Dark Angels Drop Pod

5th Edition

Blasting down from a strike cruiser or battle barge, these unique vehicles appear anywhere on the battlefield using the deep strike/reserves special rule. Space Marine commanders quickly realised their potential and now they form an important tactical and game winning role within many Space Marine armies.

This tactica has been born on the back of a 4th Edition version originally written by Aaron Bergman, this has now been extensively revised and rewritten for 5th Edition 40K.

1. What you get

A drop pod is a dedicated transport option for an individual Dreadnought or Techmarine; for Veterans, Command, Scout, Tactical, Assault and Devastator squads. It has armour better than that of a Rhino which sounds great, but this is offset by the fact that the pod is classified as being an Open-topped vehicle meaning any damage caused on the Vehicle Damage chart is boosted by a level (+1) — pods are fairly easily taken out.

The pod comes with a storm bolter built in but don't get too excited as the Dark Angel Drop pod is BS2 only.

Also included is the Inertial Guidance system and this little gem is there to save your pod should you scatter onto impassible terrain or friendly/enemy models.

Drop pods always enter play from reserves using the deep strike rules and once on the table they are treated as an immobilised vehicle.

…and what you don't get

I hate to say this but the Dark Angel drop pod has really become a poor relation to the Codex Space Marines version. In C:SM we are looking at a BS4 items that can carry twelve (yes 12) models or one Dread, and can upgrade the storm bolter to a Deathwind missile launcher.

Not only that, they get Drop Pod Assault too which is a bit akin to our Deathwing Assault. Up to half of any pods held in reserve (rounding up) may enter play at the start of Turn 1. Now I can see why we haven't got that as GW limited our route to Deathwing-assaulting, but come on, C:SM gets a very neat vehicle for 15 points less than the Dark Angels can. If you can, invoke the latest Dark Angel FAQ and use the Drop pod rules from C:SM.

Closely akin to Drop pod Assault is the option to take a locator beacon. Essentially this acts as a guidance system in a similar fashion to a teleport homer for guiding in deep striking speeders and drop pods.

2. Why take them?

Deep striking can cause real headaches for your opponent. The pods real value is as a shock tactic whereby you can bring in a number of units behind enemy lines or directly on or near objectives that would by any other means take a few turns to get there. Not only that, but the units in the pods are safe from enemy shooting and assaults until they deploy. In addition, the use of drop pods offer several advantage as they can:

Provide instant terrain

drop pods are vehicles that at best fully block line-of-sight or in the least cause intervening cover saves. This not only protects emerging troops, if the pods remain on the table the benefit lasts the whole game. They also force enemy units to skirt around them due to not being allowed within 1" proximity.

Provide an offensive capability

drop pods have a built in weapon (but only BS2).

Provide Deep strike for all

Drop pods can get large units or units who can't usually deep strike into thick of the action fast.

Provide another contesting unit

The drop pod if it survives until the end of the game counts as a contesting unit.

I'll be discussing each of the above items in more detail within the Tactica.

3. Who to drop pod?

There are several units that can use drop pods, and I'll examine the viability of drop-podding each of them. But as an overall rule-of-thumb, they do not suit assault-orientated armies because you can't assault on the turn you arrive, plus any scatter may take you too far away from a unit to assault anyway even if you attempt to Run to make up the shortfall.

The best use of drop pods is for shooty or counter-attack units with short to medium-ranged ballistic weapons ie bolters, storm bolters, assault cannons, meltaguns; flamers (if you can get close enough) and plasma guns. You always fire these weapons on the turn you arrive assuming there is a suitable target, so take advantage of it.

Keep in mind that your enemy will have enough squads around that your podded unit will only get one turn of free firing before being charged or shot at from all directions. While this might not always be the case, it's going to be the case more often that not so be prepared for it. Prioritise targets carefully and where possible use the drop pod as cover.

OK so onto the units that may use them and their suitability.

Command squads with attached independent characters

A bit of an uncertain prospect, but out of all the options, the one I feel to be most effective in a Drop pod is a Command squad with a Librarian. Why? Well Company Masters are best when they're on the table from the start to impart the Ld benefit for as long as possible, while Chaplains are best when leading a charge — something they might never do if drop-podded.

