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The Tiger Roars 

Vanilla, My Favorite Flavor
I visit a lot of online discussion boards—The Millenium Gate, The Bolter and Chainsword, Dakka Dakka, and some others. There, I often see someone describing their Do-It-Yourself army that, instead of using the rules from the basic, or “vanilla” codex (Codex: Space Marines, Codex: Eldar, or Codex: Imperial Guard), uses a sub-codex (such as Codex: Space Wolves, Codex: Craftworld Eldar, or Codex: Catachans) and its special rules. 

This seems to be an accepted practice. In fact, I would venture to say that's becoming the norm. For example, someone recently sent me this e-mail about my DIY Chapter, the Fighting Tigers of Veda:

I must say that this question has been bugging me. Why didn’t you pick your army using rules from Codex: Blood Angels, Codex: Dark Angels, or some other sub-codex? Wouldn’t you like the army to have special rules? 
I admit that the thought has crossed my mind a time or two, but is it for me? No. In my opinion, it's better to use the vanilla rules. 

Most of what I have to say relates to DIY Space Marine armies (as this practice seems to be most common with Marine players), but there’s much that’s applicable to DIY Eldar and Guard players, too. Indeed, as Games Workshop cranks out more and more army books over the years, this topic will become more and more relevant to different players.

Reason #1: Vanilla is easier to use
The basic codices provide a simple, flexible introduction to each army. A new player can use the basic rules, and—with a little strategy—be able to field a tactically flexible and hopefully successful army. Due to the limitations imposed on the sub-codices, the tactical options become fewer and therefore the armies are more difficult to use successfully on a consistent basis. 

While many players are lured to the sub-codices by “sexy” special rules, the reality is that they are generally tricky to use. I’ve seen all kinds of debates about how to interpret some of the special rules that sub-codex armies use. Can a Wolf Guard in Terminator armor who is attached to a Wolf Scout Squad infiltrate? Can Blood Angel Scouts become Death Company? How exactly do Black Templars “fall forward”?  Not to mention, you need two books—the sub-codex and the main codex—to play. 

I say “no thanks.” I prefer the simplicity of Codex: Space Marines. Special rules? All of two: “And They Shall Know No Fear” and “Drop Pods.” Admittedly, these rules can be tricky too, but all Marine armies have to deal with them, so it’s not like I’m “buying” more problems for myself.

Reason #2: Vanilla is more tactically flexible
I have to admit that I get bored easily. Doing the same old thing, using the same army list time after time—others may like it, but it’s not for me. Nor would I enjoy playing armies that I feel are “one trick ponies”: “Hmmm, I think I’ll run my army across the board as fast as possible and get into hand-to-hand combat.” Yawn.

But you can have just about any kind of army you want using a vanilla codex. As I demonstrated in last year’s “Poseur Armies” articles, you can use vanilla rules to create armies remarkably similar to sub-codex armies. I can leave the heavy weapons out of my Tactical Squads and configure my Devastators to match Space Wolves. I can bring lots of Land Speeders and bikes and pretend to be Ravenwing. I can bring lots of flame and melta weapons and act like Salamanders.

Admittedly, “poseur armies” are no substitute for the real thing. While you can dress up vanilla Space Marines to look like Gray Hunters, the fact is that they don’t act as well in the Gray Hunter role. I’ve learned from personal experience that real Gray Hunters kick the crap out of Tactical Marines pretending to be Gray Hunters. But such is the price you pay for flexibility. Vanilla Marines do lots of things well but aren’t specialized—that’s okay by me.

Reason #3: Vanilla armies are less predictable
If you play against Blood Angels, Space Wolves, and Black Templars, you know what you’re going to get: lots of guys charging across the board. Salamanders and Dark Angels are most likely to “stand back and shoot.” But if you play against a vanilla army, you don’t know what you’re going to get until it hits the table. 

I’ve tried out all kinds of vanilla configurations and found that not only is it fun for me, it’s fun for my opponent, too. At the first Rogue Trader Tournament I ever went to I earned a 39 out of 40 on Sportsmanship in large part because my opponents thought my bike-heavy list was cool. 

Reason #4: Vanilla isn’t hamstrung by special rules and restrictions
You’d love for your Blood Claws to stop right in their tracks and not charge the Carnifex bearing down on them—but you can’t: 

Head-strong: Blood Claws must charge if one of their models is within 6" of the enemy, unless the pack is being led by an independent character.
--from Codex: Space Wolves
You’d love to have a Devastator Squad for your Blood Angels—but you dare not: 
Black Rage: On a roll of 1, the unit moves d6" forwards...the unit will count as moving for the purposes of firing rapid fire, pistol and heavy weapons.
--from Codex: Blood Angels
For once, you’d like to have your Black Templars retreat when they fall back so that you can regroup, but you are not allowed to: 
Righteous Zeal: If a Black Templars unit ever has to fall back, it will not fall back. Instead, the unit heads towards the nearest enemy unit.
--from Codex: Armageddon
“Don’t it make ya mad? It’d make me mad.” So instead I play vanilla Marines. Sure, no benefits from oh-so-cool special rules, but no moments of crying “DOH!” when another special rule makes me do something I wouldn’t want to—or keeps me from trying something daring.

Reason #5: Vanilla isn’t a “crutch”
There are quite a few players out there who have, shall we say, a poor opinion of certain other armies. Most people with these beliefs like to use the terms “cheesy” or “beardy,” but a friend of mine has an even harsher one: “crutch army.” In his opinion, some sub-codex armies have such generous special rules that the armies require little skill to use successfully. They’re a “crutch” for people who can’t really play well. 

