Friday, 17 August 2012

5 Changes 6th Edition Codex: Space Marines Needs

There’s not much to be said about the last few Space Marine codexes produced by Games Workshop. Rules wise they were increasingly cheesy and broken, plus background-wise they were badly written jokes who spat on the franchise's mythos. There was one exception to this, the Space Wolves, but every other codex created for the fifth edition was a complete failure.
With the sixth edition of Warhammer 40,000 out now we have some hope for the first time in four years of having a vanilla Codex: Space Marines players won’t hate and self-respecting Ultramarines players won’t feel ashamed of. Will they get it right? That remains to be seen but let’s take a look at the top five improvements we need.

5 – Bring Back The Funny
This is a very obvious one. The last few codexes have been taking themselves increasingly seriously. Not a bad thing in of itself, but the last codex took it too far. It was written “seriously” by an author without a bone of competence in his body and couldn’t write something truly decent to save his life. As a result the book felt dead and lifeless, with no variation in tone and reducing it to a very dull read. Assuming you weren’t distracted by the often insultingly bad writing.
Adding humour to a codex can really help even things out and make the book fun, a concept certain books seemed to have lost all understanding of lately. We’re not asking for slapstick comedy or for it to be quite so prevalent as in the Codex: Orks, but just the occasional bit to add some variety. Just make sure it’s something worth laughing at.

4 – Foundings And Secret Chapters
One of the big problems in a lot of books as late has been the various foundings of Space Marine chapters: almost all of them are either “unknown” or Ultramarines. Now the Ultramarines are going to have the most successors, no problem there, but they seem to be having increasingly more and everyone else increasingly less.
The White Scars have been retconned to only make up 10% of the overall number of space marines. The Iron Hands have been reduced to the point where they’ve been stated to have only two or three successors, despite a good five or six having been named in the past. Then look at others: The recent Blood Angels codex consisted of nothing but saying “WE’RE DOOMED! WE’RE DOOMED! WE’RE ALL DYING OUT AND SO FEW IN NUMBER!!!” which was a huge change from previous books. The Salamanders have gone from having no recorded successors directly after the Heresy to none at all and even less space marines than a normal chapter – not to mention the genetic mutation forced upon them. Hell even the Grey Knights have been reconned to being fewer in number in the badly written fanfiction which replaced Codex: Daemonhunters.
We’ve gotten to the point where the only ones with a reasonable number of successors behind the Ultras are the Imperial Fists, and statistics simply don’t match up any more. Add more successors to foundings, give us more of the White Scars, Raven Guard, Dark Angels and Iron Hands, not less of them. I can already hear a few of you crying out that it’s against the fluff or the multiple problems behind this – my answer is simple: have secret foundings.
It’s a fan idea to solve this issue which actually sounds like it has some merit to it. The Imperium is so vast and has such trouble keeping track of events across vast distances that it isn’t too hard to see secret chapters and foundings being set up and created. Take the Black Templars for example, there’s only an estimated number of them overall and thought to be at least five thousand battle brothers. With their crusades so split apart, divided and everything else, is it really that hard to see a hundred or so being able to change their name and colours to start a new chapter? Perhaps to hold the line against some threat, guard relics or perform a task they don’t want the rest of the Imperium to know of.
It’d be an age before the Imperium knew, if they found no records of them it could be put down to any number of problems or issues like a chapter clawing its way back from the brink of destruction.  Multiple times chapters turn up at full strength after being declared wiped out, the Lamenters have done it so many time’s its almost a running joke for them. Even if the Imperium did choose to test them they could still be found pure.
Atop of all this it’s not like we don’t already have existing chapters which don’t have listed primarchs or founding chapters to turn into these. Perhaps ones like the War Bearers are secretly a Raven Guard successor, or the Star Dragons are a Salamanders chapter.
It’s not like there’s not enough reasons or existing fluff to already justify this. Just look at the Dark Angels, they want to hunt down the fallen without being seen and are quite happy to slaughter loyal imperial forces to keep their secrets. Is it really that much of a stretch to think they’d secretly create new chapters? How about the forces looking for their missing primarchs, guarding old secrets or even searching for relics left behind by their forefathers who can operate more easily without the administratum watching them?
You want a canon example of a secret founding? The Astral Claws were able to hide their growing numbers for hundreds of years until there were thousands of them, and the only reason they failed is because Huron went about it like a moron.
Warhammer needs more variety of chapters and successors, not simply to focus upon one faction above all others. Which brings me onto the next point.

