LPG - Theme Forces

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This article is part of Warmachine University's Learning to Play the Game (LPG) series, which is "Basic Training" aimed at new players who are still learning the core rules.
(You may also be interested in our "Intermediate Training" series, LOTS.)


Theme Forces are rules for creating your army. Theme Forces are considered the default way to play Warmachine and Hordes in the current edition, by both the players that use theme forces and also the developers that design the game.


Theme Forces restrict which models you have access to, but give you bonuses in return. The restrictions are normally fluff-driven, and the models you get are thematically tied together (such as "all the Man-o-War models" or "all the Satyxis models"). The bonuses vary from theme to theme, but are normally along these lines:

  • All themes get to add models to your army free of cost. The bigger the game, the more free models you get.
  • Most themes get a deployment benefit (such as getting to reroll the dice that determine who goes first; a unit gains Ambush; etcetera)
  • Most themes get an in-game benefit (such as all warrior models gaining Tough; or all warjacks gaining Hyper-Aggressive; etcetera).
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For a list of all the theme forces currently in the game, refer to Category:Theme Force and/or the Game Rules section of PP's website.

What a New Player needs to know

Gravediggers box set
Scourge of the Broken Coast box set (formerly known as Slaughter Fleet Raiders)

Are Theme Forces compulsory?

Technically No, but realistically Yes.

No because there isn't any rule in the game saying you must play in a theme force. So if you don't want to, you don't have to.
Yes because if you play a non-theme army vs a theme army, you've got slim odds of winning. You miss out on all the extra benefits, and in a small 25 point game you'll have a 6 point handicap. In a full-size 75 point game you'll have an 18 point handicap!

When you first start out don't worry about it too much. At smaller point levels, and versus other new players, whether you're in or out of theme won't make much difference.

Are all Theme Forces equally powerful?

There used to be a lot of disparity in power level, but with the 2019 theme remix hopefully we'll see less "dud" themes. At the time of writing (2019.07) this remains to be seen.

Are there Theme Force boxsets you can buy?

Yes.

If you're just starting out, they're okay-to-good value for money (depending on which one you get). If you already have a collection though, there's a chance you'll get extras of models you already own.

Another reason they're a good purchase choice is because they are all for themes that have been expanded during the current edition of the ruleset. After the expansion, those themes have become interesting, diverse, and (mostly) balanced theme forces. Un-expanded themes, on the other hand, sometimes have a very limited pool of existing models and strategies to choose from.

Lastly, it's worth noting that many of these boxsets only contain units and solos - they don't contain warcasters/warjacks or warlocks/warbeasts. As such, these boxsets are meant to be an add-on to the faction's battlegroup starter box.

At the time of writing (2019.08) there are 7 boxsets available:

Should I buy a Theme right away?

Yes and No.

  • Yes, because everyone plays in themes and you will want to, too.
  • No, because until you play a bit with a theme you won't know if you like that theme.

As a compromise, I suggest you start with a 25 point list in a theme force; I suggest one theme-specific unit, one theme-specific solo, and spend the rest of your points on warjacks/warbeasts or support models that can be used in more than one theme. This will give you a taste of how the theme plays without requiring a huge money investment in models.

If you want to play a bigger game you can either proxy the theme-specific models that you don't own yet, or fill out your points on more warjacks/warbeasts, mercenaries, and support models. The later option will probably cause you to have an uncompetitive force, though.

Other tips:

  • Take a good look at the Mercenaries and/or Minions that will work for your Faction (refer to the Who Works for Whom article).
    • The logic here is, that (almost) every theme allows you to take at least one Mercenary/Minion unit and one solo; so once you've purchased a Merc/Minion you can re-use them in every other theme you want to try out.
    • Of particular note are the Partisan models that can work for your Faction.
  • Take a look at the non-character warjacks/warbeasts in your Faction.
    • Once again, (almost) all themes allow unrestricted use of non-character warjacks/warbeasts, so your purchases can be re-used in multiple themes.

If you do go down the route of buying lots of non-character warjacks/warbeasts (and why wouldn't you, they're cool and what attracted most of us to this game to begin with), there's a few things to be aware of:

  • Most themes only need a couple of warjacks/warbeasts in the army, so any extras you buy are "wasted".
  • However every faction has at least one theme that rewards you for fielding a buttload of warjacks/warbeasts, so your extras are "not wasted" if you use that theme.
  • Most warcasters/warlocks can't manage a large battlegroup - their resources get spread too thin. What you can do about that is:

Brief History

Theme Forces didn't exist at all in Mk1 (2003 to 2010), and functioned differently in Mk2 (2010 to 2016). In Mk3, however, Theme Forces were redesigned from the ground up to be an integral part of how players play the game. The reason PP did this is really quite simple - the game was getting too big. After 13 years of constant releases all of the core factions were well fleshed-out, and it was becoming difficult to add new and interesting models to the line-up without it stepping on the toes of something already available in-faction, and/or blurring the lines that define one faction from another. Also it was harder to identify a potentially broken combination of rules.

Pros & Cons of the Theme System

With Warmachine & Hordes now in a place where everyone is expected to be playing "In-Theme", there are several advantages to the overall game system:

  • Unit duplication
    • Consider the scenario where PP want to give a Faction a new unit which is a bit different to an existing unit, but which fundamentally just does the same task. Before themes, players would work out which of those two units did the task better for its points cost and then never touch the losing unit ever again. After themes, these two units are placed in different themes and the comparison is not so straight forward. Sometimes you'll want to take the "losing" unit because it is in a "better" theme.
    • Some players will say unit duplication can go too far (the most egregious example being Long Gunners vs Trencher Long Gunners) to which I counter: Yeah you're probably right. I'm glad we haven't seen a repeat of such blatant duplication since those Trenchers, though.
  • Narrow scope for testing purposes
    • Consider the scenario where PP want to release a new model with a new special rule, but it might be overpowered if it can be taken with a specific 2nd model. Before themes, you'd have to check it vs 75-ish other models in the same Faction. After themes, you only need to check it vs the 30-ish models in the same Theme. This greatly reduces the chance of an undesirable, unforeseen, overpowered combination accidentally making it out of playtests and into the final rules.
    • Some players will say that this happens anyway (for example Lord of the Feast) but in counter I say: in a theme-less world, more Feast-like mistakes would be made.


However, it's not all sunshine and roses. There are several disadvantages too:

  • It's harder for a player to 'dabble' in a new Faction, new players especially.
    • If you play out of theme, you're at a disadvantage.
    • But to play in theme you have to invest heavily in one style of aesthetic & playstyle that they may not like in the long run.
      Remember how hard it was to pick your first Faction? Imagine that, multiplied by 10.
  • It can stagnate list-building creativity.
    • Some themes have very few choices, and everyones lists start looking the same because there's simply no other option.
    • Themes reward players with free models for every 20-or-so points of [X, Y, and Z] models that you take, and some players just spam [X, X, and more X].
  • Some of the Theme Forces released at the beginning of Mk3 were rushed out the door, as it were, and can be significantly more or less powerful than their competition.

Theme Rules & Rules Clarifications

  • Models allowed
    • A theme force can include only the models and units described in its rules.
    • If a unit is allowed, any and all of its attachments are also allowed.
      Exception: Ranking Officer command attachments cannot be included in a theme force unless the rules of that theme force specifically allow it.
  • Character warjacks/warbeasts
    • Character warjacks/warbeasts with a Bond can always be taken in a theme force whether or not that theme normally allows them, but only if they're in their bonded model's battlegroup.
  • Mercenary/Minion models
    • Mercenary/Minion models are not allowed in theme forces by default, but most themes allow "Up to one Mercenary solo and one Mercenary unit". Some themes allow zero, some allow infinite. But most only allow one of each.
    • Partisan units/solos can go in any theme, but most of the time they'll use up the "Up to one Mercenary" slot.
    • Partisan warcasters can go in any theme.
    • If a Mercenary you hire can control warjacks, then you can add warjacks without breaking the "Up to one Mercenary" rule. Similarily for Lesser Warlocks.
    • If a Mercenary you hire comes with a Companion, then the Companion will be added without breaking the "Up to one Mercenary" rule. Similarily for Minons.
  • Requistion Points
    • Requistion Points are spent to get free models. Each theme will list which sorts of models you can spend RP on.
    • You earn one RP for each 25 points of game size. Your warjack points / warbeast points don't count towards the game size. So, in a normal 75 point game, you'll get three freebies.
    • You get RP for the game size, not your army size. For instance if you happen to have a 24 point army in a 25 point game, you still get your RP.
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Rules Clarification: Theme Forces     (Edit)

