Guest Editorial on The Deathstar – How big is it, and does it have an exhaust port?


This article is brough to us by "Tinbane - some random Aussie." 

As always, check out the Tactics Corner for more great editorials!

Most things in 40k have a points value derived from a source book. There seems to be several aims to this: the value needs to be simple, it needs to be relatively uniform, and it should ideally be proportional to the benefit it gives you to winning the game. In theory, units with similar costs and “rarities” (ie limitations on prevalence) and similar intended uses, should be roughly comparable in terms of capability.

Now these aims in themselves, expose some weaknesses. A power sword at 15pts, isn’t worth as much to the army in the hands of a veteran sergeant (or suicidal champion if you play chaos) as it is in the hand of something like a Chapter Master. At the very least I think we can all agree that 4 attacks > 2 attacks, leaving aside initiative, weapon skill, survivability, and potentially speed.

And it would be a pain in the arse, to have to look up a three dimensional table of WS, Init and Attacks to work out how much your power sword costs. The last time items had variable values (that I’m familiar with) was the 4th ed chaos codex, which had prices for HQ choices, and prices for aspiring champions separately.

We might suggest, as a vague model though, that if a power sword is worth 15 points to a chapter master, it might be worth 10 to a vet sergeant (not half, that is a subject for another post on general game design perhaps).

The result, is an incongruity between the codex value of an item, and the real-world value of that item. Now the power sword isn’t a terrible example – so maybe you don’t pick power swords on veteran sergeants, and if you do that’s a few less melta bombs around your army than it should be.

What are some of the biggest incongruities in 40k? Well it turns out that I’d argue one of them is the seer council death-star.

The eldar have some terrific force multipliers in their codex, but having force multipliers means that giving them a fixed value is extremely difficult. The price for a warlock is the same if it’s in a guardian squad, a bike squad, or a squad of warlocks. Now lets reduce the variables in play, and examine only the ability to boost survivability.

1. Guardians – You are the only warlock in play in a squad with crap armour. You will choose either conceal or protect. This warlock is probably a good buy.

2. Jetbikes – You are the only warlock in play in a squad with good armour and a jink save. Both the options protect and conceal are going to boost this squad significantly. Almost a must-buy if this unit is going to see any type of combat at 15pts more than the basic guardian warlock.

3. Seer Council on Bikes – You are one of many warlocks in play, in a squad with good armour and a jink save. You are going to get protect, you are going to have conceal, and with those two factors combined the unit is starting to look pretty tasty. It’s arguably good value at this point.

Time to turn it up to 11! Farseer time, and make it a double.

For the cost of two guardian warlocks, and one bike warlock, you get a bike farseer. It’s got three wounds, it gets access to new powers, and with two of them you pretty much guarantee getting Fortune. The farseer costs the same points, no matter how good your best unit is. The farseer also costs the same, no matter what powers you get. So arguably, if you build a list around one uber unit, and around getting 6 chances of getting on particular power, then you are acquiring an amazing combination for a great price!

This chart is derived from rolling the shots of millions of bolters at the target unit, and seeing how many get through. I haven’t done this in binomial math, because it’s too early in the morning for that, and we don’t need the precision. This is just to highlight the benefits. The end result of this process, is referred to as a conversion rate. What proportion of our bolts got through? This gives a value of close to 1 percent for the seer council, when normally you’ll be used to values of 3%. Our percent conversion for the seer council includes the drop out you get from failing to hit and wound. Let’s put that in a direct context of material cost by assigning points value to each shot taken. I’m going to assign each shot 7pts of cost, derived from back of the envelope calculations on the cost of acquiring a space marine vs the number of shots they are likely to get off over the course of the battle.


So, it costs you 15.8pts of space marine value to inflict a wound on a guardian squad charging towards the unit. Conceal bumps it up, and protect even further. The seer council is a jaw dropping 691.7pts with protect and fortune. So using bolters against this unit, is suddenly massively out of proportion to the value of one wound. This is because of the multiplicative effect, of stacking force multipliers.

