Containing all the information you need to play the Traitor Legions in the new edition of Horus Heresy, the Liber Hereticus is an absolute tome of a book, just like its sibling Liber Astartes. But what exactly can be found within its pages, and is it good? Let’s dive in and see what you’re going to get if you pick this up, and how the different legions shake out in the new edition.
Before we dive in we’d like to thank Games Workshop for sending a preview copy of the book for review purposes.
Traitors at the Gates
In the enormous galactic conflict that erupts after Horus declares his rebellion half the Space Marine legions declare for the warmaster, focused on overthrowing the Emperor and establishing their own order. Though some of them are consumed by chaos very quickly, others fight more or less as they had done for centuries before the heresy, and their corruption is subtle, slow or even almost entirely absent until after the failure of the siege of Terra.
This is a big book, but there’s very little background or lore in here – it’s pretty much all rules, with some lovely colour plates and photos to break it up. You can read about the shared legion units that are contained here in our upcoming article in the coming weeks because it’s shared exactly with the loyalists. The differences come when we get to the legions themselves, their special rules and their units.
We’ll be showing you each legion in more detail over the coming weeks in a series of Legion Focus articles, so today let’s just take a quick overview of the legions you’ll find here, introduce their particular flair and approach in the heresy, and chat about where they’ve ended up in this new edition and how they measure up to their brothers.
Everyone’s favourite perfectionists, the purple-clad elegant warriors of the III Legion focus on blistering speed and unwavering excellence in combat. This is demonstrated by their Flawless Execution special rule that increases their initiative score, and for vehicles increases their chance of hitting as part of a reaction using their defensive weapons. This is a huge advantage in melee, and helps their armoured units keep enemies at bay as well. Their advanced reaction, The Perfect Counter, lets Emperor’s Children units either pip charging units to the post by charging them first, or by laying down fire into them.
The IIIrd have three choices of warlord trait, one each of loyalist and traitor specific and one usable by anyone. The Broken Mirror is traitor only and lets them brute force through morale tests by inflicting wounds on nearby friendly units. Martyrs of Isstvan is the loyalist pick, and grants a +1 to hit in close combat against traitors to represent their hatred after the massacre. Paragon of Excellence can be taken by anyone, and buffs WS in nearby units when they pass morale checks. The first rite of war available to the Emperor’s Chidlren is The Maru Skara, which upgrades movement characteristics, grants outflank and lets you skip reserve rolls for flanking units, but can’t include any slow, bombard or immobile units – a great choice for speedy forces. The IIIrd Company Elite on the other hand lets you run Kakophoni (more on them in a bit) as Troops and lets you give whole units Surgical Augments (see below), but is reserved for traitors and all the characters have to have Surgical Augments. IIIrd Company. This is really the IIIrd at the height of their chaotic influence, as they begin to twist into the monsters they’d finally become over the next ten thousand years.
Their unique consul is the Phoenix Warden, a special upgrade only available for models in Tartaros Terminator armour that becomes a perfect iconic warrior, a personal guard of the primarch and legion high command. Their specialist wargear includes Phoenix-Pattern Power Weapons which are more elegant and better for duelling than the standard variety, and also Surgical Augments that can physically upgrade marines with sonic weaponry embedded in their very bodies, a precursor of the twisted noise marines they would become.
Speaking of noise marines, you’ll find the Kakophoni fit this role very well, being their heresy era precursors. Armed with Sonic Shriekers and The Cacophony, these assault focused marines are capable of shearing through metal with just sound. They’re the direction of travel for this legion, the place they’ll end up as they fall into the clutches of Slaanesh. Until then their older more noble traditions are upheld by the Palatine Blade Squads, supreme close combat duellists, and the Phoenix Terminator Squads who are superb and elegant fighters and can serve as an elite bodyguard and command squad for masters of their legion.
The IIIrd can call on three special characters aside from their primarch: Saul Tarvitz, a loyalist company captain who can give his troops Fearless in some situations and is a brutal fighter with his power broadsword; Captain Lucius of the 13th Company, who leads from the front and has some absolutely horrifying close combat weaponry; and Lord Commander Eidolon who will select a rival before the battle and hunt them down in the fray to slay them.
Their primarch is of course Fulgrim, who is beyond anything else very scary in close combat. He has a higher Weapon Skill than many of his brothers, and a nice selection of weaponry to pick from. He doesn’t provide some buffs to his army through his warlord trait, but mostly you’re going to be running him at things and making them die.
The Emperor’s Children is a great pick if what you’re looking for is a legion that gets up close and personal and hits extremely fast and pretty hard. You’ll react to threats fast, and your legion special rule means you’ll get the drop on your opponents in most combats.
