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- "I know those coordinates are only forty metres from my position and I sincerely thank you for your concern, but the enemy is closer - bring it down now, all of it!"
- — Trooper Vandell, 34th Cadian
A Master of Ordnance is the specialist within many Imperial Guard regiments who is responsible for calling in timely and accurate artillery fire to support the action of his unit and any others further down the chain of command. Unlike many of the other specialist roles that Guardsmen can fill over the course of their service, the position of Master of Ordnance is a highly formalised position within most regiments. While some regiments allow any officer equipped with a Vox link or accompanied by a Vox operator to request artillery fire, the Master of Ordnance has the command authority to order such bombardments, which can light the field ablaze, shatter defensive lines, or cripple a charging wave of foes before they can strike.
The role of the Master of Ordnance is an unusual one in that unlike many others, it relies on the individual interacting with units outside of his own regiment on a regular basis. After all, most Imperial Guard regiments consist almost entirely of the same general type of sub-units. If an infantry regiment requires artillery support it must obtain it from an artillery regiment, which itself may be positioned many miles behind the front lines. Communication between regiments can be very difficult, and facilitating this communication is the role of the Master of Ordnance.
Given that many Imperial Guard regiments speak dialects of Low Gothic that are all but unintelligible to others, the scope for confusion is enormous. The Master of Ordnance is therefore trained to communicate rapidly and clearly regarding abstract concepts such as trajectory, yields, vectors, and the like, and can thus converse in the common language of high explosives. In addition to the necessity to converse with other regiments, the Master of Ordnance might also be required to coordinate with members of the Imperial Navy as vessels in low orbit offer super heavy fire support to the "ground pounders" or with the servants of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the custodians of all manner of arcane war machines from mighty Titans to arrays of exotic city-razing archeotech weaponry.
While almost every world in the Imperium of Man is required to render its tithes of men and materiel to fuel the ceaseless wars of the Imperium, the skills and qualities of the human component of the tithing process vary enormously. A ferocious warrior from a Feral World might have spent his life mastering survival in a hostile environment while a Hive Worlder is likely to be schooled in the operation of numerous types of manufacturing machinery. For both, this knowledge is in a large part intuitive and obvious by adulthood, and so it can be difficult to relate new skills in these terms. However, the human mind has an incredible elasticity to it, and individuals who can be convinced to learn can develop new knowledge later in life.
The position of Master of Ordnance requires mental acuity of a sort, if not always raw power, and a strong situational awareness. It also requires the ability to learn, as few regiments train the troopers of the line in the techniques and rituals incumbent in this position. A few regiments do maintain their own regimental programs and practices to train these artillery experts. A number of these are specialised regiments, those whose primary role is to provide artillery support for other units in the field. For those regiments where the use of artillery weapons is common, the troopers are taught to calculate the landing point of high-impact shells alongside proper maintenance and the use of their Lasguns. Though most such regiments do not teach their troopers of the line to truly understand the mechanics behind firing their indirect weapons, some troopers nonetheless grow to excel through raw practice and innate spacial awareness, becoming incredibly accurate and deadly with their artillery weapons.
There are certain other regiments, especially those that draw a large portion of their troops from worlds where one's primary education is raw survival and all other concerns are secondary, that subject promising troopers to extensive and often highly invasive processes designed to implant the necessary skills for calculating artillery trajectories directly into the minds of the recipients. This process is most often carried out soon after a regiment is tithed into the Imperial Guard. Some of these troopers are volunteers who wish to better serve their comrades and the God-Emperor by enhancing their skills with indirect fire weapons. Others undergo the process less of their own volition and more by order of their regimental commander. Sometimes, the trooper rejoins his fellows with no knowledge of what happened whilst he was unconscious, while in others the trooper recalls every last excruciating procedure in painful detail and has extensive scarring or obvious bionic augmentation to show for it. Either way, the individual is granted the skills and knowledge needed to order complex fire support missions from allied artillery units, Imperial Navy orbital units, or other similar formations.
An Imperial Guardsman designated as a Master of Ordnance might serve at almost any level of his regiment's chain of command. The most experienced often serve in the command squads of company captains or higher, but the less senior are simply line troopers with additional training and responsibility. These Guardsmen are, first and foremost specialists serving in the infantry squads of their regiments, but their presence is an enormous "force modifier" that allows the unit to call upon a formidable weight of firepower.
