Monday, 18 August 2014

5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Grey Knights Needs

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.


  1. I was waiting for this one because I thought you'd make one of these lists on this army, and I actually agree on most of these points. While I think the codex really deserves an overhaul, I'm not so sure about some things on this list, the points I bring up are not because I disagree with them, but because I want to discuss them, firstly some things with #5: "It instead makes far more sense for the Grey Knights to operate in a manner similar to the Deathwatch..."

    The problem with this is (and 40K is really inconsistent about this) the Imperium as a whole wants to keep the existence of Daemons a secret, to the point of sparing the Grey Knights, the Exorcists, sometimes the Sisters of Battle, and mind wiping everyone else who has any knowledge of them, this includes other Space Marine chapters such as the Red Hunters. Granted it wouldn't be very hard for the Grey Knights to mind wipe those they fight alongside, but it would make for a greater risk of the knowledge of chaos spreading, though if there's daemonic activity in the area in the first place (enough to actually require the Grey Knights) I suppose it would be better for them to be there in the first place to do the mind-wiping.

    The one exception to this is Radical Inquisitor Lords who usually have their own personal armies of stormtroopers since Grey Knights refuse to work with them, even in the new lore they work with Radical Inquisitors but no Radical Inquisitor Lords, for some reason, I suppose it's because Radical Inquisitor Lords are usually much older than regular Inquisitors and have been involved with Chaos far more and presumably committed far more heretical acts.

    I'd hope they bring the Inquisition back, the two were always meant to work together (which is why the game used to be really hard when they were separated) and the Grey Knights feel mindless without the Inquisition.

    Now some things with #3, I completely agree that the whole codex was at best, a beatstick, one you just run at the opponent and they fold, and that's pretty much their only tactic. You can try to get a bit cleverer with it, having the Purifiers take on hordes and your Mortis using S8 autocannons to down transports for example, but for the most part there's nothing to them.
    I agree that they were hideously overpowered when they first came out, but I wouldn't say that they're overpowered any more thanks to every non-imperial army having some form of OP that out rivals everything the grey knights have, and even imperial armies can just out range them now, but that's mostly because of problems concerning the current edition as a whole rather than the individual army books, if we were to use 5th edition rules with the current books the Grey Knights would easily jump right back into the top 4 armies, slightly below Eldar (and possibly Space Wolves with their new Codex) and slightly above the Tau.

    Your #2 point is one that's a bit trickier to deal with (this is going to be a long explanation), because it's not just in the Grey Knights codex that their constantly curb-stomping greater Daemons before breakfast, it's also now in the main rulebook and in the Daemon rulebook for some reason. I want to agree with what you say here, but I have a small problem with doing that which ties into the #1 point, which is one that's also occurred to me and I've also been trying to avoid, because the current 40K is very different to the 40K that used to exist, the warp has changed into something only marginally different than our reality outside the 4 realms (and the wastes are still a massive place that is constantly expanding), and the harshest truth for me (and why I can't fully agree with you here about this change though I really want to) is that the Imperium is no longer losing.

    1. Honestly I have seen the books going back and forth on the point of Inquisitorial troops, but so many novels make use of them it seems like they would have legitimate reason to exist. Even ignoring warbands, the Inquisitorial fortresses, strongholds and headquarters still need additional troops to help defend them or act as muscle at times. Even with all their authority, I can see some situations where the Inquisition would want to keep matters to themselves but need more forces beyond the Grey Knights, so it's not entirely out of the question.

      In addition to this, while there's the obvious argument of mind wiping/killing any troops who fight such creatures, those among an Inquisitor's retinue face the same monstrosities yet remain un-mind wiped. While you can argue that these are people with a better mental fortitude than the average henchman, taking such people to face and learn about daemons is already a big risk. Hell, some of them are hired specifically as hired muscle by the Inquisition to face down such creature and the people who summon them. As such, it doesn't seem entirely out of the question that regiments of Stormtroopers would exist within their ranks, being continually mind-wiped or cybernetically enhanced to suppress and control emotional outbursts. It actually makes a bit of sense if you think of all the problems the Ordo Malleus would have if they needed to kill off entire battalions at a time or deal with other organisations while committing genocide. There's been plenty of stories where other regiments or chapters not directly answering them have gotten in their way after all.

