If you’re reading this, congratulations – you’ve survived as far as September 2020! (And yes, I will be reusing that joke for the Christmas round-up – assuming we all live that long…).
Last weekend saw, at long last, the release of House of Blades, the latest Necromunda expansion which focuses on the Queens of the Underhive, House Escher. Much earlier in the year the Goliaths enjoyed the release of their own book, House of Chains, and the Escher were intended to follow soon after – except of course that then we went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like “Oh god, there’s a global pandemic on, we’re all fucked now!” Ever since we Necromunda fans have been waiting *cough* patiently for the girls to arrive and thankfully now they’re here and we can see in the apocalypse with two house-specific expansions clutched in our paws. Who knows, we may be lucky enough to be able to buy the Orlock book, House of Iron, before the asteroid hits and stops our civilisation in its tracks. Fans of the other three houses must face the day of reckoning with bitter hearts and unfulfilled expectations, or pray for a slightly less bumpy time in 2021.
Anyway, having spent the last few days pouring over House of Blades my head is suddenly full of thoughts and I’m damned if I’m missing out on the opportunity to share them!
The format and content of the “House of…” series becomes a little clearer with this release. We, the fans, already knew that each of the six major houses of Necromunda (Goliath, Escher, Orlock, Van Saar, Cawdor and Delaque) would be getting a book dedicated to them but until now we could only categorically say that we knew what House of Chains looked like, because it was the only book to have been released. Now that we’ve got House of Blades as well we can start making some assumptions about just what will be included in the future books; a ton of new background, an expanded gang roster, new gang specific hangers on, tactics, scenarios, timeline, house agents and allies.
Every Necromunda book released since the game’s relaunch has contained a number of new special characters and House of Blades is no different. Yet whilst House of Chains contained six, House of Blades has only three. Now it’s worth noting that one of the House of Chains personalities, “Sparky” is an ogryn so the Goliaths only get five new heroes (and one of those is a gigantic crocodile). What’s more the Escher already have a bounty hunter available exclusively to their house, the Death Maiden Kria the Huntress.
In addition to her we have Belladonna, an ex-Escher turned (briefly) noble-bride turned underhive assassin on a quest for vengeance (think Kill Bill but with bigger hair and no bright yellow jumpsuit), and Yolanda Skorn (another ex-Escher turned gun for hire) whilst the Goliaths have only Krotos Hark, treated as an outsider to his house after being born intelligent. On the other hand all of these latter characters will work for any house, which leaves the Goliaths with five characters unique to them, and the Eschers with four.
Now many of you may be thinking “so what” and I don’t really disagree. The situation regarding the dramatis personae of Necromunda seems a little odd to me at the moment. For one thing there are a hell of a lot of them. We now have rules for 49 different special characters, although only models for 21. Games Workshop have noted that they intend to create models for all of them “at some point” although so far they seem more enthusiastic about coming up with even more of them. Two more special character models were announced back in March – the Cawdor Rattus Tatterskin and the Enforcer Scrutinator-Primus Servalen. Neither of these are on my list of 49 given above, and if each of the “House of…” books contains only a further three dramatis personae we could easily be looking at more than 60 special characters. I don’t think this is a bad thing, far from it, although given the price Forge World tend to charge it could be quite an expensive thing. However unless they up the rate at which they release special characters a lot the supply of new models will never catch up with the rate at which they’re coming up with new ideas. On the one hand I don’t want them to stop turning out new characters because they’ve got a lot of interesting ideas but on the other hand there are a lot of cool concepts already out there in books which I’d love to see models for. Yes, I could convert my own and I already have made models for some of them (it’s a lot of fun and a hell of a lot cheaper than paying Forge World prices) but there are some that I’d love to see given official miniatures – Jorth Slither and the Catallus twins for instance (which would also be a fine name for a band). Plus there are a lot of other things I’d like to see models for – nobles, criminals and guilders for instance.
Something I’d like to see more of is dramatis personae being used to demonstrate the range of possibilities within each house. In House of Chains for instance we have Old Three-eyes (the mother of all sumcrocs), Ajex Gorgoth (one of the most powerful Goliath alphas on the planet), Attilus the Axe (a champion pit fighter), Tess Arc-Up (a particularly wild prospect) and Djangar Gunfists (the former head of the house now roaming the wastes with no memories and a knack for spectacular violence). Now there’s none of the above that I particularly dislike, that I wouldn’t try to convert a model for and wouldn’t take an interest in an official miniature were one to be released and not outwith my budget. Every one of them brings something to the house and tells us something about the planet of Necromunda and its mightiest sons.
