Games Workshop were nice enough to send us a copy of this book for review.
Genestealer Cults are the premier army for anyone who’s ever wanted to steal their boss’s laser and melt through a bus with it. Genestealers are clawed sociopaths who distrust outsiders and love to fight, but they can control your brain and taking one into your home means you’re likely to end up with quite a few more, all of which makes them basically the same thing as a house cat. What happens when your feral Genestealer colony grows to threaten an entire world? Read on, and find out.
One of the least-cool parts of the Cults is taking away some of your cool mutants and weird freaks riding in trucks to make room for army men and actual tanks. I don’t recommend it, but you can include any Astra Militarum units with a <REGIMENT> keyword in your order of battle. They lose their regiment and IMPERIUM keywords, becoming BROOD BROTHERs instead, and characters included in this way can’t gain warlord trait, relics, or Crusade relics. When mustering an army for battle, follow the usual rules, but at least you can have them in your Order of Battle and they can gain XP, Battle Honours, etc. Note that they can’t actually get any of the Honours from this book, since those are locked to GENESTEALER CULT units, which BROOD BROTHERS are not. This sucks.
Also, your first Patriarch gets a free Warlord Trait, but non-HQ characters can’t take traits at all.
Beanith: I like the limitations here for the most part. The Brood Brother Officers are faceless mooks not to be trusted with anything too important beyond throwing their lives away for the cause, hence not being trusted with relics etc. Losing access to the Imperial Guard-specific Crusade rules from Warzone Octarius – Book 1: Rising Tide and the upcoming Astra Militarum codex due out in late 2024* is a little harsh given that Torchbearer Crusade rosters can draw from several books, but we can probably chalk that one up to it being a White Dwarf supplement.
*This is a wild guess on Beanith’s part in the vague hopes of starting fires on social media.
Soggy: As an owner of a Brood Brothers detachment, I understand the need to simplify and streamline the codex with the removal of datasheets and the like for competitive play but it is a bit sad to see a lack of anything for them in this area for the many narrative players who did go all in on this. I, like everyone else, will survive, as everything else is so much more viable these days.
Path to Ascension
This is the SimCity mechanic of the Genestealer Cults, the centerpiece of their Crusade rules and the source of their mandatory points-tracking. Normally we talk about these at the end, but in this case it ties into so many other features that we’d spend half the article explaining things that don’t make sense until you read this part, so we’ll lead with it here.
This is a fairly complicated system, consisting of a full four pages of rules. It’s a lot to take in, but completely worth it, being one of the most interesting long-term Crusade goals we’ve seen so far, with some of the most dynamic and variable outcomes. What the Path represents is nothing less than the full end-to-end lifecycle of a Cult, from its formation, through gathering power and infiltrating society, to either overthrowing the planetary governor and seizing power, or all getting shot to death by the Imperium. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book from the Black Library.
The first step, The Path Begins, is creating a planet. These are the broad archetypes we’re used to seeing in the fluff – Hive Worlds, Forge Worlds, Agri-Worlds, etc – and each one has a set of four Institutions to infiltrate. Let’s go with a Hive World, for our example. This gives us the following pillars of society that have to be weakened before we can call in the Hive Mind to devour us all: Community, Industry, Community again, and Politics.
By Walking The Path, the mechanism for Infiltrating these is Ascension Points. They can be gained, as we’ll see, via Agendas or Requisitions, but you also make an Ascension roll after every battle. It’s a d6, with some modifiers (+1 for winning or using a GSC Agenda, -1 for including HIVE FLEET units). On a 4-7, you gain 1 AP, and on an 8, you gain 2 AP. As soon as you have 3 AP stored up, you must use them to Infiltrate an Institution (note that if there are duplicates – our Hive World has two Communities, for example – these have to be Infiltrated separately).
For your efforts, enjoy a nice Reward. These range from a single Requisition Point, to 2 bonus XP for a unit, based on the Institution type (if it was Industry, pick a Biophagus or Abominant), to getting an extra Proficient Planning ability. Infiltrate all four, and the world is yours by Assuming Control. The Path ends, and you get another Reward. There’s a generic option to choose – an extra Proficient Planning slot – or one that varies on what type of world it is. Our Hive World gives us two bonuses: a single re-roll of an Ascension roll above, and a once-per-game re-roll of Summoning the Cult. This is one way for your Path of Ascension to end.
