Breaking Down the Word Bearers

After jumping around a number of Chaos factions for some time, I have to say Chaos Space Marines really hooked me in a way the other factions haven’t so far.

We all need a little heresy in our lives from time to time.

While most of my time initially was spent with Black Legion, I decided I wanted to experiment a little bit with other legions and see what suited me. While recent Chaos Marine high placing outings have involved legions like Emperor’s Children and Creations of Bile, I felt the desire to do something a little bit different.

Word Bearers definitely aren’t a sleeper choice; when the codex was first released, some outlets argued they were the best legion in the book. While a couple other legions have been the first to really take those podium placings, Word Bearers remain a really interesting potential option for the faction and I’ve had a great time exploring them more.

So… why Word Bearers? What are they bringing to the table that another Legion doesnt?

Does the weird fish skull give the bolter an extra AP?

Legion Trait

The Word Bearers Legion Trait is Profane Zeal. This gives two abilities to your army.

1) If you charged, were charged, or heroically intervened this turn, you can re-roll your melee hit rolls.
2) Your army can roll a die for every mortal wound they suffer, ignoring the wound on a 5+.

The first part of the trait is pretty simple; your units are much more effective in combat on the turns they charge or are charged. While Traits like Creations of Bile are letting you fight on death, Emperor’s Children lets you ignore hit modifiers, and Black Legion gives you +1 to hit, the Word Bearers trait has value to virtually any melee profile. Obviously the re-rolls grant consistency, but the wording allows you to re-roll ALL hit rolls if you choose, including successful ones. This can be relevant when fishing for natural 6s on models like a Master of Executions, who become far more effective in most situations the more 6s they roll on the dice. It’s also helpful for entities that already have a 2+ WS; +1 to hit doesn’t help you if you’re already hitting on 2s, but a re-roll can be huge.

The second part is a big part of what makes Word Bearers unique. Chaos Marines have *very* little defense against Mortal wounds in general, and against some armies that are capable of spamming mass mortals like Thousand Sons, Tyranids, Grey Knights, or even some flavors of Chaos Marines themselves, they can find themselves overwhelmed. This trait takes 1/3rd of the bite off of any use of mortal wounds into your army, and can be an absolute powerhouse in some matchups. A hidden benefit you get in any matchup is that many things commonly used in Chaos Marines cause mortal wounds to yourself. Master of Possession cuts a unit to get +2 to cast? They get a 5+ against the wounds. Fail your leadership check to use a Daemon weapon? You get a 5+ against the wounds you take to use it. Perils of the Warp on your beloved psyker? 5+ against it. This can make a lot of existing masochistic Chaos Marine mechanics quite a bit better on its own.

Exalt the Dark Gods

The next unique aspect of Word Bearers is their Secondary Objective, Exalt the Dark Gods. Chaos Marines are unfortunately saddled with some really awkward secondaries (Despoil Dominions… why…) and Word Bearers bring one of the better ones to the table. Chaos Marines love to start a just brutal scrum in the middle of the table, with powerhouse units like Black Rune Terminators just becoming immovable objects, and Exalt the Dark Gods lets you push this playstyle much harder. Enemy units can only stop you by being wholly within 6″ of the center of the table, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Wrapping up my Dark Apostle and Master of Possession in Terminators and even Cultists and repeating this action in the center of the table makes for a very efficient secondary… if you play it right.


Learning to master this secondary has been a really enjoyable part of my testing with Word Bearers. Part of what I like about it is that it gives you such a clear, concise game plan right from turn one and you know exactly what you need to do to complete it. Does it make you a little predictable? Sure. But if that means they’re smashing attacks into my Terminators to try and stop me… I’m usually pretty ok with that.

Warlord Traits

Word Bearers have some alright Warlord Traits but there are a couple standouts. Exalted Possession is a lot of fun if you want to turn your warlord into a real melee beatstick. A version of the list, which I’ll be talking about in my next article, had a Dark Apostle decked out as a pure melee powerhouse, and this not only increases his output and defensiveness a fair bit, but also gives the Daemonkin keyword which is extremely relevant for models like the Master of Possession, who can give out many interesting buffs to Daemonkin. I don’t know that it’s a *great* Warlord Trait, and I’ve removed it from my list, but it is a lot of fun.

The stand out Warlord Trait to me, and the only one I’m still using, is Daemonic Whispers. I’m a sucker for CP generators and while this one seems ok at first glance, I’ve actually found it to be immensely consistent. A Master of Possession with this trait gets two casts during the psychic phase, giving you two attempts to roll a die over the current battle round for a CP. However, you ALSO can do the Exalt the Dark Gods action with the Master, as the action specifies that you can still manifest powers while doing this action. This means the Master can get THREE attempts to roll above the current battle round; even going into round 4 and 5, when this usually gets extremely inconsistent, you have a ton of attempts to roll that high number and stack up more CP for your great stable of Chaos Marine and Word Bearer stratagems.

Depicted: Black Friday in an American department store.


Relics! Word Bearers do have a couple of interesting relics available to them. My beatstick Dark Apostle build featured the Eightfold-Cursed Crozius, a fun weapon which automatically wounds on anything that isn’t a Monster or Vehicle. While fun, I did find the lack of AP on the weapon to be pretty mediocre, and not automatically wounding against Vehicles and Monsters made it a bit less exciting. It also competes pretty hard with the generic relic The Black Mace which can do a lot to make a model more efficient into many profile types.

To me, the exciting relic here is the Epistle of Lorgar. The Dark Apostle is a very effective support model, with access to some truly amazing prayers like Illusory Supplication, Blissful Devotion, Soultearer Portent, and Warp-Sight Plea. They are also immensely consistent, succeeding on prayers on a 2+ as long as their little friends are alive, and access to the Apostle of the Dark Council stratagem from Word Bearers to re-roll their attempts, meaning they almost never fail a prayer. The downside… they can only do one prayer per turn. With the Epistle of Lorgar, though, you can do TWO per turn, and know an extra one! This makes the Dark Apostle a ridiculously efficient support model and is a fantastic relic, and to me is a very core part of what makes Word Bearers unique as a legion.

Strats For the Strat God

Lastly, of course, we have Stratagems. Initially I was sort of whatever about most of their strats, but I’ve actually found their sort of unique toolbox of options comes up more than I expected. Cursed Despoilers is, frankly, kind of a meme but… if you have the CP to use it, it can make you put out absolutely *absurd* amounts of bolter fire and really rip into a target. Dark Pact has been clutch for me in some situations; due to leaning on Exalt the Dark Gods, your Master of Possession and Dark Apostle are absolutely key to a big chunk of your points, as well as just being powerhouse support models. While a 4+ to stand back up after death isn’t the greatest odds ever, it’s worth a shot to keep your immensely important HQs on the table. My only gripe is you can’t use it on a daemon prince but… can’t have everything, huh.

Malevolent Covenant is another very useful strat. Spells like Delightful Agonies or Pact of Flesh can be game changers, and can make things considerably harder on you if they fail. This stratagem lets you take 1 mortal wound (or 0 and cost an extra CP) to take a failed spell and make it an undeniable success. This is just a little piece of army efficiency that I really love; taking chance away from the equation and knowing for certain you can get the spell off if you really, really need it.

Hexagrammatic Ward is a (bunch of incorrect stuff about how this strat works that I’m editing so I don’t confuse anyone!)
It was pointed out to me that Hexagrammatic Ward works more effectively than the way I put it originally! This can be used after hits and wounds have been rolled to reduce the damage characteristic of one attack to zero before you roll a save against it. Obviously this is an amazing defensive tool that can work wonders to keep important models alive into big, high damage attacks.


So that’s the things Word Bearers are bringing to the table. In the next article, I’ll be talking about my initial, very meme-worthy initial list and we’ll start talking about the lessons I’ve learned and how I’ve iterated on the list and changed it to fit more of what I need.

Have you been playing around with Word Bearers? Are there Warlord Traits or Relics here I didn’t mention that you’ve found a cool use for? What models are you liking with them? I’d love to hear all of your ideas! I’m having an amazing time deeply exploring the Chaos Space Marine codex and playing around with all kinds of different things so if you’ve got something unique or cool, let me know!

Thanks for reading! Blood for the Blood God, Skulls for the Skull Throne, tip your daemonettes on the way out, and I’ll see you next time.

6 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Word Bearers

  1. Attacks are allocated AFTER the Hit and Wound roll (see Core rules about making attacks).

    This means Hexagrammatic Ward is very good, and one of my favorite stratagems.

    1. Yes! Thankfully someone pointed this out to me, which makes me happy, that makes the Ward better than I thought. Was my bad, I should have gone and actually checked the attack sequence wording.

  2. Two mistakes here:

    Hexagrammatic Ward is when an attack is allocated. Attack allocation is step 4 of the attack sequence and happens after hitting and wounding, but before rolling saves. In fact, you need to allocate wounds to see who takes the save. That makes the stratagem far better than you describe it.

    There is no stratagem to do an additional prayer, only one to do a prayer outside the command phase and without rolling to see if it inspires. However, only a priest that has not used any prayers that turn can use it as per stratagem text.

    I think you should also mention Revered Hosts which gives a Daemon unit a full reroll to wound in melee, which goes well with the full reroll to hit. This is great on big Possessed units or Daemon Engines like Venomcrawlers, which are just amazing and priced to go.

    1. Thanks! I responded via facebook but I’ll do some edits to account for this. Really glad to know that about Hexagrammatic, that makes it MUCH more usable.

  3. Great to see somebody else having fun exploring the CSM codex options. Though I’m sure we have differing opinions, here’s a couple ideas for your Word Bearer lists that I’m quite fond of.

    1. Replacing termis with chosen: unless you’re kitting the termis to the gills with power fists and chainfists, the melee damage output is pretty much the same. Downgrading from a 2+ to a 3+ doesn’t hurt that bad if you’re already stacking enough defensive buffs to make players want to avoid them, imo, and I’d rather just have the extra points. Can usually get a venomcrawler out of the swap, at minimum, which is always nice to have.

    2. Using the Chaos Daemons new soup rules: If you’re running a heavy melee list (which as CSM you most likely are) there’s a couple weaknesses Daemons can help you with. Skarbrand can prevent the enemy from falling back, give extra attacks to further enhance your already vicious combat pieces, and can deep strike via Warp Locus next to a master of possession 6 inches from the enemy. My favorite has to be running a vanguard with Flamers and a caster, though, somewhat solving CSM’s shooting problem and giving access to Infernal Gateway for splashing mortals.

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