The Dark Kin have arrived, and now all must suffer through an article extolling their virtues- though virtue itself is a vice! If that doesn’t make any sense, you’re not ready to click to continue with the rest of the article, so maybe check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies on weak factions.
Although it typically hasn’t gotten the same level of attention (or hatred) that the Craftworlds book has in the past few years, the Drukhari codex has been a consistent performer both entirely on its own merits as well as when allied with other Aeldari factions. So, starting today we’re going to take a bit of a deep dive into the book to look at what makes it tick and why the various units are, or aren’t, seen on the tabletop. However, before we get to that, it’s worth discussing the Drukhari book as a whole and looking at what it’s good at, what it lacks, and what makes it work.
The Drukhari (or Dark Eldar, if you are a curmudgeon) are generally characterized as a “glass cannon” faction, able to dish out large amounts of damage and move very quickly, but unable to absorb damage in return. And this is true, to a degree; your stereotypical Drukhari unit is quite fragile at only toughness three and generally with a weak-to-nonexistent armor save. Their vehicles are even more so, with none of them even hitting the T7/3+ standard that is common across almost every other faction in the game (including Craftworlds), usually being only T5 or T6 with a 4+ armor save. So yes, in many regards they are quite fragile.
However, this apparent fragility belies some very significant advantages; not only do they have Power From Pain (which we’ll discuss in a moment), but invulnerable saves are abundant across the faction as a whole, from their basic troops up to their heaviest monsters and vehicles. Not every unit has one, but they are common enough that you should consider them a fairly standard feature when fighting the army, and though they might only be 5+ or 4+ invulns, when they are on virtually every unit that resilience adds up- especially because, unlike Daemons, Drukhari units also typically have an armor save as well, so they can benefit from cover or other bonuses when struck by weaker weapons.
However, as a general rule the stereotype tends to hold true; Drukhari units are generally more fragile than their counterparts in other codices, but they come with many advantages of their own. All Drukhari units are quite fast, with even the slowest of them moving 7″ or more in most cases, and like other types of Eldar they have an abundance of units with Fly of many different varieties. They also have some very efficient firepower in many cases, though they are notably lacking in several areas- however, with Poison weapons (which always wound on a 4+ against nonvehicle models) scattered all through the army they can be a nightmare for armies that don’t heavily mechanize themselves and they have access to a number of high-AP guns that can be very effective. They also have very few Heavy weapons, allowing the faction as a whole to take excellent advantage of Ballistic Skill 3+.
Drukhari models also tend to be pretty decent in close combat; Weapon Skill 3+ across most of the faction gives them a good starting point, and while Strength 3 on the basic troopers is a bit lackluster, there are a variety of ways to augment it and many units that rise above this meager value, not to mention the bonuses from Power From Pain that can help things. Even Drukhari vehicles tend to be WS4+ or better, making it non-trivial to charge into them in many cases (to say nothing of the overwatch endured.) Drukhari certainly aren’t the strongest of melee factions, but they do have access to some powerful options if they want it, including specialists in a variety of roles.
In truth, though, the Drukhari book is actually secretly three books that have been carefully stapled together by Games Workshop in hopes that we won’t notice or think about it, with each of them having their own advantages and disadvantages. The codex itself even reinforces this, as it prohibits you from including these units together in detachments unless you’re willing to give up your faction bonuses, which in most cases are strong enough that this is not an enticing option. We’ll talk about each of them in their own section below, but for all their differences the Kabals, Wych Cults, and Haemonculous Covens do share a lot of things in common, although each of them also has its exceptions to the above rules that make it different. Most Drukhari armies will want to bring at least two of these subfactions in order to cover their bases, since each of them has significant gaps in what it can accomplish; however, if you’re allying alongside other Eldar you might not need to bring more than one and may even want to mix them together in order to take a “best of” detachment that is worth giving up your subfaction bonuses for, depending on needs.
One of the advantages of Drukhari, often underestimated, is their excellent command point generation. They have a fairly standard “regain CP on a 6 when either player spends them” warlord trait available to one of their subfactions, which is largely to be expected, but they also have the cheapest troops in the game with Kabalite Warriors for 30pts (though Orks can tie them there.) But even their “expensive” options are still extremely cheap, and while their HQs aren’t quite as bargain-bin, neither are they particularly expensive. And across the faction as a whole, units tend to be on the cheaper side, often because they are relatively fragile- but quantity has a quality all its own and overwhelming the enemy with a mass of “weak” units is a very viable strategy for the Drukhari.
However, while the faction can be quite self-sufficient due to essentially getting three different “flavors” within the same book, it also is significantly lacking in a number of areas. The most obvious one is the psychic phase- like Tau and Necrons, Drukhari possess absolutely no psykers of their own. While this lack can be mitigated somewhat through the use of a careful selection of relics, warlord traits, and other abilities, this typically is not enough to really pick up the slack entirely, so Drukhari armies will often want to look to allies to cover this base for them. And in this regard they are lucky, as Harlequins and Craftworlds can both bring excellent psykers to the table that bring a lot of utility. Of course, the FAQ changes to Doom and Jinx have made this less of an absolute necessity, but there still is potentially a lot of utility to be had there if you’re looking for it.
The faction also struggles with extremely limited unit choices; not as a whole, of course, because the full Drukhari book actually has quite a few different options in different slots. However, each of the three sub-codices (Kabals, Cults, Covens) typically only have one unit in each slot, and sometimes not even that- and with only one HQ available to each of them, it can be difficult to bring two battalions of the same type without jumping through some unpleasant hoops. Mixing the subfactions is pretty viable, but if you’re looking to (say) fill out a Vanguard, it can be very obnoxious when you realize you only have one Elites choice, so you’ll be taking three or it, no more and no less.
Power From Pain
The faction’s universal ability, Power From Pain is possessed by all non-vehicle models (with a few rare exceptions). Interestingly, however, it is not a static bonus- instead, it grants an ascending bonus as the game progresses, with each turn that passes giving a new ability to the affected models. Lots of the stratagems and traits in the book revolve around modifying Power From Pain and it’s pretty core to understanding how the army works, so let’s take a look at the table
- Inured to Suffering- 6+ die roll to ignore each wound lost
- Eager to Flay- reroll advance rolls and failed charge rolls
- Flensing Fury- add one to hit rolls in melee combat
- Emboldened by Bloodshed- automatically pass morale checks
- Mantle of Agony- enemy units within 6″ of you have -1Ld
No new abilities are gained on turn six or fewer, but as you can see it’s a pretty strong list of stuff to start with. The most basic power, Inured to Suffering, gives you an extra 6+ chance to ignore every wound taken. This has value pretty much everywhere across the whole army- on large multiwound models it has an extremely high chance of triggering at least once or twice and thus essentially giving you extra wounds (especially against those multidamage hits that can often fall one or two damage short as a result), and on basic infantry it gives you essentially a second invulnerable save to shrug off the ubiquitous Bolters and whatnot. This is a big part of the reason why Drukhari units are much, much tougher than they appear; although they might have weak statlines, getting multiple chances to shrug off every wound taken (e.g. from an invuln and then from Power from Pain) means that sometimes they will be absurdly resilient. While a squad of Wyches might typically die to a handful of Lasgun shots, it also has the possibility to roll some lucky 6s and tank an army’s worth of Lascannon hits without blinking, something that few other troops can boast.
Eager to Flay, the second ability, is also quite strong. Rerolling charges is the main feature of it and rightfully so; it’s not quite as good as abilities that let you reroll either or both dice on a charge, but having a built-in reroll makes those short-to-medium charges (e.g. in the 4″-6″ range) a ton more reliable and even longer ones become at least worth trying for. It also means that units arriving from reserve- since by definition they must come down on turn 2 or later- will have at least vaguely reasonable odds of making a charge right off the bat, albeit not such a good one that you should be relying on it. But the reroll on advance rolls should not be underestimated, either- it has good synergy with some of the other abilities available to the faction and is great for those general-use situations where you’re trying to get units onto objectives but can’t afford to be throwing command points into the effort.
Flensing Fury, although it comes a bit late in the game, is fantastic for a variety of reasons. Although Drukhari do have access to rerolls to hit, they are slightly more limited in that respect than most other factions are and so have to make up for it other ways; bringing their units from WS3+ to WS2+ essentially makes up for the loss, and it will rarely be wasted as very few of their models are WS2+ to start (and the ones that are often have weapons with hit penalties, which can be thus mitigated.) There also are a handful of “on a 6+ to hit” abilities that they can trigger in the right circumstances, which can really push the ability through the roof. Drukhari in close combat late game are not to be underestimated.
