The Rules‎ > ‎

General Principles

Before we dive into the turn sequence and the main meat of the rules, there are a few basic ideas and game mechanics that are worth discussing. These are principles that are so common that they pop up again and again while you’re playing a game, so it makes a lot of sense to establish them before hitting the more specialised rules to be found later.

The Most Important Rule

In a game of the size and complexity of Warhammer 40,000, there are bound to be occasions where a situation is not covered by the rules, or you can’t seem to find the right page. Even if you know the rule, sometimes it is just a really close call, and players don’t agree on the precise outcome.

Nobody wants to waste valuable gaming time arguing, so be prepared to interpret a rule or come up with a suitable solution for yourselves (in a manner befitting the better class of Imperial Citizen, of course).

If you find that you and your opponent cannot agree on the application of a rule, roll a dice to see whose interpretation will apply for the remainder of the game – on a result of 1-3 player A gets to decide, on a 4-6 player B decides. Then you can get on with the fighting! Once the game is over, you can happily continue your discussion as to the finer points of the rules.

Measuring Distances

In games of Warhammer 40,000, distances are measured in inches (") with a tape measure or measuring stick. You can always check any distance at any time. This allows you to check whether your units are in range of their target before they attack. After all, the soldiers are led by seasoned veterans who can accurately judge the range of their weapons, even if we, their generals, cannot.

Distances between models and all other objects (which can be other models, terrain features and so on) are always measured from the closest point on one base to the closest point on the other base. Distances between units are always measured to and from the bases of the closest models in each of the units (see the diagram below).

For example, if any part of a model’s base is within 6" of the base of an enemy model, the two models are said to be within 6" of each other.

Sometimes the rules will call upon a unit to move directly towards another unit, or some other feature on the battlefield. Where this is the case, move each model in the unit directly towards its destination a number of inches equal to the distance stated.

Measuring Distances
The distance between the Space Marine unit and the hull of the Ork Trukk is 5 inches. We normally say that the Trukk is within 5" of the Space Marine unit. Note that we always measure to the hull of a vehicle.

The distance between the Space Marine unit and the Ork unit (i.e. between the two closest models) is 3 inches. The two units are within 3" of each other.

The distance between the Ork Trukk and the furthest point on the most distant Space Marine is 8 inches. The Space Marine unit is therefore wholly within 8" of the Ork Trukk.


Throughout a game, you will often need to roll dice to see how the actions of your models turn out – how effective their shooting attacks are, what damage they’ve done in close combat, and so on. Almost all the dice rolls in Warhammer 40,000 use standard six-sided dice, also known as D6, but there are some exceptions as noted below.

Rolling D3

In some circumstances, you may be instructed to roll a D3. To do this, simply roll a D6 and halve the number, rounding up. Thus, 1 or 2 = 1, 3 or 4 = 2 and 5 or 6 = 3.

Rolling a D66

In some circumstances, you may be instructed to roll a D66. To do this, roll two D6, one after the other, counting the first dice as ‘tens’ and the second dice as ‘units’. For example, if you roll a 3 on the first dice and a 5 on the second, you would get a D66 result of 35.

Scatter Dice

Warhammer 40,000 uses a special dice called a scatter dice (marked with arrows and a Hit! symbol). This dice is mostly used to determine a random direction, most often applied when working out the behaviour of blast weapons, such as mortars and battle cannons.

Dividing to Conquer

On occasion, you’ll be called upon to divide the result of a dice roll, a characteristic or some other value. Where this happens, any fractions should always be rounded up. So a D6 roll of 3, halved, would be a result of 2 (1.5 rounded up). Similarly, 10% of a unit of twenty-one models, rounded up, would be 3 models.

Modifying Dice Rolls

Sometimes, you may have to modify the number rolled on the dice (or ‘the roll’). This is noted as D6 plus or minus a number, such as D6+1. Roll the dice and add or subtract the number given to or from the roll (as appropriate) to get the final result. For example, D6+2 means roll a dice and add 2 to the number on the dice for a total between 3 and 8. You may also be told to roll a number of dice in one go, which is written as 2D6, 3D6 and so on. Roll the indicated number of dice and add them together, so a 2D6 roll is two dice rolled and added together for a result between 2 and 12. Another method is to multiply the score of a dice by a certain amount, such as D6×5 to provide a result between 5 and 30.


In some situations, the rules allow you to re-roll a dice. This is exactly what it sounds like – pick up the dice you wish to re-roll, and roll it again. The second roll counts, even if it means a worse result than the first, and no single dice can be re-rolled more than once, regardless of the source of the re-roll.

If you re-roll a 2D6 or 3D6 roll, you must re-roll all of the dice, not just some of them, unless the rules specify otherwise. Any modifiers that applied to the first roll also apply to the re-roll.

If two or more special rules combine to the effect that both all failed and all successful dice results would have to be re-rolled, do not re-roll any dice; simply use the original result(s) instead.


If the rules require players to roll-off, each player rolls a dice and the player that rolls the highest result wins the roll-off. In the result of a tie, roll again until one player wins – any modifiers that applied to the first roll also apply to further rolls.


Sometimes you’ll be called upon to randomly select something – a model, an item, a psychic power or similar. Where this is the case, simply assign a D6 result to each of the things the random selection must be made from, and roll the dice to make your random choice. If you have fewer than six items to randomise between, simply roll again until you roll an assigned number.

For example, Matthew must randomly select one of five models. He assigns each model a number between 1 and 5, and rolls a D6, re-rolling results of 6 until he gets a number between 1 and 5.

If you have more than six items to randomise between, split them into equal sized groups of six or less (or as near to this as you can). Then randomly select one group, further randomising between the items in this group to find the (un)lucky item!

Cocked Dice

Occasionally, a dice will end up in a crevice in your terrain or in the crack between two sections of board and doesn’t lie flat. We call this a ‘cocked dice’. Some players use a house rule that if any dice is not completely flat on the table, it must be re-rolled. More common is for players to re-roll the dice only if they can’t be sure of the result.

Of course, if your gaming surface is very textured and results in a lot of cocked dice (or simply if you prefer a tidy battlefield), you can make all your rolls in a tray or box lid.

Dice on the Floor

It is generally accepted that if a dice ends up on the floor, it doesn’t count – so you don’t need to shine a torch under the sofa to find out if you made your save or not. Most gamers agree that such dice can be rolled again.

However, one player we know has a house rule that if your dice misses the table, you have failed the roll – after all, if you can’t hit a huge table with a tiny dice, then what chance do your warriors have of hitting the enemy?

Blast Markers And Templates

Some weapons are so powerful that they don’t just target a single model or unit, but have an ‘area effect’ which might encompass (and often utterly devastate!) several different units. To better represent these circumstances, Warhammer 40,000 uses a series of different blast markers and templates:
  • A ‘small’ blast marker (3" in diameter)
  • A ‘large’ blast marker (5" in diameter)
  • A ‘template’ (a teardrop shaped template roughly 8" long)
A number of weapons are even more powerful, able to obliterate entire squads in a single shot. These apocalyptic weapons use even bigger markers and templates, which include:
  • A ‘massive’ blast marker (7" in diameter)
  • An ‘apocalyptic’ blast marker (10" in diameter)
  • An ‘apocalyptic barrage’ marker (a clover-shaped set of 5 overlapping markers, each 5" in diameter)
  • A ‘hellstorm’ (a teardrop shaped template roughly 16" long)
All of these templates and blast markers can be purchased separately to this book.

The templates and blast markers are used as a way of determining how many models have been hit by an attack that has an area of effect or blast radius. When an attack uses a template or blast marker, it will explain how the template is positioned, including any kind of scatter that might occur (scatter is discussed more completely next in this section). To work out the number of hits, you normally need to hold the template or blast marker over an enemy unit or a particular point on the battlefield, and then look underneath (or through, if using a transparent template) to see how many models lie partially or completely underneath. A unit takes a hit for each model that is fully, or even partially, underneath the template or blast marker. Remember that a model’s base is counted as being part of the model itself, so all a template or blast marker has to do to cause a hit is to cover any part of the target’s base.

Designer’s Note: Apocalyptic Barrage and Mega-blast Markers
Several Games Workshop publications, namely Apocalypse, Escalation, Stronghold Assault and Codex: Imperial Knights, contain references to a set of blast markers and templates known as the Imperial Targeting Set. This set contained an apocalyptic barrage marker that you could twist into different shapes and an apocalyptic mega-blast marker that was 15" in diameter. If you are playing a game of Apocalypse and you have these blast markers available, you should use them in your game exactly as described in the rules section of the Apocalypse rulebook. If you do not have these templates, or you are playing any other game of Warhammer 40,000, you should use the clover shaped apocalyptic barrage marker and the apocalyptic blast marker instead (in the latter case, whenever a rule refers to the ‘apocalyptic mega-blast marker’, use the inner, middle and outer zones on the apocalyptic blast marker instead).

Apocalyptic Blast/Apocalyptic Mega-blast

The 10" apocalyptic blast marker has two rings marked on it (at 5" and 7"). The rings are used when resolving attacks with a large blast, massive blast or apocalyptic mega-blast marker, which uses the inner, middle and outer zones (see diagrams).


Sometimes a rule will call for an object (a template, counter, model or even a whole unit) to be placed on the battlefield and then scattered.

When this occurs, follow this procedure:
  • Place the object on the battlefield as instructed by the rule.
  • Roll a scatter dice and 2D6 to determine the direction and distance of scatter in inches.
  • If a Hit! is rolled on the scatter dice, the object does not move – leave it in place and resolve the remainder of the rule.
  • If an arrow is rolled, move the object the distance shown on the 2D6 in the direction of the arrow. Ignore intervening terrain, units, etc., unless the rule states otherwise.
  • Once the object has scattered to its final position, resolve its effects.
Some rules may specify a distance to be determined other than 2D6, in which case, just replace the 2D6 in this procedure with the method listed in the rule.

For example, if something is said to ‘scatter 2D6" in a random direction’, then you’d roll the scatter dice for the direction and 2D6 for the distance. It’s a good idea to roll these as close to the scattering object as possible, to minimise the inaccuracy that will inevitably creep in as you attempt to match the vector.

Characteristic Tests

A model will sometimes be called upon to take a characteristic test. Such a test can be applied against any characteristic that the model has, except for Leadership and Armour Save. A Toughness test is a characteristic test, as is a Strength test or an Initiative test, a Wounds test and so on.

Models don’t have a choice of which characteristic to use – the characteristic to be tested will be specified in the rule.

To make a characteristic test, use the following procedure:
  • Roll a D6 and compare the result to the relevant characteristic in the model’s profile.
  • If the result is equal to or less than the number in the profile, the test is passed.
  • If the result is greater than the number in the model’s profile, the test has been failed, and something unusual will occur, as detailed in the rule that prompted the test.
  • When a single test is required for the whole unit, use the highest relevant characteristic in the unit.

Models With Multiple Profiles

Where a model has more than one value for the same characteristic, a characteristic test is always taken against the highest of the values.

Automatic Pass And Fail

If a rule states that a characteristic test ‘automatically passes’ then no dice roll is needed; the test is passed. Similarly, if a rule states that a characteristic test ‘automatically fails’, then no dice roll is needed; that test fails. If the model has a characteristic of ‘-’ or 0, it automatically fails the test.

When rolling dice to take a characteristic test, a dice roll of 6 is always a failure, and a dice roll of 1 is always a success, regardless of any other modifiers.

Leadership Tests

At certain times, a model or unit might be called upon to take a Leadership test. This usually represents them drawing upon their courage to face disheartening circumstances.

To take a Leadership test, use the following procedure:
  • Roll 2D6 and compare the result to the model’s Leadership.
  • If the result is equal to or less than the model’s Leadership value, then the test has been passed.
  • If the result is greater than the model’s Leadership value, a suitably dire consequence will occur, as detailed in the rule that called for the test.
  • If a unit has to take a Leadership test and it includes models with different Leadership values, always use the highest Leadership from among them.

Automatic Pass and Fail

If a rule states that a Leadership test ‘automatically passes’ then no dice roll is needed; the test is passed. Similarly, if a rule states that a Leadership test ‘automatically fails’, then no dice roll is needed; that test fails.

When rolling dice to take a Leadership test, a dice roll of 12 (a double 6) is always a failure, and a dice roll of 2 (a double 1) is always a success, regardless of any other modifiers that apply.

Removed as a Casualty and Completely Destroyed

Models that are removed as casualties are removed from the table and placed to one side. When all of the models in a unit are removed as casualties, the unit is said to have been ‘completely destroyed’.

Models that are ‘removed from play’ by special rules or attacks are also considered to have been removed as casualties, as far as the game rules are concerned.

For game purposes, units that are Falling Back at the end of the game or are not on the table at the end of the game, either because they have Fallen Back off a table edge or because they are in Ongoing Reserves are also counted as completely destroyed.

Basic Versus Advanced

Basic rules apply to all the models in the game, unless stated otherwise. They include the rules for movement, shooting and close combat as well as the rules for morale. These are all the rules you’ll need for infantry models.

