Friday, 13 October 2017


With the way 40k has been developing recently I've had a few thoughts on various topics. I didn't think any of them was quite post-worthy on their own, so here's a few of them all lumped together.

Are the Guard too good?
Now this isn't exactly a balance question- we all know the Guard are a strong army in this edition and that's fine, though I'd like to see Renegades get.. well, something. No, the thing that's been bothering me is that considering that they're meant to be your average Joe Footslogger, Guard seem to be a bit too skillful. Yes, they've got those bog-standard stats, but look at the Tallarns, for example- whereas the Black Legion suffer penalties to Advance and fire their Bolters, the Tallarns can do the same with their Lasguns at no penalty. Both still end up needing 4+ to hit, of course, but one army is a bunch of standard soldiers whereas the other are veterans of over a thousand years of warfare.

Likewise, whilst the Ultramarines can disengage from combat and fire at a -1 penalty, any Guard squad can pull the same feat at no penalty just because a guy in a hat shouts at them. With a Commissar, Guard have more resistance to losses from Morale than a squad of 20 Noise Marines with a Dark Apostle standing next to them. It just feels a little.. off to me.

I have a cunning plan...
Compounding the issue is the truly mental amount of Command Points available to Guard armies. Whilst most armies can do the same with Cultists, Scouts etc, most of the Guard's tricks work best with the basic Infantry Squad and require some from of Officer, meaning there's no 'tax' element. When you consider that with Artefacts and Warlord Traits Guard can also gain a CP on a 5+ whenever an enemy uses a Stratagem and get their own back on a 5+ when used, on top of often having starting CP in the double figures, it adds up to an army not known for its subtlety having more access to tricks, traps and treachery than Eldar or any form of Astartes. Perhaps this will change as 8th develops, but right now the Guard feel like a more tactically flexible army than the elite forces that are supposed to run rings around them. As Codexes add more uses for Command Points we're increasingly in the position where smaller elite armies, starved of CP, start to look.. average. Perhaps the Spearhead detachment needs to give more CP to compensate?

Big problem, big solution?
With the appearance  of the new Primaris super-heavy, and the talk recently about how horde armies dominate the meta, I thought I'd talk a bit about how the two interact. For all their large Wound pool and firepower, I doubt most horde armies will be unduly bothered by vehicles like the Baneblade- powerful though they might be, weight of fire will bring them down and that's what hordes (especially the Guard, let's be honest) excel at. The calculus becomes very different when we look at the Astartes super-heavies like the Relic Fellblade, for example. The Fellblade, as well as impressive firepower, is T9 with a 2+ save. Whilst both of these are only a point better than their Guard brethren, they make a huge difference in terms of resilience. A lascannon, for example, needs 4+ to damage the thing and even then it gets a 5+ save, assuming the controlling player hasn't taken any other steps to protect it. Worse, if the thing decides to assault it can continue to fire at full effect whilst locked in combat, despite the enemy not being allowed to shoot back, and with 9 WS 5+ S9 ap -2 Attacks doing D3 damage each it'd be mad not to. (This one is my Most Unfavourite Stupid Rule in 8th edition)

I'm not sure if such vehicles are necessarily a hard counter to horde armies since I've not tried it, but certainly if backed up by some Vindicares to pick off critical Characters it seems that with their near-complete immunity to light weapon fire they'd be very effective. Certainly they beat the heck out of most non-FW vehicles- the Fellblade is more than a match for two Land Raiders despite costing less points, for example. Should the new Primaris tank be as tough and follow the recent tradition of having more guns than it knows what to do with, I think it might be a strong contender.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Everybody's Special...

With the new Imperia- sorry, Astra Militarum Codex bearing down on us I thought I'd take a moment to talk about special characters. One of the points of contention that's particularly major with the Guard is that with 40k's timeline having moved on over a century most of the special characters from the previous Codex should be, well, dead. In fact in the case of Kell he's most definitely deceased, whereas Creed is currently stuck in a Necron Pokeball as far as anyone knows. Yarrick was already older than Methuselah* in the last book and by now he must be pushing 200 at least.

I don't yet have the book in my paws yet, so whether it's written to suggest these characters are still active or whether they're presented purely for 'historical' games is something I don't know. We've seen some characters, notably Eldrad, apparently die in the story only to come back later as if nothing had happened, after all. The idea of characters being included for historical reasons throws up some interesting questions. Some, like Captain Tycho, keep turning up despite being dead for some time, and in the case of Tycho we even have profiles for him pre- and post-Black Rage. Others, like Sergeant Namaan of the Dark Angels, died in the story and promptly vanished from the Codex (whilst the Ultramarines promptly got a veteran Scout Sergeant because of course they did).

Often this comes down to models. We never got models for characters like Namaan, Lady Malys (in fact about half the old Dark Eldar specials) or Iyanna Arienal, and so many of them disappeared from later Codexes. Even Vect suffered this fate when the Raider and Ravager kits were updated and his conversion parts were no longer compatible. Why some of these models were never made is a question only GW can answer- I know Malys in particular inspired many conversions and seems reflected in the Yvraine model.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
One of the arguments often made of Special Characters is that whilst they're named, they in fact represent archetypes. Maybe your Dark Angels Successor Chapter doesn't have Belial in it, but it has a Master of the Deathwing with a different name who otherwise follows all Belial's rules. We do run into an issue though when a character's rules are tied into their history. For example- and again I've not seen him in the book yet so this might be covered- you can apparently use Creed and still use the 'Vengeance for Cadia' stratagem, which feels odd since if Creed is running about, Cadia doesn't need avenging yet. Of course we could think of it as a 'Cadia Stands!' stratagem but it illustrates the point that things can start to get more than a little screwy as far as the timeline goes. Of course you could also use Creed in a combined Imperial force with Primaris Marines, which is even more obviously messed up. Whoever this guy who's just like Creed with a bodyguard just like Kell is, he seems to have more tricks than his predecessor despite no-one having ever heard of him.

Of course in this age of Doctrines and Chapter Traits, we also have to be careful not to cross the streams, as it were. If you decide to play a heavily Psychic chapter and add Tigurius, then that chapter is Ultramarines Successors, full stop. No adding Ezekiel how ever much you might like him, unless you want to gimp your Trait completely with a mixed Detachment or have some sort of Inner Circle detachment which has totally different rules.

Roll your own
Now you could argue, and you would be right, that I'm getting worked up about nothing. In truth I'm not that bothered and I prefer GW's permissive approach over most other methods. But this does touch on something else I've noticed in both GW games, and games as a whole recently. It used to be that creating your own characters was a big part of gaming. You could build your custom Chapter Master, your Autarch, your Chaos Lord etc. In contrast, the newer Codexes and models seem to be taking those options away. A Primaris or Death Guard character, for example, is really limited in their weapon options and even Captains and Chaos Lords have lost options like Jump Packs and Bikes in the recent Codexes. Of course these are present in the Indexes for now, but going forward it seems that customising your own characters is being encouraged less and less.

We see the same thing in RPGs. Play any computer or console RPG and you can bet that if it deigns to let you create your own character, it won't be as interesting as the ones you meet. Maybe you won't even talk. That cool-looking outfit? Not for you, sonny, even if you kill the guy wearing it and loot his armour. I just got done playing Divinty: Original Sin 2, and in that whilst you certainly can create your own original character you get more story, voice-acting and personality if you choose one of the pre-made ones. You can customise them heavily, of course, but the name and the history aren't yours. It's the same for most high-profile games, with the noble exception of the Souls series. Play The Witcher, and you'd better damn well like Geralt because he's The Witcher and that's that.

Most modern tabletop games are the same. Warmachine, for example, is very particular about who the heroes are and you sure as hell don't get to make any choices beyond which one you pick. (For that matter, in some events you don't even get much choice about what colour you paint them)

For someone like me, who likes to name his characters, build custom models for them, and tell their stories, this is deeply worrying. I used to play a lot of pen and paper roleplaying games before that fire burned out for me and I still gravitate to games where if the characters don't appeal, I can roll my own. With some 40k characters not even having the option to choose which sort of Power Weapon they have, and mono-pose kits increasingly becoming the norm, I do wonder where things are going.

*on research possibly not, since Methuselah apparently lived to the age of 969. Older than Methuselah was at some point is more accurate but less fun.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Hellforged Contemptor wants your lunchmoney

I've been pretty vocal in the past on the subject of Forge World's work on their Indexes for 8th Edition, but despite that (and thanks, in part, to a fairly prompt FAQ/ Errata) there's some fun stuff in the Chaos index. The one that stood out most to me was the Hellforged Contemptor dreadnought. As is usual for me, rather than get the official Forge World model (and to be honest I'm not even sure which model that would be at the moment) I built my own. You can read more about the modelling side of things over on my DA account.

