Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It’s So Fluffy I’m Gonna Die. Part I of V: Own it.

A guest blog by Douglas Hildebrand

Signature elements in a force really help define the force.  It sets them apart from everyone else.  Are they mandatory in a force?  Outside of the Emperor’s Champion, I can’t think of much that is absolutely mandatory (even the Emperor’s Champion has choices with vows).  There is the requisite one headquarters and two troop selections that are required for everyone, but there are options there, too (unless it is Necron troops, but that could be changing).  So keeping in theme with the fluff for your army isn’t mandatory.  So why does everyone get excited about Razorspam or other cut and paste lists?  In my personal opinion it goes counter to what elevates 40K over the other games on the market – Fluff.

As you can see here daily, scores of people have issue with many of the mechanics behind 40K.  I haven’t played (only skimmed the rulebook once), but am told that, Warmahordes has better mechanics and more balance (looked like too much book keeping to me…not my thing).  Why does 40K dominate the market?  More background, in my opinion.  I like to know why I want to kill that guy across the board from me.  40K has significantly more background information and a more developed back-story than any other game on the market.  You can become immersed in the stories and conflicts they provide.  They are merely little bits of metal and plastic for a dice game, yet there are literally thousands of pages of stories behind them.  Have you ever read a Monopoly novel or FAQ? No-one yells “waaaaugh” during a tense game of Parcheesi.

In my opinion Warpath will probably never gain any real penetration into the gaming market with the direction they are currently heading.  The models will sell to be used as supplements to 40K forces or other more developed games.  Squats (Forgefathers) and new Ork (Orx) poses -- more technically advanced and Magilla looking Orks – I will probably get a few.  The game rules look oversimplified (rule lawyers will exploit the crap out of that and suck the fun right out) and the fluff looks like it is fairly non-existent (lacks motivation – again, why do I want to kill him?).  I don’t wish them to fail, but I don’t believe they are on the right track.  They are creating a game, not a hobby. 



The Lord of the Rings miniatures are nothing to get excited about standing on their own.  They are okay, but not real impressive (with few exceptions, the Balrog rocks). But they are set against the one fantasy story that all are measured against.  You aren’t buying a wizard model; you are buying Gandalf the Grey – a piece of the cultural icon known as Tolkien.  You are now partaking in the most epic battle between good and evil. Pretty FN awesome for an afternoon rolling dice.

I personally dislike the I-like-this-so-I’m-gonna-take-five lists.  I find them boring to play against and exceptionally boring to play (though really helpful when learning how to play).  I have just defeated your XYZ unit and now I have to turn my attentions to the even greater threat of the…. oh, another XYZ backed up by another XYZ. What??  Does the commander have OCD?  The force lacks character.  The force lacks depth.  The force isn’t part of the rich story of 40K.

What I particularly find boring is the army with no back-story.  Many come with their own story – Blood Angels, Space Puppies, Craftword Eldar, Necrons, etc, but I want to know why your force is here and why I am going to kill you.  What makes this group of Blood Angels any different than the ones on that table over there?  And if you are (fill-in-the-blank force) I expect you to look like a (fill-in-the-blank force).  The story is what you become immersed in, not the clatter of dice on a table.  This is why I dislike the cookie-cutter armies.  They are boring and lack the imagination 40K is trying to draw out.

I believe that if you can take your marine force and paint it a different color, and it doesn’t make any difference, it is probably pretty boring.  But wait…..necrons, orks, IG don’t get different storylines you say.  They get only one story (not multiple codexes/ codii/ book thingies) and we have to paint the models different colors to make them different.  Not true.  The best part of 40K is that it is an open book, to which you can add your own storyline.  It doesn’t have to be a codex level book; it can be a few lines or a paragraph explaining why Craftworld Quiznos (or whomever) is waging war.

How does this work:  Commissar Ahab lost his leg and was left for dead by the elusive Warboss Mel-vil Peekwod Skull Krusha, the infamous great albino Ork. Ahab has assembled a force to hunt him down.  Defying Imperial orders he has ventured into the outer reaches of deep space on the battle cruiser Ishmael to track his quarry.  Without Imperial support for his mission he must take his ragtag crew into the depths of space as they fight for Ahab’s revenge and the logistics to keep moving. His lust for revenge has driven him to fight anyone his sources tell him has information on the location of Warboss Mel-vil…..  Ok, I stole the plot and changed a few names to protect the innocent…. but the force now has a story.  The force has motivation.  I now have a reason to kill you.  You have just created your own storyline in the 40K universe.  You don’t have to take specific models or a modified organization.  It is complete as is.


About a half dozen or more years ago Gamesworkshop held a create your own chapter competition.  I missed the point completely.  They wanted a quick write-up on the force and a painted miniature.  It was a painting competition and not a writing competition.  I sent in two  models with a mediocre paint jobs and a twelve page write-up (single space, 10 point font, two factions within the chapter, special characters, chapter specific rules, and a six page powerpoint explaining the top ten reasons for this type of force).  I completely missed the point of the competition, but had a great time.  I had created my own chapter, and created my own niche in the 40K universe.  The Horus Corsairs were born (along with their fellow brethren/sworn enemies The Penitents).  My army had motivation (and could be played within the framework of the current codex).  There was a rationale behind the paint scheme.  I had good reason to hunt you down and kill you.  Life was good.


Back to my original point (there was an original point???).  I don’t see anything inherently wrong with Razorspam or any of the other so-called net-lists.  They are not detracting from the game, but they are not contributing to the hobby.  Using a list because it is maximized to win, or because somebody used it to win a trophy is not a bad thing.  However, in my opinion, you are missing out on the one aspects of the game that makes it great – you are not making it your own.  I want to have fun with the 40K universe (and losing isn’t fun).  A well fought and closely contested loss can be enjoyable (not as much as a well fought and closely contested win).  The drama and tension derived from the motivations of the opposing forces adds a depth and richness to the game that you don’t find elsewhere.  I enjoy a list, and an army, more if it is my own.


We paint the models for a reason.  We individualize our forces.  Otherwise, we would just be using red and green Parcheesi pieces (WAAAAAUGH PARCHEESI) for troops and tissue boxes for vehicles.  Make the game more than rolling dice.  As participants in the game the onus is on us to take ownership of the hobby.


Caveat in defense of five-of-a-kind armies:  In the real world military there is something called a Military Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE – said “em-toe”).  It is a standardized list of what goes into every unit.  So, an infantry platoon in Ft Stewart is identical in composition to an infantry platoon in Ft Riley.  All infantry platoons are identical in composition across the US military.  If a soldier changes duty station, he is not tasked with learning new structure and/or procedures.  It is all the same.  

40K is not the real world.  It is a world of androgynous green space monkeys, decadent evil space elves, Skynet terminator armies, and guys in Crayola colored armor who don’t look they are capable of taking a leak (no wonder why they are so destructive).  So, go with it and create.

NEXT UP:

Part II.  Making an established codex your own and creating your own look and feel.

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