White Dwarf Book Club Issue 61

Welcome back to a new term of the White Dwarf Book Club. The dice have spoken and this one is for the birds.

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.

10 thoughts on “White Dwarf Book Club Issue 61”

    1. Maybe like others this looks like an underwhelming issue but there were some things that jump out.

      Witch Hunt reviewed in Open Box: I always like to see a RPG I have never heard of and which seems to have sunk completely without trace. I think I know pretty much everything that was done in the 80s but I have never heard of Witch Hunt. It seems an incredibly bad idea – you play witches or witch-hunters in Salem. Who wants to do that, at least more than once? And there is something a bit unseemly about making a historical crime against innocent people into a game.

      Simon Burley on superhero games: the best piece in the magazine by far with advice on creating superhero games in different environments (fantasy, space etc)

      Small ads: I like reading these little glimpses of other people’s long-ago lives. Did Grant (“14 but looks older”) ever get any responses from female wanting to play AD&D with him? Alex Bardy announces the launch of his fanzine. Did nine-year-old Thomas in Hackney get the D&D training he craved? A genuinely sad ad from someone who seems to have lost his gaming group in a car accident. And a plea from me for a secondhand Pavis and Grenadier Secret Agents figures – I have no memory of ever owning these so presumably I was ignored.

  1. Alchemy in RuneQuest… yeah, but alchemy basically needs you to do non-adventury things for a long time. What’s the rest of the party meant to do?

    Open Box: D&D Companion set, part of what would become BECMI – the stronghold rules and what would become Warmachine. But Megan has a point: B/X D&D was much more freewheeling than the de-Arnesoned AD&D and really didn’t need masses of extra rules. Timemaster – I knew a guy who was very into this, but it never quite clicked with me. Still, the Pacesetter universal system, while awkward, did at least let you resolve everything in the same way… and indeed Chill uses the same mechanism. Witch Hunt – never heard of it again, not surprise. Indiana Jones – never knew anyone who played it, but by many accounts it was a decent introduction to roleplaying.

    Eye of Newt and Wing of Bat… see above, what was this fascinating with manufacturing magic items?

    The Travellers: it’s a procedural episode but has its moments.

    The Motivated Traveller: heavy-handed, but “a bunch of ex-military people try to make some money to boost their pensions” isn’t much of a motivator in itself.

    Beyond the Shadow of a Dream: dual-statting always seemed like a gimmick, but this is an interesting “bash people until they tell you what you need to know” adventure.

    Thrud: yeah, but compared with The Travellers? One joke, basically.

    The Dark Usurper: four pages of solo adventure, a bit more interesting than the standard FF fare. Still, no use for ongoing games, and I can see why people objected.

    Days of Future Past: who is this Simon Burley guy?

    And then it all fades out…

  2. Jan 1985. The middle of lower 6th, and the only academic year that I can recall actually enjoying at school. Partly because there was quite a bit of D&D. That said, this is an issue that I can only recall dimly. Probably because there was very little AD&D. The scenario was labled for Basic, so my 17 year-old self would have sniffed and rapidly turned the page because, well, you know, it wasn’t *Advanced*… Even the mandatory AD&D stuff seemed pretty unexciting – magic item manufacture (D&D was about running around a dungeon hitting orcs on the head, not sitting in a room making stuff like a little sissy!), Fiend Factory…flies? Seriously? Boooooooooring!

    The only bit I can remember from back in the day was Tabletop Heroes which was teaching me how to paint. I remember being agag at the orc hot air balloon made out of a ballcock. Inspirational.

    Otherwise, I remember being completely turned off by Golden Heroes and all superhero stuff generally. Not sure why, but my teenage self really hated it. And as with all teenagers, when I hated something, I *hated* it!

    I see the advert for WFB 2nd ed. on the back page, so it must have been about this time I acquired it. It may have been Christmas 1984, or birthday 1985, but anyhow, it was about this time. Seeds sown that took a further decade and a half to fully germinate, but heady days…

  3. I had this one! I love that beak faced bastard.

    Beyond The Shadow of a Dream is an enjoyably evocative title despite meaning absolutely nothing. Also I’m pretty sure it’s the first adventure I ever ran, and… well it’s an odd one. It reads more like a short story with a few stats thrown in than a scenario. I wish my memories of it were better but I suspect it didn’t go well. I distinctly recall cringing when I had to use the phrase “low class whore”. I guess I must have used Basic D&D because I didn’t know anyone who used the Fighting Fantasy RPG.

