When Games Workshop first drew up their plans for the 9th Edition of Warhammer 40k, they probably didn’t envisage it being the least played installment in its 34-year history. Yes, yes, the extenuating circumstances are, indeed, extenuating, but the overwhelming majority of the game’s fanbase will have still have barely played the thing some nine months after it was released.
It’s still going to be some time before any appraisals of 2020’s edition can be considered definitive, but one thing that has become dazzlingly obvious already is that one thing Gee-Dub did have in those initial plans was the idea that every army should play the way they’re written. That regardless of your opponent's play-style, whatever’s across the table from you is going to perform the way it feels like it should.
There’ve been hints at this with the Space Marine updates and, more prominently, the Death Guard, but with the release of Codex: Drukhari this week it’s front and center in 9th edition. If the lore is telling you that you’re facing a vicious, sadistic band of killers and perverts who’ve just come screaming out of a tear in reality from the Murderf**k dimension, then you’re going to have an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon.
Before we get into the detail of the new codex, it’s worth pointing out that the Drukhari, ever since their rebrand from the Dark Eldar, have always been considered a glass cannon in 40k. Yes, they will hit you fast, and they will hit you hard, but the second you hit them back they’re going to drop faster than my decision to drink less this year.
The shortest possible review of their new ruleset is that, while that is still true to an extent, opponents are going to find it considerably harder to pull off said retaliation… if they’re even alive to try.
Starting at the top, the book itself is gorgeous. The redesign of large elements of 40k’s aesthetic wasn’t universally popular (Games Workshop I am on my knees here begging you to realign the typeface in the logo), but the new art style makes for a dazzling, modern, visual feast. That isn’t why anyone’s going to buy it though.
Unlike its counterparts in the Imperium, Codex: Drukahri contains no new datasheets. Every unit that’s in there was in the previous edition and, if you already play the army, likely in your existing force as well. However, there are a few existing units that can be upgraded to the point that they might as well be new. Each faction of the species, from the ignoble Kabals, the bloodthirsty Cults, and the nightmarish Covens, can upgrade their sole HQ and Troops choices to elite (but not Elite, obviously) variations.
The Master Archon, Succubus, and Haemonculus options (yours for a meager 15/15/20 more points) are joined by Kabalite Trueborn, Hekatrix Bloodbrides, and Haemoxytes respectively. They have access to better relics and warlord traits, while their retinues come with statlines that really make the units sing. Again, these aren’t new in the classic sense, but they add extra variety to the Troop and HQ options; previously the Drukhari’s weakest slots.
Across the board, every other unit is largely as expected, but there’s an extra attack for pretty much everything that’s likely to be using it. Wych Cult units especially feel like they’ve been improved to the point of making them automatic takes.
The other major headline concerns how the force is put together, with 9th edition’s detachment system currently making things slightly awkward for the army. The introduction of the Realspace Raid detachment - a force that draws from all three strands of the army and allows all of them to retain their abilities - means Drukhari players can now field arguably the most flexible and customisable forces in the whole game. Picking whatever obsessions they like from the selection of Kabals, Covens, and Cults, with the warlord’s aura now even extending across all three, the options available to players are crazy.
If the thought of putting together a raid that all-encompassing isn’t for you, then there’s also the option to field a collection of patrol detachments at no cost to your starting CP. It’s not overstating things here to say you can pretty much do whatever you want.
There’s even an astonishing level of creativity available in the obsessions. Every subsection has access to at least three core choices, but there’s also a pick ’n’ mix section for players to simply choose which obsessions they think will best suit either their play-style or their narrative. And, again, there’s a lot of choice here.
Want your Kabals to be absolutely lethal at range? Give them Toxin Crafters so their poison weapons now would on a 2+ when you roll a 6, and let you re-roll 1s to wound.
Worried your Wych Cult won’t have enough stopping power to get through a mechanised foe? Simply give them both Precise Killers and Test of Skill! Now they’re +1 to wound against vehicles and monsters, and anything that gets a 5+ is additional AP.
Concerned your Hermonculus Coven just isn’t quite scary enough? Don’t be, because you’ve just given them Artists of the Flesh, and now almost everything coming in is doing -1 damage. This is honestly just a fraction of the options available to you.
The army-wide rules have received both gentle tweaking and dramatic overhauling. Power From Pain, easily the Drukhari’s most Drukhari rule, is still around but has been nerfed in some areas and buffed in others. It’s more focused on combat than anything happening at range, but allowing the entire army to advance and charge from Round 2 will send blood rushing to your extremities regardless.
Blade Artists is a new addition and, while it means a lot of combat is going to require you to section off your dice into several different piles, might be the difference-maker in a lot of tight games. All melee attacks now get an additional -1 AP on an unmodified wound roll of a 6. That might not sound like much but, with the weight of attacks the army now has, it’s going to help you make short work of - and I’m just picking an example completely at random here - Space Maries.
Also, Combat Drugs for your Which Cults have had a small but exciting tweak, with the previous rule about having to use all six of them before you could double up now firmly in the bin. Each applicable unit can now have whichever one they want, or roll for two random ones which, given how useful they all now are, might actually be the way to go.
But as is in keeping with the stories of the fighting pits and the bloody history of both the gangs and the houses of Commorragh, the real main event here is the Warlord Traits. Codex Druhari now lets you assemble some breathtakingly murderous characters, to the point where you’ll need to buy the book purely so you can hold it in front of your gobsmacked opponent to prove that the absurd maneuver you’re about to pull off is legal.
Archons have options to let them re-roll both hits and wounds, or simply select another enemy unit and render them ineligible to fight until your entire army has had a go first. Yep. Haemonculi can upgrade their fleshcraft to put the full 3 wounds back on your pain engines, or get themselves an additional +1 to both wounds and toughness. Yep. But again though, Wych Cults are the big winners, as virtually every Succubus in the game is going to pick the trait that automatically deals out mortal wounds equal to the weapon’s damage profile on a hit roll of a 6.
That is, and I don’t think I’m getting carried away here, f**king wild. Combined with the +1 attack combat drug, or a weapon that’s adding extra attacks, and you’ve likely got the best character hunting unit in the entire game. Bear in mind, that those wounds not only fly right through any invulnerable saves, but with the current wording would totally ignore Disgustingly Resilient as well. It bears repeating; give her the Tryptych Whip, push her up to 9 attacks, and you're dishing out 2 mortal wounds for every 6 she rolls in combat on top of everything else... which is now wounding on 2+.
There is, of course, a lot more to talk about. Several relic options make for interesting propositions, both Drazhar and the newly-remodeled Lelith Hesperax are incredible, there are stratagems that will allow a lot of units to survive late into the game, and the book even addresses one of Games Workshop’s most frequent criticisms by providing clear examples of how you can structure your detachments. The last point being a godsend given that the incredible flexibility options do naturally come at the cost of things getting somewhat complicated.
All in all though, this is the Codex that finally makes Drukhari the nightmare fuel they’re supposed to be. An army that can cover the distance across the board and gut an opponent before they’ve had time to properly organise, but still have the chicanery and guile to make sure the inevitable counter-punches don’t land easily.
Out in the open, a lot of other armies are going to blow them to bits, but with the correct application of their lightning speed and their staggering combat abilities most opponents will find there simply aren’t enough fingers left to pull the necessary number of triggers. Before they know it they’re surrounded on all sides, cowered in their deployment zone, and the best they can hope for is that they’re not taken alive. This is, at long last, how a realspace raid should feel.
Codex Drukhari is released on 27/03/2021, and is available to pre-order now from Games Workshop.