Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Black Crusade: Traitor's Hate Part 2 - The Formation and Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Campaign Book Review, 7th Edition)
This is going to be one of those interesting times where the approach to storytelling contrasts with that of the rules. While the story was continually hindered but the extremely specific focus upon Chaos to the point of excluding Imperial forces, here it works in its favour. Without having to balance out things between two sides, there's more space to give the Red Corsairs, Black Legion and Khorne Berzerkers some even focus. If they had tried to cram in each and every side all at once, chances are that we'd be stuck with just one or to Formations to cover each one. Well, that or they could spend time on rehashing some other rules from elsewhere.
New Units & Detachments
Yeah, out of nowhere we suddenly have the Renegade Knights in this - The traitorous Imperial Knights who aligned themselves with the forces of Chaos instead. On the one hand, sure it's good to know there's a few opportunities for Chaos players to adapt and use their rules outside of the Knight brawlin' box, but why is it here? Hell, the fleets of Chaos have far more presence here than the actual Knights themselves. If anything it'd be far more fitting to have a series of orbital bombardments or deployments from high altitude assaults, not another effort to shill the Knights.
Now, to give credit where credit is due, this isn't a complete rehash. While the stats and the Wargear are pretty much what you would expect, we do have a new detachment to work with. What is it? A single knight counting as a Lord of War, and two more optional Lords of War, all of who need to be Knights. What's so special about it? They gain Preferred Enemy Imperial Knights if you have at least three Knights in this formation, but due to Chaos' enmity for itself, they also have the same hatred for other Fallen Knights. Yeah, it's unremarkable and sadly quite bland as things go, passing up any and all opportunities for anything creative. Hell, there's more time spent on just what the Datasheets mean and what each segment stands for (one infamous bit being "Unit Name: This is the name of the Unit") makes its shortcomings stand out all the more here.
Honestly, even if they just wanted to stick with Preferred Enemy, the writers could have gone with something much more fun with just a couple of paragraphs. Perhaps given the a minor special rule which relates to a Long War of their own, or even perhaps just a more widespread series of rules for following each god. They wouldn't even need to do all that much, and could even use Preferred Enemy a couple of times with certain gods - Like Preferred Enemy: Wraithknights when aligned with Slaanesh. It's really just wasted potential, and honestly just seems to have been added to help pad out the pages as much as anything else.
Still, the Knights aren't the only one s who gain a new Detachment in this book. Alongside them the Black Legion gets one to represent their way of war, helping them to stay ahead and shoulders over their contemporaries. Well, supposedly anyway. While it might be focused upon the Black Crusade itself, the Black Legion's approach to conflict and its methods of mobbing together varied forces from other legions, there's nothing truly limiting it to the Black Legion themselves.
It's admittedly not too bad, especially in comparison to the previous example. There's the interesting dynamic of having 0-5 Command choices on offer, meaning you have every excuse to rock into a game with five Sorcerers, or even a mob of Daemon Princes if you want to go especially insane. What's more, alongside the ability to take three squads of Chosen as a single Core choice, there's an increased focus upon secondary detachments from other legions. Lost and the Damned allows you to take a single Dark Apostle and up to nine Chaos Cultist swarms as a nice meat shield option; while Maelstrom of Gore means you can bring Kharn and up to eight squads of Berzerkers into the fray. Neither is all that shabby really, and despite Khorne suffering in this edition, each is quite viable for some very hard hitting lists.
The special rules aren't all that bad either. Okay, they're not going to change the world overnight, but they do far more to help them stand out than anything the Knights were granted. For the first choice, there's Lord of Chaos which allows you to re-roll your Warlord Choice of rules, sticking to the tried and true rules everyone seems to get. Nothing great, but nothing bad either. The more entertaining option though is the Death to the False Emperor rule. This gives everyone (who can take it) Veterans of the Long War for free, and grants all units in the detachment Hatred when facing any army of the Imperium. As widespread as that rule is, there's still something to be said for giving it to everything from tanks to Cultists. This one is admittedly probably the thing people are going to look into the most when picking out this stuff, as this effectively means the army has Hatred against half the game. Pair them up with the right stuff, and everything from the Grey Knights to Imperial Knights are going to run into some serious trouble.
