Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Blast From The Past: White Dwarf 83 and 92

Released in the same month as White Dwarf 83.  If you're anything like me, you're thinking of Somewhere Out There and filling up/.
OK, way back at the start of the year I got five old issues of White Dwarf from my local gaming shop's second hand bin.  Three of them have already been reviewed, so let's set our flux capacitors for 1986 / 1987 and see what we've got this time round!

You know what this guy needs?  A traffic cone.

First up is White Dwarf 83.

...No, not the one from August 2015. (I really wish they hadn't reset the numbering scheme, it makes searching for these things really awkward.)

This issue is from November 1986 and is squarely in the sort of transition period between White Dwarf's RPG magazine roots and it's eventual Wargaming magazine form.  Warhammer is strongly reflected in adverts and contents, but RPG material can be found pretty liberally throughout.

Still producing some historical figures.
Here's something that will seem difficult for modern GWers to recognize but once upon a time Citadel Miniatures churned out figures which were more historical themed than skull-covered gothic-punk.  These Vikings, though provided with details for using them as Norse in Warhammer Fantasy, are clearly marked as "Vikings" and would be passable in a historical army.  It's only really in the late 90s/early 2000s that Warhammer Fantasy figures really make a clean break away from sensible - 4th Ed fantasy may have had steam tanks and warlords on dragons but it's not quite as OTT as what we had by 7th/8th Edition and definitely nothing like the current Age of Sigmar aesthetic.

Some of these historical ranges were taken from GW by Bryan Ansell when he left can still be purchased today from Wargames Foundry.  That includes these self same Viking figures
GURPS and Turtles, both when they were still underground.
This review section mentions a few things of some note.  Of particular note is GURPS, a roleplaying game we've mentioned before on this blog.  Here it is reviewed as fairly new thing and indeed a fairly new concept - a roleplaying game designed specifically to be flavourless and adaptable to many different genres rather than one built specifically to mimic fantasy, sci-fi, super-heroes etc.

The review is a little underwhelmed, finding the finished product a bit dry and useless without any supplementary material for backgrounds which at that time did not exist.  Read any eighties RPG and you can all but guarantee a default world or at least a style of milieu: that's totally absent here.  Certainly GURPS retains a reputation for being "dry" into the modern day though it's supplement range would become well regarded.

Oh, and there's a review of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG.  Yes, this was a thing, and was out when the comic was all that existed and aimed at a slightly different market than the later cartoons and movies..  I picked this book up a couple of years ago on eBay, the only RPG product by Palladium I own - the company and rules have, um, reputation issues and RPG forums are littered with people who enjoyed their products as a teenager but can't stand the company now.
Movie reviews!  And quite a few memorable ones there as well.
The novel review section of White Dwarf was a monthly fixture for a very long time.  By contrast, the movie review section seems much more occasional and at times questioned by the fanbase who somehow felt it wasn't much cop - I imagine because major cinema releases got loads of mainstream coverage anyway, while in the pre-internet era it would be a lot harder to find out about Jack Vance or Issac Assimov books.

Still, I find this very interesting to read, mainly for the thoughts they have on films which are still remembered today.  The eighties is something of a golden age of nerdy movies so we're talking some fairly big thing like Aliens.  I realised that you might argue I would speak highly of the eighties, being a child of that era when others of you may have fonder memories of the 70s or 90s - though as a rule, picking the nineties as the best example of ANYTHING is usually a warning sign.

I wonder if the problem with the review sections is that they are just nerdy culture but have no gaming potential.  Dragon Magazine in the 2000s had a more practical series of articles in which they presented how to use things from fantasy fiction in your roleplaying game - Dune-style Sandworms as a monster statblock, God Of War-style supernatural powers as feats or what have you.   People might have been more interested in hints on roleplaying US Colonial Marines than on just being told "Aliens is a good movie."
Not pictures - the tokens and map that let you play this with just White Dwarf and some scissors.
Ah, when the world was young and GW gave away games!  Things like this still happened in my day, like the Horus Heresy themed Warmaster in White Dwarf 161 and the highly enjoyable Orc tavern brawl game Brewhouse Bash in White Dwarf 223.  Some of these were enormous fun and definitely helped fill the gaps in your play time that weren't enough for a full game of Warhammer.

