Start Competing: Crimson Fists Tactics

Despite being a successor, the Crimson Fists have been around since 40k’s earliest days, and at various times have enjoyed being front-and-center in the game’s lore, including stints on the cover of the Rogue Trader box art and the cover of 3rd edition Codex: Space Marines. The lore of their battles against Orks stretches back to the game’s early days – the Battle for the Farm is the original 40k mission, and scenarios detailing the further battles of Rynn’s World showed up in White Dwarf #94 (1987). Rules-wise, it’s been another story however – the chapter first received a rules nod in 3rd edition Codex: Space Marines with rules for a single special character, the notably difficult-to-kill Alessio Cortez (older fans will remember his metal mini with a particularly striking pose and lanky build). The next update for Crimson Fists was in 5th edition, where Chapter Master Pedro Kantor was introduced with rules that would change the army-wide rules for an army taking him. Crimson Fists would continue to get character nods in 6th and 7th, appearing in the 7th edition Angels of Death Supplement, but they’d really came into their own in 8th with a set of White Dwarf rules which were transplanted more or less wholesale into Codex Supplement: Imperial Fists. Working off the Imperial Fists rules as a successor with Warlord Traits, Stratagems, and Relics all their own, the Crimson Fists have a few advantages over their yellow-armored brothers and bring just enough uniqueness to the table that we’ve chosen to break them out as a separate article.

Chapter Overview

Like Imperial Fists, the Crimson Fists are Space Marines and so at a minimum they’re just fine competitively, and suffered from the same nerf dropped on their Doctrine in the 9th edition Codex: Space Marines. Because they have access to the Imperial Fists rules plus a few of their own, they’re arguably a bit stronger than the Imperial Fists, and play a bit differently thanks to a chapter tactic that’s more geared toward fighting hordes. Still, compared to other chapters the Crimson Fists are still on the weaker side owing to their lineage, but have a few additional tricks that can help them make up for the Imperial Fists’ shortcomings.


  • Bolter fire. Thanks to their Chapter Tactic, Crimson Fists can put out bolter fire like no one’s business, meaning they can really shine in Intercessor-heavy builds going into the Tactical Doctrine. And you can double up on that with the Bolter Drill Stratagem.
  • Anti-Horde. The Crimson Fists’ Chapter Tactic gives them extra accuracy against hordes, helping them push out lethal amounts of firepower, and the Stoic Defender Warlord Trait helps them shore up numbers deficiencies while Tenacious Opponent gives your warlord a bonus to fighting while outnumbered. You’ve got some good tools for dealing with horde armies, particularly Orks, which is relevant in the current meta.
  • Pedro Kantor. Kantor’s +1 Attack aura is very powerful, giving Crimson Fists a way to be effective both at mid- and short-range shooting and devastating in melee combat.
  • Anti-Vehicle Firepower. Like Imperial Fists, the Crimson Fists get a couple of good buffs against vehicles from things like their chapter tactic and the Tank Hunters Stratagem.


  • Fewer options. The Crimson Fists share a book with Imperial Fists, and while they get more stratagems than the Imperial fists to work with they have fewer relics and warlord traits. Also the Imperial Fists stratagems aren’t that great, but that just means you’re freed up to spend CP elsewhere.
  • Devastator Doctrine reliance. A few key Crimson Fists rules are only active/accessible while the Devastator Doctrine is active, meaning that some of these rules are only really active on turn 1 and if you don’t get anything out of them, you’re screwed. Also the chapter’s rules kind of don’t fit with the broader Imperial Fists rule set, making for some odd mismatches.


Chapter Tactic – No Matter the Odds

Each time a model with this tactic makes a ranged attack against a unit that contained at least 5 more models than the attacker’s unit when it was selected to shoot, add 1 to that attack’s hit roll. For the purposes of this tactic, VEHICLE models count as 5 models. Each time a model with this tactic makes an attack with a bolt weapon, an unmodified hit roll of 6 scores 1 additional hit. This is still a pretty good chapter tactic, and rewards Crimson Fists for taking smaller squads so you can more easily get this bonus against medium-sized units. It’s also very helpful for taking down hordes. The bolter benefits allow them to put out some insane amounts of firepower and really emphasis building around Intercessors who can throw out withering hails of AP-2 firepower in the Tactical Doctrine.

Doctrine – Legacy of Dorn

The Crimson Fists use the Imperial Fists doctrine, which buffs Heavy weapons while the Devastator Doctrine is up, which is fitting for the sons of Dorn, though the 9th edition FAQ limits this to attacks with a Strength Characteristic of 7 or more, substantially reducing the effectiveness of this particular buff and ensuring the number of units it can actually apply to is very small. On that note, some of the weapons this can apply to, such as multi-meltas, kind of don’t need the damage boost, where they’re already doing some pretty solid numbers without it. Also, as a Devastator doctrine buff in an army which has no way of rolling the doctrines back on its own (you are limited to Adaptive Strategy), it is a lot less good than it was and that’s before you factor in the FAQ nerf.

