The GROGNARD Files

Table-top RPGs from back in the day and today.

A random roll on the d100 as thrown up 37 (4 issues later than the first one) which was dated January 1983. The magazine had started to get into the stride as a monthly publication after years of coming out every two months.

This was the month that wearing a seat belt became compulsory in the UK, despite protests from people bemoaning their loss of the civil right of being thrown through a windscreen. BBC launched its Breakfast Time programme with Frank Bough jazzed out in his jazzy jumpers and the Green Goddess preened in green.

ET won the Golden Globes for film drama (with Tootsie winning the comedy) and Hill Street Blues won the TV awards. Steve ‘interesting’ Davies won the Snooker Classic in St Helens. Superman: The Movie is shown on TV for the first time.

Let’s look at this together: What did you make of the cover? Did Alan E Paul’s FAERIES appear in your games? Did you learn your Traveller referring ropes from Andy Slack? Some classics appear in Open Box … did you play Crasimoff’s World? Vampire tables! Don Turnbull is getting cross on the letters page… How did you make use of issue 37?

18 thoughts on “White Dwarf Book Club – Issue 37

    1. Rog says:

      Half way through. The cover, lovely stuff, (as has already been mentioned), stick a glittery nylon smock on the bloke and an eagle transporter in the background and it’s Space 1999 time.
      The Faeries stuff was very refreshing to read back then, not that at the time I or my group would have been mature enough for all the subtle bargaining and conditions of Faerie deals, “I smack ‘im with me axe”.
      However a few years later Dragon Warriors took this kind of thing and ran with it, and so did our group. Rather than being just another Orc in the Monster Manual – for example your Hobgoblin singular was a force to reckon with, having their own spells and abilities, and weaknesses, bringing it back to that realm of legend and folktales, where fey creatures took more damage from iron and you could defeat a basilisk with a crowing cockerel.
      Each creature had their own weaknesses and abilities; you can tell Dave Morris and Oliver Dickinson had come from Runequest.
      Anyway i remember nicking some bits from the Faerie scenario an issue or two later to use in our DW games.
      The Andy Slack Traveller stuff i didn’t really get much from at the time, we’d given up with Traveller after rolling up characters, and were fully engaged with Star Frontiers which was an easier ‘in’. Years later i’d come back to these articles when i finally did get round to running Traveller, and appreciate them.
      The vampires, lots of lovely ideas, but as Andrew suggested, surely he can’t have been serious with the Vampire UPP? It’s been said before but Marcus L Rowland would be a great guest for the podcast.
      The City In The Swamp, lovely WD layout, someone actually burned that piece of paper for the map background! No internet images to grab back then.
      Great art, great maps, i eventually used this village for a shameful episode in our Traveller campaign in the early 2000’s where the PCs helped exterminate these self same toad men (now aliens) in their settlement, helping their tribal rivals, machine gunning from an air-raft no less. Tut tut. In their defence, the actual players had qualms, “what are we doinnng?!” but being Traveller, another MG belt was emptied in the quest for gold.
      Cheers.

  1. Jet Simian says:

    Slightly before my time and access, alas, but oh, those Faeries (and the stats of the ones provided in the following, companion issue) have a date with a game in the future, I’m sure. I do like the capricious nature of them – exactly what they should be, I reckon.

    Emanuel’s art graces the cover, and I don’t mind that, either. His work (and the choice of title font in the early Dwarfs) always struck me as recalling a hippy-ish Seventies arts and crafts vibe; as wonky as that sits, that kind of hodge-podge of influences and styles is more honest and befits the RPG movement’s mgpie origins than these late days of codified art and house design. The variety of artwork inWD was always an inspiration in itself – though I could really give whoever decided to paint red blood drips over a too-small Russ Nicholson vampire piece a good talking to!

    1. Russ Nicholson says:

      It wasn’t me.

  2. Dirk says:

    I had a very narrow view of what constituted fantasy back then and I hadn’t played AD&D, so the Faerie article was completely wasted on me. I remember being intrigued, but then baffled by the idea of a faerie plane as a diversion from the normal world. Reading it now, I realise that it is quite wonderful in presenting inventive ideas. The capricious nature of the faeries fits with how they are characterised in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse and the forthcoming game.

