Today we talk about the present and future Codex Chaos Space Marines. Here’s what they need to compete with the goody-two-shoes Loyalists.
“But you guys don’t NEED Legion Rules!”
Even if that was true (it isn’t), we still want them. This is a game where entire chapters just suddenly remember they have had those snazzy Centurions and Storm Talons for millennia, hadn’t you noticed them packing out hangars? Let’s not pretend anything is written in stone.
But yes, even granting the whole “there are no legions anymore” point (which will be a surprise to Word Bearers, Iron Warriors, and probably the Alpha Legion), warbands drawn from the old legions still share units, doctrines and more. An army drawn primarily from Death Guard companies will be absurdly different in gear, tactics, strategy and composition than one formed by Night Lord survivors of Tsalgualsa. Certainly more than two Loyalist chapters that both turn to the same rulebook telling them how many Devastator units are kosher in a single FOC. And double certain more than a single clan within a chapter (Raukaan)!
Using Marks and Creating Variation
The mechanics of Chaos Marks is a handy way to create differences between units that occupy the same slot but need to be different to fit different themes. Basically, they can turn a single unit profile into four. But only if they are used correctly. Otherwise, they are there just to offer useless, non-synergistic pseudo-buffs. You say Mark of Tzeentch can give my marines a mighty 6+ invulnerable save? That’s a steal at any cost! Even better than putting Mark of Slaanesh on my Obliterators so they go from I1 to I1, and I’m a man who enjoys his I1.
The problems here is that having flat marks and bonuses can quickly get wonky across different slots. A bonus that is only mediocre on a Raptor can make a chaos Biker very powerful, and vice versa. What’s more, Marks are usually the recourse to create the theme of the army, in lieu of, you know, actual cult armies.
One possible fix could be a two-tier system of marks. The basic marks have flat, easy bonuses to signify the ‘casual’ worshipper of that deity. Greater marks bring stronger rewards meant for those fully devoted (as in, cult troop level of worship), maybe some drawbacks, and are unlocked by your Warlord getting one. Let’s give it a shot, not even bothering to stray much from the current values:
Mark of Nurgle: +1 Toughness
Mark of slaanesh: +1 Initiative
Mark of Khorne: Rage, Counterattack
Mark of Tzeentch: Inv save 5+ or +1 bonus to existing Invul.
Mark of the Renegade: Unit regroups automatically the turn after a failed Morale roll.
And then moving on to the pro tier:
Greater Mark of Nurgle: +1 Toughness, Feel no Pain (5+), Slow and Purposeful
Greater Mark of Slaanesh: +1 Initiative, Fleet, opens Sonic Weapons for most units.
GreaterMark of Khorne: Rage, Counterattack, Hatred, Adamantium Will
Greater Mark of Tzeentch: Inv save 5+ or +1 bonus to existing Invul, +1 Warp charge per turn
Working with Units
A caveat before we start talking big changes. Currently, as others have rightly pointed out here, basic CSM are rather meh and overcosted, and the pricy add-ons that you are supposed to add to turn them into badasses doesn’t really work. Loyalists somehow manage to squeeze ATSKNF and their (often great) chapter tactics into a single point, while chaos pays two to remember to bring a combat knife. So the changes suggested will be big, and powerful.
It could just be me, but I believe that rules-wise, CSM should be stronger than their imperial counterparts, but also more expensive. Get cultists for numbers and rabble; this army is about the hateful veterans of millennia of warfare. Their champions have killed not only hundreds of xenos and loyalists but even rival daemons and traitors. So yeah, they should be impressive, and cost the appropriate chunk of points.
Khorne Berserkers: Theses guys need punch. And they need to lose that archaic, ridiculous ‘ability’ to pack more plasma pistols than anyone else. What the hell is up with that? Bring them to 2 base attacks, let the unit take up to 2 more power weapons instead of plasma pistols, and they’ll be closer to the orks in power armor that they were meant to be.
Plague Marines: Plagues are alright; expensive, but you get what you pay for. In keeping with the greater marks above, I like the idea of them as a slow but inexorable march of rot. I really wish they had options to bring more poison/pestilence stuff, though, instead of just blight grenades. How about a 3+ poisoned flamer, or letting the champion take a Rad grenade analog?
