Cracking the WIP – Part 3

Nobody said it would be pretty! Not at this stage anyway. The first layers of paint are down. Washes have been sloshed around. Brushstrokes are everywhere. Somewhere Duncan Rhodes is screaming. 10 days to go!dreadful-dread-1-convertordie

The Path To Prospero

This weekend sees the release of a new boxed game from Games Workshop. Cast in the same mould as Betrayal at Calth this one will focus on the razing of the planet Prospero, home to the Thousand Sons legion of Magnus the Red, by his brother the Wolf King Leman Russ.6

So how did we get here? How did two legions of space marines, each claiming to be utterly loyal to the Emperor of Mankind, end up beating seven bells out of each other to such an extent that an entire planet was burned down? Well, gentle reader, let me explain – although it is a confusing tale and one which leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Emperor is either a) evil and using humanity as pawns in a fiendishly complex scheme of his own that is yet to become clear or b) so unbelievably stupid that you wouldn’t let him run a bath let alone an interstellar empire. For those of you who’ve not read A Thousand Sons or Prospero Burns yet this post is full of spoilers, better to come back later once you’ve read them yourself. 7

So the Emperor, so utterly arrogant that he couldn’t imagine being called anything else, decides that he’s spent long enough watching humanity scrabble in the radioactive dirt of the planet formerly known as Earth and he’s going to relocate every lost colony in the galaxy and create himself an Empire to be Emperor of (possibly because he was starting to feel a little self-conscious being called The Emperor when he was all by himself). In order to share the leg work of the galaxy re-uniting business he created himself a number of sons, not in the fairly exciting way that would have involved finding an Empress and possibly loosening up a little, but in a fairly dull way that involved being in a science lab instead. Each of these sons was particularly good at certain things, for example Dorn was good at building forts, Perturabo was good at knocking them over again, Fulgrim was good at picking clothes and Vulcan was good at living for a very, very long time whilst being terribly nice to everyone.

Magnus was designed to be good at magic. The key word in there is designed, remember that because it becomes important later, the Emperor specifically created Magnus with it in mind that he would be a dab hand at spells and so on. In fact it was generally reckoned that Magnus was the best wizard that had ever been, with the possible exception of the Emperor who was also very good at magic (alongside science and having big ideas). Another of the Emperor’s sons, Leman Russ, specialised in a combination of being loyal to the Emperor and killing people, which made him excellent as an enforcer in the event that any of his brothers got a bit out of line. He was also good with pets and really disliked magic.85

Anyway, the Great Crusade rolled along quite nicely, most of the humans in the galaxy were reunited into one sharing, caring happy family, or – if they didn’t want to be part of the Project for a New Imperial Century, obliterated to radioactive rubble instead. With everything proceeding nicely the Emperor headed home to work on a new Top Secret project, leaving his favourite son Horus in charge. Before he vanished into his lab and stopped answering his calls altogether however there was one last order of business to take care of; the Council of Nikaea. For some time the Imperium had been split on the question of magic and whether or not it was a good idea. Some, like Magnus, pointed to the enormous potential to do good offered by their powers, and noted that as mankind appeared to be evolving into a race of powerful magic users it might be worth getting out ahead of the game and being prepared for a magic dominated future when it arrived. Generally these people had magical powers themselves. The other side thought that magic was bad news, wizards were dangerous people, and the whole thing should be stopped at once. Generally these people didn’t have magical powers themselves and were probably a bit jealous of those who did. Some of them however, like Russ, had plenty of strange powers of their own, and liked hanging out with wizards themselves, but did a lot of hand-waving to justify it and not come off as massive hypocrites.

