War Zone Charadon: The Book of Fire Review – The Narrative Play Rules

This week brings us two new Charadon campaign supplements for Warhammer 40,000, and Games Workshop were nice enough to send us copies of both to look over. Here we’re diving into the Narrative and Crusade half of the Book of Fire, but check out our coverage of the competitive parts of it, and Amidst the Ashes, too. 

The Campaign Rules

Charadon Aflame

I just flew in from the Charadon sector and boy are my arms and the rest of my entire body completely engulfed in flames. 

Charadon was never a particularly nice place to be, and it hasn’t exactly gotten better since we last checked in. The first release, Book of Rust, had the Obolis campaign, which detailed the Death Guard scrapping with the Adeptus Mechanicus and their Knight allies, and the Book of Fire continues that story. Everyone’s favorite immortal heel, the original Daemon Price, Be’lakor, is here, and has had one hell of a glow up.

The campaign here is Charadon Aflame, which if you recall is the same thing that happened to Vigilus and seems to be the general trend now – we’re fully expecting Octartius 2 to be “Octarius Aflame” because that’s the inevitable outcome of Chaos or Xenos darkening your doorstep. Then again, “Charadon Apeace” wouldn’t make for much of a campaign, so it’s hard to fault them for recycling that bit of language. At least it’s not another “Indomitus”.

Running the campaign

This is very similar to what we saw in the Book of Rust. That’s not me editorializing either – the text explicitly notes that this is going to be very similar to the Obolis Campaign, albeit with some additions, that we’ll get to shortly.

In terms of what hasn’t changed, it still has a Campaign Master with quite a bit of leeway, and still runs in 3 phases. Each phase has a Legendary Mission, and awards Strategic Points to whichever alliance earned the most War Zone Points during it. It’s still left specifically to the CM as to which mission packet is used, and the length of the phases.

The alliances in the campaign – sort of super-factions that your army slots in, toward which your WZP go – use the same SP and WZP table as Book of Rust, where the points awarded scale based on game size and whether you win, or lose, or tie. War Zone Point rewards run from 1 for losing at Combat Patrol, to 5 for winning Onslaught.

Recommended Alliances are basically the same: IMPERIUM as Defenders, CHAOS as Invaders, and anything else (so, XENOS) as Raiders. There is one new wrinkle here, which is that Chaos armies dedicated to Be’lakor and the rest of Be La Soul belong more in Raiders than Invaders. At any rate, it uses the same deal as Obolis, which is to say that the Campaign Master can arbitrate who actually goes where, in the event of uneven alliances. 

A new addition here is a designer’s note suggesting that Theaters of War can be pulled from Book of Rust, or any other publication, though it does call out that care should be taken not to select theaters that conflict with the War Zone Assets, which are a new introduction here, and for our money a better one. Theaters ended up suffering from that common GW mission or supplement problem, which is being just too dang much. Assets, as we’ll see, are a very cool addition, but if you want to use theaters, they’re available. The twists are gone too, and we’re not sad to see them go.

If it seems like we’ve glossed over some parts of the campaign structure, it’s not because we don’t like it. It does, in fact, absolutely rip. There just isn’t a lot to say about it this time, because we’ve seen it before. It’s still great, and the additions – War Zone Assets and Heroic Achievements – make it even better.

It’s basically the same book.

War Zone Assets

The first new system added is War Zone Assets. These are abilities each alliance picks, that can be used in games, apparently without any kind of limit, so if someone snags a good one (d3 additional command points sounds like a no-brainer if none of your others fit a particular battle), expect to see it every time that alliance hits the table.

Assets are mostly either pre-game or first-turn abilities, which means they don’t add a lot of bookkeeping to the game itself, though there are exceptions. This is basically the Scouting Phase from Kill Team, only this time it isn’t a waste of time – prior to the game, after determining Attacker/Defender, each player picks one of their available assets to use that game (there’s also a 3CP stratagem, Asset Requisition, to activate a second one for the game, though only in Strike Force or Onslaught missions).

How these are selected is maybe the only slight problem I have with them. For the first phase you pick them in the order determined by the CM. There are suggestions offered, such as sorting them win-ologically based on the Obolis Campaign if you played it, or size-ologically based on alliance membership, or even just giving the Defender first pick as a sort of home-field advantage. Alliances go in turns, and once an asset is off the board, no one else can pick it, so there’s some value to getting the first bite at the apple. At the start of phases 2 and 3, the assets are re-set, and another draft happens.

