Hammer of Math: Kill Team Strike Force

With the release of Warzone Octarius Book 1, this week’s Hammer of Math does a deep dive into some of the complexities of the new Deathwatch Kill Team Strike Force Army of Renown. 

Full disclosure; I am incredibly biased about Deathwatch. Primaris Watch Master. Credit: Kevin Genson

Deathwatch are an interesting army. They simultaneously are packed full of flexibility and yet are also highly constrained due to half of their Chapter Tactic relying on your opponent to play a specific army. Their ability to slap nearly anything into a Kill Team is pretty awesome, and I had a lot of fun playing with them in the US Goonhammer Open narrative event. And what would you know, the Warhammer Gods have looked at my army consisting entirely of guys on foot and decided they needed more rules. Thanks GW!

Rob: You can find our review of the new Octarius supplement with the Deathwatch Army of Renown here.

There is a lot to unpack here with all the various combinations of Chapter and Successor Tactics, Kill Team Compositions, re-rolls, and other shenanigans. Way more than I can fit inside an article that’s nominally 1000 words. So this week we’re going to focus on some of the more novel components of the Army of Renown, specifically the Specialism Extremis  and Black Vault Bolts Stratagems.

Black Vault Bolts

For 1CP, Black Vault Bolts allows you to take a STRIKE FORCE KILL TEAM or STRIKE FORCE CHARACTER and apply two effects during the shooting phase. First, the Type characteristic of the weapons they’re firing changes to Heavy 1. Second, on an unmodified wound roll of 6 the attack inflicts 1 mortal wound in addition to any normal damage. No matter what the maximum possible number of mortal wounds inflicted per phase is 6. This seems like a fairly difficult thing to achieve, but how realistic is it?

Assuming no lost models the most bolt weapons a Kill Team can fire is 20. That’s assuming 10 shots from a primary bolt weapon and an an additional 10 shots from a bolt pistol that is now Heavy 1. The most advantageous situation is one in which you have a 2+ to hit, re-roll 1s, and then re-roll everything that isn’t a six on the wound roll. The chart below was generated using calculations from AnyDice and assumes the optimal conditions specified above. Your best case scenario of 20 shots averages 6 mortal wounds, 15 shots averages around 4.5 mortal wounds, 10 shots averages 3 mortal wounds, and 5 shots averages 1.5.

Slightly more damage can be inflicted from a Spectrus Kill Team with 5 Infiltrators and 5 Eliminators armed with bolt rifles firing mortis rounds, but the issue here is that marksman bolt carbines automatically wound the target on unmodified hit rolls of 6. Since you can’t achieve a result unless you actually make a roll (and you can’t roll if success is automatic) this means that a portion of the attacks won’t result in an opportunity to inflict a mortal wound. Incorporating the limitation of the marksman bolt carbine the effective number of shots is 24. This translates to an average number of mortal wounds of 7.13 as the extra mortal wounds inflicted by the mortis round do not count towards the six wound limit. Even on their own, 5 Eliminators averaging 3 mortal wounds from their bolt rifles in addition to other damage is pretty impressive.

Since a Kill Team Strike force can choose their chapter tactic this opens up options like Siege Masters or No Matter the Odds which produce an extra hit on an unmodified hit roll of 6. This effectively increases the number of shots on target by 20% versus hitting on a 2+ (on average every 6 shots at 2+ to hit will produce 5 hits, while every 6 shots at 2+ to hit with the appropriate Chapter Tactic will produce 6 hits).

Raven Guard Aggressors
Raven Guard Aggressors. Credit: Dan Boyd

Specialism Extremis

Another ability is Specialism Extremis, a 3CP Stratagem which gives you a once per battle boost to a unit and simply states that every hit roll (shooting or fighting) automatically wounds the target. Remember Enriched Rounds? Well this is that effect on steroids. There’s one caveat; the Kill Team must have the appropriate specialism and target. Fortunately you can just use AQUILA and not only freely get re-rolls against two Battlefield Roles regardless of the Chapter Tactic, but with Specialism Extremis you can also apply the effect against anything.

So how effective is it? Assuming a 2+ to hit and re-rolling 1s you’re looking at 97% of your attacks automatically wounding. From there it’s a question of penetrating armor and then dealing as much damage as possible. We can estimate the potential by looking at “average maximum potential damaged” (AMPD), which is the number of attacks multiplied by the Damage characteristic and the probability to hit. Multiplying that value by the probability of the target failing the resulting save allows you to predict how many wounds will be inflicted on average.

