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40K: Terrain in 8th Edition

8 Minute Read
Jul 22 2017

Kazzigum is back with thoughts on the “effectiveness” of terrain in Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition.

I’ve been playing 8th edition Warhammer 40,000 (40k) for a while now, and though I like it a lot, there is one problem with the new rules I really feel we need to get out in the open … namely the fact that almost all terrain leaves me feeling like my guys are all out in the open!

Pick your hill – and die on it!

At this point, I’m really feeling pretty good about 8th edition 40k.  It took me a while, as I thought 7th edition was generally a good system — at first.  The more it went on, with rules piling upon other rules and many aspects (cough, Eldar codex, cough-cough, numerous unbalanced detachments/formations, cough) just busting the game all to hell, the more I was just ready for 7th edition to die.  In fact, I straight gave up the last 4-6 months of its miserable life.  Of course, 8th is not perfect, but it seems tons better, and there’s plenty I like.

I like that the game plays fast and brutal.  I like that flyers, transports, psychic powers and so much more just seems far less complex and runs so much smoother now.  I like how Command Points work and I really like how all armies utilize that same detachments (and that this seems to be how it’s gonna stay).  In fact, to this point, my only real complaint has been that all the armies (and psychic powers in particular) seem somewhat bland.  Of course, I predicted this going in, so it came as no surprise, and I know the flavor will return when all the armies get their own codexes.  But it’s very encouraging to hear from Games Workshop (GW) themselves that these codexes are gonna be coming at an accelerated pace — ten this year alone!  Yes!  Inject the flavor in quickly GW!  I think my cherished Chaos armies will not be waiting long for their delicious, warp-fueling flavors to return.

This is how my Chaos armies feel with the Indexes.

Having said all that, I have learned through play that there is one aspect of the new edition of 40k that I do not like, and that’s the rules for terrain on the battlefield.  While I applaud most of the streamlining that GW has done to the game, I feel they definitely went too far with terrain.  In the core rules, the only thing terrain does at all, is mentioned in a sidebar on page 181 of the main rulebook, the important part of which is as follows:


“If a unit is entirely on or within any terrain feature, add 1 to it’s models’ saving throws against shooting attacks to represent the cover received from the terrain (invulnerable saves are unaffected).  Units gain no benefit from cover in the Fight phase (pg 182).”

This is how my Chaos armies will feel once GW releases our codexes and injects da Flavor.

Setting aside the fact that this basic rule just seems skewed to be so much more in favor of highly armored forces such as marines or terminators (who are known to march forward while disdaining cover due to their armored protection) rather that lightly armored troops like pretty much all orks and lowly humans (who would seem more prone to diving for cover due to basically t-shirt protective gear), I can’t personally seem to get past one single question…  Why do my troops inside the forest get cover, but those standing behind it receive none?

I mean, the enemy still has to shoot through the woods to target them, even presumably past my troops lurking in those woods, so why does that provide no cover? That can’t be right, can it?  But this is the streamlined rule-set, and it’s all up there in simple black and white “unit is entirely on of within any terrain feature…”  So I look to the Advanced Rules section to check the Battlefield Terrain (pages 248-251) rules — surely this addresses the problem, right?  Nope.  It actually makes it worse.

Looking at the rules for Woods and even Ruins, now I find that not only does the unit need to be “entirely on or within” the terrain in question, it also needs to actually be Infantry, otherwise they “only receive the benefit of cover if at least 50% of every model is actually obscured from the point of view of the shooting unit.”  All abstraction seems to have been stripped away.

Fortunately, we can totally see that squad of orks behind this ruin, right men?  No cover provided.  Open fire!

It almost seems like GW has never actually seen a gaming table, let alone those common to tournaments.  Even just looking at their own terrain kits, they gotta understand that at least some abstraction is required, right?  Right?  Apparently not.  And I thought they were supposed to be consulting with some of the big tournament organizers while preparing this edition.  How did this get through?  I mean, I have to assume that those tournament blokes brought it up.  Right?  Seriously?  My guys behind the forest, that are behind my guys IN the forest, don’t get cover??  What?  As I said earlier, it feels like my guys are all left out in the open, even when I put them behind cover.


Depicted here, Woods terrain in 8th edition.

Needless to say, I find this upsetting.  Indeed, while trying out the game, and learning this rule for the first time, my opponent and I found the ruling to be, well, bluntly put, dumb.  And it hasn’t gotten any better in the following games.  It still feels dumb.  In fact, it now feels as if terrain often doesn’t matter at all.  With the exception of a couple movement restrictions, such as reduced charges through Woods or the ability of Infantry to just be assumed to have means to move through walls and floors of a Ruin without impediment (all of which I’m good with), it just seems like all the maneuver and counter-maneuver that terrain used to provide is now gone.  I’m starting to hear myself ask “Why have terrain at all?”

I love 8th edition, but this is not good.  Something must be done.

It’s not feelin’ that great for this, uh, ork trukk, parked behind this ruin…

Making Terrain Useful

My friends and I are not the only ones to have a problem with terrain in 8th edition — or at least so I hear.  I’ve heard whispers of proposed fixes from some of the various tournament organizations, such as ruling that all ground floors of ruins block line of sight regardless of whether they actually do or that every table should include a large piece of terrain in the middle that completely blocks line of sight (I’m in favor of this one anyway, as I’ve found it to be more fair to assault armies).  One way or the other, I firmly think the terrain rules need to be “fixed.”

I’m not saying that they need to be returned to the rules of 7th edition, or even previous editions before that, but something has to be done.  Fortunately, we live in a new era where GW seems open, and even willing, to change things for the better when it becomes obviously unbalanced or otherwise in error.  They’ve even promised to update the rules periodically like they do for Age of Sigmar (AOS) with the General’s Handbook.  But, in this case, I think change is going to come from we the fans first, and then trickle up to GW.

Let’s make this happen.

With this in mind, I’ve been discussing the matter with my brother — we often talk 40k.  We agree that the fixes I listed earlier, while a good start, either don’t go far enough, or don’t quite feel right.  So, what sorta things do we think could fix the problem?  Well, my brother initially advocated for the abstraction of 3rd edition — namely that any Woods or Ruin completely block line of sight through it, though not to units in it (which would then receive the cover bonus as it works now).


My problem with that solution is that it seemed too final, too all-encompassing.  Should a flying jet aircraft or floating pyramid really be completely obscured by some trees or even a ruined building?  On the other hand, my first solution was to accept the rules as they are now but to fall back on the principles of 6th and 7th edition for those units outside the terrain, but still obscured by it — meaning that the unit would need to be a certain percentage obscured from the shooting unit to receive the cover bonus.  My brother rightly pointed out that this seems too complex, and flies in the face of the new streamlined rules.

So, what did we settle on?

It’s a work in progress.

The Ultimate Solution

In the end, I think we hashed out a simple, but elegant solution that embraces the best of the past, but also fits the mold and spirit of 8th edition.  So, behold:

In addition to their rules as presented in the 8th edition 40k rulebook, Woods, Ruins, Battlescapes and any other similar terrain designated by tournament organizers, completely block line of sight through them (meaning that units that can only be targeted by having line of sight pass through the terrain feature cannot be targeted), but not to units inside the terrain feature (unless the terrain model actually provides complete line of sight blockage), which benefit from cover as currently designated in the Battlefield Terrain rules on pages 248-251.  The exception to this rule is that models with the Titanic keyword or the Airborne ability can still be targeted normally and do not benefit from cover.

And hey … while I’ve got you here … why is it that a Titan can shoot out of melee, but we cannot shoot it back again?

Ultimately, I felt my brother was right.  At least more right.  It’s best to keep it simple and just block line of sight, yet still embrace the less complex rules of the actual specific terrain features as they are currently presented.  This makes terrain matter again, allowing for units to shelter from opponents and bringing back the fine art of maneuver.  My only problem with this was the fact that it also felt stupid that Imperial Knights or various supersonic aircraft could also hide behind such terrain.  Embracing 8th edition’s keyword system seemed to offer the perfect solution.  At least, it seems solid to me.  This “fix” makes terrain matter again, potentially prevents armies from being blasted off the table before they even take a turn and mitigates the necessity for every table to have a huge piece of blocking terrain in it’s center.

I think it’s a good start.

So what say you?   Do you think terrain in 8th edition needs “fixed” or do you think it’s fine as it is?  Share with us in the comments below.

Read more from Kazzigum on Slaved to Ruin


Author: Jason Peck
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