(Image courtesy of Games Workshop)
So, I’ve been meaning to write this review ever since the book came out. Sadly, work and other real life stuff has been incessantly getting in the way, and so this review is a bit late– by now, most of you have already read better, and more concise reviews on the new codex. Regardless, I’m here to give my two cents on the new book, what I like and dislike about it, what I thought the most significant changes are, and what I think it means for the army going forward.
Without further adiue, here’s my take on the new Codex: Drukhari.
In general, the background section in the codex is quite solid. A lot of the things that have been in the previous two codexes are in there as well- background on individual units, a lengthy and detailed history of the Drukhari, from the Fall to the present day, and a description regions and society of the Dark City. This background, while detailed and well-written, is also largely unchanged from the past two codexes. What’s new, however, is a large section that goes into detail on various Kabals, Wych Cults and Covens within the Dark City– something that the previous books never did. I personally found this to be a significant improvement, as one thing I felt the previous books were lacking were details on individual Kabals, their organizations, cultures and societies: it is nuggets of information like these that are great for helping players develop fluff for their own armies. I found myself particularly liking the descriptions of the Kabal of the Last Hatred (re: Drukharii dabbling in necromancy), and the Cult of the Blade Denied (Wyches who practice unarmed combat). The book even goes into detail on how Kabals, Cults and Covens are organized– I now know for the first time that Kabals are organized into company-like subgroups called “shards,” which in turn are divided into “splinters” (Cults and Covens have Circles and Cells, respectively)
One of my biggest questions prior to the release of the new codex was: what was going to change? The new edition of 40k has pushed the story forward in some massive, sweeping ways, particularly with half of the galaxy now being covered by the Cicatrix Maledictum. Given that the past Dark Eldar codex (and the Gathering Storm books) left the story of the Dark City on a bit of a cliffhanger, with Khaine’s Gate on the verge of opening and unleashing an apocalypse upon Commoragh. It was a dire note to leave the story of the Dark City on, and I was very curious to see how they would resolve it.
Well resolve it they did, in ways I wasn’t expecting. The relevant new plot points include:
-Khaine’s Gate opened, unleashing a massive Daemon invasion on the Dark City. Eventually, the invasion was beaten back to its origin point, but not defeated– instead, the sub-realm containing Khaine’s Gate was isolated, and is now called the Chasm of Woe. Even then, however, daemons are still pouring forth from the Gate, and Vect has now been forced to sacrifice more and more sub-dimensions just to keep them in check. I found this to be an interesting plot point, albeit a somewhat grim one: like the rest of the galaxy, Comorragh hasn’t been unscathed by the opening of the Maledictum and the rise of Chaos. While it hasn’t fallen, it is now slowly but surely being eaten alive from the inside, dying a slow death. It lends a new dimension to the story, as it raises a lot of interesting questions: how will the Drukhari stave off their eventual extinction? Will they band together, or stay their usual, selfish course?
-Speaking of Asdrubael Vect, he pulled a grand ploy by staging his own death, being visibly torn apart by Mandrakes and seemingly having all of his soul-containers annihilated. A wake was held for him, and naturally, all of his enemies came to gloat…and naturally, all of his enemies wound up very dead when Vect revealed he was alive and executed his grand trap. Vect has now consolidated his power even more and has declared himself “the Living Muse” (ie essentially a paragon of Drukhari ideals). Interestingly, Lady Malys had the foresight not to attend, and took her Kabal into the webway outside of Commoragh, where they wait still. Perhaps more of Vect vs Malys looms on the horizon?
-There’s also more mentioned on the Ynnari– namely that Lelith Hesperax and the Cult of Strife have joined the Ynnari’s crusade, despite the fact that Lelith was the one who killed Yvraine in the first place. Lelith’s reasons are that she wants to take on Lucius the Eternal– a prospect that intrigues and terrifies me. On the one hand, if anyone could potentially beat Lucius, it’s Lelith. On the other hand, a proud creature like the Queen of Knives can’t possibly resist Lucius’ curse– ie, feel pride at killing him, and thus get possessed by him. Meanwhile, Vect is plotting to deal with Yvraine, seeing this new prophet as a threat to his power base.
