Death to the False Emperor and all those who serve, part 1 – Morale and Leadership

I’ll be talking about the Chaos Space Marines in a couple of posts, in this first one I will talk about how to make the rules better reflect the way Chaos Space Marines fight and why they fight. Yes, I’m talking about the elephant in the room, the Morale and Leadership issues of the Chaos Space Marines. I hope you’re up for it, it’ll be a long one.

The Chaos Space Marines faction is my absolute favourite one. There is just something so tragic and sad about them and in way they portray every aspect of the flaws in humanity – self-serving, ruthless, vengeful, disloyal and driven by power hunger, bitterness and spite. They are bad guys, pure and simple. But much more than all that; they are the enemy that never should have been. If humanity had not been so prone to the temptations and lure of the Dark Gods, so consumed with it own self-interest and personal ambition, there would be no Chaos Space Marines.

To further add to the tragedy of the Chaos Space Marines there is the fact they are fighting in a war already lost. Yes, the war was lost at the gates of the Imperial Palace ten thousand years ago. Every semblance uniformity, shared ambition, common goal was laid to waste as the Emperor slew Horus. The Chaos Space Marines as an army is no more, they fight on but without any higher purpose. Abbadon might disagree but the Chaos Space Marines are all about warband for a reason. Herein lies the reason to their inability to win; a non-army cannot and will not defeat an army. But then again; the Long War isn’t really about winning, as in overthrowing the Imperium of Man, it is about continuing to fight.

A Dread kingdom to call your own

Piet Haine The Dread King of Altwon

Chaos Space Marines aren’t Space Marines with spikey bits. They’re not willing cogs in some evil empire. They didn’t break their oaths of fealty towards the Emperor and the Realm of Man only to replace it with them with new bonds loyalty and new ways of performing acts of self-sacrifice and valour. Chaos Space Marines fight for other reasons and the reasons are diverse. Some, like Abbadon, still fight to overthrow the Emperor, but others fight to gain immortality and ascend to the rank of Daemon Prince, some fight to carve out a kingdom of their own and others just fight because the voices in their head tell them to do that. This is important – quite a lot of Chaos Space Marines are insane and that doesn’t help them to win. Not in the least.

Let’s assume that Chaos Space Marines are selfish, power hungry and at least to some degree insane. Who does this affect the way they fight and perform on the battlefield? A lowly grunt of the imperial army knows that his or her job is to die fighting defending the Imperium. Most accept this, with a little help of the moral officers they realise that everything they hold dear is dependent on their sacrifice. They fight for a higher purpose, a goal that in most cases only can be achieved through death. For a Space Marine it works in the same way, they know that death is a part of their duty. So when their commander tells them to hold the line, they do that until overwhelmed. Space Marines might run away but they always return to the fight, regardless of the odds of success. They are perfect soldiers in that way.

Now enter the Traitor Marine – somewhere along the line you decided that living was better than dying, that you were more important than the Emperor and everyone else for that matter. You are probably not in it to die just because someone higher up in the chain of command tells you to. You have moral issues because, let’s face it, you are in it for personal gain. You want to realise your dreams after all – that dread kingdom or warband of your own. At the same time you understand that you need to fight alongside others in order to have a chance of realising your personal ambitions. Chaos Space Marines are opportunists in the worst kind of way. And opportunists aren’t really good soldiers. Being superhuman with larger than life ambitions doesn’t add any layers of tactical or strategical reliability.

We do not serve

The Dead Children

So there is an inherent conflict between what the warlord wants to achieve and what the individual Chaos Space Marine is prepared to do to achieve that goal. Chaos Space Marines solve a lot of these disciplinary issues by implementing a rule of power, fear and shared spoils (probably not equally shared but still shared). In a sense they function like the pirate fleets of old. The Chaos Lord command and the rest follow because it is in their personal interest. They follow but they do not serve, this is represented by opportunity. The main problem of any Chaos Space Marines warband is that opportunity has a way of always presenting itself when it’s the least wanted and expected.

Let’s say that you are a Chaos Space Marine, a regular bolter carrying soldier in the armies of darkness. Your squad takes heavy losses; maybe the aspiring champion died or his strongest backers did, regardless an opportunity arise. Your Lord clearly wants you to fight on fulfilling the goals set before the battle started or die trying but now opportunity has come and might not come again. If you don’t act, someone else surely will. A conflict of interest rises, between the shared ambitions of the warband and your personal ones. What is in your personal interest, what actions will further your personal ambitions? One thing is certain, as a common Chaos Space Marine you will never gain the favour of the Dark Gods. You need to make your mark and claim your place among the stars or you will perish.

