Phil Kelly is a games designer for Games Workshop. /tg/'s opinion on the man is best described as Oscillating between adoration and hate depending on the new book he puts out. In any case, he's one of the few writers that /tg/ remembers fondly and aside from the new hotness that is Anthony Reynolds (who is both American and therefore not as spiffy as well as less established than Kelly), Kelly is essentially the only current game designer that /tg/ actually likes to talk about. Robin Cruddace fucked up Tyranids badly and buffed Imperial Guard to Wardian levels, and Matt Ward... well, if you've spent any time here at all you know our feelings on a certain chapter's Spiritual liege.
The Pros and Cons of Phil Kelly
Kelly was often regarded as perfect by /tg/, and the main reason people liked him is that unlike some other designers he used to try to keep at least some of the themes of the old armies, rather than give away all the mystery behind an army, try to make a chapter into the greatest thing ever, or completely revamp existing armies to fit their tastes and his fluff (with the notable exception of Codex: Space Wolves) was usually well written and held true to the old armies, even in cases when it should be really, really stupid. However, his actual crunch has seen ups and downs. Most of his codices are very middle-of-the-road, and the internal balance is almost always terrible; it's not a Kelly book unless there's at least one completely useless unit and one completely overpowered, auto-include-or-else unit.
More recently the issues with his fluff became more apparent, and the first notable example would be some of the issues surrounding Codex: Space Wolves. First and foremost, much of the fluff is frankly ridiculous, such as a story about scuba-diving Terminators or a handful of Space Wolves floating across space, breaking into a Chaos Space Marine flagship by hitting it, and then slaughtering all Chaos Space Marines onboard before using it to wipe out an entire Chaos fleet. Most of the non-Codex: Space Marines wargear has the word "Wolf" thrown in for no reason, such as Wolf Fangs, Wolf Necklaces, Wolf Tail Talismans, and, of course, wolf mounts. Yes, this Codex has Space Wolves ride giant Thunderwolves while acting like wolves with their wolf
wolfgear wargear, while leading packs of Fenrisian Wolves (naturally their squads were later renamed packs, as in a pack of wolves). While most of these options have been in the Codex for some time, heaping more Wolf options into the codex is an example of taking something Awesome and overdoing it, which is another problem with Kelly. Additionally, the Codex is an extreme example of "Codex Creep." It has a number of choices that are outright better than the Codex: Space Marines equivalents while costing much less, leading to the disappearance of vanilla Marines from competitive play. The most egregious examples are Grey Hunters (who have a bunch of special rules and equipment, including Wolf Guard Terminators as Sergeants, at a cheaper cost than vanilla's Tactical Squads) and Long Fangs (who have much greater firepower than the equivalent Devastator Squads but cost nearly the same).
Unfortunately the pros listed above also ended up disappearing one by one, keeping at least some of the themes of the old armies, rather than give away all the mystery behind an army? Gone when he wrote the Deathwatch. Not trying to make a chapter into the greatest thing ever? Gone when he wrote Damnos. Not completely revamping existing armies to fit his tastes? Gone when he wrote Dark Eldar, Eldar, Farsight Enclaves, Deathwatch again and his Tau novels. Usually well written fluff that held true to the old armies? Gone when he wrote his Daemons codex and thrown into a fucking woodchipper when he wrote Farsight Enclaves and his Tau/Dark Angel novels. These Codices are covered below, but as a quick example of how he changes shit, while his description of the Dark Eldar as a whole is good, he introduced a mechanic that completely ruins the Eldar's entire identity as a species struggling to survive. It's so egregious that it makes you wonder why they're bitching about anything at all, as he effectively made the Dark Eldar one of the most numerous species in the galaxy because of it and there's no reason the Eldar can't use it.
