Wednesday, July 25, 2012

warhammer 40k vs warhammer fantasy:The Wonderful world of random

"You know the thing about chaos....Its fair"-Joker
    I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart.I love Random. Random is a wonderful thing to have in a game. If things were not random, you would have a gaming universe where things play out exactly the same every time. This would be so incredibly boring. You need a little random. Today, I want to discuss a bit of a cross over. I want to write more fantasy, but fantasy has its issues. The new edition of 40k has been released and I also want to talk about it. With my conflicting emotions, I have decided to do a comparison. I often play both, but not as much as I would like I admit. I want to compare the two systems and how they handle random things. 40k has had little experience with random and there have been some problems with people wanting to integrate randomness into game play. People often are resistant to change, but should we be resistant to this change? Fantasy is a game fraught with random. Anything and everything can happen. One action can see your face getting bit off by a shrubbery and the other can see a bush be the most power magical stuff in the game.  It has problems with competitive play for this very reason. Someone could walk into a victory over random. Is this a bad thing? Let the comparison begin. We will discuss core mechanics first.
Mechanical explanation
     There is a method to random. Without an element of random, things will stagnate quickly. It would turn into a game of rock, paper, scissors. You could define play purely through mathematics without any chance for variable. At the same time ,You can't just have random without control. There must be a limit. There is one easy way to do random. Random must not define someones actions, but instead be a result of it. When someones action is defined by random, they don't have power or at least they don't feel like they do. This is bad. Its often why snipers in video games are so hated. People feel like their death was of no result of their own. It can leave players feeling powerless and unskilled no matter how good they actually are. This is the bad type of random. It is often a direct result of bad game design. It isn't done on purpose, it is often done for a feel good action. It doesn't seem well thought out, but instead seems like an add on. Often, you can play without it and it will either keep the game the same or even make the game better. The good type of random is when you let players do action and then have random things happen as a result. This empowers the player and allows people to feel in control. Any result of your actions are your own or your opponents. Anything that happens isn't so much up to fate, but up to the players, yet it adds variety to each action.
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    In a nut shell, Rock beats scissors a lot of the time, but rock can lose due to random rolls in the bad type of random. The good type of random sees Rock beat scissors a lot of the time, but when rock loses, its because one player skill has often put the odds to win in their favors.  Even the most simple games have the good type of random. Time for the old fall back.
good ole fallback
    Monopoly has the good type of random in it. Random rolling results in where you land, which adds variety to the game as you can't land on the property you want unless you land on it. Your action is defined by the player in between moving. You buy houses/hotels and trade with players. You define action rather than let play be defined by random. Some machinations of fate are unstoppable in random, but they are much, much harder to have happen when random is done well. Sure, you can land on both dark blue properties in a row with hotels that will cost you more money than god, but it happens so rarely, that it almost isn't an issue. You must look at the usual instead of the extremes. Sure the extreme exists, but the odds of such things are rare.
warhammer 40k random.
   Warhammer 40k has the good type of random in it. You have to move onto or in mysterious things. You don't ever have to move into/onto these things except for objectives. Even though objectives are mysterious, you will find that only 1 result is bad and all other results either don't matter or are a good benefit. You can premeasure so that you can always define your random. Even random charge lengths are chosen actions by the player and with the addition of premeasuring, you will find that they aren't that bad.  On top of these random rules often being a result of the player, you find often find that random that isn't in the players control is either not a factor most of the time or is a factor that is very hard to not have both players be effected. This is especially true in 6th edition. Night fight can randomly happen a lot now. Not only does it effect both players, but it is clearly defined. Random game length is an amazing thing. It is random, but it effects both players forcing them to keep on their game while being clearly defined. It has no complications and is just a simple die roll.

      In 5th, we all suffered from uncontrolled random of things like night fight, vehicle damage tables, and  no premeasuring. Night fight was just so random before that it was never viable. You could chose to shoot, but your actions wouldn't happen randomly.  While you got to chose what you do, Randomness determined your action. Sure, I chose to shoot a squad that deepstriked and were bunched up 9 inches away during night fight with a doomsday cannon. That is a definite action, but it didn't happen because random roll saw snake eyes and no shooting. Now night fight is better since it is very defined and not so much random any more.  Vehicle damage was another one that was random to the point of not being effective. There became a point in which you have so many chances for random that its difficult to achieve anything. You had to hit, roll to penetrate/glance, roll cover/saves, roll on the damage chart. the average to hit is at bs4. so 2/3rds of your shots hit. we will say even a lascannon against a chimera front armor. av 12 sees us needing 4's to penetrate. You pen half the time. down to 1/3rd combined chance. cover saves! half save results in down to 1/6th. ap 2 weapons don't get editions to the damage table, so to kill, you have a 1/18th chance to wreck/explode a vehicle in cover. Now with the addition of hull points, you will find that even with a 1 in 18 chance to wreck/explode a vehicle, it takes at most 3 pens/glance to kill that same chimera. I had an experience where 10 glances and pens didn't stop a rampaging defiler. Finally, on the 11-14th pen (gauss weapons are nasty), I got a single immobilize. I didn't even destroy it, I just stopped it. Sure, this example is an extreme, but that is what hull points was designed to stop. These extremely random actions . This is a good design decisions.
    Fantasy has its random too. Its the random that I  hate. You have random charge distance which is OK until you throw in their movement value which results in possibly 20 inch charges (which I have had happen often), but there is one defining random moment that breaks the entire game for me. There is a single phase based on a single 2 dice roll. These two dice, define a 4th of the game. that poor magic phase can make or break any game. I have lost games because I rolled low for my magic. I played everything the way I should have and as a result, I couldn't overcome the random. It truly was a decision made for me. To make matters worse, while mysterious terrain is good and controlled in 40k as it either barely hurts you or is a benefit, terrain in fantasy can destroy people. Fantasy terrain has no real balance. I once had zombies fight witch elves. I was gonna get slaughtered. They were there to tarpit. We fought by a mysterious piece of terrain. on the charge, it turns out to be a charnel pit. Gives my zombies a 6+ save and reduced my opponents leadership by 1. He promptly failed every LD test there after and a sure fire zombie massacre turned into a long, drawn out fight which the zombies won. This is the problem with fantasy random. It is a world of Extremes. It enjoys the filth that is these extremes. You can't have stuff like this. It is simply bad design. It doesn't reward skilled play often because things are so out there. You could roll up on anything and become doomed or incredibly awesome for no reason. I play fantasy for the fluff. On top of this, some of the USR are rare to have happen, yet when they do, they just break people. I had one game where I had killing blow on horses and a chariot. It was a fluffy, yet tough, expensive choice. It was fun until a single 6 to wound saw the general of my opponents army get kicked in the head and killing blowed. My skill did nothing, yet resulted in a huge gain. Even when entire units gain this rule, you can't reliably use this rule. It just randomly happens. I don't play competitively and even I was annoyed with the some of these random things. I felt like I cheated my friend because I rolled that pit for zombies and steam rolled him over a single dice roll or an important person gets dead because they had something explode them for no reason. This is bad design.
The magic circles
    My opinion is that 40k has better elements of random than fantasy does. 40k's random elements are much more mild and often result in the reduction of extremely random things. Fantasy's random elements actually encourage the extremely random. Play just gets out there when things go to the extreme. It becomes defining rather the a simple addition to the rules. One of my favorite quotes describes this idea. "When everyone is super, no one will be"-Syndrome.  Even when you encourage extreme play like fantasy does, because it always does so, you will find that extreme is the norm. It gets sad. Random should never dominate play and that is why I consider 40k to be better.

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