RAW, RAI and rule abuse in Warhammer 40k; lets make a change
I have been playing 40k since the days of the original Rogue Trader book in all it’s strange and weird glory. I took a small break in between 3rd and 5th editions, but within my time in the game, I never played competitively until 8th edition. Why? Well It seemed a bit more streamlined, and I was finding it hard to herd the group of cats that were friends into playing games at all; kids, mortgages and general adulting have a lot to answer for it would seem. So I entered a tournament at Element Games to get a chance to play, and that was it – I haven’t looked back since.
Some of you may be aware of my views on competitive play and how, despite some unsavoury moments, it isn’t as bad as it is made out to be (check out these articles):
BUT despite this, I do have a couple of remaining bugbears.
- The general “the sky is falling, I can’t believe they are betraying me, I’ll never play Warhammer again” rhetoric you get leading up to and before each new edition (this is another article in itself, I think) and
- The intentional use of broken rules to gain an advantage by aggressively overruling dissenting views in your favour; this second point is what I want to talk about.
As someone who played casually for many years with groups of friends, over numerous editions, figuring out rule ambiguity was mostly a simple case of an agreement that the rules as intended had precedent over the rules as written. In a lot of cases, you could see that the rule was broken, how they had made the mistake in explaining it, and you just dealt with it as intended (If there was a bit more ambiguity, then you house ruled it so all parties agreed it was fair for everyone’s armies). I therefore had a massive shock when I entered competitive play and came up against people who actively sought out and aggressively defended broken or badly written rules to gain an advantage.
As it was taken by everyone about me, it was a case of like it or lump it, that’s how the competitive scene worked – If you wanted to be a part of it, you had to learn about the exploits, use them, counter them or try not to fall foul of them. So that’s what I did, and after a steep learning curve I just accepted it as part of the game. The problem is, it never sat well with me and you’d have moments where common sense would seem to want to prevail – but you always got trapped within the house of mirrors that represents the circular RAW argument; C’est la vie, I guess.
Now, granted, I fully understand the arguments for using rule exploits – You will find that some of the current top tier players will spend hours, days, weeks or even months looking for and testing out optimised lists based on optimal use of loopholes that they can exploit for maximum advantage. These people are intelligent, fully aware of how the rules are intended to work over how they actually work, and can be a great source of tactical knowledge once you’ve reviewed their matches, or been on the receiving end – they are, in effect, unofficial and unpaid playtesters who are giving GW a nudge to fix something by their success.
The thing is though, with this being accepted as the norm (and with people like me just going with the flow), we end up with an unbalanced and broken game; One that promotes and favours only specific factions and subgroups, depending on what loopholes have been found. This in turn creates a situation whereupon if you want to win, you have to play as a certain army and so punishes those who just want to play the army they have always played… I’m a Space Wolves player, so I know this very well. It also can quickly discourage new players for their very lack of in-depth knowledge and experience, promoting the perception that having so badly misinterpreted the rules, the game may not be for them.
The counter-argument is, of course, that it’s not our fault GW introduces power creep and can’t write rules properly, we are just playing with what we have. I would accept this, if it wasn’t for the fact that in most of the tournaments I have played in, there are house rules and changes from the official line in the ‘Tournament Pack’ or ‘Rules Pack’ you get when entering. What this says to me is that if there are broken rules, or people abusing specific units/tactics, that it CAN be changed by consensus – Therefore the opinion “Well I guess we need to wait until the FAQ comes out to change it” is just a way of saying “I like this rule because it benefits me to the detriment of the game and other players, so I’ll just drag my heels and wait for the FAQ to come out and get as many wins as I can out of it.” This needs to change for the health of the game, and the players.
Of course, the game isn’t fully balanced at any chosen minute – It’s a dynamic system, constantly being rebalanced by new codex releases and expansions (Plus FAQs) – Inevitably some factions are going to be better than others, based on having newer rules/Codexes, but we shouldn’t be encouraging, accepting or looking for broken rules & exploits – That tips us from one side having a slight advantage to creating a completely unfair advantage for certain people with the time and money to switch what they use to frustrate and crush others – And that’s just not fun to play for anyone except those few ‘winners’.
In the end, we are playing a game, it’s not actual war. There are a set of rules and a general consensus that approximate how specific things work in the real world for a specific effect and feel ‘on the table’.
This doesn’t even touch on the fact that winning by using an exploit is just lame and ultimately unsatisfying.
I would rather have a close and well-fought game that I lose by a well-timed choice and a spectacular intervention by Lady Luck on a dice roll than win by exploit. It’s not cheating, it’s in the RAW but it’s just not, well… Honourable – And definitely not in the spirt of how the rules, and the game, are intended.
