Heresy is a Heresy

I have been playing Games Workshop’s Horus Heresy since Autumn 2015, when I purchased three resin weirdos on a whim because some of my friends already played it was primarily Forgeworld resin infantry and I liked the idea of playing Mechanicum. I made a thrall-heavy list using stripped down skitarii and had a ball, and when I got Betrayal at Calth that Christmas I was hooked and quickly expanded my collection to include a pre-heresy colour scheme Word Bearers army, which I lovingly converted in a bunch of ways.

I played a lot during Warhammer 40’000’s 7th edition, including a lot of games against normal 40k armies. Which apparently was wrong. Despite being an expansion to the same game and mechanically possible, you weren’t supposed to and some of the people behind the game have repeatedly made statements that those of us who did were playing it wrong.

At the time I had a 40k Blood Angels army and I increasingly pushed it towards Heresy, until I effectively had a Heresy IXth legion army. I think it’s important to note that during this period, not all legions even had proper rules. There was a lot of making do with a half written expansion to what was already a fairly unwieldy edition of the game, where the updates came originally in expensive hard back “Black Books” which were the heresy counterparts to the “ever popular to talk about but never quite popular enough to actually warrant GW investing in” Imperial Armour alternate history/Forgeworld rulebooks.

Eventually, GW released the Red Books, which were smaller rules-only tomes which first collected the generic marine legiones astarties units, a second that included legion specific units (and legion specific rules as they appeared), a third which included consolidated mechanicum stuff and a fourth which had the imperial army and other basic human stuff. They also weirdly sometimes relied on the Imperial Armour books and for a while the 7th ed Chaos Daemons codex and there was a strong feeling of “here’s some stuff, go wild!” as well as an ongoing effort to try and fix their earlier mistakes. In the latter days, Custodes got almost completely rewritten in the second Black Book they appeared in.

When Warhammer 40k 8th edition came along and blew up all the 7th edition rules, we got a dedicated Horus Heresy rulebook. It was basically the 7th edition rules with some of the errata baked in. There was some rumbling of people hoping they’d port heresy to the 8th edition ruleset, and plenty of grognards decrying 8th as either the spreading of the age of sigmar curse or whatever and swearing eternal allegiance to 7th edition in the form of Heresy. The game continued to get some love, new books arrived but with an irregular cadance and Forgeworld continued to make new miniatures but there was a solid feeling that the game wasn’t ever going to get the level of attention it got between late 2015 and early 2017.

Personally, a lot happened in this period. A close friend and one of the linchpins of my local hobby group died. I got into X-Wing with a friend who then moved to the states. The GW I played a lot of my games at closed down and my local gaming club kind of evaporated. And then I moved to Nottingham in 2019 to be closer to family and maybe stand a chance in hell of ever owning a house.

Right before the pandemic, the Nottingham “Bugmans Bandits” group tried to start a Heresy slow grow league. Obviously that never happened but I picked up a few bits to start that mostly just sat in a box for the next two years until…

March 2022 rolls around and GW publishes a slick CGI trailer of Horus murdering some poor Imperial Fist praetor and a Warlord Titan getting vaporized by orbital weapons fire. And there’s a new edition coming. With a new plastic box with a plastic spartan in it (which had previously been a major prestige resin kit with a checkered past). And a new plastic contemptor. And plastic MKVI marines. And a whole new plastic tank, the Kratos (somewhere between a Fellblade and a Sicarian). And a new plastic demios rhino. And demios predators, and a whirlwhind scorpius, and, and, and, and, AND.

They spent multiple millions of pounds on the plastic tooling alone for the Heresy 2.0 release. The rulebook arrived, with two new big black books (but not Black Books) one for traitors and one for loyalist marines. We were promised books for Mechanicum and Solar Auxilia/Custodes/Sisters soon, as well as PDFs for Cults/Militia and Daemons by August.

Things were weird from the start. A bunch of things were missing from the marine books, like the Castferum (or box) dreadnought, the Contemptor Cortus (a stripped down contemptor I think I might be the only person who routinely used), all the “Legion” tanks like baneblades etc, the normal Whirlwind, the Imperial Navy planes… And people quickly realised that Contemptors in their new form had gone from a nice strong unit to incredibly oppressive.

A document called the “Legacies of the Age of Darkness” arrived with many of the missing units, with a massive exhortation that just because it was in a PDF and not in the core book didn’t mean it wasn’t legal (not that this has stopped some event organisers), but there was a strong feeling that the Legacies units didn’t get the same level of love. And many felt overcosted, or underpowered, or both.

