Guest Editorial: Warhammer 40k vs warhammer fantasy:The Wonderful world of random

This comes to us via Edwin.

“You know the thing about chaos….Its fair”-Joker

I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart.I love Random. Random is a wonderful thing to have in a game. If things were not random, you would have a gaming universe where things play out exactly the same, every time. This would be so incredibly boring. You need a little random. Today, I want to discuss a bit of a cross over. I want to write more Fantasy, but Fantasy has its issues. The new edition of 40k has been released and I also want to talk about it. With my conflicting emotions, I have decided to do a comparison.

I often play both, but not as much as I would like I admit. I want to compare the two systems and how they handle random things. 40k has had little experience with random and there have been some problems with people wanting to integrate randomness into game play. People often are resistant to change, but should we be resistant to this change? Fantasy is a game fraught with random. Anything and everything can happen. One action can see your face getting bit off by a shrubbery and the other can see a bush be the most power magical stuff in the game.  It has problems with competitive play for this very reason. Someone could walk into a victory through a random event. Is this a bad thing? Let the comparison begin. We will discuss core mechanics first.

Mechanical explanation

There is a method to random. Without an element of random, things will stagnate quickly. It would turn into a game of rock, paper, scissors. You could define play purely through mathematics without any chance for variable. At the same time ,You can’t just have random without control. There must be a limit. There is one easy way to do random. Random must not define someones actions, but instead be a result of it. When someone’s action is defined by random, they don’t have power or at least they don’t feel like they do. This is bad. It’s often why snipers in video games are so hated. People feel like their death was of no result of their own. It can leave players feeling powerless and unskilled no matter how good they actually are. This is the bad type of random. It is often a direct result of bad game design. It isn’t done on purpose, it is often done to create a good “feel” of action. It doesn’t seem well thought-out, but instead seems like an add on. Often, you can play without it and it will either keep the game the same or even make the game better. The good type of random is when you let players perform an action and then have random things happen as a result. This empowers the player and allows people to feel in control. Any result of your actions are your own or your opponents’. Anything that happens isn’t so much up to fate, but up to the players, yet it adds variety to each action.

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In a nut shell, rock beats scissors a lot of the time, but rock can lose due to random rolls in the bad type of random. The good type of random sees Rock beat scissors a lot of the time, but when rock loses, its because one player skill has often put the odds to win in their favors.  Even the most simple games have the good type of random. Time for the old fall back:

good ole fallback

Monopoly has the good type of random in it. Random rolling results in where you land, which adds variety to the game as you can’t land on the property you want unless you land on it. Your action is defined by the player in-between moving. You buy houses/hotels and trade with players. You define action rather than let play be defined by random. Some machinations of fate are unstoppable in random, but they are much, much harder to have happen when random is done well. Sure, you can land on both dark blue properties in a row with hotels that will cost you more money than god, but it happens so rarely that it almost isn’t an issue. You must look at the usual instead of the extremes. Sure the extreme exists, but the odds of such things are rare.

warhammer 40k random.

Warhammer 40k has the good type of random in it. You have to move onto or in mysterious things. You don’t ever have to move into/onto these things except for objectives. Even though objectives are mysterious, you will find that only 1 result is bad and all other results either don’t matter or are a good benefit. You can premeasure so that you can always define your random. Even random charge lengths are chosen actions by the player and with the addition of premeasuring, you will find that they aren’t that bad.  On top of these random rules often being a result of the player, you find often find that random that isn’t in the players control is either not a factor most of the time or is a factor that is very hard to not have both players be effected. This is especially true in 6th edition. Night fight can randomly happen a lot now. Not only does it effect both players, but it is clearly defined. Random game length is an amazing thing. It is random, but it effects both players forcing them to keep on their game while being clearly defined. It has no complications and is just a simple die roll.

In 5th, we all suffered from uncontrolled random of things like night fight, vehicle damage tables, and  no premeasuring. Night fight was just so random before that it was never viable. You could chose to shoot, but your actions wouldn’t happen randomly.  While you got to chose what you do, Randomness determined your action. Sure, I chose to shoot a squad that deepstriked and were bunched up 9 inches away during night fight with a doomsday cannon. That is a definite action, but it didn’t happen because random roll saw snake eyes and no shooting. Now night fight is better since it is very defined and not so random.  Vehicle damage was another one that was random to the point of not being effective. There became a point in which you have so many chances for random that its difficult to achieve anything. You had to hit, roll to penetrate/glance, roll cover/saves, roll on the damage chart. the average to hit is at bs4. so 2/3rds of your shots hit. we will say even a lascannon against a chimera front armor. av 12 sees us needing 4’s to penetrate. You pen half the time. down to 1/3rd combined chance. cover saves! half save results in down to 1/6th. ap 2 weapons don’t get editions to the damage table, so to kill, you have a 1/18th chance to wreck/explode a vehicle in cover. Now with the addition of hull points, you will find that even with a 1 in 18 chance to wreck/explode a vehicle, it takes at most 3 pens/glance to kill that same chimera. I had an experience where 10 glances and pens didn’t stop a rampaging defiler. Finally, on the 11-14th pen (gauss weapons are nasty), I got a single immobilize. I didn’t even destroy it, I just stopped it. Sure, this example is an extreme, but that is what hull points was designed to stop. These extremely random actions . This is a good design decisions.

Fantasy has its random too. It’s the random that I  hate. You have random charge distance which is OK until you throw in their movement value which results in possibly 20 inch charges (which I have had happen often), but there is one defining random moment that breaks the entire game for me. There is a single phase based on a single 2 dice roll. These two dice, define a 4th of the game. that poor magic phase can make or break any game. I have lost games because I rolled low for my magic. I played everything the way I should have and as a result, I couldn’t overcome the random. It truly was a decision made for me. To make matters worse, while mysterious terrain is good and controlled in 40k as it either barely hurts you or is a benefit, terrain in fantasy can destroy people.

Fantasy terrain has no real balance. I once had Zombies fight Witch Elves. I was gonna get slaughtered. They were there to tarpit. We fought by a mysterious piece of terrain and on the charge, it turns out to be a charnel pit. Gives my zombies a 6+ save and reduced my opponents leadership by 1. He promptly failed every LD test thereafter and a sure fire Zombie massacre turned into a long, drawn out fight which the Zombies won. This is the problem with fantasy random. It is a world of Extremes. It enjoys the filth that is these extremes. You can’t have stuff like this. It is simply bad design. It doesn’t reward skilled play often because things are so out there. You could roll up on anything and become doomed or incredibly awesome for no reason. I play fantasy for the fluff. On top of this, some of the USRs are rare to have happen, yet when they do, they just break people. I had one game where I had killing blow on horses and a chariot. It was a fluffy, yet tough, expensive choice. It was fun until a single 6 to wound saw the general of my opponent’s army get kicked in the head and suffered Killing Blow. My skill did nothing, yet resulted in a huge gain. Even when entire units gain this rule, you can’t reliably use this rule. It just randomly happens. I don’t play competitively and even I was annoyed with the some of these random things. I felt like I cheated my friend because I rolled that pit for Zombies and steam rolled him over a single dice roll or an important person gets dead because they had something explode them for no reason. This is bad design.

The magic circles

My opinion is that 40k has better elements of random than fantasy does. 40k’s random elements are much more mild and often result in the reduction of extremely random things. Fantasy’s random elements actually encourage the extremely random. Play just gets out there when things go to the extreme. It becomes defining rather the a simple addition to the rules. One of my favorite quotes describes this idea, “When everyone is super, no one will be”-Syndrome.  Even when you encourage extreme play like fantasy does, because it always does so, you will find that extreme is the norm. It gets sad. Random should never dominate play and that is why I consider 40k to be better.

What do you guys think? Random in 40K vs. Fantasy? 

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10 Responses to “Guest Editorial: Warhammer 40k vs warhammer fantasy:The Wonderful world of random”

  1. Anon July 29, 2012 1:43 am #

    Yeah, I think your analysis is pretty much spot on

    On the subject of the Fantasy Magic phase, if you are one of the armies which can generate power/dispel seperate to ‘Winds’, you get a massive advantage over other armies. ‘Winds’ also really pushes high Level Wizards, as they can overcome lower power dice pool by easily casting on 1-2 for low-level spells. Some of the best buff and debuff spells are exactly that type (Miasma, Speed of Light etc).

    In my player group, we ignore 90% of the random bullshit in Fantasy. Random charge range is one of the few things we keep (as the Movement stat that doesn’t exist in 40k makes set charge ranges a nerf to many of the slower armies), along with ‘Winds’. We also completely ignore the Shooting rules with regards to modifiers, as they are flat-out retarded (6’s to hit in almost all cases).

    40k has suffered from an infection of the bad kind of Fantasy random, with random charge range (srsly, fuck that shit, its incredibly annoying), random terrain (again, my player group completely ignore it, and many tournaments will too I imagine). Objectives we keep, because in playtesting it hasn’t been too bad (minor buffs mostly, with that one crappy ‘its not a real objective lol’ result adding a bit of tension).

    • edwin July 29, 2012 9:51 am #

      I wouldn’t say it is an infection. It is more a refinement of the less Crap elements that varied fantasy. Few terrain pieces break the game and only one objective is universally awesome. Sure ironbark forests are tough and scatterfield objectives are awesome, but we bring well rounded lists to deal with such things.

  2. Son Of Dorn July 29, 2012 1:52 am #

    40k is the worst gambling addiction there is. As far as I can tell, the small adjustments to its randomness have only made it more addictive. I can’t wait to play again. 🙂

  3. Robbie July 29, 2012 4:45 am #

    You assume that player skill is the only reason to play these games.

    “…It is simply bad design. It doesn’t reward skilled play often because things are so out there…”

    I think the design is brilliant. It offers a game that is not static and has a lot of replay value.
    If zombies beating elves ruins your evening, then perhaps you need to play something else. I guess I have out-grown the need to play every game like it is the zenith of generalship; I actually enjoy the crazy outcomes – they tell a much better story and I am having memorable games.

