Today's post heralds the start of a new semi-regular feature (I hope). As I have mentioned a few times before, my Chaos Warband building has had me looking back over old White Dwarfs looking for images and inspiration. The amount that the magazine has changed over the time is striking, but what surprised me is how much I had forgotten about how it used to be when I first started collecting. With that in mind, I am going to take a close look at one issue a year until I reach the end of my collection and see if I can chart the changes as they emerge.
For my first issue I will be looking at the very first issue of White Dwarf I ever bought, issue 121 dated January 1990. This makes the magazine a little over 21 and old enough to drink in America, making me feel extremely old. Back in 1990 it cost the princely sum of £1.50. The cover image, by David Gallagher, reflects one of the main features, a preview of new Warhammer 40,000 Ork models and rules, and depicts two Ork warbands meeting accidentally and violently. It became a very well used image, appearing on the front cover of the plastic Space Orks boxed set, the Epic Ork Invasion set and the cover of the Ork rule book 'Ere We Go.
Starting at the beginning of the magazine, one of the most striking things is the absence of a list of new miniatures and prices. Instead, almost at the start of the magazine, is a listing of Games Workshop stores (a very short list) and after a few pages of adverts we reach the preview page = Culture shock. This very wordy column offers information about expansions for Space Hulk, Epic and Bloodbowl as well as Games Workshops slightly bizarre foray into Heavy Metal music production with a news item about the band Bolt Thrower. The feel is very haphazard, with Games Workshop willing to talk about products still some time from release, in contrast to their modern emphasis on controlled news access.
The major news preview comes later in the magazine however with an 8 page preview of new Ork models and the 'Waagh the Orks' background book for Warhammer 40,000. By modern standards, its quite an odd preview. There are no detailed design notes, information about rules or anything approaching a release schedule. It doesn't even focus solely on one game, with material about Epic mixed in with Warhammer 40,000. Games Workshop appear to be previewing a change of aesthetic to their orks more than anything else.
There is a lot of new rules material in this issue, much of which is White Dwarf specific, not a preview for a new game or supplement. The major preview material is 'the Gifts and Magic of Nurgle' article which would be reproduced exactly in the Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned book, but it would be usable to any player with a copy of Slaves to Darkness and keen to start a Nurgle warband. In addition to this we have a quest for Advanced HeroQuest, the more 'advanced' dungeon-crawl spin-off to HeroQuest which I have written about before, rules for Chaos Terminators in Space Hulk (the first of a two part article) and one part of an ongoing series for Warhammer fantasy Roleplay. The last details part of the city of Marienburg and was intended to be collected into a supplement, but was ultimately never completed (the Marienburg supplement released years later by HogsHead publishing contained different material). This was not uncommon for Games Workshop at the time who would often release material in White Dwarf before collecting it together, sometimes they didn't get round to releasing the full collection.
The 'Eavy Metal pages, a show case for painted models, seems quite chaotically assembled, with pictures of whatever the studio painters have been working on regardless of any consistent theme. There are a few images of soon to be released miniatures, but these are almost thrown away, mixed in as they are with conversions and already available models A particular highlight is a page of heavily converted Titans by John Blanche. Also of interest is the two pages of dense text given over to explaining how the miniatures were painted and converted. Even if it mostly just describes the colours used, it is still welcome and helps to elevate the pages above simple eye candy. The 2D counterpart to 'Eavy Metal is Illuminations, a 4 page article given over to showing off the art work of Kev Walker which, perhaps surprisingly, is entirely black and white.
The Lack of colour throughout is quite jarring. Most of the magazine, and all of rules material is in black and white, including half the Ork preview. Colour is reserved for where it is most necessary, Eavy Metal and, no not Illuminations, but adverts. It seems very odd to see non-Games Workshop adverts in White Dwarf, even if they are decidedly unusual - a play by mail roleplaying for example. This issue also features two large double-page ads for Talisman and Bloodbowl. These are actually useful introductions to the games and available materials, but were sadly not used again in the magazine.
This is unfortunate as there is very little for new players. At time I was enamoured by the Ork preview and spent ages pouring over rules and tables in Realms of Chaos without having a clue what they were for. It was a good thing for Games Workshop that I had this mind-set, because there is nothing to ease in the new players or introduce the games. This would not be so bad these days, when Games Workshop stores are fully geared up to introduce new players to the hobby, but back in the early 1990s Games Workshop stores were slightly baffling and intimidating places for new players.
So in summary, the issue contains lots of useful rules content for several different games so there was probably something of interest to most players. On the other hand, diversity of games material means that you would have to be pretty committed to Games Workshops full range of products to get use out of all of it. Also, as valuable as the content is to an experienced player, it is actively confusing to a new one. While it may have been my introduction to Games Workshop hobby, it was a somewhat confusing one to say the least.