Reviewing Gathering Storm 3: Bobby-G’s Big Adventure

The Storm has officially finished Gathering, and we’ve dusted off a Primarch for the climax of the trilogy of books introducing us to the new, more dynamic, higher stakes 40K setting.

So how is Rise of the Primarch as a capstone of this new awakening of the 40K timeline? How are the three new characters of the “Triumverate of the Primarch”? What’s this Cypher character up to? Read on…

The Fluff

Like with Gathering Storm II, I’m not going to give a blow by blow playback of the fluff, because I find those dull reading, and there’s likely a podcast or two out there that will do it better. Instead, I’ll go through the highlights, and give my opinion of the story as a whole. However, complete accounting of the story or not…there will be spoilers.

A Heroes Journey…but Backwards: Like GSII, the story for GSIII departs from Game Workshops’ familiar “lets talk about a big battle” style fluff (perhaps best exemplified by Fall of Cadia) in favor of people running about doing things. It’s an interesting approach, and one that I found refreshing in GSII. Here, I like it less, because GW has essentially done it in reverse. Rather than a rag-tag band of heroes gathering forces to their side, Guilliman starts off with a massive army…and we end with a rag-tag band of heroes.

We practically open with the greatest strategic genius in the history of the Imperium at the helm of a proper crusade – complete with its own Living Saint. I felt like this should feel epic. It should feel…triumphant. A counter-point to the Fall of Cadia.

It doesn’t.

There’s a brief taste, Guilliman taking command of the Ultramarines and repelling an attack on the Macragge system. This was the most excited I was during the book…and then as they set out for Terra, things took a turn.

What’s the Opposite of the Idiot Ball?: Much of the drama in GSIII comes from Tzeentch related shenanigans in the form of either Magnus or Fateweaver looking a bit smug as Guilliman stumbles into yet another ambush. Seriously, there’s at least three of them, including an ambush within an ambush. Ambushception.

Honestly, this gets a little tiresome. Like the “Can steal other mutants powers” mutant, when played straight, without overly contrived plans or a dose of hubris, Tzeentch’s schtick gets a little dull. If this were an RPG campaign, Guilliman’s player would have hit that “just tell me when I need to roll” point where they start eyeing the takeout menu and texting their friends. And it’s his story.

The Unremembered Crusade: I mentioned the casualty rate in GSII as a high point, as it showed the stakes were high for a dying race and things were real. The casualty rate in GSIII is just as high, but I’m less thrilled with it, particularly because it’s not building to a crescendo, it’s headed downward. This passage, in particular, just fell flat for me.

Captain Sicarius now suggested that they cut a swift path through the battle to reclaim their ships. Veilwalker shook her head. Thousands of Heretic Astartes and Daemons battled across the fortress. Fighting around the docking spars was thick. Any attempt to recover the crusade’s craft was doomed. The loyalists still might have attempted to recapture their fleet, until the Shadowseer told them that the human crews who had kept the ships operational were all dead, sacrificed alongside the crusade’s Imperial Guardsmen and Battle Sisters. Worse, the fleet’s Navigators had been spirited away in chains upon a fast ship, bound for Huron Blackheart’s personal fortress.

First, this means that we just handed Huron Blackheart a few dozen Navigators who will meet undoubtedly horrible fates, as well as the entire Terran Crusade fleet. Including Macragge’s Honour, a Gloriana-class battle barge that managed to survive the Horus Heresy. FFS Robby.

Beyond that, every single non-Astartes member of the crusade is now dead. And where did those members come from? Cadia.

That’s right kids. Hold the line until a planet literally cracks underneath you, follow a Living Saint on a frozen death-march, make your way through the webway to Macragge, repel another Chaos invasion, and then die as an afterthought.

Sure, the setting is grim and dark and whatnot, but there’s no mention of this. There’s never any suggestion that, while he’s busy brooding about nearly everything else that Guilliman feels a little bit bad that literally hundreds of thousands of people who followed him died helplessly. And again, with the Tzeentch railroad-yness of this section, it just felt…purposeless.

