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I'm asking here because I'm considering Empire as my first WFB army, but the question extends to any reasonably shooty army I suppose.
I haven't played a game of Fantasy yet, but I'm trying to understand how nasty shooting is. I've heard about gunlines that decimate armies before they can even cross the field (albeit that sometimes get charged down). But playing a little mathhammer:
If a unit of 10 handgunners shoots at a lightly armoured T3 unit at short range, they're going to hit with 5, wound with 2/3 of that, and assuming for a moment that the unit gets no armour save, they'll kill, on average 3.3 goblins. Now, that just doesn't seem like very much at all. Even assuming they're shooting at a unit of 20 (which gobbos never seem to come in), it's going to take shooting from 2 units to force a panic check, or reduce the units' ranks. The numbers only get worse as they start to shoot at tougher things.
So I'm having trouble understanding why you'd ever bother with small arms fire. Warmachines, I can kind of understand. I can understand mathematically how the Helstorm as the potential to destroy an entire unit. But I struggle to see why handgunners, thunderers, or even some crossbowmen/archers from other armies are worth their points, let alone how they could be scary.
(Note: I understand that things can be worth taking even if they don't make up their own points values in kills, but I'm not seeing any consistent, significant effect here...)
Gunline armies that work have several things.
Guns, warmachines, magic/hard troops.
With WHFB the shooting is use to force panic checks and reduce an enemy units size to aid your units in combat.
To use your example with the goblins, say the unit started at 30, 2 rounds of shooting from 20 handgunners will reduce it to they will kill 5 a turn (your maths was a little off, at long range handgunners are hitting on 5+, not 4+). So the second turn you cause a panic check; they fail or pass.
If they pass, you have reduced them to 20. Suddenly your unit of 25 spearmen has them outnumbered and you have given your guys the edge in combat.
Ideally, you target small units, that are above unit strength 5 and wipe them out in 1 turn of shooting. This forces units within 6" to take panic checks. This is where missile troops can come into there own.
But most people use them to deal with high threat units like cav, or reduce ranks on enemy block units, maybe even force a panic check.
I think a balanced approach is required when designing a list. Gun line armies just don't work against certain lists.
Actually, I nominated that they were shooting at short range. Perhaps not the most realistic (since I don't know if, when troops are in short range, whether cavalry has already tied the shooters up, or if enemy shooters have shot my handgunners down), but the idea was to give them a small advantage, and still point out that the numbers, to this uneducated player, seem poor. It's largely irrelevant though.
It still strikes me that, given a lot of armies only have 2 units of handgunners, spending 2 turns firing all your small arms is a lot of effort to force a panic check that the enemy might well pass anyway.
As for reducing ranks, the weak little troops like gobbos, clanrats, etc, are probably so numerous that they can still outnumber, and the troops in smaller numbers would be harder to kill (and we're only killing ~2.5 goblin-equivalents with a unit of handgunners).
I think that perhaps I'm not quite appreciating the importanance of panic checks and rank removal. Logically, I understand that those things help, but I'm not getting my head around how good they are.
Panic checks are vital if you can cause them.
Ask any player who's had a 200pt unit run off the table because they paniced from shooting.
The rank removal is not a make or break most times but can make a substantial difference to who wins a combat. In the gobbo example, most gobbo units get fielded in unit of 30 same with skaven slaves. They are pretty sucky in combat but you have to realise that most combats are won on static combat resolution, not the actual kills.
Some units, like knights, rely on kills. Swordsmen rely on having +4 static combat resolution, +5 if they get the outnumber. If they kill something its a bonus.
Unlike 40K, psychology is a big part of WHFB, probably one of the most important things that is different between the two systems.
As has been said, the ability to Panic enemy units before they can reach your lines, and so have them run off the board, is the main reason for gunline tactics. In WHFB you are unlikely to completely destroy all but very small enemy units with shooting (there are of course certain exceptions to this) but removing CR and causing panic is a very useful tool- particularly for Empire armies as their troops arent great at combat and win by CR results.
Personally though i find playing with shooting heavy lists to be a bit dull, i prefer to get into CC, so id always recommend going with a more balanced list
PLAN CLAN MAN!!
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man- S. Johnson
I was just having a discussion about Warhammer last night while teaching a relative newbie some depth of the game. The key point that we always came back to was that you must consider what might happen later in the game. Planning for turn 3 before you start turn 2 will do a lot to measuring your success.
In the case of considering shooting units, realize that whittling down the opposition can be effective. As others have alluded to, killing 6 models from a 25 man unit will remove a rank bonus and hopefully give your unit an outnumbering bonus in the imminent combat.
Small, pesky enemy units like scouts or fast cav will have to be wary of your lines of fire, too. These units are vulnerable to 2-3 casualties because of thier relative small size. By knocking off only a couple of thier members will force early panic checks (which I always seem to fail with my pistoliers), and make thier unit strength too little to gain flank or rear combat bonuses.
The last thing to consider is the intangible effect of how your opponent changes the way they use their units because of the shooting threat. The more nimble units like Dark Riders, or night runners must be careful not to hurry into flanking positions for fear of being blasted by missiles. This indirectly offers another benefit to your combat ready units.
So, in closing, I recommend including 20-30 shooters in your empire army. Once I get to 3000 pts, I'll have as much as 50 missile troops. My army is very infantry heavy anyway, so this works well together.
"Sometimes I wonder why I still live amongst the humans." -
To go along with the previous post, they are EXCELLENT for taking out those small pesky units that would otherwise be troublesome to deal with with large block units (fanatics, fast cav..ext) also when you do your math, globins are a bad example, there are so many and they are so cheap that there really isnt an easy way to get your points back...just like if you looked at a cannon shooting at goblins youre at most going to kill 5 a turn if you dont misfire...which certainly wont make the cannon its points back, but that isnt the best use of the cannon, rather it should be trying to take out 200 point giants and dragons. WIth the handgunners, do the same math but do it for a unit of grail knights, or chaos knights, all of a sudden, if the unit kills 2 theyve made their points back...they provide more depth and flexibility for the army