Thursday, 8 May 2014

Late Edition

Not the core rulebook for much longer, apparently.....

he Warhammer 40,000 fanbase is all a-fluter right now with gossip of a new edition of of the game.  Rumours, theories and scuttlebutt going around for the last few months have been full of 7th Edtion chat, but this grew in intensity over the last couple of weeks suggesting a new starter box at the end of May and now we have furtively swapped scans from the latest White Dwarf discussing what 7th edition will look like and that we can indeed expect it before the month is out.

Many of my readers who are not wargamers are still familiar with roleplaying games so the idea of an edition shift will not confuse them too much - they'll know what it's like when a new set of rulebooks for Dungeons and Dragons comes out and the powerful reaction, good and bed, this gets from the fanbase.  But there are several parts of this situation which may confuse them:

  • How do you keep a new edition secret until a few weeks in advance?
  • How frequently do new editions come out?
  • How big are the edition shifts?
  • How viable is not updating to the new edition and just playing the old?

Well, boys and girls, let's see if I can't answer some of these questions

Not a surprise.

How do you keep a new edition secret until a few weeks in advance?

New roleplaying game editions are trailed heavilly - D&D 4th ed was announced in August 2007 and not released until 2008, and several games have had open beta tests where provisional copies of the rules are released.  This does lead to changes as the process goes on - even if it's only minor things like D&D 4E renaming some feats.

Modern Games Workshop, in contrast, don't announce products until right before release, from the full-on game mechanical changes to each individual figure release.  This annoys the older and the more hardcore fans but GW seem to think it works best for casual fans - they seem to want to focus on impulse purchases and don't want teenagers putting off, say, buying the new Dwarf models because they've already set their sights on the Lizardmen models coming out in a few months.

They don't want you to have time to reconsider buying these.

Undeniably announcing the upcoming release of a new core rules set affects sales of the existing core rules - no one wants to commit any cash to start on an edition about to be invalidated.  Supplements at the start of a new RPG edition and what comes out at the end-of-edition part of the cycle are very different partly because of this - there was still a book a month coming out for D&D 3rd ed for months after D&D, but the goal becomes different.

On the one hand, rumours of 7th ed have been leaking for ages so secrecy was impossible - on the other hand, contradictory rumours of 7th ed have been leaking for ages and we all know what they say about stopped clocks.

How frequently do new editions come out?

An early supplement for 1st edition Warhammer.

Some RPGs renew themselves more frequently than others.  D&D has gone 5 to 10 years between most of it's edition shifts - the upcoming end of 4th Edition will make it only 6 years long and quite short by D&D standards. 

The lifespan of the Warhammer editions is as follows:

  • First Edition: 1987
  • Second Edition: 1993        6 Years
  • Third Edition: 1998           5 Years
  • Fourth Edition: 2004         6 Years
  • Fifth Edition: 2008            4 Years
  • Sixth Edition: 2012           4 Years
  • Seventh Edition: 2014?     2 Years?

As you will see, edition shifts are fairly frequent, but this seventh edition will be the shortest time before an edition shift by far.  Note that the more recent edition shifts have been far more frequent- arguably corresponding to a time where GW have been struggling for.  (2008 being not just the collapse of the financial markets, but round about the time the bubble on the Lord of the Rings film tie-ins GW jumped into was well and truly burst)

How big are the edition shifts?

3rd Edition - the last big edition shift.

Not all edition shifts are equal.  Material between D&D 1st and 2nd edition are fairly compatible, only requiring minor tweaks to use material intended for one in the other.  In contrast, D&D 2nd to 3rd and 3rd to 4th have much more major changes which require one to basically start from scratch when converting material between.

Warhammer 40,000 hasn't had a big update in a long time.  2nd to 3rd was probably the biggest shift.  Everything since then has been adaptions of the same core - indeed, supplements between these editions are not only compatible, in some cases they're the only way to play certain armies.  (There hasn't been a new set of Ork rules since 4th Ed; and at the start of 6th Ed there were still armies using 3rd ed books.)

That said, the edition shifts still change gameplay enough to make them noticeable.  Between 5th and 6th edition vehicles became far easier to destroy because of changes - an army between editions is portable but some armies find themselves vastly improved or weakned by these bug shifts.

Desperately hoping a changed psychic phase doesn't go back to this.

Original gossip was that the latest release would be a "6.5" style revision, which made sense when you consider the short time frame between editions.  However that doesn't seem to be the case from the White Dwarf leaks - psychic powers are getting a tweak, and the structure of army list building will broaden up.  That's a bigger update than expected and one which definitely has effects on the metagame.

How viable is not updating to the new edition and just playing the old?

Still people out there playing with these.
With a roleplaying game, the biggest competitor to the latest edition of the game is the previous edition thereof.  If you have an existing campaign or are simply financially invested with lots of supplements for the edition, then starting from scratch in a new one ca be awkward.  You might not get access to new supplementary material but not moving editions is perfectly viable for you and your four or five mates.  Furthermore, the GM tends to be the only person majortly invested in a rules set - or at least much more invested than the players - so they can drag more casual memebrs of the group along with them in their decision to stay on AD&D 2E, GURPS 3E, Vampire: The Masquerade 2nd Edition Revised or whatever.

It's a little tricker with wargames, though,  All players are on an equal footing, for one thing; if Phil thinks the best edition of Warhammer was 2nd then that's fine but he'll struggle to force the game club he belongs in to eschew other editions.  Games Workshop games in particular have a wide player base across their stores and other games clubs, but you lose that the moment you don't keep up with the edition update treadmill.

OSRIC - an open source attempt to make a legal 1st Edition D&D compatible rulebook

RPGs have the phenomenon "retroclones" - people attempt to release open source books mimicing the rules of older editions, to facilitate playing with the older editions - but D&D kick-started this with it's open source 3rd edition rules and wargaming doesn't have anything else like that to help nudge that along.

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