Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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.


  1. Interesting. Talisman of Death and House of Hades (as it was titled here in the U.S.), were the first two Fighting Fantasies I bought, and I bought them at the same time, after having stumbled across a brand new bookstore in the fall of 1986 that sold them. As it turned out, it was the only bookstore in metro Atlanta that I visited that did/would sell them.

    I was hooked from the start. Much more serious-minded and grim than its predecessors, with intelligent multiple choice options to make at each reference, they didn't fall victim to the silliness or the banality that plagued their competition. As such, I've been a lifelong fan.

  2. FYI To-me Ku-pa is a pun on Tommy Cooper the eccentric English comedian.

  3. House of Hades vs House of Hell. Looks like there was a Satanic Panic element with the US publishers.

  4. It may not be obvious to non-UK residents, but the Necromancer To-Me Ku-Pa is a reference to British stage magician / comedian Tommy Cooper.

  5. "...Games Workshop's Golden Heroes (which I need to review one day)."

    I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. It's one of the few early supers RPGs I've never seen firsthand, much less gotten to play, and while I familiar with it in general more info about a game in a genre I'm so fond of is always nice.

    ""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."

    One of Hodgson's better stories IMO. Wonder how much it was inspired by the Hobby Horse traditions popular in parts of the UK.

  6. "It wasn't too much longer before I ceased reading White Dwarf and turned my attention elsewhere." Pity poor young Simon who only started reading White Dwarf at #84! I had less than a year of the True WD before it all went to sh*t. Probably made me the pessimistic paleoconservative I am today. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

  7. Blackwolf (wizards) and To Me Ku Pa share a common methodology for conquest it seems

  8. I sold my copy of MERP for a sum near £100 ...

  9. Just flipped through some old issues, and it's so easy to pinpoint the real decline to when Ian Livingstone quit as editor and then when GW moved to Nottingham not too long after, losing all it's staff in the process. If neither had happened the decline might still have occurred, but maybe it would have been less jarring.

    The next major event was the mid 80s (issue numbers, not years) when Blood Bowl was released and seemed to just take over the magazine, but that can wait until you get to there.

    1. You can pinpoint the exact issue when Bryan Ansell tells the WD staff they are moving to Nottingham; #77.