Saturday, 19 April 2014

Codex: Iron Hands (Warhammer 40,000 Fandex Early Look)

I've said more than once in covering these reviews that many modern codices are often a disgrace. This is usually referring to the supplement codices, but many others show a complete lack of respect for the army or even the source material. 

Codex: Grey Knights was an abomination, Codex: Sisters of Battle seemed to be written by people who wanted nothing to do with them or outright hated the army, and the less said about the last two Codex: Tyranids the better. In terms of rules they were either extremely underwhelming and forced the player to go through an uphill battle to effectively play, or were so simplistic they offered little beyond raw power. 

Others still completely went out of their way to destroy an army's previous identity, such as Clan Raukaan which read more like the carefully planned destruction of the entire Iron Hands' lore. What couldn't be destroyed or retconned was altered to make them unlikable, turning them from the monsters the Imperium needed to guard its gates to hypocrites, hired thugs and ineffective council members being manipulated by a daemon. That brings us to today's topic - Codex: Iron Hands, a fan made creation which does a far better job of honouring the sons of Ferrus than the official material.

The reason this is classed as an early look than a proper review is because this is an unfinished work unfortunately. The Reference page has yet to be completed, the Armory section only consists of three items and many of the units listed thus far are HQ or Elites choices. As such, while there will be some valid criticisms of the book this is more an early look at a fan made work than a true review. That done, let's begin.

The first point which really sets the book head and shoulders above many supplements is that this is treated as an actual codex. There is no visible effort to pad out the pages with entire sections devoted to displaying the models available. There are no multiple sections devoted purely to scenarios no one will use simply wasting space. Best of all, there are not pages upon pages of rules which will only work in Cities of Death or the like. This is devoted purely to the army itself and never makes the mistake of using it as a platform to encourage people to buy more works. Rather than putting in the bare minimum effort when it comes to the army itself, the author (Shadowclaimer) made getting them down right his primary focus.

The very introduction shows this when it quickly gets the basic information out of the way (Iron Fathers rather than Chaplains, their unique structure, etc) and delivers two characterful but easy to remember special rules. The first is that due to their burning hatred, a controlled and focused spark which remained within their logical exteriors, Iron Hands' units have access to the Fearless special trait and cannot refuse challenges. The second is that due to their extremely strong wills and bionics, their units can re-roll Deny the Witch saves.

Both are choices which do still need work, especially the second rule, but you can see the logic behind them and why they are present within the codex. They do at least reflect aspects of the Iron Hands nature and, unlike so much in other works, aren't an excuse to push people to buy a newly created unit. Better yet, these and many other similar sections are not based upon random tables. Since the beginning of this edition there has been this growing obsession with having certain army aspects decided by a roll of a dice, but here it is completely controlled. Better yet, it actually reflects the army's major strengths.

Unlike Clan Raukaan, the document contains an (admittedly in progress) bionics table for upgrades. Unlike many such items and ideas, these are not merely reserved for HQ choices and are instead available to entire units for a certain points cost per model. The upside is that a couple contain good ideas which allow you to tailor make your force to a good degree, with many providing the likes of Fleet, Night Vision or +1 Toughness if taken. 
The downside is that many others can easily become broken. It's hard to fairly judge without points costs listed but others bionics range from allowing +1 Toughness to Feel No Pain, +1 attacks in close combat and allowing models to carry an additional bolter or flamer. None of these are especially balanced and would need some serious points costs to prevent the army steamrolling the opposition. It's certainly good it's here but it's an idea which definitely needs work.

The Psychic Powers meanwhile are a solid bunch and offer the ability to use the Librarian as a walking cannon or to buff allied units. While there are definitely a few viable choices for close range, many psychic powers seem to be designed for long range engagement. Admittedly this is in part because a number are carried over from the Imperial psychic powers chart. The likes of Avenger, Quickening, Might of the Ancients, The Gate of Infinity and Null Zone all make an appearance, greatly bolstering a player's options.

The more interesting and unique ones on this list are Betrayal of Flesh, Deus Ex Ferrum, Machine Curse and Punish The Weak. 