      In fact, the novels I can think of supporting this did go into this in some detail. Going from memory, Bleeding Chalice in particular featured a small battalion of Inquisitorial Stormtroopers attached to Thaddeus' command, all of who were noted to have been mind-wiped so many timed that they were emotionally dulled or almost dead. Similarly I think that the Eisenhorn trilogy did actually feature them as a background element more than once on certain worlds.

      Also, I would agree about the point with Radical Inquisitor Lords were it not for how the codex handled the subject. At the moment, Grey Knights will charge in to murder daemon summoning cultists and destroy anything remotely corrupted from hosts to weapons. They then happily obey the orders of a guy accompanied by three daemon hosts and carrying a daemonic sword howling for blood. Just to reference the Eisenhorn trilogy again, Eisenhorn himself was noted to be slipping into radicalism just by using certain knowledge from a heretic to beat Quixos. By the time he was strolling about with Cherubael, he was beyond Radicalism itself was thought of as being outright rogue, disappearing only a scant few years following the series’ end. Going from everything we know in the setting, the Grey Knights would be lynching the Inquisitor rather than following his orders.

      As for the rules, I’ll be completely honest here that my vision is being coloured by a few playtests. While I have not done anything with the army since Seventh Edition was released, the times I have played throughout Fifth and Sixth edition did not leave a good impression. The army was ripe for abuse and seemed to rely upon sheer raw power over anything else. Say what you will about the Eldar, Tau Empire or Space Wolves, but each required a bit of thinking on how to best use them. You needed to actually look through each book and analyse how the units worked before you could write something staggeringly broken, you had to work to earn a beardy army list. With the Grey Knights though? Just about anything seemed to work equally well in all situations.

    2. Just to give a quick example of the Fifth Edition book, the time I did use the codex, I opted to choose units at random. All of them, their strengths, numbers, equipment and such, all were decided purely by rolling dice to pick out certain items. The opposing side consisted of an Eldar army with 600 additional points over mine, made to directly combat the Grey Knights. The Eldar died in droves while the Grey Knights barely took amy casualties, steamrolling right through their lines and killing just about everything in four turns flat. This was not due to my skill, I’m a terrible player when it comes to winning Warhammer 40,000, that victory came purely thanks to the special rules and raw power of the units. Nothing in any remotely balanced game should contain anything like that.

      The Sixth Edition meanwhile contained a few more games, some against other Grey Knights players, some as experiments and they usually came down to the same results. However, one particular test we did was just to confirm if they had truly been fixed. Three separate Grey Knights lists were chosen at random for a three way battle. Their opposition was the strongest army available at the time, the Tau Empire, and the Movie Marines list. You probably already know this, but the Movie Marines list was an old joke list giving a squad of space marines the sort of character shields and firepower reserved for characters in the novels. Along with giving them stats which would make Logan Grimnar blush, they had equipment which turned bolt pistols into S6 AP4, Assault 4 weapons with rending. The Grey Knights won two rounds and drew with the Tau once thanks to contesting objectives. Suffice to say, the people involved did not think much of a competitive army which could crush an intentionally broken joke army never intended to be played in tournaments.

      I do agree that there are worse armies when it comes to powergaming, but as said before most of those actually required some effort. The Grey Knights are so simple and easy to pick up that a first timer can rip through a well-balanced, well thought out and carefully planned force purely thanks to their units. That’s not the sort of army I would want influencing the next generation of hobbyists in any game.

      I'll answer that last bit on the other comment as it carries over to there.

    3. I remember a few years back I was considering to get back into 40k, having dropped it towards the end of high school due to the cost (I used Tau at the time), and I actually gravitated towards the Grey Knights since Ward's Codex was fairly recent. This was before I knew about the rampant problems with the book (and for obvious reasons the store assistant who let me flip through the Codex didn't mention them), but I think there was always an element I liked to the Grey Knights separate of their power levels. I've always liked knights and with the designs they'd introduced alongside that Codex (Dreadknight aside), they seemed more knightly to the younger me than other Marines.

      This is a bit of an anecdote but on reflection what I would like is for the Grey Knights to get back to older fluff. Less invincible, less incorruptible. One of the issues Ward's Codex has is making the Grey Knights incorruptible due to genetics, since aside from making his own Bloodtide nonsense a massive plot hole, it removes something I really liked from Ben Counter's Grey Knights books, the moments in the third book where Alaric legitimately feared he had fallen. If those books had been written with Ward's Codex as canon, we'd have lost one of my favourite aspects of the entire trilogy. Alaric and his fellow Grey Knights weren't infallible or invincible, hell, the very opening of the trilogy involves the loss of a Grand Master and (memory serving) an entire company to stop a daemonic incursion.

