White Dwarf: The First 100 issues. A Read-Through and Review.

Dire Bare

Legend
Thanks again for doing this, this thread has been a fun read!

The covers, once they went full color, are fantastic, and remind me of early Dragon covers . . . which I suppose was around the same time.
 

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S'mon

Legend
Thanks again for doing this, this thread has been a fun read!

The covers, once they went full color, are fantastic, and remind me of early Dragon covers . . . which I suppose was around the same time.

The quality of art in White Dwarf was consistently astounding. Ian Livingstone had the strangely-rare ability to get famous sf/fantasy book cover artists like Achilleos to license their work, plus Games Workshop had tons of fantastic illustrators like Blanche.
 

WebWarlock

First Post
Very cool.

I have been doing something similar with White Dwarf for a while now.
"White Dwarf Wednesdays" is a regular feature of my blog, the Other Side. Though I go into more detail on each issue.
The Other Side blog: white dwarf

The advantage of your approach here is to see the larger trends. You see the forest, where I only see the trees.

I am going to keep following this!

Tim
 

Dr Simon

Explorer
Very cool.

I have been doing something similar with White Dwarf for a while now.
"White Dwarf Wednesdays" is a regular feature of my blog, the Other Side. Though I go into more detail on each issue.
The Other Side blog: white dwarf

The advantage of your approach here is to see the larger trends. You see the forest, where I only see the trees.

I am going to keep following this!

Tim

Thanks for the link, I'll take a look! I noticed that Private Eye's thread on RPGNet (and the preceding one as well, whose name escapes me) all flagged up similar good (and bad) things to me; I'll be interested to see if we spotted the same things as well.

S'Mon and Dire Bare - I agree, some of the covers are very evocative. I think they are best up until around issue 50 or so, when they begin to become a bit more mundane but there are some really nice pieces of artwork, particularly the ones by Immanuel (see issue 23 in the last post for example).
 
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WebWarlock

First Post
Since I am getting ready to do issue 21 it will be interesting to see if I can see the same trends on the microscopic-issue by issue level.

Tim
 

Dr Simon

Explorer
Part Four: The Early Golden Age. Issues 31-40


Overview
Over this period, spanning June 1982 to April 1983, the magazine continues to offer solid support for the “Big Three” of AD&D, RuneQuest and Traveller, but other systems get short shrift beyond the review sections, at the moment. Two more regular departments appear – Microview which mixes computers (like that new-fangled ZX Spectrum thing) with gaming, and Critical Mass, Dave Langford’s often witty and acerbic book review column. The layout continues to become more professional, with some splashes of colour to the pages, and the title changes to the block font from the old-fashioned looking scrolled font. Most significantly, the magazine goes monthly starting from issue 32.



Games
The “Big Three” of AD&D, Traveller and Runequest continue to expand in the range of support material on the market, with chock-loads of D&D adventures from TSR (including White Plume Mountain and The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh), lots of Traveller supplements and adventures from GDW and FASA (including FASA's Sky Raiders series), and Chaosium releasing the likes of Borderlands and Trollpak for Runequest. Judges Guild seems to be fading in the face of more professionally produced material. Chaosium are also plugging away at other systems, and the most notable release in this period is Call of Cthulhu, carrying the air of something special from the moment of its arrival (or should that be when its rugose form rises from the impenetrable darkness like some indescribable eldritch terror?). Bushido and Pirates & Plunder arrive, both of which garner something of a cult status but never make much impact in WD, even though Bushido gets a rave review (that review, however, is lots of gushing praise that tells you nothing of how the game actually works). TSR adds Star Frontiers to its range of games, a more space opera type of SF compared to Traveller. Steve (US) Jackson’s Car Wars, although not exactly an RPG, is quickly established as a firm favourite and, also not exactly an RPG, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain unleashes the oncoming wave of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, with TSR joining in the solo gamebook market with their Endless Quest series.



Scenarios
For me, there are three stand-out scenarios in this period. Paul Vernon’s Trouble At Embertrees is a good low-level eco-warrior adventure, using all the elements of his previous articles on creating believable societies to give a detailed (overly, I would say) village and the troubles besetting it. It could be an interesting way to start a campaign although it would need an experienced DM to do it justice because there's So. Much. Information. However, as a living, breathing village, Embertrees points at Hommlet and laughs.

Green Horizon by Marcus L Rowland is an innovative Traveller adventure where the PCs are an alien race who happen to be in need of deuterium in order to repair their spaceship. Fortunately for them the primitive planet that they are stranded on happens to have a factory nearby. Not so fortunately, they happen to be in Nazi-occupied Norway. That the alien race resembles creatures from German and Norwegian folklore is an added bonus of fun. Shades of Heroes of Telemark, with small warty-skinned heroes, ensues.

