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40K Retro: Vehicle Design Rules & Looking Forward

5 Minute Read
Sep 18 2017
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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. ┬áIf 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?

Author: Adam Harrison
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