Sisters of Battle. Adepta Sororitas. However you want to refer to them, the Battle Sisters of Warhammer 40,000 are the militant branch of the Imperium’s Ecclesiarchy. They are instruments of purification and faith, cleansing the universe of heresy and xenos via their Holy Trinity of Bolter, Flamer, and Meltagun. It’s been 6 years since we last saw an Adepta Sororitas codex and there has been some fleshing out and detailing of their lore in the intervening years.
The Adepta Sororitas traces its origins to a monastic and militant group women whose faith in the Emperor was exploited by Goge Vandire, the Terran High Lord who usurped simultaneous control of both the Adeptus Ministorm (the Church) and the Adeptus Administratum (the State. His rule was known as the Reign of Blood; he carried out aggressive purges, assassinations, and ruled with a brutal iron fist.
Early in his reign, agents informed him of a monastic order of combatants known as the Daughters of the Emperor. They lived an isolated life on the planet San Leor, and Vandire set out to manipulate them into taking up arms as his personal guards. Banking on the fact that their isolation kept them in the dark about Imperial Technology, Vandire had one of his attendants shoot him point-blank in front of the Daughters. He declared that he was the Regent of the Emperor who would keep him safe. When the light faded from the las pistol shot, Vandire stood unharmed having been protected by his Rosius. The Daughters didn’t know that unfortunately, and immediately swore their loyalty to the tyrant.
In his service, they fought with the faith and fury that has always defined them. It wasn’t until forces loyal to the true Emperor attacked Vandire that the truth would be revealed. Surrendering himself to the Daughters and their leader Alicia Dominica, the leader of the Adeptus Custodes escorted her and her attendants directly to the chambers of the Emperor himself. What occurred has never been recorded, but when Dominica emerged she was filled with a new righteous purpose. She strode directly to Vandire, declared him a traitor, and sentenced him to death under his own laws. With one stroke of her power sword, she removed his head and ended the Reign of Blood.
In the aftermath, Sebastian Thor led the Ecclesiarchy in a series of reform. One of the most important was the divestment of the Ministorum’s armed forces. Vandire had maintained his rule in part due to his control of military assets. The exception to this was the Daughters of the Emperor, whose faith was reward when they were reformed as the Adeptus Sororitas. In the past, the founding of the Adepta Sororitas was credited to the exploitation of a “no men at arms” provision. While Eowyn loves a good loophole, I prefer the revision in which they’ve earned their right to fight for the Emperor based on their faith and deeds.
Codex Adeptus Sororitas
If you’re looking for information on the new rules for the Sisters, check out our previous Goonhammer coverage of this codex. One of my favorite parts of any codex is the narrative description of the units. I’m of course eager to know how my toys are going to play out on the table, but the story behind them is just as important. Given that we’re getting a full line of new models with this release, I was particularly excited to read about the new units.
One of the most stunning new models in the range is the Triumph of St. Katherine. So devoted to their martyred patron is the Order of Our Martyred Lady that when needed, they will proceed into battle with her bones and actual heart on display. These holy artefacts are protected by Sororitas attendants, each bearing a Holy Relic that provides in-game benefits.
I love this unit, and its a fantastic example of how Warhammer’s rich lore can inform a miniature and the rules. The lore section on the Triumph describes the holy remains of St. Katherine as emitting a palpable effect. Sisters battling in the area can hear the heart beating and feel a radiant warmth bolstering their faith. On the table, the model provides various aura effects to nearby units. Because these effects are tied to the relics wielded by the Sisters who are part of the processional, as this single model takes damage the player loses individual benefits one at a time. The Sisters are dying, their relics falling unwielded by a faithful hand. Not only is it Warhammer as hell, the narrative informs the rules informs the model.
The grimdark doesn’t stop with the parade of a still-beating heart, however. The Sisters range and lore leans into the the darkness of the Warhammer setting. The Codex points out that the Sisters are really only one part of the Ministorum, they’re the Order Militant. Faithful, yes. Preachers? No. The Sisters are not sent to convert, they are sent to cleanse. They’re not sent to pray with the enemy, they’re sent to purge it. If the Sisters are dropping onto a planet – filling the airwaves with hymns of reckoning as they descend – it’s because the Ministorum has given up trying to spread the Emperor’s light through words. Now illumination will arrive via brutal holy flamer.
Speaking of brutality, few things exemplify the brutality of the Adepta Sororitas like the Penitent Engine.
The sisters are a Holy Order. They’re so holy that they drop massive cathedrals out of their spaceships to flood an area with holy water and consecrate it – seriously, that’s in the codex. There is nothing they revere more than the Emperor; nothing they hate more than a heretic. So when they come across a heretic and decide it’s time to meet out judgement, they do one of the most metal things in the entire universe.
The unfortunate soul is handed over to the master torturers of the Ecclesiarchy and wired into one of a variety of Engines of Penance, their synaptic systems spliced into the very mechanics of the walker along with a chem injector grafted to their spine. Once activated, the machine drives the unwilling pilot into a state of anguished frenzy, bombarding the heretic’s mind with a mix of overwhelming physical pain and guilt-inducing sermons on an endless loop. Thus the pilot is driven into a death-seeking frenzy, their desperate need to make the horror end driving the machine forwards towards the enemy lines, perceiving the enemy only as a mocking reflection of their own visage as they drive their spinning buzz-blades into them again and again and again and again, the only relief coming in a spectacularly gory death.
The Penitent Engine is straight up brütal, umlaut and all. This thing belongs on an album cover, the entire concept is so violently Warhammer it’s honestly a shock that the new models, as beautiful as they are, aren’t just entirely made of skulls.
And yet with this new Codex, Games Workshop went a step beyond.
Meet the Mortifier. A Penitent Engine piloted by a disgraced Battle Sister who failed her chance as a Repentia and has been granted one final chance in a glorious, heretic-smiting death. Rather than rely on simple pain to get the subject in a berserk mood, the fallen Sister’s brain chemistry is altered to induce a state of permanent spiritual depression which spurs the machine on to its killing rampage. Not content with the death sentence piloting such a machine entails, the Sororitas pilots are also fitted with neurological baffler hoods, that blind the victim to the satisfaction of righteous slaughter and the soothing prayers of mercy from her former sisters.
And then we get grimmer still.
Anchorites are Mortifiers created from the worst possible sin a Sister could commit, betrayal. These wretches are not only subjected to the same psychosis inducement that their lesser kin suffer, but are then permanently sealed within an iron maiden-like deprivation cell that not only isolates them from everything but their spiritual suffering, but works to keep them alive through the most grievous of damage so to prolong their personal hell. Some Anchorites are truly ancient and all but the most senior of Sororitas are forbidden from approaching them, lest their spiritual rot spreads.
If anyone tells you that Warhammer 40k has gotten softer and lighter, it’s totally legal to bean them in the face with a copy of this codex. Consider it the smiting hand of the Emperor.
On a lighter note, how about some Seraphim who’ve experienced a direct connection to the God Emperor and have completely checked out as a result?
Zephyrim are direct conduits to the Emperor’s divinity, second only to the Saints themselves in heavenly grace. They can only speak in long dead languages, riddled prophecy and angelic hymns, and seem almost completely unaware of all but the most sanctified of the faithful the vast majority of the time.
Once they hit the battlefield however, this serene haze transforms into hyperfocused brutality. Swords crackling, pistols booming, abominations falling in their wake. The sheer zealotry of the Zephyrim invokes a holy fire in their fellow Sororitas, spurning them on to fight all the harder to prove themselves to such shining beacons of holy fury.
Tales of Righteous Rage
A timeline of pivotal battles in the history of the Adepta Sororitas spans 4 pages in the new Codex. These sections are always great looks into the past and future stories of a faction. Some are stories we know the details of, like the birth of the faction. Others are seeds planted for future campaigns or Black Library novels.
One such story that leaves a lot of mystery is the Exorcism of the Infected. Set in the aftermath of the opening of the Great Rift, a force of Sisters of the Argent Shroud respond to a distress call. The entire system of Yanthilmar has been devastated by the plagues of Nurgle; entire planets have been reduced to shambling Poxwalkers and horrible disease. The only survivors in the entire system have retreated to a small moon to pray for deliverance. When the Sisters arrive, they excavate a hidden cathedral with an antenna spire and begin praying. After 3 days, a blinding silver light bathes the planets of the Yanthilmar System in holy light. The Sisters depart to cleanse each planet 1 by 1. What transpires is not recorded, but the survivors report arriving on these planets to them littered with mangled – but disease free – corpses.
Another battle that I hope is given a larger narrative treatment one day is the The Threshing Fields. A force of Sisters from the Order of the Bloody Rose are given a divine vision that they must halt their travel to Ultramar and stop on a small planet in the Thresh System. They find nothing, but array themselves for war and wait for guidance. After a day of prayer a tendril of Hive Fleet Ouroboris emerges in the system and makes immediately for the Sisters. The battle is horrible and brutal, with the Sisters immolating the bodies of every slain Sister and Tyranid in an effort to deprive the Tyranids of biomass. It works and the Sisters are victorious; well a Sister is victorious. The lone survivor on the entire planet when the blood stops flowing and the ash finally settles is Sister Assumpta, the Sister gifted with the visions that brought them to the planet in the first place..
To Be Continued in Psychic Awakening
Codex Adepta Sororitas is a fantastic new release. Sisters players should celebrate not only the new rules, but also the deep narrative. Games Workshop has pulled out the stops in this one by turning the grimdark dial up to 11, seemingly making up for a few years of the Sisters feeling like a bit of an afterthought. They’re emerging as the champions of their own story, with an expanded model line to boot. It’s a good time to be a Sisters player.
Although chronologically released prior to the current Adepta Sororitas Codex, Psychic Awakening II: Faith and Fury also contains stories of the Sisters of Battle’s desperate fight against the Word Bearers for the soul of the Talledus System. For more on that story, check out our review of the lore in that book here. And as always, if you have any questions, comments, or feedback, drop us a note in the Comments below or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.