White Dwarf: The First 100 issues. A Read-Through and Review.
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  1. #1

    White Dwarf: The First 100 issues. A Read-Through and Review.

    White Dwarf magazine, from its first issue in June 1977 until the end of the 1980s, gives an interesting history of the birth and expansion of role-playing games, through its own particular lens of the hobby in the UK and, later, as published or distributed purely by Games Workshop.

    This is a read-through thread, but I'm not going to go issue by issue; instead I shall be reviewing batches of ten issues at a time, from Issue 1 up to Issue 100. I'm not going page by page, but picking out particularly interesting examples of articles that are either representative of their era (for good or ill), are ideas that are worth resurrecting, or are predictions that prove either eerily prescient or amusingly mistaken.

    These articles are broken down into subsections. Overall discusses the physical changes to the magazine in terms of layout, price and sometimes the range of topics covered. Games gives an indication not only of games covered by the magazine but also those that become available, often reviewed, some advertised only. Scenarios discusses just that - nearly every issue contains at least one usable adventure, sometimes a mini-game instead. Articles covers everything else, and looks at changing attitiudes to gaming as well as picking out some of the more interesting "crunch" from time to time. Finally, General Thoughts summarises the style of the era covered by the ten issues under discussion, and any particularly interesting changes in attitude or gaming style that occurs.

    As I said, this isn't a detailed issue-by-issue, page-by-page dissection of each magazine (This thread by Private Eye covers that better, although only up to issue 38 or thereabouts.). I've tried to credit authors where I can although there are bound to be oversights.

    Feel free to chip in with comments, reminiscences, arguments etc. I'm sure that some contributers to the magazine must post on this forum - your comments are more than welcome.

    Covers come from RPG.Net, and if you click on them you'll be taken to a table of contents on the same site for each magazine.

    Thread Index
    Part One: The Early Years (Issues 1-10). June 1977-July 1979
    Part Two: Consolidation (Issues 11-20). August 1979 - September 1980
    Part Three: Rise of the Big Three (Issues 21-30). October 1980 - May 1982
    Part Four: The Early Golden Age (Issues 31-40). June 1982 - April 1983
    Part Five: The Late Golden Age (Issues 41-50). May 1983 - February 1984
    Part Six: Widening Participation a.k.a. The Ones Where I subscribed (Issues 51-60). March 1984 - December 1984
    Part Seven: More Breadth, Less Depth (Issues 61-70). January 1985 - October 1985
    Part Eight: A New Era (Issues 71-80). November 1985 - August 1986
    Part Nine: The Rise of Games Workshop (Issues 81-90). September 1986 - June 1987
    Part Ten: Warhammer Takes Over (Issues 91-100). July 1987 - April 1988
    Epilogue (Issues 101-110). May 1988-February 1989


    Other WD Read-throughs
    WebWarlock's Blog
    Private Eye's RPGNet thread (up to issue 39).
    Last edited by Dr Simon; Thursday, 22nd November, 2012 at 09:02 AM.

  2. #2

    Issues 1-10

    Part One: The Early Years (Issues 1-10)


    Overview
    These issues cover a span from June 1977 to January 1979, published bi-monthly and costing 60p. From Issue 7 onwards (a year into publication), WD gets a colour cover as opposed to the single colour covers of the first six.

    Most of the contributions come from two men, Don Turnbull and Lew Pulsipher. Editor Ian Livingstone contributes a few reviews and monsters but is otherwise unseen. Issue 4 has a cover by long-term GW artist John Blanche, and in issue 10 there are letters from Bryan Ansell and Pete Tamlyn, prominent names to come.



    Games
    At the beginning there are very few RPGs. D&D is in the form now known as “Original D&D”, and is a real mish-mash of rules. By the end of this period the Monster Manual and Players Handbook have been released and reviewed (10/10 for the PHB, the MM is reviewed before ratings are given). Metamorphosis Alpha is the other existing game, but during the period under discussion Gamma World is released, a game that essentially relocates MA and updates the rules a bit. Empire of the Petal Throne exists but, bar a few monster conversions (and one scenario much later on), never really features in WD. Also released during this run are Traveller, RuneQuest, Chivalry and Sorcery, Tunnels and Trolls, and Starships and Spacemen. The last evidently never took off, as bar one article it is never heard of again, but the others did relatively well, with RuneQuest and Traveller emerging as market leaders over the others (despite Don Turnbull doubting the appeal of Traveller in his review).



