Monday, May 27, 2013

Venerable Dreadnought as a Space Marine HQ

During our most recent game night, we decided to allow deviations from the standard Force Organization Chart in exchange for certain tradeoffs. Jon (playing Orks) felt absolutely no need to do this, nor did Bryce (playing Tau). I ended up being the only one who modified his Force Organization, exchanging one unit of Troops for an Elite unit. In many of our games I've found myself maxed out on Elites but with plenty of room in all the other slots.

I've often felt that one of the greatest weaknesses of C:SM is how packed its Elites slot is. HQs are too expensive to take more than two, I can't ever see myself reaching my Troops limit, Fast Attack is a little tighter now that we have the Stormtalon, but it doesn't feel overloaded, and the Heavy Support slot is freed up by the fact that the Land Raider can be taken as a Dedicated Transport for Terminators.

It's the Elite slot where you start to have problems. Assault Terminators are practically an auto-take since they're your close combat specialists and they get you a Land Raider as a Designated Transport. Then you'll probably want to bring one of the three types of Dreadnought. And Sternguard are very appealing with their special ammunition, especially given the sudden increase in monstrous creatures (the leaked stats of the Wraithknight are downright scary). Then... oh, I've run out of room, haven't I? There are still Tactical Terminators and two other types of Dreadnoughts left (I don't think many of us think about taking a Techmarine or the Legion of the Damned).

Tactical Terminators aren't too great compared to their counterparts, although it would be nice to have a shooty squad to soften up targets before sending in the assault experts (and a second Land Raider as a Dedicated Transport wouldn't be too bad, either). What I really want, though, is the ability to take another Dreadnought. Several Marine codexes allow Force Organization Chart changes through HQ choices (e.g., the Dark Angels have two HQs that make Terminators troops), but all C:SM has is the ability to move Dreadnoughts to the Heavy Support slot if you take a Master of the Forge. I don't really want a relatively vulnerable Dreadnought to take the place of a Predator, Vindicator, or a (reasonably priced) Devastator Squad, nor do I necessarily want to take an HQ as specialized as a Master of the Forge.

It was while reading a Horus Heresy novel, Galaxy In Flames, that I came across the character of Ancient Rylanor, an Emperor's Children Dreadnought. Despite being interred in a Dreadnought's sarcophagus, Rylanor held a significant rank and had various responsibilities outside of combat. Similarly, the Dreadnought Agrippan acted in a leadership role alongside Chief Librarian Tigurius when Captain Sicarius was wounded on Damnos. While I already knew that Bjorn the Fell-Handed is an HQ choice for Space Wolves, these other instances show that Dreadnoughts in other Chapters/Legions can also hold positions of authority. What better way to follow the fluff while opening up the Elite slot than by creating a Dreadnought HQ choice?

Ideally, a Dreadnought HQ would be a Venerable Dreadnought with boosted stats and a matching points value. For some extra character, you could allow him to join a squad in exchange for some special rules. Personally, I would like a Venerable Dreadnought to give Slow and Purposeful to any squad it joins that doesn't already have the Relentless special rule. Specifically, I'd love to place a Dreadnought HQ in a Devastator Squad to allow them to move and shoot with their normal Ballistic Skill. I think it's reasonable to suppose that a squad joining a Dreadnought would have the limitations imposed by Slow and Purposeful given how difficult it would be to fight alongside such a large machine. At the same time, the Dreadnought's steady pace and targeting systems could be used to aide its fellows while on the move.

An HQ Venerable Dreadnought's stats might look like the following:

Unit WS BS S Front AV Side AV Rear AV HP I A Ld
Venerable Dreadnought (HQ) 5 5 6 13 12 10 3 4 3 10

Special Rules: Venerable, Independent Character (can be independently targeted, doesn't benefit from Look Out, Sir!), Slow and Purposeful (if it joins a non-Relentless squad), Shield Generator (5+ invulnerable save).

