The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. In our final article on the Dark Angels, we take a brief look at their lore, and their unique characters. As these are new rules, the Dark Angels have been considered over four articles rather than the usual one.
Thank you for taking a look at the final instalment of our Dark Angels series, looking at the newest Legion on the block from The Horus Heresy Book Nine: Crusade. In our previous articles we looked at the Legion’s special rules, their Rites of War, and their unique Units.
In this article, we will be considering their unique characters (including their Primarch), and a bit of their backstory. Book Nine is largely made up of Dark Angels lore, so we won’t be doing a cover-to-cover look at that (go buy the book!) but instead trying to understand the different Wings and their history.
Rather than do a more traditional overview of the Legion’s backstory and lore, we’re going to consider the Legion’s structure as the First have a very unique way of doing things. We’ll first look at the proto-Hosts, then the Hexagrammatic Wings, and finally the hidden Hekatonystika. All of these interweave to create a Legion which is steeped in mystery, and where every warrior may not be quite as they seem.
May 2021: This article has been updated to account for the latest Book Nine: Crusade FAQ.
The Hosts of the First Legion
Before the coming of the Lion, when the First Legion was in its earliest days, before the Wings were ever heard of, there were The Hosts. Here were a huge number of these, several of them very niche and esoteric, but knowledge of a few have survived:
- The Host of Crowns – The earliest Host known, these were the “linebreakers and vanguard warriors”, a form of proto-Deathwing, who would be found where the foe is thickest.
- The Host of Blades – “The core of the Legion”, a form of proto-Stormwing, “masters of the close order infantry tactics… formed around… the Legion Tactical Squad.” Massed hordes of ceramite, bolter and blade, ground into the enemy.
- The Host of Pentacles – “Now little more than a forgotten legend”, these were the precursors to the more modern Librarius, and a sign of the trust the Master of Mankind had in His First Legion, that they could try to harness the dread ways of the Warp.
- The Host of Iron – As you might expect, this is the proto-Ironwing, and masters of “the employment of armoured vehicles on the field of battle.” They would pioneer many vehicular stratagems later perfected by the First.
- The Host of Fire – The early Firewing, this Host were “spies, assassins and all the subtle tools of war” – who would strike where the enemy was most vulnerable, and rip out its heard.
- The Host of Bone – Also known by the cognomen “The Skandic Host”, these dread warriors were early Dreadwing, who fought “not to break the lines of a single army, but to crush the spirit of the foe entirely…”
- The Host of Stone – “Experts in the status arts of war, of siege and the destruction of fortifications.” While you might expect to find such a Host fighting alongside the Iron Warriors or Imperial Fists, it shows clearly that the Dark Angels were masters of all forms of Legionary combat, with the equipment and expertise to crack any target they were set before.
- The Host of Wind – “Skirmishers and cavalry warriors” who “excelled where warfare moved at the speed of the storm…” This host was, obviously, the precursor to the Ravenwing, and were known as being glory-chasers.
- The Host of the Void – One of the last Hosts known to emerge, this Host were peerless voidfighters – Teleport attacks and breacher incursions were their forte.
Anyone who knows the lore of the First will know of the Deathwing and Ravenwing, whose names echo even into the 41st Millennium, but had you heard of the Stormwing, or Ironwing? These are lost formations of the Six Divine Ways, the Hexagrammaton of the First, an ancient way of arranging the Astartes of the Dark Angels.
- The Stormwing – The largest of the Wings, who incorporated the majority of the First Legion’s line infantry and Legionaries. When a massed battle was in the offing, the Stormwing veterans would be taken out of their lines and placed in the fore, marshalling their battle-brothers in close order battle. Their inner circle was known to feature many of the Apothecarion, who were oft found in the thick of the storm.
- The Deathwing – The remains of the Host of Crowns, the Deathwing were masters of the forlorn hope engagement, never retreating or surrendering the field to the enemy. Their veterans were known for two things – linebreaking, and lifeguarding, and were superb at both. Many of the Deathwing found themselves garrisoning key locations such as Caliban, and were honoured to do so.
