Thursday, March 19, 2009

Setting up the Battlefield

clancyjr\'s Elite Troops are the hotness.
Imperial Guard Stormtroopers push forward under cover of rubble.

One thing that frustrates me about Warhammer 40k is how little terrain creation and lay out seems to play in the rulebook. The rules are pretty simple for setting up terrain and there are really no "rules" on what makes a fair table. Yet, terrain is such a vital element in any game! There are rules for movement through terrain, rules for interacting with terrain, rules for cover saves, line of sight is impacted by terrain, etc. The 5th edition RB has nearly as many pages on Ruins and Buildings as it does on Close Combat! Battles are fought over and inside pieces of terrain. But there is barely any advice on exactly what pieces should go on the table and in what proportions!

On one hand, the rules are purposely vague because GW cannot dictate or possibly know what kinds of terrain players will feel inspired to construct (though they probably would prefer if we all used the CoD, Craters and Trees kits they offer). Do a search for Warhammer 40k terrain images and you'll be stunned at the variety of types, intentions and playability of pieces! Every battlefield will, by necessity, be very different from any other battlefield…so rules on what types and where would be an exercise in exceptions. GW could never hope to publish rules governing it all!

Battle Report,Crimson Fists,Jan09 Battle,City Terrain
Crimson Fist scout prepare to give their lives defending an Imperial Shrine.

And yet, I still wish there were some sort of definitive ruleset on how best to ensure that there are the right amounts of LOS-blocking terrain, difficult, area and cover terrain types on a board. I know, as a personal preference, I prefer a terrain heavy board, one covered in as much terrain as I can fit. I just like the idea of combat being close and deadly (even when I played my Tau…but in that case, I liked all the cover the terrain provided back in 4th edition.).

Battle Report,City Terrain,Crimson Fists,Dark Angels,Jan09 Battle,Skull Bashers,WIP

Skull Basher Marines hold the line against a Crimson Fist assault.

Surprisingly, I found it difficult to find articles on terrain set up in 5th edition! On the Dakka forums I did find a neat proposal:

  • Divide the board into 6 2'x2' squares and assign a number for each of them.
  • Divide the terrain in 6 roughly equal groups.
  • Roll a D6 for each group. That terrain group then goes into that square. If you roll a number with terrain already in it, move the pieces into an adjacent square.
  • Each player then alternates placing all the terrain in each group making sure not to initially position a piece of terrain within 12" of another
  • Roll a scatter die and 2D6 and move each placed piece that many inches in that direction.
  • Once everything is placed, a scatter die is rolled and any building on the board are turned to face the direction of the arrow.

I like this set up and will try and encourage my friends to try it out. Breaking up the table and randomly assigning terrain to each section appeals to the wargamer in me…now the set up isn't so much about grabbing pieces and trying to neutralize them…it's about creating the battlefield. The addition of 2 different scatter dice mimics bad intelligence reports on the direction of the terrain pieces and placement. My only change might be to ensure that the biggest piece of terrain available (in size or height!) be placed in the center first with appropriate scatter rolls. This creates a vital piece to fight over and prevents the railguns from firing across the table.

Tau Crisis Suit and Drones navigate an alley in front of Tyranid Gargoyles.

The last piece of terrain set up I'm still struggling with: Determining the terrain "Stats." Is it difficult? Is it Area? Does is block LOS? Since I have my table with DIY terrain, I prefer to try and assign the same pieces the same stats…so my rubble pieces are always 5+ cover, area, difficult terrain. My large buildings are 4+, WYSIWYG, only difficult to pass through the walls. And so forth. Occasionally, when playing someone, they'll want some impassable or dangerous terrain and I'll suggest pieces that look like they fit the bill. But again, I'm left feeling sometimes like "is there too much difficult? do we need 6+ cover terrain? Only my rubble pieces are area terrain…is that unbalanced?"

If I can get my friends to use the above set up, maybe I'll also declare that each player gets to decide what each terrain piece their Opponent set up does. And I have to flexible with each piece…maybe that building doesn't have to be difficult terrain...or the rubble could not be 5+ saves and instead only difficult. I just hope it doesn't add 40 minutes to set up! Maybe it needs to be timed as well. :)

How do you decide the terrain "disputes" at the start of your games? What method do you use to decide on how to set up the board?


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with everything you're saying here. Terrain is really important, so it's CRAZY that the rulebook has almost no guidelines for how much you should have of what types and how you should place it on the table.

Cawshis Clay said...

You and I have talked about this at length! What do you think of the random set up idea from the Dakka forums? I think I'm going to try and use it next game at my place.

jabberjabber said...

Whilst I mildly preferred the abstraction of area terrain from the previous edition, I agree with you that in the present environment that the strategic placement of cover and buildings is highly important. I like the dakka proposals. Its good that they make all the buildings face in the same direction -- it gives the illusion that they were constructed on a grid system.

Dave said...

Hi CC, I really like your terrain, I've made some similar for Necromunda. You can find it on my blog at



Col. Corbane said...

I'm liking those bullet holes in the walls, it's a nice little touch. Any chance of any more pics of your terrain?