Still, the really fun one is Path to Glory. Basically, pick out a single model in your army with the Champion of Chaos rule at the start of each friendly turn. Then, roll on the Boon of Chaos tale, take that bonus, and give it to him for the rest of the game. If you ever wanted to give an enemy force a truly nasty surprise, here's the single best opportunity you have with Chaos. There's no limitations on this, so you can stack these up while a Champion is in combat and, with some careful timing, have him emerge as a true monster. It's easily the most balanced version of this sort of abrupt "ultra-buff" rule we've seen to date.
So, that's one good choice and one extremely bland one. Still, as the latter is a Decurion that means there's plenty of Formations to get through, so let's get started.
Chaos Warband - This is another trope which keeps being repeated time and time again. Really, with everything from Chaos Lords to Havocs on offer, you can put together anything you want. All you need is a single Chaos Lord, a single Unit of Chosen, Terminators or Possessed, two units of standard Space Marines, a unit of Raptors, Warp Talons, Chaos Bikers, and one unit of Havocs or a Hellbrute. From there you can built it up more or less however you want so long as it resembles the old Force Organisation Chart. Save for barring the usual special characters, there's no real limitations to this one.
So, what are the special rules, then? Favoured Scions permits any model rolling on the Chaos Boon table can do so twice, which stacks up with the Path to Glory rule rather nicely. Besides that, Objective Secured allows any unit within this formation to claim any and all objectives even when they're contested. Paired up with a few of the more murder-buffing special rules this could have been quite broken, but as it stands this one is challenging but not too over the top.
Maelstrom of Gore - This is the Kharn swarm we mentioned earlier, and upon closer inspection it has more than a few nice bonuses for any fan of the Blood God. Really, if you felt that Khorne Berzerkers were getting the short end of the stick this Edition, then welcome to the bonus which fixes damn near everything. The fact you can push together four to eight of these units means this is going to be a very hard hitting detachment so long as they don't run into the wrong end of a Baneblade, and fixes a lot of more irksome issues. You can a bonus +3" for both Fleet of Foot and Charge ranges, meaning you're going to be on the foe before they can take out all the Berzekers. What's more, the Red Rain - besides the hilarious image of forty or so traitor astartes performing a rain dance - is something you can wheel out once per game. This one is, admittedly, quite nasty. It permits every unit in the Formation currently in combat to all Pile In simultaneously, as if it were the close combat phase. While enemy units aren't allowed to strike back, the Berzekers can chop away for a full turn, and then do the exact same thing all over again during the Assault phase.
Thanks the Emperor this is something they can only use once, as anything more would probably break the game. Well, that or have the Tau Empire running for the hills in sheer terror.
Lost and the Damned - So, we've dealt with the Berzerker mob, now we have the heretical preacher and his flock. There's the option to take four to nine units of Cultists, no restrictions, and has a few useful special rules to match the ocean of bodies approach. The first one, fittingly titled a Tide of Traitors, gives the entire formation a massed Ongoing Reserve rule. The moment one Cultist swarm is wiped out, the player can roll a 4+ another identical one can sprint right onto the board before their bodies even hit the floor. This is practically encourages you to get these guys killed, as the next group emerges with Outflank, meaning there's a fodder mob who can attack an enemy army from any angle. Okay, you're still giving the opposing force victory points, but these guys are intended to die anyway, so it's better them than your precious Chosen. Oh, and the Dark Apostle's Zealot special rule has a 6" range as well, giving them a bit more effectiveness in battle, but it's nothing to write home about.
Hellforged Warpack - ... Is there a quota for one amusing pun per book for Chaos formations? Really, between this, the Tallyband and quite a few others, someone here is clearly having some fun throwing some of this stuff together.
Anyway, you can probably guess what this one is: The mechanic and war machines list, the same one we've seen so many times over the past few years. Really, there's at least one of these each book as well. In this case it's a single Warpsmith, and between three to five Hellbrutes, Maulerfiends, Forgefiends or Defilers. This said though, there is some effort to actually offer up something a little different from usual when it comes to special rules. Master of the Mechanical Warpcraft which allows every daemon engine to use their Daemonforge special rule twice so long as the Warpsmith is still standing. Oh, and Warpack Alpha means you can single out one model as the "alpha" of this bunch, so it gains a 4+ invulnerable save, and gives the group Rage if it dies.
