Insider 05-05-2016

The skorne are an ancient people with a proud and bloody history. Unbowed to any god and unrivaled in their thirst for conquest, the skorne are bound only to their traditions, rigid division of castes, and reverence for the spirits of their ancestors. Their warriors are the inheritors of a strict code that has spanned countless generations, and yet has maintained continuity through close contact with those who came before.

Their dark and arcane sciences grant them the capability to blur the lines of life and death, to tear the secrets from their enemies’ broken bodies, and to unleash brutal arcane assaults. Believing themselves to be worthy masters of all they survey, the skorne ruthlessly enslave any who fall under their yoke, turning the beasts of the wastelands into living engines of war.

When it comes to the Skorne as a Faction, themes rise readily to the surface. The hoksune code shows a clear preference for close combat over killing at range. The skorne’s mastery of mortitheurgy as both weapon and motivational tool gives us a blueprint for a withering and terrible system of magic. Their penchant for the preservation of the soul opens up new vistas for recruitment and the maintenance of their armies. But above all, the skorne value strength and skill. The warrior caste rules, but it is the cunning and command of dark magics that set its leaders apart.

The rank and file of the skorne army are for the most part sturdy, strong, and predictable. They are so highly trained and dedicated to the path to exaltation that they can be wielded like weapons in their tyrant’s hands. The skorne’s exotic warbeasts likewise possess a wide range of capabilities, but each is fairly clear in its application on the battlefield. It is left to the commanders of the skorne to shape these formidable resources into an army that can bring honor and victory to the empire.

Among the primary challenges we had with the Skorne in the new edition was ensuring that each of its warbeasts felt unique and had a clear place in the army and that each was not overshadowed by other beasts with overlapping roles. Among the elephants in the room was Bronzeback Titan, a beast of unquestionable brutality—especially once all of its melee weapons acquired a 1” melee range. In the end we settled on a beast with a very similar stat profile to its Mk II predecessor, albeit with reduced DEF and FURY 4. Actually, all the Titans had their DEF reduced to 10; they are bipedal pachyderms, after all. The Bronzeback also traded its old Leadership for something we felt would have a more pronounced effect on the game. Now when a friendly non-Bronzeback Titan ends its activation in the Bronzeback Titan’s command range, you can remove 1 fury point from that Titan.

The Cannoneer, Gladiator, and Sentry all retained their distinct roles on the battlefield. That said, the Cannoneer gained a 4” AOE and traded its old animus for Farstrike, though it went down to FURY 3. It feels like a steal when it can aim with an effective RNG of 16” and hit with a POW 15 attack.

As long as we are talking about taking certain warbeasts down a peg, would you be surprised to hear the name of Molik Karn? Yeah, the check was in the mail on this one, I am sorry to say. He just overshadowed too many other options in the army, possessing a horrific damage output with a great deal of built-in efficiency. The good news is that he is down to 20 points. How he got there takes a bit of explanation.

All character warbeasts and warjacks have lost their affinities. Instead, most now have bonds, which no longer influence the amount of focus a warjack can be allocated or modify the Threshold of warbeasts. Instead, each has a special benefit that the beast or ’jack gains while controlled by its bonded warcaster. Additionally, bonds enable the beast or ’jack to be added to any theme force that its warcaster or warlock is a part of, whether it can normally be included in the theme force or not.

Rather than having it natively, Molik Karn’s new bond with Makeda now grants him Sidestep while he is in her control range. All that said, with his MAT 7 and twin P + S 13 melee attacks with 2” RNG, Weapon Master , and Combo Strike, Karn remains a ravening terror on the battlefield.

The Basilisk Krea also underwent some significant changes. Her capabilities were limiting the Faction’s design space. Mk II Paralytic Aura became one of those factors we had to weigh every time we talked about the Skorne. After a great deal of focused playtest we eventually replaced her old animus with Force Aura, which states, “While within 3˝ of the spellcaster, friendly Faction models gain Force Barrier. Force Aura lasts for one round. (A model with Force Barrier gains +2 DEF against ranged attack rolls and does not suffer blast damage.)”

Oh yeah, you see where it says “spellcaster” in the text of the animus? Well, animi are now clearly defined as spells, no matter who casts it, effectively removing a counterintuitive and potentially easy-to-forget distinction.

Another change we made to animi was more philosophical. We decided that animi are a defining characteristic of each army. Rather than trying to give each warbeast a unique animus, we chose a selection of animi that suited each Faction and repeated them where it made sense. That is how both the Razor Worm and the Rhinodon ended up with Spiny Growth (now target SELF only).

We eventually settled on the Repulsion animus for the Agonizer . . . because it is now a lesser warbeast. No longer a Fury Bank, we focused on streamlining its Agonies, which, while different, are still utterly chilling in their effects.

Those are generally the most significant changes to the Skorne’s warbeasts. There are more minor adjustments throughout, such as point adjustments and Skorne gargantuans picking up more damage boxes, etc.

It’s hard to talk about Skorne warbeasts though without talking about their support. Charged with the care and training of the Skorne’s warbeasts, the Paingiver Beast Handlers accompany the empire’s armies to war. In addition to remaining formidable combatants, with RNG 2 whips and Anatomical Precision (which now also negates Tough ), the Beast Handlers remain a premier warbeast support unit. Beast Manipulations are gone. Instead, each Handler has three special actions that he can use to influence the beasts in the army. These include Condition (which now adds or removes only 1 fury point), Enrage (which is now a flat +2 STR bonus without dictating the action the beast has to take during its activation), and Medicate (which is now limited to B2B, like Repair in WARMACHINE). Additionally, there is no limit to the number of times a warbeast can be affected by these special rules each turn (though a beast can still only be affected by Enrage once per turn, obviously).

