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40K Rules Conundrum: When Does Life Begin?

6 Minute Read
Sep 27 2017


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!

Author: Abe Apfel
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