The Dark Fortress

Killhammer 1: target priority

5th Edition

This article was written by 40K gamer Warp Angel and my thanks go to him for allowing its publication here.

Killhammer presents a very unique way of assessing both your own and your opponents units in terms of target priority selection. It's a system still under development, so updates will be frequent as it becomes more refined.

It might take some time to read through — and you might need to read it several times to get the hang of it. But it's well worth it, as it can be a really quick useful aid rather than applying the traditional mathhammer.


This Tactica is intended to be a generic assessment of target priority for 5th edition, usable by any army, but specific examples will be provided using Marine units.

It doesn't matter what mission type you've got set up, or what the battlefield looks like. Your objective is to kill your opponent and render him ineffective in preventing you from achieving victory. You need to create a "kill gap" in your favor. This is done by creating a Killhammer assessment for every unit on the table. You need your high Killhammer units and your opponent needs fewer of theirs.

Section 1: Assumptions
the framework for how to read the tactica.

Section 2: The Formula
the (not) math on how to figure out what's next on the chopping block.

Section 3: Applying the Formula
I. Pre Battle.
II. Deployment.
III. During the Game.

Section 4: Summary
Skip to here if you don't want to read a lot.

Section 5: Additional Notes
Authors notes on various units Killhammer factors.

1. Assumptions

A couple of assumptions that I follow, and I'd ask that you take into account when reading this article are:

  • Assessing target value is subjective.
  • Different targets will assume different threat ratings depending on mission and battlefield terrain.
  • Your army fights according to your style, and your target priority should reflect that.
  • Evaluating target priority is a constantly fluid process, starting before the game begins, continuing through deployment, and changing not only every turn, but within a turn as casualties mount on both sides.

2. The Killhammer formula

Whether you're fighting annihilation, or on an objectives mission, the formula for target priority is the same. The objective is to figure out what the most dangerous units you have are and use them (while keeping them alive) to deprive your opponent of his highest Killhammer units.

  • What is its kill potential? (K1)
  • When does it reach its kill potential? (K2)
  • How tough is it to destroy? (D1)
  • How soon can it be destroyed? (D2)
  • Subjective modifier for battlefield, terrain, mission, and situation (S)
  • What is the threat perception it creates?***

When combined together into a math looking formula (for demonstration purposes only) you end up with a formula that looks roughly like this:

Killhammer Formula
Your opponent's units: (K1-K2) - (D1+D2) + S = Opponent Unit's Killhammer Rating.
Your units: (K1-K2) + (D1+D2) + S = Your Units Killhammer Rating.

K1, K2, and D1, D2 are all fuzzy values that you as a player provide to the unit. S is the evaluation that you, as a player, make of the current situation, taking all factors into account, and apply as a modifier to the formula. If you absolutely have to take the Land Raider out this turn or lose the game, it gets a high S rating and you try and kill the Land Raider, regardless of what the formula would say without 'S'. Similarly, when in an objectives game, scoring units get a higher Killhammer rating than they do in an annihilate game by applying the 'S' to them.


Kill high firepower units with low defence first, protecting and utilizing your high firepower and high defence units.

While I've never bothered with formalizing numbers, if you're so inclined, you might want to calculate the numbers in terms of Tactical Marines or Predators that it's able to kill per turn, or whatever units make sense to you. For example, if you're figuring out what to kill, and you're most concerned about Marines dying, figure out which units present a threat to Marines and mathhammer the exact killyness. In that case, a squad of 8 Necron Warriors in rapid fire range has a higher rating than the 2 Heavy Destroyers.

I've found my gut works pretty well and have never crunched the numbers. Your mileage may vary.

*** You should NEVER go with perceived threat, but utilize it to your advantage when attempting to manipulate the opponent. That Land Raider may be hard to kill, but it already deployed it's troops and can only kill a max of 6 Marines a turn. Leave it alone unless you have to kill it or have an easy shot at doing so.

3. Applying the formula

Games of Warhammer 40K are numbers games. You're using a relatively limited random number generator (the D6), in sufficient quantities that you should see statistics play out over the course of a game, and let you somewhat rely on them. Since you can somewhat rely on statistics to produce results, and have no real control over the results of the individual die results, you need to manipulate the QUANTITY of dice in your favour. This is best achieved by reducing the number of opponent dice rolls affecting your army negatively while maximizing the number of your dice rolls to continue reducing your opponent's effective number of dice. This is the basic principle of Killhammer.

Lots of mathhammer time and discussion is dedicated to squad equipment choices, engagement ranges, and predicted assault results. It's somewhat reliable, and you can study it to your heart's content. It helped me in formulating the theory behind this general tactica for target priority, and certainly helps in formula application, but isn't required reading.

Going back to the assumptions used in this article, everything we're talking about is subjective. Help it along with some objective criteria, but that pesky 'S' value in the Killhammer formula will punch mathhammer in tender places if you rely exclusively on objective criteria.

So… back to Killhammer

You start the game supposedly on an even playing field with your opponent, with the same number of points per side. Yes, different codecii are better than others, and yes some army lists are better than others. Obsessing over 'better lists' and 'better units' tends to cloud vision and create a threat perception value in opponent's units for target priority that doesn't match what's going on. This is a bad thing. We've all seen an opponent that gets obsessive about trying to kill a Land Raider for four straight turns without success. The whole point of applying the Killhammer formula is to avoid that sort of behaviour and kill the stuff that you can kill.

Why kill the stuff that you can kill instead of that 'powerful' Land Raider? An empty Land Raider has a kill potential of 5, and an actual somewhere around 2-3. (Someone can Mathhammer that). Compare that to a squad of 10 Berzerkers with a PF and PP. They have a a kill potential of 10 with shooting and 41 in close combat. Is there a reason your lascannons are shooting at the Land Raider instead of the Berzerkers? The Land Raider poses relatively little threat, while every Berzerker you kill from clear across the table effectively reduces the kill potential in a turn or two by 4 when they do get into range. Oh, and Berzerkers are scoring units for those 2/3 of battles with objectives. This is a generic situation, of course, and there WILL be times where the prudent thing to do is unload everything on the approaching Land Raider and ignore the Berzerkers. This tactica is to help you decide when that is.

You do this by applying Killhammer principles to create a kill gap, or a situation where you have increased the ratio of your killpower to the killpower of your opponent. Once established, a kill gap almost always gets bigger in successive turns. If you look at the first turn as being an even fight, evaluate the second turn as if it were the first turn. You can use points to assess it in a general sense. If you kill 300 points of their stuff and lose 200 of yours, you MIGHT have the kill gap in your favour. If you're up against Chaos Marines with a couple Defilers, and you're out all your S7+ weapons, that point advantage is meaningless. Your opponent has a kill gap in his favour, despite the points differential. And your target priority should drop Defilers to low on the list, since your firepower and close combat ability (your killyness) is much more effective against other units in his army.

In order to apply the formula, you need to be able to evaluate both your units and the opponent's units and apply a preliminary rating to everything (the pre-game), and then modify your initial assessments during deployment, before finally applying Killhammer to each phase of the actual game.

I. Before the battle

Everything Dies. Get used to this.

Before you can take to the battlefield, you need to understand the intended role of every unit in your army and (regretfully) assess the impact losing it will have on your army. This is the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, and the rules are set up so that everything can die. This means that it will. This lets you assess the risks that you're willing to take to manipulate the enemy to fighting the way that you want it to, and also what units are more expendable than others.

Every unit in your army should be assessed in the same way that you assess an opponent's army, that way you know your most valuable units for creating a kill gap. I'm only going to address a few here, but may do a complete list of the C:SM units later.

D2 is applied based upon your opponent's ability to apply killyness, so that will be evaluated later. S is purely situational, and will also be applied later.

Applying values to some Space Marine units:

Tactical Squad

K1 = low
K2 = low
D1 = middle / Low

They don't kill much and they aren't fast to close to optimum range and have firepower tradeoffs for moving. K2 and D1 goes up if they have a rhino, and both K1 and K2 go up if they have a Razorback, though D1 may be lower or at best a wash.

Assault Squad (with jump packs)

K1 = middle
K2 = high
D1 = middle / Low

They can kill a lot and they're very fast to get to optimum range. K1, K2 and D1 actually go DOWN if you deep strike them since they spend a turn unable to apply their full strength against an enemy for a full turn.

Land Raider

K1 = middle
K2 = middle
D1 = high

It kills ENOUGH that it's reliable, but not a ton of stuff. They're almost always in effective engagement range, but suffer from a move and fire problem. D1 is awesome. They're tough as nails, and immune to most attacks.


K1 = middle
K2 = low
D1 = middle

They can kill a lot but they're not very fast to get into optimum killyness if they have a DCCW, and hard to reposition if they don't. AV12 is nice, but power fists and even some of the lighter heavy weapons can take one down without a ton of trouble. If you throw them in a drop pod, you immediately increase K1 and K2, and slightly increase D1 if it survives to get into close combat in the next turn. S depends on its role in your army.


K1 = medium
K2 = high
D1 = medium

They can kill a lot for the squad size and are very mobile and can apply their firepower in a focused manner. D1 is higher than basic marines, but not great. If you throw in a character on a bike, the K1 goes up (especially in close combat), add an Attack Bike as well as increasing the squad size to maximum and K1 goes way up. D1 remains middling.

By now you should be getting your own ideas (and your own opinions on these evaluations).

