Guest Editorial by BigPig: Rules that Kill


Rules that Kill

 Guest Editorial by BigPig: Rules that Kill

I’ve been playing games and travelling to tournaments for a lot longer than I care to admit.  For starters, let’s just say that I became a “known” commodity in a national competitive gaming scene back when the first Bush was in the White House.  Back then my game was Star Fleet Battles.


For those who don’t know the system, it’s a tactical level starship combat game based on the original Star Trek universe.  It’s an old school hex and cardboard counter game and it was no joke.  From a rules and tactics standpoint, it relegates 40k to the non competitive beer and pretzels status that the Englishmen we all love to hate envision it to be.  Hundreds and hundreds of pages of rules; real rules in 8pt font over 5 inches thick (I measured, don’t ask how) with no fluff and pictures.  The rules were all clear and well defined.  There were no gray areas, conflicts between expansions, or items left open to interpretation or argument.  If something was even the slightest bit confusing or unbalanced, the designers immediately released errata or addendum.  The rules were so intense that many dubbed the game, “Star Fleet Lawyers.”  Take it in for a moment.  Game designers who care about the game balance and fix things that are wrong for the betterment of the competitive community.  Imagine how cool that would be.


I tell you this not to cue the wistful way-back music and reminisce about the “good old days”, tell stories about what a bad ass I was when flying my Klingon D-7TCC, and tell you how kids have it so easy now-a-days like some crotchety old man sitting across the gaming table from you.  I bring it up to point out the similarities between thriving in competitive gaming environments.  Despite the lack of social media and the ability to make yourself a tactical genius and increase your IQ by 30 points simply by posting your thoughts on the internet, many things are exactly the same between the way I played SFB at the national tournaments in the 90s and the way 40k plays in the modern tournament scene.


There was a demarcation line when it came to the skill level of players.  For SFB it was being ranked as a Rated Ace.  When you were an Ace, you didn’t have to be paired against another Ace in the 256 player single elimination national tournament until there were only Aces left.  The saying was, “There are two types of Captains at Origins, Rated Aces and their prey.”  Arrogant and elitist I know, but, hey it’s got to mean something.  Best of all, all the Aces would sit around at the elite table at the bar and drink beers into the night touting their conquests and telling lies like skinny nerdy Viking warriors.  But in those conversations I learned one thing that all aces had in common that helped them win was a mastery of the rules and an understanding of what we called “Rules that Kill.”


“Rules that Kill” were rules that were so important that if you tried to make a move in conflict with them or based your tactics on a misunderstanding of them, you would fail and likely have your entire battle plan (and usually your ship and hapless crew) destroyed in short order.  Here is where I relate this longwinded trip down memory lane to 40k.  I’ve only come into the 40k tournament scene in the last five years or so, but one thing I have discovered is that there are “Rules that Kill” in 40k.  Yes, it is important to know every rule and if you make mistakes or forget to do something (Shoot, I forgot to use the Devastator Sergeant’s Auspex this turn) it will hurt your overall performance, but it probably won’t lose you a game.  What I’m saying is that there are rules that if you base your tactics on misunderstanding them, you are in for a wake up call that will cost you a valuable unit or a game winning objective.  This usually comes into play when you set an action up in one phase, but later realize the rule prohibits you from taking that action.  That leaves your unit sitting on its thumbs for the rest of the turn or, worse yet, sitting in the open to get blasted to little plastic bits.


40k Rules that Kill


Vehicles and passengers:  This is first on my list of rules that kill.  The vehicle rules are somewhat convoluted and aren’t clear on the first read.  More importantly they have changed since 5th edition in ways that are telling.  To be a high level player you must understand when you can disembark, what disembarking units can or cannot do, and the effect that vehicle damage has on the occupants.


Occupants disembark in the movement phase but take their actions in the shooting or assault phase.  This means that if you forgot that you cannot fire, can only fire snap shots, or cannot assault it is too late to pile your power armored ass back in the Rhino when you discover your plan is no good.  Result; your unit does little or no damage, fails to engage the enemy unit or objective, and is left a sitting duck.  Finally, no disembarking if the transport moves more than 6”.  I find people forgetting that more often, but its less telling because most opponents let you pull the transport back the requisite distance since you are still in the movement phase.  Still, your plan may be ruined if the Stormraven can’t move 12” and have the Death Company hop out and go 10-8 on the enemy unit.


