Tuesday 27 August 2013

Chaos Space Marines: Leadership and reliability

The background to the question

So, there's been quite a lot of rage on the internet recently about the Black Legion Codex release, which stems back to the belief that Chaos Space Marines need 'fixing' as a troop type. This belief stems from Chaos Space Marine Leadership.

The perceived problem is that with normal leadership and no special rules, such as "And They Shall Know No Fear" or "Fearless", Chaos Space Marines run away too much, particularly from lost hand to hand combats when their unit leader is forced into a challenge he has no chance of winning. Icons are dismissed as being too easy to snipe from the unit, and Veterans of the Long War as being a simple Leadership boost without adding a special rule.

I'm not going to comment on the mechanical advantages and disadvantages of Chaos Space Marines, as while I have the Dark Vengeance set and I'm planning a few CSM allies for my Guard at some point, I haven't played them yet, so I'm not really in the best place to comment on the in game mechanics.

However, several people have said that this does not fit their view of the background and setting of Chaos Space Marines. Why would ten thousand year old veterans be 'less good' than recently recruited Loyalist Marines?

My take on the situation

The Leadership statistic represents courage and discipline. Loyalist Space Marines are psychologically indoctrinated and hypnotised into fanatical loyalty to the Imperium. They "Know No Fear" because they have been brainwashed. Even that aside, their bravery on the battlefield is about having a higher cause. Leadership checks the point where you are ensuring that your perfectly natural human reaction to flee a dangerous situation is being over-ridden by your desire to stick to the plan.

Chaos Space Marine cult troops (Berserkers, Noise Marines, etc) are Fearless because they are dedicated to a 'higher power'. They have subsumed themselves into another concept. Plague Zombies are Fearless because, well, they're zombies. Chaos Cultists are expected to run away a lot, unless whipped into line by a suitable agitator.

So, why do "normal" Chaos Space Marines run away?

It is because they are evil.

This is actually a deeper statement than it first appears. The point of a Chaos Space Marine is that they have overcome their original training, loyalty and conditioning to a 'higher cause' (the Imperium). Instead, they have taken a more selfish, personal path to power.

The key word there is selfish. Chaos Space Marines are not the sort of people to lay down their lives for a cause - if they see things are going badly, they will quite likely start doing their own thing, which is likely going somewhere safer. Renegade Chaos war bands are not places you are likely to see loyalty to the bitter end and self sacrifice for some higher cause.

In short, in the case of a Chaos Space Marine, or even a Veteran of the Long War, their willingness to give up and flee is nothing to do with how skilled they are. It is their self centred nature to want to continue existing, even if it is at the expense of some superior's plan or the course of some battle. They have had ten thousand years to plot revenge in some cases - so why throw that away for the sake of a battle plan that appears to have been conceived by a twelve year old child (because sometimes, it was)?

From a setting perspective, the Chaos Space Marine stat line is perfectly fine. The real question is about game balance and points costing. I think, for Games Workshop, at the moment that takes second seat to 'Forging the Narrative' - and the scores of treacherous little mini Starscreams in power armour are doing that just fine.


  1. You know what? That makes a lot of sense. I also think of CSM as being just a tad unhinged, which probably makes fleeing seem more reasonable. I agree they they are just fine as is.

  2. tbh going back to the FW Heresy books - Marines didn't have ATSKNF - and that's the loyalists and traitors alike. In my mind (as a CSM player) the lack of any rules to make them stay harder (seriously, I have a love hate/thing with ATSKNF anyway) makes sense from a back ground point of view. If I want a unit to stick around I have Dark Apostles and higher LD characters anyway - same with any non marine force... Only thing that's broken? Lack of Cult terminators :P

    1. During an interview, Forgeworld explained that they removed ATSKNF from the Heresy Marines because ceramite on ceramite combat without special weapons grinds to a hault. Imagine 20 v 20 tactical squads, with 1 attack each duking it out with sergeants in artificer armor up front tanking most of the blows. The combat is stale and goes no where and made the games boring during playtesting.

  3. I don't disagree with you. CSM are selfish and might potentially run away from a battle. Not just to rally a bit later, but all the way out of combat.

    HOWEVER, the big draw back is that you have a more melee oriented SM army (than say, vanilla marines), who want to get into combat.

    But, if they lose combat, the whole squad dies. If they perhaps rallied if caught in a sweeping advance, it would be a lot better.

    I could tolerate them not being valiant and willing to die for the sake of the plan, if they at least wouldn't let themselves get cut down in combat.

    It creates an army that risks so much to do what it seems like it wants to do, that you have to shoe-horn it into doing something else (only shoot, instead of shoot/melee, or straight melee) such that you question why you're playing them in the first place, since vanilla does that better as the marks aren't helping you shoot.

    Then you remember heldrakes, and sigh because the rest of the book is rubbish and the heldrake's overpowered.

    1. You do not question why you're plain them, you play them because teh models are bett... hum, ok no, you play them because they're chaos and you once adored chaos because of the Realm of Chaos books.
      Having not played the latest rules, I didn't know all the things you guys are talking about but it seems very interesting. I actually didn't get that ├╝berpowered Helldrake thing when I first read the codex. Might want to make a proxy for it, (can't resign myself to buying such an awkward looking model for such a price).

    2. XVRogue: Its the getting cut down in combat that really does for people, I do agree. I'm not convinced that shooting is the only viable Chaos Space Marine build - but I've not been playing with them yet and I refuse to start making tactical comments on armies I don't play.

    3. Asslessman: You should go and look at KrautScientist's Helldrake kitbash for his Eternal Hunt: http://darkfuturegaming.blogspot.de/2013/02/building-better-heldrake.html

  4. I can't believe I've never visited here before.

    This makes wonderful sense. I think XVRogue has slightly missed the point; it's so much about X vs Y, but about the motivation, habit and outlook of those who are now Chaos Space Marines.

    Anyway, I'm going to see how far back I can plow in the next half hour or so.

    1. I've been reading the Devos IV blog for a while now, and I'm glad you've noticed my corner of the web. I hope you like it, and maybe at some point I'll get a few more of my Guard photographed for the blog...

    2. Koolio. As my sister would have said in the 80s.

      I caught something about Abbadon's position somewhere out there which basically stated that as the inheritor of Horus' position as Warmaster (and therefore most successful bloke launching Black Crusades) that all four ruinous powers want him on their team. So he's holding back on all of them.

      His aim is to breach the Cadian Gate, invade erf and become Emperor, at which point, he won't need the ruinous powers any more. Effectively, he's just playing them. But they won't stop backing him because a) all the other CSM factions still jump when he calls and b) he's the guy running the Black Crusades and causing all the 'fun'.

      Interesting stuff. Essentially, as I read it, if he wins, then the Word Bearers, World Eater sub factions and anything remotely nurgly will instantly become his enemies again and he'll just be Emperor and want to continue dominating the galaxy for mankind as Horus had been doing before he went bad.

    3. Found it !


      And it's on your reading list too.