The Horus Heresy – Legion Overview – The Ultramarines

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The Horus Heresy: Legion Overview – The Ultramarines 

The Space Marine Legions of the First Founding make up the core factions and conflict of the Horus Heresy. In this article – the fourth posted on Goonhammer – we visit the Five Hundred Worlds of Ultramar, and look at their masters – the Ultramarines. 

Credit: Forge World

Introduction

“At the outset of the cataclysmic civil war created by the treachery of Horus and the machinations of the dark powers of the Warp, the XIII Legion, the Ultramarines, stood as one of the single, most powerful military forces in the Imperium.”

The UItramarines are the Thirteenth Legion Astartes, but to simply label them as such is, I feel, to do them a disservice; they are more than that. They are the lords of the Five Hundred Worlds, the lapis-blue guardians of a shining Elysium forged by the brilliance of Robute Guilliman among the carnage of the Great Crusade. The Ultramarines are a fighting force without peer, true, but they are also an image of civilisation, and what Humanity under wise leadership could be.

This, in many ways, makes the betrayal they endured far more bitter. 

Background 

The Ultramarines were, as with their brother legions, founded on Terra at the end of the Unification Wars. They were exceptional by way of their perfection; there were no recorded rejections or abnormalities amongst the “alpha” intake, and the Legion benefited from recruits from all over Terra. This purity of gene stock allowed for rapid growth, which the newly-formed Legion took full advantage of. 

These recruits were from disparate cultures, but in fact they all shared one curious trait. They were primarily taken from populations who had refused to surrender in the face of the Emperor’s ascension at the end of the Unification Wars, and were brutally subjugated instead. This earned the Legion its first cognomen, which it bore for many years – The War Born.

Credit: SRM

As the Emperor’s vision expanded into the Sol System and beyond, the War Born found themselves privileged enough to be under His direct command for some notable actions, including the destruction of the Scorvidian xeno-empire, and Compliance actions on Sekel’s Landing. The XIII quickly found themselves displaying an aptitude for many different kinds of warfare, and proved themselves willing and eager to learn from their fellow Legions – an insatiable desire for “theoreticals” and “practicals” to continually improve and hone their skills. 

The War Born also found themselves acting as “police” or arbiters in conquered territories, upholding the Imperial Truth while the war hosts moved on. As the Crusade pushed into the galaxy, the XIII developed a unique flair, whereby individual companies or units took on their own personal heraldry and, in some cases, even their own separate names – for example Nemesis or The Aurorans. When the Second Founding occurred after the Heresy, these individual units often found themselves becoming Chapters, with some still operating in the 41st Millennium.

Meanwhile, Robute Guilliman had found himself landing on the world of Macragge, in the Eastern fringe of the galaxy. Macragge was not inhospitable, but was a symbol of fallen greatness; a once-mighty empire which had decayed and stagnated. However, under the tutelage of his adoptive father Konor Guilliman, the young Robute quickly pacified northern barbarian tribes on Macragge, before winning a brutal civil war launched by the corrupt Macraggian aristocracy after the assassination of Konor. 

It is said that Guilliman’s cold rage at the death of his foster father was unstoppable – the aristocracy was broken, the ringleaders executed, and Macragge rebuilt under the rule of Robute. Once the young Primarch had been reunited with his Legion, the true test began, and his vision for Ultramar began to take shape.

Under his singular control, the Legion became more than just a fighting force – it became an organisation capable of organisation, supply, and rule. 

Ultramar was born.

Credit: SRM

During the Heresy 

“This was no violent outpouring of hate and bitter vengeance, no sudden cathartic release of long-held hatred, but a cold and calculated genocide, long-planned and anticipated…”

By the time Horus was appointed as Warmaster, the Ultramarines were the largest single Space Marine Legion by a considerable margin, with a large number of Expeditionary and Persecution fleets prowling the stars, and enforcing rule over the Five Hundred Worlds, an “empire within an empire”.

