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Building your first army for Warhammer 40k (The Basics)

Getting started with list building is bewildering. The tools and information are complicated. Your choices nearly infinite. So this is my attempt to make it make some sense.

Is this article going to help you?

Do you agree with the following statements?

  • You’ve decided you want to play 40k.
  • You’ve found a faction you like.
  • You want to build an army and play a game.
  • You don’t know how.

Then you are reading the right article! If not then you might want to try the Getting Started with 40k article instead.

Where to begin?

  • If you already have some models.
    Start with them and then expand outwards.
  • If you are starting from scratch.
    Great value can be found in Start Collecting, Combat Patrol, or other Army boxes. So pick one of those and then expand outwards from there.
    Almost as simple.


Battlescribe is your best bet, but can be a little daunting to get started with. It’s available for your computer or mobile phone. Things may be in different places for each, but the fundamentals and how it words are the same whatever the platform.

What are detachments?

A good overview of 40k 9th Edition Detachments can be found here. In short they are organisational structures for your units that you need to populate following simple rules.

For most armies you’ll be starting with one of the following:

These 3 detachment types are used by 90+% of lists.

If your warlord is in any of the above detachments, you don’t pay CP for it.

A Patrol requires you to fill:

  • 1-2 HQ choices
  • 1-3 Troops
  • 0-2 Elites
  • 0-2 Heavy Support
  • 0-2 Fast Attack
  • etc.

A Battalion requires you to fill:

  • 2-3 HQ choices
  • 3-6 Troops
  • 0-6 Elites
  • 0-3 Heavy Support
  • 0-3 Fast Attack
  • etc.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that a Patrol or Battalion is the right choice for you. So start with a Patrol and then expand to a Battalion if you run out of suitable slots.

Creating your First Detachment

  1. Create a new Roster file (top left)
  2. Pick Warhammer 40,000 9th Edition from the drop-down
  3. Give it a name.
  4. Click ADD FORCE and confirm your Faction and Detachment Type
  5. Click OK to start building your list.
It may not be immediately user friendly and intuitive, but Battlescribe will soon become your friend.
  1. Then set Sub-faction. Depending on your Faction this may appear differently. Regiment for Guard. Chapter for Space Marines. etc.
  2. Add a Battle Size. This defaults to Combat Patrol (0-500 Points and 3CP to spend on Stratagems). Select a larger option like Incursion (500-1000 points) for a larger army.

Adding units

Start adding units. Put what you have into that and see where you need to add specific unit types to make it valid.

Consult your codex for Wahapedia or guidance, and correct any mistakes the list builder flags

Use the Duplicate function to create and modify a unit once and then replicate it to save time.

Finding Errors

Click on the Red circle with an Exclamation mark (if it shows) to see where your list needs changes or additions to be valid.

These warnings are tellingme that I need 1 HQ unit and 1 Troops

Common Mistakes and Questions

Number of Units in a Slot

You’ll notice that for most Detachments you need to take a certain number of Troop or other choices to make a valid list. This “troop tax” is to encourage players to take balanced and thematic lists, rather than a collection of toys.

Add or remove units until you have the correct range. Or, change to a different detachment type that better suits the composition you want to use.


You need someone to “run” your army. Make sure that one of your characters (usually a HQ or Elite Unit) has the Warlord option ticked (and set a suitable Warlord trait).


Up to 1 relic may be taken for free for any army. So you may as well take one. Just select it for an eligible Character. You can also use a pre-game Stratagem to unlock further Relics in exchange for 1-3 Command Points (Named Characters cannot take Relics).

Loadouts (Wargear and Squad Composition)

It’s easy to pick a combination of Wargear that the Codex won’t allow. So read the datasheets for units carefully to see what substitutions and additions are available.

The same goes for adding specialists into a squad, the number of these and the total squad size will be limited. So you may need to remove some standard troops to add a special weapon gunner for example.

Legends Units

A number of units that were once in your Codex are no longer listed there – the models are most likely not available to buy any more. They still have rules that work for the current version of 40k and can be fielded though. These are fine to play with friends and in causal games, but may not be allowed in a Tournament setting.