It’s new release weekend and that means Adam (Loopy) is back to talk about how the new Harlequins Codex will affect your narrative games.
Dance Magic, Dance
To chronicle the formation of the Harlequins is to chronicle the history of the Aeldari altogether. We don’t have that kind of time, so I’ll try to be succinct.
Many of the Aeldari factions who survived the Fall of their galaxy-spanning society developed distinct means of survival. The Craftworlds have been protected by their foresight and their vessels. The Drukhari have sequestered themselves in the webway and replenished their souls with agonising sensation. The Exodites cast themselves to the outer reaches of the galaxy where they could eke out a puritanical way of life in the hopes of being the seeds of renewal for their species.
The followers of Cegorach, the Laughing God, took a different tack. As performance artists of the highest calibre, the powerful irony of the fall was not lost on them. However, rather than despair, the Harleqins have sworn to destroy She Who Thirsts and any who would follow him. They will stop at nothing to have their revenge.
The Harlequins as a fighting force are unique as a whole, but some of their key aspects do have correllaries in the Imperium: the Deathwatch, Grey Knights, and Officio Assassinorum.
Like the Deathwatch, the Harlequins are a highly elite force. A single Harlequin is ostensibly as effective as several common Aeldari. Like the Grey Knights, the Harlequins are laser focused on their convictions and their goals. They are unwavering in their quest to thwart the machinations of Slaanesh.
Like the Assassins, the Harlequins are lithe and slippery — they rely on speed and agility for protection and to gain a tactical advantage on the battlefield. Sure, heavy power armour or a chitinous shell is all well and good, but being able to flit from cover to cover and remain totally unseen to much of the enemy’s army is another thing entirely.
The most interesting thing about their modus operandi, however (and I may have buried the lead here) is the fact that they wage war according to a well-orchestrated series of actions called saedath. The saedath ebbs and flows with the tide of battle and represents, allegorically, actual Aeldari plays. What’s more, they do it all dressed in full motley. Harlequin Masques (large formations of Harlequins) are arrayed in squads called Troupes and each member is referred to as a Player. Each Player has a role to assume in the saedath. We’ll talk more on this later, but I strongly recommend reading through the codex to learn more about how this works.
Jump Magic, Jump
Like other Aeldari, the Harlequins harness the convenience of the Webway to traverse the galaxy. Cegorach is thought to be the only being in existence who knows the true layout of the webway and he imparts that knowledge to his Shadowseers as needed. The webway allows these warriors often appear at just the right place and time to assist their kin (and other factions for that matter) in the battle against the Prince of Pleasure. The Harlequins are certainly not picky about who they will fight with, particularly among other Eldar. They fight against Slaanesh as much as they fight for the survival of their own species. Such is their hatred.
With this knowledge comes the the charge of the Harlequins to defend a pocket in the Webway called the Black Library. This is a realm of impossible dimension. It is a vault for countless priceless secrets which is coveted by many.
As I’ve said in other articles, when coming up with your army’s ongoing narrative you need to keep in mind their motivations. Of course, with any Aeldari, the survival of their species is always of paramount importance, but the Harlequins are laser focused on their war against Slaanesh. Try to tie a little bit of that into the story. Even if your opponent or your team-mate in the game doesn’t have much to offer in the way of a story hook, you can always justify it by saying that something in the skeins of fate will change if the battle goes one way or the other.
Another fun thing to do might be to come up with a bunch of saedath of your own and weave them into not only your battle plans, but your mission objectives. It might be that your play requires certain units to be eliminated at specific times before an “act” in the saedath can be considered complete. Perhaps your Troupe Master must face the enemy Warlord in single combat, representing a pivotal scene in the story.
Of course, battles in the Webway are the bread and butter of the Harlequins backstory. Any truly motivated Harlequins hobbyist should seriously consider building a Zone Mortalis board to represent the Webway or even the Black Library itself.
