What is a ‘Narrative 40K’ Event?

What Is Narrative

The Narrative Guys break down what exactly a narrative 40k event looks like – and why you should check it out!

Narrative simply means an account of connected events. A narrative 40K game is one that tells a story on the board. This is different than fluff that tells the history of the models on the table, and different from a campaign that connects a series of games with fluff in order to tell a story.

For The Narrative Guys (TNG), we focus on the smaller stories and try to bring these moments to life. The events we want to shine the light on are those incidents when a squad or a sergeant does something amazing. The fate of the planet, system, crusade, etc. is held in the land of fluff and it has some amazing writers working on it.

Setting the Stage

For us, the board is our stage, and your mini is in the spotlight. Our desire to highlight heroic deeds at the single-mini-level is one of the reasons that we don’t run apocalypse events. That scale of god-like war-machines makes it hard to capture the story at the single-mini-level. We love to have apocalypse scale models on the table, but we want to keep the focus on the squad and use the big guys as a part of that story, not the focus of it.

To make narrative really come to life, we need some help from players. One of the most important aspects of storytelling the players can bring to the table is an identity for their forces. This can be everything from naming your Warlord to making sure every squad has unit markings. Writing fluff for your army is good, but keep in mind that the action will happen on the table, and the best (or last) days of your warlord’s life are going to happen in this game we are playing.

Never underestimate the power of a team. Narrative events are chances to join other players who also play your faction and fight side-by-side as brothers-in-arms. Our standard game is a 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 with missions themed around the terrain. Players of like factions join together to play as Task Forces. In each battle, missions will have theme that meshes with the fluff of those players’ forces. This is why pre-event communication is so important to us. We want to players to find faction groups and get to know each other, and we need the group fluff so that we can create a story and missions with your group in mind.Event Photo

“Allies” in the 40k sense are better executed in narrative play by actually adding players, not splitting up your army. Instead of each player having 2 factions on their army list, one player takes faction A, the other faction B. This builds a good degree of narrative unity, since each player may have different tasks, as we’ll see in in the mission descriptions below.

Your Missions Matter

Missions are a key point to narrative play. They define how players interact with the story, and by good mission design, narrative play makes it feel like your forces have a purpose on the map, not just an arbitrary goal from the typical game.

We break missions into several levels: Table missions, Personal missions, and Drop-in missions. This layering of missions allows players the opportunity to create heroic actions on the table top.

Table missions are missions shared by all the players on a Task Force. These are victory-point driven missions that affect the narrative itself. They help explain what’s happening in the overall battle. Objectives for Table missions might be things like “hold the main road through the jungle,” or “assault and destroy the defensive positions around the airbase.” In some cases, both sides will have the same mission, but just as often they will be slightly asymmetric, with each side trying to achieve distinct goals.

Second are Personal missions. These are player-specific and have multiple stages, escalating in difficulty from Basic, to Challenging, to Heroic. Each stage will add some benefit and some challenge for the player’s warlord to accomplish. An example might be: Basic: “get your warlord to the vox communications tower.” The benefit might be 1 VP, and the opponent would not be aware of the mission. The Challenging level might be “signal command with the location of enemy forces.” The warlord now gets a free artillery attack on a unit in LOS, but the enemy is now informed of the effect, and can act to stop the warlord. If the warlord can hold for 2 turns, he might earn 3 VP. Finally, the Heroic level might be something like giving the enemy a choice of units to deep strike onto the warlord’s location to stop him. The reward for surviving this level might be 1 Hero point. We’ll talk more about Hero points and Personal missions in another article.

The last mission type is Drop-in. These are mini events that will happen on the table when key actions take place. They may apply to the table, or to a specific player. An example might be “extract a wounded commander.” These missions help create unexpected situations and keep the game fresh.

Terrain Tells A Story

Terrain is very important for a narrative game. It’s something that fundamentally sets this type of play apart from casual and tournament games. Not only does the theme of the table matter to the story itself, the quality of the terrain and addition of themed objects really makes a big difference in game play experience.

 

Our first rule is that tables should look like places where people live and/or fight. We talk a great deal about art direction on our tables. We often refer to the terrain as “the third army on the board.” This is because the look and function of the terrain has a huge impact on the way games feel, and how the battles play out. Playing on a narrative table should always be a step above the feeling achieved by playing on tournament tables.

When competitive players layout a table they want to make sure the terrain doesn’t give one player an advantage. They want symmetry. For narrative games, we want the terrain to tell a story and to guide missions that would seem logical in that type of place. We want the table to be a challenge to the players. One team may very well have superior cover, or open space, or important objective locations. Since missions suit the terrain, and asymmetry is completely possible.

Slums Preview 1A great example of terrain affecting game play was the 11-inch-high wall straight down the length of a 16-foot table at WarGames Con 2014. The wall was cut by only 3 breaches that allowed about 8 inches of space to move ground forces through each breach. Players had to adjust their play to deal with it both as individuals and as a team. The players had to choose forces to clear the breach, secure those forces from outside attack, follow through on their successes, and react to their failures. It was amazing to watch.

