Category Archives: Editorial

To Boldly Go…

For over three decades the Rogue Traders who once gave their name to the entire Warhammer 40,000 setting have been lost in the warp or drifting on the shadowy edges of the map. Now they’re back, and they’ve brought a bunch of gribbly Chaos beasties with them. How could I resist this chance to pontificate!

Rogue Trader Art

Despite Warhammer 40k having existed for over thirty years now, there remain a number of prominent factions who have seen little or no attention from the miniatures’ designers. From Kroot mercenaries to Eldar Exodites there are plenty of options for the developers of the game to explore over the coming years. In recent times many fractions previously lurking in the background have come to prominence, genestealer cults, the adeptus mechanicus and the households of the Imperial Knights amongst them. Launching a whole new race however demands considerable investment of time and resources on the part of the company, and must make for an intimidating proposition. Games Workshop tested the waters with Deathwatch: Overkill, a boxed game which served primarily as a vehicle by which the Deathwatch and Genestealer Cults could be brought back into the game. Now we have Kill Team, building on the concept to form the perfect gateway through which new fractions can be introduced. Some may never grow beyond a handful of models, whilst others could develop in time into mighty fractions hundreds strong. Suffice to say I was already excited about Kill Team but this only serves to increase my interest.

First off the blocks then, we have Kill Team; Rogue Trader starring a plucky band of adventurers on a thirty-odd year mission in outer space to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before and to exterminate anyone who looks funny in the name of Him Upon Terra.

RT Banner

I actually pre-ordered this set, an unusual move for me, although I’m still not completely convinced of its qualities. When it hits it does so with incredible style, but equally when it misses it really misses. Much has already been made of the idea that this is GW bringing the Inq28 aesthetic back into its main range, with repeated assertions in all the promotional materials, that these models spring straight from the mind of John Blanche. Which is great, of course, and to be celebrated and encouraged, of course, but isn’t enough to make a set of models great by itself. What tipped the balance for me however was imagining all of the ways that what I perceive as mistakes could be rectified – and surely for the dedicated converter there’s no bigger draw to a model than that!

Before I go any further I’d highly recommend you check out Krautscientist’s excellent review of this set, indeed it was when the comment I intended to post on his blog sprawled to truly epic length that I decided to finish off this review and post it so he actually deserves a lot of credit/blame for the fact that you’re actually reading this.

Anyway, without further ado – let’s take a look at the contents of the box, starting with the brave men and women of the New Dawn.

Elucia Vhane

Vaine

The boxset is called Kill Team: Rogue Trader so it makes sense to assume we’d be seeing something suitably impressive from the Rogue Trader herself. The result however is rather subtle, and at first glance almost underwhelming, although it rewards proper scrutiny.

Aesthetically the veil over her face is an odd choice. As a concept it works well, and I find myself wanting to like it, plus it puts a stamp of individuality on her as a character. On the other hand it actually strips her of character, making her more aloof, enigmatic and unique but also fades her into the background somewhat when she should be the kind of person demanding everyone’s attention. In Universe it probably serves to increase her authority – after all a person like you is hardly important enough to merit the honour of looking at her face. Out of Universe however she’s a tiny lump of brightly coloured plastic and so needs to work a little harder to be engaging. Having a face would help with that a lot. Ultimately I’m left in two minds by it. If I decided to paint her as Elucia Vhane then of course I’ll keep it, it’s already as iconic of the character as Abaddon’s topknot. If, on the other hand, I decide to use the model as a Rogue Trader of my own devising I’ll replace it with a different head, I have one from a female vampire which might be perfect.

I must confess I also expected something a little more blinged up from our first Rogue Trader. The clothes and equipment she wears are nice enough and probably high fashion in the Imperium but I’m surprised we haven’t seen a more ostentatious display of wealth here. Where is the jewel encrusted servo-suit, the feathered riding beast or the servitor-borne sedan chair? Surely she doesn’t just walk everywhere like a commoner?

Before I’m accused of damning her with faint praise let me emphasize that Elucia Vhane is a very nice model indeed. The trouble is, she shares a boxset with the likes of Larsen van der Grauss, Knosso Prond and the voidsmen. A Rogue Trader should really be the most commanding and impressive model in any given room, yet poor Elucia is rather overshadowed by her sidekicks and employees. In part Elucia is burdened by being the first of her kind. If she was just another Rogue Trader I think she’d get a lot more leeway in terms of her looks. It’s not fair, and history will probably judge her very kindly, but for the moment this model needs to represent not only Elucia Vhane (something it does very well) but also all Rogue Traders (something which will always be beyond its scope).

Something I do really enjoy about her pose is how relaxed, confident and non-competitive it is. This model doesn’t represent her locked in the heat of battle as much as it does her standing at the helm of her starship or perhaps attending a briefing or the most exclusive of parties. If there is a fight going on she’s not launching herself into it like a barbarian queen but standing back and employing others to get their hands bloody on her behalf.

Also, in spite of its aesthetic failings, top marks to whoever on the design team recognised that a woman in a veil can also be a woman in charge – there are quite a few bigots across several cultures who need waking up to that idea.

Knosso Prond

Knosso Prond

There are some truly excellent models in this set but even amongst them Knosso Prond stands proud. There are few characters as iconic of the Inquistiot/Inq28 scene as the Death Cult Assassin. Like the Rogue Trader this was one of the key models in the set to get right and this time GW have managed it in style.

I particularly like how the model’s Asian aesthetic has been combined with that of 40k. Here we have someone from an Oriental culture which has changed and evolved over 40,000 years, with a result which is far more engaging than, for example, the cut-and-paste Viking trappings of the Space Wolves.

Also, take a look at that head she’s carrying. It’s not wearing a metal mask, making it our only glimpse of the “normal” mutants amongst the Gellerpox. On a more serious note however it’s probably the only thing I don’t like about the model. Surely carrying heads around has been done to death by now? I’d have preferred another blade (a fairly easy conversion to achieve at least) or an open hand as she invites her next adversary to join her in a dance of death.

Knosso Prond 2

Prond has been manoeuvred by her cult in  swearing a vow of silence never to be lifted until she has slain a thousand enemies of the Imperium. Of course it turns out that simply firing a warhead into an ork encampment and loudly shouting “Done” is cheating but thanks to the arrival of the Gellerpox she should be well on her way now. Perhaps she should be accompanied by a squat based off Gimli from Lord of the Rings just in case she goes up against a Chaos Knight or Greater Daemon. “It still only counts as one!”

Larsen van der Grauss

Every crew of spacefaring adventures needs a quirky scientist to look after the tech and amongst the Starstiders that roll falls to Larsen van der Grauss. Of course, given the Gellerpox currently infesting what is arguably the most important bit of the ship (the bit that stops daemons getting in and eating you) it’s fair to suggest he may have been falling down on the job. That’s not something I’m going to hold against him however because once again the miniature is absolutely gorgeous. His complex and archaic equipment ties him in nicely both to the Rogue Traders and to the Adeptus Mechanicus, making him a neat bridging model in a combined Imperial force.

Larsen van der Grauss

The Starstiders team introduces us to the Rogue Traders as a faction and Larsen repeats the trick in microcosm by showing us a previously unseen agent of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Lectro-Maesters. Like the electro-priests we’ve already seen these are initiates of the Motive Force but whilst those previously released models represent frothing fanatics these are artisans and explorers constantly questing for new sources of energy with which to supply their Forge Worlds. Indeed the background fiction compares them to missionaries, a popular position amongst the priests of Mars.

Sanistasia Minst

Dammit Elucia, I’m a doctor not the unwitting pawn of a dark god!

Sanistasia Minst

When times get tough and the bullets start flying it’s great to have a doctor on your team. Of course if her increasing obsession with battling diseases has turned her into a puppet of the plague god Nurgle then that’s unfortunate…

As every crew of space-faring adventurer’s knows it’s a long way to the nearest hospital so it pays to bring a doctor with you. The task of providing medical support to the Starstiders falls to Sanistasia Minst, and as is often the case with medical professionals in the Warhammer universes, the more closely you read her background the more you start to discover her involvement in sinister goings’ on.

As well as being a doctor she’s also a Rejuvenat Adept, charged with extending the lives of wealthy clients alongside performing various other act of healing. Of course, this is the Imperium where doctors carry concussion grenades and a life isn’t saved for its own sake but rather to ensure the wounded get back in the fight as soon as possible.

Like Vhane, she’s not shown in a combat pose (unless you count stepping on the head of a Nurgling, itself a nice metaphorical touch). Once again this is a good thing, and although she could undoubtedly give someone a nasty scratch with those scalpel fingers – which is probably the point of them – her job is to be a healer and the killing is best left to other people. She even manages to look very young which, giving up her job is to keep other people looking young too, is a clever bit of design work. it also creates a slight air of naivety about her which ties in neatly to her backstory.

Sanistasia Minst Art

There’s a lot of debate going on at the moment over whether the coloured plastics used by GW in some of the more recent sets is more brittle than the grey stuff we’re used to. Lots of technical information has been thrown around and as ever I’ll bow to the greater knowledge of the experts, but I will note that, based on this set the green plastic used for the Gellerpox Mutants seems to be fine whereas the red is distinctly more brittle, leading to real problems with fine details such as Sanistasia Minst’s bladed fingers in a way that I just wouldn’t expect in a normal GW kit.

Voidmaster Nitsch

Continuing to plunder the wonderful world of classic sci-fi tropes, here’s the chief of security, the guy we all look to when the killing starts, Voidmaster Nitsch.

Voidmaster Nitsch (1)

I know it’s just my personal taste  but I find models wielding two-handed weapons one-handed irritates me a little, especially when they’re using the free hand to wield yet another weapon. Space Marines are particularly guilty of this but Nitsch flirts with it too. I see the story that the model intends to convey, the switching from one weapon to another, the range of firepower that he brings to bear, the fact that here is a man who can never have too many guns, and it works – but only just.

What I do like however is the way he looks smartly turned out but still utterly lethal and competent as a killer. From the bodyguards of a mafia don to James Bond there have been plenty of people willing to prove that wearing a suit in no way prevents one from becoming proficient at the art of murder and Nitsch looks ready to step from having dinner with the planetary governor to handing the wet-work and back again without breaking sweat. Overall then he’s another success – it’s just a shame about the guns.

Stromian Grell

Grell

With mutant hoards on the march a big man with a rotor cannon is just the kind of chap you want around. It’s a classic of action movies and for good reason, so Grell makes for an excellent addition to the squad. My only criticism is that I would have preferred an alternative, preferably helmeted, head – the little cap really doesn’t work for me at all. Expect a quick head swap when I get around to him.

He is quite big compared to a guardsman but this is the Imperium where the scale of a normal unaugmented human varies considerably anyway. After all if a Goliath ganger can indulge in a growth stim habit then a rogue trader can undoubtedly afford to make the guy  who carries the rotor cannon suitably sturdy as well.

