Apologies for the clickbait title, sometimes I can’t resist. I’ll drop the dance of seven veils and get right too it: we are talking about the Crusade System here.
I am a few weeks into running my first club-level crusade campaign, and overall it is going well. We have a number of active players and our first group game coming up in July. However, this is also my first time running a campaign where some of my players have their own crusade rules in their codecies and some do not. Initially I had never thought this would create an issue. I was very happy to see the appearance of faction-specific campaign rules as I believe they add many fun twists into a campaign. While they add to the amount of book-keeping they also provide a massive leg up to players compared to those without a crusade update. One of the most striking examples of the imbalance comes in the form of agendas.
It is much easier for armies like Space Marines and Drukhari to farm experience for their units. For example the Space Marines can take an agenda that gives every unit 2 exp. each time it passes a morale test. While this preclude vehicles, it does put your opponent in an awkward spot of trying to play around it (which feels like a jerk-move) or to possibly give units tons of experience as they take numerous tests (including those they cannot they can’t fail). The Drukhari likewise have an agenda that gives two units 3 exp. each if they are part of a Real-Space Raid detachment and you kill at least one unit. This doesn’t seem too bad, until you realize that most core rule book agendas will give you 2-4 exp. per agenda. There is another layer of complexity when you consider that Space Marine supplement chapters can select their own agendas as well as those from the main Space Marine codex.
How to fix it:
Now this issue is a bit of a prickly one to fix. It’s not the player’s fault the agendas are uneven thus it doesn’t make sense to penalize them. I think there are several other options available to balance the setting.
The first of which is simply to do nothing. The existence of imbalances is not new to GW, and your players may be fine with (it especially if their own codex is on the horizon). The second option is to provide some buffs for the other armies. While you run the risk of adding another set of rules for players to remember, you can look over some other campaign supplements and provide a list of agendas that are available only to players without a crusade-updated codex. A third option too is to limit players to only be able to take one agenda that is from a codex (this is mainly for Space Wolf, Blood Angel, etc. players).
Even with these changes there are some imbalances that you will not be able to bridge. In the Drukhari codex there is the option to select a Battle Scar that halves the damage a character receives at the price of losing acces to the Power from Pain table. For some characters losing the advance and charge is a big loss but it is almost always worth it to get the option to halve damage. It also brings up the possibility that GW may create a mechanic that truly upsets the game balance. GW seems incapable of balancing the competitive game and I doubt there is much play-testing invested in the crusade system.
Fundamentally it is almost impossible to create a fully balanced crusade system. As player characters grow more powerful and they get access to the weird relics the games will get wackier. That being said, I still think anyone running a crusade campaign should consider how it will impact players whose armies don’t have crusade rules and provide ways for them to stay engaged.
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