Getting Started: Dark Eldar/Drukhari

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At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are. In this edition, we take a look at the piratical raiders of the Drukhari!

Do you love tall, beautiful, mysterious elves who are also total dickheads? Did you watch Hellraiser and think “I’d love an army full of those guys?” Do you dream of being a pirate, but in space? If you answered yes to any or all of these, then Drukhari may be the army for you. They’re an interesting faction with a really strong, mostly plastic model range, and their somewhat unique organisation means there’s three quite different playstyles available to you.

Who are the Drukhari?

Long before the Imperium of Man, when humanity was still in its infancy, the galaxy was dominated by the Aeldari Empire, who ruled over millions of worlds with incredible psychic power and wielding hyper-advanced technology that would make even Belisarius Cawl feel inadequate. However, over the aeons, their empire slowly slid into decay, with their depravity and decadence eventually causing their downfall in the birth-explosion of a new Chaos God – Slaanesh, or She Who Thirsts. The surviving Aeldari are a damned race, and they all have their own strategies for coping with that fact.

The Drukhari are the Dark Aeldari, those who survived the fall by hiding from Chaos god Slaanesh in the one place Chaos can’t reach: the Webway. They are probably the closest to the pre-fall Aeldari Empire of any of the surviving Aeldari, and that’s not really a compliment. They live in the dark city of Commorragh, a nightmarish maze of impossible architecture hidden deep within the webway, where the “laws” of physics, nature, and sometimes even geometry are more like “suggestions,” and there is only one hard and fast rule: Do Not Defy Vect.

If you, like me, enjoy playing as the most villainous jerks in sight, then you’ll find yourself right at home with the True Kin. Seriously. Nobody else even comes close. There is no great scheme here, no grand plan. The Drukhari kidnap, torture, and kill sapient beings not because they necessarily have to, but because they want to. If the Chaos Space Marines are the “mustache-twirling” villains of the setting, these assholes are twirling entire beards, which they harvest from people they kidnap specifically to fill spots in their beard farms.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Army Strengths

  • High mobility – Drukhari infantry start at a base speed of 7″, and it only goes up from there. Hellions and Reaver jetbikes scream across the board at speeds that other lists simply can’t match, and you can mount your infantry in excellent transport options to make them even faster.
  • Cost-efficient Troops and Dedicated Transports – Kabalite Warriors are 8 points per model and can punch up reliably with their splinter rifles, which wound any INFANTRY target on a 4+ regardless of toughness, and can bring plenty of high-damage special and heavy weapons. Wracks bring a lot less shooting, but their toughness of 4 and 5+ ignore to wounds makes them tough to dislodge for their cost, and they do have one very effective gun in the shape of the liquifier gun. Finally there’s Wyches, and in 9th edition these finally justify their fluff treatment as deadly killers – they have to get up close and personal, but when they do they really bring the pain.
  • Power from Pain – In addition to the units themselves, your entire army gets a set of stacking bonuses that get more powerful as the game goes on. You start with an army-wide 6+ invulnerable, then gain the ability to advance and charge from round 2 forward, and keep piling up the special rules from there. It’s also a bit more broadly useful across the entire faction than it was in 8th – not only does your invulnerable improve to a 5+ in round 4, the table also includes some nice bonuses for your vehicles and monsters that can make them downright scary.
  • Decent invulnerable saves on all vehicles – your paper thin boats aren’t quite as flimsy as they look, and their 5+ invulnerable save against ranged attacks, combined with their high movement values, will help you keep them alive longer than your opponent may expect. They’re not going to stand up to concentrated fire from an opponent who really wants them dead, but they’ll usually stick around just long enough to be annoying to your opponent.

