Rule Changes in 6th Edition Warhammer 40k (Part 3: Shooting)

Updated on June 6, 2016

Welcome to part three of my rule changes in 6th edition Warhammer 40k article. If you haven't read parts one or two yet, you may want to read those first and then come back to this article once you are done. It's not necessary, but it might give a better impression of the game seeing how all the changes fit together. You can find links to parts one and two by clicking below:

Part three (this article) is going to focus on the changes to the shooting phase of 6th edition. If you've heard any chatter about the new edition on the Internet, you will likely have heard that 6th edition has rebalanced things back towards shooting. Only several weeks of gaming will really tell the whole picture, but I will say that there are many new rules that favor shooting above assault. Let's dive in and see what I'm talking about!

The Shooting Phase

First, here is an important change that players have been clamoring for since 4th edition: Pre-measuring is now in! Yes, you may now pre-measure anything you want at any time. No more guessing how many inches away an enemy is or measuring out a potential move before you make it. I love this!

Some veteran players think that pre-measuring is horrible; that a skilled player should know what 12" or 24" looks like on the table. They feel that giving players the ability to measure whenever they like (before selecting targets, etc) is taking some of the strategy away from the game.

I 100% disagree. Players who feel this way (and that is their right) have obviously developed a high spacial awareness. This is the personal ability to feel comfortable with two and three dimensional space, placing objects in space, seeing angles of relationships, and even measuring distance by sight. Anyone playing video games over the last 20 years probably has more practice at this because games take place in a virtual space where the characters interact with other objects in that environment. Ever see someone who could never make that Mario jump, no matter how hard they tried? Yep, that's hand-eye coordination AND spatial awareness.

Warhammer 40k is a game about probabilities and statistics. How well a person can visually measure linear distances should not detract from their ability to built good army lists, position units tactically, and then play the probabilities to create good match-ups on the battlefield.

Alright, enough of me ranting about pre-measuring. I love it and I hope everyone else can get used to it!

Snap Fire

Moving on . . . the next biggest change is the inclusion of Snap Fire! This new rules allows models that normally couldn't shoot the ability to do so at a reduced chance of hitting. This normally applies to Heavy Weapons.

In older editions of 40k, models with Heavy Weapons that moved could not shoot that round. Now they can Snap Fire! If a model with a Heavy Weapon moves, it can now shoot at its full rate of fire, but at Ballistic Skill 1, meaning that it will now hit on 6's. This doesn't sound great, and for single fire heavies like a Lascannon it might not help much. However, with high rate of fire heavies like Heavy Bolters, the chance of rolling a 6 are pretty good. Trust me, being on the receiving end of a Space Marine Tactical Squad advancing with a Heavy Bolter still scoring hits on my Orks is . . . actually it's kind of fun! I hate to loose Boyz, but I'll admit the game feels more fun with these rules.

A quick restriction with Snap Fire . . . weapons that fire Templates or Blasts cannot use Snap Fire. So Missile Launchers can't Snap Fire. I can't think of any heavy weapons that use template markers, as usually those are Assault weapons.

Snap Fire also comes into play with vehicles. Vehicles still have two speeds: Combat (up to 6") and Cruising (up to 12"). Vehicles moving at Combat Speed can fire a single weapon at their normal BS and all other shots must be Snap Fire (hit on 6's). Notice that the Machine Spirit vehicle upgrade still shoots as normal BS). Units that move at Cruising Speed can fire all their weapons, but all shots are Snap Fire. Considering that vehicles moving at Cruising Speed in the last edition couldn't fire at all, this is an amazing upgrade. Now a Space Marine Landraider can move up to 12" and still fire it's Lascannons, and since they are twin-linked, it will get re-rolls. If my calculations are correct, then that Landraider moving at Cruising Speed actually has a 52% chance of hitting with one Lascannon using Snap Fire!

How did I calculate that? You have to look at the probability of NOT hitting with one shot: 5/6 or roughly 83.3%. Next, you have to multiply that percent by the probability of NOT hitting with the next die roll (or 83.3%). Since you have 4 dice rolls (two lascannons, twin-linked) you have to take 83.3% x 83.3% x 83.3% x 83.3% = 48.2% chance of NOT hitting or a 51.2% of hitting once. Pretty nice, right?

