Wednesday, 14 December 2016
Fenris: Wrath of Magnus Part 2 - The Units & Relics (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)
Welcome to part two, where we're looking into the tabletop crunch. For our look at the lore, you can find it here.
As you can imagine, there are no loyalist rules this time around. With the massive influx of plastic Chaos Space Marine miniatures which coincided with this book, everything here is devoted to Tzeentch. We have the Thousand Sons, with a mass of updated and buffed units along with a few big new ones, and a massive number of new daemon units to help augment their forces. It matches the title, allowing players to bring the literal wrath of Magnus to the tabletop and permits many long overlooked traitor forces to get a substantial power boost. Hell, they even have their own primarch now, the first one to show up outside of M31. Plus, let's be honest, with each of the Wolves' Great Companies having been fully detailed last time around, and both the other big chapters receiving their own attention elsewhere, this was the only real choice left.
We'll be tackling one and then the other here, first the sorcerers and their dust entombed juggernauts, then the daemons who embody the power of their god. Some are good, some are bad, and one manages to be overpowered in the right way for once. Guess which one we'll be starting with first.
The Thousand Sons
Magnus The Red
You might recall that we briefly noted how Magnus pimp-slapped five Dreadknights at once during the climax of the war. Well, having seen these stats, I can wholly believe it. There is not a single stat less than a six, his Attacks in close combat, while everything else is fixed at a seven or eight but backed with Leadership ten. Oh, and atop of this he has a 4++ save with the ability to re-roll ones. Even if you opt to use him like a cudgel, or even a substitute Angron, the chances are that he will be able to smash the living hell out of them; something which is helped substantially by his AP:2 Force weapon backed with Soul Blaze and Transmorgify (aka the Chaos Spawn stab).
It's an odd thing, as for all this strength and sheer power, he's not the sort of unit you'll typically want as a spearhead. Oh he can do that, but it's not where his greatest strength lies. Instead he is the sort you would want as an anchor, holding down the center of your army and ready to blunt any massed assaults, draw fire away from more fragile units and smash through the bigger stuff. All of which he can quite happily do without any real issues.
For starters, the Mastery Level four abilities he offers means you'll be dominating fights on the battlefield without any major issues, granting him the ability to cast Warp Charges on 2+ no matter the situation. In addition to this, thanks to a certain piece of wargear known as the Omniscient Eye, he can target any damn thing on the battlefield without any limitations. Not only does this mean you can pick out certain models well hidden behind cover, but if you want to rip apart a unit of Terminators hiding inside a Land Raider, you can quite happily do so long before they disembark. In fact, his only serious limitation in terms of firepower is the fact he's limited to the Tzeentch and Chaos Daemons: Change disciplines rather than some of the more exciting options.
Top all of this off with Flying Monstrous Creature, Fearless, Eternal Warrior, Deep Strike, Fleet, It Will Not Die, and Veterans of the Long War; and he more than makes up for the six-hundred-and-fifty points you need to field him. So, you might be wondering why i'm happy with this but bitching about Draigo. Firstly, Magnus is a daemon primarch, and greater skill and sheer power is to be expected. Given the threat they have been long established to pose in the lore, it would be a disappointment if they weren't able to cause all kinds of hell for an opposing army. Unlike Draigo's introduction, there are also more methods to counter and bring down Magnus here with some careful planning. For starters, as he lacks the Gargantuan rule, a lucky hit from a Strength D hit will kill him outright. So, he's very powerful, but not Mr "He can do it!" levels of invincible. Well, unless you're someone who decided to give him a 2++ rerollable save thanks to the Grimoire of Names. Please don't do that, it's just nasty.
Behind Magnus himself, Ahriman is one of the big heavy hitting psykers in the game, with a Mastery Level four and considered to be on par with Kharn, Abaddon, Typhus and Lucius. He's one of the few figures who exemplifies an aspect of Chaos, showing the sheer power and potential his faction's warriors can aspire to. He also costs as much as a Land Raider, which is unfortunately rarely a good sign when it comes to these kinds of characters. However, what helps make up for this substantially is that he can cover the areas Magnus himself falls short in.
