Aspect Warriors are Eldar who have chosen to walk the Path of the Warrior, and thus to defend their craftworlds from aggression and to destroy the enemies of the Eldar. They comprise the vast majority of the Eldar military and are separated into different branches called Aspects, each one of which specializes in a certain method of killing things.
Aspect Warriors focus themselves to hone their martial abilities psychically, which creates a portion of their consciousness called a War Mask. This mental mask protects their minds against the horrors of war. This has the advantage of essentially protecting them from PTSD and turning them into stone-cold killers even if they were raw recruits who have never fought in battle before. A War Mask can be "removed" after the warrior has left the battlefield and he can return to his life as if nothing had happened afterwards.
However, due to Eldar anal-retentiveness, sometimes it can lead them to become utterly obsessed with their jobs, and Aspect Warriors can become incapable of separating their War Masks from their everyday personalities. Such warriors are known as Exarchs, and they lead squads of Aspect Warriors. Despite their leadership roles and badassery, other Eldar (and most Exarchs themselves) tend to pity and mourn them, as their original personalities are all but dead, supplanted by the battle focus of their War Masks, incapable of any emotions not related to their Aspect. Soulstones are placed in the armour of an Exarch to collect his knowledge of war, and these stones are then passed to other Exarchs so that the deceased warrior can share his knowledge and skills. In this way, Exarchs not only lose their personalities but are also denied the proper afterlife of the Eldar... such as it is.
The rest of the Eldar army is composed of Guardians. These are not professional full-time soldiers, but rather civilian militia conscripted from other Paths of the Eldar. These individuals do not have a War Mask and typically have their minds shielded by a Warlock who has been an Aspect Warrior in the past to prevent the sensations of battle from overwhelming them (because seriously, who wants to stand beside a dedicated dreamer or mourner on the battlefield?). In addition, Guardians get assigned to more generalized or less hazardous tasks that Aspect Warriors would be wasted on.
Aspect Warrior Types
All Aspect Warriors fight according to one of the aspects of Kaela Mensha Khaine, the Eldar god of war. Each Aspect was founded by a warrior known as a Phoenix Lord, who serves as the ultimate embodiment of that Aspect.
Dire Avengers were the first Aspect Warrior path and the original founder of their temple was Asurmen, the first Phoenix Lord. They are good all-round troops. In battle Dire Avengers operate in squads of five to ten warriors, which sometimes includes an Exarch, and can ride into battle within a Wave Serpent transport. These patient, methodical warriors are equally well suited for both offensive and defensive operations. Their training gives them the uncanny ability to read the ebb and flow of battle, knowing when to press the attack or feign retreat and fall back, luring their foes into a carefully prepared ambush. Dire Avengers are also trained in hand-to-hand techniques though, with the exception of their Exarchs, this is not the main focus of their training. When forced to conduct close combat Dire Avengers carry deadly ceremonial knives as a weapon of last resort. These blades are more traditionally used in ceremonies conducted prior to and after battle.
They have an uncanny knack of knowing when to follow this onslaught with a lightning-fast assault and when to carefully draw the enemy forward onto their blades. It is rare to find an Eldar force without a squad of these extravagant peacock heads at its heart.
Because of their adaptability Dire Avengers are also the most common Aspect Warriors used to conduct special missions outside of normal combat. These can range from recovering an ancient artifact, aiding Exodites from an incursion by Greenskins to acting as bodyguards for a Farseer to even conducting business with the Inquisition, who are sneaky, manipulative, and judgmental like the Eldar.
When not at war or embarked upon missions, the Dire Avengers spend much of their time at their Aspect Shrine, meditating upon battle, studying the tactics and strategies of their ancestors, and practicing their skills at arms. The ritual masks and armour that Aspect Warriors wear set them apart as the elite soldiers of their race.
A Dire Avenger Exarch can be upgraded with a power weapon or Diresword, or some sort of miniature void-shield. They are given Avenger Shuriken Catapults and Aspect Armour, which gives them a decent save in comparison to other Eldar, and an increase on the range of their Shuriken catapults. They represent Khaine in his aspect as a noble warrior.
