Welcome back to the Raid on Lachesis, a 5-part campaign series in which the Word Bearers descend on an Imperial world with nothing but good intentions. In this third post, it’s time for them to make planetfall. Weeks of planning and preparation were about to pay off.
What’s in the series?
Part 1: rules, maps, artwork, lore.
Part 2: The players that fought in the campaign, and their armies.
This post: The beginning, in which there are Imperial heroics.
Part 4: The middle, in which Bad Things occur.
Part 5: The end, in which things end up being closer than expected.
Curse you, Nurgle
Two days before the campaign was due to start, Papa Nurgs threw a curveball our way. Andy, our Alpha Legion player, tested positive for Covid. Then, a day before the start, Drew became afflicted with the galloping stomach yeet.
Drew: The result of another Word Bearer scheme, no doubt. Jeffreeeeeeeey…
At least it kept the sides somewhat even, we told ourselves, blowing sarcastically on party whistles.
But everyone else made it, so we pushed on, under strict instructions from the afflicted to send them regular updates over WhatsApp.
Arcane Subterfuge: the Opening Games
The first games were always going to be bracing for Jeff; he was using a new army and a new codex, whereas the remaining Guard players and myself all had more familiarity with our forces. My Cobalt Scions already had 20+ games under their belt, with a spread of Heroic and Legendary units in their roster. On the flip side, this did also mean that I was generally deploying 20+ Crusade Points even at 750 points, resulting in Jeff having near-infinite Command Points to throw at me. Honestly I kind of loved it; it created the feeling of a veteran force going up against raw aggression and superior resources. Early on, Jeff’s knowledge of his stratagem pool was middling, but as the week went on, his growing familiarity would get more and more scary to handle.
But this was the first weekend, and in that first weekend, the forces of Chaos arrived expecting to launch a surprise assault, and instead found their enemy both prepared and determined.
[Lachesis mark: -0D.07H.14M]
Three capital-class reactor ignitions are detected in surprising proximity to Lachesis Prime. They broadcast no transponder codes, and are only seven hours and fourteen minutes away from making orbit; Chapter Master Drusus of the Cobalt Scions assumes they had been coasting to avoid detection. He orders the strike cruiser Axios and all system ships to withdraw to avoid the wasting of naval assets. They are ordered to re-engage only once the three enemy vessels are within range of Lachesis Prime’s orbital defences.
The operational mark is struck when the Word Bearers cruiser Oblivion’s Embrace enters low orbit and is fired on by the planetary defence grid. The other two cruisers enter low orbit at different latitudes and launch their own dropships at marks 7m and 23m. Imperial naval assets inflict superficial damage, but ultimately cannot prevent the deployment of landing craft by all three enemy cruisers.
Codicier Tolemias detects a strong psychic signal heading to an industrial zone in Miduma Province; he and Drusus assume this to be the Word Bearers’ primary thrust, and lead the rapid reaction force to engage it.
The Cobalt Scions engage the enemy, only to discover they are not Word Bearers at all, but Red Corsairs. Irretrievably committed to the fight, they learn that the Word Bearers have launched assaults on two of the three Psykana facilities, the towers of Sitalayi and Samavor. The Imperial Guard are left to fend for themselves.
The Word Bearers assault Sitalayi
Jeff (Word Bearers) vs Harvey and Tom (Imperial Guard)
Sitalayi, the Tower of Focus
Far from any population centres, locked away in the frozen south of the planet, Sitalayi is the destination for Lachesis’ most promising psykers. A number of Inquisitors, Primaris Psykers and even rarer individuals began their training here, before being moved off-world to their new lives. Conditions are far from comfortable, but they are designed to give those with real potential the best chance of serving the Imperium to the fullest extent of their otherworldly powers while they await the arrival of the Black Ships.
The Word Bearers approach Sitalayi with a force more than sufficient to handle the standard garrison. Awaiting their arrival, however, is a substantial Imperial Guard presence, dug in, with pre-sighted firing positions.
Jeff: Now see, this was one of those games that, while amusing, was given a waterline hole by a combination of laziness and failures in order of operations. We built a lovely table for a long edge vs long edge game and then looked for a mission. Found a cool one, that ran short edge to short edge. Did we stop to check if our scenery layout was viable? Did we bollocks. So I deploy and then realise in order to win (a breakthrough type mission) I would have to run across a basically open field… With a full plasma Russ on the other side and an Iggie army arrayed in gunline. It went exactly as well as you imagine it did…
Harvey: It was a case of maximum theme, maximum enthusiasm, and maximum failure to account for one teensy little detail which meant the game was decided before we deployed. Alas, we only realised after we were powerfully committed, and Jeff is a trooper. Glory to the Imperium…? IT’S FINE, we tipped the scales against mankind specifically so that they could get a few hits in and still lose, nothing could possibly upset THIS applecart…
The Red Corsairs retreat from the Cobalt Scions’ assault, and Tolemias inspects the few bodies they leave behind. Their armour has been anointed with blood bearing the psychic spoor of the XVII Legion. The Word Bearers have fooled him.
