Sunday 17 May 2015

Fondly remembering White Dwarf

You’ve probably been hearing it for years and it is all over the internet; White Dwarf used to be so much better, why don’t they have proper articles?, it’s just a glorified sales magazine now......

Call it nostalgia, call it random internet complaining, but I really miss the good old days of White Dwarf. When I first started in this hobby back in high school, one of the highlights of the month was waiting for the new White Dwarf to be released. On a Friday, I would get off the school bus a few stops early to go to the newsagents and buy a copy- it was worth the extra walk home. I would then spend the whole weekend poring over my copy, carefully reading and re-reading every article, checking out the battle report(s) for tactical hints and tips, looking for terrain ideas to add to my slowly expanding collection. To a young hobby-er, just starting to get into the game, it was bliss!

My first issue was White Dwarf 210, way back in May 1997, and I had (and still have) a complete collection of issues spanning several years (maybe even a decade). I don’t know when I stopped buying it on a regular basis, but I think I kept it up for a good while despite reading very little of the content for a long run of issues towards the end.

You never forget your first Ork.......

One of the reasons that I so lament the fall of White Dwarf was that it was an excellent resource for a gamer. It used to have well-written articles about tactics, painting, campaigns, scenarios and making terrain. I have several shelves in my gaming room filled with back issues that I frequently use for reference. I have garnered hints and tips that I still use to this day in my painting and terrain making. I also look through them to get terrain ideas when I am looking for a project to start or for army painting colour schemes.

But that's enough complaining. I wanted to highlight some of my favourite articles or series of articles across my White Dwarf collection. I think that these highlight what made the magazine so great.
1. Launch of 3rd edition 40k (White Dwarf 226)
Whenever a new game edition, codex or army book was launched, an article would appear with a member of the design team explaining some of the new rules and themes. The one that sticks out in my mind is the release of 3rd edition 40k. Third edition was such a dramatic shift from what had come before and was the basis of the game that we currently play. In this article (and the later battle report), Andy Chambers explained some of the new rules and the philosophy behind the changes, helping the gamer to better understand what to expect from the new edition. I used to love reading these articles with a new codex release, it helped to give an insight into the design process and the evolution of an army between each edition.
I specifically bought the White Dwarf with the release of 6th edition (I think I had stopped buying it regularly at this point) to see the designer notes. After reading a couple of pages about making the game more cinematic, with no mention of any new rules and why they were changed, I knew that I was pretty much finished with the magazine.
2. Mike Walker articles (Various issues)
In my opinion, the pinnacle of White Dwarf writing. Mike Walker was a contributor to White Dwarf for several years and wrote a series of articles about Warhammer fantasy. Despite not playing fantasy at this point, I absolutely loved his articles. An equal mix of insightful points and humour, he wrote about a variety of subjects including teaching new players how to play, running a gaming league, the intricacies of the magic phase and many more. His articles were well thought out, genuinely funny (with a liberal dose of humorous footnotes and Kylie Minogue references) and were an excellent read that I still enjoy to this day. I wish there was a copy of them online so that you could take a read yourself (I would re-type them all myself and put them online if that wasn’t (probably) illegal).

3. A Tale of Four Gamers (White Dwarf 218-223)
Started in the heyday of Paul “Fat Bloke” Sawyer’s run as editor, this series documented the efforts of four gamers in building a fantasy army from scratch over the course of 5 months. Each month, the gamers would get a set budget (£50 in the first month, £25 over each subsequent month) to buy their army and had to get each section painted up during the course of the month. At the end of the project, they had a four-way battle report between the player’s armies. It was a really interesting read as you got to see the reasons behind each player’s choices and how they would budget the month. In addition, Paul Sawyer’s beastmen army was stunning. They repeated the series a couple of times, but in my mind, it never equalled the quality of the first instalment.

4. Brewhouse Bash (White Dwarf 223)
Freebies! who doesn’t love free stuff? White Dwarf used to give away some great freebies back in the day. There were free models; I remember receiving a Necron warrior, Dark Eldar warrior, a Mordheim special character, Ork Nob and Space Marine Terminator. There was free card terrain; A sisters of battle shrine temple and Ork Gorkamorka tower. Best of all, there were occasionally free games; a Bretonninan jousting game, a Dark Eldar gladiator game, the first version of Battlefleet Gothic and, my personal favourite, an Orc-based game called Bar room Brawl. This was a board game featuring Orcs fighting in a bar. It was really simple to play and a lot of fun. I remember bringing it in to school on one of the last days (when you were allowed to bring games in) and we had a blast with it (this was amongst non-warhammer players). I always had a notion to build a 3D version of the gaming board, something to keep in mind for a future project as I still have the rules in an old issue of White Dwarf.