Deus ex Harlequin: If the writers are using Fateweaver and Magnus to get people into binds, they’re relying on the Harlequins to get them out again. Shadowseer Veilwalker shows up again, twice actually, in Guilliman’s hour of need. Once with Cypher in tow because reasons. To borrow from RPGs again, she’s starting to feel a little bit like that NPC that shows up after fifteen minutes of frustrated rolling and “None of us have any ideas Greg, we all hate logic puzzles and you know that” with the “obvious” solution (not that I have feelings on this or anything…)

I love the Eldar as much as anyone, and being steered from behind the scenes is great fun when it’s an Inquisitor, or a Space Marine captain, but not a Primarch. The Avenging Son should not need an elf dressed as a clown to hold his hand through the plot.

With Special Guest Star Skarbrand: At one point, right before the writers kill everyone not blessed with T4 off-screen, Skarbrand shows up. “Ah ha!” thought I. Fateweaver has once again failed to foresee the complications of Chaos being Chaos, and the Daemons will sabotage themselves because that’s how Daemons do. This might actually be…

Nope. This is entirely to give us an excuse to have Guilliman fight Skarbrand for a bit before hoofing it. Also, for a Daemon currently out of favor with Khorne, he sure seems to be the marquee Bloodthirster going around these days.

There Goes the Neighborhood: This is getting a little bit negative, so lets end on a high note – the scenes where Guilliman is on Terra, and seeing what his father’s great undertaking has become are exactly what they should be. Depressing, and discouraging, and a little bit “What the fuck did you all do?”. High Lords are dismissed. Greyfax goes to deal with a considerable amount of paperwork. Cypher is thrown in jail and escapes, as he does. It was a good way of dealing with someone seeing the Imperium Not As It Should Be but still knowing that he needs to defend it, not tear it all down. It puts pieces in place – the Imperium being organized so as not to be completely flatfooted when Abaddon presses his attack. Cypher on the Throneworld. Celestine apparently not having gone poof yet. A legitimate question as to whether the idealism of the Great Crusade, embodied by a returned Primarch, will survive the crushing inertia of what the Imperium has become.

It’s decent setup, but how we got there just fell a little flat for me, especially on the heels of the first two books.

The Rules

Alright, so Bobby-G is a bit of a sad-sack in the fluff, how is he rules wise? What other goodies are unlocked?

Missions

As with pretty much everything GW does these days, there are specialized missions, and like always, these will be widely ignored. A few of them are interesting – there’s a weird, moving-map mission with Imperial vs. Chaos flier representing trying to reach the Fortress of Hera from orbit, which could be trivially adapted as the last mission in a narrative campaign where the command staff of the losing side tries to make good their escape. There’s similarly a “Stop the Ritual” type mission, and some other good missions that could be adapted even if you’re not trying to recreate the setting.

There’s also a new type of mission, the “Cataclysms of War” missions. These are three more generic missions essentially geared to playing in environments that are going to absolute hell.

New Characters and Formations

As expected, we’ve got new characters! First up…

Cypher!

Cypher remains a bit of a mystery. He’s got his own faction now, the “Fallen Angels”, who can be battle brothers with either the Imperium or Chaos Space Marines, except totally not the Dark Angels. GW is holding the line on “We don’t know his agenda, is he loyalist or traitor, etc.” and while eventually they’re going to have to show their cards, they’re clearly dragging their feet.

Coming in at 190 points, Cypher has a decent Marine Character statline, but with a WS of 7, a BS of 10 (ha!), and I 8. He’s got And They Shall Know No Fear which is interesting, along with a ton of special rules: Fleet, Hit & Run, Independent Character, Infiltrate, Shrouded, and three specific to him:

  • “As Ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap”: Basically, Cypher is an asshole who is going to get his allies killed. He cannot be your warlord, and reduces your warlord’s Ld by 1.
  • “Blazing Weapons”: Cypher can shoot both guns twice, or shoot and then run. Also he overwatches as full BS. Also, rather than fighting with close combat weapons, he fights with his pistols, and splits his attacks between both profiles.
  • “Divine Protection”: If Cypher dies outside of 6″ from an enemy model, he doesn’t count as a casualty for VP purposes, because he’s totes not dead.

