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A Thunderous Approach

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 05:01 AM

Only War is coming next week! In this standalone Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game, players take on the roles of soldiers in the Imperial Guard, the galaxy-spanning armies of the God-Emperor. Today, we return to a series of previews examining the Only War play experience.

Over the course of our past three previews, we’ve seen a glimpse into the game’s war-torn setting, a look at Regiments and their importance to the game, and an overview of character Specialties. Only War is unique among Warhammer 40,000 titles, however, in that it includes rules for vehicles as part of the core rulebook. For more on that, here’s contributing writer Matthew Eustace.

Terrifying Machines of War

Across the Emperor’s galaxy there is simply nothing like the tanks of the Imperial Guard. Ancient designs named after some of the greatest figures of Imperial lore – Russ, Malcador, Macharius – these fighting machines are loud, slow, horribly inefficient, and outclassed by almost every xenos race out there. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

The Leman Russ is one of the best symbols of not just the Guard, but the Imperium as a whole; a bristling array of guns and dense armour plating, chugging along the battlefield in a ponderous yet implacable manner whilst blasting great holes in the enemy lines. What Guardsman wouldn’t want that kind of power, and who wouldn’t want to be the crew leading the spearhead in such a vehicle? This is why the vehicle rules are so important to Only War, and why I wanted to make sure they covered as much ground as possible from when the players first roll into battle, to when they’re scrambling to salvage the last remaining boxes of ammo from the smoking hulk of the vehicle they just lost!

The vehicle rules written for Rogue Trader and Deathwatch were a fantastic base to work from, but those rules are not central to their respective games. Vehicles, on the other hand, are intrinsic to the Guard – the armies of Mankind could not exist without their tanks and their transports – and thus they needed to be front and centre for players, and give them enough detail to play entire armoured campaigns as members of a storied and valiant Imperial Armoured Regiment. On top of that the enemies of the Emperor also have their own armoured fighting machines with unique characteristics such as the nimble nature of Dark Eldar skimmers, or the haphazard manufacture of Ork trukks. This led to the creation of the new vehicle traits, a simple system that any GM or player can use to easily determine not just the rules but also the feel of the vehicles they are either driving or fighting. 

All Aboard

Another challenge that came up was the prospect of players playing as the entire crew of a single vehicle, and how their roles would be spread out. Not everyone can fire the big gun, but luckily main-line Imperial tanks have high crew-counts and everyone within a tank has a role to play. It is easy to imagine a group of players where their Commissar commands the tank and their hotshot Operator keeps them out of danger with his driving skills. Where their best Heavy Gunner shepherds the main turret and keeps it on track whilst a plucky Ratling pokes out the top-hatch dispatching anyone who gets to close and their Tech-Priest does his best to keep the tank running. Specific rules for weapon mountings and fire arcs along with various crew positions should help guide the GM and his players to get the most use (and the most fun) from their angry rumbling machines. These positions also tie into the Comrade mechanic, where the less illustrious jobs (such as a tank’s loader) can still be filled without forcing a player to spend all his time reloading a Battle Cannon, allowing him to get back to his real job – defeating the enemies of the God-Emperor!

The largest development of the vehicle rules though was not in how players might use vehicles, but how players destroy them! The violent and explosive critical charts that everyone loves from the general combat rules were expanded greatly to cover multiple damage locations (hull, turrets, tracks, grav-engines, and so on) as well as distinct damage conditions that mirror the various critical effects a character or NPC might suffer. And just like the combat rules contain the details for healing grievous injuries so to do the vehicle rules contain an extensive options that allow players to repair their vehicles. This last aspect was of paramount importance, as technology within the Imperium is a completely mystery to most. I specifically didn’t want to burden every group into requiring a Tech-Priest for even the most basic repairs, so a skilled vehicle crew can replace hull plating and the odd weapon whilst the more difficult and extensive types repairs are reserved for the red-robed Priests of Mars. This speeds things up for the GM, and allows the players to get right back into the thick of fighting, playing the characters they want to play, rather than the characters they need to play.

Finally there was the question of what vehicles to include within the Only War core rulebook. The Imperium is vast and there are dozens of different vehicles types, from the tiny Cyclops Demolitions Vehicle to the moving fortress that is the Crassus Armoured Assault Transport. How could you include the Leman Russ, but not Demolisher? What about the Tauros Assault Vehicle or something fun but obscure like the Dominus Armoured Siege Bombard? In the end the choices were paired down to the most iconic and the most prevalent within the Imperial Guard, but still with enough diversity – main battle tanks, transports, artillery, and so on – to allow GMs and players to act out various aspects of armoured warfare in the 41st Millennium. And then there’s the Baneblade. We couldn’t leave out the Baneblade: a tank so big that even the player using the Ogryn might find a place to sit!

Only War’s vehicle rules provide a different kind of roleplaying experience, and are a great compliment to the standard rules for foot-bound infantry. If your group wants to race across a dust-choked plain in their Sentinels as they outflank an enemy Defiler, or find themselves desperately winding the cannon down on their Basilisk to fire directly at a fast-approaching Ork Battlewagon, then these rules cover that. The mighty beasts of steel and fire have given us some of the most evocative images of all of 40K, and I can’t wait to see crews diving into the armoured warfare that Only War is sure to bring to players everywhere.

Thanks, Matthew! Are you ready to take the controls? Look for Only War in stores next week.

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