The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. In our eighth article we delve into the background and rules for the Praetorians of Terra, Dorn’s chosen sons, the Imperial Fists.
“In this age of betrayal, one Legion stood as a pillar of loyalty amongst the seas of doubt. The Imperial Fists and their Primarch Rogal Dorn, ever true, never swerving from the toll demanded by a war of brothers…”
When Horus Lupercal lit the flame which would consume the galaxy, one Legion, and one Legion alone, was called to the Throneworld to defend it – the Imperial Fists, led by the Praetorian of Terra himself: Rogal Dorn. An iron-hard force of staunch, taciturn defenders of Humanity, they broke down and rebuilt Terra into a fortress world, with the Imperial Palace as the lynchpin of the Solar defence network.
When the Traitors arrived, the Fists were there to answer the call.
The Imperial Fists are strongly interlinked with the homeworld, Terra. At the time of the Unification Wars, Terra was a hellscape, lacking hope or order, existing in a blood-soaked darkness. The Emperor changed this with the force of his arms and brilliance of his mind – leading his Thunder Warriors and Legiones Astartes to tame Terra. This transformed world is what the VII were, some say, made to protect.
Unlike other Legiones Astartes, some of whom were only recruited from specific parts of Terra, the Imperial Fists took their initial recruits from all over the planet, even in places where other Legions had nominal sovereignty over recruiting. This led to a Legion with a broad range of choler, outlooks and skills.
As the Crusade began, the VII found themselves well suited for conquest. All the Legions were brutal in combat and terrifying to the foe – they could decapitate the enemy command, turn his troops to flight, and raze his fortresses. However, not all the Legions could then hold the taken ground – many, such as the War Hounds or Eaters of the Dead, simply did not have the temperament to occupy a world and ensure its people would not turn on the Imperium as soon as they had left.
The Imperial Fists, on the other hand, earned their name from their raising of citadels upon the lands they had conquered, with dark rumours of their own Legionary dead being incorporated into the foundations of these mighty edifices. Their prodigious skill as builders and castellans led many to say, when the VII had left a world, it was as though “the hand of the Emperor had descended and gripped with an unbreakable fist”, leading the Emperor Himself to bestow both the name “the Imperial Fists” upon the VII, and to award them the Laurels of Victory as part of their heraldry.
As the Crusade expanded, the Emperor rediscovered one of His sons on the frozen world of Inwit – Rogal Dorn. Inwit was a harsh, brutal death world of freezing cold, orbiting a dying star and infested with wild beasts of the Splintered Land. Inwit was clearly once-mighty – massive void-citadels orbited the planet – but it had been stripped of all value.
Dorn landed amidst the nomadic peoples of this planet and, like many Primarchs, swiftly rose to rule Inwit, leading the House of Dorn of the Ice Caste, and eventually conquering the entire Inwit Cluster. He was a disciplinarian, a leader, and a builder, and turned Inwit into a well-prepared, highly efficient society with a massive military force, centred around the mighty Phalanx. When the Emperor found Inwit, he found not just a son – he found a star-spanning society already forged into a tool of war, to take and wield in the Crusade.
The Phalanx is worthy of special mention; an ancient pre-Imperial stellar fortress of vast size and unimaginable power, rebuilt at Dorn’s hands and presented to the Emperor as a gift. It alone broke the back of many foes during the Crusade, and it would form a vital part of the defence nexus of the Solar System in the coming Heresy.
When Dorn was reunited with his Legion they swiftly learned what kind of man their progenitor was. He said nothing to them until he had observed them in battle, and then only offered a simple criticism – that there was “much work to be done”.
Rogal took his Astartes and built them up into a terrifying Legion over the course of sixteen long years of war; taking, fortifying, and moving on. Each victory won him greater praise, but he did not bask in his glory, but continued to simply do his duty.
Some say Dorn could have been Warmaster, if not for his blunt, taciturn nature. His personality, sadly, would oft cause rifts with his brothers (not least, Pertuabo of the Iron Warriors). While he was Ullanor, it was Horus, not Rogal, who was raised above all others.
Instead, Rogal Dorn became the Praetorian.
During the Heresy
“If the Warmaster has turned his back on Terra… what are my orders?”
