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The Emperor’s Children- their name alone invokes their grandiose pedigree, as even amongst the Legions only they performed so spectacularly as to be granted the honor of the Emperor of Mankind’s name. It is a horrifying contrast, then, to see how debased and degraded they have come to be now, willing to partake of any drug or atrocity if it will even marginally excite their withered passions. They are hedonists, but gain little pleasure from any but the most extreme of indulgences and actions.
Well, that’s the Imperial line, anyways- loyal followers of the Prince of Excess know that they are merely explorers in this life, bound to chart every corner and continent of the wild sensoria that all living things are party to. In the most ephemeral and revolting they search for the most eternal and sublime parts of life, chasing an enlightenment that few understand.
In the context of the game the Emperor’s Children are one of the seven Traitor Legions featured in the Chaos Space Marines codex and the exemplars of the Chaos God Slaanesh. All units in an Emperor’s Children detachment must have the Slaanesh keyword if possible, and units with the Nurgle, Khorne, or Tzeentch keywords cannot be included in such a detachment- unlike laissez fair legions such as the Alpha Legion or Word Bearers, they tolerate no deviance other than the kinds that they so eagerly embrace.
The Emperor’s Children are blessed with what is arguably the second-best (or perhaps third-best, depending on how you count them) of the Legion Traits- Flawless Perfection. Units with this trait always fight first during the Fight phase, just as units that charged have. The practical outfall of this is that while it unfortunately offers you no advantage when charging (since you were striking first anyways), it’s excellent on ensuing turns of combat or when you are charged by the enemy, since it saves you those 2CP to interrupt them. One interesting thing to note is that the enemy cannot interrupt your units with the Counter-Offensive stratagem on turns that you don’t charge, so once combat is going you’ll always strike first unless they have an ability of their own. It’s not as great as the Alpha Legion’s ability to penalize enemy shooting across the board, but if you’re building your list right you should still get a ton of mileage out of it, since a lot of Slaaneshi units are great at being shooting/melee generalists.
Unfortunately, not all of the EC’s unique pieces fare as well. They have what is probably one of the worst warlord traits, Stimulated by Pain. You get +1 Attack every time you take a wound… which is great, except that it caps at +3, you lose them if you heal the wound, and your guys always strike first already anyways so you probably won’t have taken any wounds when you initially get to swing. You’re probably better off just taking Exalted Champion for +1A (or Flames of Spite or something else) if you’re looking for an offensive boost, since it will be much more reliable.
III. Da Capo
They are cursed with a pretty bad relic as well, the Blissgiver. Replacing a Bolt Pistol, it is an Assault d6 weapon that can fire into/out of combat- that’s a nice start. But its range is only 6″, well below that of most other pistols, and its only other real bonus over a standard Bolt Pistol is its -1AP. If it does happen to wound a character- something of a small miracle, given you still need to be the closest model to them- it has a one in six chance of doing d3 mortal wounds to them. So when that thing that never happens happens, you have a very small chance of another incredibly unlikely thing happening. That’s… not great. The other option available is the Intoxicating Elixir, which is available to any Slaaneshi model. Its bonuses are more straightforward- one extra pip in Attacks and Strength, making your model into a better fighter overall. It’s an interesting choice whether you want the Elixir or an upgrade weapon relic- Elixir is good for someone with a Power Sword, but it would have to be weighed against taking The Murder Sword (which also offers +1Str while simultaneously having -4AP and the ability to do mortal wounds to a particular model.) The Black Mace is also arguably a much stronger choice, since it gets the character up to Dmg2 with their attacks. However, if you’re looking at a Daemon Prince (who won’t be able to get most other relics) or someone with a Power Fist then it ends up being a pretty decent option, I think.
