Alright so finally the time has come to do some unit reviews! I am Ahkris and today’s installment of my Death Guard tactica series will be all about the Foetid Bloat-Drone and the Plagueburst Crawler. Check the Tactics Corner for more great reviews!
The reason this first unit review covers them both is because in my opinion they fill very comparable roles within the army and can be interchanged quite easily. The other reason is that in my opinion either option equipped with plaguespitters is an absolute all star in any Death Guard army to a point where i build many lists around them. So let’s take a look at them!
Foetid Bloat Drone
Labouring through the air on buzzing turbines and driven by the trapped essence of a Nurgle Daemon, the Foetid Bloat-drone drifts towards the enemy like an armoured plague fly. This hideous war engine bears monstrous weapons onto the battlefield to annihilate the enemies of the Death Guard. Clad in rusting plates of rot-iron armour, their hulls overflowing with flabby foulness, Foetid Bloat-drones can withstand ferocious amounts of punishment and still keep fighting. The introduction of 8th edition 40k also introduced us to the Death Guard as its own standalone army with its own faction specific units. Many of the 8th edition starter sets (Dark Imperium, Know no Fear) prominently feature the Foetid Bloat Drone and make them very easy and cheap to get. Check out these awesome Bloat Drones painted by the Frontline Gaming painting studio.
I will not post their entire stat block online as you probably will have your own codex or index, and the GW legal team will hunt me down if i do throw it online. But let us have a look at the story that the bloat drones statistics tell us: Toughness. Bloat drones are 10 wounds a pop featuring a 3+ save, 5++ invulnerable save and the pretty standard 5+ Death Guard Disgustingly Resilient. This means that they are difficult to wound, and once wounded by high AP weaponry they still shrug off 5 out of 9 (55.5%) damage. The bloat drone is a vehicle with the daemon engine, daemon and fly keywords. This means that it can fall back and still fire its weapons, move over units, land on top of ruins where any non fly vehicles such as dreadnoughts can not get to it as well as meaning it benefits from various psychic powers and other things that benefit Nurgle Daemons such as Epidemius. For more info on those interactions check out my previous article, Augmenting Nurgles Rot.
Bloat drones do come with a degrading profile, lowering their movement, strength and attacks as they go down in wounds. In my experience there is little to no difference between its full health and first wounded profile. You lose a little bit of movement but at that point you probably are in range already anyway. You also lose some strength and an attack which hardly makes a difference. It is only once you get to the last 1-2 wound profile that the drone noticeably gets crippled. Once you get past this point the drone explodes on a 4+, meaning your little guy who loves to be in close range is likely to take some enemies with him as he goes.
Every single Foetid Bloat Drone comes with a Plague Probe plus one of three main armament options. The Plague Probe is a Plague Weapon (so rerolling 1’s to wound) at Strength User, Ap-2 and Damage D3. Due to the drones low weapon skill of 4+ and few number attacks that have a degrading profile as well this is not going to set the world on fire. Its alright as far as vehicle melee weapons go and it often comes in handy when you flame a unit to death with plaguespitters and then attacks a weaker character in melee combat, but even then it often is a 50/50 whether you kill them or no. It is better than nothing and lets you do some damage before falling back with the fly keyword and lighting the enemy up with your proper weapon.
We then have our choice of main armament.
Two Plaguespitters: These are the default option and the option that the snap fit drones in the various starter kits come with. It also happens to be my favourite option by far. They each automatically hit d6 times with the assault rule, meaning you can advance your drone 10+d6” and fire your 8” range weapons no caring about hit modifiers or anything like that. This means on average you will be doing 7 hits with this weapon but it is worth remembering you can split its shots. These 2d6 automatic hits come in at strength user with the plague weapon rule, so rerolling 1’s to wound. You are wounding any eldar, guardsmen, daemon infantry etc on a two up rerollable. Even space marines standing near mortarion get wounded on a two up rerollable. The plaguespitters come with an AP of 1 and Damage 1.
Fleshmower: This is the greatest name for a weapon in all of 40k, no debate. This evil looking frankenstein death contraption is a melee weapon that lets you fight an additional 6 times in close combat. Sadly you still need to pay points for the Plague Probe while you will be attacking with this instead every single time. So by giving up your ranged weapon you attack 9 – 7 times depending on your wound profile at Strength +2, AP-2, Damage 2. The immediate downside is the drones low weapon skill of 4+, immediately reducing this to 4 hits on average. These attacks can be improved by things such as blades of putrefaction and are pretty good against things with a higher toughness such as Rhinos.
Heavy Blight Launcher: Assault 6 S6 Ap-2 D D3 plague weapon with a very good range to boot. This gives you an option of making a drone for backfield control. Death Guard usually are not a very fast army and this drone can move 10+d6”, still fire its weapon at full capacity, zip around and capture points, score objectives etc. This option really gets let down however by the poor damage output. Assault 6 means you are on average with a BS of 4+ netting 3 hits. On average you barely put one wound onto a Rhino in a single shooting phase. And you have to keep in mind that these drones do not come in cheap enough to have one do no damage an entire game.
