Friday, April 27, 2012

40K Friday: Old Games, Old Gamers, and New Editions

Grim Darkness? There's brighter than most D&D artwork!
As a general statement I think that most new editions of most games are welcomed by the community of players. I don't recall anyone in my circles saying that they'd rather go back and play OD&D instead of AD&D. I don't recall anyone wanting to go back to AD&D 1E after 2E came out - we looked it over and decided it was good and switched over. In fact I remember a con in the DFW area in the early 90's where AD&D PHB's & DMG's were being offered in an auction for a dollar and there were no takers - and it was a big pile by the time they were done. I think it was the '93 Origins in Fort Worth but I could be mistaken. If it was then 4 years after the release there was no interest at all at a major con in material for the old edition. Third edition was the same - we read through and started or converted every campaign in our group because we knew it was "better". D&D 4E was the worst time I saw serious backlash in a new edition of an RPG, although Twilight 2000 2E and Traveller New Era were pretty bad too - pre-internet anger was not quite as evident as these things are now.

Warhammer 40,000 has been mostly fortunate with its edition changes. Rogue Trader was a revelation as a game but it was not a neat and clean tournament-style system. It was more comparable to OD&D in that it was fairly open to tinkering and interpretation. The Second edition was a much tighter set of rules though it was far less RPG-like and the universe was more defined and less fuzzy around the edges. It was still pretty focused on powerful characters and they had many options. Third edition came out and was radically different - the turn structure went from 4 phases to 3. Characters were nowhere as powerful as they had been previously. Vehicles were much more common. The 4th and 5th editions of the game have continued this trend though characters have become more important in 5th than in the prior editions. They are still nowhere near the army-smashing gods of 2E though.

Compared to an RPG though, the changes hurt a lot more. It's not just a character sheet that is affected, it's a set of painted miniatures, sometimes a large set of painted miniatures. 

The picture up above is High Chaplain M'Benga, the baddest character I ever ran in 40K second edition. The terminator chaplain miniature had just come out and I thought it was a cool idea but that he needed an upgrade over the standard chaplain weapons. So I gave him lightning claws (which were extremely nasty back them - something like Str 8, d3 wounds), geared him up, and turned him loose. Here's the card I used when I played him(Yes I pretty much made up a "character sheet" for my major characters and kept them from game to game):

He was a lot of fun - teleporting around the battlefield tearing up anything he met. He was probably a reaction to a game back in the RT days where an Eldar Avatar ended up killing every single unit in my army - the big battle was my (non-terminator) chaplain going at him one-on-one as he was the only thing in my army that could wound it and he was killed before he could do it.I was determined that would never happen again. I think my background had M'Benga being the badly wounded survivor of that battle, sharing the same determination.

Anyway, 3rd edition comes out and Chaplains can no longer take lightning claws. Great.

Then the 3rd edition marine codex comes out and he could, though it was very expensive points-wise - alright. 

For 4th edition it was the same. 

Then for 5th it went away again. 

I said to heck with it and started playing Orks.

It could be worse - the entire Squat race (space dwarves) disappeared from the 40K gaming universe after 3rd edition. People sometimes use them to represent other armies that are still in the game, but it's not quite the same.

Where did they all go?

So as D&D Next starts to appear on the horizon, 40K Sixth Edition lurches toward release, and I see some definite similarities - in the past both have removed races from the game, both have undergone radical mechanical changes, the prices on both seem to rise with every new edition. At least with D&D your wizard mini painted in 1985 is still game-legal if you want to use it. Not everything has been so fortunate.

Looking back I was never demoralized about my AD&D Ranger not really being playable in 2E. I suppose he would have been but his sword & board & plate mail didn't really fit with the two-weapon / light armor style of 2E rangers. Same with Brutallus Maximus II, a specialty cleric of Tempus, not really being the same in 3E. With RPG characters I don't really sweat the mechanical issues - we tend to start new games with new characters when a new edition comes out so maybe it just doesn't come up for us. 

In Semi-RPG's the change that stands out in my mind is the Clan Invasion in Battletech. Battletech was a very popular game in the mid to late 80's. Boardgames, miniatures, novels, an RPG - it might have been the #2 game overall after D&D for those years, at least locally. In 1989 the hints started to drop of something new and by 1990 it was in full swing - the post-apocalyptic feudal states of the Inner Sphere were being invaded by high-tech genetically engineered warriors from a militarized society outside the boundaries of known space - and people hated it. Not everyone, but at least a vocal minority of the players refused to play anything that had to do with the clans. The BT universe had an advancing timeline through the novels and supplements with the game starting in 3025. The clan invasion started in 3050 so many players capped their game timelines prior to that. The changes to the rules and the universe did inject some new life into the game but it was a controversial change that had a mixed impact on the players. To this day, some players refuse to play "clan-tech".

You'd think this kind of backlash might stand as a lesson, but not to everyone. Exhibit A from recent history would be WOTC's "update" of the Forgotten Realms for 4E in 2008 - there are still plenty of people angry about that one too. I think it helped kick the legs out from under 4th edition in a significant way too, beyond the mechanical changes.

Anyway that's enough rambling. New editions of any successful game are inevitable, I've come to accept that, and that they will not always be 100% improvement - sometimes you get some lateral change or even a step or two backwards in some areas. However, I've also come to accept that I don't always have to "upgrade" and play them, especially nowadays with the internet and the communities that form around some games. The edition cycle seems to grow shorter each time, to the point that I wonder if we will someday see the 2015 rules for 40K being replaced with the 2016 rules and then the 2017 rules - annual updates would at least be on a predictable schedule. Hopefully they would also be cheaper, maybe even a free PDF. Probably not, but as we move into more and more of an online/PDF/Tablet + App environment I expect things to continue to change. We shall see.

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