And that’s the one part that I don’t love, but merely like. In these later phases, assets are picked in order of War Zone Points descending. Which is fair enough – victor, spoils, etc – but this does seem like a good way for a team to jump to an early lead and lock down a certain asset that they’ve been leaning on, without anyone getting a crack at it. It would have been nice to see the order reversed (that is, lowest WZP picks first) just to leverage this into a catch-up mechanic. If you look at this as a fantasy sports draft, I think a snake draft (where every other round goes in reverse order, taking the edge off of having to pick last by getting 2 in a row) might be a good tweak to make. Ultimately, not a huge deal.

Each alliance gets 2, 3, or 4 War Zone Assets based on the phase of the campaign, so there only needed to be 12 here, but they gave us 17. Games Workshop didn’t need to go so hard, but they did that for us. We won’t run through them all, but some choice options we liked were:

  • Deep-Void Battle Station is good for an extra d3 CP, which is useful literally all of the time, though not as rude as some of the others. Also, consider using this in conjunction with Asset Requisition if you like to gamble and are bad at math. That gambit, spending 3CP for d3 CP, balances 0 upside against a potential 2CP loss. This makes it a good way to prove to your opponent that you aren’t a coward.
  • Fleet Blockade turns off any deployment other than “on the battlefield” (eg, Deep Strike), except for strategic reserves. Very powerful, depending on your opponent.
  • Intelligence Network allows units doing Activities to still shoot without failing.
  • Shrouding Artifice straight up makes you impossible to shoot from more than 24” away for a turn, which is a brutal trick to pull on Devastator-doctrine marines (sorry Fists), and on a 4+ you can even have a second turn of it, as a treat.

Of the other 13, there are also redeploy or free pre-game move assets, one that slows enemy movement on the first turn, and one that hands out Objective Secured to extra units.

These aren’t outrageous, at least not to my idiot casual brain, but picking first and getting a crack at the good ones is still a powerful upside. Compared to the Twists and Theaters before, we prefer that this offers a degree of strategy, or at least agency, without complicating the game overmuch during play: for most of the Assets, once deployment is over and the first battle round begins, you don’t have to remember which one you picked, if it modifies any abilities or rolls, etc.

Beanith: Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I’m in my happy place after reading about the Ordnance Batteries and its effects of -2 to move, no advances and one less d6 roll for charges in the first turn… /afk updating my group’s campaign system to have Assets as of yesterday. This has nothing to do at all with one of my regular opponents playing Blood Angels…

Totally not jokes aside, I’m a big fan of the War Zone Assets for the most part. I’m already planning on ditching the method on assigning Assets in favor of a random draw, adding in missions where you can attempt to capture other people’s Assets and then balancing that with restrictions on how many Assets a Crusade Force can control at one time. Also I like saying the word Asset. Asset

Campaign Master’s Edicts

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

These are a set of optional rules for CMs to make the book even spicier. There’s only one, but it gets its own section, and it’s a doozy.

Heroic Achievements

The main idea of this section is that even if you get owned, you can still be cool. 

Heroic Achievements are little challenges – kind of like agendas, except chosen after the game rather than before. Candidates for Heroism aren’t pre-selected, but if a unit completed the achievement (punch a warlord to death with your warlord) at any point, either it can be nominated for the associated reward (immediately gain a Battle Honor), or the glory can be traded for 2 War Zone Points. 

A player can earn each Achievement as much as they want, at a rate of only one per battle, but only claim the reward once over the entire campaign – subsequent instances of the same heroic will only grant the WZP.  If that weren’t enough, at the end of each phase, whichever alliance earned the most of these also gets as many extra WZP as there are players in the other alliances.

These are all based on Crusade (and if you aren’t using Crusade, you just have the WZP option), are insanely characterful, and very evocative, and I love them in both concept and execution. A favorite is All But One: if a unit of 10 or more models is down to one model at the end of the game, and they’re either in the enemy Deployment Zone, on an objective, or currently engaged in a fist fight, they get a Battle Honour. This is insanely cool. Also a big fan of Bloodied But Unbroken, where a character that has 1 wound left, and has killed a unit during the game, gains 4XP and a free use of the Warlord Trait requisition. 

They all require that a model or unit do something very cool, but don’t all require them to to get owned. For example, Tactical Masterclass lets you select 3 units to Mark for Greatness, if you scored 90 points on mission objectives. Honestly, we could list all of these, they are all that rad. There are 12, and while you won’t probably qualify for one every game, none of them are “NES Ninja Gaiden” level difficulty.

