40k: Towards Better Rules: HamWarmer 24.5

White Dwarf 187

Warhammer 40,000 exists in a weird gap in the wargame spectrum. There are excellent skirmish games, and excellent large-scale battle rules, but very few rules for large battles at the 28mm scale. There's probably a reason for that.

A skirmish game can take an RPG-like approach to each model. Rules can be complex and detailed because they don't need to be used very often. When you're tracking a grand total of 12 models, all sorts of rules become viable. There are some great skirmish games out there, including:

Large-scale battle rules can group units (or platoons, or divisions, or entire armies) int convenient bundles. Tracking individual models is less critical.

But at the odd scale of Warhammer 40k, every model has to count. Any rules for 40k have to go from the platoon level (e.g. a character, two squads, and a tank) to the army level (massed infantry, monstrous units, giant walkers, etc.), and deal with normal humans and walking demigods. Every model needs to stand on its own. You can't treat one squad of 10 with a single profile.

There's an OSR-type movement in the Warhammer community too. Some people are perfectly happy with Rogue Trader (for good reason; it's fun!), and some more are working on hacks of 2nd Edition. There's a dubiously legal "Warhammer 40k 2nd Edition Battle Bible" floating around out there. Project Anvil is another 2nd Ed hack. It's all very exciting.

In fine DIY tradition, I've made my own hack. Introducing:

HamWarmer 24.5

HamWarmer 24.5 (PDF) is vaguely based on Warhammer 40k: 9th Edition (free PDF), with some rules borrowed from older editions or entirely invented. It is non-commercial, unprofessionally distributed, hastily made, entirely unofficial in every way, and completely free. The current PDF is 9 pages long.

Currently, only the core rules are complete, but I'll be adding faction rules and scenarios in short order. Expect this blog post to change rapidly over the next few months.

HamWarmer 24.5 is intended to be a hobbyist-friendly rules set. If you've built it and painted it, chances are there will be rules for it... eventually. I'm going to work on the factions played locally first, then work on the others.

Making the Sausage

Rules burnout is real. Games Workshop produces new rules on a regular basis, and once you've read enough rulebooks you stop caring and lose interest. Patterns emerge. Every time a new edition is released, some units - usually something newly released - become absolutely vital. In the next edition, they get "fixed', and the cycle repeats. Lovingly painted units are supplanted or deleted. Rules grow as every unit, faction, and subfaction gets mechanical differentiation.

Great games come from consistent choices in the same direction. Inconsistent choices result in terrible games. Games Workshop has a number of competing priorities when it comes to writing rules.

  • New units have to be at least as good, or better, than existing units, or no one will buy them.
  • Old units need to be supported. With 30 years of rules out there, there are a lot of legacy units.
  • The rules must be compact and simple. Otherwise, no one will run the game.
  • The rules must be formal, incontrovertible, and cover all cases. People will find loopholes and use them. Here's a compilation, written in a peculiarly unappealing style.
  • Patching or fixing rules was (and to a certain extent, still is) a difficult process.
  • The rules must support past assumptions about Warhammer 40k. Certain weapons and units have values that feel right; change them too much and the game might stop feeling like Warhammer 40k.
  • Only six-sided dice can be used.
  • The game's scale is 28mm heroic. One dimension of the battlefield cannot be larger than 4' (see below).
  • Rules cannot be written simultaneously. Some factions will get rules before other factions, leading to balance issues.

Luckily, I can avoid a few of these problems. I can't avoid all of them (or the game wouldn't be Warhammer 40k), but I can write rules and patch them daily (if needed). I don't need to make them perfect, just good enough for casual play. I can write them all at once, fixing units from one faction as I write rules for another faction. I don't need to sell models, take photographs, write lore, grapple with the implications of the setting, or pay anyone.

I can also playtest continuously and adjust rules based on feedback, without needing to write from a position of supreme and unquestioned authority.

Oh look, express written permission. ;)

Major Changes

These changes will only make sense if you're somewhat familiar with Warhammer 40k's published rules. Feel free to skip them.

