The Narrative Forge: A Review of 9th Edition’s Crusade Mode

While 8th edition introduced Narrative Play to 40k with the games “Three Ways to Play,” it’s safe to say that most players found the idea of Narrative Play to be better than its execution. One of the major improvements of 9th edition is completely revamping Narrative Play by introducing a new way to play called Crusade. In Crusade, players build personal campaign armies that accrue experience, increase in size, and improve in power as they play, giving them the tools to either do expanding armies in larger campaigns or to build their own personal narrative around an army they’re working on. 

 

What is Crusade?

Crusade is a lightweight system of rules introduced in 9th edition that essentially gives players a framework for building their own personal campaign armies. In Crusade, players start with a small force and over time grow that force into a large army, adding new units, experience, relics, and cool abilities along the way. On a complexity scale from Tic-tac-toe (1) to Necromunda (10), it’s about a 6 (Rob’s Note: Right now, anyways). Simple enough you can probably convince your friends to do it, but complex enough that it’ll scratch that little itch that makes you want to make up backstories for all your characters and squads. Evan’s Note: Unless that’s just me. Rob’s Note: It is not just you.

As it’s presented, Crusade is mostly about building your own force for your own private campaigns where your opponents aren’t necessarily playing their own, but we think it shines most as a ruleset for several players to build a cool narrative campaign around – something we’ll explore in excruciating detail in future articles. Regardless of how you want to approach Crusade however, there’s a lot to it and in this article we’ll be covering the basics of Crusade and what to know about starting your own force.

 

Path to Shame: Tau

Greg’s initial 25PL Path to Shame Tau army.

Building a Crusade Force

Before you start playing any games you have to build a Crusade Force. A Crusade Force is essentially your entire army. Not necessarily the one you’ll bring to each battle, but rather the entire pool of units that your warlord has access to, representing the full might of your forces. At the outset, you build a Crusade force of units that total 50 or less power level and as you do so, you fill out unit cards for each one listing their exact equipment, psychic powers, and litanies, recording these on your Order of Battle. Don’t pick out any Relics or Warlord Traits yet – you can’t take those when you build your Crusade Army. When you go to play games with your Crusade Army, you’ll draw units from this list.

Picking a Faction

The game detachment and CP structure in 9th edition may discourage soup armies in individual games, but it encourages building Crusade armies from multiple factions. When you build your Crusade Force you choose one faction to build from, and these are chosen from the game’s “Superfactions,” i.e. IMPERIUM, CHAOS, ORKS, AELDARI, TYRANIDS, NECRONS, and T’AU EMPIRE.

Requisition Points

In addition to your army, you also start with 5 Requisition Points (RP), the main currency of Crusade forces. RP are used to buy upgrades for your army, allowing you to add Relics and Warlord Traits to characters, each at a cost of 1 RP. They can also be spent to upgrade units using army stratagems like Veteran Intercessors, Chapter Master, Tyranid Adaptations, Red Butchers, or the Tank Commander status (these cost 1 RP each). 

As your Crusade Army fights more battles, you’ll use RP to repair damaged units, change the wargear, warlord trait, relics, or powers of your units, or add additional power to your Crusade Force, giving you more options when building an army for games. Your units will also gain experience points for fighting in battles and improve over time – more on that in a bit.

Named Characters and summoned units can be part of your battle plan, but they’ll never gain XP and can’t be upgraded with RP.

 

Playing a Game

For the most part, a game of Crusade plays the same as a regular game of 40k: Players agree on an army size and how they want to play, then build armies using their Crusade forces and the unit entries in their Orders of Battle, choose a mission, and play a game.

Picking a Mission

Missions are one area where Crusade deviates from Matched Play. Instead of the Secondary Objectives players choose in Matched Play, Crusade missions instead use Agendas. Agendas are essentially mini objectives you pick for the mission that reward experience points to the units who achieve them. The number you have scales with game size, so you pick one in a Combat Patrol mission, two in an Incursion game, three in a Strike Force game, and four if for some reason you and your opponent decide to inflict an Onslaught upon yourselves. Agendas have no impact on the mission objectives themselves and are a separate little minigame of their own.

Similar to Secondary Objectives, these come in four categories, and you can only pick one from each before a game: 

  • Purge the Enemy (Kill specific things)
  • No Mercy, no Respite (Kill things in general)
  • Battlefield Control (End of battle objectives. Linebreaker, Controlling a specific objective, Keeping a unit alive)
  • Shadow Operations (Perform actions during the battle)
  • Warpcraft (Spooky space wizard shit, and the killing of spooky space wizards)

Because you can’t double up on a category, as the battles get bigger you’ll need to diversify to maximize the experience you’re earning. While removing secondary objectives from missions is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, there’s more variety in the primary objectives for Crusade missions than Eternal War missions.