“Tell him that his brother Rogal will have him answer for it.”
As the Heresy erupted, the Imperial Fists were en route to Terra, to take up their role as guardians of the Throneworld. Massive empyreal storms becalmed their fleet, sowing chaos and confusion. It was only by luck – or perhaps, providence – that they intercepted another ship which had become similarly lost. This ship was the Eisenstein, a Death Guard frigate which had escaped Isstvan III, and brought news of Horus’ betrayal to the wider Imperium.
This was a bitter pill to swallow for Rogal, and he initially refused to believe this could be possible. Eventually convinced, he dispatched a Retribution Fleet to Isstvan, before bringing his veterans to Terra to bring news of this heresy to the Emperor. The Retribution Fleet would be wracked by Warp storms, becalmed at Phall and ambushed by Perturabo, only escaping through the skill and voidcraft of Alexis Polux.
As the Heresy took hold of the galaxy, Dorn’s VII secured vital supplies and equipment on Mars with the help of First Captain Sigismund, as the Martian rebellion took over the planet, and blockaded the world to begin the Siege of Mars, which would last for almost the entire Heresy. While these vicious battles were fought, Rogal was not idle – he and his Legion turned the Imperial Palace into an unbelievably robust fortress of overlapping defences, strongpoints and fortifications.
This act was, in and of itself, a tragedy, as it required the tearing down of peerless, timeless works of art and history – the collected glory of the Crusade heaped and burned on the pyre of Horus’ treachery.
Finally, the VII watched as the Traitors grew ever closer to the Throneworld, before finally the astropathic flare was launched to start the Solar War, and the endgame:
“Fire on the mountains.”
Dorn would, of course, be present throughout the Siege of Terra, and be one of the principal actors in the finale of the Heresy. According to legend, it was he who found the corpse of Sanguinius, and the dying Emperor, on the Vengeful Spirit after the final confrontation of the Master of Mankind and Horus Lupercal. The grief of this moment would forever change Rogal, turning him into a brutal avenger, and leader of the Great Scouring which followed.
Legion Special Rules
The Imperial Fists bring the following special rules to the field of battle:
- Disciplined Fire – Units with this rule add +1 to their BS when firing a boltgun, bolt pistol, heavy bolter or quad heavy bolter – or the bolter segment of a combi-weapon. Heavy Support Squads also gain Tank Hunters.
- Blood and Honour – Models with this rule may not choose to voluntarily fail a Morale check, and Imperial Fists characters must issue a Challenge in combat if they are able to do so, but they get to re-roll to Hit rolls of 1 when they fight a Challenge.
- Unshakeable Defence – Legiones Astartes (Imperial Fists) are immune to pinning when claiming cover, or fighting from a fortification or a barricade.
- The Bitter End – When a mission has a random game length, the opponent of an Imperial Fists player can opt to play the six full turns instead of a random game length roll being made.
Let’s get the “debuff” out of the way – The Bitter End rarely comes up. Generally when it does, it is to the detriment of the Imperial Fists player (that’s why the opponent wants an extra turn, usually), but usually by Turn 5 you know which way the wind is blowing.
Moving onto the buffs, Disciplined Fire is amazing. BS5 bolters are no joke. If you take a squad of Breachers or Tactical Marines in large numbers, you can pour 30-ish shots downrange and hit with most of them, which will surprise your opponent. I have blasted Terminators off the board with basic Tactical Marines simply because my opponent underestimated BS5. Cheap Heavy Support Squads (although they take up a valuable Heavy Support slot) with Heavy Bolters, or basic Quad Heavy Bolter Rapiers, are definitely worth a look with this as well. And free Tank Hunters on Heavy Support Squads makes them well worth taking in general.
Blood and Honour means you’ll want to kit out characters like Sergeants assuming they will be fighting Challenges, and doing OK in them with re-rolls to Hit. Not being able to fail a morale check is not a big deal. Finally, Unshakeable Defence is nice, but very situational.
Legion Special Equipment & Upgrades
The Imperial Fists have some very iconic wargear – first and foremost, Storm Shields!
