+ inload: Thoughts on 40k Crusade gaming +

+ 9th Edition – Gaming Crusade +

+ Yesterday Games Workshop released a preview article [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+on Crusade Campaigns, one of the additions to the upcoming 9th edition of 40k. I'm looking forward to this, and wanted to jot down a few thoughts. +

+ Why am I excited? The short answer is that this seems to be a proper development of Narrative Gaming, a concept that's been around forever, but which GW explicitly acknowledged in 8th. The 'three ways of gaming' – Narrative, Open and Matched – were given equal prominence, but Open and Narrative never quite got the same support as Matched. +

+ Three ways to play: leaving the work to the players +

In my experience, Matched Play (by which I mean gaming with an eye to competitive play on an equal playing field) has been, and remains, the de facto method of gaming, particularly when meeting new gamers. It's structured, clear, and well-supported by annual reviews of points and scenarios designed to provide as fair a playing field as possible. This sense of equality and fairness makes it very appealing. It's great if you don't want to think too much, and just get on with a game with a mate. +

+ Let me be clear that I'm not disparaging Matched Play. Any form of gaming requires imagination, discussion and compromise to be successful – and the only reason you don't have to think prior to the game is because there's a wealth of lists (army lists, mission lists, objective lists) and discussion geared towards supporting this style of play. Within the Match itself there's lots to think about. The same is true of Narrative play (by which I mean gaming with an eye to telling or retelling stories to see how things turn out) – the same core gaming rules still apply; but the pre- and post-game guidelines are currently much more nebulous. +

+ That's a problem. If you've been lucky enough to play games with people who are prepared to put the work in to create scenarios and who are genuinely interested in seeing the events rather than the result, Narrative and Open Play gaming are fantastic fun. However, those are some big 'ifs'. A lot of gamers – particularly people who have only ever experienced Matched Play, or who have goal-driven, competitive mindsets, can find it hard to adjust the way of thinking from competitive to collaborative. I think this is because what Narrative Play entails has never been very well explained or supported. +

+ From reaching the end to enjoying the journey: fairness and fun +

+ There is the argument, of course, that because Open and Narrative Play are inherently less restrictive, they shouldn't have as many rules. While I agree with the sentiment that you don't need so many restrictions to govern Open and Narrative Play, that rules are more than that – they provide a framework that sparks people's imaginations. I don't think there are really two tribes of gamers – even the most competitive tournament player enjoys a cool-looking army, and likewise most Narrative Gamers still want to see their force doing the things they want: there's simply a difference in what the goals are. There's a lot of overlap and common ground between the groups, and I hope Crusade helps make explicit more things that people enjoy, so that games of all stripes can find something new. +

+ Even something as simple as a table of names can help gamers make the jump from seeing the toy soldiers as abstract figures to representations of characters – and thus to conceptually start treating their gaming as acting out scenes from books or films, rather than as competitions. +

+ My reservation about Matched Play, therefore, is simply that it's become so ingrained as the 'proper' way to play. The result is that people are often at a loss to know where to begin when they want to move towards Narrative Play. My hope is that Crusade shows players of all stripes that there's more than one way to skin a cat; and that asymmetric gaming – i.e. when a game is not matched and equal – can be rewarding and fun. +

+ I don't think that anyone would really argue that a last stand or ambush-type game is necessarily fair, but if it can be fun then it's still worth doing. If Crusade offers a framework to make storytelling fun, it might encourage people to enjoy their army losing – a largely alien concept to a Matched Play mindset, but one that's core to an ongoing narrative. The trick is in making that defeat engaging. Having some reward to salve the sting of defeat, even if it's simply the spur to convert an injured or interred version of your commander, is good. +

+ Getting started with a different way of playing +

+ For those open to the idea of Narrative Gaming, but without any guidance on where to start, or what it entails – I think Crusade Gaming will work nicely; acting as a reassuring guide on how to develop and grow your army more organically than starting from scratch every time you play a match. For existing Narrative Play gamers, Crusade will – I hope – offer new ideas; more paint on the palette. If nothing else, attention from GW goes a long way to legitimise things for people on the fence – and anything that makes people feel empowered to play the way they enjoy has got to be good. +

+ However imaginative and creative you are, more ideas are always welcome, as they take the burden away. From GW's promises in the article linked above, Crusade gaming will have ongoing material support, and that's invaluable because it takes the onus of effort away without putting restrictions on. You can still do the work – you just won't have to. +

+ There will always be players who just want to play competitively, of course; and that's good – variety's the spice of life, and policing fun is the quickest way to sour the experience for everyone. Having a definite 'Narrative alternative' to Matched Play will help communicate that there's a step change between Matched Play and Narrative Play, rather than one being a subsidiary of the other. That'll be good for everyone: helping people find like-minded gamers, offering more choices and opportunities, and making that pre-game discussion and social aspect that little bit less daunting or awkward. +

+ In closing, I'm not advocating being lazy, or encouraging people to stop creating things. Crusade isn't going to be a salve that removes any social interaction or compromise, but I hope it will encourage people to take a more wholesome look at their model collections, and to gradually build their army from models they like first and foremost. +


+ My Crusade Campaign force +

+ Diatribe over, here are some figures on the bench. With rumours putting a release date at the back end of July, I'd dearly like to have the 50 power level hinted at for Crusade ready to go; and it's also a brilliant way to clear out spare bits and bobs with (hopefulyl) fewer restrictions on what can go into the army. I'm making a lot of assumptions on how Crusade Campaigns will work, but I'm taking the fact that Imperium is one of the options to mean that I'll be able to to combine the various odd squads and characters I've gathered into one single army – much like Rogue Trader. +

+ To that end, I've got some side projects from the Adeptus Mechanicus, Imperial Guard and Space Marines to bash together – to say nothing of astropaths, mercenaries, Sororitas and sundry others. My dream is to have a system where I can field the army I want to play without having to justify, explain or discuss how it works – just like I can when playing within the Matched Play paradigm. +

+ Gatebreaker Astartes will form a chunk of the army – probably between a third and a half of the force. The Primaris marines above will be pretty much out of the box, and joined by three or four more involved conversions representing the old-school Gatebreakers. I want to play with the contrast between gothic Astartes and cleaner Primaris, as they'll form a microcosm of the army as a whole, letting me bring in all the fun models I want to use. +

+ Speaking of which... some or all of these figures, along with others from Blackstone Fortress, will hopefully make an appearance in some way. I want to build a specific suite of characters to lead the army – probably an iteration of Inquisitrix Barbari Kills, and perhaps a Rogue Trader. Both would give a really good point of focus for the various arms of the Imperium, and fit into the story of a Crusading group. +

+ No project of mine would be complete without Guard, and these Lamb's Worlders/Port Bromwics have been patiently awaiting paint. Will they appear here, or will some Catachans displace them? Who can say? +

+ Here's a closer pic of Oto Yeng – a Gatebreakers Claviger Gentle (or apothcary-errant). This is a representation of a Deathwatch character I've been playing, though with some M42-era adjustment to his armour. +

+ ...and here are some bikes. A good example of what I want to do with this army, these are models I bought on a whim ages ago, that have sat unloved for ages. +


slovak said...

Nice, well structured essay. Despite the topic of competitive versus narrative gamers being such a worn old shoe you make several excellent points about bridging that (largely mythical) gap.

apologist said...

Thanks Slovak. It's very easy to fall into assuming people are either/or competitive/narrative, but gamers have much more in common than they have dividing them. GW addressing the distinction between modes of play was the first step – treating the modes with equal weight and support is the next.