Monday, December 6, 2010

Warmachine 101 - The Factions: Retribution of Scyrah

Elves have a bit of a stigma. They're effeminate. Weak. They may be highly skilled and possessed of craft and technology far beyond other races, but they are too emo to get anything done. Elves generally seem content to bemoan their fate as a dying race, occasionally amusing themselves by playing mind-games with lesser mortals, cryptically alluding to events in ancient history or potential futures in the most condescending way possible.

Well, it's time to draw the line. Let's turn that emo into metal and at least go down fighting. Enter the Retribution of Scyrah.


The Retribution of Scyrah is the militant expeditionary force of elven nation of Ios. Ios has a long, tragic history, befitting its elven inhabitants. The gods are dying, the children are being born without souls and other races have risen to the fore in power and territory.

The Retribution began as a splinter-group of radicals within Ios, but has grown to become a unifying force within elven society. Guerilla fighters, militant orders and civilian militia have pledged themselves to a common cause. What is this cause? Well, the powers-that-be among the Retribution have determined (some might say arbitrarily decided) that the all the ills befalling the elves are a direct result of non-elves using arcane magic. Clearly, the only solution is to kill as many non-elves as possible, with magic-users (read Warcasters and Warlocks) being priority targets.

The Retribution is composed of three main branches: The Mage Hunters, the Dawnguard and the House Guard. Additionally, they are supported by specialists from various elven noble houses who lend their unique talents to the cause.

The Mage Hunters are the progenitors of the Retribution of Scyrah. They specialize in stealthy, skirmish warfare. Mage Hunters are trained and equipped to deal with magically enhanced foes (they ignore most buffs). Though only lightly armored, Mage Hunters can threaten even the most well-protected foes due to their ability to bypass many defensive measures.

The Dawn Guard are the formal military order of Ios. They are the elite force, equipped with the finest weapons and armor and trained to a very high standard of discipline. Dawn Guard hold the line and unleash hell when brought to bear against the enemy.

The House Guard are civilian militia of Ios, drawn from the personal defense forces of the Iosian noble houses. Though not as skilled or well-equipped as their contemporaries among the Mage Hunters and Dawn Guard, House Guard are nonetheless able fighters, providing solid support to the Retribution army.


The Retribution of Scyrah was the first faction to get the "Mark II treatment" and indeed were designed from the beginning with Mk II in mind. As such, the Retribution is a remarkably balanced faction with several strong options to choose from. The downside is that as a newer faction, there are currently fewer options to choose from than among the more mature "core four" factions. Fortunately, almost everything the Retribution has to offer is good-to-great, and even its less impressive selections are far from the stinkers that show up in other factions (*cough* *Zerkova* *cough*).

The primary strength of the Retribution of Scyrah Warmachine army lies in the significant amount of implicit synergy among already strong models. I use the term "implicit synergy" to refer to inherent qualities that provide benefits to models other than those that possess those qualities. This is to be understood as distinct from the active (some might say Rube Goldberg-esque) synergies to be found in factions like the Protectorate or Trollbloods that rely on layered combinations of spells, special actions and orders.

For example, Dawnguard Invictors possess the Flank (Faction Myrmidon) ability. This dramatically increases their effectiveness in melee combat when they engage the same target(s) as a friendly myrmidon. An ideal supporting myrmidon is one with the Reach ability, since that allows it to engage more enemy models simultaneously.
Retribution has a cheap, light myrmidon with Reach in the Griffon AND a burly heavy with Reach in the Phoenix. In turn, these are both solid myrmidons in their own right; the Phoenix's arcnode advantage can be used to channel spells, and the Griffon is fleet enough to ensure it can get into the thick of things precisely where and when it's needed.

These implicit synergies make the Retribution a very strong and versatile combined arms force. To extend the example above, Dawnguard Invictors' primary role is mid-range shooting, but with the help of a myrmidon, they can really shine in melee too. More wholistically, what this means is that Retribution force can adapt to unpredictable circumstances from a position of strength.

