Poul Anderson's 1961 novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions (originally released in two parts in the September and October 1953 issues of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy) is one of the most influential fantasy tales ever written, though I imagine very few fantasy fans under the age of 50 have read it. Michael Moorcock, for example, thought very highly of it, borrowing its conception of the eternal war of Law versus Chaos for his Elric stories, which in turn influenced countless other authors. Among those was Gary Gygax, whose conception of alignment in Dungeons & Dragons – itself a remarkably influential fantasy text – derives equally from Moorock and Anderson, hence the inclusion of both authors in Appendix N to his Dungeon Masters Guide.

I was (and am) a huge fan of Poul Anderson's science fiction stories, particularly those featuring the character of Dominic Flandry, but I don't think I picked up any of his fantasy stories until sometime after I'd already started playing D&D. When I finally did so, I think it was The High Crusade that initially most impressed me. In the years since, my appreciation for Three Hearts and Three Lions has eclipsed it, especially as I came to understand its importance to the subsequent history of fantasy.

The first book edition appeared in 1961 as a hardcover from Doubleday and featured a fairly obvious cover image, though its artist is notable – Edward Gorey:

The following year, in 1962, Avon released the book in paperback, with a cover illustration by Richard Powers. This was, I believe, the edition I first encountered almost two decades later:
In 1970, Avon re-released the book with a new cover by Jeff Jones:
Just a few years later, in 1974, Sphere released a UK paperback. Patrick Woodroffe provided this cover illustration:

Later, in 1978, Berkeley released a new paperback edition, this time with art by Wayne Barlowe. 
There was a special Doubleday hardcover edition released in 1983 and made available to members of the Science Fiction Book Club. Susan Collins is the cover artist.
Rounding out the '80s is another paperback edition from Ace, this time with a cover by Carl Lundgren.

Friday, February 17, 2023

My Top 10 Non-D&D RPGs (Part II)

Part I of this list can be found here

5. Star Trek the Role Playing Game

Star Trek is my original fandom. I started watching the Original Series in reruns on a local TV channel growing up and instantly fell in love with it. As a kid, I read everything about or related to the show that I could and one of my proudest possessions was a gold Starfleet uniform shirt that I probably wore far too often. Consequently, the appearance of FASA's 1982 was a major event for me. I bought a copy as soon as I could and immediately started refereeing a long-running campaign with my friends. In most respects, FASA's rules were nothing special – a fairly basic percentile-driven system – but they included two things that set them apart in my opinion. The first was the lifepath character generation system, which helped players get a handle on who their characters were before the campaign began. The second was a character-based starship combat system that nicely evoked the feel of ship-to-ship combat from the TV series. These, combined with the obvious love the game showed toward its source material, makes Star Trek the Role Playing Game one of my favorite RPGs even today.

4. Gamma World

I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings, so it was natural that Gamma World would appeal to me. Nowadays, it's pretty common among gamers to make fun of GW and its rather, shall we say, idiosyncratic take on the End Times. On the one hand, I can understand that. From the vantage point of the present, Gamma World, with its mutant chicken-men and rabbits that can turn metal to rubber with a touch, certainly might appear silly. On the other hand, I think what's often misunderstood about the game is that it actually owes a lot more to the "dying earth" fantasy sub-genre than straight science fictional speculation. Gamma World postulates that the End Times come several hundred years hence, when all sorts of technological marvels exist and have made Earth quite unlike our own age. After the Fall, Earth becomes genuinely weird, thanks to artificial intelligences, mutagenic substances, and reality warping weapons. That's precisely why I continue to love it and why I hope to have the chance to referee another campaign of it one day.