-The Haemonculi have taken an interest in capturing Primaris Marines and Custodes. There’s also a fluff bit the Inquisition briefly discovering a Coven making a blood and guts-covered version of the Golden Throne. Given that there was an earlier bit in the Mechanicus book about the Mechanicus trading with the Haemonculi in order to fix the Golden Throne, perhaps this is a result of that devil’s pact.
Believe it or not, the artwork is always a big deal for me in a new codex. Whether it be a new release or just an updated one, the artwork has always been key in giving the codex a sense of theme, atmosphere and character– an illustration of a Space Marine resolutely firing his bolter, for instance, or even better, fighting a swarm of Orks or Tyranids while surrounded, gives you a visual idea of what the army is like in battle that the unit descriptions, fluff and painted minis do not. To me, the artwork fills in the gaps and supports the fluff, and a lot of previous books have had some truly fantastic art pieces. The last two Dark Eldar codexes, in particular, have had some very good pieces of artwork, not just of the Dark Eldar in battle, but of the Dark City and life within it.
Sadly, this new Codex falls short in the art department. While there is one good new colour art piece in the book showing the Drukhari murderizing some White Scars, for the most part almost all of the artwork is recycled from previous codexes. There a lot of portrait-style illustrations showing members of the various Kabals, Cults, Covens, etc, and in some cases these are very well done, especially where they do full-body portraits to display that subfaction’s colours and visual themes. For the most part, though, these portraits are pretty hideous– I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but whoever did them just cannot draw faces. All in all, I’m just not impressed.
THE ARMY OF THREE
For the most part, there remain a lot of rules similarities between Index and Codex– for instance, the core rules, Power from Pain and Combat Drugs, remain unchanged. The most significant however, come not from the core rules, but from army organization. In the new Drukhari book, Kabals, Wych Cults and Haemonculi Covens are all treated as distinct factions– in many ways, the book is one that covers three armies, rather than one, with each having not just their own separate keywords but also distinct subfactions. This makes mixing and matching units impossible outside of fielding separate detachments– although certain units like Incubi, Scourges and Mandrakes have no factional keywords and are freely usable by all three groups. To compensate for this lack of integration, the book features the “Raiding Force” rule, which means that if the army comprises of at least three Patrol detachments, then the army gains +4 command points instead of the usual +3.
I have to admit that I am personally torn on this rule change. On the one hand, I like the fact that the book is reflecting the fact that the Drukhari are NOT a unified race– that each raiding force is not a single army, but a loose collection of vaguely combined interests that will happily turn on each other once the fighting is finished. It also emphasizes that Kabals, Cults and Covens are all their own unique factions, and need to be treated as such Indeed, the Alliance of Agony stratagem (more on that later) makes it all the more rewarding to field the Drukhari as a tripartite force. At the same time, however, there is a “taxation” element to this that reminds me uncomfortably of the hated formations and detachments of 7th edition, and which makes it difficult to field armies themed around a single faction. In order to field a pair Ravagers in support of a Wych Cult, for example, I would first have to throw in an Archon, and then, depending on which detachment I’m using for said Ravagers, also throw in a squad of Kabalites or one more Ravager than I needed or wanted. In making the Drukhari a tripartite army, they made it a lot more difficult for armies from just a single faction to function competitively, which could be a problem for players who have a specific theme in mind for their army. That being said, how well “mono faction” armies can fare in this edition I think is a topic that needs to be explored further.
It is worth noting, by the way, that while I personally find the Raiding Force option to be a fun one, if you really want lots of CP in your army, you are better off going with Battalions (especially since they yield 5 CP as of the FAQ), and/or going for a CP farming combo of Black Heart/Prophets of Flesh. Ultimately there is only one CP of difference between a Raiding Force and a Battalion, and certainly, Drukhari can make up the difference in various ways, but the Raiding Force is certainly not the only option for the Drukhari when it comes to detachments.