The primary weakness of the Retribution army is its distinct lack of options for dealing with enemies possessing the Stealth advantage. Where most factions have multiple models that have means of ignoring or removing Stealth, Retribution currently has all of two models with this sort of tech, one of which is a warcaster, the other a character myrmidon. What this means is that Retribution must typically deal with Stealthed models at very close range. This mitigates some of the flexibility of the Retribution army, as they have only one reliable way to deal with Stealthed models.

The Units

Retribution has some of the best units in the game, in every points bracket. At the low-end (points-wise) are the House Guard units. The Halberdiers make a very mobile tar-pit unit that can pack an accurate and reasonably powerful melee attack; the Riflemen provide long-range support that only gets deadlier the closer they get to the front lines. Both House Guard units possess Ranked Attack, allowing the rest of the Retribution army to see and fight through them.

The Mage Hunter Strikeforce occupies the mid-range, points-wise. They are a toolbox unit with tech to countermand defensive magical buffs, crack warjack armor and strike hard in melee. The Strikeforce's strength is in its versatility, but I have found that relying on them to win the game can be a dicey proposition. Their basic attack scores are middle-of-the-road, and while you may occasionally get lucky, the Strikeforce cannot be counted on to win a game in a tight spot. Far better that they serve in a supporting/harrying role, rather than as the killing blow.

At the high-end, points-wise, are the Dawn Guard units. The Invictors have been detailed previously. Their counterpart melee unit, the Sentinels, sacrifice a ranged attack for incredibly potent melee prowess and decent 'jack marshalling ability.

The Retribution army also includes a variety of specialist units, such as the board-controlling House Shyeel Battlemages, the pseudo-artillery Starfall Archers and the elusive Dawnguard Destors, who are essentially the Thunderwolf Cavalry of Warmachine (awesome in theory, but no official models in print yet).

Unit of Note: Dawnguard Invictors

Simply put, Invictors have it all: good offense both at range and in melee, and good defense in the form of high armor. They are an incredibly strong core unit that can work well with every Retribution 'caster.

Unit to Avoid (at First) : Mage Hunter Strikeforce

I'm probably going to get a lot of flack for this, but I am not a huge MHSF fanboy. Don't get me wrong, they certainly don't suck; but between middling accuracy, low power attacks, paper-thin armor and anti-synergy with the Souless Escort weapon attachment, this unit is not the "must-have" that it's sometimes made out to be.

The Solos

Retribution solos shine, and when I say "shine" I mean like the sun. Retribution solos broadly fall into two categories - the reliable and the devastating. On the reliable side are consistent performers such as the Arcanist (repairs and buffs Myrmidons) and the Ghost Sniper (solid ranged punch). These models can provide the edge needed to ensure victory. On the devastating side are power-hitters such as the decapitating Mage Hunter Assassin and the brute-strength Dawnguard Scyir. These models may not always survive to get into the fray, and sometimes the dice can bone them, but if they can get there, with a little luck they can swing the tide of battle in a single blow.

Solo of Note:

It's really hard to choose just one. For sheer fun-factor, the Mage Hunter Assassin can make one fall in love with the faction. However, she has a gigantic target painted on her at all times, and it's entirely likely that she will go several games without getting to make even one attack roll. For utility that you'll be able to consistently capitalize on, I'm going to go with the Arcanist. He's busy fueling Myrmidons turn one, and can continue enhancing them throughout the game. Plus, he's only 1 point, so if he dies, he dies, whatever.

Solo to Avoid (at First):

This is a toss-up between the Dawnguard Scyir and Fane Knight Skerreth Issyen. Personally, I like the Scyir; I think he's got a lot of potential, but to be perfectly frank he is outshined by other solos in the Retribution army. The Fane Knight is likewise solid, but for his points, you can generally get a more potent threat or greater technical utility.

The Warjacks

Retribution refer to their warjacks as Myrmidons because they just gotta be different. Retribution Myrmidons are not exactly weak, but they aren't the strongpoint of the faction. Working in their favor, every Myrmidon has a power-field that helps mitigate incoming damage. Like the rest of the faction, Myrmidons are very versatile. Several have both ranged and melee capability, and every Myrmidon ranged attack is also considered a magical weapon; handy for dealing with those pesky incorporeal models!