All in all the plague spitters are my favourite option. Automatically hitting attacks really helps putting in a lot of volume of wounds, and the weapon is very versatile. You can shoot your spitters, hop into combat, fall back with fly and keep on spitting plagues. You have a very large threat range and your overwatch is a force to be reckoned with. The fleshmower option would have been improved a lot if the DG had access to a stratagem like the CSM Daemonforge one. Right now you can add blades of putrefaction but even then it is probably best cast elsewhere. If you are using Epidemius or a Herald of Nurgle to buff the drones strength you not only would be buffing the Fleshmower option, the plaguespitters come at strength user and would benefit from this as well. Overall the fleshmower lowers your threat range and damage output against most infantry. In turn it however does give you a solid anti transport option. The blight launcher had a lot of potential for a mobile backfield artillery piece but falls flat due to its very very low damage output.
Mortarion himself perfected the designs for the first Plagueburst Crawlers as a labour of pure spite. The Death Lord sought to create a superlative mobile artillery piece that would outclass any comparative Imperial weapon, and thus demonstrate the Death Guard’s superiority over their corpse-worshipping former kin. So right off the bat this flavour text tells us that the Crawler is meant to be an artillery piece, and many players call the crawler “the Death Guard Vindicator thing”. Let’s find out what really is going on with one of the best tanks in not only our arsenal, but the entire game.
The Plagueburst Crawler comes with 12 wounds and features a 3+ save, 5++ invulnerable save and once again the 5+ Death Guard Disgustingly Resilient save. Pretty much the same as the bloat drone other than having a pair of wounds extra. The major difference however is that the Crawler comes in at a whopping Toughness 8. If you thought the drone was tough, this takes it a whole step further! This vehicle once again is a daemon engine with the Nurgle keyword, making it play nice with Epidemius etc. The Crawler features a degrading profile, lowering its movement, strength and BS as it goes down in wounds. The big loser here is its mobility. While it starts at a 9” movement range its movement characteristic takes way harder losses as you go down in the chart than the drone does. Its degrading ballistic skill profile also means that its very meagre BS4+ becomes a 5+ as soon as it hits halfway. On the flip side the crawler does have a higher strength.
The Plagueburst Crawler comes with its signature weapon, the plagueburst mortar. This mortar is a heavy D6 plague weapon that can fire out of line of sight at S8 AP-2 D D3. You then get a choice of front mounted machine gun in the form of the Rothail volley gun or the Heavy slugger. Overall these two weapons do pretty much the same thing and this is not a major choice. The major choice that has to be made when it comes to the Plagueburst Crawler is its sponsons.
Entropy cannons: Heavy 1 S8 AP-4 D D6. Pretty much a las cannon. If you grab two of these on the sponsons the Crawler becomes the promised artillery piece, but i certainly would not call it mobile. The plagueburst crawler does not have a rule that lets it move and ignore the penalty to shoot heavy weapons, meaning its very bad BS of 4+ becomes a 5+ the second you move or are wounded. If you are wounded and move that 5+ becomes a 6+. But let us assume you park the crawler on an objective, dont move all game and just shoot. While you are not in a lower wound profile your ballistic skill is still a 4+. You would have a mortar, shooting D6 for an average of 3.5 shots resulting in 1.75 hits. You then have two entropy cannons resulting in 1 hit. The heavy slugger then adds another 2 heavy bolter hits to that. That’s alright but not very exciting for the price point in my opinion. And that damage output drops drastically as soon as you get wounded. Moreover it might be my local meta, but every other game i am playing against Alpha Legion, Stygies VIII, Alaitoc Eldar, Tzeentch Daemons with a changeling, Dark Angels with a Darkshroud, Raven Guard, flyers such as Stormravens…. Your mileage may vary but in my local meta a BS of 4+ degrading and not ignoring heavy penalties just does not cut the mustard.
Plaguespitters: Surprise surprise, i love plaguespitters! Reece talked about using the crawler with plaguespitters on the crawler a while back ago on an episode of Signals from the Frontline and how good it is. My initial reaction was that surely the mortar wants to stand still and be an artillery piece, the frontal machinegun wants to stand still and shoot, why add a weapon that suddenly wants to rush forward?! Surely it makes the crawler very schizophrenic and weird in its role. The simple answer to that is that you just stop caring about its other weapons. A plagueburst crawler with a pair of plague spitters, heavy slugger and plagueburst mortar costs only 140 points. This is cheaper than a Foetid Bloat Drone with two spitters and on a platform that is more durable. The spitters are strength user so have a higher strength on the Crawler as well. You can advance 9+D6” and auto hit your flamers 8” away, bypassing all the to-hit shenanigans. The crawler once locked in combat lacks the fly keyword from the Drone, but its overwatch is just as good as its regular shooting and it takes a lot to bring one of these boys down, meaning you can just fall back and force the enemy to charge into your plague spitter overwatch again or leave you free to go.
