White Dwarf Book Club Issue 53

May 1984, I was supposed to be doing my exams, but I was staring out of the window looking forward to a state sponsored summer of RPGs.

Duran Duran knocked Hello by Lionel Richie off the ‘top spot’ with The Reflex. In the cinema Indiana Jones was getting a second outing in The Temple of Doom. As I was hitting 16, so was Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (one of my favourites from the year) and Spinal Tap hit the road.

A strange issue this one as it followed an ‘on boarding’ point where the magazine was relaunched to appeal to newcomers to the hobby who were playing Fighting Fantasy. Many of the articles are ‘part 2’ of a series.

A great cover. What do you make of this issue?

This book club will continue for as long as there is interest. Please comment and pass it on. Thanks, Dirk.

Author: Dirk

Host of The GROGNARD RPG Files podcast. Talking bobbins about Runequest, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, T&T, AD&D and others from back in the day and today.

26 thoughts on “White Dwarf Book Club Issue 53”

  1. Its a cracking cover isnt it ? Although not credited in the article, many of the figures in the Minas Tirith photos were from a game put on in conjunction with my good mate Tim Hall. He also provided the figures and the Eagle transporters in the Classic WD Cthulhu in space scenario “The Last Log”. I think Tim, Joe Dever and Jon Sutherland were all close gaming friends. One of their group was also Ian Page – lead singer of Mod revival group Secret Affair.

  2. I was never mad on that cover – chacun a son gout as they say, or whatever that is in Orcish…

  3. My first ever copy of WD. All the more special given the article on the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. It was always my ambition to refight the battle using the army lists provided. Got all the figures but never quite got round to painting them….:

    I liked the cover – thought it really depicted the brutish nature of Sauron’s Orcs

  4. Liked this one. O’level year for me and one of the first to arrive from the shiney subscription I persuaded my parents to get me for my birthday. Spent ages drooling over the pictures of the MinasTirith game. Tiny and monochrome as they were. I think that article and the later Gary Chalk and Joe Dever article series which started my toy soldier hobby which overtook roleplaying and also survived my re-enactment years.

    Good stuff.

  5. This issue was my introduction to RPGs at 14, caught my attention on a stand at the Biggen Hill Airshow in 1984, attracted by the LOTR link and the great cover – devoured it at the show but was unable to find any other prior issues that day despite significant searching instead of admiring RAF Tornados. All other physical RPG goods were sold off over time but not this item.

  6. I’d have been 11 and would have only received my first RPG rules the Christmas before (prior to that, I was hooked on Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from my local public library and Level 9’s “Dungeon Adventure” text advaneture). This was my first issue of WD and there was so much in it compared to Imagine (my only other exposure to RPG magazines): MLR’s Name of the Game series was welcoming and clear, as an explanation to newbies, ads for quirky lead (as they still were, IIRC) miniatures companies (and … errrmmm … Alchemy Metalwear), the instructions on how to build a watchtower out of ceiling tiles, my first taste of RuneQuest (with the non-Gloranthan Celtic spells) and Traveller.

    Splendid stuff, all round!

  7. Ah…….’The Reflex – flex,flex,flex,flex, Flex’. Loved that tune (yes, I went through a Duran Duran phase).

    Also adored ‘Temple of Doom’ – never quite understood the naysayers on that one. Our local cinema had some kind of offer on where you could see a movie in the afternoon for all of £1. Me and a gaming mate must have went to see Temple of Doom 6 or 7 times. For us it was ‘Pulp Cthulhu’ before the term had been invented – two fisted action, underground temples with lava pits, assassins, evil cults and high priests with heart snatching rituals. ‘Fortune and Glory kid, Fortune and Glory..’ Just wonderful,

    Random thoughts as I flick through this issue:

    Tolkien cover so bonus points from me (but wait, are these Saruman’s orcs or Sauron’s ??)

    ad for ‘BattleCars’ – was always on the want list but never got around to getting it. ‘Car Wars’ – which a mate had, did seem to scratch that itch though.

    Not as excited by the ‘Minas Tirith battle’ article as you might expect from a Tolkien geek – such dioramas and tons of expertly painted lead seemed beyond our aspirations back then (sigh).

