Friday, March 11, 2011

Unexpected Heroes

This post by Admiral Drax got me thinking about the Imperial Guard.

Like all armies out there, the Imperial Guard have their basic troopers with the "base" stat line for the army, some elite troops with slightly better stat lines, and "heroes" with the highest stat lines.  There's always been something about that that didn't seem right to me with respect to the Imperial Guard.

Warhammer 40k is a fantastical setting, with larger than life characters, represented in the game by their superhuman stats.  For genetically engineered superhuman Space Marines, six meter tall Ork Warlords, or Tyranids Hive Tyrants, this makes perfect sense.  But for the Imperial Guard, composed of "normal" humans of the Imperium, it seems somewhat out of place.  More than any other 40k army, the Imperial Guard is the closest to a "real world" army.
Theodore Roosevelt

Armies of the real world are also filled with colorful, larger than life characters, such as Robert E. Lee, Teddy Roosevelt, George Patton.  (Can you tell I'm an American?)  Perhaps I should add Henry V, Julius Caesar, Napoleon.  All of these guys served in the thick of combat (at least early in their careers, or while they were young), but what made them stand out was their ability to lead and inspire men, not the bodycount they personally generated.  As the leaders of armies, their value was in their leadership.  (not to mention their values as leaders off the battlefield in terms of battle/campaign strategy)  But if you took any one of those leaders and set him in a death match with one of his typical soldiers, it's by no means assured that he'd come out on top.  Maybe his experience/general badassery would give him an edge, but certainly not to the degree that is portrayed by an officer's stat line in 40k, where special characters can lay waste to entire units without batting an eye.

In the real world, battles are won or lost by the individual soldiers.  And in the real world, sometimes an otherwise typical soldier leaps out of obscurity and into prominence by actions that are far out of proportion to his lowly rank.  For example, Cpl Alvin York of the US Army in WWI, Sgt John Basilone of the USMC in WWII.
Alvin York
Those are just two examples, but obviously there are many more, too many to list.  For whatever reason, these guys did something amazing in battle that made them stand out among their peers. Added to this is the lack of predictability--you never know who's the one who will turn out to be the hero.

Gunnery Sergeant Harker is a character in this vein.  However, he's portrayed as a huge musclebound monster.   In the real world a physique like Conan the Barbarian is not a requirement for heroism.  Frequently the most heroic soldier is the little guy.

I know that most players want their army to have a special combat monster that makes their army invincible (or at least MIGHTY).  That's fine for other armies.  But I think that many (most?) Imperial Guard players have a least a little bit of distaste for that kind of attitude.  The Imperial Guard is the army of the common man.  Space Marines are the army of the elitists.  The Space Marine player gets giddy when his uber-character slaughters an enemy unit.  The Imperial Guard player, on the other hand, derives his satisfaction from his lowly flashlight wielding grunt taking that one fateful shot that manages to bring down the Space Marine uber-character. 

The previous edition of Codex: Imperial Guard had a piece of wargear called the Honorifica Imperialis, where the receipient's statline was ignored and replaced with that of a Heroic Senior Officer.

I think a cool ability would be to reinstitute a form of this in the rules.  Perhaps a player can pick a specific guardsman in secret before the battle, "revealing" him when required.  Or perhaps the specific guardsman is determined randomly before the battle.

The guardsman could perhaps gain one or a combination of the following abilities:

1. Rending
2. Feel No Pain
3. Fearless
4. Furious Charge
5. A special rule, like maybe for one turn in the game he shoots at twice the normal rate (e.g., if he's a heavy bolter gunner, he gets to fire it at Heavy 6 instead of Heavy 3).  And maybe he hits automatically, or on a 2+, re-rolling to wound.  With Rending.  Ignoring cover saves.  Using the 10" blast template...

Well, maybe I'm going overboard.  I'm not one to obsess over the minutiae of rules like this to make sure it's precisely fair and costs exactly X points.  But the special rule/ability should be pretty cool.  The heroism of this type of guy is usually defined by his acting in an exceptional manner at a time that affects the battle decisively.
*  *  *
Who's the real hero of the Imperial Guard?  Is it this guy?
No.  He's just standing in the back saying, "Get 'em."

This guy is the real hero:
He's the one leading the charge, ready to kick some serious butt, killing hundreds of heretics/xenos with just a .577 calibre Mars-pattern lasgun.  And some guts behind it.  Note that the battle standard is properly following him, not the officer standing way in back.


sonsoftaurus said...

Absolutely. Though I tend to think of my officers as having come up through the ranks, having been the Cpl. York equivalent themselves years ago.

There's plenty of games where one trooper does really well. Certainly something that could be tracked and marked for the figure itself. Don't necessarily need good stats when you have luck! Once they have a history, be sure to remove them last. ;-)

COTBT said...

Great thoughts. An example of this: (in last ed IG book) my veteran Sgt, having his squad killed, single handedly charged into a factory defended by 3 templars space marines including the emperors champion, and 3 tau.
He butchered every single one of them and won me the game. It was VERY tight as you can see.
Afterwards, as reward, I painted him covered in blood and named him the Psycho Killer, complete with bloody footprints on his base :)

Admiral Drax said...

Great stuff!(And nice work there, COTBT!)

I deliberately use my officers primarily to yell encouragement, and I've certainly never fielded one as a close-combat monster.

His Guardsmen are there to fight and die, and the officer's job is to stay (what we used to call) "a tactical bound" behind them: close enough for eyes-on command and control, but preferably not using his personal weapon.

I'd say Maj. Dick Winters (US Airbourne WW2) is an interesting case, and note the frustration he felt when he had to stay that tactical bound behind!

I love the idea of the 'random heroic guardsman' - it'd be enev more fun if you didn't know just how heroic he was going to be until he's already started!

Cracking post, mate - thanks.

Chorus Lucia said...

I always kind of picture the "Elite" troops as being in the same kinds of armor, though maybe upgraded somehow, or in a better vehicle, than the basic troopers... while the HQ units... well honestly the HQ units in an IG army being somehow tougher than the troops DOES seem a little off. Maybe an IG army where the HQ units are modded to look almost like they're in power armor, and actually fighting... I mean instead of looking like Bob Crane on steroids?

Oops... gave away one of my sillier IG army ideas there.

suneokun said...

I enjoy weaving short stories into the drama which pops up occassionally in 40k. Such as the armoured fist squad who claimed the enemies objective, won an outnumbered assault from renegade guardsmen and then at the final moment got cooked by a Leman Russ Heavy flamer ... awesome!

ducki3x said...

This is a little off-track (and/or pie-in-the-sky), but what I'd like best to honor the lowly Guardsman is a different way to play 40K, a smaller, squad-based game. Not Kill Teams or Combat Squads, but something more akin to Necromundia, where you could play small-scale games and track your troops progress over a short campaign...