Thursday, 16 May 2013

5 Changes 6th Edition Codex: Eldar Needs

With a few leaked images and depictions of new Farseer models it looks like the eldar will be the next race to receive an update for Warhammer 40,000. It's about time as well. While the Codex was well written enough to remain challenging but competitive despite not being updated for seven years there are a few aspects which needed tweaking. Phil Kelly deserves every bit of credit he gets for writing such good books but the last one was not without its flaws. Enduring criticisms have been about things like the effectiveness of points costs of certain units, the usefulness of others and a few other flaws.

Beyond the rules was the fluff which was far from outstanding. It hardly dispelled the idea of the eldar being the 40K universe's butt monkey and every victory they were given seemed pyrrhic  Something which would unfortunately only get worse with following books, with several craftworlds being created only to be killed off and Mat Ward turning them into incompetent jokes every time he got his hands on them.

Changes are desperately needed, so here's a top five list of aspects which need to be desperately improved upon.

5 - Technology Of A Bygone Age

Even among the races of the Warhammer universe the eldar are supposed to have advanced technology beyond the comprehension of many. Technology build upon knowledge kept after the fall and with the resources they had on hand, constructing weapons of war which are truly advanced beyond that of the Imperium or even the Tau Empire. Despite this however, very little seems to truly reflect this in the right way. While weapons such as the various shuriken armaments and monofilament weapons are indeed complex and advanced, they seem relatively low tech for what is supposedly a millennia old race. One which ruled the galaxy, crafted portals to the webway and even stones to preserve their essences from consumption by Slaanesh.

The level of technology just doesn't seem to match up and while you could put that down to losses over the years or limited resources, more really should be done to show their advancements. There should be more weapons which have inventive and creative ways of murdering their foes en mass. Things like those which open miniature black holes, minor Warp rifts or even teleport chunks out of a foe's body. Given the few examples we have seen it is not hard to imagine they would have created destructive weaponry and giving them advanced tech would help them to stand out more.

Weapons which cause reality to bleed in upon itself, warp space-time or cause molecules to disable sound like things which they would be able to access. Even without going into psychically enhancing crystals or mind-burning machines they should have access to some truly terrifying war-machines.

While such weapons should definitely be limited and not widely available  they should at least be present to reflect the eldar status in terms of technology. Either kept on individual craftworlds or simply reserved until they are most needed. A core example of the former was shown in Imperial Armour Volume Eleven, where the Lynx pattern super heavy vehicle was introduced. A tank which was unique to Mymeara and had not been encountered in the thousands of years of the Imperium battling the eldar.

Even without inventing entirely new weapons or altering old ones there are still plenty of vehicle variants and guns which can be found mentioned in the older editions yet are no longer in use. An often remembered example is the Eldar Knights, small scale titans used by the Exodites to support craftworld armies and housing knowledge from prior to the Fall. Something which would be completely at home with craftworld forces and would only help to add more flavourful to specific lists.

If the craftworld eldar are supposed to be technologically adept then their book should reflect this fact. To show it to people rather than just telling it but giving little to back it. More should be done to display their advanced nature and give a few hints as to what they once were.

4 - Precognition And Planning

Something near constantly brought up but seemingly never utilised properly or in any smart way it the eldar talent for precognition. While supposedly superior to that of any living Imperial psychic and far more refined, it never seems to do them any good. Often craftworlds seem to only be blindsided by sudden assaults or learn when something is upon them at the last minute. Something seen in Gav Thrope's Path of the Eldar novels and quite frankly a lot of stories when the authors actually seem to remember they're good at psychic predictions. The rest of the time it's either ignored or used to make the eldar look like fools.

On one of the few times where precognition was used to plan an offensive assault, not only was the Farseer wrong and it cost hundreds of eldar lives but it made no sense.
The plot of Dawn of War II had the eldar sending orks to a series of recruitment worlds under the protection of both Imperial Guard and Blood Ravens space marines, then proceeding to undermine human defences. The reason for this? A tyranid splinter fleet was heading for it and if not stopped there it would eventually attack craftworld Ulthwe. Despite the fact the tyranids would arrive in days, they seemed to think that after killing the Imperials the orks would still have the time to build up into some massive empire capable of holding off the space locusts.
It never once crossed their minds to just warn the humans, have the Blood Ravens build up their defenses on planets, and then guide the orks to attack the splinter fleet as they were invading the system.

The last real time we truly saw precognition used in any meaningful way by the eldar was during the Second War for Armageddon. A war which saw the eldar guiding an ork Waaagh! into Imperial territory rather than having it head after an eldar refuge.

This is something which desperately needs to be brought back and used properly as there are countless stories which can be told with it. It's something which can be used to show the eldar performing a "Butterfly Effect" style skirmish attack to cause great cataclysms thousands of years in time. One which could be used to skilfully manipulate their enemies, counter foes long before they even arose into power and give real reason as to why the eldar are still alive. Think of the possibilities it could have in terms of the timeline with the race predicting the rise to power of the Tau Empire, arrival of the Tyranid fleets or return of the Necrons and what they could have done upon foreseeing such horrors.