The Voidsmen

Tough though Nitsch and Grell appear to be they’re not going to fight off the Gellerpox alone. Luckily they don’t have to, because there are three more Voidsmen in the box.

Voidsman

I know it’s a common refrain of mine but there’s really nothing original, exciting or “40k” about the Cadians and Catachans. The Tempestus Scions are great, never let it be said otherwise, but we could still really use a kit for making baseline human soldiers of the Imperium. Like the Scions the Voidsmen demonstrate just what GW could do here if they put their minds to it. In fact just looking at one finds oneself wishing for a multi-part kit and the chance to start a whole army of them. And before you snort your derision and dismiss this as wishful thinking keep in mind that we just saw this with the genestealer aberrants so who knows what the future might hold?

Voidswoman

As a little aside it’s nice to note that although one of the Voidsmen is in fact a Voidslady this wasn’t something I noticed immediately. It’s not that she’s sexless or lacking in femininity, just that it’s rather more subtle than it once would have been. Hopefully the days are past when she would have gone into battle wearing enormous armoured cones on her chest like the love child of Maddona and Magnus the Red. I know this is hardly news these days, especially since the latest Stormcast release, but it’s still a welcome development and worth acknowledging and praising, especially with new Sisters of Battle on the way.

Lineup

It is worth noting that the Voidsmen are rather big compared to a baseline guardsman. In part this will be due to scalecreep, in part to the better diet they enjoy working for a Rogue Trader. Overall it’s not a bad thing, it still falls well within the range of heights normal amongst human’s today, but it worth being aware of nonetheless. Fear not though – next to a Primaris Space Marine they still look suitably frail and mortal.

Aximillion

Finally we have what may be the best model GW has released in the entirety of their history. Rather overenthusiastic praise? Perhaps, but would you say it to his face? After all, he’s such a good boy! It’s that true hero of the Imperium; Aximillion.

Dog

So naturally and obviously popular has he proven that it seems crazy that GW didn’t create him sooner. Surely not everyone in Nottingham is a cat person? Surely with retrospect it’s a little odd that we got a pet octopus before a dog? Picture the heated debate as GW’s board members wrestle with the eternal question of how to make even more money. Another space marine release? More stormcasts perhaps? How about the Primarch Leman Russ riding in a Leman Russ tank pulled by giant wolves with Nagash at the wheel, life getting complicated and the weasels closing in, loaded up on heinous chemicals and driving like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas? And then some mad genius says “how about a dog?”. Oh they must have laughed then but I’ll bet that same great mind will be being pounded on the shoulder by his colleagues now and told “you’re a maverick but dammit you get results!”

Something I hadn’t realised until I actually got the kit was that he’s really quite a little dog. Here he being taken for a walk by an Imperial Guardsman.

Dog and Guardsman

It’s also nice to see that GW’s skill at sculpting canids has come on a long way in the years since the terrible Fenrisian wolves were released. Next to Macula from Necromunda however he looks like he’d be little more than a snack for the bigger dog. Insert joke about cheering for the underdog here.

Ax vs Max

Of course one of the many nice thing about dogs is that they come in all shapes and sizes so although any fans of House Orlock who are hoping for an alternative model to represent a cyber-mastiff maybe slightly disappointed by his lack of stature he’ll still work nicely in all kinds of other Inq28 scenarios.

The Gellerpox Infected

So, whilst Elucia Vhane and her crew have been busy claiming new worlds for the Imperium, down in the engine room things have been going very wrong indeed. Ready to frustrate the plans of the Rogue Traders and spread all kinds of merry havoc we have the other half of the box; the Gellerpox Infected. As a notorious fan of Chaos you’d think this would be the part I’m most excited by but in my view this is where we see the greatest design miss-steps. I must emphasise, it’s not all bad, indeed most of it is very good, but it’s on this side of the box that I see the most things that I’d prefer to have been done differently or that I’d like to change. In part though that may be because I am such a fan of Chaos and so I have my own aesthetic expectations which I’m imposing on these models. However whilst the Starstriders feel very much like a team this lot seem more like a loose affiliation of monsters, giant mutants, outsized insects and zombies with no common purpose or mission beyond running amok. Again this is not necessarily a bad thing, and I’ll certainly find plenty of uses for them in my collection, but there is no denying that whilst the Starstriders are a tight knit team these are a collection of odds and ends cobbled together, and it shows.

Vulgrar Thrice-Cursed

Vulgrar Thrice-Cursed

The big boss of the mutants is, Vulgrar Thrice-Cursed, also known as the Twisted Lord, a towering, stamping, three-headed, four armed machine man with a boiler for a belly. Unlike his opposite number Elucia Vhane he’s unquestionably the one in charge and definitely one of the standout models from the Chaos set. The marks of Nurgle’s influence are present but they’re subtle and whilst this could have been a grab bag of clichés the designers have demonstrated the courage to get outside their comfort zone with the god of plagues and have reaped the rewards for doing so.

He reminds me of the Remade from China Miéville’s New Crobuzon novels, condemned criminals who are grafted with machine parts by way of punishment. As I recall there was at least one who had a boiler installed in place of their guts and had to beg and steal to find enough coal to feed it.

The boiler however is actually my main issue with the model. I know space on sprues is going to be an issue and all kinds of other design issues must come in to play but I really would have preferred it if the flames emerging from the grill on his gut were a separate piece that could be left off easily. To my eye the sculpted flame here is an example of overdoing things which sadly blights this half of the release.

That said I still think he’s ace and even went so far as treating myself to a second model of Vulgrar via eBay, which I’m hoping to turn into a Goliath ‘zerker. Watch this space!

Nightmare Hulks

On the Chaos side of the set the centrepiece models are the Nightmare Hulks, towering mutants grown from the most blessed of the Gellerpox infested crew. Twisted almost beyond recognition by the power of the Warp these men are mere steps away from becoming Chaos Spawn, and indeed would serve very nicely as proxies for exactly that.

As befits creatures spawned from humanity’s nightmares these three each play to a certain archetype; the mad butcher, the man-beast and the horror from the deeps. First up then, the butcher, or as he should properly be called, Gnasher-Screamer.

Gnasher Screamer (1)

Just when you thought GW had done all they could with the trope of Nurgle models having mouths in their stomachs eh?  With all them leading directly into his belly he’d also make a fine ogre Gastromancer (assuming those still exist in AoS).

There’s something truly horrifying about all the mouths erupting from the stomach, but then the designer has over-egged everything by adding cartoon faces to the arms. In my opinion this is a real miss step, distracting attention away from what should be the key feature whilst bringing little to the model themselves. My first move on getting hold of him was to carve them off, not too difficult to do but definitely demanding have a steady hand and a sharp knife. I also went for a different head, the big-haired cartoon redneck look doing the model no favours. Personally I’m much happier with the model now but of course if you feel differently please let me know in the comments box below.

Gnasher Screamer (2)Gnasher Screamer (3)

The sheer size and bulk of these chaps also bears repeating, despite of the promotional photos I don’t think I’d realised how big they are until I saw them in the flesh. Here’s the Gnasher-Screamer towering over my long-suffering guardsman.

Gnasher Screamer (4)

Whilst Gnasher-Screamer is a cannibalistic monstrosity, the Writher appears to have been sewn together from deep-sea beasts and bloated corpses. The designers definitely deserve extra points for this one, despite its bulk it seems to float forward as though carried by the tide. The ghastly face looking out through the hole in his belly is a nice touch, albeit one that the official paint job covers up rather than accentuates.

Writher

The hooded head would be a fine addition to a unique looking Nurgle lord or similar character, whilst the octopus arm would make an excellent head for a marine-themed monster or daemon prince.

Perhaps it’s my resurgent interest in Blood Bowl, perhaps it’s just the fact that Nurgle’s Rotters were released only a couple of weeks ago, but it strikes me that the Writher would also be perfect as a Rotspawn, the “big guy” for Nurgle teams (he certainly features, as the rules describe, a Foul Appearance and a Disturbing Presence, and he has plenty of tentacles to boot!). Now at the time of writing we have just seen early images of an official model for the Rotspawn but frankly I’m not a huge fan of it compared to my mental image of a converted Writher.

Rotspawn

The designers have a really laid the nautical theme on thick here, beyond the octopus arm he is encrusted with barnacles, impaled by a harpoon, snagged with fish hooks (one of which even has a fish attached) and even wearing a seaweed loincloth. Even alongside the hook hands, peg legs and other piratical trappings of the Glitchlings and Gellerpox mutants he just doesn’t quite fit in to 40k. Indeed there is not a single futuristic component on him which means he could transfer to AoS with ease. Indeed, if he was an AoS model I’d be sceptical that he could easily be made to fit into 40k. Slap some suitable shoulder pads and a helmet onto him however and he’d be more than ready to take to the Blood Bowl pitch.

Big Spike

The third hulk is Big Spike, who’d probably be the best of the three if it wasn’t for the fly head that replaces his arm. I do enjoy it when chaos comes with lots of crazy mutations but for my taste the fly arm is just a bit too much. a tiny withered arm on one side to offset the huge claw on the other would be great but this is overkill – most likely I’ll be chopping off the fly head and using it elsewhere, (unsurprisingly I’ll probably use it as a head).

Gellerpoxes (3)

Gellerpox Mutants

Falling somewhere between the plaguebearers and poxwalkers in design, but with a touch of punk-rock peacocking to boot, we have the Gellerpox Mutants, undoubtedly the models about which I’m feeling the most divided.

The pirate theme hangs heavily here in peg legs and hook hands. I found myself half expecting them to throw in a few eye patches and some servo parrots whilst they were about it.

Gellerpoxes (1)

This chap has an ear on his ankle. Talk about keeping your ear to the ground… 

Individually each one is great when you put them all together the result is a little gimmicky. As cool as zombie pirate punks may seem on paper they don’t quite gel in practice. As for the metal masks they make for fine bits for conversions or simply by way of adding some suitably weird 40k vibes but the fact that all three have them calls for an explanation and we end up with some faintly shoehorned sounding talk about metal flowing out of the Geller drive and encasing their heads.

If they had to have masks then why not give them some more in keeping with their role as engineers? Gas masks, welding mask, ad-mech gribby masks, pre-infection cybernetics, there were surely a range of better possibilities than goofy metals skulls? Once again it seems that GW chose a quirky cartoon zanyness over the dark realism some of us would have preferred but that’s true across the set, indeed across their whole range, look no further than some of the faces on the Nightmare Hulk’s for instance. The masks do however make for rather stylish additions to other models (in my humble opinion). I’ve already shown you this model but dammit I’m proud of him so I’ll show him again!

Necromunda Goliath Convert Or Die (2)Necromunda Goliath Convert Or Die (1)

What strikes me as odd is how few of them there are. We’re used to zombies appearing as great hoards and so it’s easy to conclude that a huge tide of plague mutated crewman would be trying to overwhelm the comparatively elite voidsmen. The background even describes them as a “gruesome horde”. In actuality however we only get three of them, which only serves to emphasise their flaws. If any one of them was released alone as a special character it would look excellent, and equally if there were a few more the whole thing might start to work as a gestalt carnival style mass.

Gellerpoxes (2)

In what may be an attempt to explain this we’re told that these three are the Apostles of the Twisted Lord, special characters whilst – presumably – the rest of the horde are lurking out of sight somewhere in the wings. Personally I might be tempted to convert a few more out of spare poxwalkers although that would entail reigning in my desire to decapitate the other existing Gellerpox to make more Goliath champions

Despite these criticisms I actually really like these models, in fact I wish there were a few more of them instead of all the giant insects.

Glitchlings

The Glitchlings are basically Nurglings with a tech/pirate veneer. There’s not a lot to say about them but there’s certainly nothing to complain about either.

 

Glitchlings

There’s also not a lot to add regarding the various other small gribblies to be found in the box. Collectively known as Mutoid Vermin these are the various invertebrates which live in the guts of the ship and, once exposed to the energies of Chaos, have grown to unnatural sizes. In appearance they’re painfully generic which is both a blessing and a curse.

Grubs

On the plus side they’d fit in almost anywhere in either 40k or AoS, from the marshlands of Ghyran to the sump-drains of Necromunda. Regardless of where your interests lie amongst GW’s universes there’s a good chance you’ll find a use for these. On the other hand there’s really nothing unique about them. The same warp energies that turned machines to living metal and gave men claws and screaming mouths for stomachs just took normal insects and made them bigger. Personally I think I would have preferred to see something more iconic of the setting; hybrid beasts, insectile chimeras, corrupted servo-skulls and the like. By making them so generic these feel a lot like filler designed to bulk out the otherwise fairly lean body count amongst the chaos range.

The grubs especially remind me of the larvae from Rackham’s Dwarves of Mid Nor although – despite the technological leaps and bounds we’ve seen since those were released – the newcomers still don’t hold up in comparison.

Larva 2

Overall then it’s a mixed bag although on the whole I’m pleased with it. The Skywalkers – sorry, Starstriders – are an excellent little crew that I can only hope will pave the way for a future Rogue Trader range. On the other hand the Gellerpox set contains a mixture of standout models bulked out by insectile filler with the designers seemingly not quite sure where to draw the line on mutation. The nightmare hulks are generally great, or can be made so with a little work, and the other Gellerpox mutants are nice enough individually but rather too quirky as a group and fail to really fit in with the broader chaos range. The insects, whilst I’ll find a use for them, are definitely the weak link here however and should have been thinned down with at least some of them replaced by more interesting gribblies.

In the end it’ll take a little work to turn me into a devoted worshipper of the Geller Drive but the Rogue Traders were well worth the thirty year wait. Of course I’m always interested to hear your views, if you agree or disagree tell me so and if you have any clever conversions planned for these I’m all ears (I even have one on my ankle).

Advertisements

Spiritual Awakening

I’ve always been a big fan of the undead. Back in the old days when bases were square I dreamed of a vast host of walking corpses with which to dominate the living. Then I discovered how many skeletons I’d have to paint and rather went off the idea, plus the models for the zombies were ancient and terrible – and believe it or not they still are. Games Workshop; by far the most successful miniatures company in the world and they still can’t find the time to replace a staple of the fantasy genre like the zombie.

It wasn’t so much the number of bodies I needed to paint that put me off (I went for Skaven in the end after all) but the real world cost of buying them all, especially when compared to the rats which were at that time rumoured to be in the starter set for a forthcoming 8th edition. In the end though I did acquire a small collection of revenants and last year I even got around to painting them. I should probably have put them on round bases whilst I was at it but even then AoS was hard to take seriously, it’s background fiction a slapdash, cobbled together nonsense of copyrightable names and unfinished ideas.

Vampire Counts Convert Or Die (4) - Copy

My zombie apocalypse begins – without the zombies.

Now, however, Games Workshop have recognised the value in expending some time and energy fleshing out the setting and the rest of us are reaping the rewards. It’s still a bit pompous and overly convoluted, it’s still a mishmash of ideas carried over from previous iterations and it still doesn’t always know when to be serious and when to be silly but that’s Warhammer for you. Things weren’t any different before the Age of Sigmar came along.

Anyway, the undead are back in town and my interest has been rekindled. The ghosts that we met in the Soul Wars starter set have been bolstered into a fully fledged fraction. Some of the new releases are the same or similar to the models that appeared in Soul Wars so I won’t go over them again here, if you want to know what I thought of them you know where to look. In the meantime let’s turn our attention instead to the rest of the new ghosts, starting with the big boss, Lady Olynder, the Mortarch of Grief.

Olynder 1

Looking around online I find myself wondering if I am the only person on the planet who’s not a huge fan of Olynder. Then again I’m not terribly enamoured with Nagash either, his model is just a little bit too over the top and special effect heavy for my taste. Released at the beginning of the End Times he falls down for me between his two incarnations – a little too big and showy to be the great necromancer of the old world, a little too small and unspectacular to be an actual god. Gods in my opinion should be too big and awe inspiring for the tabletop. Imagine a miniature of Khorne or Nurgle for example. Alarielle gets away with it, firstly by being awesome and secondly because there’s an exception to every rule.

As for Olynder, she’s nice enough but I’m not sure I share the rabid enthusiasm for her that others have displayed. The clever trick the designers have pulled here is that she is essentially a large, detail-light space, framed by detail-heavy elements; a blank canvas but one you would never really be able to play with without spoiling the illusion. I’ve got no doubt that there will be Golden Daemon entrants using her as an opportunity to create eye-aching works of technical perfection but to my taste I don’t think I’d find her either interesting or relaxing to paint. She’s not my least favourite Mortarch, that dubious honour falls to Arkhan the Black who shares his employer’s taste in ludicrous hats, but she’s a long way from the downright gorgeous Neferata.

That said there are some truly wonderful elements and the whole design is undoubtedly extremely clever. Look at the way she holds up the trailing hem of her dress for example, a very human gesture which grounds her as a person rather than just an ambulatory sheet. She doesn’t have to worry about tripping over, she doesn’t even have any feet, but we expect a bride to need to worry about her train and so the gesture humanises her and helps to turn a faceless absence into a relatable person.

Lady Olynder

By dressing Olynder as a Miss Havishamstyle bride the designers have also defined her by the absences around her. Instead of the groom and wedding ceremony she has only two little ghosts for company. She is forced into a role, and weakened by it. Neferata is a queen, Olynder will at best only ever be the wife of a king. That king certainly is not Kurdoss Valentian however, hunched on the looming throne he appears subservient to it, as though his incorporeal arse is only keeping it warm for someone stronger and he expects to get kicked off at any moment.

Olynder is also without doubt the most original of the four Mortarchs, the others harking back to the same motif; an undead general mounted upon a flying steed. Thus of the three named heroes available to the Nighthaunt, Reikenor the Grimhailer is the most immediately familiar.

Reikenor Grimhailer 01

His steed is also surprisingly traditional for AoS where no-one seems to ride horses anymore when you can scoot about on a half-cat, half-dragon or a flying shark instead. With his winged horse, Kyallaron, which could easily pass for a Hellsteed he wouldn’t have looked out of the place in a Vampire Counts army and thus he acts as something of a sop to fans of a more traditional aesthetic.

Like the other Nighthaunt there’s nothing terribly fancy about Reikenor himself, a carved mask and a few candles being his only concessions to grandeur. Kyallaron however makes up for it, from his battered armour to the candelabra’s worth of candles stuck to his nose this horse is one of the most extravagantly dressed heroes in the Nighthaunt army. Or maybe he’s just angling for a job with House Cawdor.

Reikenor Grimhailer 03

The angel statue deserves a special mention. A wonderfully evocative addition it almost feels wasted tucked away under Reikenor’s hooves and would make for a cracking terrain piece for either AoS or 40k were one willing to construct something else for the Grimhailer to gallop over the top of.

Reikenor Grimhailer 02

Of the three new leaders however by far my favourite is Kurdoss Valentian, the Craven King. As a leader he’s a perfect exemplar of the army as a whole. He looks physically weak, hunched on the edge of his crumbling throne, his glory faded, the stone work of his dais breaking to dust beneath him. Unlike the rest of the range, which is defined by being ethereal to varying degrees, there is a distinct solidity to him; his throne may be floating but it is still a big lump of rock and the mace he clutches looks more than heavy enough to crush heads and break bodies. Kurdoss himself however is a wretched and frail creature, lacking the solid presence of the throne and weighed down both actually and figuratively by the weight of his crown.

The Craven King

Having three named characters, each of which could easily be the faction leader, serves to emphasise the feeling of weakness at the heart of the Nighthaunt. Can you imagine Neferata, Arkhan or Mannfred suffering competitors to their thrones? Yet whilst those three were powerful rulers in the Old World, with an independence and authority that defined their characters, these newcomers are nothing more than puppets for Nagash. No wonder Kurdoss Valentian sits so awkwardly on his throne.

Ghosts riding down their victims on spectral horses makes for a suitably terrifying image but for a long time the only way to represent this was with the less than spooky hexwraiths. Oddly, despite sharing a kit with the wonderful black knights, the hexwraiths are, at least to my eye, rather naff. Their upright poses and chunky garments make them quite the opposite to the spectral Nighthaunt we’ve seen released this month. Rather than being ghostly they’re just skeletons with lumps of plastic flame stuck to them at random. Luckily those wanting to paint spooky horsemen of actual quality are at last being rewarded. As well as the Knight of Shrouds and Reikenor we have the Dreadblade Harrows which sounds like the title of a Harry Potter book in which the plucky boy wizard joins a long and illustrious list of people who have aggravated Nagash and got away with it.

Dreadblade Harrows 2

We already received one spirit torment in the Soul Wars box now we have another, this time wearing a gibbet but still looking every inch the jailer. He carries a huge padlock clearly intended to serve as some kind of bludgeoning flail and it looks downright heavy too pulling the whole model towards the ground and needing both hands to support it. The narrative here is clearly and cleverly conveyed. He may carry the padlock and keys but he is the prisoner forced to lug them around and struggling under their weight.

He also comes with two spookily faceless bodyguards presumably to stop other ghosts trying to nick his keys. It would have been nice however if his mask had matched that of his peer in the Soul Wars box to tie the two together a little more and to help differentiate him from his body guards.

