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Adepta Sororitas – History and the Future

12 Minute Read
Jun 20 2014

Adepta Sororitas: the army, the models, the codex, what they need and what we want.

An editorial by Harley

Overview:This is an overview of the current Adepta Sororitas or Sisters of Battle army and what it needs, both for 7th edition and in general. As a longtime fan of the Sisters, it’s my honest and strong belief that they are one of the most unique and interesting armies in all of science fiction and one of the least attended yet intriguing forces of Warhammer 40k. With the proper update, they could reach their potential of bringing the hobby and fandom of 40k to an entirely new demographic and broadening the horizons of the fictional universe as a whole. 

Beginning with the 3rd edition Witch Hunters codex, I have played Sisters for nearly 10 years and having collected several thousands of points of models in their range, I’ll go over each facet of the army and explain my thoughts on what would be needed to renew, refresh and reinvigorate this army.

Sororitas Models:
Let’s face it. No army in 40k has been as ignored and in need of an update as Adepta Sororitas. The current range looks dated, with static poses and tightly pressed limbs which clearly display the simple 2 part casting method in which they are created. Compared to today’s plastic models from any range, the Sisters models begin to appear dwarfish, bulky and amateur. Many players may not realize that the initial wave of Sisters models were released in 1997 from which most of the current models range still exists. 6 years later, in 2003, another wave gave them updated Rhino based kits and a few extra character models. That means the bulk of any Sisters army are almost 20 year old models! Add to that the fact that they are still some of the most expensive models GW sells and you see the deplorable state of this army. 

Now, there have been countless chicken and egg, Catch 22 discussions about sales revenue and new models where each side bickers about the cost efficiency of a new release but it comes down to one thing; Every time Games Workshop releases a new set of models, from the beloved Space Marine to the oft ignored Ogryn, they are taking a chance. That chance is, will we see a return on this release that meets and exceeds the cost invested into it. The answer is that plastic Sisters have just as much of a chance, if not more, as any other new model at returning that investment. Add to that the hype of 20 years of waiting and I think you have potential like no other army in the game to make a huge come back. Just look at Grey Knights when re-released in 2011. With a very small release of only a few kits that took over the game by storm and soon it seemed like every table was filled with shiny, halberd wielding plastic Grey Knights. 

What models do they need? The reality, surprisingly enough, could be as simple as just one. One. A Single kit, given proper special weapon options, could be all the investment Sisters need to fill their range since the majority of their units are based around the same Power Armored Sister of Battle with a Bolter. Throw in a single Flamer, Melta and their heavy variants to the sprue and bam, the range is rejuvenated! That isn’t to say that Games Workshop couldn’t cash in on more models, which they should! However, it illustrates the paradox which exists that in almost two decades, nothing has been done to revamp this army when they need so very little. Realistically, if Games Workshop wanted to make it into a big release with more potential for profit, which they should, there are a number of options they could provide for kits. For starters, Basic Sisters in a 5-10 woman squad with bolters, flamers, meltas and specialty bits would do the trick. Seraphim with jump packs, Retributors with heavy weapon variants as well as Repentia, which given a Dark Eldar like treatment with their sleek plastic changeover, would be amazing. Then there should be clam packs of unique characters which could be produced such as a plastic Canoness (with options), new Preacher, Sister Superior and more. But that is beside the point. Sisters can make most of their army from a single kit. The rest is just icing on the cake and how much Games Workshop wants to invest should be more than nothing.

The Codex; and what about the book that accompanies these models? What do the rules and fluff need? In my opinion a new and refreshing rewrite is in order as well as a physical release since the white dwarf and digital editions of late have cost little or no investment beyond their initial conception. 

The fluff has long been burdened by Sisters acting as the sacrificial lambs to which many other Imperial armies have built their glory. Tales of Grey Knights killing them as psychic meat shields to Space Marines showing up at the last minute in time to save the day but too late to save the Sisters, have all been the norm. Then there are the countless examples of Xeno races using the Sisters as their “unsuspecting village” to massacre when making their insidious entrance into a plot line. The bottom line is that Sisters need a change of pace in their writing. They need a hero, one that isn’t controversial or dead or disappeared. They need a strong plot line which exemplifies their successes as well as struggles and allows them to shine in their own light without the need for a masculine touch to support them. Sure, men should have their own part in their narrative which is fair, but Sisters need strong characters which can independently carry a story and be heralded for their achievements in their own right. Currently, all the heroes of the Sisters of Battle are either dead or have disappeared. 

