Friday, May 15, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 64: White Dwarf #2

Cover art by Christopher Baker

The second issue of White Dwarf is cover dated August/September of 1977.

"Editorial" by Ian Livingstone: The issue kicks off with Ian Livingstone's editorial, in which he wonders why so many old-school wargamers are hostile to the new trend of sci-fi and fantasy gaming.  His conclusion that they're perhaps worried that this trend will completely take over the hobby is astute and prescient.

"Competitive D&D" by Fred Hemmings: This series continues, with Hemmings describing the set-up for a game run over "D&D Day", whatever that was.  The game sounds like an interesting one: the surviving descendants of the Underhill family - a family that has been made up of nothing but adventurers for four generations - has been summoned at the behest of their recently deceased uncle Ragnarock "Digger" Underhill to compete for the treasure in the dungeons beneath his mansion.  The surviving Underhills are described as follows:

  • Cassia, a 5th-level, neutral, right-handed Fighter, with 16 strength, 21 hit points and a potion of invulnerability. Partnered with Carl.
  • Carl, a 2nd level, neutral, right-handed Monk, with a constitution of only 6, 4 minus 2 hit points and a +1 sword (IQ 1). Partnered with Cassia.
  • Brutus, a 5th level, neutral, either-handed Fighter, with 25 hit points and a rod of cancellation. Partnered with Lotus.
  • Lotus, a 2nd level, neutral, left-handed Illusionist, with 4 hit points and a scroll of non-detection. Partnered with Brutus.
  • Flash, a 2nd-level, lawful, right-handed Ranger of 17 Strength and 15 Constitution, had 12+2 hit points and +1 armour. Partnered with Milo.
  • Milo, a 2nd-level, lawful, left-handed Cleric. He had 6 hit points, a +1 shield, and a staff of striking with 80 charges. Partnered with Flash.
  • Jose, a 2nd-level, chaotic, left-handed Magic-User of 6 Strength, 4 hit points, and no magic items.  Partnered with Will.
  • Will, a 3rd level, chaotic, right-handed Bard, with 7 hit points and a +1 protection cloak. Partnered with Jose.
  • Zadok, a 3rd level, chaotic, left-handed Thief, with 6 hit points and a sword which would break the first time it was used.  Partnered with Prudence.
  • Prudence, a 3rd level, chaotic, ambidextrous Fighter with a constitution of 16, 10+3 hit points, a potion of levitation and a +1 sword which was also +3 vs. clerics (IQ 4). Partnered with Zadok.
  • Pierre, a 2nd level, lawful, right-handed Cleric with a strength of 5 and 10 hit points, but also the handicap of a shield that would break at the first blow. Partnered with Joan.
  • Joan, a 2nd level, lawful, right-handed Fighter with a strength of 14. She had 8 hit points and a potion of bronze dragon control. Partnered with Pierre.
  • Tonto, a 5th level, neutral, right-handed Magic-User who had 14 hit points and a bowl of watery death. Partnered with Avon.
  • Avon, a 2nd level, neutral, right-handed Thief. This unfortunate person had a strength of 3, a constitution of 5, 6 minus 2 hit points and a +1 sword with the ability to locate objects (and an IQ Ego that would take her over in stress situations). Partnered with Tonto.
  • Burke, Uncle Digger's hulking moronic grandson, a 2nd level, neutral, left-handed Fighter with a strength of 18 (+3/+5), while both intelligence and charisma were 3. His special equipment consisted of a scroll vs. elementals and a sword of draining (which transferred all hit point damage to the wielder for 24 hours).

The family is summoned to the Brass Monkey inn, run by "Greasy Pete", where they receive their inheritances (the magic items given in their descriptions) and a map to their uncle's former home and the dungeons beneath.  The dungeon is only vaguely described, and will apparently be shown in more detail next issue, so I'll save it until then.

To me, the above scenario has a real Judges Guild vibe, so I think it would fit pretty well into the Wilderlands setting.  As for getting the PCs involved, I could perhaps reveal one of them to be a distant Underhill relative, or have one of the unscrupulous NPCs above bring them in as ringers.

A lot of the article focuses on how this was run as a competitive game, with point values for various tasks, and the rules of the competition.  None of that's really relevant to my project, but it's an interesting look into the way competitive D&D was run in that time and place.

"Asgard Miniatures" reviewed by Ian Livingstone: Ian reviews a range of figures from a company co-founded by Brian Ansell, who will go on to co-design Warhammer Fantasy Battle and buy Games Workshop from Steve and Ian.  It's interesting to note certain things, like Ian being pleased that there are finally some good cleric figures on the market, and that the size of figures representing giant animals varies greatly.  It's easy to forget when reading this stuff just what a nascent hobby fantasy gaming was at the time.

"The Green Planet Trilogy of Games" reviewed by Lewis Pulsipher: Pulsipher reviews three games - Mind War, War of the Sky Galleons, and Warriors of the Green Planet - which can all be combined for a single campaign.  It's set on a future Earth that's devastated by an axial shift, where civilisation rises again in Africa with lasers, airships and mutated psychics.  Sky Galleons focuses on air combat, Warriors on ground combat, and Mind War on psychic combat. Pulsipher displays his usual no-fun-allowed nitpickery, but his reviews are nothing if not rigorous.