Here, though, I'm going to talk a little about what the HFC can do, and why I like running one, because I can. There are two things which primarily distinguish the HFC from the loyalist Contemptor- the Hellforged rules, and the weapon loadout. Of these, the thing that jumps out first is the combination of the Hellfire Reactor and the Machina Malifica.

Devil in You
The Hellfire Reactor is similar at first glance to the Atomantic Shielding of a standard Contemptor, giving a 5++ save, but the difference is that the HFC also gains a 4++ in close combat. It also explodes a little more dramatically in that Psykers caught in the explosion lose D6 rather than D3 wounds. The improved save in melee combines with the Machina Malifica, which allows the Dreadnought to gain a wound back on a 5+ if it kills an enemy in combat. Since this ability can heal multiple points a turn, it's possible for the thing to regain four or even more wounds in a single phase in this manner. The downside (clarified by the FAQ) is that the HFC cannot be repaired by other means. Obviously, though, this is a machine that wants to get stuck in.

Gunning up
The HFC has access to the usual range of Forge World Chaos weapons (as well as the Havok Launcher after the FAQ) like the Butcher Cannon which with its -2 modifier to the Leadership of the target might well see use with some Morale manipulating strategies, and with a BS of 2+ base it's certainly a reliable platform for them, but there's no 'mortis' dual-gun option and we're already looking to get stuck in, so we'll be concentrating on the options which can be built into the melee weapons. The stand-out weapon here is the Soulburner, an Assault D3 weapon with a 24" range that does a Mortal Wound for each hit scored. These things are brutal- they perhaps don't have the raw damage output of heavier weapons but they can quite easily scour heavily-armoured troops out of cover and are very handy against the natural enemy of the assault walker, Storm Shield Terminators. Since they're Assault and can be fired on the Advance by a model with a 9" move and a 2+ BS, they're also quite easy to bring to bear.

I'd like to play a game..
The final piece of the HFC puzzle is the choice of melee weapons. The stock Hellforged Deathclaw, with x2 Strength (effective 14) -3 Save, and 3 Damage, is already a very nasty piece of cutlery but for maximum terror look no further than the Chainclaw upgrade. This thing is -4 Save and a horrifying 4 Damage per wounding hit, which is utterly savage. I did miss a trick by upgrading both weapons on my model, which technically isn't necessary since the +1 Attack bonus simply requires two melee weapons. In any case, the five Attacks this leaves the HFC with (six if it's a World Eater and charges, since the FAQ added the HELBRUTE keyword) can potentially put 20 (or 24) Wounds on a target, almost enough to destroy a Fellblade in one round. Even seriously damaged, the WS of the model only degrades to 4+ and it keeps all of its Attacks, so it can never be counted out. When combined with the 4++ save, a HFC in melee is capable of weathering a lot of damage and even possibly getting healthier- I've had mine take out a fully healthy Trygon in one round whilst on 1 wound, and receive the charge of Marneus Calgar and kill him.

There are other worlds than these
Of course the Khornate route is just one approach to the HFC. I'm a purist, so I don't take Sorcerers with my World Eaters, but the model would obviously benefit from Warptime and any of the Mark-specific defensive buff spells, as well as Dark Fury. Running one as a Renegade Chapter model allows it to advance and charge, which combined with the Soulburners is particularly appealing. Going Alpha Legion for the -1 to hit at 12" or above, especially combined with defensive buffs, is a great way to assure that the thing will survive, because believe me it doesn't take long for one of these things to become a fire magnet. However it's fielded, the Hellforged Contemptor is going to make an impact, one way or another.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Commissar-Conscript Conundrum

With the recent BOLS article on the winning list from NOVA we're once again seeing that 40k seems to have a bit of an issue with blob units pared with morale-boosting abilities. Whilst some might say that Orks, with Nobz and Mob Rule, and Chaos, with Dark Apostles, are too good at keeping large units in the fight and immune to morale (I would tend to disagree) the outright leader in the field are Conscripts paired with a Commissar. For a low cost, this combination allows a 40-strong blob to soak up a ludicrous number of casualties and still only lose one model to Morale. As with most things in 40k, this isn't necessarily a problem on its own, but if you start seeing multiple units of Conscripts, all being buffed with Orders and all being basically impossible to get rid of, it starts to look like an issue.

Have Hat, will Inspire
So, let's firstly look at how a Commissar works, and what he's meant to be doing. The Commissar, or his HQ equivalents, all have a 6" bubble of Leadership (8 for basic, 9 for Lord/ Yarrick). They also have another 6" bubble within which ASTRA MILITARUM units only lose one model if they fail a Morale check. This, let's remember, represents the Commissar shooting a member of the unit, making it clear to the rest that they'll get the same if they run.

The first issue I'd raise here  is that the range of both bubbles is the same, which makes the Morale buff almost irrelevant in the Conscript case. Since 6" is half the effective range of a Bolt Pistol and a Commissar is a BS 3+ model, it seems a bit of a stretch to have him able to pick off a fleeing trooper (who we can reasonably assume is trying to avoid him) at that range. So fix number one that I would suggest is this:

Fix #1: Reduce the range of Summary Execution to 3".
Make the removed model the one nearest to the Commissar.

This also leads nicely into the next point. We know that a model with a Bolt Pistol can usually only fire it once per turn. The Commissar is already 'firing' out of his own turn but this presumably exists in the same temporal bubble that Overwatching units use, so we'll let him skate on that. But there's certainly no reason to assume he could, er, 'encourage' multiple units at once- there has to be a limit on how many is reasonable. So fix number two would be this:

Fix #2: Limit Summary Execution to only affect one unit per player turn.

With these two tweaks, we still maintain the ability of a Commissar to do his job without allowing him to hold an entire army in place single-handed. We still have the issue of Conscript units being almost impossible to remove, since 40k now has far less attacks that hit all members of a unit or all models in an area. For the third tweak, then, we need to reduce the effect the Commissar has on big units without removing his signature ability. I would suggest the following third fix:

Fix #3: Summary Execution reduces the number of models lost to Morale by the Leadership of the Commissar, to a minimum of 1 model.

I think this one is pretty elegant. For a standard-sized squad, it leaves the ability basically unchanged- even a base LD 8 Commissar will prevent a standard Guard Squad losing more than 1 man to Morale, just as the God Emperor intended. But for a 40-strong blob that should lose 15 men to a single test, the Commissar would reduce that loss to 7- still a lot of guys, but a fair level of mitigation.

I wouldn't necessarily advocate applying all three of these fixes- #3 might be enough on its own if the biggest issue is perceived to be that Conscripts hang around for too long, rather that the ability of Commissars  to hold multiple units. I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of other players on the matter.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Putting the Nurgle back in Nurgle

With the recent teasers for the Death Guard things seem to be finally looking up for the minions of the Plague God. The Chaos Index version of the Death Guard's rules are deeply frustrating for those of us who happen to be existing DG players, with the Legion losing access to all manner of units, like Bikers, Obliterators and Terminators. It's not that the new stuff is exactly bad, but when you have a unit of ten Nurgle Havoks specifically made because the Traitor Legions book made them Relentless, suddenly finding you're not allowed to use them at all is not good news.
Now there is, of course, a work-around of sorts- you can still take the Mark of Nurgle and dedicate your bunch of rotters to a different Legion. The irony is that at least in isolation, this usually makes Plague Marines better than their Death Guard brethren! The biggest issue with doing that is that other than allowing you to make them look really disgusting and have people believe you did it on purpose, there's not all that much benefit to the Mark itself. Still, there are a couple of ways it can work out fairly well.

Patient Alpha
The approach I've taken with my own warband, the Dereliction of Duty, is to run them as Alpha Legion. I imagine it as being a warband that releases a tailored genetic plague into planetary populaces that turns the citizens into brainwashed zombies, and over time the use of such methods has brought the Warband to Nurgle's attention. From a mechanics point of view, this works really well. The Alpha Legion 'Hidden in Plain Sight' trait gives the enemy -1 To Hit at over 12" range which in this case we can think of as being due to the classic cloud of flies. It's a strong trait, and one which has the effect of making the Warband more durable under fire, which is the sort of thing you want as Nurgle. The 'Forward Operatives' stratagem can be thought of as piles of rotting corpses turning out to not be as dead as the enemy thought.

