TheChirurgeon’s Road Through 2023, Part 25: The Grand Narrative Recap, Part 1

Welcome back, Dear Reader, to the ongoing chronicle of my hobby and gaming journey through 2023. Last time around I was prepping frantically for the Grand Narrative, painting minis and packing for the trip to Atlanta.

Day 0 – Thursday

I flew out Thursday afternoon, having taken off Thursday through the following Monday. As an added plus, this meant I’d only be working two days the week of Thanksgiving, and those are two days everyone else took off, making it a pretty light week to be on the clock. My flight lands in the early afternoon and Pendulin and Jack have already been there about 40 minutes waiting for me. We split a cab to the venue – Pendulin and I are splitting an apartment rental down the street, since that offers us a multi-bedroom rental for less than the hotel might cost. It’s an easy walk and not a bad location, but the AC in there sucks. Fortunately it’ll get down into the 50s this week and keep us from roasting.

A packed hall for the Group stage

While the Narrative doesn’t start until Friday, the World Championships are already in full swing, with Thursday kicking off the event’s group stage. That means the venue is already full of the world’s best 40k, AoS, Kill Team, and Underworlds players attempting to make their respective top 8s. I know a couple of people in the AoS event, a few people in the Kill Team tournament, and a bunch of people in the 40k event.  We make the rounds and say hello to a bunch of people.

These planes may look bad, but they were also bad on the tabletop. Credit: Nassim Fouchane

What makes the World Championships especially interesting is that, for these players, every round is basically like playing the final round or two of a GT, playing into terribly strong opponents running amazing lists. It’s a shark tank like no other, and small things like the mission or misplays will torpedo players who are used to going 5-0 on the regular. By the end of the first day several of the players I picked to make it out of the group stage have already lost – Ben Jurek, Innes Wilson, TJ Lanigan, Nassim Fouchane, Mike Pestilens, “Helstorm” Mikey Herbert, and Nick Nanavati have all taken losses, and it’s only going to get worse from there.

Goonhammer authors Travis Chang and Ace duel side-by-side on day 1

Kill Team is likewise a brutal affair, and I swing by to wish Travis and Ace luck. Travis is an interesting outlier here – Goonhammer covered his trip to the event for coverage purposes, but a late cancellation has left the event with an odd number of players. Fortunately, Travis had a team with him, albeit a bad one – Pathfinders – and was able to step in and play when asked. He’s not going to win anything with one of the game’s worst teams, and that’s about right for a ringer player. He will, however, win Best in Faction as the only Pathfinders player in attendance, which is pretty rad.

There are only two rounds on day 1 for the World Championships, so it’s a light load for the comp crew as well. We grab dinner and a drink with Innes, who laments that he can’t play another two rounds that day and has to do dumb shit like “sleep” and “prep for the next day’s games.” The man is the kind of sick machine I recall being back in my 20s, when I could routinely punish the fuck out of my body with few repercussions for the cause of things as dumb as “watching every extended edition Lord of the Rings movie in a single sitting” or “competing in Greg’s Nacho Cheese Cup Challenge.” Godspeed, you incredible bastard.

We cap the night off with drinks at the bar among most of the Goonhammer crew in attendance. The service is incredibly slow and pretty lousy, but it’s a good group to be hanging out with as we talk shit and watch the Ravens end the Bengals’ season. This one’s particularly brutal for Dan “FromTheGates” Shire, who back in October traded me Najee Harris and Josh Allen for Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase, going all-in on Cincinnati in a move that would prove to be his downfall. I wasn’t huge on Harris at the time but to me the writing was on the wall re: Cincy, who were functionally unable to protect an already ailing Burrow and were bound to continue to decline. Since then things have been going great for me as Allen has put up some big numbers and Harris seems to have a touchdown per week in him.

We end up crashing around midnight and I sleep OK.

Day 1 – Friday

It’s Day one of the narrative! Pendulin and I missed the briefing last night but there’s another this morning and we make sure to be there. I’m on the Pact of Annihilation, the Chaos-aligned team. Chase is on the Pact of Resistance (Xenos), and most of the rest of our crew are playing on the Pact of Enlightenment (Imperium) team. Similar to last year, we have three “Lords of War’ acting as the leaders of our factions when it comes to doing the briefings – the Imperium team gets an inquisitor, Xenos gets some kind of seer/sorceress, and Chaos gets a traitor guard captain, played by Chris Stover as he chews every piece of scenery which isn’t nailed down.

