The Warhammer 40k Dark Angels are one of the most popular, intriguing, and downright cool Space Marine Chapters around. Taking medieval chivalric style and combining it with ceramite-clad warriors in the far future is already a winning combination; throw in a hefty dose of secrecy and hidden Warp-powered mystery, and you’ve got a recipe for sheer success.
If you’re new to Warhammer 40k as a whole, we have a separate guide that introduces the whole concept of Space Marines, not to mention guides to each of the other Warhammer 40k factions if you’re not certain you fancy fielding the stuffy forces of the Imperium of Man and prefer throwing in your lot with those shifty Chaos traitors or Xenos outsiders.
Otherwise, read on, and prepare to learn the grave secrets of the Dark Angels, the Sons of the Lion, the descendants of lost Caliban, the Unforgiven…
Lion El’Jonson and Dark Angels lore
From their first founding, the Dark Angels have been a proud sect of warrior monks. Whilst many other Space Marine Chapters have their own plaudits and reasons to be proud, only one gets to be first and that honour goes to the Dark Angels – originally styled the First Legion Astartes.
Spawned from the gene-Seed of the priumach Lion El’Jonson, they inherited many of his traits. These include a passion for victory, an overwhelming desire for martial perfection, and – unfortunately for their story – a certain arrogance and tendency to keep secrets.
The Lion’s sons had to fight without him at first, however, as their gene-sire was scattered across the galaxy by the machinations of Chaos, landing on a terrifying planet named Caliban. There he grew into his full form with unnatural speed, raised by his surrogate father and best friend, Luther. As he grew, his martial prowess grew with him, leading him to eventually take control over the knightly orders which inhabited the forested world.
In a dark mirror to the grander crusade taking place in the Emperor’s burgeoning Imperium, Lion El’Jonson led his knights on a war against the Chaos-twisted creatures prevalent in the darkness of Caliban’s many woods. His victory was complete, and a new age of peace and prosperity descended over Caliban – though, as with all things Dark Angels, it was peace with a hidden core of corruption.
Without Lion El’Jonson, the First Legion fought across the galaxy at the Emperor’s side, becoming grim angels synonymous with death, until the chance discovery of their Primarch on Caliban. As they descended to the planet’s surface, they tested him to prove his worth, then raised him to lead them into battle in the distant regions of the universe.
The coming of the Imperium saw the Lion help Luther and the Caliban knights to gain new technology, raising them almost to a Space Marine’s prowess. It’s there, however, that he made a crucial error. He left Luther and his former friends to guard Caliban, disappearing into the Warp with his new legions, in a devastating snub to those who considered him one of their own.
It’s possible that things could’ve ended there with some disgruntled proto-Space Marines on a former death world. Unfortunately for everyone, however, the Horus Heresy happened, shattering humanity’s unity into shards.
There are many questions about what happened next, with the final truth yet to be unearthed by Games Workshop or the Black Library, but the current known version of events goes a little like this:
After Horus’s defeat on Terra, Lion El’Jonson returned home to Caliban, only to find the planetary defences active. Luther, in the Lion’s absence, had betrayed the Imperium and his Primarch, firing upon the fleet in an effort to destroy the Dark Angels once and for all. The Lion wasn’t so easily defeated, however, leading a force to kill Luther and end this insurrection.
The final battle between adopted father and Primarch demi-god son was colossal, leading to the mortal wounding of El’Jonson, and the capture of Luther. Thwarted yet again, the Chaos gods opened a rift in the Warp, scattering the disloyal sons of the Lion across both time and space, shattering the planet Caliban into a field of debris.
Now, ten thousand years later, the Dark Angels hunt their traitorous brethren – The Fallen – across the galaxy, desperate to wipe clean their name in their own eyes and that of the Emperor.
Meanwhile, at the heart of the Rock, the floating space monastery that serves as the Dark Angels’ home, three hearts still beat. One belongs to Luther, now insane and held in a stasis field. The other two belong to a recovered Lion El’Jonson, also in stasis, waiting for the time he’ll be called to fight once again.
At least, so we thought, until spring 2023. In March, Games Workshop announced a new Lion El’Jonson model that launched alongside a fresh novel focused on the character. The Lion El’Jonson novel breaks decades of Dark Angels canon as the arisen Primarch reconciles with some of his Fallen sons.
Who are the Dark Angels characters?
More than almost any other Space Marines Chapter in Warhammer 40K (except perhaps the Ultramarines), there are a multitude of Dark Angels characters with models on the tabletop. Let’s meet the Dark Angels gang, and get to know some of the friendly faces you might encounter if you start collecting a Dark Angels army.
