Necromunday: House of Artifice Impressions Roundtable

Hello, Scummers, and welcome to another Necromunday roundtable! We got a chance to look at preview copies of House of Artifice, and we’re absolutely thrilled to g\talk about the content therein. Next week, we’ll be back with our updated Houses of the Underhive: Van Saar article, so make sure to come back for that!

For this roundtable, our crew of Necromunday scummers – regular champions Dan and Merton plus key ganger Genghis Cohen and juve Kevin Fowler are talking about the new book and what it does and doesn’t do for them and the Van Saar gang. 

Consider this a companion piece to our official Review of House of Artifice, which you might have missed if you were too busy pre-ordering your own copies of the book the other day instead of checking the site. Anyways, let’s get to the roundtable!

 

How Does the House of Artifice Stack Up Against the Previous House of ___ Books?

Genghis Cohen: By adding less than other House books, it preserves an overall balance. It added some things which double down on existing Van Saar strengths, and didn’t add that much to repair their weaknesses. My perception of the Van Saar problem is that there’s an obvious way to use them. Take the best special weapons in the game and combine them with Shooting skills, enhanced Ballistic Skill and armour, and just play the game as a pure gunline. I’ve talked before about why I think a good player will do better with a balanced gang that includes close combat. But new players are funnelled towards an all-shooting approach. The new Archaeoteks, skills and Cyberteknika do little to discourage that. Thankfully, Neoteks will give Van Saar players a little bit of a different way to play. 

Merton: They shoot, and they shoot some more! Technically they can also do melee, and I continually forget that they’ve got access to Shock Staves and Hystrar Shields, but both of those seem like unsupported afterthoughts when it comes to the Van Saar game plan. House of Artifice, in my opinion, does very little to change this outside of the new Prospect. Previous to this book, Van Saar hung out, moved slowly, and shot anything they could see. Now, they’ll still move slowly and shoot everything, but they’ve got one new dude flying around flushing out hidden enemies. The other books made their gangs feel different than they’d been. Artifice is the same as it ever was, plus Grav-Cutters.

Fowler: Let’s set rules aside for a sec here – the art and lore just keep getting better in these books. Having an entire codex to flesh a gang out is rad as hell, and they have knocked it out of the park with our favorite rad-toting shooty bois. 

Dan:  This might be a minority opinion, but I think Van Saar are the weakest of the house gangs. With very expensive fighters who are only good at one thing, Van Saar generally get outclassed in every theater save for shooting. They remind me of Tau in 9th ed 40k, and as any Tau player will tell you, Tau are in a bad place. Neoteks on Grav-cutters do a lot to combat Van Saar’s problematic movement, but the rest of the book is doubling down on Van Saar’s only trait: shooting. I wish they did more to diversify Van Saar’s approach to a game of Necromunda.

I think my takeaway from this book is that someone at GW thinks Van Saar are way overpowered. I have heard this sentiment echoed in the Necromunda community as well. Scummers, I don’t get it. I am by no means the best Necromunda player around, but I’ve never had problems putting the boots to Van Saar. I’d love to hear why people might think Van Saar is overpowered, though. We’re going to talk more about it later in this article, but please feel free to drop us a line over at necromunday@goonhammer.com and give us your opinion.

 

What Do You Think About Archaeoteks and Neoteks?

Genghis Cohen: I think the Neoteks are a very interesting addition. Their movement rules let them move 7” per activation while moving freely vertically and over obstacles – essentially flying. That opens up lots of new tactics for Van Saar and makes missions which require moving fighters to an objective, or off the board, far more achievable. They also have Agility as a Primary Skill, which is funny both because 4 of the 6 skills are totally useless for them (they were a bit crap anyway), and one of the best ones, Sprint, would let them jet 21” in a turn. Overtaking Wreckers for the fastest idiots in the Underhive! They’re not game-breakingly good though, for anyone worried. Their base cost, while well worth it with that upgraded Van Saar BS and included armoured bodyglove, means they’re hard to spam at gang creation, and their weapon options are only powerful at short range. They will be a welcome addition just by virtue of making a gang which includes them more interesting to fight against. As they’ll usually be in line of sight atop their flying bases, and any cover penalties to target them are reduced by 1, I don’t expect them to hang around too long against serious firepower. 

