9th edition may be almost here but there’s still stuff to talk about for 8th that will continue to impact games in 9th. Today we’re talking about the Theaters of War in Psychic Awakening: Pariah.
As soon as the table of contents for Pariah was announced, players were quick to bemoan the lack of content, focusing on the dearth of faction rules and datasheets compared to other installments in the Psychic Awakening series. Lost in the crossfire of all this ire and salt were the Theaters of War, new mission settings for games in 40k. We’ve talked about battlezones before in the Narrative Forge. They tend to be a mixed bag, running the gamut from “really cool ways to spice up your games” to “horrible unbalanced messes that just have you rolling for wacky random effects every turn.” So how do the Theaters of War in Pariah stack up?
Let’s dig in and find out.
Pariah’s Theaters of War
Pariah introduces nine Theaters of War, most of which are tied to a specific faction, usually in mechanical ways involving a Stratagem. Each one is thematically tied to one of the prior Psychic Awakening books, introducing a battlefield that probably should have been included in that book, but help flesh out the content in Pariah. These are:
- The Webway
- War-torn Shrine World
- Devoured World
- Daemon World
- Hive World
- Forge World
- Perilous Jungle
- Derelict World
- Necron Tomb World
Each Theater of War provides some special rules for fighting in that environment, a random table of Battlefield Twists, which add an additional unique random effect to the battle, and a pair of custom stratagems. Some of the Theaters also add Mysterious Objectives rules, which create a random effect the first time a model wanders onto an objective. These can be good or bad, depending on the result and the Theater. And finally some Theaters also add Terrain Traits to the mix, which are not to be confused with those in the 9th edition rulebook and add additional effects to every piece of terrain on the table during the battle. So already there’s a lot of randomness and a lot of bookkeeping. In my experience, this ends up being a recipe for forgotten rules and effects, but let’s go through and see how these shape up.
The Webway is an artificial labryinth dimension built by the Old Ones that spans the galaxy and is essentially how the Eldar travel the galaxy. It’s a massive network of ethereal tunnels and passageways and important battles have taken place there, such as when the fledgling Ynnari were attacked by Ahriman’s Thousand Sons after fleeing Commoragh. Battles in the Webway are affected by two rules – Ephemeral Interference, which reduces the AP of shooting attacks by 1 against targets more than 12″ away, and Ghostblades, which causes unmodified melee hit rolls of a 6 to automatically hit and wound their targets. The Webway has the full host of extra options on top of these rules:
You’ve got three possible effects here, and all of them have a major impact on games played in 9th edition:
- The Labyrinth Dimension slows down reinforcements, causing them to only be set up on a D6 roll of a 4+ if they attempt to come in on the first or second turn. This will affect Strategic Reserves under the new rules, and make outflanking much riskier, though if you’re already planning on a turn 3 arrival, you’ll be just fine.
- Shattered Spar represents a damaged section of webway and prevents CP being gained or refunded, meaning that whatever your starting CP were is what you’re stuck with, new Command Phase rules be damned.
- Zephyrstride Matrix gives units +1 to Advance and Charge rolls, making it easier for units to make it into combat.
There are three possible outcomes here that apply to all objectives during the battle, rolled before the game starts. All three are positive, and two boost the effectiveness of nearby psykers.
There are three options here – Ethereal Constructs causes buildings to fade out of existence, preventing them from providing the benefits of cover, Psycho-Crystalline Transduction Circuit gives nearby models +1 to psychic tests, and Maze of Future Lamentations lets models on the terrain feature fight first in the Fight phase, an ability that has become much more useful in 9th edition with the new fight activation order. These are only kind of OK as effects. Ethereal Constructs is a big whiff to me; it’s interesting in theory but the reality is that 40k needs more terrain, not less, and removing benefits of a random terrain feature every turn for the rest of the game is not something I find that interesting to play with.
Two stratagems here – Inheritors of the Webway costs 2 CP and lets up to three AELDARI units move once before the first battle round. Arterial Linkway also costs 2 CP and lets a unit within 6″ of the battlefield edge at the end of the turn move off the table and reappear the next turn within 6″ of a table edge and more than 6″ away from enemy models. It’s an interesting effect that I think adds a lot more surprise to the game – you can use it to pull a unit off the back of your deployment zone and spit it out into the back of your opponent’s the following turn, forcing them to adapt and move forward immediately or face some real consequences. They still have time to react though, and that makes this pretty cool for planning with.
When you combine the Battlefield Twists with Ephemeral Interference and Ghostblades, the Webway presents itself as a battlefield that strongly favors melee armies, and likely benefits Ynnari and Harlequins in a way that’s fluffy but also probably a bit much. There are some interesting rules here – Arterial Linkway is an interesting addition to consider – but beyond that I’m not terribly invested in the effects. There are already a host of battlefield effects to improve melee and while Arterial Linkway is interesting, it’s also basically a better version of Strategic Reserves, which blunts the impact.
The other thing that’s kind of a big miss for me is that there’s no image of what a Webway battlefield looks like and the available lore images for the webway are scant at best – even the ones you can readily find on Google Image Search are usually just like, a few sketches of like, buildings covered by Photoshop swirl/fog effects. What I’m saying is, there’s not a lot to go on and while I appreciate that the webway is m y s t e r i o u s I also wanted to see some rad table examples to build off of. As it is, it’s hard to get a good idea of how this should look or feel when I play.
War-torn Shrine World
Representing Faith & Fury, the War-torn Shrine World is a heavily fortified church planet under siege from various enemy forces. Pariah recommends you dot these battlefields with cores of bunkers and the Wall of Martyrs trench lines (note that all of these are currently out of stock on the GW webstore), and ruins to represent destroyed shrines. The rule you’re working under here is Constant Bombardment, which lets each player nominate up to three enemy units in each of their shooting phases (you can’t pick a character unless they’re a vehicle or monster), and roll a D6 for each; on a 5+, they take mortal wounds.
There are six possible twists you can have in this Theater. These range from getting free Prepared Positions for all players to reducing the AP of shooting attacks to making it difficult to target infantry and swarms to letting a unit deep strike via tunnels. They’re a mixed bag, but four of them tend to benefit melee armies in some way or another.
The first time in a game a player controls an objective marker, you roll for one of three possible effects; two boost shooting attacks for nearby units and one boosts Leadership.
Two stratagems here: Superior Construction is used when you set up a building to give it +4 wounds, and Malfunctioning Auto-Defensors can be used at the start of a battle round to pick a terrain feature and roll for a chance to do mortal wounds to each unit within 3″.
Meh. There’s not enough here to really capture the difference that a shrine world offers, and this Theater of War isn’t doing much that other battlezones aren’t already doing. I also don’t love the reliance on fortifications, which 8th edition rules are not good for, but 9th edition should make them a bit better. I’m also not a fan of “roll to do mortal wounds to every unit each turn” mechanics that show up in a lot of battlezones/open war scenarios.
If you want to represent a world that has been thoroughly conquered by Tyranids and is in the process of being digested, here’s your chance. The Devoured World is openly hostile to non-Tyranid life and there are a few mechanically interesting ways this has been represented. The Psychic Blackout makes non-Tyranid psykers roll an extra D6 and discard the highest result when making a psychic test, and Digestive Sports does a mortal wound to units at the end of each battle round on a roll of a 1 or 1, but only does them for models that have lost any wounds, giving a more flavorful edge to what’s normally a dull mechanic and isn’t as aggressively swingy as taking D3 mortal wounds.
Six twist options again, though no mysterious objectives or Terrain Traits to worry about. One option makes Digestive Spores more deadly, another does mortal wounds to units near terrain features to represent rampaging wildlife fighting for their lives, one halves(!) the ranges of ranged weapons, one affects Leadership, and two affect Aircraft. The Leadership and Aircraft ones are my favorite because they lowkey boost Tyranids without doing so explicitly; Tyranids don’t have aircraft and as long as you remain in Synapse range Leadersihp won’t matter. These are all generally OK but halving gun ranges is probably too much and I think they should have just picked the best three to present here.
Two stratagems here: Synapse Nodes costs 2 CP at the start of the battle to basically turn objective markers into SYNAPSE creatures, which is a cool upgrade for representing the kinds of objective markers you’ll want to use. Fractured Environment can be used once by each player to either change the Battlefield Twist or add an additional random twist. This is something I think probably should have been a general Theater of War Stratagem but it’s good to have here.
