Codex Adeptus Custodes: The Crusade Rules Review

Games Workshop were nice enough to send us a copy of this book for review.

If there’s any faction that should be running around doing Crusades in the name of the Emperor, it’s probably not the guys that hang out in the palace all day and never leave except when two or three of them need to beat up on like 500 cultists. But that’s how the game works, you get a codex and it has Crusade rules in it. With the Talons of the Emperor, your regular joes would be considered heroes in any other book, and they can all earn their names here. Come and see, what your “army” of like 15 weird loners and their hovering motorcycles can get up to. But it’s not just Custodes: there’s content in here for Sisters of Silence as well. They also rule.


Five options here, three for Custodes, one for Sisters of Silence, and one for both.

One of the Custodes agendas technically isn’t just for them. Bound for the Dark Cells lets your opponent pick one objective, and you can do an Activity on it. Any infantry unit can do the activity, which means either a Custode or a Sister, and if you complete it the objective is Locked. Much like Banners What Have Been Raised High, it stays locked until or unless someone else opens it back up. If it’s locked at the end of the game, a Custodes unit near the objective gets 2XP, a Custodes unit that did the Activity gets 2 more, and if both of those events happen, your Warlord (Custode or not) gets two more XP. There’s two ways to read this: Sisters can help out Activity-wise if you’re running a mixed army and still want some benefit, OR just have a Custodes Warlord do the Activity themselves, and net 6XP for his trouble. Incredibly powerful.

Pendulin's Custodes 2021 Year in Review
Pendulin’s Custodes 2021 Year in Review

Beanith: I quite like this one, at first glance it looks like any of the other ‘opponents chooses your objective’ but as Greg has pointed out, this one allows you to either spread the XP around or focus it all on your Warlord. Plus the action can be completed in the last turn as a possible Hail Mary manoeuvre as well which makes for an excellent story.

Pursuit of Excellence is a Mario Kart catchup mechanic for your most scrub-tier unit. The unit in your army with the lowest experience total can gain a single experience for each of the following: didn’t die (seems reasonable, these are Custodes after all), made something else die (again, ok), made the most things die (good luck with that one), or was holding an objective at the end of the game (sure). Between this and Marked For Greatness, low-XP units can slingshot to the top of the heap.

Beanith: Another solid choice especially if you use it in conjunction with the Honored Advancement Requisition (covered later in the article) to quickly power up that Custode Unit that was dropped back to Battle-hardened when Steeve went onto become a Shield Captain.

The one that benefits both types of insane super soldier is Judgement Delivered, which would be the coolest-named thing in this book if it weren’t for Unstoppable Destroyer. It’s a copy of Angels of Death from Codex Space Marines: if there are no enemy models at the end of the game, every unit from every Shield Host, Sisterhood, infantry, dreadnought, vehicle, and jet bike reality come in with everything for a HUGE 3 experience points.

Shed the Black is I guess not for Shadowkeepers? A unit with a Battle Scar can take this, and gain 1XP if they killed a unit, another if they killed 3 units, and another if they killed the most units of anyone in your army. It’s not a great way to farm experience here, but the real juice here is that if the unit accomplishes any two of those things, the battle scar drops off. So mark a unit, have them kill one thing without anyone else doing anything, then bottle out, mark them for glory just for fun, and take +5XP and -1 battle scar. Healing your battle scars by bathing in the blood of your enemies is very cool, and a fun little narrative for a game, even though you could just spend RP to do the same thing. Love it.

Sisters can do it for themselves with The Great Tithe. If anyone kills a PSYKER, they drop a marker, and if a Sisters of Silence unit does an Activity on their corpse (you’ve played Halo, do the math), they get 3XP (up to twice each per unit per game) and the marker disappears. If anyone at all pulls off the Activity, gain a Requisition Point too. This is another great narrative hook, but also an easy alley-oop if you’re running Sisters into a psyker-heavy army. Ridiculous ceiling for XP gains.


