Friday, January 7, 2011

Lictors: The Red-headed Step Child

by Anonymous Foodie

Just about every army comes equipped with a unit or three that just don't hold the same ground as the rest.  Sometimes they're just "meh", and sometimes they're downright laughable.

Sometimes, though, when we don't take the time to really look at what a unit can do, it gets thrown into this category without really belonging there.  With this in mind, let's take a look at one of the oft-debated units in the Tyranid army, the Lictor.

First and foremost, say it with me...

Lictors are not close combat death monsters.

I myself would have enjoyed seeing them get a boost.  Making their save Invulnerable in combat, giving them all the uber-rending that the Death Leaper enjoys... there are ways.  But none of them happened.

Truth is, Tyranid players at large need to stop looking at what they wish the Lictor was, and start looking at what it is and what it can do.  With the right tactics, Lictors can be a real pain for your enemy.  Think of them as saboteurs, rather than front line fighters (even sneaky ones), and you're headed in the right direction.

They're a support unit through and through.  If you charge them headlong into full squads, they'll do some damage, but will take plenty back themselves.  So yeah, not always the best idea.

It has also been said before that one of their main support benefits, Pheremone Trail, is pretty laughable.  I both agree and disagree with this statement.

I agree that this ability is pretty sad.  If you have Hive Commander on a Tyrant, the reserves bonus is literally useless (unless your Tyrant dies on turn 2, in which case I think you have bigger issues to worry about).  The beacon ability is... questionable.  It's a nice trick if you can pull it off, but again since the Lictor has to be on the board to begin with it's circumstantial at best.
What I disagree with, though, is that this is one of its main abilities.  That whole block of text could be missing, and I would still say the Lictors were worth their cost.

The question remains - what is the Lictor's most powerful ability?

Let me answer (or at least continue) the question with a series of strangely related questions...

Would Hive Guard be nearly as good if their weapons required LoS?
Would you ever think about taking Marbo if he didn't have his special deployment?

If you said anything but "No" to these, then you may want to talk to a professional about your life choices.  All of these guys (Lictors included) are able to do the damage they need to do because they can get around the normal restrictions (such as needing to see you, or having to walk across the table).

What it comes down to, most of all, is placement.  Target priority is roughly 93% of the game with these guys.  They get 2 S6 shots the turn they come in.  Moderate BS, and a short range - easy to discount.  But in truth, the range is largely negligible.  When you start the turn in range, does it matter what the range is?  I vote not really.  They won't be destroying masses of guys, but again, it's about looking at what they can do.  Those 4 shots is just enough to reliably shake (or worse) a tank on its rear armor (assumed 10), or to make an enemy unit sweat a bit.

Again, target priority is key... so what targets do we need to look at?

Anything hard to get to - backfield artillery (be it tanks or heavy weapons teams), support characters otherwise surrounded by friendlies, etc.  Basically, Lictors give you a unit that doesn't care if your 48" away and should take 3 turns to get to (with a fast unit), or on a 3-foot-high plateau, laughing at your inability to even look at them.

Big Shooty, Little Punchy - Heavy weapons teams, snipers, gun-tanks... just about anything that's paying a lot of points to put bullets into things, without having any oomph in assault.  That's not to say that it has to be easier than ripping through a wet paper bag - Lictors aren't helpless - but if you throw them against assault termies, you're acting silly.

Inspiring Characters - Anything that pays its points to enhance things around it, rather than to buff itself.  Ie; anything that will give you a ripple effect once it's dead.  Example?  Tau Ethereals (do you really care if they get preferred enemy against you?), IG commands (taking away orders), etc.  While these individuals may not cost as much as the Lictors themselves, you're pulling away bonuses from the entire army.

Now, it's easy enough to see how two WS/S6 guys with enough attacks to drown a small rabbit can handle a lone(ish) character, but what about taking down a bigger squad, or a lumbering leman russ?  Well, you have a few options.

Against a tank, you pop up and should shake it.  You also should have popped up in cover (but hey, most backfield units want to be in/near it, so it's not that hard.  Actually, most units *period* want to be there).

Not being able to shoot, said tank will probably drive away from you really fast to make it harder to hit.  Truth is, even needing 6's you have a decent chance to at least shake it again in assault.  Even if all you do is rinse and repeat this, you've stopped the tank from shooting.  This is a good thing.

Against fleshies, it gets a little more interesting, and a little more fun.  The first Flesh Hooks are really just a way to really get them to say "holy crap, that's something right there".  You're likely to cause a couple of wounds, and depending on the armor in question, the resulting deaths will occur.  Still plenty of guys (usually holding big guns) looking at you.  So what happens next?

A)  They ignore you, and continue pounding into the targets that deserve it.  Lictors are then free to jump up and assault you, pretty easily dealing with 5-6 guys of basic infantry.
B)  They shoot you, instead of pounding into the targets that deserve it.  This then leaves you with two options (go figure).

  Bi) If the torrent of fire is severe enough to be a legitimate threat, you go to ground (remember, you were supposed to pop up in cover).  You giggle as you now need a 2+ to shrug off lascannons.  The enemy is then left with the same delima next round.
  Bii) You weather the fire with your standard 3+ cover, and 3-each wounds.  You snarl, and then are free to jump up and assault, pretty easily dealing with 5-6 guys of basic infantry.

To stress again, Lictors rely on their deployment to win the day.  Can a horde of 20 hormagaunts wipe out a unit of 5 devastators?  Yeah, they can.  And they do it for a little less than those Lictors would cost, and in truth probably faster... once you're in assault.

But can those 20 hormagaunts get there unhindered, unshot, unwounded?  Unlikely.


  1. So lets get this straight, in the last post about ignoring Tough 6 elites no-one said anything about lictors being assault gods, i believe everyone said the exact opposite.

    You are still ignoring the fact a SINGLE power fist kills 2 lictors in assault. Guess who has power fists, marines who also have missiles and melta. Guard have melta, autocannons and hell lasguns. You are giving something for them to shoot their lasguns at. Tell me how 60 lasguns treat 2 lictors (don't forget that first rank second rank).

    Lastly Lictors drop infront of any squad of guys if those guys are in transports they will just ignore them and dare them to assault the vehicle. What do you do deepstrike and hide in cover?

    Lictors are bad and I feel like you are trying to defend your little brother on the playground. If you were playing a player that was incompetent in the game and sat their guys out near cover for a lictor to hit them I understand why your comments would be true.

    I will throw you a bone though if you are playing against guard lictors may do their job but for an all comer list no they aren't great. Also with or without LOS assault 2 STR8 BS4 shots from hive guard would still be great ^_^

  2. Eh, Hive Guard would still be needed, but they'd need probably at least a 30" range, if not 36" to make up for not requiring LOS. Otherwise it's just an example of "Let's give Nids a gun, but make it worse than other equivalents because 'they're not shooty'".

    And I'm going off 10+ years of playing/discussing Nids when I say these things. Over many editions (since 2nd, when they were actually pretty beastly) the greater community has wanted Lictors to be better in assault. It's been one of the biggest "issues" since the switch to 3rd. The point, rather, is to try to not look at it as a pure downfall (would they be better if they had power weapons? Of course, but does everything need power weapons to be good? Not necessarily.) and instead open the view a bit to see the potential.

    Now, the arguments you make are for the most part completely right. Yes, a powerfist will chew through them easily. A proverbial crack-ton of las-fire will also do the job (though it'd take 216 lasgun shots to drop 2 lictors gone to ground, or 108 if they're just standing in cover). And also, it's a terrible idea to have them open up a transport, allowing the unit inside to rapid-fire on them, or give them an unadvantageous assault.

    So stop doing it.

    You've made a very good list of what a Lictor *can't* handle. My question is why do you insist on putting them in these situations?

    When you control that first assault by roughly 99% (thanks to deployment), why would you ever put them in a position to assault when a Power Fist can ride on in? Why are you assaulting a Rhino when you could go after a Whirlwind, a Dread, an assault bike squad, etc.

    You know, it's also a bad idea to be throwing Hive Guard into combat against those fists, but I'm not about to say that this makes them a bad unit.

    Think of it this way - would you ever suggest a Guard player to take Marbo, and then start him on the board out of range of his Demolition Charge? That ability is probably 75% of why anyone takes him in the first place.

    Again, you're absolutely right in saying that the Lictor won't do much good against those targets. The point I'm trying to make is, when you decide exactly where those Lictors pop up, why are you putting them somewhere that they'll just die?

    Truth is, that's not a bad unit, that's a bad *use* of a unit.

    As far as S8 shooting, Lictors are actually very survivable. If these guns are pointed at your Spooks, then this can actually be very beneficial to you.

    Getting a 2+ against all these shots means you basically sit there laughing. Yes, they'll get through eventually, and the Lictors can't stay there forever taking that beating. But they can draw more fire than it would take to kill a Tyrant, or maybe even a 6-wound beastie, before they go down.

    Sure, dice are random and you can roll that 1 early, but it reliably takes 6 wounds to drop a Lictor with Melta. It also takes 6 to drop that Trygon, Tervigon, and less for that Tyrant.

    Lictors have the added benefit of messing with Target Priority (something that has actually been a big part of Nids from day one... at least my day one, in the early days of 3rd). A pair of Lictors is far more survivable than a Tyrant against these weapons, for a fraction of the cost. They're enough of a threat to draw fire, too, meaning they can bait your opponent pretty easily.

