A few people have asked me about army lists in the Horus Heresy gaming era and how to create them. This year, I'm going to write a series of articles on making army lists for the Horus Heresy. My focus will be on the Legions - at least to begin with - as they seem to be the most popular and the faction that I'm most accustomed to dealing with.
The first thing to be aware of is that the Horus Heresy era is very different to ten thousand years later for space marine armies. With the exception of certain Salamanders' terminators, there are no thunder hammer and storm shield armed terminators for example. There are more fundamental points to make though.
It is that same game, with the same rules, but the balance is significantly different. Therefore, if you are coming to the Horus Heresy era space marine legions from the "future", then you will need to make some mental adjustments to how you go about making an army list and how you play your army.
Firstly, if you are going to face off against forces from a different millennium, you need to understand that you and your opponent should agree which units are "scoring" in the sense of "objective secured" and which can deny the claiming of objectives (NB: the implacable advance rule is the same as the objective secured rule for these purposes). Also understand that Horus Heresy era legion lists are at a disadvantage at "low" points levels (such as under 2000 points), but can shine at "higher" points levels. Additionally, the Maelstrom of War missions immediately will put Horus Heresy era armies at a distinct disadvantage since they do no spam multiple small units in the same way or even to the same degree as the core game does. This is because in Horus Heresy era gaming, there is a small "tax" on the baseline cost to a unit. Upgrading them with more bodies on the ground makes this initial taxation seem small though. Hence you can expect much larger squad sizes - as well as much more specialised squads - compared to the core game. Blast weapons, as a consequence, can therefore be much more attractive and punishing to enemy forces.
The good news is that the Horus Heresy era game is a much more balanced system. There are not the same extent of "death star" units compared to the core game. There are threats, counters, and core units to consider, but the point remains that thematic building and balanced army list building is a much better tactic than building an auto-win death star list (which largely, but perhaps not exclusively, simply does not exist).
Fear deserves a subsection of its own in this discussion. The "And They Shall Know No Fear" simply does not exist in the Horus Heresy era. This makes all units, characters and squads subject to fear. They can be totally swept in combat if they lose by just one wound difference. There is little more disheartening that coming from playing space marines in the core game to the Horus Heresy only to discover this the hard way. Chaos space marine players of the next millennium may already know about all of this.
There are multiple ways to mitigate this though. In many squads, the ability to re-roll morale tests can come from Legion Vexillas. I regard these as an essential upgrade to invest points in if you want core squads to stay alive. Close combat is a real unit killer in the Horus Heresy and is a very viable way - even in 7th edition - to clear an enemy off the board. Shooting is, of course, similarly able to wipe out units, but both methods are nicely balanced in the Horus Heresy (whereas shooting is King in the core game at the moment, it seems). In a similar manner, command squads can be very valuable as well.
Indeed, so important is fear in Horus Heresy, that the Night Lords legion is highly focussed around it and can readily wipe off whole armies from the board because of it. Yet, it is not a hard "automatic win". Should the Night Lords come up against a Salamanders army (and some others as well), then their entire focus is can be negated. It therefore pays sometimes be a generalist and balanced force, sometimes wrong-foot your opponent, and sometimes to be highly specialised and thematic. So yes, the Night Lords could certainly field a very general army like every other legion and do well with a balanced approach. They could also go vehicle-heavy just for the hell of it like every other legion - but they're certainly not known for that. They're more known for getting in to close combat, causing fear, and wiping (via sweeping) enemies off the gaming board. All three approaches are valid. It is just that in some situations, one is going to be better than others. And the latter - the thematic approach - is usually something that other legions cannot emulate easily. It is for this reason, and this advantage, that most legion army lists will be thematically constructed.
Finally, it is because of the effectiveness of fear that the stubborn special rule is at a premium in points value for Horus Heresy units.
Choosing a Legion.
I seriously cannot help you with this. You must choose your legion for your own reasons. You must choose whether to be a traitor or a loyalist for a start at least (or something more ambiguous even). For me, it boils down to several items:
(1) A theme or background that I like;
(2) A paint scheme that I like and feel confident or challenged about painting;
(3) Some miniatures that I like that are not in other forces;
(4) Rules and play style that I like;
(5) the X-factor.
For me, I have chosen the Alpha Legion. I feel their theme is one that I like: intelligent marines that put the squad before the individual and are very tactically flexible. Plus, who knows whether they're really traitors or loyalists. I'm looking forward to the 6th core book to see about including some other black shield style marines in my army might work as well. Their metallic blue paint scheme is something that I've never done before, so I wanted to try my hand at this, rather than greens or reds again. With the Alpha's, I get to choose not only my own special miniatures, but I can potentially steal other legions' miniatures as well - so I get the best of every world possible. I like their mutable tactics special rules and all things considered, they have the X-factor for me personally. Clearly my choices will not be yours though.
Since you will most likely be using the Age of Darkness force organisation chart, you will need at least one HQ and two Troops choices.
