Although the Imperial Guard has often appealed to me I’ve always found the miniatures themselves to be amongst the least inspiring in the Games Workshop cannon (sharing a space next to the Tau and the High Elves at the very bottom of the list of things I’ll probably never paint). The filth and insanity, the sheer alienness of humanity in the 41st Millennium, simply hasn’t rubbed off on them. This is something I’ve written about, at length, on many occasions, but it’s taken the second Iron Sleet Invitational to get me to do something about it.
Ultimately it’s the humble guardsman who defines life in the 41st Millennium, who shows us what it is to be a human amongst the stars. It’s a well-trod complaint that Age of Sigmar lacks personality whilst the focus remains on the superhuman Stormcasts and not the mortals who actually live in the Mortal Realms (and yes, I’m aware that this is something GW have attempted to address although to my mind they still have a way to go there). Likewise the space marines may be supermen, and the horrors of the galaxy horrifying, but only when stood in comparison to a normal human, a person like you or I.
Of course I’m a big fan of the Vostroyan Firstborn and the Armageddon Steel Legion – indeed I’d like to see all the existing guard regiments given plastic kits to replace the ageing metal models. They capture the range of diverse cultures within the Imperium. However what I want to see are the normal soldiers, the fighting men raised from worlds without particularly unusual climates or cultures. It’s like only having the Space Wolves without the Ultramarines, the weird is only weird when we have a baseline of normality to compare against.
My mental image of the Imperial Guard has always mixed together elements of the Death Corps of Kreig, the Solar Auxilia and the Bretonian peasantry – all seen through the lens of the Regimental Standard. To me part of the problem with the Cadians is not that they’re normal people – I’m all in favour of that – but that they’re normal modern people. If you or I ended up in 41st Millennium and managed to stay alive long enough to be press-ganged into the Guard we’d probably look a lot like a Cadian. The thing is the everyday people of the 41st Millennium aren’t like us. They grow up with incredible hardship. They think one square meal a day is a luxury, they wouldn’t know what to do with a bath and medical treatment for minor injuries is out of the question. They’re all indoctrinated from birth into a state religion that calls for fanatical worship. They think nothing of having limbs or organs chopped off and replaced with mechanical odds and ends (assuming of course that they are considered worthy of this). Whilst we are raised to believe we’re individually special they are taught that they are disposable, mere cogs in a dystopian machine that has kept mankind alive against the odds for ten millennia. Very little of this is represented on the actual models however.
Take a look at this picture and we see the classic image of the Imperial Guard at war. Thousands of soldiers pour forth, backed up by strange characters; priests, wizards and the cybernetic hybrids of the Mechanicum. Rather than blending the medieval with the futuristic the two have been rather lumped together so that the good old Cadians look like part of a completely different army to the specialists.
In the painting we see both the weird denizens of the 41st Millennium…
…And the unmodified Cadians…
…but only occasionally, such as with this commander, are there signs that the two originate from the same culture, let alone belong to the same army.
The painting is reminiscent of what may be a formative memory for many of us; a few 40k figures mixed into an advancing horde of little green army men. One expects to see a few dinosaurs lumbering along behind them, and perhaps your sister’s Barbie striding in the background like some amazon colossus, as they storm their way across the flower beds and onto the lawn – only for the war to be called off at short notice when one’s mum calls one in for dinner. (I however don’t have a sister and never played with toy soldiers. I was all about the dinosaurs baby!)
We’re often presented with the idea that there is a level of progression from the PDF (planetary defence force) and the Guard – and that the Guard are better soldiers. To my mind this doesn’t quite add up however. Those in the PDF can be career soldiers, and actually gain some degree of exposure to combat hunting down local pirates, escaped convicts, minor cults and whatever else threatens the Emperor’s peace. In the Guard one is handed the best equipment that hasty mass-production can buy and thrown into the path of the nearest rampaging enemy. One’s experience of actual fighting probably lasts about 20 seconds and ends badly. The aim is not to outfight the enemy, that’s what the astartes are for, but simply to choke it with weight of numbers. Much like Khorne the Imperium cares not from where the blood flows, so long as in the end the enemy drowns in it.
In a recent post on his facebook page Aaron Dembski-Bowden, discussing something he’d received from some knuckle-dragging bigot, noted;
“If you think the Guard give a shit who they hand out flashlights to or who is fed into the meatgrinder, then you don’t understand the Guard.”
In those few words he sums up much of what I’m trying to convey in this rather long and wordy post. The Imperium is beset by a myriad of enemies, including those vastly technologically superior (the Eldar and Necrons for example) or with functionally limitless forces at their command (Orks, Tyranids, Daemons). All the Imperium really has on its side is sheer size and bullishness. People it has in abundance. The mathematics are harsh but honest – no matter how seriously an individual guardsman may be outgunned the Imperium can afford to keep throwing more and more into the breach. Best case scenario one of them get’s in a lucky shot. Worst case scenario eventually the enemies gets tired out killing them all and has to stop for a rest.
Imagine then the life of the poor Imperial functionary. Their orders are to raise a (probably quite unobtainable) number of soldiers in a ludicrously short span of time before the enemy finishes killing the last lot and turns their attention towards more important targets. No-one cares how good they actually are at fighting, and they’re unlikely to live long enough for anyone to find out. It’s not his job to inspect them, or worry about their health, their mental state, their equipment. They’re given a lasgun and told to do their best, and by the Emperor they damn well do it. The appeal of the Guard is not merely that they “are but men” but that they do their best even when the odds are stacked against them.
It’s this that I’ll be trying to convey with the five models I create for the Invitational. Each model should be;
- Distinctly an inhabitant of the 41st Millennium (rather than just a modern soldier with an aquila on his gear).
- Woefully underequipped for the task in hand
- A character in his own right (after all these people had their own lives before recruitment and have their own personalities and character quirks, they’re not just members of a mass-spawned horde like a guant or a necron). We should care about them enough that their impending death is a tragedy as well as an inevitability.
When it comes to my own vision of the Guard the Cadians remain a good place to start, but they’re still crying out for a few critical changes to give them the sense of grubby weirdness that otherwise encapsulates 40k. I’ve armed myself with five Cadians (rescued from induction into my traitor guard army – something which I might include in any background I end up writing for them) and started tacking together bits. Watch this space!
All images used are copyright Games Workshop.