    Scenarios
    There are only a few complete adventures published in this period. The predominant concept of the time seems to be that a Dungeon Master creates a single huge dungeon (a la Greyhawk and Blackmoor) that he keeps “stocked”, and that it must be some kind of designed challenge where rooms present puzzles and obstacles for players to solve. The prime example is Don Turnbull’s “Greenlands” dungeon from which he presents the “Alice in Wonderland” levels (mostly a series of Orc-and-Pie rooms) and the Lair of the Demon Queen, where solving a riddle gets you a fight and some treasure. The problem with these “puzzle dungeons” is that they make little sense in any kind of logical or realistic game-world. They exist solely as a game in themselves. There is nothing wrong with this as one option, but it can pall pretty quickly. It can also lead to annoying riddles and puzzles that may make sense to the DM but not to anyone else. Witness these examples by Fred Hemmings who describes a competition dungeon where doors will only open if riddles are answered. He was surprised that players got stuck at this point. Have a go yourselves. Answers in next post:

    “What would you do with a flying door?”
    “Someday...Judy Garland.”
    “What fruit grow on pylons?”
    “This street is closed.”
    “State that you stand as did Maude’s suitor.”

    Better is Lew Pulsipher’s “A Place in the Wilderness” except that it’s neither really an adventure nor a monster entry, but somewhere in between. He gives several pretty cool creatures based on Jack Vance’s “The Dragon Masters” and a potential set-up for an adventure, but only sketchy details for running it. This is good in that it is much more naturalistic than a puzzle-dungeon, and also allows for some pretty free-form play, but for more information, including descriptions of some of the creatures beyond bare stats, LP basically says “read the book”.

    Best is Albie Fiore’s Lichway, which at 30 keyed rooms is classed as a “mini-dungeon” (a name based on the idea of the huge puzzle-dungeon described above). It manages to convey a lot of information and atmosphere in few words, with a unique and interesting background plus a few rumours, giving at least three different reasons for PCs to visit the location. They may be after the evil sorceress Dark Odo and her bandit retinue thought to be hiding in the area, or the band of Xvarts last seen heading into the Lichway, or after the treasure of the Sandlanders, the original (long-lost) builders of the place. Dark Odo with her urn full of the ashes of past lovers, is a character full of potential drawn in few words, and the Lichway itself is a great setting showing how an unusual monster can be made the centrepiece.

    Finally, Issue 9 features a review of G1-3, the Against The Giants series and first commercially released D&D “modules” from TSR. It seems odd that most of TSR’s early output of adventures were for high level characters.



    Articles
    Most articles tend to be extended reviews of one game or another, or ways to improve the D&D rules. Some are horrendously complex (one that involves calculating damage absorbed by layers of armour, flesh and bone for 31 different hit locations) and some sensible (a suggestion from Roger Musson that essentially prefigures touch and flat-footed AC). There are a few articles by Don Turnbull and Lew Pulsipher about how to play the game which smack of one-true-wayism, and one or two supplements for systems like Metamorphosis Alpha and Chivalry & Sorcery. In fact, I can’t resist trying out the trout tickling rules for the C&S Forester class (Issue 9):

    First, I roll on the Fish Encounter Table for Trout: 31% - Other. No trout for me today.
    So, I need to roll on the Basic Fish Encounter Table: 34%, giving a fish of 6oz to 1lb in size.
    To catch this, first I need to approach it a slip a noose around it. My Approach chance for this size fish is 80%, I roll 14%, the fish is approached.
    Next, having got it within my noose I need to quickly tighten the noose and flip it onto land. My Pull chance for this size fish is 50% - I roll 91% and the fish gets away!. So I don't get a chance to roll to catch it when it is flopping around on land.

    Too complicated? What do you mean? That's highly realistic gaming.

    Molten Magic discusses new figures whilst Treasure Chest is a miscellany of ideas and Open Box covers reviews. These latter two will last a long while into WD’s future. New monsters are initially discussed in Treasure Chest, then briefly as a column called Monsters Mild and Malign (who wants a “mild” monster?) which essentially rehashes monsters from other publications (White Dwarf’s predecessor, Owl and Weasel, for example), before becoming the Fiend Factory with readers suggestions; another long-running column. Don Turnbull spends three issues describing his “Monstermark” system, a method for calculating the danger level of monsters, essentially Challenge Rating but to three decimal places.

    A lot of these monsters can be found in the 1e Fiend Folio (such as Xvart, Sandman and Coffer Corpse). Some can still be found today in modified form. The Warlock Cat has basically become the Bezekira (Hellcat), for example, and the Necrophidius is still with us. A few themes can be found in these early monsters. Some like to tag along with adventuring parties and cause trouble by attracting other monsters or hindering abilities (my favourite is the Typo, which causes spells to be “mis-spelled”, ho-ho, which could be fun in a light-hearted game. Magic missile could become e.g. magic missive and harmlessly shower your opponent with letters). Others are “reverse” monsters, such as the Withra (by Don Turnbull), a dud wraith who raises levels and the Dahdi, a dud mummy (see what they did?) who heals you with a touch. That one’s by the appropriately named Mervyn Lemon. In issue 10 they go for broke and give a pseudo-template, the Inverse Monster, to cover all eventualities. These get a bit wearyingly repetitive. Admittedly Gygax and co weren’t being serious with the likes of rust monsters and gelatinous cubes but these work somehow whereas The Bragger (by Roger Musson), an imp who follows the party around boasting, just seems pointless. Worst monster ever, however, must go to the Stair Stalker, a shaggy green creature that will only walk up and down a specfic set of stairs, and attacks anyone who tries to pass. Take a bow Roger Musson.

