My interest in the Word Bearers began over a decade ago as a potential 40K Chaos army that never really amounted to anything beyond a couple of concept miniatures. My interest however was rekindled when I started to plumb the depths of the Horus Heresy ‘Age of Darkness’ rules, which explored the Word Bearers origin story as the progenitor of the entire heresy. As Legions go there’s little to redeem the Word Bearers who pretty much are the 30K “bad guys”. So why collect them? Two words; Palette and Daemons. The Word Bearers red and black Legion scheme really comes to life during the Horus Heresy with most painters following one of two routes. Either the rich burgundy red and intense flat black of regular acrylics, or a sharply eye-catching red metallic. It was the latter and its contrast with the flat black that I particularly liked, especially as a palette I had never tackled before. There was also the small matter of having already collected the XIIIth Legion ‘Ultramarines’ painting their traitor arch-nemesis was simply too good an opportunity.

The First Heretics

The core of my Word Bearers began with just a handful of miniatures and a desire to learn some new painting techniques, particularly using the airbrush. Literally a single Deimos Rhino and five legion tactical marines were enough to convince me that doing a minimum 3000 points narrative list was a good idea.

Every list (for me) has to have a core theme, something to anchor the narrative to and for the Word Bearers that was an attacking seige-breaker force foremost and a legion that had surrendered itself wholly to the pacts it had made with ruinous powers; willingly or otherwise. To bring that theme to life in the army I purposely held back on the conversions for the Legion Tactical and Breacher squads. These would still display their primary Legion and cult markings on what would be standard Mark III and Mark IV armour. The Veterans however and ‘Gal Vorbak’ would be much more overt and obvious in the change they were going through to represent the corruption seeping down from the very top. To help cement this I chose a Chaplain and Diabolist as HQs to give me Dark Channeling for my legion troops and a Delagatus to unlock the legion Dark Brethren right of war letting me take Daemons as an allied detachment.

About that red

For me the 17th Legion is all about their palette. Other than the Gal Vorbak there is not a lot that really makes them stand out against other Legions. They don’t (currently) have any fancy unique Legion Terminators, or an attention grabbing theme like the World Eaters or Emperor’s Children. In many ways they are quite nondescript with a generally desaturated black and red palette compared to their fellow Legions. I wanted my Word Bearers to really stand out so I went heavily for the contrast between flat black and a metallic red pushing contrast not only in colour but reflectivity. It also gave me wiggle room with natural materials such as leather and parchment, which the Word Bearers have a lot of to add a third dimension of contrast; texture. The base for all of that is the red however which is achieved in three stages, the pre-shade, the addition of colour and the introduction of ‘noise’ or texture.


As I will be using a transparent colour the value is provided by the pre-shade, in this case metallics. I used Vallejo Metal Series Gunmetal as the base then added a highlight of Chrome. These inform where the shadows and highlights will be when the colour goes on and the application with airbrush let me control any transitions as well as create mid-tones.

The colour

With the pre-shade establishing the values I applied a clear red over the top in several light coats. I used Tamiya Clear Red as I like how it goes on with an airbrush but others could be used. The Tamiya Clear Red is as suggests very red so if you want to achieve a final colour similar to the Word Bearers which is more a burgundy or magenta you will need to also apply a couple of coats of Games Workshop Carroburg Crimson to change the hue.

Bring the noise

The final step I introduced specifically for this army was adding imperfections during the clear colour stages to create interest. These were applied before, during and after the colour is applied over the pre-shade, how many is up to you. I used the same Vallejo Chrome and added some chips and scratches to areas of the armour with a sponge (chipping method) and refined with a brush. These interlaced with the layers of clear creates a much more interested and battle-worn looking armour.

Tarsiss IV “The Battle for Modgud Prime”

As I mentioned at the start, the motivation for completing this army was a Horus Heresy two-day narrative event hosted by the Geno Five-Two Podcast. Tarsiss has been running for just over two years now and was my introduction to the Horus Heresy gaming scene back in 2017 after spectating the second of the events Tom and Stu ran, the entire series kicking off with the release of the Betrayal at Calth boxed set as a way to get new players into the age of darkness ruleset. My first foray into the Tarsiss campaign was with a 2.5k Ultramarines list which you can see right here, so this time I decided to flip sides and play the thirteenth legions arch-enemy the ‘Word Bearers’, effectively collecting my own mini Calth.

The force is slightly unusual in that the list was constructed around a core 1500 point zone mortalis force which by the event rules had also to form the base of my 3k front-line list. No changes to selection or wargear. As I wanted to run with the legion’s Dark Brethren right of war I needed to take a Delagatus, but being forced to take a second compulsory HQ of either a Centrurion or Chaplain by the Word Bearers traits meant I could not get my Diabolist into the zone mortalis list. Not a problem as it effectively meant my ZM force consisted of legion Astartes with dark channelling and my main list the same but with transports and an allied contingent of daemons. In this instance plaguebearers led by a Herald of Nurgle and a Beast.


With the foot troops and their dark allies assembled I then focussed on the legions armoured contingent, which was anchored around my forces centrepiece; a Falchion super-heavy. Every army I do has to have at least one centrepiece model, even if it’s just a character or monstrous creature. For the Ultramarines I had the Caestus assault ram but having 3000 points to play with I felt it was time to introduce my first 30K Lord of War. The kit is magnificent and is so much fun to game with. Initially it was both the Glaive and Fellblade which had my eye, especially the former but in the end the fixed assault-gun format of the Falchion appealed to my inner ‘StuG’ and I was really glad I got one. Gaming wise I had mixed results on its first outing being a ‘D’ weapon as I always felt I was “fishing for a six” to exploit its full potential. It wasn’t helped by not fully using all of the rules at my disposal so had entirely missed the extra D6 I should have rolled on the destruction table it being a primary weapon. Either way, as a painting project it was a real joy.

Palette wise the Falchion is a combination of metallic pre-shades and clear red contrasted with flat black and sea blue armour panels. The battle damage is a combination of chipping and brush scratches plus some scorching using the airbrush. The weathering a mix of oil paints, pin washes, dry pigments and a fine pale sand acrylic applied with the airbrush as a final stage.

Backing up the Falchion as its defensive line to discourage any multi-bombing by melta-vets were a Leviathan and Contemptor Dreadnought combo. These were to be fair equipped with modelling and painting in mind rather than optimisation, hence the Heavy-Conversion beamer and Grav-Flux Bombard rather than twin-butcher cannons. That being said the Leviathan did see off an Imperial Fists Cataphractii deep strike but then failed rule one by not intercepting previously hinted at multi-bomb attack by vets on an over-extended Falchion. Lesson learned.

The final armour choice was the key theme to the list and that was the newly (at time of painting) released Termite transports. These were an absolute joy to build and paint. Three in total were deployed filling out my entire fast attack slots, two with Volkite and one heavy flamers. All of the weapons and the Termites themselves were magnetised so I could swap out for any of the three weapon choices and so I could deploy the termites on oval terrain bases. These also being magnetised could be left on the table as the tunneller drives off as the dangerous terrain marker. I’d like to say that was the idea from the outset but it actually just evolved that way once I built them and turned out to be one of the most popular (and useful!) features during the event.

Gaming wise I absolutely love the Termites, in many ways I feel they are superior to drop pods adding an underground meta that really keeps your opponent on their toes not knowing where a squad of veterans or breachers might pop up in their lines. It isn’t an assault vehicle so it’s nicely balanced not to be overpowered and taking up fast attack slots means you are always having to sacrifice other choices like aircraft or bikes/skimmers.