The Mechanicum book arrived on time, and personally it was a fairly significant disappointment. The consensus feels like the faction was being punished for it’s 7th/1st edition sins. The book contained three lists: Mechanicum, Knights and Titans. Huge swathes of the Mechanicum list got hit hard with the nerf bat, whilst thallax (my favourite horrible cyborgs) got a massive glow up and are frankly the most maneuverable unit in the game. We also kept a unit that had no model (and there’s seemingly no plan to make a model for), got a new mechanicum specific techno assassin (who also has no model, and despite having since released a new demon assassin they’ve not even mentioned the mech one) and lost the termite (which was originally released as a mechanicum model!).

Knights got a more significant overhaul. In 1st edition they had a complex army list where knights got given ranks and so fit into the traditional force org. Now they got a 7th ed style army where you got your own force organisation chart but you had to take two armigers (smaller knights) for every large knight you took. This was a good change, but knights themselves got hit with the nerf bat. Or more, knights can’t compete with contemptors. They also took the forgeworld mechanicum allied arminger moriax away from knights and put them in the mechanicum list, never shall the two meet because you can’t ally them together.

Titans got it worse though.

I used to own 40 secutarii, a Forgeworld specific upgrade to the Games Workshop plastic skitarii who are the titan guard. Foot screens for titans to mop up what the big guns can’t reach and scouts to make sure your walking cathedral doesn’t step into a basement or something. They were originally troops for mechanicum (and elites in 40k). They were now Titanicus troops, who couldn’t hold objectives. And you could only ever take as allies. But not to mechanicum. And whilst a Warhound titan was still 750pts, it wasn’t durable enough. A marine heavy support squad could easily kill one in a turn. And forget about playing any of the larger titans in any normal game.

Mechanicum did get their own Legacies document, which reintroduced the termite and gave us rules for some out of production models, and some really old stopgap rules the mechanicum got way back circa 2014. But these ranged from “you’ll never use them because the model is OOP and sells for silly money” to “this is a kitbash only unit and the rules are bad”.

The Imperium books arrived also roughly on time and included the Solar Auxilia, Custodes, Sisters and Assassins. And it’s a weird book.

Assassins are what you expect, but also the consensus is they’re bad.

Solar Auxilia still win the “most expensive pound per point model in the game” competition (it’s the Aurox, a rhino-alike transport tank only available entirely in resin that is 35 points and is £75 before shipping). Why Solar Auxilia, an army mostly sculpted in one dude’s lunch breaks and reliant on hilariously expensive resin infantry got an entry in one of the physical books I will never know. They’re alright rules wise, and if you want “normal men” they’re there for conversion options.

Custodes were difficult in 7th edition 40k because they’re the supersoldier’s supersoldier. They took two goes to get right in 1st ed heresy. And 2nd ed heresy they are oppressive. 2+ saves, too many wounds, bonuses out the wazoo. Goonhammer just banned them from their events. And because the army has basically two separate lines for bikes and terminators (one in resin from Forgeworld and one in plastic from GW) they attract the worst kind of gatekeepers and the rules in 2nd edition didn’t do anything to fix this.

And then we have the Sisters of Silence. Bald women who swear a vow of silence, are disquieting at best and physically unpleasant to be near at worst and work to steal people with psychic powers away to feed the golden throne. Not GW’s best lore writing, but some of the authors have made valiant efforts to make them less inherently misogynistic. That’s not we’re here to talk about today though. The imperial book took what was previously a small faction consisting of one plastic kit that made three different infantry units (women with bolters, women with flamethrowers, women with swords), a resin upgrade kit (to make women with pistols), a resin character and a chonking resin vehicle that looked like a mechanical sandworm from Dune that costs over a hundred points.

The Imperium book expanded this massively. 20 units, including jetbikes. Which don’t exist. And no indication they were going to. The army, as it stands, is physically unplayable unless you just guess what they’re supposed to look like. And the rules were dialled up to 11. As a standalone army, they can be super unfun to play against, with some units just immune to certain low range weapons.

They too have been banned from Goonhammer events.

August came and went, and the promised PDFs didn’t arrive. Some very basic errata for the core rulebook was published, to attempt to work around some of the issues with the 2nd edition’s main new mechanical difference. Horus Heresy added some player interaction in the opposing player’s turn in the from of reactions. For example, if you end a unit’s movement within 12 inches of an enemy unit, that unit can move either towards or away from them. There was also a reaction to return fire. Rules as written, it didn’t quite work as intended, and when the errata came it first broke it further. It later got re-errata’d to work roughly as intended but it wasn’t their finest hour. And there’s been no attempt to do any balance or fix any other gleaming issues.

One of the big issues, rules as written, is that 2nd edition introduced a new concept of troop types. Dreadnoughts were no longer vehicles, but the dreadnought type. And some rules interactions, like anti-tank weapons with the armourbane special rule which previously worked on dreadnoughts because they were vehicles now worked on dreadnoughts because their unit type said so.

When the mechanicum book was released, they introduced a new type: arminger, for the smaller knight walkers. And a bunch of rules that previously worked in 1st edition on them (because they were vehicles) now didn’t. And still don’t. Because there’s been no more errata and scuttlebutt says there’s no desire to do any kind of balance pass or fixes.

Throughout all of this, from before the release of 2nd edition to early 2023, every Thursday GW would publish “Heresy Thursdays” which would release either a new mission (and kitbashable unit) for one of the marine legions, or announce some new kit or model. In late 2022 it became quite clear something was wrong with the release schedule because GW kept releasing tanks. Just tanks. And more tanks. No infantry, just tank.

The 2nd edition release had put a whole load of stuff that was once the preserve of forgeworld and thus way too expensive for a lot of people into the realm of possibility for much larger audience, but a lot of the core troop options (breachers, despoilers, assault marines) and basically all of the fast attack choices (bikes and speeders) were still resin and we had no idea if they’d ever come to plastic.

Eventually we did get some more news: the cult and militia rules were released earlier this year and the demon rules would come out this summer. A campaign book was announced which was promised to contain shattered legion and zone mortalis rules, although the zone mortalis rules were lackluster and didn’t acknowledge the other plastic spaceship terrain GW released to great fanfare the previous year and the shattered legion turned out to be a narrative mention only. (Shattered legion was an option for mixing and matching different legions in a single force, like they often did in the narrative to merge war weary and heavily depleted armies).

There was a roadmap revealed for the rest of 2023, with a CG render of a MKVI assault marine due some time in Autumn. But they also announced a plastic Cerastus knight. THe Cerastus knights are ~£160 resin kits, standing nearly a foot tall and again a major prestige kit. And a weird choice when so much was still missing to actually play heresy the way people did in 1st edition. They announced resin close combat arms to bridge the gap for the lack of assault marines, but with no release date, and when they finally did arrive it was at £19.50 for five (bear in mind you need 10 minimum to run a unit), making it only slightly cheaper to buy plastic tactical marines, the old school plastic jump packs (GW still sells) and the resin arms than it is to buy the official resin assault marines. There was a real question as to if the people running the show knew how people actually played the game?

As I write this, I feel conflicted.

I sit pretty squarely in the intersection of almost all of the “people Heresy 2nd edition jerked around” circles:

  • I play Blackshields (who have had one, single mention in the Legacies of the Age of Darkness PDF as to “rules for blackshields will come at a later date”)

  • Over half of my Mechanicum army as it stood at the head of the edition was rendered useless

  • I’d been waiting for the Demon rules to finish my Word Bearers and have been for nearly a year now

  • I play Knights but basically have to ask my opponent nicely not to bring contemptors

  • I had a large secutarii force I couldn’t play

As a brief aside, with the announcement of Warhammer 40k 10th edition, Games Workshop announced that Horus Heresy models would no longer get any updates as part of 40k where previously they often got datasheets in the modern Imperial Armour books, which themselves were now just collections of rules. They would get a one-off “Legacies of the Horus Heresy” rules release, but they wouldn’t be updated and they wouldn’t be legal for tournament play. I don’t play tournaments, but a lot of casual drop-in games tend towards following tournament rules because it makes things easier. Secutarii, despite having had 40k rules forever and not being heresy specific, were included here (alongside a bunch of non-heresy chaos stuff whose only crime was being old). This is however, the third time I’ve invested in Forgeworld resin infantry only to have either the model and rules discontinued, or the entire army discontinued. Really I should learn. I won’t be starting a Solar Aux army any time soon.

So where do we stand?

Most of my friends who play Heresy are feeling pretty burned out with it. The game needs some work, and Games Workshop clearly don’t want to do it. The recent campaign book was a disappointment and didn’t do anything to fix any of the existing issues. My good friend Edwin (who writes over at Goonhammer) has written missions that make the game better, and the changes he’s instituted for the upcoming Goonhammer Open have been positive. But especially with 40k 10th edition starting to take people’s attention away, and the general feeling of apathy and burned out sentiment towards heresy I don’t know what the future looks like for it, for me.

It makes me upset that I have an entire army I can’t use in any other game, at all. It makes me upset my Blackshields basically haven’t seen play in a year because there’s no rules coming for them. It makes me upset my Word Bearer’s haven’t seen the table because I was waiting for Demon rules I’ve all but given up on. And I don’t quite understand why I keep wanting to play a game, or invest in more miniatures for a game where I feel like the people in charge of it don’t seem to get it.

Maybe things will change.

Maybe I’ll just have some nice display pieces instead.