Advanced rules apply to specific types of models, whether because they have a special kind of weapon (such as a boltgun), unusual skills (such as the ability to regenerate), because they are different to their fellows (such as a unit leader or a heroic character), or because they are not normal infantry models (a bike, a swarm or even a tank). The advanced rules that apply to a unit are indicated in its Army List Entry. Army List Entries can be found in a number of Games Workshop publications, such as a Warhammer 40,000 codex.

Where advanced rules apply to a specific model, they always override any contradicting basic rules. For example, the basic rules state that a model must take a Morale check under certain situations. If, however, that model has a special rule that makes it immune to Morale checks, then it does not take such checks – the advanced rule takes precedence. On rare occasions, a conflict will arise between a rule in this rulebook, and one printed in a codex. Where this occurs, the rule printed in the codex or Army List Entry always takes precedence.

The Spirit Of The Game

Warhammer 40,000 may be somewhat different to any other game you have played. Above all, it’s important to remember that the rules are just the framework to support an enjoyable game. Whether a battle ends in victory or defeat, your goal should always be to enjoy the journey. What’s more, Warhammer 40,000 calls on a lot from you, the player. Your responsibility isn’t just to follow the rules, it’s also to add your own ideas, drama and creativity to the game. Much of the appeal of this game lies in the freedom and open-endedness that this allows; it is in this spirit that the rules have been written.

Owning Player, Opposing Player and Controlling Player

Sometimes, a rule will ask the owning, opposing or controlling player to make an action or decision of some kind. The owning player is always the player who ‘owns’ the model in question – the one who has included the model in his army. The opposing player is always his opponent. The controlling player is always the player in current command of that model – there are some special rules which can force models to switch sides during the course of the game.

You and Yours

Some models have abilities which are written as if speaking to the controller of the model. When a model’s rule refers to ‘you’ or ‘yours’, it refers to the player currently controlling the model.

Friendly and Enemy Models

All models on the same side are friendly models. Models controlled by the opposing side are enemy models. If an opponent takes control of one of your models or units during play, it becomes an enemy model or unit for as long as it is under your opponent’s command. If you take control of one of your opponent’s models or units, it is friendly for as long as it is under your command.

Line Of Sight

Line of sight determines what a model can ‘see’. Many situations call for you to determine whether or not a model has line of sight. A model normally needs line of sight whenever it wishes to attack an enemy, whether with power sword, gun or psychic power. Line of sight literally represents your warriors’ view of the enemy – they must be able to see their foes through, under or over the battlefield terrain and other models (whether friendly or enemy).

For one model to have line of sight to another, you must be able to trace a straight, unblocked line from its body (the head, torso, arms or legs) to any part of the target’s body.

Sometimes, all that will be visible of a model is a weapon, banner or other ornament he is carrying. In these cases, the model is not visible. Similarly, we ignore wings, tails and antennae even though they are technically part of a model’s body. These rules are intended to ensure that models don’t get penalised for having impressive banners, weaponry, and so on.

Naturally, you can’t ask your models what they can see – they’re plastic and resin, which is always a barrier to effective communication – therefore, you’ll have to work it out on their behalf. In many cases, this will be obvious – if there’s a hill, building or monster in the way, the enemy might be blatantly out of sight. In other cases, two units will be clearly in view of each other as there is nothing at all in the way. On those other occasions, where it’s not entirely obvious whether or not one unit can see another, the player will have to stoop over the battlefield and look from behind the model’s head for a ‘model’s eye view’. This means getting down to the level of your warriors and taking in the battlefield from their perspective to ‘see what they can see’. You will find that you can spot lurking enemies through the windows of ruined buildings, catch a glimpse of a model’s legs under tree branches and see that high vantage points become very useful for the increased line of sight that they offer.

Model’s Eye View
Warhammer 40,000 uses what we call ‘true line of sight’. This means that you take the positions of models and terrain at face value, and simply look to see if your warriors have a view to their targets.

True line of sight makes the game feel much more cinematic and puts you in the heart of the fighting – existentially, if not physically. There’s nothing like getting your models’ view of the battle to bring a game of Warhammer 40,000 to life. Of course, this does mean that there are occasionally borderline cases when it is hard to tell if a model can see a target or not, but players should always be generous and give their opponent the benefit of the doubt.

Own Unit

There is one important exception to the rules for line of sight. Firing models can always draw line of sight through members of their own unit just as if they were not there. This assumes that the models shift their stances to open firing lanes in order to maximise their own unit’s firepower.