- Vigil Pattern Storm Shield – A prototype of the more ubiquitous Storm Shield of the 41st Millenium, this was a relatively rare sight during the Heresy. A Vigil Pattern Storm Shield removes any additional attack bonus for being armed with two weapons, but gives a flat 3+ Invulnerable Save. This can be taken by any Terminator, or Terminator armoured character, for +15 pts for non-Cataphractii armour, or +10 pts in Cataphractii armour.
- Solarite Power Gauntlet – Essentially a “Heavy Power Fist”, this is an ancient relic which can be taken instead of a thunder hammer by any Imperial fists independent character who can take one of those. It is a Power Fist with AP 1 and Master-crafted, which is a great combination to smash apart vehicles.
- Teleportation Homer – Again, a rare sight in the Heresy, this is a +15 pt upgrade for Imperial Fist Terminators, or +10 for Terminator armoured characters.
- Iliastus Pattern Assault Cannon – Created by the Dyzanique techno-esoterists, and given only to the Blood Angels and Imperial Fists by the time the Heresy broke out, the Iliastus Pattern Assault Cannon will be familiar to anyone who has played 40k. It is 24”, Str 6 AP 4 Heavy 4 with Rending, but if you roll x3+ “1s” to hit when rolling to hit it cannot be used for the rest of the game, as it jams! +5 pts on top of a Heavy Flamer in any Terminator squad – a great all round weapon.
Legion Rites of War
The Imperial Fists have access to the Stone Gauntlet and Hammerfall Strike Force Rites of War.
The Stone Gauntlet
This evokes the symbol of the Legion itself – a brutal, lock-step force of interlinked defences which takes, grabs, and holds ground. Described as a “grinding, implacable battering ram”, a Stone Gauntlet force will certainly give your opponent a headache when they try to take you out.
The limitations of this Rite are quite stringent. You must take Breacher squads for Compulsory Troops, cannot use Deep Strike, cannot take more Elites or Fast Attack than you have Troops, and can only take one Consul other than Legion Champions. The Breacher “tax” on this is quite expensive – you’ll want to max out the squads to take advantage of the Rite’s bonuses and BS5 bolters, but this makes for a very pricey core of Troops.
The bonuses are that Phalanx Warders become Troops (but you still need to take Breachers!), and you get Resolve of Stone – any model with Legiones Astartes (Imperial Fists) with a boarding shield or a storm shield who is in unit coherency with 2 other models gets +1 Toughness. You cannot claim this if you have Run, Charged or performed a Sweeping Advance that turn. This is incredible if used correctly. 2+/3++ T5 Terminators? Hoo-boy! Give them a Primus Medicae and make your opponent cry. It makes your entire army amazingly survivable.
You also get Shield Charge, a nice bonus – any unit with a boarding shield or a storm shield who charges gets Hammer of Wrath if they are in coherency with two other models. A decent compromise for the fact you won’t get T5 that turn if you charge.
I have not used this personally but I have heard horror stories from others who have faced it! It requires a lot of Breachers, but will look incredible on the tabletop. You can’t go far wrong with this as a force concept.
Hammerfall Strike Force
This is intended to be an overwhelming ship-based teleport assault of heavy Imperial Fists infantry, using Deep Strike from teleportariums to hurl units through the ether in flashes of blinding light.
Any vehicles must be in reserve, and you cannot take fortifications or Allies. This is a reasonable restriction but not outrageous.
The benefits you get are that Phalanx Warders can be taken as Troops, and any Infantry unit can take Teleport transponders for +15 pts (or +10 pts for an Independent Character). Anyone who Deep Strikes in gets Shrouded on the turn they arrive, and forces Blind checks on any enemy units within 12” and within line of sight of a teleporting unit.
I want to like this Rite of War – I really do – but I just can’t help but think other Rites like Orbital Assault do this better, and more reliably. If the Blind check was at a negative, I might quite like this, but you are launching expensive units like Phalanx Warders and Terminators danger-close to the enemy with no vehicles like a Damocles on the board (as they are in Reserve) to ensure you land well. Cataphactii also can’t Run, so they will land in a cluster which makes them vulnerable to template weapons.
You can have some fun with this certainly – Phalanx Warders and Storm Shield Terminators led by Polux spring to mind – but it is generally quite a risky play every time you use this!
