Battle Bros is an ongoing bi-weekly column where Drew (PantsOptional) teaches his brother Chris (head58) how to play Warhammer 40,000 but somewhere along the line they lost that thread and this is what we ended up with instead. Catch up on their past adventures in season one here.
Meet the Battle Bros
The older of the two brothers, but new to the game. Learning to play Iron Hands and – after only three games – building an army of Bostonian Orks, kehd. The Sickness is in him.
The younger brother, now adrift in a strange and foreign land painted in the myriad hues of nostalgia (but mostly black).
DREW: Welcome back, folks. It’s an exciting time to be us, making incredibly poor decisions.
CHRIS: The good news is that’s our strength. The bad news is you have to read about it.
As we discussed last time, our latest poor decision is to each start a new army! In season 1 we really leaned into the… well maybe not so much “good guys” of the 40k universe but the “guys who claim they’re the good guys but are really just a big pile of theofascism, toxic masculinity, and laughable nostalgia for an age that never existed.” But this time we felt we should move away from the real world, so we’re playing Chaos Marines and Orks!
DREW: Totally not problematic: a bunch of dudes whose main deals are unspeakable acts because Space Satan told them it was cool and good and a pack of uncomfortable class generalizations from a culture we only pretend to understand because of Doctor Who, the Bake-Off, and Chef.
So where do we go from here with these newfound bad financial decisions? Our meager accumulations don’t really make much of an army. As of the end of last article, I had one Start Competing box and a Daemon Prince. What have you got?
CHRIS: I dug up the stuff I’d pulled together for Kill Team a couple years back, and predictably past-me made some terrible choices. I have 6 choppa Boyz, a couple big shoota/rokkit launcha Boyz, two Boss Nobz with klaws and kombi-skorchas, two Boyz I had converted to Kommandos, and a pile of pretty beat up metal Burna Boyz who will really need some work if I’m to put them on a table ever. Plus a Ziploc bag of about 40 old 2nd edition Grots I picked up somewhere. Oh, and a Meganob with a kombi-skorcha and a klaw. Not great!
I’ve also got the spoils from when a buddy and I got heavy into Speed Freeks for about a month back in Orktober of the Before Times. A Shokkjump Dragsta, a Boomdakka Snazzwagon, and six Warbikes which may or may not have legal loadouts. On top of all that I’ve got the fresh new box of Boyz I bought and Ghaz, who really isn’t going to see the board until the 2,000-point level. In summary, a big sack of nothing coherent.
DREW: I’ve never seen a better description of our column.
My Marines started out as a general idea of “accumulate models first and the plan will come later” but I definitely had a lot of melta-based ideas partly because I never had any back in 3/3.5 but also because melta wasn’t terrible in 6th edition. When I built out my Tyranids I had a plan of “Midzilla” for a mixture of big and little beasties, but I really should have learned some lessons about trying to make a compromise work from the last decade and a half of U.S. politics. I corrected for this in my Deathwatch by committing to a late-stage plan of storm bolters and storm shields, but almost immediately after finishing the last of these models I learned the definition of both “hoist” and “petard” tout fucking suite as those became the moistest garbage.
All the hemming and hawing about Legions last time actually helped me nail down a rough idea for the Black Legion, which boils down to “a handful of strong shooting units providing cover for fast melee units.” For those melee units, I’m looking at Raptors primarily. Between the Astartes chainsword buffs, Hateful Assault giving more attacks on the charge, and the recent points drops these guys finally have a chance to be okay. I had initially thought about putting Bikers in the “fast melee” column since the idea of a bunch of methed-up psychos on space Harleys with sawed-off pool cues speaks to something deep in my “incredibly shitty decaying small town” upbringing, but their high mobility seems like a waste if they’re going to get stuck in melee. I’d rather kit them out with some plasma and have them rove around harassing MSUs.
CHRIS: I’d assume the high mobility is more for “get up the board and do sick wheelies on your opponent’s face until one of you dies” more than “drive by, swipe at them, drive away laughing, repeat.” Bikers in general don’t have any auto-disengage abilities as far as I know although it would be rad as hell if they did, leaving tire tracks up one side of stupid Ultramarine power armor and down the other.
As for me, I’m a simple country chicken: I want stuff that will smash into you and fuck you up. A chunk of my stuff dying on the way in is acceptable.
Games Workshop was rude enough to not give us both free armies in January or in February, so now I guess we have to plan out actually purchasing stuff like a couple of savages. Fine, be that way. I went on a depression-fueled eBay binge and now have a middling number of Boyz – I don’t remember the exact number so I’m just going to keep buying them until there aren’t any more listed on the site – and a second hand Battlewagon with a deffrolla, because that looks fun. At least one set of Boyz is probably going to join my converted Kommandos (which will guarantee a new plastic kit for them will be announced as soon as I’m done).
I like that Orks don’t really suffer from having multiple Kulturs in an army – other than spending CP for an additional detachment. I could go Sunz but I don’t think I’m going to go the vehicle heavy route – just stick with the couple I have and a unit of Bikers maybe. So I’ll probably do a mishmash of Goffs (so I can bring eventually Gronkzghkull Thrakah) and Deathskulls (because I like winning).
DREW: What the fuck is “winning”?
CHRIS: That thing I’ve done two out of the two times we’ve played.
DREW: Do both of us a favor and leave your home security system off tonight.
