If you are a die-hard for the theme of your army and refuse to compromise despite your local meta here are my top tips for improving your play while maintaining theme.
To begin lets start with defining a narrative player. For me the definition of being a narrative 40k player is very simple. A narrative player builds a collection to evoke an existing force in the lore, or creates a background for their army and adheres to that army’s style when you play your army in games. For me that’s the beginning and the end of it. I’m engaging the narrative just by making a list that reflects the style of my army, and executing that style in games.
“Rule of Cool” = “Hard Mode”
When you are a narrative gamer when you abide by the “rule of cool” and are sticking to a theme it usually means you are limiting your choices to what best represents the lore behind your army. Sometimes this can be a great thing like in 7th edition and you are a Saim-Hann player. However you could also be a Dark Angels player with an all Deathwing army which means you are in a world of never ending pain since the dawn of time… or at least since 2nd ed. Kidding aside I see a lot of players who are die-hards for their army soldier on in perpetual frustration. The key to breaking this cycle of frustration in my experience is recognizing that you are playing the game on hard mode. In addition to the limits the game already places on you, you are imposing another set of restrictions on top of that which can really limit the pathways you have to winning games. Recognizing that you are not playing on an even playing field means you will typically have to do extra work to finding a winning formula.
Balance the Presence of your Favorite Units
The most important step to finding success with your thematic army is recognizing that you dont need to take 10 of your favorite units to achieve theme. For example say you are an Iyanden Eldar player. Every model in the army doesn’t need to be a Wraith construct to represent an Iyanden army. While Iyanden makes heavy use of Wraith constructs they still have Guardians, Aspect Warriors, all the stock vehicles and other very thematic units like the Hemlock Wraithfighter in their aresenal as well. Simply including a big unit of 10 Wraithblades and a Wraithseer makes a definitive visual statement about the theme of your army as well as “brass and tax” statement of massive resource investment in terms of points and support characters to make them work.
The same can be said about Dark Angels and Deathwing. 99/100 times the Deathwing are sent in the spearhead of a Dark Angels attack. Simply including a big unit of 10 Deathwing Terminators and perhaps a Deathwing Dreadnought makes a huge statement about the theme behind your army. You could even go another route by taking Belial and a unit of Deathwing Knights in a Stormraven where the aim of your game is to make that unit work. The point is that you’ve really invested a lot of resources into representing that theme. Give yourself permission to bring in other elements from your parent codex or even other Imperial codices after that massive investment and guide those dudes to glory in a more limited capacity, as opposed to dying game after game on fluff hill.
Learn to Support a Thematic Army
So after accepting the fact that most of the time you playing on hard mode if you are a narrative player sticking to theme and finding the balance point between achieving theme and dying on fluff hill, the final step is learning how to support a thematic army build. So say for example you’ve reigned in your love affair with Ghost Warriors in your Iyanden build and settled on a big unit of Wraithblades, a Spirit Seer, a Warlock, a Farseer to give them Empower, Protect, Fortune and you’ve got the Pystronome tucked in there and maybe a Wraithseer and you are legit playing them as Iyanden. Theme achieved. Now give yourself permission to drop a trio of Hemlocks in there- you are going to need them.
One of the biggest hurdles I see narrative player fail to clear is shoring up the weaknesses of the more thematic elements of their army. So often it seems they have no problem tooling up their favorite units to the absolute max- but fail tool up the rest of their army list to support them.
So for example with that Iyanden example. You’ve got a big slow mosh pit of Ghost Warrior goodness that screams Iyanden. Give yourself permission to get some speed, firepower and even screening into your army in the form of some Hemlocks. Not only is that a fluffy build considering the background of the Hemlocks but you are also taking huge strides forward to getting a well rounded force that will help those Wraithblades do their thing and represent their kick-ass reputation from an in-universe perspective.
The bottom line is “list building” is not just for competitive players. Often times it takes more homework, more playtesting than your average gamer who is less narrative focused. Unless you are the Lamenters, winning battles is a huge aspect of the background of your army, make sure you are representing your favorite faction well on the tabletop by getting them some glorious wins!
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