The Narrative Forge: Running a Crusade Campaign

Last week we introduced Warhammer 40k 9th edition’s new Crusade game mode, which has players build their own unique armies that evolve and grow over time, accruing relics and experience, amassing upgrades, and building a narrative. If you missed our review of Crusade, we’d highly recommend you go check it out here.

Rob: This week, we’re talking about running a Crusade campaign, what you’ll need, and some ideas for doing long and short campaigns. We’ll be taking a bit of a different approach, as I’ve enlisted a partner in crime to help me talk about different aspects of Crusade and running campaigns. Today, I’m joined by Dan “SexCannon” Boyd, Necromunday guru and consummate campaign runner.


Dan: I don’t usually write about 40k for this website. There are many, many smart and eloquent people who do, so I generally keep to myself over at Necromunday. But talking about progressive campaign systems is 100% in my wheelhouse, so here I am!



Things You’ll Need to Resolve/Plan for

If you’re running a Crusade campaign, there are a few questions you’ll want to consider and have answers for before you begin. You could figure these out as they come up, but you’ll likely have a better time if you come up with answers to these questions beforehand.

Points vs. Power Level

Although Crusade is inherently designed and written for players to use Power Level instead of points, nothing is stopping you from using points instead. In fact, we recommend that – although power level is faster and more convenient, points offer a level of granularity that PL can’t match, and historically points have been balanced and adjusted much more often. As a general rule, you can substitute power level for points by using the 1 PL = 20 points exchange rate. So a 50 PL crusade force is 1,000 points, and 25 PL combat patrol games are 500 points. Also note that some abilities such as the Re-Arm and Resupply Requisition still refer to Power Ratings; that’s fine – just continue to adhere to those rules and guidelines (so you can adjust the weapons and wargear on a unit as long as the change doesn’t change the unit’s power rating, for example).

Likewise, if players upgrade the size of their Crusade Force using the Increase Supply Limit Requisition, they do so by 100 points instead of 5 PL.

Using Points instead of Power Level has the added benefit of causing the Reinforcement Points rules to kick in, which prevent a player from endlessly summoning daemons or creating poxwalkers without paying points for them in your Crusade games.

Dan: Points are better than Power Level, full stop.




Should players roll for upgrades and battle scars or be allowed to choose them? 

This is an important question to answer, since the rules allow for either. Rolling has the potential to lead to some real “feel bad” moments, especially when players can randomly end up with an upgrade that does nothing for their unit, or repeats a rule they already have. On the other hand, allowing players to pick can lead to degenerate or overpowered units when players decide that actually the best upgrade just happens to be the one that fits their narrative.

Rob: I’m of the mind that players should roll, and that’s what I’ll be doing in my campaigns. That said, I totally get that some options are just not great – players certainly have the option to avoid those tables when taking upgrades though. What I’ll likely do is give players a few mulligans in a campaign – free re-rolls, and then past that allow them to either re-roll or pick an upgrade at a cost of 1 RP. Though I’m wary of letting players pay to pick because I believe that will incentivize them to pick the strongest thing.

Dan: I come from the old-school Necromunda…school, and in those days, you had no choice but to roll out advances, so I love random advancements in campaigns. It’s a great way to disabuse power-gaming, but fortunately we don’t know anyone like that. The only exception I would make would be if a unit did something extremely thematic to earn the XP that gets them over the threshold for an advance. Like, if a unit of Intercessors gunned down a Demon Prince in Overwatch to earn enough XP to level, as a GM I’d be ok with awarding that unit with the Headhunters Battle Honor.

Rob: Yeah, I’m amenable to Hearing a Player Out on something. But the better the upgrade they want to add, the better the case they’ll have to make.



Do You Use Competitive/Matched Play Rules?

Something we saw in 8th edition was the expansion and revision of a matched/tournament play ruleset that was markedly different from the Narrative Play rules. Matched Play introduced rules like Battle Brothers, Psychic Focus, and Tactical reserves, limiting some of the more degenerate/”out there” rules interactions. That’s almost certainly going to be the case with 9th edition as well, and we can already see challenges with things like Smite not being limited to one cast per Psyker. These rules are generally just good for the game and balance, and so we’d recommend that you use them in your Narrative Play games in the same manner as Points. 

