Necromunday: House of Blades Review

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“If you’re gonna kill someone, why not do it in style?”

Scummers, it’s here! It’s finally here! It’s been a while since we had new material to cover, to forgive us if we’re a tad excited! This past weekend, House of Blades hit the Underhive, giving the long-suffering Escher gang a much needed refresh. The girls are back in town, and today we’re going to check it out and see what new tricks this book brings!

 

Before August 29th 2020, House Escher was in dire straits. As one of the first two gangs released for this version of Necromunda, the game had evolved past them. While it wasn’t doom and gloom exactly, the warrior women of House Escher badly needed a lift.

Their universally low Cool stats meant that they were easy to break and quick to flee. The Escher box’s special weapon, the Chem Thrower, didn’t pin opponents, and the Gas special rule, which it relied on for damage, was easy to counter. Toxin weapons are nice, but House Delaque has more fun with them. The Spring Up skill from the Agility tree is nice, but the gang broadly performed as glass cannons, and endurance and longevity are vitally important in Necromunda.

Let’s just say that things could have been better.

Uphill battles. (Credit: Games Workshop)

However, we are happy to report that with the release of Necromunda’s newest sourcebook, House of Blades, an Escher gang suddenly has the potential to be one of the scariest gangs in the Underhive! This book is chock full of powerful new wargear, weapons, and a brand new custom Chem system that potentially catapults House Escher into the top tier.

This article isn’t a deep dive into the construction and campaign playstyle of House Escher. We’re doing that next week. This article is a rundown of all the new stuff and changes that House of Blades introduces so that players and Arbitrators can be aware of how it could potentially impact their campaigns and gangs. So, let’s get a move on, Scummers!

Just watch out for those Decapitator Traps…

 

Escher Gang Composition

This time, she remembered to shoot the Deputy too. (Credit: Games Workshop)

Coming from Gangs of the Underhive into House of Blades, you’ll quickly notice two things about the fighters you can hire:

  1. Each fighter type now has a spiffy new name, and,
  2. Fighter profiles have a new format.

Each fighter now has their own equipment list, and certain fighters (the low-ranking ones) are restricted from equipping things from outside of their list. This is generally very good, as it removes ambiguity and clears up the “who can take what” issues that still exist elsewhere. Also, rules that were in the “Gang Composition” section in Gangs of the Underhive are now outlined as abilities in each fighter type’s profile. Three big changes to note:

  1. Juves and Prospects now count as “Gang Fighters” meaning that they count towards the 50% roster composition rule (as gangers do) instead of counting against it.
  2. Armor is no longer given automatically; it has to be bought. When this happened to Goliaths in House of Chains, they were repriced to all come out slightly cheaper in the end. Escher fighters are 5-10 credits more expensive now once you add in their armor, but there’s a good reason for it!
  3. While all fighter types are still able to equip Wargear from the Trading Post and Black Market freely as before, only Queens, Matriarchs, and Death Maidens are able to do the same for Weapons. Everyone else is now limited to the weapons on their House List!

Before we get into the individual changes, there’s a big update to the gang that affects all of them: All Escher fighters had their Cool Stat buffed by +1. Is it worth an extra couple of credits to not constantly worry about breaking and bottling all of the damn time? Absolutely.

Right off the bat, we’re in a good place. Let’s get on to the fighters!

