Fixing WHFB – Initiative

Initiative is rarely talked about in regards to problems with Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It’s worked great for years, so what’s the problem with it now?

Simply put – it’s the new charge rules in 8th ed. It used to be in the previous editions that a successful charge meant that you got to attack first. Didn’t matter what your initiative was, that was the pay off for getting the charge. Nowadays it’s almost a waste of time.

You gain +1 combat resolution for a charge, which can help, but most of the time you will win your combats based off other factors (raw stats for Weapon Skill, Strength, Toughness, Saves, Attacks, and yes Initiative; Static combat resolution for races like Skaven; and tactical prowess for getting things like flank charges). Unfortunately most combats are won by sheer stats alone.

How many times has a small, but tough unit like Chaos Warriors or Swordmasters of Hoeth charged a unit that is 2 to 3 times it’s size and wiped them out to a man/goblin/rat/etc…?

At least back in the day you could hope for a charge with your brave men of the empire to see off those Choas scum. By attacking first you could hopefully eliminate their overly effective counter attack and win the day.

Now with the change away from chargers attacking first and purely relying on Initiative it has seriously hamstrung low Initiative units. Having units like Empire Spearmen or Night Goblins going last is one thing – they were never expected to stand toe to toe with the elites like Chaos or Elves, but it’s another thing entirely to have units like Lizardmen Saurus Warriors getting cut down before they can do their thing. Saurus were bred by the Slann to be vicious fighters, not to die like pathetic Skaven.

The change to the charge rules themselves in regards to gaining +1CR  and losing the first attack are not necessarily a bad thing. They are much more in line with with rules that do make sense like pre-measuring (cuts down on arguments) and random charge lengths (not totally bad, but I’ll be suggesting some alterations later on this).

So if we are not to change charging, it makes more sense to change Initiative.

What I propose is to give the weapon options a bit more of a decision during army creation. Currently there are often options that are clearly the better way to go. Goblins with spears is almost a waste of points. Sword and shield give you a ward save in hand to hand and don’t cost extra. It’s really a simple option for small units. Spears only make sense in a hoard (another thing that needs tweaking).

In order to make this more interesting both in game and for choosing how to equip your troops I suggest giving initiative modifiers based on the weapon. Here’s the break down:


Flail, -2 initiative

Great Weapon, -3 initiative

Halberd, -1 initiative, +1 initiative if receiving a charge

Lance, +2 initiative when charging

Morning Star, -1 initiative

Spear, +1 initiative when charging, +2 initiative if receiving a charge (on foot only)


This will allow more tactical thought during play with certain weapons (Spears, Lances and Halberds) and will give a reason for certain units a reason to take a certain weapon in order to give it a fighting chance with initiatives.

Additionally we would need to change how ‘Always Strikes First/Last’ rules function. ‘Always’ going first or last is a brutal bonus or penalty. In order to make these options less all or nothing, we should include them as slight modifiers to the initiative system, not a complete rewrite of it.

For Always Strikes First, we can achieve this with 2 simple rules. First, the warriors with this rule are so skilled with their weapons that they can ignore weapon initiative penalties, including those created by Always Strikes Last. This still allows units like Swordmasters of Hoeth to still fling around their great weapons without penalty.

Secondly Always Strikes first is a tie-breaker. If initiatives are the same as an opponent, they get to attack before the opponent. Simple. This will still allow tough Always Strikes First units to capitalize on initiatives in combat to win, without making it a near auto-win.

For Always Strikes Last we do the inverse of the Always Strike First rule. Always Strikes Last means that you cannot gain bonuses to initiative via weapons. The warriors are simply too dull witted to use the weapon to it’s best effect. Finally Always Strikes Last is an initiative tie breaker for the unit without the rule.

After calculating these bonuses or penalties, the initiative is allowed to go to 0 or below – then the initiative continues as normal.

These changes should give the buffs to the ‘slow’ races like Saurus. Now charging a unit of Saurus Warriors with Empire Halberdiers will give the Empire player some pause for thought.


What are your thoughts on these proposed changes?



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