Codex Grey Knights: The Crusade Rules Review

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Games Workshop were nice enough to send us copies of both of this week’s Codexes full of muscle wizards, and today we’re cracking open the dread seals of Titan’s Black Library annex branch to show you the Grey Knights Crusade rules. Unfortunately, this may result in Inquisitorial Purging of our staff. Goonhammer regrets the loss of their productivity.

Grey Knights are currently on the second or third tier of GW’s constantly-escalating “Imperium’s Most Awesome War-Dudes” list, but still kick moderate amounts of butt. The lone holdout for Marines that aren’t supplements, Grey Knights do their own thing and they do it hard. If you’ve ever wanted to play an army full of psykers in power armor and Terminator plate, but for some reason don’t want Thousand Sons, well, here you go.

Daemonic Nemesis: Immortal Kombat

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

I love this, and I hate this.

Do you know what nemesis means? It means you select a character and give them the NEMESIS HUNTER keyword, and then set about creating a Nemesis for them to hunt. They get a Crusade card and everything. The list of possible nemeses is a Master of Possession, a Daemon Prince, any of the four Heralds, and (this is the Bravery Mode option), all four greater daemons. They start with one Battle Trait, but apparently 0XP. There’s a neat wrinkle here, to represent the Bonds of Nemeship, where the hunted gains XP at the same rate as the hunter, including selecting Battle Honours on level-up.

When the hunter is neme-seeking a fight, and playing a game against a CHAOS opponent, you can – I’m not sure why you would, but you can – roll a d6. On a 5+, moving up to a 4+ if their army includes any DAEMONs, the Nemesis is neme-seen, and included in your opponent’s army, whether they want it or not, gratis. It can’t do Activities or gain XP from Agendas, though the rules don’t say that it’s immune to Battle Scars, or that it can’t gain XP from non-Agenda sources.

After the battle, if the Nemesis was cut down to neme-size, there’s a roll to see if it’s banished. The roll is 2d6, with some modifiers (+1 if the Hunter did them in, +1 for dying in melee, -1 if they were killed by shooting, and +1 for every two True Name Points). On an 11 or higher, a banishment activity occurs, the Hunter stops being a hunter and picks up a Battle Honour, and the player gains 1RP. Otherwise, pick up a True Name Point and continue as normal. These are your obligatory points to track, so consider that box checked.

Is this cool and thematic? Incredibly. It fits in with what the Grey Knights are about, and gives their opponent-specific rules a place to shine even if no one in your Crusade has Daemons – though this is totally useless if there isn’t any type of Chaos player, but that seems unlikely. It’s (possibly) going to go off a lot more than the Dark Angels Fallen mission, so you’ll (possibly) get more play out of it. It also gives the NEMESIS HUNTER character an arc and a goal to work towards, which is something we love to see, along with some extra chances to earn a Battle Honour.

The problem I have with all this is that, for any given game, either it does nothing, or your opponent receives one free Bloodthirster, which I don’t really think is a good trade! If that weren’t enough, they also cop 1RP and d3XP for their Warlord every time you fail to kill the thing. 

Banishing a daemon is hard work even for a Grey Knight, as it should be, but that 11+ roll coupled with how miserably slow gaining True Name Points will be, means that you are going to end up facing Free Bloodthirster Army a bunch of times before seeing any benefit. I’m just not seeing how pulling the slot machine for one free Battle Honor is worth the trouble of repeatedly spotting a Chaos army 250 points. Yes, you could take the Coward’s Option and pick a MoP or a Herald or something, but that still makes for a significant uphill slog in any game where the Nemesis does Nemesis Things – I know it’s Narrative play and all but come on.

This isn’t my favorite Crusade mechanic.

Condit: Counter-point, and hear me out here, but I sort of like the “Against All Odds” nature of it. Grey Knights showing up to fight somewhere, seeing the Greater Daemon who’s currently at the top of their shit list, and going “fuck the mission, that jerk is dead” is extraordinarily on point. And while I agree that picking an MoP or Herald is firmly on the Coward’s Path (except in 500 or maybe 1000 point games), I think hunting down a Daemon Prince every couple of games is probably manageable once you get up to 1500 points or so.

The biggest issue here for me is that the army you’re currently most likely to run into alongside your Nemesis – Death Guard – is already a pain in the ass for less experienced players, and throwing a free Greater Daemon in there is, as Greg has noted, probably a bit too much. What’s missing here is a reason (other than the fact that it’s cool as hell) for Grey Knights players to choose the bigger threats as your Nemesis. If I was GMing a campaign, I’d consider throwing in some extra benefit for someone willing to take on the challenge.

Beanith: Master of Paper-thin justifications in collecting yet another army reporting in! This right here is quite frankly some of the most awesome thematic Crusade mechanics yet. And even better, it’s a thinly disguised excuse for Grey Knight players to go out and pick up a Greater Daemon, maybe a Herald and the Start Collecting! Chaos Space Marines for the Master of Possession while you’re there. 

One “Fun Fact” for a Chaos Daemon player to remember is the 2CP Daemonic Incursion stratagem where you can bring back a DAEMON so keep that in mind once the Nemesis bites the dust and you can bring them back up and hide them on the other side of the battlefield for that sweet bonus Requisition and XP for your Warlord 

Agendas

Grey Knights

Grey Knights. Credit: Pendulin

Condit: Grey Knights come with six agendas, of varying levels of interest. First up, they get a re-skinned version of Space Marines’ Angels of Death called No Witnesses, which gives all your Grey Knights units 3XP at the end of the battle if they’re the only ones left alive. Flavorful, but kinda boring. Then there’s Uncover Prophecy, which is just Assassins, though since the Codex Agendas are technically a separate category, you could double up and potentially get 3XP every time you kill a Character in melee. Whatever. Then there’s Banishment, which gives your Nemesis Hunter an extra 5XP if it destroys its Nemesis. Cute, but ultimately probably a waste.

The remainder are much better, though. The Ancient Enemy sees you keeping a tally for every Daemon unit you destroy – including Daemon Vehicles and Daemon Primarchs! – and get a varying number of tally marks per kill. Then, your units each gain 1XP for every 2 marks on their tally. This won’t be any use into anyone but Chaos, but between the Daemonic Nemesis rules and the number of lists that are bringing Daemon Vehicles and Monsters and whatnot, this could be a pretty solid pickup into a lot of Death Guard or Thousand Sons lists if you’re looking to spread XP gain out across your force.

You also get two psychic action agendas. The first, Psychic Fellowship, is simple: take a WC4 psychic action with a unit that’s within 6” of two other friendly psykers. They’ll gain 1XP for each successful action. The other, Cleanse Ground, is a WC4 action to “cleanse” an objective. Each objective can only be cleansed once per game, but each unit that cleansed at least one gains 2XP at the end of the game. Either of these are solid choices – Psychic Fellowship is fewer XP but can be trivially focused onto units that are close to hitting their next rank, while Cleanse Ground rewards you for playing the mission, something that’s always nice to see in an agenda.

Greg: One of the perks of writing these reviews is that if I wait to do the Agendas until last, Condit usually does them for me and I don’t have to. They’re always boring, but Psychic Friendship is blatantly a way to farm XP without even attempting to win, and I have to respect the hustle. 

Beanith: Oh Good, it’s not just me that does that. There’s a lot of niche picks here, in Strike Force and Onslaught missions I’d probably take Friendship is Magic Psychic Fellowship for the cheap XP gains. The Ancient Enemy looks like fun, shame there isn’t a separate entry for Daemon Princes beyond the Daemon Monster but I’m splitting hairs really.

Requisitions

Only four, and they aren’t super inspiring.

A Purity Beyond Death is the same thing as Even in Death I Still Serve, and it remains exactly as cool (big robot) and useless (on average, you have to take 36 Out of Action tests, and walk around with a Battle Scar for half of that, to trigger it) as before. Battle The Mightiest Foes (1RP) is another replace-a-unit stratagem, in this case allowing a Grand Master to be swapped for a Grand Master Nemesis Dreadknight, which is kind of rad? Sure, this isn’t an especially creative requisition, but the image of your commander tooling up and strapping himself into David Byrne’s Big Suit before fistfighting the god of war is great. And if a unit puts in the reps to get up to 71 XP, Deeds of Legend is a way to get one more Battle Honour on them (this doesn’t count against the normal limit). Again, not breaking any new ground here, but it’s perfectly fine.

