On Friday Games Workshop, in one of their regular updates regarding Necromunda, announced that we’ll soon be seeing new models for the Cult of the Redemption. Admittedly what they wrote was more of a teaser, and the word Redemptionists was never actually used, but so little subtlety was employed that, to anyone familiar with the game or it’s setting, they might as well have announced “Redemptionists are coming soon” in twenty-foot tall letters of fire, fuelled by burning heretics.
Obviously I’m excited about this, the world of Necromunda is probably my absolute favourite aspect of Games Workshop’s various universes and the models that have been released so far have been uniformly excellent. The thought of seeing pyromaniac religious extremists thrown into the mix can only be a good thing in my book. We’ve yet to see any sign of actual models, beyond these two little snippets, but – without wanting to sound blindly fanboyish – I’m optimistic that they’ll maintain the high standard we’ve seen for the game so far.
For those readers who’re unfamiliar with the backstory of Necromunda the Cult of Redemption is a splinter of the Imperial Creed (the state religion of the 41st Millennium which holds that the Emperor of Mankind is the one true God, that heretics, mutants and aliens must be abhorred and that the orders of one’s superiors must be obeyed unquestioningly). The Cult of Redemption takes this a bit far, as they do with everything, adding that the End Times are upon us, that mankind is unworthy and that all are sinful and must be purged – but for a tiny minority of the righteous of course. Nowadays you can find the exact same people preaching their creed of hatred on Twitter, but by the 41st Millennium they’ll be venturing into the Underhive to bring the light of the Emperor to unbelievers. And when I say light I mean the kind that comes out the business end of a flamethrower or springs from a heretic’s pyre.
Late last year a “road map” of forthcoming releases was announced, with House of Faith, the expansion for House Cawdor, due to be released in the second quarter of this year. Given that the Redemption is the official religion of House Cawdor it’s impossible to see these things as anything other than intrinsically linked. As it stands I’ll surprised if the new models for House of Faith and the Redemptionists turn out to be anything other than one and the same.
I am curious however as to exactly how the appearance of these models is going to be handled. Redemptionists were one of the key factions of Necromunda in years gone by and since the relaunch of the game there have been plenty of people, myself included, bumping our gums about exactly when they’d be making a return. Their popularity, and their intrinsic role in the setting, makes it hard for Games Workshop to push them onto the back burner forever. However the Redemptionists of old had a very distinctive aesthetic, and – to borrow a word from online activists – that look is “problematic”. If you’ve just joined the Cult of the Redemption and you want to make an impression, going out dressed in a long flowing robe and a tall pointed hood is an absolute must.
I must confess, and here I know I’m showing my cultural bias, but I never really thought there was anything offensive about their look. Back in the early 2000’s when I first encountered them I just accepted them for what they were, mutant-hating, fire-starting bigoted bastards in big hoods. Then, a couple of years ago, Games Workshop previewed a new special character for House Cawdor – the Headsman.
At the time I was a lot more connected to social media than I am now and I was struck by the response of the fanbase. In Europe the sentiment seemed to be “Oh cool, a new Redemptionist”. Here we had a modern interpretation of an established concept; a hooded executioner, which references the look of the Spanish Inquisition but transposed to the far future where he had ample time to indulge his hobbies of collecting candles and nooses and burning to death anyone he reckons is sinful. Across the pond in the United States however pearls were clutched and knickers were twisted as the fanbase reacted with horror. Some people were quite rude to me and others on Twitter for daring to think it was acceptable (mind you, everyone is rude to everyone else on Twitter all the time so there’s nothing particularly special about that). Clearly – a vocal element within the fanbase declared – Games Workshop were in league with the KKK. Games Workshop, presumably fearing what might happen to their profits if one of their largest marketplaces suddenly got it into their heads that the company had some kind of racist agenda, toned the model down a bit to create something a little more sensitive to the America customer before it was released.
Since that time of course news channels around the world have been dominated by the rise of violence, rioting and extremism in the United States, with race a key issue fanning the flames of division. Now it should go without saying, but alas I’d better say it anyway before someone writes in to tell me I’m a Nazi, that I’m staunchly opposed to racism and bigotry in all its forms and I find the actions and beliefs of the KKK and their ilk abhorrent. What’s more I’m conscious of the fact that Games Workshop are a global company and the US is the world’s largest economy so treading with care here is understandable, especially as that country undergoes what appears from the outside to be an almighty social upheaval. Add to that an increasing sensitivity to issues around race on both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond) and I pity the poor designer who must have worked on these models with representatives of the legal team hovering on one side of his desk and the PR department on the other. Meanwhile social media is rife with the kind of paranoid aggression and frothing rants that the Redemptionists themselves would approve of. Maintaining a public image in this climate is a delicate business and the Redemptionists are exactly the kind of models that could easily provoke outrage amongst those looking to be provoked. Honestly I’m worried that someone will decide they ought to “cancel” me with extreme prejudice just for acknowledging that this is an issue people are sensitive about. More and more it seems that, online at least, people are either walking on eggshells or spoiling for a fight. Calm discussion and the exchange of ideas is, like, soooo last decade.
Still, it’ll be a shame if the Redemptionists, when they do appear, stray far from the concepts of old. To me the Redemptionist models were amongst the best in the old Necromunda range and their aesthetic was particularly iconic. I would much prefer to see the old concepts reborn in the form of nice new kits rather than a redesign that strays too far from what came before. However here I find myself comparing them to the Ratskins, those tribal underhive natives who so often found themselves the victims of the Redemptionists’ purges – when they weren’t able to slip away into the darkness of course.
The Ratskins are a tribal people who, like the Redemptionists, had a range of models in old Necromunda but have yet to appear on tabletops of the new edition. Uniquely adapted to the underhive the Ratskins rely on sound and smell to track through the dark, hidden passageways and vaults deep beneath the hives. They worship the hive itself as a great spirit, care little for the world of the gangers and even less for the industry of Hive City and prefer to live peaceful lives in the dark depths. Some however get pushed that little bit too far by uphive gangers acting like dicks, or become addicted to the booze and drugs supplied by their more “civilised” neighbours and end up taking up arms and getting involved in the tabletop violence that we all know and love. After all a range of models that slips silently away through hidden passageways and avoids violence doesn’t make for the most exciting gaming opportunities.
The concept is cool and I’d love to see them brought back into the game but unlike the Redemptionists a revamp of their aesthetic really wouldn’t go amiss. Whilst the story of the Ratskins paints a picture of a unique tribal culture the models were pretty blatantly just Native Americans in space.
So why exactly would I like to see the Ratskins revamped and the Redemptionists brought back much as they once were? Partly it comes down to the fact that, much like the Space Wolves and their unashamed plagiarism of Viking culture, it’s hard for me to believe that a planet as toxic and industrialised as Necromunda would somehow produce carbon-copy Native Americans (especially as even on Earth Native Americans were not one homogenised culture). It breaks my sense of immersion in the setting to have to account for something so wildly out of place. The Redemptionists on the other hand feel a bit more like their own entity. Yes they borrow aesthetic elements from the Spanish Inquisition (something no-one was expecting) but they appear rooted in the 41st Millennium. The Ratskins meanwhile belong much more to the school of thought that gave us various 40k factions imported root-and-branch from modern and historical cultures; the previously mentioned Space Wolves and various Imperial Guard regiments foremost amongst them.
Then there’s the fact that the Redemptionists echo an uncomfortable truth – that bullies and religious extremists will always be with us. It is part of the human condition that some amongst us will allow hatred to define them, and will latch onto a creed or cause to justify the violence they crave. Whilst a world like Necromunda would be unlikely to miraculously produce Native Americans it would undoubtedly be full of those who, filled with bitterness at the hardship and oppression of their lives, would recognise in the preacher’s words a call to lash out against those unable to fight back.
I opened this article with the idea in mind that the Redemptionists will appear as a bolt on to House Cawdor, and I stand by my theory that this is what we’re most likely to see in a few months time. There is, however, another option. The Redemption spreads far and wide on Necromunda and draws all kinds of individuals to its cause. House Cawdor may have embraced it wholeheartedly but there are plenty of others who fall under the sway of its hate-filled doctrine. Could we see the option to field a gang made up entirely of Redemptionists or would the new models, much like recent releases for the Goliaths, Eschers, Orlocks and Van Saar, only be available as champions in a gang which draws its rank and file from the Cawdor? Alternatively could we see something akin to the existing rules which allow for a gang to fall under the sway of a cult? Already we can modify a gang taken from one of the major houses so that they can devote themselves to one of the Chaos Gods, or become infested by a Genestealer Cult. Could we be so lucky as to see two new kits, one which brings new champions and prospects to House Cawdor gangs and one which builds Redemptionists which can then either be used to form purely Redemptionist gangs or to convert house gangs which have abandoned their old loyalties and devoted themselves to the fury of the Redemption? The latter seems overly optimistic but who knows, I certainly didn’t expect gangs of Slave Ogryns either.
Regardless of how things turn out I’m going to be watching this release with great interest. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to start a pyre…