As the battle goes on, you’ll want to keep track of every time one of your units kills an enemy unit and every time they score an agenda. This is important for generating XP.

 

After the Battle

This is the book-keeping step for Crusade, and there’s quite a bit of it. The upside is that this is also when you get all the cool stuff, though. The first thing you do is figure out who won – missions are scored similar to Eternal War, with 90 points for objectives and 10 for having a fully painted army (Rob’s Note: You may want to skip the painting points if you’re just getting started or playing someone building a force from scratch, though). Each mission has a little bonus for the winner: Some give extra RP, experience, upgrades, etc. Both players get 1 RP for playing in the battle as well.

Next you roll a d6 for every unit in your army that was totally destroyed. On a 2+ they’re fine – they recover from their injuries, get repairs, etc., but on a 1 they fail their Out of Action test and you must choose one of the following:

  1. Devastating Blow: The unit loses d6 experience, along with any they gained in the battle, or
  2. Take a Battle Scar: These are little debuffs that represent long-lasting damage on the unit. They range from Bad to Very Bad. The good news is that having one reduces the Crusade points of the unit by 1, and that you can spend 1 RP to remove these most of the time, though you might keep a not so bad one around for a little while if you have other things to spend RP on.

Finally, you gain Experience Points (XP). Every unit that showed up gets a participation award and 1 experience. You also get to pick a single unit and Mark it for Greatness, giving it 3 XP. Remember when we said to keep track of the number of units each unit in your army kills or finishes off? Well for every third time  that happens, the unit also scores 1 XP. And each Agenda also awards a certain amount, typically according to difficulty. Most games you’ll be looking at 2-6 total XP from Agendas. 

 

Imperial Fists Primaris Techmarine

Imperial Fists Primaris Techmarine. Credit: Jack Hunter

Advancing Your Crusade Force

Now here’s all the coolest stuff. There’s two ways to upgrade your crusade force: Spending RP and earning Battle Honors with the XP your units have gained.

Requisition Points (RP) can be used for any of the following:

  • Increase Supply Limit increases the size of your Order of Battle by 5 Power, giving you a larger pool to draw from, and letting you play bigger games. Because you’re still playing games that are even from a points/power level standpoint, this is really about giving you more flexibility. It’s also an option that will likely be removed or adjusted to make escalation campaigns work with this framework – we’ll cover that in a future article.
  • Fresh Recruits lets you add extra models to a unit. Once a unit has two level ups from gaining experience points, you can no longer add new models, which stops you from pumping up a unit’s size once it gets a bunch of upgrades.
  • Rearm and Resupply lets you change up a model or unit’s wargear, as long as you don’t change its power rating or change any weapon that’s been upgraded with Battle Honours. This is your only option after you’ve added a unit to your Order of Battle, so make sure you’re sure when you add a unit that it has the loadout you want! But also if you don’t love what you ended up with, you’re not screwed, either.
  • Repair and Recuperate removes one Battle Scar from a unit. This will also increase its Crusade Points, though.
  • Psychic Meditations lets you switch up a psyker’s powers. Remember when we said those were fixed? Yep, just like wargear you need to spend RP to change them out. 
  • Specialist Reinforcements is an upgrade you can only use when adding a unit to your Order of Battle. You can pick a Stratagem that upgrades that unit and apply it to that unit for “free” (You can’t spend CP to do this like you normally could). In addition, this upgrade is PERMANENT, so if you wanted to create a unit or two of say, World Eaters Red Butchers or Veteran Intercessors, this is how you do it, and those upgrades stick around. The cost is that the unit’s Crusade points increase by 1. More on that in a bit.
  • Warlord Trait lets you buy a Warlord Trait for a Character when you add them to your Order of Battle, or when a character gains a rank. Once you give a character a Warlord Trait It can’t be changed or removed, and you can’t double up multiple traits on one model, or duplicate a warlord trait you’ve already got in your Order of Battle. They’re considered your Warlord for the purposes of the trait, and their Crusade Points cost goes up by 1 (or 2 if they’re TITANIC). 
  • Relic is usable when adding or level-ing up a character. They get a relic. Again, this is permanent and you can’t double up on anything and like the other upgrades, it increases your unit’s Crusade points cost.

All in all, Requisition Points are mostly for increasing the size of your army and doing things you could otherwise do in standard 40k by spending CP, but with a mechanism that makes much more sense. You can go crazy and hand out relics and warlord traits to all your characters, but past a certain point you’re probably just handing out command points to your opponent.

