Chaos Knights: Psychic Awakening Engine War Review

Welcome to the GDFC Chaos Knights Review, from Psychic Awakening: Engine War, which releases today – Saturday June 6 2020. Go get your copy now!

Initial Thoughts

Chaos Knights hold a unique position in the faction list of Warhammer 40k, technically being the newest full faction with their own bespoke codex. The big spiky robots immediately found a place in the meta both as a high-mid tier gatekeeper list as well as in Chaos Soup lists supported by CSM or Thousand Sons and Daemons.

While they didn’t enjoy the same spotlight as the Imperial Knights did thanks to the timely nerf of the Castellan variant a few months before the Chaos Knight release, the unique ability to field double avenger gatling cannons or double thermal cannon Knights helped focus lists, and gear individual Knights to very specific roles in the army list. The release of the Moirax chassis by Forgeworld around the same time also helped Chaos Knight success early on, as lightning lock Moirax Armigers gave the army better wound efficiency vs infantry screens and were dead cheap as well (points-wise…not in dollar bucks. Yikes).

That said, there have been some key drawbacks to the army that have prevented them from making the jump to true competitor, the type of list you’ll see at top tables in a GT or Major. I’ve detailed those key drawbacks in our preview article, which you can find HERE


Right off the top, Engine War gives the Chaos Knights one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle they’ve lacked – actual household rules outside of the overarching Iconoclast and Infernal traits! Engine War brings the rules for 5 Households to the page, including a Bond, a Relic, a Warlord Trait, and a Stratagem for each.

You also get access to a slew of custom household bonds you can use to make a custom household, which almost every faction has received in Psychic Awakening thus far. Between the 5 core households and the ability to mix and match custom traits, Chaos Knights have a lot more options than they did a week ago.


However, none of the other weaknesses of the faction have been impacted. That makes sense considering nothing short of a codex rework (or edition change…cough…) can really do the kind of heavy lifting needed to address the Command Point issues and Board Control issues the mono faction has.

I did hope that Chaos Knights would get a handful of new Stratagems that aren’t tied to households, like the Imperial Knights side received. C’est la vie – on to the rules analysis!

Dread Households of Infamy

If your army is Battle-forged, all Chaos Knights models (other than Dreadblades) gain the <DREAD HOUSEHOLD> faction keyword, which then gets exchanged for one of the Households named here or your own custom Household made from the free-form Bonds showcased below.

Iconoclast Knights must choose an Iconoclast Household (Herpetrax, Lucaris, Khymere), Infernal Knights must choose an Infernal Household (Khomentis, Vextrix), but the custom traits can be for either Iconoclast or Infernal. Aside from that, the usual rules about every model in the detachment using the same Household (other than Dreadblades) persist.

Its worth mentioning because there has been some confusion across the web on whether these Household traits replace the rules for Iconoclast or Infernal from the codex. These are in addition, not replacing, so go nuts.

House Herpetrax
  • Household Bond: Dauntless – add 2 to the wounds characteristic of models with this bond (add 1 instead if that model is a War Dog).
  • Warlord Trait: Bound to None – The first time this warlord is destroyed, if it does not explode, roll a D6 at the end of the phase. On a 4+ return the model to play with D3 wounds remaining, placing it as close as possible to its previous position and more than 1″ away from any enemy models.
  • Artefact of Tyranny: Crown of Jedathra – When resolving an attack with a melee weapon against a model with this relic, subtract 1 from the hit roll.
  • Stratagem: Warping Aura, 1CP – End of the Fight Phase, select one House Herpetrax model from your army. Roll a D6 for each enemy unit within 1″, on a 4+ deal 1 MW.

Giving the notoriously hard to kill Knights even more wounds feels awesome, but I think this is a trap household for newer players. Bumping a Questoris up to 26 wounds still doesn’t make it even as tough as a Tyrant, and Tyrant Knights go down just as fast as Questoris Knights do in a typical game. When the average Space Marine smash captain can dish out close to 30 wounds to a Knight in a single combat phase, 2 wounds isn’t the boost it seems like on paper.

When you take the Household Bond into account with the warlord trait giving you the notorious House Taranis/Infernal ability to revive a Knight, however, you’ve got an even harder to kill Knight that can just stand right back up after the opponent has put their resources into removing it. And it saves your 3CP over the other versions, which is great for a faction that already suffers from CP issues.

The artefact isn’t something I’d likely choose over Quicksilver Throne, Helm of Warp-sight, or the Rune of Nak’T’Graa. The main dangers to Knights in combat are characters and elite units that are generally either hitting on 2+ or 3+ with rerolls, so pushing that to a 3+ or 4+ with rerolls still means a dead Knight more times than not.

The Stratagem is extremely situational – like many of the “roll a d6, on a 4+ do X mortal wounds” type Stratagems. 1 Mortal Wound doesn’t go very far, and a good chance to roll a 1-3. About the only way I’d use this strat is if I was able to get in range of one or more lynchpin characters that for whatever reason only had 1 wound left. Outside that, I think I’d leave this strat in the card binder I keep under my desk (if GW would sell Psychic Awakening data cards, that is – which they do not. Doh!).

The Warlord trait and extra wounds help keep Knights (and one Knight in particular) standing for longer, but the relic and Stratagem leave something to be desired.

House Lucaris
  • Household Bond: Virtue Through Strength – When you charge, are charged, or heroically intervene with a model with this bond, add 1 to hit rolls for attacks made with melee weapons.
  • Warlord Trait: Strike First, Strike Often – Your warlord always fights first, even if it did not charge. If you both have models that fight first, or your opponent charged, alternate.
  • Artefact of Tyranny: Serpentstrike – replacement weapon for Two Twin Melta Guns (aka, Tyrant Chassis only). Bumps up to S9, and always rolls 2d6 pick the highest for damage, not just within half range.
  • Stratagem: Trample Them, 1CP – Select an enemy unit that was moved across by a House Lucaris unit, and roll a d6. 1 – nothing happens; 2-5 – that unit suffers d3 mortal wounds; 6- that unit suffers d6 mortal wounds.

This is probably the most attractive Household in the book for Chaos Knights, being the most straight forward and universally useful for how Chaos Knights typically want to play (especially Iconoclast Knights).

Iconoclast Knights already get +1 attack and -1 AP on their melee attacks when they charge, are charged, or perform Heroic Intervention – getting +1 to hit on top is just icing on the cake. It makes using your Thunderstrike Gauntlet on a melee Despoiler a more promising prospect, as you are now hitting on 2s like your Reaper Chainsword would have been. This trait also lets your non-combat focused Knights enjoy the vaunted 2+ WS that dedicated Knights receive since this bonus crucially applies to titanic feet.

Doubling up on this warlord trait and giving the Quicksilver Throne relic to another Knight gives you two Knights that always fight first – a terrifying prospect for your opponent when they are trying to plan out their charge phase. If that alone forces your opponent to charge units in one at a time so as not to feed into your ability to alternate with them, that’s a win.

Another relic that feels weirdly out of place – the only unit in the codex that can take this relic is a Tyrant, aka a Valiant or Castellan chassis. Neither sees a ton of play competitively, being about as easy to kill as a normal Questoris Knight but at a much higher points cost, and with albeit powerful weapons when things go right, there is too much variance in their damage output. Once again, a relic for shooting on a Household that by and large wants to be focused on combat.

Trample Them is a great Stratagem if you get to use it – smart players will bubble wrap your Knights in such a way as to make it impossible for them to fall back out of combat and remain 1″ away, or only feed you units you can’t actually fall back over, but if you have the opportunity to fall back forward (always fall back forward with Knights) into their lines, you get to do some damage to the unit you were in combat with for your trouble and then either charge back into it or go hunting other units in their lines.

Overall, this House rules, and while the other Houses tend to have one or two really good rules you want to borrow, this House is top to bottom probably the first choice for many Chaos Knight players picking up the book today.

House Khymere
  • Household Bond: Rampant Cruelty – When resolving an attack made with a melee weapon (excluding titanic feet) by a model with this bond, re-roll a wound roll of 1.
  • Warlord Trait: Maddened Cries – When a morale test is taken for an enemy unit within 12″ of the warlord, roll an extra d6 and discard the lowest result.
  • Artefact of Tyranny: Annihilatum – Damage 3 conflagration cannon.
  • Stratagem: Fury of Surtr’s Wake, 2CP – In your shooting phase, select one House Khymere model from your army. Roll d6 for every enemy within 3″, on a 4+ that enemy suffers d3 mortal wounds.

This is one of those houses that can’t decide what it wants you to do – the bond encourages combat, which is great for Chaos Knights generally (and even more so Iconoclast Knights who already benefit massively from charging in headlong), but the relic is for shooting (on a chassis that sees basically 0 competitive play at the moment), and the warlord trait is for Morale shenanigans which generally aren’t worth using in 8th (we’ll see what happens with 9th, it feels promising that they’re reworking the morale phase).

The big drawback here is that most Knights are better off using their titanic feet in combat 9 times out of 10, basically only ever wanting to use their Gauntlet or Chainsword if they’re fighting another Knight or heavy vehicle. But this bonus, like many other similar bonuses, excludes the use of titanic feet. Big bummer.

The Stratagem is decent, but again very situational – having the range be 3″ instead of 1″ like the House Herpetrax Stratagem helps a lot, and being d3 Mortals instead of only 1 is a huge boon as well. Giving your combat Knight something to do in the shooting phase after it gets stuck in is useful as well, allowing you to potentially clear some units out before you go charging into something fresh later in the turn.

House Khomentis
  • Household Bond: Profane Symbiosis – Whilst a model with this bond has lost half or more of its wounds, add 1 to its attacks and when resolving an attack with a melee weapon, add 1 to the hit roll. In addition, 5+ shrug vs wounds caused in the psychic phase.
  • Warlord Trait: Dread Hunter – Once per game, at the start of the shooting phase, declare your warlord will make a killing strike. Select a ranged weapon, add 1 to the damage characteristic, and reroll hit and wound rolls until the end of the turn.
  • Artefact of Tyranny: Daemonic Shrike – Select one enemy unit within 18″ at the start of your shooting phase, improve the AP of your attacks by 1 until the end of your turn. (Note – this appears to be a typo, and many are expecting an errata to give the attacks -1 AP vs the target unit)
  • Stratagem: Encircling Hounds, 1CP – Once per battle, outflank a unit of War Dogs, putting them in reserves. Bring them on within 6″ of a board edge and more than 9″ from enemies. The unit doesn’t split into separate units until you deploy it from reserves.

I’m of two minds with this trait. Getting more attacks is good, and getting bonuses to hit is good – but having your core army trait rely on being injured is poor design in my mind. However, it does mean that, as your Knights get bracketed, you retain your 3+ WS and BS until you’re on death’s door…and Infernal Knights are going to be opting to take mortal wounds in order to gain their Infernal Ambition buffs, so the bonus makes the prospect more palatable. Getting a built-in shrug versus smite and other mortal wounds in the psychic phase is a huge boost though, in an army that crucially lacks any kind of psychic defense by design.

This is my favorite warlord trait in the entire book, and makes high rate of fire weapons like the Avenger Gatling Cannon and the Castigator Bolt Cannon (if your local events allow Forgeworld, most do) an incredible anti-paladin or anti-centurion weapon if the target presents itself. Just having this in your pocket can keep your opponent playing cagey longer than they want to in order to win the game.

This relic is strange, and needs an errata to tie the two clauses of the rule together in a meaningful way – as it stands, as long as any enemy unit is within 18″, you get -1AP to your attacks. Used in concert with the one-off warlord trait, and you can melt the aforementioned paladin bomb or centurion star your opponent tried to bully you within the mid-board even more reliably.

One of the biggest downsides to using War Dogs (aside from the lack of CP they generate in a detachment on their own, which is seemingly fixed in 9th edition, but more on that as we get closer to the new rule release) is that they have a hard time getting to where you want them to go before being mired in a throwaway screen and counter charged by something meaner.

This stratagem helps with that a ton, giving you the option to put up to 3 War Dogs in reserves for a single CP. They can still get bogged down in screens upon arrival, but its a lot harder for your opponent to screen the mid-board against the bigger Knight threats and their backfield and both flanks, so you’re much more likely to have an opening. The other thing this stratagem does that I love is that it lets you split the unit into individual War Dogs after they come on the table, so it has built-in threat saturation.

Your opponent won’t be able to focus fire on all 3 at once if you’re smart about placement. Get 3 lightning lock Moirax into their backfield to chew up squishy objective campers, or even a few with Autocannons to camp in a corner and force your opponent to over-reach to deal with them. There’s a reason forcing the enemy to fight on 2 fronts is a key tenet in real war, it gives you a huge advantage if done properly!

Overall I love this household, but not for the main trait – which is unfortunate, since that’s the only “free” part of each Household choice. Grabbing a Castigator and a handful of Moirax or War Dogs in a Khomentis detachment seems like a very appealing prospect, with a Lucaris detachment of Dual Thermal Cannon Despoilers to fill out the rest. This is something I’ll be playtesting against Bmoy and Btabs just as soon as we can get back to rolling dice. In my home tests, it has been pretty effective against my White Scars centurion list and a proxied version of the dual Paladin bomb GK list, which is promising.

House Vextrix
  • Household Bond: Titankin – When a unit with this bond is chosen to shoot or fight with, you can re-roll a single hit roll and a single wound roll made for the unit.
  • Warlord Trait: Favour of the Dark Mechanicum – At the start of the movement phase, this warlord regains 1 lost wound.
  • Artefact of Tyranny: Heretek Power Core – +1 movement, +1 damage on chainsword or gauntlet, +1 to the roll to see if you explode when you die.
  • Stratagem: Interception Array, 2 CP – Start of your Shooting Phase. One Vextrix model ignores modifiers to hit rolls and Ballistic skill when attacking with ranged weapons that turn.

For me, this household is a winner, at least tied with Lucaris in terms of playability. The reroll 1 hit/1 wound across every Knight in your army goes a really long way to reducing variance on so many variable shot weaponry – double thermal Knights are going to adore this trait.

The warlord trait is fine on its own, not world-shattering – it might have some play with a soup army that includes a Chaos Hellwright or two, and if you can position yourself to get a lot of use out of the Bind the Souls Stratagem for Infernal Knights (and provide the CP to feed it), you can be healing d3+1+6 per turn to stay in the fight.

This might be my favorite relic in the book as well – while double Thermal Cannon Knights have had the most competitive success in 8th, I’m still a huge fan of my combat despoilers and get a lot of mileage out of them. A despoiler with +3 move from this relic and the Infernal ambition, advancing and charging with Full Tilt into the enemy lines, and then having a better chance to explode when it finally goes down after wreaking havoc with a damage 7 sword or fist, sounds incredible and I can’t wait to put it through its paces on the table. Going from Damage 6 to Damage 7 doesn’t sound that impressive, but against things like Leviathan dreadnoughts at 14 wounds it means you only need 2 attacks to get through their save in order to pop it, whereas Damage 6 crucially needs 3.

A great Stratagem as well, even for 2CP. Between Interception Array and Helm of Warp-Sight, you can put together one hell of a turn against Aeldari flyers or any other modifier heavy army, and absolutely cripple them if you’re in position.

Dread Household Bonds

Opening the flood gates for Chaos Knights in terms of the available Household Bonds, GW saw fit to give us Custom Bonds in one fell swoop with the 5 core Bonds listed above. If you run a custom household, you get to select two of these traits (unless marked with an *, which are only allowed to be selected by themselves) and apply them to all of the Knights in that detachment. As mentioned above, none of these are locked to Iconoclast or Infernal, so you can freely use any of them under either Ambition.

I’ll run through each one briefly, since there are a LOT of them, and give my take on which ones seem to be the most viable. Like many other custom trait rules in Psychic Awakening, most of these are sub-par, just shy of being amazing.