Rather than being limited to one or two disciplines, Ahriman is capable of taking them all at once, picking and choosing the ones he likes the most. This is something which would make him invaluable on his own, but atop of this his Black Staff allows him to let loose three of the same Witchfire power per turn. So, want to perform a one man artillery barrage? He's your guy.
Ahriman here also has a few more earthly benefits, as he now has both a pistol which fires Inferno Bolts, and a 4+ invulnerable save to give him some survivability in the face of powerful attacks. Something you'll probably want given how often these characters soak up enemy firepower. He's arguably the best kind of character to have in these regards: Costly, potentially fragile and with a somewhat limited focus, but more than capable of making up his points by using him intelligently.
Like many of their kind, these Sorcerers are glass cannons. They're capable of dishing out serious harm and ripping through enemy forces so long as you don't leave them out in the open, and so long as the dice don't screw you over with too many Perils of the Warp tests. These guys come with a Mastery Level of two but that can be easily upgraded to three with few issues, and comes with a bolstered stats line of BS5, I5, and three wounds. They're basically mini versions of Ahriman in how they can now take some punishment and attention, but not too much.
The most noted, and quite destructive, new addition stems from their Lord of the Silver Tower rule, which can be used in a manner akin to a Chapter Master's orbital bombardment. It's a Heavy 1 Large Blast template weapon, but comes with the added bonus of S9 AP2 just in case you need to murder a few heavy troopers on the enemy side.
The Sorcerer can also be upgraded with a flying Disc for some extra speed, but unfortunately that's where the bonuses end. Much like the Warpsmith, you're forced to stick largely to the equipment they come with, bereft of any extra weapons or armour options. As such, they can be something of a one-trick pony a lot of the time, and without the option to upgrade to Terminator armour or a Bike, they're overly fragile for their high points cost.
Overall, these are a unit you will likely need to build an army around rather than having them added onto an existing list. That or, they'll be added to formations which more openly benefit them, or they'll be reserved for high points games. For the common or garden army, a generic Sorcerer with a Mark of Tzeentch will still do you fine.
Tzaangors are a bizzare choice to say the least, but most definitely a welcome one to this list. In many regards, this seems like a push back to including the old Beastmen who once served as Chaos' minions, and the more commonplace Fantasy mutants who gave 40,000 a more openly mythical vibe. Unfortunately, the results here are odd to say the least. For starters, they're intended to fill out the same sort of cannon fodder role as Cultists, bogging down enemy forces and bolstering the relatively low numbers of Traitor Legion troops. That's fine, but in doing so they seem to have lost a lot of what made the Cultist units so effective.
This unit costs slightly more than the average cult squad, lack any firearms short of pistols (and even that is an upgrade) and quite frankly has an unremarkable stats line. While they have decent leadership, all else here is really nothing to shout home about, and they lack even the upgrades for some nasty surprises like special weapons. In fact, the only benefit which makes them stand out at all is the Relic Hunters special rule, which seems more problematic than anything else. It permits the entire unit re-rolls against anyone carrying a unique artifact (read: wargear) as they want to steal it for themselves. This makes them only truly effective in directly fighting HQ choices or whatnot, but they lack the strength or numbers to really take advantage of their horde nature.
On a basic level, they seem to be caught in an odd place where they're slightly too expensive or ill equipped to work as a fodder force, but lack the benefits to work as frontline troops. It's quite a surprise that we would end up with such an oddly useless third wheel so soon after Codex: Genestealer Cults utterly nailed a very similar idea.
For a long time the Rubric Marines have been the definitive Thousand Sons troops, and with good reason. What they lack in melee they more than make up for with their ranged firepower, sheer durability and stubborn unwillingness to simply roll over and die. Plus, and this is just a personal opinion, they're probably the best looking unique Traitor Legion elites choice. Each to their own of course, but there's something about the overt uniformly mystical and Egyptian iconography which works so well with power armour.
Anyway, oddly enough not too much has really changed here. While the unit has seen a few general buffs and a couple of extra weapons, for the most part they stick to the same role and the same general approach to war. The most noted change is the load-outs you can equip these guys with, which has more of a general assault focus for murdering combat troops end mass at point blank range.
