BITS of Only War

All links leading out of are unaffiliated.

  1. The Core Mechanic
  2. The Stats
  3. The Fun BITS
  4. Notable: Supply Lines
  5. Notable: Regiment Creation
  6. Notable: Vehicles
  7. Notable: Force Fields
  8. Notable: Augments
  9. Notable: Levels of Damage
  10. Notable: NPC Comrades
  11. Notable: Compatible With Other Games

Warhammer 40,000 Only War is a grimdark soldiers-at-the-front game that is inundated with minutia that makes the title more a tactical simulation than a game-for-fun as-is.

Big game tomes tracking every little thing makes sense – back in 2012 during the game’s publication, D&D was the primary RPG example in town, Only War itself based off of the piles-o’-dice tabletop wargame WH40K. There is so much here, this blog post will have to be abridged (not a full conversion of the main features to BITS).

The publisher has since come a hugely long way with Age of Sigmar: Soulbound, yet there are still gems here applicable to the BITS system. Skimming over some areas of detail, I introduce to you the best BITS of Only War:

The Core Mechanic

Skipping the dice piles of the wargame or the recent Soulbound RPG, Only War requires rolls at or under a percentage, that percentage being a combination of ability, skill, context, personal modifications, target modifications, and other tidbits.

There is a boatload of math here, each modifier being a range from -60 to +60, in increments of either 5 or 10. Ouch.

BITS is here to save the day for us: Genericize the difficulty, add minimal additions to rolls, and roll 2d6 at most.

Easy15+Rabble, conscripts, untrained guards, small beasts.
Moderate27+Professional guards, foot soldiers, trained.
Hard39+Specialists, veterans, brutes, large beasts.
Very Hard411+Captains, elites, killers, vicious beasts.
Legendary613+Demi-gods, lords, titular mortals.
Near Impossible1015+The gods made flesh, god-like beings.
BITS Difficulty Reminder

Let us skip the rest of the mechanic since most all of it can be replaced by BITS for faster, easier play.

The Stats

Weapon Skill, Ballistic Skill, Strength, Toughness, Agility, Intelligence, Perception, Willpower, Fellowship.

9. 9 stats, not counting Wounds (health), Fatigue (disadvantage on things when fatigued), Sanity, Corruption, and different Speeds and Sizes and Encumbrances.

Humans can recall only 7 things (+/- 2) in memory, so including 9 stats and more about the character being played plus the equipment of that character plus what is happening with comrades plus what is happening in game… No good.

BITS mitigates this with Body, Insight, and Thought. Here, we can take an average of the Only War stats that correspond (each stat averages to 31%: 2d10 + 20), and giving stat points for what percentage comes out:

BITSOnly War Stats
BodyWeapon Skill
InsightBallistic Skill
BITS Stat Conversion
Heroic ModeAlt. Semi-HeroicAlt. Human-ishAlt. Humbling
0-16% = 1
17-50% = 2
51-82% = 3
83-99% = 4
0-39% = 1
40-69% = 2
70-89% = 3
90-99% = 4
0-49% = 0
50-69% = 1
70-84% = 2
85-94% = 3
95-99% = 4
0-2% = -4
3-8% = -3
9-16% = -2
17-27% = -1
28-71% = 0
72-82% = 1
83-90% = 2
91-96% = 3
97-99% = 4
% Range to BITS Value
(Semi-Heroic is the best fit, Heroic second)

I won’t drawl on the trainings/skills a character has either – as is the typical, there are too many. So instead, base skills (the “Specialties” of BITS) on the role the character plays: Are they a pilot? A driver? The vanguard? A mechanical, biological, or software technician? A psychic (aka magic) user?

Let the character role decide what the character can and cannot do with advantage because it is safe to assume the characters are competent to some degree.

As for health, using Soulbound‘s B+I+T+S or a 2d6 or even d6 can lead to different experiences, whatever the game should “feel” like at your table:

HealthKind of Play
B+I+T+SHeroic, 1-to-16 range
2d6Semi-heroic, 2-12 range, average 7
d6Deadly, 1-6 range, average 3-4
Healthy Conversions

The Fun BITS

A brief here before the next sections: What follows are the parts of Only War that really stood out to my design-eye.

