Friday, November 27, 2009

Old School: Mining White Dwarf I

Those who only know White Dwarf magazine as a glorified miniatures catalog may be surprised to know that for its first 100 issues (or so) it was probably the best general RPG magazine anywhere, ever.  It never failed to be filled with useful, well-written material about virtually every popular (and quite a few unpopular) RPGs during the late 70s and early 80s.  The first issue I ever saw was Issue 4, but I didn't get round to buying the postal order I needed for a sample copy until Issue 6.  This was lucky, as if my parents had seen the cover to Issue 5 my fledgling hobby would probably have been strangled in the, err, nest.  In any event, I soon got all the back issues and subscribed.

Given that WD's glory years were the glory years of old school roleplaying, I thought it might be interesting to go through the early magazines' contents and see what there is useful to highlight and/or resurrect for the old school movement.  And there'll be Runequest material in here too!

Starting at the beginning, with WD1, what do we find?  Interestingly, the very first article is not about D&D, but Metamorphosis Alpha, TSR's "lost spaceship gone to hell" precursor to Gamma World.  I actually used the deck plan as a dungeon level once, and I wouldn't be surprised if others had as well.  Next up is the Monstermark System.  This was the brainchild of the late Don Turnbull, who was in many ways Britain's version of Gary Gygax.  His Greenlands Dungeon was as legendary in the UK as Greyhawk or Blackmoor and, I believe, was equally never properly published, although bits appeared in WDs over the years.  If I recall correctly, Don was a postal diplomacy guru who was an early adopter of D&D and went on to run the creative but ill-fated TSR UK.  The Monstermark System was Don's dual answer to two commonly-perceived problems with AD&D monsters - experience points for killing them and their placement on monster tables.  Don developed an extremely complicated algorithm for working out how deadly a monster was and where it should really appear on the tables.  I was really impressed and used the system until AD&D came out, but looking at it now it represents far too much work.  Much better to accept the idiosyncrasies of the original game design.

Moving on, we come to the first in a series of articles by Fred Hemmings about Competitive D&D.  I used this when I was running D&D demo sessions at my school's Open Days, but it doesn't really have much applicability for general megadungeoning.  One idea I did like and used repeatedly in pick-up sessions was "the magic knapsack," described as:
These wonderous items, both useful and standardized without being overpowerful, contain one of each item appearing on the D&D equipment list although their weight is negligible . However, once an item has been taken out it can never be put back nor can any new item be put into one.
 A nice idea for a self-contained adventure.

Following some basic puzzle ideas, which are basically a diversion for the reader rather than something easily translatable to a campaign, is one of Lew Pulsipher's seemingly never-ending supply of essays on gaming philosophy.  I didn't find much useful here when I was 12, never mind today.  Then there's an article on the excellent "nuclear wargame," The Warlord, which Games Workshop later reissued as Apocalypse, and which became a staple of light-night college gaming sessions for me (I remember one game where the reconstruction rule was dropped as wimpy, and where the two surviving players created a "wall of glass" between them - all this when the threat of nuclear war seemed very real indeed!)

Finally, in Treasure Chest, WD's regular collection of submitted AD&D tidbits from readers, comes a useful idea.  From Steven Littlechild, presumably not the later Electricity Regulator, comes the Helm of Vision.  Here's the description:
This helm, which can be worn by fighters or clerics, resembles an ordinary fighter's helm. However, it is gold plated, which alone gives it a value of 750 GPs and in combat it has an additional protection bonus of 10%. The two eye slits are fitted with clear,  diamond-like gems and have the following properties :
(i) They act independantly [sic] as Gems of Seeing .
(ii) They act together as double range Gems of Seeing.
(iii) They give an infravision ability, range 60 feet .
(iv) In direct sunlight they have the following additional properties :
(a) Monsters of 4th level or below are confused as per a Confusion spell
(b) All monsters combat at -15%
(c) Morale has a penalty of -10%
(v) If removed from the helm they become merely low value gems worth 10GPs each .
(vi) They have the following effects, depending on the alignment of the wearer:
(a) Lawful - The wearer sees with 'time sight' . That is, the wearer sees any polymorphed,
invisible etc. man/monster in its true shape and will not be aware of the polymorphed shape.
The wearer sees all illusions as illusions.
The wearer sees through a disguise 90% of the time.
(b) Neutral- The wearer sees illusions as illusions 50% of the time.

The wearer sees through a disguise 50% of the time .

The wearer will see an evil intention towards him 'written all over the face' of the potential evil doer .
(c) Chaos- The wearer sees illusions as realities .
The wearer will never see through a disguise .
The wearer will see a non-human monster 50% of the time as follows :
(i) A weaker monster will appear to be stronger than himself.
(ii) A stronger monster will appear to be weaker .
 I like this.  The different alignment effects scream old-school, and actually suggest all sorts of reasons why it should be found in a dungeon - the chaotic wearer who tangled with an ogre believing it to be a goblin and so on.  As for the question I asked myself - if the gems can't be removed, why the distinction between acting independantly [sic] and together? - the answer is surely to do with one-eyed fighters.  In any event, this would be a nice item to find in a megadungeon.

Then there's a series of ridiculously complicated suggestions for "improving" D&D's mechanics, the infamous Pervert character class (don't ask) and a nice set of rules for scaling poison effects to character level, based on (we have come full circle) Metamorphosis Alpha.

Hmm. Not as much good there as I remember.  But this was issue 1.

A PDF of issue 1 can be downloaded here.

1 comment:

  1. As a kid in the late 70's into the 80's I loved White Dwarf. More than Dragon or any other, I read and reread until by the 90's they were desintigrating. I remember this cover well, and really instilled a love of heads getting hacked-off amidst a spray of the old red vino.