Tactics for Units: Celestians
Welcome back to another exciting instalment of Tactics for Units, a multipart tactica series for Adepta Sororitas in 8th Edition. This time we're going to be looking at the much maligned Celestian squad.
The Celestians are Adepta Sororitas veterans, usually found at the heart of any battle, where their experience will prove most useful. They are hard bitten and experienced warriors, capable and deadly.
Celestians have traditionally suffered from being a close combat unit with the equipment of a ranged unit. This hasn't exactly changed. What has changed is that the equipment of a ranged unit has become much less hostile to close combat. The standard issue boltgun allows the Celestian squad to lay down similar firepower to an equivalent number of regular battle sisters, and the squad can carry the same number of heavy and special weapons.
What this means, in essence, is that a Celestian squad is roughly similar to a battle sister squad, except that it can survive in close combat a bit better, and is slightly less vulnerable to morale.
Celestians have a fairly standard statline for Sisters of Battle, with BS3+, and 3s everywhere you’d expect to see them. They do however have rather nice bonuses over regular Battle Sisters in the form of WS3+, and an extra attack and point of Leadership. This means the squad is testing for Leadership on the Superior’s Leadership of 9! That’s pretty great! The Superior is also throwing around 3 Attacks in her own right, which is certainly nice. However, it doesn’t gel particularly well with the Strength 3 “enjoyed” by Sisters. They’re likely to have difficulty making their higher number of attacks stick, especially against anything with a Toughness of 6 or higher.
Overall, it’s a solid enough statline, wrapped up with a neat 3+ save bow, but it’s nothing particularly interesting. The squad can go from the base 5 models up to 10, and each Celestian is expensive, but not obscenely so, being 1pt above Dominions and 2pts above Battle Sisters.
As expected, Celestians bring the classic Acts of Faith and Shield of Faith rules. Shield of Faith grants a 6+ Invulnerable Save, which is always nice to have, even if it doesn’t come up hugely often. It also grants a modified Deny the Witch roll, rolling on 1d6 rather than the usual 2d6. It won’t deny much more than the occasional lowballed Smite, but there are an increasing amount of low Warp Charge buffs in new codexes, so keep it in mind.
Acts of Faith are the gold standard of Adepta Sororitas special rules. Before the Movement Phase begins, on a roll of a 2+, you can choose a unit in your army with this rule to make an out-of-phase action. Hand of the Emperor is always a solid bet, as an extra move can help you get into a useful position faster than your opponent might be expecting. Of note*, if you Fall Back or Advance with this move, you can’t charge or shoot later in the turn, as these are both contingent on whether you’ve performed the action in the same turn at all, not in a specific phase. So, if you do either, consider Advancing in your subsequent Movement Phase. An extra d6 (Or 2d6 if you Advance twice!) of move will only amplify the exciting mobility this AoF grants. HotE grants a bit of a workaround for the Heavy Weapon movement penalty, in contrast. The -1 for moving is counted from the previous Movement Phase, so you could redeploy a squad of Celestians with HotE, stand still in the Movement Phase, and then fire at full effect in the Shooting Phase.
As a Shooty Unit in a Shooty Army, Divine Guidance is an excellent choice of AoF for Celestians. Getting an extra shooting phase is fantastic, even if it’s only for one unit. If you’ve got your Celestians in a good position to shoot a unit, then fantastic! Note, if you’re firing Heavy weapons, the -1 to hit is predicated on the previous Movement Phase, which means if you moved last turn, you’re at a -1. This isn’t too big of an issue, given the only two Heavy weapons you’ll be worrying about are the Heavy Bolter and Multimelta, which will each be one weapon out of 5 (or more).
The Passion is an interesting one, as Celestians DO have an extra attack and that lovely WS3+. My gut feeling is that you’re likely to have better candidates for your AoF than getting Celestians to fight a second time, but if that’s not the case, it’s statistically more likely to do wounds than having the ladies Divine Guidance with their pistols.
Spirit of the Martyr is never a bad option, in my opinion. Especially with an expensive per-model unit like Celestians. SotM helps keep even heavily damaged units in the fight, meaning your opponent can’t afford to just leave a unit alive, no matter that it consists of a single Bolter Sister. Prioritise Special and Heavy Weapons, and the Superior, for the most bang per buck, although these are the models likely to be removed last.
Celestians have, in addition to AoF and SoF, a neat little special rule called Bodyguard. This cool little number allows Celestians to intercept wounds lost by <Order> Characters within 3” of the unit. On a 2+, the Character doesn’t lose a wound, but the Celestian unit suffers a Mortal Wound instead. This is, obviously, a bit situational, but it could be a good way to extend the lifespan of your Warlord. Of note, the rule kicks in when the Character loses a wound, so after Saves, after damage is rolled, and after any special rules that might interrupt Wounds, like the Rulebook Warlord Trait. It’d work best if you start with a larger unit of Celestians to cushion the loses you’ll be taking.
*There is some contention as to whether HotE grants a move with the same restrictions as a move in the Movement Phase, or if, because it’s in a different phase, you can ignore the restrictions, IE Falling Back refers specifically to the Movement Phase, so if you’re not in the Movement Phase you can ignore the Falling Back section. I’m following the former, as it’s the interpretation I’ve been working from with all my Tactics for Units, and it’s also the one that makes more sense to me.
Celestians have, in a nutshell, the exact same equipment and equipment options as the regular Battle Sister Squad. I’ll still go over it all as usual, but there’s going to be a fair bit of overlap, so be aware. The Bolter is nice as a basic workhorse weapon, and the Bolt Pistol is a solid side arm, as it can be fired into the combat that your Celestians are likely to get into. Frag and Krak grenades are always fun, giving the unit a bit more kick in either anti-horde with the the Frag grenades, or Anti-tough things with the Krak Grenade. Remember to throw one if you’re within 6”.
