Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Case Against Special Characters

To my mind most of the balance issues seem to start in the game when Special Characters are included. Now I’m sure people will point out to me the characters that are not overpowered and offer something new and exciting to the game. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that these characters make up 90% of the Special Characters on offer, however there is one major problem. Apart from some strange souls – I’m looking at you Dave Appleby and Henry Poor – these are not the Special Characters that get taken.

For every one of these “90%” that get taken at a tournament, I’m guessing three or four of the “10%” turn up. And why do people use them? Not to give their army some strange or unique feel. They use them to get some perceived on-table advantage. I guess I don’t buy the Kool-Aid that people lie in bed at night and go “I wish I had a cool Troll army”. What they are more likely to be saying is “How can I get the most efficient spend on my Core”. Similarly, I don’t believe people either love the Epidemis model or his backstory. What they love is the “tally” special rule they can’t access any other way. Alalalarelle the Radiant isn’t there because she’s cool, she’s in the army because she provides a minimum 5+ ward against shooting on Banner of the World Dragon-toting White Lions.

So I’m biased. I’m going to say that upfront. I’ve always hated Special Characters in tournament gaming. Sure put them in your campaign games or garagehammer battles but keep them away from tournaments. In Fantasy, the list of offenders over the years is long and horrendous – Kairos, The Masque, Khalida, Throgg, Manfred, Thorek, Teclis, etc etc etc. Isn’t it funny that it’s these you see rather than the ones that don’t break the game. I hated them in 40k and I hate them in Fantasy.

Why do I think they are a problem?

Because I don’t believe that Games Workshop playtests them to any great extent. If they playtest a new book within their studio exactly how much focus does a Special Character get? How many potential combinations do they look at and test? I’m going to go with not many. Actually I’d be surprised if individual Special Characters get more than one or two playtest games. Yet the weekend the book gets released thousands more pairs of eyes look at these characters and go “What if”? Suddenly things get taken to the extreme and in that context the abilities that the special Character construes bears no relation to their points costs.

Over time – and with the release of new 8th Ed books – I believe the game is becoming more and more balanced. Less and less restrictions are required to level the playing field for these current edition books – I reckon I could at a pinch reduce it to five. However ones of these would definitely be a line banning Special Characters due to the applied effects of the 10%.


  1. Could we not just ban the problem ones? Seems a shame to stop the likes of Valkia and Scylla just because Throgg is bent doesn't it?

  2. Its an odd assessment. Is it any different with a dwarf taking a cannon over a flame cannon? Or WOC taking Skullcrushers over knights?

    There is no difference between taking the more efficient choice over another than taking a special character who on paper is better than the vanilla alternative. Often its access to a magic item that otherwise would not exist, or an additional rule that is unique that is the point of difference.

    In tournament gaming people will always lean towards the most perceived efficient use of points that would result on increasing their chances of winning games.

    I think the main issue people have with some special characters is particularly focused on those who introduce a change in rules/game mechanics etc like the Epidermus, Throgg or Khalilda. They tend to change the way an army is built as opposed to just increasing the strength of an existing build. To some this is an abuse of the rules.

    An example I would put forward is Khalilda. I've seen some comp packs that limit her to a unit of 30 archers. At that point I not many bother taking her as the 360 points is not worth spending for such a small unit. On the other hand people scream broken when she turns up with 50 archers. This build is often seen as it is now far more efficient.

    Are all special characters balanced? no
    Are all warhammer units balanced? no

    I am against outright 'bans' on anything. If comp needs to be introduced to take the edge off things, then maybe a good fix is a pool or sacrifice to do so to at least allow choice.

    1. Tim's views are pretty similar to my own. Their are many units which are bigger offenders than special characters. My only real objection to the SC you've mentioned is not that they are too good but that I think they lend themselves to a push it forward style that I'm not personally a fan of.

