Welcome to the Warhammer Armies: Night Lords!! Today, we’re going to be breaking down everything you could want to know about playing Night Lords at a local competition. This article is a supplement to the Chaos Space Marine Warhammer Armies article, intended to help you play Night Lords specifically alongside the information contained in Warhammer Armies-Chaos Space Marines. We’re going to go over everything specific to Night Lords, any specific units you might want to consider, a general breakdown of how Night Lords adjusts the general Chaos Space Marine gameplan, and close out with a sample 2000 point list for Night Lords. With this information at hand, you should feel very comfortable using Night Lords at all your local events, both casually and competitively, and even be capable of performing well at a large scale event.
NIGHT LORDS SPECIFICS ANALYSIS
To start, we have the Night Lords (here after NL) trait, “Terror Tactics”. Terror Tactics causes any unit with the trait to broadcast a 6” aura of -1 Leadership to all enemy units. This aura can stack, unlike most other auras, to a maximum of -3, if you have 3 different units all within 6” of one enemy unit. At first glance, this trait heavily suggests a certain style of play, where you’re trying to reduce the entire enemy’s army as close to 0 as possible, and then forcing lots of morale tests to make your opponent run off the table. This would indeed be faithful to NL lorewise, as their entire strategy revolves around making their opponent break under paranoia and fear.
However, there are a few problems with this approach in real games of 40K. For starters, many armies are going to be resistant to leadership penalties, and in some cases even immune. Many elite armies tend to take small units, which mean that if you inflict a few casualties on a unit, you’ll only end up killing 1 or 2 models at best. If you don’t inflict a lot of casualties, they won’t be at risk of failing, even with your penalty. In addition, some armies are borderline immune to leadership tests, like Orks or Tyranids. Even Chaos can potentially threaten immunity to your trait, thanks to Abaddon.
Instead of being an all in strategy for NL, Terror Tactics needs to be thought of as simply a card in your deck that you can play against opponents that are vulnerable to it. When you fight an army that isn’t vulnerable to Terror Tactics, you’re going to have to use other strategies and techniques to win. The situational nature of the NL trait creates an unusually high degree of nuance to playing NL to their full potential, as you will need to have multiple gameplans for your one list, and you’ll need to be able to adapt to what your opponent is playing. Luckily, NL have other strong pay offs, which makes them a highly viable Legion despite the situational nature of Terror Tactics.
Moving along, we have the NL specific stratagem, “In Midnight Clad”. This allows you to buff a single NL INFANTRY unit in response to them being shot at, by forcing your opponent to subtract 1 from any attacks that target them for the phase. Although In Midnight Clad can only be used against shooting attacks, it still provides a fantastic amount of damage reduction for any INFANTRY unit that needs it. Chaos Space Marines already tend to be an INFANTRY heavy army, since their traits and many of their stratagems don’t work on any other unit types but INFANTRY, besides occasionally BIKER. In Midnight Clad is a straightforward but powerful pay off that further rewards a heavy use of INFANTRY units. In addition, it’s only 1CP, which makes it very affordable.
Next, we have the NL specific Warlord Trait, “Night Haunter’s Curse”. Despite the name, this Warlord Trait is no curse, but rather a very helpful boon. It provides your warlord with a free re-roll for one hit, wound, damage, advance, charge, or saving throw roll each Battle Round. Night Haunter’s Curse is a great Warlord Trait that can be used simply to save CP by preventing you from having to spend it on your Warlord, while also generally improving the already rather high flexibility of Chaos Space Marine Warlords.
However, there is a generic Warlord Trait that should be talked about, as it is in many ways only useful in NL, and that’s “Lord of Terror”. Lord of Terror causes your Warlord to broadcast a 6” aura that debuffs enemy units by forcing them to roll 2d6 on Morale Tests, and pick the high result. Lord of Terror is a fantastic Warlord Trait for NL, if their opponent is vulnerable to Morale penalties.
In addition, the generally recommended Warlord Traits are still perfectly acceptable to use in NL, which means that NL will usually have around 4 or so Warlord Traits to pick from. Which trait to pick will depend on the opponent’s army and the Warlord in question. This is another example of how NL have a lot of nuance to them compared to many of the other Legions.
To close us out, we have the NL specific relic, “Claws Of The Black Hunt”. As a general rule of thumb, Chaos Space Marines don’t have very threatening melee weapons on their INFANTRY in terms of damage potential. Our only really heavy hitting weapon is a Powerfist, or a Chainfist on Terminators. Otherwise, we heavily rely on volume of attacks and buffs to overcome this. For NL players, Claws Of The Black Hunt provide an extraordinarily powerful answer to this problem.
The Claws are a pair of Lightning Claws that provide the bearer with +1 attack, and they provide a very strong profile at Strength +1, Ap-3, Damage D3. In addition, the Claws re-roll all failed to wound rolls. Between the +1 attack, ability to Re-roll all failed wounds, and lack of a -1 to hit, the Claws Of The Black Hunt are more damaging in all scenarios than a powerfist. In addition, they keep Death To The False Emperor active, as the powerfist’s -1 to hit prevents you from actually rolling a 6+.
To illustrate, let’s take a hypothetical Toughness 7 target. Our Chaos Lord has 4 attacks, 5 with the Claws. He’ll score 4.86 hits, and 2.7 wounds. With a fist, he would score 3.11 hits, and 2.07 wounds. Since the AP and damage is the same, we can simply compare the 2.70 wounds to the 2.07 wounds, telling us that the Claws deal ~30% more damage. Of course we can add in things like Veterans Of The Long War or Diabolical Strength to push the damage of the Claws even higher, but even without these buffs, the Claws Of The Black Hunt provide a powerful and efficient way to threaten key targets in melee.
All in all, NL have a variety of strong pay offs while also providing their player with a Legion that requires an above average degree of nuance and flexibility. In the right hands, NL can be a very powerful Legion, well worth respecting on the tabletop. However, failing to adapt your playstyle to your opponent can result in you getting blown out, which makes NL a rather punishing Legion to learn.
NIGHT LORDS RECOMMENDED UNIT ANALYSIS
Overall, there are no units to add to the recommended list of units if you are playing NL. However, there is a certain upgrade that is worth discussing, namely the Icon of Despair. In addition, we are going to cover why you should unfortunately not take one of the most iconic Night Lord units unless you are strictly playing for fun.
The Icon of Despair is the Chaos Icon available to any NURGLE unit that can take a Chaos Icon. The Icon allows you to broadcast a 3” aura of -1 leadership, which naturally synergizes well with Terror Tactics. Although it’s a mistake to build completely around Terror Tactics, it is important to be able to effectively leverage Terror Tactics against an opponent that’s vulnerable to it. Therefore, we recommend taking a single unit of Bikes with the Nurgle Keyword and an Icon of Despair. The Bikes provide high mobility and decent anti infantry firepower at a cheap price, allowing them to help clear holes for the rest of the army while also getting in close to help add up the Leadership penalties. Against an opponent that isn’t particularly vulnerable to Terror Tactics, you can instead use the Bikes to simply handle infantry or run an objective.
This, unfortunately, brings us to Raptors. Raptors are practically synonymous with Night Lords in terms of lore, and on the table it’s very common to see at least a couple of Raptor units in most Night Lord lists. We, however, do not recommend taking Raptors for any reason. At first glance, Raptors appear to synergize nicely with Night Lords, as Raptors also have an intrinsic -1 penalty to Leadership against any unit they are in close combat with. In addition to the Icon of Despair and Terror Tactics, this one unit would provide a -3 penalty to the enemy, which could climb as high as -5 with two more NL units.
However, there are a couple of logistical issues with this. For starters, Raptors are very frail for their point cost. Marines are already generally somewhat inefficient defensively, and Raptors are about 33% more expensive while being just as durable as a regular Marine. This means that Raptors have to put themselves directly into harm’s way to cause all 3 of their penalties. Since Raptors are not hard to kill, it’s very plausible for your opponent to kill your Raptors in close combat depending on the unit you are trying to scare off the table. You probably won’t be at risk against some Guardsmen, but something like Bullgryns or Terminators are not something you want to charge Raptors into.
Of course, you could simply get close to the enemy and not actually engage them, since Terror Tactics has a 6” range and the Icon of Despair has a 3” range. However, Raptors don’t really do much outside of close combat. You can pay points to add a few special weapons to give them some ranged effectiveness, but at this point you could be more effective with Bikes while paying slightly less points. This leaves Raptors in a rather unfortunate spot in terms of viability, as close combat can be very dangerous for them, and Bikes perform their role better as a mobile leadership penalty. This is also part of why we strongly recommend a single unit of Bikes for any NL list.
NIGHT LORDS SAMPLE ARMY/TACTICS
NL are a Legion that require a high amount of flexibility, both in their army construction and from the player in control of the army. It’s important to maintain a good combination of ranged and melee threat, as melee is how you enforce your leadership penalties and ranged attacks provide a great way to safely trigger Morale tests. Let’s look at a sample 2000 point Night Lord list that achieves this.
Chaos Lord with Jump Pack, 2x Lightning Claws, Mark of Khorne, Claws Of The Black Hunt (1CP)-105
Demon Prince with Wings, Warp Bolter, Talons, Mark of Slaanesh, Intoxicating Elixir, Delightful Agonies, Warlord-183
10 Noise Marines, 7 with Sonic Blasters, 2 with Blast Masters, Champion has Blast Master/Chainsword -222
Chaos Sorcerer with Jump Pack, Bolt Pistol, Force Sword, Mark of Tzeentch, Prescience, Warptime-120
Chaos Sorcerer with Jump Pack, Bolt Pistol, Force Sword, Mark of Nurgle, Diabolical Strength, Miasma of Pestilence-120
6 Chaos Terminators, all have Combi Plasmas/Power Axe-306
8 Khorne Berzerkers, 7 have Chainsword/Chainaxe, Champion has Powerfist/Chainsword-147
7 Khorne Berzerkers, 6 have Chainsword/Chainaxe, Champion has Powerfist/Chainsword-130
3 Chaos Bikes, Mark of Nurgle, Icon of Despair, Swap Bolt Pistols for Chainswords, Plasma Gun-98
Heldrake with Baleflamer-185
Chaos Rhino with Combi Bolter, Mark of Nurgle-72
Chaos Rhino with Combi Bolter, Mark of Nurgle-72
And here we have our list, clocking in right at 2000 points even. It leverages a powerful Psychic support package for multiple defensive powers while also providing Prescience and Warptime. As icing on the cake, Diabolical Strength turns our Chaos Lord with the Claws of The Black Hunt into a terrifying spot removal piece. With Diabolical on, he has 6 attacks at Strength 7. That’s an average of 7 damage to a Vehicle, which is a large chunk of its health. You can soften it up with shooting ahead of time, or simply use Fury of Khorne to finish it off. If you’re instead fighting multiple wound models like Terminators, you can easily threaten most of the unit.
Part of of the army’s power comes from its unusually high durability. If you go second, the Noise Marines, Heldrake, and Rhinos can easily be moved to a 2+ save thanks to Prepared Positions. If you go first, the Heldrake can fly ahead and tie up some of the enemy’s important fire support while your Rhino’s and Noise Marines move up. The Rhinos have easy access to a -1 to hit thanks to Smoke Launchers, and you can add a second -1 from Miasma of Pestilence. The Noise Marines are also rather difficult to remove, since you can hand them a 5+ to shrug off damage from Delightful Agonies while imposing a -1 to hit from In Midnight Clad. Between the disruption granted by the Heldrake and the myriad sources of damage reduction that you have, you should be able to control the middle of the board rather quickly.
Offensively, we have 15 Berzerkers and 6 Terminators to do the bulk of our Heavy Lifting, with Noise Marines providing consistent anti infantry firepower. On the first turn, we can use Veterans of The Long War+Prescience+ Endless Cacophony to generate some respectable damage. Once we make a hole in the enemy lines with our Noise Marines, our Berzerkers can bite into the heart of the enemy army, while our Terminators drop in and unload a devastating volley of Plasma. You can use the same Veterans+Prescience Combo with the Terminators like you do on the Noise Marines to destroy pretty much any high value target that your opponent has, as long as it doesn’t have a good invulnerable save.
Of course, if the target simply must die, you can use Endless Cacophony again while also swapping out a power for Death Hex to wipe a unit off the map. If you can get Death Hex off, you can even one shot an Imperial Knight this way, as on average the Plasma Terminators do just shy of 26 damage to him. Just be careful as this is extremely CP intensive, and when you’re out, you’re out.
Finally, we have our Demon Prince to tie the entire army together. With 8 Strength 8, Ap-2, Damage 2 attacks, he’s a great threat against most units. Against armies that are vulnerable to Terror Tactics, he has a large base which means that Lord of Terror has a larger footprint to more easily reach enemy models. Otherwise, you can take Unholy Vigour for a defensive boost, Night Haunter’s Curse for just a general power increase, or you can go for Flames of Spite or Hatred Incarnate to really amp up the damage.
There is some nuance to the list in terms of your approach however. For starters, you need to be very careful with your useage of CP. You could totally opt to do something like swapping out Smite on Your Tzeentch Psyker for Death Hex, Casting all 3 of his powers, and then using Veterans of The Long War+ Endless Cacphony in your Shooting Phase and Veterans of The Long War+ Fury of Khorne in your Fight phase to try to cause some overwhelming damage to your opponent in a turn. However, this would cost you around 10 CP, assuming a re-roll for Death Hex, which would leave you with only 2. Because you have so many outlets for spending CP, you need to be very careful about every CP you spend.
In addition, there’s a lot of strategy around how you use your Rhinos. Against armies with lots of deep striking units or just generally high mobility, consider starting your Berzerkers outside of the Rhinos, and instead put 2 squads of cultists inside. On your first turn, disembark the Cultists, move the Berzerkers in, and move up the board. This shuffling allows you to get an extra 3” of movement on both of the units of Cultists, assuming the Rhinos are deployed on the line. Although 3” isn’t a major difference on paper, the difference between your opponent having to make a 7” charge or a 10” charge is a big one, and moving your cultists speed bumps up can make that difference. Also, once the Rhinos have delivered their cargo, you should keep running your Rhino’s into your opponent until the Rhinos are both dead. They can absorb overwatch for your Berzerkers, or simply tie up enemy units to help cut down your opponents options.
Finally, let’s go over Terror Tactics and how it’s used in this list. Everything we’ve talked about so far is your general gameplan. Your approach against an army that’s vulnerable to Terror Tactics is different. First, it’s important to recognize if Terror Tactics is even worth investing into. If your opponent doesn’t have a vulnerability to Terror Tactics, then it’s not worth taking Lord of Terror and trying to force Morale Tests.
However, if you see your opponent has taken a lot of big units, and has no way to mitigate Morale Tests, than take Lord of Terror, and get ready to adjust your gameplan a bit. You generally want the Morale Tests to be icing on the cake. What you don’t want is to kill 7 models out of a 10 man unit and make them lose something like D6+4 models. That’s a scenario where most of the remaining enemy unit would run away either way. Instead, what you want to do is only kill 4-5 models. For example, if your opponent has a Leadership 8 unit, let’s say a unit of 10 Tactical Marines, and you kill 4, this makes the enemy unit drop to effectively Leadership 4. With 3 units nearby along with an Icon of Despair, they become effectively Leadership 0, which means they will lose D6 models, or 2D6 picking high. Either way, the unit will probably mostly or completely run away, especially if they’re also in the Lord of Terror raidus. If you can apply this to 2-3 units, you can easily force a few hundred points of models to run off the table.
Obviously, the difference between 5 Marines and 7 is a hard line to walk, especially in a game as random as 40K. But, the closer you can get to this, the better. Also, your melee components are likely going to just steamroll whatever they charge into. This means that your melee components are not good for actually trying to cause damage on the units that you want to force a test on. Rather, they should go and destroy other units, and simply end up within 6” to broadcast their Terror Tactics debuff onto the enemy. Of course, if you fall short on causing enough casualties in your shooting phase on a unit you want to make run, you could charge it in addition to your main target and assign 1-2 Berzerkers to the target you want to inflict more damage on to help rack up the body count.
That wraps up our guide to playing NL. Again, NL are a highly flexible Legion that can deliver a lot of power on the table if played to their full potential. Even if you don’t make the enemy units run in terror, the amount of pressure and threat you can deliver with Night Lords will paralyze your opponents with fear, guaranteeing your success on the tabletop.