40K: In Defense of Weak Characters

8th Edition is taking Characters down a notch – and that’s a good thing.

The big news today was the loss of Characters joining units. Sure they got some protection against being shot unless they are the closest unit, but overall this is kick in the groin for ICs.


40K has had a long dance with the power level of characters across editions. Some editions they were useless sitting ducks and some they turned the game into “Herohammer”

7th Edition was way way over towards the Herohammer side of things. Just look at the ways of protecting characters in 7th:

  • You hid them inside of units.
  • Casualties are pulled for the closest, so you can position ICs to put plenty of suckers in front of them to die first.
  • Look Out Sir – last ditch protections when you do finally get a shot at them.

Add this up with the amazing abilities IC have and their effectiveness in the assault / psychic phases and you can see why the “herohammer” label returned in 7th.

What’s the Problem?

Many ask exactly what’s the problem with super powerful ICs. The issue is the imbalance it causes to the rest of your forces as well as the bigger picture of why we are even playing a company level game.

Imagine a company level game with average powered ICs. You have 50-100 models per side and half a dozen ICs on the board. Sure they are powerful and will help their side in localized areas – but the game ISN’T ABOUT JUST THEM. Those 95% other models you lovingly bought, assembled, painted and deployed get a voice. It will be a game of maneuver, tactics, luck and drama. Some of those ICs will make a difference, some will be out of position, and some will make the ultimate plastic dudesmen sacrifice.  It’s that tabletop drama I really enjoy.

Now imagine the a game where those half a dozen ICs are what matters. They dominate lesser units all around them and are really only balanced versus each other – or ridiculous amounts of firepower from non ICs.  As an aside, how may of you have thrown more than half of your “normal army” at a single IC in a turn and had them walk out unscathed – that’s frustrating, un-fun a BIG DESIGN PROBLEM. Because where that leads to is a game where you star to wonder – “Why aren’t I playing a Skirmish Game”  If you want a game where 4-5 badasses face off versus 4-5 badasses – go play Shadow War Armageddon.

I want to play a company level game. The little guys should matter.

Should an IC be worried if he’s surrounded by these guys out in the open?

So, at the end of the day I’m happy.  I want ICs to be heroes. I want ICs to make a difference. I want ICs to add drama and flavor to a battle.


I also have ZERO issues with any IC getting caught out of position and gunned down by a Predator who lit them up with some heavy weapon fire.


~ I have very high hopes for 8th Edition!  What do you think the power level of ICs should be?

  • Randy Randalman

    They didn’t come down a notch at all. They aren’t going to have super psychic phases anymore, and they can’t be hidden in units, sure. But that doesn’t make the individual character weaker. All it did was eliminate character death stars. THAT was the problem with them in 7th. They could create a blob with upwards of 95% damage reduction, and 1/2 of the armies in the game couldn’t touch death stars.

    Now the characters will still be hard to kill (more wounds, can’t be shot unless they’re the closest or over 10 wounds, will still get armor saves against most guns, etc), will provide local area buffs instead of table-wide rules stacking, and will reward a general for good play and positioning. They will also be badass in close combat.

    They didn’t get weaker. They were just made appropriate.

    • Multigeneral

      I find this comment appropriate.

      • ZeeLobby

        Randy only posts appropriate comments!

    • petrow84

      I hope, sniper weapons will have the advantage to shoot them nonetheless.

      • Frank O’Donnell

        Sniper weapons can target characters but I’m not sure if that’s like squad leaders or IC’s, I hope it’s both.

      • AEZ

        In AoS some units have a damage/hit/wound bonus against monsters/hero’s.

      • Sean Temple

        The faction overview for AM yesterday said that snipers could target characters

        • Drew_Da_Destroya

          It said that Ratlings could target characters, not snipers.

      • Ragnar_Blackmane

        Which is great and how sniper weapons should have worked all along, instead of them being a Monstrous Creature tickling joke brigade that were useless and/or inefficient against anything else (wounding Grots and guardsmen on 4+, yay, impressive /s) for at least the last 3 bloody editions.

        The only sniper that actually worked like a sniper was the Vindicare, otherwise they were basically only used so scout marines sitting on a deployment zone objective had something to shoot with.