The Alpha Legion trait of course also stacks very well with Miasma of Pestilence, giving enemies a total of -2 to hit at over 12" or -1 if they're closer. This is really evil because of how re-rolls work- since they're applied before modifiers, a BS 3+ unit with a re-roll to hit can't re-roll a 3 (because it's a hit at that point) but then has it reduced to a 1. May the Dark Gods have mercy on any fool to Overcharge under such circumstances. This is really nasty on a unit of Obliterators, especially since you can teleport them in with a Terminator Sorcerer for a perfect firing position.

We should also take a quick look at Grandfather's Blessings, the Nurgle stratagem. Returning D3 wounds or a single slain model to a Nurgle unit for 2CP isn't exactly amazing, but if that model is an Obliterator in a unit that's already proving very hard to shift it can be a really nasty trick, especially if you have CP to burn because you brought a Battalion of Cultists (and if not, why not?)

For the Warlord, you could certainly use 'I Am Alpharius' and have your actual Warlord as a small Daemonic tick that flies from one host to another Tamurkhan-style, but my personal pick is 'Unholy Fortitude' because that's about as Nurgle as it gets.

Night Nurse
The other very solid Legion Trait for Nurgle warbands is Night Lords. 'Terror Tactics' knocks the LD of units within 6" down by 1 per unit, to a maximum of -3. As far as I understand it, the -3 'cap' is only for reductions from this trait, so you can increase it further with the -1 from an Icon of Despair and the -1 from Raptors. Neither of these two stack, making the theoretical maximum penalty -5. You could also, of course, go with the 'Lord of Terror' Warlord trait to make any Morale tests even more punishing.

This is one of those approaches that is either going to make your opponent weep with terror or laugh contemptuously. Against a Guard army (if you can assassinate the Commissars), Orks or similar, it's potentially extremely effective, whist MSU armies with high LD will barely notice a lot of the time- though if all the cards fall right, even LD 9 units become LD 4 and potentially risk Morale failures from a single casualty. It's particularly nice against models like Noise Marines or Loyalists near an Ancient who trigger attacks when they die, or Apothecaries who can heal slain models, since Morale losses don't count for either of these abilities.

Using this army effectively really hinges on getting rid of any Morale-boosting enemy leaders quickly. A flying Daemon Prince with Smite and Infernal Gaze is a handy tool for this- often said characters will be standing between several units so if you can get a Smite+ charge combo on them then you'll probably be well-placed to spread Nurgle's gifts. If the character is actually in the middle of a unit then it's a case of psychic sniping with Gaze or Gift of Chaos. Of course you could even try taking Renegade and Heretic allies to get Marauder snipers, but given the attendant costs and their unreliability it's not a gambit I'd recommend. Deep-Striking Terminators or Obliterators could also be employed to try to clear a path to the target character through brute force and firepower, or even just gank one standing right at the back of a formation, though most players only make that mistake once.

Since you're going to be much closer than the Alpha Legion approach, it's worth remembering the 'In Midnight Clad' stratagem, which is another one which stacks with Miasma, but more importantly can be popped when a unit is targeted, greatly discouraging Overcharging. Since basic CSM squads really don't work well as Night Lords because they need to get close to make the Trait work, that's another reason to take the Cultists to rack up some cheap CP. Did I mention I really like taking Cultist Battalions?

I'm hopeful that most of this stuff will turn out to be a short-term measure, acute rather than chronic, if you will. The Death Guard Codex will surely have more units in it, some form of Terminators, maybe a Havok analogue, hopefully some sort of Plague Bikers which will allow us older Nurgle players to come back to the fold. But for now, at least, with a little imagination the forces of the Plaguelord are in rude health... er.. viable.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Delving the Dark Hereticus

The new Chaos Space Marines book gives Chaos players a lot to chew on (and argue about because this is 40k we're dealing with here). I thought that before I got back to work on the sequel to my novel (subtle plug there) I'd have a look at the expanded Dark Hereticus Discipline and deal with what seems to me to be a rather sizeable elephant in the room. I'm going to give each power a 'score' out of 10 just for the sake of trying to rank them.

Infernal Gaze 
So this is the Smite you cast when you've already cast Smite. It's not hard to get off at a casting value of 5, is more precise in that you can target anything visible within 18", but since you have to roll 4+ on three dice to do any damage it might not do anything at all. 5/10

Death Hex
The first new spell to have a bit of 'oooh' factor, Death Hex strips Invulnerable saves from a target within 12". That's good, especially if faced by Hammernators or some git with the Armour Indomitus, but it has a casting value of 8, making it tricky to cast when you need it. Given that most offensive powers do Mortal Wounds anyway, it's perhaps not as good as it appears. 7/10

Gift of Chaos
Hello Nurse! This one is a bit situational, since you have to beat the target's Toughness on 1D6 so it's not one to bring out against Death Guard, but it does D3+3 Mortal Wounds if you can land it for an achievable 6 WC with the bonus of turning a CHARACTER killed by it into a Spawn. A wrinkle here is that it specifically targets a single model, so it would appear that the damage done does not spread to other members of the unit despite being Mortal Wounds. The range is also a bit short at 6", but even so a power that can practically one-shot a lot of characters is worthy of consideration. 8/10

Unchanged from the Index and still one of the most useful powers in the game. +1 To Hit for all rolls until your next Psychic Phase is huge, especially on a unit like Terminators who can both shoot and fight well. Barring other modifiers you can safely Overcharge plasma weapons and you'll be hitting on 2+. A Warp Charge cost of 7 is not too hard to make and the range is a massive 18". 10/10

Diabolic Strength
+2 S, +1 A on a model with a 12" range for WC 6. It's not bad, on something like a Daemon Prince it might even mean the difference between wrecking a Baneblade ot scrabbling at its hull like a puppy trying to get out of the house, but lacklustre overall compared to some of the other tricks. 6/10, mostly because Chaos have quite a few big, angry things to cast it on. (On a Double-Taloned Daemon Prince of Slaanesh with the Elixir, you're looking at 9 Attacks at Strength 10, -2 AP, 2 Damage, enough to cripple a Knight)

Make a unit within 3" move again for a measly 6 WC. The peanut butter to Prescience's jelly, or the fish-fingers to its custard, whatever floats your boat. This power has so many uses, from getting first turn charges to getting deep-strikers into melta range that I could (and sort of did) write a whole post just about it. Only the short range lets it down a tiny bit, meaning the caster might end up exposed after the target moves. 9/10

Tzeentch: Weaver of Fates
+1 to Invulnerable saves with a nice 18" range and a lowish cost of 6. Since it gives models with no Invulnerable a 5++, this is a very good and versatile power, equally good for making a horde of Cultists take longer to thin out or making Rubricae harder to shift. A common theme with all three Mark-specific powers is that they work on everything with the mark, even Vehicles, so 5++ Land Raiders or 4++ Daemon Engines are possible. 8/10

Nurgle: Miasma of Pestilence
-1 To Hit against a Marked unit within 18" for everything. Great, bordering on dirty. Stacks with the Alpha Legion trait or the Night Lords 'In Midnight Clad' stratagem, making firing Plasma on overcharge borderline suicidal (remember you re-roll before modifiers, so a BS 3+ model firing on Overcharge could roll a 3, not be allowed a re-roll because it 'hit', then take the -2 from the modifiers and die.) 9/10

Slaanesh: Delightful Agonies
Very similar to other two, with the same range and WC cost, but this time giving a 5+ FNP. How this makes sense on a tank I'm not sure, but it apparently does. This one is always useful, varying in how it compares to the other two Mark buffs based on what the attack is and how good a save the target already has. 8/10

The Elephant in the Room
So here it is- the Hereticus Discipline is really good- really, really good. The big problem comes when trying to pick the powers, because with Sorcerers only getting two + Smite and Daemon Princes only getting one taking anything other than Warptime and Prescience is very hard to justify. It feels a bit like the situation with the old Tyranid codex where a book full of perfectly decent options just felt like it was Winged Hive Tyrants And Some Rubbish because they were just so good. The Mark-Specific buffs are good and worth taking, especially Miasma, but I can guarantee from experience that if you do, you'll miss whichever of the Big Two you don't take terribly. There is, however, a helpful little solution to this problem tucked into the book.

Getting Familiar
For measly 1CP, the 'Chaos Familiar' Stratagem is easy to overlook, especially since the old version of the Familiar, which gave casting re-rolls, is gone and sorely missed. But this little lad has a very useful trick, allowing a Psyker to swap one of his powers for any other power from the Hereticus discipline. Being able to ditch Miasma for Warptime at a critical moment, or suddenly pulling Death Hex, Gift of Chaos or Diabolic Strength out of your back pocket at the right moment is a real potential game-winner. An interesting question, which is one of those things that feels sort of obviously right and yet maybe unintentional at the same time is that there's nothing to say you can't use this Stratagem to get rid of Smite. You certainly couldn't use it again to get it back, since it's not a Hereticus power, and Smite is still a very handy tool, but the option to do this seems to be there.