    It’s a weird choice to link this adventure to FF- there’s nothing in this tale of prostitutes being victimised by their pimps and nefarious underworld double dealings that was reminiscent of the generally kid friendly (if corpse strewn) gamebook series. In early ’85 we’d just got Talisman of Death which was one of the first FF books that were plot based rather than location based, but they were still mostly dungeon romps at this stage so the whole thing is kind of baffling. It feels more like something that had been part of someone’s campaign setting more than a stand alone.

    We also get more Fighting Fantasy related stuff here in Dark Usurper, but again it doesn’t feel much like the books. If anything it’s closer to Lone Wolf.

    I’ve recently been reading the complete run of Warlock magazine as well, and they were similarly publishing scenarios for the FF RPG, so someone must’ve been playing them. Either that or scenarios are easier to write than programmed solo adventures.

    The letters page again brings up the fact that they’d had loads of criticism of both the painting and photography in Tabletop Heroes, and viewed today it does look a little basic (and also occasionally hard to make out) but at the time it seemed incredibly exotic to me and it was always a highlight.

    1. That D&D Companion set is really boring. I love the Elmore/Easley 80s D&D stuff, and the Basic and Expert set I always found thrilling, bursting with ideas for potential adventures (even though I eventually played it a grand total of once), but even back then I didn’t get anything out of the green box. The presentation of the stronghold stuff is so dry and the planar stuff just seemed too abstract- neither really leaps off the page begging to be included in anyone’s game. Maybe they should have done it like the expert set and edited the two books down to one and included an adventure that encompassed how to include all the new stuff. Iirc it didn’t even come with dice!

      On the positive side you can now use a blackjack. Worlds of adventure!

  4. One of the issues that read from cover to cover. Like most people, my enthusiasm for RPG gaming comes in waves, I remember this being a period when I was really into it again. The issue probably came out before Christmas, which will have helped, but I recall properly studying this issue to try and extract the maximum value out of it.

    The Alchemist article was inspirational. Around this time I was deep into Jack Vance, so all of my adventures had the trappings of Cugel, and this article influenced a fairly long running campaign where Blythy played an adventurer who worked for an alchemist. He went in search of the ‘desideratum’ and exotic metal extracted from the bones of weird land dolphins. Great stuff. Although it was pitched as an adventuring option, it seemed to me that it was an NPC character who acted as a patron. I distinctly remember Blythy having a clutch of tear gas pellets.


  5. I’m Interested in TimeMaster in Open Box. Never heard of it. Anyone ever play it? I’m always on the lookout for a really good time travel game (that isn’t Dr Who).

    1. I played a bit of TimeMaster.

      It’s the Pacesetter house system so you’ve got that universal action-vs-defence table. Not entirely terrible but it’s a bit clunky, especially when it says “and here’s how you can use the same system to resolve a huge battle”.

      The core book gave you early Doctor Who style adventure – you go to the setting-of-the-week, you find out what the dastardly Demoreans are up to, you explain to them the error of their ways (in a system with more combat than non-combat skills, that’s “explain”, but you do get a drug-dart stunner as well as period-appropriate weapons), you go home. You also get psi powers, but so do the bad guys.

      The thing that made it more than forgettable was the Timetricks supplement, which started getting into the actual time-travelliness of the setting by allowing short hops within a mission, which can generate ripple-forward changes and paradoxes. Then you get pastward messages, self-eliminating missions, complex multiple-jump missions, and so on.

      Give me a shout by PM on YSDC, or to my email if you have it, and we can talk more.

  6. Also on Open Box, The Basic D&D Companion. This went very nicely with my Expert set and for me signalled the end of BECMI as I had no interest in M or I and I don’t recall any of my players ever reaching those heady heights anyway. I also don’t recall any of them using a ‘Blackjack’ or Trident and Net and the rules for both struck me as somewhat niche. I think we may have reached ‘owning a tower’ level but I can’t honestly say I used any of the Companion rules.
    It looked nice though. 😀

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