"The foreign policy aim of ants can be summed up as follows: restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible. If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week."
- – Zoologist Bert Holldobler
"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."
"The only good bug is a dead bug."
- – Starship Troopers (1997)
The Tyranids (often shortened to simply nids) are a race of extragalactic "alien locust" in Warhammer 40k, that seemingly exist only to devour biomass, evolve into a more perfect species and grow in numbers. They are extremely adaptable, and frequently engineer and modify traits and characteristics in their genome, by devouring other unfortunate species into their own, in order to improve their combat effectiveness and survival. As a result, they are constantly evolving and becoming more dangerous. The Tyranids are most commonly seen in the galaxy in the form of Hive Fleets, large collections of space faring organisms that are capable of transporting and birthing the smaller strains of the species, as they travel from world to world, attack and consume all biomass on/in that planet, leaving it a lifeless rock. Even bacteria and archaea are consumed from the atmosphere. They are probably one of the oldest races when you think about it, and are, together with Orks and Necrons (if they don't nom the Orks and maybe destroy the Necrons), probably going to win this galactic war. For this reason pretty much every faction in the galaxy sees Tyranids as the ultimate threat and would ally even with their sworn enemies to fight them. They're originally named after Imperial frontier planet Tyran, where they were first officially reported to the Imperium, thus the name Tyranid became their Xeno designation.
Across the Galaxy however, these extra-galactic terrors are known by many names, one of the most common being The Great Devourer, a name which inspires fear across the materium. The Eldar know the the Hive Fleets as The Great Dragon, a nightmarish monster of legend come to destroy all things. The Leagues of Votann spitefully call the Tyranids The Bane, a title they earned after their catastrophic first contact with the Kin. The T'au call them Y'he and discovered that they could not get them to join their cause.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Chaos and Tyranids
- 3 'Masters of Evolution'?
- 4 Tyranid Biology
- 5 Major Hive Fleets
- 6 Tyranids On the Table
- 7 See Also
- 8 Gallery
"This isn't a war," said the artilleryman. "It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants."
- – H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Before they arrived to this galaxy, the Tyranids were probably lying dormant in intergalactic space because there was nothing there to consume (probably). Despite this, they had sentinel organisms, looking constantly for any sign of life in distant galaxies. We actually don't know how many galaxies they have already left bare - most of the facts behind their origin and backstory that we have on them are simply not more than speculation and conjectures. It could be that we have only seen a fraction of their numbers, or that said current numbers are all there is. We simply don't know.
The Tyranids have hibernated until they were triggered by, and attracted to, concentrated sources of psychic energy like moths to a lightbulb. One of them was the Astronomican, the psychic signature of the Emperor of Mankind spanning throughout the entire galaxy. Also, In the 30k Horus Heresy era, an alien device known as the Pharos on the Ultramarine realm planet of Sotha sent up a huge psychic energy pulse, effectively giving the Milky Way a big neon sign that called it an all-you-can-eat buffet (note that this is only known to the reader--the multitude of characters in the 30k and 40k eras had no inkling of just what was coming nor who or what actually called them). Thus the Tyranids set off, taking roughly the next 10,000 years to do so, but just who would be insane or evil enough to summon such an apocalyptic force of alien nature to the Milky Way? A pretty cool guy who had no idea about what he would eventually call to dinner, actually. Still, the possibility that the Tyranids are retreating from something more terrifying than even them remains open as of now.
The Tyranid species is mentally connected and controlled by the extremely powerful and near godlike HIVE MIND. The Hive Mind is the collective consciousness of the entire Tyranid race, a psychic embodiment of Tyranid instincts and racial imperatives: to devour and evolve. It is so powerful that its mere presence (the Shadow in the Warp) makes even psykers and Chaos shit their metaphysical brains out in terror. The power of the Hive Mind is such that it casts a stifling influence over the Warp in the area, and therefore, warp travel becomes almost impossible. Hence it is that a world that finds itself a target of a Hive Fleet is unable to call for help or receive reinforcements by the time it detects the Hive Fleet's presence. This super consciousness allows their forces to move with a unity of purpose and cohesion that makes them extremely dangerous. The individual intelligence of different strains of the species is variable, however, and many of the smaller species lack the psychic power to communicate over long distances, and so the swarm relies on larger organisms, the so-called "Synapse Creatures", to act as relays and communication nodes in the psychic network (if the Hive Mind is the Internet (Internid), then synapse creatures are ISPs (ISynaPse) and routers (router-warriors)?). Outside of the range of a synapse creature, such as a Tyranid Warrior or a Hive Tyrant, smaller varieties such as those found within the Gaunt genus revert to animalistic behavior. However, certain strains, such as the Genestealer or the Lictor, are designed to be able to spend long periods of time beyond the reach of the Hive Mind, and are consequently considerably more intelligent and autonomous than other Tyranid organisms.
The normal Tyranid modus operandi is to locate a delicious looking planet, usually by following the psychic emanations of vanguard organisms like the Genestealers, who are sent ahead as scouts to infiltrate and form cults while obtaining genetic information about the local species (hence the name Gene-stealer), drawing the fleet towards a viable target. The Tyranids are capable of non-Warp-based FTL travel, which they achieve by using gravity to manipulate spacetime and travel extremely quickly towards large gravity wells such as stars, and once they are relatively close, they must rely on STL travel to close the gap with their target. Once they reach the world, infinite swarms of creatures flood down to the surface to overwhelm all resistance and consume the planet's population and resources in a manner reminiscent of a Korean StarCraft champion performing the devastating "Zerg Rush" (Note that the Zerg were supposedly based on Tyranids, which in turn were based on aliens from movies like Starship Troopers and Alien. All these organisms are based on eusocial Hive insects such as the order Hymenoptera, which includes ants, bees etc.) In the later stages of the invasion, the Fleet manipulates the planet's biosphere and seeds it with aggressive plant life that grows extremely rapidly and assimilate all nutrition/life left on the planet, which is then consumed by the creatures of the swarm and massive feeding tentacles/tubes, dropped by Tyranid bio-ships in low orbit, and hence conveyed to the Hive Fleet as a whole. The fleet literally grows in size and mass, and moves on to the next planet.
