Tuesday, April 18, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #71

Issue #71 of White Dwarf (November 1985) boasts an eye-catching Alan Craddock cover, featuring a team-up between a heroic knight and a Conan-esque barbarian, as they face off against a demonic horde. Meanwhile, Ian Livingstone's editorial focuses on the expansion of gaming conventions within the UK, which he suggests will result in "gamers up and down the country ... hav[ing] even greater opportunities to participate in their hobby, and meet famous personalities as well as other players." As someone whose own con experiences are quite limited, I'm fascinated by just how important conventions are, not simply to many gamers, but also to the history of the hobby itself. It's a pity I live in a wasteland when it comes to this sort of thing.

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" kicks off this issue. In addition to his usual reviews of books I've never read and, therefore, don't care about, he spends some time talking about "huge blockbusters arcing down from interliterary space." In reference to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Footfall, for example, he elucidates the flaws of blockbuster-style fiction, specifically "momentum takes 100 pages to build, several of the teeming characters are dispensable, and megadeaths are glossed over." These remain issues in this style of popular fiction even today, which is why I prefer short stories over 600-page doorstops. 

"Open Box" reviews two gamebooks I've never encountered before: Avenger! and Assassin! (both 8 out of 10). Published by Knight Books, they take place in a world of "Kung Fu meets AD&D," with the viewpoint character being a ninja. The description of the books' unarmed combat system sounds genuinely interesting. Also reviewed is the Paranoia adventure, Vapors Don't Shout Back (7 out of 10), Masks of Nyarlathotep for Call of Cthulhu (9 out of 10), and Thrilling Locations for James Bond 007 (9 out of 10)

"The Face of Chaos" by Peter Vialls is yet another article discussing the contentious topic of alignment in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I must confess this topic bores me to tears, but, judging by the number of articles written about it over the years, I must be in the minority. In any event, Vialls rehearses all the usual beats – What is alignment anyway? How does Chaos differ from Law? Isn't Neutral a cop-out?, etc. – without offering any answers that are new or interesting. That's no knock against him, of course, just an acknowledgment that, after decades of debate, there's not much insight left to be gleaned, so why not write about something else?

"Not Waving But Drowning" by Dave Lucas presents RuneQuest stats for the fossergrim and nereid. "Cults of the Dark Gods" by A J Bradbury provides historical information on the Assassins and Knights Templar for use with Call of Cthulhu. However, Bradbury doesn't give either group any significant connection to the Mythos, which leaves me wondering about the actual purpose of the article. Fortunately, this month's installment of Thrud the Barbarian leaves no doubt as to its purpose, to wit:

"A Box of Old Bones" by Dave Morris is a low-level adventure written for use with both AD&D and Dragon Warriors. Dual-use scenarios of this sort appeared regularly in the pages of White Dwarf and I have long wondered how often anyone made use of the "lesser" of the two game systems for which it was written. In any case, this scenario is a clever and original one that focuses on the theft of a saint's relics, hence its title. There's no magic or miracles here, only human greed, which I found refreshing – an excellent change of pace adventure.

"Avionics Failure" by James Cooke discusses what happens when a Traveller starship suffers damage to its sensors, providing a random failure table to aid the referee in adjudicating the matter. It's not a sexy or groundbreaking article, but it looks useful for ongoing play and that's not nothing. The Travellers comic begins a new storyline, one based on the classic GDW adventure, Shadows. As always, there are lots of fun little bits in the comic. My favorite is the following:
There's yet more Traveller content in this issue, in the form of Marcus L. Rowland's "Tower Trouble." This is a terrific adventure designed for high-skilled criminal characters who are planning a heist on Terra Tower, a beanstalk (as we'd call it today) stretching from Earth's equator to syncrhonous orbit. The scenario is well written, has great maps and referee's advice, and includes pre-generated characters with a lot of individuality. I'm half-tempted to try running sometime as a one-shot, because it looks like fun.

"Monsters Have Feelings Too Two" by Olive MacDonald is a follow-up to an article originally appearing in issue #38. This time, MacDonald wants to emphasize that intelligent monsters shouldn't be one-trick ponies. They can (and should) be used in a variety of different ways within a campaign. This is why MacDonald uses only a sub-set of the monsters available in any given game he referees, since he finds it more interesting to make those he does use multifaceted. I find this hard to argue with and have long argued that games like D&D probably have too many monsters. "Just Good Fiends" by Ian Marsh looks at a related question: what makes a good monster? While Marsh isn't opposed to the idea of introducing new monsters into a game, he does think that every monster should serve a purpose or fill a niche within a game or campaign setting. This is a solid, thoughtful article on a topic that has long been of interest to me.

"Divine Guidance" presents two new oracular magic items for use with Dungeons & Dragons: the Card of Shukeli and Tellstones. The former is a kind of prophetic Tarot card whose face changes based on the imminent fortune of the person who finds it, while latter are paired stones whose temperatures change based on how close they are to one another ("getting warmer ..."). Joe Dever's "Think Ink," in which he talks about a topic of which I knew nothing: the use of drawing inks to tint painted miniatures. Dever's articles never cease to amaze me with the technical knowledge they impart. It's a reminder (yet again) that I know nothing about miniatures painting. Finally, "Gobbledigook" gets a full page to this month's episode, in which we see graphic evidence that "Goblinz never fight fair!" 


