The skies darken and the storms gather as the time of Chaos descends upon us – rejoice, brothers and sisters for the Summer of Chaos has truly arrived with the upcoming release of Codex: Chaos Space Marines. After two full years’ wait, the Heretic Astartes finally have a book of their own – but was it worth the wait?
Before we dive into the book, we’d like to thank Games Workshop for providing us with a preview copy of the book for review purposes.
You’ll also note that we’ve split this review into four parts:
- In Part 1 – this article – we talk about the general overview of the book, what’s in it, our overall impressions, and the army-wide rules and concepts of the Chaos Space Marines
- In Part 2: The Legions, we talk about the eight legions outlined in this book, their rules, and how they’ll play.
- In Part 3: The Datasheets, we talk about the units available to the Chaos Space Marine army and the options available to them.
- In Part 4: Crusade, we cover the book’s Crusade rules. That one publishes on Tuesday, just like all our other Crusade reviews.
Also joining us for this review are the inexorable Don “The Mastodon” Hooson and Michael Pestilens of the Warphammer website.
What’s in this Book
Let’s start with the contents – this book is large. It covers 8 different traitor legions and all of the datasheets and units you could want. Inside, you’ll find:
- Datasheets. Updated datasheets for Chaos Space Marines, including Traitor Legionaries with two wounds.
- Lore for the faction, with a history of the heresy and a summary of what they’ve been up to in the ten thousand years since.
- Crusade rules for Chaos Space Marines, covering the different ways your warband can dedicate itself to the dark powers and wage an endless war on the Imperium of Man.
- Relics, Stratagems, and Wargear for the Chaos Legions.
- Daemon Weapons for your champions to use.
- Subfaction Rules for eight legions, each with four pages of rules, stratagems, warlord traits, and relics covering the Alpha Legion, Black Legion, Creations of Bile, Emperor’s Children, Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Red Corsairs, and Word Bearers
- Rules for marks of chaos, which allows you to dedicate your units to specific chaos gods in exchange for rewards
What’s Not in this Book
That said, there are a few things that didn’t make it in here:
- The World Eaters. Kharn and Berzerkers aren’t in the book. We’ve already heard they’ll be getting their own codex, and this month’s White Dwarf – which we’ll be reviewing next week – covers the interim units to use for the sons of Angron.
- Other Renegade Chapters. The Purge, The Crimson Slaughter, the Flawless Host, the Scourged, and the Brazen Beasts aren’t in here – if you want to run them they use the same rules as one of the other legions.
- Custom Legions. On that note, there are no rules for custom legion traits here, so no mucking about with successors or any of that nonsense – you have to pick one of the eight options here (or the other three with their own books).
- Rules for Traitor Guard. We know; the new models are cool as hell. But if there’s a plan for them in 40k proper, it’s not in this book.
Why Play Chaos Space Marines?
Look, forget what you’ve read about Tyranids, or Orks, or Necrons – Chaos is called The Great Enemy for a reason. The forces of Chaos – led first and foremost by the legions of the traitor astartes – are the foremost threat to the Imperium, and the big bad guy of the 40k setting. So if you like marines conceptually, but find it more fun to play the bad guys, the Chaos Space Marines are for you.
That said, they’re also mechanically different – Chaos Space marines tend to lack a lot of the mobility of their loyalist brethren, and some of the ranged firepower, but make up for it with solid ground speed and some devastating melee threats, plus the ability to fill gaps with cheap filler horde options like Cultists. Additionally, Chaos Space Marines have a bit more psychic oomph than their loyalist counterparts, and the ability to use dark magic to boost their daemonkin units.
Mike: Finally, Chaos Marines are able to summon Daemons still, although this could change once Daemons receive their 9th Edition codex.
Five Things to Know About Chaos Space Marines
Look, if you’re a Chaos Space Marines player you’ve been waiting for this a long time. So let’s talk about the most important things to know about the contents.
1. Dedicating your unit to a Chaos god means something again
Remember in 8th edition, where dedicating your units to a Chaos god just meant getting an extra keyword, which could sometimes interact with other rules? Well that’s all in the past! Now you can pay points to mark a unit as dedicated to a particular god, not only giving it the keyword, but giving it a bonus ability. Slaanesh units fight first, Khorne units get +1 Strength on the charge, Tzeentch units ignore their first failed save per turn, and Nurgle units give opponents -1 to wound in certain situations. While not every unit can be marked, the units you can mark will have more flavour than before.
2. Every Legion has cool stuff and a different playstyle
I’m gonna level with you: This is really the only thing I care about in a Chaos Space Marines codex. Do I want the book to be competitively viable? Sure. But more than that I want the book to have rules for every legion, and for each legion to feel distinct. And not only do the rules here do that – the new traits are great – but every single legion option has something that makes me want to play it. It’s a huge win for the book.
3. Chaos Marines get their own combat doctrines
As a contrast to the combat doctrines of the Space Marines, Chaos marines get their own monofaction mechanic: Wanton <NAME>. Chaos Marine armies start in Wanton Devastation, then move to Wanton Destruction and Wanton Slaughter. Each mode gives your units exploding hits on unmodified 6s for different weapon types, allowing you to increase your output in a similar way to Death to the False Emperor. It’s a cool mechanic which really benefits units that can put out a high output of attacks.
4. The new Cultist units
One of the big new differences between Chaos Space Marines armies and the likes of Thousand Sons and Death Guard are the role played by Cultists. In addition to having better Cultists – and CSM Cultists retain Objective Secured, unlike their Thousand Sons/Death Guard counterparts – there are two new cultist units to play with – an HQ/force multiplier in the Dark Commune and a melee threat in the Accursed Cultists. It’s not quite enough to really build an all-cultist army at higher points values, but the units have some interesting roles they can fill.
5. Chaos Marine vehicles got a facelift
We already expected to see Helbrutes, Heldrakes, Forgefiends, Maulerfiends, and Defilers get updated datasheets to match those in Codex: Thousand Sons. But what we didn’t expect was updated datasheets for the Land Raider, which now has T9, and lascannons that do D6+2 damage, and other vehicles in the Chaos armory. When combined with new points values, these vehicles have an all-new look to them, and it’s actually worth considering a Vindicator in Chaos Marine armies with a Heavy D3+3 shot profile. It’s a cool update that has us wondering when and if it’ll come to the other legions and the loyalist chapters.
Let’s dig into some rules. This book is jam-packed with rules for the chaos Legions. It’s one of the biggest books of 9th edition, basically packing 8 codex supplements worth of material in on top of a hefty list of datasheets.
Standard 9th Edition stuff to start out here, with a definition of what a Chaos Space Marine detachment is (everything has the TRAITORIS ASTARTES keyword except AGENTS OF CHAOS and UNALIGNED units) and a few bonuses/limitations around building one.
As you’d expect, Troops units in these detachments gain Objective Secured, and unlike in Thousand Sons or Death Guard this does include Cultists – with the expansion of the range, it’s clear that Cultists are considered much more a core part of the Chaos Space Marine identity than they are in the God-locked Legions. You do still have to work around the Mere Mortals ability – each detachment cannot contain more CULTIST units than CORE INFANTRY, so you have to bring some Marines to keep your rabble in order. Also in keeping with other Legions, you can only include one CHAOS LORD and one DAEMON PRINCE in each detachment, and the new Dark Commune Cultist HQ unit picks up this restriction too. Interestingly, Lords Discordant are not limited in any way, which is extremely powerful.
Next up, Legion Traits – if every <LEGION> unit in your army is from the same Legion (other than Agents of Chaos, which can include Abaddon), they all gain a Trait (except Cultists, but now including Vehicles etc.) and unlock a Secondary Objective. Bringing Legion Detachments/Warlords also unlocks Stratagems, Traits and Relics, and here this is much more of a big deal than in most books – each of the classic Legions gets a full table of six traits and a page each of Stratagems and Relics, while the Servants of Bile (who you can now just choose as your legion) and Red Corsairs get roughly a half sized set. We’re going to dive into the Legions in detail in part two, suffice to say for now that they absolutely whip, and you’d be an idiot to break your access to their rules.
There’s one final rule that roughly comes under this heading, but it’s unusual enough that it needs breaking out to its own section. It is…
Slaves To Darkness
A big change in this book is that three of the four god-specific “special” Marine units don’t appear in it, with only Noise Marines getting an updated datasheet. Do not despair, however – you can still bring your Khorne Berserkers, Plague Marines and Rubricae along. The Slaves to Darkness rule lays out how, plus makes Noise Marines and the Emperor’s Children work analagously to the special Marines from the other three god-specific legions..
Basically, for any of these units, you can use the datasheet from the relevant Codex as an Elites option, with a few restrictions (right now Berzerkers come from this month’s White Dwarf). You have to pay the points to upgrade them to have the relevant Mark of Chaos (see later), their Keywords get shuffled around so they make sense with the rest of the army, and they don’t gain your Legion Trait (Rubricae also have to use the powers from Dark Hereticus from this book). However, they do still get the <Legion> Keyword, and do gain the Chaos Space Marine pure army ability Let the Galaxy Burn. That means they’re still eligible for combination with Stratagems and Auras (as all these units are CORE), and get some extra hits with the right kind of weapons to boot.
For Noise Marines, these same rules apply if you’re taking them in any Legion other than Emperor’s Children, but when you do go full Fulgrim they become Troops and can gain a Legion trait.
So, does this matter? As of the point changes in War Zone Nephilim, it seems pretty likely that it does, because Plague Marines have an incredibly legitimate datasheet now that all the upgrades are free, and there’s bound to be some sort of build that wants them given the absolute ocean of Legion rules in this book. Rubricae with Warpflamers could also be extremely nasty thanks to Let the Galaxy Burn. Even if it doesn’t blow up the competitive scene, this feels like a solid bit of rules writing – It lets you bring the classics along without making you jump through too many hoops, but does enough to make the units feel different here than they do in their home legions.
While we’re here, we should talk about marks.
Marks of Chaos
Don: Marks of Chaos have been a staple in CSM for quite some time and they are back to being more than just a keyword in this book. One mark can be applied to each Legion CORE and/or Character unit in your army, excluding named characters. Each mark grants its bearer the relevant faction keyword for their respective patrons, increases its Power Level by 1, and gains one benefit, plus another if you have an Icon in the unit. Note that a Daemon Princes MUST be upgraded with a Mark of Chaos. Buying a Mark costs you a flat 15pts, whoever it’s going on.
The Mark of Khorne is my favorite and grants the following:
- +1 Strength for melee attacks after charging, being charged or performing a Heroic Intervention
- (Icon) Improve the AP of your melee attacks by 1 (no charges necessary)
This will always be relevant on any unit that can take this upgrade. Something as simple as 10 legionaries with chainswords having 41 attacks of strength 5, AP-2, 1 dmg for 200 points is nothing to scoff at. Note that PSYKER units can’t have this mark. Rating: 9/10
The Mark of Tzeentch is a potent option for those who do not wish to participate in the fight phase as much. This mark grants the following:
- Once per turn, the first time a save is failed for the unit, reduce the damage of that attack to 0.
- (Icon) each time a model in this unit makes a ranged attack, improve its AP by 1.
This is another very potent Mark of chaos that gives the relatively low AP of CSM shooting a bit more teeth. Even the Reaper chaincannon suddenly becomes worth looking at when it’s firing Heavy 8 S5, AP-2 shots. You will also be sticking around a lot more with the zero damage every turn, and longevity will help you to win games. Rating: 8/10
The next in the Pantheon is Nurgle. Having the mark of Nurgle gives you:
- Each time an attack is made against the unit, if the Strength of that attack is either equal to or at least double the Toughness of the unit, subtract 1 from the wound roll. (ex: If the marked model has T4 and the attack has either S4 or S8+, it gets -1 to wound. Yeah, it’s weird).
- (Icon) Each time a model in this unit makes a ranged attack, unmodified hit rolls of 6 automatically wound the target.
The Mark of Nurgle suffers from being an interesting idea that is very clunky in execution. Essentially, a T4 body with Mark of Nurgle attacks with Strength 4 and Strength 8+ are -1 to wound, while attacks at Strengths 1-3 and 5-7 are unaffected. That part is very clunky. On the other hand the Icon ability is pretty streamlined. This is very useful but I don’t see it winning out in the marks to take for your generic squads. Rating: 5/10
Mike P: The Grandfather’s blessings are often not appreciated at first, but they always reward his followers in the end. The Mark of Nurgle is no exception. I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but have found it very potent on all the T4 bodies in Chaos Space Marines. The fact that you get -1 to Wound if Strength = Toughness is very valuable since there is a fair bit of Strength 4 out there, as is the mini-transhuman against S8+ anti-tank weapons that normally crumple low-toughness power-armoured bodies. I’m going to rate it a 9/10 so Don and I’s scores average out to a perfect 7/10: A truly blessed score for fans of Nurgle.
Then we move on to “She Who Thirsts.” The Mark of Slaanesh will be very popular, if for no other reason than The Emperor’s Children must take this Mark of chaos if they are able to. Here’s what the mark gets you:
- The unit fights first in the Fight phase if it starts the phase in Engagement range of enemy units
- (Icon) the unit gets +1 to hit in melee
This is a great counter charge ability as it basically grants “free” interrupts in the fight phase for 15 points on each unit and lets you gain the upper hand on your opponent in ongoing combats. As an extra bonus, you can’t be shoved down to the always fights last step (outside of the Foul blightspawn/Revolting Stench-Vats combo). This ability would be worth the cost on its own, but the Icon ability here is huge: +1 to hit with melee weapons is extremely potent and allows units to operate with much less support, and get the most out of weapons that normally give you -1 to hit (i.e. power fists). This one is the clean winner in utility and does not carry the anti-psyker restriction that Mark of Khorne does. Rating: 10/10
Who is a CORE unit that can take an Icon for the full benefit? Legionaries, Chosen, Noise Marines, and Chaos Bikers. All the other CORE or Character units only gain the base Mark of Chaos ability. The Marks of Chaos are the most spot-on “points upgrades” of any codex that we have seen so far and I don’t think you will see many lists that decide to go full undivided with zero marks.
Rob: Something big to note here is that while you have to mark Plague Marines and Rubric units, neither unit actually gains the ICON keyword from taking an Icon, so they can never get the second ability. Here’s hoping that’s fixed in a future FAQ – it’s something they’ve already worked into Berzerkers in this month’s White Dwarf supplement for World Eaters.
Marks on Other Units
Rob: For the most part, you can’t get Marks on your non-CORE units. I say “for the most part” here because both Emperor’s Children and World Eaters have ways around this – adding a unit to your army that can’t have a mark automatically gives it the appropriate faction keyword at no cost. So something like an Obliterator can still get the Slaanesh keyword (and be a SLAANESH DAEMON) in an Emperor’s Children army, but not in another Legion, and they don’t get the actual Mark of Slaanesh benefits.
Don: The rule wording here is weird – you have to mark Khorne Berzerkers, Rubrics, and Plague Marines for 15 points, but only UNDIVIDED units can have marks and importing these units to Chaos Space Marines doesn’t give them that. This technically leaves them in limbo until they get errata – I’d expect this to be fixed soon. Note that Noise Marines are exempt from this, since they come with Slaanesh baked in to their dataslate.
Let the Galaxy Burn
Combat Doctrines, but angry. Replacing Death to the False Emperor from the old Codex, and your reward for playing a pure Traitoris Astartes army, Let the Galaxy Burn is your new source of extra hits.
Over the course of the game, units in your army will be engaged in one of three Wanton Acts. No really, that’s genuinely the rules term, it kicks ass and makes a lot of stuff that interacts with this sound incredibly metal. In Battle Round one, your units are conducting Wanton Destruction, in round two they switch to Wanton Massacre, then on three they can either keep doing that or switch to Wanton Slaughter, which is the mandatory choice for the final two rounds. Each of these Acts gives you exploding 6s on unmodified 6s to hit with certain kinds of weapons. Some people in the audience might think they’ve figured out which kinds in each case, but the qualification is actually broader than for the Loyalist Combat Doctrine equivalent. Wanton Destruction covers the expected Heavy and Grenade weapons, but also adds Rapid Fire, then in Massacre you keep Rapid Fire and switch on Assault Weapons and Pistols. Finally, when the bodies start hitting the floor, Wanton Slaughter lets your Melee weapons and Pistols explode, but unlike the Assault Doctrine it also keeps working for, uh, Assault weapons. Hmm.
What about flamers, we hear you cry? Have Games Workshop dunked on poor, defenceless Chaos players once more? No. These just get flat +2 shots all the time, whichever Wanton Act you are performing, which honestly makes almost every flame weapon in this book (and especially Baleflamers) pretty juicy.
Exploding 6s is always good, and this feels like a potent effect in the Combat Doctrines model, while still feeling distinct. There are certainly going to be some situations where you would prefer the AP boost, but the nice thing about exploding 6s is that it’s always good, so you don’t hit the failure cases of running into invulnerable saves where extra AP is irrelevant. As you’d expect, there are also a whole bunch of effects in the book that let units either participate in a different Wanton Act than the rest of the army, or activate multiple at once. Happily for everyone except Chaos players, GW did have the foresight to add a rider that if you’re participating in multiple acts that affect the same weapon type (e.g. an Assault weapon when carrying out both Massacre and Slaughter) you still only get one extra hit per six. That means no completely nonsensical combos, but this is still a strong ability overall, and very welcome!
We’re going to break this down a bit here, as a few more of these than normal are keyword-specific. That’s because, as you’d expect, each of the four gods gets a couple of unique tricks (plus one for Chaos Undivided). There are still plenty of general options too though, so let’s start with those.
Most of the general Stratagems in this book are either updated versions of returning tricks, or fit into fairly standard stratagem templates, with a few fairly spicy exceptions. Up first, both of the classic Chaos force multiplier tricks, Daemonforge and Veterans of the Long War appear, though both have dropped in power a little. Daemonforge is now +1 to WS/BS, a definite nerf (though it is interesting that it can stack with sources of +1 to hit), while Veterans of the Long War still provides +1 to Wound for INFANTRY or BIKER units, but jumps to 2CP. The saving grace there is that it doesn’t get a CORE rider added, so combining this with Obliterators is still very much on the table.
If Daemon Engine fans are feeling a little hard done by there, then good news – the new Infernal Engine stratagem is a powerful trade. For 1CP (or 2CP for TITANIC), this provides -1 to incoming damage for a phase, fantastic for keeping your Decimators alive or your Lord Discordant if he bites off more than he can chew. Clinging on to existence can be extra powerful too thanks to Blasphemous Machines, your standard “act on full wounds” ability (also applying to Land Raiders). Also new defensively is Winds of the Warp, letting you give a JUMP PACK or BIKER unit -1 to hit against incoming ranged attacks for 1CP, as long as they either Advanced or arrived from Reinforcements in your last turn.
For your footsloggers that want to zip around the battlefield doing cool stuff, both Relentless Devastation and Unending Destruction (so many hard rock concept albums in this book) help out. Destruction allows an Infantry unit (except Cultists) to Action and Shoot for 2CP, while the aggressively priced Devastation lets INFANTRY that made a Normal Move or Advanced count as having Remained Stationary for a mere 1CP. If you need to get Havocs, Terminators or Obliterators into position sharpish, this is very much your friend.
Terminators also enjoy the completely revised version of Daemon Shells..You will note the plural here, as this is now a unit-level stratagem, which for 1CP boosts the range of your bolt weapons by 6” and provides +1 AP. This isn’t always what you want, as into any army with Armour of Contempt it doesn’t really do much, but if you need to clear out mid-quality units from other armies it’s great. It can also be combined with full hit and wound re-rolls from Abaddon in Black Legion to make Terminators a real threat to enemy tanks. Lastly, there are no keyword restrictions here other than TRAITORIS ASTARTES, so if you want extra AP on a lot of shots from your Fire Raptor, go wild.
Also refreshed are Tide of Traitors and Fire Frenzy. Tide gets a definite sidegrade – no more respawning a whole unit, but for a mere 1CP you can add d3+3 models back to a Cultist unit that’s either within 6” of a Battlefield Edge or your Deployment Zone. The key thing here is that this happens in your Command Phase, and that means that like with Resurrection Orbs, you can use this for objective shenanigans – string out a few extra Cultists to tag one onto an objective your opponent didn’t think you were going to hold. You only need to have one model in the unit within the qualifying range to trigger it, which covers a pretty massive proportion of the battlefield, and because Cultists are ObSec in this book, it’s a pretty nifty trick. Fire Frenzy, on the other hand, is just massively cooler now. Still only costing you 1CP, it now triggers after your opponent shoots with a unit, and any of those attacks hit the Helbrute, and allows it to immediately shoot as if it was your Shooting phase, targeting either the closest unit or whichever unit shot at it. This is super cool, and unlike the old version it really rewards you for being aggressive with Helbrutes, who are priced to move in this book.
In terms of unique tricks, there’s a few final things. Legionaries get a definite push from Hatred Eternal, which lets them either Shoot again at the end of your Shooting Phase, or Fight again at the end of the Fight Phase for 2CP. You do want to be bringing a full unit to maximise this, which might get squeezed out by all the other cool options on show, but it’s a nice flexible addition. The other one to highlight is Contempt Over Caution, a massively cool option. This lets a LEGION CORE unit fire into combat, at the cost that you cannot re-roll the hit roll, and hit rolls of 1 hit one of the friendly units in the combat instead. The really flavourful part is that the price doesn’t depend on the unit you’re shooting with – instead, this costs 1CP if only friendly CULTIST units are in the combat, or 2CP otherwise. It’s probably fair to say this is more cool than useful most of the time, but very occasionally it will be exactly what you want, most likely in a situation where it lets you clear out some chaff to free up your unit that was in combat to Shoot or Charge.
Mike P: Contempt Over Caution is one of those tools that will rarely come into play, but when it does come into play, it will be backbreaking. If you’re bringing a shooty CSM list like an Iron Warriors gunline, this will really stop a lot of the counterplay melee armies have to your list. There are lots of aggressive melee units like Troupes or Wraiths or newly cheaper Boyz that will try to wrap one of your units to avoid being shot. Being able to unload a unit of Havocs with Reaper Chaincannons into them while they’re wrapping will make them regret trying to get into your lines.
Rob: Beyond that, there are a few more stratagems providing standard parts of the Marine kit like Smokescreen and Skystrike Missile, then a 9th Edition upgrade suite. There are a few Chaos-specific quirks to the upgrades – you get the option to give one of a sub-set of relics to a Unit Champion, which is very strong with the Black Rune of Damnation and Black Mace, and the facition also gets an unusual additional rider on their “extra relic” strat for Characters. As long as a CHARACTER has been upgraded with a Mark of Chaos, this stratagem can be used to give them a second relic, with some limitations – the relics cannot be a Daemon Weapon, and at least one of the relics you give them has to replace a weapon. In the CP starved world of Nephilim this is likely to mostly be a curiosity, but there are a lot of relics in this book, so don’t rule out there being something extra spicy you can pull off in the right list.
Khorne is mad – mad about wizards! Scorn of Sorcery breaks out from the World Eaters to provide a general-purpose 4+ Deny stratagem against enemy Pyskers within 24” of Khorne units, while if you’re also mad about everything else, Fury of Khorne gives you automatic wounds on 6s to hit in melee. There are certainly units that can accumulate a lot of attacks here, and those could make very effective use of this.
As is only fitting, Slaanesh have stolen some Aeldari nonsense for their own nefarious purposes. Murderous Perfection gives you a taste of Strands of Fate, activated for 1CP when a unit Shoots or Fights, and letting you change one hit, wound or damage roll to an automatic six during that activation (after rolling, so even better than Strands). This is nifty if you’ve got a small number of high-quality shots, or if you have something that triggers on a 6. Moving over to stuff stolen from Harlequins, Excessive Cruelty allows you, after an opposing unit has Fallen Back, to have a Slaanesh unit that was in Engagement Range of them either shoot them or Consolidate. 2CP isn’t cheap, but this effect can be absolutely backbreaking in the right situation.
Shockingly enough, Nurgle makes things hard to kill, providing either Grandfather’s Blessings (Transhuman Physiology, so cannot be wounded on less than a 4+) or a Death Guard import in the form of Cloud of Flies, making a unit untargetable unless it’s either the closest or within 12”. Of note, neither of these have any keyword requirements beyond NURGLE TRAITORIS ASTARTES, so they’re very broad in what they can be used on (though Cloud is more expensive on heftier stuff). Want to transhuman your Contemptor that has a Stormsurge pointing 12 damage guns at you? Why not!
Have you made sure those Khorne jocks are distracted punching some Tau? Great, time for wizard business – Tzeentch provides options for either an extra cast or a Psychic Action and a cast with The Great Sorcerer, or intercept shooting with Warp-Borne Foresight. Bluntly, it doesn’t feel like the latter will come up very often, as the kind of units that would want to activate this are not generally things you’ll be marking for Tzeentch, but The Great Sorcerer is an extremely handy trick.
Sneaking in at the end, indecisive units that could pick a Mark, but choose not to, get access to Terrifying Phenomena. This is genuinely pretty strong – for a mere 1CP, it lets you pick a unit within 1” at the start of the Morale Phase, and prevent them from using Insane Bravery or any Morale Test re-rolls – plus if they fail a Morale test, any Action fails. This is one of those things that isn’t going to come up all the time, but will be an exceptional button to press when it does, and access to it comes at almost no price – unless you’re going Emperor’s Children or World Eaters, you’re almost certainly going to have some eligible units kicking around, and you tend to have near-perfect information as to whether activating this is worthwhile.
Mike P: Leadership Modifiers Have Come For You. We’ll talk more about Night Lords synergies later in the article, but you can easily stack -3 Leadership and -1 Combat Attrition auras over large areas of the board. Combine that with well-priced and well-timed access to the ability to turn off Insane Bravery, and fans of painting lightning and listening to brooding music will have opponents running for the hills.
Rob: We get a standard allotment of generic Warlord Traits and Relics in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, though this is definitely an area where my excitement for covering these has been dampened by the Nephilim GT Pack making it likely I’ll use them much less often. Here a lot of the names return but the rules have changed. Flames of Spite gives a warlord re-rolls on wound rolls in melee plus additional mortals on wound rolls of 6. Unholy Fortitude is still a 5+ FNP. Hatred Incarnate is my favorite of these – it gives the Warlord +1S and +1A on charges/being charged/interventions and re-rolls to hit in melee, and is exactly the kind of thing I’d put on a Daemon Prince to stop him from being complete trash (he’ll still disappoint).
For warlords with a mix of shooting and melee there’s Gaze of the Gods, which gives you a 4+ invulnerable save and has you always count as being in all three Wanton modes. And Eternal Vendetta is one of Abaddon’s three traits, having you pick an enemy unit before the game starts to give re-rolls to wound the selected unit to friendly Legion units within 6”.
Rob: The other half of the generic toolset that cost you CP now, there are two pages of non-Daemon Weapon Relics to choose from (more on the Daemon Weapons, below). Note that, unless otherwise specified, you can’t give relics to CULTIST models – this matters now that we have the Council as an HQ option – and four of these are locked to models dedicated to a specific god.
Several of these are all-new, like the Priest-only Inferno Tome, which gives you an extra prayer to know and can do D3 mortal wounds to the nearest visible enemy within 18” each time your prayer is heard – a damn fine bonus. The Gorget of Eternal Hate gives your bearer +1 to saves, a 4+ invulnerable save, and the first time your bearer is destroyed, they can deal moral wounds to each enemy unit within 3” – it’s a great piece to throw on your Lord Discordant to make him even more of a bastard. And the Black Rune of Damnation gives incoming attacks -1 to wound and an aura that causes enemy units within 18” to perils on any doubles.
Then there are the returning hits – The Black Mace returns as a S+2, AP-2 D3 weapon for which excess damage spills over, while the Blade of the Relentless (formerly Krannon’s) is an AP-4 D2 power sword that gives +1 attack and on unmodified hit rolls of 6 it just does 2 mortal wounds and the sequence ends.
The God-relics have been likewise improved. The Talisman of Burning Blood gives the bearer a 6” intervention, +1 Attack, and +1 attack each time it destroys an enemy unit – though sadly it no longer lets you advance and charge. The Intoxicating Elixir is once per game now but gives +D3 attacks and the ability to take no more than 3 wounds in that Fight phase. And the Eye of Tzeentch gives +1 to psychic tests and undeniable casts on manifests on an unmodified 9+.
Condit: A subset of relics that came back to 8th edition with Faith & Fury, they’ve changed a bit for their new appearance in 9th, and generally for the better. First off, the Daemon Weapon rule is now much easier to deal with – when you fight with the weapon’s bearer, roll 2d6 against their Ld. If you roll equal to or less, you’re fine. If you roll higher, the bound daemon fights back and you have to choose: either don’t use the weapon this fight, or take d3 mortal wounds and fight normally. This is better on two fronts: first, splitting the penalty into a choice makes it both more interesting and just flat more useful, since if you really need to kill something, you can just take a couple wounds and get the job done. Second, moving to a Ld test on 2d6 is a flat improvement for units that have Ld 10, like Chaos Lords and Dark Apostles, and has an equivalent chance of failure for the rest of your characters who clock in at Ld 9.
In a bit of a change from most other relics, none of these weapons have actual profiles. That’s because they don’t actually replace your model’s weapon, but instead just give it a new ability. Take the Chaos Undivided Daemon Weapon, Ul’o’cca’, the Black. You choose any non-relic melee weapon the model is equipped with, and when you wound an enemy with it, it deals a mortal wound in addition to the normal damage. The others are similar, except the Slaanesh offering of Thaa’ris and Rhi’ol, the Rapacious, which replaces two melee weapons on a single model, and the relic you have access to depends on the model’s god keyword.
As a relic option, these present an interesting choice, since they’re just adding to the profile of a weapon you’ve already got rather than potentially giving you something completely new.
Rob: The Psychic Disciplines from 8th edition return, now updated for 9th and in the case of the Dark Hereticus Discipline, wildly different from what we saw in Codex: Thousand Sons. Now the Malefic Discipline is the clear winner of the two, with lots of great synergy you’ll want to build around.
The Dark Hereticus Discipline
Don: This is the Discipline that Sorcerers, Daemon Princes, Legionaries, and most Chaos Space Marines have access to. You still have access to the mono God powers that are basically unchanged, except the tzeentch one is just a 4++ invulnerable save on the <legion> Tzeentch unit you cast it on, and it now has Warp Charge 7. Also, they’re free if your Psyker unit has the mark – no more having to give one of your other powers up for them.
