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Plastikente’s Dark Eldar Unit Guide Part 1 – General Tactica [6th Ed]

Submitted By: Plastikente Date: November 8, 2012, 01:46:55 AM Views: 2210
Summary: An article discussing general DE tactica in sixth edition. This is part one of my unit guide, which will cover the following: 1. General Tactica 2. Core Units 3. Elites 4. Fast Attack 5. Heavy Support 6. Special Characters


More than any other army in 40k, the Dark Eldar are a glass hammer.  You must hit the enemy first, on your own terms, and with overwhelming force, because you are too fragile to last if you do not.

Power from Pain:  One of the unique advantages that the Dark Eldar bring is the Power from Pain special rule.  Almost every unit in your list has this rule (only vehicles and non-DE miss out), which allows you to get more powerful as you destroy enemy (non-vehicle) units.  It is always worth keeping an eye out for weak enemy to pick off, gaining those vital buffs for your units.  Take particular note of the Sharing the Pain rules on p25 of the Codex.  This basically allows independent characters to be used to move pain tokens around your army – a great way to make some of your fragile units a little tougher from the beginning.

Fight on Your Own Terms:  The Dark Eldar are fast, manoeuvrable, and have a lot of dirty tricks up their sleeves.  They are also very fragile.  The way to win with DE is to ensure that you only ever fight on your own terms.  Block enemy lines of sight, gang up on parts of his line, only let him charge you when you want him to, and never let him shoot at you if you can possibly avoid it (tricky one, I know).  To achieve this, there are some key weapons in your arsenal:
  • Night Vision:  Almost every unit in your force has Night Vision – make the most of this advantage when Night Fighting is in force by sniping the enemy with no disadvantage whilst your own cover save is improved to 2+ at the right range.
  • Fast Open-topped Transports:  These give you the speed and manoeuvrability to relocate your foot-units, applying overwhelming force to limited portions of the enemy’s line.
  • Fleet:  Most of your units have Fleet.  Linked with the transports, this gives you that bit more reach and reliability when charging the enemy.
  • Two-turn Close Combat:  This is the golden target to aim for with your assaults.  If you wipe the enemy out with your charge then you will often be left in the open for his shooting to mop up.  If you can get just the right balance to overrun him on the second round (in his turn) then you can consolidate ready to redeploy, hide, or (best of all) charge something new.
  • Placing Terrain and Objectives:  Dark Eldar in the open are dead.  Always ensure that there is sufficient terrain on the table to give you a fighting chance, including at least 2-3 sizeable pieces which you can obscure a Raider behind, if not hide it completely.  Similarly, be intelligent when placing objectives.  If you are planning an all-out rush, place as many objectives as possible in the opponent’s deployment zone.  If you have got one sit-back-and-shoot squad, give it an objective in ruins to sit on in you deployment zone.  [Taken to an extreme, these sort of tactics may be considered cheesy and/or lose you friends.  Only you can be the judge of how far you want to push things.  As the rules stand, placement of terrain and objectives are a part of the whole tactical experience and you are free to use them to your best advantage.  I would expect nothing less of any under-handed, scheming Archon.]
  • Winning Victory Points:  Dark Eldar do not really have any units that are well suited to sitting and holding an objective (i.e. scoring units which are tough with a good save or numerous enough to take casualties).  Instead, you will probably need to play by swooping on objectives during the closing stages of the game.  Keep a close eye on Victory Points and how to get more from turn 4 onwards, otherwise you may find yourself dominating most of the board but lacking the only thing which is actually vital to win!

Poisoned shooting: All Dark Eldar small arms used poisoned ammo.  This is a real advantage against high toughness enemies.  The big disadvantage is that these weapons have no effect on vehicles.  Because of this, you need to give some real thought at the army selection phase to ensure that you have enough fire power to take out whatever you come across.  Fortunately, the Dark Eldar have access to plenty of weapons which do cause big trouble for vehicles:
  • Darklight:  Darklight weapons are awesome anti-vehicle weapons.  Due to the lance special rule, every hit will have no worse than a 50% chance of doing something.  Dark Lances are the longest-ranged AT weapon available to the Dark Eldar.
  • Haywire: For causing at least some damage, haywire is even more reliable than Dark Light.  There is less chance of getting a penetrating hit (with that chance of a one-shot kill), but you can reliably stack up glances, and in sixth edition that means that the enemy vehicle will be destroyed eventually.
  • Heat Lances: Shorter-ranged than Dark Lances or Haywire Blasters (but not as short as Blast Pistols or Haywire Grenades), Heat Lances start to get really effective if you are willing to get in close, because under half range the melta effect kicks in, and their AP gives you a decent chance at getting a one-shot kill on your target.

If you want a bit more of a feel for the effectiveness of these options, have a look at the Mathhammer section later in this article.

