40K: Narrative Battles In A Space Hulk

Space Hulks are the perfect environment for your next narrative battle – Here’s how to do it right!

Narrative Battles are one of my favorite ways to play Warhammer 40k. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good matched play game as much as the next person but sometimes it’s nice to get a little crazy with the “Standard” way to do things. Recently on our Twitch Channel, we had a couple of Narrative games that took place inside a Space Hulk and we had a blast. But before we get into how we did it, let’s talk about what a Space Hulk is…

What is a Space Hulk?

via Lexicanum

A Space Hulk is a massive conglomeration of lost ships and wrecks fused together. They drift through space and in and out of the warp and during the millennia the lost ships join together into one enormous body. Frequently, they are so huge that they have their own atmosphere and gravity. Since the hulks often exit and re-enter the warp seemingly at random, searching or traveling in them is dangerous in the extreme.

The Imperial Navy, and all Imperial forces and authorities as a whole, have standard orders to survey such objects and to report their location. The hulks consist of ships and items of technology millennia old and the recoverable technology can be of immense value to the Imperium, and especially to the Adeptus Mechanicus, thus elite Imperial forces are sent aboard to clear out infestations. Depending on the strategic situation (availability of troops, proximity to vital Imperial star systems, safety margins, etc), Space Marines are sent to purge the hulk of any alien infestations.

Space hulks are dangerous, as they are commonly used as a means of transport by certain unsophisticated factions. Orks, Genestealers, and Chaos renegades use them occasionally to invade other worlds. As the warp jump of Space Hulks is essentially made in a random direction this gives them the advantage of surprise.

Therefore the mission of boarding space hulks is extremely dangerous and normally entrusted to Terminators, the Chapters’ most experienced elite who are heavily armed and armoured. In some cases this is an impossible task, due to too-powerful enemy resistance, too few available Imperial troops, too close to vital systems, etc. In such cases, the bombardment and total destruction of the hulk is the only viable alternative.

Space Hulks are huge and durable, as even Nova Cannon blasts are not enough to cause significant damage.

Thanks to the Cicatrix Maledictum and with all the warp activity going on, Space Hulks are starting to appear all over real-space. You can read more about them on pg 35 of the BRB. Because of the ancient technology that is often found on Space Hulks they can be valuable prizes to explore and mine. However, they are fraught with dangers. Genestealer infestations, Greenskin Hordes, and of course Daemon Chaos entities all call Space Hulks home.

That’s what makes them PERFECT for your next narrative game. We’ve got a couple of suggestions to help guide you on how to take your mission in a Space Hulk to the next level. Feel free to use these or come up with your own. It’s a narrative game after-all, you forge it how you want it!


Building you board is one of the most important steps for creating the right feel of a Space Hulk. You’re going to need lots of terrain if you want to do it right. Not everyone has a ton of hallways to use – that’s okay! There are some ways around it.

Many manufacturers do actually create Spaceship tiles for indoor fights and are great for this. But those can get pretty pricey depending on how intricate you want to make your board. If that’s a limiting factor for you, we suggest hitting up your board game collection. FFG has a bunch of expansions for Imperial Assault you can dig through. If you can get your hands a copy or two (or more) you can build an excellent board as well. We combined Space Hulk tiles with Deathwatch: Overkill tiles and it worked great. You can go old school and just cut your own out of Cardboard, paper, or felt cloth.

This was our board for Game one – Space Hulk Tiles with a Custom Hanger

However you design the board, the important part is that you have these corridors, hallways, junctions and rooms setup. We recommend having a few (1-3) long hallways or even big open areas (like a hanger bay) in the map design. These will form the basic structure of the map – think of them as the spine of the Space Hulk section you’re forces have landed in. The rest of the corridors should be off-shoots of these areas. They should be twisty and windy – and very tightly packed! These are the side-halls that have been massed together. Perfect for ambushes around corners…

We also recommend having some type of Line of Sight Blocking doorways. In our games, they simply blocked LoS didn’t slow anyone down.

Army Construction

Your forces are fighting in a derelict mass of spaceships with narrow corridors. The Army Construction rules should reflect that. Infantry and Walkers (Dreadnought sized or smaller) are perfect for this environment. We don’t recommend you bring Flyers, Transports, Knights, or really any big-kits to the table with this one. If they can’t traverse the narrow hallways, leave them out for this game.

You might want to leave the Titan at home for this one..or make it the objective in a Hanger Bay!

Depending on your board size you might also want to limit your points sizes. We found that Power Level 50-60 worked great for our games – that’s roughly 1000-1250 points. If you have more tiles or table space, feel free to go larger. If you don’t have a tone of tiles, don’t feel like you need to get too crowded.

Special Rules

Here is our short list of house rules we used:

  • Models could only move on the tiles – no jumping over/through the “Walls” of the ship.
  • 2 Infantry models could fit side-by-side when moving down a hallway (32mm or smaller bases). Models on Terminator sized bases (or +40mm) or larger could only fit 1 model wide.
  • Doors blocked LoS, but don’t slow movement in any other way.
  • Large Models (Dreadnought Bases) were allowed to move down the narrow hallways – but they blocked LoS. No moving past them or shooting through them!
  • “Aura” buffs also required LoS to take effect. That means your leaders have to be able to draw LoS AND meet the range restrictions for their Auras to work. No buffs through walls!
  • For Close-Combat, when in a hallway, we allowed an extra “rank” to fight per side just to keep things moving.

That was pretty much it. Again, feel free to add or ignore your own house rules – it’s a narrative game! Have some fun but keep with the theme.

Recommended Scenarios

Honestly, most of the objective missions in the BRB work great. We had a couple of different missions we tried but I liked the Secure and Control (pg 222) style mission the best. Each player got to setup one objective in room inside their deployment zone. The goal was to get to the other players objective and keep your own secure. Feel free to add other objectives like Kill Points, Line Breaker or Slay the Warlord as you want.

There are also the other types of Attacker/Defender Scenarios you could run. Perhaps the Defenders are just trying to get a unit from their starting position to the exit. Or maybe it’s a straight ambush mission. It’s really up to you. We also recommend a hard turn limit or time limit. This will force players to move through the Space Hulk vs hunkering down and just waiting for the action to start.


One last note on Deployment. Because the board is not a “Standard” board – you might have to get a little creative with the deployment. In our map above, The “attacker” started in the Hanger. They had just landed and were establishing a beach head. The “defender” had to deploy opposite of the Hanger in an “L” shape. But give yourself some wiggle room based on the board. Try to at least start 18″ away from any enemy models – give both sides a chance to do some maneuvering and positioning.


That’s really all it takes to play a narrative game in a Space Hulk. There are TONS of Space Hulks to choose from if you want to create a “historical” battle. I’m pretty confident you can find one to fit the forces your fighting with or, hey, just make up your own – that’s the beauty of playing a Narrative game!


So what do you think? Have you fought in a Space Hulk? What rules did you use and how did you construct the board?

  • Jared Swenson

    I ran a space hulk campaign back in previous editions. We mostly used the FW zone mortalis rules, and I had built my own ZM tiles. It was great fun. Definitely a unique and interesting way to play 40k. Puts much more emphasis on infantry. Disallowing bikes definitely helps with that. I can’t recommend that enough. Also you find the dynamic changes for different units. You would be surprised that some of the units deemed ‘bad’ suddenly excel in space hulk. Fire Warrior breachers are really good in narrow space hulk corridors. And pretty much any melee focused unit did really well also. But that was all for the last couple editions. I was hoping the IA index books would have updated the ZM rules, but any missions can be easily tweaked to accommodate space hulk settings, as you guys pointed out. I am looking forward to dusting off the tiles and give it a go in 8e again!

  • Tshiva keln

    Nice Idea, may have to get the old space hulk out of the loft!

  • AEZ

    I really hardly understand the boarding of the things except if there is something to get there.. just bombard them from space.. if you can exterminate planets you can exterminate these things too..

    • benn grimm

      Lol, you pretty much stated the main reason in your first line. Also, nuking from space would kinda defeat much of the point of non-zone mortalis 40k no? Why did the space marines make planetfall, when they could’ve just nuked the Orks/Heretics/etc from orbit? Why did the board the ship when they could’ve just shot it down from afar..Because it’s a fictional game, which funnily enough is about visceral (possibly slightly unrealistic) combat rather than nuking things from space. Fun as I’m sure that game would be…

      • AEZ

        Well the lack of destruction from above always has been the thing that seemed most off in the books/lore, fictional or not the reason for those decisions are always a bit… unlogical. Yes we’ll fight a war with our complete chapter just to confirm that warboss X is REALLY dead.. instead of just nuking all the Orcs and then accept the 0.1 % chance he survived but also keep our whole chapter alive. Must be a Space marine thing 😀

        • benn grimm

          Well, as any Vulkan knows, humans are highly illogical…;)

          • AEZ

            Who believes Xeno’s.. that would be heretical 😀

        • Dan

          You’re talking as though small-unit skirmish warfare doesn’t exist here on earth, when it’s probably the most common form of warfare on the planet. Why does the US send ground troops into Iraq instead of just bombing it? Because war is only ever about controlling resources, which bombs don’t do very well.

    • GrenAcid

      Not exacly.
      1.Often they are size of the moons, contain vaulable secrets/relics.
      2.You cant virus bomba thing without oxygen atmosphere.
      3.There is no core for meltatorpedos.
      4. ITS COOL

  • TriggerItch

    Wait. Hanger?

  • benn grimm

    As well as claustrophobic space derelicts, they make great sewers for necro-shadow-munda wars…