        • petrow84

          Eldar Rangers also left behind some PTSD for me in 4th, with their 5+ rendering, and 6+ AP1 shots 🙂

      • kingcobra668

        Wonder if look out sir will still exist with a limited range

        • euansmith

          Hopefully that will be an ability for dedicated bodyguard units, like Command Squads.

          • LostAlone

            My hope is that we’ll still see factions with squishy characters have their own special rules that give them more protection. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with Guardsmen still being able to LOS, or Grots taking a shot for a warboss.

            The problem was never that your Guard officer was too hard to pulp; it was these big combat beatsticks. For the old style character protecting stuff to be available to certain factions as a balancing component would be cool.

    • AEZ

      If they where in any way inappropriate and they are toned down to appropriate.. they did get weaker.. even if it only was by changing rules and not stats.

    • killi

      ↑ this. Couldn’t agree more with OP

    • Heinz Fiction

      Yeah, without knowing their stats, special rules and point values, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they are weaker in 8th. They just work a little different.

      • ZeeLobby

        Hence why it’s silly to jump to the conclusion that they’re stronger. Doesn’t help that both fans and haters have been doing a lot of jumping to conclusions lately.

      • Muninwing

        i think that people are optimistic that they are in fact less… made immune by the build of their army.

        they can still be beatsticks. beatsticks we can deal with. but nigh-immortal beatsticks with three flavors of superpowers from relic/psychic/combo? lame.

        no tear will be shed from me for deathstars. i’m just hoping that the focus becomes the units and the regular troops, instead of the dependence upon Special Characters that has been increasing for far too long.

        it gets very Mary Sue very fast with SCs who effectively cannot die, can be everywhere at once, are involved in every plot, and are the only important people in the game. Warmachine essentially being full of the Mary Sue brigade killed that game for me fast, and 40k always threatens to follow suit.

    • LostAlone

      I agree that really it’s character deathstars that were the target but I think it’s still a pretty substantial reduction in power level for characters generally. They may still have the same amount of splat-power in combat but they have also got drastically reduced ability to apply that power. Without their ablative armor you have to use them much more conservatively.

      • Muninwing

        nah, fortune favors the brave! charge in, blood for the blood god!

  • Simon Chatterley

    From what I read the characters are going to be just as hard to get to. What I really hope we stop seeing is the “many different chapters” approach. I seem to recall the star players needing 5 different detachments to make the star truly unkillable and now I hope you see the Dark Angel characters command abilities and rules only work on Dark Angels. Straight away you will see a change in force builds.

    But the characters themselves will still be hiding in the centre of a squad so unless you have snipers (which already seem the new must have weapons in 8th) you won’t feel the game is much different.

    I get with the amount of shooting that the AoS approach wouldn’t work. To be fair it really doesn’t work in AoS now with the amount of shooting. Hiding the buff characters as far back as possible to try and stop them being shot is a thing I see more and more.

    So I’m hopeful but I’m not seeing how this particular rule will overly stop the bubble wrapping but I do hope we have seen the death of super rule stacking

    • AEZ

      It works very well in AoS…. weakish characters (mages) need to be deployed carefully, hide themselves. Seems logical they get shot at if in the open.
      I think it could work in 40K too btw.. just need to balance the rolls they get or the attacks melee units get to avoid making gunlines to strong. (however I think 40K SHOULD be a game which is more about shooting… I mean hello … FUTURE)

      • Nyyppä

        It’s 40k. 2 most iconic weapons in it are the bolter and the chainsword. Melee has to be equally represented in the game rules.

        • AEZ

          I disagree with complete equality.

          • Nyyppä

            Well, it’s either equal or a very, very bad design. There are pure melee factions and pure shooting factions. If either one of these is in a significatly disadvantaged position the game simply put is not worth playing. Besides GW has been pushing the do whatever is fun for you line of thinking and denying that from some or most of the fans just because the like the “wrong” style of armies would be a pretty stupid move from them.

          • euansmith

            I find the idea of first turn charges depressing,

            In a game of movement and fighting, the idea of placing units straight in to contact with the enemy makes things like terrain seem redundant.

            I think that the fact that people feel the need for a First Turn Charge to make their armies competitive is a symptom of something wrong with the rules.

          • Nyyppä

            I agree. I don’t think it’s even about competitiveness but rather that the armmies might simply not work at all in those conditions without the 1st turn charge.