Emboldened by Bloodshed isn’t a terribly exciting ability, but it’s not a bad one, either; Drukhari have middling morale overall (tending to be Ld8 on their squads) and some of their units have a good incentive to take very large squads- for these units, getting to bypass morale entirely is a pretty nice thing. However, as you can get similarly-effective bonuses elsewhere, this generally isn’t going to be a fist-pump ability. However, when you lose 3-4 members of a squad and don’t have to roll the dice and risk losing that last guy on an objective it will be quite nice, as anytime you get to bypass the random factor in the game is a good thing- and the late game when it kicks in is exactly when you tend to need it the most.
Mantle of Agony is almost never relevant, as not only does it only activate when the match is nearly over but it also has a very short radius of effect around your units, limiting the chances that it will come up. There may be rare occasions when you will get lucky and have it matter, but for the most part it’s a very forgettable bonus and in quite a lot of cases the game will have swung so heavily in one player or the other’s favor by that point that it won’t be even slightly relevant.
All in all Power From Pain is a very good faction bonus and ranks right up there with the best that any other army in the game gets; it gives Drukhari bonuses exactly where they need them most of the time and unlike in past editions the abilities kick in early enough to be relevant to things, so you don’t need to worry about trying to artificially boost them with stratagems. However, if you do need a bonus early, there are a variety of ways to get it available, giving you options almost anytime you need them.
The largest of the three subfactions by most measures, the Kabals are your run-of-the-mill Drukhari that are a part of one of the retinues of the countless scheming Archons in Comorragh. Standing above the dregs of the lower city below them, the Kabals hold places of respect and power within their society, but a single mistake can lead to downfall, degradation, or death, so Kabalites must always be on their guard. Kabalite units tend to fill the shooting roles in the army, with the basic Warriors being able to come in either very small or very large squads with the option for heavy and special weapons while heavier firepower comes in the form of vehicles such as Ravagers or Razorwings.
The Kabals can select from one of three Obsessions for the four major houses. Kabal of the Black Heart is the one you tend to see most often because it comes with an extremely powerful stratagem; it doesn’t hurt that the Obsession is pretty good as well, counting your Power From Pain number as being one higher than normal for Black Heart units. Vehicles, who otherwise would lack any benefit from the rule, gain the ability to negate wounds on a 6+ when part of a Black Heart detachment, which is extremely handy for those minimal detachments of firepower units, and their relic grants rerolls of 1s to wound within 6″ of the bearer, which is yet another very powerful effect and when you factor in their warlord trait (the aforementioned ability to regain CP on 6s) you have a great subfaction overall. The Black Heart is easily the premiere choice for Kabalite units, though that isn’t to say it’s without competition- but for most players it is going to be the first choice and only when you have a specific reason to take something else will you deviate from it.
Kabal of the Flayed Skull is another powerful choice, which will set up a pattern we are going to see repeated a lot here- the Drukhari Obsessions are strong, significantly better than the similar traits seen in most other codices. They largely marked the beginning of the “new” pattern of subfaction traits that GW has picked up on, as they realized many of the older ones were extremely lackluster and hence shifted gears. Flayed Skull adds 3″ to the movement of all your Fly units, making those transports a decent bit quicker, and lets you ignore cover bonuses when shooting with a Fly model or something that is embarked on it- and also lets you reroll 1s to hit with such models. With three very powerful and well-synchronized abilities, Flayed Skull can make for a pretty terrifying mobile army; however, its warlord trait, relic, and stratagem really can’t measure up to the ones from Black Heart, which can sometimes be its undoing. Still, it’s easily capable of making a tournament-winning army and should not be underestimated.
Kabal of the Poisoned Tongue, by comparison, isn’t quite as impressive, but can still be pretty useful. It grants reroll of 1s to wound when attacking with any melee weapon or any Poisoned weapon- which, with the way the book is set up, is the vast majority of weapons you’ll be using. Although it sadly does not apply to most of the heavy or special guns, which might push the subfaction up into the competitive rankings, it can still get you quite a lot of mileage when fielding troops filled with Venoms en masse and is a legitimate competitor to Flayed Skull in that regard. Since the reroll to hit can easily be replicated with a well-placed Archon, rerolls to wound on weapons that wound on a 4+ naturally gets you a lot of use and should be considered if you’re running that type of force. Poisoned Tongue also gets a redeploy stratagem for up to three units, which is very handy.