Consult the Prognosticars is an odd bird. Spend 1RP, and choose to roll a d6 on either the Visions of the Augurium or Gifts of the Prescient tables, then don’t pay the PL or Crusade Points for it, and once it’s used, remove it from the unit. Normally the Visions and Gifts are a one-per-battle ability in exchange for points, but making them one-use, and randomly determined, is certainly A Choice that was made. Not sure this is a great use of RP, but honestly it’s not like this book gives you a lot else to spend them on, so you may as well.

Condit: Another counterpoint here, but there is some upside here. One of the most frustrating moments in many Crusade campaigns is when you finally get that bespoke upgrade for your character you love, but it makes them just that little bit more expensive so it screws up your entire list. Here, it may be random, but you don’t have to pay the points or PL for it, so if you shove a bunch of characters in your Order of Battle and just start handing out toys with your RP, it could be worthwhile? I don’t know, I’m trying to look on the bright side here. This rule sucks.

Beanith: If you’re not pissing away Requisition Points on Increase Supply Limit all the time then you’re doing it wrong… or possibly winning battles that reward you extra Requisition. That said, I would totally spend the RP on Battle The Mightiest Foes so I can strap on my big boy robot pants.

Honored Titles

This is just the Space Marine Honorifics. 

If you don’t recall, Honorifics are meant to represent the specific company that a Captain commands, giving small bonuses to represent their background – the 4th company Captain is usually the Master of the Fleet, and so their army gets cheaper and more plentiful use of the Orbital Bombardment stratagem, that sort of thing. It was a neat way to let players show off their deeply specific warhammer brain if, like me, they painted all the little iconography, squad markings, kneepads and such. 

Anyway, this is just that with the names changed and the extremely dumb constraint of locking them by sub-faction. That’s right, if you play as Preservers but really want a Steward of the Armory (which is the Grey Knights version of Chief Victualler), you can’t. He’s Swordbearers-only. The saving grace here is that no one knows or cares what Grey Knight Brotherhoods look like or how they differ, so you can do whatever, there are no cops here, but if you want to cross-shop Honorifics with faction psychic powers and relics/WLTs, that’s not allowed. It’s pretty dumb.

The only one that’s actually changed substantially is the removal of the Master of Marches, with their half-price Strategic Reserves, and their replacement with the Representative of the Inquisition, a rat snitch who squeals to the Ordos like the little tattle-tale he is. In addition to having no friends and deserving nothing but wedgies and scorn, he also lets you choose an extra Agenda every game, and always counts as being in range for Unquestionable Wisdom (effectively making your entire army Ld9, if you bring an Inquisitor and they haven’t been killed yet). Not bad, provided you can stomach having a low-life like this in your army, spreading your dirty laundry all over town. 

Beanith: Wait, you get to choose an additional Agenda and then once Agendas are revealed, you discard one? I’m drawing a blank on how this is even vaguely useful. I’d still consider using it though, so I’d have an excuse to use my Inquisitor Lord Hector Rex model though.

Relics

Grey Knights Justicar

Grey Knights Justicar. Credit: Pendulin

Artificer Relics

There’s exactly one relic that you should be including in your lists: the Bones of Falkothan: once per battle, you can touch the bones and get a 3++ for the rest of the turn. It is extremely cool, and also very powerful, to jiggle some weirdo’s skeleton around. Pick up the bones and smush them together until your save is good. Hell yeah. Touch bones.

The other one is a -1 to be hit by DAEMONs in melee. The Armour Of Caladys, it’s called, and it kind of sucks.

Antiquity Relics

These are fun. There are four, and each one has both a base effect and a special extra little bonus that applies to a DAEMON of one particular Chaos god.

