Thursday, December 4, 2014

Warhammer 40K: In a World Without Heroes

I was remembering the past with a friend.  I suppose now that I am 40, I am allowed to officially claim at least a modicum of perspective and perhaps even a touch of nostalgia.

We were remembering the days of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K, when we had a tournament within a couple hours of us and they featured some of the most unusual rules, one of them being "no named characters".

Now back then, the game was very much more about the heroes than it is now.  Clearly the Elites of most armies have taken over preeminence.  However, until 8th Edition Fantasy and 5th Edition 40K, there really was a highly heroic bent to the game and you could argue that this was true in 5E for a while until newer and newer codex supplanted the older ones.  The game company still claims the HQ is your avatar in the game, representing you, as you command your vicious Lizardmen or tirelessly thirsty Chaos Daemons across the landscape to numerous victories.

This Hero led feel was so true that the OLD euphemism for Warhammer 40K was "HeroHammer".  Many were those that scoffed at the imbalance such characters could introduce and anything above a Space Marine Captain was reason for consternation.  The mere idea that you would dare introduce, say, Aun'Shi instead of a normal Ethereal was seen as proof you didn't "care about" the other players fun.

The Codex's recognized this sentiment in players, and so the Tyranid Codex, the old Necron Codex and others featured things that could only be taken with opponent permission.  

Well this became a sort of rallying cry for some players.  They formed a tournament wherein such abominations and abuses would not be tolerated, where you were there by invitation and you could just as easily be UNinvited if you didn't "get" what they were trying to accomplish, which more or less came down to the use of fluffy and essentials-only type forces with maybe a touch of fang and claw here or there, but nothing overly offensive.

The success of that tournament to date has been tremendous, but some overly competitive voices have crept their way into the conversation and last years tournament, after a couple years of evolution in that direction, was an all out Forge World and Escalation fest.  Civility is still the watch word and good play and calm demeanor still demanded.  But gone are the days when this last redoubt of hope for those who enjoyed the idea of a world without heroes (the overwhelming bad kind of course), so to speak.  Gone are the armies clashing while spectators could actually see the FULL panoply of the codex represented.  The line was overrun here locally at least and perhaps it cannot be reformed.  We shall hope and see.

I know of no other tournament like it and mourned bitterly its demise.  Don't get me wrong.  The tournament itself is bigger than ever, courting more people and more games, in fact, than ever before.  The concept of it attracts people even if the reality doesn't live up to the ideal, and a new concept has emerged to replace the old.  One thing is for sure:  it may not have been a "competitive" tournament before but it certainly is now.

As my friend and I spoke about all this, he said "You know...  you might not have a lot of people in the blogosphere that listen, but...  maybe you could remind people of how fun those things were and how much the concept, made manifest, really meant something to you".

So here I am!  Telling you that it did.  Maybe its silly to be overly sentimental about a game, but lets face it, if you even care to read this, you've probably got a lot more invested in the game than you're willing to admit.

My hope is not for a grandiose outcome.  I'm a realist.  I know you can't go back in time and have what you had before.  No relationship is the same after a while.  But let me tell you that there is a Tournament format out there that is very much catching a little fire and might be the answer.  The Highlander Tournament.

Highlander format is in essence a tournament format that recaptures the idea of seeing the codex on display and commanded as it should be:  A combined arms force.

The rules are simple.  You can only take one of anything.  In some you have to fill the Force Organization slots once before going back to a slot.  Troops are the exception in most of them, but you cannot take two of a troop type unless you've taken all the troop types available in the list.  

The net result is a tournament in which you will never see nine Broadsides, nine Lictors nor nine of much else.  You'll see codex representative armies and the problems of HeroHammer and Elite-Hammer are solved essentially simultaneously.

There will never be a world without heroes again, at a tournament at any rate.  But the Highlander tournament format could make a lot of guys like me (and maybe you?) fall in love with competitive play again, something that has driven many a gamer away from the hobby.


  1. You know, i'm looking to introduce something like a highlander game. With some tweaks.

    1. You make the worst possible list using your own codex following the highlander rule. No allies, no fortifications, 1 CAD.
    2. Your opponent does the same thing.
    3. You swap armies and try to win your own worst possible list with your opponent's worst possible list.

    1. Well it has the virtue of being very unorthodox. I don't know about worst lists though. I don't mind the single CAD because it solves a key loop hole for Highlander tournaments. I'd probably still allow the standard fortificatyions without the exotic stuff.

      LOVE the idea of swapping armies though. One extra thing you could do is make it so that you switch armies for the second round only? So you can work your way into the qualifying round with a good list, but then musrt survive it to make it to the final round? Would be fun.

  2. We ran a tourney a while back which was make the worst 500pts and swap. Suddenly all the fluffy units appeared! It was a lot of fun.

    1. Plus at 500 points, it's a lot safer to do.


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