These mechanics either are fully formed and standalone, require minor tweaks, or are great inspirations for BITS. Keep in mind that the following may not be 1:1 representative of Only War, but at least has a basis from the work done there.

Notable: Supply Lines

Or as the game calls it, “logistics.” Characters can get any gear they want, but they must request it and they must roll to see if it arrives.

Gear is gear – every game has equipment. Yet no game yet come across has quite this wartime mechanic of supply lines! (Band of Blades may come close – it has been awhile since reading up on it.)

Logistics shines because depending on who the characters are, what their army group is, where the battle is taking place, and how the war is going overall changes what is likely to be available.

When it comes to bad logistics rolls, an army group isn’t left to sticks and rocks. A saving grace is that every regiment has its own stock of basic kit, a class of weapons and items they have in spades. Not fancy, but an army won’t be for want!

The implementation is as math-heavy as the rest of Only War. A route BITS can take may look like:

  • Every player may attempt 1 requisition between missions, adding their Insight stat to how they barter / promise / beg / threaten / steal for it.
    • If the players are in retreat or in a break-neck push ahead, requisition cannot happen.
  • The effectiveness of the item is the base challenge of the roll (tier 1 quality = 5+ roll, 2 = 7+, etc.).
  • The whole squad can get basic infantry gear; heavy or specialized infantry gear or vehicle parts must be rolled for one at a time while acquiring a single vehicle increases the challenge of the roll to the next level (e.g. a tier 1 scout vehicle becomes 7+, not 5+).
  • Advantage to the roll if winning the last battle by a landslide (utter destruction of the enemy), the next mission is “the big one,” or the item is part of the “standard” for the group. Disadvantage if the previous mission was a real beating for the characters, the next mission is a full wartime evacuation, or the item is especially “exotic” (i.e. alien, heavily modified, experimental, part of a different military branch [not the army], etc.).
  • Apply other boons or banes based on the conditions of the field, for example:
+1 to Roll-1 to Roll
Fresh Shipment / OverstockedBase Recently Raided
Friendly Industrial / Fortress WorldBackwater / Naturalized / Enemy World
Session 0 (Before Entering War)Base Depot / Facilities Destroyed
Longstanding Base (1+ Year)Trivial Forward Operating Base / Camp
Winning the WarLosing the War
Deadly Next MissionMinimal Enemy Force Expected
Logistics Modifier Examples

Why not include the requisition of support as well during the mission? Being able to call in a tank company, have a friendly regiment on the flank, rely on air support, or signal an artillery barrage all adds to play for sure!

And of course the Game Moderator (GM) can choose if a piece of kit is even available to be rolled for – a super-heavy battle tank may simply not be around on a cut-off backwater of a warzone!

Notable: Regiment Creation

Creating an army and the soldiers who play a part in it is =superb=.

Only War walks a player through the fighting style, homeworld, standard kit, commander disposition, and even lore of the battle group they wage war on behalf of. All this before a character is made!

The regiment establishes kit, special rules, and bonuses players may (or sometimes must) apply to their characters and operations. Everything from vehicles to resources to tactics become available, as per these examples from the game:

RegimentGeneral Features
Cadian Shock TroopsPoster-boy soldiers. Solid firearms and a squad APC.
Dadv to disobey orders. Lasguns and launchers.
Catachan Jungle FightersLone-wolf guerilla fighters. Extra health.
Adv in ‘nature’, Dadv cooperating. Flamers and knives.
Death Korps of KriegGas-mask-wearing attrition and siege group.
Adv to push forward, Dadv to fall back. Artillery.
Elysian Drop TroopsDeath-from-above. Anti-grav devices, maybe a dropship.
Not that strategic (less Thought). Carbines and bombs.
Maccabian JanissariesZealots. Solid firearms and more advanced weaponry.
Good Insight, Dadv to fall back. Cannons and plasma.
Mordian Iron GuardArmored regiment. Get a tank and combat drugs.
Dadv for actions taken while in the open. Small arms.
Tallarn Desert RaidersMounted hit-and-run. Scout walkers and extra HP.
Extra movement when ambushing others. Launchers.
Vostroyan FirstbornElite backliners. Extra stat point, solid standard gear.
Dadv on lower-born social tests. Sniping and auto guns.
Example Regiments

