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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armies in 5th: Dark Eldar Part 1: Pain & Combat Drugs

Two key concepts of Dark Eldar are combat drugs and Pain tokens. This shouldn’t be news to you. Dark Eldar have always been portrayed as sadists (even if their army hasn’t always worked like this) who like to get their hands dirty and both of these abilities compliment that background. In the 5th edition codex, one can actually take good combat units in a balanced army (joy!) and these two army wide rules have a large part to do with this. Importantly however, Pain isn’t only useful for combat units but will also find a significant use for shooting units (who doesn’t love FNP?). Quickly we shall recall what these articles aim to do; identify core concepts of the codex (in this case Dark Eldar) and how the army interacts in relation to the 5th edition ruleset whilst also being a counter-point to commonly held opinions. This book is new so you've got both extremes of "crap" and "cheese" being yelled but I feel the general populace is leaning towards this book being okay and not as competitive as SW/IG due to its reliance on AV10 open-topped skimmers. I disagree so we'll be coming at these articles with that in mind as well.

First off, combat drugs. The biggest drawback of this rule is it’s random. Although one can take Dukey to increase the chances of getting what you want (and hopefully the FAQ allows you to re-roll or simply pick when doubles are rolled), this isn’t too huge a drawback as the majority of the upgrades help DE units in combat. Yes one ability might be better in most situations (or in specific situations) but the bottom line is your combat units get an improvement to their statline thanks to drugs (just say no kids). When designing an army around combat drug units however, the Duke could be a wise investment in terms of improving combat drug reliability but not necessary. His extra abilities to Deep-strike skimmers and 3+ poison can also be of significant use and again, the majority of the time any roll on the combat charge is going to be beneficial (but it's just awesome to think of S6 Hellions on the charge...). This is pretty straightforward as some units have combat drugs and some units do not so let’s look at Pain which plays a much more significant role in DE effectiveness.

There are two main ways to gain pain tokens, ‘steal’ them from other units or kill an opponent’s unit (if you have the Pain ability). It will be interesting to see if it is FAQ’d so only squads with the Pain ability can steal which would mean no FNP Harlies lol; I imagine it will so don’t get too attached. The tactics for gaining FNP tokens from killing enemy squads is pretty basic. When a squad is nearing death and you’re likely to get a pain token, pick which squad you want to strike the killing blow. If a Warrior squad already has one token for FNP, a 2nd and 3rd token aren’t going to help that much more compared to providing a FNP token to a Wych squad, etc. You also need to ensure you don’t move your army or units out of position to gain a pain token for a particular unit. It’s better to gain a pain token on a unit you don’t really want it on than to mess up your battleplan. Remember, pain tokens are valuable and there is only a finite number you can generate so wasting them on units which are about to die or already have three isn’t a good idea. However, MSU does play somewhat into DE hands here as in theory there should be more and smaller units to generate pain tokens but with the increase in Mech this is probably evened out over the course of several games.

‘Stealing’ tokens opens up a whole new ballgame when combined with independent characters (especially Haemons which start with a free token). Suddenly pain tokens can move to units which need it so gaining unwanted tokens on units isn’t too bad as long as you have the capacity to do so. Managing the movement of your Pain tokens well will be crucial to many a DE general’s success whilst poor management can lead to complete army meltdown. There are a ton of options here. Some units start with Pain tokens such as Wracks and starting an Archon with them can knick their token whilst Haemonculus are an IC with a token so are very easy to hand around. Get a couple Haemon/Wrack combos and you can move a lot of pain tokens quickly. Add in special abilities like the Cronus and you can have pain tokens being bandied about rather quickly. This is pretty easy to do at the beginning of the game. You can identify for example you want your Incubi squads to have FNP/FC. Your Haemon starts with them and moves away 'dropping' the token whilst an Archon steals one from the Wracks and joins the Incubi.

The trick however to managing your paint tokens however is mid-game. Catalyst is a great power for Tyranids, not because you can hand out FNP but you can basically hand out a "do not shoot me sign" or if against a unit which 'has' to take wounds, durability (i.e. Gants in combat). A lot of people complain about Catalyst not being of use because people just ignore the unit with FNP. Hello! that's the whole point. FNP for Tyranids basically becomes a defensive mechanism by encouraging shots elsewhere. Imagine this on an army wide scale where it cannot always be ignored. That's what good Pain token management can get you. Further this by adding in FC and Fearless (less important) and when pulled off by buffing the right units and the right time, can be very painful to your opponent. What this requires though is ICs to transport your pain tokens around but we don't want too many where our army handicaps itself. Remember as well, units will generate their own pain tokens through killing things so it's not like you start off with 5 tokens and have to spread them through your army for the whole game.

Proper management of these tokens through IC movement can allow you to put FNP on units which your opponent wants to shoot (i.e. Warrirors on objectives late game, Wyches/Incubi/Wracks about to assault, etc.) or make a unit tied up in combat more survivable (though you have to attach the IC before they get engaged obviously which requires thinking ahead). Once you've got enough tokens you can add FC to units about to charge but before they charge be giving FNP to another unit to make them more survivable or a previous unit which you don't want running away (again, Warrior squad on objective), etc. There are a myriad of ways you can take advantage of basically being able to hand out specific USRs during the game which cannot all be explained here but it's important to think of this as the game is developing. Even an army which isn't built around pain tokens can take advantage of being able to move tokens around with ICs and gain the most efficient army possible from their available units.

Furthering the above point, it is important to point out these concepts won’t apply to every DE list. Whilst Pain tokens will pretty much always apply in some way, not all DE armies will build their lists around Pain tokens or to take maximum advantage of this. This is fine and there are lists which can still do well without focusing on either of these concepts. That being said, if you are aiming to utilise pain tokens significantly in your army, you must plan. How are the tokens being transferred back and forth between squads (if at all)? What squads need those pain tokens, etc. That being said, don’t over-do it. Whilst having all of your squads start with the 3 F’s (FNP/FC/Fearless), your army will suffer on the whole as you have less units and firepower. This is very much like Tervigons/Priests in other armies, you need to balance the utility of the army with its offensive output.

Brent is also writing an article for me (awww) similar to his pain token article so I’ll put that up whenever he sends it to me!

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