Space Marine Detachments

Earlier I wrote a quick walkthrough about army list selection in Warhammer 40,000 8th edition. Unfortunately, aspects of those rules demonstrate again that 8th edition is very good, but neither as slimmed down nor formal and clean as it has been hyped to be.

The issues crop up from the new incarnation of Objective Secured, which enables models selected as part of an army detachment with uniform faction to trump other models for control of objective markers.

Preview of Objective Secured rule from the upcoming Chapter Approved.

Copy & Paste

To begin, there isn’t really a rule for Objective Secured. There’s a rule for Objective Secured, Defenders of Humanity, Knights of Titan, and so on. All the different codexes are coming out with the same rule under different names, e.g., the Space Marines’ Defenders of Humanity. Meanwhile, to maintain some parity for the factions that don’t have a codex yet, GW previewed an Objective Secured rule to be included in the upcoming Chapter Approved supplement giving that ability to all of those armies.

This copying & pasting is strange and unfortunate. Defenders of Humanity made sense at first when the ability was initially presented to be a unique Space Marines advantage. The presumption was other codexes would then arrive with different but similar abilities. But it turned out they all just have the same ability. Note that the abilty per se isn’t the problem. Diversity of abilities would be interesting, but also harder to balance. It’s the presentation of this universal ability that is problematic. Even minor carve outs such as for Fabius Bile and Fallen being compatible with all the legions and thus not breaking the faction uniformity of Chaos Space Marine detachments don’t merit copy & pasting the entirety of the basic idea into each book.

To look at just one issue, because there’s no universal term, the rule concept can’t be expressed in as simple and formal a fashion as before. E.g., to paraphrase previously:

Models with Objective Secured trump models without Objective Secured for control of objective markers.

Instead the new rules have to be worded in terms of trumping models with “a similar ability” because they all have different names. What does “similar” mean? In practice it’s understandable, but it’s not as formal as it could be.

All this duplication under different names is unfortunate but a hallmark of this edition, a consequence of “streamlining” the game by eliminating common text from the core rules and main rulebook and instead pushing it out to numerous copies in the codexes and datasheets. If all the factions are going to have this rule, there should just be one straightforward universal rule. That centralization would reduce the overall volume of rules and text, foster understanding, be more formal, and prevent errors from creeping in over time with successive copying.

This is also another example of how GW went to all the trouble of introducing a keyword system, but isn’t actually using it well. Objective Secured could easily be handled more elegantly and formally by granting units keywords if their detachments meet given conditions and wording the ability around those keywords.

Ambiguity

More critically, these rules contain ambiguities in their prerequisites. For example, Defenders of Humanity relies on the definition of a “Space Marine Detachment.” The other books are structured similarly. As explained below, that definition isn’t 100% unambiguous on whether or not a Space Marine Detachment can include multiple chapters within the codex, e.g., Salamanders and Ultramarines. It is explicit that Space Wolves and the other variant codexes are not included.

Beyond Defenders of Humanity, this ambiguity also raises rules questions about stratagems. Those listed in the codex are unlocked if you field a Space Marine Detachment. So must you field a detachment drawn from a single chapter to get access? Or would a detachment comprised of any mix of Space Marines suffice?

Mixed Chapters

In defining a Space Marine Detachment, the codex provides a list of chapter keywords which a “Space Marine unit” might have and then says:

A Space Marine Detachment is therefore one which only includes units with one of those keywords.

By far the most natural reading of this treats “with one of” as simply requiring each unit to have a faction keyword from that list, essentially grouping the last clause as:

… [units with one of those keywords].

The wording doesn’t actually make a binding to a single chapter keyword across the whole detachment, it permits a selection per unit. A detachment made up of Salamanders and Ultramarines would indeed quite obviously “only include units with one of those keywords.” Note that units can each only have one of the keywords in the given list, so “one” doesn’t instate any additional information as compared to, e.g., “any,” and is a more natural wording anyway for a selection of that type.

So in that straightforward reading, a detachment of mixed chapters would receive the benefit of Defenders of Humanity.

Single Chapters

Alternatively, a somewhat strained but plausible reading interprets “one of those keywords” as containing an additional stipulation that the units all share the same keyword from that list. It puts more meaning into the “one,” depending on how you look at it either adding an unstated “which must be the same for each unit” or grouping the last clause to the first clause:

A Space Marine Detachment is therefore one which only includes … one of those keywords.

