40K Editorial: The “Tzeentch’s” Advocate
Kazzigum strides into the lion’s den and offers a cautionary position – Change is on the way. But is it good?
I’m sure that most of you have heard the news coming out of Adepticon from Games Workshop (GW) regarding the proposed changes to our beloved Warhammer 40,000 (40K). If not, they re-posted the information on their Warhammer Community site and you can find the info HERE. Now, the limited changes presented here promise big changes in the upcoming 8th edition.
My reading of the information and the way in which it is presented is that this article is that it is a limited feeler on GW’s part, a way to soften the blow if you will, and to ease the fanbase into the fact that very big changes are coming in this edition. Everything we just bought is about to be invalidated (also to divert our attention away from the fact that they are, indeed, gonna do what they said they were not gonna do, and AoS-ize 40k). And yes, despite the way this presentation reads, very big changes are coming.
I’d argue that there is no way around it, as these changes alone will cause exponentially growing ripples of change that must be enacted on the rest of the ruleset. And, the presentation is just permeated with what is left unsaid.
Now before I tackle the individual proposed changes, and offer up my opinion as to why they might not be so good after all, let’s begin with some full disclosures. While I’m vaguely aware of the rules and own both the Grand Alliance Destruction book and General’s Handbook (I’m slowly readying my goblin hosts for battle once again), I’ve never actually played Age of Sigmar (AoS). I intend to once my goblins are ready. Nevertheless, I’m on record saying that I do not favor transferring 40k into a similar rule set.
I like how 40k has evolved over the years and I thought 7th edition was great before GW threw open the gates and dumped Apocalypse, formations, allies, etc. all over it. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against AoS, and as I said, I even plan to play it. The fact of the matter is that I haven’t played Fantasy since 6th edition, so it’s destruction didn’t bother me much (aside from many of the atrocious new names for races that GW’s draconian overlords have pushed on the design team). I just didn’t want to see this dumbing down (my view) of 40k.
A “Typical” 7th Edition Game in 2017
So having said that, apparently AoS is a lot like 2nd edition 40k, because that’s what most of these changes harken back to in my mind. To be honest, I’m not all that excited for these changes. Now, I know that goes against the over-exuberance of many on the various online sites (including this one) for these changes, and apparent AoS-ization of 40k, but I can’t help but think that many of these changes are a giant step backwards to rules that I feel were best left in the past.
Thus, unlike many online, I was pretty much horrified by most of the changes I saw GW gleefully presenting to us. Upon reflection, I’ve since softened my views (that’s why I didn’t immediately jump to the computer and write this), but I still find myself in uncharted territory. I’m cautiously pessimistic instead of optimistic. Normally, it’s my brother who’s the pessimistic one and I have to talk him off the limb. In this case, our roles are reversed, and it just feels weird to me.
I had hoped they’d continue to evolve the current rule set, by making tweaks, take up some of the good things about the AoS game paradigm, adjust the current rule set some, but basically keep it the same and not invalidate everything out there. Seems that is not to be and instead they will indeed be embracing the whole AoS paradigm (as much as possible, I realize there are just too many things that are different to completely do so). Don’t get me wrong, there are some things I like about the AoS model — now. But when it first rolled out, let’s face it, GW made a bunch of mistakes that blew up in their face. No point values? Ka-booly.
Fortunately, they’ve realized their mistakes — even admitted them to the fanbase — and made corrections. I can deal with everything moved to individual datasheets that are provided free (which IS nice) online, as long as I can still buy a physical copy like most of us old-timers prefer (like my already-mention Grand Alliance Destruction book). The fact that said book is FAR cheaper than a modern codex is very nice as well. And I like the idea of General’s Handbook, especially if they really use it to update and adjust units/models/formations that are found to be clearly under/over-costed (I’m dubious that they will do so though).
The thing I just can’t seem to shake is that this is gonna be 2nd edition all over again. Perhaps it’s ironic that Shadow Wars has just recently stormed onto the scene, as that game, built upon the foundations of Necromunda, basically IS 40k 2nd edition. Which, for what it is, a skirmish game of 10-20 models per side, is really fine. But … and many of you weren’t born yet, so let me warn you … that rule set bogs down into a horrific morass once you start fielding 30+ models per side. So no, do not heed those few conspirators who say that Shadow Wars is a test model for the upcoming 8th edition and it really WILL be 2nd edition all over again. GW is not that crazy. But I do fear they may have forgotten the lessons of the past. I guess we will see. So, let me examine these suggested changes and ponder their wisdom.
3 Ways to Play
As I said earlier, I like AoS’ implementation of the General’s Handbook. The idea of three ways to play — open, narrative and matched play — is a good one, and it allowed GW to continue with their original approach of framing AoS as a fun game that was unburdened with structure of points and just encouraged players to create the battles they wanted. At the same time adding a structure to the game that was built upon that very point system that we all know from every edition of Warhammer (both Fantasy and 40k). Basically, it allows them to remedy their mistake without really admitting it.