The highest value should be placed on the units with good offense, good application of offense, and good defence. These are the units that are best utilized to create a kill gap in your favour and apply the principles of Killhammer, achieving a high Killhammer rating. From the list above, Bikes and Drop podded Dreads are potent tools while Tactical Squads are sub-optimal for applying Killhammer. Putting some of your lower Killhammer rated units in danger to draw attention or protect your higher Killhammer rated units is a perfectly valid tactic and may get a separate treatment at some point in another Killhammer tactica.

Assess your opponent's army (or what you know of it) in the same manner, using it to determine what units have a higher Killhammer rating.

This knowledge of your army and your opponent's army will help during deployment.

II. During deployment

Powergamer Bob: "My Land Raiders have both survived the last three battles they've been in."
Killhammer Joe: "My guess is they'll probably survive this one."

Deployment is the first opportunity to reassess the Killhammer Ratings you assigned before. Why reassess so soon, you ask? Didn't you just put together your army list 5 minutes ago? You performed the first assessment so that you've got a baseline to work off of. It's easier to re-evaluate than it is to evaluate all at once (at least for me), and it forces you to begin thinking about how your army should be deployed ahead of time.

Now that deployment is here, you know what the mission is, what the terrain is like, and what side of the table you're going to deploy on. You've got an idea what poses a threat to your army, and what in your army is most valuable for creating the kill gap. But now you need to check on situational modifiers to the formula.

Let's look at the criteria again:

  • K1: What is its kill potential?
    What can you expect it to kill in the first few turns? Lots or little?
  • K2: When does it reach it's kill potential?
    How long is it going to take to get to optimum kill range?
  • D1: How tough is it to destroy?
    Does cover, range, or terrain make it harder or easier to kill?
  • D2: How soon can it be destroyed?
    When can you bring on enough firepower to significantly reduce effectiveness or destroy the unit?
  • S: Subjective modifier for battlefield, terrain, mission, and situation
    What does your opponent need to win the battle? (Scoring units? Phase Out? Easy Kill Points?)
  • What is the threat perception it creates?
    Evaluate what your opponent thinks you're going to prioritise so you don't fall into any traps, and try and get your opponent to go after your lower Killhammer Rated units.

A perfect example of a unit that gets downgraded substantially in Killhammer Rating during deployment is a Vindicator tank that starts the game in a corner of the battlefield, hiding in cover, more than 30" away from any of your units. It effectively spends the first turn doing nothing (probably popping smoke as it closes), and increases its K2 while increasing it's D1 and D2. Bad idea to shoot at it unless you don't have better targets. It's better to deploy in such a way as to make it even less effective in K2.

An example of a unit that gets more attractive during deployment is a squad that deploys in a manner that's going to allow you to get multiple units firing at it early. It might not be the highest killhammer rating from your initial evaluation. But by deploying in a way that you can get multiple units shooting in on it, you've reduced the D2 substantially and have the ability to minimize or eliminate its battlefield effectiveness entirely early on, giving you a kill gap in later turns, even if it doesn't do much for you the first turn.

  • D1 goes up if a unit is in cover.
  • D2 goes up if it's deployed in a way that reduces the number of effective weapons that can be brought to bear.
  • K1 can go down from bad deployment, reducing the kill potential.
  • K2 can go up for a well placed unit.

Managing Killhammer here is as much finesse and experience as anything else. Every deployment should be made with the idea that you want maximum destruction out of the unit the first three turns of the game (most targets, easiest targets to maximize K) and to increase its survivability by utilizing cover and obstructed lines of sight (D1 and D2). Always deploy for mutual support whenever possible, and use cheap vehicles to screen infantry from outflankers and long range heavy weapons whenever possible.

Take advantage of opponent's deployment whenever possible, though if you choose to go first, that may not be possible. And ALWAYS ALWAY ALWAYS try and get your opponent to shoot at a low Killhammer rated unit instead of something overall more powerful by utilizing perceived threat against them.

A sometimes forgotten deployment option is to not deploy at all. Or at least not to deploy a key Killhammer unit with the rest of your army. Think about the havoc that a full Bike Squad, Captain on a Bike, and Attack Bike can create when they arrive on turn 2 or 3, within rapid fire range of an advancing enemy, and possibly within assault range. They don't even need to outflank, just show up and kill. This effectively increases their K1 (especially if you go second) because they'll have taken no casualties to enemy shooting before they get to go, their K2 by applying firepower exactly where it's needed, preferably to finish off an already damaged enemy, the D1 by making them effectively IMMUNE to all shooting and their D2 by bringing them on a table in a place where you've minimized potential shooting or assaults against them. This means that they're still at or close to full strength for their second turn on the table and (with a captain on a bike) sweep an enemy off of their objective and hold it in subsequent turns. You can do the same thing with tactical squads with transports to come on late to hold an objective. Their firepower probably won't make a difference in the early game, but a full squad in immediate rapid fire range later in the game is something potent.