That last one in particular is an especially interesting if risky choice which effectively turns the Librarian in question into a walking daisy cutter. Unleashing a single ranged attack against any foe within "6, it seems to be intended to cull swarms prior to charging into combat. The obvious problem here being that a failure results in the attack also including friendly units. 
Deus Ex Ferrum is a comparatively simple but effective power, giving the Librarian and any attached units Feel No Pain. 
Betrayal of Flesh meanwhile is a Heavy 2 S8 attack which can only be used against non-vehicles. Useful in certain situations and for culling heavy infantry prior to entering battle. Combined with The Gate of Infinity, it seems like something which could turn the Librarian into a very effective sniper.
The final choice, Machine Curse, is unfortunately unclear on how it works. It causes an automatic glance on vehicles within a "24 range, but it does not specify if this is a single attack or something like the Bloodspear. One is not very useful, the other would be a viable choice against certain forces.

If there are two things to seriously criticise here it is these:

The Iron Council seems to only be there to encourage heavy use of HQ choices. While at first it appears to be a traditional Command Squad, it in fact allows you to take three to five of any HQ choice from Apothecaries to Iron Fathers, allowing for more than one. In effect, you can take multiple captains for a single HQ slot. These can then be split off and attached to individual squads, once again turning the army into a mere extension of its leaders.

The other problem is more a personal comment with the Codex featuring many elements of Codex: Clan Raukaan. Rather than completely ignoring that abomination, certain ideas such as Iron Captains, the aforementioned Iron Council and Karden Stronos all show up. 
The good news is that this is far more of an incorporation of certain elements while largely adhering to the traditional depiction of the chapter. Iron Fathers and Clan Commanders are an actual rank, Iron Chaplains are nowhere to be seen and no mention is made of the Codex Astartes. It's just a shame it didn't completely abandon lore seemingly intended only to spite anyone who ever cared about Ferrus Manus' scions.

This is still a project which is very much in a state of working progress, but it's on the right track and i'd honestly take this over almost any official supplement codex. It can be found here for the full version with a few additional concepts which are located in a thread here. Even in the unfortunately likely event that this is not completed or continued, i'd still recommend taking a look at it for inspiration when making a codex of your own.

As a final note to those reading, this was as much an experiment as anything else. I have a few more (completed) fan made codices lined up for true reviews. If you want to see those or have any fan content for Warhammer Fantasy or 40,000 you want to suggest please leave it in the comments. With luck we should be returning with a few more book reviews in the near future, the much delayed lore review of Codex: Militarum Tempestus and something special.


  1. I'd like to see future fan codex reviews, and I was thinking of making one myself on my favourite group, the Sons of Malice, since that chapter already has enough going for it, with it being declared a traitor while still loyal, and remaining loyal inside the eye of terror because they found the chaos god who embodies the self destruction of chaos, so they go after both chaos space marines and defend themselves from loyalists.

    The difference here is I like the codex's to work in an official setting, so I'd be taking rules from existing codex's in a way they can be legally used if they were the actual army (for example, have the troops from Space Wolves and Dark Angels, but not mention that they are allied, instead say "You can only take X troops if you take at least 1 Y HQ" and limit the allied stuff with 0-X choices).

    I do think this is a step in the right direction with the Iron Hands though, and I particularly like the Dreadnought as HQ's choice, not for any gameplay reason, I think it does a very good job of marrying the rules to the fluff.

    As you say though, it is definitely a work in progress, roughly half complete at best, but I'll keep my eye on it, if you want another one to look at I'd highly recommend the genestealer cult army list: which is an actual legal list that can be used in apocalypse games (and regular games if your opponent lets you).

    There's also the Adeptus Arbites List:

    And the 1d4chan update to the Sisters of Battle to make them good again:

    1d4chan also made two tyranid homebrew updates that are just as much a work in progress as this iron hands one, and I don't really care for it as their fifth edition version is blatantly overpowered (mostly by giving almost every multi-wound model eternal warrior).

    1. Now that's an interesting choice. Most people i've spoken with tend to go with Soul Drinkers for a rogue faction fighting both sides, but it's certainly nice to see the servants of Malal-ice getting some attention. I wish you the best of luck in creating it as it would be something fun to see online.

      Thank you also for the suggestions. I do have a few lined up (and will probably reserve Sisters of Battle until I have reviewed the official codex) but these will definitely be added to the list.

      Also, yeah i've seen their version of Codex: Tyranids, and it was partially why I was looking away from 1D4Chan for examples to highlight and review.

