18 Apr 2014

Dark Elves Tactica - Army Special Rules and Magic Items

Hey there ladies and gentlemen, it is Learn2Eel here with the beginning of the full Dark Elf Tactica seies! I'll be covering the Druchii in the mean-time until I am able to purchase an Astra Militarum Codex - sorry for the delay! - with a resolution to this particular series hopefully to be seen within a fortnight. I of course make no promises as I am very bad at keeping them with regards to time! With that said, let's begin with the Dark Elf' army special rules and magic items. I hope you enjoy this article!

Army Special Rules

Always Strikes First - One of two new bread and butter army wide special rules for the new look Druchii - with this one shamelessly stolen from the Asur, as is proper! - and this is most definitely the more important inclusion. Previously, this was the domain of High Elves and gave them (in 8th Edition) their nasty re-rolls to hit with all their weapons, barring those that had Always Strikes Last such as great weapons. Previously this reflected on the more elite nature of High Elves and thus the lower cost of Dark Elf units in comparison. However, adding in Always Strikes First to all Dark Elves has seen some serious changes in unit effectiveness, and few clearer examples exist than with Har Ganeth Executioners. Previously these were very fragile and costly great weapon wielding Elves that relied on Killing Blow and magical buffs to make the difference, but now with Always Strikes First cancelling out Always Strikes Last these guys strike at Initiative 5 and just cleave units of all kinds to shreds before most of them get to strike. For all your other units that don't have great weapons, this means they are always going first - no enemy can strike before you, though a select few can attack simultaneously - and if your Initiative value is equal to or higher than the enemy unit you attack, your unit also gets re-rolls to hit. Yes, Witch Elves with Initiative 6 just went to a whole new level (though being Core might also have something to do with it) while striking first with all your Black Guard, Cold One Knights and even chaff units gives them a serious advantage over their competitors. This is also a golden special rule for your mostly Initiative 6 to Initiative 8 characters who are practically guaranteed to get re-rolls to hit against enemy characters. The impact this has on the army is massive, no doubt, and completely changes the results of many combat match-ups from the past.

Eternal Hatred - This isn't really an army wide special rule as it is only available on a total of four units, three of which are characters, but it is still unique enough to warrant coverage. Instead of the usual Hatred of High Elves that all other Dark Elves possess, units with this special rule have Hatred against all enemies. This special rule further differentiates itself by applying re-rolls to hit in all rounds of close combat instead of just the first. This essentially makes up for these units either fighting prolonged combats against other Always Strikes First units such as High Elves, or for making up for any rare Initiative discrepancies that might occur. This will mostly apply against High Elves in particular and was probably designed with them in mind. It usually won't be necessary elsewhere but it is very helpful when it does, particularly when the applicable characters are fighting enemy Lords with Always Strikes First.

Murderous Prowess - The second proper army-wide special rule introduced to the Druchii and yet another nod to the High Elves (Martial Prowess), this is most definitely the stronger of the two in regards to characters at least. Where Martial Prowess works better for units with many ranks, Murderous Prowess is more generalized and actually applies to your characters. All Dark Elves can re-roll dice rolls of a 1 to wound in close combat which, combined with their probable re-rolls to hit from Always Strikes First, gives them some of the most efficient and reliable close combat potential in the game. For units with Strength 6 or higher attacks such as Executioners and Cold One Knights, re-rolling 1s to wound effectively turns them into super blenders of the vast majority of non-monstrous units around. Combining a Giant Blade on a Dreadlord with Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess allows for one of the nastier combat characters around, and makes all of your combat characters efficient in a way only a handful of others can match. It gives your basic infantry that extra edge they need to make up for being expensive and fragile elites, while it has fantastic synergy with Always Strikes First.

