Small Monsters Tactica
This article deals with small monsters in general, meaning those single creatures who have a Unit Strength of 3 or 4 and who are not characters. Classic examples are Gorgers, Chaos Spawn, Tomb Scorpions and Great Eagles. Also fitting are single large infantry models, both those that start as a unit of only one model (Trolls and Ogre Maneaters can be fielded as single models) or those who are the last surviving member of their unit. Many of the points below are also valid for characters riding small monsters (such as a Night Goblin character on a Great Cave Squig) and also for more odd units, such as Gyrochopters and Snotling Pump Wagons, even if these are not the primary subjects of this article.
Attributes of small monsters
- Small base
- Unit Strength
- 90° arc of sight
- Good Movement
- Reasonable resilience
- Reasonably good in combat
Uses for small monsters
Attributes of small monsters
Not all small monsters share all of the attributes listed below and no two types have all in common. If you ask me, the range of unusual and unique attributes are what makes small monsters interesting to use.
Most (though not all) small monsters cause Fear and with their low Unit
Strength the Fear will mostly be a defensive ability - causing some units to be
able to charge you or only hitting on 6s when you charge them. However, most
enemy units are more likely than not to pass a Fear test, so this is not
something you wish to rely on too often. Take it as a stroke of luck when it
In a few cases, though, Fear will let you automatically break enemy units (disregarding Insane Courage) if you win the combat. Usually this happens when fighting against war machines or single enemy characters (the latter is rare, since most single characters can avoid lone small monsters).
Another good side is that it makes the small monster immune to Fear itself and makes it test for Terror as if it was Fear, which is handy now and then.
Most small monsters are reasonably cheap, costing somewhere from a little below 50 to a little below 100 points. This makes them ideal for support units and it is no great loss if they are splatted by a stray war machine shot. Thus the limiting factor in how many small monsters you can take is not usually their points cost.
The limiting factor for how many small monsters you can get is instead
dictated by your army list. They are either Special or Rare units, though
sometimes you may be allowed two small monsters per choice. Considering that
small monsters are often quite useful but sadly quite unreliable, you will want
more than one unless you are just fielding them for the fun. A single small
monster might fail to dig its way out of the ground when you want it too or be
shot down by a lucky unit of elven archers, and in those cases having one or
more extra small monsters at hand is very good.
Another limiting factor is regular opponents being fed up with facing four Fiends of Slaanesh or Skrag and his entourage of six or more Gorgers and refusing to play against you. A certain level of politeness should be aimed for here or you may run out of people to fight with.
Small monsters have the great advantage that they pivot on the spot rather than wheel and (with the exception of Spawn) can pivot freely however many times they like when moving normally - they are limited to a single pivot plus alignment when they charge, in much the same manner as other units. While not making the small monster any quicker when moving straight ahead, it can be a great advantage when executing more fancy manoeuvers. It is essential to remember that unless charging the monster can pivot on the spot at the end of its move - vital for setting up charges next turn or for diverting enemy units.
All the really good monsters (apart from Tomb Scorpions, unless you decide
to have them dig their way to the battle) are inherently unreliable. Spawn have
random movement, Trolls are Stupid, Gorgers must charge if they can, and so on.
The most important thing here is to understand what the specific rule in this
regard actually says and then take whatever appropriate countermeasures you can
- a Gorger does not have to move full speed towards the closest enemy, for
The easiest thing to do about the randomness of a small monster is to take several. A single Gorger is fun but nothing you can rely on, two Gorgers gives you a very good chance of having at least one turn up in turn 2. The downside of this is naturally that it may take up multiple Special or Rare slots, thus limiting your choice of other uncommon units.
You should also be wary of placing unreliable critters where they will block the movement of friendly units if they suddenly decide to misbehave. Usually this can be avoided, so you really have no excuse if one failed Stupidity test holds up several units that cannot get past your Troll. Use the small base size of the gribbly to your advantage.
Small monsters move around on either a 40 mm or 50 mm square base. This has plenty of good effects; it makes it easier to throw in a small monster as support for other units in combat, it makes it easier to avoid getting shot and it limits how many enemies can attack the small monster in close combat. Seventh edition has given small monsters a bit of a disadvantage in that you must maximise the number of enemy models in combat with you when charging, which means that usually three or four enemy models will be able to attack your small monster if it moves around on its own and charges a large unit.
This attribute varies from monster to monster - some are Unbreakable and
thus well suited to tieing up enemy units while others are most likely to run
away or crumble to dust if put in such a situation. The following mostly
centres on the former, though it is worth remembering that even a Leadership 4
Troll has a reasonable chance of holding up a larger enemy unit if the army
General and Battle Standard are close by.
With the removal of the lapping around rule in seventh edition using an Unbreakable monster to hold up large enemy units now works better than before, either to simply keep them out of the game more or less indefinitely or until another of your units gets a chance to reinforce it. If used for this task, remember the above - a small monster may be nearly impossible to kill for the average grunt, but more dangerous foes will cut it up quickly.
Small monsters all have a Unit Strength of less than 5 and this is to a large extent what defines their uses. On the downside, not having a Unit Strength of 5 or more means they cannot claim or contest table quarters, negate rank bonuses in close combat or destroy enemy units that flee through them, but on the good side, small monsters will not cause Panic tests in friendly units if they flee or are destroyed. This makes the small monster great as a support unit, as its demise will not worry your other units. The unit strength of a small monster is usually also enough to automatically break war machine crew, provided you manage to kill one crewman (exceptions are machines with more than three crew and the odd Insane Courage roll).
Being bigger than man-sized means that small monsters (including single flying monsters, such as Great Eagles) only have a 90° arc of sight, instead of being able to see all around. Disregarding Spawn, this means that you need to be careful which way your monster is facing at the end of its move if you want to charge something next turn, particularly against enemy units capable of rapid movement. On the bright side, being able to pivot as you move makes the small monster easier to work with in this regard than larger ranked units, who are also limited to a 90° arc of sight.
Small monsters tend to have good movement, 6 being the most common value. If you have the option to make your small monster faster (such as giving your Spawn the Mark of Slaanesh), then I strongly urge you to take it. Being relatively quick, small monsters can support infantry well and also have a go at supporting cavalry or hunting war machines. However, just because you have good movement doesn't mean you have to use it (unless you are a Spawn, though even then you have the option of zigzagging forward instead of plodding directly ahead) and it can be wise to have small monsters move in between and slightly further back than your infantry, if the plan is to support them. If the plan is to divert or hold up enemy units, you want to place the critter further forward instead. Take advantage of the ability to pivot as much as you can.
A common trait amongst small monsters is that they have either high
Toughness, high number of wounds or some other special rule (Regenerate, etc.)
that lets them shrug off a high amount of low-Strength attacks or they have
some special movement rule (Fly, etc.) that lets them avoid being shot at all
together. Furthermore, being single-model units they do not take Panic tests
for being shot at and if they do get killed then units around them will not
have to take Panic tests.
In this regard it must be mentioned how good it is to have more than 3 Wounds. Four wounds means that a small monster can take the maximum number of wounds from a Bolt thrower or other D3 Wound war machine and be assured to live through it. This is very good for those times you cannot avoid being shot at by at least one war machine.
However, small monsters are not invulnerable and can be brought down by concentrated firepower and elite enemy fighters. I would advise you to stay away from these as much as possible - a small monster may hold up a large unit of wimpy infantry for most of the battle but if charged by a unit of knights it is likely to die in the first round of combat (though of course, sometimes that is what you want). Having a reasonable idea of how likely the various enemy units are to kill your small monster is recommended.
Most small monsters will be able to cause one or two Wounds against the average enemy unit, though they tend to struggle against the really tough ones. Typically they have mediocre Weapon skill and bad Initiative, but high Strength and a good number of Attacks in addition to the resilience mentioned above. A small monster will not win many combat on its own and the trick (if you want to get it into combat at all, that is) is to find situations where one or two dead enemies is enough or where the number of models you kill is irrelevant. Obviously, against war machine crew and other vulnerable targets, a wound or two will usually see you win the combat. Against larger units, supporting another of your units will boost your combat result by a point and two and that can make all the difference, especially for units with a high static CR but which can not fight very well themselves. Alternatively, if you just aim to hold up a large unit of wimps with an Unbreakable gribbly, you are not hoping to kill very many of them anyway, and killing one, two or none enemies is all the same.
