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Editions Through the Ages

Seriously–the one kid in my town who won this game was a local celebrity.

Gaming properties are frequently getting revised and reinvented. For those of us old enough to remember the 1st Edition of Dungeons and Dragons and its cludgy rules or the original Metal Gear and just how freakishly difficult that game was, we’ve seen versions of our favorite games, both tabletop, pen and paper, and electronic, come and go. There have been ups and downs, granted, and some old editions so weighted down with nostalgia we have difficulty escaping them (2nd Edition AD&D, anyone?), but no matter what we think of it, whatever version of a game we’re playing now will, eventually, be replaced.

Recently, one of my favorite games – Warhammer 40,000 – entered its 6th Edition. Games Workshop, the publisher, has taken to revising its core rule system every five years, give or take. I started in 2nd Edition, which was an incredibly detailed game, but so monstrously complex and poorly balanced that I really don’t miss it, despite the nostalgia of playing chaotic battles on my basement floor or in my friend Bruce’s garage. This edition change, likewise, I find to be a fun and interesting shift in the rules. It rebalances things a bit, changes the overall dynamic of the game, and makes a stale game suddenly new and full of excitement. In most cases new editions do this rather well, assuming the development team has been able to identify that central thing that makes the game what it is.

What I find regrettable (though sadly inevitable) is the sheer number of nerds on the internet that throw absolutely gigantic hissy-fits over the idea of their old game being ‘replaced’ with the new one. This doesn’t really happen (to my knowledge) with video games much, but with RPGs and strategy games it happens all the time. Case in point, take this post or others of its like regarding the 5th-6th ed changeover. Wander around Warseer if you want to see some massive bitching.

While on the one hand I understand the displeasure with change – everybody hates change – sometimes I have to wonder at the bitterness here. For one thing, these edition changes usually leave the essential parts of the game in-tact. In 6th Ed Warhammer 40K, you can still amass giant armies of superhuman space marines to crush aliens. In 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, you can still gather together with your friends to slog through dungeons and slay dragons for treasure. Where is the problem? Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from going back and playing an older edition of the rules if you find the change less fun for some reason.

I think, on some level, the problem with these edition changes is that folks get caught up in the minutiae of a game – certain mechanics they are familiar with and certain rules exploits they rely on exploiting to succeed. The idea that now, suddenly, their comfortable little world is overturned and the have to re-learn what they’ve learned (like some reviled n00b!) is shocking and terrifying. In this sense, one can see an edition change for an RPG or strategy game as a tiny reflection of the real world, which also has a tendency, from time to time, to knock us out of our comfortable perch and force us, through hard work and creativity, to find a new one. I daresay, then, that edition changes and the upheaval they bring to the gaming community are good for the emotional development of your average introverted geek. They learn to adapt; they grow up a bit. 

If only all of us had hobbies that do the same.

The Last Hours of Kryptmann Gore

Author’s Note: This is some introductory and conclusionary fluff to a battle report I wrote for one of my many Warhammer 40K boards. I think it’s a fun little vigniette in its own right, so I’ve put it here. If you are interested in the battle report itself (or curious about how 40K works), I’ve placed a link. Again, no infringement of Games Workshop’s copyright is intended.

Kryptmann Gore, Archheretic and architect of the Glorious Revolution, shivered in the cold morning dew. He had spent the last four days sleeping in the back of a ramshackle Chimera with the remnants of the Lustborn command staff–some of his first converts to the cause. They were all couching amid the ruins of a small trading post nestled in the rugged highlands of Hasturia’s northern continent, their eyes bloodshot and their moods iritiable. The drugs–both combat related and recreational–had run out yesterday, and already the withdrawal symptoms were taking their toll. Kryptmann knew one squad had died already from the effects, and another two had deserted over the night. “The fools,” he muttered, hugging his sodden coat closer to his body–Lysander and his Astartes would run them down and kill them before they cleared the first ridge.

“What are we waiting for, Kryptmann?” General Hortense asked in a ragged voice, his cheek twitching.