The stratagems available to the Children are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have Endless Cacophony (usable by any Slaanesh Infantry unit) which is arguably one of the strongest strats in the game. For 2CP, one of your units can shoot a second time at the end of the shooting phase- not only is it cheaper than the melee version, but with the variety of excellent shooting units available (Obliterators, Terminators, Noise Marines, etc) you’ll rarely lack for choices. On the other hand, Excess of Violence is a rather niche stratagem unique to the EC themselves. It is thankfully only a single command point, but its effect is rather limited as well- when one of your EC units attacks in melee, every successful kill gives them a bonus attack. That’s pretty good if you’re piling on a big unit like Conscripts or Boyz that you can kill easily and chain into more swings, but against other Marines and whatnot it will hardly get you anything at all.
Last but not least, don’t forget that the FAQs have added some very important additions/corrections to the army. The codex FAQ has reinstated the ability of an Emperor’s Children army to take Noise Marines as troops, which gives you access to an excellent tool for filling out a battalion or brigade while bringing lots of firepower. The Forge World FAQ also gives their Helbrutes the option to equip themselves with sonic weaponry, another powerful option that allows you some excellent shooting options for the unit.
So, which units should an Emperor’s Children army include, thematically and/or mechanically speaking? Well, thankfully the two overlap reasonably well in the new codex, so we don’t have to fight with ourselves too hard about which way we want to go. Generally speaking, you have two main pathways open to you- the legion trait benefits units that fight in melee, but the stratagems and unique units definitely incline the army towards a more shooting-centric force. I find that the best way to take advantage of the tools you’ve been presented with is to do a hybrid of both- bring units that are at least reasonably effective in either phase as needed.
Noise Marines are, of course, a prime candidate here; with two attacks apiece they are pretty fair combatants at short ranges and a quick Power Axe or Power Fist on the champion puts them in a great place during most fights. (Don’t forget Death to the False Emperor, which will net you some bonus attacks against any Imperial unit- and there are plenty of those running around out there.) Many people run their Noise Marines with only this minimal kit, essentially using them as “suicide bombs” to crash into the enemy lines and do a ton of damage using Music of the Apocalypse to throw a grenade with every member of the squad as they die. My preference, however, is to equip them as true generalists: give every member of the unit a Sonic Blaster (or the heavier Blastmaster, for those who can) and giving the champion an upgraded melee weapon. Not only does this give you expanded options at longer ranges- three shots out to 24″!- it also serves you doubly once you start getting killed off and Music of the Apocalypse triggers.
Another favorite unit for a lot of EC players are the humble Terminators. Though we don’t get “specialist” Terminators the way some of the other legions do, even just the basic versions are actually virtually perfect for what we want. They come with a good melee weapon (upgradeable to nearly anything in the armory) and a Combi-Bolter, which itself spits out a terrifying number of shots. However, every member of the squad can also swap into a Combi-Melta, Plasma, or Flamer, allowing you to get some absolutely horrifying numbers of shots laid down against many different kinds of targets depending on your needs. While the unit certainly isn’t cheap, dropping in ten Combi-Plasmas and shooting with them twice can incinerate most anything you dislike.
Bikers can also do this dualist job quite well and end up being very nearly as tough as Terminators thanks to gaining a second wound- and with up to three special weapon in a squad (counting the champion), you can put some serious hurt onto the enemy from almost any angle needed. They’re also an excellent fit for the legion as a whole, what with Doom Rider being a thing and all; just make sure you give them all Chainswords so they don’t get bogged down with a garbage unit and they should be fine.
Obliterators don’t benefit as much from the melee abilities of the legion, but they are still a very powerful choice just for the ability to drop in and doubletap a target (or wipe out two targets) with Endless Cacophony. Losing the Power Fist from their previous incarnation is sad, but with their guns being Assault 4 now they are a pretty hefty hitter and can’t realistically be ignored by the opponent without watching large chunks of their army evaporate away.