    There are also a few character classes published of which three, the assassin, the man-beast and the barbarian, are serious (the others being the pervert, the weakling and the scientist, who if gifted the nobel prize is immediately attacked by all other scientists!). The assassin is fairly well balanced, getting an instant kill if it scores a “critical hit” on the first strike but for some reason can only be male. One problem is that critical hits are ill defined and no definition is given with the assassin class. Elsewhere, Lew Pulsipher offers one idea – if you roll a natural 20, roll again and if that roll hits then you’ve scored a critical. It’ll never catch on. Rather than simple double damage, however, his system then goes on to a hit location effect, which might be workable for a slightly more gritty and less abstract variant. Barbarians are pretty close to their 3.x version although their berserk strength only lasts the first round. They’re better than the official 1e version that came out in Unearthed Arcana anyway. The man-beast is an interesting idea with increasingly powerful natural weapons and beast’s senses as it progresses. I disagree with it needing a magic ring to gain the abilities – some kind of werebeast ancestry would be better, maybe. Actually the shapeshifter druid variant would give you a similar kind of character these days, particularly if it was also a shifter.



    General Thoughts
    There’s a general trend from really amateurish stuff to more professional games over this time period. It’s a bit like the early days of the OGL, really (and I say this as a semi-pro myself). Natural selection mostly went the right way with these products, I think. WD attempts a cartoon, Kalgar, which is a quite well drawn serious story full of cod-gadzookery, ending abruptly with “it was all a dream” when reader opinion goes against it. Also a preponderance of bare-breasted women throughout, in adverts and incidental illos (not to mention a worrying trend of trivialising rape). There’s also a terrible story (Valley of the Four Winds) which is coupled to selling miniatures (not well-made but interesting designs) and, oh look, later GW bring out a game of the story. It’s got some good ideas, but again features lots of gadzookery. Finally, a roll on Issue 9’s Useless Items Table:

    84% - Octopus Leg

    (Tentacle, surely?)
    Last edited by Dr Simon; Tuesday, 21st August, 2012 at 08:59 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    I was all excited, thinking there was going to be a re-release PDF or something.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Whizbang Dustyboots View Post
    I was all excited, thinking there was going to be a re-release PDF or something.
    Well, Games Workshop is just beginning to dip its toe into digital publishing . . . so maybe we'll get lucky and they will start releasing older products, including back issues of WD, in digital form.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Whizbang Dustyboots View Post
    I was all excited, thinking there was going to be a re-release PDF or something.
    Not to my knowledge, although it's something they ought to do, via RPGNow or similar.

    I'll try to make the title less ambiguous!

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Whizbang Dustyboots View Post
    I was all excited, thinking there was going to be a re-release PDF or something.
    There was a CD of the first 90 issues that was halted at the last moment. A bunch (100s?) were released surreptitiously in the 90s and again later from someone in Europe in 200..5, I think?

    It's definitely a solid publication to review. At least until it went all Warhammer all the time.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by howandwhy99 View Post
    It's definitely a solid publication to review. At least until it went all Warhammer all the time.
    The first 100 covers pretty much the extent of the non-Warhammer Dwarf. Issue 100 is pretty much Warhammer, Warhammer FRP and Warhammer 40K, and has figures on the front, so it seemed like a good place to stop!

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by howandwhy99 View Post
    There was a CD of the first 90 issues that was halted at the last moment.
    Don't expect to see many gaming magazines in electronic archives in the USA. The Tasini decision means the owners would have to track down all the individual article authors and negotiate the electronic rights.

    Tasini Decision - LexisNexis Academic Knowledge Center
    New York Times Co. v. Tasini - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/general...-decision.html
    Last edited by frankthedm; Friday, 15th June, 2012 at 01:16 AM.

