The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. This time, we’re continuing our examination of the First Legion – the Dark Angels. As these are a brand new set of rules, the Angels will be covered in more than one article.
Welcome to the second article in our series on the Dark Angels, recently released in The Horus Heresy Book Nine: Crusade. Last time we had a canter through the core special rules of this Legion – including their Mastery of the Blade and Hexagrammaton upgrades. Check that out here.
In this article we are going to get to grips with the Rites of War available to the Dark Angels – and, like their six Wings, there are six Rites! This is by far the most Rites available to any Legion, and each (as you will see) is specialised and will make for a very unique battlefield force. Let’s get to it!
May 2021: This article has been updated to account for the latest Book Nine: Crusade FAQ.
Rite of War – The Eskaton Imperative
We considered this Rite in the previous article – it was the one reflecting the terrible Dreadwing, wielders of arcane and puissant techno-arcana, consigning whole worlds to the pyre. This Rite focuses on Interemptor squads and Destroyer squads, which have to be mounted in vehicles to get to the fore.
They get a dizzying array of upgrades and special rules, but you have to make sure you wipe your opponent out of their deployment zone, or they can get additional Victory Points – “go big or go home”.
Rite of War – The Steel Fist
This Rite is where the Ironwing come to the fore – they hold “sway over the vast armouries of the Dark Angels, commanding a force of war engines greater than any other Legion…”
As you might expect, this has a focus on tanks. In practice, it’s a mix of the existing rites of Armoured Breakthrough and Armoured Spearhead. To take this, you cannot use Allies or Fortifications, and cannot use Independent Characters that are not part of the Detachment (in practice, these rules apply to all the Dark Angels Rites of War anyway).
You need at least half of the units in the army to consist entirely of vehicles with the Tank type (so no transports to bring this number up), you cannot have more than a single unit of Bikes, Jetbikes or Flyers, and all infantry must begin the game deployed in a transport vehicle with the Tank type and sufficient capacity for them. This means you can’t take infantry and hold them in reserve, and Drop Pods are out.
So, what do you get for this? You can take Predator Strike Squadrons as Compulsory Troops (awesome), and any Independent Character with Scion of the Ironwing gives a 6+ Invulnerable save to any Transport vehicle they have, or increases an existing one by +1. This is not game winning, but is neat. Remember, Scion of the Ironwing already buffs the vehicle, downgrading Shaken to Stunned on the damage table, giving you a highly mobile and tougher Transport for this particular character.
You also benefit from Armoured Assault, which allows all non-Terminator units who do not have Jump or Jet packs, and have a Scion of the Ironwing in the squad, with 10 or fewer models to take a Proteus or Phobos Land Raider as a Dedicated Transport, or a Spartan if they have 15 or more models.
This is a great way of adding heavy armour to the list without worrying about force organisation slots. Just leave the Rhinos at home…
Finally, if you have a Scion of the Ironwing in a unit which are in a Transport, the squad can re-roll pinning checks or armour saves if the Transport suffers damage. Not bad to survive explosions.
Overall, I would say this is not a “game-breaking” Rite, but it is quite hard to build, and potentially expensive in terms of real-world money if you want a lot of resin-vehicles (which you do). You need to “lean in” to the benefits of it – and that means Predators and Land Raiders.
I would personally be going for at least 2 squadrons of 2 Predators to start with (note – unlike Armoured Breakthrough, these do not have to have basic autocannons to be Troops, so take advantage of that), and augment it with some Proteus Land Raiders. I think the Sicaran and Sabre chassis are where you will also get some serious support for a list like this. Flood the table with armour! Definitely be sure to sprinkle your Scion of the Ironwing units into key transports to toughen them up and make the squad more survivable. Take infantry which complement and fill the weaknesses of your tanks.
Rite of War – The Storm of War
Now this is an unusual one. This Rite extols the virtues of the Stormwing – “masters of the open battlefield, artists of shot and shell…. When the Storm of War is unleashed, it sweeps clean the battlefield as a wave of unstoppable force.”
This Rite is all about the Infantry – serried ranks of sable-clad knights, charging the foe and washing them away. To take it, there are the usual restrictions around Fortifications, Allies, and Independent Characters being part of the detachment.
The “meat” of the restrictions are that you cannot use Dedicated Transports for any compulsory Troops, and all compulsory Troops must have a model with Scion of the Stormwing (giving BS2 Snap Shots). You also must have more Assault or Tactical Squads combined than the total number of all other units, with Centurions in compulsory Troops not counting towards this (so, in practice, a lot of squads!)
The Warlord must also be either the Primarch himself, or a Scion of the Stormwing.
So, why would you take this? There are two main benefits – Masters of the Storm of War, and Marshal of the Storm.
Masters of the Storm of War gives you the ability to take Centurions (not Consuls) as upgrades for Tactical or Assault squads with 20 men who are Compulsory Troops. These take up no HQ slots and are “fixed” into the squad they are bought for (so cannot leave), but are your way of getting Scion of the Stormwing into these units. In practice, you’ll have two of these per game usually, assuming a standard Crusade Force Organisation Chart.
