Text by Kenton Kilgore, copyright 2021 Most images copyright Games Workshop, 2021
The fact that the second xenos army book released for 9th Edition is Codex: Drukhari—and not one for Craftworld Aeldari, T’au, or Orks—flabbergasts me, but I’ll take it. I’ve been playing Dark Eldar since they arrived with the 3rd Edition rules in 1998, and they’re one of my favorite forces to play. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll go over the new book, pulling out some of the things I like, some that I don’t like, and some that I’m indifferent on. Ready? Off we go!
What I Like, and Why
The Basic Bad Guys Got Better and Badder. Drukhari have never been never particularly easy to play, but at least the new codex makes them formidable. Let’s start with the happy fact that just about every DE unit gained at least one extra Attack in its basic profile.
That’s not a massive deal for your basic Kabalite Warrior, whom you don’t necessarily want in fist fights anyway: despite the +1 Attack and WS 3+, their Strength and Toughness are still only 3.
However, the increased number of Attacks is much more meaningful to Wyches and Wracks, the other Troop choices. (And lest you feel that Warriors have been shortchanged, their Save went up to 4+, making them a smidge more resilient.)
Tied in with the extra Attack is a new and happy ability called Blade Artists, where Drukhari models who wound with an unmodified roll of “6” with a melee weapon improve the Armor Penetration of said weapon by 1. You tie that in with Wych weapons like agonizers, hydra gauntlets, and shardnets, which already have good AP, and you can put a serious hurt on even powered-armor foes.
Speaking of weapons, a lot of Drukhari basic gear—such as splinter rifles—have the Poisoned Weapon ability, where they wound just about anything other than vehicles or Godzilla on a 4+ or 2+. This isn’t new, but it’s still lovely, particularly when your opponent is fielding small units of high-Toughness models. “Ork Nobz on bikes, you say? Bless your heart.”
(On the flip side, this isn’t quite so charming when your opponent has lots of low-Toughness scrubs. Needing “4’s” to wound Gretchins is a PITA).
And, of course, the Death Twinkies retain their Power From Pain ability, where they get tougher and more vicious the longer the battle goes on. In the first Battle Round, they get a 6+ Invulnerable Save; on Round 2, they can charge in any turn where they Advanced; and the fun just keeps on coming from there.
Wracks have the Insensible to Pain power, which lets them ignore wounds on a 5+. Wyches get Combat Drugs that can jack up Attacks, or Strength, or Toughness, or Weapon Skill, etc. There’s nothing sad about any of that.
Everyone Else Got Better, Too (Pretty Much). The Archon has the same stats as the previous version of the codex, but the Succubus picked up 2 more Attacks, her archite glaive is no longer -1 “to hit,” and her Power Rating went down 1.
The Haemonculus lost an Attack but picked up a Wound, and now has the hoopy Fleshcraft power, where every round, he can restore d3 lost Wounds to a nearby MONSTER (such as the Talos) or a Grotesque.
Archons, Succubi, and Haemonculi can be upgraded to Masters, which give them access to exclusive Relics and Warlord Traits. They also pick up happy abilities like Splintered Genius, which allows your Master Archon to, once per battle, fight again at the end of a Fight phase. Chortle!
Master characters also lets one up upgrade a unit of Warriors, Wyches, or Wracks (as appropriate) to Kabalite Trueborn, Hekatrik Bloodbrides, or Haemoxytes. These units have special abilities: the Trueborn, for example, are BS 2+, LD 8 (9 for the Sybarite), and can ignore any “to hit” or Ballistic Skill modifiers when shooting.
The named characters—Lelith Hesperx, Drazhar, and Urien Rakarth—have all gotten deadlier, too. Lelith picked up 3 more Attacks (7 total); Drazhar has 2 more Attacks (for a total of 5 or 7, depending on how he wants to use his Executioner’s demiklaives), and can fight again in each Fight phase. Urien has another Wound (6 total) and another Attack (5 total), he can come back from the dead on a 2+ (thanks to Sustained by Dark Science), and he buffs friendly units from the Prophets of Flesh Coven.
Elite units—Incubi, Mandrakes, and Grotesques—have all improved in some ways. Incubi are WS 2+ and their demiklaives are nastier. Mandrakes can disappear from one part of the battlefield and reappear somewhere else in the Reinforcements part of your next Movement phase. Grotesques are still muscle-bound battering rams, and their monstrous cleavers do D2, with a -2 AP, great for hacking up Space Marines.
The Court of the Archon has really received an upgrade. You can have up to 16 of them in a single squad, 0-4 of each unit—Lhamaeans, Medusae, Sslyth, and Ur-Ghuls—and they don’t take a Detachment slot. All of them are badass, especially the Medusae: its eyebursts are 12″, Pistol d6, S4, AP-2, D1, and attacks automatically hit the target.
Still Fast, But Even Deadlier. Drukhari are known for Fast Attack, and the upgraded units don’t disappoint. Reavers gained an Attack, and have some seriously impressive speed, moving 18″ + an automatic 8″ more for Advancing, without needing to roll. Combine that with the Eager to Flay Power From Pain ability, and on Round 2, they can go 26″ and then charge your guys.
Hellions got +1 Toughness, +1 Wounds, and +1 Attacks. Scourges also have the +1 Attack that most DE units received, which is handy only if we’re going to pretend for a moment that they’re going to do anything but stand in cover and snipe with splinter cannons or dark lances.
The Beastmaster & Friends are much better, especially Clawed Fiends, who enjoy Berserk Rage: whenever one of them in a unit has lost a Wound, all of them increase their Attacks to 6. Did I mention that you can have 6 of them in a unit? So that’s 6 Attacks each, WS 4+, S5, AP-2, D2. Oh, and the Beastmaster lets them re-roll “1’s” to hit.
The Big Guns Are (Mostly) Better. The Talos and the Cronos, my favorite Heavy Support units, are for the most part unchanged. The Ravager has gained a Wound.
As they have always had, Raiders possess the option of adding splinter racks, but now this wargear treats any passengers firing Rapid Fire weapons as being within half range, even if they actually aren’t. Ten splinter rifles throwing out 20 shots a round at 24″ range? Yes, please: that would be lovely.
And the Raider’s transport capacity has been bumped to 11 (insert cliched yet nigh-obligatory Spinal Tap reference here), so now you can enjoy the benefits of 10-strong squads of Warriors or Wyches alongside an appropriate HQ unit.
Venoms, too, have their capacity increased, from 5 to 6, so that you can bring an HQ plus a minimal-sized squad. Raiders can carry Grotesques (who count as two models each), but Venoms cannot.
Razorwings and Voidravens have not changed from the previous codex, except for the inevitable points price hike that all armies have experienced under the 9e rules.
Better Bang For Your Buck. A number of Drukhari weapons have increased in viciousness. The shredder has picked up an additional 6″ in range (up to 18″) and is now a Blast weapon, a zesty combination with being Assault d6 and S6. The bane of tanks that is the dark lance now does d3+3 Damage instead of d6.
Splinter cannons (one of my favorite weapons) are now Heavy 3 instead of Rapid Fire 3, which I’m not wild about, but now they’re AP -1 D2. But I’m stoked about phantasm grenade launchers. Each time a unit is hit by this weapon, roll 2d6 and compare to the target’s Leadership: if the result is higher than the Leadership, the unit takes 1 mortal wound. Did I mention that the PGL is Assault d3 Blast? No? How careless of me.
Melee weapons have also gotten a bit livelier. Agonizers are now AP -3 instead of -2, and power swords are +1 S (useful to overcome Drukhari’s spindliness). Several Wych weapons will better help their wielders slice and dice. Hekatarii blades, Wyches’ standard issue, are AP -1, and still give an extra attack each round. Hydra gauntlets are now +2 S and AP -2 (but no longer allow re-rolls for failed wounds). Shardnets and impalers are improved, too, with AP -2.
I’m Obsessed With Obsessions. As they did under the previous codex, Kabals, Wych Cults, and Haemonculus Covens have Obsessions which grant them various bonuses and abilities. New to this army book is that if you don’t play one of the named associations (e.g. Kabal of the Black Heart, Cult of Strife, etc.) that Games Workshop created, you have to choose your own Obsessions from a list provided.
Examples include Merciless Razorkin: each time a model with this Obsession makes an attack with a splinter weapon, an unmodified roll of 6 scores 1 additional hit. Or Test of Skill, where melee attacks that target MONSTER or VEHICLE units add 1 to those attacks’ wound rolls.
The only downside to the Obsessions is, as I mentioned, that your DIY Kabal, Cult, or Coven can’t imitate another’s Obsessions. My Kabal of the Ozone Scorpions are big fans of poison, but I can no longer use the Obsession that the Kabal of the Poisoned Tongue does, as I was allowed to under the previous book. Ah, well.
What I Don’t Like, and Why
There’s not much that’s not to like, but I am still a bit cheesed that there are still no new units, not even for some of those characters named in the fluff. While I understand fully well why Space Marines received almost 20 new units with their latest codex, would it have killed GW to throw the Drukhari players a bone or two?
Speaking of fluff, the Drukhari background doesn’t seem to have advanced much, if it all. Maybe I missed something with a supplement toward the end of Eighth Edition, but the Dark Eldar backstory is the same: Asdrubael Vect is still Supreme Overlord, the Dark City of Commorragh still endures (wasn’t invaded by daemons through Khaine’s Gate?), factions vie against each other, etc.
I Still Don’t Like The Artwork. The previous codex featured hazy, blurry portraits of individual Drukhari that looked like they had been slapped with a bad Instagram filter, and the practice continues with this book.
What I’m “Meh” About
New Cover Art. The 8e books recycled the 7e covers. The 9e version features a new cover, which doesn’t do much for me.
Points Values Increased. As mentioned, point values have gone up for most units, just as they have across all armies as part of the Great 9e Points Hike. Seeing as how I now use Power Rankings instead, I don’t care much.
Crusade Army Rules. If I were just starting out with Drukhari, I’d be all over these rules, but seeing as how my armies are well-established, I gave them a cursory glance.
Playing Dark Eldar has always been a bit of an uphill climb, but that got much, much easier with the latest codex. Now that Nurgle’s Covid Plague seems to be easing in my part of Terra, Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel and I are going to start playing again, and my Drukhari will hit the battle field soon. We’ll see how well they do….
When I’m not playing or blogging about 40K, I’m writing killer SF/F for young adults, and adults who are still young. In This Wasted Land, my latest novel, 17-year old Alyx is lost and alone on a nightmare world of monsters never before imagined–and if they don’t kill her, the witch who has her boyfriend will.
I’m also the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog. My first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons. With Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel, I created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.