Much Ado About Deathstrikes

Of all the weapons in the arsenal of the Astra Militarum, there’s nothing quite like the Deathstrike missile – an intercontinental ballistic projectile that, rather than being deployed from safe behind friendly lines, is more often than not wheeled directly into battle on a Chimera chassis. Long-time Warhammer Live subscriber Knotley loves Deathstrikes, and so, when the new Astra Militarum codex came out, set himself a challenge – what if you could build an army based around these devastating deliverers of death? Intrigued? Read on…

Put yourself in the mind of a bog-standard Astra Militarum Guardsman for a second. Let’s call him Dave. Every game you drop Dave on the field of war and what does he find?

Genetically engineered transhuman warriors swing boltguns firing rocket-propelled “bullets” as thick a soda-can to his left. To his right, massed ranks of irradiated cybernetic soldiers pouring radioactive isotopes into anything unworthy in the eyes of the Omnissiah. Ahead, he spots a demigod hefting a sword wreathed in fire. This self-proclaimed Avenging Son of the Imperium wades into battle.

And those aren’t even the ones trying to kill him.

An ancient tome
once said, “In the Grim Darkness of the Future, There is Only War”. In war, anything not cowering behind several inches of steel has a habit of ending up splattered, obliterated or otherwise reduced to a fine mist. Flesh is scientifically proven to have the tensile strength of potted meat and doesn’t take kindly to lead putting holes in it. In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, your flak-armoured human is most certainly on the “squishy” end of the spectrum.

So what’s Dave to do?

He should sit next to the ultimate deterrent – the Deathstrike missile. Are you, like Dave, sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Outside of a few lucky rolls of 6s, psykers or Stratagems, the Astra Militarum don’t have many options for dealing mortal wounds. Unless you count rolling 1s with plasma weapons, in which case one could argue they inflict more mortal wounds than any other army.

But they DO have Deathstrikes.

Each Deathstrike missile has the potential to drop 18 mortal wounds on an enemy unit. With 200″ of rocket-fuelled range and the ability to hit models it can’t see, even the favoured son of Nurgle three tables away has reason to fear your explosive wrath.

Okay, 18 mortal wounds is pretty unlikely, as a Deathstrike unleashes 3D6 shots, but it’s not impossible. The law of averages isn’t exactly on our side here; a Deathstrike causes a mortal wound for every hit, not shot, and Dave the Guardsman isn’t known for his accuracy. He struggles to hit his mouth with an Imperial-issue spork/entrenching tool around 50% of the time. Owing to these decidedly mediocre skills, the horrific power of a Deathstrike tends to round out around 5 mortal wounds. Still a threat, but not exactly Exterminatus, though even Dave has his good days.

Leave your hopes of blowing a crater in the enemy on turn 1 at the door. A Deathstrike can never fire on the first turn. To set one off, Dave the Downright Unfortunate and his fearless leader (you) must engage in the most heretical of pursuits – maths.

Take the turn number and subtract it from 8. To launch this beast, you have to match or exceed that number on a D6. And no, you can’t roll a Wound Tracker. So you need a 6 for a turn 2 shot, 5+ on turn 3, etc. There are no tactics or strategies involved in launching a Deathstrike. No matter how hard you pray to the God-Emperor of Mankind, that big red button only gets pressed thanks to pure chance. And that’s a bad thing, right?

Not necessarily.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. When we see two armies facing off on the tabletop, our heads formulate strategies. Killboxes, lines of retreat, feints, all-out charges – all of these and more present themselves to our subconscious minds. That player across the table from you brought T’au Empire for tonight’s game. Four times you’ve played against her and four times you’ve lost. Your forces have fallen to those pulse rifles more times than they’ve fired a plasma gun without being reduced to a bubbling puddle. Whatever you do, she has a counter. She can predict your plan of attack and turn it against you.

Turn that notion of predictability upside-down. Remove all semblance of tactical foresight. Bring a Deathstrike.

You won’t know when your pride and joy’s going to launch piles of death at those 
Vespids, but neither does your opponent. Can she rely on a unit of Fire Warriors to deter your brave, noble, and fully capable Guardsmen from taking the left flank when, at any moment, you could swat those bugs? Psychological warfare is half the battle. Tip the scales – bring a unit neither of you can trust.

Horde armies. Screened characters. Bonuses to nearby units. They’re common sights on the battlefield because they work. A well-positioned character can elevate a ragtag group of ne’er-do-wells to terrifying levels. A good opponent can build a finely tuned engine of death or a swarm so dense you forget what colour the table is. Any force can be turned into a machine of war. Wouldn’t it be awful if Dastardly Dave threw a thermonuclear spanner into it?

A Deathstrike doesn’t just hit one unit. It instead lands, damages the target, then lets you roll for every unit within 6″ of the target unit. On a 4+, that adjacent unit takes D3 mortal wounds. Take that information and apply it to characters hidden behind units. Not only can you decimate their bodyguards, but you’ve got a reasonable chance of wounding the character as well. 

