Who Shall Lead? Part Four: Masters of the Forge

Techmarines have filled the most bewildering variety of character roles in Space Marine armies throughout the game's editions—from independent single-Wound gadabouts to Command Squad-upgrade only unit components to Elite choices improvable to HQs under certain conditions—but in 40K V5, they are more diverse than ever, available as Elite options, leading units of mechano-organic servitors, as Heavy Support choices, manning awesome Thunderfire Cannons...and as an alternate army-commanding HQ choice, in the form of the new codex's Master of the Forge (in fact, it would be possible under this codex to field *eight* Techmarines in one Force Org, an escalation of the type's versatility never before achievable...and one I expect to face on a tabletop very soon *if* I don't get there first!).

The Master of the Forge is envisioned as a Chapter's most senior representative of the Cult of the Omnissiah and the Adeptus Mechanicus of Mars. As such, he has access to gear available to no other Space Marine. A Master is similar to the other support HQ options—the Chaplain and Librarian—in points cost and limited stat line, but his options arguably make him more viable than either as a single or lead HQ character...and the conversion and design ideas which occur around the concept of a Techmarine-led army certainly inspire!

There are disadvantages to the choice, of course, and the most obvious in the context of this article series is that there is *no* Master of the Forge special character template in the codex, to give players an alternative to building one from the generic listing. It would have been interesting to have seen an Iron Hands Iron Father or Mentor Legion Forge Master special character, or to have seen Forgefather Vulkan He'Stan built from the Master of the Forge template instead of the Space Marine Captain...but absent such missed opportunities, a hobbyist seeking a Master to lead his tabletop force must turn to the generic listing.

Here there are build disadvantages, as well, some of them glaring. The Master of the Forge has no basic close combat weapon. He has no access to any kind of Invulnerable Save; he cannot even take Terminator Armour or a Storm Shield as wargear. He can be equipped with a bike, but a jump pack is not an option for him. And while his stat line is improved from the Librarian and Chaplain in two areas—a superior Ballistic Skill and an Artificer Armour Save of 2+—his Weapon Skill is reduced to Space Marine standard, in trade.

Those concerns addressed, however, the positives a Master of the Forge offers are many. His excellent base save has already been noted, courtesy of his Artificer Armour; add to that the wondrous bag of kit which is the Servo-harness (two additional power fist attacks, a flamer and the twin-linked plasma-pistol plasma-cutter, both of which he can fire in each shooting phase) and the Master of the Forge is extremely well-armed for his 100 point cost. It gets better when his special rules are considered: the Master is still a Techmarine, and so may repair damaged vehicles due to his Blessing of the Omnissiah, and is likewise able to Bolster Defenses, reinforcing the Cover Save of a single specified piece of ruin terrain by +1. Often lost because it is not mentioned in his narrative page in the front of the codex, but rather only in a small-text box in his later Army List entry, is a third Master of the Forge special ability: as Lord of the Armoury, any Master included in a Space Marine army gives the player the option of taking Dreadnoughts of *any* variant as Heavy Support choices, as well as Elite choices (intrigued by the earlier mention of an eight-Techmarine army? How about a six Dreadnought force, instead...). That is a tremendous amount of value for 100 points; investing in a power weapon (it says 'power sword' in the entry, but given how long Techmarines have been carrying power axes as their traditional weapon in the 40K universe, I don't think that needs be literal) is almost mandatory—and a good value for the 15 extra points—and adding digital weapons for another 10 will offset the reduced Weapon Skill somewhat, but a player is still getting a very versatile HQ choice for a comparative points bargain.

The only question becomes how best to use the Master, in this configuration. He is extremely potent at shooting, with that high Ballistic Skill and the ability to fire two weapons a turn, one of them twin-linked...but all of those weapons are comparatively short ranged, meaning involvement in an assault is almost inevitable, if he closes to use them most effectively. With a bolt pistol, a power weapon (or even a Thunder Hammer) and digital weapons purchased, he is not ineffective at close combat—in fact, with those two Servo-harness power fist attacks added, he is downright scary on the offensive—but should he come up against power weapon, or fist-wielding opponents (or the equivalent, like Monstrous Creatures, against which his own fists would be most effective), his lack of an Invulnerable Save will make him terribly fragile. V5 makes managing close-range firefights more possible than in previous editions, in the hands of a skilled player...but it is still a truism that once models get close enough to do the kind of shooting the Master excels at, a determined opponent will almost always be able to get to grips with them.

Fortunately, the Master's economic points price means that losing one in such a fist fight needn't be an army back breaker. It might even allow a player to afford a second HQ choice...such as Librarian, joined to a unit with the Master, and providing a measure of invulnerable protection to them all on the advance, via the Force Dome psychic discipline....

There is an alternative kit-out option for the Master of the Forge, however, which alters his focus completely, and which makes him an especially attractive HQ option for a player building a ranged-combat-intensive Space Marine army. That is the Master equipped with a Conversion Beamer.

Old disciples of the hobby, who have seen bits of marginal lore and arguably goofball equipment come and go throughout the game's five (plus) iterations, love it when something ancient and seemingly long-forgotten reappears in a new edition. So it is with the Rogue Trader era Conversion Beamer, an 'arcane mechanical relic' which certain Masters of the Forge will draw from their army to unleash hell upon the foe, if the circumstances ever become sufficiently dire. The addition of the Conversion Beamer option to the Master's list allows a player to drop all of his other shooting weapons in favor of manning one of these pre-Heresy artifacts—and very nicely streamlines the Master of the Forge's tabletop play focus, in the doing. A Master with a Conversion Beamer is most effective at distance; he will therefore be deployed well back from the assault front, ideally in cover (where his Bolster Defenses special rule will become doubly important) but with good fields of fire. And his mission will be to shoot; if he is doing anything else through the 5-7 turns of the game, things are probably not going well for his army. That means that, other than the extra 20 points it costs to switch out his Servo-harness and side- or shoulder-arm for the Beamer, a player need consider investing no more points in his Master of the Forge, not even for a close combat implement—as noted, if he is fighting, things have gone pear-shaped for the plan. The place such a 120 point HQ character would have in a shooting-oriented army is obvious, and especially as it leaves that many more points to devote to more guns, should become a very common choice to lead such a design. It bears consideration for other army builds, as well, however: such a Master could provide the core of a very effective fire base for a hammer-and-anvil style movement-themed army, especially as a secondary HQ behind a combat-monster dropping the hammer, and might prove economical enough to lead a small cover-fire/counter-fire element in a mostly assault-oriented force. In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, it is one of the most narrowly-focused Independent Character options in the game.

(I should address the one mini-controversy about this Master of the Forge build which has [as of this writing] not been officially errata'd by the Studio, and that is whether or not a Master which switches his Servo-harness for a Conversion Beamer is left with nothing, or is—as the Techmarine on which he is based would be—reduced to the default Servo-arm, which would leave him with one power fist equivalent close combat attack while he manned the Beamer: from a background standpoint, I cannot imagine any Techmarine, especially the highest-ranking, leaving for the field without some version of his tools of office; and he does retain the Blessing of the Omnissiah special rule even if he kits with the Beamer. So for friendly games, and in fact any game in which an opponent asks me, I allow him to default to the Servo-arm...but for competitive or tournament games, including any I neutrally adjudicate, I would have to rule in favor of any opponent who objects presently, as nowhere in the relevant listings does it specify subtracting the Servo-harness from the Master defaults to a Servo-arm. I suspect we will know for sure when the Conversion Beamer-armed miniature is released :)