Marshal of the Storm gives Praetors and Centurions who have Scion of the Stormwing the ability to issue orders – one each per game turn – to the unit they are in (including themselves), with no more than one order per unit per turn. An order is a Leadership test, and only works on Tactical or Assault squads.
The orders are quite fun! Hold the Line gives you Feel No Pain (6+) but means you cannot move (start of the Movement phase, not if you are in combat). Volley Fire (shooting phase) allows a Tactical Squad to do Fury of the Legion if it has moved (!) but not if it ran or got out of a Transport.
Full Assault (Assault phase, before charging) gives the unit Furious Charge (really good!), and Field Reserves (start of the turn, when a unit is in Reserve) allows a unit to come on and gain Outflank. Rules as written I would say Field Reserves is turn 2 onwards, as it describes the unit automatically passing its “Reserves test”, which are only taken on turn 2+.
Honestly, I want to like this Rite, but in practice, with current Force Organisation Charts, it is a bit underwhelming, and the restriction on the number of units is absolutely crippling if you want to run this in larger games, in my view. To be clear, in a Centurion game-mode, or up to 2,000 points, this is really fun. It’s when you start getting into larger games that it seems to fall apart a bit.
You’re going to be taking 40 men as your minimum, in practice, and really you’re going to want another 15-20 man squad to benefit from the Orders. OK, sounds great.
But you have to have more combined Assault/Tactical than the total of all other units. So your “basic” force is going to be Praetor (for the Rite), and 2 compulsory Troops.
Add another squad (which the Praetor goes in), and you then only have room for one other unit in the army before you need another troops unit. (Praetor + other unit = 2, combined total of troops = 3).
Then it gets weird – you need another Assault/Tactical squad for the unit restriction, but if you want them to have Orders, then you need to buy Centurions (using HQ slots)… but those count towards the unit total! So it cancels out, unless you accept only 3 squads are going to get Orders (which, don’t get me wrong, is not bad – but it is a “hidden” restriction).
Hmm… not sure the Hexagrammaton thought this one out. The Orders are cool, but this Rite doesn’t scale at all properly to higher points levels, unless you go all out with Melta-Bomb Assault Squads (which would be cool) to mitigate the lack of anti-armour, or accept that some of your troops squads aren’t going to benefit from Orders, which is a shame as its the main benefit of the Rite.
Overall, it has potential, but you need to be clear what kind of game you’re going to play here, as this isn’t an all-rounder.
[FAQ Update: This Rite now has been partially “fixed”. The Masters of the Storm of War no longer eat up an HQ slot, and you get 4 additional non-compulsory Troops slots. In addition, Independent Characters do not count towards the “total number of other units combined”, and Apothecaries/Techmarines are single units even if bought as a group. However, they also made clear you cannot “stack” Orders, which is annoying, and the Hold the Line does not buff existing Feel No Pain.
Rite of War – The Unbroken Vow
“Duty weighs heavily upon the oath-bound warriors of the Deathwing…” – this maxim is as true in the 31st Millenium as it is in the 41st. This Rite is all about the most elite units of the Legion, who are the first in, and last out, standing “unmoved” upon the field of battle.
The same rules on Allies and Independent Characters as the other Rites apply, although you can take a Fortification if you so wish.
To run this, all compulsory Troops must be filled by Legion Veterans or Legion Terminators. These squads must have a Scion of the Deathwing in them (allows the model to re-roll the first failed To Hit in a Challenge). The Warlord must also be a Scion of the Deathwing, or be the Primarch. So far, so good.
Now, there is then quite a… big restriction. After deployment, the Dark Angels player puts an extra objective in the centre of the table – or as close to it as possible. At the end of any game turn where the Dark Angels player does not control this objective with at unit with at least one Scion of the Deathwing, the opposing player gets an extra VP, or +3 VP if the opposing player controls it.
Before we look at the benefits of this Rite, that is an unbelievable restriction. Note it says control – so if the objective is contested, the opponent still gets VPs. It’s in the centre of the board, so easy for the opponent to clog up. Hmm. This means you’re effectively playing two games, and your opponent knows it. A simple unit of Fearless Thralls could cause you a serious headache. Emperor help you if the game requires you to deal with objectives or areas of the board away from the centre, as you’ll be easily overstretched.
GREGNOTE: This is hilariously awful and in my opinion, completely ruins this Rite. I’d hoped that getting full rules would move the Dark Angels away from the “d3 victory points for your opponent, due to Reasons” bit, but instead they found a way to make it even worse. I hate this!
So what do you get? Veterans and Terminators can be Troops, and all Independent Characters who are Scions of the Deathwing get +1 Attack when within 12” of an objective. Any unit with a Scion of the Deathwing in it gets Feel No Pain (6+) while within 6” of an objective, or improves an existing Feel No Pain by 1.
