Friday, 8 May 2015

5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Imperial Knights Needs

Honestly, there's not too much which can be added to this one.

In an age of Kaldor Draigo, Sentinels of Terra ripping bits from novels for its own ideas, and well written lore being shafted in favour of explosions, the Imperial Knights' return was a breath of fresh air. In almost every sense it should have been a failure and broke several personal taboos. With minimal rules, only two units and promoting super-heavy individual models over armies, it seemed ready to bork up everything, with the background there only as padding to excuse the high price. What proved to be the astounding exception was how the book took its lore seriously. 

Rather than being a poorly researched half-baked cash grab, fans were rewarded at long last with a deep, detailed and varied account of a force's history. Stretching back to the Horus Heresy, it proved to be one of the few books to actually try to emphasise how much time had passed and focus upon more than just M41. To top this off, it was one of the few to truly try to examine the political impact of the Heresy, Great Crusade, the techno-feudal nature of each world and be about more than just a few flashy generals plus their cannon fodder. Rather than being the footnote, it became the book all others should be measured against.

With all that considered, many are hoping less for improvements to the lore so much as the next author managing not to royally screw things up. Still, as great as it was, there were a few notable improvements which still needed to be emphasised, and ideas explored. So, without further ado, here's five changes 7th edition codex: Imperial Knights needs.

5. Wars Of Dead Empires

The timeline for the last Codex: Imperial Knights featured the various Houses combating every kind of enemy, from a Necron Dynasty arising beneath one world to a Tyranid Hive Fleet. However, while it focused upon wars of all kinds, and even Dark Eldar incursions, it missed one vital point: The Exodites. In the original lore, the Exodites and Imperial Knights were old enemies, repeatedly battling one another for land. Wars against one another were frequent and battles so furious that it took Knights on both sides to try and push for any kind of victory.

The reason for avoiding mentioning the Exodites is understandable. For one thing they currently have no standing army on the tabletop, and for another they were too similar to the Imperial Knights themselves. Each was a semi-feudal society harbouring advanced weaponry and retaining mecha to try and push the other off of what they saw as their land. Even in a game where the most commonly reported conflicts are between astartes and Chaos worshiping astartes, this is admittedly a little too similar on the surface, yet despite this you have a very interesting dynamic. Each side is, ultimately the survivors of what was once a vast empire, overlooked by the forces which felled it and with Chaos playing a role in their destruction. Each society has degraded in different ways, and while their conflict could chalk up similarities others could easily be used to highlight their differences, such as the Exodites' use of the world spirits and land about them.

Even if there was heavy opposition to them sharing a world, easy excuses to have them fight, even during Old Night, via the existence of the Webway. Seeing two such societies fighting over one another and launching interstellar attacks would certainly be something unique even to this setting, and it would lead to some new twists in their traditions or histories. Plus it would be a nice nod to the Second Edition without going utterly nuts.

4. War Sagas And Battlegrounds

It's hard to tell exactly when this fell out of favour, but for a long time now codices have been avoiding specific detailed battles. Previous codices used to have a good six to eight pages devoted to covering certain campaigns and conflicts in great detail, covering them blow by blow was the wars panned out or even turning points in certain wars. It limited the focus admittedly, but it also helped to shape and show how certain armies fought and added detail to them.

Think for a second of how the recent codices have depicted such events. Either we have very narrow and generally short timelines largely focused upon M41, and giving a single sentence to explaining events, or they're simply rolled right into the unit information. While some can be surprisingly good, they just lack that impact and level of detail which other stories retained, and really this just won't work here. Firstly there are far too few units to really allow for this, and secondly the individual larger than life depictions of the Knights need something more. The book needs something to really emphasis how these warriors are legends in their own right, giving them war sagas or historical events to really flesh them out.

Such a tale would be very easy to cover, as the Knights themselves are widely distributed across the Imperium and attached to countless forces. The tales themselves could also  range from whole Houses going to war to an individual Freeblade fighting for glory and prove to be equally as effective as one another. The only obvious stumbling point might be focusing far too much upon the Knight specifically rather than using him or her as the representation of their army, but beyond that there's no reason not to have them. Well, assuming they're well written at any rate.

3. Mechanicum Dominion

One key aspect which definitely needs to be better explored is the relationship between certain Houses and the Adeptus Mechanicus. Not so much the way in which they co-operate as the way in which certain ones break from normal links and even directly conflict with Magos rule. We know that certain Imperial Knight worlds do hold very close ties to certain Forge-Worlds, yet at the same time others also distance themselves from the Mechanicus. Given their reliance upon the Tech-Priests for new parts, information and even training for certain recruits, this seems almost suicidal given how much power they should ultimately hold over them.

What needs to be truly examined and detailed is ultimately how a lord or lady of a House can get into political or even violent conflict with a Mechanicus force. Given their survival during Old Night and how some can still retain individual freedom like this, there must be some degree of self-sufficiency ingrained into each world. Certainly, there are elements the Mechanicum have in place to ensure their loyalty, programming certain members of each House to act as their spies and even the Sacristans themselves. It would be interesting to see how all this could be put in place, yet a world could still opt to willingly distance itself from such a powerful force.

