40K is Forked

So not long after I put out my view on the new ITC 2016 Q1 poll, the results came out, and now, like so many talking heads staring at primary results, I get to ask the fundamental question: “What does this all mean?”

The quick answer: We’re forked.

First of all, a fun and kind of introspective question: How well do my views represent those of the ITC community as a whole?

The answer? Not well. I agreed with the eventual outcome in 6 of the questions, and disagreed on 6 others. Essentially, a coin toss. Not sure what that says, but there it is.

But what’s more interesting is some of the places where the results are things I disagreed with, particularly four questions:

  • How many detachments do you wish to play with in the 2016 season?
  • If we increase the detachment limit for the 2016 ITC season, how many would you like to use?
  • Per RAW, if a Gargantuan Creature with any part of its base is in a piece of terrain which grants a cover save, the Gargantuan Creature gains the save even if no part of it is actually obscured. Do you wish to play this rule this way?
  • The Eldar Corsairs Reckless Abandon special rule allows them to move after making a shooting attack. Does this apply to overwatch?

In all of these cases, I think there’s a clear RAW answer. The book never makes any sort of argument in favor of restricting the number of detachments – this is purely an artifact of the tournament’s rules. The GMC “Toe in Cover” question directly admits there’s a RAW answer already. The Corsair’s one might be ambiguous, but in my opinion isn’t – Reckless Abandon says shooting attack, with no mention of phase, and the rules for Overwatch say:

An Overwatch attack is resolved like a normal shooting attack (albeit one resolved in the enemy’s Assault phase) and uses all the normal rules for range, line of sight, cover saves and so on.

What follows after that is a few “excepts…” mostly about Morale and weapons that can’t fire snap shots. I can’t see any credible reason to argue that, RAW, Reckless Abandon doesn’t work that way.

Now, I’m going to leave whether the outcome of these votes is a good or bad thing as an exercise to the reader.

What’s interesting is what this actually means – for some time now, and in some very obvious and blatant ways, the ITC Tournament Rules have diverged from the Warhammer 40K rules.

In other words, there is now a new “fork” of the 40K rules (to borrow a term from software development). There’s a decent overview of this concept here, but this is very much what the ITC has done – they’ve created a new, alternative version of the ruleset, with no expectation of it ever really being incorporated into the main ruleset (because lets face it, that’s never going to happen). Again, this isn’t a judgement on the merits of doing this – I use things that were forks of other projects all the time in my professional life, and have done it at least once myself.

We really should give it a name. ITCK? Reecehammer? Maybe a nice version number?

But this does mean a couple things:

First, stop calling it an FAQ. It’s not an FAQ, even if it’s referred to as that. It’s not clearing up rules ambiguities, it’s making new rules. If that’s what we as a community want to do, own it. If you’re a TO who wants to use the ITC rules, know that that’s what you’re doing – you’re not just inheriting some clairifications, you’re inheriting how some people (sometimes but not always a clear majority of people) have decided they’d like to play the game. Essentially, you’ve outsourced house rules.

Second, know that forking invites more forking. If you follow the crew over at Preferred Enemies, you’ve heard they’re considering a tournament pack that is “ITC…mostly…kinda…” If I ran an event, it would be “ITC…mostly…kinda…” Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – my preferred operating system is, again, a fork of a fork of Linux (a shiny nickel for the first person to guess it correctly). But it does invite fragmentation. Consider this picture – again, this is forks of a particularly visible software project:


Imagine each of those nodes is a tournament. Maybe you start with a couple big rule sets (NOVA, AdeptaCon, ITC…). Then people go their own way, and then go their own way again…what you end up with is essentially a non-transportable ruleset. Your army doesn’t work the same way at NOVA and the LVO. It works…close to the same, but some fundamental behaviors might be different. At worst, your list might be illegal at one or the other. Each of these decisions to split was made for a reason. Maybe a good reason, maybe a bad one. Some of them supported by plenty of data (GMCs…), some of them I’d assert with very little (Corsairs).

It’s also in marked contrast to what the folks at ITC have talked about wanting for 40K – there are very few forked eSports. No one is playing major, twitch-streamed Starcraft 2 games where Marauders are slightly different. There’s no community vote on whether or not Feral Druids are OP in WoW’s arena that ends up changing how arena matches work for some games – but not all of them. League of Legends doesn’t have its source code change based on whether you live closer to Chicago, DC or San Francisco.

