Blackstone Fortress: Spindle Drones

Despite having an inordinate number of miniatures in the house, all our games of Blackstone Fortress have so far featured a mix of unpainted models (the heroes) and various proxies (the villains). Traitor guardsmen and chaos marines are easy to come by on my shelves, and fantasy ghouls were pressed into service as ur-ghuls, but for the rest a more esoteric approach has been required. Rather than spindle drones drifting serenely through the corridors the first adversaries the explorers encountered were a small band of grots, presumably sent on a scavenging mission by their ork bosses.

Fun though the little blighters are however, and despite the space-gobbos have more in common with traditional dungeon dwelling baddies, I really wanted to get the real spindle drones painted up. To me they add a great deal to the atmosphere of the game, calling to mind the fact that this is a strange and incredibly ancient structure, constructed by enigmatic beings in a long lost and now unknowable age (although it’s probably a safe bet that in the grim darkness of the far past it was mostly war as well). They’re also quite beautiful models, often overlooked alongside fan-favourites like the long-awaited traitor guard or the showstopping cast of heroes, but wonderfully evocative nonetheless.

They’re also gloriously alien. There’s really nothing quite like them in the 41st Millennium (perhaps they’d fit in with the Eldar but even then it would be a stretch) – and indeed it was because of this lack of suitable proxies that I ended up using the aforementioned grots.

Anyway, for all of these reasons, I decided to tackle them first so that next time we play we’ll be able to do so with a bit more style.

Blackstone Fortress Spindle Drones Wudugast (1)Blackstone Fortress Spindle Drones Wudugast (3)Blackstone Fortress Spindle Drones Wudugast (2)

Normally I’d tend to steer away from having duplicate models in a collection (indeed regular readers will know this borders on being an obsession) but in this case I think the uniformity actually adds to the impression of anonymous worker drones (plus to tinker with them too much risked destroying the very qualities which drew them to me in the first place). I will however be trying to individualise the Ur-ghuls and traitor guardsmen when I get around to them.

Blackstone Fortress Spindle Drones Wudugast (4)

As I was working on them I realised that these would actually qualify neatly for both halves of Azazel’s latest hobby challenge. This month it’s a two-part challenge – on the one hand we have “Squad: March!” (nothing complicated – just a case of finishing a squad in March), on the other it’s a gender-ambiguous model painting challenge. The idea apparently spun off from Fembruary (edit; not strictly true, as I’ve since been corrected – see Azazel’s comprehensive and interesting comment below or, better yet, click on the link above to see the original challenge in his own words), the annual event organised by Alex of Leadballoony which encourages hobbyists to add female miniatures to our male dominated collections. If you’ve not already seen it the gallery of this year’s contributors is well worth a look (not least because he gives a particular shout-out to this hairy heretic).

Essentially the gender-ambiguous half of this challenge therefore makes for a reappraising of the idea that miniature’s are automatically “male” unless proven otherwise (honestly I don’t think I ever made that assumption but it’s fun to play with nonetheless). That space marine? Definitely a bloke. Those Escher gangers? Women without a doubt. But what about those squigs or fleshhounds? Does a lady night goblin really look different to a male one under all those robes? Who knows what those ranks of skeletons looked like when they were fully fleshed?

Naturally these are just perfect for this, being as they are bio-mechanical alien robots. How they go about making new spindle-drones we can only guess – and sadly, this being the internet, someone probably has… (assuming they do and these creatures haven’t been drifting around the Blackstone Fortress for however many hundreds of thousands of years it’s been floating in space without replenishing their numbers). Of course this could be the perfect moment for me to sidetrack onto a long ramble about human-esque aliens in science fiction and how much it exasperates me (narrow budgets and limited costume department’s notwithstanding) when science fiction writers assume that species developing along an entirely separate evolutionary pathway, on a planet with very different environmental pressures, would naturally end up looking just like human’s with unusual foreheads. I’ve grown more relaxed about this over the years (at least in part because if you let it bother you then the range of sci-fi available to you narrows alarmingly) but it used to hack me off righteously I can tell you. Warhammer 40,000, of course, get’s away with it by giving science fiction a body-swerve and instead pitching itself as old fashioned fantasy in space (and anyone caught with a funny looking forehead is purged before they infest the entire planet with their deviant xenos creed!). However, rather than plunge any further down this particular rabbit hole, I’m off to rummage around for more aliens to paint (gender notwithstanding!).

27 responses to “Blackstone Fortress: Spindle Drones

  • Alex

    Very cool mate, I really like the pale green/bone carapace – they actually look vaguely Nurgle with that colour scheme and the single eye! Sweet!

    • Wudugast

      Cheers man – you’re right, there is something faintly Nurgly about them. Often thought it would be interesting to see them make a Nurgle model without all the guts and boils, not that this aesthetic bothers me but I’d be curious to see what they came up with if they took the ideas surrounding that god in a completely different direction.

  • davekay

    Nice work, the green looks great!

  • Azazel

    The spindle drones look great – were they quick to paint? I may have to bump them up the queue…

    Also, thanks for the shout-out, but.. I do have to correct you on the gender-ambiguous challenge being a “spin-off” of Fembruary – because it’s not like that at all.

    It was prompted by Ann referring to some of her Nurgle figures as “she”, which made me *think* about assumptions. And then when I attempted to nominate some of my plaguebearers for last year’s Fembruary, they were met with …less than a lot of enthusiasm by a couple of people (even though it’s actually 100% fluff-friendly as well. Clearly, this was because they don’t present as clearly female. Nevermind that they don’t present as clearly male either…

    So this year, during February – as it happened – I literally just happened to be painting up a bunch of figures where, once again, the gender isn’t visibly clear (to be posted on my blog soon, as I’m WAY behind). I joked to myself that I should submit them ALL for Fembruary this year after the reaction that the PBs got last year, but then decided to set it as a challenge for the month, but it’s much more a *reaction* to those comments last Fembruary (which is still a great idea) as anything else.

    And, let’s face it – if we’re honest, we *know* all of those Night Goblins and Robots and Skaven and Werewolves were “sculpted as males”. Because if they weren’t, they’d have hair and breasts and boob plate. So it’s much more about making people a few more people think about our assumptions than pretending that a whole lot of (particularly the older) models were sculpted with anything like this in mind. It’s about the overlay that we, as hobbyists put on them.

    Why *can’t* that Plaguebearer (goblin, skaven, werewolf, etc, etc) be female? Because it’s not sexy? Nah. Doesn’t work. Plaguebearers are anyone who has been killed by Nurgle’s poxes. They don’t discriminate. gobbo, squig and skaven life is cheap. Does anyone really think they value female fodder more than male? So you’ve certainly got the intent in *that* paragraph of your post. 🙂

    Now, I’m going to avoid googling for Rule#34 of those Spindle Drones and head off to bed for the night!

    • Ann

      Becky the Bloat Drone and The Keeper of the Emerald Pox both highly approve of this line of thinking, though I do think that Becky thinks she’s pretty sexy (in a empowered sort of way naturally! even if she is sadly missing much in the way of boob plate. 🙂

    • Wudugast

      Thank you! Yeah, they were quite quick and straightforward to paint, mostly drybrushing with a few highlights for the legs and a lot of the work on the carapace was done with washes. I managed to batch-paint them which isn’t my strong suit so you’d bash through them in no time! 🙂

      Regarding the background to your challenge, thank you for the detailed explanation and my apologies if I’ve misrepresented you.
      The topic for this month’s challenge makes for a really interesting point of discussion and has given me a lot of useful food for thought. My hope was that anyone reading it would click on the link and read your original post, rather than relying on my interpretation of it, but that may in turn have led to me rattling over a lot of the key points without checking that I wasn’t reinterpreting them to fit my own arguments. I’ve edited in a note above which hopefully clarifies things.

      I hope incidentally that I wasn’t one of those who argued against female plaguebearers last year (and if I did I hope I wasn’t rude about it). I would suggest that the plaguebearers have attained a state of sexlessness (as have skeletons). They are presumably no longer capable of traditional reproduction (unless you count gestating nurglings, which could technically be used to argue that they are all female). Overall all though their internal organs are pulped and their bodies distorted wildly from their original forms, nor does sex have any impact on their behaviour. I suppose one could analyse their genetics to determine what sex they were before they contracted Nurgle’s Rot but, particularly as the whole thing is academic, I suspect getting close enough to take a sample might not be worth the risk!

      In writing the post I think I ended up getting derailed onto my great hobbyhorse of alien species with human characteristics (of which having two sexes with marked physiological differences is just one). I know of course that a great deal of science fiction uses this device to talk about race relations (i.e. here we have a person who looks pretty much just like me but with one or two slight differences – and look! We can still get along!). Nonetheless it misses a very fundamental point about theoretical contact with non-human species. After all we are already surrounded by millions of non-human species, all of which are likely to be much closer to us physiologically than any aliens we might encounter, yet it would seem like madness to consider opening diplomatic relations with any of them. I speak to my cat, and I’m sure you speak to Leonard, but I doubt that either of us are attempting to establish a dialogue. I wonder if anyone from SETI has tried going out into the nearest forest, walking up to a tree and asking if it’s willing to exchange technology, establish trade relations or take them to its leader. Yet at least the tree is made out of carbon and lives in a terrestrial environment – which may be more than can be said of any aliens we might encounter. (Oh look, I’ve done it again!).

      I’m probably one of the very few people (I’m certainly the only one I’ve encountered) who doesn’t really like the female heads on the new genestealer cultists. I always thought that the bony ridged faces and baggy work-wear could belong to either sex, and was happily assuming that my cultists had a roughly 50/50 mix as you’d expect in any human society. Now, however, we have a handful “pretty” genestealers, and all the rest are presumably male.

      Likewise I wish they hadn’t written into the new background for House Cawdor that the gangs are segregated by sex, and that the available miniatures are all male (unless of course they are about to release a second plastic kit for making female Cawdor, but somehow I doubt that…). As it is they really could be either sex under those robes (and indeed having raised this I’m now wondering about painting a couple of Cawdor as part of this challenge, just to showcase the point. I wasn’t planning to attack them for a while yet but it does seem like a fine opportunity).

      Whilst we’re on the subject what about the chaos gods? Four semi-distinct warp storms formed from the gestalt impression of pooled emotion, which may or may not possess a singular sentience, and yet we refer to them as “gods” and interpret them as four warring “brothers”. At least Slaanesh is regarded as female by some cultures, for example the Eldar, but isn’t there anyone out there who regards Khorne as a battle queen or Nurgle as a great mother? What about the Emperor? I just read the Necromunda story Wanted: Dead and discovered that the Eschers pray to the God-Empress, which makes so much sense I can’t believe I never thought of it before. After all what self-respecting Escher would pray to a man – surely the potential for a male to rise so high would imply an inferiority in their house? To those of us viewing the setting from the outside Emperor Himself is clearly not human, (and only chooses to appear so because revealing itself to be a Tzeentchian daemon would ruin it’s cunning plan!) yet we still tend to think of Him as a man.

      Personally my preference is for a mix or male and female models in human ranges and for non-human ranges to be either neutral or to display whatever physiology is associated with their species (e.g. if GW or someone want to invent a new race of aliens with a multi-stage reproductive cycle involving more than two sexes – or the kind of complicated shenanigans that ferns or slime moulds get up to – then that’s fine by me – indeed I encourage it!). I was overjoyed to see female Stormcasts, yet disappointed by female Tau (I’m not entirely letting the Eldar off the hook either but being elves in space rather than traditional aliens they get away with it).
      This isn’t me trying to sound holier than thou, it’s just how I see things. The assumption that all species must display sexual dimorphism is strange to me – but then I’m an ecologist! I’ve never assumed that all skeletons or pink horrors or kroot are male, but now you’ve brought it to my attention that may be an unusual way of seeing things, and that in itself is something worth keeping in mind. 🙂

      • Alexis West

        Honestly, having seen them in person, the female GSC heads are far less noticeable than they look in the official GW photography. Plenty of the pre-existing ones are similar enough that they could easily be considered female, and I like the release, just because it’s about as clear an announcement as possible that a substantial portion of the GSC troops are female.

        The Cawdor thing pissed me off, too, and honestly, the Eschers bug me as well (pretty much all single-gender organizations do). I’d rather see some mix for all the Houses, but perhaps biased somewhat toward women for the Eschers and male for the Goliaths or something.

        800% in agreement on the Chaos Gods and Daemons. I can actually see some Daemons choosing to adopt a certain gender if they’ve spent enough time tormenting gendered species, but there shouldn’t be anything inherent. I actually sometimes joke about Slaanesh being a Gender Hipster: “My gender? Eh, it’s pretty obscure. You probably haven’t heard of it.” 😉

      • Wudugast

        Yeah, I agree on the female GSC heads, in the hand they’re not so noticeable (I’ve not seen the Jackal Alphus close up, she’s particularly obvious in the studio photos). I also completely forgive the new Magus, just because she’s so damn cool! I think it should be possible to paint them all so there’s a degree of ambiguity across a whole collection so overall I’m not losing sleep over it.

        The Eschers don’t bother me, it’s a key part of their background, but they’re almost unique in that regard (them and Space Marines off the top of my head) – otherwise I want a mix. I really want to see female Orlocks and (one or two) Goliaths. Always seemed that Krotos Hark was a missed opportunity, he seems very generic as characters go – would have been a fine opportunity to make a lady Goliath instead. Mind you they have announced that when Hark is released (not for a few months apparently) he’ll be accompanied by another, as yet unrevealed, bounty hunter so who knows?

        As for Slaanesh, that’s brilliant – I may end up adopting that line myself for the youngest god(ess)!

      • Alexis West

        The spotter from the Ridgerunner is the one that really stands out to me as being too cutesy.

        I wouldn’t mess with the Eschers now, because they are, as you say, solidly established in the background. It’s one of those “If I had been part of the original design team” sort of things. Mixing up the genders in the Orlock box was the truly major missed opportunity to me in that regard. Well, along with the stupid and totally unnecessary Cawdor fluff bit.

    • Alexis West

      Regrettably, female Skaven have actually been discussed in WH canon. They’re described as being barely sentient, almost limbless, and more or less constantly pregnant. It’s pretty gross.

      • Wudugast

        Yeah, I remember that bit of background. Not sure if it’s been kept on for AoS or if they’ve decided to go for something a little less dark. I must admit I actually kind of liked it, in a “this is all very horrid and uncomfortable” kind of way, but then I’ve always seen the Skaven as a really nasty, unpleasant race, more creatures from a horror setting than from fantasy. Like the Night Goblins (although to a lesser degree) they have a veneer of comic relief (all the backstabbing and exploding) but with the Skaven that’s really just a thin layer and what’s underneath is very grim indeed.

      • Alexis West

        Yeah, it’s been kept on for AoS. I checked that before posting.

        I feel like it would have been more effective as a horror device if there were more contrast with the practical result of most other factions’ treatment of women. In practice, except for those who dig into the fluff, it all works out as “females of this race don’t appear on the tabletop, except in a couple of special cases”.

  • Ann

    Very nicely done. I like your style of painting in general. You mini’s often have an effect of looking like they were taken out of an old sci fi movie that was black and white but has been badly colorized and ends up being somewhat creepy in a way that it probably wasn’t when it was black and white.

  • thecurator123

    I’ve just finished reading the blackstone fortress novel and it was great! Nice work on the drones, im personally trying to finish off the chaos side of the set

    • thecurator123

      Btw in the novel new spindle drones are described as being made from the fortress itself and sort of spring into existance

      • Wudugast

        Thank you! Funnily enough I just started reading Blackstone Fortress, good to hear you enjoyed it 🙂 I’m hoping to get stuck in about the chaos stuff soon (and then it can moonlight in a Chaos Necromunda gang as well) but as I’ve already got quite a lot of traitor guardsmen I’ll try to do the heroes and things that I don’t have proxies for, like the negavolt cultists, first.

  • Pete S/ SP

    Great paint job on the drones.

    With regards the your views of the representation (or otherwise) of women in miniature form I think that all cultural outputs reflect the society that they come from… which probably doesn’t reflect well on us….



  • Alexis West

    Looking great! I agree with you that the Spindle Drones are among the standout Models from BSF, because they’re the only ones that aren’t just a different version of something that’s already been around. The other “new” things are just getting their first appearance in plastic (Renegade Guard), or are a simple flip of something existing (Negavolt Cultists are just Chaos Electro-Priests). If painted right, I could see the Spindle Drones sort of fitting in with either the Eldar or the Necrons, but they really are their own thing.

    The first thing I ran into that got me to think about questioning assumptions of gender was Terry Pratchett’s conception of Dwarves as simply having no sexually defining characteristics that are noticeable by anyone who’s not very intimate with them. Still, despite my best efforts, I do notice myself tending to assume male for anything that isn’t clearly marked as female, even when there’s a solid biological case to be made for the opposite, as with Tervigons and Hormagaunts. And even in the everyday world. My first impulse is always to refer to dogs and cats that I see as “he”, even tho that’s only a roughly 50/50 chance of being correct.

    I get how the logistics of film and television have tended toward humanoid aliens, but yeah, it’s something that bugs me, too. I always like when I come across something like the (retconned) Hrud, or some of the more out-there aliens from Schlock Mercenary, or the H’san and Big Yellow Aliens from the Confederation of Valor. And yeah, I give it a pass for stuff like 40K or Star Wars that’s more Space Fantasy than Science Fiction.

    • Wudugast

      I love the way the spindle drones give us a little hint at the Old Ones, and no more than that. Like you I think they could almost, but not quite, fit in with the Eldar or Necrons. I’m enjoying the way they’re using Blackstone Fortress to explore more of the universe (that chaos ogryn is very tasty, not quite so convinced by the chaos commissar, reckon I’ll make a few tweaks there).

      Pratchett’s dwarves were great for that, but then Pratchett was always amazing in general. First time I read his books it was my housemate’s collection so I ended up missing anything that he either didn’t have, or only had in German, so now I’m finally getting around to going back and filling in the gaps 🙂

      • Alexis West

        OK, that’s a bit amusing to me, because I also have a couple of Pratchetts in German. I think I also have all of them in English, tho.

  • Warbringer

    Beautiful models the looks so cool in the colour scheme you’ve chosen very dark future love it!

  • imperialrebelork

    Love the drones mate. The green works well and I echo Alex’s comment in that they are sort Nurgly.

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