I'm at Mini-Wellycon - Oct 22 - 23, 2016
The 79th issue was released for July 1986. In his editorial, Paul Cockburn starts by discussing the warning about lead figures being unsuitable for young lifeforms, after Citadel adverts appeared in magazines aimed at a very young audience. Before plastic took over, warnings about lead appeared on all the Citadel miniature adverts from now on. Cockburn promises more changes once he finds the files left behind by the previous editor. Maybe he was joking… He also promises another Readers’ Poll.
This month the magazine is back to 66 pages long, with the price remaining at 95p. There are 4 full colour pages for the front cover and rear advert, plus inside front and rear adverts. There are now twelve pages of full colour this month, though five are given over for advertising (the others are for Open Box, ‘Eavy Metal, the adventures and the Middle-earth article). In addition red shading and highlighting is used in some of the articles and adverts, as well as the black and white of the rest of the magazine. Subscriptions for a year's worth of monthly issues are £12 (more expensive than the cover price).
The cover is by staff artist John Blanche. The piece is named Amazonia Gothique and features a white bouffant-haired armoured Amazon in front of a flickering orange sun on a featureless grass plain. A little lacking in quality and mystery, but striking enough as a cover. A Citadel miniature was produced based on the image later. ‘Power of the Mind’ is the subtitle of the issue on the cover, but is not mentioned in the contents page or elsewhere in the magazine. Steve Begg, John Blanche, Dave Carson, Jes Goodwin, Mark Harrison, Wil Rees and Tim Sell were the interior artists for the articles and features. Pretty much every article in the issue has an image or a photograph.
The rear page shows an advert for Citadel Miniatures - Miniatures of Destruction, Heroic Fighters and Chaos Dwarf Renegades. The inside back cover features an advert for Marvel Super Heroes from TSR in the Daily Bugle format. The inside front cover advert is for the new Ghostbusters RPG from West End Games and Games Workshop.
Full page colour or black and white adverts for Palladium, Games Workshop UK, Citadel Mail Order and Miniatures, The Awakening from Gamemaster Publications, T.M. Games, Gremlin Miniatures, Esvedium Games, Chris Harvey Games for Flying Buffalo, Mitre Games PBM, Virgin Games Centres, TSR, KJC Games PBM, Heroes Miniatures, Grenadier Models, Alchemy Metal-Wear, Essex Fantasy, Lone Wolf Book 7 (which I just picked up second hand this weekend) and other smaller adverts are placed throughout the magazine. There are plenty of adverts for different Games Workshop products and services again. The full page colour advert for the Call of Cthulhu hardback is again striking.
The magazine is laid out in a mix of two, three and four column layout, with all of the articles cleanly readable this month. The shadings generally work OK this month in highlighting titles, with red mostly used. The one adventures is in two columns, though the majority of the magazine is in three columns. The small ads are in four columns.
This month, everything is simply listed under ‘CONTENTS’ with no special marking used for the seven-page adventure.
Open Box reviews new board games, role playing games and supplements. Three pages are given over to two new RPGs and five new RPG adventures or supplements. Ratings out of ten are no longer given.
Marcus L Rowland tends to get the ‘strange’ RPGs to review, and his contributions this month start with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness RPG £7.95 and After the Bomb Supplement £3.95 from Palladium. Compatible with Palladium’s Heroes Unlimited RPG the system is overly complicated and fiddly for today’s taste, but at least supports the goal of creating mutated animal / human hybrids with mostly martial arts powers, who uphold good while fighting both evil mutants and misunderstanding humans. This is the tough, pre-cartoon version of the turtles where the background and the violence is treated in a deadpan fashion after the initially ludicrous set up. After the Bomb is a post-holocaust setting for the TMNT game, allowing for more mutated creatures, and setting up the conflict between mutants and humans in a more direct fashion. Good fun; but Rowland prefers the modern day setting as having more options for plot development and diversity.
Secret Wars II is a supplement for Marvel Super Heroes featuring nearly all the heroes and villains of the universe against the mighty Beyonder. Theoretically this could make for an interesting plot as the heroes can only try to persuade the Beyonder and not fight it, but this kind of plot has become rather cliched since the 1980s. Useful if you wanted another bunch of characters and NPCs to round out the Marvel universe, and very much of its time. Pete Tamlyn recommends it only to Marvel completists.
Black Sword is the second and concluding adventure in the Stealer of Souls mini-campaign. Having helped their patron track down the merchants who conspired against her father, the brave, foolish or greedy PCs now seek to find the man who did the actual killing - Elric himself! A tour through interesting parts of the Young Kingdoms follows, with the PCs able to divert for side quests. The book is flexible enough to be run on its own, or as the first part of the adventure rather than the second. Excellent stuff from designer Ken Rolston. Recommended by Phil Frances.
Frances also recommends the latest adventure book for Call of Cthulhu,
Terror from the Stars, ranking it with The Asylum and Curse of the Cthonians and at a better price. The novel feature is the 12-page investigators’ play-aid, The Field Manual of the Theron Marks Society. The idea is to give investigators some basic Cthulhu-busting advice on setting up a helpful organisation of their own, as well as providing tips for dealing with certain entities. Very much in the pulp style of game, the advice given is not all ‘correct’ or safe to follow, and provides a real sense of dread about the cost of facing the Mythos. One problem is that references are made to some of the popular campaigns already released, making it difficult to use without amendment if you plan to play the same adventures. It’s probably better to have an investigator find the book in a later decade or modern age, and allow them to search the references they find, like an early version of The Armitage Files. The two adventures are a bit more standard, both being concerned with archaeological investigations in south America. The Pits of Bendal-Dolum leads to the Dreamlands, if the investigators survive that long. A little railroady at the end but good fun to play and run. The Temple of the Moon features a few competing NPCs to make its dungeon delving structure more interesting. A little old fashioned, but that’s alright.
Marcus L Rowland also reviews the last two items in the article. Ghostbusters RPG, designed by Chaosium for West End Games was based just on the single movie. A game ahead of its time in simplicity and ease of play, Ghostbusters was little expensive in the UK and NZ at £12.95. Although it got a number of adventures and supplements and the later GBI edition, it did seem that the game didn’t quite find its market at the time. White Dwarf never featured any articles or adventures for the game, for example. Recommended with reservations by Rowland.
Finally, Acute Paranoia adds Robots, Sanity tests and Chemical cures to harass your troubleshooters with. There are new secret societies, but the majority of the book is given over to new adventures and plot outlines. Me and My Shadow, Mark IV is a fairly easy to run guarding mission which is probably a decent choice for new GMs - I remember having fun with this one. Warriors of the Nightcycle lets you add the inevitable ninja to your Paranoia game, where the included haiku are the neatest touches. A decent GM could make quite a lot of the simple plot ideas, and many of them follow on from each other. A good price of £6.95 for an 80- page book.
Where & Back Again. Graham Staplehurst looks at possibilities for Middle-Earth adventures. A colourful John Blanche front page shows the Fellowship on the way to Moria, as Staplehurst starts by looking at the setting, and what you need to have fun adventuring in Middle-Earth. For sources, Staplehurst discusses the Iron Crown Enterprises sourcebooks and the MERP game in particular, and the primary sources of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tale. Recommending the last two seems over the top for a new GM, though The Silmarillion livens up in the second half. Staplehurst suggests 4 campaign styles as being appropriate for Middle-Earth gaming - Quest, Crusade, Adventuring and Society.
The Quest is a campaign with a particular goal, such the disposal of the One Ring, or recovery of a Dragon’s treasure. Even simple quests can be spun into lengthy campaigns, and complications added by competing questers or difficulties. The Crusade is a more straightforward battle against evil, to clear a region of orcs or goblins or wild men. General adventuring is more like standard D&D Fantasy gaming - tomb raiding or mixtures of short quests for gold or treasures. Society is a campaign style centered around a place and the culture of it, from any of a historical era or geographic place in Middle-Earth. Some places are known from Tolkien as being in decline, or rebellion or out-right dens of intrigue. Staplehurst notes that many campaigns will be combinations of all these types of game.