The Black Armoury

Hydra Blade - The almost obligatory magic weapon that eats up a Lord choice' entire magic item allowance, the Hydra Blade suffers the same problem as the Blade of Leaping Gold - extra attacks aren't as good as higher Strength for Elf armies. Random Attacks (D6+base Attacks) will usually see a Dreadlord with seven to eight Strength 4 attacks. The big problem here is that all those Strength 4 attacks can be had from Black Guard instead who themselves don't cost an arm and a leg to use. Additionally, each time it is about to be used in combat, the wielder has to take a Leadership test with a -2 modifier; if this is failed, the wielder suffers a -5 penalty to their Weapon Skill, but applies the Heroic Killing Blow special rule to their attacks. I'm sure a Weapon Skill 2 Dreadlord with anywhere between 5 and 10 Heroic Killing Blow attacks sounds nice in practice....but in reality, it isn't that good, even with re-rolls to hit and Murderous Prowess. Realistically, this is a random as heck weapon that costs a century in points, compromising your Dreadlord on other far more useful defensive and offensive gear. Do your Dreadlord a favour and ignore this horrendously over-priced weapon.

Chillblade - Attacks from the Chillblade wound automatically which might seem to gel well with the low Strength of Elven characters, but that the only negative armour modifiers it imposes on enemies for wounds caused is from the base Strength of the wielder makes this weapon painfully mediocre. A model that actually does take an unsaved wound from it has to take a Toughness test or reduce their Attacks by 3 until the end of the next close combat phase. Here's the problem; Dark Elf characters are Strength 4 or 3 base. Besides, why take a weapon that wounds automatically when for 10 points more the Giant Blade conferring +3 Strength could be taken, making the character Strength 7 (unless you throw it on a Wizard, you weirdo). Remember, all Dark Elves can re-rolls to wound rolls of a 1 in close combat. With high armour saves being so easily accessed nowadays, the Chillblade really doesn't have a place on a well designed character.

Black Dragon Egg - This is a one-use-only Enchanted Item that gives the wielder Strength and Toughness 6 as well as a Strength 2 armour-ignoring breath weapon for a single turn. I would like this more if it didn't need to be declared at the start of a turn due to the random nature of charging; the chance to waste an item costing half a century in points isn't all that great, is it? This item is very expensive but can give your combat character a single turn of "super saiyan" performance if you absolutely need it, such as when engaging a monster or a nasty combat character. Still, I prefer to pay for a weapon that provides a permanent +2 or +3 Strength bonus for a similar points cost, especially as there is never a guarantee of charging something worthwhile.

Cloak of Twilight - Now we're talking! This is another Enchanted Item that provides the bearer with a 3+ war save against shooting attacks and spells, while also conferring Multiple Wounds (D3) and Killing Blow to their close combat attacks in the first round of any melee. This is designed for solo characters on Dark Pegasi giving them incredibly strong defensive stats against ranged damage so that they can safely get into combat and be a nuisance. The combat effects are almost unnecessary to justify the points cost of this item, but they really serve to make the Cloak of Twilight a fantastic overall option for any combat character.

The Black Amulet - This is essentially a Talisman of Preservation with a 15 point increase that causes successful ward saves taken by the wielder to "rebound" on the attacker, causing an automatic wound on the enemy with no armour saves allowed. The restriction here is that it only works in challenges, reducing its value. This isn't a bad item at all, but it does compete with the Talisman of Preservation as it allows the character to also take an Ogre Blade and the Other Tricksters' Shard. Do you feel inflicting wounds based on passed ward saves is better than forcing opponents to re-roll successful ward saves? If your basic attacks are already good enough to force ward saves, then the Other Tricksters' Shard will probably win out, especially if your character isn't being put under too much pressure. Against an enemy with no ward save, of course, the Black Amulet wins out. It basically comes down to which you expect to face more of on enemy characters; ward saves or none at all.

Ring of Hotek - Another Talisman that is essentially a standard rulebook item with a little extra effect on the cheap, this one imitates the Obsidian Lodestone and thus confers Magic Resistance 3 to the user. The extra effect here is that any enemy wizard within 6" will suffer a miscast on a double 1 and not just a double 6, though the former doesn't hand out irresistible force either. For 5 points more than the standard item there really is no reason to not pick this if you did want the Obsidian Lodestone. However, I feel that item is over-costed as it is, and the little effect provided by the Ring of Hotek is so minor and unlikely to ever be used that I'm not really a fan of it.

