Thursday, September 19, 2013

White Dwarf #2

This issue of White Dwarf has a cover drawn by Christopher Baker, and much as I loved the last issue's cover by Chris Beaumont, Mr. Baker does not disappoint. The battle depicted on the cover is fantastic and sent my mind racing about what brought that warrior before this vile wizard - wizards are very often vile in pulp novels - and how pissed do those goblins have to be that they've just been conjured up to die while the wizard makes good his escape!

I love the malformed bodies of the warrior and the wizard; it's as though the magic in the room has somehow warped them (a precursor to the mutating effects of chaos?). The only complaint I have about the picture is the warrior's outfit. Seriously, who dresses like that?

Anyway, after being so pleased with the first issue of White Dwarf I have high expectations for the magazine. Can it meet them?

We're all dorks, get over it. 

The Introduction

Normally I skip the introduction to magazines as they're usually a self-congratulatory circle jerk by the editor-in-chief but I'm actually kind of glad that I read this one. Ian Livingstone sets the tone for the magazine by arguing against the traditional war gamer's snobbish view of the role-playing hobby (though he refers to this faction as the Science Fiction / Fantasy gamers). While it's comforting to remember that people are always fucked I find it discouraging to be reminded how small people can be as they look for any thing, no matter how infinitesimal, that will somehow make them better than another.

We're all playing a game with 35 mm figures and our imaginations here - we're all dorks, get over it.

Competitive Dungeons and Dragons 
by Fred Hemmings

Last time we were given an example of a competitive play event that Mr. Hemmings went to, with an initial understanding of the problem of setting up a competitive experience for the game. That provided an interesting article that I've reread twice because I really enjoy things like that. This time the goal is to work around the concept of per-generated characters and the system for point allocation that we'll be using to score the event. Now this should be a fairly straight forward article but it just simply isn't because Mr. Hemmings has a gross misunderstanding of what it means to be a player in a Dungeons and Dragons game. He expects every player to proceed in the most logical of manners due to the time constraints on the game,  but, as he learns, that isn't how Dungeons and Dragons players play the game. 
The whole reason for entering the dungeon is a family feud over a dead relative's fortune. You don't trust any of those money grubbing bastards and they don't trust you.
In a normal game you are presented with a goal and are then given a static scenario through which you must play. There is only one path around the Monopoly board; only one way to win a game of chess; and that just isn't the case in a role-playing game. In a normal game you can give a player a goal and set him in a hallway with two exits, one to the right and one to the left, and be reasonably certain that he will either go right, left, or back the way he came. Put that scenario in a role-playing game and you had better be ready for the player to break down the wall in front of him so he can by pass the rest of the dungeon and go straight to looting the treasure. 

There are three things that I find really neat about this article in spite of Mr. Hemmings wrongheaded notions about how players play the game: the reason behind the players' involvement in the scenario; the entrance into the dungeon; and the set-up sheet for Pandora's Dungeon. The whole reason for entering the dungeon is a family feud over a dead relative's fortune. You don't trust any of those money grubbing bastards and they don't trust you. 

That's so very good.

After creating a situation where you can only trust yourself he announces that you all only have an hour to get as much shit as you can from the dungeon. Then he provides all of you with access to the dungeon through two, two-way transmatter transportation devices.

So much goody there. 

Then we come to the actual set up pages of the dungeon:

Let me just say that is really good stuff right there.

Asgard Minatures by Ian Livingstone

This article is a product review of a manufacturer of miniature figures and while Ian seems to have fun reviewing them the picture quality is so poor that I can't tell you much about the actual figures themselves.

The Green Planet Trilogy of Games 
by Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis is a bit of a stick in the mud - which is nothing new - and he pretty much dislikes all these games for being flawed and a bit crap. I was going to read them for myself but I can't hardly find a reference to them so if anyone has a pdf of them they'd like to pass along I'll review them myself - until then we'll just have to go with his review: don't waste your money.

Before the Flood by Hartley Patterson

This article is about the game Midgard which Hartley claims shared many of the same characteristics as Dungeons and Dragons and was published prior to Gygax's publication of his game. It would not be surprising that someone in the world came up with a similar idea to Dungeons and Dragons around the same time as Gygax, after all Leibniz and Sir Issac Newton each independently created Calculus, but the game he describes is not really all that similar to Dungeons and Dragons.

