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.)
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As of 2018.10 the LPG articles are still a WIP. If you have a question that isn't answered, or a topic you'd like to see added, we'd like to hear about it. Post your thoughts on the Talk:Learning to Play the Game (LPG) page.

Theme Forces are rules which essentially allow you to build and play an army which is a "sub-faction". Instead of having access to every model in your Faction you have a restricted range of models that are thematically tied (such as "all the Man-o-War models" or "all the Satyxis models"). In return for playing under these restrictions you get several in-game bonuses (for example: extra models you don't pay points for, bonus abilities, a bonus to your starting rolls, an extra large deployment zone, etc).

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Tip !
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

Are Theme Forces compulsory?

No, they are not compulsory. But although playing "out of theme" is technically an option, the bonuses you get for playing in-theme are so strong that you rarely see many players going out-of-theme. Privateer Press have deliberately designed theme forces this way, and expect most players to be playing one theme or another. PP view themes as a "primary building block" in your list design and construction.

If you play against other new players and you are both out-of-theme, then that's fine. But if you play your out-of-theme list vs someone who is in-theme, the extra bonuses they get are going to make your game a bit one-sided. Let alone if they're an experienced player who doesn't take it easy on newbies.

Are all Theme Forces equally powerful?

No. Some restrict you to weak models, some have weak benefits, some have limited diversity.

If you want to know more in this vein, the LOS guys did a podcast on the merits of every theme force in the game.

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Line of Sight article :
Podcast Episode 54 - Warmachine Themes
Podcast Episode 55 - Hordes Themes

Bret, Chandler, and Jaden discuss the pros and cons of all the themes as they were in 2018.08

Are there Theme Force boxsets you can buy?

Yes. These sets are good value for money and are a good way to start a theme force. But note they don't contain any Warcaster and Warjacks models, or Warlock and Warbeast models - they're more add-on boxes than full army sets.

The themes that have a boxset available are all good themes to start with and are relatively diverse, interesting, and balanced. This is because these themes have been expanded and errata'd at the same time the boxsets were released (as opposed to older themes which are sometimes a bit lackluster for one reason or another).

At the time of writing (2018.12) 8 out of the 57 themes have a boxset (14%).

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 up to one Mercenary/Minion unit and one solo; so once you've purchased a Merc/Minion you can use them in every theme you're interested in.
    • 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 reused in multiple themes.
    • Also every Faction has at least one theme that rewards you for playing a lot of warjacks/warbeasts, so you can always use them in that theme.
    • With a lot of warjacks/warbeasts, you'll need to look into the warcasters/warlocks that are good at using large battlegroups
      • If you have too many warjacks/warbeasts on a caster that wants to hog focus/fury for themselves, you'll run into resource management issues.
      • Or you can look into the non-warcaster/warlock models that can take charge of warjacks/warbeasts, such as 'Jack Marshals, "Junior" Warcasters, and/or Lesser Warlocks.

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:

  • Privateer Press can release new models for a Faction with rules that may be similar to existing models in that Faction, as long they're in different themes.
Previously, if two units in the same Faction did similar things, players would only reach for the "best" or "most cost-effective" option. If the new model was decided to be less cost-effective, it never got looked at again.
  • When PP release a new model, they can test it thoroughly in the Theme Force that it belongs to and see if there are any broken combinations. Since the Theme Force is smaller, it reduces the development and testing period.
  • If there are broken combinations out-of-theme (that were missed in the dev testing), that is less of a concern because a player has to give up the strong Theme Bonuses to get the broken combination, so it's self-balancing.

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.

Rules Clarifications

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Rules Clarification: Theme Forces     (Edit)

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

  • For your solo, if you select a solo that comes in multiples (such as Swamp Gobber River Raiders) you get the normal number of solos. Not just a single model. (Locked thread)
  • As per the errata to the core rules, 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 bug in Warroom that allows you to take multiple.
  • Whether you used option 1 or 2 above, once they're in your theme force they count as a Faction model and so...
    • they can count towards free points (if applicable). For instance, Nyss will count towards the "20 points of Retribution units" in the Defenders of Ios theme. (Infernal Ruling)
    • they can be taken free of cost (if applicable). 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 the Devil's Shadows in Slaughter Fleet Raiders), they will count against your "up to one Merc" allowance.