Fun fact: Jeff decided that the Word Bearers had told Dan’s Red Corsairs that the blood anointing thing was just a freaky Word Bearers greeting. The Red
Herrings Corsairs thought they were coming along to steal as much from Imperial stockyards as they could, and had no idea they were being used as a distracto-bomb to keep the Cobalt Scions occupied. This whole distraction sub-plot is a clear example of us being presented with a problem (“Why aren’t the Cobalt Scions reinforcing the towers now they’re being attacked?”) and therefore having to figure out a satisfying answer (“the Word Bearers are callously using their allies as bait!”). [Jeff: if I may, buah, ha, and dare I say ha]
An officer of the Cadian 177th, stationed at Sitalayi Tower, reports a successful repulse of the Word Bearers’ assault. All attempts to reach the defenders of Samavor Tower, however, are unsuccessful. The Cobalt Scions redeploy to Samavor with haste.
Tom: This marks the start of the legend of Sergeant Drokk and Bonk Squad, as five loyal Bullgryns held up Jeff’s entire fast assault group (Possessed and Raptors IIRC) on their own for three turns, buying time and space for the rest of the Guard army to do what they do best and shoot everything else to death. They would continue to be a lynchpin unit in most of the games I played in this campaign.
Jeff: Oh dear empty gods those sodding Bullgryns. Units that should have carved them up like a decorative radish rose just bounced off.
Khairon’s Plan Revealed
Jeff (Word Bearers) vs Charlie (Cobalt Scions)
Charlie: I’d been waiting for this game for actual years. Jeff produced this army over the pandemic, and (understandably) he decided to wait until Chaos had a 9th edition codex to start using them in Crusade. Now, finally, my store-brand Ultramarines could face off against their iconic foe.
As with all our games, we chatted about what was happening in the story to figure out terrain and the mission. The Word Bearers had used the Red Corsairs as decoys to keep the Scions away from the Psykana Towers while the Word Bearers attempted to break in. Since the attack on Sitalayi Tower had been repulsed by Tom and Harvey’s heroic guardsmen, we reasoned a different tower made sense. Samavor was the obvious candidate…
Samavor, the Tower of Duty
Of Lachesis’ various Psykana facilities, this is the one used to house those psykers deemed unsuitable for training, and who will instead serve to sustain the Emperor’s life. It is a place of deep despair.
…The Word Bearers would be natural allies of the poor wretches imprisoned within. We laid out the terrain with vehicle wrecks and abandoned trenches, simulating the last stand of the Lachesian Guard who died trying to keep the forces of Chaos away from the tower. We then laid out a large ruined building, representing the shattered remains of the outer gatehouse, with the Word Bearers trying to break through the main gate as the Cobalt Scions charged in to stop them and save Samavor Tower at the last minute.
For agendas, I made the narrative decision to take Scry Enemy Battle Plans. The Imperium had no idea why the Word Bearers were here or what their plan was, so it made sense they’d try and pull the information right out of someone’s brain. It made no mechanical difference to the campaign, but it felt like what would happen in the story, and thus I needed no rules incentive.
[mark: 0.03.13; personal log extract, Cobalt Scions Chapter Master Tiberius Drusus]
When we arrived, we found the area around Samavor choked with the broken bodies of Lachesian guardsmen and the smoking wrecks of their tanks. Their fight was not long over; dust and smoke made visibility poor, but even from a distance we could see the tower’s outer gate had been smashed. The sound of drilling suggested that the main gate had not yet been breached, and so we moved at speed.
We did our best not to trample the dying guardsmen underfoot. These men and women spent their lives to buy us precious time, and I was determined to make their sacrifice worthwhile.
I confess I may have issued a challenge to the traitors at some volume. I ask the marines under my command to remain calm in battle, and yet all those years as an Ultramarine gave me an irresistible hatred of Lorgar’s scum long before I was assigned to the Scions.
That hatred was almost the death of me today.