  • Gang Queen (Leader): 5-credit increase, but she doesn’t come with armor, so you’re looking at an effective change of +15. She did get the +1 Cool, though, so that should mitigate the sting a bit. Gang Queens can take Finesse as a Secondary skill.
  • Gang Matriarch (Champion): Again, we have a 5-credit increase, but no armor. So, ditto on the 15-credit increase. +1 Cool, and access to Finesse skills as secondaries.
  • Death Maiden (Champion): New champ alert! Death Maidens are 15 credits more than a Gang Matriarch and can best be described as murder tornadoes. WS 2+, 3 attacks, and Toughness 4 (!!!) make these new champs really stand out. They lack the spread of weapon and wargear options that Queens and Matriarchs get, but they’re heavily focused on combat. Having a Death Maiden on the roster to provide some counter-charge punch is definitely going to be the new hotness.
  • Wyld Runner (Prospect): Our other new fighter type, the Wyld Runner diverges substantially from her Goliath counterpart, the Forge-Born. Where the Forge-Born is a juve with a very large gun that will eventually kill them, Wyld Runners are precision strikers and beastmasters. They can take up to 3 phelynx (lizard-cats or cat-lizards, depending on your perspective) to help screen out their more powerful comrades. They can also take a new Basic weapon: the Wyld bow. On its own, it’s not much, but when you load up a quiver with poison, explosive, or acid arrows, suddenly this fighter becomes quite fearsome!
  • Gang Sister (Ganger): Gang sisters’ base cost stayed the same, but they still come unarmored, so you’re looking at a 10-credit increase. Gang sisters also get an expanded wargear list, and the ability to promote one to a Specialist to get access to special weapons like the ‘Nightshade’ chem-thrower.
  • Little Sister (Juve): Same base cost, but this time no functional increase, because they didn’t come with armor in Gangs of the Underhive! Woohoo! Expanded wargear, the Cool increase, and the Gang Fighter rule make Little Sisters an attractive choice to help fill your roster with cannon fodder.

 

 

The destructors are come. (Credit: Games Workshop)

Chem Alchemy

What’s that sound we’re hearing? Oh, right. That’s the sound of the rubber hittin’ the road, Scummers! In House of Chains, Goliath gangs got a brand new set of rules regarding Gene-smithing (which we’ve covered). In House of Blades, Escher get their own cool new set of rules: Chem Alchemy.

For Goliaths, Gene-smithing is a system where the player can make pre-campaign or -skirmish decisions about their gang composition and assign bonuses with attached credit costs to their characters at creation. In what we think is a very good decision, Chem Alchemy is completely different!

Chem Alchemy is a system where an Escher player can make custom Stimms (combat drugs), Toxic Ammo, or Gaseous Ammo for their fighters to use in games. Here’s how it works: When they visit the Trading Post or Black Market, the player can purchase these elixirs without rolling for rarity or illegality. They choose whether they’re making a custom Stimm, custom Toxic Ammo, or Gaseous Ammo. Then they choose up to three traits for their elixir: each trait has a credit cost associated with it, and the player adds up the costs of the traits to determine the price of the elixir.

Each type (Stimm, Toxic Ammo, or Gaseous Ammo) has 10 different traits to choose from. We’re not math experts, so we ran it by Primaris Kevin (of Hammer of Math fame), and he says that each type of elixir has about 820 possible combinations. So, enjoy your 2,460 new items, Escher players!

This system is really, really cool. Custom Stimms are super useful, but the real meat is in the ability to increase the utility and deadliness of Toxin and Gas weapons. They’ve been lagging behind other weapons for a while now, but with this system, Toxin and Gas weaponry deployed by an Escher gang should have a terrifying effect. We would advise Escher players to be extremely excited about the possibilities of Escher Chem Alchemy. And don’t worry, we will get deep into this system next week in our House Escher rundown.

Toxins sourced from the most exotic of locations. (Insta: @verdekil)

Finesse Skills

Just like the House of Chains, House Escher gets a brand new skill tree: Finesse. And, just like for Goliaths, where Stimmers, the new Champion type, are the only Goliath that can take Muscle skills as a primary, only Death Maidens can take them as a primary skill. We’ve gone and griped about skills quite a bit in our skills article (which, upon reflection, needs to be updated), but we’re still dealing with the same problem regarding secondary skills: you can’t choose secondary skills. You have to roll for them. And rolling for skills is always a bad idea.

Enough griping, on to Finesse skills! 

Finesse skills are mostly focused on enhancing a combat character’s deadliness, survivability, or mobility. Thankfully, they seem really good at achieving those goals! Just like last time, we’re going to go deep into the Finesse tree next week, but we’ll give you a quick preview with our two favorite skills of the bunch.

