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Enough With Codex: Nonsense
The insanity was around in the Bad Old Days of 2nd Edition 40K, but it really got going in earnest during the 3rd Edition era, and has continued to the present. Shortly after the new, 3rd Edition rules came out, Games Workshop began publishing army codices every few months. All was well and good for awhile, but then a problem appeared. After the initial rush of codex releases (Space Marines, Dark Eldar, Chaos Marines, Eldar, Orks), production slowed down, resulting in more waiting time for players of other armies.
Eventually, GW released books for each army, but along the way, another problem appeared: while initial codices were fairly-well balanced against each other, later releases were alarmingly more powerful, a phenomenon quickly dubbed “codex creep.” Anyone remember the 3rd edition Tyranid codex, which allowed players to mutate Nids into all kinds of uber-nastiness? The epitome of “codex creep” was probably the second Codex: Chaos Space Marines for 3rd Edition, which, for example, gave Iron Warriors Heavy Support choices unavailable to other Chaos Marines AND gave them extra HS slots in exchange for Fast Attack slots.
Fourth Edition came along, and another problem appeared: codices were revised and released for the most popular armies, but not others. This meant that some players were still using the 3rd Edition books while others had shiny new rules that worked better with the 4e rule system. “Codex creep” also continued, so that the armies that still used older books fell further and further behind in the arms race.
Unfortunately, this has continued into the current, Fifth Edition. While GW is trying to rectify the situation by updating armies that had been ignored for a long time (Orks, Space Wolves, Blood Angels), there are still several others (Dark Eldar, Necrons, and Daemonhunters) that are still played only by hardcore fans, tactical masters who relish a hefty challenge, and folks who don’t know any better.
The current state of affairs—long delays between updates and escalating power levels—angers players and leads to armies being sold off, retired, or converted to other purposes. As GW scrambles to catch up, Dark Eldar and Necron players can only sit and twiddle their thumbs while Tau, Eldar, and Black Templar players gripe that their books, released only a few years ago, are sorely lacking under the 5e conditions. Currently, it seems that only players of Space Marines, Space Wolves, Imperial Guard, Orks, and Nids (the latest books published) are happy (and there are even players of those armies that gripe).
The solution—once and for all—to all this nonsense and player discontent is that when the next edition of the rules comes around (which should be around 2012, if GW follows the schedule that they have set over the last decade or so), GW should put out a separate publication—hardcover and roughly as large as the new rulebook—that serves as Codex: Armies of the 41st Millennium. That is, every army in the book, with every unit, every piece of wargear, and the necessary lists and descriptions. All the armies released at the same time, all carefully playtested and balanced against each other. No more waiting, no more “codex creep.”
“That’s impossible!” GW will cry. No, it’s not. They put out an abbreviated version of each army list in the back of the 3rd Edition rulebook so that players could get by until their proper codex was released. Expand on that idea and make it a full-fledged book. For an analogy, think of “Codex: Everybody” as a Players Handbook or a Monster Manual for 40K. While the rules for the next edition are being developed, GW should put together a team to develop updated army lists that work with those rules. Put a project manager in to oversee both to ensure compatibility. I’m a certified PM, folks: trust me when I tell you that it’s not that hard.
“How would you put all the stuff from the current codices into one book?” Well, you wouldn’t. Let’s be real: about half of the current codices is fluff and filler. Look at the latest Codex: Tyranids—literally open it up (if you have it, and if not, you really ought to, because you’ll be seeing a lot of Bugs in your gaming future) and follow along with me.
After the introduction on page 3, pages 4-32 is artwork and fiction, which is nice, but not essential to playing. You could rip those pages out of your book and still be able to use your army. Page 33 has special rules—you have to have this page to effectively play Nids, so it stays. Pages 34-61 are unit descriptions, with stats and special features of each unit given at the end. While these unit descriptions are convenient at one page each, and can be interesting to read for getting a feel for each unit, do we need all the verbosity? For example, do you really need five thick paragraphs of text to describe Hormagaunts and what role they fill in the Tyranid swarm? Really? I’ve been a professional editor: I bet I can do it in one, maybe two paragraphs. Brevity is everything in writing.
Page 62 describes psychic powers—again, totally necessary. Page 63 is artwork. Pages 64-77 are mostly photographs of models, which is inspirational for players who haven’t chosen how to paint their Nids. Pages 78-80 are more artwork and photos. Pages 81-95 are biomorphs, weapons, and the actual army list you need to field Nids. Page 96 is a useful summary.
So, by my count, Codex: Tyranids has about 45 pages of must-have information (if you count the useful part of each unit description as half a page long) and the other 51 are not. And 45 pages is being generous: in the 3rd Edition days, the first few codices were shorter than that (32 pages total, if I recall correctly). Trim the fat and put only the essential stuff in “Codex: Everybody.”
“What about the fluff?” one might ask. Well, what about the fluff? It can, as I said, be entertaining to read, but much of it is repetitive and trite: why is it that every battle is “narrowly won” by a handful of “bloodied, determined survivors” who prevail though “surrounded and massively outnumbered?” If GW were describing the Battle of Little Bighorn, it’d have ended with Sitting Bull and General Custer fighting for hours in hand-to-hand combat atop a mound of thousands of corpses. Fluff is overrated, and already accounts for a big section of the current rulebook (go take a look—I KNOW you have that book).
I’m not saying that GW should eliminate fluff entirely from a Codex: Armies of the 41st Millennium—some context is necessary to enjoy playing an army—but they could rein it in. And, if players want more fluff, GW could release a “fluff Bible,” a compilation of background material for each army.
“What about new releases—how would those fit in?” GW designs cool miniatures and models first, then crafts rules for them afterwards. That modus operandus would have to change in developing a “Codex: Everybody.” But it’s not without precedent that a unit has been described in a codex for a long time—sometimes years—before the model came out for it. How long did Eldar players wait for Wave Serpents? And how long will Nid players wait for a Tyrannofex or a Harpy?
Imagine what could be: a new set of rules and all new army lists, published simultaneously, which players could use for years (until new rules and a new “Codex: Everybody” came out). Every army would be on a level playing field from the word “go.” No arguing over outdated terminology, no confusion about incompatible models, no angst over when your army will join the ranks of the current edition.
Would GW ever publish an all-inclusive army book? While it would make players happy, it’s not nearly as lucrative to put out one $50 hardcover book that everyone will buy as it is to put out many $25 codices that most people will buy (I don’t know about you, but I buy codices for armies I don’t play so I can learn how to fight them). It would be nice to have, but don’t hold your breath.
Besides that, GW uses the codices to try out ideas by creating units that have new abilities that later get incorporated into the next rule set. And, let’s be real, “codex creep” benefits GW if players shelve their favorite unsupported armies and pick up the latest flavor of the month. The process of releasing codices may be insane, but there is a method to the madness.
Meanwhile, hang in there, players of Dark Eldar, Necrons, and other “orphaned” armies. Someday, your books will come….
Posted March 2010. Codex images copyright 2010 Games Workshop
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