Cutting up some Cataphractii

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 πŸ˜‰

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

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? πŸ˜‰

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:

Justaerin WIP
Deathshroud WIP
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:

WE Cataphractii WIP (14)
WE Cataphractii WIP (13)
WE Cataphractii WIP (12)
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,Β 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.Β 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 isΒ  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 πŸ˜‰

WE Cataphractii WIP (10)
WE Cataphractii WIP (9)
WE Cataphractii WIP (11)
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:

WE Cataphractii WIP (16)
WE Cataphractii WIP (15)
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:

WE Cataphractii WIP (17)
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…):

WE Cataphractii WIP (19)

WE Cataphractii WIP (20)
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. πŸ˜‰

Here’s a closer look at the headcrest and the right pauldron:

WE Cataphractii WIP (21)
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:

WE Cataphractii WIP (24)
WE Cataphractii WIP (23)
WE Cataphractii WIP (25)
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:

WE Cataphractii WIP (26)


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:

World Eaters Cataphractii squad WIP
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? πŸ˜‰

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!

29 Responses to “Cutting up some Cataphractii”

  1. Awesome ! You really catch the original way to kitbash them ! My favorite so far is the pedestrian bolter/chainfist combo. Keep up the good work my friend, Khorne is watching you…

  2. Thanks Krauty – “Pteryge” is my new word for the day!

    I quite agree with you regarding the de-mystification of the Heresy. As far as IΒ΄m concerned that age should have been left mythical and largely unexplored – only glimsed in brief snippets. Now instead we have a hundred Horos Heresy novels covering everything in such detail one could probably look up what the Emperor had for breakfast on any given date if one were so inclined.

    I really like your take on the cataphractii. TheyΒ΄re much more similar to Johns artwork – more brutal and primal. The awkwardness of the original kits poses still shows at times, but getting rid of that would have been a huge undertaking. IΒ΄d add some studs to the PTERYGES – a detail I fail to understand why the designers left out. They look so flat without them.

    Al in all – jobs a good Β΄un!

    • Cheers, Johan! If you want to really impress your fellows, here’s a bit of extra information: It can also be spelled pteruges, according to Wikipedia πŸ˜‰

      Regarding the Heresy, I am really torn: There’s lots of great stuff, both from a modeling perspective and regarding the novels, but also a lot of filler on either front. And you have to look no further than Star Wars to see what happens when every single second of every movie gets overnarrated and every single character appearing in every throwaway scene gets a backstory — in a way, it’s almost a relief that Disney decided to axe it all πŸ˜‰

      But seriously, what I miss most are the crazy projects where somebody would convert an entire Heresy era army with nothing but the old artwork to work from. These days it’s mostly about buying all the slick Forgeworld stuff, and that approach doesn’t really interest me that much.

      As for the matter at hand, I’d argue that the quintessential awkwardness of the Cataphractii is a defining factor of the archetype and should be embraced rather than opposed: I did consider making them look more mobile and aggressive, but I really like the impression that these are walking tanks. Interesting suggestions about the studs, though. I’ll think about it!

  3. Fantastic conversions,, i really think you captured the effect you were after! I think the first and last models are my favorites!

  4. I definitely think you’re right about the duality of the plastic Cataphractii. While they are the most toned-down and boring rendering of the armor type we have seen, they also provide a blank canvas for people like you to turn them into something unique.

    I think my favorite detail is the shackle you’ve attached to the belt of the first model pictured. It calls back to Angron’s history as a gladiator-slave quite elegantly. Or, as close to it as a World Eater can get, anyway.

    • Thanks, Dexter! Yeah, the shackles — originally, I just liked the look of them, but they really are a great, and ultimately tragic, symbol of Angron’s the World Eaters’ fate as slaves, aren’t they? They also create a nice bit of visual consistency, as they also appear on the Contemptor I converted a while ago.

  5. Mark DCCCXIII "Voyager" (Time/Dimensional Travelling Armour) Says:

    I was really hoping that the grey knight head you mentioned was going to show up on a later model… *Sigh* You should give the head to one of the guys.

    Also, I freaking want some Cataphractii for myself… I hope they get released as a standalone plastic kit.

    • I’ll tell you why I ultimately discarded the GK head: It worked foairly well, and it did resemble the illustraion by JB, but it wasn’t really all that different from the stock Cataphractii heads, when all was said and done. It didn’t bring anything new to the table, and after having a mocked up torso sitting on my desk for a week or so, I still didn’t stop feeling kinda MEH! about it. And then I tried the Bloodreaver heads, and they created just the look I was after, and so, in the end, it wasn’t even a true choice but an inevitability. Sorry πŸ˜‰

      I am very sure they’ll be releasing these as a separate kit at some point — why engineer a multipart kit merely for one boxed set?

