Make Some Room for the Laughing God! Harlequin Allies in 9th Edition

There is no better way to spice up your Craftworld army than by adding a detachment of Harlequins. These killer clowns offer some potent units and combos that are highly competitive when piloted well. Harlequins are also just really fun to play, and you don’t need to spend much money or paint many models to acquire a powerful allied detachment.

For the most part, these exotic cousins of our Craftworlders are close quarters combat specialists. A small squad of Harlequin Players in melee can quickly eliminate an enemy unit with twice the numbers. They hit much harder than anything available to Craftworlds except perhaps Wraithblades, but unlike wraith units, Harlequins are fast and fit easily into small transports. These transports, called Starweavers, are open topped, which means embarked Harlequin troops with Fusion Pistols can give the humble Starweaver close range fire output Equivelent to 6 Bright Lances. Add to all this the fact that Harlequin bikes are some of the most powerful cavalry in the game, and you get a potent cocktail of competitive options that can take your current army list in an exciting new direction.

I am going to suggest a base-build for a patrol detachment and ways to develop that detachment with new models when you are able and ready. This patrol has strong competitive potential as an addition to virtually any Craftworld army, and if you further develop it with the additional models I suggest, it will open up a variety of new playstyles and might become the basis for a larger independent harlequin force in the future.

If you are not familiar with the harlequin rules, you can refresh your knowledge using this free resource:

Adding Harlequin Allies, Phase 1: The Soaring Spite Fusion Boat

A “fusion boat” is slang for a Starweaver full of Harlequin Players with Fusion Pistols. Because the transport is fast and “open topped,” the embarked players can easily get within pistol range of hard targets and light them up with those fusion weapons from the safety of the vehicle.

By adding a Troupe Master, a low-cost harlequin character, you can turn a single fusion boat into a complete patrol detachment. This is without a doubt the easiest to play and least expensive option for a minimum sized competitive addition to your army.

This is patrol detachment that consists of:

1 Harlequin Troop Master armed with a fusion pistol and a harlequin’s kiss or sword. (Swap his “Choreographer of War” ability for “Darkness Bite”)
5 Harlequin Players armed with fusion pistols and harlequin blades. (save your unused sprue bits though; you will see why when we get to Phase 3.)
1 Skyweaver

Note: when you buy a box of Harlequin Players you get six models with the option to build up to one of them as a Troupe Master, so this detachment only requires you to buy one box of players and one Starweaver, (less that $75 on amazon.) 
(Although, as the box only comes with two fusion pistols, you will need to do some kit-bashing to outfit the whole squad with fusion at this low price point. Here is how to kit bash more pistols. Alternatively, just buy three boxes of players and you will have everything you need both for this build and the one that I suggest further down the page.)

Here’s how it works:
You run the detachment as the “Soaring Spite” Harlequin masque, which gives all units armed with pistols and embarked on flying transports the “assault 1” characteristic for their pistols AND removes the -1 to hit if they fire after advancing. At the beginning of the game, you embark all 6 models on the Skyweaver and position it completely out of line-of-sight. As soon as one of your enemy’s tanks or monsters moves into position to dominate part of the field, you nip out with the Skyweaver and blast the target with all 6 fusion pistols from the comfort of the transport.

The “Soaring Spite” sub faction bonus that lets you advance will make it much easier to get your transport within the 3” of the enemy necessary to let your players reroll all of their D6 damage rolls. (Also, because of the harlequin faction ability “rising crescendo,” the transport can fall back from melee and all of the embarked models can still fire as usual, so you don’t need to worry about being counter charged by a weakling unit intent on shutting down your firepower the following turn.)

TIP: If you need to get your transport closer in order to trigger your damage rerolls on the fusion pistols, you can use the “Fire and Fade” stratagem to shoot something with transport’s shrunken weapons and then move even closer to your target.

TIP: You can help keep your starweaver alive by using the “Prismatic Blur” stratagem, which will give it a 3++ save until end of turn if it advanced, (which it usually will.)

At some point, you might want to disembark your players in order to grab an objective, (they have “objective secured” after all as they are troops.) If so, or when your Skyweaver is final destroyed, the players can continue to make a nuisance of themselves with those fusion pistols, or by assaulting enemy infantry in buildings or in cover. Getting them engaged will help keep them alive, and if an enemy falls back from engagement, remember to use the stratagem “Cegorach’s Jest,” which allows them to shoot an enemy that disengages from them.

You can also have your players jump out of the transport, engage and enemy in hand-to-hand combat, and use their consolidation move to jump back in the transport using the “Skystride” stratagem. This can be a powerful tool if used well.

The Troupe Master is a special kind of awesome. He is a one-man anti-infantry melee monster. Not only does he have 5 attacks that hit on 2s, but because of his pivotal role ability “Darkness Bite,” (for which you swapped out “Choreographer of War,”) he automatically does 2 mortal wounds to any unit he attacks in the fight phase. If you want to make him even more badass, spend one CP on the “Enigmas of the Black Library” stratagem to upgrade his kiss the artifact Cegorach’s Rose. Now, once he is injured you can use “torments of the fiery pit” for 1 CP to make him even more deadly by increasing his attack characteristic by 2.

Alternatively, give him a sword and take the relic “Twilight Fang,” which is arguably one of the best artifacts in the game. It will give him additional attacks equal to the current battle round, making him absolutely monstrous in the late game.

If your Starweaver is still flying the turn after your initial strike, remember that you can begin the next movement phase by having the troop master hop out to make trouble while the Starweaver zips off somewhere else for your players to blast another big target with their fusion pistols. You might have them try to assassinate some essential enemy support character by wiping out his bodyguards with the shuriken cannons on the transport and then lighting him up at close range with those fusion pistols from the safety of the Starweaver.

What is important is that you remain flexible in your plans after the initial strike. Playing harlequins well is about being patient and not over exposing them to enemy fire unless the trade you are making is to maximum advantage.

Adding Harlequin Allies, Phase 2: Skyweavers

Skyweavers are harlequin bikes that pose a serious threat to vehicles in the shooting phase and can wreck characters and heavy infantry in melee. They play a little bit like shining spears, but they are more durable with 3 wounds instead of 2, a native -1 to hit for units targeting them, and a 4++ invulnerable save that applies in melee as well as shooting. They also have much better range, with 24” on that haywire cannon. Okay, so they aren’t much like shining spears at all, but they are really good and pretty easy to use well.

To add skyweavers to your patrol, you will need:
– 4 to 6 skyweavers built with haywire cannons and zephyglaives. (I recommend 6)
They come in boxes of 2, so you will spend about $70-$110

Here is how they work:
Run two squads of three, or a single squad of 5, and deploy them out of sight of the enemy. On your first turn, move the bikes into a position that allows them to target an enemy vehicle with their haywire cannons while staying tight to a piece of terrain that obscures them from the rest of the enemy army. The haywire cannons are absolutely brutal, especially against target with invuln saves. Six haywire cannons should deal about 9-10 wounds to an enemy vehicle regardless of its toughness and armor. If possible, now finish the target off with your craftworlds heavy support units.

On turn two, you should repeat your first turn tactic. If there are any enemy units that have advanced into melee threat range, you might also consider a charge with the bikes. Those zephyrglaives are brutal against heavy infantry. (They wound primaris marines on a 4+, have -2 AP, and deal 2 wounds.) They can also be used to finish off damaged light tanks or monsters that have over-extended themselves, but don’t let a tempting target draw the bikes into the open for a coup-de-grace melee attack unless you either have no other way to kill the target and it really needs to die, or you are willing to trade the Skyweavers for the target. Either that, or you can use this fun trick:

After the bikes have charged and attacked in melee, you can use the “Curtain Falls” stratagem for 2CP to move them again before your opponent has a chance to strike back, and because the bikes are so fast, you can likely move them out of line-of-sight of high threat shooting units. This is one of the single easiest and most powerful tricks available to a new harlequins player, and a good reason to run the bikes in a single squad of 5, instead of 2 squads of three.

On later turns, the skyweavers will be even more valuable for board control. They can nip around the board putting the hurt on vehicles skulking in the enemy deployment zone, slaughtering enemy infantry units on distant objectives in melee, and scoring secondary objectives. Some new secondary objectives require you to have units in every board quadrant which the bikes help accomplish easily, although craftworlds already have lots of highly mobile units that perform a deep strike without spending command points.

TIP: Remember you can use the “Prismatic Blur” stratagem on your bikes to give them a 3++ save until end of turn if they need to advance through open ground.

Another option available to you is to actually start by buying six bikes and a Shadowseer, rather than the fusion boat detachment, and run 3 squads of two bikes with the Shadowseer as an outrider detachment, (in which case you should run them as the “Frozen Stars” masque instead of “Soaring Spite,” which will improve your bikes’ performance in melee.) Overall, I think this is a less competitive build, as it is hard to make good use of the Shadowseer without more Harlequin models on the table, and the bikes run better in larger units. That said, having a Shadowseer unlocks the “mythic role” stratagem, which gives one of your Aeldari units a reroll to hit or to wound every single turn for the duration of the game. (This can be used on one of your Craftworld units.) If you really just want to start with harlequin bikes, this is an option. If you really want to go the bikes route for an outrider detachment, you probably should get 12-14 bikes in order to run larger squads, at which point this becomes a competitive build, but now you have lots of money, time, and points invested in Harlequins and yet you don’t have a force that offers a variety of play styles or the opportunity to learn how to use harlequin troupes and troupe masters, which are arguably the heart and soul of the faction.

