Warhammer 40k: A Gentleman’s Grimdark

Hello, again. In this era of rampant tribalism in the world at large, it seems that there has arisen an interesting and occasionally unhealthy division within the Warhammer 40k community: the casual gamer vs the competitive gamer.

In my experience, there is often a bit of pushback among casual gamers against 40k as a competitive game. It seems as though casual gamers tend to view tournament goers as win at all cost (WAAC) douchebags who aren’t fun to play against and some of them seem to take offense at the efforts of tournament organizers who implement standardized rule sets (i.e. the ITC) in an effort to balance and streamline some of the more poorly written/edited, rules from Games-Workshop and Forge World.

In their defense, some competitive players ARE WAAC douchebags, that many of us would rather develop a pizza allergy than spend a few hours playing army men with; however, I think we can all more or less agree that these people fall into a fringe element of the overall community population. I’ve personally only encountered a couple handfuls in the two decades I’ve been playing this game, and the vast majority of those weren’t at tournaments, but rather in alleged “friendly games” with casual players. To be fair though, this fringe element of jerks exists as a part of civilization as a whole and they naturally pop up with about the same frequency in any given group of people. Whether it’s grown adults playing army men, plumbers, or your state Quidditch champions, a certain percentage of any given group of people is just going to suck to be around.

Not this guy, though. He can fly.

But the second complaint that seems to accompany some of the casual gamers’ pushback against competitive 40k is their disdain for external standardized rules systems. They don’t like the idea of an external organization, such as the ITC, sweeping in and “changing” the rules. This was a bigger issue last edition, where increasingly major overhauls were needed to balance the game system, but even in this brand new edition we are beginning to see the need for independent ITC rulings and appendices to the core rule set. Typically, I haven’t been able to get much of a coherent argument beyond the timeless reliance on the deification of GW and their intelligent design for the game, which we’ve already established is a fallacious and unhelpful position as we discussed, here.

Instead of third party rules, these players tend to rely on something commonly referred to as a “gentleman’s agreement,” which essentially states: “we are playing a game, don’t be a dick.” As I’m sure we can all attest, this agreement is a nebulous thing that, while generally unspoken, can translate to anything from “no Superheavies or FW units” to “no ‘ridiculous’ psychic powers.” In essence, the gentleman’s agreement is simply an informal method of game balance. The only real differences between it and rules appendices from the ITC are the scope and formality. And while these appendices are generally adopted by the community-at-large for ITC sanctioned events, they absolutely aren’t required, which kinda throws out the complaint that “they’re changin’ muh rules!” that I’ve frequently encountered from many ITC nonbelievers.

So, what we really have here isn’t a division between opposing ideologies or anything so serious, but a simple preference. One side simply prefers to not have formal rules changes thrust upon their gaming experience. I can dig that, I just prefer honesty in arguments.

The problem with such an adamant position comes with the scaling of the game. It’s one thing to have a spoken or unspoken agreement among friends to balance and regulate a game but, often as not, you won’t be playing friends at tournaments. And sometimes even if you do, they don’t always abide the gentleman’s agreement, because they don’t have to since an informal agreement isn’t binding.

To use a sport analogy, when I play pick up hockey games with my friends, we essentially play under the gentleman’s agreement of no rough play, which includes a ban on slapshots, hits, slashes, etc. for a number of reasons, but primarily because we all have regular jobs and can’t go to work jacked up every week over something we do as a recreational activity.

Maybe not a great look for the office Monday morning.

However, in sanctioned games and events, rule sets have to be established and enforced because random people you might face on the court aren’t your buddies and can’t be trusted to have you or your team’s safety in mind. Therefore, we play with standard rules regarding penalties and such when we play sanctioned games. The same principle applies to 40k and when viewed in this light, the balancing appendices published by the ITC and other agencies are actually protecting us all from WAAC douchebags who have exactly zero reasons not use infinite warp spider flickerjumps and unkillable units to make you have a bad time (oh, how I miss the 7th edition).

Now, I’m sure it will take a lot more than reasonable debate to bring your casual buddies and acquaintances around to participating in events, but it isn’t necessarily a bad place to start the conversation. People nowadays tend to become so wrapped up in their tribal positions on a given subject that this particular player division – along with a few others – will likely always exist, but an attempt at inclusion doesn’t hurt anything. And once they finally turn up to a tournament, see that it’s not everything the fearmongers have been preaching, and have a good time they’ll likely come back. It is this simple effort that is the basis of growing the community as a whole and a growing community is good for the game and everyone involved with it. From the 16 year old kid who just got his first Necron Start Collecting! boxed set for his birthday all the way up to the CEO of Games-Workshop, all of us benefit from increased community involvement from everyone involved at every level.

– PT

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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26 Responses to “Warhammer 40k: A Gentleman’s Grimdark”

  1. Dakkath March 25, 2018 5:57 am #

    This is the kind of well-reasoned and logical discussion that would help ‘bridge the gap’ as it were. Kudos for writing it up. I may find myself trying to refer to and/or emulate it.

    • PT Taylor
      PT Taylor March 25, 2018 2:11 pm #

      Thank you! I’m constantly trying to find ways to get my casual buddies to turn up to RTTs. More casual players = more casual atmosphere = more laid back event and more fun.

  2. Sfshilo March 25, 2018 6:21 am #

    While overall the competative scene is nice to play in, my experiences with “bad” games are about 50/50 comp/flgs.

    The competative scenes for ITC like to smell their own farts imo. Just glance at the reaction to anyone that decided to have *gasp END OF GAME SCORING.

    The freaking London GT was labelled as a horribly ran unbalanced event because end of game SCORING HAD to have caused works to get 1st place…It was not a pretty competative player moment on the internet.

    Or take a look at the flagship ITC event, LVO, I am not sure you would call that the beacon of friendly gameplay after that debacle.

    Finally, I would question any tourney that sacrifices gameplay and sportsmanship just to find the best try hard player on the planet. This is a hobby not a sport, and winning with some kind of broken ass spam does not mean you crowned the best player that day.

    • pascalnz March 26, 2018 1:44 am #

      it was one guy in the biggest tourney in the world and it lead to thousands of dollars going to charity because the guy opposite him was so nice.
      I think thats a shining endorsement 🙂

    • KingAceNumber1 March 26, 2018 11:28 am #

      > This is a hobby not a sport, and winning with some kind of broken ass spam does not mean you crowned the best player that day

      To you. Your preference is to treat it as a hobby, mine and many others is to treat is as a sport. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve at something, nor is there anything wrong with wanting to compete. If you take something that is entirely within the rules and win with it, it in fact DOES mean you are crowned the best player that day. That’s literally what the objective of tournament play is.

  3. Cayesq March 25, 2018 9:47 am #

    I don’t think you’ve stated the position of “all” casual gamers very well, and you’ve made some pretty big leaps in terms of what you think “we all” can agree on…As a person that has dipped his toes in both ponds I can’t speak for everyone but can express only my own opinion. I have absolutely no problem with the ITC and believe that anyone playing in a tournament must play by the tournament organizers rules. Whether the TO’s rules actually make the game more
    “balanced” or not is a subject for debate amongst those gamers that participated. Given early results in LVO one wonders, for example, whether the ITC rulesets inadvertently favored Eldar.

    If there is any problem here besides gamers arguing about nothing in particular, my concern is whether and to what extent GW attempts to balance their game based on those tournament results. When a tourney changes the rules of the game or particularly sets up alternate ways of winning the game via secondary/tertiary objectives etc., the game balance GW designed kinda goes out the wayside. Is the game better balanced? Maybe, maybe not. But if, say, GW nerfs Reapers based on LVO, that afffects the casual gamer in a negative way despite the fact that Reapers may be balanced outside ITC rules.

    I might venture a suggestion as well to casual gamers: embrace power levels! They seriously work at getting a fun and balanced casual game going, particularly if you’re playing book/Chapter Approved missions. Power levels will skew from time to time but are less subject to the whims of GW balance.

    • David March 25, 2018 11:46 am #

      How do you propose GW gets the data it needs to balance the game? Tournaments are an easy resource to exploit in that way. The information from garage gamers simply isn’t available.

    • Lex March 26, 2018 6:33 am #

      I agree with this sentiment. When you look at the math, Dark Reapers aren’t particularly good at taking out either big targets, or hordes. They have a niche in taking out medium sized multi-wound units that rely on to-hit modifiers and low armor saves for defense. It’s a relatively small segment of targets at which they excel at. However, within the ITC ruleset, they are the preferred Eldar heavy hitter. Everything else within the Eldar range for taking out hard targets is a 10+ wound model giving up valuable secondaries. The secondary mechanic built those Eldar lists and exaggerated their strengths (e.g. units less than 10 models/wounds). With few exceptions, Eldar just don’t do big models or units. Not railing against ITC, just saying that balance is often illusory. Even chess isn’t balanced in a single game.