Think for a moment on how large or small a scale it could be used and how such predictions have been shown in other franchises. In The Secret World, the Dragon's use of Chaos Theory and calculations led to them manipulating the conception, development and every major role in a Templar's life so he could defect to them. Purely because they needed an inside man with information. Imagine if this was done with the eldar, with their kind shaping the careers and futures of humans who could help them. Perhaps making an Adeptus Mechanicus Magos obsessed with Necron Tomb-Worlds come into existence, either to make the Imperium learn of them sooner or have the Necrons immediately attack them. Perhaps have certain individuals within Cadia emerge who were slightly more tolerant of Ulthwe or better suited to foil Abbadon's plans.

The above makes up only the possibilities for stories, imagine gameplay mechanics where the eldar could influence the shape of the enemy army prior to their arrival. Causing events which made them arrive with fewer experienced officers, less ammunition or even fewer heavy support choices. 

There really is a world of opportunity here so writers should definitely take advantage of it and not squander its potential.

3 - Identity

Despite having numerous craftworlds known throughout the fandom for well over a decade now,  there just isn't enough done to reflect upon their differences. As mentioned in the Tau Empire article, they are very underdeveloped and largely unnoticeable. True, each has a certain aspect which can be emphasized upon but we know little beyond that. While the likes of Ulthwe and Biel Tan are somewhat characterised and Iyanden has improved somewhat in recent years, many are still enigmas.

Despite having an entire novel series set on it, Alaitoc fails to really stand out in many respects and nothing was truly done to make it seem unique. Saim-Hann has some notes about conflicts with other craftworlds and maintaining strong links with Exodites, but it has gone largely underused and lacking in character over the years. Many minor craftworlds are even worse with often only a few sentences being devoted to their cultures or attitudes, or remaining enigmas even when entire Imperial Armour books are devoted to them. Notably Mymeara was given an entirely new Phoenix Lord, brand new Aspect Warriors, but it did little to explain their traditions, relying instead upon the story of Irillyth to explore details of its nature. Others like Iybraesil are all but ignored despite the great potential there is with a unique history and nature only slightly detailed with it.

Other races such as the Space Marines are given long histories, definitive backgrounds and exactly defined natures exploring who they are. For both better and worse the players who start with their armies know just who and what they are: The Black Templars are zealous crusaders, the Valhallan Ice Warriors are experts in attrition, stoic warriors with a hatred of orks, and the Word Bearers have a long, sordid history of treachery.

While a vastly detailed and very expansive background would be wrong, they still need an element of mystery to them after all, their armies desperately need to be updated further. With additional notes and details given to make them really seem like a city state or stronghold with the last of their kind residing within.

2 - Give Them Victories

A constant problem is that the eldar are continually presented as the whipping boy of the universe. A joke who is whaled on by effectively every faction and is tied with the orks for a race brought up to be slaughtered/casually defeated to set up some big situation. This was initially a problem with the third edition but it was somewhat balanced and the eldar themselves were depicting winning on occasion. Fourth edition improved upon this by giving them fewer losses but many victories were extremely bitter and seemed to always come at the cost of thousands of lives.

Then fifth edition was introduced. The eldar were murdered in very stupid and easily avoidable ways, such as thousands using cannon fodder tactics against the Ultramarines. Characters like Illic Nightspear and Starbane (yes, just Starbane) were created purely to die against the SPESS TOMB KINGZ. Avatars were possessed, permanently destroyed, casually backhanded into oblivion by damn near everyone and craftworlds were created purely to die and make certain armies look better. Notable examples being in the Grey Knights, Tyranids and the otherwise brilliant Chaos Space Marine codices.

Despite the well deserved nickname Dawn of Eldar, the Dawn of War story-line has continually featured them being butchered en mass and conquered by the player character. Losing everything from multiple armies to an entire craftworld in the canonical story-line, never actually achieving a true victory. The few times they do are always after being cut down in the hundreds and often only with Imperial help.

To make any army look viable or as a genuine threat they need to be given victories. Genuine victories where they defeat their foes. Not without effort of course, but not without losing just as many soldiers as their foe for a fleeting, temporary achievement which will soon mean nothing. 
We are continuously told that the eldar have elite forces with their Aspect Warriors having thousands of years of experience, the talent of ages ingrained into their minds, weapons of extremely advanced technology which is above even that of Imperials prior to the Heresy; yet their history does not reflect this. When facing foes such as the Imperial Guard, ork warbands, Tau Hunter Cadres or even necron forces they should at the very least be fighting them on equal terms. Combating them move for move with precision strikes, whittling down their strength and then moving in for the kill, not being butchered with little effort.

Some argue that this is only suitable as they are a dying race, one which is soon to be extinct and this reflects the loss they face. The thing is if you take this stance you'd have to argue that the Imperium's outright victories are wrong. Even when the entire universe depicts humanity as being on the verge of becoming wiped out, we still see tales showing them destroying empires and pushing back against both xenos and daemonic incursions.

