Special Characters in 40K: What are they good for… by Mark Perry

6 Dec

In prepping for Open War which has a no special characters rule, it got me musing on the subject of which armies rely almost totally on special characters and which can get by without.

In many cases, special characters tend to add force multipliers to the army rather than being mere beat stick in their own right. Vulkan making TH/SS even scarier with his twin liking, Dante allowing Sang Guard to be troops …

As I’ve started on Power Armour, that’s a good place to look first at possibly one of the most affected codexes, vanilla Marines. With Vulkan, Lysander, Shrike etc they have a number of special characters whose benefit is far higher to the army than just their stats and armies are often built around them. They also can’t take Telion for any Scout squads, which is normally an upgrade worth taking. Impact 4/5 – fortunately MOTF is not unique and bike builds still feasible.

Moving onto Blood Angels, as well as multipliers like Dante, there are the two bully boys of the codex in the Sanguinor and Mephiston. Not being able to take Mephiston alters about three quarters of all tourney BA builds. Impact 4/5 – too many lists are entirely based on Mephiston.

To continue with the theme, Space Wolves next. While they have some great specials and tailored lists for them – eg Loganwing, the basic HQ choices are pretty good and many people just go with decked out rune priests with living lightning, JAWS etc anyway. Some recent movement towards the merits of Njall and Bjorn does show they still suffer without though. Impact 3.5/5 – Loganwing, Njall lists are too good to ignore.

New boys on the block, Grey Knights. Not an expert here by any means but with Coateaz builds for instance there is no doubt a lack of specials really impacts them here. Impact 4/5 –no henchmen troops takes away a large number of builds.

For Dark Angels, say Belial. Almost better to take any other marine codex if you can’t make those terminators troops. Impact 5/5 – totally stuffed.

Now really stretching my knowledge with Black Templar. There do appear to be a number of strong builds here using Emperors Champions etc and no strong specials usage. Impact 2.5/5.

On to the Imperial Guard next. Mech vet lists do appear to work entirely without specials, while foot lists struggle without Creed, Straken etc. As most tourney lists are heavily meched up: Impact 2/5 – mech vets one of the strongest lists out there and no specials required.

For Sisters, we are now looking at the new WD codex and the best part of the army does appear to be the special characters. Saint Celestine and the special confessors are almost compulsory to make the list work. No Jacobus means problems. Impact 4.5/5 – sorry girls, not the game for you.

Now here’s something the old Necrons excel at. Apart from the C’tan there is no impact on a Necron list at all. 3 liths, Lord on a destroyer body; all fine. As for new Necrons it seems too soon to say although the special characters do appear to have some great abilities. Impact 2/5 at time of writing!

My main codex the Tyranids next. Fortunately the Hive Tyrant, Tervigon and Prime are all non-unique HQs. Main impact is on elites with Doom of Malantai and Deathleaper, but these are only used rarely. Old One Eye? Who cares. Impact: 2.5/5 Parasite of Mortrex and Doom are missed, otherwise business as usual.

Now Dark Eldar is one that’s moving about a bit as people still work through all the builds. The Baron and his Hellions are proving popular at present, but the prevalence of cheap  Homonculi as the main HQ choice makes the impact here somewhat lessened. Impact 3/5 – the Baron is a real loss.

On to their brighter, shinier cousins – the Eldar. The Phoenix Lords are far too expensive but Yriel and Eldrad are top quality choices. Both can be covered by basic Autarch and Farseer coverage though so not totally fatal. Impact – 3/5 Eldrad is still one of the best characters in the game.

Tau? Now there’s a question. There are some special HQs, including the ethereal and some recent builds are starting to use him again. Impact 3/5 – lost some stuff  but basic tooled up commander still does the job.

Last and not least is Orks and the formidable Ghazgull. Can they survive without him? Yes, but a basic warboss is a significant step down and the Orks no longer have the hardest character on the table. Other specials are fun rather than tournament suitable. Big mechs with KFF are still a great choice and not having Ghazgull allows you to take 2 of them instead, so Impact 3/5 – Ghazghull is always missed.

So, my overall ranking of who is most reliant on special characters is as follows:

Dark Angels

Sisters of Battle

Space Marines

Blood Angels

Grey Knights

Space Wolves


Dark Eldar



Black Templar


Imperial Guard

Old Necron

This is, of course, very subjective and will hopefully prompt some discussion!


8 Responses to “Special Characters in 40K: What are they good for… by Mark Perry”

  1. Pat H. December 6, 2011 at 13:46 #

    no daemons,.. sniff sniff

    • Mark Perry December 6, 2011 at 14:34 #

      Hi. Sorry about that,total boo-boo on my part! Daemons are not an army I see that often. Where would you put them? I think Fateweaver is probably a unique, but apart from that I have no idea …

      • Digital Unicorn December 7, 2011 at 09:43 #

        Most list I see seem to be pretty Fateweaver reliant, the occasional Skull taker. The Changling, I think is the one people forget for Chaos, not being able to take him sucks, he’s a unique so he wouldn’t be allowed.

  2. Mark Perry December 7, 2011 at 12:17 #

    So, Daemons would be right up there with say Blood Angels as a special character backed army? Fateweaver does appear to be an almost auto include like Mephiston, but I have seen on the interweb plenty of successful builds without him …

    • 40KUK December 8, 2011 at 00:10 #

      Daemons are a weird one in that they have a whole load and keep going through transitions. At the beginning of the year you did see Fateweaver, but he was on the decline and the fast Cav with no special characters were the in thing. Since Grey Knights though he has made a big resurgence as they go through another transition.

  3. Beatstick December 7, 2011 at 22:44 #

    I think the reliance on special characters is a good thing in general. The only problem can be when you see something work in your local area and every one jumps on the bandwagon for that special character which can make it a bit boring… if I see one more Logan army. Grrrr

    • 40KUK December 8, 2011 at 00:13 #

      That’s true, though there are loads of different types of Logan lists that can be run from the Logan Bomb which may be most famous to the versatile sit with the longfangs and even Landraider combos. The problem we all face is it perhaps isn’t the special character at fault, especially when they are as versatile as Logan, but instead a particular list or style of play that escalates like a virus.

  4. Gordy December 8, 2011 at 18:12 #

    I feel it is a shame that 5th edition codexes have brought about more reliance on special characters for army wide buffs and FOC alterations. I feel it encourages people to be less creative.

    I much preferred the way that 4th edition was going with army wide alterations, in the way the force worked, SM and IG were great examples of this flexibility, and I feel that linking such options to special characters limits my own creativity and that of others.

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