  • Alternating Activation. Instead of one player moving, shooting, and charging with all their units before the other player gets to act, players take turns in every phase.
  • A revised to-Wound chart. In 9th Ed., all units can damage all other units, leading to an arms race of more shots, higher damage, and wound negation.
  • Movement-based Morale rules.
  • Templates! They're inconvenient but fun.
  • Vehicle facing returns. In 9th Ed, vehicles can fire all their weapons in all directions, leading to some very odd situations. In this hack, flanking a vehicle is important.
  • No Flyers (as in fast aircraft). The models are great, but the rules just don't work on a small battlefield and they always tip over.
  • No Command Points, Stratagems, Formation Bonuses, Power Cards, or other cruft. I'm going to try to avoid extra rules systems.
  • Points values will be based on 3rd-4th edition. I'm working on tabulating and tracking them in the background. Far too boring for a blog post.

PDF Links

Links will be added as PDFs are completed.

White Dwarf 318

Side Note: 40k Scale Battlefields

I've run some tests. Asking people to bend over their kitchen table and take photographs is surprisingly easy; apparently everyone's bored during lockdown. A 5-6' tall human bending over a waist-high table can safely reach about 2'. They can look directly down at anything closer than 1', maybe 1.5" if they've got a long neck.

Therefore, no matter how long the board is, it can only be 4' wide.

GW's 28mm scale is a bit wonky (and wargaming in general compresses distances and scales for the sake of convenience), but let's say a 6' character gets a 1.25" tall model. 6' real scale / 1.25" game scale = 4.8' per 1". A 4'x8' (48" x 96") battlefield, the largest most people ever use, is therefore approximately 230' x 460'.

The outer red square is a 4'x8' board. The inner red square is GW's new 44"x90" minimum-maximum size. The smallest red square is a 2'x2' skirmish board. Boards are compared to Warhammer World in Nottingham, a Walmart in Gary, Indiana (selected because it's exactly north-south aligned), and Hill 937.

You can argue about the model-scale to real-world-scale conversion factor, but even if I'm off by 50% or more, you can see that the battlefield doesn't scale up to anything like a realistic size.

Some Titanwalk events (where people bring their superheavy war engines like toddlers to a playdate) use the floor of a convention centre boardroom as the battlefield, but that doesn't really work for tiny plastic models. It works fine if you're using prepainted lead soldiers, but delicate plastic figures are likely to become expensive caltrops.

So no matter how epic your battles may be, remember that they're effectively a pub brawl on a Saturday night.


  1. there is no ground scale so technically less a wargame than board game.

    1. Hah, fair. It's about as much of a wargame as the models are military scale models.

  2. So you have started discussing generic space opera few month back and then you fell back on the good old Warhammer. The question is: you are good enough to write or at least start writing a proper space opera setting. I myself failed (I wanted to write a campaign for the machinations of the space princess (a hack of the LotFP) but after the first one shot I failed, it was too gigantic a task). At least in fantasy you have your core races to start from. In sci fi it is much harder. Beside going the Warhammer way (let's do our fantasy races but in space) there are only one: evil space bugs swarm, and it is not a playable race.

    So have you run one shots in space opera so far? What setting details did yo use? is there anyway I can help you with your space opera project?

    1. Ah, the generic sci-fi notes might still make it into a setting. It's just that, with Covid and all that, RPGs are less easy to organize than a bout of painting plastic miniatures. I suspect it'll come back.

      For Space Opera, I tend to default to Fate Core. For slightly harder sci-fi games, Traveller/Cephus Engine work well. Mothership is the new hotness for sci-fi horror.

      In all cases, coming up with truly alien aliens, and mechanics/rules to support them, is the tricky part. How do you convey the idea to a player, and how do they convey it back to you and the rest of the group? If a group is sufficiently motivated and has the right background, they can come up with their own ideas fairly easily, but that's a big investment.

      I haven't written up any space opera games or one shots, other than this tangentially related one: https://coinsandscrolls.blogspot.com/2017/06/stories-hard-science-fiction-and-moloch.html

  3. > RPGs are less easy to organize
    For this reason you can play over discord! If you want my contact info for a game I'm happy to provide. (It is less fun then IRL but this is how we are stuck).

    Yeah I have written your Faster in the Dark campaign. Was really impressed. And on th players you had. My experience with academia guys (me included) is that they tend to shut down their brains during play and act retarded.

  4. I like this.

    In your main rules, under the explanation for Twin weapons, your example is backwards. It says that a Twin Assault Cannon makes 6 attacks instead of 12.