Friday, 13 August 2010

Codex Review: John Venegas’ Space Marine Fandex, Part 1


Hey guys, today Rules Manufactorum has the pleasure of reviewing a very comprehensive set of custom rules designed with the purpose of giving all those guys in power armor one single document from which to build an armylist. I have mixed feelings about this document. While the quality of the rules is unquestionably high it does go to some length editing very basic rules many of which are fundamental to the game.


Here's a link to John Venegas' Space Marine Fandex.

Presentation:

As with any set of custom rules presentation plays a large role in this intimidatingly thorough document. There is no decoration or embellishment to be found in this fandex but a careful formatting makes this codex far easier to navigate than would be imagined given the length. I was pleased to find also, that such details as special rules summaries are presented in full in their respective parts of the codex rather than the tedious “see pg X with page X directing you to page y” [the official Marine dex is guilty of this].
Furthermore rules are written succinctly and clearly with a mind to avoiding omissions and careless loopholes. This document was studiously revised and the effort that has gone into is obvious both upon my first impression and in subsequent readings. I have trouble believing John’s claim that this is the “first” version lacking as it is in typos and missing text – a common symptom of  construction and revision that often plagues even GW’s efforts.
Presentation is half of rules design and this effort gets my approval. It’s not pretty, but it doesn’t get much more user friendly than this.

Special Rules:

This section arrives early in the document and really sets the tone for the rest of the fandex. These rules are exemplary of all the following unit entries in that they are designed with flexibility and variety in mind. Essentially any player could build virtually any kind of MEQ force with full support from this ruleset. There’s something for everyone here and I can easily see this ruleset encouraging players to homogenize and specialize their marine forces (all Jump Pack or all Bikes for instance). There ‘s the opportunity to play many, many different styles without ever changing codecies.
The limiting factor here and the reason by brow was furrowed throughout almost the entire reading is that these rules overturn many very basic special rules that make up the building blocks of the game as we know it. Whilst making any psycher’s powerfist a force weapon makes sense rewriting the ‘And They Shall Know No Fear’ special rule is a bold move and not be taken lightly. Basic rules such as ATSKNF are vital organs in the body of 40k. Changing them, even to this more efficient version, is bound to shift the game in unpredictable directions.  I would be very interested to see the playtest results.
To confuse matters further many of the rules remain unchanged deferring to the main rulebook for their definitions. This increases the chance of a rules re-design catching an opponent unawares setting another obstacle between the fandex player and the free enjoyment of his well-designed custom rules.
This same issue is exacerbated by a single special rule allowing multiple different benefits (e.g. Blessed Be the Warriors). This is likely to create misunderstandings over the course of the first few games in which an opponent must familiarize himself with the capabilities of the army he is facing. Having one name for three special rules feels like cheating even when it’s not and is not going to win this document many willing opponents. These rules need to be named and marked more clearly to avoid inevitable confusion and embitterment.
As a custom ruleset the designers of this fandex need to make comprehension easier for the prospective opponent. Use original and unique names for new rules even if they replace older ones. Improving existing rules, even if balance is unaffected, is going to appear like powergaming to anything other than the closest scrutiny.

Heroic Traits and Titles:

A very interesting idea. Again a very real effort has been made to include rules that support any conceivable type of Space Marine force from Space Wolves to Iron Hands. These rules make this a player’s document rather than a corporate release that keeps half an eye on model sales and financial risks. It’s charming and endearing and very motivating – this ruleset could have every 40k player owning a Space Marine army of one flavor or another.
It’s worth mentioning again the quality of writing. Not only do the rules persist in being clear and to the point but care has been taken to avoid duplicates of any name or term – a refreshing change given the tiresome Blood-Angels-Thirsting-for- Blood-wielding-their-Sanquine-swords-in- their-crimson-Blood-Fists mentality that GW shoves into our unwilling minds. I also enjoyed not having to skip to the second paragraph to avoid clichĂ©d fluff descriptions for each special rule.

