The Space Marines have a large array of generic characters to choose from, with characters that have distinct roles in an army list and fulfill them admirably. The Captain and Chapter Master are combat-oriented heroes that can allow army list manipulation when certain wargear options are chosen, while Librarians, Chaplains and Masters of the Forge are primarily geared to varying forms of support. The addition of Chapter Relics and the streamlining of wargear costs leads to tougher choices than previously for which character to lead your army; gone are the days when a Librarian was a default choice due to Null Zone and the like. Now, there are intrinsic benefits to employing a Chapter Master in place of a Captain, and so on, rewarding your choices in a considered fashion. As well, the differing Chapter Tactics certainly boost the viability of individual choices by considerable margins!
Part One of the Generic Characters section covers the Chapter Master, Honour Guard, Captain, Terminator Captain and Command Squads. Part Two will cover the remaining generic HQ choices.
Overview - Chapter Masters are the most expensive generic commander choice for a Space Marine army, and with good reason; they are the toughest, most deadly and have the most potential as a true Warlord. For a rather hefty price increase over a regular Captain, the Chapter Master gains an extra wound, an extra attack as well as the option to take the much improved Honour Guard squads as opposed to the somewhat less cost effective (in a melee role) Command Squads. Additionally, the Chapter Master has access to an Orbital Bombardment, allowing for an imprecise but deadly Ordnance Barrage large blast weapon with Strength 10 and AP1 with an infinite range. The lack of scatter-reduction means that using an Orbital Bombardment is hardly guaranteed to work, especially considering it also disallows the Chapter Masters' movement, though it must be said that when it hits something, that thing dies almost without fail. For such reasons, many prefer a Bike or Terminator armour to gain the Relentless special rule and not disallow movement with the Orbital Bombardment.
The Chapter Master is your ideal combat character, and now that he also unlocks Bike squads of five or more as Troops choices much like a Captain or Khan, you can employ him in a White Scars or mostly bike-mounted force with little penalty. If you want a Warlord that doesn't sacrifice secondary objectives easily, and puts out the most damage by far, then a Chapter Master with equipment to taste should be your first choice for a Warlord. However, the cost difference between one and a Captain is significant, so I would typically reserve their use until you reach games of at least 1500 points or more.
How to Equip Them - There is no "best" way to equip a Chapter Master due to the limitless permutations of wargear and how each choice works into a given army list. In this sense, you should always model a character's equipment to best benefit both themselves and any unit they will join or work with. For example, a Chapter Master in a bike-heavy detachment will likely want to join his comrades in the "saddle", particularly due to the efficient mobility and durability bonuses it grants as well. Overall, if you have the points spare, I would usually give the Shield Eternal to your Chapter Master - particularly if they are both your Warlord and are expected to get into the thick of things. The bonus to Deny the Witch and granting Eternal Warrior are well worth the significant increase in points over a regular Storm Shield.
The choice of melee weapon for any character is largely dependent on what you expect to face, but for a character preparing to face any foe - and this goes double for one with the Shield Eternal - I would recommend a thunder hammer. The Chapter Master should be tough enough already to tank the wounds, and the thunder hammer combines sure hitting power from four or more attacks with the Concussive special rule to even the playing field with high Initiative characters such as Phoenix Lords. Artificer Armour is always a worthwhile upgrade given the potential of a "wound tank" when combined with units such as Devastator Centurions or Vanguard Veterans. For ranged weapons, I would recommend a combi-grav weapon or similar to make use of Relentless if he is on a Bike or in Terminator Armour; otherwise, the Primarch's Wrath is actually a cheap and useful weapon.
Where to Put Them - As you are already paying for an expensive combat character - and have likely upgraded them to maximise those abilities - it is probably best to put them with a unit that is itself a decent combat threat. Depending on wargear choices, Assault Terminators, Vanguard Veterans and Bikers all make apt choices for the more "elite" forces out there. However, an Honour Guard squad is almost the perfect unit for a Chapter Master to accompany; they are very cheap considering they each have Artificer Armour and power weapons stock. Combined with a cheap or expensive means of delivery - such as Drop Pods, Rhinos or Land Raiders - and you have yourself one nasty melee unit for a reasonable price.
Honour Guard are effectively discount Assault Terminators; though they are more vulnerable to AP2 weaponry due to the lack of an invulnerable save, the Chapter Master himself - if equipped with the Shield Eternal - should make a more than acceptable 'wound tank'. If you want to save yourself points on both models and their transport though, I feel Bikers make the best choice for a Chapter Master, due to their versatility, mobility and innate durability. Provided the Chapter Master has Artificer Armour, they can laugh off some of their deadliest foes - such as Heldrakes - and they add an extra, cost effective Troops choice to boot.
Best Uses - Because a Chapter Master pays quite a few points for boosted stats not only over a Captain, but over the other generic HQ choices, it goes without saying that you should invest in their melee abilities. Any other use of a Chapter Master can usually be better performed by a Librarian, a Master of the Forge or even a Chaplain for less. As well, they are not as suited to smaller games as a Captain; while the price increase is certainly justified, 6th Edition is very much about "boys before toys", and thus you should focus on getting as many properly equipped units into battle as possible early on.
I would reserve going all out on a major combat character build for very large games due to the insane cost of building one up to the levels possible with the acquisition of chapter relics; it must be noted though that these characters are insane when kitted out for bear. Personally, I would keep their cost low with gear such as a bike, a power weapon or thunder hammer, perhaps the Shield Eternal, and maybe Artificer Armour, and leave it at that. Anything more becomes a colossal investment over a large one, and the returns start to diminish long before that. Keep them as cost efficient as possible by not going overboard with the wargear, but give them enough so that they can be a combat beat-stick that doesn't give up Slay the Warlord so easily.
Chapter Tactics - Chapter Masters benefit most from which Chapter Tactics meshes best with their wargear. If you went all out on a crazy combat character with the Shield Eternal and preferably mounted on a bike, take Iron Hands and enjoy having a nigh immortal Warlord that crushes anything in his path. Otherwise, Black Templars and Salamanders should prove very useful, with the addition of re-rolls to hit in challenges and Rending, or master-crafting a free weapon, respectively.
Overview - The Honour Guard are elite soldiers handpicked to be the Chapter Masters' personal bodyguard, and have received a major points reduction since 5th Edition that has announced them as a strong contender for the top melee unit in the codex. Compared to a Veteran from a Command Squad, the Honour Guard pay only minimally more per model to gain a power weapon of their choice as well as Artificer Armour; never mind the boost to the Leadership or the downright scary Chapter Champion!
When put next to Assault Terminators, Honour Guard dish out either the same number or more attacks, have the same armour save, lack an invulnerable save, can perform Sweeping Advances - which is incredibly important against Necrons and securing subsequent assaults in your own turn - and have access to two different Standards. And they end up being a wealth of points cheaper per model than Terminators of either variety to boot! This has led to many referring to Honour Guard as 'discount Assault Terminators', which is certainly true to an extent; unfortunately, you cannot take an Honour Guard unit without employing a Chapter Master, nor you can take more than you have Chapter Masters themselves. This limits the uses of the unit, while the lack of any ranged weapons of note means that a wrecked transport early in the game - excluding a Drop Pod - can ruin their otherwise bloody day. Unlike Terminators, they have little real defence against cover-ignoring over-charged Ion Accelerators, but they do make up for it with more ablative wounds for less points that effectively pay for a Chapter Master himself. They are a devastating unit if you can get them into combat with almost anything.