      In a way I feel like the Grey Knights as written by Ward have the same problem that caused Ward to change the Necrons into Sphess Tomb Kings: there's nothing that interesting about them. Characters like Draigo were defined solely by being able to rip daemon Primarchs a new one and not for any real personality or tactics. I've read your thoughts on the Farsight Enclaves supplement, for instance, and while that book's lore was abysmal and I still hate the retconning of the Ethereals, I remember one thing you praised was the interesting natures of each of the Eight. I could happily run the Eight as a group because each of them is a character in their own right. I just don't really feel that with the Grey Knight characters, particularly Draigo, but even the potentially interesting ones like Crowe don't have that much to them besides their gimmicks.

      I definitely agree with this list, though as grdaat mentioned, it feels like they're changing fundamental aspects of the 40k lore, in particular how the Warp works (hello nonsense about the Fire Hawks blowing up Nurgle's garden with one Tactical Squad!).

      Let's also hope that at some point we get a redesign of the Dreadknight, though I doubt it sadly.

    4. Oh I agree with you entirely on this matter, and thank you for reading my work for so long. I definitely need to say that more often to people. especially gradaat for all his comments.

      To answer your core points however, I definitely think that the Grey Knights need to have greater threats. Perhaps not be made less invincible (beyond removing the gene-seed problem you mentioned) but actually have daemons be a threat again. Throughout the entire codex there was no part where any daemon felt as if it actually stood a chance of beating them, and the Grey Knights never showed any thought or tactical inventiveness which made them earn their victories. By comparison not only did the Grey Knights novel feature a phyrric victory, with the groups you mentioned being killed off, but it had the daemon use their own drives as a gambit. It ensured its own return by counting upon their abilities, their determination and their push to find and prevent his return no matter the cost. In the end he was only banished once again thanks to the sacrifice of an Inquisitor and the inventive thinking of Alaric, realising just what her final, seemingly insane, message really was. More moments like that could have made some of their more insane victories somewhat justifiable because, well, they'd have actually earned them.

      As for your comment about the Eight, personally I think there's a very simple difference as to why they worked and the Grey Knights didn't, With the Eight, each one had their own history linking into the book's lore somehow and elements which translated beyond the tabletop. Many ideas and personality traits behind them were just that, and they not there purely to excuse some special rule or justify those stats. Even those which were only limited in their background still have interesting potential behind them or represented possibly good ideas.

      By comparison many of the Grey Knights' characters histories served only to excuse their stats and role on the tabletop. Thawn's background was a complete mystery, but unlike the good mysteries of the setting there was nothing to him. No established elements or good ideas to latch onto, just some big nebulous question which was used to excuse his continual resurrection. Draigo was the same, showing off his power and nothing more, with some vague attempt at a tragic background which contradicted itself repeatedly. Even Crowe had little beyond his duties to work with and the presence of the daemon sword was not pushed far enough to give him real character, even though it admittedly came close. The only one who really worked in my opinion was Mordrak because his gimmick was built upon personal pathos and seemed to naturally extend from it, giving him a reasonably interesting history justifying his abilities.

      Some have been fixed by black library (Thawn and Draigo) while the others still need work, but this is just my opinion obviously.

    5. With regard to Thawn, I have a suspicion that he was made to tie into the introduction of Perpetuals in the Horus Heresy books. I'd have to check the timing (I think it was Vulcan Lives which established Perpetuals existed, but I'd have to double-check), but it seems like something they might do as a nod.

      The problem with Crowe is that his entire gimmick is ridiculous outside of Ward's fluff - in the previous codex, the idea of a Grey Knight who runs around with a daemon sword, using its power or otherwise, would've been unthinkable. It's an interesting concept but it only works because Ward's Grey Knights are so hypocritical, see your point above about butchering the heretics before turning to the daemon weapon-wielding radical Inquisitor for orders. One of the reasons I'd like to see a return to Codex: Daemonhunters is that you could give the option to present a radical's forces - include certain wargear (Daemonhosts spring to mind) for an Inquisitor/Inquisitor Lord with the caveat that Grey Knight units can't be taken in the same army as said wargear. Though knowing Games Workshop and Characterhammer, we'd probably just see some radical Inquisitor Lord special character to prevent you from forging a narrative.

      Going back to your discussion of games, I'm frankly amazed that Ward wrote a codex so broken it can go toe-to-toe with Movie Marines. I knew the book was overpowered, but not -that- overpowered.

      Greater threats would definitely help with a lot of the problems. When I think about Ben Counter's work again, what always struck me was how big the opposition was. You had a system-wide network of cultists and enemy agents followed by duped Sisters of Battle and Guard in the first one, ending in that massive showdown, an entire Dark Mechanicus world in the second (I would love if more fluff used the Dark Mechanicus as they were used there, hell, a Dark Mechanicus codex letting us use the organic-mechanical hybrid monsters from that book would be awesome), and then it was just Alaric and captured slaves against an entire Daemon World in the third. The third instance really stands out to me too because Alaric couldn't win by just walking up to the opposition and cutting them in half, he had to manipulate the various champions against each other and cause a civil war to get the opportunity to escape (and he had to sacrifice the other slaves as well). While I wouldn't like to see this plot lifted ala the Soul Drinkers plot half of the writing team seems to fall back on now, ideas in the same vein to emphasise the Grey Knights winning as much through quick thinking and good fortune as martial strength wouldn't go amiss in the new Codex.

      There's a moment in one of the Counter books where Alaric reflects on how much is sacrificed just to make the Grey Knights possible, all the resources and effort just to allow that elite force to exist. Emphasising the sacrifices the Grey Knights make and what's lost with each battle would be a really good step, in my opinion. The loyal citizens who are mind-wiped or shipped off to be worked to death or just shot on the spot for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The soldiers who fight beside the Grey Knights just to die at the hands of daemons or suffer some fate after victory is achieved to keep the knowledge of daemons suppressed. Don't overemphasise it, of course, but a decent amount of reflection on that point could easily help to make them seem less like superheroes, and even add character to certain individuals.

    6. @Bellarius, a little late with this, but with that three-way battle I'm more surprised they lost against the Tau Empire than the Movie Marines honestly, especially in 6th edition, force weapons kind of crush the movie marines, even with the invulnerable save.

      I'll admit I could barely win any games against them in 5th edition (and the ones I had was a flat out gunline army with no dedicated melee which made the game fairly boring), and I don't mean to brag, but ever since 6th edition hit, I've pulled out fairly consistent wins against them using the Black Templars codex, the Grey Knights are still quite a bit more powerful in close combat against the majority of the Templars, but there are ways of getting around that, if only because the Black Templars (in their own codex) are insanely customizable, and here's how I went about that:

      A Marshal with Terminator Armour, Adamantine Mantle and a Power Fist almost always completely destroyed Kaldor Draigo (and only costs 165 to his 275), a Chaplain in a Sword Brethren Terminator Squad equipped with Lightning Claws and some with Hammers and Shields, would shred anything the Grey Knights could throw at me (they're another unit that can also take on literally everything in the game in close combat, even other terminators, the problem is getting there), and I didn't even need transports most of the time, these were examples of deathstars for when the Grey Knights got close to my gunline (since the Black Templars can also make a fantastic gunline lists in the game, and since I put enough into melee that ensured they would actually make it to melee range, we could both have a pretty good time), and to top it off, since I'm usually going last anyway thanks to a lot of them being Initiative 6, I see no problem choosing "Suffer Not the Unclean..." which gave me +1 Strength, and -1 Initiative.

      I'm also certain I can build lists for the Tau that would be very effective against the Grey Knights and nearly impossible to win against (especially since the Black Templar lists I run against them usually lose more often than not). But then again it's very hard for the Grey Knights to counter anything with a 2+ save, which is why I have them face off against terminators if possible (and I've seen battle reports with them being tabled against Dark Angels and Space Wolves for the same reason). That doesn't change the fact that they're an army that requires very little thought to play though, if they come up on Terminator dependent armies or even just the Tau gunline lists I've been running up against (where most of the Tau are hiding in fortifications) they have no counter to them at all, even Imperial Guard Mech lists will wreck them because that's the nature of the current codex, you'll either be unstoppable, or your opponent has heavy armour and you'll be useless.

    7. @Phantom Revenger, you raise some good points on the existence of the Grey Knights, and now that I think about it, you're right, the new codex could at least have some kind of regret or reflection for all of those things you mention, it might even be what's needed to make them into much more human characters, as opposed to just being the one note superhuman killing machines they are now, since almost every single Grey Knight character in the codex has one defining feature, and that's about it.

