Horus Heresy: Contemptor Dreadnought
Greetings one and all,
In the last article, we looked at the Elites of the Legiones Astartes. However, I only gave the Contemptor Dreadnought a brief overview, which is because they are one of the most popular units and nearly every army list has at least one of them. I’ll start by going over what a Contemptor Dreadnought even is, then we’ll have a look at the statline and Special Rules. After that, we’ll go into the Armour and Weapons before finally looking at the different load-outs, their Strengths, and their Weaknesses. So let's dive right in with this in-depth overview.
What is a Contemptor Dreadnought?
On the off chance you’re here and aren’t sure what a Contemptor Dreadnought is, they can be best summed up as the following: a 4.5 metre Heavily Armoured bipedal life support machine, armed with various powerful Ranged Weapons or massive Gravis Power Fists.
Let's start with looking at the statline, which is impressive, to say the least.
The main things that stick out to me are the Weapon Skill and the Ballistic Skills of 5, which means they’re hitting most models on a +3 in Melee and in a Shooting attack, hitting on a +2. Next, the Strength and Toughness of 7. The Strength means it’s nearly always Wounding on a +3 and when armed with a Gravis Power Fist, Wounding on a +2 and insta-killing any model under Toughness 5 (more on this later). Toughness 7 means that they laugh at Boltguns and means that it takes real anti-tank firepower, such as Lascannons, to kill these things and even then, it takes a lot of them.
Furthermore, it has 6 Wounds, so it’s not going down to a couple of these Weapons. It will take an entire squad multiple turns to kill this thing and with a +2 Armour Save, they really need to be AP 2 to kill it in any reasonable time.
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The Contemptor Dreadnought has a couple of Special Rules which are Legiones Astartes and Dreadnought Talon. Legiones Astartes basically allows the unit to take the Legion Special Rules, so for example, “Ultramarine” allows them to have access to all the Ultramarine Special Rules that apply to them. Dreadnought Talon on the other hand really states how the unit should be deployed. When a Talon of Contemptor Dreadnoughts is deployed, they should be within Unit Coherency, after that point they can move freely and are not treated as a unit. These are mostly what I’d call ‘housekeeping’ rules, nothing too interesting.
The Unit Type “Dreadnought” is far more interesting, in that:
Successful Wounds scored with Poisoned or Fleshbane attacks must be re-rolled.
All Dreadnoughts are “Fearless”
They may fire all Weapons they are equipped with each Shooting attack, this includes Reactions.
They may fire Heavy and Ordnance Weapons and count as Stationary, even if they had Moved in the previous Movement phase. They may declare Charges regardless of any Shooting attacks made in the same turn.
No unit that is not also of the Dreadnought type can join a unit that includes the Dreadnought type.
These are a really nice set of rules as it essentially gives Dreadnoughts “Fearless” and “Relentless”, while giving them some mighty resistance to Poisoned and Fleshbane Weapons.
Arms and Armour
Contemptor Dreadnoughts are blessed with some great Weapons and Armour, but I'll quickly cover the Armour first before then moving on to the Weapons themselves.
We all know the Contemptor has a +2 Armour Save, but it also has an Atomantic Deflector. This device grants the Dreadnought a +5 Invulnerable Save and it reduces any Weapon that deals instant death to only doing D3 damage for each unsaved Wound instead. But due to its unstable nature, when the Dreadnought is reduced to zero wounds, every model within D6 inches suffers an automatic Strength 8 AP - hit as it explodes. So yeah, that's a bit spicy.
So, with Armour covered, let's get into the Weapons, and the Contemptor Dreadnought has a huge list of them.
Gravis Bolt Cannon - The Weapon your Contemptor Dreadnought comes equipped with, it’s a meh kinda Weapon. 36-inch Range, Strength 5, AP 4, Heavy 6 and Twin-Linked. The one thing I think it has going for it is the Twin-linked rule, which allows you to re-roll failed to-hit rolls. It will do okay versus light infantry and might even glance a Rhino, but I won’t lie, it’s not a great Weapon and you’re going to be swapping it out unless you really strapped for points.
Gravis Melta Cannon - A Dreadnought-sized Multi-Melta, the Gravis Melta Cannon has a 24-inch range, Strength 8, AP 1, Heavy 2, Armourbane (Melta) and Twin-Linked. If you want your Dreadnought getting up close and personal when hunting tanks, this is a great Weapon to go for. The Armourbane (Melta) Special Rule means you roll an extra D6 when rolling for Armour Penetration or allows a re-roll on a failed to-wound roll vs Dreadnoughts and Automata when at half Range,(so 12 inches), and furthermore, the AP 1 grants +2 to any roll on the vehicle damage table. It also benefits from the Twin-linked rule which, again, allows you to re-roll failed to-hit rolls so you’re almost sure to hit with this Weapon.
Gravis Autocannon - Bringing some serious Ballistic fire with a 48-inch Range, Strength 7, AP 4, Heavy 3, Rending (6+) and Twin-Linked. It’s not a bad combination and the Strength 7 is really nice, as you’re Wounding anything lower than Toughness 6 on a +2. The AP is a little lacklustre though if you’re fighting Marines, but against most other factions, you’re golden. Rending (6+) means rolling a 6 gives that Wound an AP of 2 and that’s rather nice, because with the number of shots it’s firing you’ll be sure to get a few AP 2 hits, which will really help if you decide to go do some light tank hunting. Lastly, just like the previous Weapons this is Twin-Linked, allowing you to re-rolled failed to-hit rolls. Overall, not a bad Weapon at all.
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Gravis Plasma Cannon - What's not to like about a massive Plasma Cannon? 36-inch Range, Strength 7, AP 4, Heavy 1, Large Blast (5”), Breaching (4+), Gets Hot. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let's start.
Strength 7 isn’t bad at all. Like the before mentioned Autocannon you’re going to be Wounding most things on a +2, though I’m not blown away by the AP 4 ( seriously, didn’t these used to be AP 2?). That said, this is thanks to “Breaching”; any To-Wound rolls of a 4+ get resolved at AP 2, so that's okay, I guess. The Large Blast (5”) is great though (Template Plasma Weapons have always been a favourite of mine), because it means you can catch entire units of models in gloopy Plasma goodness as it melts them into sludge. Getting hot isn’t so great, but on a Dreadnought it’s not too bad. On the roll of a 1 the Dreadnought will take a single Wound at the AP of the Weapon, though Armour Saves, Invulnerable Saves and “Feel No Pain” rolls can be taken. As I said, I like this Weapon and if you’re running Dark Angels, you're almost forced to take this Weapon… For thematic reasons.
Conversion Beam Cannon - For those that like Range and believe the further away from the enemy is the better, this is the Weapon for you. So, this Weapon has three profiles based on the Range from the model Shooting the target and it goes a little something like this:
Up to 18 inches Strength 7 AP - Heavy 1, Blast (3”) Blind
Over 18” - 42” Strength 9 AP 4 Heavy 1, Blast (3”) Blind
Over 42” - 72” Strength 12 AP 1 Heavy 1, Blast (3”) Blind
So yeah, besides the obvious that the further away you are the stronger the Weapon, what does this “Blind” thing do? Well, any unit hit by this Weapon needs to make an Initiative Test. If they pass, nothing happens, however, if they fail, their Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill is reduced to 1. So if you’re clever, you could even hit a unit just before you hit them with a Charge. This Weapon is a bit niche though and in my opinion, kinda useless under 42 inches.
Volkite Dual-Culverin - An ‘Arcing Lighting Ray Gun’ (or at least, that's how I see them), these are nothing to be sniffed at. 45-inch Range, Strength 6, AP 5, Heavy 6, Deflagrate, Twin-Linked. They might not seem like the greatest of Weapons, especially with their AP 5, but the “Deflagrate” rule kinda makes up for this, as each unsaved Wound generates another automatic hit on the unit which can be saved normally. It is important to note that any additional Wounds caused by these automatic hits do not cause more automatic hits. You get to do this once! Oh, and it’s Twin-Linked (I’m sensing a pattern here). Go look above for what that does.
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Kheres Assault Cannon - Dreadnought goes Brrrt! 24-inch Range, Strength 6, AP 4, Heavy 6, Rending (6+). Not much to break down here: short Range, loads of shots and Rending on a 6, which means those shots that Wound on a 6 will be AP 2 and considering the number of shots these things spit out, you’re going to be getting a fair few 6s.
Gravis Lascannon - The OG Anti-Tank Weapon. 48-inch Range, Strength 9, AP 2, Heavy 2 and Sunder. So yeah, Lascannons are built to kill tanks. If that wasn’t clear, I'm very concerned for you, but to steal a quote from Dodgeball “if it can kill a tank, it can kill a man” (at least, I think that's how that quote goes?) so I can understand the confusion.
The Sunder rule leans into this Tank-Killing theme, as it allows for re-rolls on failed Armour Penetration rolls vs Vehicles and Buildings and allows re-rolls for glancing hits in order to get a Penetrating hit, but the second result must be kept. As I said, this is THE Anti-Tank Weapon.
Gravis Power Fist with In-Built Combi Bolter - Death by blunt force trauma. Strength 9, AP 2, Melee, Brutal (3), this Weapon is a bit of a beast in Close Combat. It strikes at Initiative with Weapon Skill 5, so you're hitting most enemies on a 3+ and insta killing anything with either Toughness 4 or lower on a 2+. Even if the model you’re hitting is higher than Toughness 4, with this thing being Brutal (3), you need to have more than 3 Wounds to survive. In short, a Contemptor armed with a Gravis Power Fist is just going to tear apart anything it gets into Combat with.
As well as being a Melee Weapon, you might have noticed the In-Built Combi-Bolter. So I’ll quickly go over the options for upgrading this built-in Weapon:
Combi Bolter: 24-inch Range, Strength 4, AP 5, Rapid Fire. It’s free but a bit meh.
Heavy Flamer: Template, Strength 5, AP 4, Assault 1. Slightly more expensive, but could be good vs Guard or Mech.
Plasma Blaster: 18-inch Range, Strength 7, AP 4, Assault 2, Breaching (4+). It gets Hot! Okay, now this I can live with. Again, it’s more expensive, but you’ll be able to do some actual damage with it. That Breaching (4+) will make to Wound rolls of 4+ which are Resolved at AP 2, which is very nice.
Graviton Gun: 18-inch Range, Strength n/a, AP 4, Heavy (1), Blast (3”), Concussive (1), Graviton Pulse, Haywire. Great for dealing with Vehicles (as if you didn't have enough Weapons for that already) thanks to the Haywire rule, which means you roll a single D6 for Wounding Vehicles, Dreadnoughts, or Automata and apply the result to the table found on PG 240 in the Age of Darkness rulebook. Furthermore, Graviton Pulse means any Non-Vehicle model that suffers a hit from this Weapon, must pass a Strength test on a D6 or suffer a Wound and if the Weapon had the Blast Trait, the area now counts as Difficult and Dangerous Terrain until the end of next game turn. Lastly, Concussive (1) means if the unit takes a Wound from this Weapon, they must make a Leadership test. If they fail, they lose the bracketed number to their Weapon Skill until the end of the following Assault Phase. Yeah, this does a lot and is really an amazing choice.
Meltagun: 12-inch Range, Strength 8, AP 1, Assault 1, Armourbane (Melta). It's a Melta Weapon. It’s killing what’s in front of it, but it’s very short Range. The Armourbane (Melta) Special Rule means you roll an extra D6 when rolling for Armour Penetration, or allows a re-roll on a failed To-Wound roll vs Dreadnoughts and Automata when at half Range, so 6 inches in this case.
Gravis Chainfist with In-Built Combi Bolter - A Weapon for those Limp Bizkit fans out there. Strength 10, AP 2, Melee, Armourbane (Melee), Murderous Strike (5+). Let's unpack this: the Armourbane (Melee) Special Rule means you roll an extra D6 when rolling for Armour Penetration, or allows a re-roll on a failed To-Wound roll vs Dreadnoughts and Automata when in Close Combat. Murderous Strike (5+) causes any To-Wound rolls of 5+ to cause Instant Death, which is a nice way to kill off troublesome characters should they fail their Save. It’s a very nice Weapon, I like it.
So with the Arms and Armour now all covered, let’s take a look at the available Upgrades for the Contemptor.
The next two upgrades you can only take one or the other, and to be fair you should always take the Helical Targeting Array. But for the sake of completeness, let's look at them both.
Havoc Launcher - 48-inch Range, Strength 5, AP 5, Heavy 1, Blast (3”), Twin Linked. What do I say about the amount of mediocrity present in this Weapon? The Range is okay. Blast (3”) means it can catch a couple of models in each of its shots and due to Twin Linked, you can re-roll the scatter dice (that’s all three dice: the scatter dice and the 2D6). Overall, this is a hard pass for me, especially when you consider that you could have…
Helical Targeting Array - This. Okay okay, I’ll get into some detail and justify my claim:
When active, the model with the Helical Targeting Array may not Move, Run, or declare any other Reactions other than the Interceptor or Overwatch Reactions.
The controlling player may use the Skyfire Special Rule when making Shooting Attacks.
Ignores damage mitigation rolls provided by the Shrouded Special Rule against attacks made by a model with an active Helical Targeting Array.
When the model makes a Shooting Attack as part of the Interceptor Reaction, it does not cost the controlling player a point for their Reactions allotment.
When making an Interceptor Reaction, the model may fire all of its Weapons, not just its defensive ones.
This basically makes a Contemptor Dreadnought an anti-air nightmare. To use a quote I said earlier, “If it can kill a tank, it can kill a plane.” Or something like that. So, if you know your opponent is using flyers, this is a must-have.
As maths tells us, there are only three ways a model like this can be configured: two Ranged Weapons, one Ranged and one Melee Weapon, or two Melee Weapons. All are viable, and each fills a role in a well-rounded army (or any army to be honest). So, let's look into the three configurations and assess their Strengths and Weakness, and how you should equip them.
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Rifleman - Two Ranged Weapons
With this variant you arm your Contemptor Dreadnought with two Ranged Weapons. I’d suggest that you arm them with two of the same Weapon to keep the maximum efficiency, but as you do this, consider the role that you want the Dreadnought to fulfil: anti-tank? Lascannons. Anti-infantry? Kheres Assault Cannons.
It should however be noted though that without the Gravis Power Fist or Chainfist your Melee Attacks will only be Strength 6, so keep them away from Close Combat if you can.
My personal favourite loadouts are:
Dual Lascannons - Nice and simple Anti-Tank firepower; four Twin-Linked shots that will carve through tanks, Dreadnoughts and Automata. Slap on a Helical Targeting Array and make a few flyers fear you.
Dual Auto-cannons - I wasn’t too keen on them at first, but the Dual Autocannon Dreadnought is a huge step up over the Gravis Bolt Cannons. Great for infantry and light anti-tank work, but I think they come into their own if you couple them with a Helical Targeting Array, as the Auto Cannons will do good work against flyers and the like.
Dual Plasma Cannons - Throw double the amount of pie plates at enemies! Seriously, that's all I have. I just really like the idea.
Dual Kheres Assault Cannons - Now I’m not saying doing this is a good idea, really you want to keep your Rifleman Dreadnoughts as far from enemies as possible. But, I mean, 12 shots at Strength 6 and Rending (6+)? That can't be bad.
Gladiator - One Ranged and One Melee Weapon
This is your standard Contemptor Dreadnought configuration; one Ranged Weapon and one Melee Weapon. It’s good again to think about what you’re going to be hunting with this model. But most of the time you’re going to be Moving up and so you can use your Melee Weapon, while also taking shots at enemies in Range. As for the Melee Weapon, it’s more a question of points; the Gravis Power Fist is great but if you’re needing to save points, go with the Combi Bolter. If however, you have a couple of points to spare, I really suggest going for the Graviton Gun or Melta Gun. They’re just as good for options in my opinion.
I’ll suggest a few loadouts that I think are best:
Lascannon - It's basic and simple. If you have a shot at something, you shoot it with the Lascannon and it either dies or feels really sorry for itself. A safe bet.
Melta Cannon and Chainfist - For the tank-hunting Dreadnought, the Melta Cannon is devastating up close to vehicles and any that you don’t kill with the Cannon, the Chainfist will finish off. It will also just tear pretty much anything else apart, it's a great Anti-Vehicle pick.
Volkite Dual-Culverin - If you happen to be fighting Mech or Guard, then this is a great little Weapon for thinning numbers before you Charge in and tear anything else left into mulch. Not so great vs Marines, but still, with it’s high Strength, not a flop either.
Berserker - Two Melee Weapons
Slap a Gravis Power Fist and a Chainfist onto a Dreadnought and send it loose on an orgy of blood and violence. I’d not bother with the Combi Bolters, I’d spend the extra points and use Graviton Guns instead, making the most use of the Concussive (1), Graviton Pulse, Haywire Special Rules. You’ll be wanting to get this into combat as fast as you can and it might even be worth considering a Drop Pod to get this Dreadnought into the back lines of your enemy.
So, as I’m sure you can all appreciate, Contemptor Dreadnoughts are an extremely versatile platform able to be tailored to any role you need on the battlefield. Its mixture of Toughness, Armour and Weapons really do make it a must-have in any army.
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