40K RETRO: The Craziest Weapons GW Ever Made

Let’s go back to Rogue Trader and 1992 to see some of the Grimdark’s most insane weapons.

Rogue Trader was a time of utter creativity for GW. Everything was new and it seemed like almost everything was tried.  From Willpower stats to clear plastic sheets and interior vehicle blueprints for shooting – they tried all kinds of stuff.

But when it came to weapons, Nottingham really set their brains on overdrive.

Here are just a handful of the nuttiest and most memorable weapons from the days of yore.  All of these come from the Warhammer 40,000 Battle Manual (1992)


Assault Cannon

Once upon a time, the AC was the dread of xenos.  With it’s Following fire dice, it could pump out dice roll after roll of shots each turn based on how much of a gambler you were. Right up until you got too greedy and blew yourself up with a catastrophic jam. Oh well – no risk, no reward.


Harlequin’s Kiss

The Harlequin’s Kiss has always been a sinister weapon, but back in Rogue Trader you could throw caution to the wind and go for it.  I still remember my college friend back in the day with a giant grin as his Troupe Master withdrew his Harlequin’s Kiss from my now dead and crew-less Land Raider!

Heavy Flamer

Don’t you just hate having to set tough targets on fire turn after turn in modern 40K until they die? Well back in Rogue Trader, the Heavy Flamer made sure they STAYED ON FIRE. Look at the fantastic “Fire Test Chart” that kept the bad guys running around screaming.  Just remember – STOP, DROP & ROLL!

Virus Grenade

Yes, you are reading it right. A radius effect weapon that sets off a new death AOE each time a model dies – forever!  I believe my personal record was 86 Orks dead with one Virus Grenade.  It did take about 15 minutes to resolve.

Shuriken Shrieker Cannon

If you thought the Harlequin’s Kiss was mean – you haven’t seen anything.  Behold maybe one of the most horrific weapons of the Grimdark. Of course it’s used only by Death Jesters.  Some notes – A victim of the special Shreiker rounds doesn’t die right away.  He’s going to take a few turns randomly careening around the board screaming hysterically – until he explodes!  While he’s doing this, he is understandably causing rout checks to all nearby units – that is if they aren’t killed by the fragment of his body when the end finally comes. Clowns are jerks!


Cyclone Missile Launcher

Nowadays, Cyclones are just 2-shot missile launchers. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Back in the day, they held 12 missile and you had to keep track.  Each turn you could fire off one – or ALL THE REST!  It was awesome and you could blow away just about anything.


If you got shot, there was that little bit about maybe having all your missiles cook off in a mighty display. There was even a handy mishap chart down there to see just how bad it could be.

~Which one is your favorite?

  • Nicolò Blotto

    It was a very unwieldly game back then, but if you haven’t played with these rules at least once in your life, you haven’t really lived. I still remember the assault cannon effects on my first Terminator vs Genestealers game…

    • I_am_Alpharius

      It was certainly off its time….nevertheless, very fun.

    • Commissar Molotov

      Back before playing with toy space orkz and space elves was SERIOUS BUSINESS!!!

      • memitchell

        “Meta” = end of fun.

        • Muninwing

          i think that understanding what you might tun into isn’t a problem… catering to the hypercompetitive attempts to gain advantage… it really detracts from the experience.

          honestly, though, part of it is GW’s fault. they have put out some “here some other ways of playing” books that never really took off, but didn’t even do much with it.

          had they issued a campaign book early (like what the HH books have done) that had tips for creating your own, or used asymmetrical missions for effect, or the like, there would have been much more of a culture of such playstyles. instead, up until 5th most missions that many people played were meatgrinders with minimal depth.

          last year, i was writing a campaign based on asymmetric missions, where you would have to play both sides. the “active player” had criteria for scoring, while the “adversary” achieving their goals actually took away points. if everyone played four games in two weeks, they would have two different opponents as an active player, and two different attempts to undermine their league opponents.

          there’s plenty of ideas out there. GW just committed to minimal support. and meta comes out of the tournament competitiveness that exists when there’s noting else that’s “official”

  • Simon Chatterley

    Ahhh…the good old days when the game had flavour.

    Walking into battle with 10 missiles on your head was risk vs reward strategy…as it should be

    • I_am_Alpharius

      Yes the great time: when it could easily take 4hrs to play a game , because you were shoot at tanks and rolling to see which rivet you blew of; flavour meant having the best characters who’d kill entire armies; and would Land Raiders could hide behind bikes….etc…

      Rose tinted nostalgia glasses removed. It was very much a game of its day. Hell, it was a fun game and I loved it. Its the edition I started with. But by Emperor boy it was laborious and unwieldy to play at times.

      • Simon Chatterley

        I remember a 2000pt game taking a whole weekend.