In other words, they can swap out their bolters of doom for flamers which hit at AP4 and have Soul Blaze. This is actually very useful, as it means you can quickly torch troops hidden in cover and kill anything dumb enough to fall short of charging the lumbering behemoths. Combine this with the S5 AP3 assault cannon, and they're more along the lines of what the upgraded Wraithguard should have been - Hard hitting and durable, but short ranged rather than Strength D insanity. No, I not going to let that go.
The unfortunate downside of this unit is the Sorcerer leading them, who unfortunately has suffered from a few ill effects. The fact they're limited to the updated Discipline of Tzeentch now means they're more at risk of abrupt failures or backfiring spells, meaning your all important leader can suddenly disappear in a puff of Warp dust. Not the sort of thing you'd want when his willpower is effectively the only thing keeping the squad moving forwards.
Overall, this is still a fairly solid unit, but one you'll want as a linchpin in a bigger force. With plenty of far more mobile fodder about them, they can serve the role of burning their way through occupied terrain and holding fortified positions. The only downside, more than anything else, is that they're slightly overpriced for their effectiveness, but not dramatically so. Overall, they're a reasonable unit but just not the most generally effective one.
Scarab Occult Terminators
Obviously the question of what had happened to the Thousand Sons' elite was something which needed to be answered. After all, ever since the Collected Visions series established the existence of elite vanguards of Terminators, even a personal bodyguard for Magnus, their absence from the main game was keenly felt. Well, now we have our answer. While not the squads of mini-Librarians clad in Tactical Dreadnought Armour some wanted, they fill out the uber-killy elite role you'd want even in an already expensive army.
As you might expect, these basically are Rubric Marines buffed to the Nth degree, with the same benefits and focus as their smaller kin. Fearless, with two wounds per unit and a 2+/4++, they can take a considerable amount of punishment while their AP3 bolters chew through enemy troops like not tomorrow. However, what's very notable is the fact that the old Slow and Purposeful rule is gone, giving them a surprising degree of maneuverability to help make up for the increased cost. Better yet, while the Aspiring Sorcerer himself still suffers from the problems of being limited to a somewhat problematic Discipline, he retains the benefits of his troops, including the two wounds.
Besides the bolters, the squad has access to some very odd but interesting variants of a standard Terminator squad's special weapons. So, this means they have a heavy flamer which hits at AP3 as well, a very short range cyclone missile launcher (or hellfyre missile launcher) which spams krak missiles and the same S5 AP3 assault cannon the Rubrics can bring into battle. The downside is that, while they're dangerous at range, they lack a punch in close combat. With no AP2 close combat weapons, they're limited to hacking their way through troops for the most part, and can be easily countered. As such, they're something of a good spearhead or hard counter to Tactical marines or similar troops, but can be easily countered. Combined with their two-hundred-and-fifty point basic cost, with forty points needed for each additional Terminator, it's a bit too expensive for something with so obvious a weakness.
Titled Chaos Artefacts of the Thousand Sons, the list here is somewhat refreshing as these choices go. While a few of the usual tropes and ides do show up, the rest do push to try and actually make this more in-line with the army's lore rather than being a simple cookie-cutter build. Better yet, the lore is also surprisingly solid from one to the next, with some quite inspired concepts both working around the corrupting influence of the Warp and the Sons' own sorcerous experiments.
Astral Grimoire - Despite the name, this is neither to do with projecting the mind of a single model nor enhancing their spellcasting capabilities. No, instead it's actually used to help buff other units within the army. In this particular case, when the bearer is within 12" of a friendly unit, he can direct this ability to them, and they instantly gain the Jump special rule. So, yes, anything friendly is suddenly capable of hurtling through the air 12" for that turn.
Besides the surprising twist of actually having an HQ choice buffing other units rather than being the single most important thing in the army, it's perfect for this. The Thousand Sons are always a slow moving force at the best of times, so anything to help catapult them forwards is going to be something of a surprise. Hell, give this to a flamer equipped unit of Rubric Marines and suddenly you have a leapfrogging unit of near-unkillable marines. Plus, you can switch this back and forth between units at will. Honestly, it's a fun and surprisingly useful relic.
