Monday, 5 February 2018

Dark Eldar- things I'd like to see

So, the Drukhari codex is bearing down on us, and this is one I'm particularly looking forward to. Let's take a look at a few things I think they need.

NOTE: This is all personal opinion, not any sort of leak or rumour. I wish I had those sorts of connections, but I don't.

Lancing the Boil
To begin at the beginning, the Dark Eldar currently have a bit of an issue with anti-vehicle firepower, and for a long-time player of the faction the fact that that sentence is even a thing is a worry. With 8th Edition, Lance weapons currently, well, aren't. The old Lance rule, of always doing damage on a 4+, is long gone. This isn't the massive nerf it immediately appears to be, since due to being S8 Lances still damage all but the toughest Lord Of War on 4+ at worst, but it does leave the Dark Eldar short on options against such targets. Only the Void Lance on the Voidraven can realistically threaten something like a Fellblade. I'd like to see the Lance rule make a comeback. Now of course Craftworlders don't have it on Brightlances, but they have other, high strength options, as well as melta. The Dark Eldar have other options too, but...

Blasted Haywire
On a similar note, both Blasters and Haywire Blasters need sorting out. Blasters, despite being sawn-off Dark Lances, inexplicably only do D3 damage, meaning even a suicide Scourge squad with four can't expect to kill anything much in a single volley. Haywire blasters, on the other hand, are possibly even more pathetic, only inflicting a single Mortal Wound on a 4+ against vehicles. Yes, they do D3 on a 6, but still the fact remains that for a glass cannon faction, there's very little bang for your buck. Let's also not forget the Heat Lance, the closest thing that DE have to an actual melta weapon with a pathetic Strength of 6. In general, the Drukhari anti-vehicle weapons need a bit more lethality, especially the Haywire which is just sad at the moment.

There's no I in TEAM, but there is in DRUKHARI
The current DE are very lacking in synergies. The worst example of this is the Court of the Archon- rather than improving their master, the various retainers just improve themselves for being around him. The Lhamean does basically nothing (she doesn't even get a bonus attack despite the model having two blades), the Medusa has a ranged attack specifically designed to be useless out of a Webway portal with its 9" range, and the Sslyth and Ur-Ghul both have a 'feel no pain' type ability that gives them an Invulnerable save rather than a wound ignore, which is especially irritating with the Sslyth since it has a Bodyguard rule. I feel that the Lhamean should either become a lot more lethal, or should boost all poison weapons within a radius, the Medusae should gain a little range, and the other two should at least get a 5+ FNP. The Archon should also get bonuses for having his retainers around.

Which Wych is the worst Wych?
Wyches really need sorting out. For one thing, their complete lack of durability outside of combat makes them extremely annoying to use. I think at the very least their 6+ Wychsuit save should become an Invulnerable to reflect them at least trying to dodge incoming fire, which coupled with the 6+ wound ignore from Power From Pain might at least allow some of them to survive. They also really need some way to affect vehicles. With EMP grenades apparently no longer existing, Drukhari currently can barely damage vehicles in combat. One possibility might be some sort of shock gauntlet weapon for the Wyches, or maybe bringing back the grenades as a stratagem. Wych weapons also need sorting out- at the moment, only the Hydra Gauntlets, with their re-roll to Wound, are worth bothering with. The hit re-roll from Razorflails is pretty worthless since Wyches hit on 3+ most of the time and through drugs or PfP frequently hit 2+, and the Impaler... well. The Impaler is actually ok, with its -1 AP and 2 damage, but the Wych doesn't get a bonus attack and the Shardnet it's paired with does literally nothing. Razorflails could perhaps switch to being a re-roll of 1s to hit and wound, which I think would be an improvement. As for the Shardnets, assuming GW are determined not to bring back their old Attacks-reducing ability, there would seem to be a couple of possibilities- either give the Wych two additional basic Attacks like Lelith's hair does, or represent an entangling effect by adding +1 per net to the Wyches' No Escape roll. I have to say I really like the latter idea, since No Escape is one of the best things Wyches have going for them.

Top That
I really hope that Open Topped keeps being a thing, because it really is central to how Dark Eldar play. I'd like to see it improved a bit, at least for Wyches, to allow them to either jump out after the transport moves, or use a Pile In move to disembark into a combat that their vehicle has charged into that turn. Both of these might be considered powerful enough to be a Stratagem, which would still be an improvement. Also bring back Splinter Racks, pretty please.