The Council of Nikaea was supposed to thrash this out once and for all, but instead it all turned into a bit of a show trial where Magnus was accused of being a very naughty boy and banned from doing any more magic at all. Interestingly, and as an aside, this judgement was regarded as a bad move by several of the Emperor’s sons who went on to side with him in the forthcoming civil war (Roboute Guilliman and the Khan for example), whilst others who agreed with him on this still managed to stab him in the back a short time later (Mortarion I’m looking at you). It also provided Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers, with an excuse to infiltrate many of his brother’s legions under the guise of helping them come to terms with a life without magic. Quite why more of his brothers didn’t tell him where to shove his ‘help’ is unclear but it certainly gave Lorgar the excuse to go around knocking on doors asking if anyone had a few minutes to talk about our lord and saviour the Primordial Annihilator.   2

Anyway Magnus was rather good at wizarding and didn’t want to go back to living in the cupboard under the stairs. He was sure that if he could just show his dad how useful magic could be then the Emperor would recognise his error and take back his judgement (forgetting for a moment that the Emperor was well aware of what magic could do, being as he was spectacularly good at it himself). What was needed, Magnus realised, was a huge, over the top gesture, proving once and for all that magic was useful and, perhaps even more importantly, that Magnus was a good boy who deserved a second chance. Then they would cry and hug and probably do some quality father/son bonding – perhaps involving a fishing trip or attending some kind of sporting event.

Meanwhile Horus was starting to get bit cheesed off. He was finding out that being Warmaster was a lot harder than the Emperor had made it sound before he gave him the job and between his brothers squabbling and generally being dysfunctional, and trying to co-ordinate a war on an almost infinite number of fronts, he could also use a bit of a chat with the Emperor for a bit of fatherly advice. Unfortunately whenever he ran the Emperor he got his voicemail in the form of Malcador the Sigilite who told him that the Emperor was super busy dealing with something far more important than re-uniting humanity and Horus would just have to use his initiative. Regrettably Horus’s initiative was telling him to listen to Lorgar who was full of talk about evil gods in the Warp and how we should listen to them instead and how the Emperor had never loved them anyway (this being a rough summation of the path from loyal son to traitor that actually takes three whole books to play out). The Emperor, as it turns out, was well aware that these warp gods existed, and that they planned to corrupt mankind, but at no point did it occur to him to mention this to his sons. Instead, in a display of exceptional parenting, he waited until Horus was leading half the Imperium against him in civil war before declaring  something to the effect of “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal”.


Anyway Magnus found out about what was happening and, having failed to convince Horus that he might be making a mistake in going against the Emperor’s will, decided to go against the Emperor’s will by using magic to project himself across the galaxy to warn his dad. Remember when you were a kid and you saw someone breaking the rules and ran to the teacher to tell, only to get in trouble yourself for being a tell-tale? Well that’s what happened to Magnus. Also when he projected himself into the Emperor’s lab he brushed aside all the wards which the Emperor had put there precisely to stop anyone using magic to project themselves into his lab, which caused a major infestation of daemons which to this day threatens to burst through and devour everyone. This ticked the Emperor off no end and he focussed his anger on Magnus and sent Russ to put him back in line. At this point the plot becomes a bit confused – some versions have it that Horus told Russ that Magnus was planning to trap him and to go in all guns blazing, or that the Emperor told Russ to kill Magnus, or that Russ was caging for a fight anyway and decided to have his revenge on Magnus for all the times he’d shouted ‘walkies’ at him or confused him by pretending to throw a ball whilst actually hiding it behind his back. The plot of the novel covering these events does nothing to clarify things and instead adds in an unnecessary shape-shifting daemon which only serves to muddy the waters and poke holes in the plot (bad boy Dan Abnett – and you’re usually so good).

Thus Russ and his Space Wolves arrive at the planet of Prospero and set about breaking everything in sight, a terrible battle ensues and Magnus teleports his legions off the planet and into the arms of an elaborate Tzeentchian scheme. And if you thought that was hard to follow you should read the bloody books!


Looking over the events that shaped the Horus Heresy it’s hard to buy into the Imperial version of events, that the Emperor had a plan for humanity which would have kept us safe and secure into a glorious future but was blindsided by Horus’s short-sighted betrayal. Indeed it’s pretty obvious that some of the Primarchs were designed to fail. From the moment of their creation they were set on paths that led them to Chaos and the Emperor seemed to be deliberately shaping events to encourage them on that journey. Magnus, Angron, Curze, Lorgar, even Horus himself; all seem to have been the victims of a deliberate set-up. I’ve even wondered if the Emperor only despatched the Wolves to Prospero because Magnus was so stubborn in remaining loyal when any right thinking individual would have told him to get stuffed long before. (Note also that whilst both Curze and Angron had their knuckles rapped at various points the only other legion to be shamed and reprimanded in quite such a grand fashion were the Word Bearers, again for too much loyalty rather than not enough).

