By Geoffrey Snider
After covering Stubborn, there are two rules I’d like to cover this time around. The first is Rage – I know, I know, Goatboy just posted something about it recently – and the second is Fearless.
Several years back (I believe it was in ’08) BigRed asked me to do some testing on the Fly Lords of Terra Minidex: Army of Death. One of the main drawbacks to that army is that a lot of its units have the Rage USR (universal special rule). It’s a very flavorful rule that says “Man, these guys are powerful, but holy crap, once they get going they have some problems following orders!” It’s all well and good when you’re using a Blood Angel force with a Death Company because that’s just a single unit of Rage-afflicted models. But having to harness the power of an entire army of loonies is a much different story. For the sake of playtesting, if you have a minor issue using one of something, then you’re bound to have a much greater issue when you’re trying to use ten of the same thing… and thus began my experience using an all-Rage army.
Rage: “In the Movement phase, units subject to Rage must always move as fast as possible towards the closest visible enemy. In the Shooting phase, they are free to decide whether to run, but if they do they must run towards the closest visible enemy. In the Assault phase they must always consolidate towards the closest visible enemy. Whilst falling back, embarked on a transport, or if no enemy is visible, they ignore this rule.”
Going back over the particulars of this rule made me realize something very odd about it. Nowhere does it say that a unit affected by Rage must charge. Even Blood Claws have to charge, and they’re just ‘Headstrong.’ Evidently the raving madmen with Rage just have to get infinitely close without being required to actually do bad things. That doesn’t exactly make it a bad mechanic, but it does make you wonder.
The part of Rage that really came into play when testing the Army of Death was “must always move towards the closest visible enemy.” This meant that each time a unit moves it must check its total visibility, determine the closest enemy unit, and move towards it. I took this to mean two things: 1) I can move my units in any order I want, so I can control what’s in their LOS, and 2) I must end my movement phase with my unit closer to the closest enemy unit than when it began the phase.
How much closer does a unit have to get before it has satisfied the relative quantity of ‘closer?’ A lot of players would interpret this to mean that a unit must move its maximum possible distance towards an enemy… but that’s not what Rage says. Now, mind you, I’m not advocating that players attempt to take advantage of this; I’m simply pointing out that the vague qualities of this rule’s wording make it problematic and open to interpretation.
Qualifying ‘closer’ took another interesting turn. If my unit charged a non-walker enemy vehicle during my turn, stunned it, stayed touching it, allocated attacks to it again during my opponent’s turn, and once again stayed in contact with the vehicle because there’s no consolidation when you’re not engaged in combat, what happens during my subsequent turn’s movement phase? There are normally some issues with this because of the stipulation that you can’t move within 1″ of an enemy unit… but AFAIK it’s understood that moving away from a unit forgoes this restriction. However, when your unit is required to move towards the closest enemy unit (which it is already touching), what happens? Does the unit stay in one place? It certainly can’t move closer to the vehicle that it’s touching. Is it forced to get 1″ away, and then attempt to get closer… however that would work? Finally, when it came down to ‘removal from table’ or ‘place on table’ mechanics like Deep Strike or vehicle embarkation/disembarkation, there were further problems. If my unit moved at least a little bit towards a visible enemy, but then embarked into a transport that was 2″ behind it, were they going against what was intended? If I Deep Strike some Terminators, are they required to DS as close as possible to the enemy? If a unit disembarks from their transport and the transport hasn’t moved yet, does the disembarking unit have to disembark on the side closest to the enemy? How about if the transport has already moved and its disembarking passengers have no further chance of moving during the movement phase… do they have to disembark on the side where they’ll have LOS to an enemy?
The problems with moving a unit towards the closest enemy within LOS were somewhat less jarring because they weren’t blatantly ignoring the rules or causing as many problems with interpretation as ‘closer.’ What was happening in my games was that units were being moved in a certain sequence
that was completely counter-intuitive to the way the game was normally played. In several instances I would have a small ring of Rhinos surrounding a clump of Assault Marines with Jump Packs. I would move the Rhinos forward, turn them sideways to block LOS from the Assault Marines to any enemies, and then move the Assault Marines in any direction I wished. This issue was exacerbated later on in games. My footsloggers would be out of their Rhinos, romping around as usual… but at the start of my movement phase I had to do an extra step of planning when exactly every single unit would move and how it would affect the LOS of subsequent moving units. Then we get back to the previously mentioned issue of when you exactly establish LOS for a unit that is entering/leaving the table because of embarkation/disembarkation/Deep Strike, etc.
The issues here are so strange and so glaring that I can’t help wonder how this rule’s text ended up the way it did… but I digress. It’s clearly a bad, bad mechanic because it a) doesn’t work and b) it would take a ridiculous amount of clarifications (or a complete re-write) for it to work correctly.
After my last article went up I noticed that a fair number of comments wondered why I had skipped Fearless and gone straight to Stubborn. It’s probably because when I started writing that article, I felt that Stubborn was bad… and then, halfway through writing it, I decided that it was just poorly implemented. I’m starting to wonder if my impressions of Fearless follow the same trend. I’m also starting to wonder if I’m writing this because I want to, or because so many people brought it up. But I digress. On to Fearless…
Fearless: “Fearless troops automatically pass all Morale and Pinning tests they are required to take, and will never fall back. They can however go to ground voluntarily. This special rule is gained by any independent character joining a Fearless unit. However, as long as a fearless character stays with a unit that is not fearless, he loses this special rule. If a unit that is falling back suddenly gains this rule, it will automatically regroup at the beginning of its next Movement phase, regardless of all normal restrictions on regrouping.”
Fearless is a ‘Counter-rule.’ It exists to counteract certain leadership-affecting mechanics that represent the IRL concept of ‘low morale as a result of combat attrition.’ Squads must take Morale and Pinning tests any time they take 25% casualties from shooting, suffer a wound from a Pinning weapon, attempt to regroup while falling back, suffer Tank Shock, or lose a round of close combat. A Fearless unit’s best quality is that it can ignore most of the negative effects of taking casualties. It also means that the
unit ignores many of the more interesting mechanics the game has to offer, and does so all-inclusively. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, it does limit the scope of rules that might exist if Fearless wasn’t so all-inclusive. We would have a much more diverse array of ‘fearlessness.’ Some units might ignore 25% casualties. Some units might automatically pass pinning checks. Some units might automatically pass Morale checks for Tank Shock. Some units may be able to attempt to ignore the after-effects of
Going to Ground with a LD test. GW chose to lump a lot of these together in Fearless… which is not to say that those mechanics I just mentioned would never exist, because they obviously could; but it’s pretty indicative of narrow thinking since those mechanics simply don’t exist at this point. Instead we get more conditional versions of Fearless like the Synapse rules for Tyranids.
Where Fearless really goes wrong is in close combat. In a backwards sort of way, similar to the Stubborn USR, Fearless is implemented badly, with odd and varying consequences that don’t seem to represent the underlying principle of “We refuse to run away!” These consequences are not, however, linked specifically to Fearless. They’re partially a result of the No Retreat rules.
No Retreat: “…When such units lose a close combat, they are in danger of being dragged down by the victorious enemy despite their determination to hang on.” These units do not take Morale checks and will never fall back. Instead, these units suffer a number of wounds equal to the number their side has lost the combat by (allocated as normal). All types of saving throws, except for cover saves, can be taken against these wounds. If none of the enemies involved in the combat against a Fearless unit can actually hurt it, the unit does not suffer any wounds if its side is defeated in combat, and simply continues to fight.”
So let’s look at a couple units that are Fearless (as well as how they access the No Retreat rule):
1) Khorne Berserkers. Clearly a unit focused on assaulting, Berserkers’ greatest potential lies in their ability to smash units to pieces on the turn they charge. For their points they’re probably one of the most effective close combat oriented Troops selections. Their most common incarnation is the 10-man, Rhino-mounted, Powerfist Champion configuration. They can position themselves easily with a transport, and on the following turn they disembark, move, and finally charge their target. The only time Fearless takes effect against Berserkers is when they’re charged by a superior foe and lose a significant number of models before they can attack back. These instances are few and far between, but the end result is often a wiped out unit of Berserkers due to the No Retreat rule. In this case, Fearless triggers No Retreat and the difference in total casualties lies in the enemy’s favor. Fearless is a counter-intuitive trait in this case because it can cause the destruction of your unit… and all because the unit was immune to Morale and Pinning?! What’s even odder is that losing the unit can actually be beneficial because it leaves the assaulting enemy unit high and dry, waiting to be fired upon.
2) Termagants. These buggers are on the completely opposite end of the Fearless spectrum from Berserkers. They’re a nice unit of taking up valuable space (on an objective, or as a speed bump for occupying an enemy on foot). It makes sense that a unit of mindless drones would be sent to their deaths by the Hive Mind in order to accomplish a greater strategic goal. No Retreat actually becomes an asset, as it allows an adequately-sized unit of Termagants to occupy a proportionately sized enemy unit for a specific number of turns (just long enough so that the last of them evaporate during your opponent’s assault phase).
To sum up Fearless, I suppose it’s best to say that it’s odd for a mechanic to allow units to ignore a whole slew of rules that are usually detrimental. The side effect is that they are somehow hurt by situations
where one might assume they would thrive. Perhaps Fearless should be sub-divided into varying levels of negation (as I mentioned above). Maybe at that point the diminished access its subdivided parts might provide to No Retreat would lessen their awkwardness.
Perhaps this should have focused more on No Retreat? Maybe I’ll save the rest of that discussion for the next article.
…or maybe I’ll just talk about Reserves and Outflank! Have at it folks…