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Tired of spending 250 points on a unit that does little besides look cool before dying?
It's a little odd, going from Warhammer Fantasy, where you squeeze as many heroes and Lords into your list as possible, to 40k, where they often seem like a penalty rather than an asset.
HQs are great for fluff reasons, and the models are beautiful, but let's face it, at least half of all HQ choices are either overpriced or going to die during the first round of combat.
Why is this the case in 40k and not Fantasy? For a number of reasons, but the main one is that it’s far easier to target HQs with attacks that cause instant death in 40k, especially during close combat.
I'm not saying you should neglect or ignore the HQ choices, but you need to make sure that they’re pulling their weight, and earning back their points. As far as I'm concerned, there are only three types of HQs that are effective on a consistent basis:
This battle will not go well for the forces of humanity.
Close Combat Focused HQs
In order to be effective in close combat, an HQ choice has to fulfill one or more of the following requirements:
1. Come with a retinue.
HQ choices are a lot more effective this way, since the enemy won’t be able to target them directly until their retinue is dead. That is, unless said retinue is overpriced or ineffective. In that case, you’re just making a bad HQ even worse.
2. Immune to instant death, or toughness 5.
I don't care how many wounds your character has, if they aren't immune to instant death (or practically immune) then monstrous creatures, dreads, and powerfists/klaws are going to tear them to pieces. You could always try and avoid those enemies, but if you have to avoid close combat, then what's the point of using them? Toughness 5 is usually good enough in most circumstances, as long as the bonus applies against instant death (the bonus from riding a bike doesn’t count).
3. Jump packs, bikes, outflanking, and similar abilities
The ability to appear out of nowhere, or to assault from a very long distance away is usually enough to ensure that your HQ will only get into fights that they’re certain to win. As an added bonus, if you’re always able to charge the enemy instead of being charged, you’ll be able to arrange your models in a way that keeps the enemy powerfists/klaws away from your independent characters. This is how Blood Angels, Sisters of Battle, and Dark Eldar HQs really shine.
Of course, your HQ doesn't have to be invincible if they're expendable. Then again, you have to compare them to an equal number of points invested in normal troops. Still, if they get a power weapon and an invulnerable save all for under 100 points, then they're probably a bargain.
Examples of Effective 'Close Combat' HQs:
-Ork Warboss on Bike
-Chaos Marine Demon Prince with wings
-Dark Eldar Archon
-Tyranid Hive Tyrant
-Sisters of Battle Cannoness with Jump Pack
-Space Wolf Venerable Dreadnaught
The boss in front, or all the boyz in back? Choose wisely.
Shooting Focused HQ
Why does everything have to be about the assault? There are plenty of great HQs that shine during the shooting phase, and many of them are in armies that desperately need more fire support. In some cases these HQs use powerful guns, although they might also use powerful psychic shooting attacks. As long as they fulfill one or more of these requirements, it really doesn’t matter:
1. Provide long range fire support.
Many armies, like the Orks and Tyranids, pack a lot of power in close combat, but are completely helpless against enemies out of their reach. Even the relatively ‘shooty’ Eldar and Grey Knights can often find their guns coming up short. An effective 'shooty' HQ choice can help even things out.
2. Powerful, low AP shooting.
Similar to the last example, and a more pronounced problem in the 'close combat' focused armies. An HQ that can get rid of tanks and terminators will often help out a lot more than a close combat powerhouse, especially if your army is already good at close combat to begin with.
3. Template, blast, and ordnance attacks.
Not every army can equip each unit with a flamer and missile launcher, or field an ordnance spewing super tank as a heavy choice. For those armies, an HQ that can use flamers or drop 'pie plates of doom' will prove invaluable.
Examples of Effective 'Shooting' HQs
-Space Marine Librarian
-Chaos Marine Demon Prince with doom bolt and/or wind of chaos
-Imperial Guard Command Unit with flamers or grenade launchers
-Ork Warp ‘ead
-Tau Crisis Battlesuit Commander
-Grey Knight Grand Inquisitor
Not every HQ has to do all the work themselves. Many HQs simply enhance the effectiveness of the rest of your army, and in the long run that can have a greater impact on the game than any other type of HQ ever could. I know, it sounds cooler to say that ‘your HQ killed a whole unit by themselves’ than it is to say ‘it allowed a nearby unit to re-roll their armor saves’, but the latter often has more impact on the game, and as long as you win, who cares how you did it?
