Warhammer 40,000

More on Warhammer 40,000

One of the fun things about revisiting a favorite old game is that you get to revisit all the cobwebby nonsense you previously wrote about it.

As an author, I can say with some authority that revisions drive me nuts.  Nothing is worse than finding that you're circulation and obsolete version of a document you've long since improved.

With that in mind, I'm happy to direct people to the new, revised, clarified and in every way better post on my fixes to Warhammer 40,000, which of course center on the 2nd edition of the game.

Getting back into Warhammer 40,000

Other than a few posts about my still-incomplete Conqueror: Siege Assault supplement, I've been pretty light on the topic of gaming lately.  I intend to change that.

In the past couple of weeks I've rediscovered my fondness for Warhammer 40,000, though I must clarify that this is focused exclusively on the 2nd edition of the game, which went out of print in late 1998.

I'm sure cynics will suggest that I retain a fondness for that particular version out of pure nostalgia, but my affection for it is based on the objective superiority of its design over any of its successors (GW is apparently on the 9th edition now) and part of that excellence stemmed from it much more limited scope.

I don't think even seasoned players can reliably count up all the current army lists, variants, sub-variants and specialty lists GW is currently pushing.  I find that a huge deterrent to "getting current" and playing the in-print version.  I believe the 2nd edition, which had fewer, more distinct factions gave the armies much more divergent tactics, which made the game more interesting.

In any event, I reckon I will revisit some of these topics in greater detail in the next few days, and likely update my materials pertaining to the One True Edition of Warhammer 40,000.

Warhammer 40,000 2nd. edition, improved

UPDATE:  While this is a venerable post, I've dispensed with the nonsense of linking documents and just posted the whole thing, including the revised close combat system.

If you aren't a miniatures gamer, you probably have no idea what this post is even about, but if you are vaguely aware of a company called "Games Workshop," odds are you've heard of their flagship product:  Warhammer 40,000.

The game system has changed quite a bit over the years, and I'm one of those geezers who think it's been getting worse for 20 years.

The edition I prefer is the one that went out of print back in the 20th Century:  the second edition.

This post is dedicated to my thoughts, optional rules and is a resource for late-comers to what I consider to be the definitive version of the game.

Even fans like me acknowledge the game has some issues.  Long ago, there was a web site called Portent.net and together with like-minded people, I generated a list of fixes and rules clarifications.  One of the interesting aspects was how widespread these patches were - a lot of people saw the same issues and came to the same conclusions about how to fix them

The Rules

While technically “house rules,” these changes are strikingly common and already in use around the world.  The purpose of this document is to organize and codify them, making it easier not only for experienced gamers to keep things straight, but also to recruit new players into the One True Edition of Warhammer 40,000.

Frequently Fracked Facts:  Except where noted, the written rules published by Games Workshop take precedence.  Unfortunately, some of these rules were not always clear and/or were distorted over the years.  To that end, we have provided a list of popular misconceptions to help players fully understand the underlying genius of these tragically flawed but ultimately brilliant rules.  Items that are marked (FFF) therefore not changes per se, but rather clarifications of things that players regularly got wrong.

  1. Core Mechanics

1.1 Measurement:  Many players may prefer to allow free measurement.  If both opponents agree, this is perfectly acceptable.  If it is used, “guess” weapons are placed where desired.  The defending player may adjust the template if it targets specific characters/special weapon troopers so long as the same number of models are affected.  To hit and/or scatter rolls are then made normally.

  1. Movement

2.1 Jump Packs:   Jump packs do not roll for scatter.  Ork jump packs roll a d6 for each model every time they jump:  on a 1, consult the malfunction table in the ork codex.

2.2 Charging (FFF):  Models may charge squads they cannot see.

2.3 Transports (FFF): Models in transports may only charge if the transport has not moved.  They do NOT count as charging from cover unless the transport itself is in cover.

