Tuesday, 12 January 2010

White Dwarf 1

It's late May 1977. Somewhere in Wordsley, Stourbridge, England the future tyrant of Coop Towers is celebrating his third birthday and two days later, in San Francisco, George Lucas is about to walk past Mann's Chinese Theater fully expecting to see nobody queuing to see the film that has nearly put him into an early grave. Two days after that, the Pistols will celebrate the Golden Jubilee year by releasing God Save The Queen to a full on moral panic.

In the gaming world, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone run a small business from an address in London importing and distributing US hobby games. Originally they were selling hand-crafted boards for traditional games (converted from reject chopping boards acquired cheap on Camden Market) but a letter from a Mr. Ernest Gary Gygax of Wisconsin, USA offering them a review copy of his new game "Dungeons and Dragons" for their 'zine "Owl and Weasel" (it's title celebrating the necessary skill-set of gaming - wisdom and cunning) has sent their business off in another direction which is handy as their woodworker is not impressed with any of this modern rubbish and has left. It does leave them with the slightly odd and ill-fitting name "Games Workshop" though, originally picked to create a image of skilled craftsmen performing their artistry in wood.

(Uncertain of how many copies of this odd game to import, the pair settled it like real gamers and rolled a d6. It came up six, clearly a good omen, so the two wrote back to Mr Gygax and ordered six.)

A few years later, O&W has run it's course so the pair upgrade it to a fully-fledged professional magazine and O&W subscribers become subscribers of their new mag. It's title is chosen for it's deliberate double meaning - it could refer to either a denizen of a fantasy world or a small star that is no longer undergoing fusion, nicely covering the twin bases of fantasy and sci-fi that will underpin the magazine all the way into the next century.

So White Dwarf #1 falls through the letterbox into the long lost world of 1977.

However, Coop is only three years old so suffering from the E-number rush of birthday party jelly and 1970's Butterscotch Angel Delight he simply scribbles all over it in wax crayon, tries to feed it to Gerd, the family's gargantuan boxer dog and then it probably gets flung in the rubbish bin (recycling? what's that?) when Coop's Father arrives home from work in his beige Vauxhall Cavalier and wonders why there is paper pulp all over the living room.

Happily in an alternate dimension, Coop is old enough to sneak into pubs and so eagerly peruses the mag seeing what delights lie within for incorporation into this weird American fantasy game he has started playing.

Let's start with a word from Mr. Deathtrap Dungeon (but he hasn't written that yet)

Secondly, and out of a purely local and provincial interest, Chris Harvey Games (the other importer of US gaming goodness) are operating from Walsall and offering OGRE for £1.85 (approx £8.65 in modern money). According to Google Maps, the address is in a residential street and is therefore probably operating from a back bedroom - 1977 alternate dimension Coop could probably beg usage of the Cavalier and drive over to get his stuff. Assuming it doesn't rust away on the drive over to Walsall.

Metamorphosis Alpha has just been released and by a quirk of article ordering it's the first game ever to be featured in White Dwarf. Ian Livingstone reviews it and identifies it's influences as being Aldiss's Non-Stop, Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky and Harrison's Captive Universe before going on to offer his homebrew supplementary material converted from these sci-fi novels. So M.A. gets the first WD crunchy material as well. Coop can mail order this from those Games Workshop people for £3.40 (approx. £15.90 in 2010 terms) including postage.

A British D&D society is being formed in order to circulate contact details of players. Not being at university (or polytechnic as half of them were then) Coop perhaps should join this to make contact with other players, after all nobody will ever need a computer in the home and email is something for academics and computer operators working mainframes in posh universities so it's not like this computer malarkey will ever prove useful here.

Don Turnbull is attempting to come up with a method of rating the relative effectiveness of creatures to try and create a proto-Encounter Level. Unfortunately his "Monstermark" looks like this-

Jesus H. Christ on his tricycle. And what's with the disclaimer that the calculations might all be bollocks? Do you not have a calculator?

Oh. OK. Perhaps you don't.

I kid you not. This is almost beyond parody, but rest assured this will actually rear it's head with even more comedy value in future issues of the Dwarf.

(I'm not really mocking Turnbull who, as we will see later, pretty much carries the entire UK RPG scene single-handedly upon his shoulders all through-out the late 70s and early 80s with continual article and letter writing and probably much more behind the scenes to boot. Much respect is due.)

Somewhat surprisingly, considering it's a fantasy mag and it's the 1970s, it takes until page 11 before we get any baps out action.

So this rather belligerent young lady takes the historic honour of bearing the first naked ladybumps to be on display in White Dwarf. Grandmother of all who follow her.