- Infernal Gaze: roll 3d6 vs a visible enemy unit, each 4+ is a mortal wound. On an unmodified 10+ you roll 6d6 instead. This is a good character targetable “smite”. Not terribly reliable but a decent way of chasing down those characters that got away with 1 wound remaining. 6/10
- Prescience: you know it. You love it. +1 to hit is pretty good. Though it is less important as Death to the False Emperor was modifiable and Let the Galaxy Burn is unmodified. Useful, but not required. 6/10
- Diabolic strength: The red-headed stepchild of this discipline. It can target one legion infantry/Spawn model in your army within 12” for +2 attacks and +2 strength. It would be funny to put on a master of Possession charging a bunch of psyker units, but that’s impractical. The big downside here is that “model” requirement. 3/10
- Death Hex: The most compelling reason to dip into this discipline. It is completely unchanged from last edition and extremely useful in those niche situations where invulnerable saves are frequent or extremely strong like Daemons, Drukhari, harlequins, Knights, and more. 8/10
- Gift of Chaos: this is a very different power from what it was. It is a smite (18″) that can then do splash damage to other enemy units within 6” of the target on a 4+. 7/10
- Warptime: This power was drastically toned down. It can only target infantry and spawn and disallows that unit from being able to charge (though unlike Quicken it does still let you shoot). It will likely be used as a way to shove Cultists to objectives or to “yoyo” a character that is performing warp ritual. 5/10
Dark Hereticus discipline rating: 7/10
Rob: Ultimately the Dark Hereticus Discipline took a huge hit, and with it, the viability of Chaos Marine psykers. The God powers are much more powerful, relatively speaking, giving you good cause to mark your sorcerer, but otherwise your next best picks are Prescience and Death Hex. And while I agree that Death Hex can be useful, playing with Twist of Fate in Thousand Sons has shown me how narrow it actually is if you don’t have any questions that can reliably force an opponent to go above a 5+ save anyways. And for WC 8, it’s a difficult power to cast. Meanwhile on the opposite side of things Warptime is just cruel – Chaos are a melee army and taking out the ability to charge post-move just hamstrings the number of places you’ll use this.
Don: This is the real winner of the psychic powers. These are the powers that the Master of Possession uses.
- Warp Marked: A new debuff power that targets an enemy unit within 18” and gives +1 to wound to friendly daemonkin and daemon engine that attack that unit. This is a big winner. Rating: 10/10
- Pact of Flesh: A Friendly core, daemonkin, or Character unit within 18″ regains d3 lost wounds and if they are not at starting strength you can resurrect a model in that unit with full wounds remaining. All that for the WC cost of 5. This is another home run. 10/10
- Cursed Earth: Gosh darn this is B-E-A-U-tiful. Daemonkin and daemon engine units within 6″ get a 4+ invulnerable save and deal mortal wounds to units that charge them. This is another home run and it is probably the most usable one in this tree. 10/10
- Possession: Have you ever wanted to just nuke a character or a tough-to-kill model? Then this is the spell for you. Its range is limited to 9” but if you manifest it, you pick an enemy unit in range and roll 1d6 (with +1 if you manifested on an unmodified 10+), and if you exceed the Toughness of the unit, the opponent gets to pick 1 model in that unit that is destroyed, then if that unit has not been destroyed it takes another d3 mortal wounds. This is unreliable but awesome at the same time. On average, you kill off quite a few elves 1/2 the time or something amazing vs Marine equivalents 1/3 of the time. Randomly awesome. 8/10
- Infernal Power: A Stratagem turned psychic power. One friendly daemonkin or Daemon engine within 18” can automatically wound on unmodified hit rolls of 6, and those wounds count as 6s for the purposes of rules that care about such things. 6/10
- Mutated Invigoration: One friendly friendly <LEGION> unit gets either +1 strength or +1 toughness. If you manifest on an unmodified 10+ and the target is a daemonkin or daemon engine it gets +1 strength and toughness. Seems interesting, especially for Warp Talons and the like. 7/10
Malefic Discipline Rating: 9/10 this is too useful not to bring, and it makes some of the best units in the army even better.
Mike P: This discipline is EVERYTHING I had hoped it would be, and then some. Someone basically thought “What is every single spell that could be required to dominate the midboard” and then gave them all to the Master Of Possession. At least some of these powers will be slam dunk picks for basically any list you could possibly run.
One thing I particularly enjoy is that the Warpmarked spell doesn’t require Line Of Sight to the target. This makes it much harder to play around and lets you seriously ramp up damage when you send melee missiles through walls. It’s especially valuable now that Veterans Of The Long War costs 2CP, and CP is especially tight in the post-Nephilim world.
Prayers to the Dark Gods
Don: Dark Apostle Prayers are back, and if you’re unfamiliar, they’re similar to Space Marine Litanies. Note that Dark Apostles are still able to get +1 to their rolls to see if a Litany is Inspiring by having a unit of Disciples nearby.
- Dark Zealotry: re-roll hit rolls for CORE, CULTISTS, and CHARACTERS units within 6”. Really good, but I wish it affected Daemonkin. Those poor warp talons and Possessed don’t want to listen to any priests, and they’d really benefit from this. Rating: 8/10
There are four god-specific prayers, and unlike in the old Codex, this time around they affect more than just the priest chanting them. These also come free with the Mark of Chaos of the corresponding god.