Stoic and grim, the Iron Warriors favour armoured tactics, heavy weapons and siege tactics. This all comes out in their special rule Wrack & Ruin which simply gives +1 Strength when attacking dreadnoughts, Automatas, Vehicles and Buildings. If you’re coming from Warhammer 40k, a single point of Strength increase might not seem like much, but in Horus Heresy that’s a much bigger deal, dramatically increasing the chances of your weapons punching through and doing damage. Their advanced reaction, Bitter Fury, which is effectively an upgraded version of Return Fire but doubling the number of shots in exchange for gaining the Gets Hot special rule. Particularly on a support squad this is going to unleash an eye-watering amount of firepower.
IVth legion armies can be joined by the Warsmith consul, which is basically a techmarine with the ability to massively buff any units of automata that they join. Which sounds great, but without allying in some Mechanicum your only choice is more or less going to be any Iron Circle Maniples you take. Their special wargear is all offensive, matching expectations of the legion: Graviton Crushers that have the Haywire special rule; and Olympian Shrapnel Weapons which are basically bolt weapons that exchange some of their AP (which is often useless against marines) for Pinning.
The Iron Warrior warlord traits are all available to all allegiances. Tyrant of the Apolokron grants the warlord fearless, but he can only join Iron Warriors units and they must try and shoot or charge the closest unit to them if they can when he does. Tyrant of the Dodekathon is a fluffy choice that lets you level a building or at least heavily damage it before the game even begins. Finally Tyrant of the Lyssatra lets you bump out your shooting output in exchange for making weapons Get Hot, which can really upgrade dangerous units. However, they do have to return fire if targeted, which doesn’t cost a reaction but they can’t do it again in the same phase, so focus firing down can take advantage of this.
The Hammer of Olympia puts the focus on those Olympian Shrapnel Weapons, giving massive buffs to everyone using them, especially tactical squads, as well as making your vehicle crews tougher and less easily stunned or shaken. The Ironfire instead just makes bombards king, making Arquitors troops and is designed to help you run up with infantry under cover of fire.
The Iron Circle Maniple is an Elite pick for the IVth which gives you a Big Robot – an automata with a huge shield, maul and shrapnel canon. You can run a unit of six of these monsters, and they’re absolutely brutal if expensive at 150pts for the first and 135pt for each additional Big Robot. Tyrant Siege Terminator Squads come packing tyrant rocket launchers that can shoot frag, krak and flak missiles, and also fire off their combi bolters at the same time thanks to Firing Protocols. They’re tough and throw out a lot of fire but you sure pay for it with 5 of them clocking in at 300pts.
The IVth legion don’t have any named characters other than their primarch, Perturabo. He’s a decent pick buffing morale for all Iron Warriors in the army, and his armour is truly impressive giving him not only fantastic protection but letting him use the Interceptor Advanced Reaction for free as well. His weaponry is brutal both up close and at distance, though overall you’re paying for him to just not die.
If you want to outlast your enemy, field a lot of tanks and robots, and shoot the hell out of anything in your way with minimal subtlety, the Iron Warriors are a great choice of legion.
Masters of shock assaults, psychological warfare and terror tactics the Night Lords revel in their legion special rule A Talent for Murder. This grants them a +1 to wound or on armour penetration rolls when attacking, whether close combat or shooting, a Pinned, Falling Back or outnumbered unit. This nice buff enhances their capacity to kill, but focuses their efforts on weakened or disrupted prey which suits their style of warfare. Their advanced reaction is The Better Part of Valour which lets them fall back from a charge and immediately regroup, letting them engage on their own terms.
The Night Lords have three warlord traits and only one is tied to a Traitor loyalty, the other two being free picks. Warmonger is the traitor choice, which gives bonuses to hit loyalist characters and also gives the warlord Fearless if there’s a Sons of Horus detachment in the army. Jadhek Clanlord gives the warlord Counter-attack (1) and lets them ignore penalties to Movement and Charge rolls for due to Terrain and to reroll Dangerous Terrain rolls. This is a little bit of an odd one since Counter-attack relies on being charged and the advanced reaction kind of incentivises you not getting charged. Not a lot of synergy there. The final option is Flaymaster whose second album I’m pretty sure is in my Spotify playlist. This gives the warlord Fear(1) and then bumps that rating up by one every time they wipe out an enemy unit. This is frankly cool as hell and I really hope someone magnetises a praetor to add additional trophies and skin racks as they murder stuff.
There are two rites of war for the VIIIth legion. The Swift Blade is one of the most interesting and unusual picks, letting you pick up to five HQ choices and are all seen as the warlord, and all take the Jadhek Clanlord trait making them pretty damn scary. You also can take Outrider Squads as Troops, which makes this a neat bike army choice. However the big downside is that there’s no slow or chonky units allowed, and you can’t bring Konrad Curze along. The other choice is Terror Assault which is the classic Night Lord gimmick: night fighting rules are in effect; Terror Squads and Night Raptor Squads are Troops; and all your characters get Fear (1). This is peak Night Lords to be honest, and if you want to do the thing there are few better picks.
