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Lord of Skulls – Finished

I just finished my birthday present to myself – the mighty Khornedozer! Just in time too, as this coming weekend is the TSHFT Valentine’s Day Massacre tourney here in Seattle. I did it in the black and brass to match my Chaos Templar, with all the weapon options swappable. The head is also magnetized so it can pivot. After this it’s back to work on my Independent Characters 2014 Hobby Progress Challenge Tyranids.

Without further ado, the Lord of Skulls:

Lord of Skulls C

Lord of Skulls B

Lord of Skulls A

Lord of Skulls D

Lord of Skulls E

Lord of Skulls F

Lord of Skulls Other Bits

 

Lord of Skulls Alt Weapons

Of Bugs and Man…

With the recent release of the new edition of the Tyranid codex, there is a lot of to and fro about the quality of the army, how it stacks up against others, and what’s been addressed from the last edition. I’m of the camp that the codex is, overall, disappointing and weak. Disappointing as it did not address known issues, while nerfing things already considered subpar. Weak not just in the sense of tourney worthiness, but in also in being able to produce multiple lists built with different units that don’t leave one with the feeling that one is having fun despite the codex, not because of it.

I won’t echo much of the analysis I’ve seen elsewhere, but instead want to share a realization I had that underpins much of the issues people have. Which is Synapse and Instinctive Behavior are a net disadvantage, yet models are pointed as though it were neutral or even an advantage. In other words: if you were to strike every reference to the Synapse and Instinctive Behavior rules from the book, the result would be a stronger, more functional army list.

The reason for this is that Synapse and Instinctive Behavior are more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Models and units are actively worse off for having them, and the synergy of them across the army magnifies that. The only benefit that Synapse offers is Fearless: handy. But hardly unique or even unusual in 40K.

However, that Fearless is conditional on the proximity of specific models: Synapse Creatures, which are pointed based on having this bubble. Moreover, when a unit is not in Synapse, not only does it lose Fearless, it becomes much less functional. For Ld 6, there is only a 42% chance of passing the Instinctive Behavior test and acting normally. With the new Instinctive Behavior charts, 29% of the time the units options to act are going to be specifically curtailed, and the remaining 29% of the time it won’t be able to act at all. Further, in the last case, models subject to Lurk or Feed will actively work to remove themselves from the game.

This is a terrible mechanic on several levels. Effects that prevent you from playing with your toys are notorious for easily being unfun (hello, mind shackle scarabs and psychotrope grenades). Yet here we have an army that not only has that effect, targeted at itself, built right in, but even goes so far as potentially remove your own models. It is an effect so harsh that one simply can’t plan to use many units outside of Synapse coverage (and of those you can, several rank among the weaker options, such as Genestealers and Lictors). Which means you have to take Synapse for your army to function at all – Fearless is a minor bonus.

Being so dependent on Synapse creates multiple issues. First is list building: you have to include enough Synapse to not just provide coverage for your army, but to handle loses. Second, it creates harsh maneuver limits during play. Knowing where your Synapse is, and thus where it can go next turn, also tells your opponent where the rest of your army can go. It restricts the utility of faster units like Hormagaunts, Gargoyles, and Raveners, as the ability to move 12-18″ is of less import when doing so would leave the unit out of Synapse (note: these factors make the Flyrant especially valuable, as it is not only dangerous in and of itself, but it’s also very mobile Synapse). Finally, the Synapse nodes are glaring weak points in the army: eliminating a Synapse node not only removes the model(s) in question, but directly and significantly impacts the ability of the army as a whole to function. Units are left out of Synapse and subject to Instinctive Behavior are no longer reliable, and may actually be subject to falling back or inflicting wounds on themselves. And given that Synapse is generally expensive or fragile, maintaining coverage becomes rather difficult.

Thus, Synapse and Instinctive Behavior are not only generally unfun, they are an active disadvantage. The former is bad game design in general, and the latter compounds it as Tyranids pay points for the advantage of Synapse, but do not get a discount for the disadvantage of Instinctive Behavior. That is the key realization I had: a 5 point Hormagaunt not subject to Synapse and Instinctive Behavior is better than the 5 point Hormagaunt that is. Yes, that means they would have to worry about Morale tests – but in return they aren’t shackled to other models to remain functional, and don’t eat themselves if too far from those other models. Not only a fair trade, but the Hormagaunt comes out ahead.

In essence, I am saying 5 points may be reasonable for a Hormagaunt without Synapse and Instinctive Behavior, but is too expensive for one that is. This principle holds for all units subject to Instinctive Behavior, to various degrees. It’s less of an issue for Ld 10 units like Lictors, and especially solo Monstrous Creatures not subject to the “do nothing” results, but is a very serious consideration for Hormagaunts, Termagants, Gargoyles, and Raveners, among others.

Fixing this needs to account for two issues, that interrelate. First is the overcosting, which is easy: make things cheaper and/or better, so cost matches usefulness. Second is the inherently unfun nature of Synapse and Instinctive Behavior, and fixing that involves making it better, which helps accomplish the first goal.

Synapse and Instinctive Behavior is a fluffy and iconic element, but it needs to be more enticement and less (but not no) punishment. What if Synapse gave additional benefits, such as Feel No Pain 6+ or (and?) a special rule based on the unit’s Instinctive Behavior (e.g Rage for feeders, Stealth for hunters? And being outside of Synapse was a -1 to WS, BS, and I? This would provide very strong incentive to maintain Synapse, but not a “you just get to look at your models sitting there” if you don’t. There could also be more severe effects for having no Synapse at all in the board.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But that’s the fluff, deal with it!” This is a non-answer, as the game already compromises on fluff for better gameplay all over the place. After all, by the fluff, one Space Marine would punch his way through an Imperial Guard squad without breaking a sweat. In the game he gets dragged down in a turn or two while inflicting minimal casualties. The game should reflect the fluff, yes, as the setting is part of the draw, but it should never be used to justify bad game design (and mechanics that are unfun are, by definition bad). Fluff should add flavor to the game, as it is used to inspire and justify fun and interesting mechanics. The Battle Focus of the Eldar and Space Marine Chapter Tactics are both excellent examples of the fluff translating into good rules.

As for the Tyranids and adjusting the mechanics of Synapse and Instinctive Behavior, it doesn’t really involve changing the basic fluff. First, we all know that Imperial propaganda tends to over-exaggerate, so “kill a brain bug and all the small bugs just go to pieces” is likely an overstatement. Second, the Hive Mind clearly reaches to the battlefield, as it’s what the Synapse creatures are relaying. So proximity to Synapse focuses the control of the Hive Mind, allowing the other creatures to function more efficiently. Having some Synapse on the table, even when outside of Synapse range proper, still provides an attenuated control. It’s only complete removal of Synapse on the board, representing the presence of no nodes at all in the immediate area, which causes the full breakdown.

This still presents the overall fluff and narrative effect of how Synapse works, and preserves targeting Synapse nodes as an important and viable strategy, but makes the results less stark and immediately swingy. Instead, the effects are more graduated, and allows the Tyranid player to keep using their toys.

So I suggest taking the Tyranid Challenge: find an amiable opponent and try out the same Tyranid list a few times, some using Synapse and Instinctive Behavior, other times ignoring them. I think you will find the results interesting.

Chapter Tactics Counts-As

The newest edition of Codex: Space Marines dropped a couple of months ago, and the big new twist to how the army works was the reworking of Combat/Chapter Tactics. Instead of a default Combat Tactic rule that could be replaced by taking certain special characters from specific Chapters, Chapter Tactics is now chosen as part of list building. There is a Tactic for each of the First Founding Chapters that don’t have their own codex as well as for the Black Templars (who used to have their own codex).

Remember: Jump packs are Metal.

Remember: Jump packs are Metal.

By the codex, if you are playing a First Founding Chapter, or a Successor with a known First Founding progenitor, you are required to used the appropriate Chapter Tactic. However, if your Chapter is of an unknown heritage, including a custom Chapter, you are free to choose. This has lead to people being told, when asking for ideas on Chapters to do, to make a custom Chapter to be able to switch between Tactics freely. Personally, I find the idea of rules options being limited by how you painted your models to be questionable at best. This is especially true when it discourages people from picking Chapters for their fluff or appearance, and gives the person with Primer Marines an advantage compared to someone with a proudly painted army. There’s also the issue of Marine players who were collecting and painting long before this edition of the Codex came out and this was ever a concern.

Thus, I think people should feel free to chose Chapter Tactics freely, regardless of what their models are painted as. Since it is a list-building choice, it’s not any more of an issue of list-tailoring for an opponent than anything else. I’m not worried about it being confusing: if you can remember all seven Chapter Tactics, then being able to remember that your opponent is using a specific one after she told you is no problem. And if you can’t remember all seven, she’d be telling you anyways!

"By the will of the primerarch!"

“By the will of the primerarch!”

The biggest objection I’ve seen to this idea is that of fluff, to which I say two things: first, the Astartes are masters of all forms of warfare. Second, the wargame is pretty heavily abstracted from the fluff, especially in terms of what a Space Marine is capable of. Essentially, choosing a Tactic is choosing which parts of the fluff you want to emphasize. Further, you can also use it as springboard for specific fluff for your force. After all, we are talking ten thousand years of year across an entire galaxy. Why these Crimson Fists are fighting in a way more representative of the Salamander Tactics can be a fun and interesting question to explore.

So, all that said, here’s some ideas on making each Chapter Tactic generally applicable (with some renaming of the abilities granted):

Ultramarines: The Astartes are nothing if not Masters of War. This Tactic represents the tactical flexibility of the Space Marines, be it a Codex-adherent Chapter following the wisdom therein, or a more idiosyncratic Chapter and their unusual and surprising approaches to battle.

White Scars: Let’s face it, Bikes Are Metal, and this is the Tactic for people emphasizing that. It also can represent when Marines need to conduct Harassing Maneuvers.

Imperial Fists: I don’t have much clever here: this makes an army better at shooting, and Marines are always portrayed as pretty dang shooty.

Black Templars: The fluff is full of Space Marines engage in epic duels with their enemy, and this Tactic represents these Heroes of the Imperium. Pretty much any Chapter can be described as Crusaders, which is also good for using Crusader Squads with bolt pistols and chainswords for a force prepared for close quarters engagement.

Iron Hands: Let’s face it, Space Marines are Tough as Nails. And if you are taking Techmarines that are doing something other than manning Thunderfire Cannons, more power to you.

Salamanders: If you are looking to Purge and Cleanse, this is for you. Also, if you go hard fluff, where every piece of wargear is a sacred relic, where even a krak grenade has spent 500 years in a shrine being prayed over by Chapter serfs, then this represents the exhortation to Honor thy Wargear.

Raven Guard: This is the Forward Advance group, pushing deeper into enemy territory. Jump Packs Are Metal, too, if you love jump Marines.

The Excessionists: An Introduction

While my re-entry into miniature gaming and painting started with the Space Wolves, I’d long harbored a desire to do a vanilla Space Marine force. Sixth edition provided me the perfect opportunity, not only in the ally rules making a small side force much more doable, but also because the Seattle Battle Bunker was having a 1,000 point hobby challenge based around making an army with an ally detachment. It gave me the chance to get the Marines started, while adding a handful of Wolf models to fill out some holes.

EX Tactical Squad 1 4 There was one, issue, however: what Chapter? Or: what colors? I had been thinking of doing Ultramarines for a while, but I realized I wanted to give myself a bit of a challenge with this, so I decided for a split color scheme. That was the easy part! The hard one was coming up with the colors to use: ones I wanted to paint, and that looked good together. None of the established halved scheme Chapters were speaking to me. I hadn’t done green yet, and a metallic complement would be striking. Gold, maybe – wait! Copper, there’s a color that doesn’t get much love. And so the color was established.

EX Drop Pod 2

Then I needed some background. One of my favorite authors, sadly passed on, is Iain M. Banks. In one of his novels, he described the idea of the Outside Context Problem – and of anything the Imperium can toss at a problem, a bunch of Astartes ready to purge and cleanse would fit that bill. So I took the name of that novel – Excession – and the Excessionists were born.

There is more inspiration drawn from the OCP concept, however. The Excessionists specialize in new, unusual, unexpected, or just plain outlandish strategies. They are a Codex Chapter in their organization, but not in their doctrines. Astartes are, at their core, about asymmetrical warfare, and the Excessionists embrace that whole-heartedly.

