Well, you all knew this one was coming. To find the worst written codex in Warhammer 40,000, you have to did pretty damn greedily and deeply not to settle on Codex: Grey Knights. Upon release the book was repeatedly slammed by critics and veterans alike for its poor quality, and it deserved every word it got.
While some codices are woefully over-powered, others destroy the identity of the very army the book is suppose to promote, and more suffer from being a vehicle to push Games Workshop's latest mega models, Codex: Grey Knights somehow accomplished all of the above. With retconned lore so infamously bad that it made the Horus Heresy impossible, and tabletop rules so power driven items could disable entire armies, it has been remembered as a bastardisation of an Inquisitorial codex which desperately needed an update. At best the book was a sign that Games Workshop did not have a clue about what they were supposed to be doing with their armies, and of just how far their standards had fallen. At worst, that they had dropped all pretenses, turning armies into Saturday morning cartoons to milk cash from a young demographic.
It would be easy to bring up just one point about this book which could justify tossing away everything and starting from scratch. However, with leaked images already showing Games Workshop showing that they will be sticking to their guns and pushing out yet another space marine codex, here's some of the big alterations they need to make. The massive changes they need to do in order to make this book retain any sign of quality again. Here's five changes 7th Edition Codex: Grey Knights needs.
5 - Less Space Marines
Let's be blunt here: Warhammer has far too many astartes. I personally love the giant pauldron clad Templar space psychopaths as much as the next person. There's really no chapter which I don't like at least one interpretation of, but things have gone way too far of late. Even with the Black Templars being rolled into the current Codex: Space Marines, a little under a third of all major rulebooks are devoted to various chapters. Even when you get into Dataslates, ignore Chaos entirely, and add Supplements they still make up an insane portion of the game. Ultimately ditching Daemonhunters to almost exclusively focus upon another space marine chapter, to the point of re-naming the book, was a big mistake.
Along with diminishing the the variety within the game (sad as it might be that yet another non-marine Imperial faction can be considered a step towards variety) there are a lot of problems which come up with having an entire army based around the Grey Knights.
Let's look at the lore first of all. This is a chapter charged with responding to the worst daemonic incursions across the entire Imperium of Man, from Terra itself to the outermost fringes of the Halo Stars. Even ignoring the retcon which arbitrarily reduced the chapter to a third of its strength, and counting the Exorcists, four thousand astartes is not enough for this. They are stretched thin as it is and cannot afford to throw entire companies at minor targets. While there are certainly those who deserve such a response, they are special situations.
It instead makes far more sense for the Grey Knights to operate in a manner similar to the Deathwatch, with small teams or a handful of squads working at a time, augmenting Tempestus or Stormtrooper forces. This allows them to respond to wider threats and have fodder to soak up the worst damage, limiting the already great risk the Grey Knights face. Better to have someone else focus upon the secondary targets while they storm the leaders after all.
On the tabletop, purely Grey Knight armies are at risk of being made useless or turning into a "I beat everything" battering ram. We saw the former in Daemonhunters armies, where they were overpriced for what they were worth and failed to truly balance out as an effective unit as editions went by. We have seen the latter in Codex: Grey Knights since the beginning, with some of the worst cases of outright broken rules I have ever seen. Given the skill behind these books, the army and the history behind them, I honestly don't think they can be trusted to create a truly balanced army based purely around this chapter. To put it bluntly: To avoid the mistakes of the past, this needs to be made a full Inquisition book, Stormtroopers and all.
Now, some of you are likely already arguing that the allies list makes a combined force codex irrelevant. Well, if you don't remember Daemonhunters (and Witch Hunters for that matter) did the exact same thing, with their Inquisitors capable of taking forces from other armies, and in many respects I think it did it better. Rather than just slapping two forces together, there was more ambition behind it with special rules and certain issues arising from forces being combined.
There was more thought put into how they would operate, the balance issues with taking certain forces over others along with certain limitations, and there was more of a push to integrate lore into the rules. It's not like this hasn't been done better since then either, the Tyrant's Legion list from the Imperial Armour books is a great example of how special rules can be used to fully combine armies into a single force. Not simply tack on certain units and claim they are now a single force, something even Codex: Grey Knights suffers with anything besides the astartes themselves. Honestly, the Inquisitorial Warbands read as if they belong in an entirely different book or were added at the last minute as a minor reinforcing army, not the people commanding the Grey Knights.
The only thing Warhammer 40,000 will lose from turning this back into an Inquisitorial book is some over-saturation of one type of army.
4 - Damn The Codex, Defend The Galaxy
This is something briefly mentioned in the last section, but it really deserves full focus here, primarily as it really reinforces the book's biggest problems. Back before being defiled by a game designer without any right to be let anywhere near a keyboard, the Grey Knights were numbered around three thousand. This was something largely cemented in Ben Counter's Grey Knights trilogy and it stuck, as did the presentation there.
The idea was that the Grey Knights would be trying to maintain numbers to answer as many threats at once. Even with their strenuous training methods, insanely high fatality rates among initiates and facing down desperate odds, they were recruiting from across the entire Imperium, so this only made sense. Most depictions of the chapter followed that series and how they were used on the tabletop, with small strike forces being deployed at any time and assembled for questing missions.
Then we got Codex: Grey Knights and this promptly went to hell. "What's that?" Ward asked "The greatest chapter doesn't adhere to the Codex Astartes, well we can't have that!" All of a sudden their numbers were drastically cut down, the Brotherhoods were introduced with extreme emphasis placed upon the captain, and the entire army had been reworked to resemble a Codex Chapter. This would be bad enough if it happened to a group like the Space Wolves or the Black Templars, but doing this to the Grey Knights really makes no sense at all.
Without repeating the reasons already stated, let's consider the role of authority within the chapter. Previously the presence of Brother-Captains within the chapter was something rarely focused upon in stories. While the likes of the First War for Armageddon, Captain Stern and a few others did show figures of a rank higher than Justicar, they were treated more as champions of the chapter rather than true leaders. The actual decision making and leadership usually came down to the Inquisition itself because, and this needs to be made clear, the chapter is not independent. Unlike those who use the Codex Astartes as a guiding principle, the chapter was not largely autonomous and answered directly to another Imperial organisation.
While the chapter did indeed have companies, what was covered suggested that these were more loose-linked forces who were only deployed at full strength on very dire circumstances. Even then, the few who were not scrambled together out of various individual units were those with specialist equipment or the chapter's elite; the foremost example of this being when their entire force of Terminators were deployed on Armageddon.
There really is no reason for the chapter to be structured as it is now, and at best it's a pointless addition which wastes opportunities to try new things with the army.
3 - Less Power, More Tactics
To be completely honest, this is a problem which is directed as much at how the errata will be handled as the codex itself. As the opening stated, I don't hold the book in very high regard when it comes to the tabletop; in fact the one time I did play a friend's army I felt like I needed a shower afterwards. There was no subtlety to anything, no depth or risk management to be made, nothing which really stood out as requiring real skill in a game. So long as a player was remotely competent when it came to designing an army list, timed his attacks right, and was not utterly ruined by the dice, the army was effectively unstoppable. Please don't get me wrong, they could be beaten by experienced players who knew what they were doing, but point for point the Grey Knights could just steamroll everything in sight.
Just consider for a moment what the codex actually had:
- Units which hit at strength ten in close combat against certain enemies (often with multiple attacks).
- Relatively cheap unit choices which could immediately kill anything which took them down in melee.
- Cheaper and faster versions of Dreadnoughts with better weapons.
- Basic infantry with +1 Strength, force weapons and storm bolters, making them capable of reaming infantry and Monstrous Creatures alike. The Paladins then promptly took this to the next level, abusing wound allocations, gaining better firepower, melee capability and resilience for slightly slower speeds.
- Land Raiders with wings, with all the problems and issues they caused for the Blood Angels book.
- The ultimate transport poppers, with Razorbacks shredding any other APCs or light armour which had the misfortune to get within their range. This is to say nothing of the Mortis Dreadnought version of this, which could happily butcher most of a tank battalion by itself.
- Kaldor Draigo, Mr "He can make it happen", who Ward proudly described with this little statement: '"Lord Kaldor Draigo is a combat monster - there's no other way to describe him. He's lethal against non-daemonic foes, with plenty of Strength 5 force weapon attacks to lay a beat down. When faced with hated Daemons, his Titansword becomes Strength 10, ensuring a pretty one-sided fight in his favour. Even if his enemy survives, Draigo's storm shield is sure to keep him fighting. And on top of all of this, Draigo is a Grand Master, able to bestow extra abilities on his allies. Want your Dreadknight to capture objectives? Draigo can make that happen. Want a Scouting screen of Dreadnaughts? Draigo can make it happen. He's the best possible way to keep your opponent on his toes."
Any one of these would have been bad enough, but what we got here was the author effectively cherry picking game breaking elements from any codex which could be found. Think for a moment as you consider this. Brotherhood Champions suddenly gained a variation of Lukas the Trickster's infamous ability, something unique to him. Grey Knights HQ choices suddenly gained a variation of Creed's scouting abilities. A previously derided vehicle which was thought to be a broken joke in Codex: Blood Angels is not only added, but given a minor upgrade.
When you truly stop and go through it, you realise the codex pulled an Electronic Arts, taking a bit of every worst decision made by someone else and using them all at once. This isn't to say the book didn't create entirely new problems, there were many, but there are so many ones here which are not only game breakers but game breakers from other work. It's that sheer level of ballsy determination to look at what was abusive in previous books, and directly translate it to here that makes this codex deserve a special place in hell.
This would have been bad just to start with, but then came the errata confirming certain rules and to balance out the book. Or, at least, that's what an errata is supposed to do. As with any book Ward likes it's used as little more than an excuse to beef up the book and increase its power.
This was no different with Codex: Necrons and Codex: Blood Angels where everything was resolved in their favour, but what we had here really was just astonishing. Some of the more notable problems the book caused was suddenly allowing Paladin Terminators to use Imperial Guard Chimeras as transports (thus bypassing their usual mobility problems or the costs involved with Land Raiders) and the Ulumeathi Plasma Syphon. Oh sweet heaven, the Plasma Syphon.
The item is infamous for not only shutting down the one glaring weakness of the Grey Knights army, but making it impossible for Tau Empire players to win against an army carrying with one. The item reduced the wielder any plasma weapon within "12 of the model carrying it into BS1, ensuring they could never hit them. This would be bad, but apparently Ward got word of how a few players were using his rather sketchy descriptions to have it affect anything plasma related.
All of a suddenly anything remotely plasma related, in lore and on the table, was affected by this weapon. Starcannons, Bio-Plasma, Disintegration, and almost the entire Tau Empire's armory. So, now Grey Knights players were inventing ways to catapult an Inquisitor carrying this thing into tau lines on the opening turn, rendering their main advantage unusable, and promptly massacring them in combat. Given his already apparent dislike for the army (to the point of having them repeatedly massacred in events such as the Zeist Campaign), and the fact he pulled something similar against daemons, makes it clear this was entirely intentional.
Some claim that this was all written with the next edition in mind as things became better there. True enough, they became somewhat better balanced but the overriding problems still remained and the book gained entirely new ones. What little credit the author might have been given is instantly swept away the second you realise the rules he helped write (and this was the same for several other codices) allowed for a 2,000 to legally take six Stormravens. A list which was not only borderline unstoppable, but even now one which can only be beaten by specifically tailored counter-lists, usually from very specific armies. There were some worse offenders to be sure when it came to power gaming, but they at least required some actual thought and cunning to put together truly nasty lists.
Now, I know that this has been more a general outline of flaws rather than any explanation of how to fix them. However, just how badly screwed up this book was really needed to be hammered in to people trying to defend this book. The bar has been set so low here that effectively anything would be an improvement by this point, and just making players think which unit they need to attack and kill something would be an upgrade. The army really is so badly made that they would do better to just scrap everything and start over.
2 - Hold The Line Against The Night
One thing which all previous lore emphasised were that the Grey Knights were often the first and last line of defence the Imperium had against daemonic forces. While astartes, Imperial Guard and the Inquisition could normally hold their own against certain forces, the Grey Knights were the specialists. They were the ones sent in against the worst the Warp could throw at them, with an insane level of training, self discipline and wielding some of the best weapons ever produced by the Imperium. They're also almost constantly outgunned.
While the Grey Knights will happily shred their way through Bloodletters, Flamers, Horrors and the like, they are the ones expected to banish the most dangerous creatures, and for all their skill they are fighting an uphill battle. When they do win, it is usually at considerable cost or thanks to sheer grit, preparation, luck and determination on their part. Every story by a competent author has prominently focused upon this aspect. The Emperor's Gift, the entire Grey Knights trilogy, even Mortarion's Heart, all keep this as a key focus at every turn. The Grey Knights are the elite, they are great and they do deserve their position as daemonhunters, but it's hardly a role the pay for without effort nor bloodshed.
Ward apparently wasn't fond of this as the Codex: Grey Knights went from being a force who wins through careful timing, detailed planning and often wins by the skin of their teeth, to astartes super saiyans. Everything was immediately turned up to eleven, with the Grey Knights presented as relentlessly pimp slapping about Cthulhu and his friends at every turn and rarely taking any real losses. The few times they did, the book used it merely as an excuse to have them win even harder against that foe. The roles had suddenly been reversed, with the Grey Knights now merely powering through any daemon they encountered and their foes barely being capable of slowing them down.
This doesn't work for obvious reasons, as the whole idea behind the setting was that the Imperium has been fighting a losing battle. It's on the brink of destruction, facing unstoppable does from every angle and Chaos itself is only a force which can be beaten back, never halted. Even when it is stopped, it still leaves naught but annihilation and corruption in its wake, with the Imperium performing horrific acts just to stop it spreading further. Now we have a force of demi-primarchs racing about the galaxy one-shotting Bloodthirsters, easily crushing any force they run into. Their entire role has been reversed, with the underdogs now being the daemonic forces in this codex while the Grey Knights are the overpowering nightmare beings who can single-handedly massacre them by the hundreds.
The most basic identity the chapter had reflecting the doomed nature of the universe is gone, and the new one Ward tries to reinforce just doesn't work. Even if you do completely ignore the past incarnation it doesn't fit in with the setting, and it's so self-contradictory that there is no solid identity behind the army.
Just for starters, the Grey Knights here were being shown in an overly heroic light, one more like superheroes or figures from far less grim settings. Okay, this might be completely out of place and ignoring the fact Games Workshop previously tried and failed to do this with another faction (Codex: Tau for those interested) but fair enough. It doesn't fit with the setting in the slightest nor does it make sense with the organisation it is supposed to be attached to. Fine, let's just say for the sake of argument that this was their main theme and it had no problems attached.
The issue instead becomes how this is depicted. Their only claim to being "heroic" is repeatedly beating down a foe they can push back with apparent ease, and little else. There's no apparent effort in any of their victories, their few potential losses are forced to say the least and many of their actions come across as hypocrites. Despite supposedly being better than daemons and heretics, they continually stoop to the same level as them. The Grey Knights repeatedly perform acts of heresy, actively support heretical Inquisitors using daemons, have no problems using xenos technology and will make pacts with the Imperium's foes whenever it suits them. Whereas the old Grey Knights were staunchly puritanical (something justified by their powers being boosted by an almost religious faith), what we have here is an army claiming to be the ultimate good but doing almost the exact same things as the heretics they fight.
Things only become worse as the codex goes on as Ward tries to lift elements of the old chapter and use them here, often very dark ideas. These fitted the old chapter, but they clash horribly with this new incarnation and many acts come completely out of left field. To make matters worse, many seem to have been lifted without the author actually understanding why they worked in the first place.
