Guest Writer: Jonathan J. Reinhart
A long time ago on an island across the pond a group of tabletop gamers decided to publish a magazine about the burgeoning hobby they love. These gamers knew they wanted to publish articles diving into the many aspects of their hobby. But, what should they name their magazine? There is much power in a name as any reader of science fiction and fantasy will tell you. It is of great import to wisely choose the best name. After much discussion these gamers realized only one name would do and that it must be White Dwarf.
My start with miniatures war gaming began with White Dwarf. A friend at school mentioned something called Warhammer. It was the early days of widely available public Internet. I used that resource to discover and source a place to buy a magazine named White Dwarf. White Dwarf served as my guide into the realm of Warhammer and miniature war gaming in general. Each month I’d track down the new issue to devour over and over again.
In traveling back in time to issue 8 from August/September 1978, I’m taken to a time before my birth when Games Workshop would publish things that would never appear in any modern White Dwarf. The very first ad in the magazine is for Phoenix Model Developments who are selling minis of naked women. The female sculpts engage in acts ranging from terrorizing captives, playing musical instruments & dancing, to engaging in hand-to-hand combat while their naked bodies brazenly stare the reader in the face. There’s no way this would make it past the censors these days.
Readers are best able to get a feel for the entire issue not by looking at the table of contents or by skimming through the 28 pages of content. As counter intuitive as it may seem, the best way to determine the atmosphere in which early White Dwarfs operate is to look at the Games Workshop ad-filling page 27. The ad hopes the reader will visit the new location of Games Workshop at a venue that is, in current day, a yoga studio. The vast majority of products mentioned in the ad focus on Dungeons & Dragons, other role playing games—RPGs, and to a much lesser extent other science-fiction and historical war games. It is no surprise that this ad serves as the perfect metaphor for both Games Workshop’s earliest days along with those similarly early days of White Dwarf.
Throughout this issue readers will find article after article sharing monsters for D&D, artifacts for D&D, dungeons that readers can use in their D&D games, and even a D&D themed comic. One thing struck me as particularly odd. Out of the 28 pages in the issue there are 11 pages devoted to advertising. That creeps rather close to 50% of the entire publication. It is impossible to publish a magazine without financial support. Often that takes the place of subscribers and advertisers. The reason this caught my attention is twofold. The frequency is such that a vast majority of the ads are bundled together. It allows the reader to easily focus on the content without getting caught up in the ads. Should the reader notice the advertising they become stuck in the advertorial quagmire.
The publication is a black and white magazine with minimal artwork. The cover features a beautiful illustration, more on that later, while the insides tend to be nothing better than unspectacular hand drawn imagery. It simply doesn’t stand the test of time. With a magazine of apparent low budget being published by a business whose primary aim is to sell Dungeons & Dragons, why does it need so many advertisements to support the expense of publication? It is a question I’d sorely love answered. Sadly it may never receive suitable justification.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the issue contains information of interest to early role players. There’s simply nothing that causes it to stand apart from any other newsletter that a bunch of RPGers at the time could print themselves using a mimeograph. The quality of the writing is standard. The imagery and artwork is standard. Nothing screams “LOOK HOW AMAZING AND USEFUL AND INTERESTING I AM SO PLEASE BUY ME BUY ME BUY ME!” To put is succinctly it doesn’t stand out.
Having said this, I really ought to take a step back and bring things full circle to where we begin with this issue of White Dwarf. Yes, we need to return to the cover. The cover is actually quite terrible. Poorly designed. Bad color choice. Text is hard to read at best. It is really quite a mess. Putting all of that aside we can focus on what the cover does well, which is featuring a captivating piece of art. A wizard donned in red unleashes some sort of magical lightning storm while a half-naked fat Slann-like magic user creates a whirlwind to incapacitate their foes. The enemy desperately tries to stay on their feet. Alas it is for naught. One by one, they become upended by the gale force winds. There is such a great feel of motion, of action, and of story in this one piece.
Who are the wizards? Why are they in combat? Who are their enemies? What is the half-naked magic user sitting on? Is it a throne? The cover art poses these and many other questions to the reader while enticing them to dive into the issue in hope of having those questions answered. It is a clever ploy. There’s another reason why the cover strikes a chord with me. I referred to the half-naked magic user as Slann-like. Any Warhammer Fantasy Battles gamer will recognize the Slann as a species from the Lizardmen army. They serve as a semi-religious caste of magic users who rule over the Lizardmen on behalf of the Old Ones, god-like beings that created the Warhammer world and many of the races inhabiting it. I don’t know if the cover intentionally features a magic user that has many traits similar to Slann. If so, then it is certainly a neat Easter egg for any reader who dives down the Hobbit hole into this historic avenue of tabletop gaming.