Sneaky spiky pixie tricks
So let's talk Stratagems and Warlords. Chapter Approved was a good start, though I think DE should also get their own version of Cloud Strike to go with Webway Portal to allow Raider drops. The Crucible of Malediction should probably also be a Stratagem, so Psykers would have good reason to fear Dark Eldar armies. I'd really like to see some abilities where the Archon can punish his minions to inspire the rest- for example, inflicting Mortal Wounds on a nearby unit that fails to wipe out the enemy with a shooting attack in order to buff other nearby units with re-rolls, and of course it should be called "You have failed me for the last time.."

It'd be nice as well to bring back Duke Sliscus, Baron Sathonyx, and the other missing DE special characters, though Lady Malys might be tricky since despite still existing in the background she seems to have been basically replaced by Yvraine. (Same weapons- a fan and a blade, met a mysterious entity in the Webway, has unusual powers etc).

Anyway, this is all a bit wish-listy I know and I've barely scratched the surface, but I'll wind this up here. Tune in soon for the inevitable DE codex review in which I'll do my best not to whinge. Much.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Daemons- Secrets, oddities, and the guy no-one wants at parties

So, I finally got my grubby paws on the new Daemons book this weekend, and got a game in with my Slaaneshi Daemons. Over the course of looking at the book, though, a few things came up which seem to have slipped under the radar a bit.

No-one likes Be'lakor any more
Way back in the mist-shrouded past (i.e. 7th edition) Be'lakor was Mr Popular, appearing in many Daemon lists. With his potent defences and ability to get Invisibility whenever he wanted to, any Daemon player having trouble would inevitably be told that the problem with their list was that Be'lakor wasn't in it.

Come 8th Edition, though, and Index Belly was a very different and much less appealing beast. He has access to the Dark Hereticus discipline which seems great (yay, Prescience and Warptime) until you realise that neither he, nor anything else in the Daemon army list has the HERETIC ASTARTES keyword, meaning those powers are completely useless without allies to cast them on.

Now the good news is that the Codex 'fixes' this problem. The bad news is that it does it in pretty much the worst possible way. Belly (I know, but it's easier to type) still has access to Dark Hereticus, but now according to the Daemons Codex that discipline only contains Infernal Gaze, Death Hex, and Gift of Chaos, a list of powers Traitor Legion players will recognise as 'none of the good ones'. In what's going to be a recurring theme here, the Codex calls this the Dark Hereticus discipline without acknowledging that a Discipline with the same name exists in the Chaos Marines book, leaving it more than a little unclear whether Belly can take the other powers if, for example, you're allying him with Traitors. You might think (and I would be inclined to agree) that it's clear he doesn't ever get access to the other powers since the page reference is pretty explicit, but this begs the question of whether he can cast, say Death Hex in a turn that an allied Chaos Sorcerer also casts 'his version' of Death Hex, since these two versions of the Dark Hereticus discipline are apparently different and therefore they aren't the same power. (Or are they?)

Now fortunately(?) this is unlikely to come up since there's another reason Belly is suddenly about as popular as a High School Quarterback who forgot which end-zone he was meant to run to in the vital seconds of the Big Game*, and that's his Allegiance, or lack of same. As the only (apparently) Undivided Daemon Prince in existence according to this book, putting Belly in a Detachment immediately kills off the DAEMONIC LOCI rule, so unless you're running a particularly odd Daemon Soup Belly's likely to find he's not only not on the team, there's no longer even a seat for him on the bus.**

The case of the disappearing Heralds, and the people who didn't notice
Shortly before the Codex was officially released (i.e. a few days after All Those Guys already had it) a leaked image revealed the points values for the Codex. This was very handy for me, my grousing aside, because it meant when I turned up at my FLGS on Saturday with my groaning Kaiser-4 bag stuffed with Daemonettes*** I already had a list written up, albeit one the exact capabilities of which I was rather guessing at. However, I noticed while doing this that the points for a  mounted Herald of Slaanesh, either on Steed or a Chariot, didn't appear to be there. When I voiced this concern I was reassured "oh yeah, don't worry, All Those Guys have been through the Codex and all the mounted Heralds are still there, just under different names."

