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Hello LO! (Sorry, I just love rhymes...)
Having recently come across another army list incorporating deathwind launcher toting drop pods and remembering how seductive those weapons appeared to me when I first saw them on paper, I have decided to round up their pros and cons once and for all, and, after weighing them up against each other, either declare the deathwind launcher a viable upgrade or ban it from the list of useful options now and forever.
[Cavete: since it is hard to translate "gut speech" into written words I will be relying on some (rather basic) statistics as a medium of arbitration.]
When people first look at the Deathwind Launcher they tend to see its good S value and the large template. Then they look at its price and are happy to pay those few points for such a seemingly potent weapon.
Later they come to see its short range and are somewhat disappointed. Then they see its low BS value too, suddenly recognizing that the low price is justified and refraining from using it on their drop pods.
Warhammer 40.000 is not supposed (and does not intend) to feature a unit or upgrade, or anything else you can buy for your army, that is better than some other unit or upgrade or whatever else. Of course some have better stats or grant mightier advantages than others, but their price should reflect this and even things out.
Of course some units/upgrades work better in combination with certain others, and the above principle of balance only works to a specific extent. Some units plainly happen to turn out better than others (unwanted) while - in the extreme - some upgrades or units just don't make sense to buy at all.
A lot of space marine players tend to count the deathwind launcher to the latter. Though this may be true, some of them list "the few hits it scores will then probably scatter out of range" as a reason for their ruling. This - above all - is probably the worst misconception concerning the deathwind launcher: it is not ordnance! Since it is "only" a heavy weapon, the template will stay right where you put it. Moreover, you will still be able to fire the drop pod's storm bolter (which is, by the way - another common misconception - not replaced)! Though - of course - it has to be fired upon the same target.
Now here comes the fun part. To calculate the effectiveness of our deathwind launcher we would have to know an immense amount things. Even to know only how many shots it will get we have to consider the following:
* when does the drop dop arrive;
* how many turns does the game last;
* will the drop pod be destroyed or disarmed before the game ends;
* how many of those turns also provide a target in range of the weapon.
If we knew all that, we still didn't know what the targets' stats are, how they are set up and how many we can thus trap under our template.
To come to some kind of judgement we will have to make certain assumptions.
In the following we shall presume that the game is played a simple six turns without variable game length, that a sizeable squad will always be within the deathwind launcher's range and that the weapon itself or the drop pod it is mounted on are not destroyed. Concerning the template we shall rule that it covers an average of six models.
Now we can begin to make predications for this simplified scenario and add in the other factors and secondary considerations later.
A drop pod has a 4+ (3 in 6 chance) to come in on turn 2, a 3+ (4 in 6 chance) on turn 3 if it didn't come down on turn 2 already and so forth. A drop pod that is not destroyed and never lacks a target in a standard six turn game can fire 5 times if it came in on turn 2, 4 times if it came in on turn 3 and so forth.
So the average number of shots a drop pod will put out throughout a game fulfilling the above assumptions is 4.3 [(1/2 * 5) + (1/2 * 2/3 * 4) + (1/2 * 1/3 * 5/6 * 3) + (1/2 * 1/3 * 1/6 * 5/6 * 2) + (1/2 * 1/3 * 1/6 * 1/6 * 5/6 * 1)], scoring an average 1.4 hits.
This does not seem much: given the above assumptions, an average 8.6 models are hit throughout such a game, of which 4.8 would fall in the case of simple guardsmen or 1.9 in the case of simple space marines.
If we take those numbers to the orks, it raises the average to 5.7 casualties throughout the game, certainly earning the deathwind launcher's points back, as in any of the other cases too (even if not quite as much with the Guardsmen and still a bit less with the Space Marines). But of course: this is the point where we have to bear in mind that we have made a whole lot of assumptions in order to come to this conclusion.
So let's have a little reality TV and be more practical: the turn my drop pod comes down I usually put it down within rapid-firing (and therefore deathwind launcher) range, as I want all those beautiful bolters spitting self-propelled explosives at the enemy. Moreover I can usually guarantee that the drop pod (or its deathwind launcher) is not destroyed on the turn it comes down. So concerning this one turn we are able to make some relatively solid predications such as the following.
Consider a very dull but equally effective 1,500 points cleanse and purify drop pod army: reclusiarch with bolt pistol and command squad consisting of powerfisted veteran sergeant, company champion and seven more marines with two melta guns, and five tactical squads with powerfisted veteran sergeant, two melta guns and 7 bolters each (1496 points total).
Now to buy those six deathwind launchers we would have to drop 8 bolter marines. To me that sounds like a lot, but perhaps to others it doesn't. Perhaps others think that squads of 10 marines are overkill anyhow as far as shooting for example guard infantry squads goes (1 bolt pistol, 2 melta guns, 7 bolters -> 7.6 dead guardsmen) and gladly trade in those marines for their deathwind launchers.
The three drop pods statistically coming down on turn 2 could then obliterate a whole squad of guardsmen (one deathwind launcher and two storm bolter rounds hitting, killing a good four and a half of them) on their own (not quite), while the (weakened) tactical squads can still pop tanks with their meltas or take on squads of their own, still killing enough to effectively render their target quite useless. While the latter already has to be seriously questioned, this would mean that you could kill one more squad on the turn you land.
Now do the same thing, but instead of buying the deathwind launchers put six marines in another drop pod for the same points. They and their drop pod alone would kill almost six guardsmen; by adding the storm bolters of the other three pods included in the above numbers too this squad would beat the deathwind launchers' performance even further (true also for 4+ and other armour saves which the bolters do not pierce). Moreoever, this unit and its transport would provide the army with more bodies including a piece of armour and instant-terrain, another mobile scoring unit and 2 more units to spread fire onto different enemy targets. All the while only granting the enemy 70% of the automatic victory points for seven landed drop pods as opposed to six landed drop pods equipped with deathwind launchers. Plus: 12 bolter shots are by far more reliable concerning statistics than is rolling merely three little dice for those deathwind launchers who can likely fail you all three simultaneously (of course the opposite is possible too: all of them hitting what would be quite awesome).
The deathwind launcher's low range, low BS value, low AP value, low reliability (as to when it will be available) and high fragility clearly outweigh its high S value und big template at the given points cost.
Not to mention the problem of having put a lot of points into non-scoring units and granting the enemy a lot of unnecessary automatic victory points upon landing the pod.
There may be, somewhere, sometime, a case of being able to trap a whole army of some hypothetic tightly-packed T3 Sv6+ models in a circle of many deathwind launcher drop pods. But this one-in-a-million chance clearly does not justify buying this upgrade on your drop pods. You seem to be better off with something else in virtually any situation.
My final call is that the deathwind launcher upgrade for drop pods is to be banned completely from the list of serious choices from now on until reassessed in the shade of a new codex. [For those who haven't done this already long since...]
Even if more than six enemy models fit under the blast marker, standard bolter marines still perform better for the same price. If you have 20 points leftovers and no squads to fill with marines or useful upgrades or weapons: do what you want. But don't blame me!
Hi Red Archer,
first off, good post - it's nice to see someone break down what is an oft-ignored part of the Space Marine armoury.
Unfortunately I have to agree with your conclusion - it's a nice thought that you can pie plate an enemy squad anywhere on the board, but there are too many down-sides and things that can go wrong to make it worthwhile.
Here's hoping we get something better next time they do a SM Codex!
I righted off the Deathwind Launcher as soon as I considered the low BS on those things and the extra points I would be giving to the enemy when it lands. Now if it was an ordinance weapon... (lol), but then you probably couldn't fit any marines in the pod anymore.