Last month Horus Heresy players were graced with a grand surprise: a mini-campaign pack featuring the Alpha Legion and Imperial Fists clashing in the Battle of Pluto, including rules for Imperial Fists Huscarls. It seems like we might be getting one of these every month, because last night Games Workshop dropped a second Exemplary Battles pack: The Defence of Sotha.
Battle for Sothopolis
This month’s Exemplary Battle is Aegida’s Lament from the Battle for Sotha – don’t ask me why it’s Aegida’s Lament, when the Aegida was an orbital platform which plays no part in this story. As an aside, Games Workshop, can we please tone it down with the excessive naming? This is the Exemplary Battle the Defence of Sotha: Aegida’s Lament, including the Legendary Mission Sothopolis Burns, which isn’t even the name of the mission (Honour in Duty), and the whole pack is referred to as the Battle of Sotha in the Warhammer Community article. I’m all for spicing things up with a bit of nominative determinism and future history, but could we make it all at least consistent? Anyway.
Sotha is the key setting for Guy Haley’s novels Pharos, where Night Lords attempt to take control of the planet and the mysterious Pharos device itself, and Belisarius Cawl: the Great Work, where we learn what powered the device and what made it so truly special. This particular battle occurred during the events of Pharos and, like the Battle for Pluto last month, covers an engagement that didn’t get any real time in the Black Library novel.
Here we follow Zaar Siakaar of the VIII Legion, the Night Lords, an up and coming and/or soon to fall Claw Master boastful of his imminent and inevitable victories at Sotha. Mindless of the follies of arrogance in his Legion, he willingly took under his command Atramentar loaned to him by other, more cynical, commanders, and struck out at Sothopolis, a coastal city near Mount Pharos defended by the Ultramarines. As the protagonists, the Night Lords eventually claim victory, with Siakaar learning the price of hubris from his Atramentar ‘bodyguards’ so generously loaned to him by his rivals.
The story here is, for 30k content, forgettable in the extreme, reading much more like a battle report than anything else, feeling at points like the author was given the task of name dropping every unique unit, piece of equipment or ability for both Legions. There are heavy hints of 40-esque heroic-style writing here as well, with a distinct departure from the more detached ‘future history’ writing that has been the hallmark of non-Black Library Horus Heresy content so far. This isn’t to talk smack about 40k writing at all, but it has been thus far a completely different style and take to GW’s 30k work, and it’s disappointing that they seem to have made the choice to blur the stylistic lines between the two. Hopefully this was just a first attempt by a new writer.
The Legendary Battle scenario itself covers the valiant last stand of the Ultramarines at Sothopolis, with victory for the Ultramarines being ‘survive’ and victory for the Night Lords being ‘be in the Defender’s deployment zone’. Oddly, the forces seem to be evenly matched, which, given the Deployment rules, heavily weights the game in favour of the Ultramarines. The Attacker needs to roll for half of their units going into Reserves on a 4-6, with these reserves being rolled for progressively as the game continues. So, yes, this does mean that the ‘overwhelming force’ of the Night Lords comes on piecemeal against the full might of the Ultramarines, making it quite hard to score a victory. Personally, I would suggest allowing destroyed Night Lords units to enter ongoing reserves to emphasise how utterly outclassed the Ultramarines are here, and perhaps allowing Night Lords reserves to come on from any edge in their deployment zone. Since Reserves come in from the Night Lords board edge 48” away from the Ultramarines deployment zone, the Night Lords Objective, they’re highly unlikely to be able to make it into the fray, let alone score.
The Defender is also required to take one Fortification, which is an odd choice both because most 30k players don’t actually own such a model, and also because Fortifications are just bad, being somehow much easier to destroy than vehicles with the same AV and Hull Points, having a much more punishing damage table and being destroyed on a 6+, rather than a 7+ as is the case with vehicles.
Night Lords Atramentar Squad
The famed 1st Company of the VIII Legion and commanded by the fan-beloved Jago ‘Sevatar’ Sevatarion, the Atramentar were oddly missing from Book 9: Crusade, being replaced by the Contekar. Debate raged as to whether the Contekar were a branch of the Atramentar, or replacing them in the lore, or merely a different unique terminator unit altogether. It seems that whatever the answer, Forge World heard the cries of the Night Lords and their victims and here we have official rules for Night Lords Atramentar Squad.
