“I was there the day that Horus slew the Emperor”

Garviel Loken, M31

The Horus Heresy, alternatively known as 30K, Warhammer: 30,000 is a gaming system based off a modified 7th Edition ruleset. It’s commonly referred to as using 7.5e rules, but this really undersells what Forgeworld and the late Alan Bligh have done with the system. Gone are formations, the old enemy of balance in 7th Edition Warhammer 40,000. Instead we have Rites of War, a system of bonuses in exchange for limitations to add thematic play and cause some interesting problems for players to deal with on the table top.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take this away. Asking others “What Legion should I play” or “What Legion is the best” is totally the wrong question to be asking. Horus Heresy is a gaming system that is predicated on narrative – thus, whilst there are stronger Legions than others, it shouldn’t matter to a player. We all play what we play because we enjoy playing that Legion. The question you should really ask yourself is “What Legion do I enjoy the background and paint scheme of”. This is because you’ll be thinking narratively and painting their scheme, or some permutation if it – so having a legion you love is very important.

With the influx of Warhammer: 40,000 players recently, this next point is an important point to make. Win At All Costs (WAAC) is not the way to play Heresy. There is no point chasing a “meta” because every legion is strong in certain ways. There’s no point min-maxing your lists, no point trying to ally in detachments to counter inherent weaknesses, nor is there any point trying to lawyer the rules. It is all about personal choices and enjoying the game. If you try to play 30K the way a lot play 40K, you’ll end up alienating yourself – so get behind the ethos of the community – play for the right reasons.

Isstvan 5 Drop Site as rendered by the Warhammer World Museum! Credit: Google Images

Join the Community:

In my experience, Horus Heresy players tend to fly below the radar. I was routinely playing 8th Edition Warhammer: 40,000 at my Friendly Local Gaming Store, 4TK Gaming in Colchester, for about a year and I didn’t even realise that Horus Heresy was played there.

Turns out, there was a sizeable community there playing fairly often. That community has recently grown, encompassing my gaming group (of 12 people) almost entirely.

Even when you’re actively looking for Horus Heresy content, it’s quite hard to come by. Aside from a few videos on YouTube by Winters SEO and Geeks Wargaming, it’s fairly hard to come by decent coverage. The30KChannel is a solid resource, with David Braines high quality output, visually stunning armies and great scenarios.

So where should you look for local players? Crusade & Heresy on Facebook should be high on your list and is a solid resource for new players looking for opponents and help. Join the group and post up, see what you can sort out!

If you’re after a series introducing Horus Heresy in a video format, I recommend The30KChannel Harvest on Black Sands. This introduces Horus Heresy through a series of games that build armies through campaign games. This is a perfect way for new players to start Heresy.


Before i go any further, it’s important to clarify a few points in the realms of naming. Compulsory and non-compulsory. It’s an important distinction to make as the Rite of War system causes quite a big change Rite to Rite. This can mean there is some ambiguity to the requirements. Long and the short of it is simple – if in doubt, clarify with your opponent and don’t be a dick.

Compulsory Choices: Whenever you see this word, you must include the unit or amount of the unit type it indicates. For instance “Detachments using this Rite of War must take an additional compulsory troops choice in addition to that usually required on the force organisation chart”. This would indicate that you must include an additional Troops choice. The same goes for HQ choices. This is most often seen in the Force Organisation Charts.

Non-Compulsory Choices: Whenever you see this word, you must include a compulsory choice when you are filling a slot critical to the force organisation before you can add this unit. For instance, you can’t take a Legion Consul Moritat as your HQ choice, as it is a Legion Support Officer, which means it is a non-compulsory choice. However, if you were to put a Praetor in the army first, then your second choice may be the Legion Consul Moritat. It seems a little odd at first, but lets look at the rule book for Force Organisation.