The second Aspect temple created was that of the Howling Banshees, founded by Jain Zar. Their namesake comes from Eldar mythology, in which banshees are warp apparitions that foreshadow doom with their loud cries.
As the story goes, Morai-Heg, the Crone Goddess, wanted to drink her own divine blood and learn all of knowledge stored in it. But the only creature capable of harming a deity was Khaine, who actually didn't want to help her out. So she sent her daughters to bitch and whine at Khaine until he relented and cut off her hand to shut her up. In return, he kept ownership rights to the Banshees and created an aspect.
Howling Banshees specialize in melee combat and carry power swords and Shuriken pistols. Each Banshee wears a Banshee mask, which amplifies the wearer's battle cries into a psychic scream that disorients targets, giving the Banshees the initiative and allowing them to live up to their namesake as the screaming harbingers of bloody murder. A Banshee Exarch may wield twin powerblades, a power sword and boomerang, or a badass Executioner, which is basically an Eldar power naginata. High initiative (as high as Slaanesh-marked Chaos Space Marines) and power weapons make them big trouble for power-armored foes. They are also a favored target of fa/tg/uy lusts due to their...form-fitting armor.
On the tabletop, Howling Banshees have had a rough time of things since their 4th edition rules, due to being fragile at T3 with a 4+ save, striking at S3 when their main targets (Marines) have a toughness of 4 or better, not having quite enough weight of attack to deal with large numbers of enemies, and having Initiative and WS values only somewhat better than their targets of choice (and inferior to Wyches, who serve much the same role in Dark Eldar armies). This is compounded by a lack of assault grenades to strike first against enemies in cover or assault transports to bring them to their opponents safely.
6th edition slapped them hard right off the bat with the new power weapons rules, the many nerfs to assault (not being able to run and charge was especially devastating), and a restriction that only allows them to bring swords. They got a lateral buff at best with the new book, which really didn't fix their old problems but improved their competition (buffing Scorpions a bit and introducing Wraithblades). The Exarchs did get quite a lot better, but now, like Genestealers, they have been reduced to glorified sergeant escorts.
The new 7th edition codex gave them a rather significant buff—they still don't have plasma grenades, but they now ignore cover when charging and can charge further. Also, their masks now suppress overwatch fire, which helps them out quite a bit, especially against shooty folks like Tau, or units with multiple flamers.
Furthermore, the entire Eldar book and indeed the meta as a whole really isn't lacking for AP3 killing capacity, thus further ensuring that the primary role Banshees will fill is that of shelf decoration—a cruel fate for one of the most iconic Eldar units that is seen in virtually all media involving them and is one of the first things that comes to mind when the Eldar are brought up. Although, given the similar prominence and screwing over of the Bloodletter for Chaos armies, the Warrior for Tyranids, or Tactical Terminators for Space Marines, they at least have company in misery.
8th edition changed them up by re-introducing the move stat which has finally allowed GW to do away with the million and one awkward rules that modify how fast a unit goes while still having everyone move six inches base and just do the sensible fucking thing of making that a stat. The only remaining mystery is why they ever removed the move stat in the first place. With a movement stat of eight, being able to charge after advancing, and getting three extra inches on their charge distance, Banshees can threaten anything within an average of twenty one and a half inches. Or more if you pick the Red and therefore fastest craftworld. They also have outright immunity to overwatch (suck it Tau!) and as long as the Exarch is in play, enemies have a -1 penalty to hit them in close combat. This Makes CQC units, which generally hit on a 3+ now hit on a 4+ and combined with stratagems and psychic powers hitting these bastards can become pretty hard.
However at S3 and only two attacks base with a S:User AP-2 weapon and a Shuriken pistol, they still struggle to kill their supposed intended target of MEQs. With banshees only hitting two out of three times, wounding only one out of three times, and getting deflected by MEQ pauldrons one out of three times, they're rather shockingly bad at killing Space Marines. Banshees need psyker support or else basic bitch Necron Warriors will tie up the brides of Khaine all game long. With Psyker support, they're definitely quite handy, and their Exarch is one hell of a brutal and killy melee beatstick. But you might still be left wondering if your points aren't better spent on Striking Scorpions or Wraithblades. Which they aren't, Banshees are dirt cheap at a mere 13pts/model and serve not so much as a combat unit but as a harbinger for your more meatier combat unit.
