Monday, March 30, 2015

Adeptus Mechanicus and Skitarii

My first exposure to the Warhammer 40,000 universe outside of a codex or rulebook was through Dan Abnett's excellent novel Titanicus. At that time, I barely knew what a Titan was and all I knew about the Adeptus Mechanicus was that they worshiped some sort of Machine God and trained the Techmarines that maintained the Astartes' vehicles. I was completely new to the idea of the Skitarii, the Noosphere, or the strained relationship between Mars and the Imperium. By the time I finished Titanicus, I was very interested in the Mechanicus and was disappointed that they weren't a playable faction in the game.

As soon as the pictures leaked, I became tremendously excited for the new Skitarii and the fact that the Adeptus Mechanicus would finally take an active role in 40K. The most recent White Dwarf provides the rules for the recently released models and gives hints of more to come. Presumably the current release and those that are expected over the next couple weeks are meant to act as a companion force for other armies of the Imperium. I can only hope that this release does well and that GW expands the Mechanicus into as large and diverse a force as other 40K mainstays.

The Models
They're amazing. I love the robes, the masks, the cybernetic enhancements, and the archaic weapons. The arc rifle is as steampunk as you can get and looks like it was lifted from an H.G. Wells story. The other weapons look even older; the "radium jezzail" that some Sydonian Dragoons carry is inspired by the long barrelled, muzzle-loading, and occasionally rifled firearm commonly used in the Middle East up until the 1800s. "Arquebus" and "caliver" were terms that originally referred to muzzle-loading smoothbore guns used between the 15th and 17th centuries. The fact that a musket rest is provided for the transuranic arquebus shows how much attention went into these models. Apparently, "arquebus" could be a fairly broad term, with some referring to lighter versions as "calivers" while larger ones that required a rest were called "muskets".

I'm a big fan of design consistency, which is another reason why I find the Skitarii so appealing. The recent White Dwarf says that the Skitarii models were deliberately designed to fit in with the design philosophy of other Imperium units; the models share both artistic elements and technical details. For example, the fleur-de-lis emblem on the armored plates of the Imperial Knights, on the Tempestus Scions' armor, and on the Scion/Guard Taurox, also appears on the Ironstrider walkers. And a close comparison shows that, under their armor plating, the legs of the Imperial Knights and the Ironstriders share similar design features. Even the Knight's "faces" resembles a Skitarii mask.

The Rules
I have to admit that, with the exception of their archaeotech weapons, Titanicus made me expect the Skitarii to be something more akin to cyborg Space Marines. Once I accepted that their stat-lines more closely represent Astra Militarum Veterans in carapace armor, I looked more closely at their special rules and wargear.

Honestly, I like the models so much that I would play them even if their rules were mediocre. However, it looks like a lot of thought went into making the Skitarii a useful addition to any army since their rules are apparently meant to allow for some mean combinations.

For example, Vanguard don't seem too impressive as an assault unit by themselves. But when a unit is locked in combat with them, their Rad-saturation rule drops the enemy unit's Toughness by 1. Once the enemy is weakened by Rad-saturation, you can hit them with another unit (e.g., a Space Marine Assault Squad) to finish them off quickly.

Phosphor weapons also have some potential. These S5 AP4 weapons have the Luminagen rule. If a unit suffers an unsaved wound or a glancing or penetrating hit from a phosphor weapon, its cover saves are worsened by 1 until the end of the phase. Combo this with an Omnispex (cover saves taken against attacks made by a unit with an omnispex have a -1 modifier) for some real fun.

My only concern is that we still don't know what "Doctrina Imperatives" are. All the units introduced this week, both infantry and vehicles, include it as a special rule. The only hint we're given is that "Data-tether" wargear adds 1 to the Leadership of a unit affected by a Doctrina Imperative until the start of their next turn. The fact that the special rule is plural (i.e., "Doctrina Imperatives") indicates that there are several Imperatives and the fact that a Data-tether enhance a unit's Leadership suggests that whatever the Imperatives do, they are based on a Leadership test. Some have guessed that this may be similar to Tyranids' Instinctive Behavior and that a unit will attempt to execute a "pre-programmed" task unless they pass a Doctrina Imperative test. Although I hope that this isn't the case and that Doctrina Imperatives are more of a benefit than a liability, it wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me if they do resemble Instinctive Behavior.

