One of my favorite items in all of 40k is the defensive grenade. Since my friends love to play assault heavy armies, anything I can do to essentially deny them the charge (or at least the advantage of doing so) is king. Unfortunately, grenades as a whole seem to be pretty much absent in the 5th edition Tyranid codex. A couple of models come with offensive grenades, and nobody has the ability to purchase the defensive variety. While Tervigons can grant counter-attack to nearby Termagants (a bloody cousin to defensive grenades), it seems the only way to grant the ability to the army is to use Venomthropes.
Aside from the ability to grant defensive grenades to all nearby units, they also convert nearby area into dangerous terrain for enemy infantry units. This is to represent them choking on poisonous spores emitted by the Venomthrope, which also confer a 5+ cover save to all nearby units.
While not designed for close combat, they do each have two attacks, and lash-whips to ensure that they’ll get to use them before the enemy. As an added bonus, they’ll wound everything on a 2+ due to their poisoned weapons. Lastly, for anything that lives through combat and is still in base-to-base, they’ll have to make a Toughness test or take another wound due to Toxic Miasma.
They can also ride to the battle in a mycetic spore (drop pod, to you Space Marine players out there), and can come in squads of up to 3.
At toughness four, two wound, and only a 5+ invulnerable, they don’t have the sort of staying power required for a unit that enhances all nearby soldiers. Granting cover saves to all nearby units will ensure that these guys are shot at before anything else–and with their stats only slightly better than those of a measly gaunt, they’re sure to die quickly.
In hand to hand, it will strike before the enemy, and will wound everything on 2+, but it can’t handle tanks, and doesn’t have any method to bypass armor. It would almost have been better to have given it strength 6 than poisoned weapons–but that would’ve fit with the backstory of the model.
They’re also a huge, goofy, and unstable model. The first two are scientific fact, but as I’ve never seen one in person, the last one might be a little subjective. For such a frail creature, it will stick out like a sore thumb–so that even if you want to hide it behind other units, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to. As for it’s general goofiness, well, one might say that’s subjective as well (Jerm, who’s new to the Warhammer39999 team actually like’s the model, but then again, he also likes Ranma…). All the while, they compete against solid choices for elites slots in the army list, like Zoanthropes and Hive Guard.
Lastly, the conveyance of a 5+ cover save can be seen as marginal at best. In talking with others about this particular unit, they seem to agree that 4+ cover saves are everywhere in the game; so much so, in fact, that a 5+ cover save would rarely be worth having. Whether there’s any real truth to that depends on a lot of factors though…
As a unit, I wouldn’t normally consider such a choice. It isn’t viable in assault and has no shooting attack, so it’s relagated to a supporting role in the cast of bugs. Effectively, it becomes an upgrade to the nearby units, so I’m forced to ask myself. Would I pay 55 points for defensive grenades and a 5+ cover save to all units within a 12″ circle for a game? Looking at it that way, there’s a chance I’ll field one in my army (though I’ll convert up or a proxy a new model, thank you very much).
As stated above, 5th Edition has seen a prevalence of cover returning to the board. Many players equate this to a rise in 4+ cover saves, and look down their noses at the puny 5+ granted by the Venomthropes. Granted, some games just give everything a blanket 4+ cover save to avoid confusion, but that’s not actually how the rules are written. I’d encourage those players to go back through the rulebook (page 21) and re-read the rules on cover. For example, the following items should give you less than a 4+ cover save:
- Razor Wire
- Wire Mesh
- High Grass
It’s certainly worth taking a peek to ensure that you’re playing with the right rules. Also, how much cover your local meta game may change how viable this particular unit is in your area. So, one question to ask yourself before running out and buying a bunch of goofy looking models is: just how much cover do you use in your games? Some gaming groups wind up using tons of it, which can make the board look quite realistic, but also hamper the ability to actually play the game. Others seem to take a more Warhammer Fantasy approach to things: throwing down a couple of a hills and a block of trees and calling it good. Big Jim over at Galaxy in Flames refers to this as “NETS” or “Not Enough Terrain Syndrome”.
Magilla Gurilla from www.tabletopwar.net had a good post on his old blog about how much terrain you should be using. The official suggestion from the rulebook (page 88) is: “about a quarter of the total playing surface should have terrain on it.” With that much terrain, it will likely be hard to ensure your units will consistently be able to stay in cover. Keep in mind that the rules on monstrous creatures and cover require that at least half of the model be in cover to benefit from the save (unlike normal models which benefit from cover saves if any part of them is obscured). If you’re playing with many MCs, or using routinely sparse battlegrounds, this may be a good selling point for using Venomthropes.
I don’t expect many players to use them in landing spores (though the fact that his cover save is extended to the spore itself could be a neat trick, and he could benefit from hiding behind one just like the Doom of Malan’tai does). I do expect them to be taken in small broods (less than 3), and likely not multiple broods in a force. Whatever the case, they’re going to be best used behind an advancing wall of chitin. This will be to ensure whatever is in front of them is granting the ‘thrope a 4+ cover save, while benefiting from the surrounding spores for it’s own 5+ save. This forces your opponent to fire at the creatures in the front with a bad cover save, or to try to take out the save-generator in the back–who should have slightly more survivability afforded by his friends. In essence, to be successful, he’ll have to have a symbiotic relationship with surrounding units and cover.
The one time I used one of these in a game, I deployed him badly and he didn’t make much difference. He did ultimately help keep a Tervigon alive against entire too many scatter lasers though, and since there were so many other juicy targets, he was largely ignored for the entire game. One of these days, I’ll have to do a battle report for that game…
Until then, I encourage everyone to convert up a Venomthrope of their own, and try it out. Feel free to even use bits from the existing model, but please don’t play with that goofy thing straight out of the box…