  2. Continuing on from that previous comment, this is going to be a general statement on 40K and why I'm hesitant on reintroducing any of the old lore (or even the tone) into the new books.

    The biggest thing that's gotten me about the new 40K, is just that last point, the Imperium isn't losing any more, they aren't losing in their war against the Tyranids (they're holding them back quite nicely or redirecting them to other races), they aren't losing against the Orks (they're almost entirely concerned with the Tyranids and even Armageddon is still somewhat operating with them) they aren't losing against the Chaos Space Marines (the 13th Black Crusade is very slowly progressing, if it hasn't come to a complete halt) they aren't losing in their fights against the Tau (who don't have the resources to fully take on the Imperium and they're occupied with the Tyranids too), and they aren't losing to the Eldar or Dark Eldar, the amount of Imperial lives the two have claimed is a small drop in a barrel for the Imperium, and they are easily replaced, and planets are fairly easily retaken. They aren't losing to the Necrons, but then I would debate that they aren't even at war with them to start with. If the Grey Knights go back to how they were, they are going to be incredibly out of place in this edition amongst all of the new Codices, almost all of which are far lighter in tone and casually optimistic, at worst the Imperium is doing badly in all of these conflicts, but they're still recruiting, and still holding off against all these other forces.

    They aren't the only thing that's changed either, the Chaos Gods have changed from malicious near omniscient beings who are omnipotent in their own realms to an evil cook, a sex addict, an angry jock and a clown who yells out "Exactly as predicted!" any time anything slightly evil happens.
    The Eldar, for all of their gloom and doom talk are not actually dying, their craftworlds have increased from roughly a dozen (if that) to several dozen (and that's probably an underestimate) and the population on each has increased a lot as well, the Dark Eldar are also doing great, no longer needing as many sacrifices as they used to which had previously cemented them as a dying species relying on others (namely humans) to keep their numbers up, since back then quite a few humans were actually accepted into the Dark Eldar society and were treated as other Dark Eldar (which isn't saying very much, and said humans were usually rotten to the core).
    The Necrons, need no explanation I think.
    The Tau went from being goody two shoes trying to help the galaxy and create a benevolent empire that was surely doomed to failure, to mustache twirling cartoon villains running an Orwellian regime and only pretending to be good.
    The Tyranids stayed mostly the same, they went from being a galactic plague that could be manipulated and occasionally corrupted by chaos (that's actually in the old Daemonhunters codex) to being an adapting galactic plague.
    Lastly, the Orks also only had minor changes, they went from being warlords who wanted a good fight, and occasionally they were also conquerors and enslavers, to just wanting a good fight, all they really did was remove the slavery portion.

    It's because of these changes that I'm torn between wanting 40K to go back the way it was, and just giving up to let this be its own thing, abandoning the current editions entirely which is looking like a much better idea each time a new rulebook comes out (and especially after the new Space Wolves codex), and it's why I'm hesitant to bring back anything from the old 40K into the new 40K, it no longer belongs there from what I can see.

    1. While I can’t agree that the setting has become light and optimistic (some codices have been going in the opposite direction like the Tempestus’ lore) I can definitely agree the sense of nihilism is now gone. There seems to be an element of Games Workshop desperately trying to play it safe with their lore, but all too often going completely the wrong way about it. As a result it's lost a lot of the bite it once had. There's an odd lack of variety in certain elements, and while the exact issue is hard to pin down so many books either seem to be pushing too far in the wrong way, crushing all variety, or not doing enough to really stand out in reflecting the grim tone of the setting.

      The only one there I would actually disagree with you on is the Dark Eldar, but that's mostly due to how well written their codex was. The idea of humans being accepted is a strangely odd one I felt, because of all the races it was the Dark Eldar who were exhibiting less xenophobia than many of the other races. There's a kind of bitter irony in that even counting the relentless slave trade. That;s just me though. Thanks again for taking the time to leave such lengthy comments, it's always great to read these.

    2. Oh, I didn't mean that they were light, just that they were comparatively light to what they used to be, same with the setting, when I say they're casually optimistic, I mean they went from "We are all going to be whittled away, and eventually die." to "We might pull out of this one just fine, some losses, but we'll recover and move on to the next fight." Which seems to be the tone of almost all of the new codices to me.

