The GROGNARD Files

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

The dice have tumbled to number 65 featuring a cover that was replicated in plastic on the back page: The Fantasy; The Figure; The Finish.

May 1985, I was in deep with my PBMs. I couldn’t tell you what was happening in the rest of the world because I was locked in my bedroom writing entries to be licked, stamped and posted all over the country.

It was shortly afterward that I faked my own death to get out of it.

This issue features a scenario that nearly resulted in Simon cutting my throat with a scalpel; Smile Please is a bait and switch classic. This issue is at the height of when White Dwarf was picking up some of the debates that had been played out in zines for years: check out Mike Lewis’ article and Graeme Davis’ letter.

There’s loads of content to go at in this one!

36 thoughts on “White Dwarf Book Club – Issue 65

  1. rumleech says:

    I remember faking a migraine so I could have a day off work to read this one.

  2. This issue is the one before my subscription started by the looks of it, that coupled with the UK edition of MERP prominently displayed on the GW ad on p3 suggests to me that this was pretty much the point where I started GMing, and properly started playing these goofy games.

    That MERP ad on p13 had been running for a while but I always thought it was oddly generic – stick some Nazgul on it, not some bored looking dragon!

    That’s a great cover by Chris Achilleos – was it done specifically for the Fighting Fantasy miniatures line, or did they just base that skeleton dude off it? I always wondered what the point of these were. Were there many people playing the FFRPG with 60mm scale figures? Were they a trial run at producing plastic minis? Why use the Fighting Fantasy license to make generic minis when there was all that terrific art you could have based stuff on?

    Balancing Act is the most interesting thing here to me – at the time it probably seemed radical but at this remove most of the advice seems pretty obvious. The entire first half is devoted to the idea that a games system and role playing are antithetical but I’m not sure I agree with that. Also it mentions rules systems being more or less realistic, which I seem to remember everyone being obsessed with back then, but surely they’re all just different forms of abstraction. I never tried the co-DMing thing though – did anyone?

    I found The Travellers hilarious at the time but damn it’s hard to read!

    There’s an ad for Dragonlance in my first WD (57) and here there’s one for the first novel. It was pretty good! Well, it was ok. Actually in hindsight it was probably terrible but I was well into my “If there’s a dragon on the cover I’ll read it” phase. There is one scene where a bunch of hobgoblins jump out and attack our heroes, which was exactly like an RPG – and that’s pretty much the only bit i remember. I think the rest was sub Tolkien epic questy stuff, which probably seemed a bit old hat to most people by this point but I lapped it up.

    I always found Tabletop Heroes absolutely thrilling although the paint jobs on all those minis looks pretty basic by today’s standards.

    That *is* Brian Ferry as Mr G Anderson in Smile Please isn’t it?

  3. Paul M says:

    Well into Lower Sixth Form for me. Part way through summer term and anticipating the lazy weeks ahead.

    Saturdays at this point of my life were a toss up between consuming cider in the park with my mates if it was warm and dry or RPGing with my mates if it wasn’t. Depending on whose home we went to we’d play something different with the host always being the DM. A couple of mates used to homebrew stuff, when it was their turn, but I doggedly stuck to ploughing through the A-series for AD&D. I think we got about halfway through the A3 module before A-level revision kicked in for serious and it all had to come to an end.

    We also gave the first Dragonlance modules a whirl during lunchtimes at school (hidden away in one of the practice rooms in the music block – well away from the eyes, and ridicule, of others!) If I recall correctly, we liked the idea of a world that had been tweaked – gold had no value, clerical magic was low-level only, etc.) but really didn’t like how the scenarios were on rails and there was little agency for the players. I think we played the first one properly and then the 2nd one sort of degenerated into the DM just rushing us through the story without bothering to even worry about rolling dice! I don’t think we got beyond the 2nd one.

    I see Paranoia is getting airspace in this issue. That was always a good laugh. Claim to fame, one of my mates was a second-cousin-twice removed of a mate of Bil (of Gobbledigook fame) and for one glorious weekend I got to enjoy a session of Paranoia GM’d by the great man himself. Can’t really remember much of the game now, but I remember being chuffed about it for months. I wish I’d got my act together and taken a copy of WD along for him to autograph, but social awkwardness prevented…

    Tabletop Heroes was by far an away my favourite article by this stage. Although at the time the idea of being able to afford models on horses was still only a dream. Those articles did give me the confidence to paint though, and the courage to try techniques like washing and dry-brushing out.

    Looking at the Classifieds in the back there were always PBM adverts which intrigued me. I never plucked up the courage or the money to try one out, but always wanted to. I’d love to hear about the experiences of anyone who did actually take the plunge!

  4. Wayne Peters says:

    This is one I have a number of strong memories of. I’d been in the hobby for about a year and had reached the stage where I was devouring White Dwarf and Imagine magazine whenever my pocket money would stretch to them.

    For a start off, whilst I’ve never played The Sahuagin Heel, the name stuck with me to the point I was able to name the scenario based on a vague description on Twitter last year. Also, the illustration of the fantasy docks and the city built into the cliffs in the background re-defined fantasy architecture for me. I absolutely loved that image. It’s what all my fantasy costal settlements looked like for years after 😀

    I remember for quite some time thinking that the Were-Hamster in Thrud was really quite the most hilarious thing I’d ever read and to this day is the first thing I think of when someone mentions Thrud.

    Lastly, the Noegyth Nibin. I hadn’t thought of these in years but the name cropped up in my Silmarillion audio book yesterday and I knew that I had heard the name before in relation to roleplaying. I guessed they must be in the old AD&D Monster Manual (especially as I remember them being called Noebeth Nibbin). Clearly I remember them from this article and what are the chances that it would be in this issue of White Dwarf the very next day!? Blimey!

    An advert for DragonRoar which I was intrigued by. It came with an audio cassette and one of the playable races was a hedgehog!
    For many years I misremembered it as Dragonlore and so internet searches came up with nothing. I’d still quite like to have a look at it.

    1. Dirk says:

      We talk about DragonRoar in the next Podcast – it some how passed me by back in the day.

      1. Wayne Peters says:

        I think I only saw it once on a shelf. (I’m sure there was a miniatures line for it, too but I might be mis-remembering). I think it’s existence was very brief, so easy to miss. I think John Hancock is knowledgeable about it (but then when it comes to old RPGs, what isn’t he knowledgeable about? 😀 )

      2. Rog says:

        A friend of mine had it, this is unscientific but my recollection is that we found it to be a bit of a joke, and didn’t really want to play it, i think the tape was a programmed learning kind of thing, but all we took away from it was the narrator ‘Donald Sinden’-ing the name ‘zantohhpoduuuule’ at one point, which became a much repeated word among us for a time.
        Were there killer penguins in it as well? Always a bad sign.
        I look forward to getting the lowdown in the next pod.

      3. Dirk says:

        Hah hah – I’d love to hear that tape! It’s not so much a low-down, more of an acknowledgement of its existence.

      4. David Haraldson says:

        I tracked down a copy, a couple of years ago. It’s not fantastic but I suspect that it didn’t deserve the kicking I remember it getting in Open Box. Nowadays, my ageing grognard brain has a distinct preference for slim rule books over “rule-bricks.”

        I’ll definitely steal War Hedgehogs for my D&D games set in a fantasy Albion. And, as luck would have it, Magister Militum are selling War Hedgehog miniatures (https://www.magistermilitum.com/era/fantasy.html?cat%5B0%5D=62447&p=1 ).

        (IIRC, Killer Penguins appear in Ken Rolston’s OrcBusters adventure for Paranoia too.)

      5. Mark smith says:

        Dragon Roar was the frist Game i played with my cousins, they were about ten years old , one died in the game a bust into tears and run up stairs . They both are all grow up now and have never stop playing RPGs .

  5. Michael Martin says:

    One of the all time worst covers, imho

    1. Wayne Peters says:

      ‘Hey Everyone! Stop a sec! Let me take a picture!’