To be an effective 'support' HQ, the unit has to do one or more of the following:
1. Improve your army’s existing abilities, or allow re-rolls.
Whether they improve your army's armor saves, leadership score, give you re-rolls to wound, or allow them to regroup when they normally couldn’t, it’s always a good idea to focus on keeping your units alive, and enhancing their ability to kill your opponent’s units. We all roll badly from time to time, and HQ choices such as these help offset a lot of ‘bad luck’.
2. Give your army abilities it normally doesn't have.
A good example is the Space Marine Captain Kayvaan Shrike, who allows your entire army to use the 'fleet' rule instead of combat tactics, or Pedro Kantor, who allows them all to be 'stubborn'. These options open a whole new world of possibilities for your armies, and best of all, you often never lose them, even if the HQ dies. Any unit that continues to affect the game even after being destroyed is usually a unit worth having. Other similar HQs allow you to buy upgrades for your army that are normally restricted, or only available at a much higher price, allowing your basic troop choices to enjoy benefits that normally only elites and heavies enjoy.
3. Allow more flexibility in your army list.
Many HQs allow you to field specific units as a different type of selection than normal. For example, Ork Warbosses allow you to field Nobz as troop choices rather than elite, and Space Marine Captains on bikes allow you to field Space Marine bikes as troops instead of as fast attack. Since troop choices are the only units that can claim objectives, this is a very significant benefit, and can often determine the outcome of the game.
Examples of Effective 'Support' HQs:
-Most of the Space Marine Characters
-Ork Big Mek with Kustom Force Field
-Tau Ethereal (as long as you can keep them alive)
-Necron Lord with Resurrection Orb
-Imperial Guard Heroic Senior Officer with voxcaster and iron discipline
Now that you know what to look for, let’s go over what NOT to look for. I’m not saying that these abilities are bad, but they’re not as useful as many believe, and their allure can often trick players into overpaying for HQs that aren’t really worth it.
1.High initiative, weapon skill, and/or number of attacks.
Despite being very important in Warhammer Fantasy, these statistics don’t mean as much in 40k, at least not with independent characters. In fantasy it’s a lot easier to deny your opponent their attacks in close combat, since the number of models involved in each combat is relatively small, and casualties reduce the number of models that attack back. In 40k, virtually every model involved in the assault will get to attack, making the attacks from individual characters far less important.
2. Low armor saves, invulnerable saves, and feel no pain
I don’t care how tough a character is, as long as they’re not immune to instant death, a single powerfist/klaw can kill them in one round. Besides, it’s not as if you can ‘defend’ the enemy to death. A good HQ has to be able to inflict damage at least as well as they can take it.
3. Force Weapons
Yes, force weapons are great, but they’re not that much better than powerfists/klaws, monstrous creatures, or dreadnaught attacks. Not only do they require a psychic check to fully work, but the characters using them are often weak, making it difficult to cause wounds (with the exception of Grey Knight Grand Masters).
4. Dedicated Transports
Dedicated transports come at an additional cost, and can make an already expensive unit an absolute rip-off. A Dark Eldar raider, Ork trukk, Marine drop pod or rhino is fine, but before you purchase a Land Raider for your HQ and retinue, consider how much benefit you’re really getting for the points spent.
5. A large number of powers.
How many of those powers are you actually going to use, or are going to come up in regular play? If they’re all psychic powers, how many can you use in a single turn? Do you really need them all? I cringe when I look at the incredible number of Grey Knight powers that only work when fighting chaos demons. Players who use demons will call them unfair, and against everyone else they’ll be useless. Stop and consider how much benefit you’re really getting from the added cost of all those powers.
6. Fantastic fluff/backstory
I love Mad Doc Grotznik. His fluff is some of the most hilarious I’ve seen in 40k. That being said, he’s actually not very effective. He’s vulnerable to instant death, costs a bundle, and often drags the unit he’s attached to in the wrong direction. I still use him in ‘fun’ games, but I’d really be better off using a regular Warboss or Ghazghkull Thraka. They just aren’t as fun.
Examples of Ineffective HQs
-Mad Doc Grotznik
-Tau Commander O’Shovah
-Both Necron C’tan
-Close Combat focused Imperial Guard HQs
-Regular Space Marine Captain (without a bike)
-Most, if not all the Chaos Marine HQs besides Demon Princes (why do people play Abaddon again?)
Remember that Imperial Guard Commander from earlier?
Good luck everyone, and happy holidays. ^_^
Last edited by mynameisgrax; December 26th, 2008 at 17:36. Reason: corrected a mistake
I highly disagree with your statement of C'tan being ineffective HQs. The Deceiver is the best HQ apart from a cannoness that I have ever used. He really adds alot to the Necron army, the fact that people generally ignore him makes him the toughest HQ in the game, out of the 50 or 60 games I've played with him hes died a grand total of twice once against a Dark Eldar army, and the second against Eldar.
The Deceiver played properly can take out over 500 or 600 points of an enemy army, the C'tan are a point sink if you just charge them at the board and destroy a single unit then spend the rest of the game running back to your army. Keep your Deceiver infront of your foot sloggers and counter assault units, plus your enemies assault units will be put into a very bad situation if they're prime target (foot slogging Necrons) is protected by a Deceiver.
Plus for his points the Deceiver is much more cost effective than a Necron Lord (terrible for they're points)
Just thought I would let the old Necron fanboy show : ) Other than that it's a guide that I agree with on most points.
Good points, but you make it sound highly opinionated, and less like fact.
Also, Tyranids cannot take Carnifex as HQ choices, only Heavy Support and sometimes Elites.
My gaming group's new motto: That army you're using is overpowered because it hurts my guys, codex is broken and needs a rewrite.
with Gw new emphasis on special characters it may become like hero hammer again.
Just kidding, great post i liked most of your points. I normally relate my Hq to footslogger and ask he is better thatn x number of my basic trooper and rarely exceed more than twice the points with weapons and upgrades.
Agreed with what has been said, your guide, whilst it seems good, is very based on opinion.
And as such, i'd like to add in the point about all chaos HQs except the daemon prince beign inneffective, both sorcerors (and to a lesser extent, lords) are effective in a chaos army due to their ability to hide in a raptor squad. However most of our special characters (Just like many armies) are inneffective, it is to be expected as special characters ARE more based on the fluff than the actual effectiveness.
Rork: In the dark future of the 41st millennium there is only friendship.
Fenrir: and magic.
Kaiser-: My Little Chaos Marine, Friendship is Heresy?
Thanks for the heads up on Carnifexes. I forgot about that.
I'm not sure if it's completely opinionated, as I mentioned the criteria I used to determine what an HQ needs to be in order to be effective. I guess 'good at shooting' might be a vague phrase, and not exactly specific, but what constitutes good shooting really depends on what your army already does.
To sum it up, an HQ has to do one of the following things:
1. Help you win close combats that you would have otherwise lost, without dying too quickly.
2. Allow you some sort of useful option you otherwise wouldn't have had.
3. Allow you to gain a shooting advantage over your opponent.
Although the Cataan may not be bad HQs in themselves, they're horrible for the Necron, thanks to the phase out rule. Unless you're playing apocalypse sized battles, you'll pretty much have to choose between Monoliths and Cataan (or you'll phase out too quickly), and that's a no brainer. Take as many Monoliths as possible. ^_^
I'm not sure about sorcerers (Demon Prince with MoT and two powers seem better), but I've certainly never seen Lords do anything besides die to powerfists/klaws at record speed. I'm not a Chaos Marine veteran by any means though, so there may be good strategies I'm not aware of. Demon Princes seem like a much better choice though. Honestly, they're one of the best HQs in all of 40k.
Last edited by mynameisgrax; December 26th, 2008 at 22:37.
Also, 3 out of the 4 examples you gave are from the new Marine codex, and most of them are indeed very effective, since they add new rules to your army. Abbadon just isn't worth his points, not when you can field 2 demon princes for the same cost. It's not that he's 'bad' per se, but demon princes are better. That's the problem with Chaos HQs. Even if demon princes don't fit your fluff, they're far more cost effective than any of the other choices. Cost effectiveness is honestly more important than power.
Last edited by mynameisgrax; January 5th, 2009 at 21:00.
Old special characters are less effective because they were designed for older editions of the game. Many pieces of wargear dealing with target priority and outnumbering the enemy are now useless, and some characters, such as shadowsun, were designed to allow you to ignore or buffer these.
My gaming group's new motto: That army you're using is overpowered because it hurts my guys, codex is broken and needs a rewrite.
dante and corbulo are special characters and used together are great. they totally make any blood angel army way better than just getting a normal hq. to me they are totally worth their points. dante seems to die by the end just because he scares many people and becomes a big threat but corbulo seems to always survive since he just walks behind all of the other units while giving them furious charge.
Traitors dine in heLL.