  9. #9
    Part Two: Consolidation (Issues 11-20)



    Overview
    The Dwarf is still bi-monthly over this period from February 1979 to September 1980, and the cover price rises to 75p. I’ve called this period “consolidation” because it is during this run that the magazine begins to be divided into regular “Departments” such as Fiend Factory, Treasure Chest and Open Box, and “Features” that are particular to each issue. Lew Pulsipher continues to be a prolific contributor but Don Turnbull moves over to run TSR UK, leaving Fiend Factory in the capable hands of Albie Fiore. Other rising voices are Bob McWilliams who gets his first Starbase department devoted to all things Traveller, and the Rogers Musson and E. Moore, prolific designers of monsters. Generally, the quality of production and writing continues to improve, with a better balance between the sensible articles and ideas and the silly ones.



    Games
    Consolidation is the key again. TSR’s D&D output stabilises to a steady stream of adventures, including Tomb of Horrors and playing aids such as Rogues Gallery, with the most notable releases during this period being the hardback Dungeon Masters Guide and UK-produced Fiend Folio. Chaosium continue to put out new RuneQuest material such as Balastor’s Barracks, slowly but surely, and GDW unleash a fair torrent of Traveller books including Mercenary, High Guard, The Kinunir and The Spinward Marches. Judges’s Guild churn out scenario packs for all three games, but their more amateurish quality is already beginning to lag behind the professional standard of the three main publishers.
    There are few new games – Boot Hill and Top Secret from TSR and The Fantasy Trip, one of those generic fantasy games that hung around without ever making a true impact.

    [img] http://index.rpg.net/pictures/show-t...tml?picid=6813 [/img]

    Scenarios
    Top of the heap is Albie Fiore again, this time with The Halls of Tizun Thane. Like The Lichway this is a large setting occupied by a mix of existing and new occupants, with a logical and sensible layout, multiple paths and a great decadent feel remniscent of Golden Age fantasy (I think it’s the black lotus and slave girls that does it…). I remember finding it daunting when I first came across it back in Best of White Dwarf Scenarios I. Although designed for 1st level characters (albeit the inevitable 1e horde of 6-10 players) the first encounter areas include a stone golem in one and 50 inhabitants in another. It shouldn’t really pan out, though, that PCs would have to face either set of opponents in a fight. A truly excellent adventure, worth digging out today.

    D&D-wise there are a few other adventures that made it to Best of White Dwarf Scenarios I, including Grakt’s Crag (by Will Stephenson), which is much more linear and belongs to the “dungeon as series of puzzles” school of adventure design and doesn’t make much logical sense, with such tricks/traps as the elevator rooms. The Pool of the Standing Stones (by Bill Howard) is also to be found in Best of White Dwarf Scenarios 1. This adventure sets itself up as having a druidic theme but quickly becomes a series of “orc-and-pie” dungeon rooms with little relevance to druids, although the Big Evil Boss is a good design, a kind of skeletal half-fiend. Issue 20 features the first of a run of new-style Fiend Factories, adventure outlines designed around thematically-linked monsters. The first is swamp-based, but most of the creatures are not far off others. John Gordon’s Creeper, for example, is pretty much a shambling mound variant, and there’s not much between Phil Masters’ Frog-Folk and bullywugs. Michael Wilkinson’s Melodemon is quite good, a kind of singing snake with a range of song-based spell-like abilities. I do love the Cauldron Born, though; zombie-like creatures where the survivors get stronger as each one is killed off (by Tim Walters). Lew Pulsipher’s Bar-room Brawl is a D&D-based mini-game. I’ve played that one, it’s good fun and I think was used at a convention.

    Notably, the other scenarios are all for a range of systems. Paths of the Lil is for Gamma World by Drawmij himself, Jim Ward, featuring the eponymous pixie-like mutants in their hedge lair. Functional, but no interesting twists. RuneQuest gets Jorthan’s Rescue ( by Steve Marsh and John Sapienza Jr.) and Lair of the White Wyrm (by John Bethell). Wyrm is a fairly simple “zoo” dungeon, not overly exciting but the duck barbarian Quincy, Master of Quack-Fu, is an entertaining NPC if you are of the kind of RQer who likes rather than hates the ducks (I am unashamedly pro-duck. I think Quincy may have been an influence on Al Orange, the recurring duck NPC in my old RuneQuest campaign. And to think I complain about “silly” ideas…). Jorthan’s Rescue is a simple raid scenario against trollkin but is set up to showcase the RQ combat a lot better than Wyrm. I’ve played this one, it’s brief but fun with trollkin getting flung down staircases and the like. For Traveller there is The Sable Rose Affair (Bob McWilliams), a very detailed scenario that allows for plenty of scope for player and referee freedom but ultimately feels very low tech (it really comes down to a bar fight). The presentation, laid out as if the adventure elements were notes from a file, is one that is used for Traveller adventures for some time to come. Chivalry and Sorcery gets a little wilderness scenario, Ogre Hunt (by Tom Keenes); a simple but pleasant adventure with seven encounter areas that goes for mood over problem-solving and combat but is none the worse for that.