  4. Rob Butcher March 25, 2018 11:34 am #

    GW core scenarios / ITC scenarios / Adepticon scenarios / London GT scenarios … way too many different ways of playing competitively. That’s a big turn off for me.

    Please also bear in mind that the first word from ITC is INDEPENDENT ie not officially forced down any-ones throat nor officially sanctioned by GW.

  5. Gregorius42 March 25, 2018 3:49 pm #

    It’s interesting how people seem to think that ITC loves Eldar and Hates Tau. As if Eldar was not winning ton of games with ITC rules. Or that Tau, Riptide wing anyone? Was not overused denizen of the Net.

    In our current meta, people both casual and competitive blame ITC for any nerfs to their army. Especially Tau players. As if Frankie and Reese have that much influence, and they hate one faction so much. If that were the case I have $5000 for Frankie and Reece to pimp my Dearhwing!!!

    • Reecius
      Reecius March 25, 2018 11:35 pm #

      I know, right? Lol. Eldar did really well at the LVO because many of the best players chose to play Eldar. Our format doesn’t benefit them specifically, they’re just good and again, lol, many of the top players all chose to bring them.

      As for the hating T’au thing it is just silly. There’s no foundation for it in reality at all, just a weird sentiment that some T’au players carry with them. We gain nothing by having any faction be bad, we directly benefit from them all being good, lol. Our livelihoods depend on it for crying out loud.

    • PT Taylor
      PT Taylor March 26, 2018 12:37 am #

      The Tau Facebook pages are the absolute best. I personally think Tau are going to be pretty sick once the good players learn the book.

  6. WestRider March 25, 2018 5:43 pm #

    Honestly, I think the time to say that this division “has arisen” passed over a decade ago. It’s been a problem since the Internet enabled enough communication for there to be a widespread and generally understood Competitive Community in 40K. And, frankly, I think GW (and particularly a few people there) bear a significant chunk of the blame for widening that division. During the Kirby years, there was some serious anti-tournament sentiment regularly coming out in WD, and I still hear echoes of it in the arguments put forward by many of those on the casual side of the issue.

    The thing that really confuses me, and I’ve actually run into this from both self-described casual and competitive gamers, is the rejection of the concept that tight, clear, and unambiguous Rules (regardless of whether they’re 1st or 3rd party) improve the game for everyone.

    I’ve also noticed that some of the worst experiences I’ve seen others having seemed to arise from the fact that they were both casual players, but came from settings with very different gentlemen’s agreements, and didn’t realize how much of the game as they knew it was based on interpretations and modifications that were only a thing in their group, and not inherently part of the game. Sometimes so much so that they weren’t really even playing the same game anymore. Competitive players tend to be a bit better in that regard, because they’ve generally done enough analysis that they understand which areas of the rules are getting modified like that, but much the same thing can arise when people used to different standards (ETC/ITC/NOVA/whatever) cross over into events run under different standards without really understanding everything that changes.

    Finally, I’d note that almost all the unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had in competitive 40K events was with people who are highly competitive as a personality trait, but aren’t actually all that good at 40K (or at least not up to the level of that event), and not aware of that. Happens a lot with people who were a big fish in their small pond and are now heading out into the “ocean”. This tends to lead both to grasping at questionable rules interpretations and such to try to get up to the level they think they’re at, and general unpleasantness because they’re frustrated and angry from their poor results.

    • PT Taylor
      PT Taylor March 25, 2018 7:02 pm #

      1) I think you could honestly argue there was still anti-tournament sentiment stemming from GW even a couple years ago. Consider how disruptive to organised competitive play many of the releases during the last year or so of 7th Ed was (e.g. new mandatory flyer rules inclusion, new space marine powers, et al.). I was honestly expecting an eventual showdown between GW and 3rd party event organisers, wherein GW tried to consume the purview of organised play again. I was glad with the way it panned out.

      2) I’ve been a long time proponent of GW contracting their rules to a 3rd party actual game developer. Say what you want about games like MTG, but you can’t say their rules design isn’t tight and relatively devoid of vague, inconsistent, or poorly written rules.

