Wednesday, 8 March 2017

List building - Dusk Knights again!

So we're back to this again - another look at the Dusk Knights space marines and my efforts at creating a 'standard' list for use in my games.

Given how I'm also trying to go back to 'basics' with the marines and how I use them, I also decided to go back to first principles and use a CAD as the basis for the list. If it's effective I can then look at how to go about tweaking it to fit into either a gladius or a sternhammer later (I've looked at the other options and don't like them).

So, as ever we need answers for the following questions.

  • How do I deal with hordes?
  • Do I have enough anti-armour?
  • What if my opponent brings flyers?

I'm not addressing the matter of psychic powers there, because in my experience, unless you're a psychic heavy army yourself, the psychic phase is either not overly devastating if your opponent isn't focusing on it either, or you won't compete at all if they are.

On top of that, having been devastated recently by a rampaging Chaos Warlord, I also need to think about the following.

  • Can I hold my own against a combat monster?
  • Am I mobile enough to threaten the whole board?
So, working with the basic requirements of a CAD, I need to take an HQ and 2 Troops units. Let's start with the HQ first. 


HQ

What do I want from an HQ? Looking at the selections available in the marine book, short of taking a techmarine with a conversion beamer, there's not many options in there for an aggressive shooty unit. I could take a librarian but with no real option for an invulnerable save outside the shield eternal or terminator armour and with only two wounds, I generally view them as a second HQ choice rather than a primary one. I feel the same way about the Chaplain, and despite having the new terminator version and using him a couple of times, he's not that effective except as a bully and a force multiplier for other units.

That leaves us with the Captain/Chapter Master then, and realistically in a combat role, unless I want to just keep him really cheap and hide him.

If I look carefully then, I have a need for a combat role, and I have to take a character whose best suited to fill that role, so how do I go about making it work without spending a fortune?

First up, he needs a 2+ save, anything less will just result in a lot of pain and a dead HQ in my experience. There are 2 ways to achieve this - Artificer Armour, Terminator Armour and the Armour Indomitus. Terminator Armour limits his mobility, and the Armour Indomitus prevents me from taking another relic, so I'm initially looking at the Artificer Armour, which combines nicely with his 4++ to make him as durable as a cataphract without the movement and overwatch penalties. I'm going to rule Terminator Armour out then, and let's look elsewhere before we make a decision on the Armour Indomitus. Offensive damage - he doesn't struggle for choice certainly, but let's be reasonable, if I need to look at damage output then he needs to be AP2. That means the choice is limited to Thunder Hammer, Power Fist and the Burning Blade. 2 of these make him S8, which will double out other infantry types much of the time, but both are unwieldy. The Burning Blade strikes at initiative but is only S7 and can potentially hurt me, but can also limit my opponent's ability to strike me back in the following turn. I'm inclined to go down this route - a true combat monster is likely to either be an eternal warrior or T5+, so I don't think S8 is a must-have, and the ability to strike at I5 and AP2 is huge. That means the Armour Indomitus is out, so we're looking at Artificer Armour. All that's left is mobility (I'll look at bodyguard later)  so we have the options of transport, jump pack or bike. Transports are extremely limiting, both options (land raider and storm raven) are 200+pts, and would represent a massive points sink, particularly in the case of the storm raven since it may not arrive until T4, meaning I might only have 1 turn to do damage in combat. The land raider doesn't suffer from this, and can carry lots of other guys to act as meat shields, but we're still looking at over half my army then being invested in a single unit, which is death star cost for at the moment, limited output. I think the jump pack option for 15pts is perfect, it allows him to deploy on the table and still be mobile, and a threat from T1, or if my opponent brings a nasty alpha strike, he can be kept in reserve to arrive later, either as part of a squad or on his own.

Adding that all up, we get to 180pts for a captain with 2+/4++, 3W, 5 attacks on the charge, at WS6, S7 and AP2.

Troops

Mainly there are two choices here - the tactical squad, and the scout squad. Now in my evaluations, these guys come out exactly the same score but for different reasons, and therefore for now I'm going to have a look at taking one of each. 

