Tag Archives: Horus Heresy

Alpharius: Head of the Hydra 

I am Alpharius. 

This is a lie.

As opening lines go those take some beating don’t they? I don’t normally do book reviews here, at least in part because writing them is bloody hard work and although I take my hat off to those who do it, it’s something I very much struggle to pull off. I do however read a lot of books and, as a fan of all things Warhammer, plenty of them are from Black Library. Black Library novels can be a bit of a mixed bag, some are excellent, many are a bit duff if I’m honest – Space Marine fan-fiction with dubious plot lines and turgid battles of blazing bolters. This is one of the good ones though. In fact this one really deserves a bit of gushing praise and so that’s exactly what I’m going to give it. 

Alpharius

Alpharius: Head of the Hydra by Mike Brooks, tells the story of the Primarch Alpharius in his own words for the first time. The ultimate in unreliable narrators Alpharius is known to all 40k fans as the Primarch who lies a lot – or as he describes himself to Leman Russ “I’m the one who keeps secrets”. Given this fact it’s hard to be sure if this really is a behind the scenes tell-all from the master of dishonesty, or if we’re being spun a load of nonsense. Most likely it’s a bit of both. 

There is the official story of the Imperium’s early years and the finding of the Primarchs, and then there’s the version laid out here. Thus in many ways the reader is drawn into the universe to the point where we almost become actors in our own right. Now this has always been true of 40k, with the “head cannon” story behind my army no less valid that which is laid out in a codex or Black Library novel. However what I’m driving at here is that, in the end, only a comparatively tiny number of 40k fans will read this book and so hear this side of the story. All the rest will stick with the version which has been laid out in codexes and novels for over three decades. Are those of us who do privileged members of a fraternity to whom deeper truths have been revealed or are we dupes taken in by a narrator famed as a master of lies and manipulation? 

Alpharius Forge World

Writing Primarchs, particularly in the first person, is a tricky business. Almost inevitably authors who attempt it fail to pull it off. These are gene-forged demi-gods, far beyond us frail baseline humans in every way, yet all too often they come across as tall space marines with quirky personalities. For Alpharius however it works perfectly. After all you can barely trust the words spilling from the serpent’s mouth, so anyone else trying to narrate these events second hand would become so tangled in misinformation as to be not worth reading. How could anyone but Alpharius tell his story when he takes such pains to keep everyone around him guessing and ensure that no-one ever knows the full truth? A book in which everything is false or guesswork wouldn’t be worth reading after all. No, the joy of this book is trying to guess at which points he’s lying – and concluding at the end that it’s all true.

Some authors seem to struggle with the Alpha Legion, putting Alpharius himself at the core of every mission as though he’s the only spy the Imperium has (Deliverance Lost I’m looking at you here), turning him into a one dimensional mustache twirling scoundrel (“I would have got away with it too if it wasn’t for Rogal Dorn!”) or bogging everything down in so many triple-crosses that it’s hard to remember who’s currently betraying who. Again however telling the story from Alpharius’s own perspective helps to get around this, rather than us readers trying to keep track of how many seemingly innocent people in any given room are actually Alpha Legion agents with conflicting agendas (hint: it’s all of them) we’re walked through events by the man who masterminded them. Does it make sense for Alpharius to be involved in every mission? It does here because this is his story, whereas all too often in the Horus Heresy we’re “surprised” to discover that every Alpha Legionary we encounter is really the main man himself rather than one of his – supposedly self-reliant and independently-minded – underlings. There are nods to the Alpha Legion’s reputation for overcomplicated schemes – a tech-priest asks how a top secret mission can be used as cover for an even more top-secret mission (and yes, there is a good reason for it) – but on the whole we avoid all the doubling-crossing the double-crosser (cross squared?) that can at times make Alpha Legion stories near impossible to follow.

Alpharius Omegon

As an aside I’ve always enjoyed the fact that there are several in-universe official accounts of Alpharius’s death, leaving the reader guessing as to which, if any, are true. Between being able to disguise himself as his own legionaries, encouraging his legionaries to pass themselves off as him, and having a hidden identical twin, is it any wonder that he has been “officially” killed off by at least two of his brother Primarchs? My own pet theory is that Alpharius/Omegon never could stick with the limitation of having two bodies. It is already cannon that Fabius Bile successfully cloned all of the Primarchs – including making dozens of versions of Ferrus Manus, a young Fulgrim and a reborn Horus. Those wondering how Games Workshop might someday bring back Sanguinius or one of the other dead Primarchs should look no further. If downhive Esher gang-queens and low-ranking Dark Eldar kabalites can bring themselves back to life as clones there’s no reason for the Primarch of the Alpha Legion to stay dead a moment longer than he chooses to.

In writing this I’ve steered away from talking too much about the plot, and quite deliberately so. I went into this knowing next to nothing about the story and I think I enjoyed it all the more as a result. However one thing I will say is that the more familiar you are with the 40k canon the more you’re likely to enjoy this. If you’re completely fresh to 40k then this really isn’t the best place to start, a degree of familiarity with the big players of the pre-Heresy era is vital to save yourself a lot of frustrating head scratching. If on the other hand you’re well versed in the story of how the Imperium came to be, the Great Crusade and the finding of the Primarchs, then prepare to enjoy having some well established “facts” revealed as falsehoods, key events turned on their heads and major players re-examined from a uniquely insightful perspective. After hearing things from Alpharius’s point of view I don’t think I’ll ever trust Rogal Dorn again!

Of course, it could all be a lie. Hydra Dominatus!


From Warhawks to Warcry: Warhammer Day 2021

Another weekend, another big Games Workshop preview, another chance for me to get up on my soap box and harangue the crowds of internet users as they shuffle past before me. Yes it was Warhammer Day 2021, the chance for us mere mortals to find out exactly what it is that Games Workshop expects us to buy next. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that I will end up waxing lyrical about all the projects I may or may not actually end up painting and enthusing rabidly to my unfortunate readers about models which, after the passage of time and the opportunity for more sober thought, I may not buy in the end after all. Things like budgeting my money, time and energy, or examining the pile of unpainted sprues already waiting for attention, are problems for the future however. Today it’s time to look at new stuff and indulge in some childish overexcitement!

Shadow Throne – Genestealer Cults vs Adeptus Custodes

The first thing to be announced was a new boxset for Warhammer 40k. Titled “Shadow Throne” it focuses on the battles being fought between the guardians of the Emperor’s throne – the Adeptus Custodes – and those sneaky, xenos-loving rebels, the Genestealer Cults. It also gives us our first opportunity to get our hands on two new models, one for each faction. The servants of the Emperor are joined by a stylish-looking Blade Champion.

Blade Champion

Even amongst the elite ranks of the Custodes these are favoured warriors of exceptional skill and the model certainly looks the part. My reaction to the Custodes so far has been fairly mixed, some of the models are outstanding whilst others don’t really do much for me. This guy falls entirely into the former camp and if I ever started a Custodes collection he would undoubtedly be front and centre. However I’m far more interested in his rival, the Reductus Saboteur of the Genestealer Cults.

Genestealer Cultist

I’m a big fan of the Genestealer Cults, even if I’ve not painted quite as many of them recently as I’d have liked to. This miniature brings them another excellent character model, and one which fits nicely into their theme as the ultimate schemers and guerrilla warriors. Whilst other armies enjoy overwhelming invasions the Genestealer Cultists fight defensively, knowing ever inch of their territory and seeding it with bombs and booby traps ready to repel invasion. This lady clearly knows a thing or two about planting bombs, as evidenced by the alternative head with serious burns which suggests her on-the-job training may not have gone entirely without a hitch.

One thing the Genestealer Cultists are not short on however is characters. The range is already packed with individual specialists of every sort you can imagine. Much as I like this model it would have been nice to see something else, a new kind of troops for example or some kind of repurposed industrial warmachine. I’d love to see Cultists stomping around in heavy-lifting exo-suits, partly because it would fit the range nicely and partly for the nod to the suit Ripley wore to fight the alien queen in the film Aliens (although this time the humans would be fighting for the aliens not against them!).

Ripley vs Alien Queen

Or how about just some new models for the Genestealers themselves, the cultists might be even more enthusiastic about laying down their lives for the true children of the star gods if the miniatures didn’t predate the invention of the wheel. 

In some ways the Custodes and the Genestealer Cults aren’t the most obvious adversaries. The Custodes, after all – and despite what the Space Marines will tell you – really are the Emperor’s Finest. Each one has been rebuilt on a cellular level, given the best training and armour available and made capable of truly superhuman feats. Whereas the Genestealer Cultists are very definitely enthusiastic amateurs, armed with equipment borrowed from their day jobs. So far we’ve mostly seen Cultists from mining and industrial worlds but I’m sure somewhere out there is a Genestealer Cultist from Admin, trying to beat a Space Marine to death with a stapler. 