      3) Me too. Seems to stem from people playing purely within the context of their local meta and never stepping outside it. Then when they do BOOM.

      4) Fair statement.

      Thanks for the response!

      • WestRider March 26, 2018 11:00 am #

        1) There was absolutely a transitional period there. I got the feeling at the time that it was mostly just shoving stuff out the door that had been started during the Kirby years, and was too far along to be worth just cancelling. GW works really far ahead on a lot of things, and I can totally see them not wanting to completely throw away the investment on that stuff.

        2) I’m just getting back into MtG, and I love how tight the rules are. The other one I always bring up in this context is Classic BattleTech. It was my start in mini Wargaming, and I never once had a rules issue/question/argument that we couldn’t find the answer to in the rulebook eventually. Their organization and indexing weren’t always the best, but the rules themselves were very tight and comprehensive.

        • PT Taylor
          PT Taylor March 26, 2018 8:14 pm #

          Classic Battletech was my first foray into wargaming, too (Locusts all the way!). I tend to drift in and out of MTG, but the static rules are airtight. Everything broken down logically into phases and subphases, nothing left open for interpretation. Then when new expansion rules are introduced, they are simply dropped into the existing static rules with barely a problem. I’ve got gripes with the game overall, but the rules mechanics and development aren’t one of them.

    • happy_inquisitor March 26, 2018 12:02 am #

      A lot of what you say comes down to what are now officially the 3 ways to play. As the online community grew it very quickly became the online competitive community – either disregarding or sometimes outright denigrating the other two ways to play. GW did react against that narrowing of “what the game is about” and some competitive players did not like the way that they did it. Fortunately GW appear to have re-thought their approach and are trying to balance the needs of the whole player base in a more positive way right now.

      As for tight rules I actually disagree in practice – because to withstand the online onslaught of rules-lawyering the rules would absolutely have to be written in the same manner as any other document intended to withstand that style of scrutiny. We all know that the nit-pickers will decompose and analyse everything to the nth degree in the name of RAW and we all should know that anything resembling plain conventional English is not rigorous enough to withstand that sort of treatment.Legalese exists precisely because only that form of English can hope to withstand that sort of scrutiny – and even then there are endless ongoing arguments about interpretation of laws.

      Nobody outside of a small minority of the competitive community wants to play a game where the rules are written up in a formal legalistic style. Given that an attempt to lawyer-proof the rules would essentially kill the appeal of the game as a commercial enterprise I think GW are doing what they can about it – continue writing in a more fluent and readable style and address any issues arising in a timely manner.

      On your last paragraph I have to completely agree. It is the same in other fields – I compete in a couple of sports and it is never the genuinely good competitors who give me the treatment it is only ever the occasional mediocre try-hard.

      • Dakkath March 26, 2018 4:24 am #

        Have you ever played Magic: the Gathering? The rules are tight, unambigious, and certainly not written up like a legal document.

      • WestRider March 26, 2018 11:08 am #

        1) I’m referring specifically to some articles and other bits that were not just promoting also having more casual play, but outright said that playing GW games competitively was Wrong. It wasn’t presented as being about having alternatives, it was explicitly anti-competition.

        2) Keeping it just in terms of tabletop wargames, I know from personal experience that both Classic BattleTech and WarmaHordes have very tight rules sets. I never ran into a single rules argument in either of those systems that couldn’t be resolved clearly and unambiguously from just the rules themselves.

    • KingAceNumber1 March 26, 2018 11:31 am #

      > Happens a lot with people who were a big fish in their small pond and are now heading out into the “ocean”. This tends to lead both to grasping at questionable rules interpretations and such to try to get up to the level they think they’re at, and general unpleasantness because they’re frustrated and angry from their poor results.

      This is hyper accurate. RTT’s can bring out a lot of this, especially in an area where the bigger fish are swimming around just outside of your pond. I live in an area with a large concentration of Beast Coast players, myself being one of them, and I’ve had some of the absolute saltiest games out of people who stomp around their LGS but can’t measure up for whatever reason in larger events. Just have to keep calm and ignore their tantrums, play as if they’re reacting normally, and if they want to throw a fit that’s their business.

      • PT Taylor
        PT Taylor March 26, 2018 8:16 pm #

        Couldn’t agree more.