  1. "These remain issues in this style of popular fiction even today, which is why I prefer short stories over 600-page doorstops."

    It's gotten to the point where 600 pages isn't even remarkably long these days. 1000+ page behemoths are no longer unheard of, where any rational editor should have demanded the writer segment that mess into at least two or three individual books. Makes me seriously nostalgic for the days of my youth when authors could still produce an engaging and complete story in under 200 pages, and anything over 350 was a rarity and often a sign of something special - because no sane publisher would have let a really bad book bloat to that point. These days a fat book is more often a sign that it's barely-edited garbage than anything.

    Small wonder traditional publishing is a dying industry and book sales decline year after year.

    "..this month's installment of Thrud the Barbarian leaves no doubt as to its purpose..."

    There have been a number of Thrud miniatures over the years, but the one based off this famous image (complete with the gal on his leg) has eluded me for all these years, alas.

    "...Terra Tower, a beanstalk (as we'd call it today) stretching from Earth's equator to syncrhonous orbit..."

    Given that "beanstalk" stems from a European fairy tale, I wonder if other cultures/language groups with different myths use that term? Or are there other slang terms for "space elevators" (a term that may not be universal itself) out there in languages I don't speak or read?

  2. That is a great cover. It was used for the front cover of the first book of the Dragon Warriors RPG, so it's no coincidence that it is used for this issue of WD.

    Have you ever played Dragon Warriors? I bought the first three books as a paperback set, but only ever rolled up a couple of knights

    1. I have never played it, though I've been curious about it for years. The truth is I already have more RPGs than I'll likely ever get the chance to play, so I'm (generally) reluctant to seek out more.

    2. A reimagined version (or perhaps a sequel?) of that cover image also appears on the cover of the more recent second edition of Dragon Warriors.

  3. Whoops, finger trouble on my previous post.

    ...but only ever rolled up a couple of knights and ran through some combats with by the book monsters. However it did seem a neat wee game though and I did like the artwork and adventures in the books.

    I went back and read your monster post. 27 April 2009! Almost 14y to the day. Well done for keeping at it so long and finding the inspiration to restart after you paused for several years.

    I agree with your point about too many, especially humanoids. It seems to me that there's a gap in the rule books on monster selection and theming. I've created several lists of monsters based around themes (undead, Greek mythology, Tolkien, classic fairytale) but never organised them into something usable.

  4. The Travellers was always fun. That was one of the better Thrud cartoons. Footfall by Niven and Pournelle wasn't Mote in Gods Eye, but it was pretty decent, esp. compared to later work.

    I remember running Shadows on Yorbund. Mostly for the worst-ever PC death: the poor guy fell down a shaft, cracked open his faceplate, in a corrosive atmosphere... the party recovered his body but then got chased by alien rat things, so they dropped his body to delay the rats, then opened fire on the swarm with explosive ammo from their ACRs and snub pistols when they bunched up to eat it.

  5. "A Box of Old Bones" was actually written by Dave Morris, and i imagine it's probably been played using Dragon Warriors a fair bit as, of course, Morris is the game's main designer and it's set in the Dragon Warriors campaign world. Indeed it's been republished twice in adventure anthologies for refent editions of Dragon Warriors, and again in Morris's blog (https://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2016/12/an-unearthed-relic.html).

    1. Your are correct. Thanks for pointing out my error. I'll fix that.

  6. I owned Avenger! and Assassin! (and Usurper! also in the same series. Possibly a first one called simply Ninja!) The Ninja theme was good fun- gaining allies, learning deadly new skills from secret masters, gaining the odd supernatural ability through sacrifice and risk- surviving the poison of one demon made you resistant to other poisons AND you could loot his corpse and use his poison on some other unfortunate.

    The combat system was fun, giving you several options (not all combat) and a few moves to choose from. With logical selection of the right move proving helpful or even fatal if wrong (don't try the Teeth of Tiger throw on giant opponents guys).

  7. The series was called The Way of the Tiger and consisted of six books. Avenger! being the first. I collected all of them in the gamebook collection phase of my life in the early 2000s.

    The authors are familiar names--Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith -- who penned the Fighting Fantasy book, Talisman of Death, as well as other gamebooks. The Games Workshop crew authored what, 90% of all of these solo gamebooks? (I'm being facetious, but then again, maybe I'm not.)

    The series takes place on the world of Orb, which was also featured in ToD, and you will eventually run into ToD's primary villains in the WotT series, Tyutchev and Cassandra, two of my favorite villainous NPCs.

    It's a good series, and has been updated recently. I recommend it for the story and unique combat system, and other reasons mentioned previously. Good stuff!

  8. Yes, the Avenger! series was recently (ish; 2014) republished and re-released, alongside the long-awaited final volume, resolving a cliffhanger that had been, um, hanging since 1987.

    The setting, Orb, was from the authors' D&D campaign that they played in the 70s, and as others have mentioned, also appeared in other gamebooks.

  9. Once again, I'm dubious about those numerical review ratings.

    Thrilling locations was well put together, to be sure, but it's not in the same league as Masks.