The initial briefing is only OK – there are still some audio difficulties which make it hard to hear everyone, especially the Inquisitor. They’ll fix those over the next two days but ultimately these initial briefings are mostly just posturing anyways – lots of “We’re going to find the secret of this planet, win the war, and kill our enemies.” Blood for the blood god, skulls for the skull throne, all that good stuff. Stover’s having an exceptionally good time leading the chaos group.

The Structure of the Narrative

There are about 300 players at the Grand Narrative, split into three larger teams – Annihilation (Chaos), Enlightenment (Imperium), and Resistance (Xenos). Each of those is split into battlegroups of roughly 10 players. At sign-in, each player was given a single card from the Imperial Tarot to “represent their fate.” Ultimately, these would end up being the way we’d do pairings in each battlezone.

A full deck of the Imperial Tarot used at the Narrative

The narrative took place over three days, with two 4-hour rounds each day. Each round our battlegroup was assigned to a battlezone, where we’d then pair into an opposing team. We’d have a Crusade mission to play, and on top of that we’d have two additional goals: A pact goal – usually something like “break through their lines,” or “cut off the head,” and an optional additional goal for generating fame or infamy points for our warlord.

In order to support players at the event, we created a campaign for the event in Administratum. It’s publicly viewable, and you can find it here. We had more than 200 players sign up from the Narrative, and over the course of the weekend we logged a hundred games. Not everyone in the Narrative was active, but a lot of people just weren’t tracking anything in Crusade. Which is a bummer, but I get it.

My List

I’m not running a super-competitive list at this event. It has two Forgefiends, but one’s on autocannons, and I have one unit each of Berzerkers (10), Rubrics (5), Noise Marines (5), and Plague Marines (7), supporting a unit of 10 Terminators with a Sorcerer Lord, a unit of Cultists and a unit of Nurglings, with a Land Raider and Rhino for transports.

Round 1: Badrun’s Valley

I’m leading Battlegroup 21 this year and our first engagement is in Badrun’s Valley. The Valley is part of a long range of angular, oddly uniform mountains around the equator of planet Occultaris. It supposedly houses Ork ruins, but no sign of indigenous orks to be found.

Badrun’s Valley

The room itself is positioned next door to the WCW and is basically a room of desert tables, which unfortunately means “A little sparse and full of ork terrain.” The centerpiece table over there is a table filled with large, Egyptian-style ruins which will be familiar to anyone who’s played in the NOVA Narrative before.  The tables are also covered with varying amounts of uh, sand.

We’re paired into Battlegroup 6 in this first round, which is cool because that’s the group a lot of the GH peeps are in, but we’re not in control of pairings this year. They’re short one head, so I opt to take on a partner for a game and play a 2-vs-1 against Ryolnir, who used to occasionally drop notes on content back in the day. Ryolnir’s running Crimson fists.

Ryolnir’s Crimson Fists

My partner is also running Chaos Space Marines, with an army he assembled and primed the night before. He hasn’t played a ton of 40k but I’m OK with helping someone learn the ropes. This unfortunately screws me a bit on the Crusade goals – I’ll only get at most half the XP but it’s not something I’m really worried about. Ryolnir starts the game telling us how bad his dice are and how we’ll definitely win this game. Uh-huh. In my experience that always prefaces someone demolishing you with dice, but we’ll see.

Deployment round 1. Believe it or not, this is one of the more dense tables with regard to terrain.

The mission here is Scattered Supplies from the Crusade missions and it is, with no exception, the worst mission in 10th edition 40k. It’s like Servo Skulls, but you can pick up and carry objectives – and you only drop them when the unit dies. Also, rather than punting them to your opponent’s Deployment Zone, you have to carry them back to your own. This sucks for a number of reasons – it’s heavily biased toward going first, since you can run out, pick up objectives, and then just carry them home before your opponent can do anything. Going second here is basically a loss, especially against a list with as many vehicles as Ryolnir’s.

Making things worse is the terrain – the tables here are pretty sparse, and have no area terrain footprints. We do some general discussion before the game about footprints, but it’s still a very open middle with few places to hide.

Anyways, we’re going second. That is basically an automatic loss on this mission. My teammate doesn’t know that, and I envy him. Ryolnir pushes forward and opens fire on my Land Raider with his Repulsor Executioner. I pop smoke, and he promptly hits with both shots, then wounds with both, and I fail both saves. Then he rolls boxcars on damage to hit me for 20, killing the tank and ensuring we have no way to get across the table (my teammate has no transports). Cool. Ryolnir will continue to dice the shit out of us for the next two rounds.

