Thursday, 5th July, 2012, 04:11 PM #21
Scout (Lvl 6)
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- Newcastle, UK
ø Ignore nerfherder
- EN World
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Guide (Lvl 11)
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- Boise, Idaho
ø Ignore Dire Bare
I think it's interesting that Dragon magazine basically did the same thing, move from a general RPG magazine to covering only in-house games. Warhammer for White Dwarf, and D&D for Dragon. Not sure if this happened around the same time or not.
The current White Dwarf frustrates me, as there is really very little content for even the wargames! Lots, lots of ads, and the articles on their new miniature releases are effectively more ads, and often spread out over many pages with redundant info. I won't subscribe, and I only pick up issues that offer a cool new rules article, like unit rules or scenarios . . . but each time I feel a bit ripped off at $9/issue. I do like all the pretty pictures though, and I know all that modeling, painting, and photography is why the magazine is so expensive.
Reading about the older issues back in the day, pre-Warhammer, has been very interesting!
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
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ø Ignore chaochou
Good fella, and good times.
Scout (Lvl 6)
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ø Ignore tomBitonti
Part Five: The Late Golden Age. Issues 41-50
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May 1982 to February 1984. The magazine continues in much the same vein as the ‘30s, offering much the same mix of games as before. Some new departments appear – Lew’s Views, Counterpoint, Super Mole and Zine Scene, but these are all short-lived. There is a growing sense of a tongue-in-cheek magazine identity. Adverts for Games Workshop Mail Order are illustrated with the darkly comic figures of Lord Zlargh of the Black Sun (“Fear Me, Man-Things”) and his henchmen Agaroth the Unwashed and Ugbash Skullsplitter. The cartoons of Gobbledigook (by Bil), Thrud the Barbarian (by Carl Critchlow) and The Travellers (by Mark Harrison) appear (to mixed response). There are more of Oliver Dickinson’s excellent Griselda stories. Finally in Issue 50 the game statistics (in AD&D and RQ) are given for a bunch of “White Dwarf Personalities”. More on this below.
Elsewhere the gaming world sees the release of Imagine, TSR UK’s in-house magazine with many White Dwarf writers producing material for both, and adverts appear for Tortured Souls, a UK fanzine containing quality scenarios each issue.
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The two newest games to receive the most coverage are Call of Cthulhu and GW’s own Warhammer, in this, its first edition it is primarily a wargame with a bit of roleplaying tacked on. Iron Crown Enterprises have the license for Tolkien’s Middle Earth and are bringing out a lot of sourcebooks, initially for their Rolemaster rules (they only produce a dedicated Middle Earth RPG later on). Tie-ins seem to be on the increase, with the arrival of a James Bond RPG from Mayfair Games, and the announcement that FASA are working on a Star Trek RPG. TSR release their Star Frontiers SF game and also re-issue Basic D&D in the “red box” set. FGU add to their stable with Privateers and Gentlemen, set in the golden age of sail, and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes for running a generic pulp/spy/action hero game (I daresay with one eye on James Bond and the other on Indiana Jones).
Not RPGs, but influential; more Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks are published, numbers 2-5 (Citadel of Chaos, Forest of Doom, Starship Traveller and City of Thieves). GW also release the boardgame Talisman. I’ve played it, it looks gorgeous and it’s good fun, but it never quite reached the levels of Magic: The Gathering as a method for Not Playing D&D.
TSR continues to push out a steady stream of AD&D adventures (including the Desert of Desolation series), along with the Monster Manual 2 and Endless Quest gamebooks, but there are rumblings within the company about disgruntled freelancers. Chaosium continue to release material for RuneQuest (notably the Pavis and Big Rubble boxed sets), not to mention Call of Cthulhu with rumours of a Ringworld RPG in the works. However, they also sell the rights to RQ to Avalon Hill.and the future of the game looks uncertain. GDW’s output of Traveller stuff slows from the massive burst at the beginning. Despite saying that he had no plans to do with scouts as he did with the military and navy in Mercenary and High Guard, Marc Millar releases Book 6: Scouts. There are also rumours that he and GDW are in a rocky patch. The Big Three wobble on their perch whilst new pretenders emerge around them.