  3. Rog says:

    Only read the editorial page so far, Ian Livingstone calls out for a British RPG that we can all support. Is it a case of be careful what you wish for? This morning from the bus i noticed our Games Workshop is now called ‘Warhammer’ instead. I’ve seen that in big tourist cities, but has that happened everywhere? Not even the name remains? The host body finally consumed? 🙂
    This issue is 1 before the first i actually bought myself , but like many i used to read other peoples and in later years bought an old copy. Looking forward to re-reading. Ha ha i agree about the blood, it’s an unusual graphic mis-step for them.

  4. Paul M says:

    Good call. Iiked that issue. The Faerie article was a favourite. I was well into hippy celtic stone circles and stuff as a 15 year old and that was right down my ally. Never got to use it of course, but it was a good read.

    The encumbrance article was one we did give a try, but surprise surprise it got dumped after a couple of sessions. Even *we* weren’t nerdy enough to find that much maths fun!

  5. Wayne Peters says:

    37, eh? Like 33, it’s a year or two before my time. I didn’t really get into White Dwarf until the 40’s. That said, let’s have a look.

    The cover is quite bland but at the same time striking. It would, I think have garnered a few double-takes back in the day. ‘Shouldn’t that be on the top shelf?’ It’s the sort of trippy Roger Dean style that I think was more closely associated with fantasy and Sci-fi in the 60’s and 70’s before Games Workshop and TSR brought us Blood and Thunder fantasy with realistic depictions of hoards of screaming Orcs and glowing things!

    Talking of GW, there’s an ad on Page 1 and includes new games from/for Intellivision. Now there’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A looong time…

    The article on Fairies is interesting but I’ve always struggled with the concept of a fairy realm in a Fantasy setting. Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic step into the Fairy realm at one point and it’s done fantastically but it works because the realm that we leave is (to the casual observer) utterly mundane. Stepping in to the Feywild in D&D is just trading one fantasy realm for another and has little or no impact, I think. Stepping into Fairy might be more of a thing in low fantasy or ‘realistic’ settings like Pendragon.

    How to referee Traveller by good old Andy Slack (I do hope you get him on the show for a chat soon) suggests you only need books 1,2 and 3 to run the game and not to buy dozens of books if you’re not sure you’ll like it. Refreshingly impartial 🙂
    It then suggests buying a commercially produced scenario to get a feel for how they are structured. For the love of God, no! Commercially produced Traveller scenarios were almost universally horrible. Wander about a bit and look at stuff and pretend to be in awe of made up alien ruins and very very occasionally shoot at something – usually an alien tiger. It does also suggest White Dwarf scenarios – particularly Sable Rose which I’ve not played but is a much more sensible suggestion.
    It suggests that you should be prepared by knowing the rules, at least the ones that will likely crop up in the course of playing the given scenario. Sorry, what’s the base target number for a skill roll again? Oh, wait! It’s not given anywhere in the books!
    To be fair, snarking aside, this is a really solid couple of pages of GMing advice (in general, not just for Traveller) and is quite modern in it’s outlook, covering hand-waving of rules and meta-gaming and the dramatic, worthwhile deaths of PCs. I wish I could have read it when I was 14 and just getting into Traveller. I think I will read the other parts now as well.

    Open Box has a collection of solo adventures for Runequest that sound a little tongue-in cheek (especially with a duck-man on the front) but I really like the idea of the scenario in which you have to track down a con man selling statues with the promise that ownership makes you part of a cult. Nice.
    Also Star Frontiers. Whilst I was the Traveller guy in our group, my mate Adrian took to Star Frontiers. I really liked the setting with its small handful of distinctly different star systems (instead of Traveller’s untold billions of mostly very similar star systems) and I really liked some of the aliens too. Vrusk and Dralasites are super interesting and remain a firm favourite to this day. The box and it’s contents were undeniably more colourful and visually appealing than Traveller and the scenarios tended to be more interesting and more fun-looking. However I was never very keen on the rules and the fact that spaceships came as a totally separate game and one that was largely a starship battles board game rather than being character focussed.
    Then there’s Crasimoff’s World. I never tried a PBM back in the day. They cost money and as a teenager without a paper round, I just didn’t have any (none that I wasn’t spending on Star Wars figures or D&D supplements anyway).

