Category Archives: Editorial

Rhythm and Blues; from Rock Gods to Ultramarines

This weekend has seen Games Workshop’s latest showcase event, the Vigilus Open Day. For the avoidance of doubt I’d better clarify that I wasn’t there myself but, like so many other hobbyists and fans, I was glued as best as I was able to the updates and reveals coming out of the event via social media. Being at work over the weekend I’m only just getting the chance to catch up properly on everything that was announced now, long after the rest of the internet has had its say, but I still couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pontificate a little and share my thoughts on the things we saw.

 

Boys In Blue

Poor old Marneus Calgar. One of the most iconic and long established space marine characters, he’s been the posterboy for the Ultramarines and, as a result, the man everyone loves to hate, since the early days of 40k, when he wore the kind of coat any pimp would be proud of, cultivated an imposing man-spread and kept dinosaurs as pets.

Commander Calgar

Ultramarines Commander Calgar, as painted by David Gallagher.

Alas, whilst it’s all very well being second only to Roboute Guilliman himself when the Primarch is lying in state it’s a lot less impressive when he’s walking, talking and taking command of the Imperium. Love him or loathe him, and for many of us it’s a little of both, it’s been hard not to feel a little sorry for Calgar over the last couple of years. The return of Roboute has seen him pushed firmly into the backseat, a poor man’s Primarch if ever there was one.

Since the arrival of Primaris marines a popular theory (although I stress that it remains only a theory) is that GW will seek to weed out the old, distinctly undersized, marines of yesteryear through a process of slow attrition, allowing the old-style small marines to look increasingly dated, moving them out of the limelight, promoting the newer, more imposing Primaris models whilst the background describes a winnowing of the older troops. It’s a convincing theory but it leaves us with the problem of the special characters. Whilst it’s one thing to get rid of a tactical marine in this manner and replace him with an intercessor, it’s quite another to dispose of Azrael, Ragnar Blackmane, Mephiston or Dante. The answer; to see them reforged, renewed and reborn as newer, bigger, better Primaris warriors -and who better than Calgar to lead the charge.

Calgar 1Calgar 2

Speculation of other loyalist Primarchs making a return and joining Guilliman in defending the Imperium continues to rumble on, and could easily fill a blog or two by itself, but it’s worth noting that, however things turn out, the creation of some imposing, modern models for the heroes of the Blood Angels, Space Wolves or Dark Angels could still provide centrepiece models to be proud of, without such controversial moves as bringing back Russ, the Lion or even – whisper it – Sanguinius.

Of course I still find myself wondering how GW would, under this scenario, choose to handle those amongst the Space Marines like Gabriel Seth, who has expressed a distinct disapproval for the Primaris newcomers, historic characters like Tycho or the Grey Knights who, we’ve been repeatedly told, have no Primaris brothers at all. Then there are the stranger elements, reflecting 40k’s more mythic and fantastic side. Will the likes of the Sanguinor and the Legion of the Damned find themselves growing bigger over the coming years or will they end their days as bizarrely short characters, manifesting at little more than chest height amongst their younger brothers? Only time will tell.

As an aside, interesting though Calgar is from a theoretical point of view, I’m actually more impressed by his Honour Guard. They haven’t had the same attention paid to them as their boss so far but their predecessors were amongst my favourite Space Marine models, real exemplars of how the range could look at its best and these are worthy successors.

Honour Guard

In the old days the rules allowed for every Chapter Master to have a squad of Honour Guard so part of me is already wondering about how these can be converted to serve the Chapter Master of my own Knights Mortis. Then again converting them might involve removing some of the features that make them so iconic so who knows, maybe, just maybe, I’ll cross the Rubicon and paint them as Ultramarines.

