It’s my birthday today, so to celebrate I’m writing about my current Warhammer 40k obsession, the Grey Knights!
I started this project last December, as a bit of a small-scale thing to have a change from all of the other, bigger projects that were swirling around the hobby desk. It started with a single box of miniatures and the Codex, and while I still think it’s quite an understated project in comparison to, say, my Dark Eldar or Necrons, the ranks are growing here, so it’s more than likely going to turn into quite the army before too long!
Today, though, I want to talk more about the lore of the Grey Knights, and some of the reasons for why I find them fascinating. I have actually played a game with the army as well, so I’ll no doubt talk about that also!
The Grey Knights are a chapter of Space Marines created in the closing days of the Horus Heresy by Malcador the Sigillite, right-hand-man to the Emperor (if such a thing can be thought possible), as a sort of last bastion of hope against the daemons of the Warp. As many will no doubt be aware, the Emperor had withdrawn from leading his sons during the Great Crusade to reunite humanity across the galaxy, to instead concentrate on his “webway project”, an attempt to find a faster-than-light travel path through the galaxy that did not rely on the whims of the Warp and its daemons. When Horus fell to Chaos, taking half of the Space Marine Legions with him, the galaxy was slowly overrun with daemonic incursions, as more and more foul rituals were enacted by those Legions falling from the light of the Emperor. As such, Malcador gathered about him a small band of twelve: four mortal men, and eight Space Marines, who would form a core from which to build this new Chapter.
The moon of Titan, in orbit around Saturn, had been provisioned for the foundation of the Grey Knights, and the Space Marines were placed there in secrecy to begin the process of building a psychic defense. The recruits Malcador had discovered were all peerless in their devotion to the God-Emperor of Mankind – some of whom were actually drawn from those Legions who had become corrupted by Chaos, thus showing their purity of spirit. The eight found hundreds of new recruits awaiting the rites of passage to become full Space Marines themselves. The moon of Deimos had also been moved from its orbit around Mars to act as a specially-linked Forge World to serve the fledgling Chapter. As a final defense, Malcador hid the moon in the Warp itself, as the Horus Heresy drew to a close and the Emperor found himself interred within the Golden Throne.
While the four mortal men went on to found the Inquisition, the Space Marines eventually emerged from the Warp during the Second Founding, with their ranks fully formed of a thousand Space Marines. Time had flowed differently in the Warp, of course, and many centuries had passed for them to train. However, not everybody was fully apprised of the existence of Chapter 666, and within a century of the Second Founding, most records of the Grey Knights had been erased from all but the most secure files.
The Inquisition is the direct manifestation of the Emperor’s will, and concerns itself with safeguarding humanity from three distinct threats: the alien (Ordo Xenos), the heretic (Ordo Hereticus) and the daemon (Ordo Malleus). Where Inquisitors are in need of military forces to aid them in their mission, they can call upon the forces of the Deathwatch, Adepta Sororitas, and the Grey Knights, respectively. The Ordo Malleus is considered to be the heart of the Inquisition, as the core tenet for which the organisation was founded – preservation of the Imperium against the forces of Chaos.
The Grey Knights go through rigorous trials before their aspirants can don the aegis armour, and it has been said that only one in a million will have what it takes. Aspirants are drawn from across the Imperium rather than a single or small collection of recruiting worlds, and the Gatherers – those Grey Knights too old or injured to take part in active duty, but whose psychic might is still formidable – also have the ability to recruit from the Black Ships that travel the Imperium, gathering up psykers to fuel the Astronomican. Some select Space Marines chapters also notify the Gatherers if they find a novitiate of particular psychic ability, whom they would consider a likely candidate for the Grey Knights.
