40K Rules Conundrum: When Does Life Begin?


When is a model alive? This is the existential crisis gnawing at the heart of 40K rules.

Let’s be honest, by this point most of you are thinking “what the heck are you talking about Abe.” In fact for most of you I bet you’ve never even consider when a model is alive, only when it’s dead. And on top of that, who cares? I mean, what could it matter when life beings for a model? Well the fact is it does matter, thanks to some warlord trait like this:


The Question

Now there are a number of traits with similar word “whilst your Warlord is alive” in the new Codices. Due to that, we are in fact forced to ask – when does life begin for a model?  When is your Warlord alive?


Lets start with the simple part. We know that when your Warlord dies or is destroyed he is no longer alive. That’s pretty clear and a good bases to start with. I think we can also most likely agree that any point that your warlord is on the table during the game and not dead, that he is a alive. But from there it gets a little more complicated. Some abilities happen before the game begins, such as Chapter Master.  Does your warlord count as being alive then? What about when he is in reserve?

Stratagems like Chapter Master that take place before the game starts really take the questions of when a model becomes alive from academic to super relevant. Between options like Chapter Master, stratagems for getting new Relics, other pregame stratagems and mission specific ones – it is not impossible that a player could spend 6-10 command points before the game begins. Having the possibility to get all of these back or not could be a HUGE swing factor in the ensuing game. It really is a tricky question, so lets go over a few of options and see what we can come up with.

Life Is On The Tabletop

Most likely the strictest way to rule it, your models are only alive when they are on the tabletop and not dead or destroyed. By this ruling models in reserve (or even some could say in transports) are not “alive”. While this doesn’t really feel right you could argue that since models in transports and reserve cannot effect the game at all they are not “alive” but kind of a in an in-between space, they are Schrodinger’s models you could say.

Life Beings at Painting

Everyone one knows models aren’t really live until they are painted. Clearly a model becomes “alive” when you are finished painting them. Unfortunately once the model is killed it remains dead until you either re-paint or buy a new model to replace it. Sad, but true.

Life Begins At Deployment

Another way of looking at it is that life beings at deployment. A model does not become “alive” until it is deployed, whether on the tabletop, in reserve, or in a transport. Once deployed a model is now alive until it is killed/destroyed. This might be the simplest way of ruling it, but doesn’t really have any more backing in the rules than anything else. By this ruling your models would not count as alive before the game starts, so things like the Adept of the Codex trait wouldn’t work in the before the battle time. While easy, I’m not sure this ruling really sits well with me. Since you can take actions, and effect models “before the battle” it would be odd for these models to not be “alive”. Generally you can only effect living models with things.

Life Beings At (Armylist) Conception

When an Archamgos loves a Primarch… 

As soon as you have conceived of and written down your army list the models are alive.

Life Begins When You Sit Down for The Game

My preferred view is that models become “alive” at what ever point you sit down/start to get ready to play a game. In essence  you create a “before the game” phase. In this phase models would become “alive” and all “before the game” actions would be resolved. I think that making such a phase official would clean up a lot of little things, and give us a nice structured time to take actions and have model be alive. In fact a lot of games have an official “set up” phase, with is separate from deployment, in which pre-game actions are taken.


Wait, What Year is It?

What about named characters? These guys actually have a lot of background and fully around when they were born and died. In this case your named characters are only alive if the players have agreed beforehand the game is taking place in a year that the character was alive for. In this case the character is alive for the whole game and is never considered not alive, as at best they can be wounded, we know they survive. The exception to this is is you’re specifically playing a historical battle in which the character died. Conversely if you do not agree you are playing in a year that the character is alive for then it can never be considered alive during the battle. That seems pretty fair, right?

Final Thoughts

Now obviously I’m being a little tongue in cheek with some of these answers. The fact remains however that there really isn’t any clear answer in the rules to when a model is alive, other than when its not dead. I know what way I think it should work, but really have a hard time saying anyone else is wrong in how they interpret it. Again I want to point out this isn’t a small question, as it could literally be the difference between having 0 command points and 9 at the start of a game. Nor is this just a Space Marine issue as many of the new books have simialr warlord traits.  Hopefully GW will give us a solid answer on this one sometime, until then, argue away.

~So what do you guys think? Let us know when you feel a model becomes alive, down in the comments!

