Fans of the Sisters of Battle have never had an easy time in Warhammer. Often regulated to a relatively non-competitive tier of the tabletop game, and lacking much in the way of real love when it comes to the lore, they have always been pushed off to one side. Oh, the Adeptus Sororitas have always been there and few will pretend their role in the setting is not a major one, but nine times out of ten fan reactions will be along the lines of "Oh, those guys. Yeah, they exist."
Whereas the Inquisiton are the Emperor's Hallowed KGB and feared hunters of humanity's worst threats, the Imperial Guard are His hammer duty-bound to reconquer whole sectors at a time, and the Astartes are, well, they're space marines, that says enough about them; the Sororitas seem to lack their place in the world. Defending the faith only goes so far really, and it has reached the point where they are viewed as little more than "flavour text" to the setting as a whole, on both the tabletop and the stories. A sentiment which was hardly helped when half their units were stolen by the Grey Knights, the army was repeatedly wheeled out to be murdered by various foes in the lore to beef up new characters. Plus atop of that, almost all their other heroes were killed off, and the army suffered two Editions of being at the bottom rung of competitive gameplay. Yeah, can't forget all that.
Even with the Seventh Edition's new core rules making life easier for them, the Sororitas still suffer from some substantial shortcomings in many areas. So, here's a short list detailing a few major changes this army desperately needs.
7 - Armour, Anti-Armour and Airborne Supremacy
Despite several updated codices, the last time this army saw any truly substantial updates was in the late Fourth Edition. This revamped their entire range, extended their variety of models and invented a number of new squads. All this was suitable for the era, but since that time we have seen a number of major changes. Super Heavy vehicles have been introduced, we now have mini-Titans on the tabletop, Strength D weapons are commonplace and aircraft are almost expected among many armies. These are all things the Sororitas themselves are definitely lacking any equivalent or counters to, and for this reason they tend to be treated as little more than auxiliaries for other armies. It's not the worst situation to be in admittedly, but no army should be extraordinarily reliant upon teaming up with another just to cover a few essential bases.
As it stands, such of the army is well built to either serve as a gun-line or mobile assault force but that's simply not enough. What the Sisters need, more than anything else, is a few new units to expand beyond their standard roles. Heavy infantry is one possible example, to serve as line-breakers or with some Deep Strike or Outflank capability if not special rules to disrupt enemy forces closing in against them. If not that then at the very least a tank on par with the Predator (preferably the Annihilator pattern) to help bring down the likes of Land Raiders or harass Knight type walkers, giving the group some much needed firepower. There is, after all, a distinct lack of lacannons in the army and most engagements with Imperial Guard armoured companies is only going to end one way. Each of these would offer much needed bullet magnets to draw fire away from squads while dishing it out in return, allowing for a far better chance of survival while facing down more versatile forces such as the Craftworld Eldar or Tau Empire.
Hell, even if all of that was not viable thanks to time and expenses, here's a quick one which would be - the Avenger Strike Fighter. Effectively the unholy child of an A-10 Thunderbolt envisioned as a Wunderwaffe by binge-drinking mechanics, it goes without saying that this thing is deadly. Outfitted with one half of a Vulcan Mega Bolter, twin linked lascannons and the Emperor's wrath itself, the model has developed quite a reputation as a Forge World unit. This thing eats through marines one combat squad at a time via its Strength 6 AP 3 Heavy 7 gun, and the more heavily armoured tanks are still exposed to its zap beams. A slight modification to plastic and a couple of minor rules changes to make it a little more viable against aircraft, and this thing alone would solve half this army's problems overnight.
6 - Power of the Pilgrims
Something which is curiously forgotten by the fandom is that the Sisters of Battle occupy a unique position within the Imperium: They are beloved and revered by all faithful servants of the Emperor. While any who truly follow the Emperor's light hold each office in relatively high regard (unless you're of a high rank in one of those offices, at which point they're at one another's throats) they are viewed with fear as much as anything else. The Inquisition is known for having the authority to drop planet cracking bombs on worlds it finds to be too corrupt, the Astartes are known as the Angels of Death with good reason. Even the Imperial Guard have their mixed qualities, and even the most devout among them are still regarded largely as common men trained to a heightened degree.
