Friday, September 25, 2009

Custom Content v.s. By the Book

For your average role player, coming up with home brewed content is as commons as coffee in the morning.  That is to say, so common that you can't imagine role playing without it.  So why is it in the world of 40k custom content is so often frowned upon or at least avoided?

Most other war games don't suffer this fate either.  They present rules but expect you to do what you will with them.  Heck, even Games Workshop goes out of their way to say "Play how you want to play!"  Even Gav Thorpe went out of his way and basically told everyone that they can do what they want, it's their game and if they want to do things a certain way, they can.

The problem is that so many people out there, myself included, get hit with this road block.  The feeling that the community online and at clubs have built up that the rules are exactly that: rules.  No, you cannot break the rules.  It's wrong.

That's not to say we are wrong to think that way.  After all, in a game where I want their to be an even army on either side of the table, I make the assumption that the point values are a certain value for a reason.  A 15 point CSM is about right in the grand scheme of things.  I'm under the assumption that GW has some sort of system they use, however basic, that tells them what point value to set things at.  Why are CSM 15 points?  A combination of things, I imagine.  The squad size they are required to have, their stats, the type of unit they are, what weapons they can take and when they can take them.  At 15 points, they seem right.  But if I want to give my CSM Feel No Pain, how much is it worth then?  Not 23.  That's Plague Marines with a toughness of 5 and Blight Grenades with 1 less Initiative and limited weapon choice but can take more of them at smaller squad sizes.

The problem is, we don't know how they got their numbers, so we can only guess.  That's important to us.  Why? Simple.  We want to create units that are fair.  I want to build an army I want with my theme inside the 40k universe, but I'd like to know how.

Of course, I can just build units and call them one thing and use them as "counts-as" units.  That's fine, I guess.  But it only works so far.  The play style is also different then what you would want.  Do you want an entire army of Jump Packs? Can't, even if you might want to theme it that way.  Oh sure, you can say "yeah, these Jump Packs only go 6 inches," but then that kinda ruins the feel when the opponents Jump Packs move 12", or your Jump Packs move 2 inches through difficult terrian.

You also have the problem of mission types.  Now, the tournaments do this really well, I must say.  The mission types they come up with are pretty interesting.  But the default book is pretty bland, with a heavy emphasis on troops for objectives.  Don't get me wrong, trying to emphasize the lowly troop is a good thing.  It limits the people taking only the bare minimum of troops and leaving it at that, but they could have done so much more with the missions inside the main rule book.

So, where does this leave us?  Tied to the hip to our favorite army's codex.  For me, I enjoy the story behind the army, not the stats.  But the story behind an army also features that armies style of warfare, and all too often, this isn't carried over into the game.  So, if my codex doesn't allow me to play the army theme I want, it disappoints.

Now, let's be honest.  I don't want my themed army to suck (unless of course that was the theme of the army).  If the army I'm playing did well using this tactic in the story behind the rules, then it should work well on the table as well, or at least moderately so.  Enough that I'm not feeling like I'm wasting my time.

Why is it like this for 40k? After all, D&D players come up with custom content all the time.  We drown in it!  Well, the answer isn't pretty simple.  D&D players are generally playing together throughout a campaign and it's generally for the long haul.  No one is really against anyone, and the rules are subject to change at the DM's whim.  With 40k, you aren't playing that way.  The game is designed around two people meeting up and wanting to play a war game.  They may not know one another, or they might not play together often.  They need a balancer, and those are the rules.

It's why you don't see a lot of custom cards in Magic.

Of course, their is also the tournament angle.  Throw in any competitive aspect to a hobby and suddenly everything is very official.  Look at WOW.  As soon as battlegrounds and the honor system were put in, people started shouting if their classes weren't efficient in group PVP.  Then you had Arenas, and people got even crazier with the number crunching.  Suddenly it just wasn't good enough that you were close: every little number was calculated.

Seriously, Mathhammer has nothing on what the WOW freaks (of which I used to be one) would go through.

