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Bolt weapon

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Ranged Close Combat

The bolt weapon is the characteristic Imperial weapon type used most famously by the Space Marines and Adepta Sororitas. They are also used in more limited numbers throughout the Imperium's armed forces, and are popular with its enemies, particularly Orks.[2] Bolt weapons are purposefully unsubtle weapons, with very obvious and bloody effects.

Some models are designed specifically for normal humans which include smaller grips and lighter construction, though these variations are rarely as finely fashioned as Space Marine weapons. Many such weapons are ancient heirlooms and relics passed down through a family's generations. Cheap bolt weapon models can be found on black markets and backwater planets, but will often break down quickly because of the specialised nature of their ammunition.[1]


A standard boltgun
Storm bolter, with attached drum Magazine
Heavy bolter, with Belt Feed

Bolt weapons fire self-propelled mass-reactive shells known as bolts, which are timed to explode just after penetration for maximum lethality. The standard bolt is .75 calibre with a super-dense metallic core and diamantine tip. Overall bolt ammunition is expensive and difficult to manufacture and the weapons themselves regularly require maintenance and rituals to appease their spirits, but they are no doubt terrifying and destructive weapons.[1]

Each bolt is contained within a cartridge which includes a small conventional powder charge. When fired, this charge launches the bolt while simultaneously igniting its solid fuel propellant, which is timed to do so once it is clear of the barrel. The cartridge is then ejected, clearing the breech for the next round, while the bolt accelerates towards the target under its own power. This system helps alleviate the problem in using rocket-propelled munitions, as the gases are not trapped within the barrel and cannot cause problems due to over-pressure. The two-stage process also keeps the weapon's recoil to manageable levels, compared to conventional weapons of similar calibre.[4]

Using this method, personal bolt weapons can easily fire in bursts of three to four rounds in rapid succession. However, in order to keep the ammunition capacity high, bolt shells lack a subsequent booster stage or fin stabilization.[4] This limits their effective range, though this is seen as less of a problem given their role as a shock and assault weapon.[2] Heavy Bolters fire a larger round with extra propellant, giving them superior range and hitting power to hand-held bolters and bolt pistols.[4]

The explosive warhead within the bolt is triggered by a mass-reactive detonator; any sudden increase in local mass triggers the explosive, causing the weapon to explode inside the target.[2] This can have a gruesome effect on the target, often killing them in a single shot as their chest cavity or head is blown apart, while simultaneous hits can render the corpse unidentifiable.[5] However, the detonator has a minimum arming distance, during which it will not arm the warhead. At point-blank ranges the bolt will instead pass through the target and explode behind it, though its sheer size and velocity still makes it capable of causing damage.[6]

Types of bolt weapons

Available bolt weapons include:

See the respective articles for details.

Bolt ammunition

The Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus have developed many types of bolter ammunition over the millennia. The most common variants are:

  • Standard Bolts comprise the following components: Outer casing, propellant base, main charge, mass reactive detonator cap, depleted deuterium core, diamantine tip. The standard bolter shell is standardized at .75 caliber, whereas heavy bolter rounds are larger, at 1.00 Cal. A replica .75 cal bolt shell can be bought from the Black Library (Games-Workshops main fiction and non-miniature based outlet).
  • Hellfire Rounds have devastating results on organic matter, as the rounds are developed to combat Tyranids. The core and tip are replaced with a vial of mutagenic acid with thousands of needles that fire into target upon the shattering of the vial, pumping the acid into the target. Heavy Bolters can also equip a large calibre version known as a Hellfire Shell which are carried by Scouts
  • Stalker Silenced Shells are rounds with low sound signatures, meant for covert fighting and used in conjunction with an M40 targeting system and an extended barrel and stock on a bolter to produce a sniping weapon system. A solidified mercury slug replaces the mass-reactive warhead for lethality at sub-sonic projectile speed. A gas cartridge also replaces both the propellant base and main charge for silent firing.
  • Asphyx Shells were created by the Thousand Sons during the Great Crusade. Originally as simple projectile ammunition for use against Psychneuein on Prospero, these psycho-reactive toxic shells were used in their elite units. However they were difficult to mass produce and thus their deployment was limited.[18]
  • Inferno Bolts are designed to immolate their targets and destroy them with superheated chemical fire. The deuterium core is replaced with an oxy-phosphorus gel, known as Promethium. It should be noted that the Chaos Space Marine Thousand Sons have their own similarly-named but unrelated type of inferno bolts, which are actually psychically-bound slugs that release arcane energies; these slugs explode with sorcerous energies upon impact.
  • Dragonfire Rounds are similar to Inferno Bolts, but contain superheated gas instead of Promethium. They are effective against enemies hidden behind cover as the superheated pocket of gas expands and immolate the foe even as they hide.
  • Odysseus Bolts are bolts which are psychically impregnated. Fired into large objects, the distinctive signature of the bolt can then be tracked through the Warp by an Astropath.
  • Metal Storm Frag Shells are best against multiple lightly-armoured targets. They detonate before impact and spray shrapnel, shredding their victims. A proximity detonator replaces the mass-reactive cap, and the diamantine tip and deuterium core are replaced with an increased charge and fragmentation casing. They are similar to flak rounds and are used against clusters of enemies.
  • Kraken Pattern Penetrator Rounds are powerful armour-piercing rounds. The deuterium core is replaced by a solid adamantine core and uses a heavier main charge. Upon impact, the outer casing peels away and the high velocity adamantium needle accelerates into the victim, where the larger detonator propels shards of super hardened metal further into the wound. These are effective against heavily-armoured infantry.
  • Vengeance Rounds utilise unstable flux-core technology for lethal penetrative power, and are highly effective at anything up to and including Power Armour. The trade off is that the rounds have a shorter range than standard bolts and the flux-core's unstable nature makes it hazardous to the firer, not unlike a Plasma weapon.
  • Gas-Powered Bolts are propelled only by the gas expelled from the barrel. As they lack the secondary rocket ignition, they are substantially more quiet than standard bolt rounds. As a result, they are used for stealth operations.[8]
  • Tempest Bolts incorporate tiny plasma shock generators that emit electromagnetic and thermal radiation when the shell detonates. Produced only on Mars, Tempest shells are noted as particularly effective against machines and mechanical targets.
  • Bloodshard Bolts are ammunition used by the Blood Angels for their Angelus boltguns. Its payload of razor-filament is very effective against most armours.[12]
  • Banestrike Bolts are mysterious shells believed to have been developed in secret by the Alpha Legion during the Great Crusade. Their sole purpose seems to have been to breach the ceramite Power Armour of Space Marines. It was used openly for the first time at the Drop Site Massacre where they proved devastating[11]. The ammo was also infamously used by the Sons of Horus in various sizes[19a][19b]. Known weapons that the Sons of Horus used the ammo in, included the modified Banestrike Fusilade bolt pistols[19a] and Banestrike Bolt Cannons.[19b]
  • Korvidari Bolts are utilized by the Raven Guard. These are etched with raven-feather charms and sport an abnormally long range. The bolts are packed with extra propellant for superior range and accuracy. Each bolt also houses a minute, hyper-sensitive targeting and flight correction relay, allowing for a marksman's accuracy even against heavily obscured foes.[13]
  • Nullbolts are used by the Grey Knights and fire anti-Warp shards.[17]
  • Psycannon Bolts are used by the Inquisition, primarily the Ordo Malleus and Grey Knights. They are very similar in nature to the rounds fired by their namesake, the Psycannon, and are similarly used against psychic and daemonic targets. Of all the rounds these are the most expensive, as each and every bolt is inscribed with runes on a microscopic level. Other sources say that they contain an anti-psychic substance that still others claim is a byproduct of the Emperor's Golden Throne. The psychic nature of these rounds are not only effective at destroying daemonic targets but also highly efficient at piercing the powerful barriers created by forcefield generators (such as the Tau Shield Generator and the Imperium's own Iron Halo and Storm Shield).
  • Quake Bolts are crafted individually by a Magos, each bolt contains a warhead that emits a pulsed shock wave.[10]
  • Witch Seeker Bolts are used by the Black Templars. These consist of metal casings forged from the blades of fallen Battle-Brothers and blessed by Ecclesiarchy Priests. These bolts have an unnerving talent for finding their way into the heart of a Psyker.[7]
  • Tranquilizer Rounds are a rare variety of boltgun ammunition. As the name suggests, they are filled with a powerful tranquilizing agent in lieu of explosives. Silent when fired from a Stalker Bolter, a single shot is capable of incapacitating a full-grown Ork. Issued one to a magazine, Tranquilizer Rounds saw service with Raven Guard forces seconded to the Deathwatch during the War of the Beast in mid-M32.[14]
  • Vortex Bolts were crafted long ago in forgotten times. These immensely rare rounds create miniature vortices within the target upon detonation. Such an event causes catastrophic damage to even the largest enemies and psykers who miraculously survive are driven mad by the creatures of the Warp that pour from the tear in reality.[16]

See also