Beastmasters are perhaps one of the coolest units in 40k. Not only do they rip pretty much almost anything to shreds, but they can deal with armour too. They make fantastic conversions and have a variety in models to form a different looking unit.
A lot of people don't use Beastmasters the correct way, most just pile them in and hope for the best, but that's not how they work. This is how they work:
I am what I am
The Beastmaster unit is a unique and interesting unit, this is because it's not made up of X amount of models which have the same stats. Beastmasters can be a single unit made up of four different models, each one having a slightly different profile from each other and unique special rules.
You must take Beastmasters in your Beastmaster unit, each Beastmaster can be accompanied by a number of of beasts i.e 0-2 Razorwing Flocks per Beastmaster. You're allowed up to five Beastmasters per unit.
Beastmasters are your typical D.E profile, just they have I6 and 5+ armour save as they are male Wyches. They also have a skyboard, like the Hellions, though they are treated as beasts rather than jump infantry, which makes everything easier. Keep in mind the skyboard can fire some poison shots, assault 2 18".
Beastmasters only come with a close combat weapon as standard, you can upgrade this to a venom blade, power weapon or agoniser. I wouldn't upgrade this weapon at all as it's a waste of points, the Beastmaster only has a single attack. If you do find yourself with spare points, then a venom blade would be find, but nothing else is worth it.
The Beastmasters use in a unit is really to allow to take different types of beasts and also give LD8. That's all they are good so, so don't be fooled they do anything more. Also annoyingly they cost 12 points, which I think is a bit too much for a Beastmaster model considering the superior Wyches are 10 points each and Hellions 16 points each.
At first glance the Khymera looks a bit meh. It's WS4 like all the other beasts, though is the second strongest with S4 and is I6, so striking probably first. Add in it has 3 attacks base too. While the Khymera isn't uber in combat, it has another benefit and that's keeping the Beastmaster unit alive by asborbing damage with that 4+ invulnerable save. Beastmaster units particuarly don't like S6, especially if there's Razorwings in a unit. The Khymerae make excellent bullet takers in a Beastmaster unit.
Khymerae should always be in a Dark Eldar Beastmaster unit.
The Fiend is the heavy hitter of the group, the big daddy, but don't let that profile fool you into thinking the Clawed Fiend is the mutts nuts. The Fiend is S5, T5, W4, I5 and A4, excuse the pun, but that's pretty beefy.
The Fiend has a cool special rule, which gives it more attacks every time it takes a wound. Here you can be sneaky. As the Fiend has a 6+ save and four wounds, it really isn't going to be making many saves. Put all possible wounds onto the Fiend until it only has a single wound left. At this point the Fiend has lost three wounds and only has a single wound left, however the Fiend now gets a extra three attacks, which gives it a whooping eight attacks on the charge at S5 I5! Any further wounds you just allocate to the unit as normal to keep the Fiend alive ;)
Unfortunately it's not all sun and roses for the Fiend. Firstly the Fiend costs a whooping 40 points, which you could get several Khymera for that or Razorwing Flocks. Add in that all the other models in the unit are T3, so the Clawed Fiend will lose it's T5 thanks to majority toughness, bugger :( .
Razorwings are opposite to Clawed Fiends when looking at first glance. They are S3, T3, W5, I5, A6 and 6+ armour save. People just look at the small bases and think they are swarms, Razorwings are not swarms. I repeate, Razorwings ARE NOT swarms. This is a massive advantage for the Beastmaster unit, as thanks to the current method of wound allocation, Razorwing Flocks can asborb small arms fire like nobodies business.
One more good thing about Razorwing Flocks - they have the rending special rule :) .
Typically a good Beastmaster unit should cost 150 - 200 points. Anything more and the unit is sucking up points and becoming bloated. My Beastmaster units are 156 points are look like this:
3 x Beastmasters
5 x Khymerae
4 x Razorwing Flocks
This unit has a total of 20 S4 attacks and 30 S3 attacks, which 24 are rending, all on the charge. That's pretty damn evil.
As a example of how effective this unit is in combat here's a little mathshammer of my Beastmaster unit vs a standard Tactical Squad.
Beastmasters 6 attacks - hit with 3 - wound with 1
Khymerae - 20 attacks - hit with 10 - wound with 5
Razorwing Flocks - 24 attacks - hit with 12 - wound with 4, one wound will rend.
Space Marines take 10 armour saves and fail 3, plus the rending wound, so only 6 Space Marines are left.
Marines attack (presuming Sgt is alive) with 8 attacks - 4 hit - 3 wound
Beastmasters have won combat by a single wound at least before any armour saves. Due to the Beastmasters poor armour saves, the Space Marines will probably only lose combat by 1-2 wounds and will probably pass morale. However, next turn the Tactical Squad only has 6 models left and is going to get decked again.