"Before the Flood" by Hartley Patterson: Gives a history of the game Midgard, which I gather was a sort of play-by-mail game with a newsletter, where the players were the rulers of various areas of a fantasy world.  It started in the UK and spread to the US and Australia, apparently.

"Open Box": This issue there are reviews of Steve Jackson's OGRE (that's the other Steve Jackson, not the GW co-founder), the Lankhmar boardgame from TSR, a sci-fi game called War of the Star Slavers, and the seminal fantasy game Tunnels & Trolls (which was tellingly not reviewed in any TSR publication).  Predictably, Lewis Pulsipher does not approve of T&T's silly spell names.

"The Monstermark System" by Don Turnbull: Turnbull continues to rank the deadliness of D&D monsters using his mathematical system.  This time around he tackles fire-breathing monsters (including dragons, naturally), weird miscellanea, golems, elementals, demons, and the monsters from Empire of the Petal Throne.  Most of the monsters match up relatively about where you'd expect, but there are some oddities.  Dragons are much weaker than I would have thought, and demons rate very highly.  I'd have expected the numbered demons to advance progressively, but in terms of power on this scale they go (from lowest to highest) V, I, IV, II, VI, III, with the Succubus trailing way, way behind.  Turnbull chalks the odd power scale up to differences in Armor Class.

Ropers receive a huge score, comparable to demons, and with scores in the tens of thousands iron and stone golems are way off the chart.  These are all tough monsters, but I'm not sure they're as tough as Turnbull's system makes them out to be.

The article wraps up with revised wandering monster tables by dungeon level, which I'll recreate here. They include the EPT monsters and some other oddities, and could make for some interesting dungeons very much rooted in 70s D&D.

The Monstermark Wandering Monster Chart

"Treasure Chest": This is the regular segment where contributors present new additions to D&D: classes, monsters, magic items, etc.

  • "New Magic Item: Needle of Incalculable Power" by Julian Cable: This needle has whatever power the player who picks it up thinks it will have, which has all sorts of potential for fun but also for breaking the game.  It's offset by a reduction to the user's prime requisite, and by the restriction that it can't have the same power for two different players, but I still think that players could create all sorts of havoc with this once they figure out what it does.
  • "New Class: The Scientist" by Dave Langford: A parody class in much better taste than last issue's Pervert.  Langford becomes a staple reviewer in British gaming mags, and this article has some solid gags.  Upon reaching name level, the scientist becomes "out of touch", and must restart from level 1, for example.  I won't be using this class, but it did get a chuckle or two out of me, which is more than can be said for most of the humour in The Dragon at this time.
  • "New Monster: Spinescale" by Ian Livingstone: I'm a Fighting Fantasy nut, so any D&D content from Ian is right up my alley. Spinescales are frogs mutated by chemicals from the lab of a master alchemist named Vollan.  They have a poisonous bite and a tough hide that provides protection, but their eyes and underbelly are soft.  It's notable that it says that normal weapons will bounce off the hide; is it completely immune to all attacks that strike it there?  It only has AC 7, and I've always been iffy on how to rule monsters with different protection on different body parts.

Art by Polly Wilson

  • "New Monster: Dune Stalker" by Ian Livingstone: Similar to Invisible Stalkers, Dune Stalkers are extra-dimensional trackers that are usually summoned/created by evil magic-users that have been exiled to desert lands.  They're immune to normal weapons, attack via sonic vibration, and also have a "kiss of death" which is fatal. This monster will later be included in the Fiend Folio.

Art by Polly Wilson

  • "New Monster: The Ning" by Ian Livingstone: A creature created by evil priests, which is kept imprisoned in a flask. They are often placed in treasure hoards as protection. When the flask is opened the Ning materialises and attacks, hypnotising with its gaze and crushing those affected with its powerful lower arms.  It's immune to all attacks, and can only be defeated by severing the two arm-like antennae on its head.  It's more of a puzzle encounter than anything, and would best be used sparingly.

Art by Alan Hunter

  • "New Monster: Giant Caterpillar" by Ian Livingstone: Another giant creepy-crawly, of which D&D can never have too many. This one has a poisonous bite, and a skin that can be sold for hundreds of gold pieces.  The skin is especially prized by "hill people" who wear it as a ceremonial dancing costume.

Art by Alan Hunter

  • "New Monster: Blood Hawk" by Ian Livingstone: Tougher and more aggressive hawks, basically, that like to line their nests with gems.  Somehow this one made the cut for the Fiend Folio.

Art by Polly Wilson

"The Loremaster of Avallon" by Andy Holt: Last issue Andrew Holt made many complaints about D&D, and proposed some ways to fix it.  This month he goes into more detail about his various solutions.  There's an alternate system for devising ability scores, which is far too removed from D&D to be of use, but his magic system is intriguing, as it uses a spell point system and has unique chants for each spell that must be recited by the player from memory.  I could see that being fun at the table, although perhaps favouring certain types of players.  Some new spells are given: Bow Break (causes a strung bow or crossbow to break); Mammal Empathy, and Stun.

"Letters": Graham Reynolds writes to complain about the gravity chart in last issue's Metamorphosis Alpha article, Graham Buckell quibbles over the review of Starship Troopers, and Adrian Bolt lets the editors know what he thought of every article.

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