PantsOptional’s Road through Crusade, Part 6: An Exercise in Indulgence

Vhol Derenoth, gene-son of Lorgar, glances to his right, craning his entire head further than he’d like. He lost the eyes on that side of his face days ago but still they weep constantly, dribbling out of his shattered skull-mask. It’s blood if he’s lucky. He’s not sure what the rest is. Adharak and his Reavers advance up the right flank, slightly out of position, but he knows better than to try to restrain them. They’re blessed by the Lord of Rage, pure and unsullied in their unthinking devotion to Khorne. The warriors of the Inflamed Rictus glance over at Adharak, and for an instant both pity and contempt play through Derenoth in equal measures. The Rictus are pretenders, clearly yearning for the blessings of the Plague God but falling short of his favor.

He turns, placing a hand upon the bulk of Scyzhar, and both he and the Venomcrawler feel a moment of calm rapture. No other would dare touch such a holy machine, but his own sorcerous art bound the daemon engine into this world and the bond between them is strong. He’s heard Kaothol scoff about this behind his back – yet another reason Vhol itches to drive his staff through the bastard of Magnus’s heart. The Sorcerer denies his own divine blessings from the Lord of Change, and that’s even worse. The hubris in thinking you can run from your own god is staggering, and Vhol knows they will come to blows soon.

To his left, the newcomers. Zekyr Halfman, hulking in his ancient Contemptor frame, humming and glowing with plasma, mumbles to himself in some forgotten Cthonian dialect. Derenoth wonders briefly how this delirious veteran is allowed to keep the livery of the failed Sons of Horus but then realizes he doesn’t care. He’s more concerned with the others, these so-called “Hounds of the Warmaster,” revving up their bikes at each other beyond the Dreadnought. The voices in the dark told him the secret to hear the code in the cycling of the engine, the hidden messages between the bikers. They think no one knows that they’re the Despoiler’s spies among the Outcasts. How much failure will they observe before they act? How much insubordination? A calculus of treachery runs through his mind. The warband can be his but he’ll need to time things perfectly.

Is this really the face of someone who could betray his boss? Yes.

Beyond the Venomcrawler and the chaff of the Makaran 23rd renegades lies their goal, some platform of a design he can’t quite place. The signals and transmissions they intercepted are quite clear about its function as a teleporter pad, though, and more importantly about the prizes to be found at its destination deep within the core of Marthammor. It’s a simple plan – the Makaran cultists will operate the controls to send the rest of the warband to the core and bring them back to this moon again, and the Outcasts will bring their spoils to Abaddon. And of course he’ll kill Kaothol while they’re in the core and assume rightful control.

A coded crackle over the vox-link calls for alertness – movement ahead. His auto-senses, though damaged, convey a sound ahead. Muffled engines, unseen despite the clear conditions. The warband tenses almost as one just before half a dozen weather-beaten trucks burst out of the ground, guns blazing. Most of them actually aren’t guns – some kind of repurposed mining equipment, maybe – but it doesn’t matter. Their threat is real and that’s all that counts.

It’s a race now. They need to get to the teleporters before whoever’s in these trucks does. All thoughts of betrayal vanish in the blink of an eye as both the bikers and the Contemptor in his periphery drop beneath a hail of industrial laser fire. He hears but cannot see the Reavers roaring up to his right and he utters a silent prayer on their behalf to a god that scorns him. Before he can even urge it forward, the Venomcrawler launches itself forward at a dizzying pace, eager to crack open the advancing vehicles and dine on the souls within.

It hungers for souls, and possibly also Torko Borko.

Vhol hangs back from the initial fray. Even if he wasn’t blind in four of his eyes his specialty was never on the front lines. Instead, he calls upon his blasphemous arts from afar. Near him, a burst from a sonic cannon crushes the armor of a Legionary from the Unbroken, who collapses face-first in the dust. Pale green light shines from the eyes of the daemon’s skull atop Deneroth’s staff onto the Legionary who stands back up as if untouched, firing as he rises. He turns to work the sacred geometry of Tzeentch onto Abraxas the Helbrute but he’s too late. Abraxas is no more and with his loss the left flank is empty.

