Dwarf Army Book Review – Part 1 – Why play them, Army Special Rules and Dwarf Armoury

A few years ago, with dedicated warhammer race specific forums starting to shut down, I took upon myself the task of extracting as many different reviews and tactics documents as I could, scouring the net, with the aim of weaving them into one larger tactica for each race on the EEFL forum. A few of the other forum members also jumped on the band wagon and between us, we were reasonably successful in the task, though I’m sure we missed a great deal and there were some forums that had already bitten the dust by the time I started (Ogre Stronghold was one).

The Dwarf & Wood Elf tactica sections were more of a labour of love to me, being that they are close to my heart and it was helped by Bugman’s Brewery being one of the forums that was and still is quite active and the fact that one of their members had already gone to the trouble of putting together a similar article.

However there was one thing that I took it upon myself to do from scratch and that was the army book review. Sure there were several knocking about already but I didn’t necessarily agree with all their thoughts. So the next couple of posts will be me transferring what I wrote, onto my own blog, mainly as another backup!

Part 1 – Why play them, Army Special Rules and Dwarf Armoury

Why Play them?

Are you getting on a bit in years?
Do you feel as if you are a bit of a grumpy bastard with tendencies to say stuff like: “in my day youths were bought up to respect their elders”, while using a pipe to emphasis your point.
Does ‘remembering when all this were fields’, ‘gobbo’s were twice the size of those knocking around today’ and other reminiscing for the ‘good old days’ bring a tear to your eye?
Do you have an excess of bodily hair and the inability to forget a slight against you, your clan or anything else?

Congratulations you have found the army for you.

Oh you want a bit more on what they bring to the table? Well in that case draw yourself a Bugman’s, pull your stool closer to the hearth young beardling and I’ll tell you more.

How they play

There is no two ways about it, a dwarf army will lend itself to having a heavy shooting phase. It has a lot of strong shooting elements and their artillery can be buffed to insane levels, making it the envy of any other race (looking at you manlings – who do you think gave you the gift of black powder). It isn’t recommended to take just shooting though, they are not 40k’s Tau! The army works best using a combined arms approach. Plenty of artillery backed up with missile troops and some combat blocks. You can slant towards combat if you want, as your melee troops are excellent but with your low movement it makes this a tougher proposition but there are tricks and builds to assist this route.

Special Rules

You have to start with the fluffiest of the rules: Ancestral Grudge.

Dwarves have always hated Orcs and Goblins, for all the pain and grief that race have caused them with the holds that have been defiled etc. The Greenskins may not of been the root cause of the earthquakes and other ‘natural’ disasters that weakened the bastions of the stunties (I believe that was actually the Skaven or perhaps the Slann, depending on which lore is current) but they capitalised on this the most and more than a fair few settlements have fallen to various waaaaaaahs. In this edition they finally recognised that the Skaven have caused as much hurt to the Karaks as the greenskins and also given the dwarves hatred against them.
OK, so you only get Hatred (re-rolls to hit in the first round of combat) automatically against 2 of the 16 armies but it is fitting that it is these two (although I’ve heard good arguments for adding High Elves to that list).

On top of this you still get a 33.3% chance to get hatred against the other 14 armies. You roll a D6 after deployment and on a 5-6 your army will hate your opponents. Epic stuff. Rolling a 3-4 is a bit more MEH as it only gives your characters hatred against the enemy characters (situational but could help against Warriors with all their challenges) or rolling a 1-2, your general hates the enemy general, which is normally as useful as a chocolate teapot (not very…).

So all in all, I love this rule and think it really epitomises the dwarves. The roll is perhaps a bit too random but army wide hatred can help swing a battle (if the dwarves actually get into combat!).

Natural Resistance

Dwarves have always had a natural resistance to magic and this is reflected by always letting them dispel as a level 2 wizard (+2 is added to your dispel rolls). In an age when you rarely face an army without a level 4 wizard, it helps to bridge the gap but isn’t over powered by any means. When wizards have the ability to lose concentration, knowing that you will always get +2 on your roll, even if you failed to dispel a previous spell cast, is nothing to be sniffed at.


Another rule that Dwarves have had as long as I can remember. The ability to March if you are within 12″ of an enemy model/unit without testing on Leadership. I’m not going to complain about this, as we all know that tests fail at the worst moment but with their naturally high leadership and with BSB’s allowing you to roll any leadership test in this edition, it is unlikely dwarves would have failed a test to march anyway. Still, with movement 3, knowing you can always march is one less thing to worry about.