Adeptus Custodes Blade Champion painted by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

Captain-Commander makes your dude a Shield-Captain, which is cool because that’s where Unstoppable Destroyer lives.

Artefact of the Vaults is your library card. It lets you either check an Artefect out of the rare books section but it’s due back at the end of your current Imperative (see Magisterium Lex Ultima, below), or you can return a model’s normal relic and check out a new one, which is a nice cheap way to partially re-spec.

Earning of a Name requires picking a name for a character, which we love to see. They get an always-on Ka’tah stance and an always-on shield host fighting style (in addition to the normal one). Using this multiple times on the same unit overwrites the Ka’tah/fighting bonuses, but you get to keep the name, as a treat. Is this as cool as the Necrons’ Dynastic Epithets table? Honestly, not quite, but it’s nice to see them try it again.

Honoured Advancement is kind of weird. A Custodes CORE unit that gains the Heroic or Legendary rank can use this, and it immediately performs cellular mitosis. The unit drops to 16 XP and 2 battle honors, and splits out a character. The character is the powerhouse of the cell, and so starts with the same number of battle honors and XP that the unit had before it split. This is very cool, representing a particularly impressive Custode getting promoted to management and leaving the rest of his idiot squad to figure it out on their own.

Beanith: So funny story, the Contemptor Dreadnought is also a Core unit… So in theory you could use this requisition so he’ll get a bandaid slapped on his booboo, scooped out of his coffin and is magically made hale and hearty again. The Legendary/Heroic Contemptor becomes a Legendary/Heroic Shield Captain and you get a Battle Harden Contemptor on top.

All of these are 1RP each, and are kind of a steal at that price. Custodes aren’t going to have a lot of units, even with some Sisters of Silence support, so getting to juice the few you do have all the way to the moon is going to pay dividends, if not make a lot of friends.

Battle Traits

Anathema Psykana (Sisters of Silence) by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

There are three tables here, two for Custodes and one for Sisters. Custodes Infantry have six options, a handful of which are pretty straightforward improvements to a unit – Unfazed and Undaunted lets a unit re-roll a save once per round, Flawless Bladework gives a unit automatic wounds on 6s to hit in melee, and Rapid Salvos allows a unit to always Rapid Fire auric weapons so guardian spears and castellan axes are that much nastier at range. Companion’s Watch is a neat one, which gives a unit a 5+ to ignore wounds when it’s within range of an objective, while Spark of Divinity lets it try to Deny the Witch once per turn. Finally, Masterful Form has you pick one of the Martial Ka’Tahs for that unit to always benefit from both aspects whenever one of them is active.

For Custodes Bikers, there are three options, but all of them are interesting. Thundering Advance lets a unit advance a flat 10” (or 11” if they’re Solar Watch). Flawless Manoeuvring imposes a -1 to hit against a unit as long as it moved in your most recent Movement Phase. And Close-range Experts adds 1 to the strength of ranged weapons when used against targets within 6”.

The table for the Sisters of Silence might be my favorite, though. Hunt and Purge and Rapid Prosecution both help you get across the table faster, with the former allowing you to re-roll advance and charge rolls and the latter counting the unit as having made a Normal Move in a turn in which it advanced. And once you get there, Furious Combatants gives models in a unit that charged an extra attack for the turn.

Unlike a lot of the other factions’ traits tables, these don’t discriminate between characters and other units, which honestly makes a lot of sense, especially since Honoured Advancement means you’ll probably have at least one character magically fall out of a unit over the course of a campaign. And if you were hoping for a trait table for your Triple Telemon list, tough shit.

Beanith: Finally an excuse to use the Awakening of the Strong upgrade tree from the Amidst the Ashes Mission Pack?

Magisterium Lex Ultima

Adeptus Custodes Custodian Guard Squad
Adeptus Custodes Custodian Guard Squad. Credit: Jack Hunter

Remember Black Templars? This is kind of like that, but you can fail if you don’t do it fast enough. There’s a big list of Imperatives, and after picking or rolling for three from a list of twelve, you have nine games to accomplish them all, in order. Succeed, and claim a fun Endeavour Reward. Fail, and be sentenced to a Dishonour.

By way of example, let’s say we picked Mortalis (earn XP in two battles from Purge the Enemy agendas), Martial Supremacy (in one battle, kill twice as many units as you lost), and Crushing Offensive (win a game by more than 10 VP). Imperatives must be completed in order, and it’ll take two at least to score Mortalis, which leaves 7 more to try and dumpster someone 2:1, and then after that, win by 10.

After nine games, maybe we succeeded, and got a reward. These are hard-coded based on your third Imperative. Since ours was Crushing Offensive, immediately after the battle where we crushed it to a medically significant degree we get an instant 5XP for our warlord. If we failed, we instead have to pick or roll for one of the three Dishonours. Order of Atonement, why not? This halves XP gains for as many games as there were failed Imperatives (so potentially three if you totally biffed it, but maybe just one, which would just be the game you already failed, so not really an ongoing concern).

Or you can just up and quit, which is notably not something Templars get to do. You take the Dishonour immediately, but are free to go claim an easier set of Imperatives and try again. Shameful.

This is a fun mechanic, and I like that you cycle through iterations of it pretty quick. As a result the rewards and dishonours aren’t super impressive on their own, but since you’ll be able to take multiple runs at the prize jar, it’s more of a slow dopamine drip than a single large hit to work up to.

It is a little strange, however, that you could struggle to achieve a difficult series of Imperatives, only to finally push through and prevail at the tail end of your ninth game. After dozens of hours of play, you finally stand victorious and claim a reward of a single Battle Honour. I get that it’s a drip feed reward, but the benefit-effort ratio is a little strange. It’s also a little anticlimactic that there is no reward for completing the first two Imperatives. Not even a pat on the golden back.

Having to accomplish the steps in order, and having a time limit, is an interesting twist, and ensures that even if you fail repeatedly (honestly, the Dishonours aren’t that bad, and other than one that involves battle scars, they fall off pretty quickly) you’re still getting a few tries at it. It turns 40k into a Souls-like, or whatever, which some of you weirdos probably think is cool.

Beanith: This is a great mechanic and my only complaint is that the Endeavour Reward for finishing those three Imperative swings wildy between Meh to Awesome so you should probably never let them be chosen randomly. Would you rather put in a ton of hard work for a Reward of 1XP for every unit in your Crusade Roster (2XP for Sisters) versus a Reward being able to use various Stratagems once per battle for free? In my test roll I luckily ended up with Annihilation as my 3rd Imperative and the Reward for that is being able to use once per battle the Counter-Offensive, Avenge the Fallen or Slayers of Nightmares stratagems for free. That is amazing… but I need to pretty much table my opponent to achieve this one. Good luck hypothetical Beanith.

Crusade Relics

Adeptus Custodes Caladius Grav-Tank
Adeptus Custodes Caladius Grav-Tank. Credit: Jack Hunter

The options here are honestly pretty cool, and they’re different depending on which kind of character you’re slapping it on. Custodes characters can choose from the useful, if boring, Aurulent Warding, which lets them re-roll one save each turn, and the useful, yet really cool, Emperor’s Light, which replaces a misericordia and deals a mortal on a successful wound instead of normal damage. If they make it to Legendary status, they can instead take the super useful, but super boring, Lucent Aureole, for a 3+ invulnerable save, or the pretty useful, yet incredibly rad, Apollonian Spear, which is the Guardian Spear wielded by Constantin Valdor before he fucked off to wherever he is these days, allowing you to ignore invulnerable saves on a 4+ to wound and coming in at an impressive S x2, AP -4, 3 damage profile. Woof.

