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The Return of The Swarm by Kenton Kilgore, with Ken Lacy
About ten years ago (!), my friend Ken (“The Fabulous Orcboy”) Lacy introduced a horror onto the gaming world that he called simply, “The Swarm.”  It was an 1850-point Tyranid army comprised of:

  • 6 Tyranid Warriors;
  • 2 Carnifexes; and
  • 60 Ripper Swarm bases.

Yes, you read that last line correctly: sixty, 6-0 Ripper Swarm bases.  The army extensively used the Custom Hive Fleet rules of that edition’s version of Codex: Tyranids to give the Warriors (who served as HQ and Elite) venom cannons and rending claws, and to give all the Swarm bases rending claws, too.  Under that codex and the 4th Edition 40K rules, the army was too numerous to kill, was basically Fearless, and could tear through any amount of armor and vehicles.  The Swarm, as I witnessed at Fall From Grace III, was unstoppable.  Ken described it in detail here.

Times and rules change, and the next version of Codex: Cucaracha eliminated the Mutate-It-Yourself army creation guidelines that Ken has used to build The Swarm.  While I was happy that none of my armies would ever again be on the menu for The Swarm’s munchfest, it’s still a shame that Ken had to mothball his collection.  Here, then, is my attempt to bring back the The Swarm under the current rules.

I’ll tell you right up front that if you’re looking for a competitive army to kick posterior at the next local tournament, this is definitely NOT it.  I’ve tried to make it as strong as possible, but the 5th Edition main rules nerfed Rending, and the latest Bug Book has a small handful of good Tyranid units.  Ripper Swarms, the foundation of the army, are not one of them.  

"You have been warned, my friend: you have been warned."                   

Background
Although most Hive Fleets release Ripper Swarms toward the later stages of an invasion, after a planet's defenses have fallen to the Warriors and Monstrous Creatures of the initial, inexorable waves, a few Hive Fleets seem to rely quite heavily on Ripper Swarms, preferring perhaps a more direct approach to the consumption and re-purposing of a system's biomass.

Philosophy
Dominate.  Consume.  Expand.

HQ
Ken’s original version of The Swarm was led by a brood of Tyranid Warriors, but under the current codex, Warriors can no longer be used as HQ.  One could substitute a Tyranid Prime, but that confers little advantage.  At the risk of aping every other Tyranid army on the Internet, use at least one Tervigon: more so than other Bug forces, The Swarm depends on Tervigons.  While Catalyst is always a good psychic power to use, Dominion (which the Tervacow comes with anyway) is particularly good for this army, as Ripper Swarms are Mindless (see page 55 of Codex: Tyranids) and can suffer Wounds when outside Synapse range.

Another good choice for this army is, to be expected, the Parasite of Mortrex.  While the Parasite brings some speed and Rending to the army, it’s mostly included for its Host Organism ability, which negates the need for Rippers within 24" to take Instinctive Behavior tests (which, if they fail, they lose Wounds).      

Elite
To protect your Tervigon(s), you’re going to want a brood of Venomthropes, with their 5+ save from the Spore Cloud ability.  Remember that because they are Swarms, your Rippers get +1 to their cover saves, so those accompanying a Venomthrope get a 4+ save.  This will come in handy when they get shot with S6 or greater weapons, which insta-kill them.

Secondary Elite choices could be Zoanthropes (to provide vital Synapse coverage and anti-tank capability) or the ubiquitous Hive Guard, for reasons that even a Nidiot like me understands.     

Troops
Is this where the rubber meets the road?  Or more like where the poop hits the fan?  While it’s tempting (and more effective) to include some Tyranid Warriors, the more Ripper Swarms you can stuff into this slot, the more you’ll match Ken’s original vision.

Ken’s Rippers had rending claws; yours can’t (Ken’s Rippers cost 23 points a base, if I remember correctly, so at least you have whole “paying less” thing going for you).  Instead of being able to take 60 Ripper Swarms in a detachment, you can take 54, as currently, there’s a limit of 9 Swarms per brood.  Whatever.

You’ll want to give your Rippers toxin sacs so that they can wound God on a 4+.  Beyond that, I wouldn’t shell out more points.  You could take spinefists so that each Ripper Swarm can fire 4 shots from 12" away, but Rippers are only BS 2 (ask Ork players how covered in awesum hitting on a 5+ is) and each spinefist is another 5 points for something you’re going to fire maybe once or twice a game.  Adrenal glands give your guys’ Strength to 4 and Initiative to 3 on the charge: big whoop, especially for 4 more points. 

