The GROGNARD Files

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

21 thoughts on “White Dwarf Book Club Issue 20

  1. RogerBW says:

    Well before my time, this one. In fact I think it may be been before I discovered RPGs.

    Classic McKie cover (surely it was in Spaceships 2000-2100AD or one of the other TTA books?).

    Ah yes, Ares got absorbed into Dragon after TSR bought out SPI; it was an internal sub-magazine for a while, with its own cover, and then it vanished.

    I believe this is Phil Masters’s first publication in Dwarf, possibly ever. Shades of DBA/DBM?

    Star Patrol: pre-Book 6 expanded Scouts! Only just pre Book 6 though, it mentions Book 5 in the article… Pretty crunchy piece.

    The Alchemist: it’s that “we wanna make our own magic items” thing coming up again! Did nobody ever stop and think hey, taking months out of the campaign is just not fun?

    Open Box: never played Dark Nebula, not sure I’ve even heard of it. I did own a (rather later) edition of Awful Green Things: it’s good fun as far as it goes, but an awful lot depends on that random weapon effect setup. I liked the High Guard ship design, but the characters were over-fiddly even for me. Spinward Marches was nice but for some reason I found Solomani Rim first, and ran my first Traveller games there. Citizens with its twelve new character careers always seemed a bit over-fiddly, though fun in places. And I’ve played Mystic Wood/Sorcerer’s Cave. It’s not bad for its day, but I wouldn’t go out and buy it now.

    Grakt’s Crag: it’s a dungeon. A pretty linear one, at that.

    Fiend Factory: it’s less a scenario, more a series of fights.

    Starbase: some of this seems like a precursor to the push/pull/gimmick stuff that would be in later Traveller, but there’s more thought (and more deviation from the basic dungeon pattern) than one often sees in articles this old.

    Treasure Chest: eh.

    Conversion: makes a lot of sense, even if it’s a bit, er, tactical to seem realistic.

    Classified: two separate people want copies of White Dwarf #4.

    Overall it feels very dungeony, without much idea of what to do with this science fiction stuff, but clearly people want it, so…

    1. Rog says:

      Yes, it was in Spaceships 2000 – 2100, one of my favourite books as a kid. But it’s a fairly small and cropped version in there.
      This big version on the WD cover looks great.
      It’s one of my fave covers, down to the image really, although i’d have been tempted to try the blue text above the ship to the right, all gets a bit cluttered at the bottom.
      It was also one of the covers of the Hooded Swan series by Brian Stableford in Pan books, thats the little ship. In fact a few of those covers are repurposed in the Spaceships book.

  2. Nick Edwards says:

    This one was just before my time but it may have been close – perhaps I read someone else’s copy because I was definitely playing D&D at this point and Fiend Factory stirs memories (of course I have a copy now but I bought it a few years ago).

    It seem an interesting point in the hobby where RPGs are pulling away from their boardgames/wargames roots. After all there is nothing on the cover that says ‘roleplaying’ – or even ‘character adventure game’ as the ad from SPI describes it.

    Three of the four items in Open Box are boardgames. (The other is a collection of Traveller supplements. I bought High Guard and The Spinward Marches – still no actual scenarios GDW!). Similarly the adverts are a real mix of different types of games. The news section has more boardgame announcements than RPGs (but thank god the Dallas RPG is coming out).

    I actually quite liked the dungeon – it does at least have some internal logic and some whizzy traps/features. I could imagine playing it with the kids now quite happily. And I liked the conversion feature for clerics – gives them something to do anyway.

    Four pages of stats for historical troop types is of course super dull.

  3. Wayne Peters says:

    Blimey! 1980! Well before my time. It’s interesting how much it already feels like the WD we know and love. The contents page is in a familiar style and Open Box, Fiend Factory, Treasure Chest, Starbase etc are already present.
    As Nick says, four pages of stats for ancient soldiers is a bit yawnsome. Maybe a better article might have been advice on creating a campaign setting around a culture other than 15th century Europe.
    Starbase has the expanded Scout creation as Roger says, pretty much as Book 6 lands. It was probably of use to someone though. I’m with Blythy on this one, though. I would have preferred instead to have some character creation options for civilian careers (including shady ones)
    Alchemy! Again! This looked like it was going to be a new character class for AD&D but it turns out that Alchemists are NPC hirelings. Essentially crafting bots for the PCs. Set them off making that +1 Shield of Fire protection whilst you go off to Keep of the Borderlands etc. I seem to recall one of my players did this back in the day, hiring an alchemist to create this new weapon he’d invented called a ‘Double Barrel Shotgun’ – sigh. There’s always one.