The exact nature of these may depend on the points value of the game that you are playing. In almost every case, I would seriously council getting a HQ with the "Master of the Legion" special rule so that you can select a rite of war. The only time I would not consider doing this is for a very special named HQ character that you could take for a given legion, or if the points value of a game was particularly low (say 1000 points and under). In that case, I would entertain having a consul as a HQ.
Secondly, I would consider not using a rite of war if I wanted to take certain allies or certain fortifications. For instance, if I wanted to recreate the heyday of the Iron Hands working closely with the Emperor's Children, then I cannot use legion specific rites of war as they prevent having allies. I'll cover these cases at a later point and in a later post.
Hence, for "normal" games, and in the absence of named characters, I would advise taking a Praetor to access rites of war. In low points games, my favoured HQ would be a Delegatus Consul, or a close combat exponent HQ. I would select the Delagatus principally because they can unlock veterans as troops under the Chosen Duty rite of war. The close combat HQ on the other hand would be to place with another close combat squad. This might be a chaplain, champion, centurion or similar. Note that some consuls cannot fulfil a compulsory HQ selection (e.g., librarian, medic, and so on).
At higher points levels, multiple HQ choices are completely viable and can (and should) be taken.
In terms of core compulsory troops, there are tactical squads, assault squads and breacher squads. Each fulfil a different role on the battlefield and each are different in their strengths and weaknesses. I will simply refer the reader to my previous links and articles on these squads for more in-depth information on these. Suffice to say that artificer armour on the sergeants is a must due to the abundance of good armour piercing weapons.
As a final note before we move on to rites of war, it is worth considering what elements in the game you are able to handle. Do you have the equipment to take care of:
(1) elite troops such as terminators (i.e. something that ignores their armour save?);
(2) fliers (i.e. something that has sky fire or has so many shots that they can glance it to death whilst hitting on a 6?);
(3) large blobs of troops (i.e. something that has lots of fire power or enough close combat attacks to wipe them away?);
(4) Psykers (i.e. something like your own librarian to help or hinder the opponent - this is less critical in Horus Heresy, at least until you come up against a Word Bearers opponent that is optimised for the psychic phase - and presumably the Thousand Sons as well).
(5) vehicles, including dreadnoughts in some numbers (i.e. something that can remove hull points regularly and explode enemy vehicles -- even 3 land raiders in under 1500 points level games?);
(6) at high points levels: superheavy class vehicles (i.e. something like your own D-class weapon to deploy?).
(7) death star style units (i.e. some high strength, ignore armour, ignore cover, and generally mess around with, or run circles around / ignore in game something that is dominating your opponent's points spending?).
These are just some random thoughts -- usually (6) and (7) will not be too much of a worry if you've taken care of the others.
Rites of War.
A rite of war is a bit like a formation that becomes unlocked so long as you have a Praetor or other character who is a Master of the Legion. It gives army wide bonuses, but is balanced up with some drawbacks as well. Each legion has their own rite of war that I will cover in later posts. For the sake of this post, we can think of the principle four rites of war available to every legion army. Sure, some legions are more suited to certain rites than others. But in principle, every legion can run all of the basic rites of war.
Which rite of war you want to run depends on your desired play style.
For an all-terminator (or all-veteran) force, the Pride of the Legion may be what you want. Death Wing players will be right at home here -- so long as you don't want to deep strike in. This would suit any legion wanting to field "the best" of their legion.
On the other hand, if you do want your terminators to all deep strike in to play, then the Orbital Assault rite of war is where it is at for you. It means everything must have the potential to come in to play from orbit - so teleportation, jump packs and drop pods abound in this build. Synergies with legions like World Eaters and Raven Guard are obvious here.
For the tread-heads, there is the Armoured Spearhead rite of war. Get access to land raiders instead of rhinos for dedicated transports and enact tank shocks at will.
Finally Angel's Wrath provides a hit and run bonus to to anything with a jump pack. Hence armies that rely on a with mode of assault are highly favoured here.
Here are a few "core" army components (1 HQ and 2 Troops) examples that take in to account the above logic and could form the core of an army. Each of them will require expansion, and I've indicated a few directions for each of them. Note: I've only focussed on generic characters that are able to supply "Master of the Legion" here. I've not gone in to armies without such characters (e.g. where the HQ is a chaplain or similar). I largely see such consul choices as being secondary and complementary to having access to Master of the Legion.
Praetor with jump pack, iron halo, paragon blade, digital lasers, archeotech pistol (205 points), 2 Assault Squads each 10 strong, 2 plasma pistols, sergeants with thunder hammer, plasma pistol, melta bombs and artificer armour (330 points x 2). Total cost is 865 points.
Possible Rites of War: Angel's Wrath; Orbital Assault
I would personally run this with Angel's Wrath for the hit and run effect. Place the praetor inside one of the squads and go hunting. In principle, there is nothing in the game they cannot handle apart from fliers. Hence you will need to expand this basis to think about this. Morale might be a problem here too, so be careful with positioning. I would also expand the numbers contained in each squad.
Praetor with power fist, iron halo, combi-plasma (155 points), 2 Breacher Squads, each 10 strong with 2 graviton guns and a legion Vexilla, sergeant with power fist, melta bombs, one breacher charge and artificer armour (310 points x 2). Total cost is 775 points.
Possible Rites of War: Armoured Spearhead; Orbital Assault
I like the idea of running this with an armoured spearhead rite of war. Charge out of land raiders and take on the opponent directly. Expand by purchasing said land raiders, clearly! The breacher charges can double up as a large close combat blast, as well as using the wrecker rule. Both squads can be deadly against elite troops, as well as vehicles. It is a slow army though, so transports are essential. If taking orbital assault, then drop pods are very attractive here, but then there is no mobility to follow up, so I would expand by getting some swift elements in there.
Praetor in terminator armour with paragon blade, digital lasers, and a volkite charger (177 points), 2 Tactical Squads, each 20 strong, with a legion Vexilla, sergeant with power fist and artificer armour (285 points x 2). Total cost is 747 points.
Possible Rites of War: Armoured Spearhead; Orbital Assault; or none at all!
With 20 in each squad, this is one for no rite of war to be honest. Orbital assault will not work with regular drop pods only able to take 10 marines. Land raiders also only have a 10 capacity. Hence its a Storm Eagle or nothing to transport them.
Alternative to the above:
Praetor in terminator armour with paragon blade, digital lasers, and a volkite charger (177 points), 2 Tactical Squads, each 10 strong, with a legion Vexilla, sergeant with power fist and artificer armour (185 points x 2). Total cost is 547 points.
Take Armoured Spearhead and give the troops a land raider each. Buy a command squad of terminators for the praetor and take a third land raider. This is an incredibly powerful build - especially with fury of the legion coming out of the land raiders. Can your opponent handle three land raiders in under 1500 points?
Third Alternative to the above:
Praetor in terminator armour with paragon blade, digital lasers, and a volkite charger (177 points), 2 Tactical Squads, each 10 strong, with a legion Vexilla, and extra close combat weapon each, sergeant with power fist and artificer armour (205 points x 2). Total cost is 587 points.
Take Orbital Assault and give the troops a drop pod each. Buy a command squad of terminators for the praetor and deep strike in to the game. Consider adding melta bombs or giving some ranged anti-tank weapons elsewhere in the army - there should be plenty of spare points for this approach due to the relatively cheap nature of these troops.
Praetor with jump pack, thunder hammer, melta bombs, iron halo (175 points), 1 Tactical Squad, 20 strong, with a Legion Vexilla, sergeant with power fist, artificer armour and melta bombs (290 points), 1 Assault Squad, 20 strong, all with melta bombs, 4 with hand flamers, sergeant with hand flamer, artificer armour, power fist (575 points). Total cost is 1040 points.
Possible Rites of War: Angel's Wrath; Orbital Assault
With a mixture of assault squad and tactical squad, I actually favour the Angel's Wrath rite of war here. Buy a storm eagle transport for the tactical squad and team the pretor up with the assault squad. You will need to expand the army with some other elements to take care of enemy tanks more effectively perhaps, but it is a very strong build that allows the assault squad to escape (when needed) thanks to hit and run. I might be tempted to halve the size of the assault squad, but the intent is to form the core of the aggression here.
Praetor in terminator armour with a chain fist and combi-melta (157 points), 2 Legion Terminator Squads: the first being 5 strong and armed with 4 combi-meltas and 3 chain fists (233 points) and the second being 10 strong armed with volkite chargers (395 points). Total cost is 785 points.
Rite of War: Pride of the Legion
The Praetor character here is chosen to have equipment identical to the Betrayal at Calth character for no other reason than it might be more available to some players. The first terminator squad is meant to deep strike (if a warlord trait enables it) in to an opportune position and take care of tanks and other elite enemies. The second is directly to annihilate enemy troops and objective sitters. I would expand here by purchasing more terminators, with at least on focussing on flamers and another on plasma, with a smattering of chain fists and thunder hammers to taste. Land raiders are required in all cases to get to where the terminators should be in case the warlord trait is not Void Walker.
Legion Delegatus with artificer armour, thunder hammer (85 points), 2 Veteran Tactical Squads: the first being 10 strong with 2 missile launchers with suspensor webs, upgraded with flakk missiles, legion vexilla (270 points), the second being 9 strong, with 2 melta guns, sergeant with power fist, rhino (265 points). Total cost is 620 points.
Rite of War: Chosen Duty
Here, the Delegatus "unlocks" the veterans as being core troops and the army must take them to fulfil the compulsory troops choices. That means that the under-pressure elites slot is still entirely free. Take more elites such as apothecaries, terminators, dreadnoughts and the like to expand this army, along with a smattering of tanks as well. The first veteran squad here should be given tank hunters, and the second given whatever is seen fit. Cut numbers down to make it under 500 points if needed.