  • Ari Varey

    Most of the time, the “conundrum” is an easy one to figure out and never should have had an article written about it. This one is actually a good question.

    • I_am_Alpharius

      You’re joking right?

      • Ari Varey

        So do I get to roll for those command points or not? If so what rule and what page.

    • Muninwing

      really? how is it a good question?

      it defines the conditions for the answer in the first paragraph, then adds a ton of irrelevant assumptions in an effort to be funny. not sure what’s “good” about that…

      • Ari Varey

        So do I get to roll for those command points or not? If so what rule and what page?

        • Muninwing

          well, for one there are rules for what “alive” means, p. 181 defined how models are removed if slain, and referenced in other phases.

          slain means made dead from alive. if the alternative to the assumed state is dead, then until that state is achieved (or after it is no longer the current state), the alternative state is the assumed.

          p. 186 states that immediately before (IS after all the other “before a battle starts” conditions are met) is when you choose warlord traits.

          so… based on that info…

          you choose your army. you use any “before the game” abilities or meet any conditions. that is when you use the stratagem. then, on the bridge to deployment, you get access to the warlord trait, after that stratagem was already used.

          so no. no roll.

          and at that point, the chapter master would be alive, even if undeployed. if there was a stratagem that occurred during deployment but before any models were on the table, the warlord trait would be useable then. and this remains true until that warlord is killed (see above).

  • Johaad

    Personally I would say anytime post deployment. Even units in reserves now are considered to be “deployed”. Thats how I play it at least.

    • Muninwing

      except if they were dead before they were alive, how would that work?

      they are alive until they are made dead in play. had they wanted to indicate otherwise, they would have stated “if your HQ is deployed or in reserve…” instead of “alive”

  • inailo

    You pick your Warlord Trait immediately before deployment. The way I read that is after all pre-battle preparations and stratagems, after determining deployment zones, armies, points, the whole shebang. Warlord trait is the last thing you pick before you start deploying models. So with regards to the Ultramarines special rule, you don’t even pick it until just before the first model hits the table, therefore you would have spent your points on pre-game stratagems prior to that, unless they specify that they are chosen at the same time as Warlord Traits.

    • YetAnotherFacelessMan

      I’d say that is a fair interpretation. Page 186, “Immediately before either player starts to deploy” you get the warlord trait. I’d say this would happen after the Chapter Master stratagem, since that happens “before the battle”… but I can see how people could argue that “the battle” doesn’t really start until turn 1. I wish they’d tied to to something more concrete.

      • NagaBaboon

        I was just thinking the same thing

      • Muninwing

        it’s the new GW method: don’t bother clarifying, just allow the answer to be distilled from the given conditions. that’s how we have so few rules in 8th.

    • Lee Ashford

      And GW are very clear that models only affect the game when they are on the tabletop. Not reserved, not in transports etc.
      For the most part they’re sticking to RAW so between these two points it’s clear no they can’t get back 9 CP.
      Was worth bringing up though as I hadn’t thought about it before this article

      • charlesthoss

        Are you sure? Callidus Assassins can use their ability to add CPs to enemy abilities on turn 1 even when they are in reserves as it only says in your army, not on the battlefield.

        • Lee Ashford

          Good point. Another fave of GW right now is “unless stipulated on the data sheet” or some such.
          In his case of alive I’d say he’s alive when deployed on the table.

          • Muninwing

            but what’s the alternative? they are dead beforehand?

            doesn’t “alive” mean “all points before being dead?”

        • Valbarca

          they are pecial character rules. if you dont have that, you can’t do it

      • NagaBaboon

        That is generally true but it’s only clear becasue the rules usually read when the model is on the table, in this case it says alive. Unless it says ‘on the table’ I’m pretty sure warlord traits are active from turn 1 as long as the warlord is alive.

      • Stefan Pietraszak

        By that reasoning, you couldn’t use the Chapter Master stratagem at all, because no model’s on the table yet.

        EDIT: Ok, there’s probably a difference between affecting and being affected …

      • Muninwing

        … except this seems to imply otherwise, and we do not know if that was the intent or not.

        as it reads, since you are alive before you are dead — there are specific rules for “dead” and anything before / other than that is “alive” even if it is not deployed or in reserve… this rule would in theory be useable.

        but are there rules for when you receive your warlord trait?

      • mgdavey

        “And GW are very clear that models only affect the game when they are on the tabletop.” Where do they say this?