Cover Saves

There have been changes to Cover Saves in 6th edition, too! First, most things only give a 5+ cover save. Woods are a 5+. Area Terrain is a 5+. The only thing that is better than that is Ruins walls, which are a 4+. Notice that I said Ruins walls. If you have a set of ruins with clear wall boundaries, but some rubble in the middle (area terrain) then you have different levels of cover saves: 4+ if obscured by the walls and 5+ if un-obscured but in the area terrain.

So what does obscured mean? In 6th edition, a model is obscured if 25% of it cannot be seen. That's a major change, as it used to be 50%! This also includes vehicles, so you only have to hide 25% of a vehicles frontage to claim a cover save. It can get even better, too! If the frontage that an enemy is facing (in the front arc of a vehicle) is totally out of sight, but they can see part of the vehicle that they are not in its arc (standing in front arc, but can see the side arc), then the vehicle gets the cover save is at +1. So vehicles can possibly have up to a 3+ cover save if their front is hidden but their rear sticks out!

Focus Fire

In 6th edition, cover saves are given to individual models, not to entire units. We'll get to this more when we look at allocating wounds. For the moment, just know that you can elect to focus fire at a target unit. Imagine this: an enemy unit has 6 models inside a ruins gaining a 4+ cover save, but 4 models outside the ruins and completely exposed. In 5th edition, this would mean that the entire unit got a 4+ cover save because the majority were in cover. Not so in 6th edition!

You can now elect to target the models in cover or the models in the open. If you chose to "focus fire" on the models in the open, hits and wounds can only be assigned to those models. Thus, they will not get the benefit of the cover save, but you are limited to killing only those models in the open. You can also use this rule defensively. You may want to leave a few models out in the open to tempt your opponent into targeting them. Sure, you wont get the cover save, but your opponent may actually kill fewer models. You have to run the numbers.

Wound Allocation

This is largely the greatest change to the Warhammer 40k shooting rules. 5th edition had all sorts of weird tricks you could do with wound allocation to keep your models alive. Every model with a different save or different gear had to have wounds allocated specifically to it or not. It was complicated and often benefited the defending player more than anything.

Now wounds are allocated to model closest to the firing unit, and keep being placed on that single model until it is dead. Once dead, the wounds continue to the next closest model. It sounds complicated and like it would slow down the game, but it doesn't.

It's simple. Say you hit a unit 10 times. You use the majority Toughness to determine wounds. Say you score 5 wounds. If the enemy models all have the same armor save, then it's very simple. Your opponent just picks up 5 dice and makes armor saves. Any unsaved wounds are taken from the models closest to your shooting unit. So if he fails 3 saves and all his models have 1 wound, he just removes the 3 models closest to your firing unit. If the models have multiple wounds (like a character standing out front or a multi-wound infantry), then just keep putting those unsaved wounds on the closest model until its dead or there are no more unsaved wounds to assign.

It's simple and really changes the game.

Note that Characters get a "Look Out, Sir!" roll of 4+ for sergeants or 2+ for Independent Characters. Basically, the character can roll that to "re-assign" the wounds to a friendly model within 6". Does the character get his armor save and then a "look out, sir!" roll? Two save? Yes and no. If your character has the same armor save as the rest of the unit, then you simply roll all the saves together. That way you are simply assigning unsaved wounds to the closest models. If your character was out front, then technically all those unsaved wounds are put on him . . . BUT he then gets to make a "Look Out, Sir!" roll for each one.

If your character has a different save from the rest of the unit, then you have to assigned Wounds to models one at a time before you make armor saves. It seems like the character has to choose whether or not to make a "Look Out, Sir!" roll before he makes his armor save in this case. The rule is not written very clear and we are all awaiting an official FAQ from Games Workshop. I will say that if an independent character with a better save gets to make his armor save first, and then, make a "Look Out, Sir!" roll after he's failed an armor save . . . well, then a character in Terminator armor can tank for an entire unit with very little risk to himself. I don't believe this is how it's supposed to work.

