Of all the armies in Games Workshop, few are more iconic and spend more time in the spotlight than the Adeptus Astartes. In many regards they are what defines the game to the casual viewer as much as its core polar opposites. From the exaggerated pauldrons and big gun to the grim pseudo-Shakespearean aspects which give the setting more substance than any would believe, they're often the poster by for the entire game. Even the setting itself has been argued to primarily be a conflict between different sects of Space Marines, the war between the Imperial loyalists and Traitor Legions, with the xenos wars being more of a sideshow.
The company's focus upon one faction has brought as much criticism as it has praise over the years, and rightfully so as there are some definite negatives to this. However, today we're here to focus upon a few chapters within this army who deserve a little more attention from writers. After all, even within the masses of poster boys, there are armies who get overshadowed and deserve a little more attention than their peers.
To judge this there were only three requirements limiting these options:
- No Chaos aligned chapters. That is another list for another time.
- No First Founding legions, as all have seen substantial attention over the past few years. Well, save for the Iron Hands who seem to have been killed off and impostors put in their place.
- Each needed to have a true history to the army. Something of substance to give them more than just a colour scheme, generic gimmick and name.
- No chapter on this list could be prominent enough to have tabletop rules. Sorry, Crimson Fists fans.
That done, onto our list.
10 - Doom Eagles
Despite having shown up in both the Soul Drinkers and the Blood Angels sagas, the Doom Eagles have never received that much attention. They're one which has been given just about enough attention for people to know about them, but never enough for people to know much more than their name. A damn shame as the chapter has a very distinct and unusual nature about it.
Retaining a bizarrely fatalistic streak, each battle brother of this chapter believes that they are ultimately already dead. Their very driving ideology focuses upon the awareness of their own mortality, failings and recruiting those who have effectively given up all hope. It should also be noted that those being recruited are from a dying world. What's more is that several depictions have shown their librarians behaving in an almost detective-like manner, with one by the name of Varnica in particular, seeking out catastrophes.
Despite their grim and dour nature, there are some interestingly contradictory ways of war which the chapter engages in. Despite having apparently given up all hope, they are astoundingly good Assault Marines and favour close range melee. How good? They culled countless times their number of plague zombies without a single casualty. Not bad given how often Warhammer 40,000 depicts hot blooded rage giving others an edge in melee. In addition to this though, despite their emphasis upon death, the chapter retains a large number of active dreadnoughts among its numbers. Perhaps as much to remind their kind to "detach themselves from glory, or honour or jealousy from life itself" as much as offer their wisdom in eternal war.
The reason for their low placement on this list is ultimately due to the number of short stories they have featured in. While lacking a full novel, the chapter has shown up in several prominent series and even an exclusive audio drama. Despite this however, they always seem to only ever be on the edge of the fandom's consciousness.
9 - Charnel Guard
As a whole, the Charnel Guard are one of those chapters who keep cropping up yet we know little to nothing about them. What little we do know however, is extremely interesting and with a great deal of storytelling potential. Suspected to be an early Founding chapter of the Blood Angels, the Charnel Guard carry a vast amount of archaic and relic weapons into battle. Along with at least one Fellblade, they retain a large number of Storm Eagle variants despite their rarity, yet remain exclusively fleet based despite this.
The chapter has been utilised as a weapon of massed destruction, to be loosed upon others when complete and utter ruthless annihilation is required. Along with the likes of the Red Talons and Carcharodons, they fought in the War of the False Primarch in systematically destroying eleven other chapters deemed Traitoris Perdita. Others such as the Great Malagantine Purge and The Death of the Witching Moon were equally bloody, costly and massive wars. Almost every battle they have fought has been a major front requiring the presence of multiple chapters, sometimes entire Segmentum battle-fleets.
Most interestingly, the chapter was a part of the Maelstrom Warders along with the Astral Claws, Lamenters and others. It was called away during a time of major conflict, and it has been thought that their withdraw at the behest of Terra may have sparked Huron's path to treachery. However, when the Badab War broke out they were nowhere to be seen and never made any contact with the forces on either side. This may in part be due to their extremely reclusive nature, as the chapter is curiously noted to seal themselves away in stasis between campaigns. Their exact reasons for doing so are as of yet unknown.
