This week, let’s head back to the Heresy for a bit, as I show you my latest conversions based on models from the Betrayal at Calth box. So you’ll be seeing a lot of unpainted plastic, unfortunately, but also – hopefully – a conversion idea or two that might inspire you😉
One thing that I have always loved about the Horus Heresy in the pre-Forgeworld days is how sketchy and adventurous it all seemed: Back when the original Visions of Heresy artbooks were released, you could get the feeling that the artists really had a lot of leeway when it came to interpreting the various armour marks and war machines of the Heresy era Astartes legions. So you would see all kinds of crazy armour designs (Wayne England’s Heresy artwork is a prime example of this), and then people would go and convert models based on that, and it was all pretty great.
Forgeworld created a more streamlined and and standardised look for the Legiones Astartes, and there’s a lot to be said for that: The various armour marks, for instance, are excellent and suitably different now, and they really allow for lots of customisation to achieve the exact look you want for your army. However, at the same time, I cannot help feeling every once in a while that some of the craziness of the pre-FW Heresy days has been lost along the way, with the new models sometimes seeming a bit less interesting than the old artwork.
Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Cataphractii design. To wit, here’s an early Cataphractii illustration (probably the first one, at that) courtesy of John Blanche:
Cataphractii illustration by John Blanche
Even beyond the hallmarks of John’s personal style, there’s something cool and barbaric about this individual: He looks far more than a tank than the 40k Terminators, yes, but there are also elements like the pteryges and the massive topknot that give the Cataphractii the look of a Roman legionary turned up to eleven — and that’s really just what Space Marines are, in a nutshell, right?
Forgeworld’s Cataphractii design ditches some of the zanier parts of the old art, particularly the topknots, which I think is a shame. And the plastic Cataphractii included with the Betrayal of Calth box are probably, at the same time, the best and the worst part of the entire release. The best part because a fully customisable multi part squad was definitely more than we could have expected. And the worst because the models are painfully generic and vailla, even moreso than the rest of the models from the set!
But vanilla wasn’t what I wanted for my own Cataphractii: I wanted to turn them into World Eaters, so they needed to become slightly more interesting, slightly more gladiatorial and slightly more feral, while their possible allegiance to Khorne during the latter stages of the Heresy needed to be kept at least somewhat abiguous without straying too far into 40k levels of Khornate decoration: To go all spiky and baroque on them would ultimately have lead to a 40k chaos look, and I still wanted these guys to be recognisable as 30k models. So a bit of character was needed, but not too much of it. Oh, and I also wanted to incorporate some of the small touches from the older artwork that have since fallen by the wayside. That’s quite a lot on one plate, right?😉
I started by experimenting with a couple of bitz, and while this lies beyond the scope of this post, one thing that I have found out is that it’s relatively easy to make Cataphractii that resemble various legions’ dedicated Terminators simply by virtue of using different heads: Just discard the stock “half heads” you get with the kit (or better yet, keep them in the bitzbox for the future), and shave away that one small piece of plastic from the inside of the torso’s cowling to allow the torso to accept different heads. You will also need to shave down the heads and helmets you use a bit, so they fit snugly into the recess, but it’s really not that complicated. Just check out my quick study for Sons of Horus Justaerin and Deathshroud-like Deathguard helmets here:
It took me only a couple of minutes and some different helmets to make these, and I wasn’t really serious about the endeavour, either. On a related note, check out thamier’s excellent Justaerin based on the plastic Cataphractii to see where you can take these humble base models with a bit of work.
Regarding my own Cataphractii, however, it took another puzzle piece for things to finally fall into place: Fellow hobbyist weirdingway (yes, the guy with the amazing Navigators) sent me some leftovers from the AoS starter box Bloodreavers. And while I own a full set of – mostly – mint Bloodreavers myself, it was while playing around with those leftover heads, daggers and doodads that I realised that the Bloodreaver parts where perfect for adding some oomph to my Cataphractii!
And once I had that idea, I just started building. So let me show you the different models in the squad, one by one:
This is actually the second Cataphractii Terminator I built, but the first model I want to show you, because the plan here was to incorporate several elements of that JB drawing shown above: The horsehair topknot was an auto-include, since it’s such an iconic piece of the Cataphractii design for me. After experimenting with various topknots and hair pieces, I ultimately decided to use the old horse tails from the WFB Empire Knights, both because I still had some of those lying around, but also because I rather like the volume and slightly stylised look of the hair. I realise that this part may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really think the topknots do a pretty good job of recreating that vintage look.
I also wanted the pointy fingers on the power fist, at least on this one model, so I carefully spliced together the original Cataphractii arm with a CSM power first for that slightly more vicious look. As for the head, I experimented with a shaved down Grey Knights head for a while, and it ended up resembling the illustration rather closely. But then I found the option pictured above, which I liked even better, even though it doesn’t resemble the artwork: There’s just something brutal and menacing about that Bloodreaver head that really sells the character, if you ask me.
Speaking of Bloodreavers, another part of those models was added to the model, and it’s a part that would turn into a recurring element with the squad: A Bloodreaver dagger was added to the every model in the squad, and I think it really creates a nice bit of continuity. My idea for the 4th assault company’s background is that, even during the latter days of the Crusade, their identity as hunters had already begun to assert itself, so it only seems right that each of their Cataphractii veterans should bear an ornate flensing knife, right? At the same time, the daggers also subtly hint at the World Eaters growing allegiance to a new master, as their decorations feature touches of Khornate inconography here and there.
I am really happy with this guy, as he just has the lumbering, menacing look that I think is just right for a World Eater in Cataphractii armour.
Now you already know this guy, as he was my first Cataphractii test model from a while ago. However, I have changed the pose back to its earlier version, as the “screaming at the heavens in rage” just never gets old, especially for a World Eater😉
Since we last saw him, though, I’ve added a Bloodreaver dagger and a stylised daemon face belt buckle to him, and I think those elements provide just the right amount of flavour to seel him as a World Eater — the heavily scarred Bloodsecrator head helps as well, of course.
Knowing myself as well as I do, I was aware of the danger of just giving each of the Cataphractii some crazy combination of viciously barbed CC weapons (as I’ve done on my 40k Terminators). I forced myself not to indulge that urge, however, as I wanted to keep at least a bit of that more regimented, orderly 30k look. So I needed to stick to a more subdued weapons loadouts while also finding a way to make them look slightly more interesting. This next guy was an attempt at getting this right:
While he does use a fairly pedestrian bolter/chainfist combo, I made the chainfist look quite a bit more vicious by splicing in the blade of a CSM chainsword:
Moreover, the scarred head, while originally just a placeholder, has really grown on me, as it adds another subtly feral element to the model.
Next in line was the Sergeant. I thought it would be cool if one model of the squad were to sport the classic “bunny ears” as a sign of a growing devotion to the war god. What’s more, the classic Khornate helmet crests have received some official 40k background: They are called the “Caedere Remissum” now and form a gladiatorial tradition from Angron’s “homeworld” Nuceria.
The sergeant was the obvious candidate for this element. I also gave him a slightly daemonic looking (Blood Warrior) pauldron as a test, although I think it works fairly well. Oh, and I recycled the leftover combi-bolter/melta from the Praetor for this model (we’ll be getting to the Praetor in another post, although let’s just say that he won’t be needing that combi-weapon anymore…):
My original plan was to exchange the sword for a chainaxe, but I really rather liked the elegant look of the weapon, mostly because it seems so very at odds with the lumbering brute wielding it.😉
Here’s a closer look at the headcrest and the right pauldron:
The one thing I am not quite happy with yet is the position of the head: I realise that it should be turned towards the combi-weapon even more, but I have already shaved quite a bit of plastic from that Bloodreaver helmet in order to make it fit, and I am actually slightly afraid of ruining it for good…
All in all, I am pretty pleased with the sergeant, though.
And finally, the heavy weapons guy. This was arguably the hardest model to get right, mostly on account of the somewhat dopey looking leg pose. I also considered arming this guy with a Reaper autocannon for a while, but eventually went for the heavy flamer included with the kit due to, you know, that whole “Kill! Maim! Burn!” thing…
So here’s the model:
The legs remain slightly awkward, but I tweaked the pose until I could live with it. Beyond that, it was mainly a question of adding some gladiatorial touches, such as the marauder shield on the flamer. I also chose a – pretty old – rebreather head, both because a flamer guy needs a rebreather and because I really like the head’s scarred look — it doesn’t photograph to well, unfortunately, due to the older plastic.
When I posted my first Cataphractii conversions on Dakka, fellow hobbyist Anvildude suggested – only half-jokingly, I suspect – adding an “axefist” to one of the models. Much fun was had by everyone involved, trying to figure out how such a weapon would even work, but in the end, I am always up for a little fun, and I also didn’t want to repeat myself too much with this squad. So here it is, an axefist:
My overarching impression of the plastic Cataphractii kit is that it has a lot of potential, but it also needs quite a bit of work to produce models that are a bit more characterful than the stock versions. The kit also has some slightly strange idiosyncracies — some of the arms just seem decidedly too short for me. And some of the power fists are pretty terrible, to be honest. And there’s always the fact that we don’t get any arms that allow for easy modification into CC arms, that one measly power sword arm notwithstanding. In my opinion, they should have made the chainfist an optional power first upgrade and rather included some CC arms.
At the same time, there are things that the kit does incredibly well. Chief of all among these is the fact that the finished Cataphractii really end up looking like walking tanks to a much greater degree than any 40k Terminator: They seem like massive, lumbering brutes, which I think is a great match with their depiction in the background.
Ultimately, putting in some serious work to transform the squad into something a bit more original was really worth it. I am very happy with these guys, if I do say so myself:
They are still recognisable as Cataphractii and Legiones Astartes warriors. They are brutal and vicious enough to read as World Eaters. Some subtle, Khornate influences are already in evidence, although they do not overpower the models. These guys are hopefully going to look great in white and blue! And they have the classic topknots — what’s not to like?😉
So yeah, so much for converting the Cataphractii from Betrayal at Calth into proper World Eaters. It goes without saying that I would love to hear any feedback you might have! And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!