Rerolling the starting roll   [Show/Hide]
  • You cannot use the theme benefit to reroll if it is a draw. Instead both players reroll until there is a loser, and then the loser can use their reroll benefit (if they have it). (Infernal Ruling)
  • If both players have a reroll, first the original loser uses their reroll.
    • If the original loser still loses, fine.
    • If the original loser now wins, the other player can use their reroll.
    • If it is now a draw, both players reroll until there is a loser. Then the player that hasn't used their theme benefit reroll can still use it, if they want.
Warjacks/Warbeasts with bonds   [Show/Hide]
  • A warjack/warbeast with a bond can always be included in a theme force, whether or not they're in the list of allowed models, but only if they're controlled by that bonded model.
  • This applies even if that bonded model isn't a full warcaster/warlock (changed as of 2018.06).
Including Mercenaries   [Show/Hide]

Number of Mercenaries

  • If your "up to one Merc" ...
    • ... can take warbeasts/warjacks, then you can add warbeast(s)/warjack(s) (without exceeding your "up to one" allowance)
    • ... comes with a Companion model, then you'll get that Companion (without exceeding your "up to one" allowance)
  • There is a bug in Warroom that allows you to not only take one Merc solo/unit, but the entire FA of that Merc solo/unit. It's a bug.

Partisans & Theme Forces (Edit)

  1. If the theme force has the Partisan model on the list of allowed models, then it doesn't use up your "Up to one mercenary" slot, and so you can take the full FA plus another mercenary. Example: Cephalyx in Black Industries or Kayazy in Jaws of the Wolf. (Infernal Ruling)
  2. If the Partisan isn't on the list, it does use up your "Up to one mercenary" slot, and you can only take one. (There is a known bug in Warroom that allows you to take the full FA.)
  • Whether you used option 1 or 2 above, once they're in your theme force they count as a Faction model and so can be taken as a Requistion Option (if they fit the Requistion description). For instance, Eiryss1 can be taken as a free solo in the Legion of Dawn theme. (Infernal Ruling)

Mercenaries and Quasi-Partisans

  • Some themes include a benefit that says "If this model is included, it counts as a Faction model instead of a Mercenary model". For example Greygore in Kriel Company.
    In this case, the mercenary model has effectively gained Partisan and is subject to the FA limits described above. To reiterate:
    • If that Merc is in the list of allowed models allowed (such as Savio in Storm Division), they won't count against your "up to one Merc" allowance.
    • If that Merc isn't in the list, (such as Order of Illumination Resolutes in Heavy Metal), they will count against your "up to one Merc" allowance.

Mercenaries and Ranking Officers

  • Adding a Ranking Officer to a Merc unit doesn't increase the number of Merc units you can take.
Requisition Points   [Show/Hide]
  • You can choose the same Requisition option as many times as you like, as long as it doesn't put you over a FA limit.
  • You can't mix and match models from different options. Say one option allows 3 Machine Wraiths and another allows 3 Necrotechs. You can't use your Requisition Point to get 2 Wraiths and 1 Necrotech.
  • If you have an option that allows one other solo, you can't use it to get something already on the list. For instance, Ghost Fleet allows 3 Misery Cages (which are FA 4) for one Requistion Point, and it allows 1 other solo. That "other solo" can't be a 4th Cage.
Free models and Specialists (ADR)    [Show/Hide]
  • If your theme only allows one merc solo, you can't have one in your main list and a different one in your specialists.
Unit Attachments   [Show/Hide]
  • If a unit is allowed in a theme, any-and-all of its attachments are allowed too. Exception: Ranking Officers are not allowed unless explicitily mentioned.
  • If the theme force gives a benefit to a specific unit, any-and-all attachments to that unit will benefit too. Even if it is a "generic" attachment like the Void Leech. (Infernal Ruling)
    For example, a Trollkin Sorcerer will gain Serenity if its attached to a Dhunian Knot unit in a Power of Dhunia theme force.
  • If your theme allows "3 weapon attachments" as a freebie, you can spread them into different units.
When to apply theme benefits   [Show/Hide]
  • Theme force benefits are applied when you construct your list and models keep the benefit for the whole game. You don't gain/lose theme benefits due to in-game changes.
    Also, if you put a new model into play midgame, they immediately gain any relevant benefits too. (Infernal Ruling)
    • For example, Scourge of the Broken Coast gives Dodge to "models in the army." If your opponent takes control of one of them, it keeps Dodge even though it's currently not "in the army".
    • For example, Storm Division gives lightning immunity to "Cygnar models in the army." If you include a Mercenary unit with a Ranking Officer, they will get the theme benefit and also keep it even after the Ranking Officer dies.