On the other hand these differences, with a highly elite force in pristine golden armour on one side and a rabble of balding miners on the other, make for a striking visual distinction. The set-up for the conflict is also based around this particularly ominous snippet from the Eighth Edition Codex: Custodes…

A Genestealer Cult calling themselves the Wyrms of the Ur-tendril are discovered by Ordo Xenos agents, entrenched amongst the Nordafrik under-archives on Terra. Captain-General Valoris refuses a request by the Deathwatch to send Kill Teams against this threat, instead leading the purge in person at the head of a huge Adeptus Custodes shield host. The Cult put up a brutal fight, their sheer numbers and fanaticism allowing them to drag down one Custodian after another and tear them limb from limb. Yet for every one of the Custodians that falls, hundreds upon hundreds of malformed cultists and Aberrants are slaughtered. At last, Valoris himself beheads the monstrous Broodlord that ruled over the cult. He orders the creature’s disturbing inner sanctum burned despite the protests from the Ordo Xenos investigators – Valoris refuses to let anyone other than his comrades witness the foul mural that decorates the sanctum’s back wall, of a nest of fanged tendrils emerging from the heart of Sol itself to devour Terra whole…

I really liked this when I first read it and so it’s nice to see it brought back into the light as it were. Whilst more obviously powerful adversaries like Abaddon the Despoiler, the Tyranid hive fleets or the mighty Ork invasions unleashed by Ghazghkull Thraka himself might rampage through the outer parts of the Imperium it is the Genestealer Cultists, reliant on guts and guile and armed only with what they can scavenge that have come to threaten the Throne World itself.

Shadow Throne

The boxset itself I’ll skip, I’m not short of Genestealer Cultists to paint and I’m not particularly interested in starting a collection of Custodes. It also looks rather light on content to my eye. I expected the Custodes side to have a fairly low model count, these are a highly elite force, but the Genestealer Cultists are looking sparse as well. I’ve bought a few of these kinds of boxes over the years and in the past they’ve proved to be a great source of lots and lots of models at a bargain price. This one however doesn’t seem to have much too it and even if I was planning to start collections of both armies I think I’d be more tempted to see what bargains I could get elsewhere.

Maggotkin of Nurgle

For Age of Sigmar meanwhile we got the news that the Maggotkin of Nurgle are the next army due for an update. As well as a new battletome there’s also a new miniature (something that’s much more important in my book!) a ghastly and baleful sorcerer.

Nurgle Sorcerer

He’s a wonderfully evil and twisted looking model, and best of all he’s not fat. Now before you decide to “cancel” me for being “fatphobic” (although hopefully you’re not that kind of person anyway) hear me out. I do like the bloated, swollen appearance of Nurgle’s favoured but variety is the spice of life, and absolutely intrinsic to those factions sworn to Chaos. With the vast majority of Nurgle’s followers being rather on the tubby side therefore it’s nice to see one who has been left withered in the arms, if still a little potbellied, by his afflictions. This suits a magic user, who doesn’t need to rely on raw bulk to crush his enemies, and is an aesthetic already associated with the Plaguebearer daemons –  allowing the sorcerer to form a neat visual link between the mortal and daemonic sides of the army.

All in all I like him and I’ve been feeling the temptation to paint a little more Nurgle lately so I might treat myself to him when he’s released. Equally I reckon he could make a cool looking underhive shaman for Necromunda with a few tweaks.

Dungeon Bowl

I’ll admit I’ve been surprised by the lack of attention that Blood Bowl has received over the past year. Having seen a new team released every quarter for the last few years, and with the new Second Season boxset launched at the tail end of 2020 I expected to more teams rolled out as we made our way through 2021. Instead it’s been pretty quiet, not crickets entirely but hardly the roaring bustle of activity of a packed stadium either. Mind you I’ve been unconvinced by the woe, woe and thrice woe wails coming from some commentors who, perhaps unaware that we’re going through a global crisis and that everything from food to fuel is getting harder to buy, believe that Blood Bowl is being uniquely targeted and the game will soon be done away with entirely. Fans of the Specialist Games, and I know I suffer from this myself, do tend to be twitchy and expect our beloved games to face the executioner’s axe at any moment, but I’m confident that when it comes to Blood Bowl there’s life in the old dog yet. 

DungeonBowl

Now, as if to prove my point, along comes Dungeon Bowl – exploding back from the distant past and onto our gaming tables once again. This, from what I remember, is Blood Bowl at its silliest, as Orcs, Elves and others race around a cramped dungeon – stepping through portals, avoiding the lava pits and battling each other for control of the ball (assuming they can find where the damn thing has been hidden!).

DungeonBowl Box

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Dungeon Bowl over the years and I’m pleased to see it back, but to be honest I’m not that excited yet. After all, I’ve still not really got to grips with the rules for normal Blood Bowl – although I have heard that Dungeon Bowl is a good way to start learning the game. In the meantime this is something that will undoubtedly be discussed much more knowledgeably elsewhere. As someone who’s much more interested in new models than new rules I would have loved to see a new team – but then again I still need to paint most of the ones I’ve already got. For now I’m watching this space with an open mind.

Jaghatai Khan

For a while there the Horus Heresy game seemed to be everywhere. Like Lord of the Rings before it the releases seemed to pour out of the Games Workshop studio in an unending tide, a great tsunami of miniatures that grew larger by the second. And then, again much like LotR, the wave broke and rolled back, perhaps never to rise again. Following the death of the extremely talented Alan Bligh the Horus Heresy, as a game, seemed to vanish from the release schedule almost overnight. 

Not that it’s been entirely abandoned of course, there has been the odd release here and there. The entertainingly named Ultramarine hero Remus Ventanus for example is available to pre-order as we speak. However this is but a trickle in comparison to the flood that came before it. Now however we finally have the last of the Primarch models, Jaghatai Khan of the White Scars.

Warhawk

I’m sure every Horus Heresy fan has a favourite primarch and for me, on the loyalist side of things anyway, Jaghatai Khan is the guy. Unlike many of the other primarchs he seems like the kind of person I could actually get along with, and throughout the stories he proves to be a dynamic, free-thinking hero. I’m currently reading the latest Siege of Terra novel, Warhawk by Chris Wraight, (no spoilers please!) in which the Khan is once again proving himself to be downright awesome dude.

Warhawk

This also brings the series of primarch models released by Forge World to a close. Beginning with Angron in 2012 the studio has released a miniature for each of the Emperor’s sons (apart from the clone Omegon of course, but I’m sure you could always buy the Alpharius miniature twice). This leaves me wondering what they might have planned next. Already we’ve seen various other heroes and villains from the series released as miniatures and I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future. Meanwhile two of the traitor Primarchs who ascended to daemonhood during the Heresy – Magnus and Mortarion – have already had plastic models released for them and it seems more likely that the others will enjoy the same treatment rather than having daemonic versions released in Forge World resin. In many ways it depends a lot on what Games Workshop decides to do next with the Heresy series. Despite the decline in the number of releases which the game has suffered in recent years persistent and believable rumours continue to circulate that a new boxset is soon to appear to inject fresh blood to the system. With the series of novels hurtling towards their cataclysmic conclusion I’d say it’s now or never.

Warhammer Underworlds – Blackpowder’s Buccaneers

Warhammer Underworlds continues to play host to some truly outstanding models and the latest warband to be revealed is no exception. Blackpowder’s Buccaneers are a bunch of pirates, lead by an ogre, his gnobblar crew and his various pets. Gyaaar!

Ogre Pirate

I don’t follow the Underworlds fanbase that closely, but judging from the comments of those friends that do, people seem to have been asking for a pirate warband – specifically an undead pirate warband – for ages.  Clearly these lads are not in any way undead but they do have a sinister looking monkey.

Underworld's Pirates

They’re not due out until early 2022 so I’ll keep my powder dry – a vital skill for a pirate – but they do look like they’d be fun to paint, I guess I’ll decide if they still tempt me nearer the time. In the meantime it’s interesting to see where Games Workshop decides to go with the warbands for the game as they move beyond the existing Age of Sigmar factions. Until now almost every warband in Underworld’s has been based on one of the AoS armies, albeit sometimes putting quite a unique spin on them. Every faction in AoS now has a warband to represent them in Underworlds however and so the studio have announced that they will be exploring  new and creative ideas, something the format is perfect for. Needless to say I’m extremely curious as to what they come up with in the months ahead. And speaking of warbands that showcase creative ideas…

Red Harvest

Regular readers will know that Warcry is one of my favourite GW games, and the only one that I play on a semi-regular basis. So far I’ve painted up 11 warbands, and it’s safe to say that more are in the pipeline. Only two of these however are what I think of as “official” Warcry warbands. Let me explain. In my mind Warcry is really two different games, one in which various gangs of Chaos worshipping maniacs battle each other in the ruins of the Eightpoints and one which serves as a skirmish game for any of the Mortal Realms various races. Just as I’m not interested in seeing Eldar or Orks in Necromunda I don’t tend to imagine the Eightpoints as busy with anyone and everyone from the wider Mortal Realms. Yes there will be times when the big players attempt to invade, and yes there will be small bands of brave and foolish treasure hunters attempting to loot the lost cities and fallen temples. However in the main this is supposed to be the Chaos Wastes re-imagined, a place twisted by the madness of the Gods, the crumbling streets haunted by dark magic and mutant beasts,  populated only by the degenerate and the insane and dominated by the dark citadel of the Everchosen himself. 