    It is for certain that these random elements sour upon the tournament/competitive players, and I used to be amongst your cadre, but the more I think about it – I am having more fun with “crazy random” than with the stuffy, ego-filled whine-fest of Tournament Hammer.

    I think GW drew a line in the sand in regards to the tournament/competitive scene: So you can lighten-up & enjoy a fun game with fantastic models & stories in a universe that is unique, or look like a spoiled-sport who has to somehow define their world by how many plastic zombies they should have mathematically clobbered last turn if the dice gods were not so capricious.

    • edwin July 29, 2012 2:53 pm #

      But I am not a tournament player. I am a casual player torn between the world of fluff bunny playing and tournament playing. I think it is a bad design decision not because it messed with the idea of tournament play, but because at the end of the day, we weren’t talkin about what I or my opponent had done, but rather that one instance had been so random that it defined the entire game. It out shined everything. That one 20+ inch charge that connected defined more of the game than my own actions. People remember extreme over ordinary. No one remembers when things goes statistically, they remember when grots best terminators. It happens, but it should be so rare that it doesn’t define a lot of play. That was the point. It happens a bunch in my fantasy games.

  4. Egge July 29, 2012 10:37 am #

    Good read. Thanks. I just stopped playing 40k in the new edition. There is to much stuff that can happen and you can’t plan for. Having a certain magic now can be game breaking. I have now played a couple of games where I god stuff totally useless and my opponent got every magic he wanted and there wasn’t a game. I just died. The same thing has happened both ways.

    I really didn’t understand GW decision at all here. In my area many stopped playing fantasy because of the random stuff and the changes no one liked. GW actually had to think: “Did people like random charge? No! So let’s include that in 40k. Did people love mysterious terrain? No! So let’s include that! Do people like when we ignore the basic rules? No so lets start ignoring the flyer rules in the rule-book even before the rules are out (necrons flyers). Do people like to win by just having the right luck with the magic? No, so let’s include that!”

    Then I haven’t even started with random game length (which I hate) nor TLOS (which I think sucks when it comes to woods).

    I can understand GW goal of a more cool events in each game. It aims to have epic moments each game. But if an epic thing happens all the time they are (drums, please, and I connect to you article) not epic any more!

    • edwin July 29, 2012 11:29 am #

      thanks for the complement. Honestly, I would rather play with the random in this edition then I would play with the random in 5th. Most of 6th is easy to ignore and doesn’t break things. Your action is what’s important. The most broken elements of 5th (night fight) got made into something consistent. Even random terrain/objectives often don’t do much. Even ironwood and scatter fields don’t break things. You truly need a balanced list for this edition

  5. Tee July 29, 2012 11:26 am #

    Your playing Wfb wrong. The only surpise terrian is the forests. The channel pit should have been rolled for before setting up the armies. You would have know that the pit was there when the fight with the witch elves started. It then would have been a tatical desicion on the de player on whether or not to fight.

    • edwin July 29, 2012 2:56 pm #

      But let me expand on that. Even played wrong, we rolled dawn attack and that was placed in the middle of the field so there isn’t much that can be done about it.

  6. David Bennett March 12, 2014 2:26 pm #

    Random effects you can invite in WFB might be greater than those in 40k but they are all entirely predictable and easily anticipated. The Winds of Magic are guaranteed to be entirely unreliable therefore if you choose to rely on magic you take a calculated tactical risk. You take a calculated gamble by interacting with terrain. There is a call for judgement here. Your definitions of invited randomness (“good risk”) in 40k and uninvited, visited randomness in WFB (“bad” risk) are therefore spurious. What you like in 40k is bounded risk – the boons and hazards of objectives, dice rolls, and other random factors are limited in their extremes, while the risks you choose to take in WFB, whether you admit to choosing to take them or not, can have truly game changing effects, for or against you. Risks and boons from random things in WFB are all known and quantifiable, however. There are only six types of forest and so you know how likely each is to happen and what the probability of different outcomes will be. You can choose to take risks or avoid pieces of terrain. It just adds to the complexity of the battlefield.

    It should also be remembered that fortune of all kinds can affect both sides in the same battle and can even itself even within a game, and is certain to even itself eventually over a longer series of games.

    I think it is great that 40k serves well those who prefer bounded accuracy in their randomness, who do not appreciate surprises (good or bad) and who want the impact of random factors minimised. I just feel that WFB is more like real life: the important things all happen while you are busy making other plans. If consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, then the great challenge and thrill of WFB is both deciding what to risk by interacting with scenery or choosing to rely on war machines or magic that are powerful but unreliable, and finding ways to recover from unexpected catastrophes and capitalise on sudden benefits. For competitive play and for those who want to win every time I can appreciate this is unwelcome but I have always found it made the game feel more immersive. After all, real armies have often fallen because of bad intelligence or just horribly bad luck.

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