It's an interesting read though it comes off a bit pretentious; but if you'd like to read a more detailed analysis of the Midgard situation than you'll get here you might find the article RPG History: Midgard from the Blog of Holding worth reading. 

Oh, and the map of Midgard is neat though not really anything to write home about.

Open Box by Various Authors

This time four games are reviewed in the Open Box: Ogre, Lankhmar, War of the Star Slavers, and Tunnels & Trolls. Even after reading the review of Ogre it eludes me. I understand that the game was wildly popular, and if the recent Kickstarter was any proof it still is, but there is just nothing here that appeals to me. Perhaps if I played it I might understand.

Ogre walked away with an 8 out of 10.

The Lankhmar board game review is a bit of a tough nut to crack.

The game is reviewed by Fred Hemmings who is intimately familiar with the Fritz Leiber stories and who is clearly disgusted by the idea that the Grey Mouser and Fafhrd not only do not work together, but that they don't want to work with each other. That seems to be such a sticking point for Mr. Hemmings that I don't think the game could do anything to turn him about after that disappointment.

As a result Mr. Hemmings gave the game a score of 6 out of 10.

War of the Star Slavers sounds like a fun game that is just fundamentally flawed. Unfortunately there are so many games like that out there, and most of them are Story Games.

War of the Star Slavers received a 3 out of 10.
This game is a joke, it's worthless, it's - oh hey, did you guys pay a lot of money for that advertisement that's right next to this review? Well, we'll just not worry about giving this one a score then.

Now we come to the most scathing review of any product in the brief history of White Dwarf: Tunnels and Trolls.

Luis Pulsipher (who writes the Dungeons and Dragons Campaign article) begins the review with a damning statement, ". . . in the USA I never encountered anyone who played . . . [Tunnels and Trolls], though D&D players are everywhere, and I've not even heard of anyone in this country who plays it. When it first appeared in America I said there was no point in it, and nothing has occurred to change my opinion . . " (pg. 14). He goes on to claim that the game is a simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons and that anyone who plays it will eventually graduate to the more adult and sophisticated game.

Luis slams it for it's levity and for the simplicity that the game strives towards.

Who can believe some of the idiotic jokes and messes one finds in a silly dungeon? Some don't mind, but others are bored out of their minds. T&T reinforces this attitude by using atrociously silly names, even for those duplicating D&D spells - e.g., Oh There It Is for Detect Invisible, Hidey Hole for Invisibility 10' radius, Yassa Massa for Charm Monster, ect . . . (pg. 14)
Yet for all his ugliness about the game Luis still manages to find something good in it, but the damage has already been done. This game is a joke, it's worthless, it's - oh hey, did you guys pay a lot of money for that advertisement that's right next to this review? Well, we'll just not worry about giving this one a score then.

The Monstermark System by Don Turnbull

What a waste of space is this article series! It's overly complicated and just a damned waste of time.

Treasure Chest by Various Authors 

What a delight this article is! It starts off with the Needle of Incalculable Power by Julian Cable which is just fantastically clever. So much so that it will be entering into my campaign.

Then we have five new monsters: the Spinscale, Dune Stalker, Ning, Bloodhawk, and the Giant Caterpillar. I love the first four monsters and loath the Giant Caterpillar. In particular the Ning and the Spinescale are a pair of great creatures - and the illustrations are pretty cool too.

The Ning is a damnably great booby trap monster and if you ever have a group of players who are way too greedy I highly recommend the use of this creature to teach them a bit of moderation.

Fantastic creature!

The Loremaster of Avallon by Andy Holt

This is the second part of What's Wrong with Dungeons and Dragons and What I'm Doing to Fix It from the last issue and for the most part it sucks tremendously. The ability generation is weird and the magic system he's using sucks more than a hoover. The only redeeming portion of this article is the Grudge Points.

If a player for his first character rolls below certain numbers on some characteristics he gets "grudge points" as shown on the table. Grudge points may be used for rerolls on characteristics (1 roll per point - but all rerolls must be committed before any are made), or to "buy" special abilities - such as ambidexterity, or ability with missile weapons. (pg. 20)
 An interesting idea, though it would definitely need some work to be implimented in my games.

Overall Review

This issue was a good second and really puts forth a fantastic possibility for the entire run, though I could really do without the damnable mastermark system. 

Score: 8 out of 10

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