Horus Heresy: Fury of the Ancients in Narrative Play

Welcome to a new article in “Whose Legion is it Anyways?”, our new series focusing on the narrative side of the Horus Heresy. Last time, we explored how you can forge a narrative  with your army and the joy that can bring to your hobby. This installment will take a scalpel to that concept and discuss list building and creating a narrative around one of Warhammer’s most iconic units.

Dear reader, do you like big stompy robots? Have you ever wanted to run an army consisting of sad old men grumbling about the good ol’ days? Have you had normal thoughts about Legion Master Lhorke and Ancient Rylanor before breaking into ugly tears? Well, what if you could make an army that exemplified these very things? Well in the Horus Heresy, this can be your reality.

The Alpha Legion advance on the Dark Angels at the Goonhammer Open Horus Heresy 2022

Fury of the Ancients is a generic legion Rite of War that has always captured my imagination even back when I was anxiously learning about the first edition of the game. In this new edition, The Rite of War allows Contemptor Dreadnoughts to be taken as compulsory troops and gain the line subtype when taken in this way, opening up Dreadnoughts to be strong scoring units. You can also upgrade a single Contemptor talon consisting of one Dreadnought into a Venerable Ancient for 30 points. This upgrade gives the Dreadnought the character subtype, the Eternal Warrior special rule, an Iron Halo for a 4++ Invulnerable Save, and the Master of the Legion special rule. In exchange, this must be your primary detachment, your Dreadnoughts must be your compulsory troops, you can only bring one fast attack and heavy support choice that does not consist of other dreadnoughts, and you cannot bring a Lord of War. In addition, you cannot select a legion consul save for the Forge Lord, Primus Medicae, and the Mortifactor.

These are an extremely flavorful set of rules that really focuses on Dreadnoughts being the star of your army. I cannot explain how extremely cool I find it that a Dreadnought acts as the army’s warlord, the visual of a staunch ancient leading his brothers captures my imagination like nothing else. Also, by limiting other character and fire support options that aren’t dreadnoughts or dreadnought related, it can truly create a unique force.

Let’s face it. Dreadnoughts as characters are awesome and can open up a lot of interesting narratives around them. I will give a few case studies of dreadnought archetypes in the lore of both the Forgeworld Black Books and the Black Library books.

But only if it was that simple…

I’ll be the first (and definitely not last) to admit it, but dreadnoughts are too good in the current state of the Horus Heresy. Great saves, great weapons, great stats, and probably too cheap for what they offer. Much wiser and well informed people have written about this in great lengths such as Lupe’s article about dreadnoughts that you can read here.

I am of the opinion that it is common courtesy for most Horus Heresy groups to bring one Leviathan Dreadnought or Contemptor Dreadnought per 1000 points you take. And this rule still applies towards Fury of the Ancients. You only need three Contemptor Dreadnoughts in a Fury of the Ancients list to make it work (RIP Leviathans). “But Malys!” I hear you say, “That’s still Dreadnoughts with Line and one upgraded to be a character! That’s still a marketed and scary improvement on the already busted nature of Contemptors!” And I hear you! It’s genuinely still probably too good. But I hope to provide a solution and show that indeed that narrative play and Fury of the Ancients do not have to be independent of one another.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gravis Bolt Cannon

Another reason for the Contemptor’s dominance in the current edition is its choice of weapons. Lascannons, Melta Cannons, and the free Gravis Power Fist. All of these weapons are unambiguously good and can go into anything in the game, and with the Contemptor’s profile, help make it the best single model in the game. I notice these weapons are usually used en masse with most Dreadnoughts, and especially prevalent with competitive Fury of the Ancients Dreadnought spam lists. But these are not your only choices. Yes there are definitely weaker options for the Contemptor’s loadout but these can open up interesting and niche roles for Dreadnoughts in your games and can open up even more varied modeling opportunities for your ancients.

Ancient Ventrue “The Old Finger” credit: @Gushfield (me!)

Gravis Bolt Cannons: Costs nothing, has lots of shots, and will barely do anything! It might not be that bad, especially if you shoot it into infantry, but even one arm having a Bolt Cannon dampens a Dreadnought’s killing potential. Put two of them on your Dreadnought and it becomes practically useless… well as useless as a Contemptor with Line can be. Honestly, I quite enjoy this weapon as I think it looks great and genuinely might put the hurt on Tactical Marines and their ilk.

Conversion Beam Cannon: This one is honestly pretty good, if a little niche. Double Conversion Beam Cannons especially so. I find that this loadout forces a lot of interesting decisions to be made during the course of a game. You can delete heavy infantry, vehicles, and other Dreadnoughts from a safe distance if you want to use the beams to their full potential, but you would be denying a unit with Line from pushing onto midfield objectives. But if you push for the objective game, you would be making your Beamer useless outside of afflicting Blind.

Double Volkite Culverins: Let me say it. Volkite can be pretty lackluster (But Volkite Heavy Support Squads stay winning!) and honestly making your dread a solely Volkite beast would be hampering. But look at it this way, it would look extremely cool and you can make choom sounds as your Dreadnought’s shots fail to make it through the saves of a Tactical Squad with Apothecary support. Chooooom.

Two Gravis Chainfists: Chainfists are super cool! They are pretty great too! Murderous Strike to inflict Instant Death at a 5+ and Armourbane to cut through Vehicles and Dreadnoughts like nothing. What’s the downside? The downside is that it costs 10 points per fist and doesn’t have the Brutal 3 rule that the free Gravis Powerfist has that makes it such a steal of a weapon. A Power Fist and a Chainfist are a very strong combo for melee dreadnoughts, gaining the versatility of both weapons and getting the extra attack bonus. But Two Chainfists on the other hand are not amazing, especially paying an extra 10 points for an extra attack with no other upsides, but for what we are looking for, it’s perfect.

Plasma Cannons: Another probably good weapon. A template weapon with breaching like the Plasma Cannon can be pretty great at ruining blobs of Terminators, but Plasma cannons do risk putting wounds on your Dreadnought which can soften them for the killing blow. But Plasma always looks great on the tabletop and is a good choice for a high risk, high reward weapon for your dreadnought.

With these options and the one per 1000 point rule, I think you should be fine strolling into your local game store running this Rite of War and not be considered a complete and utter monster. I would still communicate with whoever you play with that you are running this Rite of War, as Contemptors with line, no matter their loadout, is still a daunting thing to face. I will say as well, by sticking to three Contemptors in a 3000 point list, even running Fury of the Ancients with optimal loadouts for your Dreadnoughts wouldn’t be amiss and would probably be fine. But I say embrace the “bad” options! Enjoy your jank!

The Other Dreadnoughts

Imperial Fists Venerable Dreadnought
Imperial Fists Venerable Dreadnought. Credit: Jack Hunter

Castraferrum Dreadnoughts: The good old boxnought, the Castraferrum Dreadnought is cheaper, weaker, and slower alternative to Contemptors for your elite slot. Does that mean they are less broken? Well, that’s a little complicated. Running your Castraferrum as a melee beast or with close range weapons can be pretty lackluster due to their abysmal speed and their inability to run. But what they do have is Lascannons. Lascannon Castraferrum spam is pretty common in Dreadnought skew lists due to being fairly cheap and still having the resilience of a Dreadnought chassis. Definitely not the worst thing to strap the best gun in the game on. But Castraferrum Dreadnoughts do have interesting alternate options such as the Missile Launcher, Assault Cannon, and my personal favorite: the Flamestorm Cannon and its torrent of 18”. If you’re going to bring these, just give a thought about leaving the Lascannons at home and bring some Gravis Bolt Cannons instead.

Alpha Legion Leviathan Dreadnought. Credit: Lupe

Leviathan Dreadnoughts: Just as good (if not better in some contexts!) as the Contemptor, the Leviathan tears apart tables alongside its smaller cousin at competitive events. Great weapons (maybe not including its Grav option), great stats, and even more bulk. The Leviathan is genuinely great! But for a 3000 point Fury of the Ancients list, you unfortunately might need to leave this one at home if you want to follow our common courtesy rules. Once we start getting into Apocalypse level games, I honestly can’t tell you anything because at that point you got some Titans to deal with.

