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Character Rules in 6th Edition Warhammer 40k

Updated on January 14, 2013


Characters have been an important element of Warhammer 40k, going all the way back to 2nd Edition. In fact, several of us old school gamers have harkened the old edition as "Herohammer 40k". While the rules for characters have certainly changed over the years, and perhaps toned down, Characters have still continued to remain a large part of our 40k games. Not only do they lend us unique powers and deadly war gear, they also enhance the narrative of the Warhammer 40k universe.

So how have the rules for Characters changed in 6th edition Warhammer 40k? Has their impact diminished in favor for masses of regular infantry? Or has their power multiplied, perhaps in a nod back to the glory days of 2nd edition? I will say that the truth is a mixture of these questions.

General Rules for 6th Ed.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that there are now two types of characters in 6th edition. Standard Characters (just called characters) and Independent Characters. Standard characters are typically unit upgrades like an Ork Nob or a Space Marine Veteran Sergeant. You will know that a model is a character because it will have its own profile from the unit it comes with. Independent characters are the heroes that run our armies, typically chosen as an HQ selection in our army roster. From here forward, all the rules I mention will apply to both standard and independent characters. Independent characters have a set of additional rules which I will cover later.

So your unit sergeant is now a character. What does that mean? Let's take a look:

  • Units always use an attached character's Leadership for related tests.
  • Precision Shoots: if your character rolls any 6's when hitting with a shooting attack, then you get to assign those hits to any model in the target unit (as opposed to the closest model).
  • Precision Strikes: if your characters rolls any 6's when hitting in an assault, then you get to assign those hits to any engaged model in the enemy unit.
  • Characters no longer have to be in base contact to strike in assaults. They simply have to be engaged (be within 2" of a friendly model that is in base contact).
  • Look Out, Sir! - Characters that are assigned a wound in shooting or an assault, can roll a 4+ to instead assign that wound to a model in its unit within 6". This is done before any saves are made, so the character has to decide if he wants to take the wound and attempt to save with his armor or if another model will jump in front and try to make the save on its armor. Independent Characters get a 2+ "Look Out, Sir!" roll.

Let's talk tactics with these couple of points. First, it actually is beneficial for many characters to take an upgraded shooting weapon, or heck, just stick with the basic Rapid Fire rifle that he comes with. Any shooting weapon that gives the character more dice to throw will be nice because any 6's will let you place those hits on models of your choice. Your unit sergeant just became a mini sniper! How nice would it be for your sergeant to pick off an enemy holding a heavy or assault weapon that is about to hit your squad?

The same holds true with assaults. Any 6's will let you put those hits on any engaged model. Likely targets include enemies with special close combat weapons about to hit your unit or weaker models that provide some bonus to their team members (Apothecary providing a unit with Feel No Pain).

Of course, if you can take out an enemy character leading a unit (by using Precision Shots or Strikes) then you have effectively lowered that unit's Leadership score by 1 for the rest of the game. Very nice . . . just don't let it happen to you.

The Look Out, Sir! rule is a great addition. Basically, any hit that threatens your character that you really don't want to take (AKA a Lascannon), you can simply roll a 4+ to assign that round onto a squad member. Independent Characters get a 2+ roll instead! Keep in mind that this is done before the character would make his normal save, so you can't see if your terminator armor will soak up the wound before you decide to drop it on someone else. Make your choice! Risk your character with a better save, or drop it on a squad mate and likely lose him!

Challenges in Assaults

The next biggest change is the inclusion of Challenges in the Assault Phase. For anyone whose played Warhammer Fantasy, then this rule will be intimately familiar. For those that are new to it, the system goes like this:

  • When you make it into an Assault, you may elect one of your engaged characters to issue a Challenge. Your opponent may accept with a character of his choice. If he refuses, then you can send one of his characters to the back and it can no longer fight in the assault.
  • Once a Challenge starts, it goes round after round until one of the characters is dead or flees the combat with his unit.
  • Nobody else in the fighting units can hit the characters. Other models continue to fight each other like normal. Characters cannot make a "Look Out, Sir!" roll when in a Challenge.
  • Wounds caused in the Challenge add to the total for the combat.
  • A model cannot lose more wounds than it has, meaning that a Space Marine Sergeant can only cost you 1 wound in combat resolution . . . even if that nasty Daemon Prince wounds you four times!

There are a few additional rules that will come up occasionally. For instance, a second character can intervene and take over a Challenge, or a unit that's only fighting a single character locked in a Challenge can actually "cheer on" their character and give it a bonus. No kidding.

