The idea for doing this came to mind after reading a half-assed nostalgia article on another site. It showed flashy pics, which were nice, but those articles never seem to be written from the POV of someone who actually played the game during that time. The article never amounted to anything more substantial than "Golly gee, I found a 25 year old White Dwarf and I gotta show you this -it's neat!" Here I shall attempt to try to do it right.
First up: the Assault Cannon. This was one of the heavy hitting weapons that was nerfed heavily for the 3rd edition of the game and hasn't ever been brought up to the power level it once enjoyed. When it first appeared in the early days of 40k, it's availability was exclusive to the wargear inventory of the Terminator armored Space Marines. It's background stated that it's RoF (Rate of Fire) was so great that the barrels of the gun would often have to be discarded after battle due to heat damage. The Assault Cannon could fire "hundreds of shells per second", causing the barrels to reach 300 degrees Fahrenheit, warping them to the point that they had to be discarded and replaced.
|The original Following Fire rules from Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader|
Hamburger is what you became when the Assault Cannon was pointed at you! Terminators back then all had BS5, and within 12" he had a +1 to his die roll as well. Not many things could hold up against Str 8 either, and more often or not, he was wounding his foes on a 2+. Rare was the foe that could Save against this gun as it had a -3 Save modifier. Oh, and if you didn't save your model would take D10 wounds. Nasty.
|The original stats for the Assault Cannon.|
|My favorite style-period of Wayne England's art.|
|Assault Cannon rules from the 40K 1st Ed Battle Manual|
Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition arrived in fall of 1993. It was a true step up for the game as far as how clean it's presentation was. It was a true evolution of the game and you can see from the weapon profiles that the biggest change was the introduction of Sustained Fire Dice. The Assault Cannon got 3 of these with a potential of 9 shots but also a bigger potential for a crap ton of jams. Most players from this time will tell you that they spent more times clearing out those annoying jams than they did actually killing anything! You could still blow up by rolling 3 jams at the same time. This was easier to do than the risk roll required in the previous Battle Manual.
|Assault Cannon rules from te 40K 2nd ed rule book -also called the Battle Manual.|
|Fun Fact: Prior to the 2nd Ed Codex: Chaos, Chaos Terminators could have Assault Cannons!|
Some people cheered when the 3rd edition tossed out the Sustained Fire Dice and simply added a number to the Weapon Type. The Assault Cannon became a Heavy 3 Str 6 weapon. This means it is now limited to three shots and if you rolled a triple 1 with these three shots the Assault Cannon would be destroyed. Furthermore it's awesome ability to shred armor was reduced to AP 4, meaning that basic Marines now stood up to these things as if they were las guns. It's 32" range was now 24" also reducing it's threat range. The Assault Cannon was now a shadow of it's former self...
Over the editions, and let's face it, editions 4-7 have all been a series of evolved tweaks of the 3rd edition, the Assault Cannon has continued to remain a semi-marginal weapon. Although the jam rules are gone, and the Weapon Type now changed to Heavy 4, Rending, I still have a hard time visualizing this cannon shooting "hundreds of shells per second". The Rending Special Rule is nice, as it does add a bit of killing potential back into this weapon, But only a bit.
Where Assault Cannons shine now is when you see them mounted on vehicles, especially in twin-linked pairs such as on a Baal Predator or a Land Raider Crusader. I started thinking about them more recently after reading through the Death Watch Codex and discovering that I could field whole Terminator squads with them, and thinking "wow, imagine this unit in a 2nd edition game!"
Many Space Marine armies have all had newer and more deadly weapons introduced over time that make me wonder why the GW Game Designers don't just simply revisit these older weapons that form some of the standards and icons that players over the decades associate with the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Obviously you can tell that I still lament the loss of the power this weapon once had. If it was me, I would double the current amount of shots to 8. I could be happy with 6 though. Regardless, this weapon needs to get it's fear back.