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Creating Warband Abilities – Design Guidelines for Warcry House Rules

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I've done a few homebrew Warbands that I'm pretty happy with at this point, and given feedback on a bunch more – and while costs and characteristics can be tweaked, it's the Warband abilities that often seem to trip people up on a fundamental level. With that in mind, I've put together some thoughts, comments, and guidelines for Warcry Abilities that readers might find useful. Let me know if you think I've missed anything, or got the wrong end of the stick!!

  1. Number of Abilities

  2. Ability Timing

  3. Universal Abilities

  4. Ability Duration

  5. Bonus Actions

  6. Ability Restrictions

  7. Value vs Flat

  8. Ability Costs and Guidelines


Number of Abilities

Aside from universal abilities, everyone gets six warband-specific abilities. The divide is normally 3x [Double], 2x [Triple], 1x [Quad], though some warbands trade a [Double] for another [Triple]. This ensures you'll always have a decent spread of abilities available to you, and each ability dice fills a different role.

[Doubles] cover abilities that you should basically always have as an option – either because it's a universal ability that's core to your warband's tactics, or because it's part of the expected role for a specific fighter. [Triples] are for powerful, usually fighter-specific abilities that you might need wild dice to reliably trigger. [Quads] cover awesome, explosive abilities that most fighters can use and that will be useful at pretty much any point, because it's hard to control when you'll actually get them.

Ability Timing

To recap some oft-forgotten basics – fighters use abilities during their activation, once per activation, either before or after any action. Think of it like a special bonus action. This means you can't use an ability "during" another action – there are no abilities that you use mid-attack. It also means you can't use an ability if it's not your activation – there are no abilities that you use in response to an opponent's actions. If you want a defensive ability, it has to be used on your activation – i.e. before you get hit, in anticipation, or after you get hit, to heal.

Universal Abilities

Check out the universal abilities, first thing you do. Rush is +1M for your activation on a [Double], Onslaught is +1A (in melee) for your activation on a [Double], Respite heals (value) damage points if you're not within 1" of an enemy on a [Triple], Inspiring Presence lets you skip to another friendly fighter's activation on a [Triple], and Rampage lets you make a bonus move and a bonus attack on a [Quad].

These are your absolute baseline, available to everyone – if an ability is worse than this, there's no point to it. On the other hand, most warband-specific abilities aren't straightforwardly better than this, either. The majority of warband-specific abilities can framed as upgraded versions of these abilities, which offer an extra buff under certain conditions – for example, Daughters of Khaine, Legions of Nagash, Nighthaunt, and Gloomspite Gitz all have [Double] abilities that amount to "Onslaught, but you get +1S under certain circumstances". Those circumstances – the situations in which a warband is better than the baseline – shape how they play.

Ability Duration

Most abilities are buffs of one kind or another, so it's important to understand the key differences between the duration of each. Buffs that last for one action (e.g. one attack action, one move action) are good for a single explosive burst. Buffs that last for one activation can enhance both your actions in that activation, so they're best if you want to do that one specific action twice. Buffs that last for a whole battle round are mostly the same as the activation buff, so they're used for abilities that buff other fighters – but if you have some way of giving bonus attacks to the buffed fighter after its initial activation, a battle round buff will remain in place, too.

Note that a longer duration isn't necessarily better. Let's use The Untamed Beasts as an example – their basic [Double] ability, Savage Fury, adds 1 to your Move characteristic for your next move and 1 to your Attacks characteristic for your next attack. Clearly, this is worse than Onslaught or Rush, both of which last for your whole activation, right? Well, no – Rush gives you +1M for your whole activation, so that's potentially +2" of movement across two move actions. Onslaught gives you +1A for your whole activation, so that's potentially +2A across two attack actions. But if you need to move in and then attack, that second action is "wasted" – it doesn't get the buff. Untamed Beasts can bypass that problem, thanks to Savage Fury.