3 – Focus upon the Adeptus Astartes as a whole
Stop limiting the codex to focusing upon the Ultramarines. The Ultramarines are a core part of the Imperium’s history and deserve a good amount of focus, that's completely fine, but things have just gotten ridiculous of late. Just look inside the cover at the history of the Horus Heresy in the current codex. The current record of the Heresy is kept the same as the fourth edition codex, skipping many events and giving a brief rundown on what happened. That was done due to space issues but when the fifth edition one was given a much higher page count it was kept the same. The additional pages following it were instead used to glorify Guilliman and tell his history when really his only noteworthy accomplishment was rebuilding the Imperium.
It’s like we’ve been reverting back to the second edition, where Codex: Space Marines is Codex: Ultramarines with almost all focus placed upon the blue armoured smurfs. That was supposed to be something the game was to evolve beyond, a stepping stone towards something better, not something we were supposed to regress back to. There is a vast amount of fluff which needs to be covered and so much left out which the codex could easily be used to cover.
Take the Howling Griffons for example, an Ultramarines successor which has been about for at least seven thousand years. We’ve been given notes upon their crusader-like mentality, that they have extensive honours and were part of several major imperial wars in the last hundred years alone – but they’re barely mentioned in any codex. Almost all of what we know of them comes from the Soul Drinkers novels and the Imperial Armour volumes covering the Badab War. We know absolutely nothing of the Heralds of Ultramar, Absolvers, Brazen Claws or Angels of Penance; wouldn’t it be better to hear about their accomplishments than adding yet another achievement to the already obscenely long list of Ultramarines ones?
Even ignoring the minor chapters think about something for a minute – There are many famous armies we only know very little about. The Crimson Fists are a chief example, they’ve been about for ten thousand years in fluff, decades in the game and were the only chapter besides Ultramarines to be featured on the cover of Codex: Space Marines. Yet they’re only known for almost being wiped out on Rynn’s World. There are some mentions of them in other things like the Declates Crusade, but almost all their tales focuses upon when or just after they were almost completely destroyed. There’s ten thousand years of history, wouldn’t it be better to hear of their traditions and crusades than have pages which could feature those devoted to yet another Ultramarines character?
Speaking as an Ultramarines fan and former player, I don’t want to open up a codex which is supposed to cover almost all chapters then find more than half has been devoted to one out of a thousand. I don’t want to see them alone getting the same number of stories told about them as every other chapter, with the latter being primarily used to make other forces look weak and ineffective. I, like so many other players, want to pick up a codex and read one great Ultramarines story listed alongside a multitude of other ones covering other famous chapters. Perhaps the Iron Warriors invasion of Ultramar as it best represents what the Ultramarines are capable of with their backs to the wall. Also as an apology to Graham McNeill for Ward pettily trying to retcon his books from the canon. The other tales shouldn’t be used to beef up Guilliman’s chosen and promote them as being better than everyone else, but shows the as equals to them and gives people reasons to want to play as them.
In all honesty there’s really no reason for it to have such tunnel vision when it comes to the Ultramarines. The only excuse I’ve was from one very self-important fan who declared that “Because other chapters get their own codexes and special units, we deserve to be listed as the best and have the book devoted to us.” Feel free to facepalm at that.
The chapters of the Astartes are entrenched throughout the universe, let the codex tell their stories – Not simply those from Ultramar.

2 – Give The Codex Back Individuality
One reason the fourth edition codex was so good was because it allowed for much more individuality and freedom than in previous books. In all previous editions the closest you could get to having an individual army in terms of rules would be through having specific characters or sticking to certain fluff. For example having a White Scars force without dreadnoughts, led by a chaplain on a bike and lots of Rhinos during the third edition.
That changed a lot during the fourth edition, when some codexes started to allow for much more diversity between armies; this was especially true for the space marines with the introduction of chapter traits. Chapter traits allowed for you to field a force which matched your background with strengths and weaknesses. It was nothing complex but it started to allow player created chapters and those who had previously been overlooked the chance to finally branch out and stand out with their own rules set. It was a really good idea and a natural extension of what we’d had before.
Then the fifth edition came out and stamped right down on the whole thing.
“You want to have individual armies?” Games Workshop said “well bugger off, they’re all going to be based around characters now. Here, you can repaint them to use in your army or claim the Ultramarines lent you Telion to improve your scouts.” As with the aforementioned with the fluff focus, it was like some of the rules were regressing back to second edition. It was a massive step backwards and a huge mistake in every meaning of the word, replacing creativity and the chance to experiment with the hobby with using recoloured versions of the author’s favourite chapter. Which would explain a lot considering he devoted a page to effectively announcing whoever ignores or deviates from the codex is a backwards fool who is doing it wrong.
Writers – we don’t want more characters from a single chapter. New ones if they’re used to give attention to otherwise ignored chapters or changes to the old ones perhaps, but we don’t want armies to be purely built around them. Give players back the freedom to customise their own chapters and create individual forces.

