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Monday, 22 February 2016

Rant: A Diseased Community

A blight is spreading through the 40k community. The game has never been better, new minis are amazing, and the storyline might even be advancing—but too many 40k players are willingly forsaking their hobby freedom to join the mindless drone legions of The Rules Meddlers. Can we stop the rot?

As usual, this will be a long and rambling angry rant, and I may eventually make a point. Step off now, or strap in for the ride!

Recognise the Compromise

40k is huge. It's been around for literally decades, comfortably dominates the tabletop wargaming market, and is currently enjoying a renaissance of 'old school flavour' that mostly disappeared in its 4th through 6th Editions. 40k is many things to many people, but for the majority of hobbyists it can be broadly categorised into three major aspects:

  • The Fluff
  • The Miniatures
  • The Game
40k arguably has the best setting of any game, period. That's what get people hooked and coming back for more plastic crack, no matter how much they claim to hate GW at the time. Furthermore, the 40k canon spans an entire galaxy for 10,000 years—that is huge potential. It is arguably safe to say that 'anything goes' in the 40k setting because, chances are, it has already happened somewhere, sometime. Yes, even Blood Angels and Necrons temporarily teaming up against a greater threat—it happened.

40k also arguably has the best model range of any game. Sure, there are plenty of boutique miniatures out there that surpass 40k minis in detail, but they tend to be sculpted in fragile resin, cost even more than GW prices, and may be difficult or slow to acquire from normal retail channels. As far as the mainstream goes, 40k miniatures are simply the best, and are yet another reason why so many of us are addicted to the plastic crack. And while there are always going to be 'grey hordes' and half-assed airbrush jobs seen on many tabletops, for many of us the investment of time and money into modelling and painting an army is a true labour of love.

40k is a great game. Cry all you want about rule X or unit Y or whatever you like to whinge about, if you didn't love the game then you wouldn't care enough to bitch about it. If you seriously don't love it, just GTFO: stop reading right now, sell or trash your collection, walk away, and raise the average satisfaction level of the rest of the community. For those who do love it, some players are good, some are bad. That's ok, not everyone can be the World Champion of Man Dollies.

So what? As you read the last three paragraphs, I'm guessing that one or two resonated with you more than the others. For some of us, all three aspects truly are equally important, but for most, we favour one or two over the others. For me, it's the game and miniatures that I love the most; I still love the fluff, but I stopped buying and reading everything churned out by Black Library a long time ago. We all hold the three aspects of 40k in a different priority balance.

I propose that every single member of the 40k community NEEDS to self-assess the relative importance of these three aspects to them, personally, right now. Be honest! What matters the most to you?

If you say "game" and I say "game" then we can probably fight an awesome, tactically challenging battle, and not care too much that my jetbikes are unpainted or that you brought Nids-and-Knights. But if I said "fluff" then I probably would be upset over your list, and likewise if you said "minis" you would probably be upset with my bare plastic. But does that mean we can never play together?

If we are both whiny little bitches, like most of the internet-active 40k community presents itself to be, then the answer is probably "no". But if we are both emotionally stable and mature adults, like I believe the real-world 40k community actually is, then we're much less likely to be irreconcilable.

If I was all about the fluff, and we were playing a social game, I would probably want you to drop either the Nids or the Knights. But if you had modelled your Knights to be partially-assimilated by Nid organisms, or as a new metal-organic-hybrid breed of giant Nid, then I would be satisfied. But what if it was an organised game—a tournament or league—and you really hadn't made any effort to justify your unconventional alliance? The mature thing for me to do would be to recognise that you don't prioritise fluff in the same way as me—and that's ok—and get on with the game without crying, instead of interpreting my opponent's army list as some sort of premeditated, deliberate attack upon MAH HOBBY!!1

It's called compromise. It's what mature people do instead of crying about everything.

Eating Cake

I have recently observed or participated in numerous conversations that go something like this:
"[Tau] are broken!"
"Why?"
"My [Dark Eldar] can't beat them!!"
"Take an allied [Knight]"
"No!!! I only want to play [Dark Eldar]!!!!! This game is totally fucked!!!1!shiftone!!!"
Let's stop and self-assess. The upset player absolutely refuses to mix Factions. There is no game reason to do so (quite the opposite) so logically this player must personally prioritise The Fluff and/or The Miniatures over The Game. There is nothing wrong with this personal preference. There is everything wrong about bitching about The Game when you've personally prioritised it below The Fluff and/or The Miniatures!

Alternatively, if the upset player truly does rate The Game as their highest priority, and still refuses to build a better list, then they are simply an idiot.

