The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. With apologies for the delay, in our seventh article we’re looking at the brutal core of the Traitor Legions – the scions of the Warmaster himself, the Sons of Horus.
“The Sons of Horus – the Legion of the sire of heresy, the first in infamy if not in treachery, whose name now resounds as a curse throughout the scattered and war-torn realms of humanity…”
If you have any understanding of the Horus Heresy, you will know about the Sons of Horus. Formerly the Luna Wolves, they were renamed in the image of their leader – Horus Lupercal, the arch-Traitor and instigator of the great Heresy.
However, the Sons of Horus were not always a ruthless, broken rabble of traitors – once they were noble, loyal, effective and ambitious, a true beacon of Imperial might and light. Sadly, like Icarus of old, they flew too close to the sun of their own pride and fell the furthest of all.
The Luna Wolves
The Sons of Horus were once the Luna Wolves. This Legion drew its recruits from Terra, reportedly from hunter-clans and ruthless tribal folk – whose traditions and culture fuelled an abrasive and aggressive fighting style in the early days of the XVI. They loved a fight which was over almost as it began – swift and bloody, with a deadly strike to the core of the enemy to rip the heart from the foe. They acted like alpha predators, focused on ending fights before they became unnecessary wars of attrition.
Their first name came from, as might be guessed, the First Pacification of Luna in the Unification Wars, where they broke the Coriolis Enclaves so thoroughly that even to this day, the number “sixteen” is known as the “counting of the wolf” in some parts of Terra. The Emperor made good use of his “wolves” as the Unification Wars ended, sending them to “begin and end wars their enemies did not know they were fighting”, and shatter intractable foes. In particular, the Luna Wolves made good diplomats and heralds, bringing the diplomacy of the Imperium in one hand, and its fury in the other.
The XVI, for their part, embraced their cognomen with relish, using the wolfs-head motif extensively in their iconography and adopting the wearing of gene-modified pelts to mark out status within the Legion.
Then, Lupercal came. Horus’ founding, unusually amongst the Primarchs, is shrouded in mystery – it is not clear how and when he was discovered, only that he was the first of the Primarchs to reach the Emperor’s side. He, if the stories are to be believed, ended up on Cthonia, a world of “hard rock, worm-bored with tunnels and underworld cities, orbiting a slowly dying, angry blue star.” Cthonia was a world of long-fled glory, stripped of its valuable resources and left to decay. Some would even say it should have been destroyed long before Horus was found.
Its population were hard, brutal people, organised into kill-gangs and murder-clans who constantly fought for territory and supremacy in the lightless warrens of that benighted world. This environment apparently is what the Warmaster grew up in, and perhaps it is no wonder as a result he was a born leader, forced to climb to the top of a heap of barbarian-kings and slaughter-clades. In any event, the Luna Wolves recruited primarily from Cthonia going forward, leading to a Legion consisting of born killers and murderers, barely restrained by the Astartes training. This restraint would, of course, be removed entirely as the Heresy began.
As the Heresy drew closer, the Luna Wolves became a terrifying fighting force, lightning-swift and deadly in war. Horus’ favoured approach to battle was the decapitation strike – a focused punch into the enemy command structure to cut the head off of the snake as a campaign began. And, it must be said, he was very good at it.
Finally, at Ullanor, Horus became Warmaster, and the Emperor retired from leading His Great Crusade. At the apex of Imperial might on the triumph fields, Horus declared his Legion would be renamed – they would be the Sons of Horus, risen to the unrivalled heights of their father.
During the Heresy
“It does not matter how the galaxy burns, only that it does. ‘Warmaster’ – that is what it means, my brother. The strength to do what must be done.”
The Imperium of Man, the mightiest stellar empire seen since the Eldar, was broken asunder by the ambitions of one man. Horus’ fall took with it the hope of Humanity to ascend, and burned the dreams of the Emperor to cold ash.
The Sons of Horus fought in all the major theatres of the Heresy – from the persecution of the Shattered Legions of Shadrak Meduson, to the taking of Molech. Their system of insidious warrior-lodges, worked into the heart of the Legions with the help of the Word Bearers, helped sway many loyalists to their cause and fuel the fires of betrayal. They were the core of the Traitor armies, and brought ruin to the Loyalists wherever they fought.
Horus, from his wounding and transformation on Davin, ascended to become a true avatar of the Ruinous Powers by the time the assault on Terra began. He controlled the ebb and flow of the Traitor advance, masterminding the key setpieces in the push for Terra, despite the numerous failings of his lesser brothers.
The end of this story is well known. The Solar War almost broke the Imperium, yet the Traitors ultimately failed. For reasons still unknown, as the battle reached its crescendo, Horus dropped the shields on the Vengeful Spirit, inviting the Loyalists to, ironically, execute the decapitation strike he so favoured as a way of war.
The Master of Mankind, Rogal Dorn and Sanguinius led a strike on the Traitor flagship, and when the dust settled, Rogal mourned the death of his brother and father, with Lupercal burned into nothingness by the Emperor’s emperyal might.
And, with Horus’ death, the Long War began.
Legion Special Rules
The Sons of Horus benefit from the following Legion special rules:
- The Edge of the Spear – Sons of Horus units with this rule which are in Reserve (along with their transports, e.g. Drop Pods) can re-roll results of a “1” if the controlling player chooses.
- Bitter Pride – Sons of Horus units with this rule cannot benefit from the Warlord Trait or Leadership of any allied character or Independent Character.
- Merciless Fighters – If the number of Sons of Horus infantry models (Bulky counting as 2 and Very Bulky as 3) outnumbers the enemy in any particular close combat at Initiative Step 1 of the Fight sub-phase, then each model with the Merciless Fighters rule can make a single additional attack if they have already fought.
- Death Dealer – Models with this special rule gain +1 BS when shooting with Pistol, Assault and Rapid Fire weapons at models 12” or less away (but this does not apply to Fury of the Legion, Snap Shots or Chain Fire).
These are some powerful Legion rules, as befits the Warmaster’s Own. The Edge of the Spear is a great passive buff, meaning you probably won’t need to worry about buying Reserve manipulation in other ways (e.g. a Proteus Augury Web) as usually you’re rolling a 3+ anyway, so this re-roll makes it very reliable in most scenarios.
Merciless Fighters is one of those ones which will, reliably, come through in a pinch once per game to really pull the rug out from under your opponent. It won’t work on every squad – for example Terminators with Power Fists won’t benefit – but for large blocks of Tactical Marines or Assault Marines, this can swing 1-2 additional kills per phase to net you the combat win.
Death Dealer is, if you build your list right, quite terrifying! Drop Pods and Dreadclaws with Veterans can really make good use of this – Combi-Weapons or Plasma Guns unleashing at BS5 can be a potent alpha strike.
Finally, Bitter Pride is barely worth a mention – I don’t think I’ve ever had to rely on an allies’ Leadership or Warlord Trait in any game of Horus Heresy that I’ve played.
Legion Special Equipment & Upgrades
The Sons of Horus have access to a special anti-Astartes ammunition type (showing how far ahead Horus was thinking when he launched his gambit…):
- Banestrike Bolter Rounds – 18”, S 4 AP 5 Banestrike (either in a Bolter or a Combi-Bolter). These become AP 3 on a 6+ to Wound, which is an interesting pseudo-Rending. Sons of Horus Seeker Squads can take these for free instead of Scorpios rounds, and Independent Characters with Bolters or Combi-Bolters can swap their normal ammo to Banestrike Rounds for +5 pts. I don’t view this as a must-take, but it isn’t terrible when combined with Death Dealer.
Legion Rites of War
The Sons of Horus can access two Rites of War – The Black Reaving and The Long March.
The Black Reaving
The Sons of Horus, when they turned against the light of Terra, unleashed their dark and savage inner natures. The Black Reaving is supposed to represent the unshackling of this inner core and embracing the darker allies of the Warmaster as the Sons of Horus left their glorious days as the Luna Wolves behind, and became “a pack of nightmarish predators.”
