The Daemons are in the Details

When the second edition of Horus Herey dropped last in June last year, I was optimistic. The edition looked good, we had a strong release schedule ahead full of interesting things, everything was good! But it didn’t take long for things to slip. Rules broken in the core book, the slow and creeping realisation that a balance pass wasn’t coming, the issues first with Mechanicum and then Custodes and Sisters of Silence, and others that countless kilobytes of online ephemera have been spilled disecting and arguing.

What I want to talk about today is daemons.

We were originally told to expect that Daemons of the Ruinstorm would be out in the original June-to-October release window, in which we were to expect a downloadable PDF each month: three Legacies of the Horus Heresy PDFs containing the stuff that didn’t make it into the books, Imperial Cults and Militia covering non-Auxillia humans and the aforementioned daemons. Of these five PDFs, only the three Legacies documents were released on schedule and nothing was said about the other two.

As a brief aside, prior to 2nd edition my Heresy collection consisted of Mechanicum and Blackshields, a niche marine army that got rules in one of the Black Books. GW never said anything about them in the original release window, but one of the Legacies documents included rules for Garro and Rubio (who were Knights-Errant, another weird subfaction), and it had a little boxout that mentions Blackshields as coming in a “future publication”.

This is the only mention of it at all, and whilst I can (and have) played my blackshields as normal marines, they were heavily distinguished in the first edition of the game with special rules and custom wargear and I didn’t want to expand them using Alpha Legion or Dark Angels rules on the basis that I didn’t want to have rules come out for them and suddenly find out that half my army doesn’t work.

I mention this because the same logic largly applied for me to daemons. I started a Word Bearer’s army at the start of 2nd edition largely on the basis that I wanted to do a mixed marine-daemon army. The Word Bearer legion specific stuff is fun, but really it was having a mad evil wizard bring an unending legion of horrible gribblies into an unsuspecting horde of normal innocent men marines that got me up in the morning. And it felt like a reasonable thing to do, instead of going out and buying a bunch of daemons in preperation, to wait until the rules were in hand and then go hog wild buying awful little plastic people.

And October came and went and we had no real indication of when daemons were going to come until March of this year when without fanfare Warhammer Community drop Bound Daemons of the Ruinstorm as an “Exemplary Battle”. It was rules for taking a subset of the daemon list as allies! And by subset, I mean “Ruinstorm Brutes”, the one kit Forgeworld ever made for non-character Heresy daemons and currently £86 for three monopose miniatures, and the “Daemon Regent” who we all assumed was a daemon prince stand-in who got some brute bodyguards.

Two units and some named characters. Wonderful. But it did announce that the full army list would drop over the summer, which was enough for me to start painting some daemons I had in my stash and use some vouchers I’d won in a painting competition to buy a boarding actions box of khornate daemons.

This is a point for aside #2, about how the original ruinstorm daemons list worked, and one of the big reasons I was hesitant about just starting to build models outside of what was explicitly listed.

The original list included a large swathe of generic profiles for daemons of various sizes, a collection of special rules to cover god-specific abilities (like magic for tzeench, plague for nurgle, murder for khorne etc.) and a designers note explaining what the suggested base sizes were for each type of model, which helped you align what miniatures to use for what. And people ran with it. Ruinstorm brutes came later and got their own dedicated profile, but could also just be used in the original ruinstorm list.

I wanted to do khornate daemons, partly because I’d not done them before, and partly because a lot of the imagery I associate with heresy era daemons is khornate in nature (a lot of the named characters are clearly khornate). The GW khorne line doesn’t include anything that easily maps onto the brute 50mm base, or the weapon loadout, and whilst the brutes do look fairly khornate themselves, they are as previously mentioned, nearly £29 each and (beautifully sculpted) monopose miniatures meaning having more than 3 gets pricey AND boring.

I did start making plans such as taking the new chaos ogroids and giving them bloodletter-y heads but that’s a lot of work when you don’t know what you’ll be able to do with them. Also, importantly, the Goonhammer Open was coming in September and I needed to know what I was going to do for that list, and September is at the end of summer so I should have time to submit a list and build that part of my army, right?


It was Tuesday 10th of October when the full list dropped. (I took Mechanicum to the open under my traitor ticket. Wonderful event, lots of fun, got to stomp around with my titan, should write a post about that some day.) No warning, not even a Thursday. Just “here’s a PDF, have fun”.

I got excited. Very excited. The Goonhammer Open had reminded me what a good game of heresy could feel like, and daemon rules would let me finish building my Word Bearers and…

Nothing in the rest of the Heresy rules has this disclaimer. Not dreadnoughts. Not custodes. Not the broken rites of war. Not even titans! But it gets worse. You’re not allowed to take daemons as allies, or ally marines to daemons. Or anyone. So no daemons with chaos knights, or daemons with dark mechanicum (which does mean you can’t run daemons with the daemon engines they shoehorned into traitor mechanicum either). You can include troops and elites into a marine army with an esoterist, and Word Bearers actually get two other ways to include some other daemon units, but it’s limited and runs into one pretty serious problem.

One of the big issues with reserves is that there’s a random roll that determines if you get to play the game, or if you sit around with half your army off the table twiddling its thumbs, which means that people generally don’t rely on reserves if they can help it unless they get some significant advantage from doing so (like deep striking). Aircraft generally have to come on from reserves, so transport aircraft rely on you placing the expensive transport and its passengers in reserve and if you fail a few reserve rolls, half your army just doesn’t take part in most of the game.

But transport aircraft run into a bigger issue: interceptor. When you come in from reserves, your opponent gets to make one or more shots against you. Aircraft are often squishy, and it’s very easy to take a lascannon squad that can make interceptor shots. So now your storm eagle full of expensive men (because you need to put something that’s going to hurt in the transport, because otherwise what’s the point) crashes and burns and you’re stood there wondering why you bothered spending £100+ on a plane, only to use it to sabotage your own game and experience.

Summoning daemons is like this but worse. You still buy your daemons in the list building phase, but now only your psykers can summon them into the game. So if your opponent makes the tactically correct decision to focus fire on those psykers, or shoots them with snipers, or does literally anything to play the game correctly and kills them, then however much of your army you didn’t summon just doesn’t interact with the game.

So to summarise, if I want to use daemons then my choices are:

  1. Ally bound daemons for a single unit, of which I either have to: Choose a different chaos god, buy multiple monopose miniatures at £86 for 3 or kitbash/convert dozens of models.

  2. Do nothing but daemons, relying on a list that opens with “you have to ask your opponent for permission”.

  3. Rely on a summoning mechanic that relies on asking my opponent not to do the most obvious and tactically advantagious thing the game wants them to do, or I don’t get to play the game in a meaningful way.

I am sorry but fuck that.

The army list is pretty medeocre as far as I can tell. It’s a melee army that charges through terrain worse than even the most basic space marine unit, elements appear wildly overcosted possibly because they removed deep strike at the last moment, and there’s now four separate HQ choices with no real indication what’s what, and a new generic Lord of War you can literally only take with mono-daemons.

We waited a year and a half for this.

If I wasn’t both angry and lazy I’d make that stupid clown meme.

But this feels like Heresy in a microcosm. Instead of plastic assault marines we’ve gotten an endless parade of tanks, and a rehash of the MK III armour but rescaled and in the same five poses as the new MK VI armour. No mention of blackshields, and the promise of shattered legions in the first campaign book was a narrative mention! Zone Mortalis rules that ignore that GW released a brand new set of spaceship terrain for their 40k line.

I keep saying to my friends Edwin and Zach that when predicting a new Horus Heresy release, the safest bet is to take the stupidest possible option and gun for that. And I am very sad that I keep being right.

Right now the only thing that means I’m only type-words-on-the-internet angry is that I’m sure the people at Games Workshop working on this are probably sadder about not being given the time and resources to do this properly than I am about it being bad.

I have to make a decision about what I want to do with Heresy.

It’s a setting, and a set of miniatures, that I deeply adore. It’s been a guidestar for a kind of hobbying that’s carried me through some rough times, and been a constant background for the decade I’ve been back in the hobby.

I don’t know where it goes from here though. Now daemons are here, and they’re bad, I don’t really want to continue with my Word Bearers. The blackshields are going back in the cabinet full time, because I’m not going through this again. My mechanicum aren’t enough right now on their own to be a full army, and there’s still some miniatures I want but the rules aren’t in a state for me to want to push them that far. And there’s enough issues with the rest of the rules that I don’t know if I want to start a second astartes marine army.

And I hate it.

I hate that they’ve taken a game I loved and poisoned my feelings for it.

It’s time for the third, and final, digression.

When I was younger I did a lot of fanworks. Mods, fanart, fanfiction etc. Some for big properties, some for tiny webcomics etc. I came of age in the golden era of the internet, just heading into the proper Web 2.0 of blogs and forums and stuff which meant that a million tiny decentralised communities sprung up and you could be a dog on the internet and nobody gave a shit.

But there came a point where you realised that aside from clout, you couldn’t do anything with any of this fanwork you did, and as national legal systems geared up for dealing with the internet, and the myriad platforms merged, and suddenly monetisation was a real concern for everyone and lawyers were never more than a google search away, the old habit of just selling fan works anyway died away.

I haven’t done any meaningful fanwork in about eight years, because it’s not mine. With the notable exception of all the stuff I do as part of the Games Workshop hobby. And whilst that’s (mostly) sanctioned, and it’s not like I do this stuff for money, I am really starting to realise that the same ethos of “it’s not yours” really should apply here as well.

Years ago, I remarked to someone complaining about the release of D&D5e that it’s not like Wizards broke into their house and burned all their 4e books, and they admitted that whilst this was true, all the new content would be for 5e, and eventally all the public groups and convention games would shift to 5e and the general expectation would be that if you were going to play D&D with a new group, it’d be 5e. But they admitted that their group could, and most likely would, continue to play 4e.

It is true that Games Workshop didn’t break into my house and burn all my Horus Heresy red books. I (metaphorically) did that. (I also metaphorically-literally did it by selling the core books on a trading group to a collector.) But more than D&D, wargames rely on an external community, and I am not aware of anyone meaningfully still playing Heresy 1E.

I am not, and was never, in control of my experience in the same way as I might be sculpting, or doing watercolours, or writing a god damn blog post.

I wish I had a pithier ending. I also wish I had better daemon rules, or a balance pass for dreadnoughts, or rules as written for armingers that actually interacted with the rest of the game. But I can wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up faster.

I hear Shatterpoint is good. It’s not like the company behind that has ever ruined a game I loved.