Guilliman was generally well-liked by his brothers – even those who sneered at him being more of an “accountant” than a conqueror – save for Lorgar. Guilliman, for reasons known only to the Emperor of Mankind, was chosen to enact the Censure on Monarchia, razing the Word Bearer’s city which stood in defiance of the Imperial Truth. The Aurelian never forgave this slight, and his revenge was enacted in the Battle of Calth.

What happened at Calth is infamous – a betrayal which almost shattered the Ultramarines Legion and killed their Primarch in one fell blow. Only Guilliman’s unlikely survival and some desperate actions by beleaguered Ultramarine forces fighting a rearguard allowed the Legion to eventually repel the invaders, but not before the Ruinstorm was summoned, blanketing the Five Hundred Worlds in empyreal wychcraft.

Credit: Black Library

What came after was the Shadow Crusade, a hit-and-run, cat-and-mouse game of strike and counterstrike between the Ultramarines, Word Bearers, and World Eaters across the Eastern Fringe, which ended in a brutal battle at Nuceria, where Angron ascended to Daemonhood. 

What happened next has been struck from the annals of Imperial history. It was felt by Guilliman that the worst had happened; Terra had fallen, and the Emperor was dead. Using an ancient xenos device known as the Pharos, Guilliman created, with the help of Sanguinius and Lion El’Jonson, Imperium Secundus – the Second Imperium, with Sanguinius as the Emperor. Intended to preserve the Imperium they thought had been lost, Imperium Secundus fought and repelled Traitors in the Eastern Fringe, trying to carve out an outpost of Humanity in a galaxy which seemed to have fallen to Chaos.

Eventually the nexus of the Ruinstorm – Davin – was destroyed by the three Primarchs, which caused the mighty storm to recede. Realising that the Imperium still stood, Imperium Secundus was cast aside, and the Loyalists raced to reinforce Terra – with the Ultramarines arriving just too late to help the Emperor, who had already been interred in the Golden Throne.  

With the Palace in ruins, Guilliman swore to hunt down his Traitor brothers – a vow which would end with his near-death at the hands of Fulgrim. 

He, of course, survived, and we pick up his story in the grim darkness of the far future…

Legion Special Rules

The Ultramarines have the following Legion Rules: 

  • Interlocking Tactics- If a unit with this special rule makes a shooting attack against a target which has already been successfully hit in the same shooting phase by another Ultramarines unit (excluding Super Heavy vehicles, flyers, and automata), then the shooting unit can re-roll 1s to wound or penetrate armour. This does not have any affect on Snap Shots or Blast weapons. 
    • Furthermore, whenever a unit with this special rule charges a unit which is already engaged in an assault by another Ultramarines unit and fails to reach the target due to a failed Charge Range roll, this roll must be re-rolled. 
  • Certainty and ResolveAny model with this special rule takes Fear and Regrouping tests on an unmodified Leadership value of 10. 
  • Rigid Chain of CommandIf all of the HQ units in the Ultramarines detachment are slain, their opponent gains +1 Victory Point, and if the Ultramarines Warlord is slain, every unit with the Legiones Astartes (Ultramarines) rule must take an immediate Pinning test – with the exception of Independent Characters or units containing them. 

 

These rules really say it all about the Ultramarines – they rely rigidly on their chain of command, but by working together, the entire force benefits. Certainty and Resolve, to start with, is a decent bonus but quite situational – and usually when you’re falling back, the unit is too depleted to do much anyway. Still, it has its uses in rallying an understrength unit to grab a late-game objective. 

Rigid Chain of Command is a penalty, but one which is, again, fairly situational – depending on how you build your army, if the HQ units and/or Warlord are lost in battle, the game is probably over anyway. I certainly have not seen it cost a game in practice. The forced Pinning check can be debilitating, but generally Astartes have decent Leadership, so again it probably won’t completely ruin your day if your Praetor eats a stray krak missile on Turn 2. 

Interlocking Tactics is really the meat of the Legion’s rules, and can massively boost their killing potential. Note the wording says to get the bonus another Ultramarines unit (not a unit with the Legiones Astartes (Ultramarines) rule!) has to have hit it in the same Shooting Phase. I have seen people make great use of, for example, Rhino combi-bolters to score this bonus. You could shoot an enemy Glaive with the Rhino to “paint” the target, before cracking it open with a nasty squad of Machine Killer Veterans!