Referring back to the questions I posed myself at the start of this article, I think these guys are likely to need to be my first answer to the question of dealing with hordes.

Let's look at a tactical squad for that purpose then. They'll be objective secured due to the benefits of the CAD, and so can claim objectives quite nicely. My first question then is how I want them to deploy - I don't like taking tactical squads without any deployment or transport options, so I'm looking at razorbacks, rhinos and drop pods. 

The razorback forces me to do one of two things - either take a smaller squad, losing out on the heavy weapon I could then take with them, but allowing me a more limited choice of vehicle mounted heavy weapons, or splitting the unit into combat squads. so one can hang back and the other advance inside. on the face of it, there's not much difference, the razorback stock comes in one point cheaper than four marines, and replaces the option for a special or heavy weapon with a twin linked heavy bolter. Not bad when you look at it like that. The Rhino sacrifices nothing from the squad, but is fairly lightweight in terms of armour, and basically brings nothing to the fight in terms of firepower. It does however stay mobile through the game until it's destroyed, allowing me to stay mobile for a while (that's the theoretical anyway, the practical is that unless you've got lots, they're going to be destroyed early on). The final option then is the drop pod. The most heavily armoured of the options, and allows the alpha strike anywhere on the table on turn 1. It's the best choice in maelstrom terms, allowing you to go and claim any objective you like (pretty much) because of its deployment versatility. Let's give the tactical squad a pod then. Now, because of how pods work (you deploy half on turn 1 and then roll for reserves as normal) they operate most effectively in odd numbers. we'll need to bear that in mind therefore for the future, but they also have a couple of neat tricks up their sleeve. The first is the deathwind launcher. You don't see it much, and it's quite expensive, but any option to put large blasts down on the table against hordes is worth considering. I won't take it for now, because of the cost, and because of the other trick - the locator beacon. These allow the pods to act as a beachhead on the tabletop, with any deep striking reserves arriving in later turns being able to home in on the pod and not scatter when they arrive near enough to it. I'm going to stick on on for now, to account for the points and if I need to remove it later I can.

So, what goes inside the pod then?

I want a full tactical squad, and as one of my required units it needs to be able to deal with a variety of enemies. So we take 10 guys, Let's put the Imperial Space Marine in there as well to cover every eventuality, he can always choose to fire his combi gun as a bolter if necessary and prudent - the disintegration part of course can kill him. We'll give the sergeant a power fist - I'd love to make him a veteran but let's save the points for now. That will ensure I can take on most targets if I get charged, though he's still at risk of being challenged out of a fight - I can always drop this option later to shave points if I need to. For main weapons, the best and most versatile I can think of are the grav guns. So one guy gets a grav gun, another the grav cannon and amp. Now I know these can suffer against typical horde armies because of the way they wound, but bearing in mind the number of shots of the cannon and its re-roll to wound it's not a bad option, whilst the grav gun bearer can simply be the designated grenade thrower if this is a problem (poor armour saves are usually accompanied by low toughness in horde armies anyway). Add all that up and we have a 260pt Tactical Squad.

I need another troops choice, but I'd rather not look at spending quite so many points on my second unit, and I want it to be mobile on the table after it has arrived as well since the tactical squad is anything but.

Let's take a scout squad, and we'll give them a land speeder storm to keep them moving. I'll keep this unit pretty basic, their only job is to get around the table claiming objectives, so no special guns, no upgrades on the storm. My only concession to additional cost is going to be camo cloaks, as these will make the unit much more difficult to shift.

Non-mandatory units

So that's the basics taken care of, I can now look to add units to the army from anywhere in the codex to fill out roles as necessary, so let's have a look back at my initial list of questions.

Anti Air. Anti Armour. I've already got a reasonable start on anti-horde so we can focus on these other two roles now.

