The Best Formation You’re Not Playing: The Dark Eldar Grotesquerie

Zyekian here again to bring you a hidden gem you may have missed in the Dark Eldar army, more specifically the Haemonculis Coven supplement that followed it.  Say what you will about the core Dark Eldar codex, the Coven book is solid and I’m about to tell you why.  And as always check out Frontline Gaming’s Tactics Corner for more tips on getting the most out of your army.


The Coven Supplement

Let’s get to it.  The Coven book has chops.  It’s seriously underrated in the 40k community though, likely because it lies in the shadow of the Dark Eldar codex’s mediocrity.  It’s been my experience that most 40k players have little or no awareness of the supplement even existing, a phenomenon aided by Games Workshop no longer selling the paper book.  The book remains on sale in iBook format for anyone interested so go check it out.

What the book does is expand on Haemonculi and their nefarious creations.  It’s a book with grim, disturbing fluff and an array of flavorful rules, most of which can be tools in a competitive 40k list.  There’s a basic Coven Coterie detachment with its own force organization chart as well as a half dozen formations with some interesting benefits.  This is where we see the powerful Corpsethief Claw formation.

The Coven book replaces the Dark Eldar Power From Pain table with its own version customized to the needs of the brutal but slow-witted creations, most notably fearless beginning turn two.  LD3 units never looked so brave.

Lastly every Coven unit comes with a special rule called Freakish Spectacle: Enemy units withing 12″ of one or more models from this detachment suffer a -1 penalty to their Leadership value.  This rule stacks by detachment, meaning it’s possible to overlap these bubbles for some rather imposing leadership debuffs.  This is key in some lists and I’ll tell you why in a moment.


The Coven Grotesque

Let’s take a look at what a 35-point Grotesque looks like.  And brace yourself for a tsunami of special rules.

  • WS4, BS1, S5, T5, W3, I4, A3, Ld3, Sv6+, 3-10 models
  • Abberation (sergeant) picks up +1A and +1Ld for 10 points


  • Flesh Gauntlet – melee, poisoned (4+), instant death on to-wound roll of 6
  • close combat weapon
  • One Grotesque may replace its close combat weapon with a Liquifier for 15 pts: S3, AP(d6), template.

Special Rules:

  • Feel No Pain (5+), increases to Feel No Pain (4+) when a Cronos Pain Engine is around
  • Rampage
  • Night Vision
  • Power from Pain
  • Bulky
  • Power from Pain adds one special rule per turn in this order beginning turn two: 2) Fearless, 3) Fear, 4) It Will Not Die, 5) Zealot, 6) Eternal Warrior.  Unlike conventional Dark Eldar these guys actually survive until late game to use this stuff.  Being in a unit with a Haemonculis accelerates this progression by one turn.

The Abberation can pick up a weapon from the Dark Eldar weapons of torture list though and this is where it gets interesting.  The most attractive options are the Scissorhand (poisoned rending CCW, threatens vehicles), and the Agonizer (poisoned AP3 CCW).  Remember that poison grants re-rolls to failed wounds when the wielder’s strength is greater than the target’s toughness.  An Abberation with up to nine AP3 attacks possibly re-rolling wounds, switching back to the flesh gauntlet as needed (which might also be re-rolling wounds) is a ferocious combatant.  Dark Eldar special weapons are powerful but often avoided because they often don’t last long on fragile HQs.  The Abberation has staying power like no other though so this is how you get your money’s worth.

As we can see Grotesques are big tough bags of meat that want to rip their opponents’ limbs off in close combat.  Especially when they have a cover save and a Cronos around they’re just not going anywhere.  Run them right into your opponents’ face, you want them to be shot at.  And with stacks of multi-wound models you can play wound allocation games to keep them upright even longer.


The Grotesquerie Formation

In case brutal five-attack instant death meatbags aren’t good enough…

Grotesquerie Formation:

  • Urien Rakarth or 1 Haemonculis
  • Two units of Grotesques

Special Rules:

  • Freakish Spectacle: -1 Ld bubble for all enemy units within 12″ of this detachment.
  • Latest Experiments: Roll a D6 and add even more twisted characteristics to your creations.
    • 1: Mauler Steroids: +1 Strength
    • 2: Subcutaneous Chitin: +1 Toughness
    • 3: Hyperstimm Glands: Fleet
    • 4: Flensing Claw: Shred
    • 5: Elixer of Distilled Fury: Rage
    • 6: Restructured Nervous System: Feel No Pain (4+)

The Flesh-Crafted and You

The Coven book uses the Dark Eldar allies chart.  Any Dark Eldar, Eldar, Harlequin, or Corsair list will gladly work with a Grotesquerie.

One of the greatest things about the Grotesquerie formation is its ease of use.  Barring any volume of S10 on the opponents’ side, charging this whole formation right up the middle of the board is often the best option.  Staying in terrain is key because their 6+ skin save isn’t likely to help.  Whenever a model takes a wound in the shooting phase, shuffle them the following round to keep the maximum number of models alive.  And don’t forget to roll IWND when it triggers mid-game to get some of those wounds back.

