Horus Heresy Units of the Astartes: Elites

Welcome to the Horus Heresy. With the release of the Age of Darkness and the second edition of the rules, there’s never been a better time to jump into (or return to) a world set 10,000 years before Warhammer 40,000. Over the next few weeks this series is going to take a look at how to build your army, and how those choices you make will affect you on the battlefield.

In this mini-series we’ll be taking a look at all of the units that every Space Marine army can field, how they operate, how you might want to equip them and what you want to point their guns/combat weapons at on the table.
As above, in your standard force organisation you have the choice of taking up to four Elite units in your army. You don’t have to take any, but it would be incredibly uncommon to not take at least one. Many of these units have common upgrades, each of which are relatively cheap and worth taking just about all of the time:
  • Legion Vexilla – Simply add 1 to the number of wounds caused for determining which side won in combat. A great bonus for any close combat unit. It also allows the unit to fall back 1D6″ less than normal (so 1D6 for Infantry, 2D6 for cavalry), which can stop them from running off the table, while also keeping them safer and closer to where you want them on the table if they fail a morale check.
  • Augury Scanner – A worthwhile upgrade on just about any unit that can take it. This little scanner lets the owning unit ignore the 24″ range limit to shooting during a Night Fight, which by itself would make it worth it. Also, enemy units cannot deploy within 18″ of the unit while infiltrating, keeping enemy units further back. Situationally useful – a unit with a scanner can make an Intercept reaction against enemy units, without expending any of your Reaction points. An army of units full of scanners are just going to light up enemy units arriving from reserve.
  • Nuncio Vox – So long as the unit is on the table and not in a transport or vehicle you can re-roll the scatter dice for weapons or deployment of a unit so long as the model with the vox can draw line of sight to that point on the board. Also ignore the -1LD dealt by Night Fight.

Elites Choices

White Scars Legionaries. Credit – Soggy

Legion Veteran Squad

Essentially a more elite and tactically flexible version of the Tactical Squad. These are still space marines in power armour but have an extra wound each and have a better WS value making them better in combat. The unit numbers 5-10 marines and you can really kit them out almost however you want. With Relentless they can move, shoot, and charge with any weapons you choose to give them. You can equip the unit with the “normal” upgrades like a Nuncio-Vox, Augury Scanner, and Vexilla and any that keep their bolters can take bayonets or chain bayonets.

These marines have the Chosen Warriors special rule, allowing each one to accept or issue a challenge as if they were a character. Being able to accept a challenge with any of the marines in a squad is situationally useful; when an enemy unit with higher Initiative weapon issues a challenge you can sacrifice a cheaper model while still being able to attack with your sergeant. This becomes slightly more useful when joined by an independent character that you don’t want squaring up in challenges but who you still want attacking.

Any model in the unit can swap out their bolter for a combi weapon, shotgun, or nemesis bolter. Any can take in addition to any other wargear a chainsword, heavy chainsword, charnabal weapon, lightning claw, or power weapon. Or any of them can swap out their bolter and bolt pistol for a pair of lightning claws. One in 5 models can instead swap out their bolter for a flamer, meltagun, plasma gun, graviton gun, heavy flamer, heavy bolter, or missile launcher. The sergeant can take a power first or thunder hammer, plasma pistol, melta bombs, and artificer armour.

That is a lot of options and lets you really lean in to a lot of different battlefield roles. A unit with all nemesis bolters can’t infiltrate like a Recon squad but they do have 2 wounds a piece, making them a little harder to remove. Taking at least one shotgun in a unit of otherwise close combat Veterans can reduce an enemy unit’s WS, making them even easier to hit and making the Veterans harder to be hit back. A nemesis bolter or two could pluck out an enemy sergeant/special weapon before charging in as well, or even an apothecary potentially to remove those annoying FNP rolls.

 

Cataphractii Terminators. Credit: Rockfish
Cataphractii Terminators. Credit: Rockfish

Legion Cataphractii Squad

The first, heavier, and bulkier of the two terminator squads. These are built to be tough and hard to kill, sacrificing movement for a better invulnerable save.

Terminators have 2 wounds each like Veterans but their heavier armour grants a 2+ armour save and Cataphractii plate gives a 4++ invulnerable save. They only have a move of 6″ however and cannot make sweeping advance moves letting enemy units that lose combat safely run away instead of being overrun. As a Heavy sub-type unit they subtract 1″ from reaction movement and re-roll failed armour saves against blast or flame template weapons.

