Thursday, 28 July 2016

Fandexes & House Rules: Playing Wargames With "Unofficial" Rules

It is a truth universally acknowledged that inside almost every player of games is an aspiring designer of games.

It's a rare gaming group which does not include people who produce their own house rules, even if they're fairly minor - "the player who won the last game goes first this time" or "players can discard their hand once at the start of the game and redraw".  Hell, some people don't even realise they're playing house rules - you can have a good laugh asking people what the rules to Monopoly are.

Roleplaying games are particularly rich territory for this.  As long as there's been forums for nerds to communicate they've swapped their custom classes, monsters, traps and spells.  Dragon Magazine and the fan press of D&D's early era survived on fan submissions of their house rules; the 90s internet saw Usenet users swap ideas and consolidate them into text file "netbooks"; the 2010s and the growth of ebooks sales saw people commit their personal creations to free, cheap or "pay what you want" PDFs and EPUBs.

I'm sure you guys and girls can solve these two riddles without breaking a sweat.

With roleplaying this is fairly easy because there's something of a hierarchy in rules creation/amendment.  If as a dungeon master I decide I want to use Elements of Magic-spellcasting or Time Wights in my D&D campaign, then I don't really have to answer to anyone - I just start to include it. (And in the latter case I did, albeit changing them from time travel to alternate universe beasties and calling them Crisis Wights.)

Sure, I would probably still talk through any amendments I made to Mutants and Masterminds with my group but if I decide to be a dictator and amend the grappling rules off my own back then the players are likely to shrug and accept that's my prerogative as a referee.  A full-on player revolt is unlikely unless I'm doing something really weird, like "replacing dice with a KerPlunk based mechanic".

Probably still a better ruleser than Old World of Darkness though.

Wargames, however, are a bit trickier and Games Workshop wargames more so....

You have to renegotiate your amended, excised and additional rules concepts every time you find a new opponent.  A group of regular players may have an understanding that We Still Use The Sixth Edition Allies Chart or perhaps a gentlemen's agreement that Orks Can Buy BS2 Versions Of Imperial Guard Tanks, but the moment you add a new member to that circle or you play a random at your local shop then it gets more complex.

God help you if you attend a tournament with SRS BZNZ players and want to play anything other than current rules as written - though individual tournaments can have their own weird and wonderful house rules imposed by the people running them in an effort to correct balance issues.  "Comp" tournament rules can be very odd to casual players, since sometimes the good strategies and choices at high-level play are nothing like at casual level.

In the grim darkness of the future there are only memes

That doesn't stop people developing house rules though and in particular has not stopped the appearance of fan-made army books or codices.  Such document are often known as a "fandex" and can take on many forms - adding back something from older editions, modifying the rules for existing models to make them better, inserting something from a different franchise into the mechanics of your favourite game or creating entirely new units or even armies in an effort to vary up the game.

Fandexes are something I've seen online for many years but never actually seen someone use at the table.  Sure, I've seen people use Warhammer houserules and occasionally add in custom rules for a special character or scenario - "Let's say these Imperial Guard Veterans have special sniper gear, and the Ork battlewagon has a fancier turret gun to compensate".  But I've never seen someone plank down a printed out PDF of a fanmade book and say "I have built my army to these rules".

I am not opposed to this idea.  Far from it - as a player of one of the weaker armies of the current 40K edition, anything which helps me compete would be appreciated!  Fandexes for Chaos Space Marines are fairly common, usually adding in special rules/lowering prices per man in an effort to give them some bite.  Sisters of Battle are another common one since they have so few unit choices - no new mdoels since 2003 will do that - so fans seek to add in new HQs, flyers, heavy support and what have you to vary it up a bit.

Some of the many Warhammer fantasy fan-made army books available.

I've  been looking at several Chaos Fandexes recently to see if I can find something to moot with my regular opponents.  I'm not a big person for playing pick-up games at GW stores or going to tournaments so using unofficial rules doesn't bother me, must as using unofficial models doesn't either.  However I can't be a dictator Dungeon Master with this one - I need to get people on side to try them.

