Friday, June 1, 2012

Culling the Weak: Fixing The Bad Dark Elf Units Part One

This series might come off badly.  The Dark Elves are undeniably one of the most competitive books in Fantasy and transitioned very well to 8th Edition.  So complaining about the bad units might seem to some folks like a 40k player complaining about the crappy Grey Knights units. 

Fair enough.

That said, some of the Dark Elves bad units have exceptionally cool models or flavor.  It is hard to describe how badly players want Executioners to be playable models.  They are so cool that people jump through insane hoops just to turn them into a mediocre unit on the tabletop while gimping the rest of their army in the first place.  People are willing to ignore reality in order to maintain a false hope.  Don’t believe me?  How do you think organized religion rakes in so much cash? 

Note I am not a game designer, so I can’t argue that the proposed changes are perfectly balanced, but I’ll do my best.  If something seems amiss, let me know in the comments.

First up, Executioners.

How can you not want to play models this cool?

Why they are bad

They are the worst imaginable version of High Elf Swordmasters.  For 12 points a piece, they are strength 6 with killing blow and hatred.  Sounds great!  But they are toughness 3 with 5+ armor and Always Strike Last.  Sounds fucking awful!  The Swordmasters get uber strikers first, which by eliminates the strikes last, and also gives them Hatred.  Killing Blow, unfortunately, is irrelevant when you are Strength 6.  Nothing that can be killed with Killing Blow is going survive your hits anyway, so it’s a useless ability.  Don’t yell at me, I know that mathhammer-wise, it combos well with Hatred to result in a lot of extra kills.  Irrelevant.

The main reason why they are bad boils down to simply this: they are squishy elves who strike last.  Very lame.  The only way to make up for the fact that they die before they get to strike is to buy more of them.  That is what my friends in finance call “throwing good money after bad.”  When you have a bad hand, you don’t double down on it, especially when your opponent knows you have a bad hand and will call your bluff.  Just dumb.

Design Philosophy

So how do you fix them without making them ridiculous like Swordmasters?  Good question.  Allowing them to take 35 point banners so they can take the ASF banner is the most frequent suggestion.  But that’s dumb, because you shouldn’t have to buy a specific magic banner in order to make your unit do the basic task that it was designed to do.  That would be pretty poor game design, and I’ll immediately dismiss it. 

Another limit to set is that they can’t be better than Swordmasters.  If our goal is to fix them, I’m not going to ‘fix’ them in a way that makes them better or equal to some other broken unit. 

The last limit is that I can’t make them better than Blackguard.  Blackguard are the best infantry unit in the army book on the table top and from a fluff perspective, they ought to be.  So if I make a unit that immediately outclasses them, why would anyone bring Blackguard outside of some theme list? 

Fixing Them

Har Ganeth Executioners 17 points per model

Unit Size

Heavy Armor
Draich (counts as a great weapon)

Special Rules
Eternal Hatred
Cold-blooded Killers

Cold-blooded Killers:    Executioners don’t slowly torture their victims like most Dark Elves; they are trained to kill exerting the minimum necessary effort, ideally with a single blow.  A unit of Executioners must decide at the beginning of each round of combat between the following two options: Always Strike Last but gain Killing Blow, or to strike at their normal initiative.


I limited their unit size to prevent people from making hordes.  Being able to attack with a third rank is a little too good when you are I5 and Str6.  I wanted to limit the amount of potential casualties they could inflict in a single round of combat to a maximum of 20, assuming they rolled perfectly.

I upgraded their points cost, since they did receive a power boost in order to keep Blackguard competitive.  The changes overall fully distinguish the roles for each unit.  Executioners are designed to put out a small number of accurate high strength attacks.  They are best at cutting down enemy heavy infantry.  Blackguard are designed to output tons of medium strength accurate attacks to mow down medium and light infantry.  Now their roles are more distinguished.
Additionally, I kept them much less powerful than Swordmasters.  You might argue that they are now overpowered.  Compare them with Chaos Warriors armed with Halberds and Mark of Khorne.  They are probably a little worse overall than Khorne Warriors for about the same amount of points, which is fair since Chaos Warriors are supposed to be around the power level of other armies’ elite infantry.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?


  1. Like the article, except for the snide jab at people who have faith.

    Being squishy mans with great weapons, are Empire Greatswords any good? They've got a 4+ save which is something, and Stubborn for them and their Detachments seems useful.

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  3. 1) If u really want to keep KB on them, e.g. to not loose fluffiness, then make it something at least A BIT useful. Maybe something simple like KB on 5+ or make all 6 on To-Hit rolls which also wound get KB. That would make it at least a bit interesting to have KB whereas standard KB is just a waste of points (in 8th). Anyway, who would (seriously!) use KB if that meant ASL with elves ? It's like asking for a beating and is exactly the issue right now. I don't think many people would consider it, given the option.

    2) Limiting the size to 20 ... I have my doubts about it. Seeing how your Execs cost 17 a piece this would make a horde really expensive. Since that really expensive horde only had T3, 5+ Armor and no inherent ward/regen I don't think that would be a major issue. Of course the cauldron comes into play here but thats another 200 points (or 225 with BSB) which will "only" mitigate 1/3 of the casualties. We are talking 40*17+220=900 points here and that is without any upgrades, banners, equipment, etc. And most of those points go into elites, blocking points for BG/Chariots. Not too scary imho.

    1. How useful exactly would Heroic Killing Blow be, versus how many more points it would cost per model? Regular old killing blow is, yeah, pretty crap, but HKB is nasty, although further increasing the cost of T3, 5+ mans seems... dumb.

      I agree that there shouldn't be a 20-man limit on the unit. Half of that is because I want my opponents to pour a ton of points into a deathstar so I can punish them with a Purple Sun.

    2. Purple Sun doesn't do too much to I5 guys.

      The more I think about it the best thing do to would be a slight points bump, remove KB, and let them strike at initiative.

    3. I'm oppposed to simply making the models cheaper and dropping KB completely. After all, it's an elven specialist unit, so they should be special in some way. I'd love to see some "synergy-style" special rule like:

      "At the begin of each combat phase, choose one unit in close combat with the executioners. For that combat phase the chosen unit gets the ASL special rule. Characters are except from this effect."

      Imho, that kind of effect would invite some nice tactics while limiting it to one unit would still be vurnerable enough to multi charges so it does not get of hand - glancing at HE...

      I still have my doubts about 17 points a piece. That's some _serious_ investement there. We are talking Swordmaster points level at like half the power. Being especially weak against cheap hordes demands caution during deployment and movement. Does anyone want to do some mathhammer to get a grip for the points cost ? ;-)

      @Tim Skawinski
      Purple Sun is kind of the perfect match for elves - don't do that. Just take _anything_ that goes straight for To-Wound rolls and you are good to go. Pump some generic 2d6 Str4 into them and watch the pain on your opponent's face.

    4. Can't edit in place so here's my proposal for the executioners' special rule:

      "As long as a unit of executioners has a rank bonus of one or more they gain the 'Cold-blooded Killers' special rule.

      Cold-blooded Killers:
      The executioners of Naggaroth thrive on the pain of their victims, torturing them with every strike. They coordinate their attacks as to slow their enemies, prolonging their pain in the process.
      At the beginning of each combat phase, choose one unit in close combat with the executioners. For that combat phase the chosen unit gets the ASL special rule. Characters and impact hits are exempt from this effect."

    5. @Amnu (and Nikephoros) - I didn't mean Purple Sun against DElves actually; I just meant vs. deathstars in general. Against DElves I'd love to be playing my Goblins and use Da Bad Moon.

      I know that striking at normal Initiative is probably the best way to make them competitive, but wouldn't that just make them off-brand Swordmasters? Perhaps rather make them cheaper and have the Draich's count as Halberds rather than great weapons. S:5 is still good.

    6. I was thinking of letting them keep killing blow, but make Draiches act however you want: AHW, HW and Shield, Halberd, or Great Weapon. Keep them modular and useful.

    7. Giving them that many options on what to count their weapons as seems a bit too good; I can see two, maybe three. And HW&Shield seems a bit off; I can't see a draich being too great at intercepting arrows or crossbow bolts.