Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sentinels of Terra: Part 1 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

You know what the truly damning thing is about this? I was actually somewhat hopeful for this one.

While we have yet to see an actually good supplement codex, there has been a slow but visible increase in each release's quality over the past months. Codex: Farsight Enclaves rose slightly above its predecessor and included at least a few gems among its pages, while Codex: Black Legion contained fantastic additions to the lore despite poor rules. It felt as if the writers were experimenting and seeing what worked, and that this latest release might have been halfway decent. Instead what little quality there is has been stripped away in several areas, and Sentinels of Terra is arguably one of the worst we have seen since Codex: Iyanden.

Now let's get this straight: The rules overall aren't that bad and are definitely a step up from previous supplements in quality and addressing problems, but they feel as if they were written for a very different army. In fact many of them seem to feel so much unlike the Imperial Fists, you could easily use the codex as a substitute list for the likes of the Marines Errant and they wouldn't feel out of place. At all.

Those here for siege tactics? You are out of luck! Sentinels of Terra contains only two rules devoted to taking or destroying buildings, which only work for one squad at a time. Both are Warlord Traits, randomly generated, and offer the bare bones to cover this with the following:

  • Siege Lord: "Your Warlord, and his unit, add +1 to the result when rolling on the Building Damage table."
  • Architect of War: "Whilst your Warlord is embarked inside a building, all damage rolls against that building suffer a -1 penalty, to a minimum of one."

Yeah, that's all you get in this book. The Imperial Fists, masters of siege warfare, experts of defending positions and the legion who fortified Terra in its darkest days, are given a token addition to take advantage of this. It's as if the writers were halfway through the book and suddenly realised "Oh yeah, we've yet to actually make use of the thing they're best known for" and proceeded to fart this out!

The rest of the Warlord Traits don't even really go in line with this, making these two feel extremely out of place. Two are very killy focused and range from giving your Warlord a single shot Strength 10 orbital bombardment, to giving your Warlord the It Will Not Die rule. 

One more is much more squad orientated with Indomitable offering Fearless and Counter-Attack to him and his unit if they don't move. The most useful one however is Wise Commander: While the Warlord is alive you can influence reserve rolls by one point, either +1 or -1 on each unit's dice roll.

As with the last several codicies, two are focused upon one line of thought, another on two more and the last two on yet another area. While it's commendable that the author would want to cover all bases and given variety, the fact they are randomly chosen makes all of them very unreliable. Siege Lord could be completely useless if you're fighting in jungle terrain, and while Wise Commander can be handy you can't risk writing a list to use it as you only have a 16.7% chance getting it per game. Codex writers, while it doesn't help that these are all fairly uninspired, you should just slap a points cost on the end of each one and make them selectable upgrades. You would only make them useful. Also, make actual use of the army's expert method of war when writing these.

I'm not saying they should have been pigeonholed into only siege warfare, but for the love of all things holy this is embarrassingly little. You, whoever you are reading right now, could have done a better job than them at this just by giving them a basic reliable rule. At least in the two Chapter Traits you get in the vanilla codex, one gives Centurions and Devastators Tank Hunter and Siege Masters special rules. That was just a basic addition though, not the height of their siege capabilities represented in this book. While they keep that here, it's barely anything and none of their special rules even begin to take advantage of their experience, history or doctrines.

What do they have to make up for this? Shilling the latest big unit of course!

Centurion Warsuits, the spess-mehreen-inside-spess-mehreen troll machines produced from the minds who thought the Dreadknight was a good idea, can be taken en mass. The dakka variants can take up all elites slots along with heavy support. Meanwhile the ones with giant balls at the end of their arms can be taken in fast attack slots. Yes, the force which has Lysander as its main focus does not in fact use his well known terminator squads, but instead the newfangled replacement terminators with more dakka. It's as if Games Workshop desperately wants people to buy their latest mistake.

Speaking of Lysander, he's actually not in this! This is a very weird thing given that nearly the entire book seems to use him as its lead focus character, but any rules are expected to be the ones you find in the basic codex. There's no new equipment for him or alternate variants of his rules, and in fact there are very few new characters exclusive to the codex. The only one there is even seems to be an attempt to avoid the herohammer trend in recent years.

Sergeant Garadon, said special character of the codex, is in fact an upgrade for a squad. Costing 75 points, he brings to the table a power fist, relic (the Spartean) and your common or garden Tactical Marine equipment. With the stats line of a Space Marine Captain, it looked for a moment like we might have finally seen characters being better integrated into armies with units using them as additions rather than the other way around. Unfortunately this very quickly turns out not the be the case. Unlike Telion or ol' Cypher, he doesn't take up a force organisation slot elsewhere and instead takes up an HQ choice. As a result he just becomes largely irrelevant at the end of the day. Ultimately he's an attempt at a good idea, but something which doesn't work that well.

