Saturday, September 14, 2013

White Dwarf Issue Number 1

On the left of your screen you can see a scan of the cover of White Dwarf number 1. Now normally when I review a product I tend to throw the cover up there just so that people can visually recognize it, but this cover is absolutely fantastic and the scan does it no justice. The two warriors are the epitome of what it means to be a fighter in Dungeons and Dragons: slay the wizard, kill the monsters, burn it all to the ground.

I love the way that Chris Beaumont drew this illustration and the ones he does further in the magazine (especially the one for the Metamorphosis Alpha article). His use of pointillism in the background seems to give the picture a greater depth than simple line work could ever hope, and the motion created in this picture is so fluid for a pen and ink drawing!
It is one of the best covers for a magazine that I have seen in years as even without the headlines you know everything about the book you're about to read. 

An absolutely fantastic cover.

I wonder if the rest of the magazine will be nearly as good?

Metamorphosis Alpha by Ian Livingstone

Now some of you may know that I'm a huge fan of James M. Ward's works, so it should come as no surprise that after reading this article that I desperately want to play the game he designed - and what a game!
Interesting bits of future technology litter the ground and clerics who misrepresent the functions of the ship as the acts of the gods parade about the place leading their fanatical followers on divine missions 
At a time when most settings for the game are localized dungeons Metamorphosis Alpha establishes itself as a massive ship lost out in space (17 decks filling a ship that is 50 miles long x 25 miles wide x 8 miles high). Miles and miles of exploration per level of the ship with thousands of rooms, jungles, deserts, and plains in every direction. Interesting bits of future technology litter the ground and clerics who misrepresent the functions of the ship as the acts of the gods parade about the place leading their fanatical followers on divine missions that are anything but. All that is going on in such a relatively small area that this game forces a Dungeon Master to get better at his craft or fall to pieces.
Now it's interesting to note that Ian Livingstone is convinced that Metamorphosis Alpha was inspired by two books: Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein and Non-stop by Brian Aldiss. After a bit of research it appears that he was correct and I now have two new books to read (Heinlein by the way is a fantastic read just about every time you pick up a book written by him).
It is doomed from the get go.

Oh, and the article has a fantastic asshole line: 
To have a 4" high human mutant of equal intelligence to a 6' high human is just not possible, and should not, therefore, be allowed (pg 7)
 The line is of it's time of course but still it's a great snapshot of a minor racism that some people still believe:  size equals intelligence.

The Mastermark System by Don Turnbull

This article is an attempt to formalize a challenge rating system for Dungeons and Dragons monsters that never really got to where he was going until third edition. 
Now the article is an attempt by Don to provide the audience with a mathematical equation to establish that challenge rating for each monster. The goal of this equation is a simple process whereby Dungeon Masters can then select the appropriate monster for the group at hand. 

It is doomed from the get go.
this is about as fun as reading a campaign write up, only without the fun imaginings that come along with people who are actually enjoying themselves
The equations are overly complex and the reasoning expressed by Don is oftentimes so esoteric that it confuses even him (as he admits toward the end of the article). And though he promises that in the next issue that he'll further clarify his point I find it hard to imagine that he ever will.

Open Box - Various Authors

The Open Box series is a grouping of reviews of various games that are out on the market. Of the games mentioned in this issue's Open Box only Starship Troopers sounds like it would be of any real fun. 

I also found another book to read: Forever War by Joe Halderman

Competitive Dungeons and Dragons 
by Fred Hemmings

This article is the first in a series attempting to establish firm ground rules on how to run a competitive session of Dungeons and Dragons by providing an example of a competition and then analyzing what worked and what didn't. Mostly this is about as fun as reading a campaign write up, only without the fun imaginings that come along with people who are actually enjoying themselves. 

I did find a fantastic idea for my future campaigns and that's the Magical Knapsack that's mentioned on page 15. Otherwise I'm waiting until the next in the series to really hold a judgement on the article's worth.

Dungeons and Dragons Campaigns 
by Luis Pulsipher

The introduction to this article is a wash, but it's followed some of the most articulate words on the subject of Dungeons and Dragons that I've encountered. I'm quote some of the best of the article in the following:
. . . One of the most destructive notions I've encountered in D&D is the belief that 'anything goes'. This is fine for a pick-up or silly-fun game, but contributes an air of unreality and recklessness which can be fatal to a campaign, and which in any case is offensive to many players. Inevitably, an 'anything goes' campaign tends to be one in which player skill counts for little, for two reasons . First, players have no foundation to base decisions on ; never knowing what to expect, they cannot plan a rational response. Second, the 'anything goes' game tends to be dominated by dice rolls or referee manipulation . A great deal usually depends on the saving throws of characters . For example, one of the favourite ploys of the 'anything goes' referee is to devise panels of buttons or decks of cards similar to a Deck of Many Things, often involving more far-reaching changes. Players push buttons or pick cards and great things occur. Players seldom do much to earn the rewards or penalties - the cards are easy to find, and the dice determine results.

