Thursday, April 15, 2010

Playing Dungeons and Dragons is good for your 40k

To quote some internet pundits:

"Why do Jervis and Co. think they get a pass on balancing their game? I mean, where else does that mentality fly? What precedent exists that makes their apathy acceptable?"

"1st Ed. [background] I'm not too good on. And the only person I know who has a clue about it is [Gotthammer]. And [Gotthammer] supports female Marines...So... :p"

Seeing these two posts got me thinking more about something gorepants and I have frequently discussed - that 40k was basically created by a bunch of roleplaying nerds and is prettymuch still run by them.
Many of you will be familiar with Games Workshop's origin as a UK based publishing house producing the then very very niche D&D books, and those who weren't now are. So the original creators of the company were obviously into D&D. That influence is plain as day when you look at Rogue Trader - a bare bones point system, story based missions, millions of options, and of course a Games Master (GM) to arbitrate the whole thing and run any monsters and keep track of hidden units etc. Basically RT was a game where two people created small forces, often of peasant militia or similar to achieve an objective. The GM might throw in some land mines, wandering TV crews, telepotring crocodiles or make the entire board out of bouncy rubber moss.

Another way to play was having a single 'player' agianst the GM's forces - pit your elite team of assassins against the Vampire controlled Governor's palace guard, steal your ship back from Abdul Goldberg etc.

How does this relate to 40k? Well back then if one side was beating the other too badly it was simple enough for the GM to go "suddenly a bunch of Croatalids teleport in right ontop of your dreadnought!" and balance was restored (kinda).
This is the same in D&D - while there are levels and encounter guidlines, they are all at the GM's discretion to further the story at hand. While a random encounter should be a fair challenge for the party it should be balanced, or even easy.

However the main 'meat' of the game, the battle against the dark lord's Dread Knights, facing down the Theive's Guild, delving into the great Wyrm Gralcathang's lair, will likely not be balanced - they will be tough gruelling struggles of which an epic song will be sung. Or you'll die a horrible firey death and many jokes will be told of your pathetic demise by your comrades (or they may stuff your corpse into your own backpack for later rezzing).

But which will be remembered?

Random encounter #3412 or the time Elshora died keeping the dragonkin pennined in their volcano lair to ensure their deaths and save the rest of the party?

The second part of this is not being afraid to throw the rules out the window when it makes for a better story and more enjoyable game for all involved. If you were to tell any RPG player they couldn't change what was in the background of a sourcebook they'd likely hit you over the head with it.

So why do people insist of 40k being by the book, balanced, consistent and things which go against its origins as an RPG?

The boarding of the hulk "Expurgaration of Plegmnostisitis" went better than most other actions of its type. Though the Genestealers did hog the hot tub.

My instant reaction to the first post I quoted was "roleplaying games" - I've been up against a literally unkillable invincible being who will kill us in less than five seconds flat, and won. The GM was dumbfounded (and somewhat annoyed) at how I pulled off slaying who was meant to be the major antagonist for the next many adventures the first time we met. It was not balanced, the encounter was designed so that it was impossible for us to win.
It was a very satisfying victory. If I'd died I would have been saddened at my character dying, but they would have gone out fighting and in character.

Isn't it in character for the Eldar to launch a strike against a massively outnumbering force to kill the leader? Marines to drop into a tyranid infested world and come out victorious? Le Soldat Marbo to kill an entire Waaagh with nothing but his knife and bad attitude?

Most other wargames have little concept of balance in the way many 40k players want it - Stargrunt II explicitly has no points values or force orgs, just some sample platoon organisations that aren't balanced against each other. It seems to be a thing with the fantasy / sci-fi genre and the newer systems.
My thought is that it is a (somewhat sensible from that perspective) marketing move - it is so much easier to get people into a game when they know they have an 'equal' chance at winning so long as each army has the same points total. Play a scenario titled "you guys are screwed, the enemy has unlimited forces and you have no ammo" doesn't exactly encourage new players when they get curb stomped by TFG.

But that is the 'price' of having a relatively obscure hobby going more and more mainstream - that certain aspects of it get watered down: less overt violence in the book's art - plenty of skulls but not many severed heads, removing the medical slavery aspect of geneseed creation, not mentioning the marine cannibalism ability much, less overt political satire, less humour, less ripping off Dune.

This isn't a bad thing per se, it gets people who would otherwise pass the hobby over involved in it, and with things like Battle Missions (Kill Team in particular), the various home brew projects and such the art of the thematic mission won't die. It shouldn't, as that's how 40k is designed to be played!
I remember a battle report from not too long ago where it mentions a Battlewagon being allowed to jump an 'impassible' waterway to ram an opponent - they specifically mentioned it wasn't in the rules but it was cool so they allowed it.

I'm a big fan of that sort of thinking as it makes the game into more than a RST or Chess on steroids - it really makes it a 'recreation' of a battle in the 40k universe. Many people like to quote "fluff =/= rules", usually to point out why certain things don't work some way (why don't marines have chainswords is one I was recently), but forget that if they want they can change the rules.
Opponents of this argue that getting used to your own houserules can be confusing when you play a new opponent as they will be expecting a 'by the book' match. That's fine, every adventuring party needs the odd random encounter to grind some experience, but the real fun is when it gets crazy and the rules go out the window.

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