In practice, to run this Rite of War you have to take a Praetor (or Delegatus) with a Master of Signal as your Compulsory HQs. You then have to take more Fast Attack Choices than Heavy Support Choices in any final list, an additional Compulsory Troops choice, and cannot run Fortifications.
What do you get for this? Well, you can take Reaver squads as troops, Justaerin Terminators get free Deep Strike and any non-vehicle unit which arrives from Reserve other than by Deep Strike gets Fleet on the turn it arrives. You also get Cut them Down, which gives Sons of Horus units Rage when they charge into an assault which is already ongoing.
Overall, I think this is a fairly tricky Rite to use correctly (perhaps as benefitting the strategic genius of Horus?). You are fairly restricted in army choices, with at least 2 “tax” units (although an extra Reaver squad and Master of Signal is not going to overburden you). The issue, I think, is that the bonuses don’t really synergise with each other that well. Merciless Fighters makes it harder to “tie up” a unit to use Cut them Down as your damage output is less predictable, and Fleet upon arriving from Reserve is quite underwhelming – it’s basically a re-roll on your Run move, as you can’t charge out of Reserve.
Deep Strike on Justaerin is quite good, but there are plenty of ways to get that already (e.g. a Warmonger) which don’t require the use of an entire Rite, and often you will want to deliver them in a Dreadclaw or Land Raider as, if they Deep Strike in, they are sitting in a cluster for a turn as they can’t run in Cataphractii armour.
Overall, this isn’t terrible but it doesn’t bring enough to the table in my view to make it a must-take.
The Long March
When Horus launched his gambit in the Isstvan system, he knew the campaign would not be over quickly – even with an all-out push to Terra, it would be a long march to the Throneworld. This Rite represents the Sons of Horus on their rolling conquest to the Solar System, as the Galaxy burned and billions died.
To take this Rite you must be a Traitor and cannot be a Shattered Legion (not very restricting). You cannot use models with Slow and Purposeful unless they use Deep Strike or a Transport (note that Cataphractii Terminators don’t have Slow and Purposeful) and you cannot use Allies or Fortifications.
The benefits are very good for these relatively limited restrictions. You get The Warmaster’s Portion, giving you rerolls of 1 to Hit on the first turn of any game, and Terminators can become non-compulsory Troops choices.
The main benefit is Relentless March. Infantry units with the Legiones Astartes (Sons of Horus) special rule gain a special rule from the start of the controlling player’s turn to the end of the opposing player’s turn, depending on where the majority of the unit starts its turn.
If they are within a friendly deployment zone, they get Relentless. “No Man’s Land” is Fleet and the enemy deployment zone is Crusader.
These are a very thematic series of benefits, and you can build a good list around this – Assault Squads can roll nicely up the table for example, and it allows rapid repositioning in No Man’s Land if units are shot out of their transports. You can also do some nasty work with Contemptors or Rapiers on Turn 1 if you take advantage of the rerolls of 1 To Hit.
Overall, while this isn’t the most powerful Rite in the game, it is thematic with minimal restrictions – I think any good Sons of Horus army can make good use of this.
Legion Special Units
The Sons of Horus have some iconic special units in their arsenal. Note that technically the Anvillus Pattern Dreadclaw Drop Pod is a “unique” unit for the Sons of Horus, but it is now available to everyone so I won’t list it separately.
Justaerin Terminator Squad
These units are probably one of the most iconic units in the Heresy – the black-armoured elite of the Warmaster – first in, last out. In the novels you always see these merciless killers at the absolute forefront of the fighting, usually teleporting into the heart of the enemy formations to rip apart their commanders and leave nought but corpses in their wake.
On the tabletop, Justaerin aren’t cheap – 255 pts for 5 with +40 pts per model – but you get a lot of “bang for your buck.” Starting off, they are WS 5 with 2 W, Stubborn, Implacable Advance and Furious Charge, making them very versatile despite being in Cataphractii armour (which makes them a bit slow. They have a good variety of weapon options, coming base with a Power weapon but being able to take Power Fists or Chainfists for +5 and +10 pts.