So, the seer council is hard to kill with bolters. Slow clap for the Australian who just worked that out, right? Well, while that’s true, we can just as simply apply the model to other weapons systems and see what happens. I’m using a range of heavy supports as a test-bed, and the problem with heavy supports is that unlike space marines, they are likely to be picked off. So that’s going to mean that my estimate of how much shooting they can achieve drops. Thus their cost per shot is going to be higher than for the base marines. So I divide the cost of the unit, by the number of (significant) shots from the unit, divided by the number of turns I think they’ll get to shoot. I’m dropping it to 1.5 turns for heavy supports.


You’ll notice that conversion and cost no longer correlated, because each option has a different cost per shot. Now in defense of the lascannon and missile launcher, those wounds can’t be soaked up by multiwound models but 6% conversion on shots means you are going to need an astronomical amount of them. Putting that into some kind of useful context, it may mean you expect 600+ points of min-max lascannon havocs, to deal two maybe three wounds to one of these deathstars.

Enter the Baron

For more or less the same cost as the farseer you add the baron to the mix. He is a battle brother to the eldar and therefore can join the unit (and keep up thanks to his speed). If he’s placed in harms way, then each time a shot is taken against the unit, he can choose to either take the hit himself on his 2++/2++ rerollable or he can palm it off on a 2+ to the nearest member of the squad with look out sir. Suddenly, it just got harder again!.


So, I need 1700pts of lascannon havocs to kill the baron reliably, I hear you ask? Well, sorry but no! Unfortunately we fudged the cost per shot with a 1.5 “turns” multiplier. Which has two effects, it means you probably need 1700pts, and what’s left of that 1700pts in turn two to do it quite reliably, or that figure probably approximates a rough “evens” chance of taking him down on turn 1.

Now, the FOC prevents us getting this many lascannons. Further, they may deploy out of sight, then turbo boost, then get into combat.

Now we start to illustrate the problem. Even an idiot (as long as they can place the baron effectively) could probably use the baron in an effective way. The sheer weight of firepower this unit can weather, means that it will and can have a disproportionate effect on the battle. It has the best armour save possible, a great cover save just for moving, and it’s invulnerable saves mean it’s literally tougher to kill than a thunderhammer + storm shield unit. But it combines this, with incredible speed, some shooting, and potentially a pile of debuffs as well.

What this tells us, is that this is an extreme edge case. This combination was probably completely unintended. The linear +1 to armour saves, combined with the massive boon of rerolls means that the static cost completely falls down. Warlocks, within a seer council should cost more than warlock solo. Farseers combined with units with access to 2+ armour and/or 2+ invuln saves, are worth more than Farseers that are buffing aspect warriors. At the moment, 40k has no mechanic to fix this issue. So it falls to the community to do so instead. This build was involved in the winning list at the LVO, and even with the LVO changes these units are super-hard. That reduction from 2+/2+ to 2+/4+ takes this unit from such an impossibly tough nut to crack, to simply a very very very difficult nut to crack. But at least these wonder weapons which are in limited supply (thanks FOC!) are better options from a points perspective, than simply throwing more bolters at it!

So, the exhaust port turns out to be a couple of millimetres wider than the torpedo, and the LVO rule at least expands it from 1.5mm to 4.5mm. 😛

But this is a band-aid. Fundamentally, the deathstar is here until it gets FAQd. And it underscores on of my complaints about 40k, the inability to follow good game design. The terminator is a great example, it’s well designed. Now before you press your caps lock and go to town, let me explain what exactly I mean. The terminator is well designed, but it falls victim to units and options that aren’t well designed. The terminator costs more, compared to a space marine than the benefit of it’s armour in raw terms. When used well, in an ideal environment, the terminator can earn that back and be a major pain. Good game design, is allowing someone to specialize in one area (such as protection) at the cost of other areas, and with a ramp-up in resource (points cost). Making a unit as good as another unit, and twice as tough, might mean pricing it at more than twice the cost. The problem with terminators is that 40k has a LOT of AP 2 stuff, and not much AP 3. Even the mini-rends that shuriken catapults get are AP2.