  • Dan’s Pick: Combat Virtuoso – Escher have long struggled with staying power. Their low Toughness (when compared to Goliaths, at least) and cheapo armor make it difficult to keep them alive, especially in combat. If only Escher had a risk free way to generate combat attacks without the fear of retribution! Well, my prayers have been answered, because Combat Virtuoso makes any knives and swords wielded by the Escher fighter with this skill Versatile weapons with a long range equal to the fighter’s Strength! I don’t know how a Death Maiden with two power knives is gonna stick her opponent from 3” away, but then again, I’m not a Combat Virtuoso!
  • Merton’s Pick: Hitting this section second means that it’d be poor form to say “yes, also Virtuoso, that skill rocks.” In the interest of variety, I’m going to instead call out my pick for the close second place, Acrobatic. I know that if I was playing Escher, I’d be using a bunch of Runners and Phelynx, and it might start to get tricky for my Maidens to find their way into base contact with currently-engaged foes. With Acrobatic, I’ll be hopping past all of the friendlies and enemies alike to strike at a hostile backside and reap the benefits of all of those sweet Combat Assists. Plus it’s the easiest way I’ve seen to reliably trigger Backstab bonuses!

 

House Subplots & Favors

The new Escher Subplot list replaces the standard Subplot list of Industrial Sabotage and Noble Whims with something that’s way more in line with the Escher agenda. It’s a thirteen-card list of specific directives for flashy assassinations, with a focus on melee kills and Toxin/Gas shenanigans.

  • Thousand Cuts takes full advantage of all of the injury rolls you’ll be causing, granting Reputation if an enemy goes Out of Action after having their Toughness reduced to zero from Flesh Wounds.
  • Flawless Victory is, quite frankly, probably never going to go off, since it requires a scenario victory in a game where none of your crew is Seriously Injured or Out of Action. Still, if you manage to pull it off, you’ll be banking 3(or 4!)d6x10 credits for the trouble. It’s a moonshot, but what a tempting gamble it is.
  • We’ve got a soft spot for Terror Tactics, offering bonus Tactics Cards if at least three enemy fighters are Broken at the start of a round. Manipulating enemy Nerve tests through Fear effects and Tactics (like Not So Easy and Skrag) has always been an interesting alternate Escher build, and it’s nice to see it get some love here.

If you’re down on your luck and not already rolling on one of the more exotic tables like the ines for Outlaws, Chaos, or Genestealers, regular gangs now have access to the Escher Favors Table. It’s definitely an improvement overall as compared to the generic list in the Hardcover Rulebook, offering free Chems, or extra Wyld Runners (who’ll stick around for the rest of the campaign week), or extra gear.

The 13+ roll’s top prize is Chemical Warfare, which lets a gang auto-pass Cool checks and Bottle Tests for a game of their choosing during the week! Let the Goliaths have their silly little Gene-smithing. Escher show up to a fight and don’t leave until it’s done.

 

When the Council of Crones calls, you listen. (Credit: Games Workshop)

Escher Terrain

Now available at the Trading Post are an assortment of House Escher-exclusive terrain options, 25mm-based scenery features that can be deployed on the battlefield in almost every fight once purchased. Some of these are restricted to a friendly deployment zone, and others can be placed anywhere outside of the enemy deployment zone like a Frag Trap.

Not that you’re going to want to bother with Frag Traps anymore, because the new Escher Traps are insane. The Blade Cages and Decapitators are each deployed alongside five duplicate decoys, making the enemy second-guess themselves for an eternity before finally deciding to step in range of one. If it’s the real McCoy, and they fail an Initiative check, they’ll have to deal with being Webbed or an automatic Injury roll.

For gangs who favor a more subtle and noxious approach, Gas Censers can be deployed around the battlefield and seep out a permanent 3” cloud of Gas until they’re shot away or thrown. At 50 credits, they’re not cheap enough to buy in bulk early on, but we can see a mid-campaign Escher gang hiding a bunch of these downrange behind terrain and around corners, and charging the enemy with their Respirators on!

