Friday, 13 October 2017

Ruminations



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.
*Cough*
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?

Prognosis
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

Prescience
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)

Warptime
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.

Conclusion
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.