This Tactica was written with Warhammer 40,000 4th Edition in mind. Many things change coming into 5th Edition - especially the Deployment stage. There is still usefull information here, but this article will be re-written for 5th Edition by year's end.
Canoness: The cream of the codex. Works well tooled up or to just sit back and direct your lines with a book of St Lucius. Run two if your list is over 1500. I like to run her with a Blessed Weapon, Cloak of St Aspira, Jumppack, Bolt Pistol, and Frag Grenades. The Inferno Pistol is generally a poor choice here because it tends to lead you to shoot at a vehicle - which is not her job. Shooting at vehicles leaves her out in the open, stranded... and then dead. A jump Canoness should be run near Seraphim, but not with them - as that would deny the Seraphim their Hit N Run capability.
Palatine: Poor man's Canoness. For only 10 pts more, you get 1 more attack, 1 more wound, 1 more Ld, and 1 more Faith. Points well spent, thank you.
OH Inquisitor Lord: Limited usefulness. If you try to make an assault unit, it can only produce an ok assault unit, that costs more than many other armies' elite assaulters - and they struggle with delivery. He is not needed for the Hood, Sisters have enough protection from psychic powers already. So there isn't a whole lot of stuff left for him to do. There is usefulness in an mkerr-pattern squad (Lord in Carapace Armor, 3 HB Servitors, 1+ Bolter Acolytes, 2 Chirurgeons) - but this depends heavily on good cover, and really has limited place in a mechanized list, which this Tactica focuses on.
Priests: Only useful in Zealot squads. And you need one in your army to take other units. But I never take those other units, so it's not an issue.
OH Inquisitor: Suffers from same issues as Lord, but is cheaper.
Arco-flagellants: One of three great looking new models in the WH range - and all their rules suck (le sigh). Arcos have the potential to be a devastating assault unit. So why don't they work? They are over-costed and have no delivery system. Sure, maybe a unit like this is really worth 35 points, but not if they never reach the opponent. The 4+ save isn't enough to protect them long enough to get them to combat. So in order to get them to combat, you have to activate their implants... which gets them killed - how fun! Any opposing commander who knows anything about this unit will never let it reach his lines. And they're too expensive to use as a distraction of that sort.
Celestian Squad: Decent unit. 2 more pts than a Battle Sister gets you Faithful without a VSS, +1 Ld, +1 WS, +1 In, and Hatred (preferred enemy: everyone). Is it worth it? Not normally. They are a good choice if you want a smaller unit (less than 10), and you don't want/need a VSS. They make a decent 6-model unit with 2 meltas for tank-hunting. Don't get fooled into thinking that because of Hatred that they can be a good assault unit. They become an "ok" assault unit - but their strength still lies in bolters and Faith - and in those areas, Battle Sisters are just as good. You also have to be careful here, because you cannot "Kenny" the VSS to gain a Faith point back. Also, the lack of a VSS means they have no Book of St Lucius - so they must be covered by another squad for that purpose.
Sisters Repentia: Wow what beautiful models! Wow what terrible rules! T3 with a 4+ save = Hvy Bolter bait. Even if they do reach the enemy (through some miracle), they still strike last and will lose another significant portion of their numbers before they even strike. The only squads they are good against are expensive models - more expensive than their whole squad: vehicles, dreads, monstrous creatures, and terminators. But no one will ever let them get there, and they're even easier to stop than Arcos are.
Temple Assassins: The use of Assassins in a mechanized list is challenging. One reason is in the case of Escalation - you do not want your Assassin being the only model on the table at the beginning of the game. For this, the Callidus is a relatively decent choice. The other challenge of using Assassins is that you need an Inquisitor. Having an Inquisitor in a mechanized list is also a bit of a pain. Yes, you can get the Inq a transport, but the main reason I am against it is that the mechanized list can burn through Faith, and at this point you are spending 250-350 pts on non-Faith generating units. Proper use of this unit is covered on the Bell of Lost Souls Assassins Tactica.
Death-Cult Assassins: This particular assassin is worth her points. A great use is to use their Infiltration to create a virtual Denied Flank. Infiltrate three of them on one flank will make many commanders avoid that area entirely. Because of their bad save, they must remain hidden until attacking. They suffer from the same problem as Temple Assassins though, in the investiture of points in non-Faith generating units. Proper use of this unit is covered on the Bell of Lost Souls Assassins Tactica.
Battle Sisters Squad: If the Canoness is the cream, these gals are the bread and butter. Keep them at the default squad size for Rhino transport. Always, always, always take the VSS. Weapon options: Flamers (Heavy and regular) are only good if you have a transport to deliver them in; Meltaguns are great too (should be the only weapon in foot-sloggers); Stormbolters are not a good option. Sure SB's give you more ranged firepower, but are really only worth it if your unit is going to sit back - Sisters should never just sit back. My preferred special weapons loadout are Heavy Flamer & Meltagun.
On the VSS, naked w/ bolter is great; even better is with a Book of St Lucius (if you can't put one in every unit then be sure to stagger them, remembering to use their 6" range!); and another great option is an Eviscerator, albeit expensive. Combi-flamer or Brazier are ok... I just don't really go for the one-use weapons in normal situations. The Eviscerator is ok here as well, but tends to be a bit of an under-performer in Battle Sister Squads - spend the points elsewhere if you can. Every other weapon option is terrible.
Inquisitorial Storm Troopers: Let's see here, for 1 pt less than Battle Sisters, you get -1 Save, worse vet option, much worse gun, and no Faith. But you get access to plasmaguns and Chimeras. Not really enough, IMO. Their best use is in small squads with plasma. These guys are ok when you want to fill the 2 Troop minimum slots cheaply, and/or really need plasma.
Seraphim: [Choir of Angels]"Ahhhhh!"[/Choir of Angels] This unit and its proper use can win you more games than any other unit in your army. They can assault, counter-assault, tank-hunt, and IC hunt. Hand flamers are great for an assault unit, inferno pistols great for small tank-hunting units, and one of each is fine for all-purpose units. Contrary to most other armies, the Witch Hunters army is one where it is sometimes alright to mix weapon types within a unit (normally you would put only anti-infantry or only anti-tank/low AP weaponry in the same unit).
A VSS is required if you want this unit to assault. She provides the punch and a built-in Imperialis Simulacrum (boo-yah) - give her a Book of St Lucius to complete the package. I prefer giving her an Eviscerator, standard powerfist like capabilities and the ability to punch tanks/dreads when the opportunity arises gets my heart all... fluttery. Power Weapons are preferred by those looking for a budget unit. To be honest, I don't see much point in the difference of 230 pts vs 215 - but I can be a bit strong-willed about things like this.
My "default" configuration for this unit is 8 Seraphim with 2 Hand-Flamers, including a VSS with Eviscerator and Book. There is also the small tank-hunting squad of 5 or 6 with 2 Inferno Pistols that will typically run into an opposing unit, survive through the end of your opponent's Assault phase (using Invulnerable saves, if need be), then Hit N Run and be in your opponent's backfield to do as they please. This is typically a suicide squad.
Dominion Squad: Decent option - often overlooked because of the stunning qualities of the Seraphim. I prefer them with flamers. Meltaguns are too expensive in this unit - you can pull off melta units with either Celestians for small units, or Battle Sisters for larger. Some mix 2 flamers and 2 meltas - this could be good too. I also prefer the 10 model unit in rhino over Immolators (but that discussion is in a later post). VSS is also required here, but I like the model naked w/ bolter.
Retributors: Good with Heavy Bolters, not with Multi-Meltas. I like to apply the same principle with Devastator squads (2:1 ratio) here. That means either 8 Retributors with 4 HvyB's or 6 Ret's with 3 HvyB's. VSS is also required for Faith. Do not make the mistake of trying to use Faith on this unit. Divine Guidance is made for up close shooting - as in rapid fire range. The Heavy Bolter's are powerful enough that they don't require a lot of assistance, save it for the bolters.
Immolator: I don't use them. Sure, they're fluffy, and the model is great. But man do they ever have a target painted on them. More appropriately named, "Flaming Coffin of Doom."
