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 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?

One of the pitfalls of themes for new players, in my opinion, is the simple cost of buying the models you need to field that force. Instead of being able to dabble in a Faction and buy models as they take your fancy, you have to go all-in on one particular aspect of a Faction ... and it might turn out that you don't even like that aspect of the Faction! Not to mention that if you want to play even a little competitively you really need two army lists, the second to cover the weaknesses of the first. Given that most themes don't have many overlapping models, you're now looking at buying enough models for between 1.5 to 2.0 armies!

To mitigate these pitfalls, my advice is to only buy one unit and one solo from the theme to begin with. If you don't like the way the theme 'feels', you're only out of pocket a little. Since you have less points in the theme, though, you've got three options for playing games:

  1. Play a smaller game. You'll have a good balance between points spent on your battlegroup and points spent on the unit/solo you just bought.
  2. Play a normal size game, and use the points on a bunch of warjacks and/or mercenaries. You'll possibly end up with a badly balanced force.
  3. Play a normal size game, and use proxy models for the themed models/units you haven't purchased yet.

If you're a new player, I really don't see the problem with option #1. You shouldn't be diving into full-sized games to begin with, in my opinion.

If you decide to go with option #2, there are two more pieces of advice:

  • 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, the (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.

If you decide to go with option #3, good choice. Try before you buy!

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)

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 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.

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.
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