    Articles
    Over this period the magazine moves away from the more whimsical (or just plain silly) material (such as the Weakling Class in issue 11) to a more predominantly serious tone, with just a touch of whimsy instead. It also sets up the regular “Departments” such as Fiend Factory (new monsters), Open Box (reviews) and Treasure Chest (miscellany) as separate from Feature articles.

    The Fiend Factory continues to offer much of the same, although I think the new editor Albie Fiore prefers creatures that can play a multitude of roles as opposed to the gimmicky creatures favoured by Don Turnbull. A readers poll reveals that the top 10 monsters are (from 1-10), Necrophidius, Russian Doll Monster, Svart, Needleman, Hook Horror, Githyanki, Imps (who later became mephits), Volt, Urchin, Dahdi. Note that many of those have survived through multiple editions, mainly because they are well-thought out and not just a joke or a bad pun. The Russian Doll Monster is a Hill Giant, which when killed opens to reveal an Ogre, then a Bugbear, a Hobgoblin, a Goblin and finally a Leprechaun who has been controlling the whole thing. A gimmick, but quite a fun one. The Dahdi, as you may recall, is an inverse Mummy that heals you (apparently it was thrown out of the pyramid for trying to wear the trousers). The worst 5 were voted as (from 1 (worst) to 5) - Nas Nas, Dahdi, Withra, Stinwicodech, Pebble Gnome. Two of these; the dahdi and the withra, are “inverse” undead. The nas-nas (half a person) and the stinwicodech (which randomly raises or lowers one of your ability scores) are simply unimpressive creatures that are more likely to cause scorn than fear, and the pebble gnome is a species of gnome who don’t fight, have no magic and don’t adventure.

    Good creatures to come out of this period include the aforementioned Githyanki (by Charles Stross). We all know about them. Also the Cauldron Born, Mandrake People (by Glen Goddard) and the Phung (by Simon Tilbrook), which has a great picture. This latter is adapted from The City of the Chasch, part of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series. Tilbrook also invented the necrophidius. The mandrake people have quite a well-developed life cycle with added adventure fodder – their young, acorn-like things known as bantlings, can be used as an aphrodisiac by humans, setting up a source of conflict.


    The Phung, by Polly Wilson

    Treasure Chest similarly moves away from whimsy to sensible. During this period it has themes each issue – this might be new spells, artefacts and relics or NPCs. Notable examples include the Swords of Meryn Caradoc by Roger Coult; which aren’t that well thought-out in terms of their mechanical effects but I like the idea that they function as magic items but aren’t magic, they’re simply from another world. The potions special seems to bring out the worst in vindictive or abitrary DMs, with loads that are harmful and only one or two that are beneficial. The follicle philtre (by James Meek) might be fun; it causes the imbiber to grow hair uncontrollably. The potion of wall delusion by Marc Gascoigne is just a very bizarre exercise in messing with the players. It causes the imbiber to think that all doors are walls, and they become frenzied if anyone tries to make them walk through what they think is a solid wall. Odd. I liked Daniel Adler’s spell, Jebanself’s Eye of Back-Seeing when I misread the name as Eye of Black-Seeing, implying some kind of Vancian artefact that allows you to see in the dark but with dangerous consequences. As it is it grows an extra eye, and tries to use Science! to explain it, not as interesting as I’d hoped.

    There are some interesting ideas on new character classes, so much so that a new department, Character Conjuring, is set up. The Berserker (by Roger E Moore) seems redundant next to the already existing barbarian, but its powers are remarkably similar to modern barbarians; I think it’s an upgrade from the earlier class as its by the same author. The Alchemist NPC class (Tony Chamberlain) is quite limited in scope, not far off the modern Adept. More interesting is an article by Lew Pulsipher which basically predicts Savage Species, with character classes for the Lammasu, Stone Giant, Werebear and a pack(!) of Blink Dogs (as you increase levels you gain more dogs – I’d love to know if/how this worked in play). It includes some 1st Ed.-style arbitrary rulings (monsters can only heal naturally, not with spells) but contains some good ideas. The Houri class (by Brian Asbury) is a good old-fashioned sexist idea and useless for dungeoneering (her powers revolve around seduction and magical charms). You could do the same with a Beguiler these days; the various kiss spells are a good idea, though.

    Traveller gets a lot of material, pretty much something each issue with new rules or rules expansions, mostly in an ongoing series of articles called The Expanding Universe by Andy Slack. Since GDW are also publishing at a rate of knots some of this quickly gets superceded by official material but it is generally well thought-out and was probably useful at the time. The Criminal career, for instance, becomes largely redundant with the publication of Citizens of the Imperium, but there is an expanded Scout career (along the lines of Mercenary and High Guard) that lasts a long time before GDW get around to releasing Book 6: Scouts. So prolific is the Traveller material, in fact, that it leads to Starbase, a regular Traveller department edited by Bob “Sable Rose” McWilliams.