Dark Angel Librarians, however, have the Hellfire psychic power so getting them into template range without being shot to pieces or charged first is all-important. Also Force Barrier can allow him to soak up high strength wounds rather then the small squad he is with. The only drawback to the Libby in a pod is that he obviously can't use his psychic hood until he's on the table — not always an issue — but it could be.

Command squads can have up to two assault weapons and two power weapons/fists giving them even more of an edge when it comes to short-range firepower as well as the ability to look after themselves in close combat. Command squads don't get the option of a heavy weapon though, but as you want these guys moving around and causing as much damage as possible this isn't at all a hindrance. This makes them a better option than a tactical squad

A combination of meltaguns and powerfists will knock holes in armour as well as putting wounds on monstrous creatures. With the effectiveness of armour in 5th Edition the melta seems the way to go for both cheapness and effectiveness. But with an Apothecary at hand and if you have the points kit this unit with plasma guns. Use it as primarily an anti-infantry unit. But as with all Command squads, be careful of over-equipping them — a Veteran with a power fist or power weapon to back up your Librarian, and maybe an Apothecary to help save guys if you roll badly with your plasma gun firings, should be about your upper limit.

The real handicap here is the small unit size — just five bodies — this means wasted space in the drop pod as well as a relatively fragile unit wound-wise. Even of you attach two characters to this unit (and there's nothing wrong with that) there is still underused capacity in the pod.

In all honesty, unless you particularly want an Apothecary, Standard Bearer or Company Champion, you are nearly always better off with a Veteran squad.

Veteran squads

An excellent drop pod prospect. The advantage is that you can have a combination of power fists/power weapons or lightning claws giving some hefty close combat punch backed up with storm bolters and an assault weapon. It can be a quite potent unit. You could also attach an IC to this unit for added oomph (a Librarian for me). Don't bother with a heavy weapon for this lot as you need to keep them firing and moving.

I favour having seven or eight Veterans in drop pods. This is a sensible balance between needing some numbers to help keep the unit in the fight because they will almost certainly be charged, and the need for not wanting a huge squad that represents too many points in one basket. And, of the space to attach an IC should you want.

A Techmarine

You can put your Techy into a pod, with his Servitors, if you want. On paper this might have some merit as a tank-killing or MC-killing unit as it has plenty of servo arm attacks (read powerfists) and with the full servo-harness the Techy gets even killier at close range. But going for the full harness load out plus basic Servitors things start getting very expensive — 200 points in fact. That starts to make the 8-man Veteran squad look extremely attractive indeed. And this is the main fault here. Personally I'd keep well clear of this particular option.

Dreadnoughts

These are surefire drop pod successes. The main vulnerabilities of Dreads (weak armour, particularly rear armour, and slow speed) are both negated by the use of drop pods. In addition, if you can place the drop pod correctly, you can hide the Dread from any enemy heavy weapons squads, forcing your opponent to deal with it with some of his close combat specialists rather than killing it with fire. Plus, the lethal combination of assault cannon or melta, heavy flamer template and that almighty Str 10 Dreadnought claw is guaranteed to cause havoc in the enemies lines. A Dreadnought in a drop pod can be a real game-turner.

Tactical squads

The best and most obvious candidates for drop pods — can either be 'good' or 'excellent', depending on how the dice role — either way a sure winner!

With a flamer they can be a real threat against horde armies, with a plasma gun against heavier troops. Remember, you'll never scatter into an enemy squad — and a player with nerve could put a drop pod intentionally into an enemy unit knowing that the pod will move to the nearest safe edge of the enemy letting you place the assault-weapon guy to give him maximum effectiveness. Meltagun squads will be equally effective against vehicles, just drop them behind the target.

It seems pointless taking a heavy weapon with a drop-podding Tactical squad as it cannot fire upon landing and, assuming the squad moves off from the landing zone on the next turn, will not be able to fire then either. If your pod arrives on turn four you might not get to shoot a heavy weapon at all. Stick with assault weapons.

