Drukhari Codex Review: Elites: Grotesques

A strong candidate for both “best unit in the codex” and “worst model you have to field twenty of.” Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

Grotesques, not truly being Drukhari at all but rather creations of the covens, have a fairly different statline than most everything else in the codex- much to their own benefit. They benefit from a 7″ movement just like other Drukhari infantry do, but their stats are otherwise quite exceptional. Weapon skill 3+ is excellent and makes them solid hitters in combat; a garbage ballistic skill can be considered irrelevant, since they have no shooting attacks that need a hit roll. Strength and toughness five are both well above what are seen on most units in the game and can be further enhanced. Combined with a massive four wounds per model it makes them some of the toughest customers around, and four attacks per model lets them back that up with some serious offensive threat. Leadership eight is not exceptional, but generally suffices to prevent them from taking any significant losses there. At 32pts per model in squads of three to ten, Grotesques are a powerful addition to the Drukhari toolbox.

Special Rules and Wargear

Although Grotesques don’t come with as long a list of special abilities as some elite infantry do, the ones they do have suit them pretty perfectly and more than suffice in most situations. Like almost all Drukhari infantry they come with Power From Pain, which gives them a variety of escalating abilities as the game goes own. Unlike most Drukhari, however, Grotesques take excellent advantage of all of the Power From Pain abilities- the 6+ ability to shrug wounds enhances their already-impressive resilience, rerolls on charges get them where they want to be, +1 to hit guarantees even more melee attacks landing, etc, etc.

Their only other ability is Insensible to Pain, which grants them a 5+ invulnerable save- and since their armor save is practically nonexistent, this serves as their main protection. Various Obsessions can help enhance this, which we’ll talk about more in a minute.

Grotesques each come with a pair of melee weapons, though one of them typically sees way more use than the other. The Monstrous Cleaver is their default option, granting one extra attack in the same manner as a Chainsword but striking at S+0 AP-2 Dmg1; not exceptional stats, but more than servicable against most targets. They can, alternatively, fight with their Flesh Gauntlets, which S+0 AP0 Dmg1, but 6s to wound cause a mortal wound in addition to other damage (except on vehicles.) The Gauntlet is normally only useful against models with little-to-no armor save, but since it is essentially a free option it’s nice to have around in those niche circumstances.

Any model in the squad can also trade out their Monstrous Cleaver for a Liquifier (8″ S3 AP-D3 Assault D6), but given the cost of doing so and the fact that you lose your most useful weapon it’s a very poor choice indeed. It doesn’t help that the Liquifier itself is also a very weak gun option (typically being worse than a Flamer despite costing more) and that its main benefit, deterring charges, is something that the native stats of the Grotesques do already.

Uses

Almost since the book’s release, the Grotesque has been a centerpiece for many builds of Drukhari armies, since they are an immensely resilient melee threat that can be taken in large numbers. The key to this has been the Prophets of Flesh Obsession, which adds +1 to their invulnerable save; a 4++ instead of a 5++ makes the unit a true force to be reckoned with, although as of late the “build your own” Obsession that can give -1 to damage values has seen some play also.

But it’s not just the Obsession that allows them to do their work, as there are several other auras that all play into the Grotesques’ power. Including a Haemonculous is, of course, mandatory and its aura of +1 toughness makes them more able to shrug off the medium-weight firepower (like Heavy Bolters) that can otherwise be their bane. Urien Rakarth also does his part, adding +1 strength to the mix and ensuring that even targets like Centurions need to think twice about going into a squad of Grotesques.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Vexator Mask relic (also from Prophets of Flesh) is key in that it can force a single unit within 6″ to fight last in the phase as well as shut down overwatch, negating two key disadvantages for the unit. Tough as they may be, Grotesques still don’t want to eat a free shooting phase from a Tau or Iron Hands army, and the Mask can help prevent that while also preventing enemy countercharge units from being able to effectively pounce on the Grotesques, as they rely mostly on attrition to do their work against enemy heavy hitters and getting to swing first every round makes a world of difference there. In short, the combination of auras and natural stats makes Grotesques hard to deal with in shooting, hard to deal with in melee, and mobile enough to quickly take control of the center of the board while other elements spread out and perform duties of their own.

This ability to take the center of the board- or to push an opponent back into their deployment zone, in extreme cases- is critical because Drukhari as a whole tend to be somewhat fragile and a powerful offensive threat that doesn’t simply roll over and die when targeted by enemy firepower is absolutely critical to making many plans work. They can be used to support a threat-overload plan (alongside Taloses, Wraithlords, vehicles, etc) or can be simply an allied inclusion to give a list some melee teeth, but in either case the Grotesques are a major link because they create a large bubble that very few armies can approach into without risk.

The Grotesques’ infantry status is also extremely key here, as it allows them to pass through ruin walls and into upper levels, letting them jump between “safe” spots and hide from enemy shooting. For a unit that wants to control the board via melee, this is a critical feature and actually a bit surprising given their large bases- however, it is very much appreciated and not unreasonable given other large infantry models such as Centurions.

Grotesques do struggle a bit with heavier targets like vehicles, as S6 (via Urien) with one damage per hit simply is not enough to take on vehicles and reliably kill them in a single round of combat. With non-flying targets that can’t fight back this is not necessarily a problem, but those that can escape your grasp or punch back hard enough to be a problem (e.g. a Knight) it can be a significant weakness to keep in mind. Even so, sheer weight of attacks with decent stats can do a surprising amount of work, as a full squad will do 10ish wounds to a T7/3+ target late in the game, but you shouldn’t be relying on them to do the job in these situations (at least, not without help.)

Grotesques also pair well with the more common Drukhari plans of multitudes of vehicles, be that Venoms or Razorwings/Ravagers or something else. Since they take fairly similar sorts of firepower and have a very similar profile to these lighter vehicles, it can be easy to overload your opponent’s guns in this way- when you have two blocks of Grotesques in the center of the field causing problems, it often can be difficult to spare much attention for the Venoms racing around grabbing objectives and taking potshots at your units. Similarly, hybrids of shooting and melee threats can often do an excellent job of covering each others’ weaknesses- Grotesques and pounce on hidden squads and tie up resilient shooting while the flyers and skimmers blast away at any big guns that try and hide themselves in the back or use split deployments.

Like many other “bully” units, however, Grotesques require a major investment to work. Although a single squad can be feasible, more commonly a pair of them are seen in lists when they are used, and squads always trend towards the larger size- no less than seven members, I would say, and preferably nine or ten. This is, in part, because they rely on weight of numbers to do their work, so they need larger units to be effective at their jobs, but also because the expectation is that the enemy will be shooting every weapon they can at them to try and drag the unit down, so you’ll need a large squad size in order to have anything left by the time they get to the enemy. In addition, they essentially have two mandatory HQs (Urien and a standard Haemonculous) that need to accompany them at all times, which means that you’re looking at ~300pts per squad and then another 200pts in characters, making it a very pricey investment indeed.

There are a variety of stratagems that can benefit Grotesques significantly; any of the various Power From Pain-enhancing ones are obviously good to up their speed and damage potential in the early game, but if you really want to break some stuff The Torturer’s Craft is what you’re looking for. At 2CP it’s reasonably cheap and lets the unit reroll all wound rolls for the phase- which can help ensure a kill against a tough opponent or allow them to play with bigger targets like a Knight when it becomes necessary. It’s still not a great fight for them, bit it is at least one they stand a chance of coming out alright in. Cruel Deception, which for 2CP lets them fall back and still assault, can also be useful in a pinch, though generally the hope is that you kill things when needed so it isn’t relevant. Sadly, they are prohibited from using Lighting Fast Reflexes, which would otherwise be extremely handy, although they can enter via a Webway Portal, allowing you to throw them into unusual places if you get stuck on a long deployment or if there is little cover in your deployment zone to start.

Countering

So, how do you deal with a unit like Grotesques? One bite at a time, as the saying goes. Unless your army has truly exceptional firepower, you are not going to kill a squad of them in a single turn- it’s certainly possible to do, especially when you can stack the right debuffs onto them, but most forces just can’t do it because the combination of T6, 4++, and 6+++ is just too much to break through in a single go. So- don’t. Accept that you are going to have to whittle away at the unit and delay it for a while, and start that job early so that by the time it gets to your lines on turn 3 or so, it is down to a much more manageable size.

Speaking of delaying, there are lots of ways to do this for different armies. You can move-block it with flyers or other fast units, slow it to a crawl with Thunderfire Cannons or similar shenanigans, or simply move in the opposite direction as it if you’re fast enough (and there’s board space.) Grotesques are not particularly fast units, and while they can potentially move up to 13″ with a good advance roll, this limits what they can do a lot so you should be able to buy yourself a couple turns at the least.

Because they rely almost entirely on their invulnerable save, there also are some shenanigans you can pull there to deny them as much protection- Death Hex and Null Zone, obviously, can absolutely ruin their day, but there are also other ways to penalize their invuln- Dark Angels have a relic to give -1 to invulns, for example, Craftworlds have Jinx (and Doom to go with it), Chaos Knights have the Khorne relic to shut down all invulns, etc.

Snipers can also make your job a lot easier, not by killing the Grotesques themselves but by picking off their support characters. If you can get rid of the +1 toughness aura and the Vexator Mask, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to deal with the squad, so even a relatively-modest number of snipers can really ruin their day (as Drukhari have no real counters other than “I hope there is a lot of blocking terrain.”)

Lastly, even if you don’t have access to any of those tricks, you can still just use good old-fashioned S6 weight of fire shooting to whittle them down. There are lots of medium-strength weapons, a fair number of them even multidamage, that can really pile the hurt onto Grotesques simply by forcing them to roll shitloads of saves. This can also work in melee, although there aren’t nearly as many units that can push enough damage onto them to make risking the return swings acceptable- though a bully unit of your own, such as Centurions or Bullgryn or Paladins can certainly do so.

Final Thoughts

Although they aren’t quite the top-tier unit they were for a while, Grotesques are still a very powerful squad that can weather almost any kind of firepower while also fending off potential melee threats, which is always a strong combination. We can expect to continue seeing them in Drukhari lists for essentially as long as the edition continues, as they fill a role not easily covered by other units in the codex.

As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies delivered right to your door through the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to expand an existing army or start a new one.

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About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

6 Responses to “Drukhari Codex Review: Elites: Grotesques”

  1. Faitherun
    Faitherun April 15, 2020 11:12 am #

    A good review. I am interested in your thoughts on them vs Talos, especially in the current meta. To me, Talos having the fly keyword has always pushed them over for what I want to take, although the infantry keyword is quite good as well.

    To me though, at the end of the day, I can model the talos better while the Grots are single pose and rather exy too. It is still on my list to convert some up, but I have yet to do so

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy April 15, 2020 10:06 pm #

      It’s a tough comparison; I’ll probably talk about it some in my Talos review when I get to that, but to give the short version here I think I favor Grotesques overall. The ability to hide inside/behind terrain is very powerful in a meta that has heavy shooting, and point-for-point Grotesques are also more resilient against most guns compared to a Talos. The Talos has an advantage in damage output against heavier targets as well as the benefit of having some semi-relevant shooting, but if it’s not alive that ends up being less relevant. They do have the advantage of being able to assault flyers, which in some past metas has been very relevant, but it’s not as much so now.

      That said, if you’re looking to run an Aeldari threat overload list, you probably start with a large number of both Taloses and Grotesques, since they tend to complement each other well. But if you’re just running one type of melee unit in a hybrid list of some kind, I would strongly favor Grotesques.

      (The Grot models, as alluded to in the article, are truly abominable for something you will want 15-20 of in an army and hopefully they get a replacement, although I wouldn’t hold my breath here. There are numerous models in the Sigmar line that make good bases for a conversion, though.)

      • Faitherun
        Faitherun April 16, 2020 10:37 am #

        Ineed – I have been eyeing Sigmar for just such conversions.

        To me, the thing that has always made Talos win out is that I can Fire and Fade them up the board. Means a T2 threat with them is quite viable, and can help position them better too.

        Tbh, I would love to run a threat overload style as you mentioned there… just need to convert those models first…

  2. Avatar
    Liam April 17, 2020 7:12 am #

    Solid review, though in my opinion had some hick ups. Starting off with saying “not truly being Drukhari at all”. The lore specifically says, they are generally beginning their existence as Drukhari and then are formed into these wonderful ballerina dancers the model represents 🙂

    But more serious critic goes to the Vexator mask review. Yes, it has powerful abilities, but in regards to the Grotesques, it only shuts off one unit or max two, if the Heamonculus manages to touch base with two. The other surrounding units, especially Tau and Iron Hands can still do their assisty overwatch on the Grotesques. Still helpful, but not total.
    Second, i guess that could have been in the counter part, the general interrupt stratagem overrules the Vexator Mask, this way, a counter attack unit can still do its thing.
    Other than that, good review and thank you for writing those articles.

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy April 17, 2020 9:11 pm #

      I think if you asked most Drukhari, they would claim that Grotesques are “not Drukhari at all,” and even more so if you expanded the question to other Aeldari. (Also, it is well-known that some Grotesques are made from other races or created from whole cloth, as per the stories in the codex.)

      Shutting down 1-2 units isn’t the same as shutting down all overwatch, it’s true, but typically there are a limited number of units that can threaten something as tough as Grotesques; if you can tap the two Riptides or Repulsors, you’re not really worried about the basic troops standing nearby.

      The interrupt stratagem, notably, only helps when the enemy has charging units to fight with- this is fine when the Drukhari player is charging, as you can still interrupt them if they got in with multiple units of Grotesques. However, even prior to that FAQ the Vexator Mask’s main purpose was _defensive_, not offensive- you used it to force the enemy to either not charge the Grotesques (for fear of losing a unit) or to overcommit to killing them (by forcing them to put several units into the squad, so that the Mask could only affect one of them.) In this scenario, the enemy cannot interrupt, because the Drukhari player has no charging units, so the FAQ doesn’t matter there. It certainly is a limitation on the Mask, but not actually all that important of one in most situations- it’s fairly rare that the Drukhari player will be the one charging into multiple enemy units that can threaten them.

      • Avatar
        Liam April 19, 2020 6:41 pm #

        Regarding the Grotesques, I think, we disagree, especially coming from a standpoint of 2/3 Edition Dark Eldar when they very clearly where still Dark Eldar. But hey, semantics…

        Regarding tapping two Riptides or Repulsors with one model, this seems highly unlikely and should not be used in an Argument. One of them sure, though most of the time there will be a screen that would have had to been removed, but then trapping both?

        You def. have a point there regarding using it as a deterrent when using Grotesques defensively. Thank you for the insight there.

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