The assault bonus is a bit trickier – I have seen it argued that once a unit has charged in, it is “engaged in assault” so subsequent charging units in the same phase can reroll; equally I have seen it argued that a unit has to have been in combat for a full round for other Ultramarines units to get this benefit. On balance, I lean towards the latter interpretation – either way, it is a helpful addition and one which allows you to “reinforce” a combat reliably. 

You will particularly want to build your Ultramarines army to maximise use of the shooting part of the Interlocking Tactics rule – it encourages a lot of units working together. 

Credit: SRM

Legion Special Equipment & Upgrades

The Ultramarines have access to two special bits of equipment, and one unique upgrade. 

  • The Legatine Axe- This weapon is absurdly good. It’s an AP2 power axe which hits at initiative and has Cutting Strike – rolls to hit of a 6 automatically wound! Frankly this is one of the best weapons in the game, and for 20 pts on Independent Characters it is a complete no brainer on anything which can’t take a Paragon blade, or where you are looking for a Chainfist instead due to how the squad is equipped.  
  • Mantles of Ultramar – A semi-legendary suit of artificer armour which also grants Feel No Pain (5+) and immunity to Blind, for Praetors only at the cost of 20 pts. If your Praetor doesn’t have a Primus Medicae or Apothecary in his unit and won’t be in Terminator Armour, I would recommend this – you are buying it for the Feel No Pain rather than the Blind immunity, but it’s quite well costed for that bonus. 
  • Breacher SquadsUltramarine Breacher Squads can take power swords instead of their boltguns for 5 pts per model. This makes for amazingly fluffy squads, reminiscent of that brilliant scene in Betrayer, but the points really do rack up, to the level where you are probably better off investing them into dedicated melee squads like Suzerains. However, in Zone Mortalis, this can really shine. 

Legion Rites of War 

The Ultramarines have access to two unique Rites of War – the Logos Lectora and the Vigil Opertii Mission.

The Logos Lectora

This Rite is designed to take the teamwork emphasised by Interlocking Tactics and boost it even further – it is the “pronouncement of writ” which supposedly shows the Legion at their best effect. 

To run this Rite, you must take an additional compulsory HQ choice, which must be a Damocles Command Rhino or Master of Signal; either of these are generally quite helpful, so this is fine. You must also take one more compulsory Troops choice than is otherwise specified by the Force Organisation Chart; again, it is easy to spin this into a benefit as you can build them to take advantage of Interlocking Tactics. 

You also must have more Infantry than Tanks or Flyers, which is a bit of a pain, and cannot use Infiltrators or Deep Strike – this is a major debuff and limits some excellent units like Drop Pods and Lightnings. 

What do you get for this? Well, Legiones Astartes (Ultramarines) and Ultramarines Dreadnoughts get a single benefit per turn, which is used one at a time for the whole force. You select one at the start of each turn, and it applies until another is chosen.

The bonuses are either re-rolling Run distances, snap shooting at BS 2, or everyone gains Counter-Attack.

This is… a bit of a letdown, unfortunately. The restrictions on the list building to get to this stage (+2 compulsory units at least, limits on tanks/flyers, and then no Infiltrate and Deep Strike) means the benefits are quite “meh”. Re-rolling Runs is only really useful in turn 1 and 2, as otherwise you’ll want to charge. Snap shots at BS 2 is good, from my experience with Solar Auxilia, but not so good as to be worth the restrictions to get it. Counter-Attack is, again, not bad – but you want to be charging to use Interlocking Tactics!

Overall, therefore, a bit of a mediocre rite – what was Guilliman thinking?

The Vigil Opertii Mission

The Vigil Opertii are Guilliman’s SpecOps, a secretive counter-insurgency and internal policing force designed to work post-Compliance to keep a population quiescent. 

It is intended to be a “mirror image” of the Sacrificial Offering Rite of War, showing Ultramarines fighting alongside mortal allies. 

