Once a mail order troll, Andy Chambers’ first few contributions to White Dwarf led to a career in developing and designing rules for the Warhammer 40K universe. Back in 2003, on the eve of the Eye of Terror campaing, the 40K Overfiend and motorcycle hound chatted about the forces of chaos, the fourth edition of 40K and Squats.
Q: The fans’ battle results for the Eye of Terror campaign will ultimately shape the future background of the Warhammer 40K universe. How did that concept come about?
A: There’s always a great deal of interest in the future storyline. Well, what’s the fairest way to determine the results? Let them fight for it. You want to preserve the way things are? Fight for that. You want to see some changes? Fight for that. We got such a tremendous response out of doing Armageddon (Games Workshop tracked battle results between humans and Orks on the planet of Armageddon to determine the outcome of the war), by the time we got to the end of it, it was like: It’d be better if we could do more with this in terms of the overview of the universe. So that was the objective of doing Eye of Terror: picking a subject matter that would be big news and seeing how we could adjudicate the results so that it was a far more tactical game (EoT ranges over several star systems instead of one planet).
Q: I’ve heard you have a large list of decision trees to map out possible outcomes of various battles. How complicated is it?
A: The actual mechanics of how the campaign runs are the most complex. We’ve done some example decision trees around the different war zones based around the different characters—how different outcomes will affect special characters. We haven’t done them all because there’re too many to do.
Q: We’re starting to see some input into the 40K official universe from subsidiary companies like The Black Library and even THQ’s Fire Warrior game—the rail rifle, implemented specifically for the video game will be an official option for Tau Pathfinders around September (a new model, too).
A: One of the keys to what I’ve been working over the last few years is to try to ensure there’s a good degree of integration between the 40K game and the other things that occur in the 40K universe. The 40K game can’t dictate the entire universe, and the entire universe can’t dictate the 40K game. The big thing is getting a dialogue with what The Black Library is doing.
Q: When you’re designing rules, whether it’s a new Codex or Chapter Approved, is it more important to have something new and cool or that the play balance is preserved?
A: For the 40K game, play balance is key. You can always put cool things in there, but you have to have a strong eye towards game balance at all times. A lot of it comes down to: How much complexity do you want to add to the game? You also have to keep a tight reign on the complexity of the system. You’ve got to give consideration to people who are new to the game. Our philosophy is: simple to learn, complex in application. There’re always a lot of tactical choices available, but they don’t always require you to be a complete egghead when it comes to numbers.
Q: The process seems very organic—there are revisions and fan feedback, which I imagine you get a lot of.
A: Oh, yes. Many of which are: You used to do these things, can you reintroduce them? The game itself has evolved over the years. Rogue Trader, when it started out, was 10, 20 guys on a side so you could have complex rules. When you have 100 people on a side, you have to have game rules that are more playable. It’s an ongoing process. Over the course of three editions, you try to keep the feel of it consistent throughout even if the detail changes.
Q: Games Workshop USA CEO John Stallard mentioned the fourth edition of 40K is a fairly slight revision of the current rules.
A: Absolutely. We’re very satisfied where third edition sits at the moment. It does handle large battles quite well and has a pleasing level of detail in it. In terms of the overall gameplay, it won’t change substantially at all. There will be some slight changes to make certain tactical choices more viable and so forth. One thing I’ve learned is that players adapt to and find the best way of doing things rather rapidly. So shaking up the tactics every now and then is good because it keeps things from getting stale. What I want to see is the broadest possible choice of tactics being viable in the game.
Q: Some players complain 40K is too assault-based and isn’t shooty enough.
A: It’s strongly assault orientated at the moment. That’s one of the things I’m looking at tweaking to take the emphasis slightly off hand-to-hand. There are several armies that run on assault. That’s how they work so you can’t downgrade the effects too far because you’ll scalp those armies in the process. At the same time, it’s making sure the firepower armies have got viable ways of fighting too. It’s just slightly shifting the balance around. At the moment, I’m working on trying to make short range shooting slightly more effective and make assaults very, very deadly but also very, very costly and bloody in terms of the losses you’ll incur. We’ve got a slight issue in terms of when you get very close, you may as well get into assault. There’s no point in standing up and shooting. And that’s something I’d like to address in fourth edition.
Q: In all your years working at Games Workshop, is there any one particular contribution that you’re most pleased with?
A: The thing I’m really most happy that I’ve done over recent years is the Battlefleet Gothic game. That was nice because it was actually starting from scratch. I was very happy with the results. It’s a nice, tidy system; it plays well. Science fiction, to my mind, is about moving between stars. BFG added a missing block. 40K took care of fighting at a certain level, Epic took care of large mass combat, Necromunda is more of a skirmish, but there was nothing that capped it off with starship combat. That makes integrated games between the various systems much more viable.
Q: Do you have non-Games Workshop hobbies in your spare time?
A: A few. I do some historical gaming: 400-250 B.C. Greeks, 1450s A.D. Teutonic knights, a little bit of ancient naval combat. I do role-playing. I do run a motorcycle, which you could call a hobby because it’s not the most practical thing to get around, but it’s a lot of fun. I started off learning 14th/15th century German two-handed sword technique.
Q: Is there any one question from the fans that sticks out?
A: You get a lot of consistent questions about races we’ve dropped. Somebody always asks about the Squats. That’s reached joke status now. I’m fairly sanguine about that. People care; they’re very passionate about what’s gone before. The biggest vain question is: When are you going to do something for my army? There’re only so many things we can do at a time. With the number of armies, we try to cycle around so that everybody gets something at some point. But the cycle on that can be quite long; it can be anywhere from three to four years.
Q: There have been a couple of new races in 40K over the last few years. Are you happy with the number of races now? Do you think there is room for more or do you want to develop the ones you have?
A: I think it’s good fun to do new stuff. The Tau were a really nice opportunity to explore a different direction. Where we are now, we need to give more attention to the races that are already there. Fitting more races into the range is a difficult thing. The more you do, the less you can do for the ones that have gone before.