Dwarf Crafted

In previous editions (if memory serves correctly) this rule gave dwarf handguns +1 to hit. In this edition it changed so that all missile weapons with the rule (crossbows, handguns, pistols, Drakeguns, Drake Pistols) don’t suffer a -1 to hit when the unit is charged. This isn’t as good as a +1 to hit but it does apply to, basically, any ranged weapon that isn’t a warmachine and with their movement of 3 dwarves tend to get charged a fair bit. With a mainly BS of 3, this helps maximise hits on a stand and shoot reaction, which is never a bad thing. It does however emphasis and play to the strengths of a gunline, one of the reasons some opponents don’t like to play dwarves, so read into that as you will. It also combines nicely with:

Shield Wall

If your unit has shields, this rule and is charged, you get +1 to your parry save that turn. This is a great rule and with the lack of penalty when standing and shooting (meaning you are likely to choose this option as a charge reaction), ensures that it is seriously worth considering putting shields on all of your missile troops. It further has some great synergies with one of the runic standards you can take (more on that later).


Models with this rule get +1 Str when they charge. This is another fairly situational rule and one I was surprised to see in the book. I wasn’t entirely sure where it came from and am not sure if it was in the previous edition. With crap base movement, dwarves shouldn’t normally be charging opponents. That isn’t to say that they can’t, there is at least one runic banner that assists with this and when you do, an extra pip of strength and the additional modifier to a save, is never unwelcomed. I feel it mainly helps with dwarves armed with hand weapons and shields as they benefit most from the extra strength, though it can come as a nasty surprise when your tooled up, magic weapon wielding, character suddenly gains an extra +1S.

So they have 6 special rules. Some are more useful than others but there are none which are in anyway bad.

Dwarf Armoury

I’ve not only included the standard items from the armoury section but I’ve added the unit/character specific items too (excluding the special character items).

Dwarf Crossbow/Handgun/Pistols – These are the same as the standard BRB weapons but all have the dwarf crafted special rule (see above).

Gromril Armour – This gives the wearer a 4+ save that can be combined with shields etc. in the normal way.

Forge Proven Gromril Armour (Irondrakes Only) – Confers the same 4+ save as the basic Gromril Armour. On top of that it gives a 6++ ward save and a 2++ ward save vs flaming attacks. Fantastic armour to have on rank and file and part of the reason I love Irondrakes so much. This is pretty much High Elf Dragon Armour but why oh why is it not available to dwarf characters?

Drakegun (Irondrakes Only) – A S5, 18″ range, dwarf crafted, armour piercing, quick to fire, flaming attack weapon. A model with this, can: move and shoot and can always stand and shoot (no matter the range), with no additional penalties (bar the long range negative) and these shots confer a -3 to armour saves. The shorter range and flaming, means you have to pick your targets but I feel these are hands down the best ranged, unit, weapon in the game.

Brace of Drakefire Pistols (Ironbreaker or Irondrake Champion Only) – As per the drakegun but 2 S5 shots that have a 12″ range. As a ranged weapon they will normally have a -2 penalty to hit (from long range and multiple shot) but range is not why you take them. You take them for the S4 flaming attacks they give your champion in combat (and the +1 extra attack is an added bonus). It is worth noting that a model armed with them still receives the +1S when charging as the Resolute rule applies to the model. They are really worth considering for the Ironbreakers champion (let alone the Irondrakes) and it is very rare I don’t take this free upgrade.

Trollhammer Torpedo (Irondrake Champion Only) – A 24″ range, S8 flaming, D3 multiple wound, slow to fire weapon. On paper this looks good as it is a boosted bolt thrower that a unit champion can take. However no matter how often I take it I’m always disappointed. The champion only has a BS of 4 so if the unit moves (and it is rare I keep it static) it immediately drops to a 4+ (or 50%) chance of hitting and with a range of only 24″, it is also almost always at over half range. This means it only hits on a 5+. Needless to say, with my lack of ability to ever roll high on a single dice, I’ve rarely managed to hit anything of note with this gun. You may have a different opinion but i’d say leave it at home and use the 20pts saved to buy an additional irondrake.