Involving the Webway in your games is made even easier by the inclusion of the Webway Gate Fortification in the new Harlequins Codex. Of course, in your narrative games you can decide either to add a gate onto the battlefield as an objective both you and your opponent fight over or include it in your army for the indicated power level or points. Depending on the mission and whether or not you are using points, you may want to even use Reserve Points to bring units in through the portalinstead of including them in your army or use the Webway Portal as a method of adjudicating the Sustained Assault Narrative Play Mission Rule, except it could work for either the Attacker or Defender. Of course, you can always just use the Webway Assault stratagem in your regular games.
Like the Deathwatch of old, Harlequins do often work in small groups, so don’t be afraid to start your Harlequins narratives with a single Troupe allied to a greater Aeldari force. Several Troupes have been entrenched with Ynnari forces and others of their kin during recent conflicts against the ruinous powers. You can increase your Harlequins’ involvement in the narrative as your collection (and your story) grows.
Building an Army
I am big into batch painting. I often paint more than fifty models in a go. When it comes to the Harlequins, however, I strongly recommend you do not batch paint. If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably the kind of person who isn’t just cranking these models out to use in a tournament. You want to tell a story with them. You want them to have some character.
I would build this army one unit at a time, starting with a single Troupe. The Codex gives a great example of a fully painted Troupe and then, on the next page, an example of a fleshed-out Masque. You may even want to use your first Troupe in a game or two of Shadow War: Armageddon (or whatever flavour of skirmish 40k you prefer).
More than most other armies, the Harlequins truly are an army of Characters. When building your models, look at each one and think about the kind of part they would play. There’s no need to get too granular and don’t be afraid to harness common tropes or even think about your favourite actors. The options in the Harlequins sprues are varied. Select your Players’ heads and weapon options carefully and match them with their personality. You may even want to steal some heads from other Aeldari (or Aelf) models in the Warhammer catalogue. As for the weapons, if you look at the Troupe entry in the Codex, you’ll see it’s very hard to accidentally select an illegal option.
After each Troupe, consider doing something different such as a unit of Skyweaver jetbikes or a Starweaver transport. This will help break up your hobby into manageable chunks. Although hobby is supposed to be fun and relaxing, I can see where doing Troupe after Troupe might make you numb.
There’s really no need to have more than one each of the Death Jester or Solitaire in your collection (unless you really want to) because they play the unique roles of Death and Slaanesh respectively.
You may also want to build one of your Troupe Masters with a significant and unique air about them so that you can use the Great Harlequin Stratagem on them which allows that character to take on the role of Cegorach in the forthcoming saedath. Of course, the cool thing about this being a Stratagem is that you can assign it to whomever you like from battle to battle. Perhaps you could include a special rule in your campaign where each of your Troupe Masters collect Applause Points and whichever character has the most Applause at the start of the battle is given the honour of playing Cegorach. There’s no need for hard rules on how to award (or remove) these points – just do so whenever the mood takes you. You might even want to change the Form you use based on which character is the Troupe Master.
Although the Harlequins faction specifically lacks things like Wraithknights and Flyers, I think you’ll find it very easy to weave Craftworld and Drukhari units into your army using the various Auxiliary Detachments. I have seen some truly breathtaking models done up in Harlequin schemes. Although these things are not specifically called out in the Lore, your personal narrative is only limited by your imagination.
Do also note that the Webway Gate Fortification only has the Aeldari faction keyword and only Aeldari are mentioned in its special rules, so it is open for use by any of your Aeldari units. Although most narrative gamers would likely have ignored any Harlequin-specific restriction anyways, this is a wise design choice.
A Confusing Panoply of Weapons
Whenever I’ve looked at building a Harlequins army, I’ve been endlessly confused about which weapons I should equip the models with. I strongly recommend checking out the weaponry on pages 10 and 11 to get a detailed idea of what they do. I’ll summarize here, though.
