If you’re new to Warhammer 40,000, then the array of different armies and supplemental rules available to them can seem overwhelming. You’ve got your codex, but what about your codex supplement? Does your army have any Forge World units? What’s a Vigilus, anyway? In this article, which we aim to maintain and keep as current as possible, we break down the where and why of Warhammer 40k.
For each faction, we’ll briefly describe the rules available to it narratively, and where and why you might use them, and then link to the various sources of those rules. It’s worth noting that previously there were usually digital editions of the rules available – these have now gone and are replaced by versions in the Warhammer 40,000 app, either rolled over from 8th edition or added with a code in the physical codex for 9th edition publications. The app has had a mixed reception to say the least; it’s better now than it was, and half the price, but we can’t wholeheartedly recommend it so it’s very much an “if you really want to” kind of purchase for now.
The Core Rules
The hardback version of the core rules is found in the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook. This is the full core rulebook – there’s also new starter sets in Recruit, Elite, and Command edition (given in order of price and contents) which contain slimmed down versions of the rules for beginning play and are a great way to get started if you’re new. If you get the biggest version, the Command Set, there’s even a version of the full core rulebook included sans fluff text and such. You’ll also want the new Chapter Approved 2020 including the Munitorum Field Manual – this has all the current points, a full set of GT missions at Incursion/Strike Force points values (which are the best version for Matched Play even if you aren’t intending to go to tournament), and a reprint of the core rules which skips a couple of features including, notably, detachments, but is otherwise complete.
Additionally, if you are interested in the specialist units available from Forge World, which do not form part of the main GW line but are now usually considered legal for matched play and tournaments, you will need the the Imperial Armour Compendium. This has the benefit of being comprehensive, covering the entire current Forge World range, with the downside of being comprehensive, covering the entire Forge World range, which means that if you just have a single cool toy you want the rules for you still need to pay for and then carry around a £40 hardback book. If you’re just dipping your toe into 40k for the first time you do not need this book, though it’s helpful to know it exists.
What’s an Index?
If you’re talking to people who’ve been playing a while, they might reference the “Index” books which came out at the same time as 8th edition released. These 5 books had all the datasheets and points at the launch of the game, but they’ve been completely superseded by this point – they are no longer for sale and none of the datasheets are current, either having been released in a codex, in a White Dwarf article, or transferred to “Legends.” Because this is a Games Workshop game, there’s no set standard for “legal” or “tournament official” and some people will swear blind all their index rules are still valid, but in most places the indexes are gone and there’s no real need to seek them out.
Speaking of Legends, you can find them here on the Warhammer Community website. Legends incorporates rules for models which no longer exist and are therefore not supported. They have game-legal rules, but they’re no longer part of the “main” range and do not receive rebalancing. It’s also where rules go for limited releases like Da Red Gobbo from Christmas 2019. Whether you or your friends want to play with the Legends rules is completely up to you, but be aware that if you’re going to an organised play event like a tournament they probably won’t allow them.
And what about Vigilus?
If you read any of the Start Competing articles written for 8th edition, you’ll see a fair number of references to the Vigilus Defiant and Vigilant Ablaze books. In terms of rules content, Vigilus Defiant nearly 100% consisted of specialist detachments. These are still technically legal for 9th edition but with the important exception that the Grand Tournament play rules ban them outright – which for a lot of players mean they are dead and buried. You can still take them in “regular” games of 40k not using those missions, but for much of our audience they’re not going to be relevant any more, so we’re not even going to link to them – our advice is that you don’t go out and buy a two year old book with up to three pages of rules for your faction which are on the way out.
Vigilus Ablaze is a little more complicated, since it contains a bunch of rules for Chaos armies besides specialist detachments, and they haven’t been reprinted anywhere else. For now we’ll continue to mention them below, but be aware those are probably getting folded in to a future Chaos codex – so unless you really want to play them right now, and have no other source like borrowing the book from a friend, then we don’t advise purchasing it.
And Psychic Awakening?
