Disposable Heroes – Part 1

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.

Imperial Guard (6)

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.

Imperial Guard (5)

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.

Imperial Guard (1)

In the painting we see both the weird denizens of the 41st Millennium…

Imperial Guard (3)

…And the unmodified Cadians…

Imperial Guard (4)

…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.

Imperial Guard (2)

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!)

Imperial Guard (8)

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.

Imperial Guard (7)

My aim is to capture Guardsmen like these who appear to actually belong in the 41st Millennium, rather than being imported from our own.

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.

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19 responses to “Disposable Heroes – Part 1

  • imperialrebelork

    I enjoyed this very much. I like your ideas but I also like the Guard as they are. Fresh meat to the grinder. Can’t wait to see your five.

    • Wudugast

      Thanks very much mate 🙂 I guess it would be fairer to say that I don’t dislike the Guard as they are but that I dislike them only being as they are. I would shout the house down if they decided to replace the Cadians but I’d love to see them reinforced by a few other regiments.

      All being well the first of my five will be ready by tomorrow morning…

      • imperialrebelork

        I think I may have mentioned before that I’d love to see plastic kits of praetorian iron guard steel legion tallarn valhallan! Maybe with more head options though erring on the side of bearded, scarred, bald and goggled haha.

      • Wudugast

        Well GW, you heard the man, get sculpting! Oh and don’t forget to do some Vostroyans for me whilst you’re about it!

  • Eric M Wier

    Excellent article. I agree that the Cadians are a little boring and lacking many elements of 40k weirdness. But as you touched on in the article, I think the main issue is that they are the only models that are truly supported anymore. If all the old metal regiments were updated to plastic, I think it would be less of a problem. The Cadians were always supposed to be the elite of elite Guard. Towards that end, I don’t feel all Guard armies would be filled with 40k weirdness. The galaxy is a large place. While many planets might look to the Imperial Tithe as a burden, just throwing away the lives of their people to the Guard, with little equipment, others might take it really seriously, equipping them with the best possible. I am excited to see what you come up with. The more variety and uniqueness poured into the Guard, the more they will actually feel like they are coming from all across the galaxy!

    • Wudugast

      Thank you! Really I’m in agreement with you on all points. Were I to be put in charge of GW I’d bring back all the old regiments (and more) as plastic kits, thus giving the range a much needed shot of variety (I’d also sort us out with new plastic aspect warriors and full expansions for every Chaos legion). As it is though the old metal regiments feel “special” – partly because you so rarely see them nowadays – which only serves to make the Cadians seem more ubiquitous.

      Nor am I dissing the Cadians, they don’t really do anything for me but they’re nice enough models and they deserve their place in the 40k universe. However as you say they seem to occupy a weird position of being both the elite (a role the Tempestus Scions have arguably muscled them out of recently) and the everyman. In many ways I think this does the Cadians a disservice – their presence is diminished by their abundance. I’d like to see more of the planets where the Guard are simply meat for the grinder partly because it would make the Cadians themselves feel a bit more special.

      The other issue I see with the Guard – and I know I’m repeating myself here a little – is that pretty much all of the regiments (whether metal, plastic or resin) feel like modern or historical armies transposed into the 40k setting. That works, and it fits with a galaxy-spanning empire like the Imperium, but I’d like it to be countered by at least one regiment that feels completely native to the setting, a baseline against which all others can be set. The exciting thing about the Invitational is we’re already seeing so many regiments that feel like they belong in 40k, that look like they were birthed by that particular culture. It shows it can be done and it proves – once again – that talented hobbyists are the bedrock upon which the hobby rests.

      • Miniaturedarkness

        Some great thoughts in your article.

        I agree with you about bringing more regiments of guards in plastic and when I saw Duncan Rhodes converted guards in the Shadow Wars issue of White Dwarf I felt a small flickering light of hope.

        I too would like a regiment that leans toward the old Empire in aestetics.

      • Wudugast

        Aye, they’ve showcased a few kitbashed/converted regiments lately (personally I liked the Savlar Chem Dogs best). For a while there it was starting to feel as though only models built straight out of the box were considered “legitimate” – it’s about time converting your own models was put back at the heart of the hobby where it belongs. It didn’t take much, just a few models in the codex/white dwarf showing what could be done, but to my mind it’s one of the most significant positive moves GW have made lately (and credit where its due they’ve made a few good choices recently).

        As for expanding the range of regiments it really wouldn’t take much, I’d be happy to see a squad and a command/heavy weapons unit for each, incorporating a tank gunner and with enough spare heads to scatter around on sentinel crews etc.

  • FirBholg

    Great analysis of the Guard – I very much look forward to seeing what you come up with (particularly since you’ve given yourself the challenge of making them each individuals, as well!)

    • Wudugast

      Thank you! And yes, every one of them will be an individual with his own backstory. The Iron Sleet team have (sensibly) reigned us in by limiting us to 200 words max but I’ll be telling their story through little snippets here 🙂

  • Disposable Heroes – Part 2 | Convert or Die

    […] already discussed the philosophy behind my contribution in great depth so let’s launch straight in with the first couple of models. […]

  • Nysse

    Great writeup. Personally I’ve always seen the guard more as a progression from the PDF’s in that most regiments are drafted from members of different Planetary Forces and already have basic training and some limited combat experience. There used to be quite a lot of fluff with that idea as well (can’t say for sure now as I haven’t really played IG since 2004 or something). The fact that in most fluff pieces the average guardsmans lifespan is counted in minutes definitely doesn’t always fit into it, but I figured that like in most news reporting nowadays the same rule applies in 40k that horrible events get a disproportionate amount of coverage. So you generally only hear of the biggest f**k-ups or the biggest successes. Not much of story to be made of a successful company scale cleansing of a minor Ork camp without major casualties.

    I definitely agree that especially Cadians are perhaps too bland and “normal” compared to the rest of the 40k universe. The older metal Cadians were way better and more characterful. Still within the whole grimdark imperial universe I’ve always thought that with millions of Imperial planets, most of them are bound to be pretty peaceful and “normal” with no large scale wars within the lifespans of your average citizen. Forgeworlds, Agriworlds, Fortress Worlds etc. are probably horrid places to be with everything geared towards a single purpose, but the vast majority of the planets are fairly average with a mix of industry, agriculture etc. that are selfsustainable and export some goods as their tithe as well as providing regiments for the meatgrinder. I’d imagine life on those planets would be closer to a standard sci-fi setting and would produce more average humans.

    One major point in the Imperial Guard backstory that I’ve always kind of liked is the sort of emphasis that your average guardsman isn’t just battling the enemy, but to some extent the top brass as well. The largest risk to your average soldiers seems to be his superiors and non-existent strategy outside of just throwing more meat into the grinder. Kind of reminds me of WW1 where unimaginative leadership lead to millions of deaths from more or less pointless assaults that gained nothing. Personally I really like the idea of the guardsman trying to survive while being sandwiched between horrible leaders and all the nasty things out there in the galaxy.

    • LeVermenarque

      I agree, the WWI background is essential to the Guard in my opinion. 40k is about the endless and absurd (and unwinnable) war, which is very much what art and testimonies about WWI convey as a way to express what was felt in the trenches.

      • Wudugast

        Thank you both – there’s some excellent points made here and I’ll try to tackle all of them.

        Regarding the part about the guard being recruited from the PDF I think you actually make a good point – I considered discussing this in the original post but didn’t want to loose the point I was making with too many caveats. My way of seeing things is that the former PDF troops probably have the highest survival rates within the guard, and are the most likely to live long enough to become true veterans. The “survival time in minutes” statistic probably originates from the sheer number of poorly trained soldiers – after all with the apocalyptic scale of the bombardments, greater daemons running around, city sized tanks etc it’s a fair bet that quite a lot of people are getting killed, and most of those people will be the poorly armoured guardsmen rather than the power-armoured space marines. That said I’d agree that the minor successes don’t get the coverage so we’re undoubtedly looking at a biased view – after all if every battle the Imperium fought was a daemon incursion or a Waaargh then pretty soon even that mighty edifice would fall.

        I’ll also agree that in spite of the fact that in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war there’s also probably a fair bit of peace as well. After all the Imperium is an empire and that means places that aren’t caught in a constant battle for survival. It stands to reason that, no matter how many wars are being fought, if one is hunkered down in a trench taking pot-shots at a rampaging tyranid horde one cannot also be growing potatoes or drilling for promethium, and without the industry, infrastructure and agriculture required to keep everything running the Imperium would collapse in short order.

        That said I’ve never thought there were many planets in the Imperium that were self-sustaining or “normal” by a modern standard. The whole philosophy of the Imperium relies on division and segregation. A planet whose sole purpose is archiving tax records cannot feed itself, an agri-world cannot defend itself and so on. A world that has everything it needs soon starts to wonder if it might not be better off if it wasn’t burdened by the Imperial tithe. Not to say that there aren’t normal worlds in the Imperium – it’s just that I think they are few and far between, and that the “normalness” of the Cadians creates the impression there’s more of them than there really are.

        As for the point about WW1 I think that captures things perfectly. Endless, absurd, unwinnable and unimaginative – WW1 and the Imperium’s wars in a nutshell. (Indeed I’ve always seen the Imperial Guard as a pastiche of WW1). The only major difference is that for the Imperium this is a holy war and disrespecting (let alone disobeying) an order risks one’s immortal soul (not something that was true for all of the troops in WW1). Really the odds should be stacked in the Imperium’s favour – they have the supply lines, the forgeworlds, the man-power. Being able to summon bloodthirsters is great in the middle of a battle but if one wants to fight a galaxy-spanning campaign one needs the infrastructure of war and the other races tend to be lacking in that department – at least on a scale to match the Imperium. Yet the Imperium fights with its brawn and not its wits and relies too much on brute force, either through numbers or the application of astartes, when a more thoughtful approach would lead to fewer casualties. This does serve to reinforce the humanity of the individual guardsmen though – each one really is caught between a rock and hard-place.

  • LeVermenarque

    I like all of this very much, your vision for the guard is very interesting and very inspiring. It made me think of the first crusaders armies, not the ones with the shiny armour but the one with the pilgrims and ordinary men and women.

    Good luck with your project, I’ll be eagerly following!

    • Wudugast

      Thanks very much – and yes, I think crusading armies also form a cornerstone of my inspiration for this. I wouldn’t hazard a guess at proportions but my guess would be that the vast majority of the soldiers in the Imperial Guard would be either conscripts or those who feel compelled to fight by faith (or more likely a mixture of the two). It’s actually something I want to bring in with at least one of the models so watch this space 🙂

  • Alex

    Great read mate – comments as well as your OP. Can’t wait to see what you do with this 🙂

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