War Zone Charadon: Amidst the Ashes Review

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This week brings us two new Charadon campaign supplements for Warhammer 40,000, and Games Workshop were nice enough to send us a copy to look over. Here we’re diving into the Crusade Mission Pack half of the reason, but check out our coverage of The Book of Fire too. 

Coming in after the first round of Charadon books, Amidst the Ashes is the Plague Purge to The Book of Fire’s The Book of Rust, and GW was nice enough to send us a preview copy. The other book is the big one full of new armies, campaign rules, and fluff, while this smaller spiral-bound sibling is an expansion for Crusade, adding a whole new mission pack along with new agendas, stratagems, and a new way of progressing your units, completely outside the normal XP/battle honors system. We’ll take you through the new content, which we generally think rules.

Awakening of the Strong / Corruption of the Weak

Inside you there are two battling spirits, one that is a truck and another that is a wizard. Which one wins? The one you feed Requisition.

There are two parallel sets of abilities here – one works on machine spirits, and the other works on, uh, regular spirits. Psykers, specifically. Each army can choose to use one, or none, but can never have both. Once you start down a particular path there aren’t any limits on how many units can progress down it, but there’s no switching back. But, provided they aren’t a named character or aircraft, you can awaken or corrupt units to the full extent that your heart (or engine) desires. 

Both paths work the same way: First you buy a starting requisition, spending 1RP for Machinery Arisen or Warp Corruption to unlock the relevant keyword for your army, which also grants a single one of the relevant type of points (Awakening or Corruption). 

Then you can immediately spend that point, along with 1 more requisition point, on Birth of Consciousness or A Mind Twisted, and give one unit a keyword: AWAKENED SPIRIT for vehicles (strong), or CORRUPTED MIND for psykers (weak). This gives them an upgrade or new datasheet ability, chosen from a tree that we’ll talk about shortly. The abilities are tiered, and you can spend 1RP and 2 or 3 Awakening / Corruption points for Burgeoning Consciousness / Journey of Darkness on a level 2 or 3 trait, but only if it’s connected to the previous tier’s ability. You can’t pick more than one on each level, so some pre-planning should go into this. Each ability, including the first, also increases the unit’s Crusade Points by 1.

If you’ve ever seen or heard of any kind of RPG skill tree, that’s basically what this is. Only it works on tanks. The only thing about this that doesn’t rule is that whoever did the branding seems to have a pretty heavy machine bias (Jack: Actually this rules). That aside, there aren’t any faction keyword locks on these: despite the naming conventions, you can awaken a big strong noble Defiler or you can corrupt a weak and not at all shredded Weirdboy. 

There’s a drawback here: once a unit has the keywords, they no longer gain normal XP. The keywords can be applied to a unit of Battle-Ready or Blooded rank, so if you want to min-max a bit, you’re able to hold off on awakening/corrupting them until after you get that first Battle Honor. 

From here we’ll talk about the trees separately – they still work the same, being just two different sets of variables built off of the same underlying mechanics – but the individual upgrades are interesting enough that we’re going to show what a run through the entire progression looks like.

Awakening of the Strong: Jack’s Big Tank

Imperial Fists Astraeus Super-heavy Tank

Imperial Fists Astraeus Super-heavy Tank. Credit: Jack Hunter

So, obviously, I’m going to write this about the single best tank in the game, and unofficial Goonhammer mascot. Actually, can I make it official? Does that require a vote or something?

Whatever. Moving on to how I’m going to work through these rules.

Straight off the bat I know I want to get to Blooded rank, as I’m only getting 3 upgrades from this tree, and I’d like to get the one extra from the normal crusade upgrades (especially since Blooded can often be reached in a single battle). I’ll probably go for a gun upgrade, any of the three that I’d be rolling for on a Titanic unit like the Astraeus are pretty good. If I’m playing a coward crusade where I select abilities instead of rolling for them I might pick from the vehicle units table, but with only a single upgrade limiting the size of the table is a bit more reliable.