Like the Minotaurs and Red Scorpions, they just seem to be a chapter the writers behind the Imperial Armour series have taken a liking to. Perhaps, thanks to this, we might see something of real substance about them sometime in years to come.
8 - Brazen Claws
For a long time the Brazen Claws were little more than a name and colour scheme, and it's only been in the last few years that something of real substance has emerged around them. One of the several Second Founding chapters carrying Ferrus' Manus' gene-seed, they were certainly an unusual choice.
Lacking heraldry reminiscent of their parent chapter, and choosing to follow the Codex Astartes' formations, they nevertheless retained their primarch's unyielding nature. Often described as unassailable and relentless in their ways of war, even among the astartes they were noted for their limitless vigor and determination to continue their fight no matter how high the cost. So close to the Eye of Terror, this bought them a great deal of fame and turned back the tide of Chaos again and again. However, this changed towards the end of M41 with the complete decimation of their homeworld thanks to a horde of daemons. In an act of hopelessness or sheer rage, the entire chapter stormed headlong into the Eye of Terror, determined to wreck havoc against their old enemies.
What makes this story different is thanks to the fact that the Brazen Claws neither died out nor wholly turned to Chaos. In fact, in comparison to the disastrous Abyssal Crusade, they pulled off some astounding successes. It's been noted that the chapter was able to completely destroy several Chaos strongholds within the Eye itself. Furthermore, despite Chaos corruption and attrition depleting their numbers, they departed the Eye at just under half strength, attacking the rearguard of the Thirteenth Black Crusade.
While normally a chapter's nature being hinged upon or based largely around a single event would be a narrative weakness, this one is an exception. Why? Because in many respects it handles a much darker and more interesting version of Rynn's World. The Brazen Claws lost their planet, they initiated a war of retribution which cost them heavily, only to emerge again facing a vastly greater threat to the Imperium. Along with finding a new recruiting world to rebuild, perhaps even human survivors to help repopulate it, they also face their duty to humanity in holding back the Black Legion. Atop of all that however, they also face the serious potential for corruption within their ranks and severe depletion of vital resources. Top this off with the question of what might happen if other companies emerge after them, trying to rejoin them as loyalists or a new Chaos warband; or what will happen if those the waged war against come hunting for them now they're weakened. Quite frankly, this has enough story potential for an entirely new trilogy of books.
The Brazen Claws themselves have received a couple of short stories covering their retreat from the Eye of Terror and its impact, and even a brief mention in the codex which will not be named. Beyond that, they sadly have lacked much in the way of focus, but there is so much more here which could be worked with.
7 - White Consuls
Another chapter which served as a secondary role in a greater series, the White Consuls were the primary antagonist in the final book of the Word Bearers trilogy. One of the several Astartes Praeses chapters tasked with guarding the Eye of Terror, they were a hard bitten force who in represented exactly what Guilliman wished the Adeptus Astartes to be.
While also serving their holy duty of holding back the hordes of the Ruinous Powers, the White Consuls served a special role in guarding the Boros Gate. A massive wormhole capable of allowing the Imperium to rapidly reinforce the sector under an attack, the Gate was a linchpin in any initial defense effort in the entire sector. It was also, by contrast, a key way the for Chaos to directly strike at the Imperium's heart should it ever be taken. It's a testament to their abilities that, in ten thousand years, Chaos never managed to claim this vital location even once.
While many would expect such a chapter serving in the Praeses to be grim stone-faced sentinels against Chaos, they proved to be quite the opposite. The White Consuls' depiction showed them to be one of the most human and politically aware chapters in the Black Library. While still post-human, they were often polite to their charges, retained positive ties with the Ecclesiarchy, and had a unique break from the Codex structure. Rather than a single leader, it retained two Chapter Masters. One to oversee defense against Chaos incursions and deal with diplomacy, and the other to command operations in other warzones beyond their home system. Many of their veterans were also expected to serve as governors to their protectorates, and their system in promoting battle brothers was oddly reminiscent of the Roman Senate in a few ways. What's more is that their homeworld and its system was closer to being Ultramar than Cadia, and despite the close proximity to the Traitor Legions it was able to flourish as a small empire. Well, at least until the Word Bearers and Necrons turned it into a war zone.