    Many people measure use by asking "does it make its points back". In this case, you have to ask yourself - how many points would you pay to make your Tyrant immune to S8 weaponry for a turn? Two turns? Is that worth 65 points?

    And no, that's not a foolproof "immunity button", but you get the idea. All that fire going into the lictor isn't going into one of your real heavy hitters (trygon) or army enhancers (terv/tyrant). That's worth something, right there.

  3. For all their problems, special deployment and H&R is very nice.

  4. And those are the reason I use Death leaper. I think he has about the same threat as two Lictors, and comes with a lot more rules that can help outside of just him. and Ws9 saves him a lot in combat.
    I don't really think Lictors are bad, but when I have the Death Leaper option, why would I take normal ones? Though they have progressively gotten worse each edition, they have yet to cross the useless thresh-hold, but keep approaching it.

  5. I would have to say that for the most part, I really can not see a reason to run lictors over Death leaper. He makes their stuff worse, (I.E. dropping that Rune Priest's leadership that is going to jaws out my Fex's.) and gets the rest of the rules that you are getting on a Lictor.

    Yes Rionnay points out all of the bad in what is going to happen to a lictor when it comes in on guard. It is going to get first rank second ranked to dead. I just can't see a way to make them worth thier high points cost per model when they can get assaulted far to easy in this edition. You look at things like Blood Angels, Space Wolves, and even Smurfs, and you find things that will chew through them. Death Company, and Dreadnoughts coming out of the same storm raven to eat them. Thunderwolves, that just get there far to fast for you to deal with. And 20 Thunderhammer Storm Shield Fleet Terminators waltzing across the board to make your day hell. They just don't give enough bang for their buck, and that is the bottom line. As a first time Tyranid player (thats right I started with Tyranids, and came back to the game with Chaos Marines) I want them to be as good as they should be. But they have unfortunately done nothing but get progressively worse with each codex.

    All in all, yeah against new players who think that stuff popping up behind their lines is scary and must be dealt with immediately, they will do you wonders. Against a veteran, well they will hope to glance on 6's and shake a tank, but will ultimately be ignored, as they pose no real threat to the army as a whole. I'm sorry to say it, as I wish it wasn't so (that model is the reason why I started playing 40K)but it is.

    Maybe next time Tyranids get a new codex, it will make the Lictor as mean as it should be all around, or at least let it assault out of it's deployment, but until that happens, I see the vast majority of these critters doing exactly what they are doing now. Collecting dust.

  6. Just for posterity I went through the numbers to see which of the two (2 Lictors, or Death Leaper) is more deadly in assault. Numbers have been slightly rounded.

    Death Leaper, on the charge, is dealing 1 Rend and 2 wounds.

    Lictors on the charge are dealing 1 Rend and 3 wounds.

    Since they have nearly twice the attacks, the regular Lictors actually pull ahead a bit. Of course, in exchange for 1 wound, the Death Leaper provides you with some awesome special rules, most notably one of the best F-you to Psykers you can find.

    Survivability is tricky... as two bodies are better than one, however needing to be, on average, within 10.5" to even see the Deathleaper is pretty ridiculous.

  7. @ZerkeX
    Blaaaaar! 20 TH/SS termies is a *terrible* example. I want you to find a single unit that is NOT worried about them. If you convince them to spend a turn going the wrong direction, doing something besides meeting the dangerous part of your oncoming swarm head-on, you count that as a WIN, not a waste of a unit.

    You can't look at that matchup in a vacuum. That's the point here. Anything, ANYTHING that is capable of *reliably* killing Lictors while they sit in cover behind (not in front, behind) the lines would probably be better utilized somewhere else on the critical turns when the swarm is about to reach enemy lines. The best way to get them out of the fight is probably to move all the squishies out of their assault range and leave them stranded in an island of cover, not spend a precious turn or two dislodging them. Same as ork Snikrot kommandos in a horde list really. And like those kommandos, they make for a neat trick, but may not be worth the opportunity cost of including them in most lists.

  8. @dinobobicus:

    I have watched the following example of what is not scared of 10 TH/SS Terminators. a 20 man blob squad from the black templars. I've watched them down a 20 man terminator squad due to sheer number of attacks that all get re-rolled. keep in mind that not all the time does that mention win, and more importantly than that, I said I do believe just after that comment, that an experienced player is just going to ignore them, and they are a waste of points.

  9. There is a big difference between ignoring a unit and moving in such a way as to limit it's danger in a permanent way. Ignoring them gives them free leave to freely pick a target to harass, jump out and assault from the rear while the gaunts charge in from the front, or hop out and contest an objective. Maneuvering to make them less useful means a giant radius to keep targets out of until firepower can be spared to clear them. Neither of those options is bad for a Nid player who is prepared for it.

  10. and for the points, it is much more efficent to just play Deathleaper, as he does more for you, and also help the same way that the lictor does.


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