    Other articles tend to give crunch rather than advice on “playing the game”. Phil Masters’ Dungeons and Dragoons is a useful discussion on the armaments and tactics of various historical troops, from Aztecs to Carolingian franks, good in that it moves the focus away from standard knights-in-armour fantasy. Roger Musson’s “How to Lose Hit Points and Survive” article essentially predicts the Vitality/Wounds variant, and he also attempts rules for clerical conversion which are okay – I tried to incorporate them into my game once but they never really saw much use. Also of interest are interviews with Gary Gygax and Greg Stafford where they outline how they got started in the RPG writing business. Both seem like nice blokes.



    General Thoughts
    The rise in quality of production and writing continues. I for one am glad to see the reduction in just plain silly ideas. There’s a place for whimsy (in a game that include the Gelatinous Cube and the Rust Monster) but it’s a finely drawn line between whimsy and stupid, and I think that the Fiend Factory Readers’ Poll shows that I’m not alone (with some creatures like the Dahdi demonstrating that the line between them is often a personal one). I think one of the problems with the silly ideas was that they were largely vindictive, along the lines of cursed magic items. You can play a game like that, but it palls quickly.

    What’s also good to see is the opening up of the gaming world to different settings and game systems. I have to confess that I’ve never been big fan of Traveller but it’s interesting to see how quickly it takes off. Granted, some of that perception of speed is due to the contracted timescale of re-reading these magazines, but there’s a lot of material released by GDW on a regular basis. By issue 20 it is roughly 2 years since the release of Traveller, which Don Turnbull predicted would be of only marginal interest to roleplayers…

    The "answers" to Fred Hemmings’ riddles (from Issue 3)
    “What would you do with a flying door?” Smoke it (Condor, a brand of cigar).
    “Someday...Judy Garland.” Opened by wishing upon a star. (Surely that's Jiminy Cricket? Shouldn't it be something to do with over the raindbow?)
    “What fruit grow on pylons?” Electric Currants
    “This street is closed.” Open Sesame
    “State that you stand as did Maude’s suitor.” I stand at the gate alone.

    I wonder why the players had such trouble with those…. On re-reading this, it occurred to me that this intrusion of real world things (such as cigar adverts and Tennyson) is another area of whimsy that was indicative of the early years.
    Attached Files Attached Files  
    Last edited by Dr Simon; Thursday, 5th December, 2013 at 10:12 PM.

  10. #10

    Part Three: Rise of the Big Three. Issues 21-30

    Part Three: Rise of the Big Three. Issues 21-30



    Overview
    Over the period of October 1980 to May 1981 there is a definite sense of the hobby maturing, with a further move away from whimsy and gamism (where dungeons are places deliberately set up as a challenge with a solution) towards a style of play where the character, its personality and a believable setting are more important than artificial tricks and traps. Perhaps this is in part due to the rise of games such as Traveller and RuneQuest with their different emphases on what a player character does, or perhaps it is the shift in writers contributing to the magazine away from the likes of Don Turnbull (a strong advocate of the big-dungeon-full-of-traps style of play) towards the likes of Andy Slack, Marcus L Rowland and Oliver Dickinson who emphasise settings and ideas. Quality-wise the magazine remains strong with plenty of useful articles per issue and a colour cover, bimonthly for 75p.



    Games
    As suggested in the title, this is the period where Traveller and RuneQuest rise massively in terms of output and popularity, and such gems as Twilight's Peak, Deluxe Traveller, Griffin Mountain and Cults of Prax are released. Although RQ, according to reader polls during this period, remains a niche system (played by 9% of respondents of the first reader’s poll, I think), it still stands well above other systems out at the time, and one only needs to look at the adverts for games shops, and the coverage given to the games that they advertise, to see this. The nearest challenger is Tunnels and Trolls which has a steady output of material, but the Dwarf tends to lack coverage. Perhaps as a simpler game there are fewer rules ideas that can be introduced, perhaps there just aren’t the contributions for it. However, Ken St. Andre, creator of T&T, gets a brief column putting him on a par with Gary Gygax, Marc Miller and Greg Stafford and shows that there isn’t an inherent anti-T&T bias to the Dwarf. Other games that are released during this period include Aftermath, a post-apocalypse RPG by FGU, Man, Myth and Magic by Yaquinto (which is more of a campaign with a game system attached) and Champions, which adds superhero gaming to the list of available genres (although the reviewer, Dave Morris, thinks it’s of limited appeal, c.f. Don Turnbull and Traveller). Chaosium take their RuneQuest engine, Basic Roleplaying, and use it to give us Stormbringer (the RPG of Moorcock’s Elric) and, in production, some game based on the works of an obscure pulp horror writer, called Call of Cthulhu. It’ll never catch on.