Perhaps this could be done through political maneuvering, denial of resources, retaining ancient technology which requires less frequent contact with the Tech-Priests. Perhaps even the Sacristans of a world could prove to be more loyal to their House than the Omnissiah. It's a small but very interesting subject, and one with a vast amount of story potential to help better flesh out this faction.

2. Feudal Lords And Their Fiefdoms

For all the great work it did defining the Imperial Knights themselves, there was one area which seemed sadly lacking. It wasn't absent or overlooked, but by comparison it was just bypassed, and that was the very nature of the knights themselves. As nobles, they were committed to rule a planet, or even a large portion of a world and hold sway over it, defending its inhabitants against all comers. For all that though, we get surprisingly little on this front. Much of the information about the individual worlds boils down to single page or a handful of brief mentions, one which gives a few examples of worlds about a paragraph each, and the others scattered about the book. We learn, for example, that certain Houses on the same world hold massive feuds which can last centuries, that some deal even with alien dignitaries, and that certain Houses even joust in contests. The problem is that all of this is just suggestions, half hidden mentions and little else.

To really help flesh out the knights further, the book needs to emphasise just how they operated on their homeworlds. Rather than running across the galaxy as so many of these stories showed, we need to see bits where they are in their strongholds, running their personal kingdoms and dealing with threats at home. Perhaps some merely performing the task of patrolling the lands as a reminder of their powers, others questing to hunt down some vast Warp entity which has arisen and is threatening their people, or even how they combat invasions from home. All of these areas are definitely underdeveloped, and with just one or two key pages devoted to them we could see all of these aspects quite easily covered.

Of course, even atop of fighting from home however, there is one more important aspect the book completely overlooks: The feudal setting and its population. Think about the codex for a moment and what you've read. Now think about just how much of that actually examined how the worlds worked or went into vast detail about how the populace behaved. Just think of what images are conjured up at the mention of "neo-feudal societies", think of, not just in the case of knights, but how peasants, armorers, smiths and other roles would adapt themselves. Better yet, think of how an advanced or even more enlightened society might have evolved and adapted while still run by a hereditary warrior system like the Imperial Knights still holding power. The very concept of it would be a truly interesting one to explore, and better yet it could give some greater context to certain campaigns or conflicts, or even bigger story opportunities.

1. Free Digital Rules

Wait, before any of you roll over laughing, seriously hear me out on this one for a moment. Yes, it's a long shot, but if there's any army which might actually succeed in giving away free rules and still make a profit, it would ultimately be this codex. Why? Because it's been a massive success and proven to be the right way forwards with many other companies.

One of the games brought up before as a possible alternative to those pining for Battlefleet Gothic is Firestorm Armada, also Dystopian Wars as well. Made by the truly seminal Spartan Games, the company's approach to selling stuff has been this: You need to buy the models. You can get the individual fleet rules, stats and even the main rulebook all completely for free, yet if you do it will come with little more than a bare bones outline of the lore. If you buy the physical copy, you'll be getting the full background information and also a few additional pieces which help flesh out the universe. You know what? Rather than being utterly bankrupt as many Games Workshop employees would have you believe, this is actually helping them flourish.

The need for piracy only comes about when people feel they are being unfairly taken advantage of and overpriced. With Black Library and Games Workshop grabbing for every penny they can get, we've seen pirated copies of new codices available online in less than 24 hours and countless sources giving away PDFs for free. The same can't be said for Spartan Games' creations, as they have won over consumer loyalty and made piracy itself irrelevant. 

It's not just Spartan Games either. Corvus Belli's Infinity (AKA Buy this if you ever loved Necromunda!) has a somewhat similar approach, and as have a fair number of others. What keeps people buying new details is actually having concise, consistent and well written lore. Well, that and the desire to only have a few physical copies. Well, that and also the fact there is only a small fraction of the rulebooks required to play the game compared to Warhammer 40,000. The point is that though this where Games Workshop is earning the perpetual anger, rage and ire of their fandom, these ones are building loyalty. From this they earn devoted fandom willing to give them goodwill, defend them and stick with them. This is something Games Workshop lost decades ago, and with Codex: Imperial Knights they might actually stand a chance of emulating this.

Even with the additional Knight variants, the overall bulk of Codex: Imperial Knights should still be lore and background information. If they were to release the bulk of rules online for free, or even selling it at a vastly reduced price, you'd still have people buying up the codex purely for the excellent storytelling. Even given the choice, i'd personally still buy the book if it offered this same high quality writing. It's a forlorn hope to be sure, but if any book could make this work it would be this one.

As the very start of this article warned you, there really wasn't much to add to this one. The last codex got so much right for me personally that most issues were small niggling ones and it will take more time to highlight further points to really improve the army. Still, those are just the big changes I personally feel would help the book. If you have a few ideas of your own please leave them in the comments, it's always a pleasure to hear the thoughts of other fans.

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