Tuesday, 7 February 2012

For the latecomers – welcome to 8th edition

A number of people I know are what could best be described as occasional Warhammer players. They might only play a couple of games in a year, and sometimes even less than that. My wife is one such player; previously she might have attended a tournament or two during the year and maybe played the odd practice game, however since the arrival of our son she simply hasn’t had time to pull out the models and learn the new rules. This means the transition to 8th edition has entirely passed her by, and I know she is not the only one.

This blog post is a crash course in Warhammer Fantasy 8th edition for those who played the game in the previous edition and have not yet had a chance to properly consider the new rules. There can be no substitute for reading the rulebook (something a lot of current players could learn from), but this should at least give you an idea of how the game now works.

Measure what you want, then roll the dice
One of the core skills in Warhammer used to be range estimation. It was critical to determine charge distances as well as artillery, however it played at least some part in every aspect of the game. 8th edition has turned this on its head, because you can measure what you want, whenever you want. The days of players memorising the lengths of their forearms and hand spans are a thing of the past (yes, I believe people really did do this). This is a massive fundamental change to the game. Players refer to this as “pre-measuring”, given you are checking to ensure an action will succeed before you commit, rather than deciding to do something only to find the target is out of range.
You can measure all you want, but one tape measure is probably still enough...
To offset pre-measuring, charge distances are now random. As a general rule, a model charges its base Movement value + 2D6 inches. As such, a Movement 4 human has an average charge distance of 11”. This means it’s possible to manage the likelihood of a charge, however so long as you remain more than your Movement +2 inches away from your target, you run the risk of failure. The upshot of all this is that both players can agree what the required roll will be before the dice are rolled. Disputes over fractions of inches are less prevalent than they used to be.

Striking first and stepping up
OK, so you have less control over charge distances than you used to. That means you’re going to roll badly for your charges, get charged in return, and then get dominated before you get to attack back, right? In a word, no. Why, you ask? Because charging no longer makes you strike first. Charging gives you +1 combat resolution, the ability to overrun, impact hits and various other benefits, but it no longer lets you strike before your enemies. Needless to say, this is a big change. Striking is done in initiative order, except in cases where the Always Strikes First or Last rules come into effect (such as for Great Weapons). It is also possible for both sides to strike simultaneously, where their initiatives are equal.

The change above is a major one, however arguably of even more importance is the rule stating that casualties come off the back of the unit. Previously when you butchered the front rank of a enemy, the rest of the unit would watch on sadly and mutely accept the drubbing they were receiving. Too often, striking last meant not striking at all. In 8th edition, models will automatically step forward into the place of falling comrades, and fight as normal when their turn comes. It means Great Weapons are a whole lot more effective than they used to be – swing slowly, but carry a big stick!
Wait your turn, then make 'em bleed
Removing casualties from the back means that in most combats, both sides will get to lay the hurt on each other. However, the sheer level of hurt has been turned up a notch with the Supporting Attacks rule. It means that the second rank of troops can each make an attack, reaching past their front rank comrades (in the case of cavalry, on the riders may lend a Supporting Attack). Spears then fight in an extra rank, and there are other factors I will touch on later. All this means that instead of having 5 models to fight (and your opponent not getting anything in return), you can reasonably expect 10 models on both sides to have a swing – more if your formation is over 5 models wide.  It all translates to a whole lot more dying than used to occur in 7th edition.

Twisting and turning
The movement phase in 8th edition is a fair bit simpler than it used to be. The concept of Turning (models rotating on the spot in their existing formation) is gone. Wheeling is still in place (as is Pivoting for single models), however in general terms things have become tidier. Instead of turning, a unit may move sideways or backwards at up to half rate, however they may not wheel at all whilst doing so. If you want to change the unit’s facing, a Reform is required. It is possible to perform a Swift Reform if you have a musician, which allows you to reform and then move (but not march or charge) provided that you pass a Leadership test.

