40K Retro: Vehicle Design Rules & Looking Forward

It’s time to hop in the Way-Back BoLS Time Machine and check out the Vehicle Design Rules for Warhammer 40,000!

When Games Workshop announced that they were bringing back the Vehicle Design Rules (VDR) a lot of the veteran players had…let’s say “mixed” reactions. I know that many folks were wary of those rules coming back for Matched Play. Well the good news is that VDR was only going to be usable for Open Play…for now. Many newer players saw the announcement and weren’t really sure what the big deal was. “Isn’t designing your own vehicles a great way to customize your stuff? What’s the problem?!” That’s a fair point – so let’s take a quick tour of the VDR options from the past.

Chapter Approved 2001

The first consolidated VDR options can be found in the 2001 Chapter Approved – which we have a copy of. The rules run 12 pages and are basically a step-by-step guide on how to create a vehicle for use in 40k. The rules cover all the different races that used vehicles in 3rd edition. There are also Tyranid Monstrous Creatures version of these rules as well which we’re not going to get into – but they existed at the time.

Here is an example of one of the blank vehicle datafaxes


The rules sound pretty straight forward and were relatively easy to follow. Games Workshop even provided a structure to determine the points of the vehicle using some basic formulas. Below you can see the summary pages of the steps.


There really were only 9 steps to creating your own units and the author of the orginial article, Jervis Johnson, did include a nice foreword on how to use these rules. There was definitely a “spirit of intent” to using these rules vs the urge to power game the crap out of them. Unfortunately for me, my local meta was much heavier on the “how can we break this” side of the fence instead of the “let’s use these to create crazy-awesome custom models.” I have a strong feeling that my local area wasn’t the only place that happened. I’ve heard lots of stories about tooled-up Gatling Lascannon Skimmers ruining people’s armies…

Looking Forward

Now, I’ve obviously a little biased towards the VDR options. I’m personally glad that they aren’t going to show up in Matched Play, but I am glad to see Games Workshop experimenting with them again.  If nothing else, I’m hoping GW shows off some of the “secret sauce” behind how they come up with vehicles points and rules. It will be a fun experiment to take whatever rules GW puts out and see if their current codexes line-up with the VDR section. It would be interesting to see if a Rhino ends up being cheaper or more expensive when you use the VDR options.

One thing I am excited about the for VDR is the modeling possibilities. If you’re a fan of the kit bashing then you’ll appreciate the old VDR options and guidelines. WYSIWYG was enforced with the VDR – so if you had a crazy walker with 8 arms, well, you better have converted or kit based a crazy walker with 8 arms! If nothing else positive comes from the return of VDR at least I’ll be able to stretch my kit bashing and hobby skills again.

It’s also been 16 years since the original rules came out – the world is different! The internet is much more accessible and that means data and ideas can travel farther and faster than ever before. We’re also seeing a much more active and engaged GW so I’m hopeful for two things:

  • If the Vehicle Design Rules are absolutely broken, GW will pull them and redo them with fan feedback
  • If we start to see some really cool vehicles designed by players, then we might see some of them actually turned in to official kits

Now, the cynical folks out there may not think either one of those things will happen. However, for the first point I’d point to how quick Games Workshop has been to react to things like Storm Raven Spam. And we’ve been hearing mumblings that Conscripts are getting a hard look at from GW. We also know that they are working on their fan-feedback loop and a new site is coming. That has been mentioned a few times by GW staffers.

The second point might also sound pretty far fetched. However, if you’ve been around long enough you might remember a pretty old example of this happening:

Yes – the Exorcist wasn’t always an Organ-Gun…It used to be a Forge World only kit until one fan got creative and GW liked the results – or so the story goes.

And for a more recent example, check out the Space Wolves.

Custom Bjorn by Brandon G.

This model was submitted in an official GW painting competition. After that we got this kit:

Now, maybe it’s just coincidence. “It’s a Wolf Skull, what’s the big deal? They are Space WOLVES after all.” True… You’re right, it’s probably just a happy accident. But what if it’s a case of GW getting inspired by the fans and pushing themselves, just like the fans who were inspired by GW to create these fantastic models to begin with? That’s a good feedback loop if you ask me.


How do you feel about the VDR from a rules perspective? What about the VDR from a hobby/modeling side? Do you think there is a happy medium or will VDR remain Open Play forever?

  • SmilingNid

    In terms of gw grabbing, there is no finer example than then storm talon conversions that became a new model.

  • I hope these don’t come back simply because all it was was taking the most powerful options and creating a super vehicle out of them every time.

