So everybody having fun with your new psychic powers out of the main 6th ed rulebook? They’re fun, right? You got them basically for free, and they’re shiny, new, interesting, and fun to try out. Fun is important. This is a game, and we play it for fun, so if that’s your only concern, this in’t really the article for you. If you’re the kind of player who plays orks because you get to roll on lots of tables, roll big handfuls of dice, and shout “waagh!!!!!!!!” at least once a game, then the basic rulebook powers are exactly what you’re looking for. The real problem is that from a competitive standpoint, they suck. They A) mostly aren’t very good (with the exception Divination) B) aren’t even vaguely balanced (as illustrated by everyone talking about Divination). I’m going to start with some facts, some stats, some major points of discussion, and then go into more depth from there. We”ll go into this in more detail later, but to start the conversation off, the main problems with the powers are:
- Randomness, far more random than for spell lores in Warhammer Fantasy. Most 40K psykers only have 1 or 2 powers, while fantasy wizards can have anywhere from 1-4. Additionally, fantasy wizards get to choose whenever they roll the same power twice — 40k psykers just have to roll again. Games Workshop, as a company, clearly does not appreciate how un-fun randomness is for many players.
- Multiple points of failure: First you have to roll to cast it, then often to hit, there’s a deny the witch roll, and often additional defenses beyond that (Grey Knights, Eldar, Space Wolves, and Tyranids. Necrons have a small defense you’re unlikely to see. SW can layer 3 different types of defenses, if you read the rules liberally! Great rules writing again, GW!).
- Utter lack of balance. Some powers are great nearly all the time. Some are awful. Many are great, but only in specific situations. Which you have absolutely no chance to plan for, because you will at best only get the power you want 50% of the time! Disciplines that have a good Primaris Power (the only really good one is for Divination) are clearly favored over the others.
- Warp Charge and Psyker Mastery Levels. The vast majority of psykers in the game are Level 1. It’s all fine and good to formalize the process for determining how many powers (including force weapons) you can cast a turn, but Warp Charge 2 powers are distributed among the disciplines in a very haphazard way. There are four warp charge 2 powers (two of which suck) but two disciplines don’t get any and one gets two (and those are the only good ones). If you decided you needed a “second level” of powers, wouldn’t it make sense to make sure that each discipline got one each? They seem to have been randomly judged and assigned levels by completely different person after they were written.
- Wild inconsistency in how you defend against spells. Is there anyone who thinks rune weapons remaining the same while psychic hoods were drastically nerfed wasn’t an oversight? I doubt many people begrudge Tyranids their Shadow of the Warp, but while it certainly makes sense for Eldar to have powerful and sophisticated anti-psyker methods, doesn’t everyone agree the “whole board” is a bit much?
- Primaris Powers. Or rather, the fact that because selecting powers is random, and cannot be planned for, a discipline’s worth is primarily determined by how good the Primaris Power is.
Some basic stats that are important for a discussion of psykers and psychic powers in 40K:
- A normal psyker has a 1/18th chance of suffering a perils of the warp. (1/36 of double 1′s, 1/36 of double 6′s =2/36=1/18) This is, just to give you a feeling, the same odds that a marine will kill himself with one shot of plasma. (1/6*1/3=1/18)
- Chance of passing Leadership 10 (i.e., successfully casting your power, to start) is 91%. This is the leadership of basically all psykers that are worth talking about.
- Chance to pass ld 9 is 82.7%. Aside from primaris psykers for IG, there are barely any psykers with ld 9. Grey Knight Justicars are (and the squads are often ld 8) but that’s a little outside this discussion. (Ooo! Dark Angel Librarians. Which are clearly a relic. Does anybody take those? Didn’t think so.)
- Chance to pass Ld 8 is 71.7%. This really only comes up for weird things like henchmen psykers (which are stupid cheap for what they do, so few complain) and GK techmarine.
- Chance to hit Ld 5 is 27.5%. Bonus pts for figuring out why that matters. (it’s what you need to pick the model you want with a focused witchfire) Basically we’re talking about double the normal chance of a precision shot, that’s it.
There are, just so you know, exactly three kinds of powers. No, not witchfire’s, blessings, novas, et al.. The three types of powers you need to worry about are Buffs, debuffs, and Damage.
Buffs are great. Buffs will never let you down, never give you up, or hurt you (well, there’s perils). Very critically, in 6th edition, the main way to stop psychic powers, Deny the Witch and thus, psychic hoods, doesn’t work on buffs. Buffs are also usually quite dependable beyond the chance of getting them off…..the good ones are good in most situations. But really, it is the fact that there’s much less stopping them from working that makes buffs so great. Unfortunately, some codex powers, that are not really buffs (like null zone) are cast as buffs, kind of giving them a back-door pass.
The main problem with buffs is that all enemies have a chance to stop them via Deny the Witch. Essentially anything from a 6+ to 4+ (rare) save against the power working, meaning the chance of it getting off is reduced by 16.6-50%. The new book powers, maledictions, usually have a 24″ range but keep in mind they have to be cast before you move…..this is going to feel more like 18″ range power to you for the most part.
Now a caveat here is that despite being harder to get off, de-buffs often scale better than buffs do. (scalability, for those not familiar with the concept) Think about it: Buffing your huge deathstar paladins (4 psycannons, of course) with Prescience (twin-linking, whoo!) is clearly pretty awesome. I’m sure it’s the first thing every GK player though of when they saw the new powers. But is it better than dropping the opponents deathstar, let’s say Nob Bikers, from Toughness 5 to Toughness 3 (or heh, even 3). Suddenly you can double them out with Str 8 when you couldn’t previously (bypassing Feel No Pain, to boot) and everything wounds them better. And yeah, those paladins may be a huge chunk of your army (half, often) but when you decide to try to take them out, your entire army is going to be firing at them. This is an extreme case, but it applies generally–you often want to focus fire in this game, and because of that, spells that make it easier to kill one unit (re-roll to wound, re-roll saves, lower toughness, etc) are going to give you more mileage than spells that make 1 part of your army do it’s one thing better.
Also, some de-buffs really cripple an enemy for a turn. Rolling leadership anytime you want to do anything (Dominate) really sucks, even if you have ld 10– you’re going to fail something eventually. And throwing that crucial unit of it’s game for a turn is usually better than whatever damage you could do to it.
But again, de-buffs are going to go off less, and they’re going to automatically be more situational. Enemy units may not be in range, or the de-buff may just not be needed. Does anyone care if scarabs are suddenly T1?
Damage spells, with rare exception, suck. I know they look all cool and shiny, and some of them do wiz-bang things that got your attention, but no really, they almost all suck, nearly always worse than a equivalent weapon. What the heck does Flame Breath do that a regular heavy flamer doesn’t? No, not Soul Blaze, Soul Blaze is useless and you know it. Other than that it’s a heavy flamer that you can’t overwatch with (you can only cast witchfire’s in your shooting phase) you have to hurt your brain to cast, and the enemy gets at least a 6+ invo save (DTW) for no particular reason. A heavy flamer costs what, 10, 15 pts? (maybe 20, depends on the codex) Your psyker probly cost you 100-150, depending. And get this math: ld 10 for 91%, DTW for 6+ (but 5+ will be common), so (.91)*(.83)=75.8%. It is 75.8% worse than a heavy flamer at the simple job of killing people. At least, that’s assuming no special psychic defenses. And you pain 100+ pts for that?
Personally, I’m a little in love with Crush. It just sounds awesome, crushing that marine’s power armor like a soda can pitched out the screen door of a submarine. But the power is totally, almost completely worthless. Get this math: You get it off 91% of the time. Opponent gets 6+ DTW, so it gets through that 83.3% of the time. You have to roll to hit, of course (3+), so that’s 66.6%. 50% of the time, you get AP 1-3, so it will bypass marine armor. The other 50%, the marine fails his save 1/3, or 33.3% of the time, working out to a total chance of 66.6% (hey, easy 2/3rds!) chance to bypass power armor. I don’t really want to do the math on 2d6 strength, so let’s just pretend you wound the marine on a 2+, 83.3%, again. (it’s actually a little less than that)
Got all that? Our total chance to kill one marine is .91 (psychic test) * .833 (chance to get past DTW) * .666 (to hit) *.666 (armor, all told) * .833 (to-wound) for a total chance to kill one marine of…..28%
Right, all that effort, 100+ pt character, for a 28% chance to kill one marine. Not even the marine you want, by the way; about 1/3 of the time you successfully cast the power you’ll get a ld 5 or less, letting you pick the model. So 9.3% chance of that.
Don’t even bother with targeting characters, either. You’ll get an instant death result ~50% of the time, but Look Out Sir! totally works against this, so you’re never going to catch a character with it. Yay!
Like I said, it sounds awesome, but the power is complete crap.
Think of Vortex of Doom. This power has been well known since the space marine codex as a good example of a red herring power, but it’s illustrating to cover it again anyway. Str 10 AP2 small blast, 12″. Random chance to kill yourself with it too.
This power is so good, killing yourself and all, GW decided to make it warp charge two. This means you really need a 150+ pt character to cast it. Except……you can buy a vindicator, with a Str 10, AP 2 large blast for 115 pts. And you don’t have to roll to cast, opponent doesn’t get to roll Deny the Witch, etc.
That’s really the key. Anytime you see a damaging psychic power, think of the comparable normal weapons you could buy for the cost of the psyker. Yeah yeah, Molten Beam sounds neat. (also, weirdly beams ARE a good way to snipe models, unlike “focused” witchfires……wtf?) But I doubt you’ll get more than 3 or 4 models under the line, at least unless it’s a horde. No, you’re barely ever going to catch 2 tanks with it, not unless your enemy is stupid, and absolutely never 3. It’s a Warp Charge 2 spell, meaning again, the psyker probably cost 150+ pts…..how many meltaguns could you have gotten for that?
Novas can be pretty cool….if you have a lot of enemies surrounding you, which usually means you needed to have the psyker in a tough CC unit to whether ensuing assaults. Which would require planning, and can you plan on getting any particular non-Primaris power? Absolutely not, cuz this stuff is random. Sunburst in particular (well, only two novas exist at all, yet) is awesome, as it also has the debuff effect Blind. Blind is a huge debuff, and against certain armies (Orks, Necrons, Tau) your chance of it going off is quite high. This spell is 10x better than Molten Beam, yet it’s Warp Charge 1, while the latter is 2. Why, oh why? But again, you’d need the right psyker in the right combat unit, and just hope and pray to get the right power.
Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the disciplines. I’m not going to go through each power in some ehaustive list, just not the high and low points and a few notes.
This is the discipline everyone talks about being clearly the best, and they’re not wrong. The reasons are pretty clear, too.
- 6 out of 7 of the powers are Buffs. Buffs are pretty clearly superior to most other powers, and certainly much easier to use. The one other power is a Debuff, and a good one at that, and as discussed, Debuffs scale well, despite being harder to use well.
- Most of the powers are useful to just about anybody. Perfect Timing obviously needs a shooting unit, but almost anybody has at least one unit that can use it well, Precognition is only mediocre on a non-fighty psyker type, but re-rolling saving throws is never bad. Scrier’s Gaze I suppose could be useless if you have no reserves or outflank (does anybody actually use mysterious terrain) but I think most people usually do. It’s probably the most situational of the bunch.
- Most importantly, the Primaris power is great. Literally anyone will appreciate Prescience.
It’s no Divination, but Biomany can be quite good, when you get the right power. Thing is, it’s very inconsistent, and will cause a lot of heartache when you don’t get what you’re hoping for.
- The Primaris, Smite, is just awful, as the internet is probably well aware, it having been in the SM and GK codexes for some time. Also, just for giggles, one of the psykers who would probably like to take Biomancy, the Broodlord, can’t even use it (BS 0). That’s just mean, GW. (slightly unrelated point, but does anyone else think this is weird as a Bio-power? Bio-lightning, really?)
- Most of the other powers are very good. Iron arm is everything a Tyranid Monstrous Creature ever wanted, quite literally. But can you plan on it? No! Random! Endurance and Warp Speed are great buffs, and Enfeeble a great debuff.
- Life Leech ain’t great but could be helpful in a pinch (weirdly, despite stealing “life force” it works on vehicles just fine).
- Haemorrhage is just awful, as bad as Crush and Smite. Worse, actually, you will never kill anything important with this.
Mostly thinking of tyranids here, Biomancy is going to be great when you get what you want but awful when you don’t.
Telepathy is all right, for the right guys. A lot more consistent than Biomancy, but mostly not as good as Divination.
- The Primaris Power is solid, though probably not as good as many people think it is. Still, Psychic Shriek will almost always be capable of doing something (doesn’t hurt vehicles, note) and sometimes can wipe whole squads. Probably the best pure damage spell there is, actually. Note you still have to roll to hit, meaning again, Broodlords can’t use it. Why do you hate Tyranids so much GW? Do you just not think of this stuff?
- Dominate is like tank shock….it doesn’t sound good at first, but your enemy will fail Ld 10 eventually. When cast on a deathstar it means your enemy really can’t depend on that unit doing it’s job anymore. Mental Fortitude is very situational but not useless. Puppet Master is less good than people think it is, IMHO, but still useful when you catch the right unit with it.
- The big thing to talk about in Telepathy is the two Warp Charge 2 powers. Invisibility would be just crazy awesome on a large Genestealer unit….but the only way to make that happen would to be to get the Swarmlord (280 pts!) and hope……hoping for the right power sucks, can you sense this bothers me? Eldar can get a very similar power on harlequins for a lousy 30pts, all the time. Hallucination is similarly disgusting, it’s like psychotroke grenade you can throw.
- Can I say Terrify annoys me, conceptually? It’s not broken, not even that good, actually, it’s just that some things in 40k are Fearless because they like, literally have no brains. Taking away Fearless just strikes me as weird in many situations and hits some dark millennium puritanical nerve of mine. Hey, did you know ATSKNF makes you immune to Fear? (funny, that) This means that against marines (so like, everyone) this power is useless except for causing 1 morale check.
Basically Telepathy is only power where the Warp Charge 2 powers are actually worth Warp Charge 2. All the other powers are decent except Terrify.
Telekinesis is where things really start to get bad.
- The Primaris Power, Assail, won’t kill much of anything, but is amusing because of Strikedown (half initiative and moves as if in difficult terrain, and that happens more or less automatically). Interestingly, you could combo that with other powers that force initiative checks, but I think it would be hard to orchestrate. Mostly I just think the idea of knocking Archons and SM Captains on their butts is funny. Not really a good power, but at least the Broodlord can cast it!
- Aside from the Primaris, all the damage spells are awful for all the reasons discussed previously. Telekine Dome just makes you wonder why you can’t have Forewarning from the Divination discipline. Yeah, you’ll take the 5++ sometimes because you just need it, but it only works in the shooting phase (so is really a weird cover save) and is demonstrably worse than foreboding. No, being able to bounce shots to an enemy is NOT useful. (you realize you have to use your best save, right? If you have power armor, you’re only going to get to use this against AP 1 and 2 weapons) We went through all this with Necron Lychguard, and heck this is even worse than that.
- Objuration Mechanicum is surprisingly useful. It’s a relatively weak debuff, but the haywire effect is what you really want. Not going to kill any vehicle in one shot, but it will fairly reliably strip hull point. This is, btw, the only psychic power that can directly damage a flyer.
- And….Gate of Infinity is awesome. Space Marine players have found it hella useful for years, and anyone else will too. I could see Tau with SM allies really getting good use out of this (but the SM should just take it directly, rather than rolling for it). Yes, unless they errata it you can leave combat with this power. BTW, if you had to make a SM power Warp Charge 2, this probably should have been it.
We basically have 1 good power (which you can’t count on getting, unless you’re marines, and then why are you rolling on this table?) surrounded by a bunch of powers that are anywhere from poor to very bad. Amusingly, it’s the Discipline a Broodlord should take, since they can use all the powers except for Crush.
Pyromancy is awful, and if you were paying attention at the beginning, it should be clear why.
- 5 of the spells are damage powers, and all but one of them is very bad. We’ve got a bad heavy flamer, a single frag missile shot, a slightly better version of Crush that can’t be used on vehicles, and a gimmicky melta shot that costs two charge. No, Soul Blaze doesn’t make up for any of this, and if you wanted to ignore cover so bad, just take more flamers.
- As discussed previously, Sunburst can be pretty awesome, sometimes, but you need the right unit against the right opponent.
- Fire Shield is ok, actually. Much better than Telekine Dome, probably still not as good as Forewarning.
- Fiery Form isn’t usually going to be that useful on the kind of psyker who’s likely to take Pyromancy, but it’s not useless.
This is straight up the worst Discipline. This discipline tries to do damage, which is obviously very thematic, but doing damage with psychic powers is hard. There are two powers here that you are likely to find useful, but chances are you’re going to get the least useful flamer in the game instead.
- Games Workshop severely under-appreciates the multiple points of failure in casting an offensive power, and especially damaging powers. You will almost always be paying much more for a psychic power than you will for an equivalent (or often, better) weapon.
- Randomness severely hampers your ability to utilize useful powers, since in most of the disciplines, something like 1/2 the powers are pretty bad. If your codex powers are comparable to the BRB powers (many codex powers are not, though) you really should be taking those, since you can just choose the power you want, and make your list around that.
- Because of this randomness, a Discipline’s worth has a lot to do with how useful the Primaris power is. Divination has a great Primaris, Telepathy is alright, all three of the others are bad.
- Disciplines are not in any way created equal, nor is there any real balance between the different powers, within one discipline or compared to others.
- Warp Charge 2 is applied without rhyme or reason. Molten Beam and Vortex of Doom are over-costed for no reason at all.