Tomes of the Librarius – 40k Technology: Bolt Weapons

Hello 40k (and 30k) fans! Chris Morgan, Chief Librarian of the Forge the Narrative Podcast, is here again with the next weekly segment of Tomes of the Librarius. Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles!

Just as a reminder, in this series we will explore facets of the history and legends of the Grimdark. This is meant to be an easy summary and introduction geared towards new players or people unfamiliar with the setting, but should still be an interesting read or fun refresher for those already familiar. There’s so much detail in this lore that a bare summary seems so inadequate, but for new people this should be the right portion to get a feel for the history of the universe we enjoy our games in.

Well, folks, its 2019. What does this mean for us? It means we are back to the grind – so to speak – and that the time for work has returned. What would work be without the tools that we use to get it done? Well, my job in 40k is the holy purging of xenos, heretics, mutants, demons, and all enemies of the Emperor. With that in mind, today we will be highlighting the most iconic weapon in all of Warhammer 40,000: the Holy Bolter.

Origin and Function

Many weapons and pieces of technology date back to the Dark Age of Technology, but the boltgun is not among them. According to the lore I have found, the boltgun seems to be a weapon invented by the Emperor himself during the Unification Wars on Terra, and the first prototype was held by his own hand. Bolt weapons are anti-personnel in function, and are great at turning your enemies into red mist provided they are not inside a tank. Now, there are bolt weapons that scale from the size of a sidearm all the way up to the mega-bolters used by the Legio Titanicus. They all follow some similar core elements to their design, and it has to do with the type of ammunition they shoot.

Bolt Shells

The typical boltshell is a large caliber mass-reactive bullet. Mass-reactive means that it is designed to detect when it hits and penetrates its target, and then triggers the explosive located inside the round while within the target. This is a particularly effective and gruesome way of killing the target, as it kills them from the inside out provided the round itself didn’t kill them first with its sheer size by hitting a vital organ before the explosion. This makes bolt weapons different than your typical ‘stubber’ weapons that shoot solid ammunition. There are several kinds of specialized bolts as well that are typically used by elite infantry, such as the Deathwatch or other veteran space marines. These rounds can contain incendiary chemicals for killing enemies in cover, toxic ammunition that poisons biological foes, or Kraken rounds which can punch through heavy armor. Some are even attuned to psychic energies, such as those used by the ++REDACTED BY ORDER OF THE INQUISITION++.

Common Variants

There are many types of bolt weapons, but the most common is likely the mars pattern typically carried by the adeptus astartes. There are several other boltgun types that fall into this category, but they are all weapons designed for use by infantry. The weapons are large enough that a normal human cannot use one without assistance from either biological or mechanical enhancements, or the weapon has to be scaled down due to the tremendous recoil from firing the large mass-reactive rounds. The Heavy bolter is a larger weapon that fires higher-caliber rounds. There are also hurricane bolter platforms, which are several bolters fitted together that drop a withering hail of bullets on massed groups of infantry. These are typically fitted into vehicles like flyers and heavy tanks, but can be put on dreadnoughts as well. The Vulkan Mega Bolter is fitted onto titans, and the bolt shells fired by those guns are large enough to shred most vehicles and structures, not to mention the devastating effect on infantry formations.

A Weapon You Can Trust

Boltguns are some of the most reliable weapons available to humanity (just be careful if you are on overwatch in a space hulk). What is your favorite bolt weapon? Let me know in the comments!


Captain Morgan

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Chris Morgan

40K philosopher, LVO Judge, Chief Librarian of Forge the Narrative, Blood Angel enthusiast extraordinaire, and slayer of traitors, xenos, and heretics; I'd rather be playing 30k right now or neck-deep in a good book. Follow me on my FB page - Captain Morgan's Librarius
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3 years ago

Honestly, I think you left out the coolest part about them: They’re not like normal firearms, where the propellant in the shell does all the work when struck by the firing pin. All that does with a Bolt weapon is get the shell clear of the barrel, at which point a tiny rocket motor in the projectile itself takes over. IIRC, at some points in the game’s history, there have even been special shells that had a certain degree of guidance and tracking capability. They’re more like mini-Missile Launchers than like a regular Assault Rifle or something. In addition to a number of other benefits, the reduction of recoil thanks to this dual-mode propulsion is basically the only reason they can be fired at all by un-augmented humans.

Favourite Bolt weapon is an easy one, tho: Storm Bolter. Hands down.

3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Morgan

Bolters do share a lot of qualities with the Gyrojet weapon system that was experimented with back in the 60s, so it’s not really a surprise that other similar things have been worked on. The Bolter does, however, have one major difference from the Gyrojet line: It actually works 😉

3 years ago

Fave bolt weapon is the vulcan mega bolter. To paraphrase the enrty on 1d4chan, “When you need to say F*** YOU to marines on 3s, with 30 dice.”

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