Paradoxically, the larger a bonus a specific faction gets, the more I tend to like the theater. That’s because it potentially makes for a more interesting – if lopsided – arrangement than just randomly doing mortal wounds to units and gives players what I think are better tools for representing a faction’s “home turf” in a scenario. Here I think the Devoured World rules do a pretty good job of getting there, but I’d have preferred to see them cut the twists down to the three best options and then add rules for infected terrain and objectives that make those actively hostile (though having a Stratagem to generate more or replace effects makes having six more reasonable). Still, these are decent rules and the idea of doing a Tyranid-infested battlefield opens up a lot of great terrain ideas.
These rules are intended to represent the warp-infested hellscapes of daemon worlds. There are no stratagems here but myriad benefits for the forces of Chaos and those who fight them directly: Sanity-Blasting Landscape reduces the Ld of all non-Chaos, non-Grey Knights units by 1 and increases the cost of the Insane Bravery Stratagem to 3 CP. Ironically this is probably an ideal way to play the game to make Leadership matter so I’m kind of here for it. The Malefic Realm reduces the CP cost of Daemons’ Daemonic Incursion and Denizens of the Warp Stratagems by 1 and forces summoning units to roll an extra D6. This is a big boost to Chaos Daemons and potentially makes summoning more viable since 4D6 gives much better results (though more opportunity for mortal wounds). Finally Warped Perceptions is the worst kind of “lol random” power – every round both players roll off and if they tie, then for the rest of the round all unmodified 6s become 1s and unmodified 1s become 6s. This has almost no implications from a gameplay standpoint since you are equally likely to roll 1s as 6s outside of some galaxy-brain nonesense around unmodified rolls. I recommend you skip this rule.
There are six twists here, and they either benefit daemons directly – Warp Surge gives all Daemons a 4+ invulnerable save – or indirectly, as in the case of four results that make things easier for melee units, which tend to be exactly where Chaos Daemons want to be. The sixth option, World in Conflict, has you roll two more non-duplicate results.
Before the battle players roll a D3 to determine how the game’s terrain will be affected. Cursed Ground makes it so invulns on non-Daemon models only succeed on a 6+ while on terrain, Aura of Mutation gives units a 4+ invulnerable save on the feature but also a 1 in 6 chance of taking a buttload of mortal wounds, and Flux of Time randomly affects the speed at which a unit fights in the Fight phase. If you’re a shooting-heavy unit, it’s a pretty helpful effect because it gives you a chance to fight first and your opponent a chance to fight last; otherwise it’s a downside.
Before the game starts you determine which of six effects will apply to all objective markers for the battle. These include both buffs and negatives that can hurt nearby models, and World in Flux causes the effect to change every battle round, which is interesting and probably not as annoying in 9th edition with only five battle rounds to track. Overall these are OK – they aren’t particularly inspired, but Secrets from the Warp, which can give you extra command points if you have a CHARACTER nearby, is pretty interesting.
There’s some cool stuff in here like the leadership and summoning effects which help make some of the game’s weaker mechanics more meaningful but there’s also a lot of just random garbage like the Warped Perceptions effect. All of the Twists are pretty interesting, but piling on two of them is probably a lot to keep track of. This is another theater that probably needed to scale back the number of effects it could throw out, because having more consistent interesting effects is better on the whole than having a wider range of wacky stuff.
Like playing Necromunda but in 40k! Kind of! The Hive World rules are meant to simulate cityfight combat and flat-out say that you can combine/replace them with the Cities of Death/Urban Conquest rules for cityfighting, which has three major implications:
- I already kind of love them because Cities of Death owns
- They add on to a rule set that are already stupidly complex. There are two stratagems here to add on to the 36 or so that Cities of Death already have
- This Theater of War has weird interactions with 9th edition, which introduces totally new terrain rules that are incompatible with Cities of Death
If you don’t replace them with Cities of Death, then these rules add the Height Advantage and Daring Leap rules to the terrain rules you’re already using. Height Advantage is straight out of Cities of Death, giving units a +1 bonus to AP when firing down on a target from 3″ or higher. Daring Leap lets Infantry, Beast, or Swarm models risk death in exchange for dropping down any number of floors in a single move. For my money it’s better to replace these rules with Cities of Death terrain rules, but if you’re dead set on the 9th edition rules for a game, throwing these on top isn’t terrible.