In that case a Space Marine Detachment may only be comprised of “one of those keywords” and mixed chapters won’t receive the benefit of Defenders of Humanity.

A more complete definition under this reading would be, for example:

A Space Marine Detachment is therefore one which only includes units with one of those keywords, which must be the same for each unit.

Or, better:

A Space Marine Detachment is a detachment comprised solely of Adeptus Astartes units, all with the same <Chapter> faction keyword.

Intent & Practice

In trying to resolve that ambiguity, the intent is impossible to decipher from the text alone. Certainly it would be most traditional for a “Space Marine Detachment” to be comprised of a single chapter. However, it would also be quite reasonable and not at all out of line for Defenders of Humanity to apply to any mix of Space Marines. Chapter Tactics, which is explicit about being available only to uniform detachments, would then be an extra benefit for selecting units entirely from one chapter and strongly encourage that traditional makeup. The latter would be a more interesting structure and create somewhat more list building decisions, so it could easily be the intent.

In practice this ambiguity doesn’t matter much. The benefits of Chapter Tactics are so considerable and the ability to mix factions between detachments so flexible that there’s little reason to not field single chapter detachments. In theory though you might, e.g., if a future codex had weaker Chapter Tactics equivalents but strong characters from different chapter equivalents that you wanted to combine in one detachment but still be Objective Secured.

Next Level

As with the previous examples of textual (as opposed to mechanical) shortcomings in 8th edition’s rules, right now these generally aren’t actual problems due to the freshness of the duplicative copies and the competing interpretations of the ambiguity being obscured by the in-game strength of one. But they create openings for problems, particularly as the game evolves. With each new book there’s a chance to introduce a real error while pasting in its copy of Objective Secured. At some point there might be a real reason to field a detachment of mixed chapters/legions/dynastics/etc. and face real questions about what buffs it would receive.

The elimination of Universal Special Rules and other centralized concepts no doubt minimized the number of pages in the main rulebook. But it necessarily expanded the cloud of text replicated throughout all the books, with identical rules under formally and often even textually different symbols. Objective Secured and all its variants such as Defenders of Humanity are a prime example. That unnecessary inelegance and volume of text is unfortunate, a product of over-minimizing and false simplification.

The ambiguity in defining Space Marine Detachments isn’t hard to see and the definition trivial to improve. So it highlights that although much improved, Games Workshop’s ongoing reviews of 40k material are still very limited and non-technical. The playtest group is still too small, coming in with too many shared assumptions, not analyzing the language or mechanics formally enough, and sharing too much extra-textual context and intent to catch all possible interpretations and other potential issues. It is a much longer discussion for another day, but for a such a complex technical system (the game) and with such a large, diverse, and disconnected audience implementing that system (players worldwide), large scale public review is strongly warranted. That could be done in an efficient fashion to minimize burden on GW’s end, and, as other games as well as GW’s own recent public rules releases (for both 40k and Age of Sigmar) have demonstrated, in such a fashion that it wouldn’t hurt sales.

To take 40k to the next level of elegance and excellence, the design process should:

  • Focus streamlining on minimizing overall rules volume and duplication, rather than superficial main rulebook page count reduction;
  • Continue to expand the scope, diversity, and extent of peer and public review.

40k 8th edition is very good. But it could be even better with minimal effort and cost.

40k Matched Play Armies Walkthrough

Questions about army list building in Warhammer 40,000 8th edition continue to come up as newcomers join the hobby and old heads return. So I’m going to write my explanation about detachments, Battle Forged, and so on here just one more time and then link to it in future conversations. Corrections and questions are welcome.

TL;DR

For Matched Play, the most common 40k 8e format, armies must be organized into detachments and all units across the entire army must have at least one faction keyword in common (e.g., Imperium). Additional buffs are available for detachments (not armies) drawn from single codexes or factions (e.g., Space Marine chapters).

Background

My impression is that most players are generally using the Matched Play format, as opposed to Open Play, Narrative, or something else ad hoc. I could be wrong about that in general, but it’s certainly true of pickup play around my local scene (Redcap’s Corner) and all the tournaments I have seen (and run). So the default is that you’re selecting armies by points, not power levels, and adhering to Matched Play format.

