Tag Archives: Black Library

2019 – For Anyone Who Missed It

Well, that was 2019 was it? In terms of miniatures releases it’s been an incredible year, packed to the gills with exciting releases – the downside of which is that, despite painting like a dervish all year I’ve still got projects queued round the block waiting to be completed (or in some cases even started). Never mind eh, there are worse problems to have – although I’ll certainly be aiming to buy a bit less and concentrate on catching up with myself in 2020.

The early part of the year was certainly non-stop with the kind of releases I dream of, to the point where I started to pray they’d turn their attention to the Tau, Stormcast Eternals or something else which doesn’t really interest me, if only to give me a chance to catch my breath. No such luck!

In January GW opened the batting with the arrival of the Gloomspite Gits, an AoS reinvention of the old Night Goblins accompanied by lumbering trolls and a sea of bouncing squigs. For me this was a bit of a weird one. I’ve always regarded Night Goblins as the iconic WHFB species, representing for the Old World what Stormcast Eternals do for AoS or Space Marines for 40k. Seeing them in the new Realms was just weird, they looked out of place, visitors from another world scurrying around the ankles of Sigmar’s golden champions, flying dwarves, undersea elves and other inhabitants of this new and creatively-inspired setting. To me they represented the “proxied” quality of early AoS. Much in the same way as we’ve all seen new games tried out with existing models standing in for those as yet unpainted or unpurchased, the early years of AoS saw the Realms populated by the existing WHFB races, many of whom had seen next to no effort spent on incorporating them into the new setting.

Feeling strongly that Night Goblins had no place in the Mortal Realms, and that when I started painting up an AoS collection it would be for one of the new races, I went ahead and – in the closing months of 2018 – finally tackled my unpainted WHFB Night Goblin army…

…only for GW to produce the Gloomspite Gits at the beginning of 2019 and throw everything I thought I knew into disarray. Like a fanatic crashing through the front ranks of my preconceptions  they overturned my previous conviction that Night Goblins could never be successfully integrated into the Mortal Realms. At first I decided I’d pick up some of the new kits and incorporate them into my WHFB army (almost all of the new releases having suitable Old World equivalents), then I decided to leave the Gobbos as they are and make a Trogherd (that’s an all troll army to you and me) and now I’m slowly being corrupted by the Gloomspite and starting to get tempted by the idea of rebasing the whole lot of them, covering the land in fungal spores and dancing beneath the sickly glow of da Bad Moon. To begin with common sense tells me to paint some of the new stuff and see where I decide to go next. After all, despite falling for the new range in a big way so far I’ve only got around to painting these three squigs.

Hot on the heels of the gobbos came the next major release from GW, the genestealer cults. Again, this was something I’d been working on during the latter part of 2018, putting together a gang for my partner to use in Necromunda. As it stands I’m only planning to roll some of the new kits into this gang but if I only complete half the ideas I’ve come up with we’ll probably still have more than enough for Apocalypse!

However almost as soon as they’d appeared they were overshadowed, for me at least, by a full scale Chaos invasion of realspace, spearheaded by Abaddon himself. As a devoted servant of the Ruinous Powers this was huge news; we saw new Chaos Marines, new Obliterators and all kinds of new characters, headed up by the big man himself. Again other projects have eaten up a lot of time so I’ve yet to really get my teeth into these, although I have started chipping away at a new squad of Chaos Space Marines with which to found my next Black Crusade.And things didn’t stop there either. The forces of Chaos continued to go from strength to strength, with the arrival of new Daemons of Slaanesh (including a downright gorgeous Keeper of Secrets), a few more Khornate daemons (you can never have too many of those after all) and a kit for Chaos Knights (and yes, I know my converted Chaos Knight remains unfinished after yet another year, you don’t half nag you know!).

However the really big news for Chaos fans, apart from Abaddon and co. of course, was the arrival of Warcry in the middle of the summer. I may not have painted very much for it (a solitary dwarf so far) but that hasn’t stopped me enthusing about it non-stop ever since. The fact that it’s Chaos meant it was always going to grab me, as was the chance to really explore a corner of the Realms entirely warped by the Dark Gods, but it was the sheer quality and originality of the miniatures that had me hooked. Plus it’s that rarest of things, a game system that I’m actually enthused about playing. I’ve got my fingers tightly crossed that GW continues to pour support into it in 2020 (early indications look hopeful anyway) – either way expect to see plenty of models appearing here over the next few months, with the Untamed Beasts and Iron Golem leading the charge.

 

Warcry Iron Golem Chaos Dwarf Wudugast (1)

Dipping my toe into the Bloodwind Spoil…

The second half of the year was a bit more sedate in terms of releases, from my point of view at least. In many ways that’s no bad thing, having so many of my favourite factions enjoying attention one after another is great in theory but my unpainted pile, and my unpurchased wishlist, were attaining truly mountainous proportions, with the former now so big I needed to install a ski-lift just to get to the top. There were plenty of Space Marines, mostly of the modern, stealthy type that forms the Vanguard Chamber, and as these aren’t really my cup of tea at all I was more than content to let them pass me by. That said they did release a few others including a Salamander so stylish and imposing that he almost made me forget my deep-seated enmity towards the Sons of Vulcan.

Stylish Salamander

Midsummer also saw Contrast paint arriving, which promised to revolutionise painting into an almost magically quick and simple process. For my money this can only be a good thing; the fact is that there are plenty of people out in the world who like to play games but don’t have the time/interest/skill to paint their models well. On the other hand nobody actually wants to play with unpainted models, despite what edge-lords might pretend. All other things being equal you’ll have a better time playing with painted models than unpainted ones, just as you’ll have a better time playing on beautifully crafted terrain rather than a bare tablecloth. Secondly, if you can paint something quickly and have it end up looking decent you’ll undoubtedly feel more enthused about the process and are more likely to paint more, and to put more effort into your painting, than if you struggle laboriously to end up with something that looks a bit duff.