Dan: In a GM’d Crusade, the GM can port over whatever rules they like from Matched Play and apply them to all games in the Crusade.



Keeping Records

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Before you start, you’ll need to figure out who’s keeping records and of what. Are players responsible for their own armies? Is someone keeping track of games played and wins and losses? Do players have to report what they rolled or picked for their upgrades anywhere? What about current RP counts and how much was spent? You’ll likely want a way to track these that players can access – a shared doc or spreadsheet works fine for this, especially if your player group is relatively small.

Dan: Better question: do you trust your players to not make shit up?




Rob: No, not after the Chapter Approved 2018 Character Creation Rules fiasco, anyways. They’re all a lousy bunch of degenerates. But also, I like the idea of any player being able to see where they stand relative to other players.


Degenerate Combos/Abilities

Whether players roll or pick, sooner or later you’re gonna end up with some combination of abilities and units that may be too good, or unbalances things in your play group, especially if you have newer players with limited forces. You’ll want to come up with a plan for how to handle that, whether it’s asking the player to re-spec, refunding them RP to retire the unit, increasing its Crusade Points, or something else. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, and you’ll want to think about what makes the most sense on a per-case basis.

Dan: Perhaps when a unit reaches a certain experience threshold, their Out of Action roll gets harder to pass. It would make narrative sense to me that the longer a unit fights in a campaign, the more likely it is to have taken casualties.


Rob: That’s a good idea, though you need to come up with a mechanic other than “losing XP” for units that have reached 6 battle honours since it’s a meaningless downside for them.



Dan: Make them roll for Battle Scars at that point, perhaps? It could lead to some feel-badsies, but this is WAR, Rob!



Allowing Players to Re-spec

9th edition is brand new and while there’s a ton of content in the current Core Rules for Crusade, we’ve already been told to expect more with each Codex, which will contain faction-specific Crusade content that is sure to be amazing. That’s just great! On the other hand, if you’re playing a faction that won’t have its new codex for another year, that’s not so great. Also, army choices, points values, and rules will change dramatically with new books As new Codexes are released (presumably at the same breakneck speed as 8th edition), you’ll want a way to handle these releases – do you allow players to re-spec their units and retool their armies to match the current Codex release, points, and rules? How do you handle choices and options that are no longer legal, or have been moved to Legends? (Do you allow Legends options to begin with?)

Dan: This one’s tough! A new codex, at bare minimum, usually means a marked shift in how the army works, and what units are effective. As a GM, I want to keep my players engaged in the campaign at all costs, so I’d be open to some sort of system that allows the player who just got a new book to re-tool their Order of Battle.


Player Matching and Game Limits

Decide early on how you want to handle match-ups. Will players just meet up and play whenever? Will you have actual matchups and pairings? How will they be decided? If you have 3+ players you’ll want to take some steps to ensure that players are getting in roughly a similar number of games – it doesn’t have to be equal, but if you have a couple of players getting in 3-4 games for every one another plays you might find things getting out of hand real quickly.

Campaign Structure

What kind of structure will your campaign have? We’ve talked about campaigns and how to structure them many times, and almost all of these structures can be fit on top of the Crusade rules framework to create something where you are tracking wins and losses and campaign victory points and territory control for your army in addition to the progress of the army itself. Just watch out that you don’t incidentally create too much bookkeeping for yourself!

The Narrative

Don’t forget the story! If you’re running a campaign with multiple players, consider whether there’s a story you want to be collaborating on, such as the conquest of a planet or system, or the pursuit of some relic. Determine how much you want those elements to play into the games through things like Theatres of War or missions. Or just throw it all out and have the narrative be purely emergent, where you build the story during and after games.

Dan: I’m a big fan of the emergent narrative, where players build up rivalries and stories organically. Mainly because it means less work for a GM! I’m pretty sure Rob likes his exhaustively written stories, though…



Rob: I definitely do like those.





Campaigns without a GM

One of the cool things is that Crusade is set up very well to run without a GM handling things – you and some friends can simply roll up Crusade forces and track them over time, making decisions over time and improving them as you play games. This kind of approach works really well if you just have a small casual play group and want to add some progression between your games. Our recommendation if you do this is to have players roll their upgrades and out-of-action checks after each game, with another player present. 