“The shuttle won’t land until we secure the landing area.” Kryptmann snapped. “You’re the damned general–you should know that!”

Hortense rose, his face pale with what Kryptmann assumed was anger, but realized was nausea. While the former High Commander of the Lustborn Legions vomited in the grass, Kryptmann looked at the small, pale man in the flight jacket who had appeared in camp the night before. “You’re certain your master’s ship is undetected?”

The pirate smiled, showing a decidedly imperfect set of teeth. “Low orbit, limited energy signature–the blockade won’t pick us up for hours.”

“But we’ll still have orbital support?” General Hortense groaned over his wretching, “We need orbital support!”

The rest of the command group nodded, shivering and weak with need. All their red-rimmed eyes fixed on the pirate and Kryptmann. The pirate smiled again, “You’ll get enough. We have a Valkyrie with Imperial transpoder codes that’s inbound, and I’ve got a link to an artillery satellite–you’ll have support.”

The vox-man, Barent, jumped as his device came to life. Pressing the earphones to his head, he turned pale. “Sir,” he reported to Hortense, “It’s them…they’ve found us.”

The little group sprang into action, the terror they felt at the nearness of their foe enough to overcome their paralyzing drug-withdrawal. Kryptmann, the only man present not shaking with nausea and chills, licked his lips and stepped inside the chimera. “Not a chance, Lysander–you’ll never catch me alive.”

Read the Report of the battle here.

Kryptmann’s lungs burned almost as much as the tears streaking down his cheeks, but still he ran. The rest of the command group was with him, he thought–he could hear their panicked breaths and hurried footfalls around him and behind him, but they were laden with heavier equipment and armor than he, and they were falling behind.

In front of Kryptmann stretched a broad, beautiful valley of tall grass and scattered trees, all spread beneath a perfect sky of aquamarine. He felt, somehow, that the universe was mocking him.

There was a hiss and an ear-splitting pop as the first bolt hit home, killing the vox man–Kryptmann could tell from the timbre of his scream. Another shot didn’t follow for a few seconds, but when it did it killed the general with equal efficiency. “Bastards,” Kryptmann thought, “They’re taking their time with us. Emperor forbid they waste ammunition.”

Pop! Another man down. Kryptmann tried to count in his head–how many more before they got to him? His stomach churning with terror, he willed his legs somehow to pump faster. His ragged breaths were now tinged with gasps of pain.

Pop! Another garbled cry, another dead follower…

Kryptmann risked a quick, panicked look behind him. He only glimpsed five golden-armored giants, moving in perfect unison across a sea of green grass. A split second later, the arch-heretic’s hip exploded with a pop and a shower of bone-chips and blood. Kryptmann screamed and pitched forwards into the grass and rolled down the slope, limbs flopping like dead snakes.

He came to rest in a shallow gulley, facing up at the clear, perfect sky. The pain was so intense it was all he could do to breathe and moan in agony. His eyes were swallowed by the broad, blue expanse above him, and it was all he could see or think about for a long, long time. Gradually, he realized he wasn’t dead. There was the briefest moment of hope, but then he remembered something. Something very important.

The Astartes didn’t miss a kill shot unless they meant to.

Kryptmann waited, gasping in pain, until he felt his doom approach. Lysander’s heavy steps made the ground shake a full minute before he appeared over him, the Captain’s huge, scarred face looking down upon him like a god sitting in judgment. Kryptmann managed a smile and grunted, “Come to gloat?”

Lysander’s voice was as cold as winter itself. “I promised you when this began that I would kill you with my own hands, wretch.”

“You…you don’t intimidate me, you oaf. You…you mindless stooge…” Kryptman growled.

Lysander planted a huge, armored boot on Kryptman’s chest. “I always keep my promises.”

“You’re nothing but a servant. I…I was a god amongst men!” Kryptman managed, spitting blood through his teeth.

Lysander shook his head very slowly. “No, you were but a man. A man among rats.”

A moment later, the Captain’s golden gauntlet descended, and Kryptman lost sight of the sky.