Space Marines Reviews: HQs Part 13: Chapter Masters

hail to the king


Ahhhhhhh, yeah! The generic Chapter Master, new and improved! As always, check out the Tactics Corner for more articles and videos!

The Chapter Master. King Shit on Turd Island, The Grand Poobah, The Top Dog. You get the idea, but he is the first of 1,000 peerless warriors in a Space Marine Chapter and now, finally, we have the ability to really make our own for either an established Chapter or a Chapter of our own devising. Word the F up!

storm wardens


The Chapter Master is the guy, the dude of dudes meant to be one of the most powerful, cunning, wise and heroic figures in the 40K universe. Each a mythical figure able to fight daemons and monsters on their own terms while commanding a chapter of super human warriors. However, can he pull this off on the table-top? Short answer: Hell Yeah!


The Chapter Master is a beat stick, pure and simple. However, he is damn good at it! He lacks the buffing abilities the Special Characters have but more than makes up for that in pure kicking of asses and taking of names. This is a model that when built correctly can fill so many gaps in your list. And, most importantly, he is an assault unit that can bang with any other model in the game and at the very least, hang in there in a fight, while smashing most of them into pulp. He is flexible, powerful and you can make him uniquely your own creation. Starting at a Thunderfire Cannon + 30 points, he can get pricey but easily justifies his cost. Plus, custom converting a super character like this and painting him up is one of the best parts of 40K!


  • 3+
  • 4++
  • Bolt Pistol
  • Chainsword
  • Grenades
  • Access to: Relic Blade, Bolter, Storm Shield, Artificer Armor, Melee, Ranged Weapons, Special Issue Wargear, Chapter Relics, Termie Armor which then also opens up Terminator Weapon options.

Special Rules:

  • IC
  • Whichever Chapter Tactics you choose.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Strength 10, AP 1, Large Blast, Barrage, Ordnance….Boom! That is about as powerful as it gets in this game. It does scatter the full 2d6 though, and it is one shot, only. Also, you have to hold still to shoot it unless you are Relentless (Bike, Amour Indomitus or Termie Armor) or Slow and Purposeful (attached to Centurions, for example). You can assault after firing it though, regardless of your movement type.
  • If he is on a bike, Biker units of 5 or more models become troops. Excellent ability! Bikers got much better this edition and make fantastic scoring units that shoot quite well.

Marines have been wanting for this exact type of model for ages. Previously you could customize a Captain, and had the option to take a Chapter Master but he had the same stat line plus Orbital Bombardment which last edition, you hardly ever used due to having to hold still. A combat character that had to hold still…not a good design decision.

But that is all behind us! Rocking a shiney new wound and attack, giving him 4 of each, he really shows why he is the big dog and the Captain is not. Now, for the increased points over the Captain, but still being toughness 4 and susceptible to ID, I would normally say pass on him and stick with the cheaper Captain or, honestly, the more versatile Librarian. However, one little magical piece of wargear changes all of this: The Shield Eternal. This little gem gives you a 3++, Adamantium Will (+1 to DNTW) and, most importantly, Eternal Warrior. I can not stress enough why this is so important. It means that your opponent, no matter what they bring, the strength of their weapons, special rules, whatever, MUST wound you all 4 times to take you out of play. You pay a lot of points for every wound a model has, but due to the Instant Death rule, you can have those points invested lost in a single attack. This one rule is why previously, combat characters (or units, poor Tyranid Warriors) that were T4 didn’t appear on the table much.

