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Analysis: Astra Militarum in 8th Ed, HQ Units

Let's analyse the HQ options available to Astra Militarum . Like all my reviews, this will be from a competitive play perspective, ...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Editorial: Two Things I Would Change for 8th Ed 40k

Speculation continues about the nature and timing of the next (8th) Edition of the 40k ruleset. I have no better idea than anyone else when the new rules will emerge, or what they will look like, but if I could change just two things then this is what I would do.

If you've read any other posts on Elite 40,000 then you probably know that I don't think there is anything fundamentally bad or 'broken' in the current 40k ruleset—there are sadly just a lot of bad 40k players out there who blame the ruleset for their own inadequacy. But there is always room for improvement, and I think there are a couple of changes which could make 40k a better game to play.

Overhaul Independent Characters

Twenty years ago I used to play 2nd Ed 40k, and most of my games would devolve into Eldrad and Maugan Ra brawling with Abbadon and Kharn whilst a horde of plebs disintegrated around them. Herohammer was fun in its own way, but it really didn't have the tactical depth of later editions of 40k.

Unfortunately we are seeing 7th Ed gravitate back towards Herohammer, with the rise of so-called 'super-friends' builds which combine a bunch of Space Marine Independent Characters into one fast, tough unit of stacking special rules. This blob of death rushes midfield, punches stuff, then fragments in the late game to contest/hold multiple Objectives.

The emergence of this build is mostly the fault of ITC dumbassery, since when you neuter the natural countermeasure to such units (D shooting) you are of course going to encourage their proliferation (derp). But these builds have started to bleed across into normal 40k games, and often lead to hilarious nerdrage when these deathstars get one-shotted by D blasts—sadly this leads to misguided 'validation' that D shooting is the 'problem'.

Now a lot of pundits are calling for the overhaul of the Allies rules to discourage these super-friends deathstars, but that would collaterally hurt a lot of non-abusive builds and casual players. I think the root problem we need to address is the Independent Character rule itself:
Independent Character. A model with the Independent Character rule passes Look Out, Sir tests on a 2+ instead of a 4+. When you deploy your army, for each model with the Independent Character rule, you must choose to either deploy them as a single-model unit or attach them to another friendly unit; you may not attach a model with the Independent Character rule to a unit that contains any models with the Monstrous Creature or Vehicle type. If you choose to attach a model with the Independent Character rule to another friendly unit then that model loses the Independent Character rule for the rest of the game, but retains the Character type.
Look Out, Sir. When a model with the Character type is allocated a wound, and it is within 6" of a friendly model, it may take a Look Out, Sir test. Roll a D6: on a 4+ the allocated wound is reallocated to the closest friendly model within 6".
That's all. Nothing about joining and leaving units. You decide during deployment to either use them as a single-model unit or permanently attach them to a squad. Being able to bounce wounds to any friendly model within 6" should keep them from being sniped too easily when they are being 'independent'. When reading this revised rule, remember that Battle Brothers are friendly units but Allies of Convenience (and worse) are enemy units under your control.

Super-friends deathstars can still be built, but being unable to fragment in the late game makes them a poor choice for actually winning missions. Casual players can still attach Inquisitors to Astra Militarum squads. Problem solved.

Armour Saves for Vehicles

The introduction of Hull Points (i.e. Vehicle Wounds) in 6th Ed made Vehicles generally inferior to Monstrous Creatures. Both die to attrition, but Monsters can shoot in all directions, are less vulnerable (and often quite dangerous) in close combat, and don't lose firepower or mobility as they take wounds. Case in point: the 'only good' vehicles right now are Knights, and they have less restricted fire arcs, are less vulnerable and quite dangerous in close combat, and don't lose firepower or mobility as they take HPs (thanks to Invincible Behemoth—but they can still suffer extra HPs unlike Monsters).

Furthermore, while both can get cover saves, Monsters also get armour saves—often quite good ones—and potentially Feel No Pain too. Vehicles normally have one less layer of protection (a save roll) than Monsters; again, Knights are good because they have an Invulnerable save.

In this case, the consensus view amongst pundits is to get rid of the Vehicle type and make them all into Monstrous Creatures. Again, the popular 'solution' causes significant collateral damage, this time to the fundamental flavour and feel of Vehicles in 40k—different AV on different facings and the progressive loss of combat power as damage is sustained. Plus Poison against tanks is stoopid.

Of course, we could just ditch HP, but having HP is actually a very good thing as it reduces undesirable variance—if you ever played 5th Ed then you would remember those damned invincible Rhinos! Instead, I think the solution is to give vehicles armour saves.

With armour saves, vehicles would have the same 'last line of defence' against damage that everything else in the game enjoys. They would be tougher overall, but would still die to HP attrition. And different facings would still be more or less vulnerable, retaining that good old 40k flavour.

The second-order effect of this change would be a reassessment of all 'anti-tank' weapons. Right now, the best way to kill light and medium armour is to dakka them with medium-strength, high-rate-of-fire weapons that were originally designed to be anti-personnel weapons: Scatter Lasers and Autocannon are exemplars here. Krak Missiles, the quintessential Imperial anti-tank weapon, are currently pure steaming shit against Vehicles—but how much better would they be compared to Autocannon if most tanks had a 3+ armour save?

Of course, GW would need to amend every vehicle profile with an armour save—but such revisions are feasible and have precedent, such as the addition of HP to every profile at the start of 6th Ed, and the recent addition of Agility and Pursuit to all Flyers in DFTS.

I think a good baseline system for Vehicle armour saves would be:

  • Start with a 3+ save
  • Improve by +1 if it has at least one AV14 facing
  • Reduce by -1 if it has the Skimmer type
  • Reduce by -1 if it has the Open-Topped type
Most Marine Vehicles would have a 3+ save, just like the Power Armoured dudes they support; Land Raiders would have a 2+ save, just like the Terminator Armoured dudes they support. Chimeras would have a 3+ save, making them noticeably tougher than Wave Serpents and Devilfish despite sharing the same AV12 value. All the Necron Open-Topped Skimmers would have a piddly 5+ save, making their Quantum Shielding all the more important; likewise Dark Eldar would only be rocking the 5+ save, making their Night Shields and Flickerfields significant. OMG good rules can be fluffy too!!1!shift1

Vehicles and Monsters now retain their respective distinct flavours, but Monsters are no longer generally superior to Vehicles. Plus anti-personnel weapons are no longer swiss-army-knife anti-tank weapons too. Problem solved.


Conclusion

I think these two small but significant changes would really improve the game; but the real lesson to be learned here is that a lot of things that people don't like about current 40k gameplay are really just the superficial symptoms of deeper problems—and no matter how much ITC dumbassery you invest in band-aiding the symptoms, you won't actually improve gameplay without addressing those actual root cause problems.

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