My first choice is basically to pick offense or defense – Concealment Algorithms gives me light cover if I sit still, and Enhanced Optics ignores light cover if I’m moving less than half. Both tier 1 options are fairly decent – an Astraeus has so much range that I can likely sit still often and get that tasty tasty durability bonus, or I can choose to ignore light cover. As I’m not always the smartest person, and a Superheavy Auxiliary unit doesn’t get my chapter tactics, I’m going this way even if just to reduce mental load on me – as Imperial Fists this side of the tree can be less useful on smaller vehicles, which it won’t do anything for.

Because I chose Enhanced Optics, I’m locked out of the far side of the tree – my branching choices here lets me pick either the right or center option. Furious Assault would slam mortal wounds into units as I charge them (good if my Astraeus was actually a knight, which it isn’t) or Hunter’s Instincts, which I’m contractually obligated to take thanks to my name. Even if not for that requirement, it’s a solid choice for this kind of tank, granting me re-rolls of 1 at half range or in melee. I appreciate that it works for either ranged or melee attacks, so most vehicles won’t feel locked into not being able to make choices.

Having selected Hunter’s Instincts the tree branches again – at level three there are now four different abilities, of which I have access to two. Stand Firm allows me to Hold Steady or Set to Defend (as if the tank were in defensible terrain) and lets me fire overwatch for 0CP (though still only one unit can actually fire overwatch per turn), or Close-Range Precision removes the penalty for firing heavy weapons at units within engagement range. Neither of these are quite my favorite – I’d prefer to take Indomitable Defense and gain Objective Secured (useful to hold a backfield objective and not lose it to deep striking elite/fast attack units), but I’d only get access to that if I’d picked Concealment Algorithms all the way back at level one. I figure Close-Range Precision is going to end up slightly more useful so I’ll be taking it (though perhaps I’ll concentrate on leveling up a few other vehicles first – for the three Awakening Points it’ll cost me to take the level three ability I could give another vehicle level one and two abilities).

Overall I’m quite happy with these. For a total of three Requisition Points (not counting the first one to turn Awakening of the Strong on) and six Awakening Points I’ve gained some interesting abilities, had to make choices but never felt like they’re totally worthless, and probably got fully leveled somewhat faster than trying to gain 51+ experience for Legendary rank – but likely traded off a bit of power compared to multiple upgrades from rank ups.

Corruption of the Weak: Junior Assistant Codicier Dwayne el’Jonson, Greg’s Primaris Librarian.

Imperial Fists Primaris Librarian

Imperial Fists Primaris Librarian. Credit: Jack Hunter

As a tactical genius who nonetheless finds myself in combat with Space Wolves on a daily basis, my level 1 ability is going to be Murmers of Disorder, allowing me to target a unit within 6” of my Librarian and make them no longer count as charging. Turning off both their chapter tactic and Shock Assault stacks nicely with not letting them fight first. My other choice here (there are only 2) would have been Whispers of Despair, which imposes a -1 Leadership modifier.

Because I didn’t take the Leadership ability, I’m now locked out of that side of the tree, and out of the three options at level 2, I can only pick between two of them. All three are Auras, but I’ve chosen to go with Warp Emanations, increasing the cost of enemy uses of the Command Re-roll stratagem to 2, if the target unit is within 6”. 

Dwayne here is turning out to be a real de-buff machine (Jack: I’d usually consider Dwayne to be a real buff guy, so perhaps you should reconsider your choices), so we continue in that vein at level 3. On this tree, the top-tier abilities are all new psychic powers. No mention is made of getting extra casts, but learning up an extra power is always nice. There are 4 to choose from, but as before, I’m locked into just two of them due to my previous, disastrous, life choices. Psychic Barrage is a Warp Charge 7 power with 12” range, and if the target unit loses a roll-off of Leadership+d6, they immediately fail any Activity they were doing, and can’t start another one until after your next psychic phase.

I picked this power for two reasons. One, it’s on-brand for the unsettling weirdo I decided to create, fitting in with his toolkit of doing nothing to help anyone and just making everyone around him worse. That’s what you call a narrative. And two, frankly the power isn’t that good, but I wanted to illustrate what can happen with these advancement trees. I’d probably have been better off with Wane Resolve, which has basically the same rules but instead of messing with Activities it turns off Objective Secured, but I couldn’t, on account of my choosing Disorder over Despair all the way back in level 1. 