With their new Codex, Chaos Space Marines got distinctly tricksy. (Lets take a moment to ponder what shenanigans the Aeldari are going to be pulling once they get a new book) Dark Hereticus is such a good Discipline that even the most devout Khorne worshipper might consider working a Sorcerer or two into their Warband somewhere. It remains to be seen whether inventive strategies using some of the lesser powers will develop, but even if they don't, there's plenty of scope for this powerful Discipline to wreak havok.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The humble Chaos Cultist, and his part in your enemy's ruin

Or 'her part'. Sorry ladies!
With the new Chaos Codex bearing down on us there's been a lot of discussion about the usefulness of morale-affecting abilities, in particular the Word Bearers ability to re-roll failed tests. Combined with a Dark Apostle, they can have Leadership 9 Cultist units. The reaction from players has been distinctly mixed, from 'Ew, Cultists?' (Pro-tip: If you don't want to use masses of Cultists, maybe don't play the Legion that practically invented the Imperial Cult) to odd mathematical gymnastics that claim that the re-roll doesn't do anything particularly useful.

It's a little ironic that when a Legion finally manages to get ATSKNF after years of complaining that they don't have it, suddenly apparently nobody wants it. But I digress.

Now we all know that if you're playing an MSU force, Morale is very much less of an issue in 8th Edition. If there's only five of you and you're LD 7, by the time you take enough damage to be in danger of failing a Morale test you're practically all dead anyway. But what I think people aren't giving due consideration to is the fact that in 8th Edition in particular, Cultists are really, really useful. They're one of the cheapest ways any Faction can fill the three Troop slots needed to fill out a Battalion, and whilst nobody is going to accuse them of being the most deadly troops in the galaxy with the various buffs and re-rolls available to Chaos they can be surprisingly effective.

It's worth re-stating how useful filling Troops slots with Cultists can be. For one thing they get the Despoilers of the Galaxy rule, the new version of Objective Secured with all the utility that entails, but most importantly the Battalion (or even Brigade, if you really want to push it) detachment is in reach, giving you +3 or more Command Points. These were very useful just with the Indexes, but with a full Codex they become significantly more important. The thing which is increasingly becoming clear is that most of the benefits that used to come with Formations now come as Stratagems, so a healthy pool of CP greatly increases the flexibility of your army. World Eaters, for example, have the very powerful Fury of Khorne to allow a unit to fight again- potentially for the third time if it's a unit of Berserkers- but it costs a full 3 points. Not only will filling out a Battalion get you the points to use it, but it means you can have a few units of cheap autogun-toting idiots holding the objective so all those Berserkers can get on with running at the enemy with chain-axes.

Even the mighty Land Raider can gain a decent benefit from Cultists. Though the tank has got a lot more powerful in 8th, (particularly the Chaos variety since it gained POTMS)  its Achilles Heel is getting assaulted by quick, cheap units like suicidal Rhinos and Trukks which stop it shooting. Well, Cultists not only give you a cheap bubble-wrap option but you can even load a smaller unit of them into the thing and take them with you. Even if you misjudge it and still get charged, you can hop the Cultists out, retreat the tank, and charge the Cultists in, at least preventing the Rhino from doing it again next turn.

Lets finish by really looking at just how nasty we can make some Cultists. We need to remember that, chaff unit though they are, Cultists still get the HERETIC ASTARTES, <MARK OF CHAOS> and <LEGION> keywords, so as well as that Morale re-roll we started talking about we can get always-strikes-first Cultists, Cultists with additional attacks, and more. It's probably easiest to make them into an assault horde, with a Dark Apostle keeping them in the fight and dishing out melee Hit re-rolls with Dark Zealotry and an Exalted Champion giving them re-rolls to Wound. On a 20 strong unit that cost 5 Power, that's some force multiplication. If there's a Sorcerer about, Prescience will give them +1 To Hit into the bargain. And whilst Chaos doesn't have Commissars to boost the staying power of Cultists to Conscript-like levels of irritating, the Word Bearers have a potentially even more infuriating trick, with Tide of Traitors (for a measly 2CP)  allowing them to remove that one survivor stuck in melee with an enemy unit (who maybe only stuck around because of that Ld 9 and morale re-roll) and replace him, along with his full twenty-strong unit, on your opponent's board edge in rapid-fire range of his tender bits.

Of course, you don't have to take Cultists. There's plenty of perfectly good army builds that don't need them. But there are plenty of really dirty jobs to do on the 40k battlefield, and like Grots and Conscripts, Cultists are one of the best units to saddle with doing them.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Plasma and modifiers- the Halo Paradigm

The Halo Paradigm, besides being a fantastic name for a band, is also the phrase I use for something that comes to mind when looking at the way 8th Edition handles Plasma weapons. One of the things that irritated me about Plasma since the earliest days of the Gets Hot rule was the way that twin-linking the weapon caused you to be less likely to overheat. So because you were firing more shots, you were less likely to get hot? Odd.

Now, some people don't like the fact that in 8th Edition, modifiers to hit alter how likely plasma weapons are to overheat. For example, use Presience to get +1 to hit, and barring other modifiers you can Overcharge to your hearts content. Conversely, negative modifiers, such as the recently-revealed Night Lords stratagem, make Overcharging much more dangerous.

I actually think this is a very sensible rule, and to illustrate why we need only look at the Chief there. I'll admit at this point that unless my memory plays tricks on me the last Halo I played was Halo 3, so this may not be true of the later games, but Covenant plasma weapons in Halo, much like 40k ones, can overheat with continuous fire. This doesn't (as far as I remember) cause actual damage to the firer, but it does stop the gun firing for a while and makes the player wave it about trying to cool it down.

Here's the thing- if presented with two targets, one of which is just standing there waiting to be shot and the other of which is dodging about like a demented flea (or a caffeine-powered 14-year-old), which one do you think is most likely to cause your gun to overheat as you shoot at it? Faced with an elusive target, the reaction of all but the most ninja-skilled player is to fire more shots in the attempt to hit it, which obviously increases the chance of an overheat.

Now, whether 40k plasma weapons overheat in the same manner, building up heat with sustained fire, or whether even a single shot on Overcharge runs the risk of overheat is largely unknown. We have to remember that with most 40k weapons, a single shot actually represents a burst of fire- the average Space Marine doesn't get through a five turn game and only fire ten rounds. Whichever way the overheating works, though, it's reasonable to assume that a firer who is distracted or challenged by the sort of situations that incur a To Hit penalty would be more vulnerable to overheating, either because they fail to notice the warning signs whilst concentrating on their aim or because they simply fire one shot too many and run out of luck. This also makes abilities that let the firer re-roll due to the presence of an officer even more evocative, as we can imagine them warning a trooper to hold fire for a moment.

So overall, this is an 8th Edition wrinkle that I very much like. Now all we need to do is get GW to realise that a Land Raider being wrecked because a pintle-mounted combi-plasma overheats is plain daft...

8th Edition- An unexpected benefit

This is one of those things that should have been immediately obvious to me, but didn't really strike me until I happened to glance at the model above on the shelf just now. This is Violator, a converted Land Raider that I use with my Emperor's Children 63rd Company army. As you can see, it's pretty extensively converted to mount Sonic weapons amongst other things. (More information on the model can be found here on my Deviantart page.)

Of course, it's well known that one of the things Emperor's Children players won't shut up about is wanting to stick Sonic weapons on everything. It doesn't feel like an unreasonable idea that units like Terminators or vehicles like the Land Raider or Predator might be altered by the Legion to use their signature weapon, but for whatever reason it's not something GW has shown any real interest in doing. The advent of 8th Edition, however, gives us a bit of a 'back door' approach to the issue.

Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the Power system allows 'homebrew' units with unusual weapon fits since the much less accurate scale absorbs such fairly minor changes quite easily. So for example if we simply say Violator is a standard Chaos Land Raider that has replaced the twin Lascannons with twin Blastmasters and the twin Heavy Bolter with a Sonic Blaster and a Doomsiren, that's unlikely to cause the Power of  the tank to be massively out of whack, especially if we forbid it from taking a Havok Launcher or Combi-Weapon. The really nice thing, though, is that we can even use the weapon charts in the back of the Codex/ Index to come up with an exact Matched Play points value for the tank, something that hasn't been available to model builders since the old Rogue Trader days. (I'm not going to do it here, since we all know how GW feels about people posting their points values)

Let's look at another example, Honour of Skalathrax. (DA link)

As with Violator, I usually run this tank as a stock Chaos Land Raider, but we could easily class the two long-barrelled Autocannons held by the door gunners as Hades Autocannons, which a quick look at the points tells us actually work out a little cheaper than the twin Lascannons would. The single front Heavy Bolter gunner poses a little more of a problem since its usually a twin one, but we could simply count it as a twin and assume that the Berserker gunner is particularly enthusiastic. Alternatively we could keep it as a single weapon, add up the points, and divide by 20 to see if the Power of the tank should be a point lower.

It's not hard to see how we could take this idea further and make our Sonic Terminators, for example, but there are potential pitfalls. If a weapon is the default for a particular unit, and that unit is the only one in the army to have access to it, then the points value tends to be listed as 0- an example in the Chaos army list is the Demolisher Cannon which is only ever found on a Vindicator. Obviously if we were going to make a Demolisher-armed Land Raider model we couldn't get away with that. We could use the points value for a Demolisher from the Astra Militarum list, but even this is not an ideal solution since they pay less points for ranged weapons due to their typically lower BS. (See the points cost of a Lascannon in both lists, for example)

This does also illustrate that even points values are limited in their usefulness as a balancing factor once you start tinkering with units. For example, we might decide to make a Renegade Chapter and use vehicles like Land Speeders and Land Raider Crusaders alongside our Chaos infantry and change the relevant Keywords to make them fit in better, but doing something like this also effects which buffs (and debuffs) work on them, potentially altering the balance of the units in odd ways. To take a more extreme and obvious example, if we decided to make a heavily armoured Ork Prophet and use him as a Terminator Chaplain but with Ork keywords (a model which part of me now really wants to build) his Litanies of Hate would then start buffing 30-strong Boyz Mobz which would throw all sorts of things out of whack.

 Of course one of the beauties of 40k in general is that even something like that isn't out of the question so long as both players are happy with it. Whatever crazy army list or scenario someone wants to play is absolutely fine so long as everyone involved in the game agrees it is, even if the CEO of Games Workshop turns up and tells you you're doing it wrong. But hopefully this piece will inspire someone to maybe let a couple of counts-as conversions be what they were always meant to be at last.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

In Print

Any excuse to use this again!

As you might know if you ever look on this blog, I'm writing a series of novels, the first of which, The Wake of Manadar, is now available in print like a proper grown-up book as well as the new-fangled eBook version. You can find it, should you be so inclined, at the link in this text or by clicking the ad in the top right of the blog. It's not incredibly cheap, but it's a fat book that should pass more than one evening and double as an emergency defensive weapon in a pinch.

This has been quite a long, often frustrating, journey so far and it's one that's hopefully still beginning. I'm well underway on the second book and believe me I'll be making some noise about it when it's done!

A few observations- firstly, whilst I remain unconvinced that it's worth spending the frankly quite mad amounts of money I've seen quoted for an editor when self-publishing (£4000?) it's certainly well worth commissioning an artist to do your cover. I originally knocked up a better-than-terrible one myself but eventually commissioned the very talented Sean Harrington, whose rates are very reasonable and who didn't get wrapped up in minutiae over rights. Not using an editor does mean, however, that you're going to have to proof-read your work a lot- and I mean a lot. One author I talked to recently recommended having a text-to-speech tool read the book back to you, which is something I'm going to have to try.

Anyway, I'd like to thank everyone who's supported me so far and anyone who buys the thing, and should you happen to run into me carrying a copy I'll be happy to sign it.. once my signature recovers from those infernal 'touch-sensitive' pads every delivery driver seems to carry these days. I'm working on it!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Finding new battlefields

This isn't an especially 40k-related post despite the title, but it touches on it a bit.

Recently it has been announced that the creators of Game of Thrones are working on a new series called 'Confederate' which is set in an alternate reality where slavery is still legal. They say it details the events leading up to a Third American Civil War, in an America where the southern states successfully ceded from the Union. The BBC has a piece on the reaction to this announcement and the almost inevitable backlash.

Now here's the first thing, and it's the thing that most directly relates to 40k too if you like- just because a writer or other creator chooses to set their story in a particular world doesn't mean that they think that world is a good place to be. We've all read the occasional obnoxious chin-stroking think-piece by a hack journalist desperate for some clicks who suddenly comes to the universe-shattering conclusion that the Imperium is a Fascist dictatorship and therefore assumes that anyone who plays 40k must be a KKK member or jackbooted wannabe blackshirt. The point of a setting is that it's just that- a setting, a stage, a place you can tell your story, and often the worse things are in that setting, the more story hooks are lying around.

The converse is also true- there are some stories where a world that is obviously meant to be 'better' than ours comes under threat. When the writers of Star Trek have the Borg turn up and assimilate an entire Federation planet, or the Cylons wipe the Twelve Colonies out of existence, the writers aren't saying this is a great thing to have happened- they're saying it's an interesting story. Big, crucial, difference. All but the most trivial (or very, very weird) stories need some form of conflict or crisis to drive the narrative, and that means that something good will be threatened, or something bad will need to be challenged.

There's a second, more insidious argument being deployed by the critics of 'Confederate' though, and it's the one which, as an aspiring writer, I find most chilling. Several people (check that BBC article for examples, I'm not linking them) have complained that 'two white guys' can't tell a story about slavery because they aren't black. Well excuse the hell out of me, but as a white male I'm going to write stories about who and whatever I damn well please. In fact, there's a cute little Catch-22 waiting for us here- for some time now, people have been complaining that there aren't enough strong female characters in big Hollywood movies, or enough black characters, or enough of whatever particular group you'd care to mention. But by the previous rule- that you have to be member of a particular group before you're qualified to write stories about it- that means all those white male screenwriters or novelists aren't allowed to write those stories. And of course if you're a white woman, you can't write about black women. If you're a black man, you can't write about black women. And so on and so on. "Only a Ginger..."

Of course I'm applying reductio ad absurdum here. After all, if we applied this 'rule' that strictly no one person could ever write a book at all unless it was set in a very odd society indeed. (and of course such a book would immediately be open to flak for 'lack of diversity') But the simple fact is that this argument is absurd. My own novel, The Wake of Manadar, features plenty of strong female characters and I was fully aware when writing it that I wasn't female, which is why I got women to read it and call me out on anything that wasn't quite right. I'm sure most other authors do the same thing, even if it's just checking with their partner or their editor. The idea that a major TV series on HBO might get all the way into full production without plenty of input and feedback from all manner of diverse people is patently daft. And yet, in the increasingly angry, judgmental, holier-than-thou world we seem to be living in, some people see fit to criticize a creative work based solely on the premise and the race of the people behind it.

There's a word for that. It begins with an 'R'.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Open War!

Firstly a quick apology for the lack of recent posts. Our family business recently took a direct hit from lightning and it blew up all sorts of kit, including our Internet, so things have been a little chaotic recently. Mostly sorted now though.

Anyway, though there have been various interesting looking things appearing recently, like the slug-like Nurgle Plaguecrawler and all those scary-looking new Primaris Marines, the thing I've been most taken with is the new Open War cards. I think these are one of the most interesting things to happen to 40k since Maelstrom Missions, and yes, I am counting 8th Ed in general in there.

Simply put, the Open War cards increase the number of potential 40k scenarios to 1,728. That's not a typo, and it assumes two armies of equal Power. Not only that- and this is something I really appreciate as someone who lugs his armies around on buses- it means that all you need to play rules-wise is the core game rules and the Open War deck.

Where do I get that big number from? Well, there are 12 Objective cards, which tell you what you're trying to do to win, 12 Deployment cards which define the deployment setup (no shocks so far, I know) and 12 Twist cards that alter the game, sometimes quite dramatically. So that gives us 12x 12x 12 potential scenarios. Some of these can be pretty major- several of the Deployments have points or even entire borders where the two players deployment zones touch, meaning you could start the game with armies 3" apart, for example. One army could be surrounded in the middle of the table, or split between up to four zones.

The Twists take this further and really shake things up. There's one that forces a more 7th Edition style of deployment, where one player sets up first and gets the first turn if they aren't seized on, and others that cause troops to heal, speed up or slow Movement, impair shooting, etc. Combine that with objectives that can range from Power-based Kill Points to sudden death victories for controlling several Objectives at once, and it becomes a real challenge to successfully play to the scenario.