Banner of Nagarythe - A magic banner that is available only to the Battle Standard Bearer, costs a century in points and is the personal standard of the Witch King. Gee, it must be twice as good as the over-powered Banner of the World Dragon, right? The Banner of Nagarythe confers Unbreakable to its unit and.....that's it. It also hilariously applies to Shadow Warriors and Alith Anar as a nice little side effect. It can only be taken by the Battle Standard Bearer, meaning it is incredibly easy to single out on a Toughness 3 character that can either have a 3+ armour save on foot or a 1+ armour save mounted. If you really want an anvil, use Bloodwrack Shrines combined with deep formations of infantry - or heck, just take Black Guard - and use them instead of this banner. There are very few situations where I see this being all that useful, especially at such a ridiculous price.

The Gem of Spite - The first of three arcane items in the book, the Gen of Spite causes miscasts suffered by the Wizard to inflict a Strength 6 hit on all enemy wizards within 12". Wounds caused for the opponent can be ignored by discarding dispel dice, one per wound. This is an item based on your wizard suffering miscasts - which you never want - and inflicts single Strength 6 hits on wizards - who almost always have multiple wounds. If this was a lot cheaper, it might be worthwhile. Otherwise, ignore it in favour of the defence against miscasts provided by an Earthing Rod.

The Sacrificial Dagger - A cheaper item that is built around generating extra power dice at a significant cost, the Sacrificial Dagger works by killing a single model in the wizards' unit and then rolling a D6. If the dice roll is a 4+, it adds an extra power dice to the spell the wizard is attempting to cast. If the roll is a 3 or less, no extra power dice is added - equating to free victory points for your opponent, essentially. You can keep rolling until you either run out of sacrifices or have enough extra power dice. This would be a good item in an army book where the cheapest model had a cost lower than 9 points; for an elite army like Dark Elves, this ends up being a very costly item. I'm not sold on its worth, especially as the cheapest units to use for it are themselves very mediocre.

Tome of Furion - With the same cost as the Sacrificial Dagger and going as yet another Arcane Item, the Tome of Furion is there to give a Dark Magic user a choice on at least one of their spells. The Dark Elf Lore is certainly good and guaranteeing you get the one spell you need is nice, but this costs as much as a Dispel Scroll. I would use this for Word of Pain or Shroud of Despair usually - the latter especially if this is taken on a supporting Dark Magic caster next to a Death using Supreme Sorceress. A Level 4 using Dark Magic (usually out-performed by a Level 4 using Death or Shadow anyway) might want the Black Horror, but generating four spells usually means the caster will get the spells they want anyway. For this reason, I'm only a fan of the Tome of Furion on a supporting Sorceress, and only if it is built for a specific strategy.

The Lore of Dark Magic

Spiteful Conjuration (Lore Attribute) - The Lore Attribute for Dark Magic isn't anything special like the Lore of Death or even Lore of Shadow ones, but the chance of a few "free" wounds is never a bad thing. Causing 2D6 Strength 1 Armour Piercing hits on the roll of a double, or 3D6 hits on the troll of a triple, when successfully casting a spell on its target is a nice little effect indeed, especially if you fail to kill an annoying Ethereal unit with your Doombolt. This will occur more often than you think - especially as only two of the eight available spells don't work with the lore attribute - so make sure to keep an eye on your casting dice and get those extra hits in!

Power of Darkness (Signature) - This is an augment spell that grants the caster and their unit +1 Strength, then adds D3 power dice to be used in the same magic phase. When three dice are generated like that, the wizard will suffer a wound with no armour saves allowed. The low casting value of this spell and the buffs it provides are simply fantastic, especially considering units like Black Guard or even Black Ark Corsairs only really need +1 Strength to become truly crazy combat units. Witch Elves with Strength 4 and double Frenzy from either Witchbrew or the Cauldron of Blood's bound spell will tear anything to shreds!