Each terminator comes with a power weapon of your choice and a combi-bolter. If you want to keep the unit cheap then power swords are solid, able to slice through most infantry units at initiative with rending to help through a few 2+ saves. Power axes are a cheap way of getting AP2 attacks at a slightly higher S but they are unwieldy at which point you’re usually better off just paying for a power fist which hits even harder, can slap tanks around, and causes Instant Death against T4 and lower targets. The much more expensive Thunder Hammer however is Brutal 2 making it incredibly good at attacking dreadnoughts and other terminators, forcing more saves against what will often be Instant Death attacks.

For ranged weapons the unit comes with combi-bolters standard but any model can swap out their combi bolter out for a magna combi weapon, minor combi weapon, or a volkite charger. Taking a unit full of combi-flamers could do wonders for horde clearance, as could combi-volkite chargers so that you’re making both volkite and bolter shots each turn. If you’re able to deep strike a unit then taking a few combi-meltas could be an easy way to nuke a vehicle quickly. For heavier weapons, one in every five models in the unit can instead swap their bolter out for a heavy flamer, plasma blaster, or reaper autocannon. The best overall pick here is the plasma blaster; it’s a high-strength weapon with Breaching 4+ to ignore armour most of the time and you’ll generally want this unit to operate close to its targets so the 18″ range is a non-issue. If you do load up with ranged weapons then you should also go ahead and take an Augury Scanner too.

When building out a generic unit of five models I like to take 2 chainfists to be able to take out a vehicle very reliably if needed, plus a thunder hammer on the sergeant for those Brutal attacks, and power fists on the remaining models. Taking a Vexilla will help you win combat – even though you won’t be able to sweeping advance you definitely don’t want to lose combat either. The unit gets expensive quick so I usually just leave them with combi-bolters and save the points to spend elsewhere in my list.

 

Alpha Legion Tartaros Terminators. Credit: Lupe

Legion Tartaros Squad

Tartaros armour is a lighter, less bulky alternative to Cataphractii plate which constrains the wearer less but at the cost of some protection. This version of terminator plate only confers a 5+ invulnerable save but keeps the “normal” Space Marine 7″ movement. They’re also not Heavy sub-type so don’t receive any movement restrictions but also don’t get to re-roll armour saves from blast/template weapons. They do also get to make sweeping advance moves so can actually go into a unit, win combat, and run it down.

For weapons, Tartaros terminators are actually identical to the Cataphractii unit above. The only thing to consider here is that, because they are able to make sweeping advances, you may want to lean into more at-initiative weapons like lightning claws and power swords. When you do make sure you’re taking a grenade harness on the sergeant so that you’re still fighting at initiative after charging through cover.

Ultramarine Destroyers Credit: paulminiatures Instagram

Legion Destroyer Assault Squad

AKA the War-Crimes Squad. Using especially deadly and horrific weaponry that are proscribed and forbidden by the rest of the Space Marine legions. That’s really saying something too since the standard armament of a space marine is a rocket-propelled explosive shell and the legions’ extensive use of what’s essentially microwave guns. Bitter Duty makes them fight nearly on their own too, not being able to be joined by any other characters unless they also have the same rule, such as Moritat consuls.

Equipped with jump packs, 2 bolt pistols, a chainsword, and rad grenades, these marines are built for quickly getting in and fighting in close-quarters combat. Rad grenades decrease the toughness of a unit on a turn that the unit is charged or makes a charge move, and with Counter Attack 1 this unit is throwing out 4 attacks per model with chainswords, wounding the majority of targets on 3+, re-rolling during that turn. One per 5 models in the unit can take a power weapon or charnabal weapon of choice too; a unit of 10 rocking 3 power swords (including sergeant) could be very deadly against the right targets. The whole unit can take melta bombs at a small cost, and generally the upgrade is worth it, just in case they come into contact with vehicles they won’t be able to otherwise deal with – giving them melta bombs gives you a light, quick unit that can dispatch vehicles too.

