Wednesday 24 April 2024

A World in a Magazine

Four years ago, I wrote about my history with miniature games and getting back into them during the lockdown. Summer 1995 saw me seduced by the world of miniatures during show-and-tell, but I needed to endure the long wait till Christmas before I could get a boxed game into my hands.

Save up my pocket money? As a ten year old?? Impossible.

During this extended period of anticipation I poured over every detail of White Dwarf each month, and that very first issue I bought is still burned into my brain.

White Dwarf 187, July 1995, bought from the newsagent on the walk back from school.

(Sadly not my long-departed original copy, but rebought during my ongoing midlife crisis)

Let's take a look inside.

Actually, let's not. Before opening it you'd always flip to the back cover. 

It's hard to overstate the impact that these battle scenes had on my young mind. Much more than any mere illustration. A tantalising vision of what your dinner table could look like if you and a friend got real good at painting and modelling. 

A key factor in the impact of these early magazines was the lack of context. Sure, now I can look at that photo and pick out every unit type, but I was going in blind. What's that horse-and-cart with a load of guns sticking out? Is that a tank in front of it? Who are those guys flying in from above?

It sets the mind racing in a way that's lost once you can just tick off "war wagon, steam tank, Karl Franz".

Naturally you try to predict who would win, too. "Well, the crossbows would shoot the Knights, meaning the harpies can rush forward to get the dwarfs". 

More fantastic scenes. Epic always held a special place in my imagination.

But enough gushing over pictures. Let's actually ready something. 

See how each article is credited to a specific writer? That will be important later...

I guess there's a new tank released this month. Without a rulebook none of these numbers made sense, but that didn't stop me straining to discern the difference between a heavy bolter and a lascannon.  

Oh shit, distracted by another cool battle scene. This is one of only two appearances of the Eldar in this issue, so from this image alone I didn't make the space-elves connection. I just thought they were another bunch of guys with cool helmets. They'd later go on to become my 40k army of choice. 

The other Eldar appearance, showing the level of painting that won you a Golden Demon back in 95. 

I'm not sure anything I write could add to this image. I can feel it with every sense. 

Older folks than me will lament the decline of White Dwarf. The once proud magazine that covered every RPG and wargame under the sun, reduced to a gaudy pamphlet of adverts designed to brainwash children.

But what a joyous brainwashing it was! I wanted to play an Imperial Noble fencing with hordes of enemies and blasting them with my pistol, and I wanted to roll a Chimera across the battlefield, cutting a bloody swathe with its multilaser.

Yeah, it's marketing, and it's shallow, but it sucked me in completely. 

Ooh, here's the big one. Where do I start with this?

So Warhammer 40k was in its 2nd Edition at this point. It had a good amount of crunch, still showing its skirmish/RPG roots from Rogue Trader, but it was clearly designed for battles with a few squads and maybe a couple of vehicles. 

In this battle report the facing armies looked like this.

Each controlled by a team of four players, with special rules for communication. 

This would not be considered normal at the time, but I didn't really know that. It set the benchmark at a pretty daunting level. 

In many ways this battle report wasn't a good introduction to 40k. In reality, this battle has stuck with my for nearly thirty years. 

Not so much for what happens. Sure, it has a memorable finale, but the real appeal for me is how it felt as an observer.

It wasn't some hyper-competitive tournament event. It wasn't a game of chess. Instead, it looked like a bunch of friends bringing all their toys to the table and playing just to find out what happens when you throw together such an audacious scenario.

Growing up in a small town, this whole miniatures thing often felt like some weird hobby that consisted entirely of me and my best friend. These battle reports were plastered with images of the White Dwarf team. The articles were credited and written in their own distinct voices. With each issue I felt like I got to know them more. Those faces and names let me feel like we were part of a bigger club. 

Look, this shows just how desperate times these were. We'd drool over black and white images of miniatures, sometimes not even fully assembled! Ask an elder and they'll even tell you stories of when they had to squint at hand drawn images of miniatures. They'd have killed to have black and white photos to look at. Luxury!

So that's it. Quite possibly the thing that represents my entry into this weird hobby. 

I promise I won't throw you away again. 


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  1. This feels surreal because I feel like I had a very similar experience with White Dwarf, and the whole thing where the scene is just me and my friend, at the same age, but across the pond.

  2. It is May of 1992, I am ten years old, and I am standing in a newsagents with my mum. On the shelf in front of me is White Dwarf #149. I pick it up and—

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I’m from an earlier generation. White Dwarf was, for me, a gateway for RPGs. I stopped collecting somewhere in the 120s or 130s because WD had, for me, “gone off”. I always preferred it to Dragon & Dungeon, of which I had a few issues, but not nearly as many. It is good to see positive things said about Games Workshop and WD though. They did make a difference to the overlapping worlds of RPGs and fantasy wargaming back when I followed these things more. I didn’t have the space for both RPGs and wargames, especially not figures. Some of my friends did, so I got to watch and partake as a guest appearance commander…I was never any good at it, but my friends coped.

    1. Strangely, I’m now getting interested in the small scale wargaming side of things. Skirmishes that go a bit larger than your standard RPG battle, so that games that feature more military aspects, like an ongoing war, or cattle raids, or interhouse conflicts, etc, can have these resolved just for fun. That fun aspect is I think the best aspect that your post brings out about these activities.

  4. I was brought into the hobby by a friend, but I immediately became obsessed with Dragon magazine. Here were people actually discussing the game! New art! Editorials and new content galore. It was a time. :)