Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Night Mordheim; Official, Homebrew, and Thoughts Thereupon

So the whole map campaign thing is done for now, but I can foresee that it will rear its head again. Things like that don't stay buried for long. Now, when I write my Monday Night Mordheim articles, I like to either be very specific to Mordheim, or something that can be applied to any wargame that anyone would happen to play (like much of the Map Campaign stuff). This one is going to be both, so bear with me for a while, it will all make sense in the end.

There is one thing that Mordheim has that no other game in my experience has, and that is varying levels of 'officialness' or 'canoncity' if you prefer. The closest thing that you can get to it in another wargame is the occasional variant lists or White Dwarf codexes for 40K. While those are all well and good, that's basically two levels. Mordheim takes it quite a bit further, it has roughly four levels of officialdom. I say roughly because you can make a debate that there are actually only three, but that's a debate for another time and place.

So what are they, and how are they defined? Well, that's a tad tricky as well. Let me go through and lay it out, as I personally see it.

1. Official; These are the warbands from the main rule book, the Empire in Flames Supplement, and the 2002 Mordheim Annual. So there's quite a few there, they are also the only ones that currently have rules available from GW.. These are the most heavily play tested and balanced warbands.

2. Unofficial: These are warbands that are pretty much balanced for play, but due to release date or other whim of fate, did not make it into one of the three important books. They are fairly balanced, for a given value of balance. Many of them were created to support specific variations of Mordheim (like Lustria or Khemri), and are more balanced in that context.

3. Experimental: These are ones that are found all about the place, but are mainly unpublished fan stuff, but much of it has become 'default' and are only lacking official GW printing, but some of them are completely bonkers.

4. Homebrew: These are fan made stuff, some of which is tweeked official, unofficial, and experimental. Others are whole fabric completely new stuff.

Now, there's a bit more to that stuff then just the straight up where and when it was presented and how much it was play tested. There are also other FAQs that were done after the game had ceased support and were answered by the original designers and the people who were involved with GW's specialist games forums and publications. I wanted to establish what I was going to talk about before getting into it a bit more. Besides the obvious layers of officialdom, it does something that other games do not. Everything after the first layer of officialdom is wonderful great stuff...for those who are willing to do a bit of work. It keeps the game fresh, and opens up new layers of complexity and modelling challenges. There are several GW fantasy armies that have experimental or homebrew rules, thus allowing those who play those armies to start a Mordheim warband.

Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of what I want to talk about. The layers of officialdom invite monkeying around with the rules and the game. Not many other games have anything like this. You might see a homebrew codex out there on the internet, or a fan rules update to an army that hasn't been supported for awhile, but those are exceptions rather then the rule. If you go to any website about Mordheim, a great deal of it is dedicated to fan rules. Is this an issue? Nope! Fan support is what keeps Mordheim going.

While there are a lot of people out there playing other games, there is not the same level of fan support. Mordheim lives and breathes only because of its fans. 40K has its fans, and supporters, as does WHFB, or take it a different company, so does Maulifaux. However, there aren't many additional resources beyond the occasional fan-fic for them. Why is that? What is the difference between those games and Mordheim that makes them sacrosanct to change? Is it the 'tournament' culture or the WAAC gamers? Fluff vs. Crunch? I'm not to sure.

Take for instance the much maligned Chaos Space Marine Codex or the Tyranid codex. They are both rather older, and some people might argue non-competitive compared to newer codexes. Now, I freely admit that I don't get around the internet as much as I used to, but has any one released a fan codex of those armies to come more in line with what is being released currently? Granted, you can't use your homebrew Iron Warriors (now with added Basilisk!) at a tournament, but what about around the club table? Heck, that's what clubs and FLGS are for! Experimentation and tweaking to make the rules fit what you want to do.

Mordheim is still there plugging along waiting for anyone who wants to make changes. Its not Open Game License, but fan sources are now becoming the dominant force in the game. Let me let you behind the scenes a bit. When I was a kid, we played Hero Quest... a lot. We burned through the scenarios in the book. We did not see anything wrong or abhorrent about making up our own scenarios, and creating our own maps with grid paper. It wasn't just me and my couple buddies, everyone I knew that played that game did the same thing. In 2nd D&D everyone made up a ton of homerules for different things, until 3rd Ed came along and actually created rules for absolutely everything. Rules got more complicated to give the players whatever they wanted to do.

Or does the difference come from Mordheim's campaign structure? If asked I would say that is the most likely reason. The rules for changing the rules are right there in the book. Allow me to clarify a bit. There are rules in the back of the book for one off battles, where you can pay additional amounts for additional skills, stat increases, and the like. So it is just a hop, skip, and a jump from creating already powerful warbands, to using those same rules to create warbands that do not yet exist. Mordheim is for all intensive purposes an openly creative system. You can create a warband of Ogres by figuring out what the difference between an Ogre and a human is, and then applying the correct costs to build up humans to Ogre stats. Its all built in for people who want to use it. 40K, WHFB, and even Maulifaux do not have a campaign mode like that. Typically if you run a campaign with those, they are escalation games, where the amount of points able to be spent per game or overall changes based on what happens in the campaign, but it does not change the basic trooper.

Maybe that's what's missing from those games. I don't see that much fan stuff out there. There are the occasional (and becoming more occasional) fan Apocalypse data sheets, but I haven't seen a fan scenario in years. A few years ago, there were still a lot of fan made stuff. A friend of mine did a Dark Angels codex to come in line with 5th Edtion, the Astro Mag had published some updated Kill Team rules for 5th Edition, but those were way back at the beginning of the new edition.

It could be argued that WHFB and Mordheim are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Mordheim is almost nothing but a patchwork of fan based things that are held together by a solid core of official rules, but WHFB is almost nothing but official with no fan stuff. That's a problem. A game should feed off of its fans, and grow into what those fans expect. Right now, we get the same old same old for every WHFB edition and army book, because there is no one showing GW a different way of doing things. All of that zest, zeal, and other things starting with zed from the fans are all happening in Mordheim.

That's where I am looking from right now. All the vibrance of the games, the stuff to get excited about isn't from a designer or studio, it should develop nicely from the fanbase. I like stuff that makes a a game unique. I think lately that seems to be missing from the big games. The individuality that used to make every game unique. There are builds and builds and builds for army lists out there for 40K and WHFB, but they seem to be variations of a theme.

I think that's why I enjoy Mordheim so much. There's still so much creative energy going into it from the fans. I might take on the task of doing up a High Elf warband. I know that I'll never play it in a tournament, it might be the source of derision from the rest of the community, but it will be unqiue. Something that is mine, and whoever decides to use it. My challenge to you is what kind of home brew do you do?

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