Tank Shock:  As a ‘nid player this has to be the hardest rule for me to remember to take into account tactically.  Tank shocking is so powerful, yet mid level players consistently either a) forget to do it or b) forget their opponent can do it to them.  Tank shocking can be game winning by tank shocking a unit off an objective, forcing them to break, pushing them into a nice tightly packed template shape, forcing them into dangerous terrain, or pushing them closer to a potential assaulting unit.  Tank shocking can be game winning.  Forget your opponent can do it at your own peril.


Terrain and assaults  But my unit has move through cover….  You still have to roll three dice for the assault distance.  But he’s a monstrous creature…  Sorry, same thing.  What about Jump Infantry?  I don’t know, did you use your packs already?  Where’s the rule book?  Beasts?  Yeah, you’re cool.


Whether or not you make an assault is often pivotal to the success of your battle plan.  You are going to have to commit and hang your guys there to try and get the assault most of the time (or at least risk a few bullets in the face for the effort) and failing can really screw things up for you.   Knowing the interaction between the terrain and assault rules and at least being sure how many dice you are going to have to roll can help you make the right decisions.


Order of operations

The Rules that Kill I’ve pointed out so far come into play over different phases.  For example, you move in one phase to commit to your plan but when you try to shoot or assault later in a different phase you realize you can’t;  Too late to compensate for the screw up.  Looking at order of operations instead deals with what happens in single phase, and it’s usually the movement phase.


The biggest place I see this hitting people is on reserve entry and casting psychic powers.  Blessings and maledictions happen at the beginning of the movement phase.  That means if you want your Librarian to get that turn-defining power off, you have to do it before he moves (including arriving by reserves, so you’re SOL on the turn he comes in unless another unit casts on him).  Simple rule, but I see people (myself included) forgetting all the time.


Fortunately, in most friendly games people are forgiving and, since it’s in the same phase, they’ll let you take it back and cast your power.  In a competitive environment it’s not so forgiving, and quite honestly shouldn’t be.  If you are at the final table, it’s ok to put your Big Dick hat on say, “Sorry, but you already moved the Librarian.”


A couple other order of operations; Interceptor happens at the end of the movement phase so don’t tip your hand and say you are going to shoot at something the moment it comes down.


For assault sequence and piling in make certain your opponent is doing it properly (no fudging that last inch) and remember that the character must be engaged in the combat in order to declare or accept a challenge.  This affects Necrons the most as they hide the Mindshackle lords in back where they can’t be shot.


Rule breakers.

This last one is a broad group to describe rules that do things that trump the normal rules.  I call them rule breakers because they allow the player to do things not normally allowed it he rules.  It is more about knowing your opponents codex and army and how it synergizes than being a single rule.  To play anything other than a friendly game you must understand what your opponent’s units do.  If you don’t realize your Tau adversary’s army can ignore cover and often LoS, then you are in for a rude surprise when you discover all your cautious maneuvering was for naught and you would have been better to hang it out there and try to get some shots in.  If you don’t understand how unit synergy impacts those rule breakers then your targeting won’t be optimal.


The way around these is to ask.  We can’t all afford to buy and study all the codices and Forgeworld supplements out there, it can be real easy to get hit with a killer rule.  Look at your opponents list and make sure you know what each special rule the unit has does.  Ask if you don’t know.  Ask your opponent if there are any cool combos he can pull of or if the units interact with each other in some special way.  Most honorable opponents will let you know in advance.  If after that, you don’t know what the “Optically Enhanced Douchinator” on the Crisis Suit does, then it’s on you.


So that’s it.  That’s my assessment of Rules that Kill in 40k.  I know it sounds simple, but its really more than just saying, “Know the rules, duh.”  These are rules that, more than any other rule, set you up for failure if you don’t understand them.  This usually occurs through setting up to take an action in one phase, but being unable to do so in a latter phase.  This, in turn, wastes your units action, or worse yet gets them obliterated.  What are your thoughts?  What other “Rules that Kill” or out there, or have you fallen prey to them yourself?


