Rules Redux #2: Take Cover!

Hi all, and welcome back to another edition of Alt40k Rules Packages Rules Redux! As always I’ll be looking at different rules from 40k each week and see what we can do to try and either improve, make closer to the fluff or just change for the heck of it. The key to this is to make small, modular changes to our game that are easy to incorporate but have wide reaching effects.

Over 50% Concealment since 1986

Today we’re talking about one of the fundamental building blocks of 5th edition, something that has so changed the game that if you don’t have a 3+ or 3++ you had just better stay home. Yes ladies and gents, we’re talking about cover, the thing that thine infantry had best not be without.

Now unlike my last topic cover has a lot of things going for it. It helps make infantry a bit more viable in this vehicle dominated age and even helps reduce the utter dominance of the Spehss Mehreens by giving weaker infantry like Orks or Guard a fighting chance.

However, that is not to say that cover is all good either. 4+ saves all over the place devalues armor a great deal. Stormtroopers have a 4+ save... so what? They’ll be in cover! Guardsmen have a 5+ where Orks have a 6+... again, so what? Everybody gets a 4 up!

AP also becomes almost completely pointless in an age of pervasive cover. Bolters can’t chew through Guardsmen like they want to, Battlecannons barely chomp on Marines and Plasmaguns truly are relics of a bygone age. Even fancy invulnerable saves are cheapened by 4+ cover, only becoming relevant when the user gets into close combat.

I'm in your cover, eating all your d00ds

So, what can we do here? I’ve got a couple of thoughts.

First is just to reduce the average cover save to 5+ instead of a 4+. This will mean that more Guardsmen and Orks will die to small arms fire but it will also mean that more of the Emperor’s chosen will fall to Battlecannons and plasmaguns. Boring, but effective and easy to remember.

Another way, and my personal favorite, is to switch to the Fantasy version of cover. This means a -1 to Ballistic Skill for soft cover (i.e. forests, tall grass, rocky outcroppings) and a -2 for hard cover (intact buildings and walls). I personally think that this version is more realistic  This would allow AP to actually function while still providing a good way to hide from the enemy. It also means that invulnerable saves of 4+ or less actually have a place in the game. I mean, which are you going to trust more- your highly sophisticated refractor field or that scrawny sapling over yonder?

Let’s look at some stats here, bolter vs Guardsmen. Average shot at BS 4 with 4+ cover has a chance to wound of 2/9. 5+ cover means 8/27. -1 BS means 1/3, which is very close to our original ratio.

Now let’s take a look at the same weapon vs a Space Marine. 4+ cover doesn’t matter here, so the chance to wound is 1/9. Introduce the -1 BS cover, however, and the Marine’s survivability increases to only 1/12 shots wounding.

Sounds pretty bad for you Marine haters out there, right? Now let’s take a look at mister plasmagun. In 4+ cover world the Marine would get wounded 5/18 shots. In -1 BS cover the marine gets wounded 5/12s of the time. Granted, your average guardsmen gets wounded the same, but at least plasmaguns become much greater equalizers than they were before. And, Thousand Sons players rejoice, as you darling Tzeentchlings only get wounded half as much as normal marines when in cover. Justice!

And just in case you thought I forgot, blast and template weapons are covered here. It makes sense to me that blast weapons should be naturally very good at getting through cover, so if it’s a direct hit there just ain’t much that you’ll be able to do about it. Anything else will incur the normal BS penalty.

Cover- it's Pretty Useful!

But still, over all Space Marines are coming out on top when it comes to cover, as they get more of an improvement than the other races thanks to their amazing armor saves. Let’s see if we can whip up some optional add-ons to help level the playing field:
  • New USR: Trenchers. Units with the Trenchers ability can spend a turn digging a foxhole to generate temporary cover or increase existing cover. After digging in as long as they don’t move they continue to benefit from cover while firing away. I could see this USR being handed out to the Imperial Guard, Tau and Tyranids (burrowing), and our Niddy friends might even get some kind of mobile version of the rule for things like Raveners. You have to move as if in difficult terrain, but hey- cover!
  • Not all area terrain automatically grants cover. “Medium” cover, like forests and chest high walls will automatically hand out cover, but things like tall grass, lower walls and craters will only give you cover if you don’t move or take a difficult terrain penalty AND forgo shooting. To make up for this you can always choose to move normally through this type of area terrain- you just won’t get any cover if you choose to do so.
  • Certain races or units might just not be able to take advantage of cover. Red fury Blood Angels just want at the enemy, Terminators might be too bulky/proud, and who is really going to tell the Black Templars to get behind that rock? Marines might even have a drawback tied into ATSKNF where they have to take a leadership test in order to take advantage of cover. After all, what good is ceramite if you aren’t going to use it?
Well, that’s it for now. Let me know what you think of this scheme in the comments, and I’ll be back to talk about another rule that we can tweak.

Thanks for reading!



Atrotos said…
Excellent article Max,

I've been a long time fan of the modifier system in Warhammer Fantasy (I believe it used to be this way in 40k too). It just makes a lot more sense this way and would help the game be more "immersive." Cover is one of those things that just doesn't feel right as it is.

I don't know if I agree with blast weapons not suffering any penalty on a 'hit.' Large blasts would become a nightmare for anything outside of a transport - don't forget just how easy it is for some armies to spam templates while others cry over the cover they used to have. I would propose a standard scatter (using the arrow on the Hit mark) according to the cover modifier. For instance if the shooter rolls a 'hit' against a unit in hard cover (-2 modifier) it would still scatter 2 inches. The maximum scatter on a hit would likely only be 3 inches (hard cover + stealth) but it make templates less spamable and still deadly.

The other nit I'd like to pick is the Trenchers USR which I feel would slow the game down significantly. I feel it would encourage "camping" and slow playing with entire armylists designed just to outlast the opponent's shooting phase until the game ends - not a lot of fun. I think the game should continue to encourage bold maneuvers and there should be a good number of casualties on both sides to maintain intensity. 
abusepuppy said…
5+ cover is what the game played under in 4E, and I think we all know how drastically different that was. Also, the blast weapons thing mentioned below, and... yeah, no, sorry, I really don't like it.