    Next we have Vampires by the Sainted Rowland. I’m not sure about Vampires in a Fantasy setting. I suppose they fit better than Bhuddist monks or bloody Cthulhu. He does however quote possibly the greatest vampire movie ever, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

    The issue’s scenario, City in the Swamp looks like intriguing fun as one might expect from Graeme Davis. Love a Slaad. Also, it might make an entertaining side-quest for the new Ghosts of Saltmarsh if updated to 5th.

    Next the letters page featuring a brace of Tims. Amongst other things being discussed is the apparently divisive subject of the recently featured Necromancer class. Jonathan Rowe is all for it, but Don Turnbull is vehemently agin it. My aforementioned friend Adrian, being a lover of all things anti-hero played a necromancer in my D&D game for many years. We’d not seen the WD article, he just played a wizard that specialised in dead things – especially animating skeletons because, you know, Jason and the Argonauts.
    I honestly think that Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series demonstrates how a necromancer can actually be a ‘good’ character. Making them universally aligned as evil is very short-sighted.
    The letters finish up with a Mr Preston from Crawley angrily decrying all these useless introductions to D&D and Traveller etc. “These articles tell no-one anything of any use or value…” He decries!
    I mean it’s not as if there are young people joining the hobby, being fascinated by it and maybe not quite understanding how it all works, is there?

    Idiot.

    Lew Pulsipher (who’s regular column in Imagine I’m really enjoying on my re-read) gives some ideas for different ways of running a campaign. Most of which make me shudder if I’m honest. Also is this the infamous point at which he refers to Gandalf as a D&D Cleric and sets the letters page ablaze? Or is that in the Khazad Dum scenario next month?

    Fiend Factory gives two pages of new monsters for D&D as if it didn’t already have more than enough. In Middle Earth from beginning to end, the primary antagonists are Orcs and Goblins (the same thing apparently), and there is the very occasional monster, the thing in the lake, Smaug, Shelob etc. Unfortunately you can’t do that in D&D because of levelling, so after about level 5 orcs and Goblins are pretty much no threat at all and so it’s down to the myriad of super-powered monsters to fall upon our heroes in waves to provide anything like a challenge.

    Conversely Runerites then gives some new spells and magic items which are always welcome, I think.

    Next it’s Traveller again with Starbase and this issue it details the winner of the Striker vehicle design competition, the Ling Standard Products ‘Prospector’ An elongated box with stuff stuck on the outside that would make the 70’s Dr Who effects department proud.
    Alright, it’s meant to be a utilitarian mining vehicle but, come on. Unbroken lines are dull. It was a real issue with a lot of Traveller ship and vehicle designs. They tended to be boxes because that was the only way you could fit the exact number of squares into the floorplan. It still hurts.
    Oh I’m being unkind. It’s not a terrible drawing. I’ve certainly seen far worse.
    I do wonder what use players might have for it, though. I mean, it’s conceivable they might need an unmanned, remotely controlled vessel for transporting hazardous equipment or for rescuing folks with very very occasionally but I can’t help feeling that the page would have been better dedicated to a vehicle that might see far more common use in your average Traveller game.

    Next it’s encumbrance in D&D which… nope! Encumbrance makes my brain hurt. I actually approve of it as a limiting mechanic but I’ve only ever seen it done acceptably once and that was in The One Ring where it’s simplified right down to a tiny handful of numbers and that’s it. No tables, no long division, no fractions, no itemising every gold piece and iron spike. Perfect.