Other Rules

Let's do a quick run through of some other interesting rules for shooting:

  • Rapid Fire Weapons - Models with rapid fire weapons can now move and fire a single shot up to their maximum range. This has an amazing effect on the game! Tactical squads (or non-marine equivalent) can actually move around and be effective. Most squads now have a 30" threat range, as they can move 6" and fire as normal out to 24" (for most rapid fire weapons). Combine that with Snap Fire for heavy weapons and it really feels like squads of infantry are advancing towards objectives in a cinematic, military fashion. Also note that the "double tap" range is now half the weapons range, not 12". This means that the Tau pule rifles can double tap up to 15" now, since their max range is 30".
  • Sniper Weapons - Weapons with the sniper special rule can now "select" their targets with any "to hit" roll of a 6, ignoring the normal rules for wound allocation. This means that a good roll from a squad of snipers can effectively kill off enemy sergeants, special, and heavy weapons! The pinning rule is still in effect, so you can potentially force units to "go to ground" on a failed Leadership test.
  • Precision Shooting - All characters (including sergeants) are effectively mini-snipers. Any "to hit" roll of 6 allows them to select their target, just like a sniper. How cool is that? It's actually a good idea to give your characters shooting weapons now.
  • Shooting from Transports - Models in a transport can now fire more effectively, especially if its an open topped transport. As long as the vehicle moves at Combat Speed (6" or slower) the unit can fire as if they had moved normally. Combine this with the new Rapid Fire rules and now open topped "gun-boats" are very useful. Closed transports of Fire Points like normal.

New Favorite Shooting Rule

What's your favorite new rule for the Shooting Phase?

See results


That's about it! There are a few other minor rule changes here and there, but I think we've covered the major changes that will most dramatically impact the game. I have played several 6th edition games now and I will tell you that the game does feel more "shooty". I like it, though! After all, this is the 41st millennium and guns are en vogue these days.

But which new rule do you think makes the most impact or is your favorite addition to 6th edition 40k? Why not take the poll to the right and voice your opinion.

We've covered most of the rule changes to 6th edition in the last three articles, but there are more to come! Very soon I will post the link to perhaps my final Rule Changes article: the Assault Phase!

Until then, if you haven't read my other articles, please follow the links below. We've had some great comments from readers, so please feel free to share your ideas, opinions, and strategies in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!


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    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 4 years ago from Florida

      Knight, thanks for reading and for the comments! I'm so sorry about skipping out on the Assault Phase of the Intro to 6th Edition series. I don't know why I stopped, and now it's been over a year, and I'm having a hard time going back to it!

      I think a classic "foot-dar" army will still work if you have loads of guardians and warlocks backing them up. In fact, a few tournament-winning lists have focused on large blocks of guardians with farseers in them, buffing the units! Wave Serpents, jetbikes, and even the new Wraithknight are just good units, so they are hard to ignore. The winning list that I saw somewhere had two maximum groups of guardians, two farseers, lots of warp spiders, and I think two wraithknights.

      Again, thanks for reading, and I'm glad to have helped! I'm still building my Eldar army, but I do like them. I have too many armies and the new released keep coming too fast to focus on any one!

    • profile image

      Knightsofthelimit 4 years ago

      Hello Murphy

      I want to thank you for your very useful Eldar Codex guide, pretty much better than the actual codex. I am an eldar beginner and your explanations helped a lot to understand the use of warlord traits and psi-powers. And I love guardians!!! For me it's a self-taught start and the rulebook and codex didn't help much! But still :where is the assault phase in your rule book explanation;) I would like to read your comment on the new rules, because they have not changed to the better. I don't want anyone to be active in MY round. Last question: Are you still convinced that it is possible to build an army without jetbikes and the new Barbies ( don't like the BIG Heman-Transformer design and the cheat rules, I smell a teen sellout ). I want to play an oldschool fluffy army with harlequins , banshees and guards even without spiders, lol. I know Im crazy. Ok I will use the wave serpent^^ Your article gave me a few ideas how to do that. Greetz from good old europe

    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 4 years ago from Florida

      Tactics, strategy, painting guides . . . anything would be cool. Just title a hub with easy search terms like 'How To Paint Eldar" :)

    • Xarin profile image

      Xarin 4 years ago from Apeldoorn

      thanks, back from the holidays and trying to figure out how and what to add to the hubpages

    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 4 years ago from Florida

      I've bookmarked your Obsidian Portal page and will definitely read through it! Have a great holiday and get back to us when you return!

    • Xarin profile image

      Xarin 4 years ago from Apeldoorn

      thanks for the following. I'm going on holidays next week, I might put up some stuff after that(mostly converting articles probably, my heldrake turned out to be pretty sweet), if you're interested in my tabletop activitities, check out :

    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 4 years ago from Florida

      First, thanks for reading and I'm glad you are getting back into the game. Second, until you mentioned it, I hadn't realized that I hadn't covered the Assault Phase! If I didn't write it up yet, then I'd need to get on it. I wonder what distracted me?! Thanks again and check back here. I'll post a link when I get finish that section.

