Thursday, 16 April 2015

RafRage: End Times

Since the inception of this blog I have tried, where possible, to tread the middle ground and consider points of view other than my own when embarking on random rambling essays about whatever.

There are reasons for this. The internet, for all its uses (and yes, I mean naughty pictures and buying toy soldiers (sometimes both at once)), is awash with nonsensical vitriol and spume, never more so than within the hidden niches of hobby coverage. Furthermore, I have no interest in adding to the white noise of mass hysteria that sweeps across us all time after time. Add to this an overly proper and British attitude in relation to saying (or writing) unkind things about (or, indeed, that would offend) people and you end up with, as Panzer used to say, a complete lack of opinion.

I’m ok with that, dignity is its own virtue.


The world is changing. This is clear. A great vortex of uncertainty has formed, and continues to suck clarity, enthusiasm and innocence into its unknowably depraved depths, leaving nothing but a trail of nonsense, gibberish and crass bellicose stupidity in its wake.

For a long time I shrugged, stiffened the ol’ lip and weathered the storm. It made sense to wait for 9th (or the standalone game coming out in May if there is one) before picking up the quill again, for there was not much to be said really.

But then it happened, slowly, over the course of several months….

The slumbering Rage has awoken at last, prodded awake by too much stupity and self-importance, and will not be subdued, nor its will denied.

In a world ravaged by its grasp there is no civilised discourse, there is not tiptoeing. Calmness and clarity of thought are but the first casualties of the Rage Times….



Over the next series of articles, I am going to embrace this hotness, and ride it like the bucking warthog of rage it truly is. Let’s see where it gets us.


(Of course, who knows if I am being serious? I certainly don’t…)


Myopic Narcissism


The sheer bloody-minded self-centeredness of people in general is astounding. No, this is not a Warhammer problem. It’s a human one, and something you see in every walk of life – from people’s idiotic short sighed political views (it really is all about “what you can do for me, right now?” rather than embracing the fact that the *best* thing may, and often wont, be the thing that you like the most) all the way, via the twisted spectres of how people see the geopolitical and macroeconomic world they inhabit,  through to the frankly hilarious celebrity  culture we all (if at times secretly) love, never forgetting to embrace the stupidity of some of the accepted truths of our universe (premier league footballers are not, I’m afraid to tell you, actually overpaid).

But we are not here to talk about the real world.

We are here to talk about something far more important.


As the keen reader will instinctively know, Myopic Narcissism is far too big an issue to cover in one post, and by its nature it touches upon lots of the things I may expand upon in future instalments.

Within its courtesan’s embrace can be found End Times hysteria, End Times stupidity, chronic lack of business understanding, warped game recollections, mewling “badly treated” customers and even the worse of all evils… Painters.


Instead of casually coating all of the above in a light spittleling  of rage, let us instead look at the most topical of topics.



The End Times

As ever in this enlightened world of ours, the screeching masses, by and large, are being idiots. Don’t get me wrong. Voltaire and I both are big fans of defending a person’s rights to be idiotic, but it does not stop the people being idiots.


At the root of all things, and something that needs to be accepted from the off, is the business realities of the world. The way people fail to grasp the fundamentals of this is as perplexing to me as people voting for single issue parties.


Let’s have a look at some universal truths (a dangerous term, I know!)


                    Companies exist to make money. Yes, this even includes the companies whose customers like to circle-jerk over how much they are made to feel loved/listened to/are generally perfect like PP. If a company is being “nice” to you it is because they think if you feel loved you will spend more money. Sound logic, it’s the basis of the oldest profession there is.

It is also a sign of a relatively small company – no truly large company can or does do this – mollycoddling does not scale well.

                    The internet hobby world is (or at the very least definitely should be!) a tiny fraction of a company’s overall business. If it isn’t, you are in trouble. People keep failing to see this, they think the rage and perceived truths that come up on message boards is *the* truth. Do the maths. Add up the number of forum users. Look at the company’s revenue line. It’s simple. The only profitable retailers that make most of their money online are online retailers, and none of those base their sales off fan forums.

                    Veteran gamers are not special. In fact, they are most of the time a nuisance. We are all guilty of this. We have, over the past decades, spent thousands on the hobby. We don’t want any of it to be invalidated. That’s fair enough. It’s also a whole lot of bull. Just because a customer bought every version of a Macintosh computer since the eighties does not mean that Apple are wrong to release the iPad, or that they should make Angry Birds backwards compatible. The reality is that *most* veteran gamers already own most of that they need. Look at Wood Elves. They have not had a book in a dog’s lifetime. Then they finally get one. GW invests in the thoughtshowers (brainstorms are not politically correct I’m told), the writing, the art, the printing, the binding, the design, the production, the packaging, the storage, the distribution. And what do most veteran gamers actually buy? A few boxes of Wild Riders. The majority of non-Wood Elf players already own their own armies, and pretty much ignore the release (other than adding yet more “anti elf” stuff to their lists).