    On the final leg now and we find ourselves in the news department.
    A fall in the pound v the dollar sees a price rise on imported games. Runequest, Traveller and T&T escape, however as they are published in the UK under license.
    Penguin kindly and unnecessarily offered TSR a royalty for their What is Dungeons and Dragons? book (written by three rather plucky chaps from Eton – however did they get it published?) and TSR inexplicably declined causing a delay in publication – Penguin deciding to publish it anyway.
    FASA have excitingly obtained the rights to make a Star Trek RPG, Chaosium are to release a campaign for Call of Cthulhu entitled Shadows of Yog Sothoth (it’ll never catch on) and Livingstone and Jackson have had some small success with their ‘Fighting Fantasy’ book, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain and have been asked to write two more (again, it’ll never catch on).

    Finally it’s the classifieds and the ubiquitous hundred and fifty pages of adverts.

    Help! 15-year old Male AD&D player wishes to contact very attractive female to discuss adventures. Please send current photo (if possible) or letter to larry Ries, Route 1, Bunceton Missouri, USA, 65237

    Well… you can’t blame him for giving it a go, I suppose…

    In other ads, Hobby Casting boast 8P A FIGURE! Send 8p + postage in stamps for a sample. Can’t knock that. Whilst Other World Artefacts are quite proud of their ‘Larger doorways and giant mushroom!’
    Finally an advert for Games of Liverpool. I got my first set of poly dice from them, you know! I then sent them a nice letter complimenting their excellent service as I’d received the dice within 48 hours of sending off for them!!! Thoroughly good eggs!

    Wow! Well, this turned into a bit of an essay. Sorry. I did have a day off. Never mind. I suppose there’s still some of the afternoon left.

    Looking forward to the next one. Hopefully it’ll be one that I’m familiar with for that extra dose of nostalgic squishiness.

    Cheers

    Wayne

  6. It is certainly fun to see Turnbull attack Pulsipher in the letters column (similarly to how it is fun to see Vader choke Motti in A New Hope)…
    Mentioning Turnbull, and seeing Rog mention the Livingstone editorial: That’s pretty interesting in the context of Games Workshop being the distributor of TSR in the late 70s, and even publishing UK versions of (A)D&D products because that was cheaper than inporting them. From 1980 on, however, TSR had their own British subsidiary, TSR UK Ltd., headed by none other than Mr. Turnbull, whose obtrusive sycophancy to that company shown in old White Dwarf issues obviously had paid off. So – the cost of importing products from the US, and the dollar-pound exchange rate shouldn’t have impacted the price of TSR products in the UK, right?
    In that light – what does it mean when Livingstone laments price increases in RPG products for those reasons, and calls for a more affordable British RPG? Were TSR UK publications for some reasons as expensive as imported books? Or did he choose to ignore their existence? In both cases this reads like an attack on TSR UK.specifically. If Livingstone already knew of GW’s loss of the UK RuneQuest license next year, however, that’s another possible perspective. I guess, though, there’s yet another reason for this mysterious statement, which I’ll come to a bit later.
    While at that time GW was still publishing UK versions of RuneQuest products (they would lose that license 1984 to Avalon Hill), beginning next year they would publish books for Call of Cthulhu, MERP, Traveller, Paranoia and Star Trek. They would also develop their own RPGs: Golden Heroes in 1984, and Judge Dredd in 1985, neither of which was in any way attacking the position of either RuneQuest or AD&D in the UK. If there had ever been such plans, they never manifested.
    Whatever Livingstone’s intent was here, he certainly didn’t foresee how the Warhammer IP would transform GW a few year’s later. For one thing, he didn’t have a lot do do with it – he and his partner Jackson were at that time mostly focussed on Fighting Fantasy. Interestingly, in 1984 an introductory RPG for that setting was produced, so there’s a good chance that Livingstone had been testing the waters for that, but it seems that game wasn’t a great success, and neither was its 1989 successor,.Advanced Fighting Fantasy. However, it makes a lot of sense to assume that Livingstone’s editorial remark was testing the waters for that project – maybe they were trying to convince GW to support it, but if so, they obviously declined, and had nothing to do with it (which might have been one of the reasons it didn’t take off – I cannot remember seeing much coverage of it in White Dwarf)..
    As for the Warhammer:Fantasy Roleplaying Game: While Warhammer Fantasy Battle – which came out in 1983 – DID call itself a roleplaying game, it was obviously 90% miniatures battle and at most 10% RPG, and would very soon drop any pretense of the latter. It wasn’t before the battle game had already become a big success that GW would take another stab at a Warhammer RPG in late 1986, this time explicitly with the intention to challenge AD&D, but they never came close to that goal, and the RPG line was at all times overshadowed by the battle game, and would soon be divested.
    Lastly, the transformation of GW and WD towards focussing on Warhammer exclusively happened after Livingstone had stepped down from the position of WD editor in 1986, and was the brainchild of Bryan Ansell, the founder of Citadel Miniatures, who had become GW’s managing director in 1985. While this change in management clearly spelled doom for White Dwarf as a roleplaying magazine, it was in the end probably inevitable, seeing that it was the miniature business which had kept GW alive financially for the last few years.
    Ironically, while the Warhammer RPG failed to establish itself as serious competition to the market leader AD&D, TSR (and later WotC) would repeatedly fail to establish a battlegame competing with the Warhammer lines, and that segment of the hobby market would vastly outgross RPGs soon!
    To summarize: While with hindsight, you might already find some indications of developments to come (especially if you have access to Citadel’s sales numbers, I guess), there is no actual foreshadowing of WD’s decline as a RPG magazine to find in this issue, and no reason to assume that any of its contributors suspected the upheaval to come three years later. You may even argue that Livingstone might have been especially clueless, focussing on Fighting Fantasy as the potential big British hobby game IP of the future, and failing to recognize the potential of miniature wargaming, which would lead to the Warhammer IP taking that place.