 

In Black And Gold Reborn

First off let me note that the size of the new Chaos Marines is still something that I’m struggling to establish my thoughts on. At some point I’ll write a full post on the subject once I have something to say that I’ve not already said multiple times before. In the meantime though I simply wanted to acknowledge the fact and move on. Instead, let’s take a look at Haarken Worldclaimer – a man who, true to his name, has sworn to claim Vigilus in the name of Abaddon. Given that the Despoiler has little patience for those who waste his time we’d better hope for Haarken’s sake he lives up to the hype…

Haakan back to the old days

Haarken Worldclaimer may undoubtedly be a member of the Black Legion but his origins amongst the Night Lords remain stamped upon him too, from the skull helm to the flayed skins to the Nostraman spear he’s armed with. It will be interesting to discover if this is a new special character for the forces of Chaos or simply a generic chaos lord with a unique name and a little background as we’ve seen with the likes of Kranon the Relentless in the past.

I’ve actually been wondering what might become of the special characters set out in the Chaos Marines codex. Already we’ve seen the likes of Typhus and Ahriman farmed off into their own respective legion codexes and it seems likely that in time the Emperor’s Children and World Eaters will see the same treatment, taking Kharn, Lucius and Fabious with them. Is Abaddon to be left on his own or will GW take the opportunity to bring in more characters that exemplify other aspects of the traitor legions. Nice though it is to imagine I suspect that the other traitors – the Night Lords, Word Bearers, Iron Warriors and Alpha Legion – may not get the full codex treatment for quite some time, if at all. Of course all of them could be made into a unique army, both in terms of rules and aesthetic, but who could blame GW for shying away from concentrating exclusively on Chaos for the length of time that would require. Instead I imagine that as the Chaos Marine range is developed in the future we’ll see more of these legions and less of their monotheistic brothers. Then, assuming that these prove popular, and the god-specific legions are a financial success for GW, we might someday see Lorgar or Perturabo emerging from the warp at the head of a horde of cultists and possessed, or massed ranks of daemon engines. In the interim some new characters might just be the way in which they decide to drip-feed us with a little taste of the direction they could someday choose to follow.

Regardless Haarken himself is a striking model, if just a little over the top for my tastes. Now we wait to discover if he’ll be bringing any new friends with him in his campaign to seize Vigilus in the form of more new Chaos models. Who knows, perhaps when Marneus Calgar inevitably beats him up his boss Abaddon will have to put in an appearance…

 

Joining A Cult

For me, the best bit of these reveals are, without doubt, the genestealer cultists. It’s an army I have a real affinity for in both 40k and Necromunda and I can see myself using these both in my long planned 40k army and in narrative, house-ruled scenarios around the Underhive. I’m already considering transforming a Goliath Rockgrinder into an Orlock rig and one could easily do something similar with these to make outriders to accompany it, House messengers who need to be intercepted by your gang or, turning the tables as so much of the recent genestealer cult range has been borrowed from the Imperial Guard, how about making them into rough riders. Plus there are probably several clever people already cooking up house rules to incorporate these into Speed Freeks.

Cultist Bike 2Cultist Bike 3Cultist BikeCult Quad

Accompanying them we have the tactician pondering his already famous map of Warhammer World, a model which old timers will recognise as a remake of a much older, and extremely rare, figure from the early days of the range.

Again this is a brilliant model, with the expressively grumpy face being an excellent touch. Give it a few tweaks and once again it could fit in well with an Imperial Guard army or an Inq28 retinue (where it will doubtless prove popular). The only downside is the defaced aquila which sadly just looks amateurish. All of us who are fans of Chaos Marines or Traitor Guard have scratched through an aquila at one point or another so we could make use of a torso or piece of equipment that wasn’t otherwise available, and for all that it’s a rite of passage it’s also a cliché. I’m sure GW could have thought of something better here.

GSC

In some of the more frothy corners of the Internet there’s been a little chatter that GW have somehow “forgotten” about the genestealer cultists, simply because their codex hasn’t arrived yet (and despite the fact that GW haven’t been shy about promoting them lately). Of course GW has form here, they essentially abandoned the Sisters of Battle for over two decades, but I think that the idea that genestealer cultists have been booted to the kerb so soon after their relaunch in 2016 seemed farfetched. Did we really imagine that they were going to leave them without an 8th Edition codex forever, or perhaps mark their demise only with a glib assertion that the Squats must have eaten them all?

 

The Wrathful and the Rapturous

Over the last little while GW have been drip feeding us images of the contents of the forthcoming Wrath and Rapture box set, an all-daemons collection starring the forces of Khorne and Slaanesh. With the release date confirmed as falling within the next month they’ve shown us the two new characters which will be joining the new Flesh Hounds (good thing I finally got my old ones painted eh!) and Fiends of Slaanesh in the box.

Karanak

Karanak looks a little odd but frankly a dog with three heads is always going to look rather weird as a physical object rather than as a mythological concept. Overall I’d say they’ve made the best job they could of done without straying too far from the design elements that had gone before. Meanwhile the Slaaneshi harpist has yet to be shown off properly beyond what can be made out from the promotional video and the photographs taken by those who attended the event. However it’s fair to say it’s looking very interesting already and packs a punch of body horror that should put paid to those claims that Slaanesh was going to be removed or toned down.

 

Not So Tiny-Titans

I almost overlooked the titan amongst all the other exciting stuff that was appearing, and judging by the chatter online I’m not the only one. For such a big and imposing model from me at least it’s only managed to generate a shrug.

Titan

The trouble with titans is that they are so astoundingly expensive. One could buy a few good armies for the price of a single warlord model so as a result the audience for them is extremely limited. I for one very much doubt that I will never own one. Of course I’ve always fancied the idea of riding to war in a Titan (or even just turning up to work in one) but not so much painting one (and certainly not applying for the bank loan required before buying one of the damn things).

Plus, as a small image on a screen they just don’t look their best. Nothing beats seeing a Titan in person. Even a gaming table isn’t really big enough for them, and the best place to really appreciate them is in huge dioramas such as the one at Warhammer World which shows the Ultramarines battling the World Eaters. Of course GW are a wealthy company and can afford to indulge in vanity projects such as this. However creating such a monster will have undoubtedly consumed a great deal of staff time and production resource. Surely that would have been better spent on subjects with a broader range of appeal such as Horus Heresy, Lord of the Rings, Necromunda characters and brutes or Blood Bowl star players, all of which still have plenty of gaps unfilled? Don’t get me wrong, the range we have already is great but do we really need more at this scale? perhaps I’m alone in this but for me the best place for Titans is Adeptus Titanicus.

angelus-prime-convertordie-18

Bring The Noise

Saving the best for last we have this attention commanding model. Before you scroll down put on your eye protection and prepare yourself to return to an era when the grim darkness of the far future had a distinctly green understory…

Noise Marine 2

Isn’t he just a sight for sore eyes? Or perhaps it’s more the case that he’s a sight which causes sore eyes. Yes, GW are continuing to pillage the archives, this time bringing back this iconic old model.

Noise Marine

Now honestly I wouldn’t want every Noise Marine to look like this, guitars as sonic weapons as just too silly even for me (although if GW fancied a modern revamp of the old Ork Goff Rockers I wouldn’t say no!). I’m hopeful that sooner or later we’ll see a full Emperor’s Children release, complete with a proper kit for Noise Marines, and if they all look like this I might grumble a little, but as a one off he’s excellent, a real nod to the hobby’s past and a great trip down memory lane for us old hands. Newcomers however, raised to a 40k of unrelenting seriousness, must be trying to work out what hit them!

 

Overall then a very interesting set of reveals that give us plenty to look forward to as we head towards 2019. As ever if you have any thoughts on what we’ve seen here I’d be very curious to hear them, after all if you don’t share your thoughts in the comments box how am I supposed to rip them off and claim them as my own later?

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Blackstone Fortress

Well isn’t that always the way? You spend 30 years waiting for a rogue trader and then two of them show up at once! Yes, it’s time to take a look at Blackstone Fortress, the latest of what now seems like a tidal wave of boxsets to emerge from GW over recent months. From a rare glimpse of a robot in 40k to a pair of Rammstein loving hobbits this one really does have everything you could ask for! Naturally I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to enthuse a little, after all with pre-orders running for a fortnight I’ve got to pass the time waiting for it somehow right?

For those who’ve been living under a rock, or who’ve somehow found a way to hide from the Games Workshop hype machine (and well done if you have – that’s no easy task!) Blackstone Fortress features a band of explorers braving the twisting and labyrinthine depths of the aforementioned fortress. Best of all it features a whole raft of new models including lurking ghouls, ancient robots (of various descriptions), a small army of Chaos worshippers (enough to get me inspired by themselves) and of course the various roguish, self-serving troublemakers who act as the “good guys”. Let’s take a look at them first.

Heroes of the Blackstone Fortress

Every mysterious dungeon needs a party of brave adventurers to explore it, a ragtag band of unlikely heroes with clashing personalities and questionable motivations bound together by a common cause. Rather than fall back on old tropes GW have seized the opportunity presented to them and furnished us with a veritable smorgasbord of characters from the shady corners of the universe. Much like Necromunda this offers us a peek into the wider world of 40k, the individual heroics of people just going about their lives away from the monumental struggles of Space Marines, Titans and Primarchs. Even more so than Kill Team; Rogue Trader, which similarly brought us a small band of heroes struggling against the machinations of Chaos, this is GW flirting with everything good that the Inq28 scene brought to the feral underbelly of the setting and for that reason alone it’s worth celebrating. It also demonstrates a willingness on their part to explore what can be done with warbands made up of just a handful of characters, rather than the massed armies we’ve become used to. Surely two boxsets in as many months mean this is more than just a passing phase for them (backed up by repeated assertions that both Blackstone Fortress and Kill Team will receive further updates in the future)? Where might they go next? Suddenly even an inquisitorial retinue in plastic doesn’t seem unimaginable.

Space Hobbit

One of the glorious things about Necromunda is the way it has kept its focus narrow (a product of the long established setting but welcome nonetheless). In the past GW ran global 40k campaigns in which every faction would end up fighting over a single planet, a veritable circus that strained the credulity of even the most enthusiastic fan. Vigilus is starting to head in that direction too, although as the gateway to the Imperium Nihilus at least they’ve come up with a good excuse. For the most part Necromunda has kept its focus on Imperial humans, the occasional xenos or chaos cultist notwithstanding, and so has allowed us to see the true depths of culture present on a single planet in the 41st Millennium. Consider how many thousands of planets exist within the Imperium and the creative potential is jaw-dropping. Blackstone Fortress indulges a different take on this theme and broadens its scope to include various xenos and abhumans, even a robot, whilst still avoiding the temptation to throw in one of everything. 40k is home to an eclectic mix of cultures and species, yet all too often this has boiled down to little more than various colours of Space Marine. Here we see a real slice of life in the 41st Millennium, the sort of scum and villainy to be found in any Imperial star port, and just as the characters in the game explore a new corner of the universe so these models explore the kind of characters previously reserved for background fiction and artwork. For a perfect example of what can be done with this look no further than the two characters who, between them, reflect differing aspects of the Imperium’s state religion. On the one hand we have Taddeus the Purifier, a well dressed figure clearly used to the better things in life who undoubtedly consumes in a single meal more than a family of hive workers do in a month.

Space Pope

Meanwhile Pious Vorne is marked and driven by her faith, a restless crusader whose devotion to the God-Emperor compels her to a life of hardship and violence. Suffice to say I’m hopeful we’ll see more models in this style when the Sisters of Battle put in an appearance.

Burninating The Countryside

Top marks to GW also for the degree to which character and personality have been poured into these models. You can almost hear the bombastic oratory of Taddeus whilst that sharp-dressed man, the Rogue Trader Janus Draik simply oozes self-serving arrogance.

Sharp Dressed Man

The Kroot mercenary meanwhile has the confident professional bearing of the career soldier – this won’t be the first danger filled space station he’s found himself employed to explore.

I Am Kroot

Between them, our party band serve as a valuable reminder of the untapped potential still existing in 40k. Kroot mercenaries, navigator households, rogue trader fleets, even ratling militias (don’t laugh, it would be awesome!), could someday be expanded into full armies. As the range fills out GW are once more able to look beyond they’re power-armoured bread-and-butter and this little lot hints at the range of options still open to them for future exploration.

Flight Of The Navigator

Robots are a rare sight in 40k, the wars against the Men of Iron back in the Dark Age of Technology having rather soured humanity on the question of Abominable Intelligence. Thus UR-025 presents us with something rather interesting, and with photos of its background fiction circulating online many people will be aware of his true origins and motivations. I’ll keep my comments brief but anyone wanting to save the surprise for when they open the box should skip the next paragraph.

All too often we see fan theories being passed off as fact (Abaddon’s crusades have generally been very successful, and there are still no Necrons on Necromunda) so I’ll avoid too much wild speculation regarding the fate of the Men of Iron, and the question of how one has survived into the 41st Millennium without being corrupted by Chaos (assuming, of course, that he hasn’t…). Suffice to say that many long term fans will be as intrigued as I am by the appearance of a Man of Iron. Allegedly, by playing the game more of his background is revealed so allow me to say, with just a touch of hypocrisy, to those of you who play this faster than I do “no spoilers eh!”

I Am Ironman

Speaking of robots, aren’t these intriguing little beasts? As anyone who, like me, spent several years in their late teens and early 20s immersed in the Halo universe will be aware, when a mysterious ancient race leaves behind a huge space station that doubles as a super weapon they make sure to leave it staffed by little robot drones.

Spindle Drone

Smoothly mixing together clean organic lines with sleek technological components these little chaps blend together elements of the Eldar and Necrons to give us our first real glimpse of the Old Ones. Hopefully this will remain our only glimpse – it’s enough to savour this tantalising peak at the shadowy forerunner race, anything more would spoil the mystery.

Send In The Dancing Ghouls

Formerly known best from the courts of the Dark Eldar, where they serve as savage pets, the Ur-Ghuls appear to be living as feral denizens of the Fortress. Quite what they were eating up until now is best left to the imagination but luckily a whole mob of characters have turned up which should help to fatten them up nicely.

Seeing them here is great of course, and beyond Blackstone Fortress they’re sure to come in handy as Inq28 adversaries and Underhive baddies alike. It’s unfortunate then that their poses are so strange, awkward and samey. Anyone looking to convert an all ghoul cheerleading squad need look no further but personally I’d have preferred more personality here, perhaps crouched ready to lunge or hackles raised as they face the unfamiliar glow of the explorer’s lamps.

The Baddies

Of course a good adventure story needs serious villains, a crew of baddies racing for the prize and presenting a more challenging prospect for our heroes to overcome than can be mustered by mere ancient robots and dancing ghouls. Enter those perennial rascals, the forces of Chaos. Abaddon the Despoiler has demonstrated a real enthusiasm for Blackstone Fortresses in the past, launching entire Black Crusades just to claim them, and sure enough his boys are here to stake a claim to this one. Once again GW haven’t been backwards in taking the opportunity to explore some of the less often seen aspects of their worlds.

Just as space marines are willing to turn their backs on the God-Emperor and embrace instead the Ruinous Powers so too are regiments of the Imperial Guard. Traitor guard have long been popular amongst fans of Chaos with many of us going so far as to convert our own. For a long time the only official support for our endeavours was Forge World’s upgrade kit so there were rumblings of disquiet when these were retired earlier in the year. Now however all is (mostly) forgiven. After all, these models are simply gorgeous and worthy inheritors of the role left vacant by the outgoing Forge World kit.

Blackstone Fortress Traitor Guard (1)

A common criticism of the Imperial Guard range is the way in which most of the infantry only pay lip service to their place in the 41st millennium. The same however cannot be said of their rebellious colleagues. The 40k aesthetic is writ large here in their ragged blending of the post-apocalyptic and the medieval, the spiky and the impractical. The baddies of the Rogue Trader box had a slightly cartoony aspect to them, nothing which couldn’t be turned down by a suitably grubby paint job but present nonetheless. This little lot however are far more subtle yet also distinctly darker, Blanchian straight out of the box as it were. They may not have trailing guts and explosive mutations but they’re equally villainous in appearance. Ragged capes, furs, chainmail and gas-masks abound. The only downside is the fact that two identical sprues are included, leading to a squad made up entirely of twins. As with the Poxwalkers of Dark Imperium, and the Chaos Cultists of Dark Vengeance before that, I’ll be treating this as a challenge and trying to convert every single one of them into an individual.

Blackstone Fortress Traitor Guard (2)

A little food for thought occurred as I am looked at these. It’s often been suggested that the introduction of the Primaris Marines has been GW’s answer to the issue of Truescale Marines (more on that below). Rather than simply replace the tiny old models outright they brought in the new bigger boys and (theoretically) can allow attrition – both on the battlefields of the background and in the collections of their customers – to slowly erode the numbers of the little marines of yore. Over time the older kits would be quietly retired whilst the eyes (and wallets) of the public are distracted by the release of yet another Primaris lieutenant in a marginally different pose. It’s a compelling theory, although of course we’re yet to discover if there’s any truth to it at all. What if – I find myself wondering – the same is true of the Cadians? For a long time these poster boys of the Guard have been lambasted as painfully generic little green army men in space. Since the Chapterhouse court case and the dawning of the Age of Sigmar Games Workshop have retreated from clichés and common tropes with alacrity and fortified themselves in a realm of IP protectable names and concepts. Where once we had names like Eldar and Imperial Guard now we have a froth of Dog Latin (and the less said about the “Oh Grrrs” the better!). Where once we had High Elves and Dwarves now we have soulless fishmen and steampunk sky pirates. Do the clichéd Cadians live on borrowed time?  Is this why Abaddon was given carte blanche to blow up their homeworld? It seems entirely likely that the next Imperial Guard regiment to receive a plastic kit will be one closer to the 40k core aesthetic, and all the while the Cadians will get older, sell less, fade Into the background and finally vanish. Of course it’s only a theory…

Beastman

I’ve always had a real soft spot for the beastmen. For a while it looked like they might be excised from 40k altogether,  vanquished like the squats and genestealer cult limos to a faintly embarrassing chapter of the history books that speak of a time before 40k learnt to take itself seriously. Thankfully beastmen and squats are back (and best of all genestealer limos aren’t!). Better yet these aren’t just a rehash of fantasy beastmen with guns. In the old days beastmen came in all shapes and sizes, as befits creatures of Chaos. For many years however we saw only goatmen, Panish creatures with a stable morphology. Long faces, hoofs and horns were in, other bestial characteristics were out. The appearance of the Tzaangors suggested that this era might be coming to an end (and not a moment too soon). These newcomers don’t diverge as far from the goats of recent years but they put a sufficiently different spin on things to suggest that GW are warming up to the idea. Plus they look wonderful fearsome and savage. More please!

Witches

Meanwhile the rogue pyskers follow on from the Nighthaunt to really demonstrate what can be done with modern plastic models. In what is a very clever piece of miniature design they appear to be floating, their robes flapping as they are borne aloft by the unnatural powers at their command. Especially praiseworthy is the way the two of them are so radically different in appearance, whilst still being built from the same base model with just a few swapped components. Beyond being cracking miniatures in their own right (and perfect for witches in Necromunda) these should also make for fine Daemonhosts for those radical Inquisitors amongst you.

Dark Mechanicum

Chaos is us. It is our own nature twisted and turned back at us, and it’s weapons are our better instincts, our fears and aspirations, all clawing at us and dragging us down to hell. As a matter of course therefore any Imperial institution will almost certainly have an equivalent amongst the servants of the Primordial Annihilator. Just as there are Heretic Astartes, traitor guard and renegade knights, so there is a Dark Mechanicum. Until recently however even the loyalist worshippers of the Machine God had no official models. Only since their arrival in 2015 has the idea of seeing their daemon-binding former colleagues on our tabletops begun to glimmer with distant possibility. Once again GW give us a taste of what might someday come to be with the Negavolt Cultists.

Negavolt

The first thing that struck me about these, and perhaps my favourite aspect of them, is that they are not grossly Chaotic. Indeed compared to the loyal soldiers of the Mechanicum they’ve retained much of their human form. They still have their own arms and legs and all the other normal human accoutrements that most of the loyalists have long since done away with in favour of becoming giant mechanical centipedes. Indeed beyond what appear to be ocular dreadlocks these guys don’t have too many inbuilt machines at all – probably a wise move as their cult is dedicated to destroying and corrupting machines wherever they go!

Despite these differences they are instantly recognisable as a sect of the Mechanicum. Paint them in the red robes of Mars and they would fit in fairly well with a loyalist army, far more so than say a plague marine would amongst the Ultramarines.

It may be that these are another sign of things to come, or equally this could be an evolutionary dead end, a splinter cult which will never be developed any further than this even if the Dark Mechanicum become a fully fledged range in time. Either way they’re an interesting twist, even if those head tentacles look set to be a monumental faff to paint.

Black Legion Blackstone Fortress (1)

If it wasn’t for the Black Legionaries one could almost headline this as “40k boxset in no space marines shock!” (and yes, I know the same could be said of Rogue Trader, don’t try to use facts against my cheap mockery!). Speaking as a Chaos fan these are some of the most interesting models to appear here, representing as they do our first hint as to what a future Chaos Marines kit may look like. Power armoured warriors on both sides of the heretic/loyalist divide have enjoyed an eventful couple of years. For a very long time Games Workshop’s most popular line suffered from a fairly monumental flaw which the company seemed doggedly determined to ignore; namely that they appeared to be in an entirely different scale to the rest of the range. Whilst the background described the space marines as warrior-giants, genetically reforged into towering heroes, the actual models stood roughly the same height as an a normal guardsman, even clad as they were in thick plates of armour. Eventually GW got the finger out and decided to do something about this ridiculous situation. The Thousand Sons and Death Guard both saw releases of more sensibly scaled models, although the former do still have a few issues which need to be overcome, namely a distinct lack of lower torso and a general slimness of build. Mind you, who needs organs below the ribs when you’re made out of dust? Plus the Death Guard have more than enough guts for everyone! Whilst the traitor legions grew significantly in stature the loyalists did likewise, although fans waking up to discover that their existing models looked like children next to the new boys were at least offered the sop of some controversial new background involving a reborn Primarch and a 10,000 year mission to achieve what the Emperor could not and make the space marines tall. It’s something that I’ve discussed often on this blog so I won’t rake over it all again. The upshot is however that the old chaos space marine kit is left looking somewhat on the short side. Naturally this has led to an increasing desire from fans to see the vertically challenged and chunkily sculpted marines of yesteryear replaced with something a bit more imposing. Whether or not a new kit, or even a revamp of the whole range, really is on the way on if this is all just wishful thinking remains to be seen but with these three warriors we at least get a taste of what could lie ahead.

As yet it’s still early days for these models. Once I have the set in hand I’ll sort out some comparison photos, assuming a surfeit of them haven’t appeared online already, allowing a proper assessment of their portions alongside their brothers in the Death Guard and Thousand Sons – as well as the Corpse Emperor’s Primaris lap dogs of course! Needless to say if they prove to be smaller than they should GW will once again have an army of grumbling Chaos fans on their hands.

As it stands it appears that, as with the Death Guard, the bulkier armour of the Black Legion – as opposed to the slim fit Thousand Sons – hides a multitude of sins in the lower gut area, an element further disguised by their ‘at ease’ pose and low help bolters. Until I have the models in front of me I’m cautious to say more but needless to say of all the miniatures in the set these are the ones I’m approaching with the greatest uncertainty.

Black Legion Blackstone Fortress (2)

The models themselves are nice enough, recalling the more recent Chaos plastics such as the Raptors and Chaos Chosen (both kits sadly hamstrung by their diminutive scale). As an aside it’s also pleasing to note that the chaos space marine contingent is limited to just three figures. In this way these veterans of the Long War are really given their place as set out by the background. Here we have warriors who’ve been fighting to survive in hell itself for ten thousand years. Three should be more than enough to present any party of adventurers with a serious problem.

+++

Overall then I think GW nailed it here. They’ve walked a tightrope, pouring in an eclectic mix of units whilst keeping the focus sufficiently tight that the whole thing didn’t turn into a circus. I’m sure I could be accused of being a little fan-boyish and in all honesty that’s probably not too far from the truth. The world of 40k tournaments, rules beards and min-maxed death stars has always left me cold, and titanic clashes between space marines – whilst thrilling in small doses – represents only the surface layer of the universe. Give me gangs in the Underhive, give me Inquisitors and their retinues, give me rag-tag bands of mismatched adventurers chasing secrets in the grubby shadows; that’s the 40k I love best!

It’s often said these days that to guess GW’s future look to the past and in this respect the Blackstone Fortress box is almost a synopsis of where they are now, hinting at possible next moves whilst offering a respectful nod to what went before. It’s just a shame they didn’t include a Zoat!

Naturally (and having given it such a glowing review you might have guessed as much already) I’ve declared “hang the expense” and pre-ordered a copy, so expect to see plenty of models from this set popping up here over the coming months. Of course I’m always curious to know what you think. Has your unhealthy obsession with Space Hobbits led to you camping outside the store already or would you have preferred to see some more support for the terminally overlooked space marines? Share your thoughts – the God Emperor’s Holy Inquisition demands it!


October Challenge Round Up

You’ve seen most of this stuff before so feel free to skip on but I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some self congratulatory back patting. (I could pretend that it’s just to make Azazel’s life easier when he comes to writing his community challenge round up but really it’s all about the backpatting!) Most hobbyists will be aware of Azazel’s Bitz Box and the monthly challenges he’s been running throughout 2018 (and if you’re not, make yourself aware and in short order!). October’s challenge called for the completion of a squad or squads, whether that be building and painting them from scratch or adding the last few layers to the final model that you’ve just never found the time for. As it turns out I managed to complete quite a few. Let’s take a look at them all.

In the grim darkness of the far future humanity won’t be left entirely undefended as my space marine squad grew to ten men.

Space Marine Convert Or Die (7)

When I posted the squad’s sergeant last week Alex, of Leadballoony fame, suggested that I’d forgotten to drill out the barrel, although in fact I thought I’d forgotten to paint in the lens. This led to an interesting discussion on how plasma weaponry actually works in the 41st Millennium. In the end I’m holding to my theory that the gun ends in a lens but, in the interest of keeping it from getting cracked and chipped, it should be recessed a little way inside the barrel.

Convert Or Die Space Marine (2)Convert Or Die Space Marine (1)

Lest this new strength on the part of the Imperium go to humanity’s collective heads I recruited a few more Ork Nobs as well. As I’ve yet to see the Ork codex (which is fair enough, it’s not even officially released until tomorrow) I don’t know if this is still a full unit or not (it was in Index Xenos) but I’m going to count it for this month anyway. More Nobs will be forthcoming from me at some point, but for now I’m calling this squad done.

Convert Or Die Ork Nob (4)

Meanwhile over in the old world of Warhammer my goblin spearmen unit grew to its full size…

Convert Or Die Wudugast Night Goblins (2)

As did the Archers…

Convert Or Die Wudugast Night Goblins (11)

…whilst the Squigs may not be a full “official” unit (8th Edition Warhammer rules called for at least ten) I’ve painted all the models I own so I’ll be calling it at that for now as well.

Convert Or Die Squigs

The underground arms race between the goblins and the Skaven means it was vital that the ratmen brought in reinforcements to deal with all these extra greenies, so I also completed my squad of rat ogres. When I posted him the other day I forgot to include a group shot of the squad but not to worry, here’s one now!

Covert Or Die Rat Ogres

Add in the various other things I’ve painted this month and it comes to a not insignificant 69 models. Suffice to say I’m rather proud of this progress but fear not, I won’t be resting on my laurels, there’s plenty more to come. Next on the list will be building my House Cawdor Stig-Shambler for Necromunda. The half of him that hits things still needs a little more work before he’s ready to show off but the half that does the thinking has been ready for action for a while, so here’s a little sneak peak of the brains behind the operation.

Stigshamber

You’ll have to wait a few more days before the rest of him is finished but, all being well, I’ll crack on with him over the weekend. Watch this space!


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).


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.