I was wrong, 30k is actually good

Hi everybody,

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!


A state-of-the-art Leman Russ demolisher stands guard as a squad of Uruq Immortals militia head for an objective.


12 thoughts on “I was wrong, 30k is actually good

  1. The Warlock says:

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying playing 30k with your guardsmen 🙂
    Good 30k reads are Galaxy in Flames, the Flight of the Eisenstein and the two regarding the 1000 sons and space wolves- the first two deal with Istvaan III and show how desperate the plight of the loyalists is to bring word of the betrayal. Not sure what order they’re in though.

    Knowing the outcome of the Heresy makes reading about these defenses and last stands really does hammer home the hopelessness- we know these characters are going to perish, but damnit if Saul Tarvitz and his ilk aren’t going without a fight.

    Guardsmen breaking marines sounds like a blast-having the ATSKNF plot armour does break a bit of realism when Tyranids and orks can overwhelm a retreating foe.

    Need to ask one very important question: Whose side are you on? 😛

    • beat ronin says:

      To be fair they weren’t regular guardsmen – they were frenzon-boosted grenadiers with WS4 and 4 attacks each on the charge, in a squad of 20 with two power axes and a medic who gave them 5+ FNP. Good times 😀

  2. The Warlock says:

    My comment is awaiting moderation :/ Must be full of heresy.

    • beat ronin says:

      I think wordpress must’ve been updated since the last time I posted (er… three months ago), and everything is auto-moderated now. I’ll see if I can change it.

      So I’ve read the first three HH books, Horus Rising, False Gods and Galaxy in Flames. I enjoyed them. I liked the first one the best I think (the Dan Abnett one) maybe because as they go on, they seem to get more and more like the 40k I know well. But the first one is a bit different.

      Galaxy in Flames definitely had more excitement, but I think the guy was a bit sloppy with the historical accuracy! Towards the end on Itsvaan III he kept accidentally calling them “space marines” instead of astartes or legionaries, which is what they were all through the other two books. And he kept mentioning tactical squads with special weapons. This made my monocle fly off, and I looked sternly at the book and said “tactical squads were a post-heresy invention of the chapter system, old bean. Legion tactical squads didn’t have weapons specialists.”

      I’m keen to read the next one, the Eisenstein one I think?

      As for your all important question: I am and always have been a loyalist. In decades of on-and-off gaming I’ve never once fielded a chaos model 😀

      Although in the campaign I’m in, my guys are locals of the compliant system, and all the armies that are local (I think there’s maybe ten of us) are about to rebel against the Emperor and the Warmaster, to reclaim our independence. Yeah, so I’m sure that’ll turn out great for us…

  3. Von says:

    “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.”

    As variety increases, balance decreases. it’s an unfortunate truth of wargaming – if you want things to be really distinctive you’ll have to accept that difference from the default means they’ll end up better or worse than said default.

    “You have huge armies where individual guys have to be upgraded with weapon choices, and games still take forever.”

    I tried to write a 40K army list the other day and gave up halfway through the HQs. Without the lure of a community that discusses lists on a regular basis I have little inclination to crank the wretched things out.

    With ref. games taking forever – I can and do take two or three hours to play a modestly-sized game of Warmachine these days. The sedate, gentlemanly, let’s-wrap-it-up-before-last-orders approach has a lot going for it, I think. If I were to play a Big Game I’d prefer to make a day of it, in much the way that I think RPGs have to be approached once people don’t have every Sunday afternoon free by default.

    Glad you’re having fun with it though. I gave 30K some brief consideration, but I’m only really interested in it as an aesthetic project – a before-and-after shot of a Traitor Legion force at either end of the Long War. I don’t think I’d do enough playing of games to make it worthwhile.

    • beat ronin says:

      I think you’re on to something with two-or three hour small games. I like to play one or two 1000 point games in a morning.

      I don’t mind taking a whole day to play a big game, only they always take even longer than you think they will in my experience. Once you factor in getting to the store and setting up and packing up, it’s a 9am to 7pm kind of deal. That’s more than I’m willing to commit to, and more than I can reasonably take from weekend family time, especially if it’s every month or worse, every week or two.

      Oh, hey I went to your blog, I like the new look! White writing on black really hurts my eyes. The photo of you is really good too, it looks like a professional author shot. I know what you mean about fedoras too. I bought one a few years back because I needed a decent hat for summer, and found out too late that they were associated with MRAs. It really pissed me off actually, it’s hard to find a good hat style. I don’t have a hat kind of head.

      • Von says:

        “Once you factor in getting to the store and setting up and packing up, it’s a 9am to 7pm kind of deal.”

        How big of a game are you playing, you ruddy masochist? :p

        I haven’t had the energy or the creative drive to DM for ten hours straight since I was about seventeen. The only thing I can imagine myself doing for ten hours straight is reading… that or maybe playing WoW, if I have absolutely nothing else on my plate and have gone full zombie.

        “Oh, hey I went to your blog, I like the new look! White writing on black really hurts my eyes. The photo of you is really good too, it looks like a professional author shot.”

        The one I’ve just replaced with the “this man escaped from a Rob Zombie video” job, you mean? :p

        • beat ronin says:

          No I like the Rob Zombie one. It is cool.

          I sign up for these 2000-2500 point games and when I get there the TO is all like “OK everyone, so it’s two games, one before lunch, one after!” And my heart sinks and I think one 2000 point game would be a relaxing morning till mid arvo day. Two is just too hardcore for me these days.

          • Von says:

            I hear that. I don’t like playing games back to back anyway. Seems like I need a lot of time to cool down – a lot more than is usually on offer at an event.

  4. Adam Morton says:

    Glad to hear it. I’ve heard repeatedly that 30k is much better balanced than 40k (which is perhaps at an all-time low on that score right now–even the true fanboys in my area have utterly given up on it as a “competitive” game without some crazy house-ruling).

    I’ve been looking longingly at my Warmaster stuff over the last few days. I might try to pick some more 10mm fantasy up soon.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hey Adam, yes it’s definitely more fun than 40k I think, because it’s more restrained. But in a different way it is less restrained: unit sizes are often double 40k, and super-heavy transports are everywhere. Primarchs are jumping around with freakishly powerful bodyguard units. Twenty tac marines can put out 80 bolter shots in a single shooting phase. The whole thing feels bigger and more brutal, but just works better. I don’t really miss the xenos factions to be honest. I thought I would but I don’t.

      I never played Warmaster. Though I just gave away some old White Dwarfs with Warmaster stuff in them funnily enough. Was it a good game?

      • Adam Morton says:

        Probably the best game GW ever put out from a tactics and balance (once a few little adjustments were made) perspective. Very simple 10mm fantasy based in the Old World. And it looked adorable (I love tiny Empire).

        A unit could charge anything within 20cm on its own initiative, but maneuvers beyond that simple aggression required orders, and that’s where the fun came in. A commander (General, Hero or Wizard) had to give the order. Penalties for distance, damage, and subsequent orders to the same unit in a turn. Roll 2d6 and compare to commander’s Command value (essentially a leadership test). If it’s failed, no move, and commander can’t give further orders this turn. If it’s your general that failed, turn is over.

        So nice amount of random (crap, I failed to move anyone that turn!), but it’s really all about command and assessing risk, while doing enough tactically to gain an advantage. Do I try to flank and risk botching it, or go straight in for the sure thing that’ll chew up my guys as badly as my enemy’s?

        Seriously, Warmaster is awesome. Download some rules and look into some itty bitty guys (the old GW ones have become collectible and very expensive, sadly).

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