This one straddles the line between being a Warhammer scenario and a stand alone game.  Yes, you need the Warhammer rules to play.... but full stat blocks, appropraite tokens and a battle map are provided so you can get going with nothing more than your copy of Warhammer and this pull-out.  They did sell figures to tie in, of course - and Orlygg over at Realm of Chaos recently got those figures and assembled a "proper" version of the battlemat which looked gorgeous.

While GW might still give you scenarios or special rules in White Dwarf from time to time, the age of "cut out these tokens for a quick play" are long gone.

The more things change...
Some articles in White Dwarf are quite Evergreen and you can easilly imagine them in issues 43, 83, 123, 163 or 243.  There are always newcomers to the hobby and they always have questions which are passe to old timers but which need answered for the latest influx of teenagers.  A classic example is the basics of painting article which talks about undercoating, base coating, drybrushing and shading - perhaps with some mixing guides to the then current paint range thrown in.

Above is another of those recurring articles - the "how we make miniatures" one which explains the method of sculpting a 28mm scale figure from "green stuff".  Of particular note is the listing of GW sculptors of the era which is pretty much a Who's Who of 80s sculpting awesomeness.  It is rather odd to see no  less than three Scottish representatives on that list - I know why so much of the hobby was centered on London and Nottingham but why is Scotland producing all these miniature sculptors?  Was something happening at the Glasgow School of Art I don't know about?

(Aside - the awesome alternate history blog Winter of '79 put me onto the fact that the Glasgow School of Art website sells model Glasgow tenaments which would do well for 15mm gaming.  I wonder if I should consider a 28mm equivalent to go with my Wellington statue?)

...the more they stay the same.
I may not have mentioned before, but Ghostbusters is possibly my favourite RPG...


Oh, wait, I have mentioned.  Never mind then!
We can't see the front, so we don't know if the armour includes a boob window or not.
We've advanced the count slightly now and we're into 1987.  At this point Warhammer 40,000 is bearing down on us like a thing bearing down on us REALLY HARD.  The magazine format has changed, going from fold-and-stapled to perfect bound with a visible spine.

Enter... stranger...
Warhammer 40,000 merits a mighty 40 words informing us that it is coming soon.  It's quite amusing to think that readers at the time may not have realised how much GW was about to be turned upside-down and transform into The Warhammer 40,000 Company.

There's more space on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the continuing process of writing it's "The Enemy Within" campaign which would take years to see release; and on the upcoming Star Wars RPG, back when Star Wars was still exciting and un-prequel-ified.

A surprising amount of space is given to Knightmare - next to an unrelated but amusingly appropraite photo of a man in a large, horned helmet!   If you are of the same age-group as me then it's highly likely Knightmare was a TV show that was important to you - it was one of the few childrens programs I really got into, including proper hiding-behind-the-cushion scared at points.  Designed very much to tape the 80s D&D/Fighting Fantasy fad, it ran for eight seasons.  The comment about the notoriously litigious TSR suing over the use of the phrase Dungeon Master is, to the best of my knowledge, a fear which never game to pass.

Vanished off the face of the earth
This advert pops up in a few old issues of White Dwarf - usually full colour, metal-album-riffic adverts in a period where black and white ones weren't that uncommon.  A game I hadn't heard of, I went straight on the internet to research this...

...and discovered that Anywhen was vapourware, much advertised in the press of the time but then nothing appears to have ever been released.  It's only legacy is a bunch of adverts that appeared in White Dwarf and Dragon.  Some of those adverts threw in little hints as to the game world and we can infer from these that Imperial Space would have had some Dune-esque aspects like a more medieval religious model, including fleets serving the Space Popes.

If it had come out when promised it would have been out around the same time as Warhammer 40,000 and might have made a fairly big impact since it appears they both tap some of the same motifs.  I suspect mechanically we could have expected a very Palladium esque D&D-but-20%-Cooler style of game which would probably have dated horrible.

