Due to changes to the ease of regrouping and other rules that have hit the effectiveness of Weaken Resolve, the Internet has fallen out of love with Psyker Battle Squads and they have disappeared from the vast majority of Guard lists. The Internet is wrong.
It’s not just about understanding how the Rules have changed, it’s about understanding how the Game has changed.
Psyker Battle Squads are not allowed to use Rule Book powers, so are restricted to their two codex powers:
A 36” Large Blast shooting attack at the strength of the number of psykers in the squad, AP random D6. This an under-rated attack because what D6 AP really means is that half of the time it will penetrate Marine Armour and 33% it will slice through terminators.
However, Guard armies have more than enough access to blast weapons, and the PBS soulstorm is outclassed by the Grey Knight Psykers who aren’t in common use despite having the option to score (eg 80pts of IG Psyker gets a S6 Large Blast at AP D6, while 80pts of GK Psyker gets a S10 Large Blast at AP1). For this reason, Soulstorm is a back up power against Fearless enemies, and when we discuss the PBS what we are really talking about is Weaken Resolve.
A 36” range psychic power that reduces an enemy unit’s leadership by the amount of Psykers in the squad, to a minimum of 2, for the duration of the Guard player’s turn. It may not sound like much, but when combined with Guard shooting ability, this was one of the most influential powers that shaped the 5th Edition.
The Rules that hurt Weaken Resolve in 6th
Several major changes to Morale and Regrouping rules have had a big affect on the power of Weaken Resolve
- Regroup is a normal leadership test if 25% or more of the unit is alive (compared to 50%)
- Regrouping is possible on a double 1 even if less than 25% of the unit is alive (compared to not at all).
- It is no longer possible to prevent an enemy unit from regrouping by having a friendly unit within 6” (a common tactic for advanced IG players using Skimmers, Marbo or outflanking units to run enemies off the board).
- All enemy units get a “Deny The Witch” roll to avoid the power, giving them at least a 1 in 6 chance of avoiding the power.
- Psykers cannot use a Transport’s Fire Points to manifest powers (for example, Weaken Resolve) that are not witchfire whilst embarked.
This combination of rule changes has caused PBS to be dropped from most Guard lists people are running.
The Dark Side to regrouping
To begin to understand why PBS are still good, first read what seems to be one of the most frequently overlooked rules in 6th:
“If the unit successfully passes the test, it stops falling back and can immediately move up to 3″… Once a unit has regrouped, it cannot otherwise move (so cannot Run in the Shooting phase or charge in the Assault phase). However, it can shoot (including Overwatch), but counts as having moved and can only fire Snap Shots.”
I have no idea why this rule is so often forgotten or ignored, but it makes Weaken Resolve a lot more powerful against units without ATSKNF or Fearless than most people assume – it means the enemy hit by the power are likely to fail any leadership checks in your turn, withdraw a random 2x D6 distance, and even if they regroup under the new generous rules, they are of very little use in the opponent’s next turn. They will lack the ability to move more than the 3” regroup allowance, be unable to run and restricted to snapfiring, but above all these it is the fact they are also prevent from assaulting that is a huge win for any Guard army. This is massive.
6th Edition: A Target Rich Environment
If you read the rules in a vacuum it would be fairly obvious that WR and PBS have lost a lot more than they have gained from the transition to 6th. I am well aware of that, and yet I am still running them in my tournament armies.
Take a step back, and let’s have a look at the Game and how changes have affected the PBS.
- Placement of Objectives – This subtle change has a large indirect impact on the effectiveness of WR; objectives can now be placed within 6” of the board edge. This means the units guarding them are frequently closer to the board edge than in the past. If possessing a PBS does nothing other than convince your nervous opponent to place their objective closer to you, you’ve taken control of the game before it starts. If it doesn’t, you should have a good chance of scaring those defenders off the objective.
- Removal of Enemy Casualties – Casualties are now removed from the front (bar any LoS! Shenanigans). I guarantee after your opponent has lost a few units off the board edge, next time you WR and start firing at a squad they’d probably prefer to remove the ones at the rear closest to the edge. That’s not an option, and means when the unit tests for morale they are likely to be several inches closer to the edge.
- Removal of Friendly Casualties = Cheaper PBS – The rule that only the models that can be seen can take wounds can make a PBS cheaper to run. They no longer need a Chimera, as only 1 squad member needs to expose himself to enemy fire by poking his head out from behind cover to use the power – and as it is not a shooting attack, he can cast Weaken Resolve then run safely back into cover. Dropping a 55pt transport results in a lower cost of entry, making the PBS less of a commitment.
- First Blood – FB is worth a victory point, and many players are dropping rhinos and easy to kill units. But can you kill 3 marines from the 10 man squad closest to their board edge by the end of turn 1? (If not, are you sure you’re playing Guard?)
- Enemy Allies – Have you ever tried to take a holistic look at the Allied armies that are cropping up and noticed how many feature combinations of units with ATSKNF/Fearless and units without these fancy rules? In effect, the amount of armies that a PBS is useful against has shot right up, simply because so many armies that have low vulnerability to morale are being combined with codexes that have standard leadership. Allies generally make armies stronger – but also often make the PBS useful against at least part of it.
- Friendly Allies – The leadership hit isn’t just for the Shoot Phase, that’s just how Guard players have always treated it. There is an additional phase called ‘The Assault Phase’ that comes after shooting before a turn ends (see page 20 if you don’t believe me). The inclusion of friendly Allies means this enemies who have failed morale can now be much better exploited, destroyed or caused to drop to WS1 by allies that cause fear. Combining morale-breaking with assault squads is extremely powerful.
- An additional new allied combination is to add a Librarian with Fear of the Darkness to force the Morale Check without even needing to waste ammo on the enemy.
- Increase in infantry – Infantry outside of vehicles are the new black. The PBS likes this.
- Rise of Bikers – Bikers are greatly improved in 6th, with their hammer of wrath and jink saves and base toughness improved, and people are taking more of them. Their high speed (moving 24” when most deployments start armies 24” apart) makes them very hard for a guard army to deal with. They gained a lot without any point cost increase, but still fall back 3D6”. True story: I ran 800pts worth of bikers off the table on turn 1 with 2 PBS.
- Increase in jump pack infantry – Jump packs are on the increase, and similarly have an additional weakness to the PBS.
- Psychic Hoods have been Nerfed
- The Rise of Death Stars – Creating a “Death Star” hammer-unit is now more popular than it has been for years. This is just the sort of environment a morale affecting unit thrives in.
- The new Power Builds – There has been a huge amount of growth in some new power lists. In brief, most Necrons lack fearless and psychic defence, Chaos Space Marines lacking ATSKNF is a huge deal and puts them almost in the xeno-category, and against Daemons the blast is alright but if they brought Fateweaver the PBS is worth its weight in gold.
- The Psychic Shriek Combo– It’s impossible to get through an article about PBS without mentioning it, so the ideal of reducing any enemy unit to LD 2 with WR and then casting Psychic Shriek to cause up to 16 wounds with no armour saves is extremely appealing. However, as covered in my Primaris Psyker Review, http://www.3plusplus.net/2012/08/ig-codex-review-in-6th-part-two-primaris-psyker/ the chance of successfully getting both powers off is only 32%, and the range of 12” means you’re not likely to get a second try. It’s potentially tremendously powerful mathhammer, but I’ve not done it or seen it done on the tabletop. Have you?
The Psyker Battle Squad was one of the most important, influential units of 5th Edition, and it has dropped in popularity in 6th. I think this is understandable due to the rule changes that directly reduced their power, but that the way the game has changed around them goes a long way towards compensating for this.
I highly recommend the inclusion of at least one Psyker Battle Squad in Guard armies (or armies that ally in IG) as a tremendous force-multiplier, and rate them as Highly Competitive.