Next, Staplehurst looks at options for the rule system you plan to us. While MERP might seem the obvious choice, the author notes that MERP doesn’t do a great job of reflecting Middle-Earth in its system, the magic rules in particular being an ill-fit. Staplehurst looks at using D&D instead, pointing out a few of the obvious differences from the human-centric universe to the economy and ubiquity of magic items.
Finally, Staplehurst discusses creating and running your own homebrew system. Players will not be able to make use of out of game knowledge with a unique system, and the designer can tailor it to emphasise the style of his game - as the more recent The One Ring RPG has done. The location and time of your campaign is examined next. The four ages of Tolkien’s world are examined, with most action happening toward the end of the Third Age or the start of the Fourth. ICE have expanded the geographic scope of Middle-Earth to cover other regions in Endor such as the Andor supplement. Staplehurst suggests being free to create new cultures, artefacts, sub-races and civilisations but not to create new races, gods or religions at odds with the rest of Tolkien. A final option is to take Tolkien at his word of his worlds being a legendary pre-history for the real world. Europe of pre-Roman or dark Ages time could be merged with Middle-Earth, or used as a whole discovered magical continent like the Americas.
Example campaigns Staplehurst provides range from a Quest for the Crown of Numenor (from the Third or Fourth Age), a Crusade in Gorgoroth to clear out orcs and trolls and a society based around Dol Amroth. Staplehurst concludes by giving a quick run-down of the ICE modules, before suggesting that the range of options for adventure in Tolkien is wide enough to encompass many styles. A good review of Middle-Earth gaming in the 1980s, and still of value today if you plan to go it alone.
Critical Mass is the regular book review column by David Langford. This month the column is titled ‘Reviewquest’ - ‘the fantasy game in which you take the part of a hapless book reviewer!’ Langford is tired of turgid fantasy trilogies, but fortunately this month see some fine books in both Fantasy and SF.
-The Anvil of Ice by Michael Scott Rohan is a fantasy Viking-esque story focussed on a blacksmith hero who makes magical weapons. A solid start to a trilogy.
-Blood Music by Greg Bear is the Hugo-winning update of Childhood’s End that outdoes Clarke in featuring human evolution. Here it’s via an intelligent virus that rewrites the code of its host and goes on to take over the world… and then some. Bear was one of the biggest names of late 80s SF, and this is still an excellent novel.
-The Blind Spot by Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint - an unreadable classic, and
-Three Go Back by J Leslie Mitchell - ‘a pleasant novel’ where an airship takes three mixed characters back 25,000 years ago to look at ‘uncorrupted’ prehistoric life. Intriguing if not entirely convincing in its depiction of the pre-Homo Sapiens types.
-...And the Lurid Glare of the Comet by Brian Aldiss and Kaeti and Company by Keith Roberts are two small print run special books by popular SF and Fantasy authors. Self-indulgent, but deservedly so.
-The Skook by J P Miller is both horror and fantasy, as Span Barrmann is trapped in caves by biker cultists, only to gain the aid of a made-up beast from stories he told to his daughter. An epic quest in miniature, recommended.
-Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly has a reluctant, dirty-fighting hero, a witch as the hero’s lover and an effective heroine and a sympathetic dragon.
-The King's Justice by Katherine Kurtz concentrates on the politics rather than magic and fantasy in a Wales that never was, with important questions of good, evil and expediency to be considered.
-The Opium General by Michael Moorcock includes another Jerry Cornelius tale of entropy and non-sequiturs, a trio of looming world war tales and some non-fiction. Starship Stormtroopers is a great title for a withering look at Heinlein’s fascism, but rather lumps in Asimov, Herbert and Tolkien with CS Lewis as despised ‘Christian apologists’. A vital force in British SF and Fantasy, at any rate.