Tactically the chapter holds to most of the Codex Astartes' decrees, but it has been noted to excel in massed drop pod assaults and urban fighting. While certainly not the most gimmicky chapter, the way in which they integrated themselves into Imperial society and their capabilities certainly warrants more stories involving them.
6 - Scythes of the Emperor
Another chapter sadly better known for its losses than victories, the Scythes of the Emperor were one of those caught in the initial assault by Hive Fleet Kraken. Drawn to their homeworld, the chapter fought a doomed war against a relentless tide of foes as they battled to hold their Fortress Monastery. Losing world after world, they were eventually reduced to all but a fraction of their original numbers and bereft of much of their original equipment. Fighting to return their chapter to its original glory, they now fight to reclaim their relics, rebuild their numbers and find new worlds to serve as recruiting grounds.
While on the surface this might sound a lot like the Brazen Claws, the difference here comes from their history. While the stories have been great, the Brazen Claws' potential largely surrounds the events at the end of M41. By comparison, we actually have a great deal of information surrounding the Scythes of the Emperor before the Hive Fleet invasion. Along with being a part of the Corinth Crusade which drove the Ork Empire of Charadon back from Imperial borders, they actively participated in the Damocles Gulf Crusade against the Tau Empire. As such we have several records of them participating in major crusades, massive wars, prior to their defeat at the
The stories which have followed in the wake of their loss have made use of their changed state and the way the chapter now operates. As opposed to the crusaders they were before, the Scythes are effectively scavengers. They now have entire units devoted to sneaking about, recovering lost weapons, relics and equipment in order for them to gradually rebuild. This has had a notable effect on the chapter, with a gradual schism between the old guard and newer recruits forming. Rather than fighting as a single battle company, the Veterans find themselves separated with training the same neophytes who are gradually dissolving the traditions they hold dear. At the same time, rather than fighting in crusades, the chapter has found itself divided and separated into countless individual Salvation Teams, hunting for survivors and lost equipment.
The entire story here reflects how a chapter might need to change in order to survive a horrific event, and what they would need to give up should they lose almost everything. As such, the Scythes are definitely a chapter we need to so more of; both to solidify what made them such a legendary force in the first place and reflect upon how they are being shaped in the face of staunch pragmatism.
5 - Mortifactors
Chilling beyond all belief, the Mortifactors are one of the big chapters who wholeheartedly embrace grimdark to its fullest. How so? Skirting the very edges of turning into full blown Hammer Horror cheese, the introduction many readers had was two Ultramarines walking into a chapel built out of the skeletons of the chapter's dead. The warriors were then honoured, in the Mortifactors' own way, by being effectively measured for their coffins.
Heralding from the perpetually dusk world of Posul, the chapter's recruits are joyless savages encouraged to actively slay one another to earn their place. Watched by the Chaplains, they are gathered and then brought into their orbiting fortress monastery, the Basilica Mortis. Many of the world's feral rituals have reflected upon the chapter itself, from cannibalistic practices to shamanistic beliefs in their ancestors, and even an almost joyless way of war. Those who fall in the Emperor's service are revered even beyond those living, and the chapter as a whole views the rigid adherence to any dogma as being a weakness. It's suspected that this may have carried over so strongly thanks to the Chaplains being exclusively recruited from the shaman caste of the world, something which had surprising benefits.
While countless chapters have many traditions of their own, what makes the Mortifactors very unique is that there was more to this than simple cultural identity. The reason the chapter so focuses upon practices of consuming flesh, blood and revering elders, is because of the psychic effects it offers them. Drinking the blood of certain warriors has led to precognitive visions of future wars, equal to that of the Emperor's tarot, and even rituals have led to certain warriors calling upon the spirits of their elders to effectively perform recon for them. While highly suspicious, and occasionally suspected of corruption, nothing has come of any corrupting influences or mass defection to Chaos.