Cryx - Black Industries   [Show/Hide]
  • The entry which allows "Cephalyx models/units" only applies to Partisan Cephalyx. That's because the theme's rules start off with "this army can only include the following Cryx models"​. Partisan Cephalyx are the only ones that fill that condition.
  • The Cephalyx Agitator also works for Cryx and can go in Black Industries but, because it is not a Partisan, it will use up your Mercenary solo slot.
  • (Infernal Ruling)

Protectorate - The Creator's Might   [Show/Hide]

Mercenary - Flame in the Darkness   [Show/Hide]
  • You can take any number of Mercenary jacks. You can also select two additional jacks from Khador and Cygnar in any combination you like. Character warjacks with a bond don't count against this limit of 2. (Infernal Ruling)
  • There is a bug in Warroom that allows you to take two Cygnar and two Khador jacks.
  • Morrowan Battle Priest:
    • If your warcaster is a Cygnar model that makes every unit you take a Cygnar unit, and Battle Priests can be attached to any unit.
      Warroom has a known bug where it doesn't allow this interaction.
    • If your warcaster is a Mercenary or Khador model, though, the only units the Battle Priest can attach to are the Morrow ones.
    • If you attach the Battle Priest to The Devil's Shadows Mutineers then it can be returned via Blood Bound. (Infernal Ruling)
Mercenary - Llaelese Resistance   [Show/Hide]
  • It is 2 Cruicible or 2 Cygnar or 2 Menoth.
    You can't take more than 2, and you can't mix and match from multiple Factions. (Infernal Ruling)
Mercenary - The Talion Charter   [Show/Hide]
  • The 3rd benefit is "Sac Pawn [Sea Dog trooper]", not just any Sea Dog. (Infernal ruling)

Circle - The Bones of Orboros   [Show/Hide]
  • Una1 cannot be taken in this theme (yet) due to the conflict between the theme's "Only Construct warbeasts allowed" and Una1's "Must take warbeasts with flight". There are no construct warbeasts with flight (yet). But if/when there is, then Una1 can be taken in this theme. (Infernal Ruling)
Circle - The Devourer's Host   [Show/Hide]
  • Bradigus1 is not legal in this theme. The theme only allows living warbeasts, his rules only allow construct warbeasts, and you can't just 'skip' his battlegroup - you have to spend your warbeast points.
  • If you create a new model mid-game (ie with the Well of Orboros and that model can have corpse tokens, that model does not enter play with a corpse. Because it's not the beginning of the game. (Locked thread)
Circle - The Wild Hunt   [Show/Hide]
  • When it comes to other things that alter COST (such as Lamentation), follow basic maths: Double/halve first, then add/subtract.
  • Due to the way Tanith's feat is worded, during her feat turn the COST of animi cannot drop below 1. (Infernal Ruling)

Skorne - The Exalted   [Show/Hide]
  • If a Construct model loses the Construct advantage mid-game, it keeps the theme benefit anyway. (Infernal Ruling)

Trollblood - Band of Heroes   [Show/Hide]
  • Boomhowler uses up your Minion slot. His Fell Calls ability is not enough to make him a "Fell Caller model/unit". (Infernal Ruling)

Crucible Guard - Magnum Opus   [Show/Hide]
  • If Mosby is attached to a Mercenary weapon crew unit, they would gain 3" reposition and would not lose it if Mosby is no longer in the unit. (Infernal Ruling)

Infernals - Hearts of Darkness   [Show/Hide]

List of All Theme Forces