You get a variety of heavy weapon options for every 5 models – Heavy Flamers, Reaper Autocannons or (a bit overpriced at +25 pts) a Multi-Melta. Finally, they are Chosen Warriors (so every one of them can issue a Challenge) and the Favoured of Horus (allowing them to be taken as Command squads).
Overall these are a very “reliable” unit in my view – any army can make use of them. They are tough with 2W and can be kitted out to fill any gap, from tank-hunting to culling infantry. The only advice I would have is that, in the same way as Firedrakes, their cost can balloon if you go for all the trimmings – think of what you want them to do, and kit them out to focus on that. If you try to cover all bases, they will let you down in one way or another.
And watch out for Instant Death!
Reaver Attack Squad
The sculpts on these are a bit “first-gen” by the standards of more modern Heresy units, but I think they still stand up to scrutiny with a decent paint job. The Reavers are supposed to be advanced versions of Assault Squads, with a Cthonian flair to them in terms of the savagery and spikes. Intended to be lighting-fast and overwhelming, the Reavers are lightly armed but manoeuvrable.
On the tabletop, these guys are a little bit underwhelming, but I think still have a place in most Sons of Horus armies. 135 pts for 5, with +15 pts a model, you get a T 4 3+ save unit with an additional base Attack (with 3 A on the Chieftain), Outflank and Precision Strike/Shots. This means on the charge, as they have Bolt pistols and Chainswords, you are getting 4 A per model, which is respectable.
I think the strength of these guys lies in the upgrades. They can take Chainaxes (a no brainer at +1 pt – extra Strength? Yes please!), fairly cheap Power weapons and Power fists on any model in the squad, and +50 pts flat gets them all Jump packs.
While it’s tempting to go the Jump pack route, this is a bit of a trap points-wise. These guys are not a frontline combat unit. They’re a backfield hunter, in my view.
Run a squad of 10 with Chainaxes, a melta bomb and a couple of Power fists and make use of Outflank to bring them in right in the enemy deployment zone (or down in a Dreadclaw for the same effect). Use them to pick off Heavy Support Squads, harass Deredeos, or take out artillery. They won’t run in a stand up fight against Terminators, for example, so don’t let them get bogged down! They are a wolfpack designed to disrupt the enemy, not go toe-to-toe with their heaviest units.
I can’t see more than 10 being needed in an army, but they are a thematic harassing unit.
Legion Special Characters
Maloghurst the Twisted – Bearer of the Eye, Equerry of the Warmaster
The Twisted is an epithet with a sting, in the case of Maloghurst – his unusual strategic insights and “alternative” methods of thinking earned him the title, but it became cruelly appropriate when his transport was shot down on Sixty-Three Nineteen. He survived, but became crippled and physically deformed, no longer able to fight as a warrior in the Warmaster’s name but instead serving as an equerry to Horus and his standard-bearer in the wars of the Heresy.
On the tabletop he is Traitor-only (as you would expect), and has a near-Praetor statline – WS/BS 5, W 3, I 4, A 2, LD 10 but only a 3+ save. His equipment is not much to write home about – a Power sword, Banestrike Bolter and Refractor field.
The special rules Maloghurst brings to the table are not bad – the Battle Standard of the Rebellion makes him a scoring unit on his own (as long as Troops can also score during the Mission type), he has Adamantium Will, Master of the Legion and is the Bearer of the Eye, making Veterans and Reaver squads Troops in any detachment where he is present. Unfortunately, as he is Broken in Body, Maloghurst and his units cannot Run or make Sweeping Advances.
Overall, Maloghurst is not bad for 140 pts, but he is really a fluff choice if you want to take him. He brings a mixed-bag of bonuses and drawbacks, and won’t stand up in a straight fight to any sort of melee-focused character, with only a 3+/5++. The flip side of that is that he is quite cheap and a cool conversion opportunity.
Ezekyle Abaddon – First Captain of the Sons of Horus, Favoured of the Warmaster
A man who needs no introduction – Abaddon is the big bad guy of the 41st Millenium, and in the Horus Heresy he’s warming up his killing arm (while he still has arms…).
If you want something obliterated, send Abaddon and a block of his Justaerin elite. He weighs in at 215 pts, is Traitor-only, and has WS 7, W 3, I 5 and A 4 – so he will go toe-to-toe with any Praetor-tier opponent with his Master-crafted Power Fist and show them how the Sons of Horus fight.
His wargear and special rules are respectable – he has a 2+/4++ with Relentless, comes with Deep Strike, which he grants to any Terminator unit he runs with, re-rolling any Mishaps. He is Marked by Dark Fates in campaigns (re-rolling injury tables), which is quite a fun nod to his future in 40k.
Otherwise he is Fearless (a great rule in 30k), has Precision Strike and is a Master of the Legion, so he is overall a solid choice for any primary HQ in an army.
The only thing really to say here is that Abaddon is not a subtle character or one which requires much thought to use. Take him, give him Justaerin as a bodyguard, and ram him into the hardest enemy unit available.
Someone will die, and it probably won’t be the future Despoiler.
Garviel Loken – Last Captain of the Luna Wolves
A shining light of loyalty and honour in the Warmaster’s traitorous hordes, Loken was a former member of Horus’ inner circle – the Mournival. Horrified at Horus’ fall on Davin, he fought bitterly for the Loyalists on Isstvan III and was thought dead. In fact, he survived and ended up as a Knight-Errant of the Sigillite, fighting through the climatic Siege of Terra.
On the tabletop he is a relatively cheap Praetor-tier character. 175 pts gets you WS 6, W 3, I 6, A 4 but only a 3+ save – but he does come with a Paragon blade so with I 6 he will often strike first and strike hard to kill his opponent before this comes an issue. An Iron Halo gives him a measure of survivability against heavy enemy attacks.
He is Loyalist-only (as you might expect), gives a 12” Leadership bubble, and is a Born Survivor – the first time he is removed as a casualty, on a 2+ he lives on with a single Wound remaining. This is fun and thematic, and allows him to “tank” Instant Death wounds which otherwise might cause problems.
Overall, not a bad character, and if you play a Luna Wolves Loyalist force, a perfect fluffy leader to take.
Horus The Warmaster – The Favoured Son, Lupercal
A man who needs no introduction. The Primarch of the Luna Wolves Legion and “greatest of his superhuman kind”, Horus was the shining star and favoured son of the Emperor of Mankind, raised above his brothers to be the first among equals as Warmaster of the Imperium.
Until he fell.
Infected by the lies and corruption of the Warp, Horus plotted with the malign intelligences of the Immaterium to rip the Imperium asunder and usurp the Emperor’s throne. The fires of his ambition burn on, 10,000 years into the future.
On the tabletop, Horus is one of the strongest units available to any Legion. He costs 500pts – so a serious investment, given you’ll want to put him in a transport – but brings a significant bevy of bonuses with that cost.
His statline is formidable – the usual Primarch “6s”, with WS 8, and S 7 setting him above the pack in that respect.
In terms of his rules, Horus is the Sire of the Sons of Horus, giving himself and any Terminator unit he joins the ability to choose the turn he arrives from Reserve from Turn 2 onwards. He also has +D3 attacks (rolled every fight sub-phase) against any unit or character with WS 4 or less (such foes are beneath the Breaker of Tyrants). This synergises with his Teleportation Matrix, allowing Horus and any accompanying Terminators with him to Deep Strike from Reserve with no scatter.
Next up, he has Weapon Mastery, allowing him to use his two close combat weapons simultaneously and split the attacks in every fight sub-phase as he desires. And these weapons are no joke – the iconic Warmaster’s Talon is AP 2 S 7 with Shred (so usually 2+ to Wound, with rerolls) and Disabling Strike. This rule is brutal – any model wounded but not slain by the Warmaster’s Talon during an Assault is -1 WS and -1 S for the rest of the game, which is cumulative. This is absolutely devastating in a Primarch-on-Primarch confrontation, as Horus will only ever get stronger as he guts his opponent.