A City in the Swamp by Graeme Davis is straightforward, but gives a useful and interesting organic-looking city and a swamp-dwelling race that can be inserted into any campaign, even if you don’t use the specific adventure set-up (involving a rogue slaad and its would-be assassin).

Of the other scenarios, Eagle Hunt is a passable take on detective noir in D&D by Marcus L Rowland, making use of his Detective character class but not dependent on it. The assassin’s lair described within could be used anywhere and so it makes a useful resource for pillaging even if you don’t use the adventure whole-cloth.

Chaos From Mount Dorren is a solid if not enormously exciting D&D adventure from Phil Masters with a good premise (pterodactyl-riding gnome anarchists) weighed down with a mundane dungeon, and finally issue 39 sees the first Champions scenario published, Slayground, a fairly simple combat scenario set in a fairground by the ever-prolific Marcus L Rowland.

There are a couple of mini-game style scenarios; Rumble at the Tin Inn is a RQ bar-room brawl (by Michael Cule) and The Druid’s Grove (by Mark Byng) is an AD&D druidic skirmish to ascertain dominance amongst high-level druids. I’ve never played it despite owning this magazine for years, but it looks like it could be fun. A definite D&D bias, but notably all the AD&D adventures shy away from the “puzzle dungeon” style of Grakt’s Crag and are more like the living dynamic of The Halls of Tizun Thane.



Articles
Several big series span this period. Lew Pulsipher does what he likes doing best with a multi-part series titled An Introduction to Dungeon Mastering. Then Andy Slack does something similar with Traveller, in An Introduction to Traveller. Both have some reasonable advice, and a closer look highlights different attitudes on the different games. Andy’s Traveller advice is all about working with the players to create a setting and a series of adventures that caters to their needs, Lew’s is more about creating and stocking a dungeon, an attitude that even this far back is beginning to look dated, and isn’t as detailed as Roger Musson’s Dungeon Architect series from the last batch of issues. He caps the series with an introductory adventure based on Tolkien’s Moria, to mixed reaction from the letters page (it’s a bit of a zoo-dungeon and doesn’t really capture the feel of Moria).

Paul Vernon follows up his series on pseudo-mediaeval economics with a look at creating believable villages, towns and cities. It’s potentially useful but to my mind worries a bit too much about getting every last detail correct, as witnessed in the massive level of detail in the Embertrees scenario dedicated to the village itself. As with his previous article, however, it distils down to some useful advice.

Finally there is an interesting series on the denizens of Faerie by Allen E Paull – some discussion on how to run an adventure in the land of the Fey, some creature stats and finally a scenario which is a disappointing zoo-dungeon featuring all the creatures given and follows none of the suggestions in the first part of the series about creating the mysterious atmosphere of Faerie in a scenario. Interestingly there is a Fiend Factory “mini scenario” in issue 31 featuring fey creatures which is a much more thematically appropriate adventure (called In Search of a Fool, and good it is too, edited by Albie Fiore but including submissions by Daniel Collerton, Craig Cartmel, Phil Masters and Roger E Moore). It also means you get two different sets of stats for the Leanan-Sidhe, a sort of Fey vampiress who can hide in mirrors and likes to collect handsome musicians.

Fiend Factory and Treasure Chest continue to churn ‘em out. Stand-outs include the aforementioned Leanen-Sidhe or Fey Stirge (both variants, Craig’s and Paul’s) and the Spidron (an intelligent ooze, by John R Gordon after The Forever People), the Druids Cudgel (a magical staff that reacts with extra vigour to a shillelagh spell, by Mark “Maldred” Byng), the Shaft of the Spider (a magic arrow that webs who it hits, by Jeremy Dunn), the Wizard’s Wand (which is sort of a Spell Familiarity feat item, by Paul Cole) and Manbane (a potent magical sword that gradually drains the wielder and turns him into a wraith if he draws on its power too much. By Eddie Whitaker). The article on drug use and abuse by Graeme Davis is good, too (more black lotus).

Runerites and Starbase produce some solid work for RQ and Traveller, both coming across as more mature than the new-monsters-and-toys stuff for D&D (although both do feature new monsters and toys...). I particularly like the rules for Spirit Cults by Dave Morris, for RQ. Also for RQ, in articles too big for Runerites, we get rules for playing samurai, the first example (I think) of rules for Asian-style cultures outside of specific games like Bushido, and we get Runeblades, magical weapons tied to the Runes in terms of power and ability. Nice. Both of these articles are by Dave Morris again (no wonder he takes over editing Runerites later on). Traveller gets some bits and pieces, best is probably Andy Slack’s article on robots in Traveller with a range of examples.