For Sisters, there’s only one, but your Knight-Centura can take it on her first advancement if that’s your thing: Veracity, the Sword of Oblivion. It’s an AP -5, 2 damage executioner greatblade that always wounds on a 2+. “What about if she swings it at a tank?” I hear you ask. Still a 2+. No qualifier. Neat.

At the end of the day, any of these would be solid choices for a character.

Beanith: The Emperor’s Light misericodia compares pretty well to the Misery’s Burden misericodia relic found in the Shadow Throne crusade content and that Lucent Aureole would look great on the character hiding from Tau Railguns.

Artefacts of the Vaults

These are a special type of relic that you borrow for the duration of a Magisterium Lex Ultima Imperative. There’s no way to keep them, but there’s also nothing stopping you from renting them again and again as long as you have a Lex Ultima going. They also aren’t tied to Crusade Levels, but they are locked to Custodes: Sisters of Silence can’t take any of them.

The Area-Shrike projects a 12” bubble of both denying Deep Strikes and reducing enemy Auras to 1”. Very useful! The Mortis Gyre is a cool gyroscope that, for one phase, turns off invulnerable saves in melee. The fluff text describes this as basically being the Cerebral Bore from Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Both of these whip ass.

What else we got here. There’s the Twilight Pallium, a once-per-game deep strike that lets you ignore the 9” restriction at the cost of not being allowed to charge after. Seems good, nice little objective-grabber annoyance, but it can go off at the end of any of your phases, so feel free to dip out of combat or, as we like to call it, heroically dis-intervene. The Amelioration Pail is a big bucket of some kind of magical slop that, when performing a Chug Action, restores d6 wounds. It’s liquid apothecary, and will drive people absolutely apoplectic when you pop it on a jetbike captain and give them back a bunch of their T6 wounds.

The Epoch Auspice projects a 3” aura of -1 to incoming wound rolls for a turn. Neat.

Here’s a fun one, the Anathematic Diadem. It projects an 18” aura that has two effects: -1 to enemy psychic tests, and gives the bearer two denies a turn but only if the psychic test was a 7 or lower (presumably this takes the -1 into account, so if they rolled an 8 or less). This is where I need to remind myself that these relics are for Custodes only, so this is like a partial initiation into the Sisterhood of the Traveling Knives.

Finally, and most importantly, the Custodes have an Orb. It is Auriferous, and if it hits (6”, Grenade d3), deals d3 Mortal Wounds and imposes a -1 to hit penalty on the target until the start of your next turn. Maybe not as good as the Black Templars’ Orb of “fight last” but still very good, and we do love an Orb, don’t we?

These are, again, only valid for a particular Imperative, and cost 1RP to borrow.

Beanith: I love this section and there are some fantastic toys to choose from. My only issue is that it requires Requisition and I’m almost always blowing those away as soon as I get them early on in a campaign to increase my Supply Limit.

Battle Scars

Allarus Custodes by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

This doesn’t always happen, but we got some new battle scars here. As we saw in the Necron codex, they aren’t bad things, and honestly in some cases I think they might actually make a unit straight-up better. The original batch of scars in the core rules were pretty brutal – losing ObSec or a point of WS/BS is punishing enough that it’s worth burning RP to just remove the scar – but the new design philosophy seems to be making them side-grades.

To wit, we have Honour Blemished. A Shield-Captain with this scar loses Inspirational Fighter (the re-roll 1’s to hit aura), but in return they get to re-roll hits and wounds of 1 in melee for themselves. This is, honestly, probably something I would actively try to give someone. It’s actually built into the rules for Dishonours: before your first Crusade game, immediately give up on your Imperatives and choose Command in Question as your Dishonour, which creates your Ronin Shield-Captain. Then simply pick new Imperatives, or the same Imperatives again. Take a second Shield-Captain if you really want the aura.

The other options are to Study the Martial Ka’tahs, where reading the freaking manual costs the unit ObSec and double-objective-scoring, but lets them double-dip on Ka’tah stances (any Ka’tah: if one is active, they get both stances), or to seek Atonement In Battle, which makes any unit able to – it is in fact required to – Heroically Intervene, and re-roll 1s to wound in combat.

