Tag Archives: ConvertOrDie

Heresy of Us

If you haven’t already been to check out the blog Heresy of Us then it really is about time you did. Chock full of the kind of grubby, Blanchesque madness that makes 40k great its host takes things up a notch by combining the traditional kitbashing and greenstuff with bespoke components brought to life by the modern wizardry of 3d-printing. Best of all, for those of us less technologically gifted, there is Black Earth.black-earth-logoAs producers of additional components for converters go Black Earth is a company so new it’s positively embryonic but given the depths of creativity on show at Heresy of Us expectations are already running high. In time it’s planned for the project to grow into a webstore providing a range of bases and other bits for convertors looking to add a unique spin to their models. One of the first creations to be unveiled have been a set of prototype Demonic Femes (see the image below which shows the figure looking disturbingly like a serial killer’s victim in its unassembled state).dfemme-teaserObviously these are perfect for those who’re looking to convert daemonettes which nod more towards Slaanesh’s aspect as a god of twisted sexuality than the comparatively family friendly models of GW’s recent past. With their outsize, balloon-like breasts and near skeletal thinness they take many of the tropes associated with modern ideas of beauty and stretch them to breaking point. This is where the very worst of body image problems takes us. It works because it isn’t trying to be sexy. If anything its disturbing. Too often those who try to ‘adult-up’ Slaanesh end up with a clumsy attempt at soft-core pornography (and regardless of how exciting one might find the latest plastic kit, or a rediscovered oldhammer classic – if you’re aroused by your toy soldiers you probably have a problem. Sorry it had to be me that told you…). These however circumnavigate such silliness and go straight for being disquieting. Placed firmly in the badlands of the uncanny valley they flaunt their sexual aspects in a way that could never be actually sexy and pricks uncomfortably at our mental programing. Of course depending on how adventurous one wishes to be there’s no need to stick to Slaanesh with a brainstorming session raising ideas that ranged from arco-flagellants  and dark eldar to beastwomen and wood elf wardancers. What’s more I’m able to put one of these ideas into practice as Mark, the man behind Heresy of Us, was kind enough to send me one to review.

I knew straight away I didn’t want to just add her to the ranks of my much neglected daemonettes where she would have stood out like a sore thumb (being for one thing a little on the tall side compared to the GW plastics) and which would have failed to do justice to what is after all an almost unique prototype model. Instead I decided to create a daemonic champion, thus giving myself the opportunity to let my hair down and create something suitably strange and ghastly. The result is this Slaaneshi gladiator. Who says the champions of Khorne should rule the fighting pits? black-earth-demonic-femme-convert-or-die-3

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black-earth-demonic-femme-convert-or-die-4 As with any conversion feedback is greatly appreciated. I also strongly advise you to swing by Heresy of Us and take a look at some of the other weird and wonderful creations on show there. At the moment  they’re running a promotion to give away some of their new skull stacks (and as everyone who loves the Warhammer universes knows you can never have too many skulls). skull-stackAll you have to do is click this link to find their contact details (and get a look at those skulls) then drop them an email and ask nicely and they’ll send you a stack of skulls absolutely free. Best to get on with it though as I’m led to understand that they’ve only got so many to give away and when they’re gone they’re gone. All they ask in return is that you send in a picture of what you use your skulls for, so what are you waiting for – they’re free!

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All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 10

So whilst my ears have been filled with the braying of sonic weaponry over the past month the roaring of chain-axes has never been far from my thoughts. Now it’s time to add a couple more battle brothers to my latest squad of Khorne berserkers. And whilst the rest of the warband spill blood for the Skull Throne someone still has to carry the banner…convertordie-khorne-berserker-banner-1

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Warhammer World – Part 6

It’s the final post in this showcase of the displays at Warhammer World and this time we’re looking at the big one. Twenty-two feet from end to end, twelve feet wide and twenty feet tall (that’s almost seven meters long, three and a half wide and six meters tall for those who’re sensible enough to use metric) – it’s the battle for Angelus Prime.

To give you a sense of how big this thing actually is there is a man in this picture – another visitor. I didn’t want him appearing in the shot so I waited until he was hidden by the building. That’s right – the human was hidden behind the miniature, usually it’s the other way round!angelus-prime-convertordie-1

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angelus-prime-convertordie-20The board captures the forces of Khorne, led by the bloodthirster An’ggrath, battling the Ultramarines who’re attempting to defend Ultramar. If you were wondering where all the Chaos miniatures were in the 40k displays – here they are. Followers of the other gods need not apply.

