If there was one thing that excited me about 9th edition, it was Crusade. The premise is incredible – 40k progressive Narrative play, with an official framework and heavy support is literally the stuff of dreams. But is it perfect? Is it the promised land for narrative gamers? A system you can just rock up and play with minimal fluffing about before the game? Is what the book has laid out the best way to do it? What about the supplemental materials? Will/does it need an FAQ to be playable? These were all questions that were bouncing around my skull, demanding answers.
I decided to explore this by playing a few test games with fellow Goonhammer writer, Beanith. With luck, the lessons we’ve learnt over those two games will help you, dear reader, get the best out of this exciting new way to play hams.
To get started let’s break crusade down into a bunch of parts, ie investigating it’s full gameplay loop. Namely, preparation, before and during the game, after the game, the second game. We’ll talk about what we did during each, providing some running commentary as we go, then completing each section with our broader thoughts on it. At the end of all this, we’ll go deeper into lessons learned from the whole shebang, where we will generally add our thoughts about the method of play and most importantly collect the various points from the prior sections into a handy tips for your games of Crusade.
Preparation: Getting Ready To Roll.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty, as other writers have already done so on this site, but for the purposes of this article, let’s establish that Crusade cribs a little from Kill Team, Necromunda, Blood Bowl and an entire host of other progression-based games by having a larger roster that you draw units from to play games.
As listed in the book, you select up to 50 power of units from your faction and at the start, build 25 power lists from that roster. You get 5 Requisition Points to do various things expand that roster by 5 power at a time to give you more options, throw warlord traits and relics around or just save for later use.
The first thing I did was to ask Beanith to ditch power levels and go to points. More on why I threw Power Levels IN THE BIN in a bit. We ran 1,000-point rosters, drawing 500-point forces for game 1, and 1,000 points for game 2. Each requisition increase would nab 100 pts. Simple and roughly the same as starting with 50 PL, playing 25 PL games, and using 5PL increases in normal Crusade play.
To get started I threw a warlord trait on Owain, and splurged my 4 other points on making my roster bigger. Here’s my baller lads of Strike Force Reforger, a ‘diplomatic’ expedition of the Swords of Davion.
I’ve always been pretty “meh” on Power Level, so when Coda asked if we could change it, I was all for it.
I took my Crusade list, The Spoiled Hams, that I wrote about in Building Our Crusade Armies and simply totaled up the points and found that I could squeeze in a Biologus Putifier to give myself a nice round 1,000 points.
I’ve only spent two of my Requisition Points; I wasted one on a silly relic pistol and gave my Beloved Drill Disgusting Resilience. The rest I’ve banked for future Beanith to piss away.
Right. So let’s get to the elephant in the room. Power levels and why I threw them INTO THE BIN.
Power Levels have been a bit of a touchy subject in 40k from the moment they were introduced; this was further compounded when where not updated at all, meaning for some books they are using values assigned at the dawn of 8th, which the rules have significantly moved on from in that time.
They also fall down in a heap when a unit has cheap options but also very expensive options. To use an example I’m familiar with, behold two squads of Vanguard Veterans: Both units have jump packs, however one is pretty much stock, the other fully tooled up with power weapons and storm shields galore.
Squad Constantine weighs in at a hefty 310pts. Aurelius? 204. Power level wise they are exactly the same. I’m sure someone that is a literal math wizard like Kevin could spit out some sick numbers here about a unit that is 2/3rds as expensive in PTS shouldn’t cost the same in PL. I’m not a math wizard, so you’ll have to deal with my simplistic explanation that this simply doesn’t add up and is therefore not cool and not good.
I would stress that I don’t hate power levels. If you are hanging out with a mates and suddenly a 40k game breaks out, they own for that. You can make a list in about 5 seconds on a literal post-it note vs clicking forever on battlescribe/combat roster/excel, only to find out a week later that you made a mistake in your rushed roster building. That in my humble opinion is a very, very good thing and is their perfect use case. This leads me back to the crux of points vs PL for crusade, which I can sum up as thus:
Power level is great for off-the-cuff pick up games. But Crusade isn’t as haphazard with that. It holds more in common with matched play than it does Open play, and therefore I truly believe points are where it’s totally at for them.