Armory:

I won’t reiterate what I’ve already said about the confusing nature of having fundamental elements of the game changed. Meltaguns, Bolters, Lascannons etc undergoing major reimaginings is off-putting in the extreme. It tries to change too much for no real reason that I can glean. These changes go beyond creating an armylist to suit every marine player’s style. It changes the balance of the game in significant and unnecessary ways. There should never, in my opinion, be two different pieces of wargear with the same name performing in two different ways.

End of part one:

Overall I’m impressed with the quality of the document. Though I may criticize it heavily I really enjoyed reading and the criticism itself comes more from a divergent viewpoint on the goal of custom rules than on any perceived failings. The fandex has me noticing new things every time I go over it again so I'll piece my review into multiple parts to make sure I get it all. Stay tuned for the next part in which I’ll go through the unit entries in depth.

-Atrotos 


7 comments:

Master Bryss said...

The link won't work for me, a pity considering how interested I would be in reading this...

John Venegas said...

Many thanks for the review, and thank you to all of you who take the time to read my handiwork.

This fandex is the first in what I hope to be a succession of army lists for Imperial Guard, Chaos Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids (read: the armies I've played extensively) in which all similar weapons will be brought into line. Obviously you can't judge this fandex on the merits of future ones, but consistency issues will be addressed.

Furthermore, the changes in rules and wargear were meant to reflect what I see as a more realistic interpretation of said gameplay devices. Of course my interpretations will not be on par with most, but my only hope is that when it is all summed up, you have a balanced codex that a player can use to play their theme of choice and still remain competitive.

Atrotos said...

@ Bryss: Here's the full link:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=gmail&attid=0.1&thid=12a627b9bf81420d&mt=application/pdf&url=https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui%3D2%26ik%3D38f1d884d5%26view%3Datt%26th%3D12a627b9bf81420d%26attid%3D0.1%26disp%3Dattd%26realattid%3Df_gcqj9n3f0%26zw&sig=AHIEtbSdSTsd2bfq6kdGXJmnH_DZy-KhVg&pli=1

Atrotos said...

@ John:

I understand the willingness to make rules match fluff. A Lascannon being AP 1 makes perfect sense but it does worsen (by relation) the value of other top Anti Tank choices such as the Railgun and Bright Lance. It's too much to expect to maintain balance with such radical changes - you simply don't have the staff or the time to realistically realign all those rules and weapons. Reinventing all of the codeces so that you can re-engage the balance that was so carefully constructed over several editions is a massive project. What will you do in the meantime as you playtest this codex against current "official" ones?

I think I speak for many players in saying that such changes are unwelcome. I love the armylist and the many, many options you've included in it but certain changes you've made make it seem as if I'll be playing a different version of 40k which is not something I'm interested in. You can add new weapons to your heart's content (call it a Lascannon Vaporizer - that's what GW would do*) but Terminator Armor is a 2+ Sv and a Lascannon is Str. 9 AP 2. I don't you'll many players willing to be flexible about this.

* Hot-shot Lasguns
Angelus Boltguns
Artificer Armor
Vanquisher Cannon
Long barrelled Autocannon
Special Ammunition
Gauss Destroyer Cannon
etc...
- All "better" than the original but with a different name.

John Venegas said...

I see your point. I think I'll make some changes.

Herald of the Lost said...

John here. Through extensive necromancy, I've raised my old blogspot from the dead to serve me once again. I'll be posting as Herald of the Lost from now on. I've changed a few weapons based on Atrotos' recommendations and have posted it here: http://heraldofthelost.blogspot.com/2010/08/space-marine-fandex.html

Herald of the Lost said...

John here. Through extensive necromancy, I've raised my old blogspot from the dead to serve me once again. I'll be posting as Herald of the Lost from now on. I've changed a few weapons based on Atrotos' recommendations and have posted it here: http://heraldofthelost.blogspot.com/2010/08/space-marine-fandex.html