Another issue would be how his armies have very wobbly crunch, if you wanted to make 6th edition Chaos Space Marines competitive you can go Heldrakes and/or Nurgle or go home, whereas with the new Eldar codex you can spam vehicles and have essentially a guaranteed win against all comers lists. The armies do have good options, but many of the options need very specific scenarios to work and earn their points back (especially thanks to rampant over-costing), the Daemon army book for example can be really powerful if you roll decently, but a single bad roll on a mandatory table will have you lose the game regardless of how sound your game plan is. Mediocre units are fairly common in Phil Kelly books, including Mandrakes, Chosen, Possessed, Juggernauts, Grotesques, and so on. That's not to say the Codices are bad, per se; rather, his Codices usually have one truly great build, one or two other builds that work all right, and a lot of builds that just don't work very well (leading to his books being referred to as "monobuild"). You won't win nearly every game (with a few aforementioned exceptions), but you won't typically lose because somebody took all of your good units and made them terrible for their cost.
Finally, Kelly has become known as the "High Lord of Random Tables" because he puts random tables in every... fucking... thing. This has only started with his 6th edition books and onward, but Chaos Space Marines introduced a Warriors of Chaos-esque table for challenges (which was also something he made), and the new Chaos Daemons are an absolute mess of random tables, with most of the wargear and a number of special rules (including Daemonic Instability and Warp Storm) being entirely random . Some see this as a good thing because it adds "spice" to the game as most of these tables do make sense from a fluff perspective (especially when we're talking about the embodiment of true chaos), but many find these tables to be tedious, annoying, and damaging to the game as it could lead to you either losing the game or curb-stomping the enemy depending on a mandatory lucky 2D6 roll with the opposing argument being "A small element of randomness is fine; too much of it is just tedious, annoying and it interferes too much with the game".
A Small List of Kelly's Work
- Codex: Orks (4th Edition). A Codex that has survived through two editions still coming out somewhat strong though with a very small number of competitive builds to this day. Though the cheese it once had seems to have been stolen by mice. Responsible for the dreaded 'Aspekt boyz'; forcing specialized orks into designated squads, forcing lootas to use only deffguns, burna boyz to stick to one squad, and so on. Also, hilarious fluff.
- Codex: Eldar (4th Edition). A great codex in and of itself, it fixed a lot of the OP bits from 3rd Edition Eldar (most notably turning Exarchs from mini characters to standard champions, and gimped hideously overpowered vehicles) although most of the fluff is copy pasted from 2nd edition and it has not gone through editions as well as Philipus's other codices due to changes beyond his control (such as the vehicle rules and codex power creep), overall it's fun, balanced, and fluffy.
- Codex: Space Wolves (5th Edition). This codex gave them their true identity as an immensely fun and tactical army, though it was obviously underpriced, to the point where it if you wanted to play Marines competitively (without choosing the Psychic Marines) then you had to play Space Wolves. The fluff in it is also questionable at best, featuring bits like Space Wolves gunning down members of the Ecclesiarchy for no reason (literally no reason, they gun them down before they get a chance to say or do anything) and then when the Sisters of Battle show up to ask "What the fuck?!" They gun them down too for no fucking reason. They only stop slaughtering them when the Sisters leave because the Space Wolves were just too tough, and there are no repercussions for the Wolves' unprovoked actions. Then there's the part where the Wolves attacked puritan Inquisitors who were looking for a radical Inquisitor Lord who used Daemons to kill other Daemons. What repercussions were there for this act? None, even though other chapters who had better reputations were excommunicated for less. Perhaps the shining moment of bullshit would be when a Chaos fleet arrives, blows up a Space Wolves ship, then the Wolves float across the vacuum of space, land on the Chaos Flagship, break in by punching it (seriously) then slaughter their way to the controls so they can use this one ship to wreck the entire Chaos fleet. Makes you wonder why the CSM are still around if they're so easily taken out like that. It also absolutely spams the word "wolf." WOLFY WOLF WOLF FOR THE WOLFITY WOLFITY WOLFY WOLF WOLFULOUS WOLFITY WOLF WOLF!!!!!!!!!!!!! RAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Codex: Dark Eldar (5th Edition). This, this is arguably Kelly's best work fluff wise, Commorragh's description is a true masterpiece, along with Vect's, Malys', and Sliscus' background. At the time it was powerful without being broken, fun without being weak, and as tactically challenging as a fast glass cannon should be. Moreover, Kelly managed to give new life to the evil cousins of the Eldars, allowing certain lists to be competitive once again (although his trademark wobbly crunch is still around, leading to the monobuilds again). One of the only things kinda bizarre with it are why the Craftworld Eldar are worried about dying off when this codex makes it very clear it would be quite easy for them to avoid this fate, as he accidentally turns a supposedly dying off species into one of the most numerous in the galaxy, especially if you believe his description about how huge Commorragh is.
