Warhammer 40k Lore: Where to Start -- What Are the Chaos Space Marines Known For?
We've already gone through the origins of all the original Space Marine Legions, the original 18 Primarchs, and we've looked at what each and every loyalist Space Marine Legion is best known for.
Because there's just as much differentiation between the traitor legions are there are among the loyalists. Each legion has their own specialties, battle tactics, and organization. Different weapons, different abilities, different gameplay.
What is each Chaos Space Marine Legion Known For?
III: Emperor's Children (Primarch, Fulgrim)
Fulgrim, as Primarch, is best known for being corrupted by the daemonblade of Laer and giving himself over the the Chaos God Slaanesh--the god of pleasure and excess.
The Emperor's Children were fighting an uphill battle when they were first reunited with Fulgrim when he was found in the Great Crusade. While other Space Marine chapters had as many as a 100,000 marines, the Emperor's Children had been diminished to only hundreds. They slowly rebuilt their chapter, struggling always, and worked closely with the Iron Hands--but at the Drop Site Massacre, they ambushed the Iron Hands with Fulgrim beheading his long time friend, Ferrus Manus.
In the Siege of Terra, while other traitor Space Marine legions were combating the loyalist forces, the Emperor's Children, already corrupted by Slaanesh, were terrorizing the citizens, seeking gratification through slavery, torture, the use of drugs and stimulants, and worse.
After the Heresy, they became one of the first traitor legions who began raiding worlds for plunder and slaves. Internal wars took place between the traitor legions in the Eye of Terror, and the Emperor's Children were splintered, but eventually reformed, harder than ever.
Currently, the Emperor's Children have nor purpose other than hedonistic self-indulgence. Their armor has been "blessed" by Slaanesh so that every wound or injury the armor suffers, the wearer feels an intense emotional thrill of masochistic pain. Deadened to every decadence, they must find way to amplify their experiences to the ultimate, which is why they switched to Noise Weapons--they're weapons that amplify the screams and terror of the battlefield.
These weapons have names like the Blastaster, the Doom Siren, and the Warp Scream. They are primarily a shooty army with their noise weapons, but they can still be powerful in close combat. They get daemon support. And they have an ability that is especially good in 9th edition where the non-active Emperor's Children player gets to activate a unit for close combat after the enemy has charged.
The only real downsides to the Emperor's Children, in game, are the they run low on CP fairly quickly because they don't get many to start with and they like to use their CP abilities early and often. They are also susceptible to Aeldari armies because of having the Mark of Slaanesh.
IV Iron Warriors (Primarch: Perturabo)
Known as the traitor legion's answer to the Imperial Fists in terms of siege warfare, they are very strong on defense, but also have the big guns to take out the enemy emplacements. But despite this connection to the Imperial Fists, they were not close--the opposite, in fact. They let this constant comparison consume them.
They led the siege warfare in the Siege of Terra, going face-to-face with the Imperial Fists. But, not fully consumed by Chaos, Perturabo grew annoyed with Horus's strategies, didn't like working alongside daemonic creatures, and when Horus gave the order to spread the Iron Warriors out and let the Death Guard take the lead in the siege, he ordered a retreat and withdrew.
Trying to entice Rogal Dorn and the Imperial Fists into a fight one-on-one, Iron Warriors versus Imperial Fists, Perturabo created an impenetrable fortress and challenged Rogal Dorn to take it, to which Dorn replied that he would dig Perturabo out and bring him back to Terra in an iron cage.
Of course, it was all a trap. There was no keep to this fortress, and as Perturabl separated and whittled down Rogal Dorn's forces they fought their way into the center and found themselves in an ambush. Ultimately, the Imperial Fists were rescued by the Ultramarines, but Perturabo had proved himself worthy and rose to be a daemon prince. He retreated to the Eye of Terror.
In gameplay, the Iron Warriors are all about long-range siege weapons, obliterating your opponent before he gets close to you, and then being tough as nails when you finally clash. There are a lot of good stratagems, and some especially good Warlord Traits, but they kind of restrict your warlord to take a backseat role and buff everyone around him than taking the battle to the enemy on the front lines.
From a tournament perspective, the current (Summer 2021) meta seems to be that the Iron Warriors aren't as competitive as most of their Heretic Astartes brethren. But always remember that the meta changes almost every month, and what's hot today will get nerfed tomorrow.
VIII Night Lords (Primarch: Konrad Curze)
The Night Lords were already pretty bad before they got around to joining the Horus Heresy. The Night Lords' Primarch, Konrad Curze, was something of a vindictive and homicidal vigilante, and his Space Marine legion became that. They were supposedly executing justice, but they were doing so with extreme genocidal tendencies.
And the whole thing with the Night Lords having bat wings on their helmets? Some of the sculpts may look a little silly and outdated, but the point was that the Night Lords were supposed to be mean and sadistic and dress the part. They wanted to look frightening to whoever they were about to murder. So, it's not hard to see why they turned traitor.
In gameplay, the Night Lords like to get in and attack the enemy from out of sight, either with Raptor Strike or From the Night. They also have good stratagems which are flavored to give you the impression that your enemy is afraid of you: they make your leader weaker, Fearsome Visage and Flay Them Alive both make your enemy run. In close combat the Night Lords shine. They also aren't allied with one particular Chaos God, so if you want to match them up with Khorne or Tzeentch or anything else, feel free.
On the downside, the Night Lords are lacking a codex, which means they really don't have any units that are specific to them, and although they make good use of Raptors, any Chaos Space Marine chapter can use Raptors. They also suffer a little from an embarrassment of riches: they have so many good stratagems that you're going to run out of Command Points pretty quickly.
XII World Eaters, (Primarch: Angron)
Speaking of homicidal maniacs, we come to the World Eaters. Spawned from Angron, a Primarch who grew as a gladiator with implants in his brain to enhance his anger and rage, the World Eaters are thoroughly and completely devoted to Khorne. They are loaded up with Khorne Berserkers and they glory in violence for violence's sake--well, to make sure there's enough blood for the Blood God and skulls for the Skull Throne.
Angron has graduated to be a daemon prince of Khorne, Kharn the Betrayer calls the shots now, as much as anyone does. The entire legion has been broken down into warbands that conquer and pillage as they like when they like.
In gameplay, the World Eaters want to be up close and personal. Their legion trait is that they get a +1 attack on a charge, which means they charge as often as they can. Combine that trait with Berserkers already present traits for close combat--lots of attacks and high strength--and the World Eaters are a nasty bunch.
The only main downsides of a World Eaters army is that you get no Psychic Phase--Khorne hates sorcery--and you're limited to only Khorne chaos units. But we think you'll get by without them.
XIV Death Guard, (Primarch: Mortarion)
The Death Guard, and Mortarion, come from a homeworld that is toxic, poisonous, and corrupting, so the Death Guard developed a natural resistance to toxins, but also loved to use them as weapons. But betrayed by Typhon (who would become Typhus, Herald of Nurgle) they were infected with the Destroyer Plague, in which flies lay their eggs in every orifice of the body which then erupt with contagion.
The Death Guard were now fully the servants of "Grandfather Nurgle." Nugle himself came before Mortarion and told him that they could either be his minions in pleasure or suffer forever. So the Death Guard (and Mortarion) live in a state of disgusting serenity as they ooze pus, grow unnatural horns and claws, and have gaping maws open out of their bellies.
In gameplay, there are a lot of things to recommend the Death Guard, and it's because they have their own Codex with a massive product launch a few years back. This gives them a lot more options to choose from, a lot more special characters, and that all translates into lots of abilities, stratagems, and special tactics.
The chief thing about Death Guard is resilience. More specifically, it's Disgustingly Resilient, which is like an extra armor save, showing how hard it is to kill something that is already half-dead and rotten. They also have Plague Weapons, which makes sense, But maybe the best thing about the Death Guard is how their Contagion Discipline and Foetid Virion units really dish out the Mortal Wounds, which are really useful when going up against costly units with a lot of armor.
On the other side, they shamble. They're slow. Their frontline skirmishers, the Poxwalkers, are essentially zombies. Also, don't expect to inflict long-range damage. Within 24", the Death Guard are spectacular. Outside of 24", they're just targets.
XV Thousand Sons, (Primarch: Magnus)
The Thousand Sons are the sorcerers of the Chaos Space Marines, but that was their downfall. Their Primarch, Magnus the Red, was a powerful psyker--but the Emperor had outlawed all psykers everywhere. So when Magnus used his psychic abilities to warn the Emperor of the coming Horus Heresy, the Emperor wasn't as welcoming of the visit as Magnus had expected. Magnus ended up giving himself over entirely to Tzeentch, the Lord of Change.
The Thousand Sons were cursed, and now the Rubric Marines are essentially animated undead suits of power armor. They had always been a shooty army, and remain so, but they are mindless and unrelenting. And they are frequently accompanied by daemons and sorcerers.
In gameplay, they got a good boost from Warhammer 9th Edition. The best thing about Thousand Sons is that they are the master army at claiming objectives. They're tough and resilient--it's hard to kill an undead suit of armor--and they do good medium-range damage. Scarab Occult Terminators are particularly good for this.
The downside of Thousand Sons is that they don't have a lot of high-strength weaponry. They have a hard time with vehicles and monsters. But with some good HQ units and some strategic use of Smite, you can do pretty well.
XVII Word Bearers (Primarch: Lorgar)
Lorgar is known as the first Primarch to turn to Chaos, because the most extreme tend to go to extremes. Lorgar had been preaching the worship of the Emperor as a god, but that all changed when the Emperor, upset with Lorgar, destroyed Lorgar's perfect city and made him kneel in the dust to bow before the Emperor and declare loyalty to The Great Crusade.
So when it came time for the Horus Heresy, Lorgar helped orchestrate the whole thing, egging Horus on. The Word Bearers now don't pledge allegiance to any one Chaos God, but they maintain their religious fervor--only now with Dark Apostles instead of Chaplains. They will use daemons as meatshields, but the Chaos Marines do the bulk of the real fighting.
In gameplay, the Word Bearers often get overlooked. They haven't had a codex, and they don't have any particularly special units except for the Dark Apostles. That said, they use their Dark Apostles well as a good combination with their psykers, and they can take their daemon units from almost anywhere. And they have a few good stratagems.
On the downside, they have a rather weak legion trait (re-rolling failed morale tests). And they're just kind of generic. They have a lot of troops and daemons, but not a lot of anything else. If you're in it to win it, it's hard to justify taking the Word Bearers over other Chaos legions, not unless you just want them for the lore.
XX Alpha Legion (Primarch: Alpharius-Omegon)
Known as one of the most secretive chapters, even before the heresy (because they were hiding the fact that they had two Primarchs, Alpharius and his twin, Omegon) they are deep into guerilla tactics and sneaking around.
This sneakiness, combined with their reliance on cults and cultists (they are always spreading heresy wherever they go--plus, they don't tend to stay in the Eye of Terror like other Chaos Space Marines) mean that they are always getting into trouble. They've been declared to have been completely wiped out at least three times, but they've always lived on.
In gameplay, they start off with a really great legion trait: Hidden in Plain Sight. If an enemy unit is more than 12" away from them they get a -1 to hit, which is pretty darn good. They have a host of good stratagems, and the warlord can take an extra Warlord Trait.
The downside is typical of armies that have a lot of good stratagems: you can burn through them too quickly and run out of Command Points. They also are weak in melee (with that legion trait, it's hard to see a reason to let your troops get up close anyway, though.)