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Irilian, Irilian, Irilian. This massive town-based adventure by Daniel Collerton spans six issues and provides a complete working city with loads of detailed encounter sites and a distinctive “pseudo- Old English” language, midway between Beowulf and Chaucer. The adventure itself only occupies a small part of the material and is mostly linear and simple, but there’s a good atmosphere throughout. It introduces a trend that continues in the two-part AD&D adventure The Keys of Tirandor by Mike Polling, of story-boarded adventures where the players are led from one set-piece to the next with little chance to influence the chain of events. I say “storyboarded” rather than “story-telling” as it is possible to use storytelling methods to collaboratively build a narrative where all participants can influence the outcome; it is not necessarily railroading. However, in the case of Irilian and Keys particularly, the adventure writer wants things to happen in a certain way, in a certain sequence, and the adventure is written without much flexibility.
The Keys of Tirandor itself contains some good ideas but as well as the storyboarding it also has a unique setting with a very specific take on the AD&D rules, so it’s general utility is lessened. As a source for concepts, though, it’s good, with a very mystical ending that seems to blend elements of Jung and Buddhism for a very different feel from early dungeon scenarios. Beyond these there is a pleasing array of adventures for other systems.
Travellers get The Snowbird Mystery by Andy Slack which revolves around a drug-smuggling operation gone awry and Shuttle Scuttle by Thomas M Price, an audacious set-up where the characters can play, variously, the part of hijackers taking over a shuttle in the name of a revolution, the crew of the hijacked shuttle, the local air traffic controllers, the police or the local government, giving them access to levels of resources not normally allocated to player characters. Sort of Taking of Pelham 123* in space. The Snowbird Mystery is much more typical of Traveller adventures, with the now-hoary plot of a mysterious ship floating dead in space, but seems to lack a particularly strong hook for the PCs.
Similarly afflicted by lack of narrative drive is The Watchers of Walberswick by Jon Sutherland, a Call of Cthulhu scenario set in 1920s Suffolk where, although there are Deep Ones in them thar sand banks, they just want to be left alone, which doesn’t seem behaviour typical of Lovecraftian horrors. Shouldn’t they be doing some menacing or something, or building towards a ritual to summon worse horrors? What’s cool, though, is comparing the map of Walberswick in WD with the reality on Google Maps – very close indeed except that modern Walberswick has a pub called The Anchor, not The Coach and Horses. Probably not coincidentally, Walberswick, Suffolk, is just down the coast from Dunwich...
Thistlewood (by Joe Dever) is a “scenario” for Warhammer (in other words a set-up for a battle) and Kwaidan (by Oliver Johnson and Dave Morris) is a scenario for Bushido inspired by various Japanese and Chinese ghost legends, and very nicely done it is too, with heaps of atmosphere. To complete the mix of games there’s even a set of Car Wars scenarios from, who else? Marcus L Rowland. Finally, but one of my favourites, the Lone and Level Sands, by Oliver Johnson and Dave Morris again, is an adventure for RQ and AD&D that forms the capstone for the Dealing With Demons series and is dealt with more below.
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RuneQuest gets two big series, and arguably the best articles of this period. Dealing with Demons by Dave Morris looks at mechanics for summoning demons and binding them to perform favours, giving a magic system with quite a dark and dangerous feel. The first article in issue 44 covers the mechanics and to my mind breaks the method down into too many skills – Demonology, Draw Pentacle, Ritual of Summoning. Ritual of Binding, Cast Possession. I think that it could instead be broken into two skills – Demon Lore for knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of demons, and Ritual Casting (plus maybe specific spell knowledge) to cover the others, but it’s a sound idea. Where the fun really starts is in the types of demon that can be summoned. Lesser demons are covered in issue 45, and the demon lords in issue 46. These are a wonderful assortment of gruesome creatures with odd shapes and eldritch names. Amongst lesser demons we may find the usual likes of the succubus/incubus and the demon-wolf but also creatures like the maggoty sraim, good for finding lost things, and the fly-headed rult, able to teleport you; much more interesting than the “Type I, II, etc.” that AD&D had at the time. The demon lords are wonderfully evocative, such as Bakshuro the Screamer who lives in a dimension so hostile that only he (it?) can survive it, or Lord Kesh, the Jewelled Serpent, Demon of Confusion and Terror. D&Ders are finally given a taste of the action in issue 47 with a Demonist class from Phil Masters and some D&D conversions for the RQ lesser demons by Liz Fletcher. Finally all this demonology is bought together in a scenario in issue 48, the Lone and Level Sands. This is a bit of a zoo-dungeon (like the adventure tied to the Faerie series, it showcases as many of the new monsters as it can), and it also features tricks and traps (being a desert tomb). However, it carries these off with some panache and can be very atmospheric, with the assumed Questworld setting having an evocative pulp feel.
