Over the weekend I had a good read of some of the unofficial player-produced army books for WFB. In the past I'd given these a cursory glance and nothing more, but as I've had rules on my mind I thought I'd give them a closer look. And what I found was a veritable goldmine.
Take the Dogs of War book for example. This contains rules for pikemen - a unit type that isn't currently catered for in 8th edition. The rules are outlined as follows:
This would be an excellent and characterful addition to an Empire army, particularly my Marienburg army, which is mostly comprised of mercenaries. Pikemen gain a real advantage in terms of extra ranks and always striking first, but they are still just basic level humans, so making the most of that advantage would still require good tactics and some luck. Their basic points value is listed as 6 pts, which seems fair, although the additional single point increase for each model to equip them with heavy armour looks under costed to me. But then, if these are the mainstay for the DoW army and the only ones to have heavy armour available, then that's fine. For another example, here are the rules for crossbowmen:
The inclusion of the Pavise is a great touch. It adds a little protection from missile fire, a good bit of borrowed historical detail, and makes for some good modelling opportunities - I have some WotR Perry mercenaries that look fantastic with them either on their backs or wedged in the ground in front of them. One final example, this time from a character:
All these additional rules have one thing in common: they are all unit or character specific, rather than stemming from some common formula. If there's one thing that really lets the recent editions of WFB down it's the way that balance is built into army lists through the sharing out of roughly positive and equal enhancements. They may be characterful in name, but the mechanic is one that is shared across various races. What I like about the above examples is that they might be game changing either in your favour or in favour of the 'enemy'. More than this, I like the idea that the characterful attributes/weapons/items of a unit or hero could turn out to be either a blessing or a curse, depending on strategy, circumstance and accident.
The Dogs of War book, along with the other (as they say) strictly unendorsed and unofficial army books, provides a wealth of ideas. They are not perfect by any means; Lorenzo has a magical sword that negates all armour saves. But they do show, I would argue, that fluffy rules are better than balance rules in making table top war games that are enjoyable and challenging to play. They illustrate how to take the basics that are provided by GW - the human stat line for example - and then enhance them, not to give a player an advantage, but to stretch their tactical nous and present them with a varied and unpredictable gaming experience.
Ultimately games like WFB and 40k should be played for fun, character, and as forms of fantasy roleplay. They are not competitive in the way chess could be simply because they belong to a different family of games. They can be played in the spirit of competition but that should never be the main aim. Some kind of balance achieved through a points system is a helpful mechanic, as this will stop games regularly ending too soon simply due to an overwhelming force on one side or the other. Of course, sometimes a scenario might call for this and that's just fine... as long as everyone involved is enjoying their evening.