But not let’s not kid ourselves, the vast majority of AoS players use matched play and its point system, and always will. It’s ingrained in our wargamer blood, especially those of us steeped in GW games, and it always will be. Any new edition of 40k will be the same. Everyone outside the GW studio will use the matched play system, and it always had to be this way. As bad a mistake as moving Fantasy to AoS AND eliminating the point system was, it would be nothing compared to the catastrophe trying the same with 40k would be. No, GW will not make that mistake again.
And despite my assertion that no one will really play anything aside from matched play, I see no harm in providing alternative ways to play the game. There is no harm in it that I can fathom, and it may prove a boon to those few players out there that choose to play in such alternative ways.
For all that, the General’s Handbook paradigm does itch my skepticism bone. I love the idea of it. A cheap, universal book that is published once a year (ish), and that can be used to update the rules and correct the points costs of units/models/formations/etc. Again, I love the idea, but I fear its implementation. GW does not have a good record of admitting its mistakes and taking action to correct them. No, indeed. The opposite it quite true.
I’ve been playing 40k for 25+ years at this point, and there were many long stretches of editions where GW simply allowed a rule/unit/whatever that was obviously broken to simply stand. They simply ignored such problematic issues, even in the face of a titantic welling of criticism, or blatant interviews and/or unofficial mutterings where it was apparent that the design team was fully aware of said flaws, and they did nothing. Rhino rush, death trap transports, basically every Eldar codex, the original Black Templars, the last two Chaos Space Marine codexes, etc. Nothing was done, and our salvation from these often fun-killing game flaws only came via codex/edition updates.
So, forgive me if I’m wary of claims that the General’s Handbook and whatever 40k version of it comes into being will be used for the purposes of truly trying to re-balance the game. There is every chance that such updated books will do nothing more than fold in the points costs of new product that has been released since the last version of said book was released. We can hope, I guess. I’ve been in the hobby too long; they’ll need to prove it to me.
As a true believer in the Nine-Fold Path of Change, and as a hobbyist who firmly embraces the fluff first, I love the idea of rewarding players for creating a thematic army. So in theory, I should love the idea of Command Points. I’m just once again wary of GW’s ability to create parameters that encourage thematic armies that don’t also contain giant loopholes thru which the more competitive types will create very “un-thematic” armies to loot the rules of their benefits by technically still being a thematic army. Still, if done right, it could be a great thing — especially if they actually do use the updated General’s Handbook (or whatever) to close any exploits that emerge. I’m hopeful on this one.
Bringing back the Movement value to individual units feels like a step backwards to me. I mean, I guess it is okay, and can definitely be used evocatively to demonstrate the real differences in alien races, monsters or whatever (genestealers SHOULD be faster than both and men and orks), but I just feel it will prove more trouble than it’s worth. I remember when Movement was first dropped in favor of the universal system we currently use, and I was strongly opposed it it at the time. I’m a thematic guy after all, and this in my eyes diminished the fluff on the the table-top. At the time.
I soon began to see the wisdom of the simplicity of universal movement. Basically, it’s 6″ or 12″, with some exceptions. Not as evocative perhaps as it once was, but far more simple and easy to understand. It was far easier than memorizing the various individual Movements of various units/models, and that’s considering that were were perhaps half as many factions as there are now.
What I find strange regarding this push to revive Movement are the claims that it makes the game less complex and play smoother. How can adding another stat to everything’s stat-line be more simple? I’ve seem a number of AoS players claim this online. They can’t be serious, can they? Just flipping thru my Grand Alliance Destruction book, and perusing the various units I in tend to bring in my goblin armies makes my head spin. Gobbos (no, I won’t call them “grots”) move 5″, wolf riders move 12″, some squigs move 5″ but others move 2D6″, rock trolls (“troggoths?” … I don’t think so) move 6″and a giant (not doing it) moves 8″, unless he’s wounded, then it depends upon how bad. Again, how is this less complex?
And AoS doesn’t even have vehicles really — certainly not even close to in the same magnitude as 40k. But the worst part comes straight from GW’s own lips “but it’ll mean you will only need to learn the rules for your models.” Umm … what? When has that ever been the case? You do actually need to know what your opponent’s units/models can do as well, especially how fast they move. I’m not saying you need to memorize everything, but even in casual play I need to know how far my opponent’s troops can move in a given turn.
Ultimately, I can take or leave it. If GW re-institutes Movement, I will adapt to it. But I still think it’s a mistake best not repeated in a game of 40k’s scope. The current streamlined system is just better for the game in my opinion.