Moving a charging unit is very different from how it worked previously. You ensure you can see your target and measure the distance, however it is the shortest possible distance between the nearest points of the two units. This lets you know what you will need to roll to make the charge. Assuming you make the required roll, the unit may then perform a single wheel of up to 90 degrees at any point during the charge in order to contact the target – measuring is not required. “Closing the door” occurs as it did in the previous edition. In the past an extremely wide unit would find it very difficult to complete a charge due to the massive wheels involved, however nowadays it’s easy provided you can find a gap to fit the unit through. This change to charge distances is a major one, and worth understanding fully.
Assuming the charger can see the target, you measure the shortest path (the dotted line, in this case through a unit and out of the charging unit's frontal arc). If you go fast enough to make that distance, you can put the tape measure away. Despite the distance being twice as far, the unit will go past the intervening one, wheel up to 90 degrees, and then continue on its merry way into the target. The path you take is nothing like the one you measure. Yes, it really works like that...
Units involved in charges and combats get far more opportunities to reform than they did in 7th edition. If your target flees the charge and you manage to catch them, you can test to reform on the spot. If you wipe out or break your enemy in combat, you can also reform (assuming you did not pursue a fleeing unit). This means people wishing to bait you or force you out of position with an expendable unit have to be a bit more careful than they used to. It also means a Dragon can eat a small unit in your backlines and, once it has finished with its snack, turn to face the rear of your lines – it will not waste a turn getting back into position.

Unit Strength versus Troop Type
Unit Strength has been abolished as a concept under 8th edition. In effect, it has been replaced by a far more overarching principle, in Troop Types. All units in the game fall into one of the following categories:
  • Infantry (regular ground-pounders)
  • Monstrous Infantry (Ogres, Trolls, Treekin etc)
  • Cavalry (light cavalry, knights – things with riders on cavalry bases)
  • Monstrous Cavalry (cavalry on larger bases, eg Bloodcrushers and characters on Monstrous Beasts)
  • War Beasts (models on cavalry bases without riders, eg Warhounds)
  • Monstrous Beasts (monsters that are too small for true Monster status, eg Eagles, Razorgor)
  • Swarms (including Snotlings and Nurglings)
  • Chariots
  • Monsters (properly large monsters, often with the Large Target rule, eg Dragons, Hydras)
  • War Machines
  • Unique (things that defy classification, such as Fanatics and Screaming Bells)
The categories are generally obvious, and there is a sensible pattern to them. A Monstrous Beast with a rider becomes Monstrous Cavalry, in the same way that at War Beast with a rider counts as Cavalry. Troop Types are specified in a summary section of the rulebook, effectively serving as errata for older army books to bring them in line with the current rules.

Troop Types have a number of rules associated with them. Here is a brief summary:
  • Monsters, Chariots and all forms of Cavalry may not occupy a building
  • Monstrous Infantry, Beasts and Cavalry (riders only) can lend up to 3 Supporting Attacks from the 2nd rank, rather than the usual 1. They also only need 3 models to count as a complete rank, instead of the 5 required by smaller models
  • Monstrous Infantry, Beasts and Cavalry receive a bonus Stomp attack in combat (an automatic hit at the model’s base strength, with Always Strikes Last)
  • Monsters receive Thunderstomp, with does D6 hits following the Stomp rule above
  • Only Infantry, War Beasts and Cavalry can be killed with Killing Blow. All other targets require Heroic Killing Blow (small characters can still be cut off larger steeds using regular Killing Blow)
These rules are not exhaustive, but they’re the main differences you’ll find.

Steadfast and the Horde
I have written an entire blog post on this topic in the past. You can find it here.
Bigger units are here to stay
The Steadfast rule is a major change in 8th edition, and one that divides players. The rule dictates that a unit with more ranks than the enemy in a combat will take its break test on its regular Leadership, unmodified by the result of the combat. It’s the same as being Stubborn in 7th edition, however under 8th edition you can use the general’s Inspiring Presence etc when taking the steadfast test. So a huge mob of Goblins within range of the Orc general will be testing on an unmodified Leadership of 9 so long as they have more ranks than the enemy. You can’t negate steadfast by flanking the unit and removing its rank bonus – the only ways to remove steadfast are to have more ranks than the enemy, or for them to be fighting in a forest or river. This means it is possible to field a massively deep unit and know that (barring something unfortunate), the unit will stick around for a very long time, even as it is thrashed in every round of combat.

