Why I Don’t Want 9th Edition Heresy

You ever have something that you could have sworn you wrote down at some point, and then you go back and try to find it and it’s just…not there?

That’s me with this article.

I think through a variety of Twitter posts, Facebook responses, etc. I’ve created a cobbled together version of this post in my mind. But given 9th edition has been announced, and one of the perennial requests is modernizing Horus Heresy into the new Edition, I’m going to actually write stuff down. Specifically, why I don’t want a “modern” Horus Heresy ruleset.

My Biases

First, let’s lay out my first, and most important bias: I am lukewarm on 8th edition. That was my feeling when it came out, and it’s stuck with me through the entire edition. I realize I’m in the minority here, at least among voices on the internet, but to my mind 8th edition is…just okay. Not good. Not bad. Fine.

I have no doubt, given the likelihood of Games Workshop going for a polished up 8th edition as the core of 9th edition, rather than “We’re sorry Variance Hammer, you’re right, please come to Nottingham and set us all straight” or “We’ve scrapped it all again”, that I will feel better about 9th edition, but I’d hesitate to say that it’ll bring the warm fuzzies. Much of what I’m going to say assumes – I think fairly – that 9th edition is a tuning of 8th and as such many of the elements from 8th will carry over. It’s relative simplicity. It’s lethality.

So that’s the first reason. “Because I don’t like it.” But I believe there are also less subjective reasons to argue in favor of sticking with the Age of Darkness…7th edition-but-kinda-also-6th-and-with-changes ruleset.

Forge World Can’t Handle It

Games Workshop is not actually, when it comes down to it, a big company. Forge World is the art house studio of Games Workshop. Forge World is tiny. And they’ve got a lot on their plate right now, partially because of how well Horus Heresy was received in the first place (I’m guessing). They are good at many things, most notably making cool resin toy soldiers. One thing they are not good at is rapid rules development. You can see this in everything from the pacing of the Horus Heresy book releases, wherein they are ~halfway through their intended arc and Black Library is busy wrapping things up, to the Forge World Index rules for 8th edition which are…not great. And have remained not great for the entirety of 8th edition, to the point of being folded back into GW “proper” for rules development.

The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, “Adapt Age of Darkness to 9th Edition and come up with workable rules for all of your existing units” is, for Forge World, potentially a large enough hurdle to actually kill the game entirely. Certainly to tank sales for awhile while they work on rules for models they’ve already sold, instead of cool new models for the Imperial Fists  a broad range of factions. I love Heresy, and I love the Forge World team for working on it, but it’s a game line that takes time.

And given the steady pace of edition releases for 40K, it’s just a problem that will recur later. 9th Edition Heresy isn’t going to feel modern when we’re all talking about how to spend Soul Gems to unlock Enhancement Tactics and how it will effect the 11th ed. meta either.

Decoupling Metas

We’ve talked a lot about the rapid 8th edition meta, aka “The Churn”, and GW’s aggressive FAQ schedule that keeps things from getting too out of hand with a series of sometimes brutal double-tap nerfs. But both early and late in the edition, many of these corrections were generated by edge case lists. A Primarch surrounded by Flyers basking in his bubble. A particular interaction of character and Chapter Tactic rules. Things that made GW go “Okay, clever, but no.”

These are…largely the community’s fault. I’m not going to say that that’s inherently a bad thing – competitive 40K is about finding those weird edge cases and then carrying them forward, but it’s very much a case of “We are why we can’t have nice things.”

But these changes also have casualties. The original “Boots on the Ground” rule hit armies that weren’t at the top of the meta hard. As have the various ways of tinkering with who can deploy what where. By and large, for a single system, this is easy to fix. But if Horus Heresy depends on the current, modern GW ruleset, it’s also being changed at that same pace – and likely without regard to “How will this impact the Heresy players?” as a major concern. Isolating the ruleset allows the Heresy rules designers to focus on the impact of rules to the forces that matter. Is this unbalanced in a setting where 3+ armor is near ubiquitous? And where the formation/detachment/etc. bonuses are considerably lighter in the form of Rites? Does this change the feel of a Heresy battle in an undesirable way?

Heresy is Violent. 8th Ed. is Violent. The Two Together…

One of the most shocking thing for new Heresy players is just how easily Space Marines die. One of the most shocking things for me about 9th Edition when it first came out was how fast everything dies. Those two things aren’t guaranteed to play nicely together, and can add up to “Heresy 9th is a massive bloodletting for two turns. Hope you go first.” That’s the kind of thing that would require the careful rules consideration and balancing that Forge World doesn’t necessarily have the time for, and couldn’t necessary ensure would remain stable as GW tunes the main game.

There Is a Place for Complexity

Horus Heresy is a more complex game – and that’s okay. There’s a tendency to assume because 8th edition is simplified and streamlined that it is inherently better. That’s not necessarily true – and more importantly, it’s not necessarily true all the time. For a fast, casual game against a stranger, or where I actually just want to catch up with friends and move some toy soldiers around, it’s a great game. But for me, it’s lacking something that I’ve come to refer to as “tactical satisfaction”. That feeling of in game (rather than list building) outfoxing of your opponent. It can still happen in 8th edition of course, but I’ve found that the loss of vehicle facing in terms of both fire arcs and armor values has done a number on things like flanking your opponent, hugging terrain, etc.

There’s also a notion I’ve been thinking about called emergent narrative. Basically, the narrative that comes from the game rather than the narrative the game is about – more on this in a later post. I’d argue that the Age of Darkness ruleset is better for this kind of narrative, because it preserves the risk/reward choices like dangerous deep strikes, template scatter and “Danger Close” firing, etc. that have an element of randomness to them. These were dropped from 8th edition for some decent reasons – they slow down the game considerably, and they do funny things to balance. I had one very memorable game back in 3rd or 4th edition where about half my army died to deep strike mishaps. But that may be acceptable in the more narratively focused Horus Heresy community, where the game is, to be frank, subjected to far less competitive pressure than the main 40K game.

Horus Heresy Wasn’t 7th Edition Either

This is something I have noted before. Horus Heresy wasn’t really 7th edition either. It lacked the widespread use of Formations that was behind much of the balancing trouble and rules bloat in 7th, and unless your local scene featured a Thousand Sons player (or if that player didn’t go all in), it also lacked the problems of what happened when one side had an over-abundance of psychic dice. While Carl Tuttle has freely said that Horus Heresy was the best way to play 7th…it wasn’t really 7th. It was sort of…6.5th, with the later formal Age of Darkness rules diverting further from that.

It’s always been a bespoke ruleset. It’s designed around for it. And it’s what the studio can handle.

Keep it that way.


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  1. A good article as ever, and totally agree. 7th itself was broken when it came out due to Codex creep, and when the formations in a box came out, it just went further towards ’pay to win’. 8th reset a lot of that and is far more balanced, even after a full run of Codices and narrative books with extra rules, mainly because they’ve been _interested_ in making it so, and constantly tweaking it with FAQs and ‘big updates’, so I think it’s as balanced a 40k environment as there has ever been. But that doesn’t mean that it works for all armies versus all armies. The turn off for me with Heresy is that I don’t really care about these super humans biffing another load of super humans with pretty much the same options available to them. I want ‘difference’, and it’s that difference that equals variety, that equals imbalance. Heresy works because it’s a very limited subset of the 40k universe, and can therefore be kept in balance, providing the rules are focussed on that.

    In short, they’re two different games, so they need different rules. Merging the rulesets would be akin to trying to use Ludo rules to play snakes and ladders: yes there’s tokens and a die, but the game itself is different.


  2. I hope that the next version of 30K/HH take a divergent path from mainline 40K rules wise. This would allow the game to branch off from 40K and develop its own individual flavor.

    I really hope that GW does not make 30K/HH just a derivative of 9th edition 40K. After all, if I wanted to play 9th edition 40K, I would just play 9th edition 40K.

    GW has a great opportunity to make 30K/HH something really distinct and special. It is also a chance to try out innovative game mechanics that would probably be too radical for the mainline 40K player base.

    For example, why not adopt a D10 system rather than stay with D6? This would allow the game designers to move statlines and buffs at 10% increments rather than 15% increments. It would be easier to vary the base stats of different space marine legions without risking making them substantially better. You could still use buckets of dice to control variance, but instead of D6s just use D10s.

    Or how about dropping dice all together and instead adopting playing cards as a way to introduce randomness into the game?

    30K/HH could move away from an I-go-you-go war game into an activation-based game.

    How about including a game master as a third player into games of 30K/HH and make it entirely narrative driven? Or even more radically, make 30K/HH into a matrix game (e.g. https://paxsims.wordpress.com/magck/)?

    Such changes could really shake things up and make playing 30K/HH an entirely new gaming experience.


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