Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Warhammer 40,000 Open Day: Design Studio Seminar

The Design Studio arrives

 So, while people got rather excited about all the new Forge World news at the Open Day, what I found most interesting was the other seminar - the one from the Design Studio. Now, I only attended one on the Sunday, and as I understand it, there were different people present on each day, but I believe the broad message of both was the same - questions and answers may have varied.

Our rules writer for the seminar was Simon Grant. The rules writer team is headed up by Jervis Johnson, and consists of Simon, James Hewitt and Robin Cruddace. (As a note, Jervis, Simon and Robin are all long term veterans of Games Workshop. James is the only 'outsider' to GW head office, having been hired after working for Mantic for a while.)

A typical team of writers

There is a separate team who deals with all the narrative writing, which includes Phil Kelly.

The other person talking was Laurie Golding. It's his job to check the quality of what's produced, and that it fits in with the background.

Rules discussion in progress

The writing process is now different. There isn't one person with their name on the Codex any more. This is partially a reflection of the process, as there's over a hundred people involved in the production of a new Codex, and implying a single lead author is misleading.

The first step in the process is that the miniatures arrive. They are finished and painted before the rules team see them. There's then a team meeting. There's a project manager for Warhammer 40,000, and a team manager for Age of Sigmar.

An initial meeting from the last Eldar Codex

There's a discussion between the writers (both background and rules) about what they can do with the miniatures. They they go away and draft up some narrative and traits, then go to another meeting. This may go on for a number of cycles.

Stormsurge, for reference

The design process is always based around the miniatures. The miniature design isn't based around "what do the Tau need?" from a rules stand point. The rules team look at the kit and work from there. For example, with the Stormsurge, they'd look at it and see that it had new weapons and multiple crew. So, it would be a big creature (monstrous creature or gargantuan). The weapons were linked to weapons families - either existing or new ones. The stablisers meant it was a static thing - and got some rules. The intent is wherever possible to link narrative to rules.

"This model clearly needs awesome rules"

Design cues don't always follow through. For example, the Centurions have more armour at the front, but they didn't give them a reduced armour save at the back. Models can even get as far as the painted stage and get rejected and go back to design. By getting that part out of the way first, they reduce the risk of wasted work.

It then moved onto a question and answer session.

"You may approach with your questions!"

How do points get set?
It's relative to the army. There is a ballpark "first go" metric, which is then adjusted by playtesting. (This was originally created by Phil Kelly before he left the rules side of things.) For example, a Grey Knight Strike Squad gets a significant cost break because they're so fragile, despite the large amount of equipment they carry.

How do you consider other Codexes when writing a new one?
They don't worry about the wider 'meta'. There's so much variety that extreme selections become unpredictable. The focus is on the internal balance of the Codex.

"Get back to work!"
"Oh, alright. Carry on."

How do you play test?
The most important thing is to avoid personal bias. There's a team involved in playtesting. They make time for playtesting themselves, plus have a team of Games Workshop staff volunteers. There are three key focuses. Is the miniature represented by its rules? Is it fun and exciting? Do the rules have clarity and brevity? They only have so many people and so many times they can test it internally. Someone in the world will break it soon after release due to the number of people playing the games.

Do you look at probabilities?
The points calculator Phil devised does take into account the "how many Marines does this kill?" question. They do run the maths on probabilities.

Internet forums

Do you pay attention to internet feedback?
They don't look for feedback online. Some things are filtered through from people mailing customer services. FAQs are kept for things that don't work or are unclear. They will wait until the next book release to amend balance and similar. There is not much that can be done about abusive combinations, as the new rule will only create new problems.

Additional bonus thing, or maybe a question I didn't note down properly...
Alan Merrett will sometimes have a meeting with the rules team to give them a steer as to what to accentuate with something particularly new.


  1. This was a great post - I think I read it through before but man, it kind of gives some insight as to the design process. It's interesting that the models get done first, prior to the rules guys ever having seen it...

    1. It wasn't always that way - it seems to go in cycles.