What is this about?
Welcome to my first installment of the „ideas“ category on my block. After having provided feedback, criticism, and variour other things on the T9A forum, something became apparent. I don’t have a conclusive library of all the suggestions I made, all the ideas I produced and all the arguments I traded.
Whenever I want to go back to an idea I had, I need to find an old thread or even worse a specific posting of mine. Many times I searched in vain, my precious post lost in the depths of the forum, the wisdom (I am feeling particularly humble today 😉 ) lost forever.
This cannot stand, so once in a while I will post my ideas and rule suggestions here in my blog: For you to read, for everybody to see and for myself to dig it up again, everytime someone makes a similar suggestion, telling them I had that idea first (I just rely on people to have good humour and understand the joke and not just think me to be an idiot). So without further ado, here is the second post on that category (as I will re-label my old entry „Magic by Points“).
For reference this is about the Corsairs present since version 0.9 over 1.3.4 until 0.203. So basically every version that ever existed, as their rules did not change much over the time.
What is their status right now?
Usage in Tournament Lists
Looking at the Corsairs‘ usage one might easily think they are fine. A moderate number of players are using them in their lists and they are certainly not overpowered. This however would be a very short-sighted analysis. If you look just a little harder it becomes apparent, that Corsairs are only used for the cheap initial costs with relative durability and very rarely as a way to field more shooting outside the Raiders category. This leads to the following scenarios:
- Min-sized scoring dart
- Min-sized Oracle bunker
- Min-sized vanguard provider for Pegasus Fleet Commander
- Shooting unit outside Raiders
You can of course disagree with me, but I do not think any of this is a „healthy“ setup. The role #1 and #2 is already heavily contested (and surpassed) by a 15-man Dread Legionnaires unit with hand weapons, which is more capable of taken ranged shooting due to more bodies and lasts longer in close combat due to parry. As players notoriously overvalue the additional point of armour, I expect many players to miss this, but it does not change the fact how much superiors the DL are for both roles #1 and #2. The only reason for using Corsairs in the the other #2 setup, as a shooting unit, is that Repeater Auxiliaries are so bad right now. If any buff comes their way, they would outclass the Corsairs here and take their place away. Basically these two units fight over the „best far-away bunker“-role. Regarding role #3: If you think it’s healthy for a unit to be taken solely to just fling away a flying hero forward during deployment, then I have no further words for you. #4 is already very rare and will become obsolete, as the rules teams do not want Dread Elves to be a able to field an efficient gunline. Again the very idea, that you field a unit, even if its shooting is lackluster, just because it can shoot and not belong to a shooting category is completely alien to me.
Which playstyles do I miss here? Basically all you would want for rank and file unit. Big block, medium block, small unit all with fighting prevalence. Because of the unit setup (ranged and melee weapon options available, vanguard and high armour), the following role seems to be intended: Boldly move forward and plant yourself. Opponent is dared to advance or charge the unit, which then will thin out the enemy in ranged and finish off in close-combat. Of course, with the current rules, this can never be reached.
The Corsairs are a core rank and file unit with a basic Elf statline. They cannot produce attacks with a strength of more than 3, exactly like the Dread Legionnaires, the Repeater Auxiliaries and the Blades of Nabh. Like the Blades they carry Paired Weapons. Additionally the Corsairs have the Repeater Handbow: The worst ranged weapon in the game, the RHB is a modification of Throwing Weapons, with the added caveat, that you cannot buff it’s strength, by buffing the model. The Corsairs have more armour than all other options with an armour save of 4+. A special interaction exists with the Fleet Commander: The Corsairs can be upgraded to have vanguard then.
Efficiently the Corsairs are very, very close to the Dread Legionnaires. While the Corsairs have more armour, this is more than balanced by the DL being cheaper and therefore having more bodies. In the relevant scenarios „taking shooting“ and „creating combat result“, the DL are point-for-point better than the Corsairs. Against shooting the DL can absorb so many more shots, that the Corsair will only become point efficient after taking an obscene amount of shooting. In close combat the additional models are more efficient as well, providing additional ranks instead of preventing wounds by armour.