So how do we fix it?
Well, in my mind it’s simple enough:
- Firstly there needs to be an acceptance that Games Workshop are a company who want to make money, therefore it is not in their interest to make everything tight and even all the time; that will take enough time and money they just won’t sell enough models to break even, let alone make a profit.Once you have accepted this, then it’s good to remember that, good intentions aside, GW are pretty much our plastic crack dealers, you can move on to thinking about fixing imbalances – Or at least fixing the exploits that cause potential game-breaking impacts on the mechanics without waiting for GW to come up with an ‘official’ fix for everything.
In their defence, they do at least seem to be trying a bit harder these days to fix/balance the meta, and to restrict rules abuse – But with so many codexes, players and combinations, things will fall through the net – And there are big delays before fixes come in as they test them and try to not make it worse (Not always entirely successfully).
We should probably remember it’s often 6 months between them writing and signing off on a Codex or an expansion, and the product being sold – That’s a lot of time for other things to change! This is where the community needs to come together and not just create, but maintain specific standards on rules and how the game is played. Fixing cracks as they appear and keeping them together until GW do eventually FAQ them.
- There needs to be an acceptance that RAI wins out over RAW. If the majority of the community accepts that there is a specific intent to a rule or mechanic then that’s how it should be played and used, irrespective of the wording.Bear in mind this already happens to a point. People point out issues, the community agrees, the difference is nothing is done consistently because there is no “official” FAQ. So it is just left to be abused until then.
This was perfectly understandable, even 10 years ago, but with social media and the fact that many gamers play in more than group between shops, clubs and friends, we all talk to each other, so we can spread ideas, and share links to articles to discuss or use for reference.
- With the above in mind there also needs to be an acceptance that just because an official FAQ hasn’t come out, doesn’t mean things can’t or shouldn’t be changed for tournaments, sanctioned or otherwise. Things should be changed and the rules should be changing with the meta constantly; a living ruleset if you will that is designed to make the game overall fun – Not just for a small group, but for everyone at some point. Some will be happier more often than others, but that may be because they are just better players, or the dice liked them that week.Once new rules are out, submissions could be sent to a central post, email or repository (or coordinated and shared from posts or discussions in some of the more common hangouts on social media, reddit etc), where they can be compiled and voted upon on a regular basis (weekly might be harder to arrange than bi-monthly, for example) .
Eg. Storm shields give a +1 to your armour save now (9th ed), and a 4+ Invulnerable save. As you are unable to modify a dice roll below a 1, and the rules emphasise the value on the dice when rolled. This would mean Terminators and other 2+ save characters with storm shields would now in theory have, in effect, a 2++ save. (I appreciate that this new SS rule as seen only relates to the new bladeguard veterans, but it serves as a good example)
It is believed, however, that this is not the intent and that weapons with an AP value can reduce the effective save (Though not cumulatively, only by +1 or -1), leaving the model with a maximum save of 4++ in effect.
VOTE Y / N
- If the vote carries after a week or other specified and consistent period, then that’s the rule and how it should be implemented until GW say otherwise.
- New rulings are applicable to tournaments that occur 2 weeks after the ruling, meaning that there is no messing around with list submissions, and people have time to get used to it.
Granted, this will not be fool-proof, but it’s a start and it’s something that will bring back the power of how this game is played to us. We can then provide a gaming experience that at least feels a bit fairer and competitive, rather than one that you know will be decided by the army your opponent fields – Whether a specific list, or just certain units, rather than what happens when those models are on the table – Why would you play?
You will know that, if an exploit is found by someone else, or if you fall victim to it, that it can and will be fixed soon and you don’t have to give up playing the army that you want to play. GW don’t have to be the only arbiter, or the excuse for things remaining broken. Blood Bowl was managed by the community for 22 years when Games Workshop stepped away. And yet, GW could come back in 2016 and release a new version without breaking all the community teams with their own, because the core of the RAI were still there, and in line with the RAW.
People still loved and played the game, though not as many, and while there are less units and forces, it remains the truth that the community of Blood Bowl players shed those looking for nothing but an easy victory by cheating. We can do something similar in 40k. They have already taken aboard some of the tournament organisers and players that have either used the loopholes or fought them, so it’s hopeful they will be better at avoiding these issues. In the meantime, we want to play, so we can take some responsibility for how the game is seen, played and presented, or we’ll scare our peers and the next generation away.
Let us know what you think in the comments below and a big thanks to Mark Canty for some insightful points in this article.