Azrael, Supreme Grand Master
The current head of the Dark Angels, Azrael serves as the Supreme Grand Master and Keeper of the Truth. This lofty position means he’s aware of many of the Dark Angels’ secrets, including the existence of Luther, locked in his eternal prison.
He’s armed with the Sword of Secrets, his armour is known as The Protector, and he’s followed everywhere by one of Caliban’s mysterious creatures, known as a Watcher in the Dark, who carries his venerable helm, the Lion Helm.
Azrael has recently crossed the Rubicon Primaris, becoming a Primaris Space Marine. GW revealed in a live stream on January 27 that the new model will come bundled in the Wrath of the Soul Forge King battle pack. This box set sees Azrael and the Deathwing defending The Rock against the Daemon Vashtorr the Arkifane, and released in Spring 2023 along with the third Arks of Omen supplement book.
Ezekiel, Grand Master of Librarians
The leader of the Dark Angels’ Librarius, Ezekiel is renowned as one of the most powerful psykers the force has fielded since Lion El’Jonson’s time. When not at war, you will find Ezekiel working to maintain the Dark Angels’ history, ensuring that what has passed is never forgotten.
Belial is the Grand Master of the Deathwing, those bone-coloured Terminators who stalk the battlefield as stalwart masters of destruction. Clad in ancient Terminator armour, Belial is one of the most fearsome warriors the Dark Angels have ever seen, with a loyalty unmatched among even his sturdy brethren.
The Master of the Ravenwing, Sammael leads the Dark Angels’ mobile strike force into battle with a reckless abandon that borders on foolhardiness. Known for his ability to put armed forces into combat with shocking speed, Sammael’s personal steed is a relic jetbike, one of the last functioning examples available to all of the Adeptus Astartes.
If you encounter Master Lazarus, you’ll be most struck by how calm and collected he is, even in the midst of battle. If, however, you happen to be a sorcerer, one wielding the dark arts of the Warp, then you’ll see his fury unleash itself on you, along with his blade, Enmity’s Edge.
There are many things to fear about the Dark Angels, but, in some ways, Brother Asmodai is the most fearsome of them all. Acting as their Master Interrogator-Chaplain, he is responsible for rooting out heresy or deviation, no matter what form it takes. Zealous and cold-hearted, Asmodai is a terror on the battlefield – but so much scarier if you meet him in an interrogation chamber.
Primaris Lieutenant Zakariah
Zakariah is a Primaris Lieutenant. Despite being one of the newer warriors in the Dark Angels, Zakariah has proved his worth many times over, earning the robe and cowl of a Lieutenant with ease.
Finally, we come to Cypher. You won’t be fielding Cypher with the other Dark Angels, but he’s utterly entwined with them. The leader of The Fallen, he is the most hunted person in the entire galaxy; even a whisper of his passing will cause a full crusade to spill out from the Rock.
His goals are unknown, and it’s not even known if this is the same Cypher seen during the Horus Heresy. All we know is that his movements seem to centre on Terra – and he’s getting closer each passing day.
Warhammer 40k 10th edition Dark Angels
Games Workshop previewed some of the upcoming Warhammer 40k 10th edition Dark Angels rules on the Warhammer Community website on June 1. Dark Angels share the Space Marines’ Oath of Moment army rule, which allows them to pick a single enemy unit each turn against which their whole force can reroll failed rolls to hit and to wound.
The first Dark Angels Detachment for 10th edition, Unforgiven Task Force, has a simple but powerful special ability. Whenever a unit from the army becomes Battle-shocked, its Objective Control stat becomes one instead of zero. This seems minor but it’s huge, allowing your units to hold onto objectives reliably even when they’re below half-strength, or subjected to the new weapons and abilities that can force Battle-shock tests, like the Tyranids Shadow in the Warp.
The Datasheet for the Deathwing Command Squad shows that these super-elite terminators offer a toolbox of powerful abilities, a perfect bodyguard for any Dark Angels character; the Ancient’s Banner provides +1 OC, the Deathwing Champion grants +1 to Advance and Charge rolls and allows the unit to use the Heroic Intervention Core Stratagem for 0CP, and the Apothecary’s Narthecium can resurrect one dead terminator from the unit per turn.