About Reecius

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19 Responses to “Guest Editorial by BigPig: Rules that Kill”

  1. Jason Brown September 8, 2013 8:27 am #

    Nice write up and I remember SFB, I sucked but one of my friends was nuts for it. He ended up a chemical engineer or something. Anyhow, I agree that the rules can really give you the what for. I am currently in a tangle over some rules and have as of yet gotten a good argument against what I think is right, however my thoughts are pissing into the wind of the majority; I am sick of stains on my pants.

    So here it is: Issue one (pg 112 BRB) Battle Brothers cant ride in allies transports. A Battle Brother is a friendly unit. ICs can join Battle Brothers. Now lets move on and read pg 39 of the BRB, “while an Independent Character is part of a unit, he counts as part of that unit for all rules purposes, though he still follows the rules for characters.” Next up is pg 78 BRB bottom left corner.

    That is the set up. To me it seems that an ally IC can join an ally unit and catch a ride. All rules purposes is some pretty strong language, and has alot of implications: wound allocation, targeting and so on. In essence the rules need to make the IC a part of the unit for the duration of their intimate relationship. It is also made clear that a Battle Brother is a Friendly Unit, so if the IC is part of that unit he is, legally, haveing his status changed by pg 39.

    So some examples, My farseer thinks Vect’s Dias is some pimped ride he wants to check out. Plus Vect’s true born are all hot nasty Dark Elf chicks, and they are probably into kinky action he wont ever find on the Craftworld. Vect loves prescience and guide and fortune so he is like sure dude step up and get some. So before the battle the FS joins the Trueborn with Vect and then they get into the Dias and hit the table. Lets say they jump out and assault something and Vect rolls 2 ones and dies as do all the girlies. The Farseer kills the remaining enemy unit and wants out and not to be shot now that all that den of sin has been killed. Now here is where the pilot of the Dias give the seer the finger and jets as the Farseer has become, once again, a Battle Brother.

    Am I wrong on how the rule on page 39 interacts with the rule on 112?

    • Acrimonious September 8, 2013 2:18 pm #

      Just because he is a part of that unit doesn’t give you the right to ignore P. 112. If an independent character with a jetpack joins a unit, the unit loses the right to embark in a rhino. Your interpretation can go both ways actually, now that the IC is in the unit the entire unit counts as battle brothers. Same logic, no?

    • bigpig September 8, 2013 5:09 pm #

      I love your visual. Though, I prefer to think of it as the Farseer was tempted to get on board but after being molested by the hot Dark Elf chicks… or maybe it was Vect, I don’t really know, I had my eyes closed…. he feels remorseful, depressed, and tainted and doesn’t get back on. Kind of a 10 at 2 and 2 at 10 situation.

      The rule clarity issue you point out is one those things that would have been immediately fixed in SFB. I supposed we can wait for 7th edition for it to be maybe fixed here. That being said, I don’t agree with the assessment that allows the Battle Brother IC to mount (pun intended) the transport. Pg 39 says he is considered to be part of the unit. It doesn’t say he removes any of his special rules or abilities. In this case, “Battle Brother” is a special rule/classification for him. He doesn’t lose Battle Brother status in the same way that a Chaos Lord joining a unit of raptors doesn’t lose his “Fearless” status or his classification as infantry and become jump infantry.

      He “counts as part of the unit for all purposes” but the rules specific to him continue to apply. In this case, the rule on Pg 112 which applies to him specifiically says he can’t enter the transport of the other detachment.

      My 2 coppers at least

      • Bigpig September 10, 2013 6:26 am #

        For just a bit more evidence; an IC in terminator armor still couldn’t board a rhino just because he joined a unit of tac marines

  2. Karvala September 8, 2013 12:39 pm #

    Yes, you are wrong in this case.

    This issue is that you have a general rule ‘counts as part of that unit for all rules purposes’ conflicting with a specific rule: allies, including battle brothers, cannot ride in each other’s transports.

    Specific rules take precedence over general rules, so you can’t get into the allied ride even when attached to an allied unit.

  3. Cthoss September 8, 2013 1:05 pm #

    Hmmm, I would say you are wrong. The rules for transports state that some units might not be able to embark on a fransport, for example because they are Bulky and it is a Rhino or are simply exceeding the allowance of the vehicle. As a Battle Brother cannot get into a transport of his allies, he would stop the whole unit from embarking unless they kick him out of the unit first.