I've not talked about the Ruse and Sudden Death cards yet, because since they only come into play with unbalanced forces I think they're less likely to be used, but they're still quite interesting. A player who has less Power then their opponent gets a Ruse, and these are usually fairly minor, like a redeployment, a bonus to certain actions, or ignoring Morale. Sudden Death cards are much juicier, and take effect if one player has half or less their opponent's Power. Building on an idea from Age of Sigmar, they introduce a secret win condition for the underdog player which will win them the game immediately if they achieve it. Since they vary from killing the most powerful enemy unit to driving the enemy out of a specific board zone, in such a game the player with the more powerful force is going to be pretty nervous to say the least, and the underdog will have some interesting options as far as bluff and double bluff goes.

"Oh please don't go over there and take my Objective, B'rer Fox" [Wins next turn on Drive Them Out card]
It's fair to say that Open War probably won't find a home in competitive tournaments- certain combinations can make things very tough on one player or the other. For example, I played a couple of games with them at the weekend and in the first my Tyranid-playing opponent was unfortunate that we drew the Kingslayer objective card, which means you have to destroy more Power than your opponent and Warlords count double. Since his Warlord was the Power 15 Swarmlord who was on his own due to the point level and I was playing Dark Eldar with splinter and Dark Lances, he was some 30 Power down very quickly and would have been nowhere near parity even if he'd killed my Power 7 Lelith. Overall, though, I think the fact that they force you to deal with situations outside of the norm makes the cards interesting and a good tactical challenge.

Are they perfect? No, and I think the most obvious silly thing is the card backs. For example:

As you can see, the backs of the various types of card are clearly different, but not all that different. Each type of card has a moody greeny-grey grim-dark face on it, it's just a slightly different moody greeny-grey grim-dark face. Since the cards are printed in full colour, I'd have liked to have seen each type of card with a different coloured back to make sorting them into their respective piles nice and simple. But that's a minor gripe, and one which shouldn't dissuade you from trying them out. I certainly plan to get plenty of mileage out of mine.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Rise of the Chaos Terminator

One of the nice things about 8th Edition is that units that previously got left on the shelf are getting a  bit more tabletop time. Of those, possibly one of the best examples is Chaos Terminators, though if you were a bit of a meta-hound in the latter days of 7th Edition you might need to do a bit of work to fully reap the bounty.

Late in 7th Ed, the Traitor's Hate and Traitor Legions supplements added the Terminator Annihilation Force formation- several squads of Chaos Terminators led by a Terminator character who could shoot immediately after Deep Striking as well as getting bonuses vs a marked target. It was a fun formation, if very expensive, and to maximise its effectiveness I made my three squads of Terminators all with combi-weapons.

Fast-forward to 8th Ed and whoa mama. With the advent of combi-weapons that now fire more than once, the humble Chaos Terminator has become a serious force for destruction, to the extent that I'm considering adding another unit with combi-flamers to the three units I already have, two with plasmas and one with meltas. It's not just the fact that you can Deep Strike units who are all effectively armed with special weapons without error, however, it's the support you can give them.

Chaos Sorcerers in Terminator armour are the special sauce that makes their fellow Terminators so nasty, due to the way they nicely deal with two of the major problems the Terminators would otherwise face. Firstly, we all know that a problem with deep-striking meltas is the 9" distance limit preventing you getting that re-roll on the damage. Admittedly five meltaguns should do plenty of damage anyway, but the Sorcerer has the perfect tool for the job in Warptime, which allows the target to make an extra move. Not only does that get us into melta (or indeed, flamer) range, but it can also be used to improve the chances of an Assault straight out of Deep Strike, allowing the Terminators to make full use of all those extra weapon options they have.

Plasma Terminators, on the other hand, live in mortal fear of killing themselves with their own guns if they decide to Overcharge them. Since you no longer get to use their save against a Get Hot, most players will be very wary of doing it with such expensive troops except in the most dire of situations. To the rescue again comes our Sorcerer, this time with Prescience, which gives a unit a flat +1 to hit. As per the designers commentary, that means that not only do the Terminators now hit on a 2+, they can't overheat. Zounds. You can also keep a friendly Daemon Prince nearby to let them re-roll 1s to hit, and since re-rolls are applied before modifiers, that stacks with Prescience, but some might consider this overkill.

Now I should point out that so far I've only played 8th Ed with Power, so obviously the fact that my Terminators are tricked out to the max has been nothing but an advantage. With points values, the cost per-unit probably makes things less efficient, but this is still a beautiful set of synergies that screams to be tried out. Here's an example of a 75 power setup:

Vanguard Detachment: Sorcerer in Terminator armour, 3 units of Chaos Terminators

Battalion Detachment: Daemon Prince, Dark Apostle, 3 units of Cultists.

This list is by no means totally optimised- you'd probably do better with a second Sorcerer rather than the Prince and it only actually uses 74 Power- but it still generates 7 Command Points and satisfies the Tactical Reserves rule. I tried it out in our FLGS introductory 8th Ed tournament (which was Matched Play with Power) and it was pretty decent, going 3-0.

The best part of all this, though, is that Chaos Terminators now have access to a set of dirty tricks which the Loyalists don't, which is nice to see. We can expect some Primaris Terminators to redress the balance any time now, I'm guessing!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Proof is in the Reading

Just a short post tonight, and if you can read this I assume my iffy Internet connection is holding up. You might have picked up that the four Forge World indexes are now out and in the hands of many gamers, including me. Unfortunately they are, to steal the words of Richard Garfield, buggier than a first-year FORTRAN class.

Now, I'm not talking buggy as in the odd minor misprint here or there, the sort of thing that will always tend to slip through the net. I'm talking massive, huge, stupid mistakes that should have been obvious to anyone. Mistakes like completely missing unit entries (e.g. the Medusa), nonsensical rules (Renegade transport flyers than can't transport Renegades) inconsistent rules (the Death Korps Memento Mori which has different rules for two models on the same page) missing options (Contemptor Mortis cyclone launchers, Fire Raptor autocannons) and missing rules for options (the Heavy Armour on the Land Raider Proteus). The warlord and Enforcers for Renegades don't even have the Character rule, for crying out loud.

Now this annoys me on two levels. Firstly, as the poor sap consumer who's just dropped £60 plus postage on four books which, at best, are going to have to have pages of errata and corrections stuffed into them. But more than that, it offends me personally.
You might have noticed I wrote a novel some time ago. Part of the reason for this blog is to help publicise it, and the link is right up there as the only ad on the entire thing. It took me something like two years to write, and it's over 160,000 words long. And I proof-read the whole thing, end to end, personally. It took me bloody ages. In preparation for a paperback release (which is coming soon) I've recently done it again, and I still noticed a few tiny mistakes. But I bothered to do it. My entire royalty take for those two years plus change of work is so far somewhere in the region of £20. So when I see a bunch of people who are supposed to be professionals make such a spectacularly half-baked job of checking their work that most gamers spot multiple errors on reading the things once and then having the brass balls to charge £15 a pop for the things, you bet I get cross.

So, as an aspiring writer, 25-year 40k veteran, and long-suffering consumer, I say to Forge World: Pull your fingers out. Check your work. Get someone else who doesn't already know what you mean to check it again. Then get someone else to check it. Then release the digital version so people can get a decent look at it. And then, and only then, can you commit that work to paper.

I will never- and I repeat, never, pre-order a Forge World book again, and I encourage anyone thinking of buying one of the FW Indexes to give it at least a month for them to fix the errors before even considering it.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Death Guard- Dead good or DOA?

So, with 8th Edition and the all-important Indexes finally in the grubby little paws/ tendrils/ digital manipulators/ tentacles of gamers all over the planet (except possibly North Korea, but I bet Kim the Young'un has got a set and is frantically painting his Primaris Marines as I type this) I thought it about time to have a look at the all new, if not exactly fresh, Death Guard. Hopefully without too many run-on-sentences. No promises.

With the Death Guard, GW seem at first blush to have if not dropped the ball, then at least fumbled it drawing a sharp intake of breath from the spectators. It doesn't help that the Traitor Legions book so recently finally gave the Legions some flavour and power, and it can feel like the Indexes have cruelly snatched it away again. We should remember, however, that even Loyalist Marines have lost Chapter Tactics and the poor little lambs suddenly have to take Morale tests like everyone else, so all supplicants are in some respects of equal height to this headsman.

Even allowing for that, though, the Death Guard are in a uniquely bad position. I'm not sure if the timing of their release was as GW intended, but at time of writing the 'true' Death Guard have a very limited roster of units, and worse, many models people thought were Death Guard a month or so ago now aren't. If, like me, you got excited by Relentless Death Guard Havoks or are one of the approximately 2/3 of all Chaos players to have Nurgle Obliterators, right now your nose is probably a little out of joint. Of course, since those units can still have the Mark of Nurgle and are still HERETIC ASTARTES you can still field them in the same Detachment, they just can't have the DEATH GUARD keyword for their <LEGION>.