Open Box is the main review section (a column that survived for so long under it's original title that it ultimately was only reviewing stuff that GW were releasing...) and covers Sorcerer and AH's Starship Troopers (amusing prescient quote - "...having seen good SF stories butchered by the film industry...").

There's an article on "Competitive D&D" that sheds some light on the strange ways that D&D might have been played somewhere. Possibly. My face goes a bit "sucking on lemon" to read comments like -

"The title, Competitive D&D, is really a contradiction in itself, since it implies the existence of a non-competitive version - a strange game indeed!"

I despair. (And not simply because that's blatantly not even a contradiction since the position taken actually posits that Competitive D&D is a tautology since the term competitive then becomes a redundancy). Competitive D&D is of course, the writers term for what we more commonly recognise as a Tournament scenario. This is the start of a three part article over the next three issues (so soak in the lesson over six months, early WD adopters) and describes a very odd couple of games.

Tournament adventures, in completely funhouse dungeons, designed around a game session that only lasts one hour. I don't think I've ever played in a session of anything that lasted less than an hour unless it was interrupted in some fashion. The scenario "The Fabled Garden of Merlin" is criticised as being too small in that it's very easy to travel through all 12 rooms and return to the surface back through them within the hour. What kind of speed must these games have been played at? I thought the pace of life was supposed to be much slower in those days as well.

I may in a future post return to this series and post the lot - I think it would be historically interesting as the dungeon style, hour time limit and 14-strong PC party is really like nothing I've ever seen in RPGing before.

Lewis Pulsipher crops up with an article which is a bit of a general and loosely structured ramble about D&D but he does say something which I found completely amazing for it's vintage and most definately of interest to the OSR. Let's quote him in full and remember that this is the summer of 1977 - not 1987 or 1997.

This is fascinating and suggests that pretty much from the off, the "Dragonlance/WoD" approach to running games was rife. That puts the cat amongst the pigeons somewhat - The WoD crowd can't accuse the Old School of ignoring plot arcs and the Old School crowd can't accuse the plot-obsession as being the modern Cancer That Is Ruining RPG. Consider this my contribution towards the field of Old School Archaeology for 2010.

Beyond this, someone tells us what is wrong with D&D and his solutions to fix it - poison should not kill automatically but continue to do the creatures base damage per round until a save is made and a comment that six players is too many for a party leading to some players being crowded out of joining in. There's also the bizarre Pervert class for D&D and a few puzzles (as in puzzle book type puzzles, not dungeon puzzles) which seem a strange way to fill space when the magazine itself is only 24 pages including the covers.

If you are still confused, the GW advert informs you that you can send an SAE to them and they will send you their free D&D explanatory leaflet. Whether this is to tell about the game you can buy or an attempt to explain the confusing one just have bought is not made clear...

If you don't already have D&D, the GW boys will sell it you for £6.75 (approx £31.60 - ouch!) and the supplements to try and make sense of it all for £3.40 each, about £15-odd in modern terms.

And that's your lot 1977 alternate dimension Coop. The back page is simply a Fangorn illustration (presumably either nobody felt that the back cover was prime advertising selling space or perhaps it's more likely that by the time we've got to p24 every single potential advertiser in the UK is already advertising on the earlier pages) promising us more of Turnbull's Monstermark (Dear Baby Jesus no!), more Pulsipher, Competitive D&D scoring and something called The Green Planet Trilogy.

Right then, two more months to wait. Since it's the late 70s I suggest you fill your time wife swapping, drink driving, pogoing and gobbing to the latest lo-fi sounds, standing on British Leyland picket lines and indulging in race riots.


  1. I was looking through my PDF of White Dwarf #1 last night (knowing that you'd be posting this!)

    That "Pervert" character class was pretty bizarre to actually take the time to publish.

    The Monster Mark system fully drifted into crazy "Cthulhu" math at some point as well.

    The artwork was fun though. And they really had a thing for heads getting lopped off, didn't they? :)

  2. I attempted to Google Map the very first Games Workshop the other day, and I think it's a flashy estate agent now. I'm not sure what I was expecting to discover.

  3. I attempted to Google Map the very first Games Workshop the other day, and I think it's a flashy estate agent now. I'm not sure what I was expecting to discover.

    I did think of that actually - great minds think alike. I did Google Map TSR UK's old HQ recently and that looked to be one of those large urban houses with gardens that generally become nursing homes.

  4. Great Post Coop ! - that monstermark stuff makes my brain bleed out thru my ears.Considering the Yorkshire Ripper was about - The Pervert Class was especially ill-considered.

  5. Showing my age here but:

    1) The original GW was behind an estate agents and they only did mail order when it was not raining or they had no visitors as the shop was that small - you could only just get two people inside.

    2) I got one of the original 6 white box imports and I still have it.

    Keep up the blog and more 2mm :-)