Wednesday, 28 January 2015

No More Heroes Anymore

I thought I would do piece on what I have been up to over the last couple of months, and my current thinking in relation to the current ETC comp pack.

Where to start…

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxFire!!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Skaven? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [the rest of the article was redacted, probably on the orders of England Coach and Chief Enforcer Mr Harris]

Well, this clearly isn’t going to work…

Instead, I may as well put a recent idle thought onto the page. I therefore present:

No More Heroes Anymore

No, not a piece on the hot topic subject of End Times characters (saving that for another time). No, as I said, an idle thought that occurred to me.

When 8th first came out one of the things that immediately struck me was that the power of Characters was, by and large, underwhelming. Of course, this was in a bygone age. Mass steadfast units (and Mindrazor!) meant that the damage output of characters just wasn’t all that (with some obvious exceptions, such as the Pendent Dreadlord). It was not a perfect time (a bit too much of the classic 3 block armies were in evidence) but the character point stands).

Things have changed now, and I would go as far as to say that most army books utilise characters as their primary weapon of choice. This, obviously, is exacerbated by the new 75% character allowances in the current Warhammer game.

Now, I should take a step back before continuing.

I love characters. Not only did I have great fun in the heyday of hero hammer (though admittedly my opponents probably didn’t like my 10 Attack ASF-ignoring-armour-saves-every-wound-killing-a-model with a 0+ armour save who nullified the magic weapons of any models in contact and who sat next to a buddy who made him immune to magic quite as much as I did…. Still, good times). I love the cinematic aspect to it. In epic fantasy of all sorts, the coolest things to me are the epic (small c) characters doing their thing (obviously there are limits – Legolas is just annoying in the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films). This is the primary reason that I ALWAYS have a Vampire Lord in my VC lists (I watched Blade at an impressionable age), and the mysteriously alien majesty of the Slann is not something I want to rock without when using my lizards.

All that aside, I have to look at the reality of the game we currently live and breathe. With the epochal releases of the Warriors of Chaos book and the rise of the Elven Scourge upon our table tops MSU has swiftly become the norm – most of the time the only exception being similarly pervasively annoying, the Deathstar (though, nowadays, of the increasingly magical sort).

MSU as a concept is cool. It, theoretically, takes a lot more skill to win using this modus operandus than with a combat brick thrown at your opponent’s tender nether regions. The reality of course, as anyone who has faced the Dark Elf book can attest, is that it doesn’t need *that* much skill, but I digress. The epitome of the modern MSU is in many ways mobile characters (best epitomised by those Dark Elves, but often seen in Warrior lists). This has, in the ever humble opinion of the author, become dull.

The other side of the coin is not much better. Nothing embodies this better than the High Elves and their magical Deathstars (the most amusing and extreme example being Hristo’s Masters winning list, but more commonly seen in the shape of White Lions). This is exacerbated by the power boost provided by that most stupid of any item ever designed, the Banner of the World Dragon (a crutch so severe that when effectively made to play without it you will hear experienced High Elf generals claim their army is utterly unplayable).

Do I blame anyone? No actually. Warhammer, as in all warfare (to make us all seem all manly and warrior-like) is an arms race. This term is often used to describe a bad thing, but it keeps things fresh and (ideally) helps the meta never settle too much. As in history, advancements in weapons lead to advancements in armour (and vice versa). Some armies have superpower Characters flying around solo (with a little effort the reader will be able to remember the terror incarnate that was the Daemon Prince at the height of his popularity). If you don’t have characters or units that can (and are mobile enough to be able to) take them out you generally have to revert to magic and/or shooting to stand a chance. To get the most out of the magic you, ideally, need multiple wizards (a solo wizard will often only have one ‘must’ stop spell, making it far too unreliable a counter to a combat threat). We then develop ways to keep these boys safe (such as in a White Lion carrying their Banner from an entirely different place in Ulthuan). Some of these bunkers are even good in combat. Some armies (Elves mostly) can even ignore the primary weakness normally associated with bunkers and have ultra mobile units that often also pack a punch, making the best of both worlds, but that is a separate issue.

The most seen comp on these shores (allowing Look Out Sirs against the “insta kill” spells) also obviously encourages the use of bunker tactics (if tactics is the right word). Not saying no Look Out Sir’s is the solution, it too often leads to too much of ‘he who shoots first’ (it was Han Solo, despite what some of the younger readers may think) wins. I think one Look Out Sir is probably the best number, but that’s a separate issue entirely and based on idle speculation and theory.