    1. Dirk says:

      Thanks for the contribution Andreas. I think Jamie Thompson was editing WD at the time, Ian Livingstone was editing in name only. In the UK, games that weren’t distributed by GW or TSR UK were very expensive in comparison (FGU games for example). I often wonder how much thought was given to these editorial pieces. I once interviewed Dave Pringle of Interzone who dismissed my over analysis of his editorials as ‘they’re just something to say”.

  7. Yep, Livingstone and Jackson were focussed on Fighting Fantasy at the time, not doing much actual work for White Dwarf. However, I would be majorly surprised if this short editorial explicitly signed ny Livingstone wasn’t actually written by him. Even if it was just something to say, there must be reasons why he chose this something to say, especially since it leaves quite a strong impression.

  8. Andrew Cowie says:

    Reading this issue again, I’m struck by how thin the magazine is, but with such tiny print!
    I always think back to White Dwarf as being a mighty tome, one I would read over and over again – but if this was a website I would be through it is about ten minutes. I look forward to someone smarter than me musing on how much we love White Dwarf because of the limited availability of RPG “stuff”, the shared experience and the Proustian involuntary memory association :- )
    Perhaps worst I would now furiously click the ads out of the way, whereas now I love them – not just because of the very specific frisson of joy/resentment I get seeing brand new Cults of Prax selling for £5.95 etc, etc, etc. I’m sure I’ll come back to Ads

    Anyway – articles. I can’t compete with Wayne, but let’s start with p28 Encumbrance.
    What the absolute flip? Jamie Thomson, how could you? He seems genuinely pleased that this monstrous system helps solve a common problem and allows “more room” for “skill”.
    Flashback!
    We enjoyed this stuff! Going shopping and distributing weight around my character was actually something I would spend a couple of hours doing with my friends – and felt that it was time well spent.

    Going backwards – whatever Wayne says the pictures in Starbase hugely impressed me – I felt I was looking at a draftsman’s computer screen from the future.

    Fiend Factory – the Weed Delvers are ace, actually – no memory of their existence. Great art generally.

    Lew Pulsipher – the man, the legend. Looking back, I think I can see why he annoyed the cool kids at Dragonlords, but he was a tremendous source of ideas for us in the early days – not all of them good in retrospect, but the way he thought about the “meta” aspect of D&D was a revelation. To me as a thirteen year old, anyway.