  • A squad of 5 Aggressors with boltstorm gauntlets has an AMPD of 46. Apply a Chapter Tactic which adds extra hits for bolt weapons on unmodified hit rolls of 6 and that number increases to 52.5. The fragstorm grenade launchers add an extra 2.4 damage potential if the target has 6-10 models, or an extra 7.3 if the target has 11 or more. The AP for these attacks would be 0, or -1 during the Tactical Doctrine.
  • 5 Inceptors firing Plasma Incinerators and the AMPD averages out to 38.9 hitting at either AP -3 or -4. If the target has 6 or more models then the maximum potential damage of the plasma weapons increases to 58.3 thanks to the Blast quality of the plasma incinerators.
  • 5 Eradicators firing heavy melta rifles have an AMPD of 26.7, or 36.5 at half range, hitting at AP -4 or AP -5.
  • 5 Heavy Intercessors have an AMPD of 14.6 at AP 0 or -1 using hellstorm bolt rifles, or 9.7 at AP -2 or -3 using executor bolt rifles. This can be increased by 20% using the relevant Chapter Tactic.
  • A squad of 5 Hellblasters with assault plasma incinerators has an AMPD of 29.2 at AP -4. The assault plasma incinerator is unquestionably the best option thanks to the combination of high damage and shots.
  • A squad of 5 Intercessors has a similar profile to the Heavy Intercessors; an AMPD of 14.6 at AP 0 or -1 using auto bolt rifles or 9.7 at AP -2 or -3 using stalker bolt rifles. This can be increased by 20% using the relevant Chapter Tactic.
  • Deathwatch Veterans have a lot of options. Each heavy bolter has an AMPD of 5.8, while in rapid fire range a combi-plasma has an AMPD of 6 assuming you are firing on maximal and using vengeance rounds (reduce the AMPD to 3 beyond half range). The combi plasma AMPD is evenly divided between AP 0/-1 and -3/-4 depending on the doctrine. Under No Matter the Odds or Siege Masters the AMPD of the heavy bolter would improve by 20% while the combi-plasma would only improve by 10% since only half the attacks are bolt weapons.
  • Melee options available to Proteus Kill Teams are innumerable. Something like a charging Vanguard Veteran hitting with a heavy thunder hammer has an AMPD of 10.7 at AP -3 or -4, assuming they have a +1 to hit and a re-roll. At 200 points a squad of 5 is not cheap, but the offensive potential is incredible.
  • In melee the best Primaris option would probably be the Aggressors on the charge; assuming Hunters Unleashed was applied and a Watch Master gave them a re-roll the AMPD is 35.5 hitting at AP -3 or AP -4. Without the Chapter Tactic the maximum potential damage is still 30. 5 Outriders come close; their AMPD with a +1 to hit and re-rolls is 29.2 at AP -1 or -2.

The two charts below put these numbers into effect. First up is 5 Aggressors firing with a 2+ to hit, re-rolling 1s. Each line represents a different save profile. As the saves get worse the numbers quickly become absurd, with the massive volume of rolls overwhelming nearly anything.

Here’s another example featuring Vanguard Veterans. 3+ to hit and re-rolls isn’t that hard to achieve; you could make things even more extreme by using Whirlwind of Rage to effectively increase the number of attacks by 20%.

Finally we can take a look at something less boosted; 5 overcharging plasma Inceptors with no bonuses outside of re-rolling 1s to hit so that you aren’t guaranteed to wipe out the squad with their own guns. With AP -3 or AP -4 this unit can kill a large number of targets even without the application of hit bonuses.


Needs more Heavy Thunder Hammer. Credit: TheChirurgeon

Wrapping Up

The new Strike Force Army of Renown gives an immense amount of capability to Deathwatch players. Properly applied, Black Vault Bolts can provide a very nasty boost to lethality of units like Eliminators, or reliably inflict 6 mortal wounds from a Kill Team firing at close range. Specialism Extremis is extremely effective and well worth the 3CP investment. Properly applied this Stratagem has the ability to delete nearly anything in the game, and Deathwatch players can apply it to a wide variety of scenarios. Infantry heavy Deathwatch armies should expect to have a lot of fun with these rules, and everyone, not just xenos, should be scared of what they can do.

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