Hey guys, Cavalier checking in, commission painter for Frontline Gaming and co-host of Splintermind: The Dark Eldar Podcast back with my thoughts on developing a thematic army that can roll with the punches in almost any gaming environment.
I consider myself a narrative driven gamer. I have a Corsair themed Y’nnari army (that I dont play as Y’nnari most of the time) that I’ve named the Lions of Asuryan. Nearly the entire army is kitbashed, I’ve named characters galore, a fully fleshed out backstory charting where in the galaxy my army has fought, their allies and rivals, squad markings, Corsair coterie markings the works. Yet at the same time I play to win every game and very much care about my win-loss ratio and performance as a player.
I stick very closely to both my own background and that within the codices. I never take Coven units, I only feature named Y’nnari allied sub-factions (no Black Heart, no Frozen Stars) and I always have my sub-factions painted differently to make them standout on the tabletop when the models alone are not enough to differentiate them.
That being said WINNING is also a part of my narrative, and the narrative of most armies unless you are Lamenters Space Marines! lol Being invested in the background of my army as I am, the last thing I want is for that story to ring hollow on account of my crappy army lists or blundering play on the tabletop.
For example, while I love the MODELS from the Forgeworld line for my Corsairs, their rules are a nightmare. My work-around? Lean more heavily on my Drukhari (who I play as Flayed Skull) to get that Corsair vibe and their allied Umbral Watcher Corsair (Alaitoc) buddies to get those stealthy Nighthawk Interceptors aces (Crimson Hunter Exarchs) and get my army in top form!
For better established armies such as Iyanden Eldar for example… so often I see players who LOVE Iyanden but feel absolutely compelled to have every single unit in their Iyanden army be a ghost warrior. This in my opinion is totally unnecessary. Setting aside the fact that their is much more to Iyanden than just their infamous Ghost Warriors, you can bring out that Iyanden vibe by say bringing a declarative investment in points, strategies and resources in a single unit with some support characters, meanwhile filling out the rest of your list with other very competitive choices.
For example instead of going all out like in the photo above, to me you could represent a very strongly thematic Iyanden army taking a single unit of Wraithblades with shields + axes, stick them in a Serpent with Spirit Stones, Prince Y’riel and Spirit Seer with Protect/Jinx, the Pystronome of Iyanden and a Farseer on Jetbike trailing behind to cast Fortune on them. This unit considered very poor by most people is now a legitimate threat (30 attacks, re-rolling ones, at Str 7 D3 Dmg AP-4, 2+/4++ saving throw with a 5+ feel no pain) that takes skill, experience and dedication to running. Then the rest of the army can be filled out by more stock paths to Eldar victory by say taking some big units of Guardians (yes Iyanden does have a healthy supply of Guardians see the Valedor Apocalypse book from 7th edition for details) to take advantage of their excellent morale control and infantry shredding abilities via a webway bomb, some nasty Hemlocks who were practically invented on Iyanden (see the 6th ed. Iyanden supplement). If you’ve got points you could ally in some of Y’riel’s Harlequin buddies (Veiled Path perhaps who led Y’riel to the Spear of Twilight) you have a very thematic army but one that can compete in any local scene.
To take the example outside of the Eldar family of armies. Take Blood Angels for example. Just because Blood Angels are famed for their close-combat units, doesnt mean you cant have a single gun in your entire army. While all the rage before the FAQ, that famed BA/Guard/Knights combo can go from an eye-rolling netlist, to something that while yes, very much a tournaments style army, something I would whole heartedly embrace as narrative driven by that player investing just a bit more in the Blood Angel side of things say a unit of Primaris Blood Angels, maybe some Hellblasters, some Death Company with Jetpacks and led by an infamous Smash Captain.
I say the same for World Eaters. I cant think of anything more metal than a unit of World Eater Havocs all with Heavy Bolters 30 bodies deep claiming some bullet riddled skulls for the skull throne.
This is purely subjective take by me. Yet in my opinion an otherwise stock army can be made highly thematic by the inclusion of a single unit, painted and played to the best of your ability even when supported by the more competitive offerings a particular edition’s codex has to offer.
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