The limitations on the rewards are a good move, keeping the number of “free” upgrades reasonable while adding some agency to the choice: if you score Bloodied but Unbroken and already have a warlord trait, just punt on it, take the points, and wait for it to happen again, to someone more deserving. It’s also a nice way to score some extra WZP for your side, even if you aren’t so good at “winning” “games”.

Mostly, it just feels cool to be earning rewards for going Beast Mode, to have a material impact on your units because they killed a bunch of stuff or did psychic powers real good. Nothing takes the edge off a loss quite like a moral victory – maybe I lost, but I made sure my Warlord turfed your Warlord before I did – and codifying that in the rules is great. Every one of these books fleshes out Crusade a little more, and it’s great to see.

Beanith: I am a Powerfoil X3.0. This stuff is amazing and I’m certainly adding this into our campaign system. The rewards are excellent and find a balance of not being too overpowered and also not too easily achievable.

Legendary missions

They brought back Fathom!

Anyway, as per Book of Rust, we get one per phase (3 in total). Phase one is insanely brutal, so we’ll cover that.

Darkness Descends on Kolossi is a “historical” battle based on Be’lakor attacking House Raven’s keep, but players don’t have to use Be’lakor. It’s a standard “progressive, 6 objectives, score 5 points each for the ones outside your deployment zone” mission, plus an endgame objective called Nightmare, where whoever lost the least PL worth of units during the game gets another 10.

The winner gets the max 5RP for their army, and 4XP for their warlord. Whoever scored Nightmare gets a second Mark for Greatness, even if they lost.

That’s fine. It’s old school, whatever, Nightmare is a fun twist, but what I’m really here for are the mission special rules, which are fully sick. I will explain them here, in order of insanity ascending.

First, thanks to Unnatural Darkness, you cannot shoot more than 24” all game. Those units are simply not eligible targets. Unearthly Howls and Whispers is where we get truly nuts. If, at the start of the battle round, one army has fewer VP than the other, that army loses all of their Auras and Priest Abilities. Good luck making a comeback after a turn or two of that one, yikes. Finally, if any unit fails morale, due to Seeds of Sedition, the opposing player can choose not to do attrition and have it conduct a round of shooting, including shooting at itself. Get owned.

I love this. It’s absurd and punishing and probably fun for 0-1 players at most, but to me it really encapsulates how screwed you’d be if Be’lakor showed up at your house. Just absolute small-c chaos.

Beanith: I am a FA-23129 DYNABREEZE of all three missions. These missions are an excellent addition to the Campaign Master’s tool box and should make for some epic endings to various stages of your campaign. The hefty victory bonus is a new feature which may create balance issues so what out for that.

The Crusade Rules

Requisitions

There aren’t many of these, and they aren’t your usual “upgrade or replace a unit”, they’re all keyed to Charadon Aflame campaign events.

First is Heroic Victory, which costs 1RP and lets you pick two Heroic Achievements instead of one after a mission, and claim both rewards. Similarly, Further the War Effort makes the Asset Requisition stratagem free – essentially turning the 3CP cost for a second Asset to a 1RP cost. Considering how flush armies generally are with RP (between the max of 5 and getting one after every game regardless), and how scarce CP can be, this is worth considering.

Obolis Veterans is…situational, at best. For 2RP, if a unit has both the CHARADON AFLAME and OBOLIS INVASION keywords (ie, has played at least one Crusade game in each), when selecting a Battle Honour, it can be from Obolis instead (normally, the Obolis rewards are only available after Obolis games). I’m not super sure I see the value here. If you have the right keywords, you clearly already played that campaign, so this is only useful for dipping back in if the Crusade moved on before you scored some particularly enticing honour. Get it how you can get it, I suppose, but 2RP is a big ask.

Finally, we have Legendary Exploits. Much like the Adepta Sororitas’ Saint Potentia, this puts a keyword on a character and starts a tally for them. Also like the saints, you actually get one use of this for free when the campaign starts, so this requisition is only used if you want a second one after completing the first. What this tally does is covered in the Legendary Titles section, below.

Relics

There are seven. They’re pretty cool. Three are normal Crusade relics, and the other four are only available in Phase 3 of a Charadon Aflame Campaign, and also cost WZP instead of RP.