By comparison, the Sisters of Battle are viewed as an extension of the Emperor's very will. More than a few books depict the average civilian viewing them as they would a saint, all but openly bowing down in worship and even repenting in some cases. The Yarrick books even featured a few prominent moments of this, where a Cannoness was able to not only rope civilians into a makeshift army, but convince unrepentant criminal scum to die in the Emperor's name. Oh, not through bribery or even beating them into following her, just by sheer presence, a few choice words and sheer force of will. In effect, they're akin to Grimaldus on steroids when given enough experience or faith.
What makes the much more curious, however, is their treatment of civilians in return. There have been examples of Sororitas guiding pilgrims through hostile territories, stopping to genuinely help those they defend or even preach the words of Sebastian Thor. Besides the likes of the Salamanders or (prior to her psychotic fit) Iyanna Arienal, they're one of the few forces to genuinely treat those they help with a kind of sympathy and fight for them rather than just locations of importance. This extends further once you consider the non-militant arms of their organisation such as the Sisters Hospitaller or the Dialogous Orders. While each are well versed in combat and excellent fighter's by the standards of the Imperium, their focus is placed upon either treating the wounded or teaching/guiding the faithful. While Ship of the Damned gave some substantial details about the latter, and the issues of dealing with several hundred followers, the former are better known and detailed in many texts. In particular, they're rather famous for racing across battlefields without any sign of fear so that they can treat a wounded soldier, no matter his or her rank; while at the same time happily torturing heretics when needed.
All too often the army is presented in an unfortunately two dimensional light. All too many fans seem to regard them as being little better than the Inquisition's most extreme members, screaming out "PURGE THE UNCLEAN!" and killing anyone who happens to be within arm's reach. Given how few texts have shown this army in any other light, and the fact that the Ciaphas Cain books hinged upon this singularly zealous angle whenever they were introduced (not to mention a raunchy Cannoness prone to gambling and smoking), has not helped matters. Actually shining the spotlight on these contrasting aspects might help to give this army some much needed attention from the fandom.
5 - Living Saints
Long time readers are going to find this following point rather surprising. Why? Because it's going to argue in favour of the very thing almost every article has sided against: More Special Characters. While almost every other army in Warhammer 40,000's current incarnation has a good five or six heroes to back them up, the Sororitas have two in total. All that fans have been left to work with is Saint Celestine and preacher Uriah Jacobus, as all others have either been unceremoniously bumped off or shipped off to other armies. Inquisitor Karamazov was sent off to another book alongside all other Inquisitorial units, Arch-Confessor Kyrinov was quietly removed from the game even if his weapon still lies in their armory, Saint Praxedes was mauled out of the game via Carnifex and the few remaining named characters are exclusive to the lore. What only compounds this problem is how often Games Workshop's writers either leave them undeveloped, or more often than not kill off Sisters characters.
Take a look at their Lexicanum page for a moment and you might notice something curious: Of the eleven notable characters the editors felt worthy of listing on their main page, seven are listed as killed in action. The only exceptions to this are Saint Praxedes (an aforementioned leader later confirmed as KIA), Helena the Virtuous (who died of unknown causes in a later White Dwarf article), Saint Anais (who was almost certainly killed during the Kaurava system conflict) and Sister Miriya (who was last seen alive and well in her Black Library duology). Yeah, that's ten dead named and very prominent figures in this army, and the only one left alive isn't even on the tabletop. Believe it or not, but things are just as bad when you go into the full list, and most of the time articles will either be a stub or will end in the character's death.
Given the diverse units and varied nature of this army, two characters simply isn't enough to fully reflect its capabilities. In all honesty, it's barely enough to represent its dual nature of elite warriors and peasant soldiers, and even the backgrounds of Celestine and Jacobus only go so far. On the tabletop, the army needs a good two or perhaps three more heroes to help round things out. Any more would be overkill of course, but any good faction needs a few of these figureheads to help build armies around, serve as a cog in a bigger machine, and show their true nature. Perhaps there could be a Cannoness Errant pursuing some personal quest or hunting down an old crime, or even a famed preacher charging into battle atop a Rhino, miraculously surviving enemy fire and yelling an unceasing prayer. There's even a possibility for a few non-HQ characters, such as an (in)famous Repentia or even a silent Celestian with abilities akin to Cypher. Really, while the army might have lost a few good units, it's not like what's left couldn't be used to offer up a few fun new characters.