Marines are the base stat line of the game, so all other units, particularly assault units, are built off of that baseline. Other units are either faster, tougher, stronger, hit harder or a combination thereof to set them apart from Marines. What that means is that your cool Captain with his nifty Power Sword will more often than not see himself totally outclassed in a fist fight. Giving him something like a Power Fist–while dramatically increasing his offensive punch–increases the odds that he gets smushed before he swings. With the implementation of Precision Strikes and Barrage Sniping, this problem was exacerbated and good players knowing this, build tools into their lists to take advantage of it and then target your vulnerable, expensive character and take them out of play in one attack. If you saw Swarmlord or Abbadon or Draigo, etc. across from you, you quite simply knew you could not fight them. Your Captain may as well have been a Sarge for all the difference it would make in the outcome of the fight (baring extreme luck), and you were left with a counter assault asset that absolutely failed in its task and was rendered wasted points, forced to play around the more powerful character which really limits what you could even do with the model. And, as a matter of course, in tournament play you will more often lose your non-EW model to Instant Death than any other means. Meaning that often, they may as well have come with a single wound in the first place.

Long story short, in a meta where your opponent usually doesn’t have to worry about Instant Death due to a high toughness, Eternal Warrior, etc. and you do, taking the inferior unit meant that you were playing at a disadvantage. While he could be good, he often would get killed in a single attack by a Fist, Smash attack, etc. The non EW, T4 model goes from being the big tough leader to a liability which is why you seldom to never saw Captains on the table in a tournament unless they had some mitigating special ability that justified the risk, such as Vulkan.

Previously, if you actually wanted a reliable combat character you were forced to go with Lysander or to a lesser extent, Calgar. No longer. Now, you can build your custom assault beat-stick to suit your aesthetic taste, to mesh with your army or fill gaps in your list. That is just flat out awesome.

So now that we have established why the Chapter Master with the Shield Eternal is so good, let’s look further into how to build and play him.

The nice thing about Eternal Warrior is that it not only dramatically increases your defense but it also increases your offensive potential. Here’s why: A Space Marine with a Power Fist for example, as stated above, runs the risk of dying before swinging. That is the trade off. Having a 3++ and possibly a 2+ plus eternal warrior and 4 wounds means the odds of you swinging goes WAY up. Plus, with 4 attacks and the fact that the Shield Eternal means you cannot get the bonus attack from an extra weapon really strongly orients you towards a weapon like a Power Fist or Thunder Hammer. As Specialist Weapons, you’d have to take another like weapon, say a Lightening Claw, to get the bonus attack, meaning more points invested (although also a lot of flexibility in being able to swing at I5 and get shred). But, in general terms, the Fist or Hammer will be your go to weapon as they hit so much harder and a LOT of the scary assault units in the game swing before your I5 anyway, so who cares if you are unwieldy. The increased strength means a highe rpercentage of attacks wound, you cause Instant Death and become the predator as opposed to the prey, and can deal with high toughness models and vehicles so much easier. It’s why TH/SS Termies are consistently good: they weather the storm of the enemy’s attacks and then smack their nuts into the warp with massed high strength, low AP attacks.

That means that a very reliable, very powerful build for the Chapter Master is to go with a 2+ (Termie Armor or Artifcer Armor) to reduce the odds of being dragged down by massed attacks and for defense against Ap3, the Shield Eternal and a Fist or Hammer for maximum impact with your attacks. That creates a very durable character with increased psyker defense, that hits REALLY hard. Expensive yes, but a powerhouse. You could also equip him with one of the other relics (and yes, we read it that you can take 1 for each weapon he starts with, and the Armour Indomitus which doesn’t replace a weapon) such as the powerful Teeth of Terra (Str +2, AP3, Melee, Rending, Specialist, Strikedown) although not being AP2 is the downfall in my eyes to what is otherwise a great weapon. Also, the Burning Blade (Str +3, AP2, Melee, Blind, chance to hurt the bearer) is a great choice as it is so powerful, swings at I5, Blinds but can hurt you, which while the odds are fairly slim (1 in 24 if he has a 4+, 1 in 36 with a 3++) some bad luck can see you lose his last wound or a few in a row and lose you the game. It is worth the risk I think for such a powerful weapon, but it just misses the magic Str8 threshold where you will inflict Instant Death on most models. Even the Relic Blade is a solid choice but for me, the Hammer and Fist (including Chainfist) are the two choices I gravitate towards for reliability, cost, and efficacy.