Don’t Walk:  With very few exceptions, footslogging DE have had it.  Having a low toughness and saving throw means that they cannot last out of cover, and or move very fast within it (even with Fleet).  As a result, the vast majority of DE lists fall into one of two categories:
  • Raider Rush:  In these lists, the majority of units will be embarked in Raiders or Venoms, giving them the speed and manoeuvrability to close with the enemy, where they can either assault or hose them down with rapid firing splinter weapons.
  • Webway Portals (WWP):  These lists will involve at least one character carrying a WWP, and a sizeable contingent held in reserve to enter via the portal once deployed.  As it is no longer possible to assault out of a WWP, these lists are no longer as powerful as they used to be, but can still be a viable method of getting nasty units close to the enemy without walking.  If this tactic is the major focus of the list, taking two WWPs will reduce risk (otherwise a first turn kill might force all your reserves to arrive at your board edge).  The WWP caddy will usually begin the game embarked in a transport to get him as far forward as possible on turn one to drop the portal in an advantageous position (i.e. one where units deploying from it can get some cover next turn, and be ready to assault the turn after).  Due to the deployment rules, the best you can manage is to make a standard move and disembark, and to then drop the portal just over the centreline.  If you have two portals, the second caddy can wait a further turn to drop his well into the enemy deployment zone.

Don’t buy too many toys:  DE have access to a massive range of wargear.  Resist the temptation to spend too many of your points on it.  Because DE die so easily, two bodies with basic attacks are very often better than one body with super attacks; when that one dies, he takes all his toys with him.


I am going to do a bit of number crunching here, which the unit specific posts will refer back to.  I have looked at the effects of various weapons on different opponents.  These are:
  • A standard Space Marine (MEQ)
  • A standard Terminator (TEQ)
  • A bog standard Imperial Guardsman (GEQ)
  • My representative Monstrous Creature, WS5, T7, Sv3+(MC)
All fractions are given to 3 decimal places.

Shooting at people:  The following table shows the chance a Kabalite Warrior has of inflicting a wound with one shot from the stated weapon:

Weapon  vs MEQ   vs TEQ   vs GEQ   vs MC
Splinter Weapon   0.111  0.056   0.333   0.111
Darklight Weapon   0.556  0.370   0.556   0.444

Shooting at vehicles:  The following table shows the chance of getting no effect/glancing hit/penetrating hit with one hit from the stated weapon (remember this does not factor in the roll to hit in the first place):

   Weapon   AV10   AV11   AV12/   AV13   AV14
   Darklight   0.167/0.167/0.667   0.333/0.167/0.500   0.500/0.167/0.333   0.500/0.167/0.333   0.500/0.167/0.333
   Heat Lance (long range)   0.500/0.167/0.333   0.667/0.167/01.67   0.833/0.167/-   0.833/0.167/-   0.833/0.167/-
   Heat Lance (melta range)   0.083/0.083/0.833   0.167/0.111/0.722   0.278/0.139/0.583   0.278/0.139/0.583   0.278/0.139/0.583
   Haywire   0.167/0.667/0.167   0.167/0.667/0.167   0.167/0.667/0.167   0.167/0.667/0.167   0.167/0.667/0.167

The probability of getting a penetrating hit from any hit on an enemy vehicle is illustrated in the chart below:

If you manage to get a penetrating hit, then your chance of destroying the opposing vehicle is:

  Weapon  Chance of destroying per penetrating hit
  Darkight  0.333
  Heat Lance  0.500
  Haywire  0.167

Power Weapons:  With the advent of 6th Edition, everyone suddenly got access to a range of power weapons, each suited to certain jobs.  I have mathhammered the chances of a Sybarite/Hekatrix getting a wound from one attack with each weapon:

Weapon  vs MEQ   vs TEQ   vs GEQ   vs MC
Power Sword   0.167  0.028   0.333   -
Power Axe   0.250  0.167   0.444   0.083
Power Maul   0.111  0.056   0.556   0.028
Power Lance (charging)   0.250  0.042   0.444   0.083
Power Lance (subsequent)   0.056  0.028   0.333   -

From this breakdown, a power axe looks like the way forward, however its being unwieldy is a big disadvantage.  Dark Eldar live by striking first, because you are too weedy to take much incoming damage.  I would avoid axes for this reason.
Power mauls are useful in their place, with an obvious downside when they meet power armour.  I avoid them because there is a lot of MEQ in my local meta, but they are a good choice for beating through lightly armoured hordes.  Power Lances have potential, allowing you to strike hard on the charge and punch through power armour.  You lose power after that initial hit, but if you judge it right you can maim a squad in round one, mop up in round two, and be ready to charge someone new by your turn.  The boring old power sword remains my personal favourite (I need to chop through MEQ every turn).  This main disadvantage is your inability to take on T7+ (like my example MC), unless you can find some other way to buff your strength.  As all power weapons cost the same, which one you take really comes down to a personal and modelling preference.  Choose the one that suits you, and convert your models to match it.

