Horus Heresy Tactica: Hidden Gems

Welcome to Horus Heresy Tactica, our series that provides a deep dive in a specific mechanic, interaction or aspect of play in Warhammer: the Horus Heresy.

Heresy 2.0 has been out in the world now for a good six months. We’ve written tacticas, legion focuses, deep dives and hot takes and now the Goonhammer Heresy Team are sharing the hidden gems, weird units and favourite bits we’ve developed since the Age of Darkness kicked off. Some of these might be totally new – others might be your old favourites we’ve stumbled across recently. The interaction of unit rules, legions, equipment and weapons all gives rise to some weird and wonderful combinations, and we’ve scoured our chats, game history and best theory crafting to bring you some highlights.

Lenoon’s Return-Fire Leviathan

Leviathans take a lot of killing, and usually a lot of killing with ranged weapons because they have terrifying fists and drills for chopping up literally everything. You can save some points on top of their huge cost by taking flamers and no phosphex discharger, but here’s the gem – if you give them volkites, two combat weapons (with melta guns in) and a phosphex discharger, you are a pretty credible ranged threat too. Particularly when someone points something fairly squishy at you that would suffer from a lot of shots or a couple of solid melta hits. You know, like everything in the game?

This guy has so far killed more marines with return fire than in hand to hand. Credit: Lenoon

It works for overwatch too – especially useful against anything you think is a credible combat threat. You’ll reliably take a couple of wounds off a unit – and particularly if they’re vulnerable to dangerous terrain you might well do some serious damage. The heavy flamers present the wall of death threat, but the volkites let you reach out from much further and will usually do more to damage any incoming unit. There’s only a couple of things that can take on a Leviathan loaded for combat in hand to hand. Make sure you’re making it as unequal a fight as possible and you’re more likely to waddle out the other side.

Take two shooting phase reactions (so you also have another, much bigger return-fire threat) and stop everyone from even thinking about killing your Leviathan before it carves their Contemptors apart. Using a Leviathan to return fire might not seem like a well-hidden gem, but putting down some dangerous terrain, a boatload of deflagrate shots and two instant-death-inflicting low AP shots in your opponents turn is definitely surprising when they expected it to just be a lumbering close combat monster.

Caelyn’s Knifenought

Dreadnoughts in Heresy are really good. So good, in fact, that Lupe had to write an entire Tactica article about how to deal with them. But if you’re the kind of sicko that wants to take an entire army of dreadnoughts, it’s possible to make one of them even better by giving them the most powerful weapon on the battlefields of the 31st millennium; a knife.

This guy is pretty terrifying, but imagine how much scarier he’d be with a knife. Credit: Lupe

Yep, it’s possible to take the absolute powerhouse that is the Contemptor Dreadnought and improve it by giving it a small bladed weapon. A power dagger, yes, but it’s still just a knife. I love this trick because it’s too convoluted and obscure for most people to bother with, but it does still provide an edge.

As you may have guessed from the mention of power daggers, you need to have an Alpha Legion army to pull this off, specifically one running the Fury of the Ancients Rite of War. That’s another reason this amuses me so much; if you’re using this Rite, you hardly need any extra advantages. Fury requires you to upgrade a single Contemptor to Venerable Ancient status which, among other benefits, gives it the Character sub-type. For most Legions, this doesn’t make any difference in terms of loadout. The vast majority of Legion-specific gear and upgrades either mentions the particular units it can be given to, like Praetors or Centurions, or replaces an existing piece of kit, like Iron Hands characters replacing plasma pistols with grav pistols.

Power daggers are an exception and can be dished out to any Alpha Legion Character for a mere five points. Alpha Legion Characters like your freshly upgraded Contemptor. Now this may not seem like much of an upgrade when you compare the statlines of the Gravis power fist with the power dagger, but in doing so you’ll notice that neither of them is a Specialist Weapon. Yep, the Knifenought gets an extra attack with that sweet fisty profile without having to sacrifice a big ol’ heavy weapon to do so. It even works out cheaper than some of the other options. A second power fist with a meltagun costs fifteen points, while a Gravis melta cannon and power dagger is only ten.

Contemptor. Credit: Rockfish
Lovely Dreadnought. Shame he doesn’t have a knife. Credit: Rockfish

The absolutely bestest best thing about this trick is that if you want to run it, you have to model it and that’s where it gets fun. If a Dreadnought had a knife, how would he use it? Taped onto the end of a gun like a bayonet? Welded to a knee? I don’t know about you, but if I faced an opponent who had converted a Contemptor to be clutching a standard sized knife between his pointy Gravis power fingers, I’d be smiling too much to be mad that they were running Fury of the bloody Ancients.

Perigrin’s Gravitat

Dreadnoughts in Heresy are really good. So good, in fact, that Lupe had to write an entire Tactica article about how to deal with them. But if you’re NOT the kind of sicko that wants to take an entire army of dreadnoughts, you may be at a loss for how to kill them without spamming either lascannons or other dreadnoughts. Dreads have been my bugbear with this game, and my stubborn refusal to buy Lascannons has lead me down some dark and forbidden paths. Like playing Iron Hands. I have developed a massive love for Iron Hands grav weapons, because I am a melee creature and having them be assault and pistol lets you charge after firing them. That was it for a while, I was running veteran squads with power axes and grav weapons to try and kill dreads, but it wasn’t working particularly well. Recently though, in a conversation in the shadowy, smoke filled backrooms of Goonhammer HQ, we came to a horrible realization. Moritats can take grav pistols.

Moritats, if you do not remember, are the weird, edgy pistol guys that really wish that they were a Kelermorph. Grav pistols can replace any plasma pistol in an Iron Hands list They can shoot their pistols 6 times each, so 12 total shots. Grav pistols have the haywire rule, so instead of wounding against a dreadnought, instead, on a 2-5 you deal a wound with invuln saves only, and on a 6 you do a wound with no save allowed. So shooting 12 times at BS 5 is an average of 10 hits, of which 1.66 will wound with no save, and 6.66 will wound with invulns only. After saves, that is 6.1ish expected wounds on ANY dreadnought, regardless of toughness. That means that this character can, on average, kill a Contemptor a turn. A Gravitat with 2 grav pistols, a thunder hammer to finish off anything he doesn’t kill with said pistols, and a cyber familiar for durability and sniper resistance is 175 points, but you could run him bare bones for 125 with just the paired grav pistols. A 125 point model that can reasonably expect to kill a Contemptor every single turn is a rare thing in this game, though personally I would recommend upgrading him at least with the cyber familiar, having a 4+ invuln rather than a 5+ one is a huge increase in durability against snipers and anything else with precision strike.

Iron Hands have another fun thing you can add to this though. Medusan Immortals have the Bitter Duty rule, so they can be joined by a Moritat, who can’t normally join units because of that rule. They also come with a 5+ Feel No Pain and can take 2 grav shredders and a grav pistol + Thunder Hammer on the sergeant. For 275 points you can get a pretty durable body guard for your Gravitat, that can chip in with a few extra haywire shots every turn and hide a thunder hammer for melee against hard targets. 450 points for 17 grav shots, 2 thunder hammers, and a bunch of expendable dorks with FNP to take bullets/big dreadnought smacks for them, while consistently killing a Contemptor or more every turn they are in range, is a pretty decent deal and a scary little squad to deal with on the table, especially if your opponent is a war criminal and is running March of the Ancients or any other form of Contemptor spam.

NotThatHenryC’s Silent, Soulless Super-friends!

Are you building a Death Star? Do you play Loyalists? You need a woman with no soul, who never speaks. And you are spoilt for choice because Sisters of Silence have six Independent Characters you can choose from: five HQs and an elite choice of up to three Vestals. Each of them brings their own unique blend of really powerful rules.

Most of the time you’d take Sisters as an allied detachment, meaning you’re only going to have one of the HQs and maybe a Vestal or two. That’s enough to make a really big difference.

All of them have the Anathema unit type, which has about the most text of any unit type in the game. Basically it means psychic powers don’t affect their unit, force weapons don’t get their benefit against the Sisters themselves and everyone nearby gets their LD reduced by a pip or two. This last point might seem like quite a big disadvantage – reducing your Death Star’s LD is not a good thing. But the Sister herself isn’t affected and the unit can use her LD (somehow, despite the fact she doesn’t speak and communicates only via hand signals… while either wielding a greatsword or firing a brace of pistols). Some of them are even fearless. Enemy units will have their LD dropped though, even if they’re stubborn. They also give you Hatred against Daemons, Psykers and Corrupted stuff. Krole also hates Traitors, which is awesome. Their Psyk-out grenades mean that units containing Psykers or Daemons can’t react to their charges.

As Sworn Brothers (Sisters?) of all loyalists, you’re very free in what units you attach Sisters to. There are downsides to attaching non-Legion models to your units though. They aren’t allowed in transports and some of your Legion’s special rules, such as advanced reactions, might require that every model in the unit has the Legion (X) rule. Do check all this stuff before you get to the table to avoid disappointment.

So which one to pick? Let’s go through them.

Jenetia Krole is a complete monster in melee thanks to awesome wargear and too many special rules to list in this article. These rules include Eternal Warrior, Fearless and “Ex Oblivio”, which lets her reduce the WS of any model in base contact with her to 1 for the rest of the turn, at the risk of taking a wound on a D6 roll of a 1. Only Primarchs, who are immune to having their stats reduced, can fight Krole.

The Knights Abyssal and Centura are basically lesser versions of Krole, though cheaper and more customisable. Both have Ex Oblivio and 3 wounds. Knights Abyssal are quite a bit better, with Fearless, better stats and the option to take Paragon Blades. Knights Centura  can only have normal power weapons, so they’ll struggle a bit against 2+ saves. A Charnabral weapon is actually an interesting option for them.

If you prefer you can have a Sister from the Chamber of Judgement: the Silent Judge or Fury. Lacking Ex Oblivio, these are far less useful in a fight. They make up for this with their own piles of special rules. The Judge brings a whole stack of buffs including a bonus VP for killing the enemy Warlord, preventing enemy units (but not stubborn or fearless ones) from reacting to her unit’s firing or charges and making her unit count as 12” further away for the purposes of shooting, unless the enemy is a Primarch or has night vision. This is awesome because it means the enemy won’t be rapid firing at your death star – or firing at all in the case of meltas. I think the Silent Judge is a compelling pick for an infantry Death Star, especially for her very low price.

The Silent Fury is a bit of an edge case. She’s on a jetbike and is Cavalry, meaning she can only join Cavalry units. If you’re running some sort of biker command squad she’s the only option you can have and otherwise she’s much less use. One quite cool thing is that her super-fast 18” move might well let your command squad charge on turn 1, if used correctly. Her Distort Field makes her unit count as 6” further away when shot at too, so you can easily avoid things like melta on your way in. Cavalry is already immune to pinning though, so the psychic immunity isn’t worth as much.

WIP Knight Vestal
WIP Knight Vestal. Credit: NotThatHenryC

Finally the Knight Vestal Covenant is an elites choice for 1-3 Knights, all of whom have to start together in coherency and are then allowed to go their own way. I don’t think there’s anything stopping you having them start the game attached to other units, so long as they’re all within 2” of each other. You kind of only need one anyway, unless you want to spread them around Custodian squads or something.

Costing 10 points less than an Apothecary, a Knight Vestal is the poster girl for the gender pay gap. She’s got WS, BS and I5 with 2 wounds and a 2+ save, making her much harder to snipe. She can infiltrate or scout if you want, and very clearly you do because a Scout move for a whole Death Star is awesome news. Oh and of course she’s a medic, granting her unit 5+ FNP, and she’s perfectly happy to join units like Terminators, that apothecaries won’t. You can even buy her a power weapon and/or a pair of needle pistols, giving her 4 poison 3+ shots that cause pinning.

An issue for most of these characters is that no models exist, so you have to convert them. My Vestal, above, is made using the Forgeworld pistol arms and bits from the Novitiate medic ( you can’t really see the narthecium but it’s there), plus a few other bits and pieces. I’ve got hold of some of the new Escher Jetbikes, Inquisitor Greyfax and Canoness Veridyan, who I hope to be able to convert into as Silent Judge, Fury and Knight Abyssal/Centura.

The filthiest option is making a Sister of Silence your Warlord and having your Legion forces as allies. There are a load of downsides to this as it massively restricts the forces you can bring and also things like Rites of War. It may not be too bad though as death stars tend to use up quite a lot of points and you can still bring plenty of troops in allied detachments.

So why would you do that? Because Sisters of Silence have a bizarrely good warlord trait: Maiden of Sorrow. When she or her unit takes an unsaved wound, they all get +1 to move and attack characteristics till the end of you next turn, to a maximum of +4. If she’s in a unit of Terminators and a couple of them die, the survivors will have a 10” move and 6 attacks each, before any other bonuses. Custodian Guard will go nuts. This gives your opponent something of a quandry: if they attack your Death Star they turbo charge it, but pretty bad things will happen if they don’t.

I don’t know what the best Death Star in 30k is right now, because to be honest they aren’t my preferred way to play. But I think a unit of Huscarls, Deliverers, Knights Cenobium or Custodian Guard with a SoS character or two is probably a good start.

What weird stuff have you found in the Age of Darkness? Comments or thoughts? Write them below or email contact@goonhammer.com.