  1. Shooting

3.1 Sustained Fire: Rather than use a 6” radius, sustained fire must be directed at a single squad, vehicle or squadron. 

3.2 Distribution of Hits (FFF):  Hits flow from front to back, both with templates and direct fire.  Thus a grenade or other blast template using direct fire would have to hit visible models at the front of the squad rather than bursting over (unseen) ones in the middle.  

3.3 Persistent Weapons: To speed game play, weapons with persistent effects (vortex grenades, plasma cannon) do not remain in effect.  The only exception is blind grenades/smoke launchers, which remain in effect (but do not roll for expansion/contraction) until the start of the firing player’s next turn.

3.4 Fire: Flamers, fire-based weapons and similar devices do NOT set models on fire.  Models hit by these weapons take damage as normal after which the weapon has no further effect.

3.5 Overwatch Follies (FFF): No rule in the old game is more controversial or subject to being screwed up as Overwatch.  Yet it is essential to keeping the game honest and not all that difficult to use.  Remember: models on overwatch still follow the normal targeting procedures.  The only difference is that it occurs during the opponent’s movement phase.  Non-phasing players should be open and honest about who is on overwatch and what they can see.  Similarly, phasing players should move their forces confidently and expect them to be shot at if they are in the open.  Again, the targeting rules are still in effect, so moving a more protected or expendable unit out in front will, in almost every case, draw overwatch fire away from more valuable targets.  Overwatch is the single most realistic aspect of Warhammer 40k.  Deal with it.

3.6 Reliable Weapons: Under the normal rules, ballistic template weapons (i.e. battle cannon, frag missiles) that miss must roll scatter.  A combination of “Hit/Misfire” results in the weapon hitting the user, an extremely silly (if sometimes entertaining) event.  Instead, template weapons that score a “Hit/Misfire” result are considered jammed instead.

  1. Close Combat

4.1 Leaving Close Combat (FFF):  The rules here are vague and poorly understood.  As the rules state, engaged models give their opponents a “free strike” if they wish to leave the combat.  Unengaged models (that is, those not in base-to-base), however may disengage without penalty, but must retreat and are counted as BROKEN.

4.2 Squad Cohesion in Close Combat:  Because the cohesion rules do not apply in close combat, some players have used the fact that unengaged models may leave close combat without “free strikes” to force attackers to chase them across the board.  This runs contrary to logic and the spirit of the game.  Therefore, unless unengaged models choose to disengage (and are broken as outlined above), they may not otherwise move away from an enemy engaged in hand to hand combat with their squad.

  1. Vehicles

5.1 Transports Are Not Death Traps:  Most datafax cards contain damage results that either kill passengers on a simple die roll (usually a 4+) or exterminate them wholesale.  This ignores the often considerable amount of armor they are wearing.  Therefore, passengers on board a transport that is the datafax indicates are killed (either on a 4+ or “all models on board are killed”) instead make an unmodified armor save.  If they pass, they are placed adjacent to the wrecked vehicle.

5.2 Out of Control (FFF): Vehicles that are stationary do not move out of control.  Only vehicles that moved during the previous turn must move out of control.

5.3 Taking The Wheel (FFF): If the driver is killed for any reason, the vehicle will still move out of control until another model on board can take over.  The earliest this can happen is after the owning player’s next movement phase.  Note that 5.2 still applies, so a Leman Russ that did not move in its previous turn that has its driver killed would remain stationary until its next movement phase, when a gunner could take over and drive it.

5.4 Turning Scrap into More Scrap (FFF): Remember that if a vehicle location is destroyed (such as tracks) additional hits to that location have no further effect.

  1. Army Lists

 6.1 But I Thought Farseers Were Rare:  Eldar are not required to take an avatar or farseer as an army commander, nor must Space Marines take Captains.  Any character can be the army commander.  EXCEPTION:  Because of the rigid hierarchy of both armies (for very different reasons) Tyranids and Imperial Guard must use their mandatory commanders.

6.2. Something’s Wrong With the Comlink: The Imperial Guard Codex has players roll a d6 for the “interference” on calling in a barrage with the comlink.  This can result in either extremely easy (2+) or almost impossible (6+) artillery support.  To make things more consistent no die roll is made.  Comlinks will work on a 4+.

