We haven’t had to put out enough fires yet around here (metaphorically speaking of course, it seems like half the damn province is on fire at the moment) so I’m gonna have to throw caution to the wind and start this whole thing up all over again.
So… those of us who follow Jaded Gamercast on the Bookface are probably all too familiar with the subject … The necessary evil that we all sweat over … Tournament season is upon us and with new composition scoring models comes a whole new discussion of what works (and doesn’t work) about composition. Instead of jumping straight into the nitty gritty of various systems, I want to steer us on some wild tangents for a while first. Tangents are fun! They remind me of math, from before math got all scary and I wasn’t allowed to use a calculator anymore. Calculus is the devil, at least when taught by a guy who doesn’t speak English…
Hold up. That’s not where I was trying to go with this. I was trying to talk about philosophy. See, I told you tangents were fun! You never can tell just where the hell I’m gonna go next.
Okay, Philosophy. Seriously.
When I was thinking about this whole composition debate, it occurred to me that I’ve heard a lot of these arguments before. Where, exactly? In university, most notably in regards to everybody’s favorite 19th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Yes, kiddies, today I’m gonna make you read about ethics and transcendental realism and watch me somehow try to make this all relate to Warhammer. Aren’t you glad you clicked the link to this post?
When you’re talking ethics, you are often talking Deontology vs. Consequentialism. If you are already scared of where this post is going, you might want to check out the following video before continuing on.
Okay, cool. With the former (deontology), you have a very black and white world where it’s never (ever!) morally acceptable to lie, cheat, manipulate, or anything like that. Ever. Even when your wife/girlfriend asks you how she looks in a particular outfit. I consider the ETC and their mission to police the game by banning everything a good example of hardcore militant deontology. Obviously, this is to be avoided. With Consequentialism, you have a much more subjective “the ends justify the means” sort of philosophy. In theory, everything hopefully works out in the end … but this approach is purely subjective and can lead to some pretty atrocious stuff happening. If you don’t agree with the subjective interpretation of the outcome (ie. “Everything is just peachy”) then you’re likely not too happy with the methods that were employed.
As you can plainly see, these philosophies are in direct conflict with each other and thusly we end up bitching about composition on the Internets all day when we should be doing our jobs.
Kant’s form of deontology (and a number of other philosophical schools of ethics, aesthetics and even linguistics) all rely on the notion of transcendental realism. In other words, they believe that there is some innate mystical wisdom, knowledge, or whatever that we have the capacity to seek out and apply to the universe. Applied to Warhammer, this would mean that there is some specific universal law regarding “What makes someone a power gamer,” and as such, there would be a purely objective formula for how to deal with this. Good luck with that.
Thank God, he’s talking about Warhammer again.
I believe that, on some level, this is where many tournament organizers are coming from. This is why we often find ourselves trying to write a checklist or a system that can be applied equally and fairly to all army books to provide a level playing field on which to play our games of toy soldiers. As experience will tell us, this is rarely ever so simple.
As gamers, we simply don’t like being told what to do. We especially hate it when something we spent a ton of money on is banned entirely, but when there’s a composition system that discourages you from taking something you’d want to put in your army, you still get defensive. There’s going to be fireworks any time someone posts a purely objective composition system, because no two lists are exactly the same and the strengths of one book (ie. cheap transports for Marines and Imperial Guard) don’t line up with the strengths of another book (ridiculously expensive Devilfishes in Tau armies).
Okay, so while there might be some basic principles that we can agree on for composition, namely that being a complete and utter douchebag who ruins the day of his opponents simply by showing up is a bad thing, it’s tough to continue from there without delving into that mushy subjective crap like, “Is your opponent’s army list fun?”
Thesis? Antithesis? Meet Synthesis.
The happy middle ground usually lies somewhere in the realm of a hybrid system. It relies on some transcendental definitions on what makes an army list unfair/lame/whatever, but it’s tempered by an element of subjectivity to accomodate for context (ie. different army books, the rest of the army list, and the rest of the people taking the same army list to the event).
This is what the Out of the Basement tournaments have used for the past couple of years, and with almost universally positive results I might add. We managed to create an environment where (for the most part) people are on a level playing field and the army lists got a score that reflected the level of their optimization (commonly referred to as “cockbaggery” in the vernacular of today’s youth culture). OOTB used a simple system, where you received up to three points for following some basic rules of composition and your opponent could give you up to two points based on the army being overall fun and fair to play against. If you got 5/5, the opponent could give you a bonus point purely at their discretion.
Everybody was pretty happy. And then 8th edition Fantasy and some of the more recent 40k codices came out, and the old formulae went to shit. Back to the drawing boards…
This year, it was announced (here) that we would be using a system wherein everybody starts with the same score, and you run the army list through a long list of + and – modifiers to end up with a purely objective comp score. As you can expect, there was backlash. Some people were unhappy (some of them justified, Necrons and Tau don’t fare well under a system that favors creativity and variety) and some went so far as to abandon their plans to attend this year. And then I wrote a post about it and finally, just now, you finished reading it. Thanks, by the way, my rants aren’t always easy to follow. Hopefully they offer a little bit of enlightenment, or at least some entertainment value.
So. Anyway. Here we are at the end of my article. I challenge you to propose a simple, elegant system that covers some of the basic principles of army construction (special characters, min-maxing, etc.) while being flexible enough to accomodate all of the different army builds and strategies you can expect to find in a competitive environment. There must be a fairly clear distinction between “soft” armies with high scores, “competitive” armies in the middle and “fully optimized” lists towards the bottom.
I’m not trying to be confrontational or anything like that. If we do come up with a kickass system that works for this type of tournament then everybody wins.