The Night Lords don’t have a unique consul, but they get some cool kit. Nostraman Chain Weapons are the iconic blades, glaives and Headsman’s axe of the VIIIth, and these are definitely nicer than the default chain weapons. Escaton Power Claw is pretty expensive, but does have Murderous Strike (6+) which is kind of cool but I’m not as convinced of how good these are for the points. You can also make your characters Lords of Murder which gives them the Bloody Murder rule, which in turn buffs your charges when your target is Pinned or Falling Back. You can also give you characters Trophies of Judgement which are the cool skulls and stuff that these guys cart around, and gives them Fear (1). Finally you can give any Night Lords unit Prey Sight giving them Night Vision (probably a good mix with the Terror Assault rite).
The VIIIth have three legion specific units, all of which really lean into their “rip and tear” aesthetic. Terror Squads are an elites pick that has Fear, can Infiltrate and has the Bloody Murder rule (the one that buffs charges against vulnerable units). They’re a nasty Night Lord flavour of Veteran. Night Raptor Squads are also an Elite pick and are pretty much Terror Squads with Jump Packs, but lose the Precision Strikes in favour of Sudden Strike and Relentless. The last unit also sits in the Elite slot making this a tough competition for space unless you’re running a rite, and is the Contekar Terminator Squad. These are pretty tough Tartaros armoured marines all of which get a Heavy Flamer or a volkite cavitor, as well as a chainblade. The interesting option here is you can pick a unit of up to ten of these as a compulsory HQ as long as Sevatar or Konrad Curze aren’t coming along.
Speaking of, Sevatar is the sole named non-primarch character for the legion and he’s pretty much what you’re probably expecting if you’re following the theme along. He’s very good at picking out models from units since he has Precision Strikes (4+) and he has a lot of the classic Night Lord stuff like Fear (2) and Bloody Murder. He also has some cool unique rules, like Dirty Fighter (that gives him Instant Death when in challenges with characters whose WS is 5 or more) and Dark Dreams (that gives him some limited psychic powers). He wields Night’s Whisper, which buffs him in challenges even further. All in all, a great anti-character pick who is gonna hunt down your enemies, and then kill them in challenges (or pick them out of units if they’re cowards).
Konrad Curze is the primarch of the Night Lords. His warlord trait gives all infantry, dreadnoughts and cavalry in your army Night Vision and Bloody Murder, and makes them immune to Fear. That’s a pretty cool buff, and that’s before we get to his personal capabilities that are enormous. He’s got some nasty weapons, and also a very cool psychic power that gives him serious buffs if he can get it off during an Assault phase. He’s also very scary, and this manifests in a few ways (including Fear but also by Pinning nearby units if he murders their friends).
Look, do you want to be scary? Do you want to rip and tear and wear the skin and skulls of your enemies? Do you want to be metal as hell? The Night Lords are the only viable choice if so. They’re fast, vicious and scary and their whole package is devoted to doing that above everything else.
The angriest of legions, the World Eaters are known for their brutality and fierce close combat capabilities. This is reflected in their legion trait, Violence Incarnate, which simply grants an extra attack when a unit charges. It’s a very easy trait to wrap your head around, but it’s certainly effective – charge people, hit them more. Their advanced reaction continues this theme with The Savage Tide which buffs a unit’s survivability in the shooting phase then, when shooting is finished, lets them charge. This is a nice reaction but it’s going to be a little situational as to when you can actually get in as you have to charge the unit that shot you.
Three warlord traits are available to the XIIth. One of them, Blood Hunger, is locked to traitor armies only, and gives you a nice buff (increasing the number of wounds the model has when it kills enemy models) but with a substantial downside (you have to charge if you can, and have to charge the nearest unit). A clever opponent will use this trait against you, so it might end up being a liability. Cloaked in Blood debuffs enemy characters by reducing their Leadership when locked in combat with the warlord. Nice, if not hugely impactful. The Butcher’s Claws also provides a minor buff, but one that might be more broadly useful, giving +1 strength on the charge to go along with the Violence Incarnate bonus attack.
Berserker Assault is the first of two rites of war available to the World Eaters, and focuses on making your force faster and getting them into combat sooner, buffing movement and charges to do so, as well as helping them avoid Pinning. You also get to take Rampager Squads as troops and Predators as Fast Attack choices. The downside is substantial though – if you can charge, you must charge, and the closest unit. Just with Blood Hunger a clever opponent will use this to absolutely ruin you. The other pick is The Crimson Path which hones in on infantry heavy armies (and infantry has to be the majority of your force when you run this), giving infantry the ability to shrug off the first wound each phase, and characters It Will Not Die (5+) which will keep them on their feet a lot longer. Your Rampager Squads also get Line which means they can score, but they don’t become Troops.
The XIIth don’t have a unique consul as such, but instead can upgrade any independent character with the World Eater Berserkers rule. This gives them an extra attack and the Ravening Madmen rule which is something of a mixed bag, reducing the unit’s effective WS in combat, but also reducing the Strength of the attacks made against them in melee. You also have some neat weapon options, with Savage Fervour being a simple swap of chainswords for chainaxes for free if you like. You also have access to Caedere Weapons, the traditional gladiatorial weaponry of the World Eaters. These are a mix of unusual melee weapons, some of which sport some of the more unusual special rules, including Fleshbane and Reach (1) on the Barb-hook lash which is fun.
The World Eaters have two legion specific units to pick from, both in the Elites slot. Red Butchers are their legion terminators, focusing (gasp) on close combat and brutal attacks. They come with a pair of power axes as standard, are Fearless and have Hatred (Everything) which is a fun little murder setup. They can also take combi-bolters instead of one of their axes if you’re a square. Rampager Squads are a little lighter on their feet, and are more or less a veteran assault squad with access to that fancy gladiatorial weaponry. You can run these in units of up to 15 which is cool, and they have Furious Charge (1) to really push that, yes, you should be charging at all times.
The one non-primarch named character here is Kharn the Bloody (yes, that one) who is more or less what you’d expect from a XIIth legion special character. He has Rampage (3) and Precision Strikes (4+) which is going to make him exceptionally scary, and his WS his high enough that he can play with some of the really big hitters in the system. His unique warlord trait means that units that aren’t primarchs can’t declare reactions against his charges, which is very nice, and he has either The Cutter (a big old chain axe) or pays to bring Gorechild along if Angron isn’t also in the army (a bigger chainaxe).
Speaking of Angron, he’s the primarch of the World Eaters and despite maybe imagining he’s only good for murder, he actually gives a remarkably big buff with his warlord trait. All World Eaters in your army get Feel No Pain (6+) and Adamantium Will (3+) and he bumps up Movement reactions massively, giving you a Reaction Allotment of 3. This is huge, and will make an army he leads infuriating to deal with as they dance around out of the way. He is very good at murder though, letting him Challenge a bunch of models at once, increasing his attacks over the course of the battle (though he counts as WS 3 when being attacked because he’s so angry), and having some nasty chainaxes to swing around.
Look, you’re not going to play World Eaters unless you want to slam into the enemy in close combat and rip them in half. If you are not going to, you’re going to miss out on almost everything the legion has to offer. If you wanna just see red and murder things, this is definitely the right choice for you – build those tacticals with chain bayonets for sure.
The Death Guard are an inexorable force – unrelenting on the battlefield; Remorseless counts all Death Guard units that are not cavalry or artillery as stationary even when moving, so long as they don’t run. Being able to move and fire heavy weapons is incredibly strong and gives you much more flexibility on the table. Remorseless Advance is a once per game reaction during the Shooting phase after your enemy targets a unit of Death Guard with a shooting attack; that unit gains FNP 4+ against that attack and auto passes any morale or pinning checks called on to make against it. After the attack is complete the unit then makes a move of up to 7″ in any direction.
Your Warlord has 3 traits to choose from. The first is Traitor only but the other 2 are allegiance agnostic. The Reaper’s Visage forces enemy units within 12″ to suffer -2 to their LD when making LD checks unless joined by an Independent Character or Primarch and gives 1 additional reaction during the assault phase. Witch Hunter is aptly named, granting +1T to the Warlord while locked in combat with any Psyker sub-type and gives a 12″ aura to all Death Guard for a 6+ invulnerable save against all hits from psychic weapons and attacks and gives 1 additional reaction during the assault phase. Lastly, The Blood of Barbarus makes any attack against the Warlord or any unit he joins with the Rending, Murderous Strike, Poisoned, or Fleshbane rule grant that effect on the roll of a 6 instead of their normal value. It gives an additional reaction during the shooting phase as well.
The XIV Legion have 2 Rites of War to choose from. The Reaping gives Veteran squads as Troops, Heavy Support squads as non-compulsory troops, and allows any model in the army to be equipped with Rad Grenades for +10 points. On the downside all of your units may not make Run moves or any Reaction that allows them to make a move – the only exception being their own advanced reaction, Remorseless Advance. No unit in the army can be part of a Deepstrike, Subterranean, or Flanking assault either. Creeping Death makes all of your units auto-pass all Dangerous Terrain tests while turning all area terrain on the table into Dangerous terrain (things like craters, forests, ruins, etc). It also gives you Grave Warden squads as non-compulsory troops and your entire army 6+ Shrouded while within your deployment zone. You just have to take a Siege Breaker consul and have to play as Traitor, those are the only restrictions.
The Death Guard load up their flamers with chem-munitions exchanging flame for poison. The upgrade costs 0 points and can be anything from a hand flamer up to the flame cannon mounted on a Predator. The weapon keeps its same S and AP but gain the Fleshbane and Gets Hot rules. Characters in your army can take toxin bombs at 10 points, which have the potential to cause wounds against a charging opponent that can only be saved with invulnerable saves. Power Scythes are two handed weapons that can replace power weapon on any Character for no additional cost for +2S AP3 Rending(6+) with the Reaping Blow ability.
The army has access to 2 unique terminator squads: Deathshroud and Grave Wardens. The former are a unit of Tartaros terminators of 2-10 that can be taken as a retinue for a Master of the Legion in your army and not taking up a force organisation slot, otherwise they’re an Elite unit. With 3 wounds each, Stubborn, and Battle Hardened (meaning S10+ weapons are needed to cause instant death) they’re a tough unit to shift and with alchem pistols and power scythes can carve their way through just about anything. The latter unit, the Grave Wardens, are a Cataphractii terminator squad all kitted out with grenade launchers, power fists, and a death cloud projector. They’re able to fire both their death cloud projector and grenade launcher each turn giving them a flame template attack with poisoned 3+ and either standard krak grenades or specialty toxin grenades, which fire 4 shots each with poisoned 3+ too. Grave Wardens are also Stubborn, count all charges against them as disordered and come stock with Shrouded 6+ too, making them hard to shift while cleaning up enemy units with ease.
Calas Typhon is Typhus of the Death Guard before his eventual and total fall to the Chaos God Nurgle. In this form he’s a psyker in cataphractii armour similar to Grave Wardens, though with a specialized power scythe. Instead of access to normal psychic powers he gets two unique choices.
The Primarch of the XIV, Mortarion, makes the Death Guard even more unrelenting. His Warlord trait gives your army immunity to LD penalties from Fear, Shell Shock, and from suffering casualties during an assault phase, and grants an additional assault phase reaction. Shadow of the Reaper allows Mortarion to make a special move during the shooting phase instead of making a shooting attack. A Primarch that’s able to coast around the table 17″ per turn is incredibly fast and can take out units your army might not reach otherwise! Thanks to his Preternatural Resilience all Fleshbane, Rending, and Poisoned effects only take effect on a roll of 6.
The Sons of Magnus are the premier psykers of the 31st millennium. Their faction trait, Cult Arcana represents this by giving the Psyker sub-type to every single unit of Infantry or Cavalry – though it doesn’t give them access to any Disciplines but rather Minor Arcana. If they’re also an Independent Character, then they can spend +15 points to get access to a single Psychic Discipline from the core rules. This means that all of your units get a little something extra, but it also opens them up to extra damage from things that target psykers. The Thousand Sons’ Advanced Reaction is Fortress of the Mind, and once per battle you can use it when an enemy declares a Shooting Attack against one of your Psyker Thousand Sons units. After the active player rolls all their hits and wounds, but before you roll any saves, you make a Psychic check. Pass it and you get a 3+ invulnerable save against those wounds. Fail, and you only get a 5+ and both units suffer a Perils of the Warp. That’s pretty solid, and a great way – pass or fail – to mitigate a hail of incoming AP3 shots.
A major part of the army is The Prosperine Arcana, minor powers that your units can select after they’re upgraded before the battle. There are five of these and a unit can only have one, so this does mean you’ll be tracking a lot of individual powers for your units. Anyone who’s played Thousand Sons in 40k will recognize this struggle. Raptora gives your unit a 6+ invulnerable save, or improves your existing one up to a 4+, Pyrae can give your charging unit Hammer of Wrath (2), Pavoni can give you +3″ movement to a unit in the movement phase, Corvidae can let you allocate your first wound on an opponent’s unit yourself, and Athanaen can reduce the Leadership of a unit you’re shooting at. These are mostly minor powers but they’re nice little buffs on your unit that can help increase their utility, regardless of what you use them for.
The Thousand Sons have three Warlord Traits, one of which is Traitor only. They give you extra reactions like all the others, and they all affect your psychic abilities in one way or another. Evoker of Pain (Traitor Only) lets you shunt your Perils results onto nearby enemies, which is pretty neat. Magister of Prospero lets you roll an extra dice and discard the highest when making your psychic tests, and Eidolon of Suffering takes away your psychic powers and force weapons and gives you the Adamantium Will (3+) ability. On top of that, your Warlord will gain Rage (2) and keep increasing that up to Rage (4) every time a model, friend or foe, manifests a psychic power near them. This is kind of neat but more fluffy than useful.
The Thousand Sons have two Rites of War
- The Achaean Configuration lets you pick Castellax-Achaea Automata as Troops choices, and you can shunt all of your perils results off onto them if they’re within 12″. Those models are considered to have the line sub-type while they’re near friendly Thousand Sons Psykers. Your cost for this is that your Castellax units have to have more than one model, and your detachment has to include at least one Legion Techmarine Covenant and at least one Consularis with the Legion Praevian upgrade.
- The Guard of the Crimson King lets you pick up to six Infantry units in your Detachment to gain the Deep Strike special rule. When these are deployed as part of a Deep Strike Assault, they get the Fear (1) rule for the rest of the turn. On top of this, your Sekhment Cabals are troops. As a cost, you have to include either Magnus, Ahriman, or a Praetor upgraded to have a psychic discipline. Which, fine – you were going to do that anyways. Also you can’t use this with an allied detachment.