Variety of theme is another point that The Narrative Guys wanted to address. Not all tables are burnt-out cities. We have jungles and farmlands with different kinds of foliage. We have still-inhabited cities and slums and alien worlds. Each table is more than just a few ruins and some scatter craters. It is has a “sense of place” that our players get to experience.

Since we play multiplayer games, our standard table size is double the size of a typical 40K board: 8’ wide by 6’ deep. Everything in that space needs to fit the unifying theme to give players that “sense of place” and why the battle on this particular piece of ground matters to their army, and to the story. The table also has to provide multiple options for objectives to ensure good replay value. We don’t use markers or tokens to indicate objectives; the objectives are simply part of the terrain around you.

Jungle Preview 1

Pictures

Something that inspired us to start The Narrative Guys was the iconic photography from Games Workshop with their models. We think you’d be hard pressed to find a player who hasn’t been influenced by the amazing pictures of epic battles from GW. It’s simply a foundation of the hobby itself. So, when we plan and execute an event, we spend a good amount of time talking about “the picture” we are creating. We want to provide an amazing, detailed backdrop for players to battle on with their beautifully painted models, just like the pictures in the magazines and books we all love. We also try and capture specific moments in time of these battles. We call them Epic Moments. An Epic Moment is a photo that sees the story thought the eyes of a character or unit, instead of the grand sweeping battle of the whole board. You’ll even see us write up short stories based on these moments, where the models look beautiful and the story just writes itself in the image.

As a player, you are part of the team creating these moments, and many small things matter a great deal. Putting your best painted models on the table is step one. It shows respect for your fellow players, and is the only way to make awesome photos in the first place. Second, pay attention to how your models are placed. It’s easy to break a good photo by having a half squad pointed at a fearsome enemy,  and the other half facing the opposite way. Finally, keeping game-aids and papers off the table is critical. Let your models be the spotlight, not your dice.

Spectacle

The Narrative Guys try and make our games much more than a casual pick-up-game; we want them to be events to remember. To make that happen takes a great deal of planning and effort from the staff and dedication from the players. A great example is the battle map that we display on an overhead projection during the event. This is a live tactical view of what is actually happening on the tables.  We also assign a TNG staffer to each table to keep track of objective scoring, condition of forces and their location so that information can be fed into the display which we then update at the end of each player turn. In addition to the basics of tracking the game, the TNG staffer also provides “the voice of command” for each side. This means that mission orders, intelligence updates and objectives are passed to players at each table. The goal of all of these things is to connect players together with the story.

 

Would you travel to more events if they where narrative based?

  • “Would you travel to more events if they where narrative based?”

    Yep. 7th is now so bloated with new rules and new “everything else” that as a casual player I gave up trying to keep up the changes about a year ago. Narrative is where it is for us casual peeps if we want to participate at big events.

    • Craig Biddulph

      Horus Heresy is where it’s at for us casual peeps. 🙂

      • Shiwan8

        This is also true…but then again, it’s not 40k.

        Actually the difference is so huge between the 2 games that we can see how the actual rules are not much of a problem in the end, just the army books,

  • Rob Oliphant

    Hell yes I would travel to more events

  • benn grimm

    There’s a lot of cool stuff on offer here and the organisers clearly put a lot of themselves into the event. The terrain sounds very cool, as does the overhead tactical map.

    My worry is that it all sounds very restrictive with a lot of rules (outside of normal game rules) to remember as you go. No dice on the table just irritates me (I’m guessing psyker cards and wound markers are also out); if I paid to be here, my game comes before your photos.

    Team games can be a lot of fun, but, they do tend to get taken over by the stronger personalities at the table. Also waiting; waiting for a guy on the other team to come back from his wander during your turn, waiting for your other team member to come back from the toilet so he can move his guys, and waiting for three/four guys to discuss their strategy, move all the models and roll all the dice on the opponents turn can get a tad boring and can extend what is an already long game to a slightly unbearable length.

    • WineShark

      Benn – there really aren’t any more rules to remember than any other stock 40k mission. “Restrictive” is far from what we aim for. If you can remember how the Relic works, you can remember how our 1-2 terrain rules work for a table.

      As for game aids: you paid to be there, but you still shouldn’t be using up table space with that stuff. It’s disruptive and inconsiderate to other players, even on a 1v1 game. We have space available off the board for that purpose. So how are these not compatible?

      We also have a table GM at the table that prevents all the team issues you point out. We don’t like those things any more than you do. We keep the pace, answer questions, and move the game along. All in a time-constrained format.

      • benn grimm

        Thanks for taking the time to respond, I’d be interested to see how it all works in practice, it certainly sounds like you’ve given some thought to potential issues and come up with solutions.

        I don’t personally think game aids or dice get in the way, more that they help me (and my opponent) remember what is happening in the game. And it is a game, for me anyway. I get what you want to achieve, i just wonder how it would play out in practice, whether it would detract from my experience as a gamer, in order to create that epic shot you’re after?

        I’m sure with a GM this becomes less of an issue and while this style of play may not be for everyone, I’d definitely be up for giving it a try some time. If for nothing else than to play on the awesome looking terrain and meet some new peeps. Good luck with your upcoming events.)

