Monday, January 26, 2009

A Treatise on Special Characters: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust That the Paradigm of the Use of Special Characters has Shifted in 5th Ed

So today we've got a write-in post from JibJeb. Here goes:

Your views may not be completely unfounded (only mostly), oh 40ker from editions past, but they are certainly antiquated. As you all very well know, the nature of special characters has been given an overhaul. Most noticeably, for C:SM, a chapters identity and how it differs from those of UM are completely dependent on purchasing a 'special' character instead of a 'normal' character. This, for the majority of SM fans, is a travesty....why must each IF force be lead by Lysander? The changes in regards to the availability of special characters leads to the famous observation: "I've killed Eldrad about 8 times this tourney, (darn) dude just won't die!" While these things seem silly, the venom and 'turned-up-nose'-yness of 40K boards and gaming groups by diehards from editions past has caused some tension between gamers. The purpose of this post is for those out there to challenge my personal opinion on the matter: the anger is completely misdirected, and should be directed towards GW in general and not the users of said characters. Namely, a never ending cycle of complaining and hypocrisy ensues with blaming players for playing within the rules, and this isn't healthy. Having seen the light in regards to this a bit back, I've been a much happier player.

To keep this semi-short, we'll dive into the heart of things: there is a following that preaches that if you take special characters (SC) you are somehow not being very sportsmanlike. If we look at this closely, however, I believe the SCs are getting a disproportionally large amount of attention because of there previous segregation within codexes. No longer do you need your opponents permission to take one in the 5th ed codexes, and moreover, you can play many special characters in a given engagement. The codex layout in general suggests we need so see these SC in a different light. Using C:SM as an example, not only are the selections for SC not set aside, they bleed right into the other HQ selections directly. If we look at the 2nd Ed C:UM, we see this is not the case...same for the 3rd Ed. While you learned and got an opinion of SC back then, and rightfully so, didn't see many SC, the normalizing of SC within the codex, and the unlocking of chapter specific 'traits' through there purchase means that we cannot lump the new SC in the same category as the old SC, even though many share the same name. Realize then, that some players are not just players, but enjoy the universe, and are emotionally invested in a given chapter lets say. Not everyone wants to be an UM. So the choice, as an opponent, comes down to realizing that if you are playing someone who enjoys the stubborn determination of IFs, and the only way to get that to play out on the battlefield is by taking X or Y now, it isn't their fault. GW leaves only these options, and these alone, and these options coincide with the changing of how SC work, and thus how they should be viewed.

Also, as noted above, you also open yourself up for criticism, and the never-ending cycle of what is 'cheese' in a given army or build, and how it is unfair with focusing on SCs. This is unhealthy in all settings. In a tourney setting especially, where people are approaching things with a competitive attitude, seeing SC should not be a shock anymore. They have a name, yes, but this alone does not warrant criticism (see above). Moreover, powerful HQ units are found in all codexes (122pt Canoness, C:BT Chaplain and the ability to give any HQ eternal warrior, Mephiston, LS Sammy, Kharn, DE crazyness, and on and on), and so if you play guard congratulations for avoiding the list (oh, that is until May or so). It's the 'cast not the first stone' syndrome. What is also true with all codexes is that they are the only official, end-all-be-all enders-of-arguments as they contain the rules...the HQ selections that appear in them that are not prohibited in any fashion are a part of the 'big picture' of the given game-tested and balanced codex (this point [balance] is to be contended, but this is where GW gets the blame and not the player). Kharn might seem insane, or 'zerks in general, but man are they a rule the bigger picture is almost missed when comparing HQ units directly from codex to codex.

As an example, for the tourney at AGG, I took Kantor (as noted in the tourneyrep by Farmpunk). I was going to use my Khan build, but felt it would go against my Dornish nature and instead felt Vladimir Pugh (as Kantor) would lead the IF to battle. I made this decision out of my own personal view that I'd rather win with Dorn, then win with Khan (a better, more dynamic list for a tourney on 4x4 tables, but against my nature). If I made this choice to avoid criticism alone, I believe it would have been the wrong choice. In a tourney setting especially, relish the challenge, 40ker of editions past, of beating a SC, but as noted above it is now given by GW as a valid choice.

Try seeing the light, or wait until your codex gets the same treatment (different colored necron lords are coming, and the IG rumours are well known) and then make judgments, but until then, see that the nature of the SC is different, and as they are not set aside in any fashion within the codex anymore, the players who enjoy their use should not be set aside either. The cheese game in general gets tiresome, and a happy 40Ker is one who accepts challenges instead of glaring at the players who present them with such sport.

Sigismund's Own Jibjeb.


  1. All I can say is that I am very glad that I play Eldar. With the balanced (and even underpowered) SCs my list has I don't have to worry about cries of CHEESE! when I lay out my army on the table.

    Wait for it...

    Wait for it...

    Ah, there it is the sound of JibJeb being able to breath again :)

    I would like to say that while I agree with most of what JibJeb posted I do have a few reservations. My position, as I have stated before, is that there is nothing that is inherently broken in this game. I think that this bears repeating there are no broken units in this game. There is no unit or SC which is cheesy or broken, rather I feel that it is only through the army composition that anything becomes broken or "cheesy".

    Let me give two quick examples;
    First let us start with the undercosted Farseer that I alluded to earlier Eldrad (sp?). While he is the corner stone of most outrageous Eldar lists imagine him leading a large hoard of guardians with only one or two aspect warriors along for support. In such a list he goes from game breaking to merely tough but still manageable.
    Now lets look at the other side of the equation. Samuel (sp?) the leader of the raven wing while a solid choice is by no means game breaking. For just a few points shy of a land raider he should be significant. Well how about when he is fielded at 500 points while he is ridding in his land speeder? In this scenario you have a what amounts to a nigh unkillable unit that will dominate the entire field of battle.

    In the first example the unit is broken by fielding it out of context of it's story. While in the second example the unit is broken by dogmatically sticking to it's background.

    So what is the answer then? When is something cheesy or broken?
    I think that the answer for that question has to be answered by each game group. Some people enjoy playing and facing of against the hardest armies that they can force into a list with a crow bar. Others rather play a more thematic game in which every unit on the table should be there and fights in the methods laid out in their background.

    In the end it is my opinion that it is the Players who are cheesy not the Armies/ Units. If you are going to your local game shop leave the 'ARD BOYZ list at home unless you have cleared this with your game group in advance. Likewise when you travel to some one else's store respect that you are the visitor and that they will probably play differently than you do. Enjoy the games as a break from the norm and as a chance to see how others enjoy this shared hobby of ours. Playing out side of your comport area might you a better player, and it will make you oh so happy to get back to your store.

    Alright enough of the soap box, just remember boys, we are playing with dollies. Do you really want to be the grown men arguing about how their little toy men should be played?


  2. While I don't like seeing a Special Character in 1000pts, I don't think I should really call it cheese.
    I really would have liked to see something limiting SC's to point values like the older codexes do.

    but that was back before the current paradigm of the character defining how the force works.

    the old Specials were additions to how the army ALREADY worked. St. Celestine doesn't add any super rules to how my WH play. they still function the same. She's just near un-killable.

    but I can't use her until 1500pts, which designates the battle to be at least significant enough to warrant her appearing. She's be ridiculous at 1000pts, and insane at 500pts.

    I think that's where some consideration would have been good with SC's. Until all codexes have crazy good SC's that outline how the force plays, there's going to be differences in how SC's are viewed.

    yeah, I cursed pedro at the tourney, mostly because my own aggressive tactics fell apart, and he rocked my socks. I can't blame you at all for wanting to not play vanilla.

    I'm also glad you didn't field 3 sternguard squads, and glad you didn't have 2 Special Characters.

    I'm also sure I'm going to get cursed once the new IG codex comes out. it's going to be a whole new bag of tricks.


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