  6. Mike Lewis’ article ‘Balancing Act’ though the standfirst is very misleading. Mike isn’t saying ‘Why rules and role-playing don’t mix’. He sets out the two extremes – rules obsession and rules-free and finds the former dull and the latter almost ‘impossible’. He then gives some great practical advice on a compromise option where the rules don’t get in the way. As said above, today this advice seem pretty standard (and inarguable) but was surely pretty innovative then. The last one though is interesting – dropping people taking turns in order in favour of a free for all orchestrated by the GM. I don’t know of any roleplaying games that do this (someone will correct me…). Worth thinking about though it requires skilled GM and knowledge of your players.

    Yes, I didn’t like the cover either – really static central figure.

    Finally, loved the letter from the ‘inland waterways enthusiast’ – a little bit c-anal when it comes to mechanical detail some would say.

  7. Wayne Peters says:

    Wait! Garth Nix was writing articles for White Dwarf in the 80’s?! I didn’t realise he’d been around that long!

  8. Wayne Peters says:

    Also let’s play a game of Recognise the Celebrity from the god awful artwork in the Traveller scenario.
    So far I have:

    Zod – Mark Hamill
    Mr Franz – I suspect Marc Singer but I’m not sure. Could be a footballer.
    Chief Steward Jason – John Beck or Jesse Ventura
    Duncan McFerd – Paul Simon
    Zola Quarx – Diana Spencer
    Drago – Yul Brinner
    Mrs Gren – Joan Rivers
    Mr Anderson – Brian Ferry (someone else said that one. I wouldn’t have got it)

    I can’t place Slynger, Betler or Logad or Skatt but they all look familiar.
    Anyone else got anything?

    1. Slynger reminds me of billionaire buffoon Elon Musk (though presumably not). And Skatt surely other Billionaire Buffoon Ross Perot – again presumably not. Though Logad might actually be Tom Cruise

  9. Wayne Peters says:

    According to the news page Corgi Books were translating from Germana nd publishing, ‘The Dark Eye’. An RPG that had been outselling D&D by 3-1! Never heard of it.
    Also Gygax dipped his toe into game books using s sytem apparently written by his brother. The Sagard Series. Never heard of that either.

    1. RogerBW says:

      Wayne – Das Schwarze Auge is still big business. Ulisses Spiel publish it since 2007.

      1. Wayne Peters says:

        Wow! As I say, never heard of it. Which surprises me, honestly as I’m usually aware, even peripherally, of most things in the tabletop world. Obviously this one escaped me. I’ll make a point of looking into it. Anything that popular must have something going for it.

  10. Wayne Peters says:

    I don’t remember the plastic Fighting Fantasy figures at all. Did they do any more than just skully there? Also, 60mm? Were they aiming at kids and matching plastic soldier size rather than gamers using 25mm figures?

    1. Wayne Peters says:

      The answer is yes, about a dozen of them and they were a mixed bag quality-wise. An interesting experiment, though.

      1. RogerBW says:

        I saw this reply in the RSS feed just after Owen’s asking “I wonder if Graham found any young lady penpals into fantasy fiction?”.

  11. RogerBW says:

    Technically decent cover, but uninspired and uninspiring, at least to me.

    Ouch, that layout! Phil Masters’s article is pretty good, but the trouble I had to go to to read it even back in the day…

    “So popular is space piracy that our hero’s craft is raped, looted and pillaged no fewer than eight times in 333 pages. Crowded place, space…” Good short story from Langford too, though I still didn’t think they worked well in Dwarf.

    nickedwardscru – I believe in the early days quite a few games had a “caller” whose job was to listen to the individual players and mix them into a single stream of questions/requests to the DM, but groups were generally larger then.

    The Sahuagin Heel – well, there’s an insta-death trap, but as dungeons go it’s moderately well thought through, with treasure where it makes sense to have treasure, and so on.