On the downside, Myrmidon attack stats are strictly average, and the Retribution doesn't have many buffs that can make them more accurate. Moreover, Myrmidons are Focus-hogs who thrive when fully fueled, but underperform without the ability to boost or buy attacks. Retribution 'casters rarely have Focus to spare, and generally prefer to cast their spells. Arcanists mitigate this to a large degree, but they are a fragile and limited resource.

Warjack of Note: Phoenix

Want a Myrmidon that does everything? Take the Phoenix. High-power melee attack with Reach that sets the target on fire? Check. Decent range, good power AOE ranged attack (that can set things on fire)? Check. Spell-relay arcnode? Check. To top it off, the Phoenix automatically regenerates its force-field without the need to spend Focus.

Warjack to Avoid (at First): Gorgon

Honestly, I have come to love the Gorgon, but it is definitely a tech piece that must be used carefully to be effective. It is a challenge to make this Myrmidon worth its point-cost on its own; it can be successfully integrated into certain strategies, but for straight-forward effectiveness, there are better choices.

The Warcasters

Retribution has a nice, if limited, selection of Warcasters. They tend to have good spells, but their Feats are generally a bit less powerful or more situational than their contemporaries in other factions. Since there are only five Retribution Warcasters currently available, I'll give each a brief rundown.

Dawnlord Vyros: At first blush, he appears to be Retribution's "'jack-caster" since his Feat is 'jack oriented and two of his spells are of specific benefit to Warjacks. While Vyros does provide great benefits for his battlegroup, he, like most Retribution 'casters, works best in a combined arms force. Vyros works particularly well with other Dawn Guard models, as they are self-sufficient enough to kill things with little outside assistance, and Vyros can bump their already impressive armor even higher. It may be tempting to try the Vyros-double-Hydra trick to take advantage maximum advantage of Bird's Eye, but in practice, this is not a reliable play, especially versus high defense targets.

Garryth, Blade of the Retribution: The cutter. Whereas Vyros is both more and less than he appears to be, Garryth is a straightforward assassin. He has the stats and the tools to carve up even the toughest foes, and many times, the rest of the army will serve as a Garryth delivery vehicle. In this vein it is important to recognize that, potent though he may be, Garryth can't always reliably get the job done himself, and a little "softening up" of the enemy goes a long way to ensuring Garryth is the last man standing.

Ravyn, Eternal Light: Besides having the most emo name evar, Ravyn complements the Retribution's strength at ranged attack nicely with support spells like Snipe and her Feat, which boosts all ranged attacks. Ravyn is no slouch in combat herself, with a plethora of attack options for both ranged and melee assault. Her stats are just a bit too low to make her a reliable assassin in her own right, but she can easily soften up the enemy 'caster/'lock and set them up for the kill at the hands of another element of the army.

Kaelyssa, Night's Whisper: A goth in a faction of emo, Kaelyssa is often decried as the weakest of the Retribution's 'casters; Kaelyssa actually has quite a bit going for her. Primarily, she possesses True Sight which allows her to ignore Stealth - something nothing else in the faction can do. Additionally, Kaelyssa has a large number of 'jack points to spend, which means her army can often afford an additional awesome solo, or a heavy Myrmidon instead of a light. Kaelyssa doesn't win games by herself, and she doesn't provide amazing buffs to her army, but she has many tools to provide an edge to her forces that can help them carry the day.

Adeptus Rahn Shyeel: Between his impressive Focus stat, excellent spell list, and strong Feat, Rahn is a powerhouse. He relies a great deal on magic attacks, which can be problematic against armies with tech to counter such things, but in such circumstances Rahn can fall back on fueling Myrmidons to maximum capacity and focusing his energies on supporting his army rather than attacking the enemy. Unlike the other Retribution 'casters, Rahn can operate quite well in a very specialized force, specifically, one that includes multiple units of House Shyeel Battle Mages and Magister solos. 

Warcaster of Note: Ravyn, Eternal Light

Ravyn synergizes well with many elements of the Retribution army, has solid spells and a good Feat, all of which are easy to understand and apply on the battlefield. Ravyn is not without nuance though, and she can be a subtle knife as well as a brutal fusillade. Interesting combo: Ravyn Feats and, with Vortex of Destruction up, moves within melee range of an enemy, House Guard Riflemen with their unit attachment proceed to take advantage of Battle Tempered to CRA into melee, gaining boosted attack and damage rolls.

