Authors Out and About

This Saturday I and a rabble of other authors will be descending on the Watford Colloseum for GamesFest 4. Not only is the show a celebration of all types of gaming – miniatures, RPGs, computer games, CCGs – it also hosts an impressive array of writers to talk to, get things signed and generally pester. Just have a look at the list here! For old skool fans, it has also just been announced that Steve Jackson, of Fighting Fantasy and GW fame, will be attending (not to be confused with the other, U.S. Steve Jackson!).

I’ll also be on a signing tour of GW stores in December and January for the releases of Shadow King and Raven’s Flight. Currently on the list of venues are: Warhammer World in Nottingham, Loughborough, Cheltenham, London Plaza, Liverpool and Leeds. Dates and times to follow soon.

Come along on Saturday, say hello and meet Dennis and Agent Phalanx!

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 10:19 am  Comments (1)  
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The Glory of Chaos

Woah! Thank you to everyone who has joined the discussion about Chaos armies in 40K. To say that my previous post sparked some interest would be like saying the Atlantic Ocean is ‘a bit wet’… To put things in perspective, here are a few stats from the last few days. My previous ‘best day’ came about from the Dark Elves Q&A, which generated about 800 visits in its best day. The day I posted ‘Differences of Opinion‘ brought in more than 1200 visits and I thought ‘That was busy!’. The next day that went up to 1400+ and I thought we’d peaked. Then last Sunday, there were more than 8,300 visits to Mechanical Hamster. Clearly 40K players like to do their web surfing on the weekend! Up until then, the most popular post on the site was Realism is Fake, an essay about dialogue that benefits from a link on TVTropes. It’s been up more than a year and has been  beaten into second place in just four days!

Enough of the numbers, thank you all for the comments as well. Some of them are quite lengthy and detailed, but I have read them all. It isn’t practical to write a response to each and every one, so I’m going to pick up on the main themes raised and address them here.

Not My Job, Guv

First off, as some of you pointed out, I left the GW Design Studio and this discussion is purely as a former games developer not a current one. I have no influence in any way on the direction of future Codexes, this is just a debate on theory not a consumer feedback exercise. As such, I am also not privy to GW’s current thinking about Chaos, this is all hypothetical.

Ice Cream!

HBMC used the analogy of the ice cream store to represent the many different Chaos armies. I like ice cream, so let’s run with it. He described a store in which you could only buy vanilla ice cream. Well, vanilla is certainly the finest of the flavours (bonus points for knowing where that lyric is from) and one of its biggest strengths is its versatility. You can have it on its own, you can put sprinkles on it, or many flavoured syrups, or serve it with pie, or with cake (mm, cake). The problem with your cookie doughs and phish food flavours is that they’re ready-made. The shop is offering only the flavours they’ve created and not giving you any information about the cool stuff they’ve used to make them up. What if there were, say, five different ice cream shops, each one a flavour specialist? There’s the vanilla shop with all its versatility, but there’s also a shop dedicated totally to rocky road, with special rocky road-themed extra toppings, and it also served different types of rocky road, so that you can have it with extra marshmallow, or no nuts, or… I’m running out of things you can out into rocky road ice cream, but I’m sure you get my point. And next door is a special cookie dough shop that does the same with its ice cream. The other good thing about the multiple shops is that they don’t charge you for looking at other flavours of ice cream that you aren’t interested in. If you like all flavours of ice cream (as HBMC clearly does judging from his ice cream collection – er, I mean different armies!) you can visit as many shops as you like. If you’re all about the rocky road, the vanilla, cookie dough and tutti-frutti boys aren’t going to hit you up for some extra cash just to disinterestedly peruse over their wares.

Practical Issue

Er, this analogy is creaking, so let’s talk reality. The background and diversity of Chaos is big. As big as the Imperium almost. Let’s say we want to create the ‘perfect’ codex, that covers everything anyone would want. That means giving people proper amounts of background about the different types of armies, all of the troop types, pictures of models and so on. An army is more than just a few rules and an extra option or two of wargear, and if you’re just coming into the hobby there’s a lot of information to absorb which we can’t just skip over like the last Codex did.

Let’s start by combining the contents of Codex: Chaos Space Marines and Codex: Daemons. 192 pages of cool Chaos stuff. But we don’t have any god- or Legion-specific stuff yet. This is where any potential developer faces the first big decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. The background of Chaos is divided along two separate yet overlapping themes.

You have the Traitor Legions on one hand, some of which are dedicated to a specific god, some of which aren’t. Like those loyalist scum, each Legion has a slightly different way of fighting. Are these presented as sub-lists (as they were in Index Astartes) or is everything rolled into one big list and players are given the background info to shape their armies for themselves? Let’s take Night Lords as a random example. Infiltration and terror tactics. Should Chaos Space Marine squads have an upgrade that represents the Night Lords? Or, should there be a separate army list entry, perhaps called Night Lords Squad? Or, should there be a separate entry for an infiltrating, terror-causing squad that could represent Night Lords but could equally be used for other infiltrating, terrorising squads devised by the players’ imaginations?

The end result in rules terms could be exactly the same, but the presentation of those rules has a profound effect on the way some players perceive them. Is it better to call them Night Lords and then have players change the names for themselves (such as using the Dark Angels for one of the other Unforgiven), or is it better to keep the presentation generic and let players know that using ‘Infiltrating Chaos Marines’ is how they can represent Night Lords on the table?

And just how flexible do we want players’ armies to be? Do we say that the Night Lords can’t have Khorne Berzerkers and leave it up to players to ‘break the rules’ if they want to represent a combined force of Night Lords and World Eaters? If the army list functionally allows you to represent forces from different Legions and Chapters, there’s nothing to stop someone (by the rules) painting their Khorne Berzerkers in Night Lords colours. At what point do the Codexes force players to adhere to the background and when do they inform them of that background and leave it to their discretion?

[I prefer the approach of informed freedom, the encompassing of many ‘what if?’ situations, since the purpose of the Codex is to allow players to collect a load of toy soldiers, paint them however they see fit, and then play a game with them if they want to. Is important whether a Chaos Space Marine is painted red or blue? It’s an unanswerable question except with reference to our personal tolerances and preferences. One might say an WWII German army has too many Tiger tanks because there is historical fact. With 40K, everything is a) fictional, and b) deliberately written to allow hobbyists to come up with their own ideas and form their own opinions. World War II happened and is documented, 40K is a vast sandbox for players to create and explore.]

With regard to our physical Codex and its length,  both ways of doing things will add about the same number of pages. Rules-driven guidance means more army list entries (and more pages in the Forces section), a flexible list might mean more options for generic troop types but more required in the form of background and sample armies to inform players choices if they want to pick a Legion-themed force.

For the sake of argument, lets say it take about 8 pages per Legion to do this justice – origins of the Legion and how they’re organised, extra or extended Forces pages to describe their troop types, additional army list entries and colour pages. That’s another 72 pages, bringing our book up to 264 pages. If there were actual full sub-lists for each I would expect this to be even longer.

The Gods Issue

The Legions are one of the two strands that Chaos players like to theme along; the other are the four Chaos gods. We come back to presentation issues. You want to collect Khorne, but not paint them in World Eaters colours? Should you be allowed Berzerkers or only Khorne-marked units (since Berzerker technology is known only to the World Eaters supposedly)? What about non-Emperor’s Children Noise Marines? The odd one in the mix are the Thousand Sons, who are not just ‘super marked’ Marines but something entirely unique to that Legion thanks to Rubric and his hi-jinks. So, there’s an argument that there should also be some form of ‘super-marked’ magic Marine for Tzeentch, in addition to Rubric Marines, like anti-Grey Knights or something. And then there’s all the Terminator Berzerkers, World Eater war engines, tank variants, Defiler types and whatever else we would need to make a proper World Eaters army. How much of that is transferable and how do we differentiate in the army list?

And then we get to the issue of cross-god armies. Have Thousand Sons and Khorne Berzerkers ever appeared on the same battlefield? Plague Marines and Emperor’s Children? We have the hardline view that such a thing would never, ever, ever happen. Or there’s the realistic view that the chances are at some point the goals of warbands and personalities dedicated to different gods have found common cause. We come back to the grey area of whether the separations are hard-wired into the rules (in which case players can play ‘outside the Codex’ if their opponents are happy with it), or if the army list allows it but the background makes a point of demonstrating how this might come about to give the army its proper context.