Anyway, part of the reason we’re talking about what we want from these armies is because we need to have something dangerously similar to a plan if we’re going to start a Crusade. We could either just keep buying models and eating them with no real regard for how we plan to slowly bump up our forces and just adding whatever we feel like, or we could make conscious choices about how to fill out low-level games. For example, I didn’t buy Abaddon because there’s no way to justify putting him in anything short of a thousand points, but also because my store is out of stock and won’t have anything in for a while thanks to Coronabrexit.
CHRIS: There are plenty of other places online to read smarter people than us write better words about Crusades. But if you’ve read this far, dear reader, you’re all in on completely stupid bullshit and don’t go in for all that fancy competitive mumbo-jumbo. So let me bottom line it for you: we each start with a 50 PL Order of Battle (or about 1000 points). Can’t start out with any Relics or Warlord Traits because you’re just some schlubs off on some backwater world that nobody cares about. Yet.
Individual units or models within our forces will earn experience points for participating in battles and doing generally cool stuff. As they earn experience points they can “level up” to gain Battle Honors (relics, psychic abilities, weapon enhancements, new traits). Units that get taken out during a game have to roll to see if they lose some experience or take a Battle Scar (a flavorful and possibly debilitating drawback). The 9th edition core rulebook has lists of Battle Honors and Scars, and each of the codices also has more that are flavorful for that faction. Of course since neither Chaos nor Orks have a 9th edition codex yet we’re shit out of luck, but at least we’re out of luck together!
On top of the units leveling up we each earn Requisition Points for each game. These get used to buy more units, increase the PL cap, change unit loadouts, get Warlord Traits or Relics, etc. The idea is that over the course of a campaign your models start to develop compelling stories, and your force gets slowly bigger and more powerful until they’re Kind of a Big Deal in the Sector.
DREW: With all that in mind, we have to talk about making your Crusade feel like it’s yours, and a lot of that is narratively focused. Finally, a place where my liberal arts degree shines!
So far the only printed material for Crusade campaigns (outside of the core rule book, of course) has been the Beyond the Veil mission pack. This book is exactly what it says on the tin and no more – there are a lot of really cool mechanical add-ons to missions that we’ll probably mine for inspiration, but it has about four pages for anything else. I couldn’t begin to tell you what the overall arc of the story is there aside from “Necrons do CyberSkeletor stuff and it’s probably bad for everyone else,” and that’s even after reading the tie-in novel.
Any 40k campaign has a pretty unfortunate tightrope to walk in terms of faction inclusion and justification. You need a reason why all these groups are fighting in this location besides “let my space dolls kiss now.” Vigilus did an okay job of this for the most part but trying to cram all seventy-nine factions into a campaign is easily as big a mistake as saying “eh, the Orks are here to fight because they’re Orks.” Then again, one of the greatest Ork campaigns was “oi, I likes that one’s hat, let’s get it” so what the hell do I know?
If you have a small Crusade group like we will, the best thing to do is simply to write for the group you have instead of writing for every possible faction. No one will care that the Drukhari are on planet Zorbulon to obtain a doomsday device so they can crack it open and huff the reactor fuel if your player factions are (purely hypothetically) Black Legion, Necrons, Orks, and Salamanders.
CHRIS: The galaxy is a big place, and thanks to your boi Abaddon it’s kind of a mess right now. We could set up on the far side of the Cicatrix Maledictum in some little pocket that’s not going to bump into any established canon. What’s so interesting there that the Orks and the Black Legion are so het up about it? Maybe we don’t even know yet and the story will reveal itself as we progress. If four decades of running role playing games have taught me anything, it’s that it’s best to start off with a vague outline because the players are going to decide some aspect you hadn’t planned for is where the Real Story is and all your hard prep work will go directly out the window.
DREW: There really isn’t as much opportunity to go “off book” in a 40k campaign since your interactivity is more limited, so we can firmly plant this thing on rails. All we really need is a setting and a reason to fight there. The absolute easiest explanation is that our Crusade forces are preliminary scout/recon forces out on the fringe of the galaxy where things get weird, we all got trapped there, and are trying to get out for various reasons.
SALAMANDERS: Vulkan’s huggable bois are trying to find end runs around the Great Rift that splits the galaxy in half. They want to find a safe passage from the Imperium Nihilus, where everything sucks, to the (extremely relative) safety of the Imperium Sanctus, where everything sucks but in a way that’s at least familiar.
BLACK LEGION: Abaddon’s less huggable bois are getting back to their “rock and roll devil music” roots and playing the same game as the Salamanders but backwards so they can hear Space Satan telling them that Sanguinius is dead. They’re supposed to find places where the Imperium is finding workarounds and shutting those down.
NECRONS: This was a Necron outpost and these robos are just starting to wake up because that’s certainly not a premise that’s been played out. That Dyson sphere wasn’t there when they went to sleep, and they’re extremely NIMBY about the whole affair.
ORKS: They got here by accident, taking a left turn at Al-B’Kieerke. They know there’s a Waaagh going on somewhere close by, and they’re stuck here. When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?
CHRIS: That sounds reasonable to me and some story bits will undoubtedly emerge during play. It’s going to be more about the development of individual characters anyway rather than banding together to save the galaxy from the Yuuzhan Vong or some such bullshit.
DREW: With that squared away, we just need to talk about lists and planning, which we’ll cover in depth next time. Between then and now both of us just need to remain sensible about this since these are small games. Unlike some people I don’t have to go out and buy a great big tank or a named faction commander model, because I know I’ll never be able to fit them in a small scale Crusade campaign.
Yeah, uh, shut up?
Next Time: Actual Lists and… The Plan?!
Our special guest stars reveal their experiments and smart ideas for Orders of Battle alongside our attempts at self-sabotage.
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