The Master of Ordnance has a staggering degree of destruction at his beck and call, allowing him to call down heavy ordnance on an enemy position should his unit become pinned down or engaged by unexpectedly effective resistance. There are limitations imposed upon the trooper's ability however, for if there was not he might be tempted to order fire missions when faced with even the slightest challenge. The first restriction is one of comparative rank. Though he has the authority to order fire support, the type and frequency varies according to the specifics of his own appointment and authentication ciphers it grants him. Squad or platoon-level Masters of Ordnance can call in far less destructive and numerous fire missions than those that serve at the level of company or regiment, for example. Furthermore, a Master of Ordnance who abuses his authority is very likely to lose it, for the commanders of the artillery regiments he is ordering fire from do not hesitate to protest to his commanding colonel.
As officious as the Departmento Munitorum's shell-counters are, the enemy is far more of a threat to the continued existence of the average Master of Ordnance. Depending on the nature of the enemy, the Master of Ordnance is often very high on the list of targets and therefore in greater danger than most of his comrades. It is often said that the Master of Ordnance has an average life expectancy of less than thirty minutes once battle commences and so many line troopers regard them as tokens of bad luck. Though said in jest, there is something of the truth in this assertion, for a canny enemy -- especially a human one that shares many of the Imperial Guard's battle doctrines -- is likely to be able to identify the Master of Ordnance and make every effort to kill him. Most xenos foes are incapable of telling one human from another, of course, and so make no special effort to single out the Master of Ordnance. Rebels, Heretics, recidivists, separatists, and most other human enemies the Imperial Guard are likely to face are a different story, however, as are the more advanced xenos foes such as the Eldar.
Because the role of Master of Ordnance is relatively formalised above the regimental level by the Departmento Munitorum, there tends to be little in the way of variation in how different regiments actually utilise their capabilities. The procedures used to call in artillery fire support are by necessity standardised, and so little variation is possible. That said, the way different regiments train their Masters of Ordnance can differ, as can attitudes towards these specialists.
The Death Korps regiments of Krieg have on occasion been seen to demonstrate a particularly fatalistic attitude towards the procedure of calling in artillery fire support. The Death Korps place very little value on the life or well-being of any individual troopers, and this extends to the manner in which their Masters of Ordnance call in fire support. Most Masters of Ordnance ensure their comrades are well clear of the area to be targeted unless the destruction of a specific enemy is demonstrably more important than the lives of their friends. The Death Korps pay scant heed to the safety of their own troops, calling in overwhelmingly destructive fire missions at the expense of their comrades' lives. The Death Korps regard this as due penance and time after time have been seen to march stoically onto a battlefield churning with explosions.
Certain regiments of the Catachan Jungle Fighters are noted for their occasionally antagonistic relationships with nearby artillery support regiments. Their frequent role as forward elements during combined arms operations means that the Catachans are often in the line of allied bombardments -- as was the case for the Catachan 223rd on Aeyras in the Spinward Front, when the order to bombard the jungle they were infiltrating came in with little warning. This is largely because the Catachans commonly operate in dense terrain where visibility is poor and where fire support missions must be called in with incredibly accurate detail. The Jungle Fighters trust few outsiders or higher-ups to call in fire support for them and so prefer to do so themselves. Unlike the selfless and self-sacrificing Death Korps, the Catachans believe that the Emperor is usually best served by their continued survival, and thus prefer it to be their immediate comrades who are calling down hundreds of pounds of high explosive within such close ranges rather than far-away officers uninterested in the collateral damage.
Many regiments of the Elysian Drop Troops make extensive use of large-scale fire support, in their particular case often delivered by the warships of the Imperial Navy. This is because the Elysians specialise in planetfall missions and it is rare for there to be any unit already on the ground capable of providing the overwhelming firepower needed to soften up the enemy ahead of a mass drop. In addition, the Elysian regiments rarely carry any type of heavy weapon nor field any vehicle larger than a Sentinel, and must therefore rely on external formations to provide any heavy support. Needless to say, the Drop Troopers have become masters of intricately preplanned artillery strikes designed to reduce enemy positions to rubble and, most importantly, force him to keep his head down while the Drop Troopers are engaged in the part of their attack where they are most vulnerable -- the drop itself.
Cadian Shock Trooper regiments make extensive use of Masters of Ordnance. So militarised is the Fortress World of Cadia, and so dedicated to all forms of warfare are its regiments, that almost every type of unit possible is represented amongst its forces. There exists an almost unique relationship between the different Cadian regiments, the officers of many regiments having trained together or served together in the Cadian Youth Army before being tithed into the Imperial Guard. Because there are so many Cadian regiments in Imperial service, it is not unusual for entire armies to be made up of units from that same world, and for there to exist an especially close relationship between commanders. These ties simplify the process of mutual support enormously, making Cadian forces far more effective than their sum of their parts.
- Standard Imperial Guard Regimental Kit
- 6 Fragmentation Rounds
- Deadspace Earpiece
- Hand-Held Targeter
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 70-73