1 – Ignore All Of Matt Ward’s Works
Did you expect anything else? To put it simply the guy is the Karen Traviss of the 40K universe but with far less skill. He has gotten progressively worse with every codex and there’s only two he has failed to screw up. One was the Necrons, who I liked but were admittedly a blank slate, and the other was Codex: Sisters of Battle which had many other people on it so he couldn’t completely ruin them. Neither of which are particularly good when it comes to their overall backgrounds, passable at best.
What’s more is that he has no regard for established canon, other people’s works and everything he writes suffers from both rampant favouritism. He’s infamous for, besides writing broken rules, killing off the Sisters of Battle in incredibly stupid ways and making almost every space marine chapter he works on worship the Ultramarines. Not to mention his personal vendetta against any who ignore the codex in favour of the teachings of their own primarch. The White Scars being one example which he retconned into being completely codex adherent and he proceeded to list the following about the two most famous chapters who told Guilliman to shove his book up his backside:   “Others, such as the Space Wolves and the Black Templars, remain stubbornly independent, looking to their own founder's ways of war and caring little of how they fare in the eyes of others. These aberrant Chapters were always few in number and their presence diminishes with each passing decade, for their gene-seed is no longer the source of fresh Chapters."  

The guy completely ignores anything but his own works, goes through the rest of the franchise like a bull in a chinashop and is dumbing down the entire universe with every new release. Simplifying it in order to make it edgy or be more in line with what the game was like when Ward first played it. Hell, he can’t even work well with other more talented authors actually producing halfway decent stories. His response to The Chapter’s Due, a huge attempt at damage control with what he’d done to the Ultramarines, was to try and retcon it out of existence and wage an undeclared war upon Graham McNeill’s books.
To make matters worse, he lacks any actual talent when it comes to writing any fluff. To buff up whoever he’s writing about the enemy in his books act like utter morons and he seems completely incapable of understanding any tactical attacks short of frontal assaults. The biggest example of this is one encounter between the Eldar warhost of Biel Tan and the Ultramarines. Being a dying race of stealthy ninjas facing an entrenched opposition the Eldar in this story opted to attack in waves. Not infiltration attempts, air strikes, ambushes or any of that; no they just ran at the gunlines like they were being commanded by General Douglas Haig. He can’t even get the basic principle of “show don’t tell” right, and even after four years of writing for Games Workshop still shows no sign of understanding it.
If you were to remove all he had written from Warhammer, it would only improve the franchise. His books are so out of place and disconnected with everything else that the worst you would have is a few unexplained characters in the novels of authors who attempted to keep up with the products of his crude scribbling.
Anyone who is working on the sixth edition codex should just pretend his works never happened, go back to the fourth edition codex, and work off of that. Perhaps then Warhammer 40,000 might start to get back on track at long last.

So those are the top five changes which need to be made to the next Codex: Space Marines. Serious improvements on writing and direction are what is needed rather than dramatic changes to the rules. Though considering the power creep with space marine codexes in recent years that could be a problem as well but at least with good fluff that might be excused. It would certainly have made the likes of Sicarius and Kaldor Draigo more tollerable if they were written as characters rather than simply “badasses” without rhyme or reason.

Still, if you have your own top five I’d be interested to hear them so feel free to leave your own criticisms or suggestions in the comments section.


  1. so how do you feel about the current codex?

    1. It's a definite improvement, but it does have problems. Things like the re-introduction of chapter traits could have been handled better, and i'm not a fan of what has been done to the Black Templars, but a vastly more equal focus among first founding chapters is a major step forwards.

      Still trying to write a good article about it in the manner of the supplement reviews.