3. Call of Cthulhu

Like Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu is another "perfect" game in the way that it marries its game mechanics and its source material. Of course, despite its original subtitle – "Fantasy Role-Playing in the Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft" – Call of Cthulhu's source material is much broader than simply the works of HPL. As I have argued before, CoC owes a great deal to Lovecraft's admirer, August Derleth, whose literary vision is far less bleak than that of his hero. An RPG based solely on Lovecraft's nihilistic cosmicism would certainly be horrific, but would it be fun to play? I personally don't think so, which is why Sandy Petersen was wise to have leavened the existential gloom of Lovecraft with healthy doses of Derlethian optimism. In any event, I've played a lot of Call of Cthulhu over the years and hope to do so again in the future. It is, hands down, my favorite horror roleplaying game and yet another reminder that Chaosium is one of the great publishers of our hobby

2. Empire of the Petal Throne

This is the only game on this list that I didn't play in my youth. Indeed, I never had the opportunity to play Empire of the Petal Throne until a few years ago, when I began my House of Worms campaign. Now, just shy of eight years of continuous play with a consistent group of players, there can be little doubt that EPT is one of my favorite RPGs. Naturally, its remarkable setting, Tékumel, is a big part of why, but there have been several other Tékumel games released over the years and none of them has ever had the staying power of Empire of the Petal Throne. In large part, that's because EPT is so simple. Its rules are easy to remember and use, which is important when playing in a setting as complex and detailed as Tékumel and I suspect my players would agree. 

Surprising precisely no one reading this blog, Traveller is at the top of this list for too many reasons to list. For our present purposes, I will focus on two. First, Traveller is the only game besides D&D whose rules I know well enough that I can play it without having to refer to any rulebooks. After so many years and so many campaigns, slipping back into Traveller is effortless. Second, Traveller is the game that served as my gateway to professional writing. Way back in the early '90s, when I was still in college, I made the acquaintance of other Traveller fans who encouraged me to submit articles to GDW's Challenge. I was not only successful in this, but doing so eventually opened the door to my writing not just for Traveller but for many other games as well. Traveller is and probably always will be my "true love" when it comes to RPGs. I am absolutely certain that I will play many more campaigns of it in the years to come.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

My Top 10 Non-D&D RPGs (Part I)

In a comment to a recent post, I was asked to put together a Top 10 list of my favorite non-D&D RPGs. I thought that was a good idea and today's post is the first half of that list. In putting the list together, I spent some time reflecting on which games I both liked and had played extensively over the course of my time in the hobby. Most of the results were obvious, but a handful surprised me. For this two-part post, I've kept the entries brief. However, I may return to several of them in separate posts where I talk at greater length about my experiences with these games and why I would rank them among my favorites.

Part II will appear tomorrow.

10. Gangbusters

I've always liked the idea of historical RPGs, but, in practice, they're often difficult to pull off. One of their biggest obstacles in my opinion is that players – and referees too – are often at a loss deciding precisely what to do in a past setting. That's not the case with TSR's Gangbusters. For one, it takes place during the gang wars of the USA's Prohibition Era, which naturally lends itself to something more akin to the "adventuring" found in purely fictional worlds. For another, the game's compact 64-page rules give plenty of rules and advice on how to run a campaign. Everything from police procedures to investigative journalism to criminal activities gets its due. Gangbusters is the only historical RPG I've ever played successfully for any length of time and I regularly consider trying to do so again. It's a terrific, underappreciated gem of the first decade of the hobby.

9. Fading Suns

Science fiction has always been my jam, so I don't think anyone will be surprised to see a large number of SF RPGs on this list. That said, Fading Suns is science fiction in the same way that one might call Star Wars science fiction, which is to say, it involves blasters and starships but is otherwise more of a space fantasy. That's not a criticism of Fading Suns, which makes excellent use of a number of thematic and setting elements that are right up my alley, like religion, ancient mysteries, weird technology, feudalism, and more. The game's setting has always been its main strength, since it's never had a rules system with which I was wholly comfortable. Even so, I've had a lot of fun with it over the years, having run a couple of enjoyable campaigns in the late '90s and early 2000s. I hope one day to do it again.

8. Pendragon

Pendragon is one of only a handful of RPGs I'd consider "perfect," in the sense that they perfectly marry their mechanics and subject matter. It's for this reason that the game is sometimes considered the late Greg Stafford's masterpiece and I largely agree with that judgment. Stafford managed to achieve with Pendragon something he never quite managed with RuneQuest: the creation of rules that fully immersed the player into the world – and worldview – of the game. That Pendragon's mechanics are quite simple (and mostly straightforward) makes it very easy on both players and the referee to enter a fully realized Arthurian world. I recently had the chance to play Pendragon again over the last couple of years and enjoyed myself greatly. The game remains every bit as good as I remembered its being.

Science fiction rears its head again. Traveller: 2300 – later renamed 2300 AD to avoid confusion with its unrelated predecessor – is a game I strongly associate with the last years of high school and the start of my college education. During those years, I was much devoted to it, in large part because I found its setting so compelling. From its interesting (and unexpected) future history to its plausible future technologies to its truly alien aliens, it had everything that I wanted in a SF RPG at the time. Like many other games on this list, Traveller: 2300 suffered a little because of its clunky rules, but it more than made up for it with its compelling vision of a future three centuries hence. I haven't played in this particular SF sandbox in a long time; perhaps I need to change that in the years to come.

6. Twilight: 2000

At the time it was released, just as I was starting high school, Twilight: 2000 seemed like a fairly plausible take on the End of the World, certainly when compared to more fanciful post-apocalyptic games like Gamma World. Strangely, that was a big part of the game's appeal to me. Later, it was the way the game and its supplements emphasized the importance of rebuilding civilization after the destruction of World War III that held my attention, making it one of the more hopeful post-apocalyptic RPGs. Twilight: 2000 is one of only a few games on this last that I am currently playing and, in its current iteration, is now firmly within the realm of alternate history (I hope). We've been having a lot of fun with it and I intend to talk more about my experiences with it in future posts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Retrospective: Library Data

My enduring affection for GDW's science fiction roleplaying game Traveller is a recurring topic of discussion on this blog, as is my similar affection for its Third Imperium setting. No matter how often I've felt that I was ready to "move on" from Traveller, I've never done so for long – and indeed often came back to the game and its setting with renewed enthusiasm. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but the primary one, I think, is how well I know both the game's rules and its official setting.

That extensive knowledge comes after decades of playing and refereeing, as well as reading and writing about Traveller. I know a great deal about Traveller and can, if given the opportunity, talk at length about its minutiae. In fact, I very much enjoy doing so, since it's a science fiction setting that tickles all my particular fancies, some of which no doubt exist precisely because I've been a fan of Traveller for so long.

Ironically, this extensive knowledge is also why I have in the past attempted to leave Traveller behind. After more than forty-years, the game has acquired an immense collection of facts and details about its Third Imperium setting, facts and details that, within the game, are sometimes called library data. As presented in the game's earliest supplements and scenarios, library data were supposed to be bits of information the player characters could obtain through research, the knowledge of which might aid them in the course of their adventures. 

Over time, though, library data became much more than that, as evidenced by a pair of supplements released in 1981 and 1982. Supplement 8: Library Data (A–M) and Supplement 11: Library Data (N–Z) together formed what might be considered the first encyclopedia of the Third Imperium setting. Both of these 48-page booklets contained reams of information about the history, worlds, species, cultures, and technology of the 57th century. While some of this information was simply collected from earlier sources, such as adventures or the pages of The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, much of it was entirely new or at least expanded upon information we'd seen previously. The end result was the presentation of an immense, coherent, and very specific far future setting for use with Traveller.

I adored these supplements when they were first released and, for a long time, considered them among the best things every produced for Traveller. What's not to love? Not only did it include a chronology starting 300,000 years in the past, but it also included entries on important historical events within the setting, key worlds within and without the Imperium, all its emperors and empresses, and so much more. For someone like myself, who's always been obsessed with setting detail, the two Library Data supplements were like catnip. I cannot begin to count the hours I spent reading and re-reading them, committing all their entries to memory, to the point that I suspect I know some aspects of the Third Imperium setting better than I do their equivalents in the real world.

Such knowledge proved very useful to me over the years. My command of this information has certainly made my Traveller sessions more immersive, if my players over the years are to be believed. They also aided me in getting my start as a professional writer of RPG material. My first published works were in the pages of GDW's Challenge magazine, thanks in large part to my ability to spin library data information into Traveller scenarios. This was, after all, the original purpose of library data.

Yet, library data was also a great temptation – at least to someone of my particular bent. It was very easy to turn the creation and study of setting-based trivia into an end in itself rather than an aid to play. During the 1990s, when I was most active in Traveller fandom, I detected a very strong tendency among Traveller's most ardent fans to obsess over library data almost to the exclusion of all other forms of engagement with the game, including play. This is not a behavior exclusive to Traveller fans; I have observed it in Tékumel fans too and have been told by others that it's prevalent elsewhere. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with having a game whose setting is rich in detail. As I know only too well, such details can be used to heighten immersion and inspire adventures and those are very good things indeed. They can also displace actual play and discourage newcomers from ever taking an interest in the setting. Recognizing this is one of the reasons why I've frequently abandoned Traveller. I often got the sense that its most fervent fans never really played the game but were only interested in it as a purely intellectual exercise. Even as someone who appreciated the joy that can come from such activity, this repulsed me. A roleplaying game setting – especially one with lots of interesting details – is only good to the extent that it's being used for roleplaying.

This is why I have such mixed feelings about those Library Data supplements. The world building details they contain thrilled me as a younger person and inspired lots of great gaming that I still remember to this day. They're also a trap, one that has too often led me away from actually playing Traveller and down a dead end of simply fixating on its trivia. Older and perhaps a little wiser, I understand this, but I nevertheless remain wary of them and other RPG supplements of a similar sort.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023


White Dwarf: Issue #65

Issue #65 of White Dwarf (May 1985) features a cover by Chris Achilleos derived from a painting that had previously been used in a Fighting Fantasy advertisement (or perhaps they both derive the same painting). This was a common practice for White Dwarf and not in itself noteworthy. I only mention in this instance, because I actually remembered the original FF ad. Ian Livingstone's editorial mentions "a slight decline in fantasy gaming in the USA," which he clarifies as meaning that "the fickle mass market in the USA ... are tired of it." Based on my own memories, this seems about right. The peak fad years of Dungeons & Dragons were largely over and TSR itself was in knee-deep in the struggle between Gary Gygax and the Blume brothers for control of TSR. That said, it certainly didn't feel that way to me at the time.

"The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Odd" by Phil Masters is a decent article about the creation and use of non-player characters in superhero RPGs. However, my enjoyment of it was seriously hampered not by anything in its content by its godawful layout, one of the worst in the long history of White Dwarf's godawful layouts. Let your eyes feast upon this:
More damning than the possibility that this layout could trigger epileptic seizures in the reader, it's almost completely illegible. The combination of colors, especially in the areas that combine a white background with black text and a red overlay, makes the thing almost impossible to read. This isn't just middle age speaking; this was true even in my teen years before I ever owned a pair of glasses. What were they thinking?

Fortunately, "Open Box" is as readable as ever. This issue, there are reviews for West End's Paranoia (7 out of 10), which used to be a favorite of mine. Reviewer Marcus L. Rowland quite correctly points out that, though fun, Paranoia is probably not suitable for a "prolonged campaign." Also reviewed are the first three Alien Modules for GDW's Traveller, focusing on the Aslan (9 out of 10), K'Kree (7 out of 10), and Vargr (9 out of 10). Concluding the column are reviews of three different supplements and adventures for use with FASA's Star Trek RPG: The Romulans (8 out of 10), The Orion Ruse (9 out of 10), and Margin of Profit (8 out of10). For a lover of science fiction like myself, this issue included a great collection of product reviews.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" is an unexpectedly good installment this months, perhaps because I'm much more familiar with the books he's reviewing. Langford starts off talking about the Dune series and, by and large, I agree with his initial assessments: Dune is excellent, Dune Messiah almost as good, Children of Dune a mess, and God-Emperor of Dune a slog. Unlike Langford, who – unexpectedly – enjoyed both Heretics of Dune and Chapter House: Dune, I was by turns annoyed and bored. Go figure, He also spends some time slagging Dragons of Autumn Twilight, which is a fine way to spend one's time: "inspired by an AD&D campaign full of chunks ripped bleeding from Tolkien." Langford says he couldn't even finish it; I sometimes wish I could say the same. Langford's byline reappears beneath "The Distressing Damsel," a humorous fantasy tale that I didn't love, but I also didn't hate, so that's something, I guess.

"Thrud the Barbarian" continues its fun "Thrud the Destroyer" storyline. Rather than waste time talking about it, here's a reproduction of the comic to give you a sense of its content.
Graham Miller's "Smile Please" is an adventure for Traveller that is better in concept than execution. The characters are contracted to transport a mysterious box aboard a merchant vessel filled with a motley assortment of fellow passengers. As the ship enters jump space, some of these passengers start dying, seemingly as the result of a murderer in their midst. In truth, the whole thing is part of an Imperial version of the TV show, Candid Camera, which is a bit of a letdown. Mind you, I never ran this scenario, so perhaps it works well in play, though I have my doubts.

"Balancing Act" by Mike Lewis is an interesting early example of discussing the possible tension between the logic of drama (or "storytelling") and the unexpected outcomes of rules. Lewis suggests downplaying the role of rules to ensure a greater degree of dramatic coherence in a campaign and provides lots of examples and suggestions on how to handle this. His ultimate point is that the flow of a game session ought not to be broken by an errant dice roll or even the dictates of a rule. A good referee understands the need for judgment calls when in-game events dictate it. I find it hard to disagree, though leaning into this approach too heavily leads to the railroad and similar pathologies.

"The Sahuagin Heel" by Graeme Drysdale is a nice little AD&D adventure for characters of levels 2–4. The scenario involves a string of islands menaced by the aforementioned sahuagin. It's a solid sea-based adventure, with numerous interesting encounters, including tricks and traps. If it has a flaw, it's the extensive backstory presented at the start of the adventure to set the stage. In general, I prefer less of this sort of thing, but that's just personal preference. "The Other Imperium" by Michael Scott presents several civilian organizations for use with Traveller, like Intercredit (an intersellar banking service) and the Mercenary Monitoring Corps. Much more interesting is the latest installment of "The Travellers" comic, which has a go at Star Trek in forms of the characters of Captain Quirk and his first officer, Speck. We're also treated to more "Gobbledigook," though I almost missed it this time, because its placement amidst a sea of advertisements at the end of the issue obscured it somewhat.

"Forecasting the Runes" by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson is an article for RuneQuest that presents two small rules/world additions to the game. The first is the titular runes, which function as a type of augury, while the second pertains to a system of birth signs based around the four parts of the soul (as understood by Glorantha's Lunar Empire). Both are quite flavorful and, just as importantly, mechanically simple, which I think is very important. Well done! Meanwhile, "The Noegyth Nibin" by Steven Prizeman stats up the "pettty dwarfs" of Tolkien's Silmarillion in D&D terms. 

"Armed to the Teeth" by MJ Bourne is (yet another) collection of unusual historical weapons for use with D&D – stuff like the misericorde and poinard, alongside the boomerang and blowpipe. I don't hate articles like this, but I do question their utility after so many others have been written – and are still being written – that cover the same material. Finally, there's "Horse Sense" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk in which they discuss the intricacies of painting horse miniatures for use with RPGs and tabletop wargames. As always, I find this series weirdly fascinating, perhaps because I know so little about miniatures painting.

And there you have it: issue #65 of White Dwarf. It's a better than average issue in my opinion, though a little more staid than earlier issues in the magazine's run. Unfortunately, that's the nature of these sorts of things. As a publication becomes more polished and "professional," its content is both more consistent and more "safe." Much as I have commented negatively about the inconsistency of White Dwarf's content in its early days, I nevertheless recognize that that inconsistency was, in some respects, a necessary consequence of its newness – the very same newness that regularly inspired some truly phenomenal creativity and that I'd love to see again.