On a separate but related note, veteran gamers also just love to complain. I love it too! We all remember the good old days etc etc etc. This makes us a pain.

                    The focus must be on new gamers. End of. This is obvious. Obviously this does not (necessarily) mean murder all veteran gamers in their sleep (for now). This is true of almost every single business in the world.


With the background basics out the way, onto the meat:

                    Warhammer Fantasy Battles does not make money (or at least, not enough to be worth it). This is the big daddy that all things.

                    Seriously. Read the bullet point above again. It’s that important.

                    This game that does not make money takes up as much space (shelf, production and creative) as the game that makes all of the company’s money. Meetings were had, and the idea of canning WFB, full stop, was by all acounts seriously considered. It may even have made business sense to do so.

I spend my working day speaking to people who make decisions like this for a living. A part of a business that requires a lot of input but makes almost no profits is often simply not worth saving. Shut it down, sell it off (or in this instance, license it out), it all makes sense. Thankfully, it looks like GW (a company, after all, mostly still run by hobbyists) decided not to do so.


So, decision has been made (probably for romantic, rather than logical reasons) Let’s save Warhammer. Now what?

                    Games Workshop has realised that people stealing their IP (which is what it boils down to – it’s simple, the morality of it is black and white. The legality, as ever, is a whole different thing, and rests on the finer points of legal terminology) is a potential threat – not only to sales, but also the value of the brand when it comes to selling the company.

                    The game probably needs a lower entry requirement to attract players. A random 40k unit box may not be overly powerful in the scheme of things, but it is a fully functioning unit in itself. A box of ten skeletons is not – and requires many more boxes of skeletons to act basically as wound counters. This makes it comparatively very expensive and unwieldy to get into WFB

                    The Warhammer World, for all its Tolkienian charms (and I count myself as someone who loves it), is an IP protection nightmare. Yet it is what we have. How do we get to where we are, to where we want to be?


Let the clock strike midnight.


Give every player the chance to play the games they have always wondered about… what would happen if and when Chaos finally did get the upper hand? How would the eternal skirt wearing civil war ever be resolved? What heroes would rise up and gird their loins against the irresistible, inevitable force of the chaos gods (no, the answer is not any of the incarnates, its Vlad. How cool is that guy?!) ?

When gods go to war, bad stuff goes down.


And GW delivered.


They brought back arguably the most iconic character of the background, the Big Bad himself (no, I don’t count the broody emo kid with his over-close relationship with his mother). They showed the awesome power of Nurgle unleashed against the lands of man. They showed the lie behind the endless civil war for what it was. They showed the true power of a united Skaven nation. They showed the inevitable fate of the Dwarfs (heck, they have even revealed Gotrek’s doom!). They showed the raw power of a Khornate war host doing its thang. And they showed what happens when the minor gods of the Old World dare to try and overcome the transsystematic might of the primordial annihilator.

Yes, the story has its moments of uplifting brilliance and gut-wrenching sadness. All the great ones do.


Sure, some people will really miss the fluff world that has been the world of WFB for the longer than a lot of players have been alive. That’s ok. I’ll miss it too. All great sagas come to an end (someone should tell GRR Martin to hurry up and end his, seriously), that is good and natural. The thing that gets my goat are the people who are getting all worked up about it but actually don’t know any of the fluff to begin with. There are obvious exceptions, but it is very impressive (to use entirely the wrong word for it) how little the average gamer seems to know about the story of Warhammer. And this is a story that by and large has remained the same for decades. You only have to listen to otherwise great reviews of the End Times books on podcasts to be ‘impressed’ by this – and these are hobby focused people. If it mattered enough that you are going to get worked up about its end, you should at least know something about it to begin with would seem a reasonable request.


In short, they did what they had to do. This would all have been for nothing if it had ended with Grimgor headbutting Archaeon.

And I say this as a Lizardmen player – an army that by all accounts may simply no longer exist.



Of course, GW could have avoided all this. They could have done a cold open with the release of 9th. Imagine the madness, confusion and rage if we opened the 9th edition rulebook and found out everyone now for some reason lives in bubbles. This way they at least allowed us to have a party.