From a rules point of view the Corsairs are either a low-damage mass unit or a specialised mixed weapons unit. For the first part, they are drastically inferior to the DL who are better at providing the necessary ranks, withstand shooting better with cheaper models and generally fight better if equipped with spears. The few exceptions are enemies with parry and a drastic MSU formation with many models in the front row (for ten models you need to be at least eight wide to get one more attack (16 vs 15) than a 5×3 minimal DL with spears configuration).
Looking back at the balancing history of the Dread Elves we already know, that the rules team never considered or outright rejected any idea of the following:
- Changing the basic Elf stat line or use another stat line for a core Elf
- Ability to create attacks with a higher strength than 3
- Any shooting better than the worst shooting weapon in the game
- Light Troops or Skirmishers
Aside from that, the change history of the Corsairs is extremely blank. Basically the Vanguard part with Fleet Commander was added at some time. Then a few price adjustments were done. The rest is pure, unchanged legacy rules.
Are rules and fluff aligned?
Short answer: No, not at all.
We are probably talking about the worst representation of pirates in any game ever here. Unless you picture a tight packed, defensive, military unit with strong armour and laughable mini-crossbows when thinking about pirates, they do not strike home at all on this. Rules that would fit Pirates could be:
- Weapon options like Pistols, Nets, Cutlasses, maybe even ship weapons
- Movement rules like: Ambush, light troops, skirmishers
- Other stuff like: Fighting dirty, slavery, individuality, syngery rules with Fleet Commander
What is wrong with that?
Basically it’s a failure on each and every aspect:
The Corsairs do only see play in abusive roles or roles that should be covered by other units. They are not a fighting unit, not a shooting unit, not a tar pit/mass unit and do not shine as a hybrid of all those things, as they do each individual thing quite badly. Looking at tournament lists, it becomes apparent, that players often use them for bunkers or scoring darts when a blank Dread Legionnaires unit of 15 would be stronger. This player behaviour was also visible when DL had access to Heavy Armour. Although the light armour option was superior to the heavy armour option in almost any regard (I’d say 99% of the time), many players still had heavy armour legionnaires in their tournament lists.
What is my proposal?
Move Corsairs to Special & grant them special unit rules
In my opinion the current rules, design restrictions and balancing concerns do not allow the Corsairs to distuingish themselves from Blades and Legionnaires enough to be a truly good option both in fluff and rules. This causes the army book to „waste“ entries with suboptimal choices who do not bring much added value to the whole Dread Elf army. Additionally the Fleet Commander special rule vanguard for Corsairs is more or less wasted, as they do not pose a threat to the enemy at all.
This solution has a precondition to keep the book balanced as it already is. The precondition in my opinion is, that Dancers of Yema are removed from special and merged with Blades of Nabh as a Cultists of $Cult unit, that can choose two options. I leave the balancing and rules design to another thread/posts. For the sake of argument, just assume, that Cultists of Nabh stay as they are, and Cultists of Yema are equally valid in core and balanced.
Now the place for Corsairs in special is free. And with it, a lot more potential for additional and more complicated rules, fitting a special unit. Corsairs can fill the niche of special forces here. As they are raiders and naval fighters, they should not be a straight-up combat block. The unit could act as an interesting hybrid or special forces brand, without having the direct close combat prowess of Executioners and Tower Guard. By adding new synergy rules between the Corsairs and the Fleet Commander it would also players to encourage playing Corsairs with Fleet Commander and add a lot of options to an otherwise bland option, as right Fleet Commander is basically the same as „better armour“.