It’s a good system, and I actually like that it forces you to make tough decisions at every step, from which tree you advance on, to which options you select. The choices expand at every step, from 2 to 3 to finally 4, but you’re never actually picking between more than just the two. 

We’ll talk more about how to gain the awakening or corruption points, beyond the first gratis one, when we talk about agendas.

Agendas

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Like Plague Purge, and unlike Beyond The Veil, Amidst the Ashes reprints a selection of the core rulebook agendas in addition to adding new ones specific to these missions. There are six new agendas, three each that can gain you either Awakening or Corruption points. Naturally, gaining Awakening points involves doing cool shit with vehicles, and Corruption points involves doing lame shit with wimpy psykers. The agendas reward both XP and Awakening/Corruption points, which is great when your army doesn’t have all their tanks/psykers upgraded yet.

Jack: I like big tanks and I cannot lie, so I’m going to dig into the Awakening agendas here.

Two of the Awakening agendas are straightforward – Machine Vendetta is a Purge The Enemy agenda that rewards you for blowing up vehicles, gaining more points (and thus more XP and Awakening points). In most games this will only lead to a gain of a single Awakening point – your opponent needs to bring three 12 wound vehicles or six with 11 fewer vehicles for you to score two Awakening points, and that’s just not happening in smaller games.

From Battlefield Supremacy we get Bastion of Iron, which is incredibly simple. Drive your tanks to the middle of the board, score experience and Awakening points. One point for one or two tanks, two points for three or more tanks.

Finally, Destroy Critical Targets comes in as a shadow operation. I’m not a big fan of this one as it involves doing Activities to destroy objectives, so not only are you potentially sacrificing the damage output of your tank, you could hurt your chances of actually winning the game.

Greg: Since I’m taking the corruption side here, being both weak and corrupt and really just not as into Big Tanks as Jack is, I’ll look at the Corruption point-centric ones.

Under No Mercy, No Respite, we have Break Their Spirits, a tally-keeping agenda based on failing morale tests. Whenever an enemy unit fails a test, one of your units that killed a model in that unit (through shooting, punching, or psyking at them) gains a point, which is traded for an XP at the end of the battle (max 2 per unit). Where this ties into Corruption is that if your army-wide total is 6-8 on the Break Their Spirits Tally (these names, I swear to god), you gain 1 Corruption Point, and 2 if the total was 9 or higher.

Corruption points are going to be hard to get – they should be, since even one of them is the equivalent to an entire Battle Honor – but against some armies (marines) forcing 6 or more failed morale tests is a high bar to clear to earn even one. Compare this to Subterfuge, which gives you a Corruption Point just for being a) a psyker, b) alive, and c) within 3” of the enemy board edge, at the end of the game.

Finally, the obvious one, the Corruption warpcraft agenda, Poison Their Minds. Much like Socrates or Ozzy Osbourne, you too can get murked for trying to cause trouble around town. With the restrictions of being both in your opponent’s deployment zone and within 12” of an objective, this Psyker Activity grants 2XP for each cast, as well as 1 Corruption Point for pulling it off twice, or 2 points for thrice or more.

Worth noting with these is that they don’t require the units scoring the agenda to have the AWAKENED SPIRIT or CORRUPTED MIND keywords. In fact, you don’t even have to have taken the Machinery Arisen or Warp Corruption notes (or could have chosen the opposite to what the Agenda keys off of) on your army list in order to select them. You won’t benefit from the point gains, but the XP gains are still real, giving these utility as valid, if not amazing, choices for any army.

Managing the point accumulation via Agendas is a solid play, and we’ll see some other ways to generate them when we look at the missions. If it seems a bit surprising not to see something like the Unorthodox Acquisition requisition from Codex: Adeptus Mechanicus, we’re not sure we’d call that a mis-step, exactly: mass numbers of points aren’t needed, and power-leveling is still possible in just a few games if you go all-in on the agendas and missions in this packet.