By way of example, let’s look at Nullbolts. Once per battle, if it targets a DAEMON or PSYKER model, a model with a storm bolter can fire a single shot that does d3+3 Mortal Wounds instead of the regular damage. If the target is a SLAANESH DAEMON, it also gets put into the “fight last” part of the combat phase, for the rest of the battle.

I like the way these work. They’re still useful no matter what, no one has ever complained about d3+3 mortals coming off a storm bolter, obviously, but with an extra bonus if you get your Pokeman types and weaknesses lined up properly. 

Having one for each Chaos god is a nice touch, but it’s important when designing items like this that they be something you would take regardless, worth their points even without game-planning for a specific opponent. That’s really what the problem with Grey Knights has been, historically: over-tuned against Chaos and Daemons, totally fucked against anything else. I don’t particularly blame GW for their struggles balancing them. Here, at least, that doesn’t appear to have been a problem.

The rest of the relics are equally fun. A book that disables enemy re-rolls against a friendly model (or any friendlies in an aura, if it’s a Nurgle enemy), an upgraded Psychic hood for +1 on Deny the Witch (or +3 against Tzeentch), and a big-ass halberd that hits at S+3 AP-3 D3 (upgraded to Sx2 and no invulns against Khorne). 

The last one is completely ridiculous if you’re going to be facing Khornate daemons, but for general use in a take-all-comers list is probably still the best option here, though the Mortal Wound Shotgun isn’t bad at all if there’s one particular character that needs to instantly die.

The hood is a major let-down. +1 to Denies is whatever, but if that had been +1 to Casts it would be something to write home about. Grey Knights get almost nothing that improves their casting rolls, for some reason (the reason is that this book was apparently designed to be the exact opposite of Thousand Sons, and they called dibs on all the casting bonuses).

Legendary Relic

There’s just the one. The Helm of Janus just says screw it, swing for the fences, and lets the bearer know every Dominus power in the book. They also get an extra cast and deny every turn. Neat.

Battle Traits

Grey Knights vs Tyranids

Grey Knights vs Tyranids
Credit: Pendulin

The Apothecary table has two options, but only one worth discussing, and it’s a doozy: Battlefield Healer gives you a CP back on a 4+ when you use the Chirurgic Restoration stratagem, which you’ll be doing a lot of. The other, Spiritual Restoration, is just Master of Physiology with the serial numbers filed off.

Techmarines are the same – two options, one of which is just a copy-paste from Codex: Space Marines (Master of the Motive Force is just Expert Mechanic). Machine Spirit Healer puts a wound back on a vehicle whenever the Techmarine manifests a psychic power. This is pretty good, purely because Nemesis Dreadknights are vehicles.

The vehicle table – technically “machine spirit” table – is exactly the same as normal marines. Replace Bellicose with Aggressive, Focused with Precise, and Resilient with Indomitable. Someone had a good time with the thesaurus here.

The fourth table is actually more interesting. It applies only to TERMINATOR units – your power armored Grey Knights are going to have to rely on the core rulebook for their Battle Traits, or choose from Psychic Fortitudes instead. Roughly half of these trigger off of doing psychic things (improve AP by 1 after casting Hammerhand, for example, or re-roll charges after casting anything at all), which is fitting considering how insanely psychic the army is. Two others each make using a certain stratagem on the unit cheaper (or free, in one case), but the final one, which is the most straightforward, is arguably the best. Indomitable Bastions turns AP-1 attacks into AP0 attacks. On a large unit of 40+ point Terminators, keeping your 2+ save against bolt rifles is a good utility pick, and the refreshing lack of conditions attached to using it make it Goonhammer’s Lock Of The Week, which I have declared before running it past any of my co-authors.

Forcing Strike squads – not to mention the half-dozen other units that box can build – to use the core rulebook tables is kind of a shitbag move. Nothing on this would have been game-breaking applied to Strikes, and given that they’re one of the best units in the book for matched play, it kind of sucks to see them left in the cold for Crusade.

Psychic Fortitudes

These are another, more different, type of Battle Trait. That’s all they are, to the point that the description paragraph above the tables jumps back and forth between talking about “Battle Honours” and “Psychic Fortitudes” seemingly at random, and it’s unclear whether that’s deliberate or the result of a bad find-and-replace. At any rate, they’re literally just Battle Traits, and work the same way: get one when you level up, either roll or pick, no doubling up, etc.