    Open Box – ‘Caverns of the Dead’ review. This was a different story. Our school game group jointly purchased and we got loads of use / fun out of that,

    ‘The Naked Orc’ seems to rip the orc types straight from LOTR. Bit basic but i liked the illustrations.

    Great ‘Radio Ga Ga’ homage to the Queen video in The Travellers. 🙂

    Newsboard contains news of the imminent MERP game from ICE. We’d already been using some of the ICE Middle Earth ‘modules’ so this got us VERY excited..

    Ad for Talisman – another game we played to death BITD. Ah, the many arguments – the memories come flooding back.

    Overall, not a great issue looking back imo. No ‘classic’ scenarios or game re-defining / thought provoking articles. But always fun to flick through nonetheless….

  8. Looking through this issue I never found anything to appeal to me. I had some of the figures that appeared in the Minas Tirith battle, Gandalf and the Witch King, but never did any TT battle. We played Car Wars a few times and had fun nut the Steve Jackson article was no help. Overall not one of my favourite issues.

    1. Hmmm – not a classic for me since I played almost none of the games on offer but became hugely excited about MERP on the way. More enjoyment to be had reading the ads – Esdevium games is now my local games shop and I remember buying stuff by snail mail at the time and thinking it all very exotic, my only wish is that the prices were the same.

  9. Looking through my collection, I still have this one, but after issue 50, my purchases of WD became more spotty.

    Anyways, after the obligatory half dozen pages of ads, the content!

    A Beginner’s Guided to RPG aka it’s not all D&D, y’know! – as relevant now as it every was as is the piquant “there are many other FRP systems, some good, some awful”

    Minas Tirith – still looks like a heck of a lot of work for your average games club to re-create, 110 Allied Figures and 259 for Sauron! I also wonder how much time would go into rolling hits / wounds / saves using the Warhammer rules?

    Open Box – I have the Scouts book as reviewed here and came to the same conclusion, use the WD 20 article instead.

    Critical Mass – Always a good read. I have several books based on recommendations and in one case – I’m looking at *you* Habitation One – because the review demolished the book.

    Thrud – To-Me Ku-Pa still mike me smile.

    The Moonbane – not a fan of fiction in RPG mags, there’s one or two in The Dragon that were passable, mainly due to the number of pages allowed the stories to develop and a couple in Imagine – mainly due to Neil Gaiman writing them but none of these stick in my mind.

    Sign Here – more interesting to me now than then, I think, with my older DM hat on.

    Naked Orc – clever ideas, well written and totally useful.

    Spare Parts – I am a massive Car Wars fan and the idea of the other Steve Jackson doing something in WD was an exciting prospect. However *spoiler alert* it didn’t set the world afire.

    Castle of Lost Souls – Yeah, OK, but it takes up a lot of pages my younger self probably resented. If you want to do a CYOA buy a book!

    Letters Page – No frothing at the mouth, just mild disagreements this month.

    Three of a Kind – These guys are in my Traveller ‘God Book’ still.

    Rune Rites – Super useful as I was running a non Gloranthan ‘Albion’ campaign at the time.

    Fiend Factory – I liked the mini adventure format in a it ties the whole room together stylee.

    Bits & Pieces – the prolific Roger E Moore (of The Dragon fame to me) gives us a few interesting items.

    Ads – since seeing the reviews of the last few issues, I have actually started to read them, decades out of time and context. This time I notice a certain O Dickinson and S P Burley are having a clearout. Would you trust them with a cheque / Postal Order?

    1. Imagine did fiction better. I was less resentful of it appearing there than in WD. I loved Fighting Fantasy books but the solo-efforts in magazines are weak sauce.

      1. Really? I thought Castle of Lost Souls was quite good. Uniquely (or so it seemed to me), it was possible to succeed by being either a Goody Two-Shoes OR a real cad …

    2. Spare Parts — This ish was okay but the I really enjoyed subsequent pieces by SJ (USA) on punks and on the double decker bus.

      Thrud — I didn’t get the To-Me Ku-Pa joke for DECADES, pronouncing it as Too-Me Queue-Pa. Stop laughing.

      Starbase, Rune Rites, and Fiend Factory were cracking. The Naked Orc was a good Re-Tolkienification of Orcs.

      Agreed on “Sign Here Please”–I started late with WD, this being my first ish, so I never got the antipathy to Lew P. I really enjoyed this piece and a later piece on magic shops.

      The Moonbane — I suspect that this one has a “subtext.”

  10. Maybe it was because it was easier to read the alternatives, I didn’t enjoy them as much.

  11. I have this issue but I didn’t back in the day. My first wasn’t until 57 but if this one had been then maybe I wouldn’t have been as scared of Runequest. Having said that, there is a *lot* to have to know at the get go. I think I preferred stuff that was “a bit like x”. What *was* Runequest like? Is there some book series I’ve never heard of?

    That cover looks very Citadel Miniaturesy for some reason. Was it done specifically for WD I wonder (a lot of WD covers were library reprints of older book covers iirc).

    Fighting Fantasy books were definitely a thing that was happening at this point, with a big ad, review, prize in the Wild Hunt competition and feature (even though they don’t use the FF system- licensing? Didn’t they use it in a later issue?). I couldn’t quite engage with the solo adventures in the magazine for some reason. Too many references on a page, probably. Good art from Gary Ward (who later did Caverns of the Snow Witch) though.

    The orc article doesn’t do much for me these days but I would’ve eaten it up back then. Always loved John Blanche’s gnarly illustrations.

    Another of my 80s art heroes Gary Chalk makes a few appearances here, and the news page mentions the Lone Wolf books are on their way.

    I’m mostly interested in the ads in this issue. Alchemy metalwear, Prince August cast your own minis, D&D red box with Tim Sell art (he also did comic strip ads for the same, a year or so later). Also: Back Ups and Strap Ons? Come on, surely I’m not the only person immature enough to draw attention to this!

  12. This was one of those issues that for me at the time, and looking back through it now, had practically nothing that caught my interest. I liked Gary Ward’s illustrations (p.26-28) but even those are a bit lacking in excitement. I quite liked the NPCs in the Traveller article, nicely illustrated by Mark Harrison’s frantic style. This was a disappointing issue which felt like a lot of filler and bottom draw articles.

  13. The Name of the Game — I still remember the SFRPGs article from 54, but this one wasn’t all that interesting to me. At this point I was playing AD&D and a bit of Traveller.

    Minas Tirith — …but I wasn’t playing Warhammer. Nice idea but it had nothing for me.

    Open Box — did they ever do any more of the Dungeon Planner series? Passed me by completely. And Fighting Fantasy, well, it was fun, but it felt like a more conventional game with optimisation and win conditions than it felt like role-playing. Traveller Book 6 for me was the detailed solar system design book, with the Scout career stuff very much secondary.

    Critical Mass — these columns were my introduction to Dave Langford. Moreta – about as broken as he said it was. The Robots of Dawn – I bought it on the basis of this review, but he liked it a lot more than I did.

    Thrud — fun but nothing special.

    The Moonbane — fiction never sat right for me.

    Sign Here Please — in its day this was interesting, though more for inspiration than for direct applicability.

    The Naked Orc — all right, and directly useful in a game.

    Spare Parts — mostly a “what’s coming up” advertisement.

    The Castle of Lost Souls — I think I admired this more for technical skill than for the actual adventure. Though the segmented approach could be regarded as a forerunner of the Fabled Lands series.

    Gobbledigook — it is what it is.

    Three of a Kind — the first two are basically one-shots, but the third could be a useful ongoing antagonist, “more PC than the PCs”.

    Rune Rites — feels strange to take this mythic material and reduce it to “does a bunch of damage”.

    The Travellers — was always my favourite of the comics. “When you’ve seen one A78899A planet, you’ve seen them all” is a very good comment on Traveller as it was often played…

    Tabletop Heroes — pretty but I was never a miniatures person.

    Fiend Factory — I think the silly-looking art put me off this.

    Treasure Chest — just wasn’t terribly interesting.

    My first Dwarf had been 48, and while I read this one and quite enjoyed it, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of stuff I could use.

    1. There were two of the Dungeon Planner boxes, this one and Nightmare in Blackmarsh, both now rare as hen’s teeth!

      1. I’m lucky enough to have both, they are things of beauty. Not the original purchases, they were lost long ago in a foolish clearout i imagine. The potential in those boxes. Back in the day i think we started a dungeon in the first one run by a friends kid brother but it fizzled out, and used it again for a Rogue Trader skirmish which went well i think. The play maps and Koss maps and setting are lovely, as are all the incidental events and encounters on the inner covers. One day, i’ll take them for a spin!
        I’m sure i read somewhere a third one was planned, i wonder if anyone from the design studio back then remembers what it was going to be, Hargon’s Tower maybe?
        Been a bit snowed under this week, am reading the issue though.

  14. Interesting issue. I was on the staff at this point, having joined GW in early April 84, but since I pretty much immediately caught measles and had a couple of weeks off I wasn’t yet producing anything. (Always vaccinate your kids!) Across May, the darling Albie Fiore did the heavy lifting and the graphic design too, but Ian Marsh and I both contributed to Nightmare in Blackmarsh, so I now realise it was my first professional publication. Coo.

    1. And a great first job it is, that claustrophobic little settlement just drips with atmosphere. For me the whole artistic package on both sets encapsulates the perfect GW/White Dwarf visual design period, issues in the late 30s – 40s, bit of 70’s hangover, chaos death spiky bits and chrome in the future still, lovely stuff. It sounds like Albie Fiore had a big influence on the visual design side there?

  15. It’s a funny issue this one, as people have said, for an issue in the 50s it does feel a bit ‘thin’. I think it shows how important the RPG scenario/s were to the feel of a White Dwarf.
    Its a bit of a wargamey issue. The Minas Tirith scenario was very exciting back then, and great having the two pages you could use for each army.
    I remember a lot of us got together to give it a try one day in the holidays, everyone brought their figures, to try and get enough.
    We started laying it out on the big wooden floor of this lad who had an open plan room, but i think so long was spent trying to work out what could be substituted for what, and there were so many odd stand-ins that not many moves were made, before it all fizzled out.
    There was at least one tree man involved. And thinking back i’m pretty sure i ended up leaving some figures there that i don’t think i ever saw again….
    The model tower article was a good support for this, around this time we tried to make buildings and such out of polystyrene tiles which would then start melting when we sprayed them grey.
    There’s a good Gobblidook (for once) in that it was only 4 panels and had a punchline, i never really saw the value of it and Thrud.
    The Travellers however i always loved, so much interest in each page, some great lines and references, and a great artist, specially in later episodes, the amount of mood he’d be able to fit in some of the smallest spaces. Like in the last issue we looked at there’s a tiny panel of the laser shooting from the top of the pyramid, just a thumbnail, but all you need.
    It’s a real artistic journey through that strip from the early MAD based stuff, to something even more sophisticated by the end. Some of the content in this ep though is ‘of it’s time’!
    Those druid spells are very evocative, and i think the Jack In The Green one resurfaced as an entity in one of Dave Morris’ DW scenarios a couple of years later.
    Talisman advert, what a game. Always a marathon slog, but the beautiful board and illustrations made that fantasy land come alive. There were some legendary long long afternoon games in those school holidays, and the delight when someone got Toaded and the race was on to nab their gear.

  16. That was my first issue and probably one of the most influential things I’ve ever read. I was 10 years old. At the time I’d played gamebooks (esp Fighting Fantasy) and read The Hobbit. But I hadn’t yet read Lord of the Rings, and role-playing games were a complete unknown.

    I pored over every page of that issue and scoured every word – a lot of the contents were Complete Double Dutch but my imagination was aflame and I wanted to know more, more, more!

    And the advert for Red Box D&D on the back cover really hooked me in with the words, “If you have ever read a book or see a film and thought ‘I wouldn’t do that!’ when the hero does something stupid, then role-playing games are for you. Imagine a story where you can make decisions and change the outcome, a story where you are the hero or heroine…”

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