Characters’ power has risen and fallen like the tides over the years – but is it good for the game?
Characters are critically important for Warhammer 40,000. Sure they have better stats than the typical model – but more than that, they are anchors to the background of the game. Characters are the tool that makes the background and lore come to life. They are what allow you the players to forge your own narrative, rewrite 40K history, and carve your own epic stories on the tabletop.
Across the editions, the status of characters has gone up and down.
“Let me tell you of the days of HIGH ADVENTURE”
The Birth of HEROHAMMER
Way back in Rogue Trader and 2nd Edition in the 1980s and 90s, characters were SUPER powerful. You would often see a single character, usually a Level 4 Psyker, using up almost a third of an army’s points – and be able to turn the tide of battle by him or herself. These characters could take exotic wargear like Vortex grenades and make the game revolve around themselves. Often the best way to stop one of these monsters was to field one of your own, and … there you have it HEROHAMMER was born. Games around which the characters mattered and everything else was window dressing.
In the middle editions of the game, characters were taken down a notch, and things like monstrous creatures, hidden power fists and the like put them in their place. In the late 1990s to the 2000s GW didn’t have the mega-sized plastic kits we have now and Forge World models existed in a hazy no-mans-land of “with opponent’s permission”, so the era of super-models was somewhat tamed.
Enter the Modern Age
Advances in plastic manufacturing have brought us into a new era. The last few editions of 40K in the 2010s have brought us things previously only dreamed of like Knights, Primarchs and the like. Forge World is now rolled into the core game, and all over the place, you see super-models duking it out. While not all of these models are characters, enough of them are, and it looks like HEROHAMMER has truly returned. If anything, we have been transported back into the 1980s all over again.
Is it Bad?
But that still doesn’t answer the question – is it a bad thing? I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I like the tactical challenges of becoming a plastic dudeman general when two large forces of “normal guys” are duking it out across the tabletop. I like the pure challenge of playing with two opposing armies vying for 32mm glory. The introduction of super-characters feels like a crutch in these situations. But on the other hand, as I look back over the 30 years of gaming – my fondest memories and greatest moments usually revolved around games that involved those characters doing something crazy or amazing. Those are what I keep and cherish of the grimdark over time.
So I’m stuck – despite my best desire to not go all-in with a HEROHAMMER army, I will usually find a way to fit one named character into my armies – because win or lose, I want my game to be woven into the tapestry of the grimdark’s tales of heroes and villains quest for glory.
~ How do you feel about the place of characters and super-units in the game?