Huskblades, Venom Blades and Agonisers:  The usefulness of these weapons is a subject of much debate on the boards, so I thought I would devote a little time to the issue.  Once again, here are the wound probabilities for a Sybarite/Hekatrix making one attack with the stated weapon:

Weapon  vs MEQ   vs TEQ   vs GEQ   vs MC
Huskblade   0.167  0.111   0.333   -
Venom Blade   0.139  0.069   0.370   0.139
Agoniser   0.250  0.042   0.333   0.250

As is fairly obvious from the table, each weapon excels against one of my standardised foes.  The debate comes because there is a big difference in price for these weapons, and opinions vary on whether the cost is worth the effect.  Personally, I use all three weapons from time to time, and suggestions for where to use them are made in the unit specific articles which follow.

Combat Drugs:  A number of Dark Eldar units use combat drugs, the effects of which you roll for at the beginning of the game (see Dark Eldar Codex, p25).  Of those available, four buff your combat ability (more on that later), one buffs your survivability (Splintermind), and one makes you a bit faster on foot (Hypex).  Sadly, this last result is next to useless in sixth edition, but it might give you that vital sprint to get some cover if there is nothing to assault.  To assess the value of the other drugs, I will make reference to the unit that makes most use of them: Wyches.  The following table gives the chances of a Wych getting a wound with one attack made with a standard close combat weapon:

Drug  vs MEQ   vs TEQ   vs GEQ   vs MC
No drugs   0.056   0.028   0.222  -
Serpentin   0.074   0.037   0.222  -
Grave Lotus   0.083   0.042   0.296  0.028
Painbringer   0.093   0.046   0.333  -
Adrenalight   0.083   0.042   0.333  -

  • I have decided to treat this as wounds per attack rather than wounds per Wych in order to allow direct comparison with the other stats I have provided elsewhere.  In many ways, wounds per Wych is a more useful figure, and can be obtained by multiplying the results given here (except for Adrenalight –see the drug-specific note which follows).
  • Serpentin does not aid performance against Guardsmen as the Wyches were already at an advantage.
  • Grave Lotus allows Wyches to at least have a chance of hurting T7+.  It also gives less bonus to models with poisoned weapons, and none to those with Agonisers.
  • Painbringer has no effect on models armed with Razorflails.
  • Adrenalight adds extra attacks, so I have treated it in this table by adding 50% to the damage caused by a single attack.  This represents the case of a standard Wych (not charging), which is when this drug has the greatest effect as a proportion of the attacks the model gets anyway.

So what?  Well, if you value all-out killiness over other possible benefits of the combat drugs (such as FnP from that bonus Pain Token), then Painbringer is the result to pray for when you make your sacrifices to the dice gods (or cheat).  This knowledge is also useful if you’re using Duke Sliscus (my HQ of choice) with his ability to influence the roll on the drugs table.

I’m going to leave the discussion of the general principals for playing with Dark Eldar there; future articles will take a closer look at specific units.

November 2012

Acknowledgements...  Many thanks to Nesbitt_bub1, who inspired me to have a crack at this, and whose posts have informed a lot of the first draft.  Thanks also to Ludo, Revener, Koval, Khira’lyth, and FieryHammer for feedback and input which has influenced the final content of this article.

Rating: ***** by 2 members.


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July 26, 2013, 10:16:29 PM
A nice read and it makes me think of my own mathhammer.

I must say that you made a little error in the wounds vs GEQ with the agoniser. It doesn't get better that killing marines.

I also mathhammered the kills per point, which tells you more about the efficiency than about the efficacy. Which in the end is important to be competitive.

In my experience mathhammer is only a smaller part in understanding how this army works. Glass hammer says it all: if your army fails to do this, it will lose. Dark Eldar are a race that should play aggressively. Push a portion of your enemies army beyond breaking point. Do it quick because you don't have the survivability to wait. Mobility is key (to ignore LoS) and enemies who are dead won't strike back.
Mobility also helps to ignore flyers as we don't have any hard counters for them in our codex.
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December 11, 2012, 02:33:05 PM
While significant math and stats content may not interest many players, there are many out there who want to know the raw statistical effectiveness of their units and equipment in combat, though many players also do not know how to efficiently calculate or use these numbers.  I do applaud anyone who can assemble usable data and analysis for players in a usable fashion to help them get a deeper understanding and control of their units and army in general on the field of battle.
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December 8, 2012, 06:42:42 AM
This is a superb guide to understanding the basics underpinning the Dark Eldar, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is just starting the army, or needs help getting to grips with it.  The only thing which stopped me from giving it five stars was the amount of maths, as that's not my thing, but I know that many others will not be deterred by it.  A really great piece of tactical work, and I look forward to reading the subsequent parts.

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