Some things to consider: Initiative is very important for characters now, that or a really good save. In a recent game of my Orks fighting Space Marines, every one of my Nobz and my Warboss was taken out in a challenge before they could even strike. My Nobz were taken out by simple sergeants who happened to roll well, but I also failed to equip my Nobs with heavy armor, so I was hoping for 6's to save. This wouldn't have mattered if the sergeants had power swords, but they were using lowly chainswords! So I could have helped prevent this. My Warboss, however, was killed by a Librarian's Force weapon, which rolled for Insta-kill. That was a tough loss . . . as there was nothing I could think of doing, other than hoping a 5+ cybork save would do it for me. It didn't.

Challenge Tactics

Here are a couple of tactics that have come up in our games recently. I'm sure that many new tactics will come up, so if you've found any, please add them as a comment at the bottom of this article. I'd love for people to share!

Use a weak character to "speed bump" a stronger one. For instance, a tooled-out Daemon Prince assaults your space marine tactical squad. You know that in another turn you can bring some help to the tac-squad, but they need to survive the first round of combat. What do you do? Use your sergeant to challenge that Daemon Prince! Yes, your sergeant is likely to die, but that Daemon Prince will be limited to only causing 1 wound to your squad. Your other squad members will actually cheer on the sergeant (giving a small bonus), but otherwise they just sit there. So what? You lost the combat by 1 wound, and even if you break, the Know No Fear rule means your squad wont be wiped out. On your next turn, bring your reinforcements in and then attack in force.

Bring two characters to a fight! - Try to put two characters into a single squad. This will likely mean a sergeant upgrade (or equivalent) and an Independent Character. Now you can do two things. You can either issue a challenge with your sergeant to tie up an enemy character so that your tooled-out Independent Character can go about killing troops en masse. Alternately, you can use your sergeant to shield your Independent Character from a character killer (like that Librarian with the Force weapon I mentioned earlier). Using this trick, it's possibly that you will win the total combat (after all the enemy character is limited to causing only 1 wound on your sergeant, while our own character is killing troops left and right), and cause the enemy unit to flee.

One hit, one kill! - Insta-death weapons are going to be more valuable. Think force weapons or Dark Eldar flesh gauntlets. In the old edition, it was actually tricky to get your Independent Character lined up with your opponents. More often, you wasted that nasty weapon on simple troops that only had 1 wound anyway. In 6th edition, you will have a chance every game to kill someone special.

Tips and Dangers

I thought I'd close up this article by offering just a few more tips and to point out some potential dangers.

Warlord Traits - Remember that your main HQ always gets some sort of random special rule that you roll for at the beginning of the battle. This can be everything from giving near by units "Move Through Cover" to your Warlord counting as a scoring unit on his own. Don't forget about them!

Psychic Powers - There are a host of new Psychic powers for 6th edition. They really deserve a whole new article, so I wont go into detail here. Just look them over once and you will realize that people will be fielding more psykers. You should, too!

Surviving Shooting - Remember that wounds from a shooting attack are assigned to the closest model. If you put your character out front, he is going to get hit with shooting attacks. The nice thing is that you can use a "Look Out, Sir!" roll to move the wound (before you attempt an armor save) to any model in the unit within 6". This is odd because it can break the "closest model gets hit" rule. For instance, put a Warlord with Meganob armor (2+) up front of a horde of Orks. Wounds are resolved on the majority Toughness, so your Warboss effectively has a Toughness of 4 (boo!). If your unit takes 8 wounds, that means your Warboss out front is going to have to deal with all 8 of those.

Here's what you can do. For each of those wounds, you can either keep it on him and use his 2+ armor save, or you can roll the 2+ "Look Out, Sir!" to assign it to an Ork in your mob. You do realize that you've effectively given your mob of 20+ boyz a 2+ armor save, right? The risk is that you may be putting wounds on your HQ.

I would do this: since you can roll saves one at a time, keep putting them on your Warboss for that 2+ armor save. As soon as he does take a wound, start using the 2+ "Look Out, Sir" roll to place the wound on an Ork. Since you can place the wound on anyone within 6", take your casualties from the back of your mob! This keeps your boyz up front alive and closer to your enemy so you can assault quicker. You've done two things with this tactic: 1) saved many boys from death due to your Warboss' armor save, and 2) kept your front line closer to the enemy by taking casualties off the back.

What are the dangers? Recently I lost a 47 point Nob to stupid bolter fire. He was on my front line, but crowded with other boyz. When all the boyz on the front line were pulled off, I had to put wounds on the Nob. He only gets a 4+ "Look Out, Sir!" roll, so once I failed that twice, he was dead. No more powerklaw. Let my lesson be a warning to you!

Character Poll

How do you feel about the balance of 6th edition Character rules?

