One of the great things about GOONHAMMER 96 has been seeing everyone here in the Goonhammer offices whip out their stack of mouldering old books from their personal Black Library and just lose their minds at The Game As She Used To be Played. This hobby of ours has been through some changes, as we’ve seen in our reviews of Codex: Chaos and Angels of Death, and I wanted to talk more about them. Not just what happened in 1996, but anywhere in the annals of 40k. The Willenium was declared in 1999 and has never been formally held in abeyance, so we still live by the wise words of the Fresh Prince, “You never know where you’re going, until you know where you’ve been”.
To that end, I’m opening the floor to anyone on the Goonhammer staff, to remember some of our favorite defunct rules.
The Goonhammer Round Table
Greg: Ballistic Skill used to work completely backwards. BS3 meant you hit on 4s, BS4 hit on 3s, etc. That’s all fine, until you get to BS higher than 5. If you had, for example, BS8, you hit on 2s and re-rolled 1s, but then on the re-roll would only hit on a 4+. BS10 was a 2+/2+. It’s actually not a bad system! Just weird as hell and I’m sure I never remembered the re-roll part properly.
Condit: Weapons Skill was even weirder: models had a score somewhere between 1 and 10 or so, and you determined your target on the to hit roll by referencing a chart in the rulebook that had your model’s WS on one axis and your target’s WS on the other. This did have some cool effects, like making the Avatar with its ridiculous WS 10 hard for nearly any model to hit in close combat, but ultimately it meant that you had to reference the table for basically any fight other than two marines slapping each other.
Greg: The table also meant you never hit on better than a 3 or worse than a 5. Abaddon missing a third of the time against Grots, get outta here.
Condit: Don’t forget the to-wound table, either: rather than being the straight-up greater than/less than/double/half gimmick it is now, you had to memorize an entire table of what the wound targets were for your various guns. The breakpoints at which you wounded on 2+ or 6+ were often somewhat arbitrary, meaning that any time you were shooting at a new target or with a new weapon, you had to break out the book and double check
Neon: I remember my GW at the time printed out the chart for figuring out to-hit/to-wound rolls in a forlorn attempt to help people remember. There was always, always a gaggle of nerds crowded around it struggling to figure out what their Marines hit on, and even then they forgot the high WS/BS bonuses.
Rob: It was real bad. One of the best things they did with 8th edition was streamline the WS/BS and S/T charts to remove all of the nonsense and make it very easy to understand what your models hit on, and what you needed to roll to wound. Look at this nonsense:
Kevin: Rogue Trader had you roll to hit for blast weapons after you determined the number of models hit by the template. I say we bring that back. The rules also explicitly required a GM and recommended that they decide whether or not a model needed a penalty to hit based on whether they felt like it.
Ilor: Rogue Trader had grenades that were actual weapons and also let you use slings to throw them farther. That was pretty dope.
Greg: It’s pretty funny that for several editions there you literally could not kill someone with a grenade. They were wargear that just did stuff with initiative during charges, and weren’t actually weapons.
Liam: Talking about Grenades reminds me of one of my favourite ever FAQ answers. Back in the day, getting an FAQ at all was a rare event, and when you did get them they just kind of showed up out of nowhere, and tended to display a certain gulf in understanding between the game designers and the players. The one I’m thinking of in particular is the 5th edition Codex: Space Wolves FAQ, which had the rare distinction of arriving fairly soon after the book came out. 5th was an era when the “divergent” Chapters being Marines++ was very stark, and Space Wolves were firmly at the top of that particular pile. The FAQ took upon itself to answer two questions: firstly, did Ragnar Blackmane’s ability to grant Furious Charge to nearby units apply when those units were utilising Space Wolves’ inherent Counter-attack special rule (which granted +1 attack as if they were the ones charging); secondly, did abilities like blight grenades (which prevented charging units from gaining the same +1 attack bonus) work against Counter-attack? The answers: question 1 was a firm yes, of course, you can well imagine Ragnar’s warriors charging into the melee even when counter-attacking! whereas question 2, in a phrase which has stuck with me in the intervening decade, got a firm no, on the basis that it was “a bit rich” for players to expect grenades that worked against a charging enemy to also work against units they were charging. I believe this one caused some yelling which ended up with the Furious Charge bit being swiftly reversed, but the initial answer really encapsulated a particular kind of mentality and approach to rules, and expectations about how they were meant to logically fit together, which foreshadowed how the game was going to develop for years after.
