PantsOptional’s Road through Crusade, Part 3: Sinuses Packed with Conscript Meat

The world was noise. Meaningless static, blurry images devoid of any pattern. He saw and heard the world the same way he felt it, at least most of the time. Pain brought everything into sharp relief, and so did his hatred and his anger. Sometimes he could focus and he could see and hear again, but never really feel. Never again.

Abraxas turned slowly, realizing that the incessant squawking nearby was something was trying to get his attention. He steeled himself against the incoming sensory assault and brought the world into focus. Ah. The bastard of Magnus was whining at him about something again. It had a name, surely… something with a K, but Abraxas wasn’t sure he cared enough to remember it.

“Tread lightly, there’s someone ahead,” Kaothol whispered through the vox-transmitter, “I can feel the touch of the Powers through the Empyrean. If we’re lucky, it’s Boilpox and his plaguespawn. We can at least work with them. If we’re not… I’m sure Ventrix would love to bring our heads back to the Despoiler as trophies. Now be quiet, but be ready!”

The pair crept around the corner of the ruined hab-block, one significantly more quietly than the other. Abraxas flexed his claw idly out of habit, and his other limb click-hissed faintly and flared as he readied himself for conflict. Even if the forces ahead were those of Chaos as the sorcerer claimed there was no way they were safe yet. The buzzing of flies and the dull clank of ceramite on ceramite echoing through the smoke and dust gave the only clue as to what lay ahead of them, a likely indicator of the Plague God’s minions.

As quickly as that thought came, the haze before the unlikely pair thinned and dissipated and Kaothol stepped forward. “Greetings, Boilpox,” he hissed, “let our… wh-?”

In that moment, Abraxas was unsure what surprised the sorcerer more – the sudden burst of rotor cannon fire tearing him to shreds, or the fact that it came from a pack of pockmarked and flyblown Loyalists. He barely had time to realize he was amused by the situation before a howling mutant leapt toward him, the cracked fleurs on her armor marking her as a Sister of Battle.

A suspect-looking "Imperial" army
“Loyalists”, work in progress. Credit: Mike

As outlined last time, Mike’s Lethal Absolution force is a Chaos Space Marines force who are desperately telling themselves they’re Loyalists. With the upgrade to 750 points came a distinctly nasty surprise: a six model strong block of Chaos Bikers which is both extremely on point for an army using the Night Lords rules and also a true terror on a board that’s only 44” x 30”. I threw pretty much all of my army onto the side of the map where those guys weren’t and they still managed to circle around the entire board and hit me from behind.

Each Chapter has a twist in the missions, a tertiary objective that contributes to our team score. Last time it was an objective marker in the middle that served sort of as an introduction to the concept and also helped to make the middle of the table a real bloodbath. This time around it was also an objective marker in the middle of the table, but it involves a sort of semi-action that resolves almost instantly but has a 1 in 6 chance of dropping mortal wounds on the activating unit as the decryption device malfunctions and short circuits. Both of us were too focused on murdering the other to chase the tertiary – okay, actually that’s not right, I was too focused on getting murdered. I’m told that Dexion, the Kroot player, lost an entire unit of Vespid twice to what is now being termed the Bug Zapper and may have lost one of his matches as a result of this.

Vespid models
Most people learn their lesson after the first time; we however say learning is Cowardly.

Mike won this one handily. We had played the Sabotage mission, which has some weirdness to it based on the timing of mission setup and which has been improved to a degree in the Goonhammer Approved Crusade Balance Dataslate. Mike also took Claim and Despoil as an Agenda, which meant the map was festooned with objective markers. I should probably look more into that Agenda as it seems like a great way to score XP and Warfleet Glory, but it would also mean leveling up my Cultists and frankly I don’t approve of them being competent.

