Warhammer 40k Dark Angels guide 2023

From Ravenwing to Deathwing, meet the Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Space Marines, masters of Caliban and the knightly sons of Primarch Lion El'Jonson.

Games Workshop artwork showing a Dark Angels primaris space marine charging

The Warhammer 40k Dark Angels are one of the most popular, intriguing, and downright cool Space Marine Chapters around. Their far-future ceramite armor, power swords, and full-auto boltguns are covered in the trappings of medieval chivalry and mysticism. At the heart of their mysterious military order lurks a dark secret.

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…

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels - Warhammer Community artwork showing The Rock and Dark Angels ships exiting the warp

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 primarch 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, as their gene-sire was scattered across the galaxy by the machinations of Chaos. He landed on the planet Caliban, deep in the monster-blighted woods. There he grew into his full form with unnatural speed, until he was discovered by the noble knight Luther.

Luther raised him, schooling him in the Knightly way of war. Jonson’s martial prowess soon eclipsed that of his adoptive father, until he eventually took control of the forest world’s many knightly orders.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels - Games Workshop artwork showing Dark Angels Space Marines fighting Chaos

Lion El’Jonson led his knights on a war against the Chaos-twisted creatures that stalked Caliban’s treacherous 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 Luther and many of the Calibanite knights technology elevated through genetic alchemy nearly to the prowess of a Space Marine, though they were too old to survive full transformation. But at this point the Lion made a crucial error. The Lion 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, the Horus Heresyclass="gallery"> happened and humanity’s unity was shattered.Warhammer 40k Dark Angels - Warhammer Community artwork showing Horus and the Emperor about to duel aboard the Vengeful Spirit, with Sanguinius corpse nearby

There are many questions about what happened next – you can piece together many of the threads in the Horus Heresy book series – but this is the history that the Dark Angels record:

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, and lead a force to kill Luther and end this insurrection.

The final battle between adopted father and Primarch 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.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels - Warhammer Community photo showing models of a warband of fallen dark angels fighting loyal Deathwing Knights

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. 

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels space marine and banners (artwork by Games Workshop)

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.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Lion El'Jonson datasheet by Games Workshop

Lion El’Jonson, Primarch of the Dark Angels

The Primarch Lion El’Jonson is 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

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Supreme Grand Master Azrael, model by Games Workshop

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. His mini first appeared in the Wrath of the Soul Forge King battle pack, battling against the Daemon Vashtorr the Arkifane as part of the Arks of Omen narrative.

On the tabletop, Azrael is a powerful force multiplier equally adept leading a squad of Bladeguard Veterans or a Hellblaster Squad. His Masterful Tactician ability grants you 1CP at the start of your Command Phase every round, while his Supreme Grand Master ability grants the unit he’s attached to Sustained Hits with both ranged and melee weapons.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Chief Librarian Ezekiel, model by Games Workshop

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.

On the tabletop, Ezekiel can join Assault Squads, Command Squads, Tactical Squads, or Vanguard Veteran Squads, which he will grant +1 Attack in melee via his Book of Salvation and Feel No Pain 4+ against Psychic Attacks thanks to his Psychic hood.

He has an exceptionally powerful character-hunting psychic power, Mind Wipe, and the useful Engulfing Fear psychic ability which forces an enemy unit to take a Battle-Shock test in your shooting phase.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels model by Games Workshop - Belial, Grand-Master of the Deathwing

Belial, Grand Master of the Deathwing

Belial is the Grand Master of the Deathwing, 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.

On the tabletop he’s a character assassin. Both his ranged and melee weapons have the Precision ability, letting him target enemy characters while their bodyguard is still standing, and his Grand Master of the Deathwing ability means that when the unit he leads scores Critical hits, they can treat those attacks as having Precision.

He also dies hard. For every melee attack allocated to Belial, there’s a 2+ chance of inflicting a mortal wound on the unit that made the attack (though you’re capped at rolling six dice per unit).

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels model by Games Workshop - Sammael, master of the Ravenwing

Sammael, Master of the Ravenwing

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.

He can lead squads of both firstborn and Primaris Astartes bikers, granting them the ability to shoot after advancing. Once he engages an enemy unit (other than a vehicle or monster) in melee, that enemy must risk Desperate Escape tests any time it wants to fall back from melee.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Master Lazarus model by Games Workshop

Master Lazarus

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.

Lazarus Intractable Will ability gives any models in his unit that are destroyed in melee before they get a chance to fight a 4+ chance to make their attacks before they’re removed from the table. He definitely wants to join an Assault Intercessor or Bladeguard Veteran squad.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels model by Games Workshop - Asmodai, interrogator chaplain

Brother Asmodai

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.

Asmodai’s reputation as a Feared Interrogator precedes him into battle, and enemy characters within 6″ of him at the start of the Fight Phase need to make a Battle-Shock test with a -1 penalty. Should he slay an enemy character in combat, you’ll gain 1CP.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Primaris Lieutenant Zakariah, model by Games Workshop

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.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels model by Games Workshop - Cypher the Fallen

Cypher, the Fallen

Finally, we come to Cypher. You won’t field Cypher with the other Dark Angels – in fact his rules are in Index Chaos Space Marines – 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.

A marine from the Warhammer 40k Dark Angels successor chapter 'The Consecrators", wearing black power armor , displaying the motif of a flame beneath a halo and above wings, in red on white

Dark Angels Successor Chapters

The Dark Angels suffered grievously during the Horus Heresy, but retained enough strength that it could be split into several smaller Chapters in accordance with the reforms in Roboute Guilliman‘s Codex Astartes.

The Angels of Absolution, Angels of Redemption, and Angels of Vengeance were all part of the second founding, formed from veterans of the Dark Angels. These chapters were bound by the same bonds of secrecy as the Dark Angels, and have maintained a chapter culture very similar to that of their parent.

Many Dark Angels successor chapters have been founded in the millennia since, including new Primaris chapters created by the genecraft of Belisarius Cawl. 

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels - Warhammer Community photo of painted models for Dark Angels Ravenwing bikes

Warhammer 40k 10th edition Dark Angels

In Warhammer 40k 10th edition Dark Angels share the Space Marines’ Oath of Moment army rule. This allows them to pick a single enemy unit each battle-round, against which their whole force can reroll failed rolls to hit and to wound.

You can include any Space Marine datasheets in a Dark Angels force, with the exception that you can’t include models with any other Chapter Keywords. If a model has no Chapter keyword that’s fine. The Dark Angels have an additional Index with the unique units, plus the Unforgiven Task Force Detachment.

Click here to download your free Dark Angels 10th edition Index cards.

Dark Angels Detachments

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Unforgiven Task Force Detachment rules by Games Workshop

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.

Note, though, that your Battle-Shocked units still can’t use Stratagems and must make a Desperate Breakout test when falling back from melee.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels primaris space marine charging (art by Games Workshop)

Dark Angels Stratagems

The Unforgiven Task Force provides six Stratagems for the Dark Angels. These can only target your Space Marines, so if you’ve added some Agents of the Imperium Arbites or an Imperial Knight Freeblade, they can’t benefit:

Stratagem Cost Effect
 Unforgiven Fury 1CP  Select a unit that’s about to fight or shoot; it gains the Lethal Hits weapon ability this phase. If one of your units is Battle-shocked, this unit scores Critical Hits on Hit rolls of 5+.
Intractable 1CP Pick a unit that’s just fallen back; it can shoot or charge this turn.
Armour of Contempt 1CP Pick a unit that’s been targeted by enemy shooting or melee attacks; worsen the AP of those attacks by one.
Fire discipline 1CP Pick a unit that’s about to shoot; this shooting phase, its ranged weapons have the Assault, Heavy, and Ignores Cover abilities.
Grim Retribution 1CP Pick a unit just after one or more models is destroyed by an enemy shooting attack: your unit can fire back at it, provided it’s an eligible target.
Unbreakable Lines 1CP Just after an enemy unit charges, pick one of your units in engagement range with it; subtract one from the Damage characteristic of attacks targeting that unit.

Dark Angels Enhancements

The Unforgiven Task Force has access to four enhancements. They increase in power while the bearer is Battle-shocked.

Enhancement Effect Battle-shock bonus
Shroud of Heroes  The first time the bearer is destroyed, roll a D6. On a 2+ set it back up as close as possible to where it was destroyed with three wounds remaining, not engaged with any enemy models. If it was Battle-shocked when it was destroyed, it returns at full health.
Stubborn Tenacity While the bearer is leading a unit, the unit gets +1 to hit if it’s below Starting Strength Addtional+1 to wound
Heavenfall Blade Bearer gets +1 Attack, +1 Strength, +1 Damage on melee weapons Bonus increases to +2
Pennant of Remembrance Bladeguard, Primaris, or Terminator Ancient only: while the bearer is leading a unit, the unit has Feel No Pain 6+ Feel No Pain 4+

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Space Marine army on display with painted models (photo from Games Workshop)Unique Dark Angels units

Many unique Dark Angels units are fielded by no other Space Marine chapters. The elite Terminators of the Deathwing are an unbreakable anvil, while the bike and speeder mounted knights of the Ravenwing are an irresistible hammer, between which the foes of the Imperium are easily crushed.

Unit Role
Ravenwing Talonmaster Biker leader
Deathwing Strikemaster Leader
Deathwing Command Squad Elite heavy bodyguard infantry
Deathwing Terminator Squad Elite heavy infantry
Deathwing Knights Elite super-heavy melee infantry
Ravenwing Command Squad Bodyguard bikers
Ravenwing Black Knights Elite bikers
Ravenwing Darkshroud Anti-grav support vehicle
Ravenwing Landspeeder Vengeance Anti-grav gunship
Ravenwing Dark Talon Ground-attack flyer
Nephilim Jetfighter Anti-air flyer

Dark Angels strategy

Now you know the backstory and a bit of the lore surrounding the Dark Angels, but how do they play on the battlefield?