Drew: Let’s take a moment to pour one out for Death or Glory, the rule that led to one of my favorite moments in our local tabletop history. Back in the day, most vehicles couldn’t contribute to close combat the way that they can now, so instead you had a rule called Tank Shock, which allowed a vehicle to move into an enemy unit to force them to take a Morale test. On a failed test, the unit fell back; on a passed test you could either simply move out of the way or try for Death or Glory: one shooting attack auto-hit against the vehicle and if you got the Crew Stunned result you halted the vehicle’s movement, and if you killed it it died, but otherwise you got straight up killed despite your saves or wounds.
Cut to: a Bloodthirster making a heroic Death or Glory stand against a Rhino that went ahead full steam, then realizing it didn’t have a shooting attack and the crew of the Rhino high-fiving as the tank treads reduced the greater daemon to a soup-like homogenate.
Craig: The Morale rules were mostly an afterthought before 8th – they rarely made any real difference, but sometimes they could be disastrous. My brother was in the running to win his bracket at the last 7th edition Nova, and he was up against a giant Tau deathstar list, featuring a huge unit of crisis suit bodyguards, joined by commanders, along with a big gaggle of drones. My brother was lucky enough to get first turn, rushed the center and barely damaged anything. He did remember to cast the Terrify psychic power he randomly rolled, which caused the deathstar to take a morale check on their mighty leadership of 10. They failed. They then Fell Back 2d6 inches, and rolled like an 11. One single model in that giant squad was forced to move half an inch over the board edge, so that entire 1300 point unit was removed from the game.
Liam: I similarly played against a Grey Knight Paladin brick with Draigo when they first turned up in 5th edition; on turn 1 the guy rolled an 11 for Morale, re-rolled into another 11, and then ran the full 12″ straight off the table edge. All I can say is that if you remember what Grey Knights were like in 5th, you know this was completely deserved.
Kevin: Back in 2nd (Best) Edition, Terminators had a 3+ save… on 2D6. And everyone could get a displacer field for a 3+ Invulnerable save, which was great until someone chucked a vortex grenade at it and your centerpiece model was sucked into the warp. Virus bombs could kill entire Ork and Imperial Guard armies before the game even began. We rolled dice uphill both ways, and we liked it.
Rob: Oh man if we’re talking about some bullshit, let me tell you about 2nd edition Eldar and Vortex Grenades
My win rates for games in 2nd edition were something approaching Gregian. And the reason for that is because my most common opponent was this guy Giovanni who also frequented my friendly local game store and played Eldar. I probably played against him more than a dozen times and I never won a single game, including the one where he forgot to unpack one of his units and was playing with only 1,800 points to my 2,000. There was plenty of bullshit in his list – the warp spiders who jumped around and killed things, the vibro cannon that nearly automatically penetrated ground vehicle armor without line of sight, the jetbikes that could pop up over cover to shoot and then drop back down – but the pinnacle of his bullshit was the Swooping Hawk Exarch armed with a Vortex Grenade.
The Vortex Grenade, clocking in at 50 points, was the peak of 40k bullshit. Look at this thing:
Destroys anything on a 4+. Oh and if you’re trying to save against it with a Displacer Field, which gives you a 3+ invulnerable save and moves you out of the way? Well those specifically don’t work on Vortex Grenades – you just get sucked in as you displace. Awesome. Thanks.
Ok though, it’s just a grenade, right? Someone has to get close to lob that thing at you – just avoid them. “That’s easy to do Rob, you big fuckin’ idiot,” you say, like some kind of ignorant rube. Well, lemme tell you about another 2nd edition piece of Wargear: Swooping Hawk Wings. Eldar Exarchs could take Swooping Hawk Wings as a piece of wargear. These tended to function just like jump packs, only better – a 20-point upgrade that let you jump over obstacles and move long distances, only you’d also get the -1 to hit them if they moved fast (which jump packs didn’t give you). Oh and also, they could fly high, disappearing off the table and reappearing anywhere the following turn, as shown here:
So in a typical game – and by “typical” I mean “every” game I played against Eldar, turn 1 would start with a Swooping Hawk Exarch armed with a Vortex grenade flying high with his squad of Swooping Hawks. Turn 2, he’d drop back down right next to my warlord and his retinue of Chaos Terminators and, with dead-shot accuracy thanks to being BS 6, would nail my Chaos Lord between the eyes with a Vortex Grenade, causing the the lord and usually two other terminators to just get sucked up into the warp. 500+ points, just gone. Eventually I just stopped spending lots of points on a warlord but the flip side of that is there were plenty of other targets to kill – like my dreadnought. The Swooping Hawk vortex grenade isn’t the only reason I don’t miss or pine for the days of 2nd edition, but it is the most prominent of them.
