Horus Heresy – An Introduction

Games Workshop has introduced as massive new release and addition to their core range with the Horus Heresy 2.0. As this makes the war among brothers in the Imperium broader accessible (being carried by Games Workshop and their trade network, plastic instead of resin and translated content), it will be the first contact with the prequel to the Grim Dark of 40,000 for many wargamers. A good reason to give you an introduction on the Horus Heresy.

Warhammer - The Horus Heresy

What is it about?

The universe that provides the background for one of the most popular wargaming systems on the globe, has a dark and incredibly rich history. How became the Space Marine chapters of 40k the many different forces, with successors chapters in all their colourful variety? Where did the Chaos Space Marines come from? All this lies in the civil war within the Empire, when Horus, one of the 18 sons of the Emperor himself, turned against him and half of his brothers followed the Warmaster in his betrayal to bring death to the usurper.

And as the Horus Heresy, the Warmaster himself falling to chaos, is a war brother against brother, the whole story strongly focusses on mankind and their superhuman warriors, the Space Marines. The game itself is more or less excluding any xenos, covering the 18 different Space Marine Legions and their allied forces like the Imperial Army, the Adeptus Mechanicus or even Adeptus Custodes. This means, if you like Space Marines, you are really in for a treat! But now let's try to set up the timeline, with minor spoilers, like a brief movie recap.

It's 31th millennium. The Imperium of mankind is on the Great Crusade, conquering worlds all over the galaxy, fighting alien species and humans who don't want to fall in line. To fight this galactic battle for him, the Emperor, a superhuman being, created 20 clones of himself, supported by legions of lesser superhuman warriors, the Space Marines. Due to an incident, the 20 clones were taken from the lab while still babies and hidden all over the galaxy. The Emperor searched for them and found all, but two, the forgotten and the purged. So 18 of his sons all received command over a legion of Space Marines, made from their individual gene seed, sharing certain traits with their so called Primarch.

The primarchs wage war all over the galaxy as Expedition forces to bring compliance to all the planets out there and annex them to the Imperium. During these campaigns, the Emperor decides to return to Holy Terra (that's earth in the Warhammer universe) and appoints his most cunning sons, Horus, as Warmaster, to continue the fight and coordinate the Great Crusade. By making him Warmaster, the Emperor raises Horus above his brothers, causing tension between the 18 brothers as well as seeding jealousy in some of them, who thought they would have been more fitting for the role of warmaster. With the new title, Horus is easier provoked that he is worthy of it and is lured into a trap, where he gets wounded. This incident, causing Horus to almost die, plants the seed for the heresy, as they have to make a pact with unnatural forces to save him. While he recovers from his wounds, doubts and disbelief become more and more present to Horus and some of the people around him, even to some of his brothers. Why are they fighting? Why did the Emperor leave them all alone out there? Did he lie to them? And if they are so mighty, why are they fighting for the Emperor far, far away and not for themself. Causing Horus to become a renegade, to fall to chaos and thus starting the HORUS HERESY, where Space Marine would fight Space Marine, not just the legions that sided with either the Emperor or Horus against each other, but even within the legions where some would stay loyal to the Emperor and others become traitors, fighting for the Warmaster.

The Horus Heresy - Age of Darkness The Horus Heresy - Age of Darkness The Horus Heresy - Age of Darkness

First Impression

The story of the Horus Heresy isn't new. It was already around in the early 90s / very late 80s, as part of the backstory of Warhammer 40,000. But the richness and depth of the background grew incredibly with the Black Library novels in 2006. Due to the success of these books, Forge World, initially covering special miniatures mostly for Warhammer 40,000, picked up the story line in 2012 with campaign books and an ever-growing range of miniatures, portraying the fight between the forces loyal to the Emperor, or the traitors, who have chosen to side with Horus.

Due to the niche character of the setting, and Games Workshop still in the recovery process after the Lord of the Rings bubble, the Horus Heresy stayed with Forge World. This meant that the miniatures were casted in resin, causing a squad of 5 Space Marines to cost 27 EURs, and that's without weapons, or 104 EUR for a proper Land Raider Proteus, and exclusively sold via Forge World, which meant British shipping costs (usually 15-20% of your order value on top) and limited payment options. So if you didn't have a credit card, you would have to wait for your Games Day to come by and buy it there. And believe me, there was a very, very long queue in Cologne back in the day because of that. And beyond that, the Horus Heresy is full on war. Before the Space Marines were organised in chapters, to not have anyone hold power over so many super-warriors, they were organised in legions. Meaning each of these had between approx. 100,000 and 200,000 Space Marines in service, that's quite bigger than the ~1,000 soldiers a Space Marine chapter consists of. This means that the squad structure is different as well, with tactical squads being up to 20 Space Marines large. Creating bigger and more expensive army projects within this setting. You understand, that this speaks to a different audience simply by investment.

Horus Heresy - Horus vs the Emperor 1990 by Adrian Smith Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre Horus Heresy - Horus vs the Emperor 2004 by Adrian Smith

With the Horus Heresy setting being more exclusive, harder to source, more expensive to buy, this meant for a more dedicated community. If you just wanted Space Marines, already half of 40k is warriors in power armour, so you're good to there, available in stores in even most smaller cities or online. Of course, there were and are many fans of the old original artwork by Adrian Smith and the iconic diorama by Mike McVey (today part of the Warhammer World exhibition in Nottingham), but the real maelstrom began with the depth of the narration that many different authors created. Beginning with the incredibly immersion that the initial trilogy of Horus Rising, False Gods and Galaxy in Flames, setting up the betrayal itself and then moving through the different Space Marines legions, they battles, their stand on Horus doubts and fall, introducing a vast amount of characters from regular sergeants up to the Primarchs themself and their closest and most trusted allies. This is not some glorified, fan-fiction, "Glorious, glorious Space Marines moves across the galaxy, kills the vile xenos, conquers a new world" - rinse and repeat, go for the next story. No, far from it. While the initial Rogue Trader era stories and design, represents a lot of the punk, anarchy and Thatcher times of Great Britain, similar to 2000 AD, the story written and told with the Horus Heresy is rather serious and you feel it entering the Age of Darkness. Losing more and more of the glory and shine of what the Emperor build. Even today, roughly 15 years after the initial book was published, it is a very up-to-date story. You have captains speaking their mind to their peers, about the madness of war, losing loyal friends, the brutal atrocities some of their mission requires them to pursue, and when even these bred-for-war, gene-modified soldiers are asking these questions - and they get quite philosophical in some parts - creates an incredible amount of weight to these stories. Along with the depth, as you receive a lot of detail on the various Space Marine legions, characters and units. The books are available as audiobooks as well, partially included in various streaming services and I'm currently listening to book 5 about Fulgrim and the Emperors Children, and hearing the well told story even makes me - already set on two different Legions - considering the 3rd Legion in some kind of project myself.

Forge World - Horus Heresy Book One Betrayal The Horus Heresy - Character Series Horus the Warmaster The Horus Heresy - Character Series Horus the Warmaster

And Forge World honoured this, in quite a fitting way. They introduced a first Horus Heresy campaign book Betrayal in 2012 as a hardcover, released the first official miniature for a primarch (it was Angron) and broadened the range by a lot. The initial campaign book introduced the massacre of Istvaan III to the game, a horrific event told in the third book (Galaxy in Flames) of the initial trilogy. Over the years until now 8 further books have been released, adding more and more rules for the Space Marines Legions to be played in their (pre-) heresy environment and adding auxiliary forces like the Adeptus Mechanicus, Imperial Army and Solar Auxilia. As the book series now moves on towards the final stage of the Horus Heresy, the Siege of Terra, it is especially interesting to see that the game system moves toward a core game. Along with the release of the campaign books, which have partially been reprinted and reached quite the collectors value, lots and lots of legion specific units and characters have been released and the fans of the books are often happier about them as the regular players. Because it is not about having access to some unit, that is high ranked in meta (more on that later), but actually being able to field that character, you've been on a journey with for some books.

Even as we know how the story ends, which is rare for a sci-fi setting, as we mostly only do that in pretty much all of historical wargaming, this narrative setting invites a lot of wargamers to join with a certain amount of dedication and the products - at least from my point of view - are delivered in a very fitting way. The books often being hardcover, with leather and metal corners. The characters not just being put in some white card board, but more of a little chest. The way the books are illustrated, a lot of drawings, maps and additional information, reconnecting with pieces you've read in the novels and rewarding those who read not just the rules entry with little easter eggs and such.

Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre

How does The Horus Heresy play?

This is a narrative setting and game. Most of the events, and even those that are listed as tournaments, if they even are publicly listed aren't really comparable with regular Warhammer 40,000 games. Yes, the rule system itself shares a common base, but as this is a civil war, you are more eye-to-eye. It is Space Marine vs Space Marine. This is actually something that reminds me to Warhammer Historical, because the game had a very different and more balanced (for the most books, not all) feel to it, as I was playing human vs human and not human vs. alien / fantasy race or something.

Let's state a few questions:

  • Can I use my Primaris Marines and Repulsor in there? I'm sure someone has written some rules for it?
  • Can I bring my T'Au? I always bring my T'Au and I'm pretty sure, that those firewarriors will look ace on Calth!
  • What's the best meta for HH 2nd Ed? Any tournament list recommendations? What is the best Legion?
  • I converted some marines into Elon Musk's Robot Catgirls and wrote a backstory about them being the lost 2nd/11th legion.
  • I have Lamenters, they're yellow, Imperial Fists are yellow, that's basically the same.
  • ... I don't have any painted miniatures in my army, but that's not a problem, is it?

Meme - We don't do that here

The picture shown above was taken from promotional material of Avengers: Infinity War and is copyright 2018 of Disney.

Yeah, these things will not fly with the Horus Heresy community. And no, that's not gate keeping. It is a very narrative game setting and the people enjoy this about it. Actually, playing Horus Heresy is very close to playing a historical tabletop, or collecting a historical army project and trying to be as historical accurate as possible. Similar to how historical wargamer look for resources for their projects, like Osprey books, libraries, documentaries and things like these, most of the Horus Heresy players read the books about their legions in addition to the campaign books. The choice of weaponry on units will be depending on what the author described them, and decision like giving Salamanders any kind of flame weapons or having World Eaters go for close combat, will be done by the rule of cool, rather than "meta ranking on volkite is better than XY". And similar to the puristic dedication of some Napoleonic wargamers or the differentiation on World War 2 in early, mid and late war, some Horus Heresy players will collect their Word Bearers in grey or use certain Mark of armour, depending on the time frame they are trying to recreate (the later one is currently retconned with the plastic Mk VIs). And most of the current Horus Heresy players have agreed to these rules. It will probably soften up with the major release, but is still something that many of the gentlemen's wargamers will keep. Again, why is this not gate keeping? These are simply community rules, that have developed due to the setting and are agreed one. Compare to it to an old timer car club. If you want to participate, your car / project will have to meet certain criteria. So, if some car club is collecting vintage cars from France, you can go there in your 2010s BMW, they might take a look at it, but it will not be what you need to participate.

So, if you want to join the Horus Heresy. Read the books, enjoy the story, choose the legion that speaks to you the most, get it battle-ready and enjoy the story again but this time with miniatures, dice and a gaming buddy. If you're not familiar with the Stillmania, now is the time as it is a great mind set for your projects and especially for Horus Heresy (well, except the three coats of gloss varnish).

Just be aware, the size and elements of a 30k project tends to be larger than regular 40k. It's not just some patrol forces having a skirmish, but a full-on civil war. Therefore, the point values of lists are higher, to cover the presence of primarchs and larger units, and with heavier gear like glaives, kratos and so on, you're almost half-way there towards an Apocalypse game.

Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre Games Workshop - Warhammer World Exhibition Centre

What's next?

Games Workshop has released the starter kit, Age of Darkness, along with two thick army supplements, covering the loyal and traitor legions. There are already pre-orders on more products transferred to plastic and we will see parts of the legion specific things in plastic as well (like shoulder pads and helmets), but most of these will stay with Forge World. As there was a field test with selling Forge World via the Games Workshop (online) store, I assume that accessibility will increase (I used accessibility and not availability for a reason here, resin casting is still a labour-intensive process - especially in comparison with injection mould plastic, so I hope that Forge World can cover the demand). But what is going on beyond that? Well, the easiest thing will be to keep an eye on Warhammer Community for further sneaks and previews, as they just did with the Leviathan. The sprues from the Spartan already spoiled, that there will be the "smaller" regular Land Raider (it's funny to talk about small, when talking about a Land Raider, isn't it?) and maybe we will see some further sprues to convert the Deimos Rhino into further variants build around it.

Beyond that, it makes sense to look how other gaming systems are progressing. I don't think that we will see classic army supplements like a codex Legion Blood Angels, as with 18 legions to cover this would make for quite the product schedule for the next years. I rather think that we will see an updated variant of the initial 9 campaign books, similar to what they released for other game systems, as these not only provide additional gaming material for multiple armies at once, but are a much more fitting choice for the narrative frame that this game provides. I assume that the collector's items and editions will be very fitting, and especially the die-hard fans of the books will have a hard time to say no. The pre-order goodies they announced are very cool and fitting, like the lodge coin, every reader of the novels will remember.

Final question - For the Emperor or For the Warmaster?

Meme - Both is Good

The picture shown above was taken from promotional material of The Emperor’s New Groove and is copyright 2000 of The Walt Disney Company.

Yeah, we're staying with the layout of having a protagonist and antagonist for each project, this time as well.

So this was a brief introduction to Horus Heresy and we will add further pieces of information with an unboxing of the Age of Darkness set, along with build reviews of the content and even more.

Posted by Dennis B.

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