Okay friendly forces of the Grandfather, so you’re thinking about doing some Beast of Nurgle spam in your games of Warhammer 40k? Well, I’ve been tending the garden for a while and I wanted to offer a reasonably(-ish) comprehensive guide to using those delightful Beasties in a game of 40k. This Beast of Nurgle tactica considers: where do they excel, where do they struggle, what are their matchups, and how do you maximize them?
What They Bring to the Table
Crack open your codex for the full stat block. I’ll highlight the key elements. You may notice a theme: Beasts are a gamble.
Durable-ish: Beasts have a toughness high enough to make small arms wound them on 5’s and only the most heavy of heavy weapons able to wound them on 2’s. They have an armor save of 5+ and that daemonic invulnerable save of 5+ as well. And then they can ignore wounds with Disgustingly Resilient (also on a 5+). This makes them durable-ish. There are times when mine have shrugged off far too much fire, and other times when they have crumbled. Being streaky at best, it means that they benefit from high numbers in their squad if possible (sometimes useful, sometimes not–see below). Count on them to be durable-ish and I think you’ve got the right of them.
Pillow-ish: d6 attacks is a cruel, cruel mistress, and the fundamental reason these guys area a gamble. Doing 2 wounds and having re-roll all failed wound rolls is good, but with no AP modifier and only an average strength. Keep in mind that 1 out of every 6 times on average your unit of three beasts will roll up and do a whole three total attacks. Sure, the turn where they get 18 looks amazing, but again–it’s streaky. If you count on the average number of attacks, and only hitting on 4+, you’re looking at the reliable point of the swing being about five Strength 4 hits with no save modifier. So keep that in mind. There are ways to boost reliability, strength, and damage, but the lack of save modifier and random attacks keeps things very much dependent upon dice.
Special Rules: Don’t over-estimate the value of these… they’re not so hot. It’s nice that they can heroically intervene, but it takes some critical positioning skill with other units to ensure that it can happen. And the slime trail rule simply isn’t that punishing to an opponent. Some players will stay stuck with you in melee, but honestly it’s hardly a worry to just step out and chance the mortal wound.
Expensive but Flexible: So these guys are expensive in some notions of the word. The kit is costly, and while there are secondary companies that make great alternatives they still come at some cost (I love my trio of Kromlech Snail Beasts pictured below). And more than that, they’re 30 points/2 power points. If you’re playing power points, then they’re a real comparative deficit (30 Plaguebearers for the cost of 6 Beasts). Better in the realm of regular points, where 30 Plaguebearers are roughly 10 Beasts. The advantage of the Beasts is that they can be broken into lots of different size units: one huge mob, each one fielded individually, some combination. I tend to like trios, as that gives me good flexibility–but I have definitely run duos, run solo, and even a big massed unit to try them out. That flexibility of combining or running solo may be their best strength.
Tactics for Gamblers
So you’re ready to commit to the Beasts of Nurgle, and you think that you can make them work in a reasonably competitive game? That means you’re taking a gamble. You need to keep in mind that they’re a gamble, and use them as such. They’re not an end-all, be-all kind of unit. Instead, like any risk you’ve got to manage it well, and reduce the risk where you can. Some of that is synergies, which I’ll cover below. But the most general two risks are that pesky d6 attacks characteristic and the lack of armor modifier.
The random attacks risk has a fair solution: paying the CP to do a command point re-roll. This has its risks as well. There might be some other crucial combat where you need it (e.g. that Daemon Prince wounds on a 2+ and you roll the 1 on the difference-making attack). But for Beasts of Nurgle, being able to re-roll a 1 or a 2 (and sometimes a 3 even) for number of attacks is absolutely huge. This scales the larger the unit is, as it has more and more of an impact the more models there are. For a unit of 3 Beasts, consider the upside of the single command point if you roll a 1 for number of attacks. There’s a 1/6 chance that it’s the same, and a 5/6 chance that you gain between 3 to 15 additional attacks that turn. If I have the CP I will always re-roll the 1 for attacks on a unit of 3 or more Beasts. For 2’s it’s a little more iffy, but I will if I think I can make a difference (armor saves in opposing unit of 4+ or worse). There’s also a time to just sit and be tough for a round, and not loose too much yourself. Against really dedicated melee foes, I do tend to re-roll 2’s and even sometimes 3’s just to get a chance at protecting myself by damaging enough of the enemy. Hence the gamble: you resign yourself to losing the unit and a CP, but if you get lucky and they do blunt the enemy’s return attacks then all the better.