The other one is messier. Once two Institutions are Infiltrated, you have to start checking for Discovery. Following every battle, roll 2d6. With modifiers (-1 for losing, including HIVE FLEETS, or not gaining XP from GSC Agendas, +1 for controlling fewer than 3 Institutions), on a 3 or lower, you are Discovered. If you’re itching for a fight, you can also choose to fail this roll at any time, but in either case: things are about to Get Real.
Your next battle after being Discovered is your Day of Ascension. Win, and take over the entire world in one fell swoop. Lose, and throw your entire cult in the trash.
The battle itself has some in-game effects, outside of the no-stress knowledge that your entire Crusade has led to this moment, that the crowning glory of the hive mind is at hand, and that failure will result in a massive setback. For one, all Genestealer Cult units automatically pass morale. For another, you start missing quite a few CP. This varies based on game size and how many Institutions you control, so controlling three in a Strike Force is -3CP, but if you only have two, you start down by a whopping six. It is, of course, pretty funny to me that the climactic final battle for control of an Imperial Hive World, the last push to either protect or end billions of lives across an entire world, can be a 500 Combat Patrol game against T’au or something, but there’s rules for it. That’s Warhammer for you.
Once your Path to Ascension ends, either in glorious victory through battle, via the subtle knife of the culture war, in ignominious defeat, or just by abandoning it because you got bored and wanted to try a different planet, some XP or Battle Scars get splashed around, and you’re free to start a new one. Never stop infiltrating.
This is a wonderful mechanic. It requires only a little bit of bookkeeping, and is a great narrative piece. Warhammer, even Crusade, isn’t properly a role-playing game, but this comes pretty close to that combination of player agency and adapting the will of the dice. The tension on those Discovery rolls, and the pressure to pull out a win on your Day of Ascension, makes for an engaging experience because there’s so much riding on it. Brood Brothers don’t matter here, and receive no consideration, but the acknowledgement of how overt Hive Fleet assistance is, and it’s effect on being Discovered, is nice to see. This is honestly a better way to cap off a campaign than any of the actual campaigns. And, worst-case, you can just pull up stakes and go trash another planet. The cult never ends.
Beanith: This Crusade mechanic is amazingly on brand for Genestealer Cultists and I love every bit of it. The Day of Ascension is just chefs kiss and the loss of CP could make the battle even more brutal for those Unprepared.
Soggy: I am literally the SICKOS “YES!” guy right now.
If there’s anything Cults enjoy, it’s a good surprise reveal, and there’s no surprise that goes better with high explosives than A Genda Reveal party.
Sorry. I’m sorry.
Soggy: Never apologise.
Beanith: Never surrender
Falsetto Rob: Never gonna give you up
There are five Agendas here.
Genestealer’s Kiss is a steamy number where any time a Genestealer makes out with someone so hard that they die, they get one XP. Scoring 3 total, which doesn’t sound that hard, gives you +1 to your next Ascension and Discovery rolls.
If you have yourself a nemesis, there’s Silence Detractor. Pick an enemy character before the game, and whoever murders them gets 4XP. If the Detractor Silencer was a Sactus, Locus, Kelermorph (hell yeah), or Jackal Alphus, you can also auto-pass your next Discovery roll. I love this one. Wailing on your local rat snitch good-time ruiner is so much fun.
Telepathic Domination is the requisite Activity Agenda. Performing the Activity gives you experience, on a lightly diminishing return of 2 plus 1 plus 1 plus 0. It’s only one psyker a turn, but I like that it gives you some incentive to spread it around. Performing the Activity at least twice grants +1 on your next Ascension roll.
Topple the False Temple is rude. Your opponent picks a terrain piece to be their “false temple” – they have to call it this, it’s in the rules – and any unit of yours that blows it up (via Activity) gets 4XP, and the terrain piece stops being terrain. That’s it, that’s the only benefit. 4XP, and you get to be a gigantic asshole. Reader, I love this.