Of the “normal” ones, each one is unique to Imperium, Chaos, or “Other.” Imperium models can get the Aegis Indomitus, which gives them a 4+ invulnerable save and a 4+ to ignore mortal wounds. This is a pretty useful upgrade for characters that don’t already have an invulnerable, though a lot of Space Marines characters won’t find much use for it. Chaos models can be awarded the Crown of Shadows, which gives them the ability to hand out Chapter Master re-rolls to hit and wound rolls to a single unit within 9”. They can’t give it to vehicles or monsters, but it’s still great. Finally, if you’re not Imperium or Chaos, you can give your model The Wurm’s Bite, which gives them a +1 to wound vehicles in melee. Then, if that model made any attacks against a vehicle with degrading stats, roll 3d6 against the target’s Ld. If you beat it, then it infects the model with “scrapcode,” which means they halve their current wounds for determining what characteristics to use.

The “Recovered Relics” are only available in phase 3 of the campaign, and cost 1 WZP from your alliance’s supply. Unfortunately, they’re locked to either Chaos or Imperium, with AdMech and Nurgle models getting an extra option each. If you’re a Xenos player, unfortunately, you’re out of luck here. Maybe next time.

On the Imperial side, you can give a model the Blade of Purity, which is a master-crafted power sword that ignores effects that ignore wounds, and imposes a -1 penalty to Out of Action tests on any Character it kills. Or, if you’re playing AdMech, you get access to Tertian’s Logister Cortex, which lets you gain a CP on a 4+ every time you use a stratagem from either the Battle Tactic or Strategic Ploy categories.

Chaos models can take Akhorath’s Eyes, which prevents enemy reinforcements from setting up within 12” of the bearer. An interesting way to prevent deep strikers from catching you out. Nurgle units can recover the Bilge Blade, a power sword that re-rolls 1s to wound and deals mortals on successful wound rolls. And as with its Imperial counterpart, if you kill a Character with it, it imposes a -1 to Out of Action tests. Nasty.

All told, these are a solid set of Crusade Relics that offer some cool stuff, even if they’re somewhat similar to some of the other effects in some of the codexes. This is probably the weakest part of this book, which is saying something, because they’re still pretty rad.

Beanith: Some tasty looking relics you’ve there, be a shame if someone were to just remove a keyword restriction… Only a little Vornado 660 Air Circulator here of this crop of Relics

Insult to Injury

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

This might be, flatly, my favorite Crusade thing I have ever seen in any book. It’s in the running for my favorite rule in all of 40k, or gaming in general. 

Rob: It’s so good.

Beanith: Hands down, best section of the book. Everyone needs to add this into their Campaign now.

The Injury in this case is a failed Out of Action test on a Warlord. The Insult is that the opponent can spend 1RP to choose a battle scar for the loser, and a reward for themselves. Insults continue to pile on: you can’t use Repair and Recuperate to shrug this one off. The bespoke battle scars all have their own recovery conditions. There are only three, and each crusade force can only be subjected to each one once, but these are so good.

By way of example, let us now pretend that our warlord has been Owned, and the opponent decides that he has suffered a Disgraceful Defeat. Our warlord, the noble Chaplain Barbatos, now has to roll a d6 on every battle round’s free CP, and on a 1-2, loses it immediately (this is somehow worse than if it said you never had it in the first place). The victor, for their trouble, gets d3 War Zone Points. The only way to get past this stinging rebuke, and stop the Chaos boys from laughing their multiple heads off every time your sorry ass shows up to rumble, is to win three battles.

It’s not all bad: Barbatos now has A Score to Settle, which is a chance to either redeem himself, or just get styled on even more. Should he kill his bully, he gains 5XP or, if he did it with a melee attack, d6+5XP. The second option is somewhat more likely than you might expect, since the vendetta gives +1 to hit and +1 to wound against the vendett-ee in melee. Scores aren’t settled just by healing the battle scars, though: they’re playing for blood. The vendetta doesn’t clear until they put their rival into the dirt.

This is amazing. Much like the Heroic Achievements, it gives some crunch to the fluff, turning those grudge matches against common opponents into real in-game effects, and I adore that you can’t just Requisition your way out of them (for the most part: there’s actually one that has a custom Requisition to clear the battle scar for 2RP). If you don’t drop one of these on an enemy warlord at the first opportunity, you’re a coward.

Rob: Opportunistic Raid is the only one I don’t like, because it costs 2 RP to clear and it makes it so every time you generate new RP you don’t get them on a D6 roll of a 1 or a 2. It’s a super harsh penalty that can likely feel oppressive and it might need to be dropped to a roll of a 1. I can’t imagine not immediately paying 2 RP to get rid of it. Otherwise, these are great.