 

Strong Alliances

If allied to the Water Guild, the Cold Traders, or the Noble House Ulanti, Escher gangs can treat the first Alliance Test as a passed result of only Disquiet. If you’ve been using one of the previously-existing two allies, take note! There are a few key changes you should know, and these tweaks will apply to all gangs who call upon their services.

  • The Water Guild’s retinue, the Syphoning Delegation, no longer replaces a single crew slot when they’re fielded in a scenario. Select your full Crew, and then also add in the Delegation.
  • The Cold Traders received a massive debuff to their out-of-game Xenos Artifacts ability. Previously it gave your leader a free Xenos weapon and dropped the rarity of all others at the Black Market. Now, gangs allied with the Traders have the ability to purchase a Sling Gun or some Armorweave. The faction is still viable thanks to the two Ogryn-sized Voidborn in the retinue, but the loss of weapon variety is a big hit.

House Ulanti is brand new, the second Noble House to offer a hand to a gang in need. Their boons give free credits, and their downsides are a threat to not give free credits (or to briefly give free credits to an enemy gang instead). Depending on where you fall on the Necromunda spectrum, this will either be super enticing because of all the easy money, or disappointingly bland since they barely do anything narratively outside of make Number Go Up.

For what it’s worth, their retinue does seem like fun, though, a pair of Court Advisors adept at mid- to close-range combat with all manner of body-swapping and Displacer Field shenanigans.

Water Guilders, reporting for duty. (Insta: @augustusbraass / [Blog])

Hangers-On

Both of the new Hangers-On are true exclusives. There’s no option to pay a little extra for their services and have ‘em slum it in the company of some Orlocks or Delaque – it’s Escher or bust!

We’ll be brief – these girls are phenomenal. The Apprentice Clan Chymist knocks 10-60 credits off of the cost of every single dose of Chems that a gang purchases (to a minimum of 10), making multi-effect concoctions economically feasible and enabling Escher to do what they do best; sling around tons of bare-tested drug cocktails without any regard for human life.

The Chymist also can turn a permanently deceased champion or leader into a Death Maiden, which can be a handy consolation prize if one of your well-Advanced champs takes a Heavy Chain Cleaver to the face. She’s even got Fixer, too, so she’ll be paying for herself before long!

It’s rare to see a Hanger-On come along that we’d recommend recruiting before an Ammo Jack or a Rogue Doc, but if you’re an Escher gang you should grab a Clan Chymist as soon as possible. They’re that good!

The Shivver grants a single fighter in the gang a chance to roll on a table for power, fortune, and fame. There’s a slim chance that the seeker will critically fail and be forced to sit out the next battle, but aside from that inconvenience, all of the other results are pretty great!

There’s boosts for the next battle’s Willpower or Intelligence, re-rolls on 1s for ranged attacks, bonus reputation if the fight ends in victory, and other good stuff. There’s almost no reason to not roll the dice here! We’re not as hyped about the Shivver as we are the Chymist, but any Escher gang looking to get spooky as a campaign progresses should definitely pick one up once they’ve got the Reputation to support a third or fourth Hanger-On.

A crew like this is bound to have followers. (Insta: @crabstuffedmushrooms)

New Scenarios

Much like the “Goliath Only” Scenarios in the previous book, don’t worry if you’re not running an Escher gang – they’re not actually required to play either of the two new missions here!

Khimerix Hunt

This one is going to look strikingly familiar to anyone who played the Solo Ambot Hunt this Summer, as both scenarios involve tracking a large lurking beasty, before it can pop out of the shadows to eviscerate your crew. This time, you’ll be joined by a rival gang, and the only way to lure the Khimerix out of hiding is to cause an enemy fighter to roll Injury Dice!

Having spent some time with the single-player version of this scenario, we’re pretty jazzed to run a variation that lets us bring another crew along to join in the fun. Plugging an enemy to draw out the monster is a great mechanic that feels entirely narratively satisfying, especially since it’s solely a means to an end. You have to make the other gang bleed to get to the Khimerix, but there’s no point to focus on killing them – the game’s a draw unless one of you kills the brute!