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd & 6th Edition). We knew the bucks we were paying were worth it. Failbaddon is getting shit done and kicking Cadia's ass, possibly with the Primarchs. Possessed and the-ones-which-shall-not-be-named are better than last edition (though still not great). Motherfucking daemon dino-bots and a vector-striking robo-dragon flyer. The first 6th edition Codex and the first fully colored 40k Codex. To be fair, that was all fluff, the crunch was revealed to have some trouble areas, namely its internal balancing: Warp Talons and Mutilators are terminally useless whereas Heldrakes are second only to Vendettas as the best flyer in the game and can be game winners by themselves. Speaking to the former, he was one of its five writers, which might explain why 3.5 ed CSM was hands down THE BEST and stupidly, brokenly OP codex for CSM, making them the OP monsters we remember them as - with legion rules, an awesome wargear section and troops that were useful in the absence of ATSKNF. These were the days when Space Marine fanboys got bent over and raped by possessed dreadnoughts, infiltrating CSM blobs that guided Obliterator deep strikes, FA13 Defilers that could fix themselves on a 4+, cult terminators and predators fitted with blastmasters. Sigh, those were the days, granted it's unknown how much input he actually had compared to the other writers, and if his 6th edition version is anything to go by,bit probably wasn't much.
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (6th Edition). Though the fluff is generally well written, it completely changes Daemons from how they used to be into something completely different (there's now a class system for no fucking reason with regular Daemons looking down upon Daemon Princes for example). The better parts make him a candidate for the daemonhood reward (In said Codex, Phil actually hints in a plausible way that a Grey Knight has had a seed of doubt planted with in his mary-sue heart), whereas the worst parts and the crunch makes him a shoe in for the Something else entirely. The army plays like a horde army with cheap, disposable and deadly units all over the place and is a truly random force of destruction never before have games been won or lost just by a single roll. How fun this is depends entirely on how much you enjoy losing just because you rolled badly on a mandatory random chart.
- Codex: Eldar (6th Edition). Take two! This time around, Eldar were buffed into the stratosphere, their weaponry will bring a rapetrain's worth of fun to the guys firing them and cause purest agony to the ones they are directed at (to the detriment of a casual game). The codex included buffs like Psyker Level 4 Eldrad, Lots of DS2 weapons, SHOOTING AND RUNNING (an ability for units across the board, however Phil has recently admitted Ward came up with the idea). Some new phantom units including THE BIGGEST fucking citadel model ever outside of Apocalypse! The main drawback was supposed to be their individual soldiers were weaker, but hey, if a unit kills its enemies before they could do anything then that unit doesn't have to fear enemy fire at all.
- Special note on Codex Eldar: it's important to notice that only this codex has made obsolete almost every unit in the game that uses a cover save as its main save, as the basic eldar transport can fire d6+1 S7 shoots, usually twin-linked, that ignore cover from 60". It's a big irony that the same designer that restored Dark Eldar for the game has destroyed them completely using a single unit, a feat that even Matt Ward has never dreamed of. Stealth armours, darkshrouds, camo suits and many other items and units are also now useless. Better yet, almost every weapon in the army is semi rending so you will never see again fear a terminator suit. Phil Kelly changed the game forever with this codex, and many people still think that much more has been lost since then.