Greg: Yeah, the combination of being insanely brutal and also the only one you can buy your way out of makes it only useful if your victim is RP-poor, and even then, it’s at most two games before they just cancel the thing.

Beanith: It could be over even quicker, there are a lot of missions that award an addition Requisition Point as a victory bonus. Still, I’m an apparatus with rotating blades that creates a current of air for cooling or ventilation and I look forward to seeing my long suffering Warlords having more Insults to Injury piled onto them.

Legendary Titles

Legendary Titles are where a lot of these moving parts come together. A character with a tally (select one at the start, or buy another with the Requisition, though only one at a time) gains a tally mark whenever their army completes a Heroic Achievement, regardless of whether that character scored it themselves, or was on the table in the first place. When the tally hits five, the character gets a title and the tally is erased. The titles are linked to Heroics – not all of them, there are only 9 titles versus 12 Achievements – and it has to be one that the army has earned at some point. 

So, you’ve done the Heroics and tallied your points, and it’s time to pick a title. Well, they’re mostly gated pretty heavily by faction. Three are universal, but the rest are limited to “Imperium” or “Chaos” or, even more granularly, “Death Guard” or “Adeptus Mechanicus”.

Ravager of Charadon, available to any CHAOS character as long as you’ve completed the Reaper achievement (one of your units kills four of theirs in a single battle), grants +1 Attack and, oh this is fun, also lets them fight again at the end of the phase every turn.

They aren’t all this outrageously good – Charadon Salvager giving a free relic after every game, or Lord of Almux giving a free Supply Limit and a chance at extra RP come close, though – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to earn one for my warlord on general principle. Sure, the free stratagem is nice, but what’s really clutch is adding Liberator of Feiror to your data sheet.  

Conclusion

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Greg: This is incredible. Just completely owns. Ditching Theaters of War but still allowing the old ones is a fine choice, and the addition of the Assets and Achievements easily balance out that minor loss anyway. The Crusade rules are perfect, my eyes popped out of my head at Insult to Injury and only barely receded in time for Legendary Titles to pop them directly back out. I do worry that things are getting too complicated, with all of these additions to Crusade, but at least with these books things are limited to just playing the relevant campaign or missions. Once you leave the Charadon sector for Octarius, units keep the upgrades on their cards, but you can safely forget about carting this thing around. Worst-case this is cruft on your character sheet, best-case it’s a fun memory of battles past. 

Condit: Honestly, that might be my favorite part of how they’ve decided to attack this. When Crusade was first announced, I was excited, but also worried that it meant I’d need to be carrying 20 books around to every game by the time the edition ended. Breaking them up into chunks like this makes it significantly more manageable and is also perfect for creating a sort of personal Hall of Fame: if I ever decide to retire a unit and start with someone new, I can just save the old Crusade Card, complete with all the keywords, titles, and other stuff they accumulated over their career.

These campaign rules are also a great starting point for anyone looking to get a coherent campaign going for their group. They’re not necessarily how I’d run a campaign for my own group, but they’re perfectly serviceable and leave plenty of room for more creative GMs to customize their campaign to their liking. And, as Greg pointed out, the Crusade rules are on fire from start to finish, with even the weakest link here – the Crusade Relic options – offering some cool and flavorful choices that I’m honestly looking forward to trying out.

Rob: I like the Campaign Master’s Edicts again; it’s cool to have ways to boost struggling players and it’s great to see those return. The Assets I’m less enamored with; they’re kind of neat and a good way to help bolster an alliance/team’s weaker players, but they’re also adding a bit more complication to an already complicated Crusade landscape. Otherwise the campaign rules here are solid, same as the ones in the Book of Rust.

I’m also a fan of continued support for other factions; I really liked how the Book of Rust had some extra stuff for the factions that didn’t have books yet and I was hoping to see more of that here and while we get some of that, I’d have liked to have seen more. The campaign stuff works for me just fine otherwise, and I like the idea that you could run through a Rust campaign and move to the Book of Fire campaign. Also the Insult to Injury stuff is the rudest shit and I am absolutely putting that into the Astradus campaign.

The campaign books continue to be very solid, and I like that you can run them with or without Crusade. Another solid pickup for narrative players.

Beanith: I’m almost out of Fan jokes but that Dyson worry me too much. Speaking as a Campaign Master, this is a great Crusade supplement to add to your toolbox of tricks. I’m still buzzing over the Insult to Injury section and I’m looking forward to adding in War Zone Assets as well. Don’t be afraid to chop and change things yourself.

 

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