Horus Heresy Hot Take: Charnabal Weapons Are Better Than You Think

The Age of Darkness is a unique setting due to its massive variety of options: both in the flavor of building an army down to the gear of individual units, one of the major draws of The Horus Heresy is the customization and personalization in every part of the game. That being said, it’s not uncommon to see somewhat same-y loadouts in practice on the tabletop. While this is in part due to availability of some options in easily accessible materials (if you’ve built a lot of the new Tactical Marines, surely you have plenty of power swords/fists laying around), it’s also due to the “tried and true” nature of certain options on the tabletop. It’s hard to argue the effectiveness of things like Thunder Hammers, Power Fists, and other weapons that can reliably force their way through armor and threaten Instant Death against many targets, but the choices in the humble “power weapon” slot are much more divisive. My argument for today’s article is this: Charnabal weapons are a solid option for cheap anti-2+ save units, and are a pretty solid alternative to things like Power Axes.

Setting the Scene

There are a few specifics I should dive into regarding this first. One of the major things to point out is that there are a whole bunch of different use cases for different melee options, but the two we’ll be addressing as the main cases for the weapons we have available are as follows:

  • Anti-Power Armor, where the main goal is to kill 3+ save, single wound models. These can be anything from the humble tactical squad to the hardened Veterans.
  • Anti-Elite, where the main goal is to kill 2+ save, multi wound models. These can include things like terminators, command squads, and other legion specific units.

Of course, there are other great uses for melee weapons such as Anti-Chaff/Infantry for clearing hordes of bodies as well as Anti-Vehicle to help chew through any armor that stands in your way. For the purpose of what we’re comparing today, we won’t really look at these.

The use case I propose is as follows: What are good options to use for the Anti-Elite slot? Anti-Power Armor has no shortage of options – the entire family of power weapons are solid choices for this, and Lightning Claws are absolutely brutal with their re-rolled wounds and native AP3. For this reason, we aren’t really looking to find a replacement for them, as they already have a variety of flavorful and fun options that are all quite effective in their own right. What I want is a weapon that can punch up a bit: something that things like Command Squads and Veterans can take to handle the more durable units you might need to handle up close.

Before we talk a bit more about Charnabal weapons, let’s get this out of the way early: Power Fists, Chainfists, and Thunder Hammers will often be the best option for this in terms of pure performance. Due to many of the units you’ll be fighting facing instant death from these weapons and them natively ignoring their armor saves, the Unwieldy tax will almost always be worth it, especially since a good chunk of these units will also be whacking at that speed themselves. I may be brave, but I won’t reinvent the wheel. Without even breaking down the math, those are your real heavy hitters for good reason: they can threaten basically anything in the game that you would actually want the unit in combat with. Since your sergeants/unit leaders might be scrapping in challenges and will be packing an extra attack (and in the case of Veterans, the only model that can access them), these are usually worthwhile to snag regardless of what the rest of your unit picks unless you’re really trying to pinch pennies.

The issues that comes up with those weapons are their price and their availability: for a standard Command Squad, fists run at a tax of 15 points per model, which can seriously add up quick. On top of that, most units won’t even be able to take them en-masse, so their accessibility isn’t great outside of terminator armor. That means having some alternatives to these will be pretty necessary if you want to crack 2+ saves.

Chatting about Charnabals:

If you aren’t familiar with Charnabal weapons, they are marketed as a sort of “dueling” weapon, designed to be wielded with grace and dexterity rather than just using the inherent energy source of power weapons to get through armor. On the tabletop, they come in three flavors:

  • Charnabal Sabers: swords, falchions, and rapiers of the sort. Any one-handed bladed weapon can fit the bill here.
  • Charnabal Tabars: referring to a type of battle axe with origins back to the Persian and Ottoman empires, these tend to be similar in style to a more traditional hand axe than the juiced up vibe of the power axe.
  • Charnabal Glaive: a polearm more akin to a halberd than the spear-like power lances, these can be represented pretty well by any “blade on stick” type weapon.