Adding Harlequins, Phase 3: More Players and Transports, Unlocking Frozen Stars Melee

Your next purchase I would suggest is two more starweavers and two more boxes of players. Instead of fusion boats, this time you are building a melee force of frozen stars masque players. These acrobatic death clowns are some of the hardest hitting melee infantry in the game, and they will unlock a whole new way to play your harlequin allies.

By using the left over sprues from your fusion boat players, you should be able to create the following build:
1 Troupe Master with shuriken pistol and caress.
1 Troupe Master with shuriken pistol and kiss or sword. (Either can become a powerful artifact for a CP.)
5 Players with shuriken pistol and kiss.
5 Players with shuriken pistol and caress. (you will need left over bits from your fusion boat players.)
2 Starweavers

NOTE: You might be tempted to also give these models fusion pistols because your single Soaring Spite fusion boat kicked so much ass. Doubling up on both costly melee weapons and Fusion Pistols can be enormously effective but calls for additional finesse in how you play your flippy death murder clowns. I suspect that new players will have an easier time running individual units as EITHER fusion pistol transport monkeys OR melee monsters. Eventually, you probably will want some troupes with both, but as a player new to Harlequins you might not find the 30 additional points per squad to be a good investment. 

How to play your new detachment: You now have 15 players, three troop masters, and 6 bikes. You can either run all of these except for a single troupe master in 1 patrol detachment, or you can set your fusion boat detachment aside for now and focus on melee Harlequins and the bikes. This is what I would recommend, as it will save you some points and let you focus on developing a new play style. (Also, you will no longer have the soaring spite masque bonus, so the fusion boat would be a little weaker anyway.) You can add the fusion boat back into the mix later. Regardless of whether you run 2 or 3 Skyweavers full of players, you are now switching from the “Soaring Spite” masque to “Frozen Stars,” in order to carve your opponent’s army to pieces in melee.

Your melee harlequins serve 3 purposes. You can:
a) Use them to counter charge and eliminate powerful and fast moving enemy melee units
b) Use them to assassinate key enemy characters
c) Use them to slaughter enemy infantry on key objectives in the second half of the game

All of your players and your two troupe masters should begin the game embarked on your transports. Deploy them out of line of sight of the enemy.
Run your bikes and your fusion boat, (if you brought it,) the same way you did before. As for your melee troupes, you need to adopt a new approach.

Given the different roles that these units are going to serve in different games, I can’t really give you the same sort of turn-by-turn guide that I provided for the fusion boat and the bikes. So instead, I am going to give you a list of DOs and DON’Ts for your two boatloads of frozen stars.


-Do pick possible targets at the beginning of the game. These should includes key objectives you want to occupy, or opposing support characters that you want to assassinate. Their positions should inform your deployment and movement, but try to avoid giving away you intentions to your opponent and remain open minded in case a better opportunity or target presents itself to one of your units.

-Do move your transports conservatively turn 1. Avoid taking serious risks while getting into position to make a move at the bottom of turn 2 or top of turn 3.

-Do use the “Prismatic Blur” stratagem to help preserve your most vulnerable transport.

-Do use target saturation if you have to move your Starweavers into the open. There may be times when you absolutely have to expose your transports to heavy enemy fire. If you do, be sure to give your opponent lots of other monsters and vehicles to shoot at. Good options for a Craftworld player include your Crimson Hunters, Wave Serpents, and Wraithlords, (which are much better in 9th now that they don’t take a penalty to fire heavy weapons while charging up the now-smaller-board with a Ghostglaive.)

-Do remember that your Troupe Masters’ “Choreographer of War” ability allows nearby harlequin units, (including the troupe master himself,) to reroll failed wounds. If you have plenty of practice with DOOM, you already know what a significant damage multiplier this can be.

-Do remember that “Frozen Stars” masque Harlequins get +1 to their attack characteristic the turn they charge. This means 5 of your players with the caress put out 25 S5 attacks hitting on 3+ with a -2 AP. If they have a troop master with them, you add 6 attacks that hit on 2s and you can reroll all of your wound rolls for the players and the troupe master. Don’t underestimate just how devastating this is.

-Do remember that all your Harlequins have “Rising Crescendo,” which allows them to advance and charge, or fall back from combat and charge a different unit on the same turn if they began engaged. This will prevent your opponent from tying them up in hand-to-hand with a low cost transport or big chaff unit.

-Do remember that your frozen stars have access to the “Malicious Frenzy” stratagem for 2CP. It provides +1 to wound rolls against most enemies, but I would only use it against particularly hard targets and when you do not already have a troupe master providing rerolls.

-Do remember that you have access to the “War Dancers” stratagem. It allows a unit of Harlequins to pile in and fight a second time. At 3CP it is VERY expensive, so it is not one you will use every turn, but “War Dancers” can be the key to killing an important character unit like a space marine captain in a single round of combat, especially if you use it on a Harlequins character armed with a powerful artifact.

-Do remember you have access to the “Murderous Entrance” stratagem. For 2CP you can give your first Harlequin unit to fight after the fight phase +1 to their damage characteristic. This makes it easy for a squad of players armed with the caress to wipe out a squad of heavy infantry, like primaris marines, and can easily make the difference when a group of players or lone troupe master attempt to assassinate a character.

-Do Remember that you can split your Troupe Master and Players, having them disembark on different turns. Although he provides the Players with a nice buff, both perform well independently.

-Do continue to use you Starweavers to score secondary objectives points and put the hurt on small infantry units after you no longer require them as transports, just as you would use a Wave Serpent. Remember, you can also tie units up in hand-to-hand.

-Do try to engage several units simultaneously in melee combat if possible. In theory, if your 2 squads of bikes, 3 starweavers, 3 squads of Players, and 2 Troop Masters all charge different targets, your smallish Harlequin patrol could engage 10 enemy units in melee in a single turn. That is probably all of your opponent’s infantry.

-Do be patient. Your Frozen Stars Harlequin Players are probably better than those fusion boats, but they require a higher skill level to use effectively. It takes some work to get the hang of Aeldari melee, but there are some top players who use it to great effect. (I am not claiming to be one of those people; in fact, this is the aspect of my own game that I am working hardest on at the moment.)


-Don’t move your transports as far as possible turn 1, and then use your players to charge the closest enemy unit on turn 2 while cackling imponderable riddles of the laughing god. This strategy, which I call “get ‘em Ray,” might serve pretty well if you play orcs, tyranids, or chaos, but harlequins, (and Craftworld Eldar for that matter,) are just too fragile and expensive to make use of this blunt instrument approach to melee.

-Don’t spend a bunch of command points on multiple stratagems boosting a single melee attack when it is not necessary. Only commit as many resources as required to accomplish your objective. Harlequins require careful use of command points.

-Don’t always set out to destroy the squad that you engage. In fact, it can be useful to intentionally avoid doing so by not entering melee with all of your models and then consolidating to ‘tripoint’ an enemy model, trapping the squad in combat and preventing your opponent from falling back and shooting your harlequins on her turn. If you are not familiar with tri-pointing, here is a guide:  NOTE: there is a universal 2pt stratagem in 9th ed that allows an opponent to break out of a tri-point with a single squad once per turn, but it is likely that their squad will take casualties doing so, and costing your opponent 2 command points is still valuable.

Where to Go From Here

Congratulations. If you have collected all the models described above, you now have a highly flexible Harlequin patrol that can be run with multiple builds at a variety of costs while providing multiple competitive styles of play.

In my opinion, the models you now have constitute the best value-for-points Harlequin allied force. If all you want to do is run Harlequins as allies, you really don’t need anything else. You might want to add a few more bikes to max out those squads, or one more box of players to vary your loadouts, but you are pretty much done.

But who are we kidding? No collection is ever “done” in this hobby.

If you want to develop your harlequins even further, then it’s probably time to start think about flopping your factions; that is, you might try running Harlequins as your main force and running Craftworlds as the allies. If you decide to try this, I suggest making a craftworlds vanguard of long range heavy support, as this is the area in which Harlequins are most lacking.

My suggestion for next harlequin purchases are: a shadowseer, a Death Jester and Solitaire for variety. (The psychic awakening rules have created lots of builds for these models.) Then start adding more bikes and players. If you get that far, you will be deep enough into Harlequins to be beyond the scope of this post, so I will leave it there.

But Brent! I know harlequins are cool, but I can’t possibly paint the motley.

I am glad you raised this concern imaginary future reader, and I a few replies.

1) You don’t need to paint the motley. Google “how to paint Harlequins,” and you will find lots of resources to help you make them look really good without doing the motley. They are no more difficult than rangers.

2) The motley might not be as hard as you think, and you can always add it later. There are ways to essentially draw in the pattern with an art pen just by making lots of diagonal slashes in one direction, then the other. After that, it’s just a matter of coloring inside the lines. I am not good at freehand work, and I can make it look pretty decent.

That said, you really don’t have to paint the motley.

3) You could always hire a commission painter. This might seem like an extravagance, but if you have piles of unpainted models that you are not going to use unpainted and you keep buying more models- (like almost all of us,) you might consider shifting some of that money you would have spent on more models to commission work. If you check the “links” in the tab at the top of the page, there is contact info for a high quality, very reasonably priced commission painter.

So that’s it. You can add a really cool and competitive new dimension to your Craftworld force for under $100 and you only have to paint 6 models and a transport to get started. I don’t think there is anything else in the eldar line that will give you so much for so little. So if you are looking for a new way to develop your collection without sacrificing competitive potential, go ahead and make some room for the laughing god.

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