Plaguebearers of Nurgle
Plaguebearers are the foxhole troops of a Daemonic legion, by which I mean their primary role is defensive. The Foxhole is a military tactic where troops dig in and defend an area as opposed to taking an offensive stance and the special rules of the Plaguebearers make them pretty good for this. Their first special rule is that they are Shrouded which grants them a +2 bonus to their cover save so in open ground they have a 5+ cover save which is the same as their invulnerable save. They also have the Slow and Purposeful special rule which means that they can't Run, make Sweeping Advances or fire Overwatch but they count as being stationary even when the unit has moved. The part about no firing Overwatch really doesn't affect them because they don't have any ranged weapons and not being able to make Sweeping Advances is good because it means that they won't move from their position once they're in place but the lack of running could prove to be an issue if they scatter too much when Deep Striking or if deployed normally so they're having to foot slog across terrain. They also count as having Defensive Grenades which has two effects depending on whether the unit is being shot at or assaulted. If the Plaguebearers are being shot at then they gain the Stealth special rule so long as the firing unit is within 8" and the Plaguebearers have not Gone to Ground. Stealth gives a +1 bonus to cover saves and stacks with Shrouded so in that situation the Plaguebearers would gain a 4+ Cover Save in open ground. It's worth noting that these rules can only stack to give a maximum of a 2+ Cover Save which is still pretty handy. When the unit is being assaulted the Defensive Grenade takes away the bonus attacks that a unit gets for charging which doesn't seem like much on the surface but when you think that big units can effectively double their attacks (see my post on the Bloodletters who do exactly that) it really takes away a lot of attacks and therefore reduces their chances of wiping out the unit.
Their stats aren't bad either, they have a WS and BS of 3, S and T of 4, W and A of 1 and a Ld of 7. Their T makes them more suited to defence than to attack but they're not too bad on the offensive if they have to make a charge. Now just like the other troops (Nurglings not withstanding) they do only have 1 wound and one attack but they use their special rules to make them more survivable and their weapons mean that they can do a decent amount of damage, but more on those later.
Once again we have the options for an Instrument and an Icon of Chaos both for a price of 10 points each. Just like the others that can take an Icon the Plaguebearers can upgrade their Icon to a Plague Banner for a further 10 points. The Plague Banner has a once per game effect that grants the Plaguebearer units Melee weapons the Poisoned (2+) special rule for that Fight sub-phase.
The final unit upgrade is for the Unit Champion who in this case is the Plagueridden and just like the other units, it has the same profile but has an extra attack and the option to take up to 20 points of Daemonic Rewards and it costs 5 points. I don't think that upgrading this one is such a bad idea if you've got the points for it as the Greater Rewards can really improve the survivability of the Plagueridden and the Lesser Rewards can give the unit an edge but you can't really bank on anything unless you plan on using weighted dice which I'm not advocating at all.
Normally I'd put the weapons that are available to the unit in with the upgrades but I feel the weapons of the Plaguebearers need their own section. The main weapon of the Plaguebearers is the Plague Sword which uses the strength value of the user (in this case a strength value of 4) and has the Poisoned (4+) and Touch of Rust special rules. Poisoned (4+) allows for Plaguebearer attacks to wound on a roll of 4+ regardless of whether they would normally need to roll higher (this doesn't take effect if the to wound roll would need to be be lower anyway). Not only does it do this but it also allows for the Plaguebearers to re-roll failed to wound rolls if their strength is equal to or higher than the toughness value of the enemy. I was curious about how effective this rule would be so I checked the reference section in the back of the rule book and it turns out that there will be re-rolls against most of the basic troops and even some of the other unit types so this rule will actually come in handy. The other special rule, Touch of Rust, only works against vehicles but it may come in handy if assaulted by a vehicle. The rule allows for an automatic glancing hit on a roll of 6 unless a lower roll is needed to cause a penetrating hit. What this means is that the Plaguebearers can go up against a vehicle that any other troop choice wouldn't have a chance against. Of course the Plaguebearers have to survive first but they have a chance to cause some damage against even the toughest vehicles. Granted it's a long shot because the roll has to be a 6 but it's still a chance. It also works well defensively as vehicles tend to be good for assaulting objectives but a unit of Plaguebearers may be able to hold against, tar pit and maybe even defeat a vehicle in this situation.
I mentioned earlier that the Plagueridden can take 20 points worth of Daemonic Rewards and can therefore take the weapons options as guaranteed (the rest are too random to really count as a sure thing). As well as the Etherblade and the Greater Etherblade which I detailed in the Bloodletters analysis, Nurgle Daemons are able to take a Plague Flail and/or a Balesword. The Plague Flail is the Lesser Reward and costs 10 points. It gives a +1 bonus to the users strength, has the Specialist Weapon rule and the Contagion rule. The Contagion rule forces any model that suffers an unsaved wound from this weapon to take a toughness test or suffer another wound with no armour or cover saves allowed. Owing to the specificity of the saves that are ignored I presume that Invulnerable saves can be taken as usual.
The Balesword is a Greater Reward and costs 20 points. It uses the strength of the user (again, 4 in this case), it has the Instant Death (unsaved wounds outright kill a unit regardless of toughness), Poisoned (4+), Specialist Weapon and Touch of Rust special rules. This weapon looks to me to be a character killer because it makes killing multi-wound characters that much easier. As great as these weapons are I think that they're wasted on a one wound, average strength character. As with the other unit commanders I'm of the opinion that upgrades are a luxury and not a necessity. Of course if you have points to spare then go for it but if not then save and spend somewhere else. I will add, however, that if/when you decide to start upgrading Troop choice unit leaders then of the three I've reviewed so far this is where to start (this may change when I get to the Daemonettes but if it does then I'll edit this out) and my reasons for this I'll outline in my conclusion.
Like I said in opening, Plaguebearers are designed to capture objectives and hold them for a fairly long time or at least contest them for longer than 5 seconds. Their rules combine to give them great survivability and their weapons are designed to eliminate threats quickly after being attacked. Now I mentioned in the last section that if you're going to upgrade unit leaders then you should start here and this is why; if you're using Plaguebearers as objective holders then they are going to be targets for the strongest scoring units that the enemy has so they need to be able to survive and repel attacks. Yes the Bloodletters, Horrors and Daemonettes will take hits as well but the scenarios given in the Rule Book are almost all objective based so capturing and holding them is crucial to victory so a decent power up will go a long way towards helping there. As with the other troop choices they are specifically designed to do a job and they do that job pretty well. They can of course do the jobs of the other troops (apart from the Horrors) but they won't do it as well. Plaguebearers can't run nor can they make a sweeping assault (they also can't Turbo Boost, move Flat Out or fire Overwatch but being as they're not a vehicle unit nor do they have ranged weapons that's not really something to cry about).
Plaguebearers are a defensive unit and should be treated as such so get them to the nearest objective, use them as a meat shield or have them guarding a Portalglyph but don't try to dash them across the battlefield into combat because they will get obliterated before they even get close much less land a blow. Yes they're tough but they can only move 6" a turn and have no ranged attack to compensate for their lack of running ability. Also the fact that their Initiative value is only 2 means that even if they do assault a unit they will more than likely be attacking last anyway which will diminish their damage capacity. The basic unit costs 90 points and the full 20 costs 180 points, adding the Icon, Instrument and Plagueridden comes to 25 points. The Plague Banner and full amount of gifts come to 40 points so we're talking 245 for 20 Plaguebearers, fully upgraded which isn't too bad for a walking defence line. As far as the Plaguebearers are concerned the best defence is NOT a good offence; remember that and you'll make Father Nurgle a proud deity.