Five (More) Random Things I’d Like to See Changed In the Horus Heresy

The internet has enough salt and hot-takes about 9th edition that I don’t feel the need to add to the noise, at least not before I have a few games under my belt and have had a chance to really come to grips with the Crusade system, which is what I’m most excited about.

Instead, I’ve been tacking pretty firmly to following my bliss while COVID-19 is a thing, and for the moment, that’s thinking about some Heresy armies. That’ll change here pretty soon, once I get some of the last materials I need for my Sisters test scheme, but for now, it’s where we are.

I thought I’d revisit my “Five Random Things” posting about oddities in the Heresy, since a bunch of those came true, and muse about some other things I’d like to see.

As with the previous post, these are mostly small things, rather than say…”More vocal support for the game, a plastic starter set, and Forge World not silently discontinuing units.”

I said there’d be no salt about 9th…not that there would be no salt.

That being said, here we go…

Revising the Hammerfall Strike Force

This one is a selfish one, as I play Imperial Fists. The Fists have one of the best Rites of War in the game, arguably, in Stone Gauntlet. It’s just…so stupidly good. Contrarian that I am, I’d love not to use it, but the alternative, the Hammerfall Strike Force, is just not good.

First, let’s talk about why I’d like it:

A Hammerfall strike force is a concentration of elite, ship-borne units deployed for the purpose of enacting sudden and overwhelming boarding or landing actions against a foe that must be destroyed without mercy or quarter.

For anyone who knows me, you know I got to the end of that sentence and went “Sold.”

Rules wise, it makes Phalanx Warders troops choices, Imperial Fist infantry squads get teleport transponders for +15 points for a squad and +10 points for an independent character, and when you come onto the board, you get Shrouded and anyone within 12″ of you who is an enemy unit has to take a Blind test.

Anyone not humming the opening to “Thunderstruck” when they play this is doing it wrong.

So what’s the problem?

In my mind, the benefits are…well…just okay. Phalanx Warders are better than they were, and arguably one of the better units to be able to drop down into the teeth of an enemy force without being able to charge.

But Shrouded? That gives you a 5+ cover save if you’re out in the open, which you likely will be if you’re deep striking. Given Phalanx Warders already have a 6++ from their boarding shields as do Breachers, and Terminator Squads will both have better in terms of invulnerable saves and can get teleport homers anyway, it’s…just okay.

And it’s not really enough if you’re taking a lot of fire from being all bunched up. While the Blind tests will help, that’s still a lot of risk. But the bigger problem in my mind comes from the restrictions:

  • Any vehicles taken in the army must begin the game held in Reserve.
  • The army may not include a Fortification or Allied Detachment

This is…sort of critically crippling in my mind. If you play it straight and call this the “spearhead” and put all your infantry in Reserves to teleport them in…you’re relying on your entire army making reserve roles, which means you’re going to come in piecemeal. None of the ways to play reserve manipulation games – a Command Rhino, a Land Raider Proteus, or a Comms Relay – are available to you. So you have to actively choose to put a bunch of infantry or rapier batteries on the ground ahead of time – which limits the number you can use with your cool deep strike tactic, turning the deploying units from “An elite strike force” to “A couple of units there as a schtick”.

Basically, it feels like Stone Gauntlet does “Boarding Action” way better. If you’re going for a planet fall feel the Orbital Assault rite does it better – you’ve got better reliability for your things coming in, Terminators get Deep Strike for free, and the restrictions are the same. If you don’t want tanks, I’d argue the Zone Mortalis Assault Force does it better.

What I’d like to see this transform into is the Hammerfall Relief Force – essentially the non-dickish counterpart to the traitor rite of war where a militia unit is used as bait. Expressly require an allied force of Auxillia or Imperial Militia – who are currently engaged in a desperate holding action. Suddenly, there’s a flash of blinding light, and a midfield full of bolter-wielding, shield-carrying badasses in yellow.

I love that narrative, it would work for both the planet fall and boarding action notions behind the original rite, and give it an original feel (and one of the few rites that allows allies, which feels appropriate for Late Heresy Imperial Fists).

Streamlined Armistos

I love the idea of the Armistos – especially for the Imperial Fists, where the Siege Breaker consul choice is a touch redundant for Heavy Support squads, and for Heavy Bolter armed squads, where the Cognis Signum carried by the Master of Signals is again – I mean, it’s nice to be shooting at BS 6, but it’s not needed.