One possibility is that some of the Primarchs were intended as deliberate sacrifices. After all the Emperor is known to have made a pact with the Chaos gods in exchange for the knowledge required to make the Primarchs in the first place. What we don’t know is what the Gods asked for in return. Perhaps the Gods said to the Emperor ‘Kill me a son’ (and the Emperor says “Man, you must be putting me on!”)

Ultimately much remains unknown about the Emperor and his motivations but what we do know is that he foresaw the Heresy, if not its full extent, and his actions did more to cause it than to prevent it. Here we have a man – supremely skilled with magic – who, through elaborate schemes and misdirection, created the modern Imperium upon which the Gods of Chaos have feasted for ten thousand years. Ultimately Horus may have fallen at the Siege of Terra but it was the Gods who were victorious. The Imperium, with its teeming millions and constant warring and plotting, has been the perfect vessel for their schemes for ten millennia. Tzeentch loves those who struggle against their fate, all the while binding themselves tighter and tighter within his schemes, and the Imperium of Man has struggled so very hard indeed. The engines of the state are devoted to covering up the existence of Chaos and stopping an outbreak of pyskers, all the while preventing mankind from achieving its psychic potential. All the races which might prove a threat to the dominance of Chaos (the Orks, Tyranids, Necrons, Tau, even the Eldar) find themselves under the Imperium’s guns. And if you still don’t believe me that the Emperor is either serving Tzeentch, or actually is Tzeentch himself, take a look at that double-headed eagle banner and tell me you’ve not seen it somewhere before…imperium


I rest my case.

Cracking The WIP – Dreadtober Part 2

Two weeks into Dreadtober and the conversion of my Slaaneshi sonic dreadnaught is finally complete (barring odds and ends like the shin armour which will be kept separate for painting and added back in later). slaanesh-sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-wip-1





The claw-arm is now looking much better with the inclusion of some cables to anchor it to the rest of the model. slaanesh-sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-wip-7

I’ve also finished off the warp-amp with a few chains to hold it in place (providing some visual consistency with the Nurgle helbrute I built last year). slaanesh-sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-wip-6

With two weeks to go the first layers of paint will be going on soon but in the meantime your thoughts and feedback are very welcome.

Cracking The WIP – Dreadtober Part 1

Ah, the first Dreadtober update! I had such plans you know! Such things to show you! Alas my grand vision remains unfulfilled. Between work’s cruel yolk and the loving embrace of Grandpappy Nurgle, wrapping his arms around me, blessing me with his gifts and begging me not to leave him for Slaanesh, my progress has been slower than I might have wished.

Now that’s not to say I’ve got nothing to show you, it’s just that I planned to have the model completely assembled and ready for paint already and it’s simply not got there yet. Still, this is one of the most complex conversions I’ve ever attempted, an amalgam of plastic, plasticard, metal, resin and greenstuff so I shall be kind to myself and remind myself that getting this right is the most important thing, and that’s there’s still a lot of month to go.

Still – enough excuses! I have at least managed to get this monster to a stage where it can be tacked together enough that you can get a feel for how it’s going to look on completion, and get your feedback in. sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-1



As you can see there’s still a bit of work to do before he’s ready for paint but progress is being made. The claw arm needs a lot of work before it’s ready to be attached properly and will most likely be raised a little, the tack isn’t strong enough to prevent it drooping under its own weight (insert your own Slaaneshi joke here). There’s also a bit more greenstuff work to do, the base needs done and both shin-guards are coming off so it’s easier to freehand/sculpt/whatever I decide to do with them. Here’s a close up of the arm which as I say still needs a lot of greenstuff before it’s ready to roll. sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-5

And here’s a look at the howling faces on the warp amp. sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-4

There’s also a few ideas which I originally planned for this dread but which are proving unsuitable in practice. Slowly they coalesce at the back of my brain, drawing in scraps of other ideas and generating fresh ones. After all once I’ve made a dreadnaught for Khorne, Nurgle and Slaanesh then poor old Tzeentch is going to be feeling a little left out…