Now, is the above the ONLY way to run him? No, of course not, just the most consistently effective load out in my experience. No matter who you play, the above will be good. You can go Claw/Fist for flexibility, Armour Indominatus and other weapon for a great turn of defense with a 2++ and Relentless (again, allowing you to move and shoot the Orbital Bombardment), Burning Blade and Pistol on a Bike or any other variation of wargear. They are all good but leave you open to the big weakness of an expensive, T4 character: Instant Death. Even the Bike, while boosting you to T5 and reducing your ID threshold to Str 10 or ID weapons helps a ton, we have found that in the current meta and all of the dang MCs running around each of whom can smash, often at very high Initiative or with enough defense to weather your attacks, you will find yourself in the same sticky situation as before.

The next question is how do deliver this melee monster into combat as quickly and efficiently as possible? That is where he is earning his points, so that is where you want him. A Bike is clearly a fantastic choice. I wish it weren’t so much better than the Jump Pack but it is. For only 5 points more, you get T5, Hammer of Wrath, Twin Bolter, Jink Saves, Relentless (allowing you to move and fire the orbital Bombardment) and Turbo Boosting. The ONLY thing the Jump Pack has is the ability to go up levels in a building and to Deep Strike. Hardly worth it for 5 pts and losing the other abilities (although yes, you can get Hammer of Wrath with a Jump Pack, just typically you wont as you will almost always use it in the movement phase). The only downside is that you cannot ride in a vehicle on a Bike which means you are always exposed.

Terminator Armor is also a great choice as it too gives you relentless, plus it allows you to Deep Strike, which is great. You can still ride in a Drop Pod, Stormraven or Land Raider, but you lose Grenades (which if you are using an unwieldy weapon, makes no difference) and can’t sweeping advance. Really, you only take Termie armor to move and shoot the Orbital Bombardment and to Deep Strike. That’s it. In all other ways Artificer Armor is better as you retain Grenades, can ride in any transport and only take up a single spot, etc.

If you do opt to go on foot, A Land Raider is a great choice to reliably get you into combat where and when you want to. Land Raiders got massively better this edition and a tooled up Chapter Master with Hammernators or Honor Guard with Chapter Banner in a Land Raider is one of the single most powerful units you can put on the table this edition. Mobility, firepower from the LR, and incredible hitting power in the unit. The only downsides are the expense of the combo, the fact that the LR can be ohe-shotted and that the unit can get ground down by a horde unit.

A Drop Pod is also solid as it puts you very reliably where you want the unit on turn 1. That is really good and the way I typically roll. However, be wary that the Drop Pod has a serious drawback: once deployed, it’s deployed. If you don’t put your unit in a good position, get a bad scatter, drop on an enemy that is prepared or not on the board, etc. you can find an expensive unit with their nuts hanging in the breeze and out of position for the rest of the game. Unlike the LR, you can’t get back in a Drop Pod! You will often see very mobile armies simply fly away from you after you have deployed leaving you with nothing to shoot or assault. You need to be able to play around that to effectively use Drop Pods. That said, when played correctly and things come together, Drop Pod deployment can be devastating and a powerful shooting unit combined with a power Chapter Master can be a savage 1-2 punch.

A Storm Raven is another solid choice, but it is very expensive and you are prone to getting destroyed the turn you come in to strong AA, and then losing the unit(s) inside. For that reason I avoid it personally as the current hot sauce army: Tau, can and will consistently blow it out of the sky with Riptides before it does a damn thing.

Lastly the good old Rhino and Razorback. These work, but poorly as you can’t assault out of them. The only thing to consider here in my eyes, is to leave a spot open in one if you are running an Artificer Armor CM so that you can choose to deploy him in a Rhino if you feel that it is the best choice. Typically though, it won’t be.

