Getting Started with Horus Heresy Gaming

Today I have some basics to get started in 30K gaming and put together your first Legion army.

Often I get way caught up in this fantastic game while working on my second army and forget that a lot of people are looking to simply start their first army. It’s easy to do if you start off simple and you really only need two books if you want to build a Space Marine legion – one book has the rules for the current legions available now and the other book has the rules for all the various units such as tactical Marines and the various veteran units. Note that a new rulebook was recently released for all the generic units – many units got a nice buff and nothing really got nerfed.

It’s very important to select a legion you’ll really like a lot and not lose interest. My first army is a Sons of Horus first company (i.e., all terminators)… I got into 30k when it was first released. I always have wanted to play Imperial Fists and they are my second army slowly coming along now. There’s a lot more depth to a 30k legion compared to a 40k chapter – it’s seemingly endless what you can do with any legion and of course each is can also be highly specialized if that’s what you’re into doing with your army.


So here is my advice how to get started if you’re really interested and want to play. Some people are simply collectors and that’s okay too.

Getting Started

If you are just starting out I recommend building a 1000 point army first to get your feet wet. Start off with one HQ and two troops… Later on down the road you can invest in more exotic units such as the new Mastadon. Start simple at first to learn the rules and your legion. You can flesh out your 1000 point army with support and veteran units. I have provided a 1000 point sample army at the end of this article you can use as an example.


You will need to decide which legion you want to field and they are all good. Units particular to a specific legion give an army character and help to specialize. For example Iron Hands have an infantry unit referred to as Medusan Immortals. Immortals are an infantry unit designed for boarding actions that typically take place in spaceships… They have hardened armor and boarding shields for better protection to fulfill this unique role. They also have a 6+ Feel No Pain and can swap their bolters for Volkite chargers amongst other things. Immortals are a very interesting unit that exude what it is to be a True Iron Hands which is a big plus over playing a 40k Iron Hands army. Volkite weapons are the new hotness since they can generate additional wounds and have higher strength than the bolter equivalents. Iron Hands also have access to an Iron Father special character (Autek Mor) that is S5 T5 with 2+ armor and a 3++ invulnerable save. How often have I heard 40k Iron Hands players stating they wish they had their own special character… Too many times to count !!! There are also other special units including their Primarch Ferrus Manus who is a true beat stick.

I chose Iron Hands as an example because I wanted to show that every legion is good… Too often players look on longingly wanting to play some brand new legion such as I’m sure will be the case with Space Wolves and Thousand Sons. It’s amazing the level of detail put into the Horus Heresy rules and we can already start to see the crossovers to 40k because of its growing popularity. The release of the box set Betrayal at Calth has really helped to boost its appeal.

Force Organization Chart (FOC)

There are several FOCs to choose from and I recommend you start with the Age of Darkness (AoD) which is very similar to a combined arms detachment (CAD) for 40k.


Rites of War

HQ that have the Master of the Legion (MotL) special rule have access to choosing a Rite of War (RoW) which is similar to a specialized 40k detachment and there are many to choose from to help build a unique army to your own liking. Praetors are the 30k equivalent of a 40k Chapter Master and have the MotL special rule. Some of the special characters such Primarchs also have this rule. There is also a Consul (Delegatus) which has the rule and requires the least amount of points to field a RoW.

One of the most popular RoW is Pride of the Legion (PotL) which allows you to field Legion terminators and veteran squads as compulsory troop choices. This is a great starting point for a new player just getting their feet wet to build their first army. Terminators are much better in 30k compared to 40k and the ability to field them as a compulsory troop choice is awesome. Veteran squads harken back to Space Marines prior to the advent of Sternguard and Vanguard veterans… 30k veteran squads can field a mix of melee and ranged weapons plus they have access to veteran skills to better boost their overall abilities on the battlefield.

Putting It All Together

30k is more about having a good time as opposed to fielding the most competitive beat stick army that breaks all the rules. Sure you probably want a competitive army which is fine too. While some will say it’s only for those that like Space Marines all the time you also have access to other armies such as Chaos Daemons, Mechanicus and a 30k equivalent to Astra Militarum plus there are even more. I often play against 40k armies and it can still be a good time. Obviously some xenos races such as Eldar and Orks were in existence back during the Heresy… While there are no 30k equivalent rules for any xenos you can put together some fun historical games – probably best to just steer clear of formations if you catch my drift.


