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40K: The Subfaction Keywords Are Enabling Cheaters

6 Minute Read
Feb 14 2019

Let’s talk about how people are cheating using sub-faction keywords.

The keyword system is a core part of 8th Edition and central to both army building and many tabletop abilities. While it works very well, for the most part, it does have a few confusing parts (just how DOES Brood Brothers work?) that cause hiccups. Most players will probably have their most significant issues with the with keywords during army building, which questions like “who can take Assassins” coming up pretty often. However some less savory types are using keywords, and in particular sub-faction keywords and their abilities in insidious ways. Today lets take a quick look at three ways people are cheating with sub-factions keywords.

NOTE: Just to be clear I am not saying any names or accusing anybody specifically of using these tactics. While I’ve heard reports of and seen them being used, I don’t 100% percent know the truth of any of particular stories out there. 

The Mystery Knight

One of the common ways people are cheating with sub-faction keywords is with Imperial Knights. They can get away with this in large part due to the general confusion of how the Knight Subfaction rules work.  Page 90 of the Knight Codex describes how each knight HAS to pick keywords to replace their <Questor Allegiance> and <household> keywords. This is not an option you have, and every knight MUST do it. Currently, the most common knight house seems to be Raven as it is very powerful. If you continue on in the Knight Codex, you will find on 106-107 rules describing the special abilities of knight households (Household Traditions) and who gets them. Normally all Knights in a detachment gain the Tradition, in House Raven’s case, this allows the knight to count heavy weapons as assault weapons when advancing and to ignore the -1 to hit when firing assault weapons after advancing.

Now as I said, usually all knights with the Household Keyword gain the Tradition, the exception here is Knights taken as part of a Super-heavy Auxiliary Detachment (a detachment currently used in a lot of lists) do not gain the Household Tradition. Now, these knights still have the, in this case, Raven keyword so they can use Household Raven Stratagems, Warlord traits and be given Raven relics. What they can not do is advance and fire heavy weapons or ignore the -1 to hit when doing so. However, some players, either purposefully or on accident chose to “forget” that part of the rule. Simply letting people think that because it’s a Raven unit it gets the Raven Tradition.

This allegedly happened at major tournaments, with players reportedly being called on it and claiming they misread the rule. I’ve seen it happen enough to doubt that all instances of it happening are innocent. However, the issue is compounded by a widespread misunderstanding of the rule, with some people accusing a player of cheating for using the Raven stratagem when such a thing is perfectly legal. I’ve also seen players use a similar tactic by forgetting what units are affected by their sub-faction abilities, i.e., trying to get chapter tactics on non-dreadnought vehicles. It’s something to watch out for.


The Shell Game

The Shell Game as I call it is another cheating tactic used by players. I’ve most often seen it used by Ynnari players, but others do it as well. The way I’ve seen it is done is for players to take a Ynnari list with two almost identical units, something like this:

These units are identical aside from the sub-faction keyword. Because they are part of a Ynnari detachment, they do not gain any sub-faction rule but CAN be targeted by their sub-faction stratagems, both of which are beneficial to the units but in different situations. Now unless the two units are very easy to tell apart on the tabletop, it can be very hard to keep track of which one is which. Now some players like to go with a constant theme and so paint all their units, even if they come from different sub-factions the same (perhaps it even makes sense with Ynnari). A player trying to cheat you will almost certainly make it, so these two units are impossible to tell apart. In the confusion of the game, they will try to make you loss track of which unit is which.  They certainly won’t keep track at all. Their goal is to be able to use either faction stratagem on either unit when it best suits them… maybe Schrodinger’s Shining Spears is the better name for this trick!

All Mixed Up

Time to make some soup! 

The third trick I’m going to talk about is kind of similar to the one above. The current meta has to lead to not just a lot of soup lists, but many mono-faction lists using multiply detachments with multiple sub-factions.  Drukhari even get bonuses for doing this very thing! But other factions, such as Orks, do it a lot. The key to this trick is merely to make it very hard to distinguish which units belong to which sub-faction and claim benefits as wanted. A player with say two units of Alpha Legion Cultists and one Unit of Emperor’s Children Cultists might paint them all to look the same and claim the -1 to hit three units in the shooting phase, or simply declare that whichever unit you happen to shoot at is the Alpha Legion one. Another player might have identical looking units of Cadians and Mordians mixed in some ruins and the heat of battle “accidentally” have a Cadian officer give an order to a Mordian unit. More simply you might have two units of Kabal of the Black Heart and one Kabal of the Flayed Skull unit near a Black Heart Archon and have all three units reroll ones to hit. If the enemy army is confusing, especially if it’s purposefully so, this can of thing can be hard to catch or notice.

Final Thoughts: Confusion vs. Cheating


One of the things that make these particular tactics so insidious is that it’s very hard to tell if they are done or purpose or are simple mistakes. If someone cheats at dice, or moves too far or something like that its pretty easy to call them a cheater. However, these cheats listed above are very easy to shrug off as honest mistakes. Maybe that player did just misread or misunderstand the rule. Maybe the player painted his army to fit a theme and did confuse the two units. Maybe in the heat of battle and while getting rerolls for all her other units it just slipped her mind that she doesn’t get re-rolls on that one unit. It’s really hard to tell, especially when the other player is apologizing and admitting they made a mistake. The only way to judge is by intent, and for that, you kind of have to know the other players and their history, something you rarely do at a big event. Ultimately even if done on accident it is on the player to know their rules and keep their units straight. But as the other person in a (normally) two-person game, it is also good to keep an eye out and be watchful of these tactics.

Let us know how you would avoid these tactics, down in the comments! 

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