Tuesday, June 27, 2023

White Dwarf: Issue #79

With issue #79 of White Dwarf (July 1986), I reach the penultimate issue I'll cover in this series. Though I'm glad to have done it – and I hope it's been profitable for those of you reading along – I can't deny that my enthusiasm has been waning for some time now. Sadly, this issue did little to make me regret my decision to end the series with #80, though there are a couple of bright spots – like John Blanche's cover illustration ("Amazonia Gothique"), which I like for reasons I can't fully articulate.

This issue marks the first one featuring Paul Cockburn as editor. His inaugural editorial mentions that there will be still more changes in store for the magazine, though these will "come in bit by bit." Cockburn also notes that Citadel Miniatures would, from this point on, include "a small warning, intended to prevent figures being sold to that part of the public who might actually be harmed by lead content." He elaborates that there had recently been a Citadel ad in a magazine "aimed at a very young audience," which necessitated this warning. Maybe I'm just old and contrarian, but I felt a slight pang of sadness upon reading this. By 1986, the Old Days (and Old Ways) were already fading ...

"Open Box" takes a look at two related Palladium products, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness and its post-apocalyptic supplement, After the Bomb. Both products are positively reviewed, but the reviewer, Marcus L. Rowland, expresses a preference for the "present day setting of the original game," which he feels offers "more opportunities for plot development and diversity." Also reviewed is Secret Wars II for Marvel Super Heroes, which is judged "an awful lot better than Secret Wars I." Never having seen the original, it's not clear to me whether this is faint praise or not. Two Chaosium releases, Black Sword (for Stormbringer) and Terror from the Stars (for Call of Cthulhu) get positive reviews, as does West End's Ghostbusters. Acute Paranoia, a supplement for (naturally) Paranoia earns a more middling appraisal, largely due to its "disappointing" mini-scenarios.

"Where and Back Again" by Graham Staplehurst is one of the aforementioned bright spots of this issue. Dedicated to "Starting a Middle-earth Campaign," the article lays out all the decisions a referee looking to run a RPG campaign set in Tolkien's world must make. Staplehurst covers subjects like "style" (i.e. campaign frame), rules, and even source material. He also raises the question of how closely one might wish to hew to Middle-earth as described by the good professor and the consequences for choosing to deviate from that particular vision. It's a solid, thoughtful article on a topic that has long interested – and vexed – me. 

Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" has only rarely been something I've enjoyed and this issue's installment does little to change my mind. More enjoyable (to me anyway) is his second contribution to the issue, an odd little article entitled "Play It Again, Frodo." Ostensibly, Langford's assignment is to demonstrate "how closely role-playing and literature are entwined" in order to help readers convince their "serious" friends that gaming isn't a silly hobby. He attempts to do this through a series of vignettes based around famous books or movies – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Conan, The Lord of the Rings, etc. – where he postulates that events go other (and humorously) than how they do in the originals. The idea here is that roleplaying allows to do things "your way" rather than being bound by the dictates of an omnipotent author. 

"20-20 Vision" by Alex Stewart reviews science fiction and fantasy movies. The bulk of this issue's column is devoted to the film, Highlander, in which "a medieval Scottish warrior with a French accent" is befriended by "Sean Connery's Glaswegian conquistador." Stewart calls the movie "a stylish, raucous and utterly preposterous D&D scenario transplanted bodily into contemporary New York." That's probably the most succinct (and amusing) way I've heard Highlander described and it does a good job, I think, of capturing the essence of its cheesy glory.

"All in the Mind" by Steven Palmer offers an alternate psionics system for use for AD&D. Palmer's system interests me for its relative simplicity – the article is only four pages long, as well as for its more flavorful elements. For example, there's a discussion of the heritability of psionic powers, as well as the inherent connection between twins. Neither of these elements plays a major role in his system, but the fact that they're mentioned at all is in stark contrast to the dreary, tedious treatment of psionics in the Players Handbook. 

"Ghost Jackal Kill" by Graeme Davis is a Call of Cthulhu scenario that's presented as a prequel to The Statue of the Sorcerer, a Games Workshop CoC adventure. The scenario is set in San Francisco and involves not only the Hounds of Tindalos, one my favorite type of Mythos entities. It also features real-world historical figures, specifically the actress Theda Bara and writer Dashiell Hammett. Normally, I tend to be leery of the inclusion of such people in RPG adventures, but, in this case, I think it works, particularly Hammett, who did actually work as a detective for the Pinkertons and drew on those experiences for his fiction. In any case, it's a good, short scenario and another of the issue's stand-outs in my opinion.