    • eMtoN

      If that super vehicle ends up being power level 90 then so be it. All that matters is that there are multiple viable options, no path to an unkillable machine and costs appropriate to its effectiveness.

      • Sparowl

        “costs appropriate to its effectiveness.”


        Oh god, you aren’t serious, are you? This is GW. Balance doesn’t pay their bottom line.

        • kobalt60

          You’ve never read the vdr, have you?

          • Andreas Noche

            You´ve never seen the boltgun-rhino of doom have you? With 1 point per boltgun it had 100 of those. For mere 100 points (min av) those were sick

          • Arthfael

            Maybe then they can have, IDK, a limit on number of weapons per hull or total points you can spend on weapons per model size. Something, you know, easy to implement and closing most loopholes. And remember, it’s only for casual play, i.e. you only play against it if you are happy to do so.

          • But was it WYSIWYG?

          • It has to be doesn’t it.

          • That’s how I remember it. Still. I can imagine some one using a count as just to make sure it was worth it. lol.

          • Simply ban people from using Counts-as, Proxies and all that other kind of stuff and then everyone will be happy for using GW only models!

          • Oh my God. I’ve become one of them! Help me! AAAAHHHH…

          • lol. I think I’ll just stick with the WYSIWYG rule. I’m not in a position to ban anything.
            My own group would probably not see a Rhino of Doom on the board or bother to build one.
            I don’t care if it’s GW models only or not as long as the player has put in time and effort to kit bash them into something 40K – ish. Lots of us Ork players had to do that during that window where there was no Battle Wagon kit.

      • That would rely on GW not producing garbage point systems which in their history they’ve never been able to pull off NOT producing garbage for points.

    • kobalt60

      No it wasn’t, it was about making rules for things like the armourcast cauldron of blood, and ork / imperial tanks made from Tamiya models, tau walkers from robotech kits. They were great fun and we loved them. It sounds like you were stuck playing with idiots. That wasn’t the fault of the vdr though

      • Back then where I was there was no playing for fun. Pretty much everyone was a tournament player and we played for ranking.

    • Marcus Langdale

      Why would you hope these don’t come back when they have already been confirmed? What, like they are going to cancel it?

      • Let me rephrase. I hope they aren’t able to be officially used in match play 😉 because if they aren’t usable in matched play they might as well not exist.

        I don’t know the context in which they are coming back, if they are just a narrative thing or not.

        • Marcus Langdale

          Oh ok 😀

          Yeah, i agree. It’d be hard for any game devs to try and match something to that level of detail, let alone GW- without making it easy to exploit like crazy.

          I love having them for open play, but matched play… an exploitable disaster.

    • Marco Marantz

      That might be 99% of players but I just want to be able to make rules for my World Eaters dread with 2 chain fists or even a Tower of Skulls which was in Pandorax which they have not updated (which was a very below average super heavy)

  • NikosanPrime

    I am wondering if they will do a reprint of the original VDR from RT. I think it was published around White Dwarf 110-ish and it was based on pretty much the exact same Damage and Toughness stats we have now. In fact almost everything was the exact same.

    Now my memory is spotty but at that time it may have been restricted to Walkers (Robots, Dreads and Spirit Lords/Warriors {precursors to Wraithlords/warriors}) but I think it may also have included Tanks.

    Anyways, I hope they go with something based on that system as it was simple to understand and a limited number of pages.

    • Shinnentai

      I have the articles with the detailed RT rules on creating walkers – haven’t ever seen the equivalent for other types of vehicle (beyond the system in RT itself).

      • NikosanPrime

        Ok, could take quite remember. Don’t think thinkj would have have been difficult to translate to Tanis and tyrannies and the like. So hopefully they go that route.

        • Patriarch

          WD100 for Dreadnoughts, WD104 for Robots.

          RT itself had rules for points costing any vehicle or infantry model you could think of.

  • Douglas Nelson

    A part of me wants this for my “Mad Warpsmith” army. Another part remembers a Necron Player claiming to have designed a Necron Titan.

  • treadhead2

    one of the funnier things that i found with the vdr rules was that the land raider was a war machine (lord of war) due to the amount of armour on it.
    On a side note i’m looking forward to seeing if we’ll be able to design a proper storm hammer (not the forge world one but a proper double turreted four battle cannon beastie)

  • kobalt60

    I’ve actually read and used the VDR, hell, I still have them. They were fine, they were ‘balanced’ as much as anything was balanced, they were fun, they totally encouraged the hobby side of the game, and they were super easy to exploit, like just about half the codexs were in every edition of the game. There were certain types of gamers, you know who you are, who would take advantage, but so what, don’t play with them.

