Many players love a good story. Some examples include; the heroic last stand of a space marine sergeant, tragic death of an inquisitor, doom of an entire planet, or even the twisted plans of the dread powers of chaos. These stories form the very foundation of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. They appear in army codices, novels from Black Library, and even in short stories from GW. These flavorful event descriptions are one way to fuel your creativity when creating your army. For example, the Space Wolves Codex details the backgrounds of each of the 13 Great Companies, some of which are further described throughout the book. This can be a great jumping off point when developing an army. Take this simple quote regarding Kjarl Grimblood:
His Great Company favors a great many flame weapons, boasting no fewer than twelve Land Raider Redeemers. So it is that his Grey Hunters have a special right of passage—once a grey hunter has killed his prey with flame, he has earned the right to paint his face with blood before each battle. - Games Workshop Codex Space Wolves Page 17
These few lines give a wealth of insight into a list theme; it might include a Land Raider Redeemer, not all of them, but maybe one or two. It also suggests that some of Grey Hunters be equipped with flamers, and those that are could have a unique marking, red helmets or open helmets with red face paintings. Having a good theme can make an army unique and incredibly fun.
However, there remains a distinct difference between theme and concept. An army concept is something simple, and often very broad in nature. For example, "I want tons of tanks in my army", or "I want a hoard of Orks running around", or "I want to spawn wave after wave of bugs". Each of these represents a generalization about the composition of an army. Theme takes a concept to a deeper level and flushes out the details and backstory of the army. Detailing where your army originates from, how they train, their fighting method, motivations, leaders, and other personalities that might be included. Flushing out some of these details and then designing your army gives it character that is substantive. This represents an important distinction in list creation; the theme is defined and then units are chosen to fit the framework outlined by the theme. Often times many new players and tournament veterans alike sift through the vast amounts of information available to them and use articles on unit effectiveness, tactical prowess and point efficiency to determine their list composition. They might then craft a nifty back story to explain why their Ork Hoard is being marshaled by a mech-boy instead of a ferocious Warboss. In reality, the list doesn’t include a Warboss because of the perceived point inefficiency in that particular unit choice.
A note on Characters, these alluring options can quickly summarize your theme with their inclusion. A chaos army painted black may be bland, but add in Abaddon and a unit of terminator body guards and suddenly everyone knows what your list is about. Adding a character can be a great option but should also make sense for your list. If you want to play with Ultramarines, then does Vulkan really make sense or belong? Or would Yarrick and Commander Pask take the field together? From a more general sense does your choice for a leader match the theme of your army? Choosing multiple pyskers to lead an army that hates psykers can be effective, but from a theme perspective is counterintuitive.
Characters can go beyond just the HQ units that you choose; naming sergeants or squad leaders is a great way to give your list a bit of extra flavor. Calling on your named Shas Ui to hold his troops before making that critical leadership check is a great way to add suspense and excitement to a game. Just as in sports we look to our icons in the time of greatest need, give your plastic soldiers someone to look up to and see what great things they can do.
Another example would be taking units because they have awesome models, great background, or appeal to you as a player. There might not be an all encompassing "theme" to the army but that does not mean you cannot make a list that interests you. Again the question arises, "Am I including these units because of their ability to perform in games or is it because of another reason?" The majority of players already know a list full of Chimera’s, veterans, and melta-guns makes for an effective list. What about all those units rarely seen on the Warhammer 40,000 battlefied? Starting a "fun" list off with 20 possessed, 3 Carnifex’s, 15 Blood Claws, or even a Blood Angels Captain can shake things up and put the fun back in the game. Every codex has a ton of unit options for you to take. The Friendly event strongly encourages unit diversity and variety.
Hopefully this provides some clearer direction on what the Friendly event is trying to inspire. Just like Whose Line Is It Anyway, the "friendly" is a fun based event with no overall winner, and the points don't really matter. There will be games played with objectives and there will be "winners" and "losers" but this is more about relaxing with some people and playing some games of toy soldiers while enjoying a beverage of your choice. It’s not about trying to find out who is the best at playing for fun. There will be crazy things going on some may be fair, and others might just be there to help everyone relax. As always, specific questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AdeptiCon 2012 Warhammer 40K Friendly Staff
Chris Mehrstedt and Tony Coutley