"Think About It" by Phil Masters examines the purpose and use of the Intelligence score (or its equivalent) in roleplaying games. Because it's an overview of a large topic, it's necessarily brief in its examination, but it does a good job, I think, of presenting different options and approaches to handling Intelligence in RPGs. "'Eavy Metal" provides tips on converting miniature figures, along with some nice color photographs. 

"Psi-Judges" by Carl Sargent – a name that would feature prominently on the covers of many RPG products throughout the late '80s and into the 1990s – is an expansion of Judge Dredd: The Roleplaying Game focused on, of course, psi-judges. Interestingly, it's equal parts a rules expansion and a roleplaying expansion. There's information on how to play a psi-judge in the game, alongside discussions of game balance and other matters. "Gobbledigook" and "Thrud the Barbarian" are still here, but I can't deny that I miss the presence of "The Travellers." The comic's absence really hits home to me just how much White Dwarf has changed from the days when I read (and enjoyed) it regularly.

One more week!


  1. Thanks for doing this series. Because of your recaps I was inspired to revisit them and in a few cases got use out of the articles for current projects (most notably the houri subclass from issue 13.

  2. "... like John Blanche's cover illustration ("Amazonia Gothique"), which I like for reasons I can't fully articulate."

    Because it's freaking awesome is reason enough.

    "Also reviewed is Secret Wars II for Marvel Super Heroes, which is judged "an awful lot better than Secret Wars I." Never having seen the original, it's not clear to me whether this is faint praise or not."

    No. Just no. SW was at least playable and gave the players some options and agency. SW2 was a mess from start to finish, absolutely chock full of railroading, and desperately wanted the players to change characters every few sessions so they could adhere to the comic plotline more faithfully. It takes a special kind of incompetence to make something worse than that comic miniseries, but TSR managed it. You're better off going to visit the Forest Oracle than "playing" this tripe.

    "Ghost Jackal Kill"

    Quite good, yes. High point of the issue for me.

    I wonder, has Hammett been "cancelled" for his Pinkerton work by the same folks who object to WotC's mere existence these days?

    1. "has Hammett been "cancelled" for his Pinkerton work"

      Why would he be, considering that he spent the latter years of his life vehemently opposed to the methods of that organization. Much of Red Harvest is a vicious critique of the Pinkertons.

    2. Very true, but what do facts have to do with anything? Have you looked at some of the nonsense being spouted by the anti-WotC mob? I've seen people claiming Richard Garfield should donate his Magic royalties to the some Go Fund Me thing supposedly being spent to help victims of the Pinkertons. Never mind the fact that he has nothing to do with Hasbro/WotC management, and certainly isn't the guy responsible for their security contracts.

      Which isn't the worst I've seen. One chucklehead a few years back wanted Pinnacle to issue an apology for mentioning the Pinkertons in some old Deadlands book without including a real-world history of the company's many, many illegal activities. I guess the module portraying them as murderous thugs whose employer was literally possessed by a demon wasn't sufficiently condemnatory?

  3. This was my first issue of White Dwarf. It is also my favorite. The cover art drew me in and introduced me to John Blanche's art. One of these days, I am going to write a "module" based on the articles/art/ads of the issue as an exercise in imagination. I'm glad you got this far in your review. Thanks, it was nice to reminisce.

  4. The irony is that the Secret Wars II comic was much worse than the original, although it's hardly a classic.

  5. The first issue of Secret Wars II was really good, but, boy, did it go straight down right after that. You could make a worthwhile RPG adventure from the first issue.

  6. Citadel did a miniature of that cover but I can't remember which came first.

    I'll check out the ME article. I've often wanted to do The Hobbit story as a D&D adventure.

  7. That is some incredible poke-your-eye-out '80s hair right there.

    By the time I got into gaming and miniatures lead had been phased out ages ago, so it's always interesting seeing the discussion (and occasionally gnashing of teeth in letters sections) over the then-current efforts at maybe not selling brain damage to kids.

    I do like seeing old ads and articles about miniatures though, because the bar has been raised for far since then. Seeing them talk excitedly about how detailed a miniature is and knowing that that sculpt will be blown out of the water in 5 years, much less the 40 that have actually passed, is kinda fun.

    1. In Queensland, Australia, where I lived, lead miniatures (ie all of them) were actually banned from sale for health reasons.

      So we cast our own or bought up big on interstate/overseas trips.

  8. It's ironic that you are stopping the series 4 issues before 84, the first one I ever bought. I bought WD 'live' from 84 up to around 101, by which time it was a GW house organ. Really it petered out in the 90s I think.

  9. That cover! That hair! But this episode stands out in the end period as one of the ones I remember for Ghost Jackal Kill, which was a good scenario with pretty nifty art work. The rest okay.