  12. paulowen8454 says:

    Issue 65 came out in one of our great summers of gaming. We were 6th form students with no money and our friend had a big house so we played there. His older brother was home from University and had written an AD&D adventure. We were playing MERP, just starting with Cthulhu and other stuff such as Car Wars and Talisman. We’d bought Golden Heroes when it came out and loved playing. It was a great time.

    Unfortunately, The Good, The Bad and The Downright Odd article was rendered practically unreadable by a poor background. Open Box gave high scores to Paranoia. We tried the game but it didn’t really fit in with our gaming ideas. Our players were mistrustful of each other enough in our normal gaming. The other two items were of little interest, we had played Star Trek but that game itself could have been Paranoia in our group, as the Captain had to walk around the ship with a security detail to stop the first officer doing him in to take control.

    Critical Mass talked about Dune, I’d read most of the original novel but never felt enticed to delve further. Again there was fiction, never read it at the time, thought it was a waste of space when they could put in more RPG articles. Thrud was a good strip, my characters always leant towards the Barbarian idea.

    Balancing act was a taste of things to come in RPGs, more narrative, less rolling. The Sahuagin Heel looks a good adventure to revisit and maybe adapting to 5ed for my group. There was still a lot of Traveller stuff, but we didn’t play that.

    In the classified ads I wonder if Graham found any young lady penpals into fantasy fiction?

    1. David Haraldson says:

      So, your Star Trek campaign was set in the Mirror Universe, right?

  13. Fred Kiesche says:

    Faked your own what now?

  14. Rog says:

    My memory of this issue is of dislike. I’m not sure why, but that’s the association that pops up. I didn’t like the cover, it is a really static scene and the main bloke just looks daft, not Achilleos’s best work. You could be forgiven for thinking the central group are the aftermath of a legendary pub crawl.
    It is probably all to do with the Fighting Fantasy plastic figures, the young rpg snob all of 14 years old felt that his serious hobby was getting kiddified by stuff like this, hot on the heels of the D&D cartoon. ‘a Dungeons and Draaagoons ride!’ shudder.
    I’ve dipped in, Dave Langford’s page is always great, a real resource for books you missed the first time round. That superhero article, some instructions to the printers surely went awry there, ‘i meant a pinky colour!’.
    Smile Please is an odd one, i didn’t like it back then because i could just envisage once again how my SF players would just steamroller through the whole thing guns blazing no matter what i tried. But reading it now i’m still not sure how well it would work anyway for civilised players. It could have done with a few playtest notes. Did anyone play it back then? If so how did it pan out?
    I’m looking forward to reading the Sahaugin Heel, that is a great picture at the start.
    Thrud, for me waste of a page again, especially here as he could have fitted that in a half. Travellers, still love it, but looks like a rushed episode.
    Will read the rest. Cheers.

    1. Dirk says:

      I played Smile Please. It was the first time that I’d run Traveller and the first time that Blythy played. The set up really intrigued the players and they were constantly creating possible explanations. The box scene worked particularly well. At the end, Simon was so infuriated by the set up he attempted to kill the host with a scalpel, and would have done me in too if the rest of the players didn’t intervene. I believe Blythy did suggest at one point “is this just a set up?”

      I used the idea of a reality tv show as the basis of Strontium Dog game I created for Savage Worlds. This time I gave clues and the revelation was much earlier so the players could actually respond to the set up.

      I find memories of the scenario as it was one of the few I actually ran.

      1. Rog says:

        Ah right, nice, might give it another read then, for a future one shot perhaps. It seemed a bit more in Paranoia territory. Cheers.

      2. Dirk says:

        More like Agatha Christie I think

      3. Rog says:

        I was getting distracted by the flashing moving danger box. Which was the whole idea! Now i see…

  15. James Summerson says:

    I remember nothing about this issue from back in the day, so any comments are purely me(now) rather than me(then).

    Wasn’t much of a Superhero RPG’er and still lukewarm about them now – the article doesn’t make me want to burn my eyeballs out in order to change my opinion.

