Tuesday, May 2, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #73

Issue #73 of White Dwarf (January 1986) features a cover by Lee Gibbons, an artist whose work I recall from various Call of Cthulhu products over the years. Inside, Ian Livingstone boasts of the fact that the UK pharmacy chain, Boots, has "decided to stock role-playing games, Citadel miniatures, and Fighting Fantasy books." He sees this as a major victory that will help "dispel the illusion of [the hobby's] being a weirdos' cult." 

Having grown up in the United States, I find this fascinating. For all the overheated rhetoric about Dungeons & Dragons in certain quarters, RPGs and fantasy games had been readily available in major retail chains across the country since the beginning of the 1980s, if not before. However, Livingstone states that Boots is "the first major chain to stock a large range of rolegames in the country." This surprises me. When I was an exchange student in London in 1987, I had no trouble finding RPGs in most of the bookshops I visited and so assumed they had been a fixture in such places for a long time, as they were in the USA.

"Open Box" reviews Queen Victoria & the Holy Grail, a scenario for Games Workshop's  Golden Heroes, which nets a score of 8 out of 10. Also reviewed is another Games Workshop product, Judge Dredd – The Role-Playing Game, which earns a perfect 10 out of 10. I remember wanting a copy of this game for a long time, but never encountered it for sale anywhere on this side of the Atlantic. The Dungeons & Dragons Master Rules receive a (in my opinion) very charitable 8 out of 10, while Unearthed Arcana is given a serious drubbing (4 out of 10). The reviewer, Paul Cockburn, has many reasonable criticisms of the book, a great many of which I share. His biggest complaint seems to be that UA "is about as important to running a good game as Official character sheets or figures." I find it hard to disagree.

"2020 Vision" is a new column "covering fantasy and science-fiction movies" by Colin Greenland. The inaugural column focuses on two movies, Back to the Future, which Greenland enjoyed, and The Goonies, which he most certainly did not. He also reviews The Bride, "a hokey new variation on The Bride of Frankenstein," about which his opinion is more mixed. Dave Langford's "Critical Mass," meanwhile, does what he usually does: looks down his nose at various books, only a couple of which I've ever heard of, let alone read. It's a shame really, because it's clear that Langford is quite a talented writer in his own right, but most of his columns simply leave me flat. Some of that, no doubt, is the alienating effect of time. He is, after all, writing about the literary ephemera of three or more decades ago; it would be a miracle if it were still of vital interest to me today.

"Power & Politics" is an interview with Derek Carver, in which he talks about his boardgame, Warrior Knights. From the interview, it would seem the game is in the same general ballpark as Kingmaker in terms of overall focus and complexity, though it's set in a fictitious medieval European country rather than a real one. The game was (of course) published by Games Workshop, hence the two pages devoted to what is essentially an advertisement for it. 

I usually don't comment on the letters page of most issues of White Dwarf, because they're rarely of lasting import. This issue is a little different in that it's been expanded to two pages (from the usual one) and it's given over to lots of arguments back and forth about the merits of previous articles, not to mention letters attacking and defending said articles. This time, much ink is spilled with regards to Marcus L. Rowland's review of Twilight: 2000 from issue #68. Rowland, you may recall, intensely disliked the game and what he saw as its inherent immorality, calling it "fairly loathsome." Judging by the letters in this issue, not everyone shared Rowland's assessment and felt the need to say so. Of course, others very much agreed with him. Reading the letters for and against, it's a reminder that the past really is a foreign country.

Simon Burley's "The American Dream" is a lengthy scenario for Golden Heroes that focuses on a former American superheroine who has gone rogue in order to take down corruption within the secret government organization that trained her. It's delightfully overwrought and cynical and very much in keeping with the general spirit of the late 1980s. "3-D Space" by Bob McWilliams takes another stab at a classic Traveller "problem," namely, the game's star maps are two-dimensional. As he so often does, McWilliams makes a challenging topic easy to understand. In this case, though, I remain unconvinced that much is gained by adopting a more "realistic" style of stellar mapping.

"Star Spray" by Graham Staplehurst is an adventure set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, written for use with both AD&D and Middle-earth Role Playing. The adventure takes place in southern Gondor and concerns the fate of Maglor, the second son of Feänor, who disappeared during the First Age. It's clear that Staplehurst knows his Tolkien and "Star Spray" makes good use of that knowledge to present a situation that's more than just a dungeon delve in Middle-earth. Good stuff!

"First This, Then That" by Oliver Johnson is a fairly forgettable bit of advice on adjudicating the rules of RuneQuest. I'm sure the article seemed very relevant at the time, but, in retrospect, it's hard to muster much interest in it – the fate of a lot of gaming material, alas. "Cults of the Dark Gods 2" by A.J. Bradbury looks at the Bavarian Illuminati from the perspective of Call of Cthulhu. "A New Approach to Magic Weapons" by Michael Williamson is an interesting, if frustratingly sketchy, plea to give magic weapons in AD&D more "oomph" by rooting them in a setting's history. I'm very sympathetic to this approach, since I think there should be no "generic" magic weapons in any campaign, but, unfortunately, Williamson provides only the barest hint of a way to implement this mechanically. That's a shame, because I very much think he's on to something.