Picture unrelated
Yeah, only not. None of the mount options for Heralds of Slaanesh made it across, not Steeds, not Seeker Chariots and not Exalted Seeker Chariots. Now on the one level this isn't a huge problem, because the Index entries are still valid and DAEMONIC LOCI works on 'all CHARACTERS' meaning that the Index heralds still get it, though the Herald on Steed does lose out on the charge re-roll for Unholy Speed since her version of the rule is simply being able to advance and charge (which the Locus does anyway).

On the other hand, this is a huge deal for several reasons:

Apparently no-one noticed: None of the previews or commentators I read noticed this omission, in fact some even directly claimed it hadn't happened. This seems to suggest a pretty high level of DILLIGAF on the part of those people.

Moving quickly is key to Slaanesh Daemons: Since Heralds give out a buff bubble that lets them Advance and Charge, they need to be very close to the other Daemons in the Charge phase. In most circumstances, the units charging will be big units of Daemonettes or Seekers, which can make it tricky to then keep a charge clear for the Herald, so the Herald needs to get very far forward to give out the benefit of their +1 Strength aura, which can be critical.

It fragments the rules: To play Slaanesh Daemons you still really need the Index. This is bad news for new players and makes any later errata or FAQ entries more complicated, as well as potentially causing problems in tournaments.

The Slaanesh Issue
This brings us to the other big worry with this book. Once again, GW seem to have got a bit of an issue with Slaanesh. The most obvious sign of this is the now-hilarious size and model quality disparity between the Keeper of Secrets and the other Greater Daemons. Of course, since  the Keeper is also the easiest to kill that's not such a bad thing from the player's point of view since it can at least try to hide, but it's still pretty glaring.

It's not just that, though. The Seeker Chariots, which are basically lawnmowers, are still less effective at running people over than a Blood Throne or even a Skull Cannon. (the Khorne chariots do Mortal Wounds on a 5+, the Seeker Chariots need 6+)  Delightful Agonies, a power lifted straight from the Chaos Marine book, causes the target unit to ignore wounds on a 6+, whereas the CSM version works on 5+ , whereas Miasma of Pestilence, the Nurgle power, is just as effective as its CSM counterpart. (At least the Daemon version of Delightful Agonies is slightly easier to cast, at WC5 instead of 6)

Rules Lawyer Interlude: I have no idea whether Delightful Agonies and Miasma of Pestilence, which have the exact same name as their CSM counterparts, count as the same power for the purposes of the Rule of One.

GW, Y U No Like Slaanesh?
It's (hopefully) an overreaction to assume that GW is trying to in some way phase out, or write out, Slaanesh. For one thing, since 40k allows you to play games set pretty much anywhere in a 10,000 year period, even if Ynnead kills the Dark Prince tomorrow the army would still have a reason to exist. (See also: Captain Tycho). But the company really does seem to be treating Slaanesh with marked (sorry) indifference of late. There are two competing theories for why this might be.

Theory 1:Mums Don't Like it
This one is pretty compelling as far as it goes. The old Juan Diaz Daemonettes, which I snapped up plenty of when they recently came up on Made To Order, were for me the only models so far to truly capture the 'disturbing beauty' aspect of Slaanesh.

They also disappeared from shelves pretty fast, and more than one fan suspects that a GW exec came in one day, saw that they were now selling practically-naked six-breasted women to 12 year-olds, and panicked. (Insert tired-but true 'death of billions is fine but a nipple-slip is an international outrage' comment here.) They were soon replaced by the 'after' picture of every beer-goggles joke ever that has persisted to this day. The only real counterpoint to this theory is that modern GW did, indeed, re-release those models for a limited time. I have no idea how well they sold, but every Slaanesh player I know of either bought them, or wanted to, which leads us into Theory 2:

Theory 2:Players Don't Buy It
This one is much more complicated to unpick. Apparently, Slaanesh, and Slaanesh Daemons in particular, is one of the least popular 40k factions. Now in part we have to play the Sororitas Gambit here and point out that if you keep giving a faction only minor model and rule support, you can't expect players to flock to it. But I think there might be another reason as well that ties somewhat into our other point. Here's one of my Keepers:

'Spider Daemon' by Creature Caster
And here's the other:
'Euralyia, Queen of Ker-Ys', by Mierce Miniatures
I could go through my Heralds (mostly Mierce), my Daemonettes (Mostly Raging Heroes) and so on, but the point is made. Since GW have been so unwilling in recent times to embrace the aesthetic that many Slaanesh players imagine, other companies have stepped in to fill the gap. This has two effects- firstly, it means Slaanesh doesn't appear on the GW sales sheet, and secondly it means it doesn't appear in most GW stores or events that require 'official' models. So not only do GW not see Slaanesh being sold, they don't see it being played.