Any model in the unit can swap out both of their bolt pistols for 2 volkite serpentas or 2 hand flamers. Volkite is a great choice to really cause havoc against power armoured or lighter units. For every five models in the squad one of them can swap a bolt pistol for a plasma pistol, toxiferran flamer, or a missile launcher that only has rad missiles and comes with a suspensor web. A toxiferran flamer is the same as a normal flamer but with poisoned 3+ and rending 6+, making it even more potent for clearing out infantry. That specialty missile launcher is only loaded up with rad missiles instead of the normal frag/krak/flak and fires a S4 AP3 small blast template with fleshbane and rad-phage wounding non-vehicles/dreads on 2+ and any model wounded but not killed by it will reduce its Toughness by 1 for the rest of the game. This effect even works against things like Dreadnoughts and Land Speeders, permanently reducing their toughness making it easier for the rest of your force to wound them. Otherwise though this really isn’t going to come up a whole lot since you use majority toughness when rolling to wound against units. With how wound allocation works AP3 is not quite as good as it might sound considering most units will have a 2+ save hidden somewhere in their number to try and tank as many wounds as possible. If you want to get the most out of your AP missiles, try and knock out artificer armour characters from units with nemesis bolters before firing.
The unit’s sergeant can take the normal close combat weapons and artificer armour but can also take one phospex bomb, which is an incredibly deadly short-ranged weapon. At only 6″ it’s a good choice since this unit has jump packs so can get there easily and will just about kill what it touches as a small blast S5 AP2 with poisoned 3+, crawling fire (so you move it after scattering to hit more stuff), and Lingering Death. Always take this.
Death Guard Destroyers Credit: @hwd48 Twitter hwd_paints instagram

Legion Mortalis Destroyer Squad

These are identical to the Destroyer Assault Squad but they don’t have jump packs. Instead they can take a Rhino, Termite Assault Drill, or Land Raider Proteus as a dedicated transport. Considering how short ranged their weapons are that’s definitely something you’ll want to do! Throwing a unit of 10 of these guys in a Termite to tunnel up wherever they want feels both very thematic and also very good when loaded up with volkite pistols, joined by a Moritat (maybe with disintegrators…) and a couple toxiferran flamers or rad missiles.

Death Guard Quad Mortars Credit: @hwd48 Twitter hwd_paints instagram

Legion Rapier Battery

A mini artillery piece unit it’s a little different in that you buy the rapier carrier and it comes with 2 space marine gunners, then you can add up to 2 more carriers to the unit and for each carrier you get 2 more gunners. They have a special rule Legion Artillerists which makes the unit immune to pinning so long as there’s a carrier and gives the marines +1LD. To shoot with a rapier carrier you need to have at least one marine gunner alive in the unit per carrier, so if you have 2 carriers then you need to have at least 2 gunners left alive to shoot with both, if you have only one gunner then you can only fire with one carrier. This does make wound allocation sort of funny, and hard to know when to allocate to the carrier vs allocating to a gunner. That said, the carrier only has 2 wounds while each gunner has 1 so any sort of significant shooting will likely just remove all of them at once anyways!

The carrier comes equipped with gravis heavy bolter battery, a quad-barrelled heavy bolter that fires at 48″ range with 8 shots and is twin-linked, making it a solid anti-infantry weapon. You can change this out for a laser destroyer, graviton cannon, or quad launcher. the laser destroyer is best aimed at vehicles and will pretty reliably remove lighter ones when it fires while the graviton cannon is great for slowing down enemy movement by creating areas of difficult and dangerous terrain as well as being haywire to also be threat to vehicles. The quad launcher is by far the most interesting though, coming with frag shells when you purchase it you can also equip it with incendiary, shatter, and splinter shells. If you have a Siege Breaker in your army you also unlock lethal phosphex rounds. Frag shells fire a large blast with shred making in an OK anti infantry shot but for only 5 more points you can take the incendiary shells which are lower strength but add pinning and ignores cover to the shot, and then splinter shells go a step further adding rending 6+ and Shell Shock but are only S2. Shatter rounds fire off 4 shots of S8 sunder removing hull points from tanks quickly. Phospehex shells hit at S4 AP3 with poisoned 3+ under a small blast template that you get to move a few inches after it has scattered in order to hit more models. If you don’t have a siege breaker then you’ll probably want to load this up with incendiary shells for that sweet pinning.