        • WineShark

          I realized I may also need to set the scene on “game aids on the table.” We don’t have an issue with some dice or markers being there. What I’m talking about, and have seen at every public gaming event I’ve ever attended, is codexes, army lists, sodas, phones, laptops, and all manner of non-game stuff on the table. Not only is it a poor visual, it literally disrupts the game at some point.

          So “game aids” is one thing. Clutter is what we put a firm rule on.

          As for GMs, you’ve hit it on the head. We actually aim our job title at “Fun Concierge.” Our role is to facilitate good gaming. Our players start to self-manage after an event or two, and we’re there to help make things awesome-r.

          Hope you can join us for an event some time, and get a taste of the kool-aid we are making. 🙂

          • benn grimm

            Fair play, that does sound much more reasonable, I’m not a massive fan of people putting half empty cans down right next to my models tbh or pizza boxes for that matter…)

            ‘Fun concierge’ sounds great, I may have to steal (sorry magpie) that title for when we do campaigns. And thanks, I may well do that, I’m definitely over ‘competitive’ 40k atm. I’ll be the big guy in orange! 😉

  • plasmaspam

    “Narravite”?

    • Shiwan8

      This sarcastic comment is pretty much summing up the very problem with 40k at the moment. 😀

      • plasmaspam

        I know, I’m sorry, it’s just a typo in what was in interesting article. I’m in a bad mood with gaming in general, so should just take a step back for the time being.

        • Shiwan8

          I feel your pain.

      • Drpx

        Too many backseat editors?

        • Shiwan8

          A combination of mainly tournament orientated gamers and talentless and/or badly led design group.

  • Shiwan8

    Well, since I would not travel 20 miles to reach any other kind of an event I’m saying “yes”. Then again, one must understand that this is the only way the game has any chance of being fun since the designers have killed all the other options with their ridiculous 7th edition codex styles. PUGs suck just because they tend to be WAAC vs, some other guy. Tournaments are just hopeless because of the lack of balance. This leaves narratives as the only option.

  • dreamwarder

    This is how 40k ought to be played all the time. So much fun.

  • AreyouaNazi? Isthatyourelf?

    I believe that 30k events perfectly encapsulate the narrative, with the rule of cool often outdoing the WAAC mindset, and with every force having a strong central theme.

    • WineShark

      Why does the game system set the tone, and not the players? That’s the part I can’t agree with

      Players are players. They can be good or bad, no matter what the system. So the solution, IMO, is to set the conditions where players can relax and have fun, without it being at the expense of any other player.

      We keep coming back to this – the players and the organizers make the event. Not GW.

      • AreyouaNazi? Isthatyourelf?

        I think there are a few reasons, so bare with me,

        -Higher buy-in cost means that only more seasoned people with a vested interest will invest in a Heresy force.
        -the ruleset is highly conducive to balanced and fluffy game play, with FOC and rules aimed at pushing narratives over cheese.
        -a lot of people who love 40k but hate the cluster of rules and the concept of what it has become have fled to HH as a refuge.
        -people who normally wouldn’t attend tournaments as they perceive them as ‘WAAC’ are happy to attend HH tournies as they see the opposite.

        Gather enough of these people in one area and you’ll get a very cruisy group who just wanna have fun.

        • WineShark

          I don’t see how cost = commitment = better behaved players. That logic just escapes me. I know players that have thousands of dollars in painted models, and are fully committed – but are not fun to play with.

          Having seen the HH rule set, there is nothing more “fluffy” there than in 40K. It’s all “how you use it.”

          Any game can be prone to asshattery, but it’s not the rules’ fault. It’s the players allowing themselves to play with others that are poor sports and un-fun opponents.

          My point is that gathering like minded players has zero to do with expensive models or game system. It’s about establishing a social norm of “we don’t allow players to behave this way,” without the stigma of chastisement, or exclusion.

          It’s hard to do, believe me. It requires that someone chooses to say something challenging in public, potentially to a stranger (or worse, a friend) about their behavior. That’s confrontational, even when handled delicately. Unfortunately, it’s often handled emotionally from a position of frustration or anger, rather than with a genuine desire to want to make the game better for everyone.

          We cannot rely on a rule book to make good people across the dice from you. Not to stereotype too harshly, but I think many would agree that the social grace to pull that off is not the first trait one thinks of when it comes to “miniature wargamer.”

          So, we agree that players make the game, but we disagree on how to make it happen.

          Thanks for taking the time to reply, too.

          • AreyouaNazi? Isthatyourelf?

            Well, the tightness of the ruleset and the encouragement of play-styles directly related to your fluff is explained more here: http://agalaxyinflames.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/an-introduction-to-30k-for-40k-players.html

            As for the price barrier, a lot of the 40k community despised Forge World, and sees it as overpowered and overpriced. They were more interested in throwing a cheap Eldar army together to suit their WAAC needs, whilst a Heresy player might buy 6 or 7 kits just to convert one Command Squad up.

            People with that kind of dedication are a different type of hobbyist, more interested in their hobby, and that’s where their commitment lies, rather than with rapidly acquiring an army.