Anyways, it’s a bloodbath, and there’s not much I can do to prevent it once objectives get picked up by vehicles who drop them too far away for us to recover. Chase will later tell me when he had this mission he picked up objectives with units of 20 Necron Warriors strung out back to his deployment zone, such that if he lost the unit, they’d just drop it back in his DZ for max scoring. Lol. Lmao, even.

Round 2: Strata Sanctoral

Next up we’re off to the Strata Sanctoral, a sprawling complex of massive domes beneath the planet’s south pole, filled with iconography and temples to multiple faiths from every race and creed. The terrain here is a little better but not great. I’m paired into Mike, a Custodes player who is also pretty new to the game. He’s running something I’d consider to be a bit of a cargo cult list – there are lots of good units in the list (a pair of Calladius tanks, Greyfax, a Callidus assassin, lots of Allarus Terminators), but it looks like a list geared toward matched play. The Callidus assassin in particular is a “dead unit” in Crusade missions, where there are no signals to investigate nor teleport homers to deploy.

The Strata Sanctoral. Also sparse

Terrain on this table is also very sparse, and I again need to have a conversation about what can and can’t be seen through, though on this table even that wont’ help us. Almost every objective can see at least one other objective and most can see two or three. That’s awful. I lose the roll-off but I’m able to weather one Calladius’ worth of shooting and then on my turn take out one tank and all of the Custodians with his blade champion. By the time the Allarus start teleporting in I’m able to pick many of them off. My list isn’t super competitive but it’s very well suited for killing elite Infantry with the Terminators and Forgefiends.

The Strata Sanctoral is being run by the same guy who played the Genestealer Cult priest last year, and he’s great this year as well. Midway through the battle he swings by our tables to posit a riddle to us – he reads a translated piece of text dedicated to some xenos deity, and any of us who can figure out which deity it is gets a potential boon. His passage mentions “one god, or possibly the other” and I immediately know it’s Gork and Mork and snag a coin for my efforts. It gives me a re-roll for any roll, but if I use it I have to give it to my opponent. I hold on to it – I never need it, and turn it in for a boon after the event, but I get a 50/50 shot at it and don’t get it. Ah, well.

Vanella takes on Cheema in round 5 of the World Championships

I swing back by the World Championships again to check in my my friends. Siegler and Harpster are playing in a game that’s pretty epic. Vanella’s taking on Cheema in the final round of the group stage and I can tell from looking at the table it’s not going well for Vanella. Cheema’s been steamrolling people in a way that clearly says “nerf Accursed Cultists.”

More importantly, Friday afternoon is when the love of my life shows up with a special guest in tow:

Introducing: Bryce Jones, who immediately stole my cultist hood

After a year of travel without him, I decided it was finally time to bring my son along to an event. And the Narrative is as good as things will get with regard to that – there’s a lot more going on that he’ll enjoy and with the more relaxed schedule for games it’s easier for me to devote time to him that I normally wouldn’t have putting in 9 to 5 at the Warhammer Factory.

This is a bigger deal than it sounds. The missus and I aren’t entirely sure how he’s going to be for an entire weekend, and while my son loves the trappings of Warhammer, he also doesn’t have the patience to really sit through a game of Warhammer. He’s gotten better at reading but he’s not entirely there yet. Anyways, I’m going to take him all of Saturday and then most of Sunday while the wife runs around Atlanta doing Hot Girl Shit and playing Pokemon Go.

That night is the second briefing, and we watch an update where it seems like the head of the Resistance team is turning to Tzeentch – she’s dropping some subtle hints about her deal, but we’ll see more from her over the next couple of days. It’s not a particular exciting briefing, but they’ll ramp things up on day 2.

We grab Goonhammer team dinner down the street at Max Lager’s, a brewery with some pretty solid food. The service is also better than the hotel, and we talk about some pressing business. They’ve got solid pizza as well, and that’s on the short list of things my son will actually eat, so that works out. I stick around for some extra drinks with the team as my wife takes the boy back to the apartment, and we’re back there by midnight again to crash. I sleep like shit for a number of reasons.

Next Time: Days 2 and 3

That wraps up the first part of this report but check back tomorrow for the second part, when I’ll talk about the final two days and four games of the event, including the paint competition and my son’s attempts to broker peace between the Lords of War.

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