          • euansmith

            If someone moans, “It’ll take x two turns of shooting to kill y on average”, I think, “Yay!”

          • Ben Broeks

            Those armies will most likely get a speed buff anyway so 1st turn charges will still be a thing

          • Nyyppä

            Possibly. The point was that that may be the only way those armies can be played and 1st turn charges are not good for the game.

        • euansmith

          I hope that Chainswords get something like Rend: -1 on rolls 6’s to-wound. Nothing massive, but something a bit special for such an iconic part of the setting.

          • Muninwing

            even in 6th/7th, they needed something so they were not just “additional ccw”

            even if they’d had ap6, it would have justified their existence as more

            a lost opportunity, sadly. hope they get a minor unique interesting bonus to something, just enough that you know it helped every so often.

        • LostAlone

          It’s really tricky to balance combat and shooting because they are really interconnected and in weird ways. Combat is, theoretically, twice as powerful as shooting because you get to rip’n’tear in the opponents turn too. And that’s balanced by the idea that you can’t be in combat every turn where you can reasonably expect your dedicated shooting units to be shooting most if not every turn. It’s complicated stuff though.

          • Nyyppä

            It does not have to be perfect. It just can’t be like it is now, melee armies that are not a deathstar can not win.

          • Muninwing

            – melee is twice as deadly
            – shooting is twice as applicable
            result: balance

            though i’d say that with the new “anyone can disengage” rule, that idea that combat is guaranteed to continue is under question…

  • Scatter 667

    Thanks for the article! I do agree, that the death stars had to go and that it was no fun facing them without being able to take them down! In that sense characters were to potent. But most of that came from special rules stacking and was not an 40k problem across the board. For instance there is no Ork or Guard death star. Some armies could do it, others couldn’t.
    They introduced keywords and that by itself would have prohibited 90% of the cross-chapter death stars. Or and “Only one IC per unit.” DONE!
    Now we will get single ICs and in my opinion the following problems:
    Their buffs can have bubble effects, which will buff units within X”, which will lead to bubble wraping of ICs so a lot of units will gain the same buff.
    As long as there is no rule that forbids stacking of buffs, a bubble wrap of units in range around the ICs will benefit from multiple buffs. In AOS its even possible to stack the same buff multiple time! And those people keep telling, no in AOS ICS are not a problem….
    Because of the buff bubble units characters will still be hard to catch by themselfs to take them out (additional point later).
    So i see the death bubble instead of the star for now and im not sure how that will help. In addition, the bubble measuring will be fun for sure and speed up the game enormously;-)
    The cons they created are:
    The ICs have to be shielded to not be able to be attack, so the bubble IS needed anyway! I will have to apply that method if i want the IC to survive!
    What about all units charge in and the IC rolls snake eyes and stays in the open? Thats a moment to remember, but more like slapstick then heroism!
    Snipers, and possibly other stuff like Assassines, ignore the closest modell rule. When i saw the IC rule I knew that was coming and it only took an hour! This introduces an unbalance since there are no Ork or CSM snipers announced yet.
    Getting behind enemy lines is also not possible for all armies since most lack drop pods, skimmers, fliers and fast flankers which make it easy to get around or across the lines.
    Not every IC is Girlyman! A lot are squishy and will suffer due to theire lack in T or Armour and will die even quicker.
    Since disengaging from combat is possible and maybe also possible to do from ICs, this will leave them in the open after they charged in and allow the enemy force to take them out, since they can move and make the IC the closest target.
    I honestly dont see the average IC do anything scary on the battlefield, since they wont live long, if they pose a threat. Girlyman, Abaddon and Ghakull might, but will be prime targets for the above mentioned countermeasures.
    So maybe time to build some cheap throw-away foot-sloggin chaos lords or sorcerers to fill the FOC HQ slots and dont waste points on models not doing anything execpt dying first. I think its not herohammer but hidehammer! I hope I’m wrong, but I fear I’m right…

  • Atharius

    But now we’re seeing that ICs will have bubble effects on the units around them… What’s to stop people putting 3 characters next to each other and benefitting from each other’s buffs? Is this going to be mitigated by keywords? Added to that, you can’t even target them when they have fodder in front of them.

