I've been looking into running some fantasy games again using WFB. What I don't understand is why archers are so poor. I've discussed this at length with several people and my primary problem as I see it is the fact I am running high elves. In Warhammer, you required to field a percentage of point value in Core troops. Now that isn't such a big deal, but I am trying to decide whether to put my points into Silver Helms or Archers. The new models for the Lothern Sea Guard are amazing. I do already have a pile of Silver Helms and forty archers though, so my dilemma revolves around what is the best way forward.
Armor saves have crept up in the game over the years. Models in armor have the ability to ignore a wound based on the equipment they possess. So someone in heavy armor with a shield has 4+ on a d6 to avoid taking damage. My Silverhelms with the Ilthimar barding and shields on elven steeds are running with a 2+ save. They are also rather expensive in terms of points. It is going to be hard to steal much of rank bonus in combat with units being the required five models wide. In order to grab a +2 bonus, you need ten models plus a standard. To pick up the maximum base of plus four you are required to field a full unit of twenty of them. It would have a huge footprint on the battlefield which opens up your flanks and stuff like that. Being typical elves they are also going to suffer from having a low strength after the initial charge when they can no longer use their lances. Units of ten seem common, but if I dare field fifteen the elves do have an army specific rule that will allow the entire unit to make attacks. Fifteen Strength 5 attacks is pretty solid.
The part that started bugging me however was the effectiveness of the archers. I just don't understand exactly what to do with them. The range of the long bow is fantastic. But movement being what it is, folks will cross the board really quickly anyway. Let's look at the shooting phase. My ballistic skill 4 means that I hit on a 3+ with an archer. If I move, I need a 4+. At anything longer than half range I am up to a 5+. So my first turn if I advance with my archers I need a 5+ to hit anything (shooting at skirmishers would be a 6+). There are lots of inherent penalties to make shooting more difficult. In close combat most battles require a 3+ to hit if you have a higher weapon skill than your opponent, or a 4+ if your opponent has a higher weapon skill than you. It doesn't have all of the additional penalties involved. In the futuristic version of the game, Warhammer 40k your ballistic skill is your ballistic skill. If you hit on a 3+, range isn't a factor and neither is movement. There are a few cases where you are only allowed to fire snap shots (hit on a 6+), but for the most part shooting is more reliable.
If your aim is true, you can do a little dance and move on to roll to wound. The check to wound is a simple comparison of strength versus toughness. If the numbers are equal you have a 50/50 chance to cause a wound. A bow against a human or elf is 4+. You need a crossbow or handgun to wound a dwarf or orc with the same odds. The game doesn't contain many standard ranged weapons which hit with anything higher than a Strength 3 or 4, but most adversaries only have a Toughness of 3 or 4. Causing wounds seems fairly normal to me. The power of the crossbow or handgun seems inline with how the rest of the game of game works. Regardless of a models Toughness a roll of 6+ causes a wound. My longbows are inline with other bows and will damage anything Toughness 5 or greater on a 6+. In the futuristic version of the game there are two differences. The first is you cannot hurt creatures who have a really high toughness with low strength weapons. My longbows would be absolutely ineffective against models with a Toughness of seven or higher. That doesn't seem like a big thing. The second is mounted troops gain a modifier to their Toughness rather than their armor. Armor is treated very differently in Warhammer 40k. Let me explain.
In fantasy, stacking bits of armor increases your armor save. Light armor is a 6+. Heavy armor is a 5+. There are rare things like the gromril armor of the dwarfs or chaos armor the warriors of chaos wear that increases this base to 4+. You may add a shield that increases this number an additional +1. Being mounted gives you an additional +1. If you are riding a barded mount, there is another bonus of +1 that modifies your armor save. That is how my elven cavalry the Silverhelms are rocking a 2+ chance to avoid a wound. Heavy armor, shield, and barding gets me into such high numbers. The discrepancy comes in when you look at things like bows. Shooting at these guys with long bows means statistically you need to hit the unit twelve times to cause six wounds for them to fail one armor save and kill a single model.
If you hit the unit twenty four times, you are likely to kill two models or thirty six times to cause three casualties. Remember when I was saying turn one, if I advance at all I need a 5+ to score a hit. So despite my elves being excellent archers with a high ballistic skill, firing into cavalry is really hard. The math increases exponentially. To score twelve hits you need forty eight archers. To score twenty four hits you need one hundred ninty two. Scoring thirty six hits with you needing a 5+ requires more dice than any of us have, four hundred thirty two. It is likely to say when taking standard armor saves into account, that causing two or three wounds with bows is statistically improbably in the current game. This is really odd considering all the Robin Hood legends that long bows were designed to punch through armor. I guess if I field all forty of my archers I shouldn't move and fire or shoot armored opponents at long range. That is where the tactics kind of break down for me as a player.