On the other side, the gamble of armor modifier is just something you need to deal with. Your best Beasts targets are low armor save high wound models: something with 4 wounds and a 5+ save is far more appealing to fight than something with 2 wounds and a 2+ save. Try to manage it by choosing what foes you can on the tabletop (not always easy). Know from deployment onward where your rough match-ups are going to be, and steer them to better grounds. And don’t necessarily commit to those really steep climb fights if you don’t have to. Try to find other ways to use your beasts to stop those threats that you’ll have a tough time killing: use your big base size to block their way, or at the very least know when having them not engaged to be a target is the best use of them.
Unit Synergies, Strategies, Horticulus Slimux, and Feculent Gnarlmaws
Synergies and Buffs: So there are some other sources in the Daemons Codex that helps out the big blobby slug-puppies of the Grandfather. Some of the basics are just that: basic. Being within 6″ of a Nurgle Daemon prince lets them re-roll 1’s on hit rolls. This is a solid buff for their output, mitigated of course by the gamble that is the number of attacks. Being within 6″ of Loci character also nets additional damage on a wound roll of 6: helpful as you re-roll all wound rolls, and gets Beasts to a respectable 3 wounds on those 6’s. Having a Poxbringer close also ups their Strength. Great Unclean Ones with a Doomsday Bell returning Beasts to the unit certainly gets bang for his buck, all the more so if he can take Fleshy Abundance to heal up any wounds that are lingering. Shriveling Pox certainly helps if you’re at a toughness break point in a given fight: dropping T3 models and T4 models by a -1 both have advantages for the Str 4 Beast of Nurgle. Virulent Blessing could help if your Beasts go after models with lots of wounds, and Miasma of Pestilence always ups survivability, but often I’m putting those on more reliable units than the Beasts. So yes, you can stack up all of these effects on your Beasts of Nurgle and they’ll really have the potential to hit hard. But that’s a LOT of support surrounding the unit, and it’s unrealistic to expect it in every fight. Far too often I find my Beasts got a bit too extended, my buff needs to go elsewhere, and my attacks characteristic generates a poor number. High-reward if you can pull off much of it, but high risk in some ways as well.
Strategies: There are generally better units to deep strike, so skip Denizens of the Warp on these guys unless you’re thinking of a big distraction wound pool (might work on opponents who have never faced Beasts of Nurgle before. Warp Surge can make your Beasts more resilient, but that definitely scales in power with more models in the unit and the more threatening (and thus focused by opponent) you place them. I find I rarely use this one on units of 3 or less Beasts. Locus of Fecundity is also a 2 CP durability booster, but re-rolling 1’s on Disgustingly Resilient tests is marginal at best and generally outshone by Warp Surge. Revolting Regeneration seems like it was written for these guys, but it’s expensive and you need to plan on it (and plan on restoring wounds in the Psychic phase with Fleshy Abundance). The critical strategem you’ll be using on your Beasts of Nurgle is the humble Command Re-Roll as I mentioned above. At any point you’re tempted to spend on the others, remind yourself that it’s two combat phases of less reliability that you’re chancing.
Horticulux Slimux and his Feculent Gnarlmaws: This gent (and his warty trees) is the most common Beast of Nurgle buddy for making them click. If you’re doing one huge unit, two large units, and pretty much anytime you’re committing to Beasts spam as a strategy, he really is critical. He has two absolutely essential upgrades for making Beasts really shine. First, Beasts within 6″ get to re-roll their charge rolls. This gets them where you want them to be, but keep in mind he’s slow (and if you’re planting trees there are some spacing issues you’ll want to learn). Second, Beasts within 12″ get a +1 to attack rolls. That helps make your attacks more accurate, so as long as you’ve got that multiplying power of the higher roll on number of attacks you’re going to be in good shape. Stack with re-rolling wounds and seeking those 6’s for additional damage (as the slug-master carries the Loci), and they can make a right mess of many opponents. I don’t think he’s absolutely necessary for them, but he is quite effective at running with them. I end up using him to crack armor a lot, as his modifiers are potent, so he’s worth thinking of that way: buffing your Beasts and then providing punch against anything they get hung up upon due to high armor saves.