- It's also worth nothing he collected Eldar since 2nd edition, which explains why he "borrowed" all the lore from 2nd edition for his 4th edition book instead of writing his own stuff. That's what happens when you let fanboys write their own Codices (Eldar were arguably the strongest faction in 6th edition and retained that status in 7th. Phil's participation in recent Codex is unknown). Yeah, and you thought Treadhead was bad.
- Supplement: Farsight Enclaves. Crisis suits as troops? Completely crazy powerful bodyguard squad made of independent characters (including an independent character RIPTIDE)? Need I say more? On the downside, the Ethereals shift a from "ambiguous but vaguely benevolent space Taoists" to "cackling mustache-twirling cartoon villains" (something he reinforced in his Farsight novels), it removed a lot of mystery that the Enclaves had while giving the least satisfying and dumbest answers possible and had some 'questionable' fluff, like the Enclaves using their limited resources to carve a planet into a D20 just to show off to nobody. It also retconned some of Farsight's campaigns so that he no longer had the character flaws that prevented him from being a Mary Sue and he brought in an author avatar who not only guesses how the Orks reproduce (based on nothing, yes everyone around him assumes this baseless guess is the truth) but also creates a disease that wipes out a hive fleet (on top of numerous inventions to the point that he makes Cawl's accomplishments seem minor). Pretty impressive considering how when Nurgle's daemons tried to do this they were unable to.
- Warzone Damnos: Hands down Kelly's worst work before he wrote his novels. You thought Ward was the ultimate Ultramarine fanboy? You haven't seen anything yet. The plot of the book is as follows: due to their defeat at Damnos there was a massive morale drop throughout the Imperium because somehow everyone is just that invested in everything the Ultramarines do, so the Ultramarines lead a force to reclaim the now Major Tomb World. In the book Scouts sneak up on a completely undefended pylon, Calgar lifts up said Pylon (which somehow gives him the ability to fire it at Tomb Complexes), Cato Sicarius kills first a Necron Lord by stabbing it in the right spot (seriously), then takes out a transcendent C'tan shard in a way that would make C.S. Goto proud. It also had the Deathwatch taking a stroll through the completely undefended Tomb Complex (literally, there are no Scarabs, Spyders, Wraiths or Canoptek anything in this Tomb Complex) all the while planting charges on everything and also forgetting how the new Necron Dynasties are supposed to work (blow up a world and their mind transfers to the next). There's more bullshit, but those are the major bits.
- Codex Deathwatch: He co-wrote this with Robin Cruddace, as confirmed by an interview. Said Codex retcons the Deathwatch into never being a part of the Inquisition, features them using Necron weapons while saying they kill those who use Xenos weapons and has a lot of contradictory lore in general, for example stating that there's a Watch Fortress that excels so much at attacking and destroying Eldar Craftworlds (no mention of how a few Space Marines are supposed to take on a fleet capable of crippling multiple chapters) that they have prevented them from appearing in the Segmentum Solar, however the map depicts two craftworlds only being a few lightyears away from Terra (not to mention a Waaagh! Apparently happened just a few planets over from Terra now). Even though they're no longer a part of the Inquisition they retain access to a massive Inquisition-like network (no mention of how) and they retain their Inquisitorial heraldry, because the book's retconned the Inquisitorial I to just heraldry anyone can wear so long as they guard the Imperium. They also gain some Custodes Gear (no mention of how or how this affects relations with the Custodes), because why not? To put the cherry on top, they also stated in an interview the reason the Codex is missing so many marine units (specifically their vehicles) is because they only included the units they wanted the players to buy. Isn't it great when authors fuck the army over because they wanted to sell you specific models? It's happened in the past, only this time without a legal issue motivating it.
