Tag Archives: Miniatures

Reinventing Chaos – Part 1

I’ve been collecting Chaos models for at least seven years now and have racked up something in the vicinity of 7000 points (don’t ask me how many models, I’m not counting them!). In a collection of such size there’s always going to be a few models that no longer impress you, miniatures which for one reason or another never quite worked out or which simply no longer fit in alongside their brothers. Then there are the conversions which now look wonky and the paintjobs which, regardless of how good you thought they were at the time, now just look sloppy. In spite of their flaws some of them have earned their place in the collection, adding to its sense of history and progression, capturing your development as a hobbyist and reminding you of the challenges and triumphs along the way. Others are fit only for the bits bin or to get packed away until their fate is decided. A few, however, are redeemable. Thus I’m inaugurating this occasional series of posts to chart the redemption and resurrection of these fallen heroes. Setting the ball rolling here’s a Chaos Marine I painted back in 2011 (excuse the ancient photograph which manages to do him even less justice than he deserves).

Bloody Ancient Chaos Marine Convert or Die

I still love his huge mutant claw, much as it may not be to everyone’s taste, but the bolter clasped in his other hand was making him look unbalanced and it had to go. Indeed, in spite of having built several models this way in the past myself, the one handed bolter look is something of a pet peeve of mine (unless cleverly supported with straps, being reloaded, etc). Many of the models scheduled for reworking are those which, presumably as a result of temporary insanity, I posed wielding their bolters one handed. Whilst I was about it I also took the opportunity to touch up the paintwork – Duncan Rhodes would not have approved of the “one thick coat” which parts of this model were shamed by.

Chaos Marine Convert or Die (1)

Chaos Marine Convert or Die (2)

Chaos Marine Convert or Die (3)

Chaos Marine Convert or Die (4)

Chaos Marine Convert or Die (5)

Improvement? I certainly think so. As ever though, your feedback is greatly appreciated.

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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!

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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…


Warhammer World – Part 1

For many of us the name Warhammer World is synonymous with the heartland of our hobby. As the flagship store, events hall, exhibition centre and the home of the design studio it’s a name almost as well known as Games Workshop itself. For years I’ve wanted to visit, primarily to see the series of huge displays, dioramas and miniatures collections on display. When work took me to Nottingham for a conference recently I knew it was time to take advantage of being in town (a mere 500-odd miles from my usual haunts) and take the chance to see it all for myself. So please excuse the shameless self-indulgence of these posts – I am after all essentially showing my holiday snaps – and the quality of the images. I did my best but between the glass cabinets and the dramatic lighting it wasn’t always easy. For those of you who’re already familiar with Warhammer World much of this will be old hat – and nothing in comparison to actually seeing the place for yourself – but for those from further afield hopefully this  showcase will help you to tap into the great well of creativity that the dioramas and displays represent. For me I found seeing the displays hugely inspiring, something that will hopefully come through in my output over the next few weeks, and with luck a few readers might find yourselves equally enthused and energised. Plus this way I can put all my pictures in one place instead of having to show people individually – something that appeals to my sense of laziness inordinately!

So, without further ado, step this way. Before we begin I just need to find somewhere to park (I jest of course, this vehicle doesn’t have nearly enough spikes, chains and trophies to be my wheels).05As soon as you walk in to the exhibition space the senses are assaulted (in the best possible way) by this delightfully old-school John Blanche diorama. Bearing in mind the vintage of the models, and the fact that large parts of it are clearly made of polystyrene, the fact that it holds up so well next to modern pieces – built with the full technological and financial power of the company today – is extremely impressive. It may be a little rough around the edges but it responds with a boundless, energetic creativity, unburdened by the restrictions imposed by decades of development. I love the modern GW universes and I’ve no wish to return to dwarves in flowery shirts but I’m glad that in this age of Sigmarites on the side of trams and staff looking distinctly uncomfortable when I mentioned Warhammer* this third-edition mid-eighties madness is still given pride of place.

*I just said I knew more about it than AoS. I wasn’t an ass about it! There was a combination of fear and resignation in the staffer’s eyes though when I mentioned it, they must be sick to the eye-teeth of people moaning about it by now.john-blanche-dwarves-and-undead-convertordie-5This isn’t a lament for lost creativity however because what follows is even better. Room after room of spectacular displays covering the grim darkness of the far future, the ruins of the Old World and the bright new future of Sigmar’s mortal realms. The dioramas in particular were simply jaw dropping – this was what drew me to visit in the first place and they did not disappoint. I was actually so impressed by them that I’ve devoted several posts to them and will be putting them up over the next few days. On my arrival the extremely talkative and friendly staffer who met me said “Take as many photos as you like mate” and I took him at his word (so strap yourselves in – there’s a lot of pictures to come!)

john-blanche-dwarves-and-undead-convertordie-4john-blanche-dwarves-and-undead-convertordie-3john-blanche-dwarves-and-undead-convertordie-2What – did you think I was joking when I mentioned dwarves in flowery shirts? Perhaps in a future Blachitsu we could get some kind of explanation for this wonderfully mad fashion choice. Additional credit has to be given for the quality of his moustache as well, something even the most stylishly hirsute of Fyreslayers would struggle to replicate.john-blanche-dwarves-and-undead-convertordie-1…And is that a lady dwarf? Clearly the 80’s was a radically different world – dwarfing today having become a solely male profession.john-blanche-dwarves-and-undead-convertordie-6Next to it we have this display showing a bunch of Empire chaps having a bit of a showdown with some lizardmen in an ancient temple. I must confess however that I know next to nothing about the origins of the piece so its significance was rather lost on me.

