Wednesday, January 4, 2012

White Dwarf Wednesday Issue 1

Welcome to my first White Dwarf Wednesday!
Today we are going to look into Issue 1 published in June of 1977.
But first lets talk about what White Dwarf meant to me and why it later captured my attention in the OSR days.

Back in the early days of my gaming I was well aware of Dragon Magazine.  My first issue was Dragon #80 and it was awesome to see that this new game I enjoyed so much was enjoyed by others.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that there was not just one, but TWO magazines dedicated to this hobby.
Back in the 80s I was in love with all thing British.  My favorite shows were "Doctor Who", "Monty Python" and "Benny Hill". My favorite bands were "The Who", "Led Zeppelin" and "The Police".   To my teenaged mind there was nothing better than something from the UK.  White Dwarf did not prove that wrong to me.
The writing style was different than what I saw in Dragon.  It was grittier, it was more dangerous.  I reminded me a lot of Heavy Metal magazine to be honest.  Plus the ads in White Dwarf were not "edited" or dare I say, "censored" as they were in Dragon. And really who could forget those early Gamma World ads?
My first issue of White Dwarf was issue 44.  I picked up some here and there over the years, and about 4-5 years ago I was able to buy issues 1 through 89.  I worked on getting all the way 100, but only have a few between 89 and 96.

I used White Dwarf in the Great D&D Article Purge on Wikipedia a few years back.  Since WD was a 3rd party publication it could support many of the D&D articles that needed extra references.  In the process I got to read through all of them many times over and it was a great blast from the past.  I am now in my 3rd wave of White Dwarf affection thanks to the OSR.  You can't get much more Old School than this.

So without further ado, lets jump right on in.

White Dwarf #1
June/July 1977

The magazine contains the sub-title of "The Science Fiction and Fantasy Games Magazine", certainly that was true enough.  Counting covers we have a mere 24 pages worth of content.
The editorial from Ian Livingstone discussed the emergence of just 2 short years of a new kind of wargaming brought over by two Americans, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.   He mentions how there are now over 50 games in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre and over 10 companies providing these games and how White Dwarf hopes to cater to them.
We have a two and a half page review/pre-view of the newest Sci-Fi game, Metamorphisis Alpha.
We are treated to a few ads about a local game store and the British Fantasy Society.
Next up is something very unique and very interesting for a number of reasons.  It is Don Turnbull's Monstermark System.  The Monstermark system was used by White Dwarf to assign a "level of malignity" to every monster.  An early attempt at what would be the Challenge Rating.  The Monstermark is based on the number of rounds it would take to defeat a monster and the aggressiveness of a monster.
The explanation is full of wonderful equations; enough to make your high school math teacher happy and there are tables with examples.  What else could be more old school really?  I am bit suprised no one has tried to revive this and republish it for the OSR (or something like it).  What struck me as interesting too was that this was based on something the author had published previously in Owl & Weasel. How often did you see something like that?  The Monstermark system would be used in White Dwarf for many issues to rate the various monsters they created including some of the future Fiend Folio ones.
The Open Box feature column reviewed games.  Games were ranked 1-10 on Complexity, Skill, Atmosphere, Originality, Presentation and an Overall score. This issue SPI's Sorcerer (overall score 7) and Avaon Hill's Starship Troopers (Overall, 9).
A piece on competitive D&D. Part 1 of Lewis Pulsipher's D&D Campaign breakdown. IS D&D a war game or something else? An article on the wargame "The Warlord" by Steve Jackson (the English one)
Near the end we are introduced to a section called "Treasure Chest", which is basically a way for readers to send their contributions to the D&D rules.  We have a magic item, the Helm of Vision, and a bit talking about how D&D combat and magic is all wrong and a proposed fix (and it's only Issue #1!).  We have a new class (The Pervert) and some information about Poison.
We end up with some classified ads, and a "caption this" style cartoon.

All in a good start. It does not compete with Dragon from the same time yet, but it will get there soon.


T.D. McFrost said...

This is sooooo freakin' AWESOME!

You're so versed in all things supernatural or freaky, dude! You should publish a book about these things,'casue good lord, man, you've got mad skillz!

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I did. ;) A couple of times.

Woodclaw said...

This is fantastic, I never had the chance to see much of old WD, especially not from before becoming the GW flagship magazine.

scottsz said...

Great review! I also preferred WD to Dragon (and for the same reasons!)

Tim Knight said...

I believe the Monstermark system lives on in OSR fanzine Oubliette (can be found in print/download on Lulu).

One of my few lasting, gaming regrets was dumping all my old issues of White Dwarf sometime in the 90s. I grew up reading these - because they were obviously easier to obtain over here than Dragon - and they really helped shape my perception of roleplaying.

The early issues in particular had some wonderful "alternate" character classes, treasures and tables just slotted in half or quarter pages without screeds of explanation. And they're the things that stick with you... like the random tables of useless items and the 'Scientist' character class.

Peter Regan said...

My take on the Monstermark can be found in Oubliette Issue 5. I based it on the revised version of the system that appeared in Imagine Magazine Issue 25 (1985). The maths and general idea is roughly the same in all of them though.

This is a great idea for a series of blog posts and I'm looking forward to them.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Moral of the story: I should read more Oubliette.

Roger G-S said...

If I'm guessing correctly, that Gamma World ad, like so many of the other TSR promo material, featured Gary Gygax's daughter as the "booth babe."

Pervert character class indeed!

Max said...

Hi I am selling some magazines for a friend. He has some White Dwarf magazines issues 1-5. Where is the best place to sell them. Thanks

Max said...

Hi i am trying to sell some magazines for a friend. He has White Dwarf issues 1-5. Where is the best place to sell and how much are they worth. Thanks

Timothy S. Brannan said...


try Noble Knight Games.