Upon perceiving our advance, the enemy waiting to get into the main gate turned to engage us instead. Legionaries, assault troops, and possessed Gal Vorbak. Sergeant Tyvus’ men sniped at them with bolt rifles, thinning their numbers. In their zeal, they burst forth from their position to attack us. We repulsed them at modest cost, but when their leaders emerged to challenge us, I rashly ignored my bladeguard’s request that I stay back. I have since apologised to Brother Priahad, for he was wise, and I was not. Their champion was a duellist of prodigious skill, and his sword gave him a reach advantage over my gauntlets. He soon had me face down in the dust with a broken reactor and several new scars; Priahad and the other bladeguards kept me safe and forced him back as the last of the traitors retreated.
A humiliating victory. But I yet live, and Samavor remains un-breached.
Codicier Tolemias approached me while the others secured the area. For him, the battle took place inside the mind of their leader. His name is Khoura, but his is not the mind behind this raid. Instead it is their sorcerer, Khairon.
His plan is grotesque.
He intends to use the towers as ritual sacrifices. Once they have been despoiled, the intention is to sew panic and heresy among the wider population, creating a nexus of fear and a loss of faith in the Imperium, all culminating in a grand ritual to collapse Takeru, Lachesis’ smallest moon, and turn it into a ring of shattered stone: a gate, and a beacon in the warp. This is the opening move in an all out invasion. The rest of their fleet approaches, but an Imperial victory here will rob them of the beacon and give us far more time to prepare.
An Outrageous Display of Imperial Competence
As the initial weekend went on, the Imperial armies found themselves on a winning streak. An unbroken winning streak. We started to joke that the Imperium might actually win if things carried on this way. Now admittedly, there were some bold choices. Dan – Oxford’s most sporting wargamer – expressed interest in taking on Tom’s Knight with his Red Corsairs. He gave it a good go, but ultimately couldn’t bring the old girl down.
Jeff’s Word Bearers, meanwhile, just couldn’t catch a break. He even played a game away from one of the stubbornly Imperial towers. Murphy’s Law suggests he should’ve won that; just a bunch of Word Bearers, trying to do some good old fashioned evil rituals on innocent civilians in Haeka Province, but oh no, sent packing by the Imperial bloody Guard once again.
Like most of us, Jeff was keeping a diary in his Crusade Roster. His was from the perspective of Khairon the sorcerer, and those notes sounded like an increasingly enraged supervillain as things continued to go wrong. “Who are these Nightfallers and from where do they hail?” Khairon wrote at one point. “I will revenge myself upon their families.”
The last confirmed sighting of the Red Corsairs during the Raid on Lachesis. Comms intercept from their commander Lord Krow to the Word Bearers cruiser Oblivion’s Embrace follows:
[deep voice, transhuman] +You lied. Do not expect us to help you again.+
[mortal voice, female] +My Lord Khoura will be saddened at your departure. He would have you join us upon our sacred path.+
[no response received]
After enduring three days of near-constant combat with Traitor Astartes, Imperial Battlegroup 86 remains undefeated but is designated as non-combat effective due to attritional losses and vehicles in need of rearm and repair. It is rotated out of active duty. Cobalt Scions Chapter Master Drusus personally congratulates their commander, Captain Founder, for his success.
Translation: Tom and Dan were only free for the first weekend, and they went home.
By Wednesday, the Word Bearers were five battles in, and had not a single victory to their name. The Psykana towers had seen off multiple assaults, albeit by increasingly narrow margins. The Imperial players were just as amazed as the Chaos players. On an individual level, the games were all great fun, and the win/loss ratio utterly fails to convey how much the sheer aggression of Jeff’s Word Bearers had me shitting myself in damn near every game. The possessed Gal Vorbak in particular were deeply upsetting, but even a unit of Legionnaires that re-roll to hit on the charge is, you know, a thing.
On a campaign level, we were starting to worry about it being a bit of a damp squib. A 100% Imperial win rate does not a good story make. Jeff somehow remained stoic in the face of this adversity.
Jeff: when you have the kind of win:loss ratio that I normally rack up you get reeeeaaaal good at coming up with ways to inspire yourself for narrative juice. Five repulsed attacks clearly meant something was awry. The Word Bearers decided that in their hubris they had struck as though they were Imperials. No ritual thanks for the safe transition to their targets. No education of the populace as to the true meaning of Chaos. No, just objective, objective, objective. Let the Black Legion keep to that nonsense. They should be Word Bearers again. In other words, fall on population centers like starving wolves and offer up their souls to the gods.
Fortunately, things would pan out to be much closer than we feared. For now, though, the Imperium stood firm.
The Word Bearers finally breach the Imperial defences, and are bolstered by the arrival of the Night Lords. Ave Dominus Nox indeed.
If you have thoughts or questions about any of the games or stupid decisions we made, leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.