Because of this issue, I also do not like them as Transport options, where available. Factory Default Rhinos* do it for me. They can be viable in an Immolator-swarm where you're running 5-8 Immolators - but that's really another army type entirely.
Exorcist: Also known as, "The reason I never take Retributors." This is the only model in the whole codex that I am willing to "give up" Faith for. In other words, it is not Faithful and brings no Faith to my list. Who cares? Holy crap, this thing is good! One is a bit of a gamble, so two are required for most 1500 lists. Want to see an opponent cry? Bring three. Some people cry cheese, beardy, OTT, etc. But the truth of the matter is, that the Exorcist is the only (viable) real long-range firepower that the list has.
Penitent Engines: Big, beautiful model. Buy one, paint it, put it on the shelf and sigh. This thing blows. 80pts? 11AV?? Open-topped??? GAH!!! This might, might, might(!) be worth it if you were allowed to give it smoke launchers (maybe), but you're not, so it's not.
Orbital Strike: DH players don't even use this... don't you either.
Zealots: Ok, these should probably go in Troops, but since they're not in the codex, I'm putting them here. 20 of these with Eviscerator Fanatics and a Priest are scary. Fragile, but scary. Demagogues and Exterminators are not required and just bump up the point cost of the unit.
Inducted Guard: Infantry Platoons can be used to give your list firepower. The problem though is that you then have some static aspects and some mobile. There is also the whole "Faith-generating unit" that I brought up with other units. I use these guys in my foot list, but keep them out of your mech.
Sentinels are an excellent option if you've invested in 2 inducted units.
Leman Russ can provide a bit of "oomph," too.
Allied Marines: Not worth it at all. Can't have Sisters in the list. Guard do it just as well for inducting purposes. If you want to mix marines, then take a marine army and add WitchHunter allies.
Faith is the belief in things that can't be proved. Except in 40k, where we prove that Faith kicks ass.
Guideline - I believe you should have a base 1 Faith, +1-2 for every 500 pts in the army (+/- 1):
500 pts 3 Faith
1000 pts 4-5
1500 pts 6-7
1750 pts 6-8
Proper use of Faith will win the battle. Without it, Sisters are much nearer bottom of the food chain... even below orks (ouch). Allow me to cover three things before getting into the Acts of Faith themselves.
- Imagifer/Imperialis Simulacrum. Allows you to roll 3 dice and pick best two for AoF once per turn. Sound good? You bet. Overused? Too often. The best use of this item comes for units that have to accomplish certain tasks. Have to. Fortunately, the unit (Seraphim) that most often has to absolutely do something comes with it built-in to their VSS. I don't know why I see this in people's Battle Sister Squads, I really don't. Squads should be designed in size to accomplish the type of Act you expect that squad to need to roll. Really only Seraphim and Canoness' are the ones that will use multiple types of rolls (Offensive or Defensive).
- "Kennying". Brought to us by our friends at South Park: "Kennying" is the method of gaining Faith to use in the army, by pulling a VSS as a casualty - especially when she doesn't need to be. Granted, this should preferably be a naked VSS, so you're not wasting points. Some lists can really burn through the Faith, and getting it back is very important - more important than a single VSS in a depleted squad, anyhow. Note though, that as you become more experienced with using your Faith, the necessity of this act should become less and less.
- Act of Faith "Types". There are really two types of Acts of Faith: Offensive and Defensive. Offensive Acts help you to kill other units better, while Defensive Acts protect your unit. Offensive Acts require you to roll equal to or below the squad size, so larger squad sizes are preferred. Defensive Acts require you to roll equal to or above the squad size, and are impractical unless/until the squad is of a smaller size.
Acts of Faith
Hand of the Emperor: Offensive AoF. Best use is to make an Eviscerator wielding model Strength 8 for purposes on insta-killing. It could also be used as last-ditch effort to make squad Strength 5 to hurt Monstrous Creatures, but is not normally worth it.
Divine Guidance: Offensive AoF. If you don't know how to use this AoF... give up and get another army. Short-range bolter fire and flamer templates, oh yes. Hardly ever worth it in assault. I generally do not like to use this AoF unless I have at least 12 hits (which is easy enough in rapid-fire range).
