Friday, September 21, 2012

On Space Marine Combat/Storm Shields

Sixth Edition has opened up a whole new tactical field: model positioning. As we all know, under 5th it didn't matter where you put the Terminators with the storm shields and thunder hammers and where you put the Terminators with the lightning claws. If you took five AP2 wounds then each Terminator was going to have to try to make his own save, whether it was a 5+ invulnerable for the armor or a 3+ invulnerable for the shield. With 6th's "cinematic" feel, you can now put the Terminators with storm shields between the armor penetrating weapons and the rest of the squad. Until that (super)human wall is taken down, the lightning claw Terminators get to benefit from their battle brothers' wargear. (One wonders if the 6th Edition Space Marine Codex will take that into account in determining the points cost of Terminators' wargear.)

In recent games I've been playing with a 145 point Captain wearing artificer armor and carrying a relic blade. The Captain joins the Tactical Squad where he serves as a human shield for the rest of the squad. This selfless HQ usually takes a couple wounds before his concerned subordinates start making Look Out Sir! rolls.

Although the Captain's artificer armor has saved quite a few Marines since 6th Edition was released, he's still reluctant to take the occasional AP1 or AP2 shot since he's still limited to his standard 4+ Iron Halo save. Thus, I started to assemble the parts for a 160 point artificer armored Captain wielding both a storm shield and a relic blade (Bryce gave me a fancy two-handed Nemesis Force Sword bit that should make a pretty nifty relic blade).

Once I started thinking of the advantage of granting whole squads a limited resistance to AP1, AP2, and AP3 weaponry (which Bryce tends to field a lot of), I started going through the Codex looking for other non-Terminator units that can take a storm shield. Sadly, the shooty units like Tactical Squads and Sternguard can't take one, but Assault Squads and Vanguard Squads can. I was already planning on building at least one unit of each and resolved to equip the respective sergeants with the shields.

I soon realized I had a problem: where can I get a storm shield for a power armored Marine? I have two boxes of Assault Terminators to build, and I'm only going to use one large and four small shields, but the Terminator storm shields are Terminator-scale and their hands are oddly sized compared to those of power armored Marines. It would take a lot of conversion work to make the shields fit onto the smaller hands of at least three Marines. And as a fluff geek, I can't bring myself to use the four smaller Terminator shields since they have the distinct cruciform shape and are explicitly identified in the Codex as "Terminator issue". That leaves me with the Terminator sergeant's shield, which is only a slightly less obvious cruciform and is a bit too large to use with jump pack-wearing Marines.

I started to look around at what other people were doing and found a blog entry and a thread on Bolter and Chainsword in which people were discussing the use of the shield provided in the Assault Squad kit as a storm shield. Like many others, I had long assumed that that shield was specifically a combat shield rather than a storm shield and that the bit was nearly worthless to me. Commenters seemed to fall into three camps of thought: 1) it's too small to be a storm shield and probably shouldn't be used as one without significant conversion, 2) the actual size and shape of a non-Terminator issue storm shield isn't well defined (the one in the Assault Squad kit doesn't match the drawings of the Terminator issue shield or the combat shield found on page 101 of the Codex) and you probably shouldn't have too many problems declaring it to be one before the start of a friendly game (watch out for tournaments, though), or 3) it's meant to be a storm shield since it takes up the user's hand, unlike the shield found in the Command Squad box which allows the user to hold a bolt pistol.

I found that argument 1) appears frequently on other websites. This seems like the weakest of the three arguments since it's based on players' beliefs of what a power armor storm shield should look like rather than on an objective standard. Many base their impressions on the picture of the cruciform "Terminator issue" storm shield. The expectation that a power armor storm shield should look like the cruciform shield makes little sense to me given that the latter closely mimics the Crux Terminatus that is most commonly associated with Terminator armor (and hence its status as "Terminator issue"). I wouldn't expect a storm shield meant for use with power armor to appear so similar to the Terminator cross.