Let's make a direct comparison using a Preytaker with Fanged Axe. He has M4 and A3, so...

  • Preytaker moves twice: 8" move, 0 attacks. 10" with Rush, or 9" with Savage Fury.
  • Preytaker attacks twice: 0" move, 6 attacks. 8 attacks with Onslaught, or 7 with Savage Fury.
  • Preytaker moves once and attacks once: 4" move, 3 attacks. 5" move, 3 attacks with Rush, or 4" move, 4 attacks with Onslaught, or 5" move, 4 attacks with Savage Fury.

What's the result? Untamed Beasts have an ability that specifically makes them better than anyone else at charging in and attacking on the same activation (or killing a weak enemy and moving on).

Let's take that Rush comparison further. Rush gives you +1M for an activation, which means you get +1M total if you move once or +2M total if you move twice. Untamed Beasts' Savage Fury gives you +1M for an action, which means it's just as good as Rush if you only move once – but it also comes with an entirely separate benefit, which means it's actually better than Rush if you only move once. Stormcast Eternals have Tireless Hunters, which gives you +(value/2)M for an action. That's a flat +1-3M total regardless of how many move actions you make – which means it's better than Rush if you're making only one move action, because you're cramming that extra movement into a single action, leaving you with another free to attack. That's the explosive power of a single-action buff.

Bonus Actions

Legions of Nagash have a very similar ability to Stormcast, called Shambling Horde – it also gives you an extra (value/2) burst of movement, but it comes with an additional restriction – it requires that your Leader be within 6". This is because it's not a buff to your move action, it's a bonus move action. This makes it more flexible, because it doesn't use up one of your standard actions. A skeleton who uses Shambling Horde and then takes one or two move actions is getting the same "extra" movement as a Stormcast who uses Tireless Hunters and then takes one or two move actions – but the skeleton doesn't have to take a move action. It can move and attack twice, or attack twice and move, or disengage then move into range of another enemy and attack once. Or if you're planning to move twice anyway and you don't have a (value) of 3+, you can just use Rush and lose nothing.

This is what makes bonus actions so powerful, and is why they're normally gated behind [Triples], Runemarks, and other restrictions – they open up your options tremendously. A M4 fighter with a bonus move action can move 12", move into range to make two attacks against an enemy within 5", or move twice and then attack. An ability that gives +3A to a 3A fighter's next attack might seem identical to a bonus attack – they both give +3A, right? Except the bonus attack can be used even if you need to spend two move actions getting into range, or if you want to kill a weak enemy and then refocus on another target, or if you want to attack twice and then disengage. The bonus attack also benefits from other buffs – if you've got a Leader generating a +1A or +1S aura, such as through the Gloomspite Gitz Stab 'Em Good ability, that bonus attack isn't +3A – it's +4A.

Ability Restrictions

As we've just seen, the majority of abilities come with restrictions on their use – or on their optimal use. Some of these are indirect – for example, an AOE ability gets more powerful the more valid targets are in range, while an activation-long attack buff gets more powerful if you started your activation within 1" of an enemy. Others are more explicit, such as the ability of Gloomspite Gitz to get extra Strength only if they gang up on enemy model.

These are important to designers because they guide the play style for each warband. If a player's abilities are at their best (or only usable at all) in specific situations, they'll learn to play in a way that creates those situations. For example, imagine a Chaos Warrior warband with an ability that gives +1A, but also gives +1S if there are no friendly models within 6". Immediately, the player knows that they'll have an easier time of things if they spread their models out, each of them a lone warrior looking to win glory on their own – which is the play style you wanted to encourage. It also creates an interesting dilemma for players – do I go for that +1S buff, or do I keep these guys together just in case they need support?

A narrower but stronger ability is usually a better fit for Warcry than a more "generic" and somewhat weaker ability, just because the former does more to guide play.

Runemarks also fall under this banner, albeit at the roster-building level rather than immediate play. They tie an ability directly to a specific set of characteristics and capabilities, and can therefore make a weaker model worthwhile, or make two powerful-but-identical models play very differently. A Leader ability is always going to be available to a warband, for example, but can only ever be used by one model in that warband. That makes it a good spot for buff auras, or more powerful abilities than you'd normally see elsewhere.

It's worth pointing out that there are two ways to use Runemarks to restrict ability use. The first is to slap the Runemark on the ability – the second is to say that the ability can only be used within X" of another model with that Runemark. The difference lies in who you want to use the ability, and when you want it to be used.

For example, Shambling Horde is a "universal" ability that nevertheless relies on the Leader runemark being nearby – it could just be a Leader ability, but then you'd be limited to using it once per battle round, during your Leader's activation. Conversely, the Beastmaster ability has the Agile runemark, and lets you affect a Beast fighter within 4" – it could be a Beast runemark ability that only works within 4" of an Agile fighter, but then it would occupy the Beast's activation, so it wouldn't be able to use Onslaught or Pounce on the same turn.

A note for homebrewers – the only purpose for Runemarks is to restrict abilities. If you don't want/need to do that, don't use a Runemark. Sure, Ironguts are "elites", but unless you've got an Irongut-specific Ability in mind for your Ogor warband, don't bother giving them the Elite Runemark. Similarly, Troggoths are definitely "brutes", but if your entire Troggoth warband is made up of "brutes" you can just ditch the Runemark entirely.

Value vs Flat

One item worth considering – (value) based abilities vs flat bonuses. You always know what the (value) of an ability is before you use it, but there's no way to modify that value once you have it, even by spending Wild Dice. Therefore, you ideally want a decent mix of flat/value abilities, to avoid crippling a warband when it rolls a [Triple] 1 and a [Triple] 2. Use the average value (2 for half/value, 3.5 for value) as a guideline, and be aware that players can just "skip" using a value-based ability on a low roll. It's not such a problem for a Value 1 ability to be worse than a generic equivalent, because the player can just use the generic equivalent – and the fact that it could potentially be worse isn't a reason to make it significantly more powerful, because the players will just use it when it's powerful and skip it when it's not.


Ability Costs and Guidelines

This is the big one – thanks for sticking with us this far. Finally, let's lay down the guidelines for what various levels of ability can do for your warband, in general terms.

Note that these are context sensitive, and depend at least in part on the capabilities of your warband. For example, part of the reason Nighthaunt underperform is because their abilities don't work very well with their actual fighters – their core defensive ability is to slap a -1 Strength penalty on an enemy model, but most of their fighters are already Toughness 5, so Aura of Dread simply won't have an effect on anyone but the strongest enemy fighters in the game.

Here we go:

[Double] – +1A total with an extra benefit, +2A total with an extra benefit and a restriction, +3A total with a restriction. Examples:

  • Onslaught gives +1-2A total, but requires a second attack action to reach +2A.
  • Untamed Savagery gives +1A total, but also gives +1A total. Backstabbing Mob, Chilling Horde, Bathe in Blood, and Chosen Champion give +1-2A total and +1S, but require a second attack action to reach +2A and a second circumstance (friend within 1", Minion within 3", enemy already damaged, within 6" of your Leader) to get +1S.
  • Duff Up Da Big Thing and Chosen of the King give +2-4A total, but only for a specific expensive elite fighter, and come with an additional restriction (only within 6" of the Leader, only against W15+ models).
  • Poisoned Weapon isn't a direct example, but fits best here for comparison's sake – since your fighters are S3-S4, against T4+ opponents it'll take you from hitting on 4s or 5s to hitting on 3s, which is a +33-100% increase in non-crit damage. That "non-crit" caveat is important – basically, it's worse than or equal to Onslaught on anyone except a fighter with D2/4 who'd otherwise be wounding on 5s. Then it's better. Aelf Venombloods, eat your heart out.
  • Note that Warcry (mostly) values long-ranged attacks much more heavily than close-range attacks. Onslaught doesn't work on ranged attacks (i.e. more than 3"), so Idoneth get +1-2A total on ranged attacks with Storm Fire.

[Double] – +1M total with an extra benefit, +2M total with an extra benefit and a restriction, +3M total with a restriction. Examples:

  • Rush gives +1-2M total, but requires a second move action to reach +2M.
  • Untamed Savagery is +1M total, but also gives +1A total.
  • Tireless Hunters is +2M total and only requires a single move action, but relies on (value).
  • Shambling Horde is +1-3M total and is a bonus action, but relies on (value) and a nearby Leader.
  • Charge is +3-4M total and is a bonus action, but requires that you are within 6" of an enemy fighter.
  • Low Tide is +1-6M total and is a bonus action, but relies on (value) and only works on the first battle round.
  • Swift Climb is +XM total, where X = the distance you climb vertically.
  • Acrobatic Leap gives you +XM total, where X is the distance you save by flying over enemy models and onto raised platforms.

[Double] – Prevent an enemy model at short range from disengaging/moving, with a minor restriction or odds of failure. Examples:

  • Harrying Raven prevents an enemy model within 20" from disengaging, but cannot affect movement and is specific to one, relatively weak fighter.
  • Ensnaring Net prevents an enemy model within 3" from disengaging or moving, but is specific to your Leader.
  • Nightmarish Visage prevents move/disengage actions out to 3" and is universal, but works only on a 3+.
  • Barbed Net prevents move/disengage actions out to 3" and is universal, but works only on a 3+ and is specific to one, relatively weak model.
  • Skewering Strike prevents an enemy within 1" from disengaging/moving, and also adds +1S to your next attack – but it's specific to an expensive kind of fighter, requires an attack action, and only works on a critical hit with that attack (the same or better odds as 3+, really – FEC have a lot of relatively quite powerful abilities).

[Double] – Allocate roughly 1.5-2 average damage points, depending on value, to an enemy model at short range, ignoring Toughness. Examples:

  • Fanged Buckler and Toof Shiv are 1.5 average (0.66-2.33, depending on value) within 1".
  • Raven Dart is weaker, but longer range and universal.
  • Turned to Crystal is stronger (1-2.66 average, depending on value) with a longer range, but is restricted to an expensive model. Throwing Stars and Chakrams and Throw Bolas are both unrestricted versions of Turned to Crystal, but in warbands with no ranged options (and slow Move, for Iron Golems).
  • Chain Garotte is slightly weaker than Turned to Crystal... and is in a warband with no ranged options, sasuga Unmade.
  • Shield Bash does by far the least damage of any example of this ability in the game, is restricted to a specific model, and comes with an additional, major restriction (you need to move into 1" on your turn) – I have genuinely no idea why it exists, and there is no reason to ever use it.
  • Cursed Weapon is a weird one – it doesn't trigger off value, and does rely partly on Toughness, but it ultimately fits here – it should average 1-2.66 extra damage at 1" range, in exchange for needing an attack action.

[Double] – Allocate roughly 0.5-1 average damage points, depending on value, to all enemy fighters within 2", ignoring Toughness. Examples:

  • Sweeping Blow and Low Sweeping Blow. Pretty straightforward. Worse than the single-target examples against 1 model, comparable against 2 models, better against 3 models. Helpfully, these warbands are fast enough to make it work.

[Double] – Add +1T to friendly fighters within 6". Examples:

  • Righteous Aura does this as a Leader ability in a warband that's almost entirely T5 – useful against Ironjawz and Gloomspite, I suppose?
  • Beast Spirit Ju-Ju is much more useful, since all your guys are T3-T4, so you're getting that precious -25-33% non-crit damage against almost every model in the game.
  • Aura of Dread is effectively this, but only affects a single enemy model, has a 1-6" range, and is also in a warband that's almost entirely T5. It is very bad, as a result.
  • Stand Defiant is this, but a [Triple], in a warband of T4-T5 models. It's just awful.

[Double] – Do something like a [Triple], but with a major restriction, or a [Quad] with a major restriction and only on a Leader. Examples:

  • Feeding Frenzy is just Respite, but it requires that you kill an enemy model on that activation.
  • Lead With Strength and All-Out Attack are just Rampage, but only on a Leader and require that you kill an enemy model on that activation.
  • Vessel of Torment is identical to Lead With Strength and All-Out Attack, but is also a [Triple] because a) the Unmade Leader is stronger than the Iron Golems or Untamed Leaders, b) the Unmade just don't deserve nice things.

[Triple] – Add +1A or +(value)M to all friendly fighters within 6" – must be on a Leader, to avoid multi-stacking and keep its range limited. Examples:

  • Grisly Trophy and Stab 'Em Good both add +1A.
  • High Tide adds +1A and +1S, but only functions on the third battle round.
  • Sacrifice to Khaine adds +1A, but requires a kill in that activation first, which is unusual but hardly a deal-breaker.
  • Waaagh! and Bringer of Death adds +(value)M.
  • Shattered Gloom Globe is just the debuff evil twin of +1A.
  • Note the math on "auras" depends on your placement – if there's no-one within range, they're just a pricier Onslaught/Rush. If there's one extra model in range, they're twice as good. Two models, three times as good, etc.
  • Note also that the +1A aura is constant – if you're within 6" and you attack, you get +1A. That means it's good if you're surrounded by targets, even if your friends are currently out of range. The +M aura, on the other hand, triggers when activated – you can (but must) use it to buff your friends before you move away from them.

[Triple] – Revive a deceased fighter with (value) damage points removed. Leader-only. Examples:

  • Summon Undead and Spectral Summon. Fairly straightforward – think of it as Respite that works even if they're dead and lets you bring them within 6" of your Leader, but it eats your Leader's ability use.

[Triple] – Do something like a [Double], but 2-3 times as good and with one or more extra restrictions. Examples:

  • Flaying Frenzy is the [Double] AOE, but twice as good, and limited to a single specific elite fighter.
  • Death Scream is the [Double] AOE, but with twice the range, and limited to a single specific elite fighter.
  • Boing! Boing! Boing!, Pounce, and Living Battering Ram are the [Double] single-target damage allocation, but three times as good (on average), and require you move within 1" of your target in your activation.
  • Heartseekers is the [Double] single-target damage alloction, but with a 20" range.
  • Snake Charmer is the [Double] Attack boost, but three times as good (+5 bonus instead of +2), and requires a specific expensive fighter to be within 4" of a specific other model that is within 1" of an enemy.
  • Da Grab an' Bash is the [Double] move/disengage prevention, but also allows a bonus attack on a roll of 6 (not the best, but the principle is there).
  • Rapid Fire is the [Double] Attack boost, but 2-3 times as good if you're already using one action to move or disengage.

[Triple] – A bonus move and bonus attack (or other [Quad]-equivalent), but with a major restriction. Examples:

  • Swooping Attack is just Rampage, but on a specific, expensive model, and requires that you move down 3" to get the bonus attack (and eat fall damage).
  • Harpoon Snag is just Rampage, but on a specific, expensive model, and makes your opponent move toward you instead of letting you move wherever you like.
  • Darting Attack is just Rampage, but on a specific fighter, requires that you start within 1", and gives you a disengage instead of a move.
  • Relentless Killer gives you a bonus attack if you kill someone, which is iffy. It's basically a [Double] ability with no Leader restriction – fair enough – tied a different specific fighter – still fine – and no bonus move – not great. It's solid if you're within 1" of two or more enemies at the start of your turn, but that's more situational than you'd want.
  • In general, [Triple] is where you get bonus actions – they're much more rare or limited at [Doubles], and even at [Triples] mostly come as package deals tied to a specific model and situation.

[Quad] – Make a bonus move and a bonus attack, with a minor boost to one of those actions based on circumstances. Examples:

  • Rampage is the baseline.
  • Death from Above is Rampage, but adds +1S if you moved 3" vertically down.
  • Death on the Wind is Rampage, but adds +1S if you moved 6" in any direction.
  • Royal Hunt is Rampage, but adds +1A if you're within 1" of a friendly (+1A is better than +1S, and the restriction is pretty simple too – that makes it strong).
  • Spinning Somersault Strike is Rampage, but it lets you fly.
  • Sneaky Stab is Rampage, but adds +(value) damage to the total damage of the bonus attack (not to each hit, I swear to god this needs commentary) if you're making a melee attack.
  • Gift of Agony would be too strong as a [Triple], but it's a pretty lacklustre [Quad]. It's better than Rampage if you're already damaged and you started your turn within 1" of an enemy model and you didn't kill that enemy model with your regular attack actions. Pretty narrow. Otherwise, pass.
  • Unleash the Beast is in the same boat. It's a [Quad], but it's basically just Onslaught x2-3 with a Strength buff. When Rampage is giving you the flexibility of two bonus actions, +2-6A and a Strength boost just doesn't cut it. It's better than Rampage if I start within 1" of an enemy, and my target is T4 or T5, and the ability has a value of 3-6. In any other situation, Rampage is equal or better.

[Quad] – A [Triple], but 2-3 times better and/or lacking any restrictions. Examples:

  • Aimed Strike is just [Triple] Heartseekers, but 2-3 times more likely to trigger.
  • Reaped Like Corn, Biovoltaic Blast and Whirlwind of Death are just the [Triple] AOE damage allocation, but guaranteed to trigger in full and therefore about 3 times better on average.
  • Vanhel's Danse Macabre is just all the [Triple] stuff that gives a single bonus move or attack, but with no restrictions, more flexibility, and targeting (value) friendlies within 6".

[Quad] – Roughly a [Triple] plus roughly [Double]. Important, since you can't otherwise use two distinct abilities at once. Examples:

  • Paralysing Venom is a [Triple] Heartseekers with a half-as-good [Double] move/disengage prevention baked in, and though it's limited to melee it's also universal and applies to twice as many attack actions.
  • Rampaging Destroyer is a [Double] Onslaught, plus the various [Triple] bonus move abilities... but also requires a model taken down for each move, and is therefore on the weaker end.

Miscellaneous Weirdness:

  • Slaughter's Strength adds +(value) Strength to your attacks, making it a [Triple] that's weaker than basic [Doubles]. Spine-Crushing Blow is a [Double] that does the same thing, but is limited to one attack, and is therefore even more awful. In general, if an ability seems overly specific or limited, I try to look for the situation where it shines and let that guide the playstyle – but these just don't have one. They feel like leftovers from a draft where Strength worked differently – I advise you to ignore them for balance purposes. Poisoned Weapon is much more acceptable, at least in a warband with multiple D2+ attackers.
  • Beastmaster is a [Double] that's identical to the [Triple] Snake Charmer. I guess the logic is that the Rocktusk is three times as expensive as the Serpents (albeit three times tougher, and notably faster and more damaging) while the Beast Speaker is less formidable than the Serpent Caller, but it's still a potent difference. God knows Serpents don't need to be made any better, but it's not like the Untamed Beasts were in need of help.
  • I have no idea what Go Dat Way is for. It's +4M total as a bonus action, and requires a specific (otherwise useless) fighter to be within 4" of another specific fighter. It'd rate as a slightly-too-strong [Double], normally. Granted, Squigs are hilariously good, but you could get a Squig Hopper for 15pts more than a Squig + Herder and it'd be significantly faster even without spending a [Triple] on this.
Edited by Revlid
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