- The Ravenwing – The Ravenwing were named upon the return of the Lion after the Order of the Raven, on Caliban – famed mounted warriors. They were constituted of the Host of Wind and Host of the Void and were mobile attack specialists. They incorporated – unlike, perhaps, their more modern incarnation – infantry assets as well, reconnaissance squadrons and drop assault veterans, marked by the sigil of the white raven.
- The Dreadwing – The most feared of the Hexagrammaton, the Dreadwing had a reputation which went far further than their actual influence. Their role was “the utter annihilation of the enemy, the salting of the earth, and the breaking of worlds.” When the Dreadwing were deployed, there was only one goal – eradicate, purge, and move on. They were not designed to guard, garrison, or preserve, but rather to act as the Lion’s ultimate sanction. For this, they were also given the most puissant weapons of the Legion.
- The Ironwing – The Ironwing were more than just armoured vehicle specialists, with talents rarely seen outside of the X Legion, but also masters fo the barrage and shell, as well as guardians of the Legion’s Ancients. They safeguarded the First’s war machines, artillery, and Dreadnoughts, excelling in the deployment of pin-point, overwhelming, firepower and maintenance of the esoteric and forbidden technology of the Dark Angels.
- The Firewing – The smallest of the Hexagrammatic Wings, the Firewing were specialists in “bloody subtleties” – spies, duellists, and Moritats. They were the Legion’s assassins, and excelled in targeting the enemy command structure to cut the head off of the snake; and also to know where to find the head in the first place. They were, however, more than just warriors – they were also archivists and scholars, dedicated to maintaining the Legion’s repositories of knowledge, both forbidden and foul, particularly of foes thought vanquished, should they ever rise again.
Finally, you had the Hekatonystika – “The Hundred Esoteric Arts.” These were a myriad of hidden and secretive military Orders which wove themselves through the Wings and Chapters of the Legion, dedicated to the protection of one particular bit of battlefield lore.
For context, the Hosts historically became the Hexagrammaton, with some Host veterans becoming leaders in their respective Wings, but other individuals falling back into obscurity, with no inherited role. You could hold a position in a Wing, and also be part of one – or more – Hekatonystika, unknown to even your fellow squadmembers, and these positions could be entirely separate to a Legionary’s actual rank.
In this way, in certain aspects of battle (for example, how to combat parasitic xenoforms) a humble line Legionary could outrank a Praetor. A Legionary could be a squad sergeant, a Stormwing veteran, and a Santales adept, and play different roles in different warfronts under his differing titles.
Understanding these intricate interactions was more of an art than a skill, and one which the First admired in outsiders who knew how to navigate these murky waters. Below are just a small sample.
- The Order of Shattered Crowns – one of the oldest Orders, tracing its origins to Unification, the Shattered Crowns were expert in identifying – and slaying – enemy leadership. These were not necessarily the subtle killers of the Firewing, but rather proud champions, prodigies in duelling, but many were also members of the Firewing, or Dreadwing.
- The Order of Broken Wings – Almost entirely – but not exclusively – Ironwing, the adepts of this Order were dedicated to the niche specialism of anti-aircraft work. They could plan and deploy ordnance to defeat enemy airborne assaults with whatever tools they were given, and were often sought out by commanders for this role.
- The Order of Santales – An Order dedicated to the detection and destruction of a specific type of xenos – psychic or physical parasites. This Order were once widespread and well equipped, but after the Council of Nikea their order was diminished permanently, as they were firmly enmeshed with the now-defunct Librarius.
- The Order of the Argent Spire – Winter-war specialists, the Argent Spire understood how to battle when the terrain was slippery and treacherous, and temperatures plunged below even what an Astartes could cope with. Many of them were Stormwing, called to deal with Death World campaigns, but some Firewing duellists took up with this Order to learn how to fight in these conditions.
- The Order of Broken Claws – an Order dedicated to one thing: the persecution and eradication of the Rangda, a xenoform so terrible it almost broke the Imperium. The Broken Claws have access to everything that is known about this dread threat, with only a few members left at the end of the Heresy, watching over the dead systems of the Rangda.
Legion Special Characters
Paladin of the Ninth Order, Champion of the Dark Angels Legion
Corsawin is the Champion of the Dark Angels; not a title to be sniffed at, in a Legion famed for its peerless swordsmen and general knightly demeanor. Corswain was a Calibanite, and was known particularly for bridging the divide between those Legionaries born on Caliban, and those who originated on Terra; an important role, as many other Legions had a lot of internal friction between these groups. He was viewed as a legend on par with Raldoron and Sigismund; hallowed warriors of humanity whose reputations speak for themselves.