There are three possible twists here: Indiscriminate Ordnance splits the table up into six sections and has a random section hit every battle round, with a chance to deal mortal wounds to everything on it. Hostile Airspace stops units with FLY from deep striking which is pretty neat and does an interesting job of leaving options open for teleporting/tunneling units. Death at Every Turn stops non-Vehicles from advancing on the first turn, which slows things down a little bit. I like this one because Cities of Death already tends to benefit melee armies when the battlefield is set up for it and having something that slows down assault units a bit and incentivizes the use of transports is something I can get behind. Transports don’t get enough love.
Three options here, applied to all objectives pre-battle. Hive-spirit Communication Uplink increases the range of units near the objective, Sites of Sanctuary gives nearby units cover and the ability to move and shoot without penalty, and the most interesting of the three, Mobile Asset, turns every objective into one that can be moved by the unit controlling it if no enemy models are nearby. It’s an interesting mechanic that could lead to some fun shenanigans. Or it might just make games even more miserable if one player gets first turn and then spends all game moving the objectives away from their opponent.
Two stratagems here – Caught in the Open gives re-rolls to hit against a unit that isn’t receiving the benefit of cover in the Shooting phase, and is pretty nasty. Undermine lets you pick a terrain feature before the battle and units within that feature don’t get the benefits of cover for the battle, plus moving through it slows them by 2″. This has further implications in 9th, where “losing the benefits of cover” are strictly defined in the rulebook.
Why is this only a C? The short answer is because you should just play Cities of Death instead – those offer better terrain rules and a more robust system of stratagems to do things like Point-blank overwatch and grapnel launchers for getting around terrain. That said, those rules don’t really play all that nicely with 9th yet so these work in a pinch.
If you want to represent the smog-choked battlefields of the Imperium’s Forge worlds, these are the rules you’d use. The big effect here is Industrial Haze, which caps the maximum range of shooting attacks at 30″ and reduces Advance and charges rolls by 1; this is a mixed bag for Adeptus Mechanicus armies, who will miss the range.
Six twists, and three of these benefit VEHICLES, though Rad Wastes also has benefits for Adeptus Mechanicus and Daemons in that it gives all non-Vehicle, non-Titanic, non-Monster, Non-Admech, Non-Chaos Daemons units -1 to their Toughness (feels like that should have just been Daemons though — why should the Yncarne suffer?). The others tend to benefit shooting armies, which suits the Adeptus Mechanicus just fine.
These are a bit more involved than other terrain trait rules; the rules recommend you have lots of Sector Mechanicus terrain and determine before the battle which features are forge world terrain features. Once you’ve done that, roll to apply one of three effects to all forge world features. Smog Stacks gives units within 1″ a maximum range of 12″ on shooting attacks. Shield Generators give units a 5+ invulnerable save against ranged attacks. Vociferous Machines prevents units within 1″ from firing Overwatch and being affected by friendly Aura abilities. The negative modifiers feel like they kind of lowkey help Mechanicus, since they have other ways to get the benefit of cover.
Before each battle players roll a D6 for each objective marker and on a 4+ they roll to apply one of 6 effects to that marker, meaning that in an average game 2-4 objectives will have special effects. There’s a pretty big spread here; most are shooting buffs or buffs that benefit shooting units sitting on the objective. The only negative one is Volatile Tech, which can spit mortal wounds at nearby units.
These rules are OK. They’re not particularly exciting and this is another area where three focused twists would have been better than six that feel like they’re all over the place. I don’t feel like this theater necessarily advantages mechanicus armies all that much given that there are a lot of things that reduce shooting attack range or make it harder to hit with ranged attacks. The rad wastes rule is neat, though and I’d have preferred to see more stuff like that.
Right off the bat, this theater of war loses me by not having innate advantages for Catachan. I don’t care if this theater is referencing Saga of the Beast; if you’re gonna talk about insane alien jungles you better have the jungle fighters represented. These rules don’t do that, so it’s a missed opportunity for me. Otherwise, these rules focus primarily on the Deadly Predators mechanic, which sees players creating a pool of Infestation units before the battle. These are a collection of Ambulls, Genestealers, Beasts, Lictors, or whatever else you agree to. These show up at random from Infestation markers placed on the battlefield and are hostile to both players, attacking whatever’s nearby with all of their ferocity. This is a mechanic that has been brought over from Vigilus Defiant and on the whole it’s pretty fun. You can scale up the danger level of the threats based on the size of the game and the autonomous nature of the threats can make them a pain but also can be a cool way to involve a third player or have means for tricking a unit into fighting the other player with clever movement.