    Letters – oh goodness, I wish I could go back in time and actually meet people like Don Turnbull. I suspect some of these Great Gods of Gaming (ie everyone who ever published anything to do with D&D) had feet (or at least toes) of clay. More importantly they had personalities and opinions – at the time I just tried to believe everything they all said simultaneously.
    Imagine reading letters over and over again and arguing about them! Now we distribute our thoughts online and they just disappear, because there are never a critical mass of people who have read them enough to get into a discussion (thus one of the great joys of the Grogpod – you can’t skim, we’ve all heard them all, we all have opinions)

    City in the Swamp – there were two sorts of scenarios, those you ran – which you scrutinized very carefully; and those you didn’t – which you didn’t, in case someone else ran them (actually there was a third, one your mate was running that you found a copy of and desperately tried to absorb without making it obvious you knew where the secret doors were*). I never read this one.

    Marcus Rowland – another legend. Love the art, we used the idea that vampires were a bit more complex without ever generating a Vampire Characteristics Profile. I do wonder now if some of this stuff was a little tongue in cheek.

    Right, I’m going to stop now, because this is becoming as impenetrable as… well, as a White Dwarf article from the early eighties :- )

    *What, that was just me? I suspect I have inadvertently revealed something terrible about myself…

  9. Jet Simian says:

    It’s Warhammer down here (Wellington NZ) now, but the old shop was well within a mall/cinemaplex, so I didn’t really notice!

    1. Rog says:

      It’s a shame, that old logo was a link to the past. Ah well. Thanks for the southern hemisphere report!

  10. Dirk says:

    In case you missed this on twitter from Graeme Davis:

    Little-known fact: the Ghralthi were inspired by the Rylliti from the Kane novel “Bloodstone” by Karl Edward Wagner, which I was reading at the time. When I saw the Slaad in #WhiteDwarf’s “Fiend Factory” column, the story just popped into my mind.

  11. Daily Dwarf says:

    Alan E Paull’s article on AD&D and the Land of Faerie in this issue really is something special – it deftly taps into Celtic folklore and myth, and left a lasting impression on me. It’s wonderfully written too; weaving the tale of Patrick McGinny into the game discussion makes it a very enjoyable read, sparking a lot of ideas. The follow-up in the next issue, detailing a number of faerie denizens, is also very strong.

    It’s surprising that he didn’t write much else for White Dwarf. I know he’s still about (at least on twitter: https://twitter.com/benthamfish), but from the looks of his profile he’s more focussed on wargaming these days.

  12. Rog says:

    Hopefully got this post in the right place this time.
    The d&d weed dwellers in fiend factory feel like a better fit for an alien race in Traveller, they’d be great for a water world adventure, give them psionics instead. There’s a nice twist in that the boss creature’s blood if spilled dissolves the slime that holds their stone-built lair together, a dead-squid’s switch.
    The name of the contributor rung a bell, Barney Sloane, so i googled it and he’d done the Shadow Goblins in that Ian McCaig illustrated issue, and the Golden Spire scenario and some other stuff. But more than that, he was one of the archaeologists on Time Team! Future mash up episode for White Dwarf/Time Team fans, that must be a venn diagram crossover surely.
    Lovely pic of Moria? by John Blanche in the d&d article, your eye just walks into it, like a visual fighting fantasy book, which route do you want to take?
    Some brilliant citadel miniatures in the news page, that skeleton knight on a horse, and the fighter with fur trousers, just little works of art. Like the Runequest figs on the back inner page, i’m slowly trying to collect those sets, they are so evocative. Seeing those in the citadel catalogue back then really helped to add to the game’s mystique and form what it ‘looked like’ the same with the Traveller miniatures. Hopefully i’m finally going to get to play RQ later in the year, only 30-odd years behind!
    Another good issue, and the club idea really encourages you to read where usually i’d just skim an old issue. Got to admit though, i didn’t bother with the encumbrance page, (but we never did back then).

    1. Dirk says:

      Those giant figures on the news page came in an impressive box and were impossible to stand up.

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