Ultramarines 4th Company Mortis Contemptor

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

To build a force with this Rite, you must take an Imperial Cults and Militia allied detachment, with the Gene-crafted and Warrior Elite Provenances of War, which cannot have Inducted Levy Squads. You must also be Loyalist, and take a Legion Vigilator. 

These “restrictions” are not particularly significant – you’re going to want to go heavy on the Imperial Cults and Militia anyway, and the two Provenances stipulated are not bad at all, leaning themselves towards close-combat focused allies. Vigilators are also a decent Consul type. 

The benefits are that all infantry units in the Cults and Militia allied force gain Infiltrators (great for Ogryns!), and have scoring (also great!). Legion Recon squads can also be taken as compulsory Troops choices – they aren’t great, but it’s optional. 

If you run this Rite you’ll want to think carefully about the allies you’re taking, and try to make them complement the Ultramarines. Close-combat focused Militia squads are quite cheap and will take advantage of the Provenances and ability to infiltrate, and supporting this with powerful artillery (better and cheaper than the Legions can do) might be a good combination. 

Overall, a great and fluffy Rite. 

Legion Special Units 

The Ultramarines technically have 4 special units, but given the Damocles Command Rhino is now a standard-issue HQ choice for all Legions (a change since the Ultramarines were first released) I won’t go into further detail on it here. The only extra benefit they get for taking one is that it can be a Dedicated Transport for a Master of Signal, which is helpful in freeing up an HQ slot in certain lists which want to take both of these. 

 

Invictarus Suzerain Squad

Credit: Forge World

Point for point possibly the best combat troops in the game, Suzerains have a place in every Ultramarines army, and have beautiful models to back this up.  They start at 200 pts for 5 – their Invulnerable save isn’t great, as they only have Boarding Shields, but a 2+ save base and Legatine Axes as standard issue to complement their WS5 and 2 Attacks means these are well costed. They can all issue and accept Challenges, making them great escorts for characters, and can be taken as a Command squad for a Praetor, which means they can take a Legion Standard as well! They even score on top of that. What’s more, they can take cheap Thunder Hammers (definitely worth having a few in the unit for dealing with armour), and a Land Raider as a dedicated transport – and as they do not have Bulky like Terminators, you can fit ten in there if you wish. Finally, they are the Lords of Ultramar – meaning any Imperial Militia or Solar Auxilia allies within 12” get +1 Leadership if they are not Pinned or Falling Back. This is situational, but could see a lot of use in a Vigil Opertii force. 

Overall, these are really a must-take. I would give them a Primus Medicae if you can, and ideally a Chaplain as well just to really hammer the assault home. I hope you like painting gold!

 

Locutarus Storm Squad 

One of the few unique Legion units left which don’t yet have specific models, the Locutarus are interesting and, I think, underused! They start at 185 pts for 5, and have basic Assault Marine profiles (with Jump packs), but also Artificer Armour and power swords. 

Their special rules are Opening Salvo – the Storm Squad can fire Pistols twice in the Shooting phase against the same target on the turn you Deep Strike in, and Precision Intervention – a re-roll to scatter on Deep Strike.

I don’t know why I don’t see these more often on the tabletop, as they aren’t that much more expensive than a standard Assault Marine, but have a 2+ save and a power weapon (which can be swapped for free to an axe, or for only +5 pts to a power fist). The only thing I can think of is that Suzerains are too good in comparison, but in smaller points levels the maneuverability of Locutarus should edge them out. 

A squad of 10 is reasonably pricey, but can be scattered in accurately and cause problems for your opponent. I wouldn’t bother trying to take advantage of Opening Salvo – you’ll want to run when you Deep Strike in, to make sure the squad isn’t pasted by a stray Demolisher cannon shell. 

 

Fulmentarus Terminator Strike Squad

Credit: Black Library

Also known as the “Ultramarines Siege Tyrants”, these Terminators also lack official models but can be converted fairly easy from standard Cataphractii kits (or, as someone I know has done, Blood Angels Crimson Paladins). 