This all leads to a lot of the games you will see if you wander the halls of a large tournament should you have the time to kill (this most often arises if you have the misfortune of having drawn Dwarfs in that round). One army, often mobile and scary, will work to kill all the points their opponent has that are not safely entombed within a unit they cannot safely touch. Across the table the player will be looking to conserve these points, using them to buy time to magic & shoot those rapid threats, or, more rarely, to force a decisive close combat engagement.

This, I am afraid to say, becomes tiresome, and the vagaries of dice swings are highlighted (in one game the WoC BSB with 3++-rerolling-1s will pass all their saves, in another he will roll a 2 and get taken off).

All this has made me wish for something different. As with most idle wishes harkening back to a bygone age, the time it harkens to never *really* existed, but that is largely beside the point. As with battlefield chivalry and Arthurian honour, the concept does not have to be real to be appealing.

This is all a somewhat rambling way of wondering: Would a system that seriously clamped down on characters could lead to more interesting games?

The idea:

Each army is limited to one lord and one hero.

Armies that were seen to need the help/don’t have very powerful combat characters could be allowed:

One Lord, one Hero and one Wizard.

Conversely if some characters are seen as too powerful they could result in an army only being allowed one character if they are chosen (extreme, I know, but the option is there, and could see and argument for Daemon Princes, Vampire Lords, Slann and the like to be under consideration for this). Character seen as being truly bad could, of course, be excluded from the pool.

As an aside I would also quite like it if they were limited to just their army book magic items, but this may be taking things too far for now, so let’s park it.

I (as ever) have not given it masses of careful consideration, but my gut feel is that this could lead to far more fun. Sure, not all armies would be on an equal footing (though seriously, when are they ever?), and some choices would simply never be used without specific allowances, and on the other hand some armies could end up being simply too powerful, but we thankfully live in a comping universe (at least on these fair isles, and our European neighbours are massive fans of the concept), and they could be further limited on a case by case basis.

The results? From the off this would mean no more:
  • Dark Elf Peg spam (the power level is arguable, the annoyance value is not)
  • Abuse of the Monstrous Cavalry character rules
  • Light Councils
  • Multiple lvl4s
  • Abuse of the new character allowance %
  • Scar Vet spam
  • Paladin Spam
  • Annoying 15 point magic item slots (also known as Skaven Engineers).
  • Bunkers
  • Deathstars

It would also probably (gut feel again) lead to:
  • Fewer cannons (we all know they are effectively (and understandably) used as sniper rifles
  • Less Death magic
  • Less auto-win magic – no more hitting a unit with 5 characters with dwellers and killing 4, leaving with an all but unassailable lead
  • Armies with more ‘stuff’. Instead of armies being on average 40-50% characters, most armies would all of a sudden have a lot more points to spend on stuff.
  • Funky things… who knows, with more points to spend, and with likely less death magic or cannons about, maybe some of the things we have never seen out there would get an outing (it randomly occurs to me I have never seen a Scourgerunner Chariot on the table).

I don’t know… I know it’s not perfect (what, after all, is?), and I know no big event in the UK would dare try something quite as drastic as this (and I am all in favour of variety in comp packs), but I can’t help thinking it would lead to more games that weren’t won or lost on a single character failing a ward safe/successfully hiding from cannon balls etc.

I may, for no other reason than to fill up my utterly non-existent free time, see what types of lists I think we would/could see if this was a reality. Who knows, maybe the concept could even work for some armies under traditional comp packs.

It should be said that I do not, of course, practice what I preach. My standard Lizardmen list has as close to 50% in characters as possible, and my Vampires are rarely character light (though my favourite list I have used in a long time consisted of Manfred, a lvl1 necromancer and no other characters). I also struggle to go to battle with only one wizard. But I am a product of the competitive scene I inhabit, just because I do it does not mean I approve.

The concept that variety is the spice of life is very true of Warhammer (more so, in fact than in a lot of other aspects of existence). In the UK almost all comp packs lead to roughly the same armies everywhere, be it SCGT Comp, Swedish Comp, Tally Comp, ETC Comp, etc – the same concepts made to work as best as possible under the slightly different parameters each system allows. I think something completely different could be very interesting, and a fresh of breath air.

So, a random rambling assortment of probably ill-conceived ideas hot on the heels of Jake’s brilliantly thoughtful tournament report, but what the hell were you expecting?! :)

Until next time


1 comment:

  1. Nice concept. Not having deathstars/character buses etc is one of my favorite parts of Kings of War as it makes things all about the troops as it should be in a mass battle game.