  1. Wargear

Virus Weapons: Virus weapons are extremely unbalancing and should not be used.

8.0 Accelerated Close Combat resolution
Instead of rolling dice equal to the number of attacks, roll a single die and add a +1 to the model that has the higher attack characteristic (if it is a tie, neither side benefits).

When additional models attack, retain the +1 but omit the additional die.

For each parry, add +1 to the model's combat score.  Use all the other modifiers (charging, cover) as normal.


New Warhammer 40k Combat Resolution System

I alluded to this in an older post, but it really deserves to be highlighted on its own.

One of the problems with Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition is that the close combat system required a lot of dice rolling.  It was one of the areas of the otherwise excellent system that needed revision.

As we all know, GW decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater and trashed the whole thing.

Still, the definitive edition of the game lives on.   It is fascinating to see how valued that edition remains on ebay and elsewhere, despite its publisher's efforts to kill it.

Anyhow, here is my method to resolve close combat with only two dice - one for the attacker, one for the defender.

The key to the concept is understanding that rolling multiple dice, forcing re-rolls, etc. are really only tools to change probability.

40k (in all its editions) is a game of probability.  You roll lots of dice, not matter which version you use.  If you understand the odds, it is a simple thing to reduce the number of dice you need to roll.

In 2nd ed., a higher Attacks rating gives you more dice to choose from.  However, the odds of rolling a 6 and a 1 are the same.  In fact, as you continue to add attack dice, the fact that 1s hurt more than 6s help becomes apparent.

In addition, the bonus of the parry ability to force a re-roll loses some of its utility.

Instead of piling dice on the tabletop, an easier method is to just roll a single die and use modifiers.

Thus, instead of rolling dice equal to the Attacks stat, give the player with higher number a +1 on their die roll.  If it's a tie, it's a tie and no bonus is awarded.

A parry is also equal to a +1 bonus.  If both sides have them, they cancel, just like in the rules.

In the case of additional combatants, you add the usual +1 bonus for each additional model engaged, but the +1 attack is instead added to their stat.  This may or may not result in the outnumbering player getting a +1 depending on the models engaged.

Here's how it would work in practice.

Imagine a space marine with chainsword and boltgun fighting a genestealer.  The genestealer is charging.

Under the old rules, the marine would roll two dice, add its WS (4) and force a re-roll.  The genestealer would roll 4 dice, add its WS (7) and +1 for charging. 

So you'd have to roll two dice for the marine while the genestealer has to roll 4, re-roll one and then add the numbers.  The highest dice for each player are going to modified by +4 for the marine and +8 for the genestealer.

With the new system, each player rolls a single die.  The marine would add his WS (4) plus 1 for the parry while the genestealer add his WS (7), +1 for attacking plus +1 for having a higher Attacks rating.

The end result is similar (+5 for the marine and +9 for the genestealer), but less dice are rolled.

Now here's the important part:  The modifiers are really what decides the combat.

It isn't the 4 dice the genestealers roll that make them scary, its their WS 7.  Same with the other combat monsters.  The extra dice and re-rolls are a distraction.

Now having the luxury of choosing the best result from multiple dice is an advantage, but it's a limited one because of the fumble rule.  With this system, the fumble rule has to go away because rolling a 1 is it's own punishment.

The end result is similar odds with less rules and die rolling.  I've tried it out and combat goes much faster.

Against evenly-matched characters it holds up just as well, and the advantage of piling in is still significant - the extra +1 A will first eliminate a character's +1 bonus for having more attack and (if the numbers are there) flip it to the other side.  That's what happens with the dice-rolling version, but it takes more time to resolve.

I will note that this is the kind of system analysis I performed in Conqueror:  Fields of Victory to eliminate useless stats and dice rolling.  Too many game designers focus on aesthetics and ignore the numbers. 

Give this a try and let me know how it works for you!