Postgame turned out to be pretty rewarding for both of us, as most of my army avoided Battle Scars and I got enough XP spread out between units to level up a handful of units as well as finally having an opportunity to splash around some Requisition Points. Kaothol got his inevitable Mark of Tzeentch, a Warlord Trait granting a 5+ Feel No Pain, and a minor buff to his staff thanks to a Chaos Boon; my new Master of Possession got the rather dull but useful extra Wound and point of Toughness which should go a long way to keeping his incredibly fragile ass in the game. On the other side of the table, Mike’s new Bikers accumulated a tremendous amount of XP and managed to rocket up nearly two levels. The downside, of course, was that after this game I was perilously low on Personal Glory. One more loss could very well mean that the newcomer Master of Possession would challenge the Sorcerer for leadership and wipe him out for good.

Let’s see what happened in game two of the chapter.

If you stretch your memory back to the first installment of this column, you may remember Vee and his 63 Conscript list. Granted, Conscripts are generally terrible but with only 20 or so models on my side of the board and only 4 that really had a prayer of putting out more than one good shot at a time I had genuine concerns about being able to take down enough of them before their massed fire took me out. Well, we met up for the second match of the month and you can imagine my surprise when that list was only a draft and it turned out to be 90 goddamn Conscripts, plus some assorted Voidsmen, officers, and Rogue Trader Imperial weirdos.

Full deployment shot of a handful of Chaos models about a hundred Guard
The brochure said there would only be a few Conscripts…

Vee’s force was an interesting one, aside from the raw numbers of fresh-faced recruits. His custom Regimental Orders meant that he could advance and shoot at a penalty, while Hammer of the Emperor meant those 6s auto-wounded. Those Conscripts were suddenly terrifyingly mobile, and he used that to full advantage. Curiously, though, he didn’t take any Commissars, which meant that those Conscripts were all but certain to lose Morale tests on every turn.

Those of you who’ve done the math in your heads can probably already guess how this shook out. On one side you have 90 models with Toughness 3, 1 Wound apiece, and a 5+ armor save who only hit on 6s. On the other hand, you have significantly fewer models that generally hit on 2+, save on 3+ and ignore 1 point of AP, and can throw at least AP -1 around pretty easily. The two Obliterators alone accounted for somewhere around 30 Conscripts (earning themselves a bucket of XP from the Cull the Hordes agenda) and anything the Legionaries touched died more or less instantly thanks to Astartes chainswords and the Mark/Icon of Khorne which let me wound them incredibly easily and prevent them from even trying to save. Everything on his side of the table died, but chewing through everything was a test of endurance, like one of those challenges where you have one hour to eat a steak the size of a manhole cover.

That’s not to sell Vee short, though. This was, overall, an intensely fun game for both of us and I absolutely love the audacity it takes to put that many models on the table. Moreover, he played them well; it really was the numbers that lost him this game and not his skill. He used a handful of tricks that caught me off guard, like removing all his Morale casualties after my Fight phase from the front lines so that suddenly he wasn’t in Engagement Range any more and could shoot me on his turn. He also had a bunch of neat little tricks that kept the potential of 270 shots per turn from dragging on, between being able to skip Wound rolls most of the time and getting his dice ready in blocks of 10 during my turn.

A Chaos Sorcerer with just, like, a million Imperial weirdos behindhim
Oh gods there are humans on my back aren’t there? Get them off GET THEM OFF-

Postgame accounting was relatively simple especially because of an update to Administratum earlier that day; we submitted a Validated Match and since he’s the admin and I’m a moderator we approved it right away. Somehow despite being completely tabled he managed to avoid any Battle Scars and I only needed to upgrade one unit, giving the Obliterators a Weapon Skill boost which is obviously incredibly important for a couple of guys who grow massive guns out of their skin. Moreover, I got a bucket of Chaos Points and shot my Dark God Glory up to the maximum, meaning that for the next few games I have a shot at getting some weird Chaos Boons for my Marked units. Bring on the gross mutations!

Sadly at the time of play the new Astra Militarum codex wasn’t out yet so Vee wasn’t able to use it, but thanks to the review here on Goonhammer I was able to get the gist of it. I won’t go into too much detail since that article really covers it well, but it feels really neat and flavorful both to hand out medals earned through hard work and also to get thoroughly boned by the Munitorum. Up until last weekend I also didn’t realize just how perfect the Tours of Duty system is, in that it’s possible that you could go on a massive win streak and become big damn heroes and you’d still have to go stick your face into a meatgrinder over and over in order to complete your tour. Don’t worry, Ghosts, you’ll get that planet someday, we promise.

In lieu of deep diving the Militarum Crusade rules, let’s take a look at some of the other forces and see who else is playing.

Bo – Flames of Honor Hunter Cadre

Tau models on a faux grass surface
Ooh, that’s a real big fella there in the back. Credit: Bo

You don’t need to tell me that I’m an Old. Trust me, I know. My bones and joints have new and interesting sensations, my hair’s just flecked with enough gray that I don’t get carded any more, and when I ejaculate there’s a coughing sound and something with the consistency of talcum powder puffs out weakly. Another major clue to this is that I think the T’au are new, in the same way that PayPal or smartphones are new.

My T’au Lore is severely lacking as a result so this Crusade seemed like a great time to look more into how they work. I have picked up enough to know that Commander Farsight is a pretty cool dude who after seeing the rest of the galaxy then flipped the T’au Empire double deuces and jetpacked away into the sunset.

Bo’s Flames of Honor Hunter Cadre are part of that grand Farsight Enclaves tradition, although they seem to have gone a little weirder in their break from orthodoxy by reluctantly allying themselves with some more hardline T’au as well as the Oops All Kroot team and some… Orks? The lore there involves a lot of high minded notions about burying old grudges and the value of honor above all, which to me are pretty clear predictors that the realities of the grim dark future will be the iceberg that sinks this particular moral Titanic.

The T’au minigame is all about colonization and expansion of empire, and frankly that alone should be enough to put paid to any notion that they’re somehow the “good guys” of 40k. From a design standpoint the real problem is that there are now at least three factions whose entire Crusade minigame is “take over one or more planets” and that takes a lot of work to differentiate. The T’au version involves rolling up all of the planets involved and conquering them either through military force or diplomatic talks, both of which are represented by Agendas. Bo came late to the campaign, joining in Chapter Two, and he’s already made some pretty serious gains by taking over a mining world through diplomacy and coming away from the deal with 3 extra Requisition Points.

J – Tide Crusade

Black Templars models
Black Templars on a basing scheme that would make SRM jealous. Credit: J

However, the Black Templars all-Primaris “Tide Crusade” and their sweet as hell retro bases, under the command of J, aren’t doing so hot with their minigame but I’m going to go on record and say that’s not all on him. The Templars Crusade-specific rules involve swearing a four part Oath of Crusade, and fulfilling each part either gives you a small bonus or pieces of an ultra-special Relic. These generally break down into Deeds (long term victories), Foes (killing specific enemy types), Conditions (things you want to avoid), and Situations (specific types of games).

It’s nice that some Space Marines (including both types of Angels) actually get some Crusade rules, especially ones that provide a hell of a lot of flavor, but honestly this sounds like a bit of a headache. It’s not exceptionally hard to track each aspect of the Oath but some of these aspects are entirely dependent on random chance and others can be completely screwed over by restrictions of the campaign structure. For example, the Oath for special Templars bolt pistol requires you to play four games as Attacker, which is ultimately determined by a single die roll. It also requires you to play four games at the Strike Force or Onslaught level, which requires you to have twice the starting Supply Limit of most campaigns. For escalation campaigns like ours with fixed game sizes this means it may take a very long time to complete this Oath, and in fact it’s completely impossible under our current campaign.

And with that fun realization we are done for this edition and this chapter. Chapter Three spans two months due to the holidays but as a result extends to three games including a special event day which will cover three additional games. Next time we’ll cover the three “normal” games of the chapter as well as the focus on some of the participants, and then after that I’ll put out another column focusing on the event day. Will my mental health hold out after just a taste of the Narrative Madness that so recently gripped my fellow Hammering Goons? We’ll all find out together.

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