    2. See below. Apparently we should get rid of scenarios to make Throgg more viable.

  3. Hi, as you mentioned I'm one of the ones who enjoys taking the non-broken ones just for the ability to take different lists. That said it wouldn't worry me at all if you excluded special characters from tournaments. It's a nice to have but not essential by any means and some of them are broken and less than fun to play against some times.

    I would say the way forward might be to either remove them from most tournaments but then maybe do 1 or 2 tournaments a year where you can take them or as suggested above just make a list to ban the more OTT ones.

    I'd be happy either way.

    Dave A.

  4. You sound like Ant Pete! He he also hates special characters. For someone who did very well with Tetto Eko at the weekend he is 100% the best special character in the lizard book and for 185 points a total bargain. Do I like using him yes (because he is bent) would I cry if he was taken away, no i'd probably go double scroll priests for the same cost but not all the benefits that he brings. I'm not using him because I like the fluff for him. Otherwise i'd be rocking Chackax the Eternity Guardian or some other "cool" character. One possible DILFCon adaptation discussed has been to move to no comp but not allow special characters and play W/L/D as something new in the scene.

  5. Imho, drop em, they contribute to repetitive builds of such power that any opponent has to skew their own list disproportionately to deal with.

    1. All of them are the offenders? If Henry wants to take Grom the Paunch I see no reason to stop him. While banning all Special Characters certainly results in less written lines of comp, it would unnecessarily in my opinion comp a huge amount of options.

    2. Easier to just drop them all. Garage... go nuts. Special tournaments.. help yourself. Standard compset.. no thanks.

    3. Yep...that's my issue and why I wouldn't support outright ban on them.

      They are a problem on the top tables at events. The 10% are undercosted for their effect. But I betthere would be enormous bitching with naming and shaming that 10%. I guessing the DE contingent think Crone Hellbron is well pointed, while the Lizards are amazed at how balanced Psuedo Ekko is. The empire thinks Karl Franz is peachy, the Woccers don't understand the hate for Throgg, I've heard Dwarfs wax lyrical on the balance of Thorek and all the High Elf love has shifted from Teclis to Allelalarelle the Radiant. Don't get the Doccers started on how overcosted Epidemius is?

      Strangely everybody (generalisation) thinks the other SC are broken.

      And as Dan said, army get more extreme to address the SC builds


    4. Funny...I only took K Franz to Tauranga and Gcon because I knew the events would be populated with cav or other multiple wound creatures so it made sense. To be honest, I think Tim hit the nail on the head by suggesting that neither characters or units are balanced in either respect.

    5. See, I disagree on the "units" side of things. I believe there is far stronger evidence of balance in the 8th Ed books than at any other time since mid-6th Ed.

      The only things that to that require rethink in 8th Ed books are the inclusion of Chariots as Core in WoC and the ability to take multiple Ironblasters. I can pretty much live with anything else with two general rules - max four warmachines and four flyers.

      If I had to add further comp it would be Hellheart/Dispel Scroll max 1; Restriction of 3rd Eye of Tz to model with 5+ Ward.

      However once SC are included I'm nowhere near as comfortable

    6. What about infantry? If monstrous cav aren't overpowered and therefore balanced, then why aren't WoC armies populated with hordes of Chaos Warriors? Furthermore, when do you see Empire lists without two units of demigryphs and units of spearmen instead?

      I agree with the Tz 5+ ward, which I feel was a complete over sight by the rules development team (re 3+ ward rerolling 1's) and by any stretch of the rules imagination is completely poop.
      I think their initial intent with 8th was really good, it certainly gave the game a better "feel", however with the staggered release of the books, there has been a definite creep towards monstrous infantry/cav at the expense of infantry.

    7. I'm talking balance between books, not between individual troop types

    8. So Rory, take out Special Characters - do you think that 8th Ed Books inherently lack balance taken in their entirety....Look at the releases:

      High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizards, Warriors, Daemons, Empire, Ogres, Orcs & Goblins, Tomb Kings

      There are R-P-S matchups sure but I think that people have shown that all can be competitive. Internet wisdom says TKs are weakest but Tim Joss did well with them here as did Peter W. But with uncompd WoC and DoC, O&G won SCGT, OKs won Dilfcon with Lizards 2nd.