      I might have missed it but I thought the Dark Eldar no longer accepted humans as a part of their society, in the third edition book the most evil and twisted humans were treated as equals, which doesn't say much, they're as likely to die as other Dark Eldar, which are as likely to die as slaves.
      In the third edition, there were no walls or bars or chains to keep you in a Dark Eldar prison, you were free to leave at any time, and the only reason most people didn't leave was because they were so afraid of what the rest of the city might be, the ones treated as equals were ones who left their cells and immediately took to the kind of life the Dark Eldar lead.
      I can't really find any of that in the newer codex, at most it just says they occasionally employ alien mercenaries, but maybe I'm missing something.

      Rereading that codex did give me an idea of what a lot of codices really need though if they want to return to their roots a bit more, they need fear.

      That's the main reason I don't like the Tau Codex, they're the newest race to the galaxy, they've seen horrors that could have destroyed their entire empire, the Etherals and Commander Farsight have witnessed the impossible happening right in front of their eyes, yet they take to it like they take to all of these, as if they're just another obstacle, not something that could end their very existence in a few months/years.
      Even taking on the Imperium, the Tau realize that it's such a huge empire, that comparing their empire to it is like comparing an ant to a full grown man, yet they take it on with the attitude that it might get a little tricky, but they're going to win through sheer determination.
      You'd figure they'd be at least slightly scared when they see the Imperium perform Exterminatus on a planet, yet for some reason they're largely nonplussed by it.

      The Grey Knights could also use this in their own codex, not outright fear of what they're fighting, but fear for the future, and fear that they might lose, if they want to take it back to it's roots of course.

      You're welcome for the comments, and thanks for the articles, it's always nice to get a different perspective these kinds of things.

  3. I wanted to add something on the subject of the Black Library not necessarily related to Grey Knights, but on a trend in general.

    Codexes tend to feature their army curbstomping everything into the ground, especially when it's a Space Marine army. This is fair enough, but sometimes it's accomplished at the severe cost of other armies: see the Avatar's notorious reputation as 'that thing the writers kill when they want to establish a character is badass'.

    I picked up the Damocles Apocalypse Anthology a few days ago and when I was reading through it, something struck me about it, specifically how well it handled some of your major lore complaints. Both the Tau and Imperial factions are written in character, with Shadowsun's preference of Kauyon being a point that's stressed due to her associating Mont'ka with Farsight, and there's a great deal of focus on the Tau's ranged strategy and willingness to evacuate an unfavorable position for a better one. But at the same time, neither side is worfed heavily for the other, the Imperial forces (particularly Knights and the Space Marines) are shown to be formidable in their own right and the last story in the anthology is basically about Shadowsun and Kor'sarro Khan coming to respect each other as equal hunters and worthy opponents.

    Another thing was that the stories didn't just focus on the Tau. I remember a few years ago you did an article about the then-upcoming Tau codex, and you discussed that the codex should show more of the empire's alien auxiliaries. Well, one of the stories in the anthology has a gue'vessa auxiliary as one of its two viewpoint characters and both it and another feature humans who heavily use Tau tech (including a Tau-allied inquisitor in a battlesuit, which I found quite fun as a concept).

    There's also a focus on the other threats the Tau Empire poses to the Imperium besides the obvious technological edge. Both the aforementioned gue'vesa viewpoint story and another focus a lot on the humans who are brought into the Tau Empire, and how appealing the Greater Good can be compared to the Imperium's brutality.

    But you know the part I liked best? Back in your Farsight Enclaves review, you commented that the biggest problem with the lore is that it's presented as objective fact and thus the Ethereals are canonically mustache-twirling Orwellian villains who cover up Chaos more or less for the hell of it. While the Damocles anthology -does- acknowledge certain darker aspects to the Tau, it does so the way it was done before, through hints and biased perspectives. One of the best ways to sum this bit up is a bit from the first story where Shadowsun orders a bombardment of a hive city after she's placed her forces in the defenders' blind spots. You get the bombardment, explosions and such, but then it changes perspective to a Space Marine who notes that the Tau have probably just killed thousands of people. We get references to the 'Ethereals emit mind control pheromones' theory, the gue'vesa perspective character compares the Tau's obedience of Ethereals to fanaticism at one point, and overall the anthology doesn't really present one side as being more righteous than the other. That's an aspect I really liked about the stories.