These are… not good enough, to be completely frank. You can get similar benefits for Pride of the Legion without hemorrhaging VPs, and +1 Attack and a tiny boost to Feel No Pain in certain situations doesn’t overcome the massive advantage you’ve handed to the opponent. And, bizarrely, this Rite doesn’t give you Cenobium or Deathwing Inner Circle as Troops!
I try to see the positives in things, as every Rite has someone who thinks its cool but… come on, Forge World – could the Dark Angels player have at least gotten some VP each turn if they control it, rather than just preventing the enemy getting it? Note that if they control the objective at the end of the game, it means nothing – the objective explicitly isn’t worth any VP to the Dark Angels player!
Luther himself must have interfered with the text…
Rite of War – The Seeker’s Arrow
This Rite is for the dark sons of the Ravenwing, swift hunters and cold killers – “when given charge by their brothers, they are like an arrow set to flight; graceful, unerring and deadly.”
To start off, same restrictions on Fortifications, Allies and Independent characters as most of the other Rites apply. To run this Rite, you can only have vehicles which are Fast, Skimmers or Flyers, and can only take one Heavy Support (not unsurprising). All jetbikes or bikes which are non-compulsory Troops start in Reserve, and all compulsory Troops have to have a Scion of the Ravenwing (re-roll Run, Fall Back and Thrust moves) in the squad.
This is not that restrictive, but means you have to think carefully about deployment. The benefits are pretty bloody good.
Sky Hunter Squadrons and Outrider Squads become Troops (not unexpected), and Scion of the Ravenwing models can buy Hit and Run for +20 pts (hint: buy this). You also get The Arrow Knows the Path, giving Outflank if you have a Scion of the Ravenwing in the unit, and allows you to come in from Reserves on a 2+ (!). To round off, you get Graceful, Unerring and Deadly, which gives +2” once per turn to either Run, Turbo-boost, Charge or Consolidate.
Wow. That is incredible. You end up with a highly mobile force which puts White Scars to shame – units will be zipping in from the sides, re-rolling their moves, and moving further than normal. If you’re stuck in combat, just run out of it – or charge in, run out in the opponents turn, and then charge back in. The possibilities are endless. If you want to run bikes at all, run this Rite!
We’ll be looking at the new units in this book available to all Legions – Hussars and Sky Seekers – but these are perfect to augment this army. I cannot wait to see some amazing converted forces on the tabletop.
Rite of War – The Serpent’s Bane
“… always seek to cut the head from the serpent.” This is the maxim by which the Firewing live and die – identify the enemy high-priority targets, and eradicate them with small squads of dedicated hunter-killers.
As above, the same rules on Fortifications, Allies and Independent Characters apply.
To run The Serpent’s Bane, you need to fill your compulsory Troops with Seeker Squads or Assault Squads, which must have a Scion of the Firewing (which gives them Hatred (Characters)). The Warlord must be the Primarch, or a Scion of the Firewing (which is consistent with the other Rites).
If you use this Rite, you can only claim victory if all three Priority Targets (more on those below) are destroyed or casualties at the end of the game. Otherwise you lose, regardless of any other Victory Conditions or rules. If you run this Rite, it’s all or nothing – a bit like the mission of the Firewing itself.
GREGNOTE: That seems pretty bad!
Let’s look at the benefits. You get Strike Force, making Seekers and Firewing Enigmatus Cadres Troops (note that this clearly means Cabals, not Cadres).
The meat of it is Priority Target Kill List – at the start of the game, you select three enemy HQs, Elites, or Lords of War as Priority Targets, and tell your opponent who they are. All units in this detachment which have a Scion of the Firewing in them get +1 to all To Wound or Armour Penetration Rolls against these Priority Targets (damn good). If the enemy doesn’t have three of these, then you can select any remaining units as Priority Targets. Remember, these have to die.
You also get Marshal of the Ever-Burning Flame, giving +1 Attack when locked in combat with a High Priority Target for Scions of the Firewing Independent Characters, and Forward Deployment Protocol, where up to three Troops who have a Scion of the Firewing can get Infiltrate, and if deployed no more than 17” from a Priority Target then they get Rage until the end of turn 2.
This means you deploy them in cover out of Line of Sight, hop out, and beeline for the enemy, ripping them down with Rage and Marshal of the Ever-Burning Flame, benefiting from bonus attacks, Hatred, and +1 to Wound.
I really like this Rite. The “all-or-nothing” nature of the Kill List is thematic, and you get enough bonuses, in my mind, to fulfill the kill-mission without having to disproportionately slant your list or tactics towards it. Your opponent will know you’re coming, but equally their HQ, Elites or Lords of War are going to be in the thick of the fray, so you can get to grips with them nicely. Good fun.
The Wings of the Dark Angels are potent forces indeed, and allow for some really thematic armies, with special rules designed to augment and complement these playstyles. I think they will see a lot of use on the tabletop, letting the armies from the pages of Crusade step onto the tabletop.
Next in our series we look at the Special Units of the Dark Angels… from the Cenobium to the Excindio. See you next time.
GREGNOTE: Hell yeah.