EX Stormtalon 3You wouldn’t tell from talking to one, though. As a Successor of the Imperial Fists, the geneline of Dorn is strong in them. Even as he engages in a strategy that would make an Ultramarine blanch or perform aerial maneuvers that would make a Hawk Lord queasy, an Excessionist maintains as calm and stoic a demeanor as he would during pre-battle rites or while field-striping his boltgun.

Ironclad 3

With a homeworld located in the northern reaches of the Segmentum Obscurus, the Chapter finds itself often assisting in pushing back against Chaos incursions from the Eye of Terror, as well as being a staunch line of defense against the myriad xenos strains that haunt the further expanses of the galaxy. They often are seen in battle alongside Space Wolf Great Companies, with a camaraderie between the Chapters that seems unusual to outsiders. They also regularly have a dozen or more Battle-Brothers seconded to the Deathwatch – yet are also willing to work with the Eldar and other races against threats such as Chaos and the Necrons.

EX Captain 1The initial army was a 1,000 point force, with the Fifth Company Captain, a Tactical Squad, a Scout Squad, 5 TH/SS Terminators, and a Stormtalon, with a side of a Wolf Guard Battle Leader and five Grey Hunters. Since then, I’ve added a second Tactical Squad, an Ironclad Dreadnought (the Ancient Yan Banx), and a Drop Pod. With about 1,100 painted, I’m looking at expansions to take them to 1,500 as a stand alone force. I’m considering three Centurions and a Stormraven. Clip the Ironclad on, come screaming in, either dropping Devastator Centurions in along the way to shot something up, or pack Assault Centurions to set up the dump and charge the following turn.

On the Desk!

Got the bronze down for the gold.

Got the bronze down for the gold.

 

Image

On the Desk!

On the Desk!

8 Claw-Fist Wolf Guard Terminators (2 with chain fist), 2 Heavy Flamer-Claw Terminators

“This Is a Great Unit, It’s Just Over Costed.”

Oh, how many times I’ve heard that phrase uttered by people discussing the relative merits of units, be it in person, on forums, or on podcasts. Every time, it makes me wince inside a bit. This is because a unit’s point cost is an inseparable part of how good or bad it is. Without it, we can’t say if it’s worthwhile or not.

Take the favorite of 40K whipping boys, the Dark Eldar Mandrakes. At 15 points each, they are way too expensive for they do (and their ability to survive and get to the place to do what it is that they do). Yet if they were, say 5 points a pop, they would be an amazing disruption unit. While they aren’t any more effective on a per model basis, they are 3 times  more effective on a per point basis.

On the other end of the scale, we have the CSM Heldrake. At 170 points, they are the autotake for their Codex. Other armies pay the Sorcerer+Cultist tax (which is a useful investment) just to get one. Look at the top 16 at Adepticon 2013, where 15 of the armies were mixes of Necrons and CSM, with 1-3 Heldrakes each.

But that only happens because the Heldrake is only 170 points. “What do you mean only? That’s a lot of points for one model!” Well, yes – in the sense most models in the game cost a small fraction of what it does. But for a 170 points, it does a lot. The baleflamer just deletes any unit that doesn’t have 2+ armor or a good invul save – and it can throw that template across a huge chunk of board. With its Vector Strike, it has the rare ability to not only engage two targets, but does so at different times. As a flyer, it is fast. Further, not only is it an AV12 flyer, it has a 5+ invul and It Will Not Die, making it the toughest flyer in the game.

With all that, 170 points is a bargain. Which is why they have been so prevalent. At 200 points, they would still be strong, but multiples would be eating up a significant amount of the army’s point total. At about 215-230 they would be balanced – worth taking, as part of an overall strategy, but not “Take three and then whatever else.” At 300 points they would be providing shade for Mandrakes on the shelf.

In an ideal world, we could talk about the merits of a unit without considering its point cost, because every unit would be costed appropriately to the same standard. If something seemed strong or weak, it would simply be a lack of proper tactics for dealing with or using it. In the meantime, though, it’s Grey Hunters rule, Chaos Marines drool