      I think GW has done great job on external balance

  6. OK Pete, what are you up to?
    You're just causing a distraction by getting us to talk and write about special characters while you slip through something else.
    What's the real agenda?

    1. Real agenda: fast play.. games in 1 hour 30!

    2. Something to do with the balanced Skaven list I'll wager! :)

    3. Shockingly enough I personally don't have a problem with any of the busted special characters or the majority of broken units around right now. I think the format is pretty well balanced, I think the biggest issues is ppl need to adapt their lists and take more flexible answers across different phases to deal with commonly taken treats.

      Adapt or Die as they say.

      Ryan, James M and Peter all exposed glaring weakness's in my troll heavy army at Skitterleap...

      James ran circles around my army and got a comfortable draw but he could have won the game outright comfortably.

      Ryan actually beat me 14-6 or 15-5 if it wasn't for the scenario cap and a little luck on my part.

      Peter W almost diverted my trolls out of the game and again either one of us could have won had it not been for a little luck. he killed my DP T1... 5 bolt throwers ouch! Pete actually killed a unit of trolls and reduced the other to 4 models.

      Throgg and similar characters (excluding epidemius due to his ARMY wide effect on nurgle) aren't an issue in my opinion, what is the issue is ppl aren't trying to adapt their lists for each event. Everyone knows there will be lots of regen'ing units yet few ppl seem to take the Banner of eternal flame or the lore of fire...

      The only issues I think we really have in "Pete lite" (if it really is an issue) is the cap placed on Scenarios... in my opinion 600 - 1000 bonus points for completing the scenario requirement is enough incentive for players to go after it, giving an 11-9 automatically win is a bit much... I'd personally like all players to have a chance at pulling back a win even if they missed out on the scenario bonus. Outside of that if I had to personally pick a single busted unit or special character out there right now that might need restriction it would have to be Skaven slaves or Skull cannons.

      my 2 cents for what is worth

    4. As predicted above - "WoC Plyer Has No Problem With Throgg Shocker"
      but sees a major problem with Epidemis who is broken.

      As they say:

      "Dear GW,

      Rock is broken, however Paper is okay



    5. Hamish wrote:

      "The only issues I think we really have in "Pete lite" (if it really is an issue) is the cap placed on Scenarios... in my opinion 600 - 1000 bonus points for completing the scenario requirement is enough incentive for players to go after it, giving an 11-9 automatically win is a bit much... I'd personally like all players to have a chance at pulling back a win even if they missed out on the scenario bonus."

      Of course you do Hamish. Pretty sure your response to a request to a game of squash would be

      "Sure, I'll drive the bulldozer"

      The reason for scenarios is precisely to avoid such situations. As you say

      "Adapt or die"

      Though I'm pretty sure a great man used the phrase

      "Evolve or Die"

      Oh wait, it was me. Damn

    6. Neil - No agenda. I just believe that WHFB would require virtually no comp without "the 10%" SC

    7. That was actually pretty funny Pete.

  7. The only problem with SC is that they're not balanced between the books. Of my 3 books - High Elves have a good number of SC - Eltharion, Alith Anar, Everqueen - which I would and have used. The Ogre books SC all suck and of the 3 in the Dwarf book - Thogrim cant be used at 2400pts, Thorek is always banned and Bugman is good but requires a certain army build that restricts you in other areas.

    Some SC are simply far better per point they should be - personally i've never liked them but with so many people bringing them to tournaments lately I've started building lists around them for the first time particularly Eltharion and Bugman. Happy either way but would lean more toward not including them at all.

    Oh and Jossy the reason Dwarfs dont take Flame Cannons is because 8th Ed nerfed them otherwise Id have 2 :)

    1. That is exactly my point John. They are not taken because there are far better options for the points, and if you where building a competitive list you would be mad to waste points on inefficient units.
      SC are no different to any other unit in the game in terms of balance vs power. People will always opt for the stronger/more efficient option when building an army for competitive play.

