Tuesday, May 30, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #76

Issue #76 of White Dwarf (April 1986) features a cover by Peter Andrew Jones, whose art has appeared on the cover of the magazine several times in the past, the most recent being a year before, with issue #64. Like his previous work, this cover is quite striking, depicting a hippogriff – a mythological creature not often shown in fantasy gaming illustrations, so it definitely wins points in my book for its uniqueness (though its inclusion here is in reference to the issue's AD&D adventure).

Ian Marsh's editorial notes that the "unannounced demise" of many long-running columns in WD, such as "Starbase" for Traveller, "Heroes & Villains" for superhero gaming, "Crawling Chaos" for Call of Cthulhu, "Rune Rites" for RuneQuest, and, most significantly, "Fiend Factory," a staple of the magazine practically since its inception. Marsh claims that, "with the greater variety of popular games on the market, having a department for each is impractical, and indeed restricts the content of the magazine." Future issues would include articles according to different metrics, such as themes. Issue #76 is the first example of this, focusing as it does on thieves. 

The issue begins with a longer than usual "Open Box" that devotes three pages to its many reviews. The first is ICE's Riddle of the Ring boardgame, which received only 6 out of 10. Better reviewed is another ICE product, Ereech and The Paths of the Dead for MERP (9 out of 10). Chaosium's solo Call of Cthulhu adventure, Alone Against the Wendigo, receives 8 out of 10, while the Paranoia scenario, Send in the Clones, is judged slightly more harshly (7 out of 10). TSR's Lankhmar – City of Advenure, meanwhile, gets a rare perfect score (10 out of 10), which is slightly generous in my opinion, but I can't deny that the product is a good one nonetheless. Two adventures for FASA's Dr. Who RPG, The Iytean Menace and Lords of Destiny, are reviewed positively and, oddly, receive a joint rating of 8 out of 10. Finally, there's Hero Games's Fantasy Hero (8 out of 10). That's quite a large number of products for a single issue – and not a single GW product among them!

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" does its usual thing and I do my usual thing of mostly not caring. More interesting to me is the first of this issue's thief-themed articles, "How to Make Crime Pay," by John Smithers. It's written as if it were a lecture given by a guildmaster to apprentice thieves and it's all the better for it. Smithers presents lots of practical advice on how to handle a wide variety of larcenous activities within a fantasy RPG. What makes the article stand out is that its framing device makes it such that the article is useful to both players and referees without having to shift perspectives or divided itself into different sections. Articles of this sort are hard to pull off, so I'm all the more impressed that Smithers succeeded.

"You're Booked" by Marcus L. Rowland is an expansion of Games Workshop's Judge Dredd RPG, introducing the "misunderstood" Accounts Division of Mega-City One's Justice Department. The article lays out the purpose of Acc-Div, as it is known, and how it could be used within a campaign, with several scenario outlines presented as examples. The division is not suitable for Player Judges, but its inclusion in an adventure or campaign could help to flesh out the Justice Department and add a note of levity, as Judges deal with paperwork and expense accounts. 

"Glen Woe" is a Warhammer miniatures scenario by Richard Halliwell. It's intended to expand upon the material provided in McDeath – a Shakespeare-inspired scenario pack released around this time. Not being a Warhammer player, I can't to much about the quality of the material presented here, only my amusement at knowing there was ever a miniatures scenario based around MacBeth. "Banditry Inc" by Olivier Legrand looks at thieves guilds within the context of AD&D from the referee's point of view. While hardly revolutionary, it nevertheless raises some useful questions about the organization and operation of the guild that any referee should consider if thieves and thieves guilds become important in his campaign.

"Caped Crusaders" by Peter Tamlyn is a three-page article on "running Golden Heroes campaigns," though most of its advice is equally applicable to superhero campaigns using another RPG system. Tamlyn covers a variety of topics and the quality of his advice will depend, I imagine, on how familiar one is with both refereeing and the superhero genre. I judge it pretty positively myself, though I imagine others might find it old hat. "Thrud the Barbarian," "Gobbledigook," and "The Travellers" are all here, among a handful of only a few remaining connections to the eatly days of White Dwarf. Since I was not a reader of the magazine at this time, I can't help but wonder how much longer they will continue to grace its pages.

"Castle in the Wind" by Venetia Lee, with Paul Stamforth, is a lengthy AD&D scenario aimed at characters of 5th–8th levels. As its title suggests, the adventure concerns the sudden appearance of a "sky castle" above a desert in the campaign area. There are several things that make "Castle in the Wind" stand out aside from its length. First, there's its vaguely Persian setting, a culture that doesn't get much play in fantasy games in my experience. Second, there's the clever design of the sky castle itself (including its hippogriff nests). Finally, there's the open-ended nature of the adventure itself, which spends most of its text presenting a locale rather fleshing out a traditional "plot" for the player characters to follow. 

"How Do You Spell That?" presents a collection of six new AD&D spells culled from reader submissions. The article is listed as being part of the "Treasure Chest" column, which surprised me, since so many other standbys of White Dwarf were axed this issue. Part two of Joe Dever's look at oil painting closes out the issue. In addition to the usual color photographs that always accompany it, the article also includes a mixing guide for how best to achieve certain results when using oil paints.

I must admit, I found this issue a bit of a slog. I don't know that it was objectively any worse than most issues. Indeed, I suspect it was probably better than many I'd read in the past. Nevertheless, I can't shake the feeling that the magazine has changed and that change has started to sap my enthusiasm for reading it. Of course, I might simply be tired of this series. Slightly more than three-quarters of the way to 100 issues, I hope I can be forgiven a little White Dwarf fatigue. Still, I will attempt to soldier on for a little while longer.


  1. not a single GW product among them!

    No, but which national chain of games (work)shops was selling them? (scratches chin in thought)

    It's been a long time since I've read The Tragedy of McDeath -- and I've never played it -- but I remember it being quite fun, and the emphasis on comedy and (terrible) puns set the tone for the soon-to-be-released Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

  2. Riddle of the Ring is a great game. I really wish I had got my own copy. One thing I loved about it is that it's one of the few games that when played by three players, makes it hard for two players to gang up on the third to knock them out and reduce it to a two player game. Also, you don't actually get eliminated though being "killed" does set you back for a bit.

    Hmm, for a thief special, I don't see that many thief articles... I would have expected most of the articles to be about thievery.