The problem, as I noted briefly when talking about builds for them is that what the Armistos does is make the unit he’s with have Master Crafted if they have the same gun he does. So if he’s got a heavy bolter and joins a squad with a bunch of heavy bolters? Everyone is Master Crafted. Same for Volkite Culverns.


But there’s a problem with this.

Master Crafted lets you re-roll one failed hit roll for each weapon. Which means your nine heavy bolters can’t just fire their 27 shots (or Volkite Culverns their 36 shots), pick up the misses and re-roll. You need to fire each gun, one at a time.

This…this is not good. This is slow, and fiddly, and will make your opponent hate you a little bit.

What I’d like to see changed? Some other way to make the weapons cool.

The easiest would be to change the rule to allow for re-rolling 1’s. Statistically, this isn’t that big of a deal. Assuming you’re not buffing the unit (or aren’t Imperial Fists), the average heavy bolter firing Space Marine is, on expectation, going to miss 1 shot. Being master-crafted means that on expectation they’ll miss 0.33 shots. Getting to re-roll 1’s means on expectation they’ll miss 0.67 shots – but in exchange, there’s a higher cap on the number of possible re-rolls, because a Master Crafted weapon is always only one re-roll, and if you roll three one’s, you get to flat out try again.

That’s…a decent exchange, and so much faster. If you wanted to flat out just buff the Armistos, change it to re-roll failed hits.

Alternatives would be giving the squad somewhat more exotic and weapon-specific special rules, access to Suspensor Webs or the like (which along with Void Hardened Armor would make for a terrifying Zone Mortalis unit, but I digress…), but those would be harder to balance.

Better Assault Options for Jetbikes

I’ve been binging battle reports on the30Kchannel, and I’ve noticed more than one army attempting to use a Jetbike-mounted Praetor and a unit of Jetbikes as an assault unit, and from a general impression…they always end up disappointing.

The Least Scary World Eater

To my mind, this comes down to two problems: The Sky Hunter unit itself and middling options generally.

First, the easy one: Make power lances better. The whole idea of a unit that charges in, hits hard, but then needs to flee is great, but S+1/AP3 on the charge and S/AP4 not on the charge just isn’t it. The “hit” isn’t hard enough, and from someone who used effectively a power lance for their Eldar Autarch for most of 6th and 7th edition, S4 and AP4 is…pretty bad on a character. Especially in a game with so many 3+ saves.

I’d make a bike/jetbike specific power lance that’s at least S+1/AP2 on the charge and S/AP3 not on the charge that’s accessible to mounted characters. This is worse than the Kontos Power Lance the Golden Keshig run around with, but is at least a strong option. Because – as I mentioned with the previous article’s problem with the pre-buff Legion Champion, you need access to an AP2 weapon if you’re expecting to mix it up with the big boys, and there is something a little depressing about the fast, hard-hitting jetbike imagery relying on “Strikes Last” weapons like Thunderhammers or Power Axes. And if they don’t break their foe that first turn? S4 AP3 on a Praetor is dangerous, but against most elite combat units that deserve a Praetor’s attention there’s going to be things that mitigate or ignore that.

The Sky Hunter unit itself is similarly lackluster. A 35 point model with admittedly a 2+ save and T5, but WS 4, S4 and a single attack isn’t much to write home about, especially given that they are primarily used as a platform for heavy weapons. They do have both a bolt pistol and chainsword, so at least there’s that. But they’re very expensive, slightly tougher Assault Marines for…more than two and a half times the price per model.

The relatively straightforward change? A single OR clause, and borrowing some rules from the Space Marine Outriders “For every three models in the squadron, one may replace their Jetbike’s heavy bolter with one of the following (Multi-melta, Volkite culverin, Plasma Cannon) OR replace their chainsword or combat blade with a power weapon.”

For a squadron of six, which is still a hefty investment, that would be three potential power weapons (2 for the every three models + the Sky Hunter Sergeant), which would at least give some kick to the standard jetbikers when they get stuck in.

There’s also precedent for this. Many of the Legion Special Units have a regular equivalent that’s the same concept but inferior, and these guys would definitely be in the model of the Golden Keshig, but the specialist White Scars elite unit would (rightly) run circles around them.