The second of the big RuneQuest specials is The Travels of Tralk True-Eye by Ian Bailey, being a study of the goblins. The goblins in this instance are small grey forest-dwelling creatures, with variants having been driven into swamps and mountains by the action of other races. They are not inherently evil, unlike D&D goblins, but many of the goblin cultures bear no love for other races. Stats are given for several goblin sub-races, and then details of two cults over the course of issues 47-49. Crom Cruach, the Worm of the Night, is an evil, vengeful entity, with a Celtic/Lovecraftian flavour to its mythos whereas Curnos is more of a hunter god, blending elements of Celtic and Native American myths. All are very good and impart a lot of flavour and mechanics, crunch and fluff, in a small amount of space (I was surprised that the cults only took up a page apiece).
These series are aimed at the Questworld setting, probably to avoid any copyright issue or to avoid being “Gregged”, as the term is for sudden contradiction by edicts from Greg Stafford concerning Glorantha. Looking back at them, I think you could combine them to give a really good setting with a feel all its own. Most of the RuneRites articles are either about new combat subsystems or errata, clarifications and tweaks to existing rules. One article gives stats for the ki-rin (by Dave Morris) and the golem (by Simon Basham), both with a twist compared to their D&D equivalents; the article is titled A RuneQuest Bestiary but altered, courtesy of my friend who had mild dyslexia, into the RuneQuest Be-Stainery, thus converting a relatively minor article into a legend amongst my RPing friends.
If RuneQuesters are well served, what do Travellers get? A wide range of ideas and expansions, solid if not earth-shattering and no equivalent large series. There are a couple of new organisations to act as patrons for player characters – ICE by Marcus L Rowland, which is a transport company that acts as a front for illicit activity, and the Covert Security Bureau by Andy Slack, spies for the Imperium. These tie in quite nicely with the article on security devices and ways to overcome them, by Graham Staplehurst. Other articles cover red tape (Garth Nix - yes, that Garth Nix), starport design (Thomas M Price), designing fleets (Andy Slack) and an update to Traveller’s rather dated view of computers (Marcus L Rowland). New ideas include what is essentially a Stargate, of the SG-1 variety (Bob McWilliams), some unusual planetary governments (Andy Slack) and a couple of alien races from Phil Masters – the Phulg’k’k’k crab-people and the Gashruan, chimp-like mercenaries. Most of these articles come with some scenario ideas, which is always a good touch, enough to spark plenty of adventure material from a referee prepared to do a little work.
Material for AD&D seems to be dominated by the prolific pen of Lew Pulsipher who gets his own column, Lews Views, to hold forth on a range of topics that seem quaintly peculiar to AD&D when compared to the articles for other games – the rationale behind dungeons, how fast should characters go up levels and the relative pros and cons of allowing buying and selling of magic items - but he also writes broad discussions on realism in gaming and on using non-fiction as a source of ideas. Non-Lew articles include a closer look at playing assassins (The Dark Brotherhood by Chris Felton) and clerics (Divinations and the Divine by Jim Bambra), on constructing buildings (Chris Felton), the purpose of wandering monsters (Philip Palmer – an good article that suggests the idea of the “wandering event”, random happenings but still holding to the idea of the dungeon complex) and on running large scale battles (Allan E Paull). The general trend is away from mechanics and into a more discursive style; many of the articles contain little or no game mechanics but plenty of food for thought.
Crunch is left to those venerable columns Fiend Factory and Treasure Chest. Fiend Factory finishes Phil Masters’ series on non-human gods at the beginning of this period, but apart from the demon conversions and the humourous stats for White Dwarf personalities it doesn’t produce anything particularly stand-out. Most are chromed variants on existing creatures such as Dan Lucacinsky’s Blackling (does for Halflings what drow do for elves) or Dale Hueber’s Ivyx (a poison-ivy based dryad). Most lack any kind of exciting fluff to make them seem unique. My one favourite is John R Gordon’s Trist, admittedly a throwback to the early days of monsters that stir up trouble in the party, but this evil little rootlike creature is quite evocative and I’ve used it as the basis for a larger adventure. The White Dwarf Personalities by Phil Masters and Steve Gilham are amusing, giving AD&D and RQ stats for Thrud the Barbarian, Gobbledigook, Griselda and Wolfhead (from Oliver Dickinson's stories), Ian Livinstone, and Ugbash Skullsplitter and Agaroth the Unwashed (who supposedly run the GW mail order department); generally the RuneQuest mechanics get better jokes, with Gobbledigook having a skill for Ironic and Despairing Looks for example, but there are some good ones for the D&D stats as well, such Livingstone The Editor (a sub-class of thief), Alignment: Bar-wards, Weapon: Poison Pen, Treasure: Claims never to have any. They’re not really usable in a game, except maybe Griselda and Wolfhead, but I can forgive a bit of joking for the 50th issue! A boxed set of figures was later released.
Treasure Chest similarly seems to be running out of steam, but continues to do what it always has. It starts okay, with an article by Paul McCree converting Tron-style discs into AD&D weapons that sounds cheesy but is actually quite good. The magical variants might inspire some ideas in a setting that uses the chakram. There are some good new spells that are simple but effective, including Silver Web (which is like a web spell but the web is made of silver, watch out lycanthropes), Green Death (which turns you to green slime), Shield of Disruption (undead destroying aura), Lightshield (light aura) and Valin’s Total Inversion (turns you inside out). All by Gary and Terry Saul and quite Vancian, as is Roger E Moore’s Prismatic Gun. The spell Colour Change (by Jon Manktelow), on the other hand, seems pretty useless. It... changes the colour of things. And it’s second level. Oh, and it suggests one use is to change the colour of a fireball to look like a sphere of annihilation, expect that the caster must touch an object in order to effect the spell...
Some of the new game systems get some material too, with a two-part series for Call of Cthulhu called Cthulhu Now, which give details for running CoC games in the 1980s, including new skills, professions and some scenario ideas. Marcus L Rowland again, who loves bending the assumptions of games, always in a good way. For Warhammer there is an article on giants by Rick Priestley (spelled Priestly here), including some amusing rules for which way they stagger if drunk, and a template to see who gets squashed when they fall over.
As well as Lews Views there are another couple of short-lived columns. Counterpoint by Charles Vasey reviews boardgames, and is a bit wordy for my tastes, as well as over-specialised – boardgame reviews have survived quite well in Open Box for ages, and the lengthy reviews of the first couple of years of publication never really took off then. Zine Scene by Mike Lewis looks at fanzines, much like Pete Tamlyn’s Tavern Talk from Imagine magazine, but doesn’t have enough space to do much justice to the range of fanzines. I can also see the editorial decisions to close this column as well – “Why are we telling people to read another publication?”. Super Mole is another iteration of the news items, an attempt at a “gossip column” but it feels like there isn’t enough material to sustain it. It is quite interesting, but the News column does much the same thing. All of these get folded into other columns pretty quickly.
Finally the cartoons. A matter of personal taste, as is quickly displayed in the letters page. Gobbledigook is passingly amusing but doesn’t take up much room anyway. The Travellers has some good jokes hidden in it but the art style is very chaotic. Thrud the Barbarian is a moderately amusing pastiche of Conan and Gor style fantasy that doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The biggest (and best) joke is in the design of its hero – a huge muscle-bound body and a tiny, tiny head (which is not a vital hit location according to his game stats in issue 50).
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There’s a continuing explosion of new products in the industry, with ongoing changes about what can be done in RPGs, but at the same time there is a sense of success outrunning some of the major companies, this is the period where it really feels like the RPG industry shifts from the home-grown, amateurish market into a fully professional one, where aspects such as production values, marketing and distribution all call for dedicated staff. It’s also the birth of the solo gamebook – although Flying Buffalo had been releasing solo adventures for Tunnels and Trolls for years, this is where the concept of fantasy gaming is put into a format that can be sold in regular bookshops.
The Questworld RuneQuest material really dominates this batch of issues, with the older columns of Treasure Chest, Fiend Factory and Starbase not quite reaching those heights. They haven’t run out of steam yet, but they lack the freshness and exuberance that they once had.
The addition of the cartoons is a controversial one, with mixed responses in the letters page. Personally I don’t think any of them are truly outstanding, although there are a few good jokes from each that I still recall (most of them occur in the next batch of issues), but neither do they herald the end of days and a downturn in quality – it’s hardly as if more effort and attention is given to the cartoons than the RPG articles. In a way, it’s quite nice that they give the magazine a sense of identity; with recognizable characters.
*The vastly superior original version with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau, obviously.
Last edited by Dr Simon; Tuesday, 4th June, 2013 at 03:40 PM.
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
- Join Date
- May 2006
- Worcester, MA, USA
ø Ignore Ed_Laprade
I never could make head nor tails of the Travellers comic, but Thrud could be quite fun. And Gobbledigook had its moments.
Scrag 'em all and let the gods sort 'em out!
My favourite Gook strip is the one with the great sage Gaxygygar, sitting under a tree like Buddha. "Betcha I know something you don't," says Gook. "You can't possibly, I know everything," replies Gaxygygar serenely. Gook grabs him and bangs his head against the tree. "Didn't know I wuz gonna do that, didya?" he says. Crude, but for some reason I liked that one.
Best Thrud sequence is the Three Tasks of Thrud:
"You realise, my daughter, that the beast cannot be harmed by the hand of mortal man. Do you know what this means?"
"Oh Father, you don't mean..." (Thinks: The hand of mortal man)
"Yes. He's going to have to use his feet."
"Careful barbarian, that snake is poisonous!"
"I thought it tasted funny."
Scout (Lvl 6)
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Newcastle, UK
ø Ignore nerfherder
I don't usually enjoy cartoons in RPG magazines, but I loved Travellers!
Part Six: A Widening Audience, a.k.a. The Ones Where I Subscribed.(Issues 51-60)
The main change to the magazine in this period begins with Issue 52, where White Dwarf becomes available in national newsagents (such as WH Smith). Up until this point it was only for sale in specialist hobby shops, now it reaches even non-gamers. With this comes an expanded number of pages (and ads!), more colour, and an increase in cover price to 85p. More characters are added to the Mail Order stable, including Gunatha the Zombie, his Teddy Bear and grey-haired anarchist Auntie May (short for Mayhem), and these are further expanded in the “fanzine” Black Sun, sent out to subscribers, a sort of dark and irreverent parody of White Dwarf.
The Dwarf continues to mainly serve AD&D, RuneQuest and Traveller, with some inclusion of material for the likes of Call of Cthulhu and Champions. Games released over this period include Mayfair Games’ James Bond RPG and Chaosium’s Ringworld and Elfquest RPGs, demonstrating an increasing trend for licenced products. On these lines, Iron Crown Enterprises continue to release lots of Middle Earth sourcebooks and announce that they are working on an official Middle Earth Role-Playing game. Games Workshop gain the rights to publish various US stuff, and also announce the development of a Judge Dredd RPG, with new-ish company FASA working on a Doctor Who RPG. TSR are working on Marvel Superheroes and Indiana Jones RPGs.
In non-licensed games, Steve Jackson Games release Toon, exploiting a previously unseen niche in the RPG market. Avalon Hill release Powers and Perils and FGU release Lands of Adventure, two non-specific fantasy games that fail to really take off, because they don’t do much that pre-existing games don’t. Pacesetter Games release Chill, the Horror-Game-That-Isn’t-Call-Of-Cthulhu.
TSR have some other non-licensed works of import, amongst others the Battlesystem mass combat game and the first of the Dragonlance modules (DL1 Dragons of Despair). Chaosium continue to release a steady stream of Call of Cthulhu but, having sold the rights to Avalon Hill, nothing for RuneQuest. The biggest release for Traveller is The Traveller Adventure, a massive softback campaign book.
Moving in on the not-an-RPG front come more Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks and some more gamebook series including Steve Jackson’s Sorcery, Joe Dever and Gary Chalk’s Lone Wolf series, and two series by JH Brennan – Grailquest for younger readers and the Demonspawn Saga for older readers.
The highlight, for me, is The Temple of the Doomed Prince by Phil Holmes, an adventure using RQ, AD&D and, uniquely, Empire of the Petal Throne game mechanics, set in the Empire of the Petal Throne world of Tekumel. It is fairly straightforward, with the player characters sent to investigate the loss of contact with a remote temple and encountering the things that caused the loss of contact. What makes it special is not only the evocative setting but also the fact that it provides an opportunity to expand it into a larger campaign, with several campaign seeds built into the adventure.
The scenario features a log book left behind by the missing priests that gives an eerie description of the downfall of the temple, and strangely enough, the same device is used in two other adventures – Paul Ormston’s Sky Rig for Traveller and The Last Log for Call of Cthulhu, by Jon Sutherland, Steve Williams and Tim Hall. Sky Rig is an adventure set in a gas-mining facility in failing orbit around a gas giant inhabited by a mysterious alien entity; The Last Log is set in the far future around an abandoned archaeological dig on a distant planet, showcasing the versatility of the Call of Cthulhu system. These two adventures are good as well, all of them simple but allowing for a lot of player activity. Last Log has a nice miniature diorama in lieu of a map (using a Space 1999 Eagle), and looks like it was used at a convention.
Innovation shows in many of the other scenarios as well. Anna Price’s On the Road is an event-based adventure for RuneQuest set over the twenty-one days of a caravan journey, with internal strife, murders and broo bandits. The Ballad of Times Past (Dave Morris and Yve Newnham) is an AD&D adventure with similarities to The Key of Tirandor; set in its own capsule universe (where magicians need powdered dragon eggs to power their spells). It is linear but not quite as story-boarded as Tirandor. Spiderbite by Oliver Johnson is a low-level AD&D scenario; not overly original in its subject matter of a trap-filled tomb in the jungle, but the three-dimensional aspect to the map makes it unusual and it is a good potential drop-in adventure. Strikeback is a superhero adventure for Champions and Golden Heroes with a heavy flavour of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with potential encounters with Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo, Count Dracula and other such characters. The kind of crazy invention you’d expect from Marcus L Rowland. The Hour of the Tiger, by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards, is nominally for AD&D, RQ or Bushido but is pretty much devoid of mechanics. It’s a scenario that follows up a lengthy series on ninja characters (see below) and is unusual in that the characters are expected to avoid all encounters, using stealth to spy on a conversation instead of hacking their way through.
The remaining scenarios are generally solid but less innovative. The Bleeding Stone of Iphtah is a short Call of Cthulhu adventure from Steve Williams and Jon Sutherland, set in 1920s Egypt and fairly typical for a CoC adventure, involving investigation, archaeology, shifty foreigners and unspeakable things. Minas Tirith from Joe Dever presents Tolkien’s Battle of the Pelennor Fields for Warhammer with some impressive diorama photos. The Serpent’s Venom, by Liz Fletcher, is a low-level dungeon crawl that does what dungeon crawls do, functionally but with little in the way of twists. This is published in issue 52, the first one to potentially reach a wider audience and I think something a bit more special would have been better. The Sunfire’s Heart by PG Emery, is a two-part “mini-epic” (if such a thing can exist) with a search for an artefact, but in play it is very light in terms of content, with a lot of empty rooms and strangely little challenge. There are some good ideas in the background, however, and it could springboard a longer campaign. It is a winner of a scenario competition, but I can’t find which issue the competition appears in. The Fear of Leefield by Stuart Hunter is a decent low-level scenario, very similar to Paul Vernon’s Trouble At Embertrees but making good use of the various articles from earlier White Dwarfs, notably whips and the mandrake people. I’d have put this one as the introductory scenario, as its a good mix of intrigue, interaction, mystery, dungeoneering, local wilderness and ethical dilemma, although it is for 3rd-4th level characters, not beginning levels. The Black Broo of Dyskund is a “cavern crawl” for RuneQuest – straightforward in terms of design but it does manage to convey the sense of a natural cave system (with squeezes) rather than the usual 10 ft. wide regular passageways. This adventure was revised and expanded and later re-released as part of Avalon Hill’s Shadows on the Borderland package for RQ3. It’s written by Ken Rolston, who would go on to a prominent role in Paranoia material, 3rd Edition RuneQuest material and Something Rotten in Kislev for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (and get accidentally punched in the face by Thrud the Barbarian).
Most of the existing departments continue as always, although Lew’s Views (and the input of Lew Pulsipher in general) becomes less frequent. I don’t know if Dave Stone’s letter in Issue 51 where he refers to Lew as “Lew Penpusher” has anything to do with this. A new addition in Issue 52 is Tabletop Heroes by Joe “Lone Wolf” Dever and Gary “Also Lone Wolf” Chalk which brings miniatures back into the magazine for the first time since Molten Magic. The thin end of the wedge, in hindsight. This starts in a similar vein to Molten Magic with a simple review of figures but rapidly evolves into a “how to” column with advice on painting, customising and photographing figures and scratch-built scenery. It also quickly initiates a heated discussion in the letters page about whether Dever and Chalk are much cop as painters and photographers of figures. It has to be said, the naysayers have a point, the early efforts are very glossy, low detail and dubiously lit and focussed. It gets better.
With the expectation of a new audience fresh to gaming, Marcus L Rowland follows in Lew’s footsteps with a series of articles called The Name of the Game, although this gives a description of role-playing in general followed by several issues worth of briefly describing existing games, rather than a guide for better play.
Also ostensibly to entice in new players is the four-part solo adventure The Castle of the Lost Souls by Dave Morris and Yve Newnham, which is a mix of fantasy tropes, not entirely serious and harmless enough, although from some letters you’d think it heralded the end of days. I notice that it was later published in its own right.
After these, the lengthiest series is Night’s Dark Agents, by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards, a four issue series looking at ninjas for AD&D, RQ and Bushido. The authors cover history, training, tactics and tools of the ninja, topping it off with a ninja class for AD&D (this is before Oriental Adventures is released) and the Hour of the Tiger scenario. The ninja class is interesting – characters get a set of skills at first level and then at subsequent levels they can either advance some of these skills or choose new ones, a very flexible approach that prefigures the 3rd Ed. Skill system (and feats, since some of the abilities are all-or-none). I’m surprised I didn’t notice this first time around, nor that anybody else didn’t try something similar for existing classes. The whole series is light on actual mechanics and, in a refreshing change from earlier articles, the authors give simple and elegant suggestions on how existing game mechanics can be used to emulate the abilities rather than introducing swathes of new charts and tables. It's a well-written and intelligent series of articles, not simply a “Ninjaz R Cool” cheese-fest, although inevitably some readers see it that way.
This mechanic-light approach is continued in many of the other articles, ostensibly for AD&D or Traveller but adaptable to any fantasy or SF game respectively. Stephen Dudley’s article on traps (Its a Trap!), for example, discusses where and why a person would set a trap and which types would be appropriate to which situation, rather than the usual list of unlikely mechanisms. There are articles in Treasure Chest discussing character goals (J Anthony Nawson), recurring arch-enemies (JH Dickson) and technology in fantasy games (Phil Hine) which are brief but widely applicable. Longer articles include All In The Mind, Todd E Sundsted’s discussion on psionics, which looks more at the role of psionics in society than new powers or rules variants, and Graeme Davis’ excellent Beyond the Final Frontier, which looks at the views of the afterlife in various mythologies, and the idea of continuing adventuring in the afterlife when a character dies. Some intriguing possibilities, possibly better than Ghostwalk. For science fiction games there are articles looking at big philosophical topics like immortality (Andy Slack) and different types of universe (Marcus L Rowland) as well as smaller mundane topics like money (Thomas Price) and starship defences (Marcus L Rowland). Andy’s immortality article is the best, giving several SF-methods of achieving immortality of various kinds, and some scenario ideas thrown up by such concepts.
Even articles more heavily rooted in AD&D and with more mechanical content are broad in scope and well thought-out. A couple of articles on clerics essentially prefigure the idea of clerical domains by suggesting spell lists based upon a god’s portfolio. Thomas Mullen sets up the idea in an article entitled Gifts From The Gods, where he suggests that clerics of different gods should have spells and abilities based upon that god’s sphere of influence, then Daniel Collerton punches it home in Out Of The Blue, where he converts the fluff into crunch with a set of spell lists. I used this many years ago, and it worked nicely. Tony Parry and Jerry Vaughn provide an interesting article on Animal Cults for AD&D, with a different mechanical take that allows any class to take on aspects of a particular totem animal, increasing with level. There are a couple of lengthy series concerning magic. Graeme Davis’ Eye of Newt tackles the subject of creating magic items in AD&D, something glossed over in the rules at the time. He goes through all the items in the DMG (or most of them), giving costs of creation, spells known required and any special ingredients. Although effectively superceded in the current rules it could be worth a look, particularly if you like the idea of exotic ingredients as part of magic item creation. Kiel Stephens’ Ars Arcana series runs in Treasure Chest and is simply a list of imaginative (or rules-bending, depending on your perspective) ways of using existing magic-user spells.
Dave Morris takes over Runerites from Oliver Dickinson. There seems to be some unwritten rule that every third Runerites is about combat or errata, and this trend continues. On top of that, there are some good but very non-Gloranthan ideas, such as some magic rings by Dave himself and some interesting Celtic-themed spells by Robert Dale that would go well with the demons and goblins material from the 40s. Also worth considering is Visiting Other Plains by Ian Marsh, which considers using the Praxian animal nomad tribes in a setting other than Glorantha. Starbase is similarly trundling along but does have one excellent article with three detailed NPCs from Michael Clark, low-life chancers with an interconnected history who would fit well in a Firefly style of campaign. The Fiend Factory is getting a bit tired, with a large number of monsters that are simply chromed-over version of existing creatures. There are some attempts to convert creatures from Robert Silverburg’s “Majipoor” stories (Graham Drysdale) and Julian May’s “Saga of the Exiles” series (Paul Harden). Similarly, there is an article from Peter Ransome that attempts to convert elements of David Eddings’ “Belgariad” into AD&D, but none these are as interesting or effective as Lew Pulsipher’s conversions of creatures from Stephen R Donaldson’s “Thomas Covenant” series from way back in the early issues. The best “new monsters” are the surrogates and shapelings from Fred Lee Cain. Surrogates are invisible golems, shapelings are a race descended from surrogates that have somehow achieved sentience. There is a decent amount of information on the society and religion of the shapelings to inspire some campaign ideas.