Let us assume that we’re going to allow non-named forces to be represented by some of the named troop types. This requires further information to be put in the book – examples of named ‘historical’ Khornate forces that weren’t part of the World Eaters, more examples of toy soldiers and armies. Let’s make it neat and tidy and say four pages for each god, a nice 16-page complete section to bring up our total page count to 280. Thats about two dozen pages short of the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook.

All The Small Things

But wait! This isn’t Codex: Chaos, so far it’s only be Codex: Chaos Space Marines. We need mutants, renegade guardsmen, daemon-possessed psykers and cultists. I’m sure folks can see where I’m going next, so let’s just cut to the chase. To do this justice (that means more background, more Forces pages, more army list entries), let’s add a very conservative 32 pages.

So our awesome Codex: Chaos runs to roughly 312 pages (a little more than the rulebook). It contains everything every player would ever want out of Chaos. Okay, it’ll be a few quid more than a regular Codex, but look at everything you’re getting, right? Let’s not even worry about how long that would take the write, or issues caused by one book supporting a huge swathe of the miniatures range (cos we need miniatures for most of this cool stuff too, because they’re in the Official Rules now and you can’t expect people to convert everything).

A Many-splendored Thing

Or we can go back to our five different ice cream shops, by which I of course mean our five separate Codexes. Actually, maybe six if we did one regular Chaos Marine, one Daemon and one for each Chaos God (remember, not a definite plan, just discussion). A Codex is usually 80 pages long, sometimes 96 and for a few special cases more than that. Let’s just keep to that basic 80 pages. Over the course of six different Codexes, that means a whopping 480 pages of Chaos goodness, more even than our super-Codex.

But we know there are issues with multi-Codex armies from much of the discussions that arise around the Imperial Space Marines. Why does the Reaper Autocannon have different rules for Khorne’s armies than for Slaanesh ones? Why does an Emperor’s Children Daemon Prince not have the psychic powers allowed to a generic Slaaneshi one? And so forth. The benefit of the one book solution is that at least it’s all in one place and gets updated in one swoop.

Another question comes back to the flexibility issue. Do we allow Chaos Space Marines to take units from the other books, particularly Daemons, or are they (as now) completely separate? Even if every single unit was perfectly fair and balanced within its own list, what are implications for cross-lists and game balance? Actually, this applies to any multiple-list format whether in one book or several.

Every entry has to serve not just one purpose (and on the evidence of some of the dislike for Dreadnoughts, Spawn and Possessed some feel even that hasn’t been achieved), but multiple purposes. At a fundamental level, an army that contains so much diversity, the ability to pick-and-mix from such a plethora of different troop types is going to have as many optimal, cookie-cutter builds as any other. Mixing cheap cultists with deep-striking Daemons, rockhard Terminators, and so on, will create an army that doesn’t have any weaknesses, and from that point of view it doesn’t have much gameplay character either because an army is as much about what it can’t do on the tabletop as what it can.

Yet another problem with multi-volume armies is that the information is not self-contained. Where, for example, does Codex: Space Marines tell you that they can be included in a Witch Hunters force? Having faced exactly this issue with Hordes of Chaos and Beasts of Chaos in Warhammer (not to mention ongoing issues with the Dogs of War), I can safely say that multi-volume armies are a pain in the arse. The purpose of a Codex is to contain everything you need to collect and game with the toy soldiers it covers. Imagine you’ve been collecting your Chaos army for a few months and then go to your first club night or tournament, only to find out the guy or gal on the other side of the table has got Daemons in their army.

‘How do you get those?’

‘They’re in this book.’

‘Another book?’

‘Actually, three other books, and there’s another one coming out in a few months’ time.’


So all the books have to be planned at once, because the first book in the series has to make reference to the future books (which I did in the Hordes of Chaos intro). Which is a commitment. Commitments are fine right until circumstances changes, or you have a better idea, and then they become a binding oath. What if the books are so great and so successful, there’s scope to do another one? You have to change all the references in the ones already published to make it clear there are now seven books tied together, not six.

Another problem is simple finances. Without getting into a discussion about pricing, nobody wants to feel that they have to buy all six books to keep their edge. With self-contained books buying more than one Codex is a choice players can make, out of interest, to collect mutiple armies or to get the lowdown on the opposition.  Little Johnny walks into his gaming store of choice, says he likes the look of the Marines with spikes on and then is promptly told by the learned staff member that he has to read this, and this, and this, etc. Urk. Maybe those pointy ears with the flying tanks are cooler…

Lastly, there’s the time factor. You can’t release them all as a block (because all the non-Chaos players want some love now and then) so it would take years for the set to be complete. At least if each book is self-contained, it lives and dies by its own merits rather than simply being seen as part of an as-yet incomplete work.

In Summary

There ain’t no single foolproof answer to the questions posed. No easy-fix. Compromises will always have to be made due to the diversity of demands placed on a Codex by the many different hobbyists that will use it. Make it a cornucopia of Chaosness and the competitive players will complain that Chaos is broken; make it too restrictive and the more hobby-driven players will feel that they’re vision and creativity is being compromised. Put it in one book and depth and detail will suffer; spread it over a lot of books and it becomes complicated and hard to access.

The developers cannot legislate for every eventuality, though Pete made a valiant effort with his Codex on the rules front. This is where the choice and responsibility passes over to the players. Remember that for every player who sees 40K as a tactical challenge, there’s a collector who wants to theme an army around an obscure reference in the timeline. For every ‘fluff nazi’ (miaow-splat!) there’s the ‘what if?’ creator dreaming about the time Angron asked Fulgrim to repay that favour he did during the Flange IX Burning.

Wargaming isn’t ice cream; we get to make up whatever flavours we like; some of them follow specific recipes, others just throw a bunch of stuff into the freezer to see if it works. It’s usually worth giving them a taste to see what they’re like, because otherwise we might miss out on a great new flavour.

And Finally…

Again, thanks for the comments and discussion. However, this is a blog not a forum and isn’t really set up for ongoing debates between commentators. Please post your comments and your thoughts, I enjoy reading them (even the negative ones). Please also use the many fantastic community discussion boards for responding to each other, they are a far better place for it (incidentally, Bell of Lost Souls is winning with the redirects at the moment, with Warseer and Dakkadakka trailing in their dust).

Rules questions and debate. As with the Dark Elves Q&A, I’m not going to enter into detailed rules discussions or provide answers to specific questions. With the first, Codex: Chaos Space Marines was jointly written with Alessio and I’m not going to do him a disservice by second-guessing decisions he made whilst writing the rules or put words in his mouth. On the second point, I am not a games developer any more and answers I give may well end up being different to the FAQs issued by Games Workshop. Let’s not even get into the manbane thing again!

Thank you all for lasting this long. Have fun and happy gaming.

[Addendum – Daemons in the 2nd edition Codex. This was my poor memory playing tricks on me, but the point stands that not everything in the Daemonworld army list (including Trolls and beastmen! :-)) was also available to the Chaos Space Marines. Sorry for the confusion.]

Christmas Interview Bonanza

The new edition of ezine Falcata Times is now available, including interviews with myself and fellow BL author Graham McNeill, along with other writing luminaries.

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Getting Out and About

As well as beavering away on the manuscript for Alith Anar I’ve been busy with arrangements for promotional events to celebrate the release of Malekith. Dates and times are yet to be confirmed but currently planned is an appearance at Warhammer World in mid-December for a launch party, plus signings at GW Derby and Plaza, as well as a visit to Forbidden Planet in London. I’ve also recently finished an interview for Falcata Times magazine, which will be appearing in the Christmas special, and the latest White Dwarf also contains an interview regarding the writing of Malekith and the Time of Legends series in general. We’ll have to wait and see if there’s any overseas events in the pipeline.

If you can get along to one of these, please come and say hello. Saying the secret passphrase “Dennis is da Best” will garner my undivided attention.


Addition: Facebookers can find details of the Forbidden Planet signing.

Additional Addition: More details can be found on the Black Library news forum.

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