Putting aside that criticism, the cool thing about the doctrine is that it makes some units really nasty. Not as many as it used to – Centurions used to really benefit from this – but there are still some units you can run that will get good value out of this on turn 1 and can be used to push out some anti-vehicle firepower that can cripple an enemy’s strategy before they act. The tough part is going to be making sure that your units can actually see the relevant targets on turn 1 to make use of this. Much of the same advice applies to Crimson Fists as Imperial Fists here: you can try using this with vengeance launcher Whirlwinds, which have decent rate of fire at S7 and are very unlikely to be unable to shoot on turn 1. You can also look at more mobile units with heavy weapons – the Invictor Tactical Warsuit also makes a strong case for using this doctrine, and Redemptor Dreadnoughts can pack a couple of decent rate-of-fire weapons that can use it. Suppressors can also be a good fit here, where the ability to rock S7, AP-2, damage 3 shots against their primary targets is really nasty. Las fusil Eliminators may also have some play here, being able to drop flat 4 damage shooting against vehicles at AP-4, which combined with their forward deployment makes them potentially worth some consideration.

Ultimately though the big downside is that if your opponent doesn’t have any, or many, vehicle units, this isn’t going to matter much. It’s also got no synergy with the Chapter Tactic, which encourages the use of bolters en masse, and as Crimson Fists are limited in their ability to roll back doctrines and re-activate Legacy of Dorn that makes it something that’s nice to have but not really something you can build around. You’ll likely see more success building around high amounts of bolter fire and taking a small number of things that can benefit from Legacy of Dorn.


The Crimson Fists use many of the same rules as the Imperial Fists, including their basic stratagems. We’ve covered those in Start Competing: Imperial Fists, and everything said there applies to Crimson Fists, so hop over there for a refresher. In addition to those, they have their own stratagems as well as Warlord Traits and Relics.


Crimson Fists gain an additional 2 stratagems in this book, which they can use in addition to the other 14 Imperial Fist stratagems. These are straight ports from the January 2019 White Dwarf index:

  • Slay The Tyrant – 1CP: In either the Shooting or Fight phase, add 1 to hit against a Character unit. A cheeky little +1 to hit against a vital character is very helpful, and gives you options when your Chapter tactic wouldn’t help. A
  • A Hated Foe – 1CP Re-roll wound rolls against an Ork unit with one Crimson Fists unit, in either the shooting or fight phase. While this is one of the many mostly useless stratagems that only apply when fighting a single enemy, this goes against an entire faction rather than a more typical subfaction, and Ork hordes are reasonably meta-relevant. It also works on either shooting or fighting, so can be reliably used at any time. A when facing Orks, in any other situation.


As befits the more aggressive successor chapter of the glorious boys in yellow, both the Crimson Fist relics are weapons, and pretty decent ones at that.

  • Duty’s Burden: Replaces the weapon on a Crimson Fists model with a master-crafted auto or stalker bolt rifle. Upgrades to a 30″ range, rapid fire 2, strength 5, AP-2, damage 2 rifle. Useful, but it’s an incremental weapon upgrade rather than an actual shift in what a character can do, so isn’t always useful to spend your CP on. B
  • Fist of Vengeance: Upgrades a Crimson Fists model with a power fist. Removes the hit-penalty, and increases the damage from 2 to 3, a significant increase in punch. Much more interesting than Duty’s Burden, and allows for a cheaper slam Captain and a weapon that can go on a Primaris Captain to make him that bit punchier. B+

The Banner of Staganda is an Imperial Fists relic banner – when resolving an attack made by a melee weapon in an Imperial (here, read Crimson) Fists unit within 6″ of a friendly model with this relic, add 1 to the hit roll. While marginal in an Imperial Fists force where the melee aspects aren’t a huge priority, for Crimson Fists it’s potentially much more valuable. Combining the +1 to hit with Pedro Kantor’s aura can make for some insanely deadly Intercessors and makes this worth considering as a relic that you spend 1 CP on, though it’s also an ability the ancient can just have if it upgrades to a Chapter Ancient.

Special-Issue Wargear

As well as their unique relics, Crimson Fists are an Imperial Fists successor, and can take advantage of all the same Special-issue Wargear as other successors.


Crimson Fists Primaris Lieutenant with Power Fist
Credit: bonds0097

Warlord Traits

The Crimson Fists get a set of three unique warlord traits, and can use Sentinel of Terra to take an additional one from the Imperial Fists table on their warlord, as long as the warlord isn’t Pedro Kantor.