Overall, it's nice to have but certainly nothing you should go out of your way to get. At best it's really just a nice general bonus for any army trying to retain as many vehicles as they can.
Heldrake Terror Pack - Ever wanted an attack squadron of flying demonic metal dragons? Well, now's your chance. This one squashes together between two to four Heldrakes into a single unit and sets them loose, ready to annihilate anything them run into. There's no real restrictions here, but you do get a couple of somewhat decent special rules. Merciless Pursuit grants Heldrakes from this formation the ability to inflict more casualties upon an already damaged unit. If your target is Pinned, Falling Back, or has Gone to Ground, then you can inflict a grand total of D6 Strength 7 AP2 hits instead. This is pretty damn nasty for sure, but given how specific it is, there's at least a focus upon matching them up with other units from the army; with some forcing them to flee and then getting the Heldrake to harass/mop them up. Rising Terror on the other hands is a somewhat useful one, but nothing to write home about, just limiting the Leadership of any enemy unit they're nearby. For every Heldrake within 12" of them, you subtract a point from their Leadership value, which is useful and can be paired up with Merciless Pursuit to help harass certain foes.
Overall, as formations go, this isn't a bad one. It's probably best used for blunting certain charges and hurting long range units like Imperial Guard Heavy Weapons teams or Dark Reapers, but there's some versatility to it.
Cult of Destruction - Welcome to the combo-pack from hell. If most of the Formations have seemed relatively balanced or reasonably tame thus far, the Cult of Destruction is going to be the one which makes you tilt your head at this book. In effect, you're paring up one two three Warpsmiths with two to five units of Obliterators or Mutilators. An odd mix of things of course, but there's a good reason they've been paired up - one lot buffs, the other one kills. Titled Empyrionic Guidance Rituals, you have one Warpsmith target a unit of Obliter/Multil/ators within 8" and start boosting them. So, you can suddenly have Obliterators firing twice per turn, attacking twice in melee or acting with far more ferocity. While you can't pile on the same ritual repeatedly, they do stack on atop of one another, meaning they're likely to quickly make up their points within the first few turns of a game. Well, unless you get shot first of course, there's always a good chance of that.
Fist of the Gods - As if one Warpsmith/vehicle mob wasn't enough, now we have another. Sadly it's not nearly as original as its predecessor. Adding a Warpsmith to a group of three to five Land Raiders, Predators or Vindicators, you grant them a few special rules we've seen so many times before. Dark Wards grants a 6+ invulnerable save via the Warpsmith, so long as he's within "12 and Unholy Blessings adds +1 to repair rolls. Nothing new, nothing intelligent, nothing really fun, it's just something we've seen so many damn times now that's becoming a bad joke in all honesty. Well, that and it's proving that a wargaming retaining genetically enhanced knights templar, daemon worshipping super soldiers and ancient space elves can suffer from some surprising creative bankruptcy.
Raptor Talon - Three guesses to what this unit consists of, and no, the first two don't count. Consisting of a single Chaos Lord (outfitted with a free jump pack) and three to five units of Warp Talons and Raptors, it's the fast attack mob. While lacking the inherent hard hitting nature of the Maelstrom or the sheer number of melee attacks, there's something to be said for its speed and a few of the line-breaking special rules. The first among these is Cacophonic War Cries, which immediately reduces the Leadership of any unit they attack by two points, so long as at least two units attack it. Nothing major, but combined with the inherent power of their assault, it's enough to cause most foes to break and run within a turn or two. The second of the two is Predatory Warriors, which bypasses a very old rule which has frustrated so many players in the past. You can now attack after Deep Striking onto the board. Oh, it's a disordered charge, and lacks the ability to properly pile in, but it's still a screaming mass of blades rushing into the nearest unit.