This set-up should work really well for a the long-run with a set play group where the focus is on your army’s growth instead of a narrative or a campaign to be won.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones


Long Campaigns

At its core, Crusade is made for long campaigns with a slow buildup of forces, adding units to your Order of Battle over time – it takes 10 battles to bring your order of battle up to 2,000 points, and for many players that’s likely to be a month or two of games!

Dan: This is yet another reason why this system is kickin’ rad. Your buddy, who you invite over for beers and 40k every week or so? Now your casual games can have narrative and persistent heft. It is a great system to turn casual beerhammer into casual beerhammer with consequences, and I’m all for it.


Rob: Yeah, Crusade is great for this. You’ll just want some ways to keep players invested over long period of time, and you’ll need a way to allow new players in or allow players to change armies from time to time, since players love to fall in love with new armies. This is where I think a Narrative with defined start and endpoints or chapters can be really helpful, and the Crusade advancement system can help as well. Escalation can also be a way to keep things fresh and moving.

Speaking of which…



Escalation campaigns are a fun and popular way to run a campaign that we’ve covered before. While Crusade has its own built-in mechanics for escalation through the Increase Supply Limit Requisition, there’s currently no mechanic for determining game size or keeping players on an even level with regard to the size of the Order of Battle. If you want to have a Crusade Campaign with Escalation, you’ll need to improvise.

Dan: The current mechanics for escalation are…not complete. Players can spend RP points to expand their Supply Limit, but there is no built-in mechanic to expand the size of games in a crusade except for the two players to agree on a battle size (Combat Patrol, Incursion, Strike Force, or Onslaught). I’m a cynical jerk, so I would assume that a player would only agree to a certain battle size if they had met or nearly met the maximum power level (or points) of that battle size. 

For example, if Rob and I were playing in a crusade against each other, and my Supply Limit is 60, while his is 75, there’s no incentive for me to play anything more than Incursion-sized (max power level: 50) games against him, as his forces will be greater than mine in a Strike Force game. Unless we agreed on a 60-Power Level game, of course, but in that case he’s still got extra units to draw from, where I am stuck using my entire Order of Battle.

Additionally, campaigns are notorious for stalling out. By increasing the size of your Crusade battles, it is a lot easier to keep players’ interest. If I knew that in a month, my Supply Limit would be big enough to include my Astraeus, y’all can bet that I’ll be back that next month to watch it explode gloriously on turn 1, before I get to do anything with it.

This is a unique challenge to an Escalation Crusade. You’ll want the Crusade to actually escalate, but leaving the rate of that escalation up to the players might mean that it grows at a snail’s pace.

So, what do we do? Thankfully, it’s pretty simple. First, remove the Increase Supply Limit Requisition, and set up a timeline. Players’ Supply Limits will automatically increase as the Crusade rolls along, and as their Supply Limits increase, so, too, can the size of games. It’s always a good idea to give players some headroom regarding the relationship between their Supply Limit and game size, as this will increase the amount of choices they have in selecting their army for each battle.

An example: Rob starts his Crusade, and each player has a 1,000-point (because points are better, ask anyone) Supply Limit. In round one, the games are capped at 500 points per side. A month later, in round 2, both the Supply Limit and game size will increase by 250 points, to 1,250 and 750 respectively. In round three, players are working with 1,500 points in their Supply Limits, and are playing games of 1,000 points per side. And so on.

This way, players get to:

  1. Grow their collections as part of the Crusade,
  2. Have some agency when it comes to army selection and tailoring,
  3. And actually experience the escalation part of an escalation Crusade.

To me, setting things up to run on a schedule is a win-win. You can bet that we will be running Crusades like this in the near future, and you can expect that we will be reporting on them, so stay tuned!

Rob: I am absolutely on-board for that type of Escalation. I recommend that in addition to removing the Increase Supply Limit Requisition, you also cap player RP at 4 instead of 5 and reduce the starting RP total to 4. This will help account for the decreased options and reduce the power level of the campaign just a bit. Or leave it at 5. That could be rad too.


Weekend Campaigns/Events

A lot of campaigns don’t run over weeks or months, and instead are short, one-day or weekend-long events. Crusade can be a really cool rule set for those, but adapting it to those parameters takes a bit of work.