Boarding Shields for Command Squads

This I’d like for two reasons. The first and most obvious is just flavor – it would be cool to see ZM-themed Command Squads, and boarding shields are need, and I think one of the dominant Heresy-era aesthetics.

The second reason is that they’re one of the few units that can fit inside a Land Raider Phobos with an Explorator Augury Web period, let alone with a character, and one of the vanishingly few who, if equipped with boarding shields, could legitimately be a threat if they unloaded and then prepped to be counter-charged. Most of the other units most viable for the Phobos are of the “Armored ride and then set up and shoot” variety. I really think the idea of units meant to be stuck into short range and melee combat but not built around charging is an interesting niche to explore.

Space Wolf Watch Packs

The notion of the Space Wolf Watch Pack is an interesting one, and for a lot of narrative scenarios, potentially really cool. They’d be good both for adding flavor to forces and also driving storytelling for games set early in the Heresy. The Watch Pack desperately holding out for relief and reenforcement. A unit essentially allowed to deploy in the enemy deployment zone but hopelessly outnumbered. Or just some slate-grey killers to add variety to a force.

God I love the Space Wolves Heresy-era Color Scheme…

The problem?

They’re very hard to field.

Let’s ignore for a moment that so many Rites of War prohibit allies at all – which is a major obstacle to this, but not the only one even if you overcome it.

A bare minimum functional allied detachment is an HQ and a Troop unit, which is as much as I’d want to go for with a Watch Pack. They’re supposed to be a small force, not an attached army. For the Space Wolves, your Compulsory HQ must be either a Praetor or Centurion. And Grey Slayers are the only allowable compulsory Troops choice.

Which means basically a Watch Pack must be a Centurion or Praetor with a unit of Grey Slayers.

Sure. That’s fine. The problem?

Warrior’s Mettle. The rule that makes Grey Slayers what they are. This is the allowed Charge move after running or firing bolters with a -1 to the charge distance if they do so rule.

The problem – and it’s an infuriating one for a number of reasons that Space Wolf players can add to the list of reasons their army sometimes feels like an afterthought – is that only the special character Geigor Fell-Hand has the rule. Any HQ unit joined to the Grey Slayers kills that ability. Forge World has seen fit to add an exemption for Apothecaries, but not for anything else. Which is fine in a larger force where you can stick the massive number of HQ units the Space Wolves have to take in other units and let the Grey Slayers do their thing, but in this setting, it means gutting one of the two things you’re bringing to the table.

What I’d love to see? A 5-10 man, two-attack “Veteran Grey Slayer Pack” with a three-attack Huscarl representing a little mini-detachment that could be taken as an elite choice in any Loyalist force. Bonus points if they get Infiltrate to represent them already being in the process of putting down the traitors when help arrives.

Alternatively? I’d just like to see an option for Space Wolf HQ units not to turn off Warrior’s Mettle. It could even cost points. Or be sort of a special Delegatus/Warmonger-type Consul choice that could also count as the Compulsory HQ.

Bonus Round: More Diverse Orbital Strike Wings!

Last time I posted this, several of the things I was hoping for eventually got fixed. Destroyers got a substantial buff, Phalanx Warders now at least have a purpose, Legion Champions can take paragon blades (which was more than I thought they’d get) and Sagittarum Guard got “Adrastus Bolt Calivers” which are Assault 3 Heavy Bolters, solving their mobility issues.

The one lingering one? The Orbital Strike Wing.

My issue here is that the OSW has to be made up of three of the same type of aircraft. Three flyers is a big investment in flyers already – it would be nice if, for example, they didn’t all have to fit roughly the same role. It would also probably make your opponent less salty if all three weren’t Primaris Lightnings loaded to the gills with Kraken Penetrator missiles.

It’s also somewhat narrative – attack craft and their fighter escort (two Lightnings and a Thunderbolt, for example), or just a confused aerial battle. I’d like to see more of these, and being able to mix things up a bit I think would help.

Also it would let me field my Thunderbolt with my Marines without having to have three of the damned things.

And more Thunderbolts make things better. That’s just science.

There we are – five more things I’d like changed in Horus Heresy. Most of them are subtle, bringing them into line with how I feel like things should work from a narrative perspective, adding an interesting option, or streamlining play. I don’t think any of them are particularly earth shattering…but I’d really like to be able to lovingly paint up the Watch Pack of Egil Moonbreaker without making my head hurt as to how they’d be viable on the tabletop.

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