Like Vigilus, Psychic Awakening was a campaign series, which filled the final months of 8th edition. There were 9 Psychic Awakening books in total, starting with Phoenix Rising and ending with Pariah. Each book contained some narrative as well as new rules for a number of factions, which ranged from ‘complete garbage’ to ‘utterly essential.’ The books are still current in 9th edition but as new codexes come out the content for them is being excised from the game – so for example, the Blood Angels rules found in Blood of Baal are no longer valid. If an update for your faction has recently been previewed and you don’t already own the PA book then be aware it may have a very short shelf-life if you buy it now. We’ve included reference to them for each faction below where it’s relevant, and removed them where it’s not.
War Zone Charadon
New for 9th edition is War Zone Charadon, which seems to be a campaign setting with a series of new books taking place in it. The first of these is the Book of Rust, described as “Act 1” in the campaign, with new rules for a variety of army sub-factions as well as the “Army of Renown” concept, which essentially gives the relevant faction a more limited set of unit choices in return for additional rules benefits. We expect to see more of these as the edition goes on.
The FAQs and Errata
Finally, it’s worth being aware of the FAQ pages on Warhammer Community, which you can find here. Back in the bad old days FAQs were few and far between, but modern Games Workshop is at least trying to keep on top of the game and release regular updates – books generally receive an FAQ and errata about 2 weeks after release, and then there’s a cycle of bigger updates in April and September which they’ve generally stuck to for the past couple of years.
Isn’t there an app for this?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: yes, but it’s quite bad. In its present form it’s not quite as bad as it was in our initial review, and the army builder now exists and is a good first draft, at least. We’re slowly warming to it, but it’s still not as good as unofficial alternatives and it’s hard to recommend as a paid product.
Adepta Sororitas/Sisters of Battle
The Sisters of Battle are one of the simplest factions in 40k, owing to their very recent release in November 2019. They didn’t get anything new in Pariah, either (there’s Ephrael Stern, but she’s an all-Imperium unit, though a thematic one for a Sisters army). As of April 2021 they have a new unit in the Palatine, with rules in the Piety and Pain box, but no current points.
The Codex contains the vast majority of the rules for playing Sisters, with a few FAQ tweaks. They no longer have any Forge World units to speak of.
The Adeptus Custodes have a small, self-contained plastic range, being a new faction release for 8th edition designed to incorporate as few kits as possible. They also have an extensive range of Forge World kits, many originally designed for the Horus Heresy/Warhammer 30k setting, which have been given rules for 40k.The Custodes also got some extremely good new rules in the War of the Spider release for Psychic Awakening, which combined with a gentler points update than many other factions have seen them soar to the top of the pile in early 9th.
The Adeptus Mechanicus have rules in a bunch of different places, owing to an uneven release schedule, though much of this was consolidated in the recent Engine War release. As well as the plastic kits released post-codex and featuring in Engine War, Ad Mech also have a smattering of Forge World units in the Compendium, though weirdly there seems to be no plan for bringing their extensive 30k range into the 40k setting. There’s also Daedalosus, a Tech-priest Enginseer special character who features in the Combat Arena boxed game that you can only buy in the US or Germany, or in the Blackstone Fortress: Escalation expansion available worldwide. Forge World Metalica also got additional rules in the Book of Rust, and there’s an Army of Renown in there too. Finally, and slightly the other way, Ad Mech have a bunch of Knight units in the codex, but these are entirely superseded by the Imperial Knights codex and there’s basically no reason to use the rules in here when you could use those ones instead.
Codex: Adeptus Mechanicus 8th edition released September 2017 (FAQ version 1.0 last updated 13/7/20)
Psychic Awakening: Engine War (FAQ version 1.2 last updated 7/1/21)
War Zone Charadon: The Book of Rust (Forge World Metalica and the Mechanicus Defence Cohort Army of Renown)
Daedalosus: In the Combat Arena or Blackstone Fortress: Escalation box
Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard
The Imperial Guard haven’t had a lot of releases in 8th ed, though Sly Marbo was waiting in reserve and Commissar Severina Raine received a new model, and rules, alongside the release of Honourbound. The Guard did get a pile of new rules in Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good which any player will want to pick up if they can. Additionally, the Astra Militarum have probably the greatest number of Forge World units, matched only by the Space Marines.