Post Britannia

Today I’m going to be talking about something which has no direct connection to miniatures at all, but nonetheless may well be of interest to many of you. Assuming you enjoy dystopian fiction (and if you don’t are you sure 40k is for you?) I’d like to recommend Post Britannia by Janice and Tom Duke. Janice Duke’s work will already be familiar to followers of this blog, having been featured several times in the past (look no further than the banner at the top of the page) but this is a distinctly different beast. Better known as a visual artist this is her first piece of published writing, with her brother Tom making a natural collaborator.


Set a few generations from our own it follows the fall, and rise, of Billy King as he struggles to survive in a poverty-wracked Great Britain. Caught between his status-obsessed peers, his fractured family and a military-governmental complex bent on control by any means Billy finds himself unwillingly transformed from his humble beginnings into something altogether different.

William King is as out of control as the world he lives in. While a hulking, menacing government bureaucracy consolidates its grip on the general populace, stripping rights and twisting bodies and minds with its attempts to tighten control ever increasing toward attaining utter dominance, Billy’s fracturing mind and feral body scrabble for hope and freedom. Abandoned by father and by brother, assailed by the insanity of his frail yet despotic mother and the dog-eat-dog society she reflects, Billy must choose between starvation in the gutter or submission to military might and pray that some part of him survives. As friends die and dreams crumble, will Billy destroy the corporatist war machine that has invaded and reshaped him from the inside out or be consumed by it?

Post-Britannia is now available to purchase as an eBook or, for those who prefer a nice physical book that can also be used to swat flies, prop-up a wonky table or throw at a burglar the paperback edition is available for North American readers directly from CreateSpace and will be available worldwide via Amazon within the next week or so. For those who want to know more take a look at Janice Duke’s own thoughts on the book, or keep up-to-date via the Facebook group.

I’ve proofread several drafts of this book over the years so it’s a huge thrill for me to finally see it in print. If you enjoy a read that’s dark, edgy and at times more than a little strange then this one’s for you.

The Mark of the Monstrous

“Our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark theatres” – David Quammen, Monster of God


Hot on the heels of the alien hunting Deathwatch the genestealer cults have arrived in force. Having lurked in the shadows for decades, they emerge to usher in the Four-Armed Emperor’s carnivorous reign! Loyal citizens of the Imperium – now is a good time to panic!

genestealer-cultists-3editI know I’ve wittered on about the genestealer cults before, back when Deathwatch: Overkill was released, but I’ve grown to find them one of 40k’s most engaging factions, particularly since the tall bald man with the stylish robes moved in next door, so I won’t miss the opportunity to discuss them again. Overkill brought us the core of the army but the ranks are now expanded with new boxsets for acolyte and neophyte hybrids, an upgrade sprue for corrupting Imperial Guard regiments and the excellent goliath truck. The engines of Imperial labour have been upgraded with unsanctioned weapons, their work-crews with unsanctioned genetics. The taint has spread from sump-slum to spiretop, the day of ascension is upon us and the impure are soon to be consumed. It’s easy to fear our new alien overlords but allow me to clamber onto my soapbox and try to convince you to love them instead.genestealer-cultists-hiding

Sympathy For The Alien

Oh, now we have it. Now the truth dawns. He felt the hairs on his skin rise. I’m not afraid of Horus. I’m afraid of finding out why he has turned against us. I cannot conceive of any justification for this schism, but Horus must have his reasons. I am afraid that when I know them, when they we explained to my baffled mind, I might… agree.”

– The Primarch Rogal Dorn; from The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett

Terrifying though they are there’s something comfortable about killing Tyranids. They are, after all, ravenous monsters hellbent on the consumption of all life. Like zombies they make for a relatively safe mass-killing experience, with no-one in any doubt that the person doing the industrial scale murdering is still a good person. It’s often suggested that this is one of the key reasons why zombie horror films are so enduringly popular. Even the most terrible and barbarous terrorist or fascist dictator contains human traits, common points through which we can relate and upon which potential rests. Are they utterly irredeemable? Could they, given the right circumstances, give up their destructive ways? Could we, subjected to the right pressures, behave as they do? It’s a thought that sparks a flickering of guilt in all but the most psychopathic – a guilt which, I would argue, is necessary to avoid becoming monstrous ourselves in our search for justice. Like all guilt however it is uncomfortable, and like all uncomfortable sensations we are glad to be rid of it when we’re able. A zombie, or a termagaunt, cannot be redeemed, and all the potential violence that lurks within us and with which we are uncomfortable becomes justified. Mow down a crowd in your local high street and you’re a monster, do the same to a mob of flesh-eating zombies and you’re a hero and no-one will ever say ‘did you go too far, could they not have been convinced to change their brain-eating ways?’

At least zombies have the courtesy to shamble around in the street looking suitably dishevelled, blood-spattered and undead. Genestealer cultists, by the third and forth generations, blend in with wider society. Whilst you guiltily read this blog at work can you be sure that your balding colleague is not watching you with fathomless, alien hunger? Who can you truly trust to be without taint; your boss, your best friend, your wife?genestealer-cultists-2Yet the genestealer cultists share only a superficial similarity to the faceless Tyranid hordes. Whilst some, like the patriarch and purestrains are suitably weird and alien the rank and file are just like us. The relatable human character is a rare figure in the 40k universe, even in the Imperium. Unless one is a power-armoured superhuman or a religious fanatic oneself there’s a divide between ourselves and the space marines or the sororitas that’s harder to cross. The mechanicum are even more alien than some of the aliens, and although we might aspire to be as respected and authoritative as an inquisitor most of us are humble guardsmen. They alone offered us away of putting ourselves, unchanged, into the setting. No-one aspires to be a chaos cultist who will never rise high enough to be more than spawn food and whose best hope for personal development is to choke the guns of his master’s enemies.

With the arrival of the genestealer cultists we find a new faction in which we can see ourselves. Like zombies the cultists are distinctly working class but this is no mindless mass but a collaboration of individual acts of cunning. In a video released to promote the new codex the developers note that the cultists may lack much of the clout of their rivals but they’ve been making up for it by patiently stacking the deck in their favour for centuries. The conspiracy theories are all true. The aliens have infiltrated the government.

genestealer-cultists-4-5As usual Black Library have released some tie-in fiction to coincide with the new miniatures; the unimaginatively titled Genestealer Cults (which I haven’t read) and it’s much shorter and far better named prequel Cast A Hungry Shadow (which I have read), both by Peter Fehervari. I can’t comment on the full length novel but the e-short is definitely worth picking up, especially for chaos fans who’ll be hard pressed not to find a new hero in Gharth, leader of the Reedemed, a chaos worshipping, fire-breathing biker gang. The central protagonists of the story however are the Spiral Dawn, a peaceful sect of the Imperial Cult who tend to the spiritual needs of the local mine-workers, and treat those who’ve fallen ill with the black breath. Of course it soon becomes apparent that the Spiral Dawn’s worship of pantheistic star gods is not the same Imperial Cult we’re familiar with and many of their holiest members are far from wholly human.

Beyond the engaging cast and gripping plot which recommends the book by itself, this is also a chance to see things from the genestealer cults’ point of view. Caught between the monstrous Chaos murder-cults roaming the wastelands and the crushing, if currently distant, boot of Imperial authority they need to make use of their combination of cunning and single-minded devotion to survive. They’re a long way from the moment the gods rain down from the sky to gobble-up faithful and heathen alike. In fact they’re not even at the point of being able to ride openly down the street in goliath trucks or limos. The main characters retain much of their humanity and are pulled between the ghostly voice of their unseen prophet, the untainted masses around them and the murderous temptations of Chaos. As heroes they’re wonderfully sympathetic. This is the Imperium’s man on the street and it turns out he’s an alien.

It’s also wonderful to see 40k away from the familiar elements, away from the grandiose world of duelling Titans, ten-thousand year old traitors, sector-wide conflicts and continent sized shrines. Space Marine players, this is what your tactical squad died to defend – some mine workers with lung-rot and a xenos-serving militia. Makes you proud doesn’t it! genestealer-cultist-4

When people talk about the genestealer cults a name that often comes up is that of H.P. Lovecraft. Now good old HP, when he’s not being subjected to cultish adoration himself, get’s a fair bit of flack nowadays for being a terrible racist and an equally terrible writer. His enduring popularity among horror fans however comes from his mastery of one key fact; that compared to the universe humanity is very, very small indeed. On modern day Earth we boast that we are the dominant species and the background of 40k bloats that to extremes. The Imperium of Man is about humankind stamping its authority upon the stars, the eagle standard flying upon a million worlds, a gargantuan bureaucracy that has stood for ten millennia. The genestealer cults recognise that we are small. Against the vastness of space and time we are a mere blip and entropy will make our greatest achievements dust. Though they do not know it they too are but a chapter in our history, evolutionary successors whose plotting will usher in an apocalypse that will devour them in their turn. It’s all rather bleak isn’t it? Not to worry, you can always distract yourself by buying some plastic genestealer cultists. The old cliché has it that, in the grim darkness of the far future, every man is but a spark against the darkness. In truth however those of us familiar with the setting know that even this is an exaggeration. Even hives that team in their billions are but embers of a fire that burned out ten millennia ago. The forces of destruction ranged against us are so vast that who could blame a man for casting himself in worship before those terrible powers in exchange for a last lungful of influence before he drowns?  genestealer-cultists-5-5

You Are What You Eat

One thing we humans hate more than anything else is being eaten. In evolutionary terms an understanding of death is a relatively modern phenomenon and the thought of ourselves lying cold and inanimate on a mortuary slab remains abstract and distant. Not so the thought of being consumed, something that’s been with us since the first microbe realised that the fastest route to free energy was enveloping its neighbour. The thought of being prey horrifies us and where civilisation has swept aside the lions and crocodiles that used to gobble us up a host of authors and film-makers have discovered there’s a living to be made inventing new ones. All human cultures have their own practices by which they decorously dispose of their dead, the key feature uniting them being that its bad form to leave them outside to be feasted on. Even when the bodies are eaten (for example in those cultures which practice air-burials in which bodies are laid out on platforms for birds to pick clean) it’s always by something that wouldn’t normally eat them up in day to day life. Birds and maggots (politely out of sight of course) are fine but chucking granny in with some crocodiles and letting them have at it is generally considered to be bad form.

In this way the tyranids represent a definite horror. They’re not invading the galaxy so they can enslave us or force us to accept a new religion or political system. They’re coming to eat us up and in such a vast and apocalyptic fashion that there’s really not a lot we can do about it. From Gilgamesh and Beowulf to Ripley from the Alien films, if a hero wants to stamp mankind’s authority on the uncivilised wastes they have to do it by killing the local monster. Except in 40k the monster is too vast for lone heroics, the Hive Mind’s locust swarm grapples with the Imperium itself and will almost inevitably pull it apart. Even heroes get old and die but the thought of all life consumed, of the monster’s ultimate victory, is particularly alien to our enlightened sensibilities. Predators are always held to be the most terrifying, and the most holy, in human culture.

However there are worse things than being eaten. White Dwarf describes how the hypnotically entranced victims of a genestealer patriarch allow themselves to receive the ‘genestealer’s kiss’ – an ovipositor in the tongue injecting the alien DNA directly into the bloodstream (admit it – you were wondering how it was done). Thus contaminated you become the alien, or more specifically, the parent of the alien.

“One of the enduring images of these genestealer cultists…was the idea that the loving parents looked down at what they think is a lovely baby boy or girl but is actually a hissing monstrosity”

– Phil Kelly, GW developer.



Thus the grim darkness of the far future is made considerably grimmer and darker by the presence of a lictor lurking somewhere in the pipes and ducting but it’s also made wilder and more free. To the hive worker who bludgeons it to death with a shovel goes the glory of real heroism and the gleam of hope as a man rises triumphant from an unequal struggle. Without it the best he might ever hope for is to be employee of the month at the manufactorum, to have a little space to lie down and sleep, a little food and water, and the hope that – all being well – his descendants might achieve the same for generations to come.

What’s more our humble hive worker with the shovel doesn’t have to go it alone. The Men in Black are here!


The Thin Black Line

To me the race which makes the Deathwatch feel most vital is the Tyranids. Orcs are too funny, Eldar too cultured and Tau too damn nice to be a threat in the same way. The Necrons have the potential to join in as a galaxy ending threat but they’re place in the background has changed from faceless robot baddies to complex cultured alien pharaohs and they’re yet to re-establish the aura of vast threat that they could potentially present. The Hive Fleets however are too vast, too single-minded, too unstoppable in their determination of feast upon us all, to be considered without giving in to nihilism. They need heroes to battle them, no matter how long the odds, to keep us interested. Once the fight becomes one sided we loose interest. The Tyranid threat reminds us of our limitations and encourages our struggle to surpass them.


It’s become something of a cliché to slag off Matt Ward but it’s hard to follow this line of thinking in regard to the Deathwatch without comparing them to their peers, the Grey Knights. Yet whilst the Knights of Titan are preposterously superhuman, and tackle foes so equally overwrought as to seem simplistic, the Deathwatch are a band of brothers, powerful only by their shared skills. They may be gene-wrought supermen but the scale of the threat that opposes them is so great that even they are dwarfed, humble and heroic at the same time. Their foes however remain creatures of flesh and blood, banished by the sword not occult witchery. The message the two factions send is markedly different; you have to be special to kill a daemon but you and I could deal with that genestealer if we work together and put our minds to it.

In more ways than one the genestealer cults are at the opposite end of the spectrum to their Deathwatch adversaries. As the Emperor’s finest the space marines have enjoyed the benefits of the finest genetic science available, carefully crafted into something more than human. Square-jawed and clean limbed they’re aspirational figures ready to sell male grooming products and gym membership to the masses. The genestealer cultists meanwhile are considerably less hale and hearty with their subtly misshapen profiles and the not-quite-human appearance even of the fourth generation hybrids. The tyranids may be undisputed masters of genetic engineering but they still haven’t found a cure for male pattern baldness. Whilst the Deathwatch have access to the best gear the Imperium can provide (Mk. VIII power armour, the stealthy Corvus Blackstar, Custodes guardian spears, even a consecrated Necron blade) the genestealer cultists have to make do with whatever the steal or scavenge (great news for chaos fans – at last we have easy access to lots of autoguns for traitor guard conversions).genestealer-cultists-6-5

Oddly the genestealer cults are also at the far end of the spectrum to the Tyranids themselves. The great devourer has sailed the intergalactic void, the cults remain trapped on a single world until they’re able to sneak aboard someone else’s space ship. The hive fleets storm a planet from the skies, the cults rise from the guts on the hives. The Tyranids rely on overwhelming numbers and powerful monsters to tear enemy armies apart in a storm which sweeps all but the most entrenched of defenders away in a matter of days, the cults must move slowly and with cunning, their schemes playing out over generations until the time is right. When the Tyranids need a new weapon they grow a whole new creature to carry it, endlessly inventing and re-inventing their alien DNA, whilst the cults must rely on rockdrills and waste incinerators.

They come across as plucky underdogs which is not something we see elsewhere among 40k’s cast of heavyweights. A battle won or lost by the genestealer cults feels like it means something. You could be saving a whole planet from falling into their clutches, or throwing off the Imperial yolk at last. Win a battle against the Tyranids and countless billions of hormaguants will swarm onwards towards Holy Terra anyway. Far from the ravenous hosts of the hive fleets the cults are confined to individual worlds and, fearsome though they might be to a squad of guardmen – or even a lone space marine – they pose a threat to the Imperium only through the combined weight of millions of tiny actions. They might overrun a world or two now and then but the Imperium suffers worse blows when one of the High Lords of Terra has a bad lunch. The epic is all very well but without the small scale, the personal, the day-to-day struggles of the common man, it becomes one dimensional and stale. We’ve seen the view from the spire-tops, from starship bridges and the cockpits of titans but the holy shadows make it come alive like never before.

All images copyright Games Workshop and deviously liberated without sanction.

All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 9

Behold! Another berserker ready to reap skulls to lay before the Blood God’s throne!