    Open Box – also not in love with Paranoia. One shot written all over it. I had the Aslan module for Traveller, but I think I wanted more K’zinti. I still have a very battered copy of the Star Trek RPG and have the Orion Ruse. I must dig it out and see how the splitting the party into two opposing sides works.

    The Distressing Damsel – strikes my funny bone in the way Terry Pratchett does, with a crowbar whilst chanting “you *will* find this funny”. A paragraph or two of mildly amusing spread over three pages.

    Letters Page – was it a slow month? Correcting someone over the definition of narrow boat? The best letter was from David Eagles, essentially saying pick one game and stick to it, rather than using variety in a “misguided attempt to attract new readers which will inevitably result in the loss of disillusioned, established readers” Be careful what you wish for!

    Smile Please – Can’t imagine my hardened group of Space Mercenaries having a giggle at the end of this instead of rending ‘Jeremy Beadle’ into small bloodied chunks with their bare hands.

    Balancing Act – Excellent read. Good points about the rules are just guidelines and to make sure your players are involved and not to let one person dominate the party. I had two players who were always at complete loggerheads over this and I eventually split the group into two – even to two different RPG’s to sort it out.

    The Sahuagin Heel – how do you pronounce Sahuagin anyway? This looks like a good adventure, it has traps, which are always good, right? Lots of encounters and a pile of treasure which will drain the blood from the face of any 5e only DM.

    Noegyth Nibin – Interesting set of ‘monsters’ and encounter but I’m not struck on the illustrations. Are they gnomish / mis-proportioned? Groten is good looking ‘for a dwarf’ :o)

    Final Bit – I wonder if the owner of Warhammer Games in Mansfield was bought out by GW at some point?

  16. Menion says:

    As I’ve already mentioned on Twitter, I found the editorial and news quite interesting.

    In the editorial, Ian Livingstone talks about how RPGs have gone global and are being translated into multiple languages. I’m a translator and gamer living in Japan, so that’s quite interesting to me (D&D wasn’t translated into Japanese until 2e, and it’s curious to note that Warlock magazine/FF and Call of Cthulhu are still very popular here).

    In the news, there’s something about Gygax returning to the helm at TSR – this is 1985, so this must have been mere months before he was ousted from the company.

    Never played the Sahuagin adventure, but the presentation made it look brilliant – might have to run it for my 1e group here!

    Petty dwarves straight out of the Silmarillion (The Children of Hurin?) – what’s not to like? Great pics too.

    The “Balancing Act” article about rules versus roleplay is interesting in that the points raised in it now seem fundamental to all discussions of systems and play styles.

  17. David Haraldson says:

    Not one but TWO letters complaining about games other D&D getting coverage!

    And, by that, they obviously mean AD&D.

    Being a young BECMI D&D player at the time — well, BD&D — the conflation of the two was a genuine frustration for me, as actual D&D coverage seemed pretty rare. (If only I’d had the nous to realize I could just steal the AD&D stuff for my D&D games … )

  18. Rog says:

    Read the Sahuagin Heel, it was very enjoyable, looks like it could be a fun sandbox to run.
    How about the 150 pirates with ship in and around the castle ruin, ‘they are included to prevent the party from wasting too much time by searching the castle ruins, in which there is little of interest.’ Well it’s one approach i suppose, but i don’t think it’s how my players would see it, ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.
    100 or so Sahuagin zombies in the nearby woods, 60 aquatic elves nearby, i forsee some kind of mass battle with the PCs angling to come out of it with a new pirate ship…
    Although apart from the 3% chance of a 100 strong congregation in the temple, there do seem to be more undead sahuagin on the island than living ones, or is this the ‘island of sahuagin aptitude testing’?
    Lots of good ideas and set pieces in there, but i could not fathom how the guillotine trap worked.
    At last, work for the crabmen.
    This one seems to have passed me by at the time, i don’t even remember reading it, a shame as it’s made the issue for me this time around.
    Cheers.

    1. Dirk says:

      I couldn’t work out that trap either. There’s lots of ideas in the scenario. This is at the point where they were about to become much more substantial

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