Ahh, Chaos. Any army book, codex or supplement covering the Ruinous Powers and their advocates has picked a tough row to hoe. Such a tome exists in the shadow of greatness: the highly praised Slaves to Darkness/The Lost and Damned duology, the solid and definitive Codex Chaos that brought the Traitor Legions to the front and centre, and the beastly ‘3.5’ Codex Chaos Space Marines which gave us unprecedented capacity to customise Our Dudes and bestowed upon each Legion discrete rules, wargear and army list entries that have been sorely missed ever since.
Traitor Legions is in most respects an attempt to redress the damage done by the boring, boring ‘Gavdex’. This despicable volume materialised in 2007 or thereabouts and replaced the varied, characterful and potent 3.5 lists with a drab mono-build that drove Chaos players headlong into counts-as scrabbling for half a decade. It also has to serve as a working patch for the oldest contemporary Codex book – so old that it still has a separate bestiary and army list – and do what can be done to close the gulf in interest and power ‘twixt the Chaos Space Marines and the newfangled books with their Formations and special Detachments and 300 points of free transports and all that toss.
To achieve this, GW-as-is have looked back to their former glories and fleshed them out for the modern and more dense rules system we know today.
In terms of its opening chapters – background on the Long War and the Legions themselves – Traitor Legions is a full-colour reprint of material from the 1995 Codex. The content is resonantly familiar – I first read this stuff when I was eleven, for goodness’ sake – but even I, who love soft annotation-friendly paper and monochrome artwork, must admit that that the design and layout have improved dramatically with the move toward glossy full colour ‘rulebook as art’ approaches.
The original material was crammed into dense paragraphs that sprawled between and over pages and was far from equal in length: this layout is efficient, elegant, illustrating every Legion as we go and often coming with an illuminating quote plucked from elsewhere in the jumbled volumes of yesteryear. Example above.
The rules, meanwhile, are heavily inspired by the 3.5 Codex. Each Legion operates under a series of restrictions concerning which special characters and Marks can and can’t be taken; each also recieves a set of special rules tied to the Veterans of the Long War ability, which is given to every model who can have it entirely free. There are frequently a couple of other rules for the Legion which bring its unique character out further. Each has a unique Warlord Traits table, list of Relics, fancy Detachment-made-of-Formations and set of Tactical Objectives for those weird “random objectives” missions that current 40K seems to love so much.
What I like about this book is that, for the most part, there are some obvious themes and stand-out synergies within the rules for each Legion. By way of an example, let’s consider the Night Lords. No special characters, no Marks of Chaos (although they can still take Daemon Princes if they feel like it). All their units with Veterans of the Long War gain Fear, Night Vision and Stealth; very fitting. Everything in a Night Lords Detachment or Formation, everything, inflicts a -2 Leadership penalty on anything locked in combat with them. Even the Cultists. Finally, Raptors are a Troops choice instead of a Fast Attack choice, alleviating some of the pressure on that crowded region of the army list.
The ‘move Raptors into being the core of the army if you want them to be’ option also appears in the Night Lords’ special Detachment, the Murder Talon, which can have a Formation of nothing but Raptors (well, Raptors and Warp Talons) as its Core. This Formation, the Raptor Talon, inflicts a -2 Leadership penalty on anything charged by two of its constituent units, and said units can make a Disordered Charge after Deep Striking.
Now, there’s an obvious stacking of Leadership penalties here – but wait, there’s more. The Murder Talon also allows one to reroll failed charge rolls, which helps the Raptor Talon out even further, and allows one to guarantee the presence of comforting Night Fighting on any turn where it might occur randomly. That’s very useful for an army which will be starting with such a lot of stuff off the board, and has Stealth and Night Vision built in to most of its units.