The dawn light may be pink
It's rumoured that we might at some time in the future see Fulgrim, along with a Slaanesh 'wave' to rival those previously seen for Tzeentch, Khorne and Nurgle. It wouldn't take more than a new Daemonette kit, a new Keeper and some polished-up rules to get the Dark Prince back on its.. feet again, but we'll have to see if it pans out. Certainly I would hope GW wouldn't just bin the entire faction, and in all fairness their artists, at least, seem perfectly happy to embrace the Slaanesh aesthetic, as the artwork in the new Codex shows.

The make-up bit
Just as a final little point, I do think the new Daemon book is pretty decent, even for Slaanesh, despite my grousing. As BoLS put it, your army really is so fast that people think you're cheating, and it's fun to play if a bit tedious to move units of 30 Daemonettes. My reservations shouldn't discourage anyone from giving Slaanesh a try (in game, let me emphasise!) and in fact in light of that last bit I rather hope they don't!

*Attempted American sporting reference from a Brit who knows sod-all about the art of Gridiron.
** Misguided attempt to extend the previous metaphor.
*** I originally mis-typed that as 'Damonette' which is presumably a Daemon that makes inflammatory comments about sexual harassment at a deeply-ill-advised moment.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Ludicrosity Threshold

I saw The Last Jedi the other day, and overall I enjoyed it. Saying so obviously puts one in one trench or the other of a rather pointless argument at the moment, but as far as I'm concerned you can't tell someone else whether or not they liked something.

Anyway, that and a few other things I've read and watched recently got me thinking about suspension of disbelief and how people seem to have radically different thresholds for it, a phenomena I'm now christening the Ludicrosity Threshold. Now, The Last Jedi- and I'm treading carefully here to avoid the dreaded spoilers- takes some serious liberties with the laws of physics. Most notable is the implication that a spaceship needs to apply constant thrust to keep moving, which is a direct violation of Newton's First law, as Mass Effect memorably reminded us.

It annoyed me at the time a little, and I know I'm not the only one. Those fans who like to maintain wikis and make lore videos always find it especially irritating when things like this happen. The thing is, though, that it's not like Star Wars and physics have ever really got on all that well. From faster-than-light travel to slower-than light lasers (and swords made of lasers) to sounds in space and levitating space wizards, Star Wars has always been very much 'soft' sci-fi as opposed to the 'hard' sci-fi of something like The Expanse. The ships have always flown (and even that word is loaded) as if they were atmospheric or even naval craft rather than spaceships, and usually it doesn't bother us, but in this case, for me, it did. For some reason, my personal Ludicrosity Threshold was exceeded.

It might be that I just don't like Rian Johnson, at least with regard to the Threshold. I wrote a post some time ago about stupid time travel rules, and his movie "Looper" which like TLJ he wrote and directed comes in for heavy fire for its blatantly illogical approach to the subject. Meanwhile I'm a huge Dr Who fan and yet that show is constantly having to make all sorts of excuses for bizarre rules to stop everyone's favourite last son of Gallifrey (at least until Christmas) from just nipping back into the TARDIS for another go when things take upon themselves the aspect of the avocado.*

If this makes me some sort of realism hypocrite, then at least I'm in good company. I've lost count of the number of critics who line up to decry a sci-fi movie like "Johnny Mnemonic" or "Equilibrium" as 'hokum' and yet praise something like Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" the IMDB synopsis of which is:

"While on a trip to Paris with his fiancée's family, a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s everyday at midnight."

Now I'm sorry, but if The Keanu can't have a data-vault in his head because it's 'hokum', then Owen Wilson doesn't get to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salvador Dali. I still can't play the Dinner Party Game because I refuse to just say "I'd invite Albert Einstein" without specifying at what point in his personal timeline I'd pluck him from or how I'd stop him running off before the main course to attempt to memorise every physics article on the Internet. Do I have to neuralyse him afterwards?

The Ludicrosity Threshold becomes particularly interesting when applied as an argument for or against an element even being in a game or story. I talked some time ago about armour for fantasy adventurers and how people object to 'boobie armour' on grounds of realism and practicality but seem fine with oversized shoulder-pads that would crush the head of the wearer if he shrugged, and there's several other examples of that disconnect in that piece as well.