How does this relate to the seer council? Imagine in your head, a fair cost for a unit that soaks up a firing round of 1700pts of firepower for the first wound, and then drops to a mere firing round 400 – 600 points per wound after that? The fair price would be astronomical to balance the massive specialization.

No-comp 40k is kind of like free market capitalism, and in this tortured metaphor the Seer Council is a huge monopoly. It’s likely that any “fix” to this situation will be applied via GW releasing a new, bigger monopoly, or ramping up the anti-psyker gear available to future codexes. That or they could let Tyranids ally, so we can make use of their anti-psyker powers.


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

32 Responses to “Guest Editorial on The Deathstar – How big is it, and does it have an exhaust port?”

  1. Reecius
    Reecius March 22, 2014 10:34 am #

    Great article TinBane, thanks for writing it!

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    iNcontroL March 22, 2014 10:49 am #

    incredibly interesting and well written.. ty 🙂

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    ansacs March 22, 2014 11:19 am #

    Interesting article and I agree with a number of points. Thanks for sharing this.

    Unfortunately the bad thing about synergies is they are not a linear growth and so balancing them with fixed pts values is almost impossible. They can be balanced with limitations though. Interestingly I have started thinking that hit and run is actually one of the vital rules for a successful deathstar and without it you just have an annoyance rather than a real threat. Notice how the beast star and the seer council both had major showing at GTs lately yet the screamer council which is more durable than either hasn’t been competing.

    The example of a terminator is a terrible one however. The terminator is not killed by AP2 weapons. It is exactly twice as durable to bolter fire than a normal marine but is ~3 times the cost…additionally if you look at the math for it the terminator is roughly double the damage output as well, except again it is ~triple the cost. The terminator is in a rarer category, doesn’t score, and is overpriced for it’s durability and damage output by ~12 pts per model. That’s a whole discussion though.

    • Reecius
      Reecius March 22, 2014 11:43 am #

      Hit and Run is, without question, the secret sauce to most of these units. That is why Znadrehk is such a useful counter unit as he can take it away.

      And I agree, the math gets complex on force multipliers as the impact they have is variable. If you take Vulkan and a single Melta Gun, he isn’t so crazy. Vulkan and an army of Melta Guns and all of a sudden his points are yielding so much more bang for the buck.

      The only way to balance that is with some relatively complex math that honestly, no one wants to do in their list building.

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      RyanL March 22, 2014 11:56 am #

      For 3x the cost you get +1 armour save (which is better than stats first predicts because of how AP works), a 5+ invulnerable save, Deep Strike, Relentless, access to better weapons and an extra attack.

      If you use them like tac marines and only face bolters, they’re massively over priced.

      If you deep strike them, take advantage of moving with heavy weapons and face lots of krak missiles, battle cannons and power swords (all AP3), then termintors are worth their weight in gold.

      I think the point the OP was making is that Terminators are pretty well balanced and take their appropriate place on the power curve. The issue is that there are an increasing number of “over powered” units that break the power curve and make otherwise “fine” units like Termintors look bad.

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      Tirelion March 22, 2014 4:42 pm #

      Man I couldn’t agree more with your Terminator analysis. My poor brother wants to play them sooo bad, but we have to jump through hoops to make them worth it. It’s pretty tough. Termie armor on my Chaos Lord is one thing, but taking it on regular marines is tough when they die invisible cultists on the assault. Just from sheer weight of attacks. Terminators really should be quite a bit cheaper.

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        TinBane March 22, 2014 5:08 pm #

        Try playing zone mortalis! Terminators play much better in the confined spaces!

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          Tirelion March 23, 2014 5:34 am #

          That’s not a bad idea actually, good call!

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    Infinite Freedom March 22, 2014 2:19 pm #

    I enjoyed the article but I’m going to take a page from Han Solo’s book. Never tell me the Odds.

    Sides, a unit of Thunderstorm Terminators could at least hold up the Seerstar for a while.

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      Slaede March 22, 2014 5:13 pm #

      Not when they wound on 2’s and have hit and run!

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    TinBane March 22, 2014 3:14 pm #

    Hit and Run is, and always is one of the stand out USRs for 40k imho. Especially as raptors (the unit it was made up for) don’t get it any more! In one go, it stops tarpits from sticking!

    On terminators, ryanL is right. Put terminators in a 40k where plasmaguns are ap3, along with a bunch of other annoying ap2 things, and they shine. Alternatively, make them only negated by ap 1 and play a test game!!! I think I’ll write a follow up article on game design principles, to explain where and why a bunch of games get it wrong 🙂

    Lastly, play ZM! When your opponent can’t team up on your termies, and it’s quality over quantity, termies shine!!

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      Noodles140 March 23, 2014 3:29 pm #

      Great article.

      Seerstar could be greatly reduced in power by getting rid of Battle Brothers, or at least not allowing ICs to join Battle Brother units.

      But then I guess it would just boost Screamerstar back to the top of the pyramid (if they ever left). At least with Screamerstar you can snipe out the Herald a little easier, or ignore it a little easier.

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    TinBane March 22, 2014 3:17 pm #

    IF – we’ve been playing with never tell me the odds, and it seems to lead to players not realising how tough the seer star is! You see the hubbub about the revenant? Well the seer star is inline with that stats-wise. The difference is it’s escalation, it’s crazy offensive rather than defensive, and it’s tougher than the seer council is hurty 🙂

    But the deathstars are closer to the revenant than they are to the rest of 40k.

    Also if you don’t kill the barren, they’ll at least hit and run off!

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      Slaede March 22, 2014 5:19 pm #

      The difference between the Revenant and the Bikeseer Council is that the death star can be defeated with tactics, whereas the Revenant cannot.

      • Avatar
        Slaede March 22, 2014 5:22 pm #

        Well, with the exception of a Be’lakor circus build. That can beat the Revenant Titan.

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        TinBane March 22, 2014 10:44 pm #

        My point though, is that the numbers for the revenant are pretty insane, deathstars with 2++/2++ are up there. You need skill and luck to beat both. With only middling luck, both will walk over you.

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    Pascal Roggen March 23, 2014 12:53 am #

    even though it’s very unlikely, a revenant could be killed by three auto canon shots[stupid unlikely of course:)] that.. will never happen to a 2++ star. Heck forcing a revenant to move out of it’s bubble wrap defensive zone, to try and shoot the scoring troops you have behind LOS cover, means a squad of Melta guys can pop it pretty easy from a pod. or even BA veteran vanguard with melta bombs. and… thanks for the three victory points
    Sure you don’t see a lot of melta in the current meta, but if stuff like this comes in, you’ll see a lot more:).

    I’m not saying the rev is easy to deal with and it is most definitely undercosted[ how about not being able to shoot if you move over twelve mmm?:P] and the fact it can take out two large type [riptides, knights and tanks etc] units a turn. [however, small hideable units, flying units, cheap chaff units, or reserved units, fare a heck of a lot better]

    It’s certainly not a “beginner” escalation unit, and I mourn it’s choice in the book as it pretty much single-handedly kept 2++ stars around for much longer then they should have been… boring boring, time consuming, fiddley, boring stars. eh…

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    Oldalder March 23, 2014 3:16 am #

    Is there not a hard counter for the seer council? Are Grey Knights mindstrike missiles not the answer? Forcing a perils test for each psyker in the unit that is hit? albeit the fareseers will survive with their ghosthelms, but all the warlocks bite the dust, kill the warlocks and all you have left are two farseers and the baron.

    • Reecius
      Reecius March 23, 2014 11:04 am #

      They can spread out to minimize the impact, but that is a good tool to use against them. Tyranids done right can also counter them quite well, too.

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      Pascal Roggen March 23, 2014 11:50 am #

      it’s not every psyker in the unit, it’s just the ones under the template that are hit…. is how it’s usually played, just like stomp , the necron death beam etc.

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    Baal Viper March 24, 2014 5:22 am #

    Thank you Tinbin for your well writtena article, backed up with math!!! LOL I feel that stats like these support alot of the claims that the anti-2++ people have been making with actual numbers.

    In a game that is basically supposed to be fought between 2 players with equal resources, such a massive disparity in efficiency should not be allowed as it upsets the basic concept of each side having equal resources to play with.

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    Wit March 24, 2014 8:06 am #

    Honestly, has any considered just adding the rule “a 2+ save of any kind can not be rerolled?”

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      TinBane March 24, 2014 12:35 pm #

      Well, it gets a bit sticky. If you do that, then a 3+/3+ save is better than a 2+. Better to cap it in my opinion. Either a 2+/2+ can only ever be a 2+/4+ or 2+/5+.

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        Wit March 24, 2014 7:02 pm #

        see, IMO that’s far more of a change to the rules mechanics. It’s much easier to say that a 2+ save may never be rerolled than to say “oh, you can reroll a 2+, but now it’s a 4+.”

        And sure, you can reroll a 3+, but that’s still more vulnerable than a 2+/4+. 2+/2+ is roughly a 2.7% chance of a wound, 2+/4+ is roughly a 8.3% chance, and a 3+/3+ is roughly a 11.1%.

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    TinBane March 25, 2014 12:25 am #

    That’s exactly my point. Your suggestion of no reroll for 2+ saves is worse than a 3+ with rerolls.

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    Trieth March 25, 2014 1:21 am #

    I’m a relatively new player to 40k so be gentle.

    Isn’t the issue ultimately that invulnerable saves have no counter?
    Weight of fire doesn’t count since that effectively counters cover and armour saves too.

    Wouldn’t a simple solution be to say no re-rolls on invulnerable saves?

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    TinBane March 25, 2014 5:44 pm #

    Hi Trieth,

    That is a simple solution, but it might not be a good one.
    Most invulnerable saves are 5+ or 4+, and rerolling these via items or spells is a good way to improve the toughness, and also a fair way of doing this.

    The problem is really with the 2+/2+ inv saves. Even 2+/2+ armour saves are pretty ridiculous.

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    Trieth March 25, 2014 11:53 pm #

    Fair enough but at least with armour saves as the opponent you have the option of low AP weapons to do the job as opposed to just hoping your opponent rolls badly. I’ve never played against this sort of setup and probably never will since I only play casually but it just doesn’t sound fun to play against and I can’t imagine that’s good for the tournament scene. I already find the battle reports from tournaments boring to read since it just comes down to a seerstar that won’t die rampaging around the field.

    Another option is to limit fortune to only being able to affect models from the Eldar Codex. Still cast on a unit but models not from the codex in the unit are unaffected. Lets face it the Dark Eldar codex is from 5th ed and pre-dates the alliance table the shadow field was never supposed to be getting the benefits of fortune. I’m sure there’s lots of applications that aren’t abusive that will lose out but unfortunately that will always happen without making an extremely complicated ruling that’s difficult to enforce or understand. At least this way the Eldar codex on it’s own is unaffected.

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      Trasvi April 10, 2014 7:03 pm #

      I think the problem is that Dark Eldar were never supposed to be played with Eldar – or at least, the rules weren’t written in a way that would make that fair. Tau were not supposed to be put with Eldar. Sevrin Loth was never supposed to be put with Farsight and Ovesa and Centurions all together…

      The article uses re-rollable 2+ saves as an example, but the problem is the unintended overlap of multiplying buffs. The same problems occur with Daemon armies (2+ re-rollable save), with the Tau Buff Commander (ignores cover, twin-linked, tank/monster hunter)…. you can’t fairly price a multiplicative buff if you don’t know what units it will be joining.

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    fluger April 9, 2014 12:47 pm #

    Fantastic article that breaks down what we understand instinctively but find hard to put into words.

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    Bigdoza April 15, 2014 8:37 am #

    If Allies were all restricted to be no better then allies of convenience this entire problem goes away.

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