  4. Cthoss September 8, 2013 1:09 pm #

    Also, it is true that the rules for ICs joining units govern aspects such as being shot or assaulted, morale etc. they don’t state that ICs will take the army ailiation of their unit if they join an allied unit.

    As an aside to the previous comment, if you assume that an IC joining a unit can embark if the unit can, it would also be possible to put Lysander in a Rhino if he brought some friends (maybe to shove him in).

  5. Alex yuen September 8, 2013 2:58 pm #

    I like it. I wish i have more time to read the rules. Works and life is talking a toll on my gaming.

  6. Jason Brown September 8, 2013 4:42 pm #

    By the logic of page 39 he is part of the unit they are not part of his unit. A jet pack is a piece of warhead and not covered by the page 39 rules as it dosnt remove the bulky part of the jet pack.

  7. Gregorius42 September 8, 2013 5:15 pm #

    Nice article. I agree that those killer rules are underused or over abused, especially when it comes to casting psychic powers. Interesting that the rules for casting those powers to bless units like prescience require the librarian to move into range. Otherwise if it was cast at the beginning of the phase the unit would not be in range. Oops! I forgot.

    Other killer rules that I see regularly are people playing fast and loose with assault. One model makes it and then everything moves into base to base contact. Umm, not!

    • bigpig September 8, 2013 9:48 pm #

      You’re right on with that. I think a lot of time people aren’t intentionally trying to fudge the rules, but they do pile all those spread out assaulting units in. It makes a huge difference, especially if you swing first, for that to be sequenced right. It might not allow some ICs to be in range to challenge or accept a challenge in lieu of another character. It might also mean that the opponent doesn’t have anybody “engaged” in the combat to swing at you. The assault rules are very well defined, just sloppily played.

  8. sirus September 8, 2013 8:16 pm #

    You made some good.points. Unfortunately one thing is wrong. Your character doesnt have to be able to fight to issue a.challenge, only to.accept.

    • bigpig September 9, 2013 12:34 pm #

      Noted. See how important it is to know the rules 🙂

    • Moridan September 10, 2013 4:47 am #

      Can you clarify this?

      So if I have a unit of necron warriors with a mss lord in the back charge into me, the lord can still issue a challenge even if hes a foot away from the nearest btb contact?

      • Bigpig September 10, 2013 6:22 am #

        Pg 64 paragraph 2 under challenges. Nominate a character in One of your units locked in the combat to be the Challenger. That sentence would seem to suggest that any character in the unit is eligible.

        However, the last sentence in the third paragraph reads characters that cannot fight or strike blows including those that are not engaged with an enemy model cannot issue challenges. This means the MSS lord cannot issue the challenge unless he is engaged at the start of the fight subphase.

        Sorry my earlier comment wasn’t clear and I hadn’t had time to look closely at the rules.

  9. Amof September 9, 2013 6:13 pm #

    In regards to your blessing/maledictions ruling.

    Blessings are manifested ‘at the start of the Psyker’s Movement
    phase’ – does this mean they happen simultaneously with Reserves
    rolls, Outflanking rolls etc and if so which is resolved first? (p68)
    A: They do occur simultaneously – as such, the player whose
    turn it is decides in what order these things occur as per
    page 9 of the
    Warhammer 40,000

    So are you saying that you still cant decide the order and have to cast powers beforehand?

    • Bigpig September 10, 2013 9:26 am #

      You can decide still, however once the psyker enters the table he has moved and cannot cast his blessing or malediction and since there is no way for him to cast while off table, he effectively can’t cast them the turn he comes in

  10. Moridan September 10, 2013 7:30 am #

    Ok. So that MSS lord int he back cant issue a challenge, but if I issue one (for some stupid reason) he can accept it and move up to btb?

    • Bigpig September 10, 2013 8:01 am #

      An unengaged character cannot accept a challenge. Pg 64, Bottom of paragraph four reads characters that cannot fight or strike blows including those that are not engaged with an enemy model cannot accept challenges. This means a MSS Lord hiding in the back of the squad that you assault cannot accept the challenge unless he is within 2 inches of a model in btb at the start of the fight sub phase.

      Per the rules on 64, a model must be engaged to declare or accept a challenge.

      At least that’s how I understand it. Please point it out if I’m wrong.

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