Ultimately there is no technique or tool that will magically make you a better, quicker painter apart from enthusiasm. The way to paint more is to want to paint more, and if Contrast makes your painting experience quicker, easier and better then you’ll be more likely to do more with it. Looking forward to painting = spending more time painting = getting more things painted = painting better; it’s as simple as that.

For me I’ve not found myself overturning my old painting techniques and relearning everything with Contrast, I’ve got close to two decades of experience as a miniatures painter and I have no inclination to learn something completely new. On the other hand I know I’m something of a neophile when it comes to paints and I’ve found that mixing Contrast into a project alongside your traditional paints can lead to some very useful results, so even if it’s not your thing I recommend picking up a couple of pots and having a play.

October saw Jain Zar receive a new and wildly dynamic new miniature (which only serves to remind me that my old metal version remains stubbornly unpainted) alongside a rather pedestrian looking Drazhar (I must confess I expected more from a man who calls himself “The Living Sword” but there you go). It did however get me thinking about all the other old GW models that it would be nice to see replaced, something that crystallised into a bit of fun wishlistingaround the time that Mephiston appeared.

However the really big news for the latter part of the year was the Ossiarch Bonereapers, a new faction of undead bone constructs which served to demonstrate AoS’s continued evolution away from the Old World. I’ve been a fan of GW’s Undead since I fell under the spell of the Vampire Counts years ago and having been drawn ever further into Nagash’s service by the Nighthaunt that appeared last year I was very curious to get a look at these newcomers. On the whole I’d say this range is a bit more hit and miss than the Nighthaunt but when they get it right they really knocked it out of the park – and despite my longstanding love affair with Neferata I’m forced to admit the Bonereapers have far and away the best looking Mortarch of the lot (more on him below!). It’s almost inevitable that I’ll be starting a small collection of these undead taxmen, the tithe must be paid after all!

The final major event on GW’s calendar for the year was the arrival of the Sisters of Battle, who came marching out for a brief but dramatic crusade of faith. A full release for the range is due early in the new year but it was preceded by a limited edition boxset which – to the surprise of precisely no-one at all – sold out in less time than it takes to blink. I may not be a big fan of the Sisters but some of these models are really outstanding, and after twenty years of waiting fans of the range are in for a real treat. Junith Eruita, for instance – a Canoness Superior character soon to join the range – rides around on a flying pulpit, which may very well be the coolest ride in the entire setting. Needless to say I’m sorely tempted to evict her from it and put a tech-priest up there in her place – praying to the Emperor is all very well but the truly devoted need look no further than Holy Mars!

Junith Eruita

Meanwhile some scurrilous individuals have been asking how this lady manages to hold up a banner made of solid stone. Faith, heretic scum – that’s how!

Nuns on the run

Of course 40k and AoS are all very well but I prefer something a little more gritty. Glorious crusades of faith and titanic struggles are to be applauded but most of the time you’ll find me down in the grubby back alleys and beneath the streets, where rats rule and Inquisitors roam. Thus the setting which speaks to me the most of all those which GW has to offer has to be Necromunda. After a hugely enjoyable 2018, which saw all of the original six houses given new plastic gangs, 2019 was considerably quieter. In the first half of the year we saw only an Ambot and of course that never-knowingly-humble hero of the Underhive that is Kal Jerico, but it wasn’t until August that things realy kicked off again with the arrival of the Palanite Enforcers (that’s the long arm of the law to you and me). Later in the year these were backed up with more Enforcers, this time the shock troops of the Subjugators, which is just as well because a bloodthirsty cannibal cult is on the loose and looking for their next meal. Needless to say, I have plans…

Necromunda

I’m hopeful that the relatively quite spell for Necromunda in the early part of the year was just the calm before the storm and next year will see the inhabitants of the Underhive back in the spotlight. Blood Bowl also saw a quiet year after the first wave of teams that followed it’s re-release and now they enjoy a new team every quarter. This year saw Halflings, Wood Elves, Lizardmen and Ogres arriving on the pitch and I’m hopeful we’ll see a similar performance next year. I love the aesthetic of this game and once again I’m reminded that I really need to get a team or two painted up.

Gnoblars

I’ve not been paying quite such rapt attention to the world beyond GW as I might have been but there have been a few highlights that have caught my eye. Anvil Industry’s Daughters of the Burning Rose kickstarter arrived – and although so far I’ve only painted this Alchemist I’ve got a box of models just waiting to get my teeth into. In some ways I feel a little sorry for Anvil here, after years of GW ignoring the Sisters of Battle range entirely they decide to tackle them with their “not-Sisters” range, and GW immediately get the finger out and start producing some truly outstanding miniatures of their own. Not that I’m conflating the two events, the argument that “GW had to do it ‘cos Anvil was” is frankly ludicrous when you compare the relative sizes of the two companies and their fan bases. Anyway, I’ve never been that interested in the Sisters of Battle – either GW or otherwise – but the Daughters of the Burning Rose range also contains some miniatures which are just great for Inq28 without any conversion at all (which is probably some kind of heresy).

Meanwhile Knightmare Miniatures continued their series of kickstarters, expanding their ranges for Chaos, Greenskins (of various types), Greenskin Hunters (can’t an honest gobbo live in peace?!) and even Space Goblins. As I’m a sucker for old school Chaos and Goblins I couldn’t resist dipping a toe into these and now I have a nice box of lead waiting to be tackled soon.

Space Gobbos

Finally Ana Polanscak of Gardens of Hecate ran a kickstarter for some of her wonderfully dark and weird models. I’ve been a fan of Ana’s work for some time (if you’re not following her already where on earth have you been?!) so there was no way I was letting this one pass.

Gardens of Hecate

Miniatures of the Year:

Mostly, I’ll confess, this is a thinly veiled excuse to look at some cool miniatures. This year saw a whole heap of really outstanding miniatures released and I’m not going to pass over an opportunity to take a look at them again! As with many things on this blog my focus has been heavily slanted towards Games Workshop and so that’s what I’ll be focussing on here, although I’ve no doubt there’s been some amazing models from other companies which have managed to pass me by. Nonetheless GW really did the business in 2019, from the hulking beast that is the Ogre Tyrant to Nayam Shai Murad who seems to have stepped straight out of the Inq28 scene’s collective unconscious, to the underrated brilliance of the Chaos Sorcerer and of course the character-packed (and monumentally wasted) Shroomancer. Here’s a quick rundown of some of my favourites.

I almost declared Orpheon Katakros to be my favourite and it remained a close-run thing, he really is a wonderfully imposing and powerful miniature. I’ve been tempted to buy him ever since he was released and sure enough he turned up under the Christmas tree thanks to my amazing fiancée, so expect to see him appearing here sooner or later.

Katakros Chrismas Tree

However there can only be one winner and my top-pick has to be the Warmaster himself, Abaddon the Despoiler, probably my favourite 40k character (and easily one of the most important figures in the story of the 41st Millennium) and now with a miniature to match his stature. Needless to say, as well as being simply awesome he’s also proved to be deeply intimidating to paint so as yet my Chaos forces will have to make do without his authoritative presence, hopefully I’ll pluck up my courage and break out the brushes soon though.

Top 5 Black Library Novels of 2019

As well as painting miniatures, and all the other hobbies I enjoy, I’m a keen reader – and I’ll confess that Black Library novels are something of a guilty pleasure for me. A lot of them – I’ll be the first to admit – are basically pulp silliness, high of melodrama and blazing bolters, low on the kind of emotional or intellectual punch that makes a book stick with you for life. Never mind that though because most of them are good fun, and that’s good enough for me. Plus some of them are actually, dare we whisper it, really bloody good. Inspired by a conversation with Savageddt of Wordaholicanonymous I decided to pick my top Black Library novel of the year.

It’s been a strong field, with some cracking novels appearing. Spear of the Emperor by Aaron Dembski-Bowden was as excellent as you’d expect, and although I’m only part way through Requiem Infernal by Peter Fehervari is shaping up to be another contender. This was also the year that Horus finally reached Terra in the Horus Heresy series. Things started well enough with The Solar War as the heretics fought their way across the solar system but things really kicked up a gear when we reached the throneworld itself in The Lost and the Damned. Partly it’s just a case of the new series finding its feet, partly it was the tighter cast of characters – as opposed to the zoo that populated Solar War, and partly it’s because – for my money – Guy Haley is one of Black Library’s better authors. Sanguineous of course is front and centre – he’s on the cover after all, but all the Primarchs get a good showing (Angron rampaging around being himself is always a fine thing to see). Zardu Layak remains a wonderfully moustache-twirling baddy, that rascal Gendor Skraivok, ‘The Painted Count’ reappears, Lucoryphus of the Night Lords puts in a cameo that fans of the Aaron Dembski-Bowden Nights Lords series are bound to enjoy, and the relationship between Lotara Sarrin and Khârn remains as compelling as ever. Oh and Legio Solaria walks, which is usually worth the price of admission by itself for me! However the real standout here is Abaddon, clearly well on his way to becoming the next Warmaster as Horus is consumed by the forces to which he has bound himself.

However if called upon to pick a favourite I’d have to choose Honourbound by Rachel Harrison. I’d been following Commissar Severina Raine and the 11th Antari Rifles since their first appearance in the short story Execution and it was great to see them get a full novel to really stretch their legs and demonstrate the depth of their characters. The plot is good enough, there’s nothing wildly out of the ordinary here, simply the long shadow of treachery and corruption against the flames of grinding, attritional war, a small group of people trapped between the enemy without and the enemy within, and a woman attempting to prove her worth from beneath a family legacy that contains vaunted heroes and hated traitors in equal measure. It’s the characters however that really make the book; Raine herself is always compelling, Andren Fel continues to demonstrate that you can have a straight-up “good guy” even in the grubby darkness of 40k, whilst Daven Wyck leans to the opposite end of the spectrum, a hero so deeply flawed he totters constantly on the edge of damnation. Meanwhile The Sighted make for excellent baddies, subtly Tzeentchian in much the same way as the Corpse Grinders of Necromunda are Khornate, it’s there if you’re looking but we’re not seeing Thousand Sons and Pink Horrors tramping all over the place – and that alone adds to the sense of scale and depth in 40k.

Honourbound

I had hoped to include a picture of my finished Severina Raine miniature but alas she’s going to need a lot more work before she’s done – and an Imperial heroine of her stature deserves the time and effort that will require.

My Projects

Anyway, enough about a model I didn’t paint, let’s turn our attention to things I did. Necromunda continued to dominated my painting desk in 2019. After a slow start in 2018 House Escher spent the year growing into a veritable army of the 41st Millennium’s best dressed…

… whilst the similarly tardy Chaos Helots eventually unleashed a horde in the name of workers’ rights and some poorly understood rituals involving “dark gods”.

Inevitably, drama ensued!

They wouldn’t be allowed to dominate the Underhive alone however, with the murderous nerds of House Van Saar soon putting in an appearance.

Inspired by the Genestealer Cultists released early in the year the Cult of the Abyssal Gaze did a bit of recruiting, and I plan for more to emerge in 2020.

Genestealer Cults Wudugast ConvertOrDie

And not to be left behind House Goliath called in a few more boys as well, before their turf is entirely over-run.

Even House Cawdor got in on the act at last, with the first steps on the road to a crusade of faith to shake the hive to its roots and remind these heretics and non-believers that the God-Emperor judges all.

About time they turned up really – this place has been crawling with muties lately!

And speaking of ugly creatures I also painted the deeply divisive bounty hunter Ortruum 8-8 (known in some places as “the flying testicle”). GW pushing the boundaries of their creativity to new heights or the most hideously unsightly thing you can imagine painting – I’ll let you judge for yourselves.

It’s not just muties, gangers and other scum though, the Underhive does contain a few upstanding citizens, just trying to make a living. I have a lot of plans for this, as yet mostly unrealised, but here to set the ball rolling are three weird looking characters from Black Crab Miniatures. 

The other project which dominated my attention in 2019 was Blackstone Fortress. After playing a few games of it last winter, in which unpainted models fought various unlikely proxies in the twisting halls of the xenos starfort, I decided that this year I’d get the whole set painted. And, barring a few of the explorers, I have – we’ve certainly got enough now that never again need our heroes step into the unknown without a coat of paint to armour them, or face a mob of goblins pretending to be spindle drones.

My Chaos Space Marines army is looking a bit straggly at the moment. Having grown over recent years into a veritable Black Crusade progress slowed down following the arrival of 8th edition 40k. The coming of the Primaris marines only served to emphasise how tiny and oddly proportioned those old Chaos Marines were and my enthusiasm for the project, once so unassailable, began to dwindle. The release of the new models earlier this year was a real shot in the arm however and I’m hungry to get back to them now. As a precursor to this the army has been split into three parts; models I’m happy with, models I plan to retire and pack away (or break up for bits) and models I still like but which need a bit of a re-paint. It’s these latter which are causing the hold up, I do want to sort them out and include them in the collection but right now they really don’t look that good, and there are a lot of them. Sooner or later however the Beasts of Ruin will be unleashed once more. In the meantime here’s the start of my first squad of the new models (and there will be plenty more to come in the years ahead).

My Death Guard, on the other hand, look considerably healthier (if such a word can be used here!). With their first plague marine recruited and a reborn daemon prince to lead them, they trudge into 2020 with an air of purpose. I’m aiming to complete the poxwalkers early in the year and then tackle adding some more plague marines. After that – who knows, maybe some terminators, a daemon engine or two, or perhaps something even bigger…

Death Guard Wudugast

However my biggest 40k achievement was the completion, after over a decade of slow progress, of my horde of 100 ork boyz. Regular readers will know the story all too well by now so I won’t bore you all by repeating it, if you’ve not read it before or if you want to hear it all again click this link and all your questions will be answered! For the rest of you, here’s a reminder of what 100 angry orks looks like. Waaagh!

And here’s the whole army, a sea of green and rusty metal – and with plenty more waiting in the wings ready to join the ranks.

2019 was the year that HeroQuest turned 30 and so, inspired by KrautScientist who painted up an entire HeroQuest set (plus extras) in one of the year’s “must see” projects, I dug out a couple of old models and got them painted. I’m rather proud of the Chaos Warrior, and for my money the miniature still holds up very well even today. The same cannot be said of the Fimir of course – perhaps there’s a reason why one range continues to stand out amongst GW’s catalogue whilst the other has rarely emerged from the mists over the past three decades…

And if that doesn’t sate your hunger for old plastics I also painted this elderly proto-Necron, scavenged from the same box of dusty miniatures.

Whilst we’re looking at odd, one-off projects, I also painted my first ever Lord of the Rings miniature this year. Will it be the only one? Despite a long standing love of Middle Earth (books and films) the miniatures have never really grabbed me but who knows, the future may surprise us all.

This year also saw me taking my first steps into the Age of Sigmar. Up to now AoS has been something of a closed book to me – not because I was fundamentally opposed to it or married to WHFB – but simply because I understood the Old World and found it difficult to get enthused by the combination of pseudo-mythology and open-ended vagueness which characterised the new setting in its early years. The second edition has tightened that up considerably and the result is a living world of fantastic dimensions and possibilities. Inspired to give it a go I put together a small skirmish warband of Khornate savages led by a brutal Slaughterpriest.

Khorne With The Wind

Naturally these violent barbarians needed someone to fight so I followed them up by putting together a Nurgle warband, combining some new models with others cannibalised from my 40k chaos army.

Nurgle AoS Groupshot Wudugast

Despite assembling these Chaotic savages I’ve still not actually played any AoS Skirmish. Perhaps I’ll find the time during these dark mid-winter nights, although really I’d like to take a crack at Warcry – and for that I’m going to need to finish off some miniatures…

2019 Hobby Goals

In my round-up of 2018 I set out a series of hobby goals for 2019 – and then spent the year failing to complete most of them. With retrospect I’m not sure that annual hobby goals really work for me, for most of the year the deadline is comfortably far-off and I can relax and ignore it, focusing instead on whatever takes my fancy at the time. Then suddenly it’s bearing down upon me with no time to spare, by which time it’s far too late to do anything about it. Smaller monthly goals work a lot better to my mind so next time I’m aiming to finish off a project like that this is likely to be the technique I use.

It’s also worth noting that hobbywise I had a very productive year indeed, completing a not-inconsiderable 250 miniatures in 2019. That’s down a little on the 277 I painted in 2018, although in fairness those numbers were boosted considerably by the fact that many of them were Night Goblins, and it’s certainly well up on the 129 I painted in 2017 – the first year that I kept any kind of record. Nor was I entirely scattershot, I knuckled down on a lot of projects – some of them longstanding. I powered through almost the entirety of the Blackstone Fortress set, knocked out some Necromunda gangs and AoS Skirmish warbands, finished off my Skaven army (more on that below) and completed my long-planned horde of one hundred Ork boyz. However the goals I set out at the end of 2018 remained mostly unfinished. Let’s take a look and remind ourselves.

Skaven; one of my key plans for 2019 was to finish off my WHFB Skaven army and I’m proud to say that one is very much in the bag. Well where is it then, some of you might be asking? Fear not, although the final models might be finished (pending, perhaps, the odd added detail if I find a spare few minutes to fuss over them in the next couple of days) I’ve not managed to get the time (or sufficient ambient daylight) to get them photographed. Expect them to come crawling in at some point in the next week or so, as soon as I manage to get the whole army set up and some decent pictures taken. In the meantime here’s the army as it looked back in June, suffice to say we’ve seen plenty of growth since then!

Necromunda; again I’ll count this one as a success, especially because my original goal was pretty vague (basically amounting to “paint some gangs”). I certainly managed that, adding to the Goliaths and Genestealer Cults and getting the Eschers, Chaos Helots and Van Saar up to fighting strength. Last January I put together a post summarising everything I’d done so far and everything I had planned for the future and it really helped to focus my ideas, so I’ll probably do something similar this year – if nothing else it’ll certainly encourage me to get some of my current batch of test-models finished!

Terrain; this is where the wheels start to come off. I knew this was going to be a big and intimidating project and I expected progress to be slow but I did intend to do a lot more than I have. This is a bit of a “white whale” project for me, something I’ve planned to tackle for many years, and I’ll definitely be coming back to it soon – especially as Dark Uprising has equipped me with a lot more of the materials I need to construct the Underhive. However as terrain is bulky, and we’re planning to be moving house in the next couple of months, I’m pushing this onto the backburner for now, until I see what kind of space we have to work with at the new place.

Poxwalkers; I may not have finished this one but I have managed to break some ground. My aim was to complete a horde of 40, yet as it stands I’ve only finished 32. Still, better than a poke in the eye as they say, and with luck I’ll get the rest done in the early part of 2020.

Poxwalkers Wudugast ConvertOrDie Nurgle

Chaos Knight; I’ve been chipping away at building and painting a Chaos Knight of my very own for a number of years now and I really thought 2019 would be its year – especially since GW released Codex: Chaos Knights and a multipart kit for them back in the summer, giving my enthusiasm for the project a huge boost. Alas, the year has ended and the knight remains as unfinished as ever…

Blood Bowl; 2019 was supposed to be the year I finally got around to painting a Blood Bowl team yet the year has ended and I’m no closer to that goal. The game continues to interest me however so hopefully 2020 will be the time that it all comes together at last.

Given that setting myself goals for 2019 didn’t really pan out as intended I’m cautious of repeating the idea for 2020. In fact, when I add in the forthcoming move, and all the various other “real life” events that either will or are likely to take place in the coming year, I think it’s very probable that I’ll be a lot less active over the coming year than I have been in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m going to vanish entirely, spending time painting miniatures is extremely important to me and I’ve no intention of stopping, but – beyond the odd quite spell in the height of summer – I’ve kept up a torrent of posts here over the last couple of years and I don’t foresee myself managing to maintain that. We’ll see how it goes, I would like to tackle a couple of Warcry warbands, some more Necromunda gangs, the rest of the Blackstone Fortress heroes and finally get that Blood Bowl team painted so don’t relax entirely – you haven’t see the last of me!

Whilst we’re at it however, a couple of pieces of housekeeping in regards to the blog. Firstly, as some of you may have noticed, I now have a links section in the side-panel, something I’ve wanted to include for some time. All the people listed are interesting, talented hobbyists and I do highly recommend you check out any or all of them. This is where I go for my inspiration, and these are the people from which I steal all the best ideas and pretend that they were mine to begin with. If you’re a talented blogger yourself and I’ve not included you on the list it’s probably because I’m an airhead and I’ve forgotten, please don’t take it as an insult (if I mean to insult you I’ll come round your house and do it properly). I do intend to keep expanding the list so just keep being awesome and sooner or later I’ll realise I’ve missed you, suffer a twinge of embarrassment and update the list.

Secondly, I’ve discovered that many of the older posts were missing their pictures (a side effect of using various external hosts in the early days and then not moving everything to wordpress as I thought I had). I think I’ve fixed them all but one or two may have slipped through so if you’re reading one of these old posts and you think there ought to be pictures but there aren’t please help me out by leaving a comment to catch my attention and I’ll go and fix it.

Anyway, all that remains is to wish all my readers a happy New Year and here’s to plenty more hobby shenanigans in 2020!


The Mark of the Monstrous

“Our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark theatres” – David Quammen, Monster of God

 

Hot on the heels of the alien hunting Deathwatch the genestealer cults have arrived in force. Having lurked in the shadows for decades, they emerge to usher in the Four-Armed Emperor’s carnivorous reign! Loyal citizens of the Imperium – now is a good time to panic!

genestealer-cultists-3editI know I’ve wittered on about the genestealer cults before, back when Deathwatch: Overkill was released, but I’ve grown to find them one of 40k’s most engaging factions, particularly since the tall bald man with the stylish robes moved in next door, so I won’t miss the opportunity to discuss them again. Overkill brought us the core of the army but the ranks are now expanded with new boxsets for acolyte and neophyte hybrids, an upgrade sprue for corrupting Imperial Guard regiments and the excellent goliath truck. The engines of Imperial labour have been upgraded with unsanctioned weapons, their work-crews with unsanctioned genetics. The taint has spread from sump-slum to spiretop, the day of ascension is upon us and the impure are soon to be consumed. It’s easy to fear our new alien overlords but allow me to clamber onto my soapbox and try to convince you to love them instead.genestealer-cultists-hiding

Sympathy For The Alien

Oh, now we have it. Now the truth dawns. He felt the hairs on his skin rise. I’m not afraid of Horus. I’m afraid of finding out why he has turned against us. I cannot conceive of any justification for this schism, but Horus must have his reasons. I am afraid that when I know them, when they we explained to my baffled mind, I might… agree.”

– The Primarch Rogal Dorn; from The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett

Terrifying though they are there’s something comfortable about killing Tyranids. They are, after all, ravenous monsters hellbent on the consumption of all life. Like zombies they make for a relatively safe mass-killing experience, with no-one in any doubt that the person doing the industrial scale murdering is still a good person. It’s often suggested that this is one of the key reasons why zombie horror films are so enduringly popular. Even the most terrible and barbarous terrorist or fascist dictator contains human traits, common points through which we can relate and upon which potential rests. Are they utterly irredeemable? Could they, given the right circumstances, give up their destructive ways? Could we, subjected to the right pressures, behave as they do? It’s a thought that sparks a flickering of guilt in all but the most psychopathic – a guilt which, I would argue, is necessary to avoid becoming monstrous ourselves in our search for justice. Like all guilt however it is uncomfortable, and like all uncomfortable sensations we are glad to be rid of it when we’re able. A zombie, or a termagaunt, cannot be redeemed, and all the potential violence that lurks within us and with which we are uncomfortable becomes justified. Mow down a crowd in your local high street and you’re a monster, do the same to a mob of flesh-eating zombies and you’re a hero and no-one will ever say ‘did you go too far, could they not have been convinced to change their brain-eating ways?’

At least zombies have the courtesy to shamble around in the street looking suitably dishevelled, blood-spattered and undead. Genestealer cultists, by the third and forth generations, blend in with wider society. Whilst you guiltily read this blog at work can you be sure that your balding colleague is not watching you with fathomless, alien hunger? Who can you truly trust to be without taint; your boss, your best friend, your wife?genestealer-cultists-2Yet the genestealer cultists share only a superficial similarity to the faceless Tyranid hordes. Whilst some, like the patriarch and purestrains are suitably weird and alien the rank and file are just like us. The relatable human character is a rare figure in the 40k universe, even in the Imperium. Unless one is a power-armoured superhuman or a religious fanatic oneself there’s a divide between ourselves and the space marines or the sororitas that’s harder to cross. The mechanicum are even more alien than some of the aliens, and although we might aspire to be as respected and authoritative as an inquisitor most of us are humble guardsmen. They alone offered us away of putting ourselves, unchanged, into the setting. No-one aspires to be a chaos cultist who will never rise high enough to be more than spawn food and whose best hope for personal development is to choke the guns of his master’s enemies.

With the arrival of the genestealer cultists we find a new faction in which we can see ourselves. Like zombies the cultists are distinctly working class but this is no mindless mass but a collaboration of individual acts of cunning. In a video released to promote the new codex the developers note that the cultists may lack much of the clout of their rivals but they’ve been making up for it by patiently stacking the deck in their favour for centuries. The conspiracy theories are all true. The aliens have infiltrated the government.

genestealer-cultists-4-5As usual Black Library have released some tie-in fiction to coincide with the new miniatures; the unimaginatively titled Genestealer Cults (which I haven’t read) and it’s much shorter and far better named prequel Cast A Hungry Shadow (which I have read), both by Peter Fehervari. I can’t comment on the full length novel but the e-short is definitely worth picking up, especially for chaos fans who’ll be hard pressed not to find a new hero in Gharth, leader of the Reedemed, a chaos worshipping, fire-breathing biker gang. The central protagonists of the story however are the Spiral Dawn, a peaceful sect of the Imperial Cult who tend to the spiritual needs of the local mine-workers, and treat those who’ve fallen ill with the black breath. Of course it soon becomes apparent that the Spiral Dawn’s worship of pantheistic star gods is not the same Imperial Cult we’re familiar with and many of their holiest members are far from wholly human.

Beyond the engaging cast and gripping plot which recommends the book by itself, this is also a chance to see things from the genestealer cults’ point of view. Caught between the monstrous Chaos murder-cults roaming the wastelands and the crushing, if currently distant, boot of Imperial authority they need to make use of their combination of cunning and single-minded devotion to survive. They’re a long way from the moment the gods rain down from the sky to gobble-up faithful and heathen alike. In fact they’re not even at the point of being able to ride openly down the street in goliath trucks or limos. The main characters retain much of their humanity and are pulled between the ghostly voice of their unseen prophet, the untainted masses around them and the murderous temptations of Chaos. As heroes they’re wonderfully sympathetic. This is the Imperium’s man on the street and it turns out he’s an alien.

It’s also wonderful to see 40k away from the familiar elements, away from the grandiose world of duelling Titans, ten-thousand year old traitors, sector-wide conflicts and continent sized shrines. Space Marine players, this is what your tactical squad died to defend – some mine workers with lung-rot and a xenos-serving militia. Makes you proud doesn’t it! genestealer-cultist-4

When people talk about the genestealer cults a name that often comes up is that of H.P. Lovecraft. Now good old HP, when he’s not being subjected to cultish adoration himself, get’s a fair bit of flack nowadays for being a terrible racist and an equally terrible writer. His enduring popularity among horror fans however comes from his mastery of one key fact; that compared to the universe humanity is very, very small indeed. On modern day Earth we boast that we are the dominant species and the background of 40k bloats that to extremes. The Imperium of Man is about humankind stamping its authority upon the stars, the eagle standard flying upon a million worlds, a gargantuan bureaucracy that has stood for ten millennia. The genestealer cults recognise that we are small. Against the vastness of space and time we are a mere blip and entropy will make our greatest achievements dust. Though they do not know it they too are but a chapter in our history, evolutionary successors whose plotting will usher in an apocalypse that will devour them in their turn. It’s all rather bleak isn’t it? Not to worry, you can always distract yourself by buying some plastic genestealer cultists. The old cliché has it that, in the grim darkness of the far future, every man is but a spark against the darkness. In truth however those of us familiar with the setting know that even this is an exaggeration. Even hives that team in their billions are but embers of a fire that burned out ten millennia ago. The forces of destruction ranged against us are so vast that who could blame a man for casting himself in worship before those terrible powers in exchange for a last lungful of influence before he drowns?  genestealer-cultists-5-5

You Are What You Eat

One thing we humans hate more than anything else is being eaten. In evolutionary terms an understanding of death is a relatively modern phenomenon and the thought of ourselves lying cold and inanimate on a mortuary slab remains abstract and distant. Not so the thought of being consumed, something that’s been with us since the first microbe realised that the fastest route to free energy was enveloping its neighbour. The thought of being prey horrifies us and where civilisation has swept aside the lions and crocodiles that used to gobble us up a host of authors and film-makers have discovered there’s a living to be made inventing new ones. All human cultures have their own practices by which they decorously dispose of their dead, the key feature uniting them being that its bad form to leave them outside to be feasted on. Even when the bodies are eaten (for example in those cultures which practice air-burials in which bodies are laid out on platforms for birds to pick clean) it’s always by something that wouldn’t normally eat them up in day to day life. Birds and maggots (politely out of sight of course) are fine but chucking granny in with some crocodiles and letting them have at it is generally considered to be bad form.

In this way the tyranids represent a definite horror. They’re not invading the galaxy so they can enslave us or force us to accept a new religion or political system. They’re coming to eat us up and in such a vast and apocalyptic fashion that there’s really not a lot we can do about it. From Gilgamesh and Beowulf to Ripley from the Alien films, if a hero wants to stamp mankind’s authority on the uncivilised wastes they have to do it by killing the local monster. Except in 40k the monster is too vast for lone heroics, the Hive Mind’s locust swarm grapples with the Imperium itself and will almost inevitably pull it apart. Even heroes get old and die but the thought of all life consumed, of the monster’s ultimate victory, is particularly alien to our enlightened sensibilities. Predators are always held to be the most terrifying, and the most holy, in human culture.

However there are worse things than being eaten. White Dwarf describes how the hypnotically entranced victims of a genestealer patriarch allow themselves to receive the ‘genestealer’s kiss’ – an ovipositor in the tongue injecting the alien DNA directly into the bloodstream (admit it – you were wondering how it was done). Thus contaminated you become the alien, or more specifically, the parent of the alien.

“One of the enduring images of these genestealer cultists…was the idea that the loving parents looked down at what they think is a lovely baby boy or girl but is actually a hissing monstrosity”

– Phil Kelly, GW developer.

 

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Thus the grim darkness of the far future is made considerably grimmer and darker by the presence of a lictor lurking somewhere in the pipes and ducting but it’s also made wilder and more free. To the hive worker who bludgeons it to death with a shovel goes the glory of real heroism and the gleam of hope as a man rises triumphant from an unequal struggle. Without it the best he might ever hope for is to be employee of the month at the manufactorum, to have a little space to lie down and sleep, a little food and water, and the hope that – all being well – his descendants might achieve the same for generations to come.

What’s more our humble hive worker with the shovel doesn’t have to go it alone. The Men in Black are here!

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The Thin Black Line

To me the race which makes the Deathwatch feel most vital is the Tyranids. Orcs are too funny, Eldar too cultured and Tau too damn nice to be a threat in the same way. The Necrons have the potential to join in as a galaxy ending threat but they’re place in the background has changed from faceless robot baddies to complex cultured alien pharaohs and they’re yet to re-establish the aura of vast threat that they could potentially present. The Hive Fleets however are too vast, too single-minded, too unstoppable in their determination of feast upon us all, to be considered without giving in to nihilism. They need heroes to battle them, no matter how long the odds, to keep us interested. Once the fight becomes one sided we loose interest. The Tyranid threat reminds us of our limitations and encourages our struggle to surpass them.

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It’s become something of a cliché to slag off Matt Ward but it’s hard to follow this line of thinking in regard to the Deathwatch without comparing them to their peers, the Grey Knights. Yet whilst the Knights of Titan are preposterously superhuman, and tackle foes so equally overwrought as to seem simplistic, the Deathwatch are a band of brothers, powerful only by their shared skills. They may be gene-wrought supermen but the scale of the threat that opposes them is so great that even they are dwarfed, humble and heroic at the same time. Their foes however remain creatures of flesh and blood, banished by the sword not occult witchery. The message the two factions send is markedly different; you have to be special to kill a daemon but you and I could deal with that genestealer if we work together and put our minds to it.

In more ways than one the genestealer cults are at the opposite end of the spectrum to their Deathwatch adversaries. As the Emperor’s finest the space marines have enjoyed the benefits of the finest genetic science available, carefully crafted into something more than human. Square-jawed and clean limbed they’re aspirational figures ready to sell male grooming products and gym membership to the masses. The genestealer cultists meanwhile are considerably less hale and hearty with their subtly misshapen profiles and the not-quite-human appearance even of the fourth generation hybrids. The tyranids may be undisputed masters of genetic engineering but they still haven’t found a cure for male pattern baldness. Whilst the Deathwatch have access to the best gear the Imperium can provide (Mk. VIII power armour, the stealthy Corvus Blackstar, Custodes guardian spears, even a consecrated Necron blade) the genestealer cultists have to make do with whatever the steal or scavenge (great news for chaos fans – at last we have easy access to lots of autoguns for traitor guard conversions).genestealer-cultists-6-5

Oddly the genestealer cults are also at the far end of the spectrum to the Tyranids themselves. The great devourer has sailed the intergalactic void, the cults remain trapped on a single world until they’re able to sneak aboard someone else’s space ship. The hive fleets storm a planet from the skies, the cults rise from the guts on the hives. The Tyranids rely on overwhelming numbers and powerful monsters to tear enemy armies apart in a storm which sweeps all but the most entrenched of defenders away in a matter of days, the cults must move slowly and with cunning, their schemes playing out over generations until the time is right. When the Tyranids need a new weapon they grow a whole new creature to carry it, endlessly inventing and re-inventing their alien DNA, whilst the cults must rely on rockdrills and waste incinerators.

They come across as plucky underdogs which is not something we see elsewhere among 40k’s cast of heavyweights. A battle won or lost by the genestealer cults feels like it means something. You could be saving a whole planet from falling into their clutches, or throwing off the Imperial yolk at last. Win a battle against the Tyranids and countless billions of hormaguants will swarm onwards towards Holy Terra anyway. Far from the ravenous hosts of the hive fleets the cults are confined to individual worlds and, fearsome though they might be to a squad of guardmen – or even a lone space marine – they pose a threat to the Imperium only through the combined weight of millions of tiny actions. They might overrun a world or two now and then but the Imperium suffers worse blows when one of the High Lords of Terra has a bad lunch. The epic is all very well but without the small scale, the personal, the day-to-day struggles of the common man, it becomes one dimensional and stale. We’ve seen the view from the spire-tops, from starship bridges and the cockpits of titans but the holy shadows make it come alive like never before.

All images copyright Games Workshop and deviously liberated without sanction.


A Man of Outstanding Character

Increasingly I find that I both love and don’t love – hate is too strong a word – special characters. I love them because they add to the background, to the immersion in the world, to the sense that the 41st Millennium is a living, breathing place and the battles that take place matter – never mind how vast and uncaring the galaxy is purported to be. We’re often reminded that “…the Universe is a big place and, whatever happens, you will not be missed”. Special characters redress the balance, the Imperium may be on its beam ends but it is still possible for someone to make a difference one way or another. When the Emperor admitted that Horus’s last blow had stung a little and he was going to lie down for a bit it turned the Imperium on its head. If Marneus Calgar or Abaddon the Despoiler died tomorrow it’s safe to say that someone would miss them – or at least notice. Thus although the average Imperial Guardsman or worker in a hive sump might not be missed Special Characters are, well, special. However I also feel that, to a degree, they divorce me from my collection – that ownership of them lies not with me but with other people; the writers and creators of the game and its cannon of fiction and other players who also use them in the collections.

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I love to see a collection modelled around specific units and characters from the background fiction. An excellent example of this is the Son’s of Horus army by Duncan Rhodes showcased in White Dwarf (November 2013) that featured Loken and Abbadon during the early part of the Horus Heresy. The collection both captures a moment in time and tells a story – specifically one to which I’ve already developed an attachment through reading the series of books from Forge World and the Black Library. I also enjoy being able to open a codex and read that in the year X, or at the time of battle Y, and see the whole army presented in a structured manner; the names of every sergeant, the title of every captain, all the way from the Chapter Master to the servitor that cleans his boots (I know that’s an exaggeration but you get my drift – pages of heraldry or chapter organisation are very cool. Several of the armies in Warhammer already have whole books covering just this and something similar for 40k could be very interesting).

However whilst I love to see a collection modelled around specific units and characters from the background fiction I don’t see myself collecting them any time soon. Part of that is my own chaotic approach to collecting armies, I add units based very much on whim, rather than following any kind of structured approach. It’s safe to say that Roboute Guilliman would have been disgusted with me! Then again with the three armies in my collection being Orks, Chaos and a Space Marine chapter that’s as close to being renegade as you can get, this is hardly surprising. Thus although there are stories in the 40k background which excite me (for example the Third War for Armageddon, the Badab War and of course the Heresy itself) none of them grip me to the level of the story I’ve imagined myself. That story is personal, it belongs exclusively to me.

This attitude extends beyond the army and into the characters that make it up. Take Abaddon the Despoiler for example. The Black Library novels have done a cracking job portraying him, from the bullish dedication shown in Wolf of Ash and Fire (excellent incidentally – I was lucky enough to get the chance to read a copy and it’s well worth it if you get the opportunity), through the inevitable path that follows through the Horus Heresy series as he transforms into the belligerent Despoiler that haunts the Imperium today. Needless to say I’m hugely excited about Talon of Horus. Sadly although the Black Library have made Abaddon into a deep and fascinating character his appearances in pieces of in-codex short fiction (for example in the last edition of Apocalypse or the Cypher dataslate) depict him as so paper thin and clichéd its almost embarrassing. If they are to be believed then it’s no wonder it’s taken him so long to prepare his final crusade against the Imperium, he’s been too busy twirling his moustache and cackling. It’s partly this dichotomy that puts me off from including him in my collection.

Then there’s the matter of sharing the limelight. The characters I’ve imagined as leaders are key to the story that forms the cornerstone of the collection as a whole. What would happen then if Kallamoon Kell found himself sharing the stage with Abadddon? The only reasonable explanation, without either stretching my credulity or abandoning the tenants of the setting, is for Abadddon to take command – and that would never do.

This is where I start to encounter a conflict. On the one hand I don’t want to include special characters in my army for all the reasons stated above. On the other hand I do – these are exciting personalities after all. In the end it comes back to a feeling of ownership, when all is said and done I want my own characters – but I’m inspired by the possibility of taking pre-existing characters and personalising them.

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All of which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Fabius Bile. I like the idea of him as a character but at the same time felt that he didn’t fit in with the rest of my collection. Of course I could have invented a reason for him to be fighting alongside the Beasts of Ruin, as a nomad and mercenary it would make perfect sense for him to join up with another rising Chaos warband, but I preferred the idea of having something personal, something that belonged to me. Enter Pharol, the Bleak Physician. Rather than the Primogenitor himself I simply based my own character off a similar concept, creating my own twisted apothecary to harvest geneseed from dead loyalists and create fresh marines for the Beasts. He carries the same wargear as Apothecary Fabius and I would field him using the same rules but otherwise he’s my own creature.

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  Rather than use the original Fabius as the base model for the conversion I chose a Dark Angel veteran and bought the Chirurgeon separately as part of a bitz-pack. However, doing this also got me a set of the backpacks usually used for the model of Cypher. Now, having read his dataslate, I’m starting to think that the next appearance of the most mysterious character in 40k should be amongst the Beasts of Ruin. Looks like everything I’ve written here might be hypocrisy after all eh?

Edit re: Wolf of Ash and Fire.
And what do you know – now it’s up to download FOR FREE from the Black Library website. Looks like it’s a limited time only offer though so get over there sharpish!


Keep On Rotting in the Free World

It’s almost Christmas, and who can claim to encapsulate that as perfectly as Papa Nurgle? He’s fat, jolly, generous to a fault and he really, really loves bells! In the spirit of being festive, here’s a squad of his little helpers; my Plaguebearers – the Rotten Souls.

Ho-ho-ho…

 

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plaguebearers-of-nurgle-convert-or-die-6Also, on an unrelated note, I just read Abaddon: Chosen of Chaos by Aaron Dembski-Bowden from the Black Library Advent Calendar. It’s short, of course, but packs in a lot of punch and introduces some interesting characters, so at a bank-breaking 99p it’s well worth the money. Roll on Talon of Horus!

Merry Christmas!