There are over five and a half thousand models on this board, putting any sensible person’s collection to shame. These stretch from swarms of bloodletters and cultists to tanks, knights, even titans. The fortress city itself meanwhile is constructed from over 1,200 scenery kits and took nine months to build. In many ways this is the ultimate aspirational army. We all dream of what it would look like to have at our command the thousands of infantry, hundreds of tanks, ranks of Titans and so on that our heroes in Black Library fiction posses but, with the exception of epic players, most of us never will. If only time and money were no object eh?angelus-1

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As if the scene wasn’t dramatic enough it also features a soundtrack of dramatic music, overlaid by the clatter of bolter fire and the distant crunch of explosions. Lights fade slowly from the deep blue of the loyalists to the bloody red of Khorne, adding another layer to the atmosphere. It’s a cliché to say that they make the viewer feel that they are right at the heart of the battle but – minus the discomfort, blinding terror and high risk of imminent death – that’s pretty much what they do.angelus-prime-convertordie-2angelus-prime-convertordie-4angelus-prime-convertordie-5angelus-prime-convertordie-6angelus-prime-convertordie-7angelus-prime-convertordie-8angelus-prime-convertordie-11The whole diorama contains a real sense of action, captured through elements like this chaos titan being felled by an off-course drop pod, the bloodletters crawling over each another to climb the walls (above) or the chaos Reaver titan firing its rack of missiles (below).angelus-prime-convertordie-12angelus-prime-convertordie-13angelus-prime-convertordie-14The Warlord Titan. For those still struggling with just how big this thing is those are Knights around its knees. The term ‘miniature’ may no longer be appropriate here.angelus-prime-convertordie-15big-guns-never-tireYesterday the mechanicum were fairly certain they had a gun. But no, it turns out this is a gun! I understand we shouldn’t expect it to tire any time soon…angelus-prime-convertordie-21Even a full scale planetary invasion wasn’t enough to distract these two from their World of Warcraft addiction.angelus-prime-convertordie-16angelus-prime-convertordie-17angelus-prime-convertordie-18angelus-prime-convertordie-19One of the most famous things about this board is that, in amongst the five thousand five hundred plus other models lurks one lone Vindicare assassin. If you can find it you can win one of your own and I was certainly planning to give it a good go, until I actually got there and realised what a painful, eyeball straining challenge that would be. However I was lucky enough to be standing next to the man who did. What impressed me most – apart from the bushiness of his beard, something for which he deserves extra credit – and the sharpness of his eyes (seriously, don’t even try unless your day job is as an eagle) was the logic with which it was placed. I understand the model moves around (not by itself – that would be slightly creepy) but even so I don’t want to give away too many spoilers so that others can enjoy the challenge of the hunt themselves. However the finder did explain that he focussed his attention (and presumably eyeballs that are the envy of the Hubble telescope) where he did because that location would afford the assassin a clear shot without being detected himself. In his hiding place he could crouch out of sight, allowing the ranks of the World Eaters to pass him by before shooting whomever his intended victim is. To me that represents an attention to detail that makes the piece even more impressive – they didn’t just stick him down the back of the radiator and think “no one will look there!”, they followed through the narrative of the piece and allowed a person to find it not by luck or simply sharp vision, but by joining them in the logical process and by investing their imagination in the story.

So there we have it – my day out to Warhammer World spread over a full week of posts. Once again I hope this has been as interesting and inspiring for you as it was for me. Check back tomorrow and, all being well, I’ll actually have a miniature of my own to show – my Dreadtober contribution roaring in at the very end of cheat week! Until then, as ever, I’m interested in your thoughts – so make them known in the comments box below.


Warhammer World – Part 5

Continuing our look through the dioramas on display at Warhammer World today we explore the section given over to the alien races inhabiting the grim darkness of the far future. First off we have this lava board, showing the planet of Valedor – or Düriel to the Eldar – being swarmed by the Tryanid hive fleets.01At one point Valedor was a tropical paradise but, as is the case with most places in 40k that seem like they might be really nice, that wasn’t to last. First the Imperium turned it into an industrial hellhole, then the Tyranids arrived and began stripping it of all organic matter. By the time the Swordwind of the Eldar return to what had once been one of their Maiden Worlds the whole place was rather worse for wear. Eventually the Eldar activate a device known as the Fireheart, splitting the planet’s crust into the volcanic turmoil we see here.0203Both factions are really giving it their all here; the Tyranids have deployed their bio-titans (above) whilst the Eldar respond with their Phantom Titans.0405Another display I’d been looking forward to was this one; Ork Town – originally built by Forge World for their book Raid on Kastorel-Novem.010203A squad of Tempestus Scions have been shot down in Ork territory and now their allies rush to evacuate them. Apparently an ex-army store manager spent a day training the team in how to descend on ropes from an aircraft in order to capture the scene perfectly. Frankly I’m sure they could have worked it out from Youtube videos but who can blame the chancers for convincing their boss they needed a day out?040506070809Lastly for today we have the Tau facing off against their enemies in the Mechanicum. Both sides are rather fond of technology although the Tau’s habit of innovating, plus their insistence on being filthy xenos, prevents them from being friends. Plus the Mechanicum almost obliterated the Tau when the latter species was still in the stone-age, something that is bound to sour any relationship.010203A rather large Tau flyer. Probably named after a fish.04One of the Tau flying-mech-suits (which, if it’s not already clear, I’m not too familiar with) annoying a titan.0506Something I found particularly clever about these dioramas is the way in which the eye is drawn to certain angles, which themselves provide cinematic scenes. Take this Sydonian Dragoon for instance, which strides through the periphery of an explosion with the effortless cool of an action movie hero.070809Remember those Imperial Guardsmen standing grimly in their cold trenches I showed you yesterday? This is the Tau equivalent, and it’s just a tiny bit more glamorous!10This encounter perfectly encapsulates the dynamic (pun intended) between the energetic Tau and the trudging, hidebound Imperials.1112I feel there’s a joke to be made here, either about getting legless or going topless…131415The Mechanicum politely explain to the Tau that what they have are not guns, this is a gun…16Now some of you might be thinking “Hey guy, where’s Chaos in all this? I thought they were the big bad in the 41st Millennium? Don’t they get a diorama?” Oh they do my freind, they certainly do – but for that you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow…


Warhammer World – Part 3

Continuing my showcasing of the dioramas on display in Warhammer World today we take a look at the rest of the displays focussing on the Old World of Warhammer and the new Realms of Age of Sigmar. First up we have a pair of small displays exhibiting the Ironjaws – a new faction which grew out of the old Black Orcs – and opposite them the Sylvaneth, which were developed from the treemen and dryads who used to hang out with the Wood Elves.01Orc brutes march past tribal boundary markers whilst a warboss, crouched on his hulking reptilian mount, watches from a neighbouring hillock.0203The tide of red armour stands out against the black rocks and wilted vegetation.0405The neighbouring display is considerably more green and lush. The Orcs have left their semi-desert homeland and invaded the forest only to find themselves ambushed by the Sylvaneth guardians of the woods led by Alarielle herself and several ancient treemen…0102…including this impressively bearded individual…08…and these tree revenants. 03Alarielle, a woman after my own heart! Keen on trees she’d have undoubtedly enjoyed my other outing whilst in Nottingham – a trip to visit the ancient Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.0405Of course that would have left her unable to oversee the defence of her woodland from the marauding orcs, although by the looks of things her followers were managing fine by themselves.06Next along, one of the displays that was top of my list to see ever since a friend showed me pictures from her own trip. Here the Skaven and Dwarves do battle in the depths of the Underway, deep beneath the World’s Edge Mountains.0102The war under the ground remains one of my favourite parts of the Warhammer background. As a fan of Skaven, Dwarves and Night Goblins alike the subterranean struggle is a compelling battle for survival, all happening out of sight of the races living above.03Here dwarven stoicism meets the mad brew of science and magic wielded by the ratmen, the two sides divided by a jagged canyon criss-crossed by swaying rope bridges.040506The scene contains over three hundred miniatures, which probably explains why I failed to spot Joseph Bugman who is allegedly hiding in there somewhere.07Slayers seeking an honourable death take on a Hell Pit Abomination (without a trace of Fyre in sight…)08Once again I hope you’re enjoying this look through the Warhammer World displays and I really do recommend a visit if you’re in the area. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the armies of the Imperium in the dark days of humanity’s future.


Cracking The WIP – Dreadtober Part 1

Ah, the first Dreadtober update! I had such plans you know! Such things to show you! Alas my grand vision remains unfulfilled. Between work’s cruel yolk and the loving embrace of Grandpappy Nurgle, wrapping his arms around me, blessing me with his gifts and begging me not to leave him for Slaanesh, my progress has been slower than I might have wished.

Now that’s not to say I’ve got nothing to show you, it’s just that I planned to have the model completely assembled and ready for paint already and it’s simply not got there yet. Still, this is one of the most complex conversions I’ve ever attempted, an amalgam of plastic, plasticard, metal, resin and greenstuff so I shall be kind to myself and remind myself that getting this right is the most important thing, and that’s there’s still a lot of month to go.

Still – enough excuses! I have at least managed to get this monster to a stage where it can be tacked together enough that you can get a feel for how it’s going to look on completion, and get your feedback in. sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-1

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As you can see there’s still a bit of work to do before he’s ready for paint but progress is being made. The claw arm needs a lot of work before it’s ready to be attached properly and will most likely be raised a little, the tack isn’t strong enough to prevent it drooping under its own weight (insert your own Slaaneshi joke here). There’s also a bit more greenstuff work to do, the base needs done and both shin-guards are coming off so it’s easier to freehand/sculpt/whatever I decide to do with them. Here’s a close up of the arm which as I say still needs a lot of greenstuff before it’s ready to roll. sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-5

And here’s a look at the howling faces on the warp amp. sonic-dreadnaught-convertordie-4

There’s also a few ideas which I originally planned for this dread but which are proving unsuitable in practice. Slowly they coalesce at the back of my brain, drawing in scraps of other ideas and generating fresh ones. After all once I’ve made a dreadnaught for Khorne, Nurgle and Slaanesh then poor old Tzeentch is going to be feeling a little left out…


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.