+ inload: Narrative gaming +

+ Endworlds +

[+Pictcapture credit: Melihron+]

"Rimspace or rim-worlds, the Imperials call 'em. Most here just call it Edgeside. Out beyond the galaxy's rim. It's an... odd place. Liminal; know what I mean? Out beyond it's the big black. Just nothing. Sounds kinda cute when I say that, but it's..." she paused, failing to find the words.

"Like I say, it's... odd. The big black. It's the end of it all, see? Sure, there's other galaxies out there, but they're just like us. Little island universes gradually wearing away. And make no mistake –" she waved a finger in the Rogue Trader's face, "It sure is wearing away." She paused, looking out of the colossal window once more. "Look far enough, and you can see it happening. Slowly, sure, and dust – just dust. Trickling away from the galaxy's edge into the true void. But nothing comes back in."

Her faraway gaze suddenly switched; as though a lever had gone off in the back of her mind. Fear. That was all Taiwo saw in her eyes.

"Nothing you want to meet, anyway."


+ Army narrative: The edge of the galaxy +

The galaxy of the 41st Millennium is vast – maddeningly so. I wanted to try to get that across in my recent Gatebreakers project, by setting the Chapter's holdings on the very edge of the galaxy.  Here, they pursue a lonely and unheralded duty, defending the scant Imperial holdings from predations of both local and extra-galactic species.

That's a story that's been told a hundred times in different Space Marine projects, so what sets the Gatebreakers apart? In part, nothing. I want a hook that anyone familiar with 40k will immediately understand. The Gatebreakers might be a bit odd in their traditions and way of fighting, but nothing too egregious. What makes them different is their region.

If you've read any of M. John Harrison's Viriconium books, you'll have an idea of the feeling I want to evoke with the Gatebreakers. It's familiar, but little details are off. The overall feeling is one of oppression and fatigue – not driven by the claustrophobic atmosphere of hive worlds like Necromunda, but owing to an unbearable absence. Like a creature in a vacuum, vainly trying to hold itself together, struggling to find a place to push against in an infinite emptiness, so the Endworlds setting is one of hollowness, loss, absence and resignation.

At the very edge of the galaxy, the Imperium is not the feared and powerful behemoth it sometimes appears to be. Here, the frayed cobweb that makes up human space reveals just how tattered and ragged (and often weird) the Emperor's Imperium is; and how insignificant the ambitions of humankind are. Here, even the vaunted space marines are daunted by the infinite emptiness of the Great Dark; turning to small, petty, spiteful wars against other species – and even their own – in an attempt to give themselves meaning.

The great lords of the Gatebreakers – Master Sho and his predecessors – have had the bravado of the Astartes' claims proven false by centuries – perhaps millennia – of warfare against the strangest species imaginable. Here, humanity's 'manifest destiny' is demonstrated to be a shout into the void; and they have responded by turning to the only thing remaining to them: duty.


+ The arrival of Ẹtì Alubarika and Chapter 333 +

It is a few years into M42 – as near as we can reckon. The Rogue Trader Taiwo has brought his fleet – headed by the Ẹtì Alubarika – on a mission to explore these strange worlds. With him he has Barbari Kills – Inquisitrix Barbari Kills, of the Ordo Propter, if you please – and her charges, the one thousand Primaris marines of Chapter 333. Also called the Gatebreakers, they are a newly-founded group intended to take the place of the long-lost Gatebreakers Chapter.

Finding the old Gatebreakers far from deceased has the potential to be a celebration; though their modus operandi has been changed beyond recognition by years of unsupported attrition. Where the old Chapter is pragmatic; content to survive and keep its ancient wards secure, Captain Scipius is every bit the ambitious Astartes of the main setting. A true believer in the absolutes of the Imperium, he will find his will tested beyond endurance here in the Endworlds... 


+ Why have a narrative? +

... And so we turn to the game itself. Having a story like this to tell is not essential to a fun game, but it does add a layer of depth. Anyone who's played a linked series of games – whether a tabletop wargame, boardgame or computer game, will know the particular fun of watching your team, force or character grow – and the concern when something bad happens! 

At its best, a narrative helps turn your gaming into collaborative storytelling. While you (and hopefully the other players) will come to recognise and remember the individuals in each others' forces, it's important to recognise that your characters aren't the protagonists; and that you are not an omniscient narrator. You've got to work collaboratively, and lean into the vicissitudes of the game. 

It's easy to have your characters teleport away to safety, or otherwise wake up from unconsciousness when they're killed, but as A Song of Ice and Fire shows, sometimes exposing your characters to genuine danger creates great drama. Having a beloved character die sound bad – and it should be – but it opens the field to new stories: stories of revenge; stories of lost treachery; and stories of new or minor characters coming to the fore.

This is exactly the sort of story that 40k can tell well. After all, it's a big galaxy, and whatever happens, you will not be missed...

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