Now Warcry in its guise as “Age of Sigmar Skirmish” has been fairly well served. Warcry the game of scrapping Chaos gangs on the other hand has been fairly quiet in terms of releases. We had an initial wave of warbands, each of which was striking and original, and a few monsters and then it all tailed off. I couldn’t help but find myself wondering; was that it? Was Games Workshop just waiting for an opportunity to slot Warcry back into their frantic release schedule or had the game lived and died, abandoned on the road as the company marched onwards, to lie beside Mordhiem, Cursed City and all the rest, mourned by cultish followers who gnash their teeth in lonely darkness every time a space marine is released? 

Long story short I was pretty excited to see what they had to show us and Red Harvest did not disappoint.

Red Harvest

A new boxset for Warcry Red Harvest pits two new gangs against one another in the ruins of a Chaos mining facility. On one side we have the Darkoath Savagers, a brutal bunch who fight partly in the hopes of one day standing at the Everchosen’s side and partly because they’re trying to seize control of a reliable supply of shirts.

Darkoath 3

Boys and girls are represented in the warband, with the ladies looking just as brutal as the gents.

Darkoath 6

You really can’t put together a mob of under-dressed barbarians without a nod to Conan, although in this case GW are really making a nod to the barbarian from Heroquest – who was himself a nod to Conan.

Darkoath 1

Meanwhile the tribe’s shaman is this old woman who, like the Graeae from Greek mythology, has only one eye – and it’s not in her head.

Darkoath 2

Facing up against them we have Tarantulos Brood, spider men who do whatever a spider can. Having spotted that the Chaos star has 8-points and that spiders have eight legs these arachnophiles have put two and two together and made eight.

Spider Man

These are another of the strikingly original warbands that Warcry does so well, pushing the creative boundaries of the setting and exploring all the weird and wonderful cultures that arise in a land riven by the dark power of Chaos.

Tarantulos Brood 1

Needless to say I’m hard-pressed to say which of these warbands is my favourite and this is a boxset I will undoubtedly be buying. The set also provides loads of new terrain with which to expand the twisted landscape of the Eightpoints. Apparently this is what a Chaos-run mine looks like. What next, a Chaos market, farm or arena?

Chaos Mine

So far we’ve no way of knowing what, if anything, might lie beyond the horizon for Warcry. Will this boxset be a one off, or is it the start of another wave of regular releases? Looking on the bright side we know that there’s plenty of potential in the setting (one of the developers mentioned in an early interview that at least 50 warbands were considered at the concept design stage) and it’s proved to be popular. If we assume that they were testing the waters with the initial wave of warbands and the moneymen were pleased with the results and immediately order more to be made then, accounting for Covid and the delays associated with it, we should be due for a second wave of warbands to appear round about…now. Could Red Harvest be just the beginning? Might we see a new warband for Warcry appearing every quarter for the foreseeable future, alongside a new Blood Bowl team and a new gang for Necromunda? We would if I was running the world anyway!

Anyway, these are my thoughts, now I want to hear yours. Will you be joining me in the Eightpoints, preparing to overthrow Holy Terra or heading down to your local dungeon for a bit of Blood Bowl? As ever the comments box is all yours.


2016 – For Anyone Who Missed It

2016 – what a year eh! In many ways it was actually a pretty bad year, particularly if you’ve been following political developments around the world – or just happen to be a fan of living on Planet Earth. A lot of celebrities also died although sometimes it felt like they were just checking out early to avoid the rush.

For me though it’s actually been a very good year; I’ve moved in with my long term partner, I’m no longer a nomad living out of a rucksack and my job situation has actually settled down into something which, for the next year or so at least, almost resembles stability. It’s also been quite an exciting year for our hobby with Games Workshop both plundering its past and setting up what looks to be an equally exhilarating future. In the last twelve months we’ve seen the Wulfen come howling out of the warp (not with the best models mind, but it’s the thought that counts), the genestealer cults rising from the deepest hives and, just a few weeks ago, the dramatic return of a Daemon Primarch – Magnus the Red – at the head of a legion of simply beautiful Thousand Sons. In fact the Thousand Sons enjoyed two back-to-back releases this year, the first being the Burning of Prospero which featured the legion at the start of its journey into darkness. Combing models from both releases, alongside the aforementioned Wulfen, has the potential for some great games, modelling and general storytelling to book-end the Imperial era.

Age of Sigmar has been equally packed, we’ve seen the (often maligned) Fyreslayers – the second race to join the game as a completely new concept, alongside other Old-World-Warhammer factions re-imagined in the new setting. These latter have included the Sylvaneth – a new race developed from the treemen and dryads that used to hang out with the Wood Elves, and the Ironjawz, developed from the old Black Orcs and Big uns. We’ve also seen the return of the Old World of Warhammer (the World That Was – Age of Sigmar kids) through Total War: Warhammer (a game to which, I have to confess, I’ve developed a considerable addiction and which has sparked my interest in Warhammer like never before). Meanwhile White Dwarf itself came back – Grombindal having realised that this whole weekly-pamphlet idea was a mistake and what we really wanted was a gloriously chunky magazine full of interesting articles.

Oh, and I finally realised a longstanding ambition and went to Warhammer World!

warhammer-world-selfie

Excitingly, and for the first time ever, a side effect of having a proper house to live in is having all my miniatures in the one place. No longer must they lurk, lonesome and unloved, carefully packed in boxes. Instead they can stand proudly on a shelf built specially for them and that means we can have some group shots!

The largest part of my collection – by a long shot – are the Chaos Space Marines of the Beasts of Ruin. At the core of the army are a large number of marines, cultists and war-engines, dedicated to Chaos Undivided, and at the centre of that army is a host of Chaos Marines. Having completed my first 20-man squad of chaos marines late last year this year I started work on a second. Somebody told these lads there might be a Black Crusade on soon and as you can see they’re rather excited (they also heard conflicting rumours about a Penitent Crusade but luckily they don’t know what that is…)

all-chaos-marines-convert-or-die

Alongside them we have the pestilent servants of Nurgle. They too saw a boost to their numbers this year with the addition of a small squad of malodorous, yet still cheerful looking, terminators and a few boisterous Nurglings.

nurgle-convert-or-die

The worshippers of Khorne also saw a big boost this year, with plenty of berserkers, terminators and even an ogren, storming across the painting desk. Sadly Rannoghar Garran, the brutal Chaos Lord who will someday lead them, remains just a heap of bits. In his absence however Kharn the Betrayer was kind enough to step in and cover for him.

khorne-convert-or-die

The Slaaneshi contingent remains a much smaller part of the collection but, thanks to Dreadtober (this year ably orchestrated by JoeB of the Broken Paintbrush), they have at least been bolstered by the arrival of a Sonic Dreadnaught.

dreadtober-convertordie-8As for the Tzeentchian element, well they remain the smallest  faction of all but who knows, with all those Thousand Sons now available 2017 might just be their year…

chaos-sorcerers-convert-or-die

Of course, not everyone who worships Chaos wears power-armour, which brings us to the massed ranks of the lost and the damned themselves, the traitor guard. In the early months of 2016 they saw quite a lot of growth but progress has been decidedly slow since (read; nonexistent). Nonetheless the itch to paint more scruffy tech-barbarians hasn’t gone away so don’t imagine you’ve seen the last of them yet.

traitor-guard-convert-or-die

Over the last few months I’ve also put in a bit of work on my Orks. Some readers may recall that back in 2014 I set about repairing, repainting and generally ‘fixin’ up’ my entire Ork collection – with the result that by the time I’d finish I didn’t want to see the colour green ever again. Fast forward the best part of two years however and the call of the Waaagh was strong once more. Time to gather more boys and get ready to smash up the hoomie Imperium but good! Expect to see a few more of them in the new year.

all-orks-2016-convert-or-die

Because of the sheer size of the Ork collection, coupled with a severe lack of natural daylight to work with, that picture probably isn’t going to win any prizes unless they’re giving out awards for causing eyestrain, so here’s a group shot of all the greenskins I added to the collection in 2016.

2016-orks-convert-or-die

Last of all we have a scheming clan of man-sized rats. My Skaven have come on a great deal this year (they’re a whole different colour for one thing) but they’re still a long way from the chittering, scabrous horde I have in mind. The trouble is I’m not really an ‘army painter’. I admire anyone who’s able to sit down and batch paint hundreds of models, especially if they can do it to a high standard, but it isn’t me. At best I can manage two or three like this and that makes for slow going when one is painting legions of clanrats.

