New 40k – The Social Contract

New 40k, now with even more flippity floobity psychic pudding shenanigans.

New 40k, now with even more flippity floobity psychic pudding shenanigans.

The level of craziness you are likely to see in Warhammer 40k has risen dramatically with the new edition. While I try to remind people that competitive play isn’t the only way to play the game, and playing in the basement with your buddies can still result in perfectly enjoyable and (mostly) balanced games, that just doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good. And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither… This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice; it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation.

-The Republic (Book II)

TL/DR: Now more than ever we need a compromise, as described above.

I for one am loathe to admit that house rules have a place in 40k. I’ve been arguing against them for so long… It’s a very slippery slope. Where do you stop trying to fix the game? Sadly I just don’t think you can afford to go without them any longer; we need a new social contract between gamers to keep the game playable in a public setting.

A few of the bright minds in 40k gaming have come to similar conclusions on this matter, and it gives me some confidence that we will be able to salvage something of this edition. For every face palm of a rule (psychic phase) there is a nice change that should make the game a bit more pleasant (changes to flying monstrous creatures). The game has a lot of potential to remain a fun pastime and money pit for us addicts, but the prospect of facing a Tzeentch army that doubles or triples in size over the course of the game isn’t particularly desirable.

So it has been stated elsewhere, but for the sake of argument I’ll go over the major perceived problems with the new rulebook as it currently stands.

1. The Psychic Phase

You’d think that they would take a cue from Warhammer Fantasy, which has had a separate magic phase for a number of editions now. In the past, the magic phase was often dominated by certain armies that could pump out power dice at a level that nobody could cope with. There were certain Chaos and Undead armies that pumped out 20-30 power dice, while many armies had more like 4-6 dispel dice to stop them. It was… unpleasant. And some of these 40k armies can produce more like 30-40 warp charge per turn.

With 8th edition, they introduced a wider variety of casting difficulties (up to 25+), while capping the magic phase at 12 dice (winds of magic generate 2d6 power dice, with a limit of 12 after bonuses) and allowing up to 6 power dice to be used per spell attempt. In addition, the miscast table is still pretty brutal. So all in all, pretty balanced. There are some big nuke spells, but they are difficult to cast and they are a desperately needed tool to deal with death stars.

2. Army Selection

The dreaded “army comp” has been a topic of conversation for as long as I can remember. In any game like 40k, there are units that are better than others, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by playing with weaker units.

With 7th edition, you can pretty much just take whatever the hell you want. Between multiple detachments, multiple allies and Unbound armies, you’re basically playing Apocalypse. For the guys who were playing Apocalypse already, this is probably fine. For the rest of us, it’s a bit of a “WTF were they thinking?” moment.

3. Tactical Objectives

As a general concept, these seem fine. Several other games have a deck of cards that give you special abilities or objectives to accomplish throughout the game. Having a D66 chart of secondary objectives doesn’t sound all that bad, until you actually look at the chart and see how some of them are drastically more powerful than others. And with the way these missions are scored, getting the right objective cards for your matchup will enable you to get a fairly insurmountable lead before the game ends and the static objectives tallied up.

Scoring points from capturing objectives after individual turns instead of at the end of the game is something a lot of folks were asking for. It makes the early turns matter more, compared to a standard turn 5 land grab. Scoring a large number of points for easily accomplished tasks, while your opponent is just as likely to generate objectives that could be impossible to accomplish (i.e., kill a building or enemy flyer when there are none on the table), doesn’t make for a fun and balanced game.

4. 2+ Re-rollable Saves

Simply put, these are brutal to face. A 3+ with a re-roll gives you a 1/9 chance to sneak a wound through. 2+ with a re-roll is 1/36, a massive jump that makes most attempts at killing the target a complete waste of time and energy. Tzeentch and Eldar get this easily, although Divination psykers with 2+ armour can also get this to a more limited extent via Precognition. At least Precognition only affects the psyker, and not his entire unit!

Proposed Solutions

Steve has been in touch with Reecius from Frontline Gaming, and we have been bouncing around some ideas for a set of rules for tournament organizers to consider. This has the advantage of being fairly wide-spread, for consistency’s sake, and having a number of experienced gamers and TOs contributing ideas will help ensure we’re all on the right track.

While the specifics are by no means set in stone, if you look at the discussion section of a post like this, the comments tend to revolve around the following:

1. a) Capping Warp Charge

Fantasy’s 12 dice seems like a good place to start. Still plenty of dice to cast a number of spells with, or just 1-2 of the big ones. So you can take a magic heavy army, but you can’t expect to be casting every power you could possibly want with impunity.

Perhaps capping the number of dice that can be thrown at a casting/deny the witch attempt would be a good idea too, but with a hard limit of 12 dice, it’s less of an issue.

1. b) Making Deny the Witch Viable

The biggest problem here is that casting dice require 4+, while deny the witch dice require a 6+. If the opponent throws 6 dice at a spell and gets 3 successes, you need approximately 18-20 dice to reliably deny that spell. That’s just not feasible.

Sure, you can get bonuses if the spell targets your unit, but many of the best spells are blessings or conjuring powers, and no such bonuses apply. Many of the old psychic defences were not FAQ’ed for 7th, so they don’t help here either.

