A 3rd Ed Khorne Battletome Review. By Patrick Neven
“Well Fuck a Doodle-Doo”
Pete, Shaun of the Dead
After four long years the new Khorne battletome has finally arrived. Meaning the week before release stuff that filters out has finally arrived. I was expressing my initial thoughts on the book to my gaming buddies who kindly suggested I should share my opinions with the wider community. (That’s how I’m interpreting the phrase, “Go annoy someone else you whinging prick.) I figure my dear friend Pete’s blog is as good a place as any to express myself. For the TLDR types who are already anxious about their Tiktok feeds after a paragraph of text the book is a solid B tier, buy Pete a Kofi on your way out. For the people with too much time on their hands, let me tell you of the days of high adventure
Put out a book without points they said. It will be great they said
But first let me establish my bonafides and run through some of the history of the faction. For the 95% of the 6 or so people who read this blog who haven’t heard of me I’m an AOS veteran and a reasonably successful regular on the Australian tournament scene. I’m a stalwart of the mighty Measured Gaming Club and one leg of the Triumvirate or auditory excellence that is The Bush Radio podcast. The point of this intro, besides shameless plugs and shout outs, is that I know competitive AOS. I also know Khorne. That magical 1st ed battletome with it’s glorious bloodtithe rules (Still the best mechanic in any tabletop wargame.) took me from a casual AOS player to a diehard tournament nerd. Always mortals over demons I should add, I’ve done the Skarbrand/Boomthirster but it’s not really my thing, the mortals keep bringing me back.
I’ve had my fair share of success but it’s been mostly downhill for my beloved boys since the 1st ed battletome despite some recent buffs and bloodtithe changes. The second battletome sucked and nearly every change in the game wound up being an extra kick in the dick for Khorne for some reason. The final and best example of dick kicking was all coalition allies losing their KHORNE keyword buffs in Blades of Khorne ahead of schedule because Khorne Mortal buff units were too good in Slaves to Darkness.1 At the end of the cycle the only viable competitive Khorne was a fairly successful Skarr/Boomthirster/Wrathmongers hope-you-don’t run-into shooting type of list. If you’re the sort of ackshually meme guy2 who comments on obscure blog posts don’t @ me about some guy from Badtouch, Nebraska who won a 2 dayer at CousinCon in West Virginia with Skullcrusher spam. I’m talking mainstream workable lists not freakish outliers.
Now the new book is finally upon us. I realize everyone looks forward to a new book. With 20 odd armies in the game you can wait for years or even months if you play the same factions as the designers. Nevertheless only those with a truly shit battletome can understand the anticipation that builds up as the books cycle through. Gitz players know what I’m talking about. You suffer, you struggle forwards with one eye fixed on the horizon, seeking that distant glow of the sacred new Battletome, the years roll by until one day it arrives. Your deliverance. Maybe it’s the answer to your prayers, maybe its the sort of Deliverance that made the movie famous.3
Painted this Bad Boy but never ran him before they took Khorne buffs off coalition allies
So what’s good in the book?
A whole hell of a lot as it happens. I’ll discuss some of the stand outs below but its worth noting the initial reaction of most Khorne players was pretty positive. The “Well it’s about fucking time.” factor is strong in the new battletome. Even after a few days a fair chunk of the community is still amped for the new material. Some of us can hear the banjo music growing louder all the time but for now lets stick with the positives.
The Glow Up
Any new book, especially after four years, comes with a lot of updates to the basic warscrolls. The old battletome had some of the most miserable surviving warscrolls in AOS. There were more than enough one damage heroes, rendless weapons and never taken warscrolls to go around. Just converting these losers to AOS 3 standards and giving them a polish is a fairly significant buff. Rend and a save buff on blood warriors and juggernaut units, base 2 damage and rend on the heroes of a combat army, 2 attacks on blood warriors. Useful Skull Cannons. Getting rid of a host of useless bloat on warscrolls is a nice change as we;;. Did anyone ever use the Mighty Lords command ability? Or the Mighty Lord for that matter. The Blood tithe changes, wards for demons, retributive damage for mortals. Hatred of Sorcery landing on a 5+. A few of the special characters got very tidy upgrades. (Valkia in particular, bring out a new sculpt already GW.) Everything got a long overdue lift and we were all pretty happy for it.
