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Master-crafted 40K
Introduction <> Army selection <> General strategy <> Deployment <> Improvising

Master-crafted 40K: Improvising
Lee LoftisEditor's note: Southern Gentleman Lee Loftis is the creator of the superb Millenium Gate, known for its elaborate campaigns, extensive optional rules, biting commentary, and a forum that sets the standard for online civility. Lee originated the annual events Fall From Grace and Spring Offensive, informal gatherings of gamers from across the United States. He also inspired and encouraged me as I developed the Jungle. I am flattered and honored to have him contribute to this series. 

As for his entry into this hobby, Lee says, "I have been involved in Warhammer for about 4 years now. It started with Warhammer Fantasy, where my Undead army got their collective butts stomped on a regular basis. I won around 30% of my games when I played someone other than the two guys who got me started in the hobby (curse their hides! ). I built the army to just around 10,000 points before getting started in 40k.

"40k started the same way! I built a Sisters of Battle army and a Dark Angel army under 2nd Edition. I got stomped by my regular opponents quite frequently. As a matter of fact, I won so few games at first, I was beginning to doubt that this was my game. I began to really study my rules, imitating the two rules-lawyering power gamers that were my mentors (and regular opponents). I became more and more like them.

"By the time I started my Imperial Guard army, I was beginning to master the game. I had shed myself of the two goons who originally drug me into the hobby (one joined the Army and the other, well, lets just say we had a parting of the ways). I began to run amok--smashing most of my opponents with ease. Outside of my immediate circle, it seems that I knew the rules quite a bit better than anyone else. My years of being pounded had tuned me into playing for the kill and damning the feelings of others.

"I'm pretty ashamed of the rep I had there for a while, but as I played more games with new people, I began to mellow out and I realized exactly what terrible asses those two guys had been and how I was too much like them.

"I have striven for the past few years (especially since the coming of 3rd Edition) to stay on top of the rules and keep my game sharp. I try to pay attention, and try not to forget that I'm supposed to be having a good time. 

"I've owned and played quite a few armies: Necrons, Chaos, Ulthwe, IG, Black Templars, Tyranids (now gone), Dark Angels (gone), Orks (gone), and I feel that I know most of them quite well. 

"I hope that the article will help someone learn a bit of what I've learned, without having to pay the price I paid." 

Improvising by Lee Loftis
How does one go about writing an article on dealing with the unexpected? If those game-altering, plan-shattering events were known there wouldn't be much need for an article, would there? This article is going to come off sounding like a tactical deployment dissertation, but it is not possible to avoid disaster without a little preparation. Paul Hill, one of my esteemed friends, has summed it up nicely with the military adage: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I agree.

All a player can do is try to develop the best plan he can without relying too much on what "should" happen. I speak, of course, of statistics. I know someone who says "Numbers are your friends, crunch them." I say "Bah." I am the worst thing to ever happen to the law of averages. It seems that whenever I have a good chance of something in particular happening, it won't. You know, "I have 16 shots hitting on a 4+, I ought to get 8 hits!" I'll get three every time.

Rule #1: The best method to dealing with unplanned events is to not count on the law of averages. By not putting all your game hopes in the law of averages, you avoid the inevitable shock when things go wrong. Avoid sitting down and calculating the odds of everything and then making the most lean and cost effective force you can. Without some redundant units to pick up where the dice leave off, you are heading for disaster. With this as the cardinal rule, let's continue.

Pay attention to your objective. It is possible to pull off a win even when things are looking grim. By distracting your opponent with targets for his assault troops to chew on, you can focus on securing a win by achieving the scenario objectives. It is a common trait among players to get so entranced when assaulting squad after squad that "tunnel vision" sets in and all they see is blood. These guys will cackle to themselves while murdering your troops. They often forget that victory points and body counts mean nothing if they've rampaged across the board and now the enemy's last squad in a Rhino is closer to the objective than any of their guys. Oops!

It is entirely possible, even probable, that you will face a wily opponent who will not fall for those tricks. Then you need Rule #2. 

Rule #2: Always have a Plan B. If you have a shooting army, whose sole purpose is to shoot holes in the enemy before they can get to grips with you, the worst thing that can happen is for you to fail to do any serious damage to them and they shred your force in a brutal assault. When this seems inevitable, it is most advised for you to begin to isolate the affected parts of your army and run. 

Pull back, sacrificing the engaged units, and attempt to redeploy to a position that is outside of his assault range. It is highly desirable that you have thought of this and deployed your force in such a way as to have a second line, a group of shooters that can destroy the enemy as they finish assaulting the first line. Cover is helpful, as are a few well-placed template weapons (missile launchers, plasma cannons, flamers, and grenade launchers).

This seems like it would be obvious, but I have seen many players continue to pile in their ten-man Guard squads, feeding the monster, and in a few rounds there's nothing but a platoon of fleeing Guard.

For those of you who play assault armies, you face the prospect of getting stranded somewhere midfield. Enemy shooting picks your forces apart, leaving you with little more than a sad band of close combat monsters. Well, it's largely dependent upon what army you have and what you are fighting, but you should try to inflict damage to the most vulnerable parts of his force. Again, this sounds obvious, but by falling back on Plan B, you are safe. You did make a Plan B, right?

Plan B for an assault army would be tasking a very good unit to move with the sole purpose of engaging the vital part of his army that holds it together. It could be that tank that is pounding your boys, or that pesky Broadside squad that seems intent on wrecking your Land Raider. Do it early and don't be distracted by juicy targets of opportunity. Plan B might also be a unit designed to accomplish the objective while the remainder of your force distracts the enemy with assaults.

A better plan would fall into army construction. Have one or more units designed to shoot the shooters, focusing on the likely troublemakers. Choose units that are cheap and versatile. Long range artillery units, squads with high rates of fire, or large blocks of shooters are all good choices. Again, this depends on your army, but you should avoid having a one-trick army. Ah, very good: Rule #3!

Rule #3: Avoid the One-Trick Army. Why? Well, it is very conceivable that you might have some bad luck, or your foe might outwit you, or be better at your trick than you are. With so many opportunities for disaster, a commander is well advised to have a portion of his army that can do something else if it all hits the fan.

Shooting armies need to have a mobile hand-to-hand force close by, but safe from the enemy, to plug any gaps in the line and thwart those fast assault troops. Assault armies need to have shooters which can pick off dangerous units that could otherwise shatter a good offensive charge. 

If you tend to play the same army list a good bit, you will get to be known as "the guy with that nasty Deep Strike army" or "the guy who has the all shooty Space Marines"  You don't want to have that because people can then build armies specifically to thwart you, and that's not nice.

Vary your force and go for a well-rounded list that while very good at one thing, can accomplish the objective in other ways. Ways other than charging across the table and engaging the enemy in hand to hand.

There is only so much you can do when faced with the unexpected, but if you have a well-rounded force with good deployment habits and planning, you will go a long ways to minimizing the effect that catastrophic dice rolls and enemy tricks can have on your battles.

Editor's note: This concludes Master-crafted 40K. The authors and I hope you have found this series interesting and useful. 

Stan ReedKen LacyPaul HillRob Van Pelt-CathcartLee Loftis
Left to right: Stan Reed, Ken Lacy, Paul Hill, Rob Van Pelt-Cathcart, Lee Loftis

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© Copyright Lee Loftis,  September 2002. Used with permission.


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle