There’s some drama around the release of Warzone Charadon (though, in this era of “We can’t play games we can only talk about them”, “There’s some drama” is a pretty reliable statement. And the core of the argument is a valid one – not everyone has their new 9th edition rules. In fact, most armies don’t, though that’s likely less stark when you talk about players due to the sheer abundance of Space Marine players. So why are we getting supplements that add even more texture to an army with a codex when so many people are still waiting.
Why do they get ice cream and sprinkles when I’m still standing here with an empty bowl?
And it stings. My primary army isn’t even a blip on the “Coming Soon” horizon, so I get it. But I still think it’s a good thing. Here’s why.
To Have Narrative Gaming, You Must Support Narrative Gaming
Awhile back, while talking about flyers borrowed a concept from programming and talked about “First Class Citizens”. In essence, my usage here is to talk about units or types of gaming that the system is clearly intended to support, and can access all the rules normally meant for that game, rather than weird bolt-ons or things that don’t quite fit.
For a long time, despite lip-service to the contrary, narrative gaming was not a “First Class” way to play 40K from the perspective of the rules. We’ve talked about why matched play is so easy to talk about and hence why it dominates online discussion groups, podcasts, etc. Part of that is that narrative gamers have been left largely to their own devices – there’s been a lot of “Do whatever suits you”, “Forge the narrative”, encouragement to draw outside the lines, etc. but that undermines the common ground gamers build consensus around. And it was never really pushed by the rules themselves.
The exception for this has been campaign supplements, but they have always been beset by the problem of being an end-cap to an edition. Someone on Facebook referred to this as “Supplement Season” and they’re not wrong – toward the tail end of books coming out, suddenly narrative gaming shoots up to the forefront, the balance of the game is probably messed up in one way or another, the preview for a new edition hits shortly thereafter and everyone starts to question whether or not they should bother to pick something up.
Narrative supplements have, historically, been the heralds of the end of an edition. That’s not really a great way to support it. It makes it ignorable for most people, annoying for the competitive players, and leaves the people who do want to commit to it facing the task of likely having to adapt obsolete content into whatever is new. And the reaction most groups have to the narrative weirdo trying to get something that came out last edition up and running, with some house rules to patch it into the current edition?
The Glorious 9th Edition Narrative Revolution
9th Edition has changed that, a lot, with the addition of Crusade as an officially supported means of playing and a sort of quasi-campaign system, and the inclusion of really good narrative flavor rules that sit there in the back of the book whispering “C’mon, just try narrative games. Maybe you’ll like it…” like the characters out of a 6th grade PSA on peer pressure.
That’s been a big deal. First, it gives narrative players something meaty to talk about – not just “Man, they’ve really done a good job with how they’re characterizing the Dark Angels this time around…” but the really awesome Hunt the Fallen mechanics, or how the Wolf and the Lion as a concept actually has implications both for general games and games with Space Wolf players. It’s great, and I am here for it.
Supplements are the second part of that.
They’re the setting in which to play out those crusades. The missions to give them variety and life. The official, supported, physical books that communicate that not only is narrative gaming “one way to play”, but it’s a way that adds to the experience.
It’s the return of formations.
The new themed forces preview that hit today is a return of formations, at least in spirit.
And it is glorious.
Because formations were a good idea actually.
One of the biggest issues with narrative gaming is the idea of armies having a “theme”. What does that mean?
On one hand, you have “Winning is a theme” and “This chapter is the Melta Knights from the Eradacon IV System, whose geneseed flaw is they field way more Primaris Eradicators than is strictly sportsmanlike”.
On the other, you have idiots whose army composition rule is “The Floor is Lava” despite being friends with competitive players and running a blog devoted to the analysis of whether or not any particular army composition is a good idea.
The former is very likely going to put an absolute world of hurt on the latter, gross imbalances like the Wave Serpent being arguably the best tank in 6th edition aside. And this is true even if that theme is somewhat broader – you can have a narrative player who is playing a chapter of Space Marines and is fielding a force that leverages their various strengths to their best effect who is still fully committed to the story, because that’s what Space Marines do in the narrative.
But it would be nice if we could give those players who are really sticking to a theme – lots of Guardians if you’re playing Ulthwe, conspicuously few Guardians if you’re playing Iyanden, “I said this was an infantry regiment so no I’m not taking three Wyverns” Guard regiments, etc. a little bit of a leg up to offset the trade off of not having access to the full toolkit.
Formations were an attempt at that idea. Take the things that fit an image, get the special rules. That’s why I could never be mad at someone playing a Space Marine Gladius, even with all the free stuff – fielding a Battle Company of Space Marines is cool. But formations did go a little off the rails. There were some bad rules decisions (free stuff is sort of a problem), and a lot of rules bloat that made keeping track of whether or not those three Sorcerers have the same rules as those three over there. But more than that, I think the problem was formations acted like building blocks for your army – special rules legos you could assemble, which lead to weird places. From the looks of it, the new approach to this is an army-wide overlay. Build an army using the normal construction rules but with added restrictions, get these bonuses in exchange.
I think that’s a promising way forward, and I think releasing something like that early in an edition lets Games Workshop iterate and course correct if it’s needed.
Be The Change You Want To See
In the end, Warzone Charadon likely isn’t going to benefit me. I don’t have an army to field of any of the relevant factions. After more than a year of working on the pandemic, “Lets do a disease themed campaign” might not be super-high on my priority list. And yes, I’d like my codex.
But I want to see narrative gaming supported. I want to see that player who started up Death Guard because we were all having conniption fits about their survivability see that there’s other cool stuff you can do with that force. I want campaign books and flavor supplements to be something other than an afterthought while we all cool our heels and wait for a new edition.
These supplements coming out when they are allows narrative players to bake these concepts into their armies, rather than shoe-horning them in later. They can sit with this book as they plan out their new Ad Mech army, and build it from the group up to reflect their narrative interests, rather than hoping they’ll have a couple months to play with the tools they need to play the games they want to play.
It’s a good thing, and I’m excited for it.
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