Monday, 29 October 2012

337 'Deep' Thoughts - Why are there no moats in 40K?

PLEASE NOTE: This post is  NOT meant to be a serious suggestion - just the product of a tired and idle brain mucking around! See my comment below for details.

Well now.

Mrs D is full-term and about fit to pop with Child, Infant, No. 2, Changing for the use of,  and I've noticed with not a little dismay that not only have I had practically no hobby time in the last month, I've also been neglecting the blogosphere both passively and actively. So here are some thoughts about something whose absence is conspicuous in the 41st Millennium...

I love moats. I love digging them (in sand, naturally!), exploring them, running up-and-down them, seeing them and just being awed by how - well - awesomely effective so simple an idea can be.

So why don't we ever see them in 40K?
Take the slightly ill-fated 'Planetstrike' expansion: one of the things which (as I understand it) added to its lacklustre impact [pun intented] is the ease with which certain assualty or melta-bomby troops could appear next to the walls of the (oddly arranged and isolated) fortifications and simply either cut them open or melt a hole through them. This would be trickier under 12 feet of water (or acid, or slime, or magma...or whatever happens to flow around 40K battlefields).
Now the real trick is this: even if you place your meltabomb or use your chainfist underwater, in a well-moated fort you'll merely be attacking the rock beneath the fort, and not the supestructue itself. I'm not saying this wouldn't work, but it'd certainly take a lot of time. And you'd get pretty soggy. 

'But Drax,' I hear you cry, 'Many fortifications have a dry moat!' And you're right, of course.

But think about how they often work practically: the best one are comically deep and some of them even have my favourite features: caponiers and counterscarp batteries (or counterscarp loopholes), so that once the enemy are in your dry ditch you can absolutely rake them with enfilading and counterscarp fire. I'm not saying this is flawless, but it's a hell of a lot better than just plonking your fort down somewhere flat...

Southsea Castle, which was local to me growing up, is a classic example of this practice. Here it is from the air (the caponier is at the bottom and the counterscarp loopholes may be seen around the inside of the outer ditch wall); the second picture is along one of the countescarp tunnels in the outer wall:
 (the blue patches are the daylight through the loopholes. Source.)
Either way, I think if I ever build my own Fortress of Redemption I suspect I may just model it with a moat!



  1. Well, if we're talking 40k... Valkyrie/dropship will just drop the assault/elite troopers off within the walls, no moat crossing required. And that's if they don't opt for a straight-up orbital bombardment, lol.

    Don't get me wrong, moats are damn cool aesthetically, but I'd argue their practicality is far more in the Warhammer Fantasy realm than in the Warhammer 40K realm, fluff-wise at least. Nothing's stopping you from modeling one out and labeling it as difficult/dangerous/impassable terrain. That would still allow fliers and jump infantry to get across.

  2. There's a reason that modern fortifications don't bother with Moats anymore. That's the simple reason that walls are so easy to breach and things like ladders and portable bridging vehicles are common enough that it's makes no sense to create a moat.

  3. My recollection is that once walls became easier o breach from a distance with cannons, there was less reason to protect against a ground assault.

    However, the concept of a moat was kept alive, certainly in this US civil war fort.

    -go take a look, then come back.-

    Ok, did you notice how low the walls were from the outside? This made life difficult for those trying to bombard it, and the grassy area between the outer cannon positions and inner fort could and was filled with water. both the inside and outside wall have firing points that cover the "moat" When I toured it the low grass area was quite spongy and moist.

    I think the cool 40K fort to build would be one with a low moat-like killing gound between the outer Aegis ring and the inner fortress.

    hope its helpful...

  4. Ach!

    I guess I ought to have noted that this was not intended as a serious suggestion!

    Obviously I get that moats can be easily surmounted with modern technologies(!) - what I should have stressed is that it could make a difference on the tabletop...whereon we don't tend to see bridging or mining units, and where deepstrikers are often understandably unwilling to try to land on so small a target as (for example) the top of a bastion.

    Mostly what we see on the tabletop is infantry running upto defensive structures then either scrambling over them or cutting through them.

    And Spyrle: you're right on the money - I grew up with post-Napoleonic and Victorian forts (there's a dizzying string of 27 of them round Portsmouth!), and whilst huge and imposing from the harbour the ones on the top of the overlooking Portsdown Hill are quite literally invisible from the threatened landward side - not too unlike the US Civil War one you linked to...the idea of a glacis taken to its inevitable conclusion with breach-loading guns that 'popped-up' to fire. Genius.

    Here's a general link if you're interested:,_Portsmouth - the ones in the sea are impressive too!

    But seriously guys: I was just mucking about!

  5. I think it would be great to see. Make it difficult or even dangerous terrain and it could make a serious difference. I'd love to see it as it would look really cool at least.

  6. I think the major problem is modelling options--it's easy to build *up* on a gaming table, not so easy to cut down into it... You could always "pretend" to have a sunken feature but it's just easier to build up instead. For a custom gaming table, it would look awesome.

  7. Thing about prtraying this on the tabletop is that most GW buildings are woefully undersized for what they are supposed to represent. That bastion looks more like a Guard tower than a fort to me and whilst the Fortress of Redemption is a nice sculpt, it'd be roomy enough for maybe 8 spacemarines to believably settle down in.

    The only fort I have seen GW make that was a believable one to me was that sweet custom job they made for the release of 6th, who's link I cannot find btw, the size of a table end.

    back on topic, in 40K, water is not an obstical to most any species except guard really and even then they can just drop their troops in from air. Acid, magma and toxic stludges would be fun and a bit more prohibitive to entry by would-be attackers, tho then the garrisoned defenders would also have to worry about said nasty substances eating away at the foundations of the very fort they are cowering in.

    Aesthetically though, I'd love to see some cool modelling on custom tables for moats. "Drowning Orks" has a certain pleeasant ring to it. :)

    (Good luck with the impending eruption of Nurgling #2!)

  8. I reject your assertation that this is not a serious suggestion. I'm off to design and build a fortress with moat suitable for 40K.

  9. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face, Spyrle!

  10. I love this post. Great discussions from all. And I'm massively jealous about everyone being surrounded by cool castles and forts! Thanks for all the links and pic everyone. :)

  11. Admiral Drax Sah! Reports of a bastion with moat are floating around the interwebs.....

  12. I think that we are all forgetting the high levels of megalomania prevalent in 40k, I mean the bad guys are like bond villains on crack!
    I find it perfectly acceptable to expect a moat around an evil lair, filled with cyber-piranha's, psychic cod or a tyranid 'loch ness monster'.

    Personally, if I was assaulting such a place I would be disappointed not to find my squadmates being dismembered by improbable species of killer animals.

  13. A good point; well presented.

    Thank you, Sir!


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