Charnabals have a consistent set of rules regardless of which variant you use. First and foremost, they all have the Duelist’s Edge (DE) special rule, granting a bonus to initiative in a challenge. We’ll discuss this more later, but for now just know that this should be viewed more as a “little bonus” rather than a main selling point of the weapon, especially since we’re going to be looking at using them primarily on non-character models who won’t be in challenges to begin with, so we’re going to just ignore this part of the weapon.

The main profile of Charnabals is that they all natively have an AP of nothing, but all have the Breaching(X) ability. This means that all of the weapons in this family have the ability to harm 2+ saves, while non-breaches will always be taken at a normal armor save. The true main-selling point of these weapons is that none of them have unwieldy, meaning that you’ll get to actually strike before many of the units packing natively AP2 weapons. Their individual profiles are as follows:

  • Charnabal Sabers will strike at the user’s strength with DE(1) and is tied for the best Breaching value of the bunch at Breaching(5+).
  • Charnabal Glaives will strike at +1 strength, also with Breaching(5+) and an improved DE(2), but have the Two-Handed rule, so effectively will be trading an attack for a point of strength.
  • Charnabal Tabars pack the highest strength bonus at +2, but have a reduced Breaching value of Breaching(6+).

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Testing

The main use case we’re going to be looking at is how Charnebals perform vs. a unit of 2+ armor saves of equal weapon skill – realistically, that is the primary target you’d want for this type of combat. To simulate this, we’re going to simulate the idea of it being 10 Veterans equipped with each weapon swinging into another WS5 unit, as most of the heavier targets you’d want to smack around will often be of that stature (legion specific melee units, command squads, other veterans, etc). Now that being said, there are other cases in which you can bring these – 1 in 5 in Assault, Despoiler, and Destroyer units can pack these among other things. I’ll mention those cases as they come up, but realistically the simple math will be similar if you’re striking into a target of equal weapon skill (like generic terminators – a target you’d reasonably be fighting in that sort of case). Anything more dangerous, and we start to get into that type of “I don’t want to be here” type fighting territory. Next, for the sake of giving the ideal situation you’d want to be fighting in, we’re going to assume your unit is charging – if you’re paying for Veterans or something, you likely will pack a good delivery system like a Land Raider or something similar. Lastly, while I highly suggest (as stated above) shelling out for a more powerful weapon, we’re just going to assume everyone in the unit is packing the same weapon and challenges aren’t a factor; 10 is a prettier number to work with and you won’t always be going for the duel anyway.

To summarize this, here are the parameters of the test:

  • 10 models attacking, equipped with the same weapon – our testing variable
  • Both sides have a veteran/command squad statline of WS5,  Strength 4, 2 Attacks. 
  • The Attacking side will have the charge bonus
  • No legion specific bonuses or attached characters
  • The result we’re looking for is the number of unsaved wounds dealt.

The reason I’ve chosen to test this scenario is to create a “single variable testing environment” – this means we can look solely at the impact that changing the weapon will have on the combat result. While Horus Heresy is a dynamic game that can have many more cases than this that can impact the effectiveness of a combat, you can quickly face analysis paralysis with the amount of different variables to test at once. To keep it short and simple, we’ll roll with this testing environment and use the results to infer what situations these weapons could shine in.

Remember that we’re looking at attacking targets without an invulnerable save, so these results would be lower against targets that have those. Many targets will, but it’s adding more variables into the mix to analyze this as well.

For the actual math side of things, instead of just throwing a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet, I’ll be just using the logic covered here already on our site regarding dice math. Feel free to check this article out if you want to know more about the nuts and bolts of how probability and statistics work in Warhammer, but if you just want to get into the meat of the analysis, you can read on.

The Results

Here are the list of variables we’ll be testing. They all run at the same points cost for most if not all of the units you can bring them on, so we can purely look at the performance of the weapons. As I mentioned above, we’re going to leave out the weapons from the “Power” family that aren’t effective against 2+ saves as well as the specialist weapons, since they are more restrictive on loadouts and have higher costs than the rest of these.

