Friday, January 20, 2012

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future...

I've become mildly obsessed with the 40k RPG of late.  I was always peripherally fascinated with the tabletop version of Warhammer, glancing at the groups of people huddled around intricately designed tables at game shops from the corner of my eye. The investment required though, both in terms of time and money, always seemed to put it out of my reach. 

My local Half Price Books, however, must have picked up a carton of Dark Heresy books that fell off the back of a truck, because they had a TON of them lying around.  While $60 is a bit much for an RPG, even a core book, I will gladly pay $30 for such a book.

But my god, the backstory.  As I told a friend the other day, trying to get a handle on everything that has come before is intimdating, to say the least.  It's not like walking in the middle of a movie, it's like walking in the middle of the last movie in a trilogy.  The sheer volume of information that is out there is staggering - I spent an entire afternoon web crawling the 40k wiki and still only feel like I have scratched the surface.

What fascinates me, though, is the fact that this backstory came from a tabletop game; that the RPG, the game that would actually USE this backstory, was an afterthought that came almost 25 years after the initial release of the tabletop game.  The tabletop game has no mechanical purpose, that I can see, for all this backstory - it's all fluff!

And don't even get me started on the novels!

Rereading this, it may seem as though I'm frustrated, but that's really not the case.  If anything, it reminds me of when I picked up my first comic book.  I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  Things were being referenced that I had no knowledge of, different issues and books were being cited, and while that is these days cited as everything that was wrong with comics back then, to me it was an invitation.  Rather than pitching the comic in the garbage, I ran right back out to the comic shop and bought the referenced comics so I could understand.

Which is exactly the attitude Games Workshop relies on. 

But the key point here is how much story, or fluff, can drive the popularity of a game.  It seems as though there are two approaches here.  The D&D approach is to create a generic setting that anyone can imagine themselves in - you've seen Lord of the Rings, you can play D&D.  The other approach, though, is the Warhammer Way.  Lure them in, get them invested in the story you're telling, whether you're telling it via RPG, comics or a tabletop game.  Some will be unwilling or unable to make the investment, and the group you attract will be smaller, but hey - if they will buy your books at $60 a pop, you don't need as many of them anyways!

More to come on this...


  1. There is a lot of backstory, but GW have chopped and changed it so much that you can't really keep it all straight and coherent even if you wanted to.

    So what I did for my Rogue Trader game is pick the bits and pieces I liked and ignored everything else. It works well.

  2. Same here with Kelvin, though I'm the player rather than GM. It's detailed stuff, it's selling well, and it's well supported.


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