GW wishes to bring back armor save modifiers. My understanding is that this is a thing in AoS and it is often cited as a great rule that helps stream-line the game by AOS players. Personally, I do not see the advantage of such a system over current armor penetration (AP) system in recent editions of 40k. Indeed, I remember 2nd edition 40k all too well, and for those who don’t, I encourage you to look very closely at Shadow Wars, and such armor save modifiers were very prevalent. Oh, it sounds good on paper, but in practice it diminishes the fluff of the mainstays of the background material (space marines and even terminators). It also ruins the game’s atmosphere by encouraging lame actions on the table-top (such as the fact that space marines always seem to be cowering in the bushes).
The fact that even basic weapons (not really, but in practice), such as bolters and shiriken catapults, impose a negative modifier to armor saves, means than, again in practice, space marines never actually benefit from their power armor. Suddenly, these super-human warriors seem all too mortal, as everything “penetrates” their armor to some degree (again, look over the Shadow Wars weapons tables briefly) and they must hide behind cover or all-to-often be gunned down like lesser warriors. Meanwhile, such lesser warriors like orks couldn’t care less, as they often never get a save to begin with and so do not fear basic weaponry as space marines swiftly come to.
Of course, GW will no doubt tone such armor save modifiers from the Shadow Wars levels. Thumbing through my Grand Alliance Destruction book, I see no save modifiers worse than -3 (I had heard this was the cap in AoS). That seems reasonable, and would certainly make terminators power-houses like never before were they to re-institute the 3+ on 2D6 like in 2nd edition and Shadow Wars. But, and here’s the crux of it, if GW allows any basic weaponry, especially bolters, to have any sort of save modifier, it will be the death of space marines as the super humans we know and love (as it was in 2nd edition).
Everyone plays space marines, so if YOU play space marines and they give bolters the -1 armor save modifier it has in 2nd edition, you’ll never get a save better than 4+. Does that feel right to you? Believe me when I say, it won’t. And even if GW can avoid the temptation, and makes sure that no basic weapons have a armor save modifier, for how long can they do so? They are always releasing new product and factions (which I applaud), or updating old ones. Each time they do, the same temptation will be there. And if they falter even once or twice, and allow a faction to have a basic weapon with a armor save modifier, that will be the death of space marines as super elite warriors and will diminish the overall atmosphere of the game.
Allowing charging units to strike first does sound thematic. Of course, this comes with the caveat that inherently slow weapons such as power fists, don’t automatically do so as well. Allowing such weapons to do that would destroy any thematic gains such a rule change would evoke. I am not opposed to such a change in principle, but I think GW should tread carefully with it. In older editions where chargers always went first, such as 2nd edition, the unintended result was that Initiative (Int) rarely mattered.
Orks hardly cared what their opponent’s Int was, as theirs was certainly lower, so they always went last if they didn’t charge. Similarly, it hardly mattered that Eldar had 5 or 6 Int, as they either went first because they charged, or last because they did not. Then as now, close combats were usually decided in the initially charge phase, so again, Int rarely played much of a part. Were GW to bring this ‘chargers go first’ rule back, I’d hope they compensated somewhere else in the rules to make Int relevant.
Overall, I’m kinda “meh” on this rule change.
So basically GW is advocating for the Battleshock rule from AoS be instituted in 40k. This rule, perhaps more that all the rest, cements in mind that they intend to AoS-izize 40k. Unlike the rest of the rules, 40k has never worked this way (except for Fearless units at some points and for daemons in assault right now). I’m unsure how I really feel about it. I can see how it stream-lines the rules a bit and can speed up the game, but I don’t know that it really improves the game in my mind.
I’ll miss those random moments such as when those fleeing cultists rally at the table edge and then manage to squat on an object late in the game. I’m also wary of the phrase “affects everyone.” What does this mean for fearless units? Or marines and their And They Shall Know No Fear rule? What about daemons and their instability? Hmmm… I’m sure my paranoia is probably shining thru at this point. I’m sure GW would satisfactorily address all of these cases in regards to the rule change. I can see how this might be a positive change to the game.
You Can’t Fight the Future
I don’t know, I’m iffy on many of these changes. I don’t want to be “That Guy,” the gloomy guy who never gives something a chance and always fears change. I am a disciple of the Changer of the Ways after all. But I just like the idea of regressing to 2nd edition again. I understand that 7th edition has become a mess, and that GW cannot do what it would take to fix it (return to its roots and remove all the of bloat they’ve layered over it), but if they really do wish feedback as they seem to imply in their presentation, I hope that they really take the time to consider these changes.
We’ve had seven editions of 40k over the last 30 years. There are lessons to be learned from those years. I urge them to think hard about how these changes will affect the overall experience of 40k. In the end, 40k is not AoS, or even Fantasy. What works in AoS might not work in 40k. They’re a beast of a different color.
So what do you think? Am I Hater and unworthy of the Architect of Fate? Should I be burned at the stake? Let me know in the comments.