From there on, you can do a lot of things. I don’t claim to know the best path here, but that is something the ADT, RT, and BLT can decide on. Sadly the 2.0 BETA would have been a nice playground, but they rather wanted to test drive the Olaron and Cadaron cults there, so I’m hoping for the full Dread Elves re-design instead. Anyway, here are some major themes of ideas that are floating around in my head or were discussed in the associated T9A forum thread. Many of those can be combined:
Design Idea: Corsairs specialize into Marines, Raiders & Swashbucklers
Every unit of Corsairs needs to pick one specialization. All specializations are one of a kind. This efficiently prevents spam and makes the Corsairs of said type more special. The base from which all these build is a normal special Elf template. So Str 3, Res 3, Adv 5, Dis 9, Off 5, Def 5, Lightning Reflexes, Killer Instinct, and so on. The reason for this, is to keep the core of the unit easy to remember and put the specialness into the following three options:
Specialisation #1: Marines
Fluff/Design: Marines fulfill the dual role of hardened band of fighters, well armoured and organized in rank and file. But as true Marines they are special ops and do not rely on being better in hand-to-hand combat. Instead they are armed to weaken the enemy and then mop them up, if they reach close combat. The initial equipment was okay-ish for that but lacked power.
Equipment: Brace of Pistols, Kraken Hide
Brace of Pistols are golden: They fit the Corsair theme and already act as Paired Weapons (so we don’t need additional weapon entries). With Pistols, Corsairs are also strong enough to do what I described above: Stand there and provoke a „dare to charge me“ block in the centre of the battlefield.
- Joined Fleet Commander grants a special ability linked to getting charged, e.g. „Point Blank Shooting“: Corsairs don’t get a penalty and treat all chargers as if they were in short range and without cover for their stand & shoot reaction.
- As of right now, Marines may gain Vanguard if a Fleet Commander is present.
Specialisation #2: Raiders
Fluff/Design: They come in the night, kill the sentry and then steal everything and everbody. They are backstabbing, ruthless and fight dirty, but shy away from a honest fight.
- Max 20 models
- Light Troops, Hard Target
- Kraken Hide grants Hard Target and Distracting, but no Armour (yes, that means two stacks of Hard Target)
- Paired Weapons
- Do not have Scoring
If a Fleet Commander with Raider specialisation is joined, the unit and the character gain ambush. I tried to keep it simple here and not add rules for „dirty fighting and backstabbing here“. I also kept them from having ranged weapons for now, as this might easily become too strong then.
Specialisation #3: Swashbucklers
Fluff/Design: These are the battle-hardened fighters from the sea. The ones who hunt for Krakens, the ones that bring down other ships and are accustomed to weapons like nets, ship-built artillery and stuff.
- Cutlass: Strength As User +1, Armour Piercing(0) which turns into AP(3) if the enemy has less agility than the Swashbucklers
- Corsair Nets: During the first turn of combat one enemy unit to the front of the Swashbucklers suffers -1 Str, -1 AP and -1 Agi.
- No Kraken Hide, instead it just counts as Heavy Armour
- Alternative: Kraken Hide grants Innate Defense 5+/6+
- Alternative: Kraken Hide grants Innate Defense against ranged stuff
- Whatever balances them best, but I like the idea of low armoured agile Swachbucklers the best
Swashbuckler Fleet Commander: Swashbucklers get Death Trance.
Other Design Ideas (not necessarily by myself)
- Fleet Commander Synergy – Basic idea is, that Corsairs gain something if there is a Fleet Commander present or in the unit. As an example, this could go more into the direction how Dryad Matriarchs are working, with the specialisations being within the character and not the unit.
- Fleet Commander unlocks Core Option – If a Fleet Commander is present, the player may field one unit out of core points.
- Dirty fighting – I didn’t cover that in my specialisations, but it’s very thinkable to introduce some added bonus to hex the opponent, while the Corsairs are in a fight with them. Options range from general but weaker bonuses to ones, which only trigger on conditions (e.g. being in flank/rear), but grant better bonuses.
- Slavers – Coming from the old rule set, a rule to represent the enslavement part of the Corsairs seems to be on the mind of many players. I personally do not like that, as it’s too much tied to old rules and we don’t have fluff, that indicates the Dread Elves do in fact enslave their opponents, but I added it here for completeness sake.
Why is my proposal better / How does it improve the game?