Anti Air

There are two ways of dealing with flyers. Take your own (they now need to be fighters to do this effectively) or look at sky firing ground based weapons. For ground units, the marine codex has three realistic options. Devastator marines with flakk missiles, the stalker, and the hunter. In airborne options it has the stormhawk - the stormtalon and stormraven now both have to snap fire against flyers themselves so I'm discounting them from consideration.

Devastator marines with missile launchers are a great flexible unit, they can tackle just about any target, but the one major drawback with flakk missiles is the additional cost - they are not a cheap upgrade for devastators, and then they struggle from either having too many targets when you consider their versatility (whilst the missiles are by no means guaranteed to down a flyer) or being wasted points if your opponent brings no flyers.

Stalkers and hunters are great anti air options, but have a huge drawback - their weapons come stock with the skyfire rule, so if you face an army without any viable targets they are a complete waste of points. Let's have a look at the Storm Hawk then. Against flyers it is a very capable performer, if you use the dogfight phase it gets benefits, whilst on the table it brings a massive stock of weapons that are very capable of doing a lot of damage - 2 S9 shots, 2 S8 missiles and 4 twin linked S6 shots with rending (that's the weapon load out I use anyway). All of these are capable of bringing down other flyers and when combined, there's not much out there that should be able to resist you. What about versatility though? Well you're covered here too, because despite being less effective against ground targets as it drops a point of BS, it's still 3 times more likely to hit ground targets than a ground based weapon with skyfire is. And it brings a lot more guns too. I'm sold, the Storm Hawk is in for 145pts with the las talon and typhoon missile launcher. It also has the benefit of potentially affecting your reserve rolls and those of your opponent.

Anti Armour

Well, the codex is not short of anti armour choices, from drop pods filled with melta guns to conversion beamers at range and lots of options in between.

In my experience though, there's only one unit that tickles my fancy in this regard, and it's one I've reviewed on the blog previously - Devastator Centurions. Whilst the usual weapon load for centurions is grav cannons with deployment via drop pod, I prefer the slightly more subtle approach. Giving my centurions lascannons and missile launchers makes them an extremely potent anti armour threat, particularly if you give them Imperial Fists tactics to give them tank hunter on those S8/9 shots. The additional range on the guns over the grav cannons allows them to be deployed in a more defensive position, and remain fairly static throughout the game, there aren't many places on the table a lascannon can't reach if you think carefully about your deployment. I've used these guys before and they are exceedingly handy, and more to the point, they rarely got removed from the board in my games - I can only think of three occasions, the first when I advanced them up the table into the enemy guns for tactical reasons, the second when a Tau commander and crisis squad with plasma rifles deep struck into their faces (I then counter charged and picked up slay the warlord, whilst stopping my opponent getting linebreaker) and the third was when my opponent changed his list up to bring a plasma command squad - 8 plasma shots put paid to that particular adventure since there was no real cover on the board to use to protect them.

That pretty much covers the reasons for including them I think, but it also raises the one drawback with regard to the centurions - being charged or dropped on! This point leads me onto my next choice, and conveniently also addresses one of the other questions I posed earlier - can I hold my own against a combat monster? Given that my centurions are a juicy target, and one that isn't particularly capable in combat, I will need to protect them, and that means having a unit around that will counter charge anything that drops in my face to target them. I can't do anything about units that drop in and shoot them to death (cough, grav centurions, cough) but I can look to protect them from more aggressive options.

Combat

Whilst 40k is very much a game of shooting for the most part these days, combat is still an extremely useful tool in terms of the rapidity with which it can remove your opponent's units, as well as the capability of tying up the more devastating shooting options in an enemy force.

With a few exceptions, I'm a firm believer that it's very difficult to build a truly balanced army without having something in there that is capable in combat. Yes, some armies build their entire damage output around it, while others ignore it completely, but if you don't bring anything capable in combat, you'd better have some serious shooting to counteract it. This was illustrated to me recently when a Chaos Warlord on a bike bounced around from fight to fight being more than capable of shredding the units he was facing, but always evading return firepower though a combination of speed, toughness and putting spawn units in the way. Whilst I had brought a combat unit to that game, it wasn't capable of dealing with a foe who struck before them and ignored their armour - consequently when the fight was joined my own combat option was neutered.

