First of all, second Monday of the new year, and Huzzah, I'm posting. Heh. The title of this post refers to the fact that after many years of viewing Games Workship's Warhammer 40,000 universe with a yawn and a distinct lack of interest aside from the stellar realtime stragetgy computer game Dawn of War, I have finally found a glimmer of interest in one of their RPG books. Don't get me wrong, I get grimdark. I've played in enough dark game worlds to say that I can definitely enjoy grimdark for what it is, and dig a storyline or campaign setting that is gritty and distinctly lacks the sort of thrilling heroics often associated with the roleplaying game hobby. That said, the 40K universe just never clicked with me. Is it some form of twisted humor that what turned me off to the 40K background is that it was endless war after war after war... and yet the title of the book that caught my attention is "Only War?"
OK, so Space Marines seem one-note and cartoonish to me the way they are portrayed in 40K. No, I've not read any of the novels or other media, I just know what little I've been exposed to from Dawn of War and my limited knowledge of the 40K miniatures game. Ho-hum. Yawn. So said I. When I began playing Dawn of War, I fell in love with the Imperial Guard. These folks at least *looked* like human soldiers. Their equipment, while still a bit space-Gothic, was still recognizable. They had weak but plucky infantry, and good armor and artillery. I dug them. When FFG started releasing the 40K roleplaying games, I found myself disinterested in the various lines for different reasons. Rogue Trader looked neat, but I was put off by the scale of the vessels the main characters were assigned. Dark Heresy? Mildly intriguing, but I didn't see that my game group would get a lot of milage out of it. Death Watch? Same thing. Why, then did I find Only War so interesting? Well, I blame my interest in World War One.
The Imperial Guard are almost always overmatched, under-equipped, and in for a good shellacking. They make insane charges against superior foes and do so out of love of their Emperor. For some strange reason this reminds me of Tommys in the trenches of World War One, and I find that kind of endearing. These poor bastards join the Imperial Guard to fight for their Emperor against incredible odds, most of them knowing they'll never make it home, and yet they fight. They're not genetically engineered super-soldiers like their Space Marine counterparts, they're just people. I started doing some reading about the Imperial Guard, and I came across the Imperial Infantryman's Handbook - which is, amusingly enough, designed to look like an early 20th Century book, at least looking at the cover design. The grain of the cover reminds me of my great-grandfather's 1943 Bluejacket's Manual, or the 1914 Manual of Military Training I have. I wonder if the analogy my brain drew between the IG and the poor bloody infantry of the past is intentional?
From the reviews I've read, this book is an in-universe artifact that the soldiers of the IG are required to have on them at all times. The book is written from that perspective, and is supposed to be kind of humorous in that someone in the real world reading the book can see the blatant lies and propaganda being fed to the lowly trooper of the Imperial Guard. At $16 on Amazon, it might be worth my checking out.
I suppose that's what interests me about Only War. I've spent the last two years finishing up a degree that saw me reading a lot about the plight of the lowly soldier. I took a special interest in the experiences of soldiers in the First World War, but the reality of the conflicts of human experience and the viewpoint of the common trooper was always forefront in my mind. When I began this course of study, I fancied that I would be thinking about things fromt he perspective of the generals, admirals and marshals that planned and executed these massive campaigns- but instead I found myself much more engrossed by the view from the bottom, where what we would call the "Commander's Intent" was usually impossible to determine. Where the scope and focus of the Warhammer 40,000 universe would usually turn me completely off to the game - it is that possibility for being totally lost in the shuffle that leads me to find something interesting in Only War. I find the idea of telling the story of a group of soldiers that fight they know not why to be a very interesting one. Perhaps, through the perceptions of my players, I can gather some insight into the minds of the kinds of average people who find themselves in decidedly nasty circumstances with very little background on why they were there.
If I can fit these books into my budget, maybe I'll post some further thoughts about them. Being a Dad means not having as much income to spend on gaming stuff. My grandmother asked me what I did with the Christmas money she gave me and was dismayed when I said "car payment." Being an adult often sucks in a financial sense, doesn't it?