The eldar deserve true victories and to be shown as a smart, intelligent force which can go toe to toe with other armies and win. Reasons to make people want to use them, to see them as a force to be reckoned with and not simply a joke like M'Kar; wheeled out every time someone needs to look imposing.

1 - Survivability

The eldar are a dying race. They are seeking to preserve their kind at any cost and keep up their numbers, so the codex should reflect that in as many ways as possible. As with the last example this is another case of the eldar being brought up repeatedly to make someone look impressive. It's been mentioned a few times prior to now that several craftworlds have been invented only to die or be crippled at the hands on their enemies.
Everything from Il'sariadh to Alaitoc has been continually presented as easily crippled and is left in ruins after any conflict on its surface. Previously these were presented as strongholds, fortresses which no sane man would dare to assault without half a segmentum military to back them and hard to truly locate. Now the total number of craftworlds in codices which have been crippled, are on the verge of death or have been outright eradicated is only exceeded by the number of Imperial worlds.

The eldar have endured ten thousand years of living hell. Even with their numbers slowly dwindling, their greatest weapons lost and their homeworlds corrupted they still endured. The codex should reflect this, presenting them as a force still surviving and give people reasons to believe they have lasted this long. Make them intelligent, show them knowing when to fight and when to let others fight for them, but show them surviving. When their strongholds fall it shouldn't be to easily avoidable conflicts for minor forces but factions which attack when from within or plan around their defences.

Even when a force does manage to land on the craftworld, having somehow breached its many fleets and exterior defences they should be facing a ever changing landscape. One which alters itself to bar their path, decompresses entire sections and warps to oppose them at every turn. Both from influence of the bonesingers and the spirit stones placed within its hull. All the while they should also be facing an enemy who can hit their lines and fade like ghosts, some who are few in number but inhumanly skilled in the ways of war.

The craftworlds which do fall easily, the armies which are soundly defeated, should be exceptions to the eldar's capabilities not the rule.

Much of this ultimately should be supported by the points brought up previously, but there really does need to be a lot done to make people believe the eldar could last as long as they have. 

So those are the top five changes which needed to be made. Unlike last time this was largely emphasising upon the fluff and backgrounds, mostly because of how badly they've been presented of late. It needs to be said that these were also only the top changes, not the only ones I think needs to be done to the army. Others such as minor rules alterations to points and strengthening them so they can stand up to the ridiculous, broken units fifth edition space marine armies are filled with would have been next on the list.
If you have your own improvements to suggest, anything from new characters to basic changes to their nature, feel free to list them below.


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  1. Agreed, of all the Xeno races Orks and Eldar tend to get shafted in order to make another force look interesting or capable. Which is sad, because both are intriguing sides with lots of flair to them. They seem to be portrayed as enlightened beings who are somewhat coming to terms with their extinction, but if they went so far as to rigidly structure their lives to avoid the emotions that lead to the threat of chaos they show a dogged determination to remain in play. They need a subtle and well defined fierceness. I also feel they need to be a more definitive threat as currently they seem insular and the fear and hatred levied toward them seems unfounded, which I understand is an aspect of the Imperium, but still there must be some truth at the bottom of the propaganda. The Eldar need an edge, they need some cut which they are currently lacking. I love them quite a bit as a force, but lore-wise there is just something missing that other sides have.

    As an aside I feel like on the table, the notion of specialists needs to be a bit more intense. They are described as excelling at their trade, but on the table they seem to be outclassed in a general sense from other forces, which most likely stems from being just a bit out-dated compared to 5th and 6th edition codices. However I feel a more unique feel to the force would be to make them excel at their duty, and absolutely miserable anywhere else, making a sort of symbiotic force that relies on cohesion. Whereas the Tau units specialize and blend, making use of improvements from other units to assist the role of each unit, I think an Eldar Warhost should have no blending but instead rely on working in tandem to form a whole.

    1. I think that's the single best written reply i've seen to any article on this blog.

      You are completely right here in how the eldar have been handled. While the orks at least have the excuse of greater numbers and being the joke of the 40K universe, an admittedly frequently deadly one, it's harder to excuse the eldar just being killed off or acting like fools. The hatred the Imperium used to have was previously well founded because they were a very dangerous threat which cared nothing for humanity, but that's disappeared of late. Stories involving them need to bring back the old idea of craftworlds using human planets as meat shields to protect their own kind.

      The only point I do disagree with you on is how outdated it seems in comparison to 5th and 6th edition rulebooks. Despite its flaws the 4th edition eldar codex is good it's just very hard to use right. The problem is that many 5th edition codices, mostly space marine ones, were effectively powerhouses. Ones which required no skill to use and you could effectively just have run forwards and every model in front of them die instantly. The 6th edition ones meanwhile have new goodies like fliers which instantly give them an edge because they aren't available in fourth edition books, but are otherwise mostly balanced.