Wait, let’s cover that.

Balancing Mechanisms

By now you must be asking, “What happens if I play someone and I have more experienced units, more upgrades, or more relics? Well, that’s where Crusade Points come in. We’ve mentioned Crusade Points a few times already. Every unit starts with 0 Crusade Points, but each time it gains a Battle Honour, Warlord Trait, Relic, or upgrade, it will increase its Crusade Points (Battle Scars decrease a unit’s Crusade Points).

When you play against someone else, you calculate the difference in Crusade Points between the two armies and the player with fewer points gains CP equal to half that value, rounded up. This represents Command giving you more resources to take on an elite foe and helps make up for the difference in power from a few unit upgrades. It’s a great way to give a down player some extra flexibility and punching power and helps ensure things will be fair. This may not work for really big discrepancies, but most of the time it should be OK.

Battle Honours

Battle Honors are where things get real funky, and is the Crusade experience and leveling system. Units level up when they have 6, 16, 31, and 51 XP, and each time they do they get a battle honor. Some missions also hand these out, so they’re capped at 6 total . There’s four different types of battle honors, and you can choose which one to take when you gain an Honour. These each have a table with six random options, but you can also pick one if it’s more narratively appropriate. We’ll talk about that particular quirk in a future Narrative Forge but know right now that Rob is not a fan of the picking.

  • Battle Traits are little bonuses to the unit. Like psychic powers you can either pick or roll on a chart, which might as well read: Pick unless your campaign is making you roll. Most of these are slight boosts to various aspects, and we’ll talk about them more in detail in a future Narrative Forge. Some of them are quite good; some are OK; most aren’t game-changing. It’s very clear that these will be replaced by Codexes in the future with superior systems.
  • Weapon Enhancements let you pick a non-relic (and not previously enhanced) weapon on a model and add a cool bonus onto it. If a unit is a squad, this has to go on the squad’s sergeant. Like Battle Traits, these are pick or roll (aka pick unless forced to roll). Titanic units are limited to the first three options. Unlike Battle Traits, almost all of these are really good: +1 Strength, Damage, AP, to hit, extra hits on an unmodified 6s, +6” Range on a ranged weapon and Always wound on a 4+ on a melee weapon are the only really situational ones here. Even if you’re rolling, I imagine this will be the first stop for a lot of units.
  • Psychic Fortitudes are buffs for your space wizards. The options here are the ability to cast, deny, or know one extra power. You can’t get the same one twice, but a lot of space wizards are going to want more than one of these.
  • Crusade Relics: Not to be confused with normal relics, these can be given to a character alongside normal relics, and you always pick them. You can’t take the same one twice, but you can give a character as many as you want. There are also three tiers of these:
    • Artificer weapons can be given to anyone. They’re all quite good and I can definitely see good uses for all of them. With the exception of the crusade relic that gives a weapon mortal wounds on unmodified sixes when combined with certain models (*cough*Punisher Cannon*cough*) none of them are game-breakingly crazy.
    • Antiquity relics can only be given to characters who have gained 3 levels. They start to get a little crazy. There’s only four right now, which are: A pistol that does d3 mortal wounds, immunity to psychic powers, the ability to get back up at the end of the phase on a 2+ the first time you die, with d3 wounds remaining (infantry only, thank the emperor), and the ability to redeploy and set back up via deep strike (also infantry only).
    • Legendary relics can only be given to characters who have gained the fourth and final level. They add 3 to the unit’s Crusade points total and cost a Requisition point in addition to the Battle Honor. There are only two of these currently: The vortex grenade does 3d3 mortal wounds once per battle, then on a 4+ does an extra d3 to everything within 6” of the target unit, including you, since it has a 6” range. There’s also the slightly less cool Null-field disruptor which lets your melee attacks ignore invulnerable saves, turning your character into the ultimate character-hunting badass.

The second departure from normal 40k games is Crusade Blessings. Every upgrade your force gets, be it Warlord Traits, Battle Honors, Relics, or Stratagem upgrades, adds Crusade Points to your unit cards. At the beginning of the battle you add up all the crusade points in your army and compare them. Whoever has fewer Crusade Points gets half the difference, rounded up, as bonus CP for the battle, so you can pit an experienced force against someone who’s only played a battle or two and still have a fair game.

 

Crusade Missions

Crusade also adds missions of its own. A whopping 18 in total – 3 Combat Patrol, 6 Incursion, 6 Strike Force, and 3 Onslaught. They’re a bit more asymmetrical than the Eternal War missions and because they use Agendas instead of secondaries, all your scoring is done through Primary Objectives. There’s a lot to cover with these, and we’ve already put a ton into this article so we’ll be covering these in detail in a future article just on Crusade Missions.

 

Credit: BuffaloChicken

Evaluating Crusade

With all that laid out, let’s evaluate. Is Crusade good? What are we excited about? What are we not so excited about? What needs changing?

The Good

Evan: Crusade is a great framework. It’s relatively simple and lightweight, but lets you gain experience and have some fun with cool abilities. While it’s possible to play on your own as pickup games, I think it is at it’s best as the basis for a more organized campaign, where you have a GM or another way to add extra elements, especially with the system a little light on content without all the codexes adding more content.

Except for a few examples, unlike the custom character from chapter approved, crusade is also relatively balanced. The most powerful abilities add an amount of Crusade Points to your units in line with their power and thus hand out command points to your opponent if you outmatch them.

Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones: There’s a ton here, and even in the limited “all factions” ruleset a ton of things that I think everyone can be excited for, like permanently upgrading units with stratagems, taking multiple Warlord Traits, or leveling up units over time. I love that the format has its own missions, and the ability to set Agendas instead of secondary objectives is both flavorful and gives me a lot of ideas for how to build custom missions and agendas for my own campaigns. There’s a lot of meat on that bone and I’m already picturing giving players or factions secret agendas that they can pursue over a number of games, or giving players agendas before a game that affect story outcomes. The missions themselves are also pretty flavorful, and the rewards for them are interesting.

The balancing mechanisms here are also a welcome change after the Chapter Approved character creation rules, which in my campaign required send half a dozen characters back to the drawing board and doing strict approval on created characters. The CP matching system and requiring equal points/PL seem like solid systems.

Overall, this is a good framework, and I’m excited to run my next campaigns using it. My player group are also already very excited for it and we’ll likely spend a week or two talking about how to incorporate certain elements and merge them with more common campaign structures. A big one we need to figure out is how to marry Escalation and Crusade, and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to do that, both for long and short-term campaigns, which we’ll talk about in a future article.

The Bad

Evan: The biggest issue I currently see is lack of content. There isn’t all that much there currently. I imagine as codexes come out, we’ll see a lot more options and flavorful things to use RP on, but it’s going to suck for whoever gets the last codex at the end of the edition and is coasting on the base content until the final few bits of the edition. Hopefully they put out something for the factions that will get later codexes in campaign supplements or white dwarf articles.

I also take a bit of an issue with some of the Battle Honors. If you’re rolling there are a few useless results. Re-rolling ones can be pretty useless for a faction with the game’s ubiquitous re-roll auras. Always wounding on a 4+ isn’t too useful for a power fist or reaper chainsword on a knight. Luckily there aren’t THAT many of these useless options on the charts, and I imagine the codexes will come out with additional Battle Honors that fix some of these issues.

Rob: Content’s definitely an issue, but tracking is also going to be a real challenge. For players, tracking every unit killed and every agenda scored per game is a bit much but not too egregious; for a GM managing a campaign of more than 3-4 players on top of campaign results it’s potentially a massive headache. There’s also a real complexity concern here – the more rules and things you add, the more likely things are to get ignored or dropped. I think forcing players to use static units and pick them from an Order of Battle helps mitigate this, but having half a dozen special units at different levels in your army with different upgrades can get tricky fast, and tracking what your opponent has on top of that can potentially lead to feeling overwhelmed.

I’m also not big on the “pick your upgrades” notion. I get why it’s in there – there are plenty of upgrades that don’t make sense if you are playing certain factions – but it also makes things really easy to min/max or cheese out, and that’s something that I think happens even among the fluffiest, most narrative players. I’m liable to require my players to roll, and potentially offer either RP-based re-rolls or allow players to pick if they can create a very compelling reason. Or I’ll pick for them. Whatever seems cooler and less likely to cause issues.

I’m also not sold on the idea that you’d ever want to play your Crusade army against a random stranger’s, or play a matched play army against a crusade force. Both of those seem cooler in theory than practice. But I think it’s probably possible to do that without it being a total dumpster fire, which is a good sign.

 

What’s Next

On the whole, Crusade is an exciting new way to play 40k and something that the game has needed for a long time. We’ll be covering it in more detail in the coming weeks in future Narrative Forge articles, talking about the missions in detail, running a Crusade Campaign as a GM, tips and tricks for building Crusade armies, and the kinds of Crusade forces we’re building. In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback drop us a note in the Comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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