My first mention of the Runequest obsession.
I haven't much spoken about Runequest up until this point, mainly because it's a game I know very little about.  It's had a few different publishers and a few different editions, including being renamed a couple of times; it's established world is called Glorantha; it's unique species includes the humanoid duck race that is often very controversial, even among supposed Runequest fans.  Otherwise... kinda a notable gap in my otherwise quite broad RPG knowledge.

It pops up a fair bit in old White Dwarfs and I get the impression it was the "other" fantasy game of the time after D&D, having about as much coverage as Traveller.  More than one adventure or monster has been double-statted for D&D and Runequest, certainly!

This article covers demonology and does so in a fairly straight away, albeit with a bit of concern for the Satanic Panaic and Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons forcing a disclaimer at the start.  That sort of panic didn't amount to as much tension in the UK as in the US but there was clearly an urge here to tread very carefully.  Even today books which hit on more difficult topics feel compelled to promise that no, they aren't actually professing you should drink the blood of a flayed lamb to Loivatar's honour...

This article is actually fairly long and some of the content feels squarely teenage-aimed, a bit too risque for the more family friendly White Dwarf which would emerge later on.  I am reminded  abit of the computer game review magazines I read whose demographic went through similar leaps.  As an eight year old child, they seemed to be aimed at late-teenagers; by the time I was a late-teenagers, they were squarely aimed at eight year olds.

You may remember I squeed over these before.
Skarloc's Wood Elf Archers.  I've talked about them before - link in picture - so I won't go too fanboy again.  I'll just say that artwork clearly intended to be this unit was in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles 4th edition rulebook (under Skirmishers rules, IIRC) and made a big impression on me, painting the Wood Elf Wardancers as total badasses.

One thing to note here is that we're squarely in the era of naming individual models, if not entire units, so it's not "Wood Elf Archers" but Skarloc's Wood Elf Archers; not a generic character model but Kaia Stormwitch.  The adverts and packets usually emphasise these characters as being people with histories, something which will soon be reserved for the "special characters" that will so define 90s Warhammer.  Naming individiual models will fizzle out around about my entry into the hobby and most catalogue names will just be Black Orc With Greataxe 2, Hobgoblin Musician With Drum, Veteran Space Marine Captain, etc.

When supplements meant cardboard terrain and scenarios, not new unit types

Yet again, note that this era's Warhammer supplements are mostly focused on scenario books than on whole new army lists.  Both 1st, 2nd and 3rd edition Warhammer will release a single master army list product, with new models generally having rules on the box or in White Dwarf.  The slew of army book/codex updates and the irregular publishing thereof is a squarely 90s idea, one pioneered for GW by Warhammer Fantasy Battles 4th Ed.

What's extra interesting to me is how these campaign packs form the real hub around which Warhammer's campaign world was created.  The early rulebooks have very bare bones background compared to what will exist in the 4th Edition; it's these scenario books that give Warhammer it's first real characters, locations and plots.

Delightfully bonkers art
Our last piece to cover in this issue is a two page Illuminations spread - something I often bring up because the look of Games Workshop products is such a major part of their appeal.  (Far more so than the mechanics - how many people do you know who think GW games have sucked for ages but still think Space Marines are awesome?)

This one is focused on Dave Carson, an artist I did not know  by name but whose work immediately grabbed me when I saw it.  The article explains he was more specifically a horror artists and name checks Call of Cthulhu related stuff - it's easy to see why, as Mr Carson's drawings are very creepy.  Crucially they manage to get that magic "things not meant to exist" look going quite well, something which is easy to get wrong if you just think that throwing a few tentacles on something and having it pour out maggots makes it intrinsically scary.

And with that, we're finally clear!  All five issues of my new year haul are covered.  With that, Blast From The Past reaches a conclusion and you can expect it to go quiet for a bit.

As long as I don't do anything daft, like buy another ten issues of White Dwarf.  Oh, or buy five issues of another gaming magazine, this one Traveller specific.  I mean, if I did that, I'd have to write loads more of these things.

...here we go again!

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see a WD from the golden era. Looking through those Vikings makes me realise that I actually have most of the range.