Army Weaknesses

  • Zero native psychic options – Eldar might be naturally psychic, but you won’t find any Farseers or Warlocks here. One of the few ironclad rules in Commorragh is that psykers are not allowed – anything that might allow Slaanesh into the Webway is ruthlessly crushed. As a result, the Drukhari’s psychic aptitude has atrophied over the intervening millennia, forcing them to rely on Craftworlders or Harlequins for psychic support. Unfortunately, due to the evolving rules through 8th and 9th edition, that support isn’t nearly as effective as it once was, drastically limiting their ability to make use of psykers even if they can convince a few to tag along on one of their raids.
  • Few special characters – You only get three, and only one of them is really great – Drazhar, the Master of Blades, is a an absolute combat monster and possibly the best point-for-point combat character in the game. He’s also faction-neutral, which can be advantageous with list-building.
  • Glass hammer playstyle for Kabals/Wych Cults – Your units are largely T3 with 4+ to 6+ saves, and they’re riding around in mid- to low-Toughness transports. If they get focused down, they’re probably going to die. You’ve got an army-wide 6+ invulnerable save with several key units having a 5+, and Covens units come with a 5+ to ignore wounds as well, but those won’t do much to save you if your opponent decides they really want something dead. Your best bet is to kill their stuff first, which your high damage output should be able to assist with.

Drukhari Talos. Credit: Corrode

Recommended Steps

  • Get the Codex – The new book is incredibly cool, and contains all the rules you need to get your Drukhari on the table in 9th. There are some other books you’ll want to pick up eventually (most notably the Book of Rust), but these can wait for the moment
  • Plan your army – You’ll want to think about what sort of list you want to start with before you start buying anything: Do you want the mobile ranged firepower of the Kabals, the lightning-fast melee threat of the Wych Cults, or the deceptively-durable threat of the Haemonculus Covens? Or do you want to try to leverage the flexibility that comes with bringing a bit of each? These are all perfectly fine ways to get started.
  • Buy some starting units – Whichever you pick, you’ll want the HQ and at least one Troops choice for them, then a few other units to fill things out. We’ve got suggestions below, but whatever you bring, make sure you don’t forget the transports.
  • Expand on that – Once you’ve gotten your army started, fill it out with some more units. Blades for Hire units like Incubi and Mandrakes can fit in with any of the subfactions without losing effectiveness, and provide some additional tricks that are difficult – if not impossible – to replicate elsewhere in the book. And if your starting list doesn’t include all three subfactions, you’ll likely want to build into a list that brings at least something from all three.

The Books

Drukhari are the recipients of a shiny new 9th edition codex (which you can read our review of here), which has done a lot to make them both more straightforward to get on the table and way more fun when they’re there. You would think that the book being recently released in 9th would mean that all their rules were in one place, but sadly this is not the case; instead there’s a set of sub-faction rules for the Wych Cult of Strife in the Book of Rust for the War Zone Charadon campaign. If you’re just buying into the faction this isn’t strictly essential to purchase, but if you’re planning on going deep in the faction or focusing on Wyches in particular, you should look at picking it up eventually as the additional rules are very good.

What are you looking for?

It’s important to know what your goals are for playing a 40k army, because how you approach collecting it will change depending on it. The first basic decision is whether you want to play competitively, or you’re mostly just looking to kick back and roll some dice, preferably made from the bones of your captives.

If you want to play competitively:

Well, competitive units come and go as rules change, so you’ve got a long road ahead of you that’s likely going to involve lots of painting and changes – though Drukhari have a relatively small range, so you have a reasonable chance of being “feature complete” and having all the options you could ever need. If you’re dead set on putting a competitive list together now, you’re going to want to look at a specific army type and build around that. You can find a more detailed rundown of the units that work and how they’re used in our Start Competing: Dark Eldar/Drukhari tactics guide, though be aware that at time of publication this was written for 8th edition and is waiting to be updated with the changes for 9th. In the meantime consult the review we linked above, or check out the winner of Ratcon.

If you want to play casually:

Well, the rest of this guide is for you – read on!

There are three sets of “subfactions” in Drukari: Kabals, Wych Cults, and Haemonculus Covens. Each has a unique set of units that it can bring, including an HQ unit, a Troops unit, and a few other choices depending on the faction. There’s also “Blades for Hire” units – Incubi, Mandrakes, and Scourges – which don’t belong to any particular subfaction.

Something important to know about Drukhari is that they work very differently to other factions in how they obtain and use their faction traits, here called “Obsessions.” In all other factions you get your trait if every unit in a detachment has the same subfaction, e.g. if you want the Blood Angels’ faction trait then all the units in a detachment need to be Blood Angels; if they’re not then nobody gets their trait. In Drukhari it works the opposite way around – you designate what your detachment is, e.g. a Kabals detachment or a Wych Cult detachment, and then all of the appropriate units get their Obsession, and the rest miss out. What this means is that if you pick, say, a Patrol detachment, you can designate it as a Kabals detachment and any Kabal units will get their Obession – but you can also put Wych Cult or Haemonculus Covens or Blades for Hire units in there and they won’t get their traits, but they also don’t stop the Kabal guys getting it.

With three different types of faction to pick from this is helpful for list-building – if you just want to throw some Wyches in your army without having to go all-in on another detachment, you can, and it doesn’t mess things up for the other units in your army – but Drukhari also have two further tricks up their sleeves to let you get the most out of their overlapping faction rules.

First, their Raiding Forces rule changes the CP cost of patrol detachments to 0 so long as all the detachments in your army are Drukhari patrols. This makes it much easier to get a bit of everything and get all the faction bonuses to boot.

Secondly, you can form a Realspace Raid, which means that instead of designating a detachment as Kabals/Cults/Covens, you designate it as a Realspace Raid. There’s some baseline requirements for doing this – the detachment must have exactly 1 Archon, 1 Haemonculus, and 1 Succubus, and the Archon must be the Warlord, plus there must be 1 each of the appropriate Troops choices. However, as long as you have this, everything gets access to the proper Obsession and their sub-faction specific Stratagem/Relic/Warlord trait. It’s a powerful option for taking a “mixed” force that’s a little less overhead than managing different Patrols.

The main difference between the two comes in when you’re comparing the unit slots available, and with the Alliance of Agony stratagem – which allows you to pay 1CP to get Warlord traits on both the Succubus and the Haemonculus in a Realspace Raid. As you write lists and try things out you’ll find which works best for you, but either option is valid and both make Drukhari army-building very flexible.

Drazhar, the Master of Blades

Drazhar, the Master of Blades. Credit: Corrode

Kabals

The Drukhari Combat Patrol box is an excellent start for a list including Kabalites. 10 Kabalite Trueborn in a Raider is an incredibly potent threat, and Incubi are one of the real stars of the new Codex. Between them, you’ve got a pair of units that can credibly threaten to take out just about anything you’d want to point them at at low points levels and that still provide a ton of value. The Archon is a solid HQ choice, if a little uninteresting, and the Ravager is fine, even if it likely won’t make the cut once you start building for more competitive games. For most purposes, though, the extra wound together with Dark Lances going to D3+3 damage will make it good enough to field while you’re still building. As your collection grows, keep an eye out for room to bring Drazhar – he’s really good right now, and makes Incubi even better than they already are.

Wych Cults

Starting Wych Cults from scratch is a little harder, but still pretty manageable. If you can get your hands on the Dark Eldar half of the Piety and Pain boxed set, you can turn 5 of the Wyches into Bloodbrides and shove them in the Venom with Lelith, and the Scourges are a pretty solid deep strike threat (though you’ll probably want to get your hands on some more Blasters somewhere). The 8th Edition Start Collecting: Drukhari box is probably a better buy, but might actually be harder to find, if you’ll believe it – though do check stores online or in your local area, which may still have some in stock. Succubi are extraordinarily powerful – if fragile – models that are also a ton of fun to run, and you’re going to want one eventually regardless of how you get started, so if you opt for Piety and Pain consider picking up a Succubus to go with it. Reavers are crazy fast and can pack some decent anti-tank firepower in the form of heat lances to help you out in a pinch. And if you like angsty gangsters on flying skateboards, Hellions are a lot of fun (even if moving them around on the table is like trying to pull one particular figure out of one of those novelty “Barrel of Monkey” toys).

