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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bling for the boss

Today, I'm going to post about how to arm your squad leaders for combat.  This is NOT a tactics article.  I'm not going to do math-hammer (although I could, but I HATE predicting probability.  It never seems to work in my favor), and I'm not going to give you a breakdown of points-efficiency.  I AM going to tell you guys about what to give your sergeants and squad leaders to make them feel good about themselves...

So let's talk about those squad leaders.  Assuming you play Space Marines, or Chaos Space Marines, or Daemons, or pretty much anybody except Necrons, Tau, and 'Nids, you already understand that your squad leaders are little more than regular doods with a slight buff.  Most of the time, this buff is in the form of an additional attack and leadership stat, but sometimes you can find a higher WS, an additional wound, or all of the above (damn you, Nobs!!!).  At the core, squad leaders are not really that special.

What makes them special is three things:
1.  They have access to wargear, normally special close combat weapons, that the rest of the squad doesn't.
2.  They buff  the squad they lead, normally benefitting from a higher leadership, which can make a big difference to non-fearless armies.
3.  And the big one- they're characters!!!  The 6th edition rules gave characters their own page or three of happy-fun-time rules.

So let's look quickly at each of these advantages:

Leadership buffers!
The need to stay on the battlefield during the battle is very important.  As any real-life soldier/marine/etc will tell you, 'combat inefectiveness' isn't totally based on being killed or wounded.  A soldier who hunkers down behind cover is staying alive but is having no progressive impact on the battle.  A soldier who flees from the face on incoming bullets is not only useless but may also a negative impact on the rest of his allies.

Luckily, squad leaders are specifically trained to 'motivate' their units.  The real-life US Army does WLC and many courses besides that are meant to train sergeants in 'leading'.  Space Marines, in the 40k universe, don't have the luxury of 'leadership training'.  But they are heroes themselves so GW represents this with the LD boost.  We know why this matters in real-life, but why is it so important in the game?

Anyone ever had their heavy weapons squad line up to shoot that oncoming Land Raider full of Assault Termies, only to lose one model to their covering artillery and then become pinned?  Yeah, that can be really annoying.  Anyone ever had a squad, led by your Captain and Librarian of doom, get shot turn one, fail that Ld test and run from the table before they've even acted?  Yep, happens to me more often than I'd like to admit.  I'm not saying that I didn't have sergeants doing their thing for me, but I can only imagine how much more often this would happen if I didn't have that LD boost.  As a matter of fact, ask Eldar, IG, and even Tau players how that Ld 8 works for them...

Wait, we're characters now?
In 3rd edition, sergeants could be singled out in combat and dispatched easily.  They weren't quite characters but they were treated as separate targets in just the same way as 'true' characters while in close combat.  Nobody liked that rule (okay, some people did, but not marine players).  GW brought the rule back, but they clarified, added to it, and made it downright fun!  So what are these rules?

1.  Characters have the ability to 'snipe'.  As long as they roll a '6' to hit, be in with a gun or with a blade, they get to allocate the wound freely (if the hit wounds, of course.  That's the part I seem to have problems with...).  The 'closest guy dies first' rule can lead to generals positioning the 'flak' to the front and the important guys (especially the heavy weapon dood with his super long range) in the back.  That can mean your attempt to kill that heavy weapon will take 9 failed saves first.  NO WORRIES!  Have your sergeant take aim, roll a '6', successfully wound, and smile at your opponent when you pick out the target he was hoping to keep alive.  It's not a 'sure bet', but sergeants didn't become sergeants by 'spraying and praying', right?

2.  Characters can now be involved in 'challenges'.  Normally, it doesn't matter what rank you hold or how fancy your armor is, if you're the closest, then you're the deadest.  But characters can step outside that particular rule and lock themselves in a struggle to the death with a willing enemy character.  Can the rest of the enemy squad strike you?  Not while you're in a challenge.  Can your attacks fall on the heads of the piddly troops following the moron that dare fight you?  Nope.  It's just you and him (/her, if you're playing Eldars), and nobody else.  What sucks is when you left the Chapterhouse carrying your all-too-common chainsword, only to be challenged by the enemy character with something cooler.  Luckily, there's more!

3.  Characters have wargear options.  It's that simple, really.  This has been true since 3rd edition (2nd edition, too, but that game allowed almost ANYONE to choose from a gaggle of lists of weapons), but it really matters now.  Being stuck in a challenge without a special weapon of some sort is usually a death sentence.  Sniping with a standard sidearm is usually pretty ineffective.  If your sergeant is willing to tempt fate and go to battle with the same equipment as his subordinates, more power to ya.  But this advantage isn't an advantage on accident...

So what does this all mean? 

Not much really, I just needed to blog this week and I can't stop thinking about challenges and special CCW rules.  It also helps that I'm working on Word Bearers, which are sadly lacking in a ton of options for the Aspiring Champions, but focussed on killing nonetheless.

Dagnabbit, Jay, what are you talking about?

I'm telling you that your character needs something cool to fight with!  What are the options?
Remember, I'm assuming you play something Imperial, but the principles stand in every army.

