Space Marine HQ units, like the rest of their codex, are decent at everything, but not particularly amazing at anything in particular. As a general rule, every Space Marine HQ unit is massively customisable due to the number of options open to them and sports a largely “Space Marine” profile with a few improvements due to their positions as HQ units.
Firstly we have the Chapter Master. This guy is the one who leads your entire Space Marine chapter. He is the big cheese and his profile tries so very hard to show it. Without upgrades, I could not recommend ever taking this guy as he only wields very basic weaponry, has a temperamental Orbital Bombardment and a mediocre profile for his points cost. That being said, however, you do not take a Chapter Master and not give him upgrades. When considering upgrades, the situation changes entirely and makes him very useful. There is no denying that, with his profile, the Chapter Master is an offensive HQ choice, designed to get stuck in on the front lines and murder as many enemy models as possible. With that in mind, there are a few different items that I would consider giving a Chapter Master; I will start with standard weapons. There are two schools of thought here in my opinion; either you take a pistol and a one-handed melee weapon, or you take a specialist melee weapon and a two-handed ranged weapon. I believe that taking two specialist melee weapons is a waste of time as, whilst it makes him good in close combat, he ends up wasting his Ballistic Skill of 5, though I will go over a potential build that forgoes ranged weapons in favour of more close combat later on.
First possible build is a simple power sword with either a grav-pistol or a plasma pistol. It’s cheap and it works, allowing you to pick one off as you charge in with a pistol shot before wading in with six total attacks on the charge. If you want a budget, yet sufficiently dangerous Chapter Master, that is the build to go with.
Second possible build would be a choice from a relic blade, thunder hammer, power fist and lightning claw with a combi-weapon of your choice (depends on what you want, though I am a fan of either a flamer or melta). This will be roughly as pricey as the above build, maybe a little bit more expensive, and boasts arguably equal close combat power. If you take a thunder hammer or power fist you will lose out on your Initiative 5, due to the fact that they are Unwieldy, but when compared to other HQ choices of other armies this is mediocre at best. Unless you’re fighting against other Space Marine equivalents, you will probably be striking second anyway, or be too low strength for it to really matter. I really like the thunder hammer over the power fist for this variant as it basically gives you Concussive for an extra 5 points over the power fist, allowing you to more reliably go after higher toughness models or models with the Eternal Warrior special rule (basically, models that will survive a single strike).
The third build that I will go over is the more expensive build that uses relics. It’s way more expensive, but way more powerful. The only reason you take a Chapter Master is to kit him out to bring the pain, so why not spend the points to make him good at what he does? The items used are The Burning Blade and The Shield Eternal. What this gives you is a total of 5 attacks on the charge (4 otherwise), at Strength 7 and with AP2, as well as boasting a 3++ invulnerable save (not a huge sell due to the fact that a Chapter Master has an iron halo by default), +1 to Deny the Witch rolls thanks to Adamantium Will, and most importantly the Eternal Warrior special rule. Whilst this really adds up, it is definitely worth it if you are looking for a powerful melee combatant whilst staying away from special characters.
Finally, I will talk about extra wargear options. An auspex is a nice addition if you don’t take a ranged weapon as it gives your Chapter Master, who will probably be spending his time in your opponent’s lines, a supportive option to help your ranged units do their jobs better by reducing cover saves for your opponents. Melta bombs are one of those “I have a few points spare” items that you take at the end of list building. It’s a nice addition, but far from essential. A teleport homer is only useful if you want to deep strike Terminators in due to the fact that your Chapter Master should be leading from the front, which will allow you to not scatter and precision deep strike units behind enemy lines. Your opponent does not want to have to deal with units of Terminators popping up wherever they wish. Digital weapons are a must for any close combat Chapter Master as it essentially allows you a single re-roll to hit in close combat. Likelihood is that you will not hit with all of your attacks, so it’s essentially a bonus attack every turn. Then there are the two means of movement: jump pack or a Space Marine bike. I would advise always taking one unless you are taking a unit of Honour Guard or some sort of squad in a Rhino or Drop Pod to accompany him. When it boils down to the choice between the two, it depends on what sort of army you want to run. If you want to use Assault Marines or Vanguard Veterans, run him with a jump pack. If you want to take Bike squads, give him a bike, though bear in mind that if you give him a bike then Bike squads of at least 5 models become Troops choices, allowing you to get some interesting, mobile Battle-forged armies. In the end, he will need some sort of delivery system, whether it’s a dedicated transport or either a bike or a jump pack.
Unless you’re running an all Terminator army, I would not advise taking Terminator armour. Artificer armour is just a lot more useful, as the Chapter Master can Sweeping Advance in artificer armour and still gains a 2+ save. Even then, I would advise taking a Terminator Chaplain instead in this case, but that will come in later when I go over Chaplains. Artificer armour, on the other hand should always be taken. I cannot stress this enough as it allows you to make 2+ armour saves against power swords, the most common type of power weapon, meaning that only a select few things will ignore your armour, such as daemon weapons, monstrous creatures, power fists etc.
Overall, Chapter Masters are your go-to model for a purely offensive HQ choice. He brings very little to the table for the rest of your army, unless you want to take Bike squads as Troops choices, but is capable of boasting decent offensive powers.
I will not go hugely into detail about the Captain as he is basically the same as the Chapter Master in all respects apart from having no Orbital Bombardment, one less Attack and one less Wound. However, there is a use for the Captain that the Chapter Master does not fill.
Simply take a Captain, give him a power sword and nothing else and sit him somewhere near the back for a relatively cheap melee deterrent. This way he will be difficult for your opponent to kill for Slay the Warlord and he does not take up a large chunk of points. I do, however, believe that this job is better done by a Librarian, but this method gives a better reason for your opponent to not charge your Devastator squad at the back. The other use is along the same lines, but you give him a bike as well, merely to give you the option of taking Bike squads for Troops without taking a large chunk of points.
Captains also allow you to take a Command Squad. This is basically a Veteran squad with a few more options. In my opinion, it is not worth the points cost, though it’s a very nice addition to a fluff-based army if you take a Captain.
However, if you’re like me and enjoy fluffy armies, the Captain is a better choice than the Chapter Master outside of Apocalypse games as a Space Marine Chapter Master is not exactly present on every battlefield their chapter fights on; they are important individuals and will probably not respond to a small-scale skirmish in person.
The Librarian is my favourite HQ choice for Space Marines. He is very cheap with a slightly higher average profile than normal Space Marines, but his strength is not in his stats or his wargear options. With the introduction of 7th edition, Space Marines can now roll on every psychic table in the rule book, so a Librarian has access to any of the psychic powers in the rule book. He can also be upgraded to Mastery Level 2, which in my opinion is always worth taking unless you are really trying to be cheap with your HQ choice. The Librarian is definitely a support HQ, not really having the stats for front line duty. He is a very useful Warlord as he can sit in the middle of the rest of the army, throwing his psychic powers around from the protection of a large squad.
You can give the Librarian Terminator armour, though I would not recommend it outside of a Terminator heavy army. I could see him right at home in a Terminator squad in the middle of the table, blasting away with their storm bolters whilst he throws psychic powers about, but not in a Terminator Assault squad on the front lines. Weapon Skill 5, Initiative 4, 2 Attacks and 2 Wounds is not a good stat line for a front line commander, so it’s best to keep him largely out of trouble. True, his force weapon can cause Instant Death, but it’s not worth it in my eyes, especially as he only gets an invulnerable save if he takes Terminator armour, whether a 5++ from the armour or a 3++ from a storm shield.
All that said, I will have to experiment with the rule book psychic powers before making any claim to what tables I would roll on. I’m too used to rolling from my own powers in the Eldar codex!
Also something to note: Black Templars can’t take Librarians because they hate psykers.
The Chaplain is an odd HQ choice. It blends the capabilities of an offensive HQ with a support HQ, giving Zealot to the unit he is with and wielding the equivalent to a power maul. Zealot gives him and his squads the Fearless and Hatred special rules, meaning that him and his squad can re-roll their to-hit rolls in the first round of close combat and never have to worry about passing morale or pinning tests. In my opinion there are only two real worthwhile variants of Chaplain: jump pack or Terminator armour. If given a jump pack, he should be stuck inside an Assault Squad or a Vanguard Veteran squad where he can give plenty of re-rolls and augment another squad’s close combat abilities. If in Terminator armour, I would stick him with a Terminator Assault squad. If I had the points it would be a unit of five Terminators with lightning claws for re-rolls to hit and to wound, then I would put them inside a Land Raider Redeemer. He also comes with a Rosarius, making him more durable for front line combat than the Librarian, giving him a 4++ invulnerable save. There is not much else to be said about the Chaplain. He is a decent HQ choice if you intend to take some sort of close combat element to your army as he can really buff them up with Zealot, however he will not pack as much raw punch as a Chapter Master. For his points, I believe that he is a very useful choice as long as he has a close combat unit to buff up.
Master of the Forge
A supercharged Techmarine, a Master of the Forge is a support HQ that will help keep your vehicles running and allows you to take Dreadnoughts, Venerable Dreadnoughts and Ironclad Dreadnoughts as Heavy Support choices as well as Elites, allowing you to take a total of six Dreadnoughts in a single Combined Arms Detachment. He can take a lot of different items, but almost every option is not worth it in my opinion as he starts with a servo-harness which includes a twin-linked plasma pistol and a flamer, though he can swap it out for a conversion beamer, which is basically a gun that gets more powerful the longer the range is. He can also make one ruin in your deployment zone have a better cover save by 1, so a 4+ becomes a 3+. A Master of the Forge is, in my opinion, a back line HQ. Either you give him a conversion beamer and sit him as far back as possible to maximise the beamer’s capabilities, or you put him behind your vehicles and fix them as you move up the board.
On vehicle repairing duty, I would take a Master of the Forge with no upgrades other than a unit of standard servitors to accompany him to both absorb shots as well as help the Master of the Forge to repair.
For a Master of the Forge acting as an artillery battery, I would replace his servo-harness with a conversion beamer and give him at least two servitors with two heavy bolters or plasma cannons. Multi-meltas are a waste in this situation in my opinion, as they are too short range to be used in conjunction with the conversion beamer that wants to be as far away as possible. It is counter intuitive in this case! Either that or stick him in a Devastator squad. Both will work.
The Emperor’s Champion is the character hunter of the Black Templars and is a nice HQ choice for them. He weighs in fairly cheap, has a 2+ armour save and a 4++ invulnerable save and a Master-crafted AP2 sword. He must issue a challenge where possible and must accept any opponent’s challenge. When fighting in a challenge he must take up one of two stances, either giving any roll of a 6 To Wound the Instant Death special rule, or giving him +2 Strength and Unwieldy with the Black Sword becoming Two-handed. He’s a fairly basic HQ with a basic concept. He has no wargear options and can only be taken by an army with the Black Templars Chapter Tactics. In my opinion, he belongs in any Black Templars army list and does not take up too many points. Just don’t expect him to win any challenges against the likes of Daemon Princes or a special character like Abaddon or Lysander. At least he is Fearless, so him and his unit will stick around until they are all dead. Very Black Templars.
I will not donate much time or space to special characters as they are literally just variants of the unnamed ones. I also have no experience using them as I always prefer to make my own characters with their own stories. What I can say though is that each one can only be used with specific Chapter Tactics and provide some flavourful benefits to their army.
I am not a huge fan of offensive HQ choices due to them being worth at least 1 victory point in every single rule book scenario. I also like to put a lot of thought into my characters and cannot justify keeping them alive if they die in every single game. There are only so many times you can get wounded! Due to this, I am not a fan of a lot of Space Marine HQ choices as they all have some offensive capabilities as opposed to specialising in support. When push comes to shove, I would probably take a Librarian in my army, possibly two, and upgrade him to Mastery Level 2. Psychic support is so important, especially in 7th edition with its own phase and Space Marines are no exception to this, especially now that they have access to all of the psychic power tables in the rule book!