As the saying goes, "you can't have your cake and eat it too". Culinary colloquialisms aside, this is a perfect example of a trade-off: sometimes you can't maximise The Fluff, The Miniatures and The Game all at the same time—one or two must be sacrificed for the benefit of the others. Do you take the allied Faction and improve your win-rate, or stay true to [your interpretation of] 40k lore and keep on losing with your mono-Faction list? There is no right or wrong answer, but make your choice and accept its consequences.

Crying is for babies.

A Perfectly Balanced Game

If you think that 'balance' in 40k means that players should be able to take absolutely any list and not be advantaged or disadvantaged—like the "it's not your list, it's you" concept of Infinity or the homogeneity of Chess—then guess what? You've epically misread this whole game. Consider cutting your losses now and finding something else to play.

If you recognise that 40k was never designed to be like Infinity or Chess, and that list choices have consequences, then there's hope for you yet. 40k is simply too sprawling to be 'Chess-balanced'. To achieve that sort of balance, GW would have to prune obsolete or overpowered units out of every Faction—including popular ones that people have spent lots of time and money on collecting—but look what happened when they only pruned some extremely niche units out like the Doom, Marbo and Vect: NERDRAGE!!!shift1!! Alternatively, GW could totally re-baseline the game like they did way back in 3rd Ed... or much more recently in Warhammer Fantasy. Is that what you really want?

In the early days of 40k, allies were a thing. Today in 40k, allies are a thing. There was an intervening period when they weren't, but that has now passed.

When you build your army list, you can include LITERALLY ANY UNIT FROM ANY FACTION. Your only hard limit is points. If you choose to build Battle-Forged then you have a few more constraints, but there is pretty much a Formation for everything these days. Presuming that you and your opponent are playing to the same points limit, then you both have exactly the same potential list power—that is in fact a perfectly balanced game.

Now if you choose to impose additional building restrictions upon yourself, and end up with a weak list, then it is your fault. Not GW's. Not your opponents'. Yours.

The Disease

Everything in this game has its countermeasure. There is no one 'unbeatable list' in 40k—if there was then everyone would be playing it, right? Building a list that can answer every possible threat is nearly impossible; but good players have always found ways to victory, even against tough matchups. It logically follows that there is no absolutely valid reason to ban anything from the ruleset; and due to the diversity and complexity of the game, there is always an undesirable and unexpected consequence of any such meddling:
"Void Shields and Invisibility are too good, let's ban them"
"Nothing can protect us from D weapons, let's ban them"
"Deathstars are running rampant, how do we ban them all?"
Meddling with the rules had been long-resisted by the 40k community. And then, a crack appeared in the dam, and few tweaks were made. Then a few more. Then more. Then the water was gushing through and the whole town flooded. Now we have ITC, various forms of mathematical Composition scoring, and who knows how many other little bastard derivations of 40k spreading their blight throughout the community. And all because too many players foolishly failed to recognise that they were prioritising other aspects of the hobby over their gaming success, and despicably failed to accept the consequences of their decisions. And now we have an abominable situation in which whenever a diseased player encounters a rule or unit that they don't like—or have not yet learned how to beat—they lazily vote it out of existence with a convenient banhammer instead of improving themselves to honestly prevail.

And then they claim to be improving the game—horseshit. Or worse, they try to weave flimsy Fluff- or Miniatures-based justifications around their purely Game-motivated actions. Utterly. Fucking. Disgraceful.

The Cure

It's really quite simple. Prepare to be amazed by the wonder that is THE ACTUAL RULES FOR 40K:

You may be unfamiliar with this book. It's the 40k rulebook. The actual rules of the game are in this book. Not on some website somewhere, written by a clique of amateur gamers who think they know better than professional games designers, or a business trying to milk tournaments for revenue. If you care about The Game, then read it. Learn to play. Be less bad. Realise that nothing good comes from meddling with the rules, and you are certainly doing yourself no favours by embracing one of the diseased bastard derivations of 40k.

If you care more about The Fluff or The Miniatures then don't meddle with the rules. That should be pretty fucking obvious, and yet, it still needs to be stated.

Play The Game. Stop fucking with it. Fragmenting the community is never a good thing. And like it or not, there is only one universally recognised ruleset for this game you claim to love, and it's published in Nottingham by that successful business you claim to hate yet still feed your cash.

It's time to take a stand. Especially all those apathetic bystanders who have just stood by and let these abominable Rules Meddlers erode the game and its community over the last few years. Start being part of the solution. Toss out your FAQs and Comp rules that are thicker than the actual rulebook, find said rulebook, and play the actual game. Recognise that there is no need for Rules Meddling. Stop the rot.

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