A few options have been going through my head.  Over at Bolter & Chainsword is a fairly large fan project which is breaking down the Chaos army into several different codices - a general Chaos Marine one, one for each of the four major Chaos Gods (like the official Khorne Daemonkin list, combining Marines and Daemons together)  and then additional lists for renegades and knights.  This project has some cool ideas with more variance in HQs but it's maybe a bit unwieldly.  Things I particularly like about it are giving almost all units Stubborn; the addition of some new Sonic Weaponry in the form of pistols and super-heavy variants; the addition of differing grades of HQ options so you can buy weaker or stronger versions of the Chaos Lord/Sorcerer/Dark Apostle/Warpsmith.

Another one I'm very fond of is called Ultimate Chaos Marines - Complete and is just a single PDF but with more options to dedicate to specific Chaos Gods and Space Marine legions than the official one and with some Forge World stuff already incorporated within. It's not quite as sweeping a change as the B&C project, but one thing it has that I really like is almost every Legion affiliation affects army choice - Night Lords get Raptors as troops, Word Bearers get Possessed as Troops, etc.

The two rules have some similarities.  The blanket insistence that Chaos Space Marines must always challenge for a leader-to-leader melee is gone as is the special rule that mutates the winners of said fights, including the option to ascend to Daemon Prince or devolve into Chaos Spawn.  I actually kinda like this rule but I know that the increase of random elements in modern 40K has bothered some people so it may be a "straw that broke the camels back" thing.

Both these books also have the same design goal of giving Chaos Space Marines something akin to the Chapter Tactics of the Imperial Space Marines, meaning that there are standard special rules applied throughout the entire army depending on your affiliation.  Ultimate names them explicitly after the Traitor Legions while the B&C books go with more vaguely titled ones, albeit clear themed after the different legions - but still offering more leeway if you want to take World Eaters with the Night Lords rules to reflect more stealthy, scary World Eaters.

This brings the army into line with the current edition of Space Marines, adding in a little more flavour and some minor power boosts without totally breaking things.  It also harkens back to 2002 and the second 3rd Ed Chaos Space Marines book and the Index Astartes articles that inspired it - this was a book I liked very much so am glad to see some of it's DNA pop up elsewhere.

Ah, the good ol' days when we didn't suck!  (It was quite complex, though.)
Another option would be to stick to the existing codex as a base but add in some new rules here or there.  A handful of small tweaks might open up some new options without feeling as major an overhaul as a fandex.  For example:

  • Reinstate the 3rd ed ability to substitute Bolters/Combi-Bolters and Autocannons for Sonic Blasters and Blastmasters, opening up the options for some sonic weapon tweaks to various units.
  • Add in a Heavy Weapon "Havoc" option for the Thousand Sons and Noise Marines, who can take sorcerous Heavy Bolters and Sonic Weapons respectively.
  • Treat Veteran Chaos Space Marines not as having Hatred (Space Marines) but Stubborn
  • Take some units from the Horus Heresy army list and add them into the Chaos one: like Jetbikes, riot shield clad Breacher Squads or Deredeo Dreadnoughts.   Allow marks of Chaos, sonic weapons, chaos gifts etc to be added to these choices.
  • Use a current iteration of the Vehicle Design Rules to add in some new Chaos vehicles to fill some gaps - like an anti-air tank ala the Space Marine Hunter.

Anyway, time to open the floor to comments.  What house rules do you use in your wargames?  Have you ever played with or against a Fandex or heavilly house-ruled army?  If so, how did you handle getting your opponents permission?


  1. I typically only play with a small group of friends, war games and rpgs, so I'm often making a case for new rules. What has helped is developing a reputation for creating balanced rules over the years, so now they tend to listen without much debate. Also, anytime (with 40k) a unit can be based somehow on a unit that exists somewhere or can get some help from a Chapter Approved unit creation rule... It helps. That game is extremely difficult to create anything from scratch for, because the balance varries so much across units and codexes across the armies. Players can quickly get frustrated discussing fairness just reading the published rules. Personally, I commend anybody trying to create their own stuff, and playing against home brew rules is fun as long as everybody understand the terms. And, after playtesting and tweaking them, they'd certainly be good enough for me.

  2. Nothing at all wrong with house rules if that is what you and your friends want to do. I tend to play 30+ different rule sets a year so rarely know them well enough to want to change them