Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One Shot, One Kill

In the real world, snipers have repeatedly been called "the deadliest weapon on the battlefield." Snipers have the element of surprise, can kill at very long ranges, are hard to deal with, and thus instill terror in the enemy. (As an aside I will ignore their other, arguably more important, employment as battlefield observers) If snipers are so deadly in the real world, why are they so ineffective in the game of 40k?

Now before you argue that snipers are in fact effective in large units (e.g. 10-man units of Eldar Pathfinders), and that you need to choose targets that are specifically weak against snipers (e.g. Eldar Dreadnoughts)... What I'm talking about is the typical "real world" sniper employed as he would be in the modern battlefield, supporting friendly units and having a psychological impact on the enemy. In practice this would mean shooting at a frontline unit to pin it down, or shooting at high value targets, such as heavy weapons teams, or officers. (I'm deliberately leaving out one of the sniper's primary roles, that of observation)

One of the biggest advantages to the sniper is the psychological impact he can have on the enemy. This is shown in the game by the pinning rule.  I did some math (I was going to show all my work, but then my browser crashed and I lost all the work), and for the typical troop choice in any army, it was a less than a 10% chance of pinning them with a sniper shot.

The chances of a typical sniper to kill an MEQ are 5/6 x 1/2 x 1/3 = 14%, which means in a typical game of 6 turns, if you manage to kill one, you're doing pretty well.  If you're going against an enemy with multiple wounds, it's even harder.

As an Imperial Guard player, I'm attracted to whatever "realism" I can derive from the game, while still enjoying the fact that it is fantasy.  Oh, right, I forgot...this game is about fun stuff, like this guy:

Rather than boring stuff, like this guy:

Historically snipers have been looked down upon because they don't fight fair.  Someone shooting at you from a great distance, without warning, and picking off your officer (or even worse, you!) isn't a gentlemanly thing to do.  And something that isn't gentlemanly certainly isn't heroic.

I think snipers in 40k face similar discrimination.  Players want carnage, not units that get pinned and do nothing for a turn.  So the rules are deliberately designed to maximize the killing, and maximize it in a fun way (i.e., in the Assault phase)

But if I could "fix" snipers, how would I do it?  I would do the following:
  • Snipers cannot be targetted until they fire, or until an enemy model approaches within Initiative distance in inches.
  • Snipers hit on a 2+
  • Sniper rifles are R36" S7 AP4 Heavy 1 Rending, Pinning, and deliver D3 wounds
    • Against vehicles they are still strength 7.  Anti-vehicle rounds already exist--they're no reason to think that equivalent or better rounds wouldn't exist in the 40k universe.
    • Pinning - I think the Pinning test should have a modifier of at least -1--testing on straight leadership is ridiculous when half the units in the game are fearless or stubborn anyway...
I'm not going to put down a suggested points cost, as I really don't care, but it would be much higher than they are now.  And it should be.


eriochrome said...

The problems with snipers in 40K is mainly that the morale rules are so weak and ineffective as you note. Even the low leadership units essentially pass pinning tests more than they fail.

Another issue is that the scale of 40K is just wrong. All the weapons have ranges listed that are at least 10 times shorter than real life equivalents. There is a show on TV here called top shot where people do marksmanship tests with a bunch of different weapons including 50 cal sniper rifles where targets are like 1 km away and they still one shot them. 40K battle field is at most 150 m corner to corner.

ColKillgore said...

The closest you can come to "realistic" actions by the enemy from sniper fire is to combine a sniper with a psyker battle squad. The psykers lower the enemy morale and then the snipers pin them. It is a gimmick that your opponents will quickly catch onto but when it works it is golden.

Ratling Snipers 4 Eva!


Jack Badelaire said...

One of the 6th edition rumors I've heard is that the attacking player can allocate one out of every five wounds dealt to an enemy unit, but a Sniper unit can allocate every other wound.

So you could definitely see a rise in snipers for the purpose of killing sergeants, heavy and special weapon carriers, and the like. I don't know what other rules would be applied here, but these are pretty solid.

Taking a look at Scout Sgt. Telion, his personal shooting rules and wargear are the sort I'd want to see on every sniper unit.