X Stands For Unknown by Isaac Asimov is an OK collection of essays from Fantasy and Science Fiction, but Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! is an hilarious and excellent collection of writing about and around science. Take your pick.
2020 Vision reviews genre films - this month by Alex Stewart, rather than Colin Greenland. Stewart says that Greenland has gone off to write a novel, which is why he’s taken over. The movies reviewed are Absolute Beginners (hard to call fantasy, except for its musical numbers), Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (terrible cartoon Star Wars knock-off, in 3D), Highlander and House. Highlander was seen in the original abbreviated cut, which confused Stewart. He did praise it for its performances from Clancy Brown and Sean Connery, as well as flashy direction. It got a revisit in a later issue. Stewart likes the setup of House - a Vietnam vet becomes especially susceptible to a haunted house while recovering from PTSD, but despite spawning sequels the mix of horror and humour never quite worked. There are also brief positive nods to rereleases of ET and Pinocchio.
Thrud the Barbarian by Carl Critchlow is the story of a typically small-brained (and small-headed) Barbarian with anger issues. Thrud takes some driving lessons from a familiar looking crazy Australian, with vehicular mayhem resulting.
All In the Mind is a new look at Psionics in AD&D by Steven Palmer. Now I have to admit I’ve never played with Psionics in 1st edition AD&D. It just doesn’t seem fair to have a party where one PC is hugely better than the others, plus it entails extra work for the DM in creating credible psionic enemies for the Psi hero to face all without destroying his mates. On the other hand, if you fancy a high-powered campaign where everyone is psionic then you may have found the standard rules arbitrary, confusing and unwieldy. Palmer attempts in this article to present a replacement psionic system with levels of mastery and an advancement scheme, as well as offering more options and abilities. As a replacement for psionics and standard magic this could make for an individual campaign. Psionic users are divided into 4 categories: non-, latent, psionic and master. The chance of being a psionicist is similar to standard AD&D - somewhere between 1 and 10% chance depending on characteristics and parentage. There’s an additional separate chance to have latent psionics which only reveal themselves under stress. A latent will only ever have one or two minor powers, while a normal psionicist can attempt to work their way up to master level through experience and training. Palmer has grouped psionics into seven different groups, so that psionicists will have more unified sets of powers. There are still random tables to determine a psionicists starting abilities and ultimate possible level of power. The highly random approach is in keeping with AD&D character generation of the time, but will make for wildly disparate characters again. Many new psionic abilities are adaptations of existing spells, but include time travel, psionic detection and ability copying. This seems to make your fantasy PC more like a superhero.
The idea is a good one, but I can’t imagine many people tried these rules as written. Someonereally keen on psionics could develop a campaign from these rules and have a common baseline to build from. It still looks like a lot of work and would necessitate many changes to the average campaign, items and monsters. There’s a reason that psionics just became another character class in later editions of D&D.
Ghost Jackal Kill is a Call of Cthulhu adventure set on the American West Coast in the 1920s by Graeme Davis. It has been written as a prequel to the Games Workshop adventure The Statue of the Sorcerer, but can work as a one-off adventure that showcases the worlds of Hollywood, Private Eyes and antique books. Nice illustrations, including two different takes on the main mythos enemy are a feature. The NPCs include real film stars and authors. A silent screen actress is attempting a movie comeback, but some ominous deaths seemed to be cursing the proposed movie. The plot is fairly simple for investigators with any experience, but it should be a tense race against time to prevent unnecessary deaths and dismiss the rapacious mythos horror before it can kill again. Good atmosphere and background, and obviously more useful if you have the adventure it connects to.
