Warhammer 40k Space Marines – the complete guide 2023

Our ultimate guide to the Space Marines Warhammer 40k faction, explaining the many Space Marine chapters, 10th Edition lore, and tabletop rules.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community artwork showing an Ultramarines Primaris Lieutenant

Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines are the most famous, popular, and prominent army in Games Workshop’s sci-fi tabletop game. The power-armored super-soldiers of the Adeptus Astartes are a perpetual favourite on the tabletop, supported by a vast range of miniatures. This guide explains everything you could possibly need to know about them.

The chances are you’ve seen at least one Space Marine before; these defenders of the Imperium of Man have been the public face (or rather faceplate) of GW’s sci-fi wargame since its inception in 1987. There are flavors of Space Marine to suit every palette, so much so that we have a whole separate guide to the Space Marine chapters and legions.

More than any of the other Warhammer 40k factions, Space Marines take the centre spotlight, whether in the lore-rich Horus Heresy book series, or the hundreds of distinct models backed up by rules in their Warhammer 40k codex army list.

Here’s your complete guide to Warhammer 40k Space Marines lore and gameplay:

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10th Edition Space Marines

We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but Warhammer 40k 10th edition is here – and, on the tabletop, 10th Edition Space Marines look to be as strong, flexible, and accessible an army as they’ve always been.

The Astartes still have a vast roster of units to choose from, they get a very powerful faction rule in Oath of Moment, and a strong detachment rule in Combat Doctrines (more on those below). Plus, as disciplined elite troops with generally high Leadership stats, they stand to perform better than most in terms of Battle-shock, the new edition’s crucial morale mechanic.

Click here to download your free Space Marines 10th edition index cards.

Space Marines Oath of Moment

The Space Marines Oath of Moment is a solemn vow that the Astartes swear before embarking on a mission. In 10th edition, this provides a simple and powerful force multiplier. Each Command phase you’ll pick a single enemy unit, and your entire army will be able to re-roll Hit and Wound rolls whenever it targets that unit with an attack.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines oath of moment rules text by Games Workshop

Space Marines Gladius Task Force Detachment

The Space Marines Gladius Task Force Detachment will be included with the free Index rules when 10th edition launches. Warhammer 40k detachments work differently in 10th edition 40k compared to ninth. Each detachment provides your force with army-wide rules, six 40k stratagems, and a set of enhancements (similar to Warlord Traits or Relics), and may impose restrictions on how you construct your list.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines 10th edition Combat Doctrines rules by Games Workshop

The Gladius Task Force provides access to Combat Doctrines. These reflect the tactical flexibility of a standard marine force. There are three doctrines, each of which can be used once per game at the start of a Command phase, and each of which provides a different buff.

Doctrine Effect
Devastator Weapons gain the Assault ability
Tactical Units can shoot and charge in the same turn as falling back from melee
Assault Units can charge after advancing

Assault doctrine extends your melee threat range, which could be a core gameplan for a melee-focused army, or a useful tool for balanced lists to claim objectives. The Devastator doctrine project the threat from your guns further, or allows you to claim objectives and still fire effectively with all your weaponry. Tactical Doctrine is a great defensive tool against melee-focused enemies, or a way to maintain momentum if your own assault gets bogged down by a tough enemy.

Space Marine Stratagems

The Gladius Task Force Detachment comes with six Space Marine stratagems. Some of these have special effects when a particular Doctrine is in effect. These can only be used by Space Marine units, so if your force includes a Freeblade Imperial Knight, it won’t benefit.

Stratagem Cost Effect Doctrine bonus
Only in Death does duty end 2CP Just after the enemy picks one of your units as its target in the Fight phase; until the end of the phase, whenever one of the models in your unit is destroyed, if it hasn’t fought yet, it gets to fight before its model is removed. N/A
Honour the Chapter 1CP For one fight phase, one unit gains the Lance ability on its melee weapons. Assault: Improve AP by one
Armour of Contempt 1CP Just after an enemy unit targets one of your units in the shooting or fight phase; until the end of phase, worsen the AP of attacks targeting that unit by one. N/A
Adaptive Strategy 1CP In the command phase, select a doctrine and a unit. Until your next Command phase, that unit is under the effects of that doctrine no matter what your army is using. N/A
Storm of Fire 1CP Pick a unit about to shoot; it Ignores Cover this phase. Devastator: Improve AP by one
Squad Tactics 1CP After an enemy unit ends any kind of move within 9″ of one of your unengaged infantry or mounted units, your unit can move D6″ Tactical: move 6″ instead

Warhammer 40k Space Marines stratagem 'Only in Death Does Duty End'

Warhammer 40k 10th edition Space Marine Chapters

In Warhammer 40k 10th edition Space Marine chapters don’t have the same role that they did in 8th and 9th edition. All Space Marine chapters share the same Oath of Moment army rules. Some Units and Epic Heroes have keywords that indicate they’re part of a particular chapter.

However, these keywords only come into play with certain Detachments: for example, marines with a chapter keyword other than Space Wolves can’t join the Sons of Russ Detachment. But you could use specialist Space Wolves units in a standard Gladius Task Force Detachment, and even mix them in with Ultramarines.

Warhammer 40k 10th edition Space Marine datasheets

Games Workshop has previewed several Warhammer 40k 10th edition Space Marine datasheets and snippets.

Space Marine Terminators

Warhammer 40k 10th Edition Terminator datasheet reveal - Warhammer Community image showing the full 10th edition Space Marine Terminator Squad datasheet

Space Marine Terminators now have a chunky toughness of five and 4+ invulnerable save. Their Teleport Homer can be placed anywhere outside the opponent’s deployment zone: during the battle they can deploy close to the Teleport Homer at the end of the opponent’s movement phase, using the new Rapid Ingress Stratagem. They’re not the only unit that will be able to use the Stratagem, but Terminators using a Teleport Homer can do so for no CP.

Space Marine Terminator Librarian

The Space Marine Terminator Librarian has similarly improved Toughness and Invulnerable save. He also demonstrates how psychic abilities have been reworked for the new edition of 40k. His psychic power Smite is now a shooting attack, while Veil of Time grants a unit that he is leading the Sustained Hits 1 Weapon Ability, meaning their to-hit rolls of six score an additional hit.

Space Marine Rhino

Warhammer 40k Space Marines Rhino APC datasheet by Games Workshop

The Space Marine Rhino armored transport is a little tougher than it was in ninth edition, and regains the ability to self-repair, and for models to fire out of its top hatch as it did in older editions of 40k.

Roboute Guilliman

Warhammer 40k Space Marines Roboute Guilliman datasheet

Primarch Roboute Guilliman is a super-sized commander and force multiplier. He has substantial melee prowess with the Emperor’s Sword and Hand of Dominion, which will reap through infantry and enemy armor respectively, but his main capability is as a leader.

His ‘Author of the Codex’ ability grants him a choice of three auras each command phase. ‘Primarch of the XIII’ boosts the Objective Control stat and resilience to Battle-shock of Marines within 6″; Master of Battle allows you to pick a second enemy unit to target with an Oath of Moment (though you must destroy the first target before moving onto this one); and Supreme Strategist allows you to target a marine unit within 12″ with a Stratagem for 0CP, even if you use that Stratagem on another friendly unit in the same turn.

What with his golden halo, Guilliman is just too obvious a target to benefit from the Leader ability which would allow him to hide inside a unit. However, the ‘Ultramarines Bodyguard’ ability means he benefits from the Lone Operative ability while within 3″ of a Space Marine infantry unit, meaning enemies can’t target him until they’re within 12″.

Once close enough, they have to contend with Toughness nine, 10 wounds, a 2+ save and 4+ invulnerable save. And should he be slain, the armor of Fate allows him to return from death on a roll of 3+. In short, he looks like an absolute unit.

Space Marine Land Raider

Warhammer 40k Space Marines Land Raider datasheet

The Space Marine Land Raider‘s model is the size of a brick, and it has appropriate rules: Toughness 12, 16 Wounds, and a 2+ save, in an edition where armor-penetration is restricted to dedicated anti-tank ordnance. The Assault Ramp on the front of the Raider allows a unit to disembark from it to charge in the same turn, even if the Raider moved first.

Primaris Lieutenant

Games Workshop revealed the leadership capabilities of the ubiquitous Primaris Lieutenant on April 11. Most characters in 10th edition will boost troop effectiveness by joining units, rather than projecting a buffing aura. The unit the Primaris lieutenant joins will score automatic wounds on to-hit rolls of six, by granting them the Lethal hits weapon ability. The unit can also declare a charge or shoot in a turn when it falls back.

Most units can only be joined by one Leader, but the Lieutenant can serve as a second-in-command alongside a unit lead by a Captain or a Chapter Master.

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Leviathan Space Marines

After a thunderous appearance in the 10th edition announcement trailer back in April 2023, GW revealed 25 new Space Marine sculpts in the Warhammer 40k 10th edition Leviathan launch set.

Leviathan is packed with new Space Marine models for 10th edition, including:

  • Captain in Terminator armor
  • Librarian in Terminator armor
  • Space Marine Terminators x 5
  • Apothecary Biologis in Gravis armor
  • Infernus Squad x 10
  • Vanguard Veterans x 5
  • Ballistus Dreadnought
  • Lieutenant in Phobos armor

About half of these models will be available in the new Warhammer 40k Starter Sets for 10th edition; the Ultimate Starter Set contains the Captain, Librarian, Terminators, and five Infernus marines, and constitutes the new Space Marines Combat Patrol.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community artwork showing an Ultramarines Primaris Lieutenant

Primaris Space Marines

The Primaris Space Marines are the pinnacle of transhuman soldiery, a more physically advanced, better equipped, upgraded version of the Space Marines, engineered over ten millennia by Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl – an ingenious, eccentric, and decidedly dangerous senior Tech-priest of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Introduced to the tabletop game and the fiction at the same time, with the launch of Warhammer 40k’s 8th Edition in 2017, the Primaris Space Marines started off with a small selection of up-scaled Space Marine characters and units – but, in 2023, they’re basically a model range of their own.

Taller, stronger, and faster than the original ‘Firstborn’ Adeptus Astartes, clad in upgraded Mark X power armor, and equipped with a whole range of superior wargear, the Primaris marines do all the same things as their forebears – only better. In the lore, at least. In 10th edition, Primaris and old-style ‘Firstborn’ marines fill different battlefield roles, but have similar stats.

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Almost all the Space Marine Chapters have now had large influxes of Primaris Space Marine reinforcements delivered by elements of Roboute Guilliman’s Indomitus Crusade – and, where Primaris and Firstborn have suddenly begun to fight together, friction, distrust, and culture shock have resulted.

Entire new Space Marine Chapters, such as the Fulminators and Rift Stalkers, have been formed entirely of Primaris marines, in the so-called Ultima Founding, ordered by Roboute Guilliman.

Even prominent leaders among the Firstborn Space Marines have undergone arcane and painful surgery to be converted into Primaris marines – led by Ultramarines Chapter Master Marneus Calgar, and followed by many others, including the Black Templars’ High Marshal Helbrecht.

The burning question – both on the tabletop, and canonically in Warhammer 40k lore – is: are the Firstborn marines on the way out? Will the new and improved Primaris breed entirely replace the original Adeptus Astartes that have held firm in defence of the Imperium of Man for 10,000 years? Only time will tell.

Primaris Space Marine units include:

Unit Armament armor Role
Intercessors Boltrifles and variants Tacticus Troops
Heavy intercessors Heavy boltrifles and variants Gravis Troops
Assault intercessors Heavy bolt pistol and astartes chainsword Tacticus Troops
Veteran intercessors As intercessors and assault intercessors Tacticus Elite
Hellblasters Plasma incinerators and variants Tacticus Heavy
Aggressors Boltstorm gauntlets or flamestorm gauntlets Gravis Elite
Inceptors Paired assault bolters or plasma exterminators Gravis Fast
Eradicators Melta rifles or heavy melta rifles Gravis Heavy
Bladeguard Veterans Mastercrafted power swords and storm shields Tacticus Elite
Desolation squad Indirect-fire castellan launchers, plus superkrak or superfrag missiles Tacticus (Probably Heavy)

Warhammer 40k Space Marines - a Space Wolves Primaris Repulsor tank, painted by Nerodine

Primaris Space Marine vehicles include:

Vehicle Chassis Role
Redemptor Dreadnought Redemptor General support walker
Brutalis Dreadnought Redemptor, up-armored Front-line melee walker
Repulsor Repulsor Heavy troops carrier and support weapon platform
Impulsor Impulsor Light troops carrier
Repulsor Executioner Redemptor Heavy tank and limited troops carrier
Storm Speeder Hailstrike Storm Speeder Mobile anti-infantry
Storm Speeder Thunderstrike Storm Speeder Mobile heavy fire platform
Storm Speeder Hammerstrike Storm Speeder Mobile anti-tank
Gladiator Lancer Impulsor Light, ranged tank-hunter
Gladiator Reaper Impulsor Light anti-infantry
Gladiator Valiant Impulsor Light, close tank-hunter

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community artwork showing a codex diagram of a Vanguard Space Marine Infiltrator in Ultramarine colours

Vanguard Space Marines

The Vanguard Space Marines, introduced to both the tabletop game and Warhammer 40k lore in the 2019 Shadowspear box set, are a specialised sub-set of the Primaris Space Marines, kitted out for covert operations, stealth, sabotage, and reconnaissance.

Vanguard Space Marines wear a modified version of the standard Primaris Mark X power armor, designated ‘Phobos’ pattern, which does not alter their in-game defensive stats, but does make them eligible for certain stratagems and psychic powers.

Probably the most popular Vanguard Space Marine units have been the Infiltrators and Incursors – alternative Troops choices to the vanilla Primaris Intercessors, which each offer their own added tactical advantages.

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Both units can deploy anywhere on the board more than 9″ from enemy units; the Infiltrators have an aura that blocks enemy Deep Strikes, and can use a five-point upgrade to benefit from your HQs’ aura buffs wherever they are; while the cheaper Incursors have boltguns that ignore cover, and can place anti-vehicle Haywire Mines.

Prominent Vanguard Space Marine units include:

  • Infiltrators
  • Incursors
  • Reivers
  • Suppressors
  • Eliminators 

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community artwork showing Morvenn Vahl, Abbess Sanctorum of the Sisters of Battle

Female Space Marines

So, why aren’t there any female Space Marines? As you might imagine, it is a vexed question.

Women can join the Astra Militarum, a.k.a. Imperial Guard; women fight the enemies of the Imperium as Sisters of Battle; women have equal status in the Adeptus Mechanicus; and women have always served at all ranks in the Imperial Navy, as well as every level of the civilian government, in all corners of the galaxy-spanning empire of humanity. So why are there no women in the Emperor’s most elite fighting forces?

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community photo showing Ultramarines Primaris models

The commonly heard in-universe answer (usually made up on the spot by sexually insecure male Warhammer fans, for whom the existence of powerful, dominant, and especially combatant female characters in any fiction is inexplicably enraging) normally involves a lot of waffle about how the Emperor’s gene-crafting processes ‘just weren’t designed’ for female bodies. As if it made any kind of sense for the nigh-omnipotent Emperor of Mankind to rule out half his subject human population as potential recruits.

The short, real-world answer is that game-makers shape their protagonists (and make no mistake, the Space Marines are the closest thing Warhammer 40k has to protagonists) to fit the aspirational, power-fantasy self-image of their core customer base; and, when GW created Warhammer 40k in the late 80s and early 90s, that core customer base was almost exclusively men and boys.