Three options here. Dense Flora limits ranged attacks to 18″. Claustrophobic Environment reduces aura ranges to 1″. Uncertain Footing allows players to pick one non-character INFANTRY model in the opponent’s army each turn and roll a D6 and subtracting 1. If they roll under the model’s save, it’s destroyed. This is a neat twist but it probably needs to not affect units that FLY and also Catachans.
Before the battle players roll for one effect to apply to all of the objective markers. There are three of these: Carnivorous Plants does mortal wounds to nearby units; Ancient Stones sees players rolling off to move objective markers around on the table in a pretty cool mechanic to model drift and uncertain position of ancient eldritch technology. Hunting Supplies damages units coming near by then gives them a Ld boost after they’re already in range of the marker.
I’ve tested the Infestation rules before so I know they’re decent; there’s a lot you can do with them and they’re a pretty fun way to get some extra models you might not otherwise use onto the table for games. All three of the twists are a good fit for the setting and decent to play with, and make me wish that they’d taken a similar approach to other battlefields. The reason this one doesn’t get an A is because they missed the opportunity to make the “jungle fighters” part of Catachans matter.
Meant to represent the long-forgotten, backwater industrial worlds of the Imperium who have run dry on resources and been forgotten, Derelict Worlds are meant to have a large amount of Sector Mechanicus/Industrial terrain. Most of the rules for this theater of war revolve around not being able to do things, which depending on your view is either frustrating or likely to return us to the glory days of Indexhammer. There are two big rules here that have a massive effect on games. Vox-Net Interference prevents players from using the Command Re-roll Stratagem, and Engine Thirst represents the low fuel supplies, and reduces VEHICLE and BIKER movement distances by 3″, to a minimum of 0. Losing CP re-rolls makes everything more dangerous and increases variance, while the Movement drop ensures that running will often be just as fast or faster than riding in a transport.
This Theater is unique in that it has Combatant and Battlefield Conditions, which have an impact on units and terrain.
There are three possibilities here, rolled pre-battle and applied to all units. War Weary reduces unit strength for non-VEHICLE, non-BATTLESUIT units by 1; Hollowed Out has units roll 2D6 and drop the lowest for morale tests; and To Walk Amidst the Ruin has charging units roll an extra D6 and discard the highest.
Three possible twists here. Ghost Vox gives you a 1 in 6 chance of any stratagem not working; Starved Guns gives any unit that shoots in the shooting phase a 1 in 6 chance of not being able to shoot again for a full battle round; and The Dead Provide gives you a chance of generating CP from held objectives. These are novel, but not particularly great – I’m generally not a fan of things that just prevent you from playing the game and Ghost Vox is going to work just often enough to be frustrating but not often enough to be something players really have to play around. It’s also weird to have it on the same theater as two stratagems – feels like there should have been an exemption written in for those.
Basically a second set of battlefield twists, there are three Environmental Conditions that affect the battlefield. Fulminating Fury gives models on the top floor of a ruin or structure a 1 in 6 chance to be hit by lightning and take mortal wounds; Screaming Winds prevents non-aircraft models with FLY from moving over other models and ignoring vertical distance when they move (so basically removing the benefits of FLY altogether); Tectonic Instability gives you a 1 in 3 chance of halving all movement for non-fly models in the first battle round. These are also kind of blah; Screaming Winds is interesting in a very “oh crap players took a lot of FLY units and now their strategies are completely wrecked” kind of way but in two thirds of games Tectonic Instability won’t even have an impact.