As has been the case for basically as long as M3 has been a thing, the Banshee has been let down by not having enough attacks or a high enough strength value to outpreform the Striking Scorpion convincingly enough to take them over them outside of situational cases. At this rate, it'll actually be the forty second millennium before GW realizes that a Space Marine's toughness score is just as much a part of their defence as their armour save and that S3 power weapons are exceedingly mediocre at killing Marines without a lot of wounds to throw around.
They represent Khaine in his aspect as a harbinger of doom.
The Eldar answer to Khorne Berserkers and Ork Boyz. Their founder was Arhra, but he was said to have been too driven by murderous impulses, and so he went renegade and burned down the first Aspect Temple (the one belonging to Asurmen). It was Karandras who took his place and tempered their killing rage with patience so that they became stalking serial killers instead.
Compared to their closest cousins and fellow hoes, the Howling Banshees, Striking Scorpions are not as swift but instead more adept at moving through dense terrain, using every available nook and crevice to lie in wait of the enemy before unleashing their attack.
They are sneaky dudes with chainswords, Shuriken pistols and Mandiblasters built into their helmets. They can take a beating almost as well as they can dish it out. The Exarch can take a bigger, badder chainsword which grants +2S or a powerfisty Scorpion's Claw, which doesn't slow him like Mon-Keigh fists, and with proper training the Exarch can hit with it as hard as Marines with their fists.
You may wonder why are they so sneaky if they carry what counts as a jet engine on a sword? Well, the best and reasonable answer is that they can sneak up on you without you hearing their chainswords. Because Eldar chainswords trigger only after making contact with the target. Because that is smarter than Mon-Keigh chainsword design.
The Aspect Armor of the Striking Scorpions is similar in construction to that of other Aspect Shrines, but incorporates heavier, rigid armor plating for increased protection. While the extra weights means Scorpions are not as swift as their Howling Banshee sisters, the protection they provide is such that even Bolters are virtually useless against them, requiring concentrated fire from multiple weapons in order to bring down Striking Scorpions. The armor's coloring is predominately green, with different patterns of yellow, black or orange depending on each individual Shrine.
Striking Scorpions represent Khaine in his aspect as a silent hunter. They are also said to represent Gork and Mork in their aspect of being green, ded killy, 'ard as nailz choppy-dakka murdermachines. Being basically ELFGRU-6 ninjas they are the closest thing the Aspect Warriors have to Reasonable Marines, although not quite so reasonable as to stoop to using camocloaks like Rangers do.
As of 8th edition they do mortal wounds. I'm not shitting you.
Fire Dragons are said to represent the mythical dragons who basically just destroyed EVERYTHING indiscriminately.
They specialize in destroying enemy war machines and fixed fortifications, as well as rooting out heavily-armored infantry and weapon emplacements. In this role each Fire Dragons wields a mighty Fusion Gun, capable of reducing an enemy to a cloud of superheated vapour in a second, or a battle tank into a pile of molten slag. Against targets too tough for even these weapons the Fire Dragons carry Melta Bombs, disc-shaped bombs which can be attached to any surface and detonated on command. However, the short range of their weaponry limits the Fire Dragons' effectiveness, especially when speed and tactical flexibility are needed. It is also the reason Fire Dragon Aspect Armour is thicker compared to a Dire Avenger's, including many spiny protrusions which make it stiffer and more resilient, so that the wearer can properly close with the enemy and deliver death and destruction upon them. Fire Dragon armor is painted in fiery colors, such as red or orange.
Despite being scary mofo's, they seem to be inconsistent in their fluff. From the aforementioned fiery death machines as mentioned above, to incompetent idiots whose Fusion Guns are so ineffective that they couldn't even get passed through a hastily constructed barricade made from scrap metal and cardboard...then again this was written by a certain Irish Leper.
If they get within 12 inches of anything AV14 and below, it's going to blow up within the turn. Dragons are armed with either a fusion gun, which operates like an Imperial meltagun, or a fire pike, which is basically a long-range fusion gun. Their Exarch can also take a Dragon's Breath flamer weapon, but only if he wants to lose his only use on the battlefield. They also carry melta bombs to allow them to take out tanks on the charge.
Their Phoenix Lord, Fuegan, is the bestest tank destroyer out there, better even than railguns and Leman Russ Vanquishers. He's also a beatstick in CC, carrying a burning axe that lets him fight like a monstrous creature. An often overlooked aspect (pun not intended) of Fire Dragons is that they train in demolition, sabotage, anti-tank warfare (i.e., identifying the weak spots of armored vehicles and fortifications), and siege warfare.
They represent Khaine in his aspect as a careless destroyer.
The story goes that Khaine once battled the Nightbringer and wounded him. The injury caused shards of the C'Tan's being to migrate into the psyche of all of the races of the galaxy (except Orks), instilling the fear of death in all mortals. And according to the ancient tome known as Wikipedia, this urgent fear of death was what eventually precipitated the birth of the Chaos Gods, CAUSING the very grimdark the 40k universe feeds on in the first place...WAY TO GO, Khaine! In return, these shards pierced Khaine's body and he gained a new aspect as the Destroyer.
The Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra founded this aspect. (Which is a bit weird, because Ra himself handles...absolutely nothing like his aspect.) He was said to be obsessed with death and stood apart from his fellow Phoenix Lords in that respect. Dark Reapers are something like a hybrid of Dire Avengers and Fire Dragons. Use them to kill MEQs and AV10-all around vehicles. The Exarch can take a big missile launcher of the type only seen on support platforms or Wraithlords, but with moar dakka.
On the tabletop, Dark Reapers are essentially a squad of AP3 Heavy Bolters with T3, good accuracy, and a 3+ save. This means that they are very good against MEQs and have the range and weight of fire to be dangerous to lighter but more numerous infantry and annoy heavier infantry, as well as 3+ save monstrous creatures. The Exarch can either use a Shuriken weapon (never do this) or a missile launcher that he can double tap and has all the same warheads as its Imperial counterpart (with the exception of the frag warhead being replaced by the better plasma warhead).
Dark Reapers are good at what they do, but they face competition from other Eldar heavy support considering cover saves are now everywhere, the entire codex is now excellent at Marine slaying, and their slot is shared with the more versatile War Walkers, Wraithknights, Fire Prisms, Night Spinners, other assorted Forge World Eldar tanks, and Vaul's Wrath batteries. The Eldar heavy support slot can be filled with excellent units and each of your three/six slots are precious. So while the Dark Reaper is by no means bad, it's a good unit that has to compete with a lot of excellent units.
6th edition brought back something they haven't had since 2nd: Krak missiles. With long range anti-tank missiles available and an increase in squad size, their scores just went up.
Of course, you can now throw the FoC out the window (or, even better, use the Aspect host for +1BS), so have fun with them.
As of 8th edition, they are possibly one of the best Heavy Support units in the game. Regardless of all to-hit buffs on the enemy or debuffs thrown on them, they gained a special rule that specifically states that they always hit on a 3+. Period. Considering they have either single hitting S8 shots or multi-hitting S5 blasts that do multiple wounds per hit, they can effectively end most non-horde infantry and vehicles down wind of them.
They represent Khaine in his aspect as inescapable death.
Shining Spears are the fastest and most specialized Aspect, striking at ridiculous speeds and withdrawing in a flash. Shining Spears can be distinguished from all of the other Eldar Warrior Aspects for they are the only Aspect Warriors to make use of anti-gravity Jetbikes. The Shining Spears carry the fight directly to the enemy, pouncing upon them without warning to deliver a killing blow. Until recently, nobody knew their Phoenix Lord, but he has since been named as Drastanta. He went missing after the fall of the first aspect temple, so you still can't use him on the tabletop.
While Shining Spear squads are relatively small, just three to five warriors, a number which sometimes includes an Exarch to lead them, their mastery of the Eldar Jetbike is so complete that each one can execute complex high-speed maneuvers with but a single gesture. In this way even a small unit of Shining Spears can turn the tide of battle, delivering a devastating charge against the enemy before wheeling around for another attack, much like Exodite Dragon Knights.
The Shining Spears possess a bright and clear virtue that marks each one out as a warrior hero and a champion of the Eldar race. Eldar mythology is replete with examples of noble heroes at one with their steed and in the Shining Spears, the glories of legend are made manifest once more.
Exarchs wear more elaborate and ornate versions of Aspect Armour which incorporates the spirits of their past wearers, granting an Exarch not only wisdom and knowledge stretching across the millennia but a raw pool of potent psychic energy that can be used in combat.
Shining Spears ride Jetbikes into battle and wield laser lances (unusual power weapons), and the Exarch can take a Star Lance for a more powerful stat line.
They represent Khaine in his aspect as a light-speed blade.
In Eldar mythology, hawks point out those marked by guilt so that everyone will know their crimes and judge them accordingly.
Of all the Aspect Shrines the Swooping Hawks are among the most mobile, thanks to their Swooping Hawk Wings, which allow them to lift off into the air at a moment's notice and fly across the battlefield.
The speed and agility this gives the Swooping Hawks more than makes up for the fact that their Aspect Armour, compared to that worn by other Shrines, is thinner and offers less protection. The armor is typically colored like the sky, such as a pale blue or grey, with contrasting colors as well, especially on the wings.
Once used only for yo-yo grenade bombing, Hawks are now kings of glancing vehicles to death, being fast, decently armored, and equipped with haywire grenades. With the new codex update, they can grenade bomb while perfectly deep striking, and their Eldar flashlights became surprisingly terrifying through the sheer number of shots they deliver.
They are noted to be transported by a special Eldar craft called a Shooting Star which ferry Swooping Hawk Aspect Warriors onto a planetary battlefield. They briefly enter a planet's atmosphere where they remain undetected due to a complex cloaking system that masks them from enemy scans. Once in the atmosphere, their cargo hold of Swooping Hawks free fall to the surface, before the Shooting Stars return to their Craftworld.
They represent Khaine in his aspect as a precise predator.
Warp Spiders are named for the beings of pure energy that inhabit the Infinity Circuit and travel through its links in the Webway, purging it of foreign influences (such as daemons or psychic intruders). Though they are identified as Aspect Warriors, it is not entirely known what Khaine's connection to the Warp Spiders is, since they do not have a fixed Phoenix Lord and it has been established in Gav Thorpe's Paths of the Eldar series that Khaine's influence has no place in the Webway, which in fact is why Exarchs and Phoenix Lords count as mini-Infinity Circuits on their own.
C.S Goto's contentious book Eldar Prophecy presented Lhykosidae, whose armour materialised spontaneously at the Warp Spiders' shrine during a time of crisis when he was most needed, rather than being a suit of armour that gets passed from bearer to bearer, adding personalities to the sentience within the suit. If Lhykosidae is a Phoenix Lord born of the Webway, then his personality would have to be the gestalt consciousness of the ENTIRE SPECIES. Fucking Goto. That said, his title is "Wraith Spider", not Phoenix Lord, so (at least for now) we can readily get away with rejecting the idea that he's a Phoenix Lord.
The Eldar's premier jetpack infantry, Warp Spiders use the warp to teleport from place to place, allowing them to strike at their enemies from virtually any location in the blink of an eye. Their guns are called death spinners, which fire a mist of monomolecular threads that expand and slice through flesh and light infantry armor on contact with little effort. While this makes the Spiders fairly unreliable against power-armored units since the spinners' threads can't penetrate it properly (although they get an AP1 version of the Bladestorm rule... why AP1 when that only matters against vehicles is anyone's guess), they are nevertheless a frightening foe against the likes of Guardsmen and Gaunts, and are surprisingly effective against vehicles, especially if they get to their vulnerable rear armor (which is not a big deal with such mobility). Their Exarch is given two death spinners which are attached to the back of his armor for mobility and two power blades which he holds for close combat, though on the tabletop, he's generally outclassed in assault by any unit that can melee better than a Guardsman.
May represent Khaine in his aspect as an eternal guardian of the Eldar and Webway.
The Shadow Spectres are a newer Aspect, thought lost until the armor of their Phoenix Lord, Irillyth, was recovered from an Imperial world, as chronicled in Forge World's Imperial Armour Volume Eleven: The Doom of Mymeara and is noted to be one of the most Derp of the Phoenix Lords.
They fly around on jetpacks and wear holofields, making them look kind of like ghosts, if ghosts also shot prismatic lasers of doom.
Their weaponry is fairly high-strength as infantry weapons go (especially for Fast Attack infantry), and they can combine their beams into a super-beam of death that gets more powerful as more of them join it (in fact, the technology is the same as the Fire Prism's main cannon).
The Shadow Spectres make use of a unique, complex targeting matrix known as the Ghostlight. This matrix further amplifies the effective range and power of the warriors' already-formidable weaponry.
When used, the Ghostlight will allow a Spectre squad to combine the beams of their Prism Rifles into a single, brilliant torrent of energy; the additional power allows the squad to fire a single incredibly long-ranged shot, allowing them to hit distant targets.
Between their ghost-like appearance and name, and their tendency to become Wraithguard after they die, they represent Khaine's aspect as an eternal warrior, even after death.
Tl;dr, Shadow Spectres are essentially the Dark Reapers of vehicles.
Unfortunately, the 7th edition codex has enshrined Warp Spiders as the Eldar solution to Jetpack Infantry, which is clearly why Forge World invented these guys.
8th Edition gave these guys quite the overhaul. They've lost their Ghostlight abilities, but can fire their prism rifles multiple times in the Coherent mode as long as they keep landing their shots. They also shifted into the Elite category for some reason.
A fairly new aspect but one on the rise. Rather than a blade or a gun the Hunters use a jet fighter called the Nightshade Interceptor. No Phoenix Lord has been mentioned for them, but it may be Amon Harakht, who was mentioned once as the Phoenix Lord of the Eagle Pilots.
Crimson Hunters are trained to become exceptional pilots, endlessly practicing all sorts of maneuvers as well as marksmanship. The Crimson Hunter's Nightshades are armed with two Bright Lances and a Pulse Laser. The Crimson Hunters are few in number, though their Shrines are becoming more widespread.
These temples of Khaine are unlike any other for they are tunnel-like collections of transparent atriums that float around the periphery of their Craftworlds, allowing the Crimson Hunters and their recruits to freely train in their aircraft.
Crimson Hunters are known to give special veneration to the Eldar God Kurnous, often calling themselves the Hawks of Kurnous.
Crimson Hunters are known to give some Eldar penis envy with them being the only aspect able to pilot a pretty cool jetfighter while the rest are bogged down on the ground. As a side effect, they have even smaller balls than the already almost balless species of the Eldar.
They represent the Blinding Blades of Khaine, which were forged from the blood that constantly drips from his hands. They strike at the weakest points and leave the enemy easy prey for the close kill, therefore bringing down foes who think themselves above him.
Whether these are actually Aspect Temples, have been retconned out, or were once supposed to be something, nobody knows.
- Slicing Orbs of Zandros: The strangest Aspect ever to be named. They were apparently *oooooOOOOOOooooo* mystEEEEEEEEyrious. But seriously, they just sound silly. They're still around, though, don't worry. Ever see "Phantasm"? That's probably their weapon of choice.
- Crystal Dragons: Probably became the Fire Dragons.
- Eagle Pilot: Probably navy fighter pilots. They're a subsect of the Shining Spears that pilot the Eldar fighter craft.
- Ebon Talons: mentioned in Asurmen: Hand of Asuryan.
- Void Dreamers: Apparently the Eldar version of Imperial navigators, but for the webway.