This is the sort of thing we're probably going to be seeing wheeled out a great deal in the months to come, both to annihilate the rearguard of certain armies and cripple gunlines. Nasty as the Tau Empire is at the moment, mob this formation together with the Maelstrom and most Fire Warriors are going to end up dead very quickly. That and, well, the Imperial Guard might want to take a few less warm bodies and a lot more tanks unless they want to lose half their force in a couple of turns. Either way, we're going to see many swarms dying quite quickly from here on.
Terminator Annihilation Force - Welcome to one of the most badly thought out options on this list. Now, the idea here is clear - Offer the Black Legion their own version of the already overly mimicked Deathwing force, focusing upon getting bands of terminators into the battle ASAP. While the difference this time is that you can offer up a Sorcerer to give it a little more flavour, little is done with the core rules themselves or the units in question. The special rules, meanwhile, fail to properly take advantage of what's on offer here. For starters, Targeted for Annihilation is half useless. How so? Because its main benefit is giving the entire Formation hatred towards a single nominated enemy unit. While you could argue that this is beneficial if you're blending them in with another force, the sheer number of points you need to drop on this group means you'd be hard pressed to blend them in with someone else.
However, the second half of this rule is surprisingly useful, taking the basic idea of the Khornate rain dance and replacing the blood with bullets. In this case, the Terminators can Deep Strike in, immediately fire, and then fire again during their own shooting phase as standard. Okay, the first time this sort of thing showed up was fine, but we've now had the same sort of concept show up three times in the same book, with the Maelstrom mob, the Raptor gang an now this lot. Not to hammer in the point about Games Workshop repeating its ideas too often, but someone must have desperately wanted to use this sort of thing for quite some time. It's useful, there's no denying that, but this is not the sort of thing you want to become a widespread trend among units by any means. Oh, and while there is a special rule, it's just the option to have the Formation target something else once their original foe has been turned into a bullet ridden mess.
Favoured of Chaos - Well, we knew this one was coming. Really, the Possessed angle the Black Legion are so well known for is quite often forgotten, but there had to be a tip of the hat to it sooner or later, and that is now. In this case, what you get is a single Daemon Prince and up to five units of Possessed, the elite forces the Black Legion were known for prioritizing upon. It's a nice combination on its own, with a surprising level of durability combined with a few random factors and the ability to make mincemeat out of marines; yet there is a few special rule which also helps buff them up a bit further. Known as Baneful Nexus of Warp Energies - because short names are for wimps - the special rule allows for any unit of Possessed within range of the Daemon Prince to gain all three mutations at once.
This is going to be another of the small group we're probably going to be seeing a lot of in the next few years, as this thing is just horrendous. Possessed might be expensive but they can still rip and tear like there's no tomorrow even without a few extra bonuses. Now, with this added in as well? Short of annihilating them at long range or throwing bands of fast moving, hard hitting forces like the Sanguinary Guard at them en mass, they're not going to go down easily. Normally this would provoke a rant against its broken nature, between their sheer durability impossibility to hit, the ability to move through terrain, and rending; yet after a bunch of Craftworld Eldar infantry gained Strength D weapons this stuff almost seems tame. Well, okay, not tame but certainly overshadowed by the much more vicious options.
Trinity of Blood - Or as I like to call it - The blood train. For the odd individual who for some reason has three Lords of Skulls waiting in a case somewhere, here's the formation for you, offering players the opportunity to throw three at once at a foe. Given that this is obviously intended to be the second half of the big rules related selling point behind the traitor Knights, a lot of work has been put into upping their damage output. Besides their already hefty capabilities, and all gaining Rampage as a basic special rule, we also have two unique ones to help them stand out. The first of these is Apocalyptic Storm, which is downright unfair. No, really, it buffs their combat abilities by having each model fighting them hit by a Strength 6 AP4 hit. This is the sort of thing which murders Terminators, and they're getting it as a secondary buff. Worse still, it also ignores both cover and Soul Blaze, so most things bumping into the Lords of Skulls are dead men walking.
By comparison, Crashing Volleys is bad, but it's certainly a hell of lot more same than the bloody tornado of insta-kills. In effect, should more than one unit from this Formation target the same enemy squad, each of their weapons counts as having Twin-Linked. This doesn't seem to just be limited to ranged weapons either, so that lovely Strength D axe they tote about can now re-roll its hits. This means that the best way to take these things out is going to be at range, otherwise you're just going to be feeding their engines.
Overall, this is an okay one. The problem is that there's very little middle-ground between the blandly forgettable and the downright insane. Sometime it honestly seems as if Games Workshop doesn't know what to do when it's not shilling something sheer, raw power or sticking almost purely to what they know best, so we end up with odd contrasts like this. It's not bad enough to start raging about - although the announcement of Curse of the Wulfen II - Chaos Boogaloo looks set to do that - but neither is it especially great when it comes to these groups. A damn shame as well given the variety of sub-factions the Black Legion has on offer.
Even in the face of failure everywhere else, the psychic powers these books offer up tends to be a highlight. It's that odd moment where there are glimmers of fun which arise and where the game can really cut loose without taking things too far. Even the worst books we've covered tend to do something entertaining here, and this was set to be the big savior of the rules section. Was, I stress, until a few of the names start to look rather familiar: Sinistrum Discipline, Heretech Discipline, Ectomancy Discipline, and the Geomortis Discipline.
Yeah, oddly specific aren't they, and if you're having that slight sense of déjà vu there's a good reason for it. Here's the full list of disciplines released for the previous Codex: Angels of Death, and just try to say you don't see a few similarities between them - Fulmination, Librarius, Geokinesis, and Technomancy. Yes, they might be in the same order, but they're a series of psychic abilities based upon a very similar premise, both in terms of power and focus. One could argue that this is some effort to push that old moronic idea that "sorcery and psychic powers are exactly the same, thus Librarians are fine summoning daemons!" However, that might just be a bit too subtle for this book. I mean, just compare these two rules for a second from the Geomortis and Geokenesis disciplines -
Worldwrithe - Cost: WC3, Range: 24", Effect: Picks up and moves a terrain piece from one end of the board and deposits it anywhere else.
Shifting Worldscape - Cost: WC3, Range 24", Effect: picks up and moves a terrain piece from one end of the board and deposits it anywhere else.
Okay, let's be fair and just do this again, picking another two at random, this time from the Ectomancy and Fulimation disciplines.
Coruscating Blaze - Cost: WC2, Range: Close Combat, Effect: Offers the user Witchfire at Strength 5 AP4 with D6 hits. For every four rolled, an enemy unit within 6" of the target suffers the same attack.
Lightning Arc - Cost: WC2, Range: Close Combat, Effect: Offers the user Witchfire at Strength 5 AP4 with D6 hits. For every four rolled, an enemy unit within 6" of the target suffers the same attack.
Yeah, this is the wargaming equivalent of an artist tracing prior panels because he can't be arsed to produce proper new panels. Some will argue that the new descriptions or the differing presentation somehow earns this one a pass, but personally, no, they could have done so much more with this. Chaos is meant to be unbound, it's meant to be this untamed, barely controlled thing which is horrifying for mortals to behold and beautiful for those claimed by madness. Just recycling stuff from the loyalist end of the galaxy is not only lazy, but downright insulting given this book's price.
Nothing works here. There are gems to be found in places in this book and it's certainly not wholly bad with some good story moments and good rules moments alike, but this is just downright sloppy in many places. It's not only incoherent, but lacks direction, a lot of the book's chief selling points have been taken from elsewhere and in many places it fails to represent, if not outright ignores, the very factions it's supposed to help glorify. If this one does stand out, it will likely be thanks to pairing it up with other expansions, likely Codex: Crimson Slaughter. However, a book shouldn't be required to match up with a second expansion and then work off of a main codex. There should be enough here either just to pair itself up with the one book or stand out on its own, not turn into some convoluted dogpile of rules.
Were this some fan creation, something pieced together by any other studio worse off than Games Workshop, it would be the end of such a development house. They would lose all faith in the brand, but thanks to its sheer size, Games Workshop can afford to take the blow, at least for the moment. If this starts to become a trend though, people are not going to stand for this. You can only poke the bear so much before they start to bite back, and even after it's way too late, the backlash can find a way to hurt those involved. Still, we have one final part to discuss something positive about Traitor's Hate, which you can find here.