Dan: Some of you might know that I’m one of the trio of leads for the NOVA Open Narrative Crusade. Unfortunately, NOVA got cancelled this year, but if and when we get a chance to run this event, we are basing it around the 9th ed Crusade system. It’s an 8- or 9-round event spread over 4 days, and we have quite a bit planned for it. Tentatively, we are going to have players show up to the event with a 3,000-point Order of Battle, and set the supply limit at 1,000 points in the first battle, with it growing by 250 points after each round. This gives us a ton of different missions to use in Incursion, Strike Force, and even Onslaught (!) game sizes. I have high hopes for this event, and I can’t wait for the chance to help run it.

Rob: I think that’s a smart way to handle it, and a 3,000-point Order of Battle is a good starting point that gives players a lot of flexibility to work with, essentially giving them a “sideboard” for the event to respond to different games and missions. I think if you had to do a one-day you could get away with three games doing 500/1,000/2,000 point game sizes (and possibly four games if you fit in two 1,000-point games) that use a similar structure.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Rulings, Musings, and Suggestions

While we have no authority to make decisions about Crusade, we certainly have some ideas about how we’re going to run our campaigns, and some basic rulings we think need to be made for those campaigns. 

Rob: One of the things that needs to be handled is models getting added to units, which right now are permanent add-ons in Crusade. This can give players weird things like ever-growing units of Poxwalkers if they set aside Reserve points for poxwalkers and end up going above the unit’s starting total. I plan on handling this by having players pay for additional models that get added in this way.

Except for Chaos Spawn. I am going to make a ruling that any Chaos Spawn that show up in a game don’t require reserves points because I am sick of hilarious abilities that can spawn a 23-point model not getting used. Ditto Greater Possessed. Players won’t get to keep them post-game, though.

Dan: Of course you’re making exceptions for Chaos.




Rob: Hey I’ll make other exceptions too. Like uh, Tyranids can poop out more spore mines or something. I don’t know. I’m sure some army has rules that can have cool exceptions. I don’t know. No one is gonna take the psychic powers that turn you into a spawn anyways. Except for Gary. Against you. Which was hilarious.


Dan: Ugh. Don’t remind me. Poor Shadow Captain Lanius. We hardly knew ya.




Rob: R.I.P.




Dan: I really love the idea of making it harder for experienced units to pass Out of Action tests. It adds yet another wrinkle to the game where players have to delicately husband their most effective units. In Necromunda, the game Crusade wishes it was, targeting the enemy leader for extermination is the #1 strategy to countering their long-term effectiveness. If I knew that taking out Rob’s crack team of Havocs could more easily reduce their effectiveness, you can bet that I’d be gunning for them in one of our games!

Rob: You could also add in headhunter bonuses for taking out extremely experienced units. Maybe instead of them losing effectiveness, the unit that takes them down gets a free Marked for Greatness boost after the game. They did just wreck some legendary units, after all.


Dan: That might be the better idea. It’s usually better to reward than to punish in these instances, and penalizing players for losing their best units might be a step too far. Check it out! We’re learning as we go! 



Rob: Hell yeah. See? This isn’t just informative for the players, it’s informative for us. Turns out the real guide to running Crusade campaigns was the friends we made along the way.



Dan: Everyone loves named characters (especially Kayvaan Shrike), but consider urging your players to build their own custom characters during your Crusade. It’s true that Shadow Master Shrike is a deadly and imposing force on any battlefield, but his place in a Crusade is better occupied by a new and custom Warlord who will grow with the Crusade.


Rob: I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how they have some character they want to model or how in D&D some players like to bring characters pre-built, and I think that’s neat but Crusade is definitely more geared toward building new characters and stories through gameplay than it is toward modeling some story that has already been told. Don’t short-change yourself trying to make a specific character happen – it’s time to tell new stories. Probably with the same models, though.

Dan: I really can’t stress enough that letting players choose upgrades instead of rolling for them is probably a bad idea. 



Rob: Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh. You just know there’s gonna be some shit in the Codex: Space Marines Crusade tables that’s gonna make us all regret that book getting published.



Next Time

We talk about tips and tricks for building a Crusade army, and what our authors are planning for running for theirs. In the meantime if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at