Monday, March 25, 2013

Daemon Codex - Initial Impressions

I have to be honest, the new Daemon release was making me nervous.  The last army I played to get 'updated' and I use that term in the loosest way possible, was Sisters of Battle.  I am now looking to sell all my Sisters after finding the new army not fun to play at all.

When it comes to Daemons, I am looking at the army in two distinct - and important - ways.  The first - "Is it fun to play?" the second "How strong is the army."  So it was with great trepidation that I opened the new, limited Slaanesh codex that had arrived in the mail and started to read.  This post will be my first impressions on the army as a whole.

I have seen a number of tacticas pop up across the web, I want to differentiate my write up by being thorough, taking a holistic look at the interplay of units in an army and by combining some mathematics with the evaluation of individual units and army builds.  This article will address the Warp Storm table, and Daemonic Instability.

Warp Storm Table
When the concept of a cinematic battle space comes to mind, I cannot think of a better way to represent a Daemonic Infestation than the ebb and flow of the warp storm created by the presence of one or more warp rifts.  For those who do not know - the Warp Storm table contains 12 potential results.  Four of them involve hits inflicted on a unit on a roll of a 6 - similar to Imotekh the Stormlord.  The others improve/reduce your invulnerable save, possess enemy psyker (or punish your characters) and can spawn new units/reduce the number of your units on the table.

Initially, this table is going to slow players down a bit - remembering to roll, getting better at speed rolling for units and memorizing the results.  Even the most ponderous results - the fury of the various Chaos Gods striking down enemies on a roll of 6 is no worse than Imotekh's storm.  I am going to have to say that I really like the Warp Storm table concept - I think it is exciting and fun.

A lot has been made about the potential negative effects of the storm - I am going to start by noting that it is entirely not worth building an army dedicated to a single or two chaos gods to avoid the possibility of being hit by Khorne's Wrath, The Dark Prince Thirsts, et cetera.  In fact, doing so only guarantees that when your luck turns sour - it is going to turn very very sour across the entire army.  It is far better to lose a few models over the course of four or five games than have three or four units decimated by some large blasts.

Other effects are worth mitigating through list construction and through appropriate planning over the course of the game.

  • Snake eyes result forces a Daemonic Instability test across the whole army - this result punishes MSU builds and top heavy Greater Daemons - interestingly, these same constructs are generally punished by Daemonic Instability.  I would recommend taking at most two Greater Daemon/Daemon Prince in games under 2000 points.  I would also steer clear of small units - most Daemon units need to be larger to avoid losing combat and to make it into combat with enough models remaining.
  • A roll of 3 forces a friendly characters to take Daemonic Instability on 3d6 - this result can be mitigated by purchasing a character for every unit that can take it.  At 5 points for most - and with access to an AP 2 weapon - it is usually worth it anyway.
  • A roll of 4 reduces invulnerable saves by 1 - which means units need to deploy carefully and hug cover as much as possible in spite of having a 5++ across the board.
The other results are simply positive - or not worth worrying about.  For example, Khorne's Wrath is a small blast placed over a model of your choice in a unit on a d6 roll of 6 - only affecting the Daemon players Slaanesh units.  Since the Daemon player places the marker - it should only hit 1 model in an appropriately positioned unit.  1/3 of the time it will hit and not scatter, 2/3 of the time it will scatter and if the arc of friendly models in the unit forms a 90 degree angle the - this represents a 1/6 chance to actually hit one or more friendly models.  In the worst case, Khorne's Wrath might strike three models (occurring roughly 1/9 of the time) with two of those saved with the standard Daemon Invulnerable save.  Expect some diagrams mapping out these probabilities in a future article.

Daemonic Instability
Under the 5th edition fearless rules, one of my favorite activities was to setup a multicharge against a rock hard unit and a swarm of weak models to force terrible combat resolution scores across multiple units.  With the elimination of fearless wounds in 6th edition - this tactic became obsolete.  That is until Daemonic Instability came along - and made Daemons potential victims of multicharges.

The natural inclination for Daemonic Instability is to relate it to combat resolution wounds - but that analogy is not quite accurate.  When Daemons lose an assault, they must take a leadership test - as normal - and then lose a wound with no save for each point they fail the test.  In all other cases, Daemons automatically pass fear, pinning and leadership tests.  They also have a bonus of being able to Go To Ground for an added cover save.  The natural dichotomy here is that for an army that generally wants to be in combat - it is most vulnerable when in combat.