Rules and Units

Over all the Sisters of Battle have some amazing, fun units. They need alteration and expansion however to further set them apart from other armies of the Imperium. Too often units are easily comparable to Space Marines alternates; Canoness to Captain, Retributors to Devastators, Celestians to Tacticals or Honor Guard, Seraphim to Assault squads and so on with the Sisters unit usually seeming inferior to a slightly inflated but often similarly costed Space Marine. When looking at a Seraphim themed army I’ve always found myself saying, ‘I could run this same army as Blood Angels more effectively and thematic’. That shouldn’t be the case. 

Other than that the major glaring deficiency in the Adepta Sororitas codex is the complete and utter lack of Skyfire. They truly need either upgrades available to their heavy weapons choices that allow them to defend themselves or some kind of shield against air born attacks. Currently Fortifications provide an option for such a thing, as do allies, but the codex needs to be able to stand on it’s own.

A final thought before getting to the units are that Adepta Sororitas are well known for hating Psykers of any kind, once being included in the codex titled Witch Hunters, and actually specialize in killing these deviants. Their rules however do not really reflect this despite the army wide Adamantium Will and questionably useful Condemner Boltgun (Psyk-out combi-bolter). In 7th edition, Amamantium Will just isn’t enough to give an army an edge at Denying the Witch in the Psykic phase since many attempts cannot even benefit from the bonus Adamantium Will provides. That leaves Sisters with a single D6 of dice, an average of 4, to try and deny powers from lists which could have 20 or more Warp Charges. Since Sisters never get extra Warp Charge dice for denying, this puts them at an extreme disadvantage when facing superior Psykic forces and aside from Black Templar (who suffer the same problem) and Grey Knights, shouldn’t the Sisters of Battle be some of the best opponent to face against these ruinous powers? They need some kind of mechanic which gives them an edge, like Psychic hoods, null fields, substitute warp charge dice or better weapons than the one time use Condemner Boltgun. 

Battle Sister squads: What is there to say? They don’t even have a particular name like “Tactical”, “Assault” or “Scout”… instead they are just, a “Squad”. This is currently the only option Sororitas have for troops and are rather bland but perform well at what they do; provide cheap power armored units with multiple specialist weapons in small to large squads. They are actually quite good compared to many other troops in other codex and offer a number of tactical rolls. However there is that glaring issue of being the ONLY option, making objective based games one dimensional. Sisters NEED something else, namely a fast moving troop option such as Seraphim, bikers or a cheap “cultist” type unit. This would make their army feel filled out and finished, unlike the cobbled together half-dex they currently have. Until those changes, Sisters of Battle are stuck as a mono-build mech army that functions averagely or novelty blob lists which never quite turn out as one would hope. 

Ministorum Priests: They are great, generic and available in a wide range of codex now. Every Sisters army should run as many as they can which is great for the army and for GW’s sales of less popular priest figures. They shouldn’t really be changed if not for possible unique Sororitas type wargear options. 

Ecclesiarchal Warbands: Well they are basically the same as any Inquisitorial Henchmen Warbands with the exception of being only available for Crusaders, Death Cult Assassins and Arco Flagellates. That’s fine really and I can’t say I have any gripe about them besides why should they only allow 10 models when the Inquisitorial counterpart allows 12? It seems to stem from some issue with Space Marine based armies focusing on 10 man squads and Imperial Guard armies focusing on 12. No matter really since Priests make for an 11th member anyhow but it’s just an oddity. This unit is great regardless and doesn’t really need any change. 

The Canoness: Needs more options and flavor. Currently, she brings nothing really new to the table unlike say, a Grey Knight Grandmaster or Inquisitor who can literally reshape his army. The Canoness is essentially just a buffed up Sister of Battle who can take a couple pieces of Wargear that are semi-useful. Since the best wargear is limited to 1 per Canoness, she will always have a crippling weakness from lacking the other pieces. Again, it cannot be stated enough, having her gear up for close combat should not be the goal. Instead, give her survivability and a utility roll of support that makes her a game changer. As it stands, few take her unless they despise/disallow special characters. It’s true, she is relatively cheap for an HQ but otherwise doesn’t truly benefit the army and offers an easy Slay the Warlord for your enemy. In the 3rd edition codex she was really feared by all by doing what the Adepta Sororitas are all about, having amazing, unique relics and wargear! A lone Canoness, for around 140 points could have WS5 Jump-pack, power weapon and 2++ Eternal Warrior (until the first failed wound). As a T3 character it was inevitable she would die against a dedicated CC squad, but she could hold her own for a few turns and actually make a difference in a battle. She needs a mechanic like giving “orders” for a squad to use a free Faith ability or something other than ‘I wish I could do more than pathetically die in close combat’, otherwise she is staying on the shelf. 

Celestian Retinue: A great squad that is fluffy, powerful and unique… but doesn’t see much play because paying the cost of a Landraider for a 5 woman squad with Feel No Pain and Space Marine combat abilities doesn’t really matter when they are still Toughness and Initiative 3. Their unique Banner which gives friendlies within 12” an extra attack is amazing… but what good is an extra attack when it comes at such a steep cost from the squad and the rest of the army really isn’t optimized for close combat? This plays right into the mentality that Sisters should be sitting in the Alamo, letting the enemy come to them where they can die as glorious martyrs in their little 12” buff bubbles. Sounds cool but getting squished isn’t fun for very long.

Celestians: Probably the one unit with the most need for change. Like the Canoness and her retinue these models are always playing catch up with Space Marines. They cost many points as their Astartes brethren, yet have worse stats and need to use a faith ability just to be up to snuff with typical Marines… at which point, why not just ally in a Space Marine Captain and Assault squad? Even worse, they only achieve Marine like stats once per game, unlike the later who is always decent in Close Combat and get additionally fun Chapter Tactics. No, Celestians need something that sets them apart and gives them an important roll on the battlefield other than hoping they can go toe to toe with a Space Marine at some point. Giving them specialty weapons like Sternguard and Infiltrate is one idea, making them more into the Elite Stormtrooper-esque force that they should be. I really really want to run Celestians, but there is just 0 reason to do so. Also, why is there no unique Celestian Character? As the elite ranks of Sisters of Battle, isn’t there a single one that has risen above the rest and formed a legend of her own?

Sisters Repentia: Some of the most unique models and fluff exists with these giant chainsword wielding maidens… yet we rarely ever see them on the table top. Why is that? In my humble but experienced opinion it is because Games Workshop takes the completely wrong route with them. The rules for these women have always been to cast them as an elite force of close combat killing machines that cost a ton in points but are exceptionally fragile, but that is the exact opposite of what they are. Repentia are crazed berserker fighters spurred on by their fanatical furvor and blood lust to atone for their sins. If anything they are more akin to Ork Boyz and should be cheap, disposable units which hit hard and die easily. They should cost below 10 points, possibly count as troops with the proper HQ, and would make for a fantastic front line to any Sisters force. After all, these are the failed Sisters, those that couldn’t make it or that committed sins punishable by death. Surely they would be far more disposable than Sister squads, yet the point costs do not reflect that. 

Seraphim: A most beloved unit which is exceptional at performing in a game. They are actually worse than in previous editions, but cheaper and still do well. If anything they only suffer from NOT being Dominion. One glaring detail stands out that as specialist Jump Infantry, they have no means of improving their accuracy of delivery, meaning getting these T3 models into place can be difficult despite their 3+6++. It would be great to see some mechanism of reducing deep strike scatter such as a homing beacon on Rhinos/troops or some other way to make them more survivable like a Feel no Pain buff priest ala Blood Angels. The only other adjustment they could use are more options for their Seraphim Superior who, let’s face it, could be one really cool character given the possibility. I really love Seraphim and have around 20 of them but I look at units like Blood Angel and Raven Guard assault squads and ask myself why bother?

Dominion: These girls are GREAT! The one unit I really wouldn’t mind remaining completely unchanged. I would love to own more of these if a Sister of Battle with a Melta gun didn’t cost more than many Americans make in an hour of work. 

Retributors: A decent unit that suffers from the fact that they compete for a Heavy Slot with Exorcists. They are not bad, but there is nothing that really makes them especially good and their one time faith ability doesn’t really cut the mustard in comparison to the Exorcists amazing missile launcher which delivers every turn (luck providing) and actually gives the army a long ranged weapon which it otherwise lacks. A change like giving them free Skyfire & Intercept as an upgrade would not only be fair, since they would have to snapfire against ground targets, it would make them an auto include in any Sororitas army and help shore up a facet which the Sisters are sorely lacking. In previous editions they were wonderful, rending every turn after a successful leadership test… I own 12, but haven’t bothered playing a single one in years.

Exorcists: Another great unit which honestly doesn’t need any changes. They are powerful and give the Sororitas that unique feel that sets them apart from any other army in the game. My only thought is that a reasonably costed Skyfire upgrade would help bring Sisters up to snuff with modern armies that have decent anti-aircraft capabilities. 

Penitent Engine: I love these as they are a true testament to the unique flavor of the Imperium that was most prevalent in 40k’s 3rd edition. If not for the exorbitant price vs points ratio for a horrible (and I do mean HORRIBLE) model its self which requires a tons pins to hold together a fragile and heavy pewter kit, you would see more of these on the field. Don’t get me wrong, the kits look cool but aren’t poseable, are heavy and easily broken. They otherwise function well in the game but do suffer as all close combat units do in 6th/7th edition from just never getting the chance to get into close combat. Except for the model, this unit is fine, it’s just melee in 7th needs to be fixed. 

So what do you all think Sisters MOST need to bring them up to “full army” status?

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