It’s pretty neat how these tie into the Path To Ascension. They aren’t just about scoring XP gains or getting free relics, they all support the ultimate goal that the army is working towards. The most extreme example of this is Prepare For The Day Of Ascension, which is way complicated and I’m not gonna explain all, but there’s some XP to be gained, and if you do enough Activities on enough buildings you get bonus CP to be used exclusively during the next Day of Ascension battle. I am obsessed with this. It effectively sells the idea that your army is only fighting this particular battle to set the stage for something truly important. There doesn’t appear to be any limit on it either, it only resets after Ascending, so take this every game and roll up to your Day of Ascension with like 25 command points.
This all makes for an incredible narrative hook, in a way that I don’t think any prior Crusade supplement has ever really captured. Four of the agendas are there to help you along your Path, and the fifth is just so petty and spiteful that I absolutely can’t get over it. Incredibly well-done Agenda section, which is saying something: a lot of times I just skim over these because they’re boring.
Beanith: No matter the stakes on the game, should it mean my utter defeat or the loss of a planet, if my GSC opponent takes Topple the False Temple, I swear I will choose the largest piece of area terrain every time but only if Reductus Saboteur promises to remember that Cool guys don’t look at explosions, they blow things up and then walk away. Because “Who’s got time to watch an explosion?”
Blessed Leader slams an automatic 6XP (and thus a battle honour) onto any character when they get added to your Order of Battle, provided that you have a Patriarch already (why would you not have a Patriarch). A few catches: The Patriarch has to be at least Battle-Hardened, it doesn’t work on Brood Brothers, and it has to be the first instance of that character – only one Kelermorph can benefit from this, for example. Still, this is simple and powerful, and a nice throwback to the Indomitus Crusade Veterans that Space Marines got. Good mechanic that we’d love to see more of.
If you’re on the fourth step of the Path to Ascension, and somehow don’t have enough Genestealers already, feel free to smash the Purestrain button, for a free unit that’s already Blooded (and gets a free battle honor).
Proficient Planning is 1RP for getting a one-game use of a Proficient Planning ability on any unit. Beloved of the Cult is 2RP (this is actually the only 2RP requisition in the book – the others are all 1RP) for an every-game use of a Proficient Planning ability on the same unit. This can’t be a duplicate, and a unit can’t be doubly-beloved, but you can tag multiple units with it. They have to be at least Heroic, though.
The Cult Grows is an easy auto-take whenever possible. After infiltrating an institution, you get to use Increase Supply Limits or Fresh Recruits twice, or use both of them once each. This is a 1RP requisition, and fires off another 1RP requisition twice. It’s free real estate.
Finally, we have Flawless Incursion. After a battle, if you won, and all of your Agendas were either Shadow Operations or a Genestealer Cult Agenda, and at least one unit gained XP from each of them, get a free Ascension Point. Absolutely stack this with Genestealer’s Kiss and/or Telepathic Domination late in an Ascension and just speed-run it.
Only half of these require a Path to Ascension, which is fine because you gotta have some utility picks for non-ascendant cults, but the ones that do are very cool. Much like the Agendas, it’s great to see them lean into the flagship mechanic of a faction’s Crusade rules.
Beanith: I’m in total agreement with Greg here, I’m super jealous of The Cult Grows and I wish more armies had access to a similar ability.
Do you want two warlord traits? Because the Elixir of Dark Vistas is how you get two warlord traits. Doesn’t even increase your Crusade Points cost. This does have to be on an HQ though, there’s no getting around that restriction.
Perversion Pervasion Veil is nuts. Add three inches to your move, gain FLY, and have a once-per-game teleport/deep strike. Seems pretty fun on some kind of Patriarch? Wrong. You can put it on any other Infantry Character, but not the Patriarch. I appreciate the restraint here.
Soggy: This relic turns a Kelemorph into fucking superman. When he shoots and gets to move afterwards all of a sudden he can yeet even further away and share his Heroic Deeds aura with even more of the faithful. The once per game teleport in ANY phase is hilarious and is going to be abused (by me).