 

Contemptor Dreadnought

As you may have heard, Dreadnoughts got a real glow-up in Heresy 2.0 and the Contemptor may just be the best unit in the Astartes army list. At 175 points you get a big metal walker that moves 8″ (and so gets +1 to charge rolls) with WS5 and BS5, making it solid with both shooting and combat attacks, S7 and T7 – meaning it hits hard and is hard be wounded by small arms fire, plus a whopping 6 wounds. With its 2+ save the Contemptor is well equipped to shrug off any shots that do manage to wound it and with an Atomantic Deflector it has a 5+ invulnerable save as well. It’s even immune to Instant Death, instead only taking D3 wounds, and any successful fleshbane or poisoned attacks against it have to be re-rolled.
The Contemptor comes armed with a gravis bolt cannon, a larger heavy bolter with 6 shots that’s twin-linked and a gravis power fist with a combi-bolter built in. That fist is no joke – even with 3 attacks it’s a S9 attack with Brutal 3 which will force 3 separate saves to be made on the target, dealing up to 3 wounds per attack. Those attacks won’t spill across multiple models but it’s easily one of the best ways to reliably kill a few terminators, since even a single failed invulnerable save means instant death. You can swap out either arm for a second gravis bolt cannon or a wide range of other guns, or gravis chainfist with built-in combi bolter. Those in-built combi bolters can also be swapped for heavy flamers, plasma blasters, graviton guns, or melta guns so even if you decide to take 2 fists you can still have some hefty firepower.  Essentially you can kit this out to deal with any threat you like from anti-infantry to anti-tank and even anti-dreadnought with 2 fists for more Brutal attacks.
My personal favourite combo is a gravis autocannon or kheres assault cannon with a gravis fist. It’s relatively cheap, it can shoot and it can perform in melee. Those guns have a decent number of high-strength shots with Rending, allowing it to put in work firing into most any target you point it at. Going with a chainfist and a gravis fist with inbuilt plasma blasters would do similar work however, with an extra attack in melee and the option to tear open vehicles even more reliably with the chainfist.
For a mere 100 points you can also give a talon of 1 a Dreadnought Drop Pod, which we covered more here.
If anything the contemptor is probably a little too good at its current cost and how it works on the table. It can pretty easily wade its way through lighter infantry units without taking so much as a scratch back. Taking a couple talons of these could be very hard for many armies to deal with on the table, so be weary of just how many you’re fielding and who you’re playing against.

Support Characters

Apothecaries and Techmarines are both Elite choices but they don’t use their slot quite the same as other units. You’re only allowed 0-1 of either option but when you use an Elite slot on either you can take multiple of them within that slot.

Ultramarine Apothecary Credit: paulminiatures

Apothecarion Detachment

When you buy this slot you get 1 apothecary for 45 points that must join an infantry non-terminator unit and cannot leave it during the game. If you want one to go with your bike, jetbike, or jump pack unit then you have to buy the apothecary the appropriate gear in order for them to join that unit. Apothecaries also gain the sub-type of the unit that they join, so if you have one join a unit of Breachers which are Heavy sub-type then the Apothecary is also Heavy sub-type. You can then buy up to 7 additional Apothecaries, each for 45 points, for up to 8 total in your detachment.

Apothecaries come with a bolt pistol, chainsword, frag and krak grenades and a narthecium. They’re also in power armour so the get the regular 3+ save. You can choose to buy them a combi-weapon or volkite charger as well as swapping their chainsword for a power weapon or charnabal weapon. Put all that aside, though – the narthecium is why you’re taking these: It confers a 5+ Feel No Pain (FNP) damage mitigation roll to their unit which can combine with rules such as Heart of the Legion for even better odds. It does not confer this ability to artillery however, so no giving your rapier carriers FNP to help save them (though it does help the gunners, if you really wanted to).

Generally speaking these are good to buy for larger units. It’s not worth the investment for something like a 5-man unit of Veterans having an Apothecary is great 20-model blobs of tactical marines.

Techmarine Covenant

Similar to the Apothecarion Detachment you can take up to one of these in your force org, with up to 8 separate Techmarines within it. These do not form a unit, must join another unit, and must a bike/jetbike/jump pack etc. to match their unit just like apothecaries.