This conflict of interest need to be translate into rules, it is a game after all. The player want his squads and models to perform reliably and consistently in order to win the game. Chaos Space Marines have leadership issues as they have to rely on their basic Leadership without any special rules to help them stay in the fight, there is no re-rolls, no automatic rallying, stubbornness or anything. There is a lot of grief regarding the lack of And they shall know no fear or a Chaos equivalent that would make them more consistent.

Ruled by passion, destroyed by lust

Chaos Vindicator

Personally I don’t think that Chaos Space Marines should be made more consistent, not in general anyway. The Chaos Space Marines should be a solid, rock hard and nigh unstoppable force while the order of power, fear and shared spoils reign but once it starts to crumble, once opportunity arises and personal ambition starts to take grip, it should be more susceptible to leadership and moral issues. I think that there is a way to translate this into rules by tweaking the army wide Champion of Chaos special rule.

First of all, I’m not talking about removing the bit about forcing challenges. I understand that some player don’t like that bit as it removes control over the models. The game starts to play by itself. I believe that the lack of control is the only way to represent the power hunger of the champion. I will return to talk about that in the future, now we talk moral and leadership. As the Champion of Chaos rule is written today it is all about the Champions ambitions and nothing about his command. That is a shame really. I believe that the Champion of Chaos rule should also focus on the command that each Champion of Chaos holds over his squad. More precisely, while the Champion is alive, leadership should be more reliable. This can be achieved by adding a special rule to Champion of Chaos rule, the special rules transfers to the squad while the Champion lives and is lost when the Champion dies. Let’s look at the alternatives:

And they shall know no fear

I hear a lot of people argue that Chaos Space Marines should have And they shall know no fear, they are Space Marines after all. Have access to And they shall know no fear would undoubtedly be a great boon as it would allow them to rally automatically, avoid being caught in Sweeping Advance and ignoring a lot of rules regarding Leadership and Moral. Personally I don’t think the rule fits Chaos Space Marines as it revolves around the mechanism of getting back in the fight rather than staying in the fight and not acknowledging fear. Well, most Chaos Space Marines know fear, remember, they are in it for themselves and survival is high up on their personal agenda. Knowing fear helps you survive after all.


If each Champion of Chaos is given the Fearless special rule then moral becomes a non-issue until he dies. That would both devaluate the Chaos Lord and make the common Chaos Space Marines too strong as it mitigates all susceptibility to moral and removes all risks inherent to the Chaos Space Marines. I believe that Fearless is best reserved for the hard core devotees of each of the Dark Gods: Khorne Berserkers, Plague marines, Thousand Sons and Noise Marines. Fearless is more than just being stout in the face of danger. It requires you to be insane, touched by your patron Dark God or by other means being mentally removed from the horrors of the battlefield.

Stubborn and/or Re-roll failed tests

This the mechanism that I believe reflects what we aim to achieve. While it isn’t as strong as And they know no fear being Stubborn and/or being able to re-roll failed test will mitigate most of the Leadership issues that the Chaos Space Marines have today while still retaining a certain level risk and unpredictability. In most cases, they will pass their tests while the Champion lives as he is Leadership 9 or 10, but an enemy can still break the units will to fight. I think this would be a solid solution that keeps with the theme of the faction.

This change will make the Champion of Chaos a lynchpin in the Chaos Space Marine army, and thus boosting his importance on the battlefield and when constructing a list. The Champion still lacks in survivability and offensive capability to handle challenges good enough. I talk about that next time.

5 thoughts on “Death to the False Emperor and all those who serve, part 1 – Morale and Leadership

  1. Nice! I love your reasoning on the fluff organisation of CSM – inspired me for my own 🙂
    But don’t you think that Stubborn would be a bit much, or did I misunderstand something? Maybe Stubborn while the Champion is alive would be better.


    1. Stubborn is included in the Champion of Chaos rule, so it is only in play while the Champion is alive. When the Champion dies all kinds of hell breaks loose.

      And thanks for the feedback. I really enjoy writing these texts. I’m glad someone enjoys reading them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s