In terms of Chapter organisation, there are eight distinct Brotherhoods of warriors, made up in varying degrees from the Grey Knights specific squads – Strike Squads (think Tactical Marines), Purgation Squads (heavy weapons), Interceptor Squads (fast attack), and Terminator Squads. These Brotherhoods are each led by a Grand Master, and fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Grand Master. At this point in the 41st millennium, the Supreme Grand Master is the living legend that is Lord Kaldor Draigo, renowned for his insane exploits such as jumping in and out of the Warp at will, battling with Greater Daemons like it’s a walk in the park, etc. In addition to the Brotherhoods, there are also two separate companies – the Purifiers and the Paladins.
The Purifiers are those Grey Knights who are utterly incorruptible, and who reside within the Chambers of Purity. Their very presence in the Warp is anathema to all but the greatest of daemons, and so they are tasked with preservation of the Iron Grimoire – the single record of what dark horror lies trapped on Titan, and against whom the Purifiers form a kind of null-defense. Their numbers are few, though – just 44 men under the leadership of Castellan Crowe – and so they are rarely deployed to the battlefield en masse.
The Paladins are the champions of the Grey Knights, peerless warriors who often serve as the elite bodyguards of the Grand Masters. They function a little like the elite first company of other Space Marines chapters, clad in artificer terminator armour. (One of the distinctions of Grey Knights is that any of the Brotherhoods can afford to field terminators as part of their force, not just the first).
Specialists like Chaplains, Librarians and Techmarines are deployed where they are required, rather than falling under the purview of any one Grand Master.
The arsenal of the Grey Knights contains some of the most expensive, and the most holy of weapons known to the Imperium. It’s also a bit mad, when you think of it.
The Grey Knights are most often seen wielding the Nemesis Force weaponry, psychically-charged weapons that are capable of felling daemons with ease. The power channeled by a Nemesis Force weapon directly corresponds with the psychic power of its wielder. Most common is the Nemesis Force Sword, though lighter Falchions and longer Halberds are also widely used. Nemesis Daemon Hammers combine the destructive potential of the thunder hammer with Nemesis technology to create a weapon few daemons are capable of withstanding. The Nemesis Warding Stave is a more defensive weapon, with a hollow haft that contains refractor-field generators capable of projecting out a gravitic force that can protect the bearer.
While most Grey Knights carry wrist-mounted storm bolters to pack some punch at range, there are also those warriors who carry the more specialized weaponry for the squad. There are three special weapons that are seen wielded by the Grey Knights – the incinerator, the psycannon and the psilencer. The incinerator is basically a fancy flamer, whose promethium reservoir has been blessed against Chaos. The psycannon is similar to a heavy bolter, using psychically-charged, silver-tipped bullets with a negative charge that allows them to pass through any psychic defense a foe may attempt. The psilencer, purported to be of xenos origin, uses the condensed psychic might of its wielder to destabilize the daemonic core of the foe, sending it back to the Warp. Crazy!
Of course, each Grey Knight is a powerful psyker in his own right, and upon induction to the rank of full Space Marine, is given a new name that is itself a fragment of the true name of a specific daemon. Thus, while the physical weapons these warriors wield are capable of striking a grievous blow to the denizens of the Warp, and his mind capable of impossible feats, even the Grey Knight’s own name is a weapon to be used against the Archenemy.
Grey Knights are just so over-the-top, I love them! Dating back to the very beginnings of Warhammer 40k, being introduced in the Slaves to Darkness supplement to Rogue Trader, they were expanded upon during subsequent editions through such infamous books as Codex: Daemonhunters and the like. In third edition, army lists were expanded from simply using terminators, to giving a greater flexibility of squad-building. Fifth edition saw new plastic models for the army, and expanded the list to include the four infantry builds from the Strike Squad box that we still have today. Paladins and Terminators got similar treatment, and the Nemesis Dreadknight was introduced as a new choice.