Argument 2), which is also fairly common, seems pretty defensible based on the fact that a lot of unusual or special wargear (e.g., relic blades, artificer armor, master-crafted weapons) can vary greatly in design and may therefore be difficult to represent as explicitly or clearly as a weapon such as a power fist or a lightning claw. Since there isn't a single official design, bits used to represent them may be very similar (or identical) to other pieces and what they actually are depends on what the model's owner declares them to be and on what his opponent is willing to accept as being adequately representative. Although this seems to be a good argument, I think most players would prefer to avoid getting into an argument with an opponent who may have a stricter definition of WYSIWYG and/or who is afraid that the model's owner could benefit from the weargear's lack of distinction (e.g., the opponent charges a model, forgetting that the ordinary-looking power sword is actually a relic blade and doesn't realize that he'll be facing S6 rather than S4). This is probably why so many supporters of argument 2) warned the original poster about using the bit as a storm shield in tournaments.

Argument 3) has shown up in several places and was the one I found most interesting. It boldly declares that using the Assault Squad shield as a combat shield (which is what I and many others had believed it to be) may be the deviation from the designers' intent. This latter argument claims to be based on what the Codex itself says.

If we look under the Codex's definition for "storm shield", we find that:
A storm shield is a solid shield that has an energy field generator built into it. The energy field is capable of deflecting almost any attack, even blows from lascannons and power weapons.
There's very little here that defines what the shield should look like or how big it should be. The entry for the combat shield gives a little more detail:
A combat shield is a lighter version of a storm shield that is fitted to the arm of the wearer. This leaves the user's hand free to wield a pistol or other weapon, substituting a measure of defense for increased versatility.
The combat shield entry says that the shield is "lighter" but it doesn't say whether or not it's smaller. Given that the storm shield's effectiveness lies in its field generator rather than on its physical dimensions, the shield's actual size may be irrelevant. Either way, a comparison of the Terminator issue storm shield and the Assault Squad shield shows that each is approximately the same size relative to the wearer:

Left: Terminator with storm shield
Right: Assault Marine with shield

For our purposes, the most useful piece of information in the Codex entry is that a combat shield "is fitted to the arm of the wearer" and "leaves the user's hand free to wield a pistol or other weapon." The only Marine model that has a combat shield as part of its basic wargear is a Company Champion. Sure enough, the shield arm found in the Command Squad box is clearly fitted to the wearer's arm (there's an obvious clamp on the forearm) and allows him to wield a pistol. The shield shape even matches the drawing in the Codex:

Company Champion combat shield
[Images by The Dark Workshop blog]

Now compare the combat shield above to the Assault Squad shield and a similar Dark Angels shield:

Assault Squad and Dark Angels shields
[Images by The Dark Workshop blog]

This shield is not fitted to the wearer's arm at all. In fact, the wearer is required to hold onto the shield, which prevents him from being able to carry a weapon in that hand. This fact directly contradicts the Codex's statement about combat shields (i.e., that they are fastened to the arm and allow the hand to remain free to hold a weapon) while demonstrating why carrying a storm shield always denies the +1 Attack bonus for having two close combat weapons. Therefore, by the definitions given in the Codex, the Assault Squad shield is almost certainly intended to be a storm shield. GW seems to think so too since the guide How To Paint Space Marines declares that very shield to be a storm shield:

Image from How To Paint Space Marines.
Note that the sergeant's shield is called a storm shield

Under 6th Edition's rules, a sergeant's or a captain's 15 point storm shield can do more than save a single model; with a little luck it could save several, making it a much more powerful piece of wargear. Fortunately, it looks like many of us may have had a power armor storm shield or two lying around without realizing it (I have four). I think it's clear that the Assault Squad shield was meant to be a storm shield and that even stricter WYSIWYG players could agree based on its design and the Codex's statements. If it clearly takes up a Marine's hand, it should be treated as a storm shield. If it's fitted to the Marine's arm and obviously allows him to hold a weapon, it should be treated as a combat shield. Although this is a small detail, an observant opponent should be able to see it.

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