998 point Iron Hands Sample Army List

Here is a sample list using the AoD FOC and PotL RoW for Iron Hands…

++ Legiones Astartes: Age of Darkness Army List ++

+ HQ (240) +

Iron-Father Autek Mor (240)
Cortex Controller – Cyber-Familiar

+ Troops (553pts) +

Legion Terminator Squad (278) /Tartaros Terminator Armour
4x Legion Terminator
2x Chainfist – Plasma Blaster – Power Fist – Thunderhammer – 3x Volkite Charger
Legion Terminator Sergeant – Chainfist – Combi-Weapon – Cyber-Familiar

Legion Veteran Tactical Squad (275)
9x Legion Veteran Space Marine
2x Combi-Weapon – Heavy Bolter and Suspensor Web – Plasma Gun
Legion Veteran Sergeant – Power Weapon
Legion Rhino – Extra Armour – Dozer Blade – Combi-Bolter (Pintle Mounted)
Rules: Outflank – Sniper

+ Elites +

Apothecarion Detachment (45)
Legion Apothecary – Narthecium

+ Heavy Support +

Legion Heavy Support Squad (160)
4x Legion Space Marines
4x Missile Launcher
Legion Sergeant – Missile Launcher

+ Legion +

Legion Astartes [Loyalist, X: Iron Hands]

Welcome to the Heresy. What Legion do you play?

  • jcdent

    Step 1: Sell soul to the Devil. Make sure he’s the real deal, because only the Prince of Darkness has enough money for Forgeworld Marines.
    Step 2: Watch your Tacticals camp objectives and die
    Step 3: Wonder about the disconnect between Space Marine fiction and table top performance
    Step 4: Come up with absurd theory that fiction is all Imperium propaganda, and that table top weakness isn’t the unholy fruit of nonexistent playtesting meeting the need to sell more Marines.
    Step 5: Steal some other soul to buy a Legion Sicaran.

    • jcdent

      Iron Father – 21 pounds
      Tartaros – 38 pounds
      2xMKIII Squad (for the veteran feel) – 68 pounds
      Deimos Rhino – 36 pounds
      Apothecarion – 22 pounds
      MKIII Heavy Support – 23.50
      Heavy Weapons – 13

      That will be cool 221.5 pounds for this getting started army, guv’na.

      No cheating by buying regular GW Marines to make it cheaper!

      Incidentally that would be
      Techmarine – 13 pounds
      Termies – 28 pounds
      2x Sternguard Vets for Vet feel – 60 pounds
      Rhino – 22.50
      Space Marine Command Squad to get the Apothecary – 20.50
      Devastator Squad – 28 pounds

      All in all: 172 pounds for bunch of Space Marine fans of the Society For Creative Anachronism

      • Craig Mills

        If you don’t like Forgeworld or GW prices, the more you whine about them the more they need to listen and do something … wait that’s wrong.

        They are obviously doing something wrong because absolutely nobody buys any of there products and must be on brink of closing because of it … wait that’s wrong as well.

        Wargaming isn’t exactly a cheap hobby, maybe you should consider taking up something new and more atune to what you want … like drawing or reading

        • Commissar Molotov

          Yeah, you filthy proles! Go back to your poor-houses and quit stinking up our perfumed gaming gardens!

          • Craig Mills

            You have perfumed gaming gardens?


        • Alan C

          I’m surprised no one’s brought up recasters yet…

    • Randy Randalman

      1. Thanks to Calth and plastic tanks there’s little need to buy FW Marines for people looking to start a new Legion.
      2. Camping isn’t a good tactic, so dying is appropriate.
      3. Space Marines of all varieties are currently dominating 40k. Even Eldar has very little game against them, so their table top performance is currently up to par (re: too good).
      4. Irrelevant. On every front. And inaccurate. Again, Marines are pretty much crushing every tournament right now.
      5. Sicarans are relatively inexpensive. If you can’t afford one, chances are you need to rethink your hobbies.

      • ^ This. 👍

      • Wayne Molina

        Rumor has it calth is being discontinued and recalled in the coming weeks. But there’s also a rumor for a new Calth-like box (presumably Prospero) with MkIII armor coming soon.

        • jcdent

          I have heard rumors that plastic MkIII has a marked drop in detail, but I’m still hopeful. I would like to get a box for Kill Team / HoR Kill Team / Zone Mortalis use.

          But then I need to choose a legion balancing rules, fluff and color scheme coolness. Maybe Space Wolves? Pre-Heresy colors are cool and they’re not ALL WOOF ALL THE TIME yet.

          • Alan C

            Yeah, but you know in the back of your head the Wolves are gonna wind up that way… :’/

          • jcdent

            I cri everytiem 🙁

        • Troll

          • Wayne Molina

            No, someone on Bolter & Chainsword said their retailer said it was going to be discontinued and recalled.

      • jcdent

        1. Ah yes, the Mark IV armor, which is surely iconic to mark your units as Heresy Marines instead of regular 40K marines
        2. So what happens to objective holding?
        3. IN 40K. Lists that give free razorbacks might have something to do with it.
        4. It is a fan theory I have heard way too many times.
        5. Listen here, you bloody poors!

        • Emperor’s Champion

          what’s wrong with MK IV?

          • Joyous_Oblivion

            Nothing at all, it’s just not as immediately identifiable as ‘heresy stuff’. Look at the Mk 2 and 3 marines and they look decidedly not-40k which is what a lot of us want. That said, I still have 50 of them because cheap is good, lol.

          • Emperor’s Champion

            yeah I suppose, though tbh after painting MKIV I can gladly say I will never ever paint a 40k marine again.
            I always imagined them in MKIV when reading the books if Im honest only time I didn’t was when the fists board the eisenstein and I imagined the forge world breachers. But that’s just my view and now my 30k army are a mix of MK III for breachers and IV for tacticals and support.

          • jcdent

            Yeah, MKIV are just scorpmarines to me. Change the head to MKVI and you won’t notice the difference.

            Now, MK IIs and MK IIIs….

      • Admiral Raptor

        5. Buy from China.

        Fixed that for you.

  • MPSwift

    While there is nothing inherently wrong with the list above surely the best starting point is Calth? £95 (so, what about £70 with online discount?) for a decent starting point, especially if you’re wanting to run a PotL list. Yes, the contemptor model is a bit naff and the plastic MkIV isn’t as pretty as the resin but the sheer value alone makes it a great buy. And it is pretty much set up to make a 1-1.5k list depending on wargear for any legion you would care to choose. You can do a really fluffy Imperial Fists 1500 point Zone Mortalis list using one Calth set and some of their Legion specific unit upgrades.

    I used 2 for the core of my Iron Warriors (about to buy a 3rd to expand again) which gave me 3x 15 man tactical squads, 5 tyrant terminators, a command squad for my warsmith, a mortis contemptor with twin Kheres, a kit bashed Master of Signal, 6 Iron Havocs with Missile Launchers and a handful of spare bodies which could be made into a vet squad, seekers, more havocs, a support squad etc… With a few resin bits and the odd model here and there you can easily hit 3k or more.

    • jcdent

      Nice to see someone mention Zone Mortalis.

      Really, the good way to start (and play) 30K is Zone Mortalis at 500pts – warlord traits don’t kick in until 501. Use your own damn terrain instead of buying the super expensive ZM board that everyone is using.

      • MPSwift

        I’d actually say the strategic raids would be the best entry route as you don’t have the addition ZM rules but it definitely comes in a close second for me. Also, fighting inside starships is really f*ing cool which is another reason to love ZM!

        But yeah, cheap centurian, tac squad and a terminator squad and you’re probably around the 500 point cap and can play a few quick ZM games. As for terrain, Space Hulk tiles make for a great cheap alternative (provided you have a copy or two lying around).

        • jcdent

          Saw a guy recommend dollar store lego blocks which can form a basis for walls. I’d like a more urban mortalis, maybe a lab or something! But that’s preferences.

          • MPSwift

            That can work pretty well, also cheap so not so painful when you start painting on it haha. Benefits from modularity too. Urban mortalis can work well if you can get the density right. Underground bunker complexes with armouries, vehicles depots etc are really cool to fight in too 🙂

          • jcdent

            It’s a matter of what you do with it afterwards. With some plasticard, some balsa wood and paint the world is your oyster.

          • MPSwift

            Aye, especially if you have a considerable bitzbox you can dive into for various weapons/debris/tech stations etc.

          • Anti-Gravity

            I agree. If one used Lego and texture-painted it after snipping the obvious connection points off with hobby snips, nobody would even know. Paint is the great equalizer, and when I hear people moan about terrain costs I die a little inside at how dangerously low their IQ must be.

  • Emperor’s Champion

    One thing I wholeheartedly agree on is that 30k is more enjoyment over competition.
    Personally it’s the most inviting and inspirational of GW products for fluffy players who want to re tell and paint their favourite legions.
    To further my point Forgeworld has a huge following for their HH characters.
    People get put off by the prices but if you treat your legion as a long term collection and put your passion and energy into only a couple of units at a time you’ll see your collection grow and actually be proud of buying them.
    Also theres nothing wrong with the plastic MKIV. My cheap excuse is they are the suits taken from schism of Mars by Sigismund.

    • Karru

      The biggest problem I’ve always had with 30k has always been the lack of “variety”. In the end the vast majority of players will only play Space Marines in it, especially now since the BaC set was released. For me this is a big turn off, since I like to see different armies clash against each other, like Imperial Guard and Eldar or Space Marines and Orks. Yes, there are other armies in 30k, but I have yet to see someone actually play them in my gaming area, since they unfortunately don’t have a reasonably priced starting point.

      Also, for those that keep mocking those that complain about FW prices, take a moment to realise that unlike GW products, there aren’t any retailers that sell FW products. At least any that I know that offer same levels of discounts that GW products get. Also there is the problem with postage outside UK. These things add up fast which makes it a lot more expensive than regular 40k. Same sized army in 40k with similar units can cost 1/3 to 1/2 less than a 30k equivalent.

      • Alan C

        The distribution model keeps me away from Forge World. I’d love to see them at least do free shipping to GW stores eventually.

        • Karru

          Yeah, it wouldn’t sting so much if I could spend like 75€ buying a few units and maybe a character or tank without having to pay the extra for postage. I really don’t want to spent 300-500€ at once to make it a lot cheaper thanks to postage.

      • Emperor’s Champion

        Yeah I get what you mean. For me personally in 40k I’ve never played an imperial army until I read Rynn’s world.
        Then I read up on imperial fists and after reading flight of the eisenstein I was immediate hooked on imperial fists.
        The majority the battles that get people into 30k are astartes v astartes and the game is based heavily on the encounters between the legions.
        There’re a few xenos models I’d like to see just for HH such as megarachnids from the first book.

  • shiwan

    That legion is likely not the one you use to show that every legion is good.

  • Matt Mo

    One thing that confuses me about HH is where all the rules are. I have three big red books:

    Legiones Astartes – Crusade Army List
    Legiones Astartes – Age of Darkness Legions
    Mechanicum – Taghmata Army List

    I know the first two contain all the rules for legions and also some legion specific stuff so I can get away with these for building my army, but my question, as I can never seem to get a straight answer, is what is the point of buying the newer big red book (
    Age of Darkness Army List) that just came out? Can anyone tell me, as an Emperors Children player, if it would be beneficial to buy the newer big red book, or are all the rules I need in the ones I have? Furthermore, what’s the new big red book contain? Just errata and updates? (If so that’s annoying!)

    Thank you!

    • The older book is out of date.

      • Matt Mo

        Meaning the “Age of Darkness Legions” book is out of date? And the new “Age of Darkness Army List” is the new one?

  • SteelMaelstorm

    I’ve gone all-in with Solar Auxilia (Upgraded Imperial Guard) instead of just another flavor of Space Marines. Reference: Horus Heresy Book IV.

    Note: You will end up selling internal organs to buy real forgeworld Solar Auxilia models.