Legion Special Units
The scions of Dorn have two special units in their ranks – but please note that the Phalanx Warders benefit from “playtest” rules in the latest Horus Heresy FAQ which, in practice, everyone uses as the “proper” rules. Do yourself a favour and use those instead of what is printed in the rulebooks – they are far, far better!
Phalanx Warders are void-combat defence specialists, acting as elite Breacher teams to guard the warships of the VII. They are heavily armoured with ornate boarding shields, trained in shield-wall and counter-assault doctrines to engage the enemy where the fighting is heaviest.
These models look great – sleek Mark IV armour modified with heraldry and amazing kite-shields. I love them!
Originally, the rules for these were very lacklustre, to say the least – heavily overpriced and not really worth taking. With the new FAQ playtest rules, all that has changed.
Weighing in at 190 pts for 10, they have a basic Marine statline but come with Hardened Armour, Counter-attack and the Shield Wall rule as part of that, with Boarding Shields as well. Shield Wall gives +1 WS to any Phalanx Warder squad with at least 3 models which is not already locked in an assault when they are charged by the enemy – this includes characters joined to the unit. A very nice bonus!
You can get up to 10 more Warders for +12 pts per model, which is also a good bit of flexibility on the squad size. Now, what sets these guys apart from basic Breachers, is the scope for upgrades on top of their special rules.
Every model can get a Power Axe for + 5 pts per model, the entire squad can get Melta bombs for a flat + 50 pts, and you can take a variety of special weapons for every 5 models in the squad. This flexibility on the upgrades is where the strength of this unit comes in – you can equip some models with boltguns (with +1 BS!) and some with Power Axes, to give a mixed-use close-support unit which, if they have Melta bombs, can kick armour apart in a pinch.
They can also take a Proteus, Phobos or Spartan as a Dedicated Transport depending on the squad size.
Overall, I like these a lot – I would see a squad of 15 having a place in any Imperial Fists force. I would kit them for mixed-use, going for some axes and perhaps some Plasma guns to allow them to take on most enemies and do some damage.
Another fantastic set of sculpts from Forge World here, with special swords and bucklers. The official “reverse” paint scheme is brilliant!
The Templar Brethren are the guards of the Temple of Oaths aboard the Phalanx – “warriors of unequalled zeal.” They are the elite blademasters and duellists of the Legion, using only the finest artificer weapons and armour, carving a “blood-red path” through the foe.
On the tabletop you start with 5 for 175 pts, with + 25 pts per model – so not cheap! They have Veteran statlines (2 A) with WS 5 and Artificer armour, coming with Power swords as their base weapons, with Furious Charge. This means you get a very solid basic combat unit, albeit one without an Invulnerable Save unless you buy them Combat Shields for + 5 pts each.
There are a number of possible upgrades such as vexillas, plasma pistols or special weapons on the Champion, but I would view these as traps. I think if you are going to take this squad, keep them cheap and make them escort a hard-hitting character, and put them in a Land Raider, as they are not in Terminator Armour so you can fit a larger squad in there (just like with Ultramarines Suzerains).
They will not tear Terminators apart – they only have power swords – but they are cost-effective at chewing through anything which doesn’t have a 2+ save.
Overall, I think they’re a decent unit, but generally I think other squads (not least, Phalanx Warders) can do their job generally more effectively at the same (or better) cost. I think the lack of an invulnerable save and having only Power swords rather than anything with AP 2 is really the clincher – you might as well go for Tartaros Terminators in that case. They look brilliant though, and arguably have a niche in Zone Mortalis.
Legion Special Characters
Sigismund – First Captain of the Imperial Fists, Kingsbane
Sigismund is a name which “echoed through the Great Crusade even before the darkness of the Horus Heresy made him the stuff of legends.” He is one of the strongest non-Primarch characters in the game in a straight close combat fight, and can take essentially anyone who isn’t a Primarch and come out on top.
To start with, he’s not cheap at 230 pts, but he brings a lot to the table. In terms of his stats – he’s a Praetor with 4 Wounds, WS 7 and I 5, coming with a 2+/4++ and, crucially, Eternal Warrior. This rule is what makes him a king in the Horus Heresy – it is a very rare rule in this setting, and only a handful of units have it.