5. The Vogen Campaign (White Dwarf 271 and 272) 
Another great piece of content was the Cityfight Vogen campaign that was detailed in White Dwarf. The articles gave you rules on how to play the campaign and detailed the rules for special locations on the map. I ran this campaign at my local gaming club a couple of years back and it was a great change of pace from regular 40k games.
Along with detailed campaigns, White Dwarf used to regularly provide new scenarios, new rules and new army lists. For example, the 5+ invulnerable save for terminators was first introduced in White Dwarf.

6. Ruined! (White Dwarf 234)
As someone who loves to make and build terrain, I used to enjoy terrain building articles as they were a great source of tips and inspiration. Ruined! was an article by Nick Davis on basing up the (new at the time) plastic ruins first released in the 3rd edition 40k boxed set. I have constructed several sets of ruins based on this article. They have lasted me a long time and are still in regular use in my home games and at the gaming club.
7. The Living Dead Return (White Dwarf 211)
In the very second issue that I ever bought, there was an article where the studio undead army was given a makeover to a more sombre, coherent theme. The article include step by step (all 29 of them) instructions as to how they painted the new force. I liked the new army so much that I made the decision to start collecting an undead army myself.
 In fact, the article was so good that it made me start an undead army for the second time! After the release of end times Nagash, I was flicking through the article again when I thought "I could do a better job painting them this time round and now is a perfect time to collect an undead army again".
8. 'Eavy metal masterclass- wave serpent (White Dwarf 238)
This was an article by Mark Jones that showed you how to convert a wave serpent out of a Falcon grav tank using plasticard and a plastic spoon! The simple instructions showed how easy it could be and the final product looked great.
9. Tactica articles (various White Dwarfs)
No specific example for this one, but articles were frequently published on a wide variety of topics for both 40k and fantasy. You could gain valuable insights into new tactics in deployment, the magic phase, close combat, etc.
10. "Storm the Trenches" Battle Report (White Dwarf 230)
I miss high quality battle reports that used to feature in White Dwarf. You would get a quick intro to the game or scenario. Each player would detail their force for the battle, which units they had chosen and why. Then you would get detailed maps on each turn, descriptions of the game turn and some fantastic photos of the studio’s armies in action. I have tried to follow the flavour of these in my own battle reports and the excellent SN Battle Reports do a great job of emulating them. There’s a reason why “reminds me of the old White Dwarf battle reports” is used as a compliment in most cases.
One of my favourites was between Paul Sawyer's White Scars and Graham Davey's Chaos Space Marines. This was the first time I had ever seen a White Scars army and it was absolutely stunning. In addition, the battlefield was a board featuring a great trench network. It was a real inspiration for when I built my own trenches (which I will need to write about in a future blog). The bright  White Scars against the dark Black Legion marines on an amazing board was a magnificent battle report.
11. "Charge of the 7th Company" Battle Report (White Dwarf 286)
Another standout battle report in my mind, this featured an Imperial Guard army attacking an Ork-held stronghold, a nice twist on the usual narrative. The Imperial Guard army was entirely infantry based, over 100 models storming the greenskin barricades without the aid of their mighty battle tanks. Again, this report featured the amazingly painted studio guard army and some fantastic terrain. It was a real inspiration for my own guard army and terrain efforts.

These are just some of my favourites that I could think of. There are many more that I could list too.

I think the current White Dwarf has improved slightly, the addition of rules for new kits is a good idea (I recently picked up the assassins issue just to get the rules for using them in my regular 40k games), but other than the rules, I don’t think I looked at any other part of the magazine. I’m not a huge fan of the weekly format, especially as they don’t seem to sell it in newsagents anymore, but it’s not a huge problem as I rarely buy it these days.

Another big change has been the Internet. When I first started with Games Workshop games, White Dwarf was the best way to see the newly released models and what was coming up. Now we have countless websites where you can check out the new models being released and even sometimes catch the rules before the codex is released. There are also a ton of great articles on tactics for every conceivable army build.

Whenever I see my shelves filled with White Dwarf, I get nostalgic for the old days where I would be genuinely excited for the next issue to come out. They are still a resource that I regularly dip in to when I am looking for inspiration. 

Does anyone still read White Dwarf these days? Do you still keep copies around for reference or have any favourite articles/issues?


  1. White Dwarf 211 was the issue that doomed me. That and 217, with that Undead army going into its first battle report, and the Chaos release, and the Necrons. I was locked into wargaming for life after that.

    As far as the 'illegal' scan-and-share goes, I say do it in the spirit of fair use: the magazines are out of print, after all. You could always weed it (have people pass it forward one at a time by e-mail) rather than uploading it if that felt safer. That said, Scribd is full of old White Dwarfs and nobody seems to be in trouble for it.

    I would really like to read the early 200s and the Mike Walker articles again. Just saying. :)

    1. Yeah, the new undead army was way better than the old studio one, the army had a much more unified, empire type feel to it than the previous Khemri-based one. I still think it looks fantastic.
      I remember that battle report, wasn't it with Heimlich Kemmler vs the Beastmen army? Two great looking studio armies on a fantastic battlefield, again, what made White Dwarf great.

    2. That's the one. Kemmler and the Zombie Dragon vs. Beastmen with that huge block of Minotaurs. Looked like a blinding good game.

  2. I have loads of old white dwarfs, going way back. Occasionally I think about getting rid of them, but they go back nearly 15 years now (some of them!) and they were a big part of my growing up. I would love it if games workshop had kept them nearer to what they used to be.

    1. They do take up a lot of space, but I keep digging into them every so often for inspiration.
      Yeah, it's a shame its not as good anymore. Blogs and some other sites are fantastic for getting good tacticas and tips, but somehow, its just not the same.

  3. I started with 195, and only this year got rid of all the boxed back issues that had been clogging up my loft for years (sorry, I stored them away but only rarely went back and re-read them once I got married)

    The one that really sticks in my mind though, aside from those you've highlighted, was a poem about an eversor assassin based on Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven', which inspired me to not only read and memorise the original (I can still recall the first couple of verses) but to start a Raven Guard army when I ditched my 'Tiger Legion' colour scheme after Uni.

    Other highlights were Egrimm van Horstmann vs Teclis and Prince Imrik battle report, the Ghazghkull and Yarrick arena of death (where Yarrick brought a Leman Russ to even things up!) and a battle report Eldar vs Eldar from 195, where the staff champion took on the grand tournament champion. Guardians even had lasguns at that time!

    1. Looks like you got started about a year before me. Lot of good things there too, I never saw the Eldar vs. Eldar match up, that must have been interesting.

  4. I remember these too! I'd add in the extra Inquisitor characters and models that debuted in WD, or indeed how they covered that game for a year and a half. It was very well done; perhaps the most adult range Citadel ever did.

    That battle report I remember too; although my first WD was the issue early in 3rd (perhaps the 2nd or 3rd issue after release) where one of the staff's Cadian Guard fought the Dark Eldar. I remember the commissar with the ogryns...I was quite bummed that in the eventual Guard codex you couldn't do that. I got a few back issues later on, but that first issue and battle report sold me. I also remember the big Craftworld Ulthwe versus Dark Eldar report sometime in 3rd too quite well (with Vect teleporing away).

    Other things from olden days - the vehicle design rules; the Chapter Approved articles with rules; the support for the summer campaigns (Albion, Armageddon and Eye of Terror especially). I also remember the free army book for 6th(?) edition fantasy they supplied...I would imagine armies for months with that.

    And yes, the humour. WD under Fat Bloke was excellent, fun and imaginative. Can it ever come back?

    1. I was a big fan on Inquisitor, despite never playing it! I downloaded the rules when they had them on the website for free and always planned to run a game using 40k figures, but never got round to it. I made up rules for Gaunt's Ghosts, all my favourites were there.

      I also remember the Eldar vs Dark Eldar battle. In the next issue, they played a jungle-fight game between the remnants of Vect's army and the new catachans. It was really good. I wish the jungle fight, cityfight and planetstrike games would come back into mainstream, they were interesting systems to play once in a while.

      I do wish it could come back to form, but I am not too hopeful. They would need a drastic re-haul of the entire magazine (once again!).

    2. planetstrike is available as a dataslate, I bought it but have yet to arrange a game against anyone using those rules - mainly because they require a bit of forward planning...

    3. Yes I think I remember that follow up too :) thanks for bringing back good memories!

      As for Inquisitor, Inq28 seems to be a thing these days. I guess it's easy enough to arrange with 3 people, if everyone has time to digest the rules & one choses to be GM. I don't know if this is right, but when Inq came out was Graham McNeil the GM for the White Dwarf reports? Or am I confusing him with some bald person on staff then? Or was it someone with hair?

      Also does anyone know what happened to Paul Sawyer? Or other writers from that period?

    4. My memory of Inquisitor is not that good to remember who was in the first issues :)
      No idea what happened to the other writers. I assumed they moved up the corporate ladder or left the company entirely. A real shame, as they had some great talent writing back then.

  5. Awesome thanks for the time-trip! I remember ALL those articles can hardly believe it

    1. Glad you liked it. I actually dug out the "Ruined" article again this week when I was basing up my gothic ruins, so there's still use in the old pile of magazines (at least that's what I tell myself when I see how much space they take up).

  6. Mike Walker, the best writer that GW never payed. I started at 267, now looking for which issues he wrote for before that. Feel it went downhill after Paul Sawyer left.

  7. Yeah, I don't think it was the same after he went. I don't know how it is fairing these days as I haven't read it in a long time.

    1. You're better off not reading it and keeping the good memories unsullied. Paul Sawyer was head of the mail order dept, think he's left now. Was mostly based of a fall out between him and the (at the time) new head of GW. (The one that mucked the company up)

  8. Worthy Old Stuff Day entry :)