I could be harsh and say that Tess (see my kitbash above) is basically just a rambunctious juve and Attilus is an angry dude with a saw for an arm but they do expand the character of the range all the same. I’ve already converted my own Tess and I’ve got plans to make Attilus and Djangar as well. However, in some ways I can’t help but feel that they could be doing more with these characters and using them to expand the idea of what it means to be a Goliath even further.
For example, so far the only female Goliaths we’ve seen have been prospects, that is to say youngsters. We’ve also seen models for male prospects. Both sexes have been smaller and lighter than the muscular giants that make up the rest of the gang. A fully grown Goliath lady would have been interesting to see, perhaps strutting her stuff in a massive suit of handmade armour much like Ajex Gorgoth.
Another possibility that immediately appealed to me, was the Goliaths of Gothrul’s Needle. For those who’ve not been glued to every development in Necromunda over the last couple of years Gothrul’s Needle is home to one of the most dangerous forms of sedition known to the Imperium, having fallen under the sway of something they call “democracy” and broken away from the rest of the planet. Obviously this isn’t something which Lord Helmawr, the Imperial Governor, is terribly impressed about, and considerable effort is being brought to bear to bring the renegade hive back into line, all whilst pretending to the wider Imperium that House Helmawr retains absolute control over their domains and would never be so weak as to allow one of their holdings to slip the leash. In defence of their independence the Council of Gothrul’s Needle have recruited the local Goliaths, offering them wonderful things such as advanced weapons and armour, proper medical care and even education. Here we see the Goliaths as they could be, not brutish tech-barbarians but the superhumans they have the potential to be, yet which they are never allowed to become elsewhere on the poisoned world. A Goliath hailing from the Needle, sent abroad to carry out some mission or other, would make for an amazing miniature and a chance to look at a very different side of a house normally associated with boneheaded violence and not much else.
Likewise the three new characters in House of Blades are all interesting in and of themselves, there’s none that I dislike or would want rid of. We have Betti Banshee – a woman with a sonic scream instead of a throat, Necrana – oldest and most terrible of the Death Maidens, and Cyniss, a mistress of poisons and close confidant of the Matriarch Primus herself. Again however there was the potential to really push the boat out here.
The story of House Escher begins even before the coming of the Imperium, when three sisters – known collectively as the Blades – carved out a legacy for themselves beneath the gaze of the ancient Iron Lords who ruled the planet. When Imperial warships filled the sky and space marines poured onto the surface the Blades sought to ensure their endurance into this new age, hiding banks of clones scattered across the world. When one sister died a clone would arrive to replace her, stepping into her life and continuing her legend – until she too died and was replaced by another. This situation would remain for the next three millennia before the sisters combined their bloodlines to form a new house, swearing allegiance to the House of Helm’ayr and destroying their old clone banks forever. Except of course nobody really believes they destroyed all of them do they? Indeed a timeline entry even refers to a lost clone vault being found and activated in M38, leading inevitably to bloody mayhem. Surely a mysterious and powerful character, who steps from the shadows to aid the cause of the Eschers in their time of need then vanishes into the shadows of the Underhive from whence she came, and might – just might – be one of the lost clones, would be a fantastic special character? Especially as there would be plenty of Eschers keen to cut her up, take a look at her DNA and find out if she contains something to keep their menfolk from dying – and others who would see her as a natural replacement for the current Matriarch Primus – for good or ill.
