Yeah, OK, so I was wrong. I’ve always been hesitant about getting my teeth into the Horus Heresy as a setting, for a variety of reasons. Mainly I guess I was skeptical that today’s Games Workshop had it in them to make a setting that was different from original 40k, but still compelling.
It turns out that they can, and have, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me that much. Rogue Trader was a delicious soup of 1970s and 80s science fiction and Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Not exactly ground-breaking on the surface. But the thing I think that suckered me in was the dystopian hopelessness; the human race distilled into a brutal conservative regime, fighting a last stand against the worst parts of itself made real.
So I never really got the Heresy, as a setting. It seemed to me to be bereft of what made 40k interesting: just a bunch of battles in a golden age of demigods flying around with giant hammers and stuff, and if you don’t already know my policy on superheroes, it’s “yeah, nah.” Oh and also ALL
SPACE MARINES ASTARTES ALL THE TIME was a bit of a concern, since I’ve never been into them that much. But my local scene really started to get into it, and more and more people I knew and trusted as gamers and hobbyists quietly recommended Forgeworld’s Heresy rules and invited me to events. Eventually I thought why not, I’ll give it a go, and I set about converting 1000 points of my 40k Guardsmen to be 30k-compatible Imperialis Militia. I also read the first three Horus Heresy novels, to get a feel for it all.
And you know what, it’s pretty great. I like the aesthetic, which is subtly different. And the thing that suckers me in (in a narrative sense) this time is that it still has the hopeless feel. Only instead of being mired in the dying days of a dystopia, the setting is the dying days of a utopia that almost was. The Loyalist forces are (officially) atheist rationalists, confronted by your traditional Lovecraftian sanity-destroying beings that disprove everything they believe about the universe. And, interestingly, what we believe too. I think it’s fair to say that we live in largely secular, rationalist cultures in most of the modern West (barring parts of the USA maybe), so it’s easy to identify with the people of the Heresy era. They’re sort of like us. And we know that they’re doomed to become Emperor worshipping medievals, because faith is the only thing that can fight the Warp. Brutal.
The rules are nice too. My friends locally were telling me it was more balanced than 40k, and from the couple of games I’ve played and what I’ve read, that certainly seems to be the case. Ages ago I wrote a post about how balance in wargames is only really possible when the factions are similar. That’s why historical games (and near future true SF games, like Infinity) are much better strategic contests than 40k, where endless bug monsters and undead robots fight human super soldiers protected by the game designer’s plot armour. Well in 30k, everyone is either humans or astartes, and the variety comes with the legion rules or (in the case of my militia) homeworld provenance. There are deamons and psykers I guess, but they seem to play a much smaller role than in 40k. It’s like a low-magic fantasy setting, contrasted with 40k’s high-magic and aliens and stuff. Different legions can be very different, but within reason. You basically know you’re fighting astartes (you have to call them astartes in 30k, it’s the rules) or humans.
I think for that reason the games I played felt much more strategic than 40k, and I really had the sense my guys were winning or losing because of my actions, not because I was out-listed or surprised by some formation combo. Oh and the other thing that is cool is that astartes don’t have And They Shall Know No Fear. 30k militia are less brave than 40k Guard, too. Everyone is braver in the far future because they have learned to be. So that means you can break Space Marines, and sweeping advance them. Damn it felt good to bayonet some marines into running and then cut them all down. My guys never get to do that in 40k! It’s amazing how these two things (increasing the importance of morale and levelling the factions to be all similar) make for a much more balanced game.
Of course it’s still 40k in terms of basic rules structure. So that’s a point against it. You have huge armies where individual guys have to be upgraded with weapon choices, and games still take forever. But it’s certainly cinematic, and as long as I don’t play too often I think I can stay interested. My militia hail from a desolate hive world, so I took the Feral Warriors and Al-chem Jackers provenances. This makes them hive gangers hopped up on frenzon, so WS4 and stubborn. Plus I purchased some upgrades for extra attacks. My grenadiers were more than capable of scrapping with astartes up close. Which is the way I like it 😀
So… yeah. Just wanted to pop up and say that I’ve been gaming, and that 30k is actually pretty cool if you like GW’s settings but are a bit over the madness that is 40k list-hammering.
Have a good one!