Friday, April 15, 2016

Sacraments of Strife

To much "Rite," not enough "War"

The Good

Rites of War are one of the coolest things about Warhammer 30k. I found a lot about the game charming - the models, the setting, the community, the greater degree of game balance - but more than anything else about the rules, it was Rites of War that sold me.

For anyone who managed to wander into this post without knowing much about Horus Heresy... what's a Rite of War?

In Warhammer 40k, most relatively "healthy" codices can be played in a number of ways. Astra Militarum, for example, can do waves of infantry on foot, elite commandos in transports, a flying circus with tons of flyers, or as a static gunline protecting artillery.

Until very recently, however, nothing in the codex served as a guide or support for any particular style of play. It was a matter of picking which options did the things you wanted your army to do. Formations and specific detachment styles can do a lot to bridge this gap now, but they are finicky and often poorly balanced. Rites of War, on the other hand, represent the pinnacle of this game design technology - a set of overlays that can radically alter the way your army works.

Every Rite of War gives you the following:

  1. extra list-building options, usually by moving units between Force Org categories or granting new upgrade options.
  2. at least one in-game advantage, varying from the minor and flavorful to the significant and valuable.
  3. a list of limitations
To take a Rite of War, you need to have a model with the Master of the Legion special rule. All praetors have this rule, as do all primarchs and many special characters. Two consuls - the delegatus and the herald - are also Masters of the Legion, and are the only Masters of the Legion you can take in a list under 1k.

Let's look at one example Rite of War in detail so we can talk about the rest of them a little more in the abstract.

The original Salamanders legion-specific Rite of War: the Covenant of Fire.
  • List Options: Pyroclasts become non-compulsory Troops options.
  • In-Game Advantages: Vehicles gain a 5++ invulnerable save vs. melta, flamer, plasma, and volkite weapons, multi-meltas, meltaguns, and inferno pistols (including those on vehicles) gain Master Crafted, and all units gain Move Through Cover.
  • Limitations: No model may deploy via Deep Strike, # of Troops ≥ # of Fast Attack + # of Heavy Support, no Fortifications, and only one consul (not including legion champions).
Reading this list, it's pretty easy to see what Covenant of Fire brings. Your Salamanders - already a brave, durable force with extra-strength flamers - now get even more reliable melta weapons and even more durable vehicles. In other words, your Salamanders get even more Salamander-y.

Without any further ado, here are a few of my personal favorite Rites of War:

Orbital Assault

I used to pooh-pooh this one because so many of the models you need to run it are incompatible with the Covenant of Fire. I have quickly learned that this is absurd and dumb. Orbital assault is a lot of fun. It's especially effective for Salamanders, because you already own so many models with meltaguns, and while meltaguns don't get any particular boost in Orbital Assault, not a lot beats a meltagun in a drop pod. While +1 Strength flamers in drop pods might not be quite as impressive as Master Crafted melta, it's still not at all bad against an enemy footslogging list. Against an enemy with vehicles, it still makes it almost a sure thing that you will get to objectives first, forcing your opponent to come to you... which means he's exactly where you want him!

More importantly, the idea of Salamanders diving into hell, taking up positions and daring the enemy to come and get it. More than any other legion, the Salamanders are nigh-fearless stalwarts who HOLD THE LINE! Orbital assault exemplifies this aggression and is a hell of a lot of fun.

Pride of the Legion

This one sometimes gets talked about as though it were the be-all, end-all of Rites of War, and I think that's a mistake that many new players make. It's understandable, though - 40k's familiar tactical squads are basically 30k's veteran tactical squads, and who doesn't want terminators as Troops choices? Additionally, Pride of the Legion is one of the only Rite of War that the Betrayal at Calth set sets you up to play with immediately. All that said, there's a lot to love in this Rite of War: lots of special weapons, lots of terminators, opportunities for more dreadnoughts.

Armored Breakthrough

I can't play this one, yet. Most of us can't. I mean, it's a Rite that makes squads of predators with autocannons into compulsory Troops and Sicarans into Elites - how many of us own too many of those? Still, if I should ever own enough of the required models, you bet your butt that I'm going to give this one a whirl! I don't care if it doesn't offer much to a Salamanders player, most of our advantages (other than +1 Strength flamers).

Fury of the Ancients

Contemptor dreadnought Troops. Awwwww yiss! Seriously, this Rite of War is probably terrible. However, I think it will be a ton of fun. I can't wait to throw down a ton of dreadnoughts and a big beefy squad of firedrakes with a terminator techmarine and primus medicae and watch my opponent freak out.

Zone Mortalis Strike Force

Learn this Rite, love it, and use it. For Zone Mortalis games, it's an incredibly good choice. Breachers with 5++ and 4++ saves? Deep striking terminators? Downsides that are almost completely irrelevant in Zone Mortalis games? This one is great. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that outside of Pride of the Legion and some legion-specific Rites, you shouldn't really bother with other Rites when you're playing Zone Mortalis. Unless you really hate breachers or something.

