The Eldar Codex Review is still being written, but in the meantime, a brief rant, inspired by the ITC Mid Season Update Poll released today be Reece and the good people at Frontline Gaming.
It’s on portability, and why I really, really dislike the temptation to “tinker” with the rules.
I’m essentially a nomad. The way I normally talk about this is to refer to myself as an Itinerant-Academic. I have, since college, moved across the country a half-dozen times, without any real choice in the matter. Just one day, depending on how twenty different applications turned out, you’re moving to a new city.
This almost killed gaming as a hobby for me. I’d have trouble committing to RPG groups, and each place I moved, the wargame of choice was different. Warmachine, then Flames of War, then Warmachine again, then something else. I’d spend a few hundred dollars getting a starter army set up, then move and it would be rendered irrelevant again. Through all of that, 40K has remained something I can play, essentially the lone stable part of the hobby, because it is ubiquitous. Whatever people play, odds are at least some of them also play 40K. It is a portable game, one where I can show up at basically any game store in the world, play a game, and know the rules.
But the temptation to try and house-rule various aspects of the game, especially to the point of reaching into a codex, or the main rulebook, and actively changing how things work, destroys this portability. It creates a handful of “quasi-40Ks”, all of which are subtly different. Consider some of the questions from this year’s ITC:
- One suggesting modifying the ranged Strength D table to 1: Nothing, 2-5: D2 Wounds/Hull Points + a penetrating hit, 6: 2 Wounds/Hull Points + a penetrating hit, no saves of any kind allowed, does not cause instant death regardless of target model’s toughness.
- One suggesting limiting Eldar Windrider jetbikes to one heavy weapon per three models.
- One modifying the way Stomp attacks work to allow Look Out Sir! rolls on results of 6.
All of these change something fundamental about the rules, and one of them changes how you make your army. A legal army, bought by someone just getting into the game or army, assembled the way Games Workshop has told you to assemble the army, suddenly isn’t allowed in certain tournaments (and anywhere the ITC rules have been adopted as the ‘house rules’). Not only do you need to rewrite your army list, but for a WYSIWYG army, you need to buy new models. And paint them – a non-trivial task for some people, myself included.
Then there will be other tournaments that have different versions. D-scythes don’t roll on a modified table, they have a -2 penalty. Invulnerable saves are allowed vs. Strength D. You introduce a situation where you now need to check which 40K you’re playing, and hope your army is still legal.
I don’t support that kind of fragmentation. It’s annoying, it adds book keeping, and it slows things down as you try to remember whats Book Rules and what’s ITC FAQ Rules, and which apply.
Beyond that, the polls aren’t unbiased. I’ll give Reece credit, he keeps the questions fairly neutral, and tries to do right by the community. But for any question, the vast majority of players have no incentive not to vote for a nerf, and every reason to vote for them. Why? Because the probability of any particular question applying to your army is pretty slim. I don’t have any models with Stomp, so why wouldn’t I want it weaker? I don’t field many ghost troops, so why not nerf ranged D? In a previous survey, I don’t normally try to get Invisibility as a psychic power, so of course I’d want it powered down. It also puts the power in the hands of the people who have played the game the least – especially when you remember that, thanks to cognitive science, we remember bad experiences (“That unit is bullshit!”) far more than we remember good experiences (“Then his Exorcist rolled a 1 for shots and missed…”).
Even the Eldar, who are arguably overrepresented on the tournament scene, made up only 14.4% of the armies at the LVO 40K Championships. Which means 85.6% of that group has every incentive to vote for thing that will weaken that army. Space Marines (as a primary detachment) are almost exactly as outnumbered. There’s no codex where the rational, self-interested “voice of the people” won’t end up voting to make their potential opponents weaker before the game even begins.
So…this kind of tinkering renders the game less portable, and pushes everyone’s incentive toward nerfing their opponents whether its a good idea or not, because there’s no cost to them, and this is about competitive events. We expect tournament players to game the rules – which means we have to expect them to be gaming the ability to change the rules for their own benefit.
How is this a good idea?
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