On Khârn the Betrayer

What a funny coincidence: I’ve just finished working on a rather involved conversion to represent everyone’s favourite teamkiller, Khârn the Betrayer, and now there are suddenly rumours floating around about some kind of release surrounding the character as part of GW’s Advent Calendar — what’s up with that?

So while the holiday season rapdily approaches, why not take a closer look at everyone’s favourite man in red, right? Allow me to walk you through a ridiculously wordy post about Khârn the Betrayer, ladies and gentlemen (don’t worry, there’ll be pictures somewhere down the line 😉 ):

The Character

When it comes down to fluff, Khârn is a rather interesting case: Back when the character was introduced (along with the release of the 2nd edition Chaos Codex), there wasn’t much to go on beyond his background in the book — and even that painted a picture of a somewhat…imbalanced individual.

Beyond that, there was only William King’s seminal short story “The Wrath of Khârn”, which was published both in Inferno! and WD back in the day. But it quickly became obvious that Khârn’s basic approach of being ALWAYS ANGRY ALL THE TIME didn’t exactly turn him into a narrative goldmine: He was frankly a bit of a one trick pony when it came to his character, even though some swear that Khârn harboured some hidden qualities.

The HH series has made Khârn quite a bit more interesting, because it has managed to add more facets to his character: During battle, he loses his mind with the best of them, being entirely at the control of his Butcher’s Nails implants. But what makes Khârn interesting is that he seems like a reasonable and calm person off the battlefield, even serving as a voice of reason to his Primarch in the role of equerry. What’s more, by the time the Heresy rolls around, some very visible cracks have begun to show in the XII legion’s foundations, both in regards to Angron’s continuing mental and physical  degradation and the growing toll of the Nails on his legionaries.

WARNING: Spoilers for Betrayer follow!

In Betrayer, Khârn seems very aware of both problems, yet he remains loyal to his Primarch and is one of the cornerstones of the legion’s nobility and brotherhood — easily the most important thing to him, it seems, both when it comes to his dealings with his brethren and his blood brother, Argel Tal of the Word Bearers. It’s especially striking, then, how the death of the latter seemingly sends Khârn on the first steps of his development into the utterly bloodthirsty and psychotic character we know from the 40k universe: There’s a battle scene at the tail end of Betrayer that shows a different Khârn to the one we have encountered before — an utterly indifferent killing machine. And for now, we can only guess at the implications of Angron’s “ascension”, both for the legion in general and Khârn in particular — we do know what he has become 10,000 years later, though…

End Spoilers

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what the writers at GW and BL have in store for Khârn — but I, for one, hope that it’ll be more along the lines of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s rather nuanced treament of the character, and less like the one-note soundbites we have grown accustomed to from Khârn’s 40k background.

The Art

It’s really impossible to discuss any part of the 30k/40k lore without considering the accompanying artwork — the art is arguably just as important for the setting as the models and the baclground narration, especially since it often provides the designers with the actual inspiration for the design of new models or the redesign of existing characters.

So let’s take a look at some of the artwork depicting Khârn the Betrayer over the years — interestingly enough, the artwork for the character has a track record that can seem just as spotty as his narrative background.

But let’s cut to the chase: One of the first pieces of artwork I ever saw – and still one of the best images depicting Khârn, if you ask me – is this piece, created by Kev Walker:

Kharn the Betrayer art (4)
This illustration really has it all! It was used to accompany William King’s aforementioned “The Wrath of Khârn” in WD, and I still love it just as much as I did back when I first saw it — the one element that does seem slightly distracting is the collection of piercings on Khârn’s left bicep — such a slightly kinky touch would somehow seem more fitting on a follower of Slaanesh. But then, the accompanying story nicely toys with that scenario, so maybe that was the whole point?

When it comes to classic Khârn, one really need not look any further than Jes Goodwin’s own concept sketches for the character:

Kharn the Betrayer art (8)
I think one can safely suspect that this is the oldest piece of art depicting Khârn, and it is also the one that is the most faithful to the actual miniature — for very obvious reasons… It also remains one of the best drawings of Khârn, along with the one by Kev Walker, in my opinion, but then that’s Jes Goodwin for you…

Interestingly enough, some of the other artwork depiciting Khârn doesn’t fare quite as well: For instance, Adrian Smith is easily one of my favourite artists when it comes to depicting (Chaos) Space Marines, but his treatment of Khârn is not up to his usual standard, if you ask me:

Kharn the Betrayer art (14)

Sure, there’s a lot to like about the piece, but the entire left arm and the axe just fall apart completely when you look at them too closely — the perspective of that part is just sooo wonkey, don’t you think? And for some strange reason, Khârn suddenly seems to have both arms uncovered in this piece.

