Thursday, 9 June 2011

Steadfast and the Horde

A Horde of Black Orcs. Choppiness to spare.
I think the rules for Steadfast and Hordes are two of the most exciting rules to be added in 8th edition Warhammer. These rules are, in effect, the first time there has ever been a reason to field more than 25-30 models in a single unit. There are exception to this statement – unbreakable models have always benefited from being in as large a unit as you could afford, and the Unit Strength rule did make a small difference (or a big one where Fear was involved) – however for most units, fielding 40 models or more in a single unit was inefficient. The number of models fighting would be much the same as when the unit had only 25 models, and rank bonus would be largely unaffected. Every model dies when the unit breaks and is run down, so why spend the points on the extra 15 models?

I think large regiments look great on the table. They lend the battle a greater sense of theatre, and make it feel more like a battle game and less like a skirmish game, which is how a game can look if two armies with few or no ranked units meet. A ranked unit of 20 models can look impressive; twice that many makes it more so.

A world of hurt
With the advent of the Supporting Attacks rule, there is already a reason to field your regiments as wide as is practical. Assuming your unit is not slaughtered wholesale before you get to attack, you will get the full attacks from your front rank, as well as an extra attack for each model in the second rank. This gives you an incentive to make your unit as wide as your opponent’s (or wider, to accommodate models in diagonal base contact). The Horde rule takes this a step further, by giving the player a magic number to aim for in terms of width – 5 models wide may be the magic number for rank bonus, but 10 models wide is the number for dealing damage. A unit that is 10 models wide gets an extra rank of supporting attacks, so up to 10 more models (or more, if the unit is even wider) can lend their support to their front-rank comrades.
Don't forget cavalry can fight in Horde formation too. If you can afford it...
In previous editions, a unit 10 models wide would have been a horribly unwieldy thing. Measuring wheels from the outside model can make a short distance seem a very long way when your unit is as much as 10” wide. This would have made general manoeuvring difficult, and charges on anything other than a target directly ahead a distant dream. The Swift Reform rule effectively addressed the problem with general movement around the table (provided your unit has a musician). Meanwhile, the free 90 degree wheel can mean a unit 10” wide can effectively steal an extra 15” on the way into contact! This is a colossal amount, and doesn’t even take into account the ability to charge past an obstacle after measuring right through it. In short, a Horde unit is nowhere near as unwieldy as it would have been in the past.

The Horde rule works best when utilised by troops with high strength, whether that be through their base profiles or the use of halberds or great weapons. Being able to fight in 3 ranks means fielding enough attacks should not be an issue – the main problem is making sure each attack is a threat. The temptation to field of Horde of troops with multiple low-strength attacks may be there, however without the ability to boost the threat level of each attack (for example with Killing Blow from the Cauldron of Blood, or strength boosts from spells such as Okkam’s Mindrazor), the unit may not deliver on your expectations.
Don't let them tell you otherwise - Goblins are really not Horde material...
We shall not be moved
The Steadfast rule is the opposite of the Horde rule, in that it encourages you to field a unit as deep (ie with as many ranks) as possible. In short, he who has the most ranks takes break tests on their unmodified leadership. But if that isn’t useful enough, you can even use the general’s Inspiring Presence to boost your unmodified leadership! What this means is, if a unit is Steadfast within range of the general and Battle Standard, it is very unlikely to break.

Suddenly there is a point to fielding your Goblins in units of 50, 10 ranks deep. Where in the past those back 5 ranks did little other than watching their comrades in the front rank get slaughtered before joining them in their glorious departure from the battlefield, now they get actively involved, shouting encouragement as the front ranks get hideously minced (I am assuming that their encouragement is the reason they make the unit steadfast. It could be they are just too busy pushing the guys in front of them into the blender to think about running away)…

There are only a couple of ways to negate Steadfast. It’s likely that not everyone realises that you can’t be Steadfast when the majority of your unit is in a forest. What’s that? You did know that? Well done. The more common solution is to have a unit with more ranks than your opponent. Only one side can be Steadfast. So even if you’re not particularly interested in being Steadfast yourself, it can be useful to have a deep unit anyway, just to take the advantage from your opponent.

Steadfast is also different from the Horde rules in that it applies to all ranked up units, regardless of size. So the rule comes into play a lot more frequently than the Horde, which requires a particular formation before it takes effect. As such, it is ultimately a far more important rule.

To each their own
Given that the Steadfast and Horde rules serve an almost opposite purpose, it stands to reason that different units will work better with different rules. Unless you have an especially devious plan, a Horde of Goblins is unlikely to really frighten anyone. On the flip side, your opponent will be delighted to see you fielding your 40 Swordmasters 8 ranks deep, rather than going wide and pumping out about a zillion attacks.

As a general rule of thumb, troops that can’t fight are best for Steadfast. Happily these troops also tend to be the cheapest, so it’s quite feasible to field a number of deep regiments in a single list, giving your army a rock-solid core. Being pretty poor fighters, these troops are not wasted by sitting them in non-fighting ranks – in fact, it’s probably best that you keep as many of them away from the bad guys as possible.

Hordes are at their most effective when they are comprised of hard-hitting, high-strength models. These troops will generally be more expensive, given their superior profiles. In turn, this means it is less likely that you be able to afford a large number of Horde regiments.
The stuff of nightmares: a Horde of Bloodletters.
There is an in-between ground here. Some troops offer some fighting potential, however they will find themselves outclasses against the very best opposition, and may be cheap enough to consider forming up deep instead. A good example of this is Empire Halberdiers. They are cheap and they have strength 4, so it’s quite easy to field a large Horde of them with the ability to worry a lot of units. However, should they encounter something truly tough, they are in for a slaughter. In some ways these units offer the best of both worlds, as they give you the choice of how to use them. When they will find themselves outclassed, they can reform and try to buy time using Steadfast, even as they get chewed up and spat out by their betters. Alternately, they can get stuck into something weaker, where the 30 strength 4 attacks they put out will make a terrible mess of a lot of opponents.

I should also say that some of the spells in the game could propel lowly, Steadfast-worthy troops to something impressive and Horde-inspiring. Spells that boost strength, increase chances to hit, and increase resilience can make a pretty ordinary unit look far more imposing. They may even inspire you to reform your defensively-minded unit into something more aggressive. Of course, their time in the sun may be short lived, and you may find yourself longing for your ranks back when the spell comes to an end…

Not perfect
As much as I like the Horde and Steadfast rules, they have their downsides. Like many people, I feel Steadfast would have worked better as a game mechanic if it were cancelled along with rank bonus when the regiment is flanked by a sizeable enemy unit. It feels like you have been short-changed when you manage to turn the enemy’s flank, only to be told that the unit doesn’t care that you’re in the flank, because there are so many of them. I would have thought Steadfast should disappear at the same time as your rank bonus does.

Big units absorb points. I have heard a number of players complaining about armies that had only a small handful of very large units lumbering about the table. Taken to extremes, this can make for a fairly boring and tactically inflexible game, which is really to be avoided. If making big units means your deployments are heading down toward the minimum 3 units, you may be taking things a bit too far and your games may suffer for it.

The need to negate Steadfast by having more ranks than your opponent can spark something of an arms race in army construction. If your opponents are fielding ever deeper units, you are obliged to respond if you want to prevent the enemy seizing the Steadfast advantage. You hear horror stories of players fielding units of 100 Skavenslaves. As much as it might be fun to theorise about how you would deal with such a unit, there is a fair chance of such monstrosities making a mess of your games.

The Steadfast rule has a considerable impact upon monsters, characters, and anything else that doesn’t have a rank of its own. With the Thunderstomp rule, a monster such as a Dragon could kill 75% of a unit, but if it leaves 5, they will test on their unmodified leadership. This makes the monster a more effective killer than ever before, but far less capable of finishing the job and breaking the unit it’s devouring. This may be the intent of the rule (to reflect the resilience of a regiment of troops in the face of a single enemy), however when taken to such an extreme it feels slightly odd.

One of the favourite hobby-horses of some people on the internet is “Death Stars”. These are generally large units, tricked up to the teeth and hopefully invulnerable to the worst an enemy can throw at them. Some players spend their time trying to devise such units, whilst others prefer to howl about them and demand that any such units be banned outright, or comped into oblivion in tournaments. The Steadfast and Horde rules both play into the hands of those trying to create such units, and indeed such basic things as a Horde of 40 Bloodletters led by a Herald are often categorised as Death Stars, despite their simplicity of construction – they’re just very hard to deal with. Except when it’s taken to an extreme, I don’t have a particular problem with powerful Hordes of troops roaming the battlefield, but I realise not everyone feels the same way.

Bigger is Better
OK, I realise the statement above is not always true, however I do think the Horde and Steadfast rules add to the game. They give players an option to field some really impressive units without impairing their army’s competitiveness. They also do good things for larger armies, when you’re playing a game that’s larger than tournament-size. Big games look far more spectacular with large units on the table, and these rules are perfect for that.
And here the Orcs demonstrate that the Horde and Steadfast rules can be used together. 80 Orcs, in 10 x 8 formation. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time...


  1. Is it my imagination or does it feel like people are playing 6th edition instead of 8th edition and just charging into combat hoping to steamroll everything? I mean I like the tactical edge that has been forced upon us by 8th edition.

    1. I know the Steadfast rule cops a lot of flak, but in general I think it does its job. Given free reign I'd probably tweak it a little to make it easier to negate by properly flanking the unit etc, but I don't think it's a terrible rule.

    2. I Know, I like it as well, but a couple of tweaks like a flank charge to negate the effects but keeping the rule redress ranks in the face of defeat as a counter would keep complexity while keeping simplicity, it means that skavenslaves, clanrats and goblins are a more dangerous foe but players have to think how am I going to win this fight, I'll be honest I was guilty of taking a chaos lord lvl4 with orange fire, helm of many eyes, mounted with a greatsword using him to break units, there were no real tactics for a while when I played chaos.

  2. I think a good compromise would be to add a to hit bonus on ranged attacks based on something like the number of ranks or maybe even just the number of models in the unit, seeing as archers would have an easier time hitting something in a sea of enemies as opposed to a group of 5 models.

    Alternatively affecting the movement value could be another option, a group of 40 people would have a hard time moving quickly in 8 ranks of 5 without tripping over each other.