Khorne priests fell a long way from the glory days of a battletome prayer, a warscroll prayer and a judgement per hero phase. It’s a tribute to how miserable the battletome became that they were still useful as one prayer wonders with a utility prayer lore. Not in the new book tho. Boy do we got all things divine. We got demon priests, a new wizard priest chick4 improved judgements, a double pray/cast command trait and the best Prayer Lore in the game. Seriously, it’s good. Extra rend, mighty destroyers hero phase move, bloodbind for everybody. There’s nothing in there you wont find a use for and some of them cast on 3’s so you won’t have to nail every priest to the shrine. The shrine doubles the deployment range of judgements and the Bleeding Icon makes a battleshock bomb very viable. Slaughterpriests have even stopped being a comical last ditch embarrasment in combat. You won’t see many Khorne armies without 2 or 3 priests, they’re awesome.
Swimming Pools, Movie Stars and 10 Skullreapers doing 80 damage in a turn. The best of times.
Khornes foot soldiers had a brief moment of glory with multiple attacks in a murderhost way back in AOS 1 but have basically served as the winning trump in the “whose demons are the most useless?” arguments that are the meat and drink of the followers of the true Gods. Bloodletter “heroes” were even worse. 4 one damage attacks was just cringeworthy. Not anymore, anything with a Bloodletter attached to it got a bump. Bloodletters, 2 wounds, 2 attacks and affordably costed. The heroes became priests, the Blood Throne got awesome, the skull cannon is damn useful. There’s a subfaction to make all their mortals occur on 5’s when they charge. Bloodletters of all varieties slap. Just the thought of being able to kill something with a Bloodmaster makes my insides feel strange.
Finally one of the slowest combat armies in the game can actually get across the board. Every unit, demon or mortal has a reasonable chance of getting the buffs of to make it across the table in one turn. Seriously, that Blood Warrior blob can use a movement prayer, blood tithe and the bloodstokers run and charge for a 5 + 1d6 + 11 + 2d6 charge. 16 + 3d6 inches for the slowest mortals. 5 + 1d6 + 5 plus a 3d6 charge for the slowest demons. (Assuming you have a whip thirster handy) There was some movement jank around in the old books but being able to get that glorious cross table movement on anything you like is big news. And Bloodthirsters got a bump to the same 12 inch movement as every other flying monster. Talk about Speed Demons.
What’s so bad about the book then?
Quite a bit. There are a lot of changes to any book when they cross the Edition Rubicon from 2nd to 3rd. The rerolls vanish, the sub faction allegiance abilities get cut down, some of the old gimmicks don’t work anymore. I’m not complaining about the changes that had to happen. The faction was on double pile-in jank life support all through the last battletome and I’m not sorry to see the reliance on that output gone. I’m pissed off that it wasn’t replaced with anything. The harder you look at the battletome, dig into the warscrolls, run the numbers and compare it to the current meta the worse it gets. I divide the problems into three categories.
All factions come with a lazy ass meh factor. The Sacrosanct chamber in 3rd ed Stormcast, the lazy warscroll ports in skaven, the everything that isnt an Ironblaster in Ogor Mawtribes. Truly the fucks given do not fall equally across battletomes or within them. Once you scratch the surface Khorne has a whole lot of “Whatever Bruh” going on. For starters the book just doesn’t have much in it. 4 allegiance abilities, 6 subfactions, 8 command abilities, 8 artefacts and a prayer lore. No unique enhancement, no special command abilities on its heroes, no monster actions for Bloodthirsters, no unique heroic actions. Bloodthirsters are a mainstay of Warhammer never mind AOS, they passed on giving each variety a monstrous action. It was good enough for every monster in the BOC. The mighty heroes of the Gloomspite Gitz got more unique heroic actions than the guys on the release box. I can think of a heroic action in about 2 seconds. “This bloodbound hero doubles it’s attacks for the turn but gets turned into a spawn if it fails to slay a hero or monster. Use once a game.” Not super powerful but a whole lot of laughs. Was that so fucking difficult?
It’s some pretty thin gruel and it doesn’t stop there. The writers clearly gave up about halfway down the list or special characters. Skulltaker, Karanak and Valkia all got some interesting rules. Khorgos Khul, mighty lord of the Goretide, the guy from the box art got jack shit. His powers of leadership consist of improving the Goretides murder rolls by one point for one miserable combat phase and he’s meant to be running the operation. Why not a ward? Why not Warmaster? Skagrott got both and they cost the same fucking points. Don’t even get my started on poor old Scylla. They put some thought into the demon heroes but just gave the old shoulders a shrug with the mortals. Both types of Deathbringer have nothing to interact with troop units. Apparently a half assed nominate a unit of X and fight one after the other was too much effort. Honestly it’s like someone has it in for Khorne which brings me to my next point.