In an effort to set things right I’m setting myself a little challenge; every month in 2017 I will complete at least one model for my Skaven collection. Hopefully, by the end of the year, the army will have increased by more than just twelve clanrats but even if that’s all we see it will at least be a step in the right direction. Watch this space – and please, please do mock and shame me if I fail in this rather simple endeavour.

all-skaven-2016-convert-or-die

Other plans for the new year include more Orks (you didn’t think this was the only Meganob in the works now did you?) and getting my Slaaneshi gladiator painted up. Oh and then there’s this fellow, who’s going to be joined by a few friends…

skeleton-convert-or-die

Things I’m looking forward to in 2017:

Games Workshop have already announced that 2017 is going to be “bigger and better” than 2016 (although to be fair we never expected them to say “2017 will be slightly worse than 2016 and everything we have planned will disappoint you”). I’ve already waxed enthusiastic about the new models they showcased last week in their own review of the year but, having taken a few deep breaths and gone for a little lie down, here’s my slightly more considered thoughts on the year ahead.

 

Breaking the Habit

“For where two or three 40k fans are gathered together, there one will find a Sisters of Battle player complaining about how unloved they are” as Jesus could have said. Over the years many people have wondered what the origins of the “40,000” in Warhammer 40,000 is and at last Games Workshop have provided an official answer; it’s the number of years between each Sisters of Battle release. Perhaps they shouldn’t have put Axel Rose in charge of the project?

Personally I’m not even that interested in the Nuns with Guns but seriously Games Workshop, for the love of all that is holy, just give them their damn models! Over the last few years the level of fevered fantasising about nuns in bondage in the Wahammer scene has reached peaks normally only seen in the bar at the Conservative Party conference.

In the video which first revealed Magnus the Red (hiding in a bin because even the sons of the Emperor fall on hard times) the Thousand Sons were described as “coming soon”. The Sisters of Battle teaser at the end of the video featured Warhammer TV’s intrepid bin-raker Eddie commenting “cool – this isn’t released for months yet”. Yet the sages of the Internet gave it a good quarter of an hour after Magnus hit the shelves before deciding that the whole thing was a hoax. Games Workshop then upped the ante by including the Sisters in the Imperial Agents codex, alongside various other factions that don’t have plastic models and never will like the Grey Knights and Deathwatch. Deeply insulted Sisters fans frothed their rage up and down the Internet and Games Workshop responded by flashing this image at them.

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For those lucky enough to have been on a penitent crusade lately this is Saint Celestine, who – early in the New Year, will be heading into the Eye of Terror to give Chaos a good kicking. (Why us? What did we ever do to her?) Now one would assume she’d be doing this at the head of an army of the Brides of the Emperor – but no, she’s taking the Black Templars instead. One can only imagine that the Black Templars fighting the Black Legion in the dark will be a painter’s delight. Personally I’m looking forward to the scene in which Grimaldus blunders into a table and barks his shin, and Abaddon trips over the cat.

Now one might assume that this drip feeding of releases allows Games Workshop to build up interest in a faction that has been under-represented for a long time, and helps to space out what might otherwise be a rather overwhelming tide of models. However it’s starting to feel a little bit like a tug of war; Games Workshop admitting bashfully that they have the models but still unwilling to give them up, the fans – desperate to have the ball thrown for them – simultaneously wagging their tails and growling. Frankly the sooner the Sisters fans are put out of my misery the better. It’s getting to the stage where Chaos fans can’t hear ourselves complain over the sound of Sisters fans complaining. Still I think we can all hope that by the end of 2017 Games Workshop will have finally relented and handed over the models. The Sisters, like the Dark Eldar before them, can then ride off into the sunset with their new range of shiny models, and the rest of us can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Not that this will stop the Sisters fans moaning of course – they are creatures of habit after all…99810108001_sistersofbattlecannonessveridyan01

 

It’s Chaos Out There!

Depending on who you ask there are two facts you’ll discover about Chaos. One; we never get any models ever and Games Workshop actually hates us. Two; every release is Chaos, we’re always hogging the limelight and should give the (insert name of anyone apart from Space Marines here) a chance. It’s all a bit confusing until you remember that the faction loosely referred to as Chaos encompasses four gods (plus generally treacherous undivided baddies) – covering both deamons and mortals, nine Space Marine legions, and two games systems. To a fan of the Emperor’s Children the release of some Blood Reavers for Age of Sigmar may be Chaos but it’s as much use as telling an Imperial Guard fan “what are you complaining about – they released Space Wolves the other month!” (This is not the Leman Russ you’re looking for).

It would be unfair to ask or expect the kind of expansion and revamp of the Chaos line that it so desperately deserves – unfair on GW for setting such an ambitious expectation, unfair on fans of other races who may be less than enamoured by seeing nothing but spikey marines for the next twelve months and unfair on us Chaos fans and our wallets (I for one prefer a drip feed of releases that I can get my teeth into). In time however it would be nice to see the other Chaos factions get the treatment that the Thousand Sons just enjoyed. Everyone’s personal wishlist is different but if there’s one thing I’d like to see this year it’s a Thousand Sons -eque expansion upon the Emperor’s Children. Nurgle and Khorne are in need of love too of course, the other Greater Daemons would be nice to see, Obliterators are just terrible and all of the cult marines (with the exception of the Rubricae obviously) could use an update but it’s hard to deny that no-one has been neglected like Slaanesh’s followers among the Chaos Marines. Come on GW – give the Prince of Pleasure a little love. Who knows – you might enjoy it…

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Fulgrim – this could be you!

 

Not The End Times

So this year 40k turns 30, which many people believe makes it a fine time for it to have a mid-life crisis. There have always been a few voices calling the 40k timeline to be advanced, as though this was a novel and we’ve been waiting on a sequel to resolve the cliff-hanger ending for the last three decades. 40k however isn’t a novel, rather it’s a setting and the cliffhanger ending is the whole point.

Since the End Times event in Warhammer those voices have become a lot louder. Surely, they cry, it’s time for the same thing to happen in 40k! The problem is that a post-40k automatically invalidates the sense of doom in 40k itself. Based on the projections suggested by the current setting if a 41k existed at all it would mostly be about a post-apocalyptic version of the Tau throwing rocks at the last few genestealers, on a daemon world. The cornerstone of 40k is its spirit of apocalypse – a character which – sadly – is as familiar today as it was when they first designed it in the shadow of the Cold War. The forces which threaten to consume humanity at the close of the 41st Millennium are so vast, so terrible, that humanity’s insignificance is rendered in the starkest possible sense. That’s what makes it such great escapism – its potency is its mixing of the familiar with the alien. As a species we too have 99 problems – but at least the carnivorous swarms of the Tyranids aint one. It provides the comfort of action even if that action is ultimately futile – and have no doubt that for all the complaints that the Imperium wins every campaign those victories are fleeting and the wolves are at the door (not those Wolves obviously!). Unless something utterly unforeseen occurs to shake things up the fall of the Imperium is now inevitable and the galaxy of the 42nd Millennium will be a desolate place, scoured of life by the inhuman forces that have warred over it. There is no hand-waving our way out of this one and into an Age of Sigmaresque future. Any attempt to do so by Games Workshop will feel forced and will diminish the power of the setting they’ve already created.

Having said all that – and argued against the return of loyalist Primarchs – I’m still looking forward to seeing the setting progress, if not quite to the point at which Dante, Calgar and Azrael link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne as the bells ring for the closing of the 41st Millennium then at least getting a little closer to the moment of atomic midnight.

Ultimately that’s what we’re going to see and any suggestion otherwise seems like silliness. The End Times, much as many didn’t like their execution or outcome, now seem a necessary development for Warhammer. 40k has no need for such an event and perhaps never will. The road to that apocalypse is exciting enough without ever needing to reach the destination. There’s no point in wishing for the murder of the Golden Goose when the old bird still has so much life in her – but what a joy it’ll be to see the full might of the Dark Millennium’s forces clashing! Daemon Primarchs will walk, the Traitor Legions will return and all the races of the galaxy will be forced to escalate in return. The return of Magnus changed everything and the Imperium will never be the same again, but that doesn’t mean GW are planning to put a match to it quite yet.

Perhaps after another thirty years 40k will seem out of place, a bitter dystopian dinosaur in a more hopeful world. Our grandchildren will wonder what we saw in it and listen wide-eyed when we say “those were darker times kid, they shot a gorilla and the whole world went to pieces”. Then, and only then, can Abaddon tear his grandfather’s corpse from the Golden Throne as GW puts the old beast to bed. Until then let the galaxy burn!

 

The Siege of Terra

Lurching from one apocalypse to another the Black Library recently announced that after over a decade the Horus Heresy series is closing on the final battle. Some people complain that it’s too long, that there are too many books (42 so plus short stories), that it’s too damn complicated, that Horus fell too quickly (three books) and then advanced on Terra too slowly (he’d agree). Still it’s been quite the ride and the showdown should be suitable spectacular. Most likely it’ll take several (dozen) books to cover the siege itself, and that’s no bad thing, so we can’t expect to see the last shot fired before the end of the year but anticipate drama and destruction nonetheless.