Now onto the Skorne’s highly trained warriors. As with most heavy infantry in the game, the Cataphracts were reduced from 8 to 5 five damage boxes. We decided that massed blocks of heavy infantry were getting a little out of hand. Those blocks often fell somewhere between no fun to play against to disheartening, so we reduced the resources required to take them out, viewing this as the province of warjacks and warbeasts.

We also took a look at the DEF of the Cataphracts relative to the rest of the infantry in the Faction and lowered it to 11. While inhumanly strong and highly trained, all that armor has to come at some cost. These changes enabled us to roughly maintain the cost of the Cataphracts (the Arcuarii are now 11/17, the Cetrati are 13/20, and the Incindiarii are 12/18) while keeping the Faction’s ample support spells balanced.

The Praetorians remain little-changed, though they have been recosted for the new edition . . . with the exception of the Ferox, who have learned some new tricks. The distinction between light and heavy cavalry is now gone. Instead, all cavalry can make impact attacks on the charge and gain boosted charge attack rolls, and make Mount attacks as standard melee attacks when they don’t charge. The Praetorian Ferox excel at brutal, non-charge Mount attacks.

Two of the lynchpins of the Skorne infantry are the Tyrant Commander & Standard Bearer and the Venator Slingers (yes, you read that last bit correctly). The Tyrant Commander remains an asset to his Faction with his capabilities little changed (including his 8 damage boxes). The Venator Slingers, however, have been born again. The Slingers now have a menu of alchemical attacks that would make a Gun Mage proud. In addition to a pair of acidic attacks, they also picked up Flare, which they can use to paint targets for more powerful attacks from other Skorne forces.

I also want to throw a spotlight on the spiritual side of the Skorne. The Ancestral Guardians and Immortals now generate soul tokens when they are destroyed, so can you field flavorful armies made up entirely of the exalted dead.

Before moving on to warlocks, I want to look at three solos who cast long shadows over their Faction. The Paingiver Task Master remains very similar to his previous incarnation and is still able to propel the Minions who serve the Skorne to incredible heights of brutality (and now for 3 points). The Mortitheurge Willbreaker remains a potent weapon in the Skorne arsenal, but no longer possesses Ancillary Attack. In fact, very few models left in the game do. Instead, they possess Flesh-Hardening, which states, “RNG CMD. Target friendly Faction living warrior model/unit. If the model/unit is in range, continuous effects on it immediately expire and it gains Tough for one round.” Furthermore, the Willbreaker’s Influence ability now enables it to force enemy models to make ranged attacks as well as melee attacks. Lastly, there is Aptimus Marketh, who now has a Magical Ability score of 7 for the spells he casts via Spellslave. Models with Spellslave are no longer able to cast Upkeep spells, however. That is the province of the warlock. And so let’s proceed to talk about the warlocks . . .

With their rock-solid infantry and brutal, utilitarian warbeasts, we came to see that it was the warlocks who truly add variation to and define the Skorne’s armies. The warlocks needed to be distinct, to push their forces in new directions, and to offer unique play experiences. I feel like it was here, more than in virtually any other Faction, that me made the most substantial changes to the capabilities of the warlocks. We looked at each version of every one and tried to make them as unique and interesting as possible, while trying to maintain continuity across each iteration of the various characters. Morghoul 1, for example, remained focused on manipulating the warbeasts in his battlegroup as well as maintaining his unique combat style, while Morghoul 2 came to the fore as an unparalleled assassin, even regaining his old Blackout feat, which inflicts Blind on enemy models throughout his control range (a change slightly mitigated by the fact that Blind is now shakeable).

Rethinking the Makedas, we wanted to make sure that each felt like the imperious mistress of the Skorne Empire. Makeda 1 became even more of a combined arms master, keeping Carnage but trading her other spells for Quicken, Subjugation of Will, and The Lash. Subjugation of Will is a control range upkeep spell that grants Shield Guard to the warbeasts in her battlegroup. The Lash, on the other hand, is a potent attack spell with a 3” AOE that reduces the THR of warbeasts hit by 2 for a round.

Meanwhile, Makeda 2 has evolved further into the patron saint of the empire, acquiring an even more defining version of Stay Death that no longer stipulates “Once per turn.” Among some other changes you will have to wait to see, she also traded Engine of Destruction for Storm Rager, an upkeep spell that reads, “Target friendly Faction warrior model gains +2 STR, MAT, and ARM and cannot be targeted by combined ranged attacks or combined melee attacks.”

Makeda 3, always very distinct from her two other incarnations, simply traded Sun Hammer for Hand of Death, a spell that grants a target Faction model Grievous Wounds and Overtake.

Despite suffering apparent destruction for a second time, Mordikaar has continued to evolve. It is hard to keep a good Void Seer down. He traded Void Lord for Elite Cadre, and Ghost Walk and Banishing Ward for Host of Shadows and Manifest Void. But to apprehend the complete picture, you also need to see the new Void Spirit cards.