  6. Congratulation, excellent and innovative conversions. My absolute favorite is the 1st one, plastic incarnation of maestro Blanche drawing. Also I really dig the axefist :), though I’d try to move the axe bit slightly higher, so the curvature of the chains will slightly protect/obscure the fingers in the gauntlet. I try to resist picking up the whole BaC box, rather waiting for the separate Cataphractii box ….

    • Cheers, mate! I did in fact try several positions for the axe blade, including having it facing the other way, and the one I have now is the one I liked best. There’s also the fact that I wanted to keep as much of the original chainfist’s mechanism as possible to make the conversion look seamless, and , once again, this position turned out to be the best fit for that.

  7. I know many may consider this heretical heresy but I’ve always, ALWAYS hated the Chaos Terminators. Though I haven’t had the expendable hobby money available (Mostly because of the fall off of actually playing the game) It was love at first sight for me when Forgeworld came out with the first Cataphracti. “Yes!” I said “This is what the core for Chaos Terminators should look like…. just add corruption.” So, bravo… looking great (as always). And Damn you… because now I may have to get some. πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks, mate! I would certainly love to see someone convert the Cataphractii into full-on Chaos Terminators! Maybe it would even be possible to mix Cataphractii and Chaos Terminator parts? Personally speaking, I don’t hate the stock Chaos Terminators, but they are a fairly by-the-book remix of the loyalist Termonators, and the kit really hasn’t aged that well — which is why most of my Chaos Terminators these days tend to be based on the Chaos Terminator Lord, I suppose πŸ˜‰

  8. Nice job Krauty, I love those old HH books – especially the mysteriousness of it all, so it is great to see someone looking back to them and trying to recapture some of that vibe… let’s face it, the stock Cats are sooo bland! Minor observation, but I kind of imagine fur being more prevalent in 30K, (probably due to how often it turns up in Blanche’s work!)… not to OTT Spacewolf levels, but just a little bit of moldy Leopard skin here and there… know what I mean?

    • Cheers, Alex! And good point about that fur. I’ll look into it — and if nothing else, it’s something I would like to try and include on some of the converted BaC Marines I am building. I remember a very cool John Blanche illustration of an Ultramarine wearing some leopard fur, come to think of it…

  9. Very nicely put!
    With my explorations of Mars ancient past I always feel I’m ruining the glorious mythical element of it all. But at the same time I want to see the myths take (plastic)flesh!

    I remember the same feelings when I played Halo as a child. I couldn’t care less about master chief, cortana or the rest.
    But the forerunners! Maaaan! That shit was the bomb. Never got to see what they looked, there were like no traces of them other than strange symbols and awe inspiring ruins and architecture.
    I spent hours just walking around in the buildings trying to figure out what their civilisation was like.
    Carefully analysing the remains of their ancient robots that I was forced to destroy, and then trying to apply their design to a possible design of a forerunners armour.

    Aaaand then they showed them in like the 4th halo or whatever. All magic evaporated in an instant.

    Love you for adding the massive topknot man! I was always disapointed that the otherwise very very cool forgeworld cataphractii didn’t have them.

    also: where is the screaming head from? (the dude with dual lightning claws)

    • Thanks, mate! I get what you’re saying about exploring the backstory of a setting: It can be a powerful tool for adding narrative layers and additional texture, but it’s also very easy to ruin the mystery of it, and I think the Horus Heresy has really gone both ways occasionally…

      Glad you like the topknots! πŸ™‚ The screaming head is from the Khorne Bloodsecrator that comes in the AoS starter box.

  10. Geralt Wiwczareck Says:

    Really cool work on these terminators!
    I’m really a fan of the first one, and thank you, because this gives me some ideas to convert my own Cataphractii! πŸ˜€

  11. […] a conversion in the first place. I had originally planned to leave this guy for last, but when I recently started hitting a bit of a roll with my Catapphractii, I felt motivated enough to start working on the Praetor as well. There was just one problem, […]

  12. […] everyone, after speaking – at length – about my conversions using the Cataphractii Terminators from Betrayal at Calth and about my experiences converting that Cataphractii Praetor from the same boxed set into yet […]

  13. there is a sight called WARGAME EXCLUSIVE that sells unique models and modifications for 40k. They have cataphracti terminator torsos (chest, head, shoulders) that look a lot like the old artwork, complete with the classic topknot.

  14. Out of curiosity, would you be able to put a standard-sized guardsman head into a Cataphractii torso without cutting it up? I’m looking to make some custom Terminators for Kill Team Elites later this year, and I like your conversion work here.

  15. […] For instance, one of the bare Corpsegrinder faces seemed like the ideal piece to add some extra oomph to this 30k World Eater in Cataphractii armour I converted back when “Betrayal at Calth” was released: […]

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