Any excuse to get Sonya into a post

Some people can't stand third-person perspectives because they let a player see things behind and to the side of them that they couldn't actually see. Others find the fact that in first-person you can't see things that should be clearly noticeable by peripheral vision every bit as jarring. For one person, any story in which magic plays a part is automatically devoid of merit and can have nothing interesting to say about anything. For another, setting fictional spy stories in the real world might seem stupid because they couldn't possibly happen in 'our' world for all sorts of complicated political and technical reasons. Hell, some people won't even read fiction at all for this very reason.

So what's the takeaway from all of this? For me, it's simply that the Ludicrosity Threshold- the suspension of disbelief, if you prefer, shouldn't be considered some sort of slam-dunk argument. It's a deeply subjective measure which can be great fun to debate- I'm sure more than one student got a great physics paper out of the swimming pool scene in "Passengers"- but just because one person gets 'taken out' of something doesn't mean everyone will. Much more important is to keep track of which rules you follow, and which you break, and at least stay consistent to that. A Babylon 5 Starfury might well fly according to proper physics, but if it turns up in Star Wars it needs to leave Newton at the door because that's just how they rolled a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I like that ending, so the ending it shall be. A Merry Christmas to any who've read all this way down, and if you're still hungry for more and your Ludicrosity Threshold hasn't been exceeded, there's still a festive Orky Short you might enjoy..

*Overly complicated way of saying 'go pear-shaped'.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Fails of the Nephilim

For some reason, the Nephilim Jetfighter is a model Games Workshop don't seem to like writing rules for. In every edition of 40k since it's been available, the rules for the Nephilim have been of the sort where you read them and go "wait... what?" (See also: The Missile Lock Debacle) 8th Edition, however, seems to be a new height of sheer oddness for the poor things.

When you first look at the Nephilim, it seems to be a fairly decent Flyer. It packs either a twin Lascannon or the Avenger mega-bolter, twin Heavy Bolters and two Blacksword Missile Launchers, giving it plenty of firepower, and has access  to the usual Ravenwing rules and defensive rules for a fast flyer. So far, so good. However, since it's weapons are Heavy and it can't not move since it can't Hover, it relies on the Strafing Run rule to keep its effective BS at 3+.

Strafing Run.

Now let's look at that again in case this isn't jumping out at you- i.e. in case you either wrote the Codex, or play-tested it. The Nephilim is a Jet Fighter, which as we all know from Death From The Skies is an air superiority flyer. The GW Webstore says:

"The Nephilim Jetfighter is as an interceptor that establishes air superiority of over the battlefield, allowing troops to concentrate on ground targets with little concern for aerial assaut."

Because this whole thing annoys me, I'm going to be all Internet Debater for a moment and point out that they misspelled 'assault' up there. (Edit: Ye Gods, the more I read that quote the worse it gets. Who proof-read that?) Yeah, I know, cheap shot. Anyway, as we can see, and the Codex backs this up to by calling them "Sleek air-to-air interceptors" (P.47), the Nephilim is supposed to be for engaging flyers. Even its weapons are geared to this, with the Blackswords giving up a point of Strength to most other Flyer missiles and gaining AP instead, making them a little better against light Flyers.

And it has Strafing Run.

In case you aren't seeing the implications still (why hello Mr or Ms Codex Author, glad you could make it) this means with its Heavy weapons, the Nephilim can never hit an enemy Flyer on better than a 4+. If the Flyer is Airborne and therefore has the Hard To Hit rule, that drops to 5+. So we have an air superiority Flyer that can't hit other flyers with even the accuracy of the average Imperial Navy stick-jockey. Worse, the Dark Talon, which is already a better choice for most ground attack roles due to its Hurricane Bolters being Rapid Fire and therefore hitting on 2+ as well as having a more powerful big gun in its Rift Cannon, is actually better at hitting Flyers with those Bolters than the Nephilim. I'm not a spreadsheet guy, but I'd be willing to bet that the Hurricanes on the Dark Talon will match or even better the Nephilims entire arsenal against a Flyer through weight of shots and superior accuracy. And the Dark Talon, boys and girls, is cheaper and can Hover.

So, how do we fix the Nephilim, and does it need 'fixing'? You can probably guess from every word that has preceded this that I think the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes. You could make the case that the Nephilim as it is is a decent ground attack Flyer, and it sort-of-is, but the Dark Talon simply does that job better and cheaper. Fixing it is pretty simple:

The Nephilim should have Interceptor (+1 To Hit vs models with FLY) rather than Strafing Run.

