Horus Heresy Exemplary Battles: the Death of Canopus

We’re finally here! This is the final Exemplary Battle that the WarCom team will be releasing for the Horus Heresy – at least for Astartes. With daemons and mortals on their way, let’s check out the Iron Hands and Blood Angels shenanigans during the Death of Canopus.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Iron Hands have had a… rough time during the Heresy, both narratively and diegetically. In universe, they lost their Primarch and broke as a Legion, their minds shattered by both betrayal and perceived and actual failures. Narratively, they’ve had few heroes or happy endings, and a lot of players (myself included) feel the conclusion of Shadrak Meduson, arguably the only Iron Hands character who isn’t a giant, colossal prat, war a bit cheap and unearned in Old Earth. This story doesn’t exactly help matters – the Iron Hands are portrayed yet again as selfish, damaged, and entirely unlikeable, and honestly a little stupid – they aren’t the only ones who suffered during the Heresy, but they’re by far the most broken of the Loyalists.

Canopus is a Loyalist refinery world, with a garrison of Blood Angels sworn to its defence. Without news of the Crusade coming in some time, they sent out astropathic messages which were answered by Iron Hands aggression. The 9th Legion, not knowing the Heresy had even happened, refused to strike first, despite the warriors of the 10th marching on their fortress, rebuffing all attempts at peace or queries about what the hell are you doing you guys. I will confess I took no small joy in reading how the Sons of Horus ambushed the Iron Hands just as they were about to attack the Blood Angels. Sallying forth, the Angles pushed back the Sons of Horus, only for the Iron Hands to reject the offered alliance to instead fight and die by themselves because… reasons. We tend to mock Games Workshop authors who write Dark Angels as one dimensionally obsessed with the Fallen, without any other character development or story arcs, but the Iron Hands are quite possibly worse – they have other cool ideas (Keys to Hel, anyone?), but they’re buried under this apparent legal requirement to be idiots. To be clear, we love Iron Hands; we just think they deserve better.

As the Iron Hands withdraw to the wastes and the Blood Angels are pushed back to their fortress, we’re treated to a story of forlorn hope, with Blood Angels on the defensive and Iron Hands striking from the shadows of the refineries and trenchworks to harry the Sons of Horus. This is honestly a pretty cool time, and we get to see both Legions shine in ways they don’t normally – Blood Angels as siege defenders we see during the, well, Siege, but not much before that, and raiding parties and snipers are typically much more a Raven Guard thing than an Iron Hands one. Sadly, the Traitors numbers are too many, and they prepare to finally crush the Loyalists to take the refineries they hold so dear, until the Iron Hands harassing tactics pay off, slaughtering the artillery crews and breaching the Traitors command post. The Angels and Iron Hands swear loyalty to each other, surviving another four long grueling months of Traitor invasion before they know their time has come. Not for them surrender and ignominy – no, if they cannot have the refinery, no one will, so the final moments of their lives are spent protecting Iron Hands nucleonic devices positioned across the facility, denying the Traitors what they fought so hard to control. In death, maybe not victory, but at least vengeance.

Blood Angels Primarch Sanguinius
Blood Angels Primarch Sanguinius. Credit: Jack Hunter

Blood Angels Ofanim Court

The first unit we meet here are the Blood Angels Ofanim,  a fascinatingly dark side of the Sons of Sanguinius. They operate almost as Commissars, looking for treachery and dissent since long before the Heresy occurred. They were feared and shunned by other Astartes, as who would willingly take the role of one who could not trust their brother? Introduced in Malevolence, these space cops are the ones who (aside from other shadowy shenanigans) keep the Flaw secret, and what’s more cool than genetically modified power armoured angels who hunt vampires?

Ofanim are almost a squad of Centurions, between three to five Centurion statlines (minus a point of Initiative and Relentless). Clad in Artificer Armour, they can take jump packs and come equipped with Blades of Judgement, two-handed Strength +2 power swords with Rending (6+) and Murderous Strike (6+). Five of these with jump packs runs you 260 points, and is throwing out 20 S6 power weapon attacks on the charge – they’re fantastic as a bully unit, maybe sneaking around the flank to mince elite ranged squads you really need to die, protected by Artificer Armour and Combat Shields. Oddly, they’re all Loyalist only; we would’ve thought that cops would’ve been the first to turn to a sign that lets them kill with impunity.

They’re all Chosen Warriors, and thanks to their Shadows of Judgement rule gain a package of +1 Initiative (matching Centurions), can re-roll To Wound rolls, and gain Rending (4+) while in a challenge – which they can all accept as Chosen Warriors. It’s no Instant Death, but you’re going to get a pretty hefty combat resolution bonus when murdering a Sergeant, and most other Centurions are probably not going to be walking away. They don’t have any options other than a Jump Pack, so you’re going to miss the Thunder Hammer or Power Fist, but their Blades of Judgement are nothing to sniff at – we’ve been running into a lot of Battle Hardened enemies which sniff at your S8 Power Fists, so Murderous Strike is a great replacement.

Ofanim can’t be the army’s Warlord, but can be the Retinue for one, though I’d probably run them in a small unit size unsupervised, keeping their footprint small to be sneaky but weirdly punchy. Worst case scenario, you’ve just got a unit of Centurions, and that’s never a bad thing. 

Credit: Christopher Tatro

Iron Hands Morlock Terminator Squad

Morlocks were the elite of Clan Company Avernii, Ferrus Manus’ personal bodyguard and first into the fray at Istvaan. That, uh, didn’t go too well for them, so there aren’t that many left, and those that survived didn’t take it very well.

Also Loyalist only (really, none of them turned?), they start as WS5 and +1Ld Cataphractii Terminators, with a couple of gimmicks – one for gear, and one for rules. On the rules side, each Morlock is Battle-Hardened (1) (meaning you need S10 to inflict Instant Death, not just double their Toughness of 4), and Stubborn – there may only be five of them, but they’re going to be a right pain to kill and they’re not running away any time soon. A unit of these acting as a Retinue (thanks to Avernian Retinue) and maybe with a Primus Medicae is going to take a hell of a lot of killing. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately?) they don’t have Chosen Warrior, so you can’t just feed endless mooks to an enemy Praetor to maaaaybe kill one a turn. Like the Iron Warriors Dominator Cohort, you can field these as appearing in one of two points in time – before or after Iron Daddy loses his head. If your army has Ferrus Manus in it, this unit gains Chosen Warrior and immediately negates all that stuff we said in the last paragraph, making them fucking horrific as a tarpit. If your army doesn’t have Ferrus Manus, they gain Preferred Enemy (Emperor’s Children), which is fun, but probably not as useful.

On the tech side, each of these start with a Combi-bolter which can be replaced for a Volkite Charger for free (do it), or for a Graviton Gun for +10 points – which can then be further upgraded into a Graviton Shredder for another +5 points, because those Contemptors need taking down a notch before you smack ‘em in melee. And you can, because any model can exchange their Power Weapon for a Power Fist or Chain Fist, or, oddly, a single Lightning Claw. Finally, the Augmentor (your Sergeant, leading to some concerning questions about what he does in his spare time) can take a Volkite Culverin. We’re not sure if this array of weapon options ends up being particularly any better than standard options, but the ability to take a tonne of weird tech is a super Iron Handsy thing to do.

These guys are pretty tough. They’re not exciting or flashy, but they get the job done. Battle-Hardened, Graviton spam, and the ability to take a Legion Standard on one model ends up as a pretty nifty little package to put your Iron Father into. Are they Cenobium? No, but you don’t want them to be. You want them to be awesome, and because they’re Iron Hands, they already are. Also, shout out to whoever painted the Morlocks showcased in the article – awesome work.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Salt the Ground Legendary Mission

Representing the final efforts to keep the nukes in Loyalist hands, Salt the Earth is a Hammer and Anvil deployment mission with no Secondary Objectives at all, and two primary – a Warhead, and four Arming Devices. Defenders score D3+1 VPs for holding the Warhead at the end of their turn, and 1 VP per Arming Device. The Attacker scores no VPs for holding the Warhead, but stops the Defender gaining any (we have to assume “any at all”, since if Attackers control the Warhead then the Defenders wouldn’t be scoring VPs for it at all, though also unclear if its “ever again” or just “zeroes out the score”). Attackers can choose to score D3 VP per Arming Device, or score no VP and remove it from the game (“If I can’t have it, no one can!”) This is… probably pretty evenly balanced? The Warhead is all or nothing, so while the Defender can rack up a tonne of VPs, they have to defend it pretty damn hard or lose them all.

More interestingly (from an Iron Warriors and Mechanicum player especially), models with Battlesmith can make a test on an Objective to increase the number of VPs that Obejctive scores. It’s not clear if it’s a permanent bonus (just says “they score for controlling that Objective”), but Battlesmith is an under utilised rule that is just cool here – of course the technonerds would be fiddling with the nuclear bomb in the middle of an active warzone! Wouldn’t you?

Blood Angels Praetor
Blood Angels Praetor. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Flesh may be Weak, but Blood is Mighty

There’s been some negativity around these two, but we’re pretty pumped. Not every unit has to be a nuke on the tabletop, and both offerings here have a pretty unique role both mechanically and narratively. We’re very much looking forward to seeing some Ofanim in particular modelled up to be killing their own!

That’s it for the Astartes Exemplary Battles – no Mechanicum or Talons yet, but we’re looking forward to the Daemons and mortals content we’ve been hoping for. Nightmares from beyond the veil and average Joe’s doing a 9-5 in the 31st millennium, gotta relate.