Strongest Offensive Act of Faith
The Passion: Offensive AoF. Rare and judicious use of this AoF is called for. The +2 Init is rarely going to make a difference, excepting a Blessed Weapon Canoness.
Light of the Emperor: Defensive AoF. Again, a rare AoF. Saving small units from running off the table is very rarely worth it. I only use this AoF on the rare occasion that I have a unit break that can reform, but there is an enemy unit within 6". This situation save me a scoring unit and allows me to pour a decent amount of fire into the nearby unit.
Spirit of the Martyr: Defensive AoF. Friend of Seraphim and Canoness' everywhere. Other squads can use it as well, if engaged with especially deadly units, in order to tarpit them.
Strongest Defensive Act of Faith
Delivery & Sustainability
This is normally a discussion that assault armies have. Guess what? Sisters function as an assault army... just without all the "assaulting". The capacity for a Sisters of Battle army to win is entirely based on their ability to get units into short range. Sisters are not an army that can sit back and shoot (except against all-out assaulters, like Tyranids or Orks). They just don't have the ranged capability to force the opponent to come to them; instead, it is they who must go and get. This part of the tactica applies to all types of Sisters armies, not just mechanized.
Sisters function best in < 12" range - the closer the better if you have flame templates. This lends itself to two problems:
- Delivery. How do you get there? Shooty armies will try to prevent you from getting there, and assault armies will try to minimize the time you have before they are on you.
- Sustainabilty. Assault armies and counter-assault units tend to come into major focus when you're 1-12" away from the enemy lines. What prevents them from tying up your units? The less time you spend shooting, the more time your opponent has to make sure you don't win. As long as you're shooting, your opponent is reacting to you (which is good) - when your units aren't shooting, and you're desperately doing what you can to get them out of combat, then you're reacting to your opponent (which is bad).
So, what are your choices for Delivery? Often it comes down to the basic choice of Mechanized or Foot-slogging.
- Gets you there faster
- Allows you to react better to Refused Flank, Pincer Moves, etc - even countering with your own.
- Extra Armour & Smoke Launchers give a really good chance of successful arrival.
- Can maximize use of flame templates.
- Empty transports can Tank Shock to cut off support, or to bunch up units for flame goodness.
- Vehicles moving downfield can be used as "mobile terrain" to screen other units (Seraphim & Cannoness particularly) from enemy fire.
- Lower model count.
- If your opponent can stop your transports, you're pretty well screwed.
- All those vehicles moving downfield can block firelanes for your shooters - Exorcists & Retributors.
- High model count. 115 3+ save models on the board? Yes, thank you.
- Bigger units to ensure better Faith usage.
- Highly adaptable.
- Slow - it takes a minimum of 3 turns to get into rapid fire range vs static armies. Longer if they back up.
- Vs Shooty armies, can have their numbers reduced significantly, making proper Faith usage hard.
- Vs Assault armies, can be difficult to move reinforcements to a flank under attack. It is much easier to "roll up a flank" against foot troops.
So what method of delivery works best? It's entirely up to you. I have chosen Mechanized, but that doesn't mean that Foot is wrong. I can see the benefit and potential strengths of Foot... what I don't see, is the benefit of mixing the two. I know some people run mixed armies, but here is why I think it doesn't work.
The success behind Mechanized lies in providing your opponent with more targets than he can probably take out. When there are 4-6 smoked/obscured rhinos/immolators downfield, it gets tough to stop them all. When there are 1-2, it doesn't become so much of an issue. It very well may work against an opponent that doesn't have much anti-tank capability, but not against those that do. Yes, I know that there are several here that will disagree with me on this point in particular - so realize that this is just my opinion.
To get into rapid-fire range is one thing. To stay there relatively unscathed - that is another thing entirely.
There are 3 main things that can help you with Sustainability.
- Focus of Fire. Using multiple units to rapid-fire into a single, opposing unit. This can reasonably wipe out (or reduce to 1-2 models) most units you will ever come up against.
- Limit Visibility. Use terrain, close combats, or vehicles to block Line of Sight and Line of Assault from the rest of the opposing army. (See below "Basic Mechanized Sisters Tactics" on how to bisect opposing armies.)
- Interdiction. Use Canoness and/or Seraphim to jump and assault the unit past the one that you are firing at - tying them up in combat and preventing them from counter-assaulting. This will also help by accomplishing some of #2 - Limit Visibility. This only real concern here is that this role can burn through your Faith faster than anything else... use it, but know when Spirit of the Martyr isn't absolutely necessary.
The biggest thing about any of these tactics is knowing when to attempt them - and that can only be achieved through experience. So get out there and purge some heretic butt!
Basic Mechanized Tactics
This covers from Deployment to turn 3 (-ish). Because anything that happens after that is generally not going to be able to be predicted in a manner that a simple document like this could cover.
Many players know this, but I'm going to state it anyways:
The primary method of obtaining victory is to maintain your stance of power. The Sisters' "stance of power" is short-range (1-12") shooting. The main objective of a mechanized Sisters of Battle army list is to get your troops into that stance as quickly as possible, and to maintain it for as long as possible.
Consider your shooting as a package. The rhino is the delivery vehicle.
Note: These tactics are for an opposing, static army - but they are just as applicable vs mobile-mech and assault armies. Against mobile-mech armies, use the rhinos to keep up with the opponent and apply shooting liberally, they can be easier because the numbers of models in mobile-mech armies are lower. Against assault armies, you can even foot it, using a turn outside the rhinos to shoot at models in range. Then use the rhinos to drive a path (tank-shock!), dividing the army into manageable chunks... shoot and flame to your leisure.
My deployment rules are simple.
- Place Exorcists to control major fire-lanes. Many opponents do not want their vehicles staring down that missile launcher. If you're worried about his anti-tank, place behind a piece of terrain that you can drive into on turn 1 and fire from. Start behind terrain - the single weapon of the Exorcist means that it loses nothing when having to move 6" and fire.
- Start rhino deployment in center of your DZ. Try to shield, but center is more important than shielding. Then pick one side (usually the side towards where you opponent is deploying his troops - but not always), deploy additional rhinos to that side, and that side only - staying relatively near the center. You can either set them all up on the same side as your Exorcists, to overload a flank, or opposite your Exorcists to have them refuse that flank.
- Seraphim hide behind rhinos or to a shielded side of them. Canoness' are by the Seras, but never join them.
With the new objective rules, many opponents will opt to go second - to gain than last grab for table quarters, objectives, etc. This is good for us - because on Turn 1 our rhinos are most fragile (if you're really worried about it, you can deploy the units outside the rhinos... how often do you unload at the end of Turn 1??). You want to go first though. It increases your odds of winning by... a lot. (Note to non-WH players: do not read this... I am, um, lying - yeah that's it, lying.) Why? Because a lot of whether or not you win or they win is based upon them stopping the rhinos. If they stop rhinos before your girls are able to get close enough and have to foot it the rest of the way there, then they have just gained a large advantage towards the end game.
If you go first, your opponent will get one round of shooting your transports before the get there. If you go second, he gets two. He more than doubles his chances of stopping your assault (because one of those turns, you won't have smoke to protect you). Against shooty armies, this can be disastrous.
So how do we use our deployment and first turn to enable delivery? My favorite tactic is Bisecting. This is both harder and easier against a castled opponent - but your standard spread deployment opponent makes for a standard Bisection.
Bisection is the practice of dealing with part of the opponent's army at a time (specifically, half). Drive two rhinos straight forward to form a wall at/near the table center (if there's terrain there, this is even easier) and pop smoke. Other rhinos should hide behind this wall - the forward one may still need to use their smoke. With the Seraphim/Canoness safely behind all this.
If done right, you've allowed your opponent to really only shoot at 2 smoked, rhinos.
At the same time, bring your Exorcists guns to bear on the unit(s) most likely hurt your rhinos: dev squads & tanks. Make your opponent pay attention to them. He should now be stuck as to what to attempt to take out - the rhinos or the Exorcists.
Note: in my games, I typically lose 0-1 rhinos in the first turn, and suffer a damaged exorcist - sometimes destroyed.
