• Robison Wells

Awesome Imperial Guard Unit Types From 40k 1st Edition

There's no doubt that Warhammer 40k has refined itself over the decades, striving more for sci-fi realism than much of its cartoonish past. Just as we're now seeing the more brutal and terrifying Beast Snagga orks replacing the sillier Orks of the past (you won't find any Flash Gitz in the Beast Snaggas) the Imperial Guard used to be a much more wild and crazy place than you'd think now.

I recently pulled out my old 1st Edition Warhammer 40k Compendium--the book that first brought me into the game back in the 8th grade--and flipped through its contents to find many of the 'Eavy Metal pictures and bizarre chapters that grabbed me to tightly as a kid. The Compendium was a collection of articles from White Dwarf, and contains many of the original rules and army lists for the game. And one that I loved especially was the Imperial Guard.

Today, the Imperial Guard is too often flavorless, which is too bad because there is just so much of the Imperial Guard that is ripe for flavor. When we have the Tallarns and the Valhallans and the Praetorians and the *Death Korps of Krieg* the one regiment that Games Workshop chooses to always push is the bland, vanilla Cadians. Even the Catachans and Steel Legion (the other two kits that are occasionally available in plastic) aren't as interesting as some of the units available back in the early, wilder days of the Imperial Guard.

Troop Types in 1st Edition Imperial Guard

Adeptus Mechanicus and Servitors

The Adeptus Mechanicus units are individuals who are necessary on the tabletop to be able to control and maintain your vehicles and warmachines, and they are accompanied by Servitors. Now the rules are a little unclear in the Compendium, so if you have an answer feel free to leave it in the comments below, but it appears that you need an Adeptus Mechanicus on the board for every Land Speeder, Land Raider, or Imperial Robots in the army. They're also required for Penal Legions and Human Bombs, two of my favorite Imperial Guard units that never made it past 1st edition.

Servitors' role is not entirely clear, but each Adeptus Mechanicus can have up to three Servitors working for him. The Servitors are assigned to a vehicle and a single Servitor can replace two crew.

D6 Adeptus Mechanicus models can be fielded, so if you roll a three then you can have three of them and nine Servitors. You don't have to take all of them, but you can. For every single Adeptus Mechanicus and Servitor, there must be a vehicle. It doesn't matter whether the actual model of the Servitor can fit inside the vehicle; it is counted as being in the vehicle. Additionally, Ad Mech must be present for each unit of Beastmen (yes, the Imperial Guard had Beastmen!) as well as Penal Battallions, Human Bombs, or Bombots. Also, an Ad Mech can be the spotter for off-table artillery.

Ad Mech and Servitors can repair broken vehicles and equipment on the field, which is what makes them so useful.


Commissars also are there by the luck of the dice: you get D6-22 Commissars. Each Commissar accompanies an officer, working down the ranks: so your first Commissar will be attached to your commander, then down to your captain, then lieutenant, and so on. If the unit the Commissar is attached to retreats, the Commissar shoots the current leadership and takes command, and the from then on he leads the unit.

Sanctioned Psykers

While most psykers are killed or shipped back to Terra to be sacrificed to the Golden Throne, Sanctioned Psykers were often part of the command structure of the Imperial Guard. They're often dressed strangely, sometimes mutated, and otherwise look out of place on the battlefield.

Assault Platoons

It may seem weird to think of Imperial Guard having assault companies because they're so weak and frail, but they did and... they were still weak and frail. Their sergeant carried a chainsword and the troops each had two las pistols, but their stats were still standard Imperial Guard stats and though the fluff talks about them scalping, taking trophies off the dead, and getting ritual scars, I wonder how they ever lived long enough.

Rough Riders

Now we're talking my language. I had a troop of Rough Riders, who are essentially cavalry with exploding lances. The fun of the Rough Riders is that you could kitbash them however you wanted: if you had a jungle world, then put your Rough Riders on the back of a lizard, and if they're Tallarn, then try a camel (or the alien equivalent). They're known for being able to break the lines of their enemies, with those lances penetrating even power armor.


Yes, Beastmmen were part of the Imperial Guard range for a brief time. This was in the era of "40k is Space Fantasy" so they were crammed in as part of the Abhuman bunch, including Ogryns, Ratlings, and Squats (read the full run down on the Squat Army List here). According to the shoehorned-in lore, Beastmen are Abhumans who have evolved into extreme aggression. They are deeply ashamed of the fact that they're mutants and they fight fiercely to be able to atone for the sin of their birth. Some of the Beastment inevitably turn to Khorne despite their adoration of the Emperor.


Now look at the pictures here. These Ogryns are significantly different from the Ogryns available now. These have much more of a fantasy feel than a 40k feel. They are, supposedly, descendent of prisoners marooned on prison planets. They are big and strong and brutal, but dumb. Only their squad leaders have had brain enhancement surgery to make them slightly less erratic (though they're still plenty erratic).


Ratlings, of course, are halflings. There's no much to say about Ratlings except that they're snipers and like to operate on their own outside of the typical Imperial Guard force organization.

Penal Battalions

These are a unit that I'm sad to see go. They are soldiers guilty of capital crimes who are forced to fight (or are begging to fight) for redemption. They have a bomb around their neck, but they are different from the Human Bombs (which we'll talk about in a moment). This bomb is just to keep them in line--if they act out or try to run, they'll get detonated by the Adeptus Mechanicus who is controlling them on the battlefield.

But lest you think that they're a shunned force that is only used as cannon fodder, the Penal Battalions actually make up a good unit on the battlefield and can be used strategically--nto just as human shields.

Human Bombs

I remember well that this was one of the first units in this entire book that drew me in: These are men who committed capital crimes and who are looking for absolution from the Emperor by taking upon themselves an explosive vest. The goal is to run toward the enemy, get stuck in, and blow up.

But there is redemption for some Human Bombs! Not all of the explosive vests acctually detonate, and if they survive the battle they are forgiven for their crimes (by the will of the Emperor) and go back to life of a normal trooper.

Tactical Squads and Support Squads

Of course, there are the ubiquitous tactical squads, and an army can take between 4 and 12 of them (that'd be a big army).

The Support Squad is the heavy weapons team which is actually very seriously tricked out. A squad of ten takes a sergeant, four guardsmen with lasguns, four guardsmen with lascannons (pretty hefty) and a guardsman with a missile launcher. They're expensive, but they pack a serious punch.