Handgunners is a Empire missile infantry unit in Total War: Warhammer. Volleys of withering fire reduce any would-be army to a riddled, desperate band.
Handgunners are primarily equipped with handguns, as their name suggests. These long-barrel weapons fire single lead balls at high velocity via a black powder explosion. A shot from a handgun is more powerful than an equivalent arrow, and can penetrate armour with ease. However, handguns are somewhat temperamental, and more crucially require a lengthy reloading drill compared to that of a bowman or crossbowman. Additionally, handgunners must carry black powder on their person, making their duty somewhat more hazardous than that of less-advanced troops.
Despite this, handgunners are powerful and effective soldiers capable of crushing enemy onslaughts; their modernised way of warfare paves the way for more advanced weapons technology.
- ▲ Armour-Piercing Missiles: The damage of armour-piercing weapons mostly ignores the armour of the target, making them the ideal choice against heavily-armoured enemies. They are often heavier and attack at a slower rate though, making them less efficient against poorly-armoured targets.
Handgunners are the pride of the Empire's armies, and for good reason. While a bit more finicky to use than their archer peers, they can inflict devastating damage in a very short span of time.
Handgunners require a Gunsmith, a fairly pricey tier 3 building, to recruit. This means they can be produced in Settlements, though you'll generally want to put your Gunsmiths in province capitals to make sure you're not rebuilding them to upgrade them later. Handgunners are more expensive than their archery-based Crossbowmen cousins, but not overmuch. Mixing the two in one army can be powerful as each is most effective against different sorts of unit, but they also control very differently, so it may be easier to just pick one or the other for each army.
Compared to Crossbowmen, Handgunners are primarily anti-armor troops. While no infantry enjoys getting shot with bullets, Crossbows do more damage to completely unarmored targets but largely plink off of heavy armor. Handguns will eviscerate heavily armored troops, in comparison. Handgunners are also much better at hitting fast targets, such as flying units or moving cavalry, thanks to their higher projectile speed—they are especially useful at shredding flanking light cavalry, though you should not ever expect them to take a charge.
The largest distinction, however, is in their firing arc, or lack of it. While archers fire in an arc, handgun shots are almost entirely flat due to the higher projectile speed. This makes them much more likely to hit the target, but it also means they cannot fire up and over blocking infantry like Archers or Crossbowmen can. As such, using Handgunners effectively requires organizing your army to ensure they have direct firing lines to the enemy. If given this opportunity, they'll rip just about anything to shreds.
Secure the High Ground (Or the Low Ground)
The easiest way to do this is to place your Handgunners on higher ground than your infantry—arrange your line troops at the foot of a hill, just where it flattens out, and put your Handgunners up on the slope. The gunners should be able to fire over their own troops' heads even after the enemy gets into melee, with minimal collateral damage. This also works in reverse—if stuck with the enemy on top of a hill, advance your troops partway up and keep your gunners back on the flat. Your melee troops will have to be able to handle the enemy charging a bit down the hill, but once engaged, your Gunners can shoot over the melee infantry just as easily as if they were above them.
Pike and Shot: The Staggered Line
If there is no handy hill, or at least not a sharp enough one, then you'll have to get more creative. The historical solution to this was mixed formations of pikemen and musketeers, and you can sort of pull this off in Total War as well. Initially, place your Handgunners in front of your melee line as the enemy approaches—they should get off one or two volleys before the enemy's melee gets too close. When this happens, drop them back behind your melee line (the down arrow key is great for this). One option at this point is to then send the Handgunners around the flanks while the enemy's melee is engaged—set up at 90 degree angles to your infantry, the Handgunners can chew through the enemy at alarming speeds.
This is somewhat risky, however, especially if the enemy cavalry is still on the field. To keep the Handgunners safe while firing, you'll need to create gaps in your line for them to shoot through. Simply alternating melee troops with handgunners can work, with the Handgunners a step or two behind the melee line. If anything tries to ignore your melee troops and chase your Handgunners, simply pull the targeted regiment back and turn the ones on either side of it to hit the offender from both sides, which should evaporate it in short order.
This is not very efficient, however, since they can't shoot anything directly in front of the line troops. If any frontline troop breaks, as well, it creates a large gap that is difficult to plug. It is, however, very easy and fast to set up, and as such serves as a good fallback option.
Pike and Shot: The Chevrons
More elaborate but highly effective is the "chevron line". This requires even numbers of infantry and handgunners, with two fewer gunner regiments than there are infantry. Arrange your line troops into a series of chevrons, with two regiments at 45 degree angles to the line of engagement and about one regiment of space between them. You may want to place your Lords and Heroes at the "points" of the chevrons, as the enemy will hit those places the hardest. Place the Handgunners in front of the gaps between the chevrons—two regiments of Handgunners to a gap.
Once the enemy approaches and the gunners get off their initial volleys, pull them back behind the melee troops and line them up parallel but one step back from the infantry. Each Handgunner regiment should now be looking down the "front" of the chevron across from it, and their lanes of fire should cross in front of them. As a result, your Handgunners should be able to fire into the side of the troops engaging your infantry just as if they were flanking them, but without being exposed, and enemy troops that attempt to engage your Gunners in melee will have to charge through two regiments worth of point-blank crossfire. This formation can quickly mulch enemy melee infantry, but it is more difficult to set up. It also lacks Gunners to sweep the outside faces of the chevrons, but that's what your cavalry is for. You're the Empire, you did bring the cavalry, right?
Zones of Intensifying Fire. (Range Focused Army)
Indeed, as the Empire combined arms is the key to success. Handgunners are most effective when used in concert with heavy cavalry and artillery of varying assortments. Using various ranged units, you can increase the intensity of fire upon the enemy. Remember, if you go for a majority munitions based army then you will need a fast strike force to answer the enemy, as your infantry is not durable enough to hold forever like the Dwarfs can. This would be where heavy cavalry comes into play. As the enemy closes in, if the sheer might of your fire does not stop them then you must have your cavalry get involved.
Handgunners pierce armor and crush morale at a distance, but once approached by melee units they can be a sitting duck. Protect them with more mobile combat oriented units. Usually Reiksguard Knights or any heavy cavalry fills this role perfectly.
Rings of fire:
Your first ring should consist of heavy artillery, namely the Helstorm Rocket Battery and the Great Cannon. Both for area damage and anti-large. Your second ring should use Hell Blaster Volley Guns. Your third ring consists of Handgunners. If you can your fourth ring should consist of Handgunners or Crossbow Men. Depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Remember, army design is meant to maximize the punishment your enemy endures through sheer firepower. There are weaknesses, undead without a moral system are difficult to kill along with large hosts of Chaos Chosen. It is not perfect, and will need refinement but the four rings of fire preforms well. Have fun configuring your own armies and discovering how artillery, infantry, cavalry and magical units all work in concert.