If the steadfast rule encourages you to feel your unit in a deep formation, the Horde rule is effectively the opposite. Units that are in a formation 10 or more models wide gain an extra rank of Supporting Attacks. Assuming your whole front rank is engaged, with will mean the regiment will put out at least 30 attacks, and if they’re at a decent strength the enemy could be in for a world of hurt. Hordes of units like White Lions and Bloodletters (high strength attacks that can get rerolls to hit) can put a healthy dose of fear into an opponent.

The fickle Winds of Magic
The Magic Phase has changed a bit under 8th edition. For starters, the number of dice available to each player is determined by rolling 2D6. The casting gets a number of power dice equal to the total roll, whilst the dispelling player gets dispel dice equal to the higher of the 2 dice. All wizards on the table can then Channel - attempt to add an extra dice to the pile by rolling a 6. A casting player then can find himself with anywhere between 2 and 12 power dice (the total is capped at 12, including dice from bonus sources like the Banner of Sorcery), whilst the dispelling player could have anywhere between 1 and 6 dice fewer, before Channelling and bonuses kick in.

Wizards can use up to 6 dice to cast a spell, regardless on the caster’s level. Double 6s result in both a miscast and the spell being cast with irresistible force – so your wizard could cast the battle-winning spell and die in a heroic display of self-sacrifice.

Spells have now been given a type, which helps centralise the rules that govern them. Some older spells in existing army books do not yet have these rules in place, but that is gradually changing as the books are re-released under 8th edition.
  • Magic Missiles are as per 7th edition
  • Direct Damage spells target an enemy (or enemies) within the caster’s forward arc, but not in combat. Line of sight is not required
  • Augment spells boost your own units, and need only be within range – no other restrictions apply
  • Hex spells detract from enemy units, and have no targeting restrictions other than range
  • Magical Vortexes send a template from base contact with the caster, and may hit friend and foe alike, including those in combat.
Newer Lores of Magic include a Lore Attribute, which often applies to all spells in the Lore, or comes into play after one of the spells is successfully cast. The spells also often have multiple casting levels – for instance an Augment spell that can target a single friendly unit, or the player can increase the casting level to target all friendly units within range.

The Lores of Magic under 8th edition contain some extremely powerful spells, partly to counteract the larger units that are encouraged by the Steadfast and Horde rules. Knowledge that a single spell can remove half the unit will help discourage a player from stacking all his eggs in one enormous basket.

Playing the percentages
Army selection rules have changed under 8th edition. Previously an army needed to contain a minimum number of Core units whilst not exceeding the limit for all other categories. This is now dictated instead by percentages of the total points for the army. The guide below shows the standard rules:
  • Lords: Up to 25% of the army total
  • Heroes: Up to 25% of the army total
  • Core: At least 25% of the army total
  • Special: Up to 50% of the army total; No more than 3 of the same choice
  • Rare: Up to 25% of the army total; No more than 2 of the same choice
The rules above mean you will no longer see such things as High Elf armies with 2 units of 10 Archers and Warriors of Chaos with 3 units of 5 Marauder Horsemen as their minimum Core.

True line of sight
The rules for determining what a model can see have changed under 8th edition. Gone are the days when the rules dictated that all forests blocked line of sight through to the other side, and hills were taller than units. Now the rule of thumb is WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get. If you can get down to the model’s eye level and see part of the enemy model (the main bulk of it, not including banners, weapons and other random paraphernalia) then the model can see it too. This includes things like gaps under and between trees, or even between models in a unit.
They may be behind the forest, but they can still see you
The upshot of these rules is that it is extremely easy to get a line of sight on a target, and larger models often have nowhere at all that they can hide. The rules are simple, but the potential ramifications are far-reaching and the impact on terrain is something I have discussed before.

