A 40K confession

I am actually really bitter about Warhammer 40,000. Really. So much so that all I want to do is avoid it, or, if that’s not possible, joke about it. The problem I have is that there are people close to me in real life who play it, and actively encourage me to play it, too. I still haven’t figured out a way to say no that doesn’t come off as anti-social and disappointing for them. After all, it’s just a game. I shouldn’t care this much. But it’s a game that stirs up real, intense, and unpleasant feelings in me.

Every now and then I get a bit negative about gaming, and I start to wonder why we play at all as grown-ups; particularly those of us who’ve been playing the same game for years, or even decades. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those times. But one of the things that definitely brings it on is coming into contact with the current state of Warhammer 40,000.

I can see that objectively it’s probably no worse than it’s ever been. If I were a green kid, just starting out, it might be as amazing as it was to me as a twelve year old. But as someone who is decidedly not a green gamer, 40k is all tied up with a great deal of baggage, and I’m aware of it all. The flavour text advertising the new Tempestus Scions for example could almost have been ripped word-for-word from a Rogue Trader description of Space Marines. A kid just starting out doesn’t know this; I do and it makes me feel as though… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. That the game is this huge crumbling edifice built on its own ruins, but that its history is not treated with any respect. Themes are endlessly re-hashed and tantalizing glimpses are boringly laid bare.

When this all started, Space Marines were not just eight foot tall demigods with a bizarre mythological history. There were elements of that, in utero. But mostly they were roughly human-sized, genetically modified fascist soldiers in heavy armour, the elite of a brutal galactic dictatorship. In other words, almost exactly the way the Scions are presented. Oh, except that the Scions have had the political themes bowdlerised.

And what the Astartes have become, too, is something totally different: virtuous, monkish knights with intricate and fantastical back stories about their bad 80s metal-themed chapters.  It was bringing the Horus Heresy into the light that did it, I think. That’s what tipped it all over the edge.

The whole 40k universe seems to me to be a bloated but deadly serious caricature of something that was originally a glib punk satire. I feel the weight of all those years when I see a modern piece of 40k writing or a new model. There is just too much: everything is bigger, more extreme, every nook and cranny of alluded-to history has been filled in or is being filled in. But at the same time things are routinely and bafflingly changed. There is only so much ret-conning and creator-written fan-fiction I can stomach, I’m afraid. Some people seem to have an inexhaustable appetite for it, but I don’t.

Frankly, it upsets me, and I don’t much care for the models either. Any love I once had for the grim dark has been well and truly burned away in the last five years. Oh, and don’t get me started on the actual game.

I don’t just want to avoid thinking about 40k, I need to avoid it. But still my friends innocently ask me to dig out my Guardsmen and join in a game. What am I supposed to say?

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14 thoughts on “A 40K confession

  1. Y40kvirus says:

    Maybe that’s the ticket, Make it relevant or at least topical again. For 8th Edition reveal that the Empire has become a giant investment/pyramid scheme and bring on a new Heresy/ civil war that divides the loyalist even further. making the majority of the Beakie VS Beakie games “fluffy” again.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Y40kvirus, and welcome! That’s an interesting idea. I’ve been wondering for a couple of years now what 40k would look like if it emerged today. What political themes would be represented. As it stands I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with it. Today, with World War II and the Soviet era (and Thatcher and Reagan) so far away, the Imperium definitely seems less like satire and more like a straight-up fascist power fantasy.

      You’ve really got me thinking. Now to start writing…

  2. Thuloid says:

    I’m in basically the same place, without the bitterness (because I was never THAT big a 40k player). I hear people say, “I love the fluff,” and all I can think is what horrible nonsense it is, even by pulp sci-fi standards, and how stupid most of the artwork looks now–have the shoulder pads gotten even bigger? why?–and how humorless, sexless, and ploddingly serious it is.