This makes the Tyranids a very dangerous foe to fight. Even the Imperial Guard and Orks will find it difficult to beat them in a war of attrition, as individual losses are meaningless to the bugs (actually gribbles, according to Warhammer 40k' official Facebook page). As long as they are able to recover the biomass of the dead, it is simply recycled into new warriors and ships. It's worth noting that going against technological species results in less and less recycled biomass, so a Hive Fleet assaulting a high-tech heavily fortified fortress loses some of its total biomass bit-by-bit, but there are few cases where the Tyranids really bite off more than they can chew (well... as per the backstories of the codices, tyranids are good only for one thing: to be beaten by literally everything. And as per the rules.... well, same here). Even a Hive Fleet that has taken terrible losses and is forced to retreat may soon return to terrorize strong worlds as capturing and consuming a few poorly defended backwater planets is all that is required for them to replenish their forces. Even Hive Fleets considered defeated by the Imperium may still be dangerous, as the splinter elements that have survived may continue to infest worlds in the region. It is worth noting that in the rare event that two different Tyranid fleets encounter each other, they are apt to attack each other. This is generally believed to be some sort of Darwinian selection mechanism to compare the competitiveness of the traits the individual fleets have accumulated, with the victorious fleet consuming the other, absorbing their best traits, and culturing a deadly hybrid with the best of both worlds.
So far, only fragments of Tyranid Hive Fleets have made it to this galaxy, and they were given monstrous names such as "Behemoth" and "Leviathan" and ate untold numbers of planets before finally being destroyed or stalled. It's also known that these are merely scouting fleets for the unimaginably large swarm that has yet to arrive, still currently in transit from another galaxy (Imperial scholars suppose them to be either en route from a galaxy they successfully scoured of all life, or retreating from some force even nastier than they are). Noted Imperial scholars believe that the only possible plan that stands any chance against the arrival of this force involves giving a melta gun to everyone that has hands and praying to the God-Emperor for the best. They have been expected to arrive on Terra's doorstep any day now for years, being stalled by a force even more malicious then they are: GW's refusal to move the story forward.
And if they intend to retcon the above so that Leviathan is in fact the main force, they can easily write it off as ravings of a crazed Inquisitor.
Following in the footsteps of the Hive Fleets before it, Leviathan has been destroyed at Baal by the Blood Angels and the Ultramarines, apparently with a little help from Ka'Bandha the Bloodthirster. Admittedly, that campaign only involved the tendril not engaged in war with the Orks on Octarius, meaning that there may be significant elements of the fleet still roaming around the galaxy. However, since GW has been officially referring to this as the 'Fall of Leviathan', it's probably safe to say that Leviathan too is now splintered like Behemoth and Kraken. Of course, this still isn't good news for the rest of the galaxy, because there are four new Hive Fleets in the neighborhood, one of which has apparently dedicated itself to vacuuming up all the splinter fleets left behind by Kraken, Behemoth, and Leviathan, thus gaining all their tasty biomass and DNA.
This new hive fleet is known as Kronos, after the Greek titan who fathered the gods, and with Warp Rifts and Chaos Daemons now running amok in the galaxy, the Hive Mind has turned it towards a previously untapped niche: fixing the mess left by Chaos. Its take on the Shadow in the Warp is one of a complete and total "HAHAHA FUCK YOU!" towards the Ruinous Powers, capable of smothering psychic abilities of any kind, causing Daemons to wither in its presence and closing Chaos portals and small Warp Rifts just by proximity. In other words: Chaos energy is arguably the most malevolent, most corrupting, most powerful force in the galaxy... and the Hive Mind has produced a Hive Fleet with the primary mandate of telling it to shut up and go to its room.
With the coming of 10th, Leviathan is back! The start of the new edition is also the beginning of the 4th Tyrannic War, with the ‘Nids for the first time not entering from the galactic east, but the galactic west - slamming into the nearly undefended Segmentum Pacificus, the Segmentum furthest from the most fucked up regions of the galaxy, but also the furthest from the massive forces being wielded in places like the Indomitus Crusade. This has sent basically everyone (including G-man) into a fucking panic, with the only available solution to send tiny, elite forces to try to disrupt the advance while people figure out what to do, costing the Imperium their best soldiers. It remains to be seen whether this will be a long term war zone or catastrophic event on par with the Great Rift, or a campaign on a scale similar to the Pariah Nexus or any of the Kill Team war zones.