  1. Refuse to Die: The first time your warlord dies, they return to life on a 4+ at the end of the phase, with D3 wounds remaining. This trait is best taken on a character that’s being used to provide buffs, as even if they eat it to snipers at the top of turn one they can pop back up, hopefully clearing out the snipers so they don’t die again on turn two. Less useful for a melee beatstick, who will pop back up out of combat and on low wounds, potentially vulnerable to units that want to get close enough to negate the benefits of the Look Out, Sir protection. B
  2. Tenacious Opponent: This warlord gains D3 additional attacks if there are at least 5 enemy models within 6″ of them when they’re chosen to fight. A strong ability defensively, helping a warlord cut down a unit assaulting your lines, this is also very rewarding offensively.  A
  3. Stoic Defender: Friendly Crimson Fists CORE or CHARACTER units with 6″ of the warlord gain Objective Secured, or count as two models if they already have it. A trait that has gotten a lot more currency in 9th – Rites of War is everywhere and this is straight better than that, as it also lets a model count double if it already has Objective Secured. This is Pedro Kantor’s required trait. A


Pedro Kantor
Pedro Kantor. Credit: Corrode

Pedro Kantor

Pedro improved significantly in 8th edition and while some of that has been dialed back thanks to his 9th edition FAQ changes, he’s still bringing quite a bit to the table. He’s got the new Chapter Master re-rolls ability which isn’t as good but it’s still solid; his Oath of Rynn now only affects CORE Crimson Fists units within 6″, effectively dropping his own attacks by 1 but otherwise working pretty much as well as it did before, and he now has the Captain’s re-roll 1s aura for CORE units within 6″. The upside is that at 155 points he’s only 10 points more than a standard Chapter Master with a power fist, and for those 10 points, he packs his +1 attacks aura, +1 wound, +1 attack, and Dorn’s Arrow, an Assault 4 master-crafted boltgun. The downside is that you can’t give him a jump pack or a bike and he can’t ride in the same transport as the Primaris models you’ll want him accompanying. The net result is that Kantor is still a fantastic force multiplier to drop into your pile of guns, and he doubly buffs melee as well since he’s handing out both re-rolls and more attacks, but you’ll need to think about how you want him getting around the board. Paired with an Ancient giving out +1 to hit from the Chapter Banner or Banner of Staganda you won’t even notice the change in the Chapter Master aura in melee, and these buffs combine with the Chapter Tactic to make regular Intercessors pretty nasty when they can be throwing out 4 attacks per model re-rolling all hits. He’ll also work just fine with Heavy Intercessors, or backing up a unit of Bladeguard with re-rolls and an extra attack. The only slight downside to Kantor is that he continues to tote a regular old power fist, and therefore has -1 to hit on his own attacks, but punching things himself isn’t his primary role – it’s shouting at others to do it. And in any case with Shock Assault he’ll usually be throwing out 6 attacks which hit on 3s and he can give himself the re-roll if he really needs it.

Notable Units

Although Crimson Fists only have one unique unit, there are a number of units that shine in the army, thanks to their unique rules.

Heavy Intercessors

While at the time of this writing the models for Heavy Intercessors still haven’t been released, their utility in Crimson and Imperial Fists is obvious: The ability to take higher damage or rate-of-fire bolt weapons plays incredibly well to the chapter’s strengths, and there are arguments to make for both the executor bolt rifle, which acts as a souped-up stalker, and the hellstorm bolt rifle, which gives the unit an insane volume of fire. In smaller units they stand to benefit substantially from the chapter tactic as well, getting +1 to hit at range – perfect for mowing down hordes. Pedro’s aura helps them out, too, giving them a bit more melee punch if they need it in a pinch.


We mentioned them in greater detail in Imperial Fists but it bears repeating here – the Whirlwind tank isn’t the powerhouse it once was, but it can serve a very important role in a Crimson Fists list, as it’s one of the Space Marines’ best guns for delivering S7 shots with a high rate of fire and it can fire at targets that aren’t visible, meaning you’re pretty much guaranteed to be able to target something meaningful with its 72″ guns on turn 1. Combined with the tank’s relatively cheap cost – 135 points with the vengeance launcher – and you’ve got something good enough to consider as a two-of if you know you’ll be facing vehicles.

Bladeguard Veterans

Bladeguard are great in every Marine army, but they do get a bit of extra oomph in Crimson Fists when paired with Pedro – +1 attack each in melee is a straight buff to them, and they can take advantage of Slay the Tyrant as well to be hitting on 2s against characters, which gets that little bit extra out of them. They’ll either need to footslog or co-ordinate jumping out of an Impulsor near the little guy, though.