There’s other stuff in the Murder Talon which pushes these advantages still further. If one happens to include a Heldrake Terror Pack as the Auxiliary to the Raptor Talon in Core, one can inflict yet more Leadership penalties on anything near one’s Heldrakes, and can punish anything which flees from the Raptor Talon’s charge with a far more lethal than usual Vector Strike from the Heldrakes. Oh, and there’s a Relic called the Vox Daemonicus which radiates yet another Leadership penalty, and nearly all the Warlord traits in some way improve the Warlord and his associates in a scrap. You’re looking at an effective -6 Leadership modifier if you manage to get all your potatoes in a line, and you’ll be rewarded for pulling it off because your Tactical Objectives are all about breaking and destroying enemy units in melee, from Deep Strike or cover.
The thing is, while this sort of list builds itself, it’s not a Gavdex-era monobuild. Bikes, for instance, benefit just as much if not more from being Night Lords as Raptors do, making a Combined Arms Detachment with Raptors in Troops and Bikes in Fast Attack an appealing prospect. If you don’t fancy screwing on the Murder Talon to its full potential, those exact same units can be bowled underarm in a modest CAD that does the same thing but less hard, in the same way that Necron players can throw their opponents a bone by laying off the Decurion for a change.
But is it as good as what they get?
Whether this stuff is top tier, able to match the latest in dual Riptide donkeyflop laswing with a starkiller Seer Council using Malefic Daemonology on unbuttered toast, isn’t really the point. Some kind soul has sat down, thought about what makes each of the Traitor Legions cool, and created options which allow players to push that signature coolness to the hilt, or to deviate from it to an extent without completely writing it off.
An effort has been made to close the gap between Traitors and Loyalists – no, they shouldn’t be exactly the same, but the one should always be a credible threat to the other, and there should always be some gain from turning Traitor, something that makes Chaos an attractive option. While there’s nothing quite so game-bending as handing out 300 points of free Rhino chassis, I definitely feel that each Traitor Legion has something going for it that makes them as distinct as some of the Loyalist Chapters.
It’s not perfectly done. At present, only one Legion is as distinct from its brethren as, say, the Dark Angels are from vanilla Adeptus Astartes; that’s the Thousand Sons, who bring new kits and profiles rather than modifying the operation of existing pieces. I suppose you could say the same for the World Eaters too, given that they have their own Lord of War and special character, but it’s a bit of a leap from that to the amount of different stuff the Space Wolves or Blood Angels bring to the table.
(While we’re comparing Traitors to Loyalists: not putting the Renegade Knight rules in this one is cheap, GW. I don’t understand why you even bothered putting Traitor’s Hate out when this was in the pipeline… well, I do, it’s because you wanted people to buy an otherwise redundant limited edition £30 book, but I thought this level of blatant gouging went out with Tom Kirby.)
Not that I’m complaining about what we have. I like that the Thousand Sons bring efficient Divination to the table – it means they displace Crimson Slaughter as the allies of choice for bringing psychic support, and that is what they do, that is the role of the fractured XV Legion. I like that Chaos has a general psychic edge, with so many Mastery Level 3 psykers running around and even a couple of 4s, and access to (I think) more Disciplines than any other faction in the game. One would hope that dwelling in the Warp teaches one a thing or two about it! It feels fitting that here, if nowhere else, Chaos should do everything the Imperium does and more besides; we may not have the capacity to maintain as wide a range of equipment, but we can kill you with mind bullets, and that has to count for something.
The bottom line
On the whole, then, I think this is a well designed book. It takes the rather parlous state of 40K in general (even preparing an army list is such a mess these days) and Chaos in particular, and it does the best it can as a Supplement to the existing rules. It can’t fix baseline stuff like bikes being flat-out better than jump packs, or middling battle tanks being such jank, or the sheer amount of rolling on bloody tables, but those problems are outside its remit. All it could do was make Chaos interesting again and give us a reason to put some actual Chaos Space Marines on the table.
Mission accomplished. Seven out of ten freshly skinned loyalist corpses.
(all images (C) Games Workshop, sourced from their own website, used without permission, spirit of fair use, PUT THOSE LAWYERS DOWN etc.)