We're nearly almost about to be on the brink of possibly considering the eventuality of completing turn 1 of the Battle of Koles Lorr. Patience, my pretties... patience. We've had a bit of a learning curve considering the long distances this game must pass, as well as some of the idiosyncrasies of the armies in play. We move ever onwards.
But in the meantime, I've been chatting on and off with Chris, of Chris's Gaming Journal. In our myriad of discussions about various different elements of Warhammer, he got me thinking about other editions of the game and its development.
That, in turn, got me to thinking about what I meant when I titled the blog 'Warhammer For Adults'. Of course, I have a whole page on that, but I guess the thing is still focussed on 3rd edition and was written when I was experiencing some ...frustration.
I guess I needed a hug.
Anyway, I thought I'd go into a more analytical look at what I mean when I refer to Warhammer For Adults. I can think of three points to make:
The first thing that got me onto this blog was simply my interpretation of the Warhammer 8 rules. Fundamentally, I felt that they were a dumbing down of the fine institution of Warhammer. I know there were a lot of problems with army books and game balance in the 6th and 7th edition, but I still felt the core ruleset was pretty solid. Warhammer 8 was generally a poor follow up from 6th and 7th.
I don't think that because I found I had a killer army that suddenly became ineffective. I've never played a tournament winning army (which is not to say I haven't won tournaments). I genuinely think that Warhammer 8 has been written first and foremost to sell figures, and to do that, it has been written to be accessible to anyone. Anyone. Not too sure how to tie you shoelaces? That's okay, we know that's complicated, but fortunately you can still play Warhammer. Still wondering who that person who lives on the other side of the silver window in your bathroom is and why they keep doing everything you do when you're in there? That's deep, but fortunately, you can still play Warhammer.
I'm not trying to make Warhammer exclusive, but one should assume that there is some sort of mental commitment required by those aspiring to play the game. One assumes football requires a basic level of fitness and hand-eye co-ordination, but they don't change the rules to say that players should only walk in order to make it more accessible.
I feel that the Warhammer 8 rule set has just crossed this 'simplicity' line. Chances are, if I was new, I wouldn't know the difference, but in my case, I've seen better, more engaging rules (not just 3rd ed, now, I mean 6th and 7th), so I know GW are capable of more.
This brings me to my second point. The Warhammer rule set is now developed with tournament play as its priority. True, in Warhammer 8, they've included a whole battle report in which a GM is used to help run the game. There are sections at the back looking at narrative and special scenarios looking at some non-standard scenarios. These are not present in older versions of Warhammer. My question, then, is why the hell have I not seen them in play? Ever?*
*I'm not saying they aren't played - but I confess, in the year or so that I've had a go at Warhammer 8, I never got to play them. And that's not for a lack of trying.
Simply, I think that people are so taken with the 'ease' of relying on the rules to direct how they should interact with each other (often in a situation where they don't really know each other, such as tournaments) that they just don't explore the possibilities. This leads to a situation where the rule set becomes a limiter, not an enabler. There is a small, but important difference between the questions 'My rule set seems to suggest we have this option, how do you feel about that?' and 'My rule set seems to suggest that we have this option, why are you deviating from it?'
This expectation that players have of each other to limit themselves to the rules, which are then supposed to have a common interpretation. Did you laugh just then? When I said common interpretation? Of course its impossible. The vast bulk of Warhammer forums on the internet exist to facilitate rules discussion between anonymous people, who appear to be hell bent on ensuring that everyone out there agrees with their interpretation of the rules. Some of these discussions take on court-case like proportions, where people submit precedents set by other rules and quote battle reports from White Dwarf as evidence of their understanding and why their position should be 'judged' the correct one.
Note that I've not discussed behaviour at actual tournaments - I'm just talking about the tournament-like or tournament-ready usage of the rules in supposedly friendly games where the players have control over the entire scope of the game. Whilst I'm not prepared to excuse tournaments (don't get me started on tournaments and the 'have fun or else' attitude that seems to permeate them, that's for another day), I can still understand that players might get a bit more competitive if they have something to win. I'm much less clear on why you have to win by quoting rules when its a friendly game between two supposed adults with nothing other than fun as the motivation.
