Sunday, 13 October 2013

Black Legion: Part 1 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

If you've seen the comments about Codex: Iyanden and Codex: Farsight Enclaves you'll know that the quality behind these supplements has been questionable at best. For every good idea there are at least ten bad ones, often at the cost of the canon or any coherence with the army it is linked to. We saw minor improvements in the Farsight Enclaves book and that happens again here. While by no means good when it comes to the rules, Black Legion at least has some reason to exist. The problem is that, once again, everything here feels either rushed, extremely bland or doesn't fit with the options available in the main codex.

If you've not guessed it, this supplement is covering Abaddon the Despoiler's mob of heretics, madmen and ne'er-do-wells. Often described with very particular sets of tactics they employ against their foe and a fondness for daemon possessed battle brothers, there was a lot to work with here. Even just looking at the Despoiler's brief appearances in Soul Hunter shows the legion acting like a grinding military force, with vast resources available to it.

Unfortunately for us, the rules once again fail to be anything of real worth or interest. Nor does it really do anything to cover some of the bigger problems the vanilla Codex: Chaos Space Marines suffers from.

As before chief among the new additions are a series of items to kit your army out with, the usual mixture of things that go bang and thing which prevent a guy dying. Unfortunately it continues the trend of having many which are unwieldy or overly expensive, with only a handful being of genuine usefulness to an army.

The expense of many items for what they do and their apparent unwieldiness are something which unfortunately encourages hero specific 40K once more.
Take for example the Spineshiver Blade, a daemonweapon which offers S6 AP3 attacks with a +1 to Initiative. However, you don't want to give an Aspiring Champion it as it costs almost as much as a Chaos Terminator. They can very easily die without making up their points cost and the weapon itself and can be combined far better with the equipment Sorcerers or the like. Yeah, it's cheaper than the Axe of Blind Fury but that doesn't really help things. 
Another like it is the Hand of Darkness, which is effectively the "I kill you with one hit" attack. At over fifty points it's expensive but one of the more reasonable ones for what it offers. Boosting the wielder's Strength by 2, it's a melee weapon which has Fleshbane, Armourbane, causes Instant Death, but limits you to only one attack. While it might be worth giving to an Aspiring Champion on a bike, it's still something you'd want with someone who can take a few hits before dying.

Both of the above weapons can be given to weaker units, but if you lose them you lose a lot of points for what's effectively a one trick pony. As such you're going to want to save them for HQ choices, and they don't really do much beyond kill things. Even those which are the exceptions to the uber-killy-weapon stuff are still expensive and need to be given to someone you can trust putting a lot of points into.

There are two more defensible items which the codex does offer, but you'll quickly see they only continue the trend set above . The Skull Ker'Ngar is first among these, costing about forty points but giving some very nice bonuses for it's costs. Along with granting its user Eternal Warrior, the Skull has Adamantium Will, giving them durability to psychic and physical attacks. For any unit lacking them it does offer a decent bonus, but you're going to want to be careful about how you use it and who you use it on.
The Crucible of Lies is unfortunately even worse, it allows its carrier to re-roll ones on invulnerable tests but takes away one point of Toughness. It's more reasonably priced than before, but you're going to want to give them something to make up for the drop to a Guardsman's Toughness and actually give them a invulnerable save of some kind. Any unit using the Crucible will need a lot of points put into it just to make real use of the item. It's fairly useless in most games to be completely honest with you.

Staying on the subject of risky items, we have The Last Memory of Yuranthos. While thankfully far less problematic and can be genuinely useful for any psyker who takes it. As with the Crucible, it's definitely a risky item to give to a psyker but the rewards far outweigh the potential risks. Along with boosting the psyker's level of mastery by 1, it offers the ability Nova which can be used to rapidly clear chaff and cannon fodder from opposing armies. Upon hitting a foe it does 2D6 wounds at Strength 4 AP5 and ignores cover. This is effective murdering entrenched Gaunts, Fire Warriors or Imperial Guardsmen en mass, and when combined with Warp Charge can be increased up to an eighteen inch blast radius. The offset to this is that if you fail a Psychic Check and are using two or more Warp Charge(s) then the guy explodes. While at a similarly high points cost to the Spineshiver Blade, the Last Memory can chew through a ton of units and make up its points easily, you just have to hope you don't have the guy blow up before he can make up his points.

Another murderous thing a Sorcerer can take is the Eye of the Night. Even by the standards of this supplement codex it's obscenely expensive, to the point where some squads are cheaper than it, but it does have its uses, namely as a souped up hunter killer missile. With an unlimited(!) range it can do D3 automatic penetrating hits on any building or vehicle its wielder can see. Unfortunately it's also a large blast weapon with the potential to scatter. As such while you can use it to kill whatever vehicle is filled with assault troops racing towards your lines, but you've got a lot of chances for it to fail to kill it outright, miss, or have the guy die thanks to being a very fragile bullet magnet. It's very much another one for extremely specifically made armies, or possibly Apocalypse games to kill Titans.

The only use for all of these is to buff up the army's figureheads to help them murder everything in sight. They do nothing to improve the army as a whole and are frequently far more expensive than they are worth. While some do have their uses and actually require the player to put some thought into what they are doing, most just aren't done well enough to draw attention to the codex. Even the Warlord trait list, which has some admittedly decent choices barring one, only continues to enhance the problem.

The only good news here is that there has actually been a small degree of attention paid to the fact these are supposed to be books for armies and not for characters.
The bad news is, as before, it's not done very well. In fact it's barely a step up from the Farsight Enclaves if one at all.

You can now take Chaos Terminators as a specialized bodyguard if you have Don the Despoiler, with the added bonus of +1 BS and WS but at a high cost for the upgrade. While effective with the right weapons, this is yet another case of points costs outweighing effectiveness. Also it's still placing heavy emphasis upon the value and use of HQ choices, the first actual addition for the army and it's causing the same problems as the equipment.

Another rule is that Chosen are the army's troops by default. A less than desirable choice and despite the Black Legion having an edge in this area nothing is really done beyond this. As with Iyanden and the Farsight Enclaves, it's the bare minimum done to make the book feel like a distinct army. Hell, they didn't even get the right unit for it as this might make some degree of sense with Possessed.

Finally there is something the book forces you to take: Every unit which has the option to do so must now take Veterans of the Long War. This is something which helps overcome some issues but means you are paying a vast amount of points for each unit, likely encouraging many players to play this like an old Daemonhunters list: Lots of cultists backed up by a handful of Black Legionaries. What helps to offset this is the ability to ally the list with Codex: Chaos Space Marines, but then you might as well not even bother with this book and just get that one. It outclasses this one in almost every area. That's saying something given that book's shortcomings when it comes to rules. The only reason you might want to combine the two is if you want an excuse to throw more Helldrakes at an enemy.

The elephant in the room with this book is once again the author: Rob Cruddance. Famous for writing some poor installments outside of Codex: Imperial Guard, he was definitely the wrong writer here. The man can work wonders with tank heavy armies, mechanised forces and anything with vehicles, but yet again he's been given an infantry focused codex. There has been some degree of effort put into this, but like Codex: Tyranids it's really an overall failure of a rulebook. Quite why he was given this over an Iron Warriors supplement is confusing at best.

The only real compliment to offer is that the book managed to get the scenarios right. While few in number, there is much more of a feel for the Black Legion's tactics in each of them and it's obviously tailor made to their involvement. A definite step up from what we had in the last two codex supplements which didn't really embrace the ideas behind the army all that well. None of them are anything special, but they're not written for extremely specific opponents and are much more fun than those offered in previous lists. Especially one where Black Legion forces can be endlessly recycled and hurled at the enemy via cannon fodder tactics a-la Chenkov. It's just a shame that other pages which could have been used for more are given over to the usual Planetstrike/Cities of Death nonsense.

So there are the rules. As with the other two books prior to now, they're not very good and anyone playing them will have one hell of a time trying to win any battles with it. If you're expecting something worth playing on a tabletop, pass this one by. If you're expecting something worth reading purely for the fluff, this one is actually be worth your money.

Join us in a few days when we go over the book's lore.

Please also take the time to comment upon the format, a few readers wanted more specific analysis of each item in turn, so this style is an experiment to see what people want.

Part 2 can be found here


  1. I'd say it's quite a good review, especially since I share your opinion of it.
    It's another wasted opportunity, and to think they're charging over 100 bucks for the hardback version for basically a couple pages of actual rules and a few scenarios.
    I haven't checked out the other "supplement" codexes, but it's hard to imagine them being worse.

    1. Unfortunately this one was actually the best one of the lot by a considerable mile. It at least had good lore despite the lackluster rules. The others were betrayals of even the most basic concepts of the army they featured.

    2. I love this codex but that's just because I love chosen and I give all of my stuff VotLW anyway for fluff and LD reasons.