White Dwarf

White Dwarf, vol 1, Issue 90

It’s June 1987, and to celebrate 10 years of White Dwarf, Thatcher is elected for the third term, Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall and White Dwarf increased in size to 72 pages.
Although these reviews will eventually get to the point where White Dwarf is promoting miniature games and the models to use in them at this time it was populated by role players and the articles submitted by them as homebrewed rules for their favourite systems. Now I’m not going to check them for playability, that’s the Games Masters job, in fact it’s only the GM of a certain system who really needs to see all this information, the players are only likely to have their games spoilt by knowing what is coming ahead. However a) Some of them still make interesting reading even now and b) There is would have been no internet or other easily accessible directory of the vast amount of different RPG’s out at this time so anyone who wanted a taste had to read about it in White Dwarf or another of the RPG mags or consult likeminded people.
First up is Thrud the Barbarian. Unfortunately Thrud hasn’t aged well. For those that don’t know, Thrud was some kind of running comic / meme that involved a giant deformed version of Arnie in Conan the Barbarian. All comics would follow the same path, Thrud turns up, people speak to him and then he beheads them. Or if you’re me reading, Thrud turns up and I skip to the end.
So here we go, it’s issue 90, it has a front cover celebrating 10 years of White Dwarf, the pleasantries are out of the way and we get into the first article. It’s an explanation of west country slang for GMs who are running games of Call of Cthulu in Somerset. Yes. This. Is. What. You. Need. As the setting involves west country cults this would be like the plot to Hot Fuzz 30 years before the film. In fact this is part of a larger campaign setting that was originally missed out when it was first printed so has been added in as an errata however it has the effect of immediately wanting to play a RPG or any game that has you trying to decipher incomprehensible farmer speak.
After an Ian Livingstone piece about 10 years of White Dwarf comes Dave Langford and what will become one of the most consistently well written reoccurring articles in the magazine at this time. His Critical Mass book review page involves him reading about a dozen books per month and then much intellectual sniping ensues.
In character Cryptozoologist research notes for the Runequest RPG. It’s all a bit too meta for me.
Paranoia strikes me as the type of game where it’s much more fun to read about it than actually play. It has been reprinted only recently but for those who don’t know it’s a bit like if they made a Portal RPG where the GM plays as GladOS and instead of a portal gun everyone has assault rifles that shoot backwards and instead of a companion cube it’s a live grenade. Depending on how much fun you get from being told that your character just died your experience may suck, mine reading about it however is very enjoyable. Mel Brooks said it best: Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.”
Gobbledygook the goblin makes Thrud look like a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Careers in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is an article that didn’t need to be written. If you are a GM and one of your players asks you if their character can take time out from being a murder hobo to learn to become a Tailor or a Palm Reader you big problems. There is a full nights AD&D adventure that like any fully scale fleshed out article in this magazine can be applied to any high fantasy RPG your group is running from 1978 to now. How to be a perp in the Judge Dredd RPG was skipped by me as I once watched Dredd and did jury duty and that’s all I know on the subject.
Next you get an unexpected double article on women in RPGs, and women in history, both articles are interesting and as relevant now as they were 30 years ago. Its followed by an article on the history of lay lines and a full page diagram of Stonehenge. Suddenly it’s as if I’m reading a copy of National Geographic.
The letters page is an interesting read, it’s got its fair share of people complaining about Warhammer based products usurping AD&D from the pages of White Dwarf as well as other interesting points.
It cost £1.25 which according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator would cost £3.17 in 2016. Would I buy it for this much today? Yes, and I would almost certainly sign up for a subscription as well at that price. While there is a bit of chaff, the best parts are timeless even if you don’t play role playing games. However the magazine does need some colour to break up the walls of text. It’s probably because my copy doesn’t contain adverts or the picture pages so it’s hard going from a wall of text about one out of print RPG to a wall of text about another.

The best of White Dwarf Vol 1

White Dwarf Vol 1. This is the unofficial name for the monthly magazine published by Games Workshop from 1977 until issue #409 in 2014 and I’m going to review it.

Well most of it.

Only the good parts until it gets depressingly bad.

Wait, what, that’s impossible and / or pointless I hear my singular reader crying and you may be right but hear me out first.

The plan is to start from around issue 90 which is when the first appearance of 1st edition 40k, also known as Rogue Trader. From this point I plan on disassembling the myth of Rogue Trader and smashing the rose tinted spectacles that you view it with. From then I plan on picking up those spectacles, apologising, repairing them and then placing them back on your face and explaining that it wasn’t the dawn of 40k during that time that kicked off the modern Games Workshop, it was actually Epic. Once you are left reeling by that major development I’m going to be drawing brackets round the exact issues that start and end “The First Golden Age of Miniature Gaming” which will probably also be referred to by me as “The Golden Age of Games Workshop” or just “The Golden Age”. This will open the doors to a review of the major hits and misses of the era.”Well that’s just your opinion, man”. Yes that’s correct Lebowski, however unlike most opinion pieces I am going to be referring to Marketing and Psychology books to try and explain why people feel so much happy nostalgia towards it, why GW made so much money, why they are unlikely to go away and why they burned white hot during this period. The last part is particularly important as the games and models that were produced during this time are exactly what the company is currently (as of 2016) raiding for inspiration, and they are a large part of the reason why there are so many other high quality miniature companies around who have based their releases on the games templates put under the banner of the specialist games range before being discontinued during the later “Silver Age”.

If there was a “Golden Age of Games Workshop” then that age had to come to an end at some point. I would call the end in late 2001 when the Lord of the Rings miniature game was released under the smothering licence of New Line Cinema and the Tolkien Estate. It’s possible that you liked this game, it’s even possible that this might be the time that many players entered the hobby and huge profits were made by the company, however “The Golden Age” ended then. The many small games produced were cut back and “The Big Three”; 40k, Fantasy and LotRs were promoted in their place. This you might have guessed was “The Silver Age”.

Next came “The Bronze Age”, the discontinuing of Warhammer Fantasy the end of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit licence and the eventual end of the monthly White Dwarf. My reviews will probably end before I reach this point because a) The Golden Age is the most interesting to write about and b) It is widely known that the quality of White Dwarf declined from “writing about a hobby that you love that you want to show to other people” to “writing copy about a company you work for” and then on to “taking pictures of things you want to sell”.

So there you have it, if you want to really see how things were back in 1987. Want to see what makes an interesting article. How to write a good battle report and what influence the band D-rok had on the 40k universe then let’s begin here.