On a smaller note, thanks to the Devastation of Baal, it has been confirmed that Tyranid troops and monsters aren't even singular organisms. Instead, each is a collection of symbiotic organisms working in tandem with one another to create a killing machine. While they might all be of the same species, external outputs and influences can cause them to be able to "choose" to take on the massive variety of forms that Tyranid lifeforms can have. Tyranid blood? A living parasite. Tyranid weapons? Well, that's self explanatory. Tyranid organs? A separate critter that could survive just as easily outside of its hosts when it is needed to swap gibblets. This means that those giant Hive Fleets you see aren't just one massive creature, but a multitude of smaller creatures working as one (this has some basis in real life biology; colonial organisms such as the Portuguese Man O' War are composed of multiple interdependent organisms). This realization kind of solves some of the bizarre-looking Tyranids that would be biologically impossible, but isn't actually much of a big deal, since most living things are technically made up of a collection of cells which are living things unto themselves. Tyranid creatures can then be thought of as multi-bodied organisms, the same way we are multi-cellular organisms, only our various organs, tissues, and limbs can't be freely transplanted with no rejection issues across similar
It remains to be seen whether this new backstory element will retcon some earlier reveals about the Tyranids, such as their observed tendency to throw themselves into digestion pools to recycle themselves into raw materials when they are too damaged to fight or no longer tactically useful. For one thing, why bother reducing Tyranids into liquid biomass that requires precious time and energy to be remade into new bioforms from the cells up, when the Hive Mind can skip a step and conserve its resources by simply tearing out reusable organs and bio-weapons from crippled or unneeded bioforms, and then install or graft those organic parts into new or less-damaged bioforms, while throwing only the bare skeletons and the too-damaged parts into the digestion pools for recycling? For another thing, if this becomes widespread knowledge among the Imperium, will it become the new standard procedure to either completely vapourize or thoroughly incinerate Tyranid corpses whenever possible, so as to keep the Hive Mind from reusing this grisly "salvage" should Tyranid forces take the field or advance their battle-lines far enough to retrieve those corpses? All we can say for certain is, prepare yourselves for another round of the evolutionary arms race.
But even worse than all of this is the fact that perhaps it is not the Tyranids the galaxy should be fearing, but what they're running from. Aside from the Leagues of Votann who hunts them for resources.
Chaos and Tyranids
Its an interesting fact to note that while the warp affects both flora and fauna, the Tyranids are notably highly resistant, if not outright immune, to its influences.
When the Hive Fleet invading Baal got sucked into the Warp by Ka'Bandha's entrance, the hive ships that emerged from this elsewhere were noted to have suffered little to no mutation when examined. Tyranids stuck in space hulks that spent centuries in the warp more-or-less got out unchanged, with no chaotic influences or mutations. Hell, even Genestealers, who are designed to operate independently from the Hive Mind, suffer no ill effects from warp exposure, still utterly devoted to the swarm after all that time.
Additionally, when pitted against daemons (like the Quadrifold Abominatum), the Tyranids are outright disruptive to them due to their warp-smothering powers, preventing daemons from mustering their full strength when under a large-enough fleet. Consuming tainted chaos flesh also does not seem to have any real negative effect on them.
Both sides have a mutual disdain for each other, though, and do their best to stay out of each other's way unless forced into a confrontation. The 'nids hate fighting Chaos due to their use of daemons, which has no biomass to harvest. Chaos hates the 'nids for having no emotions to feed upon, so their conflicts with them are ultimately about as productive as fighting non-sapient wildlife. They did fight once, and it was hilarious.
Whether this is due to their "Shadow in the Warp" that prevents warp entities from doing any real effect on them, or the specific design of another god-entity we've yet to meet, is unclear. More info about their relations here.
After the eruption of the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Tyranid overmind spawned Hive Fleet Kronos, a Leviathan spinoff specifically designed to fuck Chaos up and stop it from destroying all the galaxy's tasty biomass. Its Shadow in the Warp is so powerful that psychic powers just don't work anywhere in its vicinity, and it can even seal Warp rifts. Kronos has mainly been active around the edges of the Great Rift, destroying worlds that have fallen to the forces of Chaos and cleansing their corruption. It is so focused on this task that it will even ignore non-Chaos targets; at the Battle of the Wolf's Head, Kronos barged into the middle of a battle between Imperial and Chaos fleets and swarmed the latter's flagship, ignoring the Imperials entirely. They also showed up at Shadowbrink for round two after that planet fell to Chaos again and effortlessly kicked the shit out of a horde of Khornate daemons. Since Kronos can't replenish its lost biomass from daemons, Leviathan is considerate enough to leave it the occasional undefended world to snack on.
'Masters of Evolution'?
In real life, evolution is not about being the strongest/fastest thing around. It means adapting to fill specific niches that aren't already full.
So, it should be noted that the Tyranids have been hit with the idiot ball a couple of times recently, which has led some to believe and fear that the Nids are quickly approaching Avatar of Khaine levels of Worf nerfing. From an entire Hive Fleet being somehow tricked into an evolutionary dead-end by the TAU of ALL PEOPLE to the Swarmlord getting its shit kicked in just before attempting to use its killing blow on whatever random hero of the day. The status of the Great Devourer being a threatening force seems to be chipped in little by little. Indeed, when you hear statements that entire Hive Fleets could literally STARVE to death if they don't Nom constantly or that the Harridan DIES by just simply landing on the ground, it kind of undermines the horrors that Black Library writers and GW themselves like to sell on the Nids. Furthermore, as Devastation of Baal showcased, the Nids may be adaptable, but they are not infallible if the Thirstwater from Baal Secundus was anything to go by. Thirstwater is one of those microorganisms so dangerous and abstract that even the Hive Mind shat bricks, as it literally could not find a solution to bypass its ridiculous moisture-sucking power.
This is made worse with the recent release of the Belisarius Cawl novel, in which it outright confirms that the Nids ONLY consume the surface of a planet, whilst leaving organisms living beneath the surface mostly unmolested because the Hive Mind physically could not penetrate deep enough onto the planet's crust, which is why Cawl was able to literally re-terraform Nommed worlds like Sotha and Baal Primus. Mix in the fact that the Nids consume a typical world for a lengthy 60-100 days on average and it turns out that the Great Devourer isn't even really that great at devouring shit if sub-surface life could literally weather a Nid invasion.
