Saturday, 10 December 2011

Space marines in space

With 40K getting old, and a sixth edition probably on the way, I thought I'd ask a few questions and suggest some ideas, as a series, maybe with a title like 'flashes in a grim darkness'.

It's partly for the designers at GW, to lend a hand, even if we know they won't always want or be able to use the ideas. It's also for designers everywhere, who can add them to games direct. The point is to inspire and help keep things spicy.

The first is for space marines as a whole, who do after all look to be the buttresses holding the edifice up. Get them wrong at the edition change and it might end badly for shareholders.

One thing with space marines that seems to irk people is the implied power of a marine in the background material compared to their effect in games. They're supposed to be transhumans with all kinds of bio-engineered tricks even beyond their power armour and weapons, and supposedly worth multiple normal men, but it doesn't really come through on the tabletop (where, of course, they're represented by miniatures, the more of which are sold the better for GW's bottom line - up to a point at least). It can be disappointing.

Instead of fielding marines in forces of several squads or companies, why not have each marine operating alone, or in smaller groups, a bit like the deathwatch, or the renegade or Chaos marines taking a leading role within the Lost and the Damned?

If you have genetically-engineered supersoldiers in sealed armour operating alongside mutants capable of navigating during interstellar travel - the apparently Dune-inspired navigators - why not engineer that mutation into the soldiers and work on giving them jet-pack-sized drives? They could spread more efficiently through the galaxy.

This would work best with statlines and abilities improved to match the superhuman imagery, but as well as being one-man armies, they could use their augmentations to function as diplomats, explorers, investigators, spies, saboteurs, bodyguards, facilitators, advisors in this or that vital field, revolutionaries, religious leaders and even messiahs. A kind of not-so-friendly cosmic-neighbourhood superhero.

They could each be an outpost and living symbol of the Imperium on a single world, and even if only a portion of a chapter was deployed like this, it's a lot of worlds covered. The drives used for the purpose could be ancient tech in the form of a lost STC, or maybe one a few chapters do still use, and could even be used for deployment in-game.

One issue is that risk of geneseed loss makes it less attractive to the chapter, but from the perspective of players, that's a good reason to have more turn up occasionally.

In tabletop terms, marines could then appear at the heart of other forces, maybe mixed-faction or even alien in the case of more broad-minded chapters, striking deep unsupported, or holding a flank alone, or acting as a rallying point. They could have their own servitors in support, and turn up driving or flying one of the marine vehicles, either constructed locally to plans carried or transported on a larger drive.

In terms of the purse strings - although I can't imagine GW would want to go down this route while the company is still so big and while it still makes so much of its money in miniatures - we could get there over a couple of generations of army lists, steadily raising the power level and adding in new must-buy subtypes or war machines. It's not significantly different than marines getting bumped up to Toughness 4 back in the day.

And it could after all be long-term move to rescue the brand from a space marine glut, by filling the spaces around the marines. It could be a reason to reintroduce classics like the arbites, beastmen and various cults, for an ageing player base, as well as put out a set of miniatures for various hard-working and rebellious citizens - they must exist.

It could even be used to add some fresh aliens more tolerated by the Imperium, those accepted through gritted teeth for providing something essential to a fading power.

Anyway, that's more than enough for now - cue those hoarse cries of 'Heretic!'


Andy said...

Hey Porky - did you ever read the 'Space Marines in the Movies' article, I think around White Dwarf 300? That addressed this very issue and it was really entertaining.

Porky said...

That's the idea in power terms, but without the humour, or the direct humour at least, and with the marines out there alone. I'm still surprised the idea made it into modern WD at all, but it's a fine seed to have had planted, and it's now lodged in the collective mind.

If the bottom line is the issue, GW wouldn't have to do anything as radical as moving to 54mm for Inquisitor. Even thinking only about the marines, we can look at what Tears of Envy is doing with =][=MVNDA, the proxies and cards. Then there are basics like upgrade sprues for new honours and wargear, like that drive tech, and the equivalents of deputy's badges, as major badges of honour. The 'deputies' themselves could be a gold mine. Change like this could be a major opportunity for a company with the institutional memory and strength in depth of GW.

Pierce said...

I like this alot. I was going to say the same thing about the movie marines. In the fluff i really like the times we see imperials trying to hold trenchlines, and for every section of 100 guardsmen there is 1 or 2 spacemarines spread out to hold the line and bolster morale.

Kaiju said...

I agree. I'm all for the Marine-as-superhero idea. You mentioned the Deathwatch, and that's more of the idea that I have about Space Marines. It's why I especially like smaller army games like the Kill Team rules.

Maybe a half-dozen or so Marines, like Pierce said, with their Imperial Guard allies. I see them more like the Inquisitors in that respect.

Looking forward to reading more of your ideas.

G said...

I gave up on 40K when they got rid of the squats and my army became redundant :(

Porky said...

@ Pierce - That morale point makes sense. In the kind of list we're talking about there could be a simple rule like the one for stompas, or a full set of effects like the acts of faith, to represent marines calming and inspiring those around them.

@ Kaiju - That's a very apt analogy. Space marines functioning more like inquisitors do now definitely has an attraction. If you like the kill team rules, you might like Killzone too. The latest version is just up.

@ G - I can feel that pain. Have you read the rumours that the updated Tau will have the option of all Demiurg forces? The suggestion is the HQ choice will be an ancient figure, and that hints at the faction building on the Squat heritage, and maybe specifically the ancestor lord. I can imagine Demiurg being designed enough like Squats to mollify past players and draw the inquisitive, but different enough to save some face. I wonder what overall effect the decision to drop them has had on GW over the years, and how a return will play out.

Noah Stevens said...

You don't sell box after box at 40 bucks a pop this way, sir.

I think it's strange that an IG army could conceivably beat a SM army at the same points value. I mean the point of SMs is that they are SUPERhuman and the IG is just a standard man with a crummy lasgun and a lotta heart, kid.

The future is grim and without fun, now, IMHO. Don't get me wrong I still paint squads with glee. The fluff is so heartless and square jawed. They use the same adjectives in every book.

Porky said...

Hard to disagree with most of that.

Re viability in business terms, if 3D printing took off, it might eventually get to the point where the big producers had to switch from selling physical things, and encouraging ever larger forces, to selling only the designs, which players would then print in the form of as many models as they chose. Then those producers would be earning more on the variety of designs, which could mean less of each design suggested in an average force anyway, but with the initial cost to the player of each type and the greater control in the hands of the players, and maybe locally, those players might feel freer to experiment far more along these lines.