With no more heroes in the book let's take a look at the list of items your Fists can take. This is actually one of the better moments and doesn't quite follow the whole character focused issue which is so much of a problem with the rest of the book. 

Titled "Relics of the 3rd Company" the items do at least offer a halfway decent assortment of goodies and aren't purely made for killing things. Out of the six, there are only two items reserved purely for killing and both of these are relatively subdued rather than being the usual uber-beam-sword-of-xenocide-gore we get in too many books.

The first of the two actual weapons, the Spartean, is a basic Strength 4 AP 5 bolt pistol you can get for 5 points. The main draw is the Ignores Cover rule and the fact it's Master Crafted. While a bolter would definitely be preferable due to the longer range, and its actual use will likely be fairly limited, it's hard to criticse that given its very low cost. You ultimately get what you are paying for, but it feels that something more useful could have easily been put in its place.

The second of them, the Angel of Sacrifice, is an upgrade for a Chaplain's Crozius, giving Strength 6 AP 4 attacks with the added bonus of a unique Only In Death special rule. It effectively allows the wielder to still fight and attack, even when killed by enemies of a higher Initiative or in an Overwatch volley. It's something which fits well with the Fists' stubborn nature and helps assist the character in making up his points value before being killed. For 10 points, it's a decent improvement.

A similar HQ only item is the Bones of Osrak which is exclusive to psykers. It offers one more Warp Charge point than usual, allows for re-rolls on failed Psychic Tests, has some very strange lore to it, and costs 25 points. It's decent, priced fairly and a nice bonus for anyone planning to take a Librarian. Beyond that though, it's largely unremarkable.

The remaining two items relate more towards affecting the army as a whole, consisting of a moth-eaten banner and one outdated tau markerlight highly advanced auspex.

Said auspex (The Eye of Hypnoth), costing 15 points with an "18 range, reduces the cover saves or armour values of whatever squad/building it is targeting. The rules do not state this is exclusive to whatever squad its owner is a part of and means you can use them to run forwards and paint targets for for other people. It's useful, and nice that even the lore points towards it being used by only a sergeant, but with such a range it seems like a one trick pony to be used before its owner is killed. 

While the above is used to assist enemies being blown to bloody glibs, the Banner of Staganda is intended to do the exact opposite. Given to whoever can carry a Company Standard, it permits re-rolling or Morale Checks and Pinning Tests to anyone friendly within "12 for the price of 25 points. Unfortunately its more interesting bonuses of giving people Counter-Attack and Crusader are only passed onto the person carrying it. It affects other units certainly, but with only these being passed onto one person it's another special item which seems to be leaning towards character centric army trends. In fact that goes for a lot of the above.

There's not much to really say about these things. They're not as insanely herohammer-esuqe as we've seen in other books despite leaning in that direction and unlike what we saw in Codex: Black Legion they're fairly priced overall. Unfortunately they're also fairly generic in what they confer, with useful special rules but nothing truly interesting to make the force stand out. They're everyman items which would fit into any Marine army's armoury no matter the lore, but at least workable and it's easy to see how each one could be of value to a player's army list.

The one detail here which does surprisingly work is the slight variation on the Bolter Drill Chapter Trait: the Close Ranged Bolter Drill. It's described thusly in the book: "Models with this rule re-roll all failed To Hit rolls made with bolt pistols, boltguns, storm bolters, heavy bolters, or combi-weapons that are firing as boltguns when firing at a target up to half the weapon’s maximum range away. This rule does not apply to models firing Hellfire, Kraken, Vengeance or Dragonfire rounds."

Yeah, it looks useless at first but consider this: It didn't say you cannot use it with Overwatch. This, assuming it's not nerfed in an FAQ, is going to make the army obscene when using that rule or moving for close range firefights. Not to mention if you can drop pod in the right places.
It also makes a degree of sense from a lore perspective, seeming like something which would be developed by the Imperial Fists for fighting inside the close confines of a fortress. The sort of semi-identifiable element the writer could include without making it completely siege orientated.

This is the big problem here though: So much of the book seems to be hell-bent upon avoiding using actual siege related tactics and more determined to do everything else it possibly can besides that. Think about it for a moment: We have items which convey their stubborn nature of refusing to run for cover, fall back or die without killing the enemy. There's another involving shooting buildings/things inside buildings, and Warlord Traits with stubbornness and . We also have, unfortunately, a special rule which allows the army to take huge numbers of the newly added substitute Dreadnoughts with heavy weapons and siege drills. 

It's as if everything here was angled towards siege warfare, but the writers didn't want to do anything extensive with the Imperial Fists inside buildings. Hell, this would be like writing Codex: 'Nidzilla then proceeding to all but outlaw Carnifexes and anything bigger.