Take it a step further with horde armies. Overwhelming weight of numbers? That’s an Astra Militarum tactic! Are you going to let these filthy xenos/other Astra Militarum Conscripts steal Dave’s favourite pastime? Of course not. You’re going to drop a missile on them. Even at its peak 18 mortal wounds, a Deathstrike won’t wipe out a mob of 30 Ork Boyz. But look at the footprint of those Boyz – that’s a whole lot of real estate. Now flip to page 113 of your Codex: Astra Militarum and read the last line of the Deathstrike missile weapon profile…

No please. Go ahead. Dig out the book. Take all the time you need. I run Deathstrikes. Patience comes with the job…

[Editor’s note: we’ll save you the trouble, here it is]

That posse of profane pugilists your opponent has the audacity to call a unit is, thanks to all the space it takes up, quite likely to be within 6″ of loads of other units. Why not spread the love? Your Deathstrike might only kill three Boyz, but the shockwave could cause far more damage to those around them. If your opponent likes putting large units in long, single-rank lines, one missile could lead to a chain of mortal wounds across the entire enemy line.

This factors into games more often than you might think. Many characters and units gain bonuses from having a model with a particular keyword or ability within 6″. See for yourself how quickly the gaps form when your Deathstrike rolls onto the table.

Note: Don’t surprise your opponent in a friendly game with this. Let them know you’re bringing a Deathstrike. It’ll make the game more fun for them, and you can enjoy imagining them squirm as their carefully woven tapestry of bonuses unravels.

If you’ve ever been fishing, you’ll know that catching fish without bait is difficult, to say the least.

Nobody who wants to win a game is going to let a potential 18 mortal wounds linger over their heads. They’ll want that Deathstrike dead. Use this to your advantage. Draw them into a killbox. Entice your opponent to shatter their deliberate deployment and hoof it across the board to destroy Dave’s nuclear friend.

Better yet, deploy the Deathstrike directly behind a building. After all, you don’t need line of sight to shoot at anything, so give your opponent the gift of a target they can’t ignore hidden behind a concrete lump of cover they can’t shoot through.

Target priority is important. Any gun can damage any target – spit enough fleshborers at an Imperial Knight and it’ll fall. That means anything carrying a gun has the capacity to whittle Doomed Dave’s tank driver friends down to nothing, and if you provide a priority target, they won’t be pointing those guns at the Wyrdvane Psyker you painted last night. Every gun, rocket, laser and deftly thrown rock will be spinning its way towards your Deathstrike. Considering the points cost of a Deathstrike, it isn’t the worst price to pay in service of giving your fearless Conscripts a chance at one more turn charging the enemy. And who knows, the Deathstrike may even survive multiple turns of bombardment.

Down-on-his-luck Dave has another trick up his sleeve. Two, actually – Stratagems and Regimental Doctrines. First and foremost is the Vortex Missile Stratagem. For the cost of 3 Command Points, paid after a Deathstrike is cleared for launch but before the shot is taken, the warhead is swapped for a horror dredged from the Dark Age of Technology. A Vortex Missile isn’t just your basic tactical nuclear warhead. This cruel conglomeration of technology does something much, much worse than irradiate or obliterate the target – it opens an infernal rift to the warp itself.

The Vortex Missile Stratagem lets you re-roll failed hits, taking the average mortal wounds inflicted on its target from just over 5 to a touch over 8. Not bad, but is it worth the possible 3 additional wounds? What’s more, rather than need a 4+ to damage nearby enemy units, you’ll only need a 3+. Finally, if a model that suffered a wound during the attack somehow survived, roll a D6. On a 6, that model is subjected to further physics-rending forces born of the Immaterium or, in game terms, takes an additional D6 mortal wounds. Roll well enough and there’s a potential 24 mortal wound crater where the enemy’s Imperial Knight used to be. Add that to the potential 9 on anything foolish enough to be within 6″ and this becomes a Stratagem any fan of Deathstrikes needs to keep ready.

here’s a doctrine for your Deathstrike, too. The choice, of course, depends on the flavour of army you want to go for. Our friendly Guardsman, Accursed Dave, isn’t too fond of driving around in his Deathstrike; unless the enemy is in attack range, there’s no need for the Deathstrike to move. In this regard, the Cadian doctrine, Born Soldiers, can go a long way, letting you re-roll 1s to hit, assuming it didn’t move this turn.

Not bad, you might think. The soldiers of Catachan, however, have some choice words for that conclusion, most of which cannot be repeated under Administratum orders. Their Brute Strength Regimental Doctrine allows vehicles to re-roll one dice when determining the number of shots fired. Enjoy the look on your opponent’s face when the paltry 6 hits you made jumps to 11. A word of warning here – you don’t have to re-roll your lowest dice if your first roll was good. Take averages into account. You’re just as likely to change 4 shots into 1 as you are into 6, so re-roll only if you roll a 3 or below.

This may be the last reason here, but it is without question the most important. Deathstrikes may not always be great and they won’t guarantee you victory, but they bring the most valuable aspect of all to a game. Joy.

Is the player who beat you last week two tables away? Cheekily threaten to take revenge by launching a missile into their units. Watch people who mocked your choice of the Deathstrike wince as they take Space Marines off the board by the handful when Dave the Dreadful transforms into Dave the Deliverer of the Emperor’s Wrath.

It’s never a bad idea to bring a little more to your games – so bring a Deathstrike (or several). There are few sounds that’ll bring more smiles than when you and your opponent cheer/lament the outcome of your The Hour is Nigh roll.

Go on. Give Dave a chance – don’t leave him armed with a lasgun, take him down to the quartermaster’s office and let him test drive a Deathstrike today!

++Thought for the Day: “A weapon cannot substitute for zeal.”++

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