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.

In ninth edition 40k the Deathwing and Ravenwing were each a subfaction within a subfaction. In 10th edition their differences are now captured in their datasheets. That said, expect a Deathwing and a Ravenwing Detachment to appear in the eventual Dark Angels codex.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Deathwing Command Squad datasheet by Games Workshop

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

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Space Marines Deathwing Knights models (photo by Games Workshop)

Terminators and Bikers will make for an expensive list. If you go this route 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.

The Dark Angels massive selection of characters gives you plenty of room to experiment adding unique buffs to your units, even beyond what normal Space Marines have to choose from. 

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels combat patrol box models by Games Workshop

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.

If you want to face off against another Combat Patrol box you can use the Combat Patrol rules. These are a little simpler compared to the rules in the Dark Angels Index, with different enhancements and stratagems to make this list balanced against the other boxes.

Click here to download your free Dark Angels Combat patrol rules.

The Combat Patrol is a solid starting point for an army. To add a powerful infantry firebase, a squad of Hellblasters with a Primaris Lieutenant will put out a devastating hail of fire; for speed, 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.

Warhammer 40k Dark Angels Dark Vengeance box set - a product photograph by Games Workshop, showing two forces of armored warriors, the corrupt Chaos Space Marines and the knightly Dark Angels

Dark Vengeance

Dark Vengeance was the Warhammer 40k starter set for both the sixth and seventh editions of the game. It pitted a force of Chaos Space Marines against the Dark Angels, and contained two sets of unique models. While Dark Vengeance is long out of production, the models were available direct from Games Workshop on a made-to-order basis in December 2019.

The 21 Dark Angels figures in Dark Vengeance were:

  • Interrogator Chaplain
  • Librarian
  • Captain
  • Ravenwing bikers x 3
  • Deathwing Terminators x 5
  • Tactical Squad x 10

Dark Angels Horus Heresy rules

The Dark Angels were the first Legion Astartes and, as they would have it, the template on which the other legions were built. They certainly demonstrated a broad spectrum of tactical doctrines, a theory of war known as the Hexagrammaton.

Every Legiones Astartes unit in a Dark Angels Horus Heresy army must be allocated to one of the six Wings of the Hexagrammaton, granting them a particular bonus. Though any unit can be added to any Wing, there are obvious synergies between certain unit types and certain Wings.

Hexagrammaton Wing Benefit
Stormwing +1 to hit with bolter, combi-bolter, and boltpistol shooting attacks
Deathwing +1 to hit with swords; vehicles get +1 Strength when ramming
Dreadwing Flame, plasma, volkite, phosphex weapons get -1 Strength when targeting Dreadwing, and Poisoned weapons are treated as one level weaker
Ironwing Re-roll to-hit rolls of 1 against Vehicles; Vehicles in this Wing make Snap Shots at BS2
Firewing +1 to wound when attacking a unit containing an Independent Character
Ravenwing Non-vehicles add +1″ to runs; Cavalry may re-roll failed Shrouded damage mitigation rolls. Vehicles add +2″ when moving at Cruising speed.

Dark Angels Rites of War

There are more Dark Angels Rites of War than there are for any other Space Marine legion. Each focuses on one of the Wings of the Hexagrammaton, and requires your Warlord and certain units be drawn from that wing. Certain units will become much more accessible to your force.

Rite of War Wing Focus
The Steel Fist Iron Wing Armored company – Predators are Troops; Kratos are elites; Infantry can take Land Raiders and Spartans as transports
The Eskaton Imperative Dreadwing Warcrimes – Destroyers and Interemptors become Troops; terrain becomes more difficult and dangerous for your opponent; dangerous terrain gives you a bonus to wound.
The Storm of War Stormwing Massed infantry – Units with at least 20 models may be led by a Centurion which doesn’t fill an HQ slot; units led by a character are Stubborn; basic infantry can also fill Elites and Fast Attack slots.
The Unbroken Vow Deathwing Elite – Veterans and Terminators may be selected as Troops, gain Heart of the Legion; Independent characters  get extra attacks near objectives.
The Seeker’s Arrow Ravenwing Rapid assault – bikes and jetbikes become Troops; cavalry characters gain Rampage (2); cavalry and infantry can Outflank.
The Serpent’s Bane Firewing Assassination – Seeker squads can be troops; you get +1 to hit three Primarch, HQ, Elite, or Lords of War units of your opponents’ choice, and characters get extra attacks against these targets; infiltrate three infantry units.

If you’re a fan of green armored Space Marines but would prefer a slightly less dour bunch, read our guide introducing the Salamanders. If you’re a fan of knightly orders but can’t be having with all of this sci-fi palaver, keep an eye on our guide to Warhammer: The Old World factions – the Bretonnians should be just what you’re looking for.