Hampering newcomers in hunting down rules is that Matched Play is actually more restrictive than Battle Forged. Many people implicitly assume Battle Forged is more fluffy and limited. That’s not the case. Matched Play is a subset of Battle Forged, not the other way around. Competition-oriented Matched Play and some newer rules additions from the codexes and upcoming Chapter Approved supplement actually do more to encourage armies more similar to traditional Force Org Chart, no allies, old-school 40k. Battle Forged by itself is more open.

Battle Forged

Matched Play requires that your armies be Battle Forged (main rulebook page 214, top left). Battle Forged requires your entire army to be organized into one or more detachments (main rulebook page 240, top left).

Beginning of the Battle Forged rules.

Detachments in theory are wide open, you can put any mix of units in there. However, in practice all of the units within a detachment must share at least one keyword. All of the detachments in the main rulebook such as Patrol, Battalion, Outrider, and so on either explicitly impose that restriction or are limited to a single unit. The only exception is the Fortification Network, which permits multiple fortifications with no faction restriction. There are some faction specific fortifications out right now, such as the Tau Tidewall, but most published so far are Unaligned (the commonly seen ones are all in Index Imperium 2), and this is mostly a small side point anyway.

Unless I’ve missed something, no other detachments have been published or rumored. So, in the future some supplement or such could perhaps have a detachment that permitted you to include Orks and Imperial Guard within a single detachment. However, you cannot do that within any of the detachments that currently exist because those units do not share any faction keywords. What you can do though is, for example, make up a detachment of Imperial Guard and Ultramarines units, because those all share at least one faction keyword (Imperium).

The Patrol detachment.

In addition, under Battle Forged rules alone, your army could straddle factions across multiple detachments. You could, for example, make up a Battle Forged army that had two detachments of Imperial Guard and one of Orks. There are no rules for Battle Forged armies linking the detachments.

Matched Play

However, Matched Play prohibits that by imposing such a linkage. Matched Play requires that armies be Battle Forged and that all units have at least one faction keyword in common (main rulebook page 214, under “Army Faction”).

So, in a tournament or pickup play using Matched Play rules, you could not field an army with detachments of Imperial Guard and Orks even though it was Battle Forged. You can however still mix Imperial Guard and Ultramarines units within and across detachments, because those all share at least one keyword.

Beginning of Matched Play rules.

Faction Buffs

New rules from the codexes released to date as well as the upcoming Chapter Approved supplement however encourage—but do not require—detachments drawn from a single faction by offering at least four types of buffs for doing so.

Objective Secured

The codexes seen so far all have rules, such as the Space Marines’ Defenders of Humanity, that give a scoped but important buff to models in a detachment comprised solely of units from that codex: They trump other models for control of objectives. The Chapter Approved supplement will provide a similar rule, Objective Secured, for all the factions that still only have Indexes. Most events seem to be adopting this and the other updates to Matched Play from this supplement that have been officially previewed. There’s a reason GW rushed out these rules previews just in time for the first really large 40k event under 8th edition (NOVA): They address a number of balance issues, particularly as the codexes roll out.

Preview of Objective Secured rule from the upcoming Chapter Approved.

Stratagems

Similarly, codex stratagems are unlocked by fielding at least one detachment comprised solely of units from that codex. So a detachment made up of Imperial Guard and Space Marines would be Battle Forged, share a keyword, and be legal in Matched Play, but by itself it would not have access to either of those codexes’ stratagems. That’s a severe penalty for mixing the factions given the utility of some of those, so it’s another strong incentive to field uniform detachments.

Chapter Tactics

All of the codexes released or previewed to date have also granted additional unique benefits to detachments comprised solely of particular factions: Space Marine detachments made up of a single chapter receive an associated Chapter Tactic, Grey Knights have a Chapter Tactic in Brotherhood of Psykers, and Chaos Space Marine legions all have their own benefits. Future codexes will grant similar unique benefits to detachments made up of specific regiments, dynasties, forge worlds, clans, etc..

Some of the Space Marines’ Chapter Tactics.

