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

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Next weekend sees not just one but two massive releases for Warhammer 40,000. In addition to the 9th edition release of Codex: Drukhari (find our review of that book here), Games Workshop will also be releasing their first major campaign book for 9th edition, War Zone Charadon, Act I: The Book of Rust. This hardcover campaign book adds new rules for the Adeptus Mechanicus, Imperial Knights, Death Guard, and Drukhari armies in the form of both subfaction supplements and Armies of Renown, and contains a ton of extra Crusade content and details for running campaigns in the setting.

In this review, we’re primarily going to cover the Narrative Play rules, which are comprised of a campaign system and crusade rules. These are ostensibly accompanied by the Plague Purge supplement, which we’ll review at a later date. If you’re lost and looking for the Match Play rules, you can find them here

The Obolis Invasion Campaign

The campaign in The Book of Rust is the Obolis Invasion. In the fluff, it features the Invaders – mostly Death Guard – going absolutely hog wild on a sub-sector of Defenders – mostly Adeptus Mechanicus and Knights, but it’s the Imperium so we all know it’s going to be 80% Space Marines – while a group of Raiders engage any targets of opportunity they can find. The fluff here isn’t quite as fleshed out as what Vigilus had, and has the same issues as any system involving 20+ armies fighting over the same nuclear crater, but it kind of works better, being left vague. 40k narratives have always suffered from trying to wedge a direct reference to every single Codex into their battles, and leaving that justification as an exercise for the reader is a smart ploy here – your Obolis Invasion might have Daemons and Eldar, and mine might have Tau and Thousand Sons, but I’d rather that our homebrew narratives be irreconcilable to each other than suffer another round of Gamemaster Anthony’s Birthday 40,000 writing.

Rob: For what it’s worth, they do a better job this time around than they did in Vigilus making this work with the rules, and at least have created a team system that captures the idea that there are more than two sides to the conflict.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Running the Campaign

As for running the campaign, the first step is to pick a GM or, in the parlance of this book, a Campaign Master. This, flatly, owns. Having an impartial game master unlocks a ton of flexibility, and the system explains that they’re empowered to do quite a bit – to hand out extra Crusade RP to perennial losers (note that the Crusade rules are optional and the campaign works fine without them), grant extra XP to anyone who does something cool, fudge the alliances as needed, etc – it generally gives them leeway to “house rule” the campaign to fit their particular esoteric gaming group. A lot is left to the CM’s discretion, and acknowledging that running a campaign is a complex situation that the rules can never exhaustively cover is a good move on GWs part. There’s a lot of language in this section around “you have to hand out [X] after each round, and here’s some suggestions on how to do that, but feel free to make up your own methodology”.

We mentioned “alliances” above, and these are the main “teams” that players organize into. The suggestion is to put your IMPERIUM players into Defenders, CHAOS into Invaders, and everyone else into Raiders (we’ll be referring to this as XENOS throughout the review for brevity, but it’s technically either worded as “excluding Imperium or Chaos” or a big list of Xenos faction keywords, in various places). Again, the Campaign Master has some leniency here, and the book provides examples of plot hooks that could be used to paper over any side-swapping. Fortunately the fluff has always been good at, and in many ways exists strictly for, justifying internecine warfare. It’s 40k, just say that someone’s orders got garbled in the Warp, or that the Alpha Legion did something annoying again. Anyway, sort your players into roughly even teams, is the idea here, but it is deliberately and correctly Choose Your Own Adventure.

That seems to be vibe with the Obolis Invasion in general. The book specifically calls out that you can use this with the GT, Crusade, or any other mission pack (the GM is supposed to pick this at the start and not change it), and the length isn’t even hinted at, though it makes some suggestions based around either length of time or number of games. 

Rob: I love that they’ve spelled out CM edicts and ways to help players or inject some additional challenges or bonuses into the games. For players who aren’t quite sure how to handle or balance these things, this is a huge help.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Playing Obolis Invasion Games

The actual games progress through three campaign “phases”, and each has its own Theater of War rules.

Phase 1, Irradiated Wasteland, uses the Mysterious Objectives, and has a table of Twists that are rolled for at the start of the game. Phase 2 moves to the Metalican Redoubt, and drops the Twists for Battlefield Assets. The final phase, Ascendency of Entropy, is where things become All A Bit Much. It’s another set of Twists, but they change every turn, and the manner that they’re rolled for is insane, involving multiple sets of dice rolls – expect to either bookmark this page and refer to it frequently, or just ignore the entire thing. In this phase’s defense, it does have some especially brutal twists – Blight, in particular, turns off hit/wound/damage/number of attacks re-rolls for the entire table – and has a bonkers Multi-Ball Mode where 3 can be active at the same time.

