40K: Getting Started with Narrative Gaming

8th Edition is great for narrative gaming – and here’s an easy way to get in on the action.

One of the things we really enjoy here at BoLS is diving into the fun-filled depths of narrative gaming. I know, I know… After reading Goatboy and AdamHarry tell you how to vivisect enemy armies, you are saying “bigred, you’re pulling my leg” But I’m not, and believe it or not, when narrative campaign time comes around all the BoLS crew switch out our hats and enjoy nothing more than several games of fluffy non-hardcore armies plowing their way through a well crafted story. Competing in a tournament is one thing, but walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest heroes (or villians) of the 40k universe offers rewards just as satisfying.

So the next question I often recieve is how to get a group of pickup gamers to introduce narrative gaming into their group. It seems like a big nebulous hassle and most players who would otherwise love the experience are often turned away from the get go.

With narrative play, the key is to start with something simple. Don’t go off and try to craft a crazy 130 page campaign book  with 28 players (like we’ve done here at BoLS). Start with something like a set of a set of 3 custom missions where the effects of the first mission slightly alter the second one, and the so forth. Have some fun inventing some cool narrative  missions that allow your friends to reuse their army twice in the same night, across a pair of games and get everyone’s feet wet with non-pickup games. Before you know it, your ideas will begin to build on each other, and you’re group will want to start making larger themed games than link into each other from week to week and you’re off to the races!

You don’t have to bother with complicated record keeping. In 8th for example we will often just give the winner some bonus Command Points, so they get a slight perk, but nothing overpowering. One very simple way to “roleplay” your force is to keep a simple sheet of paper on the wall noting each of your player’s HQs, and your total Power Level for the lists. then you have a simple and fast framework for crafting a cool narrative story around those ICs and their armies. Perhaps you can put in limits on many units a campaign force can change from week to week (try 2 and tune it from there). Maybe you want to have characters who “die” sit a game out (their 2nd in command would step in of course). A strong set of Heroes and Villains is agreat way to rough out your narrative campaign. It’s the drama of competing characters that sits at the beating heart of so much of the Grimdark’s appeal.

A nice side-effect of campaign play, is you can set whatever house rules you want to get folks to not take really abusive armies and instead focus on having fun instead. The leveling of the playing field between units in 8th makes this so much easier.  Once guys really get into fluffy narrative games and campaigns, that happens naturally anyway, as no one wants be the one who “brings the chainsaw to the wedding shower” and ruin everyone else’s fun.

Overall I’ve found the single matching keyword limitation on 8th Armies to work as a nice middle ground from earlier editions. It removes the crazier allied combos, but still keeps the lists conforming so somewhat narrative themes.

Of course I have to stress the most important rule of Narrative play. Come up with what YOU think is cool and do it.  If your playgroup wants to see what happens when a Genestealer Cult tries to take over a Vespid world – why not?  It’s YOUR game, YOUR story, and YOUR hobby. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to have fun.

Vespids go BOOM!

We’ll be playing our own 40K weekly mini-campaigns for you all to enjoy.  come join us, and craft some of your own!

~ I’d love to hear of your narrative gaming experience, your thoughts on the concept in 8th edition.

  • SilentPony

    I think the problem with a narrative game, being representative of something that would actually happen in the 40k ‘verse, is its impossible to actually represent something that would happen.
    A truly accurate ‘narrative’ battle would be…100 Marines vs ten million tyranids. Or 5 million Orks.
    Or an Eldar force of hundreds of bikes ambushing a Guard convoy of two chimera, a Russ, and a old bulldog named The Colonel.

    In canon 40k battles are never equal, never fun, and are almost always 10000% one sided. That’s why its called ‘Grimdark’ instead of ‘EqualHappy’

  • Matthew Pomeroy

    Pretty much any game from any company can be “narrative” so I think that its just about what a group wants to do, 8th is no better or worse for it than AoS or even 7th edition.

    • I’d also say that stuff like Kill Team and the Armageddon game offer great ways to play narratively to cover the actual skirmish stuff. 40k’s core ruleset, even with 8th, needs a bunch of tweaking for the small-scale engagements. The squad coherence rules make that pretty clear, I’d say.

      • Matthew Pomeroy

        I love SW:A

    • Nosebleed

      I agree with this wholeheartedly.

      People say Warmachine is nothing but a competitive game. However, I have seen some narratives played with it and it’s amazing.

  • Corvak

    Small-squad games make me want to try and slam the 40k and Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks together to make some kinda grimdark RPG.

    • Pete Croucher

      Like Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade or Only War?