Edit: Thanks to Warburton  I now know a little bit more about this McVey classic. Anyone who’s interested should take a look here.img_586306As well as the dioramas Warhammer World also features an area set aside for guest displays and, at the time when I visited (which – because time moves strangely in the blogosphere – was about a month ago now) much of this was taken up with models from past Golden Daemons. The display was about to end and be replaced by something new so the content was a little sparse (my assumption being that they’d started removing models, rather than that they didn’t have very many to begin with) but what remained was a collection of some of the most inspiring (and slightly intimidating) individual models I’ve ever come across. The internet has made many of them familiar but for someone like myself, whose never been to a GW open day or Games Day event, being able to get up close to painting of that quality was memorable to say the least.

Highlights included this Empire Captain by David Waeselynck…

david-waeselynck-1…and these two Plague Marines (the first by Maxime Corbeil, the second by Robin McLeod). Each is very different in style, but with Nurgle models stacking up on the edge of my painting desk and demanding attention, both will be serving as inspiration in the future.maxime-corbeil-1

robin-mcleod-1Then we have this truly ‘miniature’ diorama by Cedric Lurkin, cleverly capturing the duel theme on a scale quite different to that we’re used to.cedric-lurkin-1

Last of all this Predator Tank, dedicated to Nurgle. The creation of David Soper this claimed both Gold in the Vehicle category and the Slayer Sword back in 1990. Its undoubtedly one of my all time favourite models and so spotting it on the shelf was quite the pleasant surprise.david-soper-1david-soper-2And finally, how could I resist taking this selfie in Bugmans?04Anyway, hopefully you’ve enjoyed this look through my pictures from the day (if not the bad news is there’s a lot more to come). Tomorrow we’ll start taking a look at the dioramas, starting with Age of Sigmar.

 


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.


All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 9

Behold! Another berserker ready to reap skulls to lay before the Blood God’s throne!

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Dreadnaughts I Have Known

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I painted my first dreadnaught at some indeterminate point in the past, although exactly when is hard to tie down now. Assault on Black Reach had been released and the Orks had drawn me into 40k’s grim darkness at last but I was still unfamiliar with the universe and its protagonists. Having picked up the Black Reach boxset purely for the greenskins within I found myself with a bundle of space marines as well – and almost no interest in painting them. Only a grudging sense of duty got me through the tactical squad, although I admit I tackled the terminators with rather more enthusiasm. The only thing that really grabbed me however was the dreadnaught.

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He’s been tweaked and improved once or twice over the years but even those improvements still look rather old and somewhat lacking in comparison to my modern standard. Still I was hooked, on dreadnaughts if not on space marines. Thus when a friend of mine was clearing out his cupboards and gave me his copy of Assault on Black Reach and the Chaos Space Marines codex I knew straight away that the next dreadnaught I painted would be something much darker, angrier and spikier than before. It was also at this point that I was discovering the joy of converting models and, although there remained much for me to learn, I was well on my way to becoming the kitbashing, greenstuffing heretic I am today.

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Next up was an Ork deff dread – completed mere days before Games Workshop announced the release of the current plastic model. Sadly he was never the best of creations, leaning rather too heavily on Orky qualities of ‘cobble it together and hope for the best’ and now resides in the bottom of the bits box waiting for redemption and reconstruction.

With Dark Vengeance the chaos dreadnaught was reborn as the helbrute; the angry, spikey box of before replaced instead by the fleshy, unnaturally-organic beast of today.

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Of course painting one of them wasn’t enough for me, especially after the release of the putrid blightkings made it possible to create a bloated, Nurgly hulk.

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Nor was that the end of my dreadnaught obsession. Last October feedyournerd ran the Dreadtober event which aimed to encourage as many people as possible to paint a dreadnaught (or similar sized model) in the month of October. Seeing the brilliant work that others were producing provided the spur I needed to crack on and bring this Khornate monster into being.

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At the time I asserted (rather boldly) that if this event happened again I’d be sure to join in. One year on and it’s time to live up to that claim as DreadTober returns. This time responsibility for the event lies with Broken Paintbrush so I’d recommend getting across there to take a look at what’s planned. I’ll be taking on this unfortunate-looking former Crimson Fists dreadnaught. His loyalist masters may have abandoned him to ebay but I feel sure that, with Nurgley and Khornate dreadnaughts already in the bag, he’ll do very well indeed in the subtle embrace of Slaanesh. dreadnaught-convertordie-2

Naturally these events work best when lots of people join in so I encourage (nay – implore!) you to dig your own battered and abandoned dreadnaught projects out of the bitsbox, or take them down from the shelf of shame, and get to work on them. This is their moment!


All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 8

A second Berserker for the newest warband! I’m particularly pleased with the crest on his helmet and the bloodletter skin growing across his shoulderpad (a greenstuffed necessity to cover the join where the sigil of Khorne was added).img_7301

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