One bug bear I found with the rules is by going off Rules As Written that you effectively can’t use the Ultramarines Stragem “Exemplar of the Chapter“, which slaps a second warlord trait on your non-special character Warlord. I hope this is fixed by GW in the future but it does highlight that there will be rough edges on how some of the 8th Edition codexes react to crusade for now. If I had to make a call right now, I would make this a 2 req spend. Expensive but if you have a character in mind for it, worth it as it encourages the core of Crusade’s game play, making your own story with your own baller characters, not established figures like Abaddon or Calgar.
Expanding on the above, I think borrowing the Arbitrator concept from Necromunda would own bones for Crusade and honestly if you are having something that is going to run more than say, 12 games having someone driving, balancing and organising the campaign’s progression would be essential.
With that out of the way, I adore the roster gameplay and the requisition system. It works well, combining narrative gameplay elements simply and yet somehow elegantly into the game. I got a kick out of figuring out what forces Owain would have available vs what I had ready to go in my collection and coming up with a compromise. Coming up with a force element for showy sword work, recon, trickery and support elements was a really fun experience.
In the end I would rate this bit of the system: A+, moving to S+ ULTRA GOLD if you use points.
Power Level is fine for one-off pickup games and quick friendly matches, and possibly to teach someone in small games.
In an ongoing campaign? It can die in a fire. I did a little bit of homework just now by running some rough calculations on Power Levels using the 2,000 point example lists put together by various Goonhammer writers in their respective 9th Edition Faction Focuses.
The general accepted theory is 20 points is roughly 1 power level so we should be seeing 100 PL lists in these. We have:
- Imperial Fists – 94 power level
- Necron – 106 power level
- Sisters – 89 power level
- Custodes – 113 power level
- Admech – 121 power level
- Imp Guard – 112 power level
- Craftword – 119 power level
Don’t get me wrong, Crusade is a Narrative game and not meant to be perfectly balanced. Things will get wonky with upgrades and injuries as the campaign progresses of course, so you could make things easier and plum for points… and also convince someone to be the Arbitrator too.
I too am a fan of the Roster system and the Crusade cards and I can not wait for someone to build something like Yaktribe to build me something pretty to keep track of everything. Until then I have a spreadsheet I cludged together and I can only hope GW’s Battle Forge will be the best thing since sliced bread.
Before and During Game 1
This is the stage where you draw a force from your Crusade roster. In our case, we went with the recommended start of 500pts/25PL Combat Patrol sized missions. After this we rolled for the mission and the dice decreed that Sweep and Clear would be the mission.
Beanith totally owned me at this mission, scoring like 70 odd VP to my paltry 20 or 30. Notably there were 2 or 3 models left on the table on turn 5. He was smart with the new scoring rules but holy hell the Terrax-pattern Termite Assault Drill was brutal at 500pts, dominating very stage of the game from the moment it turned up and started killing loyalist Astartes at a unbelieveable rate. God damn. For DRILLING TO GLORY he scored an additional marked for greatness.
What Coda Did:
This was my list:
I selected the extremely Swords of Davion appropriate Kingslayer for my agenda. I cursed when I realised I couldn’t make the 500pts force on the dot. Damn you hubris!
What Beanith Did:
If you listen carefully whilst looking at this, you can still hear Wings shout “Not enough Terrain”
Sweep and Clear has four objectives, one in each deployment zone and 2 in the middle. The slight change is you don’t have to hang around when you’ve captured one. I took the Psyker Agenda where I just had to cast two powers in a row without screwing up… and I almost screwed it up.
We started off small so I needed my Plaguecaster and some Plague Marines to keep him company as he trudged slowly up the field. I also wanted my Plagueburst Crawler as well but since I was short ten points, I settled for the Drill instead… and holy shit, when it popped up turn two, the drill tore through Coda’s Eliminators, minced the Intercessors and BRRRRTTTT his captain over the course of the game. He is my beloved transport of choice and even now I still want more of them.
As Coda pointed out, by turn three/four I was scoring 30 points a turn whilst everybody was having a slap fight in the middle.