Two stratagems up for use. Desertion costs 2 CP and causes a unit to lose an additional model in the morale phase every time a model flees. That could be useful if you ever force a morale test on an enemy unit but you have to use it at the start of the morale phase and pick a single enemy unit, so if you’re using this it’s on a unit you know will fail a morale test and even then your opponent can still just use Insane Bravery to turn it off. This is slightly weaker in 9th, where you’re basically taking out 2 models plus an extra for every 1 rolled afterward instead of doubling what could be half a dozen models or more. Crumbling Grandeur makes standing in ruins extremely dangerous since it gives you a great chance of tacking mortal wounds on to every single shooting death – 1 CP to play when you kill a model within 6″ of a Ruin in the Shooting phase and on a 2+ its unit takes D3 mortal wounds. This basically makes ruins uninhabitable.
There are some interesting things here that I’d pull out to design my own theaters/battlezones, but rolling or picking things here to play on these battlefields sounds like you’re just creating a miserable game. I mean I guess that’s kind of the point of playing on Derelict Worlds but I think the morale effects aren’t strong enough and the game can’t really support “collapsing buildings” in an interesting way.
Necron Tomb World
Finally for Pariah, we have the rules meant to model a Necron tomb world. As you might expect, it is not great to be a psyker in the Pariah Zone and many of the rules here punish psykers or dampen their effectiveness. Fade Into the Dark causes an additional model to flee on a failed morale test, and is clearly a 9th-ready rule, while Null-Field Matrix causes Psykers to suffer Perils of the Warp on any doubles roll, and to take 3 mortal wounds instead of D3 when they do. These both make sense for what I’d expect on a Tomb World, and because you can CP Re-roll a perils result, Null-Field Matrix is rough without being too punishing. Fade Into the Dark probably needed to exclude Necrons, though.
Three possible twists: Canoptek Wardens has a chance to do mortal wounds to any units that move within 3″ of an objective marker as tomb world defenses activate; Atomic Reconstitution Field gives all vehicles +1 wound per turn; and Stilled Zone halves the distances on psychic powers. These are all pretty fine as effects. I like that there are three of them and they make sense for the setting.
Three options here that are applied to all objective markers before the game. Laid bare turns off invulns for models within 3″ and likely makes holding objectives a serious challenge. Improbability field prevents units from arriving as reinforcements within 9″ of an objective marker – this is a pretty interesting idea but may be brutal on the newer, smaller battlefields of 9th. And Eldritch Energy Grid has one of the most unique effects, creating energy arcs between two randomly-selected objective markers each turn and dealing mortal wounds to any units caught between them.
Before the game, players randomly select or pick one of three effects to apply to all buildings. Noctilith Edifice gives nearby models a chance to negate mortal wound suffered in the Psychic phase. Scarab Replication Microfactory gives vehicles a chance to extra explode as Scarabs come pouring out to devour their remains if they die within 6″ of a Ruins terrain feature. Counter-ballistic Interceptors gives units near a ruins -6″ to their range on shooting attacks. These are OK. Noctilith Edifice can combine with Stilted Zone to make some brutally punishing battlefields for psykers.
Two stratagem options here: Reanimation Nodes costs 2 CP and is used at the start of a turn to give NECRONS in your army within 3″ of an objective marker the ability to re-roll 1s on their Reanimation Protocols rolls. This is OK but expensive and doesn’t do anything for Necron Warriors, who already have the ability built-in. Teleportation Gates costs 1 CP and is a pretty neat ability, letting a unit wholly within 6″ of an objective marker teleport within the same phase to be wholly within 6″ of any other objective marker and outside engagement range. That’s a real interesting quirk to add, and priced to be useful.
The Tomb World rules are easily the best of the theaters of war they introduce here, with fewer options that do more interesting things (fancy that!). There are some generally cool things that tomb worlds do and the squashing effects on psychic powers only become debilitating for specific armies and when all three are going at once. I’d generally recommend not having that happen if you can avoid it – either it won’t matter at all in your game of Tau vs. Necrons or it’ll absolutely cripple a Grey Knights player to the point of not being super fun. Still, these are interesting rules and I wish they were all on this level.
On the whole, these rules are OK. There’s enough here to create a few interesting scenarios, and the rules have certainly given me ideas for some cool things I can do in the 9th edition Crusade campaign I’m planning (more on that in future Narrative Forge articles). I’m not entirely sure how useful they are to the average player just looking to mix things up however, since 9th already does that substantially and does will give players plenty to chew on for a while. And if you were to make the case to me that these rules should have been put in each of the books we’d already seen so far instead of saved for the end well, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with you.
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