Now, this is a chapter who effectively opposes any ingrained doctrine and dogma in favour of individual followings or interpretations. One who embraced the grim nature of their homeworld entirely and follows a very ritualised way of life, more akin to the White Scars, Space Wolves or Black Templars. So, would it surprise you to know that this is an Ultramarines successor, of the Second Founding no less? Along with some extremely interesting lore and an identity in of itself, this is a rare example of a chapter totally divorcing itself of its progenitor.
All too often we see chapters either reflect their progenitor entirely, something especially problematic with the White Scars, or simply reflect one aspect of that and stick to it, like the Black Templars. Here we have a chapter who evolved, developed and changed over time. Death of Integrity was content to present the Novamarines as little more than an Ultramarines garrison, more closely connected with Ultramar than their own homeworld; yet here we have a chapter who changed with the times. To further their story would be a chance to truly show how a chapter can evolve over time, along with a much broader and more interesting depiction of faith than the traditional Ecclesiarchy presentation.
4 - Mentors (Mentor Legion)
Of all the chapters on this list, the Mentors are easily the oldest established, first appearing in Rogue Trader. Since that time they have sadly fallen by the wayside, yet despite this they have proven themselves to be quite an unusual army and very adaptable chapter. In effect, their main duty is not to just combat the Imperium's foes but strengthen its armies however they can. As a result, they have some very unique ties to both the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Imperial Guard.
The whole idea of the Mentors is that they are effectively a reverse of the Deathwatch. In many depictions, that chapter is seen sending recruits to their organisation and learning by example, learning the tactics and knowledge of other chapters. By comparison, the Mentors come to other armies in order to do the same. Attaching themselves as secondary squads rather than whole companies, they serve as a kind of "force multiplier" in working closely with other armies but serving to breach and take down critical targets. Nothing too unique about that except that the marines are there to learn and pass on information as much as fight. They pass from army to army, gathering information about certain forces while passing on new concepts from other regiments and tactical regimens to increase their combat effectiveness. At the same time, further information is compiled about their ways of war for their Librarium, as they build a comprehensive archive of the Imperium's ways of war.
Gathering information in battle is assisted greatly by a genetic quirk born of their gene-seed. One which allows their battle brothers to near-genius ability to observe, memorize and adapt to any situation. This has led to two additional developments within the chapter.
The first being the creation of the Elite Cadre, a group who undertake "important semi-military roles, from counter-terrorist operations to undertaking complex undercover special forces missions." In effect they are deployed in a manner akin to a Deathwatch Kill-Team, against threats which are beyond traditional commanders and the scope of an astartes chapter's doctrines. While relatively unknown, they are frequently called upon by the Inquisition to serve in battle and are thought to be some of the most proficient warriors within the Adeptus Astartes.
The second development ties into their link with the Adeptus Mechanicus. Large chunks of the chapter effectively serve as a test bed for new technology, to take it into multiple battlefields, estimate its value, worth, reliability and use to the Imperium. Yeah, they're a walking, talking sign that the Imperium still develops new tech and have been noted to wield plasma missiles among other things.
So, why don't more people know about them? In all honesty it often seemed that writers just didn't know what to do with them. They were brought up a few times, often left in the background and like the Rainbow Warriors served as a point of curiosity. Also, the one time a writer did try to expand upon their lore in a codex, he only gave them a single paragraph which retconned them into being staunch isolationists. Yeah, someone might need to re-retcon that last bit for this to work.
3 - Excoriators
Anyone who has been reading this blog for a few years certainly saw this one coming from the other side of the planet. Of all the chapters created in recent years, the Excoriators are easily one of the most fleshed out and most interesting, from their origins to their ideals. As such, it's baffling beyond all reason that they have only been featured in a single novel and a thousand word short story.
One of the Imperial Fists' immediate successors, the Excoriators were founded from the most hard bitten elements of their legion; specifically from companies left to handle the worst of the fighting while he departed to try and kill Horus. Before he left he gave them one simple command: "Do not lose." It's one they've been following ever since. To them the very act of survival counts as a victory and they make a point of ensuring as few battle brothers die in any conflict as possible, wearing down and stripping the enemy of strength before they truly engage them.