    • Wolfman UK

      In aos it is limited by keywords to some degree. Due to the smallish area of effect of their buffs it only affects a couple of units. Makes it more challenging but I haven’t played against any op buffs yet! Certainly makes it more tactical trying to keep my general in a position to buff as many units as possible without leaving herself vulnerable to being singled out. This tends to initially restrict my units mobility until the buff doesn’t matter. I play death so my generals trait is a 5+ fnp essentially to any unit in 10″.

      • Lots of character buffing still goes on in AOS though, it’s very much a “try to combo as many cheesy abilities as possible” game, they’re just limited by keywords. Plenty of AoS players are still playing herohammer (not that I’m against herohammer)

        • Wolfman UK

          I guess it just depends on your local scene 🙂 you found/fought any good combos?

          • I pretty much stick to path to glory so I don’t get as much access to that haha

        • Xodis

          Very true, its just that NOW GW takes that into account and balances the “codex” around that type of synergy, so it never gets too out of hand.

        • Muninwing

          you can take the cheez out of the meta, but you can’t take the meta out of the cheez…

    • kingcobra668

      Key word is keywords.

    • euansmith

      The Keywords are going limit the interactions of Character’s buffs.

    • Keith Wilson

      drop pod assassin units will be a thing …. and that is sad

    • Xodis

      Nothing really, but (using AoS) the design is that the Keywords make sure the bonus dont overlap to those that are not balanced for it, preventing any shenanigans like the ‘stars yet encouraging synergy with your units.

      • Muninwing

        even if they do add… get one clear shot at one of them and remove the buff…

        i’m thinking that a Vindicare will be an auto-take for any Imperium faction until people figure out how this all works…

        • Xodis

          I think a Vindicare should be an Auto-Take for almost every Imperium faction anyways…Assassins are awesome! lol.

          Just curious who the other Armies like Xenos and Chaos will get for Assassination, unless their goal is just to bring more heavy guns and clear the field.

    • Moonsaves

      Depends on what they buff. For instant, a Commissar might only affect GUARDSMEN, and might have an effect where any allied SANCTIONED PSYKER who perils within 6″ is executed by him.

      I think the keyword system is one of the better things to come out if AoS, personally. I never had the time to learn the time of universal rules off by heart, and any time I’d watch a battle report there were veterans of the game forgetting common rules constantly. Having all rules relevant to a unit on paper in fro t of you is much easier, in my opinion.

  • Scatter 667

    As my last post on the rediculousness of bubble stars instead of death stars got detected as “spam”, i see fit to repeat and summarize the “removed” contribution:
    Bubble stars will be a thing, buff stacking might be a thing, and is in AOS, even for multiples of the same buff.
    Unbalanced countermeasures, since not all armies have snipers or assassins for IC picking, or drop pods and fast stuff to get in the rear of the army and target ICs. Disengaging from combat will leave ICs exposed, model by model split fire allows for much easier closest target allocation. Squishy ICs will have a hard time.
    Finally its not going to be herohammer but hidehammer! hope im wrong, but fear im right…

  • AX_472

    I think the dumbest part of it is they think this will end deathstars. bubble effects and “target troops first” just means rapping 2 squads round your characters. welcome to the age of the mega deathstar.

    • Thomas

      Yep. Guilliman with, say 3 units of Thundernators wrapped around him, granting them buffs and being essentially untouchable until he gets into combat.

      Gee, that sounds fun and balanced.

      Oh wait, I forgot. 8th is going to be objectively the greatest thing in the universe and any criticism of it, no matter how small, is heresy.

      • Ohhh ohhh, I can make up scenarios that support my arguement as well!!! Well luckily I have those three vindicators ready to go against his bubble wrap that wipe them out in one turn so my 80 bolter marines can target guilliman and drop him in one round

        • Thomas

          3 D6 hits against three squads? Good luck, dude.

          • Hey, we are making stuff up. In my made up reality I rolled all 6s on shots and got all my wounds!

      • Karru

        I mean, that “ball” of would currently cost 1025pts and needs to charge something before they can do any “real” damage. I’m pretty sure that I’d be able to wither that ball down with my Guard army before they can get into charge range. If nothing else, I can annihilate the remaining 825pts worth of models you have.