They’re a unit which can do a lot, but can get very expensive for 1 Wound Terminators. They come with power mauls (which can be swapped for axes or swords for free, or fists at +5 pts) and Peritarch Targeters, and are encased in Cataphractii Armour. 

The real benefits here come in the upgrades. The Peritarch Targeters are an item which gets better the larger the squad size is. 2 models give Night Vision, five give Tank Hunters (!) and eight give -1 to enemy cover saves. This is brilliant, when it is combined with either Reaper autocannons (+20 pts) or Cyclone Missile Launchers (+30 pts), which can be taken on every model. 

It is very easy to go overboard here, so I will just advise going for the “standard” loadout I have seen in many armies – 7 Fulmentarus with Cyclone missile launchers. This gives enough extra bodies to keep Tank Hunters as the game progresses, while not completely breaking the bank (the Cyclone Missile Launchers alone for 7 Terminators is 210 pts!). The unit will be expensive, but can really lay down some punishment and be a high value target, particularly if you take advantage of Interlocking Tactics if they drop below 5 men to maintain pseudo-Tank Hunters. 

 

Legion Special Characters

Honoured Telemechrus – The Fury of Calth

Another Contemptor special character – like the Emperor’s Children have – Telemechrus is no slouch in a fight. 

He’s 255 pts, which is quite an investment, but he comes with Resilient (forcing your opponent to reroll Vehicle Damage results, but you must keep the second result) and Living Icon of the Legion (Legiones Astartes (Ultramarines) within 12” get +1 to Combat Resolution and Sweeping Advances), giving him a lot of staying power and utility. 

On top of this, he has a Kheres assault cannon and Dreadnought close combat weapon (a good “standard” loadout), inflicts d3 Str 7 Hammer of Wrath attacks on the charge, and has Hatred (Traitors), making him a real nightmare when he gets stuck in. 

Overall he’s not a “must take”, but is a good addition to any Loyalist force, and as he is an Elites choice he won’t take up an HQ slot either. 

 

Captain Remus Ventanus – The Saviour of Calth 

Credit: Forge World

If you want a hard-bitten son of a gun who can crack Traitor skulls, then Ventanus is your man – thanks to him the Calth defence grid was brought back under Loyalist control at the height of the betrayal, and he was instrumental in rallying the survivors to force the Word Bearers offworld. 

On the tabletop Ventanus is a Praetor level character with (oddly) only a 3+ save, coming with a power sword and Iron Halo. He has a Legion standard (which increases his utility) and the Cunning Strategist rule, which imposes -1 to opposing Reserve rolls, and allows you to re-roll your Reserve rolls, even if they are successful. 

This allows a strong degree of battlefield control, and if you build your list with this in mind it can lend some serious utility – note that Ventanus does not have to be on the board for this to work.

If he is the Warlord, then he gives Legiones Astartes (Ultramarines) units Stubborn if within 3” of an objective – depending on the mission type, this can be a really nice bonus, as it makes your Ultramarines able to hold in the fight and maximise the benefits of Interlocking Tactics. 

 

Roboute Guilliman – The Victorious, The Master of Ultramar, The Blade of Unity

Credit: Forge World

The author of the Codex Astartes itself, and still leading the charge 10,000 years into the future, Guilliman is an iconic figure in Warhammer lore, and well represented on the tabletop. He’s a thinker as well as a fighter, which is reflected in his rules. 

His statline is standard for a Primarch, with WS7 (helpful in Primarch on Primarch fights). While on the table, he allows him and his unit to re-roll charge distances and ignore Concussion (helpful) and give +1 Leadership to all Legiones Astartes (Ultramarines) units (also helpful!). The biggest benefit here is, however, allowing Terminators and Suzerains to be taken as Troops, which allows for an absolutely devastating army build of heavy hitting combat troops – Suzerains are perfect escorts for the Primarch. 

He then has Preternatural Strategy, giving a swathe of benefits. You force your opponent to re-roll any successful Seize the Initiative (all but denying this happening, in most circumstances), and can give either Implacable Advance, Interceptor or Tank Hunters to a single unit entry in your army. This is amazing – scoring Land Raiders or Tank Hunter Sicarans come to mind as some great uses of this rule, and it will effect every instance of that unit in your army; so all the Land Raiders or all the Sicarans. Definitely make use of this!

Finally, when fighting in a Challenge, Roboute gains +1WS on each round of combat after the first, up to a maximum of WS10. This is a bit niche, but has a great use against enemy Primarchs, as you will be guaranteed eventually to be hitting them more easily than they are hitting you. 

Guilliman’s will is also legendary – he cannot suffer morale penalties, and can reroll Deny The Witch checks. 

Moving onto his equipment, this is another good set of gear. His armour is 2+/4++ (as you would expect), and he can reroll the first failed Invulnerable save in each phase of the game – which is absolutely excellent as a rule and guaranteed to drive your opponent up the wall as you tank his heavy AP2 hits. 

Guilliman’s weapons – the Gladius Incandor and the Hand of Dominion – are versatile, as he can choose which to use in every Assault phase, as well as giving him +1 Attack for two specialist weapons. The Gladius is +1S, AP2 with Murderous Strike and Shred – amazing for killing enemy infantry and characters at initiative. The Hand is the armour killer – S10 AP1, but Unwieldy. It does mean Guilliman can never be “stuck” in a situation where he’s facing, say, a Contemptor which he cannot reliably damage (a problem which some Primarchs, like Konrad Curze, can unfortunately face). 

Finally he has a special boltgun – S6 AP3 Assault 2 Rending – which is not a game-winner but will no doubt be a nasty surprise once or twice as you close with the enemy. 

Overall Guilliman does not necessarily stand out from the crowd in any one area – like the Legion he commands, he is competent in all areas, and can be relied upon to perform in most situations without needing to be further supported. 

Old School Guilliman

30k Guilliman. Credit: SRM

Sample Army List 

I list below a suggested starting force for Ultramarines which comes to 1,500 pts – it isn’t meant to kick your opponent off the table, but rather be what I might take if I wanted to collect the boys in blue. I’ve tried to stick to plastic kits, or squads where you can buy upgrades cheaply from third parties like Spellcrow or Anvil Industry. 

You’ll have to convert your own Locutarus, but this can easily be done from plastic kits or sets like the Vanguard Veterans in 40k, and as their armour is “artificer”, Mark 7 armour would be passable in the Heresy as long as it isn’t overly ornamented (these suits were brand new and experimental at the time). 

Rite of War – Pride of the Legion

  • HQ – Delegatus with Jump Pack, Artificer Armour, Refractor Field, Legatine Axe
  • ElitesContemptor Dreadnought with Dreadnought Close Combat Weapon and Kheres Assault Cannon
  • Elites – Contemptor Dreadnought with Dreadnought Close Combat Weapon and Kheres Assault Cannon
  • Troops – Tactical Squad with Artificer Armour, Power Fist and Rhino with Dozer Blade
  • TroopsVeteran Squad with 10 men, Artificer Armour, Power Fist, Rhino with Dozer Blade and two Melta Guns (Machine Killers)
  • TroopsTerminator Squad with Tartaros Armour, 7 Terminators, and 3 Chainfists
  • Fast AttackLocutarus Storm Squad with 10 men

This list is designed to form a “base” for an Ultramarines army to grow around. The Terminators give some mid-ranged, walking firepower and rapid response to incoming assaults, while the combination of the Dreadnoughts and Veterans, with Interlocking Tactics, will punch holes in any armour the enemy brings along. 

The Tactical Squad acts as support, and the large squad of Locutarus with the Delegatus can either accurately Deep Strike in, or hug cover as they advance and rip apart anything without a majority 2+ save. 

Conclusion 

The Ultramarines are a powerful, cohesive force which proves the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Legion allows you to build a very wide range of lists which will all perform well, making them a good Loyalist counterpart to Word Bearers in this regard, as you don’t need to “lock yourself in” to a playstyle when starting to collect them. 

Remember Calth!

Next time we look at another Traitor Legion – Mortarion’s grim warriors, the Death Guard. 

 

 

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