  4. Wayne Peters says:

    Travller is in Open Box. I’ve always loved Traveller but I have no idea why. It promised so much and I suppose it delivered but in such a deathly dull, dry fashion. I wanted Star Wars and Star Trek and it kept just giving me school text books! This is what happens when RPGs are designed by ex-military science nerds.
    Alongside it is Mystic Wood. My friend Phil (who introduced me to Red Box) had this and I remember playing it at least once and I loved the fact that it had a random maze generation system and that you had characters and quests. A bit like D&D but simpler. I’ve thought about it from time to time over the decades and I’d love to give it a go again now. I saw a forum thread a few years back (can’t remember where) where somone had redesigned the cards and done beutiful artwork for them. A new edition, should one appear would interest me greatly.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I have a copy of Sorcerers Cave (not original purchase – eBay) which we have played a couple of times. Not sure if I had Mystic Wood.

      Agree with you on Traveller. I played it 35 years ago and it was…well the only sci fi game in town. So you make the best of it. Played it again a couple of years ago and we basically spent four hours stock taking. At one point we came across a derelict ship floating in space. Everyone else decided it was ‘too risky’ to explore so we…carried on with the stocktaking…

      1. Wayne Peters says:

        Wow! I’m running classic Little Black Book Traveller at my club in January. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays and also how I can make the game fun, exciting and interesting inspite of the rules – or whether the rules sit comfortably alongside that. I don’t see why they shouldn’t, really.

      2. RogerBW says:

        The system itself can support a lot of SF things – not so much the grand space operatic stuff where one guy holds off the Imperial legions with a laser sword or saves the day in a starfighter, but anything where you might use the term “working stiffs” is readily covered – Alien, Firefly, Babylon 5, quite a lot of Star Trek, that sort of genre.

        Basically, combine it with a modern sensibility on playing the fun stuff and skipping the boring stuff and it should do a perfectly good job.

      3. Rog says:

        Ha ha, brilliant. ‘Too risky’.

      4. Rog says:

        Can you not reply to a reply? To Wayne: I’m giving that a go for my next campaign too, thinking of a ‘to boldly go’ vibe but with merchants, using Adventure 4 Leviathan.
        A ready made big ship and crew roster, just need to add a ‘perv lounge’, sorry holo deck – off exploring unknown sectors without all that pesky prime directive stuff getting in the way. Not going to bother too much about the canon Imperium stuff, just crowbar in extra scenarios like Shadows and such, and looking forward to ultra simple 8+ mechanics.
        I’m thinking of adapting the seperate hit/penetration part of the Striker/Azhanti combat in as well, to make combat less D&D. Although i probably shouldn’t bother as this being Traveller i doubt anyone will even reach for a weapon during play.

  5. Wayne Peters says:

    Grakt’s Crag is certainly nice and dungeony. Refreshingly so, but 7-8 players!!? Why would you do that to yourself? I can imagine that this one, if played, was powered down for 2-4 players which, I imagine would eb what most folks could muster.
    Photos of minis on page 21 – good ones too. Clear. I’m surprised. I thought even Citadel were just doing line art back then. Mind you in 1980 even the mighty Citadel were barely heard of, I think.

    (apologies for the multiple posts but I find it easier to do this in chunks and my computer also has a nasty habit of randomly rebooting, deleting everything I’ve written before I can post it, so I don’t like to have the dialogue box open for too long.)

    1. Dirk says:

      It helps to ‘game’ the 10 comment rule, so don’t worry about it!

      1. Wayne Peters says:

        There’s that too. We barely scraped by on the last one.

    2. Anonymous says:

      And yes why so many players in every game? There seemed to be an assumption that every DM had a LOT of friends. Not sure why that was…

  6. Wayne Peters says:

    Oh, it is, in fact the very first edition of Starbase by Bob McWilliams (and not Andy *cough*Get him on the bloody podcast*cough* Slack). Some advice for setting up a Traveller campaign. Always useful even if it is a bit generic. My heart always leaps when they open a department page with ‘Please, please, please! Send us content!’ and then I remember that it was over thirty years ago and so I might be a bit late to the party.
    Treasure Chest is fun. The particular standout is the ‘Whistle of Pig Calling’ by Ian Livingstone. “…by surrounding yourself with pigs, that Umber Hulk might not be able to reach you.” – Genius!
    Finally a new Cleric ability – Conversion. I actually really like this idea. Clerics trying to convice various slathering bug-eyed monsters to turn to the one true faith. ‘Excuse me, Mr Gragzog, but can I talk to you for a minute about our lord and saviour, Ilmater?’ Mr Gragzog pretends not to be in.
    And that’s it. No letters page. No letters page!? How did people survive without their monthly dose of complaining about anything and everything?

  7. Wayne Peters says:

    Finally finally, the small ads. Games Workshop are opening in Manchester and require ‘Reliable and hard Working applicants with a tidy appearence.’
    And what, exactly were folks so keen to get their hands on White Dwarf issue 4, for? Was it Alice in Dungeonland by Don Turnbull or maybe the new Barbarian class for D&D by Brian Asbury…

  8. Paul M says:

    Ah, yes. September 1980. My 12-year-old self was self-consciously donning my new blazer an rd returning to school,dreading the homework but looking forward to the lunch times alternately playing shove-ha’penny. It was this Christmas that I received my copy of Holmes Basic D&D having found a new lunchtime pastime courtesy of a mate who had an older brother who taught him, and who then taught us, to play. It was a time of wonder and discovery. I couldn’t afford my own copies of White Dwarf at the time, even at the price of 75p every two months (my pocket money was probably around 5p/week then as my folks were pretty skint) but I used to borrow my mate’sand get my dad to photocopy the “best bits” at work – which to me meant the D&D bits.

