The return of Herohammer?

All images in this post are from Games Workshop

This is a Guest Post by Rules Manufactorum

Well, fellow gamers, we stand on the brink of the new Blood Angels release and one thing a lot people are talking about is Mephiston, Lord of Death and his legendary stat-line. Previously consigned to the whimsical musings of Primarch Rules Development threads and named Daemons Mephiston's unique stat-line appears to the next step in an evolutionary process many have come to refer to as "Herohammer".

The word gives a name to the new trend of powerful single model HQ choices that not only dominate a large percentage of your force's points cost but also include exceptionally powerful stats and special rules. Thus emerges the idea that Warhammer 40k may yet devolve into a kind of game in which HQ choice battles HQ choice with little regard for supporting models that can only look on helplessly; outclassed as they are by pricy but powerful characters.

If you have any doubts as to the real existence of this surprising pattern let's consider a few choices from recent codex releases:

Marneus Calgar
Priced at more than a Land Raider in his signature suit of armor the Master of the Ultramarines is a re-inventon of precisely what Marines are capable of in hand to hand combat. By adding Calgar to your army you trade in a substantial amount of points and in return receive a unique army-wide special rule and a unique FOC.

Commissar Yarrick
One of the most expensive entries in the entire Imperial Guard codex by himself Yarrick belongs in this list of uber-characters because he follows the design mentality of an expensive character that changes the way your entire army works. With strong buffer rules, the ability to come back to life on a 3+ and more weapons than one man could possibly carry on his person Yarrick is a far cry from what anyone might have expected given the previous codex's HQ-choice power levels. More than perhaps anyone on this list Yarrick feels as though he belongs to a 2nd edition codex where the super-HQ was King.

Logan Grimnar, Bjorn the Fell-Handed, Njal Stormcaller and Ragnar Blackmane
The Space Wolves codex is filled to bursting with Hero-character worship. All of these characters promote an infatuation with the heroic figure backed by an unhealthy reliance on said minis' performance. Woe betided any player unlucky enough to lose any of these characters (or even just their transports) early in the game.

The Swarmlord
A brutal close-combat fiend and a heap of points. Players that face the Swarmlord menace have two options: fire EVERYTHING at it until it dies or mirror the Swarmlord's every move with their own Deathstar unit and hope the dice favor them.

Mephiston, Lord of Death
As mentioned above Mephiston has reshuffled the 40k stat-line. He's a reminder that though GW has, until now, chosen to remain within the familiar range of the '4' heavy stat-line that this could change at any moment. He is the epitome of "Herohammer" - the single named character that can affect the entire game through brute force and massive psychic potential.

So what does this mean for the game of Warhammer 40,000?
It's clear that HQ choices will continue to, not only play a pivotal role in the game itself, but add another dimension to the strategic planning that goes into army design before the game. Competitive players will need to watch their local meta-game closely. If your gaming community has chosen to embrace this new race of special 'special-characters' then you will have to respond in kind. Gamers that are using newer codicies can play "Herohammer" because their codex will likely contain powerful counters to other named HQ characters.

However, older named characters will likely flounder in the face of fresh IC's (compare Inquisitor Corteaz to the similarly priced Vulkan He'stan). Thus players with older armies will need to favor mobility (in order to avoid threats they can't deal with) or multiple disposable squads that can delay an oncoming assault leaving the foe's elite unit out in the open.

Of course "Herohammer" need not be a death-toll for older armies. With the FOC changing potential of new characters older armies may find a new home through the wonderful rule of 'count-as'. A great example is Logan Grimnar standing in for Belial and Sammael giving those poor Dark Angels players the ability to field their Doublewing armies with only minor adjustment. In addition, the widespread focus on named characters will give players a chance to differentiate their armies with unique and characterful choices. An example in this case would be an Ultramarine Tyranid Veterans force led by Chaplain Cassius.

Should the "Herohammer" trend continue it will be interesting to mark changes in 40k tournament rules. Will 40k abandon special characters, as WHFB already has, in favor of choices that are more tournament oriented? Could special characters shake the balancing act that is 5th edition forcing unwritten rules on players as to what characters are legal and which are broken as exist already in Lord of the Rings?

John Venegas' recent article on Character Defined Armies gives a good account on the sudden emergence of crucial special characters citing GW's promotion of said unit as being due to the existing model range. In other words, while GW gained nothing from the old Space Marine Trait system (not directly anyway) they do benefit from our purchasing a Calgar model to lead an Ultramarines skirmish-level force. We can therefore expect for this trend to continue as long as it is profitable for GW.

For my part, I find the recent influx of powerful characters to be of little import. The additional power of characters rapidly declines after the 200 point mark and though many, especially those with an area of effect, will be unavoidable the majority of armies will suffer when too many points are shoved into too few models. The physical restrictions placed on these characters is significant in the sense that one special character can only occupy one small part of the board. That is to say Grimnar, though he costs the same as two Wolf Lords, does not share the latter's ability to create double the threat radius. In contrast, the two Wolf Lords are only marginally worse in close combat. These physical limitations will be doubly felt in missions that focus on killpoints rather than objectives because the opposing force's mobility will not be hampered by the need to contest a certain spot on the table.

As for actually using special characters I will always tend to favor those that make my army unique, preferably by changing around the FOC. When I design my own characters I try to focus on how their background might be expressed through their special rules. I consider one of the most important elements of character design to be the existence of an actual choice with respect to other entries. For instance though the Eldar codex has a large number of special characters it is usually only the very effective Eldrad and Yriel that are chosen. More recent codicies address this issue well with perhaps the best character choices belonging to the Orks codex wherein each character boasts colorful, fun-to-use rules and is generally competitive.

I want to thank Rules Manufactorum for writing and sharing this with FTW. It brings up a trend we may all be dealing with as armies are updated. Make sure to stop by his blog and check out some of his work and even get involved in some of his fan-based projects. - Ron

Additional FTW related links:
Army Building, do you build what you want to?

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Make sure to share your hobby tips and thoughts in the comments below!