Merton: I’m big on Neoteks, they’re exactly what Van Saar needed – a zoomy hammer to go along with their big shooty anvil. They’re not going to change up the traditional gang playstyle, but they’re gonna be nuts for uprooting enemies that understand the value of hard cover and Smoke Grenades. I hadn’t considered Sprint! That’s some ludicrous speed, right there.

Fowler: I don’t expect Neoteks to set the world on fire, but they provide some very interesting options as mobile screening units or objective grabbers – things that Van Saar can benefit from greatly. What I can say for certain is that they are one of the raddest models in the Necromunda range.

Genghis Cohen: Archaeoteks are in a tough spot. While they have some neat features, they are up against the pure efficiency of an Augmek (plain old champion). Archaeoteks got Savant and Tech (Augmeks retain Shooting & Savant) as Primary, and most Van Saar players have liked to keep Shooting! Do Archaeoteks have a role as a counter-charger, or anything different to a normal champion? Their statline gets +1 Attack, but they don’t get a WS boost and of course can’t normally access any skills which would help a melee fighter. Their unique weapons, I’m not a huge fan of. At 70 credits, the Rad Beamer is underwhelming. Not super bad, but it’s a low strength Rad weapon, which I don’t think is as good as a stronger gun to put your target down or out in one shot. And for its hefty price of 80, the Spider Rig is only ok. It has excellent special rules (Parry, Entangle, Shock) and will give an Archaeotek 3 WS3+ attacks (6 on the charge thanks to Paired). Not at all shabby. But at only S4, -1AP and 1 Damage, don’t expect him to carve through Brutes or later-campaign leaders & champions with it. Critically, Archaeoteks have access to all weapon categories from the Trading Post, which is probably better than their starting options. You could stack the Tech skill Weaponsmith and Munitioneer to get a reliable plasma or melta weapon, but is that better than an Augmek with Munitioneer and a skill to make his shooting more dangerous? Maybe take a Weaponsmith Archaeotek and keep him near a Munitioneer Augmek or Prime. 

Archaeoteks’ access to free starting Cyberteknika reinforces this role – go on, start with a free Infra-sight for your 2+BS – and their half price Cyberteknika access is the only thing which makes those upgrades even partially usable. I’m eyeballing Torsonic Cyberteknika. At Omega level, you get Suspensors on top of the +2 Strength to melee weapons (and the pointless upgrade to unarmed attacks). A vanity Archaeotek could take something like a Multi-melta paired with a Spider Rig. The Cyberteknika benefits are questionable at 150 credits (a Full Servo-Harness from the Trading Post is 160 and does the same thing and +1 Toughness) but an Archaeotek can get it for 75 credits, less if he started with the free Alpha version. 

Like the use case for the very strong Ocular Cyberteknika discussed elsewhere, all this adds up to a champion best specialised in the exact same conventional shooting that Van Saar already excelled at. You swap Group Activation and Primary Shooting skills (both excellent) on the Augmek for Cyberteknika shenanigans and some quite limited counter-charging ability on the Archaeotek. Tech skills offer niche benefits but don’t compare to Shooting, one of the best skill trees in the game, which synergises perfectly with the builds you’d want to take. So I’d take an Archaeotek for fun and variety, but I can’t say they offer a tactically different option to what Van Saar had already.

Fowler: I have to admit that I’m not a Van Saar player by trade, but I really don’t see a compelling reason to take the Archaeotek aside from the model looking very cool. 

Dan: Genghis did a great job of summarizing the Archaeotek up there, but I think I can state the case more concisely: an Archaeotek just doesn’t seem to do much. Sure, you could spend hundreds of credits at the Trading Post to get one up to snuff, but why? The Neotek is freakin’ rad, though. Great model, great rules, A+ all around.

 

Van Saar Champion. Credit: “Primaris” Kevin Genson

I Guess We Have to Talk About Tech Skills, Huh?

