Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Are Gnomes Good?

For those who don't feel naturally drawn toward the delightful diminutive people, the first question is often "are gnomes good?" In other words can gnomes win their share of battles? When I asked around for advice on fielding gnomes, the advice I recieved was that one should include as many allies and monstrous hosts in order to dilute out the "weaknesses" and "liabilities" that gnomes present. I think this sells gnomes short and warrants further investigation.

Let's discuss: are gnomes good? The answer is not a robust yes, but rather a "it depends". And this should be expected for any race, as the game wouldn't work if a single race were objectively better. 

The Gnomish stat-line is as follows:

See our 3rd ed. Armylist

Relative to a standard Warhammer Human they trade 1 Toughness for an additional Weapon Skill, Ld, and WP, and cost the same points.

So, we have to ask, are they better than a human? 

Well it depends.

In warhammer third edition, the additional WS gives them a decisive edge in close combat. That is 3 WS vs. 3 WS requires a 5+ to hit. But, 4 WS vs. 3 WS requires a 4+ to hit. This means against a human, Gnomes hit 50% more often! This comes with the trade off of toughness.

Standard 3S vs. 3T wounds on a 4+. 3S vs. 2T wounds on a 3+. That is only an increase of 33%.

If we only consider close combat, gnomes will kill 50% more humans, but in return suffer 33% more casualties. This means that hand-to-hand conflicts with gnomes will be deadlier on both sides, but slightly more for their opponents.

What about against other races?

This comparison becomes tricky as gnomes cost 5 pts and Elves and Dwarves cost 8 points. To balance this out we can arm the gnomes with a spear and shield (+2 pts.)

Elves have higher initiative. So they will attack first. Against a gnome with shield they hit on a 5+, wound on a 3+, and get past armor 5/6 of the time. This means an elf will wound a gnome 10/54 of the time or 18.5%. If we factor in 18.5% casualties, gnomes fighting back hit on a 5+, wound on a 4+, and have spears increasing their attacks by 50%. This means that in reply gnomes will reply to elves wounding elves 20.3% of the time. This scenario implies a situation in which neither the elves nor the gnomes charged. If the elves charged, they get a +1 to hit modifier, this would increase their dished out wounds to 27.7% and decrease the gnomes' reply to 18%. If the gnomes charge (since in 3rd edition charging didn't prevent back ranks from attacking with spears.) The Elf initial attack will cause 18.5% wounds and the gnomes will reply with 30.5%. Elves have a higher movement speed and are 2" more likely to get the charge over gnomes.

Summary: if neither charges Gnomes have an advantage of 1.8%, if Elves charge they have an edge of  9.7%, if Gnomes charge they have an edge of 12%.

As with any race, fighting dwarves is tough. Gnomes have higher initiative and will attack first, they will hit on a 5+, wound on a 5+, and benefit from an additional 50% attacks from spears. This results in a total wound chance of 16.6%. after taking casualties, dwarves will reply with a 5+ to hit, a 3+ to wound, and a 5/6 chance of passing the gnomish armor. This equates to a wound chance of 15.4%. As above this implies neither side charged. If the Dwarves charged their wound chance increases to 23.1% against the holding gnomes' 16.6%. Conversely, if the gnomes charge their chance of wounding increases to 25% and the dwarves decreases to 13.8%. Gnomes have a higher move speed than dwarves and are more likely to get the charge.

Summary: if neither charges, gnomes have an advantage of 1.2%. If Dwarves charge they have an edge of 6.5%. If Gnomes charge they have an edge of 11.2%.

Against Orcs gnomes win. The deciding factor here is gnomish initiative. With Gnomish hatred of Orcs, the two side hit and wound at the same cumulative rate.  However, since Gnomes attack first there are fewer Orcs to respond. Gnomes dish out a wound rate of 22.2% and the orcs reply with 17.2%.  If Orcs charge, the Gnomes wound with 22.2% and the Orcs follow up with 25.9%. If the Gnomes charge they wound with 27.7% and the orcs reply with 16.0%.