See results


The new character rules add an exciting element to 6th edition Warhammer 40k. I've had bad luck keeping my low initiative Orks alive in challenges, but I've also killed more enemy Independent Characters due to shooting attacks and snap fire! It's been a mixed bag for me, but I will admit that it's been exciting.

If you have anything to add to this article, corrections, suggestions, or experiences of your own, please write a comment below!

If you are interested in reading my other 6th edition Warhammer 40k article, please click the links below. You will find everything from Ork tactics, to allies, and flyers!

Thank you for reading and happy gaming! I've enjoyed writing these articles and feedback has been great. Leave me a comment or take the poll above. The active gaming community is what makes this hobby great!


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    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Florida

      I believe the IC and the unit are stuck together until one of the challenging units is alive. I believe that the only time an IC can leave a unit is during the Movement Phase, so even if their IC is in a challenge, the unit is stuck with him! Yes, I've had entire models stand around for a round or two while my character duked it out with another character! I could be wrong, but this is always how we've played it.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      If an independent character engages in a challenge and is in the challenge for a turn, can the IC leave the unit? Can that unit then leave the combatants of the challege together and move out of close combat if there are no other models for that unit to fight. Logically, it makes sense as long as I waive the "gettem boss" extra attacks and the unit moves more than 2 inches away.

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for reading! I really didn't enjoy 5th edition 40k that much, but 6th edition has brought new life back into my hobby. While 5th and 6th edition are very similar, the new rules to 6th have pushed the game just forward enough to make the battles engaging and fun to play. Thanks again for stopping by!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      These articles are fantastic! I've been wondering if 40K was worth getting back into but didn't want to shell out for the rulebook on a curiosity. You clearly and concisely bullet-pointed the major changes and used examples to clarify; I can't wait to grab a copy of the rulebook and start modelling again. Wonderful job, man. Thank you so much for taking the time to write these.

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Florida

      jason, great catch! I wrote this article pretty early in the 6th edition release and it looks like we overlooked that little bit! Most of our rules analysis has held up, but I'm glad to be corrected. I will edit the article to get rid of the bad information.

      To be clear now, the only way to shield your character would be to keep him so far in the back of the unit that he would not be close enough to be "engaged" after the pile in moves at each initiative step. This is hard or impossible to do in small, ten man units... but Orks maybe.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I have to make a comment about the assault phase you mention in the 4th bullet point regarding characters. You can't shield your characters in assaults. While they can strike from 2" away, in their pile in move, they MUST move first if tied with other models for Initiative, and MUST attempt getting into base contact. "Their place is at the forefront" is quoted on page 63 of the mini rulebook under "Characters and Assaults," second paragraph.

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Florida

      If you mean that Huskblades are now AP2 (with the new FAQ), then I totally agree. If you are feeling brave, then you could put an Archon in front of a squad of warriors or incubi and let him soak up wounds with his 2+ invulnerable save . . . just don't roll a 1 :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Archons just got stupidly better.

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Florida

      Anon, agreed. As it was originally written there was a lot of debate about Look Out Sir, rolls. The new FAQ has cleared it up and it is exactly as you describe! Trust me, I was getting my but kicked by Marine characters in terminator standing in front of their squads. I'm glad it's been clarified.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Useful overall. One problem though: Look Out Sir! rolls are made BEFORE saves are taken. You must choose to re-allocate the wound BEFORE taking your saving throws. Therefore, you would have to re-allocate the wounds to your Ork Boyz before taking your Mega-Armor save. Your orks would only get their 6+. If you failed your 2+ Look Out Sir! roll, THEN you would take your 2+ Mega-Armor save.

    • murphy80 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Florida

      Curious, absolutely!

      If it's your turn (assault phase), then you have first opportunity to declare a challenge. If you choose not to declare a challenge, then your opponent gets to declare a challenge if they choose to.

      Just last night, my Daemon Prince was assaulted by a Space Marine captain and his retinue. I didn't want to get stomped by his combined unit of 5 guys (chaplain, apothecary, sergeant, captain, and someone else). He elected not to challenge, so I declared one.

      He accepted with his chaplain (who was a named character with a Toughness of 6!). I killed him on my next assault phase. On his next turn, he wanted to hit me with his 4 remaining guys, but I declared a challenge again (on his turn, since he didn't declare one), and he accepted with his captain.

      It was pretty great for me because I was able to deal with his characters one at a time, rather than being attacked by them all at once.

      But, to answer your question again, there is the opportunity for a challenge on every turn. You declare first (on your turn), and if you choose not to then your opponent can (on your turn). The roles switch on your opponent's turn.

    • profile image

      curious WH 

      6 years ago

      Can an opponent start a challenge on your turn?


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