The crux of the problem (And a problem that GeeDubs is quickly realizing as a major fuckup, narratively speaking) lies in balancing. Despite contrary beliefs, the 40k universe is not an omnipotent, overpowered force that could crush everything in their way because BIGGATONS! No, if this was the case, Chaos would have won a long time ago. The reality is that WH40k lies on the foundations of the balance of power; no faction (Other than the Tau who are irrelevant) has absolute domination among the others, to do so would break the status quo. Hence why the Chaos Gods aren't omnipotent, neither is the Imperium, the Orks, Necrons, and most definitely Tyranids. If one breaks the status quo, the balance of power is broken and that would destroy 40k as we know it. This means that the power of the Tyranids needs to be capped or the balance would be broken. In the hands of a good or decent writer, one could still pull off why the Nids are a threat whilst gimping its potential power levels (See Devastation of Baal). But in the hands of a bad writer (See Robin Cruddace) it makes the Nids absolutely downright pathetic as they constantly self-sabotage themselves because the Hive Mind pulled a Derp and the opposing teams have a shit ton of Plot armour. So while GW has been trying to make the Nids threatening (Silent King returning to wake up his folks to deal with them, main Hive Fleets are merely scouting tendrils, Nids could out-adapt everything, etc), the actual given substance has been...a mixed bag at best.
All in all, it is ironic that the Hive Mind seems to be encountering all of the same problems that Failbaddon did before Gathering Storm: ie, the inability to show the Nids' true potential because it would upset the status quo and therefore, needs to be gimped by the writers so as to not overwhelm the other factions. Smaller factions like the Tau have their potential fully realized and some more due to Plot Armor; not giving a fuck about consistency as they are too small to upset the status quo and therefore, somehow excuse the Tau in pulling ridiculous feats as everyone around them got hit in the head with the Idiot Ball, but since any major fight that resulted in the Tyranids winning would result in one or more factions being wiped out, they are forever denied those decisive victories. However, they have just won the Octarius War, and are now more powerful than before, but what will happen next has yet to be seen. One idea that GW has been playing with for a while is to take the other most powerful force in the galaxy, the Necrons under Szarekh, and have them focus almost entirely on countering the Tyranids. That was, after all, the whole reason why Szarekh came back to the galaxy in the first place. That way the Nids can still die in absolute droves without looking too weak, as getting slaughtered by a faction with C'tan killing weapons (and C'tan) is a bit of a given.
In other words, having a faction that simply eats everything and moves on to the next galaxy in an IP where they're a threat to the existence of every other faction tends to produce some narrative issues.
One more part to note is the very real possibility that the Tyranids have permanently crippled themselves long before they ever reached the galaxy that Warhammer 40k takes place in. The Tyranids have never been shown to use anything mechanical in nature, the closest they've ever shown to do so is the use of mechanical items by Genestealer Cultists but not the Genestealers themselves. While natural evolution has been shown to be incredibly adaptive, there are limits to problems that can be solved with biological solutions or can be solved as effectively or efficiently with biological solutions compared to mechanical ones. While it is in the realm of possibility that the Tyranid hive mind is more capable of finding biological solutions to problems than any organization in the setting, those other organizations can still use mechanical solutions to problems while the Tyranids have locked themselves out of a massive realm of potential practical applications.
"You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. Is there room enough in space for us and it?"
- – Ash, Alien
While modern codices do not go into detail about the biology of Tyranids, some of the older books did contain some interesting details about what makes them tick. These include:
- Respiration systems: Tyranids feature multiple, redundant respiratory systems including gills and simple lungs. These are capable of rapid adaptation to atmospheric conditions.
- Circulatory system: Tyranids possess two separate circulatory systems; an open system with incomplete blood vessels in which liquid flow into the spaces between the tissues and a closed system consisting of one systemic and two brachial hearts.
- Digestive system: Ironically for a species defined by the need to consume, Tyranids have no innate digestive tract. Instead, their blood is infested with amoeba-like cells known as phage cells that serve this function, breaking down the raw soup of bio-matter provided by digestion pools and rippers. The same cells also appear in Tyranid venoms and poisons, adding to their lethality. Tyranids also lack any discernable kidneys, livers, or other glands, with the association biological space instead given over to additional defenses and backup systems to protect vital functions.
- Skeletal System: Tyranids contain both an external carapace and an internal skeleton, both of which are heavily reinforced in larger organisms and composed of dense-silicate rich materials. This redundancy is assisted by a lack of certain other vital organs. The carapace itself has a density and thickness ranging from 5-14 on the Moh Scale. In addition, the outer carapace is baffled with internal cysts containing a vicose organic liquid called Trygel. This material has "astounding thermal capacity”, and which serves to deplete the inertial energy of projectile weapons. This “Trygel” can be polymerized via an enzyme released by Phage cells in the blood, effectively sealing the breach in place of traditional blood coagulation.
- Muscular Systems: Tyranid Muscle sheaths exhibit a cross-threaded fibrous nature, making them as effective as flak armour against projectiles. In addition, the lack of many specialized organs allows for multiple layers of additional and redundant elements.
- Immune System: the same phage cells that provide digestion functions and enhance poisons also double as an immune system, neutralizing poisons, viruses, and other biological attacks.
- Reproductive system: This differs on a case-by-case basis. Members of the Gaunt Genus, including Hormagaunts, Gargoyles, and termagants, have the capacity to reproduce independently. Genestealers are capable of hijacking other species. The reproductive capacity of warriors and other, larger, organisms remain unclear. Notably, rippers may be the larval form of all Tyranid life forms and can undergo a metamorphosis into another form if supplied with sufficient biomass. In addition, some organisms, such as the Tervigon, Parasite of Mortrex, and Norn Queens, are capable of spawning other organisms independently.