Just to cite one idea which was carried over, the original Grey Knights back in the early editions were very morally grey indeed. One famous illustration featured them draining a priest of his blood for use against Chaos. This worked because they were far more morally grey and were shown to frequently perform questionable acts, and what's more is that this was done as some clandestine action out of necessity. While they were resistant to the effects of Chaos, they were not totally immune and required every edge they could get to fight back against the Ruinous Powers without resorting to heresy. Just what this blood was needed for was left vague, but the idea of it was enough to really show the chapter in a grim light.
Ward opted to bring this back in a rather infamous moment involving the Adeptus Sororitas. On the world of Van Horne, daemons use a corrupted nanomachine entity known as the Bloodtide to overrun the world, but a contingent of the Sisters of Battle still hold out. With their faith protecting them they are holding the daemons at bay and actually doing a good job. The Grey Knights then show up, kill all of the Sororitas, use their blood to make themselves immune to any corrupting effects, banish all the daemons and leave.
Chief problem here? Not only are the Grey Knights completely immune to Chaos thanks to some new lore involving their gene-seed, but they have such a vast arsenal of weapons against Chaos there is no reason for this. Also, I wasn't aware faith based protection could be passed on via blood transfusion. It's effectively only present to get the Sororitas killed and because the old books did it, with no understanding of why it was originally there of the context.
This only gets worse and worse as you go through the book, and to accept even one aspect of the new Grey Knights, you need to ignore two or three other completely contradictory elements. Even then, the new incarnation is downright boring in their sheer invincibility, with their forces overblown to the point where even a traitor primarch is not a credible threat to them. There is no careful plan here, no simple idea the book worked off of to make its concept effective and it simply fails to fit in thematically with the universe.
If the next codex is to be successful in any way, it needs to bring back the desperation behind the Grey Knights' mission. It needs to emphasise that they are David taking on Goliath, and that they are still fighting a desperate battle at every turn. It doesn't need to turn the astartes into beings with power just shy of the average kryptonian, turn them into a superheroes or feature them endlessly beating Chaos with no casualties. What it needs to do is show just how grim, just how dark and just how seemingly hopeless the war they are fighting truly is,what they have been forced to do in order to maintain their victories and stave off destruction for ten thousand years.
1 - Ignore The Last Codex Entirely
No, believe it or not, Kaldor Draigo does not make up the biggest thing they need to ditch. Instead it's the entire codex.
In complete honesty this was a point I was desperately trying to avoid, but there's no denying it. On a mechanical level the codex is a bad joke, and in terms of lore? It deserves every mocking comment the book has ever been given. The plot holes are the size of the Eye of Terror, the new lore makes no sense, the favouritism on display is obvious and quite frankly the book is just badly written. The large moments involve, well, Draigo's antics, and the small ones feature such baffling events as the Grey Knights pillaging several hundred terminator suits from multiple loyalist chapters for their own needs. Were this any other armybook or codex, I would personally not be saying this, but in all honesty there is just no saving this one.
Now, please do not misinterpretation this: This does not mean that the new canon should be completely jettisoned from the game. There are good bits and pieces present, but all of them have been written by other authors desperately trying to get things back on track and repair the damage the book caused. Rather than looking into this codex on how the chapter operates, the new authors should be reading The Emperor's Gift and the short story Witness. Rather than reading about how the characters behave here, the writers should be looking at Pandorax, Mortarion's Heart and The Ghost Halls. You know, books which actually defined the heroes by more than just some unique superpower or what Chaos God they'd nutted to death that morning.
There is good here when it comes to the new lore, but almost all of it has come from authors far better than Ward. Just about all of them either completely re-wrote events from the codex to actually make sense or thematically stuck with what the old version of this army had been going for. Their morally questionable actions, their role within the Inquisition, their victories against Chaos, all are much better handled in the works Black Library produced about the chapter than the main book itself. While I personally still advocate using the Grey Knights Omnibus as a baseline for the new book and re-retconning a lot of old ideas back into existence, if they are determined to stick with this then they need to look at the novels for guidance.
So those are the five changes the 7th Edition Codex: Grey Knights needs. I'm certain quite a few people are going to disagree with this list but, honestly, i'm sticking to it. If you have your own thoughts or opinions you want to deliver please leave them in the comments section.