You might be tempted to spend 2 points a pop to make each Swarm tunnel, thus allowing them to Deep Strike, but what’s usually a risky gamble becomes even more hazardous when you have Rippers involved.  Unless the mission or some rule change allows you to determine when your tunneling Swarms come on, they might wind up out of Synapse range, which is very, very bad.

Speaking of missions, Swarms are not allowed to hold objectives.  This is where your Tervigon really earns its money, as it spits out Termagants whose sole task is to take and hold said objectives.  Accordingly, maybe you want to spend two Troop slots on Termagants and a Tervigon, but that will mean fewer Rippers—and if you wanted fewer Rippers, why would you start this army anyway? 

Fast Attack
To no one’s great surprise, the Fast Attack choice for this army should be Sky-Slasher Swarms with toxin sacs.  Have one brood flock around the Parasite: he is an Independent Character and NOT a Monstrous Creature, so he can join and be shielded by said brood.  You’ll want to keep the other Sky-Slasher broods within 24" of him so as to avoid Death-By-Lack-of-Synapse issues.  If you want to inject some effectiveness into your army, use a FA slot on a Harpy with twin heavy venom cannons, to provide much-needed anti-tank.

Heavy Support
Ken used Carnifexes with venom cannons and devourers for firepower.  There’s no reason why you can’t do the same, albeit with heavy venom cannons instead.  The latest Nid book lets you take up to three Carnis in a brood, so Bob’s your uncle.  Alternatively, you can use a Tyrannofex or three, and you’re not taking away anything from the army’s theme.

Modeling and Painting
I don’t recall the paint scheme that Ken used for The Swarm, so anything you slap on will be good.  The models in his army were standard Nid figures.  No disrespect to Ken intended, but the focal point of The Swarm was not how it looked, but how it scuttled across the board and ATE EVERYTHING IN YOUR ARMY! AAAUUUGHH!  RUN! RUNNNNNN!

General Tactics
As Ken discussed in his article, the Rending Rippers did all the heavy lifting, while the Warriors shot open vehicles and the Carnifexes drew attention and contributed to the shooty-shoot part of the show.

In the latest version of this army, the Rippers are there to contest objectives and be a distraction.  Sky-Slashers are fast enough to tie up shooting squads for a turn or so, and you’ll want to get the Parasite into close combat tout de suite.  I’ve already described the role of the Tervigon, Termagants, Venomthropes, Zoats, and Hive Guards.  Carnifexes are best for killing transports, but there’s nothing sad about being able to charge them into a mess of enemy, especially if said enemy is bogged down already by Rippers.

Ken’s army of 6 Warriors, 2 Carnis, and 60 Ripper Swarms totaled 1850 points.  Under the current codex, 1850 points (ok, actually 1859) one could purchase:

  • Tervigon w/ Catalyst (175 points);
  • Parasite of Mortrex (160 points);
  • Venomthrope (55 points);
  • 2 broods of 2 Hive Guard each (100 points per brood; 200 points total);
  • 6 broods of 9 Ripper Swarms, each w/ toxin sacs (14 points per Swarm; 126 points per brood; 756 points total); and,
  • 3 broods of 9 Sky-Slasher Swarms, each w/ toxin sacs (19 points per Swarm; 171 points per brood; 513 points total).
The list above assumes that you’re trying to include as many Rippers and Sky-Slashers as possible.  If you’d like it to be marginally better on the table, then you’d want to take only four broods of Rippers and add 10 Termagants and a Troop Tervigon.  You’d also want to cut a Hive Guard (consolidating them into a single brood of three) and take another Venomthrope.  That would give you two Monstrous Creatures to advance up the flanks of the battle while Rippers fill the middle.

At 2000 points and above, you’ll definitely want more Hive Guard.  The key weakness of Rippers, with or without Rending, always is/was their inability to crack open transports to eat the units inside.  Remember, this army is meant for:

  • Fluff-lovers; 
  • Folks with lots of Ripper models; 
  • Those who really relish a challenge; 
  • Self-hating masochists; and, 
  • Those who don’t know any better.  

 
Related Pages
Other Tyranid Themed Army Ideas
   
Posted April 2011
 

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Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle