Thursday, 28 November 2019

GUIDE: The Blacksmoke Battery (Mercenary Company)


Are you veteran Dwarf or Empire player who misses actual cannons and the damage they put out, a Dispossessed fan who wants duardin war machines to match the rest of your troops, or simply a shooting phase aficionado looking to add a bit of variety to your gunline? Look no further than the Blacksmoke Battery, a mercenary company of redoubtable duardin artillerists introduced in the General's Handbook 2019, and one of Cities of Sigmar's best kept secrets (especially in Greywater Fastness armies), that I'll be fully exploring getting the most bang for your buck from, whichever army you choose to use them in with this tactical guide.

My own Blacksmoke Battery. Ignore everything bad I go on to
say about Organ Guns

You may be looking at the photo above and raising an eyebrow, observing that Cannons and Organ Guns failed to make it into the Cities of Sigmar battletome, and are no longer sold by Games Workshop, meaning that surely they can't be used in game anymore. You'd be right as far as their lacking the Cities of Sigmar keyword, preventing them from being used normally as part of a Cities of Sigmar list, but both artillery pieces currently posses warscrolls (albeit rather venerable ones) and current matched play points, meaning that they're still perfectly valid unit selections in matched play or otherwise. Normally their lack of an appropriate keyword would mean that they were limited to only being fielded in a mixed Order force, but the mercenary company rules have given the two warmachines a sort of liferaft, allowing them to be run as allies in any army, for now at least - expect this article to be either updated or deleted then GW have announced their plans for Warhammer Legends at the end of the year.

Probably one of the more useful mercenary companies included in the GHB from a competitive point of view, offering some very solid ordinance in Ironweld Cannons, the Blacksmoke Battery can fill a role a lot of armies lack, with effective long ranged shooting being otherwise impossible to source for a lot of AoS armies, particularly outside of the Order grand alliance. The Blacksmoke Battery goes a step further in Cities of Sigmar armies, with a fair bit of synergy available thanks to sharing the Ironwed Arsenal keyword and Cogsmith. Let's look at its rules:


First off, it's worth being reminded that as a mercenary company, the Blacksmoke Battery will cost you your free command point at the start of the game - not much of an issue for CoS, who thanks to the General's Adjutant battle trait, and several city specific options can become very effective command point farmers with minimal effort. Other armies (that aren't Ossiarch Bonereapers) may want to drop 50 points on an extra command point if they think they're going to need it. It's also important to remember that mercenary units included in a Cities of Sigmar army, even ones with the Cities of Sigmar keyword, like the Cogsmith, Gyrocopter and Gyrobomber are still allies, and don't benefit from any allegiance abilities.

The artillery available from the Blacksmoke Battery is mandatory, which makes sense, being the entire point of the mercenary company. At only 20 points more than an Organ Gun, Cannons are the infinitely better option, doing considerably more damage, and a longer range making them better suited to staying out of harm's way (old warscrolls mean that Blacksmoke artillery is liable to die after being sneezed on - more below); in Cities of Sigmar lists Organ Guns are effectively Helblaster Volleyguns that don't benefit from allegiance abilities and will die in half the time, making them a bit pointless unless you're really really keen on the model, in which case more power to you. Outside of Cities of Sigmar, they aren't completely useless though, as their lower points mean they can be squeezed in to a 2000 point game's 4000 point ally allowance as a second artillery piece alongside a Cogsmith and Gyrocopter/bomber where a Cannon couldn't.

The unfortunate age of the Cannon and Organ Gun's warscrolls means that they differ from the Helstorm Rocket Battery, Helblaster Volley Gun and Celestar Ballista in a crucially unfavourable way - the artillery pieces themselves and their crews have separate profiles, meaning that all your opponent has got to do is inflict three wounds on one's crew to render it entirely useless (the rules on whether artillery can be recrewed by another war machine's crew are unclear). My best advice against this is to deploy your Cannons and Organ Guns last, their maximum threat range (shooting distance + movement) away from anything that looks like it can hurt them from afar, with the very squishy crew firmly behind the artillery, giving them a good extra 4" distance away from the enemy. Emerald Lifeswarm's also a good means of getting wounds or crew back if you've only lost a couple -particularly in a CoS list healing D6 wounds/models and with a Runelord or Longbeards able to switch it off allowing your wizard to cast it again every hero phase.

Despite lacking the Cities of Sigmar Keyword, Cannons and Organ Guns are Ironweld War Machines, allowing them to benefit from a Greywater Fastness Runelord's Rune of Unfaltering Aim - a bit of no brainier if you've got the good taste to play Greywater Fastness and have a Cannon in your list, their damage output being so much higher than other war machines. They also benefit from the Lord-Ordinator's +1 to hit aura, but we all know proper Cities of Sigmar players don't run Stormcast, so that's irrelevant (though not making them too shabby a choice in a Stormcast list that's already got Celestar Ballistas). Greywater Fastness's Ghoul Mere Ranger command ability (though sadly not Drillmaster) also affects allied units, allowing them to run and shoot, marginally increasing your artillery's threat range should you need it.


