Monday, June 16, 2014

Forging a Narrative: Gimic or Constructive Design?

Hello everyone, Godfrey here.  Today I will take a short break from working on my Tru-Scale project and talk about one of the games more infamous taglines.  While many people use the term "Forge a Narrative" as a failing on the part of GW by accusing it as being a cop-out from the design team, others find it to be a doorway to making the game something more than most others out there.

While there are more than certainly aspects of the game which are made worse by this philosophy of design, it should be noted that there are also a lot of possibilities out there for non-competitive play which are made more accessible thanks to this.  With the advent of the new edition, things have really opened up on this front.  So lets take a look at some of the openings brought about by some of the additions or alterations which came about with 7th, and study just what about them is making the game a better system, both narratively and mechanically, or just abuse-able  gimics.

Unbound Force Organization
Constructive Design
Allowing players absolute freedom with what they bring to the table, so long as both players agree feels like a really bold and risky move.  This is probably the largest single change or addition to the game which has people sarcastically stating "it's ok, forge a narrative. GW said it's ok..."  However, put into perspective, this tool really helps certain design elements when it comes to playing to a story.  Most people know that the game isn't inherently designed to be a tournament construct; the game is just so overwhelmingly large and complex with long games that it doesn't lend itself to the format too easily.

So with the advent of this rule, which will more than assuredly not be a allowed at most competitive events, in addition to loosing some nice buffs such as Objective Secured and the warlord trait re-roll, it's a nice and balanced way to allow people that freedom.  Players who have longed to play the old school Armored Company lists from IG, or those who perhaps just want to flood the table with nothing but an endless horde of Ork Boyz, it's now possible.

Another idea comes about with people who still get around to playing themed or escalation style events.  If you use unbound for example, you could create a story in which a single model from another army is there, helping out some force against another.  Maybe a Farseer steps from the shadows to help the Space Marines defeat and Chaos Warband.  It's now possible to build a list where a few remaining Tau units are bailed out by local Guard forces against the overwhelming Tyranid hordes.  Likewise, you can play in narrative environments with more than one game, and build lists which represent your losses from the previous games.  Perhaps your commander dies, and so in the next game, he isn't in your list.

This presents a lot of freedom, but it isn't without flaws.

There is no doubt in my mind that many folks out there who will abuse this mechanic haven't seen 'Pidah Man. "With great power, comes great responsibility." Well, this rule is pretty much the epitome of this idea.  Players are trusted not to break this rule, and to use it as a way to enhance the game for themselves and others.  But like anything else, this rule is pretty breakable.

Someone can now, should they choose, run nothing but Riptides.  No infantry tax, or nothing... just riptides.  And while you could try to say you're building to a story, it's hard to see through the murky mists of cheddar and swiss on that one.

Something else you can do... find a cheap unit of infantry in any Imperial army.  Go on, any unit.  IG are cheap.  Why not a unit of Guardsmen.  Ok, now that you have that, add every single Imperial Character there is.  Yup, that's right, all of them.  Draigo, Manius Calgar, Helbrech, Tigerius, Mephiston, St. Celestine... you name it.  Run all of them as you please in the same list, and slap them on the infantry unit.  Suddenly there's more IC's than regular guardsman, and you have a supercharged single unit army.  In some ways its really cool, and while it wouldn't be good by many accounts... this breaks all semblance of fluff and is really just done because... well you can.

I know it won't always be the case, but this is one of those rules that is better left to the wayside for people to use when they know how to use if for a good cause.  Left in the hands of the dreaded internet meta, it will only lead to ruin.

The Psychic Phase
Constructive Design
In my opinion the game stands to be bettered because of this rework.  While the pre-game time is still rather obnoxious in armies with hand fulls of psychers, the in-game time is much more stream-lined.  Just because you bring x number of psychers no longer means you get to cast all dem powers.  But you do get to cast more.  The phase itself is a much cleaner means to cast the powers in the game, and also keeps people from "forgetting to do that one power over there."  With this, it's like forgetting to shoot before you assault.  It's a little less to be put on the social contract, and more on the players themselves to remember to do what you need in each given phase.