Skitarii and Imperial Knights
Just over a year ago, GW released the Imperial Knights. Although I was attracted to the idea of depicting a Mechanicus-aligned house, particularly the Mars-based House Taranis (whose paint scheme I was particularly fond of), I had thought that my Knights were going to go into combat alongside the Ultramarines. I decided against Taranis because:
While the story of House Taranis is interesting, it's obvious that their true loyalties lie with the Adeptus Mechanicus. This would be fine if I were playing Iron Hands or the Imperial Guard, but I play Ultramarines; a Chapter whose captains bear titles like "Knight Champion of Macragge" and "Regent of Ultramar". I want to model a knightly house that will remember a favor and repay a debt millennia after the fact, not one that will ally with the Ultramarines because the Mechanicus' and the Astartes' interests are generally aligned.
Needless to say, my opinion has changed significantly now that we can finally pair up Imperial Knights with an Adeptus Mechanicus army. House Taranis' fluff now makes it the ideal Knightly House for allying with Skitarii. From The Imperial Knight Companion:
The Ritual of Becoming is a hazardous process. Many of those who undertake its stresses do not survive, or if they do are rendered insensate. [...] House Taranis, gifted with the learned presence of the Adeptus Mechanicus and an understanding of the Throne Mechanicum like no other, has a much more practical use for those incompatible with the device's delicate neural matrixes. Known to the Tech-priests of Mars as the Psychosis-Neuracanium, nobles that have failed the Ritual of Becoming and survived are still a valuable resource. [...]

Primarily, the Psychosis-Neuracanium are adapted for use as Skitarii captain-overseers. Their forebrains are implanted with emotive-selectors and memory-catheters to keep their rages and madness in check. [...] The families of House Taranis willingly give these broken sons to the attentions of the Mechanicus, on the promise that the regiments they lead, and the formations they fight in, will find a place at the side of the household Knights.
In other words, I'll almost certainly be building two Knights of House Taranis. Since my fever dreams still include a total of three Knights, the third will either be from House Terryn (as I originally intended for all three Knights) or the Freeblade known as the Obsidian Knight.

Future Releases
Rumor has it that we'll be getting more infantry in the form of the "Sicarians", which will supposedly be revealed this week. While we know very little about additional infantry units, we definitely know that Skitarii will be getting another walker thanks to a single leaked image:

The vehicle, which is rumored to be called the "Onager Dunecrawler", looks to be pretty large based on the size of the gunner.

My biggest concern right now is whether or not Skitarii infantry will get some sort of transport. The Vanguard and Rangers have some awesome rules and weapons, but with the stat-line of a Guard Veteran, they simply won't last long out in the open. The easiest route would be for GW to stick with preexisting fluff and designate the Rhino as a Dedicated Transport for Skitarii squads. The release of the Skitarii Transfer Sheet, which has multiple decals that appear to be sized for vehicles, has made me suspicious that an existing model might find its way into the new army. While I wouldn't be too excited about building even more Rhino chassis, I'd rather field more Rhinos than lose my troops en masse.

Final Thoughts
As I said before, I'm very excited for this release. Not only are fans of the Adeptus Mechanicus getting some great models, but GW's recent history has left the door open for even more releases. Late last year, GW unexpectedly released multiple new Tyranid models, with several of them representing entirely new units. Rather than waiting to release the models with a new codex, the models' rules were simply released in White Dwarf and the Shield of Baal supplements.

If the Skitarii line is successful (and it's hard to imagine that they won't be), I think we can expect the kind of treatment that Tyranids received, with periodic releases of models whose rules are published in White Dwarf and/or supplements. In a few years, the Adeptus Mechanicus might become a full blown army on par with the game's major factions.

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