He also unlocks some bonus rules when fighting against the Dark Angels which make them super-interested in killing him.

So he’s shooty as hell, very short ranged, and interesting but not light the world on fire in close combat. An interesting choice for narrative games, and he acts like how I feel Cypher should act.

The Fallen

To go along with their buddy Cypher at the Fallen, which are, in essence, Chaos Chosen marines. Flexible, able to take tons of toys, but spendy for 3+ save T4 models with one wound. Again, a fun narrative choice. They have heavy weapon options – don’t take them, they’re a trap.

There’s also a formation to field these guys, with Cypher plus between 1 and 3 squads. That grants them Infiltrate, which is nice for choppy Marines without transports, and gives Cypher a 12″ bubble of ATSKNF and Stubborn. Neat in terms of actually being able to field them, but again…I see them mostly for narrative games where you want brooding, mysterious, shades-of-grey morality Marines running about.

Grand Master Voldus

A Grey Knight who can be fielded by any Armies of the Imperium Force, Voldus comes in at a hefty 240 points. He’s 60 points more expensive than Njal Stormcaller and 75 more than Tigerius, but he’s also arguably better than both of those by a good bit. With Mastery Level 3 but knowing an extra Sanctic power, an a Daemonbane, Force Thunder Hammer that’s not unwieldy he’s also something to be reckoned with. If you’re looking for a badass Librarian Grand Master, I’d say he’s your man. If you’ve always wanted to run some sort of army led by a Grey Knight Grand Master (weirdly, he’d work really well for my homebrew Space Marine chapter) he’s your man. If you’re not looking for one of those things? He’s not your man.

Importantly, I think neither he nor his formation will change up the Grey Knights enough for them to play markedly differently. Speaking of which…

Bulwark of Purity

Grey Knight Terminators, Formation Edition. 1 Librarian in Terminator Armor (as far as I can tell it does not say Voldus can be substituted in, but in friendly games I’d give your opponent some serious side-eye if they dug in their heels on that), 2 units of Paladins, and 2 units of Grey Knight Terminators, and no dedicated transports – these boys are teleporting in.

What they get for that is +1 to Deny the Witch when 3 or more units from this formation are on the board, and when 3 or more units from this formation are on the board and one successfully casts Banishment, it instead effects all Daemon units in a 12″ bubble around any unit from this formation.

This is a really special purpose formation, but when it works, I’m pretty sure it’ll be super-fun to just scythe down some Daemons.

Roboute Guilliman:

The man. The myth. The legend.

His model is ridiculous. But at 350 points, how does our first loyalist Primarch come out?

First, he’s put on some weight – compared to his 30K self, he’s a Monstrous Creature, with all those attendant rules. With WS 9 and 6 attacks, he’s also a little…angrier…than his 30K version. But he’s got a hefty statline, and a massive number of rules to go with it. He’s carrying an absolutely absurd sword that is S10 AP1 with Armorbane, Concussive, Soul Blaze, does D hits on a 6 and can do a number of attacks equal to the number of enemy models within 1″ of him if he so chooses. Also he’s got a 24″ range S6 AP2 Assault 3 Rending ranged weapon.

In the pattern of many of the Gathering Storm characters, he’s also got trouble dying. Not only does he have a 2+/3++  save with Feel No Pain but if he dies you put down a marker and, on a 4+, he comes back with d3 wounds.

He also knows every Warlord trait from the Command table. Though as far as I can tell, he also doesn’t have to be your Warlord…

But is he good?

I’d say he’s less flexible than the nearest comparison, which is Magnus. Magnus is flexible and fast (and expensive…). Guilliman is essentially a very scary Imperial Monstrous Creature. He buffs things around him fairly substantially, but he’s very much a soloist, and in that role, I can see him being quite dangerous. His major weaknesses are, in my mind, two-fold:

  • Transport. He doesn’t have one. He’s not as slow as some people think, as he’s got Fleet, Move Through Cover and will add +1″ to Run or Charge moves. But this makes him the fast mover in a slow army, or the slow mover in a fast army…that’ll take some planning.
  • Volume of Fire. T6, 6W and 2+/3++ FNP is pretty damned durable. But it is not infinitely durable, and there’s a fair amount in the came right now that, through weight of fire or a few big D hits could bring him down. And unlike Magnus, he can’t hide in the air.

