The 20 Most Powerful Weapons in Warhammer 40k
Updated: Jul 2
When asking what the most powerful weapons are in Warhammer 40k, you have to ask if we're looking for the most powerful 40k weapons in the lore, or the most powerful 40k weapons in the game. They're two very different questions and have different answers, but there is a single common thread that runs through them both: Necrons.
Yes, when it comes to the most powerful, most destructive, most world-shattering weapons in Warhammer 40k, the Necrons always seem to be in the lead. And it's no wonder, because they are using weapons leftover from the War in Heaven, the battle between the Necrontyr (the soon-to-be Necrons) allied with the C'Tan, and the Old Ones. Very literally a war between gods, and the Necrons remain the only survivors and still have the technology they used.
That said, not all of the most powerful 40k weapons are Necrons. As we've mentioned before, the Warhammer 40k universe is the epitome of "overpowered", and there are a lot of weapons that do extraordinary amounts of destruction.
The 10 Most Powerful Weapons in the Warhammer 40k Game
Now, people can compare spreadsheets and tables to figure out which gun can do the most damage, which gun has done the most damage, and which gun can hypothetically do the most damage. To make this list we've read through those spreadsheets and found them all to be contradictory and inconclusive. So we're going to be talking about lore here, not game mechanics. But we've divided our lists into the most powerful weapons that you can see fielded on a game table versus the most powerful weapons that you can see in the books.
With that said, here are the most powerful, the most deadly, the most vicious and the most devastating weapons you can find on a Warhammer 40k gaming table.
10. Harlequin's Kiss
The Harlequin's Kiss is a weapon with its origins in First Edition, the signature weapon on the deadly assassin acrobats of the Aeldari. A close-combat weapon, the Harlequin's Kiss is jabbed or punched into the enemy, and it pierces their armor, releasing 100 meters of monofilament wire that whips and flails violently before retracting. The effect is that the armor remains, and everything that was inside that armor has been liquified into jelly. Immediately deadly, exquisitely vicious, and just the type of thing that a Harlequin would love.
9. Vortex Weapons
Vortex weapons are not seen in the game like they used to be, and that's probably because they were just insanely powerful. Whether fired as a missile or lobbed as a grenade, the vortex weapon creates a rift in time and space, a literal hole in reality, and absolutely anything it touches gets sucked into it and is never seen or heard from again (outside of the Warp). Aside from being the definition of deadly (it doesn't do a certain number of wounds; it just removes models from the board) it also is unpredictable and the vortex may wander the table for a few turns, even circling back to consume the person who threw the grenade
8. Shokk Weapons
When you think of bizarre Orky designs, the Shokk Gun will come straight to mind, with a barrel that isn't so much a barrel but a twisting, spinning contraption glowing light. Being an Ork weapon, no one really knows how it works--Ork technology has very little explanation--but when an Ork fires the Shokk Gun, he'll load up a Snotling (even Grots are too smart to be around when the Shokk Gun gets going) and the Shokk Gun will create a wormhole that passes from the tip of the gun, through a mind-bending Warp tunnel, and emerging right at the target.
The Snotling has just been through some REALLY MESSED UP CRAP and has gone insane with rage and violence, and will tear through anything it finds. If that happens to be a squad of troops, they'll get torn to ribbons. If it happens on the inside of a tank, the Shokk Gun couldn't care about armor--the Snotling just is inside the tank and you can say goodbye to the crew.
7. Gauss Weapons
Remember when we said that the powerful weapons always seem to come down to the Necrons? Nowhere is this more clear on the tabletop than with Gauss weapons. These guns are ancient--we're talking War in Heaven, tens-of-millions of years old ancient--and the technology is completely impossible for the Adeptus Mechanicus to understand. But it's powerful. How powerful? The standard gun that is carried by the lowliest Necron warrior, the Gauss Flayer, is strong enough to punch through a tank.
Then scale that up to the Gauss Blaster, the Gauss Cannon, the Heavy Gauss Cannon--all the way up to the Gauss Obliterator which is mounted on a Doomsday Monolith and, well, you get the idea that these things can destroy troops, vehicles, daemons, Space Marines, and anything else that comes at them.
If there's a running theme with some of these most powerful weapons on the Warhammer 40k tabletop, it's that they like to mess with the fabric of time and space--tearing holes in the Immaterium and transporting helpless souls into the Warp. The Distortion Cannon (or D-Cannon) uses the same technology that allows Aeldari ships to enter the Warp to create a hole in the Material World and suck the victims into the Immaterial World.
Whether it sucks the entire unit into the Warp, or just disfigures and distorts their reality (and bodies), the D-Cannon is a force to be reckoned with. (As with the Gauss Weapons mentioned above, the Adeptus Mechanicus have tried to reverse-engineer these D-Cannons and it has always ended in terrible failures and tragedy. Better leave it to the Aeldari.)
6. Rail Rifle
Once one of the most powerful weapons in the entire game, the Rail Rifle, a T'au weapon, has been nerfed a lot since then, but it still packs a major punch. Technically considered a sniper rifle by some, it's a sniper rifle that is mounted on a mech or a vehicle, can fire the entire length of the battlefield, do a stunning amount of damage, with little armor saves.
The Rail Rifles require a massive amount of energy to make them work properly, and there's a lot of radiation coming from them, meaning that while they used to be used often by individual T'au soldiers, they're much more common--if not exclusively--found on vehicles and battlesuits now.
5. Deathstrike Missile Launcher
When you just need to absolutely annihilate everyone and everything, there's the Imperium's Deathstrike Missile Launcher. It is, as far as I can tell, the only attempt that Games Workshop has made to create an actual thermonuclear weapon that is used on the tabletop, and MAN can it pack a wallop.
The epitome of the glass cannon, the Deathstrike Missile Launcher gets one shot per game, which it can fire from a very long way away (in the lore it's an intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile). But it's fragile, and a smart enemy will desperately try to kill it before it can launch its missile. With rules, that let the targeted unit get slammed and destroyed, and then domino effect into other nearby units it has a potential for doing almost an infinite amount of damage if your opponents' forces are too close together.
4. Volcano Lance
When we get into the realm of Knights, the damage can really start to increase. The Volcano Lance is an extremely high-damage, as befitting a Knight. When you get enough Knights working together with all of their Volcano Lances working in tandem, it's one of your best methods of taking down a Titan or a Squiggoth. It's said that when several Knight Castellans fire at the same time it's the same effect as if an Imperial Navy starship is bombarding the surface.
3. Thundercoil Harpoon
But if there's one weapon on the battlefield that make an Imperial Knights a force to be reckoned with, it's the Thundercoil Harpoon. I know we're not supposed to be talking about stats and math in this, but the Thundercoil Harpoon, though limited to a 12" range, has a strength of 16, AP -6, and does an automatic 10 wounds.
The way the harpoon works is that, if you get too close to a Dominus Knight (you do NOT want to get too close to a Dominus Knight) then it fires the harpoon at you--which WILL hit, penetrate armor, and plunge deep into the belly of your monster or vehicle, and then the knight pumps insane amounts of heat and electricity through the harpoon (which is, again, embedded in you) and it fries you from the inside out for 10 wounds.
2. Grav Flux Bombard
The Grav Flux Bombard isn't a weapon that is as well known, because it's attached to a Forge World unit--the Leviathan Pattern Siege Dreadnoughts. But the Grav Flux does about what you'd think something that puts gravity in flux would do--it manipulates gravity and spins and turns anything in its path into twisted bits of metal and flesh.
In effect, the Grav Flux Bombard can do INFINITY damage. For every 5 models in the targeted unit, you add D3 additional attacks (Strength 9, AP -5, Damage 2). This may not mean much if you're targeting a unit of five Space Marines, but when it comes to horde armies: a load of hormaguants and termaguants, or a WAAAGH! of Orks charging at you, you can DEVASTATE them.
1. Sunfury Plasma Annihilator
This is pushing the boundaries a little bit because we're talking about weapons that can actually be brought onto the gaming table, and while this one CAN, it almost never is. It's the Sunfire Plasma Annihilator, a weapon mounted on the Warlord Titan.
Just read these rules: Macro 2D6 Strength: 10 AP: -4 Damage: 2D6.
That's not so great, you say. That's nothing--but wait!
*After resolving all damage on the target unit, roll a D6 for every other unit within 6" of the target unit. On a 4+, they also suffer D3 hits as well.*
Someone smarter than me did the math and came up with the Sunfire Plasma Annihilator doing 288 damage (plus the possibility of infinity) every turn, so 1,728 damage (plus infinity) in a 6-turn game.
The 10 Most Powerful Weapons in the Warhammer 40k Lore
So, those are all the most powerful and deadly weapons that you can give to your units on the field of play. But there is so much more to Warhammer 40k than what exists on the tabletop. There's also the 150+ books in the Black Library that tell of wars far bigger than any 6-turn, 2000-point wargame.
So what are the most powerful weapons in the lore? Well, this is Warhammer 40k, and Warhammer 40k is overpowered--and proud of it--so unless you can essentially achilleate an entire world, you're not even going to break the top ten.
Here's where we stand with the most deadly Warhammer 40k weapons in the lore:
10: World Engine
Again, we're visiting the Necrons to see what fresh hell that can bring to bear against us, and we're met by the World Engine, which is sort of an ancient, incomprehensible Death Star. It appeared in the Vidar sector of the Imperium, and its Gauss Weapons (see above) made short work of annihilating every living being on the planets of Gaios Prime and Gaios Tertio.
Fifteen chapters of the Space Marines were called up to fight against it and they met near-impossible resistence. They simply couldn't penetrate the World Engine's incredible shields--not with Drop Pods or Boarding Torpedoes or even Teleportation. It wasn't until the World Engine was rammed by The Astral Knights' Battle Barge Tempestus that it was able to break the hull and its small contingent of Space Marines began the long process of fighting tens of thousands of Necrons Warriors. In the end, only 5 Astral Knights survived, but they had defeated the World Engine.
9. Black Cubes
These are mysterious, and I love a mystery in the lore. There are five of these cubes (well, five that are known) and they are millions of years old, leftover from a species that inhabited the galaxy that may or may not have been the Old Ones (but was probably not). They have some origin in Chaos, as they are partially activated or powered by blood sacrifice.
But the point is: A Black Cube has the power to completely destroy not only all the life on a planet, but to make that planet inhospitable to life ever again. These haven't been used very often, obviously, and it's unsure where they're found. But the important thing is that they destroy worlds and at least once in the lore (during the Great Crusade) Chaos-tainted rebels used it as a failsafe device in a suicide attack, killing themselves and all Imperium forces on the planet Nurth.
8. Planet Killer
If you think this is something that kills planets, then a gold star for you. This was Abaddon's ship, the partial construction of which he found in an ancient building yard. He completed the construction of the ship and, even though some whole fleets of Imperium ships can destroy planets, Abaddon's ship could do it all by himself. Over the course of the Planet Killer's life, during the Gothic War, he destroyed many worlds and moons, and blackmailed others by threat of annihilation.
It has supposedly been destroyed, taken out during the Assault on Arimaspia. Before dying, they destroyed two of five planets in the system, but four Lunar class cruisers intercepted the Planet Killer and destroyed it. (But there have been rumored sightings of it since.)
7. Tyranid Hive Ship
We're talking about things that can destroy worlds, and while yes, the Tyranid Hive Ship doesn't shoot down some organic laser beam to blow up a planet, it is one of the ultimate weapons.
First, forget the idea that this is a ship. It's a Tyranid. It's a really big, massive Tyranid that can carry other Tyranids within it, but it is a living creature that thinks and acts (all part of the Hive Mind). When a Tyranid Hive Ship arrives at a planet--or before--it begins to spawn creature after creature, almost the mother of these aliens that are to go down and devour the planet.
And devour they do. Tyranids collect biomass, and whether that biomass comes from people or frogs or trees, they don't care. They just want biomass. And they conquer, consume, and bring all of that back up to the Hive Ship, making it more powerful. Remember: Tyranids are always playing a cost/benefit analysis: if they're gaining more biomass than they're losing, they will always press the fight. If they're losing more biomass than they're gaining, they will retreat. So after most any battle--because Tyranids tend to win their battles--the Hive Ship will be all the stronger for it and better able to produce, proceed, and devour more worlds.
6. Macharian Manuever
This is my one cheat, but I love it, so I'm including it here. In the Macharian Crusade, a seven-year campaign led by Lord Commander Solar Macharius, he was fighting a long slog against the forces of Chaos. He found on the ground, he fought in space, he fought everywhere through several notable battles.
But there was one world, Adrantis Five, where Macharius was unable to defeat their superior technology. For two years it dragged on, and his general lost 90% of his men in the endless battles. Finally, in a last-ditch act of desperation, Macharius took control of a comet, redirected it, and sent it hurtling into Adrantis Five. And that, as they say, was that.
5. Cyclonic Torpedoes
Cyclonic torpedoes are used for one purpose only: they are fired when an Inquisitor (or in very rare cases, a Chapter Master) gives the order of Exterminatus. This is essentially bombarding a planet until no organic thing remains on its surface.
And don't think they're just for organic life: there are two-stage Cyclonic Torpedoes--the first stage gets them to the surface and the second stage buries them deep underground to, first, destabilize the planet, and second, to destroy Necron Tomb Worlds which exist under the surface.
It takes a lot for an Exterminatus order to be issued, but Inquisitors have full authority to declare one at any time.
4. Blackstone Fortresses
Blackstone Fortresses were made popular by the game as chaotic places to explore and find treasure and glory, but the Fortresses themselves have a much more nefarious purpose. These are ancient starships of unknown origin. Once colonized and used by the Imperium, they were later taken over by Chaos. They have the ability to breach the Immaterium and make a beam that crosses through the Warp which destroys everything it touches.
Although most often used as massive fortress ships that are very tough and easily defendable, if you get a few of them together (there are six known to have existed, though at least one has been destroyed) they can combine their Warp beams to wipe out a planet.
3. C'Tan Shards
The C'Tan are rumored to be the oldest intelligent beings in the galaxy, even perhaps predating the Old Ones. But they were beings of spirit and didn't have bodies. For this purpose they made a deal with the Necrontyr, liquid metal creatures, to give them bodies. Ultimately, the C'Tan defeated the Old Ones and all seemed to be going well for them--until the Necrontyr overtook them.
Now, Necrons exist (in a cursed state) controlling through their technology the power of the C'Tan. It's literal weapons made of gods. Though lesser C'Tan shards can be wielded on the tabletop, more powerful shards can not only destroy planets, they can destroy entire star systems.
2. Aeonic Orbs
You might as well get used to it: it's Necrons from here on out.
Created during the War in Heaven, the Necrons contained a star within their necrodermis--the only material strong enough to withstand the raging power. The C'Tan, as gods, were required to devour a star to power the device.
The Aeonic Orb has essentially harnessed the powers of a star, and it can fire the most powerful solar flares as weapons, which will take down even the strongest shields and wipe out anything in their path.
It has a second type of attack, less powerful, but can be targeted toward a wider swatch of space, destroying more targets at the same time.
1. Celestial Orrery
Finally is the Celestial Orrery, which is one of the most powerful things in the entire galaxy. And, of course, it's run by the Necrons.
It's not exactly a weapon--though it can be used as a weapon with extraordinary effects. It is actually a large 3D model (model might not be the best word--image, or projection, or replica) of the entire Milky Way galaxy.
And ANYTHING that happens to the Celestial Orrery happens in the real world. If a star is snuffed out in the Orrery, it is snuffed out of existence reality. The Necrons, thankfully, are smart enough to know that the more they play with the galaxy, the more unforeseen dangers could occur--ripples in a pond. Chain reactions. So while they could destroy Terra completely with a single squish of the fingers, they don't.
At least for now.
So those are the 20 most powerful weapons that we know of in the Warhammer 40k universe. What do you think? Do you agree with our rankings? Did we leave anything out?