Ruleshammer 40k: Rules Consensus, and Accessibility, Part 1

Welcome to Ruleshammer! This week I’m covering rules that are still an issue this far into 9th and how they are commonly handled. Remember the banner below will take you to the Ruleshammer 9th Edition Compedium, for all the questions I’ve answered for the last few months!

Warhammer 40k 9th is edition is a great and fun game. One I’ve enjoyed a lot. However it’s not a perfect game and it can be quite inaccessible for new players (something we try to help out with on a weekly basis in Ruleshammer). One way the game can be inaccessible is through rules which are played a certain way because of consensus; there are rules in 40k that are just not played the way they’re written in the rulebook. Sometimes this is because they’ve actually just changed, and sometimes it’s because playing them as written causes other problems. Discovering these rule scan be jarring and it can be difficult to distinguish between community consensus and someone just trying to bend the rules in their favor – and you really don’t want to be in a position to figure out which during your first tournament*.

So in a break from the usual format, I’m going to cover a few rules that are largely played different from their rulebook/FAQ wording on the majority of tables.

This status quo is one reason why almost every event needs an FAQ of its own, as some of these are just not covered in the rules or FAQs.

* Some readers might be surprised to learn my first tournament will be GHO UK in a few weeks time, come say Hi!

Dense Cover

So Dense Cover is a bit of a mess, though it generally may not seem like a mess when played on the average table. For the most part, Dense Cover is applied to any attacks where you can draw a line from the firing model to the target that passes over or through a terrain piece with Dense Cover, as well as to any models of that type within Dense Cover. This means that only a part of the model has to be on the terrain, and it need not be the closest part – you can still draw a line from the firing model to some part of the model in dense cover. So as extreme as it might seem the answer to this diagram is: Yes, you receive the benefit of Dense Cover.

Surprisingly however, this isn’t the most controversial aspect of the Dense Cover rules.

The OG Slow Rolling Nightmare

Rules as Written: Dense Cover is a legitimately, impossibly slow rule to play against if you make attacks against any target units which aren’t entirely benefiting from it, all because of the very first line of the rule:

If this terrain feature is at least 3″ in height, then subtract 1 from the hit roll when resolving an attack with a ranged weapon unless you can draw straight lines, 1mm in thickness, to every part of at least one model’s base [or hull] in the target unit from a single point on the attacking model’s base [or hull] without any of those lines passing over or through any part of any terrain feature with this trait.

Note that Dense cover doesn’t confer a -1 hit penalty to the units you target, it’s PER ATTACK RESOLVED. Meaning that it can change, dynamically, on a per-attack basis. If there are models in the target unit that are not in Dense Cover then you would, Rulres-As-Written, need to slow roll your attacks in batches. Both by how many models aren’t benefitting and by how many models the firing unit has that can actually see those models without the Dense penalty kicking in.

What’s Actually Played? Generally this is seem as extremely cumbersome to resolve as written. Which is why many events and honestly most non-event games I’ve played tend to play it as locking in when targeting. You figure out who many models the firing unit has that would not be affected by Dense and resolve the attack using those two batches, with no changing of batches part way through should models die early or late in the activation. This is an example of something most events will codify in their FAQs, such as how it’s covered in the GHO FAQ.

Q11: When is the benefit of Dense Cover determined?
A11: For ease of resolution, determine this at the Choose Targets step of the unit’s attacks, before any attacks are resolved. This means that removing models from the target unit part way through the resolution of a batch of attacks will not change whether Dense Cover applies. Dense Cover is always evaluated separately for each model in the attacking unit.

The commentary said what?

I think it’s pretty much safe to say that the above situation covers more than 99% of organised play; it’s a pretty well established consensus both for improving clarity on a confusing rule but also keeping the game running smoothly.

There is an alternative interpretation that I personally prefer with regard to how Dense Cover is gained based on the a Commentary in the main 40k FAQ.

Obscuring and Dense Cover are two terrain traits introduced with ninth edition that interact with visibility. These rules do not overwrite the normal rules for determining visibility, though – they are in addition to them. Specifically, even though the Obscuring rules state that Aircraft and models with a Wounds characteristic of 18+ can be seen through Obscuring terrain, they are still only visible (and hence eligible) targets if the firing model can physically see them (so if the terrain in question is solid and opaque, they are still not eligible targets).

Also, in the same way that Obscuring terrain ‘blocks’ visibility when it is in between the firing model and its intended target, Dense Cover terrain imposes a hit penalty whenever it is between the firing model and its intended target (with the noted exceptions). It is not required for a unit to be fulfilling the criteria of ‘gaining the benefits of cover’, as described for Obstacles and Area Terrain, for this penalty to hit rolls to apply (but also note that any rule that ignores the benefits of cover, or that ignores the benefits of cover that impose a penalty on hit rolls, would still ignore that penalty).