According to widely shared Facebook posts attributed to the former head of GW Intellectual Property Alan Merrett, the firm did make a few female Space Marine figures in the runup to Rogue Trader, Warhammer 40k’s first edition – but they sold poorly, and simply got dumped for that reason.

As Merrett says in one of the posts: “all the background fluff about why there are only male Marines is there to justify a commercial logistics issue”. That pretty much sums it up.

Will we get female Space Marines eventually? Hopefully; it would add some much-needed variety and representation in Warhammer’s most famous faction.

And GW has already taken one step towards it, by including women in the Stormcast Eternals, the Space Marines’ direct analogues in fantasy game Warhammer Age of Sigmar. So, here’s hoping. 

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - screenshot of Ultramarines captain Titus from the Space Marine videogame

Space Marine game

The Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine game, released in 2011 by publisher THQ and developer Relic Entertainment, is very possibly the best Warhammer 40k game ever made, for PC or games consoles.

It’s a videogame that focuses almost all its energy on the audio-visual rhythm and sheer serotonin-pumping, kinetic joy of its combat gameplay – and fills in the piffling details of story, characters, environments, level design, and other such distractions, afterwards.

Stepping into the ceramite boots of Ultramarines Captain Titus, you’ll lead your squad through the Ork-infested factories and streets of an embattled Adeptus Mechanicus Forge World, and along the way uncover a nefarious Warp plot hatched by a Chaos Space Marine sorcerer.

Frankly, though, most of that matters little – because what this game is about is living the weighty, muscular, metallic power fantasy of being a Space Marine. It’s like Gears of War, but with less forced, overcompensating masculinity and feigned emotion, and more guiltless, fluid, transhuman ultraviolence in the Emperor’s name. It’s unsettling, but oh so brilliant.

If you haven’t played it, why not? You’ve had a decade! Go and play it after reading this. There’s even a brand new Anniversary Edition now, rolling in all the DLC packs and a bunch of extras – so you really have no excuse.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines - official Focus Entertainment trailer screenshot showing Captain Titus as a Primaris marine in Space Marine 2

Space Marine 2

What’s more, there’s now a sequel – Space Marine 2 – on the way! Check out our running guide to keep up-to-date with the Space Marine 2 release date, as well as the latest news and trailers for the game. 

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community graphic showing hundreds of space marine armor colour schemes

Space Marine colour schemes and paints

As the photo above should demonstrate, there are essentially no limits to the best miniature paints and colour schemes to use when painting your Space Marine army. GW’s vast library of lore has fleshed out colours, insignia, and varying amounts of narrative detail for several dozen of Space Marine chapters – and if one of these catches your eye, go for it.

If it happens to be one of the pre-eminent chapters listed in the sections above, which benefit from their own custom tabletop rules, all the better – but don’t sweat it if not. Paint your models the way you want, and then, when it comes to game time, treat them as whichever chapter you like.

Unless you’re participating in some super-strict narrative event, nobody should have a problem with it – and, if they do, they’re probably not worth playing with again. This is a game, remember – it’s supposed to be fun.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines - a Space Wolves Redemptor Dreadnought, painted by Nerodine

There are lots of different ways to approach painting the many different potential Space Marine colour schemes – as a first step, get your teeth into our comprehensive guide to painting miniatures. YouTube tutorials by Games Workshop, and those by the Duncan Rhodes Painting Academy, can also really help you get started here.  Once you’re ready to kick off, here are some standard Citadel Colour paint choices for most of the Space Marine chapters we’ve mentioned above:

Chapter Base paint Wash Layer Highlight
Dark Angels Caliban Green Nuln Oil  Waaagh! Flesh Warpstone Glow
White Scars Ulthuan Grey Agrax Earthshade Ulthuan Grey Praxeti White
Space Wolves Russ Grey Nuln Oil Fenrisian Grey Blue Horror
Imperial Fists Averland Sunset Casandora Yellow Dorn Yellow Ushabti Bone
Blood Angels Mephiston Red Agrax Earthshade Evil Sunz Scarlet Wild Rider Red
Iron Hands Abaddon Black Nuln Oil Dark Reaper Fenrisian Grey
Ultramarines Macragge Blue Nuln Oil Altdorf Guard Blue Calgar Blue
Salamanders Caliban Green Agrax Earthshade Warpstone Glow Moot Green
Raven Guard Corax Black Nuln Oil Eshin Grey Dawnstone
Black Templars Abaddon Black Nuln Oil Russ Grey Fenrisian Grey
Crimson Fists Kantor Blue Nuln Oil Alaitoc Blue  Hoeth Blue
Flesh Tearers Khorne Red Nuln Oil  Wazdakka Red Cadian Fleshtone

Because they have large, flat armor plates, Space Marines aren’t the best fit for most contrast paints, which work better on organic or heavily textured surfaces. However there have been some recent paints that do the job pretty well: Imperial Fists Yellow and Baal Red have very good coverage all over a mini, making them a great way to slap out some tabletop-ready Imperial Fists or Blood Angels nice and quick.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community photo showing the models in the Space Marines combat patrol box

Space Marines Combat Patrol

There are three different Space Marines Combat Patrol starter boxes available; Combat Patrols for each of the Space Wolves, Dark Angels, and Blood Angels with different models that contain upgrade sprues to make your minis look more like their respective chapters. You can also make a Combat Patrol from the Space Marine half of the Warhammer 40k Starter Set ultimate edition.

These are complete, self-contained armies you can use in the variant Combat Patrol game mode, which is a great way to get started with the game as it has very slightly simplified rules.

You may also find a slightly older Combat Patrol Space Marines box, containing Vanguard Space Marines, in your friendly local game store. This doesn’t have rules for Combat Patrol in 10th edition, but it’s a great start to an army.

One great thing about Space Marines is their versatility. Whatever kind of Warhammer 40k gameplay you enjoy, you can build a list to support it. This means as you expand your list you can invest in whichever playstyle (and, if it feels right for you, an appropriate lore-accurate chapter) you liked best.Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Games Workshop store photo showing details on an Ultramarines Intercessor model

Space Marines are so tactically flexible, and have so many model options, that there are very few wrong answers here, and you can grow your force as slowly, or as quickly, as you like.

Love the fast movement and manoeuvrability of the White Scars for getting your marines into the fight? Pick up a couple of bikes too, to benefit from their biker stratagems. Before you know it, you’ll have twenty of them revving across the table, backed up by missile speeders, and be drinking in the imaginary exhaust fumes.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community photo showing the Roboute Guilliman model

Addicted to the reliable offensives and straightforward force-multiplying abilities of the Ultramarines?

Paint up a couple more neat, shiny frontline Intercessor squads to open up new tactical options, and more pinpoint Bolt Rifle shots per turn – and it won’t be long before you’re lost in Roboute Guilliman‘s dreamy eyes and painting up the Primarch himself, to slather your forces in powerful aura buffs.

Space Marines are Warhammer 40k’s widest and deepest army, yet they remain among its most accessible, and, with a wider variety of possible paths to victory than almost any other faction, they always have the potential to surge once again to victories at Warhammer 40k’s top competitive tables.

After 30 years, they’re still the go-to army for most newcomers to Warhammer 40k, and with good reason – we can confidently recommend them as a way into the game and hobby alike. If you’re teetering on the edge of starting a Demi-Company of your own, we’d say go for it, don’t be afraid. You’re about to become one of the Emperor’s Angels of Death, after all – And They Shall Know No Fear.

Warhammer 40k Space Marines guide - Warhammer Community photo showing the 9th edition Space Marines codex front cover art, featuring Ultramarines intercessor marines

Space Marines codex release date

Games Workshop has confirmed that the Warhammer 40k 10th edition Space Marines codex will release in Fall 2023. Free Index rules are available in the Warhammer 40k app and to download from the Games Workshop website. 

With thanks to Nerodine for his Space Wolves Redemptor Dreadnought, and Repulsor.