Noise Marines: Again, new marks would be enough. The main issue here are not the stats but sonic weapons. The basic Noise Blaster really needs a small bump to be worthwhile. Either salvo 2/4 to let static troops really unleash a wall of death metal, or make it pinning as well to keep in theme with the other sonic gear.
Thousand Sons: Ooooh, boy. 1K Son are tricky. They can so easily slip into broken excess, especially now in 7th where psychic powers can make or break a game. And yet there is so much potential in a unit that is basically a powerful psyker leading his arcane automatons around. As they are, you get a terrible psyker with access to the worst chart in the game, slow troops that are only somewhat adept at shooting (and shooting is all they do), and can’t even fire overwatch, so once anyone is close, count them as lost. The easiest way out would be to just improve the Tzeentch table and make them lose SnP as long as the Aspiring sorcerer is alive. A real fix could be drop their save to a 5++ but give two wounds each, to signify the empty-armor golem resilience, and make their weapons Rending instead of AP3 (There is a serious lack of Rending stuff in the CSM book anyway). Drop their Initiative to 1, and maybe let them spend Warp Charges on buffs as long as the Sorcerer is up, like Tau markerlights: 1 charge for S5 bolters for the turn, 1 charge to reroll 1s to hit, 2 charges to bump their invul save to 4+ that turn, stuff like that.
Chaos Terminators: I could write a whole article about how Terminators, not just the Chaos version but all of them, are perhaps one of the most iconic units in a game that also suck horribly at their own game. I can’t even remember a game in which Terminators were not involved where they not only failed to do anything meaningful, but where they were not wiped from the board the turn they arrived. Unless they were just a pile of Storm Shields, in which case they lasted longer but achieved even less. A 2+ armor save on a Dreadknight or Riptide is scary. On these guys…not so much. Termis everywhere need to either get T5 or 2 wounds, stat. But getting back to the chaos stuff, I’d love it if the traitor had access only to the older, 30k Cataphracti pattern of the suit from the heresy, with Slow and Purposeful but a 4+ invulnerable. It would be a neat, characterful way to differentiate their wargear from loyalist stuff. And greater marks to give them Cult options, naturally.
Mutilators: I don’t mean to be petty with GW design staff; I’m sure they are nice people who hardly ever murder anyone for cigarettemoney. But it takes some doing to make a specialist unit that is awful at what it is supposed to specialize in. These guys are pricy, fight like average marines, have a low volume of attacks, small unit size, and are so slow that evading them is a joke even for Necrons. Give them WS 5 and Rampage, and maybe move Through Cover instead of SnP as well, and maybe they’d be worth the effort.
Chaos Cultists: I like cultists. But they could be even more fun. These guys are fodder. Let other Chaos units shoot units engaged in CC with them, with every miss being a hit on a cultist. Or let me kill d6 cultists to reroll a result on the Chaos Boon table. What is the fun of being evil if you can’t pointlessly slaughter underlings?
Heldrake: They were broken before and are fine now. My one nitpick is: give them BS4. It breaks the awful “All daemon engines are WS3 and BS 3” dogma, and makes the butcher cannon attractive, so finally you see something other than baleflamers on the boards.
Playing with the Big Boys Now
Kharn the Betrayer: I love Kharn. Reading his page in the 4th edition book was pretty much what got me both into Chaos and 40K, all at once. His current rules are fine: an affordable CC monster that can kill anything, but also be killed by pretty much anything in turn. I sometimes think Eternal Warrior would suit him (he’s been around for millennia after all, and not idle when there are skulls to take), but might also defeat the purpose. Maybe just a Yarrick-style rule that lets him come back with 1 wound after being killed on a die roll, as Khorne has not grown tired of watching his axe rise and fall just yet.
Typhus the Wanderer: Another fun, cool unit, but a bit overcosted. The Nurgle table is not bad, but nothing to sing about, and when compared to the terror that is Biomancy, it looks rather plain. I’d say give him an extra Wound to highlight his endurance even beyond that of other Nurgle Lords, lethim re-roll his Nurgle powers, and he’s good.