Stratagems

Credit: Warhammer Community

These can only be used in Amidst the Ashes battles. There are 6: 3 for CORRUPTED MINDs and 3 for AWAKENED SPIRITs. They aren’t bad, but considering how incredibly wild the Awakening/Corruption mechanics and the Agendas are, these are kind of just present.

By far the coolest one is Advanced Scouting. Expensive, at 3CP, but after passing a Deny the Witch test with an 8 or higher, your psyker wins the game of Who’s Corruptin’ Now?, aims their mind at the other psyker’s mind, which instantly causes them to suffer Perils of the Warp. Odds are that no one is going to see many chances to use this one, but when it does happen, ha ha, go to hell.

On the vehicle side, you get Uncontrollable Machine Spirit, which is an “advance and charge” or “fallback and charge” stratagem. It’s…not bad, but come on, we’re comparing it to psychic arm wrestling that makes your brain explode. Nothing was going to live up to that. Jack: But Greg, you can shove Chaplain Barbatos in a dreadnought and get him to die in melee faster!

Calculating Spirit and Enraged Spirits are both offensive focused stratagems that you’ll pick depending on whether your Awakened Spirit Vehicle wants to shoot things or punch them. Calculating vehicles gain +1 to-hit at half range if they remained stationary, and Enraged vehicles get two additional hits for each unmodified 6 they roll to-hit in melee. Both these stratagems get more expensive for bigger units.

New Missions

Credit: Warhammer Community

Condit: Despite how cool the other rules here are – and they are undoubtedly rad as hell – the majority of the mission pack is, as ever, given over to the actual missions. Since Greg and Jack are too busy yelling at each other about whether tanks or psykers are cooler, I guess it falls to me to actually read the rest of this book.

Amidst the Ashes comes packed with a selection of missions for you to try out, with six at each points level. In addition to the Fat-Berg Clearance mission previewed on Warhammer Community, the Combat Patrol missions offer a selection of rules themed around different battlefield locations. Hard Landing sees a landing party that missed their mark desperately trying to break out from behind enemy lines, with opposing forces closing in from both sides. Boarding Action is exactly what it says on the tin, offering you the opportunity to see if your forces can seize control of a key location in one of your opponent’s ships, or to punish them for their hubris in thinking they could take it off of you. Finally, if you want a real fight, look no further than the Meat for the Grinder, where you’ll score points for destroying your enemy units, but there’s a risk – when you destroy something, that unit immediately sets up as though it had arrived from Strategic Reserves. 

At the Incursion level, Critical Targets is sort of a reworked version of Assassinate, but with the possibility of actually resulting in an interesting game: rather than targeting the Warlord, the Defender publicly nominates 5 models in their list (they have to be Characters if they can), then secretly picks a Primary and Secondary target for their opponent from those 5 models. Bring Down the Batteries is an interesting objective control mission with a lopsided setup: one side of the battlefield has a single Primary Objective worth 10 points per round, while the other side has two Secondary Objectives worth 5 points each. And Forces in Disarray is a straightforward 4-objective mission, with a twist: you divide your army into two parts, and each part only counts for controlling the objectives on one player’s half of the table.

Preserve the Archaeotech is a Strike Force mission that will have you fighting over two objective markers, with the Attacker trying to complete an action to destroy them, while the Defender tries to keep them on the battlefield. Capture the Infiltrator will have the Defender placing 6 objective markers, then randomly determining two of them to be hiding places for their secret agents. If the Attacker can control an objective through to their Command phase, the Defender has to tell them whether it’s one of the hiding places, and if it is, they score a bunch of points. Meanwhile, Weaken the Defenses is a 3-objective mission where the objectives gives models in a section of the Defender’s deployment zone the benefits of Light Cover until the Attacker takes an action to switch them off. At the end of the game, the Attacker will score for objectives that are off, while the Defender scores for each one that’s on.

At the Onslaught level, Arcane Machinery is a 6-objective mission that offers points for controlling 2 and controlling more than your opponent, with a bonus 10 points for controlling your “target” objective marker. Which one’s your target, you ask? It’s randomly determined at the start of each round. Push Them Back sees both players deploying along their long board edge and divides each deployment zone into 3 equal parts, giving you points at the end of your command phase if you’ve got more units wholly within one of your opponent’s deployment zones than your opponent has in your corresponding one. And Secure Vital Personnel is a sort of “Capture the Flag” mission, letting you drag objective markers into your deployment zone and giving you points at the end of the battle for each one you control, with a bonus if it’s wholly within your deployment zone. I say it’s “sort of” a Capture the Flag mission because there are eight of the things on the table.

In addition to some interesting deployment maps and legitimately cool missions that we’re excited to get to the table, each of the missions comes with a couple sets of rewards. You’ll get the standard stuff – extra RP, Battle Honours, whatever – but where these missions really shine is if you’ve decided to add either the Machinery Arisen or Warp Corruption note to your roster (which, if you haven’t figured out by now, you really should). Each of the missions comes with a reward specific to which one of the notes you’ve put onto your roster. These rewards are neat and flavorful, but the really cool part is that they can sometimes be lopsided if it fits the mission.

For instance, remember that Preserve the Archaeotech Strike Force mission? Doesn’t it seem like a vehicle might get a little more use out of the Archaeotech than a Psyker? Well, they will, and that shines through in the rules: if the winner has the Warp Corruption note, they get a Corruption point. Neat, but kinda boring. On the other hand, if you’ve got the Machinery Arisen note, you pick an Awakened Spirit unit that already has a Level 3 ability, then give them another ability from that tree. This explicitly can be another Level 3 one.

All in all, these missions are rad as hell. They’ve got some really unique things going on and, in keeping with previous Crusade mission packs, they’ve done a pretty good job of walking the fine line between having enough rules to make things interesting and not shoehorning so many in there that you’re guaranteed to forget half of them every round. That’s not to say that they’re perfect: some of the scoring is sort of lopsided in a way that seems like it might advantage one player over another. As just one example, Capture the Infiltrator gives the Defender 45 points for each hiding place objective the attacker doesn’t control, while the Attacker gets 50 for each one they do. In other words, the Attacker wins if they control one of them, and there doesn’t seem to be a benefit for them managing to hold both (other than forcing the Defender to dislodge them from both, obviously). 

These gripes are pretty minor, though, and we’re stoked to get to play these. The level of effort that went into these missions is obvious, and they might be the most diverse set of missions GW has put out yet for 9th edition. Great stuff all around.

Conclusion

Look at Be’lakor, thinking he’s really about to do something here.

Greg: The Agendas are fun, the Stratagems are ok (Jack: Maybe only OK for you lame brain-people, they’re great if you’ve got vehicles), but the advancement trees absolutely rip. In a vacuum, these are the most expansive and just out there crusade rules we’ve seen yet, outside of maybe what’s in the Adeptus Mechanicus codex, but the fact that any army can use this gives it the edge, in my mind. This is an extremely fun way to play Crusade, and has just about enough in it to qualify as a stand-alone product (that is to say: with this, a codex, and the core rules, you have everything you need to start throwing dice). I’d buy it, probably. I’m quietly amused by how thoroughly Beyond the Veil blew our collective mind when it was released, when they’ve continued to raise the bar with these releases every time. It seems quaint now, what that did to us. If we’d seen this last year, someone would have died. Just looked into the face of god and dropped dead on the spot.

Jack: I love that this book, unlike CA2k21, is ring bound. Wrap it up competitive nerds, crusade is the game to play! This is the best crusade mission pack yet, which is a pretty tough bar to clear as Plague Purge was already great. I’m already yelling at people to start including this book in the crusades I’m in, as these tank rules speak directly to me.

Condit: Of course, while the assorted campaign-level rules on offer here are undoubtedly cool and probably worth the purchase on their own, the missions are the real draw for me here. While they’re definitely written with the assumption that you’ll be using the rest of the Amidst the Ashes rules along with them, many of them are strong enough on their own to justify just playing them in their own right, which is great. No matter what sort of campaign you’re running, there’s plenty of stuff here to help keep your games fresh and interesting. This book rules.

 

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