Crawlocke

 

Sadly I’m not at all keen on the Dreadscythe Harridans. Perhaps they would have worked better in isolation but looking at them one almost feels that the designers used the best ideas for the Myrmourn Banshees already and were struggling to match them. There are two squads of female ghosts available to this army and whilst one is pretty much perfect the other smacks of trying too hard with too little inspiration in the creative tank. Whilst the veils of the Banshees show little and imply a great deal to create a wonderfully spooky effect the Harridans just come across has a little hammy. As special effects go having a skull for a face has been done to death already and given that this is the Warhammer universe where skills are literally everywhere a ghost with a skull for a face probably doesn’t make the “Top 10 most frightening things I’ve seen this week” list for even the most sheltered of citizens. I do wonder how they would look with the serene death masks of the Sanguinary guard – if I’m right, the answer is downright terrifying.

Harridans 4

Then there are the flowers in their hair. I found myself asking if this might be sexist before deciding I was probably reading too much into it. Of course there is a long association of flowers with death, particularly to cover up the smell of ripe corpse puts out. Then again, as incorporeal beings ghost are not normally associated with being whiffy.

One wonders if the designers asked themselves “how do we represent female ghosts when all we have to play with his a white sheet with a skull on the front?”

“How about long hair?” another would ask.

“Good idea”, says the first, “but they might still be rock musicians”

“Hmmm.. how about flowers then – girls love flowers!”

Ultimately though it’s probably nothing and even if it isn’t it’s still a big improvement on boob armour. I don’t see any of the boy ghosts carrying floral arrangements into battle with them though…

Harridans 1

Apparently the Harridans are all former healers who are being tortured by Nagash. Hands which were once dexterous have been turned into lethal blades and the Harridans are driven forwards against their will to slash at the enemy.

Which begs the question; what does Nagash have against healers anyway? Was he once beaten up by a doctor? Did a surgeon mock his taste in hats? Did Morathi dump him for a sexy neurosurgeon who drove a sports car and was “good with his hands”? Surely it cannot be that by saving lives he feels the healers are denying him souls? It’s not as though any of them are promising immortality. The soul still goes to Nagash, the doctors are only delaying the inevitable. The soul may not arrive quite as quickly but to an immortal like Nagash the delay should be barely noticeable. If that’s what he’s upset about it just seems downright petty. I know that as characters go Nagash can spectacularly small minded when the mood takes him but such an obvious dick move just smacks of lazy writing and makes the whole narrative less compelling. A truly well written baddie is one you find yourself sympathising with but GW stamped out any hope of moral complexity here by firmly reminding us that Nagash is just an arsehole and Sigmar is the good man who we ought to be cheering for.

The opportunity was here to create something truly terrifying but alas the designers bottled out at the last moment and then added insult to injury by saddling them with some rather silly background fiction.

Bladegheist 1

Much better in my opinion are the Bladegheist Revenants.  There is a sense of speed and motion here unmatched not just in the Nighthaunt range but across the broader spectrum of AoS as well. Zombies and skeletons may have typecast the undead as slow and ungainly but these are anything but.

The masks are also much more imposing than any skull and, being separate components to the rest of the body, can easily be used to make anyone you want look terrifying. Necron lords, dark eldar, the henchmen of radical inquisitors, the elite of the chaos cults, a troupe of particularly malevolent harlequins, if you need to inspire fear simply apply Bladegheist masks. My only fear is that they might be a little on the small side, it can be hard to judge scale exactly until the miniatures are properly released.

Bladegheist 3

Sadly like the harridans their background seems a little off, at least based on what I’ve read of it so far. Apparently these are the ghosts of those who were murdered in confined spaces or buried alive and their wild swings comes from there frantic attempts to escape death during their final moments.

Their poses on the other hand would seem to imply skill as well as speed, the precise cuts of master duellists rather than the while hacking of those caged in an eternal claustrophobic death. Furthermore these have the look of elite warriors not trapped victims, a look intensified by their grim and fearsome masks. Again it’s a mismatch between design and execution that the writers would have been sensible to avoid. Far be it from me to stifle creative thinking but you can have too much of a good thing. On this occasion it smacks of trying a little too hard to be creative and ending up with something that is just contrived. Does Nagash need to have legions of ghosts defined by highly circumstantial deaths? The ghosts of those who were stabbed (but not shot) in meadows? The ghosts of those who were decapitated whilst on the phone? The ghosts of those who were poisoned whilst looking at a goldfish?

Bladegheist 2

I’m aware of GW’s desire to create unique and copyright-able concepts but surely this is over-egging it. One look at these models is enough to tell you everything about their battlefield role. They are fast moving and wield large, double-handed swords. Their job, therefore, is to punch through the enemy lines, forcing a breech for the other ghosts to pour through. Surely you don’t need to have died in a confined space to be a ghostly shock trooper? Surely you just need to be good at fighting and not afraid of dying and as a ghost you should have one of those things down pat already.

Black Coach 01

We really can’t talk about the Nighthaunt without sparing a moment for the black coach. Unlike the rest of the range it’s been around for quite a while and the outgoing model was already old when I first discovered the vampire counts range. The old coach however was a distinctly solid and earthbound affair drawn by skeletal horses with none of the dynamism that today’s techniques make possible. The old one was so sedate it was probably stationary, its wheels locked solidly to the ground and the driver fast asleep, whilst the new one rattles along so fast it’s become airborne. Where a sleeping vampire needs to go in such a hurry remains unknown but it plays right to the core of the vampiric mythos, an undead lord rushing through the night to perform some unspeakable business or speeding back to his lair before the coming of the dawn.

Black Coach 2

Since the coming of the Age of Sigmar there has been a fear amongst long time fans that many old classics maybe gone for good. Across the fence in 40K the grim darkness of the far future has been more than willing to plumb the glories of the past for inspiration. From Wulfen to Genestealer Cultists concepts long thought forgotten are back on centre stage. AoS however has preferred to be new and innovative. Who cares about old square based fuddy-duddy’s when you have flying dwarves and fish elves riding giant turtles?

In the old days things were predictable; sure the rat ogres and plague monks, the squig hoppers and zombies might look a little past their best but sooner or later Games Workshop would get around to them just as they had with countless other old kits. In this new era however nothing is set in stone. The plus side is that we’ve delved into a world of boundless creativity, the negative is that we might never see new versions are well loved old models. Now old does not necessarily equate to bad, I enjoy a lump of lead as much as the next man, but some of the early plastics especially really do deserve to be replaced and soon. The black coach then offers a little glimmer of hope that Games Workshop haven’t left their history behind entirely here.

Thieving Ghosts 2

Speeding alongside the coach are a little flock of ghosts. I think these are intended as attendance carrying precious items for the convalescing vampire; a sword, a book and a chalice. The more I look at them however the more I think they are actually stealing things. There’s something conspiratorial about the glance exchanged by the two at the top, whilst the one at the side twitches the curtain aside for a nosey peek inside. The effect is emphasised by their positioning, hidden behind the coach’s driver and out of his line of sight. Of the lesser ghost we’ve seen these are the first not to be wearing iron shackles making me wonder more and more if they might be mischievous spirits who have temporarily escaped Nagash’s clutches and are now indulging in some stealthy high-jinx.

Thieving Ghosts

Back when I first got into Warhammer all the various sorts of undead where to be found under one banner, barring the Tomb Kings who were by then off doing their own thing. There were skeletons, zombies, ghouls and ghosts, all of them fairly generic, and generally there was one sort of each. Over time the range diversified but the idea of a whole army with a similar number of units to the Vampire Counts of that era made up exclusively of ghosts is still novel enough to blow my mind a little. Imagine if Games Workshop brought the same commitment to skeletons, zombies, even – dare I say it – mummies? And before you remind me that the Tomb Kings are dead and gone, never to rise again let me suggest that not all mummies are Egyptian. Imagine a race of bog bodies or corpse driven golems!

There is a line in the new Age of Sigmar rulebook which describes how, during the Age of Chaos, enslaved spirits were forced to dig up their own cadavers and mount their skulls on fortress walls. I wonder if Nagash has thought to do the same thing, sending the ghosts into the Nighthaunt and the corpses to become zombies – a sort of buy one get one free on undead armies.

In the old days the undead were defined by a lack of character. Hordes of zombies, skeletons or savage ghouls were puppeteered by powerful vampire lords and commanded to do their will. Beyond the most dominant undead creatures the person they had once been was entirely gone, all that remained was a cadaver shambling about doing its master’s bidding. The old Vampire Counts were equal opportunities employers, albeit also controlling micromanagers. Lords and peasants alike were welcome in their armies, your achievements in life made meaningless. Once they had you, you became a husk to do their bidding and nothing more. Not so the Nighthaunt. They are defined by their former lives and their deaths. Sometimes this is well written, the Craven King for example, at others it seems a little tagged on (the Harridans again I’m afraid).

If you’d told me before this release that Games Workshop planned a whole army of ghosts I would have questioned its viability. Could they really get a whole faction’s worth of models from such a simple concept without the whole thing becoming a little stretched and thin? Where would the variety come from? Games Workshop however have pulled it off in style. Some of the concepts are undoubtedly weaker than others but there’s nothing here that’s particularly objectionable.

This is the breath of fresh air that the Death range was desperately in need of, yet it’s not actually as radical as some of the things we’ve seen appearing amongst their living adversaries. Regardless of your thoughts on AoS (and frankly if you’re still full of rage and bitterness about the fate of the Old World it’s time to take a seat and re-evaluate) aesthetically and conceptually these tie in quite closely to the Vampire Counts of old, and the Shyishian Legions they’ve become. A High Elf might be a little taken aback if one of the Idoneth Deepkin waded ashore in Ulthuan, a Stormcast Eternal would cause quite a panic in the Empire and no true son of Grungni would tolerate the innovative thinking of the airborne Kharadrons, but a ghost from Silvania setting its eyes on a member of the Nighthaunt would at least know it was looking at a kindred spirit.

As usual however these are just my rambling thoughts and opinions. Are you a fan of the new ghosts or do you want to see them exorcised with extreme prejudice? Let me know what you think in the comments box below.

All the pretty pictures have been borrowed from Games Workshop without permission, barring the one at the top of my own Vampire Lord. He never did grow to become a terror in Silvania but I can hear him stirring in his grave in Shyish…  


Soul Survivors

It’s all kicking off in the Age of Sigmar. A whole new edition has arrived, bringing with it a stack of new models, which I’ll be gushing over shortly (or reviewing them dispassionately like the cold and emotionless agent of the grave I am, depending on your perspective). Once again we’re also seeing the timeline moving forward as Nagash makes his play to replace Chaos as the biggest baddie around. After all he’s been around for millennia and, despite being burdened with a truly terrible hat and getting murdered by the Skaven on a semi-regular basis, he’s risen to attain a well deserved godhood. Until now however he’s been stuck with the same bunch of minions he commanded back in the Old World, minus the Egyptian-looking ones. Of course, never one to back down from a fight or miss out on the merest hint of limelight, Sigmar has sent his Stormcast Eternals to give the agents of his old frenemy a good kicking. Don’t worry, it’s all in fun, none of them can really die.

A new edition means a new boxset and this time we get Soul Wars, the successor to the rather unimaginatively named “Age of Sigmar Starter Set”. Naturally lots of intelligent, literate people who actually have the box in front of them have already shared their opinions about it so you might be forgiven for thinking I wouldn’t bother, but of course you’d be wrong because here I am.

Soul Wars 2

Most excitingly of all I can now look forward to some nutter raving in the comments section about how much he hates AoS and what a truly terrible person I am because I personally murdered Warhammer and ruined everything. If you’re out there mate, the reason I don’t publish your comments is because I genuinely believe you’re unwell and need help and in a rare moment of frankness from me to you I would beg you to consider what this obsessive rage is doing to you and your life. Of course I’ll add that the misplaced bile you pour in my direction also brings a warm glow to my heart and makes me feel that I’ve truly arrived as a reviewer and commenter because I can’t imagine that a busy man like yourself has time to rage at every two bit blog around and you save your burning rage for those platforms where it will garner the most attention. Plus as you are happy to tell me, a stranger, that you hate me, I’m not above mocking you for  a cheap laugh.

So, having agreed that Age of Sigmar is responsible for every unpleasant and terrible thing that has ever happened, from flicking a cigarette butt towards the Hindenburg to producing the music of Shania Twain, let’s acknowledge our shared infamy in still being interested and take a look at the new models.

AoS 2

Faced with a rising tide of ghosts, and discovering that the Scooby-doo gang were unavailable, Sigmar has called in the support of another chamber of Stormcast Eternals; the warrior-mages of the Sacrosanct Chamber. Apparently he heard about the Grey Knights and decided that an army of armoured wizards were just the thing he needed to tackle an incorporeal adversary.

Of course, with tiresome predictability, some sectors of the internet are positively electric with self-satisfied outrage that once again Stormcast Eternals are featured in the boxset. It’s a bit like the people who complain constantly about there being Space Marines in the 40k starter-sets (indeed, it’s probably exactly the same people). Have the courage to admit that you’re just a tedious moaning bore rather than stretching for a silly complaint, especially when that complaint is one that you know will be fulfilled. “I’ll be upset if they put Stormcasts in the starter set” they bleat, smugly knowing that this is as inevitable as if they said “I’ll not buy it if they put the words Games Workshop anywhere on the packaging – after all that’s an anagram of Shag Pokes Worm!” Do you see a giant statue of an Idoneth Deepkin or a Bride of Khaine outside GW HQ in Nottingham? Neither do I – although there’s no denying that the latter would send a powerful message to Games Workshop’s competitors and local burglars alike.

Golden Boy

Still not marrying Khaine

When the first Age of Sigmar starter set was released the Khornate half represented something fairly traditional and familiar. Swap out the round bases for square ones and it would have fitted in nicely as a 9th Edition starter set for Warhammer. Korghos Khul would have made a fine lord of Khorne, the Bloodsecrator a champion with the battle standard, the blood warriors could have been chaos warriors with the mark of Khorne – and likewise the bloodreavers as marauders. Even the Khorgorath could have been a chaos spawn with the mark of Khorne. Alongside this the Stormcasts were the radical choice, making it indisputably clear that here we had something new and different, that the old world was gone and the new was defined by more than round bases and silly names.

This time things are different. This time it is the Stormcasts who are the conservative choice of faction to showcase in the starter set. Like Space Marines for 40k it’s safe to assume that for decades to come each new addition of Age of Sigmar will contain Stormcasts in the boxset.

Secateurs

The core of those Stormcasts are the rather stylish looking Sequitors. I’m not always that keen on Stormcasts, there’s something a little too uniform and faceless about them, but I’ll give the Sequitors two thumbs up. The robes help of course, giving the designers more to play with than plain armour would, but overall these have a lot more individuality and character than previous Stormcasts, whilst still maintaining their cohesiveness. After all, each one is a storied hero – a champion even before Sigmar raised them up – not a clone or another faceless soldier. Early Stormcasts were accused (often rightly) of being a bit repetitive but with these GW have got into their stride. Rather than lacking character each one is a character, and one could imagine oneself ascribing traits to them, identifying them from battle to battle and coming to regard them as individuals in their own right, more like Necromunda gangers than, for example, the twelfth ork in the unit.

Sequitors

I keep telling myself that I don’t need to buy the boxset because I’ll never paint an army of Stormcasts but if I ever do these will form the bulk of it.

Sequitors 1

There’s no denying the visual impact of the Castigators. Stormcasts with grenade launchers? What did the poor followers of Chaos do to deserve this?! As with the Sequitors the robes look great and there’s a real sense of power and weight to the models.

Castigators 2

It’s also good to see more female models as Games Workshop responds slowly to repeated reminders that women have a place in fantasy and science-fiction too (somewhere a fat and unhygienic Star-Wars obsessive is crying into his keyboard at this baldy-stated news but I’ve never sugar-coated anything and I’m not about to let the creepy lard-arse down gently). By subtle narrowing of the masks, waist and legs, and softening of the brow, the designers have rather cleverly managed to incorporate female Stormcasts into the ranks of the Castigators and Sequitors without needing to go down the road of form-fitting armour, boob-armour or even bare heads.

Castigators

I was never the biggest fan of Stormcast based truescale marines, finding that the sleeker armour shapes left them looking more like Stormcasts in space than Space Marines. The arrival of the Primaris marines has generally rendered them a thing of the past, as marines of most chapters can be kitbashed with ease from the Primaris chassis. The exception of course is the Sons of the Lion. Now there are plenty amongst the First Legion who go around dressed in plain power armour, and there’s no reason not to just paint your models green and have done with it. However to really capture the Dark Angels you want long monastic robes and between them the Castigators and Sequitors provide a lot of potential. The hammers, lightning bolts and other Sigmarite flourishes would need trimmed away but a virtue could be made of all the lion iconography.

As I say I’m not that keen on Stormcast based truescale marines, nor do I particularly like the Dark Angels (those filthy traitors!) but I might just pick up a few Sequitors to experiment with.

Evocators

After the excellence of the Castigators and Sequitors the Evocators prove to be a bit of a disappointment. The weird looking armpit robes are a bit too odd for my liking, whilst the tabards starting at the rib-cage makes the torso look very short. The tempest blades meanwhile look rather too long and heavy to be wielded one-handed.

In the early days the Stormcasts were often accused of looking rather blade, a charge which can now be firmly refuted.  The Evocators however seem to be trying too hard to put a flourish on the Stormcast aesthetic and the result is a little half-baked and falls short of the elite warrior-wizards these are intended to be.

Lord-Arcanum

This may sound a little overenthusiastic but I think the Lord-Arcanum is pretty damn magnificent. It showcases the glorious heroism of the Stormcasts and the fantastic richness of the Age of Sigmar in one fell swoop. My love of gritty realism and the “aesthetic of the pathetic” is well known but Age of Sigmar is big, bold and bombastic and this model encapsulates that perfectly. If we’re going to replace the toothless, shoeless Empire soldier as humanity’s defender with an immortal golden giant then let’s do it in style and give that giant a glorious haughty half-horse, half-eagle beast to ride around on. No half-measures here, no implied moral complexity, just over the top heroism through and through. Cut this man and he’ll bleed one-dimensional wholesomeness and moral fibre.

Many people – and I include myself here – took one look at the first Stormcasts and feared that Age of Sigmar would be dumbed down, simplistic and lacking the moral depths of old-Warhammer. Needless to say the likes of the Idoneth Deepkin and Daughters of Khaine have put paid to that, leaving the Stomcasts to encapsulate the goody-two-shoes heroism that they’ve become known for. Given that it’s only right that they be allowed to do it well and to the full extent of the designers’ abilities. Criticising this chap for being a bit OTT and overtly heroic would be like criticising the Idoneth for hanging around with fish.

Being harsh I’ll admit though the model does have a few flaws; the staff is a little top-heavy and cluttered with superfluous detail (just give him a hammer – it wouldn’t make him any less of a wizard) and there’s really no need for every beast in the Stormcast army to have two tails, but these niggles aside he’s still excellent.

Lord-Arcanum 2

Second in command to the Lord-Arcanum is the Knight-Incantor. Even at a glance it’s clear she’s a mage of some kind, the outspread arms, subtly upturned gaze and windblown, billowing robes neatly conveying her connection to the storm. Again her staff is a little top-heavy, as is her crest, and the silly armpit capes continue to look uncomfortable and impractical, but overall she’s a fine model who works in spite of her flaws. The sculpted musculature of the torso is an unusual, but very welcome, choice for a female miniature and would have been far better than the layered tabards of the Evocators. We can expect to see plenty of clever Inquisitrix and Cannoness conversions from this one I suspect. 

Knight-Incantor

The forces of the Stormcasts are diversified further by the arrival of their first artillery piece, the Celestar Ballista. No longer just clones in gold armour the faction has grown, chamber by chamber. Sigmar has unleashed legions of heavy infantry, flying warriors, knights on dragons, even adorable mini-gryphons and, finding his enemies are still going strong, now he’s rolled out the big guns. To my mind this model encapsulates a very Sigmarish, bullish attitude to solving a problem. One can almost hear him saying “Ghosts now you say? Have you tried shooting them?” The Stormcasts must be wishing they’d had access to this back when their enemies were a little more corporeal.

Celestar Ballista

A lot of the elements of the model are a little obvious, indeed this is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Stormcast artillery piece, but as it’s their first that’s no bad thing and very much to be expected. Plus it may well be the case that this is setting the template for further artillery and warmachines to come after.

What is interesting is that here is a glimpse of Stormcasts who’re not straight-forward fighters. Whilst previous Stormcasts have clearly been chosen by Sigmar for their combat prowess or tactical acumen, these follow on from the Lord-Ordinator, bringing more to engineering the future of the Realms than just hitting things with a hammer.

Ordinators

Overall I’d call the Stormcast half of the boxset a success. Games Workshop could have used it as an excuse to just churn out more Stormcasts, just as the 40k starter-sets of yesteryear always contained plenty of tactical marines. Instead they seized the chance to broaden the Stormcast range, bringing in mages and artillery and putting a new spin on an already ubiquitous army.

All the usual Stormcast characteristics are present, with hammers, anvils, masked helms, lion faces and more lightning bolts than a Harry Potter convention. Ultimately if you like the look of the Stormcasts then these will add further variety to your collection. If, on the other hand, you’re not so keen on the slightly different style might just sway you.

AoS 2 Knight of Shrouds

Another common complaint from the first edition of Age of Sigmar centred on the lack of mortal threat to any of the participants. Chaos lords were reborn by the gods, Stormcasts and Seraphon were reforged, even the Sylvaneth got in on the act with their soul-pods. Add in the Idoneth and their soul harvesting and a death god like Nagash starts to get seriously irritated. Indeed the situation has now become so grave (sorry – I couldn’t help myself) that he’s unleashed a whole army of ghosts to make his displeasure felt in no uncertain terms.

A number of vocal scoundrels have been calling for Age of Sigmar to give up the ghost since it was launched and, to my personal excitement, now it has. This is what they were wanting right?

First Knight Of Shrouds

Front and centre of the Nighthaunt half of the boxset is the glorious looking Knight of Shrouds. Earlier in the year Malign Portents brought us our first look at a Knight of Shrouds, a magnificently creepy and well executed model which, it is now apparent, was just the precursor to the deathly horde now descending upon us. So impressive is it that even if I wasn’t already a fan of the Death alliance I would have picked one up just to paint. Unfortunately the model was wildly overpriced for a single miniature, a product of Games Workshop’s location (both geographically and philosophically) in the UK’s deeply skewed economic landscape, so I never stumped up the cash for it. Never mind, a nicer one has come along now, and he’s on a horse.

Knight of Shrouds

Once again I may sound a little effusive in my praise here but the Nighthaunt are generally excellent and none more so than their undead general. For the ghosts the pressure to impress was always high. The Vampire Counts range was a well loved staple of Warhammer and for a while new releases were a regular occurrence, with each one including models even bigger and more impressive than the last. The culmination came at the beginning of the End Times with the arrival of the Mortarchs and Nagash himself – the latter being a model I’m not a big fan of but which is otherwise generally well loved.

After the triumph however came the fall. In the purge of Warhammer factions that followed the End Times the Tomb Kings, the Vampire Counts’ sister race and the other branch of the undead in GW’s stable, were swept roughly into the dustbin of history. There followed three years of near silence. The beginning of 2018 saw the arrival of the Malign Portents, something many of us assumed to be Death’s triumphant return. Of course it turned out we were right, just a little premature. Instead of a new army, the undead got an army book and a single overpriced model – but then so did everyone else. Only after two elven factions had appeared did the dead rise at last.

Thus I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this release desperately hoping it would be good and fearing the outcry that would come if it was anything less than perfect. Luckily when it comes to the risen dead GW are still very much on top of their game. If the Knight of Shrouds is suffering from any kind of performance anxiety he doesn’t show it and as a general he can stand proud alongside vampire lords, ghoul kings and Mortarchs alike. Death is back in style, top marks Games Workshop, I should never have doubted you!

Knight of Shrouds 2

There’s something slightly frail about the Knight of Shrouds, a whipped look in his thin arms and hunched shoulders which only adds to his sense of spiteful danger. Here is a ragged and wiry warrior, a pauper general, the very essence of his steed sloughing away in echo of its long rotted flesh. He’s a long way from the wall of golden musculature sent by Sigmar yet one suspects his sword would cut the deeper for the bitterness behind it.

Lord Executionar 2

Alongside the Knight of Shrouds Soul Wars spoils us with three more Nighthaunt characters. First up we have the Lord Executioner, an overenthusiastic headsman in life now bound to eternally serve Nagash. The elements are relatively simple; an executioner’s hood, a gallows and a great big axe. Nonetheless the model does a lot with these few ingredients and the result is delightfully sinister and imposing. A small group of ghosts swirl around him, framing the model’s face and helping to tie these newer models in to older figures like the spirit hosts and mortarchs.

Gallows Gallery

Back when I reviewed the Lord of Blights from the Nurgle release (in January) I described the gallows worn on his back as “a good idea amateurishly executed”. With the Lord Executioner we get to see it done properly.

Lord Executionar 3

An executioner never has to rush around chasing after victims and thus the model encapsulates a sense of slow-moving power. He calmly stares ahead, picking out his next victim, and the model’s golden angle has him looking directly at the viewer. Meanwhile his greater height above the base implies a potential for downward movement, he’s not racing into the sky but preparing for a powerful decapitating downswing. I’m also no fan of sculpted smoke, fire or magical effects, something you would think would put me off the Nighthaunts in general, but here it’s been done with such aplomb that it’s impossible not to be impressed.

Guardian of Souls

The Guardian of Souls is the first Nighthaunt wizard (you can tell by his staff, pointy hat and beard). Apparently his role involves guiding the spirits of the dead back into the Mortal Realms, a story that is subtly but skilfully told by his pose. His sword is held low – he’s not really a fighter after all – and his lantern is outstretched overhead to guide others, with wisps of ethereal flame coiling back behind him.

Spirit Torment

Whilst the Guardian of Souls and Lord Executioner clearly convey their mortal origins the Spirit Torment looks more like a cross between a deep sea fish and one of the bridges over the Seine that people cover in padlocks. The result is deliciously creepy, the eyeless face and gaping mouth creating a strong impression of something utterly without compassion, driven only by instinctual hunger.

Furthermore whilst most ghosts look soft and ethereal this one looks heavy, it’s pose hunched and bullish, it’s arms pulled low by the weight of the locks it carries, its thin flesh poking from beneath a shell of heavy iron. And whilst the locks are so heavy they almost scrape along the ground the keys float out of reach, hidden from the creature directly behind its sightless head.

Indeed the head itself deserves a special mention, an excellent bit which would prove handy in adding an extra level of creepiness to all kinds of characters, from tech-priests to archons. The only flaw is the padlock earring, a tiny bit silly and a detail too far I feel.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me, quite rightly, by Faust that this is a lock on a collar and not an earring. This is what I get for not double-checking my facts! Indeed on second examination it actually looks quite cool so anyone who was avoiding buying the entire Soul Wars boxset on account of this should now feel free to do so.

Chainrasp 2

The rank and file of the Nighthaunt contingent is made up of the chainrasps, of which we get 20 in the box. These are the middle of the road souls, criminals and bad ‘uns but not evil enough to have sold their souls to Chaos. For those who’ve been crying out to see the normal folk, the great unwashed of the Mortal Realms, this is them – it’s just unfortunate that by the time GW got around to them they were already dead.

Once again the undead maintain the theme of a mighty host of the risen slain at the core of their armies. Now we can choose between skeletons, ghouls, zombies (if you like really ugly models) and now ghosts as well. There’s nothing wildly unusual or creative with these but that’s no bad thing. If you want straight-forward ghosts, or a chassis upon which to build more unusual ghosts, you’ve got it. Whatever the setting, so long as the spectral dead wander around in a sheet moaning, these will have you covered.

Chainrasp 3

It’s safe to say that the Inq28 community will be having a field day with these (not that those geniuses couldn’t make gold out of anything). Expect plenty of little tech-thralls ahead.

Grimghast ReapersIf the Chainrasps are the rank and file of the Nighthaunt then the Grimghast Reapers are the shock troops; blindfolded spectral berserkers  sent to reap a fresh crop of souls for Nagash. Overall these are the closest to the cairn wraith, the spiritual forefather of the Nighthaunt. Indeed anyone still playing Vampire Counts in old-Warhammer would do well to consider these as a great way of making cairn wraith squads, alongside the Myrmourn Banshees as, well, Banshees.

The stereotypical Death archetypes are out in force here, from the tattered black robes to the long scythes. There’s a real sense of speed too, a darting, almost fish-like motion, combined with a sense of savagery in the sweeping blades. The unfortunate exception is the one holding his scythe directly overhead. The sense of motion is still there but the sense of direction isn’t, so whilst the others appear to have just made a killing blow he’s either indulging in some purposeless scythe waving to no real effect or he’s just blindly charging and probably about to suffer a comedic collision with something unyielding.

Charging Ghost

I also wonder if it’s strictly necessary for one of them to be wielding a bell on a stick? In old Warhammer pretty much every squad, regardless of how small, featured an optional command group  comprising a leader or champion, a banner and a musician. This practice has declined in Age of Sigmar and so a musician feels as unnecessary here as a banner would. It’s clear the ghost isn’t using it for its intended purpose, he appears to be smacking someone over the head with it, so why give him a musical instrument at all if he’s just going to break it by using it as a weapon? Plus although bells are closely associated with death in the real world, in the Warhammer universes they’ve become much more closely tied to Nurgle and the Skaven so if GW really wanted an instrument in the squad – presumably to some in-game effect – then why not pick something else? Wind instruments, not usually great for creatures without lungs, could be great here – how about bone pipes sticking out of his back that howl and moan as he flies around with his mouth open, turning the whole model into a giant set of bagpipes?

Bellend

In spite of these minor quibbles there’s a lot to like about the Reapers. They may be the most obvious and least original concepts in the Nighthaunt range but they do it with such style that I’m more than happy to forgive them.

Glaivewraith 2

Creativity and weirdness are becoming the trademarks of Age of Sigmar and although GW have been a little less wild with Soul Wars than they were with, for example, the Idoneth Deepkin or Kharadron Overlords (this is still stormcasts vs ghosts after all) they’ve still managed to sneak in some wonderfully innovative models all the same. Perhaps my personal favourites, and the models that first drew me to the Nighthaunt faction, are the Glaivewraith Stalkers.

Hunters in life the Glaivewraith have been fused in death with their steed creating bizarre hybrids, the hunting beasts of Nagash. I may have poured praise on the Nighthaunt rather exhaustively by this point but here GW have done it again, pulling another star out of the bag.

In theory one presumes a sufficiently powerful necromancer can resurrect almost anything, with the possible exception of a dwarf. In the old Vampire Counts era however the bestial companions of the undead were lifted straight from Bram Stoker’s rather hammy writing, with giant bats and wolves predominating. Sadly the superstition of the dark ages still seems to be associative with these creatures and unnecessary persecution has been heaped on them as a result (and yes, I did have to rescue my neighbour from a bat once whilst she screamed hysterically, and rather imaginatively, that “everyone knows they’re poisonous!” I restrained myself from pointing out that there was only one mad old bat in the room and it wasn’t the unfortunate flying mammal…).

Now I’ll forgive the later edition dire wolves which were suitable terrifying zombies (and even the most gentle of creatures becomes frightening once it’s a zombie as these lovable farm animals painted by Alex of Leadballoony prove). Regardless of how rare or endangered a species becomes I’m all in favour of killing it once its risen as a zombie but until then there’s really no reason for a hobby with its foundations in imagination and creativity to keep repeating the short-sighted ignorance of medieval peasants. Thankfully Nagash, and his mortal servants in Nottingham, have proved themselves capable of shrugging off the hackish prose of old Bram to invent a bestial pack of a rather more creative kind.

Vampire Counts Convert Or Die (2) - Copy

Wolves – majestic wild animals… until they rise from the grave…

Releases like the Kharadron Overlords and Idoneth Deepkin have really cemented Age of Sigmar as a setting in which Games Workshop can let their creative hair down and indulge their talents. With Soul Wars they’ve naturally been a little more restrained, Stormcasts are Stormcasts after all, but that hasn’t stopped them showing off a little on the ghostly side of the set. The Glaivewraith Stalkers are exactly the sort of thing one imagines skulking in the corner of a Blanche painting, or popping up in the margins of a rulebook.

Glaivewraith

I’m also tempted to a couple of pairs of human legs emerging from beneath one of them to create a macabre carnival beast, pantomime horse or suitably weird steed for an Inq28-style knight.

ETBGlaivewraithStalkers

Unfortunately the Easy To Build Glaivewraith Stalkers released to expand the set in Soul Wars don’t bring much more to the unit than was already present on the models in the core box. They do add a drum of course and a crow with a skull for a head, which is probably the cutest thing GW have ever come up with, but neither, to my eye, merits a whole new kit (and separate purchase) on its own when those two items could have been included in the core box just as easily. That said the Easy to Build sets are so cheap, and the models in them so nice, that it seems churlish to make a fuss about this.

Skull Crow

The drummer is apparently called a Deathbeat Drummer which sounds like something a music journalist would come up with to name a sub-genre of death metal. Really they should have gone the whole hog and called it a Deadbeat Drummer, which is after all what everyone will call it anyway.

Banshee 1

More exciting are the Myrmourn Banshees which are without a doubt one of the best bits in a release already full of wonders. Much has already been said about the clever use of negative space and the way that the greater part of what should be the model’s flesh is either hidden or absent. The torsos are hollow, the mouths screaming gaps which, in the absence of the model’s eyes, draw in the viewer’s gaze, and the models writhe and twist as though boneless, like cloth tugged by a breeze.

Banshee 2

Soul Wars picks it’s themes and sticks to them with an unyielding vigour. If you like heroes in shiny armour or lots and lots of ghosts you will not be disappointed. If, on the other hand, your predilections for the undead are more diverse and you’d like a skeleton or two, perhaps a zombie, or even – heaven forbid – a mummy, then you may find this something of a letdown.

I make no secret of my own bias, I started out as a vampire counts fan several editions of Warhammer ago and I’ve been tempted to join the undead legions of Nagash since Age of Sigmar began. I even painted a vampire count just the other day and, like the Lord of Undead himself, I fondly remember the World-That-Was, I have a healthy distrust of Stormcasts and I look silly in a big hat. I’ve tried to remain neutral in this review but if my praise for the Nighthaunts has been a little more emphatic than for the Stormcasts that may be part of it.

That said I really do feel that the Nighthaunt half of the box outshines the Stormcast half by a sizable margin. It doesn’t help that a Stormcast in a robe is still a Stormcast and so the look of the models was very much constrained by what had gone before, whereas with the Nighthaunt the designers were able to create something a bit stranger, darker and more creative, and thus more to my taste. Furthermore whilst the Stormcast set contains models both good (the Sequitors) and less so (the Evocators) the ghosts are consistently top-notch. Needless to say between this and the models already revealed I’m very much looking forward to the full Nighthaunt army when it arrives.

Ultimately I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy Soul Wars, partly because I’m not that excited by Stormcasts (no matter how beautiful the Sequitors are) and partly because GW are bombarding us with other releases more to my taste. I will however be seeking a good bargain on the ghosts, and plotting a spiritual awaking in Shyish. And of course it’s always possible that I’ll change my mind, those Sequitors really are pretty lovely, and I really want to read all about the realms in the new rule book and sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m trying to save my pennies for all the other lovely things Games Workshop have been previewing lately…

Nighthaunt 1

So what about you? Are you already preparing yourself mind, body and soul by wandering the house with a sheet over your head making “woooo” noises, or are you a valiant servant of the God-King ready to take the fight to the dirty deadies? Or perhaps your sympathies lie with the somewhat under-represented forces of Destruction, in which case here’s hoping that with Stormcasts vs Chaos in the  first boxset and Stormcasts vs Death in the second I’ll be reviewing a box of Ogres (and Stormcasts!) in three years or so. You heard it here first folks!


The Golden Legion

It is often stated that in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war and this may well be the case. Nonetheless two battles stand out, head and shoulders above all others both in scale and importance. The great tank battle at Talarn, the sacking of Prospero, the devastation of Baal or the Fall of Cadia? These are mere skirmishes! Armageddon, Calth, Isstvan, Macragge? Simple border disputes! The great conflicts which rage unseen in Octarius, the Legion Wars in the Eye of Terror or the long lost struggles between the Old Ones and the Necrontyr? Hardly the stuff to define the Imperium-centric universe of the 41st Millennium. No, the battles of which I speak are of course the First Siege of Terra – in which two Primarchs are slain, the Emperor is placed within the Golden Throne and an age of darkness truly dawns, and the Second Siege of Terra, the one yet to come in which Abaddon brings the traitor legions and their daemonic primarchs back to humanity’s birth world for the final, apocalyptic showdown to define our species’ fate.

For those immersed in the world of the 41st Millennium one is the cornerstone of all history, the other the overshadowing conclusion to the future, the ultimate Ragnarok and day of judgement rolled into one. One cries out to be chronicled in a series of novels, the other demands to be left purely to the imagination.

Auric Custodians

I don’t want to see the final battle for Terra, either through official rules, global campaigns or Black Library novels. I don’t want the Long War to end. Yet with the ghoulish fascination that makes us rubberneck at car crashes my eye is drawn back to it, to that final apocalypse which ends only with chaos standing triumphant over the Emperor’s broken realm or breaking against its defences like a failing wave.

This is mankind defining our own fate. We shall come to this war in many guises, be it the common soldiers of the Astra Militarum or the frothing cultists that oppose them, the astartes rebuilt in the Emperor’s image, the Primarchs fabricated to be demi-gods among men, the bestial creatures of chaos or even the daemons grown from our nightmares and ambitions like the mould that sprouts from the yeast in bread. Xenos will not fight in this war, at least not in a major, defining way. There may be the odd Eldar sneaking about, a genestealer cultist or two in the shadows, an ork who heard this was the place to come for an especially good fight, but ultimately this is our war, fought amongst ourselves for the soul of our species. This is us taking back control.

The Talons of the Emperor

Of course, one can’t think of war on Terra without thinking of the Adeptus Custodes. For a long time they’ve floated at the edge of 40k fans’ wildest imaginings, yet for all we dreamed of seeing them on our tabletops and bestriding the battlefields of the 41st Millennium, it seemed at best a pipe-dream. After all the custodes were confined to Terra, having sworn oaths of penance in the wake of the Emperor’s death at the hands of his son Horus. GW were never going to make an army that only fought on one planet out of the hundreds of thousands in the galaxy, especially a planet that, almost by definition, wouldn’t see war on a grand scale until the setting itself reaches its ultimate end.

Times however have changed and 40k is an evolving beast. Like the Imperium itself stagnation has been replaced by transformation, and we’re yet to see for sure what shape its final form shall be. Many of us, myself included, cried out against the changes being wrought to the setting. Yet so far whilst the universe has developed it hasn’t strayed as far from the darkness at its core as many feared. We may have raged against the Primaris marines for the disregard of the background lore but we forgave them for giving us easy access to true-scale marines. Likewise I may not be thrilled to see the custodes leaving Terra at long last but I’ll let it pass because we now have the range of glorious golden-armoured warriors we long dreamed of.

Custodians

That said my pleasure at seeing the custodes doesn’t mean they get a free pass from criticism.  After all the custodes may be the Emperor’s golden boys with a long list of victories (almost) unmarred by defeat but they’re still a long way from perfect. They say the man who never made a mistake never made anything and true enough the custodes have spent the last ten millennia making damn sure they never made a mistake.

For those unfamiliar with the background to the custodes the crux of the matter is this; after a history in which they had never known defeat the custodes, sworn to protect the Emperor from all threats, were separated from him as they teleported aboard Horus’ battle barge. By the time they reached their master’s side he had been mortally wounded. Failure strengthens us, it teaches us both how to avoid failing again and how to cope if we do. The custodes had never failed before and now that they had they didn’t know how to cope. They carried the Emperor back to Terra and swore an oath never again to leave the Imperial Palace (admittedly a loosely defined area around the Sol system).

In many ways the custodes exemplified the ignorant, inward-looking nature of the Imperium and its cruelly wasteful treatment of its resources – most notably human lives. It’s always been one of the great ironies of the Imperium that whilst ork waarrghs and black crusades smashed thousands of worlds to rubble and whole chapters of space marines and regiments of imperial guard were being swallowed up by war the finest army at the Imperium’s disposal sat idle. Where were the custodes when Armageddon or Macragge were burning? Sitting on Terra feeling sorry for themselves that’s where.

Was it dereliction of duty on their part that saw the Emperor slain? I feel that’s a harsh judgement. Blame for Horus’ invasion of Terra, and the Emperor’s fateful decision to teleport aboard the Vengeful Spirit and take the fight to his wayward son, could hardly be laid at the custodes’ door. Yet the ten millennia of mourning and self-recrimination and penance that followed, whilst all around them the galaxy burned, that can be called dereliction of duty of the highest order.

Golden Legion

Yet whilst the custodes have exemplified the stubborn ignorance of their era they are not of it. Almost uniquely amongst the people of the Imperium they are granted access to all knowledge and trained in all things. Beyond their superlative combat abilities each is educated to the very limit that their superhuman brains can handle. They are statesmen, philosophers, artists and historians, cartographers of the heavens and a thousand other things beside. They are not oblivious to the threats that fall upon the Imperium, or to the state of decline into which that once great empire has fallen. They must have seen the doom that was swallowing everyone, from the lowliest tech-serf to the Emperor Himself, yet they chose to stay on Terra anyway, allowing self-indulgent misery at the failings of their long-dead ancestors to blind them to the fact that they’d been letting the side down for rather a long time.

They’ve sat on their hands, gathering dust whilst the Imperium collapsed around them. This isn’t a complaint mind you – although if they knew the truth a denizen of the 41st Millennium might feel otherwise. Rather I’ve always found it to be a wonderful part of the 40k background, the idea of a superlative army able to overcome any foe standing idle whilst enemies rage unchecked simply because they believe that they failed ten thousand years ago.

Of course they’ve not been entirely shiftless, there have been shadow wars and hidden conflicts conducted out of sight in the veiled byways and alleys of Terra as the forces of the arch-enemy attempt to corrupt the throne world. From the grander conflicts that the Imperium has endured however they have been absent, leaving the space marines and Imperial Guard to do the leg work.

Golden Throne edit

As far as we’ve seen the wars in which the custodes have taken part have hardly been taxing. Whilst many space marine chapters have come close to extinction the Golden Legion have managed to maintain their numbers at a rough ten thousand. This leads me to wonder; if the custodes are functionally immortal and can only be killed by catastrophic trauma, and they never leave the Emperor’s palace – the most heavily defended site in the galaxy, and when they do have to fight it is almost certainly against someone less skilled than themselves, then how do they ever die at all? The codex describes some as being over a thousand years old but surely many of them should be even older than that.

What happens to them? Surely the warriors who fought in the Horus Heresy aren’t still standing vigil now? It’s something I’ve often wondered, especially nowadays when Bjorn the Fell-handed’s claim to being the oldest living human has been knocked aside by the return of other Heresy-era oldsters like Guilliman and Cawl.

Thankfully we now have an answer. If a custodian finds himself no longer at the peak of fighting perfection he returns his equipment, resigns from his watch and, clad in hooded black robes, set’s off into the galaxy to act as a watchman, spying out any threats to the Emperor and sending word back to his former brothers. It’s a powerful image; a hooded giant, face almost hidden, watching from the shadows with his retinue of agents gathered around him, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t inspire a few Inq28 warbands.

Vertus Praetors

Now in the Imperium’s darkest hour the custodes are unleashed. With a loyalist primarch back in the fight, a new, more pro-active Captain-General at the helm and an attack by Khornate daemons at the very gates of the Imperial Palace to goad them into action, they begin to strike out into the galaxy at large. Cue much back-patting at GW HQ as they finally have the excuse to make the range of models they know we’re always wanted.

It would have been all too easy to make these golden armoured supermen into two-dimensional goodies but, perhaps learning from the accusations fired at the Stormcast Eternals, the writers have done a good job of describing a well rounded and distinctly human force. The custodes may have grown in stature, prowess and intellect above the common man but their flaws have grown with them and this keeps them rooted firmly in the 41st Millennium. Of course with the Sol system under threat from several directions one cannot help but wonder if the final battle might not be close at hand. Is it the wisest move on the part of the custodes to be abandoning their posts and going in search of battle at the precise moment that the battle they have long prepared for is finally coming to them? Perhaps not, but have pity on the Golden Legion as they attempt to find the right path through the pitiless horror of the 41st Millennium. They’re only human after all.

All artwork is copyright Games Workshop and is used without permission.


Sick And Twisted

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

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).

GreatUncleanOne

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.

GreatUncleanTwo

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!

Great Unclean One Face

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.

Splat

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!

GreatUncleanBum

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.

Rotigus

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!

Great Unclean One Face (2)

Horticulous Slimux

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.

Horticulous Slimux

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.

HorticulusSlimux03

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.

Mulsh

Sloppity Bilepiper

Whilst Slimux is a little too silly for my taste there’s nothing to criticise about the sheer mad brilliance of the Sloppity Bilepiper.

Sloppity Bilepiper 01

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.

Sloppity Bilepiper 02

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.

Spoilpox Scrivener

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.

Spoilpox Scrivener

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.

Spoilpox

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.

Lord of Blights 01

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.

Lord of Blights 02

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!

Pusgoyle Blightlords

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?

Pusgoyle Blightlords 1

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!

Pusgoyle 1

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?

Nurgle Daemon Prince Convert Or Die

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.

Pusgoyle Blightlords 2

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.

Beast of Nurgle

The new kit plays this sense of joy and energy perfectly, and nowhere better than with the tongue-lolling, bug-eyed faces.

Beasts of Nurgle 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.

Old Beast 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.

Beast of Nurgle 2

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.

Nurgle Group

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.

Beast of Nurgle Face

Feculent Gnarlmaw

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.

Feculent Gnarlmaw

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.

Hag Tree

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…

Tree of Nurgle Convert Or Die

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.

Epidemius

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!


A Darker World Is Not Far From Us

Chaos has always been portrayed as more than just another enemy. Whilst the Imperium stood at the heart of the 40k story with the xenos races arrayed around it like wolves waiting to pull the big beast down, Chaos was the Imperium’s equal – its dark reflection. One is led to believe that the Imperium could hold back any one of the xenos threats with ease, if only they were attacking it one at a time like bad guys in a martial arts film. The eldar are too few now to present a real danger, the tau too small and isolated. The orks, as is always noted, could destroy us all – if only they stopped fighting each other for long enough to knock over humanity’s sandcastles. Of course we’re told that the tyranids and/or necrons will soon kill everyone, but this is generally presented as something of a “by-the-way” which to me means it has often seemed either a distant threat, or so overwhelming as to make all other faction’s involvement seem pointless.

Plague Marines 2

Not chaos though. Chaos is in all of us. Every man who marches in the armies of the Imperium could someday turn his coat and fight beneath the eight-pointed star instead. If the Imperium fielded an army of just one man then that man might turn his back on the Emperor and fight instead for the Ruinous Powers. If they sent an army a billion strong to defeat him then they might win… or they might find a billion new enemies marching back towards them. The tau can be eradicated, the eldar driven to extinction, the Imperium brought to ruin and the numberless swarms of the tyranids exhausted, but so long as a single human remains alive in the galaxy Chaos will never die.

Like an infection it leaps from one carrier to the next. No-one is entirely immune, regardless of what the Grey Knights will tell you, and once a person is corrupted they will inevitably seek to corrupt others. Should the right person fall billions more can fall with them. Corrupt a planetary governor and a whole world can tumble. When Horus fell half the Imperium followed.

Fight it head on and you only feed it. Try to ignore it, deny its reality, smash the churches and burn the holy books, and Chaos sneaks back in via the back door.

Horrors

We know of course that there are various factions within all of the races, clans of orks, necron dynasties, tyranid hive fleets and so on. You’re encouraged to paint them different colours, and – especially since the arrival of Warhammer 40k’s 8th edition – there are even rules so that they perform differently in the game. The eldar have a bit more depth; there are the craftworlders, the dark kin of Commortagh, the dancing harlequins of the Black Library, the newly formed Ynnari and, for enthusiast convertors, even exodites and corsairs. Really though it’s the Imperium to whom the greatest attention has been devoted. We have six brands of space marine alone, various imperial guard regiments, the wonderfully weird tech-cult of the Adeptus Mechanicis, the towering knights, the golden armoured Custodes, the shadowy Inquisitors, the one man armies of the Assassinorum and those perpetually overlooked nuns with guns – the Sisters of Battle. The thing is, Chaos is always described as having all that and more. Four distinct gods place their influence upon chaos space marine legions, traitor primarchs, rebel guard regiments, beastmen herds, daemonic choirs, fallen knight households and the daemon-smiths of the Dark Mechanicus. It’s as if there was another Imperium, a twisted reflection of the first, a Dark Imperium if you will.

The battle between the Imperium and Chaos then is not the story of the old empire falling to the barbarians at the gates but the story of two equals fighting for dominance. The Empire of the Eye has stood almost as long as the Imperium and its history is just as rich and complex as that of its real space reflection.

Roboute Guilliman

When Roboute Guilliman arrived in the 40k setting earlier this year I was furious. I even wrote a long and extremely angry blog post, which thankfully I never posted, decrying the state of the world and GW’s decision to put profit over quality. To me the daemon primarchs belonged in the setting and their return was welcome but their flesh and blood brothers should have stayed dead. I got over it though. Guilliman may walk and talk but the galaxy is a big place and his presence hasn’t impinged on my enjoyment of the game one way or another. I even read Guy Haley’s Dark Imperium (and, beneath my dwarf-like contempt for this newfangled tinkering with the established lore, secretly rather enjoyed it).

The age of the Emperor ended when he was placed upon the golden throne. This is the story of twin empires locked in a struggle to the death and of brothers fighting over their father’s kingdom.

Plague Bearers 2

Warhammer as was told the story of many races, empires and nations. Age of Sigmar is a veritable soup of them. Nor do all of those stories focus around human protagonists. Central themes in the World That Was included the age long struggle between the self-righteous Elves of Ulthuan and their infinitely superior kin in Naggaroth, whilst dwarves, skaven and goblins battled in the sunless depths without anyone in the Empire or Bretonnia even knowing about it.

Without Chaos however 40k runs the risk of being a one horse town, with the Imperium at the heart of every story. Sure there are epic confrontations going on in the margins, the Eldar battling the Tyranids at Valedor, the Orks also fighting the Tyranids in Octarius, but in the main it’s all been about the Imperium. What’s more, for all the Chaos has traditionally been presented as the biggest baddy of them all, in recent years it’s star had started to wane. Bigger threats were descending on the galaxy, threats which would see all human life obliterated regardless of whether they worshipped a corpse god or grew tentacles from their ears. Either the Necrons were going to wake up and obliterate all organic life with the flick of a switch or the Tyranids were going to eat everyone. Against this Chaos was starting to feel a little weak. To criticise poor old Abaddon because you’ve never read the background and his arms keep falling off has long been akin to waving a flag and publicly declaring you’re an ass but even so one started to wonder if his long war wasn’t taking a little bit too long. Surely if he didn’t crack on his hordes would eventually come pouring from the Eye of Terror only to find a galaxy stripped of life and nothing left to fight but a lone genestealer fighting a broken necron in the ruins of the Imperial Palace. It’s one thing to unite the warring Chaos legions beneath one banner, quite another to take so long doing it that you end up missing the apocalypse you were planning to unleash. Yet whilst Abaddon was running the risk of being the big baddie who get’s beaten at the end of every episode some filthy xenos were about to blow up the whole galaxy – and that would never do.

Bloodthirster

Now this isn’t intended to do down the xenos (some of my best friends are xenos) who enrich the setting so deeply or to claim special treatment for my army just because I’m super special myself. Indeed I’d like to see the various alien races expanded upon further and with luck GW are cracking on behind the scenes with exactly that. However when the threat they pose reaches apocalyptic levels it risks becoming too abstract, too overwhelming, to engage with alone. When one looks at the innumerable hordes of the Tyranids pouring in from the depths of space one tends to think that the Imperium might as well just go home and put their feet up, they’re all going to be eaten whatever they do so there’s not much point struggling especially not when they already have a galaxy-sized guass flayer to their collective heads. Chaos though is an enemy you can fight – not just with your bolters in the burning streets, not just on the tabletop, but in your own heart and soul. No-one looks at a Tyranid and thinks “I really understand where these guys are coming from! If I was living in the 41st Millennium I’d want to strip planets of their biomass too!” I can’t put myself in the shoes of a soulless Necron automaton, and even the Eldar and Orks are relatively inscrutable and inhuman to our gaze. Chaos though speaks to us, to our ambition, to our righteous anger, to our will to freedom and self-determination, to our hunger to live, to our moral drives and the very emotions that make us human.

The Imperium needs an enemy we can empathise with, an enemy that speaks to us in our own voice so that we can cringe with horrified fascination as they tear each other apart. Ultimately if GW are serious about the 40k setting evolving then the Imperium needs an equal. It needs Chaos.

All artwork used belongs to Games Workshop and is used without permission as a result of sheer badness on my part.


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.