    • profile image

      Xarin 4 years ago

      thanks for all your amazing posts so far. I've been trying to get into the game, hadn't played since 5th edition was still new, so far I like the blend of 2nd and 4th edition the rules and wargear seem to entail. Is there a change that you're still going to do an article about the assault phase?

    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 5 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for the read, and those are some good points. I like being able to pre-measure, but if they worked it into the game as you've described (special wargear, scouts, etc) I think it would add that tactical piece back in.

      RE: rapid fire; in a game with limited turns, I like that you can do more with a unit than in the past. Now it's no big deal to shift a tactical squad a few inches because you don't loose much firepower, even the heavy weapon can still fire if you kept that model still. It makes the battles a little more dynamic because you aren't afraid to move those rapid fire units! I definitely would try out 6th edition! It may read a little odd, but it plays great.

    • profile image

      SST_2_0 5 years ago

      Little old but just getting back into WH and reading abouth 6th.

      About pre measure, I just don't like it because it removes some tactical viability from some units. I would of rather they had scout units which could premeasure. I remember when there were targeters in wargear and was sad you couldn't fire blind after using it, which seemed pointless. The rules didn't have premeasure back than but I felt like it was war gear that could be give only to specific units to make them work in tandem with artillery. Scout gets to premeasure at any time and can always measure from scout, its really just math(maths) but with out the scout you couldn't get that far. I think they missed that chance with 6th edition to add some more army distinction.

      Rapid Fire isn't an apt description, they describe them as semi fire. To me that's more rifle man than assault squad. You get that long range shot so it feels like they wanted more shooty all the time shooty alllll the tiiime, less move shoot, move shoot, move assault. And as with the snapshot of templates, imagine running forward while firing your flamthrower. Halo: CE you could do that and burn to death, rocket launchers... lets go with, don't waste rockets on small targets while moving... sounds good.

      On a personal note, Space Wolves feel like the biggest losers. Can't have heroes in the front and with out a rapid fire assault grey hunters feel just like normal marines, though I just got back in so may have missed something :P

    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 5 years ago from Florida

      The rules for rapid fire are better than they were, but I agree it feels odd that you can't assault after you shoot them. I guess it's a balancing factor for the game. It is a game, not a simulation, after all... but I agree that it feels odd.

      Also, you can snap fire with krak... just not frag or any blast/template weapon (though templates can be used in overwatch... which use snapfire rules, lol).

    • profile image

      Josh 5 years ago

      Few small things - one, you can snap fire a missile launcher with krak missles I believe (not a template), but not frag missiles (templates) which does seem weird but also applies to flyers so I guess templates are just naturally inaccurate? Also, important note with Rapid Fire is that if you do Rapid Fire you cannot charge.. so, that tactical squad can open up with bolter fire but can't then charge in.. however, note that some units have pistols so can potentially still fire and then charge with pistols or assault weapons, just not rapid fire... this only bugs me because when they describe rapid fire weapons in the color commentary they make it sound like you can run in firing from the hip but really you'd have to put your bolter or lasgun away, take out a pistol, and then blast away and run in...

    • profile image

      Anon 5 years ago

      You must take the Look Out Sir roll BEFORE you take saving throws. So a character would attempt the 2+ Look Out Sir; if he passes, the model that took the hit for him uses its armor save. If the roll was failed, then the character makes his armor save. Just think of it this way: you roll to see if another model can jump into the path of the shot, then take the save for whoever was hit.

    • murphy80 profile image

      Murphy 5 years ago from Florida

      You still apply the wound to the closest model, no matter what the armor save it. It's just that if a unit has different armor saves, you have to apply the wounds to the closest model FIRST, and then make it's save. If all your models have the same save, then you can roll all the save at once and the apply failed saves to the closest model(s).

      It actually works out pretty quick when you play it. And, yes, your "special" models (sergeants, heavy weapons, etc) often die before your regular guys do because they were closer to the shooting unit.

    • profile image

      ryan jim the legacy 5 years ago

      so you're saying that models follow the closest dies rule in regards to wound allocation, unless there is a off armor save in the squad, in which case you completely ignore the wound allocation rule for that single model? seems odd.