Wednesday, 15 April 2015
Khorne Daemonkin: Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)
Welcome to part two and the lore, part one can be found here. We're starting out with addressing some undeserved hatred for once.
The thing about Codex: Khorne Daemonkin is that a surprising number have treated it with scorn when they have every reason not to. When the new codex was announced, the problem was that it was brought out without any big shiny models to accompany it or big new releases, and looking through the book's interior only shows re-listed models from the previous Codex: Chaos Space Marines. The big complaint seems to be that this is some new book which just doesn't stand out on its own, lacking the support of Codex: Harelquins or the like, but the thing is it's actually quite the opposite in some respects. Many of the recent codices have been mini-books, listing very small armies intended to be used primarily as allies, and often lacking the scale or content to truly stand out on their own. While it's true that they are in many respects more unique in this regard, Khorne Daemonkin is quite the opposite. As it carries over so much, it can afford to be fielded as a single army without risking relying upon a very small unit variety or having to buy a second army to fully bolster it. In fact, the way it's being presented is far more in line with an older Games Workshop approach.
One of the reasons the astartes have stood out for so long is because of their variety, with five or six codices covering the major chapters. At the same time though, when they were first fielded, while they were stand-alone forces, they shared many units. Save for their rules and special characters, the only thing which really differentiated them was their colour scheme. As such, while it is a shame that they do lack a few more unique choices, this should probably be viewed as a the first step towards doing the same with Chaos. Giving the major factions some unique lore, rules and points to better establish a single army as a greater power in the universe, and allow them more focus than before. With this we might see the choke-hold and spotlight-stealing nature of Codex: Space Marines start to break.
And yes, i'm aware i'm bringing this up about a book with daemonic astartes, but at least it's a step in the right direction. That and it ought to be pointed out that the supplements have been doing the exact same thing for years, with far poorer quality or scale as what's found in this rulebook.
The big defining point of Codex: Khorne Daemonkin is actually its internal points system, influencing the outcome of the battle and altering how the army works. This depends upon kills by both sides, and it ties heavily into how the army works. The more blood that flows, the more daemons pop into existence to crash the party. That your your units suddenly zoom about the battle on steroids. That said, those already running screaming for the hills thinking this will be a repeat of the broken Faith system in Codex: Sisters of Battle should be reassured that it's not nearly as bad as all that. The Blood Tithe system as it's called works as follows:
Every unit which you, or your enemy kills, or kills a warrior in a Challenge, is converted into a point on the Blood Tithe system. You can only store up to eight at a time, for obvious reasons, and spend them as you will. These effects range from brief boosts in power to summoning new daemons, the former usually lasting only a turn, but as a table it's surprisingly balanced.
The lowest end Tithe gives the army Adamantium Will for a single turn, the second offers Furious Charge and Rage, and the third Feel No Pain. Yeah, an entire army with Feel No Pain for a turn. That's going to hurt, but it's just on the fringe of being broken as it's a brief power boost rather than a permanent one, and the player needs to time it as much as he can. There's nothing here about it which really comes across as an "I Win" button, as you need to snowball the momentum of your attack and choose exactly what you're going to use and when. Even the top tier option, summoning a Bloodthirster of Unfettered Fury, is a risk thanks to it requiring a passed Leadership test and getting all those points to start with. Well, that and having a winged unit arrive via Deep Striking, so they're swooping onto the board. Something many will know has been the bane of certain armies for years now.
Also, yes, there's more than one Bloodthirster variant now. We'll get to that in a short while. What is related is one key detail which makes all Warp entities far more effective in this army: Daemons here lack their key weakness. As they're being sustained by the army they're with, these creatures lack the Daemonic instability effects they've normally been plagued with and instead have Fearless now. So, yeah, while you do need plenty of astartes to help with the army and keep it going, the daemons themselves are a far greater threat than previously seen in Chaos codices.
With all this said however, you can't hang back with your army or keep the mortal units to one side as everything (yes, everything) in this book has Mark of Khorne. While it certainly makes sense from a lore perspective, the chief problem here is that is weighs down each unit choice with a heavy points cost and on some it doesn't really benefit them all that much. It would make sense if it were discounted or limited in some way, but no it's here at full price and mandatory. The more cynical part of me personally wonders if this was added with knowledge of its flawed nature, purely to help balance out how daemons operate in this book.
The heavy points cost carries over to many units, with Berserkers still burdened by this and even Cultists seeming overpriced by comparison. You'll often find yourself sticking to the smaller elite heavy armies so often seen on the tabletop, as they can hit far harder for their price. In addition, many of the cheaper units seem to be purely there to help be sacrificed for Blood Tithe points, especially when it comes to the Cultists themselves. This can be admittedly thematic, especially when fleeing from battle, but it does leave the army alarmingly top heavy at times, all the more so when you start summoning Bloodletters.
This elitist nature of the army, despite the criminal lack of any special characters beyond Skulltaker, is only made all the more obvious when its only truly new units are Bloodthirster variants. Rather than just keeping the common or garden monster of Khorne, the codex instead offers a few meatier options and more killy variants to be brought into a battle. Truth be told though, there's not much of a major stats difference between them, Insensate Rage is primarily defined by having the hefty power fist of an axe in one hand, hitting at AP2 and Strength D despite being initiative one. Wrath of Khorne meanwhile is the one you'd want to kill everything on the tabletop, as it offers a Bloodflail (Strength 7 AP2 D3 attacks) or an AP2 specialist weapon, Heavy Flamer with Soulblaze, and the standard axe. Oh, also Hatred (characters) and Adamantium Will. Yeah, they might be highly priced, but the codex really has been written with the intent of players taking one of these to make the full use of it.
This really is the codex in a nutshell. If you want an army with very effective small numbers of elite units (especially the Terminators and Raptors) and see troops only as meat shields, this is the army for you. It's got some fun elements to it certainly but for the most part, and it's genuinely fun to use, yet it honestly seems that if it had been given a little longer to develop it could have been a vastly better idea than what we got here. It's a shame as there's honestly an effort to scale back on the padded elements here, with Formations scaled down to only a handful of examples and the actual scenarios are better written than previous examples. There's only a few here and they're mostly present to help showcase certain idea or fun points rather than focus on a single character or cram a story down the player's throat.
If there is one thing to complain about, seriously complain about, it's that the army only skirts the edge of being truly thematic. The bigger rules certainly reflect its nature in shedding blood for the blood god, but the closest the book gets in terms of individual rules is simply adding the Mark of Khorne onto things. Rather than really messing with the formula a little more and producing a few unique spins on units, most are just copied and pasted from previous books. Yet despite that, i'm personally more willing to accept it. Why? Two reasons. Unlike the supplements, this means that no one is requiring you to spend a massive chunk of cash on multiple rulebooks to cover a single army. You can just buy this one and not bother with Codex: Chaos Space Marines at all. In addition to this, the actual lore in the book is good enough to make up for these shortcomings on the tabletop. Even if the army doesn't utterly reflect its themes in terms of every rule, so long as there's enough well written backgrounds and details, some players will happily stomach that. Not every player, but certainly those there more for the atmosphere and story, and less the Plasma Syphons.