Entering a whole world of Meh. Plus if you put him on the cover at least give him a decent warscroll
It’s Mean Spirited
It’s a running gag that the playtesters and game designers favor the factions they play themselves. How else do you explain 18 months of 60 point Hag Queen or the whole Seraphon thing. My theory is that there’s a really unpopular guy in the GW offices who just loves Khorne and the games designers keep sticking it to the faction because they wish he would stop showing up to gaming weekends.5 There is so much in this book that is just plain mean. Take retributive death pile ins. A mainstay of the faction from launch, occasionally effective in combat and just all around awesome fun. Every Khorne player has stories of bloodtithing a dying Skarrbrand to fight on death or double piling in their useless Blood Warriors. Well they’re gone. Every last trace of them. I might actually favor this if it was part of some scheme to get retri-death out of the game on time bloat grounds but there is plenty around, Slaanesh got given some on the same release day. The Bloodbound got murder rolls instead, a chance to do mortals on death, sort of like the stormcast blowy uppy thing except they only work when you die from a melee attack. Apparently Khorne champions are cool with being ploughed under by charge mortals or shot to bits by people standing next to them. It’s not a powerful ability would it have been so bad if it kicked in whenever you killed one.
This sort of cheap nickel and diming recurs throughout the book. Bloodletters lose their mortals in addition. Skarrbrand only ever gets one mortal wounding attack. The new Bloodstoker has a 1 in 6 chance of doing a mortal to the unit he whips. What the fuck for? He already lost his wound buff. Is it not enough that he buffs a random number of units making it difficult to plan with him. Demons get an awesome and much needed 5 up ward against ranged attacks which can be switched off by an opponent with enough working brain cells to move within 8 inches. Why not 3 inches or a ward against anything but melee weapons?
They have completely stripped any form of battleshock protection away from a legion of death seeking berzerkers. We started out immune to battleshock, that dropped to a few gimmicks in the second book and vanished to nothing in this book. They even took the Battleshock immunity of Skullreapers. A bunch of cowardly Gloomspite will fight to the death to defend their hokey fetish rock but Khorne gets nothing at all. Once again I’m not just whining about the power level I’m pissed about the play experience. Double piling in your wrathmongers, sending a flood of screaming berserkers across the table to die under their skull banners, it’s fun, it’s the reason you take up the faction. Not getting to make your murder rolls cause you got shot instead of stabbed and watching your army fade to battleshock from area damage just plain sucks.
It’s Out of Date
Which brings me to my final category of gripes. The book comes out of the starting gate a long way behind the current AOS meta. As I may have briefly mentioned the book is has fuck all allegiance abilities and not so much of the old fun stuff. What’s the power level like. Defensively its good but you dont run Khorne for durability and the output is piss poor for a modern melee army. Don’t believe me? Read on.
The damage tables above display the output of the Wrath of Khorne Bloodthirster, fearsome general of the Blood Gods legions and a charging Cockatrice, the angry Chicken mascot of a bunch of forest dwelling hippie deadbeats. Now the new and improved 330 pt Bloodthirster can in fact out dps a 105 points chicken but not by a whole hell of a lot.6 In fairness the current iteration of the Boomthirster can hit pretty hard, not 330 point combat monster hard but at least you will never have to hear your opponent complaining about one wiping out their entire army with burst mortals again unless you can Yahtzee sixes whenever you need to. The double pile in had to go but man it could spike.
Anyways so what if Bloodthirsters suck. Lets have a look at the new filth, the premium death dealers of Khorne. A blob of thirty bloodletters, one straight out of the book and one with a fair run of buffs, + 1 to hit, + 1 rend, +1 attack, mortals on 5’s.
Well hot diggity dawg. I may have shot myself in the foot here I haven’t seen numbers like that for a Khorne unit since I ran 10 super buffed skullreapers all the way back in AOS 1. For a quarter of your points it should put some work in but this seems ok. Unless you compare them to one of the current meta breaking units. Lets look at basic unbuffed Squig Hoppers. Then super squig hoppers with their standard buffs. Mortals on 6’s to hit and wound, +1 to hit, wound and rend and + 1 squig attack.7 It’s next to impossible to get 30 Squigs in combat so we’ll cap the number of attacking models at 20.