    Basically what I liked about the anthology was that it didn't pick sides, showed both sides of the conflict as formidable (the first deployment of the Riptides shows how powerful they are and the confrontation between them and the Obsidian Knight is awesome), gave the leaders character beyond 'we lead and are awesome', and focused on aspects of the Tau which we don't see so much. We get to see a Tau city being built on an occupied world, the gue'vesa and how they're treated, how the Water Caste diplomats operate. It was quite fascinating stuff and I wish we could see more of it in the codexes.

    1. I had honestly heard many negative things about that book, but I must admit that makes it sound very interesting. I do have a group of Warzone books on my shelf for reviewing, so I will definitely make a point to cover this one once I get to this conflict. Thank you greatly for informing me of this book's content.

  4. Speaking of Codexes, I ended up getting the new Grey Knights Codex. I figured you'd want to hear how much the Codex aligned with your points,

    The Good:
    * No Plasma Siphon. It hasn't just been toned down, it's been removed entirely.

    * They seem to have realised that letting Grey Knights summon Daemons would be woefully out of character, so none of the stuff can take powers from Daemonology (well, they can, but only the Grey Knights-specific Daemonlogy in the book, Sanctic).

    * The notorious one-up Tactical Genius ability from last Codex isn't present.

    * The Khornate Knights incident got fixed, just mentioning the Knights banishing the Bloodthirster responsible with no mention of butchering Sisters of Battle.

    * The lore actually has a few pyrrhic victories for the Knights, there's an instance where nearly an entire Brotherhood is lost to a daemonic trap, another where a dozen squads and a Brother-Captain are lost in unclear circumstances, and a couple more bits like this.

    * Someone seems to have been listening to my point about emphasising sacrifice, though sadly not to a great extent, since one of the Relics of Titan is a special Terminator suit called the Cuirass of Sacrifice, with the lore mentioning it commemorates the warriors who fought beside the Grey Knights and had to be mind-wiped or killed afterwards.

    * A couple of the Relics of Titan feel oriented around supporting the army, in particular the Nemesis Banner and Domina Liber Daemonica.

    * Draigo's Titansword doesn't make him Strength 10 against Daemons anymore (instead he's Strength 7 versus everything) and nothing can go Strength 10 without combining a Nemesis Daemon Hammer with Hammerhand (except the Dreadknight).

    * Special characters were reduced to Draigo, Crowe and Stern.

    * As usual the artwork is gorgeous.

    The Bad:
    * Draigo is still here and his lore remains pretty much the same Mary Sue dreck from Ward.

    * This feels even more like a Grey Knight book than ever, literally every unit in the book is a Sphess Mahrine or one of their war machines. No more Inquisitorial stuff at all.

    * The 'immune to Chaos corruption due to genetics' nonsense is also still intact.

    * The Sanctic powers are pretty decent overall as far as I can tell, but the Primaris, while flavorful, is so specific in use I have to flag it. The problem with it is that it only hits units with the Daemon rule. So if you're fighting a non-Daemon army, either you have one target (Avatar in Eldar for instance) or it's a useless power.

    * They kept the 1000 Grey Knights from Ward.

    * I'm undecided on the Warlord traits. At the least none of them are particularly Characterhammer.

    I think a big problem with my commentary on this is that I'm still getting to grips with how 7th works, since I've yet to buy the rulebook, and I can't compare stats to the 5th edition Codex because I don't have it. So I can't tell if this is still 'walk forward and win the game' or if you actually have to think to win with them now.

    My sum-up is that this feels like a logical extension of Ward's book. There are no non-Grey Knights here anymore, no more Inquisitorial presence and Inquisitors only get mentioned a handful of times. Draigo's still here, the Codex-esque structure of the Brotherhoods is still here, and while they do put an emphasis on the Knights making sacrifices (blowing up refugee shuttles because they know the Changeling is on one and can't risk it escaping, for instance), they're still keeping the 'genetically immune to Chaos' line. They've fixed the most offensive problems from last Codex, specifically the Khornate Knights and the Plasma Siphon, but not much else is fixed lore-wise.

    It feels like they took shears to the most complained-about aspects of last Codex, but left most of Ward's stuff intact. At least they had the sense to ban the Knights from taking the Daemon-summoning powers.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, i had hoped to read this myself before responding but i've yet to have the chance. It does sound as if they have tried to placate the fans by trimming away at some of the more superfluous failings while doing nothing about some of the big ones which hold back the codex. Damn shame really.