Because of the mission I was able to mark two units for greatness, being my Wizard and the Drill obviously
The agenda system and mission both worked well, as did the roster selection mechanic. What struck me was how easy it was to get this going, you really could run this with insanely good success in a FLGS or gaming group. A++
Probably should have taken the Survivor Agenda and put it on the Drill. Loved the mission and it works great at such a small level.
After The Game
Now we had to figure out what happened to our troops by rolling dice. Other than Owain all my stuff was extra dead so I had to roll to see if anyone had ongoing injuries, my Eliminators copped it and I
smartly cowardly elected for them to lose XP/gain no xp and ignore the result.
Of all my stuff, Owain had killed a lot of things and achieved my Agenda, Kingslayer. XP-wise Owain brought home a mighty 8 xp: 1 for taking part in the game, 3 xp for scoring Kingslayer, 1 for Dealers of Death and 3 for Marked for greatness. This leveled him up to “Bloodied” which allowed leveling up and improving his skill with his Davonic patten heavy blade (in English: I removed the -1 to hit for the thunder hammer)
In addition for playing a game, I nabbed a Req point, which I cashed in to give Lunter the Adept of the Codex warlord trait.
My list now looked like this after game one:
What Beanith Did:
Not a lot. I didn’t gain enough XP to level up my Mage and the Drill. And nobody was permanently injured so I banked my Req point to take me back to 4 and got ready for the next game.
Alright, so a few things stand out for me about this:
A: It was really easy to apply the effects of XP.
B: The effects are simple but meaningful.
C: Keeping track of who killed what is going to be a royal pain in larger games. 500 pts/25 PL is like 3 or 4 units on the table, easy to keep track and remember. Larger games will need note taking at the bare min.
D: I could of had a extra command point in the game, but I forgot to ask Beanith what his crusade level was. In the end it wouldn’t have mattered but I can see people forgetting to do that step in the future.
I was worried about upgrades becoming insane or one player running away in front but honestly, I don’t see it being too much of a drama at this stage. Maybe the codexes will change this in the future but for now the game is pretty tight.
One thing I would change here is something Beanith’s gaming group does for Necromunda and what he did for his unit upgrades. Pick a table to roll on, roll 2d6 and pick the result from those dice that you would like. It stops you immediately nabbing OP combos while allowing you to have some narrative choice. Pretty solid if you ask me. A+
Pretty much Coda said. The roll two dice method keeps it interesting and I’m a big fan of Random and the Illusion of Choice. There is also some appeal to the suggestion of choosing one and running it past the Arbitrator.
I also really recommend that you have a notebook or the Crusader Cards handy to keep track of kills in game too.
The Second Game
So, we upped the stakes to a 1,000 pts Incursion mission. The dice said “Play Football You Nerds” aka “The Relic” mission. I selected Kingslayer and slapped Sentinel on my Infiltrators. Here’s my list:
This game went a little bit better for me. The infiltrators nabbed the objective early, forming an NRL like passing line, they tossed the objective to the squad member closest to my table. When they were removed from existence, an intercessor squad picked it up and did the same. Effectively the it was a game of keep away. I nailed Kingslayer again but totally failed at Sentinel, due to my quick read being “oh sweet, they just need to hold it for like, a turn” being oh so very, very wrong.
After winning this I was allowed to pick a Crusade Relic for one of my characters that took part in the game. I slapped a Reflector Field on my Captain as it fit his lore. My Relic Dreadnaught unfortunately got owned by THE DRILL and failed its out of action roll, so again I picked the coward’s way out and made it lose non existent XP. After applying XP Owain was just short for gaining another level, meanwhile the rest of my army was sitting around 1~2 XP.
Alright two games in and I have one unit ‘leveled up’ and a relic. Both armies sit roughly even in terms of upgrades/snazzy stuff. The upgrades from game 1 did make Owain fairly nasty in combat but not outrageously so.
Going up to a 1,000-point game exposed the problem I talked about earlier, keeping track of which unit nabbed kills. It’s a step you don’t normally do in 40k so it will take time and bookkeeping to get it right.
