So, hands up anyone who didn’t see this coming? After the release of the Thousand Sons was followed by a wave of Tzeentchian daemons it seemed inevitable that the Death Guard would soon be bolstered by a warp-spawned horde of Nurgle’s own. Time to roll up our sleeves and wallow in the filth once more!
Great Unclean One
If a wave of Nurgle daemons was inevitable then the rotund form of the Great Unclean One at the head of the cavalcade was even more so. For what seemed like an eternity people were crying out for plastic kits for the greater daemons and even now it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long to get them. As each has emerged however they’ve proved their worth. First we had the Bloodthirster, then the Lord of Change, and now the hulking Great Unclean One (and let us not forget the Verminlord, a greater daemon in all but name and a model which often stands in for a rather butch Keeper of Secrets until Slaanesh finally gets his hour).
In many ways the new Great Unclean One finds itself facing a more critical reception than it’s predecessors amongst the pantheon of greater daemons. Unlike, for example, the Bloodthirster – which had a reputation for ugliness that the incoming plastic model found all too easy to dismiss – the outgoing Great Unclean One was fairly well loved. Furthermore the Forge World version has a well deserved reputation and together they cast a long shadow into which the new model must step. No longer are plastic greater daemons the stuff of feverish wish-listing and the wild claims of the more hyperbolic corners of the internet. No longer is it enough for a plastic Great Unclean One to simply be, now it has to be good to boot.
Luckily the model that has emerged is downright spectacular and Nurgle fans everywhere can breathe a fetid sigh of relief.
There’s nothing fancy here, nothing unexpected. It’s a conservative model that owes a lot to its forerunners, both from the Games Workshop and Forgeworld stables. Hell it’s pretty much lifted straight from the cover of The Lost and the Damned – which is exactly how it should be. Best new model of 2018? The bar has already been set high!
As ever with Nurgle there are plenty of little Nurglings along for the ride, and the six which accompany the Great Unclean One are a real treat. Indeed it’s hard to pick a favourite, between the warrior nurgling, the fly-faced wizard nurgling and the ever-so-casual reclining-on-a-roll-of-fat-nurgling, but special credit has to go to this little guy who’s in the process of being squashed flat.
And for those wondering exactly where the poor little chap has been placed on the studio model look no further. What a hideous way to go!
Given his presence in previous codices and army books, and his starring role in the novel Dark Imperium as a morbid, moping architect of the plague wars in Ultramar, one might have expected to see Ku’gath the Plaguefather appearing as a special character. Ku’gath however has always seemed like something of a mouthful for GW to produce, as if a normal Great Unclean One wasn’t big enough Ku’gath comes mounted on a swaying palanquin, and carries a whole laboratory around with him. Not that GW have balked at creating envelope-pushing models before but as a special character Ku’gath was always going to be an expensive proposition with limited appeal. Whilst the more enthusiastic Nurgle fans will be picking up three Great Unclean Ones to create the full suite of these monsters even the most fervent of the plague-god’s servants would buy only one Ku’gath. Who knows if the sorrowful chap will re-emerge someday down the line, as Skarbrand did in the wake of the Bloodthirster release? If not however there are plenty of talented people out there ready and willing to summon him and with the right mixture of plasticard, greenstuff and the new Great Unclean One kit I expect to see him bursting back out of the warp in no-time flat.
So instead of Ku’gath we get Rotigus Rainfather, styled as a wizard with a gnarled staff and outstretched casting hand. Sadly Rotigus falls a little short in comparison to the standard Great Unclean One. That’s not to say he’s bad, far from it, just that the Great Unclean One is so perfectly formed that any attempt to add flourish comes off as slightly superfluous.
Whilst the normal Great Unclean One manages a suitably horrifying expression by dint of gurning alone Rotigus vomits maggots as well. And whilst maggot spewing is suitably horrible, and well in keeping with Nurgle, alongside all the guts, sores, lesions and other details – each of which is wonderfully ugly in its own right – it just gets a little lost.