Firstly lets get one thing clear; Beastmasters are not a preimum assault unit, they are a mop up unit and like all Dark Eldar are pick on smaller and weaker units, they are the bully. Dark Eldar are primarily a shooting unit, so blast units to bits with splinter cannons, rilfes, blasters etc and use the Beastmasters to charge into them and wipe them out. This way the Beastmasters aren't been over matched and they get pain tokens quickly, though note that the pain tokens only work for the Beastmaster himself and not the beasts, so this really is a small bonus.
Keeping in mind that Beastmasters are a mop up unit, then you'll do ok. If you throw them into Hammernators or Pallies etc, then prepare to get whipped.
Other basic tactics (which you should know) is that Beastmasters love cover, so use this best you can, however try to just use LOS blocking terrain and not dump them in area terrain. Problem when in area terrain is they do not have move through cover and can be bogged down.
The other basic tactic is that Beastmasters are great for rushing forward and doing side flank attacks. This will force the opponent to either gun down the Raiders/Venoms or tackle the oncoming Beastmasters. With the Beastmasters on the side flanks and the vehicles altogether in the centre, this gives multiple target locations and the opponent's fire power becomes split and weakened. Also, as Beastmasters are, well, beasts, they have a possible 24" total charge range (12" movement + 6" run (they have fleet) + 6" charge).
Speaking of charge and terrain, Beastmasters do not have any form of grenades, which is a big problem for when they assault units in terrain. See Beastmasters use their high initiative and number of attacks to lay the smackdown before taking a ass whooping, so going last in combat isn't a option for these guys. Only charge into terrain if you're 99.99% sure that your Beastmasters can take out or mostly destroy the enemy unit. Remember, in assault (and my example assault) you want Beastmasters to win combat, but you don't want the enemy unit to fall back, if the enemy unit is destroyed then your Beastmasters will be gunned down the following turn. Beastmasters work by just about winning combat, keeping the enemy unit locked in combat, then winning combat in the opponent's turn and then consolidating and then starting a new assault in their own turn.
We know that Beastmasters are excellent for taking out basic infantry and finishing off depleted units. What some people will find hard to believe is they can tackle vehicles as well, though vehicles are not their primary targets.
Against a vehicle which either hasn't moved or moved 6", the Beastmasters should stand a fair chance of taking it out thanks to rending attacks, plus if the Khymerae manage to immobilise the vehicle, then the Razorwing Flocks which strike after will auto hit as the vehicle now counts as immobilised ;) .
As Beastmasters are a decent size unit, you should be able to 'wrap' the entire unit around a vehicle. This will ensure several things 1. if the vehicle is destroyed that half the squad inside will die as cannot be placed within 1" of a enemy model 2. if the vehicle is wrecked the unit inside probably will be destroyed or will have to emergency disembark 3. if the vehicle survives, any unit inside cannot get out as exits will be blocked. In either situation you have either destroyed two units for the price of one, partially caused damaged to the unit inside and/or surpressed the vehicle and unit inside.
Speaking of vehicles, Beastmasters really like Dreadnoughts. I know this seems odd, but just hold onto your seat.
In a recent game two Chaos Dreadnoughts went batshit crazy and ran towards me, which is fine, as puts the Dreadnoughts in range of my weapons and Beastmasters. I charged one of these Dreadnoughts to my opponent's surprise, I guess he was thinking he would flatten them with the dccw. However, due to the large number of models in a Beastmaster unit and also they have the same weapon skill as a Dreadnought, the Beastmasters do not take a huge number of wounds and if they do the Khymerae can asborb them. My Beastmasters kept the Dreadnought tied up in combat for about four turns, when they did fall back after defeat the Dreadnought was immobilised and also lost the dccw, which means it wouldn't pivot with the lascannon. My Beastmasters did end up regrouping btw. My point is they make excellent tarpit units against certain enemy units, Dreadnoughts just do not have the weight of attacks to take them down, well any Dreadnought which isn't a Furioso with blood talons!
While this tactic isn't primarily what Beastmasters are meant to do, they can safe guard objectives from enemy troops. If a unit of Beastmasters is guarding a objective then what troop unit in their right mind is going to want to charge? Not only that the Beastmasters have the safety of cover for any shooting. If a enemy unit does come close and fails to assault them, then that enemy unit is now subject to counter assault. Seriously, if you're winning in objective games and don't want a oppoent to get another, use Beastmasters to contest it, a opponent will seriously think about going near that objective.
That's it for Beastmasters, like Cadburys would say about cream eggs, how do you do yours?