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Battle Standard Bearers

by Avian

Over the last few editions, Battle Standard Bearers (BSBs for short) have gotten increasingly better. In 5th edition BSBs were essentially Champions who paid 50 points for the privilege of carrying the Army Standard. As they could only carry a single magic item and had no higher Toughness and Wounds than a normal trooper, they had a somewhat short life expectancy. In 6th edition things got better, since the Army Standard was now carried by a Hero, instead of a Champion. This is a tradition that harkens back to 3rd edition, when any character could carry the banner. This made BSBs much more resilient and in addition the cost of the banner itself went down from 50 to 25 pts. On the downside, BSBs were now much more limited in what non-magical equipment they could take - they could for example not have shields or normal great weapons. In 7th edition BSBs got better still, as the combat bonus granted by the Army Standard was now cumulative with that of one or more normal standards, which made it much greater value. At the same time, the change that made cavalry mounts for characters in infantry units a viable choice has in many cases made it possible to have a very good armour save on a BSB without resorting to magical armour.

At 2,000 points and above, I nearly always buy BSBs for my armies, to go along with my General, 1-2 Wizards and 0-1 other Hero. My BSB is usually geared up to fight and the combat bonus and re-roll of break tests within 12" is a handy bonus which is gotten relatively cheaply. Only very rarely do I use a Magic Standard and my BSB is more likely to get a cheap magic weapon (the Sword of Might has been standard issue for my BSBs for many years) and either a piece of Magic Armour or a Talisman. With the chance to 7th edition, my Orc BSBs will normally ride Boars, which gives them a respectable armour save of 3+ (since he is a Black Orc he can buy heavy armour) and thus a Talisman is much more common than before.



Attributes of Battle Standard Bearers

Selecting Battle Standard Bearers

Using Battle Standard Bearers


Attributes of Battle Standard Bearer

The following are common properties of nearly all BSB, apart from Undead ones. Since the Undead do not take Break tests, Undead units within 12" of the BSB instead suffer one Wound less than normal from a lost combat. With cheap and plentiful Undead you can raise back up anyway, this is not much of a bonus (and BSB compete for place with Necromancers and Liches, who are always useful), but it can be quite useful for more expensive Undead that come in smaller units.


Break test re-roll

The traditional bonus given by BSBs is the ability to re-roll a failed Break test for units within 12". Generally this will mean that the chance of passing a Break test goes up by around 20% in absolute terms - for example from 72% to 92% for tests taken on an effective Leadership of 8. For very high or very low Leadership levels the increase is a little less, which makes BSBs a bit less attractive for armies with especially high or low Leadership. And, of course, if you win your combats then this bonus is irrelevant.

I would say that the re-roll is most valuable in a mainly defensive infantry army. Defensive infantry tends to get charged and with the General and BSB nearby a unit can lose the combat by quite a bit and still have a reasonable chance of passing the Break test. In the following (own) turn, supporting units can be sent into the combat, possibly into exposed flanks, to swing it decisively in favour of the defenders. In an attacking army the re-roll is of less use, since you will more usually be dictating which combats are fought, which should mean that you do not usually lose. Further, when you do lose and the re-roll lets you pass the Break test, you will often get the situation described above - more enemy units will be thrown into the combat and you will lose by more next turn.

An interesting little fact is that due to the new Insane Courage rule (which means that a double 1 for a Break test is always a success), a Lizardmen unit that is within 12" of a BSB will pass one out of seven Break tests regardless of modifiers, Fear or anything else. The chance cannot get lower than this.


Combat bonus

New from 7th edition was the rule that lets the combat bonus of a BSB stack with that granted from one or more normal standards. This would seem to be an alteration made because the Break test re-roll was often seen to be of limited use compared to the disadvantages a BSB had (no shield, limited mundane weaponry). Suddenly a BSB in a unit that already had a standard became much better, something a lot of people on various Internet forums noticed but often did not properly understand. You would read posts like: "If I stick a High Elf BSB with the Battle Banner in a unit that already has a standard bearer with the War Banner, I could get up to +9 CR from banners alone!" This is of course true, but people acted as if this combo could previously only give a +1 CR bonus and not +8, which was the actual case.

Nevertheless, an added +1 CR bonus without paying any more for it is a great boost to the usefulness of the average BSB and makes it much more interesting for offensive armies that intend to go across the table and win their combats.


Unique Magic Standards

A BSB can, if he carries no other magic items, carry a Magic Standard and this can be of any cost. Though these banners will of course have to be paid for, this little ability often gives access to standards that no other unit in the army can take. I will not rate this very highly, as those super-expensive standards are rarely very cost-effective and the added disadvantage of not being able to take other magic items makes this of limited interest.


Limited equipment

BSBs tend to be quite limited in which types on non-magical equipment they can take. This is not a rule in the rulebook, something many people seem to believe (for no apparent reason). Instead it will entirely depend on what the relevant army book says. It does not help that the BSBs' entry in pretty much every army book is badly written - you would think that after more than a dozen army books they could have come to a good wording and just pasted this into each new army book, modified a bit to regulate access to Honours, Big Names, etc. But no. In any case, most army books limit the BSBs in the following way.

As mentioned above, the increased viability of placing a mounted character in an infantry unit in 7th edition (he can not longer be targeted with missile fire), means that a BSB mounted on a barded steed (or the equivalent) and wearing heavy armour will have a decent 3+ armour save, with characters who can get full plate armour or chaos armour being able to get a 2+ armour save. Add in a cheap magic weapon and possibly a Talisman (there are a number of affordable and decent Ward saves around) and the limits on equipment should not really bother you.


Losing the standard

A Battle Standard can be lost pretty much like any other standard, with the exception that if the BSB is killed while in a unit, the standard is only captured if the unit he is with breaks and flees in the same turn. This makes it in some ways easier to lose a standard held by the BSB than one held by a unit, as it is usually far easier to kill a BSB than to kill an entire unit. Captured Battle Standards are worth 100 VPs, the same as any other standard. There are a couple of things to be wary of in this regard. The first is that an under-protected BSB might get killed in combat, which not only gains the enemy unit CR for any Wounds he had remaining, but also loses you the CR bonus for the banner itself (including any magical bonuses, if it is a Magic Standard) and the re-roll of a Break test should the combat be lost - something it often will be in these cases.

This tends to happen more often with BSBs who carry Magic Standards, since they are limited to whatever mundane protective items their army list allows. A common mistake beginners do is to take a vasty expensive Magic Standard and give it to a BSB with only a minimum of equipment. A prime example of this is a Night Goblin BSB (who can only have a 6+ armour save) with the Bad Moon on a Stick, a Magic Standard that makes the unit Stubborn. Since his unit actually has to be in combat for this banner to even have an effect, the BSB has a quite high chance of getting stabbed to death. You can reduce this risk somewhat by giving your BSB a steed that increases his armour save and of course by buying him the best body armour the list allows.

The second risk is BSBs whose unit gets beaten so heavily in close combat that even with a re-roll the Break test is failed and the unit runs away. This usually means that you have been quite unlucky or that the BSB had been left in a unit he should have left in the previous turn. Remember that characters can normally move more or less freely between units unless they are stuck in combat or the unit is subject to some form of compulsory movement. Again a steed can be useful in this regard, as it will typically double your BSBs movement and let him reach units that would be out of range if he were on foot. A BSB is much to valuable to be thrown away needlessly.


Selecting Battle Standard Bearers

Disregarding specialized types of BSBs, such as Lizardmen Slann, I tend to divide them into three types, depending on what you intend to do with them.


The Magic Standard-carrying BSB

The first type of BSB is the one equipped with a Magic Standard. In this edition it will usually be very limited how many Magic Standards you can include in an army and a BSB is a chance to get an extra one. Additionally, the BSB is not limited in how expensive the standard he chooses is, something unit standard bearers often are. This type of BSB lets you take two Magic Standards when included in a unit that can have a Magic Standard itself, which opens up quite a few nice combinations, such as a standard that increases the unit's Movement along with one that increases its combat abilities. Alternatively it lets you take a Magic Standard in a unit that cannot normally take one, even in a unit that cannot normally have standard bearers at all. In previous editions you could get a lot of performance out of having BSBs join monsters (Stegadons with the banner that let the unit move in at the start of the magic phase, for example). Though this has now happily been made illegal, having a mounted BSB with a Magic Standard in a unit of big infantry, such as Trolls, can be quite effective.

Similarly, a BSB running around on his own can often have good use of a Magic Standard. Back in the good old days of 5th edition an Orc BSB on a Wyvern with Mork's War Banner (which amongst other things instantly killed any Wizard in contact with the bearer or his unit) was great for slaying Slann, Vampires and other expensive spellcasters. These days the nastiness is a bit more limited, but a Slann moving around on his own with a War Banner can be surprisingly difficult to deal with. Alternatively a Bretonnian BSB with the Virtue of Duty and a War Banner can be quite hard-hitting on his own. And then there is the Black Orc BSB with Gork's Waaagh! Banner in a boar chariot, who has an average charge range of 21" when the Waaagh! is called and can hit quite hard in close combat.

As has been said before, BSBs with Magic Standard should have the best armour save you can get them. If you cannot give them a decent armour save, then consider not taking a Magic Standard-carrier, or at least take a Magic Standard that lets the bearer stay out of combat. The Night Goblin BSB with a Magic Standard that only works in close combat has been mentioned before as an example of a normally stupid character to include. On the other end of the spectrum, a Chaos Mortal BSB wearing chaos armour and riding a barded chaos steed can have any Magic Standard you want and still have a 2+ armour save.


The Fighter BSB

The other main type of BSB is the one that is instead geared for close combat. He does not carry a Magic Standard and instead carries one or more protective items and quite often a halfway decent Magic Weapon. These BSBs will usually be much harder to kill than those carrying Magic Standards and therefore give you more benefit from the Break test re-roll ability and the combat bonus from the standard. In addition, the BSB should be able to deal out some damage in close combat, which is always a good thing. Since they carry a standard around with them and can re-roll any failed Break test if they get into trouble, a fighter BSB can even do well running around on his own. You probably don't want to do this with those BSBs who run around on foot with only Movement 3 or 4, but a mounted BSB charging out of a unit can be surprisingly hard-hitting and in my experience opponents will often not expect this.

I personally prefer fighter BSBs nowadays. In 6th edition I would normally field an Orc BSB on foot with the Sword of Might and the Dead 'Ard Armour (1+ armour save) or the Best Boss' 'At (5+ Ward save). In 7th edition I am leaning more towards a Black Orc BSB on a boar with the Best Basha (+1 WS, S and In) and the Effigy of Mork (-1 to hit bearer in close combat). My BSB is now more expensive than before, but fights better, is better protected and comes with the very nice Quell Animosity ability. For my Ogre Kingdoms army I tend to go lighter on equipment, since a Bruiser is such a good fighter anyway. If spare points are available he will get the Sword of Might and / or the Wallcrusher Big Name (which makes him cause an additional impact hit with his Bull Charge).

The Sword of Might appears to be very common amongst fighting BSBs, as is any armour that grants a 1+ armour save, 5+ Ward save or any similar protective item costing 30 points or less.


The Budget BSB

Sometimes all you want from a BSB is a cheap way of re-rolling failed break tests. You don't want to give him a Magic Standard that might get him into combat where he is easily killed or which makes him too expensive. On the other hand you don't want to gear him up for close combat, because he will either not be good at it anyway, or it might cost more than you think it's worth. What you do then is to take the cheapest BSB you can get (a Goblin one is only 55 or 60 points), give him no equipment at all and keep him safe somewhere behind the lines. It works. These days wandering around all alone outside of a unit is over all a bit more risky for a character than it used to be, but only against those armies with a decent amount of firepower. Against those armies who have little to shoot or zap you with, going solo is generally quite safe. And then it depends a bit on your own army - an Ogre character walking around on his own will generally do fine, while back in 5th edition I once managed to eat my own Goblin BSB with an out of control Squig Hopper.

As most armies only have one type of character that can be the BSB, not all can have a really cheap one. Goblins or both kinds, as mentioned, are great for cheap BSBs and Skaven, who can hide their BSBs in rear ranks and still get a re-roll, can also do this. Even the Empire can have a reasonably cheap one for 75 points. Budget BSBs can be given a cheap steed to give them some mobility. A twelve-point wolf for a Goblin will significantly increase his Movement and mean that there is a much smaller chance of ending up in a bad position.


Mounts for Battle Standard Bearers

As I have ranted on about in several places above, I believe that a BSB should be mounted on a steed if at all possible, especially if the steed gives him +2 to his armour save (due to barding or thick skin). BSBs tend to get steeds for ten to fifteen points, which is a bargain considering the bonus armour save, extra mobility, additional attack and increased Unit Strength. Even in infantry units are steeds a worthwhile buy for a BSB, as though the mobility will matter less often, the mounted model takes up the space of two infantrymen, so you are essentially "saving" a model in the unit. Only BSBs that cannot have a steed should ever go around on foot.

Riding around on a small monster is a bit more dubious for a BSB. As the monster does not increase their armour save, you will often end up with a quite fragile model that is more easy to kill than one on a steed. On the positive side, the monster will typically fight quite well and due to its larger base, will "save" you even more models when joining a unit. I believe that only decent fighter-BSBs should ever ride a monster into battle.

Chariots are a bit more tempting, at least for reasonably nasty BSBs. Especially interesting is the option to take a Magic Standard, as chariots really need to be charging to be effective and banners that makes them move faster will obviously aid in this. On the downside, the chariot only gives an armour save bonus against missile fire and not in close combat (for some reason) but if you can control what you are charging then the number of models being able to strike back at you will be rather limited. A single chariot will usually need to be quite lucky to convincingly beat an enemy unit, but with the added combat power of a fighter Hero and a standard this becomes much easier. The Battle Standard helps to compensate for the chariot's lack of staying power, should it be bogged down in combat, as the extra CR and a re-roll of break tests helps it to stick around. Of course, if you decide to mount your BSB in a chariot, he will quite often be more than 12" away from your infantry units, which are the ones that tend to need the re-roll for Break tests the most. Thus this is often not a wise thing to do for those armies that rely on their BSB overly much.