Speaking of which, the rules for terrain have changed fairly drastically under the current edition. Difficult Terrain is a concept of the past, and most terrain has no impact on how quickly models can move through it. Here is a brief summary of the basic effects of terrain:
  • Forests are Dangerous Terrain for Cavalry, Monstrous Cavalry and Chariots, and for Flyers than end their move within them. Targets in or behind a forest benefit from soft cover, and ranked up units that are more than half within a forest lose Steadfast, whilst Skirmishers gain Steadfast
  • Rivers negate Steadfast for a unit at least partially within them, and units may not march through a river
  • Marshland is Dangerous Terrain for all units except Skirmishers, and Cavalry, Monstrous Cavalry and Chariots fail their tests on a 1 or a 2 (instead of the normal 1)
  • Obstacles variable levels of cover for units, and offer various defensive benefits in combat (depending upon whether they are hedges, fences, walls, etc). They are Dangerous Terrain for Cavalry, Monstrous Cavalry and Chariots
  • Hills provide a +1 bonus to combat resolution for units that charge off them into an enemy below
Dangerous Terrain means that affected units which travel faster than normal (due to Charging, Marching, Fleeing or Pursuing) must roll a dice for each model that passes through the terrain. On a 1 the model takes a wound with no armour saves. This is effectively the replacement for Difficult Terrain – you’re not slowed down, but hurrying can be perilous.

Forests and Rivers are Mysterious Terrain, which means the first player to move a model into the terrain feature rolls on a chart to see what additional effects are in play for that particular forest or river (it can be anything from all units within the forest causing fear to the river casting a random spell from the Lore of Light on each unit to pass through).

Buildings have a suite of rules covering occupying and fighting over them. The general gist is that a unit of any size may occupy the building, however only 5 models per level may shoot out and 10 models from each side may fight in combat if the building is charged. The occupants count as Steadfast, so it can be an ordeal to dislodge them.

The decline of psychology
Fear used to be a terribly potent weapon in 7th edition, and its effectiveness was reflected in the relative dominance of armies that were Immune to Psychology in most tournaments. Fear could disrupt enemy charges and then see units splinter in close combat when outnumbered. 8th edition see Fear drastically reduced in effectiveness, both because of its more limited application, and the boost to the psychology rules for most armies.

The Battle Standard Bearer has always been a staple in most armies. Being able to reroll failed break tests is a significant thing. This effect has been extended to all Leadership tests, be they for breaking, fear, panic, swift reform, combat reform, stupidity, restraining frenzy, or any other reason. Consequently all of these tests will be failed less frequently with the BSB is in range. This makes the Battle Standard incredibly important, especially for armies with only moderate leadership. Coupled with the general’s Inspiring Presence and the Steadfast rule, it can see the heart of an army turn into an impenetrable wall.
The Battle Standard Bearer - an essential element in most armies. Strange bakers and huge stone hammers are optional extras
Fear now only has an impact in the combat phase, and the result of a failed test is the unit’s WS dropping to 1. Whilst this has both offensive and defensive ramifications, it is a far cry from automatically breaking when outnumbered by a fear-causing enemy, and from units refusing to charge because the target is a little creepy.

Keep on runnin’
The rules for fleeing are not too dissimilar from 7th edition, however there are a couple of key changes. The first of these is that running into enemy units and impassable terrain does not see the fleeing unit automatically destroyed – all they have to do is take dangerous terrain tests. Losing a wound for 1 in every 6 models in the fleeing unit is hardly going to cause a player to break into a cold sweat – especially not when the unit would simply have been removed in the past!

The other change (and this is another one that gets players arguing over whether it’s a good or bad rule) is that at the end of the game, fleeing units do not yield victory points. Units that have made it off the table do, but so long as they’re still on the board, they’re not worth anything to your opponent. In fact, you never get points for anything unless it’s entirely gone from the game – there are no partial credits. So a unit of 50 models reduced to a single fleeing champion will concede precisely 0 victory points. In 8th edition you get no points for a job half done; if you don’t destroy the unit or force it from the field, you don’t get the points. 