It’s also worth going into the subfaction rules for a bit. Like most other Codex armies released up until now, the Drukhari have a list of subfactions (or “obsessions”) in their book, only in this case their obsessions are divided, as is everything else in the book, betweek Kabals, Wych Cults and Haemonculous Covens. Almost all of the obsessions have a general theme in mind: Kabal obsessions tend to be very shooty, Wych obsessions all have assault bonuses, whereas the three Haemonculi Covens revolve around resilience, leadership debuffs and armour-piercing attacks, respectively. What I like about the subfactions in Codex: Drukhari, however, is that there are few “obvious” or “mandatory” choices like you get in the other codexes, where some subfactions (ie Alaitoc, Salamanders, Alpha Legion) have become go-to competitive choices. I can honestly and happily say that I remain torn on which Kabal obsession to use for my army, as they are all equally good: the Flayed Skull and Poisoned Tongue both boost the massed splinter fire of Kabalites, the Obsidian Rose is just generally good with their range bonuses, and the Black Heart lets vehicles ignores wounds on a 6+, and has an amazing relic, warlord trait and signature stratagem to boot. The same goes for the Wych Cults– all three of their obsessions are worth taking, and all three are ones that I want to experiment with in the future. I would say that the only real “no brainer” subfaction in the army is the Prophets of Flesh Haemonculus Coven, partly because Wracks, Grotesques and Taloi with a 4+ invulnerable save are amazing, and partly because their Diabolic Soothsayer warlord trait is a must-have for any Alliance of Agony list. Overall, though, the obsessions of the Drukhari open up a lot of tactical and list-building options, and I am excited to explore those options in the games to come.
UNITS- WHAT HAS CHANGED
It will take too long to go through the major changes unit by unit, so just as a quick summary of the standouts for me:
-Just as I had hoped, the Archon has gone from zero to hero (or villain, rather). Firstly, he has received a rules buff, with the Overlord rule now giving them a “reroll 1s to hit” aura instead of simply giving nearby minions his leadership. More importantly, Archons now have access to better melee weapons, with the huskblade having been boosted to a beautiful +1 strength and d3 wounds, and, as will be mentioned later, they also have access to a wide array of relics, warlord traits and stratagems that can make them extra killy. The Archon is a scary model once again, and I couldn’t be happier.
It should be worth adding, by the way, that this has not happened at the expense of the other 2 HQ choices. Both the Wyches and the Haemonculous now have a plethora of great options of their own, and both are still quite good at their respective roles and factions…and now, thanks to the Alliance of Agony stratagem, you’re pretty much encouraged to take all three.
-Although they are single models, the Court of the Archon do not count as characters, and so, thanks to the rules around targeting characters, are now much more useful than they were before as bodyguards. Already, I’ve seen Sslyth show up in a lot more lists because of this.
-Warriors now can take 2 blasters in a unit of 10, making large units of them an even more attractive option. Perhaps fittingly, Raiders now come once again with the option for splinter racks, allowing the passengers on board get exploding 6s with their splinter weapons. This makes them arguably a better (albeit pricier) option than 5-man units in Venoms, but I guess it depends on your points and play style. Two units of 5 riding on a single Raider is definitely an attractive option, however.
-Blasters are much better now, doing d6 damage as opposed to the d3 from the Index. This makes Kabalites, Scourges, Reavers, and any other unit capable of wielding blasters that much more effective.
-I was terrified that Mandrakes would be nerfed in some way, or worse, exiled into the limbo of uncertainty that is the Index. Thankfully, this was not the case: they are still in the book, and are still boasting a decent shooting attack, boatloads of melee attacks and their -1 to hit ability. I can’t wait to use these creepers more in the future.
-Wyches, as I had hoped, got a significant boost as well, now coming with +1 attack base, a choice of either +1 strength, +1 attack on the charge or rerolling charge distances (depending on their obsession), and a slight buff to their dodge save– out of combat, they now get a 6+ invulnerable save, which stacks with Power from Pain. It’s still not great– Wyches are still going to die like ants to shooting– but it’s still much better than what they had before. Besides which, thanks to things like the Webway Portal stratagem, being able to reroll charge distances on turn 2, Cult of the Red Grief, etc, they can get into combat a lot sooner. It’s also worth noting that shardnets and impalers have improved dramatically, bolsterng Wyches’ chances of keeping enemies from falling back.