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That’s it for me for this year so there’s just time to wish all my readers and internet-friends a very happy New Year and a suitably miniature-filled 2017. Unless of course it all ends before then in a fiery nuclear holocaust and only Oldhammer players survive, shielded behind their walls of lead models. That really would give anyone with a substantial collection of Sisters of Battle the last laugh…


The Path To Prospero

This weekend sees the release of a new boxed game from Games Workshop. Cast in the same mould as Betrayal at Calth this one will focus on the razing of the planet Prospero, home to the Thousand Sons legion of Magnus the Red, by his brother the Wolf King Leman Russ.6

So how did we get here? How did two legions of space marines, each claiming to be utterly loyal to the Emperor of Mankind, end up beating seven bells out of each other to such an extent that an entire planet was burned down? Well, gentle reader, let me explain – although it is a confusing tale and one which leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Emperor is either a) evil and using humanity as pawns in a fiendishly complex scheme of his own that is yet to become clear or b) so unbelievably stupid that you wouldn’t let him run a bath let alone an interstellar empire. For those of you who’ve not read A Thousand Sons or Prospero Burns yet this post is full of spoilers, better to come back later once you’ve read them yourself. 7

So the Emperor, so utterly arrogant that he couldn’t imagine being called anything else, decides that he’s spent long enough watching humanity scrabble in the radioactive dirt of the planet formerly known as Earth and he’s going to relocate every lost colony in the galaxy and create himself an Empire to be Emperor of (possibly because he was starting to feel a little self-conscious being called The Emperor when he was all by himself). In order to share the leg work of the galaxy re-uniting business he created himself a number of sons, not in the fairly exciting way that would have involved finding an Empress and possibly loosening up a little, but in a fairly dull way that involved being in a science lab instead. Each of these sons was particularly good at certain things, for example Dorn was good at building forts, Perturabo was good at knocking them over again, Fulgrim was good at picking clothes and Vulcan was good at living for a very, very long time whilst being terribly nice to everyone.

Magnus was designed to be good at magic. The key word in there is designed, remember that because it becomes important later, the Emperor specifically created Magnus with it in mind that he would be a dab hand at spells and so on. In fact it was generally reckoned that Magnus was the best wizard that had ever been, with the possible exception of the Emperor who was also very good at magic (alongside science and having big ideas). Another of the Emperor’s sons, Leman Russ, specialised in a combination of being loyal to the Emperor and killing people, which made him excellent as an enforcer in the event that any of his brothers got a bit out of line. He was also good with pets and really disliked magic.85

Anyway, the Great Crusade rolled along quite nicely, most of the humans in the galaxy were reunited into one sharing, caring happy family, or – if they didn’t want to be part of the Project for a New Imperial Century, obliterated to radioactive rubble instead. With everything proceeding nicely the Emperor headed home to work on a new Top Secret project, leaving his favourite son Horus in charge. Before he vanished into his lab and stopped answering his calls altogether however there was one last order of business to take care of; the Council of Nikaea. For some time the Imperium had been split on the question of magic and whether or not it was a good idea. Some, like Magnus, pointed to the enormous potential to do good offered by their powers, and noted that as mankind appeared to be evolving into a race of powerful magic users it might be worth getting out ahead of the game and being prepared for a magic dominated future when it arrived. Generally these people had magical powers themselves. The other side thought that magic was bad news, wizards were dangerous people, and the whole thing should be stopped at once. Generally these people didn’t have magical powers themselves and were probably a bit jealous of those who did. Some of them however, like Russ, had plenty of strange powers of their own, and liked hanging out with wizards themselves, but did a lot of hand-waving to justify it and not come off as massive hypocrites.

The Council of Nikaea was supposed to thrash this out once and for all, but instead it all turned into a bit of a show trial where Magnus was accused of being a very naughty boy and banned from doing any more magic at all. Interestingly, and as an aside, this judgement was regarded as a bad move by several of the Emperor’s sons who went on to side with him in the forthcoming civil war (Roboute Guilliman and the Khan for example), whilst others who agreed with him on this still managed to stab him in the back a short time later (Mortarion I’m looking at you). It also provided Lorgar, Primarch of the Word Bearers, with an excuse to infiltrate many of his brother’s legions under the guise of helping them come to terms with a life without magic. Quite why more of his brothers didn’t tell him where to shove his ‘help’ is unclear but it certainly gave Lorgar the excuse to go around knocking on doors asking if anyone had a few minutes to talk about our lord and saviour the Primordial Annihilator.   2

Anyway Magnus was rather good at wizarding and didn’t want to go back to living in the cupboard under the stairs. He was sure that if he could just show his dad how useful magic could be then the Emperor would recognise his error and take back his judgement (forgetting for a moment that the Emperor was well aware of what magic could do, being as he was spectacularly good at it himself). What was needed, Magnus realised, was a huge, over the top gesture, proving once and for all that magic was useful and, perhaps even more importantly, that Magnus was a good boy who deserved a second chance. Then they would cry and hug and probably do some quality father/son bonding – perhaps involving a fishing trip or attending some kind of sporting event.

Meanwhile Horus was starting to get bit cheesed off. He was finding out that being Warmaster was a lot harder than the Emperor had made it sound before he gave him the job and between his brothers squabbling and generally being dysfunctional, and trying to co-ordinate a war on an almost infinite number of fronts, he could also use a bit of a chat with the Emperor for a bit of fatherly advice. Unfortunately whenever he rang the Emperor he got his voicemail in the form of Malcador the Sigilite who told him that the Emperor was super busy dealing with something far more important than re-uniting humanity and Horus would just have to use his initiative. Regrettably Horus’s initiative was telling him to listen to Lorgar who was full of talk about evil gods in the Warp and how we should listen to them instead and how the Emperor had never loved them anyway (this being a rough summation of the path from loyal son to traitor that actually takes three whole books to play out). The Emperor, as it turns out, was well aware that these warp gods existed, and that they planned to corrupt mankind, but at no point did it occur to him to mention this to his sons. Instead, in a display of exceptional parenting, he waited until Horus was leading half the Imperium against him in civil war before declaring  something to the effect of “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal”.

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Anyway Magnus found out about what was happening and, having failed to convince Horus that he might be making a mistake in going against the Emperor’s will, decided to go against the Emperor’s will by using magic to project himself across the galaxy to warn his dad. Remember when you were a kid and you saw someone breaking the rules and ran to the teacher to tell, only to get in trouble yourself for being a tell-tale? Well that’s what happened to Magnus. Also when he projected himself into the Emperor’s lab he brushed aside all the wards which the Emperor had put there precisely to stop anyone using magic to project themselves into his lab, which caused a major infestation of daemons which to this day threatens to burst through and devour everyone. This ticked the Emperor off no end and he focussed his anger on Magnus and sent Russ to put him back in line. At this point the plot becomes a bit confused – some versions have it that Horus told Russ that Magnus was planning to trap him and to go in all guns blazing, or that the Emperor told Russ to kill Magnus, or that Russ was caging for a fight anyway and decided to have his revenge on Magnus for all the times he’d shouted ‘walkies’ at him or confused him by pretending to throw a ball whilst actually hiding it behind his back. The plot of the novel covering these events does nothing to clarify things and instead adds in an unnecessary shape-shifting daemon which only serves to muddy the waters and poke holes in the plot (bad boy Dan Abnett – and you’re usually so good).

Thus Russ and his Space Wolves arrive at the planet of Prospero and set about breaking everything in sight, a terrible battle ensues and Magnus teleports his legions off the planet and into the arms of an elaborate Tzeentchian scheme. And if you thought that was hard to follow you should read the bloody books!

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Looking over the events that shaped the Horus Heresy it’s hard to buy into the Imperial version of events, that the Emperor had a plan for humanity which would have kept us safe and secure into a glorious future but was blindsided by Horus’s short-sighted betrayal. Indeed it’s pretty obvious that some of the Primarchs were designed to fail. From the moment of their creation they were set on paths that led them to Chaos and the Emperor seemed to be deliberately shaping events to encourage them on that journey. Magnus, Angron, Curze, Lorgar, even Horus himself; all seem to have been the victims of a deliberate set-up. I’ve even wondered if the Emperor only despatched the Wolves to Prospero because Magnus was so stubborn in remaining loyal when any right thinking individual would have told him to get stuffed long before. (Note also that whilst both Curze and Angron had their knuckles rapped at various points the only other legion to be shamed and reprimanded in quite such a grand fashion were the Word Bearers, again for too much loyalty rather than not enough).

One possibility is that some of the Primarchs were intended as deliberate sacrifices. After all the Emperor is known to have made a pact with the Chaos gods in exchange for the knowledge required to make the Primarchs in the first place. What we don’t know is what the Gods asked for in return. Perhaps the Gods said to the Emperor ‘Kill me a son’ (and the Emperor says “Man, you must be putting me on!”)

Ultimately much remains unknown about the Emperor and his motivations but what we do know is that he foresaw the Heresy, if not its full extent, and his actions did more to cause it than to prevent it. Here we have a man – supremely skilled with magic – who, through elaborate schemes and misdirection, created the modern Imperium upon which the Gods of Chaos have feasted for ten thousand years. Ultimately Horus may have fallen at the Siege of Terra but it was the Gods who were victorious. The Imperium, with its teeming millions and constant warring and plotting, has been the perfect vessel for their schemes for ten millennia. Tzeentch loves those who struggle against their fate, all the while binding themselves tighter and tighter within his schemes, and the Imperium of Man has struggled so very hard indeed. The engines of the state are devoted to covering up the existence of Chaos and stopping an outbreak of pyskers, all the while preventing mankind from achieving its psychic potential. All the races which might prove a threat to the dominance of Chaos (the Orks, Tyranids, Necrons, Tau, even the Eldar) find themselves under the Imperium’s guns. And if you still don’t believe me that the Emperor is either serving Tzeentch, or actually is Tzeentch himself, take a look at that double-headed eagle banner and tell me you’ve not seen it somewhere before…imperium

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I rest my case.


I Come Not To Bring Words But Fire

In the Horus Heresy novels the Warmaster’s equerry is an individual known as Maloghurst the Twisted. For those who’ve not read the books the nick-name comes from the complexity of his mind but is later compounded by the crippling injuries he suffers when his Stormbird is shot down (that’s not a spoiler – it happens four pages into a series of 34 books and counting). Maloghurst appears first in the early novels, particularly Horus Rising, then reappears later on in Vengeful Spirit (which I’ve not read yet so keep your spoilers to yourself!) As well as being an advisor to Horus he also serves as an enforcer, strategist and herald to the Warmaster.

Maloghurst

Maloghurst – as depicted in Forge World’s Horus Heresy 2: Massacre

You may be wondering where all this is going. When I came across the rules for Maloghurst in Forge World’s Horus Heresy series it struck me that for a Chaos lord to stand out he really needs an equerry. Horus has Maloghurst, Angron has Kharn, Lorgar has Erebus and so on. If my own Chaos Lord Kallamoon Kell was to keep up with the Joneses, as it were, he’d better find himself an equerry too. Someone to threaten his enemies into submission, rally his troops and carry his banner. Thus Kordel Bitterblade was born.

Once a proud Astartes, then a twisted son of Chaos. Built for war then broken by it. Shattered by fell weaponry on a nameless terror-world, rebuilt upon Kell’s order by the finest of his flesh-wrights to serve as his herald, to go before him so that all might know the horror of his wrath and the desolation of his mercy.
Chaos Space Marine Wudugast ConvertOrDie 40k (18)

Chaos Space Marine Wudugast ConvertOrDie 40k (20)

Chaos Space Marine Wudugast ConvertOrDie 40k (22)

At some point much of Kordel’s body has been rebuilt following terrible injuries (echoing those suffered by Maloghurst in a little nod to the original character). To represent this I gave him a bionic leg and arm to replace those he’d lost – a very literal sign of what the favour of the Chaos gods will cost.

I used the banner as an opportunity to practice freehand, with what I think has been a little success. I’m also rather pleased with the greenstuff work on his shoulder, creating a fanged mouth biting at a strip of sigil-tattooed parchment.

Chaos Space Marine Wudugast ConvertOrDie 40k (19)Chaos Space Marine Wudugast ConvertOrDie 40k (21)

I’m still in two minds about the background of the character. Was he a rival Chaos Lord who fought against Kell for dominance – only to be defeated and rebuilt in shame as a banner-slave to remind everyone of what passes for justice and compassion from the Lord of Ruin? Or was he a former battle-brother of Kell’s who fought at his side for the Emperor’s glory, fell alongside him and – after nearly dying in the defence of his lord – was rebuilt and honoured with his current role in recognition of his loyalty? Or is the truth somewhere between the two – were they once brothers, then rivals? Does his rank and the banner he carries serve as a symbol of both treachery and fidelity? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


The Wolf Is Loose

The world of Warhammer 40k is not like our own. That really should be clear by now but sometimes I feel it’s still overlooked. There may be super-soldiers, space battles, teleporters and lasers aplenty but this is not the future. In spite of the knights, the medieval and monastic overtones, the zealotry of the Inquisition and the daily burning of heretics this isn’t the past either. This is its own beast, a complicated fantasy where daemons really do walk amongst us, legions of ten thousand year old villains plot eternal revenge and elves laugh from the gulfs of space as the realms of men crumble. Dying heroes are locked within walking sarcophagi so they might march out and fight again. The power of wizards is a known, albeit rarely trusted, element in the fabric of society. The Imperium of Man is a crumbling fortress, a bastion of civilisation surrounded not by the dark depths of the wildwood but the even darker depths of space. It’s just that some of the wolves that lurk out there in the wild places are not devils but heroes.
Wulfen Art Eye of Terriers
Some would accuse modern 40k of being sterile, of lacking the feral intensity it possessed back in the early days. Leaving the shackles of nostalgia aside for a moment (and let’s be honest, that has a lot to do with it) do they have a point? Much as the oldhammer crowd might love to keep the spirit of the elder (not eldar) models alive there’s no shaking the fact that modern sculpting blows the old stuff out of the water. Want proof? Take a look at the old Bloodthrister, the one we suffered until less than a year ago. Sculpting, however, does not equate to spirit.
Old 40k was weird and rebellious. New 40k is nuanced and complex. We’ve pushed back the boundaries of the known, filled in the blank spaces with official cannon and driven the wild beasts of our imagination into the darkest corners. Now even those dark weird corners are coming under the spotlight; the strange things that make 40k different and iconic are being realised in modern plastics. We’ve had the eldar’s clown-actors that guard a secret library. We’ve had the priest-engineers that coax life into the troubled ghosts of ancient engines they no longer understand. Now it’s the turn of the barbarian super-solider knights who’re actually werewolves.
Any drunk fool can come up with ideas this mad, hodgepodgeing concepts together into a messy lump of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’. The brilliance has been in making it compelling.
I know people, and I’m sure we all do, who struggle with fantasy and science fiction. They flounder, unable to stretch their imaginations around it all. Please keep in mind that I mean to cast no aspersions here – it is what it is. They’re flustered by it. “But it’s not real”, they cry, “It’s just a fantasy. Orcs and elves don’t really exist!” Most, if not all, of us reading this blog do not, I suspect, suffer from this problem. We almost certainly find orcs and elves altogether too real. Nonetheless when someone told me, via the pages of a very old White Dwarf magazine, that some heroic werewolves had spent 10,000 years hunting down a (compelling if regularly villainous) baddie through a weird patch of space where actual daemons lurked around every corner and I bought into it without missing a beat… Well, suffice to say that was a fine day for the imagination.
Wulfen Art
I loved Abnett’s shamanic portrayal of the Wolves in Prospero Burns (and in spite of the book’s flaws it remains a standout from the Horus Heresy series). I have high hopes that when I sit down to read Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s depiction of Ragnar Blackmane I’ll be similarly enthralled. Beyond this however the poor old Wolves haven’t had the best of times in recent years. Whilst other factions have developed layers of complexity and depth the sons of Fenris have turned into Space Vikings who somehow manage to maintain close friendships with wolves – whilst at the same time wearing wolves. Then again this is 40k where the average serf dreams of someday finding work as a servo-skull so maybe things aren’t so different for the average wolf who hopes that, if he works hard and dedicates himself to the Allfather, he might end up becoming a Space Marine’s coat.

Murderfang

There’s a bit of a recurring theme of Space Wolf miniatures showing good ideas shoddily executed. I rather like the current crop of dreadnaughts – and Murderfang, much though he is hated in some corners of the internet, smacks of raw genius to me. Whoever thought “Hmmm…. Wulfen are cool. Dreadnaughts are cool. Let’s put a Wulfen in a Dreadnaught!” and then actually pulled it off is owed a pint by me. I’m also rather fond of the Stormfang (I known right, everybody hates that model, whatever is wrong with me?). In fact I continue to believe that covering the front end of it with orky-buzzsaws and turning it into a World Eaters attack craft is one of the best things I haven’t built yet.

Sadly the GW team are still struggling to design decent looking wolves. The Fenrisian wolves may be better than those awful lumps that the Warhammer goblins have to ride around on but they still look fairly ropey to anyone who’s seen an actual wolf. Or a modern miniature for that matter. The Thunderwolf Cavalry are a bit better but not to such a degree that they can carry the show on their own. As for Logan Grimnar’s wolf-drawn flying boat – I want to love it, I really do. If we’re going to have space Vikings then let’s really go for it with a model that’s burst out of Norse myth via the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium. I keep trying to tell myself that the model itself isn’t too bad, that it’s the studio colour scheme and cartoony style that lets it down. Some days I almost believe myself…

Leman Russ

I want to like the Wolves. Maybe it’s fair to say I want this too much. They are a proud, feral warrior brotherhood, a holdover from more heroic days. They are the Imperium’s outsiders, the noble savages who go their own way. Regardless of who tells them otherwise they stand together and fight for what’s right. Heroes are thin on the ground in 40k. Outside of a dog a wolf might just be man’s best friend. When the Wolves drove off the agents of the Ecclesiarchy I cheered with the best of them.
None of which changes the fact that, more often than not, the complexities of these shamanic warriors are pushed aside and we end up stuck with the cartoon Space Vikings – and none of the nuance of real Vikings. At times it all feels a little cut-and-pasted. They feast in mead halls (in space!), they worship Space-Odin, they cover themselves in Space-runes. It brings us back neatly to the discrepancy between complex-40k and simplistic-40k. Sometimes the people of Fenris appear as a shamanistic hardship culture, tribal, totemistic and predator emulating. Other times they live in a Hagar the Horrible theme park. And can someone explain how a planet with no obvious plant life still manages to support such a large population of alpha predators – all of whom have nothing to do all day but battle each other? Far better the haunting glimpses of beasts in the icy wastes and the chilling question – if there are no wolves on Fenris then who howls in the night?
In the most recent codex the fiction took another turn for the worse with the introduction of a crudely bolted-on ‘magical-winter’ theme. Glimmerfrost crystals are used to power ice-weapons and at one point the wolves even battle a pack of Ice Trolls. One feels that smart-arse remarks like “World of Warcraft just called, they want their IP back” might send GW’s layers into a flurry though so let’s move swiftly on.

Stormcaller 1

I’ve never painted a Space Wolf so here’s one by mate Sam instead. Check out more of his work here.

The background fiction for the Wulfen has always been pretty unequivocal – their return to real-space heralds the Time of Ending – or more accurately The Wolf Time. Obviously, given what’s happened just across the wall in Warhammer itself, this has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst those who think that GW may be about to kill the golden goose. What about the models themselves though? Are they worthy of all the hype and consternation that surrounds them?

Well, at first glance I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. Overall it’s undoubtedly a mixed bag with some definite hits and, unfortunately, a few misses as well. Take a look at this one for instance:

Wulfen 1

Overall I think he’s rather impressive and a lot of boxes are definitely being ticked. The snarling expression is suitably fierce and animalistic and the hair is a wildly dishevelled mane without the appearance of being styled that way (some of the ‘standard Space Wolves’ undoubtedly spend too long in front of the mirror applying gel). The armour is battered and has clearly been subject to numerous field repairs down the millennia and all the expected trinkets and trophies are in place. The pose is full of power and energy and those wolf skulls on the backpack are dying to be snipped off and used as helms for your wolf lords, wolf priests or whomever else.
On the other hand the gun on the backpack looks a bit tacked on and impractical and GW still haven’t worked out how to transition between bare flesh and fur (having presumably learned nothing from the fantasy beastmen and their chest wigs).
Wulfen Champion
Not all of them however are quite so successful. The squad’s leader, for instance, appears to be the victim of the creative team trying too hard, robbed of instant-classic status by his weird dancer’s pose. All the components are in place, and the paint job is considerably better than on his squad mates (more on that later) but his stance suggests landing with style rather than launching with ferocity and that’s not right. It’s all about displaying the character of the creature depicted, rather than simply what it’s capable of. Yes, a Wulfen does have the poise, balance and acrobatic skill to make an excellent ballerina – it’s just that it would rather be ripping your head off.
Wulfen Selfie
This one in particular bothers me and one has to ask if the studio team were having an off day when they put it together. Unfortunately the only image I’ve managed to find of it so far is rather small – it’s almost as though GW were hiding it at the back and hoping we wouldn’t notice. Hopefully once better images start to circulate I’ll be able to update this post with something easier to make out. Edit: Found one at last!

Wulfen
Of course there’s a lot to be said for the twisted, animalistic super-warrior looking into the dead eyes of the skull and recognising the humanity that both have lost (regardless of the fact that they undoubtedly nicked the idea from me). However why would he do that whilst running full pelt? Is he in fact just throwing the skull over his shoulder? What’s going on with his other paw – swatting at a fly? If someone had put this together as a conversion I’d suggesting they swapped out a few components to make the model more cohesive and give it more direction – as a part of the studio showcase though I’d say it’s unacceptable.
Oh and I’m sure I’m not the only one who, when he saw the first blurry images that ‘leaked’ online, thought this wolf was looking at himself in a little hand-mirror or possibly taking a selfie?

Old Wulfen

The last time the Wulfen were roaming our tabletops this was how they looked. I’m not going to pretend, out of nostalgia or otherwise, that they were without their flaws but they’re still models I remember fondly. The teeth on the blade of the leader is a nice touch and the faces are generally far superior to most of their modern counterparts. The biggest difference though is in the legs. Where the new Wulfen have bestial hocks and paws the older models simply had the legs of ordinary Space Marines. Whilst the latter lacks a little in terms of imagination I actually prefer it to the new iteration which at times seems overly obvious and equally uninspired. Surely something midway between the two could have been possible? After all this is the studio itself were talking about, the creative fountainhead from which Games Workshop’s world renowned product line springs. Surely when there are people out there creating Space Wolf models as good as these GW should be rising to the challenge of making models that are even better, even fiercer and more impressive. They’ve shown time and again recently that there is a reason that they still stand at the top of their field – the Blightkings, the Bloodthirster, the Ad Mech, all have proven their skills as leaders in miniature design. There is no need to aim low here, these are the Wulfen. Any potential customer already knows what they are buying into, knows that we’re off the edge of the map, into the dark corners of the 40k universe. Here be dragons indeed. The lowest common denominator have no place here. In the end I almost feel that the designers have acted like the Adeptus Mechanicus themselves – not fully capturing the creativity of yesteryear, merely replicating it.

Wulfen Space Wolves

It’s become a bit of a cliché but I suspect that the Wulfen would look better painted differently. The studio scheme makes them too clean ad that robs them of a lot of their impact. I understand the need to maintain visual cohesion across the range as a marketing tool but just think how much more impact the Wulfen would have if they were painted in heresy/pre-heresy-era colours. Let’s take a look at the two schemes; first the Heresy era…

Heresy Era Space Wolf

… and then the paler 40k scheme.

Space Wolf 40k
Regardless of whether the 13th Company paused in their marauding, set aside the hunt for Abaddon and Magnus and sat down to repaint their armour, wouldn’t the darker scheme alone give them greater visual impact? Right now they are too bright, too heroic, too much like cartoon characters. Look again at the first piece of art I showed above. That to me is how the Wulfen should look, the Imperium’s own monsters, equal in their ferocity and rage to the daemons they battle. These are creatures of nightmare, monsters who come tearing out of the darkness and never for a moment seem like golden heroes. There is no glorious war here, no champions, just vicious, rage-filled animals tearing their victims apart with their hands.

Wolf gone bad: leaving aside the hints of chaos these traitor Space Wolves from Alex of Leadballoony has a feral intensity that the official Wulfen fail to match. Mördaren (on the left) in particular has something of the werewolf about him.

Overall though I’d call this kit a success, although it’s not one that will reach its full potential painted to the studio style and assembled to match the figures on the box. Swap a few components in, paint them darker and grubbier, emphasise their monstrousness and you’ll be well on the way to creating your own pack of werewolves truly worthy of the 41st Millenium.

The Wulfen have always been exemplars of everything that makes 40k so magnificent, everything that pulls me back to it time and time again. The models themselves could have been better executed but there’s always room for clever converters to make improvements. 40k was missing its wolves, it was weaker without them and regardless of their flaws I’m glad to see them back.

All images, unless otherwise credited, belong to Games Workshop and are used with a flagrant disregard for permission.


The Betrayal At Calth

‘My devotion is my strength.’ Lorgar clenched his perfect teeth. ‘You have no heart, and no soul.’ A snort blackened his angelic features with a disgusted twist. ‘I pray that one day, you feel as I feel. Would you smile if one of Ultramar’s worlds died in fire? Tarentus? Espandor? Calth?’
– The Primarch Lorgar to his brother Roboute Guilliman in the ruins of Monarchia.
From The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.

Well here we are at last, official memorabilia from Lorgar and Angron’s show-stopping tour of Ultramar. For those of you who’ve been cast adrift in your incubation pods by the machinations of the Chaos Gods and have only just been rediscovered by civilisation, today sees the release of Betrayal at Calth, the first plastic boxset for Warhammer 30k (in 28mm scale)*. For us fans of the Heresy this is quite a big moment, the latest step in an evolution that has taken the story of Horus and the founding of the Imperium from myth and legend into a fully fleshed out universe in its own right. For those loyal to Chaos this is where that ten thousand year old grudge really began. Oh and Space Marine fans get more plastic marines to play with – but you were never short of those were you 😉

*Caveats abound as fans of the tiny titans from Adeptus Titanicus emerge from the woodwork to demand that they are not forgotten by history. Somewhat pedantically…

A Place In The Background

There’s really only one place to start the Heresy. Before Isstvan, or Davin, or even Ullanor; Monarchia. In the ruins of that world the Great Crusade went sour.