In a nutshell, the addition of this phase finally places some much needed guidelines on this major aspect of the game.  For people who have the desire to focus on space magic, like Corvus for example, they can now really have that focus show through.

But like anything, it isn't without it's flaws.

Armies which throw psychers at you like they're candy will be a problem for armies which don't have any or choose not to run them.  With such a limited scope on stopping powers, though better than it was before, it can be problematic for people to address.  But I can't harp on this too much because it is overall an improvement over what it was.

However, the real issues come about with the new Daemonology powers.  Sanctic powers are amazing, and I love them.  But being able to summon daemons onto the table for nearly any army starts to become a little bit of an issue when it comes time to balance the equation.  Daemons are already an unbalanced force, so adding to the game a cheap and easily accessible means to add them into any army, or worse yet, how the usual negatives of any doubles peril are not there for Daemons (ok I get why.. but still), coupled with their ability to run gobs of psychers, and we can start to see the issue.

I will say Grey Knights may be seeing a much larger roll to play, as Daemons continue to gain power, in most Imperial armies.  Not only because of the Sanctic powers and their army rules against Dameons... but just because it nets you more psychers yourself to generate more charges with.

The fact that there isn't a cap on the amount of dice isn't a concern to me as much as I thought it would be.  People think it's dumb that there isn't, but honestly, in order to get that kind of a number (perhaps 12+ on top of the D6) you have to commit hard to putting that number of psychers on the table.  In this case, it's not much different to me than putting a lot of assault units or shooting units on the table.  If you commit hard to a phase of the game, you should be able to do well in it.  The Psychic Phase is a risk reward pot to commit to in the first place, and to me the only real issue here is Daemons. And even so, it's mainly because many of their psychers are big scary creatures who excel in many other areas as well, so the internal balance of committing hard to having magic falls away when those who have the magic can mallywhomp even the tough as nails assault unit.

Allies Matrix
Constructive Design
I doubt there are many people out there who really dislike the overhaul to this mechanic.  The major factions have all been cleaned up, and overall it feels much more like it should have been all along.  All of the Imperial armies are now under one brand name (which helps clean up the sheer volume of rows and columns), and branching out from your factions starts to fall off fast.  This to me makes perfect sense, since it is married up with a much more realistic ally feel.  Being able to get into the metal bawkses your friends brought would have been broken as all hell in 6th, but here in 7th, it makes perfect sense.

Alongside this, we see stupid rulings corrected.  For example, The Black Templar were one of the only chapters who weren't battle brothers with the Sisters of Battle... and the reason is never explained.  Likewise, and probably the most grievous of stupid rulings were Tau being friends with Imperium, Eldar, and still chillin' cool with the boys and boy...girl...things of Chaos.  But no more.

This new system is a major improvement, and really makes each faction feel like its at war with everyone else, while allowing for the occasional alliance here and there.

This is where I have to report that there are few gimics given the changes here.  The clean up to the ally matrix really removed most of the gimic abuse cases out there.  The best part of this fact is that it does it while also improving the game mechanic's adherence to the narrative.  It is technically more restrictive in pretty much every way, outside of being able to hitch a ride with your pals for the next beer run, but it does it in a way that it always should have.

This change is pretty much completely for the better in my opinion, and while it may birth some new issues (who knows what keeping battle brothers of the Imperium to themselves may do to the meta for example [looking at you Grey Knights]), it's well worth it to remove those issues we had (looking at you Tau-dar!)

Battlefield Terrain
Constructive Design
Probably one of the less known additions to the game, and probably one that will see very little actual play is the addition of terrain rules for terrain features put out by GW.  From the Basilica, to the Craters, and even the downed Aquilla lander, they all have rules which can be pretty cool.  These add a little bit more depth to games where the players can add some extra fluff to their battles.  While I hardly expect to see them used at tournaments or in games with new or recently joined players, some of the more experienced veterans could easily look to these for some extra twists on the game as 7th solidifies itself in the coming months.

