Sunday, November 13, 2016

Anachronistic 40k: Assault Cannon

This is the first of a new post category for this blog where I recollect, possibly rant, on certain past elements of the hobby and game (specifically Warhammer 40,000) that I miss or just recall fondly.

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
It's important to discuss the original rules for Following Fire in the Warhammer 40,000 game. It had the potential to be utterly devastating. Especially in the hands of high Ballistic Skill wielders. Even when used by moderate or average BS users the potential for some serious hurt was high. All you had to do was hit and wound. It did not matter if the target made his saving throw or not, you could roll again! This was open-ended until you ran out of targets. You were restricted only by how many targets you had within the 4" bubble of the previous shot. As you could see with how the phrasing is used in this rule it was perceived at the time that the word "original" was only applied to the 2nd shot, and that the 4" bubble expanded with each subsequent shot. You were not restricted by units either, therefore, an army packed too close together could be reduced to hamburger so long as the attacking player didn't roll a 1.

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.
However you just couldn't have that kind of firepower without a drawback, even back in the untethered days of Rogue Trader 40k (unless you played Eldar, that caveat has always been in the game). Thus was born the rules for Jams. Sanity was eventually introduced in the Battle Manual, which was essentially a 1.5 edition of Warhammer 40K. It was excellently written with a clean and concise re-explanation of the rules as well as an introduction to many new rules. One thing that was changed were the rules for Following Fire, now called Sustained Fire, in that if you rolled a 1 to hit after the 1st shot with a Sustained Fire weapon, you jammed the weapon! You would have to spend your next round doing nothing but trying to clear the jam.

My favorite style-period  of Wayne England's art. 
The Assault Cannon was particularly leashed by the Battle Manual in that if you rolled a 1 to hit on your second or any subsequent to hit roll, you not only jammed but you ran the risk of blowing up and being killed instantly if you rolled a 6 on a D6!

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.
Another note about the two books called The Battle Manual. Not only did they have the same cover image, but the layout was similar to each other and in some cases they even used the same art! This is why you are seeing the same Terminator knee in both of the pics above.

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.

All of the images in the post are Copyright Games Workshop and are used here for the purposes of review and not as a challenge to their individual copyrights. 



Siph_Horridus said...

I feel the pain Bro. I love the idea of a Space Hulk Assault Cannon firing and clearing the huge room from the Genestealer expansion... still have a hard time visualising the path of the shell from the ammo box through the weapon, over the narrow hump and back down in line with the barrel it's shooting out at the base of the rotating circle... suppose the designer never looked at the real Mk44 Minigun... or those hobbyists who don't drill out the six barrels... that bugs me too!

Nice article, look forward to more.

neverness said...

I agree regarding it's current design. I didn't discuss it's physical evolution as I maybe should have. I guess it hasn't bugged me much, however I think the original design did fit the fluff better. I can see the original design being fairly easy to remove and replace the warped barrels whereas with the newer design this looks like it would be a bit of task...

Also, thanks for liking this! I am considering reposting it on Faeit212 Community News...should I?

Da Masta Cheef said...

Meh, to each their own, but in my opinion: good riddance to the original.

After facing assault cannon spam (not that that was a gaming-term yet) in virtually every game in 2nd ed., which made a tank's armor meaningless as the tracks were invariably hit (often multiple times by assault cannons) resulting in the tank's destruction nearly every time!

neverness said...

True, they shredded vehicles. Also, something I forgot to talk about, is that each unsaved hit did D10 wounds! Many a Mighty Hero was splattered by that, an only the Rending SR has come close to restoring that power.

Anonymous said...

Sentinels had these too! Wish they would bring that option back. I think the change to S6 rending was a good one, but in the current game environment they need another shot or two.

Nick Thrower said...

I love this article, I started in the game during second edition so have painful memories of jams on the sustained fire dice.

As you have said, I think a lot of the iconic 40k weapons could do with a revisit - storm bolters also need more shots to have that fear back

neverness said...

I'm pretty sure that they always had Scatter Lasers (or Multi Lasers?). Perhaps I should do a write about Sentinels, they've come a long way since the 'walking egg' days.

neverness said...

Thanks, much appreciated.
And I agree, a lot of weapons need a revisit. Still, we've come a long way and 7th ed now has more weapons than any edition ever had. And most of the weapons from the Rogue Trader era are back. Now if only the firepower was back...

Anonymous said...

Great article and even greater idea for a category. I miss the old Save mod on weapons and the character movement attribute so much :(

Marc van Holst said...

I have been on both ends of the 2nd Ed. assault cannon. I used to love them on my Ravenwing Landspeeders, but Wolf Guard squads all armed with these bad boys were a nightmare.

I'm looking forward to reading the other articles in the series! Will there be any lightning claw bear hugs? And grenades... I miss them SO much.

neverness said...

Possibly. I was thinking about doing some posts on specific war gear items, as they all probably have some fun stories to be shared. The Vortex Grenade / Vortex Grenade detonator will definitely have to happen. And Hallucinogen Grenades! -Oh the mayhem those caused! Blind Grenades/missiles could shut down a battle plan almost as fast as Pulsa Rokkits... so yeah, definitely most of these posta on the way.

This will probably be a monthly column due to time restrictions and such.