Salamanders Deredeo. Credit: Rockfish
Salamanders Deredeo. Credit: Rockfish

Deredeo Dreadnoughts: My personal favorite Dreadnought of the Heresy! The Deredeo Dreadnought is probably the least competitively viable of the Dreadnought options but still extremely good at its niche. The amount of firepower this thing can unleash at a sniping position can be ludicrous. The Hellfire Plasma Cannonade is probably the best option with its ridiculously awesome large blast template and rending (5+), but the other options are definitely nothing to sniff at! The Volkite Falconet is probably my favorite due to it being twinlinked and able to cause pinning, which alongside the Aiolos Missile Launcher, could be a tasty prospect for Night Lord lovers (like myself)!

A question that might arise is, “Will bringing any of these alongside my Contemptors be a dick move?” and that is a great question! As my fellow contributor, RealSnice, pointed out while discussing this article, the one per 1000 points does fall off at higher point values. At higher point games, your opponent is simply just able to bring things to actually deal with Dreadnoughts and the Dreadnoughts themselves can have less of an impact. I think there is nothing wrong with bringing some Castraferrum or Deredeo Dreadnoughts in a Fury of the Ancients list, I just think it’s worth pointing out to just not spam Dreadnoughts. Maybe keep it to a single Dreadnought to a talon as well. Other than that, go wild!

Now with that Dreadnought-shaped problem out of the way, let’s get to talking about ways you can make narratively rich armies focused on these dusty coffin boys!

The Honorable Ancient

Ancient Rylanor Credit:Horus Heresy: Visions

Probably the most “generic” narrative you’ll find with Dreadnoughts but something that is still worth talking about and worth building an army around. The honored ancient of a legion, their years of knowledge and experience being utilized as the legion Mortifactor awakens them once more. Honored champions of their legions, these contemptors act as a beacon of hope to all of their brothers that see them stride into war. Who are these ancients? How can I make a Dreadnought exemplify that kind of imagery? Well let’s see what the lore can give us about this archetype and hopefully spark all of your imaginations.

Ancient Rylanor: A name that inspires love or hate depending on the amount of bad memes you’ve been exposed to, Rylanor stands as a testament to the ancient archetype. An honored warrior leading his brothers through the fires of Istvaan III, refusing to follow his legion and father into their new found depravity. If you want a classic Honorable Ancient archetype, Rylanor can be fantastic inspiration both aesthetically and narratively.

As a side note, Istvaan III survivors are honestly just a great way to theme a Fury of the Ancients army. Legion veterans, betrayed by their brothers and Primarchs, rally around the ancients of their legions that refused to bend the knee. They stand defiantly in the raging rad fire and the smoldering ruins of the Coral City, awaiting their vengeance. I would suggest to read Dan Abnett’s The Ancient Awaits, Ben Counter’s Galaxy in Flames, and James Swallow’s The Flight of the Eisenstein to read more about Ancient Rylanor and also the loyalist Dreadnoughts during Istvaan III Atrocity. Rest in peace Huron-Fal.

Malcharion the Warsage: 40k sources can also be a great way to find inspiration for Dreadnought characters such as in Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Soul Hunter. Malcharion, former captain of the Night Lords 10th company, was once a skilled warrior that took the heads of three loyalist champions during the Siege of Terra before being felled. He was interred into a Dreadnought against his wishes and was awoken millenia later to lead the remnants of his company in a desperate battle for survival. Even being not the most thrilled about his situation, Malcharion uses his wisdom and knowledge to lead the 8th legion to victory, even if victory looks like running and surviving for another day. A nonstandard narrative that can be quite fun for developing your Venerable Ancient as a character throughout your games.

An Iron Hands dreadnought holds the line in the Necropolis during the Battle of Marinus.