Beanith: Agreed, would slap on a Kelemorph asap, cigar and slide whistle sold separately of course.
The Stratodias is a bigger and more ornate weird turntable thing, that lets the Nexos (it is only available to the Nexos) tag a second unit with a Crossfire token as long as it’s within 9” of the first.
The Pennant of Ascension is a 6” Aura of +1 attack for infantry and bikes, for your Iconward.
Finally the Patriarch gets some love, with the Crown of Ascendency. Imagine putting a hat on a genestealer, only to find that they suddenly gain an extra cast and deny, and know every power in their discipline, and project a 12” Aura of auto-passing morale.
Honestly, these aren’t great. They’re all fairly limited in application, and the only truly outrageous combo – the flying Patriarch – is nipped in the bud, and with good reason. None of them are bad, but outside of the double-trait juice (what is it with chuggable relics lately?), none of them are incredibly necessary takes. The Patriarch’s crown is great for doing the most, but it doesn’t make them better at knife-murder, so who knows.
Beanith: I love that after a dozen hard fought battles with your trusty Genedaddy, you’re confronted with the hard choice of giving him a fancy hat or a Vortex Grenade
There are four tables here, each with three options. There exists some overlap between them, where a unit could select from a couple of options, but, you guessed it, nothing for Brood Brothers.
Non-Biker CORE units can take on a few different types of mindset. They can choose between becoming Guerrillas (Dense Cover on attacks from 18” or more away), Insurgents (if they have any kind of Cover they add on both Light and Heavy), or Insurrectionists (if shooting at the closest unit, drop a Crossfire token on it – if it already had one, then ignore all modifiers). None of these are bad, but I want to draw attention to Insurrectionists. It doesn’t say you get to ignore hit modifiers. It says you get to ignore any or all modifiers. I assume this is just hit and wound rolls, but I’m eagerly awaiting the arguments over whether this turns off Duty Eternal or other damage reduction abilities.
Beanith: Kinda meh for the most part, would probably stick with the default table in the Big Rule Book for the most part.
Bikes and other vehicles get a pretty rad table. Elusive Raiders is a 5+ invulnerable from ranged attacks, a kind of Jink without the rider about remaining stationary. Hard not to see the utility there, against anything except a Railgun. Charged Engines (not overcharged, merely charged) grants an automatic 6” on advances, and any charge roll less than 6” counts as 6”. These are both great bonuses for reducing variance in movement distances, which is a subtle but extremely good thing to have. Finally we have Armor Plating, granting +1 to saves against 1-damage attacks. This isn’t so useful on Rockgrinders or Ridgerunners that are attracting a lot of proper multi-damage anti-tank shooting – there you probably want the 5++ – but for bikes it might be the best of the lot.
Beanith: These on the other hand are very tasty Biker/Vehicle upgrades and I’d probably try to factor in at least two when upgrading Biker/Vehicle units.
Soggy: Looking forward to driving around in my dump truck which is as resilient as a Relic Contemptor Dreadnought.
The generic Character table is comparatively less splashy, but no less powerful. Brood Prophet adds both 3” to Auras (up to 9”) and units that require selecting a unit, such as Priority Target (up to 12”). If that’s not enough of a range upgrade, there’s Unbreakable Bond, where you select one unit and, as long as it’s visible to the character, it always counts as being in range of auras and selection abilities. Very characterful. Gestalt Energy is +1 to psychic tests if within 6” of a CORE unit, and re-roll Unquestioning Loyalty if the target was CORE. These are less about adding new abilities to keep track of, and more about making the unit more reliable at what it already does.
Then there’s a special table for your weirdest little freaks – Patriarchs, Genestealers, and Hybrids both Acolyte and Metamorph. They can always fight first owing to their Xenos Savagery, be -1 to be hit in melee because they have Fast Reflexes, or pile-in/consolidate an extra 2 inches due to an Aggressive Strain. I don’t think I need to explain how horrifying any of these are, on a dedicated melee unit like Purestrains or (god forbid) a Patriarch.
These are not like the Custodes versions, which are kind of a side-grade you can take to change how your characters work. They’re bad. Very bad. You do not want them. These are all for characters only.