Do we know what comes next? No, we don’t.

There has been chaos and rage at every edition change – I am unfortunately old enough to remember a lot of them. The great 8th edition rage quit was not that long ago. For now, in the period of uncertainty, I would trust that the largest company of its type, a company that has been doing this for a long time, may actually put something good together. Sure, it will probably be very different from what was before – it *has* to be (in case you missed it the first time, WFB was not making money – if something doesn’t change they will simply stop the game and focus on 40k and 30k, I hope you like Space Marines).


So, assuming we are all on board that this change, sad though it is, had to happen (and if you aren’t, fair enough, idiocy is not illegal), we can now only wait for what sounds like a potentially standalone skirmish game, with possible a full game in the summer.





In the meantime – what has the impact been on us?


This is where it becomes problematic… but here is the thing… Most of these problems are of our own making.


I know in the modern age blaming ourselves for anything at all is rather against the grain, but it’s true.


What have GW actually done (putting aside the very cool fluff books themselves)?


·         To the main game they have changed the allowance for Lords and Heroes, and introduced the Lore of Undeath.

·         They have also created some new units and told you what armies they could play in (and no, despite crazy European ideas, Morghasts do not belong in a TK army, and Blightkings have no place in a Daemon army).

·         They have made some rules for the heroes and villains of the story.

·         They have created some rules to reflect the crazy nature of the battlefields at various stages of the story.

·         They have created a series of lose groupings to allow players to recreate armies that came to be during the stories, where previous enemies ended up having to fight alongside each other.



Now, as Warhammer ‘should’ be played (in a relaxed setting, deciding what you are doing before the game, trying out cool scenarios and basically living the story), all the above are cool additional tools to be used.


In the way that I, and I believe the majority of the unfortunates who read this blog, play a lot of Warhammer (competitively, in tournaments), there are some real issues.


But even then, it is actually all very simple, and that’s before you even consider that an event organiser can obviously do anything they want. Factor in that in most environments some version of comp is used and you have no problems whatsoever (or very few if you are trying to be miserable).



There are broadly two types of events to consider.

Some, such as Blood & Glory hosted by Bad Dice, where the whole aim is a celebration of all things Warhammer. Take everything, enjoy it all. End up with incredible tales of glory, disaster and the ridiculous. Fantastic stuff.


Others (the majority really), are “normal” events. Here the onus is to take the madness away and blunt some of the edges, to attempt to create a somewhat level playing field.

For such events the roadmap is pretty clear.


Character allowances have changed, and the lore of Undeath is a thing.

Allowing the new units in their related armies probably all makes sense.


Everything else is just actually going a step too far, into the land that destroys competitive gaming and leads to large numbers of unhappy gamers.


The whole point of armies is that they have some strengths and weaknesses. That’s the charm. In an ideal world you maximise your strengths, and pick on your opponent’s weaknesses. Simple to say, hard to implement. The issue of army balance arises when armies have no/very few weaknesses.

Allowing armies that can take things from various armies is madness. I should say, as I have said a many of the times before, that the end result is not necessarily broken (Undead Legions continue to be, in my view, merely “good”), but at times they are. And it destabilises the game.


Furthermore, they bring with them access to the End Times Characters. These are very very cool. But they have no place in an environment geared to competitive play that isn’t an End Times-fest.

The ONLY people who think Malekith (and his like), are acceptable are the ones that use him. The argument that there are some counters to them is so beside the point it drives me to drink. A game where one model is circa 50% of your army, and that can solo armies, boils down to “How well does my Power Ranger do” in any given game. It may be fun to use (hell, I love herohammer), but it is likely to be tedious for your opponents.


It is tournament organisers who must take a large part of the blame for the malaise that has affected many (including epic self-confessed fanboys like the host of Garagehammer).



As for the other bits? Comp can keep a check on abuseable character allowances, magic lores of new units (none of whom come close to Warlock levels of power in any case).


Smashing face using an army that is a combination of the best bits of 3 other armies is as impressive as winning at Warhammer using Kairos. And yes, by that I mean no one that knows anything is actually impressed.



What I am trying to say, put simply, is that people should quit with the whining.

People may have to get new stuff for the new game. Painful but it happens.

The game is changing, but that is necessary, and could well be a good thing.

Legion lists are crutches.

“Super Characters” are unconscionable in a competitive event.


Most of all though, people need to have more fun and play more “fluff” games. Embrace the madness, enjoy the hobby.


Until next time…