For units, the Thousand Sons have psykers. The best psykers. Magnus is a psychic beast, and he can see through walls when manifesting psychic powers – all models in range are assumed to be in line of sight unless they’re embarked in something. On top of that, he knows every psychic power in the Core book, plus all the Minor Arcana and he automatically casts those. Of course if he’s not your thing, there’s Ahriman, the legion’s second most powerful Sorcerer, who as your Warlord lets you redeploy up to three friendly units before the game starts. And if you’re looking for support, the Sekhmet Terminator Cabal give you a unit of WS5 Terminators who come with force weapons and Cataphractii armor.
Sons of Horus
The primary antagonists of the Heresy, the Sons of Horus were renowned for their tactical prowess and their brutality. Their faction trait, Merciless Fighters, reflects this – in any turn in which a non-vehicle Sons of Horus unit charges or is successfully charged, their non-vehicle opponents will get -1 strength on their attacks. Sons of Horus vehicle units instead do an additional 3 hits when they do Ramming attacks against non-vehicles. This is incredibly good, in part because it helps your Justaerin Terminators avoid taking instant death hits from power fists and other S8 weapons the turn they charge/get charged, and encourages you to have decisive combats that don’t drag on. It’s also just really good for putting your opponents on 5+ to wound against you and making their melee attacks bounce off your armor. Either way, it encourages a melee-heavy playstyle for the sons of Horus.
The Sons of Horus Advanced Reaction is Death Dealers, which can be done once per battle during an opponent’s Shooting phase when an opponent opens fire on one of your Sons of Horus units within 12″. Your unit gets to resolve its own shooting attack similar to a Return Fire and at +1 Ballistic Skill, but before the firing unit makes its attacks, though any models removed as casualties still get their shots off (the big advantage here is if you can pin the target, they’ll only be able to fire snap shots back at you). Getting a return fire at +1 BS is very good, and while the range restriction is tough, it’ll often be a no-brainer when you want to throw this out over Return Fire. It’s also good to have when you bring Horus along and want to be able to use Death Dealers and Return Fire in the same phase.
The Sons of Horus Warlord Traits are particularly solid. They all give you the extra reaction while your Warlord is on the table, though for which phase depends on the trait. Chosen by the Dark Gods (Traitor only, obviously) has you roll a D6 for your Warlord at the start of your turn; on a 2+ his Strength and Toughness increase by 1 for the turn and on a 6 he regains a wound. Roll a 1 however and he loses a wound. On the other side of things Wolf of Luna (Loyalist only) gives the warlord and any unit it joins +1 attack in any turn in which they charge or are charged by an enemy that includes any models with the traitor allegiance. Finally there’s the agnostic Armour of Pride, which has you take a Leadership test for the Warlord the first time they drop to 0 wounds. Pass the test and your warlord stands back up with D3 wounds, provided your model wasn’t just removed as a casualty or killed with Instant Death. This is also the trait that gives you an extra Shooting phase Reaction, making it likely the most powerful of the bunch.
The Sons of Horus Rites of War are the Black Reaving and the Long March. Either one you pick is going to give you some extra terminator mobility, and both encourage faster play styles that run light on heavy support choices.
- The Black Reaving gives all your Sons of Horus Rage (2) when they charge an enemy unit that was already locked in combat or was the target of at least one other charge this phase, meaning they’ll get +2 attacks on the charge instead of +1. This also makes Reaver squads Troops choices and gives all your Justaerin Terminators the Deep Strike rule. THe price you’ll pay for this is that you need to take a Centurion with the Master of Signal upgrade as one of your HQ choices, and you have to include more Fast Attack than Heavy Support choices.
- The Long March is for Traitors only. This Rite gives your Sons of Horus Infantry and Dreadnoughts +1 to their Movement in the movement phase, so long as they’re just moving normally. On top of that Cataphractii squads, Tartaros squads, and Justaerin Terminators can be picked as non-compulsory troops, and they all gain the Outflank special rule. Take this rite and you can’t take any models with the Heavy Unit sub-type unless they start in Reserves or begin embarked in a dedicated transport.
If you noticed Justaerin up there twice well, the Sons of Horus really want to run Justaerin. And given the unit have WS/BS of 5, there’s a lot of reason to run them – they’ll absolutely wreck other terminators, and being able to either Deep Strike them with Black Reaving or give them extra movement goes a long way toward mitigating their speed issues if you don’t want to put them in a Spartan or Land Raider. At 275 points for 5 they’re worth the investment, and you can arm them with either Carsoran power axes (S:User, AP3 Breaching(5+) specialist weapons) or give them heavier options. A unit of thunder hammer Justaerin absolutely destroyed Lorgar in one of my test games. Merciless Fighters is stupid good on them, since it helps protect them from return swings with power fists and other S8 weapons that would otherwise kill them outright.
The Sons of Horus have some nasty characters – Horus is a complete monster, and I don’t think there’s an ability in the game as good as Master of War, which once per game just gives you an extra reaction in every phase. He’s a nasty melee combatant, though at 600 points before you upgrade him to Ascended (another 400 points) you won’t see him very often on the table.