- (Khorne) Wrathful Entreaty: One Khorne Core or Character unit within 6” gets the full suite of Let The Galaxy Burn effects for a turn. This one is great, both for early melee units or making the most out of Terminators or bikes. 10/10
- (Tzeentch) Mutating Invocation: This gives your Priest a 3″ aura that grants a 6+ FnP roll to CORE and CHARACTER units. That’s pretty good but it’s unlikely to be a main reason for a dark apostle, and only getting 6+ ignore rolls just isn’t that great. Now if this were a 5+, we’d be talking. 7/10
- (Nurgle) Feculent Beseechment: Gives +1 toughness to a LEGION core or Character unit. It’s not terrible, but it’s unlikely to ever be used. 3/10
- (Slaanesh) Blissful Devotion: One CORE or Character unit within 6” can Advance and Charge for a turn. This is extremely strong for bikers, raptors, Lords Discordant, and anything else that can cover ground quickly and make it into combat. 9/10
The remaining prayers:
- Benediction of Darkness: Gives CORE/CHARACTERS/CULTISTS within 6” the benefits of Light cover. Great for legionaries, terminators, and bikers, where stacking with Armour of Contempt lets them shrug off AP-2 attacks. 8/10
- Litany of Despair: Pick an enemy within 12” and roll 3D6. Beat their Ld and that unit can’t perform actions (their actions immediately fail) and it can’t Fire Overwatch or set to Defend and it fights last. Very difficult to properly use Rob: …unless you’re Night Lords. 4/10
- Omen of Potency: Now the only prayer that affects only the priest invoking it. This one gives the Priest +3 attacks and improves the AP of their melee weapons by 2. It’s unlikely to see any play outside Word Bearers. 3/10
- Warp-Sight Plea: Pick a friendly core/cultist/character within 6” to get re-rolls to hit and ignore benefits of cover on ranged attacks. This could be useful on a unit of Havocs, and it may be interesting to see on a shooting cultist mob. 6/10
- Soultearer Portent: Pick one friendly core/cultist/character within 6” to get +1 to wound rolls in melee. This is something that looks great for a unit of Raptors or bikers with the Mark of Khorne and helps make sure you convert all those attacks into damage. 8/10
- Illusory Supplication: Pick one friendly core/cultist/character within 6” and that unit can only be hit on an unmodified 4+ and attackers can’t reroll the hit roll. This one is annoying to most armies – and it’ll make custodes cry a bit – but is generally not going to be worth worrying about. There are too many attacks in most armies, such that if they want to put down a protected unit, they can. Often your opponent will just ignore that unit entirely though, and that has value too. 6/10
Prayers of the Dark Gods: 7/10
They are good, but the HQ slots are going to fill up extremely fast and I am unsure if this guy will see much play with the new CA missions.
Mike P: The only reason Illusory Supplication isn’t a 10/10 for me is because a 10/10 undersells it. With Armor of Contempt and invulns on all the Daemon keyword CSM units, the old Illusory Supplication (5++ invuln aura) wasn’t as valuable as it used to be. That prayer got a massive glow-up.
How does a -1 to Hit, no Hit rerolls Terminator brick with transhuman? Or a -1 to Hit, no Hit rerolls Terminator brick with -1 Damage and a 5+++ Feel-No-Pain? This prayer lets Chaos players build some of the tankiest units in the game in basically every single Legion.
Illusory Supplication and Blissful Devotion (Slaaneshi advance and charge) are the two big winners in the prayer category, and at least one of these is likely to show up in any list. The fact that you get to pick a prayer AND if you’re Marked you know that prayer in addition AND all the Marked prayers affect others units instead of just the Priest mean Dark Apostles got huge glowups.
There are three secondary objectives for Chaos Space Marines and one for each of the legion options. These are identical to the ones we’ve already covered in the Nephilim review, and those rules supercede these anyways. If you’re looking for more information on those, check out the Nephilim GT Pack review.
TheChirurgeon: All this book needed to do to tapdance its way into my heart was have rules for the individual traitor legions. What can I say – I was so deeply put off by the 4th/5th edition Chaos Space Marines experience that all I’m looking for is some variety by legion. And in that sense, this book builds on what we had in 8th and refines it in ways that are wonderful and compelling. There’s something to like about each traitor legion, and each feels like it will support a different play style and army build – something enhanced by the faction secondary objectives and stratagems. If there’s a complaint I have, it’s that the new Nephilim rules make it a bit too painful to take the volume of traits and relics that I want to take. But on the whole, this book kicks ass and I am super excited to play with it.
How strong is it competitively? Well the short answer is that I don’t think it’s pure busted like Tyranids were – the overall strength of datasheets outside of Abaddon is decent, but not so incredibly high as to cause my eyes to bug out of my skull like a Tex Avery cartoon. That said, there’s just a ton of stuff here, and almost certainly some things that will need to be reigned in if they get out of hand, like the ability to put Lords of Skulls into Strategic Reserves for free in Alpha Legion or the interactions with Rubrics and Plague Marines. On the whole I think this book is more likely to sit around the Custodes/Sisters level of competitive play, at least initially, rather than the Harlequins/T’au/Tyranids level. But it may feel worse, given the sheer volume of Chaos Space Marine players out there. Hopefully there’s enough build variety among the legions to keep even a flush meta feeling fresh.
Don: The “Year of Chaos” finally started with Chaos Knights last month, though we’ve all been waiting see how the CSM 9th edition codex looks and what it will do to the meta. This book is huge and full of fluffy flavorful play to do. Each legion and unit feels like it should. In short: This book is full of amazing stuff and I am eager to see what the prominent build types will be. You will see everything from Cultists hordes to daemon engine spam. The Marines are great and so are the daemonkin. This book checked every box for me. Each legion feels unique and flavorful. Each unit has a purpose and is functional. It feels strong but not over the top like other recent releases have been. The Pantheon is set to make waves. All the xenos, loyalists, and rival Chaos forces should beware.
Mike P: DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!
This book has been a long time coming, and it lived up to the the hype. The fact that you can’t give God marks to units like Forgefiends is a bit baffling to me from a flavor perspective, but this book hits home runs almost everywhere else. Chaos fans should be really excited to start getting reps with this book, because it’s really going to reward player skill and practice.
Next: The Traitor Legions
That wraps up our look at the army-wide rules for the traitor legions but in part 2 we’ll dive into the traitor legions and the rules for playing them in your games of Warhammer 40,000.
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