It’s really the fifth edition Codex, which was specifically a Grey Knights Codex as opposed to the Ordo Malleus, Inquisition, or Daemonhunters book, from where all the hate and complaints of being “overpowered” come. Written by Matt Ward, the book includes the hilarious Kaldor Draigo and his antics, slaying daemons before breakfast and the like, and such rules as the ability of any Nemesis Force weapon to instantly kill an enemy. Inquisitors were still in the book, which was nice, but the amount of hate it gained seemed to mean that subsequent Codices have been pared down, to the point where Grey Knights in 8th edition, while hardly unplayable, are certainly difficult to get anywhere with.
For starters, they’re expensive. I mean, I played a game at 1200 points, and had around 20 models on the table. The new Chapter Approved has helped a lot, of course, so that I can now field an actual battalion at 1200 points, but it was really quite surprising to see how many points these models weigh in at!
They may be expensive, points-wise, but they do look so damn fancy, I absolutely adore them. While I’ve often said that the Neophyte Hybrids are my favourite basic troops unit for the amount of detailing they have, the basic Grey Knights Strike Squad just looks so damn cool. They’re like the fanciest of Space Marines, with the most amazing, baroque armour – I just love them! And don’t even get me started on the Paladins! More than perhaps any other force in Warhammer 40k, I think these guys really show off that Gothic aesthetic so well. Well, maybe the new Sisters will give them a run for their money…
The level of detailing on these models is just amazing, and playing an army of psychic space monks is always pretty hilarious! As I said, I have actually managed to play a game with them (finally!) so thought I’d ramble a bit about that now as well, now that I have some experience with them!
I was playing against Chaos Space Marines, and I guessed I’d be up against a lot of daemons as JP had recently taken delivery of the Khorne half of Wrath and Rapture, so Grey Knights were a useful choice there. Playing Maelstrom of War is always difficult, as the luck of the cards can often mean losing despite playing a better game overall, you know? I didn’t get first turn, though, and so my army was really quite decimated by the time I got to even do anything. As with any elite army, each loss hurts all the more…
Every model being a psyker meant that I really had to get to grips with the Psychic Phase this time. I had visions of psychic powers bouncing round the table, as my HQs were given the more protective powers while some of the more offensive ones went to the troops – trying to remember the sequence was tough, but I think I did manage to get some decent play here. Across the turn, I managed to dish out over 40 unsaved wounds, and basically wiped the entire daemonic contingent of 20 Bloodletters and 3 Bloodcrushers from the table, with them having done precisely nothing to me. So that was useful!
However, my ability to play the actual mission was greatly stunted by the fact that I had so few warriors left to do anything with, and when JP used his Master of Executions to wipe out my Purifier squad in a single swing, I pretty much knew it was game over for me! The game lasted just one and a half rounds, as I conceded at the start of my second turn, being down something like 8VP to 0!
Like I said, though, Chapter Approved has been very kind to Grey Knights in particular, and my list for the game has seen around a 300 point reduction, overall, so I am intending to shift a couple of things around and create a battalion for the next outing for the Sons of Titan! That does mean, however, that I need to get a third Strike Squad box…
This has changed somewhat since the first Grey Knights list that I drew up, I must say! Crucially, I’ve swapped out the venerable dreadnought for perhaps the most divisive model in the line, the Nemesis
Babycarrier Dreadknight. I’ve come round pretty much full-circle on this unit, from not wanting to give one house room, to seeing it as a good focal point for the army. They’re certainly bigger models than I’d been expecting, at any rate!
Psychic Powers are still something of a mystery to me, as I don’t quite know what is best with what. Astral Aim, allowing you to target units that you can’t see (as well as denying them cover saves) is perhaps obvious for the Purgators, who will be doing the most shooting. However, these powers allow you to target friendly units within 12-18″, so I’m going with the idea of giving them out almost at random, because everybody should always have a viable target. At least, until I know the army better, that’s my plan!
Hence, my mental image of psychic powers going off much like a ricochet…
I’ve really enjoyed deep-diving into the codex these past few weeks, and coming up with the list. Playing with the army was a bit confusing, but I’m really looking forward to trying them out in this new list, just as soon as I can get everything built, at least!
In the meantime…