Cultists are the other half of the coin from Oblits- most stratagems aren’t much use to them (though, of course, they very much love Insane Bravery and Tide of Traitors, and even Veterans of the Long War occasionally) but they absolutely adore the legion trait. Let’s not be coy about it: model for model, Cultists are pretty much garbage and don’t really do a lot, but what they lack in quality they make up for in slavering hordes of drug addicts, sensation junkies, and impromptu mosh pits. Cultists always get the worst jobs in the army, like absorbing charges from whatever scary assault unit the enemy is trying to throw into your lines, and getting to swing ahead of things means that they actually have a chance at inflicting some attrition damage to that unit before they are hilariously murdered to death. And really, you don’t have to inflict a lot of damage with them in order to be coming out ahead- kill like one Terminator and you’re golden.
Last on our list is the Helbrute– and yes, like his loyalist brothers he does in fact benefit from legion tactics, though other vehicles in the army do not. The Dreadnought chassis is cheaper and tougher than ever this edition, which is good news for the Helbrute, but there are a lot of factors going into this guy being useful. You can put a pair of Blastmasters onto him (typically accompanied by a Missile Launcher on the other side, to make him into a multirole shooter) thanks to the Forge World FAQ, and even a Doom Siren if you’re feeling really sassy. But you also have the Crazed special rule (which gives you a 15% chance of getting a free shooting or melee turn in a phase where you take damage) and the Fire Frenzy stratagem, which for a singular command point doubles your number of shots on a turn so long as you didn’t move and fire them at the nearest target. So if you want, a Helbrute can throw down 4d3 shots for d3 damage apiece and two more shots doing d6 damage each, all for a mere 137pts- not too shabby at all, I would have to say.
Of course, these aren’t the only units that Emperor’s Children can take advantage of- any infantry unit that can get a lot of shots or attacks is a great target for the Veterans of the Long War/Endless Cacophony combo, and every melee unit has the potential to make good use of Flawless Perfection to go ahead of its opponents. But these are certainly the ones I’ve had the most success with, and I think they fit the overall profile of the legion the best.
So, how does all of this boil out in tournament play? How good are Emperor’s Children in actual play- are they worth pursuing, or are other legions going to fare better? There’s a lot of parts to that question, so let’s see if we can’t tackle it bit by bit.
EC have a lot of nontrivial advantages- their Helbrutes and Noise Marines are both almost strictly better than those of other legions, all other things aside. If you’re taking a mixed force of Chaos units- as has been very common these days- then there’s a good argument for making them part of your “base” in order to make best use of these units. While neither of them are reknowned for being top-tier these days, I think that the stratagems in the Chaos Space Marines book make them potentially very, very strong units that can inflict an immense amount of damage in a very short period of time. While the Ignores Cover feature of sonic weapons is no longer as strong as it once was (though it’s still not completely trivial), the raw profiles of those weapons are still quite strong and the built-in abilities to return fire when they take damage can be a game-changer, as any one who has fought against Ynnari will know all to well.
However, Alpha Legion are a strong competitor in choice of legions- their legion trait is inarguably stronger, as is their unique stratagem. Moreover, they have the flexibility of being able to align their units however they want to take advantage of stratagems and buffs and they get a better relic to boot. So you have to weigh all of that against the advantages of an improved Troop choice and better weapon options on one vehicle. I don’t think it’s as obvious of a “duh of course Alphas are better” choice as it stands at first glance, but it’s a hard call to say that Emperor’s Children aren’t fighting an uphill battle in this sort of situation.
I’ve had some solid success with CSM using Emperor’s Children, and I think it’s very possible to do well with them. There are surprisingly-few tools that you end up missing out on even if you go “pure,” and like every legion they are most than capable of taking advantage of allies from Daemons and Renegades to fill gaps in the army or simply use some of the powerful units around. I’m not sure if they’re the strongest legion, but they’re certainly top two.
If you’re looking for an army with some great and hilarious modeling possibilities as well as excellent functionality on the table, Emperor’s Children are a great choice. Chaos ain’t the whipping boy of the game anymore, so break out all them Guitarmarines and get ready to play in the end of the world.
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