Legion-Specific Rites of War

In addition to the generic Rites of War - which include my favorites, described above, and many others - every legion has two unique Rites of War. I'm not going to go over all of them, because first of all, this is a Salamanders blog, and second of all, that would be boring and dumb. I am going to recommend that if you're not a Salamanders player, you should check out some generic 30k-focused blog, forum (B&C and H30k are both excellent communities, in my humble opinion), or podcast (expect to see links to a few of my favorite podcasts some time soon).

In any case, the legion-specific Rites of War are awesome, flavorful, and do a lot to leave you feeling like you are playing your legion, not just a bunch of Space Marines painted green (or blue, black, red, etc.).

The Bad

Of course, every silver lining has its cloud. Rites of War introduce two main challenges into the life of any Heresy gamer.

First, the trouble is that some Rites of War are just... bad. Now, I don't know a lot of people who play this game because they want to win all the time. If you want to play hardcore competitive games, I recommend sticking to a game that's designed to support that kind of play, like Infinity or - for all its flaws - Warmachine and Hordes. Or you could join the sad, frustrated folks who keep on trying to comp 40k within an inch of its life. Anyway, nobody likes to lose all the time, and nothing is more frustrating than buying a bunch of minis so you can play around with a new Rite of War only to discover that it's sub-optimal in every possible way. More importantly, some Rites - like the Fury of the Ancients rite I mentioned above - are awesome enough that nobody cares if they aren't very good.

For example, let's have a look at the second, newer Salamanders Rite of War - the Awakening Fire.

  • List Options: None
  • In-Game Advantages: Salamanders units gain Fear, if a dice roll determines that the game ends the Salamanders player may always opt to play one more turn, Salamanders librarians can trade the pyromancy primaris power for a new power "Fury of the Salamanders"
  • Limitations: The army must contain a Chaplain, no more than one unit each of jet-bikes, jump infantry, skimmers, and flyers, no Vulkan, no allies or fortifications.
This Rite of War is just... well, it's completely lame. Fear isn't a great advantage because even though nobody in Horus Heresy has And They Shall Know No Fear and Fearless is rare, Astartes still have high leadership scores. Mechanicum armies have decent leadership scores, too, as do the Solar Auxilia. The only army that's actually all that likely to fail a Morale test is the Imperial Militia, and let's face it, most Militia armies are going to be organized around their poor leadership, either by using one of the many tools they have to boost their leadership or by focusing on tanks and artillery.

It's not that Fear is necessarily a bad rule. It sounds like a lot of fun. Salamanders are scary! Neat! The trouble is, you're only going to ever have any fun with that rule when it comes into play, and the dice and stats are strongly against that.

The psychic power is neat. It's a Strength 5 AP 1 beam that forces Morale tests with a penalty based on the number of casualties. Definitely cool, but extremely difficult to set up. You've got to have the right angle to get as many of your opponents' guys under the beam as possible, and then you've got to kill enough guys to bring your opponent's Leadership down to the point that they're going to fail the test. Assuming Leadership 9 (which is what most Astartes squads have), you've got to do at least three or four wounds. If your opponent spaces his dudes out with any intelligence, you're screwed. It's not going to happen.

Again, the trouble isn't that the idea behind it is bad. It's that the application is poor.

There are a lot of ways to fix this Rite of War, so maybe it'll get FAQed into usefulness. If the Fear was a special snowflake Fear that came with a Leadership penalty, for example, if the psychic power was a flame template or Assault 1d3+3 or something rather than a beam (or keep it a beam, but give it the Deflagrate special rule or some other way to generate more hits after the initial hits, or be super generous and give us both). But it has the problem that the things that make it awesome aren't likely to ever work, whereas the limitations are enough to make list building challenging.

See how I managed to sneak in a review of the two Salamanders Rites of War? Damn, I'm good!

The second problem can be summed up with an imaginary quote that I was quipped was the official motto of Horus Heresy:

"You can use all these awesome models, but you can't use them all at once"

Just looking at the Rites of War I've mentioned by name, we've got one that bans Deep Strike entirely, another that requires you to own enough drop pods to put everything in them, and another that requires you to own a ton of tanks and transports. And that's just the beginning! There are entire Rites of War dedicated to jump packs and jetbikes, recon squads, and land raiders. It gets even worse if your legion of choice is known for a particularly unusual way of making war, like the White Scars or Dark Angels and their thing about bikes or the Blood Angels and their whole jump pack thing. In that case, your legion-specific Rites of War are probably also pretty specific.

In other words, you're probably going to end up making some buying decisions based entirely on which Rites of War you plan to play... and while it's cool that Rites of War open up new vistas of tactical opportunity and tabletop awesomeness, if you want to use more than one or two Rites, there's a good chance that's going to get really expensive.

Then again, nobody ever said Horus Heresy was for the faint of heart. Just, you know... hang in there, and remember that you don't need to buy your army all at once!

The Awesome

That does it for our coverage of Rites of War. Stay tuned for an (eventual) post about my favorite Heresy podcasts. Also! I bought some data cards, so expect some new and improved pictures of my growing army!

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