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Guest Commentary: Da Orcboy Pays Up

The Many Faces of Fearlessness (First of 11 articles) by Ken Lacy

Over the years, Games Workshop has come out with a variety of different codices for the 3rd Edition of 40K, each with a different set of special rules. One rule that keeps popping up over and over is Fearless (and its many near-variants). However, for a rule that is so widespread, Fearless has quite a few different quirks! Hopefully this is something that GW will address in the upcoming 4th Edition of the game (in which case, this article will simply become a rather amusing nostalgia piece), but in the meantime, here’s a little walk through the list of Fearless rules that have been devised by the designers in Nottingham (in rough chronological order of publication).
Codex: Space Marines (1998). No units or characters listed as Fearless. Marneus Calgar, however, Never Falls Back. Ever. He (and the unit he is leading) is assumed to automatically pass any Fall Back test, and ignores any auto-Fallback effects, whatever the origin. Captain Cortez has a similar rule, Stubborn, except that it only applies once, the first time a unit in the army he is with would have to Fall Back, for whatever reason.
Codex: Dark Eldar (1998). The Talos is Fearless. It never falls back, cannot be pinned, and is assumed to automatically pass any Morale checks it must take. Hellions and Reavers may be Crazed!, a similar condition in which they ignore all Fall Back results of any type (and must always choose to advance instead of consolidate when an opponent falls back or is destroyed).
Codex: Blood Angels (1998). Death Company marines are Fearless. They (and any character that joins them) automatically pass any Leadership tests (excepting Psychic Tests) they must take and ignore any auto-Fallback effects.

Codex: Dark Angels (1999). Members of the Deathwing, including most Dark Angels Characters, are Stubborn. They automatically pass all Morale checks, even in situations where they normally would automatically fail. They may not choose to ever voluntarily Fall Back, but explicitly must check for pinning as normal. Regular Dark Angels are Intractable, meaning they do not Fall Back as a result of taking casualties from Shooting damage (although they may Fall Back from other situations).

Codex: Eldar (1999). The Avatar, Wraithlord, and all six Phoenix Lords are Fearless—they never Fall Back, even if attacked by something that causes auto-Fallback, and they never can be pinned. Any Saim Hann unit led by special character Nuadhu Fireheart, the Chief of the Wild Riders, doesn't Fall Back and can't be pinned. Nothing is said here about ability (or not) to fail Morale checks and the like, however.

Codex: Orks (1999). All Orks are subject to Mob Rule, meaning that if they fail (or auto-fail) some Morale or Pinning test, they can test against the number of units in the Mob to ignore the result. A large Mob of Orks is effectivelyFearless, even though technically they aren't.

Warbikes have the Speed Freeks rule (name later changed to the Psycho Bikers rule), meaning they are completely immune to all morale and pinning effects. By “effects,” they probably mean “Tank Shock,” “Fall Back,” “Crossfire,” and “Regrouping,” the rules for which are all part of the “Morale” section of the rulebook. By extrapolation, Warbikes are immune to all these things. The Ork special character Mad Dok Grotsnik is Mad!, which is basically the same—he is immune to all the effects of morale and pinning.

Codex: Assassins, Codex: Chaos Space Marines, Codex: Imperial Guard (1999). These three codices are now obsolete, of course, but it's interesting to look at them anyway because of the different ways in which the Fearless rule was worded:

  • Assassins were assumed to pass all Morale checks from enemy attacks, even those that caused auto-Fallback, and never could be pinned.
  • Commissar Yarrick never had to take Morale or pinning tests, and gave this ability to any unit he was with.
  • So long as he was alive, Colonel Schaeffer’s Harsh Discipline ability allowed all Last Chancers to automatically pass all Morale/Pinning tests they had to take.
  • Quite a few Chaos units were listed as Fearless, and in this edition of the codex, this meant that they would never Fall Back or be pinned, and were assumed to pass any Morale tests automatically. Kharn the Betrayer had a slightly differently worded ability: he automatically passed all Leadership-based tests and could not be pinned by enemy shooting.
Codex: Space Wolves (2000). Among other things, characters with the Mark of the Wulfen automatically pass all Morale and Pinning tests, and ignore enemies or weapons that cause auto-FallBack. This is a bit awkwardly worded, of course, but one can assume this refers to ignoring the ability of such enemies and weapons to cause auto-FallBack.
Codex: Craftworld Eldar (2000). The Wild Rider Chief, as Chief of the Wild Riders, will never Fall Back ever, cannot be pinned, and a unit he leads gains this ability, too. Alaitoc Path-Finders are World-Weary, meaning they cannot be pinned, and do not take “All On Your Own” tests. Finally, the Biel-Tan Craftworld’s Court of the Young King actually is Fearless so long as the Avatar (part of the Court) is “on the table.” This means they automatically pass all Morale and Pinning tests they are called to make.
Codex: Armageddon (2000). Speed Freeks have the same Mob Rule ability as regular Orks do (here referred to as Mob Size Checks). All Speed Freek bikes, including the Deth Koptas, benefit from the Ork Warbike rules, which includes the Psycho Biker rule (see above).
The entire Black Templars army benefits from Righteous Zeal, which means they never Fall Back but rather advance toward the nearest enemy, and if in combat already they automatically pass all Morale checks they need to make. Even if they were to “auto-Fallback,” they would simply remain in combat—but count as advancing that turn. They are not immune to pinning attacks, however.
Codex: Tyranids (2001). Instead of Fearless, the entire army is subject to the Synapse Creature (Hive Mind) rules. Units subject to these rules never have to Fall Back, and automatically pass all Morale and Pinning tests (even those they normally would auto-Fail). Notice the wording implies that Tyranids can take the “option” of Falling Back if they wish—though they’ll rarely get the opportunity because they automatically make all Morale tests.
Tyranid Monstrous Creatures are specifically Fearless—the rules here being identical to the Synapse Creature rules (technically, they are always subject to them).

