[Review] White Dwarf 39/40; A tale of two modules

The harvest was a good one this time around. Early White Dwarf seems to trump Dragon/Dungeon when it comes to adventures as well as supplementary material. Everything, even the core classes that no one uses, seem more considered and sophisticated and certainly more fantastical. Dungeon only started in 1986, has the rise of the more codified AD&D given way to a degeneration in gaming material?

The Daughter of Danu (1983)
Alan E. & Charles M. Paul (White Dwarf 39)

Lvl 2 – 4

White Dwarf 39.pdf - Lski.org

This little adventure is your average dungeon but drenched in a delicious fairytale marinade. Winter around a remote village has lasted longer then usual. The chalk idol of Danu demands they sacrifice a child or the winter will last forever. In actuality a Black Annis and a Duergar from Faery are scheming together with their band of goblins to get themselves some sacrifices.

This module illustrates very well how evocative details and commitment to a theme can elevate a fairly standard dungeon. The dungeon seems to be inside the hollow stone behind an altar but is actually located in Faery, as it is much too large. From thereon out, its pretty sweet.

Two tribes of goblins, that don’t like eachother. There’s the habitual alert if sounds of combat yadda yadda. They are all doing something, usually rat related, or marching poorly in step, when you barge inside. But what if I told you the Rat’s Head Goblin females were locked in a room and hate their males so much they might be persuaded to fight them? What if you encountered the boudoir of the Faystirge, who seeks power over the other inhabitants of this realm? A room of dead rats, their necks twisted. The goblins are disorganized and slovenly to the point of comedy but this is juxtaposed by signs of horrible brutality.

The atmosphere is just very strong. A series of magic mouths that trigger if you walk past them, first a whisper, then increasingly louder. And then Braedirk, a Duergar. But it doesn’t feel like a Duergar from the Forgotten Realms, it feels like fucking Albrecht from Die Ring des Niebelungen, an evil underground bastard dwarf that uses illusions and is up to all sorts of evil trickery and shit. There’s strong monsters here too, Gremlins, Boogles, all very nonstandard choices.

The confrontation with the Black Annis and her fanatical goblin worshippers creates a very strong image. The room is intensely cold, icicles hang from the ceiling, and the pillars are crusted with frost. In the northern part of the temple is a large stone slab (6′ long, 3′ wide, 3′ high), upon which lies the tortured body of a stag (not yet dead). To one side of the slab is a font encrusted with blood both old and new. Behind the sacrificial stone is a pile of bones from previous victims, including those of several human infants. Did you just shit yourself? All the monsters are D&D but they fill the slots of some hideous east german faery tale that is tremulously whispered around the campfire at night. A single Dire Wolf, the Black Hag and a coven of fanatic goblin worshippers. Hell yeah. White Dwarf tends to perform much better when it comes to atmosphere then Dungeon.   

This is going to be my new poster child for a high ***. The map is nothing special, the encounters are nothing you have not seen before, its just been assembled well and given some care and consideration. If you are running Dolmenwood or something it might be worth throwing it in there.

The Eagle Hunt (1983)
Marcus L. Rowland (White Dwarf 40)

Lvl 1 – 3

White Dwarf Magazine, Issue 40: Amazon.com: Books

This is going to be a controversial one, from the same guy who did Operation Counterstrike. Daughter of Danu had nice atmosphere with a solid dungeon framework. Atmosphere is the only thing Eagle Hunt does kind of wrong.

The king’s Armoury has been raided and the famous Green Eagle, an ancient device has been stolen. The two detectives (actual Detective class in WD) that were on the case have not returned. Enter the PCs.

I have no idea what the implied setting of this place is and I assume it is a sort of dungeonpunk with detectives and paperback novels and maps of the city and shit because it starts at the office of the two detectives and they have a 3rd level houri secretary and some other henchmen that can be recruited. There are some subtle clues strewn about the office that the Detectives were checking out the local Assassin’s Guild but one of the servants is actually an operative and this can be discovered and immediately lead to a james bond style chase scene only with flasks of acid and a balustrade that collapses if you climb in it.

Then begins the part of the game that I like to call Crossbow Six. This is spec-ops DnD at its finest. Several front stores controlled by the guild, seemingly normal staff that are actually assassins and have concealed weaponry, patrol routes, multiple means of egress, procedures on what to do if the alert is sounded. Walls lined with broken bottles smeared with rotting meat and dung. Hell yes. All the above stores are connected to an underground tunnel network/secret base. There’s easily 60+ assassins of levels 1 – 5 in this complex (the leader is like 8), and the bulk has concealed weapons, poison flasks, bags of flour to throw at invisible opponents and other nasty business, its nutso. Then add trip wires, traps, so many fucking traps, and secret doors that you cannot discover naturally so you will need to interrogate people, which means you are lucky since besides the two detectives that have gone missing there are other prisoners you can free. 

The tone is generic but every once in a while you will get something specific (and awesome). Two assassin guys are torturing a prisoner, with acolytes watching, and two who have fainted. One assassin in the potion lab has drunk an experimental phase potion so that he phases with every attack but there is a cumulative 10% chance he spontaneously combusts. Three assassins are pretending to play a roleplaying game but they have a repeating crossbow under the table and all the wine that they pretend to drink is poisoned. There’s a temple of Kali that is, itself, just a trap. And a rust mimic, whatever the fuck that is. On a sort of meta-bastard level this all works out fairly well. I think here an organized response to intruders IS something that should have been covered, even though the contents of rooms can change depending on whether or not the alarm has been sounded and there is mention of secret exits to the surface so the assassins can flank and you can have a pitched battle in the streets.