I can’t say I totally agree with that opinion (remember, I believe “Vanilla is easier to use”), but I bring it up remind you that it’s out there and some people will make disparaging remarks about certain sub-codices and armies drawn from them. There’s many a Blood Angel player who’s sick of hearing about how “cheesy” his army is, so if you’re going to use the Blood Angel rules, you might want to develop a thick skin.

Creating a DIY Army
Games Workshop produces material to try and please every player—those that want defined armies with special rules and those that would like to create their own army. In my opinion, DIY armies should only use the vanilla rules and not rules from a sub-codex. It just “feels right.” I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me, so bear with me while I explain myself. 

First off, after visiting a lot of online forums, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of players who make DIY armies and use rules from a sub-codex do so simply to increase their chances of winning games. I’ve seen some exceptions, but usually the choice has nothing to do with a sense of style or an adherence to “fluff,” or background material. And while that’s okay for them, I don’t go for this “winning is everything ” mentality. 

Secondly, I firmly believe that using sub-codex rules for a DIY army defeats your purpose. Unless your army is really cool and really distinct, all your opponent thinks is that it’s a clone of the chapter you’re aping. Yeah, you may think that you’re playing the “Righteous Sons of Zanzibar,” but the guy across the table from you is thinking “Blood Angels in Bad Moon Yellow.” 

Not only are you sabotaging your efforts to make your army unique, you’re taking away the identity of the chapter that you’re emulating. 

What do I mean by that last statement? Here’s an example. When Codex: Space Wolves came out, Wolf players were pretty happy because they had a bunch of keen abilities other Marines didn’t have. But not too long ago, Space Wolf players were grousing on the Internet boards about White Scars being able to “Countercharge.” Then they groused again when Iron Hands were allowed to use Venerable Dreadnoughts. And they had good reason to complain: once GW published the new rules for White Scars, Space Wolves were no longer unique. And if GW continues to give “Space Wolf” rules to non-Space Wolves, then Space Wolves will become even less distinctive. 

You can come up with all the DIY armies you want and use whatever rules you want, but the more that use Codex: Dark Angels, the less interesting Dark Angels (and therefore your army) are as well. And if you didn’t want your army to be interesting, why did you go DIY?

Because the vanilla codex is standard, you subconsciously nudge your opponent into paying more attention to your army. When you use a sub-codex, your opponent thinks of your army in terms of that sub-codex (“They’re yellow Blood Angels”). When you use a vanilla codex, your opponent thinks of your army in terms other than the rules (“They’re Hindu Marines in tiger stripes—and their leader’s a hottie!”).

I’ve had a lot of people tell me they like the Tigers for the background, for the conversions, for the paint jobs, for the willingness to innovate. But no one’s ever gushed to me about the rules I use. To me, that’s the way it should be. You should no more notice the rules than you should notice tires on a car. That is, they should be in good condition and take you where you want to go, but if they’re the part that’s getting all the attention, something is wrong with the rest of your ride.

Should vanilla be your only flavor?
Should one never use the sub-codex rules for a DIY army? In my opinion, usually you shouldn’t. The exception should be if your DIY army is a successor of a sub-codex army. If your DIY Chapter takes its geneseed from the Dark Angels, then use Codex: Dark Angels. If your Warhost originally came from Craftworld Ulthwe, then use those rules. 

But don’t just “talk the talk;” if your army is supposedly descended from the Dark Angels, then “walk the walk” and have your army look and feel like a Dark Angels successor. Your Ulthwe-offshoot should have lots of Guardians, not the bare minimum to scrape by. Don’t expect me to take you seriously if your Imperial Guard in full dress uniforms use the Catachan rules. And so on.

Recall the e-mail that I quoted at the beginning of this article. How could I ever justify saying that the super-civilized, intellectual, clearly heroic Fighting Tigers of Veda were descended from the terrifying, berserking, vampiric Blood Angels? Take a look at the paint scheme on my miniatures, listen to the name of my Chapter, read some of my “fluff”: does any of it seem to have any connection to the Blood Angels? No? Then why should I use their rules?

“It’s not called ‘vanilla’ for nothing, you know”
“But the vanilla codices are dull,” I hear you say. I must disagree.

Just about everyone agrees that Codex: Space Marines (or Codex: Eldar, for that matter) allows you all kinds of flexibility in an army. You can put together just about any kind of army you want. So how come people say these books are “boring?” All those options, but some people still think these armies are dull? Talk about a failure of the imagination. 

Boring? Take a look at my Fighting Tigers. They’re vanilla Marines that don’t use special rules, but I guarantee you that you will not find them “boring.”

And there’s not just the Fighting Tigers. I know a guy whose vanilla army takes its name from all the Vindicator tanks it uses. I know a guy whose vanilla army is a training unit for Scouts from different Chapters (so he has LOTS of Scouts painted in different uniforms). All of these armies, while being vastly different in composition, use Codex: Space Marines.

When it comes to tactics, you can do just about anything with a vanilla army. Move, shoot, assault: chances are that your vanilla army can’t compete in certain areas with “specialist” armies, but you’ll do well in just about everything. So while your vanilla Marines probably won’t win those sword fights with the Black Templars, you can sure as heck outshoot them.

When all is said and done, it’s your army and you have to be happy with it. Use the sub-codex rules if you want: it's certainly not illegal and I, for one, will be glad to play against your army. But don’t be surprised if you end up describing your army as “like Space Wolves except…” rather than letting them stand on their own merit. As for me, I’ll stick with vanilla.

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© copyright  March 2002 by Kenton Kilgore. Edited by Patrick Eibel.


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle