Hello there everyone, I am Learn2Eel from Imperator Guides and I welcome you to my latest Astra Militarum Tactica article! Today I wanted to focus on Rough Riders, one of the earliest examples of cavalry in Warhammer 40,000 and a throwback to the mounted spear regiments employed by the conquering Mongols of ancient Asia (and yes, they were more famous for their bow riders). While their inherent fragility and hitting power after the charge are questionable traits for a competitive unit, their first round assault capabilities and mobility make them one of the hardest hitting units in the game for their points cost. While they aren't exactly the type of unit you would usually field in an Astra Militarum army list, using them as interdicting squads or as the cheap hunters they are makes them surprisingly worthwhile in lists that propel other mobile threats towards the enemy in numbers.
As one of the more iconic cavalry units in Warhammer 40,000, Rough Riders give the Astra Militarum a mobile squad that is neither a vehicle nor relies on the Deep Strike or Outflank special rules. They are also one of a handful of selections in the codex that isn't natively a ranged choice, though that doesn't automatically disqualify them from a more competitive army list. What does hinder their chances is an oddball combination of fragility and a lack of damage output after the first round of combat that they charged into, though honestly at such a low points cost per model it is hard to really complain about such issues. A maxed out squad of ten Rough Riders will just barely exceed the century mark in terms of points and has the killing power to slaughter just over half a dozen Space Marines - or Toughness 4 models with a 3+ or worse armour save - in close combat before they can strike, assuming they are Initiative 4 or lower. Though their basic profile is definitely unimpressive and strikingly identical to a standard Imperial Guardsman, one who under-estimates Rough Riders is sure to be an unhappy gamer on the receiving end of a beating. Each Rough Rider is equipped with a unique hunting lance, a weapon that functions exactly like a power lance but trades indestructibility for greater damage output once it sees use. Though they are specialist weapons and thus don't provide an extra attack for having two close combat weapons, the hunting lances nonetheless hit like a truck as they are resolved at Strength 5 and Initiative 5.
With two attacks each on the charge and frag grenades to ensure they strike at Initiative order, Rough Riders can pulverize medium infantry like Space Marines with relative impunity before they can react. The fact that the hunting lances are one-use-only and are restricted to functioning on the charge doesn't excuse how much damage they can do in just one round of combat. Besides, the unit now has two close combats (including a laspistol) so that they can have three attacks on the charge per model the next time to make it into combat, or two each in subsequent rounds after the first. They also have krak grenades for destroying vehicles with weak rear armour values which also gives Astra Militarum players another situational tool for dealing with Wave Serpents and other annoying skimmers. As cavalry, the unit is also very likely to make it into combat both quickly and reliably through a 12" movement and the Fleet special rule. But so sayeth the submerged serpent, then there were issues aplenty. First off, being cheap doesn't excuse horrid defensive stats for what is most definitely a dedicated melee squad; it is all well and good being quick but it doesn't matter if you are likely to lose half of a ten man squad from five Tactical Marines firing their boltguns at rapid fire range. For most units, that would signal the "cover me timbers" brigade but as cavalry take dangerous terrain tests for simply moving through terrain that will rarely be a good option. When your Rough Riders have 5+ armour saves and are very susceptible to failed dangerous terrain tests, losing one or two models just to gain a cover save often won't seem like a good trade-off. Still, losing a few so that the many can make it into combat will teach you the necessity of sacrifice, the better seeing that Rough Riders are essentially a mounted distraction squad.
Assuming you lose a few to dangerous terrain, just wait as even your opponents' most basic ranged units like Kroot or Cultists blast them into pieces by the handful, making light of Rough Riders' pitiful Toughness 3 and 5+ armour save. If shooting from any kind of minor unit doesn't manage to devastate the Rough Riders adequately, then surely their Overwatch will drop a few cavalry models as well before they can even guarantee they will make the charge. This needs to be repeated every time one mentions the various uses of Rough Riders; a ten-strong Infantry Squad of Guardsmen and Guardswomen that fires at long range with their lasguns will kill roughly two or three Rough Riders in a single shooting phase, the same unit rapid-firing will cause a further three or four Rough Riders in a subsequent shooting phase, and the units' Overwatch should kill another one or two models. Assuming average rolls, a single Infantry Squad - one of the cheapest Troops choices in the game if you exclude the other mandatory selections in an Infantry Platoon - should kill between six and nine Rough Riders before the cavalry unit can even make it into combat provided the Guardsmen are moving backwards or forwards to maximise the number of shooting rounds they get. What use is a dedicated melee unit if even the most basic infantry in the game will destroy them before they can charge and cost either half as much or equal to the melee unit while bearing ranged weapons for use in multiple turns? This is why Rough Riders are saved only by their low cost rather than their explosive but limited damage output, as anywhere from five to ten of them in an army list can serve as a small little distraction that - in Maelstrom of War missions particularly - is a good little scoring squad. They are just far too fragile and lack the hitting power after the charge to really justify any significant points investment made on them.
How to Equip Them
Being perfectly honest here, Rough Riders don't really need any upgrades aside from any additional squad members you would like to purchase to buff out a units' ranks. The reason for this is that their stock hunting lances are so enticingly devastating on the turn that they finally see use, and any weapon exchanges for Rough Riders are done so by replacing these valuable lances resonating with medieval influence. Seeing as a hunting lance is effectively an enhanced power lance with a one-use-only profile, exchanging one or two of those out on a squad with numbers ranging from five to ten models seems like an inefficient trade, especially as there is no discount on any special weapons you take. The fact of the matter is that the hunting lances can easily pierce through anything that is not either a vehicle with rear AV11 (or a walker with the equivalent in front armour) or a model with either Toughness 7 or a 2+ armour save. Even then, you should always be using the squads' stock krak grenades against vehicles or Toughness 7 monstrous creatures anyway, where destroying AV12 vehicles in particular becomes a tangible objective for a unit.
This is without even mentioning the conflict each special weapon has with Rough Riders either because of survivability implications or a clash of role. The motto goes that if you exchange something as nasty as a hunting lance, whatever the replacement is needs to be worth taking in the first place regardless of its cost. As such, you can rule out the near useless grenade launcher and arguably the flamers - the latter is great for clearing out light to medium infantry formations but the units massed melee attacks and frag grenades alleviate this issue already. This leaves meltaguns and plasma guns, with the former having such a small range that the Rough Riders may as well charge the target, and the latter bearing serious risks for any wielder given that the unit shares a paltry 5+ armour save. The only special weapon you should ever take is the meltagun, but even so this is not what you really want Rough Riders for - Militarum Tempestus Scions that Deep Strike or even your basic Veterans in Chimeras can perform the role of a fast-moving anti-tank unit aimed at AV13 or higher vehicles. Why bother using Rough Riders for this when your Troops, Elites and arguably Heavy Support choices should all be performing that same role in their multitudes? As such, I heavily advise keeping the hunting lances across the unit and abusing how cheap and devastating they are as a dedicated melee unit - their mobility and hitting power are fantastic, while their low cost makes up for how innately fragile Rough Riders are.
Besides, if you take meltaguns instead of a pair of hunting lances in a squad, you'll wonder why you bothered with the former once you declare a charge on that same unit that is in both your 12" shooting and assault ranges that is more than likely susceptible either to the hunting lances or the krak grenades. Skip the upgrades and let these seemingly archaic warriors duke it out on their own terms, and that means getting them into combat as quickly as possible where their fragility is less over-stated and they can cause a lot of havoc. If you really want another unit with a melta weapon for taking on AV 14/14/14 vehicles, upgrade your mandatory Sergeant with melta bombs and save yourself both the price of the meltaguns and the cost of losing out on hunting lances. Just do yourself a favour and don't even bother with a plasma pistol or power weapon on the Rough Rider Sergeant. Plasma Pistols are notoriously likely to kill your expensive 5+ armoured model and add considerably to the cost of the unit without really adding that much reliable damage output, while adding a power weapon seems like a bit of a waste. The reason for this is that Rough Riders are very likely to die in the first round of combat, or in the second assault they launch - either they destroy their first target utterly with the hunting lances or get caught up by the fact that they are still Toughness 3 with 5+ armour saves, making them fodder even for Tactical Marines. Paying extra points for a weapon that you are unlikely to even use seems like a bit of a waste, especially as you lose the Initiative bonus from the hunting lance that is so important for the otherwise Initiative 3 unit to actually strike on the charge. You could pay for a power lance and it would fit with the rest of the unit, but realistically those are just extra points that probably belong elsewhere.
If there's one thing that Rough Riders are good at, it is providing an Astra Militarum army with yet another cheap distraction unit for your primary scoring or support units to actually win a match. Though they are slightly over double the cost of a Guardsmen per model and identical defensive stats, Rough Riders excel in the category that counts for any "distraction" - mobility. The reality is that members of these squads will drop like flies to anything from sporadic boltgun fire to dangerous terrain tests, and while they certainly hit hard that only really applies to the very first combat they charge into. You need to get them into combat as quickly as possible and that generally involves throwing caution to the wind so that your opponent might be drawn into targeting them before your transports, combined squads or battle tanks. Of course, a distraction unit is a waste unless it actually manages to draw some serious attention away from your other units - and that specifically applies to Veterans and Infantry Squads - so maybe keeping them behind an advancing line of transports for a few turns isn't the worst strategy to use.
I would still use these as roving kill squads with an eye for smaller Objective Secured scoring units and backfield infantry squads that baby-sit your opponents home objectives, simply because those are the kinds of units that can win games and killing them off from shooting isn't always easy. With cover and terrain that blocks line of sight, a Guard army that has its barrage weapons neutralized early on and lacks Outflanking units or flyers will struggle to deal with such enemies - this is where a fast, hard hitting melee unit like Rough Riders really sets itself apart as perfect for defeating those squads. As for unit sizes, five will generally be enough to kill off smaller infantry squads and vehicles with low armour values, though if you have the points spare then ten models a squad would be preferable if only because they can slaughter entire units of Space Marines with ease on the charge. If you only have the points for ten Rough Riders in your army list, however, then split them up into two units of five - this forces your opponent to "overkill" each individual squad and invest more units into their destruction.
Thank you all for reading this latest entry in my Astra Militarum Tactica series and I hope you enjoyed it or found it useful! If you have any queries or criticisms for me or any of our other (admittedly rarely seen) staff or articles, please leave a message in the comments section below. Thank you again and I wish you all to have a nice day!