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Warhammer 30K (Horus Heresy) Rulebooks You Need to Play the Game

    Hello there, Knight of Infinite Resignation here, your friendly Remote-Scottish–Island-Dwelling-Kierkegaard-Aficionado. Welcome back to this short series about starting Warhammer 30K.

    It hardly feels as if any time has passed for me, and that’s because it hasn’t. I’m writing these articles back to back during a single exceptionally long ferry trip across the stormy North Sea.

    As I said last time, I don’t have my books with me. So, if I forget something or misremember it, please be merciful and point it out in the comments.

    Anyhow a much shorter article today you’ll be glad to hear!


    So, if Warhammer 30k is about one thing it’s about books. And models. Oh and terrain. And dice and shit.

    Yeah, it’s about lots of things, but first come the books since you can’t play without them, and there are SO MANY!!!

    Red Books and Black Books

    Conveniently the books are divided into two types. The Black Books are big and black, and the Red Books are not quite as big and red. Hope that helps.

    Oh you want more? OK well the Black Books, and there are now 7, soon to be 8, are marvelous agglutinations of rules, narratives and artwork. They are the most delightful thing a Warhammer 30K player could imagine; like beautiful arcane Space Hulks made from the crushed together bodies of kittens and candy.

    The books contain firstly an account of part of the Heresy, with ‘historical’ battles and their causes, results and ramifications described in the journalistic style you’ll be familiar with from Imperial Armour books. Complete with pretend documents, intercepted transmissions and fake dispatches.

    They are really well done and full of grimdark flavour.

    Next, each book also has a section on two or three Legions. It details their creation, the story of their Primarch, notable battles and so on. All this is illustrated with stunning colour plates and the distinctive Forge World style photo-real art we know and love.

    I have to say that unlike the codexes this is not the same endlessly repeated and rehashed fluff we find in the 40K setting. Its fresh and new and shiny and adds a lot of depth to the background. It’s also very well written and conceived.

    Lastly, we come to the rules content. Varying from book to book, you’ll find the special rules and rites of war for the Legions or other forces covered, possible campaign rules or a new way to play (skirmish, Zone Mortalis, etc) or even a full army list, the main Astartes list being covered in book 1.

    OK, the fly in the ointment. Some of these books have been out a long time, and the rules have been superseded by rules in later books or confused by edition changes. The first Black Books were released during 6th and then the later ones under 7th for a start. So, don’t go out and rush to Forge World to buy the Black Book with your Legion in it. Instead, think about the Red Books…

    The Red Books were clearly thought up as a solution to the problem of having rules scattered through multiple Black Books; some of which were out of date or conflicting. Unless you are a masochist, or have a huge bank balance the size of my wife’s shoe collection, it’s the Red Books you will most likely buy for your army to start playing the game with. There are several different Red Books available too…

    The Horus Heresy Rulebook is a red book. It is essentially a reprint of the 7th Edition rules with a few changes. If you are on a tight budget, buy a 2nd hand copy of the 7th Ed rules (if you don’t already have them). Then read a few reviews of the new FW version of 7th. Make a note of the descriptions of the changes and write them in the margins.

    Then there are TWO Red Books concerned with the Space Marine Legions. One contains the special rules for the Legions, the other is the army list. If you have a friend with the Legions book, you do not need your own copy. Just photocopy the ten pages or so about your own particular legion, it’s all you will need. If you are playing a Legion, you will need the army list book.

    It’s now in its second edition, so don’t be fooled and buy the old one on Ebay. Points have changed and there are a lot of new units in the newer version. It’s worth saying that if you want both the army list and legion rules, they are cheaper bought together as a bundle from Forge World.

    Exceptions: because the Black Books come out fairly regularly, not all the latest rules are in the new edition of the Red Army List book. If you want the Legion rules for Space Wolves and Thousand Sons (or Sisters/Custodes), they are in Black Book 7. You’ll still need the army list book too. The Black Book only contains the special rules, not the basic army list. I hope that is clear…

    Eventually they will release a new third edition Red Book version of the Astartes army list with all the missing Legions in it.

    Things are clearer if you want to play Mechanicum. Its pretty much all in a single Red Book, the Taghmata army list.

    Same story with Imperial Knights, Solar Auxilia or Imperial Militia and Cults which all share another Red Book.

    Warhammer 30K Rulebook List

    It’s not all that complicated. Here is a handy chart, which is probably what I should have done in the first place:

    ArmyRule Book(s) needed to playOptional Fluff Book
    MechanicumRB: Mechanicum Taghmata Army List (also BB6, BB7)BB3,5,6
    Solar AuxiliaRB: Crusade Imperialis Army ListsBB4
    Imperial Militia/CultsRB: Crusade Imperialis Army ListsBB4,5
    Imperial KnightsRB: Crusade Imperialis Army ListsBB4
    Chaos DaemonsChaos Daemons Codex (7th Edition)As Word Bearers
    Sisters of SilenceBB7BB7
    Dark AngelsBB6, RB: AoD Army Lists 
    Emperors ChildrenRBs: AoD Legions, AoD Army ListsBB1
    Iron WarriorsRBs: AoD Legions, AoD Army ListsBB3
    White ScarsBB6, RB: AoD Army Lists 
    Space WolvesBB7, RB: AoD Army ListsBB7
    Imperial FistsRBs: AoD Legions, AoD Army ListsBB3
    Night LordsRBs: AoD Legions, AoD Army ListsBB2
    Blood AngelsBB6, RB: AoD Army Lists 
    Iron HandsRBs: AoD Legions, AoD Army ListsBB2
    World EatersRBs: AoD Legions, AoD Army ListsBB1
    UltramarinesRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB5
    Death GuardRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB1
    Thousand SonsBB7, RB: AoD Army ListBB7
    Sons of HorusRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB1
    Word BearersRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB2,5
    SalamandersRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB2
    Raven GuardRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB3
    Alpha LegionRBs: AoD Legions, Aod Army ListsBB3
    BlackshieldsBB6, RB: AoD Army ListBB6
    Shattered LegionsBB6, RB: AoD Army ListBB6

    BB = Black Book
    RB = Red Book
    AoD = Age of Darkness

    Hope that helps.

    Feel free to jump to the next article where I talk about ways to save money and the different Legion armor.

    Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

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    6 years ago

    Great resource and explanation of the materials.

    4 years ago

    I know these posts were a couple years ago but these have been very helpful for someone jusst getting into HH. If you still monitor this (or anyone else out there with knowledge) how is the popularity of 30k going. The gameplay and models just seem so much richer and cooler than GW 40k but I am hoping the HH community is thriving and expanding. I just love the Mechanicum army and its units so much – amazing. Do the above book recommendations still pertain currently?

    4 years ago
    Reply to  Nick

    I’m not sure the author is around still. I know I haven’t seen him on here since this article actually.

    The popularity, from my limited perspective on the game, is it’s more of a niche market. However, those who are into it are INTO it big. I know a few local players who absolutely love the game, but it’s hard for them to find someone to play against.

    Of course I can’t speak for everywhere, but it’s definitely something that rarely comes up on my radar when checking stuff out, including other bloggers.

    4 years ago
    Reply to  Thor

    Thanks for replying! I just saw your post about quitting 40k which may even help my determination even more to play 30k. I am more into the lore and models anyway, which in my opinion are far superior than the GW 40k.

    4 years ago
    Reply to  Nick

    No argument here about that. I’m a big fan of 30K, just never got into it since locally (as I said) it’s so sparsely played. Everyone I know who has/does play 30K have said it’s a better game all around too.