Some of the above stats and rules were inspired by those of Bjorn the Fell-Handed and Forge World's Contemptor Pattern Dreadnought.

Now we have to determine an appropriate points cost. The C:SM Venerable Dreadnought currently has a base cost of 165 points while Bjorn comes in at a mind-boggling 270 points. The Venerable's cost in 5th Edition was based mostly on the durability of the Venerable rule while Bjorn has a higher front armor value and a variety of special rules, including the Venerable rule and a 5+ invulnerable save. However, the introduction of hull points in 6th Edition has significantly decreased the value of the Venerable rule. This is reflected in the 6th Edition Dark Angels codex, which charges a mere 125 points for a Venerable Dreadnought. While I previously suggested changes that could justify the Venerable's cost in 6th Edition, I expect the upcoming edition of C:SM to follow the example of C:DA and drastically lower the cost. A 20 point premium for WS5, BS5, and the ability to re-roll on the damage table (especially if you take a hit from an AP1 weapon) seems pretty fair to me.

The Contemptor Dreadnought costs 175 points. Although it has a lower ballistic skill and less attacks than my proposed HQ Venerable, it also has a rear armor value of 11, S7, and Fleet. (These are all based on the experimental rules still found on Forge World's website.) Even with these benefits, the Contemptor seems overpriced given the relative vulnerability of walkers in 6th Edition.

However, I think 175 would probably be a good base cost for the HQ Venerable I laid out above.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Space Marines 6th Edition Codex Wishlist, Part III

Rumors are suggesting that the 6th Edition Space Marine Codex (C:SM) is due before the end of the year. While there are plenty of changes I'd like to see (and have discussed in Part I and Part II of my wishlist), the Space Marine Codex is admittedly pretty good and doesn't need much more than a few tweaks to bring it up to date. From what we've seen with the Dark Angels Codex, I think it's safe to say that there won't be too many significant changes other than some points adjustments, a few new rules, and a handful of new models. I suspect that the Dark Angels Codex (C:DA) is a good indicator of what to expect for certain units, which puts a damper on some of the items on my previous lists.

In Part III, I'll add be adding a few more things I'd love to see in the 6th Edition C:SM, some of which were inspired by the newer codices.

More Dakka!
C:DA has the Banner of Devastation that allows squads within 6 inches of the banner to fire their bolters as Salvo 2/4 weapons. Similarly, the new Tau codex created ways to allow Fire Warriors to fire more shots while also changing the rules for other weapons (e.g., burst cannons went from Assault 3 to Assault 4). The trend in 6th Edition codices is to make it easier for armies to bring more troops (by reducing their costs) and then giving them more firepower to shoot those troops down.

There are probably a few ways to increase Marines' firepower, although it's unlikely that the Astartes' venerable weapons would see the kind of changes that the Tau weapons did. It's a lot more likely that GW will maintain the weapons' stats while introducing upgrades or modifiers as they did with the Dark Angels' Banner of Devastation. One rumored change would make heavy bolters more appealing and increase their presence on the table...

Sternguard Heavy Bolters
Last year there was a rumor that heavy bolters might be revised and that several variations were in play testing. The rumor indicated that all heavy bolters might become Salvo 2/3 and that heavy bolters for certain elite units (e.g., Sternguard) would be upgradable to act as Assault 3 at 18" or Heavy 3 at 36". The other possibility was that normal heavy bolters would remain the same and that the Salvo 2/3 option would be the upgrade. While the rumored date of October 2012 fell through and the Dark Angels received no upgrade to their heavy bolters, I think it's still possible that Sternguard could be running around with mobile heavy bolters. This could explain why GW's Sternguard weapons pack includes a heavy bolter, which is the only heavy weapon in the kit.

Deathwatch Kill-teams, which were predecessors of the Sternguard, had a suspensor unit upgrade that made heavy bolters Assault 3 at 18". If the 1st Company Veterans do get such an upgrade, the implicit link between the Ordo Xenos' Deathwatch and the Sternguard would become even stronger. This is perfectly fine with me since I'm modelling two members of my in-progress Sternguard Squad with shoulder pads to show that they're Deathwatch Veterans. I've also included a heavy bolter in the squad in the event that this rumor is true.

