2/28/2006

The Vision Thing

Right now we know almost nothing about the upcoming Eldar codex. We all think it's coming later this year around Q4 2006, but that's just speculation; we don't really know. Various off-the-record comments by smartymen who are supposed to be "in the know" leak out here and there, but unfortunately they often contradict one another and so we're not able to make much out of it. At this point I can honestly say that we don't really know much and if there are some out there who know more, they aren't saying much. Soon, however, news will start trickling out of GW about what is actually going to happen with the new codex, and then all guessing and hoping and dreaming will turn into the piecing-together of jigsaw fact pieces... so the time for wild speculation is definitely now.

I was going to write up some thoughts on what we should be expecting, but I didn't want to make this post so structured (i.e. a "rumor roundup", etc). I also don't want to just make a wish list, because the point of that is sort of self-indulgent and, let's face it, everyone has a "wish list". Instead, I'm going to mix a few thoughts together and hope they produce something interesting. Mainly, I'm concerned with what you might call "the vision thing" more than I'm concerned with stat lines and release schedules. Let me explain...

A lot of people speculate on the upcoming codex in a way that I find unsatisfying, because they so often tend to think in terms of tightening bolts on the old codex rather than being bold and re-imagining the foundations of the Eldar concept. For instance, a lot of people are expecting that the best thing a new codex can offer will be to "fix" Shuriken Catapults by (for instance) giving them 18" range or something, and that's it. They can't picture anything more interesting than that. Or maybe they hope that they'll "fix" Starcannons by making them Heavy 2, AP3 or something... or that they'll "fix" Wraithlords by making them Toughness 6 instead of 8. Etc. etc. It's not so much that they're looking for a new codex... it's more that they're looking for the one they already have, along with some microscopic tweaks to squeeze a little bit more life out of it. Hey, I know that if Shuriken Catapults were "fixed" that I could easily coast on the current codex for a lot longer, but I'm honestly hoping that a new codex will offer a whole lot more than just a few changes in the stat lines. The Eldar are such a great concept and are so interesting in so many ways that it seems that some truly creative minds at Games Workshop could take them to a level that no-one is really even expecting. I'd like to see that; getting away from the familiar and comfortable and trying out some new ideas which re-invent what we think the Eldar are supposed to be.

When I look at other recent codex releases (the Space Marine codex in particular), what I see is that Games Workshop goes to great lengths to make sure that all of the army - every single unit, every single item of wargear, every single upgrade - has a place and time where it's the best choice (or one of the best choices). When a codex goes stale from age (especially if it overlaps with a core rules update), you will see that certain parts of the roster fall into general disfavor and other parts are used to excess. It was like this for the Space Marines before their recent codex but, when that book was released, suddenly there was no fat in the army list. Everything made sense in the right context, everything had a role to play. From Whirlwinds to Librarians to Attack Bikes to Terminators... each choice from the Space Marines list would serve you well if you applied a modicum of tactical skill to its use. Now, we see that the Eldar codex is in a state of disrepair (I think, in fact, much worse than the Marines codex was) where several units are rarely, if ever used. Shining Spears, Swooping Hawks, Jetbikes in general, the Avatar, Heavy Support Weapons, War Walkers... all are rare in the typical Eldar list. Other units such as the Seer Council, the Falcon and the Wraithlord are not only ubiquitous but, in the hands of an unsporting player, offer unfair advantages to the Eldar army which aren't matched by the points allocation. The codex reminds me of a house which has half collapsed; some rooms are caved-in and off-limits and, as such, the rooms which are undamaged are used twice as much or more because not only are they still workable, but they're the only option for a place to go.

My hope is that the new Eldar codex will make all units logical for different uses at different times. This is particularly important to the Eldar, as it is an army of specialization where every unit choice should serve a very, very potent end when used in the proper context. I believe that many issues around balance in Eldar armies will simply evaporate if Eldar players have more viable options than just Farseers, Seer Councils, Falcons and Starcannons.

There are sometimes questions about "traits" in the Eldar army and how they might be applied. One rumor I've heard that really intrigues me is about Exarchs who confer whatever powers they have onto the squad itself. For instance, a Striking Scorpion Exarch could give his entire squad Crushing Blow; a Dark Reaper Exarch could lend his unit Fast Shot; a Howling Banshee exarch could confer Acrobatics. This would be an interesting and very "Eldary" way to lend traits to Elite units, and because traits are a direction GW really seems to be going in, I think it makes a fair amount of sense. Naturally, a lot of the Exarch powers would have to be tweaked in order to make them appropriate for an entire unit (would anyone want to see 17-point Fire Dragons, who already have a S6/AP1 weapon, with Burning Fist - a trait which gives them a Power Weapon and lets them re-roll "to wound" results?). I believe that doing this would open up the Eldar army to greater flexibility and specialization. It's a more complex task for the Eldar than it is, say, for Marines, because the Eldar are already very specialized; where having a basic Tac Marine lean one way or the other with his skillset is utterly practical, having Fire Dragons become masters of close combat would upset the purpose of Aspects on a fundamental level. Again, this is why I think that the Exarch powers would have to be re-written to make this a viable concept... but I really like the idea.

When it comes to basic troop choices, Guardians need special attention from GW in the next codex because they are the very backbone of the Eldar army concept. Though many argue that Aspect Warriors play that role, I believe this is a misconception which has arisen from the fact that Guardians are (as it currently stands) very hard to use effectively in-game. As a result, most players prefer to leverage their Elites as Troops when they can (either in the Force Org slot or merely in function alone), because they go toe-to-toe much more effectively against the Marine-equivilent forces which make up the bulk of enemies one faces in a typical game.

"Fixing" the Guardians brings up the issue of stat-lines, which I believe are a crummy way to design an army. If you only look at the math of the unit then much of the poetry drains out of the army and, instead, you're playing Sudoku. My feeling is that stat lines should be tweaked in updates and FAQs after the army is released, but when you're conceptualizing a force you must first ask yourself "Who is this unit made up of and what are they intended to do?" Guardians are militia; not hardened soldiers in the way that Space Marines or Tau are, and their performance on the battlefield should reflect this. On the other hand, they are not always unfamiliar with the ways of war; some are retired Aspect Warriors and are not unfamiliar with the experience of combat. Though many Guardians are borrowed from ranks of gardeners and poets, I like to think that the Eldar see a relationship between the way of the warrior and the way of the artist (if you've seen the movie Hero, then you've see how calligraphy and swordplay are intertwined, and how one discipline can sharpen someone's skills at the other). I like to think of Guardians as a militia of non-warriors coming to defend their civilization for lack of resources among Aspect Warriors... but I don't regard them in the same way I think of checkout clerks and janitors; I believe that Guardians have an understanding of the mystical reality of war that lends them a certain degree of power on the battlefield. These are the concepts that I'd like to see guide the stats of the Guardian: Fragile, but not cannon fodder; imperfect, but not inept; minor-league warriors, but not mere conscripts.

A quick nod to the question about why a dying race should field common citizens in a battle when they're trying, in fact, to preserve their numbers: I've addressed this point on my blog before, but if you're still having trouble with it, imagine The Two Towers when the denizens of Rohan were arriving at Helm's Deep. Would you have suggested to King Theoden that he not employ the service of all the common citizens that he could to defend the stronghold, arguing that their numbers were too small to call upon common folk in wartime? Anyone who has seen the movie a bazillion times like I have will know that if the common citizen of Rohan had not defended the line that all of the citizens and warriors alike would have been overrun. It's a lot like that with the Eldar.

Getting back to the codex in general, I believe that its fundamental job is to make an army which centers around the basic "one HQ and two troops" a viable option. I believe this is the measuring stick of any codex and, if it's not possible to enter into a balanced combat with that sort of a Force Org Chart then the codex isn't doing its job.

It's true that an itemized list of what's wrong with the current codex is easy to assemble and I don't think anyone would question that Starcannons are too pervasive, that Wraithlords are too tough for the points and that Guardians (Defenders in particular) are hard to get any magic out of. Instead, however, of mere stat line updates, points adjustments and other minutiae, the vision of the Eldar army itself should be revisited. I think that's where the answers are and, what's more, I believe that's the way that this army is going to be fun for dorks like me who get a kick out of pretending to be space elves.

4 comments:

Quint'Aan said...

I agree that GW's latest strength lately has been finding visions for new codices and following that vision through to excellent rules. In that vein, here is my vision for Eldar should GW ever ask me.

There are three things in my vision that are important about Eldar.

TO ME, Craftworld Eldar are about the mystic side of the universe, the constant struggle of life versus death, of purpose versus desire. They are a dying race that not only steps up to struggle against their fate, they embrace the struggle as part of their pysche. The outflow from this embracing is the artistry of war and the beauty of dealing death. That is why beauty and function meet so powerfully in the Eldar armies.

Technologically, Eldar are near or at the top of the current heap. They have lost more technology than humanity has ever learned, and the remaining technology operates at a level beyond the brightest minds of Human, Tau, etc. Only the Necrons match their technological level and remember, Eldar defeated the Necrons before humans came down from the trees. (Pre fall Eldar true, but the point stands).

Finally, the third point is that Eldar are inherently powerful psykers, skilled and practiced. They use psionics in their tools, weapons, war machines, everything. Their most powerful seers can divine the future possibilities and lead the craftworld from danger, or into it as need be. Some seers have experience in combat as aspect warriors from a previous Path and so have taken on the mantle of Warlock. Seers that become fixed in the Path of the Seer become farseers, but not all farseers are of the warlock kind.

Combining these three things:
1) War as art
2) Superior Technology
3) Powerful Psychics

Gives a vision for me that is unique to Craftworld Eldar. The details (speeds, skills, powers) are all extraneous to focusing on Eldar as the Beautiful Destroyers, the Masters of the Fates. To acheive a good start in this direction I think the new codex needs to have these main components:

1) Extremely customizable Farseers not only in wargear and powers, but also in stats and skills.
2) Different levels of Warlocks. Warlocks, Warlock Masters, and Warlock Champions used to be the three levels, but I would settle for two.
3) War machines with the option of BS4. Make it extremely costly or limited, but at least one tank in the Eldar army should be able to get BS4. Failing that, more twinlinking.

Quint'Aan said...

-continued-
4) Aspect warrriors that are very focused in their method of deathdealing yet can be customized some way.

5) Guardians that can be defensive more than they can now. (Give them splinter rifles for all I care!)

6) Weapons that demonstrate superior eldar technology, yet still are limited in some way.

That's all I can think of now.

Johanna said...

Wow, I have to totally agree and admit that I am one of those people who not necessarily lack the vision, but have a limited one. I think that have a lot of really great points, and hopefully you will get some solid information soon. Currently of course, I am super excited about the new Tau and the few pictures of the new Orks that are filtering there way through the net, but I know that Barry is in high anticipation for the new Eldar too.

Bourgui said...

Hey Corey,

I have to say, being likely to sport a tall, conic helmet and have my ears made surgically pointy, I like your discussion, and would agree with you on pretty much all fronts, more so than with Quint'aan (sorry stranger!). I also think that, given the latest codices (SM, Nids, Tau, Black Templar), some of your wishes will be made true by GW.
But not all, because this is a game that is not designed to be an accurate simulation, and simplifications need to be incorporated both in terms of playability, and also development time. This is a business to them, and they can't afford to spend 15 years on each codex just for the sake of getting the feel just right for each race. I do think they get better with each codex most of the time.

As for the rumors, well two things at play here: first all the people who are 'in the know' have signed NDAs. Either they are employees of GW are they are just addicted gamers (for 40k they are known as the techpriests and their servitors - check the back of the BBB and see their names in the 'Thanks' column). The employees don't want to lose their jobs, and the addict love the game too much to risk losing their status and chance of having an impact on the game (and see the rules first!).
And second, most of the guys 'in the know' don't even know the final rules before they are printed. The techpriests will only see the last 'beta' print, do their tests and send their feedback, and then it's out of their hands. Chances are little will change, but they never know for sure.