    Scenarios
    The scenarios illustrate the trend in gaming from trap-filled dungeons to more serious scenarios quite well, with the first two issues (21 and 22) featuring The Tomb of the Maharaja (by S. Hartley) and The Search for the Temple of the Golden Spire (by Barney Sloane) and the last two issues (29 and 30) featuring Weed War (by S. McIntyre) and The Curse of the Wildland (by Phil Masters).

    The first of these, Maharaja, is a pretty uninspiring zoo/trap dungeon, the second, Spire, is one of those adventures where the PCs have to solve a riddle to solve the scenario (although it’s not clear what they get at the end. General treasure, it would seem. No specific treasure, no saving the world or any discernable end-point). To be fair it is a competition scenario where such things seem to be more acceptable. It’s good in parts, but it does feel like a very artificial set-up, a game rather than a world.

    By way of contrast, Weed War is a Traveller adventure set on a water world where pirates are stealing the harvest of a sea plant vital for drug manufacture. As with most published Traveller adventures, the referee is given the bare bones and left to get on with it. There is nothing in it specifically designed as a puzzle; all the obstacles come from the scenario itself and whatever results the actions of the players create. Good stuff, however the map of level 2 of the underwater base bears an uncanny resemblance to Hitler.


    Maps That Look Like Hitler

    The Curse of the Wildland is a simple wilderness adventure (with 6 encounter areas) and although it too has a riddle, this doesn’t form the crux of the adventure but is instead the words of an oracle that may or may not help the PCs. It’s not too difficult to complete, but again it presents a world and a scenario that feels real rather than artificial.

    There is one other full Traveller scenario, Amber to Red (by Neil Cheyne), involving the theft of a starship, which might make a good campaign opener. Notable D&D scenarios include the Hive of the H’rrl (by Daniel Collerton), a general purpose setting to go with the “Flymen” monsters given in the same issue, and the Lair of Maldred the Mighty (by Mark Byng), a highly-detailed puzzle dungeon, which is okay for that kind of adventure but the print is tiny in order to fit it all in, and I’m afraid the aesthetics mean that I’ve never warmed to it (how shallow!). Those last three are all winning entries in various competitions.



    Articles
    There are two sizeable series of “How to...” articles running through these issues. An Introduction to Dungeons and Dragons by Lew Pulsipher gives an overview of game play and tactics whereas Roger Musson’s Dungeon Architect series gives sage advice to the DM for designing dungeon adventures. RM’s series contains more meat and is an entertaining read; both are a little dated but still quite useful for that style of play. If you could only read one, read Roger Musson’s series. Given his past entries into the Fiend Factory, such as the notorious stair stalker, it comes as a surprise that Roger is not a keen advocate of the “silly” style of play, although I suppose his “purple mold”, used for preventing access to un-written areas of the dungeon, is in that kind of dungeon-specific monster vein. Paul Vernon’s series on Designing a Pseudo-Mediaeval Society starts near the end of this batch of issues and gives some very detailed information about creating a more realistic economy for a D&D setting based on the “Ale Standard”. Probably more detail than you’d really need, although it does distill into a useful table of costs for services and contains some food for thought. The Magic Jar, by Andy Slack, is an article about converting characters stats from one game to another. There are a few mathematical tables that match the probabilities from different types of roll (3d6 vs 2d6, etc.) and some examples mostly for games that never made it. Nevertheless, I’ve found this useful from time to time.

    Other D&D articles discuss such matters as a spell point system (by Bill Milne), alignment (in a very intelligent article by OC Macdonald that considers how morality is measured in other games as well as D&D) and Marcus L Rowland prefigures Spelljammer with a series of excellent articles on fantasy space travel, backing it up with an adventure, Operation Counterstrike. One JP Hasledene of Boston (I suspect of Lincolnshire rather than Massachusets) gets very irate at the idea of D&D in space – “...this spacefaring system doesn’t fit in with the general atmosphere that AD&D creates...Perhaps if the author feels he needs a change from ‘ordinary’ AD&D – insult though it is to call AD&D ordinary – he should play Traveller instead”. Ouch! Operation Counterstrike misses an opportunity and is really just another dungeon crawl but with added alien machines, quite mundane compared to MLR’s other innovative ideas. It’s another one where the hard-to-read font puts me off.

    Character Conjuring comes to an end as a regular feature, after a range of offerings. Most of these could be created under d20 rules quite easily, and these days seem almost mundane. Brownies (by Bob Lock) and Lizardmen (Roger E Moore and Michael Brown) are added to the list of playable monsters. The War Smith (by Roger E Moore) is a sort of fire/war cleric. The Summoner (by Penelope Hill – a girl?!) and Elementalist (Stephen Bland) are specialist wizards who do what you would expect from their titles. The Merchant class (also Roger E Moore) could be covered by an Expert with the appropriate skill set but is an attempt to create a character class that focuses on trade and discussion. The Black Priest is an interesting NPC class from Lew Pulsipher, albeit illustrated in dubious taste, not unlike the “Cultist” class from the Freeport Trilogy, giving mechanics to an archetypal villain. Finally the Detective by Marcus L Rowland could be created using Urban Ranger and/or Master Inquisitive from Eberron. Most of these classes are a bit underpowered compared to mainstream clerics and magic-users and although I offered them in my games at the time nobody was interested. It’s fun, though, with these old 1e classes where people felt that they had to make titles for each level – one of those great unquestioned oddities about AD&D.

    On top of that, Traveller. Lots of Traveller. Not only is there a Starbase column each issue but there is usually another feature article, be it on setting up and running Traveller adventures and campaigns, or new vehicles, variant character creation, the Android and Secret Service careers (by Roger E Moore and Robert McMahon respectively), a complex critical hit system (that could be ported elsewhere if you like a lot of realism, by Steve Cook), expanded rules for jump drive problems, vac suits, nobles, even, shock, laser swords! Andy Slack and Bob McWilliams are the prime source of articles, but other contributers add their two credits. Not to be overlooked, there's a good article by Andy Slack called "A Backdrop of Stars" which, apart from some layout artist taking the title as an instruction and setting it in almost unreadable white on black, is an excellent discussion on setting up a Traveller campaign, drawing inspiration from various SF sources.

    Starting Issue 19, Oliver Dickinson introduces some regular RuneQuest material, both in the form of his excellent Griselda stories and in the new monthly Runerites column, the first of which features unarmed combat by E Varley. There is a wierd symmetry to this which we shall see in the last of these columns.

    Fiend Factory and Treasure Chest continue to do what they do, for better and worse. The days of magic items specifically designed to mess with adventurers, or monsters with a jokey theme are largely done with (bar some purposefully silly monsters for the April issue). The offerings from Treasure Chest are either things that now exist in 3rd Ed. (or similar), or not very interesting, and so I won’t cover too many specifics. The Staff of Earthquakes (Phil Masters) is quite neat; not only can the wielder use it to cast an earthquake spell, but can brace against it to be immune to such effects himself. The items in the “assassin’s toolkit” (by MF Ozanne) are also nifty, particularly the Scarab of Assassination, a kind of remote control Scarab of Death. Finally, I like the spell “leafskin” (Roger E Moore again) that allows the caster to photosynthesise; kind of a lesser version of barkskin, perhaps.

    Fiend Factory moves towards more interesting monsters, and notably both the monstermark and the annoying illuminated names for the monsters are gone. Quality remains variable, but stand-outs worth keeping are the dream demon (by Phil Masters. Just the picture is evocative - a butterfly-winged skeleton), the shadow goblin (by Barney Sloane. I used these to great effect in an adventure), the argorian wormkin (that splits in two unless you kill it outright – a creation of Kyuss, perhaps? Barney Sloane again), the stirge demon (a fitting creation for a D&D setting by Ivo [sic] Smith) and the birch spirit (by CN Cartmell, a kind of undead dryad – the birch spirit, that is, not CN Cartmell, who might be I suppose...). The birch spirit could, pretty much, be made in 3.x by applying a ghost template to a dryad, and some of the other monsters, like the Trevor French’s coacula (vampire wolf), are also creatures that the inclusion of templates makes so much easier to create, and removes the necessity for a special monster entry.


    Dream Demon, artist unknown.



    General Thoughts
    There’s some good material in these issues. An expanding range of games covered means more variety to the material and more contributors. Attitudes in gaming have already changed from the early days, at least as reflected in the magazine. The player of 1982 wants believable, logical adventure settings with maybe a dash of whimsy, rather than monsters with silly powers in a complex of specially designed traps and tricks (early players may well have wanted that kind of thing too, but the industry standard didn’t reflect it so much). A range of different settings; post-apocalyptic, wild west, spies, super-hero, samurai, rabbits, horror and sci-fi as well as several flavours of fantasy are available for play (pre-GURPS and d20, however, each system tends to be either unique, with varying degrees of playability, or a thinly-disguised D&D clone). Even the idea that D&D can be used in radically different settings, such as fantasy outer-space, is taking root. Finally, the news section of issue 30 mentions the possibility of playing D&D via computers, using the Prestel system. If you ask me, it’ll never catch on, even with the swanky Commodore PETs seen in the photos of Games Day ’81.
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    Last edited by Dr Simon; Tuesday, 21st August, 2012 at 09:37 AM.

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