Uses for small monsters
Below I have listed what I consider the primary uses for small monsters. Specialized forms of small monsters may of course have specialized uses.
The idea behind this use is simple: the small monster does not take up much
space, can fight quite well and is unlikely to take much damage in return and
can therefore be thrown into combat alongside another unit, which will provide
the majority of the CR in that combat. While the larger unit has ranks, a
standard and provides a few kills, the small monster provides one or two kills
of its own, which not only counts towards the CR, but reduces the number of
enemy models fighting back. This added bonus can be enough to turn a narrow win
to a convincing win and in case the enemy unit breaks, you will have two units
pursuing instead of one, which greatly increases the chance of running him down
(the chance of running down a 2D6 fleeing unit with a single 2D6 pursuer is a
mere 56%, but if you have two 2D6 pursuers this rises to an impressive 80 %).
In fact, the extra pursuit move is so good that I recommend throwing in a small
monster into a combat even if you don't expect it to do any noticeable damage -
its good resilience will in most cases mean it won't be a disadvantage.
Things to watch out for with this tactic (beyond the inherent unreliability of most small monsters) is having your pet gribbly shot or charged before you get into combat. In my experience, players often do not expect this tactic and thus a small monster that hangs back a bit will often be left alone.
The idea with this tactic is to hold up a bothersome enemy unit until you
have a chance to deal with them on favourable terms or until the battle ends
(whichever comes first). The most obvious example is to lock an enemy unit in
place while you move up to flank it and splat them in a later turn. There are
some problems with this idea, most notably that flanking something is usually
more difficult in practice than it is in theory and most enemy units worth
going to all this bother to remove will be able to kill your monster before you
get a chance to jump up and down on their mangled corpses.
One good use for monsters that can get to the other side of the table quickly (either by flying, digging its way up from the ground or by emerging behind enemy lines) is to hold up enemy missile units. Given that you are unlikely to win the combat by enough to break them, but there is little risk involved for your monster and it might just get lucky. Happily, with the removal of lapping around, if you get unlucky one round you can try again next round with no penalty.
Obviously Unbreakable critters or those who are Stubborn on a good Leadership are more suited to this task than other monsters, though against units with little in the way of static CR even other small monsters can hang in there. Of course, should you win the combat then it doesn't matter what your Leadership is (the usual solution to having bad Leadership is making sure you never have to use it). And as mentioned above, having a competent General and/or the Battle Standard nearby can be a great help.
Things to watch out for with this tactic is making sure you don't end up in combat with anything that can kill your monster too quickly. People will often try to hold up nasty, expensive combat units with Unbreakable monsters or swarms and that doesn't really work well as these units can kill your critters quickly without taking much damage themselves. Large units of less combat-capable models are much easier to hold up. These units tend to rely on ranks and outnumbering to win combats and against an Unbreakable gribbly these won't help.
Additionally, holding up units with Unbreakable or semi-Unbreakable monstrosities is a pretty well established tactic that people are often aware of, thus a lone gribbly advancing in front of the rest of your army is likely to be a target for missile units and spells, though there are advantages to that as well, small monsters often have significantly higher resilience for their points cost than a lot of other units in your army.
Diverting means standing in the front of something nasty you don't want to
face head on, with your frontage angled in such a way that if the enemy unit
charges you they will end up facing in some direction they don't want to. In a
perfect world they would also be set up for a nice flank charge by another of
your units, but faced with such a situation most competent players will not
charge if given the choice and will instead try something less obviously
suicidal (the tactic of diverting is sufficiently complex to fill an entire
article of its own, so I shall only deal with it briefly here).
Given the unreliable nature of most small monsters, this is not a role you would think they excel in and that normally fast cavalry units would be better, but small monsters have some advantages fast cavalry do not have. The biggest of these is that due to their low Unit Strength they will not cause Panic in anything else. Other advantages include often costing less points than fast cavalry units and generally being immune to Fear, which means there is no risk of them running for the hills when charged by something scary, an occurrence that has foiled a lot of otherwise well-laid plans.
Flyers are obviously very good at diverting and since they flee 3D6" they are quite likely to get away if you decide to flee from the charge (this is a much better option in 7th edition than in 6th, though diverting units are still very likely to be ordered to stand their ground and die if necessary).