As for Chapter Tactics, they’re all solid apart from Ultramarines. Now, I say that because of one, big reason: Marneus Calgar. He is a Chapter Master but he buffs your entire army AND buffs your Chapter Tactics. If you are playing UMs and you want a CM, just take Calgar. Unless you are running a strange build with all bikers or something he is quite simply better in the context of their Chapter Tactics then a generic CM. For the others, though, let’s give a quick run down of the pros and cons.

Black Templars: For my money, this is the most potent offensive CM. You get rerolls to hit and rending in a challenge, Adamantium Will (if you aren’t already using the Shield Eternal), and Crusader (increases run speed and the odds of running someone down in combat). Nice! This guy was made to pound other characters into dust and will do it well. Kit him out for assassinating other characters and you will be happy. A bike works great for the speed, but with Crusader in a Crusader Squad, he can actually hoof it fairly well.

Salamanders: Master Crafted weapon for free, including a purchased one. Nice! That little boost is really useful. He also gets increased defense against flame weapons and can twin link a combi-weapon if you choose to take one (although probably not). Solid, if not outstanding, Chapter Master.

Iron Hands: This dude is a beast! With 6+ FnP, and It Will Not Die, he is easily the toughest of the bunch. Kit him up for maximum defense and with a little luck he will just keep on trucking. We’ve had him regenerate 3 wounds and make 2, 6+ FnP in one game! 9 effective wounds, wowzers! Really a solid, solid choice and any configuration works well, just play to his defensive bonuses for maximum effect and watch your opponent pull his hair out at your invincible, Robo-Cop Chapter Master!

White Scars: Again, awesome Chapter Tactics. Hit and Run is so incredibly good and the improved Hammer of Wrath is awesome, too. A bike is the clear choice here to lead a unit of bikers. He is mobile, hard hitting and just an all-star unit. Alternatively, take him with Khan and in a Land Raider for some fun Scout/Outflank Action!

Imperial Fists: Not the most obviously powerful combo. Their Chapter Tactics aren’t oriented towards Characters and to be honest, unless you really want Orbital Bombardment, take Lysander. He’s the dude.

Raven Guard: Again, not the most obviously powerful. This is one of the few places where a Rhino or Razorback may the better choice to take advantage of the Raven Guard CTs to Scout forward and get into the fight quickly. A Drop Pod also works to have a Hammer and Anvil effect with Scouting Marines in front and a boss CM with another unit in the rear coming out of a pod. If only they could Scout Assault Marines….sigh. Although, you could see this as a case for the old boy, Shrike. You attack a true beat stick Chapter Master with Jump Pack to he and his Assault Marine buddies, scout, profit. That would actually be a really scary unit but then, is it better than White Scars who will also be charging turn 2…and have hit and run? Probably not. Le Sigh…again.

So that’s it! The chapter Master is a prince among characters and one of the best additions to this codex, IMO. I love him and am considering forming a domestic partnership with him if he’ll have me!

What are some of the combinations you guys have been using? I am sure there are a ton of cool combos that I didn’t have time to cover so share them in the comments section please, so that we might all see cool new ways to play this bad ass!


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

15 Responses to “Space Marines Reviews: HQs Part 13: Chapter Masters”

  1. Ty September 26, 2013 11:14 am #

    I absolutely love the Salamaders Chapter Master with Artificer Armor, Shield Eternal, and a master-crafted Thunder Hammer. I’ve considered giving him a Combi-flamer, but I’m not sure it’s worth it.

  2. Hotsauceman1 September 26, 2013 12:10 pm #

    I think a chapter master with the shield and Irion hands chapter tactics on a bike will be scary on a bike 3+ inv. And it will not die is just fun “Oh that wound you put on me?* Rolls a 5 *It is back*
    Put him on the front of a biker squad so he can soak up wounds.

    • fluger September 26, 2013 2:28 pm #

      I think putting him on a bike means the shield eternal isn’t strictly required. You have the mobility to dictate the fights and can stay away from S10 things most likely.

      I’d say if you go the bike route, go with the burning blade.

      • Hotsauceman1 September 26, 2013 4:48 pm #

        Still makes it frustratingly annoying for you to hurt him. Beside other then STR10 he will get a FNP

      • Gordy September 27, 2013 12:19 am #

        Monstrous Creatures are pretty common, though. In fact, I’m pretty sure at a competitve level str 10 is much more common than str 8, and most ‘real’ assault units that aren’t str 10 have some sort of ability to inflict Instant Death (Swarmlord, force weapons, etc).

        • fluger September 27, 2013 7:29 am #

          You still have a built in 4++ save as well, so it’s not like you’re just conceding to them. ‘Sides, with the Burning Blade you have 4 S7 AP2 attacks at regular I. It’s not like you’re impotent.

          Honestly, I’d almost always go with the Shield Eternal, but I can see how you can bypass it with a bike.

          • Reecius September 27, 2013 8:00 am

            I think it can work for sure, take a Grav pistol as well and you can concuss them prior to assaulting, then blind them. It is a good combo. We just find that the bike even isn’t good enough with all the Smash attacks.

  3. fluger September 26, 2013 2:26 pm #

    I’m concocting a Hammers of Dorn SM list to build up next year after my tax return and this is the loadout I’m considering right now:

    Chapter Master: 235
    Terminator Armor, Chain Fist, Shield Eternal

    I like the chain fist because he can damage anything in the game without question.

    Here’s the rest of the list and it’s ideas here:

  4. Happygrunt September 26, 2013 3:37 pm #

    I am running a chapter master with a hammer, shield eternal, AA and a bike with the BT tactics. And (I am sure I will catch a lot of flak for this) I run him as an ally to my mechanized IG army with a 5 man grav gun bike squad. He is the big scary beat stick character who I can throw at stuff that would scare my traditional IG units and will draw some fire away from the tanks. I have had success with this build and enjoy the hell out of the super beaty bike CM.

  5. michael September 26, 2013 4:06 pm #

    Man that Iron hands combo just sounds dirty. Now just imagine if Blood angels could get a build your own chapter master with similar weapon options.

  6. novaStar September 26, 2013 5:09 pm #

    just to make sure if you roll a “hit” the OB doesnt scatter right?

    • Reecius September 27, 2013 7:57 am #

      It does not scatter, no.

  7. Gordy September 27, 2013 12:19 am #

    An Iron Hands CM in Terminator armor has a 2+, 3++, 4++, 5++, and 6+ FNP saves.

  8. fudge cake May 31, 2014 3:29 pm #

    I play iron hands and ive made myself a custom chapter master with the gorgons chain, some of you may be unfamiliar with this but it provides a 3+invun +1 to fnp rolls and eternal warrior at 45points its a no brainer :L he has a lightening claw and thunder hammer (both specialist so+1 attack and the option of I5 rerolls to wound S4 AP3 goodness or I1 S8 AP2 concussive hammer hits for annihilating the big nid’s and tanks. I use him in a drop pod to get him next to the enemy warlord and eat him immediately with5 hammers. he also has his jump pack to assualt anything he wants. so he can move 24″ a turn possibly (with 2d6 assualt move) and then have his saves…prepare yourselves; 2+armour,3+invun,5+Iwnd,5+fnp ..he has never died on me even 1v1 swarmy and abbadon…. he is the emissary of the great god emperor, the hammer of the imperium and the manefestation of the wrath of ferrus manus …..the flesh is weak ….so are you if you dont play him

  9. Gilas February 20, 2015 10:17 pm #

    @ Gordy.

    Only one save allowable dude, so it will just be 2+ OR 3++ this isn’t fantasy.

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