Veteran Sergeants with power weapons at the least are mandatory, because the squad will almost certainly be counter-charged, and you will want your drop-podders to earn as many points back as possible as soon as possible.

Scouts

As Scouts can already Infiltrate, the use of drop pods is unnecessary both from a points point of view and a tactical point of view. You want your sniper rifles firing from the off.

Devastator Squads

A no-no for a drop pod. They can't fire the turn they arrive, and they probably won't last long after that because only a poor opponent would leave them alone to set up their heavy weapons properly! Spend the points on more Tactical drop pods, and leave these guys to set up on the table. There role when other units are using drop pods should be to soften up the major threats prior to the pods' arrival.

4. Drop pod strategy

There are just two overall strategic approaches to drop pod use: putting your entire army in them, or just a select few units supported by your footsloggers.

Having your entire army deploy in drop pods has serious flaws. Although you'll always get the first turn of firing you run the risk of your army arriving in bits and pieces (making each squad vulnerable in turn) and a clever opponent will use his first turn of movement to make sure that anywhere you put your deep-strikers is bad for you. Also, your army is limited to drop-podding the above mentioned units — not a great selection all told — so you will be missing out on the best of the Space Marine vehicles.

A select few units drop-podding however, has very good possibilities. As it's unlikely that the squads you have on the table at the start of the game will be overwhelmed before the reinforcements arrive (unless you are playing Tyranids). When the drop pods do arrive you can put your enemy between a rock and a hard place. By deploying in his rear you are giving him the unattractive choice of moving towards your drop pods or your advancing footslogging squads. As already stated, Dreadnoughts, Veteran squads, and regular Tactical squads are all prime choices for units used in this manner.

5. drop pod tactics

The first thing to say about deployment is do not place them closer than 12" to a table edge or, with scatter, it's bye-bye drop-pod and contents. An expensive and needless waste of an offensive unit.

Whenever deploying drop pods consider carefully the tactical objective you have set for the unit inside and place them accordingly. drop pods are unique in that you are able to deploy them aggressively to achieve maximum effect both territorial and tactical — just put yourself in your opponents' position and deploy them where you wouldn't like to see them arriving. Remember that nothing about deep strike is an exact science and you can guarantee that your pod will scatter the full distance whenever you don't want it to, so make contingency plans.

In all probability in the first couple of turns your opponent will try to second-guess as to where you will deploy your pods, covering the vulnerable areas with heavy weapons and fast counter-attack units. But this works in your favour as it means he has taken his eye off the ball with regards objectives strategy — compromising his own plan to respond to yours. Use these early turns to whittle away at his main threats with your own heavy weapons, Land Speeders etc, effectively clearing landing zones.

One successful deployment strategy is to deploy the drop pods in such a way as to divide the enemy army in half by creating a 'wall of drop pods'. With only half of the enemy army able to shoot at you (the other half with blocked line-of-sight), you have a distinct advantage. The divide and conquer gambit works like a dream against armies that aren't very mobile.

Always to try to maximise the movement difficulties for your opponent when deploying your pods. Deploy them in a way that forces your opponent to move around them. Even when discounting the hatches when lowered (which do not count in game terms) the enormous footprint of the pod really forces the enemy to move around quite a bit.

Deploy drop pods directly upon objectives. Why not? With a shooty-squad emerging and Deathwind launchers (see below) covering a 12" radius what is your opponent going to do about it? Works particularly well against forces with a small model-count who simply don't have the spare capacity to deal with the dual threat.

Don't just spread them thinly across the table or there is the likelihood that each deploying unit could be overwhelmed either by assault or shooting and you will just be frittering away your army. Actually, this can happen anyway when deep striking and sometimes there isn't much you can do about either scatter or arrival time. The point I am trying to make is aim to deploy them so that emerging units can give each other covering fire, and, if you are using deathwind launchers (see below), their combined range radii denies as much ground to the enemy as possible.

