Characters have often been the key to an army’s success, and that may be the case now more than ever with the Iron Hands codex and the portents of Psychic Awakening. Although relic-bearers and psychic monstrosities can definitely pose a challenge, a well-placed sniper round to the skull often solves those problems with extreme prejudice. In today’s Hammer of Math, Kevin Genson covers the effectiveness of various character-targeting sniper options ranging from Space Marine Eliminators to a Genestealer Cultist gunslinger.
The first thing we need to do is establish a baseline using a selection of targets. I reached out to the Goonhammer brain trust and received a variety of suggestions about what to kill. Space Marines were a common threat, as a T4 profile with either a high armor save or a 4++ invulnerable are fairly common for both loyalist and heretical forces. Given the effectiveness of the Iron Father (and several other T5 targets such as Necrons) it seemed like his profile was a reasonable one to include as well. Finally it’s important to look at T3 options to represent Eldar (particularly Farseers with a 4++) and relatively squishy targets such as Genestealer Cultists leaders, or a Primaris Psyker. As a result these are the five target profiles:
T3 with a 5+ armour save to represent the lowest tier of characters that would need to be sniped such as a GSC Magus or Darkstrider.
T3 with a 4++ invulnerable save to represent higher tier low toughness characters such as Farseers and Warlocks.
T4 with a 3+ armour save to cover un-shielded Space Marines such as Librarians, Lieutenants, Sorcerers, and Ancients.
T4 with a 3+ armour save and 4++ invulnerable save for protected Space Marines such as Captains.
T5 with a 2+ armour save, 4++ invulnerable save, and 6+++ Feel No Pain to represent the Iron Father and similar extremely tough threats.
The Most Common Sniper Profile
Space Marine Sniper Scouts, Eldar Rangers, Astra Militarum Ratlings, and Necron Deathmarks (outside of their 12″ rapid fire range) all have a very similar profile. Each model in the unit gets a single attack at 3+ BS, a strength of 4, no AP value, and a damage characteristic of 1. On a 6+ to wound the attack will also deal a single mortal wound. In general this profile is attached to a fairly inexpensive but fragile unit of around 5 models. For example Space Marine Scouts armed with sniper rifles are only 65 points and can sit on objectives, provide a cheap means of filling out a Battalion, and still serve as a long-range threat against T3 and T4 characters. Against the Iron Father the chances of dealing any damage are significantly reduced, but there’s still a chance.
With the release of the new codex Space Marines have a variety of ways to deal with characters. In addition to the aforementioned Scouts armed with sniper rifles, Intercessors have received a significant boost with D2 stalker bolt rifles. There are also two new units from Shadowspear; the Captain in Phobos Armour who can snipe characters with his master-crafted bolt carbine, and the 3-man Eliminator Squad which includes a huge number of options. Note that the graphs below only cover the baseline units and do not include additional influences such as Chapter Tactics, receiving AP -1 from the Devastator Doctrine, the benefit of a nearby Chaplain, Captain, or Lieutenant, or the Chapter-unique benefits such as Raven Guard getting a +1 to hit and wound characters in the Tactical Doctrine.
The Eliminator Squad is a Phobos unit which can either be equipped with anti-tank las fusils or bolt sniper rifles that can fire one of three ammunition options that each fire at S5. Executioner rounds fire one shot, but do so with a +2 to hit and can target units that aren’t visible. The attack is at AP -1, ignores the benefit of cover to the target’s armour save, and deals 1 damage. Hyperfrag rounds provide 1d3 shots with no AP and 1 damage each. Mortis rounds provide AP -2 but deal 1d3 damage and also have the ability to deal mortal wounds on a wound roll of 6. Eliminator Squads also include an option where the Sergeant can sacrifice his own shooting to give the other two snipers a +1 to hit and wound. Depending on the form of attack this can either be a benefit or a hindrance.
The low damage limit the utility of the Executioner Rounds to threats that cannot otherwise be targeted, perhaps as a means of finishing off a target that was wounded elsewhere. Due to the low number of shots and the +2 to hit benefit already associated with the Executioner rounds it is detrimental to use the Guided Aim ability; you’re better off with a higher volume of fire.
The Hyperfrag rounds offer the ability to deal more wounds due to the increased number of shots; on average a 3 man squad will get 6 attacks. In this scenario the increased wound and hit benefits offset the loss of a single shot; this may not necessarily be the case for Raven Guard units firing under the Tactical Doctrine if they’re shooting at something with a toughness of 3 (since it will already be at a 2+ to wound).
The Mortis rounds are the ideal solution for taking out a visible threat due to the combination of high AP, 1d3 damage characteristic, and the ability to deal mortal wounds on a 6+. Of all the options they benefit the most from the Guided Aim ability as it doubles the chances of the attack dealing a mortal wound.
Intercessors with Stalker Bolt Rifles
With the new Space Marine Codex comes two major benefits for Intercessors and Stalker Bolt Rifles. The first is that the damage was doubled. The second is that the Target Sighted Stratagem was added to allow Intercessor squads armed with Stalker bolt rifles to target characters and get the ability to deal a mortal wound on a wound roll of 6+. The downside is that Target Sighted is extremely expensive at 3CP.
Space Marine Captain in Phobos Armour
The final character-sniping option is the Captain in Phobos Armour, who has a fairly solid chance of dealing 3 wounds with his master-crafted Instigator Bolt Carbine against softer targets.