Opening up this unit you’re going to be in for a shock: where a standard Legion Terminator Squad is 175 points for five models in whatever mark of armour you so desire, Atramentar are hard-locked to Tartaros pattern and are a whopping two hundred and seventy points, only five points less than five Inner Circle Knights Cenobium and all their toys, who are already called out in the community as being probably too expensive. Each additional model only costs 30 points, the same as a standard terminator, but by the Primarchs that is a hefty up front price tag. The unit is WS5 base, which is incredibly useful in an Astartes-heavy world, and the squad size ranges from 5 to 20 models, but still suffers from Forge World’s insistence that Terminators should almost always be only one wound, which I firmly believe is a mistake; as a predominantly Mechanicum player, 2+ save’s don’t scare me, Justaerin with two wounds scare me, but I digress.
Options for the Atramentar are the same as a basic Legion squad, with a couple of Legion specific additions. Instead of a power weapon, any model can take a Nostraman Chainglaive for free, which is pretty neat, as normally these are restricted to Night Lords Independent Characters, Terror Squad Sergeants and Night Raptors. The squad sergeant, a Trucidor, can take a Headsman’s axe for +10 points, the same cost as an Independent Character but twice as much as a Night Raptor Sergeant, but he also gains an additional +1 attack on top of normal Legion Terminator Sergeants. Incidentally, in a subtle nod of the head to the Night Lord’s personality, ‘trucidor’ comes from a Latin root ‘trucido’, meaning ‘I slaughter, massacre, cut to pieces, kill in a cruel way’.
On top of their weapon options, Atramentar come with Teleport Homers and Trophies of Judgement for free, saving you 20 points. They come with two unique special rules, Cloaked in Murder and Sworn Loyalty, neither of which really inspire me to flay anyone, which all good Night Lords rules should. Cloaked in Murder means that anyone charging this unit counts as Disordered, meaning that the attacking unit doesn’t gain an additional attack as a charge bonus. This is.. Fine, honestly. Deep Striking units are always vulnerable to counter-charges after they come down, and this might just be what keeps them alive to strike back. Sworn Loyalty means that Atramentar count as a Troops choice when taken in an army with Sevetar (Master of the Atramentar) is the Warlord. This is a neat fluffy rule, with the drawback that Atramentar lose the ability to score objectives if your Warlord is slain.
So, how do they stack up overall? Honestly, as I started writing this I was pretty down on them, but they’re growing on me. The unit cost is way higher than the value their options and rules provide; it really seems like you’re paying for just the choice to take 20 terminators, which would be, without taking any upgrades, 720 points. I really can’t see 20 single wound terminators making their points back, and the footprint of a unit that size means you’re very unlikely to be able to safely Deep Strike them. On the other hand, WS5 and ability to take Nostraman Chainglaives on every model does open up some nifty options. The potentially high modelcount means that you are going to be always going to be outnumbering your opponent in an engagement to get that sweet, sweet talent for murder. With WS5 and (if you take Chainglaives) Strength 5, you are going to be hitting and wounding other Astartes on 2s. Sure, you’re still likely ‘only’ AP3 for most of that, but you’re going to be successfully rolling enough dice that Rending will proc more than enough to rip apart anything you’re really worried about, and even if you don’t? That’s a nice 2+ armour save you have there. Make thirty of them.
At the end of the day, they may not be in their canonical Cataphractii armour, but for a unit of 20 you’re paying 36 points per model for a unit that that’s going to be hitting and wounding on 2s, and that is a damn good bargain.
Ave Dominus Nox
Over the last few months we’ve seen a definite ramping up of Horus Heresy content, ranging from Maloghurst finally getting a model and a surprise Argel Tal release, four different Legions getting two different Praetors, and now two months in a row of Exemplary battles dropping new lore, unit rules, a Legendary Battle and a mini-campaign. Sure, there’s the occasional dud of ‘hey remember Destroyers exist!’ from a couple weeks ago, but on the whole Games Workshop is absolutely priming us for something big. While this pack did feel like it was given to a bit of a newbie (with the poor writing, confusing naming and badly balanced scenario), overall I’m looking forward to another hit, and all we can do now is hope that non-Legion units get a bit of love too!
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