On the other hand someone you will see pretty often leading the Sons of Horus is Ezekyle Abaddon, who only clocks in at 250 points but boasts WS 7, a Banestrike combi-bolter, a Cthonian Power claw (basically a power fist with Shred, Master-Crafted, and Specialist weapon), and a Paragon Blade. If he’s your Warlord, he gains the Vengeful Spirit trait, which gives him and any unit he joins Feel No Pain (4+) during the Movement and Shooting phases of any turn in which they arrive as part of a Deep Strike Assault, and you can make an extra Reaction during the opposing player’s movement phase. This makes Abaddon perfect for leading Justaerin in a Black Reaving army, where they can arrive from Deep Strike and weather a Return Fire reaction more easily before charging in.
There’s a ton to like about the Sons of Horus, who largely favor a brutal, melee-centric play style that focuses on charging targets with multiple smaller units in order to trigger extra attacks and do more with less. The Justaerin are perfect for this, though Outriders and Reavers are also great accompaniments.
The Word Bearers are unique in their ability to manifest their faith in the Ruinous powers into the Materium. Their faction trait, True Believers has two parts, the first is that their leadership can never be reduced below 6 for any reason. One of those “You may not always need it but when you do you’ll be glad you had it” things, particularly if fighting something like the Night Lords. The other half of the rule is that if they ever draw in combat, then you win by 1 point (assuming, of course, that at least one model remained). Combined, this makes the Word Bearers deceptively terrifying in combat. If your opponent doesn’t charge in with a plan and comes up short on killing a unit, they risk being obliterated by a sweeping advance, and even if they do lose they can be harder to displace with their Leadership being more difficult to modify. The exact benefit isn’t as abundantly clear as some other factions, but it makes for an interesting technical army to play mind games with the opponent in melee. If you’re working with Word Bearers however, what you’re really here for are the custom units and daemonic powers.
Their Advanced Reaction, Glorious Martyrdom, is quite different but it is effective. Once per game when an opponent declares a shooting attack against one of your units, you can instead choose to have a single model take the hit for his battle brothers. He dies instantly but the rest of the unit is fine, damage cannot spread out to other models under any circumstances, it is simply ignored. If you get caught out in the open or need to make a dangerous push up no man’s land to get into melee combat, this can guarantee your squad makes it against the most brutal shooting your opponent might have to bear – it does its best work on high-cost units like Gal Vorbak, who lack an invulnerable save.
The first Warlord trait for the Word Bearers is the exceedingly fitting Enslaved by Darkness, which is traitor only (naturally). Your warlord gains +1 Strength and Toughness on the first 3 turns, no modifiers on the 4th and 5th, and then -1 to those stats on the 6th. Most games are going to be over well before the 6th turn so the downside is likely to not be as much of a problem. The warlord also counts as a Daemon for the purposes of all abilities and weapons, which synergizes well with the Word Bearers but could create problems depending on your opponent’s loadout. As a bonus you also get a free extra movement reaction. Unswerving Devotion grants a 6″ morale immune bubble, making any units within 6″ of the warlord autopass their first failed morale or pinning test each turn, making the already unshakeable Word Bearers even harder to dislodge. Plus a free shooting reaction. Finally, Iconoclast is a weird, but powerful one for Hero hunters out there. A unit this warlord joins gains +1 attack against Independent Characters (or units containing one), or, oddly, +2 strength against buildings and fortifications. The second part is likely not to be seen as much but the first part makes this useful enough, along with a free assault reaction which will see a lot of use with this army.
Both Rites of War are Traitor only. The Dark Brethren is a long one but this is the gist. After deployment, you must select one enemy unit on the field. If there are no enemy units on the field (i.e. all are in reserves) you may then choose one in reserves instead. This unit becomes the “Sacrifice” and killing that unit grants you a point of Favour of the Dark Gods. Once you destroy the unit you may select another unit using the same criteria and repeat the process. What do you use these points on? You can spend them on a unit to give them +1 Strength, Movement and Weapon Skill for the whole game! You can stack up to 3 points on a single unit, so spread them out or focus on one unit as you please. The drawback is you must do at least 1 point of damage to the Sacrifice unit each turn or a random unit will suffer perils of the warp. So it behooves you to pick things that are not likely to hide and are easily accessible to your weapons. The Last of the Serrated Sun is…interesting. It makes Gal Vorbak squads troops, and you can take drop pods as dedicated transports instead of Rhinos. The drawback is you cannot have allies, nor use this as an ally (fine, who cares). Gal Vorbak squads are good; they’re expensive, at 275 points a unit (before upgrades!) but they’re strong and tough and have access to solid weapon variety. So if you want a more charge happy, elite force this may be your bag.
