In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. The Imperium of Man stretches across the stars, fighting a dozen and more foes on a thousand different fronts. From the regiments of the Imperial Guard, to the battle ships and cruisers of the line, to the overwhelming firepower of the titans of Mars, and the precision of the temples of assassins, the Imperium boasts a mind-boggling variety of warriors and weapons it has unleashed upon the galaxy.
Perhaps none of them, though, are as infamous as the Adeptus Astartes... the space marines.
Devised by the Emperor of Mankind himself, the astartes are transhuman super soldiers capable of astonishing feats. Though they once existed in legions that could conquer entire systems, today they are greatly reduced in number. Tactical specialists, they respond to only the most dire threats, acting as the tip of the spear to turn the tide of battle before moving on to the next war zone.
All space marines are not the same, however. Each legion was made from a different template, possessing unique traits all their own that helped them specialize for certain roles. And in what I hope to be the first of several installments, I want to lay out my suggestions for how to embrace one of the less-popular chapters of this unique fighting force in your Pathfinder game... the Iron Hands!
For more Warhammer 40,000 character conversions, check out my take on The Catachan Jungle Fighters, an Imperial Commissar, and others in my Character Conversions master list! And for more gaming content consider checking out my gaming blog Improved Initiative, as well as taking a deeper dive into my Vocal archive.
The Raw Materials (Species and Traits)
The Iron Hands, birthed as the 10th Legion, were known for their single-minded determination, and the cold, uncaring way they waged war. They were, in many ways, little more than weapons turned loose on the battlefield to rip down the foes of the Emperor. This trait was enhanced to a literal creed in the coming centuries, when they became obsessed with cybernetic augmentation.
The Iron Hands are noted as drawing their initial recruits from all across Terra's various populations. As such, a standard human makes for a good base for an Iron Hands space marine. The bonus feat, bonus skill point, and flexible +2 bonus to a single attribute is a solid start. With that said, however, one may want to consider Alchemically Enhanced as an option to push physical traits beyond humanity's normal boundaries. This may be particularly useful given the necessity for a high Constitution and Intelligence, which will be explained below. Frontier Survivor is also useful, if one wishes to gain the Technologist feat, along with other bonuses that will come in handy down the line.
As to your traits, it's important to select traits that you feel will come into play often, and which will give you the greatest possible advantage. As an example, Ancestral Weapon (from People of The River) grants you a masterwork melee weapon of cold iron or silver, and gives you a +1 bonus on attack rolls with weapons made of that material. Given the Iron Hands proclivity for caring for relic weapons and passing them onto new champions, this would be very useful for a melee-focused character. Unblemished Barrel (from Ultimate Campaign) grants a +1 trait bonus on crafting alchemical ammunition and weapons, while reducing the time it takes to remove the broken condition from a firearm. Bred For War (from Humans of Golarion) grants you a +1 trait bonus to Intimidate and to your CMB due to your great size (as space marines tend to be 8 feet tall or more), and Awakened From Stasis (from People of The Stars) allows you to sleep only 2 hours to get a full night's rest, which imitates at least one of the astartes' organ implants. These are merely some thematically appropriate options that are useful for the style of the Iron Hands, but your particular concept may make better use of others.
Refinement (Class and Corruption)
All space marines are warriors. This is the purpose they are created for, and the role they fulfill. However, while many of their cousins rely on bestial senses, unstoppable fury, tactical mastery, and the strength of conviction, the Iron Hands are most known for their mechanical mastery. They have some of the most finely crafted war gear in the Imperium, but more than that, they will augment themselves with machinery far beyond what other chapters will do. In fact, it is tradition that when one becomes a full battle brother of the Iron Hands they will sacrifice a hand to have it replaced by their first mechanical limb.
Fighter makes for a solid base for the Iron Hands, but specifically the Cyber Soldier archetype found in the Technology Guide.
At 5th level, this archetype grants you bonuses on attacks with any cybertech, implanted weapons, and attacks made with weapons held by cybernetic limbs. At 7th level you gain a bonus on your score for how much cybertech you can have implanted in you equal to half your Cyber Soldier level (normally you can have no more than your Intelligence or Constitution score, whichever is lower), and you can split the bonus between the two attributes to raise them. You also gain bonus slots to fit in more augmentation than a normal person could have. Lastly, at 19th level you gain a pool of bonus hit points determined by how many pieces of cyber augmentation you have (5 points per implant).
For those who are willing to go even further, however, you can also add the Promethean corruption from Horror Adventures into the mix! The Promethean corruption stems from the replacement of one's body with artificial components over time, granting power at the cost of one's humanity. It also dovetails nicely with the obsession among many Iron Hands to replace their weakened flesh with reliable, mechanical systems.
This corruption can grant you increased armor, immunity to mind effects, immunity to poisons, and a berserk fury that allows you to wreak great destruction. However, the drawbacks are that you lose the ability to feel most emotions, the benefit from morale bonuses, and even to use potions. If it progresses too far, you may even become little more than a mindless automaton... a real risk for Iron Hands augmented past the point of no return.
Shaping (Skills and Feats)
Fighters, even Cyber Soldiers, do not receive much in the way of skill points. Even if you have a high Intelligence score, you will need to choose your skills carefully. Of course, you can also augment them with Skillslot implants so that you can cover abilities you don't have ranks in.
With that said, good skills to have are Craft (focused on the weapons, armor, or technology you plan to use most), Knowledge (Engineering), Knowledge (Dungeoneering), and if you have points remaining consider some non-class skills like Perception (unless you made it a class skill with a trait like Eyes and Ears of The City).
And then there are your feats.
Firstly, if you intend on creating your own items (common for games where technological items are not readily available), you may need to take Technologist, Craft Technological Arms and Armor, Craft Technological Item, and Craft Cybernetics (all of which are in the Technology Guide). The prerequisites for these feats limit the things you can make, not really allowing you to come into your own till level 9. However, sometimes a long-term investment is really necessary... especially if you won't have access to an apothecary or brother tech marine to make these upgrades for you.
Aside from these feats, though, you need to ask what your weapon of choice/combat style is going to be. Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Firearms) allows you to use a wide range of guns, for example, but Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Heavy Weapons) is necessary for things like a grenade launcher (the closest equivalent to a bolter one can locate in the core books). Typical ranged combat feats like Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Deadly Aim, Rapid Reload, and others are ideal for characters who want to focus on gun play, while melee combat feats should likely focus on Strength-based fighting (given the technological might that an Iron Hand can accrue). Power Attack, Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, and even the Vital Strike feats may be appropriate, depending on your build.
Perhaps more than most other space marines, the Iron Hands are defined by their equipment. While acquiring/making/buying all of this gear is likely prohibitive (and even impossible in the case of technological artifacts), the following is an ideal list of the things you could acquire for your Iron Hands use.
Firstly, cybertech implants.
Cybernetic arms are extremely useful for this build, as the Cyber Soldier gains bonuses to attack and damage made with such limbs. Additionally, weapons can be implanted in the arms, allowing the Cyber Soldier to wield a melee weapon and a ranged weapon without running out of hands. Replacing your legs grants you enhanced movement, but is an expensive way to acquire this ability.
Cyberfiber muscles and wirejack tendons grant an enhancement bonus to Strength and Dexterity respectively, which allows you to make up for a dearth of points to spend in those attributes. A thoracic nanite chamber increases your Constitution, which can help make up for negatives caused by your corruption, while also increasing your Fortitude save, hit points, etc. This ensures you always have those enhancements, and since they're non-magical they can't be turned off by anti-magic fields and similar effects. Dermal plating is useful, but not required, particularly if you are using your corruption along with common/enchanted armor to handle your protection needs.
When it comes to your weaponry you will need to decide on a primary and secondary weapon. For example, if you opted to take Ancestral Weapon, then enchanting/upgrading that weapon should allow you to keep using it throughout the game, relying on a ranged weapon (either slung over your shoulder or implanted) as a back-up. However, if you intend to focus on ranged combat then you may wish to invest in something like a grenade launcher, or even a modern firearm like the Madsen light machine gun, or an appropriately-sized Mosin-Nagant, found in Rasputin Must Die!
And lastly, the biggest of big-ticket items... power armor.
In the event I write more of these guides, this is always going to be mentioned as the huge, wish list item for any space marine. Between mag boots, a force field, hand grippers, laser pistol in the wrist assembly, medical stims, great protection, camera and comms units, enhancements to speed, Strength, and Dexterity, and even more ridiculous benefits, power armor is a relic of a bygone age. It's lovely if you can find it, but as a technological artifact it is likely something one won't find until the end of a campaign... if at all.
As a brief aside, if your table allows third-party content, I cannot recommend Savage Company enough for this character build. Everything from chain swords, to a huge variety of firearms, to articulator arms, and more can be found in this setting... there's even a Savage Company bundle deal for those who want all the available content at their fingertips!
Finishing Touches (Story)
It is not enough to merely have mechanics; to make an Iron Hand, you need the soul of the character. To that end, you need to know what their story is.
Are you a gene-forged soldier of some far away empire, found in a stasis pod in a strange new world and seeking a new purpose now that you awaken centuries, or even millennia, in the future? Were you modified by a bizarre cult of technology-worshiping priests to act as their strong right hand, forged with equal parts metal and magic? Is this fantastical world you find yourself on merely a lost feral colony who has since forgotten the might of the Imperium whom you serve?
There are all sorts of options, but it's best to confer with your GM on this one to make sure the story you want to tell with your Iron Hand is going to fit the campaign you're here to play.
More Grim Dark Content?
If you're a fan of the grim darkness of the far future, I've got all sorts of other fun Warhammer 40K content for you! So while you wait on my next character conversion, consider checking out some of the following stories, and listening to some of the great audio dramas that go with them (like the one above, which is the audio for my 50 Two-Sentence Horror Stories, Warhammer 40K Edition)!
- Waking Dogs: A World Eaters Tale: Crixus has fought beneath the banner of the World Eaters for over 10,000 years. There is still something of the old War Hound lurking in him, though... and when those memories push back the fury of the butcher's nails, he will put his brothers down like the rabid dogs they've become.
- Field Test: When Inquisitor Hargrave had come to New Canaan just ahead of an ork rok, she claimed she had a weapon unlike any other at her command. None could have guessed that weapon was right under their noses the whole time, though.
- Beyond The Black: The Emperor's Hand: Gav Smythe has served the God Emperor his whole life. A new member of the Inquisition, the ogryn didn't expect his next mission would be quite so personal. But when he has to take up the black sword against traitors, Gav does his duty just as he has for years.
- Broken Heroes: It was supposed to be a simple mission to recover an experimental weapon used to defend their city. As Renn and his squad are surrounded by Dead Heads and crawlers of all sizes, though, he finds himself in an ancient, buried complex. Renn isn't alone, though... something is waiting for him. A colossus of steel and fury, asleep for millennia, ready to finish what it started so long ago.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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