Summary: if neither side charges gnomes have an edge of 5%. If Orcs charge they have an edge of 3.7%. If gnomes charge they have an edge of 11.7%.

Goblins are problematic. Arming a goblin with spear, shield and light armor (+2 pts) so that they cost 5 pts, Gnomes are in a pickle. Assuming neither side charges, Gnomes have higher initiative with hatred they hit on a 3+, they wound on a 4+, get passed armor 4/6 of the time resulting in a total 22.2% of wounding. In reply the remaining Goblins hit on a 5+ with hatred, wound on a 3+, with 50% additional attacks from spears gives them a total 25.9% chance of wounding. If Goblins charged their wound chance increases to 50%, with a a reply of 22.2%. If Gnomes charge their wound chance is 27.7% with a goblin reply of 33.3%

Summary: if neither charged that round, goblins have an edge of 3.7%. If Goblins charged they have an edge of 27.8%! If Gnomes charge, the goblins still have an edge of 5.6%.

Another factor to consider is that despite these claimed advantages, often the winning side is based on point density. For example the best gnomes I could place into close combat would be with heavy armor, shield and spear in a by-the-rules 3rd ed. game. Where as the dwarves could deploy either a unit of dwarves with pikes and light armor, or +4 shock elite Hammerers with heavy armor, shield and great weapon. If there is a large point game and both sides have +3 ranks, I may have more gnomes in total, but if I cannot win close combat I am at a decided disadvantage. For example against a unit of 20 Dwarf Hammerers (5 ranks, 4 files) any number of gnomes beyond 30 (5 ranks, 6 files) won't be of any added advantage in a straight up close combat. However, this logic also applies against goblins. Gnomes with heavy armor, spear, and shield will soundly beat goblins, even if armed to the teeth as in the example above. This goes to show the importance of elite troops and gear. 

What about ranged combat?

This advantage falls away against ranged attacks. Gnomes, like Halflings and Skinks are more vulnerable to ranged fire. If gnomes cannot make it up to close combat then their hand-to-hand advantage is moot.

Analyzing ranged combat is tricky. To simplify the analysis we will assume the following gear/race combinations Gnomes with crossbows, Humans with crossbows, Elves with longbows, and Dwarves with crossbows. We will simply compare their likelihood of hitting and wounding, and then relative to their points cost - a wounds inflicted per point, if you will. Straight off the bat, Humans with crossbows are objectively better. They have more toughness and cost the same. No sense in analyzing that further.

Gnomes only come out ahead in one circumstance: when shooting at elves at close range. In this one circumstance They have a 4.16% chance of wounding an elf per point compared to the Elve's 4.04% chance of wounding a gnome per point in the same circumstance. In all other circumstances gnomes are at a disadvantage against other races in ranged combat.

What about those other stats?

Another general advantage is their Ld and WP increases. WP is typically negligible but it does give them a slight magic resistance. The Ld bonus is an all around advantage that ensures that your gnomes will stick around the battlefield more often.

Another aspect to consider is gnomish magic. In Warhammer 3rd ed. Gnomish wizards had unparalleled access to illusion spells. These spells can give a player an underestimated and often unexpected advantage. Nothing is more demoralizing to your human opponent with a shooty army than to realize he has struck nothing but air. Furthermore, illusory magic spells such as illusionary terrain or troops can be used to allow your gnomes to safety close the gap and get to grips with the enemy in close combat.

In summary, I think that Gnomes come with particular advantages, especially in close combat, however, the loss of toughness is a significant liability, putting them at great disadvantage in ranged combat. They present a unique tactical quandary to the experienced Warhammer General.

We'd love to hear your opinions and insights below. Do you think gnomes are good? We look forward to battle reports and tactical experiences after we mail out our first batch of kickstarter Gnomes.

Warhammer is a trademark of Gamesworkshop and no claim against that trademark is made here. The game is copyrighted and referenced here without permission for commentary and evaluative purposes.


  1. Screw the statistics, Gnomes are cool!

    1. Hahaha. I totally agree. I would not have sculpted them otherwise. But some people want to know their gnomes stand a chance of winning before they start collecting.