Each phase also has a Legendary Mission. Phase 1 has a pretty standard “breakthrough and escape” one, and Phase 3’s is ridiculous, overflowing with absolute chaos energy, but our S-Tier Gold Ultra pick is Flood Tide on Fathom, from Metalican Redoubt.

The two reasons we love this are because Fathom is just an incredible name for a planet given the mechanics at play here, and because it bears some resemblance to Goonhammer’s own Blow Up The Moon mission pack.

Flood Tide on Fathom places four “flood pump” objectives on the map, and has a special Action to get VPs for messing with them. As the defender, you’re trying to turn them down, and the attacker is trying to turn them up. Every turn, if one side does more monkeying with the valves than the other, the flood level increases or decreases. As the flood level increases, non-aircraft models on the table will see their movement or strength debuffed, weapon ranges decreased, and, at the highest level, just start eating mortal wounds. The best thing about this is that being in a building counts the flood level as one step lower, representing them clambering up the walls. It’s a lot to deal with, but it sounds extremely fun.

Playing campaign games grants the players War Zone Points. You get one just for showing up, and more if you win or draw, which nicely scale based on the size of the game. An Onslaught victory is good for 5 War Zone Points, which can cancel out at a few Combat Patrols at 2 each. As we’ll see in the Crusade section, these points have other uses, making them more of a resource than just a scorekeeping mechanic.

Rob: War Zone points are something they introduced in Flashpoints (though I suspect they were supposed to be introduced here) – and are something we’ve covered before. They’re a good way of tracking a winner in a campaign and they help give players a sense of accomplishment or momentum when they can rattle off a few wins. They’re also helpful for showing contributions to a side’s efforts. Scaling up with game size here is a nice touch as well and if you’re inclined to combine systems it’d be worth considering having a 1-point award for winning games of Kill Team, or using those to provide other narrative awards.  The Theatres of War are similar to what we’ve seen before and tend to alternate between “piling on too many random effects” and

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Scoring

Alliances win or lose the phase based on their total War Zone Points. Again, a helpful callout empowers the CM to grant additional WZPs in case an alliance’s star player gets hit by a bus, or has some other extremely common reason not to play Warhammer. 

Winning a phase grants Strategic Value points, and after all the phases end, the Alliance with the most SVPs (which are gained through WZPs, which are a function of in-game VPs, which can be influenced by your army’s CPs, XPs and RPs… I’m belaboring the point on purpose here, but there’s a lot of acronyms) wins the campaign overall. We’d like to see the scored points carry over into the campaigns in future Charadon books, tying it into a larger narrative, but we’ll have to wait and see on that.

Rob: There’s at least precedence here with what they did for the old Planetary Onslaught campaigns, and I imagine we’ll see them introduce something like uh, Theatre Points (TW) or something that you score by winning Campaigns in the same larger war zone or whatever, and then the side that wins the most of those wins the super-campaign.

Campaign Masters are given some other tools to keep the campaign from doing what every campaign inevitably does, which is devolve into a one-sided slaughterfest after half the players drop out. These include Secret Orders – new agendas that are work 2 WZP and only revealed after being completed – and, if you’re using the Crusade pack, tossing out extra RP or XP to the underdogs. One suggestion, apparently written specifically for me, is to give a player d6 extra Crusade XP if they lose all of their games in the entire phase. I feel seen.

We love the meta-game side of this, and the missions. The theaters of war are fine but border on a “warp storm table” level of too much bookkeeping. Just a very well-designed way to add some narrative framing to your games.

 

Adeptus Mechanicus Daedalosus

Adeptus Mechanicus Daedalosus. Credits: That Gobbo

Crusade

Of course, there’s the option to stomp around in the Obolis sub-sector crusade-style. The gimmick from Beyond the Veil continues here, allowing units to pick up relics, enhancements, and other sorts of typical crusade mechanics. It’s possible to see this as just accumulating cruft on your crusade roster as you Katamari across campaign books, but it reminds me of World of Warcraft expansions, where you might retain certain currency, titles, or gear from several expansions ago, which might not be useful anymore, but still serve as a neat reminder of your army’s battle history. This is really the best thing about crusade, if I’m honest, is slowly making up your own fluff to wax nostalgic about.

As usual, there are Relics, Traits, Weapon Enhancements, and Requisitions, plus a new Virulent Gifts mechanic specific to Death Guard, but there are no new Battle Scars. Whether this is the new normal remains to be seen, but given how often players likely choose to forfeit XP or burn RP to avoid getting them, Games Workshop may have decided they aren’t worth spending the effort to include. More likely, the page count for this section was already tight and they didn’t have space in the book. 

Note that the Crusade content here all (almost – the Virulent Gifts, which we’ll look at later, are the lone exception) requires playing Obolis Invasion campaign games. Just taking part of one game in the campaign will give a unit the OBOLIS INVASION keyword, which unlocks the Traits, Weapon Enhancements, and Relics, and sticks around forever in case you want to take one of those upgrades later, but the Requisitions can only be purchased immediately after an Obolis Invasion Campaign Game. The reason here is that there’s a totally separate Crusade book, Plague Purge, also being released next week, that covers more generic crusading outside of the Obolis Invasion. Seems like too many books.