And make no mistake – the real stars of the show when it comes to the Word Bearers are the possessed and corrupted units – the Gal Vorbak, The Mhara Gal tainted Dreadnought, Argel Tal, Mardu Layak, and the diabolists… the Word Bearers have a ton of corrupted unit options that will make their forces seem completely different to anything else the other legions can field. Even their psykers are different – the Burning Lore rule lets any Praetor become a corrupted psyker for 25 points, and must then take the Word Bearers-exclusive Diabolism Discipline. These powers can give a unit Fear(1), give units +1 Strength, Toughness, and Hammer of Wrath (3) on the charge, and throw out Hellfire at your opponents to burn them off the table. As a force, the Word Bearers will focus more on melee and psychic powers with their corrupted units, especially if you plan to eventually support them with Ruinstorm Daemons. Here the raw power of their units will make up for the lack of a killer legion trait or strong rites.
Subtle, dangerous and [redacted] the Alpha Legion are so sneaky it sometimes comes back to bite them. That’s actually a pretty good summary of their legion special rule Lies and Obfuscation, which means that they’re always considered 2″ further away for the purposes of shooting, charges and reactions. This is potentially very good, but judging it is going to be tricky and newer players are likely to be get bitten for trying to be clever with it. The other half of their legion special rule is The Rewards of Treachery which basically lets you bring along a unit normally restricted to another legion and swap their legion trait out for Alpha Legion. Super fun and fluffy, there’s lots of converting and painting entertainment to be mined here. Their advanced reaction is Smoke and Mirrors which effectively lets a unit entirely redeploy after being the target of a shooting attack. This might let them avoid the attack entirely, or just set themselves up for a retaliation in the next turn.
There are three warlord traits to choose from and only one of them is locked to an allegiance. Of course being Alpha Legion it’s loyalist only, because why would they play by the rules. That pick is The Mobius Configuration which is genuinely a wonderful choice, letting you take any other space marine legion as an ally, and then giving you bonus VP if they all die. Master of Lies lets you redeploy some units after everything has been set up, while Hydran Excursor gives a nice little buff to your warlord to hit enemies of a specific legion.
The Coils of the Hydra is the first of two rites of war available to the Alpha Legion. This ramps up The Rewards of Treachery, increasing the units you can take and then giving buffs for using them as an anvil deployed to the table and the rest of your army as a hammer that arrives later. The other choice is Headhunter Leviathal which makes Headhunter Kill Teams Troops and Fast Attack choices, and gives you bonus VP for slaying the warlord. It also makes your troops a little more survivable in the first game turn, which is neat.
The unique consul of the XXth legion is the Saboteur who can infiltrate, scout and has the unique False Colours special rule. This means that until he shoots or charges he can’t be shot at by enemies, which is fantastic for getting into position and really murdering something with impunity. He also gets melta bombs, breacher charges and shroud bombs for free, which is very nice. The equipment choices for the legion include Power Daggers (fast to attack but very low strength), Banestrike Bolters (which are higher strength bolters and combi-bolters) and Venom Spheres (which spam poison attacks at short range but are single use).
The Alpha Legion has two legion specific units available. The Elite Lernaean Terminators have volkite chargers and power axes, which is a cool if not hugely optimal loadout. They’re tough and get bonuses to hit a specific legion of your choice, but since they’re WS 4 and BS 4 this isn’t exactly exciting. Headhunter Kill Teams occupy the Fast Attack slot, and are enhanced Seekers. They’re fun and Precision Shots (4+) is very nice for picking characters out of units, but it’s unclear if they actually have enough fire power to put them down.
The XXth have two named characters other than their primarch. Exodus is an assassin beyond compare, with lots of great special rules, though he cannot be your warlord. However, the real treat here is The Instrument, his fancy gun, which is going to absolutely rip through stuff and will happily take out centurions and maybe even give Praetors a run for their money. The other choice here is Armillus Dynat, who lets you infiltrate, scout or counter-attack (1) with units that couldn’t normally do that (you’re going to infiltrate them, let’s be real here). He’s also no slouch in combat, wielding a cool duo of a power sword and thunderhammer with some fancy special rules that let you split attacks between them.
The primarch of the Alpha Legion is Alpharius (probably) and he’s an unusual pick. He’s certainly no slouch in combat, but putting him up against someone like Angron is just going to get him killed (not to mention putting him up against Dorn). However, he also gives out some amazing buffs to the entire army, letting you redeploy a bunch of units at the start of the game, granting Infiltrate, Scout or Deep Strike to himself and some other units, and granting some one-off buffs on specific turns of the game all of which are extremely tasty. Definitely more of a support choice than most of the other primarchs, though don’t underestimate the Pale Spear, because it will straight up murder you (it has Instant Death).
The Alpha Legion are a difficult one to pin down in terms of playstyle. You’re certainly going to be sneaking around and infiltrating a lot of units, but much of what they get is surprisingly multipurpose and can help almost any approach you choose. What unit(s) you bring along with the Rewards of Treachery almost makes more difference to nailing down your playstyle as anything else, making them very flexible.