Codex: Astra Militarum 8th edition released October 2017 (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good (FAQ version 1.3 updated 7/1/21)
Sly Marbo: Datasheet
Severina Raine: Datasheet
The Grey Knights had one of the first codexes of 8th edition, and it showed – for a long time they were considered very poor. However, their Psychic Awakening update gave them a turbo-boost to the top of the meta for the end of 8th, and while that shine seems to have worn off it’s still essential if you’re looking to play them at the moment. It’s an essential pick-up for any Grey Knight player. The Knights of Titan also have access to some Forge World units in the compendium.
The Imperial Knights came roaring onto the scene in June 2018, warhorns blaring and feet stomping. As well as the three core plastic kits, there’s an extensive range of Forge World Knights of different classes, from Armiger-sized Moirax to the near-Titan sized Acastus. The Knights also got an update (along with their Chaos counterparts) in Psychic Awakening: Engine War.
Codex: Imperial Knights 8th edition released June 2018 (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Psychic Awakening: Engine War (FAQ version 1.2 last updated 7/1/21)
War Zone Charadon: The Book of Rust (House Raven)
Like the Assassins, the Inquisition appeared in a White Dwarf supplementary article, in this case in the November 2019 issue. This was quickly updated with a re-released version of the rules in the Pariah update to Psychic Awakening, which replaces that article outright. They also have a couple of Forge World characters. There’s also Inquisitor Eisenhorn, whose rules are in his box but can also be found on Warhammer Community.
The Imperial Assassins very likely single-handedly forced GW to bring back digital White Dwarf, since their rules were released in the March 2019 White Dwarf and therefore needed to be available in more than print form. They’ve seen been reprinted in Psychic Awakening: War of the Spider, with slight tweaks.
Sisters of Silence
The Sisters of Silence were dragged out of Index: Imperium 1 with a very low effort White Dwarf release. They’ve since had an update in the War of the Spider book which puts them on a significantly better footing.
Along with Necrons, Space Marines got the first codex of 9th edition. This book neatly consolidates all the Marine factions into one book, with only the Grey Knights (who are proper weird) being kept separate and the rest of the ‘divergent’ Marine chapters and the Deathwatch rolled in. The supplements remain live, and there are new supplements on the way for Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Deathwatch, and Space Wolves, so you’ll need the main codex and then a supplement for your chosen Chapter. There’s get-you-by indexes available for those chapters here if you are playing one of them before the supplement comes out. Marines also have a large number of Forge World units in the compendium.
Blood Angels: Blood Angels (FAQ version 1.0 updated 7/1/21)
Dark Angels: Dark Angels (FAQ version 1.0 updated 29/3/21)
Deathwatch: Deathwatch (FAQ version 1.0 updated 17/12/20)
Imperial Fists: Imperial Fists (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Iron Hands: Iron Hands (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Raven Guard: Raven Guard (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Salamanders: Salamanders (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Space Wolves: Space Wolves (FAQ version 1.0 updated 17/12/20)
Ultramarines: Ultramarines (FAQ version 1.2 updated 9/11/20)
White Scars: White Scars (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Chaos Daemons have a codex, a somewhat weird selection of Forge World units, and a set of new rules in Psychic Awakening: Engine War. That book also contains a bunch of updated datasheets for various daemon units which were released after the codex.
Chaos Knights got their first full codex in July 2019, and like their Imperial counterparts they got updated rules to use the Forge World Knights as well. Like the Imperial versions, they were updated in Engine War.
Chaos Space Marines
Chaos Space Marines are one of the most extensive factions in 40k, with rules all over the place. They had a version 1 of their codex early in the edition, and then a new version 2 released in March 2019. They are the single most complicated faction in terms of stuff being everywhere since they didn’t get everything incorporated into their updated book – the v2 was a refresh of the old book rather than a completely new one. One of the weirdest things is that there’s a whole set of Warlord traits for psykers – which are good and tournament-legal! – which only appears in the out of print booklet that came with the Shadowspear boxed set. There is currently no good, legal way to find these except to try and eBay the booklet. Chaos also got a Vigilus book entirely to itself, of which the majority relates to Chaos Space Marines, including a bunch of new Renegade Chapter rules (still valid) and a pile of specialist detachments (not so much). On top of all that, there’s rules for Chaos Marines in the Faith & Fury Psychic Awakening supplement, but there is also an “Agents of Bile” section in War of the Spider which applies to them too.