Check it out: Gene Affliction subtracts one from your WS, BS, and Toughness. For an army that’s already largely T3 and hitting on 4s, this is brutal as all hell.
We also have Out of Favor and Relearn the Creed, which straight up turn off Unquestioning Loyalty and Cult Creeds for the character, respectively. There’s a brutality and a simplicity to these that I can appreciate, safely, from a distance, while hoping I don’t ever have to deal with them directly. Yikes.
It gets worse: Telepathic Failings causes them to Perils on any double, and if you think you’re going to luck out by getting this one on a non-Psyker, forget it: every time you apply a stratagem to this model, roll a dice, and on a 4+, it costs one extra CP. The dude messed up so badly that he reflexively Vects himself. Savage.
Fractious Aggression is maybe the least-bad of the lot, depending on what it ends up on. This one doesn’t beef your stats up, but it makes the character dumber and more violent: if the model is in range to Heroically Intervene, it is now mandatory that it do so, and if they find themselves within 7” of an enemy in the charge phase, buddy you better believe they need to charge. This is either what they were going to be doing in the first place, or insanely hilarious as an opponent dangles a Redemptor 6.5 inches from your Nexos and baits the little idiot into getting crushed to death. Rough chuckles, this one.
Finally, we have In The Shadow of Your Betters. If the character is within 9” of any other friendly GSC character, it cannot use any auras or other buff abilities that target friendly units, and fights last in the fight phase. Considering the raw character density of Cult armies, it’s difficult to keep that distance, which means you’re better off never taking this model ever again, or straight up dropping them from your Order of Battle and rolling a new one. Unspeakably awful.
These are all, again, the exact opposite of what we saw in the Custodes book. They might, in fact, be the most god-awful set of Battle Scars in any book we’ve seen. I love them, and I hope that anyone running this army in Crusade keeps some RP around to negate these bad boys.
Beanith: Finally some actual brutal battle scars. It’s been a long time coming and someone had an axe to grind coming up with some of these effects. Honestly I wished this was in all of the books.
Soggy: Given how fragile GSC are, these are rather horrifying. All the more reason to use and abuse your loyal human* shields.
Greg: It’s been a while since I got to say this, but: this is the new high-water mark. After a run of middling-to-good Codex Crusade sections, we finally got another wall-to-wall banger of a supplement. Extremely thematic rules that all come together to forge a strong narrative that is in keeping with the character of the army. If you’re a fan of Genestealers and/or Cults, and have always wanted to role-play as the Tyranid Hive Mind by way of a destabilizing insurrectionary force, this is more or less a perfect book.
If I had to pick something I don’t like about this, it’s the way that this is all scoped to GENESTEALER CULTS units, leaving BROOD BROTHERS out entirely. They can (not) advance, outside of the main rulebook traits and scars: they lose their Astra Militarum keywords but don’t gain enough GSC ones. You can run a detachment of them in Crusade, but if you were angling to use this as an ersatz Renegade Guard Codex, it’s not going to work. I’d have loved to see a Battle Honours table for them, at least, if not a relic or two. I suppose that’s fair since, as we saw with Custodes and Sisters of Silence, they aren’t the main point of the Codex, just a fun little mix-in. I can’t help but feel like the book would prefer that you not take any BrooBros, and only begrudgingly allows them at all.
I don’t want to end on a low note here, because I do honestly think this is great content, so I’ll just reiterate: this owns.
Beanith: I say this a lot and I always mean it, but this book is amazing. I just finished reviewing the Custodes Crusade rules and the Genestealer Cult is over here savagely dunking all over them. The theme is fantastic, the battle scars properly nasty, and somehow they even managed to make Agendas interesting. I love this book and am already pricing out a suitable Crusade Roster, and then wondering which kidney to sell. Stupid Aussie Tax
Soggy: Unlike Beanith, I no longer have to pay ANZAC tax since moving to the UK, so I’m incredibly keen to see if I can get some of my local groups into Crusade this year and start spreading the word of the Four Armed Emperor. The Path to Ascension system is oozing with theme and narrative possibilities and I can’t wait to get ready for Ascension Day.