Of course, another reason D&D does so well in supporting custom content is that the game itself tells you how to make it!  The game gives you countless monsters to throw at your character, but if that's not enough, you can make your own as well.  It gives you the rules, or guidelines to creating them.  The point is, when you are done creating your monster, you'll have a fairly good idea of it's relative power level to other monsters.

So, if WotC can pull that off, I can't help but wonder why GW hasn't done the same?  I'm fairly confident that eventually they will come up with something like that.  Of course, it will be limited in some ways so they can still sell an army codex, but at least they might come up with some guideline on how to create, manipulate, or otherwise alter existing units in a codex.  That would at least give us a start.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you want to see user created content?  Does codex legal mean anything to you? If someone came with a home brewed army, would you have an issue?  Should tournaments support user created content?  Let me know!


Space Hulk Enthusiast said...

Nice post, hasn't GW done this (somewhat) with things like creature feature and vehicle rules way back when?

I for one would love to see more of it so that people could build what they wanted.

I personally am a little leary playing against home-brewed stuff because more often than not, the made up unit is incredibly powerful for what it "costs" the player and it's virtually unstoppable.

Jason said...

I think you might be right. The problem is it's not really something that official. Being able to build that custom army in some form of official context or with explicit guidelines would be nice. Arcane Legions is coming out soon, and they give you the ability to create custom units that are tournament legal. You create the units online using a system they've created that allot points to everything.

GW doesn't have to be that severe, either. It would be nice to have a guideline on creating a Khorne Dreadnought and a Nurgle Dreadnought. An Ice World Tau Firewarrior and a Desert World Tau Firewarrior.

And GW knows this. They keep coming out with different type of Space Marine armies.

Maybe this is a case of Codex envy. After all, I love the story behind the Chaos Space Marines, so maybe this is just me seeing things a certain way. But I really do think someone should be able to give Catachan IG something to differentiate themselves from Cadians.

Jason said...

Forgot to mention regarding your last comment. That's the issue with players coming up with homemade content. Even the BoLS stuff, while excellent, isn't something that's really official supported or widely accepted.

GW could do the hobby a big service by working to support this type of fan creation at some official capacity.

Raptor1313 said...

I think if you field a very well-written and versatile codex, you can get more mileage. I've noticed it with something like the most recent Space Marine codex:

Want bikers? Got that.
Want lots of mech troops? Got that.

Chaos, on the other hand...lost a lot of options in the last codex, and actually keeping to a mono-god list tends to do a number on your army's ability to adapt to certain types of threats.

Sidenote, if you want an army full of jump packs, check out the BLood Angel codex. Assault Marines w/ Jump Packs as troops. Vet assault marines as as Elites, jump-pack honor guard as HQ options and jump packs on the leaders. You can bring a niche army full of jump packs and have some capabilities.

I think you'd run into some issues with balance, to be honest. Not everyone's certain about what's balanced and what's not, and people debate the so-called brokenness of units all the time. I mean, if you didn't bring a counter (but one exists),you'd feel that you met something broken, but in reality there's a counter and it's on you for not bringing it.

IE: LAND RAIDERS ARE BORKEN!111!!21! from a guy that brought no meltaguns, lances or rail guns. No, Land Raiders are very mortal, you should just consider incorporating some suitable counters into your list.

I think if GW does a good job with creating well-rounded, versatile codices, the issue'll wane a bit.

Topher said...

I'll second, third, fourth etc. the call for GW to come out with a workable system for creating custom units, though I also understand how difficult that could be considering the huge variety that already exists in the game as far as gear, abilities, et all.

That being said, I don't understand completely why they took some customization they used to have away. Take, for example, the previous edition Chaos Codex and its system for creating your HQ units. It was varied, pretty well-balanced, and really fantastic.

Now it's gone. I understand why some people would say that it's a bit unfair to have all those options for one army, but why not resolve it by giving similar options for the other armies?

We tech support drones have a saying: "Whether you think people are using it or not, don't take features away."


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