The Recently Entombed

In the fires of the Heresy, the ancient Dreadnoughts burned in droves along with the veterans of the Great Crusade. As the Inductii were mass indoctrinated for the Legions, those who were on the cusp of death and had the affinity to do so were entombed in dreadnoughts, these warriors forced back into war even in death. Yes, Dreadnoughts need to come from somewhere, and the psychology of one who has only been barely put into one of these war machines can be deeply interesting to explore in your hobby.

Honored Telemechrus: A character who helped me truly understand the mental transition into a Dreadnought, Telemechrus was a newly interred Dreadnought for the Ultramarine Legion found in Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear, one of the greatest novels in the entire Heresy series. You see some interesting dynamics within this book, especially the idea of older Dreadnoughts acting as mentors for the newly interred and how Dreadnoughts stop being viewed as Astartes and as machines of war to most of their brothers. Some real tragedy can be found in some of these concepts.

Cortus Dreadnoughts: A unit found in the original Black Books in the days of yore of Heresy 1.0, Cortus Contemptor Dreadnoughts were a mass produced version of the Contemptor frame created with salvaged parts of destroyed Dreadnoughts and less than stellar materials. Originally needed during the Ullanor Campaign to make up for the intensive losses of Dreadnoughts, the Cortus became a common sight during the Heresy. Weaker with less advanced systems and armor, these dreadnoughts make for an interesting narrative of “disposable” Dreadnoughts. This can be extremely flavorful to lean into for your hobby especially with Legions with very little regard for their own such as the Iron Warriors.

Blood Angels Contemptors. Credit – Corrode

Legions of Old

A narrative that I’m personally the most enthralled with is Dreadnoughts being a window to the past of a legion that no longer is. The Legions before finding their Primarchs have always interested me, especially the Raven Guard and World Eaters. Pre-Primarch Legion culture, aesthetics, and even their color schemes can be a great way to theme your Dreadnoughts.

Legion Master Lhorke: The one and the only, Lhorke is a Dreadnought of the World Eaters Legion still adorned in the colors and heraldry of the War Hounds, the Legion that existed before Angron as found within Andrew Dembski-Bowden’s Betrayer. Lhorke was the former Legion Master, and was interred in a Dreadnought before the Butcher’s Nails were implemented throughout the 12th legion. His perspective is a great clash with the state of the World Eaters found within the Shadow Crusade, a former conqueror in a legion of raving butchers. This is exactly what the dichotomy between the legions of old and new should look like, and can give you a variety of opportunities for hobby.

And I’ve barely touched the surface of interesting ideas you can do for Dreadnoughts, such as the White Scars Dreadnoughts and their unique cultural role within the White Scars compared to all the other legions. But I want to take a minute and give an example list for how to make a narrative rich and interesting army using Fury of the Ancients!

The 87th Predation Fleet

Ancient Krahzen of the Raven Guard Legion Credit:Horus Heresy Book 3: Extermination

Based around the Legions of Old concept, this list focuses on the Terran core of the 19th Legion that would go on to become the Raven Guard. Known for their savagery, as many of their number were recruited from the Xeric warriors of the Asiatic Dustfields, these “Ash Nomads” would serve directly under Horus before they would find their own primarch. These warriors would soon become the shame of their legion, outcasts and exiles from the orders of their own genefather.

This army, the 87th Predation Fleet, is made up of exiled Terrans led by Dreadnoughts who served from the earliest days of the Great Crusade, who refused to bend the knee to the new ways brought from Deliverance. Their loyalty only belonged to Horus Lupercal, as they had served with him for so long. But as the Raven Guard burned at Istvaan V, the fires of vengeance burned within these veterans. Even if they were outcasts hated by their brothers, they would not let the butchering of their brothers go unanswered.