  8. I dont really care either way, except to state that Variety is always a good thing, otherwise tournaments lack the appeal after a while.

    I do have one question though. based on your own statements above Pete, if Throgg was a just a generic spammable Troll King you'd have no issue with him?

    1. No, not if he didn't move trolls to Core.

    2. There is an easy solution though Pete. Comp Throgg to moving only 1 unit of trolls to core. With the point cap on units its no big deal!
      Epidermus can bee pooled with beasts of Nurgle
      Khalilda can be limited to a unit of 50 or less.
      Job done

  9. I have enjoyed some special characters that I have come across this year. The 2 games vs bug man lists have been amongst my "top 5" most enjoyable games this year.

    However, if a ban was put in place (again) I would not lose sleep over would however create a market driven need for an event that celebrated the "90%". It would have to not count towards rankings for it to be a real success and encourage the weird and wonderful special characters that gw make models for that no one ever uses.

    1. Did the games against Throgg, Epidemius and co fill the other three spots?

  10. Ban them all I say.
    Oh except Valkia because she rocks and I have the model.
    Oh and Grom and errr and Skarsnik as I have those models too.
    The Green Knight is OK too come to think about it.
    but yes - everything else can be banned but I'd like to reserve the right to appeal if I buy another special character.
    There you go - sorted.

  11. Epidemius and Throgg are "broken" but Tetto Eko is failry pointed and I'd like to be able to still use him :) You can ban Krox Gar though because he is bent..
    Regards Lizardmen player

  12. We have that "market-driven event" in Tauranga twice a year.

  13. For anyone who cares what I think (No one probably)
    I would vote two ways.
    Firstly for a straight ban.
    I love the idea of SC but there are a few of them that just ruin it for the rest.
    Secondly how ever I would like to see if the community could come up with a 10% ban list to allow the fluff bunnies out to play. But if there isnt a clear consensus on the list banned then chuck it in and ban them all.
    How ever knowing internet warriors we would probably be asking to much so many as well save ourselves the trouble and bad them all.

  14. Hey Pete,

    Why don't you run a tournament where SC are mandatory 1-2 at least.

    Then all the SC can hangout and see who is the coolest kid in town

    1. As Blair says that's Tauranga's brief

    2. Plus it won't be all the Special Characters. Rather multiple iterations of Epidemius, Throgg, Tetto Ekko, Allarielle and the like, with a handful of masochists taking the likes of Grom the Paunch, Tullaris, Bugman and Lord Skrolk.

    3. I'm not sure Allarielle belongs on this list? I would say a Book L4 is better but again as Tom said above no way we will get consensus on that 10% so ban all or none is the question. If all then events like Tauaranga are the chance to use them.

    4. I did hesitate to add her, and that's the biggest issue with a partial ban on special characters; where do you draw the line. We can all agree that Throgg and Epidemius are broken (I hope we can...), but who sits on the boundary and is just acceptable or just not quite acceptable.

      It's easier to ban all of them, but it might be more worthwhile to take the heat and only ban some.

  15. Replies
    1. Well that is not happening either Rory as there are at least 12 major armed conflicts going on in various parts on the globe... might as well hope for 100% balanced Warhammer :)

  16. Having read this thread their seems repeated mention that:
    a. Most special characters sit somewher between well pointed and terrible
    b. Special characters bring an enjoyable element to the game when not overpowered
    c. There are some that are undercosted/overpowered. When this is mentioned its only Thorek, Epidimius and Throgg mentioned.
    Unless I am wrong (quite possible) wouldn't it be better to tone down, comp or ban those three rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water and banning all.
    PS If we had world peace then how would Warhammer 40K come about?

    1. I'm sure WoC & DoC players would make a case that Tekko Ekko, Crone Hellbron and the Elf with +2 Wd from Shooting who sits with BotW were just as overpowered.

      And DE players would say no Hellbron is just peachy, have you seen Karl Franz?

      Rinse and repeat.

      However I will start a thread and see what we get :-)