        Great times.

        • Steve Wilson

          Really? You must have not known the game well then. Played 10k per side as a demo of 40k and took us about 5 hours
          Standard game size was 3k and that took 1-2 hours max

          • Simon Chatterley

            Well I was 12 and playing it on the floor with my cousin. We would have spent at least 10 hours arguing with each other. Probably with actual fighting…

            See, that was how you resolved a rules query. None of this dicing off rubbish.

          • Steve Wilson

            Yeah I started it at aged 10. But then I had a good head for all the stats back then so never needed a rule book or army list.
            People in store used to throw me questions from their games for quick answers

          • Muninwing

            i think it also depended on what other games you played. i remember starting with D&D (red box, 1984) and my older brother would make dungeons and steer me through the worst of the dice and charts (i was six…). but a couple years later we’d play GURPS or Rolemaster (chartmaster…) or a mashup of various other games that were a bit more involved with the charts and the rolling and the stats.

            trying to teach someone all that at once is hard. trying to go over some at a time was a saturday afternoon.

          • Andrew Shartenberg

            Regularly played 2500-3000 and got 2-3 in per day at LGS. Played 10k in 5 hours. GW really should bring back other dice (d8 / 10 / etc). Would allow for more balance mathematically if it weren’t all d6 and the flavor of the good ole days.

          • carlisimo

            That doesn’t sound right for 2nd edition at all.

  • Geil

    Spacewolf Wolfguard Terminators.

    … back in the day those ultimate badboys of 40k could field both the assaultcannon and Cyclone launcher on every single model in the squad, and with a squad max size of 20, you could start your game by firing off 240 frag or krak missiles. Each of them, individually scattering.
    If your opponent did have any models left, after this 2-3h of painstakingly tracking each enemy missile, he would still be facing 20 terminators (with a 3+ save on 2d6) (unless some of them blew up) ready to start up there assault cannons.

    • Paul Mattingley

      They only scattered if you missed, but they hit on 2’s. Plus if you fired them all in go it counted as a single shot with a 3 or 6″ blast, I can’t remember which.

      • Michael Campbell

        Blast size was 1/2″ per missile in the salvo, and the salvo was a single to hit roll, not scattered independently.

        And you could either fire 1, or fire a salvo (2-12) at 1 target, you could never fire all 12 at seperate targets in one round.

        • Paul Mattingley

          I know you couldn’t fire at separate targets in one turn, but with a blast that big, why would you want to? Odds of hitting were pretty good on the whole, the potential damage was well worth it.

          • Michael Campbell

            Yeah, I was more addressing the guy you replied to in the second half.

      • Geil

        Yep, they all hit or they all scattered, per individual model firing.
        But back then cover and range affected your to hit die, so 2+ to hit were only against guys out in the open.
        So to max your potential scatter you just fired at the target with the best cover, of cause potentially some of your salvos would hit.

        • Paul Mattingley

          Range didn’t affect the hit roll with the terminators at least, range did reduce weapon strength by 1 for every 24″ if I remember correctly. Assuming that we’re talking 2nd ed.

          • Geil

            you don’t.

        • Steve Wilson

          Nah termies had built in targeters too so had an additional +1 to hit. At least in rogue trader

    • Daniel Sundblad

      Nostalgia glasses, and/or interwebs recollection… While the 1993 Codex Space Wolf (first book for 2nd edition) indeed had the unforseen RAW allowing A-can&Cyclone due to the rules mechanic of Wolf Guard terminators being pick&mix weapons, and the Cyklone being a “lefthanded” weapon (the original model having no Powerfist or other close combat weapon, holding the Targeter instead), it was fixed in a WD FAQ already by 1994…

      And the missiles never fired one by one, it used the same mechanic as given in the old scan in the article. Interestingly enough though, it got nerfed to 1/2″ Diameter rather than radius, in 2nd ed over the rules there, so a full load would use the largest 3″ template in the box…

      Also, even if multiple separate missiles had been ised, it wouldn’t had been that much of a timewaste scattering all of them, at it didn’t have the later editions rules for determining blasts, it would only have scattered if you missed your standard BS test, which would likely have passed on a 2+ in most cases (BS5 for 2+, +1 For the weapon itself having that at its to-hit mods for both long and short range, +1 for Terminator armour coming with a Targeter as standard… It would have had been a fast moving target in hard cover, Camelioline or other oddity, for it to have been other than “Anything but a 1”)

      • Geil

        Shortly after the SW codex came out, there were a DW article about how to deal with tough units, mentioning the AC/CL SW Terminators. Then some time later they suddenly declared the AC/CL combo heretical and that it were never intended, and people had red the rules wrong…
        I only ever had 12 of them anyways.

        • Daniel Sundblad

          Haha! That would probably have put you with the extremists, with 12 actual models ! Most people stopped at theoryhammering it (“Oh Yeah? Than I will take a full squad of Terminators with Assaultcannon and Cyclone!”) or proxying through non-adherence to WYSIWYG…

          Though a friend started to convert the 10 monopose original Space Hulk terminators with a LEGO brick on the roof and Assaultcannon from six thin rods circling a seventh glued to the cut-down Stormbolter… as I remember, he never finished them before it was nixed in WD, but we found traces of them in his bitzbox the other day, some 23 years later…

    • Talos2

      They were a lot of points though. I think over 80 for a normal terminator. Used to regularly come up against 5-10 of them though with the mandatory inquisitor lord in terminator armour. Broken as hell

    • Oh I hated those guys.

  • MiNi Matt

    Ahhh…the good old days when the game had flavour.Walking into battle with 10 missiles on your head was risk vs reward strategy…as it should be

  • James Hall

    No mention of some of the best Ork weapons? The classic Shokk Attack Cannon and Pulsa Rokkit were brilliant. Actually, all the old Ork rules were brilliant….

    • Carey_Mahoney

      Don’t forget the Splatta Kannon (Hopp-Splatt Kannon?). That one took the biscuit, in my opinion.

    • Simon Chatterley

      Yeah I just said that as the article has had me remembering the good old days.

  • Jeez, these rules are more complicated than those of the 40k roleplaying games.

    • euansmith

      Of course, you probably were fielding a lot less models back then 😉 but let it never be said that 40k has ever been knowingly streamlined 😀

      • Brian Carraway

        Not really. My group considered 2000 points “standard” and in 2nd edition, that was a lot of models.

        • Steve Wilson

          Not really. 3000pts was standard and that’s the size of a 1500pt army today as point s for pretty much halved from 2bd to 3rd.
          Standard for us was 3-5k with sometimes going upto 10k

      • Mike Forrey

        Less models? hahah. Apparently you never experienced a 2 K point Realms of Chaos army. It could take 3-4 hours to roll up the army and you had to bring it on in waves because there were so many miniatures. Good times. 😛

  • euansmith

    Does anyone still get Webbers these days?

    • Marcet

      Genestealer cults get Webbers and Webpistols.

    • Iconoc1ast

      Hopefully making a return to necromunda too…

  • I_am_Alpharius

    “retro craziest weapons” awww missed opportunity. I was expecting a list of the really crazy stuff. None of these weapons were that crazy. What about the:
    – Thudd Gun, which could shoot around corners!
    – Anti-plant grenades/missiles, to destroy tree in droves, oh and and only Orks units as they are mushrooms. (still my favourite)
    – Tanglefoot grenades, basically anti-gravity in a handheld grenade!
    – Or you could that effective sci-weapon the common bow/crossbow or musket!
    – and of course the range of Spiderman weapons in the the form of Webb weapons.

  • Brian Carraway

    No mention of the oh-so chaotic Hop-Splat Gun???? This article officially failed.

    • Carey_Mahoney

      Exactly! You nailed it!

  • Malevengion

    I always liked the Defense Laser in Rogue Trader. If you used the Jokero special rules you could have a weapon one size smaller than listed so you could have a man portable defense laser. I recall it was something like 2D10 wounds at S:10 and a -6 save. It was fun in theory anyway, I was too much of a gentlemen to actually field the abomination though.

    • Steve Wilson

      10+d10 wounds so 11 minimum.
      Also with a 4″ radius blast iirc

  • piglette

    Where’s the guy with the helicopter backpack?

    • Carey_Mahoney

      Do you mean Karlsson-on-the-Roof?

  • Carey_Mahoney

    They should never have abandoned those shoulder-mounted heavy weapons on Marines. Good thing that FW reintroduced those.

  • mreindl

    You forgot the plasma pistol. Kept firing until it failed to hit or wound, iirc. Had a single chaplain nuke an entire Eldar army in one game with that.

    • Steve Wilson

      Was the entire army within 16″ lol.
      The pistol didn’t have sustained fire but the guns did. Also only a -2 save on plasma back then so unlikely to kill everything.
      You want to kill everything you used an assault cannon

      • Scott Staten

        Or a squad of Dire Avengers 🙂

      • Grognard

        In the 1st Ed Battle Manual it most definitely did have sustained fire. And yes, I jumped him right into the middle of the Eldar. Page 40 of the Battle Manual, look it up. Couldn’t use SF in close combat, but otherwise….

        • Steve Wilson

          Still call crap. A -1 save mod means unlikely to do it.
          Only thing I ever saw do that to an army was an avatar with the sustained assault warrior power.
          Even assault cannons rarely managed more than a squad kill

          • Grognard

            Call crap all you want, you were already wrong about it having SF, so if you really want to be wrong again, go ahead (btw, I’m the OP, just logged in to a different machine). I know it happened, as do the other guys who were with me, and I don’t need to prove anything to a random guy on the interwebz who couldn’t even get the basic rule right. You can have the last word though, since it’ll make you feel better.

    • Adam Richard Corrigan

      And the web of skulls exarch weapon where as long as you hit you kept rolling, killed a full platoon of guard in combat with one guy.

  • Adam Richard Corrigan

    The old Wraithcannon. On a 4+ remove the model.

  • Simon Chatterley

    My favourite weapon from these lost Dark Ages was the Pulsa Rokkit. Man the fun we had with that ridiculously heavy piece of metal!

  • ZeeLobby

    Ah, the dreaded double space. A totally unnecessary habit carried over from typewriters.

    • Simon Chatterley

      Indeed but it looks nicer and some traditions and habits are worth keeping. This is one of them 😉

      • ZeeLobby

        In the end if you don’t actually type anything for editing or publication, it’s never really an issue.

        • Muninwing

          i was taught on homerow, right around the transition from typewriters to keyboards. i still double space out of sheer habit, and never notice when other people do it.

          • ZeeLobby

            Yeah. I mean it’s just unnecessary. A product of old technology. And an annoyance for publication.

    • Commissar Molotov

      I still use it just to piss off Millennials.

      • ZeeLobby

        I mean single space is just good gramar. Even when handwriting. It truly was a product of limited technology for a short band of history. But alas.

  • JT

    The conversion beam was also an odd weapon. It was more accurate at range than up close, +1 to hit over 24″ if i recall. And vortex grenades, at 25 points each, were pretty much the best weapons in the game since they destroyed anything they touched

  • Commissar Molotov

    What, no “Marco Cannon?” I know it was a misprint, but the concept of a cannon that fired guys named Marco was a vivid image.

  • SilentPony

    What? No Archeotech pistol?! The lore says they use the power of a planet’s ambient magnetosphere! AMBIENT MAGNETOSPHERE!

  • memitchell

    As crazy as things could get back then…my Cyclone gets hit by a lasgun and fires off a random missile which flies around the battle field before returning and killing my Commander…a Virus grenade kills off an Ork army before the Ork gets to move a model…a sergeant with a vortex grenade destroys my Armorcast Reaver titan…the biggest pain in the tail was Blind Grenades. Everybody used them, everyone could throw one, you got an endless supply, they buggered up the game, and they floated around randomly each player turn, which took forever to adjudicate.

  • Reymond

    That virus grenade reminds me of a game called Sneezies.

  • Completely off topic, but who remembers buying ten White Dwarves from the Second Edition release to get a Tactical Squad? I didn’t, but I know someone has somewhere…

  • stinkoman

    Ah the good old days, when the internet was only used to download music, IRC and pirating games. no netlists, 40k forums. just you, a buddy and a nice crazy rules system you just wanted to use for the cool rules, not to abuse.

  • oddball21

    my favorite weapon back then was the hallucinogen grenade some of the results were so crazy and funny

  • aargh00

    Ah, 2nd, where my Chaos Lord had more attacks than a Bloodthirster (he was on the drugs!), and a better save (which occasionally teleported him into a wall). Good times!

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  • Stefan Pietraszak

    Still remember that cover. Back in the days I thought the sergeant was firing the missile launcher with his power fist …

  • Marco Marantz

    I quite liked my cyclone missile launcher…until the dawn of cheez and the first codex – Space wolves – and the power gamers would take a whole squad of cyclones and assault cannons to mop up anything that dared live through 5 6″ blasts. Pretty sure this was the handiwork of the vaunted Andy Chambers. Pppffttt. Harlequins Kiss was my fave on the list and Shokk Attack Gun of those not on the list (especially in epic). Nothing like snotlings landing inside your titans head.

  • the original thunder hammer had the option to overcharge it in close combat, so it would explode on its strike in close combat, generally killing its target and the terminator using it. But since the terminator had such a good save, you could have a slight chance of your terminator actually surviving (although he no longer had a weapon).

    The cyclone first strike option was always great. But it didn’t come close to the craziness of the orbital strike army, one tech-priest as a spotter and the rest of the points spent on orbital strikes… Yeah, you just hoped you got first turn and could get to him before he dropped the orbital barrage.

    but vortex was the king, especially as pretty much EVERYONE had access to it, and battlefields had several roaming around until they expand to huge sizes and then collapse… Plenty of games ended up with armies running away from random vortices ploughing across the table. 😉

    Not to mention power boards and all the other crazy stuff you could get from buying random rolls. That was fun, you could end up getting a las-pistol, or you could get something truly horrific. Always made for a fun game, but not something you could wysiwyg for every single option from the lists!