Beyond his weaknesses, there’s also one very frustrating design element – he’s got Chapter Tactics (Ultramarines), so fielding him with say…the Black Templars, Imperial Fists, or several other marine chapters that get mentioned in the book is actually a non-starter. Until their Primarchs arrive, or don’t (Ferrus…), I have a tough time not seeing many non-Ultramarines chapters taking their cues from Roboute.

So my quick take? He’s very point-and-click like some of the other Imperial heroes, but with his cost, may take some more thought. Primarily, I don’t think many Space Marine armies are built the way he plays at the moment, but he’s an absolutely epic line anchor if that’s what you’re in the market for.

Triumvirate of the Primarch:

You also get something special if you take all three. Specifically the ability to re-roll one saving throw for each model in this formation each turn, and while Guilliman and Voldus are on the battlefield, friendly Imperial units have Stubborn. Not bad, but that’s a huge point investment in three very different characters.

Victrix Guard:

There’s also a Ultramarines special formation with Sicarius (because of course if would be Sicarius) as essentially a Primarch’s guard. It involves Sicarius, 1 unit of Honour Guard, and 4 units of either Sternguard or Vanguard vets, none of them in transports. They get +1 WS and BS, and if they’re within 3″ of Guilliman, they can Look Out Sir! as if he were in their unit.

That’s a very elite force, and again, a lot of points, but with some pretty direct benefits. WS 5 (6 on the Chapter Champion) is no joke, and from playing Imperial Fists in Horus Heresy, I can tell you BS 5 even with bolters feels brutal.

The Sternguard and Honour Guard will have a little bit of trouble keeping up, as they don’t have Fleet, while the Vanguard Vets have the opposite problem, so again – have a plan for these guys. Sicarius’s Surprise Attack rule should help if you intend the Vanguards to Deep Strike in.

Changes to the Ultramarines

With their actual spiritual liege having returned, the Ultramarines get a whole slew of new rules to add a bit more flavor to the boys in blue.

Warlord Traits:

  • Friendly Imperial units re-roll failed Morale, Pinning and Fear tests within 12″ of the Warlord.
  • Counter-attack. The Space Wolves player in me thinks this is kinda meh on a single model.
  • Your warlord has Preferred Enemy. When has this not been useful? This is one of the ones where I might not be craving it, but I probably wouldn’t re-roll if I got it.
  • Add 4 to any Seize the Initiative roll. This means you’re Seizing on a 2+, which is enormous. Unfortunately you can’t really pick this, so it’s hard to build an army around it, and 50% of the time it won’t matter, but man…
  • You can discard a Tactical Objective at the beginning of your turn and draw a new one. This is a handy ability to have in Maelstrom games to reduce a little bit of that “Well, not scoring this turn…” problem, and mercifully you can re-roll if not in a Maelstrom game.
  • Your warlord and all units within 6″ have Split Fire. Neat, but like the 4th choice it’s hard to really build an army around this, and I feel like what you’d really want is a cheap Warlord tucked into a firebase of some sort.

New Relics:

  • Tarentian Cloak: For 35 points, you pick up Eternal Warrior and It Will Not Die. That’s a cheaper version of The Shield Eternal that would let you retain the ability to claim a bonus attack and IWND for the loss of the 3++ save. Given a bog-standard Captain already has an Iron Halo, that’s not that big of a deal, and if you really wanted it, a Storm Shield would effectively be swapping the Shield’s Adamantine Will for IWND. If you’re playing Ultramarines, just take it.
  • Helm of Censure: If you ever wanted to recreate Sergeant Thiel. For 30 points, you get Preferred Enemy, and re-roll all failed To Hit and To Wound rolls versus Chaos Space Marines. I’m not sure that’s worth it outside of a very CSM heavy meta somewhere, and if I was building a combat character, I’d pick the Cloak first.
  • Sanctic Halo: Only goes on a Space Marine Captain, you pick up Feel No Pain and Adamantine Will for 15 points. Perhaps interesting for a secondary character, or against opponents where you’re expecting lots of wounds instead of big ones (Scatterbike Eldar come to mind).
  • Soldier’s Blade: 20 points to make your random close combat weapon AP 2. I’m not sure how I feel about this one. At-initiative AP 2 is always nice, but S4 isn’t that scary these days, and its taking up a relic slot. Again, this feels like a secondary character relic.
  • The Standard of Macragge Inviolate: This can substitute in the list of standards a unit of Honour Guard can take. For a hefty 60 points, it puts out a 12″ aura of +1 Ld, gives the bearer and their unit +1 A, and whenever an Ultramarines infantry model is slain within 6″ of the banner, on a 5+ that model can make an out-of-sequence shooting attack or pile in and make its attacks if they’re in close combat. Wulfen-lite. It at least ensures you get some oomph out of your expensive Honour Guard before they go down, but it’s expensive.
  • Vengeance of Ultramar: Who doesn’t like a good, cheap shooting relic? For 20 points you get a 24″ range, S1 AP 5, Assault 4 Poisoned 2+ gun. Does what it says on the tin.

Victrix Strike Force Detachment

A special Ultramarines-specific Decurion with a confusing name and Bobby-G’s stamp of approval. You need 1+ Core choices, either a Battle Demi-Company or Strike Force Ultra, 1-10 Auxiliary choices per Core from a huge list including the new Victrix Guard (but notably missing is the Skyhammer formation),  and 0-3 Command choices from the usual suspects plus Guilliman.

For this you pick up Objective Secured (though it specifies all non-vehicle units which is a new twist…), the usual re-roll on the Ultramarines warlord trait table, and Perfect Doctrine which extends the Ultramarines ability to use the Assault, Devastator and Tactical Doctrines once per game and turns it into being able to use them once-per-game in any combination in any turn, allowing for a turn or two of switching multiple doctrines on for extra fun.

Is this worth giving up Gladius? I doubt it. But it might be worth looking at it if Gladius is feeling a little stale, and importantly, as far as I can tell it’s really the only way to drop Guilliman into an existing Demi-company/Gladius style army without involving another CAD or the Triumvirate formation. So a hot new thing sweeping the tournament scene? I doubt it. Cool for Ultramarines players in a general sense? Yeah.

New Tactical Objectives

There’s some new Tactical Objectives as well that I’m not going to go through in detail. They’re a nice, diverse list, including some of the “If you scored some points already, score some more” style cards, but nothing that’s really going to dictate your play style.

Overall Impressions

I loved Fall of Cadia and Fracture of Biel-tan. After those two (and reading Horus Heresy: Inferno, more on that later…), Rise of the Primarch felt…adequate. As much as it’s necessary to put all the pieces into place for future plot development, it just wasn’t as compelling a story, especially given it featured one of the Imperium’s greatest heroes. The beginning and the end of the story were both strong, but it was weighed down by a needlessly railroaded middle that was more tiresome than it was exciting, lacking ironically both room for triumph and a sense of danger.

The rules, similarly, are fine but somewhat journeyman-like. Cypher and Voldus feel like what they should be, but aren’t nearly as interesting mechanically as some of the other recent newly arrived heroes. Voldus is likely the most immediately useful, as he’s a very plug-and-play Grey Knights character, whereas Cypher is undeniably more specialized.

Guilliman’s rules, while powerful (and likely a pain to keep in your head all at once) don’t really feel like Guilliman. It feels like in designing an army around him, you’d have to, in some way, compromise the strengths of the Space Marines. I like the new Ultramarines rules however – they add a little bit of flair to the Chapter, and a strong relics list doesn’t punish you too badly for stepping outside, ironically, Codex: Space Marines. There may be something I’m missing with the Primarch however, and I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Overall Score:

Fluff: 5/10, fridged some Sisters of Battle and made overshot the cleverness of Tzeentch on the way to a stale story.

Rules: 7/10, solid rules, less mechanically interesting than previous iterations but also less straightforward.

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