    This is one from my personal “golden age” of WD” ,that I look back to with joy. Iloved “dungeons” and we played the heck out of Grakt’s Crag I seem to remember – and yes there were only 4 of us in the party! Treasurer Chest items like the jar of stirgent repellent popped up and were enjoyed or ignored as we felt fit. It was canny lush!

    To a 12-year-old those adverts seemed like glimpses of paradise, Who could afford all those games? Who had time and enough friends to be able to play them? Who had £10.95 to spend on them? It made me desperate to be an adult. Great stuff.

    1. Paul M says:

      “Stirgent”? What’s a stirgent? A stirge with defective autocorrect of course…

  9. DM Mike says:

    Great issue, especially since I’d have been playing Holmes and LBB D&D for about six months at this time. And I liked how early WD strove to have Traveller content. Despite The Dragon’s adherence to variety, they never seemed to have as much Trav content as WD…and it was a US mag.

    Dungeons are always useful, even if I’m just taking a room or two to drop in somewhere else. Open Box is always a hoot, never played Mystic Wood but would’ve liked to give it a try.

    Citizens of the Imperium’s extra careers were a tad fiddly, but lots less than mercenary or (esp.) High Guard.

    Treasure Chest…like many times, this was a mixed bag. But the imagination was there!

    DM Mike

  10. Rog says:

    Before my gaming time this one. But i bought a copy many years ago, especially for the cover.
    The paper seems nice and thick and parchmenty.
    It’s not as bulky as later ones, but it’s bursting with youthful ideas. I’ve enjoyed reading it.
    The Scouts stuff has a lot more imagination-sparking incidents in character creation than the official Book 6 did, that’s for sure.
    I enjoyed the historic D&D article, just found it interesting history.
    Lovely Russ Nicholson pic in the Alchemist bit, which again had a lot of interesting gubbins in it, all the strange equipment names and the explosion chart.
    Grakt’s Crag, mad old school fun. ‘Now you Thieves, your job is to hide in these pits all day, in the event that a party of adventurers come through. Then you can jump out and backstab them. It’s only for 12 hours there’s a relief shift in the next room. Got that? Jolly good.’
    It could be worse, pity the poor fighters who have to stand on a 5′ wide ledge high above a room all day and somehow swing their Slings to attack, if anyone comes through.
    The Odd Items are great.
    Cheers.

  11. yajster says:

    Well before my time, and difficult to get hold of as a back issue. I rarely read White Dwarfs with the original logo, and interesting to see where lots of columns developed from.

    Ian Livingstone’s editorial on questioning old school D&D-type alignment in RPG’s was a welcome alternative to the uncanny valley of trying to play in a group composed of Lawful Evil to Chaotic Good.

    D&D – historical troop types – light, but handy in the pre-internet days.
    Star Patrol – lots of character gen crunch – but useful advice on using the assignments to form scenarios as back-stories.
    The Alchemist – handy D&D patron, could give a point to some PC groups, beyond combining spelunking with murder-hobo-ing.
    Open Box – I still have Dark Nebula on a shelf, waiting to dig it out again for another play – amazing it survived my mum’s clear-out of all things gaming, 30 years ago, once I vacated the house for uni.
    Grakt’s Crag – potentially a mine of material for using in your home game, pinching the maps and encounters.
    – A classic D&D zoo, although at the time we wouldn’t have given two figs for considering the ecology of a dungeon. Kick the door down, bash everything, then carefully loot the room. Rinse, repeat.
    Although I wonder how many drafts the author took before finalising the map, back in the pre-computer age.
    Fiend Factory – never bothered with this column, but the art was pretty good in this issue. The melodemon would be a challenging beast.
    News – miss having a single source of what’s being published, although a bit lacking in personalities here.

    Starbase – I much preferred Traveller to D&D, although at the time the scenarios were perplexing to run, as they seemed more of a ‘guide’ than an actual sequence of events you could pick up play.
    In that context, the Starbase column was ahead of its time, giving useful advise on pulling together a narrative, and giving referees a bit of guidance on the pitfalls on an often-neglected subject area.
    .
    Art – ok, better to come.

    Clubs, ads and stuff – v nostalgic, fun to see ads for SPI and Metagaming.
    Pity to see so many publishers and traders no more just a few years later.

    Clerical Conversion – would have been fun to see a full ecumenical debate between the party’s cleric, and a bunch of angry kobolds.
    The Hen Commandments would be the ideal game to support this nowadays.

    Overall, a fun albeit light issue.
    Cheers lads

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