How to Equip Them - Unlike most Space Marine units, particularly regular Command Squads, the Honour Guard have very little variation with their equipment; they can all take relic blades, while the Chapter Champion can take a thunder hammer. These come at the cost of their regular power weapons, and are expensive upgrades to boot; I wouldn't bother with the relic blades aside from one or two, as similar roles can be filled through having free power axes. Besides, a regular power sword with four or more attacks on the charge per model is nothing to sneeze at. The thunder hammer on the Chapter Champion is a handy choice, but you need to weigh up whether striking last for a character that will likely be in a challenge - they must issue and accept challenges after all! - is worth the increase in damage potential against vehicles and higher Toughness models. Honour Guard come stock with boltguns in addition to their bolt pistols and power weapons, allowing them to at least contribute some anti-infantry shooting in case they are left out in the open and away from an assault.
The two Standard choices are interesting, but will ultimately come down to spare points and personal preference; the Chapter Banner is very useful with the re-rolls on Leadership-based tests it provides, as well as the extra attack it gives to the Honour Guard - five power weapon attacks per model on the charge? Yes please! As for the Standard of the Emperor Ascendant, it provides the re-rolls for morale and pinning tests much like the Chapter Banner, but loses out on the attack bonus to instead give friendly Space Marine units within 6" the Hatred special rule and a +1 bonus to combat resolution in an assault. While this can be quite useful, it really promotes a slew of assaults resolved in the same phase; the 6" range doesn't really cover too much ground, and given Space Marines new-found vulnerability to template and blast weapons in 6th Edition, I question whether this will be utilized much at all. Additionally, the bearer's unit causes Fear, though this is a very situational special rule - as Chaos Space Marine players have learned - and probably won't be that useful against the units you actually need it against.
Where to Put Them - Generally speaking, you purchase Honour Guard to provide a Chapter Master with a fluffy and quite powerful bodyguard unit; for such reasons, you can probably guess where I recommend sticking them. Where exactly this leads to on the battlefield is probably a choice of army list; a drop pod assault list would probably allow the Honour Guard to pop in without stirring up as much of a fuss as they would if they were in a Land Raider. It is also the cheapest and most reliable method of getting them into the enemy battle line, though you need to make sure other priority targets - such as Ironclad Dreadnoughts and Sternguard Veterans - are dropped in simultaneously to strengthen the chances the Honour Guard will survive return fire. Alternatively, you may want to reserve them for the second wave to promote your alpha strike as much as possible; that is, of course, the whole point of a drop pod assault. In a mechanized army list, a Rhino would probably be your best bet simply because it is cheap and, combined with various Chapter Tactics, able to get close to the enemy very quickly.
I would avoid a Razorback as it is expensive and will likely be sacrificing moving as far as possible each turn to fire its expensive turreted gun. While fire support is nice for a unit lacking in ranged options, it ultimately will just slow down the unit and be too expensive compared to a cheap and reliable Rhino. The final and most expensive option is to put them in a Land Raider, and Honour Guard are one of the few units that I would definitely put in a Land Raider if I was employing one. Whether you are employing Land Raiders or not will likely depend on your Chapter Tactics - Iron Hands are best suited to this sort of army by far - as they are too expensive too simply "throw in" to an army list. Remember always that you can get a Rhino for the Honour Guard and a tooled up secondary unit such as Sternguard Veterans for the points the armoured behemoth would eat up.
Best Uses - Honour Guard have two purposes; the first is to act as ablative wounds to a Chapter Master and any other attached character, and the second is to be a very nasty and cost-efficient melee unit that can eat almost anything it touches. Provided you are performing one or both of these roles, you really can't go wrong with Honour Guard; the question then becomes which transport to put them in, as running an expensive melee unit without an invulnerable save or natural cover save up the field is tantamount to suicide. For squad sizes, you can get away with ten of them and beam with pride that they cost only slightly more than a bare-bones six-man Terminator unit of either variety. The damage increase and general durability boost against anything that isn't AP2 is simply astounding for the cost, and so if you want to make the most of Honour Guard, I would encourage taking larger squads if you are expecting some truly nasty melee units to put up resistance against them. Otherwise, a stock standard five man unit should handle most enemy units well enough in combat with the sheer amount of power weapon attacks they bring. Trying not to kill an entire unit on the charge is key to keeping your assault units alive, particularly in a shooting-oriented edition, and so keeping the unit smaller will probably lead to them living longer.
Chapter Tactics - Honour Guard receive hefty benefits from all but two of the Chapter Tactics, and they are a good enough unit to make up for any lack of free benefit besides. A once-per-game pseudo fleet bonus from Ultramarines is very handy if your transport didn't get you into the perfect position for an assault, while White Scars provide the useful Hit and Run ability to make sure you get out of combat when you need it. Overall, I think it depends on the Honour Guards' transport choice; in a Rhino, Honour Guard benefit hugely from Raven Guard Chapter Tactics due to Scout. Otherwise, the other Chapter Tactics all provide decent advantages.
Overview - Though split into two different units, to save space and time I combined the two entries with specific references to terminator-armoured characters. Anyway, Captains are the midpoint between a Chapter Master and one of the support characters; they are designed to be a less points-intensive combat character that also provides some potential force organization manipulation with the right wargear choice. Given the significant cost difference between a Captain and a Chapter Master, the adage is very much true that the smaller investment works better in the smaller game, while the larger investment conversely functions more effectively in the larger game. While this may not strictly always be true - a Chapter Master does get a lot of bang for their buck, though saving so many points may allow for an extra unit to be included in the army - it is nonetheless a good principle to model your characters after.
The Captain is designed with smaller games in mind due to their cost, though at games of about 1500 points or more, the Chapter Master gradually becomes a more intriguing option due to the lesser likelihood of them conceding Slay the Warlord due to the extra stat boosts. Aside from this comparison, the Captain is very much as you would expect; decently hard to kill for a stock commander, can be made quite killy with some rather cheap upgrades, and generally does the job they are expected to do. Just don't expect them to do much outside of tanking wounds for more vulnerable and possibly valuable models, or performing strongly in melee, otherwise.
How to Equip Them - Considering that Captains are probably best used as a "Chapter Master on the cheap", I would probably be careful with the gear you equip them with; for example, a Captain does not gain nearly as much benefit from the Shield Eternal or the Burning Blade due to the loss of a wound and attack compared to a Chapter Master. On the other hand, cheap upgrades such as a Storm Shield or a power weapon will seem much more valuable if you want to make a nasty melee character without breaking the bank. In that sense, I would typically shy away from the Chapter Relics and more towards standard wargear that still allows them to best other melee characters of a similar cost in combat. There is no denying that a Captain in Artificer Armour with a storm shield is seriously hard to put down outside of massed Strength eight or higher attacks, and the addition of a power axe or thunder hammer can lead to the induction of a junior combat monster.
As with a Chapter Master, a Bike is always a very smart choice provided he has Bikers to accompany him, whether in the form of a very useful Command Squad - massed Relentless grav rifles! - or the regular guys, particularly considering the Captain also makes them Troops. As Bikers are arguably the most cost effective Troops option Space Marines have access to, this is an option you should really consider, particularly in a White Scars force. A Jump Pack may fit better in a Raven Guard themed force, but generally doesn't provide as many benefits as a Bike does for a similar cost. The choice of ranged weapon isn't as important, as the point of a Captain is usually to wallop enemies up close; however, a Ballistic Skill 5 combi-weapon is never a bad thing, nor is the rather cheap Primarch's Wrath Chapter Relic. On the other hand, an upgraded melee weapon is almost necessary; a power weapon works well with any configuration, while a power fist or thunder hammer is a more risky option that won't be able to hide behind four wounds like a Chapter Master, or the Shield Eternal in smaller games.
For a Terminator-armoured Captain, I would probably maximise their defence and offence simultaneously by taking the vaunted thunder hammer and storm shield option; not to mention, you can make a Lysander equivalent for less (though probably not as good, of course). A pair of lightning claws will shred through most infantry, but can be trumped easily by 2+ armoured enemies or most kinds of monstrous creatures and vehicles. Be aware of what his bodyguard - whether it be either kind of Terminator or a Command Squad - is equipped with when you are picking his loadout, as a pair of lightning claws can work fine in a unit already packing storm shields as stand-in guardians.I feel that for either the Terminator Captain or the regular Captain, the thunder hammer and storm shield combined with other equipment to taste - such as a Bike, a Jump Pack, Artificer Armour, and so on - keeps them cheap and provides a nice balance between offence and defence that is unlikely to even break the 160 point mark.
Where to Put Them - Captains are ideally placed either in a melee unit to boost their total damage potential and provide him with a nice escort, or in elite ranged units to ward off potential aggressors in melee. Much as Lysander was often used as a defender for Sternguard Veterans in the 5th Edition codex, so too can the Captain be employed to scare off those pesky, mobile melee units you don't want to deal with. He can sit with Devastators, Sternguard Veterans, or even Tactical Marines in such a role. However, you are probably best suited getting them to where they can do the most damage, which will usually be either with Bikers, Assault Terminators, Vanguard Veterans or Command Squads. In fact, one of the nastiest places to put one is with a bike-mounted Command Squad; give them all grav guns, and the Captain a combi-grav weapon, and watch the carnage as you slaughter hapless Riptides and Wraithknights within the first two turns and scoot away through your Jink saves and boosted Toughness. Employ a storm shield so that Heldrakes can't hit you back, and you have yourself arguably the best unit with which to employ a Captain.
Best Uses - Given the expansion of Chapter Masters into their own defined role, Captains are now effectively your budget combat characters; this means that you typically want them either in smaller games or in an army where you want to maximise the points spent on regular units rather than characters. Captains thus find their own niche while still being a melee-oriented character; you want them to fight enemies up close, because outside of a combi-weapon, they can't really help out much in shooting. However, unless you take the Shield Eternal, you typically don't want them fighting against enemies which a Chapter Master might otherwise be able to handle, such as nasty monstrous creature characters or abusive melee units like Death Cult Assassins. You should be able to handle most enemies in close combat, but it isn't a bad option to take a Captain alongside a mixed or mostly ranged unit to keep themselves safe; they concede Slay the Warlord more easily than a Chapter Master, importantly. While drop-podding them in with Sternguard to dissuade charges or another such unit is a viable use of them, I think the afore-mentioned Command Squad kitted with special weapons on bikes will likely be the Captain's safest and best destination overall; that he also makes the cost-effective regular Bikers Troops is just the icing on the cake.
Chapter Tactics - Similar to the Chapter Master, a Captain is best served by the Chapter Tactics that benefit melee characters specifically, such as Black Templars, Ultramarines or Salamanders. For an assault unit, White Scars and Raven Guard provide nice overall benefits - particularly the latter when embarked on a Rhino - and so there is no real clear cut winner here for the Chapter Tactics best suited to a Captain. Be mindful that while you can pull off the godlike Iron Hands build with the Shield Eternal, you are probably best served maximising its durability with a Chapter Master. After all, you must pay for greatness!
How to Equip Them - This is entirely dependent on what transport you are putting them in, or if you are taking Bikes; I think it bears mentioning that running five expensive Space Marine models up the field, even with expensive storm shields, is a bad idea, so I won't go into that. You don't have to worry about squad size as it will always consist of five models, though the permutations available in the squad can be rather staggering. With each model able to make their own individual wargear selections, you can have schizophrenic combinations of storm shields, bolters, combi-plasmas, power mauls and pairs of lightning claws. Of course, if you want a unit that either makes its points back or at least actually fulfills a particular purpose in your army list, I would avoid mixing and matching like that and instead keep them focused on the one particular role. Space Marines tend not to do very well if they aren't specialized to destroying a specific type of enemy, and the same is no different for Command Squads.
First up, if you are taking them in a Drop Pod, give them all guns dependent on their Chapter Tactics; a squad led by Vulkan or with Salamanders in general would be best served by taking meltaguns or flamers for a brutal alpha strike, while any other special weapon would work for the different Chapters. A unit in a Rhino or Razorback will probably want either plasma guns to fire out of fire points in the midfield, or melee weapons to take advantage of the fire support a Razorback provides. A Land Raider is best suited to a squad equipped for combat, but at this point, you may want to think about investing in Honour Guard instead if your HQ choices allow it. If you take Bikes, you needn't worry about the Chapter Tactics - though White Scars are probably preferable - as you can deliver five grav guns straight into an enemy formation on a relatively cheap unit that is also quite decent in combat. Paired up with a wound-tanking character of some form, and you will regularly enjoy the sweet scent of terror exuding from your opponents. Riptides, Wraithknights, Terminators, Dreadknights, and so on; beware!
For general use, the character and standard upgrades for a Command Squad should be taken mostly based on personal taste, as though they generally provide strong returns, they can be expensive for an already costly unit. The Company Champion is actually quite cheap and very much worthwhile for any melee-oriented Command Squad; if you want to provide massed special weapons though, I would probably avoid the upgrade. An Apothecary is very cheap for what he brings, and is definitely a good inclusion if you have the points spare; unfortunately, he still can't take the weapons Veterans can. Melta Bombs are cheap and allow the Veterans to engage monstrous creatures and vehicles with varying degrees of an effectiveness; obviously, a Trygon or a Wraithlord is likely to eviscerate most of the unit in return. I probably wouldn't bother with more than one or two Storm Shields in a Command Squad due to their high cost; generally speaking, you probably only need the two 3+ invulnerable saves to tank the AP3 or AP2 wounds you will encounter. As for the holy standards, the Standard of the Emperor Ascendent is probably not worth it in so much as the Company Standard will prove to be more useful for so much less points. Both provide re-rolls to units of the same Chapter Tactics for Pinning and Morale tests within 12", while the former provides a mini-bubble of Hatred, as well as conferring Fear on the bearers' unit. If you want to take one of the standards, concern yourself only with the Company Standard; the small unit size and lack of great durability for Command Squads really limits the use of such an expensive relic.
Where to Put Them - I honestly think that there is no "right answer" if you want to use them as a "special weapons team", and so where you put them largely depends on their special weapon. Grav rfifles are best suited to bike-mounted Command Squads, while meltaguns and flamers work better in drop pods - particularly with Salamanders and even Vulkan thrown in. On the flip side, you probably want massed plasma guns either in a drop pod or a rhino, with Raven Guard particularly favouring the latter due to Scout.
Best Uses - Command Squads actually aren't cut out to be a dedicated assault unit as they aren't the most cost effective unit you can bring for the role; instead, you want them to deliver high strength firepower on elite models, all with surprisingly high efficiency. Arm them with flamers or meltaguns, combine them with Vulkan and you have a phenomenally destructive alpha strike unit that embodies the term "overkill"; obliterating any single tank or one or more - depending on their placement - infantry unis in one deadly salvo. I think the best overall build for a Command Squad is on Bikes and armed with grav rifles to make full use of their Relentless; plus, the Bike upgrade averages out to less than ten points per model, which is actually quite cheap given their Veteran status.The unit will slaughter Riptides, Wraithknights and other really nasty monsters and high armour units, while dealing quite well with Wave Serpents due to to the wording of the graviton rule. They can then rely on their high Toughness, mobility and Jink saves to save themselves the return fire; White Scars benefit this build the most due to the pseudo Skilled Rider they provide.
Chapter Tactics - I don't think any of the Chapter Tactics in particular stand out for most kinds of Command Squads, though certain types definitely get stronger advantages from certain Tactics; White Scars hugely benefit bikers, while Salamanders work very well with "drop and pop" units.
Did you find this an entertaining and insightful read? Cheers! If you have any feedback for me, feel free to post a comment here or speak to me over on Bell of Lost Souls. Happy hunting!
"They will be bright stars in the firmament of battle, Angels of Death whose shining wings bring swift annihilation to the enemies of Man."
- Roboute Guilliman