    The more they fill in, the less it makes sense. Wait, there are people who live thousands of years? So all the “lost in the mists of time” stuff is pretty much bullshit, because we could just ask Jeff over there, who more or less REMEMBERS the old days? So then there’s no reason for the overall decline, because it’s actually not that long ago? Is the Imperium really intact, or not? What would it even mean, with communication so impossible–except when it miraculously isn’t. Why are there Space Marines in a world with planet-annihilating ships and Titans wandering about? Wouldn’t the marines be, at best, a kind of special forces for snatch and grab type missions, or just what they sound like–marines for ship-based actions? Can’t see any reason for them ever to charge across a planetary battlefield.

    And then there’s the game itself. Ick. Incidentally, I think it is objectively worse than in the past. It’s not as good a ruleset, and it’s more expensive by far.

    If I were to play it–and that’s a big if–here’s how I might go about it. First thing–I’m a grownup. I can pick which rules I want to use. There are a lot of roughly platoon-scale rulesets for ww2 play. 40k is, at its best, a really funky ww2 variant (well, until recently, when the game became ww1). Second thing–the fluff is my choice. My marines are metal head fascists. I’ve never heard of any Horus Heresy. Third thing–I’ll use the models I want to use. I’d play what I wish Rogue Trader had developed into. But to do that, i’d have to talk my friends into doing the same.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Thuloid (I owe you an email by the way!)

      YES. There are so many voices online who say they’ve been driven away by price, or rules, or what-have-you, but I can honestly say I’ve been driven away by the way they’ve handled the background. Well, those other things definitely didn’t help. But yes, it is nonsense, and as I was just saying to Y40kvirus above, it’s no longer satirical. Which means playing an Imperial army is problematic for me in a way it wasn’t before. I’m not sure how much politics should affect our gaming, but I know I’m not comfortable with the way the rhetoric of the Imperial flavour text mixes heroism with state and religious oppression in an uncritical way.

      I don’t think I’d play again. I easily could though. My mate is bugging me to play in 2 vs 2 apocalypse game in a couple of weeks. The last one I played in I didn’t really enjoy, and the thought of doing it again doesn’t enthuse me at all. But there are so many people who don’t even have a good community to play with, and I feel somehow ungrateful that I do and I have all these weird feelings about the game getting in the way.

      The best solution I can come up with is fuck it, WAAAAGGGHHH!! Orks were one of my first armies and they seem to me to be the best way to play the game while having a cheeky stab at what it’s become. Only I don’t think playing a silly army of barbarians at the gates out of bitterness is the right way to approach it. And every time I think of actually building an army I lose enthusiasm before I even start.

  3. Leeman says:

    A really great post – you’ve echoed my own thoughts on 40k and how it’s changed. I struggle to get any enthusiasm for it these days myself, but luckily my regular group feel the same way (hence our jump to Infinity just over a year ago).

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Leeman, thanks for the kind words. I wish my group played Infinity – I’ve bought a few models, played a few games, convinced my friend to buy a starter… and then nothing. They just can’t tear themselves away from 40k.

  4. baldysama says:

    An excellent post, 40k or $40k is becoming much too cluttered for regular gaming and that hurts the newbie quite hard. The grim darkness is becoming farcical in that EVERYTHING is too over the top. Even the miniatures. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the satire, but taking it too far is ugh -_-; I think you might want to give ‘old hammer’ a look in though as the earlier editions are probably less cluttered.

    The old-style marines sound far better than the current dudes. Hell, just make ’em regular peeps who are the best of the best with humanity (think SAS rather than a veteran trooper) in super armour and pumped full of epinephrine.

    Regarding the HH, I’m of two minds- firstly, I kinda want to know exactly what happened in it but on the other hand feel like the mystery should be left mysterious…Space marines could…erm…de-fluff a bit. Space VAMPIRES with BLOOD RAGE, SPACE WOLFWOLFWOLFWOLFCLAWFANGWOLFS and so on. >.> We get it.

    I hunted down the 3rd ed rules a while back for the memories- I think I mentioned discovering 40k in 3rd and playing using symbols drawn on paper. Sadly though, being able to afford 40k now, the games changed from what I was entranced by >.> it’s why I try and hunt down older models via ebay- to get the stuff that 40k was about. I just look at the pics and sigh wistfully, plus the content in the earlier BRBs was great- terrain articles, basic ‘how to paint’ none of this ‘we recommend you use citadel glue and clippers’ crap

    Points off the article for not making the silly new IG names sillier 😛

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey Pete. I thought I’d leave the silly names up to you. Tempertantruming Scones was my favourite 😀

      Old hammer is a good suggestion, you’d think, but I reckon my problem is that I’m aware of what it used to be and what it is, and putting on blinkers and living in the past has never been my strong suit.

      I really don’t like the Horus Heresy. I was one of the doomsayers on the forums when the rumours of the first Black Library books dropped. I started a bunch of threads about how I thought the past should stay in the past, and how it was just going to expose how flimsy and silly it all is and make 40k weaker. And I think I can say I was right.

      Plus I like the sense of decay and degradation from a glorious past of the 41st millenium – I think it’s really interesting. Not interested in reading about flying giant god-dudes wrestling each other. Each to their own but it’s not for me.

      And the awful names and themes! As one of the forum people who agreed with me said years ago: “my name is Iron Hands, Chapter master of the Iron Hands, and I have iron hands!”

      Unbelievable.

  5. Kelly says:

    Perhaps the giant Apocalypse sized games are what you should be avoiding then. I have to admit that I’m getting intrigued by the concept of “Inq28”, which is the movement to playing the Inquisitor game in 40K. Many of the latest “Blanchitsu” articles in WD have been showcasing some amazing converted miniatures by John Blanche fans all across Europe who have been embracing the concept, and playing games with their lovingly kit-bashed models. It’s over the top gothic, but leaves SOME of the superhero scale stuff in the background… people get attached to their lowly henchmen, and turn them into real characters.

    Some good blogs that I follow in that vein are:

    http://convertorum.blogspot.ca/
    http://inquisitorhedemann.blogspot.ca/
    http://inq28.blogspot.ca/
    http://spikyratpack.blogspot.ca/

    And there are tons more. The mood of the miniatures, background, and players seems to be quite the return to the old mysterious Rogue Trader-esque stuff that you were describing. It might be something to consider.

  6. sinsynn says:

    Dude.
    Just say no.
    You play other games, right?
    Go play them, and if people push you, just say you’re wrapped up in other games. Cuz look- you’re playing other games!
    *shrug*
    Iz what I do when people wanna play FoW now.
    *ashamed face*
    But waddayagonnado? I don’t wanna play FoW right now, really.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey sinsynn. No, Im not actually playing anything else right now. My D&D game ended, so I’m in limbo with no excuse. I’ve been meaning to sell my IG, which would answer it once and for all. But it’s such a chore repairing the broken ones and taking photos.

      I think your idea is a good one though. I’ve been feeling the call of Infinity again lately; I need to paint my Asuka Kisaragi. Then I’m going to just go to game nights, if I can.

  7. baldysama says:

    James,

    a) How many tanks in your IG force?
    b) Metal guardsmen?
    c) How much you want for in an ‘as-is’ condition?

    I would be more than happy to take it off your hands if you’re quitting 40k (or I can exchange some orks if you’re gonna stick with it)

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Pete, to answer your questions:

      a) 1 leman russ battle tank, 1 leman russ demolisher (with forgeworld turret), 2 chimeras, 1 banewolf (with freehand illustration on the side). So 5. This was a balanced 5th ed. army so no flyers.
      b) Some. Mostly converted plastic Cadians with West Wind Wierd World war II heads (british gas-masks). But metal psykers, metal ogryns, metal Kasrkin (some of whom are primed black). Oh and five Krieg Death Riders!
      c) I would have put them on eBay for a starting price of $350? I thought that sounded like a lot, but I’m seeing people shooting for heaps more than that. And mostly failing 🙂 Not interested in trading at the moment sorry.

      If you’re still interested, I’ll send you a complete inventory? There actually aren’t many broken dudes. Just some heads have fallen off, and like I said some of the kasrkin are unpainted. Having a buyer would motivate me to fix them up.

  8. The Warlock says:

    Ooh, that sounds really tempting although I may truly be interested in the ogryns, kasrkin and death riders. Not sure if I would take the lot off your hands as I’ve got quite a bit already ^^;

    $350 seems fair for a start as there is some forgeworld in there…damnit I can’t make up my mind

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