87th Predation Fleet - Click to Expand

Crusade Force Organisation Chart 3,000Pts
XIX: Raven Guard
Rite of War: Fury Of The Ancients

+ HQ: +
Ancient Dhantas – Venerable Ancient Contemptor Dreadnought [245Pts]: Gravis Chainfist with in-built Meltagun, Gravis Power Fist with in-built Meltagun
Warlord: The Bane of Tyrants

+ Elites: +
Deliverers Squad [590Pts]
10 x Deliverers: 2 x Power Fists, 2 x Chainfists, 5 x Pairs of Raven Talons, 1 x Multi-Melta
Deliverer Chieftain: Infravisor, Multi-Melta, Power Fist

Mortalis Destroyer Squad [320Pts]
10 x Destroyers: 9 x Chainsword, 7 x Two Volkite Serpenta, 2 x Toxiferran Flamers, Legion Vexilla
Destroyer Sergeant: Artificer Armour, Infravisor, Phosphex Bomb, Two Volkite Serpenta, Power Maul

Veteran Squad [315Pts]: Legion Vexilla, Nuncio-Vox
10 x Veterans: 9 x Charnable Sabres, 2 x Plasma Guns, Legion Vexilla, Nuncio-Vox
.Veteran Sergeant: Artificer Armour, Charnabal Sabre, Infravisor

+ Troops: +
Honored Vaarus – Contemptor Dreadnought Talon [185Pts]: Fury of the Ancients Compulsory Troops
Contemptor Dreadnought: 2 x Gravis Bolt Cannon, Helical Targeting Array

Honored Karrexax – Contemptor Dreadnought Talon [210Pts]: Fury of the Ancients Compulsory Troops
Contemptor Dreadnought: Gravis Power Fist with in-built Plasma Blaster, Havoc Launcher, Volkite Dual-Culverin

Despoiler Squad [270Pts]
20 x Despoilers: 15 x Chainswords, 4 x Power Axes, Legion Vexilla
Legion Despoiler Sergeant: Artificer Armour, Pair of Raven’s Talon

+ Fast Attack: +
Seeker Squad [170Pts]
5 x Legion Seekers: 4 x Minor Combi-Weapon – Volkite Charger, Nuncio-Vox, Augury Scanner
Legion Seeker Sergeant: Artificer Armour, Infravisor, Minor Combi-Weapon – Volkite Charger

+ Heavy Support: +
Honored Ortax – Deredeo Dreadnought Talon [225Pts]
Legion Deredeo Dreadnought: Aiolos Missile Launcher, Twin-linked Heavy Bolter, Hellfire Plasma Cannonade

Vindicator Squadron [470Pts]
. Vindicator: Centreline Mounted magna laser destroyer, Dozer Blade, Pintle Mounted Multi-Melta, Searchlights
. Vindicator: Centreline Mounted magna laser destroyer, Dozer Blade, Pintle Mounted Multi-Melta
. Vindicator: Centreline Mounted magna laser destroyer, Dozer Blade, Pintle Mounted Multi-Melta

How I went about creating this list was that I wanted to focus on the Dreadnoughts leading veterans and warriors of darker inclinations. Our warlord, Ancient Dhantas, is given a vicious loadout which makes him a melee beast. I really wanted to carry the energy of decades serving with the sons of Cthonia, so I would go about by focusing on melee with Despoilers, melee Veterans, and the legion specific terminators: the Deliverers. Destroyers round up to help carry the dark history of the force with their rad weaponry. I filled out my compulsory troops slots with Dreadnoughts with anti-infantry loadouts. I then wrapped it up with some anti-tank with a full squadron of Laser Destroyer Vindicators, and a single Dreadnought Deredeo Talon to just get another coffin crammed into the list.

Raven Guard Dreadnoughts
Raven Guard Dreadnoughts. Credit: NotThatHenryC

In conclusion, I think that it’s not only possible but actually awesome to make Fury of the Ancient forces! By following some simple courtesy rules and exploring new niches with your Dreadnoughts, you can make some amazing armies for your local narrative events and even campaigns! Let’s go and paint some Dreadnoughts!

Do you have any ideas for how to run Fury of the Ancients in a fun, non- monstrous way? Do you have ideas on the stories you want to tell with these terrible coffin men? Please comment below or reach out to contact@goonhammer.com!