Dammit, can't use these either!
Legionnaires' Disease

The <LEGION> keyword is a bit of an odd beast. Functionally, it works like most other secondary faction keywords, like <CHAPTER> or <ORDER>- in order to receive various buffs, your unit needs to be from the same <LEGION> as the buff-giver. The oddity is, though, that unlike Marine Chapters and Sororitas Orders, we know who all the Legions are, so it feels strange to insert your own or use the name of a known Nurgle warband like The Purge. On the other hand, Huron Blackheart uses the RED CORSAIRS keyword which seems to work as a <LEGION> so what's in a word, eh?

The bottom line, though is that for the moment at least, if you want to use things like Chaos Terminators, Havoks, Obliterators, Dark Apostles or Warpsmiths, to name but a few, you're going to need to put something else in that <LEGION> space. This hurts the synergies of the army, though it doesn't give any penalties beyond that. (As a side note, the new army composition system doesn't seem to care if the Factions of your detachments don't match. As far as I can see, you can play a Slaanesh Daemons Patrol with an Aeldari Battalion and no-one bats an eyelid.)

No rules for you!

Down with the Sickness

Enough of this wittering. Let's take a look at what the Death Guard do get, and see if it makes up at all for what they lose out on.

Typhus looks pretty solid. He's very tough, with T5, 2+/ 4++ and, like all Death Guard, Disgustingly Resilient meaning it'll take a lot to strip all 6 of his Wounds. Notably, his Manreaper is a bit of a super-weapon, with S7, -3 AP, 3 Damage and a re-roll of 1s to wound, without any of the penalties usually associated with Power Fists or Daemon Weapons. His Destroyer Hive now works a lot better than it used to, and of course as a Pistol can be shot even when he's locked in combat. He buffs Poxwalkers, gives Death Guard units a deadly aura, and is a decent Psyker into the bargain. One annoyance is that his Cataphractii Armour slows him down for the 4++, despite many other characters getting that for no penalty and an Imperial Cataphractii Captain getting a 3++

Without going to the Points section, this looks like a first-class derp on GW's part. For the same Power, this guy does exactly the same as Typhus, only worse. His profile and saves are the same, his weapon is identical but for only being S6, he has no Destroyer Hive, doesn't buff Poxwalkers and isn't a psyker. On top of that, unless I'm spectacularly misreading the points system, in Matched Play he costs, er, more than Typhus. Unless you really, really want to spread Nurgle's Gift across a wide area, this poor chap looks set for shelf time. Hopefully GW will either give him his own rules or make him considerably cheaper when the Death Guard get their own book.

This fellow seems fine. He's as powerful as a stock Sorcerer as far as casting goes, is a point of Power cheaper, and causes Mortal Wounds to the enemy as a side-effect of casting. He's a bit less flexible, and slower, but like the rest of the Death Guard he's nice and tough. The Contagion Discipline is decently powerful, though given the slow speed of the Death Guard you might want a normal Sorcerer to get Warptime to move units about a bit faster.

I like these lads a lot, though they make me mourn my Poxwalker Hive Dark Apostle all the harder. For a pittance of Power, you get a nice solid blob of rot-brained morons who are immune to Morale and reinforce themselves by eating the enemy. Though they're only T3 and have that notorious 7+ save, Disgustingly Resilient makes them tougher than most chaff. Their Diseased Horde ability makes them vaguely competent in melee if there's more than 10 of them, which is 10 less than most similar abilities for units like Boyz, Daemonettes or Grots require. It's a little odd that 20 is the maximum unit size, but that's probably just to fit in with the new starter set. So long as you don't expect them to do much other than get in the enemy's way, eat Overwatch, and be generally annoying they compare well with Cultists, who are still available to Death Guard.

The signature Nurgle unit is in an odd place at the moment. Since Defensive Grenades are no longer a thing, their old trick of stuffing up units that needed Charge bonuses like Rage, Furious Charge, etc. no longer works, though on the plus side they no longer need to worry about Initiative. They retain their access to two Special Weapons, though Disgustingly Resilient is no help if a Plasma weapon blows up on them, sadly. Oddly, and probably to accommodate an older model, the Plague Champion can take a Plasma Gun/ Power Fist combo, which is nice since as previously lamented most Champions can't take a bolter or combi-weapon along with a special close combat weapon now. Another strange thing is the Blight Launcher, which seems to be some sort of poisonous Krak Grenade launcher but doesn't seem to have a model at the moment, suggesting a new kit is coming. Overall these guys are still pretty decent, if possibly not as impressive as they felt in 7th Ed, and you're going to be seeing them in Death Guard armies pretty much by default.

Not having had a chance to play Death Guard yet (there's only one weekend in a week, people) I find the Bloat Drone tricky to appraise. Its Power Rating puts it squarely in Dreadnought territory, but with only 3 Attacks it's not all that destructive in melee and will certainly struggle against other walkers. However, with T7, 10 Wounds, 3+/5++ and Disgustingly Resilient it's certainly quite tough, and with its two Plaguespitters will be putting out 2D6 automatic hits when shooting. Since it can Fly, that means it can Overwatch an assault unit and should it survive, back out of the fight and shoot them again, which coupled with a fast-for-Death-Guard speed of 10" makes it look like a handy unit. I'd have liked Nurgle units to be immune to damage from its Putrid Explosion, but hey.

This.. thing.. is just plain weird. He feels like somewhere where all the ideas they had left over got put. The Blightbringer has a plasma pistol (why the Death Guard, lords of decay, seem addicted to the most high-maintenance weapon in 40k I don't know) a Cursed Bell for close combat that's pretty mediocre, and the usual mix of low speed and decent durability. However, he just might be an essential unit due to his support abilities (and hello Age of Sigmar, nice to see you visiting us again.) Not only does he make Death Guard a little faster when they Advance within 7", but he has a Leadership debuff with the same area- 1 for most units, 2 for Psykers. This is ok on it's own, but when combined with an Icon of Despair, which Plague Marines can take, might mean -2 or even -3 Leadership penalties for enemy units. That puts many units into territory where even a single casualty might well mean failed Morale tests, which against units with several Wounds and decent defences is very big news indeed. This fellow is the chocolate-covered salted pretzel of the Death Guard- it makes no sense, but it sort of works.

Post Mortem

So, that's yer Death Guard. Do the new units make up for the losses? Nope, at least not yet for me. If the full version of their Codex doesn't give me some way to use my Havoks, Apostle, Obliterators and Terminators without having to mess around with other Legions, I'm going to be a grumpy bunny. Does that mean I'll be dropping them? Hell no. What is here is pretty decent, with the very noteable exception of the Typhus vs Lord mess, and so long as GW get the lead out and fill out the army sooner rather than later I'm sure they'll be viable. But that's just my overly-long and yet insufficiently detailed take. I'd be interested to hear what I've missed!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Trying 8th: First Impressions

So, I finally got to try out 8th Edition! And it was.. well, a little frustrating. But we'll get to that.

Since I've also been playing Shadow War a bit, I decided to lug my Orks down to my FLGS and see if I could get a test game in. We ended up playing a 79 Power game (we were going to go with 75, but my first try at a list hit 75 dead  but wasn't practical for the Detachments, so we just added in the Weirdboy and moved up to 79). I ended up playing against Tau. I was using:

Kaptin Badrukk (with one Ammo Runt)
A Weirdboy
2 units of 20 Slugga/ Choppa Boyz led by Nobz with Power Klaws
1 unit of 20 Shoota Boyz with 2 big shootas, led by a Nob with Power Klaw
A Gorkanaut
10 Flash Gitz
A Battlewagon with 2 Big Shootas, 2 Rokkits, and a Killkannon
This used a Battalion detachment, IIRC, giving me 6 Command Points.