Harlequin’s Kiss: This weapon is kind of a macro-syringe that has a coiled monofilament wire inside it. The bearer stabs their opponent, then blends their insides with the wire. Gross. But knowing what it does, the name does make sense.
Harlequin’s Embrace: The name of this weapon is fairly apt as well. The Embrace shoots a web of monofilament wires kind of like those borne by Warp Spiders and Night Spinners.
Harlequin’s Caress: These are just a pair of bracers that allow the Harlequin to phase their hands through the enemy’s body and pluck out their internal organs. That is just incredible.
Harlequin’s Blade: These look kind of like Power Swords, so you may want to use glow effects of some kind when modeling your Power Swords and just simple silver for the Harlequin’s Blades. Troupe Players are all armed with Harlequin’s Blades from the get-go. They don’t provide an extra attack or other special rule, though the Players themselves have four attacks, so it kind of seems like it’s built into the profiles. Although I do love the Aeldari Chainsword, I think these are far more elegant-looking and better fit the Harlequin aesthetic.
Shooty things: Whatever form of radiation that is projected by the crystalline Neuro Disruptor pistol must be pretty exotic. It overloads the victim’s nervous system and they collapse like a vegan cake. The Prismatic Cannon is a fancy, variable-aperture laser cannon that shoots doom rainbows. Neat. The Haywire Cannon shoots electromagnetic bolts from a pitchfork lightning rod at the end. It is designed to combat vehicles and looks super rad.
What Kind of Magic Spells to Use
Like the Deathwatch, the Harlequins Codex focuses mainly on a handful of core units and provides many ways to outfit or affect those units to combat threats on the battlefield. What’s important to us is that, regardless of how you do this, the Harlequins must feel fast and beguiling no matter what pieces of the army you choose to build with. Has the codex lived up to that promise?
Slime and Snails or Puppy Dog’s Tails
If you want beguiling, the Harlequins have that, if you’ll forgive the pun, in spades. Wherever you look in the Codex, you’ll find ways to make your models feel like they are a blur on the battlefield, as they should be.
All of the models themselves reflect the Harlequins’ vaporous nature thanks to their Holographic wargear providing them 4+ invulnerable saves (3+ for the Solitaire) and you can boost this using the Prismatic Blur stratagem.
The Phantasmancy Discipline boasts some really cool abilities to reflect the confusion that the Harlequins bring to the battlefield. The Fog of Dreams power which targets an enemy unit and causes a penalty for them to hit any Harlequins, which is really great considering the Shadowseer will likely have some kind of idea which unit they really don’t want shooting at anyone. To compound this, there’s also Veil of Tears which targets a friendly Harlequins unit for a further penalty to hit. While these powers only affect Infantry, your Vehicles and Bikes come equipped with Mirage Launchers which basically are basically a persistent Veil of Tears.
As if that were not enough, the Shadowseer has a persistent ability called Shield from Harm which provides a penalty to wound nearby infantry. Normally, an aura like this would seem rather limited due to its range, but a Shadowseer’s 8” movement makes this a lot easier to stomach.
Several Masque Forms, which you pick for each of your Detachments, have abilities that enhance your army’s tricksy behaviour. All of these Forms are extremely fun and thematic. My favourite is probably the Veiled Path who are Riddle-Smiths. Their symbol is an inverted question mark/arrow combination. These clowns have an ability similar to that of Tzeentch Daemons: at the start of the Fight Phase, you roll a pair of dice and take the lowest. Any natural rolls to hit which match your number automatically fail. I guess you know where your Command Reroll is going!
As for the Stratagems, there are lots of ways to befuddle your enemies. It would take too long to describe them all, but in this regard the Codex succeeds. These stratagems also give the Harlequins a competitive edge that such a small model count army needs to remain fun to play. For example, the codex punishes enemies who fall back by allowing you to shoot them for their indiscretion.