This part is arguably more about convention than the core rules, however 8th edition has seen the revival of different scenarios as part of the main game. 7th edition was dominated by the Pitched Battle, however the current rulebook pushes a suite of 6 different scenarios as part of the core rules. You will find:
  • Battleline: Your standard pitched battle
  • Dawn Attack: Units most roll to determine where along the line they will deploy. One player does this first, and he gets the turn on a D6 roll of anything but a 6
  • Battle for the Pass: The game is played lengthwise down the table, but armies are still 24” apart
  • Blood and Glory: Armies deploy 18” apart, and the game stops as soon as one player’s Fortitude (as determined by standards and the army general) drops to the designated Breaking Point
  • Meeting Engagement: Players deploy diagonally across the table, 12” apart. Units and characters that roll a 1 start in reserve. One player does this first, and he gets the turn on a D6 roll of anything but a 6
  • Watchtower: Random turn length game over the control of the tower, with the controlling player winning at the end of the game
Tournaments tend to see some of these scenarios tweaked to avoid some of the more extreme games, however they are definitely seeing use and force players to think more about their games in terms of when they lose control over their deployment, need to fight for control of a building, and have to ensure enough banners to stave off a rapid capitulation.

And all the rest
There are a ton of more minor changes introduced by 8th edition. It would be impossible to cover them all in a single blog post, but here are some examples:
  • All units (both friend and foe) must stay 1” apart except when charging (or a character joining a unit). An annoying rule that takes a while to get used to
  • The To Wound Chart now makes it possible for any Strength to wound any Toughness, provided you roll a 6+
  • Skirmishers have a formation like a ranked up unit now, albeit separated by half an inch – and they can still reform as they move, provided they’re not charging
  • Partial hits are a thing of the past. Models even touched by a template are automatically hit
  • Hand weapons and shields no longer give an extra +1 armour save bonus; instead they get a 6+ Parry Save, which may not be used against Stomps or Impact Hits
  • Just as combat troops get supporting attacks, missile troops may always fire in 2 ranks
  • Regeneration is cancelled for the entire phase once a wound is taken from a Flaming Attack (so you will see flaming archers firing a volley at the trolls before the cannonballs start flying)
  • All troops with Always Strike First (and Always Strike Last) swing simultaneously (regardless of Initiative), however a model with ASF striking a model without it will get rerolls to hit if their Initiative is also equal to or higher than the targets
  • Standard bearers will always die defending their banners when their units break from combat. This includes BSBs – the model is simply removed
  • Breath Weapons may only be used once per game, however this may be in combat for 2D6 hits that count towards combat resolution
  • Characters no longer get stranded out of combat when out of base contact – they can use the Make Way rule to shoulder their way through before the combat begins

What does it all mean?
What, you’re still here? I assumed you would have gotten scared off by now. Clearly you are more tenacious than you look. All of these changes really amount to a simple fact: Warhammer 8th edition is a different game to 7th edition. The dynamic of the game has changed – a lot of the of the mechanics that encouraged fidgety play have been eliminated, and players who are familiar with the rules will generally find that the game flows faster than it used to. The power imbalance that was so pronounced at the end of 7th edition has improved, however a number of players have found the new edition not to their liking.

At first I was not convinced either, however over time I came around and I now think 8th edition is the best version of Warhammer I have played. It’s definitely worth giving it a chance.


  1. Nice article Hoodling. As a player coming back into Fantasy after almost a decade this has been a very handy summation. Thanks heaps!


  2. Very nice article indeed. Many thanks! It was a big help.

  3. The new percentage rules are really damn annoying for VC. I can't field a single model because the only vampire I have is a Vampire Lord, and his base points outweigh 20 skeletons and 10 dire wolves. In the old rules, this army was perfectly fine

    1. Basically GW just hates vampires

    2. Well any Vampire model can be used as a normal Vampire or Lord, so you're not tied into that. And the End Times adjustments in terms of 50% Lords/Heroes should help this sort of thing.