Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Blast From The Past: White Dwarf 97

I was hugely fond of this film as a child, and it came out in the year we are talking about today.

From the depths of eBay I got my hands on White Dwarf 97 – the issue before the last issue to feature on my Blast From The Past section.  The issue date is January 1988 and as such we are once again looking back to the cusp of a big change in the company.  Here we see the arrival of wargaming and in particular 40K articles taking up sizeable real estate and threatening the RPG side of the magazine for limelight.

One gets the feeling from these issues that the then recent Warhammer 40,000 release has been a much bigger deal than expected – original Warhammer author Rick Priestly has explained in interviews that there was a lot of skepticism that the game would do any business, which from the vantage point of 2015 seems particularly surreal.  Warhammer 40,000 is regularly considered to be the main game of modern Games Workshop with Fantasy trailing behind – but back in the mid-80s, science fiction wargaming was considered a niche affair.  Even now, the same opinion marks roleplaying games – D&D and related fantasy games remain the RPG baseline.

Anyway, enough rambling!  Here comes some pictures of the pages that most grabbed my attention in this issue of White Dwarf and my comments thereof.   Those who wish to know should read on. Others may wish to skip on to the last picture which is a good bit and has Discworld in it.

Could easily be a cover to Dragon, Dungeon, Imagine or even Heavy Metal.
 Here’s the cover of issue 97.  The cover is a fairly generic fantasy  piece that wouldn’t look out of place on any gaming magazine but note that Warhammer in both Fantasy Battle and 40K flavours gets a logo and a fair bit of real estate on the cover.

Also note the first appearance of the now omni present Ultramarines, albeit with a rogue hyphen they’d ditch by late first edition!  We'll get to them later

Gotta love Bryan Ansell making another awesome photograph appearance, as well as the guy who looks like my Dad did in the 80s.  IN fact, I'm pretty sure he owned that jumper...

The big news in this issue is the arrival of the Warhammer Fantasy Regiments boxed set, one of the first real pushes into plastics.  Holdovers models from that set would pop up later in the Advanced Heroquest Paint Set, which was my first introduction to miniatures painting.  The article mentions several previous attempts, including the famous RTB01 "Beakie" Marines, but from here on out it's gonna be a thing.

Over the next few years monopose plastics will appear in several big box games like Blood Bowl 2nd Edition, Space Hulk, Advanced Heroquest, Warhammer Fantasy Battles 4th Edition and Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition; more and more metal figures will be released with separate plastic arms and weapons, something which was almost omnipresent in the Space Marine product line by the time I got into the hobby; and the plastics will extend into vehicles, something the 1st Ed 40K rulebook specifically mentions as being impossible for GW to ever achieve affordably.

The article suggests that earlier attempts to design good-looking plastics had been spotty – there seems to be an acceptance that the Fighting Fantasy plastics weren’t popular, and that sort of open admission of defeat is something it’s hard to imagine Games Workshop doing these days.  (I suspect their press men would be more likely to tell us that the plastic ration has been increased.)

Of particular interest is a statement that metal figures are unlikely to go away – they did stay in pretty steady production for about another 20 years until the final move to resin, a move motivated by cost and technology changes hard to fathom in 1988.  Even then, there’s still some metal lurking in Games Workshop’s repertoire as anyone who tries to order Sisters of Battle will tell you.

How times change for the Smurfs...
The Index Astartes article series makes its first appearance in this issue – this and Chapter Approved will run for a while only to vanish and reappear in 3rd Ed to serve a very similar purpose.  I should write about that era some time - I have a lot of love for those late 90s articles.

Here, the first chapter to get this sort of full background breakdown are the “Ultra-Marines” – who, rather than being a First Founding legion and rulers of a small galactic fiefdom for over ten millennia, are a Third Founding chapter who only acquired a permanent homeworld in the last few hundred years.  This is the first time a Space Marine chapter's organisation is broken down and you can clearly see the connection to the modern version, such as the ten companies per chapter/ten squads per company arrangement and the first company as a veteran organisation.
Yes, you read that right.

Various elements of older Warhammer’s very different tone bleed through this section – a half-Eldar psyker as a member of a chapter would be laughable by 2nd Edition, but here that sort of RPG crossbreed logic is implemented with minimal justification.  Marneus Calgar might be a chapter master but he's also heavilly injured and the suggestion is he doesn't lead from the front - a long way from the "HeroHammer" of 2nd Edition and the chapter masters who are the crème de la crème of fighting men.

One interesting thing mentioned in this article is that the entire fifth company of the Chapter has been stripped of its honour name and badge after disgracing itself in battle - it's hard to imagine the perfect, post-Matt Ward dream that are the modern Ultramarines ever having that sort of stain on their character.

The 14 year old boy in me would love to go to work in that helmet and try to act like nothing odd was happening.

This is still a magazine with some RPG material and so you can expect to see some Cthulhu, Runequest and Stormbringer within.  They also come in the letters page and clearly it's a thing that matters.  It's definitely a diminishing section of the magazine, though, compared to just back in issues 78 or 84.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay gets three magic item write-ups, which as well as having legends players would know about them vs their actual rules also has gorgeous pictures of props made to represent those items.  The Great Horned Helm is an interesting item in it's own right, but it gets a lot cooler when you see a copy of said helmet that some nerd has slaved over!

The decrease of RPGs and absence of D&D can be explained by the very notorious Editorial in this issue...
How to start a fight on an Oldhammer forum: say this editorial has the right idea.
The language here tends to wind people up as it can be interpreted as the hard and fast point White Dwarf's team changed from producing a general hobby magazine that mentioned their products to producing an in-house advertisement.   The specific turn of phrase suggests a certain level of unhappiness at the previous 96 issues and their use of D&D, Traveller etc material to support themselves - now we're doing real art, darlings!

That said, there's still a level of self-awareness in the magazine - the letters page mentions in a couple of cases a concern that handling certain issues wrong will see the magazine accused of bias, suggesting a genuine concern that the magazine should have standards.  None the less, as Warhammer becomes a money spinner, there's a clear decision that Games Workshop is going to change and the golden age the Oldhammer crowd pine for is about to evaporate.

One of my favourite nerdy artists of the era

But its not all doom and gloom!  This issue features a few pages showcasing the art of Ian Miller.  I love this guys art and could spot it a mile away when it turned up in some of the cards for Everway.  I find his scratchy art oddly atmospheric.

I mean, take this full-page piece, the last of his four pages of awesomeness in this issue:


I hadn't seen it before but now I have I'd have to say it embodies the spirit of ideal Warhammer art to me - in that it could just as easily be a metal album cover.  The Orks or mutants are marching into war with a very World War 2 motif, and their monstrous robot is more monstrous than robotic.  It's in some ways quite rough and stylised rather than super-realistic, but it feels very 2000AD and raw to me.

Priestly Paul has one of each of these, I think, after trawling eBay for them.
In the intervie with Mr Priestly I mentioned at the top of the page, he advises the sample creatures provided in Warhammer 40,000s first army book were specifically chosen so as to maximize how many existing Citadel Miniatures could be repurposed for the new science fiction game.  Because no-one thought the game would be a big success, there was no confidence that they could release a full line of science fiction figures – therefore the many races and creatures in the Rogue Trader Bestiary were chosen to have an easy proxy from extant figures.

This is part of why Orks, Squats, Ogryns and Eldar exist at all – so that Orcs, Dwarves, Ogres and Elves could have guns attached and turned into 40K figures.  Similarly, the existence of Judge Dredd miniatures line at Citadel in the time was why we got stats for the Judge-a-like Adeptus Arbites.  Above you'll see another such emigree: Zoats, an obscure Warhammer Fantasy race, getting repurposed as members of the early Tyranid army. 

Zoats were one of the attempts to add a new, unique race to Warhammer that wasn't just a straight classic fantasy pastiche - like most of these attempts they never really stuck and by the time I had come along they were on the way out.  (The original Tyranid 1st ed army list in White Dwarf 145 still mentions them, but the 2nd Edition "black codex" has expunged them.  Even the Squats made it to the Black Codex!)

If you're interested in Zoats, issue 29 of Warpstone (an independent Warhammer RPG magazine) has a rather good article on them which updates them to the 2nd Ed RPG rules and world, including the capacity for using them to facilitate a 40K/Fantasy crossover should you wish.  I would highly recommend the magazine in general, actually, if you can find back issues anywhere.

I will paint these guys one day, honest

Yeah, I've promised you guys a Squat army for an age but never done a damn thing about it.  I have so many figures piled up in the to-do list, too!  Anywhere, here's some pictures of Squat models.  I really should write about the 3rd Ed WFB scenario in this issue.... but I really do like Squats, and this page made me happy.

I super mega absolutely promise I'll paint up Squats some day, honest!
Once upon a time, Mr Pratchett was a newish author
Finally, as has now become oddly traditional, there's the Leisure Games advert!  But below it is another, much more interesting advert.  (Especially if you're Sister Superior and the Discworld is your first big nerdy love.)  Here we have an advert for Mort, the fourth Discworld novel and arguably the one in which the books stop looking like a straight fantasy fiction parody and acquire their own distinct voice.

Discworld seems to pop up in a few previous White Dwarfs suggesting that even the first few books were a big deal amongst nerds.  This advert, when no other individual book has such an advert in my old White Dwarfs, may back up that analysis!

The blog Realms of Chaos, a few years ago, posted an article which included the claim that Terry Pratchett was at one point asked to help write the first Warhammer novels ever.  Apparently several quasi-established writers were asked, though in the end Terry was one of many who didn't bite.  I find myself fascinated by the thought of what his efforts would have looked like, especially in an era where Warhammer did have a stronger "dark humour" streak.

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