There is so much more…

I might make a blog post that is a direct get-started conversion where homeworlds, commanders, et. al are covered in depth – for now, group creation in Only War is now the basis for BITS!

Notable: Vehicles

BITS lacked a firm understanding of how to implement vehicles before Only War. Now, the inspiration:

Vehicles are a unit type above Infantry – Infantry have a disadvantage to harm them (though perhaps some bonus +1 or the vehicle tier for shooting the broadside of a barn, e.g. large vehicles?).

Further, vehicle BITS tiers (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10) add a ‘0’ to the end of the tier for the vehicle’s hull health, e.g. tier 1 becomes 10, 2 20, etc.

Same ‘0’ applies to vehicle-grade weapons. A tier-1 effectiveness vehicle weapon does 10 damage, and so on.

Combat vehicles are either without extra protection or are “armored,” impervious to non-explosive, non-anti-armor weapons.

Optionally, a scale can be introduced to equate with infantry protection where it reduces incoming harm:

ArmorEquates to
0No extra protection, canvas, open
1Light infantry, flak fabric, car door
2Medium infantry, plates, car frame
3Heavy infantry, carapace, car engine block
4Super infantry, powered armor, combat vehicle
6Heavy combat vehicle, mobile weapon platform
10Ancient / Exotic / Experimental protection
Vehicle Armor Point Array

For every tier, a vehicle gets 2 features aside from whatever motive (wheeled, tracked, or walking) it uses. A tier 1 scout could have any of the following, up to 2: mounted infantry weapon, mounted vehicle-tier weapon (counts as 2 systems), a fireteam carrying capacity (4-6 infantry, heavy weapons and ‘larger’ personnel counting as 2 infantry), armored, hover engine, turbo engine, slaved cyborg operator, damage control, amphibious functions, large replacement parts, etc.

Notable: Force Fields

AKA “shields.”

Only War defines how BITS handles these kinds of ‘magic’ fields of protection!

First, they do not overlap. Only the strongest field applies at a time, though pop one, a second might be in place.

Next, effect tier must be equal to or greater than the field itself, otherwise all of the effect is negated completely (a tier-1 pistol and a tier-1 vehicle gun are treated the same). But fields remain ‘ablative,’ in that once damage arrives that is on par with the field, the field only goes down 1 point in effectiveness in exchange for stopping all damage. The new effectiveness – until recharged – can then be attacked by lesser-effect weapons.

Example: A tier 4 vehicle-mounted shield takes 2-damage small-arms fire. The damage doesn’t make it through and the shields hold at 4. (Attention is drawn to being shot, however!)

Then an airstrike arrives, doing 4-damage to the shield. The shield decreases in power to 3, stopping all of the airstrike’s effect. But a second airstrike arrives, again at 4, dropping the shield now to 2. A small-arms rifle takes a potshot for 2, now able to damage the shield down to 1.

As the vehicle’s turn ends, the shields recharge back up to 2. This stops pistols, but won’t stop rifle or heavier fire more than twice.

Should actions against the field critically succeed when the damage is at or above shield power, the field ‘pops,’ reducing to 0 to stop the attack (and if especially egregious, a GM might think the field has run out of power or requires maintenance!).

The above is a tentative scale of field shield power, though it could be split into Infantry-Vehicle-Ship-Planetary scales:

1Personal Field
2Combat Field
3Containment / Wall Field
4Vehicle / Building Field
6Spaceship Field
10World Field
Example Field Strengths

Notable: Augments

Robot eyes, regrown limbs, spare organs? The idea that any character can be saved from extreme physical harm – at a cost – is stellar.

