Our first Exemplary Battle of the new edition of the Horus Heresy! After seeing the great treatment the other Exemplary Battle units got in the recently released Warhammer Community PDF, we can’t wait to see what nasty horrid messes the Word Bearers can get into, this month’s protagonists.
The lore this week draws back to some of the earliest lore in the game, from 1989, before being expanded in Retribution in 2016, so it’s not as if we’re going to get a behind the scenes look at any world shattering events here. The story itself is fairly generic, with Word Bearers finding the relatively undefended world of Gilden Prime, the Blood Angels striking back to defend a world they brought into compliance, etcetera and so forth.
Where things get a little more interesting is when the veterans of the IXth Legion encounter a massive pyramid of skulls with a banner of the Blood Angels planted atop it. Daemons erupt into reality (give us Daemons of the Ruinstorm rules, Games Workshop!), and the trap is sprung, with the Word Bearers deleting the entire city with atomic, to the ruination of the Blood Angel’s ability to prosecute the war. Across the planet Blood Angels came under attack by traitor forces hidden by blood rituals.
The Procurators make their first appearance here, stealing loyalist gene-seed sacrificing critically wounded Blood Angels to summon daemons onto the battlefield, but apparently not competently enough to prevent the daemons attacking both sides. Despite making it quite clear that an entire third of the Blood Angels force had been lost in the trap, the Word Bearers here serve the purpose of making the good guys look strong by having the bad guys be incompetently weak, and while the XVIIth Legion triumphs on the ground the noble exemplars of humanity have their traditional, and not particularly well written final stand, with their leader Archein Alcetas Castael teleported back into space just as it looks like he’ll be overrun.
Back in space, we see the Blood Angels fleet, previously described as weakened after five years of constant warfare and attrition, manage to destroy the majority (it’s unclear how many ships are involved – only three are named) of the Word Bearers fleet in “raging conflagration that rivalled the local sun”. Escaping with a single “horribly scarred” ship, the Angels then somehow destroy every Word Bearers force across the entire system, turning more and more into their darker desires of vengeance and, presumably, the Red Thirst as the campaign progressed.
I don’t normally like to speak ill of the writers of the lore, but this is by far the weakest piece of Horus Heresy writing we’ve seen in quite some time. The author seems to love their Mary Sue Blood Angels (I wouldn’t be surprised if Alcetas Castael was their own Praetor), and the Word Bearers are left as the sneering, incompetent supervillains that does so much to diminish the work of books such as Betrayer, The First Heretic, Slaves to Darkness and the books of the Siege of Terra series in making the Word Bearers believeably competent and cruel without making them cartoon characters.
Word Bearers Procurators
In almost every battle we see Word Bearers in, we also hear stories of them scrounging the field after the battle, looking not to save lives or grant mercy but to instead find new experimental subjects and victims for the maw of the Dark Gods. Well, the Order of the Procurators are the leaders in that particular field, specialising in “gross defilement” to bring forth the denizens of the warp.
They’re an odd one. You start with four models with a basic Despoiler statline but with an extra attack (the Procurants), and a fifth with Leadership 8 and a 2+ save (the Procurator himself). You gain more Procurants for 15 points per model, with the ability to make every fifth Procurant into a Procurator for forty points, taking each medic-wannabe up to a whopping fifty five points, the same price as a Gal Vorbak Dark Brethren. For this price, you have a unit with Chosen Warriors, Grim Purpose (meaning no model can join them unless they don’t also have this rule), and Flesh Harvesters. Oh, and Traitor, but that’s a given as naughty naughty Word Bearers. The Procurator also comes with a Narthecium, granting the unit a 5+ Feel No Pain.
Flesh Harvesters is the only special thing about the unit, allowing models with the psychic disciplines of Diabolism (Diabolists or Lorgar), Anathemata (Esoterists or Lorgar) or Harbinger of Chaos (Erebus) to roll an additional D6 and discard the highest when making Psychic checks. This is… certainly a thing that exists, but with Perils of the Warp now allowing you to allocate wounds to buddies in your unit I’m not nearly as worried about a psyker blowing up, and the psychic powers of this edition, while immensely useful, are no longer make-or-break, making this an expensive bonus to something that probably doesn’t need it.
Far, far more interestingly, Procurators also grant you bonus VP when they’re in a combat and the enemy is swept by this unit, representing them pouncing and doing nasty things to their fleeing victims. This is cool, and one of the only ways to score VP outside of normal mission parameters, but they don’t help you win that combat, and their innate fragility (for a unique unit) gives me a pretty big cause for concern. For 10 points per model the unit can take jump packs (but why would you when Ashen Circle are nastier and cheaper) and you can take power weapons and heavy chainswords, yes, but would you rather that or a squad of Gal Vorbak making mincemeat out of your enemies?
The Elites slot is probably the most overcrowded in the Astartes army list, and Word Bearers have it harder than most, with Procurators competin with Gal Vorbak, Ashen Circle and Mhara Gal dreadnoughts. If you’re a Word Bearers player, model these up because they’re an awesome idea narratively, but you’re just giving up too much in opportunity costs to be worth bringing to the table. On the up side, this is a great modelling opportunity to show off how twisted and evil Word Bearers can really be, with trophies of loyalists galore and a squad of fanatics protecting their prophet
Defiance at Hezzar Legendary Mission
This mission represents the Blood Angels selling their lives on the surface of Gilden Prime, with no hope of escape. It’s recommended as a full on Age of Darkness game of 2,500 – 3,000 points, with the Word Bearers as the Attackers. The mission uses alternating deployment, and a scoring zone system where the Attacker wants to get right up to the middle of the battlefield, and the Defender wants to break out. Defenders start in a 36” deployment circle, while the Attackers start in 12” deployment zones on either short edge of the field (the standard Ambush map). Yes, this does mean that you could start 6” away from your enemy. Do with that information what you will.
The mission needs a lot of work to function, and you’ll have to chat with your opponent beforehand to figure things out. As written, the Scoring Zones are “distance from the centre of the battlefield”, which works fine for the smallest one (within 6” of the centre), but breaks down for the largest (between 12”-18” of the centre, rules as written). Due to this lack of clarity, there isn’t even a zone more than 18” away, so your Blood Angels breaking out can apparently break too far out and score zero points. There isn’t really a way of fixing the Primary Objectives in this mission without completely rewriting it.
The easiest way of fixing it would have the middle circle be 6” from the centre of the battlefield, the next band be 6”-12”, and the final band be 12”-18”. This is the closest to the scenario of written, but it’s a bad idea for a few reasons. Primarily, as mentioned, there isn’t a range band for “further than 18””, and even if you did have a range band for 18” or more the mission would be terribly lopsided, because of… circles. The highest scoring Attacker zone is a 12” circle, roughly 113” squared. On a standard 6’x4’ table, ‘anything outside of 18”’ covers more than three thousand square inches.
If you’re looking for a breakout type scenario, take a look at Mission 5 – Tide of Carnage in the Horus Heresy Rulebook. You’ll feel better after playing it.
All I ever wanted was the truth
This is a bit of a disappointment, in all honesty. The battle covered was less than exemplary, the unique unit is intriguing from a modeling perspective but mostly useless on the battlefield, and the scenario is functionally unplayable. We’ve had a fair few of these Exemplary Battles to date, with more on their way, and not all of them can be winners. Sorry, Word Bearers players, this just wasn’t your time.