Doombolt (Signature) - This has a rather high casting cost for a signature spell but the effects are definitely worthwhile, especially with the innate Hekarti's Blessing all but one unit that can generate the spell has. 2D6 Strength 5 hits with a range of 18", or a double cost version inflicting 4D6 hits, will annihilate chaff units of all kinds - and importantly the Ethereal ones! This is always a worthwhile spell if you need to get rid of chaff units.

Chillwind - Another magic missile inflicting 2D6 Strength 2 hits at a 24" range. The damage caused is minimal at best usually, but the -1 penalty to an opponents' Ballistic Skill for a whole turn if they suffer even one unsaved wound is rather nice. This will only really come into play against armies such as Wood Elves, Dwarves and Empire - remembering that most war machines and even some units, like the Terrorgheist, do not use Ballistic Skill for shooting - but it is useful when you need it. Having two signatures alleviates the issue of this spell being less than worthwhile against certain armies, after all!

Word of Pain - One of the nastier spells in the lore, this is a hex with a 24" range that inflicts a negative D3 modifier to a single units' Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill. While this is great at a low casting value, the very slight boost to that cost to also have the penalty affect the units' Strength and Initiative is almost always worth the extra power dice investment. This is a great spell that synergises very well with the natural strengths and weaknesses of Dark Elves; great offensive stats, but weak defensive stats - especially against shooting.

Bladewind - A direct damage spell instead of a magic missile, Bladewin has a 24" range and causes all models in the target unit to take a Weapon Skill test or suffer a Strength 4 Armour Piercing hit. The low casting cost of this spell fits as generally Weapon Skill isn't that low of a stat, the lowliest being 3, 4 or even 5 depending on the army. However, this spell works exceptionally well in tandem with Word of Pain - even the basic version - to potentially cause a lot of damage to any lightly armoured or medium to low Toughness unit.

Shroud of Despair - This is a hex with a low range of 12" and a medium casting value of 10+, playing around with opponents' Leadership and becoming particularly brutal if it is combined with Doom and Darkness from the Lore of Death. The enemy unit can't use both the Hold Your Ground or Inspiring Presence special rules, or in layman's terms, they can't get the re-rolls for Leadership tests from a Battle Standard Bearer or use the general's Leadership value instead of their own. When the unit fails such a test they reduce their Leadership by 1 until the spell ends. Did I mention you need to combine this with Doom and Darkness? A very good spell for when you need to break a unit.

Soulstealer - Yet another direct damage spell, this time with a casting value just south of Doombolt and an 18" range, Soulstealer is distinct in that it uses a small blast template that scatters D6" in a random direction after being placed initially. If a model is touched by the template, it suffers a Strength 2 no armour saves hit. The wording of the rule is confusing, but it has been clarified to me that it only affects models touched after working out the final position of the template (cheers to Fpan!). Though the damage potential is better against elite units to deny their armour, the real benefit is getting extra wounds on the caster on a D6 roll of a 4+ for each wound caused by the spell.

Arnzipal's Black Horror - Unlike their hated Asur brethren, the Druchii do get magical vortex as their big spell - and its 15+ casting value is rather low, surprisingly. This vortex functions similarly to any other, with the scatter range amplified by the wizard level and a misfire centering it on the caster. In a rather ironic twist, this is best suited against elven armies as it causes a Strength test or death, much like the Purple Sun of Xereus but Strength instead of Initiative. You can increase the casting value to 25+ to use a large blast template instead of the small one, though this requires 6-dicing to get off reliably. This spell is devastating as you would expect, but where the Purple Sun is deadlier against Dwarves, Lizardmen and Ogre Kingdoms as an example, it is nastier against all eleven armies, Skaven and Chaos forces.

A big thank you for reading this article; I hope you enjoyed it! Do you feel I am wrong on my judgements, or do you agree with the strengths and weaknesses of all the above? Please leave a comment below if you have any feedback for us; we appreciate all of your comments! 


  1. Are you sure of your reading of the effects of soul stealer? It's the same wording as a few other spells (tzeentch firestorm comes to mind) for which the scattering is usually viewed as a risk of the spell missing, rather than sweeping through units like a brief vortex spell.

    1. I was unsure on the wording of that particular spell, cheers for clearing that up. I will edit it right away.

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