The big mechanical change here is that there’s no rolling – simply pick which scar to give a unit. There’s also no Crusade Point discount for having them, which is fair considering what they do. Again, these are not downgrades. They change the way a unit functions, but in a way that’s more interesting than a permanent -1 to hit or not being able to perform Activities. If they’re going to keep making them like this, and I hope they do, every codex should be so lucky as to have a set of these.

Name Generators

Greg: This introduces some new tech to the name generation system, allowing players to stack multiple names on a single model. I mean this 100% sincerely, I am not being sarcastic: this is incredible. Not since Necrons and their Dynastic Epithets have I enjoyed a name table this much. The rules here state that you can roll a new name when using the Earning of a New Name requisition, whenever they did something cool, or just whenever you feel like it. I can see myself getting bored and adding names to characters during downtime.

Otherwise this is a standard d66 first name/last name device, but with separate tables for Custodes and Sisters of Silence. Also one of the possible results is Nathadrian Vadrian and I just think that’s neat.

Beanith: Result 32 – Io and Result 35 Eratorius. I promise you all that every game my Dreadnought will do something cool and then get saddled again with these two results. To save time writing it out all the time I’ll just use initials except for the last name… E I E IO and old McDonald will be my Warlord-o.

Final Thoughts

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Greg: Pretty good! I was never in danger of picking up Custodes and this doesn’t change that, but it’s not bad either. I have to imagine that Real Emperor’s Talons Heads are going to be excited here, though. I do wish there was more done with the Sisters of Silence, because they feel a bit vestigial right now. I know the focus is on Custodes, which is why the book is named after them, but it strikes me as a missed opportunity. After adding a Sisters HQ, unlocking the ability to take a full army of them with nary a Custode in sight, seeing them frozen out of the majority of the Crusade content is disappointing. It would have been, and could still be, a cool narrative to play out, but doing so will cost you access to the majority of the content here.

Pendulin: I was already in the process of building a Custodes army, and I’m a fan of narrative fluffy rules, so I’ll definitely be running a Custodes army in my next Crusade, but I don’t love these rules. The idea of the Magisterium Lex Ultima, a multi-game campaign you are sending your army on, is fantastic. But the rewards and costs for it are all off.

The largest mechanical benefit from undergoing the endeavour is not the prize at the end for completing it, but instead it’s gaining access to the Artefacts of the Vaults. And you gain access to those via a requisition you can use before your first game. So you come out of the gates with the strongest reward the system has to offer, and then it gets worse. Each time you complete an Imperative, you must use the requisition to continue holding onto your Artefact of the Vault, otherwise it goes back on the shelf. In some ways, you are incentivized to purposefully fail your Imperatives so that you can keep your Artefact. But let’s say you don’t want to minmax like that, and you complete all three of your Imperatives (which means you spent 3 Requisition Points to keep your Artefact the whole time). Among the list of potential rewards at the end is … 3 Requisition Points – an absolute wash.

Putting that aside, the rest of these Crusade rules are great. Especially the name generator, which I plan on using as frequently as I can. To announce the full and extensive title of each Custodes in my army, I’ll need to hire a professional master of ceremony to follow me around to games in full costume, like a gilded grimdark hype man.

Beanith: Another banger of a book with some lovely Relics. I can’t wait for my Dreadnought pilot to get out, stretch and then go faff about on a Dawn Eagle jetbike in direct opposition to a Space Marine Character getting shot to pieces and then hurried stuffed into a Dreadnought. I was on the fence as well with Magisterium Lex Ultima but since there is an option allowing you to choose the Imperative and pick the order in which you do them resulting in the reward you want, I’m back on board. I still have vague plans to start a Torchbearers list and I think I can cram in some of the parts that don’t require too much Requisition without going too crazy.