Meanwhile, the Primarch Lion El’Jonson is revealed as an utter melee monster, with the melee prowess to go toe to toe with a Chaos Knight, and a choice of three powerful aura buffs that can disrupt your opponent’s stratagems, buff fellow Dark Angels’ melee effectiveness, or protect your allies from mortal wounds.
Dark Angels in 9th edition
Now you know the backstory and a bit of the lore surrounding the Dark Angels, but how do they play on the battlefield? Thankfully, Warhammer 40,000 9th edition has been quite kind to the Dark Angels, with many benefits that see them play in a flexible, but unique manner.
If you’re playing as a Dark Angels force, it’s likely that you’ll have a highly mobile army, including Ravenwing bikes, jetbikes, jetfighters, and land speeders. This focus on mobility is brought to the fore in 9th Edition 40K, as the smaller general board size means you can get into the action even more quickly, and tie up enemy forces with ease.
In addition, Games Workshop has recognised that Dark Angels can be a mixed force, giving Ravenwing units a movement buff while the Devastator Doctrine is active (primarily at the beginning of the game) – which can be very nasty to face indeed. This approach to flexibility carries across to the rest of the rules, which support your Dark Angels force.
The Dark Angels are often thought of as three armies in one, as they have a core of regular Space Marines, surrounded by fast-moving Ravenwing units, and ultra-resilient Terminator Deathwing units. As the battle proceeds, and your Space Marine Combat Doctrines rotate, you’ll find your non-Deathwing infantry units receive a buff to their shooting with the Tactical Doctrine, and the Deathwing Terminators gain re-rolls in melee with the Assault Doctrine.
In addition, despite having a very powerful psyker in the form of Ezekiel, the need to bring a psyker is less pressing with a Dark Angels army. This is because they bring many of their own survivability buffs: HQ units such as Azrael and Lazarus can provide a bubble of toughness, seeing your primary units survive any onslaught.
That said, Dark Angels Librarians received a powerful boost with the release of the Dark Angels 9th Edition Codex. The Interromancy Psychic Discipline is currently being widely lauded as potentially the best in the game.
Mind Wipe, Aversion, Mind Worm, and Engulfing Fear can offer powerful debuffs to your foe, with Righteous Repugnance offering key survivability for your crucial units (some of whom are already tough as nails to kill, due to the Inner Circle special rule preventing them from being wounded on a roll of less than a four).
The best psychic power, however, is Trephination. Consider this an upgraded Smite, if you want to send some mortal wounds into your enemy, then Trephination is going to be your favourite tool to do so.
On the downside of things, the Dark Angels can be a points-expensive force to field, meaning you won’t have many bodies to throw at things. This won’t always be an issue, but can make control of the board more difficult than for some other armies.
Dark Angels can also be reliant on character models – and 9th Edition rules for targeting characters make it much easier to be caught out and lose a critical model just when you need it, meaning caution and careful positioning are required (at odds though it is with much of the Dark Angels ethos).
Overall, however, the Dark Angels remain a flexible and highly manoeuvrable force, able to take the fight to your foe quickly, backed by powerful debuffs and characters who can help keep your force alive until they’re needed. They can be difficult to get your head around, due to their triune nature (that’s right, triune – google it), but once you get the hang of them you’ll be whipping your opponents in no time.
Dark Angels Combat Patrol
The Dark Angels Combat Patrol is a great starting point for any Space Marine force, let alone the Dark Angels. Your Combat Patrol box set contains a Primaris Chaplain, three Interceptors, a Redemptor Dreadnought, and five Primaris Intercessors, plus some upgrade sprues to ensure they are appropriately Dark and Angelic.
Warhammer 40k 10th edition launches this Summer, and it will replace the current army rules for Dark Angels, so we suggest holding off until then rather than buying any new rules.
Now you’ll want to make your Dark Angels force a little more Dark Angels-y. We’d recommend some HQ characters in order to do that, which will also give you plenty of extra buffs and options on the battlefield. Lazarus and Azrael will help your army stay alive long enough to do some damage, and if you’re looking to fling some psychic powers around then Librarian Ezekiel simply cannot be bested.
Then it’s time to sprinkle in some extra flexibility into your force, focusing on all three pillars that the Dark Angels specialise in. For the core of your army, you can’t beat an extra squad of Primaris Intercessors; for speed and pure hitting power, you’ll want to look at a wing of Ravenwing bikes, and, to add a hardy element to your army, it’s worth taking a peek at a Deathwing Knights Terminator squad.
Now, you should be able to field a Dark Angels army with pride, adding to it as you see fit, and evolving it into a force that can take on anything the galaxy can throw at you.