A Cogsmith is an auto include for for the running of Cannons and Organ guns, with the rerolls offered by the engineer keyword pretty much essential for reliability. A core reason the Blacksmoke Battery is particularly good in a Cities of Sigmar army, is that you don't have to ally in a Cogsmith, and can take him as part of your main army, giving him full access to your allegiance abilities, and freeing up more ally points to be spent on Cannons.


The Blacksmoke Battery is allowed to take a single Gyrocopter or Gyrobomber (non pluralised, so no unit of three), and doing so nets it the rather handy Spotter special rule. Which of the two you choose to take, and whether you take one is entirely up to you (there's only 10 points between them), but I'd personally plumb for a Gyrocopter with Steam Gun every time, I love killing hordes with them. The Spotter rule is not only great fun, but kicks a Cogsmith manned Cannon or Organ Gun up a notch from reliable to downright dependable, and is a surprisingly good psychological tool for drawing enemy fire from your actual squishy artillery to the less valuable squishy thing that buffs them.

Blacksmoke Gyrocopters/bombers make very reasonably priced zippy objective grabbers with a surprising kick to them in for non-Cities of Sigmar armies; and it's important to note that if you take one in as part of the mercenary company in a CoS list, then it's won't benefit from any battle traits (for example Tempest's Eye's Alert and Forewarned, and Greywater Fastness's extra 3") range, though I personally think the Spotter rule is a worthy trade off.


In matched play games the Blacksmoke Battery becomes progressively more effective the higher the points level you play at, being all but useless in a Meeting Engagement (artillery forced to join your rearguard and liable to arrive late and get shot off before it can do anything), decent-ish but by the low allies allowance in 1,000 point vanguard games, and able to be run at full capacity at 2,000 points.

In vanguard lists you're only going to be able to fit in a single Cannon, which you'll want to support with a Cogsmith, coming in at 200 points for both. For non Cities of Sigmar or Stormcasts lists this might already be too much, at a fifth of your list - CoS and Stormcast players get a much easier time of it, being able to run a Helblaster (or two as part of the battalion if you're Greywater Fastness), or Lord-Ordinator and Celestar Ballista to maximise on synergy.

At 2,000 points non CoS armies can afford to field either the full set of a Cogsmith, Cannon, Organ Gun and Gyrocopter/Bomber; or the much more focused Cogsmith and two Cannons - again, particularly good with Stormcast looking at taking a Lord-Ordinator and a couple of Celestar Ballistas anyway. 2k CoS lists don't have to worry about the Cogsmith taking up ally points, and so can run the optimal two Cannons and a Gyrospotter. Special attention's got to be given to Greywater Fastness armies running the Greywater Artillery Battery battalion, which maxes out at four artillery pieces, despite Greywater Fastness being able to include five in 2k games - why not add a single Cannon to the party to take advantage of your Runelord's +1 to hit prayer after the first shooting phase is over?


Concluding the rules review part of this article, the Blacksmoke Battery's not gamebreakingly good in any way, and its artillery's archaic crew rules mean that they will straight up die early doors against a a few armies, but they probably have more good matchups than bad, fill a unique niche previously unavailable to a lot of armies, and make a wonderfully characterful addition to a Cities of Sigmar collection (that many more doyen CoS players already own), with the potential to be effective used carefully. Of course now that it's possible for every AoS player out there to run Dwarf Cannons, it's my agenda for exactly that to happen, and I hope my strong personal bias carries through.

Ironweld Cannon by Warhammer TV's Chris Peach

If you're keen to run the Blacksmoke Battery, but aren't lucky enough to own any now discontinued Cannons or Organ Guns, they're both readily available on eBay, and quick, fun and easy to convert. The Steam Tank kit comes with two different Cannons to choose from, and they and a variety of other barrelled weapons attach almost seamlessly to a Helblaster/Helstorm chassy. The Blacksmoke Gyrospotter also offers a unique modelling opportunity to CoS players, it's separate nature allowing for a completely different looking Gyrocopter/bomber seperate from the others in your force. I'm tinkering with the idea of painting up an older Gyrocopter, distinct from the modern ones in the rest of my army for mine.


I hope this guide has at least been informative. Please get in touch if you've got any experience running the Blacksmoke Battery, or if I've missed any combos involving it and other armies. Remember, this entire article is useless and I've wasted your time if you ever planning on playing games in the Realm of Shadow!

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