As compared to the previous edition which only had the mysterious terrain rules, these rules feel less random, and can really challenge players in a phase of the game which does exist, but hardly sees play either, which is terrain set up time.  But even if this is done before the game by only one player, it can be its own reward.  I myself personally enjoy setting up tables, giving each building and crater a purpose tactically, but also in the grand scheme of a narrative.  For me, I love it when battles can tell a story, and the battlefield itself can be a huge influence on that.  With these new terrain rules, players like me who enjoy this have a whole new medium of rules to consider in terms of what the buildings themselves will do for armies besides offer cover.  How to manage the resources of what buildings offer what perk is a whole new twist on telling a story  and how to approach a battle without even putting an army on the table.

About the only real issue that I can see coming about with these rules are people who want to abuse it in the rules as written terrain set up fashion.  Should an event where this is allowed be using these rules, it may come down to people trying to rush all of the tactically better pieces, stacking the odds against their opponent.  However, I feel this probably won't be much of an issue, as I said before, due to what I feel will be a lack of inclusion on the part of these rules at events.  It becomes more acceptable as a "fluffy" rule since it feels designed for those fluff-oriented gamers out there.

Night Fighting
Constructive Design
Night fighting is one of those rules that hasn't seemed to find it's footing.  From each edition, we've seen drastic changes in it's effects on the table.  From the old "roll to see if you see" mechanic, to the terribly bland 36" cap, and the +3 to your cover saves issue, and even so much as being part of every single game according to the rules and mathematical probability as written last edition... it's been a rather obnoxious rule to implement, and one many of us forgot about... intentionally or otherwise.  Well now we finally have a rule that has lighted up, and seems a little more user friendly.

With its alteration now, we see both players have an option to opt for it or not, and if neither player wants it... hey, it's not a problem.  If one or the other would like to use it, well, then go ahead and roll for it.  This makes sense to me, as commanders should be given the choice as to when to mobilize their forces.  Even in the grim darkness, there's still daytime.  And even when it is in effect, everyone just gets Stealth.  Far less potent or overpowered than it's predecessor, and simple to boot.

I really like this incarnation of the rule as it feels more or less like something that makes sense both in terms of crafting a tale, and playing a game.  It's not going to break the game, and the benefits for being able to ignore it entirely when others cant't seems less fundamentally unbalanced.  That said, it can still be an issue.

Armies like tau who have access to Black Sun Filters en mass, or Dark Eldar who flat have the ability as an army rule can really take advantage of this rule.  In the instances where an army can ignore this rule, they will almost always opt for the roll, because it's basically a free buff with very limited drawbacks.  Imperial armies likewise can really do well by using their searchlights to forgo the enemy buffs should they be rolling second.  But  while it's a possible gimic, it's a slight one at best.  However, it is worth noting that while Night Fighting can only really occur by the rules as written on turn 1, that's a pretty big deal if you're playing the new Maelstrom of War scenarios.  Much of those games boil down to netting an early lead, and then holding onto it.  If your army has an edge, great or small on turn one, it can really be a game changer, even in the old Eternal War missions.  It's a slight issue, but this is one that has been about for some time now, and feels less punishing now than is has in the past, so props to the design team on this one.

In the end, the rules listed above, while no where near all encompassing, are just a few occasions where the design team seems to be talking the talk, and walking the walk when they say "Forge a Narrative."  It's a great blend of new rules and redesigns of old ones which give both casual and competivie players something to enjoy.  And while the game itself is always going to be a tug of war between balancing a game for it's mechanics, and following the lore and fluff the game is meant to portray, this one does it pretty seamlessly for the most part.

The addition and alteration of the above listed rules has really allowed players who are interested in playing to the lore a chance to do so better than ever, while also granting those who play for the competitive edge a chance to play one of the more balanced core sets 40k has seen in it's near 30 year run.  The fact that the game has had a 3 decade run and still going strong is in itself a point worthy of celebration in my opinion.  Where it will go from here is up to the design team, but if the slower release of Orks is any indication that perhaps 6th's break neck speed of releases may be over, to me, this could be the dawn of a bright shining new era for the grim dark.


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