  • nvrdeadned

    I like this article as well.

  • Nate Grey

    This is really scraping at the bottom of the barrel for “conundrums”

    When you compare the actual wordings against each other the so-called ambiguity clears up.

    We have rules for “while ‘x’ is alive,” and we had rules for “while ‘x’ is on the table.” A comparison of the two gives clear indication of the writer’s intentions.

    When does a model not on the board die? After turn three like it says in the rules for ongoing reserves.

    There is zero conundrum here

    • Frostasche

      This implies, that both rules are written by the same writer and he or she was aware, that it could have different meanings.

      If it is really intended this way, this is the only rule that allows a model, that is off the table to actively influence the game. This is a paradigm shift, at least i always thought it was intended that only models on the table can actively influence the game, as in most games.

      Even if you know that your enemy always has such a model in reserve, you can actually not add a counter to your list. That feels unfair. That is why most games are avoiding such things.

      But as most other already said, a really good conundrum. I see both interpretations as valid. Even though i would prefer that the game is played only on the table.

  • SilentPony

    Questioning when a plastic model, representing a person, counts as alive. Yup. That’s Tournament lists all over again.
    Soon it’ll be “No wait, the Rules says ‘an enemy unit on the table. well, my models are on a sandy wooden board, not on THE table itself.”

  • benn grimm

    Just as in Toy Story, it’s when you close the door on them for the night. Then they sit around and share tragic stories of what you’ve been doing with them.

    • Crevab

      No words, only tears now

  • Adam Richard Corrigan

    Sorry but this is trying to make something out nothing, it is clear as day to anyone with half a brain that the wording means until the model has been killed during the game. Why would your chapter master not be alive before the game? If he’s not, how did the army know how to deploy?

  • Tristan Hill

    the way i see it, i pick my spells/WL traits as i deploy units…some do it all at once. If you pick your WL trait to be roll a 5 for CP to come back, THEN spend CP, why wouldnt you be able to use the WL trait? it doesnt say the model has to be on the board, it doesnt say you cant use it on pre-game abilities

    as far as “before the game begins” this would mean any time between saying hi to ur opponent and starting turn 1. During deployment, the game hasnt begun yet, you are prepareing to begin

  • Son_of_Corax_XIX

    pointless article

  • FCBullsht

    This is the typicial GW rule-fail… A required state of something which isnt clearly defined anywhere

    There are several of exactly this issue in the current ruleset.
    Want an example?
    “Tactical reserves” in matched play requiere you to have atleast half of your units to be deployed on the battlefield…
    So, what means “on the battlefield”?
    Is a Tactical Squad sitting in a Rhino deployed on the battlefield?
    It isnt targetable and it isnt physically touching the battlefield either so one could argue it is not… But it clearly isnt in tactical reserves either!

    • zeno666

      Yepp, its another classic GW-sucks-at-writing-rules.
      This edition is really full of them.

      • Muninwing

        most of the problems are not on GW’s writing side, they are on players not catching on to the fact that the way rules are written has changed.

        we want specific clarifiers. they are relying on their new keyword format to make that redundant.

        i’m not sure how all the inferences you need to make about complicated rules is supposed to make things easier, or easier for new players, but it’s definitely confusing the veterans who are not used to having to make them.

    • I_am_Alpharius

      Sigh….from rules on Transports, pg9 of Battle Primer:

      “When you set up a transport, units can start the battle embarked within it instead of being set up separately – declare what units are embarked inside the transport when you set it up.”

      “Embarked units cannot normally do anything or be affected in any way whilst they are embarked. Unless specifically stated, abilities that affect other units within a certain range have no effect whilst the unit that has the ability is embarked”

    • mgdavey

      It’s not a rules-writing problem, it’s a rules-reading problem.

      • marxlives

        The customer is always….no no blame the customer.

  • Heinz Fiction

    This text isn’t meant serious, is it?

    • I_am_Alpharius

      I think it is, at least around the core premise the article starts with….

  • I_am_Alpharius

    What did I just read? Is this really a thing? Seriously dumb struck….I have nothing to say…

  • VoidSong

    Tourney players : “what does GW mean when they say ‘the’ ”

    I’m thought the same thing Nate

    • I_am_Alpharius

      Its like the kind of inane questions answered in FAQ’s. I’m surprised we don’t see questions like:

      “When rolling a dice, how far must a dice “roll” to count as a valid roll.”
      “What happens when my opponent needs to relieve themselves? Do I keep playing or should we stop?”
      “If it’s raining outside, does that mean it is raining on the Battlefield?”