Units

Finally, most unit special abilities affecting other units are also compatible only with the most specific factions. Transports in the mainline indexes and codexes can only embark units drawn from the same chapter or that codex’s equivalent. Captains, honor guards, ancients, and similar generate aura buffs only applicable to units and models from their specific chapter or equivalent. There are some notable exceptions, such as Guilliman, who provides an aura at the Imperium level. But in general while detachments made of various factions under an umbrella faction are valid in Matched Play, their units will be limited in how they interoperate and support each other.

In some sense this incentive is not very strong. You might only be planning on those units interacting with a few other units anyway. But unlike the Objective Secured and Chapter Tactics type buffs it is diffused across the entire army, creating a soft linkage between detachments: Sure would be a bummer if at some point in a game a unit in one detachment really needed to embark a transport or receive some buff from a unit in another detachment but couldn’t because they were of different factions (detachment boundaries alone do not impair such abilities). So the tighter faction scoping of most unit abilities in this edition also gently encourages focusing on one or a limited number of factions, even between detachments.

Fluff

By and large though the explicit faction-focus benefits so far are primarily encouraging uniform detachments, not armies. You could still mix factions between detachments, provided they all have at least one shared faction keyword, and get these buffs. So, as long as our example Imperial Guard and Ultramarines army was organized into detachments each with uniform faction, they would all have Objective Secured or Defenders of Humanity respectively, access to their stratagems, the Ultramarines would get their Chapter Tactic, and when their codex arrives the Imperial Guard will get some benefit associated with the chosen regiment.

Matched Play rules therefore impose basic requirements prohibiting very unfluffy combinations. You can’t field Orks and Imperial Guard together. But within a larger alliance such as Imperium or Chaos you have a great deal of flexibility, certainly across an army and even within detachments. However, there are multiple strong incentives for focusing detachments at least on particular specific factions. Unit level interactions and combos are also much more constrained. Taking all of these rules together, in 8th edition you won’t see anything nearly as crazy as the allies permitted in the recent prior editions, and many armies will in fact be very traditional.

Limited Detachments

One last general note is that most events are limiting the number of detachments that may be taken. Matched Play provides a table of suggestions (main rulebook bottom of page 214) which have been widely adopted. So at the new standards of 1500 or 2000 points, armies are generally restricted to 3 detachments.

Suggested detachment count limits.

Conclusion

In sum, the rules for allies and army organization in Matched Play are somewhat confusingly presented as they’re located in a variety of places throughout the 40k main rulebook. But in practice they’re pretty simple: Armies must be made up of detachments, every unit across an army must be from the same general faction, and there are buffs for detachments selected from a single specific faction.

Footnote

It is a detailed rules design topic not especially applicable to actually playing, but this post discusses duplication and ambiguity problems in the rules around Objective Secured and Space Marine Detachment.

2017 NOVA 40k Trios Recap

Colin and I headed up the NOVA 40k Trios Team Tournament again this year. We had 21 teams for 63 players, up from 18 teams last year. Trios features a somewhat unique format, in which teams of three play a doubles game and an individual game against an opposing team each round. It really only works at a large event like NOVA because of how many players are needed to have a good number of teams, but it works really well there. It’s a great way to start off the convention because you spend the whole first day hanging out and playing with friends.

This year seemed to be a big success, continuing on from last year’s well regarded event overhaul. As mostly expected, Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition seems to be holding up well to large competitions. We had extremely few rules questions come up and they were all easy to resolve. There were of course some powerful units kicking around, but no grumbling about specific units and armies at anything approaching the scale of last year. Games Workshop also again donated really awesome trophies for our top team. In addition, something I especially appreciated as someone who takes a lot of photos and spends almost literally 4 straight days at NOVA staring at games, TABLEWAR donated F.A.T. Mats to cover all the tables. Combined with numerous excellently crafted armies, the visual appeal of all the games was really high this year.

Many more photos from the event are available in the gallery here.

2017 NOVA 40k Trios underway!

Missions

We ran our three most traditional missions, battle tested now over many events:

  • Open Ground: Controlling markers, choosing to score continuously or game end.
  • Slaughter Zone: Our take on Annihilation, using percentages of units killed.
  • Battlefield: Players choose from several primary objectives to either hold specific markers, kill enemy units, or preserve their own units.

Each of those missions also has a selection of secondary objectives, enabling players to either double down on the primary objective style or go for something else. For example, an army good at holding ground might choose a secondary to claim terrain pieces in addition to the objective markers, while an army better at killing units might choose a kill points secondary objective.

