Who Shall Lead? Part Five: Space Marine Captains

The Fifth Edition Codex: Space Marines changes the way a 40K player chooses the heroic characters who will lead his army. The previous editions' multi-level Independent Character options and near-limitless choices of Wargear from the Armoury are no more; instead, the new Codex presents an unprecedented number and variety of pre-constructed Special Characters—then encourages players to pick the one whose gear or abilities most suits that player's preferences, and use him as a 'template,' over which the player can lay his own Chapter's names, colours, history and background. And amongst the Special Characters available as HQ choices, nowhere are the options more varied than amongst the HQ type the new Codex *clearly* intends as the leader-of-choice for most V5 armies -- Space Marine Captains. Where other HQ choices have had their statistic lines bumped down a bit, Captains are actually stouter than in previous editions; and the Codex presents a total of five Captain Special Character types, plus the generic-build entry--more than the other four HQ options combined.

Which Captain suits what army-build/playing-style best?

SICARIUS: The Ultramarines representative feels the most like a traditional Space Marine Captain, from previous editions--only jumped-up on steroids. He brings army-wide Leadership, confers to another squad the ability to retain one of the Veteran Skills which might have characterized them in previous editions, and is awesome in assault against the foe. Sicarius weighs in with the Mantle of the Suzerain, a suit of Artificer Armour reducing his Save statistic to 2+ *and* adding the Feel No Pain special rule to his Iron Halo 4+ Invulnerable Save--making Captain Sicarius one of the most survivable characters in the game (though he remains vulnerable to the Instant Kill *if* an opponent can fight through all those saves with a Strength 8 or higher attack, just once).

His armament of plasma pistol and Talassarian Tempest Blade complement his survivability by making him one of the most fearsome close combatants in the ranks of the Adeptus Astartes; the Blade's ability to forego all Sicarius' attacks in favour of a single strike which will Instant Kill anything it wounds is an awesome odds-evener in these days of daemonic and monstrous creatures immune to such a fate, even from Force weapons, and grabs one's attention for considering Sicarius as a monster-killer--but wielded simply as a power blade with Sicarius' Weapon Skill of 6 and four attacks (five on the charge, plus the inbound plasma shot) makes Sicarius most formidable as a rank-and-file opponent slayer...doubly so, since his own vulnerability to being Insta-Killed is lessened against most such opposition.

Sicarius adds the Surprise Attack special rule allowing his side to reroll their attempt to seize initiative, the Rites of Battle special rule conferring his Leadership to the entire army for Morale or Pinning tests, and--most significantly--Battle-forged Heroes, which allows a player fielding Sicarius to give one Tactical squad a Veteran Skill upgrade. Those missing the previous edition's Traits system should give Captain Sicarius a long look as the template choice for their army commander based on this special rule alone: granted, it affects only a single Tac squad, but being able to carry over some ability which characterized your previous era army could be a big deal, toward retaining your sense of that force's identity in this new age. Against such positives, the only downside to choosing Sicarius is his cost: at 200 points, only the Terminator-armoured Imperial Fist Lysander is as expensive as Sicarius, among the five template characters presented in the new codex. For those points, however, Captain Sicarius will provide players one of the most familiar, most potent, most threatening and most survivable leaders available to a Space Marine army--and grant them a measure of their former identity, in the doing.

LYSANDER: the Captain of the Imperial Fists is as expensive as Sicarius--and even more survivable. The only issue with choosing Darnath Lysander as a template for your own force leader is that his special rules conflict with each other, in dictating his best battlefield role--making it difficult to get maximum effect from everything he can do.

Lysander is equipped to lead from the front, in hand-to-hand combat: he has Terminator Armour and a Storm Shield for a 2+/3+ set of Saves, and the mighty Thunder Hammer Fist of Dorn--mastercrafted, striking at Strength 10, with a +1 to the result roll on the Vehicle Damage Table. Add his ability to make units in his army Stubborn and the enormously impactful Eternal Warrior, and Lysander has the special rules to increase his assault effectiveness. Much moreso than Sicarius, Darnath Lysander is a serious vehicle- and monster-killing character template.

However, perhaps his most interesting rules are best used if Lysander is held back from close combat. He can Bolster Defences like a Techmarine (an artifact of his Legion's legendary seige expertise, doubtless)--and if he joins a squad any included model may reroll 'to hit' rolls with bolt weapons, courtesy of his Bolter Drill special rule. Imagine a Heavy Bolter Devastator squad fighting from an entrenched position with Lysander amongst them: horde armies beware!

But a player choosing to field him this way is foregoing Lysander's essential assaultiness (because he wields Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield, the master of bolter discipline hasn't even a gun of his own to fire); and a player who wades into the enemy with Lysander surrenders the shooting benefit he could bring to a ranged-combat-oriented squad.

The closest thing to a happy medium, of course, would be to place Lysander in the company of his fellow Terminators, who with Storm Bolter and Power Fist as standard weapons suffer some of the same cost penalty for being good at everything that Lysander does. His Bolter Drill will make their Storm Bolters even more effective, and he will certainly increase their impact come the assault. Sadly, none of the heavies available to Terminators are Bolter weapons...leaving such a unit likely to be either shooting ineffectively with small arms fire at vehicles or monsters worthy of their Hammers and Fists, or using the latter in massive overkill assaults on hordes as follow-up to their fire volley.

One tactical use for Lysander which should see some play is as a counter-assault unit for shooting-oriented Space Marine players bedeviled by infiltrating, outflanking or other 'sneak up from behind' opposing army builds. Lysander directing fire from that aforementioned entrenched Heavy Bolter squad--then detaching to deal with Space Wolf scouts intent on ruining a gun line's day, should prove more than reasonably entertaining for the player leading with the Terminator Captain of the Imperial Fists.

And at the end of the day, Lysander is the only option, other than a generic build, for a Space Marine Captain in Tactical Dreadnought Armour. For Terminator afficionados, that alone will be reason enough to field him.

Lysander is good, make no mistake; his rules just make him so expensive it will be difficult to consistently maximize that effectiveness, for such cost.

SHRIKE: The Captain of the Raven Guard suffers no 'mission diffusion' contradictions in his equipment or special rules; Shrike is the template for the player looking to have his commander lead the proverbial mobile infantry assault--and lead from the front.

With jump pack and master-crafted, Rending twin lightning claws, Shrike is equipped to get to the fight with immediacy and to make an impact once there, with an Iron Halo Invulnerable Save to provide him staying power. His special rules confer Infiltration to himself and any unit in his squad (now doubly-useful in V5 with the outflank option), and his Chapter Tactics rule exchanges the standard Space Marine Combat Tactics for Fleet--a huge bonus for assault-oriented armies.

Shrike is expensive at 195 points--but the closest similarly equipped Captain built from the generic Codex entry is only going to be 40 points less without master-crafting, Rending or Shrike's Infiltrating and Fleet special bonuses. Using those latter two rules effectively can be tricky for some players, who might find merit in building the less-expensive version...but for most players looking for their HQ choice to be a swift and deadly combat machine, leading an elite, highly-mobile group of similarly motivated units, Kayvaan Shrike is the strongest Captain template candidate. He will not be an answer against opposing vehicles or monsters, as a choice like Lysander would be--but let Shrike get in amongst opposing infantry, with a Fleeting assault-oriented army at his heels, and he will undo many a foe.

Shrike's only real disadvantage is a codex limitation, rather than any flaw in his character entry: he cannot be backed up by the best close-combat Space Marines available. Neither the Command Squad entry nor the Honour Guard (should a player really wish to make a powerhouse unit and join Shrike to a jump-packing Chapter Master) allow for upgrading to jump packs at this time, and Vanguard Veterans give up their Heroic Intervention special rule if joined by an independent character. That leaves Shrike leading a standard Space Marine Assault squad, and said unit's lack of access to additional power weaponry has always made them an inferior choice to most opposing armies' assault specialists. They therefore will simply not provide Shrike the maximum backup effect possible (though a sergeant with a power weapon, power fist, thunder hammer or combat shield--or a pair of lightning claws of his own!--leading them will go a long way, as an equalizer...and having Shrike amongst them, granting them outflank to hit what they want and Fleet to get the charge, will still make them an effective choice).

VULKAN: There has been much renewed interest in the Salamanders, with the release of the new Space Marine Codex. Forgefather Vulkan He'stan is why.

If there is a reason the other outstanding Captain templates are not being universally embraced by players, it is probably because Vulkan is even better--and for several points less. Vulkan is as or even more survivable than the other Special Characters (possible save the ultimate tank Lysander), his relic weapon provides increased effectiveness against vehicles and monsters (the kind of things a Space Marine Captain *should* be destroying, in many players' minds)...and Vulkan's Chapter Tactic special rule is an absolute deal-closer: master-crafting *every* Thunder Hammer in his army, and twinlinking every flamer and melta weapon type, is just enormously combat effective.

It is difficult to find fault with Vulkan: a 2+ artificer armour Save, which he will rarely have to take because he also has a *3+* Invulnerable Save from his dragon-scaled Kesare's Mantle; a Strength 6 master-crafted power halberd as his melée weapon (with digital weapons to make *sure* when it hits, it hurts) and the equivalent of a squad heavy weapon in his Gauntlet for a sidearm; and a Chapter Tactic which is both obvious in the benefits it confers yet does not ram a specific play style down a choosing player's throat. The only real issue a player will have to address (if not playing Salamanders and using Vulkan *as* Vulkan) will be working out a background for his templated version which explains all the character's 'wonderful toys' without being boringly derivative...and frankly, that kind of challenge is part of the fun of a DIY chapter.

Vulkan being so iremediably Salamanderish *will* deter some players from choosing him, nonetheless; and the specific virtues of the various other HQ character template options will have their adherents; but barring either, Vulkan is going to find his way tocommand of many new fifth edition Space Marine armies--painted green and breathing fire or not.

He is that good.

KHAN: Kor'sarro Khan may prove to be one of the least-used Captain templates in the new Codex; that is understandable given the other options available, and given that what he specializes in is a difficult army construct for Space Marines to excel--but also unfortunate, because he does what he does with a maximum of 'cool' and a very reasonable minimum of points.

Khan can be fielded in two versions: with or without his special relic bike Moondrakkan. The bike option is the construct which seems to be what causes most players to consider Khan, and that makes sense: it is characterful (he is a White Scars special character) and at only 10 points more than the cost of an ordinary Space Marine Bike for a generically-built Captain, Moondrakkan confers to Khan extra movement (he can Run instead of Shooting) and the ability to Assault at the end of that extra movement (via Fleet). These are outstanding benefits for the cost, and anyone considering a bike-themed Space Marine army would be well-advised to lead it with Khan on Moondrakkan--but it does increase his total cost to 205 points (translating him from the most economical Special Character Space Marine Captain to the most expensive), and perhaps most importantly, it does not at present confer the ability to Run or Fleet to any squad Khan might be attached to/leading...which means, to benefit from Moondrakkan's special rule to maximum effect, Khan is going to have to ride alone. While his movement will likely be so flexible he should still be able to combine charges with other supporting units most of the time, this *is* still an extra complication for a fielding player; and more importantly, not belonging to a unit leaves Khan vulnerable to the character-assassinating machinations of one's opponent.

A more appealing option, though less obvious, is Khan on foot, without Moondrakkan. In this configuration, Khan is only 160 points, but retains all of his equipment and special rules except Fleet. That means he and any unit he joins may still Hit and Run and Furious Charge, and Khan still wields the mighty power sword Moonfang, which causes Instant Death on any To Wound roll of 6, regardless of an opponent's Toughness. All this, and under Khan's leadership all squads in his army which possessed Combat Tactics exchange them for the ability to outflank--including squads in dedicated transports! Those are exceptional, completely army-changing special rules, for 45 points more than an similarly-equipped generic-build Captain. They won't be for every player--in which case, 45 points saved is a not-inconsiderable sum--but for a mobility-based Space Marine army, Kor'sarro Khan is the Captain of choice...astride his bike, or not.

SPACE MARINE CAPTAIN: As with the other HQ options in the new Codex, there is still a place for a custom-built Captain. A player can build a Terminator-armoured or bike-riding Captain with different weapons fit-out and at a significantly-reduced cost from either Lysander or Khan, or one with a jump pack for less than Shrike; a Captain on foot with no more addition than an exchange of his chainsword for a power weapon is still frightfully effective, and only 115 points--130, if upgraded to artificer armour--and of course a player wishing to field a particularly-equipped model (twin lightning claws, as in Sicarius' previous incarnation, spring to mind) fortunately still has this route to go to. At the end of the day, a Captain built from the generic listing is going to be the choice for the player of predominantly shooty armies, both because the template characters all have a close-combat focus and because it is simply more cost-effective, as the points-saved translate to more firepower. Any player considering a 'lead from the front' kind of Space Marine Captain would do well to look at the five Special Characters, and see if any of the bonuses they bring to the table mesh with what the player intends; the bang-for-the-buck difference is considerable.