-Grotesques, incidentally, have been improved somewhat now that their monstrous cleavers are -2 armour instead of -1. Taloi, similarly, have had some of their melee weapons buffed slightly. Combine this with Haemonculous Coven obsessions and suddenly they become amazing.
-A quick note on special characters: Lelith Hesperax has not changed too much, as she can still unleash half a million attacks on her own. Now, however, she can also choose a stat to boost at the start of each turn, in a similar manner to combat drugs (only better, in that she can change it each turn, and that this does not use up a combat drug “slot”). Drazhar, meanwhile, has become downright amazing: not only has he gained the Hatred Eternal warlord trait to reroll failed to wound rolls, but he can now attack twice in the Fight phase after charging. In other words, Drazhar is now officially the Drukhari version of Kharn.
Oh yes, and Urien Rakarth now boots the strength as well as toughness of nearby Coven units, making any nearby Grotesques or Taloi extra tasty.
-Trueborn and Bloodbrides are gone, as are blasters for Archons. They are still available in the Index, though, which means they are still technically usable.
As expected, the new codex has also brought with it new relics, warlord traits and stratagems for the Drukharii to bring them in line with the current range of codexes. In keeping with the overall theme of the codex, while several of these relics are universal, many others are specific to either Kabals, Cults of Covens (while a select few are even sub-faction specific). Without going into too many details, I will simply say that for the most part, the relics are quite good: there are no relics that immediately stand out as “bad” or underpowered (except maybe the Spirit’s Sting, and I’d say that’s more situational than anything else), and a select few of the relics are downright amazing. Standouts for me include the Helm of Spite (which lets you deny psychic powers and force Perils of the Warp in the process), the new and improved Djin Blade (which still grants +2 attacks and can still mortally wound its bearer on a roll of 1, but grants +1 strength and d3 wounds in the bargain). There are some neat obsession-specific items as well, such as the Kabal of the Black Heart’s Writ of the Living Muse, which grants your Archon an aura of reroll 1s to wound in addition to his/her rerolling 1s to hit aura, and the Cult of Red Grief’s Blood Glaive (an Archite Glaive without the -1 to hit penalty that does d3 damage). A full list of the relics, and the character combos that they open up, may very well be the subject of a future blog post (although HERO, being the hero that he is, has already written a very good article on the subject).
Again, the Warlord traits are divided between Kabals, Cults and Covens, and some of them are subfaction-specific. Once again, though, the selection is actually quite good, ranging from competitive to enjoyable, and there are very few traits that aren’t worth taking. The traits range from letting your Archon reroll wounds regain wounds by killing models, to Succubi getting extra combat drug rolls, inflicting mortal wounds or boosting their invulnerable saves to 3+, to Haemonculi regenerating d3 wounds a turn, boosting the invulnerable saves of nearby Coven units and reducing the amount of damage they suffer. Two standouts are the Prophets of Flesh trait Diabolical Soothsayer (which grants d3 command points at the start of the game, which is almost a must-have for an Alliance of Agony) and the Black Heart trait Labyrinthine Cunning, which lets you roll a d6 every time you or your opponent spend a CP and regain one on a 6. While these two traits, for Haemonculi and Archons respectively, are extremely good almost to the point of being must-haves, the other traits are still quite good as well, and the Alliance of Agony will give a player to chance to try multiple multi-faction traits in one list. One combination I am personally keen to try is a Flayed Skull Archon with the Djin Blade and the Famed Savagery trait, as this will give him 8 strength 5 attacks rerolling 1s and doing d3 wounds (with the potential for the attacks and strength going up further if he kills a character and uses the Soul Trap stratagem– more on that in a bit).