However although Monarchia makes for a great scene in a novel it hardly works as a gripping battle on the tabletop. Both players set up their armies. Place the model for the Emperor in the middle. Knock down all the Word Bearers miniatures. Both players pack up and go home. Word Bearer’s player bears a grudge for the next fifty years and plots genocidal retribution against the Ultramarines player.

It wasn’t until Calth that this grudge-match finally got the chance to be realised. Thus Calth makes a natural start-point to GW’s latest exploration of the Heresy. It also featured just two legions, unlike Isstvan III (four legions) or Isstvan V (eleven) which makes it much more user friendly as an introduction to the game. And for anyone thinking ‘what about Prospero?’ – well those two Legions (Space Wolves and Thousand Sons) would require very distinct miniatures and rules, rather unsuitable for a mass-appeal starter set. They’d also take away some of the thunder from Forge World exploration of that iconic campaign – although one wonders if GW might be planning some kind of follow-up or expansion set to coincide? At this stage one can only guess.

Many people have wishlisted about seeing a match-up between one of the other long-standing legion grudges from the Heresy era – Iron Warriors vs Imperial Fists is a popular choice, although I would have preferred Night Lords vs Dark Angels (or, ending with a twist, Dark Angels vs Dark Angels). However all these legions have, to a greater or lesser extent, unique characteristics that make them visually distinct and this would run counter to the design philosophy of this boxset. The message from GW is clear; if you want Imperial Fists vs Iron Warriors then paint them yellow and silver – and many people will. If you want more than that Forgeworld have come to the rescue with their Legion Upgrade kits which allows you to turn these models into the legion of your choice – although unless you’re a real nerd about getting the armour mark right on your Space Marine’s knees you could do this already.

Calth

Why Now?

I suppose my first question, when it comes to this latest development, is not why they’ve done it but why it’s taken them so long to get round to it? Surely they’ve known this was a goldmine for a very long time. Some would say that until now the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have been taking up valuable space in stores but frankly those ranges have seen such minimal investment over the last few years that this hardly seems convincing, especially for a company as large and businesslike as GW. Others would suggest that this is intended to support their finances if Age of Sigmar proves to be a less than resounding success – and certainly there may be something to this. If AoS succeeds all well and good, if it flops then at least there is the Horus Heresy to fall back on. It’s rather unfair that so many conversations about the Betrayal at Calth are currently being derailed by rAge Against the Sigmarines, but understandably the death of Warhammer has been the defining moment for the hobby this year and there are naturally going to be comparisons.

In contrast to AoS Betrayal at Calth seems a far more conservative move. Rather than burn the world down and start afresh Calth builds on an already popular series (ironically because burning the world down was exactly what the Word Bearers were planning…). Instead of offering new races to play it simply expands the range for one that’s already popular. The boardgame is also a clever addition. Rather than asking new players to paint up hundred of models before they can take their legion to war they start off with a few squads and a game to play with them. If they enjoy it they can add more units and expand up to larger battles. Again one has to wonder why they didn’t do something similar set in the Old World, a skirmish scale game set in the ruins of an Empire city as a last few heroes struggled to stall the End Times and stop the final victory of Chaos. They could have called it Mordheim  or something…

I could speculate about this a little more but frankly AoS is taking over enough other topics of conversation at the moment and to look at it properly demands a blog (or perhaps a book) in its own right – moving on!

Of course many people will be enjoying their first chance to look at the new rules, but even GW admits that they are mostly a bonus. The real meat here is the models themselves.

Contemptor

I’ll admit I’m not at all a fan of the Contemptors, much preferring a standard dreadnaught (even if it does look like a fridge on legs). This new one, sadly, does nothing to change my mind, but if you like Contemptors (and as far as I can tell most of you do) then this should be good news round your house. In fact as the model seems to be extremely popular making it more widely available seems like a no-brainer and I expect to see one in every household by the end of the year.

Being plastic it should be easier to convert that the Forge World variants so I might decide to pick one up at some stage, either to convert into a Chaos Contemptor (I like them better for some reason) or, if I’m feeling brave and want to break out the greenstuff, a Mhara Gal.

Chaplain

Of course, you can’t have the Word Bearers without their chaplains, bringing the truth of the Primordial Annihilator to the impure servants of the False Emperor.

Personally I would have preferred something more like Zardu Layak, which frankly would have been a ‘must buy’ for me. However once again the model they did release seems like a savvy choice, being usable as a chaplain or captain for any legion, or for any loyalist chapter in 40k, with the exception of the Wolves. This, however, is why I start to find fault with the release because one of the few places this guy isn’t a neat fit is amongst the Word Bearers themselves. By Calth they were revelling in their new faith, throwing off the secrecy that they had girded themselves with for so long, and now looked more like this.

Zardu Layak

I can see why they chose the route they did because this is a damn fine model with an amazing future ahead of it, both in its own right and as the basis of all kinds of conversions. However he still looks like a loyalist to me and with my focus very much on the forces of Chaos at the moment I’m struggling to see how I could fit it into my collection without destroying many of the elements that make it so striking.

Cataphractii
CataphractiiMore exciting by far, for me, are the Cataphractii. I wanted to see models for these since long before Forge World released their versions and if I ever get round to working on my loyalists again these will be essential purchases. I can also imagine Black Legion fans snapping these up. A few restrained conversions (snarling helms, daemonic weapons) could easily turn these in Falkus Kibre and the surviving Justaerin.

For anyone else firmly rooted in the 41st Millennium these could still make a stylish addition to any Chapter’s First Company. As for the Chaos Legions, most have changed sufficiently that these no longer work for them but there are a few possibilities – Emperor’s Children still love an ostentatious suit, Thousand Sons haven’t changed much (bless them, they can’t really anymore can they?) and of course there’s still the Word Bearers themselves.

Captain

Just as the Word Bearers have their Dark Apostle so the Ultramarines have a suitably square-jawed and heroic looking Captain to lead them. For Space Marines players this chap looks to be another cracking addition to the range. At last here is a model for a generic Chapter Master, meeting the new Games Workshop policy of ‘no model, no codex entry’. Unfortunately, I’m led to believe that this same policy has seen Chapter Masters reduced from a unit in their own right to an upgrade for Captains. Nonetheless if you’re just starting out and want the big man himself to lead your army (and why not – start with a hero you can believe in!) but don’t want to tackle converting your models just yet, this is the miniature for you.

One other thing that struck me, and this is rather late in the game to be mentioning to Games Workshop, but doesn’t he look better in Word Bearer’s colours? I can really see him as the bullish captain of a Word Bearers chapter – not yet as tainted as his Chaplains but vicious in his determination to prove himself in the new creed. Likewise the Chaplain looks much better painted as an Ultramarine. Head over to the Games Workshop site and see if you agree with me.

The Marines

Space Marines

As for the marines – well they’re basically just marines. Unless this is your first day in the hobby (in which case stick with me kid, I’ll see you right) you’ve already made up your mind about them. If you like supersoldiers in power-armour these are your lads. If you’d prefer space elves or green dudes with rusty hatchets then this isn’t for you. Oh and if you’re looking for black-powder guns, handlebar moustaches, floppy hats and cannons then not only have you found the wrong Empire but I’ve got very bad news so you’d better sit down and prepare yourself for a shock.

For connoisseurs of power-armour (read nerds) it’s rather nice to get a better range of marks available for modelling and converting (I rather like those heavy studded grieves and the snouts of the helms) but it’s hardly a deal breaker for me. Some of you though will undoubtedly be wetting yourselves.

Getting more access to heresy era weaponry is more exciting – especially for those of us who’s predilections lie towards the evil and chaotic. Our thin-blooded inheritors in the Imperium may have chosen to upgrade to newer models of rocket-launchers but we who fought and fell alongside our Primarchs prefer something a little more old fashioned. Iron Warriors fans must be salivating.

Again though the generic nature of these models is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand you can paint them as any legion, but on the other hand there’s nothing at all to distinguish them beyond the colour they’re painted. Part of what makes the Heresy so compelling is the different character that the Legions have developed – and that character is much deeper a more complex than simply ‘this one is red, this one is blue’. I’m not suggesting that everyone in the Word Bearers was running around looking like the Gal Vorbak but at the moment there’s nothing to distinguish them from Blood Angels, or Alpha Legionaries pretending to be Blood Angels. Of course Forge World are here to help you, but it’ll cost more. Then again you’re already making a saving compared to buying from Forge World. Thus I’m hesitant to say this release is that great if you’ve already established your legion – but if you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the Heresy then now is the time to do it. Start off with a few models, play the board game, add a few more and slowly upgrade. Who knows – stick with it and someday you could have an army as impressive as this one?

Now for the real question; if I were to pick this up – and I won’t because I’m far too busy preparing my Black Crusade for the Second Siege of Terra to worry about a failed revolt ten millennia ago – but if I was – Iron Warriors or Night Lords?

All images copyright Games Workshop. Obviously.