Designing the Goonhammer Open Narrative Event, Part 2: The Backstory and Structure

Welcome back, Dear Reader, to my ongoing blog detailing my designs and plans for the Narrative 40k event at this year’s US Goonhammer Open in August. Last time I wrote about the general requirements for the event and some of my larger plans, as well as the plan to make it a teams event. If you missed that, you can find it here.

This week I’m going to talk about the backstory for the campaign and the structure I’m going with, and walk you through how I ended up with that structure and some of the challenges I ran into along the way. I’ll also talk about how I’m planning to adjust the Crusade rules to make all of this work. Let’s start with the story.

Building a Backstory

Having a decent backstory is crucial for these types of campaigns. It doesn’t need to be amazing – it is, after all, only window dressing – but it should still feel like you put enough care into it that the players feel like they should care. What I like to do when I start doing this is dig into Lexicanum or some other wiki for backstory details to find a location that’s been used or mentioned once or twice, but isn’t so notable it’ll have expectations. For the GHO Narrative, I ended up on Lenk, a world previously visited in the Ravenor series. It’s small, backwater, and most importantly, in the Imperium Nihilus. This makes it ideal as a world that can be credibly beset on all sides without being a major focus of the Imperium’s might.

I add a bit of my own flair here – Lenk is a world that was lawless, was reconquested by the Blood Angels during the Indomitus Crusade era, and in the years since has slowly slid back into chaos. Now it faces a major crisis, as chaos forces move to capture the planet for Abaddon’s purposes.

Because I don’t have a ton of control over who will be in the campaign, I’ve got to go a bit generic with the setup:

  • The Imperium are the defenders here. They’ve recaptured the planet and are looking to fight off the hordes of Chaos. As such, they’ll be defenders in a large number of the asymmetrical missions.
  • Chaos are the primary attackers, looking to raze imperial forces, sack imperial cities, and generally claim the planet for their own. They’ll be the attackers in any Chaos vs. Imperium missions.
  • The Xenos forces aren’t really a unified army, but rather a collection of raiders and harriers with their own agendas. They’re opposed to Chaos on the whole, but also looking to weaken Imperial control over the world. They’ll be attackers in most scenarios.

It’s a bit clunky, but generally think of the Xenos forces as fighting for a more lawless, uncontrolled frontier world that will be easier to conquer later, or create a weaker position for the Imperium while denying Chaos an important staging front.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Modifying the Crusade Rules

I’ve got the general backstory laid out and I need to figure out how I’m going to handle using the Crusade rules. Generally, Crusade is built for longer campaigns or personal journeys that span a dozen or more games. Fitting that all in to six games is pretty tough. I need players to be able to create enough progress that they feel like playing with Crusade rules added something, but not give them so much that it feels like too much bookkeeping and too much progression in a short timespan – Crusade rules also seem to work better as a weekly journey than playing a bunch of games all at once.

Last year, we tried solving this by doubling the XP players received from games. This ultimately wasn’t necessary, and in some cases was downright degenerate given how much XP Drukhari armies can generate. Really the issue here is not XP but progression – the XP only matters insofar as it governs your ability to level up and get new rewards, and so I wanted to streamline all of that.

Here, I think that the Marked for Greatness mechanic does a lot of the heavy lifting for me – being able to pick one unit after a game to get a boost of XP feels great, and is pretty much exactly what I’m going for. I decided to lean into that, and here’s what I landed on:

  • Each time a unit is Marked for Greatness, it gets 5 XP instead of 3.
  • Each time an Agenda would award a unit 3+ XP, instead you may choose one unit that would gain XP from the agenda and Mark it for Greatness (it gains 5 XP).

This basically ensures that after the first round every player should have at least one unit which levels up, since Mark for Greatness + battle XP = 6, enough to move to Blooded rank and gain a battle trait. On the other hand, it’s not enough to get them to the next rank without XP from kills, which feels about right – having a wide group of upgraded units will be easy, but getting one unit to Legendary will be very difficult.

The Agendas giving marks instead of raw XP also helps with this, since you can’t mark a unit twice, it’s more helpful for pushing up other units in your army. Players can still get XP as normal from kills and battles, but otherwise won’t have to do quite as much tracking of tallies and the like.

Army-specific Mechanics

There are a lot of weird and wonderful army-specific mechanics in Crusade for doing things like hunting the Fallen, conquering worlds, and managing real estate on Comorragh. I haven’t fully decided on how I want to incorporate these into the campaign and if so how I’ll manage that. Most all of them are geared toward long-term goals but they also have some cool rewards. My plan here is to have my players tell me which factions they’re bringing, then figure out cool and interesting hooks for them.

What these look like will depend on the faction. For Chaos Knights for example I’ll likely have a mission in the mix that allows a victorious Chaos Knights player to gain a mark/dedication to the dark gods, bypassing some of the requirements in the book’s Crusade rules. For an AdMech player I have gift them several pieces of archaeotech to assemble a contraption with after raiding a hidden vault. And for a T’au player I can set the type of world being conquered and help create better bonuses for making progress.

Ultimately this is something I want to put some time into without wasting a ton of time, so a lot of this will depend on finding out which factions I need to cater to first. I’ll work on that next time, along with the missions I want players playing.

Next Time: The Missions

That wraps up the look at the story and structure, now it’s time to talk about the missions and how players will actually be fighting when it comes to deciding the fate of the planet. That particular one will likely wait two weeks as I’ll need time to work on some other stuff between now and then. Until then, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at