Still I’m happy with how the progression is handled. There is something there for you to latch onto as a player from game 1 but you won’t end up in a potential “every unit has 3 upgrades” hell world until the campaign is several months in. While it’s early days at the moment, the type of gaming group that can keep that momentum going is probably well equipped for that eventuality.
Almost the same setup but we replaced the rocks in the bottom right with some ruins… we left the middle as one big fire lane for someone to slowly move up out in the open and get shot to pieces. Because why listen to Wings about terrain placement?
As for what I took? In theory all of them plus the Biologus Putrifier makes up to 1,000 points but because Coda lost so badly in the last game, I decided to cheer him up by
forgetting a squad of Plague Marines playing 120 points down. I screwed myself from the start here really. The drill was sent off empty to harass Coda on turn 2. And everything else just slowly moved up getting shot to pieces trying to catch up with the Relic. The Sorcerer hid buffing random things to score his Agenda before catching a thunderhammer to the noggin from Coda’s Captain. The Drill did its thing, popping out and killed a few things and generally was a pest in Coda’s lines.
What I should have done was chuck two squads and the Foul Blightspawn in the drill and hide everything else in the ruins for a turn before moving out.
In the end, Coda scored himself a free Relic and my Drill was covered in Glory and bits of Daviods. My Warlock was both seriously injured and me not being a wuss took the injury ending up blind in one eye or something, I don’t remember because I spent an Req point to get rid of it leaving me on 4 again.
My Thaumaturge gained a level and has ended up with a 4+ FNP… I could be a tremendous arsehole and give him the Revoltingly Resilient Warlord Trait for a 3+ FNP but any Arbitrator with an ounce of common sense should tell me to sod off at that point. He is well on his way to earning a name
My Beloved little Drill was once again Marked for Greatness which meant it also gained a level and now has an Elite Crew which gives me reroll 1 to hit. He has also earned the name BeRRRTTTT, I bet you can already work out what the second will be called when it shows up.
Let’s look at the gameplay loop and imagine we are playing in a weekly Crusade Campaign at your FLGS/mate’s house.
Pregame/Roster/Running the damn thing
- For the love of god, steal from Necromunda, have an Arbitrator for the campaign.
- Note for that person: Be ready to be your very own FAQ. Have any prior rulings accessible for your players. Google sheets, docs, Discord and even facebook groups own for this kind of thing.
- Don’t be afraid to step in and give players a boost. If someone has lost 10 games on the trot, then unless they have Greg levels of patience, they probably could use a bit of a hand.
- Ditch Power Level and use Points
- Start with 1,000 point rosters, 500 point games, and have each requisition increase nabbing 100 points for your roster.
- Have a general plan for your army, make sure you can actually build a 500pts roster. In fact, start with that 500pts block, then add units. Learn from my mistakes people.
- Codexes are going to have Crusade content built in from day one. This means players could get rather blindsided on their release. As the books release, we recommend offering players a ‘respec’ when their book comes out. This could be a flat do over or re-spending req/level ups in a restricted manner or just simply sitting down with the campaign arbitrator and figuring something out.
Before and During The Game
- Have a rough idea when the Crusade is going to move upwards in pts.
- That said, be flexible. Have two players that have thrown a bunch of Req into their rosters and want to do a 1250pts game while the campaign is ‘officially’ at 750pts? Sure. Go hog wild on that. Hell you can even make it a mini event. The greatest thing about this ruleset is that it can do stuff like that super easily. It’s matched play with all the narrative progression stuff you love from Mordheim, Necromunda, Blood Bowl etc.
- Have a way to track what happens in game. Even if you are just marking on your roster or taking a quick note on your phone.
- Friends don’t let friends spam one of the game types to farm relics. Keep it random or come up with something cool or make the Arbitrator do some legwork.
- With the rules as written (RAW), you can pick your upgrades. This can be dangerous. If you trust your group enough, go for it but Beanith’s idea to pick a table, roll two dice to generate two choices works super well.
- That said, if people nab something in game, like in The Relic mission, let ’em have it. Make that win worth it.
- Have a way to store and track your Crusade’s progress. Again, things like facebook groups, google sheets are invaluable tools that are free and easy to use.
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