Credit: Robert “theChirurgeon” Jones

Haemonculus Covens

Covens are the hardest to start building out of the gate – not only is there not a nice set available for them like the Combat Patrol or Start Collecting boxes, their troops choice is also more expensive cash-wise for how many points they fill out. Wracks come in boxes that cost the same as Kabalite Warriors or Wyches, but only include 5 models to the 10 in the other factions’ boxes. Thankfully, Talos are relatively efficient from that perspective and also pack a serious punch, and the Haemonculus is, for my money, the best-looking of the three generic HQ choices available to you. If you’re hell-bent on starting out your list with Covens (or are just adding some to an already-established force), a Haemonculus, two boxes of Wracks, and a pair of Talos will get you up to 400 points including a pair of liquifier guns, and leaves room for a Raider or Venom to cart your infantry around. Alternatively, if you’re OK working with Finecast (or doing some pretty serious conversion work), you could drop one of the Talos to make room for a squad of Mandrakes to set up outside your deployment zone and harass your opponent.

Your First List

With all of the above in mind, we’ve opted for an example list that takes into account the best deals available, and aims for “starter” forces for each of the three subfactions that let you get a taste of each, taking advantage of the Realspace Raid format to try them all out at once.

Battalion Detachment – Realspace Raid – 0CP

Kabal: Kabal of the Black Heart
Cult: Cult of Strife
Coven: Custom Coven with Dark Technomancers (All-Consuming Obsession)

-1CP Alliance of Agony
-1CP Prizes from the Dark City

HQ: Archon – 80pts – Splintered Genius, Warlord: Consummate Weaponmaster, Relic: Writ of the Living Muse
HQ: Succubus – 75pts – Show Stealer, Alliance of Agony: Precision Blows, Relic: The Triptych Whip, Combat Drugs: Adrenalight (+1 Attack on the charge)
HQ: Haemonculus – 100pts – Alchemical Maestro, Alliance of Agony: Twisted Animator

Troops: 10 Kabalite Trueborn with 2 blasters and 1 dark lance – 135pts
Troops: 
5 Hekatrix Bloodbrides, 1 with shardnet and impaler, Hekatrix has Agoniser – 75pts – Combat Drugs: Grave Lotus (+1 Strength)
Troops: 10 Haemoxytes, 2 with liquifier guns – 120pts

Elites: 5 Incubi, Klaivex has demiklaives – 80pts

Heavy Support: Ravager with 3 dark lances – 140pts

Dedicated Transport: Raider with disintegrator cannon, grisly trophies, chain snares – 100pts – Covens (Dark Technomancers)
Dedicated Transport: 
Raider with dark lance, grisly trophies, chain snares – 95pts – Kabals (Black Heart)

CP: 4
Points: 1,000

This gives you a flexible list with a little bit of everything – the idea here is to mount up the Bloodbrides, Succubus, and Incubi in one Raider, and the Kabalite Trueborn and Archon in the other, and use those to aggressively push up the board while the Haemoxytes and Haemonculus sit in the back or middle with the Ravager providing fire support. It’s a fairly simple list concept (and probably not at all optimised!) and what it does best is make use of the Combat Patrol box – everything from that box is in this list, and the only thing you need to buy separately for those units is another blaster for the Trueborn, which you can either source separately or just pick up another box of Kabalites, which you’ll probably want to do eventually anyway.

After that, you’ll need a Haemonculus, 10 Wracks, a Succubus, 5 Wyches, and a Raider – Piety and Pain or, even better, the old Start Collecting will furnish you with the Cults parts, so all you need then is the Covens and that extra Raider. This is a very solid jumping off point for developing your own Drukhari list, and you can specialise further down the line, or continue with the flexible bit-of-everything approach.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Wrap-up

“Pray they don’t take you alive!”

We hope you’re excited about sending your new army of goth elves out into realspace! Drukhari are a great army with a beautiful range that’s almost all in plastic, and a ton of variety and character in their models. They’re also great fun to play on the table, with a fast-moving and aggressive playstyle that can be far more fun and involving than sitting back with a gunline or slogging about with power-armoured infantry. Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.comOr if you’re a patron, head on over to our Discord and chat with us!

 

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