The good news is unbuffed bloodletters are actually better than unbuffed squighoppers. The bad news is there are no unbuffed unit tourneys on the horizon. The squigs have the output without even accounting for all their other advantages. Still you can’t expect every dedicated melee army to match the elite killing force that is the Gloomspite Gitz. Lets have a look at some other buffed up output you can get for a quarter of your armies points.
Now I get that these are all ideal scenarios for dps that will never happen on the battlefield. My point is the deadliest unit in the Khorne book is easily trounced on it’s best day. How do the other units fair against their game wide equivalents. Skullreapers are the hammer of the mortal side, at 4 attacks, 3. 3. -1. 1 mortals on sixes they might stack up against Brutes without a warchanter or Blightkings. Which makes them as good as a mistakes you rarely see on the top tables. Wrathmongers and bloodreavers are a bit better for their points but that’s it. I’d say the damage for a combat army just isn’t their in the current meta but this book would have been below par in AOS 2. They just didn’t replace the output from the double pile-iin gimmicks.
WHERE DOES THIS ALL THIS LEAVE US?
Honestly it’s a difficult review to sum up given that I haven’t actually played a game with the book. Then again I’ve got enough faith in my own judgement to know that a pile of shit will stink without sticking my nose in it to check. Objectively it’s a B tier book with a few solid areas that lacks the raw strength to be a real force in the meta. Subjectively reactions from the Khornate faithfull have been mixed.8 Some think it’s great, others are selling of their models, I think most of the long termers are making the same emotional journey from hope to bitter resignation as I am. After four long painful years this is it? Is there some rule that says you can only improve one or two things in a Khorne book every cycle?
Ultimately, what stands out is the lack of care, interest or purpose in the design of this book. Was it ever playtested? Is there any clear idea of how it is supposed to perform other than push forward and hope for the best? Does anyone at Games Workshop even know why people play Khorne? It’s not for the Big Ass Bloodthirsters that hit like strands of wet lettuce. It’s not to run crazed hordes of berzerkers who run away from combat after a bit of chip damage. Maybe it’s me, maybe the other Khorne guys are just itching to run blocks of Skullcrushers in a tarpit but I doubt it. Someone in the battletome writing department needed to take a break from touching themselves while scrolling through Elf cosplay instagrams and watch some Khorne in Total War gameplay. Those guys, the big red machine that tears it’s enemies to shreds. That’s what people play Khorne for.
Well at least the cover art is awesome
- Some Khornates argue that losing Archaon ahead of schedule because he was too good in Tzeentch was worse but I never even got to say goodbye to my + 2 attack Bullgors. Love you forever boys.
- It’s not a criticism, I’m one of those Ackshually meme guys myself and the world needs us to let them know there’s no way the petrol in the Last of Us would still be usable. We should hang out sometime.
- You’re missing a few jokes if you don’t know Deliverance but the fault lies with you. Watch the film or at least skim the wikipedia and claim you’ve seen it
- At the risk of getting all gender political does the first generic female Khorne model have to be the worst fighting hero in the army. One d6 damage dagger attack is it? She couldn’t get a couple of rendless whacks with her staff for the look of it.
- I also firmly believe that whoever designed the Nighthaunt models had an affair with the partner of whoever writes the Nighthaunt rules. The rules guy found out and decided to enact a horrible revenge on the whole faction.
- The old Wrath of Khorne was way worse. I was legitimately shocked when one of mine managed to kill a Hag Queen all by itself. Shout out to Jesse Perkins, his ward saves were terrible that day.
- Not including a 4 up rally, Mortals when you move over something, 5 up ward, fighting on death, possible extra attack, running and charging, rerolling charges and returning half the unit if it dies, presumably from old age cause not much will kill it. If Luke Skywalker had run into this Deathstar he would have quit and taken up bikini dancing in Jabba’s Palace while he still had his looks.
- Corey Pappenemi wins my reaction award with “I guess Games Workshop have sold enough Khorne models.”
2 thoughts on “Half-Assed, Mean Spirited and Out of Date.”
This is an awefull take dude. Like…really really awefull.