Open letter to Gav Thorpe

This is my response to Gav Thorpe, primary author of the current Chaos Codex. Thrope was man enough to pen the following words about the CSM ‘dex on his blog.

I’ve nerd-raged on this topic many times before, so it was only fitting that I address him directly this time.

Disclaimer: The following is based on my opinions.

Oh Gav.   All those words and you still dodge most of the specific complaints leveled against the book.

You can dance around the issues all day long but we can see right through you.  I respect you as a person bringing this forward as a topic, but I can’t respect your arguments, few as they are.

A good codex does not need to be 300+ pages or over several volumes.  The fluff and art of books are well established.  White Dwarf, novels, and supplements like the Index Astartes can contain all the extra detail you want.  What players want is a good set of rules, a flexible set of rules, rules that match the fluff.

It seems like you didn’t try to make an encompassing codex, it seems like you and Alessio followed a brief from management and produced a streamlined book with no restrictions. Well it is streamlined, but you left out most of the fun, and most of what makes for an interesting army list.

I like that the cult troops each have their own entry: it is clean and they have specific special rules that make sense. Except for plague marines they are overpriced but they are decent entries.  But… where are the cult terminators, bikers, raptors, havocs? I bet you know the icon system is awful, but you won’t explain it, defend it, or apologize for it.  Like so many other points you gloss over it in a wall of words.

Where are the veteran skills?  Where are the special rules and options for basic CSM troops? Where are the god-specific vehicle upgrades? Where are the actual daemons?  Where are the cultists? They’re gone.  It wouldn’t have taken another 200 pages to add those missing parts. You say it would take 8 pages to cover each legion, and yet it took about one page in the old book.

Daemons, mutants, and cultists? Yes please.  You say it can’t be done?  The Lost and the Damned codex did it just fine, it was a but clunky but it did the job and was never overpowered. It should have been included as a variant in the main book, I see your point about multiple ‘dexes being cumbersome but I don’t see how adding some other options takes a minimum of 32 pages.  That’s just false.  I’m working on my own version of LATD, the latest is at

Haine’s book was too hard to navigate, but in cleaning it up you threw the mutated baby out with the bathwater.  The old book worked. It was faithful to the fluff and provided for a diversity of armies.  You say you are concerned broken combos but your book still has them, so you didn’t solve that problem… it just means that to get the most effective list you have to take a hodgepodge of units from different legions.  That’s clumsy.  If you are really concerned about overpowered units or abilities there are ways to restrict them, for example having Lash or Slaanesh special characters only available to a pure Slaanesh force.  Was that too difficult?

I tried to build a Tzeentch list today, only to find that any time I tried to make it fluffy it crippled its effectiveness.  9 man squad?  Can’t take a second meltagun. A 40 point icon on one model just isn’t cost effective, so that has to go. Ok, I can add some Tzeentch Daemons, I mean no I can’t since they’re gone. Tzeentch Sorceror? Taking a Mark and Bolt Of Change costs 55 points. For what?  +1 to my invulnerable save and a good but not great shooting attack.  Mark of Slaanesh + Lash costs less than half that, and for way more effective options.  I don’t think a good codex makes you sacrifice your theme to get a competitive list.

Here’s two more absurd examples. How about a super killy Khorne Lord with a Daemon Weapon?  1/3 of the time he does no damage in assaults and hurts himself.  Great! Chaos Spawn.  40 points for a model I can’t control, with no save, with a maximum unit size of 3. Wow.

You can say “play whatever combos you want” but that just doesn’t work in practice.  There are no GW published alliance rules (barring Inquisition-specific ones) and most players do not want to use homebrew systems.

We’ll probably never see legion codexes and if we do they will be years apart from each other (knowing GW’s glacial release schedule) and so probably inconsistent or unbalanced.

Dude, you dropped the ball.  Please just admit it, or actually counter these points and the points made by the other critics.  Obviously you are an intelligent and creative guy, but this book just failed. Let’s see some intellectual honesty. Continuing with the ice cream analogy, you’re shitting in our mouth and calling it a sundae.