Grotesques can take Dark Eldar Raiders to zip across the map quickly possibly with a 3+ jink save.  Whether or not to use transports depends on the list, and while it’s the most reliable way to get a turn two charge it also brings a fragile unit into the list.  A pure Coven list has the opportunity to run exclusively high-durability units, making fragile Raiders into full-time bullet-catchers for smaller weapons that would otherwise have no attractive targets.  Plan on the Raiders being suicide skiffs and chortle happily if one survives turn two.

Once the Grotesques arrive they’ll force an opponents to focus focus on them.  This allow breathing room for objective-taking or getting other units into assault range.  And don’t be afraid to rampage into hordes and MCs alike, you’ve got the tools to take out a wide array of units.  Try charging them into Storm Surges and Wraithknights, pressuring them to make instant-death saves while the Haemonculis adds a flurry of rending attacks.

Aside from providing a safe and reliable spot to put a Haemonculis, the Grotesquerie provides a superb place for just about any space elf HQ.  This is where Succubi can be run truly effectively, piling on AP2 wounds where they’re really needed and combining her -2 Ld debuff from Armor of Misery with Freakish Spectace.  Eldar Spiritseers are a terrific addition because they can add shrouded for even more durability against shooting.  Phoenix Lords, Farseers, Eldrad, the Corsair Prince, and even lowly Yriel will work well in a pile of Grotesques.  The Abberation will also happily soak challenges when a fragile HQ would rather not risk the possibility of instant death.


The Clown Connection

Speaking of death, an embedded Harlequin Shadowseer using the -2 Ld debuff from the Mask of Secrets can one-shot a unit of two Stormsurges using the Mirror of Minds psychic power.  And it’s not even hard to do.

Mirror of Minds

24″ Focussed witchfire

The target model and the Shadowseer both roll a D6 and add their respective Leadership values to the result.  If the scores are drawn or the Shadowseer’s result is higher, the target suffers a single wound with no armor or cover saves allowed.  Repeat this process until either the target is slain or rolls a higher score than the Shadowseer.

With the Grotesquerie’s added -1 Ld from Freakish Spectacle, a Shadowseer with Mask will reduce a Stormsurge (or Wraithknight, etc) down to Leadership 6.  Mirror will keep wounding over and over until the thing is dead since the target has a mere 2.7% chance to break the spell each round.  In all likelihood the Seer will even drop a unit of two of them. If there are two or more coven detachments in the vicinity to stack Spectacle, the Shadowseer will end a Stormsurge just by looking at it. And that’s going to make you feel real good.


The Final Flesh

Despite their high durability and offensive output the Grotesquerie needs to avoid a few types of enemies.  Apart from matches where Latest Experiements bumps them up to higher toughness, S10 as well as other instant death attacks should be avoided.  Keeping inside cover is key.  Imperial Knights, force weapons, and hammer Wulfen require another answer from your list, so building in an alternate way to handle those units is important.  That being said, an Abberation with rending attacks is a threat to cut down a damaged Knight, as is an embedded Succubus with haywire grenades.  Pounce when the time is right.

The Grotesquerie is worth another look, folks.  New releases are shifting the meta again, making assault and counter-assault much more difficult to do without.  The flesh-crafted fit the bill and have real potential to bring some unexpected diversity to any army that can tolerate Dark Eldar allies.

So what are your experiences with this formation or Grotesques themselves?  Opinions on their place in the evolving meta?  Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!



29 Responses to “The Best Formation You’re Not Playing: The Dark Eldar Grotesquerie”

  1. Avatar
    Painjunky April 18, 2016 1:13 am #

    Nice article mate.

    Agree with almost all of it. Just take a closer look at those warlord traits you mentioned. The IWND is only on the HQ and his unit of grots, not all grots, and the reroll 1’s on FNP does not work on grots at all.

    Every DE player worth his salt knows, loves and has used the grotesquerie. I love this formation and if you can avoid the hard counters, like the ones you mentioned, they can and will make large holes inthe enemy lines and demand alot of attention!

    • Avatar
      zyekian April 18, 2016 1:52 am #

      Edited thanks.

      Yeah they can be really effective units in my experience. I ran them in a tournament against Skyhammr and ended up completely nullifying his formation. In another round my grotesques running a 4+ FnP completely soaked the opening turn of scatbike fire with no casualties.

    • Avatar
      DirtyDeeds April 19, 2016 5:10 am #

      They get ITWD on the Power from Pain table in the Coven book.

  2. Avatar
    C-Stock April 18, 2016 4:11 am #

    This is a great article. I think the most insightful part is the mentioning of the shifting meta toward assault-capable units. Hopefully some of this new space marine stuff will be modified by the ITC because it’s far more problematic than invisibility… But either way units like Grotesques are increasing in value significantly.

  3. Avatar
    abusepuppy April 18, 2016 4:31 am #

    Grots can hit fairly hard against some units and the -1Ld penalty is wonderful to have (especially when stacked with other, similar effects.) However, they suffer very badly against many of the melee options in the game these days, like Wraithknights, Imperial Knights, and Thunderwolves. They are resistant to some types of firepower (most especially grav and S9 or worse Ignores Cover weapons) but Scatter Bikes actually hit them pretty hard- the basic 3man unit does 2.6 wounds to them with no cover save (so probably more like 1.8 with cover), meaning a typical Eldar army should be killing three Grots with its Troop units alone.