Similarly there is some consternation between the amount of certain units you can field. One that immediately jumps to mind is the Legion Consul. You can only take one Legion Consul in certain Rites of War (Such as Raven Guards Decapitation Strike). A Legion Consul is a specialised HQ, normally a non-compulsory choice. Because of the limitation, some argue that a player could not take a Legion Consul Moritat and Kaedus Nex (for example) who is a Raven Guard named character who is a Moritat. Personally, i have absolutely no problem with people fielding both – because one is a Legion Consul Moritat and the other is a named character that happens to be a Moritat. The best answer? Ask your opponent how they feel. It’s better than turning up and being declared “That guy”.

Rulebooks – “Buy nice or buy twice”.

The hobby is expensive. That statement isn’t just for Horus Heresy, but Games Workshop products in the main. One area you’ll save money in is rule books. The old adage of “do it nice or do it twice” is key here. If you look on eBay there are plenty of rule books available. However, not all of these are the right ones. There have been a few different iterations over the years and its incredibly difficult to work out which are current (as current as possible) and which are dross purchases. So what am i saying here? Well, it might be cheaper and easier to just buy the books you need from Forgeworld straight up.

The Forgeworld Full Rules Bundle. Credit: Forgeworld.

Forgeworld offers two different formats for their rulebooks, physical and digital. Note, that at this time the digital editions do not automatically update when FAQs come out – a massive missed opportunity. So which is the better buy? I bought both in the end. I prefer a physical book in my hands, i love how rich and professional the rulebooks feel compared to the Warhammer: 40,000 Codices. However, in the heat of the game, a digital edition has a search function that works flawlessly, allowing quick rules checks to occur.

Digital editions are separated into normal and “enhanced” editions. The latter is effectively a modified physical version that has plenty of extra content added in. It’s a personal choice as to whether you’d want it over a normal edition however.

Starting out, the most common question seems to be “What legion should i play?” shortly followed by “What books do i need?”. Well, i’ll break it down:

All players need the core rules, which are contained within The Horus Heresy: Battles in the age of darkness book. This contains everything related to the core game, such as how to play each phase in a step by step guide, core special rules, terrain rules, some missions and a quick reference section. It’s £40 – so actually not too dissimilar to the core rules for Warhammer: 40,000. It is however, a far more polished product.

From there, things get a little more specific.

Legiones Astartes. Players wanting to create and play an army made up of Astartes need two books. The Legiones Astartes: Age of Darkness Army List book contains all the core Astartes units that are integral to any Astartes army. It’s a hefty book that has a huge amount of entries in it. Secondly, if you’re wanting to play a specific legion that is listed below then you’ll need Legiones Astartes: Age of Darkness Legions book. This book contains all of the Legion specific Rites of War and units for:

Alpha Legion
Death Guard
Emperor’s Children
Imperial Fists
Iron Hands
Iron Warriors
Night Lords
Raven Guard
Sons of Horus
Word Bearer
World Eaters

Separately, these books are £32 each, however the bundle is £55. To field an Army using Legiones Astartes, you’re looking at three books, costing £95.

Mechanicum. If you’re looking to field the armies of Mars, you need a single book. The Horus Heresy: Mechanicum Taghmata Army List contains nearly the entirety of the Mechanicum range on sale and plenty more that are yet to get models. This book contains the Titan Legios, but not Knights. At £32, you’re looking at £77 for the two books required to field the army.

Crusade Imperialis. This book contains all the rules you need to play Solar Auxilla (a highly skilled and highly specialised Imperial Guard formation), Cults & Militia and Questoris Knights. It is once again £32, leaving you at £77 for the two books required.

Alternatively, if you have intentions of running many armies or detachments from each, then you can buy the whole bundle for £140.

Campaign Books: The Leading Edge of The Horus Heresy

Campaign books are the soft or hardback books produced by Forgeworld that effectively move the story along, whilst bringing new units into the fray. They do cause a bit of fragmentation, but they’re usually of a high enough quality that you won’t care. They have rich content with a huge amount of legion or army specific lore, associated artwork and generally packed with units. Additionally, they have a campaign system that allows you to play out the events of the Horus Heresy!

Book 1 – Betrayal: Isstvan-3 Campaign, Sons of Horus, World Eaters, Emperors Children and Death Guard.

Book 2 – Massacre: Isstvan-5 Campaign, Iron Hands, Salamanders, Night Lords and Word Bearers.

Book 3 – Extermination: Aftermath of Isstvan-5, Raven Guard, Imperial Fists, Alpha Legion, Iron Warriors and Mechanicum.

Book 4 – Conquest: Traitors advance into the Northern Imperium, Solar Auxilla, Questoris Knights.

Book 5 – Tempest: Betrayal at Calth, Militia, Ultramarines, Word Bearers, Mechanicum and Titan Legios. Currently Out Of Production, but likely to return in softback form.

Book 6 – Retribution: Shadow Wars, Dark Angels, Blood Angels, White Scars and Mechanicum (Anacharis Scoria)

Book 7 – Inferno: The Burning of Prosero, Thousand Sons, Space Wolves, Titan Guard and Talons of the Emperor.

Book 8 – Malevolence: Ruinstorm, Blood Angels, Daemons of the Ruinstorm, White Scars and Talons of the Emperor.

Campaign books offer unparalleled looks into Legions history whilst expanding the unit list and providing playable campaigns for the Horus Heresy historic battles. Credit: Forgeworld.

When buying these books and preparing to build your army you should consider having a look over the FAQs. There are two you need to bear in mind; the General Horus Heresy FAQ & Errata, which contains several updates, not least to Anacharis Scoria (changing him from a Primarch killer to just savage) and the Vulturax Automata (removing flare shields). There are several pages worth of changes applicable to every army in the game.

The second is the Drop Pod errata – this is actually fairly important as it changes several small elements that add up, like how it makes Rites of War like the Maru Skara for Emperors Children less restrictive.

Force Organisation in the Horus Heresy:

Force Organisations work a lot like Detachments do in 8th Edition Warhammer 40,000. You have to fulfil certain compulsory choices in order to field an army to that Organisation layout.

There are 4 Official Force Organisations and a few Unofficial ones, but for now we will discuss the Official ones of Crusade, Onslaught, Castellan and Leviathan. Note that with some Rites of War, which we will come to later, your core Force Organisation is restricted – but this is always made clear.

Crusade: This is the normal Force Org that people tend to use. You have a primary detachment with a compulsory HQ and two compulsory troops choices. From there, you can field a further four non-compulsory Troops choices, four Elite choices, three Fast Attack choices and three Heavy Support Choices. You can also field a Lord of War, Allied Detachment and Fortification if you want.

Onslaught: This Force Organisation trades Objective secured for heavy firepower. Once again, you must field a compulsory HQ, but this time you are required to field only one compulsory Troops choice. Finally, you must field a compulsory Heavy Support choice. No Allied Detachments or Fortifications may be taken. You’re also limited to only four Troops choices all up – which in Horus Heresy can be quite limiting in some situations. With this Force Org, you can field an optional Lord of War.

Castellan: FORTIFY THE WALLS! This is a Force Organisation for those who prefer to model themselves after Rogal Dorn. You have a Compulsory HQ, three Compulsory Troops and that’s it. However, You’re limited to only two Elite choices, one Fast Attack. What you can do however, is take up to four Fortifications.

Leviathan: Behold, the Titans walk! This Force Org limits you quite heavily in conventional forces in order to allow you to field one almighty war engine. Your compulsory choice is a Lord of War and that makes up the entire Primary Detachment. You may field two additional Lords of War. You may also take an Allied Detachment, which is comprised of one Compulsory HQ and one Compulsory Troop, allowing an additional troop choice, one Elite choice, one Fast Attack choice and one Heavy Support choice. This is the Organisation i use to field Nuncio Mortis, my Warlord Titan.

Basic Requirements for a Horus Heresy Army:

The easiest way to start Horus Heresy is to build a core army to the Crusade Force Organisation. From there, you’ll be able to branch out into Rites of War and really follow your heart. So what do you need to look at for this? How much does it cost? Well, lets look at the slots required:

HQ: 1x Compulsory
Troops: 2x Compulsory

If you’re buying for a certain Legion, then there are plenty of Legion specific characters out on the Forgeworld store – they’re roughly £30 for a single model. But what if you’re currently undecided or are wanting to represent a more generic force? Well, you can double-tap your HQ slot by getting the Legion Praetors for £37. This gives you a nice generic Commander in either Power Armour or Cataphractii Terminator Plate. Both have Paragon blades, which are the de facto choice for the melee option for a Praetor (we aren’t going to discuss the horrific weapons that are the Divining Blades in this series of posts). The Terminator Praetor has a Volkite Charger which is a lovely little weapon, whereas the Archaeotech Pistol wielded by the Power Armoured Praetor is nothing to be sniffed at. They’re nice sculpts to boot too.

Troops choices then. Well, this all comes down to your aesthetic. MkIII Iron Armour is a more aggressive look – one that will fit in with the Legion Praetor in Power Armour. Its a solid choice for the more siege or fear orientated Legions. A set of ten MkIII Astartes will set you back £30 from Games Workshop, but you can get them cheaper at Friendly Local Gaming Stores such as 4TK Gaming (£24). Similarly, the less aggressive looking MkV Armoured Astartes costs £27.50 from Games Workshop, and only £22 from 4TK Gaming.

If you’re looking for a Transport for them, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t buy the Rhino (£27.50) and Land Raider (£50) plastic kits. These models were around in the Heresy and some even created during it – so don’t feel like you have to go out and buy Deimos Rhino (£42) or Land Raider Proteus (£100) from Forgeworld to be thematic and play the game.

A quick bit of maths brings a starter force out to:

Legion Praetor set: £37
2x 10 man Tactical Marine Squads: £48-60 (MkIII) OR £44-52 (MkV)
2x Rhino: £55

TOTAL – £177-212 (MkIII) OR £173-181 (MkV).

That isn’t a terrible cost when you consider that you have a core of 20x Tactical Marines in a transport and a Legion Command group. That equals c.700pts depending on your chosen options.

From there you can bolt in dedicated fast attack and heavy support as you feel more comfortable – reducing the rules learning burden that can occasionally occur with trying to learn in big games.

Speaking of Rites of War, lets explain what they are and some of the most commonly seen ones.

Rites of War (RoW):

Rites of War work like a blend of Formations and Detachments. It takes the basic premise of Formations by offering a significant bonus to the army (usually thematic too) but imposes a set of limitations upon the army to balance it out. This can create some unique situations to occur, or present the player with a problem they must look elsewhere to overcome. These do normally fit in neatly with a thematic reason for a Legion to take it in the first place. Each legion has access to a core list of Rites of War that may be chosen, but they also have access to Legion Specific ones.

You need to have a unit with the rule Master of the Legion to run a Rite of War. This most notably comes in the form of Praetors and Legion specific characters.

I’m just going to briefly cover the most commonly seen, generic ones in this post:

Drop Assault Vanguard: Descending from the skies, this force comprises mostly of Legion Assault Squads and support units that can deep strike. You do have the added bonus of deploying all of your Legion Assault Squads at once should you wish to do so, which can be quite a strong alpha strike style tactic – although you can’t charge on the turn you arrived in Heresy. This is helped by the fact the enemy are snap shooting, which really opens up the possibility for turn 2 charges into tanks with melta bombs or infantry with your melee weapons. This RoW favours the bold tactician, but you’re going to be fairly light on Anti Tank outside of melta bombs in the main – so it’s key to look for AT capability elsewhere in your army list.


1. Death from Above: At least half of the Legion Assault Squads in the army must always enter play using the Deep Strike special rules. At the beginning of the controlling player’s first turn, this ‘Assault Vanguard’ may deploy all of its Legion Assault Squads at once.

2. Darken the Skies: In the player turn after that in which the Assault Vanguard deploys, enemy models within 12″ may only fire Snap Shots against them.

3. Storm of Angels: In the Assault phase of the controlling player’s second Game Turn, all of the Assault Squads of the Assault Vanguard gain the Hit & Run special rule.


1. Compulsory Troops choices made for a detachment using this Rite of War must be Legion Assault Squads.

2. Only units that can deploy via Deep Strike or embarked upon a Transport vehicle with the Flyer type may be taken in the army.

3. The army may not include any Immobile units.

4. The army may not include a Fortification Detachment or an Allied Detachment.

Orbital Assault: This RoW is all about Drop Pod assault. There is quite a selection of tactical gambit available in this army list – because you can choose what pods come down on turn 1 due to the Drop Pod Assault rule. You’re also able to bring in significantly heavier assets than you could using Drop Assault Vanguard due to the Drop Pods themselves. Furthermore, if you choose Dreadclaw Drop pods then you have an element of manoeuvre when you arrive, something worth spending the extra points on. The only real limitation applied to this RoW is the transport type (Deep Strike) limitation which can be difficult to plan and play around.


1. All units in the army eligible to take a Rhino as a Dedicated Transport may instead select Legion Drop Pods or Dreadclaw Drop Pods as Dedicated Transports.

2. When taken as part of this Rite of War, talons of Legion Dreadnoughts and Contemptor Dreadnoughts must be given either Dreadclaw Drop Pods or Legion Dreadnought Drop Pods Dedicated Transports and must arrive via Deep Strike. In this case, a talon of multiple Dreadnoughts must attempt to land within unit coherency when they are deployed via Deep Strike, but follow the Dreadnought Talon rules afterwards.

3. Units and models in Terminator armour gain the Deep Strike special rule.

4. Legion Rapier Weapons Batteries may select Legion Drop Pods as Dedicated Transports.

5. Deathstorm Drop Pods may be selected as Fast Attack choices.


1. Units that cannot be deployed via Deep Strike, either by having access to the special rule themselves or because they cannot be carried in a transport vehicle that has it (infantry in Drop Pods, for example), may not be chosen as part of the army.

2. You may not take a Fortification Allied Detachment.

3. All units purchased Dedicated Transports in this army must begin the game transported within them.

Pride of the Legion: A versatile RoW that is thematic for First Company styled armies. However, if you lose your Veterans or Terminators it will cost you dearly. Highly thematic in that sense and is probably the reason you see it often. Also, the distinct lack of limitations focussing on Heavy Support or transport key words means that it can create several distinct army lists that play considerably differently. One to really let the mind wild with and play out those crazy Terminator heavy army lists with.


1. Veteran and Terminator squads arc Troops choices in the force, and units of either of these types must be selected as the force’s compulsory Troops selections. This also Includes any Legion specific Terminator squads which are also Elites choices.

2. Command squads may lake a Land Raider of either the Proteus or Phobos type as a Dedicated Transport.


1. Should all Veterans and Terminator squads in the force be destroyed in the battle, then the enemy counts as having scored an additional secondary objective.

2. You may not take an allied force detachment.

Starting Horus Heresy Summary:

This post has contained quite a lot of information in a relatively short post, and information overload is common in Heresy. However, this should act as a repository for you to be able to reference repeatedly when considering starting up.

Just remember that the community is always out there to help you, but that the core rule of Horus Heresy is “Don’t be a dick”. Stick to that, chose a Legion you are invested in and have fun!

Chosen the Night Lords? Take a look at the Starting Horus Heresy: Night Lords article.

Next up…. Starting Horus Heresy: Mechanicum


  1. Hello, this really helped me a lot. I have been collecting Warhammer 40k for 4 years now, and have a few sizable armies now, (blood angels, astra militarum are the larger two) and I’ve been looking into the Horus Heresy in the back of my mind for a while, the lore caught my attention and I think it’s finally time that I invest in it. I noticed that there was Blood Angels in the campaign lists, but not in the Age of Darkness Legion specific book list? Space wolves too, I know there are major characters for them too so I was a little confused.
    Either way, I am very glad I stumbled onto this post as a first look into the Heresy, it was well described and didn’t overload with too much info, can’t wait to see more


    • In the current version, not all of the rules are in the red books – some are in the black campaign books. This is being resolved for Heresy 2.0 which should release very soon – so hang in tight!


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