Crawler or Drone?
If you want a backfield shooting unit my advice would be to take neither and to look into either the Predator or shooty Hellbrutes. So let us compare what i think is the best option for both the Drones as well as the Crawler: two plaguespitters. These two units fulfill very similar roles, use the same main weapon, cost pretty much the same amount of points. Which one do i think is better? So lets list some of the differences and who comes out ahead.
|Mobility||More movement, has fly keyword||Movement profile degrades faster, cant move through ruins|
|Damage output||Can fallback from combat and keep firing its flamers||Higher strength, has additional ranged weapons|
|Durability||Extremely solid||2 extra wounds and higher toughness. T8 versus small arms fire makes a large difference as well as against overcharged plasma and melta.|
|Melee combat||Has a decent melee weapon that hits on 4+||No dedicated melee weapon, hits on 6+|
|Model||$10-15 from Know no Fear or Dark Imperium||$65|
|Size||Smaller model and smaller base. Can fly over enemies and still fit in small gaps, fits in ruins, fits easier in confined spaces next to daemon princes Mortarion etc.||Larger model, harder to get cover saves.|
Both of these units are very tough, with the Crawler lasting a bit longer than the drone. So let’s compare them in a couple of scenarios. I picked four scenarios that are fairly common. Small arms fire at strength 4, las cannons, hyper efficient high volume medium strength shooting (Guilliman + razorbacks), hyper efficient high strength and damage shooting (Guilliman + las cannons). Of course there are many other scenarios to look at but i feel this is a decent representation. All of this assumes average rolls.
- Bolter shots needed to kill a drone: 203
- Bolter shots needed to kill a crawler: 486
- Las cannons needed to kill a drone: 15
- Las cannons needed to kill a crawler: 18
- Assault cannon shots w/ Bobby G to kill a drone: 61 (5 razorbacks)
- Assault cannon shots w/ Bobby G to kill a crawler: 73 (6 razorbacks)
- Las cannon shots w/ Bobby G to kill a drone: 9
- Las cannon shots w/ Bobby G to kill a crawler: 10
The crawler is also a bit cheaper than the drone, meaning you can get more crawlers for your points (or additional items next to your crawlers). Just to put into perspective how tough this 140 point tank is: a 350 point Landraider takes 9 las cannons to kill it whereas the crawler takes 10! And yes the Landraider has a transport capacity etc but it is 40k’s posterboy for a tough tank.
Where the durability section told you how the crawler is the better option, this section will tell you how the drone is the better option. Not only is the drone faster and does it stay faster, it has the fly keyword. You can get through ruins, jump on top of buildings, move over the enemy screen and start flaming characters or other valuable targets. There will be turns where a Crawler with its movement can not get into range while a Drone can, making the difference between doing no damage and doing quite a lot of damage. While a crawler that gets locked in combat can fall back and try to force the enemy to charge again, it can surrounded and it gives the initiative to your enemy: he is the person who decides what they throw into the crawler again. The drone can fall back with fly over whatever unit and start putting wounds into the target you need that damage to go. A crawler might flame away some of a conscript screen, get charged, fall back, get charged again by the conscripts (flaming them in overwatch), fall back, get charged again. The drone might in this situation jump over the conscripts and get into combat with the manticors standing behind them, preventing their shooting for a turn. Or if locked in combat might jump over them with fly and shoot his flamers at a tempestor prime, astropath, primaris psyker, heavy weapons squad etc.
Overall i think the strength of both of these units lie with their insane durability, and while they fulfill very similar roles it is worthwhile to think about which one suits your army better. The ranged options on both the crawler and the drone dont do it for me and i would rather have a shooty hellbrute if that were my objective. The fleshmower seems like a lot of fun and like it can have its place within the army, it just lowers the units target variety a bit. Blades of Putrefaction and/or Virulent Blessing cast on a Foetid Bloat Drone with Fleshmower can really unexpectedly start dealing a lot of damage to larger targets such as a Knight.
Equipped with plaguespitters these units really put a lot of pressure on the opponent due to their decent damage output combined with their absolutely top of the line durability. I believe that they should be absolute staples in the mid field to any (competitive) Death Guard army. While the crawler is tougher and cheaper I believe that a good player will be able to do more with the additional benefits of the bloat drone, mainly the fly keyword. However these units are not mutually exclusive and taking a healthy mix such as 2 drones and 1 crawler or even 3 drones and 2 crawlers works very well.
So let me know what do you think about the Drone and the Crawler! Do you too believe they have a solid place in the competetive meta game right now? Do you instead run them with shooting weapons and if so, why?
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