One idea that my group has suggested is allowing deny the witch to work on a 5+ for powers that don’t target an enemy unit. So if your opponent rolls 4 dice at conjuring a Herald of Tzeentch, you can reliably counter with 4-6 of your own instead of needing 10 or more and praying for box cars.

1. c) Tweaking Broken Powers

This is really something I don’t want to do, but this power is just way too good. Forcing you to snapshot at the target means all blast/template weapons are useless, and other weapons (melee and shooting) are severely robbed of their accuracy. It’s also able to target any unit within 24”, so a big Wraithstar can conceivably be casting this power on other friendly units as well if they roll it twice.

Reducing your shots to BS1 would have a similar effect, but at least allow blast weapons to target the unit (albeit with drastically reduced accuracy when they scatter).

Seriously, this spell is a problem. Some folks don’t think it’s all that bad, but if you combine it with Shrouding or some Eldar powers like Fortune/Protect, not to mention all of Baron Sathonyx’s tricks, it gets out of control quickly. 6’s to hit, 6’s to wound (Wraithguard being T6), then a re-rollable 2+ save, plus immunity to all blast/template weapons is not cool.

In 6th you could at least negate Fortune’s re-roll via Misfortune (turning 1/1296 chances to wound with a bolter shot back into a slightly less insane 1/216), but that spell has now been changed. Instead of forcing the enemy to re-roll successful saves, they just treat all incoming attacks as rending. That’s actually quite good in some cases, but since deathstars generally have high cover and/or invulnerable saves, it doesn’t help there. Even if Misfortune was an option, you’d still have to crack his defences with Eldrad denying the witch on a 4+ due to ML4. No easy task if he’s got 20 dice to throw.

2. Limiting Army Selection (Significantly)

Unbound armies clearly aren’t a good idea for standard tournament play. Obligating everyone to play with a Battle Forged army is just a starting point though. The consensus is shifting to allowing one primary detachment plus one other unit source, be it an ally, fortification, formation, Forge World book, or whatever.

Is this a big change from 7th, even 6th edition core rules? Yes. Is it necessary? Hell yes! Reece has already argued about the paradox of choice; being able to do what you want doesn’t necessarily increase variety, it often just increases everyone’s ability to take the best units in the game, regardless of what army they are (allegedly) playing.

Case in point: Attack Wing. Since Attack Wing allows for mixing of factions (unless you play “faction pure” fleets in your local meta), you see a massive number of players of all factions building around Kirk, Picard and Dukat for captains to give you extra actions. Donatra and Martok as well for extra attack dice in more swarmy lists. Countless options available, and you see these few spammed all over the place, reducing variety in the meta.

3. Tactical Objectives

Honestly, these are the most likely rules to just be thrown out entirely. They aren’t a bad idea, but they are implemented poorly and show a lack of effort and imagination from the writers.

As it stands, they are currently only used in the Maelstrom missions, which many folks are not enjoying compared to the standard 6th edition missions that were reprinted in 7th. For many tournaments, the system of running two missions simultaneously (i.e., Relic primary, Big Guns Never Tire secondary, and slay the warlord/line breaker/first blood as tertiary objectives) works really well. It’s simple, doesn’t require any new rules to be written, and it’s pretty fair overall. It has been used for a couple of years to pretty positive reviews.

4. Capping 2+ Re-rollable Saves

The solution proposed by Front Line is to limit 2+ re-rollable saves to 2+/4+. This gives them a 1/12 chance of failure, significantly more manageable than the 1/36 they would normally enjoy.

We propose going one step further, making all natural 1’s for saving throws ineligible for re-rolls. This would also require an amendment to Demons of Tzeentch, giving them the ability to re-roll 2’s instead of 1’s (take that, Screamerstar!).

Looking at the math, a 3+ that re-rolls 2’s only has a 2/9 chance of failure, compared to a natural 2+ at 1/6. The curve is maintained and re-rollable 2+ and 3+ saves are still really damn good, but not to the point of making the most powerful attacks virtually useless.


First off, congrats to anyone who made it this far! This is another long-ass post.

Second, let me reiterate that I don’t completely hate 40k. I still think it can be a great game, it is just far too easy for the players to break it. Letting the inmates rule the prison is rarely a good idea. If you can keep things reasonably in-line though, guys like me can keep working on all of our pretty Forge World armies and still bring them out once in a blue moon without too much fear of being roflstomped by some abusive list.

Negotiating the social contract among your buddies when playing together at your homes is easy. Applying it to the broader gaming community is more complex task. A community-driven system of tournament rules is probably our best bet for playing pick-up games or competitive events, from local tournaments all the way up to premiere gaming events with 50, 100 or more players. With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to join the conversation, on this blog, on Facebook and with other community leaders like Reece/Frontline.

For those of you who don’t think 7th edition needs any changes, all I can do is recommend that you listen to our good friend Sam Jackson before attending a tournament…

He really is in everything.

He really is in everything.


3 comments on “New 40k – The Social Contract

  1. WOW, gonna ETC the fuck outta this bitch eh?

    • Lol it’s hard not to… the game’s in a weird place right now and I’m just glad that my hobby dollars are going to the Horus Heresy stuff and not anything intended to be competitive at all.

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