- Specialized organs
- Adrenal Glands: Tyranids often feature secondary implants that attach to their bodies. The most common of these are Adrenal gland. These feed of a Tyranid's blood streams, convert into an adrenaline rich cocktail, and then inject the chemicals back into the body to grant a sudden serve of speed or aggression.
- Toxin Sacs: Tyranids toxins are phenomenally lethal, described as being able to overwhelm even the physiology of a Space Marine. They adopt a "shotgun" approach, mixing highly reactive inorganic poisons, haemotoxins, aflotoxins, neurotoxins, acidic nodules, and phage cells. The latter of which are the most dangerous threat, with the phage cells being excited by the host body's attempt to destroy them. Specifically, they send the Larramans Cells of a space marine, the super-platelets that allow for rapid scabbing to prevent blood loss, into overdrive causing blocked blood vessels on a body-wide scale.
Major Hive Fleets
These are the Hive Fleets that have the most fluff, and previous to 10th edition could be used in the tabletop:
- Behemoth: The first one to appear in the galaxy. Caracterized for being the most agressive and direct in their aproach to warfare.
- Kraken: The second to appear, and the one that made the Imperium identify the previously thought independent Genestealers as a vanguard for the race in their invasions.
- Leviathan: The biggest Hive Fleet yet and posterboys of the faction. Has a very strong synaptic connection between its bioforms.
- Gorgon:The Hive Fleet dedicated to use poisons and toxic weapons. Their organisms have a gland that contains a semi-sentient spore, that after consuming biomass allows their poisons to become lethal to their current prey.
- Hydra:Saves Tyrannocytes that carry warrior organisms float in low orbit of prey planets to launch against strongholds that have been previously softened by the ground troops.
- Jormungandr: Uses burrowing organisms extensively, by hiding them inside meteors and other space wrekcage, and then launching them against prey planets previous to the invasion to attack from below.
- Kronos: Created after the apparition of the Great Rift and used primarily by the Hive Mind to fight Chaos.
- Ouroboris: The one with primitive bioforms since their weapons aren't fused to their bodies like other Hive Fleets. That factor makes them immune against tactics and poisons that have been effective on other Hive Fleets.
- Tiamet: A Hive Fleet that is currently building something psychic in the planet Ziaphoria from the Tiamet system that gives them their name. Since they almost never leave the planet, Genestealer Cults need to travel to the planet to give them biomass to grow the structure.
Tyranids On the Table
Printed in the ancient past of 1995, the first Tyranid codex brought the hive mind to the tabletop of 40k and instantly won over the hearts of a thousand vile xeno lovers. Or not. It's hard to tell as most of those original fans have since moved on to collect power armor armies or died from several decades of soul crushing disappointment. Either way, the codex was notable for including both Genestealer Cults and Tyranids in the same book. One of the most notable differences is that they look almost completely different to their "modern" (aka 4th edition ) iteration, resembling something out of Weird fiction. Tyranid Warriors resemble giant turkeys, Carnifexes are bulky 4 scything armed screaming monstrosities, and instead of being a giant brain on a floating snake body, the Zoanthrope is a stubby humanoid bug person with a GIANT exposed brain forehead. This is likely a side effect of Tyranids initially being a faction that existed to merge several races from Rogue Trader into a single coherent faction (like the aforementioned Genestealer) as well as the setting in general finding its footing and identity.
Tyranids had a reputation back then of being not only rare and expensive due to most of their range being metal, but also of being one of the STRONGEST armies in the game. In spite of their limited unit roster Tyrands had all manner of upgrades, such as one that allowed a Carnifex to regenerate to full wound count with lucky dice rolls if it was killed. Another example was the "Jones is acting strangely" card (spoiler: one of your opponent's infantry models explodes with the same blast effect as if he'd been hit by a Barbed Strangler). Finally, there was a fun little card that created a tiny, but very, VERY angry Tyranid lurker INSIDE one of your opponent's vehicles. For context, keep in mind that in 2nd, each vehicle position actually had a crewman in it, and these crewmen could individually be killed. Therefore this critter would, in theory, wait for the right moment to pounce out of its dark corner to claw the vehicle crew's faces off. While the lurker would almost certainly be killed, in the meantime the crew would be very distracted, which was especially hilarious if it managed to kill the driver when the vehicle was moving. Naturally this made Tyranids THE army for players to sperg on about how they were completely overpowered because they countered armies like the Space Marines and general Imperial factions with complete EASE. And then one of them was given a job at GW and it all went downhill from there for the space bugs.
6 years after the 2nd edition codex came out, a new one burst onto the scene in 2001. Again, not much is remembered from this time, aside from the fact the strong and fast Tyranids from the 2nd edition were turned into slow, clumsy beasts, a move that nerfed them into oblivion. It was also notable for introducing silly looking metal miniatures that vanished soon afterwards (like the ever popular Grinfex) and plastic infantry that is still used 20 years later. With Leviathan the Termagants are finally receiving an update, but the Hormagaunts stick to their tried and tested models. This codex was extremely limited, but did feature some... interesting rules for customizing your models. The mutable genus rules allowed customized 'nids like 5pt Spinegaunts (i.e. Termagant with Spinefists, at a time when classic Fleshborer-armed ones cost 7pts), something which lead to a whole generation of 'nid players having mass Spinegaunts and no classic Termagants. Another such an option was to exploit how the weapon beasts rules worked: in every brood only one model per number of diffent types of units you're fielding was allowed to use a different weapon at a modest increase. If the model had multiple wounds however you include this in counting how many weapon beasts you can field. So if you fielded some Warriors for leadership and Synapse reasons, a Carnifex or two for heavy support you could fill the rest of your army with Rippers armed with Venom Cannons. Having your basic infantry come equipped with 36" Str6 AP4 Assault 3 meant that only the toughest of tanks could stand a chance against your barrages. Practical? No. Competitive? Definitely not. Fun as hell? Oh hell yes. Many of the mutable genus rules (such as changes to specific stats) would be added to the core codex in 4th edition with some of the more esoteric rules removed (barbed stranglers on termagants anyone?), but the nostalgia would linger for a long time after.
In 2005, a new Tyranid codex emerged along with an entire host of redesigned units and metal kits. It was at this point that the modern designs for the Lictor, Genestealers, Raveners, and Hive Tyrants were introduced. Also, the first plastic Carnifex kit was released, and GW capitalized by giving the unit a cubic metric shit ton of options. Indeed, this was the theme of fourth edition 'nids. The codex deliberately axed 3rd edition characters like Old One Eye or the Red Terror in favor of giving players a wealth of options for customizing their models. Want a hive tyrant with a 2+ save? Go ahead. Want a Carnifex with a better BS? there you go. Few of these would last into 5th edition and the flaws were pretty glaring as time went by. 'Nids simply did not have the tools nor the depth of an army design to succeed against every opponent, and many of the options turned into expensive traps.
When the 5th edition Codex released, it was met with split opinions, as usual. Some were angry at how overpowered the army looked, citing the facts that the Tervigon could create more units out of thin air using "broken" special rules, that the anti-psyker powers were so broad, and that the Hive Guard and Zoanthropes were so good at tank hunting at a time when tanks were kings.
However, after some time passed, people who decried the cheesy aspects of the army faded from view as people began to realize the army only seemed cheesy on paper, and that, in truth, any cheese the army had was drowned in the army's drawbacks. The Termagants the Tervigon could spawn? Stats like a Guardsmen in close combat, but with half their weapon range and weaker armor. And to get Tervigons to the Troops slot from the HQ slot (where they were practically useless), you had to pay Guardsman prices for a unit of them. In other words, you had to use the "cheesy" special rule or they were overpriced into uselessness.
Then there were the special powers that supposedly buffed the army. Again, at a first glance, they looked broken. Certain upgrades allowed any unit within 6" of certain models to gain rules like Feel No Pain, Furious Charge, Poison, cover saves, and so on. It sounded like a serious boon, but it had a funny effect. Aside from the fact that most Tyranid models are too expensive unless you capitalize on the bubble-buffs, it also does a horrible thing to your freedom to play the army. Mainly, it forces players to keep all their units bunched up within 6" of a few key models, requiring them to spend the entire game in a rigid formation that can spell disaster for the army when broken. Tyranids already suffered from this problem somewhat due to their synapse rules, but the 6" range on the mandatory buffs only shortened the leash. Not to mention it also made blasts even worse for an army already vulnerable to them.
Tyranids seriously lacked effective long range support as well. While they possessed some weapons capable of mincing infantry units, most things with a range over 12" come at a premium. With an army so focused on close combat this shouldn't be such a problem, but synapse and buff leashes actually make it a valid concern. Mainly, the short buff leash pressures a player into a castle formation, but the lack of medium and long ranged weaponry pressures the player to advance the entire castle towards the enemy, which has a way of creating chinks in the formation. And you can't just move a few key units - when a unit moves forward, the model providing the buffs has to follow them, and then the other units relying on the buffs have to follow the model providing the buffs; it just makes the army obscenely inflexible.
Tyranid monstrous creatures, their heavy support, also got drastically nerfed in the 5th edition update. The Tyrannofex, for example, has a 2+ save and six wounds at a toughness of six, the damn thing is almost indestructible, but the weapons are short-ranged, and if you buy it an expensive long-range cannon to shoot at tanks, you can't change any of its other short-ranged weapons which are designed to kill infantry. You just can't quite kit your heavy support to do the things you specifically want.
Which brings us to the final problem: on top of mountains of tactical inflexibility, the Tyranids also suffer from the drawback of design inflexibility. Unlike Guardsmen or Space Marines, the Tyranids don't get a lot of options to change the way the army works. When you buy Hormagaunts, you get them at face value - you can't equip them with frag grenades, give them pistols, add heavy weapons, or mess with their gear in any way. You can buy them the poison special rule if you want, or maybe the Furious Charge special rule, but those are your two choices. Almost the entire army is that way, which is vastly different than the way they worked in 4th edition. The Carnifex alone lost eighteen weapon and biomorph options between 4th and 5th edition and it doubled in points value. And with no upgrades taken! And for twenty points more, you can get a Trygon. Which is better than the Carnifex in almost every way. Cept looking good. It's possible that Tyranids are now the least adaptable army in the game.
The last kick in the teeth is that Tyranids are one of the more expensive armies to collect, requiring a larger number of models than most (this is still true in 2021). Their HQ choices, short of the Tyranid Prime, are big monsters which run at prices edging nearer and nearer to $100 each. For the fact that most Tyranid armies will play exactly the same way, having all the same exploitable weaknesses and no unique wargear surprises, it's not a wonder that the army has seen a huge drop in sales since the release of their 5th edition codex. The shorter lesson to take from all this is, if you're thinking about beginning a 40k army, even with how expensive it's all gotten, Tyranids are not the best army to start with.