Next to him, Kaothol focuses on the battle ahead, hurling sickly purple-green lightning at a fortified truck which is itself busy trying to grind Scyzhar into a paste with a set of whirling rock crushers. This is the moment that Vhol has waited for; no one else is watching and the Sorcerer’s back is to him. Ambition can only be delayed for just so long. He raises his staff to strike, a green flame igniting across its length, but before he can land his blow another truck skids sideways next to him, kicking up a cloud of dirt. A pack of pink-skinned creatures clamber out of the back and a deep-seated disgust washes over Derenoth as he realizes that they’re hybrids, a perversion of the human form with the foulness of xenos. He may not be a loyalist but he’s still Astartes. The oldest hatreds may not burn as brightly but they never stop burning.

I’m sure it’s perfectly healthy to have a mining laser three inches away from your face.

He turns, gathering his daemon-mutated strength to drive his staff through the first one while it’s distracted driving an oversized pickaxe through a nearby Legionary. Behind him, Kaothol steps forward, tearing off his own helmet to reveal the skull beneath, burning with flames which Vhol can see and some which he cannot. This is the blessing that Kaothol would deny, a sacred mark of his own god. The Sorcerer opens his maw and belches his fire at the abominations in front of them. They melt, screaming, and Derenoth allows himself a satisfied smirk as he smashes the rest with his staff, scattering their souls as well as their bodies.

The rest of the battlefield isn’t going as well. The sharp thunder crack and actinic flare from the pad tell him that something big just teleported out. An engine roars, a blade spins, and a high shriek splits the air silencing everything else. He feels a sudden sharp pang in his gut and he staggers around the corner of some rubble just in time to see Scyzhar evaporate into the Warp. Bile rises in his throat but he forces it down, his bones aching as if being crushed.

The next few minutes are a blur. He sees himself lashing out with pale green fire, driving his foes back and allowing some of the Legionaries to teleport as planned, but this isn’t him doing it. He’s somewhere else, deep within himself, watching this like a pict-cast. Someone else does the killing. Someone else can’t stop another truck and crew from teleporting away. Someone else feels the pain, not him.

Polluting yourself with xenos DNA is too much for guys who’ve been twisted by the powers of hell.

Just like that, it’s over. The teleporter is dead. Perhaps they will find another somewhere else on this benighted moon, or perhaps the dark gods will guide them to another path. Perhaps Vhol Derenoth will finally kill Kaothol for his faithlessness and his failure. Right now all that is left to the Outcasts is to take out their frustrations on the trucks which have blocked their path and the degraded beasts inside. The anguished howls rise on the wind, and he can no longer tell if they come from his prey or his throat.

So, yeah. Beef showed up with a force that was almost entirely vehicles and I ate it big time. They were a tough nut to crack with my force which had mostly grown around the enemy forces being a lot of infantry, and the mission rules really helped him secure a hell of a lead in terms of victory points. The goal was to get units into the central objective’s control zone, at which point they could teleport out and earn their own value in victory points, so he just kept his infantry inside their transports and teleported them out, earning points for both transports and riders . He also managed to box me out entirely on the last turn, which was a hell of a smart move. I ain’t mad and I would do this all over again.

Match Two

My next match, using the same mission, was against J’s Black Templar force in a battle of Who Wore It Better: Marines in Black Armor Edition. I’ve worried about how photos might turn out in such matchups before, such as in the case of Deathwatch v Iron Hands (2021), but the Templars have enough additional iconography and secondary colors that I wasn’t concerned in the slightest this time.

I mean look at these, there’s so much besides just “black armor” and bases so green that SRM gets jealous.

Let’s talk about the actual mission for a second, because it gets a little finicky. Unlike previous chapters which offered a randomized selection of missions, there is only one mission here and the only random factor is the deployment zones. Our options are Hammer and Anvil which uses a deployment zone along the short sides of the map, or Dawn of War which – hold onto your hats – uses the short side. As far as I’m concerned, this is fine because the actual mission itself is complicated enough.

Regardless of deployment, the middle of the map has three zones lined up in the center between the two deployment zones. I won’t call them objectives because as written they’re not even though they function nearly identically, which has the side effect that rules that specifically reference objective markers don’t apply. Instead, the center zone is the teleporter pad mentioned above, and the zones on either side are the control panels for the teleporter. As written you can take an action to teleport a unit out, requiring a unit within control radius of one of the panels and a unit on the pad itself. Strangely, however, it’s not the unit at the panel that takes the action but rather the unit teleporting out. I understand how this works from a game balance perspective but it feels sort of odd and almost every player instinctively tried to play it the other way at first.

We played a Dawn of War setup, which didn’t exactly suit either of our melee-focused armies. We really want to have as short a distance between our front lines as possible so that we can smash into each other sooner. Sadly this was not to be. We deployed in a pretty standard fashion, hiding from each other’s long range guns as best as possible, but, well… he went first. And before long my Contemptor was almost as big of a smoking ruin as Twitter thanks to a… RepEx? Gladiator? Lancer? I have no idea. Thanks to a Big Tank.

The middle of the board also held a couple of Redemptor Dreadnoughts who stood around like they owned the place. After a couple of rounds, it was pretty clear that they did. My games against my brother’s Iron Hands taught me just how ruinous these things could be to infantry, and so I threw everything that I could reasonably muster against it. As is the case so often in my life, maybe in hindsight I should have been a little less reasonable. Committing fully to killing these things with everything I had would have been a much better idea.

Meanwhile off on the sides it was a bit more of a back-and-forth. On my left, my bikes, cultists, and infantry advanced up to deal with a bunch of Crusaders and the Emperor’s Champion. I remembered him from 3rd Edition, and thankfully he’s not quite as absolutely broken as he used to be; when my opponents told me what he could do back then it kind of felt like playing with that one kid in grade school who always kept adding on more and more special rules that only applied to him like a super-duper laser that ignored your force fields. Come to think of it, that does sound pretty in line with how GW writes rules sometimes (D weapons and daemon saves, I’m looking squarely at you here). Like I said, he’s pretty calmed down now and is mostly just a really nasty duellist. Sadly, he didn’t get much of a chance to duel a proper melee character, as J needed him to charge a unit that was sitting on one of the teleport control panels. A unit that would be really hard to break.

Some days it just doesn’t pay to come to work.

I don’t think he even noticed them, to be honest.

On my right hand side, things spiraled out of hand quickly. His Eradicators and Chungus Tank turned the Helbrute into nothing more than a nasty bong hit, and they were backed up by a Chaplain and a bucket of Crusaders. The Reavers, my Khornate Legionaries, re-enacted the end of Fargo with the Eradicators but… look, sometimes not everyone makes the charge roll, okay? And sometimes you’re either out of command points or you’ve already used the reroll. So then this sort of thing happens.

Not pictured: giant tank just out of frame on right. Yeah, this guy was boned.

The rest, well, you can probably use your imagination for the most part. Once again a couple of high-value targets teleported out. It didn’t matter that I had dropped the Redemptors to a few Wounds, and in fact if they had been a massive 20-strong block of Crusaders and I had salsa-fied all but one before it teleported out that wouldn’t matter either. As written, you get the point value of the entire teleporting unit, so it’s all or nothing. Two Redemptors, as you can imagine, is a lot of victory points. Too many, in fact, for me to catch up.

This being the final game of Chapter 4, this is basically the last time that the mini-game will be particularly relevant and the last time that I can promote my units or receive Battle Scars. Sadly, however, nothing really happens. I’ll touch on this more next time and my full thoughts on the system, but in the end I don’t get to live out my wildest dreams of losing a unit to either assassination or spawndom or get to live the dream of going full Daemon Prince. I suppose that’s probably for the best especially given that I didn’t have any models to use as Chaos Spawn and my only Daemon Prince model is the boring old one, but frankly it’s a bit of a wet fart in terms of engagement at a higher level and there really wasn’t much I could do about it. Speaking of the minigame, let’s look at some of the last remaining factions.

