Warhammer 40k’s Sisters of Battle are an all-female 40k army made up of zealous, power-armoured battle nuns that are the closest thing fans have to female Space Marines. The Adepta Sororitas star is rising, too – recently, as part of the game’s 9th Edition, they’ve received much more of a focus than in prior incarnations.
The Adepta Sororitas, as a tabletop force, date back to the 2nd Edition of Warhammer 40,000; however, their first codex only came out in 1997, meaning that they’re still one of the younger factions in the venerable tabletop wargame. With the Sisters of Battle becoming more of a competitive army – and with the extra attention and brilliant new models recently lavished upon them by Games Workshop – now is the perfect time to explore their backstory and how they perform on the table.
If you’d rather get a high-level overview of all the game’s armies, you can check out our Warhammer 40k factions guide – or focus on the Imperial armies with our guide to the forces of the Warhammer 40k Imperium of Man.
Otherwise, read on, sister – and let us help guide you to the light of the Emperor of Mankind. Our guide will show you just who the Adepta Sororitas are, and what sets them apart in the grim darkness of the far future.
Adepta Sororitas Lore
The Sisters of Battle are one of the newer factions in Warhammer 40,000, and that applies to the in-world backstory too. You won’t find mention of the Adepta Sororitas in the Horus Heresy; they were founded years later, in the 36th century, following the Imperium of Man’s destabilising Age of Apostasy.
This era saw the Imperium come under dire threat from within. The Ecclesiarchy, the church of the Imperium, had become severely corrupt. When a certain Goge Vandire became head of the Administratum, the Imperial bureaucracy, he began a savage series of culls of the Ecclesiarchy, removing heads from many shoulders as he sought to root out the corruption. Through political manoeuvring (and quite a few assassinations), Vandire positioned himself to rise to the head of the Ecclesiarchy as well, becoming High Lord of both branches of the Imperial government at once.
His reign over much of the Imperium became known in later years as the Reign of Blood, which gives you an idea of how well it went. He used the armies of the Ecclesiarchy with wild abandon, slaughtering entire worlds he thought had slighted him, indulging his desire for torture, and raising statues to his own glory across the galaxy.
It was this hubris that saw him sow the seeds of his own downfall. On a planet named San Leor, he found an all-female cult devoted to the worship of the Emperor, named the Daughters of the Emperor. Seeing an opportunity to increase the forces loyal to him, he fooled them into thinking that he, too, held divine power. The renamed cultists, now called the Brides of the Emperor, swiftly became his bodyguards and most trusted warriors.
Their faith in the Emperor remained strong, however, and, after many years serving Vandire, the Brides of the Emperor learned of Vandire’s crimes and his many heretical acts after an audience with the sleeping Emperor himself. To redeem themselves in their own and the Emperor’s eyes, their leader – Dominica – found Vandire, by now lost to madness and his own terrible designs, and freed him of his head.
This saw the Age of Apostasy come to an end. In an attempt to reduce the military powers of the Ecclesiarchy and prevent another Reign of Blood, the Decree Passive was passed, ordering the Ecclesiarchy to have no man under arms. Ever careful to ensure they followed the very letter of the law, the Ecclesiarchy kept the redeemed, all-female Brides of the Emperor as their military wing, renaming them once again into the Adepta Sororitas.
Since then, the Sisters of Battle have thrived, both as internal regulators for the Ecclesiarchy, and as holy soldiers, should the need arise. Their faith has never wavered, and they can be found on battlefields across the galaxy, clad in shining ceramite and praising the Emperor’s name, forever fighting the heretic, the witch, and the alien.
Who are the Sisters of Battle Characters?
With the Adepta Sororitas range having rapidly expanded during 9th Edition, there’s now a lot more characters to choose from when planning your army. In addition, many of these characters have appeared in Black Library novels or White Dwarf stories, meaning they inch ever closer to becoming as renowned as their Space Marine counterparts.
Here’s some of the characters you might come across when looking into a Sisters of Battle army:
Morvenn Vahl, Abbess Sanctorum of the Adepta Sororitas
Whilst the Age of Apostasy taught the Ecclesiarchy some lessons, they still jockey for power and aren’t afraid to impose their will. An example of this is how they elected Morvenn Vahl to be the new Abbess Sanctorum of the Adepta Sororitas, believing the young warrior would be weak and easy to manipulate.
Unfortunately for them, she turned out to be a doughty warrior full of fire, and with a will they could not fight. Morvenn Vahl is a fighter who leads from the front line, wearing her ancient Purgator Mirabilis warsuit and wielding a deadly, ancient spear.
Whilst the Sisters of Battle are firm in their faith, it doesn’t mean they don’t need correction from time to time. The Sister Dogmata is feared by both enemy and friend, as she is the only Adepta Sororitas who can condemn a sister to the Repentia. On the battlefield, she strikes at foes with her mace whilst exhorting the Battle Sisters to even greater feats of valour.
Surviving is a skill that can be learned like any other, and Canoness Veridyan has taken that skill to its extreme. A veteran of innumerable wars, she is a common figure on the front line, taking the battle to the foe with fury born of faith itself.
She is a paragon amongst the Sisters of Battle, armed with a fearsome blade that cuts through foes like butter. You might also recognise her as the star of the original 2nd Edition Sisters of Battle Codex cover.
Sister Superior Amalia Novena
Amalia Novena is one of the few Adepta Sororitas who’ve been able to rise to the lofty position of leadership known as Sister Superior. Hailing from the Order of the Martyred Lady, she is proficient in multiple styles of weaponry, and is a commander of near peerless aptitude.
Floating above the battlefield in the Pulpit of Saint Holline’s Basilica, wielding the Mace of Castigation, Junith Eruita can turn the tide of battle all by herself. She sweeps the ranks of the foe with heavy flamers and the power of her faith. Her prayers reach all corners of the fight, striking fear into the enemy as she rallies those who fight alongside her.
Celestine, the Living Saint
Living Saints are rare in the Imperium, but when one is named, their name rings out across the galaxy. Celestine is a winged angel of faith who fights with the power of the God-Emperor behind her. She can call down holy flame, scouring the unfaithful with a thought, or healing those who are worthy of her divine light. Fighting alongside her are the Geminae Superia, Genevieve and Eleanor, who are utterly devoted to her.
A controversial figure amongst the Sisters, Ephrael Stern became the embodiment of 700 souls who found her worthy to fight against Chaos. However, in the Imperium, power is often as much curse as it is boon, and she is viewed with considerable suspicion by parts of the Inquisition, her ultimate role yet to be divined.
Adepta Sororitas in 9th Edition
Now you know who they are and why they fight, but what about how they fight on the furious tabletop battlefield that is Warhammer 40,000?
Like many of the factions in 9th Edition, a real effort has been made by Games Workshop to bring the lore and backstory of the faction to life in the rules that affect them. Even before reaching the tabletop you’ll see this in play, in the form of the Decree Passive and Order Convictions.
The Decree Passive affects the makeup of your army, what’s allowed, and how your force will be created. The Order Convictions grant you benefits if all your units within a detachment are from the same Adepta Sororitas Order. On the battlefield itself, you’ll notice how Games Workshop have reinforced the theme once again. The Adepta Sororitas, whilst wearing power armour similar to that of Space Marines, are standard humans. This means that, generally, they’re a little less strong and a little less tough, and you’ll see this reflected in the rules.
However, their faith makes up for much of this. The Shield of Faith rule is a particularly effective example of this, giving almost all your Sisters of Battle an invulnerable save (starting at 6++, but can be improved with buffs) and a powerful Deny the Witch ability that you can use once per unit.
One of the key rules that sets Sisters of Battle apart from other factions is the brand new Blessings of the Faithful mechanic. These are upgrades for your characters that you purchase with your points. There’s six of these at the moment, allowing you to customise your characters to play how you want them to, balancing out any weaknesses you see in your army or the character in question. These range from healing effects to being able to deny invulnerable saving throws in melee range.
In addition, Hymns of Battle have been introduced. Your priests, preachers, and missionaries can now give buffs to a nearby character, engine of redemption, or core unit.
These have to be handled carefully, as you’ll probably have a lot of characters able to use Hymns of Battle as part of a Sisters of Battle force, and each Hymn can only be used once per turn – but, if they’re used correctly, they can power up your army in a unique way, adding devastating effects.
