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40K: Vanguard Marines Make No Sense

7 Minute Read
Apr 11 2019


Let’s talk about why the new fluff for Vanguard Marines has some problems.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for 40K players. We got a major new box set in Shadowspear, a new Vigilus Book and a new updated Chaos Codex, and those are just the major releases. In all the rush we’ve focused a lot of Chaos and what new stuff it brings to both the table and the background. In all this, however, I feel we’ve overlooked some pretty major changes for the Imperial side in the introduction of Primaris Vanguard Marines. After going back and reviewing their fluff, I’ve come to the conclusion that it just doesn’t totally make sense. Let’s dig into that.

What Is A Vanguard?

So the first thing to understand when talking about Primaris Vanguard Marines is what they are. Vanguard Marines are basically just regular Marines deployed on special infiltration and scouting missions. They fill roughly the role of old-style Scouts. All Primaris Marines undergo Vanguard training, though they are not always deployed as such. The Vanguard mini-Codex lists Reivers, Infiltrators, Suppressors, and Eliminators. Characters, such as Captains, Lieutenants, and Librarians can also serve as Vanguard. These units deploy a large number of special missions. Due to the flexibility of  Mk X Power Armor, the Primaris can modify their armor to fit the mission. It’s implied by this that Infiltrators are basically just Intercessors wearing mission specific specialist equipment.

The Good

So at the start I kind of like the idea of Vanguard. Space Marines are the ultra special forces of 40K. The idea that they can swap out their full loadout for a mission, fighting as Intercessors one day, or adopting Infiltrator gear the next is cool and makes sense. It also kind of answers the question of what do all Primaris Chapters do for their 10th Company and scouts since they don’t have the normal Space Marine Scouts. Having Primaris be extra flexible and able to act in a number of roles makes sense. This part is good.

The Bad

Things start to break down a bit once you take a closer look at Vanguard, however. First off the idea that Primaris Marines can swap out armor as needed and move between squads isn’t really supported anywhere else in the fluff. While the idea that Intercessors might don special armor to take on the role of Infiltrators makes sense (though I’m not sure what happens to the highly specialized Helix Adapts when they go back to being Intercessors), it’s not clear that they might also become Reivers, or Eliminators, or Aggressors at will. Classic Marines don’t normally fulfill multiple roles, generally you are, say, a Tactical Marine and only that until you are moved to a new role (the exception would be Veterans who might switch between power and terminator armor at times). As far as I know, there aren’t any examples of fluff in which a Primaris Marine acts as in different roles based on missions.  Overall while being able to form ad-hoc Vanguard detachments could be useful it only really makes sense if there aren’t any standing units of Vanguard. Otherwise taking them out of their Company would significantly reduce the Companies ability to fight.


The Ugly

So about those standing units of Vanguard. According to Codex: Vanguard Guilliman himself made some major changes to the Codex Astartes. The big one for our purposes was the requirement that ever Chapter Maintain a standing force of 100 Vanguard, lead by a Captain and two lieutenants as part of their 10th Company. This is huge and a major change that’s just kind of slipped in. Note that these 103 Marines are not said to replace the current 10th Company, but are simply an addition to it. But how does that work at all? Let’s assume for a moment that in an all Primaris Chapters this is the whole of the 10th Company (Which begs the question where do their new members go? Right into Intercessor squads?) this still shouldn’t work with existing chapters. Chapters like the Ultramarines or Blood Angels already have full 10th Companies, (in fact the Blood Angels 10th Company is overfull, due to an exemption it’s more than 500 strong). Are we to understand that the old 1000 Marines of a Chapter is now 1100? (In reality, I’ve covered that Chapters are far larger than 1000, but I guess we have to add another 100 to that).

What about the Vanguard Captain? He’s in the 10th Company and known as the Master of Reconnaissance, but 10th Companies already have a Captain, the Master of Recruits. Does the company now have two Captains? Who is in command? And where all these Marines even coming from to form 100 man Vanguard units? Prior to the Ultima Founding, there were roughly 1000 Chapters of Classic Marines. Just to fill the requirements from them means Guilliman had to come up with an extra 100,000 Primaris Vanguard (all described as hard-bitten veterans). If he’s adding that to the 1000-2000 Primaris Chapters that is as many as 300,000 extra Primaris Marines, a staggering number by any account. At the very least this suggests that the standing number of active Marines was increased by 10% by a single line in this mini-dex- which has crazy implications.

Too Many Marines

Lastly, I want to talk about the one major deployment of Vanguard Marines we have details about, the deployments in the Vigilus system. According to Vigilus Defiant Calgar had with him 3 Full Companies of Ultramarines and 2 Demi-companies (about 40% of the Chapters number). These were deployed with him at Saint’s Haven and did not leave the citadel much acting as final reserve. According to the Shadowspear book, which describes the actions of the Vanguard at Vigilus, Calgar, upon arriving in the system sent out “Scores of Vanguard strikes forces” to scout the system. We can assume that any Ultramarines that were part of these strikes forces were not counted in the 3 full and 2 Demi-companies Calgar had with him at Saint’s Haven since those forces remained in reserve.


And in fact, we find out that majority of the Vanguard Strike Forces were in fact Ultramarines. So just how many is that? Well, scores would at minimum mean 40 strike forces, and most likely at maximum mean 80 (since once you reach 100 it’s more common to say “over a hundred” or something like that). Since the majority were Ultramarine we know that means at minimum 21 were Ultramarine. We know of 4 non-Ultramarine Strike forces so I’d say that puts the maximum at 76. While we can’t be sure of the size of each strike force I’d hazard that none are less 5 men, a minimum size squad of Infiltrators. So that puts the low end at 105 Marines.

However, we do have some idea of the size of at least one Strike Force. Strike Force Shadowspear. While exact numbers aren’t stated we do have some hints. The force contained a Captain, an LT, a Librarian and multiple squads of Infiltrators, Eliminators, and Suppressors each. At the very least this would be 25. However, it seems to be far larger than that. At one point the LT and his Infiltrators are forced to make a last stand are wiped out.  After this, the remaining forces fight some Obliterators who “melted dozens of Vanguard Space Marines into bloody pools of gore.” After that, there are still enough remaining Vanguard, including it seems all the Suppressors and some Infiltrators for another, final fight. Given that the Strike Force was able to lose dozens of Marines, on top of earlier losses, and still have a sizable force left it argues that Shadowspear was in the 50s or more.

Strike Force Shadowspear was most likely the largest of the strike forces. However, if we say it was 50 strong and all the others were merely 5, that means at minimum 150 Ultramarine were deployed. More likely the strike forces were all in the 10-20 Marine range, which puts us closer to 250 and up to over 1000. Many if not most of these strike forces were lost. So overall it seems possibly 20% or more the Ultramarine chapter died just scouting the Vigilus system. and if you take the numbers seriously almost the entire Chapters, not just 40% was deployed. This, like the bulk of the Vanguard fluff, has some big numerical problems.

Let us know what you think about the Vanguard  fluff down in the comments! 

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