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.