There are some good, longer, articles for D&D. Phil Masters’ rules for whips are workable (superceded by official rules now, of course, but worth considering for some of the ideas for magical whips). The Dungeon Master General (by Alan E Paull) gives a fairly neat system for simple mass combat and Bloodsuckers by Marcus L Rowland gives some variant options for vampires; worth a look. Lew Pulsipher takes a break from telling everyone how to play to bring us the Necromancer class. Don Turnbull complains about this in the letters page, saying “the whole emphasis of the game rests on the triumph of good over evil” and that he “cannot imagine a party of characters including one of these”, prompting a tirade of responses telling him how out of touch he is (and asking why, in that case, is the assassin a class in the Players Handbook?). Tremendous fun.

Finally, two new columns make their debuts. Microview, edited by Mike Costello, considers home computers, with a couple of BASIC programs to type in (for generating Traveller planets and RQ characters, I think). It’s always doomed to be a bit of an also-ran column, given how many dedicated home computer magazines are about to erupt onto the market at this time, and how their uses in gaming are (at this time) a niche thing and mainly useful for number-crunching. My favourite, though, is Critical Mass, Dave Langford’s book review column which usually sticks to SF&F books but often looks at borderline fiction and reference works that might be of interest to RPGers. Langford has a wry sense of humour and a healthy distrust for books bearing the legend “Part One of the [whatever] Trilogy” (such books usually also bearing a quote of praise from Anne McCaffery), and his demolition of L. Ron Hubbard is a joy to read (we will return to this later, as it’s not in this period). He’s not the type of reviewer who is critical for the sake of it, though. You will find him enthusing over good and original works, not to mention classical re-releases, plus he gives you some insights into the often illogical world of publishing.



General Thoughts
Some good, solid articles in this run of issues, mainly for D&D, Traveller and RQ but many are such that they could be adapted to any system quite easily (a lot of “other” systems around at this time are just rip-off of the Big Three anyway). I forgot to mention the brief foray into Tunnels and Trolls, with another article and a solo adventure from Ken St. Andre. Neither really makes you think that WD are missing a great deal by not featuring it much, but Ken’s more easy-going, “fun first” attitude to rules and settings rubs up against Don Turnbull who (again) gets snarky in the letters page. What is interesting, however, is the steady increase not only in commercial material for the Big Three, but also many new games coming onto the market, most notable of which will prove to be Call of Cthulhu. Also of note, I think, that WD publishes its first superhero RPG article in the form of a scenario. Lew Pulsipher and Don Turnbull, with their views on dungeon-crawling and what is acceptable as a player character, are beginning to look increasingly out-of-date in the face of an ever-expanding hobby, expanding enough to support enough material for a monthly magazine.
 
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magicsandman

First Post
Thanks for the reviews. I now have a much greater appreciation for these kinds of threads. Someone tried to review all the White Dwarf magazines in detail on RPGNet and managed to get to issue 39 before petering off. I decided to see if I could do one of these and got halfway through issue 40 before giving up. Cheers.
 

Dr Simon

Explorer
Thanks!
I've linked to that RPGnet thread up at the top, and I'd recommend it to anyone as a companion to this piece, also WebWarlock's blog as well is worth checking out to fill in the gaps I've left.

Fortunately I have the dogged determination of a monomaniacal dwarf, plus waited until I had a pretty hefty buffer before posting. Most of these are written apart from 91-100, and I'm working through issue 98 at the moment. It doesn't help that the magazine gets bigger as you go on, although I'm skipping most of the WH40K and WH regiments stuff.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Thanks!
I've linked to that RPGnet thread up at the top, and I'd recommend it to anyone as a companion to this piece, also WebWarlock's blog as well is worth checking out to fill in the gaps I've left.

Fortunately I have the dogged determination of a monomaniacal dwarf, plus waited until I had a pretty hefty buffer before posting. Most of these are written apart from 91-100, and I'm working through issue 98 at the moment. It doesn't help that the magazine gets bigger as you go on, although I'm skipping most of the WH40K and WH regiments stuff.

I don't play WFB, but I do play W40K. I'd be interested in knowing when GW started first started introducing the games, then of course later at some point dropped all content except for Warhammer . . .
 

Dr Simon

Explorer
I don't play WFB, but I do play W40K. I'd be interested in knowing when GW started first started introducing the games, then of course later at some point dropped all content except for Warhammer . . .

It'll come up in future posts, of course, but WH40K comes out around issue 94 or so (late '87/early'88), as does the 3rd edition of WH Fantasy Battles. Columns like Chapter Approved and Index Astartes emerge pretty quickly (they're actually quite interesting and mostly fluff, but I've tended to skim them at best), and you've got both 'Eavy Metal and Blanchitsu concerning miniatures and painting , then up until about Issue 105 the roleplaying element gradually vanishes, first all systems apart from WHFRP, then even that gives way to the wargames element.
 

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