Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thoughts: Does everything in the background have to be represented by rules?

We've all heard it, and have probably engaged in some of it ourselves: such and such rule doesn't reflect the background!  X chapter of marines should have rules for XYZ!  We've heard the clamor for ways to differentiate marines, chaos legions, eldar craftworlds, ork klans, guard regiments, tyranid hivefleets, etc.

At some level it makes sense.  Imperial Fists are supposed to be masters of siege warfare, Bad Moons are supposed to have the best equipment, Saim Hann use a lot of jetbikes.  Why not give them special rules to represent that?

But how much is really necessary?  How much of the background needs hard representation in the "crunch" of the rules?  Can't the Salamanders' preference for flame weapons just be represented by the player choosing to use more of those weapons instead of having to have special rules making them more effective?  Can't you represent the Blood Axes by just choosing more Kommandos and Stormboys without needing extra bonuses?  

My view is that such rules are generally more needed when the issue is choice - like if the Ork codex had a restriction on looted vehicles, let Deathskulls (who are renowned for their looting abilities) ignore that restriction, instead of giving them a special rule making something better, like letting you reroll the Loota's d3 shots.  Open up posibilities.  Given the limited nature of the game, does the level of difference in the background really justify an in-game effect?  Are Imperial Fists really *that* much better at cracking fortifications than other marines to give them a +1 in a d6-based game?  Or should it just be represented by the player taking more devastators and vindicators?

I also think that in-game bonuses a lot of times lead to problems, and issues of escalation.  Take the Death Guard, the chaos marine legion devoted to Nurgle.  Plague Marines are supposed to be tough, so they gave them Toughness 5.  They also gave them Feel No Pain (which originally came to chaos through KHORNE, not Nurgle, by the way...), but other Nurgle marked units only get the toughness boost.  This leads to complaints that you can't really do a Death Guard army, since the more veteran style units like Chosen and Terminators are "less blessed" than the Troops.  Would the designers have been better off (in the sense of fewer complaints) by simply not giving the Plague Marines the FNP boost in the first place?  

What do you think?  What sorts of things do you feel need to be represented better in the rules?  What could be taken out? 


  1. While making things on the tabletop closer to the background does complicate things, I think it is a great way to show the differences between different parts of the same faction. That said if it is done at all every faction should be equally treated with background centric rules.

    The problem is that the design team only seem to do half measures and definitely favor some factions over others. I mean look at the rumors for the new Codex Space Marines, if even a quarter of them are true, it really changes the army a lot.

    Then look at Codex Chaos Marines, those poor bastards are paying for the 3.5 codex 3 editions later. It is a despicable shame really, the great enemy of the Imperium are treated so poorly that they have become Bond villains doomed to fail.

    1. I agree that the halfway nature of it leaves something to be desired.

  2. I tend to think that if you can't show me your world through your game's mechanics, you end up telling me about your world, at great length, filling my ears with stuff that isn't intuitive and apparent from your game, and which is only going to disappoint me when I look for it in your game and can't find it.

    There's a maxim among the Old School Renaissance blogs, or there was a while ago at least: character is what happens during play, not a 'backstory' to be trudged through before you start.

    1. Good point that the rules should reflect the "reality" of the world. But do some of the attempts to do so actually end up exaggerating the reality instead of reflecting it, breaking the narrative as much if not more as leaving it out would have?

    2. I think it's something to talk about managing expectations, as well as how rules, bonuses, and bonus rules tend to multiply out. There's certainly an aspect of escalation between game functionality and background representation, but that tends to happen when gamey-stuff like 'power levels' and so on bleed back into the fluff.


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