Mercenaries and Ranking Officers

  • If you can include a Merc unit, and its attachments, then you can attach a Ranking Officer. This is true regardless whether or not that Ranking Officer is on the list of "Allowed models" . (Infernal Ruling)
  • Adding a Ranking Officer to a Merc unit doesn't increase the number of Merc units you can take.
  • The Merc unit will count towards your "X points of [Faction] models/units" benefit (if your theme is worded that way). (Infernal Ruling)
Benefits for a single model/unit (eg "One unit of [blah] gains [yaddah]")   [Show/Hide]
  • If you need to choose which models get your theme bonus, then you do this choice after deployment. (Infernal Ruling)
  • An example is how Winter Guard Kommand gives Advance Move to one-warjack-of-your-choice-per-WG-unit.
    • In comparison, Destruction Initiative gives all Servitors the Shield Guard ability so you don't need to "make" a choice.
  • You should still write on your army list how many of these bonuses you get to hand out, though, so your opponent can clearly see. (Infernal Ruling)
    • ie at the bottom of your list, you'd write "3 warjacks gain Advance Move" but you don't need to state which three are going to get the bonus.
Free models and Specialists (ADR)    [Show/Hide]
  • You can swap out as many models from your main list into your specialists and vice versa as you like, but you must completely recalculate the new army list when you do, including bonuses. As long as the new army list is valid, including all free models, it doesn't matter what the left over points in your specialists are. (Staff Ruling)
  • 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 & free points    [Show/Hide]
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.
Number of free models   [Show/Hide]
  • If a model is normally added to your army in multiples (such as 3 Scrap Thralls for two points, 2 Crabbits for seven points, etc) and you choose to use your free card on such a model, you only get one model. (Infernal Ruling)
    • There are some exceptions, such as Storm Division's benefit explicitly saying you'll get 3 stormcallers.
    • There is one odd exception, for Children of the Dragon, where it was ruled that you'll get 5 incubi. However that ruling is an exception, not a general case.

Cryx - Ghost Fleet   [Show/Hide]
  • The "free solo" can be any kind of solo, it doesn't have to be a Revenant solo.
Cryx - Scourge of the Broken Coast   [Show/Hide]

Protectorate - The Faithful Masses   [Show/Hide]
  • A Mercenary unit with an Attendant Priest does count as Protectorate unit for the purpose of calculating points for free cards. There is a bug in Warroom that prevents it counting properly. (Staff Ruling)
Protectorate - The Creator's Might   [Show/Hide]

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 - Call of the Wild   [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)
Circle - The Devourer's Host   [Show/Hide]
  • Free Tharn models do count towards the free corpse tokens. (Infernal Ruling)
  • 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)

Legion - Children of the Dragon   [Show/Hide]
  • If you select Incubi as your "one" solo, you get five of them. (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 - Kriel Company   [Show/Hide]
  • Despite being treated as a Trollblood unit during a game, Dannon, Blythe, and Greygore still use up your Minion slot during list creation. They are more like a Partisan Minion unit, in that respect. (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

Cryx Black Industries - Dark Host - The Ghost Fleet - Infernal Machines - Scourge of the Broken Coast - Slaughter Fleet Raiders (Edit)
Cygnar Flame in the Darkness - Gravediggers - Heavy Metal - Sons of the Tempest - Storm Division (Edit)
Khador Armored Corps - Flame in the Darkness - Jaws of the Wolf - Legion of Steel - Warriors of the Old Faith - Winter Guard Kommand - Wolves of Winter (Edit)
Retribution of Scyrah Defenders of Ios - Forges of War - Legions of Dawn - Shadows of the Retribution (Edit)
Protectorate of Menoth Exemplar Interdiction - Guardians of the Temple - The Creator's Might - The Faithful Masses - Warriors of the Old Faith (Edit)
Mercenaries Flame in the Darkness - Hammer Strike - Llaelese Resistance - Operating Theater - Soldiers of Fortune - The Irregulars - The Kingmaker's Army - The Talion Charter (Edit)
Circle Orboros Call of the Wild - Secret Masters - The Bones of Orboros - The Devourer's Host - The Wild Hunt (Edit)
Legion of Everblight Children of the Dragon - Oracles of Annihilation - Primal Terrors - Ravens of War (Edit)
Skorne Disciples of Agony - Imperial Warhost - Masters of War - The Exalted - Winds of Death (Edit)
Trollbloods Band of Heroes - Kriel Company - Power of Dhunia - Storm of the North (Edit)
Minions The Blindwater Congregation - The Thornfall Alliance - Will Work for Food (Edit)
Convergence of Cyriss Destruction Initiative - Clockwork Legions (Edit)
Crucible Guard Magnum Opus - Prima Materia (Edit)
Grymkin Dark Menagerie - Bump in the Night (Edit)
Infernals Dark Legacy - Hearts of Darkness (Edit)