Although really, Eldar were straight bullshit from 2nd edition through 8th and are still bullshit if you look at Harlequins. War. Some things never change.
Liam: There was a brief break in here in 5th where Eldar were merely mediocre, but that was a) because they were stuck with a 4th edition codex all the way until 6th and b) because that codex was so bullshit in how suited it was to break 4th that when 5th changed a bunch of core rules it just kind of didn’t work any more.
This is worth expanding on because it’s a cool bit of early Eldar bullshit, before you got stuff like “Ynnari get to act twice as often as anyone else does” or “you literally cannot shoot their planes and they can unaccountably bring 9 of them.” To start with you have to remember that 4th edition was insanely hateful to vehicles – you could die reasonably easily to glancing hits, a penetrating hit would straight kill the vehicle 50% of the time and at minimum would stop you moving or shooting, and if you got penetrated by ordnance you died 50% of the time and 16% of the time your vehicle got annihilated, wounded everything in range, and all the passengers automatically died. You did not want to be inside one if you could avoid it, basically.
Eldar got several advantages in this area. Firstly, all their vehicles were Fast Skimmers, which meant if they moved fast (and they incurred basically zero penalty for doing so, because the configuration of weapons on most Eldar vehicles was perfectly designed to receive no disadvantage at all for moving and shooting, at a time when scooting a Leman Russ 6″ would drop its effective firepower substantially) they could only be glanced. Eldar also could take holo-fields and spirit stones as vehicle wargear, which meant that your opponent had to roll 2d6 and pick the lowest result on the glancing/penetration tables, and that any crew stunned results were changed to crew shaken; they could also take vectored engines so that an immobilised skimmer (which meant a dead skimmer if moving fast) would just drift gently to the surface instead and suffer no other ill effects. This made actually killing one incredibly hateful – you could only glance them, and if you did you could only kill them on a 6, but you had to roll 2d6 pick lowest, and half the results barely mattered to them. Cue Eldar players skimming merrily around the board all game in invincible grav-tanks, merrily blowing away your army as you struggled to land a glove on them.
Greg: 4th edition Dark Angels. They got their book several months before mainline Space Marines, and had Storm Shields that gave a 4+ Invulnerable save in close combat, and did nothing at all against ranged attacks. Regular marines came out and instantly got an updated version with the full-time 3++ (which persisted all the way up through 8th). This was never FAQed, and Dark Angels would have to wait for their codex in 5th for it. I am still mad about this. I intend to die mad about it.
Kais: I was going to talk fondly of Tau Jet Packs and their clear superiority for a moment. Instead though, 4th edition’s Target Priority checks. Wow, that was a weird system. For most units it was basically a 50% chance every turn that they would only be able to shoot the unit closest to them. Maybe there was more to it than that, but that was my first edition of 40k. Considering how important being good at target priority is in 9th edition it’s still surprising to think the game I started with frequently didn’t let me decide at all. Another one I love/hated was dangerous terrain tests and scatter when deep striking! Nothing was more amusing than someone’s Necron Monolith just ceasing to exist because it came down on a rather pointy rock or tree.
Craig: Speaking of Necron Monoliths, they had some wild rules in 3rd edition. They ignored all modifiers to armor penetration, ignored the special rules of bright lances, and were immune to being shaken, stunned, or having any of their weapons destroyed. By the time this codex was in 5th edition, that meant that it was nearly immune to Glancing Hits and only weapons with Strength 9 or 10 had any chance to do lasting damage. Luckily Necrons also had an achilles heel in the Phase Out rule, which meant that if you killed 75% of the Necron infantry on the board at any point, you won the game. Taking Monoliths means you had fewer points to spend on Warriors to pump up your phase out number.
Greg: Back in 7th, I had a unit of 5 Ravenwing bikes drive over some dangerous terrain once and 3 of them died to rolling 1s. Ravenwing had the ability to re-roll I think difficult terrain checks (so, distance moved) but notably not to re-roll dangerous terrain checks, so they absolutely stayed dead.
Neon: Universal special rules. “But hurburdur!” I hear you whisper shout, “USRs were good!”. No, they were half good. Most of them were utter garbage. Tell me, honestly. could you remember the actual difference between Hatred, Zealot and (the third one that’s another word for Pissed Off [GREGNOTE: Furious Charge?])? No, you didn’t, and got them mixed up all the time because they basically all did the same thing but with minor enough differences for some smirking git to call you on if you were mistaken.
Also: come on, the other half were basically useless. Do you honestly miss True Grit that much? Or Fear?
Oh, and also remember when Ork Boyz were only S3 for some reason? Good times.
Rob: Lemme Tell you about the best rules GW ever wrote – the 40k vehicle design rules.
These are some of the coolest rules Games Workshop ever made. Released in White Dwarf #251 during 3rd edition and later reprinted in the Chapter Approved supplement, the vehicle design rules follow a simple premise: What if players could just build their own tanks and dreadnoughts?
If that sounds completely rad to you, let me go ahead and confirm: It absolutely was that rad. You see that dreadnought up there? I built that guy because of the VDRs. Before the VDRs, Chaos couldn’t have dreadnoughts with two close combat weapons. So I built a Chaos Dreadnought with two lightning claws (Dreadnought Close Combat Weapons at the time), a meltagun, a heavy flamer, and the Ferocious and Souped-up Engines rules, giving it an extra +1 Attack and making it Agile (it could move 12″ if it didn’t fire any guns). It wasn’t super powerful, but it was cool as hell and exactly something I’d been wanting to have rules for since I realized I could order the bits for Bjorn the Fell-Handed’s lightning claw through mail order. Also, I was intensely jealous of the Blood Angels’ Furioso Dreadnought, which came out early in 3rd edition.
Now if you think being able to cobble together a vehicle for any faction with any armor values and weapons was prone to creating broken shit well, you’re probably right. But that said, the rules were pretty brilliant – you started by picking your vehicle type and size, then you chose armor values, and picked your weapons and special rules. Every race’s vehicles had pre-set characterstics for things like Ballistic Skill, and in addition to modding your vehicle you could modify the guns, doing things like making a gun long-barreled (+50% range) or gatling, giving it D3 shots per normal shot (so a heavy bolter would go from Heavy 3 to Heavy 3D3 if you made it a gatling heavy bolter). There were point costs for all these, and they varied based on the gun and your vehicle stats – for example, long-barreled guns were 50% more expensive, or 100% if the original range was 24″ or less. Close combat weapons’ cost depended on your attacks and weapon skill. Yeah, there were likely some abusable things here, but there was a legitimate effort to balance things and make something that could be workable. Also the rules specified that you absolutely had to have everything modeled, no proxying on this one, you fuckin jerks. Anyways compare these to the shitty “build a land raider” rules we got in Chapter Approved 2017, where you could, in Narrative Play only, go so far as to swap out your land raider’s twin heavy bolters for twin reaper autocannons. God I miss when GW was braver.
Ilor: Rogue Trader vehicle rules, where you could build whatever kind of vehicle you wanted. You paid points for maximum speed, turning radius, etc. But importantly, minimum speed was a negative cost, and if your maximum speed and minimum speed were equal, the costs offset. So you could make a vehicle that was screamingly fast for dirt cheap, but if anything slowed it down (damage, grav guns, etc) it would immediately crash. Good times.
And then in 2nd edition, each vehicle had a goofy gridded chart with different vehicle subsystems illustrated on it. Each chart had a “center of mass” aimpoint, but depending on the scatter (which indicated which grid location you started from) and how much you exceeded your “to hit” roll by, you could move a certain number of grid squares horizontally or vertically to target a specific subsystem. Plugging the pilot of a land speeder with a lascannon was always gold.
Greg: Remember when Rhinos were 35 points? Tactical marines were 17 at that point, so for the same price you could either have 6 squads, or 5 squads and 5 mobile annoyance bunkers to block traffic with, which is basically the only time that anything resembling a fortification was considered good.
Wings: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – listening to drunk players describe their best 7th tournament games is like listening to Mornington Crescent. Oh the invisible seer council killed everything turn one? Yeah sure, why not.
Warhammer: It owns
Thanks to all of our contributors for the incredible psychic damage they have dealt to you, our faithful reader, by reminding you all how buck wild previous editions seem in retrospect. Note that the current legal rulebook for Horus Heresy still uses a lot of these rules, so if you want to experience the unbridled joy and wonder of Tank Shocks and scatter dice for yourself, you too can suffer as we have.