The Stormbolter is nice, being essentially two bolters taped together. But, obviously, that’s not going to do much to boost the flexibility of the squad. Anything bolters will have trouble with, the stormbolter will also struggle with. The Flamer is in a similar position, because other than d6 automatic hits and being an Assault weapon, but they both do very well at helping sweep hordes. They’re both quite cheap weapons, which is nice always.
The Meltagun is kinda in the exact opposite of this. Low shots, expensive, high strength, ap and damage. It’s range is midway between the flamer and the stormbolter, but the best range is half of that and thus shorter than both, as that triggers the ‘roll two and pick highest’ rule for damage.
All three weapons have a firm purpose, and like the Celestian squad itself, will be best off if you pair the weapon to the purpose.
You know them, you love them. The Heavy Bolter is always a classic, with better number of shots, better Strength, better range, and better AP than the standard Bolter. 36” of AP-1 and S5 shots is pretty great. Doesn’t pair super well with the range of the squad’s bolters or the special weapons, though.
The Multimelta is a meltagun with double the range. Hard to go wrong, and it pairs well with bolters, what with the whole ‘Getting better at 12” range’ thing they share.
The Heavy is much the same as the heavy bolter, having better AP and Strength than its special weapon sibling, but doesn’t increase in weight of fire or range. Still great, mind you.
All three weapons have ‘Heavy’ as their weapon type, which means they’ll be getting a -1 to hit if the bearer moves in the preceding movement phase, so keep that in mind. Except, of course, the heavy flamer, as it hits automatically. The multimelta and heavy bolter are somewhat situational, but the heavy flamer is a straight upgrade over the standard flamer, and I’d only recommend not taking it if you’re lacking for points or you plan on advancing and shooting a lot with your Celestians.
The Sister Superior gets the standard set of options. Swap her bolter for a stormbolter or a combi-weapon, or for a melee weapons, and swap her bolt pistol for another, fancier, pistol.
A ranged weapon is a chance to support the special and heavy weapons you’ve given the squad. A stormbolter in a squad with another two stormbolters, or a combi-melta to give a third meltagun shot. Or you could use it to give the squad some generality, like giving a melta armed squad a combi-flamer in case they get charged. The combi-plasma is nice, given Adepta Sororitas haven’t got a huge amount of ways to get the deliciousness that is 8th edition plasma, but do remember to not overcharge and shoot both barrels of the combi-weapon. That -1 to hit doubles your chances of losing your Superior to ⅓. Probably best to skip over the Condemnor, unless you’re planning on running a cheap squad against a psyker heavy army. It’s cheap, but the d3 damage is so situational that I struggle to say it’s worth even 1 point.
Melee weapons are a mixed bag. You’re likely to be looking for them, given the extra attacks and weapon skill of the Celestian squad, and this is the only way to jam one into the squad. The Chainsword is free, of course, and grants a bonus attack, bringing her all the way up to four. Gosh! That said, it does nothing to combat the main issue with Sisters in combat, being that they’re still strength 3, and the chainsword brings no AP to make the wounds you’re not making stick. It’s not bad, but nor is it good. It’s just… Free.
Power Weapons are a sliding scale of extra AP to extra strength. The sword is AP-3 but brings no extra strength, the middle of the road axe has AP-2 and +1S, and the maul brings a nice +2S and AP-1 to the table. The Axe is 1pt more expensive than the other two, but brings a nice balance. Of the cheaper two, it’s best to stay away from the sword, but the maul is definitely a nice choice, especially for a point less than the axe.
With 3 attacks, you’re likely to get a decent amount of mileage out of a power-weapon, and the maul and axe are both solid options to run with.
Pistols are of either the Plasma or Infernus variety, but both boast more than decent strength and AP. The plasma pistol is, frankly, cheap as chips, and you have the option of overcharging it for strength 8 and 2 damage, though you risk losing your Superior altogether. The infernus pistol is a bit situational. It’s comparatively expensive and has a mere 6” range. BUT d6 damage is always nice to be throwing around, and if you’re in melee with a unit, you’re practically guaranteed to be within half range for the 2d6 pick highest damage to kick in.
The Celestian squad has two main uses, as I see it.
One is the Bodyguard Squad, which functions as a Battle Sister Squad that stands near your Warlord Canoness and helps prevent her dying. In this case, you’ll want to have a bigger squad, to maximise the amount of bullets they can sponge, and keep them cheap, so losing models won’t hurt you too much. You could run them 9 strong in a Rhino, or 5 strong in an Immolator. Stormbolters and flamers are decent choices for special weapons, as they both boost the firepower of the squad but aren’t expensive. As for heavy weapons, the Canoness is heavily geared towards melee, and so are the Celestians, which means you’ll be moving around a lot, so stay away from the heavy bolter and multimelta. The Heavy flamer may have a place, but it’s expensive so that’s up to your personal discretion.
The other option is an elite killsquad. In this case, they function much like Dominions, in that you load them up with a specific weapon type, pop them in a transport, and have them try and knock out something expensive. Dominions do this better, between more access to special weapons and their Vanguard move, but Celestians do have the admittedly niche ability of being able to charge a unit and for it to not be categorically an awful decision. Which makes them good(ish) for killing off an expensive infantry unit. Something with comparatively low toughness, maybe with not great saves as well, though toughness is the bigger of the two.
These two approaches can be combined, if you’re happy to throw a Canoness at a problem. Gear her up with an Eviscerator and an infernus pistol, and have the Celestians run interference.
What’s your experience with Celestians? How do you use them?