The noble knights of the First Legion were too far to intervene at Istvann and were drawn to Thramas to stop the atrocities being committed by the Night Lords. This misdirection occupied the legions for years, leading to the destruction of several inhabited sectors. Lion El’Johnson, the Primarch of the Dark Angels, embarked on the Passage of the Angel of Death, a campaign meant to punish the traitor legions by targeting strongholds and home worlds. This campaign ended once the Siege of Terra began, redirecting the Dark Angels to the defense of the Imperial home world.
In the lore, the Dark Angels are the archetypical legion. They have the tools and resources for any task, and the sectioning of their legion leads to flexibility on the battlefield. This is reflected in the rules through their legion trait, rites of war, warlord traits, and specific units.
The Hexagrammaton represents the flexibility of the Dark Angels. Every unit you choose to be in your army must be assigned to one of six “wings”, with each wing providing different effects. There are additional restrictions concerning transport, independent characters, apothecaries, and techmarines, explained in detail in the Liber Astartes.
The wings provide different bonus allowing you to tailor each unit in your army to the job it’s meant to perform. As an example, the Stormwing provides a hit bonus when firing bolters, combi-bolters, or bolt pistols, making it a decent choice for tactical marines to take full advantage of the extra shots provided by Fury of the Legion. The Firewing, on the other hand, applies bonuses to wound rolls when targeting an independent character, making it a potent bonus to the units that you want to take character hunting. One of my favorite wings perfectly highlights the flavor present in the ruleset of the Horus Heresy: the Deathwing allows a bonus to Hit rolls for all types of swords, including any close combat weapons modeled as swords.
The Dark Angels’ advanced reaction, The Angels of Death, provides a unit the ability to respond to an enemy charge by becoming harder to shift. The reliance on a Leadership test makes the reaction slightly weaker, and requires more careful planning on unit selection to get the maximum benefit, but the use of Fear(X) and Fearless/Stubborn can come in clutch when trying to defend an important mid-board objective.
The Hexagrammaton provides for an immense degree of flexibility and is an excellent rule allowing for tons of flavor and performance from the legion.
Then there are the warlord traits.
There are two to choose from that are specific to the Dark Angels. The first, Marshal of the Crown, provides a minuscule leadership buff to any unit of the same wing as the warlord that has at least one model that can draw line of sight to the warlord. The second, Seneschal of the Keys, allows the controlling player to select a faction, and then state that a turn is decisive. During the decisive turn, the warlord and any unit to which they are attached gain a small buff to their WS or BS (not both) when targeting a unit of the chosen faction for the duration of the turn.
There are certainly uses to both of these traits; depending on what army your opponent is running your mileage will vary. There is an argument to make, however, that the Horus Heresy is not a competitive game, but a narrative one, in which case either of these options will add flavor to the game, but probably won’t be the reason you win a battle.
Rites of War
To make up for the slim number of warlord traits there are six Rites of War for the first legion. Each Rite is tied to an individual wing of the Hexagrammaton and provides appropriate buffs and restrictions to emphasize building your army around whichever wing you feel would be the most fun to put on the table.
If you want to run nothing but tanks, that is an option by running The Steel Fist, allowing you to take Predators as troops, Kratos tanks as elites, and gives the option to take Land Raiders as dedicated transports for your infantry. Opposite of that is The Storm of War, which pushes the use of massed infantry, giving you the option of filling your fast attack and elite slots with troops units.
The Eskaton Imperative gives you great board control, making everything outside of your deployment zone difficult terrain and allowing you to take Destroyer and Interemptor squads as troops, but providing your opponent with extra victory points if they can keep a unit in their deployment zone at the end of the battle that isn’t Pinned or Falling Back. The Unbroken Vow also provides you opponent with the chance at getting more victory points based on objective control but allows you to take Terminators as troops.
The final two Rites emphasize the use of fast attack slots. The Seeker’s Arrow giving you Sky-hunter and Outrider squads as troops, while providing some buffs and movement shenanigans to your cavalry units. The Serpent’s Bane allows you to take Seeker Squads as troops and allows you to select three priority target units in your opponent’s force, giving your Firewing units bonuses to hit against them.
Overall, every Rite of War is solid, and will have a major impact on your list building. Two Dark Angels armies will play vastly differently from one another, with all possibilities being viable, flavorful, and fun.
The unique units available to the Dark Angels include their Primarach, Lion El’Johnson, two characters, and three infantry units. As with every Primarch, the Lion has a ton of rules that could be covered, but to sum up you can think of him as a very flexible leader and duelist. His warlord trait, Sire of the Dark Angels, provides your army with the ability to reliably perform sweeping advances and provides a small Leadership buff for those units that can draw line of sight to him more reliably. He also is the only unit in the first legion that does not select a wing of the Hexagrammaton at the beginning of the battle, but chooses a wing at the start of the controlling player’s turn that will last the remainder of the round. This provides him with a level of flexibility to perform whatever function you need from him in the moment.
The two characters, Corswain and Marduk Sedras, are each powerful martial combatants. Corswain is the Champion of the Dark Angels, carrying a sword called “The Blade” which gains the Instant Death keyword on 50% of all wound rolls. His armor provides a 3+ Invulnerable save against close combat attacks allowing him to outlast many opponents once a melee begins. Marduk Sedras provides slightly more utility than Corswain, as he provides the Preferred Enemy special rule. This utility does not hamper his damage output, however, as he has an Unwieldy close combat weapon that hits at Strength 9 with the ability to reduce enemy invulnerable saves. It’s worth noting that at the time of writing this article Corswain does not have a model on the Forgeworld store, so if you want to run him in your army you will need to be prepared to kit-bash him from a praetor model.
The first of the three unique units are the Deathwing Companions, an HQ unit meant to act as a retinue for your praetors with a special rule equivalent to bodyguard, ignoring Precision Shots and Precision Strikes. The second is an Elites unit, Inner Circle Knights Cenobium, which are heavy-hitting terminators with the ability to tailor their strengths to the opposing army at the start of a battle. The final unit is the Dreadwing Interemptor Squad, a unit of Elite Dreadwing marines carrying special weapons which act as a combination of plasma guns and flamers.
Overall the Dark Angels meet the expectation of being an extremely flexible legion. The wings of the Hexagrammaton allow you to increase the function of each unit, increasing their ability to excel in the role chosen for them. I feel this may open the door for a crafty opponent to play around this, meeting Stormwing units in close combat, or destroying Deathwing units at range before they can make use of their improved swords. While the warlord traits are not the strongest showing, they certainly aren’t bad, and the Rites of War and unique units more than make up for whatever weakness may be in the army.
As this article is part of a series, I will spend the next few months going into more detail about the rules of the game and the specifics of each legion. I would like to know if there is specific content our readers would like to see, so leave a comment or join us in the Woehammer discord to let us know what points you would like to see discussed.