Crimson Fists Bladeguard Veterans. Credit: Corrode

Playing Crimson Fists

It’s a hard world out there for Crimson Fists, but you do have a couple of key things you can do that are really handy. Firstly, there’s a reasonable number of horde armies that are back in the meta now – Orks, Warrior-heavy Necrons, some kinds of Daemons, and even apparently Acolyte-heavy Genestealer Cults. This is a bit of a relief, because the +1 to hit part of the Chapter Tactic felt quite redundant in late 8th, whereas now there’s a number of match-ups where it can actually become very relevant – long may it continue. Orks in particular are very welcome to stay current, since A Hated Foe targets them specifically and is very powerful for its cost.

Along those lines, keeping your unit sizes small is a big help when designing a Fists army. +1 to hit is a powerful effect to get for free and largely nets out the loss of the full Chapter Master aura, so if you can get it it’s helpful to do so. It’s also worth bearing in mind that VEHICLES count as 5 models for the purposes of the Tactic – so 1) your Dreadnoughts can still get it if they’re shooting at 10-model units, and 2) it at least appears that units of vehicles you are shooting at will count as 5 models per, so if you’re facing off against something like Kastelan Robots you can pick it up for a 2-model unit.

I would also basically treat Pedro Kantor as an auto-include now – he brings his unique aura to the table, a Chapter Master buff, he’s decent in melee and shooting, and reasonably cheap. If you’re playing Crimson Fists you may as well lean in to what makes them unique, and Pedro offers something a bit different from the norm. He is also a good pick to be your actual Warlord now, as his required trait is very good in 9th edition and helps your small, compact army with seizing objectives.

On a similar theme to unit sizes, there’s your unit and weapon choices. We’ve talked about high rate of fire S7 weapons above, and Whirlwinds are about the best source of those in the codex for their cost, and they’re reasonably cheap and good for sitting in the backfield even if they only get the effect of the doctrine on turn 1. Bolters are also an obvious port of call – generally I like auto or hellstorm bolt rifles, which give the highest chance to proc extra hits from the Chapter tactic (and are in general marginally more efficient anyway).

Other than that, a lot of Crimson Fists listbuilding is just leaning on what’s good already – Bladeguard, which work really well with Pedro as a source of extra attacks and re-rolls, and plasma Inceptors, which can hope for +1 to hit and offer a bit of manoeuvrability and vicious punch.

Tips and Tricks to Remember

In addition to those notes, consider the following as well when playing Crimson Fists:

  • The Chapter Tactic kicks in when the unit is selected as a target. You don’t need to worry about losing your bonus to hit when you switch weapons within your unit, but you do need to worry about it when switching between units. Make sure that you’re careful about choosing your targets and the order you pick them in so you don’t kill yourself out of a key bonus.
  • Stoic Defender is Rites of War but better. Your obsec units also count double, so a single 5 man unit of Intercessors can put surprising weight on an objective.


Battalion Detachment

Pedro Kantor – 155 – Warlord: Stoic Defender
Reiver Lieutenant – 75
Bike Chaplain, Master of Sanctity – 140 – Hero of the Chapter: Wise Orator, Catechism of Fire, Exhortation of Rage, Benediction of Fury

Primaris Chief Apothecary – 95 – Hero of the Chapter: Selfless Healer
5x Bladeguard Veterans – 175

5x Heavy Intercessors, hellstorm bolt rifles, hellstorm heavy bolter – 150
5x Heavy Intercessors, hellstorm bolt rifles, hellstorm heavy bolter – 150
5x Heavy Intercessors, hellstorm bolt rifles, hellstorm heavy bolter – 150

5x Inceptors, 10x plasma exterminator – 250
5x Inceptors, 10x plasma exterminator – 250

3x Eradicators, heavy melta rifles, multi-melta – 140
Whirlwind with vengeance launcher – 135
Whirlwind with vengeance launcher – 135

CP: 10/12
Points: 2000

This is just something simple I whipped up for the article, having not thought about Crimson Fists in a while. It builds on a chunk of what we talked about above – taking Pedro and his unique aura supporting a unit of Bladeguard as midfield pushers, with a bunch of small Heavy Intercessor units with hellstorm bolters who can get the most out of the Chapter trait. Two squads of plasma Inceptors add some real punch, and at 5 models they’re perfectly sized for Crimson Fists, with a decent chance of getting the +1 to hit. Supporting characters keep the whole thing ticking – including a Chaplain giving out +1 to wound to either shooting or melee depending on need –  while two cheap Whirlwinds pump out S7 fire early on and camp home objectives. The Eradicators can sneak in from a board edge with Strategic Reserves or form up in the Gravis castle with the Heavy Intercessors, and are a good place for a Chapter Master re-roll to go before the clash of blades when the melee starts happening.

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