The one good legacy of the 5th edition codex was the radical expansion of the army list. The previous codex had featured the addition of a single new unit (the brood lord) and the removal of two special characters. Both were brought back for the 5th edition codex and the total units jumped from fifteen to thirty-four. While several of the characters (the doom of malan'tai and the parasite of mortrex) did not survive past this codex, many others did and eventually grew into popular options in their own right.
Again, this one was a mix of good and bad. On the bad side, Tyranids no longer had Mycetic Spores, the Doom of Malan'tai, Ymgarl Genestealers or the Parasite of Mortrex (GW lost a court battle with Chapterhouse Studios and simply deleted all their models from the game). They even lost the ability to use psychic powers from the Biomancy table along with their Hive Mind powers being nerfed. Why GW thought that the most underpowered army needed even MORE nerfing will remain a mystery, but odds are that Cruddace had something to do with it. A perfect example of unnecessary nerfing is the Tyranid Prime; it was rarely fielded in 5th edition, and the 6th edition codex inexplicably increased its cost by over 56%.
On the good side, this one introduced the first piece of lore that showed Tyranids actually winning for a change (the Shadowbrink campaign, during which they own the Chaos Daemons) rather than coming close to winning but failing at the last minute due to the 'heroic' actions of some character who appears out of nowhere (looking at you Calgar and Yriel), and also gave us the Hive Crone, a killer anti-flyer unit that finally gave us a reliable option to beat Kelly's supercharged Dark Eldar (first by walking over their paper planes and then by liquefying infantry in and outside transports with the flame template). Carnifexes got to use crushing claws as power fists (as they have crap initiative Unwieldy doesn't matter, especially when you get to raise their Strength to 10) and the Exocrine was introduced to become the bane of Space Marines with its AP 2 cannon.
To compensate for Cruddace's additional nerfing, GeeDubs released some Dataslate formations which allow you to ignore the force organisation chart and spam flying monstrous creatures to overwhelm an opponents anti-air defenses because the flyer rules are an even bigger catastrofuck than the Tyranid codex. **SSSS rippaaaahhhssss will be put in crudfacessss bedssss for what he hasssss done to ussssss**
7th Edition, DLC, and white dwarf updates
Geedubs finally noticed how badly nerfed Tyranids have been during the last editions so they took opportunity to get your money by releasing new waves of Tyranid units supported by White Dwarf updates. Things started poorly with a pair of monstrous creatures who really didn't bring anything new to the table. The Toxicrene was fine on paper, bringing Poisoned 2+ Instant-Death-on-a-6 attacks, but as yet another floot-slogging MC it had trouble catching the things it WANTED to kill. The Maleceptor was just an overcosted, overcomplicated, and underpowered hunk of plastic that would be lucky to kill more than 20 points worth of models in a given turn.
The most unexpected announcements came from GW around Fall 2014, coinciding with the coming of The End Times: New models for the Tyranids. The first pack that was announced was a dual kit for the Maleceptor and Toxicrene. While the Maleceptor proved to be unpopular within minutes of having its rules announced in White Dwarf as it was an overpriced drain of warp charges, the Tocxicrene proved to fare a bit better, as the copious amount of poison and Instant Death on a 6 to-wound using said poison made it a menace against Monstrous Creatures (though its intended targets, the Riptide and Wraithknight, merely scoffed at it because they're jumping monstrous creatures, and thus able to kite it like a toy). The second release proved to be the most popular by far: The return of Mycetic Spores (now Tyrannocytes), the living fortifications known as Sporocysts, and new Mucolid Spores that not only assault flyers, but are also the cheapest troop choices, making starting an army of Tyranids a much simpler task. While the Tyrannocyte proved an incredible weapon that made several units (including the infamous Pyrovore) suck slightly less, that power came with a hefty price tag (for a Transport, not as a Monstrous Creature), and Sporocysts are completely immobile and are equally pricey in exchange for synapse bonuses and the ability to spam spore mines. Needless to say, people actually thanked GeeDubs for this rare show of intelligence.The third release gave new Sprues for the Zoanthrope/Venomthrope as a multi-part kit with a new set of rules for the Zoanthropes: The Neurothrope, a sergeant that gave the brood a new power that could potentially give them more Warp Charges to spend on Warp Lance. Not bad, but the new sprue was still welcome. After these releases, it became clear as to why the 'Nids got new shit: promotions for a new Campaign called Shield of Baal, which involves 'Nids chomping through a system near the territory of the Blood Angels, meaning that Dante has to call all the successor chapters to stop the mob. He had to take help from Anrakyr to save even part of the system. This now concludes the awesome part of all things Tyranid. If you look at the gallery below the Cutenids, you will require a mind scrubbing and be lobotomized into a servitor. No exceptions. Of course you now have players mocking 'Nids as being a DLC faction.
Return in 8th Edition
Tyranids were an early-middle codex release of 8th and at that time were a contextually powerful army mostly due to how fast they were, like, "My Hormagaunts just moved 20" in one turn and my Stratagem can give them a second Movement Phase," fast. This speed has given them absolutely amazing board control combined with their easy access to deep striking units, good mix of swarms and big monsters for heavier damage. Carnifexes received a less-nerfed range of biomorphs, and proved to be useful and cheap Swiss-army knives capable of fulfilling a variety of roles.
Nevertheless, despite ostensibly being a melee focused army, Tyranids continued to suffer from relatively low strength melee attacks which compensate for their lowered wound chance by having higher damage. This means that while they dealt a lot of damage when they wound a vehicle it's a toss-up as to whether or not they could actually wound it; Space Marines have easier access to Anti-Tank melee than us. Some of the big beasties are still overcosted and underpowered for their roles, and the flyers aren't too good either. While the little guys still died in droves and our big guys were either very good or just suck, the mid-sized bugs were decent but tended to require some planning to make the most of them. For example, Lictors were fragile but useful as deep strike beacons, Warriors and Raveners were a bit overcosted but could stick around much longer than before now that Instant Death is gone, and Zoanthropes were stuck as the obligatory Smite spammers.
