Character Defined Armies: Yay or Nay?

Character Defined Armies: Yay or Nay?

by John Venegas


Codex: Space Marines, in its current fifth edition format, has presented a host of problems.  From a background perspective, the book should be titled “Codex: Ultramarines and Ultramarine Wannabees.”  From a rules perspective, it cripples many formerly useful units while giving players no brainer (and often required) units such as Sternguard Veterans and their “kill everything from a gretchin to a C’tan” guns or the now infamous Assault Terminators with thunder hammers and storm shields.  But in one respect, the book manages to offend both its depth of background and its rules potential: characters.

Aside from the typical Marneus Calgar complaining we see on most forums, I have particular issue with character defined armies.  Why is it that I cannot run a fast, assault driven Raven Guard army without Kayvaan Shrike?  Why is it that I cannot setup a stubborn Imperial Fist battleline without Darnath Lysander?  Does Ko’sarro Khan really have to show up in every White Scar assault?  The easy answer to these questions is that Games Workshop makes models for all three of those characters and overhauling the rules to influence you to buy them is a fairly practical business decision. Thankfully for those of us who consider ourselves house rules developers, we are not bound by such market constraints.

From a hobby perspective, character driven armies are terribly disappointing- almost as much as the idea that we can just pretend that a model of Belial, Grand Master of the Deathwing, is actually an Ultramarine Captain (because remember, we all want to be Ultramarines) leading a fearless Terminator force.  It is unimaginative, restricting, and boring.  Nevermind that the Imperial Fists are the Imperium’s finest siege lords.  Nevermind that in all their ten thousand year history, Captain Lysander has only been in service for a few centuries.  All Imperial Fists amount to now are Ultramarines who are stubborn and led by a dude with a hammer.
That said, I do believe very much that special characters, when taken, should have a strong influence on the army that contains them- that is precisely what makes them special.  But this can be done without being boring and without hurting a business model.  I have seen the effects of going crazy with overly intricate rules and I know that ultimately there will always be people who find that their armies are not adequately fleshed out by the rules given, but there is an achievable balance.  There is a place where fun and well-tested rules can be used to let us live the Warhammer 40k universe through our toys.

An excellent article by John Venegas. Lets hear from the readers. How do you guys feel about Chapter Tactics and the idea in general that a named character defines your army? 


Atrotos said…
Great stuff, John. I'll be eagerly anticipating the next one.
Atrotos said…
I accept your point that GW makes a profit off of the character system but was anyone really happy with the trait system that existed in 4th ed? What other solutions are there in an evironment that's hostile to homegrown rules?
Master Bryss said…
The problem with Traits was that the drawbacks were easy to get around, so if you took Aspire to Glory (dreadnoughts and termies wre 0-1) you might decide you don't need Elites at all!

As for the name, it's pronounced oo-full-ka, with a silent b. Simple enough.
Master Bryss said…
As for what to do with Chapter Tactics, is it really that hard to give Commanders and Chapter Masters the option of having Chapter Tactics, possibly chosen from a fairly long list? The best thing is, it should probably be free as it replaces Combat Tactics, which is actually pretty good at getting me out of a pinch.
Atrotos said…
A list of Chapter Tactics works because like you said it replaces the very valuable Combat Tactics. Plus if you had some 20 or so 'Chapter Tactics' think of how many different space marine armies you would see (assuming they were all equally good).

Sounds like an idea for your next article Bryss.

ufllbca - Scandinavian?
Messanger of Death said…
How are Special Characters a bad thing? A balanced all comers list with a Special Character is no stronger than a balanced all comers list without a Special Character.

They change the way an army is played and even encourage gamers to come up their own reason for why they have a Space Wolves Special Character in their Dark Angels army or why they have an Ultramarine Special Character in their Imperial Fist army (such as Telion). There are lots of examples of members on the BnC who do this such as BulldogUK with his Crimson Ultrawing or Inquisitor Engel with his Imperial Fists.

They give flavour to a list and let gamers recreate epic battles such as Kantor fighting his way through a horde of Orks after the invasion of Rynn World.

You don't need to take a Special Character to give your army flavour. For example could take a Space marine captain with a bike and have an entire army of bikers. Could take a Space Marine Techmarine and have an army with 6 Dreadnoughts.

To me Special Characters add more to the game while still giving gamers lots of other options... you just need to be willing to use your imagination at times.

The problem happens when some WAAC gamer or someone that has poor sportsmanship comes along and abuses the use of Special Characters. I'm not talking about power-gamers or tournament gamers. I'm talking about the sort of gamer that takes an Internet List into casual games or Tailors a list to beat someone. Those sort of gamers don't just give Special Characters a bad name they give power gamers a bad name. Most notable of these is the gamers who find a competitive Vulkan list off the net and then use that to beat people in non-competitive games.

Live and let Live.

Atrotos said…
The real problem IMO Messanger is that due to the profit GW makes on selling character models army builds are invariably linked to special characters. John mentions this in his article; why do you need Vulkan to unlock equipment that *any* Salamanders force would have? Do White Scars only remember how to outflank when Khan is around?

A list of traits/Doctrines works better because with just a couple of paragraphs of rules your army becomes unique. It also makes it easier to include more options for army builds because each build would not "require" an attendant model release.

GW however makes a profit of models, not rules. Their bussiness model is bound to clash with efficient, characterful rules on occasion.
Messanger of Death said…
All of Games Workshop miniatures are linked to their rules. It is not just their Special Characters. Their traits/doctrines are linked to their miniatures.They are a company that needs to sell their products.

So which is a better system to sell miniatures? Is it the one from 5th Edition or is it the system from 4th Edition? Is it the system that was used back in 3th Edition or even back in 2nd Edition.

Do we know if Games Workshops design philosophy will change so that they have a hybrid approach with both Special Characters and traits/Doctrines? What will their view be for 6th Edition or towards the end of 5th Edition?

Is the 5th Edition approach more popular than the previous 4th Edition approach? Which groups are they popular amongst and which groups aren't they popular amongst? And more importantly why?

I understand that the nature of blogs is to express the authors thoughts and opinions... but then if you don't know the answers to these questions* what is the worth of your thoughts and opinions.

I might just be asking questions but then you get more answers. You may have already pondered these questions but then you may not have. You may have but then someone reading this article and discussion may not have.

Ignorance is bliss.


*no two answers to those questions is likely to be the same but then that can result in another question itself... as well as another answer :P