In addition, special to the 40k Trios and our local annual Tournament of Blood, each player is working toward a set of ten Warlord Achievements each round. These award the head of the army for personally capturing objectives or slaying enemies.

The full event primer with missions and details is available as a PDF here.

Rough Riders are apparently a thing now, there were several armies of them!

Results

NOVA 40k Trios awards five titles:

  • Renaissance Trios: Overall winners across battle points, sportsmanship, craftsmanship, and theme.
  • Strategists: The team with the most wins and then battle points.
  • Artists: Best painted team as judged by NOVA/Capital Palette painting judges.
  • Storytellers: The most original and best presented story of why a team’s forces are fighting together.
  • Warmaster: The individual who scored the most Warlord Achievements.

Our winners this year:

  • Renaissance: Zac Schooley, Ashwin Ooi, David Beardwood.
  • Strategists: Sam Thorn, Aaron Beeson, Sawyer Philbrick
  • Artists: Jesse Gaskins, Trevor Aleho, Casey ?
  • Storytellers: Phil Kovac, Patsy Kovac, Billy Evans
  • Warmaster: Sawyer Philbruck

Full results are available as either XLSX or PDF.

Final overall standings.

Final overall standings.

Everyone, even the simplest soldier, has at least their life to offer the Emperor.

Theme

Lots of teams really get into the narrative aspect of why their teams are fighting together, making extensive writeups and display boards. We very much enjoy seeing that effort each year, especially as it was our primary interest when we were Trios players. There were many great displays this year, so please check out the photo gallery. But four teams came up tops in our scoring matrix (detailed in the primer).

Team Audacious, our eventual overall winners, had an amazing, cohesive display of an Eldar force escorting Ultramarines through The Webway to reinforce Imperial Guard under Necron siege in their Ceresia Campaign background story.

Teams Gallant and Indignant, last year’s theme winners, again had an extensive writeup and display for their Liberation of Bellatain Prime storyline.

But our Storytellers title went to Team Courageous for their Crystal V and Hive Hyatt Prime storyline. You can read their introduction here. The competition was really close between all four of these teams, but what put Courageous ahead were three totally aligned factions and small details tying the armies and story together, like HQs having campaign shoulder pads shared across the armies.

This year’s event again though featured numerous incredible army displays in addition to these. More photos are in the gallery.

Next Year

Overall I think the NOVA 40k Trios is working well. Major changes for 2018 aren’t expected, mostly procedural tuning and the usual mission rotation and tweaking. However, a few larger changes come to mind.

One possible addition are small buffs to help the second player defend against a first turn onslaught. That needs more thought, testing, and consensus building as 8th edition continues to shake out, but it sure seems like among most players the first turn is perhaps overly strong. A return of tertiary points for killing Lords of War is also probable. We kept those in the Narrative this year but tested Trios without. We’ll probably also adjust Sudden Death and Boots on the Ground to also include Lords of War with the Fly keyword, or a similar ruling. Their technical exclusion from the errata for those rules came up in both 40k Trios and 40k Narrative, and I think goes against their intent and is probably inadvertent.

Another great army display, from Team Sacrosanct (CREW SHAKEN!).

Another great army display, from Team Sacrosanct (CREW SHAKEN!).

The most significant potential change on the docket right now is a very different slate of Warlord Achievements. Both years now the Warmaster title has gone to a player on the Strategists-winning team. To some extent that’s not surprising and maybe inevitable. However, the current set of achievements encourages that by being goals you generally want to attain anyway, like slaying the opposing Warlord. It would be interesting if the achievements were just enough off track that you had to make a stronger choice between playing toward the mission or the achievements. We’ve thought about this idea a fair amount and haven’t yet come up with anything which we didn’t think was either overly complex or too distracting from the main mission, but will put more thought into it. It would be great for this title to wind up landing in another team, much like how we’ve seen a good spread among the team titles.

These are all somewhat minor issues though. It was another great year for the 40k Trios, and I look forward to yet another in 2018. Don’t forget to check out all the other awesome armies in the gallery!

UPDATE: Greg Hess also has pictures up of the 40k Trios.

One of the team shirts, dispensing important advice.