  2. Overall I find I'm getting a lot more enjoyment out of the fan made stuff than the official product, my favourite being The Dornian Heresy: while not a codex, is a great alternate history where all of the loyalist chapters we know turned to chaos, and all the heretical chapters stayed loyal, and it nearly perfectly justifies everything. It also puts a neat spin on things because, as you can guess, Rogal Dorn is the Arch-Betrayer this time, so the heresy isn't about trying to keep Chaos forces away from Earth, it's about the vastly weakened loyalists trying to fight their way back to Earth (which is now under Chaos control) to free the Emperor who's been trapped in his palace by Dorn.

    Sadly it only ever got to the three quarter mark, and was never finished, what I linked is the first part (which is still great) and the other quarter is in forum posts on Bolter and Chainsword (they haven't been compiled into pdf's yet and I don't think they ever will be).

    1. Really, they never finished it? That's a damn shame as i'd liked what i'd seen from the Dornian Heresy so far. A friend e-mailed me the in-progress Salamanders and Night Lords along with the PDF. There were a few flaws, mainly due to later developments in the Horus Heresy novels, but on the whole it seemed to be extremely well thought out.

      May I ask which ones they never got around to?

    2. I haven't found the Salamanders anywhere, if you have a link to the in-progress version could you pass it to me? They also haven't done the Imperial Fists, the Black Templars, and the Death Guard.
      It's a real shame, because they were so close. I'm still very happy with what they actually put out though.

    3. Certainly, it can be found just here:
      It actually has a great deal of work already completed, so it's a damn shame we'll never see the finished version. Especially as it seemed to give plenty of reasons for Vulkan being so different here. Admittedly that's also a big part of the problem given what Vulkan Lives revealed about him, making this IA borderline impossible.

      Unfortunate they never got to the Imperial Fists then, it would have been good to see them covering their multiple factions.

  3. There's one more thing I want to bring up about the major codex's, and I think it's even more important for the fan made stuff: Structure.
    The current codex's are absolutely awful in the way they are structured. First you have the lore, then the history, then the special rules, then the unit summaries, then the armoury, then the showcases, then the armoury points cost, then the rules.

    This is awful, it requires mostly memorization of the rulebook just to play a game without stopping every so often to look up a specific rule, only to find out that the rule is actually other rules: "Let's see, mark of Khorne, what's that do again?" *flip all the way to special rules* "Oh, it's Rage and Counter-Attack, well let's open up the main rulebook, and flip over to their pages to find out what they do." This is especially tedious since GW added an absurd amount of universal rules compared to previous codex's (some of which are really stupid like Zealot: "Let's see, Grimaldus has the Zealot universal rule, what's that do again?" *Flip to Zealot* "Oh, it's Fearless and Hatred universal rules... Why doesn't it just say Grimaldus has Fearless and Hatred?").

    Now, I like the fluff in the books, I really do, but I can't help but feel it's getting in the way far too much when the rules in some codex's can be under 5 pages and the fluff has about a 10-1 ratio on it.

    If you want good structure, I'd recommend the fourth edition Black Templar Rulebook, it's pretty great, it's got a very brief amount of lore and history in the front, then just dives right in with the rules, followed by the armoury and points cost on the same page, then the units along with their points cost and managed in a way that two units can be on the same page, then you've got special characters followed by the showcase.

    It's never taken me any noticeable time to look up anything I'm not sure of in that codex, and this is because the codex isn't any larger than it needs to be, you don't need separate pages for every single thing in the army when they are almost always the same thing with a different loadout.

    1. That is definitely a big problem with the books and one which has been growing with the last couple of editions. As good as it was to have Skyfire added and Overwatch make a return, the sheer volume of additional rules and terms in the last rulebook was absurd. We'd done fine all these years with just the likes of Furious Assault, Feel No Pain and the rest but now? It just seems like something which will really bog down any game. Especially when they keep changing terms as you describe.

      To be honest, part of the reason for the poor structuring could be just as much an excuse to try and justify the higher prices as anything else. While they make gameplay difficult and cause a ton of problems, they bulk out the book and show it as having more content. We've seen this recently with the jump to hard cover armybooks, which involved a 33% jump in price every time a new one is released. Not to mention the sheer number of various dataslates and codices now being released, many of which would have easily gone into a White Dwarf article for a fraction of the asking price. It's just a suspicion, but it would certainly explain a few things.

      Actually Codex: Black Templars is a good example i've been planning to get around to for a while. Both to outline just how Games Workshop could easily be cutting down page costs without sacrificing quality as much as streamlining any crunch.