  • Power Swords
  • Power Axes
  • Charnabal Sabers
  • Charnabal Glaives
  • Charnabal Axes

A few constants that will be the same across all of the weapons:

  • Hitting the target will always be on a 4+ roll due to equal weapon skill of the attacker and the target
  • The base wound roll will also be on a 4+, prior to modifiers from the weapon’s strength.
  • Due to charging, each model will be getting 3 attacks, with the unit leader nabbing an extra one.

Power Swords:

While power swords are intended to whack power armor, they come with a nice bonus of Rending (6+), meaning they still might be able to slip a few wounds past the artificer armored target.

On average, of the 41 total attacks, 20.5 will hit (4+). 

Of those hits, ~3.5 of them will be rends (6+), with the target making 6.75 additional saving throws from non-rends (4+).

~1 of those will be unsaved, totaling to ~4.5 unsaved wounds.

Not terrible, so we have the potential to clean up a few guys off the bat. It’s clear that this isn’t the best scenario for Power Swords, as fishing for 6’s with no other bonuses is where most of that damage comes in and the non-rends are mostly swept up by the armor.

Power Axes:

This is the real baseline test, as these are considered to be the gold standard for budget armor hunting. It’s worth keeping in mind that these are Unwieldy, so they’re the only weapon we’re testing that’s striking at Initiative step 1. This means (usually) at best you’ll be hitting at the same time as your target, and at worse they get the first crack at you, reducing the actual number of attacks you’ll get off. To give the best and and easiest to test scenario within the parameters, we’ll assume your target is also Unwieldy.

On average, of the 41 total attacks, 20.5 will hit (4+). 

Of those hits, ~13.5 of those will wound (on a 3+ due to the strength bonus). These will be AP2, so they all will go through the armor of the target.

Yeah, these are no joke. These will consistently kill half your target’s unit just by the sheet mass of AP2 wounds. The real only tough sell here is that Unwieldy can be a hefty tax to pay in some combats, but if you get your full-strength unit swinging, it’s quite the punch. These are the go-to for many players (including myself) for damn good reason.

Charnabal Sabers:

The selling point here is the Breaching (5+). Remember, these weapons will be striking at normal Initiative, so you’ll always get the full strength unit attacking pending any other outside intervention or shenanigans from the Emperor’s favorite boys in pink.

On average, of the 41 total attacks, 20.5 will hit (4+). 

Of those hits, ~6.8 of them will be breaches (5+), with the target making ~3.5 additional saving throws from non-breaches (4+). 

In total, this averages out to just about 7.5 wounds.

Nice stuff! The breaches can carry you a long way when you consider that 2/3 of your successful wound rolls will breach. This will clear out 3-4 guys. The main takeaway here though is that this is effectively a defensive bonus against targets slower than you – getting to kill targets with the much scarier Unwieldy weapons before they get to hit you means they’ll be losing out on all those attacks while you already got to go at full strength. This can be vital in winning the combat, even if it’s less outright lethal than the Power Axe.

Charnabal Glaives:

Two-handed means we won’t get the bonus attack for having a pistol and a melee weapon, so we’ll be only hitting with 3 attacks per model (4 on the leader) instead.

On average, of the 31 total attacks, 15.5 will hit (4+). 

Of those hits, ~5.2 of them will be breaches (5+), with the target making ~5.2 additional saving throws from non-breaches (3+). 

In total, this averages out to ~6.1 wounds.

Trading attacks for strength is generally not worth it, especially so in the case of a weapon where variance can swing in it’s favor pretty heavily. While the strength bonus will mean more attacks will wound, it won’t result in more breaches, which are really where the damage we want will come from. Losing dice is a bit of a rough sell, but they still won’t be a slouch compared to the Power Sword.