Techmarines have a lot more choice than Apothecaries when it comes to wargear. They come stock with a bolt pistol, power axe, and servo arm (which can both attack and make vehicle repairs) as well as artificer armour for a 2+ save. A techmarine can take a nuncio vox, augury scanner, cognis-signum (which gives a unit nearby or the one they’re attached to +1 to hit rolls when shooting), cyber familiar and meltabombs. For ranged weapons you can give the a combi-weapon of choice, a master-crafted bolter, volkite charger, plasma pistol, graviton gun, flamer, plasma gun, or meltagun. They’re Relentless so any heavier weapon you give them won’t stop your unit from charging after firing with too. You can also swap out their power axe for a thunder hammer and you can take a boarding shield too. Though you can largely skip the Thunder Hammer, since the servo arm is a S8, AP2 weapon on its own (that you even make an additional attack with, always), so the only reason you’d take it is for the Brutal. …which is good, but makes the Techmarine very expensive.
Taking a Techmarine with a cognis-signum and augury scanner feels like the winner here. When combined with shootier units such as a heavy support squad you can boost their BS by 1 and the scanner is 5 points cheaper on the Techmarine than it would be on the squad. Just don’t take any ranged weapons with your Techmarine since using the cognis-signum happens in place of the techmarine shooting.
The other reason you take a Techmarine though is to fix up your tanks. The Techmarine has the Battlesmith (5+) rule so when it’s in base contact or embarked within a vehicle, dreadnought, or automata unit you can roll a D6 and on the 5+ you can either restore a lost hull point or wound, repair a weapon destroyed, or repair an immobilised result. Taking Techmarines with melee-focused units riding in transports as an insurance policy in case your transport gets immobilised can be incredibly helpful.

Legion Nullifactor Squad (Expanded Unit)

A specialised Cataphractii terminator unit that’s limited to a maximum of one per  detachment. Statswise they’re identical to Cataphractii terminators; what marks them out is their unique wargear, options, and Hexagrammatic Wards, which makes all incoming attacks from Psychic weapons suffer a -1 penalty to wound.

Nullifactors come stock with combi-bolters and Aether-shock mauls, which are S+1 AP3 with Deflagarate, making them excellent horde clearers but any model can swap out their maul for a power fist if you’d rather have a punchier unit. Any model can also swap their combi bolter out for a toxiferran flamer (yes, the nasty destroyer one) or a disintegrator, a rare AP2 ranged weapon that causes Instant Death (always) but Gets Hot. These options add up very quickly though, disintegrators at 20 points per model get very expensive very fast.

Nullifactors can at least take either a Land Raider Proteus or Dreadclaw Drop Pod if you’re taking the minimum unit of 5, so they have a way of getting to where they want to be.

 

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

Legion Castra Ferrum Dreadnought Talon (Expanded Unit)

It’s a box dread. You standard, old fashioned, box dreadnought is a slightly cheaper, slightly weaker version of the Contemptor dreadnought. At only T6 and 5 wounds it’s easier to wound and goes down quicker than the larger variants but at only 125 points it’s much easier to fit into lists. The boxdread comes with a Ferromantic Deflector, which gives it a 5+ invulnerable save and converts any Instant Death attack to be a flat 3 wounds instead.

The humble dreadnought comes with a gravis bolt cannon, a gravis power fist with combi bolter, and can swap either out for a wide range of weapons like a contemptor, including a flamestorm cannon which would be a lot of fun in Zone Mortalis games or dropping out of the sky in a drop pod. One of the other unique weapon fittings is a gravis missile launcher which fires either 2 krak missiles at the normal profile or a frag shell which is large blast and pinning. Having a cheap little firing platform like hanging back slinging out lascannon and krak missiles at tanks with the utility to pop a pinning shot out at infantry is no joke.

You can also equip your dreadnought with a helical targeting array to better shoot at planes, a havoc launcher for more anti-infantry fun, or even a searchlight so that you can ignore night fighting, which is well worth the 5 points it costs to take.

 

Pulling it together

There are a lot of strong units in the Elites section of the Astartes list and it’s easy to see why you’d want to take any of these Elite choices depending on how you’re building out your army. You can fill up to four slots with these units and there are really no bad choices in the bunch. Blobs of terminators crossing the table in land raiders or a Spartan is nothing to scoff at and a field of Contemptor dreadnoughts is terrifying thing to behold. But you can’t take everything so take a look at the rest of your list, how these units interact with your legion traits or even wargear options, and think about what makes sense for your army. What might be the best pick for you might not be the best pick for someone else.

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