Non-character units have three options here, mostly built around Smite and Denying the Witch. Choosing Fortress of Minds to get +1 or +2 to Deny the Witch tests based on model count is fine, no argument there, but the entire table is actually very solid. The other options are to still do Smite while performing a psychic Activity, and my personal favorite, Channeled Fury, where a failed attempt to Deny this unit’s Smite does a mortal wound to the attempted denier. Would that all deniers in this world could be mortally wounded.

Characters get their own set of choices, but they aren’t as cool. The only one I really like is Mental Projection, which lets the character use any other Grey Knights unit within 12” as a proxy (for range/line of sight purposes) when they cast a power. I’m not sure what I’d use this for, but it feels like it opens up enough rude crap that it’s worth getting just to play around with it – worst-case it’s still a nice way to get around Smite’s targeting restrictions, or throw a bit more range on anything, and in the best-case I’m sure there are some unbelievably stupid combos to pull off with this. The rest? +1S if they did a casting that turn, or making Psychic Channelling free if you’re close enough to Daemons. Whatever.

Final Thoughts

Grey Knight Credit: Pendulin

Greg: eeeeeehhh, it’s alright. 

The Nemesis system is cool, even if I think it’s a phenomenally bad idea to actually subject yourself to using it against yourself. I don’t love how much of this was copied wholesale from Codex: Space Marines and re-labeled, but I do get why – this isn’t a supplement, it’s a stand-alone codex, so in order for Grey Knights to have access to the boilerplate Astartes upgrades, they all have to be re-printed. The arbitrary page limits really hold this back, which we’ll also see happening to the Thousand Sons, and it’s unfortunate that this is a side-grade compared to the pre-9th Supplements, who have to rely only on the base Codex: you lose some of their rules, but gain access to others. It’s a straight downgrade from the Dark Angels model, which is allowed to both have (a custom supplement) and eat (the base codex) its cake. 

The chapter-specific parts are fun, but in all honesty this is the one that broke the streak for me. It’s solid, but it’s not the best thing I’ve seen so far, which is the first time I’ve said that about a book in months.

Condit: My first impression of these rules was that they were rad as hell, but the more I look at them, the less excited I get about them. There’s plenty of stuff here, and they checked all the boxes, and these rules aren’t even bad. They’re just missing that certain je ne sais quoi that makes the rules for the rest of the Crusade supplements really sing. If you’re a Grey Knights player, you won’t necessarily find yourself wishing you didn’t have Crusade rules, but you may occasionally find yourself forgetting that you do.

And that’s really the problem here: it’s like they made a list of all the things that go into a good set of Crusade rules, then had someone else make some rules following that list, then had a third person make a list of guidelines to make Crusade rules from those rules, and then repeated that process like 10 times until this fell out. It’s fine, and it’s recognizable as something intended to function as Crusade rules, but at the end of the day I’m unimpressed. However, if other Crusade supplements can be at least as good as this, I’m fine with this as the worst option because, again, it’s fine.

Beanith: I want to love it but we’re going to have to settle for just being friends. The Nemesis is quite fun but if your Crusade group is lacking a Chaos player then you might be in for a dull time unless your Campaign Master is happy to handwave a few things like a Tau Auxiliary Big Bird or an extremely nervous Master of Possession tagging along with the Black Templar.

There was a Name Generator chart but it was dull as dishwater and completely missed the chance to call yourself [Redacted] [Redacted].

The Relics were on point with the anti-daemon theme but I feel it was a big miss in terms of usefulness. Unless you’re in a campaign group with a lot of Chaos Daemon players, you’ll want to settle for the relics contained in the Big Rule Book and various other publications.

I’m still riding the Crusade Bandwagon but this is one of the rare books that doesn’t make me want to go and start another army despite how tempting that Combat Patrol box looks…

Greg: Now that you mention it, I would have loved for this to have a name generator, but instead of it being for the Grey Knights, have it generate names for their daemonic Nemeses.

Condit: A “Daemonic Name-sis” table, if you will.

 

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