There are a lot of situational Stratagems in this Codex, so for the Narrative gamer I’d pick up a set of the cards to have handy in your games. This isn’t to maintain a competitive edge, but because the moments created because of these Stratagems are fun, memorable, and cinematic.
Thunder or Lightning
Harlequins are, as advertised, fast. Every facet of the Codex allows them to be extremely manoeuvrable and, poor toughness aside, rather forgiving of mistakes.
The models themselves are fast. All of the infantry (even the Shadowseer and Death Jester) has a move characteristic of 8” while the Solitaire moves 12” and everything else moves 16”. Every model except the vehicles have the Rising Crescendo ability which allows the model to advance and charge in the same turn as well as fall back, then shoot and/or charge in the same turn. Flip Belts or the Fly keyword allow Harlequins models to move over other models and terrain with ease.
The Phantasmancy Discipline provides the Twilight Pathways power which allows a unit to move in the Psychic Phase. This may seem a bit samey since other codexes also boast this power, but it would be surprising if the Harlequins did not.
If maneuverability is what you’re looking for, the Midnight Sorrow Form called “The Art of Death” is probably your best bet. They have a truly terrifying bonus to their fall back and consolidate moves.
There are also plenty of Stratagems that allow you to move. For example, the Fire and Fade stratagem allows you to move 7” with a model after you shoot with it. Always keep these stratagems in mind when conducting your Movement Phase so that you can take advantage of any nearby cover. My favourite movement-based stratagem is probably the one that increases the range of a model’s Heroic Intervention, but really just because of the name: Dramatic Entrance. Everything in the codex has great names like this which exude the theme of the faction.
The Power of Voodoo
In addition to their speed and tricksyness, Harlequins are also very much assassins. They have perfected many ways of delivering a death stroke.
The Death Jester’s Shrieker Cannon’s ability to deal mortal wounds when it kills someone while simultaneously inspiring fear in the rest of the members of the squad is dripping with effectiveness and flavour. Combined with the Shards of Light Phantasmancy power, you can really strike fear into the hearts of your enemies.
There are lots of ways to kill your enemies in this book. A few of the Masque Forms have attack enhancements and your Troupe Master provides rerolls. There are also plenty of the Stratagems you’ve come to expect from a codex release, such as the one that lets you fight again with a unit.
Of course, there are special rules intended for fighting against Slaanesh models, but if you’re playing in a narrative, you may want to balance this somewhat for your Slaaneshi opponent.
Who do? You Do!
This Codex provides everything you need to build and play a thematic Harlequins army. Although they have always been fast, I feel like the Stratagems, auras, and powers in this Codex have given the cunning Troupe Master the tools they need to really allow their Harlequins to feel like they do in the stories. If I had one gripe, it might be that the flavorful weapons that the Troupes have at their disposal kind of fall flat from a rules perspective. I would expect weapons with such flair in the lore section to have some fun and weird abilities in their rules. It’s a minor quibble, though. While the Harlequins are straightforward with a handful of options, now you can narratively tailor your Masque with unique Forms and combine them with Warlord Traits and Enigmas (Relics) to really create a fun army with a flavour all its own.
All of this means it’ll be really tough to get bored with a Harlequins army. You’ll have so many decisions to make in your games and in your hobby that your head will hurt. The enemies of the Aeldari will certainly cower before your spiteful laugh and flashy jumpsuits.
Do you have anything to add to the discussion? Any cool ideas for Harlequins narratives? Leave them in the comments below.
Also, you’re welcome. That song will be in your head for at least 24 hours.
Did you like this content? Perhaps you’d be interested in more narrative topics. Check out the Masters of the Forge podcast. Episode 113 was part 2 of our series on Abhumans. We also have a podcast on the Freebooter’s Network called Altar of War where we play a Narrative game and record a battle report as the game is played. Episode 9 featured the Kroot and Drukhari in a battle over some Malan’ti Wraithbone.
And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!