Seer's Bane - This is a daemon weapon and one of the more actively killy items on this list, and hinges on a supposedly unique special rule. While it strikes at the user's Strength (so, four) with AP2, and Force and Daemon Weapon, the special rule Bane of Wisdom which starts to get a little confusing. While it works on the model's Strength as standard, the special rule says that it strikes with the same Strength as the model's Leadership value. Well, against everything besides vehicles anyway. This is then measured against the enemy model's Leadership rather than their Toughness, while using their normal Toughness to measure against Instant Death.
It's not the best thought out special rule ever put onto paper and it's definitely over-engineered. That said, given the wielder will typically have a Leadership 10 stat, you're going to be wounding enemy forces on a 4+ role if not higher most of the time. Combined with the Force special rule granting Instant Death, and you have a downright obscene weapon. I mean, this thing is horrendous. Give it to a single Exalted Sorcerer on a Disc of Tzeentch and you have an airborne buzzsaw to go through whole units in seconds. This is either the single most awesome thing to ever grace the game, or one of the most obscenely overdone ideas ever to be added to the rules. Normally I would personally argue the latter, but the sheer staggering number of Strength D melee weapons almost makes this look average in some regards.
Helm of the Third Eye - This is another one which is fantastically tailor made for this army, buffing Overwatch and granting it even to units limited by Slow and Purposeful. Allowing any attached unit to fire at BS2, it gives many Rubric squads a notable bonus against more melee happy forces.
This one is okay really, but nothing spectacular. It does help to give certain foes a nasty surprise, but it's nothing so massive it can reshape the entire game. It might be a nice bonus if you have a certain army list in mind, but it's hardly an essential addition to any force.
Staff of Arcane Compulsion - In comparison to the previous example, this is a vastly more effective counter-charge item with a few benefits to help even the odds. While the staff itself is melee focused, it confers both Strength +2 and AP 4, but comes with the special rules Concussive, Force and Repelling Sweep. That last one is a special one unique to this staff, which forces a -2 penalty to the charge-roll of any attacking forces.
Oddly enough, this is one of the very few times I would personally argue that a weapon might benefit from a somewhat stronger unique special rule. I would have argued that it should have been a -2 to hit in close combat on the charge, but this way does at least provide the opportunity to get a few more bolt rounds into an enemy squad. Personally speaking though, the real benefit is the fact it means you have a Sorcerer striking at Strength 6, but without the need for yet more Leadership tests.
Coruscator - Welcome to another template pistol, this time in the "small blast" variety which has Soul Blaze and strikes at Strength 4 AP3. At such a short range it's really not much of a threat really, but it's a nice bonus if you have a few points left to spare. Again, as close combat does tend to be a weakness for the Thousand Sons, having a single pistol blow up a few of the leading troops isn't a bad thing. It's more something which is nice to have, but is otherwise inoffensive on the whole. Though, speaking personally, I do wonder what combos we'll be seeing between this and the Astral Grimoire in two HQ lists.
Athenaean Scrolls - This is really the only ultra-psychic one on the list, and focuses more upon Deny the Witch rolls than anything else. It doesn't buff a Sorcerer up to Magnus' level or suddenly allow you to field a second Ahriman, but it does permit you to have some insurance when it comes to psychic heavy gameplay. In this particular case, if the wielder passes a Psychic Check that includes any doubles, then your opponent cannot screw with it via Deny the Witch rolls.
Overall, this is actually quite the nice bonus. One less hurdle to benefit the army's big focus is definitely welcome, especially as this doesn't make thing instantly easier for them. Sure, they have more chances to get off their big attacks, but it's just one less thing to worry about rather than hurling spells around without impunity. It is most definitely a few good thing it's limited to one item though, as a few would have caused some serious balance problems for the game.
