Hammer of Math: I’m not mad at Vashtorr, just disappointed.

This week’s Hammer of Math wonders what exactly happened with poor Vashtorr.

Believe it or not, my full time job is not to write a weekly article for a gaming website. My area of expertise is engineering, which means that I often get to apply new technologies to solve interesting problems. Sometimes those programs go well, sometimes those programs have ups and downs, and sometimes those programs are such a mess that when they’re over we receive a commemorative patch that says “The strongest steel is forged in the fire of a dumpster.” As an engineer you can imagine how enthused I was to hear that Games Workshop was revealing a new character who was a demigod of unbridled creativity and experimentation. I thought about getting one as soon as they were available, but I chose to hold off until I knew what to expect.

Having read the rules, I’m glad I waited. These rules are bad. Very bad.

Cool model. Bad rules. Credit: Robert “TheChirurgoen” Jones

If want to know how bad, Games Workshop conveniently put his Datasheet online. For 260 points (10 points more than the Repulsor Executioner), you get a T7 character who cannot be hidden thanks to his 14 wounds and is only protected by a 2+/4++ save profile and a single point of damage reduction. Offensively he has two options, neither of which are particularly inspirational. The first, Vashtorr’s hammer (that’s the actual name of the weapon, and it’s not even a proper noun), gets between 5 and 7 attacks (Vashtorr’s profile degrades) at WS 2+, S14, AP -2, and deals 3 damage. Should you roll an unmodified 5+ to wound against a VEHICLE target the hammer deals 4 mortal wounds and the sequence ends. His other option, Vashtorr’s claw, is a 12″ flamer with D6 shots that hits at S5, AP -2, and a single point of damage. That’s it. The claw doesn’t even hit in melee. It’s the daemonic equivalent of a fantasy sword named “Reaper’s Bane” bought at a mall.

Of course Vashtorr’s claim to fame isn’t necessarily being unstoppable in close combat, it’s an unparalleled mastery of technology. Perhaps he was too busy probing the limit of innovation to figure out the best way to hit with a hammer, let alone name the damn thing. This is represented on his Datasheet by the Will of the Arkifane, where the player picks one of three options to use in the Command phase. The effects last until the start of the player’s next command phase.

  • Unholy Mechanisms has the player select one TRAITOR ASTARTES DAEMON ENGINE (with exceptions) within 3″ to add 1 to its attack rolls.
  • Ghost in the Machine targets one visible enemy unit within 18″ and halves the Range characteristic of ranged weapons in that unit.
  • Agonise Machine Spirits targets one visible enemy VEHICLE unit within 18″ and halves the Move and Attacks characteristics of models in that unit.

That’s it. Give one nearby unit +1 to hit, get so close to an enemy that even at half range they can still shoot you, or make VEHICLE units a bit slower and harder to hit in melee. Ghost in the Machine is useless against weapons with a range of 36″ or greater; where it’s most effective is against melta weapons where you might reduce the range to get the bonus damage. Note that because these effects happen in the Command phase you have to be in position from the previous turn.

Vashtorr the Arkifane. Credit: Rockfish
He really is a cool looking model though. Credit: Rockfish

Offensive Comparison

His claw is a heavy flamer with an extra point of armour penetration, so against most light infantry with a 5+ or worse save he’ll average 2.33 wounds. The effect scales linearly with improving saves, and most of the time this weapon won’t kill a single Space Marine. In melee his high Strength characteristic helps a bit more, but the low AP means high save threats aren’t as worried. The chart below shows the expected wounds dealt to the full spectrum of Save and Toughness characteristics.

260 points gets you a demi-god who usually won’t be able to kill a 150 point Leman Russ Battle Tank. He’s basically at “kill an Armiger” levels of threat, but at the cost of 13% of your 2000 point army. Things would be different if the mortal wounds were in addition to the regular damage, but the fact that the attack sequence stops if the wound roll is a success and an unmodified 5+ caps the lethality. Given that in the lore Vashtorr is casually disassembling starfighters while leaving the pilots intact so they can smack against the side of a capital ship, this is a huge disappointment.

I put together a comparison of Vashtorr against a variety of other things that might be inclined to take on a typical T8/2+ VEHICLE target. His melee output is roughly equivalent to a War Dog Karnivore, which would be fine except that the War Dog is over a hundred points cheaper. Against melee oriented units that are roughly in his price range such as The Swarmlord or Old One Eye there’s no real comparison, let alone when put up against the Avatar of Khaine.

Let Them Fight

One of the more… interesting parts of the lore in the latest Arks of Omen books is how Vashtorr fights both a recently Primarisized Grand Master Azrael as well as everyone’s favorite daemonic asshole Be’lakor. I highly recommend reading Norman’s completely reasonable and not at all unhinged review of the lore in our review article, but I thought it would also be fun to examine how things would play out on the table. For this we’ll assume that Vashtorr is leading his Cogs of Vashtorr Army of Renown, but he doesn’t get any bonuses for whatever reason. Azrael will be in the Assault Doctrine so that both wounds and hits are re-rolled, and since he’s been enhanced we’ll also give him Gene Wrought Might to auto wound on hit rolls of 6. Be’lakor is an absolute beast who will force Vashtorr to subtract 1 from hit and wound rolls, hits like a truck, and if he gets off Pall of Despair he’ll force Vashtorr to fight last.

Turns out Vashtorr isn’t completely useless and will one shot the Grand Master 16% of the time thanks to his multiple attacks. Azrael doesn’t have much of a chance in response and has a roughly 1 in 200 chance of killing Vashtorr on the charge, although that probability goes up to 1.91% if he shoots his overcharged plasma gun a couple of times first. Meanwhile Be’lakor shows why he’s over a hundred points more and will absolutely punk Vashtorr 45% of the time (ignoring invulnerable saves tends to do that), while in response the best Vashtorr can do to the Lord of Shadows is annoy him.

Azrael. Credit: Rockfish
The real winner is Greg. Credit: Rockfish

Back to the Forge

I’m not exactly sure what Games Workshop intended with Vashtorr’s Datasheet, especially given how he is portrayed in the lore of the very same book. For the points he’s mediocre in combat, his special abilities are milquetoast at best, and he doesn’t even have the DAEMON ENGINE keyword which might allow for some synergy with his Army of Renown. The disparity between potential and reality is pretty jarring, but at least the model is cool.

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