40K Black Ops – Rules


First off: some links:

As I said yesterday, I wanted to be able to run Black Ops-style scenarios (elite specialists assaulting a position held by less elite bad guys via stealth) in the 40K universe.  I wanted the attackers to go in ignorant about the force they’d be facing: in both general and particular.

Go ahead and open one of those up and and either read through them or follow along with them as I ramble through my thought processes.


So my goals were to:

  1. Use the 40K unit and weapon stats and rules wherever possible
    • I didn’t want to have to reinvent a way to articulate how an Ork is stronger than a Guardsman or how a Kasrkin is better trained than a Cultist.
    • I didn’t want to have to reinvent a way to articulate how an autopistol is different from a flamer or from a missile launcher.
  2. Emphasize stealth
    • The defender’s ability to recognize and respond to the attacker should be limited, pulling as much from the Black Ops noise rules as possible.
    • The attacker should initially know as little about the defending force as possible; with details about
  3. Single model activation
    • A skirmish game with 10-20 models a side simply requires that models be activated and treated individually.

The expectation was to run the game as a GM’d, convention-style game.  The hope would be that players would address the game creatively and with initiative… and that I wouldn’t have to try to account for every potential scenario in writing.  I think it’ll handle random, non-arbitrated play, but it definitely benefits from a GM.

As a baseline, I envisioned an elite squad of Imperial Guard Stormtroopers (yeah, yeah, “Tempestus Scions”) striking against a gaggle of Chaos Cultists.  I had 10 of the former and 20 of the latter.


For starters, I’m in love with the Bolt Action activation system.  I might hate the second edition of the game, but those dice provide a lot of flexibility, spontaneity, and complexity in a manner that is immediately understandable to a new player. I decided to shamelessly steal an idea that Casey had: each model (not squad) gets an activation die and, to reflect the better training and badassery of special characters, Character models get a number of activation dice equal to their number of wounds.  So, a squad of 10 guardsmen would get 11 dice: 1 for each guardsman and 2 for the sergeant.  When the sergeant loses a wound, a die’s removed from the bag.

The orders have to change a little bit: Pins and BA-style morale fall apart immediately when you’re looking at a single model.  Fortunately, I needed a catch-all order for button pushing, prisoner interrogation, and psychic power use, so “Rally” becomes “Special.”  I also wanted more of a 40K-style Overwatch, in which a model can fire repeatedly in a limited arc, than a BA-style Ambush, in which a model gets a single fire response to someone they can draw line of sight to, so “Ambush” becomes “Overwatch.”

The rest of everything comes together pretty quickly: Down is down, Fire, Advance, and Run all remain pretty much the same except an articulation of what sort of weapon can be fired on what order.

I did take the opportunity to change a thing I’ve never liked about 40K Rapid Fire Weapons: instead of this range-based 2 shots at 12″, 1 shot at 24″ business, I’ve always thought Rapid Fire weapons should fire two shots when standing still and one when on the move: so that becomes 2 shots on a Fire order, 1 shot on an Advance.

Nothing here is groundbreaking.  I’m sure any number of 40K players who’ve encountered Bolt Action have noodled through something that looks very, very similar to this… but it’s got to be documented, right?

Rules That Are Probably Going

I did want to cover multiple attacks: in 40K, if you shoot a Heavy Bolter at a bunch of guys, you might kill three of them… but that only works because it’s really just one unit of models.  I’ve got a rule that says you can “walk” attacks 2 inches: if you had a 2 shot weapon, for example, you could decide to allocate 1 shot at a model and the other shot at a model 2″ away.  If you had, say, 3 shots, you could allocate 1 at a model, loose one in the middle, and 1 at a model 4″ inches away…. the same for close combat.

I thought it would be a good bit of spackle.  In effect, it didn’t come up once, which means it’s unnecessary complexity.

Similarly, I wanted to pull a bit from Infinity’s ARO system: I put in rules that allowed models access to a subset of Orders (Fire, Down, Advance) that they could take in response to an activating model (like BA’s ability to go Down in response to being fired at), with a test to continue to be able to accept orders.  Again, it never came up at all, was complicated and kind of hard to articulate.  So, I’ll keep the list of Reaction orders and dump the test and ability to continue to respond.

That’s about it on how I fiddle with the 40K mechanics to make it work for the this.  The rest all speaks to how those mechanics are used: stealth missions

Stealth Missions

This began as a very clear port of the Black Ops rules, but after some playtesting it became clear that it wasn’t going to work the way I wanted it to.

We’ve done a ton of “hidden model” scenarios in TGS and have seen what works and what doesn’t: even better, having encountered Infinity (but not having played it as much as I’d like) I’m familiar with the idea of silhouette markers.  In fact, I love them.  So much so that, for this sort of game, I’ve ordered and numbered 32 of them.

Each side gets a DBT tray with an insert that looks like this:


Silhouette Marker 03 corresponds to whatever model’s sitting on 03 in the tray.

10 of the defenders are “Guards” these run on autopilot and respond to noise generated around them.  This started as a direct port from Black Ops, where all of the defenders worked off of the table, but that left the defender with too little agency.  So, instead it’s just the 10, and then the defenders get to control a handful of models in the same way that the attackers get.  Both attackers and (non-Guard) defenders begin as silhouettes.

The Guards are fine on the table, because they’re generic enough: Cultists are Cultists, and I’ll be picking up a handful of Cadians to use as Guards when the baddies are attacking.

The Noise table is what really drew me to BO, but quickly changed enough that I feel comfortable dropping it into the rules doc above: I’d originally planned to just say “Reference the book”.  “Noise” was confusing, because so much of it is visible, so I renamed it “Disturbance.”  In fact, I broke out the types of disturbance into Visual and Auditory.  Different weapons generate different amounts of disturbance and different ways.

For example:

  • Lasguns, which are just shooting beams of light, generate visual disturbance that’s centered on the shooter.
  • Grenades, which are freaking grenades, generate visual and aural disturbance that’s centered on the blast.
  • Corpses are sources of disturbance (that hopefully don’t go anywhere), but only to guards that see them.
  • Guards screaming bloody murder generate disturbance that anyone around can hear.

Finally, I was dissatisfied with the reaction table: it was both too forgiving and too punishing.  There’s a strong likelihood that I replace this table with a leadership test instead of a single d6 roll and have a few more options, but need to do some math to make that work.

Anyway, that’s all there is to the rules!