Ultimately don't be too aggressive if you can't accept the losses. Drop pod units get hit hard if you play them aggressively. Sell their lives hard to take down key enemy units, leave the other units for your second wave attack. This is a key component to drop pod success.

6. Deathwind launchers

I'm including the deathwind option here even though it's from the Codex Space Marines. It's quite an interesting weapon option though and with the it the C:SM pod is five points more expensive than the base Dark Angel version. The C:SM Drop Pods come with a storm bolter as standard. Although useful two BS4 24" Str4 AP5 shot per turn is hardly going to wreak havoc, merely an inconvenience, for your opponent.

But the C:SM Drop Pods is BS4 so Deathwind Launchers are the best points you will ever spend. Why? Because it turns an empty transport that your enemy can ignore into something that he will have to waste his time destroying lest it blasts him apart.

As drop pods are AV12 on all sides (though open topped) they'll soak up some fire before being finally knocked out and because of the 12" range, your opponent will fear approaching them in any way (would you take the risk?). If nothing else it will create no-go areas to your advantage. And don't forget the deathwind can fire on the turn the pod arrives.

Admittedly when used singly deathwinds are not particularly effective — they will hit two-thirds of the time and will arrive on turns 2-4 (normally) — as such they will often get two or three hits per game! But the prospect improves considerably with four or five drop pods, each of them with a deathwind launcher. That's at least 1-2 large blast hits a turn from vehicles that are entirely useless otherwise. All this for the price of a Rhino.

The upgrade is a solid investment, it'll rattle almost anyone to have large blast templates coming down on them. A tricky drop-podding player could use small squads that will almost certainly get wiped out by a counter-charging enemy, then blast the hell out of the winners with the deathwind launchers.

7. The Forge World Deathstorm Drop Pod

Not a transport at all but a Heavy Support choice, and only available using Forge World's Imperial Armour II rules.

This pod costs a way bit more than the standard transport drop pod because it contains a ferocious weapon system in the form of three Whirlwind launchers. Upon landing this fires indiscriminately and randomly at anything within range so is potentially very good at clearing a large footprint of ground. After the scourging fire phase on landing, in the next turns the pod fires as normal. The Whirlwind launcher can be replaced with assault cannons for even more fun. However all this is at BS2.

It comes with Drop Pod Assault too. Could be good to include in a first wave strike with deep striking terminators for instance.

I've never seen this used if truth be told. I'm inclined to think that points might be better spent on Predators if you are desperate to fill your Heavy Support slots. But as a slightly unpredictable potentially devastating deep strike option — well take a view on it.

8. kill points / contesting

Every drop pod is a contesting unit this is true. Similarly every one is also a potential Kill point for your opponent. The Kill point issue is an interesting one as although yes theoretically easy enough to destroy a pod, this does divert firepower away from other of your own units — units that can usefully fire back. However, if things are getting tight a canny opponent will target you pods in the hope bagging some easy points. There is isn't much difference here then to him attempting to destroy your Rhinos for instance but this can be just as infuriating for you as their original deep striking deployment was for him, it all balances out in the end I guess.

9. Conclusion

Drop pods are an important part of the Space Marine armoury. The ability to deep strike is a useful tool but a risky prospect. Drop pods lessen the risk and allow a wider choice of units (including power armoured independent characters) the ability to deep strike. When used en masse (more than two) they are very effective, used individually not so effective. But they can deliver units to areas that create the most trouble for your opponent and, as such can be a real game-winner even allowing for the vagaries of not knowing exactly where or when they will turn up.

Their main disadvantage lies with their cost. I seriously consider that a 50-point drop pod is getting very very close to not being worth it which is a great shame. Thus in small games (up to 1500 points) other means of transport are probably better for your army as a whole as valuable points can be used to beef up elsewhere.

In some army builds though, drop pods can be excellent. As a means of getting Venerable Dreadnoughts into the fray to back up a combined Deathwing Ravenwing multiwing army then tactically it's an excellent choice and can be a real game winner.

Well, by no means exhaustive, I hope this Tactica has given you an insight into the use and potential of drop pods.

Hope you enjoyed the Tactica.

Aaron / Isiah


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