4 - Guardians of All Imperial Faiths
Another curious thing about Warhammer 40,000 is that, despite burning so many heretics at the stake, the Imperium can be surprisingly tolerant at times. Racial hatred is effectively forgotten, cultural clashes or persecution over traditions tend to be relatively minor so long as you don't worship Chaos or xenos forces, and faith is not so singularly defined as one would expect. Across the hundreds of Black Library novels, authors have introduced everything from factory worlds which worship a trinity of deities (The Emperor, the Omnissiah and the Voice of their will) to feudal states with a bastardised version of the more puritanical texts of the Ecclesiarchy. We have seen worlds locked in a tribal state where older deities are seen as aspects of the Empror, or even those which retain a secondary cult alongside that of the Imperial Church itself, The Promethean Cult is one of the most famous examples of such faith existing in this setting and it is not unlikely that we would find far stranger things beyond it.
The few books situated away from the frontlines even comment upon this bizarre diversity from time to time, especially with the works of Dan Abnett. Tanith is repeatedly suggested to have had its own gods aside from the Emperor, and the opening act of Xenos was set on a world which worshiped the sun itself as an aspect of the Emperor. What's curious is that, despite so much having been written about such a broad galaxy of varying faiths, so little has been done to allow the Sisters of Battle to reflect upon this. Both in terms of their own prayers and outwards appearance, the entire army has been created with Joan of Arc as their point of reference. It's hardly a bad one admittedly, and certainly an iconic enough of a vision to work from, but it's so frustratingly limiting. Especially when, behind the Craftworld Eldar, the Sororitas are the ones with the best potential to build a mass of sub-factions each as diverse and colourful as any Astartes chapter.
Consider the following for a moment - A coven of Sororitas are founded on a distant world from the Imperium and tasked with forming a new Order. Taking a small network of feudal worlds for themselves, they serve as watchmen for the pilgrims and trade vessels moving throughout the sector, guarding it against xenos incursions. Over time, following an event where the slowly dying sun mysteriously re-ignited itself anew, the Order begins to worship it as a symbol of the Emperor's faith. Eventually taking on bright coloured cloaks besides their armour to reflect this faith, they eventually go so far as to sacrifice captive heretics in its name, purging them in fire before its sunset. While more than a little blunt in translating a real world religion long gone (no points for guessing which one) it would still be a step forwards, helping to diversify this army. Rather than merely sticking to the Christian aspects of the setting, the designers could look into Middle-Eastern, African, Celtic, Mongolian or other influences to help branch out, visually and thematically altering any Order they wished to focus upon.
The real challenge at hand would be to diversify this army while still remaining true to certain core aspects, and not simply lifting elements from real-world religions wholesale. Subtlety has never been the greatest strength of this setting after all, and it would take more research and forethought to truly nail some of these concepts. Still, there is definite potential here for something far greater than anything we have seen in prior incarnations of this army. It just requires a little effort and originality by the time the next codex comes around.
3 - Corsets & Warplate
Yes, we weren't going to finish this list without dealing with this little gem for a moment. The armour is, simply put, laughable and it has led to more bad than good over the past decade.
Each army, from the Necron Dynasties to the Tau Empire has its visual aesthetic of choice, and memorable traits. To make any one stand out, they need to be simple, recognizable and striking while at the same time wholly unique to that army. It's why, when you think of skull-faced helms and shoulder plating, the Astartes immediately come to mind. The problem is that, while this works, some people tend to only remember these bold elements, and take them a few steps too far. So, you can end up with Astartes standing three meters tall, with flared leg sections the size of their waistlines and guns so massive they could fit their heads inside them. Some are good, some are bad, and there's always room for artistic interpretation. The problem is that, unless it is kept in check, this more exaggerated view can easily become the norm for far too many creators and players alike. This sadly became the case with the Sisters of Battle, where the BDSM elements (rather blatant as they were before) started to overtake all else.
Now, let's be clear here, the thinner bodysuit look was always present in the art one way or another. In fact, two of the earliest works focused upon making them look as shiny and black as possible -
However, what you can see with each is that they are hyper stylised. Every part of them is emboldened, twisted and exaggerated to the point where they are clearly art and by no means trying to reflect realism in any way. It's largely why we loved John Blanche so much, after all. This fitted each version's style perfectly, as both the Rogue Trader and Second Edition eras embraced this look for damn near everything, building up the grim-dark atmosphere of the setting as a whole visually as much as through the lore. True efforts to emulate realism would only come much later, towards the end of the Third Edition, and during this time the artwork representing such armies underwent a few major changes.