        One has to consider multiple factors here. I do understand what you are saying, but you are neglecting certain thing here. First thing is the price itself. That ball currently costs 1025pts, which is a lot. On top of that, they aren’t that fast, as Terminators have 5″ of movement and have no Ranged Weapons. They need to get close enough to hit something. These are all something to consider.

      • Xodis

        Sounds like an amazing target that IG and their orders will mow down especially since you just ham-stringed Guilliman by only allowing him to move 5″ each turn.

    • David Leimbach

      It ends using a single psychic power to make a group of 5 characters buffed. This is the biggest drop in power. It removes some nasty combos.

      1 invis guy is a lot less scary that 5 invis beatstick characters coming at you.

  • MarcoT

    I like the rules too. Only thing I’m hesitant about is that this might re-introduce rhino-sniping. Not sure which edition had this and under which circumstances, but we’ve been here before. Crazy chaos dreadnoughts perhaps?

    Anyway, this is how it worked. Park your rhinos in such a manner that the unit can only see the independant character. He is now the only eligable target so feel free to shoot him.
    Only works if the character wasn’t behind anything obviously, but given the countercharge rule I can imagine people playing characters pretty close to the front.

    • Definitely think rhino sniping will be back

    • Ben Broeks

      It was either 4th or 5th that rhino sniping was a thing, back when I started

      • MechBattler

        AH. When Rhinos were used to block out any targets you didn’t want shot.

        That reminded me of some very hilarious vehicle positioning I’ve seen on the board during
        “40K: Parking Lot Edition”!
        That was some funny sh!t.

  • Jason Fry

    I think not being able to target IC’s unless they are the closest is totally relevant, snipers targeting them also fits into real warfare. Disagree that shooting should be more prevalent considering the glory that is heaped on the charge and in your face killing in the reams of fluff. I get the feeling that like someone already said, keyword will be the keyword. It makes total sense that your blood angel heroes buff your blood angels, but not the ultra marines you brought so you could have centurions. It could it be possible that there are different levels of key word. Example Guilliman has buffs for all units with Imperium key word. I’m looking forward to lone psykers being viable again.

  • I’m wondering if Heroes/Characters will have more wounds and or a higher toughness on their profiles.

    • I’d expect them to have 5-6 wounds like their AOS counterparts with the same toughness that they have now.

    • Orblivion

      We already have the new stats for Guilliman, it shouldn’t be too hard to roughly extrapolate what the stats will be for other characters.

  • Thomas

    Characters don’t seem weaker to me at all. In fact, I’m worried that they’ve become too powerful and that 40k is going to become herohammer. You can no longer shoot a character if he’s not the closest model to you. That means they’re basically guaranteed to reach combat unscathed in the hands of a player who knows what they’re doing.

    • Snipers can target characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few others can as well. You’ll also have be aware of flanking units.

    • Karru

      It depends on the army. A Space Marine army for example doesn’t really have to worry about their characters being that weak. They have amazing saves, through cover and armour, while also most likely giving out some minor buffs to units around them. They will get stronger or remain the same.

      I’m more worried about armies like the Orks and Guard. Their Characters have always been “squishy” and they relied heavily on the ability to protect themselves with bodies. Now if they make it so that Snipers can target Characters, I can see that Ork and Guard characters will suffer greatly. That 6+/5+ save won’t be saving them from sustained Sniper fire, especially if they give them some extra damage rules like “on 6’s causes D3 wounds” or something.

      Both armies will most likely rely heavily on Characters. Commissars will make sure your units don’t die automatically after your average shooting phase due to moral issues while Orks will most likely do something similar with Warbosses or they get improves on their saves from the Painboy. Take those away and the army will run away with almost 100% certainty.

      While somewhat thematic, I can already see massive unbalance issues with the system. Orks for example don’t have any Snipers nor any good outflanking units that could potentially kill the enemy snipers before they pop you characters.

      Tyranids are a good example of the problems with the system. Currently, taking away Synapse from Tyranids guarantees victory. The army will run or eat itself. Once the same starts to carry on to other armies, it doesn’t really bode well for the game.

  • Talos2

    Most most rules will be on the character or units warscroll (or whatever it’s called in 40k) so how do we know anything said here is correct? Just because there’s no blanket rules as the main rulebook is reduced massively, it doesn’t mean anything of the sort. Characters should be powerful, they just shouldn’t break the game with stupid rules.