This commentary was one of the first things GW wrote for 9th edition 40k and it resolved one major issue but in a really quite frustrating way, specifically that Obscuring is poorly written and its second paragraph says this:


Models that are on or within terrain feature can see, and can be seen and targeted normally. AIRCRAFT models, and models with a Wounds (W) characteristic of 18 or more, are visible can can be targeted even if this terrain feature is in-between it and the firing model.

Which some players – myself included at the debut of 9th edition if we’re being honest – read to mean that Aircraft and 18+ wound models were always eligible targets if the only terrain blocking sight to them had the Obscuring trait. An interpretation that while pretty harsh on those models was pretty literally what the rule said – an eligible target is one that is in range and visible as covered in the shooting rules.

Only enemy units can be chosen as the target for an attack. In order to target an enemy unit, at least one model in that unit must be within range (i.e. within the distance of the Range characteristic) of the weapon being used and be visible to the shooting model.

The commentary made it clear that it was not intended to make models visible that were blocked from True Line of Sight though, the frustrating aspect of this “fix” is that the rule’s worded remains as it was. It still says “are visible”. That small annoyance aside this is generally understood, I still think the commentary actually explains a second issue as well. This part of the commentary in particular;

Also, in the same way that Obscuring terrain ‘blocks’ visibility when it is in between the firing model and its intended target, Dense Cover terrain imposes a hit penalty whenever it is between the firing model and its intended target (with the noted exceptions).

It’s my opinion that this commentary seeks to establish that Dense cover should only apply when it is between the firing model and the target, similar to how Obscuring works. Causing Dense to work like this:

This would cause the answer to that first diagram on Dense Cover to be: No.

Why do I think this interpretation has not caught on? I think it’s because of two main factors:

  • first, like Obscuring, the rule’s wording was never changed and does arguably lead to a different conclusion.
  • Second, 9th is a very deadly game, so while it’s pretty silly that having a turret over a wood gets you cover it can be argued to be better for the game that it does, especially with limited terrain availability on some boards.

Transports, Generally

Transports are something 40k generally struggles with in terms of clarity, I’ve already spoken at length about the many issues with Open Topped though several times now, in several editions. Rules that, for the most part (after many attempts), work well enough now. However there some transport interactions I still get asked about regularly, especially by new players.

Why can’t I shoot at the things getting out of a destroyed transport with my remaining shots?

Players like to apply properties to things transitively, so when targeting a transport it’s not completely insane to think that you are also targeting the unit inside it. This is even more confusing with said open-topped transports where the unit literally just shot at you a moment ago. However in 40k you are specifically not allowed to do this. All the attacks a unit is going to make that Shooting phase or Fight phase are choose their targets before any of those attacks are resolved, and the unit embarked within the transport is not an eligible target. They are not in range as they’re not on the battlefield and you can’t measure to them. They’re not visible either. So if the transport dies early the remaining shots are “lost”.

There’s a more narrative way to think about this though that I think makes it make more sense. While the rules for resolving attacks are explicitly one attack at a time, that’s just how the game resolves them. While we might know the 4th shot of 10 killed the transport. The gunner wouldn’t know that. Those shots would have all left the barrel in seconds. Also the danger of leaving a transport being destroyed is represented, and for some weapons a 1 in 6 chance of killing an embarked model is better odds that some of the guns will have.

Measuring range when disembarking

While for a lot of transports this is pretty straight forward it can be a little more nuanced if your transport is a “skimmer” such as those of the T’au or Drukhari. This is further complicated by the general lack of rules or consensus on overlapping models. While some overlapping seems entirely obvious (or game braking if not allowed) some is not so clear. Aircraft for instance would have a massive amount of trouble navigating the board if their wings could not be above other models.The important thing to note is how measuring horizontally from these transports can get very different results to measuring from the hull to the base of the model. Here’s an example:

Generally, players aren’t being super pedantic or strict about this so long as you’re not measuring horizontally, just checking it for one model is the usual approach and using that model to inform the rest. Of course these transports vary in distance to the battlefield on different sides so it’s never uniform. Sometimes to fit all the models in though, it’s necessary to have some of them tucked under the hull of the model. Most events allow for this, there are some exceptions. The WTC FAQ for instance avoids this issue entirely by replacing the normal hull measurement rules with a “downwards projection” of the hull, so that you always measure horizontally as if the outline of the hull was on the battlefield. This ruling does however mean that models can’t sit under the hull using their rule.

That’s all for this week, but I do have some more rules like these ones that I’ll cover next week. If you think you know of any others please do send them in, the links to do so are below as usual.

Have any questions or feedback? Got a rules question you want answered? Drop us a note in the comments below, ask a question in our Ruleshammer form, or head over to r/ruleshammer to discuss.