With the new Imperia- sorry, Astra Militarum Codex bearing down on us I thought I'd take a moment to talk about special characters. One of the points of contention that's particularly major with the Guard is that with 40k's timeline having moved on over a century most of the special characters from the previous Codex should be, well, dead. In fact in the case of Kell he's most definitely deceased, whereas Creed is currently stuck in a Necron Pokeball as far as anyone knows. Yarrick was already older than Methuselah* in the last book and by now he must be pushing 200 at least.
I don't yet have the book in my paws yet, so whether it's written to suggest these characters are still active or whether they're presented purely for 'historical' games is something I don't know. We've seen some characters, notably Eldrad, apparently die in the story only to come back later as if nothing had happened, after all. The idea of characters being included for historical reasons throws up some interesting questions. Some, like Captain Tycho, keep turning up despite being dead for some time, and in the case of Tycho we even have profiles for him pre- and post-Black Rage. Others, like Sergeant Namaan of the Dark Angels, died in the story and promptly vanished from the Codex (whilst the Ultramarines promptly got a veteran Scout Sergeant because of course they did).
Often this comes down to models. We never got models for characters like Namaan, Lady Malys (in fact about half the old Dark Eldar specials) or Iyanna Arienal, and so many of them disappeared from later Codexes. Even Vect suffered this fate when the Raider and Ravager kits were updated and his conversion parts were no longer compatible. Why some of these models were never made is a question only GW can answer- I know Malys in particular inspired many conversions and seems reflected in the Yvraine model.
EDIT: Namaan was apparently such a ninja that I didn't notice he did once have a model! Image from Coolminiornot.
One of the arguments often made of Special Characters is that whilst they're named, they in fact represent archetypes. Maybe your Dark Angels Successor Chapter doesn't have Belial in it, but it has a Master of the Deathwing with a different name who otherwise follows all Belial's rules. We do run into an issue though when a character's rules are tied into their history. For example- and again I've not seen him in the book yet so this might be covered- you can apparently use Creed and still use the 'Vengeance for Cadia' stratagem, which feels odd since if Creed is running about, Cadia doesn't need avenging yet. Of course we could think of it as a 'Cadia Stands!' stratagem but it illustrates the point that things can start to get more than a little screwy as far as the timeline goes. Of course you could also use Creed in a combined Imperial force with Primaris Marines, which is even more obviously messed up. Whoever this guy who's just like Creed with a bodyguard just like Kell is, he seems to have more tricks than his predecessor despite no-one having ever heard of him.
Of course in this age of Doctrines and Chapter Traits, we also have to be careful not to cross the streams, as it were. If you decide to play a heavily Psychic chapter and add Tigurius, then that chapter is Ultramarines Successors, full stop. No adding Ezekiel how ever much you might like him, unless you want to gimp your Trait completely with a mixed Detachment or have some sort of Inner Circle detachment which has totally different rules.
Roll your own
Now you could argue, and you would be right, that I'm getting worked up about nothing. In truth I'm not that bothered and I prefer GW's permissive approach over most other methods. But this does touch on something else I've noticed in both GW games, and games as a whole recently. It used to be that creating your own characters was a big part of gaming. You could build your custom Chapter Master, your Autarch, your Chaos Lord etc. In contrast, the newer Codexes and models seem to be taking those options away. A Primaris or Death Guard character, for example, is really limited in their weapon options and even Captains and Chaos Lords have lost options like Jump Packs and Bikes in the recent Codexes. Of course these are present in the Indexes for now, but going forward it seems that customising your own characters is being encouraged less and less.
We see the same thing in RPGs. Play any computer or console RPG and you can bet that if it deigns to let you create your own character, it won't be as interesting as the ones you meet. Maybe you won't even talk. That cool-looking outfit? Not for you, sonny, even if you kill the guy wearing it and loot his armour. I just got done playing Divinty: Original Sin 2, and in that whilst you certainly can create your own original character you get more story, voice-acting and personality if you choose one of the pre-made ones. You can customise them heavily, of course, but the name and the history aren't yours. It's the same for most high-profile games, with the noble exception of the Souls series. Play The Witcher, and you'd better damn well like Geralt because he's The Witcher and that's that.
Most modern tabletop games are the same. Warmachine, for example, is very particular about who the heroes are and you sure as hell don't get to make any choices beyond which one you pick. (For that matter, in some events you don't even get much choice about what colour you paint them)
For someone like me, who likes to name his characters, build custom models for them, and tell their stories, this is deeply worrying. I used to play a lot of pen and paper roleplaying games before that fire burned out for me and I still gravitate to games where if the characters don't appeal, I can roll my own. With some 40k characters not even having the option to choose which sort of Power Weapon they have, and mono-pose kits increasingly becoming the norm, I do wonder where things are going.
*on research possibly not, since Methuselah apparently lived to the age of 969. Older than Methuselah was at some point is more accurate but less fun.