Part, if not all, of the reason for this is likely the campaign which features the Imperial Fists on a penance crusade. Much of it focuses upon assaults, targeting planets for destruction and attacking enemy worlds. Very little of it actually involved the Imperial Fists in a fortress fighting the enemy. The addition of these missions has always seemed unnecessary. To repeat what was said when we started reviewing these supplement codices: Having played Warhammer 40,000 for over ten years I can safely say I have seen very few people playing tabletop pick out special scenarios or campaigns. Usually when they are it's only by the staff to help promote the book. Even the scenarios involving sieges do very little with the fortifications beyond state they are present or an objective to be taken.

So since Codex: Iyanden we've gone from missions having the trouble of being a waste of space and so specific they only work for certain armies, to being a waste of space and affecting the army in the codex. Fantastic.

Also I hope you've liked the attempts to promote the buying of other mission books because we have that yet again! There are Apocalypse rules, Planetstrike rules, Cities of Death stratagems  and pages upon pages of things relevant only to playing other books. This was a problem with the last few books but it was getting somewhat better so these didn't comment upon them. However, the number of pages devoted missions, variants of rules and artwork has once again reached the point where it seems more like padding than any addition to a proper codex.

Here's a quick rundown of the book's content: 
Of the 127 pages, 4 are devoted to Special Rules, Relics and Chapter traits. Just as many are devoted to Apocalypse, Planetstrike and Cities of Death content. More than three times as much are devoted to missions and scenareos, and even more to pages with single massive images. This is also ignoring pages which are devoted to several unnecessarily large images. Also those which take up at least half the page or those which have a third of their page taken up by each section's title. Bits like this are supposed to be window-dressing for the core content, yet they completely eclipse the rules devoted to the army. This isn't something to enhance the book, it's outright padding at every turn. It's disgraceful, and without so much space being devoted to pointless add-ons the book would be barely 60 pages long if that. Hell, even less without all the recycled artwork pinched from other books.

What little actual army rules there are in Codex: Sentinels of Terra are average at best. Very basic and with little to really compliment or make the book stand out from the crowd. There are very few interesting ideas here and what we're given is bare bones rules i'd expect someone with less than a year's experience of 40K to come up with. It's not the worst codex we've seen, far from it, but there is an insulting level of potential squandered and utterly unused. As a result, this book feels like a poor substitute for something great at best, and a waste of time and money at worst. Unfortunately, these were also the good bits.

Join us next time for the lore, and see how hard a book's fluff can fail.

Read it here!


  1. So what was squandered? I get why you criticise choices here but you don;t give examples of how things should have been done instead.

    1. That is not being overlooked, i'm saving that for Part 3. There's so much wrong here it really deserves its own part to fully highlight how much could have been done with this idea.

    2. Hi there,

      I respectfully disgree that the siege aspect to the Fists was not done any justice in this supplement. While some of your critical views are merited, siege was everywhere in this book, in my opinion. Here they are (in no particular order)

      - There is a new Siege mission for 40k Players given in the book
      - The new super auspex reduces enemy cover and building armour at 18"
      - Close Bolter Drill is perfect for storming breaches/urban combat (as you mentioned)
      - half the new Warlord traits are siege related
      - While not an addition, Sentinels of Terra retain theTank Hunters and Siege Masters rule from Codex Space Marines. So they have long range siege capability and (now) close range urban ops punch as well).
      -And lastly, there is a long list of CoD stratagems that are almost all siege or urban warfare related:

      Massive Bombardment
      Focused Laser Blast
      Careful Reconnaissance
      Master-crafted Defences
      Close the Breach

      I found that the Fists were treated quite fairly. In an average 40k battle they are going to be a Codex chapter who will be very effective at destroying vehicles and buildings, while arguably the best with their bolters at 1/2 range. In CoD games or the new Siege mission, they will be in their element, which seems to me to fit in with who they are just fine.

  2. http://thegoodthebadtheinsulting.blogspot.com/2013/07/farsight-enclaves-early-thoughts.html
    "No, the point of the supplements is to focus upon specific types of armies. The more unique forces within the Imperium which receive less attention than usual. What we get are supplements which focus entirely upon units. Individual, flashy units they can build armies out of. Not how the rest of the units work alongside them, not how the army works with specific doctrines, simply tooled up versions of certain choices. Often in spite of how much sense it might make. This would be like giving the Imperial Fists a supplement, then writing rules almost exclusively around terminator squads."
    It's sad that you almost perfectly described this codex back in August. If only Centurions were a thing at the time.

  3. Counter Attack and Crusaders both confer from the man with the banner onto the squad - you only have to have one person with them for the entire unit to benefit.

    1. I thought that as well, but every other item with a similar role in books made a point in noting it affected the unit as well. Here is only specifies the bearer alone and they refers to what affects are given to the squad around him. I'm not saying your wrong, just that it has been written in an odd manner if that was the intention.