8 Mar 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Harpies

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Harpies are one of many new organisms introduced in the Tyranid 5th Edition codex that had to wait a whopping four years to see an official kit release, and I think it goes without saying that they were one of the most anticipated models from Games Workshop. Even despite their weak rules in 5th Edition, 6th Edition revolutionized the Harpy with the addition of Flying Monstrous Creatures, and the new codex sees a further improvement on these screeching serpents. I hope you enjoy this article!



Ah, the Harpy, quite easily my favourite model from the 6th Edition Tyranid release. The model is awesome, but do the rules hold up? Fortunately, they fare a lot better than most - including myself - initially thought. A common mistake we all make is to look at a unit without support and on its own merits in an army when first reviewing a codex; this is, after all, why we have those early articles marked as "initial impressions". I will however come out and say that the Harpy - and the Hive Crone too, by extension - have really surprised me with their effectiveness on the table-top. Their best advantage is not in what they bring so much but more that they are a cheap flying monstrous creature that gives you an incredibly cheap flyer equivalent that is tougher than the more expensive vehicular variants found in other armies. Besides, flying monstrous creatures are of course just so much more versatile than flyers; the former can charge units, use Smash to instantly kill characters and take on vehicles, has more freedom of movement with a 12" minimum move and, of course, is far tougher to destroy by conventional means. So let us look at the individual benefits of the Harpy and just why I think it is a close competitor with the Hive Crone and Gargoyles as our best Fast Attack choice. First off, the stats. While these are unimpressive, you need to remember that for the majority of a game, enemies will need to snap-shoot at the Harpy lest they have Skyfire weapons. Its Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill 3 are middling, but the latter is offset by twin-linking on its main gun and the low scatter potential of its unique weapon. With Strength 5 and that low Weapon Skill, though, the Harpy isn't really suited to combat, especially with only three attacks. While that odd number does mean it sacrifices only a single attack when it Smashes, it still isn't anything special. What is odd is the monsters' high Initiative of 5 typical to Raveners or Commander-equivalent units. This can see potentially lucky charges against enemy walkers or monsters by using those high Initiative Smash attacks, but Weapon Skill 3 and only three Smash attacks on the charge still sees me rather against this kind of approach.

The Harpy has mediocre durability for a monstrous creature when solely considering its five Toughness 5 wounds with a 4+ armour save, but again, its nature as a flying monstrous creature gives it a lot more leeway than an initial impression would suggest. However, it goes without saying that the Harpy is fragile, especially as it lacks an invulnerable save. Massed small arms fire has a criminally high chance of seeing a failed grounding test on a flying monstrous creature, and Harpies are especially vulnerable to that kind of shooting. Bolters wound the beast on 5s, and any armour save forced is failed half the time which really isn't commendable for a monstrous creature when bolter fire can be massed in ludicrous numbers, particularly by a Legion army list. This is why I tend to keep Harpies back away from enemy units and mostly use their main gun instead of their close-range attacks; they are just so fragile and will die the instant they are grounded. On that note, a failed grounding test is almost guaranteed to cause an unsaved wound on a Harpy what with its complete lack of an invulnerable save, and five wounds really isn't that much when you consider its defensive stats. The exception to the "stay back" rule is when your army build is more aggressive, filled with Tyrannofexes, a Tervigon or two and many other Flying Monstrous Creatures as a core. Here, Harpies act almost as "chaff" units for the Tyranid force, being highly mobile and even sacrificial units due to their very low cost that can easily tie up a unit for a long time due to innate Fearless. Its combat potential is low, but it is still a monstrous creature and will beat down on Tactical Marine equivalents provided they aren't taken in large numbers - and yes, ten Tactical Marines will probably have their way with an unsupported Harpy due to Strength 6 AP4 Krak Grenades.

The interesting quirks of the Harpy become more apparent the closer it gets to an enemy, though, even if it isn't necessarily a unit you want near a high concentration of enemy units. The first of these are its unique Spore Mine Cysts, fired as per a Bombing Run for flyers with no difference that I have been able to discern. When a Harpy flies over a unit when swooping - and it should always be swooping! - it can count as firing one weapon for the shooting phase and drop a Strength 4 AP4 Large Blast with Poisoned (4+) using the Barrage rules that scatters a miniscule D6". This is a really powerful tool, especially as it can be fired in conjunction with the Harpies' primary weapon; the Spore Mine Cysts absolutely devastate light to medium infantry, something the Stranglethorn Cannon also excels at. And if you actually manage to miss something with a large blast that only scatters D6" then it creates D3 Spore Mines automatically that can charge a unit - and thus explode - on the turn they are created. I've not found this happens too often, but when it does, it can be pretty hilarious; using them to soak up Overwatch instead of your more valuable standard units alone is awesome. You can even opt out of firing the Harpies guns and do both a bombing run and a Vector Strike in the same movement phase, doing a whole lot of either pseudo or full Ignores Cover wounds. While the Spore Mine Cysts are limited by a 24" range and the large oval base of the Harpy, as well as its fragility at close range, they are nonetheless a very devastating weapon against Eldar, Tau, Necron and other light infantry in particular. This is one of the biggest reasons to be more aggressive with a Harpy, especially when they - or Crones - are taken in numbers. Harpies just excel at destroying infantry which, as the usual unit type for scoring units, makes Harpies pretty darn valuable in the vast majority of missions from the main rulebook.

As if that wasn't enough, Harpies combine their Initiative 5 with the Sonic Shriek, a special rule that imposes itself when one of these monsters charges an enemy unit. Each enemy model in the same combat as a Harpy on the turn they charged suffers a whopping -5 penalty to their Initiative. The obvious and limited use of this is to make up for a Harpy lacking assault grenades, but in the context of an army universally lacking assault grenades, this is a really powerful tool when used alongside Hormagaunts, Shrikes and all manner of Tyranid assault units. Not only does it mitigate the penalties of charging through cover enough that both sides will fight on even footing, but if your units don't charge through cover then it can see even your slow Carnifexes tearing units apart before they strike. A Wraithknight isn't so scary for your Tyranid Prime and Carnifex Brood all with Toxin Sacs if it strikes last due to the help of a friendly Harpy, no? This is just another great ability that can make up for the Tyranid codex' flaws and serves to make the Harpy one of the better value monsters in the codex. It can't really deal with flyers, but it is cheap and versatile enough to be a worthwhile unit in any army list planning on taking three or more flying monstrous creatures. Oh, and as for Instinctive Behaviour - of which the Harpy suffers from Hunt - you will never need to worry either because of Leadership 10, or because it forces you to shoot the nearest enemy units as a Harpy ignores the first result. For a flying gun beast...that's not bad at all!

How to Equip Them

Harpies have two primary weapon options that will provide slight variations on their role on the battlefield, with a number of secondary upgrades able to give them some slight but unnecessary boosts.The first and biggest choice to make with a Harpy is the main gun; do you take the stock Stranglethorn Cannon or the paid-for Heavy Venom Cannon? As a general note, both weapons are twin-linked and thus make up for that Ballistic Skill 3 for the most part, and also reduce the accuracy issues inherent with a small blast. While I do prefer a Barbed Strangler over a Venom Cannon on Warriors, for example, I am more a fan of the Heavy Venom Cannon on a Harpy. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward, actually. A Strength 6 small blast really isn't that threatening to most vehicles, particularly with a mediocre AP value, and so the large blast of the Barbed Strangler is generally better for light infantry hunting as a well spaced unit will only get hit once or twice by a small blast usually. Throw in Pinning and an identical cost and the Barbed Strangler is probably the better bet for a unit that can only really engage infantry anyway. With the Harpy, I look at the upgrades each gun has over their standard version; the Stranglethorn Cannon has two higher Strength, while the Heavy Venom Cannon has three higher Strength. Strength 9 is a massive threat to most vehicles and so its inability to hit many infantry models is mostly a non-issue, though the high Strength does make it a nasty surprise answer against multiple-wound Toughness 4 models such as Crisis Suits. Throw in the very strong Spore Mine Cysts all Harpies have that decimate light to medium infantry with ease and their ability to be used against a separate target to what the Harpy shoots at and you can see the versatility a Heavy Venom Cannon brings. A Strength 9 small blast will penetrate AV12 about 50% of the time on average, and is one of few Tyranid ranged weapons that can actually harm - perhaps even penetrate - AV14 vehicles. Put it on an incredibly mobile platform that can get side shots very easily and you have yourself a real winner.

Now, this isn't to say the Stranglethorn Cannon is without its uses. A Strength 6 AP5 large blast with Pinning is still pretty nasty, especially as both main guns have a 36" range, allowing you to decimate light infantry and force masses of armour saves on well armoured bodies with Toughness 4 or lower. It's a nice weapon for sure, I just feel the Strength 9 small blast a Heavy Venom Cannon offers give the Harpy less of a niche role as an infantry hunter and more a generalist role similar to a Flying Hive Tyrant armed with two twin-linked Brain Leech Devourers. It can harass heavy infantry and all manner of ground vehicles from afar, bomb infantry when it closes and then perform a charge against lone or fragile units with great effect. Its combo-charge potential is enormous with its Sonic Shriek ability effectively giving combat-wide lack of necessity for assault grenades, an aspect of combat that Tyranids typically find themselves lacking in. Combine the Initiative penalty from a Harpy with the Blinding Venom of Gargoyles and watch as your opponents fall before your mediocre combat units without much of a fight; Weapon Skill 1 Honour Guard won't worry even Gargoyles as much as you would think! I digress though, so I'll close with the thought that both weapons are good but the Heavy Venom Cannon gives you a lot more flexibility with a Harpy and for only a miniscule increase in points. I've found success with both weapons though so if you find yourself five or ten points over your army list limit, don't be afraid to drop the Heavy Venom Cannon back down to a Stranglethorn Cannon as your Harpy will still have some strong shooting to put out!

The other upgrades available to a Harpy are ones that I generally avoid mostly because of how unnecessary they all are for a monster fitting the role a Harpy does. The Harpy is a bomber in the form of a flying monstrous creature and generally doesn't belong in combat except to attack smaller, less threatening units like Combat Squads or Artillery squads. It does have an awesome combo-charge ability with Sonic Shriek but unless it could actually be used to swing a combat you might struggle in - something Tyranids usually don't have too much of a problem with - then you don't need to worry about it. The Harpy is fragile and doesn't want to end up gliding during the opponents' shooting phase because you killed an enemy unit in one round of assault. It is safest when swooping and using its long ranged guns to its advantage, so don't waste the firepower on offer for mediocre combat abilities as far as Tyranid monsters are concerned. All this is a long-winded explanation of why I think you shouldn't bother with any of the Biomorphs. Fleet from Adrenal Glands might be handy, but the Harpy has a 36" ranged primary weapon. I wouldn't be so concerned about trying to get it into combat quickly, especially as it can regularly move 24" a turn when swooping anyway. The other, combat-centric upgrades might help if you do find your Harpy fighting a nasty enemy unit in assault, but a Harpy generally won't win against any decent melee unit regardless of what upgrades it takes. As such, I recommend leaving the Biomorphs at home. The Harpy can take a third ranged weapon in the form of Cluster Spines or a Stinger Salvo, and I generally avoid these because one of the best abilities the Harpy has counts as firing a weapon. The Spore Mine Cysts can pair up with either the Harpies' Vector Strike or main gun to do a lot of damage to one or two units per turn. A third gun doesn't fit in there as both of them aren't nearly as useful as any of the other weapons a Harpy has. You can make a case for a Stinger Salvo against fliers, or for Cluster Spines as an 18" shooting attack for while the Harpy gets close enough to use its Spore Mine Cysts, but a 24" move per turn means you really shouldn't have to worry about this. Besides, you will be paying for a gun you will fire once, if at all. My advice is, again, to leave these alone and keep the Heavy Venom Cannon as a Harpies' only potential upgrade.

Where to Put Them

As Flying Monstrous Creatures, you have two main options in deployment. You either deploy them in cover, or you keep them in reserves. The former is more common because it allows a Harpy to start dealing damage on the first turn and use cover or their swooping mode if they have the second or first turn, respectively, to survive. Hiding them behind terrain isn't too hard if the piece is solid enough; wings are not counted for the purposes of line of sight to flying monstrous creatures, and since the main bulk of both the Harpy and the Crone is in the wings, hiding them really isn't as difficult as it might seem. You need to keep Harpies in cover because Toughness 5 with five wounds and a 4+ armour save is far too fragile, especially against a standard Tau or Imperial Guard army list, to have out in the open or in the sights of many units. Don't deploy aggressively with them but instead deploy them behind line of sight blocking terrain or in cover; they have a 24" swooping move with a 36" ranged heavy gun. They do not need to be deployed at the fore under any circumstances, unless you really want a first turn bombing run with the Spore Mine Cysts.