One may protest that the skillful player can avoid picking from the card deck, or fooling with the lever or button, and so on. Unfortunately, the structure of this kind of game is such that, if a player (not a character) wants to get ahead, he must take his chances. The reasoning is simple . A player can always roll new characters . In a luck-dominated game, even if half the time a player's character is seriously harmed, the rest of the time he benefits to the same degree or more . Consequently, the player who chooses not to take the ridiculous risks may die less of ten, but his characters will often be mediocre compared to those who dared and were lucky. The player who trusts to fate will lose many characters, but his other characters will prosper. In other words, the 'law of averages' works against the cautious player . The key is that the character run by the player does not have to act rationally because it has no separate existence . In many cases, only an insane person would accept the risks involved in cards, buttons, and levers. It's too much like Russian Roulette . But the player isn't the one who may die or be maimed ; in fact, if his character is crippled, he can easily get him killed and start a new one. Thus this form of the game forces players to depend on luck and at the same time contributes an air of unreality to the entire proceeding . Even fantastic fiction, despite the name, possesses an internal self-consistency, and the characters in fantasy fiction usually act as rational, though brave, people . In Dungeons and Dragons, if the campaign is not designed correctly it becomes unbelievable, for a D&D player may, along with the fiction reader, say 'I don't believe men would do this'. Each referee must ask himself as he sets up his campaign what rules and items would seem believable if he read about them in a fantasy novel .

Even in a fantasy game, moderation and self-discipline are virtues necessary to top refereeing . While campaigns may be run on other bases, I believe that a skill-game campaign is likely to satisfy people more in the long run. Some people prefer luck and passivity, but they are seldom game players. If you feel a need to get drunk and/or stoned, however, try lottery D&D the similarities are surprising . Referees must not forget that the fun a person has is relative to what he expects. One group of science fiction fans I know of is accustomed to beginning characters at third or fourth level, parties of eighth to twelfth level and higher, innumerable magic items, and super-monsters which make dragons look like child's play . In a less powerful game these people will often be bored, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, players accustomed to a more subdued campaign might be delighted or terrified by the rewards and dangers of the situation which would bore the super-gamers. A person accustomed to painstakingly working his way up from first level over a long period will feel great power when he can finally cast a fireball ; one who begins at third or fourth level and works up rapidly will need to reach ninth or tenth level to get the same thrill, if he ever can. From the referee's standpoint the subdued group is much more manageable. Players stay at lower levels longer, giving the referee more time to become accustomed to rules and typical spells . For the same reason the referee will not need to devise situations which will give super-parties difficulty, a very trying job at best (White Dwarf 1, pg 16 - 17).
 I'm going to be marinating on that little article for a bit and will write more later.

The Warlord by Steve Jackson 
Hell, we had Zulu warriors with plague tipped spears defending South Africa for seventeen turns
After reading this article I've decided that I need to play Classic Warlord, as it is now known. The game is so fantastically fun sounding that I can't even imagine that it would fall on its face. 

Hell, we had Zulu warriors with plague tipped spears defending South Africa for seventeen turns in a game of Risk so you know the opportunity to have a nuclear weapon is appealing!

Treasure Chest by Various Authors

This article is a wild mix of good, interesting, and what the fuck. While they have the Helm of Vision (pg 20) they follow it up by publishing a variant class called the Pervert (pg 20). At times you'll find yourself inspired, as with the mini article on Poisons and then you'll find yourself wondering if you're wasting too much time on Dungeons and Dragons when you read What's Wrong with Dungeons and Dragons . . . and what I'm doing to fix it.
Overall Review
After reading a magazine that was written thirty-six years ago I expected to find it incredibly dated and useful only from a retrospective understanding of the hobby. Instead I was pleased to find a magazine that still had relevant articles and opinions that could apply to my game and to future games as well. At times it was inspiring only to be confounding in the next article. All the same, well worth the read and I'm glad I picked it up.

Score: 8 out of 10

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