Lastly, Kabal of the Obsidian Rose grants a very straightforward bonus- 6″ extra range on everything except for Pistols and Grenades. It isn’t quite as flashy as some of the others, but it gives your units a bit more stand-off distance in an army that largely wants to be playing the shooting game to start with; getting a bit more reach with your Rapid Fire distances is nice as well. Obsidian Rose tends to fill a “default” role in much the same way that Black Heart does, although it doesn’t have quite the raw power that its competitor does; however, if you’re looking to build more around infantry than vehicles Obsidian Rose has a lot to offer, and its stratagem (which lets you take a free shooting action in the Morale phase in lieu of suffering casualties there) is actually quite powerful, if oddly situational.
All things considered, the Kabalites tend to establish the “baseline” from which the Cults and Covens differ- they are the most like Craftworld Eldar in many ways and usually are solid workhorses in all sorts of armies.
The Wych Cults
Where the Kabals are centers of intrigue and scheming, the Wych Cults have very simple and clear-cut rules- bloodshed and showmanship are everything and the arenas decide all. Trained to battle in the ultimate gladitorial pits, Wyches are peerless and graceful duelists who can make artful displays of any kind of bloodshed. Although they have access to many of the same vehicles (especially transports) as the Kabals, Wych Cults tend to focus much more heavily on melee units, though they do have access to some shooting. Wych units tend to be even more fragile than their Kabal counterparts in most circumstances, although they do have some specialized defenses in melee that can tip the odds for them.
Notably, Wych Cults also have a generic special rule that the other two subfactions do not- namely, Combat Drugs. Not all Wych units have this rule, though the majority do, and it has an interesting mechanic. There are six possible Combat Drug bonuses, and each unit can either choose one of the six or roll randomly to see which they get- but no two units can pick the same drug unless all six drugs have been chosen, so rolling offers the opportunity to double up on the “best” bonuses. Of course, these units also have Power From Pain just like everyone else in the army, so they end up with quite an array of bonuses. The six combat drugs are as follows:
- Adrenalight (+1 Attack)
- Grave Lotus (+1 Strength)
- Hypex (+2 Movement)
- Painbringer (+1 Toughness)
- Serpentin (improve Weapon Skill by one)
- Splintermind (+2 Leadership)
Unlike in past editions, there are very few “misses” on the chart- in fact, three of the five bonuses directly affect melee combat, and two of the others play heavily into your ability to get there. Only the Leadership bonus really ends up being lackluster most of the time, although with the middling morale of many Drukhari units it’s not as useless as one might think. In any case, it’s typically best to pick combat drugs for 2-4 of your best units and give them exactly the bonuses you want and then roll for the rest, hoping to get lucky; note that you are allowed to reroll a combat drug result using a CP, since it is not a “mission roll,” but as per normal you cannot reroll the same die more than once.
Wych Cult Obsessions revolve heavily around melee combat, which fits in with their general theme; since they stack with the combat drug bonuses you can end up with some pretty crazy statlines on units when done right, which is exactly the idea as many of their units start off with somewhat lacking combat capabilities. Cult of Strife exemplifies this, giving its members +1 attack on the turn they enter a fight; combined with the bonus attack from their melee weapon and from the combat drug, this lets a unit of Wyches go up to a potential five attacks per model, which is a heck of a lot of dice to be throwing out for such cheap models. It also benefits from a great warlord trait (6+ to hit causes three hits) and stratagem (fight or shoot a second time after destroying a unit), both of which are extremely handy. However, with a 100% focus on offensive power the Cult of Strike can struggle to mitigate its weaknesses compared to the other two, though having Leleth Hesperax as part of the faction does count for something.
Cult of the Cursed Blade is my personal preference and has two very broad and very powerful parts to its Obsession. First, all models get +1 strength, which is extremely useful in several regards- it means that they avoid the dread problem of wounding Marines and Orks on 5s, but also means that they go from wounding vehicles on 6s to wounding them on 5s, a major shift. If this were the only benefit it might be arguable between it and Cult of Strife, but Cursed Blade also makes it impossible to lose more than one model to a morale test, which means that large squads of Wyches or Reavers don’t need to fear casualties nearly as much. Its stratagem and warlord trait are lackluster (both randomly doing mortal wounds in conditional circumstances), but the relic is very good- it causes d6 mortal wounds to the enemy when the bearer is slain, which is typically enough to ensure you double suicide with whatever expensive character you are fighting.