Back From the Dead

A single fighter, steadily growing in power, takes on ten sentries from the opposing gang. The lone fighter has multiple sets of Activations that increase with the round number, though!

This scenario is a weird one, friends! We’ll be putting it through the paces in the coming weeks and giving it a fair shake when we tackle a full breakdown for both missions in Blades and the trio in Chains, but for now our initial impression is that it could be fun, but probably won’t feel much like your standard game of Necromunda. File it away in the same place as scenarios like Fighter Down,The Hit, and Bar Brawl, all appropriate more for specific Arbitrator-influenced narrative events rather than in a standard Campaign Scenario rotation or table.

They’re extra cranky when you wake them up. (Credit: Games Workshop)

 

It Ain’t All Roses

Now, before we let loose with the gripes and grumbles, we’d like to make perfectly clear that we like House of Blades. It is a good book. It is exactly what Escher needed, and we love it for it. That said, it ain’t perfect. 

As Necromunda players, we’ve come to accept a looser reading of the rules as a requirement for playing this game. We accept that we’ll encounter a rule here and there that doesn’t quite work as written, as long as we can somewhat glean what it’s supposed to do and play the rule as intended. We accept this as players, and with a good group it’s rarely an issue, but it still sticks in our throats every time we see it. This happens more than a couple times in House of Blades. For example:

  • The Wyld Runner’s pet, the Phelynx, is tagged in their equipment list as a Status Item and an Exotic Beast, which are defined as equippable by only leaders and champions. Clearly, we’re all going to treat it as allowable equipment, but there’s no official exception granted for these Prospects to use their own pets.
  • A Shivver’s 10-11 roll of A Mysterious Stranger allows a gang to hire a Bounty Hunter for free for the next battle. Do players have to pay for their equipment? If so, what happens to that gear after the battle? We’ve wrestled with this question time and time again, and the Equipment section on p67 of this book states “In addition to their hiring fee, a BH may purchase up to…”, indicating to us that the free Bounty Hunter only knocks the initial 80 credits off of the cost. The FAQ supports this reading, but does so in a frustratingly cheeky manner. We’re not even sure what the Rules As Intended are, here.

Ugh. (Credit: Games Workshop)

  • Either the Power Knife’s entire profile and purpose changed, or somebody accidentally dropped in the statline for a Power Axe instead. The Knife is supposed to be S+1 with Backstab, and we’re going to continue to play it with the old profile.
  • Somersault’s ability allows a 6” repositioning of a fighter that “does not count as moving for the purposes of … the firing of weapons with the Unwieldy trait.” Simply put, this doesn’t make any sense in Necromunda. This wording would have an effect in the 40k system, but straight-up don’t apply in this game at all. It’s baffling to think that someone briefly forgot which game they were writing rules for, kinda like if they put an ability in Blood Bowl that only triggers after the game’s Seventh Inning.

 

Final Thoughts

Despite those minor complaints, as a whole House of Blades is a god-send to Escher players everywhere. Their new models and arsenal slam them into the modern Underhive as a force once again to be reckoned with, and it’s great to have some build variety that’s not just focused around Lasguns. We love to see it!

We’re especially pleased to see that the Chem Alchemy system is willing to try something entirely new, rather than just being a glammed-out reskin of Gene-smithing’s stat buffs. We’re looking forward even more to seeing what the designers come up with for some of the weirder Houses down the line, namely Cawdor and Delaque.

As to the inevitable question of “If I Don’t Play Escher, Should I Buy This Book?”, the answer is probably not! With both Hangers-On locked to the gang and only two scenarios, there’s even less of a draw for non-Escher to pick this up than there was for non-Goliaths to grab House of Chains. Save your money, maybe grab an Ambot, or just save up a few bucks for the upcoming Watchtower. That thing’s gonna be badass.

Seriously, this kit looks super sweet. (Credit: Games Workshop)

Next time, you guessed it, we’ll be overhauling our article on House Escher with all of their new tricks and tactics. You can reach us at necromunday@goonhammer.com with any questions in the meantime, and we’ll see you back here next week!

 

 

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