Lucius the Eternal: Funny how the guy who should be all about dueling the finest champions of the galaxy is only good for tearing through baseline marines. Lucius needs and AP2 weapon or Rending to have any hope against special characters at his point cost, or maybe a custom rule that lowers any save or those in a challenge with him by 1 to represent his ability to find weak points in defenses. He needs a 4+ invulnerable save or better so as not to instantly explode whenever he fails to kill a thunder hammer/storm shield captain in a turn (which he will, always) and gets pulped in return. Which will happen. A lot.
Huron Blackheart: Huron is fine in my book. He’s cheap, has options to face almost anything without being embarrassed, and has cool fluff. I dislike the whole random table fixation of the CSM book, and the hamadrya and its powers qualify. Just pick two disciplines for it already. He could benefit from artificer armor, though. Or fleshmetal. However you want to call it. He’s way more machine than Chplain Cassius, and that guy gets to be T6!
Ahriman: Where to start? Like regular 1K Sons, there is so much potential here, all of it squandered. First things first, get this man a Spell Familiar. He has on e in the fluff. It has a freaking name! Add Divination to his allowed disciplines: he was the chief of the Corvidae, whose whole hat was gazing into the future. In fact, either give him access to all or nearly-all rulebook disciplines, or let him re-roll his selection of powers. And again, make the Tzeentch primaris something deadlier than a rain of allergen-free pillows. Maybe then he’ll be worth his outrageous price tag.
Abaddon the Despoiler: All things considered, they haven’t managed to mess up Abaddon yet. He’s the monster he should be for his price range and place in fluff. I’d just change the Talon of Horus ranged profile to the 30K equivalent for a bit more versatility. And using the Greater Marks idea from above, grant him all the lesser marks and one Greater mark of your choice to represent which deity he is courting at the moment. Oh, and grenades.
Daemon Prince: Wings, baby, wings. They make all the difference, and are all that keeps the DP from being the worst MC in the game. A flying Nurgle Prince claiming 2+ cover save because it is above a ruin is straight-up nightmare (and a ridiculous abuse of the rules. “Sarge, we keep missing the building-sized monster 30 feet away because it is casting a shadow over that fortress!”). A walking Tzeentch prince is an expensive joke that will be insta-killed by a Tau railcannon, a dread CCW, or even a vindicator blast. Hell, rapid-fire bolters/lasguns can usually put one of them down even if you pick armor for it, especially if backed by some Divination or Biomancy.
These guys should be scary. They should be monsters. Planets crack like eggs when one of these dudes show up. Give them 5-6 wounds like nid beasts, T6 or their old EW back. The wingless version should be able to purchase a 2+ armor. And give them assault grenades, for pity’s sake!
Dark Apostle: One of my pet exhibits in the “You think GW makes new units powerful to force you to buy them? Well look at this poor sod..” expo. Why would I want a bubble of LD10 when so many units already have that or fearless? To buff up my cultist fodder? I can just grab a hellbrute formation for that and get far more utility and firepower. The reroll on the boon table is pointless as it will force you to put both HQs from your detachment in a single, hideously expensive unit to work.
Make this guy a versatile blasphemer. Give him the power to grant one unit within 18” a free Mark of Chaos for that turn, or boost it into a Greater one if they already have it. Let Deep Strike arrivals within 6 inches of him reroll scatter as he guides them out of the warp with fell hymns.
Warpsmith: And now for exhibit B. This unit has fleshmetal going for it…and nothing else. Well, some nice ranged options. It can’t shatter enemy-purchased terrain, can’t get decent weapon options, and it’s usually just a better bet to bring two of any important vehicle using his points rather than bringing him in and hoping you can fix your one ride. Make all Daemon Engines within 6” of him re-roll failed IWND tests, or gain the Favored enemy special rule.
Chaos Lord: These guys are fine. Customizable, fearless, fun. I’d just add the option of purchasing Fleshmetal, because it’s a weirdly underused rule. And a further Chaos Overlord profile with 4 wounds and an extra attack, to match up with the SM Chapter Masters.
Chaos Sorcerer: Not bad, not great. What really borks these guys is the mandatory deity power when they take a mark, forcing you to get awful powers to make a fluffy army. And let them also unlock their cult troops! You’re telling me a Nurgle Sorcerer that can rot continents doesn’t inspire awe in his pestilent troops?