Space marines, playing the books not the rules

There were a couple of ideas behind this scenario. With Hellfire, our 6mm troops in powered armour, especially if they’re elite, are pretty difficult to kill. So over the years people who’ve used the rules with their epic figures have commented that using Hellfire, their space marines behave like the ones in the novels that create the background text, rather than they do under the rules.
So this is where the second idea came in. I had to put on a game which would keep eleven players entertained. So it had to be fast and furious and there had to be plenty going on. Still, this scenario will work with any scale, and with far fewer than a dozen participants.

The basis of the scenario was simple. You don’t even need to use the same background that we did.

Several parties of marines had been infiltrated into an enemy city. Their aim was to find the ‘off switch’ to the city’s shield generators so that the mass attack could begin. Obviously the defenders would try to stop them.

The aim of each player was to gain the kudos (plus promotion opportunities etc.) that came to the one who switched the shield off. Marines were not allowed to shoot at other marines, even ‘by accident.’

Now in theory I could ‘run’ the defenders, but as I was trying to keep up with a large number of players it would have bogged the game down. So the players also ran the defenders.

The players stood all around the table, their parties would come on convenient for them. But they would also have a party of defenders who would be deployed on the opposite side of the table to them. ‘Your’ defenders and your marines couldn’t cooperate. But ‘your’ defenders can do their valiant best to stop the other parties of marines. Similarly ‘your’ defenders couldn’t help you by searching for the switch. After all they probably knew where it was. But they could fight to defend it from everybody but you.

The table.

Because we decided to try this scenario in 28mm, the table was big, about ten feet by eight feet and was cluttered with urban terrain, ruins, buildings, and similar.


One of our club members has some beautifully painted Alpha Marines. (One reason for going for 28mm) So we used them. Each player got a force that was either five marines, three terminators, or one dreadnaught.   On the other side were the defenders. Here I used the figures I had for the cultists of my chaos space marines. As in this army I often fielded as many as ten marines, I had well over two hundred ‘cultists’ and similar. Some of them do double duty for my gene stealer army.

Stalwart members of the defence forces. A heavy bolter and an infantryman with blasting charge (because how else do you deal with powered armour?)

A few more of the stalwart defenders. On the right, a shoulder launched missile operator takes careful aim.

One of the gene stealer cultist doing service as a defender. Other gene stealer cults infiltrate mining operations. Mine infiltrated the sanitation department, hence the bright orange jackets.

Some might recognise the figures as those available in poundland and elsewhere at £1 per hundred. (Fewer now, probably nearer fifty). By basing them on 2p pieces to give them some heft, I tripled the figure value. But there again, I can cheerfully field well over a hundred of them.

Roster sheet

Each player got the same roster sheet. When I printed them out I didn’t really know how many players I had or what they wanted.

5 Space Marines

Powered Armour, personal projectile weapon.

Because of their various targeting mechanisms each space marine counts as two men when firing. So the five strong unit fires as if it were ten strong.

Reaction code 4,4,4,3,3,3,3,2   26pts

3 Terminators

Terminator armour, (powered armour +1) Crew served heavy weapon

For ease and speed of play it was decided that all three would fire at the same target on the same die roll. Because they were marines they too counted as firing as six figures.

Reaction code 4,4,4,4,3,3,3,2    27pts


Dreadnaught armour (counts as powered armour +2) Crew served heavy weapon.

Reaction code 4,4,4,4,3,3,3,2    27pts  If it uses up all 8 codes it becomes a mindless thing that rampages about attacking everything at random

Then each player got a number reaction codes for the defenders they would get.

Defender, 10 strong, Personal projectile weapon, flak armour

Reaction code  2,2,2,1,1,2,2,2 14pts

Defender, 10 strong, Personal projectile weapon, flak armour

Reaction code  2,2,2,1,1,2,2,2 14pts

Defender, 10 strong, Personal projectile weapon, flak armour

Reaction code  2,2,2,1,1,2,2,2 14pts

Command and control

Each player rolled a d8 dice for order points.

It takes one order point to use the weird magic box you’ve been issued with to find which building has the off switch in it. (Roll a d8 and on an 8 you have spotted it.) In our game eventually almost all the attacking forces finally discovered where it was. The one player who didn’t know where he was going was actually standing outside the building. It’s when everybody else starting converging on him that he suspected something was happening, but he was having too much fun shooting up defenders to worry about aims and objectives.

