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Warhammer 40K: Specialist Detachments May Be A Thing Of the Past

5 Minute Read
Oct 08

Let’s talk about why Specialists Detachments might have been a failed experiment.

The Vigilus Campaign was the first large  campaign for 8th Edition 40K. It introduced a large number of new rules and units into the game, and presented a thoroughly detailed story. One of the major aspects of the new rules presented in both Vigilus I and II were Specialist Detachments. However with Psychic Awakening about to arrive, we aren’t seeing any new detachments promised. It’s in fact possible that Specialist Detachments were a failed experiment in expanding the game. Let’s dig in and talk about what happened and why.

A New Type of Rule

Vigilus introduced the concept of Specialist Detachments to 8th Edition. At its core it was a cool and pretty easy way to add some extra rules and flavor to armies. Specialist Detachments allowed you to spend some extra command points to unlock some new rules and keywords for certain units. They also added a few extra warlord traits, relics and stratagems to your arsenal. These weren’t major expansions, normally giving you one warlord trait, one relic and two stratagems. This proved a very easy and simple way to give all the many armies fighting in the war zone something new and to encourage and reward the building of fluffy lists. Given how much they were used in Vigilus it seemed likely that this style of rules would be used in later campaign publications.

Missing From Psychic Awakening

With the Next Big Thing (TM) about to arrive a lot of us have been wondering just what type of rules Psychic Awakening would contain. It seemed likely that this new campaign would continue the trend of Vigilus and have new Specialist Detachments in it.  This seemed like a decent way to add rules into the game and to reward fluff, campaign specific army builds. However, when GW previewed what rules are coming in the new Phoenix Rising book there was no mention of new specialist detachments there.

Now it’s possible that GW just forgot to mention Specialist Detachments in their preview, or are keeping them a surprise, but given the trim size of the book (80 pages) and the rules we know are going to be in it, I don’t think that’s likely. What seems more likely is that Specialist Detachments aren’t going to be a concept used in Psychic Awakening. This likely means they were an experiment used in Vigilus that GW has moved away from at this point. A failed experiment.

Why Stop Using Them?

So why would GW rethink using Specialist Detachments. They were after all an easy way to expand factions. Well, while they had their good points, they also had some major disadvantages. In particular I think their major flaw was that they added a lot of complexity for relatively little reward. Additionally I think many players found the majority of them to simply not be worth using. The complexity came in the detachments’ use of keywords. When taking a Specialist Detachment certain units in the chosen detachment would gain a new keyword. Generally speaking the relics, traits and stratagems gained would only work on units with the needed keyword. This however could add a lot of random complexity to the game that at times was hard to keep track of.


For instance lets say I was playing an Imperial Guard army, with two battalion detachments and both contained 3 units of Catachan Infantry Squads and 1 units of Veterans. Now let’s say I chose to make one of those battalions an Emperor’s Conclave Infantry Company Specialist Detachment. This is a valid choice but adds a lot of complexity to the list. I now have to remember that the Infantry Squads from one detachments get the new keyword, while those from the other don’t. I’ve also gotta remember that none of the Veterans get it, though any Command Squads, made up of Veterans, form the chosen detachment would get. Now when using the new abilities I’ve got to remember that they can only target some of my otherwise identical Infantry Squads.

Now this is hardly the most complex set of rules ever, nor the most difficult to remember part of the game, but it IS extra complexity. During the heat of a game it can be very easy to forget which identical unit can be affected by your rules, and an unscrupulous player would not find it all that hard to confuse his opponent. Moreover for all the extra added complexity you don’t really get all that much. Most of the time you might get a Warlord trait and maybe the use of a stratagem once or twice. Overall it’s a lot of extra rules for a little bit of gain.

Lastly as mentioned a lot of players found most of the detachments to simply not be worth it. They came with a fairly high cost. Simply using a detachment cost you a CP, but in and of itself the CP just gave you keywords that did nothing themselves. You had to then spend further CP to get the warlord traits, relics or stratagems (or sacrifice your default trait or relic). Given that most of the effects only worked on a few of your units in order to get much use out of the detachments you had to spend a lot of CPs and build very specific armies. While a few of the detachments were good enough to justify this, many weren’t.

Gone But Not Forgotten

So for all the reasons given Specialist Detachments were an interesting but flawed idea. Based on what we’ve seen is coming in Psychic Awakening it seems likely that they are an idea GW is moving away from, at least for now. Instead GW seems to be buffing lists with new and more flexible army/sub-faction rules, something that adds plenty of flavor but is a little easier to keep track of. Overall I can’t say I’ll really miss Specialist Detachments too much. Indeed many of the rules from the Space Marines ones at least got rolled into the new Codex and Supplements, meaning the best ideas will be with us for a while to come.


Let us know if you think this is the last we’ve seen of Specialist Detachments, down in the comments!

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