Ripper Swarms are Mindless, which among other things means they never Fallback, automatically pass all Morale checks (even against auto-failure), and can’t be Pinned.

Chapter Approved (2001). Of the armies listed in this book, only one is not obsolete (the Army of Death, which is listed last). The others are interesting for how Fearless is worded, however.

Redemptionists led by a Redemptor Priest never fall back and automatically pass all Morale tests, even against attacks that cause them to auto-fail Morale tests. They specifically can still be pinned, however.

The Army of Death (still usable) automatically passes all Morale checks they must make. Nothing is mentioned about auto-FallBack weapons or Pinning tests!

Codex: Tau (2001). Any Tau unit joined by an Ethereal, including the special character Aun’shi, becomes Fearless—they automatically pass all Morale and Pinning tests.

Codex: Necrons (2002). C’Tan, Pariahs, Scarabs, and Tomb Spyders are all Fearless—they pass all Morale tests (even against effects that cause auto-failure), and cannot be pinned.

Interestingly, the Deceiver C’Tan character can trump the Fearless power of every other unit in the game—he can force units to make Morale or Pinning tests even if they specifically would automatically pass such a test!

Codex: Chaos Space Marines (2002). Because so many units in this Codex are Fearless, the rule is described before the army list, in the “Special Rules section.” Such units never have to Fall Back, and automatically pass any Morale checks they must take, even against effects that cause auto-failure. Note the potential “optionality” (in extremely limited circumstances), similar to Tyranids. Notice also that Pinning is not mentioned, although this was changed in the errata (the official Q&A), to a blanket immunity to Morale and Pinning tests both.

The errata for this Codex was the also the first time that Fearless was specifically stated as intended to be “standard” for all armies in 40K, wherever it is listed. This is an interesting claim that GW unfortunately does not follow up on; future publications often will have different definitions, as you will see below.

There is one similar abilities in this Codex that is not Fearless per se. The Demagogue ability of a Word Bearer character grants all nearby units the ability to automatically pass all Morale checks they must take.

Chapter Approved 2003 (2002). A number of alternative army lists are listed in this book; some were reprinted (with minor revisions) in CA2004, addressed below. Several, however, are now obsolete, of which one, the Death Korps of Krieg, were listed as Fearless in close combat—they automatically passed all Morale Checks they had to make, and it was implied that they would never Fall Back, ever. Specifically, they would “carry on fighting until they have beaten their foes or until they are all dead.”

Codex: Daemonhunters  (2003). Grey Knights, Daemonhosts, and all Assassins are Fearless—theypass all Morale tests, even those that normally cause auto-failure, and can’t be pinned. The Inquisitor Lord has a more versatile ability called Iron Will, which allows him to choose to pass or fail any Morale or Pinning check he must make, even if failure is normally automatic. In what is probably a typographical error, special character Coteaz does not have this ability, despite being an Inquisitor Lord.

Codex: Eye of Terror (2003). The Thirteenth Company's Mark of the Wulfen ability is differently worded from Codex: Space Wolves; the portion relevant to our discussion states that the character and unit he leads automatically pass all Morale checks, and never Fall Back or get pinned (amusingly, Wulfen Packs full of actual Wulfen do NOT benefit from these rules, although it’s possible that this is just a misprint that GW will release errata for eventually.)

Plague Zombies are Fearless, which for them means they automatically pass all Morale and Leadership tests, and cannot be Pinned. The Fearless ability of a Chaos Spawn means it automatically passes any Morale or Pinning tests they are required to make. Neither mentions anything about effects that cause auto-failures.

The Spear of Khaine is Fearless so long as the Avatar (part of the unit) is on the table. They automatically pass any Morale or Pinning tests they are required to make.

Codex: Imperial Guard (2003). There are many morale-affecting abilities in this Codex, but only a few characters that are actually Fearless. Commissar Yarrick (in this incarnation, compare with 1999 version) never has to take Morale or Pinning tests, and the same goes for any unit he joins. Colonel-Commissar Gaunt has the identical ability. And Colonel Schaeffer’s Harsh Discipline ability has changed (compare to 1999) as well: so long as he is alive, all Last Chancers automatically pass all Morale, Leadership, and Pinning tests they have to take.

Chapter Approved 2004 (2003). A few army lists from the 2003 Chapter Approved were reprinted here, with slight modifications. Of these, the Feral Orks have a Fearless unit—the Madboyz, who ignore all morale and pinning tests. Because Pigdoks can be bought as part of the unit, one supposes that this rule probably applies to the Pigdok in the unit as well? However, this is never made particularly explicit (and has never been addressed, to the best of my knowledge).

As you can see, there is a wide variety of descriptions of “Fearlessness.” In most cases, this is just very fine nit-picking, but because there are so many different special rules and abilities in 40K, these differences sometimes become very marked. One worry is that “All On Your Own” tests are technically Leadership tests, not Morale tests. Plus, there are numerous special attacks and effects that ignore or assume auto-failure of a Morale or Pinning check. Not all Fearless units handle these effects the same way. It just goes onward from there...!

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Posted March 2004. Used with permission.


Fighting Tigers:
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