Now, from that brief description some of you might be wondering how this can be praised after citing the problems of successors showing no signs of evolving beyond their Founding. Well, this is primarily because their creator Rob Sanders used this event only as a starting point. The impact from the Imperial Palace was ingrained into them, becoming more extreme over several millennia. Rather than simply focusing upon surviving, they display their wounds openly. Many of their rituals involving flaying their bodies, and as a matter of pride and psychological warfare they repair armour and heal wounds in such a way which still leaves as much visible damage as possible. It makes them look as if they've been through hell and back yet are still fighting strong, with some members showing insane levels of endurance even for space marines. Really, there's a mention of one being run over by a Land Raider only to get back up again seconds later.
While the Excoriators might be based around a single concept, its broad nature shows just how far an idea can be taken when presented in the right way. Plus, with a great author behind them and a long history with plenty of storytelling opportunities, they're ripe for plenty of new stories. I'd add more but most of that just comes down to "Read Legion of the Damned and see just how awesome they are."
2 - Sons of Antaeus
The Sons of Antaeus are a chapter who really got the short end of the stick above all else. One of the several Cursed Founding creations, they were brought into being alongside the Black Dragons, Fire Hawks and Flame Falcons. With their own individual history, ideas and genetic mutation, they stood out as a very interesting idea yet seemed to be completely overlooked by other authors. Since their introduction, just about every other chapter has received substantial updates and new lore, save for these guys. How bad is it? Not only have new ones been introduced in that time and been given whole novels devoted to them (Blood Gorgons) but even after ten years we don't even have a chapter sigil for these guys.
All the lore surrounding the Sons stems from a single White Dwarf article which introduced most of the Cursed Founding. In a record known as the Chronicles of the Third Inter-Guild War, a captain of the Subjugators chapter reported multiple sightings of mysterious space marines in grey and black livery on his front. As they engaged xenos pirates, the new astartes launched a flanking attack which succeeded in destroying the enemy force, disappearing as rapidly as they had arrived. During this, witnesses reported that they proved to be incredibly hard to kill, shrugging off blows which would have killed an astartes several times over.
The big reason for their durability has been thought to range from massive skeletal mutations to a massive alteration of their basic genetic code. Even from one battle and an incredibly small amount of information, there's more than enough here to start building a substantial army from them. For starters, some detractors darkly note that their nature and traits seem oddly similar to those of the pre-Heresy Death Guard, wondering if they bear Mortarion's gene-seed. If this were true, and it were discovered by the Inquisition, it could produce some interesting narrative concepts. Others meanwhile connect their name with the Ultramarines, questioning if this is what happens should the usually pure genetic strands of Guilliman mutate. After all, we've seen what happens with almost every other primarch besides him. Atop of all this, you then have the point of exactly why they avoid contact with Imperial organisations. There's nothing here to suggest they are outcasts, nothing to suggest that they are renegades, barely even anything to suggest most forces know of them. So, were they created in secret, hide their identity out of shame, or is it something else?
In one way or another most of the Cursed Founding stories have been successes. The Minotaurs, Fire Hawks and Lamanters have all gained substantial attention and great lore thanks to Imperial Armour, and the Black Dragons fandom has grown thanks to Death of Antagonis. Even the Flame Falcons, for as little attention as they've received, still have a few die hard fans here and there. Perhaps it's time to give another one of the Imperium's flawed creations a moment in the spotlight and see what stories can be made with them.
1 - Steel Confessors
Chances are that if you have heard of this chapter it will either have been in passing or referenced by someone a few year back. Usually they're a footnote when talking about the Iron Hands or some of the more unusual successor chapters, which is truly a damn shame given the sheer amount of effort put into their creation. Thought up back in 2005, the chapter was made as a part of a massive Games Day event, probably the biggest one possible. How big? Games Workshop made a full space marine chapter, following the Codex structure, and put it into a war with unending waves of Hive Fleet Leviathan. A full one thousand astartes, with one hundred terminators, one hundred scouts, a hundred assault marines, and more firepower than you see in the average Apocalypse game. All of who were facing down several times their number of Hive Tyrants, Carnifexes and far worse things.