  • Sidney

    A part of me wants this for my “Mad Warpsmith” army. Another part remembers a Necron Player claiming to have designed a Necron Titan.

    • benn grimm

      I think the other part of you already posted the same thing.

    • Douglas Nelson

      This is awkward.

  • benn grimm

    They were cool rules in 2nd, lots of ramshackle kustom looted goodness. Like all such rules (requiring a modicum of self control, self awareness and objectivity) they’re great for smoking out waacs in sheep’s clothing.

  • Chet Atkinson

    If it lets me use my 40k converted skaven army Titan then I’m all for it!

  • I’d like these rules to come back. I’d like to build something cool for my orks like a battle wagon with Dread Klaws! and a transport capacity of 30!

  • bobbybooshay!!

    You´ve never seen the boltgun-rhino of doom have you? With 1 point per boltgun it had 100 of those. For mere 100 points (min av) those were sick

  • Valeli

    As far as the Exorcist goes, I like the FW model 100 times more than the organ gun kit, and am very glad I picked up a few of them.

    As far as VDR goes…. I think it’s a neat idea, but too open to abuse. Sure, it’s not for matched play now. But I keenly remember when special characters were a “can only be played with opponent’s consent” thing, and not an almost ubiquitous presence.

    Also, it’s hard enough trying to remember what does what in everyone’s lists without having completely unknown models that can show up in any list at will.

    I won’t complain till I see the rules though. If they actually are tightly done, it could be very neat and would allow for a lot of fun stuff.

  • I_am_Alpharius

    Errrm fairly sure the GW Exorcist was first? Wasn’t the Organ-Exorcist release in 2003 along Codex:Witch Hunters? I thought the FW one came out afterwards in 2003 around when Imperial Armour Vol.2?

    • Severius_Tolluck

      Correct but there was no model for two years. Forgeworld produced a kit to convert rhinos for awhile.

      • I_am_Alpharius

        I thought so. Not sure where this idea of: cool vehicles designed by players, then we might see some of them actually turned into official kits comes in. I mean, I’m sure there is a element of cross-inspiration sometimes in the back on a designers unconscious mind. But, I don’t think it ever crosses the mind of designers to go “thats a cool conversion, lets kind of copy it”

        • Severius_Tolluck

          I think it was an employees personal conversion that lead to inspiration. So it was not far off. They just had nothing in the book depicting the model, just rules. So when they finally released a model it was like.. I want to say 2005 or 2006+ before there was an official model, the book was released like 2004.

          • I_am_Alpharius

            Perhaps. I know that personal conversions and ideas for models/rules/games etc.. are all considered work-product and intellectual property GW, not the employee that created/thought it.

          • Severius_Tolluck


  • Marc Berry

    Heres hoping they and some flavour and depth to vehicles period as much of this was removed for the sake of simplicity. Fingers crossed

  • LordKrungharr

    I want a Kaban Machine! And a Dark Mechanicum codex to go with it.

  • rm17

    A part of me wants this for my “Mad Warpsmith” army. Another part remembers a Necron Player claiming to have designed a Necron Titan.

  • This is going to make the W.A.A.C players VERY happy. Lots of Doom-Rhinos…

    • Bootneck

      WAAC players won’t care as there not legal match play rules.

      I don’t think this will have a big impact as its only for open play. I don’t even bother with that game mode. My GW store and local gaming club only use match play rules so kind of irreverent there.

      Not much different to house rules imho.

      • Same here with the matched play thing. I think Power ratings are a bit of a waste of time.

        • Bootneck

          The only other think I can think of is GW is using it as an experiment, and if someone comes up with some fluffy/interesting vehicle they sanction the rules for all games.

          • It would be nice for that very reason. However, if we are able to give the Necrons bikes, we have enough {And probably too many} vehicles…

  • generic eric

    Hope this is somehow useful to create Super Nids. At least it should justify the Genestealer “Imperial” Knight.

  • marxlives

    The current 8th ed. vehicle rules are the best iteration of vehicle rules that GW has put out. Nay, the best vehicle rules in the entire miniature game market.

  • Damon Sherman

    I think the worst thing I made with these rules was basically an Dark eldar vyper.

    I think another guy in my meta added heavy bolters that needed to be crewed by passengers to a rhino.

  • Suicidemaniac

    Ahhh what a hit of nostalgia this was printed in the first White Dwarf issue that I ever bought for myself instead of just reading the one in the school library.

    I hope it doesn’t come back though, since most people will just minmax but at the same time the cool conversions that’ll come out of it would be ace.

  • steelmage99

    The Vehicle Design Rules was a great opportunity to demonstrate why we cannot have nice things.
    We did not disappoint.