In terms of his weapons, he has a Master-crafted bolt pistol, and the Black Sword, which makes him S 6 AP 2 (ouch!). He then has the rules Death’s Champion, allowing him to re-roll failed Charges and Sweeping Advances, and making him and any unit he is with +1 I on the charge (so I 6, S 6, AP 2, 5 A…)
He is then a Dolorous Fighter, with legendary skill and talent, which means he must always issue and accept Challenges and, when he is in a Challenge, he has Instant Death on all his attacks and you must re-roll invulnerable saves which are successful against these.
That is insane. It makes Sigismund the premier “Warlord-killer” if the enemy isn’t using a Primarch. You send him in, issue a Challenge, and if it isn’t a Salamanders Praetor or a similarly premier-tier named character, they are going to die. Arguably, you can’t even hide by sending in a basic Sergeant or similar into the Challenge – all his attacks get Instant Death, so you will likely end up with brutal “overspill” into the unit anyway!
Finally, he makes Templar Brethren troops (nice!) and gets +1 VP and +1 to all subsequent Combat Resolution scores army-wide for Slay the Warlord if he does it in a Challenge, as his Warlord Trait.
Alexis Polux – Master of the Retribution Fleet, the Crimson Fist
Not just a Crimson Fist, but the Crimson Fist, Polux was the fleetmaster who rallied the Retribution Fleet at Phall and managed to hold off the Iron Warriors, and pull much of the fleet out of the ambush set by the Traitors following the Drop Site Massacre. He is a void-warfare specialist without compare, and has a keen tactical mind.
On the tabletop, Polux is a Praetor with I 5 S 5 and WS 6. That S 5 is brilliant, as he has a Master-crafted power fist (painted red, of course…), giving him S 10 attacks! This combines brilliantly with his ability Hammer Blow, which allows him to swap his normal attacks for a single attack at Initiative 5 with his Power Fist in any combat (or 2 if he’s charged). This is a really interesting “assassination” option if you want to try to wipe out an enemy Warlord or similar on the charge, as you have a re-roll to Hit.
He then has a 2+/3++ save (he has a Storm Shield), and the ability Void Commander, meaning he and his unit can opt to pass or fail any Morale or Pinning checks they have to make, and one Infantry unit with Legiones Astartes (Imperial Fists) can Deep Strike via teleportation. He has the Warlord Trait Master Tactician, allowing him to redeploy a single unit after both sides have deployed – including placing it into or out of Reserve, which is a nice thing to combine with the Deep Strike ability for an Infantry unit.
Overall, Polux is a very well rounded character for his 165 pts price-tag. He’s deadly on the charge, and has a nice mix of special rules making him perfect for a Zone Mortalis-based force, or something in a Centurion-style game.
Rogal Dorn – The Vigilant, the Blade of the Emperor, Praetorian of Terra
When Horus struck his banners and marched on Terra, the Emperor looked to only one of his sons to hold the line and defend the Throneworld – Rogal Dorn, the Praetorian. His Legion were loyal without exception, and Dorn could be trusted to craft the greatest defensive strongpoint in the galaxy around the Solar System.
Dorn comes in at 385 pts, and has a fairly standard Primarch statline, save for his WS 8. He is the Sire of the Imperial Fists, giving himself and his unit Crusader and Furious Charge (brilliant with Terminators), and any Legiones Astartes (Imperial Fists) can use his Leadership (10) for Morale and Pinning checks while he is on the board. He also allows any Legiones Astartes (Imperial Fists), as well as himself, to add +D3 to Combat Resolution while he is on the board. These are great rules, making the Imperial Fists he is with more resilient, less likely to run, and able to draw or win assaults more reliably.
He also makes Phalanx Warders (not Phalanx Breachers, as the book says…) and Terminators Troops, if he is the Warlord (and when wouldn’t he be!).