The Gnarlmaws are where it’s at with Horticulus Slimux, and there’s a reason I’m always happy to include one or two in a list. The ability to plop one down from Horticulus to allow charges on a turn that the Beasts ran is huge for their mobility. That greatly helps get to foes who are reluctant to engage with my force, which is important when running lots of Beasts. Taking two is generally right in a list if you’re paying for them, I often find that the third is just kind of sitting where the second was. That said they can also be a really bothersome space denial tool against certain models. Yeah, models can get around but no one wants to be near them (due to the wounds they cause to non-Nurgle models) and they take up a lot of space where models simply cannot stand.
As you might have gathered, a lot depends on what support you’re getting. There’s a sweet spot for Beasts of Nurgle in the “lots of wounds” and “not very good armor” zone. Instead of a detailed tactica for every possible force, I’m going to break it into certain typologies below. Again, this is general rather than specific, but it should give you some sense of where Beasts of Nurgle might be ideal and where they might struggle.
Easy Prey: Anything where there are multi-wound foes with bad armor saves is the real sweet spot for Beasts of Nurgle. They do surprisingly well into Tyranids of most varieties except for utter swarms, and likewise can hurt other daemons just fine. They actually match up decently against Death Guard in a funny sort of way, as multiple wounds still helps get through both Plague Marines’ and Poxwalkers’ Feel No Pain rolls more effectively. Orks are a pretty decent match-up for them as well if you can get the charge rather than the Orks, especially the more elite units of regular Nobz–and they do better against the lighter Ork vehicles than you’d think.
Average Utility: These are the spots where the Beasts might have half of that magic combo: either poor saves or multiple wounds, but not both. For instance, troop-heavy Primaris marines forces are reasonably managed by beasts, as the 2 Wounds each really make work–but the good armor saves limit that. Likewise against ground-pounding Astra Militarum or Genestealer cult, the feeble saves help a great deal, but the random attack number on the Beasts can really slow you up in the kill count (esp. overkilling the majority of 1 wound models). Tau, footslogging Ad Mech, Sisters of Battle, standard sorts of Space Marines, footslogging Eldar, and Necrons all fit here as well.
Poor Matchup: These are spots where the defenses are just a bit too much for the Beasts, or some other piece of defensive tech slows them down. Mechanized forces tend to fit here, where Beasts can’t reliably knock the foes out of their Chimeras, Rhinos, Devilfish, Wave Serpents, Raiders, Goliaths, and more. It can be a game, but it’s a pretty poor match-up if you’re Beast-heavy as you’ve got to commit to things that are hard to kill to then get at the stuff you actually want to kill. Slaanesh daemons with attacks debuffing also fit in here. It can also be the case when opponents are fielding massed weapons that are great for taking out hard targets. Multi-meltas and Lascannons usually chew thru Beasts of Nurgle pretty fast, so be wary there as well–a huge limit in a meta where people come ready to face Knights.
Misery for the Beasts: Armies with uniformly good saves and hard-to-wound models. Even with the re-roll on wounding, the strong saves mean that it’s a real uphill slog for the Beasts to get anything done. Knights are the clearest example, but Astra Militarum armored companies, Chaos Daemon Engines, and anything else that would be the classic “all vehicles” force are going to just be brutal on the Beasts.
The TL;DR of this is basically that Beasts are a gambler’s friend in lots of ways. If you’re lucky, they can be good and you can get good match-ups in tournaments. But that’s a huge “if”, and while there are ways to improve their capabilities, there’s also a limit to what they can handle–and a bad draw would just be a rough loss. They also require a bit of cash if you wanted to go Beast-heavy and do all GW figures, so keep that in mind (or hit the casino and hope absurd luck hits you there as well). While the meta remains the “make sure things can take out a Knight” and “I’m fielding my Knight” I think Beasts suffer a significant weakness.
All that said, Beasts of Nurgle are great fun to run en masse in games. Even when they’re being terrible, I do enjoy setting them on the table every time. So that’s worth thinking about as well.
Happy gaming if you choose to use your Beasts, and Grandfather Nurgle bless.