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Characters / Warhammer 40,000: Tyranids

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"We must scour them from the stars before they do the same to us."
"An alien threat has risen from beyond the abyss, a swarm so vast that it blots out the stars. This horror fights neither for power nor territory, but rather to feed a hunger so insatiable that it will eventually devour the entire galaxy."
Inquisitor Lord Kryptman

In Warhammer 40,000, the Tyranids are an extragalactic swarm of aliens that doesn't just overrun worlds, but consumes everything on them right down to the bedrock, including the oceans and air. Tyranids are more of a virus than a species, as they instinctively scan the DNA of what they eat and apply useful evolutionary upgrades to their swarms, ensuring that they only grow more deadly with each victory. Everything they use, from ranged weapons to spaceships, are symbiotic organisms, to the extent that it can be hard to tell where a Tyranid "gun" ends and the creature carrying it begins.


Though the individual creatures in the Hive Fleets are little more than beasts, Tyranids are controlled via synapse creatures by the race's Hive Mind, which is extremely intelligent. While the classic Tyranid strategy is to overwhelm their foes with weight of numbers, the swarms have also been seen to ambush armored columns in narrow passages that turned tanks into helpless sitting targets, employ burrowing organisms to launch surprise attacks behind enemy lines, or use winged creatures to sow discord and confusion. Of particular note are the specialized Tyranids known as Genestealers. They implant their DNA in victims, turning their children into Genestealer/human hybrids who will eventually form a cult on their homeworld that undermines the planet's defenses while psychically summoning the swarm. Three Hive Fleets have been encountered thus far: Hive Fleet Behemoth nearly overran the Ultramarines' homeworld of Macragge and killed their entire 1st Company; Hive Fleet Kraken all but wiped out the Eldar of craftworld Iyanden; and Hive Fleet Leviathan is currently rampaging through an Ork empire, as well as threatening the Blood Angels' homeworld of Baal... and these are likely just the vanguard of more Tyranid swarms still en route to the galaxy. The optimistic take on the Tyranids is that they are moving on our galaxy after cleansing one or more other galaxies of life. The pessimistic take is that they are running from something worse.


The tabletop Tyranid army is a mix of swarms of highly-expendable critters able to swamp even Imperial Guard or Ork forces, backed up by lumbering monstrous creatures capable of tossing tanks around with their tusks or blowing up heads with psychic powers. They also contain units of specialist creatures able to infiltrate or move quickly in order to keep the enemy occupied in close combat while the rest of the army closes in, and the biomorph system allows units to be upgraded to deal with specific targets rather effectively. The Tyranids' two main weaknesses are comparatively few ranged units, as well as the reliance on a few synapse creatures to keep the swarm together. The latter is offset by the fact that the presence of said creatures makes the rest of the army fearless, and the former rarely comes into play as the standard Tyranid strategy is to roll over the enemy like a tsunami.

The Tyranids have been a part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe since the 1st Edition of the game and have received rules in every edition since. The Tyranids have made appearances in a number of spin-off games and computer games including the 1993 board game Doom of the Eldar that focused on their invasion of the Craftworld Iyanden. The Tyranids of Hive Fleet Kraken were also the antagonists in Games Workshop's first ever worldwide campaign, the Battle for Ichar IV. The 8th Edition rules for the Tyranids can be found in November 2017s Codex: Tyranids with additional rules published in November 2019's Psychic Awakening: Blood of Baal.

Notable Tyranid tropes include:

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    Hive Fleets 
  • 2-D Space: Averted with a Hive Fleet that attacked the galaxy towards the end of the 41st Millennium. Imperial scholars were initially perplexed by Tyranid attacks taking place far behind the "front line" of Tyranid activity in the galactic "east," until they realized that the Hive Fleet, codified as Leviathan, had flanked the galaxy and was attacking "upward" from "underneath" it.
  • Abnormal Ammo: Everything the Tyranids fire. The most conventional are things like spikes, bio-plasma, and acid, but even those are outnumbered by Living Weapon ammo which in turn is launched by (or more properly birthed from) another Living Weapon.
  • Absurdly Sharp Claws: While most Tyranid claws are able to penetrate some level of armour, rending claws are renowned for their ability to cut through even the heaviest patterns of Powered Armor. This is represented in the 7th and 8th Editions of the game by a reasonable Armour Penetration characteristic that can be further boosted if they roll a 6 to wound.
  • Acid Attack: Tyranid bioweapons often include powerful organic acids. This typically take the form of probosces or cannon-like structures capable of shooting streams or globs of acid over long distances, but other variants include powerful acidic drool delivered through bites and corrosive blood used to damage anyone who tangles with the so-equipped drone in close quarters.
  • Acid Pool: Digestion pools created and maintained by the Tyranids on invaded worlds. Tyranid organisms (especially ones which have been consuming the local environment) will throw themselves into the pools to be rendered down into biomass to be reabsorbed by the hive. Smaller digestion pools will eventually be drained by capillary tendrils through the ground to empty into a vast digestion ocean. This ocean will then have feeder tendrils dropped into it from hive ships from orbit, as a kind of temporary suction-based Space Elevator to finally absorb the biomass back into the fleet.
  • Achilles' Heel: At least in the fluff, the one massive weakness that any Tyranid swarm will have regardless of whatever it has evolved to combat is that the smaller forms need the larger synapse creatures around to organize them and relay orders from the Hive Mind. Kill the synapse creatures, and the smaller forms they were controlling go berserk and get disorganized, making them easier targets. It's notable that in a book filled with misinformation or outright lies, The Infantryman's Uplifting Primer does mention that taking out the larger 'nids first is generally the most effective way to defeat a swarm.
  • Adaptive Ability:
    • As part of their fluff, this is what makes the Tyranids so dangerous; they constantly mutate and evolve to counter any weapons or tactics brought to bear against them, as well as absorbing the genes of other lifeforms to increase their options. Prior editions hinted that every Tyranid lifeform encountered is an offshoot of one of the main races; Zoanthropes are born from Eldar, Biovores from Orks, the basic genestealer from humans, and Tyrant Guards from Space Marines.
    • However, this is also a weakness; in theory, a successfully strained Hive Fleet could be pushed so hard that they use up all of their harvested biomass faster than they can replenish it, and/or end up mutating into Master of None strains in their quest to become Jack-of-All-Trades. This is exemplified by Hive Fleet Gorgon, the only canonical Hive Fleet to focus on the Tau, so far. Because the Tau, unlike the Imperium, are constantly redefining and reinventing technology and tactics, Gorgon was pushed to extinction; unable to replenish its biomass as fast as it was depleted, and incapable of producing the larger, vital synapse creatures needed to control its smaller, more simple-minded spawn, the Tau were able to whittle it down. The surprise addition of an Imperial Fleet, and a hasty, reluctant treaty between humans and Tau, was the final nail in the coffin. Gorgon found itself torn between which race to evolve to counter and unable to focus, so it was torn apart and driven into deep space, where it took decades to recover. At the same time, they can end up pushing themselves into Crippling Overspecialization fighting a single, specialized enemy, and end up highly vulnerable to another, such as when the Tau used Kroot skirmishers in the jungle to harry the Tyrannid, driving the Hive Mind to counter with highly agile, arboreal bio-forms, which the Tau then lured out into an open battlefield and mulched with heavy firepower.
  • Airborne Mook: The malleability of the more basic Tyranid organisms means that it's fairly easy for the Hive Mind to create airborne variants of them.
    • Gargoyles are essentially just Gaunts, the basic foot troops of the swarms, with a pair of wings tacked on. Nightgaunts are a similar variation, but with scything talons instead of the Gargoyles' organic guns.
    • Shrikes are a variant of the common Warriors equipped with membranous wings, intended to serve both as highly mobile shock troops and to oversee other flying organisms who might otherwise become separated from ground-bound synapse creatures.
    • Sky-slashers are a winged variant of Ripper swarms, used for skyborne Zerg Rushes.
  • Alien Kudzu: As a Tyranid invasion of a world ramps up, self-replicating organisms are landed on a planet to begin initial biomass consumption, as well as pumping out smaller scale creatures for both scouting and undermining defenses and helping to render the rest of the world's biomass into a more easily edible form.
  • All Webbed Up: The result of the strangleweb bio-weapon, which sprays a viscous mucus-like substance over targets. Shortly after projection, the substance hardens into a solid resin while shrinking down and constricting. Fragile targets can be crushed by this, and the more a target struggles and moves, the more opportunity the web has to constrict around it.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Or rather, Always Extremely Ravenous. While the Hive Mind of the Tyranids possess some obvious, albeit utterly alien, intelligence, there is no way of communicating with it, no way of dissuading it, and no reasoning with it. It is driven to violently consume biomass, and nothing can change that.
  • Amplifier Artifact: The Resonance Barb is a parasitic bio-artefact, introduced in the 8th Edition Psychic Awakening: Blood of Baal sourcebook, that increases the a psyker-beast's connection to the hive mind, enhancing its mental power and allowing it to use, and deny, extra psychic powers each turn.
  • Anti-Air: The Hive Crone, the Tyranid equivalent of a fighter jet, is armed with tentaclids that can reroll failed hit rolls against flying enemies.
  • Anti-Magic: All Tyranid synapse creatures dampen psychic abilities around themselves with the Shadow in the Warp, but Hive Fleet Kronos, as the Hive Mind's chosen response to mounting daemonic incursions, is the most advanced. Its suffocating presence smothers psychic powers, withers daemonic creatures, and closes Chaos portals.
  • Apocalypse How: Every planet they conquer gets a Class 6, and unless some way is found to break the Hive Mind, the same will happen to the entire Milky Way galaxy.
  • Art Evolution: The Tyranid models from 2nd Edition are very humanoid, standing upright and wielding weapons in their hands. The ones from later editions are much more bestial, possessing tails, leaning forward like birds or dinosaurs and using weapons that are outgrowths of their bodies. Earlier Tyranids have more biological variety too, until their redesign gave the race a more unified look, such as adding boney ridged crests on almost every head.
  • Attack Animal: The lesser Tyranid creatures qualify, having little independent intelligence and only minimal (though often brutal) instinct to guide them. However, they have "handlers" in the form of synapse creatures, which are both more individually intelligent and capable of interfacing with the Hive Mind at greater distances, giving psychic "commands" to the lesser creatures as long as they remain nearby.
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: Type 3 for some Tyranid melee units, which have their arms below the elbow replaced with long scythe-like talons, tapering down to a monomolecular edge like most of the blades in this setting. Note that older editions also had some units in which a bone-like blade was simply gripped in hand in the manner of a sword (and the Swarmlord special character still does this) but Art Evolution has merged most of these weapons into their wielder, putting them into this trope.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: While they are an immense menace to the galaxy at large, their motive is basically summed up as "we're hungry", which is hardly an evil impulse. They just don't seem to care at all about every other living organism in the galaxy. It's telling in a universe where Chaos has its hand in everything that the Tyranids managed to be immune to their whispers. Chaos holds no appeal to the Hive Mind, and the sheer immense psychic power behind it makes Chaos impotent to psychically affect individual creatures.
  • Bombardier Mook: The undersides of Harpies are covered in specialized cysts that can create explosive spore mines to be dropped on enemy infantry while the Harpy flies overhead.
  • Brain Food: Any Tyranid creature with lamprey-like feeder tendrils in place of a mouth will be likely to eat brains. Lictors in particular are known for doing this, as it allows them to sift though a consumed organism's memories for information. This is part of a Lictor's role as a vanguard organism, helping the Hive Fleet gain intelligence on what worlds would be good targets for consumption and what kind of defenses to expect.
  • Breath Weapon: Some critters can make bio-plasma attacks, vomiting up a blast of white-hot energy accompanied by a piercing screech.
  • Bug War: If your Tyranid problem has gotten beyond the Genestealer Cult stage, you're pretty much screwed.
  • Bullet Seed: A near-literal case with many of the more rapid-firing Living Weapons wielded by some Tyranid organisms. Except that the "seeds" are things like tiny beetles which bore into flesh, or little worms which secrete acid and melt themselves into a target.
    • In one literal case, the Tyrannofex has the Rupture Cannon which fires two rounds: a bloated tick... and a seed case. Fluff says the two react in a catastrophic fashion when their chemical fluids are mixed upon impact.
    • Another literal one is the Barbed Strangler/Stranglethorn Cannon. It fires a seed pod that sprouts into a mass of fleshy tentacles in an instant, strangling whatever is within its reach. It has immense strength, but poor armor penetration because stronger armor can simply shrug off its attempts.
  • Cast from Hit Points: The Harridan and Hierophant's Frenzied Metabolism special rule allows players to have the creature suffer wounds in exchange to temporarily making its bio-cannon stronger.
  • Chest Blaster: An option for some offensive biomorphs. Tyranid models will occasionally mount flesh-hooks or devourers underneath some folds on their underside between their forelimbs.
  • Colony Drop: Hive Fleet Jormungandr employ a unique method of planetary invasion, seeding asteroids with tunnelling and vanguard bioforms and then launching them at a prey world. Those asteroids that make it through the world's orbital defence network spread Tyranid creatures across the planet that, which then go into hiding until the majority of the Hive Fleet makes its assault, striking the prey from an unexpected quarter.
  • Combat Tentacles: Ranging from lash whips and flesh hooks on the battlefield creatures to tentacles on spaceships for boarding actions.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Unsurprisingly, since the Hive Mind has no need, use or real understanding of something like fair fighting, no more than a hungry animal would. As long as the result is more biomass for the Tyranids, it will employ any means necessary. One classic example of this was when the Avatar of Khaine attempted to challenge the Swarmlord synapse creature to a duel on Craftworld Iyanden. The Swarmlord promptly sicced a dozen Carnifexes on it, quickly overwhelming it.
  • A Commander Is You: Spammer for horde Tyranid army lists, Elitist for armies focusing on monstrous creatures, though usually a given army is a mix of both. Tyranids are very tactically flexible with a lot of possible approaches for building an army, but their melee power is among the best in the game, rivalling the Orks. Their Synapse ability also means they do not conform to standard morale rules and are very hard to drive from the field. Tyranids also have elements of the Technical, as they have a very potent psychic toolbox to work with and a lot of mid-game deployment options, but also have lackluster shooting and a variety of complex and situational rules.
  • Counter-Attack: Any unit which inflicts wounds on a Pyrovore, Toxicrene or Haruspex in close combat suffers mortal wounds itself from their acidic blood.
  • Deadly Gas: Tyranid spore chimneys (rigid towers grown from the ground) spread microbial spores on the wind to take seed and grow into more Tyranid bio-forms. Some Tyranid units also have biomorphs that cause them to discharge neurotoxic gasses that are lethal to non-Tyranid lifeforms. Then there is the Venomthrope genus, which produces a deadly gas so thick and opaque it is hard to even make out its profile through it all.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: The stomach of a Pyrovore is full of highly volatile, acidic bile that can explode if exposed to the air. The 8th Edition of the game represents this by giving the Pyrovore a 50% chance of exploding when killed, dealing mortal wounds to nearby enemy.
  • Dig Attack: The Trygon and Mawloc both have the ability to dig underground and execute devastating attacks on the troops above as they surface. The Trygon has enormous scything talons and is easily capable of engaging enemies in melee combat when it emerges. The Mawloc, on the other hand, attacks by swallowing enemies whole or crushing them under its bulk before feeding.
  • Dodge the Bullet: The creatures of some hive fleet have developed such highly advanced senses and reflexes that they are capable of tracking incoming fire and dodging out of the way at lightning speed. The Senses of the Outer Dark Hive Fleet Adaptation from the Psychic Awakening: Blood of Baal supplement represents this by giving such creatures a chance to ignore any wounds caused by Overwatch firenote  when they charge into combat.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Due to the organic nature of Tyranid weaponry and upgrades, some parts of the models and artwork for the race can seem unfortunately phallic at timesnote .
  • Drone Deployer: Harridans, immense flying creatures, serve as an organic version of this for the smaller Gargoyles. Gargoyles don't have great endurance, so large numbers of them will hitch rides aboard Harridans as these fly towards warzones. Once they're close to the enemy, the Harridan sheds its load like a living bomber plane.
  • Drop Pod: The mycetic spores or tyrannocytes are essentially Organic Technology versions of these concepts. Living creatures violently birthed from hive ships with other Tyranid organisms nesting inside them, they crash into planets and disgorge their living contents. Even then, they often have some further utility, such as bio-weapons to defend the area, or the ability to (slowly) move or burrow, sometimes spouting microbial spores onto the wind or becoming another womb for gestating more Tyranids.
  • Dumb Muscle:
    • Carnifexes lack the hivemind connection of Tyranid synapse creatures. In their case this is a Logical Weakness: their brains are small and well-protected to avoid having an easily exploitable weak point so they can withstand massive damage. Even then it is not much of a liability, as deprived of synapse guidance, its instinct tends to just keep plodding forward and knocking things over.
    • Likewise Tyrant Guard, who are biological Stonewalls, have small brains for the same reason Carnifexes do: less vulnerability to careful shots. The fact that they always operate in close proximity to a synapse creature (a Hive Tyrant) means that they can benefit from its intelligence via Psychic Link, and thus do not need to be very smart.
    • Most Biotitans that lack synapse are this, as their sole intent was to cause as much carnage and destruction as possible. Giving them a smaller brain not only helps them survive otherwise fatal headshots, but also means that they have only one overriding purpose in life (and are oh so very easily pissed off).
  • Eating Optional: Most Tyranid organisms don't actually have a functioning digestive system, as they're bio-engineered killing machines and such a thing would take space and energy away from muscles, reinforced endo- and exoskeletons, weapon-biomorphs, etc. If they aren't killed by the enemy first, they will eventually starve to death. Many of them still have instinctive behaviour to feed, though, as it makes them attack the enemy even when not under control of the synapse creatures. The Ripper swarms are the most obvious example, as their whole purpose is to eat any biomass they come across in order to transport it to the reclamation pools to be digested and fed to the Tyranid hive ships. The one major exception is the Haruspex, which is specifically designed to eat everything in its path as part of the Hive Mind's strategy to consume as much biomass as possible.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Chief Librarian of the Ultramarines remarked that the Tyranids are merely avatars of the Hive Mind, and at its very core is something that he described as an 'immortal hunger'. They can kill swarms of Tyranids, drive away and destroy Hive Fleets, but he is at loss at how could they possibly fight, let alone kill, such an entity ultimately behind the Tyranids.
  • Elemental Barrier: The 2nd Edition Voltage Field biomorph surrounded the Tyranid creature with a crackling energy field of electrical power that not only protected them (giving them a 4+ unmodifiable save) but also had a 50% chance of shorting out enemy defence shields in close proximity. The electrical power also boosted the Tyranid creature's Strength.
  • Empathic Weapon: In a quite literal way. The Living Weapons employed by the smaller Tyranid genus types symbiotically bond with their wielder, melding their flesh together and growing spinal cord-like attachments to mesh their nervous systems together. In this way, the weapon itself acts as a sort of secondary "brain" for the creature, giving the limited intellect of its primary brain the knowledge and skill necessary to use the weapon. The Pyrovore takes this to an extreme; the weapon is sentient but the body is not. The Exocrine is essentially a big walking weapons platform for an organic artillery cannon.
  • Enemy Civil War: It is suspected by some in the Ordos Xenos that the different Tyranid Hive Fleets are actually competing with one another for resources. This theory was seemingly validated during the Siege of Fecundia, where the besieging hive fleet went out of its way to attack a group of Tyranids from another hive fleet that the Imperium had captured for research purposes. This vital revelation turned the tide of battle for the Imperium, as they were able to boost the signal strength of a captured synapse creature in order to disrupt the rival hive fleet. Sometimes Hive Fleets will even direct their units toward each other in isolated areas to duke it out, likely to test their mutations to see which one is superior.
  • Enemy Summoner: The Tervigon is a walking Termagaunt factory, birthing them directly from its belly to go into battle. In-game, every shooting phase the Tervigon produces 3D6 Termagaunts, only stopping if doubles are rolled.
  • Enemy to All Living Things: Well, all other living things. Tyranids are inimical to all other forms of life, often choking it out via their own reproduction, and even their bodies are toxic for other lifeforms to ingest. They're considered so bad that — aside from the Genestealer Cults that are Tyranid spawn — no faction will partner with them, and that many enemy factions will team up in the face of the threat they pose no matter how much they hate each other.
  • Epic Flail: The Stone Crusher breed of Carnifex sometimes grow a large bio-flail in place of one of their claws. Consisting of hardened bone at the end of muscular tendrils, the Carnifex is able to use this bio-flail to crush multiple prey with a single sweeping attack. This is represented in the 8th Edition rules by the Stone Crusher gaining an Attack for every model in close proximity.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: The big ones are often described as dinosaurs.
  • Evil Evolves: Characteristic of the Tyranids is that they evolve and adapt to overcome stubborn resistance. Some of these adaptations are taken from consuming worlds, where the Norn Queens in the fleet sift through the collected genetic data looking for useful characteristics to incorporate into future generations. Others are adaptations that occur in the field, allowing the swarm to overcome specific difficulties by targeted mutation. Such evolution, though, inevitably tends to result in some Necessary Drawback weakening them in one regard while it strengthens them in another. As the smaller creatures have a much shorter lifecycle and gestation time, a hive fleet that is heavily adapting will tend to be composed of a greater proportion of smaller units, leaving a shortage of synapse creatures. This can become a potential weak link in their force structure, which is why not all hive fleets take that approach.
  • Explosive Breeder: Larger organisms avert this, as they take a non-trivial amount of time to gestate and fully mature, especially the brain-heavy synapse creatures. However, the smaller and less neurologically complex Tyranids can breed extremely quickly, with the swarm able to reinforce its supply of lesser creatures in a matter of days, provided it has sufficient biomass.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Tyranid Hive Fleets consume any and all organic material they encounter, leaving their prey-worlds nothing but lifeless, airless rocks in their wake.
  • Eyeless Face:
    • Adapted to be the perfect guardians, Tyranid Guard bio-forms, such as the Hive and Tyrant Guards, have a thick carapace covering their heads where their eyes and other sensory organisms should be, as such organs would be an obvious vulnerability. While this would normally prove a disadvantage to their role of guardians, all such bio-forms have a Psychic Link that allows them to perceive the world through the senses of lesser Tyranid beasts.
    • From 3rd Edition onwards, the models and artwork for Zoanthropes, and the later introduced Neurothropes, lack eyes as their monstrous psychic abilities allow them to perceive their surroundings.
  • Fattening the Victim: As well as seeding Tyranid flora, the masses of spores that the Tyranids release into a prey planet's atmosphere during an invasion encourages the native life to proliferate so that the ecosphere produces the maximum amount of biomass for the Hive Fleet to consume.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: The flamespurt is a bio-weapon used by Pyrovores and the 2nd Edition version of the Gargoyle. A living flamethrower, the bile that the flamespurt disgorges burns on contact with the air and can reduce most prey species to ash in moments.
  • Flechette Storm: Spinefists, one of the Tyranid's many Spike Shooter type weapons. They are always wielded in pairs, and use compressed air built up from the wielding creature's own lungs to propel the spines. This means that the larger creatures with greater lung capacity can fire spines substantially quicker.
  • Fragile Speedster
    • Hormagaunts are a Tyranid species meant to swamp the enemy in close combat, and to accomplish that they are bred to be very, very fast and agile. However, they are also quite frail, which is why the Tyranids send them in great numbers at once...
    • As Tyranids do not rely on conventional grav-tech to gain flight or have powerful engines, they instead have to resort to good ol' hollow bones and wings for their fliers. Thus, Gargoyles, Harpies and flying Warriors tend to have weaker armor than their ground-based counterparts, representing how fragile they can be. Tyrants subvert this somewhat, as they are able to project a psychic field around them that's just as durable as armor, making them Lightning Bruisers as a result.
    • Surprisingly averted with the massive Hierophant Biotitan. Its stalky legs and exposed bone structure look fragile, but the thing is shockingly fast and incredibly durable, enough that it can stand toe-to-toe with a Reaver Titan in combat.
  • Giant Equals Invincible: Or they might as well, as far as Tyranid bio-titans are concerned. With warp fields, rapid regeneration, and neuro-toxic spore emissions, it generally takes something like a Titan to fell one of these gargantuan beasts.
  • Giant Flyer: Harridans, which are essentially giant flying insect dragons.
  • Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: Is this in both metaphorical sense and a literal sense to the universe at large; where every single faction (barring the Tau) have their origins connected to Chaos and/or the Old Ones in some way shape or form, it's telling that the horde of alien space locusts not only have no connection to them, but can actually cause the gods to piss themselves in terror through their collective mental chattering. While every other race run the risk of being attacked by Daemons when using psychic powers, Tyranids are completely immune to this (although the in-game mechanic remains unchanged, and is explained as a psychic feedback to the hive mind rather than a daemonic incursion).
  • Godzilla Threshold: The 'Nids serve as one for every other race in the setting. How bad it is, you ask? How about The Imperium, Eldar, and Chaos banding together to fend them off and Necrons working together with Space Marines-level BAD?
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Only one known character (Chief Librarian Tigurius of the Ultramarines) has actually made psychic contact with the Hive Mind and not been rendered utterly insane immediately, or outright died from the psychic shock. He described it only as "an immortal hunger", spread across and uniting quadrillions of beings.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: With every other race in the setting. The Imperium and Eldar just want to survive, Chaos has a bone to pick with the Imperium, the Tau want the Greater Good, and Orks just want to have fun. Tyranids just want to consume, and while there have been desperate alliances between the races, there's no negotiation with the 'nids. Kill or be consumed. The Allies matrix in the 6th and 7th edition rules allowed every other faction to form Alliances of Convenience with one other faction. Tyranids, in contrast, couldn't even form desperate alliances with anyone other than their Genestealer Cult minions. They're hated across the galaxy.
  • Harping on About Harpies: Harpies are a kind of flying Tyranid organism with broad leathery wings, a hollow body for lightness in the air, either organic guns or scythelike talons growing from their forearms, and the ability to drop payloads of explosive spores. The swarms use them mainly as a combination of bombers, strafers and mid-sized air support.
  • Healing Factor: Rapid regeneration has been an upgrade for the larger Tyranid bioforms since the 2nd Edition of the game. How the rules represent this ability changes depending on the edition, with the 2nd Edition rules allowing the creature a chance to regenerate injuries whenever its Wounds characteristic has been reduced to 0, while 8th Edition has the "Rapid Regeneration" Stratagem that allows a Tyranid to regenerate a random number of wounds whenever it is used.
  • The Hedge of Thorns: Weaponized with the Barbed Strangler and its larger Stranglethorn Cannon cousin. It launches a dense seed organism, and whatever it hits gets quickly devoured for mass as it shoots out thorny vines in all directions, ripping apart the target and lacerating and snaring all around it. After a brief period its life is expended and it falls dormant, with anything surviving the initial burst wrapped in hard, brittle, sharp vines.
  • Hive Drone: The bulk of the Tyranid forces consists of drones under the Hive Mind's control and with animal-level intelligence at best. Averted by synapse creatures, which receive a greater degree of independence in order to control sections of the swarm or operate behind enemy lines.
  • Hive Mind: This is the Tyranids' most dangerous aspect; the entire race, at least from the Norn Queens through the synapse creatures, have a shared mind that is incredibly intelligent and has enormous psychic power. Chief Librarian Tigurius of the Ultramarines is the only human pysker who has made contact with it and survived (everyone else died or went insane), and could only describe it as "an immortal hunger."
    • While the Hive Mind of the Tyranids is immensely intelligent and able to coordinate enormous actions across entire systems and subsectors with terrifying efficiency, it tends to have some limitations, at least on the strategic level. Hive Fleets seem to operate under general orders and objectives and are relatively inflexible in how they carry out those actions. Kryptmann essentially tricked an entire Hive Fleet into attacking in a controlled direction by capturing and using as bait several specimens of genestealers that were drawing the fleet forward. If a Hive Fleet is damaged enough that it can no longer form any sort of coherent force, then it will fall apart into splinter fleets whose sole purpose is to simply attack and consume inhabited worlds with no further strategic goal in mind.
  • Hive Queen: Synapse creatures serve as the directors of the swarms and foci of the hive mind, although only the rarely seen Norn Queens are female. Probably. Often, killing a synapse creature will cause powerful psychic backlash that will kill other nearby Tyranids, while the survivors will be left scattered and directionless.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Averted. They may look like dumb animals, and use superior numbers, but the Hive Mind is a tactical and strategic super-genius.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: After the invasion, they even "recycle" their own soldiers, living and dead.
  • Horrifying the Horror: The Shadow in the Warp is so potent and terrifying it's been known to drive men as jaded and wicked as Chaos Sorcerers to insanity.
  • Hostile Terraforming: The effect Tyranids have on planets they invade, pre-consumption, involves some rather unpleasant alterations to the existing biosphere. This serves to "tenderize" the planet, making the biomass easier to process and consume when the hive fleet moves in after the defenses have been neutralized.
  • Hungry Menace: Again, the Tyranids are driven by an undying urge to feed. They are very crafty but their intelligence only serves that one purpose—they have no higher values and can't be negotiated with.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism:
    • If a Haruspex kills an enemy with its maw, it can regenerate a wound as soon as the Fight phase ends.
    • The Accelerated Digestion Adaptive Physiology, from the 8th Edition book Psychic Awakening: Blood of Baal, enhances the metabolism of a Tyranid Monster unit to such an extent that it is able to almost instantly heal injuries by eating the bodies of those it kills, regaining a lost Wound whenever it kills an enemy model in close combat.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Hive Guard, a heavily armored feeder tendril guardian, wields an Impaler Cannon, a weapon which fires long spikes with membranous fletching at extreme velocity. The Hive Guard in fact has no eyes, but "sees" through other members of the swarm, allowing it far greater situational awareness than it would otherwise have. Further, the spikes themselves possess a rudimentary awareness, flexing their fletching membranes in flight to adjust their trajectory and further ensure a target is hit, even from extreme range and in bad conditions.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The look of the Tyranids is heavily influenced by insects, having six limbs, chitinous armour and some of their warrior-organisms sporting mantis-like claws. The race is also organised in imitation to insects, with a Hive Mind and operating in swarms for instance.
  • It Can Think: The larger "synapse" Tyranid creatures certainly can. However, these creatures take more time and biomass to develop than the smaller ones, and thus there tend to be fewer of them, while the others must make do with more animalistic intelligence. However, as long as smaller creatures remain near the bigger ones, they can benefit from its intelligence thanks to their Hive Mind.
  • It's Raining Men:
    • Tyranids typically arrive on a planet's surface via "mycetic spores" dropped from space, especially the larger creatures which take more time to mature. Smaller ones are typically born "in the field" via the consumption of the local environment.
    • Tyranid Gargoyles are variations on the gaunt genus with wings to carry them aloft. Their role is to swoop down on enemies from above and keep them occupied while larger creatures move into position. When Gargoyles have to move long distances, they will accompany a larger, dragon-like flier called a Harridan, clinging to its underside to save on their own energy.
  • The Juggernaut: This is the function of the Carnifex unit. It acts as a line breaker, plodding forward implacably as attacks waste themselves against its exceptionally dense carapace, cutting down or bowling over anything that stands in its path like a living battering-ram.
  • Kaiju: The largest Tyranid organisms, such as the Hierophant, Dominatrix, Hydraphant, and Viciator, are classified as "bio-titans" as they are dozens of meters tall and wide and pack firepower and melee weapons comparable in strength and destructive power to their mechanical equivalents in other armies.
  • Keystone Army: The synapse creatures are the ones with strong enough psychic reception to form a continuous connection to the Hive Mind, while all the lesser creatures have to make due acting on crude instinct or being directed by nearby synapse creatures. As a result, targeting the synapse creatures can cause a Tyranid army's higher level tactical direction to fall apart, turning them into simple (if savage) beasts to mop up. However, this only lasts until other synapse creatures replace the fallen ones. A force defending against Tyranids needs to know when to press its advantage and when to fall back and hunker down against their otherwise overwhelming numbers.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The bigger hive ships are this of the Space Whale variety. Also forms an animal and mythological Theme Naming scheme for the hive fleets.
  • Large and in Charge: Larger Tyranid organisms are more likely to be the synapse creatures directing the swarm, leading to the Imperium's official policy on combating them: shoot the big ones.
  • Life Drain: A Neurothrope allows its unit to heal lost wounds if they kill an enemy with the Smite psychic power.
  • Living Gasbag: Tyranid spore mines float through sacs filled with lighter-than-air gases, with jellyfish-like tentacles hanging below them and thin but rigid series of small overlapping chitinous plates surrounding its float-bladder. The Tyranids launch them from the biovore species to float over the battlefield and find targets. They tend to end up hovering just above the ground and have limited locomotion, but when a non-Tyranid draws near them they explode, the sharp pieces of their shell scything out like shrapnel and spreading toxic spores and caustic fluid as they do so.
  • Living Ship: As with all their equipment, the ships that the Tyranids use to travel between prey-planets are living beings. These ships vary in size from the smaller escort drones to the massive Hive Ships that can grow larger than the battleships of other races. Tyranid ships also often sport large claws and tentacles that they use to engage the ships of prey-species at close range and are usually depicted as having disturbingly fleshy interiors.
  • Living Weapon:
    • The Tyranid units themselves are these, as they are explicitly bred as living combat tools.
    • To a more specific degree, the weapons used by smaller Tyranid units symbiotically bond with their wielders into a single organism.
  • Long-Range Fighter: The warrior lifeforms of Hive Fleet Kronos have been noted to wield a disproportionate number of ranged bio-weapons compared to other Hive Fleets. This adaption is due to Kronos' specialisation in combating daemons and other Chaotic forces that excel at close assault.
  • Magic Is a Monster Magnet: In Pharos, misuse of the eponymous xenotech attracted the Tyranid to the Milky Way.
  • Master Swordsman: Hive Tyrants, of swords made out of razor-sharp-bone with a psychic brain at its base yes, but still swordsmen nevertheless. The Swarmlord cranks this up to absolutely ludicrous degrees, weilding four such swords at the same time, and so blindingly fast with them that a virtually impenetrable wall-of-blades is what your sword will clash into if you try to fight it hand-to-claw.
  • Monstrous Cannibalism:
    • The Tyranids consume all lifeforms they come across, including their own Mooks, absorbing the biomass to create more warrior organisms for their next assault.
    • Hive Fleet Hydra will intentionally seek out the remains and survivors of previous Hive Fleets that have been defeated, consuming their predecessors to fuel the Hive Fleet's infamously rapid reproductive abilities.
  • Monstrous Mandibles: Nearly all Tyranids have them in some form or another, even Lictors who don't even have jaws.
  • Mook Maker:
    • Tyranid hive ships, for starters, make every smaller creature and even other hive ships themselves.
    • On the ground, Tyranids seed invaded worlds with brood nests, which consume the local resources brought to them and churn out smaller creatures on-site, allowing them to change their force composition in the field.
    • Taking this one step further, some Tyranid creatures themselves are Mook Makers themselves, such as the Tervigon, which spawns Termagants from various womb-pustules on its belly while on the battlefield.
  • Mooks: Gaunts are the most common foot-troops of the hordes. They're individually fairly weak, but their relative simplicity allows them to be manufactured quickly and in huge numbers and makes them easy to customize and modify. Consequently, Gaunts are deployed in vast hordes intended to overwhelm enemies through sheer attrition and to protect more valuable organisms, and come in a great variety of specialized subtypes tailored to numerous different environments and battlefield needs.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Though some critters mix things up with feeder tendrils.
  • Mother of a Thousand Young: Hive Ships are storehouses of all the genetic information needed to spawn every other Tyranid organism. While they might birth a few directly themselves, more often they birth the seeds which land on a planet with a rich biosphere and in turn birth more creatures as they consume the local environment.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: All the Tyranids are evolutions from a basic six-limbed shape, and most use all of them, except for some like the serpentine Raveners and the winged Gargoyle who have a pair of vestigial legs.
  • My Brain Is Big:
    • Zoanthropes have always had huge heads, the better to channel psychic power. Models from earlier editions had torsos, arms, and legs, and would stand and walk on the ground. Art Evolution has pushed later models into being little besides a brain, with a long, snake-like body to house its brainstem. It now uses its psychic power to levitate over the battlefield, rather than walk.
    • Maleceptors are psychic powerhouses used to overwhelm foes with raw Warp-power. To aid in this, they are implanted with enormous masses of neural tissue in their torsos that can be seen poking through holes in the chitin on their sides.
  • Named After Their Planet: Since the Hive Fleets' true origin is a mystery and they have no name for themselves, they are named after Tyran, the first Imperial world that they made contact with.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast:
    • Not for nothing were the Tyranids nicknamed "the Great Devourer". Whole planets are left as completely lifeless rocks, stripped of any and all biomass and minerals that could be useful.
    • The Swarmlord, Hive Tyrant, Tyrant Guard, Red Terror, Broodlord, Old One Eye, Death Leaper and the infamous Carnifex all get a special mention. Even names that don't have obvious meanings, like the Trygon, sound ominous.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: This applies to the few special characters the Tyranids have (see below), because they don't have names or identities as humans do.
  • Organic Technology: It's interesting looking back over the model range to see how what once were distinct weapons became fused to their wielders.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Harridan, a giant flying Bio-Titan, is basically a dragon in space.
  • Our Gargoyles Are Different: Gargoyles are a variant of the common Gaunt troops provided with a pair of membranous wings, organic guns fused to their arms, and acidic spit. They're typically used as expendable airborne troops with which to mob aerial enemy vehicles and sow terror and confusion among infantry.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Arguably one for the setting, even more so than Chaos. They're an extra-galactic threat, having already consumed other galaxies and now they want ours. They're also the only faction that is truly united: countless trillions of organisms all devoted to infiltration, consumption, evolution, and migration. Power, glory, the favors of gods... absolutely meaningless to them. The Tyranids seek only to devour, and once they're done, they'll move on without even looking back. The only times the Tyranids fight each other is when Hive Fleets are testing their different adaptations to determine which is stronger, or in the rare cases where a splinter fleet has suffered some severe degradation like rampant Chaos mutation.
  • Projectile Webbing: Stranglewebs are a type of bio-weapon in the form of a spider-like creature that fires nets of sticky mucous that adhere to targets and rapidly constrict around them, usually crushing them to death. Some are coated with poison to make them more lethal. They're typically used to capture organisms to be carried back to the Hive Ships for analysis and incorporation.
  • Proportionately Ponderous Parasites: Larger Tyranid organisms will often have smaller organisms attach to (or birthed by) them, detaching to engage targets. The smallest of these are the Abnormal Ammo in the Living Weapons wielded by other Tyranid creatures; the largest are other hive creatures which live aboard their Living Ships. In between, you have things like Gargoyles clinging to Harridans for long flights, or other creatures which live on bio-titans.
  • Planet Eater: They consume entire biospheres, leaving only an airless, infertile sphere of bedrock behind.
  • Poisonous Person: All Tyranids poison the environment as part and parcel of their invasion strategy. Hive Fleet Gorgon specializes in this, to the point of whipping up brews toxic enough to kill Plague Marines.
  • Power Floats: From 3rd Edition onwards, all of the models and artwork for the highly psychic Zoanthropes depict them with heavily atrophied limbs. They instead use psychic levitation to hover across the battlefields of a prey world.
  • Praetorian Guard: Tyrant Guards are heavily armored, elite organisms used to defend Hive Tyrants and other key components of the swarms.
  • Psychic Static: One of the most dangerous aspects of the Tyranids is how the Hive Mind casts a "shadow in the Warp" ahead of it, which is strong enough to overwhelm any psykers on a planet targeted by the Hive Fleets. This is very bad news, since psykers are required for astropathic communication and navigation, which means when the 'nids are on their way, there's no chance of sending a call for help, and no way for it to arrive. Some Imperial scholars believe that the cause of this is the absolutely massive amount of psychic "bandwidth" that the Hive Mind requires, simply drowning out all other psychic voices in the area. It's described as a million voices all chattering in unison.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The Cortex Leech, a little-known ripper genus. It's a small, fast-moving creature which leaps up to a victim's face, then extends flexible antenna into the victim's mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. These feelers burrow into the brain, and turn the victim into a drooling puppet of the Hive Mind.
  • Rent-a-Zilla: Tyranid bio-titans, giant beasts which stay mobile via the hivemind's psychic strength both lifting them and protecting them with warp-shields.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Those Tyranid organisms that have a modicum of individual consciousness, such as Hive Tyrants, can never be truly killed as, if their physical form is destroyed, their mind is absorbed back into the greater Hive Mind before being regrown and unleashed upon a prey world once again. The end result of this is that, if a powerful Tyranid creature is defeated in battle, it can use the knowledge of its death to devour those that brought it down.
  • Sand Worm: The Tyranids have something close in the Mawloc, a worm-like Tyranid with six powerful burrowing limbs alongside a long, chitin-plated serpentine body ending in a wicked earwig-like tail. Much like the classic trope inspiration, they are almost entirely blind and rely on sensation of vibration through the ground. Even a person standing stock still can be detected by a Mawloc, if their terrified heart is beating loud enough...
  • Shock and Awe: Tyranids of the Trygon genus produce a strong bio-electric charge, which the creatures use to wreath their claws with crackling power. The Trygon can also discharge this energy in a high-voltage bio-electrical pulse can reduce the enemy to a pile of charred bones. The more powerful Trygon Primes have even evolved various spines along their bodies that allow the beast to harness this electrical energy and unleash it with greater power.
  • Smoke Out: The warrior beasts of some Hive Fleets are able to release clouds of crystalline spoors from their carapace to create a cloud of disorientating fog that allows them to escape from combat with greater ease. The Spormist Spines Hive Fleet Adaptationnote  represents this on the tabletop by giving such units greater manoeuvrability after Falling Back from combat.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Tyranid creatures are almost universally covered in chitinous spikes and sharp edges. As one Games Workshop player once said in a battle report:
    You can talk all you want about strategy and unit choice, but when it comes down to it, all Tyranid tactics end up as "spiky death".
  • Spike Shooter: Several weapon types, such as Stinger Salvos, Cluster Spines, Impaler Cannons and Spike Rifles, function by shooting spikes of sharpened bone, sometimes lacked with venom, over considerable distances.
  • Sprint Shoes: Adrenal glands are symbiotic organs that attach themselves to many Tyranid organisms; as they grow, they pump bio-chemicals into their hosts' bloodstreams that increase their speed and reaction time during battle. While in-game effect of these glands and their variants depends on the edition, the 8th Edition version boosts the creature's move distance while Advancingnote  and charging.
  • Star Scraper: Capillary towers are an organic version of these. As the ecological transformation of a Tyranid invasion begins to reach a "critical" stage, these begin to grow out of the accumulated biomass and rich minerals that the invasion has been rendering down into digestion oceans. They gradually grow to a height of several kilometers, and act as anchor points for hive ships, who extend feeding tendrils down to latch onto them and draw up the rendered biomass through them, like drinking up the biosphere through a giant straw.
  • Suicide Attack: The Hive Mind will often direct weaker and expendable troops, such as Gaunts and Rippers, into throwing themselves into air vents, exhaust pipes or exposed gears and wiring of enemy vehicles and structures, finding their disablement to be more than worth the loss of some cannon fodder.
  • Supernatural Fear Inducer: The Tyranid Psychic Power "the Horror" floods the minds of nearby prey creatures, making them panic and cower in fear. How this is represented in the game varies by edition but generally makes enemy units more likely to run away while the 8th Edition version also makes it more difficult for the enemy to hit the Tyranids as they fire in panic.
  • Super Prototype: The Tyranids' "Characters" in general are this rather than true individual characters, but it's entirely literal in the Doom of Malan'tai. The "mass-production" unit derived from its template (the Neurothrope) isn't quite as powerful as the prototype.
  • Super Senses: Many Tyranid bioforms have senses far sharper than those of their prey, able to discern the position of those they hunt with near supernatural accuracy. How this is represented in game changes depending on the edition but generally involve upgrades that confer bonuses to the creature's Ballistic Skill or To Hit rolls.
  • Super Spit:
    • When fighting in close combat, Gargoyles spit corrosive venom into the face of their enemies in an attempt to blind them so that the fragile creatures have a greater chance of bringing down their opponent in melee.
    • The Hive Crone's main offensive weapon against ground targets is the Drool Cannon. This bio-weapon allows the flying monstrosity to vomit its highly-corrosive digestive juices onto its target, doing more damage than a heavy flamer.
    • Some Tyranid bioforms, such as the Screamer-Killer breed of Carnifex, are able to produce a ball of bio-plasma within their stomachs that the creature can vomit at their prey. Although relatively short ranged, these balls of plasmic vomit do a comparable level of damage to the plasma weaponry of other races.
    • The saliva of a Pyrovore is highly acidic and is capable of reducing any organic or inorganic substance to a gelatinous slime that is easy for other Tyranid feeder organisms to consume.
  • Super Toughness: Certain Tyranid bio-forms are evolved to be able to withstand immense amounts of damage, having incredibly hard bones, thick armored interlocking carapaces, dense bundles of muscles, and redundant nervous systems. However, forms of this nature require a lot of investment of biomass and take long times to gestate, so there are comparatively few of them and they are typically only committed where they are needed. The expenditure of the lesser creatures is typically how the hive determines where that need is.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The Tyrannocyte, introduced in 2015, is nearly identical to the older Mycetic Spore, a unit introduced in the 5th Edition Tyranid codex but were later removed in the 6th Edition codex in 2014.
  • Suspiciously Stealthy Predator: Lictors are the Tyranid's primary scouting units. They are able to stay perfectly still for days at a time, capable of changing their color to perfectly blend with the surrounding, and can alter their own body temperature to match the ambient level so as not to show up on infrared. Further, because they feed on the Brain Food of individuals in the area they are operating and gain some of that creature's knowledge by doing so, they know what things like security systems are and possibly where they are likely to be located as well. All this combines to make them creatures that are very hard to find if they do not wish to be found, and easily able to slip past even alert defenses.
  • The Swarm: The "ripper" genus is a family of many kinds of small Tyranid organisms which primarily exist to gather biomass for the swarm. They are weak and possess little offensive ability on their own, so they are typically only deployed after resistance has been cleared out to consume passive prey. Their quick-breeding allows them to multiply in numbers such that they form a rolling "wave" of living creatures that leave only desolation in their wake. A defender should hope that they were killed by one of the larger creatures as opposed to simply wounded by the time the rippers get to their body...
  • Taking the Bullet: Serving the role of bodyguards for Hive Tyrants, Tyrant Guards can choose to intercept a hit aimed at the Tyrant and suffer a wound in its place.
  • Taking You with Me: Most Tyranid monster-sized organisms (except Carnifexes, Maleceptors, Tervigons, Malanthropes and Dimachaerons) have the Death Throes special rule, which inflicts wounds on nearby enemies if the unit in question dies, representing the beast lashing out in its death throes before expiring.
  • Tentacle Rope: Tyranid flesh-hooks are a variation of these, except instead of lashing around a foe, they dig a boney meat-hook into them. They also function as a Grappling Hook Launcher for scaling obstructions.
  • Theme Naming:
    • Many Tyranids are named after relatively obscure words for unpleasant and domineering women: harridan, termagant (and its older form, Tervigant, when it referred to a pagan god that medieval Christians believed Muslims worshiped), harpy, and dominatrix, though many of these are also puns or references—termagants were a type of ground unit from the 1970s Metagaming game Chitin: 1 The Harvest Wars, and harpies are, of course, a type of mythological flying beast.
    • The Hive Fleets, for the most part, have been named after mythological beasts and monsters. The three most major Hive Fleets to date have been Behemoth, Kraken, and Leviathan, and smaller Hive Fleets have included Jormungandr, Medusa, Scylla, and Tiamet. There are even two with literary names: Dagon and Grendel.
  • Too Many Mouths: The Hive Mind thought it was a good idea to warp the Dimachaeron's thorax into a gigantic maw.
  • Tunnel King:
    • The Tyranid Ravener is a slithering creature capable of tunneling under the surface to bypass static defenses and literally undermine entrenched positions. For high value and seriously hardened targets, groups of Raveners will often be lead by a Trygon, their far-larger cousin.
    • Now with even greater emphasis on tunneling comes the Mawloc. These things are like Graboids turned up to eleven.
  • Unbreakable Bones:
    • Tyranid swords and other close combat weapons are made from hardened bone that is tougher than steel.
    • In older editions, larger Tyranids (most notably Carnifexes) could have bonded exoskeletons, where the gaps between non-moving bones filled up with more of the same substance. The most notable area is the ribcage, where instead of a cage of bones, it turns into basically a sub-dermal shell. In-game this had the effect of raising the creature's toughness. Another upgrade, Extended Exoskeleton, works in a similar way but instead grows larger chitin plates on the creature's back, covering more vital areas and granting a higher Armor Save. Needless to say, both options were very popular until they got removed.
    • The bio-forms of Hive Fleet Tiamet have the toughest exoskeleton of any Tyranid lifeform ever encountered. The diamond-hard carapaces of the Hive Fleet's organisms allow them to survive firepower that would annihilate the lifeforms of other fleets.
  • The Virus: Or more precisely, The Bacterial Microbe. Several of the initial Mycetic Spores launched during a Tyranid invasion release these microbes around their point of impact. The microbes potentially infect nearby lifeforms, causing mutation, death, and rapid decomposition. This in turn grows into colonies of brood nests to birth more Tyranids, and jutting spore chimneys which spout more of these microbes into the air to let the wind carry them elsewhere. Eventually, all native life is choked out by this process and the world becomes a wasteland of digestive pools and vein-like bio-mass capillaries.
  • Walking Wasteland:
    • The Venomthrope and Toxicrene Sporecaster Organisms constantly spew thick clouds of highly toxic, semi-sentient, microscopic spores that break down organic tissue at a prodigious rate. These spores are so deadly that they will infect everything in the surrounding area, tainting the soil and poisoning the atmosphere until the entire world is rendered uninhabitable. In 8th Edition, models in close proximity to a Venomthrope or Toxicrene have a 1 in 6 chance of suffering mortal wounds.
    • While all the warrior-forms of Hive Fleet Gorgon carry highly toxic spores within them, the leader beasts of the swarm are surrounded by clouds of an even more potent strain of spore that chokes and infects all non-Tyranid life in the surrounding area. In the 8th Edition of the game, the Lethal Miasma Gorgon Warlord Trait causes every enemy unit close to the Warlord a 50/50 chance of suffering a mortal wound.
  • Weapon Wields You:
    • The symbiotic bio-plasmic cannon is far more intelligent that the Exocrine weapon beast that it is bound to and is able to supress the simple mind of its host so that it can move itself into an optimal firing position.
    • The Venomthorn Parasitenote  is a fungal Bio-Artefact that not only increases the symbiosis between weapon and creature, but can also take control of both forces them to unleash a monumental amount of firepower when it senses an enemy, always firing the maximum amount of shots possible for the weapon during the Shooting phase.
  • Weaponized Offspring: When other Tyranid attacking forces have been devastated, Rippers have been observed to burrow into the ground and undergo spontaneous metamorphosis into a wide variety of other Tyranid genus. This leads some Imperial scholars to speculate that the Rippers are in fact an immature or larval form of Tyranid.
  • We Have Reserves: Graphical representations of the hive fleets portray the overall force as being roughly as large as the Milky Way itself. It is often underlined that the denizens of the galaxy have no way of fighting off the full might of the Tyranids.
  • Xeno Nucleic Acid: Genestealers infest people by injecting small nodules into the target and releasing it into the population (the target doesn't remember what happened, but sees their wounds and assumes they got in a fight). From then on, every generation starting from that individual is entirely devoted to the Hive Mind and acquires ever more Tyranid traits such as needle teeth or extra arms until they give birth to purestrain genestealers, who cannot pass for human and are hidden by the cults.
  • Xenomorph Xerox: One of the clearest inspirations for these guys is the Xenomorph species, sharing many of the same basic tropes associated with their predecessors, though they skip the parasitic incubation process and go straight into the "murder and consume everything in sight" route.
  • You Are Who You Eat: The Tyranid can make use of the genetic code of the worlds they consume. For instance, the Zoanthrope "Doom of Malan'tai" got its name and extra psychic power from eating a bunch of Eldar souls.
  • Zerg Rush: The most basic Tyranid battle plan is to overwhelm the enemy with floods of small fighting creatures like Termagants and Hormagaunts.

    Genestealers & Their Cults
Genestealers (behind) with a Genestealer Cult (foreground).
Vanguard organisms of the Hive Fleets, Genestealers are deployed well ahead of the fleet's advance to undermine potential prey worlds. Once a Genestealer arrives on a world, it will introduce its genetic material into portions of the populace. This drives them to breed and spread the infection, creating a cult of hybrids that slowly but surely undermines the world's social structure, military, and government while creating a psychic beacon that draws a Hive Fleet to the world to harvest its biomass.

Because of this mission, Genestealers are bred to be much more independent than the Hive Fleets, a Genestealer brood being almost a separate hive intelligence unto itself. Capable of hibernating in wait for centuries, Genestealers were likely by far the first Tyranid organisms in our galaxy, their numbers maintained and expanded via their parasitic preying on other species for reproduction. With great strength packed into a compact body and claws capable of rending through even the toughest armor, Genestealers are deadly whether they are acting subtle or overt.

Genestealers were have been a part of Warhammer 40,000 since the 1st Edition of the game, where they were an alien race originally unrelated to the Tyranids, and have appeared in a number of spin-off games such as Space Hulk and Advanced Space Crusade. Later lore made Genestealers a vanguard organism of the Tyranid Hive Fleets and they have been inseparable from the forces of the Great Devourer ever since. Genestealer Cults were initially introduced in Space Hulk before being introduced to the 1st Edition of Warhammer 40,000. The Genestealer Cults were included as an appendix army list in the 2nd Edition Codex: Tyranids but, although they received a few unofficial and fan made army lists, they were relegated to a background-only faction until February 2016's board game Deathwatch: Overkill saw them face off against the alien hunters of the Deathwatch. The Genestealer Cults were reintroduced into the core Warhammer 40,000 game in October 2016 with the release of their first codex sourcebook and a full range of models. The 8th Edition Warhammer 40,000 version of Codex: Genestealer Cults was released in February 2019 with additional rules published in the February 2020 sourcebook Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good.

General & Hive Fleet Genestealer Tropes

  • Absurdly Sharp Claws: Genestealer claws are Absurdly Sharp, even by the standards of the setting, and the muscles on their limbs are much more powerful than they look. Stories abound about Genestealers able to rip open the armor of a Space Marine Terminator like it was a tin can (though in practice the Genestealer can only do that if it gets a really lucky grip on the victim.)
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: Genestealers reproduce via the "Genestealer's Kiss", an injection of their genetic material into a target via a long, diamond-hard "tongue." Depending on which bit of fluff you read, this is either via a literal, face-biting parody of a kiss, or a slightly less disturbing injection into the torso, under the ribcage. The Ciaphas Cain novels use the latter method.
  • Ghost Ship: The Hive Fleets are fond of leaving first generation Genestealer broods on space hulks, where they will go dormant and wait. Eventually the space hulk will arrive in a populated system, or it will be investigated by explorers, and there the brood will find their hosts.
  • Hive Mind: Like the Hive Fleets, the Genestealers have a hive mind. This mind is generally independent of the Hive Fleet, and is specific to particular broods, which is necessary considering that they often operate far from any other Tyranid organism and thus need to better think for themselves. However, when the Hive Fleets are inevitably drawn to a location where Genestealers have been reproducing successfully, those Genestealers will begin to become affected by the Hive Mind of the fleet, and will be spurred into more overt and aggressive action against their host populations. By the time the Hive Fleet arrives, the Genestealer brood will have been mentally re-absorbed into the Hive Mind of the fleet and function as their elite shock troops when overcoming its defense.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: A characteristic of Genestealers is an ability to pacify potential prey by maintaining eye contact and moving slowly, though the fluff varies on how much this is used.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: As per the other Tyranid creatures, Genestealers have six limbs. Two for standing upright, two for fine manipulation, and two as rending claws.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The first recorded contact with Genestealers came from the moons of the planet Ymgarl. Originally though to be native to there, it was only later revealed that they were a specific mutation of the wider Genestealer species and a vanguard of the Tyranids. Instead of the maw found on other Genestealers, they have lamprey-like feeder tendrils that they use to drain blood of victims. They are able to conceal themselves with limited shape-shifting abilities, but this requires them to feed often to maintain. Though their shape shifting is powerful, the Hive Fleets display no desire to re-absorb them, leading to speculation that the mutation might be unstable if assimilated back into the hive.
  • Power Creep, Power Seep: Possibly moreso than any other specific example in 40K, the power of a Broodlord as a psyker. In the fluff he's a supernatural powerhouse rivaling even the best Space Marine Librarians, as strong in the ways of the Warp as he is with his claws and muscles. On the tabletop he's one of the weakest psykers available to any faction (level one, with only one actual power he can use).
  • Put on a Bus:
    • The Ymgarl Genestealers became a "special character unit" in 5th edition's codex, but were removed in the 6th edition codex.
    • The introduction of the Broodlord in 4th edition was supposed to make all-Genestealer armies a possibility. 5th edition instead made Broodlords into unit sergeants, once again making you unable to field pure-Genestealer armies. 6th and 7th edition has flipflopped on this, retaining the Broodlord as a unit commander but also releasing several independent formations that can be composed entirely of Genestealers, making it possible to field legal armies of them again (with the release of Shield of Baal, there is now a Genestealer that can take a Warlord trait, coming full circle again).
  • Suspiciously Stealthy Predator: Because Genestealers are actually as intelligent as most sentient species, and are psychically connected both to each other and to the members of the host species they prey on, they tend to have a pretty good idea of the technological means by which others might identify or track their presence. Since they exist to infiltrate and spread as widely as possible before they are detected, they tend to be very good at this.

Hybrid & Cult Specific Tropes

  • Aliens Made Them Do It: Literally in the case of those subjected to the Genestealer's Kiss. Their altered hormones will drive them to find a partner to mate with and produce offspring. Said offspring will incorporate the genetic code of the Genestealer who administered the kiss and will be horribly misshapen hybrids of the two species.
  • Apocalypse Cult: The Genestealer cults, who prepare the planet for the Tyranid invasion. Their apocalypse involves the Tyranids devouring anything that offers resistance, then turning everything alive on the planet (including the Tyranid forces and surviving Genestealers) into soup so it can be absorbed by the hive fleet.
  • Assimilation Plot: The modus operandi of a Genestealer cult, though downplayed to the extent that they do not necessarily want to get everyone in. The early stages of a Genestealer population infiltration will have the brood lurk around the outskirts of society, careful to avoid detection and "kissing" a few lone individuals who will not be missed. As the cult adds new generations and grows in size, they will start fronts to allow them more freedom of movement and resources, becoming more selective as they go about who they bring into the "family" to groom themselves for more influence and avoid discovery. Eventually as a Hive Fleet approaches, they are driven to be more aggressive and will try to stage a coup, which may or may not be successful, but either way will divert attention and resources away from the oncoming threat.
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: For what counts as a civilian vehicle, the Goliath Truck is packed with firepower and can tag along several Genestealer Cult members. It is like a beefed up Ork Trukk for just less than double the points, but with more armour and bigger guns.
  • Badass Biker: The fourth generation hybrids known as Jackals ride rugged Atalan bikes, acting as scouts and outriders for their Cult. Jackals use their xenos-enhanced senses and reactions to perform serpent-fast manoeuvres to dodge enemy fire before getting in close to attack their foes in close combat. The 8th Edition rules represent this with the Skilled Outriders ability that makes them harder to hit with Shooting attacks.
  • Bald of Evil: Genestealer hybrids have a tendency toward baldness (as Genestealers themselves are hairless), though this may or may not be present depending on which traits are inherited from which parent species.
  • Battle Trophy: Cults often fashion their standards from, or at least adorn them with, trophies taken from defeated enemies. The Cult of the Bladed Cog, for instance, adorns its primary war-banner with the skeleton of the Tech-Priest Dominus Ovid Thrension, the ruler of their homeworld before the cult's revolt overthrew him, while the Cult of the Rusted Claw fashioned its banner from the cloak of one their world's primary mine overseers and decorate it with coins taken from the bodies of those who opposed the cult.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: The Locus bodyguards of the Genestealer Cults conceal a Prehensile Tail tipped with a deadly toxinspike beneath their flowing robes. The 8th Edition rules allow the Locus to make an extra attack with this hypermorph tail every time it fights in close combat.
  • Breeding Cult: The goal of Genestealer cults is to propagate more Genestealers in secret, gathering higher influence to better hide their growing numbers.
  • The Bus Came Back: Genestealer cults, introduced during the earliest days of the game, were removed as playable units in 4th edition. In February 2016 they were re-released as part of the board game Deathwatch: Overkill, with an accompanying dataslate containing rules for the very specific Ghosar Quintus cult featured in the board game. The release of Codex: Genestealer Cults brought them back in full.
  • Car Fu: The Goliath Rockgrinder, a Goliath Truck with a Drilldozer Blade shoved up front, is designed to ram other vehicles into oblivion and hopefully turn enemy infantry into meaty chunks.
  • Co-Dragons: In a Genestealer Cult, if the Magus is the chief psyker and manipulator of a Patriarch then the Primus is the Patriarch's warmaster and chief lieutenant. While the Magus' role is to corrupt, the Primus serves to lead the cult into war.
  • A Commander Is You: The tabletop army stradles the line between Ranger and Espionage, having many abilites that allow them to deploy from hiding, mess with terrain features, pin down opponents with suppressive fire from multiple angles, and utilize Hit-and-Run Tactics to always try and catch their opponents flat-footed and off-guard for when the Day of Ascencion comes. They have relatively little staying power in their base rules, and the rules for taking cult-infested Astra Militarum units puts a limit on how many of their larger and more durable units a cult can take, meaning that the best way to play Genestealer Cults is to be constantly moving, utilize your strategems well, and always try to think two steps ahead of your opponent.
  • Construction Vehicle Rampage: Being rebellious Imperial citizens, Genestealer cults repurpose heavy mining loaders and mining equipment into military vehicles. They also turned a heavy mining drill into a device to create localized earthquakes for military purposes.
  • Cool Car: The Genestealer Cult army from the 1st Edition of Warhammer 40,000 included a gothic-styled limousine for the Cult leaders to ride in incognito. Although the Coven Limo hasn't been a part of the game since then, many veteran Genestealer Cult players still hope for its return.
  • Cult: When Genestealers infiltrate a population, they will go underground and look for isolated victims to "kiss". These individuals will reproduce Genestealer Hybrids and love them like their own. In order to maintain their "family" they will often find some kind of front or cover story to keep the nature of their children concealed. Such will usually adopt certain aspects of the host culture, twisting it around to center about the Genestealers, creating a secretive sect devoted to spreading their seed.
  • Destined Bystander: The Genestealers were introduced early into the setting as a small piece of background lore. Once the Tyranids arrived, their role in the narrative was greatly expanded as being early elements of the Hive Fleet seeded into our galaxy. This was most likely a Revision, which involved a few minor Retcons which relegated the original Genestealer conception with a minor offshoot of the race as a whole.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: The Undermine psychic power, made available to Cult of the Four-Armed Emperor psykers by the late 8th Edition sourcebook Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good, allows the caster to open holes beneath the feet of an enemy unit, reducing their Movement as they carefully pick their way through the changing terrain.
  • Dumb Muscle: Genestealer Aberrants are massively muscled creatures capable of wielding heavy weaponry with ease. Though dim-witted, their instinctive need to defend their brood makes them valuable assets to the cult. Abominants, Aberrants further mutated by the Patriarch, are a more extreme case of this — they're even bigger and stronger than aberrants, but have at best the intellects of infants and are mostly useful to the cult as something to throw at particularly tough enemy emplacements.
  • Earthquake Machine: The Tectonic Fragdrills employed by the Genestealer Cults create localised earthquakes by way of localised assaults on the most volatile parts of the planet's crust.
  • Exposition Beam: The 8th Edition background material for the Nexos Hybrid mentions that their unique connection to their Cult's Brood Mind allows them to absorb the memories of any Cult member with nothing more than a touch, allowing them to instantly gain knowledge of an ongoing battle and the overall strategic situation.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Once someone is infected by a Genestealer, they are completely under the control of the cult, though they'll generally still act normally to hide their infection until it is time to spread. Nonetheless, an infected individual will immediately turn on their allies with no warning if it means protecting the cult.
  • Familiar: High-ranking Cult members are often accompanied by a Genestealer Familiar, small alien creatures created from the solidified psychic residue of a Patriarch or Magus. These Familiars perform a variety of functions, depending on the type of familiar, including enhancing their master's psychic abilitiesnote  or defending them from enemy attacksnote .
  • Healing Factor: The process that turns an Aberrant into an Abominant increases the monstrous creature's already rugged constitution considerably, so that its flesh can regenerate all but the most serious of injuries. In 8th Edition, the Abominant's Regenerative Flesh ability heals its wounds every turn.
  • Improvised Weapon: A few of the Genestealer Cults' weapons and vehicles are originally mining equipment appropriated for use in the battlefield. One Aberrant model uses a road sign torn from the ground (with the concrete still stuck to the base) as a blunt instrument.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Genestealer Cultists, tragically, are not actually aware the Tyranids view them as useful but temporary tools that will be eaten once they have sabotaged their world's defenses. To them, they're the servants of an enlightened and angelic race that will bring salvation to the universe, and see all the Genestealer traits as angelic features. This lasts until the Hive Mind re-assimilates the Patriarch and Purestrains, at which point it is no longer efficient to keep the cult around and the Cultists have just enough time to scream. However, on some occasions, certain cults are aware of and accept this fate.
  • Mad Scientist: Biophaguses are cult members trained in medicine and genetic manipulation. Because they need to pass as sufficiently like their host species to receive training from them, they tend to only be found in the later generations of cult development. Their education becomes extremely useful to the cult, as many of the random Mix And Match Critter traits of the cult's hybrids benefit from someone who can surgically and chemically alter them to better suit the cult's needs, particularly the Aberrants.
  • Make Them Rot: The leaders of the Cult of the Rusted Claw are host to numerous metallophagic nano-organisms that cause any metal, including adamantium, to instantly rust with the lightest of touches. Their Entropic Touch Warlord Trait in 8th Edition increases the chance of attacks penetrating a nearby enemy's armour.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Genestealer hybrids, particularly first-generation ones, will mix an equal amount of characteristics from the genestealer and the host species. Later generations will downplay the Genestealer traits further with each generation, until around the fifth or sixth generation purestrain Genestealers are born to them.
  • The Mole: Genestealer cults fill this role on a strategic level for the Tyranid Hive Fleets.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Many members of the Bladed Cog are Cyborgs who view the blending of the machine in their ranks to be sacred, much like the Cult Mechanicus, going so far as to have painful surgeries in order to demonstrate the extent of their faith. Many in their ranks are even members of the Adeptus Mechanicus' own armies, the Skitarii. They worship the Clawed Omnissiah, a twisted cyborg Patriarch with mechanical limbs and cyborg enhancements interwoven into its body.
  • Nonhuman Humanoid Hybrid: Half any-sentient-species hybrid. Genestealers have a curious reproductive cycle, where only a few early broods are birthed directly by the Hive Fleets, and all later members of the brood are born to host species that the Genestealers prey on. After infecting a host organism, that organism will be driven to reproduce, but any such offspring will be half the host species and half Genestealer. Naturally, such a creature is usually very misshapen as it combines traits of both species freely. However, later generations of hybrids will look progressively more like the host species, until by about the fifth or six generation they are completely indistinguishable from them. The children of that generation will then be more "pure" Genestealers and the cycle begins again.
  • Paranoia Fuel:
    • Invoked by the Genestealers. Their infiltration of planets has the primary effect of destabilizing them militarily from within so they cannot effectively mount a defense, but secondarily by making it difficult for the planetary authorities to conclusively determine which individuals have been subverted by the Genestealers or not, continuing to make it difficult to mount a unified defense as the population and chain of command falls into a pattern of distrust and fear.
    • Their 2016 playstyle invokes this, with many units having the ability to drop back into Ongoing Reserves and using the "Cult Ambush" rules to appear literally anywhere on a good dice roll. With many of them being armed with demo charges or incredibly powerful short ranged weapons, spamming this ability can induce the same paranoia in your opponent. In addition their Broodmind Psychic Discipline is also focused on playing mindgames with the enemy, from weakening the opponent to outright taking control of them (one of the powers is literally "Mind Control").
    • Their 8th edition codex reveals that the cults have now found a way to spread their corrupting taint even without any actual Genestealers on hand to perform the Kiss. All they have to do is introduce certain chemical contagions into the water supply, then sit back and wait.
  • Perception Filter:
    • The Amulet of the Voidwyrm allows its bearer to tap into the Shadow in the Warp of the wider Tyranid race, allowing them to conceal themselves from the minds of their enemies. In the 8th Edition rules this is represented by a bonus to the bearer's saving throw and immunity to Overwatch fire.
    • The genestealer cultists themselves suffer from one of these. After being brainwashed by the Patriarch's broodmind, the cultists perceive Tyranids as angelic, superior beings. This only lasts until the Patriarch is subsumed back into the overall hive mind, whereupon the local broodmind breaks down and the illusion dies with it. The remaining cultists usually have just enough time to fall into a horrified panic before their "gods" find and devour them.
  • Portent of Doom: If a Genestealer cult has grown to the point of open insurrection, a Hive Fleet is not far away...
  • Power Tattoo: The Mark of the Clawed Omnissiah is a rare electoo used by the Cult of the Bladed Cog. This electronic tattoo surrounds the wearer with a force field of static electricity that protects the wearer from harm and can electrocute nearby enemy models. The 8th Edition rules represent this by giving the bearer an invulnerable save and a chance of inflicting mortal wounds on enemy models in close proximity.
  • Primitive Clubs: Aberrants and Abominants are mutant Genestealer hybrids characterized by immense strength, aggression and stupidity, and tend to fight with mining equipment and uprooted street signs used as improvised mauls.
  • Psi Blast: The psykers of the Hivecult are able to collect the psychic residue released by their brothers and unleash it in a powerful blast of energy. Known as a Synaptic Blast, this psychic powernote  can cause numerous mortal wounds against enemy units depending on the number of Hivecult members close to the psyche when they manifest it.
  • Psycho Serum: The Elixir of the Prime Specimen is one of the greatest achievements of the Cult of the Twisted Helix's Biophaguses. Created from the corpse of a powerful Tyranid organism, the Elixir boosts the muscle mass of those who ingest it (represented in the 8th Edition rules by a boost to the drinker's Attacks, Toughness and Wounds stats) but fills their mind with near uncontrollable bloodlustnote 
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The "Genestealer's Kiss" initially causes confusion and amnesia in the host organism, which renders them placid and can take several hours to resolve fully. However, after that time it brings the host under the thrall of the Genestealer brood, altering their hormones and perceptions so that they come to love the Genestealers and any children they have by them. Some puppets may not even realize that they are being influenced by an external intelligence, becoming Manchurian Agents for the brood.
  • Rogue Drone: Somewhat downplayed, but not all Genestealers are as willing as other Tyranid morphs to be recycled into bio-matter, and many will flee infected planets just before the hive fleet arrives. In an odd twist, Ymgarl Genestealers are forced to be this against their will — their shapeshifting abilities are too unstable for the Hive Mind to want them back in its gene pool, so they are abandoned after their use is over. Despite this, they still want to rejoin the Hive Mind, so they keep rejoining the swarms, just to always be ejected later. Presumably, this is what's happening if the Patriarch fights against the Tyranids — he is, after all, a pure Genestealer himself, so by all rights he should just be letting himself be recycled after eating his share of biomass. If he's fighting to defend his cult, then something has gone very wrong for the Hive Fleet.
  • Self-Harm: Cultists of the Behemoid Undercult often ritually scar themselves around their right eye in honour of the infamous Carnifex Old One Eye, with the most devout even going so far as to gouge out their eye in imitation of the beast that they consider to be a prophet of their god.
  • Serial Killer: The background material for the Hivecult mentions that when they were first establishing themselves in the hive cities of New Gidlam the cult's Magus, Vockor Mai, posed as a serial killer known as the White Creeper to kill those that stood in the way of the cult's rise to power.
  • Sigil Spam: An early sign of a Cult is the distinct Tyranid "wyrm", a curled representation of a limbless Tyranid bioform that resembles an Ouroboros. Inquisitors are thankful that all Cults seem to have it as a sacred symbol, and they emblazon it on everything they own.
  • Smash Mook: Aberrants and Abominants are mutant hybrids characterized by immense strength, aggression and stupidity. In battle they're equipped with giant hammers, mining equipment or uprooted street signs and used as shock troops and linebreakers, relying on their armor and tough flesh to soak up incoming fire and their immense strength to break apart enemy formations, fortifications and armored vehicles with crude, sweeping blows of their weapons.
  • The Strategist: A Nexos is a late generation hybrid specifically adapted with psychometric powers and a portion of the Patriarch's otherworldly intellect to act as a rear echelon general, coordinating the numberless members of the Cult so that the uprising succeeds. In 8th Edition, a Nexos can redeploy Cult Ambush markers and regenerate the Command Points used to purchase Stratagems during battle.
  • Straw Nihilist: Members of the Cult of the Rusted Claw are described as extreme nihilists, thinking that all creatures in the universe are nothing but moving scraps of flesh destined to decay into the nothingness of the void. The Cult believe that they can only be saved when they are absorbed and remade by their unknowable gods.
  • Super Reflexes: The Locus bodyguards of the Genestealer Cults have inherited the preternatural reflexes and combat speed of their gene-father, reacting with blistering speed to defend their charges. In 8th and 9th Editions, Loci can attack enemies before they are attacked themselves and dodge enemy attacks.
  • Taking the Bullet: All Cultists (especially Cult Loci) are more than willing to throw themselves in front of attacks, receiving wounds and giving their lives so that the Cult's leadership can live. The Cult of the Pauper Prince take this dedication to the extreme, willing to create barricades with their own bodies so that their leaders have even the smallest of chances of surviving.
  • Target Spotter: The bike-mounted snipers known as Jackal Alphuses will relay the position of any enemy that they cannot handle themselves to better equipped Cultist forces. The 8th Edition rules represent this with the 'Priority Target Sighted' ability that grants a nearby Cultist unit a to hit bonus against an enemy unit that the Alphus can see.
  • Throw Down the Bomblet: Those Cults that infiltrate munition factories have ready access to explosives and grenades, becoming extremely skilled in their use. The late 8th Edition Psychic Awakening: Ritual of the Damned sourcebook allows such Cults to take the Munitions Experts Cult Creed that boosts the Strength characteristic of any Grenade type weapons their units are equipped with.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Even if they don't know it, after their planet comes to the Hive Fleet's notice, the destiny of a Genestealer Cult is sealed, because all surviving members will become food like the rest of the planet. Some stories indicate that at least some cults are aware of this, though, and accept it.
  • Wolverine Claws: Genestealer Cult Primuses are often armed with toxin injector claws. These viciously sharp metal blades fitted to the Primus' fingers inject those they cut with powerful toxins distilled from the blood of the Primus and, in the 8th Edition rules, are able to wound almost any living enemy.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once the Genestealer cults have fulfilled their purpose and attracted the Tyranids at large, the cultists become food for the Hive Mind just like all other living things. Averted on at least one occasion, though, where the victorious Tyranids consumed the planet but spared the Genestealer Cult. The cultists then piled onto bulk transports and aided the Hive Fleet in conquering the remainder of the solar system. It's speculated in-universe that it might be some sort of psychic imperative from the cult's Patriarch.
  • Zombie Infectee: The Imperium and other factions learned the hard way to carefully inspect anyone who survived an encounter with a Genestealer cult, especially those who somehow miraculously survived overwhelming odds. Quite often the survivors of a battle with such cults were covertly infected and left to "escape" and spread the cult elsewhere.

The bloated, monstrous rulers at the heart of each cult, the Patriarchs are the original Genestealers who crept into society and fathered the first hybrids. Patriarchs cease to be very active once their cult reaches a good size, after which they retreat into the shadows to rule over and be worshipped by their growing broods.

  • The Ageless: Patriarchs are known to live for hundreds of years, and unless killed they are practically immortal.
  • Art Evolution: When originally introduced, the Patriarch looked like a big fat bastard sitting on his chair. With the revamped and revived Genestealer Cults in 2016, it now looks like a regular old Genestealer, albeit bigger and more robust.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Patriarchs grow bigger and stronger as their cult develops, in a manner compared to the leader of a troop of apes becoming visibly tougher than the others to mark its ascendant status. Eventually, a Patriarch becomes by far the largest and most dangerous member of its cult.
  • Large and in Charge: Mature Patriarchs grow to immense sizes, reaching twice the height of a typical Space Marine and towering over every member of their brood save the vary largest Abominants.
  • Magic Knight: In all their incarnations, Genestealer Patriarchs are both terrifyingly powerful combatants, able to go toe-to-toe with Astartes leaders, and the psychic hub for their entire Cult's gestalt consciousness, giving it formidable telepathic abilities. The 8th Edition rules for the Patriarch represent this by giving Patriarchs a close combat-orientated stat line, as well as the ability to take multiple psychic powers from the Cult's Broodmind Psychic Discipline.
  • My Brain Is Big: A Patriarch's cranium becomes visibly engorged and distended as its telepathic powers grow.
  • The Patriarch: The actual title of the first Genestealer to found a brood among a host species. As the brood of hybrids grow, the Patriarch will slowly grow progressively larger and more physically powerful. By the time the fourth generation of hybrids comes about and new Genestealers are being born, the Patriarch will be a massive beast. As every member of the brood is psychically connected with the Patriarch, the more the brood grows in number the more the Patriarch's psychic potential grows to accommodate them, eventually becoming a fantastically powerful psyker in its own right.

The Kelermorph
The Kelermorph is a masked gunslinger, a figure of legend and the face of rebellion against the Imperium's crushing tyranny — and a cunning, calculated ruse meant to drawn the masses into the cults' embrace.

  • Bullet Time: The Kelermorph's accelerated metabolism allows it to live in this all the time, viewing normal humans as moving in constant slow motion, which makes a deadly gunfighter.
  • Dual Wielding: The Kelermorph wields a gun in each of its two main hands.
  • Folk Hero: The Kelermorph was created by the cults specifically to fit the image of a mysterious, elusive figure standing against oppression, appearing from nowhere to defy figures of power, coolly making mincemeat of his foes and then vanishing into the shadows. This is, however, all a ruse, and the Kelermorph is largely intended to trick the Imperium's oppressed masses into aiding the designs of the Cult without realizing what they're actually working for.
  • The Gunslinger: The Kelermorph was specifically engineered to become a folk hero to attract the oppressed to the Cult, triple-wields Liberator Autostub revolvers. He's a mix between Vaporizer and Trick Shot, given his extremely high Ballistic Skill, six normal shots per turn and an extra shot for every one of those initial six that hits.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Kelermorph is a terrifyingly good shot, thanks to reflexes that allow it to calmly line up a dozen shots in the time it takes for its foes to unholster their own weapons, enhanced senses that allow it to fire with pinpoint accuracy in pitch darkness, and superhuman balance and coordination.
  • More Dakka: Besides being a very good shot, the Kelermorph can also count on a combination of its reflexes and high-quality weapons to down scores of foes in a hail of bullets.

     Notable Beasts 
Although one would argue that a Hive Mind race like the Tyranids shouldn't have special characters — indeed, on a meta-level, this argument resulted in their lacking any in their fourth edition codex — the Tyranids have always had unique units, beginning with the Red Terror and Old One Eye in third edition, then adding more in their fifth and sixth edition codexes.

The Red Terror
"Emperor knows what pit spawned the hideous apparition we came to know as the Red Terror. It first attacked the outer bastion and twenty-four men died before we drove it away with flamers. We never even found the bodies of Lieutenant Borales and Captain Lowe, just a trail of slime that led away from the command post and into the tunnels. It returned the following night, and the slaughter began anew, but this time we were ready for it… or so we thought."
— From Twenty Days in Hell, the Retreat from Devlan Primus

First encountered by Imperial forces during the Tyranid invasion of the mining world of Devlan Prime, the Red Terror preyed upon the local miners for weeks and massacred the Astra Militarum forces sent to investigate reports of the xenos menace. Resembling an overgrown Ravener with a carapace of deep crimson and a maw large enough to swallow a man whole, the Red Terror is capable of tunnelling through almost any material with terrifying speed. Since the Devlan Prime invasion, powerful tunnelling beasts with carapaces the colour of spilt blood have been reported fighting for a number of different hive fleets across the galaxy, slaughtering scores of troops before disappearing beneath the ground once again.

  • The Bus Came Back: The Red Terror was restored as a playable character in the 6th edition codex.
  • Legacy Character: On a meta-level. Raveners gained their ability to Deep Strike — flavored in-game as them burrowing up from below to attack their foes — and Trygons and Mawlocs gained their existence from this creature, who was originally the only one who could do it. Perhaps in homage, his entry in the 2014 codex notes that some Imperial scholars have suggested that the Red Terror may actually have been the first ever documented sighting of a Trygon and/or Mawloc.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe. What was the Red Terror? And what happened to it after Devlan Prime? Was it destroyed? Was it reassimilated and used to churn out the Trygons and/or Mawlocs? Or is it still out there, killing, and the Imperium doesn't know about it because nobody else has ever survived an encounter with it?
  • Put on a Bus: The Red Terror was removed as a playable model in the 4th edition codex, under the logic that a Hive Mind race shouldn't have special characters.
  • Swallowed Whole: Has the ability to do this, both in the background text and on the tabletop.

Old One Eye, the Beast of Calth
A monstrous Carnifex that spearheaded the Tyranid assault on Calth, Old One Eye quickly became infamous for its ability to ignore all but the most powerful of weapons turned against it and for its extraordinary regenerative capabilities. The beast's rampage was only brought to end by an unknown Imperial hero, who seemingly killed it with a direct hit from a plasma pistol to the eye. Decades later, the corpse of Old One Eye was discovered frozen in the ice of Calth only for it to revive and go on the rampage once again after being dug from its glacial resting place. Although the Beast of Calth was eventually hunted down by Sergeant Telion of the Ultramarines its body was never found and, in the years since, Carnifexes with similar abilities and patterns of scars have been reported accompanying multiple Hive Fleets.

