- "One shot, delivered by a skilled marksman, is often worth a thousand heavy bolter rounds."
- — Trooper Kol, Catachan 203rd Jungle Fighters Regiment
A Sharpshooter, also referred to as a Marksman, Sniper, Hawkeye, Scope, Reaper, and dozens of other terms both official and informal, are specialist troopers of the Astra Militarum who possess deadly skills that enable them to kill the enemies of the God-Emperor from afar. These men and women are experts with single shot weapons. Such troopers are generally identified during basic training, but just as often are singled out during operations as their natural talents become obvious. Having been identified as an exceptional shot, the trooper is labelled as his unit's best shot and while he continues to perform the same combat duties he did before, he takes on an additional and highly specialised responsibility.
In battle, the Sharpshooter operates as part of his squad or platoon, serving as a line trooper according to the specific doctrines of his regiment. In many cases the presence of a Sharpshooter in a unit is not at all obvious, especially where the designation is an informal one. In other cases the sharpshooter might wear some form of badge or other insignia, though generally in such a manner that enemy snipers cannot pick him out from his peers. The only other outward clue that the trooper has these skills is likely to be the weapon he carries. The troopers who possess these particular and deadly skills often carry specialised targeting equipment. Usually, this includes a powerful scope mounted on a main weapon, but sometimes takes the form of helmet-mounted sighting devices or even permanently grafted-on cybernetic augmentations. In those regiments with close ties to the Adeptus Mechanicus, a sharpshooter might have received extensive Augmetics and tactical neural implants, all wrought to maximise the native talent he already has for precise fire.
The expertise that sharpshooters hold is hardly limited to their conventional weapons, however. While their talents frequently manifest themselves through the use of the Lasgun to engage targets too far distant for most troopers to hit, they usually extend to other weapon systems as well. While every Sharpshooter has his favourite weapon, all are well able to use a wide range of different systems, from Missile Launchers to Sniper Rifles. Regardless of the weapon being used, the Sharpshooter displays a keen ability to locate an enemy, draw a bead on him, and to unleash the killing round at the most opportune moment. The Sharpshooter is a master of the doctrine of "one shot, one kill" and can be relied upon to send a single round, bolt or blast towards the heart of an enemy where hundreds, even thousands of rapid fire weapons have missed their mark. When confronted with such a foe, any unit commander worth his commission knows which of his troopers is best suited to fire the shot that might very well turn the battle that wins the war that defeats the enemy once and for all.
While the vast majority of Imperial Guardsmen recruited across the length and breadth of the Imperium are issued with the ubiquitous Lasgun, the degree to which they are trained to use it varies enormously. The bulk of regiments are raised from existing military organisations on their homeworlds and so it can be assumed that most warriors have some affinity with their weapons, but this is not always the case. Some units issue their troops with Lasguns but forbid them to use their weapons in anything other than ceremonial roles. Others regard the expenditure of ammunition on anything other than slaying the foes of the Emperor a sinful waste, meaning that warriors recruited from such cultures might be adept at maintaining their weapons but entirely unskilled in their use. Some forces are so lacking in resources that only a proportion of those inducted into the Imperial Guard have ever handled a Lasgun, even though they are required to render up the best of their forces and to arm them for the travails ahead. Needless to say, such laxity is a crime of the worst order for which the Imperial Commander responsible is likely to pay with his life.
Conversely, other Planetary Defence Forces are drawn from cultures steeped in the use of the Lasgun and a myriad of other forms of weapons technology. Some populations exist in a state of total war, whether against lawless elements of their own society, xenos invaders or the environment itself. Needless to say, Imperial Guardsmen recruited from such cultures require little in the way of training and often respond badly to any Drill Abbot that attempts to do so. Because of the huge disparity in training and familiarity with the weapons they will use, the Departmento Munitorum has a gargantuan task to perform in terms of imposing standardised doctrines and drills. Most regiments are transported some distance to their first (and often last) deployment, and to ready them for their role on the battlefield, they are often subjected to a brutally intensive training regime whilst aboard the troop ship. It is during these punishing sessions that those with a natural aptitude with ranged weapons are identified and assigned to yet more intensive instruction. Depending on the length of the voyage, these individuals might have time for familiarisation with every weapon in the regiment's arsenal, or with just a few.
To augment the training aboard the transport vessels, some regiments employ courses of hypno-indoctrination to give their troopers new skills. The knowledge to operate a wide range of weapons are blasted directly into the recipient's mind by a highly invasive procedure that bypasses conventional procedural memory processes and implants the necessary expertise indelibly upon the individual’s psyche. This technique does not necessarily improve the recipient's native talent, but it can vastly increase the range of applications for which that innate ability can be used. For a Guardsman, this might mean gaining the ability to wield weapons he has never even seen before as if he had been using them his entire life, the implanted memories imposing themselves upon his mind when required. Many Guardsmen who become skilled with precision weapons receive no formal training whatsoever, instead learning the use of a wide range of weapons as necessity dictates. Some are forced to take up the weapon of a fallen comrade, and in so doing discover a previously unknown talent. Others are assigned training drills as a form of punishment for some minor disciplinary infraction, the regimental Provosts noting the latent skill and ensuring it is exploited, regardless of the trooper's wishes.
The Sharpshooter's task is a relatively simple one, but one on which the tide of battle itself may turn. Characters with these skills are called upon when a single, long-range, pinpoint attack is required. Given the varied conditions of the battlefields of the 41st Millennium and the countless foes, creatures, and war machines ripe for the Emperor's justice, the skills of Sharpshooters are ever in demand. There are vast beasts and machines all but immune to explosions, hails of fire, sheets of flame, gouts of plasma, and nearly all the other weapons wielded by the warriors of the Imperium. Sometimes, it is not overwhelming fire that defeats an enemy, but a single, well-placed shot aimed at some miniscule gap in armour that only the Sharpshooter notices. Perhaps the target is the exposed commander of a super heavy tank, or a vulnerable mechanism on a towering Daemon Engine. Perhaps it is an enemy general ensconced in his command bunker, directing his troops from imagined safety and the Sharpshooter has worked himself into a position to unleash the one shot not defended against. When facing ravening xenos monstrosities, the Sharpshooter is capable of aiming a single, high velocity shot at an eye or similarly vital organ that brings the beast to its knees.
When a unit faces such a foe that only the Sharpshooter's immediate action can save the day, the members of that unit often switch from line troopers, each with their own tasks to perform in battle, to a dedicated support unit for the specialist. Some units practise this drill relentlessly so that each trooper knows exactly what he must do to allow the Sharpshooter the time and opportunity to take that one, vital, battle-winning shot. In other units, especially those drawn from a culture where such martial values are honed from birth, the process is instinctive and its execution flawless. Whatever the case, the entire squad bends its every effort to aid the sharpshooter, covering him against enemy fire, distracting the foe and ensuring he has ample ammunition. Countless times in the war-torn history of the Imperium, such men and women have fired shots that resound throughout the ages, but only because their comrades have sacrificed themselves to allow them to do so.
No two regiments utilise Sharpshooters in exactly the same manner, and indeed some rarely if ever use such specialists at all. Even when a particular planet's regiments employ Departmento Munitorum-approved doctrine, individual regiments often implement such drills according to their own, sometimes idiosyncratic traditions. Some regiments that have a particular predilection for fostering the specialised expertise of individual soldiers employ Sharpshooters in a highly formalised manner. Several such regiments even maintain regimental marksmanship schools through which the specialists must pass before being awarded the highly-prised insignia that marks out their role. In such regiments it is a matter of pride for a trooper to represent his platoon or company in the regular regimental competitions and those that perform consistently well often earn the patronage and favour of the ranking officer and his command staff.
More rugged regiments, by contrast, often do things entirely differently. These regiments rarely maintain standing marksmanship schools, their individualistic troopers much more interested in grand actions and violent achievements than fancy badges and fussy titles. Instead, the role of Sharpshooter is simply applied to whichever member of the squad is the best shot, and shifts based on who can get the job done best at a given time. In such closely-knit units every member knows his comrades so well that the appointment may be entirely unspoken and instinctive and is often made by silent consensus in the heat of battle.
Sharpshooters provide critical support in regiments of all sorts. Some are issued specialist equipment, while others are merely better with the precision weapons that the regiment already fields. If the regiment specialises in close-quarters combat, then its particularly gifted snipers might often be assigned to operate in the rear of the formation. In contrast, if the regiment is designed around long-range bombardments, its Sharpshoooters are often assigned to its forward elements, cutting down enemy soldiers from unexpected angles before they can reach the artillery or mortars that the regiment uses to do the Emperor's violent work. Regiments particularly dedicated to reconnaissance and stealth tend to rely particularly heavily on Sharpshooters. Such soldiers can silence a sentry at the exact opportune moment for an infiltration team or slay a patrolling guard and his comrades before they can raise the alarm, and so the success of a mission often rests on the skill of Sharpshooters.
Ratlings are members of a small, loud, hungry and lecherous Abhuman species. Ratlings are granted full Imperial citizenship despite their mutant status and in the past have often served in the regiments of the Imperial Guard. Though unsuited for many battlefield roles, Ratlings make excellent snipers, even without the telescopic laser-sights of the needle-rifles. With careful, methodical aim, the Ratlings place their crosshairs, targeting the vulnerable eyes of alien beasts or the exposed joints of armoured foes. They snipe enemy commanders and tank crews with contemptuous ease, amused at the panic and confusion they wreak. In battle, Ratlings excel at infiltrating the warzone unseen, secreting themselves wherever there is cover, whether it be amongst the undergrowth of a forest world, the craters of bomb-scarred tundra or within the twisted remnants of a ruined building. Any position that has a commanding field of fire will do, and one which reduces the possibility of any actual combat is even better. Many Ratlings serve as sharpshooters in Imperial Guard regiments, a role in which they excel due to their superior marksmanship. While they are often the butt of soldier's jokes, more than one Imperial Guard unit has had cause to be grateful for the covering fire of a unit of Ratling Snipers.
- Standard Imperial Guard Regimental Kit
- Triplex Pattern Lasgun - A highly refined variant of the standard lasgun, the triplex offers alternative firing modes that make the weapon more versatile on the battlefield.
- Long-Las (Optional) - Favoured by snipers, the long-las is a specially modified version of the lasgun constructed for added range and accuracy. As its name implies, a long las also has a much longer barrel than a standard lasgun, sometimes being up to twice the length, which makes it awkward in close quarters.
- Ballistic Sniper Rifle (Optional) - This variant of the Sniper Rifle fires solid metal rounds. This weapon is rarely issued by the Imperial Guard, but may be acquired by soldiers as a "trophy weapon" on the battlefield. Many of these weapons are much simpler than the Long-Las, using bolt-action systems that are archaic compared to most weapons used by the Imperial Guard. Some sharpshooters prefer them nonetheless, and their trophy rifles become lucky charms for them, especially if they fell a particularly important foe with them.
- Missile Launcher (Optional) - Like the Grenade Launcher, Missile Launchers fire a variety of explosive rounds at long distances. A missile is fitted with guidance systems to aid target acquisition, which is excellent at long ranges. Most launchers, like the Locke-pattern, are shoulder mounted tube-like weapons that fire a single round with great accuracy, while the ancient Retobi design holds a huge vertical clip of 5 rounds but is much more awkward to fire and has less precision.
- 4 Krak Missiles - The shaped warheads of Krak Missiles are designed to penetrate even the toughest of vehicle armour.
Sharpshooters often give their weapons upgrades to enhance their performance. The upgrade descriptions below list the most commonly used weapon upgrades by Imperial Guard Sharpshooters:
- Motion Predictor - A complex target-tracking Cogitator in this device is activated once the user has sighted the desired target. The predictor then tracks the target and, when the trigger is pulled, chases the target with all the rounds in a clip in one long burst.
- Omni-Scope - A vastly expensive and rare device normally found only in the hands of legendary assassins or bounty hunters, the omni-scope is a cluster of finely-tuned sensor wands linked to a precision lens. Some of these scopes plug directly into a bionic cranial port, allowing the user to shoot around corners without exposing himself—the scope becomes a "third eye."
- Photo Sight - This is a weapon sight that enhances ambient light levels, improving the user's vision and ability to see in the dark.
- Preysense Sight - This is a weapon sight that shows thermal images and reveals the hiding places of enemies who lurk in the darkness.
- Red-Dot Laser Sight - A non-magnifying reflector (or reflex) sight for firearms that gives the user an aimpoint in the form of an illuminated red dot.
- Silencer - Silencers lower the noise from a weapon's discharge, preventing detection of the shot.
- Targeter - Expensive, heavy, and rarely used except by elite forces, a Targeter uses a variety of guidance Cogitators and omni-sights to improve accuracy. These upgrades are normally hard-wired into a specific weapon for maximum efficiency. Commonly viewed as adding to the weapon's Machine Spirit, they create an even closer bond between gunner and weapon.
- Telescopic Sight - Telescopic Sights magnify the target's image, making it easy to see. This is especially useful for long-range shots that need to hit a very specific target location.
- Tripod and Bipod - These attachments are for heavier weapons or those using integral ammunition canisters rather than a backpack-mounted source (such as Plasma Guns or Meltaguns). Resting the weapon on the ground increases accuracy but sacrifices mobility, thus making them more common in static defence lines. Bipods and tripods allow a weapon to be braced anywhere there is a reasonably flat surface. A weapon braced on a bipod has a 90-degree arc of fire, while one on a tripod has a 180-degree arc.
Through training and deployment, an Imperial Guard Sharpshooter spends virtually every moment with his trusted weapons within easy reach. Over time, his primary weapon becomes an extension of his body. As each soldier becomes increasingly familiar with his armaments, he may opt to make minor changes to the weapon. Extensive changes would invariably violate standard doctrine and draw the ire of superior officers. However, most officers choose to turn a blind eye to minor tweaks of the weapon. In this way, a Sharpshooter may find solutions to offset bad habits in the way they carry and wield the weapon, but also adjust it so that they may operate at their peak efficiency.
- Battlefleet Gothic Rulebook (Bluebook), pg. 93
- Codex: Chaos (2nd Edition)
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pp. 25, 43
- Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, Revised Codex), pg. 43
- Codex Imperialis, pg. 29
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 176, 182, 189-191
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 82-85
- Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse, pg. 174
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition)
- White Dwarf 186 (US), "Ratling Snipers: Imperial Guard", pp. 19-21
- First and Only (Novel) by Dan Abnett