Thanks for your time.

About chaosgerbil

I'm an artist and hobbyist.
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7 Responses to Open letter to Gav Thorpe

  1. Jason says:

    “Continuing with the ice cream analogy, you’re shitting in our mouth and calling it a sundae.”

    LMAO!! So true, good read

  2. chaosgerbil says:

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Parcival says:

    I have to say, this is one of the best written responses I have read so far. Furthermore, I also start to understand why Chaos players don’t like their latest Codex as this reply lists specific examples that even the not initiated understand. (I don’t play Chaos, I only play against them.) On a first glance, the Lost and the Damned Codex looks really fine, too. I especially like the Combat Drug Addicts, that sounds like a fun unit to play. =)

    Maybe I have an idea for a later update on the Codex, though: as a Chaos newbie I had a hard time to understand page 2 until I realized that “Native Units” and “Special Units” are subtitles of “Allied Units”. Maybe you could represent this better graphically?

    Besides all of that: great blog you have here. =) I’ll especially look deeper into the hobby and modeling section later. =)



  4. chaosgerbil says:

    Thanks for posting!

    Good point on the Allied section, I will make that clearer. It’s funny, sometimes I will be on the fence about something and then someone makes a good comment to push me in one direction that turns out to be the best.

  5. gavthorpe says:

    Hi ChaosGerbil,

    (ChaosGerbil Vs Mechanical Hamster – sounds like something the Dark Eldar would have in their arenas!)

    You raise a particular point that I’d like to address, because it centres on an oversight quite a few existing players continue to make.

    “A good codex does not need to be 300+ pages or over several volumes. The fluff and art of books are well established. White Dwarf, novels, and supplements like the Index Astartes can contain all the extra detail you want. What players want is a good set of rules, a flexible set of rules, rules that match the fluff.”

    The fact that there is a lot of established background for the Chaos forces is precisely why it needs to be given an appropriate amount of space in a Codex – hence the 300+ pages plus estimate. And here’s why.

    As an existing player you have absorbed an incredible amount of information from the sources you cite – Index Astartes, Black Library books, snippets in other codexes. You have already acquired that knowledge. As a writer of a Codex you cannot make that assumption. While existing Chaos players will purchase the codex, so will players who are just getting to know the 40K game and universe. The reason that army books and codexes were introduced in the nineties was to ensure that there was a single point of access to an army for everyone, whether established gamer or newcomer. A Codex that does not properly introduce the concepts, troop types, history and potential colour schemes of the army is not doing its job.

    Do not underestimate the amount of information and the subtlety of understanding that existing players (of any army) possess. Even if they have only been playing for a couple of years, they will have taken on incredible amounts about the game and the universe simply through being around the hobby.

    As a games developer planning a codex, you have to put aside all of that knowledge and assumption because you are writing for the beginners as well as the veterans.

    “Dude, you dropped the ball. Please just admit it, or actually counter these points and the points made by the other critics. Obviously you are an intelligent and creative guy, but this book just failed. Let’s see some intellectual honesty. Continuing with the ice cream analogy, you’re shitting in our mouth and calling it a sundae.”

    The only other project I’ve worked on that has divided players as much as Codex: Chaos Space Marines was Epic 40,000. I am sorry that for some players the current Chaos Codex does not do the job for them. I accept that our approach may have been too severe, the reaction against the previous Codex too extreme, and as with many things in life more of a compromise between the two positions would be better. Yet, also bear in mind that I continually meet and hear from players that like the new Codex and really appreciate what we have done with the army.

    At the time of writing, 44% of respondents to this poll on Warseer ‘love playing’ with the new Codex. I’d be the first to admit that a self-selective Warseer poll is not the most scientific analysis we’ll find, but it is an indication that opinion on the Chaos Codex is not as one-sided as most of its detractors would like folks to believe. It appears that some people like eating shit sundaes… No accounting for taste, eh?

    I’m also aware that I am highly unlikely to persuade those who do not like the Codex to like it, just as those people are unlikely to convince the fans of the codex that it is bad (say hello to ‘confirmation bias’ and ‘group polarisation’). My writing about the Codex has not been motivated by an attempt to change opinion, but to simply explain the thought process that was behind the decisions made when the Codex was being written. Different thoughts and processes may be applied in the future (as has been seen by the Space Marine codex). Fans will continue to discuss the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches until a new Codex: Chaos Space Marines is released; that’s the nature of this sort of discussion.

    On a personal level, I wish the best of luck to whoever gets the job of writing the next version of the Codex, whenever that may be! I can’t imagine a project (except perhaps a new edition) that is going to be so heavily scrutinised from certain quarters of the 40K community.

    Thank you for your interest,


  6. chaosgerbil says:

    Gav, thank you so much for taking the time to respond, and on my own blog no less!

    I really appreciate the apology. I’ve been acting entitled and a little rude, and I’m sorry for that. As you can probably tell I can be a bit of a fanatic when it comes to my favorite hobby, much like your mate and his football team. We’re not solving world hunger here, we’re talking about imaginary worlds and little models. For those of us that grew up with the stuff, we’re hooked. Even if we can’t rationally expect perfection, the emotional side of us can crave it.

    I will admit that I can get a bit zealous from time to time over certain aspects of the hobby, being one of those dreaded fans you talked about in a recent post. I don’t dispute that many players like or even love the current codex, and personal taste does have a lot to do with it. Also, new players have not had their expectations colored by years in the hobby so they won’t be missing anything in particular from the past.

    On reflection I think my problem with the book probably stems more with the brief that you and Alessio had to follow than with your execution of it. I do understand that you don’t want to throw your colleagues under the battlewagon, and ultimately “the blame game” tends to bring out immaturity in those involved. Let’s just focus on the book itself and not any person’s particular part of it.

    On the issue of fluff and book size, you guys did a good job in the current book balancing space limitations with detailed information. You are right, it isn’t easy to compress all that data into a limited amount of pages. I didn’t expect a history of every chaos legion or faction in the codex, or even within a future “perfect codex.” My problem was never with the fluff section, it was just with the limited nature of the army list. You claiming all those pages were necessary came off as a non sequitur when both your book and the 3.5 version had an adequate amount of background material and artwork.

    About the army list, I stand by my previous comments. I think part of my negative reaction to the book was losing Lost and The Damned at the same time and not seeing any options in Coex: CSM for cultists, mutants, hounds, real daemons, allied units, or customizable characters. Spawn are in there, one of my favorite units from Lost and The Damned, but to me they really suck as written. I eventually got fed up with wishing for Games Workshop to mend the error as I saw it, and have been writing my own LATD codex. I don’t know if you noticed it but here is a link if you want to check it out the latest version, I post updates semi-regularly and do my best to incorporate feedback without letting the project be designed by committee. It has given me an appreciation for how difficult writing a balanced codex can be.

    Now I know it’s not up to you anymore, but I want my words to be carried through the warp to the ears of whoever is in charge. Rule sets need outside feedback and extensive playtesting. Many players feel frustrated that their input is not incorporated into rules updates, and they can see flaws better than the designers can. Over the years, and up to the present we have seen ambiguous wording, both “broken” and overcosted units, infrequent updates, and FAQs that are usually both slow and incomplete. The frustration of the player base continues because there is generally no recourse, except to hope for the best and wait 4-10 years for the next codex. Jervis can glibly say “make up a house rule” but that only works for a few. I just wanted you to know where we are coming from. Having a rules designer address the community directly on a point of contention is not something we are used to seeing, and in the confusion I thought I saw a sign next to you advertising free soapboxes.

    I’m really glad you came forward on your blog to talk about the thought process behind the codex. It takes courage. Even if the issue had no controversy, as a GW fanatic and an aspiring Codex writer I found it interesting. I plan to keep reading your blog and I promise to donate my Gav Thorpe voodoo doll to charity.

  7. chaosgerbil says:

    P.S. Dennis is going down in that arena match.

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