Now, turning onto his personal rules. He wields The Voice of Terra (a S 5 AP 4 Boltgun with Salvo 3/5 and Rending), alongside Storm’s Teeth (S 6 AP 2 Shred, Reaping Blow and Rampage). This means Dorn is slow to swing (I 4 with Reaping Blow) but has a lot of attacks if he is outnumbered, due to Rampage. He can instead choose to use Sundering Blow, halving his attacks (after Rampage etc is accounted for) and giving him S 8 Instant Death on his attacks – a very nice “linebreaker” option to clear out enemy Warlords or Mechanicum automata.
His Auric Armour is also 2+/4++, and makes it so no attack can wound Rogal Dorn on better than a 3+ unless it is a Destroyer weapon. This is pretty nifty, and makes him able to go up against some of the stronger Primarchs and hold his own.
He then has Unshakable Defence, which buffs up to three bits of cover/fortifications after deployment is finished, giving a re-roll to “1s” on Cover Saves, and re-rolling failed Pinning Checks for models within them (a nice fluffy bonus, but not game winning).
Lastly, Dorn can take the Aetos Dios as a Dedicated Transport for 700 pts – a custom Legion Thunderhawk with It WIll Not Die, a Chaff Launcher and Void Shields, with rear armour 12. I have never seen this “in the wild”, but it is a great fluff choice!
Overall, Dorn is a very solid Primarch – I would not say he is in the top 5 of the 18 Primarchs available, but he is a very good buffer/fighter who has a home in any Imperial Fists list for a fairly reasonable price tag. If you take him, make use of the ability to take Phalanx Warders and Terminators as Troops, and consider something like an Aegis line to use Unshakable Defence.
Sample Army List
Below I set out a starting force for the Imperial Fists, at 1,500 pts.
If you build this list… I hope you like painting yellow, and painting Tactical Marines. It has far more models than would usually be expected at this points level, as it is intended to maximise the best bonus the Imperial Fists have to offer at their core – BS5 Bolt weapons – and then be built upon as the list expands.
A note on Terminator armour – while Cataphractii is the “traditional” armour which can take a Storm Shield, the latest FAQs are clear that Tartaros armour can too, giving you mobility with a 3++ invulnerable save. It is, however, more expensive points-wise.
Rite of War – None
- HQ – Praetor with Tartaros Terminator Armour, Paragon Blade, Vigil-Pattern Storm Shield, Digital Lasers, Master-Crafted, Grenade Harness
- Elites – Apothecary x2, both in Artificer Armour, one with a Power Sword
- Elites – Quad-Bolter Rapier x2
- Elites – x5 Tartaros Terminators with Storm Shields and Chainfists
- Troops – x20 Tactical Marines with extra CCW, Artificer Armour/Power Fist Sergeant
- Troops – x20 Tactical Marines with extra CCW, Artificer Armour/Power Fist Sergeant
- Heavy Support – Deredeo Dreadnought with Boreas Missiles, Anvillus Autocannons
At this points level, this list will be able to put out a blistering array of BS5 Bolt-weapon firepower – up to 80 shots per Tactical Squad if you use Pride of the Legion, before the Quad-Bolters weigh in. This is, to me, “peak” Imperial Fists!
The Terminators have no transport which I think at this points level is probably OK, given their mobility. The only issue I can see with this list is that you have a lot of mid-ranged firepower but the Terminators are an obvious target and you don’t have much ranged anti-tank, so you will have to “play smart”. Use the Dreadnought to punch out the enemy armour, and whittle targets down with the bolters.
If this looks like a bit too much bolt-gun firepower to you, shrink the Tactical squads down to 15 man teams (still large + resilient with the Apothecaries), drop the Rapiers, and buy some more anti-armour like a Contemptor Dreadnought.
In terms of expanding this, bulk out the Terminators with a bigger squad in a Spartan, and get some Contemptor Dreadnoughts with a DCCW and a heavy weapon like a Lascannon.
The Imperial Fists are the true paragons of loyalty, and the forces you can build to make use of their special rules are classic “Heresy” era armies – a lot of bolters and shields, standing as a bulwark against the foe. They will always look striking on the table – and if you don’t fancy painting yellow, then paint them mainly black!
Next time we look into the mirror of these yellow-clad stalwarts, and consider the bleak, steel-grey warriors of the Iron Warriors.
“To your glory, and the glory of Him on Earth!”