And now Kelly is moving into Black Library with a series of novels about Commander Farsight. They have... a few interesting details scattered among a ton of shitty writing. For starters Kelly has confirmed the canon status of Shas'O'Kais (turning him into a massive Mary Sue) and revealed that the three students of Puretide are bonded to each other. But more interesting is the revelation that Tau actually CAN get possessed by Daemons (to be fair, the manner in which said Tau got possessed was a bit roundabout, as he had to come in contact with something that was already possessed, but its still interesting).
He also wrote 'War of Secrets,' a Dark Angel book about Primaris Marines. This book also references the Farsight books, whilst giving us a look into Primaris and Dark Angel relations. Like his Farsight books there's a few interesting details scattered across a ton of shitty writing.
Warhammer Fantasy Battle
- Army Book: Ogre Kingdoms (6th Edition). Kelly introduces a new very fun army with the single lowest model count in the game. While the book's crunch was average (nothing overpowered but at the same time you had a good chance at winning every game you played) the fluff was very good but surprisingly for Kelly was lacking in detail, though that could be argued as the Ogres not keeping very good records of their own history. Problems only started surfacing when the FAQ came out (which did things like add the "Move or Fire" rule to a character that didn't previously have that limitation) and further neuter units that were already struggling to find use on the tabletop.
- Army Book: Beastmen (7th Edition) If Warzone Damnos is his worst 40K book, then Beastmen is his worst Fantasy book. The army went from having decent chances at winning games to the worst army in the entire game. Some of the rules were downright retarded, like needing two of the exact same unit to pull off an ambush, one of which would take no part in the ambush. The Beastmen themselves were also moved to a spot where the Chaos Gods and everyone else shit on them constantly, almost never blessing them with gifts to help get the job done, completely losing all access to any kind of mark (even in the lore it's explicitly stated they could not have them), and they even lost the ability to make themselves new weapons and armour. On the plus side he kept the theme of them being Chaos Anarchy embodied, and the book introduced several new monsters that have awesome fluff, great models, and would be auto includes if they weren't all hideously overpriced (coming in slightly under some dragons but nowhere near as useful).
- Army Book: Warriors of Chaos (7th Edition). Pretty damn good on the rules side. He gave them some nifty special characters such as Valkia, Sigvald and Wulfric. And it had the Viking drinking song/saga of Khalac Swordsson in it. The fluff is hit or miss. Some negatives include a lot of repetition (take a drink every time he uses "heady" or "plaything") and a few dubious retcon attempts, like claiming the Everchosen Asavar Kul got literally backstabbed and thrown off a wall by one of his lieutenants. It tries hard, often too hard, to make the Warriors of Chaos seem dark, menacing, and evil, with mixed success.
- Army Book: Vampire Counts (8th edition). A fairly decent release, it removed some of the cheese that the old one had (not to say it didn't have its own variety), added some more untold horrors upon the old world, and with Storm of Chaos being retconned into not happening he then (like the rest of the new Army Books) added a bit to advance the plot of Warhammer Fantasy. A bit of fluff in the codex has Mannfred conspiring with Kemmler to resurrect Nagash in a ritual involving a battle, the abduction and sacrifice of the High Elf Everqueen's daughter, which is one of the events leading to The End Times. This also disrupted an attempt at reconciliation between the High Elves and Dwarfs.
Unfortunately with the removal of the author credit in the new GW books there's no real way to tell which ones he may or may not have a hand in (especially since they're now supposed to be done by a "design team"), though the White Dwarf articles still interview some of the creators of the various books, so when a new one comes out you'll have to read on the articles to see if he had a hand in it or not. In the White Dwarf issue introducing the End Times this revealed he had a hand in End Times:Nagash, but then so did Matt Ward. If the recent teaser video's on GW's Facebook page are any indication, he's also involved in the upcoming 8e Space Marine codex. He seems to have been kicked upstairs to Black Library for the most part, though.