Replacement parts are noticeable, but as standard do nothing ‘extra.’ Requisition, time, and medical and technical talent can be spent to, say, breath in any atmosphere, run faster, lift heavier, punch harder, see farther, or just have laser eyes 🙂

Notable: Levels of Damage

In a strange way, Only War has both a bean-counting health system (typical of RPGs), and an abstracted level of wounds.

The level of damage affects a character’s healing rate and NPC comrades. Once more severe levels are healed, it is easier to heal the rest. My take:

Only War Harm TermApprox. HarmNotes
Critical< Body stat left of life7+ Luck test each day of complete rest to heal 1.
Heavy> Body in harm,
> Body left
Each day of complete rest to heal 1.
LightHarm <= BodyEach day of no further harm heals 1.
Abstract Character Health Levels

This seems a little heavy handed – why not heal 1 based on the context of where and how healing is done like most other games? (D&D “rests” come to mind.) Regardless, state is something to keep in my own game-design back-pocket for a while yet.

In the meantime, a handful of health is optimal (certainly not more than 20), perhaps spacing states at half- and quarter-life marks, rounding up. (Again, analyze this another time 🤷‍♂️)

Let’s consider NPC comrades:

Notable: NPC Comrades

Every player character in the game is supposed to have a “comrade,” someone who follows them around, follows orders, and provides support. (Excluding some chosen roles during character creation.)

Having a battle-buddy is nifty, though comes with caveats. It bolsters the number of soldiers to make a squad, provides some mechanical and narrative flexibility, but also adds a greater burden on the GM to track yet other NPCs. I am a bit on the fence with these kinds of henchmen, so it needs further investigation.

NPCs are either unharmed, wounded, or dead – there is no middle ground! Nor excess tracking of health. A single hit of any caliber reduces the NPC’s state, though extreme harm (in excess of the NPC’s effect tier, or double the tier or more?) should count as at least 2 hits.

When healthy, they take orders, can do tasks on their own, and generally support the player character with a +1 ‘help’ to rolls.

StateWhat It Does
UnharmedGreat. Sticks around.
WoundedCannot run (‘Slow’ speed).
Would assume they have Dadv or reduced effectiveness.
Takes a week of rest to heal.
DeadNot doing great.
Mark the name down, when and how they died.
Get a new comrade back at base.
Comrade States

BITS will explore adding a fourth state, “critical,” where NPCs could be carried back to base for saving, or left behind to hold back an onrushing tide!

Only War lacks a “lookout sir!” rule; a comrade can intercept incoming fire on behalf of their leader. Rather, only when doubles are rolled when targeting the player do these NPCs get hit. This is messy, so BITS adds “lookout sir!” when a hit would kill the player character and not otherwise hit the NPC (an explosion would hit both characters regardless).

Notable: Compatible With Other Games

Blows my mind that more games fail to include integration or conversion specifications with other titles. Maybe it is the problem of ownership and copyright, should a system such as D&D combine with Mörk Borg by name 🤷‍♂️

In any case, Only War fits itself nicely alongside other titles in the Warhammer 40,000 RPG line. The game is thorough with the mechanical tweaks and also cautious with the theming, reiterating what Only War is meant for versus the ‘feel’ other titles expect to provide.

2600 words, and barely scratching the surface of Warhammer 40,000 Only War!

Like fitting a foot into a too tight shoe, a great feel and look once there after putting in the work. That is what BITS is – a tight, sleek frame for the games that go in, running like a charm ~

Only War is no different. While BITS applied some of its principles to help Only War conform to a more concise feel, Only War gave as good as it got. Multiple points of inspiration came from Only War that BITS is already applying in game drafts soon to be shared!

What are you taking from BITS of Only War? The war tracking? Army building? Force fields? I want to know – share your insights and this post and we’ll meet again in a bit! Cheers ~

Published by

Jimmy Chattin

Processor of data, applier of patterns, maker of games and stories.

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