Currently we have a lot of infantry options stumbling upon each other in core. We can still fulfill the intended roles of infantry for the Dread Elves anyway. However in special infantry there is a big problem: Tower Guard and Dread Judges are already very similar and Dancers of Yema provide a profile which does not really suit the Dread Elves as a defensive special unit. The Corsairs would play into several niches and play along the strengths of the army. More mobility, more backstabbing, more special forces, less generic „I kill you“-unit. It would also lead the Fleet Commander upgrade away from being a bland „get better armour“ upgrade. Instead we’d see Fleet Commanders with special rules, that make them actually feel like a Fleet Commander.
Counter arguments refuted
In the forum thread where I initially proposed this idea, there were some counter-arguments as to why this is a bad idea or should not be done. Most of them revolve around viability of the models and can easily be refuted as they don’t have any substance to them. Unfortunately discussions around models and existing collections easily distract from the rules design, so I will refute them here, so they do not do that.
The first argument is based around the idea, that the Games Workshop Corsairs are the „default“ model for Corsairs and each and every rules representation that does not match the WYSIWYG from exactly those models is invalid. Arguments that come forth sound like „if they don’t get 5+ Armour, I need to scrape away the Sea Dragon Cloaks“, or „if they have pistols my models are invalid“. It’s sad we even have to discuss why these statements are ridiculous, but here it is: First, not even the Games Workshop models fit the WYSIWYG standard for our Corsairs, as they do not come with the option „hand weapon only“ and also do not come with the option „both paired weapons and handbows“. Additionally the armour they are wearing is clearly heavy armour, not light armour. I would even claim there are no models out there that fit a „pirate themed elf with a light armour, paired weapons and a repeater handbow“. If you modelled some for yourself: I applaud your enthusiasm, but why should the T9A project shape its rules around your conversions? Second: The only thing that the rules govern is the base size of the model. Each and every existing Corsair model you bought and painted in the past is still valid for T9A, whether the rules change or not. As PW + RHB is the most common option and you obviously still play with your deviating existing Corsair models, where is the problem using a different deviation. Third: There is no picture I am aware of how the Kraken’s Hide actually looks. Just because some existing models from one single manufacturer have Sea Dragon Cloaks, does not mean this is the only visual representation of the cloaks. Neither does a specific type of cloak need a specific set of rules. After people wear cloaks all the time without them providing armour.
The second argument is based around people with a large amound of Corsair models, often together with a statement like „my army is Corsair themed“. If at all, the opposite would happen. With three different specialisations, my estimate would be that people will play more Corsairs in their lists not less. The other question is: Is this even a valid argument? I could argue, that I painted 50 Dark Acolytes and they should be moved to core, so I can play them all. For the pirate themed armies: I honestly do not get this argument. If I want my Dread Elves to be pirates, then basically everyone in my army can be represented by a Corsair model. Dread Legionnaires: Corsair models. Executioners: Other Corsair models with different colours. The rules allow this, most tournament organizers allow this. The only one not allowing this, seems to be an insistent voice in the heads of players themselves.
The third argument is basically stating, that Corsairs should remain in Core and be fixed there. Often accompanied with a subset of rules changes as I have proposed them above. While I can understand the approach to fix things by changing as little as possible, all the suggestions I see are ones that have been turned down for several iterations by the teams around the rules. Most often we see ambush, light troops, skirmish or better ranged weapons as suggestions. People seem to forget, that the rules team already think that normal throwing weapons (can be buffed by Perception of Strength) are too good for Dread Elves. Still they cling to the hope of getting a buff here, which will never happen as long as you do not complete swap out the teams and replace them with someone else. My conclusion is, that all „wiggle room“ to improve Corsairs in core is just imagined. In reality all these possibilities were discussed for a long time and always declined. To quote Einstein: „Die Definition von Wahnsinn ist, immer wieder das Gleiche zu tun und andere Ergebnisse zu erwarten.“ (The defintion of madness is to keep doing the same thing and excepting a different result)
The fourth argument is one I actually cannot refute: The Corsairs are fine as they are. Obviously I mentioned before why I think they are not, but I might not have convinced you.