The other weapon is Worldbreaker, the weapon of a god. S 10 AP 2 with Concussive and Master-crafted, it is slow (Unwieldy) but will hit like a truck. Horus will never be stuck when facing Vehicles or Walkers as a result.
But it doesn’t stop there! His armour, the Serpent’s Scales, gives a 2+/3++, and makes him immune to psychic attacks and anything which would modify his characteristics on a 3+ save. This further boosts his Primarch-killing abilities – limiting the threat of Vulkan’s Concussive and similar.
Finally, Horus is a God of Battle who fights at the Point of the Spear. The former rule gives any unit in a force containing Horus which is in Reserve the Outflank rule, +1 Leadership to all Legiones Astartes (Sons of Horus) (up to 10) and a 4+ Seize the Initiative. Any of these on its own would be good, combined together this is outrageous. The Point of the Spear allows Veterans and Justaerin to be Troops if Horus is the Warlord (and when won’t he be?), and finally gives a single Orbital Bombardment (S 10 Ap 2 Large Blast, Lance, Twin-Linked), which is useful for punching through backfield artillery in the early game.
Phew – a lot of rules, as you might expect from the man behind the Heresy. All I can say is, if Horus is included in a battle, the entire thing will pivot around him. He cannot be ignored. I have fought him just once with my Solar Auxilia, and only managed to withstand his assault by shooting apart his Spartan on turn 1 and throwing roadblock sacrifices at him – there was no question of actually beating this terrifying foe.
And, to round off, what a model! One of the best in the range, I reckon.
Sample Army List
Below I set out a starting force for the Sons of Horus, for the 1,500 pt mark.
When writing these, I try to allow for a low financial cost to build this army – preferring plastic kits and units which can be upgraded with third party kits (e.g. Anvil Industries) rather than a lot of resin. You’ll notice in this list I’ve gone for some Justaerin in a Dreadclaw and a Contemptor – this is three resin kits, but I think they have a lot of scope as the force grows so they are a worthy investment.
Rite of War – Pride of the Legion
- HQ – Praetor with Artificer Armour, Iron Halo, Digital Lasers, Paragon Blade (Master-crafted), Melta Bombs
- Elites – Apothecarion Detachment (x2 Apothecaries with Artificer Armour)
- Elites – Contemptor Dreadnought with Kheres Pattern Assault Cannon, DCCW
- Troops – Justaerin Terminators with x3 Chainfists, Dreadclaw Drop Pod
- Troops – 8x Weaponmaster Veterans with x3 Power Axes + Artificer Armour Sergeant in a Phobos Land Raider with a Dozer Blade
- Troops – 9x Stalker Veterans with x3 combi-Plasma in a Rhino with a Dozer Blade
When I think “Sons of Horus”, I imagine Veterans, Terminators, and rapid, flexible play, pushing upfield to make use of Death Dealer. This list is designed around a core of two units – the Justaerin in a Dreadclaw to pressure the opponent early on, with a Land Raider containing 8 Veterans, a Praetor, and an Apothecary to be the secondary “punch”. The Contemptor then works with the Stalker Veterans (who can Outflank or Scout) to control the midfield.
Going beyond this, I would probably add another Contemptor, and then look for some Heavy Support like perhaps an Arcus or similar.
The Sons of Horus are a flexible, fast Legion with a rewarding, in-your-face playstyle. They have a bevy of potent Special Characters to really flesh your army out, and they are a constant fixture in the fluff as the “main” Traitor enemies, giving a lot of scope for narrative force construction. I would recommend them to anyone, and you can do some great conversions with the kits available.
Next time, we look at an equally iconic Loyalist force – Dorn’s sons, the Imperial Fists.
“Lupercal! For the Warmaster!
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