As one would expect from a faction consisting entirely of massive war-walkers covered in weaponry capable of laying waste to entire armies, Imperial Knights also include the ability to selectively eliminate characters using Shield Breaker Missiles and the Oathbreaker Guidance System Stratagem. This requires a significant level of investment, as only Dominus-class knights such as the Castellan and Valiant have this option and the Stratagem itself costs 3CP. Unfortunately the missile itself isn’t terribly reliable; at best you’re looking at a roughly 55% chance of dealing any damage.
The followers of the Omnissiah can equip their Skitarii Ranger squads with steampunk sniper rifles called transuranic arquebuses (and yes, the plural of arquebus is “arquebuses” and not “arquebuii” as I was disappointed to learn from Google). These S7 weapons can only be fired when stationary, and a 5 man squad of Skitarii can field two of them at 15 points apiece. As with Scout Snipers this can form a useful source of anti-character firepower that can strike at range, and the transuranic arquebus works well with the 30″ range of the Skitarii Ranger Galvanic Rifles.
The undisputed champion of reaching out and touching someone with a high velocity slug of the Emperor’s Wrath, the Vindicare assassin is a highly specialized but highly lethal option for forces of the Imperium. When stationary it always hits on a 2+, against INFANTRY targets the rifle wounds on a 2+, and if the wound roll is a 6 the 1d3 damage characteristic increases to 1d6. In addition, should the Vindicare wound the target but not kill it, it has the ability to deal additional mortal wounds on consecutive successful rolls of 3+, 4+, 5+, and finally 6+. This means that an exceptionally lucky sniper has the chance to deal 10 wounds to a target. The attack also ignores invulnerable saves, ignores the benefit of cover to armour saves, and has an AP of -3. The end result is an attack that will deal 4 wounds to a T3 target 50% of the time, and even has a small (5%) chance of dealing enough wounds to kill the Iron Father. Finally for a single CP it can shoot again at a different target, and if it does kill a character it has a 1 CP Stratagem that allows you to regain 2 CP for killing a character, or 3 CP if it kills the enemy Warlord (i.e. a net gain of 1 or 2 CP) . Note that because the CP are gained from a Stratagem that they are not capped by the Tactical Restraint rule.
T’au Sniper Drones
T’au have the ability to deal significant damage to a threat using MV71 Sniper Drones. Sniper Drones are armed with a S5, AP 0, D1 weapon that will deal a mortal wound to the target on a wound roll of 6+. The drones have a 48″ range and are Rapid Fire 1, meaning they can put out a significant number of shots at nearby threats. By themselves the drones are largely useless, as they only have a 5+ BS, but there are two options that are readily available to improve this. The first is the presence of a model with a Drone Controller in close proximity to the squad. The second is the use of a Firesight Marksman that can see the target. Both of these options improve the BS of the Sniper Drones by +1 each to result in a 3+ BS.
The large number of shots ensures that the attack has a reasonable chance of succeeding against a variety of threats, although the effectiveness is significantly mitigated by the presence of a good save. This can be significantly improved through a variety of options that the T’au possess. Markerlights can improve the probability of hitting the target (although the Markerlights themselves cannot ignore character targeting rules, outside of the Orbital Marker Distribution Uplink Stratagem for Sa’cea for 2 CP). If the target has already been hit then you can use the Focused Fire T’au Sept Stratagem to get +1 to wound on the target and apply mortal wounds on a 5+ for 3CP.
As one would expect from one of the sneakiest factions in the game, the Genestealer Cults have a few ways of dealing with characters from afar. The Jackal Alphus is a bike-riding sniper that combines an absolutely awesome model with a highly mobile threat. The sniper rifle deals a single shot at S4, AP -2, and can deal 1d3 damage along with mortal wounds on a wound roll of 6+. The Sanctus is similar to the Jackal Alphus with a slightly worse gun (-1 AP as opposed to -2 AP for the Jackal). Both have the ability to use the Gift From Beyond Relic, which gives the model a +2 to wound against non-VEHICLE targets. This is particularly effective as it increases the probability of dealing a mortal wound from 16.7% to 50%.
The other option that Genestealer Cultists have is the Kelermorph, a three-armed gunslinger armed with a brace of S4 AP-1 pistols that deal 2 damage each. With a 2+ to hit and an ability to get an extra attack you’re almost guaranteed to get 4 hits on the target. This can pose a significant threat to models with a low armour save, although high toughness characters like the Iron Father are largely immune.
Many factions have options that allow them to bypass the character targeting rules and directly attack high value units that may be essential to a particular army. For the most part these attacks cluster round a strength value of 4, have low armor penetration, and include the ability to deal mortal wounds. Abilities that increase the ability to wound or the number of attacks are particularly effective. As one would expect the efficacy of these attacks is highly dependent on the toughness and save of the model. Because sniper attacks typically include a low number of attacks, invulnerable saves and hit or wound modifiers are extremely useful. The exception to this is the Vindicare Assassin, which ignores invulnerable saves, modifiers to hit, modifiers to wound, and has the potential to take out any INFANTRY character in a single shot.
Something we didn’t cover here were the large number of effects in the game which are effectively “targetable Smite.” These are a different way of approaching the same question – and for some armies, the only way. Chaos players in particular are going to be highly reliant on these if they want to get rid of a key character. Expect to see that covered in an upcoming article.