  7. Anony Mouse March 25, 2018 10:39 pm #

    I don’t like participating in tournaments outside of small in-store events, and it isn’t only to do with the ITC rules or other attempts to clarify things, although that is part of it. My objection to ITC rules, particularly in 6th/7th, is that they exist to balance the tournament metagame as much as to clarify GW’s rules. I don’t have a problem with tournament FAQs, but when you’re changing rules, allowing some armies to use Forge World entries but not others, adding in missions or objectives that you made up and that favour some armies/builds over others, and so on, you really are playing a different game and it raises the barrier to entry since most of one’s experience outside that setting may or may not be relevant.

    That’s a minor quibble next to the main thing I don’t like about tournaments, though, which is the metagame. Most players don’t have the time or resources to carefully optimize our armies, we buy the models we like and play games with them. In casual play I’ve never encountered six wave serpents, and spam in general is pretty rare outside of a themed army. Most casual armies have one or two of each model. Tournament players want to min/max their lists, and that’s fine, but it means that the people that can’t or won’t follow suit get curb stomped, which isn’t exactly an experience that leaves one excited to come back for a repeat.

    It also leads to a lack of diversity in armies (“oh, you brought a Guilliman gunline detachment and a Raven Guard detachment, wow, I haven’t played that exact army twice this weekend already”) since most armies only have one or two really optimal builds and people tend to copy what works. Another problem is that chasing the latest hot thing means a lot of tournament armies you see are badly or incompletely painted, which is frustrating for those of us that consider the hobby side of the game just as important as the tabletop.

    It sucks watching your lovingly-painted army that you’ve written a back story for and that you’ve been building up over the years get blown off the table by the second turn without being able to do anything by three riptides that barely meet the three-colour-minimum that the other guy obviously bought and painted within the last two weeks because he read on the internet that they were good. Or to find out that your army can’t achieve half the objectives that this tournament uses because you foolishly didn’t consider this particular tournament’s missions when buying your models two years ago. That summarizes the tournament experience for a lot of casual players.

    The relentless negativity, constant complaining, and general hostility of a lot of tournament players towards GW is also a huge turn-off. Not the majority, but it doesn’t take very many for it to dominate the experience. Witness the reaction to the latest T’au codex, for example. It is what it is, and most sensible people would set about making the best of it. I’ve never heard my casual friends complain about nerfs, but to hear some tournament players tell it GW is either incompetent or hates T’au (/Orks/Tyranids/Grey Knights/your faction) and wrote this codex only because they can’t physically drive to your house and stand on your front lawn flipping you off 24/7.

    • Reecius
      Reecius March 25, 2018 11:37 pm #

      Yeah, good points.

      And FWIW, we hated having to change rules back in the day but the game was just not really playable in a competitive setting if you didn’t. And, it worked. ITC events exploded in popularity during that time because we were willing to bite the bullet and make sensible changes based on community feedback. However, it pissed some people off and we get that. So, we’re very happy we don’t have to do it anymore =)

      • Anony Mouse March 27, 2018 2:25 pm #

        Reece, what you guys do with the ITC is amazing and I don’t mean to take anything away from that. Most casual groups I know of used ITC FAQs before GW was regularly updating theirs. I didn’t mean that as a criticism of the ITC, you guys do what you need to in order to make 40k function in a tournament setting and you do a great job of it. Doesn’t mean I like everything, but you’ll never make everyone happy. You guys do what works and your success speaks for itself.

        All I meant is that for some people, altering the rules of the game for a tournament is a barrier to participation. Claiming that there is no rational argument against it beyond the deification of GW, as the article does, strikes me as disingenuous. I just wanted to offer a rational (I hope!) explanation for the people who balk at tournaments changing the rules of the game.

  8. Cavalier March 26, 2018 2:50 am #

    I really do not understand why the static exists between casual and competitive players. Its like a group of friends who like to play softball having a problem people who play in a local league which they choose not to join. Some people want to compete, others want a more Dungeons and Dragons, in it for the experience type game both of which are fine.

    The only argument I could see is that abuses in the tourney scene impact Chapter Approved and FAQ’s more strongly… but I still see those same abuses in the local scene as well and would bet if there was no tourney scene those same abuses would still exist and be just as prevalent.

    People want different things in life. To each their own

  9. Nolan Rush March 26, 2018 8:48 am #

    Random aside, is that quid kid Augie at the breakfast taco, chicken and waffles tournament?

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