Feast of Blades '13

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fluff Theory 101: Retcons, and YOU.

(Editors Notes: Conscripted into permanent service/ his attempt at world domination is the nihlistic bastard himself,  Brother Marcelius Aurelius...aka the guy I always play with and mention Marcus, be warned now for minds to be blown from the witty passive aggressive rhetoric...viewer discression is advised....)

Behold! Your adversary Marcus walketh about, seeking blogs he may temporarily hijack. Kevin has made the terrible mistake of giving me housekeys to Baals-2-The-Waals, and now you must cower before my space-age soap-box ramblings. This page is now officially content-free.

Today, dear interpreters of words, I'd like to talk to you about one of the bugaboos of any long-term hobbyist - the dreaded RetCon. For those of you who have social lives too fulfilling to know the definition of that term, it's short for 'retroactive continuity', which sounds like some kind of time paradox but really just means that somebody re-wrote some fluff to be fundamentally different. We're in the age of RetCons, it seems - in the next year and a half to two years, we can expect to see some old armies with some very dedicated players (Chaos, BT, DA, Eldar, and Tau) get new books with new fluff by new writers, and some of it is bound to offend both neckbeards and WAAC jerks alike - it doesn't matter how much or how little the fluff aspect of the game appeals to you, when your $600 army of four years becomes a social disgrace, you feel that shit. Getting your fluff butchered is a hobby catastrophe on the scale of an army-wide nerf pummeling, so for those of you with older armies who you've adored for years, whose generals and squad leaders have been named and personalized, whose backstory has been carefully woven in to the fabric of the 41st Millennium, a little bit of apprehension is to be expected. After all, a few nerfed units can be replaced in a list, or a weapon that was written out can be proxied, but a backstory is an extension of the player and having that become suddenly invalid is a jarring feeling.

But it's not all doom and glue-m fumes, web-friends. RetCons can end up being good just as easily as they can end up miserably poor.

A bad RetCon, though, is really a depressing thing to see; your new army might end up as a mere facsimile of your beloved old one, like Jack Nicholson's lobotomy at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A good example of sirloin fluff ending up as dollar menu mushburger platitude is everyone's favorite bandwagon, the Grey Knights. The old book had layer upon layer of techno-mysticism that was so emblematic of the GrimDark that after reading it I seriously considered putting a request in my will to be turned into a Servo-Skull. The current codex, on the other hand, made me wonder if Mat Ward was taking dictation from Michael Bay when he penned that soulless spectacle of hyperbolic ADHD fanwank-on-parade. And what's worse, they were almost TOTALLY homogenized; for starters the chapter roster went from being a complete mystery to being 1,000 strong, exactly like every other mundane chapter. Mysteries surrounding the chapter, such as their charter, practices and founding that were only tantalizingly alluded to previously are now either flat-out stated, or hinted at with the subtlety of a baboon with Tourette's. And aside from these methods of fluff-butchery, the same effect can be achieved by making changes that will invalidate player's themed armies (I can hear the gentle weeping of a hundred thousand Iron Warriors players from here), or by otherwise making the fluff narrow or bland where it used to be vibrant and detailed.

On the other hand, sometimes a RetCon can be a blessing in disguise. I remember the sinking feeling I got from reading the BA fluff that involved an episode of them bro-ing out with Necrons. Holy Frosted fucking Flakes, I thought to myself, this is gonna be weird. And then when the codex finally dropped, my homeboys the Necrons had received what could very reasonably be considered one of the most drastic RetCons a 40k army has ever undergone. They went from being the slaves of the gods, to having kicked the gods' eldritch asses comprehensively. They went from soulless automatons, to mustachio-twirling, idiosyncratic villains with schemes and speeches.  From unthinking horde of monolithic Lovecraftian techno-zombies, to disparate factions with their own goals and motives, unified only by conquest. They...TALK...now. It's hard to imagine a more dramatic shift. And you know what? I dig it like no man's business. They were taken from total monochrome to having their own distinct personality as an army in the game. A whole new history was written for them, allowing for endless new stories to be told and epic backgrounds to be created. And, in the hallmark of a well-done RetCon, the old fluff is still even valid. Your army can be motivated by the same desires and have the same endgame, and it makes perfect sense within the framework of the new book. So even if you hate the new 'Crons, your army isn't required to fall in line with their new course. Without sounding too much like a giggling schoolgirl, I must say; hell yes.

But that's all in the resolution. What about the foreplay? How do you calm your nerdy nerves while anxiously waiting for the codex? The first thing to remember is that the only constant in this process is change itself; you know it's gonna get shaken up, so come to terms with it. Make your peace. Be prepared to make adaptations to your backstory, so that when the time comes it doesn't come as a shock. Second of all, although you should be aware that things will change, don't play prophet and make the assumption that it's going to be terrible before the codex is actually in your hands. If you noticed, my examples of both awesome and awful RetCons were written by the same dude. Don't rely on rumors to make your decisions; even when they're accurate, they're incomplete. And, as always, when you're forming your opinion on these things please kindly remember that 40k pundits are literally 100% irrelevant to your life. Blogs don't matter. Volume does not mean veracity, brothermayng.

TL;DR - When it comes to RetCons, remember this: different =/= bad. Bad = bad. Different = different. Open minds, now.


  1. I like the cut of this Marcus fellow's jib. You should keep him around. He talks sense. Particularly about the fanficcer's right to say "you know what, I do not want this new background, I shall put my fingers in my ears and ignore it", and the extent to which the Necron book enshrines yr. right to do that.

  2. Haha thanks much, man. I'm hoping to keep up a steady one-a-week pace with these bad boys.