Keeping Harpies in Reserves is the alternative and, while not too common, certainly viable way to deploy them. This is to safe-guard them from an inevitable fusillade of first turn shooting where, Night Fighting excepted (but not against Tau), they are usually at their most vulnerable as they will be gliding if your opponent takes the first turn. Another line of thought is that the more shooting your opponent has, the more chances of a failed grounding test there are. While Tau in particular bring lots of Interceptor shooting, again, a 24" move from reserves as well as the stipulation that wings do not count for line of sight should allow a Harpy to hide on any decently filled game board. I generally prefer to start Harpies on the board though because they add to that crucial target saturation at the start of the game, something that is so key to a good Tyranid army. The majority of units in your army need to be viewed as sacrificial, a harsh but necessary truth that allows your surviving elements to mop up the enemy. While not every game works in this way, I find having five to three flying monstrous creatures on the board at the start of the game in conjunction with a pair of Tyrannofexes and a Tervigon - all at 1250+ point game sizes, by the way - is generally enough to keep opponents on their toes.

Best Uses

I see the best use of Harpies is less as a one or two-off unit that you throw into any army list, but as support for your Flying Hive Tyrants. Harpies have Leadership 10 and are thus not really worried about Instinctive Behaviour, but one or two flying monstrous creatures can be taken down pretty easily. Take five - two of which are key Synapse creatures - though, and all of a sudden any typical list, even many competitive ones, is going to be struggling to get rid of twenty-three Toughness 5-6 4+-3+ armoured wounds that can only be hit regularly by Skyfire weapons. The best part about Harpies is that they are cheap, giving you the most inexpensive flying monstrous creature in the game that is fully capable and ready without any upgrades, unlike a Daemon Prince for example. You don't need to put any points into them - maybe exchange the Stranglethorn Cannon for a Heavy Venom Cannon and that is it - for them to be an effective unit, one that adds a lot of versatility to your army. You can use them to clear out small scoring units, tie up Devastator and Pathfinder equivalents and even Smash a vehicle to pieces. They are also a naturally Fearless unit, so getting into combat with a nasty ranged unit that can't do too much to a Toughness 5 monster in combat is also a nice use of the Harpy. If you are worried about being pelted by massed small arms fire that is actually deceptively dangerous for a Harpy, keep at range; you have either a Stranglethorn Cannon or a Heavy Venom Cannon, so make use of their 36" range! Otherwise, give this thing a Heavy Venom Cannon, use it in conjunction with a whole bunch of other flying monstrous creatures and go nuts. It can destroy vehicles - though I would avoid Walkers with power fists - at range pretty effectively or much easier in combat, it can do a lot of damage to most units at range but often more-so when it is close enough to do a bombing run. The Harpy works best at short range due to its increasing damage output and potential with melee attacks and Vector Strikes, though its minimum 12" move means that unlike vehicular flyers you are pretty free to go where you want and sit back if necessary.

Recommended Builds

These are a few example builds for the unit that I feel can fit into a number of competitive Tyranid lists. I'll list some thoughts on each build and what kind of lists they fit better in.

Harpy - The stock-standard Harpy build is also a great one, putting out a ridiculous amount of anti-infantry shooting through multiple large blast weapons. With a twin-linked Stranglethorn Cannon and Spore Mine Cysts, Harpies usually won't need any other weapons, not unless you don't mind spending a few extra points on Cluster Spines or a Stinger Salvo for the turn or two before it starts dropping bombs.

Harpy - Heavy Venom Cannon - There are merits to both of the weapon choices, but the Heavy Venom Cannon is undeniably the generalist choice - and with only a tiny price to accompany it! This makes for the most versatile and effective Harpy build I feel, able to bomb infantry and then either hit them with a Strength 9 blast or target all manner of vehicles with it. 

Swooping Shrieker

Likened to the serpentine Trygon, a Harpy is a graceful beast soaring on massive fleshy wings even despite its colossal weight. The curved spikes of its carapace and long, sinuous tail are oddly enough the least threatening aspects of this hellish creature born from the skies. As it swoops low it delivers a deadly payload of spore clusters and strangling vices, obliterating armour and dissolving fleshy tissue in a matter of moments. What marks this out like no other bomber is its ear-piercing shriek, heard only when it descends into the thick of battle to consume its prey, or as a defensive weapon which no foe can bear. If their skulls are not rent by this sickening scream or by its vile, toxic weaponry, the Harpy becomes vulnerable with its weaker physical attributes a sacrifice for its unparalleled speed in the air. But even so, a Harpy is no mere beast when driven by the Hive Mind and is still capable of rending any warrior limb from limb with ease.

Thank you for reading this article! Please, share your thoughts on the article and the changes I am experimenting with for this series. I am open to any and all feedback! And remember, for any and all discussion on Tyranids and Games Workshop stuff, head on over to +Bell of Lost Souls. Thanks again! Eel out. 

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