Genghis Cohen: We need to talk about Skills in Necromunda full stop! (I know we’ve probably done this before) (Dan: we have!) The Archaeotek is the only one who can pick from this tree, and as we’ll see only a couple have any use, you’d never choose to roll randomly on the table. So effectively these only matter for one type of fighter, and even then they’re tonk. Cold & Calculating – by using Int for a Cool check, you are essentially gaining a +1 to Cool. That wouldn’t be worth it, and you can only do so once per round. Gadgeteer – make Plentiful weapons, ie budget basic weapons and pistols, exactly what you don’t want on your champ or leader, a bit better. Mental Mastery – ignore Insanity (lol) and try to resist Wyrd Powers (also lol). Photonic Engineer – give las weapons (again, the budget weapons you wouldn’t give a champion) +1 Strength, which is very minor, in return for Unstable (disastrous). Or it lets you re-roll Ammo Checks. On your Plentiful budget weapons. Did playtesting show that combining those two crap abilities was overpowered or something? Rad-phaged – highly situational protection against Gas and Toxin, and you can regain Flesh Wounds if someone targets you with Rad-phage, which they’d never do. Hilariously, you always show up in Pitch Black conditions as you’re so irradiated you glow in the dark. Makes the skill even worse though. 

Weaponsmith stands out to me as the only decent skill here. Make your Scarce weapons normal and normal weapons Plentiful. That combines well with Munitioneer to produce reliability, the traditional downside of Van Saar favoured loadouts. Fun combo for any non-Scarce weapon, take Gadgeteer as well. You can then give up your new Plentiful rule for one extra special rule (Pulverise, Shock, Rending, Knockback) or, if it’s Rapid Fire, give it an extra firepower dice. Rapid Fire (3) Heavy Bolter anyone? 

Merton: Skill lists have been a sticking point for me in new Necromunda, more so than ever with this selection and Bravado before it. I confess that it’s always seemed like a bit of a bait and switch with these gang-specific skills: when info on the House of ___ books was starting to trickle out, I’d assumed that the new skills would be for everyone in the gang, to give them choices beyond the same couple of faithful go-to options (or none, if you’re Cawdor). 

It’s no secret that skill sets are designed to have only one or two ‘good’ options, with the rest being either hyper-situational or purely fluffy. One of the developers admitted as much a year ago when they were on stream talking about Savagery for Corpse Grinders! I understand that The New Skill List is mandatory for a gang’s book nowadays, but to invest time in coming up with six new skills, with little regard for how enticing they’d be to ever willingly take in a campaign, and then also lock them behind a single model able to use them at all? I dunno, guys, that just seems like a whole lotta effort for very little payoff. 

Even I’m not masochistic enough to rewrite the entire skills system for Necromunda (yet), so I’m loathe to start tinkering with individual entries any more than I already have for stuff like Overseer. For gang skill lists, though? I’m seriously considering making all of them Primary for every fighter in their native gang. 

Fowler: Another gang book, another list of exclusive gang skills that are pretty much neither good nor fun. As mentioned above –  Mental Mastery ignores the insane condition and allows you to have a shot at dispelling a psychic power. Even in the seriously unlikely event of a psyker cutting a path of destruction through a campaign, only one model can take this! 

Dan: These skills are trash. The only remotely positive statement that can be said about them is, “Weaponsmith is ok.” Van Saar characters can get really expensive really quickly, and I was hoping that in Tech skills we’d get something that mitigates the price bloat of a lot of Van Saar gangs. Something similar to those tasty economic skills found in Savant. But instead we got a heaping pile of garbage that even Cawdor gangers wouldn’t pick through! I don’t even play Van Saar and I’m mad about this.

 

How ‘bout That Cyberteknika?

Merton: First off, it’s pronounced Cyber-Tennica. The K is silent, like in “knife” and “knuckle”.

Dan: You’re about to get a “knuckle” “sandwich”.

Genghis Cohen: Crazy name, crazy rules! I love the background idea and it’s neat you can take them both as upgrades or to repair injuries. There’s a basic problem with bionics – they massively inflate your fighter’s gang rating while preserving his ability at the same level as a non-injured fighter. Cyberteknika upgrades, at Alpha level, are priced about 5 credits above their Bionics equivalent, and in many cases their over-and-above benefit is so minimal you’re not even bothered. For most injuries that I’d bother repairing, I might as well take the Cyberteknika option. For a lot of injuries in Necromunda, it’s better to let it slide. Cyberteknika is too expensive for what it gives. Both as bionic repair and as upgrades, it’s not worth it compared to weapons, armour and gear that a gang can buy from the Trading Post. Note that Archaeoteks, getting Cyberteknika at half price and starting with a free Alpha upgrade, are pretty much the only fighters you’d plan to implement these on except in case of injury. 