What’s more, most of the even more recent pieces really don’t capture the essence of the character for me, be it because it looks like Khârn is wearing an armoured bodysuit…

Kharn the Betrayer art (12)
…or because they make him look like a clueless idiot when fighting against loyalists:

Kharn the Betrayer art (3)
At least the art from Khârn’s latest codex entry is pretty competent, if a little uninspired:

Kharn the Betrayer art (2)
Do yourself a favour and don’t look at the pictured of his wargear that are part of his Dataslate, though: While the art itself works well enough, the added explanations for his wargear’s various features read like the worst kind of fan fiction imaginable…

And what of Heresy era Khârn? Interestingly enough, once again, the oldest piece of artwork may just be the best:

Kharn the Betrayer art (11)
Wayne England’s iconic piece of art from the original HH trading card game may no longer be an accurate representation of the recent fluff (the legion colours have ended up noticeably different in the interim, for one), but it’s still one of those classic images I hold dear  — but then, I’ve always had a thing for Wayne England’s chaos artwork, so that may have something to do with it as well.

At the same time, the updated depiction of heresy era Khârn in the Black Library publications is also pretty cool:

Kharn the Betrayer art (7)
There’s just something menacing and implacable about the above piece that I really like! It also seems like this was either designed to more or less accurately depict FW’s Khârn model or even serve as a design template for it? But we’ll be getting to the models in a second…

Before we talk about Khârn in miniature form, allow me to bring up two pieces of fanmade artwork that I really like.

First up, heresy era Khârn, as rendered in Greyall’s trademark style:

Khârn the Bloody by Greyall

Khârn the Bloody by Greyall

As per Greyall’s usual standard, the piece is incredibly detailed and ornate — you just have to love that axe design, don’t you?

The other illustration I would like to show you is this fantastic piece by slaine69, showing Khârn at Amartura:

Khârn at Armatura by slaine69

Khârn at Armatura by slaine69

This probably couldn’t be any more different in style and direction from Greyall’s piece, but I love it just as much: slaine69 is an insanely talented artist, and what I like about this – slightly unconventional – depiction of Khârn is how it manages to humanise him as a character and bring his berserk tendencies to the fore at the same moment — excellent stuff!


The models

So we have looked at the art — but what about the actual models? Do they do the character justice? And what about the hobbyists’ take on Khârn? Let’s find out!

As far as official releases are concerned, there have been two models for Khârn so far:

The first one is Jes Goodwin’s original 40k version of the character:

Khârn the Betrayer by Jes Goodwin

Khârn the Betrayer by Jes Goodwin

The model is still available from GW today, and in my opinion, it’s not only a true classic, but it also still holds up beautifully. The model was released along with Abbadon, Ahriman and Fabius Bile, back when the 2nd edition Codex Chaos hit, and he has arguably managed to age pretty gracefully. I realise that the model has been getting some flak over the years for its rather static pose, but come on, people: This guy has so many elements that became iconic and seminal for the whole look of the World Eaters: The baroque and pitted power armour, the bunny-eared helmet (that is almost impossible to replace or approximate by mere kitbashing or converting), the chains — and, of course, the bare arm, which may be a more common sight in (Chaos) Marine armies today, but was something quite original back then.

I remember first seeing Khârn among a collection of models and thinking: “I wonder what this guy’s story is!” — the model just has a way of drawing you in! As it happens, Jes Goodwin is possibly responsible for the two most iconic World Eaters models: Khârn is one of them, and the other one is the iconic 1991 metal World Eater — and if I have one complaint, it’s that the best World Eaters models were released over twenty years ago, with precious little having happened in the interim (Forgeworld notwithstanding). Anyway, what can I say: I am still a huge fan of this guy!

There’s also the much more recent FW model for heresy era Khârn by Edgar Skomorowski:

Khârn the Bloody, by Edgar Skomorowski

Khârn the Bloody, by Edgar Skomorowski

The model seems to have been designed with the main criticism against the Jes Goodwin version firmly in mind, because this guy is *very* dynamic — almost overly so, in fact, but we’ll be getting to that. The armour design is really cool, adding a gladiatorial flair to Khârn’s wargear that is a great fit for his legion’s background. The crested centurion helmet is also a great touch — although I would argue that the original helmet’s faceplate seems slightly more balanced.

In spite of all the good aspects, I am not a huge fan of the model, to be honest: The running pose seems slightly oddly balanced to me, making it look like Khârn is almost falling forward — this has always been a problem with running models, however, and maybe it was actually an intentional choice, in order to illustrate his uncontrolled rage? I also think the choice to extend the unarmoured/partially armoured look to his other arm as well somewhat lessens the visual punch of this element. And I really hate the model’s bare head: It may be a cool enough face, certainly, but it’s not Khârn’s face:

Forgeworld Heresy era Kharn detail
Such things always come down to personal choice, of course, but it is stated outright in the background that Khârn’s face is actually unscarred. The integration of the Butcher’s Nails also seems a bit random — but in any case, the head is an optional bit, so it’s not like you have to use it. All in all, I think it’s a nice, if slightly underwhelming, model.

It goes without saying that many, many hobbyists have come up with their own versions of the character, kitbashing or converting their own model to represent Khârn. Some of these improve on the existing models quite a bit, so I would like to share with you my favourites — and the interpretations I have drawn inspiration from for my own conversion. I’ll be limiting myself to those models who represent a substantial change to the stock models, by the way, although it has to be said that merely reposing the existing models can lead to rather stunning results as well. Anyway, here goes!

Let’s start with different versions of (Pre) Heresy Khârn:

Pre Heresy Khârn by Sebastien Lavigne

Pre Heresy Khârn by Sebastien Lavigne

This – Golden Demon winning – version of 30k Khârn by Sebastien Lavigne remains one of my favourite versions of the character: I just love the dynamism of the model, as well as the added legion standard! The model becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that, back in 2008, the Horus Heresy wasn’t the massively detailed and codified setting it is today. In spite of that Sebastien still managed to create a tiny slice of the setting without much to work from, and the result still manages to hold up today. Marvelous!

There’s also the ever-inspirational Mr. Poom, who is responsible for the other two heresy era Khârns I would like to share with you:

Heresy era Kharn by poom first version
This piece was clearly inspired by Wayne England’s art shown further in this post, and I simply love how closely the model represents the illustration (and how it dares to deviate from it in all the right places). I am aware that Mr. Poom is no longer all that fond of the model, but it does remain one of my favourites.

His more recent version of the character uses the Forgeworld version as a base:

Khârn the Bloody by Mr. Poom

Khârn the Bloody by Mr. Poom

The horsehair crest brings the model more in line with the character’s depiction in Betrayer, which is a nice touch. And Mr. Poom’s paintjob is as gorgeous as ever — I still prefer his earlier version of the character, to be perfectly honest, but out of all the FW Khârns, this one is probably my favourite!

So what about the 40k versions of the character?

Khârn the Betrayer by kitbasher

Khârn the Betrayer by kitbasher

Wow, this Khârn conversion by kitbasher may just be the perfect Khârn model! It’s also a rare case of a model actually improving on the artwork it has been based on: The model clearly takes lots of inspiration from the Adrian Smith illustration further up in this post, but it works out all the kinks of the piece, creating something better in the process — perfect!

Then there’s this Khârn by Lil’Loser Studio:

Khârn the Betrayer by Lil'Loser Studios

Khârn the Betrayer by Lil’Loser Studios

The model uses parts from both official Khârn models, combining them to great effect and creating an excellent model!

AMaximus, who, it has to be said, is one of my main inspirations for World Eaters conversions and kitbashes, chose a similar approach, coming up with this awesome Khârn:

Khârn the Betrayer by AMaximus

Khârn the Betrayer by AMaximus

I can hardly wait for him to slap some paint on this model!

I also really like this very clean and seamless conversion by mf_Greg:

Khârn the Betrayer by mf_Greg

Khârn the Betrayer by mf_Greg

The excellent paintjob helps, of course 😉

The Vanus Temple is responsible for two stunning versions of the character: First up, his earlier conversion, based on a WFB champion of Khorne:

Khârn the Betrayer by the Vanus Temple

Khârn the Betrayer by the Vanus Temple

This one became popular enough that multiple models have been produced as commission pieces, if I recall correctly.

Khârn the Betrayer by the Vanus Temple

Khârn the Betrayer by the Vanus Temple

A more recent version by the same artist uses the FW Khârn model and creates an equally stunning piece:

Khârn the Betrayer by the Vanus Temple

Khârn the Betrayer by the Vanus Temple

And finally, some guys who really know how to go for shock and awe tactics:

An unbelievably huge (and spiky) Khârn by Rumplemaster:

Khârn the Betrayer by Rumplemaster

Khârn the Betrayer by Rumplemaster

And two equally huge models by Machinator…

Khârn the Betrayer by Machinator

Khârn the Betrayer by Machinator

…and Reanimator, respectively:

Khârn the Betrayer by Reanimator

Khârn the Betrayer by Reanimator

I’ve taken quite a bit of inspiration from these last two for my own, updated Khârn the Betrayer, as you’ll be seeing in a minute.

And there’s this utterly unbelievable, mostly sculpted from scratch, Khârn by Master of the Forge:

Khârn the Betrayer by Master of the Forge

Khârn the Betrayer by Master of the Forge

I could never imagine creating a model like this, which just makes it even more impressive — the greatest true scale Khârn in existence? Very likely…

All of these last models are massive — as befits the Blood God’s most exalted champion. But there’s one last piece that approaches the issue from a wholly different angle. Just check out this model by WilhelMiniatures:

Khârn by Wilhelminiatures

Khârn by Wilhelminiatures


Khârn by WilhelMiniatures

Khârn by WilhelMiniatures

Wow, just…wow!

My own approach

All of these illustrations and models were floating around my head, when the theme for the 15th Painting/Converting contest over at ThroneofSkulls.com was announced: Build a better character, that is: improve on one of the Khornate characters from either 40k or WFB. It was clear to me that I wanted to build an updated Khârn, and I tried to incorporate as many awesome ideas from my various sources of inspiration as I could. It took me some time to hammer out a build, but this was what I ended up with:

Kharn the Betrayer (3)

Kharn the Betrayer (2)

Kharn the Betrayer (1)
Kharn the Betrayer (4)
My main goal was to make Khârn bigger. Plus I wanted to try and use mostly plastic parts, since it’s the material I am most comfortable with. Both led to the decision of basing the model on the legs from my beloved plastic Terminator Lord kit, combined with the upper body from a WFB Skullcrusher. Beyond that, I tried to incorporate as many visual elements of the original Jes Goodwin model as I could.

I have learned from the great Ron Saikowski that the important part in trying to make a model resemble a piece of art (or an earlier version of the miniature) is to try and get some of the key parts right: Those will make the model look believable, and close enough to its source that you can afford a little leeway with the smaller details.

On my own model, the parts I definitely wanted to keep were the bare left arm, the huge axe, the chains and the general design of the armour and helmet. Some of the detail was easy enough to recreate with plastic bitz: The big air outlet on Khârn’s chest was originally a part of an IG voxcaster, but it now looks reasonably close to the original. The chains were reasonably easy to approximate by using some of the spiked chains from the Skullcrusher kit. And in a bit of a happy coincidence, one of the axes from the FW Cataphractii Terminators looked reasonably similar to Jes Goodwin’s original design for Gorechild, while also fitting the slightly bigger scale of my model.

Other details were a bit harder to get right: I spent quite some time looking for a suitable bare arm, finally settling on an arm from the WFB Warhshrine of Chaos priest. Getting the arm into a working position did take some time, however, and even then, it ended up ever so slightly anatomically dubious — I’ll have to live with that, I suppose.

I also realised that there was no getting around using the original head and backpack: The backpack with its skulls was just too iconic (interestingly enough, the backpack I did end up using wasn’t the one from Khârn, though, but a virtually identical one from an old 90s metal Chaos Lord). And the helmet turned out to be the element that really sold the model as Khârn, instead of just some true scale berzerker — fortunately enough, fellow hobbyist Belphoebe was kind enough to provide me with a leftover Khârn head — thanks, mate!

I do realise that there are some deviations from the original model, and I did take some shortcuts during the truescaling process — but I hope the paintjob manages to pull everything together into a cohesive whole. So, without much further ado, here’s my painted model for Khârn the Betrayer:

Kharn the Betrayer redux (1)

Kharn the Betrayer redux (2)

Kharn the Betrayer redux (3)

Kharn the Betrayer redux (4)

Kharn the Betrayer redux (5)

Kharn the Betrayer redux (6)
Of course I also tried to come up with a suitably impressive base for the model, in order to support the model’s size and pose:

Kharn the Betrayer redux (7)
Granted, the pose is just as static as the one on Jes Goodwin’s original model — but, like I said: I am a fan! 😉 Plus I think that Khârn lends himself really well to the whole “bellowing at the sky in rage” thing…

Kharn the Betrayer redux (8)
Kharn the Betrayer redux (9)

Oh, and here’s a scale comparison picture, by the way, showing the new model next to my orginal, stock Khârn from way back when:

Kharn the Betrayer redux (10)
All in all, in spite of a hundred small things that could probably be better, I have to say that I am really rather happy with my new version of the character — I think Jes Goodwin’s version is still really awesome, so making Khârn bigger and more intimidating was really the best possible route, if you ask me.

Kharn the Betrayer redux (11)
I won’t lie to you: I hope my version holds up to some of the excellent conversions I’ve shown you in today’s post — and I can only say thank you to all the hobbyists whose work on Khârn has inspired me to tackle my own conversion! Thanks for letting me …borrow a few ideas from your excellent models, chaps!

So, whatever may be in store for our favourite, red-armoured lunatic this Christmas, I hope you’ve found this post inspiring! And I would love to hear any feedback you might have in the comments section!

So go convert some World Eaters now, and always remember: Khorne cares not from whence the blood flows, only that it flows!
As always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

Kharn the Betrayer redux (12)

20 Responses to “On Khârn the Betrayer”

  1. I just finished the book Betrayer and I have to say I love this post!
    The conversions are f***ing awesome.

    Now I want my own Kharn model.

  2. dude, you missed out the artwork by Mark Gibbons! Surely the best artwork of all!

    Matt 😉

    Sent from my HTC

    • Cheers, man!

      I am a huge Mark Gibbons fan, make no mistake, but I think his illustrations for Kharn really aren’t all that great: The one in the 2nd edition Codex, for instance, has aged far worse than many other pieces from the same time. On a more positive not, the pose for my Kharn conversion was somewhat inspired by his other Kharn artwork, however 😉

  3. Looking good as always KS, and the article is great AND well researched! The bigger size is great, and you’ve captured the “rage pose” fantastically. I’d also like to add your red scheme with blue accents suits him well.

    The only thing that doesn’t sit with me is the bare arm. It looks like it needs to be rotated up a bit. His bicep is facing forward too much, if you look at your own arm in the mirror you’ll see the bicep sits more upwards with more of the tricep showing underneath. Again… that is the only thing that I’m having a hard time with. I blame way too many classes on anatomy. 😉

    I have plans for my own Kharn as well, but it will be based off of the HH Kharn like AMaximus and Vanus Temple patterns.

    • Cheers, Chris!

      Like I said, the bare arm was a bit of a compromise — but given the bit I used, there really wasn’t a way of attaching it to the torso at a more natural looking angle. It’s an imperfection I’ll have to live with, I suppose.

      Looking forward to your own take on Kharn!

      • After going back through and reading the article again, I apologize. I didn’t even see that part with the first read through, and I don’t how I missed that.

        I am curious, if you could do it over… and I’m not saying you should, he still looks great… would you pin the arm and then gap fill with GS for the attachment point? Or are you really just trying to stick with as much pure plastic as possible?

      • Hmm, it’s probably true that I try to avoid the use of GS where I deem it unnecessary — or even counterproductive. In this case, I think my meagre GS skills would have left me with an even worse outcome, so I chose to accept the way the arm looks 😉 And I really don’t see myself changing that part of the model, sorry 😉

    • Amaximus here, I am more than happy to share any of my Kharn secrets. Just let me know if you have any questions. Sorry, no paint yet. I currently have no hobby station.

  4. The almost scratchbuilt one and the one model on top of the huge Tyranid gave me shivers. Outstanding work by all these artists!

    Personally I think Kharn looks pretty weird every time I behold him: it’s either the bare arms or the mostly funny looking Khornate helmet… just can’t get myself to like him. When FW released their character model then I feel it came closer to a nice looking mini.

    Just my 2 cents…

    • Hmm, both the bare arm and the custom helmet also really helped bringing across the rage of the character, if you ask me: When I first saw pictures of the original Kharn model, he seemed even more frayed around the edges than other chaos models to me — and I guess it was mainly due to those two elements. But to each their own, I guess 😉

  5. […] Learn more about Kharn the Betrayer and my interpretation of him here. […]

  6. Wow Your Khârn is a beast! I so have been looking for a way to make him less weedy ;P I feel very inspired to make my own!

  7. […] & Chainsword! You may already have seen the first model that was part of the vow, my custom Khârn the Betrayer. Today, let’s continue with a model I am particularly proud […]

  8. […] Jes Goodwin. Speaking of which, I am still rather proud of my – pretty comprehensive – post on Khârn’s various incarnations over the years, so check that out as […]

  9. […] whenever I look at them. For instance, this was just a happy accident, but I really love the way my true scale Khârn seems to get psyched-up for battle in the following […]

  10. […] coming across my model when looking for the one released by GW (as is currently the fact with my version of Khârn, […]

  11. […] Now before we take a look at the new model, allow me to mention that I have written at lenght about Khârn and his various incarnations in the art, the lore and in model form, so you may consider the following thoughts a late addendum to the respective post from 2014. […]

  12. […] about my thoughts of the various interpretations of Kharn, both in artwork and in model form (here and here, if you want to go read up on […]

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