  • Endless Torment * – Reroll a single dice when determining the number of attacks when shooting or firing overwatch with a weapon that has a random number of attacks.
  • Pinpoint Cruelty – Reroll a single dice when determining damage when chosen to shoot, fight, or fire overwatch with a model with this bond.
  • Infamous Heredity – When a model with this bond fires overwatch or is chosen to shoot or fight with, reroll a single hit roll.
  • Gheists of Ruin * – Treat your models as being in cover when the enemy firing at them is greater than 24″ away.
  • Slayers of Kings – Add 1 to the hit roll when making a melee attack (except for titanic feet) against a Vehicle or Monster.
  • Dark Forging – Add 6″ to the range of your shooting weapons that have a range of 24″+, Add 2″ to the range of your shooting weapons that have a range of less than 24″.
  • Warp Vision * – Ignore cover with your ranged attacks.
  • Pride Fueled Fury – +1 to attacks and +1 to melee hit rolls when you have half of your wounds (or less) left.
  • Abominable Construction – +1″ Movement and always use the top bracket for Movement regardless of how many wounds are left.
  • Harrying Packs – War Dogs with this bond can shoot or charge in a turn that they fell back, but subtract 1 from hit rolls if it shoots.
  • Frenzied Attackers – Unmodified hit roll of 6 for melee weapons (excluding titanic feet) score 1 additional hit.
  • Hate-Driven Charge – -1AP on melee weapons (excluding titanic feet) when you charge, are charged, or heroically intervene.
  • Enlightened Idolators * – Attacks that have an AP of -1 have an AP of 0 when targeting models with this bond.
  • Hellforged Construction * – Add 2 wounds to your Knights, add 1 wound to your War Dogs.
  • Vengeful Outcasts * – Reroll wounds of 1 when targeting Imperium units.
  • Heretical System-Bond * – +1 to hit if the model is subject to any negative hit roll modifiers.
  • Loathing for the Masses – +1 Attack if models with this bond are within 1″ of enemy units with 11+ models.
  • Bold Tyrants – -1AP for ranged attacks made against an enemy unit within 12″.
  • Rapid Offense – Advance and shoot assault weapons with no penalty to hit rolls.
  • Unhallowed Inscriptions – 5+ shrug versus wounds caused in the Psychic Phase.

Some of these are just copy-pastes of the 5 core Household Bonds above, which is interesting – there is no reason to take the custom bond over the core Household Bond since you also get access to a warlord trait, relic, and Stratagem with the core Bond.

Some of the standouts are Endless Torment for a detachment of dual thermal cannon Knights in a Soup list, helping to drastically reduce the variance in their weapons. It won’t help you hit more often, but rerolling a dreaded 1 on the number of attacks is always clutch.

Pinpoint Cruelty and Infamous Heredity pair well together on a detachment of dual thermal cannon Knights as well, being slightly different than but not too much worse than the Vextrix Bond for rerolling one hit and one wound roll each phase. Making sure you get more hits out of your variable shot weapons, and that the damage rolls high once you punch through your enemy saves, helps increase your average damage output nicely – and crucially, this combo can be used on an Iconoclast Knight House, rather than only being usable on an Infernal House.

Slayers of Kings, Frenzied Attackers, and Hate-Driven Charge would be great – but excluding titanic feet from benefiting immediately makes them less usable since detachments consisting entirely of Knights with combat weapons are few and far between.

Abominable Construction and Harrying Packs can work great in a detachment of only War Dogs, giving them more movement with which to fall back, and helping you generally gain better board control over the course of a 6 turn game when your Knights start to lose wounds and become frustratingly slow.

The rest of these are super situational, and frankly, I don’t think you’ll see many if any of them used (other than Pinpoint Cruelty + Infamous Heredity, above) over the core Household Bonds given in the book on the competitive scene outside of very niche builds capitalizing on a specific met, but there are some fun combos to try out here for the odd RTT or just fun pick up game.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this book goes a long way towards bringing Chaos Knights up into the same tier as Imperial Knights pre-Psychic Awakening by giving us something we have sorely needed for the past year – Household Traits.

However, this book (understandably, especially with a new edition on the horizon) does little to nothing to change the major drawbacks of the faction in terms of Command Point generation and the lack of board control on the field outside of soup.

Ultimately what this book does is give your Chaos Soup list free Household Rules for the Knights you were bringing anyway, but doesn’t give you an incentive to stop bringing along CSM or Thousand Sons for board control, Psychic damage output, screening, and objective capping.

This book gives Chaos Knights a great push in the right direction to lower the variance of some of the most popular builds and gives more casual players a ton of exciting and flavorful rules and abilities to try out in their weekly pick up games. Expect to continue to see triple Dual Thermal Knights in competitive play, with an increase in the number of Castigators on the table.

What do you think of the additions from Engine War? Share your thoughts on the book in the comments below, on social media, or find me on Reddit hanging out in r/Warhammer and r/WarhammerCompetitive.

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