"Jungle Jumble" gives us four new jungle-themed monsters for use with AD&D, including vampire bats and army wasps. Joe Dever's "Dioramas" is the second part of his look at this intriguing topic, focusing this time on "scenic effects," like sand, snow, water, and foliage. I continue to find this column enjoyable, despite my own lack of experience with miniatures painting. The issue also includes new episodes of its long-running comics, "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers," all of which are diverting, if not always memorably so. 

The transformation of White Dwarf into a full-on Games Workshop house organ continues apace. While there are still quite a few articles devoted to non-GW games and topics, more and more space is devoted to GW's own publications. While probably a good business decision – Games Workshop still exists today and most of its contemporary competitors do not – it does lessen the magazine's appeal in my eyes. I'm going to keep soldiering on with this series for the foreseeable future. How long I'll be able to do so is another question ...


  1. I'm fascinated to see that WD published a MERP adventure. There can't have been all that many, although by the time this issue came out I wasn't reading every issue.

    1. There was also "The Dawn of Unlight" with giant spiders in Mirkwood.

    2. MERP was quite well covered in WD. I think Graham Staplehurst was the main writer for the scenarios and articles. A joint Warhammer / MERP scenario appears as late as #93

    3. I had a list of MERP stuff from White Dwarf. Here it is:

      White Dwarf #64 (Apr 1985) - The Dawn of Unlight, by Graham Staplehurst (scenario for AD&D and MERP)
      White Dwarf #66 (Jun 1985) - The Road Goes Ever On, by Graham Staplehurst (overview/review)
      White Dwarf #73 (Jan 1986) - Star Spray, by Graham Staplehurst (scenario for AD&D and MERP)
      White Dwarf #76 (Apr 1986) - RPGGeek says there's a MERP thing in here, but I'm not sure what.
      White Dwarf #77 (May 1986) - A Secret Wish, by Graham Staplehurst (scenario for MERP and D&D)
      White Dwarf #79 (Jul 1986) - Where & Back Again, by Graham Staplehurst (starting a campaign)
      White Dwarf #80 (Aug 1986) - Up and Coming, by Martin Veart (a look at levels and gaining skills)
      White Dwarf #87 (Mar 1987) - Taurëfantô, by Graham Staplehurst (MERP scenario)
      White Dwarf #89 (May 1987) - On Ealden Bergen, by Graham Staplehurst (Robin Hood scenario for AD&D, Fantasy Hero and MERP)
      White Dwarf #93 (Sep 1987) - Letters from a Foreign Land, by Graham Staplehurst (scenario for WFRP, MERP and Call of Cthulhu)

    4. Of course there are MERP articles in WD; Games Workshop produced its own version of MERP. Remember, the magazine has always been a GW catalogue, even before the Space Marines turned up. ;)

    5. I don't think there is a MERP article in #76, unless the D&D adventure is dual-statted, which does happen now and then. I would have to check my copy to be certain.

    6. I've checked #76 and there are no MERP articles or scenarios, just a review of a MERP module in Open Box (by Graham Staplehurst of course)

    7. That makes sense. I adore RPGGeek for its thoroughness, but it is difficult sometimes to find exactly what the link is between items.

      I'm not sure how good the MERP conversions of some of the modules are, as I've only seen (some of) them run for AD&D. From what I recall, it would be hard to get them to "feel" right in MERP. YMMV, of course!

  2. The memory's a bit foggy on this, but I suspect that the clash between your recollection of RPGs being widely available and Livingstone's comment about "the first major retail chain" is to do with the "chain" bit. Role-playing games and miniatures were widely available in on the UK high street in the mid-80s, but most of those stores wouldn't be part of a chain. As a smallish child (8 or 9?), I bought my first Citadel miniatures in the early 80s in Jenners, the famous Edinburgh department store. Around that time, gaming stuff was widely available in mainstream toy shops, model shops and bookshops (though usually just for gaming *books*), but the only big chain I recall selling such things was Virgin Megastore, and that was in the late 80s. The Waterstones chain of bookstores began in 1982, but I don't think it became dominant in the UK until the late 80s or early 90s; certainly, in Edinburgh, the biggest bookshops were independent for most of the 80s, and chain bookstores were a bit of a novelty until the end of that decade.

  3. Nice review as always.
    Agree that Critical Mass is unreadable nowadays, for me that it is because Dave Langford seemingly tried to cram in a mention of EVERY fantasy/SF novel published that month, sometimes he seemed to cover 20-30 new books!. If he'd focused on 2 or 3 books per article I think it would have been more readable.
    Paul Cockburn would have wrote this review shortly after leaving TSR as ex-editor of Imagine, so I guess he felt free to vent his feelings by then! In a few months he'd take over as WD editor of course.....
    Please stick with it until at least the legendary #77 when Ian Marsh & Co dropped in parting shots at the Bryan Ansell GW regime!