    Also, as a point of note, Mirror of Minds can only ever kill a single model (unless the enemy LOSes some of the wounds away to other members of the squad.)

    • Avatar
      C-Stock April 18, 2016 5:17 am #

      When in cover plus FnP, maybe 4+ FnP, those scatbike wounds evaporate very quickly.

      • Avatar
        C-Stock April 18, 2016 5:20 am #

        Also two of the rolls in the grotesque formation make Grots more durable which changes the maths.

      • Avatar
        AbusePuppy April 18, 2016 9:43 am #

        Those numbers were assuming FNP already (and also no benefit of Doom, Guide, etc.)

  4. Avatar
    BobC April 18, 2016 4:51 am #

    I dont think they’re bad, I just think they are far too expensive for wjat they do.

  5. Avatar
    Beau April 18, 2016 5:05 am #

    I definitely feel Dark Eldar is under rated because of the meta. Fragile yes, but a good player that can range his opponent with venom + warrior spam, while using grotesques and pain engines to pin down enemies/protect the venoms can be really powerful. A few ravagers/scourges can pretty easily take out a knight per turn.

    Finesse armies get a bad rap for being hard to play. I had an interesting time a while back using KDK against Harlequins who everyone said was terrible. Sometimes all comers lists just don’t cut it nowadays.

  6. Avatar
    Vercingatorix April 18, 2016 5:30 am #

    Wow that mirror of minds is good. So if you get a unit of something down to Ld 5 then you auto kill it? Regardless of how good its save is? That’s incredible, how have I never heard of that. Is that a primaris and what chart does it pull from?

    • Avatar
      C-Stock April 18, 2016 5:45 am #

      Unfortunately it has to be rolled for from the Phantasmancy discipline, the Harlequin chart. I watched a person kill an unharmed WK with it at the LVO though, the player immediately snatched up the Harley book to see if it was legit. 🙂

      • Avatar
        C-Stock April 18, 2016 5:46 am #

        A single Shadowseer can one-shot a Tau’Nar with it.

      • Avatar
        Vercingatorix April 18, 2016 7:40 am #

        You could kill an entire full buffed screamerstar or an entire wolf star. It’s ridiculous. It’s the only thing in the game I know of that is capable of INFINITE wounds.

        • Avatar
          AbusePuppy April 18, 2016 9:44 am #

          No, you can’t- read the power. It only deals wounds to a single model.

          • Avatar
            Vercingatorix April 18, 2016 10:12 am

            Realized it almost as soon as I typed it. Still, It would be really satisfying to kill a re-rollable 2+, 2+ fnp chapter master with this. “Yeah, he’s going to keep taking wounds until he dies because my leadership is 5 higher than yours”

  7. Reecius
    Reecius April 18, 2016 8:34 am #

    Great article, buddy!

  8. Avatar
    Archon-Kalafex April 18, 2016 8:44 am #

    Don’t forget if you throw a Corsair Prince with these guys you can get a shimmershield which gives the whole unit a 5++. Basically becomes a 5++ rerollable save when you get FnP. I do this with Sslyth and it makes a nice durable backfield disruption.

    • Avatar
      Archon-Kalafex April 18, 2016 8:46 am #

      And you can purchase Armor of Misery with the Prince giving you an additional -2 to your Ld bubble.

    • Reecius
      Reecius April 18, 2016 9:34 am #

      Man, some great combos coming out of this conversation!

  9. Avatar
    The Beckoning Stone April 18, 2016 9:09 am #

    Grotesques + Shadowseer with Mirror + one other coven formation within 12″ = wipes Aaron Aleong’s death star instantly.

  10. Avatar
    gvcolor April 18, 2016 2:46 pm #

    Thoughts on number of Grotesques in each of the two units… ??

  11. Avatar
    Lord Krungharr April 18, 2016 4:25 pm #

    Grotti the Nurgling flying around on the back of a Nurgle prince coupled with a Lord of Skulls. That’s my only good way to end this nightmare !

    • Avatar
      bonesaww666 April 18, 2016 5:52 pm #

      Ally with Daemons and take the Plague Bell… -1Ld to all units on the table…

      • Avatar
        bonesaww666 April 18, 2016 5:53 pm #

        Revoke this, it would also take the Ld of the Eldar down.

        • Avatar
          Dakkath April 18, 2016 6:24 pm #

          They’re already ld3 and gaining fearless on turn 2, I don’t think -1 ld will affect them much.

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy April 18, 2016 8:36 pm

            You say that, and then someone Psychic Shrieks you for sixteen…

          • Avatar
            Dakkath April 19, 2016 4:56 am

            sixteen, fifteen, still equals ouch time

  12. Avatar
    Homeskillet April 20, 2016 7:21 am #

    Great article, agree 100%! I’ve been using a Grotesquerie in conjunction with a DE CAD (for obsec units), and it works great. Most likely not GT-winning great, but well enough to do very well in RTTs.

Leave a Reply