The Dark Fortress

Deathwing Venerable Dreadnought image

Dark Angels Dreadnought

5th Edition

Note: This tactica is now old and needs an update. Many facts will not be correct for current game. However the general gist is pitched right.

The staple of many a Space Marine army and a great favourite as a very characterful and well designed model. Despite its familiarity there is a knack to getting it to perform right so no apologies for this rather long article.

Since I've been playing marines (since my earliest days) I've used a Dread. So what have I learned over the years? Firstly any beginner will quickly learn that which any seasoned player knows. Your dread will encounter heavy enemy fire, always, and I do mean always.

There have been games where I didn't even get to move him, this of course will be covered later on how to avoid this, but a fair warning and don't get disappointed with your Dread. Far to often I've seen a player toss a model aside because it didn't perform the way they wanted or expected, more often then not, it's either bad luck or your playing ability. No offence to anyone, but myself included have had this happen more then once.

Why take a Dreadnought?

The Dread is an Elite choice option offering the unique combination of an AV vehicle chassis that also has the capacity to haul it's weight into close combat — and hold it's own. As such they make great units for sitting back in the fire support role, or, putting on a flank and advancing forwards to tie up enemy infantry in close combats they cannot win. It also has the capacity to move and fire and assault in much the same way as terminators, t can make sweeping advances and pile-in moves as infantry.

They are vital in any pure Deathwing list where the Dread is actually the cheapest option in the list and are always seen as a threat — the fear of Dread psyche still runs deep. Here their role is very clearly defined as fire support units and two or three must be considered must-have items, unless Land Raiders are used as your fire support choice.

In Battle Company armies, the Elite slots have been seriously squeezed by the excellent Veteran squad and the addition of Scouts from the Fast Attack slot. Not to mention Deathwing squads. It's a tough choice to make but one fire support Dread plus Heavy Support armour is never a bad choice in my book.

But the main competition to the Dread is actually the Predator. It has better frontal armour, can move and fire its autocannon turret and HB sponsons and is cheap and very effective in this loadout. As a fire support chassis any Predator with lascannons starts getting expensive, and of course Preds don't have the same assault capability of the Dread, nor can they be Venerable.

Weapon options (right arm)

The assault cannon bought with the basic model can be swapped at no additional cost for one of three of the following weapon options, all have strengths and weaknesses:

  • the twin-linked autocannon;
  • the plasma cannon;
  • the often under-utilised multi-melta

Whether you think this represents good points value is open to debate. The first two of these options are well worth considering on a second or third Dread. The remaining weapon option, one you pay quite a few points for, is the twin-linked lascannon but this costs more points. So with all these to choose from, which one?

The Dread is all about options, in-fact it's built upon it. We'll start with the right arm — the GUN ARM. This will be your main source of firepower, and depending on how you arm it, it will also determine your tactics as well. In my mind there are two types of weapons, those for General use and those for Anti-armour (and then there are some that do both, but they get intermixed into the two).

General use gun arms

Assault cannon

Built in, so if in a points crush this is the best way to go. It gives you four possible rending shots that are great for milling down troops, and because of its strength and possible rending you'll be able to deal with armour too. It does have a shorter range which might mean a big difference depending how you intend to use him. But it is still one of the best weapons of the Space Marine armoury of 5th edition, and for my mind the best standard weapon option on a Dread, as such it's hard to pass. And in the overall points cost scope it's the weapon that offers the most bang for the buck.

Twin-linked autocannon

A free swap for the assault cannon. This weapon is often seen as the poor mans lascannon, but actually it brings something quite different to the table at no extra cost. This option is a great favourite of mine as it has excellent range and being two-shot twin-linked rarely misses anything. It is a great threat to skimmers and light transports (of which there are many) where the autocannon is second only to the assault cannon for ripping through light vehicles like Eldar War Walkers and Vipers, Marine Speeders, Ork buggies, Tau Piranhas, Guard Sentinels etc.