  • javier

    I think it is, at least around the core premise the article starts with….

  • Dan Brown

    I think we should go with whichever option is better for me!!!

    • Muninwing

      see, i usually pick the option that is worst for me, and try to win despite that. makes it more challenging.

  • Kyle Stetson

    As a Necron player, my Warlords are never alive.

    On a serious note though, it sounds like GW could stand to take a page from WotC’s book about state dependent rules and conditions as they affect play. MTG has a lot of complicated but fairly linear ways to resolve disputes like this when the state of a spell is in question, and it makes play more balanced and less open to rules lawyering.

    Take for example the Eminence mechanic of C17, which fits pretty well in the discussion of this article. Eminence allows your commander to affect play whether it is in the command zone or on the battlefield. Both command zone and battlefield are defined zones of play, so there is no dispute about these conditions as they relate to the abilities of the commander. Maybe GW needs to do some thinking about this as well. Is your Warlord your warlord as soon as you finish your list, like a Commander in EDH? Or are they more like a planeswalker who does nothing until they hit the battlefield? Hard to say without state based rules being understood by all players.

    • YetAnotherFacelessMan

      I suspect they wrote it as “while alive” because the big guy who has this warlord trait the most has a necronesque ability to return from being slain, so “so long as your warlord hasn’t been slain” would open up a different can of worms.

    • Muninwing

      … you mean go back to USRs, since they worked better than all this dependent crap?

  • Muninwing

    “The fact remains however that there really isn’t any clear answer in the rules to when a model is alive, other than when its not dead.”

    that’s… the definition.

    until they are dead, this ability works. they need not be on the tabletop, deployed, etc. it’s a way of delineating between the moment they kack it and everything before.

    not sure why this takes a whole article to explore…

    • YetAnotherFacelessMan

      Yep. I suspect they wrote it this way because Guilliman has a tendency to die and still be alive next turn.

      • Muninwing

        meaning that he is dead when he is dead, and alive at all other times. still pretty clear if it applies or not.

        now, do you have access to warlord traits at the “before the battle” point where you would need to use the stratagem? that would be a better indicator of validity of the rule. if you don’t then it’s a moot point.

  • memitchell

    Don’t the rules say when a model is removed due to a Morale check, it is not “dead,” it has simply fled? If your Warlord “flees,” is he not still alive?

    • 301stFeinminsterArmoured

      Of course, morale checks only happen when units lose models, and most characters are single model units, so this would never happen.

      • Muninwing

        good catch…

  • kobalt60

    Life begins as soon as the plastic enters the mold. Not when it hardens, and not when it is bought. So spaketh the Omnissiah

  • MikeyP

    Since my hive fleet is unrelenting, constantly absorbing biomass to replenish its numbers, and will stop at nothing until the entire universe is under its control… Isn’t everyone in the imperium dead, just they don’t know it yet? That’s how I’d interpret the rule!

  • MikeyP

    Also, I’m starting to suspect none of my models are actually alive… My typical game starts with the movement phase, and I tell my little dudes to go 6 inches in some direction, but they just sit there! Usually my opponent starts to get upset after a few minutes, and I say “Wait!! The rulebook says they can move 6″, just give them a few more minutes, I’m sure they will get going. Its RAW!! You believe in the rulebook, ya?” Still, they don’t move. I yell and scream, call them cowards, nothing… I think they don’t like me, maybe I should start a new army.

  • Apocryphus

    This is the type of rules lawyering and nitpicking you see in Heroclix, it has no place in 40k. If this is a serious point of contention among players, they’re beyond the point of being able to actually enjoy the game.

  • nope none

    Life begins for models after you shake hands, say good game and the first player starts their turn. Everything prior is pregame setup.

  • Crablezworth

    You wrote beings twice instead of begins

  • Spacefrisian

    The model was alive…Years before dinosaurs roamed this planet.

    Unless its not made of plastic but metal. Than it most likely never was alive.

  • ieyke

    If the model hasn’t been killed, it’s alive. /thread

  • carlisimo

    Is anyone actually trying to gain the benefits of stratagems and then arguing that they should the command points back? Surely not…