V – Krusha’s Big Trukkin Waaagh

Hell yeah giant Ork hot rod. – Credit: V

If Chaos Space Marines have a chance to live out the Starscream life, then Orks are permanently stuck in it. This makes sense; while the Heretics may play out the whole Master/Apprentice dance of betrayal leading to the assumption of power as a sidebar to their whole shtick of facing the Emperor and walking backwards into the Warp, for Orks the urge to challenge the leader when you’re bigger and stronger than him is as natural as breathing or spending too much money on mandolls is for you or me. One of your characters gets to be the Waaaghboss and gains additional Strength or Wounds as he gets Big and (allegedly) Best. If an Ork character ever gets more XP than the Waaaghboss, they have a little duel for the title and the buff. Unlike Chaos, however, the loser just gets a Battle Scar instead of being murked forever.

Orks also have a secondary system which is wonderfully flavorful but mechanically okay. After every battle you collect Scrap for every vehicle that was destroyed but not exploded, and if you have a Mek/Big Mek unit you spend the Scrap to either remove a Battle Scar from a vehicle without spending RP or add a mild upgrade.

Scrap, essentially, incentivizes you to make mad creations that every Ork player already wanted to make anyway. Will has taken this to heart. He has given me more pictures of wonderfully deranged conversions than I can use here, ranging from a tusked Sentinel which barely holds a very excited Ork to a Battlewagon covered in skulls both alien and daemon, as well as… well, this:

If this Votann’s a rockin’… Credit: V

It’s a work in progress, but there’s so much going on here that it’s wonderful. This is someone who got a Land Fortress on Day One with the full intention to commit to violence and I am here for it.

Supernova – Heavenly Rose Strike Force

Let’s get something out of the way first real quick: I’m just gonna call ‘em Sisters. It’s so much easier than working in “Adepta Sororitas” awkwardly where it’s needed and frankly I did the same thing with Eldar/Aeldari. Whatever you want to call them, I feel that in general Sisters hit the sweet spot in terms of Crusade content. They don’t have so much stuff that you lose track of it all, but they don’t have so little that it stops being worth noticing. And unlike Orks or Chaos, they don’t faff about with extremely toxic chest-thumping behavior or the fickle whims of the gods. Instead, they have a positive path of promotion by trying to become a Living Saint.

Becoming a Living Saint is pretty rad. You set out on one of five Trials, gaining Saint Points for satisfying certain conditions in the course of battle, and once you get ten you trade them in for a sweet buff and set out to do another Trial. Once you’ve finished all five you get to walk at graduation and become a Living Saint. Unfortunately, every time your Saint/potential Saint has to take an Out of Action test it either dies permanently or racks up Martyr Points which make it more likely to die permanently. If she dies the rest of the army gets XP based on the number of Trials completed so the gameplay loop here is to become a Saint, wreck faces, and then die to inspire others to be better. There is nothing more on brand for the Sisters, and indeed the entire Ecclesiarchy, than this process of grinding a hero into dust to feed the masses.

Oh god is that a Knight? I’m not prepared to fight a Knight. I’m barely prepared to fight a Rhino. – Credit: Supernova

Supernova is our Sisters player for this Crusade, and by that I mean actual Sisters and not deluded pawns of Chaos. The Heavenly Rose Strike Force wasn’t even supposed to be here today; they came to this system as part of a training exercise and got caught up in all of the mayhem. That premise is a 40k ‘80s comedy waiting to happen, but unfortunately everyone that I would want to be in that movie died a while ago. I guess it could have a more modern version where Seth Rogen plays Ghazghkull and just doesn’t alter his voice at all for the part.

In any event, Supernova’s Palatine has completed one of her Trials and is working on her second which illustrates a difficulty with the way we have the campaign set up. Each Chapter has a set number of games which count for anything that requires accounting (XP, Scars, RP, etc), and any games about that number don’t count for you for any of those factors. With most months only having two games it seems mathematically unlikely to complete more than a handful of Trials before the end of the campaign.

Which, incidentally, is coming up next. That’s right, we’re at the end of the line. Next time we’ll play a custom mission that’s really swinging for the fences, and face the biggest challenge in all of gaming – scheduling. Can we figure out a time for three players to meet up and have a multiplayer match? Will the snow days and school vacations kill our availability to the point that we lie down in miserable heaps? Let’s all find out together next time.

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