Artwork depicting the Sororitas began to tone down some of the more overt looks and ideas, and presented their power armour as, well, armour. Rather than simply being a thin layer of paint over a soldier's body, there was a push to give an impression of plating present there, and elements such as the corset were pushed outwards; at least enough to give the suggestion that they were mostly an ornate or purely visual addition. While you have already seen examples at points five and seven, here are a few more to further emphasise this change -
While certainly not perfect, it was an improvement over the past designs given the greater emphasis upon presenting somewhat more realistic human beings. This design did at least look as if it could take a few bullets and was more than a millimeter thick, and gave the impression that the infamous corset might purely be a cosmetic aspect over the armour itself. This didn't last. In the good few years between Codex: Witch Hunters and Codex: Sisters of Battle, some artists left and others took up their torch. While each brought their own successes to the table, both the fans and the creators tended to largely just focus upon the corset and more impractical feminine aspects of the armour over all else. The old BDSM bodysuit aspect was back with a vengeance. As such, we ended up with a good few years of the following -
As you can see, the armour itself was designed as borderline skin-tight gear, the corset had gone back to being ultra-tight fitting and even the feminine nature of the suit had taken an odd turn. Artists had this habit of presenting the Sororitas with swaying hips or posed at odd angles which did not reflect the weight or use of their equipment, and a lot of the scarring or signs of old wounds tended to be quite heavily toned down. All too often, official art was, for lack of a better expression, presenting them more as eye candy than anything else. All the creators seem to have remembered was the overly-sexualised elements of the armour, and allowed the rest of that look to override all else surrounding these units. In fact, it became so bad that even some of their best artwork, those found in Fantasy Flight Games' books, apparently used this as an basis for its own work -
Now, do not misread this, there is certainly a place and a reason for these aspects. Many classical or aged examples of female warriors in armour or blessed virgins will retain overtly feminine aspects, even to the point of impracticality. Saskia from the Witcher games retained some of these aspects herself, as they helped turn her into a figurehead for peasants and those she was trying to liberate. The difference is that, by comparison, Saskia's own design elements were not nearly so pronounced or allowed to override all other aspects of her character as they did here. Without that limitation, without keeping things toned down and presenting them without Blanche's prior stylised designs, their design goes from exaggerated acceptability, to being downright laughable. No part of it looks like power armour at all, and if anything it looks as if a solid dent in any plating would damage it to the point where it could no longer be removed. Almost nothing here reflects any sense of power, and as it stands they simply don't look threatening.
The corset is the big offender here more than anything else, as without it the armour does look as if it could take a few more hits. Replacing it with similarly shaped segmented plating, giving it more of an overall metal sheen and turning the chest-plate into less of a literal "chest" plate would be starters. Bulking it out slightly further would certainly give it much more of an armoured look as well, making it appear less like Vatican stripper gear and more akin to something Samus Aran might wear into battle. In fact, the artist Runesael gave one good example of just how this enhances their overall appearance -
Suffice to say, it's a big improvement.
2 - Sororitas Once More
In the minds of many people, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to just who the Sisters of Battle actually are. Oh, we certainly know who they are, right down to burning heretics in the name of their patron saint, but who they are tends to be subconsciously forgotten. For example, whenever anyone attempts to discuss the introduction of female Astartes into the setting, you always get a few fans pointing and saying "Sisters of Battle. They're the female space marine you want!" This is fairly insulting to both the army itself and any of its fans, writing it off as a mere opposite gender copy of another force, but it does help highlight a big problem surrounding the Sisters of Battle.
Few fans to truly view them purely as the Sororitas, instead regulating them to being Astartes without upgrades or simply power armoured Stormtroopers who pray to the Emperor. Because of this, they are stuck in this state where they never seem to be recognised for their own strengths, themes or iconography. It's led to a few unfortunate situations and, unfortunately, quite a few stuffed fridges.
You might have noticed that the Sisters of Battle tend to get killed a lot. Not just by the usual Warhammer 40,000 standards, not just by the standards of any galaxy with Khorne lurking overhead demanding blood, but by an insane amount. While this has admittedly toned down a little in recent years, it seems that from the late Third/Fourth Edition onward, anyone wanting to buff up a major foe sent these warriors into the meat grinder. Especially if the man writing it was named Ward. Some have tried to equate this to sexism, but even considering how few female models Games Workshop has actually produced, that just doesn't seem to ring true. If it was genuine sexism this army would have been Squatted a long time ago, and we would have seen far worse inflicted upon them. Plus you should never attribute an action to malice when it can be explained by a lack of self-awareness (or stupidity).
Because they are viewed as either lesser space marines or better equipped Guardsmen, they're basically the perfect monster fodder. Games Workshop doesn't end up making its flagship army look anything besides invincible, and the fact they have a 3+ save along with boltguns means they're not so easily slaughtered as the common or garden Guardsmen. This means they're sadly stuck in that middle-ground of being powerful enough to get screwed over, but not powerful enough to ever win their battles. This likely wouldn't be the case if more people were to genuinely look at them as their own army, as a force which stands out on its own; but as it stands what we currently end up with is a fandom who views them as a lesser version of another army.
Not, as it should be, a combination of this woman's aesthetic and faith -
With this guy's force of will, training and sheer willingness to uphold the code he follows -
And occasional bouts of sudden superhuman power akin to this guy -
Obviously these are long standing problems, but they are not so big an issue that they can't be fixed. However, enough of a push to front load new details and make a very sudden big impression both via the codex as much as social media might be enough to seriously change things at long last. Really, all they need to do is make a big splash and with some luck that should be enough to start seriously changing things.
1 - Faith Manages
There's no denying that above all else faith is what defines the Sororitas. It is core to their very being, defining their outwards aesthetic, role in the galaxy and even their very nature. As much zealous crusaders as pious nuns, over the years they have been used to depict every form of Christian inspired faith in one way or another. However, what sadly goes forgotten so very often is the strength of this faith itself.
A long time ago, when this force was first truly brought into existence, the Sororitas were noted for their sheer stubborn willpower and strength of faith. It served as an anchor against all else, allowing them to hold against almost any foe and resist the temptations of Chaos, so much so that only one of their number ever fell to the Ruinous Powers. Authors sadly tend to forget that last bit these days. The point is that this is a major edge they hold above the Astartes themselves, it's what separates them from the Imperial Guard and it remains a strength few can match when written correctly.
Even the sight of a world set aflame or boiling with corruption should not be enough to break it, nor should even the most terrible act they are forced to perform while granting the Emperor's Mercy. When an author remembers this and works with it, you end up with Ben Counter's take - Characters who can talk heretics into repenting and even resist attempted possessions by the most powerful of daemon princes. When it isn't, you end up with Chris Wraight's version - Where their faith can be broken by Nurgle forces just landing on the same planet as them. Yes, that actually happened.
The point of the matter is that this is supposed to be a power which is thought to be able to warp reality itself. Previous depictions have ranged from full on outright prayer fueled magic to having such sheer will and determination that they turn into John Matrix for several minutes. At the moment while it certainly gets aspects of the physical angle right, little in the way of the codex's lore or rules reflect at all upon its other benefits. Oh they can gain a 6+ invulnerable save and even heightened accuracy, but there is nothing done to show them resisting psychic attacks. Nothing is done to show them performing acts which should have outright killed them or even those which by rights should be physically impossible. While they certainly shouldn't be boosted to reflect the above image (hilarious as that would be) having faith briefly increase their skills until an average Sister could outfight a Khorne Berserker in melee would not be out of the question.
For the crunch itself, that's where we run into the difficult part. While the old points of faith system has been abandoned, each squad has now been limited to using only a single faith ability once per game. It's more reliable for sure and certainly not a bad system by any means, requiring more skill and preparation to choose who uses what and when. That said, there are other aspects which could be considered, such as a wider variety of powers covering everything from a heightened Initiative to limiting the effectiveness of Overwatch against them. Others could perhaps even work with certain special abilities, acting as passive bonuses rather than something to be directly triggered squad by squad, such as making life much more difficult for an enemy bringing on reserves. Hell, an interesting one would be to actually nullify the effectiveness of certain psychic abilities, or even to force Librarians to be creative with their powers. The Sororitas can't have psykers of their own after all, so any heightened defensive mechanism would certainly be welcome.
Overall, more simply needs to be done with faith and how it shapes them. We need to see how it can be used by them to shape the battlefield and how it influences their very act, turning them into the army we see now. Certainly far more so than anything we have right now.
Anyway, those are seven major changes the next Codex: Sisters of Battle needs. There were certainly far more which could have been listed, especially when it came to how they handled on the tabletop, but it seemed best to focus upon the long standing issues over all others. If you have a few of your own you want to suggest, please feel free to suggest them in comments section, as any further additions are always welcome.