The third option, Cult of the Red Grief, is also quite attractive, but tends to be somewhat more unusual in its use. The benefits are simple: your units can advance and charge as well as reroll failed charge rolls. Where Cult of Strife focuses wholly on winning the fights you do get into, Red Grief does the opposite by ensuring that you will get into fights (but doesn’t help you actually win them once you’re there.) This makes their faster units (e.g. transports, Reavers, Hellions) look a lot more attractive, but even Wyches end up being pretty speedy when in Red Grief thanks to a high movement and several layers of rerolls. Their stratagem allows them to re-embark on a transport after fighting, which is an interesting trick but probably a bit too narrow to actually build around
The Haemonculous Covens
The Haemonculous Covens are perhaps the most different from the rest of the book; this is somewhat fitting, since while the other two both draw their members from the same source (i.e. the denizens of the Dark City), the members of the Covens are made, not recruited. Consisting of all manner of abominations of flesh and alchemy, units from the Haemonculi Covens generally have higher strength and toughness values than their compatriots- and in the case of the various monsters, much higher. Although they tend to focus more on melee combat, Coven units often bring a healthy dose of shooting firepower on the side and can usually outperform Wych Cults in this respect; however, they lack access to some of the units that Wyches can make use of, leaving them with the smallest overall set of options from between the three groups- and that’s saying something, given the other two often don’t even have a unit in every slot. Covens also are unusual in that there is one clear standout for subfaction choice between their choices, with almost no disagreement in the community on the matter even among the most obstinate of contrarians; that’s not to say the other two are necessarily bad, they simply don’t measure up.
Prophets of Flesh are the easy first choice that is all but universal among players; they get +1 to the invuln saves for units, although notably this does not apply to the various transports they can get. However, even without that it is a fantastic bonus and puts them head and shoulders above the competition, as going from a 5++ to a 4++ is a huge jump in durability and durability is what Covens do best. It also helps that their stratagem is a “tide of traitors” effect that lets you bring a unit of Wracks back up to full strength and their relic forces a unit to fight last, both very powerful options to have access to and very synergetic with what the subfaction wants to be doing.
The Dark Creed are unfortunately one of the many “we give morale penalties” subfactions, which does not help them at all in competing with Prophets. You get a -1 penalty for each unit that is within 6″ of the enemy (up to a maximum of -3), but this simply isn’t sufficient to really be relevant- sure, you might cause some casualties with that morale check later in the turn (assuming they don’t autopass it), but there’s so many other ways to cause those casualties that are more efficient and more generally useful that it’s just not exciting in the slightest. Yes, if you have three Dark Creed units within 6″, and then also three Harlequin units with the same ability, and a Hemlock, you can get someone with -8 Leadership and scare a whole unit of Custodes or whatever right off the table… assuming you can cause a casualty somehow. It’s too much work for too little result. Their stratagem allows you to target characters for 2CP, which is a neat trick if you can slap it onto something with more shooting, but mostly won’t be too impressive because Coven units don’t bring heavy shooting.
Coven of Twelve is the final subfaction, and they actually have a pretty good bonus; it’s only because Prophets are so good that they don’t see more play. The Twelve improve the AP of all melee weapons by one, which is particularly effective because so many of their weapons have low-ish AP values to start with (but typically deal good damage and have fixed wound values allowing them to hurt nearly anything.) Their stratagem allows them to shoot into combat in much the same fashion as The Purge, with the attendant risk of hitting your own units included; useful, although not exceptional given their lack of shooting overall.
In future installments we’ll look at individual units and options in further detail, but given the depth of the subject I think it’s time to call this article to a close already. Hopefully this has given enough information for you to get a general overview of the faction, whether you’re interesting in starting an army of Drukhari or whether you’re trying to figure out ways to combat them and understand how they function. In the usual fashion I’ll likely talk about units in a fairly methodical way, starting from the top of the codex and working our way down through the guts of it; however, a few of the all-stars might get their chance in the spotlight a bit early, depending on how things work out, so if you have units you particularly would like to see discussed in this series feel free to leave a comment below and I can look at prioritizing them.
And as always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.