Now as we have seen above, I've already built a combat warlord for this army, so he would need a bodyguard unit to run with him and provide support without being useless. Options for combat units in the marine codex are much less prevalent than choices in other parts of the codex, and I'm going to limit them even further by saying that I only want units that can keep up with the captain.

As I see it that leaves me with three choices - the Assault Squad, the Vanguard Veterans and the Command Squad on bikes.

The Assault squad is the cheapest of these, but I've said before and will say it again to anyone who doesn't run away with their hands over their ears, that the space marine assault squad is worthless as an assault unit - almost zero access to weapons with any sensible AP value limits them to the role of bullies against non combat units - and in this list I need this combat unit to be able to pull its weight.

The Command Squad is a very effective unit I've used before with the Iron Fists, the extra point of toughness granted to the marines helps to keep them alive prior to getting into a fight, and against some opponents even makes hurting them in that fight more difficult. I'm not a huge fan of storm shields though, the limitation on damage output in my opinion really hurts a combat unit, and so I look to try and maximise damage output instead. My Captain will be capable of dealing with most things with his higher initiative and AP2, so really I'm looking to supplement his powers with a larger volume of quality attacks to give my opponents pause. In this instance, I'm inclined to go with the vanguard squad - the bike command squad is strictly speaking a better option, with higher toughness and the potential for feel no pain outweighing the additional damage output, but at 35pts more than the vanguard, they are more limiting for this list in terms of the points they eat up out of my total.

5 Vanguard Veterans with jump packs should fit the bill nicely I think, with a relic blade for the sergeant to deal with tougher units, a pair of swords for dealing with 3+ armour at initiative values and a couple of axes to bite through terminator plate.

In tactical terms however, this unit when combined with the captain is a costly one! It therefore needs to be wielded carefully, minimising its exposure to enemy fire.

That pretty much covers the basics then, and I still have points to spend, so where do we go from here?

Well, I'm using a CAD, and given the prevalence of maelstrom missions these days, some additional objective secured units won't go amiss, so I'll throw in another tactical squad to give me up to three more obsec units, taking the army total up to 8.

These guys I want to keep fairly generic I think, and since I only really have one dedicated anti horde unit in the army so far, let's bulk out that section of the army. A full tactical squad with a heavy flamer and heavy bolter should do, and as with the first tactical squad I'll stick a power fist on the sergeant, you never know when they'll come in handy! These guys can go in a pod as well, which means ideally I want a third pod unit to make the most of the drop pod assault special rules.

What's the best swiss army knife unit in the marine book? You guessed it, Sternguard. I'll stick a locator beacon on their pod too, so I've got two pods with them on, which should bring the third in nicely on target to give me a secondary battle line if I need one. Five guys with combi weapons should be sufficient in this regard, and I'm inclined to go with either melta or plasma on them. Melta to boost the anti tank potential of the army or plasma to give me more powerful anti infantry. Grav is an option, but without a grav amp it's not massively threatening to vehicles and I want these to be a threat to anything on the board. Plasma does that through high strength and decent rate of fire, whilst even a single melta is well capable of busting armour. I may even end up splitting the weaponry to bring a couple of plasmas and some melta.

Conclusions

Bringing that all together then, we come up with the following:

Warlord and bodyguard - main role - counter-assault. If the enemy has no drop capacity to threaten my deployment zone, then this unit is free to be more aggressive, using its mobility to either claim objectives, or threaten/tie up dangerous enemy units.

Troops - one fast mobile obsec unit, two units deployable around the table providing massed firepower with an element of anti elite infantry if necessary.

Anti tank - a single limited mobility unit with high damage resistance and long range firepower, supplemented by a fast moving flyer with anti tank capability and a mobile deployable anti tank threat.

Anti air - air superiority fighter incorporated into the list, supplemented if necessary by twin linked anti armour fire from the ground, and high volume shooting against more fragile air units from tactical squads.

Further revisions

I always think it's worth thinking about what else you could add to your list if necessary to make it more capable, particularly with reference to the 'typical' maelstrom cards that you may be asked to complete.

Now it's fairly commonplace these days (and certainly within my club) to re-draw any maelstrom cards that can't be achieved within the possibility of the game, such as harnessing the warp if you have no psykers, or shooting down a flyer if your opponent has none etc.

However, it's also fairly simple to add some flexibility into your army by seeing what you can do to achieve these cards, and harnessing the warp seemed to me to be the obvious standout from the possibilities. I've also found it's prudent to run your army through achieving each of the tactical objectives you might be faced with in your games, so here we go!

Secure objective X
Hmm, I mentioned 8 obsec units didn't I? With a fast moving/infiltrating option as well, I've pretty much got the ability to claim objectives, if not at will, then certainly with a good degree of flexibility.

Recon
Shouldn't be a problem with the number of pods and mobility within the army.

Behind enemy lines
Marines struggle less than any army here, and just a single pod with combat squads deploying from it will score me D3 points - I need to remember that when deciding whether to use combat squads or not, also that the unit doesn't have to be wholly within 12", unlike linebreaker.

Hold the line
My centurions are likely to give me this, provided I keep the warlord and vanguard with them as two separate units will easily give me the point, I then just need to keep my lines clear of enemy units.

Ascendency
Lots of obsec should make this straightforward.

Supremacy
Again the mobile obsec units should make this relatively straightforward, even if they only result in me contesting those other objectives, I can make sure the enemy doesn't hold them.

Domination
Up to 8 obsec units gives me the best possible chance when they can drop in and are so mobile. The main issue here will be drawing it late if my combat squads have been whittled down.

Overwhelming firepower
I really shouldn't struggle to achieve at least the base level with this list.

Blood and guts
This list isn't really designed to achieve the higher level of this card, but is certainly capable in terms of destroying units in combat.

No prisoners
The army is based around quality fire supported by volume, and whilst it might not have quite the ability to score the top level, it's got a good chance of reaching level 2.

Hungry for glory
The Warlord is a decent combat choice and should(!) beat most units he goes up against.

Psychological Warfare
There's not much I can do to affect this, but having a good combat option helps, because morale is the only place where an enemy's leadership can be reliably affected. Granted, taking the 1st company strikeforce would help here, but that would mean taking a third veteran unit and that's not really viable at these points levels.

Harness the warp
Sticking a librarian in there will help me get the base level, though if I want the higher level I'd need to drop some units to get another psyker into the list.

Kingslayer
This list is capable of killing most enemy HQ's, the only real question is how well the enemy protects them.

Witch Hunter
Again, this list shouldn't struggle to be able to kill a witch if I draw this card.

Scour the Skies
The Storm Hawk is made for this card.

Assassinate
Again, the list shouldn't struggle to facilitate character removal, the only problem will be if the enemy doesn't bring many, but it should still be possible.

Demolitions
Imperial Fists chapter tactics make the centurions extremely handy at achieving this one, on the rare occasions that my opponents actually bring a building!

Big Game Hunter
Shouldn't be a problem.

Space marine specific objectives

Death from above
With 3 drop pods and a jump unit, it should be possible, the only problem is if I lose the vanguard and my drop pods have already arrived by then. This further reinforces keeping the vanguard safe early on.

Honour the chapter
Realistically, the warlord is the only guy I'd really want to put forward for this one, though against minor characters I can see the vanguard sergeant being able. It should be achievable.

No mercy, no respite
The way morale works, I'm probably more likely to achieve it through kills, but the firepower in the list should certainly help in that regard.

For the Emperor.
If I do draw this one, then it's certainly a practical option to split off my warlord and pick up a pair of charges with him and the vanguard. I then only need 1 other unit to be in range for a token charge to pick up D3 points - doable.

Lightning Strike
The drop pods and the centurions certainly look likely candidates to fill this role, and the Storm Hawk should also be pretty good at it.

The Emperor's Retribution
Drop pods are ideal units for this type of work, though any obsec unit is able, and with some fast obsec stuff in my list there's no reason it shouldn't be possible to do.

Ok, so I'm pretty happy that all those objectives are as much within the reach of the army as possible, the only thing to consider is if I want to drop all the extra bits to try and fit in a librarian, and where he would go if I did - the sternguard are certainly an option in their pod, as would be the centurions to try and get them invisibility, or the vanguard to add yet more punch to that unit.

I'll let you know what I decide, though don't be surprised to see a libby with a jump pack in my hobby updates soon!

UPDATE:

I've been thinking quite a bit about this list over the last few days since I drafted this post, and I've looked to tighten it up in a few areas.

HQ
Captain remains the same
Level 2 librarian included, with jump pack and the Bones of Osrak. I decided that actually having a librarian in there was too important to leave out, the potential for psychic shriek, or invisibility on the devastator centurions for example, plus having a force weapon is never a bad thing. Given a single librarian can be fairly limited in effectiveness and is prone to suffering from a crappy roll or two, I decided the Bones of Osrak would give me some reliability. An extra power die and re-rolling failed psychic tests would make a single librarian a much more significant proposition for my opponents to face. I gave him a jump pack so that he would be capable of accompanying my warlord, or moving to other units quickly as necessary.

To pay for this however, I needed to make a few changes.

Elites
The sternguard lose the locator beacon from their pod - two would be nice but against most opponents one would be perfectly satisfactory. I've also jiggled their armament a bit, leaving three of them with combi grav weapons, but giving the remaining two meltaguns. Now they're a proper swiss army knife, meltas deal with tanks, grav with elite infantry and special ammo with anything else.

The vanguard change a bit too, with the sergeant dropping his relic blade back to a power sword instead. The effectiveness of this should be accounted for by the normal inclusion of the librarian in the unit.

Troops
This section probably sees the most change, with the scout squad losing their camo cloaks (not an ideal situation, but not drastic either.
The first tactical squad stay broadly the same, but the sergeant picks up a combi grav to support the grav, grav cannon and disintegration gun. This squad is now a prime candidate for using the combat squads rule, with 4 members of the unit carrying significant anti-elite weaponry. At full effectiveness, they'll be putting out 11 grav shots and 2 S5 AP2 instant death shots from the disintegration gun.
The second tactical squad gets the most change, as it gets cut to just five members. The sergeant picks up a combi flamer to support the flamer in the unit and the heavy bolter is dropped. This unit is now pretty much dedicated anti horde, with a pair of flamers being very nasty to blob squads. Ideally I'd have supplemented that with the large blast launcher for the pod, but I just didn't have the points.

Fast Attack
The storm hawk remains unchanged - the only points I could really save are for the typhoon missile launcher but I just find Skyhammer missiles a bit lacklustre.

Heavy Support
Only a tiny change here - the Centurion sergeant gets an omniscope. It's an incredibly useful piece of kit, and one I didn't really like leaving off in the first place - this is where the points from the camo cloaks went and I'm pretty confident the additional damage output and flexibility from the cents is worth the loss of cover for the scouts. I'll just have to keep them in their speeder longer is all!

Right, sorry for the monster post - congratulations if you got this far, hopefully it's been helpful to those of you who are new to building an army list, and equally interesting to those with experience to see how someone else goes about making the choices over what to include.

I'll leave you with last night's achievement - Epistolary Aquilino

I went 'overboard' a bit on the details with this model, but having kept the 3rd company captain very plain (you'll see him on Monday) I wanted a contrast with the more mystical librarian. I'll need to think of something suitably impressive to paint on his banner, but there's loads of detail here - I even went so far as to add a little reliquary to his belt for the Bones of Osrak.

And yes, I do love the irony of using Black Templars parts for the construction of my librarians.

Till next time, TBE