Pistols- bolt pistol/slugga/etc. as normal weapons.  Typically Str 3 or 4, and AP 5,6, or -.  If you roll a '6' to hit and successfully wound, that chosen target will probably pass the armor save and your 'sniping' doesn't work.  Advantage though- it's free!!! 
Then there's the plasma pistol/inferno pistol, etc.  Typically str 6+ and AP 4 or lower, THESE are the pistols that will give you the most bang for the buck if you're lucky enough to roll that '6'.  Disadvantage- these upgrades cost points, normally as much as a normal trooper in said army.  But hey, getting an extra close combat attack ON TOP of being killy-death-shooty-meister isn't so bad.

Rifles- very few options here, almost always limitted to 'combi-weapons', which is nothing more than a bolter with a strap-on, one-shot, additional barrel.  Usually not expensive compared to the good pistol options, these weapons can make a huge difference for ONE TURN in the game.  Disadvantage- did I mention the one turn above?  Also, for a character, who's normally more skilled in close combat (due to that extra attack), it's limitting what this character can do well.  However, never discount the use of combi-plasma-guns for that overwatch shooting...

Blades- swords, halberds, spears, even mauls!  Typically powered, therefore AP 3 or 4, and typically equal strength or slightly higher than normal, these options give the character the ability to slice an enemy up pretty well.  The advantages are many- cheaper than the other special CCW options, no Initiative penalty (that's a BIG one), and ignoring most armor.  But the disadvantages are there as well- less likely to wound, not gonna penetrate that thick Meganob's armor, and unable to destroy heavily-armored vehicles.  Well, everything except the Power Maul, that is.  Chaplains and Librarians just became vehicle killers thanks to the new rules for those mauls, and yet I don't think people have keyed in on this yet.  I also don't think people have figured out that mauls have 'concussive', which can be really handy against faster monsters like Hive Tyrants.  Having that I6 doesn't mean anything when a maul hits and wounds...

Fists, Axes, Hammers, oh my!  Ever wanted to smash that sci-fi hopplite coming right at ya?  Here's how- high strength, low AP, and just as slow.  The advantages are simple- easier to wound and no armor is safe.  Unfortunately, the disadvantage is a massive one- initiative 1!  It also doesn't help that most of these options are 'special' and therefore don't give that sought-after additional attack.  But the potential for instant-kills and vehicle wreckage is massive, so it's all an issue of survival here.

Finally, and this one is not quite a weapon per se- shields.  There's Combat Shields, which aren't great but give an invulnerable save and an extra attack at the same time.  Plus, they're cheap.  The grand-daddy of shields (and the singular piece of game-breaking wargear, IMO) is the Storm Shield.  Advantage- an invulnerable save that even Captains wish for.  Disadvantage- well, you won't get an extra attack, but this is mitigated by the fact that you'll be around hitting things for a couple more turns.  I'm not gonna lie and say that I think Storm Shields are nifty.  I'm of the opinion that the '3++' is too much and breaks the game.  But as long as it stays that way, go to town and take advantage!!!

Thanks, Jay, you've told me things I already know.  Is there a point?  YES!  I want to tell you the top build options for your squad leaders, based on that list of advantages above.  Consider this 'gotten to the point'. 

1.  Thunder-hammer and Storm Shield.  Typically costing your 30-point sergeant another nearly 50 points, this build equals death to any enemy.  Be careful, though, as one failed save can cost you more than you were willing to pay...
2.  Power Weapon and Plasma Pistol.  A doubling of cost for a double-costed sergeant, it's way cheaper than the above and gives you almost all the advantages you can get.  The only problem here is the 'great equalizer' of wounding in close combat.  Good rolls equal success.  Bad rolls equal asking why you even try (I've spent years asking that of myself, and yet I keep coming back...).
3.  Lightning Claw and Plasma Pistol.  You're missing one attack from the build below, but your sniping shall work sooner or later, plus you get to reroll those pesky wounds in close combat.  It's actually the same cost as #2, but you trade one advantage for one disadvantage, and it actually equals out well.
4.  Pair of Lightning Claws.  Not only does this look cool, but challenging someone armed in this way can be a bit hairy.  This is not to say that this build is super-effective, but it doesn't often fail.  Don't go attacking vehicles or trying to shoot, though.  This build is designed to be the 'challenge monkey' build.
5.  Power Fist and Combi-plasma or melta/bolter.  Okay, you're a shooty master, and even get one really powerful shot once per game.  You have a Power Fist and the ability to punch that Leman Russ tank in the mouth (if it had one, otherwise go for the tailpipe).  You can, if you survive long enough, ruin some idiot's day for attempting to kill you with his cute little power dagger.  But these options are there to maximize your shooting potential and otherwise react tactically.  On the plus side, this build is usually no more expensive than #2.


There are many more combinations and even more options, but they're not common and there's usually a reason why.  Characters need their special gear, and what you're trying to accomplish makes all the difference in choosing.

More than anything, squad leaders should get first dibs on cool stuff.  You, as the general, owe it to them.  A shiny blade can make an unmotivated sergeant suddenly pumped.  Let me know what y'all think and, as always,

HAPPY GAMING!