Meanwhile his hand, beyond the standard issue fingers and thumbs that most of us have, comes with a mane of seven tentacles and a hideous part-flayed face. Whilst I’m usually in favour of a bit of extraneous mutation on my chaos followers this seems a little excessive even for me. The face especially seems like a missed opportunity because it’s actually more viscerally horrifying and attention focussing that the one on Rotigus’ head. Surely having designed such an excellent looking visage they could have found a better way to include it in the kit, even as only another alternative head, and just give Rotigus a normal hand? Indeed a look at the sprue suggests that, so long as one doesn’t mind a little cutting and probably a smidgen of greenstuff, it shouldn’t be impossible to do just that for hobbiests with at least an intermediate level of experience. The ingredients are good but in their desperation to make their special character more special GW have overcooked them and the result is a little too rich for my taste. Never has the expression *facepalm* been more appropriate.
Ultimately Rotigus isn’t a bad model but given that he’ll always be in direct comparison to the standard Great Unclean One he falls short. Goes to show you can’t improve on perfection!
The concept of Nurgle as a cultivator has long been established in the background; his realm is a garden, his tender hand nurturing the fragile seedlings of plagues until they are hardy enough to be unleashed upon the galaxy. Lately the concept has been expanded onto the miniatures themselves, for example through the tree-like growths sprouting from the plague marines. Now we get to see Nurgle’s personal gardener, the Grand Cultivator Horticulous Slimux – and what a deeply flawed model it is.
First appearing as an exclusive to the Blightwar boxset Horticulous Slimux’s stand-alone release, and introduction to the 41st Millennium, is a matter of dubious excitement at best. On the one hand more characters and creativity can only be a good thing, on the other he’s just downright ugly.
The gormless expression on Horticulous’ face, the bone pipe clamped in his mouth, the plough tilling the rotten earth behind him, the gnarled branch rising overhead; it could all add up to a wonderfully quirky and dark model, if it wasn’t ruined by all the silly touches – especially on his steed, Mulch – that make him look like an escapee from children’s TV. A few of these quirky elements (the gardening sheers as weapons, the dangling Nurgling used to coax the beast into movement like a carrot hanging just out of reach in from of a donkey) would work well enough, but the daft expression of Mulsh’s face is too Disney for my taste. That said he could be fixed – snip off the dropping moustache and leave off the eyestalks however and who knows, what at first appears to be an abomination might just be salvageable.
Whilst Slimux is a little too silly for my taste there’s nothing to criticise about the sheer mad brilliance of the Sloppity Bilepiper.
Perhaps one of the most striking things about the model is the sense of dynamic movement that it contains. In general dancing hasn’t been Nurgle’s forte – Khorne may charge, Slaanesh pounce and Tzeentch sail through the air on winged disks but Nurgle has made an art form of trudging. Whilst the other gods have speed on their side the followers of Nurgle prefer an inexorable advance, slow and steady as Aesop’s tortoise, and equally unyielding under fire. To see one of the plague god’s daemons boogying with the best of them is mould breaking, but also serves to redefine the rest of the range.
Nurgle loves a party. He’s the god of life and death and though the latter aspect has often been the focus when it comes to the models, with sloughing flesh, weeping sores and spilled guts everywhere, with the Bilepiper we get to see the other side of things. Here is a model which encapsulates the core message of Nurgle’s worshippers – today we celebrate for tomorrow it will be too late. They party like there’s no tomorrow and one glance at the diseases they play host to suggests there probably isn’t.
Lesser companies often make the mistake of trying to make every model in a range “dynamic” until a collection looks less like an army and more like a nightclub in which everyone has suddenly become subject to an especially unpleasant palsy. There’s much to be said for a restrained look, leaving the particularly vigorous poses for those who really need it (Eldar Harlequins for instance) and letting other races show they can fight without needing to perform a dance-off. It would be easy to make Nurgle the party-god, a rotten Bacchus with a host of capering followers, yet by restraining themselves to just one GW neatly brings a sense of fun to the range without diluting the grimmer aspects.
Much childish – if well deserved – humour has been made of the silly naming conventions GW has been employing in recent years. Given the similarity of some of these names it can be tricky for the likes of me to remember what’s a Lord of Blights and what’s a Lord of Plagues. The Sloppity Bilepiper however may just be the one that sticks in my head. It may well be the silliest of the recent names but it’s also probably the most forgivable, and the most memorable. Of course GW could have saved everyone a lot of hassle by shortening a lot of their recent names (a squad of Blightkings rather than Putrid Blightkings, a Plaguecaster rather than a Malignant Plaguecaster) and likewise this chap would have managed just as well as a simple Bilepiper – but one look at his goofy, joyful face and I can excuse him being a little Sloppity as well.
Nurgle is a god of extremes, a deity who exists in a world of contrasts and opposites. Not for nothing is he known as the God of Life and Death, for his world is one of constant growth, decay and rebirth, his servants the maggots and fungus that feed upon festering flesh and the diseases that rage with fresh life whilst devouring living flesh and spreading death in their wake. Likewise his daemons tend towards either joy or melancholy and whilst the Sloppity Bilepiper has found himself possessed of unplanned levity following his infection by the chortling murrain the Spoilpox Scrivener has a job to do, and no time for silliness or unproductive capering.
Of all the chaos gods it’s Nurgle who is allowed the chance to be funny. One cannot really picture Khorne or Slaanesh doing jokes and even Tzeentch, with his hosts of silly-looking horrors, is simply too weird and labyrinthine to be humorous. Nurgle however gets to be funny, indeed he needs to be funny to prevent him from simply being gross. Nurgle comes to the table with everything to lose; his followers are filthy and sickly, covered head to festering toe in boils, sores and weeping wounds. It’s enough to turn even the hardiest painter’s stomach. Whilst his brothers are, respectively, lean and sexy, muscular and macho or weird and magical, poor old Nurgle sends a smelly corpse with an abscess for a face and still expects to win the hearts and minds (not to mention wallets) of the miniature buying public. How does he manage it so consistently? By throwing in a little humour, by adding an element of comedy relief to balance out the grossness. The Sloppity Bilepiper plays this to a T but, with his caricatured seriousness, the Spoilpox Scrivener pulls it off with equal aplomb. I may have thought at first glance that he had a giant squig perched like a parrot on his shoulder but his outsize mouth brings more than a touch of wit and absurdity to the model. Whilst any other creature would baulk at the idea of storing valuable scrolls in their own bowels it makes perfect sense for one of Nurgle’s host – and whilst he pompously records details of the battle on his giant scroll a cheeky nurgling is eating the other end of it. All in all he’s a self-important jobsworth with a big mouth, and who hasn’t worked with one or two of them in our lives? His frowning, grumpy face makes for a neat contrast with the levity of the Bilepiper to the extent that the two models are really crying out to be placed together, one shuddering with passive-aggressive rage as he attempts to focus on his impossible task whilst the other capers carelessly around him.
Yet whilst the Scrivener appears at first to be an utterly humourless git there are a few clues that he’s got more life in him than meets the eye. His quill for example is clearly plucked from the tail of a Lord of Change proving that even this dour bureaucrat finds time to direct a little cheek towards Nurgle’s old enemy Tzeentch.
Lord of Blights
Recently it’s become something of a cliché to praise GW for their creativity and willingness to embrace new ideas. It seems the days have now passed in which each release was a lot like the last, power armour ruled and new models harked back only to the less outrageous ideas of the early years. The Bilepiper and Spoilpox Scrivener both recall Rackham at its height and though I’m less than impressed with Horticulous I can’t fault the inventiveness behind him. Alas however before we get too full of praise for this bold, imaginative new incarnation of Games Workshop, there’s the Lord of Blights to look at.
Back when the Nurgle Lord (now called a Lord of Plagues) was released it became an instant classic. Painters loved it whilst to dedicated convertors it became a staple, a model that pretty much everyone who’s ever turned their hand to converting has tackled to a greater or lesser degree. Naturally GW must have been desperate to recreate its success and with the Blightkings they turned it from a single hero to a whole squad of equally impressive models, whilst Gutrot Spume took the static, no-frills lord and reinvented him as a dynamic character. There comes a point however when even the fattest cash cow starts to run out of milk.
There were lots of options for GW when they decided to add another mortal hero to fight for Nurgle in the Age of Sigmar. They could have gone for some kind of shaman or sorcerer in matted robes. They might have made a once-noble knight in rusting armour, a bestial pestigor champion, a crazed doctor or the demented ringmaster from Nurgle’s caravan. What about a priest of decay, a maggot tamer, a skeletally thin harbinger of famine or a bloated ogre, vast bulk struggling to contain the decay within? Given the wars that have raged in the Realm of Life between the Rotbringers and the Sylvaneth perhaps a corrupted branchwraith would have been appropriate. Disease affects all living things so here was a chance to show what happens when Nurgle’s ailments are contracted by someone other than a well-built male barbarian. We could have seen a sickly elf, twisted with bitterness as his immortality became a curse. We could have had a disease ravaged dwarf in a rust-caked suit of armour, great vats of toxin on his hunched back whilst intestinal pipes, throbbing with peristaltic action, spew jets of filth ahead of him? We could even have had a woman. Of course Nurgle isn’t all that interested in high heels and boob-armour but this is an age of equal opportunities and girls can worship an unglamorous god of disease and putrefaction just as well as boys.
But no, they decided to release a slightly tweaked version of the Nurgle Lord instead.
Talk about a disappointment. Having stuck to the tried-and-tested with the Great Unclean One now was the time to let their hair down and do something creative, and they dropped the ball spectacularly. There’s nothing new here, nothing note-worthy. It’s the model that’s famed for being converted by everyone, and GW’s converted it themselves. It’s not that it’s particularly bad – in fact it’s pretty good all things considered. However the mark of Nurgle made out of maggots is a bit half-arsed, the gallows is a good idea amateurishly executed, the head and helmet are nice, and pretty much everything else could have been put together by even the most inexperienced of kitbashers. Needless to say if the Nurgle Lord hadn’t been released all those years ago I’d be jumping up and down with excitement over this, but it was so I’m not. With this one GW have failed entirely to match their own standards and in doing so have let both themselves and their fans down. Next!
Not that being obvious is always a bad thing. When the World Eaters see a full scale release it seems fair to assume that we’ll see new berserkers (in both power-armour and terminator armour), the primarch Angron and champions riding on juggernaughts. All obvious choices (hence my guess that this is what we’ll see) but none of them bad. Indeed many people would be disappointed if we don’t see those models in the final release.
Likewise the pusgoyle blightlords. Given the well deserved popularity of the blightkings returning to them was a natural decision on GW’s part and the pusgoyles do it in style. Whilst the Lord of Blights is simply a half-baked remodelling of its predecessor the Nurgle Lord, the pusgoyles take the blightkings and add something which is both in keeping with its forerunner and a natural evolution of it. What does one give to a champion of Nurgle prior to his ascension to daemonhood? Why a huge fly to ride around on of course! What does one give to a fan of Nurgle looking to add flare to their collection? How about a whole heap of useful bits (weapons, heads, handy mutations). It’s just a pity the price tag is so high or this would be a must-have for everyone with a Nurgle collection just for the bits. Of course one would tend to assume that a blightking would outrank a blightlord – so much for forward thinking eh GW?
If I have one major query about the pusgoyles it’s what on earth GW were thinking giving the riders such impressively erect horns between their legs? Has the design studio become so po-faced that no-one was caught giggling at these rather Slaaneshi protuberances? Did the Alpha Legion agent behind the infamous “farting sorcerer” of the Thousand Sons strike again? This one is the worst of all – stop it man you’ll go blind!
Already some of the finest minds of the 40k converting community will be focussed on the question of how to translate these to the 41st Millennium with alternative bloat-drones, plague-drones or death guard champions on winged mounts all natural possibilities. Or what about using them as the basis of a Nurgle heldrake – or even a daemon prince?
The remaining bits can then be scattered around Death Guard champions, sorcerers and so on to show the extent of Nurgle’s favour. For a unique looking Death Guard or other Nurgle collection this has the makings of a goldmine.
Beasts of Nurgle
The followers of Nurgle tend to the extremes when it comes to mood. Whilst Khorne’s legions are angry to a man those of the Plague God lean either towards the gloomy (Plaguebearers especially) or the jolly (Great Unclean Ones and Nurglings). No-one, however, is as happy as a Beast of Nurgle – an overexcited puppy in the bulky body of a mutant slug.
The new kit plays this sense of joy and energy perfectly, and nowhere better than with the tongue-lolling, bug-eyed faces.
Traditionally the Beasts of Nurgle have been described as boisterous, puppy-like creatures, joyfully seeking new friends amongst their horrified enemies. The outgoing beast however never seemed particularly friendly or happy, looking instead like a slightly sour-faced slug. Of course one could argue that this is more a case of its alien physiology but I would disagree. The daemons of chaos are formed from the gestalt reflection of human emotion. The new beast may have cartoon-like qualities but I put that down to an exaggeration of human qualities, a distorted reflection of ourselves. The old beast on the other hand would still make a good chaos spawn of Nurgle.
According to the background fiction Beasts of Nurgle become bitter after finding themselves repeatedly rejected by their mortal playmates (who tend to react with unbridled horror at the prospect of a slug weighing several tonnes jumping up to lick their faces). Returning to Nurgle’s garden they sulk, eventually transforming into rot-flies.
A great idea but there’s no sign on either model to suggest a link. Don’t get me wrong – the beasts look awesome, the rot-flies look awesome, but there’s nothing to suggest that one develops into the other. Of course I’m aware that fly larva look nothing like adult flies (my day job involves peering through a microscope at hundreds of the little buggers) and that in the shifting, dreamlike world of the Warp intention and metaphor are worth more than physics and biology. Nonetheless here was an opportunity – particularly with the tweaking of the rot-fly design for the pusgoyles and the considerable overhaul of the Beasts – to play to that particular aspect of the background and tie the two together and GW missed it.
Having watched the reaction of the fans in several places online the response seems to have echoed the life-cycle of the beasts themselves. Initially exuberant when pictures of the Beasts began to circulate the fans became rancorous and dejected when they discovered that their money bought only a single model rather than a squad. That said few of the fans have so far turned into rot-flies, although some have a similar degree of personal hygiene. As for the debate over the cost of the beast I think it’s best avoided here but suffice to say that this isn’t a small model by any means and, rightly or wrongly, anyone who expects to get a model of this size from GW for a lower price is thinking very wishfully indeed.
Certainly some aspects of the model could have been improved to make it more customisable. For example although there are plenty of options (four stomachs, two crests, a choice of paws, various heads and so on) the overall pose is repeated. The raised paw is a clever touch on a lone miniature, reminiscent of a dog taught to shake hands or someone giving a high-five. GW however probably intends for these to be used in squads, at which point the raised paw becomes a problem, unless you’re planning to model daemonic version of a Mexican wave. That said whoever posed this group shot so that the Beast appears to be grabbing his boss’ arse is a hero of mine.
Sadly a look at the sprue suggests that changing the position of the raised arm without greenstuff won’t be easy. Sadly this rather undermines what would otherwise be another stand-out kit although not so much as to put me off the model entirely, it has too many good qualities to let a little thing like that come between us. Ultimately the Beast loves you in spite of your flaws – and I love it back.
Now this is exciting. I may not own much terrain (something I’m determined once again to rectify this year – but as with previous years may very well not) but I’m still a big fan of it. At its heart the hobby that we all participate in is about participation in the worlds that Games Workshop (or others) have created, be that the war-torn galaxy of the 41st Millennium, the Mortal Realms, the Old World of Warhammer, or wherever. When it comes to playing games there are better experiences out there, more tactically challenging and vividly rendered, just waiting to be unlocked by anyone with access to a half-way decent computer. You can’t beat miniatures with pixels though and the worlds that GW have created breath best when we add terrain and let them come alive. Why pour hours into painting a beautiful army only for it to battle over the bare wood of the dining room table? Yet building terrain often plays second fiddle to collecting armies. Lately GW have been churning out some downright beautiful kits to make this kind of world building easier and easier, yet unless you’re planning a war based in the ruins of an Imperial city there’s still a gap to be filled. The appeal of 40k and the Mortal Realms alike hinges on their potential for variety, so where are the terrain kits for daemonworlds, tyranid infestations, ork strongholds, eldar craftworlds and so on (to be fair there is the tau tidewall but I almost forgot about it – blame my prejudice against the fish-faced do-gooders). At last however, with the release of the feculent gnarlmaw you can own a little slice of the Garden of Nurgle for yourself.
Years ago, when the most recent beastmen army book was released for Warhammer, a rumour did the rounds that, as part of the release we’d see a treeman, bloated and corrupted by the power of Nurgle. Then as now there was a section of the online community which treated such claims as fact, and heaped withering scorn upon the doubters, right up to the point at which the story proved false. In the end the only tainted treeman to emerge from GW was not a new kit but this (still rather excellent) terrain piece featured in White Dwarf.
And I’m not suggesting that GW steal all their ideas from me – but it does go to show that life is always better with a pestilent tree for a friend…
Time however sometimes dredges a good idea back from the grave. Perhaps someone at GW spotted of what proved to be an inspired piece of wishlisting and the idea took root (boom boom). Perhaps great minds simply thought alike. Regardless we have a hideous daemon tree ready to make all kinds of landscapes a little more ghastly and unearthly. Of course I’ll be using the skulls pack GW released last year to fill the tree’s mouth with skulls rather than maggots – after all I look at maggots all day at work whilst the worlds of the 41st millennium can never contain too many skulls.
Those Who’re Left Behind
In spite of all the good things packed into this release – and with exception of a few bum-notes it’s been crammed with quality – there’s still a lot of things missing that I expected to see. Ku’gath has already been mentioned but what about Epidermus, the special-character herald of the plague-god who surely deserved a new model? With the Death Guard release seeing a new Typhus, the Tzeentchian daemons a new Changling, the Thousand Sons a new Ahriman and so on, a new model for the tallyman seemed inevitable, until of course it failed to appear. What about a palanquin, Nurgle’s iconic steed? Surely leaving them out entirely is like working on Tzeentch without disks or Khorne without juggernauts. Meanwhile anyone who examined the newest edition of the 40k rulebook closely found so many mentions of pestigors alongside the Death Guard that they felt certain the plague-ridden beastmen would soon be amongst us, yet here a second wave of Nurgley models has swept onto our painting desks and gaming tables and not a single rot-infested goat has emerged.
One wonders if there might be a second wave of the Plague God’s followers lurking in the wings, ready to be unleashed as part of another expansion further down the line? After all fans of Nurgle have been extraordinarily blessed over recent months but GW must be wary of over-saturating their market, leaving Nurgle-lovers overwhelmed and Nurgle-haters left out in the cold. Rather than drowning us all in a tidal wave of filth, exciting though that might sound to some of us, a more considered approach pays dividends in the long run. Furthermore a lot of the aforementioned releases would seem like obvious choices, but that would have left little room in the release schedule for some of the more creative options such as the Gnarlmaw or the Bilepiper.
Maybe I’m setting myself up with false hope but one cannot help but wonder if Ku’gath and his servants have been banished only temporarily to the Warp and wait to be let loose in a year or so’s time. I’d like to claim that this gives me plenty of time to get my desk cleared of part-painted models in anticipation but, especially in the wake of a release as rich as this one, that really is setting myself up with false hope.
As ever with these reviews if a picture isn’t of one of my miniatures, or clearly labelled otherwise, it’s property of Games Workshop and used without permission. Think of me as the Sloppity Bilepiper to GW’s legal Scriveners!