Corswain is a killer, plain and simple. You are taking him – much in the same way as you take Sigismund or Abaddon – to plow into the enemy battleline and absolutely butcher their strongest foes.
He has a Praetor’s statline with W 4 and WS 7, and Scion of the Deathwing (boosting his Challenge prowess), and Precision Strikes. He gets the Paladin of Glory Warlord Trait automatically, which significantly boosts his combat potential even further with more rerolls.
His equipment also makes his role crystal clear. He has a 2+/4++ save with The Armour of the Forest and The Mantle of the Champion, “masterfully wrought” artificer armour, which increases to a 3++ in close combat (!). Obviously, you want him in combat as much as possible.
While he doesn’t have Eternal Warrior, with defensive stats like that it might not matter – and in any event, his weapon The Blade means it is unlikely anyone will get to strike him. He has S +2 AP 1 (!) with this weapon, it is Master-Crafted and has the rule Duellist’s Triumph, making him Instant Death in a Challenge. [FAQ Update: To be clear, this is a “Sword” for the purposes of Mastery of the Blade].
This adds up to a very tasty combination for a mere 200 pts. He will, in a Challenge, be able to re-roll Attacks and Wounds all over the shop, usually hitting on a 3+ and wounding on a 2+, slaying most opponents outright. He will be especially deadly against Mechanicum.
All in all, quite straightforward in many ways, but just excellent at what he does.
Lord of the Twenty-Third Order, Eskaton of the Dreadwing
To be called an Eskaton is no small thing; it means you have overseen the death of a race or world. During the Heresy, Marduk was old even by the standards of Astartes, and had a long lineage of slain foes to underpin his battle knowledge. Under his command, the Dreadwing was a truly fearsome force befitting of their fell reputation
On the tabletop, Marduk is 220 pts, and has Praetor stats with W 4, and Scion of the Dreadwing, also having a unique Warlord Trait (Preceptor of the Shattered Sceptre).
This Warlord Trait is interesting, giving him a single unit of Cenobium which do not take up a Force Organisation slot, but it means he can’t take a Command Squad or a Deathwing Companion Squad. If you intend to take Cenobium, this is a nice bit of flexibility.
Marduk is also an Ancient of War, meaning after deployment but before the first turn, his controlling player can select a single faction from the Allies table (e.g. Emperor’s Children, or Mechanicum). Marduk and Dark Angels deployed within 6” of him (as long as half their unit or more is within this distance) get Preferred Enemy (Faction) for the entire game. This doesn’t work if he is in Reserve [FAQ Update: Or in a transport…]. This is a really solid boost to have, and I would strongly urge you to make use of it. It does mean he might be a bit “bunched up” on deployment, but you will have to plan accordingly.
His equipment is – as you would expect from the Dreadwing – esoteric and puissant. He has the Regalia of the Shattered Sceptre, which is a unique set of Cataphractii armour giving Marduk automatic passing of Dangerous Terrain checks. He has 3 phosphex bombs, and a plasma burner, with a grenade harness as well, making him effectively a heavy Destroyer.
He then wields a weapon out of Final Fantasy – The Death of Worlds. This is made from the fragments of dead cities destroyed by the Eskaton, continually reforged as more and more worlds are taken. It gives him S 9, with AP 2 and Unwieldy, and also works with Mastery of the Blade. The bleak blade also has Curse of Dead Worlds, reducing Invulnerable Saves against it by -1 to a minimum of 6++. This makes it superb for clearing out enemy heavy infantry.
A great character, with a very evocative background. While we do not have a model, I hope to see some amazing conversions of that sword!
The First Primarch, The Lion. The Son of the Forest, Primarch of the Dark Angels
“Lion El-Jonson was regarded as the most pragmatic and ruthlessly efficient commander of the Great Crusade.” Pause for a moment, and consider that statement. The Great Crusade had thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of significant commanders, not least the Primarchs themselves. And Lion El-Jonson, above all others, was considered to be frankly the most savage and “get-it-done” of the lot.
