Thursday, May 6, 2010

B2B: Wound Allocation

Welcome to another exciting installment of "Back to Basics"! Today we're going to look at the fun-filled and oft confused subject of Wound Allocation.

So what is Wound Allocation? Simply, after a unit has received wounding hits, the owning player needs to distribute those hits among members of the unit. These rules exist to instill some structure to the process. They mainly focus on evenly distributing wounding hits (and casualty potential) throughout all members of the target unit.

Do we really need these rules? Yeah, sadly. When given the choice of losing a pawn or a rook, what one would you usually choose? Early 40k editions had fairly crude rules about how evenly wounds were allocated. It wasn't too difficult for for a decent player to shield their star models with the bodies of lesser troopers. Later turns of a game often devolved into a scrum of Captains, Sergeants, and special weapon troopers trying to beat on each other amid piles of rank and file corpses.
Now I do have to give the game designers some credit though... ... if you left all your dead models on the field, it really did start to resemble a lot of the old hero-centric artwork.
But as the game (and many players) grew up and got through puberty, the common desire shifted towards a bit less game and a dash more war in this wargame. Torrent of Fire, direct targeting effects (like Vindicaire Snipers or Mind War) and other rules started making it a bit harder for upgraded models to hide behind bullet shields. One of the effects of this evolutionary trend resolved as the current 5th edition Wound Allocation rules.

Okay, nice segue... but how does all this work then? The rules for Wound Allocation can be found in the Big Red Rulebook (aka Warhammer 40k 5th Edition Rulebook, or BRB for short) starting on page 24. Buy and RTFM for full details. But as a general look, these rules cover 3 types of targets: Simple Units, Complex Units, and Multi-Wound Models.

Page 24, Simple Units: A simple unit is when every model in the unit is exactly the same. Some units start the game this way, such as many Tyranids and Necrons. Others can start off as a complex unit and revert to a simple unit due to casualties. These are good rules to know and understand. Not only will you see this type of unit on the field, but it's also the basis used in more complex versions of the system.

When a simple unit is wounded, the owning player simply tests the number of wounding hits against the unit's best applicable save. The player then removes a number of models equal to the number of unsaved wounds. As all of the models are interchangeable, any model in the unit can be removed as a casualty.

Page 25, Complex Units: A complex unit occurs when one or more models in the unit is not like the others. No, we're not talking about the one guy you converted to making an obscene gesture. Checking to see if a model legally differs from his fellows checks 4 specific items: statline, wargear, weaponry and special rules. A unit can become complex simply by taking a Sergeant, buying a weapon upgrade or even just giving a single model a different type of grenade. Games Workshop designers are very fond of using limited upgrade availability as a method of keeping units balanced and varied, especially with Space Marines. Thus most units you will see on the field will be complex.

When a complex unit receives wounding hits, the first thing to do is group the members of the unit into wound groups, as if the unit was comprised of multiple simple units. For example, a complex Marine Devastator squad breaks down to:
Grouping 1: 5 Devastator Marines with Bolters (the baseline)
Grouping 2: 1 Space Marine Sergeant with Bolter & Signum (different statline & wargear)
Grouping 3: 2 Devastator Marines with Missile Launchers (different weapons)
Grouping 4: 2 Devastator Marines with Lascannons (different weapons)

The owning player can now allocate any wounding hits between the different groupings, in any combination they prefer. This often allows the owning player to skew the odds so that members of a particular wound grouping will have a higher or lower amounts of risk.
The big catch is that you can only assign one wound per model in the group. Then you have to move on to another grouping. It isn't until all models in the unit have been allocated a wounding hit before you can "wrap around" and put a second wound on the model. This (usually) keeps the owning player from saying something like "Corporal Cannonfodder jumps on the Void Grenade and takes all 120 wounds!". Instead, they have to spread those wounds out equally to all members of the unit.

So how can we use allocation to affect the odds? Say the above Devastator unit takes 12 wounding hits. Everyone in the unit must be allocated one wound each and has a 33.3% chance of failure.
You can modify the odds of a wound group surviving based on how you allocate the additional 2 wounds. Say you want to preserve your heavy weapons? The additional 2 wounds can be placed on the normal Bolter Marines. This forces that wound grouping to take 7 total saves. It increases their individual risk of failure to 46.7%, but leaves everyone else at a simple 33.3%. In reverse, say you don't need the Lascannons any more? The extra two wounds can be tucked into that wound grouping. The Lascannons then have a 66.7% chance of dying while everyone else stays at 33.3%.

Multiple Wound Models Some models are just bigger and tougher than the average bear... and this is represented by having multiple wounds in the statline. These are often heroes, veterans, monsters, daemons, mecha or other such hard to kill beasties.

Since these models can be wounded one or more times before being removed from the table, their wounds are organized into wound groups exactly the same as a complex unit. You can then allocate one wounding hit to the group per model. Unsaved wounds to a wound group cannot be spread among the group with a "these 3 Obliterators each take one wound each." Instead, whole models are removed within each grouping.

With the basics now established, I'd like to point out a few places where people often make errors or get confused about Wound Allocation.
1. Wound Allocation works the same in Shooting and Close Combat. Page 39 of the BRB wastes two full paragraphs to say that simple sentence. It's also the default mechanic for "No Retreat!" wounds, as that affects the unit and not individual models.

2. Dangerous Terrain tests are NOT subject to Wound Allocation. BRB, page 14, Dangerous Terrain, notes that each test is checked against the model. So these wounds CANNOT be allocated to other members of the unit, even ones of the same wound grouping. Be aware of this subtlety as many players will try to remove casualties to their greatest advantage. If it is feasible, I recommend having your opponent rolls for each test individually. It can really put a crimp in someone's day when they want to assault and their only models in range get eaten by a tree.Yeah, it looks a lot like that. Especially their horrified facial expressions.

Okay... but isn't the B2B series about taking basic rules and using them for all they're worth? Well, yeah! Let's also talk some advanced use of Wound Allocation:
1. Excess unsaved wounds in a wound group are lost. It doesn't matter if Sergeant Dies Horribly failed all four of his armour saves, it still only counts as one kill. This can really be fun when combined with...

2. Wounding hits that reduce or ignore armour are allocated (and can be stacked) into wound groups per the choice of the defending player. Take the above example of the Devastators, but consider what it would look like if 2 of those 12 hits were from a power weapon. Both of those could be stacked onto the Sergeant. Yeah, he'll "die twice", but only count as one actual kill and protect someone else from auto-failing their save.
Wrapping wounds onto auto-killed models is also a nice way to reduce the risks to the rest of the unit. Say you don't need those Lascannons but really want to keep the Sergeant's Power Fist alive long enough to hit back... You can dump the 2 power weapon hits onto the Lascannon guys, put normal saves on everyone else, then put the 2 wraparound saves onto the already dead Lascannon guys.
Enjoy this while you can as I suspect that this mechanic will change in 6th edition. I forsee it becoming like the Instant Death rule for multi-wound units, where you will have to allocate all wounds that ignore or reduce armour (or are of a specific AP value) at the same time. This would mean that you can't stack multiple on one guy as easily.

3. Units that diversify their wargear when purchased can abuse Wound Allocation by increasing their number of wound groups. Single wound units can benefit from this by wasting the wounds as mentioned above. But you see this most commonly with multiple wound units like Nob Bikerz or Thunderwolf Cavalry. The idea is to get the unit to have as many wound groups as possible, so that you can spread out multiple wounds without having to remove whole models.

4. Unsaved wounds can be put on any model in the unit of that wound grouping. Casualties can be taken on models that were out of Line of Sight, out of range or even such that it puts the unit out of coherency. This can be used and exploited to such extent that it probably deserves an entire article. For a few quick ideas: casualties can be pulled from the front ranks to deny your opponent the charge, they can be pulled from the back to make sure your front line is as far forward as possible for charging the enemy, or they can be pulled from models out in the open to put 50%+ of the remaining unit in cover.

Whew. I think this wall of text has gotten more than long enough and it's way past my bed time. Hope you folks have picked up a useful idea or three from this.. Cheers and catch you next time!

***Images from a Shooting Gallery game, Games Workshop and the old RTT Hero-Hammer artwork, Simple Jack is proof you should never go full retard, f33r teh LOLm33rCats, and the creepy-awesome Mark Ryden. WARNING: Searching for post images with SafeSearch off can be very... distracting.***


  1. God, I love that Dangerous Terrain image.

  2. Ditto on the image... shouldn't you preface with a description of 'torrent of fire' since wounds can be pretty much placed until ToF is reached?

  3. Torrent of Fire no longer exists.

  4. First of all, the compliments:

    1) The pictures are awesome. Simple Jack made me chuckle, and Ryden's art is always amazing (though interesting that you found a piece without either bees or meat in it).

    2) Pretty exhaustive list of wound-allocation rules, and well written to boot. I tried to find flaws in it, but it all looks accurate.

    The cons:

    1) Wowzers, that's a long read. I went through most of it, but at times I found myself skimming (mostly because I feel I already understand wound allocation). You can't really cut anything though, so the only other option is to break it into multiple posts... and that's probably not a good idea. I guess I'm just being nit-picky.

    2) It's probably worth mentioning that casuality removal doesn't require you to remain in unit coherency (Though you will be forced to move into coherency next movement phase). That's a fallacy that catches many people by surprise.

  5. Hey guys, thanks for the responses! It took me a while to write this monster and it's nice to know someone's at least looked at it. :-p

    @Rushputin: When I don't have a specific image in mind, I tend to do a Google Image Search of applicable keywords and see what I find. This time I searched "eaten by a tree". That image popped up as one of the first results. I knew it had to be used the moment I saw it.

    @suneokun: As mchmr6677 points out, I'd skipped on detailing Torrent of Fire since it doesn't exist in 5th ed. It really was what current Wound Allocation evolved from.

    @Warhammer39,999: Yeah, this really is a huge post. I tried breaking it up with pictures and humour and aggressively edited. But there was only so much I could do and still do the topic justice.
    Amusingly, your skimming shows... I did mention out-of-coherency removal under item 4 of advanced ways to manipulate Wound Allocation. :-p I didn't think it quite warranted a separate talking point, but maybe repeating in the comments will clue people in. Plus, I'm thinking about spinning item 4 into a full article on tactical casualty removal. It will certainly be a talking point for that.

  6. Good article, great accompanying images.

  7. Great and insightful article.

    This has really helped me, particularly with regard to power weapons. We've mistakenly been removing PW casualties first and then allocating the remaining saves. I never understood that you could allocate the wrap-around saves to already "dead" models. It may seem minor, but that could very well be a game changer.
    Thanks for the tip.

    Beautiful post.

  8. @Drax: Cheers and glad you enjoyed.

    @sonsoftaurus: Sometimes, the image search is just perfect.

    @bsmoove: Thank you, you just made the entire post worth the time. Cheers!

  9. Ok, for a delayed re-reaction...

    I read the end section entirely the first time and missed it. In fact, even after reading your response and re-reading point #4, I missed it again. Perhaps I just read too fast for my own good, though. I see it on the third pass though.

    This particular rule is one of those things that I skimmed over in the actual rule book, I'm sure. What I meant to suggest is that it's important enough to warrant some attention drawn to it, in case other "skimmers" like me are lurking about...

  10. Sadly, a lot of people skim parts of the BRB, and it causes arguments later. Not pivoting vehicles in the shooting phase, for instance.

    Anyway, good article buddy. Very enjoyable. :)