Probably the second biggest new change advantage to the Drukhari after their Obsessions and Raiding Force rule are their stratagems. Speaking as someone who, up until now, has been fielding Index-only armies and thus has not used stratagems that extensively, they will be a new and interesting experience for me, and, like everything else, one that will bear much experimentation. The sheer number of stratagems that the Drukhari have (33 to be exact) is going to take some getting used to as well, as it will be difficult to remember most of them– I suspect that the stratagem cards that came with my copy of the codex are going to be very handy for this reason.
Numbers aside, what I will say is that the Drukhari stratagems generally seem quite fun and, more importantly, characterful– a lot of them reflect things I had always imagined the Dark Eldar doing in the background, like having lightning-fast reflexes or being masters of terror terror tactics. A lot of old wargear items and unit rules have been recycled as stratagems as well. Some of my favourites include:
-Soul Trap- if your character kills an enemy character, they gain +1 strength and +1 attack for the rest of the game. As far as I can tell, this is cumulative.
-Lightning-Fast Reactions (2 CP)- any unit that isn’t a Coven unit can force -1 to hit in either shooting or melee.
-Fleshcraft (1 CP)- a Coven unit can regain D3 wounds
-Eviscerating Fly-By (1 CP)- a Wych Cult unit with the Fly keyword can fly over an enemy unit and inflict mortal wounds (the old, and long-missed, 6th ed Reaver rule)
-Cruel Deception (2 CP)- a unit can fall back and then charge
Some of the stratagems, though, are potent enough to revolve entire lists or strategies around– I am thinking in particular of the Webway Assault stratagem and, even more importantly, the Alliance of Agony. Speaking of which, I need to devote a paragraph to the wonderful weirdness that is the 1 CP Alliance of Agony. Simply put, if you have an Archon warlord, along with a Succubus and Haemonculous in your army, then you may give the other two characters warlord traits as well. It is practically designed to be used in a Raiding Force, and like the Raiding Force, highlights that the Drukhari are essentially three armies in one. It is, admittedly, a neat stratagem, especially since it makes it clear that you only lose Slay the Warlord if the Archon dies, and it enables you to tool your characters out even further and set some some interesting combos. It also allows you to play the “CP farming” game almost as well as the Imperial Guard if you combine the Black Heart trait Labyrinthine Cunning (recycle/steal CPs on a roll of 6), and the Prophets of Flesh trait Diabolic Soothsayer (+D3 CPs at the start of the game).
While the Alliance of Agony seems fun, it is, in my opinion, by no means a must-have, and it is worth noting that it doesn’t specifically have to be used with a Raiding Force– any combination of detachments will work with it, as long as you have those three characters in your force and an Archon warlord.
I should add in closing on this that the Drukhari do not seem to have any “broken” stratagems by any stretch of the imagination, save one– the much-hyped Agents of Vect stratagem for the Kabal of the Black Heart. For 2 CP, it allows you to effectively negate an opponent’s stratagem, potentially foiling their plans and/or denying the rabbit that they were about to pull out of their hat. It is a really good foil for opponents who may be relying on one or two major stratagems (I’m thinking in particular of Blood Angel Smash Captains), and it certainly is a good reason to field the Black Heart, but I don’t see it as game-breaking as the internet is making it out to be, nor do I see it as something to be relied on or to revolve strategies around. It is good, and annoying for the opponent, but unless my opponent has some truly heinous stratagems, I would prefer to keep my CP for stratagems that let my units do more damage/stay alive.
Overall, I like the new Drukhari book. It does a lot to add flavour, flexibility and (very) competitive options to the army, and if I’m honest, it has made me enthusiastic about playing the Dark Eldar ever since the dismal 7th ed Codex killed that enthusiasm. I am probably going to do further posts on army lists, individual unit/stratagem reviews, and further tactical thoughts on the army, but overall, I am quite pleased.
Over the next little while, I’m going to be revamping my existing Dark Eldar army to raid the tabletops, and hope to explore this codex further, game by game. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more posts on my little Alliance of Agony as I add new units, restore old ones, decide whether or not I want to revamp my army’s existing paint scheme at all.
Anyway, there’s my review. Happy hunting, fellow raiders!