Let’s talk, though, about by far the best option, Ocular Cyberteknika – Alpha level gives you Infra-sight on all weapons, Gamma stacks a Mono-sight on top. (Omega, uselessly, gives you Photogoggles, which overlap almost totally with an Infra-sight) I note this appears to circumvent the restrictions of placing Infra-sights on Rapid Fire or Heavy weapons and Mono-sights on pistols. Yes please! Is it worth 50 credits though? Infra-sights are now 25 credits in the Van Saar fighter equipment lists, so in most cases you can just take those instead. Of course at a half-priced 25, it’s ideal for an Archaeotek as a free starter or an upgrade. Could be worth it on anyone else who wants to combine rapid fire and an Infra-sight, or on a Plasma Pistol Gunslinger. The thing about adding Gamma level is how many Van Saars need all these bonuses to hit? They will frequently be hitting on a 2+ roll anyway. Basically, take this implant on anyone who loses an eye, and consider it as a competitive vanity upgrade on any powerful weapon-carriers. 

Merton: Every gang gets a trait that allows them to put their spin on a unique part of the core system mechanics. Goliaths got pure stat modifiers, Escher mess around with special ammo, Orlocks have bespoke Advancements, and now Van Saar have their own hypercharged bionics, which previously only existed to mitigate the damage from crippling injuries. Thing is, bionics aren’t quite as prevalent in a campaign as some of those other areas!

In my experience, bionics exist as a mid- to late-campaign credit sink, where the inflated rating on champion with a shiny new bionic eye is worth it when compared to losing him and his five+ advancements in favor of rolling a fresh body who still has their original peripheral vision. I can dig that Van Saar now have a way to pay a little more and get a tiny bonus (or pay a lot and get a less tiny bonus) when they take damage, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen with the same frequency as some of the others. Even with elective surgery on the table, losing the fighter to recovery in the following game is a hell of a downside, especially with Van Saar gangs’ smaller rosters thanks to their expensive models. As a whole, I think Cyberteknika is nifty, but it’s not going to inspire Van Saar players to theorycraft whole gang builds around, like Genesmithing and Chem Alchemy did.

Fowler: I threw my back out and messed my shoulder up this weekend, and I could definitely go for some Torsonic Cyberteknika… but since I am not an Archaeotek it seems prohibitively expensive. I’ll stick to Second Best.

Dan: After my first read-though of Artifice, I thought Cyberteknika was really cool. And then Merton patiently explained to me how fighter costs get added together and I realized that Cyberteknika is far less cool. For what it’s worth, I think using Cyberteknika, especially half-off Cyberteknika (thanks, Archaeoteks!), to heal injuries is legit good. I also think Occular Cybertekinika is almost an auto-include on Augmeks and Leaders. Smoke grenades are, after all, the best way to combat Van Saar shenanigans. Perhaps that’s in the past, now?

Any Interest in Those Murder Clowns (House Catallus)?

Genghis Cohen: As an Alliance, they’re not too powerful. I really like the idea of their Entourage turning up though. It’s one deadly fighter who really can add that close-combat punch to the pure shooting gang, and one fighter designed to sow chaos and cause Pinning or Broken fighters with his unique special rules. It’s not easy to see how the Mindfrayed would actually play out in-game, but I love that they’ve tried something unique. 

Merton: I wasn’t too keen on Catallus’ benefits at first! Faceless Allies preventing an opponent from getting and credits for selling my captive gang member is helpful to avoid letting an enemy get too far ahead in the rankings, but I’m looking for an Alliance that’ll help me rise to the top, not one that’ll just make my losses slightly less disastrous. That said, I feel that a lot of the power in choosing these guys is hidden in the rules to their Entourage, Many Fates, One Purpose. The ability to mitigate the chaos of Random Selection and ensure that you always definitely get to bring at least one of your heavy hitters is a godsend. 

Fowler: I am down with the clowns here, especially because of the random pick buster Many Fates, One Purpose as Merton mentioned. The only real downside here is that the entourage is only two bodies!

Dan: I love these Murder Clowns! The Invisible Truth rule is some of the funniest stuff ever to make it into Necro rules. Imagine getting excited to form an alliance with the Corpse Guild and whoops! It’s the clowns again! I desperately want to see this happen in one of my campaigns.