The battle itself was to decide the fate of the entire chapter, to see whether they would be annihilated, lose their homeworld, and a blow struck against the Imperium. This would have been enough in of itself, but Games Workshop went all out in promoting the Steel Confessors. They had a uniquely crafted Chapter Master, several replicas were made of their equipment from a bolter and terminator helm to an honest-to-Russ full size space marine replica. Oh, and a detailed background worthy of the Index Astartes.
The curious thing about their history is that the chapter was not only created in secret, but with no oversight by Terra. Following a costly war to retake a major research facility, the Mechanicum decide that they might need a few more chapters at their command. Using the gene-seed donated by the Iron Hands, the Steel Confessors were trained, recruited and gradually developed over time. A great deal of information is actually put into this whole event, from the battle which sparked their creation to the process behind it, and even their equipment to a degree. However, this isn't where things really get interesting. The Ordo Hereticus eventually put a spanner in the works when they discover the chapter's existence, and the unauthorised founding. While lashing back against the Mechanicum, the High Lords were unwilling to let a vital resource like a new chapter go to waste. As such, along with severing the connection between the two groups, the Confessors swear an oath to serve Terra above all else.
Taking the Forge World of Kraksis IV as their base of operations, the chapter served both the Imperium while at the same time retaining ties to the Mechanicus. While frequently under scrutiny from the Inquisition, this proved to be beneficial, rearming and equipping the chapter with far better armaments than many of their contemporaries. In addition to this, the world was heavily populated, providing them with no end of recruits and loyal to the point where the chapter felt little need to defend it. A strength which unfortunately proved to be their undoing when a Tyranid Hive Fleet attacked the system, leaving the chapter under-strength. Losing one world, they later relocated to Kalevala after being fleet based for a time, a vital planet with a massive industrial output and a major hub for Astropathic communications. The chapter managed to hold their ground against a later attack by another Leviathan splinter, albeit with heavy casualties.
While relatively newly founded, the Steel Confessors retain a number of traditions and legends of their own. Along with myths of their foudning Chapter Master being held in a hidden tomb, locked away in stasis until he is needed, they have a very different religious dogma from other forces. Perhaps thanks more to their origins and distant relations with the Iron Hands, they believe in a divine trinity of beings: "The Omnissiah, the spirit that provides provides succour and strength to all things, whilst rewarding the quest for knowledge and improvement. The Emperor, the physical embodiment of the Omnissiah, there to crush the weak and provide an embodiment of knowledge incarnate. His ascendance to the golden throne is seen as his final step to achieving omnipotence. The final part of this trinity is Ferrus Manus, the messenger of the Omnissiah and the bringer of light. He is seen as the closest to the Omnissiah that a mortal can get and is there to provide an inspiration to the Chapter."
There is far more than this of course. Details range from a strained relationship with their progenitor chapter despite their warriors being required to make pilgrimages to Medusa and serve under a clan company, to the entire chapter being taught as demi-Techmarines. Even their formation, while largely Codex adherent, retains Council aspects despite being united by a Chapter Master. The Master himself being voted into place by the Dreadnoughts, Librarians, Chaplains, Veteran Sergeants and the like. The point is though that, of all those on this list, the Steel Confessors have easily the most background supporting their ideas. The reason this has taken up so much space is to really emphasise just how much information there is on the chapter, unused and largely forgotten, but ripe for new stories. Every other one on here has only a fraction of the work and information on this one, yet the Confessors have been completely forgotten and nothing done with them.
In all honesty if there is any chapter which does deserve to be brought back in force, it's easily these guys. From the fascinating concepts behind them to their unique origins, and the storytelling potential behind internal conflicts with the Imperium, they present a wealth of great ideas. Now all we need is for Codex: Clan Raukaan to be ignored, so we can reverse the damage of that book retconning the Confessors from existence.
So, those are ten underrated chapters of the Adeptus Astartes who desperately deserve more attention. Whether it be a few more short stories, a full novel or even an individual codex to themselves, each would greatly assist in helping flesh out the universe. There were certainly a few others who do deserve another look or a story to themselves, the Flame Falcons for one, but these are the ones who stand out the most personally. Still, if you have your own recommendations or ideas, please feel free to list them below. It would be interesting to see just who you think deserves a second look at why.