  • marxlives

    I understand what you are playing. I play Warmachine and other American style wargames that have have characters, with area effects (persistent or flash), and keywords. Been using them for a long time now here state side with American wargaming companies. And deathstars are still a thing. They never went away. And in truth they are not a bad thing as long as you have something that counterbalances them, and it is usually the main focus of your game.

    Warmachine is all about robots, monsters, and their controllers or pokeman trainers but infantry machine with deathstars became big on the tail end of 2nd edition. With 3rd, there are still deathstars but the overall effectiveness of these unit types is heavily curtailed by the larger battle groups of robots or monsters people can take with the war noun. What prevents the robots and monsters from getting out of control is how focus and fury work between warnouns and their battle group.

    The problem with people assuming that the game will not be Herohammer with deathstars, is there is nothing within the game design of AoS style foundations from preventing it from being so. There are a lot of models and a lot of keywords and last time I checked GW is not doing a CID model. Everything will be baselined at release, which is what you do with any product, but Imperium and Chaos will get all the goodies for a year and remain the main focus of the game then two Xenos factions sometime during 2018.

    So expect deathstars and release creep to be an issue. I don’t know why GW doesn’t release small bits for every faction, like every other gaming company in America. Some of it might just be too little too late. The customer base to faction ration is too off….to many Space Marine players.

    Frankly, it seems like GW is taking all the wrong lessons from skirmish games and throwing it into a large scale battle game. If they are not going to use a force chart to regulate how armies are built they should use a resource, like command dice to balance armies. Taking more units of weak guys give you more command dice, heroes can influence rerolls, and units that are stronger don’t offer or may even reduce command dice.

    After seeing the cracks appearing in AoS and it essentially rising and then dying in my area when it became clear that the game was MORE of a combo game, simplification of the rules basically made it a charge and pile in game, and after baselining codex creep is a thing, I am not excited by 40k. In fact, AoS probably benefited from skepticism. Everyone was scared of it sucking and when it did, it was a little easier to take.

    Even 3rd edition Warmachine benefited. The community was skeptical and when it came out PP did a bunch of structural changes to their business and game overnight and now Warmachine is better than it has ever been game design wise.

    But what everyone is doing with 40k is ceaseless promotion. You would think that Jesus himself was coming down to worship at the altar of 40k. No one is looking at the game with a critical eye, weighing the good and some issues that the community might need to address. So when game releases, it WILL sell. But as the baselining wears off, someone will build a deathstar and dominate major tournaments. Codex creep will become a thing and Order…I mean Imperium will dominate a GW online campaign (remember how that went last year) and Chaos next. Tau and Eldar will suck since GW says that they will bring the game back to Imperium and Chaos, but they wont suck the most. They will get releases of good stuff to make them viable since that is the next biggest customer base, then the next Chaos or Order release will make them suck again. Other Xenos will be in worse condition and some that do not sell well will be invalidated basically. Tomb Kings is an example, I mean you can play their baselined states but don’t hold your breathe on future releases.

    Honestly, as far as large sci-fi battle games go, I am more excited about Warpath 2.0. Playtesting for it looks tight, the mechanics make sense for a large game, new models look great, don’t kill my wallet.

    • Muninwing

      wow, someone peed in your cornflakes….

  • SKullgreed

    my biggest question is why we dont have a new abbadon mini, like the one pictured above that finally gives him some grace!

  • Kinsman

    All I know is that I want that Abaddon as a model. The rest of the article is….what’s he even talking about?

  • Spacefrisian

    Meanwhile Frontline gaming tells Abbadon will get better…

  • LordKrungharr

    Besides all this other stuff, I hope the new 40k has the three rules of one from AoS too. Though I and others feel that rather than being able to only attempt to cast one psychic power per army per turn, it should be one psychic power can be cast per army per turn. So if 3 psykers knew one power and the first two fail, the 3rd guy could give it a go.

  • David Leimbach

    Not if they can’t shoot snipers the turn they come in. I.E they’re all “heavy” and can’t fire after moving.

    There are ways to fix all things and it really just comes down to how many points the units cost.

  • Ben_S

    You should try Of Gods And Mortals (from Osprey). The heroes (Gods and Legends) are powerful, but the little guys matter too.