Now there is a definite downside to this fix, in that the Nephilim would then become a less effective, or if you prefer even less effective, ground-attack Flyer. However, since ground units generally don't have a similar rule to Hard To Hit the Nephilim would at least still usually hit them on 4+, which isn't terrible for a unit engaging something that isn't its preferred target.

I've reached out to GW via Facebook and email over this, because it's patently obvious to me that something is wrong here. I'll post an update if I get a reply!

Friday, 15 December 2017

An early Christmas present

(Image Source)
It may be almost a week early, but I decided to revisit some characters for a festive 40k short. So, if you please, find The Ork Mass Miracle in the bar on the right or right at the link there. Merry Christmas!

Not that this is definitely the last post before Christmas, but still.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Characters, or The Importance of Not Being Seen

As anyone who's read, or read some coverage of, Chapter Approved will know, the CHARACTER keyword came in for a tweak. Now, a CHARACTER can only be targeted if they're the closest model, regardless of whether any other models can be seen or not. So, for example, a unit of Scouts hiding out of LOS 10" away stop you shooting a Lieutenant 24" away out in the open. This, along with a few other recent developments, seems more than a little odd. Let's take a look in more detail.

Who wants to be a hero?
Firstly, what is the CHARACTER rule trying to represent and achieve? Most obviously, it allows characters to operate in support of their troops without immediately getting shot. Since 8th Edition doesn't allow characters to join units any more, this protection is necessary so Psykers, Commissars and Techpriests don't get picked off with Lascannons. The in-game explanation is that whilst we, as players with our bird's eye view of the battlefield, know how important that Guard Officer is, it's less obvious to an Ork Loota trying to pick him out amongst the press of Guardsmen.

Look at me! No, don't! I'm so confused!
Now, we immediately come across a bit of a disconnect here. Not to put too fine a point on it, 40k characters don't tend to exactly try to hide how important they are. The whole point of a model like an Ancient is that they inspire their brothers with an enormous flag, and even the dimmest Ork can probably figure out that the Humie with a six-foot banner is an important target. (We could look back to Vietnam, where US officers learned quickly that displaying any rank insignia got them shot.)

Things get a lot worse, though, when you consider Characters who also happen to be vehicles.
Nope, nothing important here. Just a plain 'old Dreadnought
The idea that a model still gets CHARACTER protection if it also has the VEHICLE keyword is very odd. Obviously they still have to have less than 10 wounds, but two obvious examples are the Librarian Dreadnought and the Ravenwing Talonmaster. The Talonmaster is a particularly nasty one since his Land Speeder puts out a lot of firepower and his abilities naturally mean he wants to be amongst other models. The Librarian Dreadnought at least has to get somewhat close to contribute more than a plain old Librarian can.

Why the LOS change?
The exact reason why the rules regarding models that are out of LOS but still closer than a Character changed is tricky to figure out. The best explanation is the ancient art of the Rhino Snipe, where a player could position a couple of his own models, usually Rhinos or other cheap, bulky models, so that a firer could only see the exact target he was intended to shoot.  The reasons for doing this varied from Edition to Edition- some only allow models in LOS to be killed, others only allowed units to fire at the nearest enemy unit full stop- but it was a well known dodge and until Chapter Approved worked in 8th Ed.

He's only a spectator
Then, of course, we also have the fact that models in melee still count as closer models, even though they can't be shot. A Commissar standing behind a blob of Guardsmen who are in melee is safe from enemy fire, even though the enemy can't shoot the Guardsmen either. Again, this feels like having one's cake and eating it.

Trying to make sense of it all
Now, one of these issues is reasonably simple to 'fix', assuming we agree a fix is needed. For the vehicle Characters, we could say that:

"If a model has both the CHARACTER and VEHICLE keywords, it may only be targeted with shooting attacks if it is the closest model to the firing unit with the VEHICLE keyword."

This would mean that enemies would still not suddenly know, for example, that a Talonmaster was a super-important Land Speeder, but could at least choose to shoot it instead of a single Dark Angels Scout who happened to be closer. If we remove the Wound total requirement, it also allows Tank Commanders to receive some benefit from the CHARACTER keyword by not being the closest tank, which would be an interesting tweak.

Now you see him, now you don't
The LOS and melee things are trickier. We could start by tweaking the CHARACTER rule as follows:

"A model with less than 10 wounds and the CHARACTER keyword can only be targeted with shooting attacks if they are the closest eligible target to the firing model." 