As far as these Van Saar are concerned, these Escher are already way too close. (Insta: @40khamslam)

Is the Terrain Any Good?

Genghis Cohen: I like the thematic additions of these terrain rules, as with the other House books they really offer a spark for conversion ideas. What immediately jumped out at me was the Hidden Traps rule. This appears to be a new addition, and it looks like something that might be introduced again in further books for traps and similar gear or terrain. When you buy a Thermal Mine (70 credits) you get to deploy 6 markers, all but one of which are decoys, anywhere outside of your opponent’s Deployment Zone. Now when a Thermal Mine goes off, it will most likely devastate everyone in a 6” radius. So by deploying 6 potential threats of that magnitude you are going to frustrate your opponent’s game plan enormously. This is so valuable for a gang like Van Saar that presumably wants to hamper their enemies’ forward movement and keep them at arms’ length as long as possible. The shenanigans are endless, but potentially a lot more fun for the Van Saar player than their opponent! Honestly, if I played Van Saar I’d get some and use them every game, I think they’re very strong, but I suspect I’d lose friends.

Dan: Hidden traps was actually introduced in the House of Blades book, but, you’re right about it being a cool rule!

 

The Big Question: Are Van Saar Overpowered?

Genghis Cohen: I think that the answer remains “yes, if you lack enough terrain and/or your group doesn’t understand how to use cover, including being Prone”. They dominated shooting matches before and will continue to do so. The book gives them several funny new ways to do this, but nothing more egregious than what they were doing already. Given how reluctant Games Workshop is to correct balance decisions, I am not surprised that they have kept the enhanced Ballistic Skill and the Armoured Bodyglove. Both of those are flat out better than most gangs’ deals, but it’s not an insuperable advantage. If you are a Van Saar opponent rather than a player, you can still beat them by playing to their weaknesses. Does the book help Van Saar players with those? The Archaeotek isn’t that great for close combat. Neoteks, on the other hand, are a breath of fresh air and can solve the mobility problem. So I foresee only minor changes to the Van Saar playstyle – it will continue to be a gang that goes all-in on shooting and is terrifyingly well suited to it. 

Merton: If you’re playing a deathmatch-style scenario without a plethora of terrain, Van Saar are going to pick you apart as your gang shuffles into their little shooting gallery. In missions where they need to take ground and be aggressive with distant objectives, they’re absolute chumps. I think that they’ve been incredibly powerful in exactly one area, and pretty dang weak in almost all of the others as a consequence. It remains to be seen how much the Neoteks help out in this regard, though I have a feeling they’ll help a decent amount. As a whole, no, I don’t think Van Saar are overpowered. 

Fowler: In my experience with Necromunda, overpowered is generally either 1. a state of mind, 2. not reading the room, or 3. Oops, I backed into being unbeatable! There’s a big difference between picking good stuff, and blathering on and on about how many shots your mathematically optimal champ pumps out. This can be especially demoralizing if the rest of the gangs are trying to walk the fine line between taking solid stuff and still having a reasonably fluffy campaign. Shooting is strong in Necromunda, and the combination of great starting BS combined with gear access gives Van Saar a pretty tantalizing place to start. All of that said, even the most hardcore shooty Van Saar list will get absolutely wrecked if you can mess with their activation economy (especially via  Overwatch), effectively screen with chaff, or get into any sort of melee. House of Artifice doesn’t move the needle if all you want to do is throw as many BS 2 plasma cannon-toting dudes on the field as possible.

Dan: With this book, Van Saar are marginally better at shooting than they were and finally have some decently mobile fighters. This is a good thing! They need good shooting and fighters that can actually move, because they are total wimps in every other sense! I think each gang with their own House book can compete at any level in Necromunda, and Cawdor and Delaque, our two gangs that still don’t have books, are good enough today to compete with this or any other gang.

Well, Scummers, we hope you enjoyed our little yakfest, here. We’re interested in seeing how things play out with the new book, and how players feel about the changes. We’d love to hear your thoughts or answer your questions, so feel free to drop us a line over at necromunday@goonhammer.com!

Next week we’ll be back with an update to our Houses of the Underhive: Van Saar article, so make sure to check it out. Until then, count your credits, get those re-loads ready, and don’t forget to clean out the cyber-arachnid cages! Thanks for reading, Scummers!

 

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