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40K Open Thread: Improving Narrative Play

4 Minute Read
Apr 24 2019

Internet, it’s time to go to work – How can improve Warhammer 40,000 Narrative Play?

Recently Games Workshop put out their Big Community Survey. I took the survey as I’m sure many others did, too. One of the sections that really stuck out to me was the topic of Narrative Play. And one of the big questions GW had was ways to improve the Narrative Play experience.


Well that got us here at BoLS thinking – How DO you improve the Narrative Play experience? It’s a pretty tough question! For starters, what exactly is Narrative Play?

Narrative Play is “defined” on page 192 of the BRB. The best description I can find is that “Narrative Play is a gaming style that ties the battles you play on your tabletop to the stories of the Imperium and its foes.

The rest of the section has a few guidelines and suggestions – but honestly it’s all kind of vague. Narrative Play is a bit abstract and tricky. GW mentions lots of things from “House rules” to special objectives, special scenery, asymmetrical games, themed armies, and even themed paint jobs! Part of the fun for them with Narrative Play is also coming up with all those special rules to use in their missions.

Asymmetrical Game? Probably the perfect Narrative Battle!

The Narrative Play Section in the BRB does have lots of extra rules and some missions you can use as well. But that’s not really the point – those things still don’t answer the question of “How do you improve Narrative Play?


Down The Rabbit Hole

For me, personally, I’ve been thinking back to my Narrative Play experiences and what made them so good. Going to events and playing in the Narrative Events is always a blast for me. And really, I think it’s been the combination of 3 key things.

  • Having a Game Master
  • Having Crazy/Fun Scenarios and Terrain
  • Having The “Correct” Mindset

Game Mastery

Having a Game Master is a major factor for me. The GM typically is the one that does all the leg work. They are the ones that create the rules for the scenario, but they also help to guide players into enjoying the game. This can sound pretty crazy if you’re coming at it from a Matched Play mindset. “What do you mean I can’t deploy my forces there? That’s not how the rules work!” No. That’s NOT how the rules work because the GM is the final authority. They make the call and you should stick with them on it.

It’s a tough job but when you get a good GM (kind of like a good DM for a D&D campaign) they can really spoil your experience. If you want to get spoiled, go to an event run by The Narrative Guys. Dan, Glenn, and the rest of their crew are awesome and they “get it.” I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of playing in more than a few of their events and they are just amazing.

Bring On The Crazy Terrain

The Terrain and the Scenario are also really important. It’s hard to have a “theme” game if you’re just fighting over the same hill you’ve played a million games on already. Spice it up! This is something any one can do with some effort – but make your own terrain and bring it! Perhaps it’s a custom Warp Gate based on the Noctilith Crown! Or perhaps it’s an Imperial bunker you’re fighting in. Get creative! The better your terrain is, the easier it will be for you to come up with a story of why you’re fighting over and within that terrain!

Free Your Mind

This last one is tricky. Having the “Correct” Mindset for Narrative Play is another one of those ambiguous things. The best way I can describe is that you should play the game like you want your opponent to have a good time. I’m not saying you throw the game. I’m saying you do things that make the game more cinematic and more “over-the-top” than you might normally do. For example, trying to get your Warlords (ie BOTH yours and your opponents) in an epic 1v1 duel. Or agreeing to have a massive throw-down on a particular piece of terrain. Coming up with your own agreed upon “cinematic moments” is what I like to call them.

There are other things, too. There’s just a different mindset than Matched Play or Tournament Play – these games are meant to be enjoyed and celebrated when they are done – by both (or all) parties. I still talk to friends I’ve made at these events and we remember those crazy games fondly. It’s not about winning or losing in Narrative Play – it’s about creating an awesome story.


“Remember that time 200 plus genestealers and Custodes died in an boarding action? No? Well I was there and it was EPIC!”


We Need YOU

Okay – I’ve rambled enough. I’m turning this over to you, oh Internet Reader. How would YOU improve Narrative Play? Consider this a brainstorming sessions – let’s toss out some ideas and see what sticks!

Drop your ideas in the comments – we want to know how YOU would improve Narrative Play.

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