This removes the protection from models that are out of LOS, and models that are locked in melee, since these aren't eligible targets. Models with an indirect fire rule would still have to shoot targets that were out of LOS (eg Artillery models) but at least they still get to fire at something. However, the Rhino Snipe is still a thing, so we would also need to say:

"For the purposes of this rule, friendly models are not considered to block Line Of Sight. If a model is closer than the CHARACTER and the firer's LOS is only blocked by friendly models, the CHARACTER may not be targeted."

Now the wording on this is fiddly, and it goes to illustrate how tricky rules writing is- believe me, before you talk about how 'vague' the rules of any game are, try writing a set of rules that can't possibly be misinterpreted or misunderstood. It really isn't easy. The idea, though, is to prevent players Rhino Sniping by basically ignoring those Rhinos when deciding if the Character is the closest visible target. In game terms, we might imagine that your squad was about to fire on the enemy infantry when the Rhino got in the way, and now they're waiting for it to move. Of course you would still have the odd strange situation, but overall it reduces some of the sillier protections Characters get without making them hopelessly vulnerable. Let's put our three rules in order, adding the 'eligible target' wording to our vehicle rule:

"A model with less than 10 wounds and the CHARACTER keyword can only be targeted with shooting attacks if they are the closest eligible target to the firing model." 

For the purposes of this rule, friendly models are not considered to block Line Of Sight. If a model is closer than the CHARACTER and the firer's LOS is only blocked by friendly models, the CHARACTER may not be targeted."

"If a model has both the CHARACTER and VEHICLE keywords, it may only be targeted with shooting attacks if it is the closest eligible target to the firing unit with the VEHICLE keyword."

Now, I think that this makes Characters make a little more sense, but I'm interested to hear other opinions on it.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Chapter Disapproval

Now that gamers other than those in that little elite circle that always seems to get things early are finally getting their hands on Chapter Approved, I think it's fair to say that there's a little head-scratching going on. Let's have a look at some of the points of contention I've seen so far.

Since the release of the initial Indexes, Conscripts have been a popular choice for Guard commanders looking to fill a lot of the board with cheap chaff who are too scared of their own officers to run away, not to mention unleashing great torrents of inaccurate las-fire. The release of the Astra Militarum Codex saw one nerf, with the Conscripts being reduced in terms of maximum squad size and only understanding orders on a 4+. Not long after, the ability of Commissars to keep them in line got massively reduced in a FAQ, to the extent that in the event of heavy casualties they can even cause more Conscripts to flee. Now I'm not a competitive tournament player, but to me at this point Conscripts seemed to be fairly reasonable- they were still cheap chaff and there were still ways (Valhallans, Stratagems etc) to stop them breaking, but they were no longer the frustrating mass of immovability that they were at the start of 8th Edition. I thought the Commissar nerf was a bit much (and had made my own suggestions  on the matter). Then came Chapter Approved, and the sound of many a snapped drill-cane reverberated across the land.

For some reason, the team behind Chapter Approved decided to make Conscripts have the same points value per model as normal Guardsmen. Now, we might expect that two models both in the Troops section of the same army list and having the same points value would be roughly equivalent in usefulness- that is, that the Conscripts would have some abilities Guardsmen lack, and vice-versa. So let's take a look.
Conscript: LD 4, WS/BS 5+, no upgrades, can only receive Orders on 4+. Squad size 20-30.
Guardsman: LD 6 (7 from Sergeant), WS/BS 4+, access to heavy and special weapon, full access to Orders. Squad size locked at 10.
As we can see, the common Guardsman has several advantages over the Conscript. The only advantage the Conscript has is that the maximum size for the squad is larger. At first glance, there seems to be no reason to take Conscripts at all, but let's look a bit harder.

The Guard have several abilities that benefit a larger squad. Orders, obviously, become more efficient, particularly those that grant re-rolls or extra shots, and this effect is magnified if the Laurels of Command are in use to allow a double order. Aura abilities, like Harker's, or Leadership bubbles, are easier to apply to more models if the squads are bigger, and psychic buffs like Nightshroud or Stratagems like Take Cover work better on such squads, especially in Matched Play where the Rule of One means they can't be repeated. Possibly the strongest argument is the Tallarn Ambush Stratagem, which is limited to three units but with Conscripts could still be 90 men. And of course, Conscripts do allow more men per Troops slot.