If you wanted a world taken, a race purged, or a war won, the First Primarch would execute the mandate. During this time, he would not be building an empire, or overseeing supply lines or delving into esoteric lore. He would be continually winning wars.
His rules reflect this. He is 460 pts (so in the mid-upper tier of Primarch costs), and has the usual statline with WS 8 and I 7 and S 7, marking him out as an upper-echelon warrior amongst his peers.
His rules are (obviously) Primarch, but also he has Sire of the Dark Angels, which means all Legiones Astartes (Dark Angels) while the Lion is on the battlefield can roll an additional D6 and pick the lowest for Morale checks, and if they are within 12” of the Lion they add +1 to Combat Resolution. Not bad, and quite reliable. I would say this is perhaps better than pure Stubborn.
He then has The Point of the Blade, which is a really cool rule – the Lion and any unit he is in charges a flat 8” if they want to, ignoring Difficult and Dangerous terrain, rather than rolling. You will almost always be doing this, and it makes him incredibly reliable in terms of positioning and charges.
El’Jonson is known for his bloody defiance, and as such has The Lion’s Chloer, giving him +1 A when at 4 W or less, and +2 when at 2 W or less. Obviously you’d rather not have him be close to death, but having a base 7 attacks when at 2 W is nothing to be sniffed at, when he hits like a truck.
The First Primarch has An Absolute Focus when he is fighting, meaning he never has to roll more than 4+ to Hit while in combat – which, in fairness, with WS 8 is very unlikely except when fighting another Primarch or, I guess, if Blind or Concussion is in effect. El’Jonson can also take a unit of Deathwing Companions should he wish for no additional Force Organisation slot, but cannot leave this unit if it is selected.
His equipment is befitting of his Legion – deadly and rare. The Leonine Panoply gives him 2+/4++, and allows him to reroll the first failed Invulnerable save each turn – really good! He has The Fusil Actinaeus, a rare plasma fusil whose origins lay shrouded in Old Night. It is 18” S 7 AP 2 Salvo 2/4, Twin-linked, Blind, which is actually a serious threat at range, as with BS 5 he will be pin-point accurate and able to probably get a kill or two before unleashing an 8” charge.
The Lion also has Stasis Grenades, which are bloody incredible – if the Lion charges, or is charged, then the enemy is Initiative 1 for that game turn. That can be absolutely game changing when facing things like Praetors or similar, which aren’t using Unwieldy weapons – you can get the drop on them and unleash a massacre before they can swing. Of particular note are rules like the Night Lord’s outnumbering ability, where you can whittle them down before their Initiative step comes around.
Finally… The First Primarch wields either The Lion Sword or The Wolf Blade. The former is a massive broadsword which is AP 1, Lance, Fleshbane, Master-crafted – giving El-Johnson a decent series of S 7 attacks.
However, I would question its usefulness when compared to The Wolf Blade, an enormous chainsword which makes him S 10 AP 2 with Shred and Fearsome Ruin, making the enemy roll 3D6 and pick the highest if they have to take a Morale Check in a combat with the Lion.
Frankly the Wolf Blade is flat out better – Fleshbane isn’t useful if you’re S 7 base already, and few things would be wounded on a 3+ or worse against a S 10 weapon so I question its use. AP 1 and Lance is cute, but you’re still needing 6s to penetrate AV 13 (I’m thinking particularly about Leviathan Dreadnoughts here), and S 10 is just much more reliable for this. Master-Crafted is nice but doesn’t swing it, in my view. Model him however you want, but run the chainsword.
Overall, the Lion is up there as one of the stronger Primarchs, being very reliable and having a lot of attacks at S 10. The Stasis Grenades and Point of the Blade stand out as a pretty damn good combination, in particular. Look out if he’s on the table!
Next Time: The Night Lords Cometh
Given the plethora of Wings available to the Dark Angels, we aren’t going to do our usual “Sample Army List” for them, as all the potential lists are just too different. My advice would be to consider their models first, select your Wing, and go for what you think is coolest above all – all of the Wings are good, and you’ll have to focus into a certain build for this Legion based on a Rite if you want to play to its strengths.
Next time… we put on our red gloves and delve into the blood-spattered pages of Nostraman books, bound in human flesh… it’s the Night Lords! Until then, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“For the Lion!”