Unlike the above examples, the daemons here are less of a large scale reworking of a force, but instead simply an attempt to rework a more singular force within a bigger army. We don't end up with mini-Changers of Ways or uber-Flamers, but the Horrors have undergone a few general upgrades. As with the previous examples, the core idea behind the force is more or less the same, but there have been tweaks and upgrades to expand upon the unit. Well, units.
Pink Horrors/Blue Horrors/Brimstone Horrors
The Horrors here are the first of three present for this unit, and the frontline fighters for this fodder force. You see, for those who have had the fortune not to bump into them, Horrors of Tzeentch are akin to very violent, very spiteful babushka dolls. You kill one and out pops a Blue Horror in its place, (previously) sometimes two of the things if you're exceptionally unlucky. These rules have also just made them one of the single best units in the entire game, in the worst way possible.
In the case of the Pink Horrors, in the previous edition these guys are fast moving and capable of lobbing spells en-mass; they can inflict serious damage upon any army which wasn't expecting to face a horde of demi-sorcerers. This has not changed all that much here, as they are still capable of this act, and generating a number of Warp Charges proportionate to their numbers. If you're left with a squad of twenty that's three of them, a squad of up to fifteen, that's two etc.
On paper, this makes them look like they can be a semi-fragile force of mini-sorcerers capable of throwing out their own spells. In reality, it makes things much, much worse. You see, given the relatively low points cost, a few full units of these guys can easily dominate the entire psychic phase, thrashing everything in sight. It doesn't matter that they die easily, nor even if they don''t get off too many shots for themselves, as they can serve as living batteries for tougher sorcerers (or, if you really want to go the full mile, even a Lord of Change). So, what should be a relatively balanced force becomes an easy way to hurl lightning bolts at your foes with impunity.
On their own, this would be enough to raise a few eyebrows and open the way for a few broken lists, but it would be nothing too bad. No, that unfortunately comes with the next option.
Now, Blue Horrors are in effect no different from their predecessors. You will still end up with a Strength 2 Toughness 2 minion upon a Pink Horror's death, and they will still be the weaker of those two daemonic variants. However, there's one big difference this time: Splitting. Whereas previously a Pink Horror could occasionally split up into two Blue Horrors in some of the much older rules, now you have a grantee for pulling this off. Worse still, these can split off into individual units separate from the original. So, kill some Pinks in shooting? You end up with a new unit. Kill a few more in the psychic phase or close combat? You end up with a bigger unit, or an entirely new one.
This just keeps going, turning into a daemonic pyramid scheme of enemy troops choices, until you end up with far more troops than you actually paid for. Sure, individually they're weaker, but together they're generating far more Warp Charges than the original Pinks did. Given that all of these guys are Psykers, Daemons of Tzeentch (thus benefitting from a 5++ save with the ability to re-roll ones) and the ability to Deep Strike, this becomes ridiculous. The rulebook officially then goes to plaid once you factor in the new Brimstone mini-daemons as well, and realize that a single ten-man unit of Pink Horrors can spawn a dozen units of the mini-mooks after a few too many wounds. Combined with the Invulnerable Save, it means that these guys can bog down Knights for an entire game with a few too many unlucky rolls.
Now, you might think that the Brimstone Horrors would be even weaker, and you'd be correct. They only have a single point of Toughness and their Strength is laughable. However, that's only in terms of basic stats and direct combat. Outside of that however, they're arguably one of the single best units in the entire bloody game. They keep all the special rules of their predecessors - including the Invulnerable saves - can still keep generating Warp Charges, and even come with two wounds. Anyone - even the casual players - are going to look at this, realize that they can take objectives, then go to ground in cover to gain a 3+ save (still re-rolling ones!) and effectively become immovable for the entire game.
I have to really wonder upon reading this: Is this actually down to negligence? Is this actually down to a lack of play-testing, or is there some Springtime for Hitler plan going on behind Games Workshop? The fact that, in the same book, we can have a somewhat flawed but ultimately pretty good series of rules for the Thousand Sons, only to have the daemons go completely off the deep end is just head-scratching. Is this some kind of ying-yang mandate to have something good followed by something even worse, or was it simply an attempt to go "Here, hold my beer!" and outdo Codex: Eldar Craftworlds?