Crusade Relics

There are six of these in total, in two sets of three, with one each in the typical Imperium/Chaos/Xenos split that the rest of this book has. Note that while the Crusade content is all gated by super-faction, this isn’t the same as the somewhat more fluid Invader/Defender/Raider alliances in the campaign. That is, if your campaign group has the wrong balance of players, you could end up as a (usually defending) IMPERIUM army on the Raiders team, but still be locked to the IMPERIUM content in here.

Anyway, the two sets of relics: one is Artificer Relics, which work as expected: they’re the same Relics you know and love, just more of them to pick from. Xenos get the Mimic Shroud, a cool renaissance faire cape that lets a character ignore rules that ignore Look Out Sir. Practical outfit to have in a warzone, and anything that allows your warlords to be allocated additional drip is fine by us.

The more interesting set – both in terms of being a new mechanic for distributing loot, and for the items themselves, are the Prized Relics. These can only be given to units of Hardened rank or above, immediately after a Obolis Invasion game, and cost a WZP (it has to be scored from the game you just played, and can’t reduce your haul from that mission below 0). 

CHAOS INFANTRY get access to Abbadon’s Writ, which expands any of their aura’s by 3” (!) and grants Objective Secured, with the additional spicy upgrade of counting as six models for objective-holding purposes. This is the “Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Blades of ObSec, and we love it. The fluff text states that the relic is a pendant with Abbabon’s sigil on it, carved from the bones of the previous person he “gifted” it to, after they failed so he had them killed. This begs the question of where the first one came from, to jump-start the cycle of gift->failure->scrimshaw->gift in the first place, and we feel like the answer is probably that it came from Horus.

While obviously not as cool as all that, the Imperial one, Metalican Augmentation, is a saucy little number that windmill slams two weapon enhancements on the same gun. These do not, apparently, have to be from the list in this book.

Battle Traits

There are five tables here – one each for characters, any non-vehicle/monster, and Imperium, Chaos, and Xenos vehicles, with three options each.

The focus on vehicles is interesting, and the Xenos-flavored one is pretty heavily Drukhari-themed – Fickle Raider is a “charge after falling back” upgrade, and the other two are named “Lie In Wait” and “Piratical Raider”, which is honestly a terrible name for any of the other factions that can technically take these, but perfect for Deldar.

Rob: It’s also a little weird to see vehicle rewards for Chaos in here given that the Death Guard army is non-vehicles, but there’s also fluff talking about Black Legion and other CSM forces taking part in the Charadon campaign, and it’s cool to see other factions getting some benefits, so this is pretty great.

The battle traits are, overall, not bad but not particularly exciting. A unit always fighting first when on an objective, or using Master of the Counter-Attack to allow a character to be held in strategic reserve for free (or using half its PL for TITANIC units, which is fair, since this could end up on a Freeblade knight), isn’t an upgrade you’ll ever regret, but I am neither hooting nor hollering at this. I don’t hate any of them, but I gotta say I’m a little uninspired by this set of traits.

 

Imperial Knight Gallant - Hand

I’m crushing your head *crunch crunch crunch*.
Credit: Pendulin

Weapon Enhancements

These introduce a new wrinkle: they are explicitly not presented as a table to roll on, you pick which one you want at all times. Despite this, there’s still exactly six of them, so it’s not entirely clear why the “do not roll” rider is there, or why the writers would limit themselves to the same number of options if that’s the case, but whatever, these are cool. Weapons with Recoil Dampers ignore the heavy penalty on infantry and hit on a 5+ when firing Overwatch, and there are different upgrades for both +1 to hit FLY and +2 to hit AIRCRAFT. Overall solid, but it’s a bummer that there’s only one set of six, and that they can only be taken on ranged weapons – most of them are locked by weapon type (Assault, Rapid Fire, etc), but even the ones that aren’t still carry that restriction – a net +1 to hit with a Thunder hammer while jump-jetting a slam captain into a jet will just have to wait for a different book.

Requisitions

There’s only one requisition per super-super-faction here (we’ll say it again: Imperium, Chaos, Xenos), and if you take one it docks you a single War Zone Point in addition to the RP cost.

The Chaos one is the Chosen of Abbadon, a one-per-order of battle upgrade to give a model an additional warlord trait. It costs 2RP on top of that that tasty morsel of WZP, and the only restrictions are that the model needs to be at least Heroic rank, and that this happens right after an Obolis Invasion battle – the model in question doesn’t even need to have been there, and if it already has a trait, it has two now. The Xenos one, Bane of Empires, is perhaps even less glamorous, though not at all a bad pick despite that: For 1RP, after your Warlord crashes his car into the other Warlord, they gain 5XP. Nothing overly creative, but a solid utility pick for speed-leveling your HQ after they do something really cool.

Much like the Weapon Enhancements, these are fun, and useful. We just wish there were more of them.

Rob: These are very cool and I can see why they’re being stingy with them. I’d love to see Xenos ones that are a bit more specific than treating “Xenos” as a superfaction but this is a really cool design space to play around in.

 

Credit: PierreTheMime

Virulent Gifts 

New to this book are the Virulent Gifts, a set of new toys for Death Guard. The way these work is that you buy a 1RP requisition, and spend either 1 or 2 Virulence Points. For 1 VP, you roll a d6 and get a random gift, but for 2, you get to pick. Gifts are one per model, and only three are allowed at once in the order of battle.

We say “at once” because they’re temporary. These are powerful single-use abilities, and when you pop them, they’re immediately removed from the unit’s crusade sheet until you buy it again. They’re worth it despite that: Pandemic Vitality enables the bearer  – any Death Guard character  – to fight again at the end of the fight phase. Bloat-Fly Swarm allows them to attempt to deny a single psychic power, with the hilarious bonus that if you deny it on a 10+, the caster of that power also suffers Perils of the Warp, which is incredibly rude. 

There are, again, six of these, and they’re all good-to-great. One of them is called “Bountiful Vomit”, which is certainly, ah, evocative.

We love that this builds on top of the existing Virulence Points mechanic from Codex: Death Guard, and the gifts themselves are great tricks to have in your back pocket. Unlike the rest of the Crusade section, they aren’t bound to any of the Obolis Invasion campaign rules, which means that as a Death Guard player, this page is good for standalone use even if you never touch the rest of the book’s narrative content.

Rob: I love this so much and I want to see more of this in the future.

 

Final Thoughts

Greg: The Obolis Invasion is a fun thing if you have a group for it, likely one of the best campaign products GW have released. There’s a lot of bookkeeping (doubly so if you’re using the Crusade pack), but the addition of the Campaign Master fixes a lot of that by making it someone else’s problem. The admission that players are going to do this anyway, and building around that expectation rather than trying to handle all possible corner-cases in the rules, is something that’s long overdue. The book makes it excruciatingly clear in multiple places that the CM is empowered to figure things out on their own for the group.

The Crusade content is a must-have if you play Death Guard, and if you’re part of an Obolis Invasion Campaign you may want to run it as a Crusade just to use some of the other new toys, but we wouldn’t go out and grab The Book Of Rust purely for Narrative purposes unless you’re one in one of those two categories, as the Crusade content is all locked behind either the campaign or being Death Guard, and some of the new upgrades are perfectly skippable. Seeing them build a new system on top of Virulence Points is great and we like the one-shot buff mechanic, but probably the most interesting new thing is the tension between spending War Zone Points to contribute to alliance-wide scoring vs burning them on Crusade trinkets to power up your own army.

It would have been nice to see the Crusade rules be less tightly coupled to the campaign rules, because as-is it’s impossible to talk about them without bringing Obolis Invasion into the discussion. Again, this is because they held the other rules back and put them in the general-purpose Plague Purge book, which is fine, but it does make Book of Rust a harder sell. It does make it difficult to recommend which one to pick up – or neither, or both – though, as it largely depends on the makeup of your particular gaming circle.

In the end, if you don’t have any need for the AdMech, Drukhari, Imperial Knights, or Death Guard competitive content, the Book of Rust might not be worth the sixty bucks based purely on the Narrative side of things, but there’s enough here that if you’re running a Crusade it’s worth a look just for the campaign.

Rob: Pretty much agreed on all fronts. This is a very solid first outing for 9th edition campaign books, and there’s a lot more meat here than we had in Beyond the Veil, which was more like a set of missions than a full campaign book. There’s a ton of great stuff here even if you don’t need the Matched Play rules and I’d say this is a must-buy if you’re doing Crusade stuff.

There’s also a lot going on here with regard to “what can we expect to see in the future?” and in that sense, this book is pretty great. I think the battlezone/theatre of war stuff is still pretty lame but I like the war zone point system enough and the legendary battles are decent missions and a better way to handle creating campaign missions, especially when there’s going to be an entire book’s worth of them released simultaneously. The requisitions are a smart idea and I like giving them a war zone points cost. Overall while this book doesn’t go too hard on the “everybody gets to play” side of things like Vigilus did – an approach which also always somehow leaves somebody out and makes their players get super pissed – it also still gives almost everyone things they can use, which is more important than including everyone neatly in the narrative anyways. I agree that we need something that makes it possible to decouple the campaign and Crusade rules a bit more, if only because I don’t care so much about the campaign setting and likely won’t use it when I run my own campaign.

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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