The added risk for Daemons in combat is that boxcars on their leadership vaporizes a whole unite, while snake eyes returns all the lost models.  This makes losing combat something a Daemon player does not want to do - more so than most other armies.  I am going to go on the record for this one as saying while I think it will make for some epic gaming moments - from a competitive standpoint it is a tough rule to deal with.  The jury is still out for me on whether I think this rule will be fun or not.  I am leaning towards yes - but I would hate to lose a unit to the 'Banished' result in the last round of a GT after losing combat by 1...

The mitigation here is to carefully choose combats and outfit units to win - and win big.  Also, when losing small units will disappear while monstrous creatures can be annihilated after losing by a single wound.  Similar to the Warp Storm table - mitigation of Daemonic Instability comes through larger units and avoiding extremely expensive single models that cannot absorb some losses.

Another aspect of Instability is that traditionally thought of tarpit units are not as effective as in the past.  Simply sticking around is not good enough, tarpit units need to be capable of some killing whether through an independent character, or another more aggressive unit combining with an assist.  One such unit, Beasts of Nurgle, comes to mind as an extremely durable unit that is asking to be victimized by instability.  Beasts of Nurgle are required to charge units that successfully assault friendly units within 12" - if that friendly units happens to be a squad of Horrors or Plaguebearers, both units will likely see wounds dropping fast.

Closing Thoughts
This is a lot of text and I have not even begun to touch on the units, additional special rules, tactics or meaningful mathhammer.  It is a testament to the overall codex design that these aspects make Daemons unique and strongly differentiate them from other armies.  The uncertainty inherent to playing Daemons will need to be managed - in the same way not getting a preferred wave was manageable.  I like this aspect of their 6th edition codex.  I like the challenge, the potential excitement and that I can play the exact same army several times and it will play very differently based on the Warp Storm Table, Daemonic Instability, rolled psychic powers, Warlord traits and the Daemonic rewards system.

The book overall has a feel - so far - of strong internal balance between the options and players have a lot of options.  It is easy to overdo it on characters - or to overspend on HQ units.  There are a number of force multipliers in the form of heralds and some interesting new units - even old units that now play completely differently.  As I begin working through a 1500 point list for development, I will continue to share my thoughts on the codex.  Here is a starting point for those interested - this is a 1500 points list built to the specification of Da Boyz comp (no repeats).

Tzeetch Herald - Mastery 2

Keeper of Secrets - Mastery 2

6x Fiends of Slaanesh

3x Bloodcrushers of Khorne w/ Blood Rider, Lesser Gift

18x Daemonettes w/ Aluress

18x Pink Horrors w/ Iridescent Horror

Fast Attack
18x Seekers w/ Heartseeker

Heavy Support
Skull Cannon of Khorne

CSM Sorcerer w/ Spell Familiar, Mastery 3

18x Chaos Cultists

This list packs a lot of killing into 1500 points.  The Fiends, Seekers, Crushers and Daemonettes are all strong CC units - moreso with Divination buffs from the Tzeetch Herald or Invisibility from my 5 potential rolls on that table. The cultists provide backfield objective camping - while the Cannon does the shooting.  I think there are two choices from the start I am hesitant on - the Keeper is more expensive than I usually drop in an HQ and the Bloodcrushers may be overpriced for what they do too.  They are fast though and should demolish MEQ - especially if I can organize a charge with the Fiends providing -5 I and the crushers/Seekers simultaneously hitting other units to obliterate a flank.

The key here is really exploiting invisibility - so the Sorcerer and Keeper will be key.  I would love to fit in an Aegis with Comms relay here somehow, but points are already tight and there are a lot of force multipliers present already.  I might be able to spare 20 points for some instruments to allow more consistent Deep Striking - I plan to test this list soon and make some adjustments.  One possible swap is the Skull Cannon for a pair of Seeker Chariots.

A warning though to Daemon players - Grey Knights are now appropriately a nightmare for Daemons  Previously if you were not Warp Quaked off the table, the Grey Knight players was in for an uphill struggle.  Now Daemonbane is hitting models with ld 7-9, Force Weapons are wrecking multi-wound models, they can Deny the Witch at twice the rate of most enemies and their Preferred Enemy shooting with psybolt is going to prove even more effective now that the whole army cannot Deep Strike in Turn 1.


  1. I almost felt right away that grey knights are such a hard counter to this army that it seems a little too rock paper scissors for me. But for casual play I think they are awesome. They fit the concept perfectly....the fickle nature of Chaos!!!! It seems to me like they tried to address a few problems to me, but ill let you know what I think when you write about the subject to see if we draw the same conclusions.

    1. Yeah the loss of eternal warrior, drop in leadership, and application of preferred enemy to the shooting phase were all big hits daemons took against GK. On the plus side, they can now deploy like everyone else and don't live in fear of warp quake. GK aren't quite as powerful as before as elite armies are starting to struggle against hordes or flyer spam.

      I see daemons becoming more popular as allies instead of pure or primary detachments. Is it true that allied daemon detachments aren't subject to the warp storm? I was trying to buy the iBook but there's some sort of bug where it tells me I'm out of memory and won't download. Chances are these review articles will be my only exposure to the new codex before the next event.

      Either way, non-daemon allies give them some more reliable anchor units and daemons as allies can lend a much needed assault punch to some armies.

    2. Yeap, warpstorm works only for primary daemon detachment.

      Another problem of army, in my opinion, is low tough and low saves.
      This problem can be fixed for Monstrous creatures, but not for other unit.


    3. The more I think about the GK matchup for Daemons - the more I think it is going to be very swingy based on the army composition and really psychic powers.

      With respect to composition - my lists seem to be going is away from multi-wound creatures like Beasts/Screamers/Flamers and more towards Daemonettes, Seekers and Heralds (who will annihilate most GK in CC). If Soul Grinders make n appearance as well - there is a lot of MEQ killing power there. This is where psychic powers come in...

      Invisibility, Perfect Timing, Misfortune and Hallucinate are brutal against GK. An army that emphasizes and gets these powers are going to have the chance to shred them with shooting and have enough left to clean up in CC.

      As allies there is a lot of potential for Daemons - especialyl given the psychic powers they can bring. I expect a Mastery 3 Tzeetch Herald with a unit of Horrors to become a staple for CSM lists.

    4. I have been really digging the new daemon book and you hit on a lot of the same things I have found.

      One thing that seems under discussed is how crazy good Dark Excommunication is. With the ambivilancy of the rule in the GK book and the broadness that comes from the entire wargear section being called daemonic gifts, the prospect of facing this power is harsh.

  2. Good analysis, i look forward to adding deamon allies to my chaos or even traitor guard

  3. Good read. I played my first game against daemons recently and HATED the warp storm table. Seriously, that stupid #8 killed more of my models in the first three turns than the daemons did. Granted the rolls were stupidly against me... how do you roll that many 6's?!? I don't mind losing to a well executed plan, but losing to a few random events had me a little irked.

    1. In contrast a bit - I hate losing to a well execute plan. Random events can be annoying, but I know I have been bested when an opponent outplays me.

      Which aspects of the table did you hate? Was it being hit with the abilities or was it slowing down the game?

    2. It was the effects themselves that bugged me. Buffs and nerfs are at least something my opponent has to utilize to gain advantage. Direct damage, especially when the rolling was as crazy as this, feels like it is completely out of my control; there isn't anything I could do to stop it or plan for it. It reminded me of that stupid High Elf archer army from some expansion that could shoot all your units before they arrived on the board.

  4. You can use instruments to mitigate the Warpstorm table, but when do you get to use them? Do you roll for each applicable unit and then decide which results to use your instrument on? Or do you roll for a unit, choose whether to use your instrument, and then move to the next one? If it's the latter then it might be important to decide on a sequence for rolling Warpstorm results since (I assume) the Daemon player can choose which order to roll for each unit.

    1. The player whose turn it is determines the order of simultaneous events. As such, it is their choice which order to roll the Warp Storm, and when to use the reroll from an instrument.

      I think the added bonus of an instrument on the warp storm is a nice perk but their real utility lies in bringing in groups of units from reserve. I can see running two or three of them in liu of a Comms Relay in some lists.