And all that is on top of the Miracle Dice and Acts of Faith mechanics the Sisters received as part of their initial reboot in 8th Edition. Between them, these two rules allow Adepta Sororitas commanders to save up specific dice-roll results, and cash them in later when they’re facing a really crucial test, and need to boost the roll.
Used cannily, in conjunction with the rest of the Sisters’ considerable tabletop toolbox, that power can be truly game-changing.
This clutch of key rules, and others, mean that, despite their squishy stat lines, Sisters of Battle can be an absolute pain to kill on the battlefield. Depending on how the dice fall, you can fire round after round into an opposing unit, and not inflict any serious damage – only to find your psyker abilities being casually denied right when you need them. It’s the kind of thing friendships end over.
In addition to new rules that hammer home the faith-based focus of the Sisters of Battle, there have also been some very welcome points reductions, as well as one extremely well received new character model: Morvenn Vahl herself, who ranks as one of the most powerful characters ever seen in Warhammer 40,000. For downsides in 9th Edition, the comparatively low toughness of Sisters of Battle means that you’ll be relying heavily on your layers of buffing abilities and invulnerable saves in order to keep your troops alive. You’ll also find that you have to get very close to your enemy indeed to put out any real damage, and psychic powers are simply not the Adepta Sororitas’ way, with no inbuilt ability to use psykers at all.
Overall, right now in 9th Edition, the Adepta Sororitas are in a very strong position. Their codex has pulled back some of the larger benefits they had at the end of the 8th Edition codex, but it’s resulted in an incredibly well-balanced army that can face off against anyone in a competitive match.
Starting a Sisters of Battle Army
The core of any good Adepta Sororitas army is much the same as the core of any good Space Marine army: you need boots on the ground in order to hold objectives, tie up opponents, and keep your characters alive to get the job done.
The heart of the Sisters of Battle is the Battle Sisters Squad. Armed with boltguns, they’ll provide covering fire whilst advancing up the field in order to implement your strategy. Building out your army with a few squads of Battle Sisters can never be a bad idea. Alongside them, for a first character, a Canoness gives you the support you’ll need. In fact, you can often bring two, as their points cost is so low relative to other armies’ comparable HQ units.
From there, you’ll want some fast attack abilities to bring the pain to your foe, and keep them tied up while you get into position. The Seraphim Squad is a perfect way to get into battle quicker and annoy your enemy; just make sure to take advantage of the hand flamers and inferno pistols when building them – you’ll thank us later.
For a true buff hit from a character, there’s none better than an Imagifier. Their potent auras can make sure your troops stay alive longer, hit harder, and deny psychic abilities better. At least one should be a staple of any Sisters of Battle army.
Now you’ll be wanting some heavy support to make sure your fragile troops don’t fall to a tank or some flying heretical aircraft. The Retributor squad is a perfect fit for this role, and when you equip them with multi-meltas your enemy is in for a world of pain. To protect your troops even further, investing in an Adepta Sororitas Rhino or two can give your army a little more lasting power under an offensive onslaught.
Finally, we come to the lady herself. If you’re looking to take your Sisters of Battle army to a competitive level, or just give a friend a very bad day indeed, then you can’t go wrong with including Morvenn Vahl. In fact, we’d wouldn’t just recommend her for those situations – really any Adepta Sororitas army is incomplete without the Abbess Sanctorum.
Set up correctly, and with the right Warlord trait, she can re-roll her hits and wounds in melee, giving her five strong re-rollable hits or ten slightly lesser attacks she can almost ensure hit and hurt. In addition, once per game she can fight again at the end of the phase – and, with her ability to halve incoming damage, plus a 2+ armour save and 4+ invulnerable save, she’s probably staying alive for the long haul, too.
Her aura gives brilliant buffs to nearby core and character units, and she even comes with a twin missile launcher and improved heavy bolter. Basically, get Morvenn Vahl. Put Morvenn Vahl in your lists. Use Morvenn Vahl. You may be hated for it, but it’ll feel good.
So now you should know who the Adepta Sororitas are, what sets them apart, and how they play on the battlefield.
The Sisters of Battle are a newer force, but one that’s coming into their own with each passing codex, with the 9th Edition codex providing a balance and competitiveness that’s never been seen before for the faithful fighters.