If you have more than 1 or 2 rhinos lost at this point: the game may be rough - or you didn't screen properly - or the dice gods hate you.
Move any remaining rhinos that have not used their smoke to the fore-center of the table, and use their smoke. You should consider deploying a unit on the forward rhino on your protected side (especially if you lost a rhino). The other rhinos pull max distance ahead to the protected side of your rhino wall and deploy troops. Make sure that your rhinos do no block LoS for your Exorcists to what they need to shoot at.
Note: you choose what side is the "protected" side... I've changed my mind at this point in the game as to which side I wish to go after.
Seraphim again move up behind the new wall. Canoness may do same, or split to start "hunting" - try to make sure something else will be closer to enemies though... nothing quite like having to burn Faith early to protect her in the shooting phase.
Use a "focus of fire" to engage larger units with your deployed sisters. Engage small units (6 man min squads) on a one-to-one basis. You should be able to wipe out most anything within immediate range with judicious use of Divine Guidance.
Sidenote Tactic: My favorite Battle Sister Squad configuration has a Heavy Flamer and Meltagun. Against lighter troops, if there is a vehicle behind their squad, I have a dirty tactic of firing at the vehicle with the squad - allowing the meltagun to damage the vehicle, and the heavy flamer to take out models in the squad (as long as the template hits the vehicle). My local Tau players have learned to never deploy in front of their vehicles...
If your Seraphim are in charge range, go ahead - but since you've been shielding them, they may not be unless your opponent has moved elements towards you.
This turn is designed to make your opponent wince and to refocus his attention on your package. From this point on, if your Exorcists are ok, he will probably not have the luxury of being able to shoot at them.
You probably have one squad engaged by an opposing unit - if they're small, a Canoness can easily worm them out. You may consider abandoning the unit, either Kennying the VSS, or using SotM to make them a tarpit to hold that unit for the rest of the game (my favorite against assault squads).
Move undeployed rhino units (if they're ok) up to find a DG target, combo them with a unit that you suffered some losses in and aren't sure about getting off your Act of Faith (< 8). Generally use the Battle Sisters to sweep through whatever troops are on that side of the battlefield. Use any still running rhinos to continue to shield them from other half of army - tank-shocking where beneficial (e.g. any non-fearless/tank-hunting unit) - even Ld 10 fails. Bring up any previously Entangled units.
Move Seraphim to intercept counter-charge units and engage them. Use unit edges to minimize the return damage threat. On your opponent's turn, you'll use SotM (if power weapon/fist is there) to minimize casualties, then Hit-n-Run.
Move Canoness' to hunt small units and IC's.
If you've come this far, the game is pretty much in hand. Continue to use the Seraphim to prevent your Battle Sisters from being engaged, then jumping out on your opponent's turn to leave them vulnerable to fire. You'll lose a unit or two at this point, but that's ok - you will need their Faith soon enough.
If your opponent runs his other half army away, use your rhinos and exorcists to corral them. Weaponless exorcists can still tank-shock and/or grab objectives.
Seraphim and Canoness can catch most runners easily.
Manage your Faith, get it back via Martyrdom when necessary. If you think a unit might break, make sure to pull either the VSS as a casualty or all models in base-to-base, since you get no Faith being run down.
Sample Army List
122 - Canoness, Blessed Weapon, Bolt Pistol, Frags, Cloak of St Aspira, JumpPack, Book of St Lucius
209 - 10 Battle Sisters, Hvy Flamer/Meltagun, VSS w/ BoSL in Rhino w/ EA/Smoke
209 - 10 Battle Sisters, Hvy Flamer/Meltagun, VSS w/ BoSL in Rhino w/ EA/Smoke
205 - 10 Battle Sisters, Hvy Flamer/Flamer, VSS w/ BoSL in Rhino w/ EA/Smoke
207 - 10 Battle Sisters, 2x Meltagun, VSS w/ BoSL in Rhino w/ EA/Smoke
230 - 8 Seraphim, 2x HandFlamer, VSS w/ BoSL, Evsicerator
162 - 6 Seraphim, 2x Inferno Pistol
135 - Exorcist
135 - Exorcist
135 - Exorcist