The opposing Tau were (to the best of my memory, yes kids it's another blogger who doesn't take notes)
Commander with two Fusion guns and a missile pod
Crisis Bodyguard team with 6 Flamers
Stealth team with 2 burst cannon and a fusion gun
3 Broadsides with heavy rail rifles and smart missiles
2 units of ten Fire Warriors
2 units of ten Kroot
Cadre Fireblade
2 units of Pathfinders with a mix of rail rifles and ion rifles in addition to Markerlights
This was also a Battalion detachment

Now firstly I should point out that we were still very much learning the rules, the store copies of both the rules and the Indexes were getting passed about all over the place and the terrain was more than a little improvised, so I'm not taking how things went as being all that representative, but it certainly brought up a few issues. I got the first turn, and identified the infiltrating Stealth team as a danger, so I moved up the Battlewagon full of flash gitz and Badrukk to deal with them. In hindsight this turned out to be the first of many mistakes borne of my unfamiliarity with the new rules, but as I said this was a learning process. Anyway, despite unloading 30 shots with the Gitz' Snazzguns, hitting on 4+ and re-rolling 1s due to Badrukk, plus Badrukk's own gun which is now basically a plasma caliver I was only able to take two out. This was due in no small part to the fact that the Stealth team not only forces -1 to hit against them, but also got +1 to their saves for being in cover. I even added the Battlewagon's firepower but to no effect.

I'm not going to do a tedious blow-by-blow of the entire thing, but suffice it to say that in the following Tau turn this happened:

Using the homing beacon carried by the Stealth team, the Crisis bodyguards dropped within flamer range of my supporting Boyz. Units with lots of flamers are going to pose real problems for armies like Orks and Daemons in 8th, because not only can they kill models which are out of their immediate range but they can then Overwatch repeatedly so long as they manage to stay out of combat. On the following Ork turn, the surviving Boyz (about 13) along with a couple of Flash Gitz and Badrukk were left with the problem of trying to assault the Crisis team through 6D6 automatic hits- not a new problem, but one made worse by the fact that using the two Gitz to ablate the Overwatch was no longer a viable tactic. (In the end the Boyz made it with about 6 of their number left, allowing the others to get in.) Overall I'm not a big fan of multiple Overwatch at all- it removes a tough decision people used to have to make and I don't think it makes much sense narratively- how is the unit supposed to be firing all its weapons at multiple charging units at once? It's not like they're standing there politely waiting their turn to charge.

In a big positive for Orks, though, the new Weirdboy is much improved. I took Da Jump as his power, and teleported the Shoota Boyz up into the corner of the board, ready to distract and hopefully charge the Tau flank. It didn't work for the shootas (despite their 'ere we go reroll) but on the subsequent turn the red sluggas tried it on the opposite flank with more success, and finally accounted for two Broadsides and a Fire Warrior squad on their own.

I was also quite impressed with the Gorkanaut. Though the Deffstorm mega-shoota still seems to continue the tradition of being less effective than the Big Shootas, being able to split its fire and charge something it didn't shoot, coupled with improved durability, makes it a lot more effective. In this game it blew great chunks out of the Tau, slaughtering an entire squad of Kroot in one turn and inflicting heavy casualties on several other squads before its rampage was brought to an end. With the way the Transport rules now work I think I'll definitely be using its ability to carry six models in future, with Burnas looking like a likely candidate.

The Battlewagon, on the other hand.. well, I think in this game I mishandled it due to still thinking in 7th Ed terms. With its toughness of 7 in the open-topped configuration and gaining little benefit from it for delivering assault troops, my Battlewagon in this game should have been trying to stay out of trouble and keeping the Gitz inside in 24" range of their target, rather than closing. Due to the Battlewagon's basic save being 4+, Tau small arms which mostly damage it on 5+ were a very serious threat to it, which coupled with the fact that Markerlight hits now persist for the entire turn spelt doom for the thing in short order, and subsequently for the Gitz inside.

Speaking of the Gitz, another big error I made with them was putting a KillKannon on their ride. This reduces the carrying capacity of the Battlewagon to 12, which meant that with Badrukk in there too I could only take one Ammo Runt since Runts now take up transport slots and have a profile. I really could have benefited from more re-rolls to hit and the KillKannon was somewhat useless anyway, I still think, however, that Flash Gitz and Lootas using the Battlewagon's Mobile Fortress rule to fire on the move looks like a solid combo, I just used it poorly here.

I was more than a little shocked at how poor Boyz were in assault, though we should remember that Battlesuits are an edge case. With the Klaw Nobz hitting on 4+, not gaining a bonus attack for charging, and only inflicting -3 save (meaning a 2+ save Broadside still gets a 5+) and then only inflicting D3 damage (on a 6 wound model) it took three rounds of combat for 17 Boyz and a Nob to kill one suit. Things were even worse against the Crisis team, which lost a grand total of one model to the charge of 7 Boyz and a Klaw Nob, two Flash Gitz, and Badrukk, before simply using their Fly rule to leave combat and shoot them again. With the new Morale rules there was no chance of them breaking due to losing combat whilst I was forced to burn two Command Points to stop my Orks fleeing due to the damage they'd taken from the Overwatch. At the moment, the 7th Ed version of Mob Rule feels much better to me given how easily Boyz mobs can take ten or more casualties in a turn.

In general- and this is I'm sure in part due to this being a tough match-up for Orks- my models felt very fragile. Since Ork Boyz can no longer get 'eavy armour (as far as I could see) and cover is now a bonus to your save, it was extremely rare for them to get any save at all against Tau shooting, even without markerlights. Meanwhile the Tau models would often have 3+ or 2+ saves against most Ork weapons outside of melee. It's telling that many of the Ork lists I'm seeing pop up at the moment are Kan Walls. Certainly at the moment- and I speak as someone who plays amongst others Daemons, Orks and Khorne Daemonkin and regards themself as a bit of an assault specialist- Assault based armies feel like they're going to be weaker than ever, especially those using Infantry. But I'm speaking without trying things like charging vehicles into melee first to stop Overwatch or using Kustom Force Fields, which with their bubble of 5++ look like they may be essential again, and for most of this game my dice were disgusting, so it's still early days yet!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

8th Edition SoB: Deny Denied

I thought I'd take a moment to point out something about the new Sisters of Battle list that's been bugging me, now that their Faction Focus has been done and it's not been mentioned.

Shield of Faith has always been one of those rules which was never quite as good as it was made out to be. We've all (those of us who play Sisters, anyway) got at least one tale of that time we made a clutch 6++ against a melta hit, but for the most part it tended to have little impact. In 8th Edition, however, with Celestine buffing it to a 5+ and Seraphim still getting their re-roll, it's become rather more impressive. However, there's an elephant in the room here, and that's psychic defence.

Shield of Faith used to have two layers of defence against psychic attacks. Firstly, Sisters were immune to the effects of Force weapons. That rule (which would presumably have taken the shape of Force weapons only doing Sisters 1 wound) is nowhere to be seen, but it's unlikely to be greatly missed. The other layer was Adamantium Will, allowing Sisters to Deny The Witch on a 5+. To be honest, this also worked pretty poorly unless you also brought some Witches of your own to give you some Warp Charge, but it was something. So what does the new version do?

A unit with Shield of Faith can now attempt to Deny The Witch as if it were a Psyker (wohoo!)... on 1D6 (awwww.) In case you might be labouring under the idea that this is in any way useful, bear in mind that you have to beat- not equal- the casting roll used to cast the power you wish to Deny, the casting test is made on 2D6, and many powers require a score of 6 or more to cast anyway. And no, unless my poor addled memory is playing tricks on me, a roll of 6 doesn't automatically succeed.

That, as far as psychic attacks are concerned, isn't a 'Shield of Faith'- it's barely a Chainmail Bikini of Faith. Now, it's important to remember that at the moment, psychics aren't as powerful as they were, so this may not be a serious problem, and I still think that Sisters are gaining more than they're losing in 8th Edition (I can see SoB armies with Celestine and a few Simulacrums being feared for the number of extra actions they'll be getting, for one thing) but it's a shame that GW still can't seem to figure out how to give them any psychic defence that actually works.

Could it be fixed? I think so. Other than the obvious (and probably OP for the points) option of  making the Deny a 2D6 roll, one possibility would be for multiple Sisters units to grant a bonus, so a unit might get +1 to the Deny roll for every unit with the Shield Of Faith rule within 12" of it, for example. Of course I've yet to try my Sisters in 8th, so it may be that there are more powers I can deny than I thought. We shall see.

On a related note, here's a wrinkle in the rules for one of the possible ways of dealing with the problem, the Sisters of Silence:

[In thoughmark] "I don't know what's coming, but it's probably heresy"
In a move that will have Thousand Sons Sorcerers polishing up their Doombo- er, Smites, in front of the mirror, the Null Maiden Rhino in the new Index has been stripped of the Psychic Abomination rule. Since the rule also doesn't work when a unit with it is embarked in a Transport, this means that SoS squads in their Rhinos are no safer from Witchfires and all the rest of it than anyone else is. How much impact this is going to have on the usefulness of the Sisters remains to be seen, but it's certainly not a buff.

Time will tell.