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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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