If you are up against armour up to AV13 you have a chance of knocking it about, up to AV12 it gets even better, but realistically AV10 and 11 primarily transports or other Dreads are your main targets, leave the heavier tanks to the lascannons of your army. Most transport vehicles are fairly easily popped by Str7 (4s to glance a Rhino, for example) — remembering you have 2 shots and 48" range you are popping a transport a turn. With flying/ground transports they just need to be stunned or immobilised to stop them moving for a turn, no need for dramatic penetration hits and explosions, though it helps of course. Great for MC killing too. This weapon option is great for a second or third Dread as long as you have plenty of higher Str weaponry elsewhere in your list.

Plasma cannon

The plasma cannon is a neat option to run on a second-string Dread. It's always a threat to horde infantry and light vehicles realistically up to AV12, but really it's the AP2 blast marker you want to utilise to its best advantage so it's there to threaten deep striking units, terminators (which it can toast nicely), bikes and other high point value units. If taken in a pure Deathwing army, it's the only way to get this weapon into your list. Personally I always run the plasma cannon with the DCCW/storm bolter arm as it's cheap and effective, and gives your Dread a dual shooty/cc capability. However the missile launcher is an excellent option enabling the Dread to throw out two blast markers per turn, but it means you will need to keep him back and out of harms way.

The last thing to mention is that because the plasma cannon is mounted on a vehicle it doesn't overheat. Yay!!

Anti-armour gun arms

The next group is anti-armour, particularly heavy armour of AV13 and above. This group consists of the multi-melta, and the twin-linked lascannon. Both the plasma cannon and autocannon have been mentioned above so I won't repeat those now. Basically they can handle 13 or lower, though they are better suited for AV12 or lower to have a good shot at it.


What can be said about this beast? It's a free swap for the assault cannon. Nothing can stand up to it with its Str8 AP1, plus at half range you get 2D6 penetration versus tanks. This baby can crack anything open, and I mean anything. So what's the down side? Range — it has the same maximum as an assault cannon making it a little hard to utilise that golden 2D6 bonus, (not that it's not possible because it is, it just takes some crafty tactics, more on this later) and the fact it is only a single-shot weapon.

But really it's so specialised in my opinion it doesn't suit the Dread at all well, there are much better and faster ways of getting tank-hitting meltas into action (Ravenwing bikes and speeders being prime choices). So unless you absolutely need this melta then go for a better weapon option.

Twin-linked lascannon

While this is the most expensive, it's also the strongest with a super-long range, it can even crack a Land Raider without really breaking a sweat and it's twin-linked, meaning if you do miss you get another shot. The bad bit then? It only gets one shot a round, OK re-rollable no doubt, but we would all love more shots with this. The significant factor here is the cost. A Venerable Dread with a lascannon and missile launcher arm (the classic fire-support loadout) will cost you 175 points which is quite an investment in an AV12 vehicle.

Weapon options (left arm)

Now as normal shooting rules apply ALL the Dreads weapons must shot at the same target. This will have some bearing on the choice of left arm options otherwise shots will be wasted on unsuitable targets by poorly matched weapons.

DCCW/Storm Bolter

The Dread comes standard with a power fist (known as the Dreadnought close combat weapon or DCCW), equipped with an integral storm bolter. Not bad for free and you're Str10. What's bad about this? It scares the blazes out of infantry units who can't touch you unless they have melta bombs or power fists or their equivalent, and this arm alone makes you a tank killer too — albeit in close combat only. The threat-potential of this monstrous Str10 no armour saves weapon is worth just as much to a player as the actual kill output it achieves.

The storm bolter is a nice extra shooting weapon with moderate range, it's a known quantity so what more need to said. This standard out-of-the-box loadout works well with the assault cannon and must be considered first choice to accompany that weapon.

Heavy flamer

You can swap the storm bolter for this for a few more points and it sounds tempting. It's hard to pass up an auto-hitting ignores cover save template weapon isn't it? This is especially good versus horde armies where you'll hopefully get into the thick of things The heavy flamer is worth its points just as a deterrent. Its presence makes your opponent skirt your Dreads when aiming for softer targets. Putting one on an assault cannon or a melta Dread and get it up close to the enemy for some serious close-range damage.

But that to some is the issue, with the 8" template you'll need to be close and sometimes Dreads don't make it this close into infantry units, as such it is a wasted weapon. I have always opted for the longer ranged storm bolter simply because it actually gets used plus it's not costing you any extra.

Missile launcher

10 points for a frag or krak missile seems like a good purchase on a fire-support Dread. It's always nice to have the option of firing two long-ranged weapons per turn rather than the one, and the krak is a handy anti-armour backup for your lascannon Dread because to be honest the storm bolter (or flamer) are going to be pretty useless both in terms of the kind of range the las shoots from and the type of targets it seeks.

Effective when used with the plasma cannon and the missile launcher. These are the ultimate troop and light armour-killing combos. It's a nice to match for the plasma cannon for the synergy of targets and range: the S7/S8 combo is decent anti-tank and up to two small blast markers a turn at troops which is a useful banker to having one that doesn't scatter, and all for the minimal cost of arming your Dread with the missile launcher. Not bad if you ask me, and super-effective fire support.

I have seen the missile launcher used in conjunction with the assault cannon, but to me the mix is anathema as the missiles can fire way before the assault cannon even gets into range, and the temptation to move into ac range means the more likelihood of your Dread being assaulted, which is where you want to have the great swinging DCCW working for you. Similarly the temptation to sit back with the missiles then renders the ac wasted. I am not saying the ac/missile launcher combo is bad, but it isn't that efficient and isn't playing to the Dreads strengths of high volume firepower and cc prowess.

Dreadnought roles dictate weapon loadouts

Well now we've got all these arm options let's have a quick re-cap on how they work together to influence the role of the Dread, funnily enough nothing has more influence on this than your left arm selection, the combinations are critical too:

Close combat Dreads

Your standard DCCW arm with storm bolter is nice, if you want to get into cc keep it and leave it alone. Mix it with the assault cannon (preferred), plasma cannon or twin-linked autocannon. If you are facing a horde army (Orks, Tyranids, Guard, etc) the heavy flamer can be excellent provided to get close enough to use it. Still that power fist is awesome in cc, honestly there is nothing better a Str10 weapons that goes at Init with 3 attacks on the charge!!

Some typical close combat loadouts are shown in order of effectiveness ranging from excellent to poor:

  • Assault cannon with the DCCW;
  • Multi-melta with the DCCW;
  • Plasma cannon with the DCCW;
  • Twin-linked lascannon or twin-linked autocannon with the DCCW;
  • Any weapon used with a missile launcher.

Fire support Dreads

If you want a total firebase the missile launcher is ideal (traditionally Dark Angels' Dreads were armed with a missile launcher left arm for extra firepower) as you get that extra long range shot. It's good for anti-troop and tank alike. Mix the missile launcher with the plasma cannon, twin-linked auto, or, the most popular fire support combo of course with the lascannon, this creates the ultimate firebase giving you maximum fire power.

Some typical fire support loadouts are shown in order of effectiveness ranging from excellent to poor:

  • Twin-linked lascannon with missile launcher;
  • TL-auto or plasma cannon with missile launcher;
  • Twin-linked autocannon with missile launcher;
  • Multi-melta with missile launcher;
  • Any gun arm weapon with the DCCW.

Dark Angels Dreadnought upgrade options

Smoke and Searchlights

These are not strictly options as they are now free with the basic Dread. Great, as they were always purchased by me anyway. Smoke being the most useful as it can really save the day especially for the multi-melta or any other close range support Dread. Also if you plan to sit and shoot as a fire base it can really save you if you're not obscured or in cover at the time.

Note that since the Jan 2011 his now works as per Codex Space Marines and it allows the vehicle a 4+ cover save while smoke is in use.

It's up to you what you make of this — the vehicle damage chart is a lot friendlier than it was in 4th Edition, meaning a glancing hit can never destroy you and at worse you are Immobilised. With the DA smoke when penetrated, mathematically if you roll less than a 4+ (the equivalent of failing your save) on it then you result in a Crew Stunned. With the 4+ C:SM save version, if you miss your cover save you are looking at Destroyed Explodes at worst.

Extra armour

An expensive upgrade — lifesaver yes but no longer the no-brainer it once was simply because of the points it cost. Look upon Extra Armour is an insurance policy. I don't want a glancing hit to have a chance of keeping my Dread from moving or getting into close combat, and experience shows those 15 points has often kept Dreads moving against me.


We Dark Angels now have no limitations on the number of Venerable Dreadnoughts we can use as they are now an upgrade for all DA Codex Dreads. Fluffwise the Venerable status signifies being part of the Deathwing, but having said that Ven Dreads pop up in most Battle Company armies in their green armour, and similarly many a points-strapped DW army uses bone-white painted Dreads that aren't Venerable so don't get too hung up on what 'Venerable' in the DA context actually signifies.

I can't see any reason why you would not use the Venerable option unless you are really tight for points. It offers that vital extra chance for a reprieve after a pen or a glance hit has been sustained — OK so it's no guarantee of ultimate survival but what is? Points well spent in my opinion. This upgrade is a real godsend. Combined with extra armour it makes a Dread very difficult to knock out, but in this combination at a price.

Transport option: the Drop Pod

Dreads can take pods and this is actually an excellent way of getting it down into the enemy lines causing maximum havoc. If you decide on the pod then certain weapon options will work best for you: notably the assault cannon with the DCCW/heavy flamer. The close proximity deployment means the range disadvantage of the both these weapons is negated somewhat allowing maximum advantage to be gained. Four rending shots and the template is going to create a lot of damage. The other weapon worth a mention is the multi-melta. Podding is about the only way to get this weapon close enough to armour (rear armour at that) to utilise the 2D6 bonus, but again combine this with the DCCW/heavy flamer.

Bear in mind that a dread armed in either of these suggested combinations will cost you at least 180 points. For less you could get an all lascannon Predator at 165 points. Also, the Drop Pod is an easy Kill Point for your opponent.

The Forge World Dreadnought Drop Pod (Lucius pattern)

This costs the same as a normal DA pod and comes with the Assault Vehicle and Drop Pod Assault special rules amongst others, so what's not to like there? It allows the Dread to assault from it directly upon landing — a damned handy thing to have if you are tempted to go down the drop pod route. A great idea for a close support or armour-hitting Dread to accompany deep striking Deathwing squads — though maybe keep it for larger point sized games. Just to note this pod has no integral weapon system option.

The Forge World Mortis Dreadnought

The Dark Angels have access to the fantastic Mortis variant through Imperial Armour 2 (IA2). It comes with twin missile launchers which besides making for a very odd looking Dread you only get two shots which aren't twin-linked. A strange choice given the alternatives available:

  • Two twin-linked lascannons. A bit overkill, very vulnerable on an AV12/10 chassis.
  • Two twin-linked heavy bolters. I'd stick with the the two TL-autos as the HBs, despite having more shots, have less range and have less target types to hit. Though granted they will make a mess of many an infantry unit.
  • Two twin-linked autocannons. Not only looks excellent — performs superbly well too. Seriously that's four 48" shots, at Str7 Ap4 re-rollable on a miss what's not to like? It is great for taking down skimmer transports, light armour, MCs and any infantry less than MEQ. A Mortis in this configuration would cost you 125 points which is the same base cost as the normal DA Dreadnought.

Note: As with the all Forge World products, check before turning up to tournaments as many tournament organisers do not allow them to be used.

General tactics and deployment

Anyone who has ever used a Dread will know that they take a ton of fire. It's one of those models other players seem to target first, and really why shouldn't they? Besides a Land Raider or perhaps a Predator/Vindicator I am shooting this thing first as he can be a huge problem. There have been games where I don't even get to use mine because I am facing a shooty player and he/she rips him to pieces even before I get a turn. So then we are talking about a deployment issue, which is covered further down.

The Dread being a Walker can always move and shoot all his weapons all the time to full effect. So why not continually move him? Well there are cases where you may not need or want to, for instance when using the Dread as a firebase with all long range weapons from behind cover or an intervening unit.

In consideration of movement a quick mention on Running. Yes Dreads can Run too and is a good way to get them from A to B in a hurry provided you don't mind foregoing a turn of shooting. In my book though only run to contest an objective or get into cover — Dreads are for shooting and ccing with not for sprinting.

Now for a general warning, as anyone can attest to, NEVER EVER never leave your back side exposed to anything. I don't care if it's a bolt pistol or some alien weapon. You are super fragile in the back so try in shooting to cover your back, or at the very least out of Line of Sight, I've been killed more then once because I left it open. This is a particular hazard for the close combat Dread moving forward in Turns 3 and 4 when you are full of gung-ho. But this is where other infantry units come into play, as they advance down a flank with the Dread in support they can help minimise this risk. In 5th Edition Outlflankers are a real menace to firesupport Dreads. To be honest there isn't much you can do about this so just grit your teeth and hope that whatever appears doesn't have melta weapons or power fists/equivalents.


There are in my mind two good ways to deploy a Dread on the table from the off. In cover and obscured or behind a piece of terrain large enough so that your opponent has no shot at all. Behind your tanks works just as good too as you might benefit from an obscured cover save. Remember if you choose to deploy behind something you risk not getting a good shot off your first turn. But if your weapons' range is limited anyway (assault cannon, multi-melta) the issue is moot.

You can deploy out in the open, or just out of range or line of sight. I don't recommend the two former of these this as it is too much of a gamble. How mad would you be if you lost your Dread before you got to move him let alone fire? I know it's happened to me and I wasn't happy. However needs must, just be careful to expose yourself only to the unit you are actually targeting to minimise return fire. If cover is scant than just sit and the back of the table and hope that range will be your friend. And remember to use your Smoke.

Remember that you don't need to put your relatively fragile Dread on the table from the off. In 5th Edition you now have the choice to leave any unit in reserve to bring on later. Consider this method for a Dread with an assault cannon for instance, by the time he enters play more enemy units will (possibly) be within his range. Personally I'm not a huge fan of leaving Dreads in reserve but against certain types of armies (Tau or Guard) he's a lot safer off the table than on it early on.

Lastly, there is the option to deploy via reserves with a pod. I call these Dreads "suicide Dreads" simply because they don't seem to last long once they arrive. The trick here is to tool up to cause maximum damage for the two turns or three that they stay alive for… usually as tank-hunters with multi-meltas and a heavy flamer for protection... more on this later. And of course, you need to buy that expensive pod.

Close combat tactics

There are several methods of getting there. I like to use the duck-and-run method moving from cover to cover if possible. Always use smoke when using this tactic as you are bound to get into the open. Also moving up the flank is always a huge plus as well as your enemy will shift his forces to deal with you. The armoured column is also a nice touch, walking next to or behind tanks to keep your self shielded is always nice and it adds a huge protection factor for tanks in general. Otherwise just get up there and get into it. Your two Str10 attacks will really make a dent. A few things though to watch and consider for, always always use your gun arm every turn if possible and to trim down those squads, either for the one your Dread plans to assault or another squad so that other troops can assault it.

Also while the Dread is super powerful and great at taking out daemons and the like, don't let him do it alone. While he does stand a chance don't forget things that large get 2D6 penetrate, and will tear a hole right into it. Always, ALWAYS support your Dread when taking such creatures on.

"Tarpitting": One thing to remember Dreads never fall back when they lose close combat. All combats lost are counted as drawn only which means they will need to be totally destroyed. This is why Dreads are so good at tying up infantry units for turns at a time in combats they can never win. It's a frustrating tactic but one that can save other units in your army from being either shot at or assaultedor keeping the enemy unit from reaching an objective. Just make sure there is no power fist, chainfist, melta bomb or powa klaw hidden in the squad... or you won't be tying up anything for long.

Lastly — all assaults against your Dread are resolved against the frontal armour value no matter where the actual enemy models are in relation to your Dread, thanks Games Workshop.

Fire support tactics

These depend on the weapons' range as you want a longer range for better target-acquiring efficiency. More often then not you've dropped your power fist for the missile launcher. Nothing wrong with that, just that different tactics will need to be used.

For targets you really need to be hitting enemy armour from the get-go before they get you. It might well be that by Turn 3 all the heavy enemy stuff has been immobilised, had their heavy guns blown off or have been destroyed, then the Dread needs to engage other targets that contain anti-armour or low AP weapons, even if it means sniping at infantry models with the lascannon. High Toughness targets (Carnifexes and such) are also priority targets if no enemy armour is present.

In all instances the fire support Dread is there to hit immediate threats to your own armour and your infantry. Don't get sidetracked (or obsessed) with trying to destroy everything you hit. A Crew Stunned, Weapon Destroyed, an Immobilised or sometimes even a Crew shaken Shaken result is job-done, meaning you can move on next turn to target something else.

Drop pod tactics

Drop-podding a Dread in is usually for one of two purposes: to kill soft infantry targets, or to pop a tank's rear armour. Now, since the Dread can't assault the turn it pods in, it has to survive a full turn before it can have any other options.

This is where Extra Armour helps as the Dread can do something on T2 even if it can't shoot in T2 due to a Stunned result it can still move or assault something! Against squishy targets like Tau, IG, etc, you can get stuck in for a LONG time and whittle them down with your DCCW every turn.

Dreadnoughts and cover

With how the 5th Edition cover rules work, placing a Dread safely in cover means that 50+% must be obscured from the firer. This means (usually) that at least one of its arms is tucked behind cover — bear this is mind with fire support Dreads. If you have an expensive twin-linked lascannon make sure that that arm is the one that can always be used. Seems obvious and silly? Not a bit of it. The number of times I've seen a player (and I've been guilty of this too) unable to bring his main gun arm into LOS firing position because he wants to hide in cover is no-ones business. It's just a total waste of a round of firing.

Dreadnoughts in turns 5 onwards — objective grabbers

If your Dread is still around at this point in the game you are doing well. It might not be able to fire due to weapons destroyed, but if it's still mobile it can still contest any objectives it can get to. For some reason de-armed Dreads are not perceived as a threat particularly if there are juicier units are still around to hit so take advantage of this to creep along and sneak a won objective back.

On the other hand…

Dreadnoughts in Turns 5 onwards — home objective protectors

Yes use Dreads to control your home objective marker(s). In close combat loadout with assault cannon/DCCW/heavy flamer/extra armour he will take some shifting as anything else other than total destruction means he contests. Just watch out for outflanking bike squads with powerfists, melta weapons or Ork Nobz on bikes as they will just crunch through him.

7. More specific tactics

Many thanks to fellow gamer Vice217 for this late addition to this tactica. He's come up with a couple of prefered uses for his Dread(s) and named them appropriately.

Flank guardians
Combines the advantages of the move-and-fire Dread to best advantage. One or two working in conjunction can cause an opponent real problems — diverting resources and time to deal with them. Best loadouts here are an assault cannon DCCW/heavy flamer with a plasma cannon/DCCW/heavy flamer companion. Just slowly advance these down a flank and diagonally towards the centre of the table. As a team they also make a great home objective guardians. As a pair they can handle any opponent.

Infantry support guardians
As Dreads have exactly the same movement characteristics as normal infantry models it makes sense that they can move around together. Best here to use the assault cannon DCCW/heavy flamer option and keep it behind a friendly infantry squad. No one is going to risk getting too close to that Str10 arm.


Dreads are still a Marine players favourite and for good reason. The model looks good and as a unit performs well for it's points cost. It has dual assault and firepower functionality and it never falls back, there are is no other Marine AV choice that has this combination of attributes. They can be transported in drop pods that opens up interesting tactical options. The fault with them lies is in trying to make them do more than they are capable of — get a Dread with a specific purpose in mind and stick with it.

Generally as a unit to support infantry they still can't really be beaten, anything else and they're easy Kill Points for an opponent. Don't overspend points on them as one of the Dreads' plusses is its relative cheapness — with unneeded upgrades they rapidly become point sinks.

Hope you enjoyed the tactica.

Inkaras / Isiah


Wayland Games
Element Games affiliate advert
Contact us to advertise
Contact us to advertise