I’ve made little secret of not really giving a toss about 40K. Previous efforts to get back on that particular donkey during this blog’s lifetime have either been strictly theoretical (Blood Angels), doomed from the start (Chaos), pipe dreams (Orks), abortive and painful (Tyranids) or swiftly neglected (Necrons). This might be why I’ve spent the last fortnight of Blog Time sitting around with my fingers in my ears, as everyone who hasn’t been talking about sexism in gaming and game culture has been talking about the impending/imminent/just-gone-by release of 40K’s sixth edition.
And I wasn’t planning on giving a toss. I really wasn’t. I’d fobbed the job off on Lexington before he moved house, apparently to somewhere where blogging doesn’t happen, and rejoiced in the knowledge that all the giving-a-toss-about-40K that was going to happen on this blog would be done by someone who’s not me.
Then, though, word started trickling in from the blogs I was still paying attention to; the Oldhammer crowd started to say a few words of cautious commendation. Apparently, 40K.6 is very much about encouraging narrative play, going to far as to point out ways and means by which this might be done; attempts have allegedly been made to flag up the Imperium as the dystopian nightmarescape it is; some have even gone so far as to say that the new Big Green Book doesn’t so much lay down the law as encourage you to shoot big holes in it in the cause of exploring/devising a vast and unfettered galaxy of crazy notions.
Oh, and apparently there are Allies. Now, there was of course such a thing as Apocalypse before, but you can stuff that up your jumper, because Apocalypse didn’t just afford crossover between armies – it escalated the scale of the game into something vast and ponderous and frankly turned it into an expensive version of Epic that I’d never have the space, time, money or inclination to play. Of course, there was nothing in the rulebook that said you couldn’t ally together stuff across books; there was just a prevailing culture of one player, one force, one list, one book, and it’s easy to talk about creativity and ambition and slightly harder to actually do it when everyone in the room’s looking at you like your bum’s on fire because you’ve come to them with notions that a game might be played in ways other than the usual way that ‘everyone’ does it.
No, I’m not still bitter. Not so you’d notice.
Anyway. The point is that if the core rulebook says you can mix and match stuff across books, and if it says you can agree on crazy rules for exciting stuff to happen in space, people will be cosseted and reassured by having been given permission to use their sodding imaginations and therefore might actually do it. Which is handy for me, since most of my favourite 40K-playing people who I’d actually trust to be creative and interesting live in other parts of the country, and so we’re back in the usual, awkward, talking-to-strangers-and-negotiating-our-objectives-in-play-oh-fuck-it-let’s-just-play-a-pickup-game territory. I’m confident I can find a few interesting people to play interesting 40K with, though.
There’s another advantage to a version of the game which sanctions the use of allies, beside the tactical aspects that my learned colleagues are naturally all over. For people like me, who are chronically incapable of settling on an army and happen to prefer small games, they afford a means by which we can engage with 40K again; a collection of small, interwoven allied forces, which can be played against each other with trusted friends and stooges, or aligned together in pairs to form playable standard-size-game forces. Or, far more likely, bolted onto the fairly-decent-sized Necron collection I already have and am secretly quite attached to.
Another thing about allies. Remember those Micro Art Studios Soviet greenskins I used to bang on about wanting, but know full well I could never afford a whole army of, what with them needing arms from other kits and so on and so forth? Well, Micro Art Studios has fragmented, but from the ashes have arisen Basicks, which offers the charming greenies, and the new Micro Art Studios, which is still selling those fine-as Iron Brotherhood models that scream ‘Adeptus Mechanicus’ to me. Remember my oft-voiced love for Chaos, and my frustration with pure Chaos Space Marines as an army concept? Turns out Orks and Chaos are tolerable allies for Necrons – the walking mechanical undead have no friends, but it’s conceivable that they might have compatriots who pay them tribute in return for their eldritch technology, or who are prepared to throw in with them against a common foe.
It’s the sort of idea you have to do the legwork and weave some narrative around, but I’d be doing that sort of thing anyway. A few concepts are already starting to topple into place, chiefly concerned the tired old sci-fi trope of the war-torn planet with Something Nasty (TM) at its core. I’d have to come up with something that was open enough to slot other people’s armies into – something a bit like Jennifer Reitz used to do. It’s nothing outlandish, lots of people do it, but somehow it still feels a little bit unorthodox, thanks perhaps to the e-crowd I’ve rolled with and the generally impermanent nature of my gaming groups over the last few years. Maybe the good work done over at Vox Diaries of the Imperium will encourage more of it. I hope so.
The other day, James S. asked one of his insightful questions – he was wondering if there could ever be another game that has the same sensibilities and the same impact as the original 40K managed to have. I don’t know. It does look like 40K wants to be the new 40K, though; there’s a sense of something stirring, an awareness that there is more that can be done with this barking mad universe than has hitherto been managed.
I do know that it’s down to us, though. It’s one thing to create a game and a setting and point out how the playing of the game and the setting can coexist and interact. It’s quite another thing to take ownership of your experiences and actually do it.
Time to put my money where my mouth is. You all remember Grimskul and Takeshi, I hope, and if you don’t, they’re still out there. Might be time to drag a few other characters out of the dusty notebooks and recovered drives where my old fanfiction lives, and see if they can’t have some new life breathed into them.
Though I still balk at the thought of buying, assembling, painting, playing, revamping, and ultimately discarding another army, an allied contingent is something small and workable. A project I might actually be able to take on and see through ’til completion, particularly since a long-term contract is in the offing for the next teaching year. And most of what I’m hearing about sixth edition makes me want to do it. The notion that I’ve seen come up here and there that ‘transports for everyone!’ is no longer at the fundament of sound tactics makes me twitch and shiver in my money-parts, too.
Sixth sounds like a version of the game I might be interested not just in playing occasionally, but in inhabiting, like in the good old days. I’ll have to take the ‘crons out for a walk around the rules, at some point, see if it lives up to what I’ve heard. We’ll see. All I know is that I didn’t give a toss last week, and this week I’m feeling curious, and creative, and have Ideas about things. That’s generally a good sign.