  • Ax-Crazy: Even by Carnifex standards, Old One Eye is a frothing mad berserker.
  • Art Evolution: Old One Eye had its own variant of the 3rd edition "Grinfex" model, complete with unique body, arm and leg sculpts (in fact the only piece it shared with the stock Carnifex was the scything talons). This held through 5th edition, but 6th edition instead redesignated the current Carnifex kit as Old One Eye. This is notable because the kit was never designed to be Old One Eye in the first place, but had a head that represented him perfectly (a standard Carnifex head missing a portion of its face, revealing the skull). This change was because Old One Eye's original model no longer looked like the current Carnifex, and because GW has been phasing out older resin/metal kits and the current plastic kit was a dead ringer for him anyways.
  • The Bus Came Back: It was restored as a playable character in the 5th edition codex and has been playable since.
  • Eye Scream: It was a point-blank shot to the eye with a plasma pistol that brought down Old One Eye during the original Tyranid invasion of Calth, and gave it its name, burning away the beast's eye and incinerating its brain.
  • Giant Animal Worship: The Genestealer Behemoid Undercult worships Old One Eye alongside its own Patriarch, having found it trapped in ice on the fringes of Ultramar space and believing it to be a prophet of a xenos god they call Behemoth.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Kind of invokes this image, thanks to its crab-like pincered limbs.
  • Healing Factor: Infamous for it, In-Universe. In the third edition codex, it was the only Tyranid that could regenerate, whilst when it reappeared in the fifth edition codex, it had a version that worked more effectively than those of other Tyranids with the Regeneration biomorph, though it lost this in the 2014 codex.
  • Legacy Character: On a meta-level. Old One Eye's ability to regenerate and its unique crab-like crushing claws became standardly available biomorphs in all subsequent editions.
  • Monster in the Ice: It was believed dead after being shot in the eye, but was later found frozen in a glacier and went on a new rampage after being dug out. It eventually went missing again, but its body is rumored to have become once again entombed in ice on a different world where it is worshipped by a Genestealer cult.
  • Named After the Injury: It's named after its missing right eye and the patch of exposed bone around it, which were burned away by a shot from a plasma pistol and appear to be the only things that its Healing Factor can't regenerate.
  • Put on a Bus: Old One Eye was removed as a playable model in the 4th edition codex, under the logic that a Hive Mind race shouldn't have special characters.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: The empty eye-socket and exposed skull-patch from its first "death" is seemingly the only thing it can't regenerate.

The Swarmlord, Herald of the Hive Mind
The most powerful and dangerous Hive Tyrant to lead the swarms of the Great Devourer, the Swarmlord is spawned whenever the Hive Mind requires a greater level of tactical knowledge and leadership than an ordinary Hive Tyrant can provide. First encountered during the Battle for Macragge, the Swarmlord is a master of both combat and strategy that has masterminded the consumption of countless civilizations. Although it has been reported killed in action multiple times, the Swarmlord has been reincarnated time and again by the Hive Mind, with each new incarnation incorporating the experience of its previous lives to make it even more deadly.

  • Cool Sword: Four unique serrated blades of organic bone/chitin sculpted around living crystals from outside of our galaxy.
  • Dual Wielding: Exaggerated in that the Swarmlord quadwields its bone-sabers.
  • Hero Killer: "Hero" is a bit of a loose term, but it does kill the Overfiend of Octarius, breaking the back of the Ork resistance on the planet and allowing Hive Fleet Leviathan to finally claim a decisive victory in the Octariuan War.
  • Hive Queen: Zigzagged. It does have a greater level of individuality than any normal Tyranid, and it is created when the Tyranids need more direct control, knowledge and purpose than the Hive Mind can give. However, it is still merely an aspect of the Hive Mind, not the actual leader of the Tyranid race, and so killing it does nothing more than killing any other synapse creature.
  • The Leader: Or at least, the closest to the concept that we can understand.
  • Magic Knight: A powerful psyker and also very capable of curbstomping just about anything that gets into melee with it.
  • Never Found the Body: After the destruction of Hive Fleet Behemoth at the Battle of Macragge, the Swarmlord's body was never located. It's appeared on several battlefields afterwards, but it's unknown if it was killed and reincarnated, or simply managed to escape.
  • Resurrective Immortality: The Swarmlord differs from other Hive Tyrants in the fact it appears to be uniquely separate from the Hive Mind. Thought to be a very dangerous second opinion brought in only when the Hive Mind's usual strategiesnote  do not work on the foe it is currently fighting. What makes it unique is that while there are many Hive Tyrants, it's implied that there is only one Swarmlord at any given time, having its consciousness beamed across star systems on an as-needed basis. It's the sole Hive Tyrant that is not bound to any one hive fleet or ship.

The Doom of Malan'tai
A mutant Zoanthrope that fed on the life-force of other creatures, the Doom of Malan'tai was almost singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of the Aeldari craftworld of the same name. While the warrior-beasts of its hive ship assaulted the craftworld's defenders, the Doom tapped into Malan'tai's Infinity Circuit and devoured the spirits of the deceased Aeldari trapped within. Its power increased to titanic levels by its feast, the Doom became unstoppable, using its psychic abilities to slaughter those Aeldari who attempted to stand against it. When the ruined remains of Malan'tai was discovered years later it was nothing but a lifeless shell and there was no sign of the monster that destroyed it.

  • Degraded Boss: After the Doom of Malan'tai was removed from the 6th edition Tyranid codex, in November 2014 it was replaced by the Neurothrope, its 'uncountable progeny', which is a generic squad leader for Zoanthropes.
  • Demoted to Extra: Although no longer a playable model, the Doom has an entry in the Zoanthrope info page in the 6th edition codex.
  • Life Drain: In the fluff, the Doom did this to the souls in Malan'tai's Infinity Circuit. In-game, the Doom did this through its Spirit Leech rule, which was known to wipe out entire squads to give the Doom a ton of health back. The Neurothrope has a less-potent version of this ability.
  • Legacy Character: Much like Old One Eye and the Carnifex, it has been removed from the current edition and its ability instead appears on the Neurothrope upgrade for the Zoanthropes.
  • Put on a Bus: For legal reasons, the Doom was removed as a playable model in the 6th edition codex.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: Invoked in spirit, if not in word, by the Doom's assault on Malan'tai.

"It's there, I know it is, lurking in the shadows, stalking me like an animal. It's death itself I tell you, just watching me, waiting… Oh blessed Emperor, why won't it just kill me?"
— The ravings of Cardinal Salem

The Hive Mind's ultimate assassin and psychological weapon, Deathleaper was first encountered on the missionary world of St. Caspalen where its campaign of terror so utterly destroyed the morale of the world's defenders that they could barely put up much of a fight once Hive Fleet Leviathan invaded. Since the consumption of St. Caspalen, Lictors matching Deathleaper's appearance have been encountered alongside the vanguard organisms of a number of different hive fleets.

  • Chameleon Camouflage: Deathleaper has the most advanced chameleonic skin of any Tyranid organism, able to blend almost perfectly into its surrounding. How this is represented in-game varies depending on the edition but generally make Deathleaper more difficult to hit with ranged attacks.
  • Don't Create a Martyr: Although it is the greatest assassination organism that the Hive Mind has ever produced, Deathleaper will refrain from killing its target if their death would galvanise a world's defenders. During the invasion of St. Caspalen, for example, Deathleaper refused to kill the planet's spiritual leader, Cardinal Salem, and drove him mad instead. The resulting confusion and morale damage this caused ensured the planet was consumed within days.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe, this is its function.

The Parasite of Mortrex
The Parasite was a unique flying abomination encountered on the fortress world of Mortrex, a linchpin of the Imperial defence of the Segmentum Ultima. The grotesque bioform earned its name and its legendary reputation for its ability to implant its victims with larval feeder organisms that would rapidly grow to maturity, devouring their host from the inside out. Within two weeks of its appearance, Mortrex was overrun by an unending tide of the Parasite's ravenous Ripper offspring.

  • Ascended Extra: Come 9th Edition, the Parasite has been given a plastic model and new rules.
  • The Bus Came Back: For legal reasons, the Parasite was removed as a playable model in the 6th edition codex. However, it has been brought back in the 9th edition codex.
  • Demoted to Extra: Despite not being a playable model at the time, the Parasite had an entry in the 6th edition codex.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: It used its barbed ovipositor to implant Ripper eggs into its victims.
  • Explosive Breeder: The original Parasite produced enough Ripper offspring to overrun and consume the whole Fortress World of Mortrex in two weeks, more or less by itself.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: Can inject larval Rippers into victims through its tail-stinger.
  • Mook Maker: Those killed by its Implant attack create new bases of Ripper Swarms.
  • Uniqueness Decay: Its return in the 9th edition codex revealed that, rather than being a single organism, the Parasite of Mortrex is in fact a whole genus of Tyranid fliers. Players are now allowed to field more than one such beast in their armies.

The Zoats first appeared in the galaxy as heralds of the Tyranid hive fleets, as a centaur-like slave race engineered by the Tyranids to serve as scouts and information-gatherers and to subvert target civilizations in order to lesser their resistance to the swarms. To do this, the Zoats were given a much greater degree of independence and intellect than common drones; however, this also tended to lead to their rebelling against the Hive Mind, their greater sense of self-preservation balking at the thought of reabsorption, and breaking free to pursue their own independent goals.

Eventually, however, the Hive Mind ceased to produce Zoats altogether, giving their old role to the more reliable Genestealers. The majority of the fledgeling Zoat states and civilizations were either consumed by the swarms or wiped out by the Imperium, and in the modern day these creatures are all but extinct. Only a handful of individuals survive, enduring in hidden corners of the galaxy and pursuing unknown agendas.

In real life, Zoats were an early unit type in the game's First Edition, during which nearly half a Tyranid force had to be made out of Zoats. They were never popular and didn't make the transition to the next edition, with only a few references to them being dropped in the background of the third edition. They afterwards remained entirely absent from the franchise until 2018, when a Zoat character was released for the board game Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress.
  • The Bus Came Back: After being absent from the tabletop for nearly 30 years, 2020 saw the release of an updated Zoat model for the Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress Gaiden Game.
  • The Chessmaster: In Liber Xenologica, zoats are described as subtle beings who manipulate other societies from behind the scenes, enacting complex schemes and seeding double and secret agents in order to guide worlds towards goals only they understand.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: They were quietly dropped when the second edition was released. Details about their removal went unremarked until a footnote in the third edition explained their fate: being consumed by the Hive Fleets as they have outlived their usefulness.
  • Continuity Nod: Hive Fleet Colossus, given a few references in various rulebooks, is described as having centaur-like organisms, conch-like hiveships, painfully grafted symbiotic weapon organisms, technological weaponry absorbed and incorporated from other races it has overrun, and the ability to telepathically community with each other and with other races. Though not explicitly called Zoats, the description fits, and Games Workshop's own (old) conversion guide makes it pretty clear that is what they represent.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The Tyranids created them as a semi-independent group to go ahead of the Hive Fleets as vanguards and disrupt targets for consumption. Their independence led to them revolting against the Tyranids, but they were quickly wiped out as the Hive Fleets caught up to them. The few who survived were spotted in Tyranid swarms, but their numbers dwindled as the Hive Fleets evolved to no longer need them.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: They never made it past the first edition, as the March of Characterization from the Tyranids made them incompatible.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: Zoats can only breathe in very specific atmospheric conditions, and thus when not in a controlled environment like their ships they wear rebreathers.
  • Mouth of Sauron: The Zoats were to be harbingers of the Hive Fleet, letting others know that the Tyranids were coming for them and encouraging prey planets to surrender to the inevitable.
  • Organic Technology: They use much of this, although to a less animated extent than the Hive Fleets. For example, their ships are organic, but not Living Ships, having their hull grown like a shell, then hollowed out and having more conventional technology built into it. Their ability to freely combine both organic technology and conventional technology allowed the Tyranid forces to employ things like bolters and missile launchers, in addition to their more usual fare.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: The Zoats follow the typical centaur body form, but are reptilian creatures whose quadruped lower body resembles a short-tailed sauropod dinosaur.
  • Servant Race: They originated as lizard-like slaves to a Horde of Alien Locusts.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Due to their possessing much more independence than common Tyranid biomorphs, Zoats often rebelled against the Hive Mind and attempted to establish their own realms in the galaxy, often actively coming into conflict with Tyranid swarms seeking to consume them.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Hive Fleets phased them out due to the Zoats being too independent-minded to make good agents.

We cannot live through this. Mankind cannot live through this. In a single day they have covered the surface of this planet with a flood of living blades and needle-fanged mouths. Kill one and ten take its place. If they are truly without number then our race is doomed to a violent death before every shred of our civilization is scoured away by a force more voracious than the fires of hell themselves! Death! By the Machine God, Death is here!