It takes 1 order point to move your marines

It takes 1 order point for each activation of a defender unit

It takes 3 order points to bring in a new unit of defenders under your control. (Once they had two units, if they wanted another, I gave them a heavy weapon team)

You don’t need order points to fire.

Firing and damage.


Short range was 30” but everything could fire line of sight. So nobody was ever out of range

Movement. The attackers could move 9”. The defenders could move 4” per activation but they can have up to three activations per turn.

The marines fired normally (taking into account that I’d doubled the number of men firing) but when it came to the defenders firing, I tweaked the rules. Because Hellfire rules are generic, I don’t regard them as sacrosanct, more as a skeleton to hang other, interesting, bits on.

Under the rules, ordinary fire arms cannot damage powered armour. (It’s a design specification for powered armour.) But if firing at less than half range (or in this game, at short range) if the firers roll a 10, 11 or 12 on their d12, they do have a chance. They immediately re-roll with a d10 as if they were a heavy weapon (which does have a chance of penetrating powered armour.) If the ‘heavy weapon’ penetrates (basically it’s a really well aimed, or very unfortunate, small arms round that finds a weakness) then the armour has been penetrated. At this point we treat the individual figure as a vehicle.

Roll a d6 for armour penetration

Space Marine

  1. Total systems reboot, cannot move or fire for one move
  2. Optics disrupted, cannot aim for one move
  3. Damage to locomotion, move at half speed
  4. Damage to weapons system, overheats if fires every move.
  5. Critical damage, dies
  6. Critical damage, dies

+1 for every subsequent hit, +1 each time weapon overheats.

Terminator Penetrated Table:

  1. Locomotion systems offline, cannot move for one move
  2. Total systems reboot, cannot move or fire for one move
  3. Optics disrupted, cannot aim for one move
  4. Damage to locomotion, move at half speed
  5. Damage to weapons system, overheats if fires every move.
  6. Serious damage to weapons system, can no longer fire
  7. Critical damage, dies.

+1 for every subsequent hit, +1 each time weapon overheats.

Dreadnaught Penetrated Table

  1. Locomotion systems offline, cannot move for one move
  2. Total systems reboot, cannot move or fire for one move
  3. Optics disrupted, cannot aim for one move
  4. Balance disrupted. Roll dice, falls over on odd number.
  5. Damage to locomotion, move at half speed
  6. Damage to weapons system, overheats if fires every move.
  7. Serious damage to locomotion, roll dice, move on even number
  8. Serious damage to weapons system, now inoperative.
  9. Critical damage, dies

+1 for every subsequent hit, +1 each time weapon overheats.

A note about the cumulative +1s. I put a counter on each unit for each +1 so they counted for the whole unit, not merely one figure. After all the entire unit had been advancing through the hail of fire.  

How the game played out

I just walked round the table, player by player. Each player would move and fire his marines and then his cultists, and if he had the points he’d recruit more defenders. It was interesting to watch the priority they gave to gunning down each other’s heavy weapons.

The marines could reckon on inflicting serious damage on any defending unit they caught in the open but those taking cover in buildings suffered far fewer casualties. On the other hand quite a few defending units quietly bugged out under the weight of fire and made their way off table. (Where they were recycled next time somebody wanted more cultists.)

We didn’t have a marine killed through shooting, although several were limping by the game end, and more than one had had to reboot. On the other hand, we had quite a few hand to hand combats where marines would charge in to clear a building. Occasionally the defenders would work up the courage to charge the marines. This hand to hand fighting was bloodier, one player lost three marines in a fight over one building. Mind you, you should have seen the other guy.

In the end we finally ran out of time just before two players could put in an assault that would hopefully help them take the building with the switch, whilst the other players frantically rallied the defenders to stop them.


If you fancy a look at Hellfire rules, they’ve got their own page on the blog, with some scenarios to download

4 thoughts on “Space marines, playing the books not the rules

  1. There was an old SPI game ‘Battle for Germany’ which used this mechanism. I always liked it as it gave the two players two different tactics to work with as attacker and defender plus it keeps them engaged during the other players turn. I never thought of extending it to a multiplayer figure game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect some of it is due to the strains that arise within a company which sells novels, figures and rules.
      The novels have to have their own coherent canon. The canon has to be attractive to draw people in (and the novels have to be well written and a lot of them are. I would recommend the Ciaphas Cain stories to anybody. ) The figure ranges have to sell well and the rules have to sell figures. The clash comes between a canon which draws people in with marines who are so competent that a mere company can have a major impact on a battle. But if the rules reflected that, you’d sell perhaps sell a player a score of space marines and that would keep him happy for years.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: