How times have changed

I’m reading my battered and falling apart at the seams copy of the Best Of White Dwarf Articles volume 1. This was printed back in 1980 and brought together some of the best articles from White Dwarf’s first three years of publication. This was when the magazine was independent, entirely UK based and long before it became the corporate lovechild of the Warhammer universe.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the White Dwarf mag now – I grab a copy occasionally and it’s full of pure enthusiasm for the hobby and is refreshingly honest about it’s placement as a 100% marketing mouthpiece for Warhammer – but that’s balanced with pictures of real fans having real fun, so what’s not to love.

And it’s a still a real printed-on-paper magazine, meaning it’s drawing new folks to the hobby every single frickin’ month. Unlike a pair of “magazines” from a certain group of sorcerers on the beach.

But anyhow, I’m not bitter. Back to 1980 and the Best of……

Let’s talk about the math. Oh boy. This was before netbooks, iPhones and Google. You’d be lucky if you owned a calculator, let alone one of the ultra-rare computers. This is two years before the launch of the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, folks.

Here’s the kind of math we’re talking about. This is example from The Monstermark System, which is a method of calculating something very like a Challenge Rating, for Classic D&D:



‘Nuff said!

9 Comments on “How times have changed”

  1. Ah, the Monstermark – that would have been the brainchild of either Lew Pulsipher or Albe Fiore, at a guess…….?

    No, we didn’t balk at a little maths in our games back then. You only have to look at the 1e unarmed combat rules to realise that…3e grappling too complicated? Don’t make me laugh! The decline of western civilisation – it’s right there.

    To be fair though, I think most of us had pocket calculators at the time. My pride and joy was the Sinclair Cambridge Programmable – the first ever programmable calculator. A chunky white thing with a bulge at the back belying the PP3 9-volt battery that powered it.

    I used to love playing the ‘lunar landing game’ on that thing. You’d program it with equations to determine the velocity and height of the lunar lander from the surface – you started at 1km and then had to ‘coast’ or ‘burn’ for a specified number of seconds – then it would report back your new height and velocity and how much fuel you had left. If you were travelling too fast when you hit the surface – boom! Run out of fuel and you were dead meat, no way of arresting your descent. Ah, happy days….
    .-= Lurkinggherkin´s last blog ..Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Sorrel =-.

  2. Somethings are unforgivable, such as the destruction of the best goddam rpg magazine evarr… ok well maybe a some hyperbole but White Dwarfs corporisation (? word) was a net loss !!!!

    anyway that math is not too bad, maybe it reflected the roleplayers of the time? ahem

  3. @Hammer That’s far from the worst (if that’s the right word) example – in fact, I’d say it’s a pretty routine example of the kind of algebra that snuck into RPGs at the time. Classic Traveller had some pretty mind-bending formulas to work out Safe Jump Distance from planets and the like. We just took it in our stride, or ignored ’em. Hairy-chested role-playing at it’s best!

    @Lurkinggherkin You have a good memory :D Monstermarks were the brainchild of the awesome (and late lamented) Don Turnbull. In this selfsame compilation Lewis Pulsipher has articles about monsters from the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and one about D&D Campaign philosophy that’s as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.

    There’s also a “best of” collection from the old Fiend Folio series which includes such classics as the Githyanki and Hook Horror. There’s also the quite frankly brilliant Russian Doll Monster which is long overdue for a reprise in D&D.

    And you were lucky. We had to do our calculations on graph paper, and like it! :D

    @Steve I remember when White Dwarf “sold out” and the entire UK role-playing fanbase (me included) wept enough tears to raise the sea level by four inches. Fact.

    But I’ll give ’em credit where it’s due. They’ve stuck to their guns throughout and turned the mag into arguably the longest running single publication in the rpg/fantasy wargaming hobby. That’s quite an achievement.

  4. Ah, Don Turnbull! That was the name I was grasping for. I think I have a copy of the same ‘Best of’ somewhere in my vaults.

    I used a Russian Doll Golem in a scenario a few years ago. Great for inspiring fear in the players when they have no idea how many layers there are to the thing!

    I’ve recently toyed with the idea of creating a 3e version of the Man-Beast, which was a favourite WD class of mine from the days of yore.
    .-= Lurkinggherkin´s last blog ..Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Character Sketch: Sorrel =-.

  5. I remember the calculations. One game I played (Villains and Vigilanties) had some pretty intense calculations just to get your character’s Hit Points. If Jeff Dee had Microsoft Excel back then, I shudder to think of the functions he would have invented.

    There was something about doing all that math that was calming to me. Let’s face it, a teenage geek’s life isn’t exactly a bed of roses what with all the rejections from females and the beatings from jocks. I still break out the RPG rules books from time to time to “write” an adventure that no one will probably ever play.

  6. yeah, the death of white dwarf as an RPG mag was pretty harsh at the time, but let’s not forget the ‘certain magazines’ that have no gone digital where also house magazines. It always amazed me that people drew a distinction between them. Admitted once Paizio took them back to at least commenting on other rpgs, they got really good again, but it still was only ever going to run D20 stuff, so I never really saw why people were still attacking white dwarf 20 years later.
    I really liked this post, it took me back too several a simpler times. One where the UK had two good RPG mags (for those of us who remember GM magazine as well) and then one when Wizards has a 2 brilliant RPG mags. And you’re so right about the Value fo a printed magazine. It draws people to a hobby, it was the reason I got into it. I’m pretty sure kids don’t trawl the internet looking for a hobby they’ve never heard of. They would however take amagzine they like off the rack.
    Plus, I’ve never read my laptop on the bus. I DID use to read a magazine though. And sometimes other gamers would recognise it and we’d set up games.
    Now I probably just walk past them.

  7. Anyone remember Valkyrie? (from a little after that White Dwarf era). It stood out for me as having an interesting selection of RPG product reviews… if I could dig out their review of the first edition of Vampire: the Masquerade (only negative comment: Cover hard to notice, or even read) I’d be a happy man. For all Games Workshop’s ultimate devolution into a toy shop, it did well back in the day (later than the era you’re talking about) to support an original (and agreeably consistent) campaign setting. Damn shame they stopped supporting RPGs… they did a lot of good for, e.g., Runequest and Stormbringer in the UK.

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