Warhammer 40k Lore: Where to Start -- What Are the Space Marines Known For?
The nine loyal Space Marine Legions are each differentiated by special characteristics, weapons, leaders, and rules that make each one have not only a different flavor on the gaming table, but a different play style entirely.
Fortunately, there exists quite a bit of lore about each one of the original nine legions, and we have a lot of sources to draw from when looking for information. Without further ado:
I Dark Angels
The Dark Angels carry a dark secret that only the wisest and oldest veterans know the full extent of. During the Horus Heresy, Lion El'Jonson, the Primarch of the Dark Angels, fought for the Emperor during the Siege of Terra. It was (in part) due to the Horus's knowledge of the coming Dark Angels fleet that he allowed himself to confront the Emperor one-on-one (and ultimately be defeated).
Unfortunately, when Lion El'Jonson and his fleet returned to their homeworld of Caliban, they were fired upon by traitorous Dark Angels led by Luther. Luther killed (possibly???) Lion El'Jonson, and he and the traitorous Dark Angels, now dubbed the Fallen Angels, were scattered throughout the galaxy.
The Dark Angels in their ships high above the planet bombarded Caliban until there was nothing left of it. Only the Dark Angels know what happened--no one outside of their Legion knows the truth. And now, 10,000 years later, it is a secret shame that only the most elite know.
In combat they are known primarily for the Deathwing and Ravenwing. The Deathwing which is the First Company of the Dark Angels and which fight entirely in Terminator Armor. The Ravenwing is the Second Company of the Dark Angels, and they prioritize speed, taking bikes and land speeders into their battles as opposed to heavy firepower.
V White Scars
The White Scars fought loyally for the Emperor in the Horus Heresy and survived mostly intact. But, being a very tribal-based society, after the Heresy they broke the White Scars into Chapters.
In combat, they are known for lightning raids, getting in fast and hard, and getting out before a defense can be made. They make use of bikes, land speeders and flyers. Even the ships in their fleet exchange firepower and shields for speed. Many of their leaders have the surname/title Khan, reflecting the tactics of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde.
They are often portrayed as ruthless barbarians, but they are actually quite sophisticated and literate.
The White Scars have an interesting opinion on Dreadnoughts: because of the fact that they are such a vibrant and vital society who loves the pleasures of life, the idea of living forever in a stasis tomb does not necessarily appeal to them. It's not frowned upon, but neither is it particularly revered (or aspired to). They do have dreadnoughts, they just are rarely seen.
VI Space Wolves
One of the most iconic Legions of the Space Marines, the Space Wolves have a very Nordic, Viking feel to them in both combat doctrine and aesthetics. And, as the name suggests, they take a lot of iconography (and clothing) from wolves.
Despite the fact that they are notorious for going against the will of the Codex Astartes, they are actually fiercely loyal to the Emperor and in fact served as his executioners. They will do the Emperor's will unswervingly, even attacking and killing other Astartes with no compunction, if the Emperor wills it.
Due to several reasons, there is animosity between the Dark Angels and the Space Wolves, much of it hearkening all the way back to the Horus Heresy.
In organization, the Space Wolves operate in packs that resemble Space Marine squads, but one difference is that packs never receive reinforcements, so the more elite packs tend to be smaller and more veteran: From the 10-15 Blood Claws (basic infantry) to 9-10 Grey Hunters (more elite) to the 5-man Long Fangs (heavy weapons teams) down to the Lone Wolf.
One mutation of the Space Wolves geneseed is the Curse of the Wulfen, where the Space Wolf will essentially become a Space Werewolf. Though Wulfen may fight alongside their brethren, there is worry that the curse may be contagious.
VII Imperial Fists
First and foremost, the Imperial Fists are known for their strong defensive capabilities, as well as their relentless seige attacks. During the Horus Heresy, it was the Imperial Fists who mounted the main defense of Terra, and after the Heresy they have been dubbed "The Defenders of Terra". They first began their defensive campaign at the Battle of Pluto, where it looked like they would hold the Alpha Legion from advancing deeper into the Solar System. But when that failed, they retreated to Terra and put up a strong fight on the ground alongside the Blood Angels and the White Scars.
In combat, they excel at urban warfare, siege, and defense. (Though they are outstanding at defense, they prefer the aggressiveness of the siege.) They are also known for their outstanding marksmanship.
Being a siege army, their force organization has more weapons that lean that direction, namely the Thunderfire Cannons, the Vindicators, and the Centurions.
In disposition, they are known for being incredibly well-disciplined and stern. It is said that they are deeply passionate, but this is not shown to outsiders. One of their rituals, designed to show their tolerance for pain, is the wearing of the Pain Glove (which actually covers the whole body and activates all pain receptors). While in the Pain Glove, they are to meditate on their Primmarch, Rogan Dorn.
IX Blood Angels
The Blood Angels are perhaps best known for the death of their Primarch, Sanguinious, who was murdered by Horus moments before the Emperor arrived for their final showdown in the Heresy. During the Seige of Terra, the Blood Angels defended Terra on land, fighting alongside the White Scars and Imperial Fists.
The Blood Angels, as their name suggests, are extremely bloodthirsty and can go into a blood rage in combat. This is known by several names, including the Black Rage and the Flaw of Sanguinious. It is a psychic impact on the minds of the Blood Angels left by the death of their Primarch and it causes them to go crazed with bloodlust before or during a battle. During this frenzy they literally believe they are Sannguinious himself. Once someone succumbs to the Black Rage, there is no coming back, and they are locked away in the Tower of the Lost until they die.
However, some of those who are suffering from the Black Rage will be formed into Death Companies, exchanging their red armor for black, marked with crosses that signify the wounds of Sanguinious.
But aside from the Black Rage, all Blood Angels suffer from the Red Thirst, a need to drink human blood. Although the need is believed to be psychological, it causes physical effects, including keeping them young and vital.
Aside from the Death Company, units that are unique to the Blood Angels are the Honor Guard, which is the group who are dedicated to guarding their leader. The Honor Guard may include techmarines and Sanguinary Priests. The Sanguinary Guard are one of the most iconic units in the army, the elite of the elite, who wear golden armor and deathmasks of Sanguinious.
The Blood Angels are, perhaps above all other Space Marine Legions, iconic in their armor and color scheme. While the regular troops wear red armor and red helmmet, the assault marines have yellow helms, the devastators wear blue, and the veterans wear gold.
X Iron Hands
As their name suggests, the Iron Hands rely strongly on their bionics and close ties with the Adeptus Mechanicus. Replacing a limb with bionics is referred to as the Blessing of Iron.
Nearly destroyed in the Horus Heresy, the Iron Hands blame both the traitors for their betrayal and the loyalists for their military failures. In a post-Heresy council called The Tempering, the Iron Hands determined that all were responsible for the war--all of humanity--and that they all must be purged of its flaws.
The bionics that the Iron Hands use are many, but among the most notable is the Forgechain, in which each marine, after a test of loyalty to a clan, gets one of their vertebrae replaced by a mechanical one. Because OF their mechanical affinity, they have a strong reverence and honor for those encased in Dreadnoughts.
In combat, due to heavy veteran losses at the Battle of Isstvan V, the Iron Hands have few suits of Terminator Armor. Terminator Armor is usually reserved for a single sergeant in a unit, rather than full squads.
Perhaps the most iconic of all the Space Marines, the bright blue armor of the Ultramarines has long been a staple representing the Standard Space Marine.
The primary reason for the prominence of the Ultramarines as the poster boys for the Space Marines is because, after the Horus Heresy, Primarch Robute Guilliman created the Codex Astartes, the doctrine that lays out all force organization and battlefield tactics of the Space Marines. Some chapters (like the Ultramarines) view it as a holy document. Other chapters (like the Space Wolves) look on it with little more than derision.
Guilliman also took on the title of Lord Commander of the Imperium, leading the Council of Terra and filling the Emperor's military roles.
While also called the "Vanilla Marines" this is because they follow most closely to the traditional roles of Space Marines in all organization, weapon systems, battle doctrines, and play styles.
Of all the Space Marine legions, the Ultramarines are believed to have the most successor chapters.
Although the survived the Horus Heresy, they took a serious beating and while their Primarch, Vulkan, is officially listed as 'missing', he has not been seen in 10,000 years.
Because there were so few of them left after the Heresy, the Salamanders had no successor chapters at any of the Foundings, until the Ultima Founding at the coming of the Primaris Marines.
The Salamanders' geneseed is different from the other Legions, in that the Salamanders have a slower reaction time (though this may be because they were raised on a high-gravity world). Also, a mixture of thier unique geneseed with the high radiation on their homeworld, they have pure black skin and glowing red eyes. (Also, in relation to their appearance, they receive brands before battles, but only the veterans receive brands on their faces.)
In combat, the Salamanders use something called Fire-Sight, which is a genetic trait that gives them the ability to see certain variabilities in light. This helps them to see one another even in darkness or smoke (even better than with the identification systems of the power armor displays).
Trained as blacksmiths, the Salamanders have a proclivity toward more-advanced special weapons, including Master-Crafted weapons and Artificer Armor.
The Salamanders do not like speed weapons, including bikes and land speeders. They prefer the slower and more powerful weapons of Terminator Armor and Devastator Squads.
XIX Raven Guard
Nearly destroyed in the Horus Heresy, the Raven Guard narrowly escaped death on Istvaan V but their already small legion of 80,000 was reduced to 3,000 strong. There was a brief incident during the Heresy where the Salamanders, creating new Space Marines from geneseed, were contaminated by demon blood and mutated into half-monsters. Only the Space Wolves were ever aware of this, and they never reported it.
In combat, the Raven Guard are known as guerilla warriors who strike at weak points quickly and then disappear. They make extensive use of scouts and assualt squads. The individual chapters are very independent and rarely work together.
More than any other Space Marine Legion in the 41st millennium, the Raven Guard use the beaked helmets and older versions of the power armor. The power armor is also enhanced to make it easier to blend in with the environment and not be seen by thermal cameras.
What is your favorite Space Marine Legion to play? Which do you hate the most?