Things to watch out for with this tactic is (as mentioned above) making the setup too obviously suicidal for the enemy unit, in which case the opponent will not charge (unless forced to by Frenzy or other similar rules), in which case it will often be more difficult to take out his unit (war machines can remedy this a bit). The goal is to make him think he has a decent chance, while you know that he really doesn't. Gloating, while tempting, should be refrained from in such situations as it may give away your plans.
This is another task often delegated to fast cavalry units or scouts, though
many small monsters can have a go at this as well. Obvious candidates are those
small monsters that can fly, or have some other way of getting across the table
reasonably quickly. Again small monsters have some advantages fast cavalry and
scouts, namely that they are usually effectively impossible to Panic, are quite
resilient to being shot at and they generally cause Fear. Against most war
machines out there, a small monster will not only win the combat but outnumber
the remaining crew as well, making it almost certain that the survivors will
break and flee. If your opponent has been careless enough to deploy his war
machines close together then with a little care you should be able to place
your gribbly so that your pursuit move will bring you into contact with the new
machine in line. Approaching in this way also has the advantage that one
machine may block line of sight for the other and thus preventing it from
firing at your pet.
Things to look out for with this tactic is opponents who move their war machines so that they are no longer on a line and a pursuit move will not bring your gribbly into contact with another machine. With small monsters having a narrow frontage and only a 90° arc of sight, this may not only prevent you from pursuing into the next machine in line, it may even mean that you will need to waste your next turn setting up the charge on the next machine. Thankfully, moving their war machines appears to be an alien concept to many players and on the bright side doing this will prevent the moving war machine from firing, so it's not a total loss. Another thing to look out for is biting over more than you can chew and being shot to death before you reach combat. As mentioned above, at least this stops your other units from getting shot at, but in this situation this is not often a desirable result and you should take care when hunting war machines to avoid being shot at too much.
In my experience, small monsters are somewhat better at chasing
characters than they are at actually catching them, but some gribblies can have
a go at it. Theoretically they should be reasonably good at hunting characters
running around on their own, due to their small base size and decent movement,
but against competent opponents you are more likely to find that he hides his
characters in between his units where you'll have trouble getting line of sight
to them. Having only a ninety degree arc of sight can also be a problem and in
previous editions a lone character on foot could run rings around most small
monsters. This has altered somewhat in 7th edition, where characters can be
prevented from marching just as everything else. However, you must take care
unless the victim can sneak out of your arc of sight, a sure sign that you are
When you do get to charge something, most sensible players will flee if able to, if they are not certain to be run down and if they don't think they will be able to manage in combat. Most fragile wizards exposed to long-range charges will thus flee and very few will stand and be splatted. This is only to be expected, though this is not all bad, even if you don't manage to catch them. The fleeing spellslinger might not rally and if he does rally there is a reasonable chance you can charge him next turn as well.
Small monsters can also have a go at hunting characters in units, where you at least have the advantage that your victim will not be getting out of the way (players are often reluctant to flee from such a charge when the unit itself is not in danger). In 7th edition you are also required to maximise the number of enemy models in base contact when you charge, but with lone small monsters wanting a taste of wizard-flesh this is not really a problem and assuming no enemy characters with unsporting strike-first abilities you should have a decent chance of killing fragile enemy characters.
Things to watch out for when hunting characters in units is having the intended victim leave the unit and go hide somewhere else (not all players seem to realize the benefits of unit hopping and if so, take advantage of this) or losing the combat badly with a non-Unbreakable monster. This may give the enemy unit a chance to make a pursue move in your turn, which is often a bad thing (unless this was your plan all along).
A little extra use at the end: getting an extra unit to deploy. I am a great
fan of having lots of support units to deploy so that you don't have to reveal
any of your cunning plans by deploying vital units too soon and small monsters
can usually fulfill this role quite well, having a decent range of uses
available to them. If your small monsters are vital to your plans in some way
or if deploying them will give away your deployment plan, consider deploying
them later. Alternatively you can be very sneaky: For example by deploying a
Troll early in the hope that your opponent is going to think that you will
deploy your General within 12", though this may be too subtle and merely
waste a perfectly good Troll.
Another advantage of small monsters, deployment-wise, is that they take up very little space and so do not dictate the placement of other units in the manner that larger units tend to do.
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