Since the beginning of the year I have been involved in a six-month Warhammer 40k narrative campaign. With it winding down I wanted to take a moment to look back at the experience and share my thoughts on the experience. To start this was my first “narrative” event even though I have been playing 40k off and on since 4th edition. Most of my previous games had just been pick up, local tournaments, or beer and pretzels flavor of the month games with friends without any sort of connection between the games. While that was fun I can honestly say that being involved in the narrative campaign has provided me a new way to play that has also provided a new level of immersion.
First what is narrative gaming? While there doesn’t seem to be a concrete definition of what narrative gaming in 40k is we can look at some characteristics of it. First, narrative gaming typically takes place in a community where a group of people are trying to tell a story about their respective armies and heroes while experiencing other people’s stories on the table as well. Instead of simply rolling from the 6 scenarios in the book you tend to create mission parameters that match the fluff of what has been happening on the tables across your group. Games don’t have to be symmetrical and doors are opened to pull from IA, Altar of War and other sources to help reflect the universe you are in. That being said, narrative gaming is still competitive.
In the 5+ years I’ve played 40k I haven’t come across anybody that enjoys losing. You’re telling the story of your army, the last time I checked nobody wants their army to be the one that gets stomped into the ground in ever chapter. At the same time you don’t have to power-list to win; depending on the mission parameters power listing may be worthless or not entirely as effective as they are when only playing from the same six missions with the same three secondary objectives all the time.
So with the some of the characteristic about narrative gaming above laid out why would you want to take part in this community experience? One of the first things that comes to my mind is the memorable moments that stand out from the last four months of gaming.
I have seen some of the most epic moments of table top play out recently that stick in my mind better than anything in the last 4 years. In a recent Apoc game watching some Masters of the Chapter down a Warhound titan and live to tell the story through the explosion is the first to come to mind shared by three XV9 suits holding the pass against wave after wave of 20+ demons for 4 turns as they poured through a portal bent on flooding the entire bored with the will of Tzeentch.
Narrative gaming is about the moments of success or failure that we read about in the fluff and then see brought to life on the table by our own units. Along with this comes a greater sense of immersion as your units garner kill counts, survive impossible odds and tell their grimdark tale.
Along with telling your story comes the benefit of sharing in others experiences getting to hear about how your friends game played out and seeing how both of your actions lead to the games in the next chapter and how those outcomes affect a game three months later. One of the reasons I love playing 40k in this setting is it takes it from being like chess, risk, or any other one off strategy game and gets you more involved in knowing not just the rules of your army but the background, how they think, how they would act and respond on the battlefield and even allows you to add your own personality on top of that to expand the fluff for your group.
That being said, narrative gaming isn’t for everybody. Narrative gaming not only asks the player to be committed on the table, but also to spend time learning about their army and potentially adding to the fluff of it off the table. One of the things I’ve found interesting and enjoyable in my first narrative campaign is the Forging the Narrative events. These are events where players can earn points for writing about their army its previous exploits and its battles in the current event. It seemed a bit daunting at first but after sitting down and starting to do it I found myself thinking about ideas for my army as I was driving to work, sitting around listening to music, running, etc.
Suddenly this was something extra for me to toy with in my free time and another reason to learn more about my army. One of the key things to point out is that people don’t get rewarded for how proper there grammar is but in our system based on word count to encourage people to write. The more your write like most other things the better you will get.
Further, some people like to build a list and only run that for the rest of their life based on six static missions. Narrative campaigns tend not to be the best place for that as missions and in each chapter may require you to adapt your tactics depending on the previous month’s results, if you’re an attacker or defender, the objective of the mission etc. In this way for many it is fun because it require you to stretch your tactics and skills and try new combinations and think in different ways.
Finally, GW has recently been on a writing spree which I personally enjoy seeing as we haven’t had this much new content in a long time. That being said narrative campaigns need a way to handle this as new units popping up months into a campaign needs to be explained somehow. Further if editions or something were to change you probably need some mechanism for introducing new rule sets to your campaign community or even a day where you all get together and try them out to see what the community thinks.
So overall my first narrative campaign has probably been my best 40k experience to date. I have met new people, had some great gaming experiences, seen some epic moments play out and been given a greater reason than ever to read up on the grimdark future of 40k.