The Letter of the Law

A debate erupted today on Twitter after @NationOfLee asked the question; ‘can chapters other than Grey Knights, Blood Angels and their successors take Stormravens. My answer was swift and categorical; no.
I know this answer to be true and was even verified by the Games Workshop after their account – @VoxCaster – was copied in on 30 or 40 tweets from a group of us arguing the toss for the better part of the afternoon. Obviously you can take them with your opponents consent but my way of thinking is, if it’s not in the Codex then tough tits, simply because you accept that the army has short comings. It’s like those douchebags who take ‘Imperial Guard allies’ in the form of a detachment of Leman Russ tanks.

My rant goes something like this…

The crux of the debate was that as the Stormraven is an STC, all Space Marine chapters should be able to build, or have access to, the Stormraven and, therefore, use them freely in any Space Marine army. I disagreed. The Mechanicus controls the flow of technology for one thing and they’re not necessarily going to allow everyone access straight away, if ever. And although I’m sure Space Marines do share technology/variants etc, the galaxy is a vast place and it’s entirely reasonable to assume that it is extremely rare for chapters at opposite ends of the galaxy to have much to do with one another, let alone nip over for a cup of tea and spot of technology Top Trumps.
I’d actually go so far as to say that out of the 1,115ish chapters I bet there are some that haven’t even formally met.

But anyway, my point was that not every chapter should have every toy in the toy chest simply because they’re Space Marines and ‘they get all the best stuff’. It would make for a really boring game. And the beauty of fighting with Space Marines is that it actually takes a lot of skill. At least it should. The thing that most people fail to understand about Space Marines is that they don’t excel at anything. They’re great at everything but they don’t have the best basic weapons (Tau do), they don’t have the best assault troops (Eldar, Orks and Tyranids can fight over that title). Even their tanks’ firepower can be outclassed by the Imperial Guard. But it does mean you can send in a tactical squad to bolster a failing assault safe in the knowledge that they’ll probably be okay. But the fact that you need to send them in at all highlights that assault marines are not the combat monsters most assume them to be. They can chew through a Guard squad easy enough but against an Ork mob or massive swarm of Hormagaunts they will struggle.

No no no…

And I suppose that’s the point. Space Marines are the Emperor’s finest yet the enemies of man continue to grow and develop, whereas the Imperium’s technology largely revolves around bolting different weapon combinations onto the same STCs. New technology is rare and even then it’s a variation on a theme. So there’s a nobility of undertaking as a Space Marine player. The fact that what they have is the best on offer, but it’s not necessarily the best, and its sheer bloody-mindedness and faith that will win the day, not a front heavy flyer that’ll attract more fire than a weasel dipped in petrol and thrown into a burning building.

Yes yes yes…

I’m not saying that Stormravens shouldn’t exist. Not at all. The Grey Knight list a worked out when they were released had three of them. But an army that reflects that specific chapter’s background enhances that sense of heroism. A mounted White Scar army can lack a lot of anti-tank punch, but they shall charge into the fray none the less and blade and bolter will win the day or they’ll die in the trying. A Stormraven doesn’t fit in that scene, to my mind and taking units that undermine this fantastic background really bothers me. The playing field is not supposed to be levelled. There is no such thing as a fair fight. Games may be balanced but someone will always have the advantage.

Army variation is a good thing. Granted, the Blood Angels have more Land Raiders than I have teeth, but I suppose that’s because after the Heresy because they spent a lot of time at the Imperial Palace walls getting killed or teleporting aboard Horus’ battle barge…and getting killed so tanks weren’t really needed.
Blood Angel player goading aside, there’s nothing to say that the Imperium is a fair place. There’s absolutely no reason at all why the Adeptus Mechanicus would share its secrets with everyone. And after the Heresy, I imagine, they would keep a much tighter leash on things anyway. Especially as a lot of technology had to be rediscovered after the archives on Mars were lost. Similarly, a chapter’s resources are their own and have to be painstakingly maintained, and I don’t think they’d share. Yes they’re a brethren but it becomes much more abstract when you’re not wearing the same colour armour. Mistrust and rivalries between chapters are well documented.

Well, this is what I’d do if I had lots of Land Raiders left over…

There’s also simpler traits like Space Wolves don’t like to fly (I’d originally written afraid of heights here, but the more literal readers took offence) for example and use jump packs as punishment for hot-headed Blood Claws. Using a Stormraven on the poor dog face bastards would be beyond the pale. And, let’s be honest; do Space Wolves really need a Stormraven? My Wolfguard army was insane and adding something like that to the mix would have made them unbeatable. Literally. Raven Guard are ninjas in space. A fucking great big armoured attack craft screaming overhead doesn’t exactly say ‘sneaky’. But ultimately, I don’t buy in to this idea that everyone needs to share. Or that it’s even possible.

Admittedly, who knows what the next edition of Codex: Space Marines will include (slated for release just after 6th Edition) and it will probably include the Stormraven, much to the hyperventilating glee of tournament gamers. And if that happens I really, truly, whole heartedly hope that it still remains limited to certain chapters or is limited in the numbers it can be taken in.

I appreciate that the Games Workshop, and gamers, want games that look like that big battle at the end of Attack of the Clones with drop ships screaming over head, dropping off troops and then buggering off to blow up a giant golf ball, but I’d hate to see every Space Marine army go that way.

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure why I feel so strongly about it. I think partly because, generally, flyers make the game feel messy. And this is just my opinion so please hold on to your fan-bile. I’ve played games with my Ultramarines against Space Marine armies that used a Stormraven and I dealt with it every quickly. A devastator squad (or equivalent from any army) will make short work of it so I don’t think it’s because I feel threatened by them or that it’ll make Space Marines unbeatable.

I think it really is simply because I don’t think it fits with all chapters. Certainly not with my Blue Ones Mister. Or siege chapters like the Imperial Fists. Armies like White Scars that rely on cavalry tactics or Raven Guard who use stealth. Even the Salamanders would seem odd with one. And ‘it’d be cool’ just isn’t a good enough reason for me.

Rant over…

Whilst reflecting on this I realised something. Why is it okay to be flexible with the rules and play to the spirit of the game, rather than the letter of the law, but not to do the same with the background and army lists? Those that play me will know that if their unit is a smidgen out of assault or weapons range I’ll let them do it anyway, because units knocking seven bells out of each other is more interesting than when they don’t. Even if it’ll count heavily against me, because it’s my own fault for leaving the unit vulnerable.

I suppose it’s because the background is what grounds the rules in the first place. I’m writing Project Awesome (thanks for the total lack of suggestions of my Name My Game post BTW 😛 ) and there are certain rules that require you to know roughly what direction you’re going to take the factions and their weapons. The notion of the Space Marine and its immense strength is why the rules are written the way they are. The simple truth that they shall know no fear is reflected as such, again, in the rules. The background is what gives the game a sense of purpose as without it you may as well be playing with bottle tops or 2 pence coins. The background gives the game a soul. And that identity is reflected in the army lists which is then translated in to the army on the board and how they play.

By being true to the background and army lists we are being true to why we chose to collect the army in the first place, embracing their strengths and weaknesses and making do accordingly. And messing with that or coming up with a flimsy justification because it’s convenient to do so is just plain wrong. The challenge should not be ‘how do I fit this in’ but ‘how can I make do without it’.

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One thought on “The Letter of the Law

  1. I’m a Space Wolves player and I have to admit I’ve considered the use of a Storm Raven in my army before – based purely on the Rule of Cool. I’ve seen clubs and stores that operate a “one per Space Marine army” system but then you kinda have to expect that, I suppose.

    Up until recently the majority of my Great Company was slow-moving so a Storm Raven transporting my troops and Dreadnought around made sense tactically. Now I’m as much a new-shiny-fan-boy as anyone so the addition of a Storm Raven to my army made sense there too!

    Their effectiveness also played a big part in wanting one. I’ve gone up against a Blood Angels Storm Raven from @Domonet and his army and have always had trouble dealing with it.

    Guess I should just find some bigger guns!

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