Supporting Fire
Tau gained the Supporting Fire rule with their new codex. This rule allows friendly units within 6" of a charged unit to contribute to their Overwatch fire. I've been thinking that this idea could easily be applied to Space Marines in a fluffy way.

Among their various responsibilities, Vanilla Marine Tactical Squads are supposed to support other units; e.g., protecting Devastators or striking after an Assault Squad's initial charge. It would definitely fit their job description if Tactical Squads could provide Supporting Fire for charged units within 6". The fact that C:DA Tactical Squads don't have such an ability suggests that C:SM wouldn't get it either. However, Dark Angels put a lot of emphasis on their 1st and 2nd Companies, and even their other companies have entire squads of veterans. One could argue that Vanilla Marines depend on their Tactical Squads a lot more and entrust them with greater responsibilities; e.g., protecting other squads.

Alternatively (or additionally), it would make a lot of sense if a Combat Squad could provide Supporting Fire for its companion Combat Squad. In that case, I think we could start seeing 10 man Devastator Squads regularly split into Combat Squads with each squad supporting the other.

Considering that Codex-compliant Marines are supposed to fight as a cohesive force, it would only make sense that squads could support each other when one of their own is attacked.

Shooty Terminators
I've been using a five man squad of shooty Terminators from the Black Reach starter set almost since I started playing. On Bryce's advice, I converted one of them to carry an assault cannon, which is pretty much the only thing that makes the squad remotely worth its points.

There's several problems with shooty Terminators. First, a handful of storm bolters just isn't worth a whole lot, especially since the standard bolter isn't affected by movement under 6th Edition. Shooty Terminators try to be jacks of all trades; combining ranged attacks with strong close combat attacks but mastering neither. The fact that they have ranged weapons suggests that they should be put out in the open to take advantage of their guns but leaves them exposed to any number of AP2 weapons. Their 5+ invulnerable saves weren't much of an insurance policy when I played against three Obliterators firing plasma cannons during a recent game.

Compare the schizophrenia of the shooty Terminators to the single-mindedness of Assault Terminators. Assault Terminators are only geared for close combat; there's no temptation to let them roam outside of the safety of their Land Raider transport until they can assault. Each model can choose to take lightning claws to increase his number of attacks and to re-roll fails to wound or he can take the thunder hammer and storm shield combination. The latter is identical to the shooty Terminator's power fist in terms of number of attacks and strength, but the 3+ invulnerable save can be a lifesaver for both the wielder and his squadmates.

Second, the only close combat weapon in a shooty Terminator squad that doesn't strike at I1 is the Sergeant's power sword. Now that 6th Edition power weapons have AP values, the Sergeant has become an extremely mediocre model with a storm bolter and a Strength 4 weapon that does little against Terminator armor, artificer armor, etc. For the same cost, an Assault Terminator Sergeant has the same weapons options as his squad, all of which are better than the power sword/storm bolter combination.

Shooty Terminators could be improved in several ways. First, give the Sergeant a decent weapon like a relic blade. AP3 isn't so bad when it's Strength 6. Second, allow a five man shooty Terminator Squad to carry two heavy weapons, two heavy flamers, or a mix. Being able to replace two out of five storm bolters with more potent weapons could make Marine players more willing to take shooty Terminators over Assault Terminators.

Another possibility appeals to me even more; allow Codex-compliant Marines to emulate the Dark Angels and merge the two types of Terminator Squads. The idea of running a ten man Terminator Squad with three thunder hammer/storm shield models, five models with lightning claws, and two models with heavy weapons and power fists makes me giddy. Oh, and throw in a Terminator Chaplain for extra fun.

I want this squad

This last option would probably step on C:DA's toes a bit too much for GW's tastes, but a Vanilla Marine player can dream, can't he?
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