Saturday, January 30, 2010

White Dwarf - the Old School journal

I'm currently reading Bob Fischer's rather wonderful memo of the UK telefantasy convention scene, Wiffle-Lever to Full! and having got to the chapter on Discworld and Terry Pratchett fandom, am amused to note the author's bemused/cynical observation of the large crossover between Discworld fans, leather coats and Iron Maiden tee shirts. After admitting that he's not averse to Maiden himself ("the 80's stuff at least. Well, the first two albums really") Fischer skips over to reminesce over his own 80's teenage years of playing Dungeons and Dragons (at an age approximate to mine, and similar years too) and listening to said band. It intrigues me, because if you replace the Pratchett angle with 'low fantasy' and a sort of post-Python mocking college humour, exchange Maiden for any number of NWOBHM/Post-prog music and swap the leather coat for... whatever horrid equivalent couture existed back in 1984, then you'd have some key ingredients to what form my impression of the UK RPG scene.

Certainly pre-1988 White Dwarf seems to fit this bill, staffed as it was by bearded ex-university types, contributed to by... maybe more university types and appealing to the same as well as a horde of younger, spottier types such as myself. I've long held the belief that there's a specific boundary of fantasy literature in the Atlantic, and compared to the loftier 'original' from Wisconsin, the D&D played by British adherents seems altogether more earthy, grubby and less serious. That's a sweeping generalisation, but I believe the mindset's there, and indeed continues in the more recent, longer-lived incarnation of White Dwarf today, as Game Workshop's Catalogue That You Have To Buy (tm).

I've read mocking, condescening appraisals of old WD on the Net, but I love my old issues and will probably never part with them (sorry dear!) For one thing they're in a terrible state and only the most desperate collector would want them, having been pored over countless times for new tidbits from other gaming systems (as WD covered back in the day - Runequest, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu were popular ones) to cannibalise and insert into my D&D games. While the US gaming title Dragon was more product faithful and was certainly worthy in its own right, White Dwarf seemed bigger on the inside, and had a defiant streak of wit in its pages, with a must-read Critical Mass fiction review column by Dave Langford, and Thrud the Barbarian and Travellers, satirical strips by future 2000AD artists Carl Critchlow and Mark Harrison. In fact, so attached to my issues was I that I'd forgotten just how few I really had, having to buy them for the most part during trips down to Dunedin while visiting my brother at Uni. Between freinds and I the numbers swelled to possibly early into the double digits, but again, the great Puritan Burning of Roleplaying Game Stuff in 1987 saw to that, and by then my gaming and White Dwarf reading was itself on the wane. Within months in its parent country the magazine radically reinvented itself and evolved into the survivor it is today. But for posterity, and excluding a few Best Ofs and downloaded copies, here are the issues I have.

Oh, almost forgot the Chris Achilleos covers - how cool were they!


  1. Bragging rights to anyone who can succesfully identify the Achilleos covers from the above selection. Dave? Any of the Pauls?

  2. Check for backwards hands....
    David R

  3. Really? A bit tricky at that resoluton, but which one are you thinking of?

  4. Chris Achilleos likes stripes, and helmets with pointy bits. I'd say the one with the zebra, no.57, and the blue one beneath, no 51, looks like his work as well.

  5. I dunno which his the CA piece, but I have envy of your WD collection. Mine is tinier still. Oh, WD, what a great magazine you were - like the internet, but slower!

  6. I should put everyone out of their misery, shouldn't I?

    Achilleos' ones are both the covers featuring riders on horseback (or zebraback - apparently they're not built for riding in real life), the Wild Hunt cover (which is probably my favourite along with the Uruk Hai one), and the rather generic Horned guy in a Dungeon, which Citadel used in advertising their new plastics range - and based a figure on the main character if I recall. Other covers may have been by Peter Jones - the witchie one was anyway.

    Not pictured: My Best Ofs - one articles (barbarian on front) and one Scenarios, featuring what looks like a Balrog as painted by Russ Nicholson - of whom another post will be written!

    Nicely played, guys!