Friday, March 9, 2012

Petition to Fix Shield Guard

Before I begin this blog post, I want to say that I really love the way Privateer Press has gone about dealing with rules issues. Coming from years of playing nothing but Warhammer 40K, it's a breath of fresh air to play a game from a company who not only writes a tighter rule set, but has a plan in place for dealing with the inevitable rules issues that come up when you play a game as complex as Warmachine. In fact, if this was a GW game, there would be no point in writing this article, because nothing would ever be done by the game company.

In this article, I am going to be writing about something that has been bothering me for the last several weeks. There was a ruling made on the PP forums several months ago that I have only recently found out about. The discussion and infernal ruling can be found here: (LINK). The issue being discussed is whether a model with the shield guard rule can intercept a shot when it is not in LOS of the attacker. the thread basically boiled down to the fact that there is a "tactical tip" on several models with shield guard saying "Shield Guard - If this model cannot become the target of the attack for some reason, it cannot use this ability."
is it time to toss the Brute?

This one statement has caused quite a few questions and references back to the infernal ruling in the link above. The problem is, it seriously harms the Shield guard rule. in my opinion, this is beyond a nerf to an over-the-top ability. I believe the ruling was meant to clear up one issue without fully examining other situations that might be affected. This has led to a "trick" that a canny player can use to completely eliminate shield guard as a usable ability. Only players who happen to see the infernal ruling will know to use it, and will have an advantage over anyone who happens to bring a shield guard model.

In this article I will be examining the rules in question, along with other similar rules. I will explain and demonstrate the "trick" that has shown up in our gaming circle, and will show why this trick needs to be dealt with. I am doing this to try to convince someone at PP to errata the shield guard rule ASAP. If you're interested in this argument, read on

The Rule

Let's start by looking at the rule in question.

Shield Guard - Once per round, when a friendly model is directly hit by a ranged attack during your opponent's turn while within 2" of this model, this model can become the target of the attack and be automatically hit instead. this model cannot use Shield Guard if it is Incorporeal, knocked down, or stationary.

Taken by itself, it looks pretty simple. if a friendly model is hit, and there is a shield guard within 2", the shot hits the shield guard instead (or rather CAN hit the shield guard, but here we are assuming you would rather have your shield hit than your warcaster. that's why you spent 5 points on a shield guard...) In this rule itself there are no restrictions on line of sight, range, etc. LOS and range are used when determining if the original target is hit. once that model is hit, LOS and targeting restrictions shouldn't come back into play. a new special rule (shield guard) is now triggered, switching the hit to the new model.

Trusty Shield Guard

This is how we played it ever since I started playing Hordes a year ago. Because of this, the Cyclops Brute has been in almost every list, and has done his job of protecting my casters well. there are several ways around shield guard, obvious to anyone who reads the whole rule. you can shoot multiple times, you can knock down the shield guard, you can make him stationary, etc. It's a nice ability, but with workarounds in there, it is not overpowered.

the only piece of the rule that is problematic is the part that says "this model can BECOME THE TARGET of the attack". this is likely where the Tactical Tip came from. I always assumed that this was put in place to show that the new model was the target for any effects that may be placed on the "target model" when resolving an attack. the tactical tip reads that this means the model becomes a target and must go through the normal targeting process of determining LOS etc.

The only other rule I can think of to look for for precedence is the whiplash rule:

Whiplash - When an enemy model misses this model with a magic attack, the attacking model becomes the target and is automatically hit by the attack. AOE magic attacks that miss are centered on the attacking model. this model is the point of origin for all these attacks

Notice how similar the wording is for these two rules. after a trigger, a new model becomes the target of the attack and is automatically hit. As far as I know, whiplash doesn't require the original target to be able to see the enemy casting the spell that is bouncing. It is my understanding that whiplash still bounces the spell even if the original target was shot at from behind, through a forest via eyeless sight, through an arc node, etc. in these cases the original caster would not be an eligible target, but becomes the target anyways after the miss is resolved against the first target.

Stop being so Broken, Eiryys

I believe it should work the same for the target near a shield guard. it makes sense to me that these two rules (worded so similarly) should work the same way. so either Eiryys should have all the targeting restrictions apply when figuring out whiplash, or shield guard should ignore those restrictions as a special case.

The Trick

OK, so when does this issue even come up? when I first skimmed that infernal ruling, the only special case that came to mind was if my shield guard was hidden behind a building, and my caster (or whatever target) was in the opn but in the 2" bubble of shield guard. I saw that and just decided I needed to be more careful to keep my shield guard from getting hidden behind large beasts etc.

In a tournament a few months back, I was shown (rather painfully) a new way to use this ruling. You see, if a model is not in your front arc, you don't have LOS to it. which means, with some creative movement, a canny player can just avoid having the shield guard model in the front arc of the firing model. this is easier than it might sound.