Or, as another possibility, how about an Eschaki chem-soldier, specifically a male one? Again, for those who’re willing to indulge me as I enthuse about the new background, before they were the Escher the house was known as House Eschaki. Given to tinkering around with their own DNA, consuming chems and pushing the boundaries of science even further than the modern Escher, the Eschaki eventually screwed up and developed the so-called Flesh Curse, which lead their entire male line to be born weak, stupid and sickly – female readers may be thinking that some things never change – on those rare occasions that male children were born at all. In the end the women of the house gave up on the male line altogether and rebuilt their clan under the new name Escher (although they have made several spirited attempts to recreate a male bloodline – most notably the so-called “Project Goliath”…). Whilst they lived however the Eschaki fielded all kinds of “combat-drug fuelled murder squads, ash-dancer assassins and genehanced berserkers”. It might be sensible to assume that the Eschaki are now safely extinct but as recently as the latter part of the 40th Millennium a colony of Eschaki chem-warriors was found, only to flee into the wastes and vanish. Whenever there’s discussion of the Escher online there’s always someone who pops up and asks why they can’t have male Escher (because everyone knows you can’t have something nice for the girls without the boys muscling in and demanding to be included too). Now I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and say that I don’t want to see male Escher any more than I want weedy Goliaths, healthy Van Saar, agnostic Cawdor or Space Marines who find this whole purging business a bit tiring and would rather stay at home and read. However wouldn’t an Eschaki chem-warrior (with appropriate mystery and hand-waving over the details of his background) make for a very interesting special character and a chance to give whoever wants boy-Escher a boy-Escher without actually changing things so radically that we now all have to have boy-Escher?
Anyway, moving on before I wear the patience of my audience any thinner than I probably have already, another thing I wanted to talk about was the models that Forge World have released, or will release, in conjunction with these books. When House of Chains was released Forge World accompanied it by bringing out the Goliath ‘Zerker (a brute unique to House Goliath) and the Slavers Guild – the merchant’s guild with the closest ties to the house of musclemen.
With the arrival of House of Blades I must admit my fingers were tightly crossed that we’d see the Khimerix (the Escher’s unique brute – think of a Chaos Spawn which has somehow become fabulous) and their favoured guild allies, the Water Guild. Instead there’s been no sign, and instead we’re looking at new Escher champions (see below) – which are nice enough but nothing to write home about and could easily have been accommodated with an upgrade set or two of new heads and weapons. This is frankly slightly galling when you consider all of the aforementioned bounty hunters that we’re yet to see, plus guilder allies, criminals, hangers on, etc etc.
Anyway, I suspect I’ve probably worn this topic thin so let’s move on, because there are a few other developments I’d like to give a little more attention to. For one thing we have another new gang in town in the form of the slave ogryns (or as they should be called the Free Ogryns – because these boys aren’t going to be anyone’s slaves anymore!). First revealed alongside House of Chains back at the start of the year they’ve only lumbered into our homes now, their mighty muscles proving no defence against the global havoc caused by C-19. So far I’ve only had the time to build one of them, kitbashing him slightly with a head from the Imperial Guard ogryn kit.
Of course this is a fine chance for some size comparison photos, so here he is next to some more normally-proportioned underhive residents.
Not all the Goliaths look weedy next to him however, this Stimmer for instance actually comes across as pretty imposing.
And he doesn’t look quite as big as this partly painted Ambot.
Interestingly there are six ogryns in a set, and all six houses can take an ogryn as part of their gang. Part of me is already tempted to pick up another kit (not a cheap investment mind you) and make a themed ogryn for each of my gangs. The Escher one would be especially interesting, resplendent in brightly coloured armour and leopard-skin pants, but picture the possibilities – the masked and scrap-armoured Cawdor version like a shambling candelabra, the high-tech Van Saar version, the terribly un-stealthy Delaque version (with bionic eyes of course!). Of course then I’d need to cook up a Corpse-Grinder and Genestealer Cult version. At least I already have a Chaos Helots version already made…
Anyway, there’s one final thing to discuss before I realise that I’ve entirely outstayed my welcome and that’s the new Orlocks. Frankly I don’t have a lot to say about them apart from how downright amazing they are! Take a look at these very good dogs for instance (but keep in mind that if they bring you your slippers they might still have someone else’s foot inside)…
And I’m also very fond of the chap with the servo-arms and the big hammer, and seeing female miniatures for the House of Iron is long overdue. I reckon this gentleman, the only Orlock I’ve painted so far, won’t be on his own for long!
I often find myself thinking about writing Necromunda themed editorials so I’ll probably make this into an occasional series (hence the “part 1” in the title). In the meantime I’m off to think about all the new Eschers I want to build. If you have any thoughts you can confidently say you’re not an Ogryn, and if you want to share them the comment’s box is all yours.