Thursday, 14 January 2010
After all the excitement of WD1, for the D&D player at least WD2 comes as a bit of an anti-climax. In our 24 page issue we get the second part of Fred Hemmings' exploration of funhouse tournament dungeons but that's it for pretty much any mention of D&D until the return of even more bloody A-Level maths homework in the form of part 2 of Don Turnbull's Monstermark.
WD2 through to WD4 cover the rest of 1977. If there's a theme to these issues that hints at how British players seem to be playing the game, I would say it is "funhouse". British D&D'ers seem to be exploring glorified logic puzzles and riddles with a thin veneer of "underground exploring" slapped on top and encountering novelty monster after novelty monster.
Lewis Pulsipher rather gives the game away in his review of the brand new Tunnels and Trolls in WD2 (he isn't much impressed with it) by making the following telling remark.
"T&T is not really a serious game, though this might not bother British D&D players because so few here play D&D in a serious vein."
This is mirrored by the D&D material in these three issues. We get offered The Cloning Room, a room that creates an clone of the PC with opposite alignment which immediately attacks the original, The Clumsy Room which reduces all success chances by 75%, Don Turnbull's "Alice In Dungeonland" level (does this pre-date EGG's more famous version? Turnbull makes no reference to the Greyhawk one at all and goes as far as to suggest that it only suits a "non-Gygax" setting - irony indeed if Turnbull meant it), the Typo Monster (Spells cast in it's vicinity have one letter changed in order to amend the meaning - so that a sleep spell could become a speed spell or a sheep spell or a sleet spell) and the Glitch which simply causes all PCs in it's vicinity to fail all rolls, all the time. Coupled with the Hemmings article I wonder if this is representative of the way the UK game was (Pulsipher might be hinting at this) or conversely was completely unrepresentative but heavily influenced a lot of people who genuinely believed this was how the game was to be played having only these early issues of WD to point them in a supposedly correct direction.
(A lot of this reminds of me more of text adventure games like Zork and Philosopher's Quest than it does of Red Nails or The Mines of Moria. This text adventure thing is something I touched briefly upon before on a post about the Fighting Fantasy RPG).
Anyway, let's elaborate upon the point with scans of the Competitive D&D article from the first four issues of the Dwarf...
Harking back to the Pulshiper T&T review it's also interesting that he finds T&T a pointless game because, essentially, we already have one market leading game for dungeon-based fantasy so why on Earth do we need another?
WD has introduced a brief news column, sparing a few words for each new event that is just over the horizon in the RPG world. Introduced so briefly as to almost suggest an inference that none of this is particularly important are the impending releases of something called Traveller, something called Chivalry and Sorcery, some board game called Cosmic Encounter and that the release date of this new Star Wars film in the UK will be December 26th, a full six months after it's US premiere.
A few first signs of future developments - Fighting Fantasy and it's gargantuan impact upon the UK RPG scene gets foreshadowed as Ian Livingstone gives us some creatures from his own campaign showing the inventiveness that will appear in his gamebooks.
Future GW Art Supremo (or whatever his current title is) John Blanche appears for the first time with a monochrome cover illustration for WD4. According to the date of his signature on the pic, the Master of Blanchitsu appears to have invented Chaos Spiky Bits all the way back in 1971.
Don Turnbull starts a column for reader-contributed monsters that will eventually become the quality publication that is the Fiend Folio - and viewed in light of the RPG scene that gave birth to the contents of Fiend Factory it perhaps explains why the Fiend Folio was so full of either one-use or no-use monsters. In a world of novelty dungeoneering, every monster is a novelty.
Available to the UK reader with a chequebook (or access to postal orders) are City State of the Invincible Overlord (£6.50 - £30 today), Tegel Manor (£3.50 - £16.30 today), imported copies of issue 7 of The Dragon (£1.25 - £5.80 today) - note "The" Dragon, not just "Dragon" - Tunnels and Trolls (£1.75 - £8.15 today), Starship Troopers (£7.95 - £37 today), First Fantasy Campaign (£5.95 - £28 today) - Judge's Guild printing of Arneson's Blackmoor setting - and last, but not least Empire of the Petal Throne is an eye-watering £17.50 (£82 today). No wonder it remained an obscure game. Incidentally the average UK weekly wage in 1977 was £68.70. Coop hereby promises to refrain from grumbling about modern Games Workshop pricing for at least a week or so...
Most optimistic advertising blurb of 1977 goes to J.A.Ball & Co. in their advert for their game 4D...
"It is our belief that 4D will eventually replace chess."
Oh No! Apparently Monstermark had some mathematical errors in it!
Who would have thought that!?
Almost as bad is the shocking realisation that Balrogs were missing from the original Monster Mark articles! Happily, Mr. Turnbull is quickly in to soothe us all with some comforting mathematical equations.
Fortunately, recipient of the communal Old School Renaissance Man-Crush, Mr. Paul Jaquays himself makes an appearance in WD3's letter pages in order to inject some good old-fashioned common sense.
The very first article on painting figures in White Dwarf turns up in WD3, but the origins of the modern "THE GAMES WORKSHOP HOBBY" (they invented everything you know and grew the embryonic Don Featherstone in a test tube) are somewhat humble as the available printing technology and budget doesn't even run to photographs. Eye candy figure porn will have to wait a few years.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was 1977 as described by the Dwarf. Coming up next, I strongly suspect, will be 1978 or at least the first part of it.