Consider this example I've lifted recently from the forums. Bear in mind that I am aware of the dangers of just using internet forum examples, because I don't know the whole context of the discussion, and I will most likely never actually know the people or the circumstances. Also, I have no ill will to any of the people involved. I just feel sorry for them. In this case, one player succumbed to the deployment rules and tried his level best to meet their requirements. His opponent just let him. It is my assertion that two adults would have looked at the situation and said something like 'its a bit silly to deploy this way, what would it actually look like?' or 'I wonder if I can construct some sort of narrative that might explain why they would deploy this way.' I was pleased to note that the first response suggested as much, but the fact that the post exists at all is testament to the problem with tournament systems and thinking. That same forum is rammed full of questions about what happens when rule A meets rule B and ways of either getting around the limitation or deriving the most extreme exploitation of that rule combination, again, with the express intention of winning.
My third point takes a comparative look at Warhammer 3. Taking a look at the books of the time - Warhammer 3, The Realms of Chaos books and Rogue Trader, one would be hard pressed to get any coherent rules out of them. Simply put, the rules are terribly written. I'm talking plain, bad english, which is ambiguous and in some cases, incomplete. In spite of these limitations, every single rule is pregnant with possibility, simply because it is ambiguous. Players have no choice but to stop and consider what the hell the designer was trying to say. In the end, most players of this time ended up looking at narrative to get through.
And lets not kid ourselves - there is no rule set in the Warhammer stable that could be exploited more than Warhammer 3. Check it out - you can have a magic sword that automatically hits, automatically wounds, denies your opponent any armour save, and will kill him outright if a wound is scored. A level 25 wizard can summon an elemental onto the table. Do you know an elemental's stat line when it arrives? Put 10 in each column. That's right - it moves 10", has a Toughness of 10 and has 10 wounds. You don't pay points for these things - a wizard just summons one.
Even Warhammer 3 cheese is for adults.
My point is that because the rule set depends on player co-operation (as opposed to player competition) and was designed with the idea of having a GM in place to help, players are immediately less likely to get stuck on rules, because they need to resort to something other than just the rule definition in order to explain what is happening. Most players of the era would be more comfortable having an elemental on the table than any Warhammer 8 player (using that rule set means you don't even have to be afraid of it because you always wound on a 6 now anyway). They would find a good narrative reason to have such a thing on the table, and then, as if by magic, would be able to include in that narrative a hero, or villian, or some other similar fantastic creature in order to counter it. Or it would only be available for a random number of turns. Players would resort to narrative to sort out the evident power problem.
That said, you don't need the Warhammer 3 rule set to do that. It's just that its most evident in players who hold to Warhammer 3 standards, because the rule set is so badly written. Take note of what I say - the players use narrative in order to compensate for the rules. Do you play Warhammer 6? You could use narrative to compensate for the rules. Do you play Warhammer 8? You can use narrative.
Think about the forum post mentioned above, where the poor bastard had to deploy his whole army in between the imaginary lines on the field. Could they not have re-arranged the scenery to suggest that there was only a narrow defile in which the army ended up entering the field? The narrative would simply be the opposing force knew that was a bottle neck and had set up in expectation of their arrival. I haven't even written a line of fiction to explain that. That's not even narrative.
Consider this for a parting shot: in the Realms of Chaos books, the points cost for greater daemons (you know, bloodthirsters, keepers of secrets - that sort of thing) are listed for a sense of completeness. One doesn't pay points for them - you simply agree with your opponent how many you will have. If your head just exploded, that's because you're still playing Warhammer for Children.
For more on Warhammer for Adults, check out The Oldhammer Contract and these comments on the 40K OSR over at Tales from the Maelstrom.