Unfortunately, at least for the Conscript owner, many of these benefits are either negated or made irrelevant by other abilities and Stratagems. Most notably, the Combined Squads Stratagem lets the Guard player pay 1CP at the end of the movement phase to merge two Infantry Squads into one, and whilst this does cost a point unless that point is refunded by Grand Strategist the fact remains that having more Troops choices usually means having more CP in the first place. Being able to affect more models with one Order is only true if the Conscripts can pass the 4+ test, and even then the inferior profile of the models reduces the impact of the Order almost as much as the extra numbers magnify it. And of course, that Ld 4 means that heavy casualties can potentially cause a very large number of models to flee. Finally, the Send In The Next Wave stratagem, which looks on the surface to be an excellent reason to use large blobs of Conscripts, has now been clarified to cost Reinforcement Points, making it somewhere in the region of next to useless to worse than useless in Matched Play.

My gut feeling on this- and time will tell- is that this latest alteration to Conscripts was not made taking into account the other changes made to Commissars in the recent FAQ. If it were still easily possible to keep them on the table with a Commissar then the points change might just barely be defensible, but as it is I fear GW have gone well over the top.

The Puzzling Case of Renegades
Hold on to your hats, though, because there's a Faction that took it in the shorts every bit as badly- and even more puzzlingly- than the Guard. Yes, I'm talking about Renegades and Heretics, a poorly thought out army list that GW took advantage of Chapter Approved to make... worse. The most discussed example of this is the Malefic Lord more than doubling in points cost. The justification is that they were being used as Smite batteries, which would be a more convincing argument if Primaris Psykers didn't do it just as well and cost a little over half as many points now. Yes, the Malefic Lord has a 4++ and gets quite nasty if it survives a Perils but a much simpler fix would have been to make it lose its powers after a Peril, just as it used to in the previous (Imperial Armour 13) version of the rules. But that's not the worst of it.

Renegade Militia squads are one of the core Troops choices for a Renegades list. On paper, they look much like a Guard squad, but with 6+ armour, 5+ WS/BS, a Leadership of D6+2 rolled when they first have to test and no access to Orders, Regimental Doctrines or Stratagems other than the core rulebook ones. For this, they cost the same points per model as Guard squads do. They do at least enjoy the privilege of being able to go up to a squad size of 20. Chapter Approved makes two changes- firstly, it clarifies that the points of the squad don't reduce if two models combine into a Weapons Team, which I don't think I've ever seen anyone try to claim, but there you go. Secondly, like Guard, it splits the points cost of Melta and Plasma weapons into two brackets, a lower one for BS 4+ models and a higher one for 'other models'. If you spotted the face-palm worthy error there you're apparently smarter than GW's play-testers and proof-readers. Yes, Renegade Militia, with their 5+ BS, now have to pay as much for those weapons as BS 3+ Disciples and better yet, no BS 4+ model in the army even has access to them.

The other change- to the Renegade Command Squad- was to update the number of models allowed to 4-14, which was already the case but was wrong in the summary in FW Index:AM. Yay.

Just as the suggestion that Saint Celestine was getting more expensive outraged Sisters of Battle players who weren't abusing her in 'Soup' armies (this proved to be untrue, since if run 'properly' with the Geminae her points are unchanged) the fact that one of the worst supported army lists in 8th Edition got not only nerfed by having its one good unit almost tripled in points, but also nerfed by someone who clearly hadn't bothered to take two minutes to actually read the unit roster, has gone down like arsenic in baby-food. Let's bear in mind that in order to field them with the official Forge World models, you're spending £16.50 per squad of ten just for the arms or the same on a separate pack of torsos- if you want to make Renegades with both, you're looking at £33 and they still won't have legs. That no-one thought it might be an idea to make Renegades actually playable and yet they still wasted everyone's time putting them in Chapter Approved beggars belief. At this point, I doubt anyone on the planet is playing Renegade Guard as anything other than Loyalists with questionable ideas as to what 'Loyal' means, or Cultists.

Closing the Book.
We could go on looking at some of the other puzzling things in the book, like the Wych Cult Warlord Trait that is directly counteracted by a Succubus' own wargear, or the Sisters of Battle Relic that can be given to only one model in the entire army list who has little means to actually use it, but this post is long enough for now. Some of these issues are clearly just silly mistakes but once again we as the customers are being asked to pay £20 for a book with mistakes that leap from the page at first sight.