Warcaster to Avoid (at First): n/a 

In truth, there is not as wide a power-gap among the 'casters of the Retribution as can be found among other factions. While Rahn and Ravyn are generally considered the "best," and Vyros and Kaelyssa are considered "worst," the former don't totally eclipse the latter, and one can still win and have fun with the "worst" Retribution 'casters.

That said, it is probably best to avoid Vyros, at first. His Feat is aptly titled "Perfect Execution," as a great deal of pre-planning and meticulous activation order is required to get good mileage out of it.

Starter Army
  • Ravyn, Eternal Light
  • Phoenix
  • Griffon
  • Dawnguard Invictors with Unit Attachment
  • Houseguard Halberdiers with Unit Attachment
  • Stormfall Archers
  • Arcanist

This is an infantry-heavy 35 point force, designed to capitalize on the inherent synergies of the Retribution army. The Houseguard Halberdiers lead the way, forming a high-armor wall of expendable troops, ideal for blocking lines of fire to the Invictors (and Ravyn) following in their wake. The Halberdiers should be able to jam up the enemy's advance long enough for the Invictors and Stormfall Archers to get into position for the kill. In the event that Ravyn needs to use her Feat to kill things other than the enemy 'caster/'lock, the synergy between the Invictors and the two Myrmidons (flank) can help deliver the killing blow in melee.

Ravyn's spell Snipe works great on the Stormfall archers early in the game to rain some AOEs on the enemy. Mid-game, Snipe can be swapped to the Invictors to extend their range. On Ravyn's Feat turn, Snipe can be dropped and the Invictors' UA can use their once-per-game Extended Fire ability as needed to shoot into the killing zone. This frees up Ravyn's focus to be allocated to the Phoenix.

Finally, the Arcanist will keep the 'jacks running and can feed them Focus (particularly the Griffon) to amp their effectiveness.


The Retribution of Scyrah is a faction with a little bit of everything. Their infantry is superb, as are their solos. They work best in a combined arms force, so if you are looking to do some shooting, some sword-swinging and some spell-slinging all in one game, then the emo elves will not disappoint. On the other hand, if you are looking for a faction that can hyper-specialize in a specific threat vector, then Retribution is likely not the right choice.

It is also important to consider the fact that Retribution is a "young" faction. They do not have nearly as many choices as the other Warmachine factions. This is compounded by the fact that they are a very insular faction and very few Mercenary models will work with them.

This can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the choices Retribution has are almost universally solid in terms of game-play. Limited choice also makes it easy to collect a Retribution army.

On the other, if you really don't like the models for Dawn Guard Sentinels, but want a hard-hitting melee unit, well... you're out of luck. Retribution will of course receive new releases in future supplements to Warmachine, but they will always lag behind the "core four" in terms of number of model choices.

Finally, consider aesthetics. Retribution has a look all its own. Where other faction's warjacks are lumbering piles of clanking metal, Retribution Myrmidons are sleek and graceful killing machines. Where other factions' troops are armed with familiar-looking firearms, the Retribution's weapons appear exotic and even alien. Whether this is a good thing or not is wholly subjective, but if you like it, embrace it!

In closing I will add one final observation/segue-to-a-future-article: Retribution are a blast to paint. If you're a hobbyist looking for a new challenge, Retribution offers many opportunities to hone your painting skills. Retribution models commonly have features that lend themselves to object source lighting (OSL), blending, non-metallic metal (NMM) and other advanced techniques.

So go forth and wreak vengeance! Retribution is at hand! You have been warned.


  1. "if you really don't like the models for Dawn Guard Sentinels, but want a hard-hitting melee unit, well... you're out of luck."

    Haha. Spot on. Exactly my problem. Oh well, I'll just have to hope that a new melee unit will be released... sometime. Hopefully a strike force melee unit (unlike you, I love my lil' sneaky hunters).

  2. Now that I've re-acquired my old Ret, expect to see Rahn and Discordia on a battlefield near you!

  3. Great summary of the faction, thanks.

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