Think About It! Phil Masters considers the use and application of Intelligence in RPGs. Hi starting point was the article Rational Behaviour in WD69, where Pete Tamlyn promulgated his Campaign ratings system for tracking social and behavioural attributes. Tamlyn discussed the issue of negotiating with an NPC merchant or solving a riddle, thinking that the rules get in the way of the roleplaying. Tamlyn’s game Golden Heroes got rid of Intelligence as an attribute, even though his Campaign Ratings didn’t really replace the uses of Intelligence. Golden Heroes even has Advantageous Backgrounds that give characters the chance of being a scientist, or detective, or some other origin that would suggest whether they are as smart as The Thing or Reid Richards. Masters then looks at the various uses of Intelligence in RPGs and comes up with 5 major ones.
First, in some RPGs like Call of Cthulhu it can wholly or partially determine the starting skill points of a character, or determine their level of advancement in games like Traveller or an AD&D magic User. The second usage is in Analytical problem solving - from puzzles to maths problems to solving a whodunnit, pure Intelligence can be used where a system doesn’t have a specific skill to cover the use. In Combat, Intelligence can provide a bonus in recognising weak spots, or in planning or Tactics. RuneQuest 2 rewarded high Intelligence with a combat bonus making it useful to most characters. Memory is another aspect that can be related to Intelligence, though people with photographic memory are not necessarily the smartest. Perception is another aspect of Intelligence, but some games see it as an aspect of Wisdom or Power. Sherlock Holmes’ shows how observing is more than seeing, and that determination and practice may be more important than Intelligence here.
So what’s Masters conclusion? In the end he’s content to show that Intelligence is an important attribute to rate in a character, and that a player attempting to run a character of vastly higher or lower intelligence is a true example of roleplaying and worth keeping in a game. Arbitrary out of game puzzles tend to be frustrating to most groups unless they are the types who are keen on them. Masters is coming to the point that puzzles should never stop the game and that the GM shouldn’t be afraid to offer clues either directly, or in the guise of information the PC ‘has just remembered’.
‘Eavy Metal is the new painting and miniatures feature replacing Tabletop Heroes. Two colour pages and one monochrome one show goblins, orcs and a battle chariot as painted and converted by Kev Adams. The article looks at conversions from the equipment needed to the types of beginner’s projects recommended. Adams quickly moves from helmets to remodelling faces, but plenty of practice and a steady hand is needed. The last page is Adams general preparation and painting guide, covering armour, faces, eyes and hair, clothing and bases.
A two-page letter column this month, with letters edited and cropped, and the contents of the letters split over multiple topics. The postmark and stamps are from the Acme Patent Joke Company ‘coated in contact poison’. Nine people have written in with varying viewpoints on the occult, tarot and devil-worshipping controversies. This is probably the closest the magazine came to having the BADD crowd write in, intermingled with believers in occult knowledge and concerned neutral observers. The editor notes that there is a line the magazine wouldn’t cross, such as adverts for seances and that he would possibly not have accepted the Tarot workshop adverts either. There’s no commitment made to avoid ‘devil-looking’ imagery such as the cover of WD75. Considering the Warhammer Chaos images that would be appearing within the next dozen issues that’s probably just as well.
The next largest block of letters is from those complaining about the new magazine content, and in particular too much Judge Dredd and Golden Heroes at the expense of traditional RPGs. Cockburn lays it out that White Dwarf is a house magazine for Games Workshop, and their interests and games will always have an influence on the magazine’s contents. Some letters try to argue that high sales today do not mean long lasting influence, or even that a game is being played more than traditional games. The editor notes that GW plan to have Stormbringer, Paranoia and Pendragon being published in the UK soon, which will lead to more articles about those games. Finally there’s a mixture of topics including more PbM, stereotyping of character classes as well as races and sexes in RPGs and a comment about Lankhmar being too small for its supposed population as shown by TSR. Someone even provides a simple new initiative system tieing the initiative roll into the number of segment the action happens in.
