Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Horus Heresy: A Primer

The time is finally upon us. Calth is betrayed, and the Imperium has begun a conflict that will endure for ten thousand years. Battle lines are being drawn, and the thought on everyone's mind is "Are you with the Emperor, or against him?"

I know when I came across 30k, people told me it was different from 40k, but I know I didn't initially fully grasp how exactly. After all, it uses the core 40k rules, and even the core faction feels quite close to the army which fills half of 40k's codices: Space Marines. If you're a regular, we've batted this around before, but 30k's Legions Astartes really are different from their 40k Space Marine counterparts. How are they different, and how does that change the game fundamentally?

For starters, let's pick a legion. Any legion. There's a few that aren't out yet, but there are provisions for them (your choice of free Furious Charge or Stubborn as a USR). It's quite easy to draw parallels between choosing a legion and taking pick of Space Marine chapter tactics, but let's remember, FW had published 30k before marines got their change in 6th edition. Not just that, but our Legions' special rules are a bit more complex than those offered to Space Marines, though at the cost of ATSKNF (And They Shall Know No Fear) being replaced with the Legiones Astartes special rule (which behaves like Tau's Bonding Knife Ritual). Your choice of legion also grants you access to two or more special units, a handful of characters (including a primarch), unique wargear for your characters and units, and finally, a legion specific Rite of War.

We'll sidestep from our choice of legion only momentarily to break down rites of war. Rites are akin to the variant detachments that were included in codices from 7th edition up until the Necron Codex release. They offer you special rules or options, but at the cost of requiring certain elements, not the least of which is a model with the Master of the Legion special rule which is found on the Primarchs and Praetors (captains). There's no formations, but these rites let different people play different facets and strengths of different legions and help make the game more interesting without encountering some of the damaging elements that we've encountered with formations and formation detachments in the last year or so, as they come loaded with both advantages and drawbacks. Rites available to all armies cover everything from armored spearheads to drop insertion forces, so there's a lot of diversity even if you don't like your legion's unique Rite.

Circling back, there's those legion specifics again. There's both advantages and disadvantages to these: they have built in balance mechanisms. Furthermore, they typically pair well with our unique units (though not always) to try to give us an edge over rival legions. To this end, most legions have some amount of rules, wargear, or special units which are designed to mulch infantry. The Horus Heresy does accommodate armored company playstyles (the rhino is still invaluable), but ultimately a significant amount of your points will end up tied up in power armor and terminator armor, making the boots on the ground much more of a focal point in this game than it feels in 40k at present. This is reinforced by the costs and availability of those units which move more than 12" in the movement phase. Unless you're playing your legion specific rite, expect that many of your models will be equipped with boltguns, and that victory may very likely be decided by which player can take more full advantage of their bolters.

Why the boltgun though? Don't squads get special weapons? Interestingly enough, no. The only compulsory troop choices available to Legions are the Tactical Squad and the Assault Squad. Sure, Support Squads (think a tactical squad where everyone has traded their boltgun for a special weapon) and their ilk are troops, but they aren't valid compulsory troops. This is something FW has played with in 40k too, and I really like the feel of it. You can take specialized or more powerful troops, but you have to work much harder to get those units as compulsory troops. When we pair that with the fact that 30k rejected 40k's 'everything scores' mentality (a significant divergence from 40k's current ruleset) and only handed out scoring to a few choice Legion specific units, the game regains some of it's tactical composure from the bygone eras of 5th and 6th edition.

If you want to win, you'll have to destroy enemy scoring choices, while protecting your own. This heavily emphasizes target priority, and reinforces its significance as a game mechanic by requiring Legion and List as context. If you're playing a 'Pride of the Legion' mass terminator list, you can likely de-prioritize enemy missile launchers and Basilisks, but enemy squad bearing large volumes of volkite or plasma are more likely to draw your fire. This is the dynamic that has drawn in myself and so many others, especially when units equipped with more than just boltguns are neither cheap, nor scoring.

So, we've already hit on two major choices that we as players get to make when we first dig into the Heresy: our Legion and our Rite. Where then next? Let's not forget that we are still playing a legion, and have the full might of the imperial armory behind us. Dreadnoughts of all size, shape, and style are available to be taken in talons of 1-3. The Sicaran is a formidable main battle tank, and the Rhino chassis presents with new options. If you've seen a FW model in the last few years for Space Marines, it likely has rules for 30k and 40k both, but in 30k it's not relegated to relic status. It may allow for different weapons, have different points costs, and even have different special rules. Armored ceramite is prevalent and often quashes Melta's presence, rewarding players for taking lascannons and plasma. Not a fan of vehicles and walkers? There's the Rapier battery, volkite weaponry, and units like Seekers (proto-Sternguard), Destroyers (Vanguard but actually awesome), and even Recon.

Couple all this to the 'Age of Darkness' FoC (Think CAD with an extra HQ and Elite slot) and more focused LoW rules (no more than 25% of your points can be spent on LoW) and the system displays a smart, dynamic construction between the 'balance' of 5th, and the character and flavor of newer editions. Don't like Marines? There's other factions, from Mechanicum, Solar Auxilia, Knight Households, and even Militia. Marines are still the defining faction, but there's such a depth and breadth to their options (and it keeps growing) that it's possible to show up to an event and see no duplicated lists, even within the same legion.

Just to give an example of what's possible with a legion list, below you'll find my fist draft of my Alpha Legion 'Coils of the Hydra' army list. It's designed to play at approximately 3k, but with a few cuts here and there it can be tuned down to 2500 for those events where that's more common.

Alpha Legion
Coils of the Hydra

Armillus Dynat

Rewards of Treason: 10x Firedrake Terminators, Spartan Assault Vehicle w/ Flare Shield

Headhunter Kill Team: 10 members, Rhino

3x Legion Tactical Squad: 10 members, Rhino

Sicaran Battle Tank w/ Lascannon Sponsons

There's some wargear I haven't listed, but the most significant is that the sergeant for each of my tactical squads, as well as my Headhunter team is clad in artificer armor, and bears a power knife, power fist, and a meltabomb. This makes them dual armed, and gives them the tools to win just about any challenge, and put a hurting on tanks or even knights, let alone remain a threat to even terminator squads. Similarly, anything larger than a rhino has ceramite, dozer blades, and an auxiliary drive. Other things to note would be the interaction between Alpha Legion's Mutable Tactics special rule and the stipulations imposed by Coils of the Hydra. I've chosen a list such that all of my units have the required dedicated transport or infiltrate, so as to leave myself open to choosing a different tactic on the fly. And then there's the crown jewel of it all, the Rewards of Treason. This perk from Coils allows me to steal enemy unique units. They trade their legion tactics for mine, but their wargear, stats, points costs, and non-legion specific upgrades remain. This alone gives my list near endless flexibility. There's the vehicle tax involved, but it feels a small price to pay for such a nefarious trick. Similarly, Coils, when combined with the AL rules, and those of Alpharius can allow lots of subtle out of game manipulation as well, including perks to seize, and punishments for enemy reserves. Likewise, if I ever choose to kick the Coils habit, I've still got other tools, including dreadnoughts, drop pods, and other HQ and Consul options that can allow me to present something unexpected to my opponents.

All of this goes a long way to saying that in the wake of BaC we here at Rites will be redoubling our 30k content coverage. If you've got lists you want vetted, or have specific questions about gameplay elements, get in touch with us, we'd love to include them in future pieces! After all, there's no better time to join a side.

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