What does this all mean? I don’t honestly know. My previous post on the LVO suggested that, at the moment, the meta is in a pretty unhealthy place. It may very well be worth the loss to portability, and the fragmentation that comes from these kinds of votes to help try to address that. But decisions have consequences, even when they’re the right ones, and we’re well served as a community by discussing them.

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  1. Here’s the thing that ITC and pretty much all tourneys have in common, they are using this version of 40k for a purpose it was not designed for. As such, it requires a lot of house rules to fit that goal. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does reinforce the fact that a one size fits all set of tourney rules like ITC and the hope for tourney-legal portability is a pipe dream.

    At its core, 40k 7e is made to reflect a local meta. It’s at its best when it is adapted and molds around the players that play it. It’s not a good fit for worldwide standardized play.

    Forking and fragmentation are the happy place 40k currently enjoys. This is a feature, not a bug.


    1. Do you have any substantive evidence to back up the claim “they are using … 40k for a purpose it was not designed for”? Or really anything you continue to go on to say?

      40k is an anomaly that it is a game with a strong following that has a poorly written rule set. Almost nowhere else in gaming does that exist.


      1. Not Chris, but I think it’s abundantly clear that GW doesn’t think much about the competitive end of things. If they did, that would presumably be reflected in the tightness of their rules, the desire to feature balanced and competitive battles in White Dwarf and the like, and one could argue that Age of Sigmar is essentially an ode to “You know, we really don’t care about competitive play.”


        1. Sure, I don’t disagree with that. But at the same time, it seems to reinforce the sentiment “40k isn’t a game meant to be played competitively” which strikes a very annoying nerve with me. Any game can be played competitively. I don’t understand why this community more than any other resists that idea.


      2. The designers have publicly stated that the game is not designed with competitive play in mind.

        That being said you can play the game competitively and all you need outside your big box of models and stuff is
        1. The rulebook and codex
        2. A good attitude

        You do not need a FAQ at all, it is just an attempt to deal with people who did not bring item 2 on the list. An attempt that fails on many levels. It’s fundamental failure is the pretence that issues only ever arise due to genuine mistakes and misunderstandings. My experience of tournaments is that this pretence gives the jerks who engage in gamesmanship and outright cheating free rein. If competitive play addressed the reality that some people are jerks you would no more need a 25 page FAQ document than I do when I play at my club.


        1. I think this point is the key. No FAQ, no matter how well written, is robust to jerks.


          1. I did wonder if I was just being unlucky with running into jerks but then I watched a bit of the streaming from LVO. Oh dear.

            So we have a “top” player contesting a really well known BRB rule that with his army he must run into several times every tournament. Contesting it to the point that he insists the judge gets called in. It is simply not credible that he does not know the rule – it is gamesmanship. This one is too obvious to be in any FAQ but clearly putting it there would not help with the problem.

            I turned the stream off in disgust somewhere just after that.

            On the other hand I have been to one tournament that had no FAQ and the TO made it clear that we were all to sort things out for ourselves over the table. That was the smoothest running tournament I have been to – just like on an average club night everyone just sorted stuff out and got on with the games. No disputes, no problems. I am sure that rules mistakes happened as they always do but there was no ill feeling about it and no suggestion that anybody was trying it on.

            My conclusion? The social contract works better than the legalistic approach of trying (and failing) to codify in advance the outcome of every possible dispute. That legalistic approach seems to encourage the very mindset – adversarial – that is the root of much of the problem.

  2. In Europe the ITC rules have very little traction. The London GT will count for ITC points but is being run using the ETC FAQ.

    The ETC set is much closer to being an FAQ because it had less intentional changes to the rules. Its aim is much more to be a clarification. There might be one or two places where I raise my eyebrows but there is no systemic intent to create a new divergent rule set.

    The nature of the system Reece and Frankie have put together is that it will diverge further away from the published game and it will fragment further: major events not under Frontline management will use different variations. Personally I would rather just have my rulebook that I carry with me and discuss any unclear rules with my opponent, this is self contained and portable but it does depend on good will and sportsmanship.


  3. Having never played in anything close to a tournament its hard to really comment on this subject. But its a great article and well written as always – I always enjoy your content even if its not something that directly effects me!


    1. That’s very kind of you to say 🙂


  4. Yeah, our FAQ is trying to actually be an FAQ and address RAW issues that either the rules are vague about or where the interaction isn’t clear, and we’re using the ITC document as a basis. They’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting. However, we discarded anything that was an obvious rules change, and are trying to use RAW as the basis for everything we do – if we can’t back it up with rules texts, we won’t use it (and trying to guess RAI is too easy to bias).

    Take a look, and feel free to take it apart. 🙂



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