III. Playing the game

"I love the smell of promethium in the morning. Smells like… Victory!"

So the game is going and the dice are rolling. Both sides have taken casualties, the game is in the balance, how do you maximize the kill gap? The first few turns should be spent reducing the Killhammer rating of your opponent's army while protecting your highest Killhammer rated units.

You should be killing a higher percentage of his killing capacity every turn, while he should be killing less of yours. This gap should become evident at the end of turn 2, be a clear advantage on turn 3, and make turns 4-5+ a formality. Luck always plays a part in all things 40K, and if your opponent is skilled with a good army match-up, all the Killhammer in the world might not save you. But it will give you a fighting chance.

As the game evolves, constantly re-evaluate the criteria. Outright destruction of a unit might not be your objective anymore:

  • What is it's kill potential? (K1)
    Is the unit combat effective anymore, or is it of limited effectiveness? Is it a scoring unit/contesting an objective?
  • When does it reach it's kill potential? (K2)
    Does it have the potential to kill anything important anymore, or can I divert it by means other than shooting it or tie it up in close combat for a few turns?
  • How tough is it to destroy? (D1)
    Is there something easier to kill that I should direct my firepower towards?
  • How soon can it be destroyed? (D2)
    Can I bring enough firepower to bear while still pursuing victory/objectives?
  • Subjective modifier for battlefield, terrain, mission, and situation (S)
    Can I get my opponent to do what I want by creating a threat where none/little exists and minimize the effectiveness of a unit without killing it?

Essentially, if it isn't worth killing it - delay it or divert it. If it is worth killing, make sure you do so, but not at the cost of victory. If it's a powerful close combat unit that was relatively ineffective in shooting, but now needs attention, give it due attention. You should have prepared for it along the way by having fewer other risks to shoot at.

It's okay to take casualties to low Killhammer Rated units to maintain a kill gap. Diverting a close combat unit to kill a weak unit that leaves it exposed to return fire is a GREAT tactic and allows you to keep your firepower on other threats for longer. Suckering in a Wraithlord to take on some Scouts but being left in rapid fire range of three plasma guns and in range of a few autocannons is a beautiful thing. Especially when you spent your time blowing away Dark Reapers for the previous few turns.

This is a part of the game that everyone is familiar with, and if you've embraced the first two steps in applying Killhammer, the third should flow naturally. If you're still struggling with the concept of not using a lascannon on a Land Raider when there's a Plague Marine squad you could be shooting instead, the Killhammer flow might be more difficult.

4. Summary

So, if you've read everything up above, Bravo! Thanks for taking the time and you'll have a better understanding of the whys of Killhammer. For everyone who is reading this, you've got a handy-dandy summary and checklist.

Killhammer is a subjective system for determining target priority and unit effectiveness that allows you to evaluate the key components of your army and your opponent's army, providing a framework for target priority. The objective is to create a kill gap between you and your opponent. A kill gap is the difference between the effective offense of your force and your opponent's force. This is achieved by reducing the kill potential of your enemy by always targeting the more important units first while protecting and effectively utilizing your most important units.

There is a subjective formula for evaluating the value of a unit
Yours: (K1-K2)+(D1+D2) + S
Theirs: (K1-K2)-(D1+D2) + S

  • What is the kill potential? (K1)
  • How soon does it reach that potential? (K2)
  • How tough is it to destroy? (D1)
  • How soon can it be destroyed? (D2)
  • Subjective modifier for battlefield, terrain, mission, and situation. (S)

The results of the formula should give you the best unit to go after. It'll take practice and experience, but if applied properly it will prevent you from going after a hard target with several squads to little effect and instead using those same units to completely wipe out an opposing unit.

5. Additional notes

  1. In most armies, troops choices tend to have moderate to low K1 and K2 (without transports). They've also got middle to very low D for the most part. When you're playing an objectives game, their S is going to go up based upon proximity to the objective.
  2. Using killhammer principles, you'd first try and take out any units with a high K that can reduce the amount of firepower you can bring to bear on the enemy.
  3. Continuing with killhammer principles, you then begin to concentrate as much firepower as possible on a single troop squad per turn as you can. It's probably worth it to waste shots from one of your squads to completely wipe out one of their troops choices.
  4. Anything you can't kill, delay or divert. A full 10 man squad does your opponent no good in an objectives game if he's tied up for three turns in hand to hand with an assault unit that he'll eventually destroy. If he's not on the objective, he can't win. Use rhinos to increase the distance that he has to march, etc.
  5. Always remember that the S can completely outweigh all of the K and D factors.

Best of luck
Warp Angel


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