Codex: Chaos Space Marines 8th edition v2 released March 2019 (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20) – technically you can use the version 1 book and the updated information in the Shadowspear booklet, but you’re better off just buying the current codex
Psychic Awakening: Faith and Fury (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/10/20)
Psychic Awakening: War of the Spider (FAQ version 1.2 last updated 7/1/21)
Vigilus: Vigilus Ablaze (FAQ version 1.1 updated 5/7/20)
Psyker Warlord traits: Shadowspear booklet
Death Guard got a new codex early on in 9th edition, after some extremely on-brand Covid-related delays, which gave them a host of powerful new rules and made Mortarion into the horrific board presence he always should have been. They also got a new Army of Renown in the Book of Rust, the Terminus Est Assault Force led by Typhus. Finally, the Forge World Compendium FAQ clarified that Death Guard can take Chaos Forge World units, so meat is back on the menu (as are Contemptor Dreadnoughts) .
The Thousand Sons got their first full fat codex in 8th edition, becoming a fully separate faction in the transition to 8th ed (unlike the Khorne Daemonkin who just disappeared completely, rip). Their new codex incorporated the Mutalith Vortex Beast into their line-up and has aged horribly. They later featured in Psychic Awakening: Ritual of the Damned, which gave them some great buffs, and like Death Guard they’ve now been clarified to be able to access CSM Forge World units.
The Craftworld Eldar have had few releases in 8th edition, and therefore are pretty much just Codex + Psychic Awakening. PA is pretty important for the extra psychic lore, aspect powers, and custom sub-faction traits. There’s also some Forge World units for them, some of which are very good.
Drukhari are the most recent codex as at time of writing, with an excellent new book released in March 2021. They also made gains from the Book of Rust, with some powerful subfaction rules for the Cult of Strife included in that publication too.
Harlequins have a tiny little model range, no Forge World units, and a short but very cool update in White Dwarf 454. They’re probably the most straightforward faction in the game, hooray! They are also, as of early 9th edition, doing extremely well on the table despite only having 8 units to their name.
Ynnari are a weird sub-faction of Eldar, with only 3 units of their own (the special characters that make up the Triumvirate of Ynnead). They slot in with either Craftworlds, Drukhari, or Harlequins armies, with some restrictions, so you’ll find most of the relevant info for them in those sections. Otherwise, their most up to date rules are in Phoenix Rising.
Genestealer Cults are in a strange position – they can take their own units as per the Codex, and there are some “Brood Brothers” datasheets which are similar to the ones in the Astra Militarum codex, but they can also take a single “Brood Brothers” detachment which draws units from the Astra Militarum codex. If you want to do that, then also refer yourself to the Astra Militarum section above – you’ll need the Codex and FAQ, and you can take the Forge World units Guard can, though GSC have no Forge World units of their own. Luckily, GSC and Guard share a Psychic Awakening book, though none of what’s in there for Guard can be used by the bug boys.
The insidious Tyranids have a fairly straightforward set of rules, with a Codex, units in the Forge World Compendium, and an appearance in Psychic Awakening: Blood of Baal opposite the Blood Angels.
Necrons are nice and simple, with a shiny new 9th edition codex consolidating everything about them. They have a few cool units in the Forge World compendium.
The Orks were one of the last codexes updated for 8th edition, releasing in November 2018 alongside a pile of new models. They’re in a slightly unusual situation in that they have datasheets which are survivors from the Legends cull of out of print models – if you’re looking for the datasheet for the Big Mek with Kustom Force Field, it’s in Saga of the Beast along with the other Ork updates including the new Ghazgkull datasheet.
The T’au gained an apostrophe back in Index 40k and they seem to be keeping it. Their codex arrived in March 2018, with an update in Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good for which they were the cover stars and which featured update rules for Commander Shadowsun, as well as incorporating the rules for The Eight originally found in Chapter Approved 2018. T’au have a number of Forge World units.
So that’s it… for now, anyways. We’ll be updating this periodically as new rules are released in the future, keeping it up-to-date for new players. If you have any questions or comments, or if there’s anything we missed, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.