Cinderblast Bomb (Ironbreaker or Irondrake Champion Only) – A 2-8″ missile weapon (range is based on an artillery dice), that uses stone thrower rules (except you can move and fire).  It uses the small template, with S3 (6). On a misfire, roll a D6 and only on a 1 will the template go on your champion’s head. There have been some rule arguments on whether you can stand and shoot with it but they are largely irrelevant as for a cost of 15 points you won’t be taking it anyway, as you will either be keeping the standard unit armament to ensure the 3+ save with 5++ parry or be equipping the free brace of drake pistol upgrade!

Blasting Charges (Miners Only) – A one use missile weapon with a range of 4″ that is S4, armour piercing, flaming and quick to fire. My main issue with these is they are purely a defensive weapon as, due to their range, I can’t see why you would ever use them except in a stand and shoot reaction. That might not be a bad use for if they are charged on the turn they enter the board except, it is a situational upgrade and (I think, without double checking the BRB) they will still get a -1 long range penalty shot on a stand and shoot as well as the -1 for the stand and shoot reaction. So 6’s to hit. If I’ve not read this incorrectly (and I may well not have and will change this if corrected) then it is a great fluffy upgrade but cost and effectiveness wise a pointless one.

Edit: as mottdon pointed out, they could be useful on the turn you enter the battlefield, as the miners could come on just behind an enemy unit and then throw the charges. As such, they might be close enough to be in short range (so hit on 4+) or at long range (5+). It is still fairly situational though.

Steamdrill (Miner Champion Only) – Apart from allowing a re-roll of a failed ambusher arrival, this gives the champion a +3S attack rather than a +2S for a great weapon. It’s a bit pricey but if you are running a larger miner unit and want to give the best chance of it appearing, fully worthwhile for the re-roll alone. The additional +1S is just gravy.

Oath Stones (Dwarf Lord or Thane Only) – This is the first of the dwarf equivalent of a mount and is available to generic lords and thanes. It has a number of special rules. A unit that contains a character on an oath stone can never choose to flee as a reaction (as if you would ever run as a dwarf, the shame!) and the unit can never be disrupted. The unit can also make parry saves to flanks and rear. Any Character on an Oathstone must accept challenges.

Immunity to being disrupted (so not losing combat res for ranks) is a really good bonus to have and this is often overlooked, as peeps home in on the parry rule.

You will most often see oath stones used by a Thane who is kitted out for protection to give survivability in challenges (a 1+ save from the Master Rune of Gromril, perhaps a rune of Iron for +1W and great weapon is the classic build and my favourite). Placing this character in a unit of Ironbreakers and putting them to guard a flank is again the most used option and in fairness probably the best use of it, as not only will they always get their 5+ parry against attacks from any direction but the additional strength of the Thane from the great weapon, helps against things the rest of the unit might struggle against (e.g. high armour or high toughness).

Shieldbearers (Dwarf Lord Only) – This is the other ‘mount’ (and my personal favourite as it reminds me of the chief from the Asterix comics) but unlike the Oath Stone is only available to the generic Lord. The mount adds 2 wounds to the lord (representing the 2 dwarves holding the shield and bumping him to a respectable 5 in total) and +2 to his armour (giving him a 2+ save as he comes as standard with a 4+ from his Gromril armor). On top of this, he gains 2 WS5, Str 4 attacks from the ‘mount’ (2 dwarves) and still counts as infantry. This is the starting base of the fabled unkillable Dwarf Lord (see Lords section).

The cost of this is a measly 40pts. I do think this is probably under-costed but I suppose it is offset by (as normal with dwarves) by the limited movement. You just have to find a way to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

Anvil of Doom (Runelord Only) – The Anvil is a Runelord specific ‘mount’. Like the shieldbearers the ‘mount’ adds 2 wounds to the lord (representing the 2 dwarves guarding the Anvil and again bumps the lord to a respectable 5 in total). He also gains 2 WS5, Str 4 attacks from the ‘mount’ (again curtesy of the 2 dwarf guards).
Where the Anvil starts to differ, is that the Lord gains a 5++ ward save instead of +2 to his armour (and combined with the natural magic resistance of the lord, this gives it a 3++ ward vs direct damage spells). The model’s troop type does change to ‘Warmachine’ but gets the unbreakable rule (over the stubborn rule that other dwarf warmachines get). The Anvil also automatically gives you +1 power and +1 dispel dice in the relevant phase. This is on top of the Lords ability to try and channel additional dice in the same way as a wizard. So far so good then.

The main draw of the anvil is that it gives the dwarf army access to a magic phase (in the form of 3 below bound spells):

1) Hearth and Home – Bound lvl 3 – Augment – 24″ range – gives all friendly dwarf units Immune to Psychology until your next magic phase.

A decidedly lacklustre spell. High leadership means dwarves rarely panic or fail other psychology tests. You rarely choose to flee as a dwarf, so removing that option as a side effect of the spell is not really a negative (though if a gyrocoptor gets caught in the bubble that could cause issues, as that is your one real redirector and so you may often want to retain that option with it and this spell could screw up your plans!).

2) Oath and Steel – Bound lvl 4 – Augment – unlimited range – adds +1 to a single units armour save until your next magic phase.

An excellent spell and probably the main reason you will be taking an anvil. Dwarf infantry have saves between 5+ and 3+ and the ability to bump these by a pip is fantastic. The issue is you will hardly ever cast this.

3) Wrath and Ruin – Direct Damage – 24″ range – 2D6 S4 hits

A fairly standard magic missile in an army that already has an abundance of S4 or above shooting options. The one good thing about this spell is it has a 360’ field of fire.

There are a number of flaws with the anvil:

1) The first that two of the spells just aren’t that useful in the dwarf army for the reasons already stated. That means they will inevitably be saving their dice to dispel Oath and Steel (the one spell you will want to cast), which means you will be trying to 6 dice this as much as possible.

2) The second is that they are bound spells. Sure you will never lose the spells from a miscast (as they are innate bound spells – BRB – pg 37) but most enemies will gain +4 to try and dispel them, as it is rare you don’t face a level 4 wizard across the board.

3) The third reason is that you can’t embed the Anvil into a unit, this means that part of the reason for taking a Runelord (their AP) is wasted and it becomes vulnerable to anything that would normally target loan characters or other warmachines.

4) The fourth reason that comes to mind (i’m sure there are more) is the cost. Ignoring the cost of the Runelord himself, that you need to take to access it, the basic anvil upgrade is the same cost as a kitted out unit of 10 thunderers or quarellers. These put out a guaranteed 10 S4 shots a turn and can count towards blood and glory scenario etc. I know which one I would rather take.

5) With it changing to a unit type of warmachine, if it it is targeted by a characteristic test spell and fails, it will immediately be removed!

Oh and it’s worth noting that the combined cost of the Runelord with Anvil is 300 points (and that is before giving him the compulsory spellbreaker rune etc.) and he only has a initiative of 3 so god forbid you have to take an initiative test or die reaction to one of the nastier spells, as you don’t even get the benefit of the look out sir rule that a lot of clubs and competitions normally give.

It is a real shame as the Anvil is an iconic dwarf unit but apart from fluff reasons I can’t see any reason to take it in this edition. If pressed, you could perhaps use it to anchor a flank as you can make it pretty defensible and combined with the high wound count and unbreakable, it won’t be going anywhere unless a serious threat was bought to bear against it, though this would work better if you were castling (not something I like to promote).

As an aside, it is worth noting that the anvil CAN move without impacting any of its abilities, it just moves at the Runelords base movement of 3″. It doesn’t make a lot of difference but the current model gives the impression that it should remain static.

Having said all that, it is worth pointing out that, as bound spells, even if you fail to cast one, it doesn’t stop you still attempting to cast another of the spells. This is because you can always cast bound spells, even if you lose concentration (BRB pg 37). So on a really low magic phase (such as the dreaded 2 or 3 roll), you could attempt to cast each spell on a single dice and your opponent would still have to roll a 3 to dispel it. In this situation, your opponent having a level 4 would not necessarily be an advantage as they would still need to make the 3+ dice roll. Otherwise on a larger phase you could still throw 1 or 2 dice at the more situational spells, trying to draw out the dispel dice and then try to force through the one you want with a miscast.

8 thoughts on “Dwarf Army Book Review – Part 1 – Why play them, Army Special Rules and Dwarf Armoury

  1. This is very handy and well timed, I’ve been looking out my old unpainted dwarves over the last few days and thinking yet again about finally getting that long-planned army up and running. It’s a shame that so much knowledge regarding WHFB is drifting away as these forums disappear, thanks for doing your bit to keep it alive and available.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The biggest loss was the old warhammer.org as that just seemed to go under without warning. At least with things like Da Warpath and the Herdstone, the mods managed to move it to another platform where you could at least access the articles, even if you couldn’t post them anymore.
      This will be the first of a great many posts on army books and tactics I think, so hopefully you’ll get some use from them. As ever, any mistakes or if you see any errors, let me know.

      Liked by 2 people

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