Psi Judges by Carl Sargent is a look at the mental perp-busters of the Judge Dredd RPG. Sargent comes up with three ways to make Psi Judges slightly tougher than in the basic rules. The one he recommends is a new ability called Metabolic Control, which gives a Psi Judge a chance of avoiding the effect of hits that would otherwise knock them out of the session. Improved armour, or only having Judges with a Strength of 2 or 3 and not 1 are the options he rejected. Sargent refers to Psi Judges appearance in the comics, and notes that the characters will want to be out on the streets busting perps, rather than locked up safe in the sector houses. Eight other existing Psi powers are expanded and amended, to allow for consistency and better game logic. Psi judges are an important part of the Judge Dredd setting, so they need to a good option to play, without being too powerful for the rest of the group.
Play It Again Frodo by Dave Langford extracts the proverbial from a number of literary and movie sources. Read how RPGers would have improved Tolkien, Star Wars, Lovecraft, CS Lewis and more... Some are more serious than others - the Lord of the Rings one ends abruptly when Gandalf decides he’d better risk taking the Ring for a brief time, at least. Good fun to read, and might make you think about the plot and character loopholes in your favourite property.
Gobbledigook by Bil features the goblin with a page of his own. A war erupts between Gook’s tribe, the Skulks, and another goblin group called the Kreeps. It’s all a misunderstanding, but as the goblins enjoyed a very good fight they probably won’t mind too much.
News and gossip column Fracas drops the personal connections from the last two months, but retains the chatty style. The major news is the departure of more TSR UK staff to Games Workshop, leaving Graeme Morris as the major name left in the company. An amusing running gag adds years to Morris’ age each time his name is mentioned after more people are reported as leaving. Next, Graeme Davis and Rick Priestley are reported as working on the ’Warhammer Advanced RolePlay System’ including the critical hit tables. The magazine is looking for a better, snappier title for the new RPG.
New GW releases for July and August include King and Things, Talisman the Adventure, Tower of Screaming Death for Warhammer, Call of Cthulhu Hardback and Gothic floorplans. The d100 from GameScience gets a photograph and write-up - $5 US when release. Victory Games has a range of release for the James Bond 007 RPG, including adventures and the Assault boardgame. Gamescon in Basildon and Dragonaid in London are previewed, the second being a fundraising event attempting to beat the world record for continuous RPG games.
The Small Ads are split into paid Classifieds, Help column and a Club listings. There’s just one page this issue. Only Thunderwind fanzine is advertising this month, though Ixion is looking for artists for a first issue. The Tarot Workshop and Space Oddities second hand books are the adverts paying for a heavy border. There are a few PbMs advertising, plus people selling 8-bit software and a guy who wants 30p for his complete map of Warlock of Firetop Mountain. There are only a couple of groups of White Dwarfs for sale and none wanted. Someone is after Dragon 1 to 5, though.
The Help has three people looking for penpals. Six gamers are looking for groups, and two groups are looking for gamers or GMs. Most of the adverts are for players trash talking each other, or as missed connections. There are 10 Club adverts this month from Whitstable to Galloway and Tipperary.
Those grumbling about the end of articles on traditional RPGs should be happy about the D&D features in this issue, though they’d probably still be annoyed at another Judge Dredd article. The Call of Cthulhu adventure is atmospheric and well presented, and may well have helped to draw people into the RPG with the Hollywood and Private Eye angles. The Middle-Earth and Intelligence articles are still worth reading even for general roleplayers, as they illustrate points to consider i your campaign no matter what system you use. The Psionics article is too specific to be of much use to any but a very small group, but again it shows a way of adapting the rules to feature something you are interested in. Warhammer RPG is coming, but for now Games Workshop is still trying to make money from a range of RPGs.
“I would have made this instrumental, but the words got in the way...” —XTC, “No Language in Our Lungs”
“Self-discipline isn’t everything; look at Pol Pot.” —Helen Fielding, _Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason_
Lovely review, as ever.
I play a little game when reading your WD reviews: it's called "how far into the review can I read without opening up my copy of the issue in question to follow along?"
This time I made it as far as the Middle-earth article. :-)
I'm at Mini-Wellycon - Oct 22 - 23, 2016
Cheers Douglas! It is interesting to go back to these issues to see what still holds up and what hasn't...