As of 2020 Tyranids are once again severely hampered by ongoing codex creep and FAQs, with and have reverted to a reputation of being lacklustre. It was hoped that Blood of Baal would bring some updates, and indeed it did, but as usual everything else got more and stronger updates, and even new models in some cases. It would have been good to put Genestealer Cults and 'nids in one book, like Eldar and DE, but nope, you can buy two, yay.
The changes made to the core rules were something of a mixed bag for the Tyranids. On the plus side, Monsters received two huge buffs; they can move and shoot heavy weaponry without penalty and can even fire these (non-blast) weapons while they're in melee. Getting into melee is also much safer than ever before, since Overwatch is now a once-per-phase stratagem (unless you're the Tau). However, the addition of blast weaponry and the changes to unit coherency have severely punished swarm builds while additional changes to melee combat hamper the damage they can deal when tarpitting other units. Other than that, the power creep left over from 8th edition is still very much in effect and much of what the Tyranids have access to simply pales in comparison to the slew of shiny toys and abilities being handed over to the Space Marines. However, with the release of the Imperial Armor Compendium, most of their Forge World units have gained some significant buffs that make some of the larger units to become more viable, with Dimachaerons being able to jump over terrain and enemy models, Harridans gaining the Aircraft keyword (yes, this is important), Hierodules becoming about 40% cheaper and being moved to Heavy Support (making them viable), and Hierophants that can now be fielded in non-Apocalypse games. And now they have a new Army of Renown known as Crusher Stampede, which gives an army-wide 5++, and all monsters take -1 damage, along with some unique psychic powers and stratagems. That's right, Nidzilla is back! Until it was outmoded.
Then the full contents of their codex leaked and all hell broke loose. Synapse link has been expanded to include psychic powers and most, if not all, unit buffs while also removing instinctive behavior altogether. Also, there are a lot of powerful abilities that can do things like disable re-rolls or overwatch (suck it Tau!). But the real kicker is the fact that when after seeing your opponents army, you can change the adaptive trait on your hive fleet to give your army more of an advantage. For example, are you facing an army with a lot of AP -1 weapons? Well now you have an adaptation to makes those weapons count as AP 0 instead. Or perhaps your opponent's army can cause a lot of movement debuffs? Don't worry, because there's an adaptation that allows you to ignore any modifiers to movement characteristics, advance rolls and charge rolls. Or maybe the enemy army going heavy on melee? You should use the adaptation that allows your entire army to heroically intervene. Unfortunately this now has to be chosen during army construction before the start of the game.
As of the announcement of Warhammer 40k's 10th edition, Tyranids will be receiving a range refresh (you can get these models in the new Leviathan box set), and with that a whole swarm of new and improved voidborn terrors. With the narrative focus on the sudden and massive Tyranid invasion of Segmentum Pacificus, now declared to be the 4th Tyrannic war, we can expect the Tyranids to sit in the limelight for a short while as well.
The edition kicked off with a narrative campaign where players submitted the outcomes of their matches to help determine the fate of the Hive World of Oghram, the forces of the Space Marines crashing upon the hordes of Tyranids. To the surprise of some, the winner turned out to be the Tyranids - Not only did they overrun the world and imperil the Imperial strongholds in the system, but it also unveiled several more new model for the Nids.
- Tyranid Bio-Weapons
- Hive Fleet
- Tyranid RPG
- Hive Fleet Nidhoggr
- Hydraphant, the biggest bio-titan the nids can field, which just got fan-made 8E rules. If you're playing apocalypse as the nids, and you need something to take out Warlords beyond fielding several billion Harridans and Hierophants, look no further (you will have to make the model yourself though).
- Tyranid Hive Fleet Creation Tables
- Tactics on how to play them.
- /tg/'s homebrew modifications that make 5E nids get awesome
- Another /tg/brew 'Nid modificaton, now based on 7E and made into fully blown codex
- Genestealer Cult
- Unlike other 40k factions, there is no clear Warhammer Fantasy counterpart for the Tyranids. They seem to combine the Skaven and Ogre Kingdoms for tactics and lean closer to the Ogres for motivation, namely 'eat it all'.
- Phyrexia, a faction/category from Magic: the Gathering with some broadly similar aesthetics crossed with undead cyborgs and robots.
- Slivers a creature type from M:TG that bares some similarities with 'nids, namely their Hive Mind, insectoid nature, and the rapid/adaptive evolution schtick.
- Gland War Veteran
|Playable Factions in Warhammer 40,000|
|Imperium:||AdMech:||Adeptus Mechanicus - Mechanicus Knights|
|Army:||Imperial Guard - Imperial Knights - Imperial Navy - Militarum Tempestus - Space Marines|
|Inquisition:||Inquisition - Sisters of Battle - Deathwatch - Grey Knights|
|Other:||Adeptus Custodes - Adeptus Ministorum - Death Cults - Officio Assassinorum - Sisters of Silence|
|Chaos:||Chaos Daemons - Chaos Space Marines - Lost and the Damned - Chaos Knights|
|Xenos:||Aeldari:||Dark Eldar - Eldar - Eldar Corsairs - Harlequins - Ynnari|
|Tyranids:||Genestealer Cults - Tyranids|
|Others:||Necrons - Orks - Tau - Leagues of Votann|
|This article contains PROMOTIONS! Don't say we didn't warn you.|
Thus far the Cutenids. From down here there be many promotions. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.