If you've not gathered, yes, this stuff is pretty damn broken and in most test runs it took Titan grade weapons to remove these buggers from objectives before the game ended. This should not be standard practice for any troops choice!
Relics (or Locus, in this case)
Oh sweet murderous Khorne, what has happened here!?
Yes, that might be a little melodramatic, but it's the only effective way to truly reflect the horror of staring at some of these special rules. It seems that, in the wake of the nightmare creatures Horrors have become, the developers decided to double down and take things to the next level. Rather than balance, slight bonuses or even something to potentially offset the more obvious power-gaming elements of the units, we have the sort of thing which will only benefit spam-happy madmen fielding these bloody things.
Lesser Locus of Transmogrification - As enemy units kill Horrors, they gain automatic hits in return. For every pink horror killed there is a Strength 3 wound, Strength 2 for Blue Horrors and Strength 1 for the Brimstone sub-breed. Given how many of these things there are, it means you can find yourself being killed purely by the backlash of your own success on some of the higher dice rolls. Sure, they might (thankfully!) be weak, but there's going to be a hell of a lot of them.
Lesser Locus of Metamorphosis - The entire enemy unit has It Will Not Die, just to give them a bit more survivability. So, yes, you have to get through their sheer numbers, the mass Invulnerable saves, and the fact two replace every one killed. Keep in mind, this also counts the smaller, weaker, Brimstones as well.
Great Locus of Change - Each turn you can roll a D6, the value of which will replace that unit's Strength for this turn. Given the fact most mob units in this army are going to be Strength 1 and 2, this is insane, as you can end up with a hundred or so burning psychic midgets hitting on Strength 6 in close combat. Are you beginning to see why I said Titans were recommended to deal with these things?
Greater Locus of Trickery - This is an odd one for sure, and certainly strangely worded, but it serves to block off certain attack rolls. In effect, if you roll a four at the beginning of your turn, any fours rolled by the enemy immediately count as a one instead. This does, admittedly, not prevent any of their possible re-rolls on a one, meaning we can end up in this odd situation where each side is stuck in an infinite cycle if they keep getting the same results.
Exalted Locus of Conjuration - Each and every single last psychic power they cast gains an additional point of Strength, allowing them to hit that much harder en mass.
Exalted Locus of Creation - This is the big one. The nasty one. The one which has a "Break here in case of Codex: Eldar" written all over it, and tailor made for the man who wants to swamp the entire map with his models, killing all else before him in an unrelenting tide of technicolor Horrors. What does it do? It takes the Split rule, and multiplies it!
Each time a Pink Horror is killed, four Blue Horrors take its place. Each time one of those is killed, two Brimstone horrors take their place. You end up effectively swamping a table with a staggering number of daemons from just a small handful of creations, killing everything in sight and casting an unending series of psychic powers thanks to a vast warchest of Warp tokens.
If you've yet to do the maths, here's what it would look like with a full squad of Pink Horrors outfitted with this thing:
Pink Horrors - 20
Blue Horrors - 80
Brimstone Horrors - 160.
... At this point half the community gives up, or starts fielding nothing but Baneblades to try and pie-plate the enemy to death.
This is one of those many times where you have to wonder what in the hell went on at Games Workshop's offices. Comparing the Thousand Sons segment with the Daemons' half is akin to comparing night and day, with one flawed but entertaining and balanced, while the latter looks as if it were written whilst on a cocaine binge. Honestly, it's as if there were two completely different writers handling each section of the book, the first of who looked at the flaws of the past codices and decided to build along established themes. The second of who looked at Codex: Grey Knights and went "Hm, this is a little under-powered, but it has some good ideas!"
The sad thing is, I was ready to completely, wholeheartedly, recommend this based upon its rules here until seeing what had been done to the Horrors. Now though? You would do better just to grab a copy of Codex: Traitor Legions instead. Sure, it might lack some of the Formations, but by Tzeentch's luminescent balls it doesn't delve into this kind of arse-backwards dementia.
Still, we have one more part to cover yet. Join us here as we delve into the Formations and Psychic Powers.