While we aren’t really talking challenges, it’s worth mentioning that the other difference Glaives have in DE(2) will rarely come into play, and reasonably just means you’ll get to hit before centurion-type targets. You’ll still have to get pretty lucky with your breaches then to kill him before he attacks you, so it’s often not that much more helpful than one of the other options that strikes at the same time but actually has more of a chance to kill your target.

Charnabal Axes:

These pack the highest strength bonus of the bunch here but only are as powerful at penetrating armor as the Power Sword. Let’s see how it fares.

On average, of the 41 total attacks, 20.5 will hit (4+). 

Of those hits, ~3.5 of them will be breaches (6+), with the target making ~13.2 additional saving throws from non-breaches (2+). 

In total, this averages out to ~5.7 wounds.

In terms of the environment of this test, these will beat out the Power Sword but still be the least effective at actually killing things just due to struggling with the armor saves.

Before you write these off as the worst option, there is a saving grace for the Tabar. While it’s outside of the testing parameters, it’s worth mentioning that there is a really great use case these results show for this weapon option: Rad Grenades!

Whether you take these as your extra weapons in a Destroyer squad, are a legion with access to them as an upgrade, or just run some supporting units with access to these bad boys, it means each one of those wounds will hit the threshold for Instant Death on your target. This totally flips the effectiveness of these around and makes them way more terrifying than any of the other options here, since threatening ID at your initiative is just bonkers.


To rank in order of effective damage:

  1. Power Axes (albeit at Unwieldy speed)
  2. Charnabal Sabers
  3. Charnabal Glaives
  4. Charnabal Tabars
  5. Power Swords

We’ll, it’s time to wrap up our test. In short, I’m not going to tell you to go re-model all of your Vets with Charnabal weapons because they’re some secret powerhouse or something. There are scenarios in which most of these weapons can shine, and in reality a lot of these weapons will be used in bulk as a solid way to fill out a unit dedicated to hunting 2+ armor saves without breaking the bank on a ton of heavier weapon options. What I’m going to do instead is offer a good case for each of these options and let you use this information to help kit out your units for the type of scenario you want to use them in:

  • Power Axes are great as ablative wounds in command squads for when you don’t want to pay for them all to have Power Fists. They also are great embedded in units that can only take special weapons as a 1-in-5 option, since you can eat the damage from things faster than your Unwieldy axes on the models without special weapons. They’ll remain the most lethal option of the group if you’re purely looking at dishing out hurt.
  • Charnabal Sabers are fantastic on things like Veterans that can take them in bulk. They’re the best option from a “defensive” standpoint since they’ll always allow you to get off all of your attacks before losing models, making them a really good option with Vexillas and other means to help tip a combat result in your favor, giving you the chance to win a combat and fight another day.
  • Charnabal Glaives have the most narrow use-case, as they generally will be out performed by the other options against most targets, but can be handy if your target has any bonuses to toughness. If the +1 strength from the glaive would take a scenario where you’d normally wound on a 6+ to a 5+, it means you won’t be wasting that Breaching(5+) of the saber and will score a little bit more damage, even with less attacks. A narrow case, but not a non-existent one.
  • Charnabal Tabars are excellent when paired with Rad Grenades or any other scenario in which you’d be hitting a toughness 3 or less target.
  • Power Swords aren’t really meant for heavy armor, but they give you great versatility in allowing you to wipe the floor with regular power armored goons while still having the ability to hurt 2+ saves.

Lastly, I wouldn’t suggest Charnebal weapons for challenges. While the initiative bonus is nice, the weapons have so much variance that it can be very swingy and inconsistent compared to just bringing a harder hitting weapon against any challenge-target worth their salt.

I hope you all enjoyed the analysis and can use this information to add some fun variety to your armies without hindering the on-board effectiveness of your units. Leave a comment below if you get to play around with Charnebals and let us know how they do!

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com. Want articles like this linked in your inbox every Monday morning? Sign up for our newsletter. And don’t forget that you can support us on Patreon for backer rewards like early video content, Administratum access, an ad-free experience on our website and more.