Using Battle Standard Bearers

Now that I have scribbled at great lengths about the virtues and downsides to BSBs, here are a few tips on how to best use them in battle.


Where to place the BSB

Obviously, a unit that gets to re-roll a Break test using a high Leadership is more likely to hold than a unit using a lower Ld value. For this reason a lot of players place their BSB in the same unit as their General. This gives that unit and any unit nearby a very high chance of holding, but units more than 12" away will often have a drastically reduced chance of passing their Break test. At the same time you are giving the opposing player one main target that he can concentrate most of his attention on, which can often lead to that unit being shot to pieces or diverted so that it never actually manages to do anything useful. Only put all your eggs in one basket if you can be sure that there will not be a Bone Giant along to jump all over it.

Personally I prefer to spread my General and BSB out a bit, to give my opponent more than one unit to worry about. I have found that most of the time, a decently tough unit only needs one fighter character to do well, with two being more than you require and thus wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Thus my General and BSB will each join a separate quite tough unit, which will be placed so that each unit is within 12" of the other character. This gives both units - along with any unit in between the two - the full benefit of the General's higher Leadership and the BSB's re-roll for Break tests. Meanwhile, any unit within 12" of one of the two units will at least gain some benefit. That being said, I am also a great fan of hopping characters from unit to unit as required and not keeping them locked to the unit they deploy with. With BSBs this can be quite important, as their benefit to nearby units is quite significant but has a limited range. Therefore you should always end your Movement phase with an evaluation of the placement of the BSB. Characters are normally allowed to move around in the front rank of a unit as they wish, as long as the unit is not fleeing or subject to some form of compulsory movement, and moving a character from one end of the front rank to the other can mean that a nearby unit in combat is suddenly in range of the re-roll effect. (You can even move a BSB out of range of a unit, if you want it to fail the Break test, as you sometimes do.)

The corners of units are often good places for BSBs, especially those who are somewhat fragile. A lot of the time, fewer enemies will be able to attack them there and as nasty fighter characters are more often placed towards the centre of a unit - to make sure that the unit cannot be charged in such a manner that they are left entirely out of base contact with enemies - they can greatly increase their life expectancy by being far away from them.


A bodyguard is often nice

As BSBs will often (though not always) be more vulnerable than other characters and the opponent will often be quite eager to see him dead, getting into a challenge with an opposing fighter Lord or similar is rarely a situation you want to be in. Imagine a situation where you have a BSB with, say, the War Banner in a unit and your unit is charged by a unit of enemy knights containing a Lord tooled up to smack around other characters. The Lord is not in base contact with your BSB, but he issues a challenge. If you don't have a Champion (or another character) in your unit, you now have two choices: You can either accept the challenge and probably see your BSB get butchered or you can decline the challenge and have the BSB survive, but not get any benefit from the break test re-roll or any bonus from his banner. Either way you have a much greater chance of breaking than if your BSB could send in a Champion to accept the challenge on his behalf instead. Some people might not call that very heroic, but I would not call it very heroic for a Chaos Lord to splat a poor Empire BSB anyway.

Similarly, should the enemy character be in base contact with your BSB, a challenge issued by your Champion can for him into a challenge he would rather not be in, unless he has a Champion of his own, that is. More tips for challenges are described in my article on Tactics for Dummies. Suffice to say that if you are at all worried about your BSB, you will include a Champion in whichever unit you intend to place him in. This is one of the few things Champions are good for anyway and you pay quite a lot for their ability to issue and accept challenges.


Stubborn units and BSBs

Currently, Stubborn seems to be the designers' favourite way of making an unimpressive unit better (or worse, in the case of Snotlings) as they crop up more and more often. However, a lot of the time the Stubborn unit has a not too impressive Leadership and there are a lot of Stubborn units out there with Leadership 8, which means that even if they don't get any modifier to their Break test, they will still fail them almost 30% of the time. Obviously these are not terribly good odds, which is why you want a BSB nearby, to give you a re-roll of that unmodified Break test. At Leadership 8 the re-roll reduces the chance of breaking to a much more acceptable 7.7%, only a quarter of the old chance.

When you have a Stubborn unit with decent Leadership and a re-roll for their Break test, it becomes a matter of pure luck if you can ever get them to break. Unless the opposing player can somehow remove the thing that makes them Stubborn - not always possible as some units are Stubborn all the time - their only real option is to kill all the Stubborn troops or to kill the BSB, which greatly increases the chance of them running away. As BSBs tend to be easier to kill than entire units, your average opponent will try to do this as hard as he can. For this reason it is usually a good idea not to have the BSB join the Stubborn unit unless he is very resistant to getting hacked, and instead have him hang around somewhere within 12" of the unit, where he can provide a re-roll without being directly in harm's way.


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