The trick quickly caught on with my regular opponents. I have gone about 8 or 9 games in a row without making a single use of shield guard because of opponents using this trick. As we'll look at in the next section, it is impossible to position your shield guard and caster in such a way that you prevent the shield guard from being avoided in this manner.

The problem with this is twofold. first of all, it punishes players who haven't read online how to use this trick. they will be caught unaware when a player pulls it on them at a critical moment. And why should they know? not all of us read every rules argument on the PP forums.

The second problem is, once people figure this trick out, the models with shield guard will stop being seen in lists. period. I use my Brute in most of my lists. For adepticon, and all of my practice games, I am dropping him from 2/3 of my lists. Shield guard will be utterly worthless against good opponents. I now have to spend 5 points for an animus to prevent knockdown, without getting anything else for it. Obviously PP isn't trying to sunset this special rule, as they just released 2 new models with it (Tiberion and the Aspis). I can't imagine any warmachine player bringing a shield guard 'Jack after this becomes more widespread. at least I get an animus with mine. Warmachine players will only be getting a light jack with no great abilities.

The Trick Explained

One of the comments made in the rules threads stated that this is a corner case that really won't come up much in real life games. That it is just theory-machine and shouldn't be taken too seriously without some on-table experience. In my experience, it actually comes up quite often. the arguments on the forum were mostly related to the difficulty of moving another large base between the firing model and the shield guard to block line of sight. I agree that would be difficult.

But while we're in the mode of theory-machine, here is a theory I would like to propose and test. I would go so far as to say that in 100% of situations, shield guard can be avoided using front arc placement, assuming only one model with shield guard is in range of the target model. I will demonstrate what I mean with some Vassal screen shots.

Here is shot number 1. I am using a Ravagore shooting at pMorghoul with a Brute nearby, because this is exactly what happened the last time this trick was used on me and finally annoyed me enough to write this article (Morghoul ended up getting hit and caught fire, and would have lost if a last-ditch run hadn't worked out at that point).

normal case

This shows the normal case for a shield guard. Ravagore fires at Morghoul, brute takes the hit like a champ, and morghoul lives for another turn. Now let's look at what happens with some slight movement:

Pulling a "Caldera"

Now the Ravagore still has Morghoul in his front arc, but has lost line of sight to the Brute. according to the infernal ruling, the Brute cannot intercept this shot. Now, the first thing to try would be to move Morghoul and the Brute around to try to prevent this. The problem is, even with a movement of 4 or 5, the attacker will still be able to get into position almost every time. Here Morghoul is directly behind the Brute. Let's just forget for a second that in this case you don't even need shield guard to protect Morghoul, making it pretty redundant.

Casters are pussies. they hide behind big guys with shields

the Ravagore now moves 4" and tries again:

I still see you!

We can keep on moving Morghoul around and around, but the Ravagore will always be able to get him and ignore the Brute. I won't try to show every possible outcome, but let's look at one more here. if Morghoul is in front of the Brute, it might be a little harder to avoid the Brute due to a large base size. now obviously, this is a bad idea, as the ravagore could just charge morghoul. you generally wouldn't want your caster in front of his bodyguard. but as we see here, it didn't help anyways...

now, one way around this would be to put more models in the way. now you're talking about more investment and little return. if the intervening model is killed, you're back to square one. also, you're talking more about standard LOS-blocking now instead of discussing the Shield Guard rule.

the following picture is the only way I could think to force a shield guard to work. the ravagore only has LOS if he shoots through the gap, which has a brute behind it.

Now can I finally have my Brute take this one?

Once again, you generally don't want your caster in front of his protection. and as you can see in the picture below, all the legion player has to do is clear off the one swordsman in red and he can go right back to ignoring your shield guard.

Red Shirts are dangerous.  wear at your own risk

Here's the summary. if the enemy model has LOS to your model, he can rotate his model so that the infinitely small line that determines his front arc can be placed in such a way that it will hit only the target and models in a direct line with the target. these models are either in front, blocking LOS in the first place, or behind, where they can be avoided. This means a canny opponent will never have to worry about shield guard. There will always be a way to avoid it.

Now What?

So what do we do now? Luckily, Privateer Press is very open to player input. I plan on making this issue stand out until something is done to clear up the shield guard rule and prevent silly tricks like the one I talked about today. I am starting a petition thread on the main discussion forum on the PP site. if you find this ruling to be a problem after reading this article, please go and post in that thread stating that you agree that this rule needs to be changed to function properly again.

In the meantime, please by all means use this trick. when it pisses off your opponent because he/she wasted 4 or 5 points to buy a useless ability, point them to the petition thread. the more people that get annoyed by this work around, the quicker it will be solved.

thank you for reading this long post explaining the problems with Shield Guard. And thank you for your help in getting it changed.

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