A mix of other genres begins to creep into the articles as well. Steve Jackson (US) gets a semi-regular column Crash Course with ideas for Car Wars, Simon Burley begins a series on introduction to superhero gaming and Marcus L Rowland gives us an entertaining article on modern religious cults with ideas for use in spy games, Call of Cthulhu or superhero games. Several cults/organisations are given, with what they might be up to in the different genres. The Temple of Excellence Inc., for example, is a bit like Fight Club whereas Technodeology is trying to create a computer god (and in the Call of Cthulhu version, have succeeded). The First Church of Omphalology is run by a former science fiction author called Bob R Chubbard….
Talking of whom, issue 54 has Dave Langford’s review of Battlefield Earth, which I’m going to reproduce in full here. It still makes me chuckle at his shock at the sheer awfulness. No other book or author ever gets such a point-by-point demolition.
“Tensely the specialists hovered round the hospital bed. ‘Absolute quiet, please Absolute quiet for Mr. Langford’ Outside, vast crowds of both the Critical Mass fans waited trembling for the latest sickbed news. A Harley Street expert adjusted the real-ale dripfeed into Langford’s haggard arm, whispering ‘God, what happened to him? Did he fall off Everest? Wrestle a rhino? Get breathed on by Gary Gygax (TM)?’
‘Worse than that, Doctor. He read the whole of L Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth in a single weekend.’
‘The...fool. The poor brave fool.’
Battlefield Earth should be popular with everyone who disagrees with all Langford reviews: I loathed it. Young chap liberates Earth from vile ‘Psychlo’ oppressors circa 3000AD, wiping out the entire Psychlo race in such style as to make Hitler greenly envious, and ends up owning the galaxy. This, adequate for a 1930s pulp novelette, is distended to 819 pages by merciless use of short one-sentence paragraphs, banal repetition, flatulent speechifying and other devices from when authors were paid by the line.
Particularly offensive is Hubbard’s introduction, which tries to rewrite history and establish him as a major figure of Golden Age SF. Wrong. (Why do you think he’s been out of print since?) L Ron further explains that this book is real SF, with plausible science, no fantasy rubbish. Examples of plausibility:
1) Psychlos have a different periodic table
2) Their world’s entire atmosphere explodes on contact with uranium.
3) Their instantaneous conceptual knowledge transmitter, designed for alien brains, happens to work on humans.
4) They build tough armour: ‘Here was a mark where an atomic bomb had hit it’.
5) Someone dissects a Psychlo and looks at the bits with an optical microscope. ‘Their structure isn’t cellular. Viral! Yes, viral!’ In mere paragraphs this same someone, limited to primitive technology, has completely mapped the Psychlo nervous system using a multimeter and test prods.
6) A planet-busting bomb explodes! Pause. A second bomb, which was sitting right next to the first, explodes! Pause. A third, a fourth...
7) A moon is reduced to its constituent electrons and nuclei, which show no urge to recombine. Therefore (?) the thing has a vast electric charge which zaps anything nearby.
8) Hubbard electrolysis: molecules flow along a wire.
9) Having 5 talons on one hand, 6 on the other, Psychlos use base 11 arithmetic – which we’re told is inherently almost impossibly difficult, while decimal is the best and easiest in the universe no matter how many fingers you have: ‘Whenever they discover it on some planet they engrave the discoverer’s name among the heroes.’
Battlefield may sound worth looking at for its sheer laughable badness. No. It’s dreadful and tedious beyond endurance. In fact it’s [Editor’s note: for legal reasons we are substituting a less actionable ending to this sentence] not as good as Foundation’s Edge."
It’s interesting to see how both scenarios and articles are moving away from the more mechanistic approach towards ideas and atmosphere. There’s less in the way of immediately usable material, but more in the way of food for thought. The expanding range of genres (if not necessarily specific games) covered by White Dwarf is on the one hand good because it gives a wider range of views on what RPGs are “about”, but on the other hand it dilutes the amount of material useable to players of just the one game system. However, articles like the ones on SF immortality, life after death and crank cults can be used not only in any game within a genre but in some cases across genres. It’s a fine line to walk between being universally usable and so vague as to be unusable at all. So far, the articles stay on the right side.
It’s funny, also, to note the attitude of older gamers to the likes of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks and the cartoons in White Dwarf, with noises of scorn that the hobby is being “watered down” and how a “serious” hobby is becoming awash with trifles. However, look back to the early days of the Dwarf and you find things like the Pervert character class and monsters like the Dahdi, so, really, how serious was it?
Last edited by Dr Simon; Thursday, 6th September, 2012 at 04:23 PM.
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