Big fucking so what you say? How is that anything but special? What if I told you the assassins have a waterboarding tank connected to the nearby river via pumps and you can disable it and thus slowly flood the dungeon, with a percentage chance that some sort of aquatic monster comes in through the disabled sluices? Do I have your fucking attention? A gigantic laboratory full of poison…but its labelled and encrypted and the codes are elsewhere in the dungeon. A deadly game of cat and mouse unfolds. If you blunder in here you will be dead in two encounters.

At some point a science fantasy element is introduced as the PCs discover a kit of futuristic burglary tech and the actual Green Eagle is a time-machine that will catapult the PCs across dimensions in a Dr. Who (RIP) –esque trip to recover the components to return to their own time. New magic items are introduced, tiny variations that make it more interesting, a cursed talking battle axe that will give away your location by whistling loudly, a silver sickle that emits a field that repels evil rodents, a ring of regeneration that can fail catastrophically and overall a ridiculous amount of treasure for a party of levels 1 – 3. You probably aren’t going to clear this fucking thing, but you might make it out with both detectives and the Eagle if you are sharp enough.

There’s one major flaw; there are no procedures for contacting the guard. City adventures are kind of swingy because the excuse of establishment force not being present to combat the problem requires more finesse. I tend to assume city watch is going to be corrupt and inefficient but since the theft involves the possession of the King it is difficult to imagine local authorities would not at least feign co-operation if the PCs would come back with word of having discovered the assassin’s hideout. I mean a huge pitched battle in the trapped and narrow corridors of the guild between assassins and a company of town guard sounds fucking fantastic so what are we waiting for?

If Eagle’s Hunt would have had a more classic tone, I think it could have been another WD classic alongside Lichway and Thizun Thane. As is, it’s still very good. As I get deeper into these modules outward trappings start to dim and the structure of an adventure becomes more prominent and this has it in spades. Hardcore DnD but not Asshole DnD.

Spec-Ops DnD isn’t my favorite DnD but if you are going to do it, you can do a HELL of a lot worse then this module. You just need 3 assassins, a cleric/thief, an illusionist and an elven fighter/mage with bow specialization and get them together for one last job…


13 thoughts on “[Review] White Dwarf 39/40; A tale of two modules

  1. You are prolific at the moment, with more interesting articles than I can keep up with regarding comments. I just wanted to note your splendid description of Duergar as Alberich from the Ring Cycle; it is disappointing this sort of imagery gets lost in overuse. And another fine adventure in just three sides. Why do we have to suffer the longeurs of Wyatt Earp, instead of the riotous Tombstone?


    1. Reviewing White Dwarf Adventures and skipping the monster + hook ones is therapeutic for the soul. They actually branch out into Runequest, Stormbringer and Traveller adventures too but those are all systems I don’t really know so I wouldn’t feel super comfortable reviewing them.


    1. I’m sure that one won’t come back to bite me in the ass. Honestly, you might like WD. It kind of depends on how you feel about tinkering with existing mega-dungeons but most of the 3-5 page dungeons in there are kind of good, to say nothing of the extra magic items. The classes are basically fluff, but thats nothing new.


  2. White Dwarf adventures are what you get when Brits with nothing but the base rules are forced to make their own entertainment. There is, according to people who were there at the time at least, a genuine distinction in terms of influence and mindset between the British and American Old Schools. I’ll see if I can dig up the old Fighting Fantasist blog that outlined it in more detail, if you’re interested, if you’re not you shall just have to take a big huff on a bottle of malt vinegar and imagine yourself British.


    1. @J.E.
      By all means.

      “See what you ‘ave to imagine Guv’nor, is that the gobbo’s in WD 39 were originally inspired by a song called ‘Birds in me Crumpets’ by a little known british pop band called Harold an’ the Poppets that uses scenes from early 90s british pornography publishers to protest against the financial policies of the Thatcher administration. The adherer in the storeroom is really a stand in for Vice-Labour Chairman Edward Herfordshire III while simultaneously championing the Falkland War from a perspective of ironic fascism. *Laughs in British*.”


      1. “Neil, your bed’s on fire!” the dalek said incredulously.

        Captain Mannering knew they were doomed, but stiff upper lip and all that.

        Meanwhile, Venger Satanis was humming Bella Lugosi’s Dead. “Carry on, hoss! See you at The Bat Cave after watching Rumpole of the Bailey. “


  3. “Eagle Hunt” is, in part, a pastiche of The Maltese Falcon, but I can’t remember if the adventure text mentions it or not. I’m very fond of the adventure, and I put a couple of nods to it in Forgive Us, which was a sort of love letter to the old White Dwarf adventures.


    1. I noticed the White dwarf influence in Forgive Us, which is still my favorite of your work, reminded me strongly of WHF, complete with the Plague Cult.

      [Maltese falcon]

      Gaaah! Damn my Millenial ignorance!


      1. Thank you. 🙂 Yes, there’s a lot of influence from WD‘s Marienburg articles in there.I also put the Green Eagle itself in there as a treasure.

        I haven’t read The Maltese Falcon or seen the film either to be honest, but I’m vaguely aware of it through cultural osmosis. They did a pastiche of it in the old Marvel Transformers comic, and I think maybe The Big Lebowski is based on it, and that’s the closest I’ve got to the original story.


      2. Oh no, The Big Lebowski is based on the style of Raymond Chandler, rather than a specific story. The Maltese Falcon was written by Dashiell Hammett. They both wrote detective stories in a similar style, hence my confusion. Never mind!


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