One of the original Space Marine units that, until recently, had declined in tactical value as each new edition came and went, I think now the classic Venerable Dreadnought (or three of them!) is well worth including in a competitive Space Marine list. Let’s take a look at why they have improved:
1 – Cost — Right out the gate, a stock Venerable Dread only costs the same as 5 PFs. For a WS5/BS5 walker with AV12/12/10 and 3HPs, plus both shooting and CC options and improved protection against getting “one-shotted” by a lucky Penetrating Hit, that is quite a bargain. Even if this vehicle is killed early in the game, you haven’t invested the kitchen sink in it and it (hopefully) absorb attention and combat power away from other, more important elements of your army.
2 – Versatility — Space Marine Dreads have had the option to take multiple different weapon load outs for some time now, but coupled with high WS/BS, a relentless platform that can move, shoot, and charge all in the same turn, Chapter Tactics now applying to Dreadnoughts of all variants, and the ability of Space Marine Dreads to be taken in squadrons of 1-3 and you have a true Swiss Army Knife unit that can be kitted out for almost any role. Finally, since they have the ability to take Drop Pods as a DT, their versatility in employment goes through the roof, given you the option to use them as a CC threat, melta suicide unit, objective seizer, “distraction Carnifex,” additional target saturation for a Drop Pod list, or all of the above.
3 – Close Combat — With 4 x S10 AP2 attacks base (so 5A on the charge) and WS5 (so hitting on 3+s against the majority of opponents), a Venerable Dread is basically a walker version of a Chapter Master in close combat (lower WS and I and no access to an Invul save, but multiple S10 AP2 attacks at full initiative more than makes up for this). The biggest difficulty with this is actually getting the Venerable Dread into charge range, since it can’t embark on most vehicles and does not have the option to Infiltrate/Scout in most cases. Hitching a ride on a Stormraven or a Drop Pod can help mitigate this, or the Venerable Dread can be deployed as part of a squadron as it slogs across the battlefield, thus increasing survivability and the chance that it will make it successfully into assault range. If it does ever get into assault, watch out, as it has a strong chance of killing entire squads by itself between multiple S10 attacks and the ability to Sweeping Advance at I4.
4 – Shooting — With so many options, it is hard to decide best how to equip a Venerable Dread. If you want a long range “sniper shot” to take out single models or wear down vehicles, go with a TLed Lascannon (BS5 with re-rolls means the Lascannon hits about 97% of the time). If you need a light transport buster, then the classic “Rifleman” build with 2 x TLed Autocannons is a winner. If you want versatility coming out of a Drop Pod, then a BS5 Assault Cannon gives you the ability to engage a whole range of targets. If you are hunting tanks, a BS5 Multimelta is a potent armor hunter, especially coming out of a Drop Pod and combined with either Ultramarine Tactical/Devastator doctrines (i.e. 2+ to hit from BS5 and re-rolls of 1s) or with Vulkan (for MCed BS5 melta goodness). Finally, if you just want to clear out hordes, give the walker a TLed Heavy Flamer and a regular Heavy Flamer (probably better using the cheaper “vanilla” Dread for this, since there is no advantage from BS5). Finally, Plasma Cannons give you a strong 36″ range anti-infantry weapon that can keep the Venerable Dread useful while it advances up field to charge into combat on turn 3-4.
Another thing to consider is taking Venerable Dreads in a squadron of three and then buffing the entire unit with support from a Land Raider Excelsior (i.e. Skyfire for shooting at flyers, Tank Hunter for armor engagements, Preferred Enemy for shooting at infantry/MCs, Interceptor for dealing with enemy Reserves, Split Fire for maximizing shooting efficiency, or Hit and Run for jumping out of combat to charge again/shoot more often). For example, a squadron of 3 Venerable Dreads in the “Rifleman” configuration and buffed with Skyfire from a nearby LR Excelsior put out 12 x S7 shots a turn, of which 11-12 should hit and, against an AV12 aircraft like a Stormraven, 3-4 should at least Glance; thus, this Squadron can reliably kill a Stormraven a turn, if required (unless it Jinks, but then it loses is firepower and still will likely suffer 1-2 lost HPs). Alternately, a squadron of 3 Venerable Dreads with Plasma Cannons and Interceptor can make life very bad for DSing enemy infantry, especially since they have to be all bunched up when they first come in from reserve.
5 – Chapter Tactics — While in many cases these have only a marginal (or even zero) impact on Venerable Dreadnoughts, there are still several instances in which they make them much better:
a) Ultramarine Tactics – Being able to buff to Hit rolls for shooting, assault, or both make Venerable Dreads measureable more effective and can ramp up their damage output on a critical turn or two in the game.
b) Salamander Tactics – If you go the max Heavy Flamer route, or the MM route (with Vulkan as you WL), then being one of the boys from Nocturne can make Venerable Dreads much more deadly in their shooting.
c) White Scar Tactics – Gaining Hit and Run and re-rolls for Run moves makes foot-slogging Dreads that much quicker and also gives them the option to get in and out of combat reliably when required.
d) Black Templar Tactics – While not a major buff, Adamantium Will and Crusader makes Venerable Dreads a little more resilient against Psychic attacks and a bit faster to the fight/better at Sweeping Advances.
e) Iron Hands Tactics – Gaining IWND is course a solid buff, as is improved Blessing of the Omnissiah rolls for supporting Techmarines.
f) Charcharodons (FW) – While a bit situational, getting Rage if they defeat an enemy infantry unit in combat makes Venerable Dreads that much more capable in the assault phase (i.e up to 6 x S10 AP2 attacks on the charge).
g) Raptors (FW) – Until they get amended in line with Raven Guard, they still have access to Scout/Stealth on turn 1, making their Venerable Dreads that much more mobile and survivable.
h) Red Hunters (FW) – With built in Adamantium Will and access to once a game special rules (Counter-attack, Monster Hunter, Tank Hunter, Hatred, Skyfire, or Interceptor), this might be one of the very best Chapter Tactics to use with Venerable Dreads.
I) Star Phantoms (FW) — Once a game TLed shooting for everyone and better reserve control (for Drop Pod Dreads) makes this another good Chapter Tactic for use with ancient space marines fighting inside Adamantium living battle tombs.
j) Fire Hawks (FW) – S6 Heavy Flamers on the turn they disembark from a Drop Pod is quite solid on a Venerable Dread with one or more template weapons, even if not quite as good as Salamander tactics.
The rest of the Chapter Tactics either don’t apply or have so little use (i.e. Imperial Fist Bolter Drill for re-rolling 1s to Hit on Dreadnought storm bolters) that I haven’t included them. Regardless, I think you can see how useful certain Chapter Tactics can be when combined with appropriately equipped and deployed Venerable Dreadnoughts.