Against lightly armored models the bows can be deadly. Against small units they are effective to some degree. Even if I push twenty arrows at close range into a model with a very high Toughness things can go very well considering the randomness of the game. But let's take a minute and review some other stuff.
In Warhammer Fantasy Battle, your armor save is reduced by the strength of the weapon. A four strength reduces it by one. A five strength by two, and all the way up the scale. There is a special rule called Armor Piercing that reduces the number by an additional -1. So crossbows have a 4 strength and hand guns have a 4 strength plus armor piercing. Seems to me that much like the Bretonnian Lance formation (only requires three models instead of five to get a rank bonus), other armies have never adopted the technology that is available. If my elves were smart they would pick up handguns from the dwarves or the humans of the empire to deal with cavalry formations instead of plinking arrows into lightly armored troops and hoping their other forces can take out the cavalry. Units like White Lions have a Strength 6 with their great weapons and Swordmasters have a Strength 5 to deal with armored foes. But it is like that across the board. How is anyone supposed to hurt the 2+ save of the Silverhelms in my army list. Sure they are armored units, but you need to put so many attacks into the unit it is crazy unless you are swinging truly momentous high strength weapons.
In Warhammer 40k, the armor save works entirely differently. Models have a base armor save and nothing modifies it. Typical saves are still pretty good. The quintessential troop unit of the game is the Space Marine. He has a 3+ armor save and a Toughness of 4. That is the bar that is set. Other rules apply in this game instead of strength modifying the armor save. Weapons have an armor penetration value. It would be like saying if you are in heavy armor, these particular weapons ignore such armor. Models can also have invulnerable saves. Which means they ignore armor penetration and can take a test regardless of which weapons are used. Space Marine Terminators are really well protected. They have two separate saves. An armor save of 2+ (much like my Silverhelms) and a 5++ invulnerable save. This means that if you attack them with strong weapons there is a one in three chance they will avoid taking the damage. But weapons with a armor penetration of 2 are still fairly rare. Also in fantasy you have a choice of which save you want to use. You don't roll an armor save, then a cover save, and then an invulnerable save. You typical choose the best one you have available.
I have gone through some of the inherent problems with my archers in fantasy, but there is a new edition coming out this summer. Maybe they can make some changes to the way things work which will bring it more inline with the 40k version of the game. What about making light armor a 5+, heavy armor a 4+, and really heavy armor a 3+. This is completely different- but the game needs some changes. Having a shield grants you a different type of save. Fantasy has always had a Ward save or Parry save which isn't modified by weapon strength. We could roll barding into that as well. So a shield or barding is 6++, having both lands you at 5++. Calvary gains the bonus to Toughness that is shares with mounted characters in the futuristic version of the game as well as high toughness monsters gain immunity to weak weapons. All that is left is to populate the weapons of the world with armor penetration values. In the very least I would love the see the to hit penalties for shooting go away. That way you can actually have units of archers be effective against more than lightly armored models.
If I fire my same unit of archers into the Silverhelms now, they will hit on 3+. They will wound on a 5+, and half of the models wounded will result in a casualty. So nine archers firing hit on average six times. That causes an average of two wounds and out of those two wounds on model fails his saving throw equally one dead silver helm. Eighteen archers can expect to kill two mounted models and twenty seven can expect to kill three. Considering that nine archers are 81pts, eighteen archers are 192pts, and twenty seven archers are 243pts they should be fairly effective against mounted Silverhelms who come in 23pts each with shields.
My goal was to reduce the dramatically high armor save values, remove the to hit penalties from shooting, and bring things more inline with the futuristic version of the game. The archers are already not amazing in close combat because they are only carrying hand weapons. They don't benefit from the speed of being cavalry or have much armor to speak of. Getting charged by the Silverhelms in close combat, the Silverhelms will hit on 4+, wound on a 2+, and without armor they will all be casualties. Six hits cause five wounds, so twelve attacks kill five models. Even if the elven archers are in light armor we can assume the lance will punch right through that, but it will give them some defense against other hand weapons and typical ranged weapons. We could go right down the list- crossbows ignore light armor, hand guns ignore heavy armor, etc. I don't know- I just think the rules could benefit from a little more balance in the shooting phase. Giving goblins with a shields a one in six chance to avoid damage seems fairly viable. Currently they only get that benefit against very weak weapons.