Archive for the Totally worth it Category

Interlude: State of the Hunt

Posted in 40k, Chaos, old stuff, paintjob, Pointless ramblings, state of the hunt, Totally worth it, World Eaters with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2016 by krautscientist

After a couple of weeks of frantic, ETL-related activity, this last week has been a bit of a cooldown period for me, which leaves me with the opportunity to share some World Eaters-related miscellany with you. So what’s on the menu today?

 

I. A really good read

A while ago, I was approached by Adam Jones aka Ratboy. Adam runs a monthly hobby fanzine called “The Golden D6”, pulling together a digest of hobby related content from various blogs and websites and turning it all into a rather bespoke online magazine featuring the kind of quality hobby content that we all remember from the WD issues of the yesteryear.

To my shame, however, I didn’t know anything of this at first, so when Adam asked me whether I would be okay with The Golden D6 doing a feature of my World Eaters, there was a bit of back and forth between the two of us, and with Adam trying his utmost to cater to my various whims and fancies, we arrived at a rather expansive (and pretty nifty, if I do say so myself) photo feature of Khorne’s Eternal Hunt that now makes up the tail section of The Golden D6’s issue 5:

D6 Screenshot

Beyond this army feature, the issue is full of reviews, battle reports and tutorials and makes for a very pleasant read indeed! Adam’s passion for this project shows both in his personal dealings with me and in the mag’s quality, and I am happy to have been a part of this issue! I also urge you to head over to The Golden D6 website and check out an issue or two: The asking price of $ 5,95 per issue certainly seems fair for the quality content that is on show, and a passionate hobbyist like Adam surely deserves a buck or two for engaging in this kind of endeavour!

D6 Screenshot 02
Full disclosure: As a contributor to the mag, I was given free access to issue 5. I still consider it a good deal, however, especially if you are interested in the varied style of hobby content that made old skool White Dwarf such a success!

You can purchase the various issues of the mag here.

II. An old skool daemon…and a taste of things to come…?!

And while we are on the matter of old skool White Dwarf, back when I first got into Warhammer, it was the time of the Realm of Chaos army box and a slew of related models, especially a new generation of greater and lesser Daemons. I’ve already talked at lenght about my love for the – then brand new – metal Bloodthirster here, but there were also the Bloodletters of course. And so when I needed a model to test yet another iteration of my recipe for red daemon skin earlier this week, I came across this guy here, languishing in my bitz box:

Old Skool Bloodletter WIP (2)
Old Skool Bloodletter WIP (1)
An old, mid-90s metal Bloodletter (one of the pre-predecessors of the modern plastics). I received this guy as part of a bitz drop a while ago, courtesy of fellow hobbyist Sagal (cheers, buddy! 😉 ).

Granted, these guys have a couple of glaring issues that are pretty hard to ignore by today’s standards, among them a certain anatomical wonkiness and that general clunkiness that is a hallmark of many vintage GW modelsfrom the 90s. I remember them looking truly excellent as a ranked regiment (for WFB), though: like a wall of red muscle and spiky swords. And they were a hell of an improvement over the goofy first Bloodletter incarnation, with the comically serpentine body and the lanky arms *shudder*. In fact, one could say that the current plastics are a successful attempt at taking the idea of the first Bloodletters and actually making it work.

Anyway, in spite of all their shortcomings, the slightly clunky mid-90s metal Bloodletters will always have a place in my heart, and painting one for fun should be a nice little throwback to those inncoent times! I did allow myself one small tweak to the model, however, and replaced the Bloodletter’s sword with a modern plastic Hellblade: The original sword had been snipped off when I received the model, and while I still have the bit, I still decided to replace it, as the old swords are arguably the models’ weakest point (well, that and the anatomically dubious bare asses…).

When it came to painting the model, I once again used the recipe from GW’s Bloodthirster video tutorial as a basic template. However, I made one small change to the recipe, replacing Khorne Red with Mephiston Red. The model was a blast to paint — it almost painted itself, so to speak, so here’s the finished Bloodletter:

Old Skool Bloodletter (1)
Old Skool Bloodletter (2)
Old Skool Bloodletter (3)
Old Skool Bloodletter (4)
Old Skool Bloodletter (5)
I am really happy with the result — and also rather surprised at the impact the the use Mephiston Red has had on the skin tone: The red is quite deep and luxurious, but also a bit brighter and it has more pop than the red I have used on my Bloodthirster and Skulltaker. Here’s a comparison picture that shows the difference really well:

Old Skool Bloodletter (6)
With the exception of a single colour, these models share the exact same palette. And look how much of a difference that one colour makes regarding their respective skin tones!

Anyway, this tweaked red skin recipe will be used on a pretty big upcoming project of mine — but that is a story for another day 😉

Until then, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

Nordiska Väsen revisited — the Vaettir

Posted in Conversions, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2015 by krautscientist

With Christmas right around the corner, what better subject for today’s post than a slightly heartwarming tale, right? So what is this about?

Nordiska Väsen (1)

I’ve already told you a while ago that hobby luminary and kick-ass illustrator Jeff Vader was awesome enought to send me a copy of his wonderful book “Nordiska Väsen” earlier this year, just one case of the amazing generosity I have witnessed since getting back into the hobby, but one that has stayed with me. To understand why I am so in love with the book, it’s important to know that Briand Froud’s and Alan Lee’s seminal “Faeries” is one of my favourite books of all time: It’s a lavishly illustrated tome describing the Fay folk and collecting various folk tales.

Just one example of the wonderfully evocative artwork appearing in "Faeries" | Illustration by Froud/Lee

Just one example of the wonderfully evocative artwork appearing in “Faeries” | Illustration by Froud/Lee

The artwork is nothing short of spectacular and has provided me with lots and lots of inspiration and edification throughout my life — as well as a nightmare or two.

That changeling sketch is still giving me goosebumps, even after all those years | Illustration by Froud/Lee

That changeling sketch is still giving me goosebumps, even after all those years… | Illustration by Froud/Lee

Jeff’s own “Nordiska Väsen” takes some cues from “Faeries” while putting a decidedly Nordic twist on things. Jeff’s style is also wonderful, mixing elements of Froud’s and Lee’s work with influences that recall, for example, Paul Kidby, another illustrator whose work I really love. Jeff brilliantly renders the various members of the fair folk into fantastic illustrations that fill me with the same amount of wonder I recall from browsing through “Faeries” for the first time.

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

 

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

 

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

 

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Anyway, it’s a wonderful book, and my sole point of criticism is that I cannot understand the textes accompanying all the pretty pictures, since they are all in Swedish. But even the artwork alone is well worth the price of admission in this case!

What’s more, when the book arrived, I was delighted to discover that Jeff had also added a personal dedication for me, and underneath his very kind words was a drawing of yet another brilliant little goblin. This little guy here:

Johan's goblin

And I thought the best possible way to thank Jeff for his awesome gift would be to build a model based on this sketch and send it over to him — which I actually managed to do very shortly before Christmas, I might add. But all in good order:

When building the model, I dug through my bitzbox and tried to come up with a combination of parts that would create a suitable representation of the artwork. I did have to make some allowances here and there, of course, but this is the conversion I ended up with:

Vaettir WIP (2)
Vaettir WIP (3)
When all is said and done, the model’s basically a Skaven clan rat with a gnoblar head and arms spliced together from Empire flagellant and Dark Eldar Kabalite warrior bitz. It seems like a fairly eclectic combination to be sure, yet it went together into a fairly accurate interpretation of Jeff’s sketch. How to build the massive nose was a question that confounded me for quite a while, until I finally shaved down a Skaven spear and grafted it to the little guy’s – already pretty sizeable – schnozzle. And I used some bitz and bobs to create a backpack resembling the one in the sketch:

Vaettir WIP (1)
It’s not a perfect representation of the artwork, by all means. For instance, my little guy seems to be far less jolly than the one created by Jeff Vader. But I think it’s still reasonably close — there seems to be a certain “family resemblance”. Plus building something so different from most standard GW factions turned out to be a rather liberating experience!

When it came to painting the model, I chose predominantly earthen tones and hues that reminded me, once again, of the artwork appearing in “Faeries”. I also tried to emulate Jeff Vader’s own painting style — which turned out to be quite a difficult task, however, seeing how Jeff is a much better painter than me 😉

Anyway, here’s the finished model based on Jeff’s sketch. Take a look:

Vaettir (1)
Vaettir (4)
Vaettir (6)
Vaettir (3)
Vaettir (5)

I am rather happy with the finished piece, even though it’s merely an approximation of Jeff’s artwork. What’s even better, though, is that Jeff also told me he really likes the model! He calls it the “Vaettir”, which I dearly hope is not the Swedish word for “shitty miniature”, although I am too frightened to use Google Translate in order to find out…

Vaettir (7)
Anyway, not only was this a really fun little project, but it also felt like a good way of repaying Jeff for his generosity. At the same time, I am also aware of all the other people who have shared bitz, models or valuable advice with me over the last twelve months and whom I haven’t yet send a model — sorry guys, I know I’m a terrible person! But hang in there, I will get around to all of you, eventually! In fact, I should make it a new year’s resolution! 🙂

So yeah, so much for my little Christmas tale. Let me wish you all a very merry Christmas, and see you soon when it’s once again time for the annual Eternal Hunts Awards. Until then, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

The Vaettir next to the drawing that inspired the model

The Vaettir next to the drawing that inspired the model

Striking a rich vein

Posted in 40k, Blood Bowl, Chaos, Conversions, Inq28, Inquisitor, old stuff, Orcs & Goblins, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2014 by krautscientist

Late last week, the most wonderful thing happened to me: While browsing through the stuff at my FLGS, I found out that the owner was currently selling two huge lots of assorted miniatures and bitz: One of those lots came from a former hobbyist who wanted to get rid of the last part of his collection, while the reason for the other lot being sold was, sadly enough, its owner having passed away. Anyway, the owner of my FLGS found himself in the (temporary) possession of two huge piles of models — and it shouldn’t surprise you that I was very eager to have a look at all of that stuff.

This provided me with one huge moving box and several smaller shoeboxes of stuff to sift through, which was already brilliant fun in itself: With the internet so full of collectors, professional sellers and general information as to the worth and availability of miniatures these days, finding such a hoard of stuff has become increasingly unlikely, and so the simple act of digging through the piles of models alone was an experience to savour! Most of the models came from WFB, but there was such a mass of different models (and factions) present that it took quite a bit of discipline not to just buy the whole thing outright.

Anyway, I tried to reign myself in and only dragged away about a shoebox’s worth of stuff. And whether or not my haul was all that spectacular surely lies in the eye of the beholder. But I went home utterly content, I can tell you that much 😉

Anyway, let’s take a look at the best parts of my haul (and also at the provisional ideas I have for this stuff), alright?

First up, tucked away in a plastic bag labeled “Vikings” was most of the dwarf army from the WFB “Battle for Skull Pass” boxed set from a few years back:

Lucky purchase (1)
While some of the regular models are missing, all the special characters, standard bearers, champions and musicians are still accounted for. Plus there are also the little additional bitz and bobs and terrain pieces. I basically picked this up as a bonus, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I might already have a new home for these guys (Michael, if you’re reading this: Make sure to bring a big enough suitcase, when you’re in the area again, okay? 😉 ).

I also picked up two more pieces from the same boxed set:

One, the plastic troll accompanying the Night Goblin army:

Lucky purchase (2)
This was actually one of the high points of the purchase for me, because this guy will look perfect as a troll player for my orcish Blood Bowl team, the Orkheim Ultraz  — as a matter of fact, you can already see the first parts of his Blood Bowl gear in the picture above. Nothing’s glued together yet, but I already like where this is going!

Two, this strange shaman’s tent/tree trunk hut:

Lucky purchase (3)
This might come in handy for my Blood Bowl team or for the Mordheim Orc warband I’ve been planning for a while. Come to think of it, including terrain pieces like this in the starter boxes was a really neat touch! They should do that again!

Upon closer examination, it becomes obvious that the sculpts and level of detail for starter box minis have increased dramatically since these models were released. But I still like them well enough, and finding them all together like this without a hassle certainly was a nice surprise!

While we are on the subject of greenskins, I also bought this assortment of brilliant goblins and snotlings:

Lucky purchase (4)
These are part of the still available Doom Diver Catapult — as a matter of fact, pretty much the whole catapult was included in the deal, although the greenskins themselves are definitely the stars of the show! Again, these will probably be used for Mordheim or Blood Bowl (the winged goblin would be perfect for the latter…).

Like I said, most of the stuff available was from WFB, but I did manage to find a 40k treat or two. First up, a small pile of Tyranid nuts and bolts that, while not all that impressive in and of itself, will come in handy for a future INQ28 project of mine…

Lucky purchase (5)
And there’s this lovely OOP Eldar Warlock from the 90s, sculpted by Jes Goodwin. It’s trange: Even though I have always loved Jes’ Eldar models to bits, I have never owned any of them, so picking this guy up was an absolute no-brainer:

Lucky purchase (6)
And, last but not least, a lucky find at the bottom of a box of bitz: Exactly half a Delphan Gruss model from Inquisitor:

Lucky purchase (10)
This guy may actually become my first (and, quite possibly, only) foray into the world of Inq54 — just watch this space 😉

And as for the WFB universe, there are some final highlights to share:

First up, this guy (from one of the old WFB mercenary regiments, if I recall correctly):

Lucky purchase (9)
I keep racking my brain for a way to make this guy into an INQ28 character — maybe a member of a particularly archaic Astra Militarum regiment? I am very open to suggestions 😉

Then there are three of the 6th (?) edition metal chaos knights:

Lucky purchase (7)
Pictured here is their champion, but I also purchased a standard bearer and an additional knight. While I don’t have any actual plans for these, I just had to pick them up due to nostalgia:  I loved them so much back when they were released, but they were completely unaffordable to me. I just bought the riders, btw, because there is no more room for those terrible, generic 90s plastic horses in my life. But as you can see, the new chaos knight horses work like a treat with the older metal models.

And finally, another lucky discovery:

Lucky purchase (8)
The Dark Emissary from the Albion campaign. This guy was re-released in Finecast a while back and is still available. But finding him in a pile of shoddily painted Hormagaunts was still a rather nice surprise!

I’ll spare you the piles of Catachan, Night Goblin and generic Space Marine bitz that were also part of the bundle: Much of this stuff will come in handy sooner or later, but it lacks the appeal of the highlights shown above 😉

In addition to the models, I also picked up some older 40k related books:

Lucky purchase (11)
From left to right: The 40k 3rd and 4th edition big rulebooks (believe it or not, I have never owned those until now), one of the hallowed Chapter Approved compendiums (containing wonderful but somewhat outdated Index Astartes articles on the creation of Space Marines, Dreadnoughts, Librarians and on various chapters and legions: Dark Angels, Emperor’s Children, Iron Warriors, White Scars & Flesh Tearers) and Codex: Witch Hunters (obviously a must for any fan of the Inquisition).

All of these are in excellent condition, and I suspect the old 40k source books will merit a more detailed writeup in the not too distant future…

So yeah, quite a haul! I am immensely pleased, both with the stuff I did and didn’t buy: By sheer force of will, I resisted the urge to just grab the whole, enormous box — although my restraint made me miss a mint 2002 Games Day Chaos Champion which my colleague Annie later picked up (*sigh*). And I did find a 1998 Games Day Female Commissar, but pointed it out to the owner of my FLGS, since I knew that, as an avid IG player, he would probably be extremely interested in the model — I was right 🙂

But even beyond the stuff I purchased (at a very good – albeit not unreasonable – price, by the way), digging through the various strata of the boxes served as a trip down memory lane. Before long, me and the owner of the store were exchanging old hobby tales and thinking back on innocent days long past. Good times 😉

Anyway, so much for a very nice, hobby-related surprise! And wherever the original owners of these models may be now (in this world or in the warp), they may rest assured that their lead and plastic have found a good home with me!

As always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

From the Warp – a blog sorely missed

Posted in 40k, Conversions, DIY, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by krautscientist

Today I would like to talk about one of my favourite hobby blogs as well as one of my favourite hobby artists. So what is this about?

It has been almost exactly one year since Ron Saikowski last updated his blog, From the Warp, and told the community he was taking some time off from blogging. And even in a hobby scene as full of amazing hobby blogs as this, the absence of new content on FTW is still very keenly felt — at least by me.

FTWbanner

But why? And what was/is so great about FTW in the first place? Allow me to elaborate:

When I got back into the hobby in 2010 after a longer hiatus, I was amazed and cowed in equal parts by the quality of the hobby content that could be found online: While I had been away, it seemed like everyone and their cousin had become expert painters, wielding superior techniques and baffling creativity. The presence of such a treasure trove of hobby related content proved to be equally exciting and intimidating: How was I to get back into all this and hope to build an army that I could truly be proud of? In any case, it seemed like an even more daunting task than it had been during my teens.

And then I discovered FTW, and things started to fall into place.

You see, like many other hobby blogs on the internet, FTW is full of beautifully painted models and valuable hobby advice. But while I love many blogs and read them regularly, no other site has come close to FTW when it comes to actually helping hobbyists, to teach them new stuff and to encourage them to step outside their comfort zone. At the same time, if you are simply in it for the pretty pictures, FTW should be right up your alley: Ron’s style of gritty realism is one of the most effective and elegant approaches I have seen in our hobby. And I’ll just take the liberty to intersperse my ramblings in this post with pictures of some of my favourite models of his — it goes without saying that none of these were built and painted by me. I own none of this stuff. Credit must go to Ron Saikowski.

This Cataphractii Terminator showcases one of Ron's trademark conversion recipes, using cardboard-turned-into-plasticard to transform standard plastic terminators into Pre-Heresy individuals before FW ever released their own versions and before "Cataphractii" was even a word. Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski.

This Cataphractii Terminator showcases one of Ron’s trademark conversion recipes, using cardboard-turned-into-plasticard to transform standard plastic terminators into Pre-Heresy individuals before FW ever released their own versions and before “Cataphractii” was even a word.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski.

It’s hard to pick my favourite part of FTW, as a matter of fact: The stunningly effective, yet surprisingly simple, recipes for achieving certain painting effects? The clean and seamless conversion work? The useful reviews of hobby products (and the mention of possible alternatives) or the insightful commentary about the hobby at large? All of these were reasons for why FTW still seems like such a great blog.

A fantastic converted Astartes chaplain, based on the pose of GW's Gabriel Seth Model.  Model built by Ron Saikowski

A fantastic converted Astartes chaplain, based on the pose of GW’s Gabriel Seth model.
Model built by Ron Saikowski

But at the heart of it all lies Ron’s own approach to matters: When posting on his blog, he was always, in the truest sense of the word, a scholar and a gentlemen: always helpful and willing to explain every step of his work until everyone was content and carefully addressing comments and suggestions made by the readers. And while Ron’s work taught me countless neat things, his posts never seemed like he was trying to lecture people of convert them to the “right” way of doing things in our hobby.  In fact, there has probably never been a nicer, more pleasant blogger in our particular neck of the woods..uh webz 😉

Space Marine Commander on Pre-Heresy jetbike by Ron Saikowski

Ron’s stunningly effective Pre-Heresy jetbike conversion: I have used the same approach to build jetbikes for my small Custodes force.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

Another great thing is that Ron’s recipes and techniques are so great precisely because they can be used by normal people. Now we all enjoy looking at some GD level painting from time to time, but when it comes to getting our armies painted, we are happy enough to find a recipe that works and stick with it. FTW has always been a perfect resource in this respect, featuring countless wonderful painting recipes without the need for twenty extra-thin layers of paint in order to build up a certain hue. No freehanding under a microscope with a paintbrush the width of a horse hair here, but rather a way of doing things that produces awesome results with a modicum of work.

Ron's Alpha Legion recipe is an example of a fairly simple approach that still yields awesome results. Model bult and painted by Ron Saikowski

Ron’s Alpha Legion recipe is an example of a fairly simple approach that still yields awesome results.
Model bult and painted by Ron Saikowski

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Ron remains one of my favourite painters for the reason that his pieces are perfectly realised: Poe described a thing called “Unity of effect”, arguing that all parts of a literary work should work towards the intended effect in an interlocking pattern. And this is very true of Ron’s paintjobs: While there may be painters who can pull of even more amazing stunts when it comes to blending, glazing, freehands or what have you, Ron’s models always look completely realised: All of the different colours and effects work together to create a model that looks like a perfect little slice of the 40k universe. Nothing detracts from the overall effect. The models seem like they could just step down from their bases and lay waste to your desktop. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a more successful way of painting!

The Novamarines' colour scheme always seemed pretty gimmicky to me. But given Ron's "unity of effect" approach, it is transformed into something that seems quite plausible. Model built and Painted by Ron Saikowski

The Novamarines’ colour scheme always seemed pretty gimmicky to me. But given Ron’s “unity of effect” approach, it is transformed into something that seems quite plausible.
Model built and Painted by Ron Saikowski

And while the blog is mostly about Space Marines, not only will non-Astartes players find much to like about the recipes and tutorials featured on FTW, but Ron is also sometimes at his best when he isn’t actually doing Marines. Take a look:

A fantastic DKOK model built using second party bitz. Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A fantastic DKOK model built using second party bitz.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very successful attempt at kitbashing an Eversor Assassin from nothing but plastic parts: This guy inspired me to build my own "Operative Sigma". Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very successful attempt at kitbashing an Eversor Assassin from nothing but plastic parts: This guy inspired me to build my own “Operative Sigma”.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very evocative and "Blanchian" Imperial Mystic, unfortunately Ron's only foray into the wonderful world of INQ28. Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very evocative and “Blanchian” Imperial Mystic, unfortunately Ron’s only foray into the wonderful world of INQ28.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

If all of this reads like a gushing love letter to you, that’s because it it: To date, FTW remains one of my favourite hobby resources, and I think it’s a crying shame that it isn’t updated anymore. In fact, I still regularly check whether there are any new updates — just in case…

The good news, though, is that all of the existing amazing content is still there for you to check out and discover. Ron’s tutorials are still every bit as helpful as they were when he first posted them. And the models are still inspiring and beautiful, a testament to effective painting. In fact, I would argue that From the Warp is still one of the most important hobby resources for those active in the hobby or just getting into it, and a priceless treasure trove of hobby knowledge.

Oldies but goldies: Ron's own "Lustwing", an army of Emperor's Children Terminators. Just check out that awesome lord in pre heresy armour! Models built and painted by Ron Saikowski

Oldies but goldies: Ron’s own “Lustwing”, an army of Emperor’s Children Terminators. Just check out the scratchbuilt Pre-Heresy armour!
Models built and painted by Ron Saikowski

So, Ron, if you’re reading this: Thanks for all the amazing work! We owe you big time! And here’s hoping that you’ll eventually get back to updating your blog! And to you readers: FTW should really be part of your regular hobby diet, if only to check out all of the great ideas and tips. So head on over there right now and bookmark that page! And if you’ve been a regular reader of FTW before, well, you know what I am talking about anyway, right?

In closing, while most of the content on FTW is truly amazing, here are a couple of personal favourites of mine that I think you should check out:

Ron’s Pre-Heresy Jetbike conversion

Converting a skull helmet for chaplains or Dark Apostles

Ron’s very own “Lustwing”, a counts as Deathwing force consisting of Emperor’s Children Terminators.

Truly heartwarming: Ron’s Chaos Daemon based on a sketch by his daughter

How to make your Space Marine Captain stand out

His collection of advice on basing is still essential reading for every hobbyist, if you ask me.

So what’s your opinion on FTW? And has anyone been hearing from Ron, perchance? Let me know what you think in the comments!

And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

A Dark Vengeance Chaplain painted by Ron: One of his most recent models, and possibly my favourite! Model painted by Ron Saikowski

A Dark Vengeance Chaplain painted by Ron: One of his most recent models, and possibly my favourite!
Model painted by Ron Saikowski

Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Betrayer – a review of sorts

Posted in 40k, Chaos, Fluff, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it, Uncategorized, World Eaters with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2013 by krautscientist

And now, as they say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, for something completely different…

Today I’d like to talk about Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s novel Betrayer, which I finally managed to read this last weekend. Seeing how I am a really big fan of the World Eaters, you could certainly say that I took my sweet time for getting around to reading the book, right? Well, there’s a reason for that — several reasons in fact. Allow me to elaborate:

Betrayer_cover

For starters, I have to admit that I am not perfectly sure how to feel about the whole Horus Heresy business. And by that I don’t mean the actual (fictional) event, but the business part: It’s easy to see how the HH franchise has turned into a huge business opportunity for GW and its subsidiaries Black Library and Forgeworld: On the modelling and gaming side of the hobby, FW’s release of Horus Heresy themed models and rules has been a dream come true for countless hobbyists. And the accompanying series of tie-in fiction seems to have opened up the 40k (or rather, 30k) universe to a readership beyond the diehard fans, at least if the sales based awards heaped upon the series are to be believed.

Now everyone’s allowed to have their profit, of course, but you may agree with me when I say that the prospects of huge amounts of money to be made are never the best thing to boost narrative integrity: There are countless instances in literature, film and videogames where the monetary success of a franchise served to replace any semblance of telling a great story with what us mere mortals refer to milking the cow (well, I refer to it as that, anyway).  Therefore, I am reasonably sure that I am not going to burst your bubble when I state that a series of tie-in fiction might not be the perfect place to look for literary greatness. But even then, there’s actually decent storytelling and there is money grabbing. I also harbour the subtle fear that there might come a day when every single hour of every single day of the Horus Heresy is firmly documented within its own novel — just like each and every creature in the Mos Eisley cantina now has a rather detailed CV available in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (go ahead, do some research — I dare you!)

And, in all fairness, my first foray into the literary side of the Heresy (the short story collection “Tales of Heresy”) didn’t leave me exactly optimistic, since I found some of the stories to be pretty horrible, some merely tolerable (among them a Dan Abnett story, which was really a disappointment for me) and only two truly good: Graham McNeill’s haunting “The Last Church” and Matthew Farrer’s seminal “After Desh’ea” — the first story to ever make the World Eaters’ Primarch Angron actually read as an interesting character.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the first real BL book to flesh out my favourite legion: I have gone on record stating that the prospect of new material for “my” legion always fills me with equal amounts of anticipation and dread: While I love to get more input on the World Eaters, the rather hamhanded current background for them leaves me wishing as often as not that GW would just leave them alone. So when I learned that Aaron Dembski-Bowden would be writing the novel, I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about it: On the one hand, I would have perferred Mathew Farrer, the one guy so far who seemed to have understood the legion’s narrative potential, to get another shot at writing these guys. On the other hand, ADB’s credentials and the quotes he posted on his (higly recommended) blog made me cautiously optimistic. But I was still feeling a little scared — does that make sense? In all fairness, I also didn’t want to read the digital version, since I am a printed on paper kind of guy. Anyway, hence the delay.

 

Betrayer tells a surprisingly momentous tale (interesting for a series that often seems content to over-embroider minor plot points to the point of ridiculousness) that ends with what may truly be called a bang. Without spoiling the plot for you, let’s just say that the end of the model does have enormous ramifications for the future of the XIIth Astartes Legion. Before that, though, the World Eaters get lots and lots of opportunities of rampaging across Imperial worlds, among them the Ultramarines’ war world of Armatura and Nuceria, the Primarch Angron’s own homeworld.

For a book dealing with a legion that is mostly about frenzy and senseless butchery, the plot is also uncannily character and dialogue driven. It’s all for the best, though, because in my opinion, ADB is just very good at writing Space Marine characters: He manages to combine their supernatural powers and majesty with a believable amount of humanity and of course just the right blend of gravitas and theatrics. The interactions between the different Primarchs are just as good, with the fabled demigods truly feeling like a race apart but remaining relatable nevertheless. The Word Bearers’ primarch Lorgar stands out as a inscrutable character, sincere and utterly manipulative at the same time, impossible as that may seem.

The book’s greatest feat, however, is how it treats Angron. You should think that a guy who is “always angry all the time” and whose name is, for crying out loud, ANGRON would not exactly turn out to be a narrative goldmine, but Matthew Farrer already disproved that notion in “After Desh’ea”. I had hoped that ABD would take the look and feel of that story and run with it, and indeed he did: His Angron is a tragic, damned figure, scarred in body and soul and utterly beyond redemption. So far, nothing new.

But ABD’s characterisation truly excels at making Angron believable and, dare I say it, sympathetic in his background and his pain, while also making it clear that the Primarch is monstrous. It’s a very delicate balance to maintain, but it works: You cannot help feeling sorry for the broken Primarch, but you could also never really like him. He has the best possible reasons to be this way, but he is also irredeemable.

A similar high point, then, is the relationship between the Primarch and his gene-sons: There has been a discussion over at Throne of Skulls whether or not the World Eaters hate their Primarch, and I would argue that the truth of the matter, at least according to Betrayer, is far more ingenious and believable than that: It’s clear that the World Eaters are very aware that the Butcher’s Nails implants that they let themselves be outfitted with in order to feel true kinship with their Primarch have irrevocably damaged the legion: Kharn and several other characters show feelings of resentment and melancholia at the realisation that their legion can never be as inspirational or cultured as most of the other legions due to the bite of the nails. And who would be to blame for that other than Angron, right?

Yet at the same time, it’s obvious that the World Eaters take fierce pride in their brotherhood and martial honour. They have eagerly cobbled together their own warrior culture from the snippets of lore brought back by Angron and those traditions from their legionaries’ myriad homeworlds, and while they clearly acknowledge that it’s not a shining example of human endeavour, it’s the only kind of culture they have, so they cling to it fiercely. And this culture does of course encompasses Angron and his past at Nuceria.

Then there’s the fact that they do, in fact, feel pity for Angron — a notion that would probably send the Primarch flying into a rage, ironically enough. They share his feeling that he never had a chance to begin with, and what little glory was his to claim was taken away during the battle of Desh’ea.

And finally, even though Angron’s condition is perpetually deteriorating, there are moments of brotherhood and kinship between him an his sons: The book describes how he shares in his sons’ rituals and battles, how he drinks and laughs with them like few other Primarchs do, even though there is a gulf of conflicting emotions between them.

So what we have here is this hugely complex (and beautifully written) mix of resentment, love, hatred, disappointment and what have you. I think this is as true to life as fiction dealing with transhuman supersoldiers can possibly be, precisely because it echoes real life: You might feel resentment or embarrassment or even hatred for one of your close relatives, but they will always remain your family, and there’s no escaping that fact.

Below this main storyline, I also loved how ADB managed to partly flesh out the fleet and Titan legions — actually my least favourite parts of the whole background so far: By creating interesting and noble characters (like the Conqueror’s flag-captain Serrin or the Legio Audax personnel) and by injecting both organisations with a healthy dose of WWI air warfare chivalry (with officers complimenting their opponents on shrewd maneuvres and elegant tactics), he succeeds at actually giving the non-Astartes characters a voice of their own, without their parts of the novel ever feeling boring or unnecessary.

And for all those who are understandably sceptical of GW’s focus on Space Marines, feeling they are all just reskins of the same basic design template, it should be interesting to see how the author manages to give a different feel to the Legiones Astartes: From the fierce brotherhood (and battlefield frenzy) of the World Eaters to the priestly nobility (and insane zeal) of the Word Bearers, you get the impression that the Legiones Astartes are very different from each other indeed, if only written well. Even the Ultramarines, serving mainly to be beaten up very badly, get a few moments in the spotlight, and we are afforded glimpses at their warrior culture that make them look more interesting than they have any right to be (their battlefield commanders issuing orders in High Gothic is a great little touch).

In fact, ADB’s writing of characters always seems to be at its best where it deals with duality: Lorgar’s inscrutable motives, Angron’s position between a tragic hero and a monster, the legions’ duality or even the surprising depth of minor characters.

And, beyond all that, the book is of course a goldmine for little bitz and pieces of lore, from the World Eaters’ battle traditions and gladiatorial bouts to their affected bastard language of Nagrakali: These guys may fall to frenzy and bloodlust when on the battlefield, but for what may the first time ever, you can actually imagine them off the battlefield as well — no mean feat!

 

So, are there any negatives?

For one, this is, after all, only one book in a series. This means that most of the plot will only make sense to you if you do at least have an idea of the overarching narrative: If you’ve never heard about the Word Bearers’ machinations, about what happened on Calth or about the Thousand Sons’ being torn apart by the Space Wolves, you’ll be left scratching your head more than once. And even if you have a relatively good grasp of the bigger events, some references and allusions might still go over your head. That’s not really the author’s fault, though — if anything, I feel dread at the prospect of now having to read other HH novels written by less talented people…

Nevertheless, if you are simply looking for a great SciFi novel to pass the time, this might not be it: Too much stuff will be lost on you, and there are probably enough self-contained storylines of similar quality that are easier to get into. And it goes without saying that the book will prove utterly impenetrable to those without any knowledge of the attached GW universe.
If, however, you have a general idea of the overarching HH storyline – not necessarily from reading other HH novels, but from a mix of reading the different (Chaos) Space Marine codizes over the years and doing a bit of scrounging around for background at places like the Lexicanum or the Warhammer 40k Wiki – you’re good to go: That was my preparation going into this novel, and I belive it was enough.

For every World Eaters player, Betrayer is, of course, a must buy, for the amount of background lore alone. But there’s a great story beyond all that, and the book is truly great as tie-in fiction, and still very good on its own terms: I, for one, will probably pick up more of ABD’s novels (I am told his Night Lords stuff is the shitz) and look forward to his Black Legion series — or maybe some more World Eaters stuff?

 

But what does it all mean for Khorne’s Eternal Hunt? I’ll be honest with you: I did of course fear that parts (or most) of my own fluff would be ivalidated by this novel. But not only does ABD himself address the fact that several versions of events exist in the background (in a surprisingly clever throwaway scene), but he also succeeds at creating a canvas for your own fluff rather than enforcing his own view of things (as some authors have been known to do…). So while small readjustments to my own background may be in order, I relish the chance to make the 4th assault company even more interesting and colourful. In fact, there might be a separate post in that somewhere 😉

 

What about you, though: Have you read the book? How do you feel about it? And was this review helpful to you? Please feel free to share whatever thoughts you might have in the comments section!

And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

P.S. Oh yeah, before I forget; In case you didn’t gather as much from my rambling above, this book is also totally worth it.

Totally worth it: 40k 2nd edition Codex Chaos

Posted in 40k, Chaos, Fluff, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it, World Eaters with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2013 by krautscientist

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As you may have realised by now, Totally Worth It as a series is as much about forgotten or unjustly maligned gems of tabletop wargaming as it is about the formative moments in my personal hobby life. So today I would like to address what may have been the defining purchase of my younger hobby years. Today on Totally Worth It: The 40k second edition Codex Chaos.

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Phew, where to start?

I already told you about my first contact with Warhammer 40k, and how it was completely unlike every other Sci-Fi setting I had ever heard about. Much of that would possibly still hold true for somebody getting into the hobby today, but there may be a number of differences, chief among them the way to get hold of the 40k background:

Back in the mid to late 90s, the Internet didn’t exist — or rather,  it didn’t exist for me. Neither did repositories of 40k background like Lexicanum, or hobbyists discussing in detail the background of their particular army on boards like Throne of Skulls or Dakka. So if you wanted to learn the background of the 40k universe, GW’s own publications were pretty much the only way to go. And since each of those books came at a sizeable price, even back then, you can probably imagine that getting access to all of it at once was pretty much out of the question. So while it didn’t take me all that long to discover that Chaos Space Marines were one of the factions that most fascinated me, my first approach to them happened via a number of small individual glimpses:

I remember seeing a picture of the model for Kharn the Betrayer and thinking: “I wonder what that guy’s story is!” I remember reading my buddy Phil’s 2nd edition Codex Ultramarines (in english, no less) and stumbling upon that scene where Marneus Calgar’s prowess in battle earns him a salute from a World Eaters champion and being fascinated by that idea, even then. I remember discovering that there were such things as Plague Marines, the Thousand Sons, or Abaddon the Despoiler, but I knew the models long before I discovered their background or their significance in the lore. As a matter of fact, I would sometimes ask some of my buddies who had bought the models what those guys’ background was, and they’d shrug because they didn’t know.

So it was clear to me that I would need to find out the hard way: I needed to read up on these guys. So when the 3rd edition of Warhammer 40k was released, the Codex Chaos Space Marines was the second 40k book I ever purchased (soon after Codex Dark Eldar). And actually, the best way to start describing how momentous the sedond edition Codex Chaos was for my hobby life is to first talk about the 3rd edition Codex:

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Back then, GW was following a policy of stripping down their Codices as much as they could for a while, making them as short and bare bones as they could be. That way, their reasoning went, they would be able to produce more of them in a shorter amount of time. They where right in this, but unfortunately, the books were worse for it.

To wit: I had hoped the CSM Codex to be a great introduction to an army I was fascinated with, but it barely gave me a taste: Sure, it contained basic informations about the Great Crusade, the Horus Heresy and the fall of the traitor Legions, and I lapped it all up eagerly. But it didn’t even begin to tap into the respective traitor legions’ rich lore. Even then, before all the HH novels, you just knew there had to be lots and lots of (potential) backstory to these guys: On a very basic level, they were just evil Space Marines, sure. But it went beyond that: They had rebelled. They had lost. They were 10,000 years old. What tragedy! What narrative potential!

Unfortunately, the 3rd edition Codex barely gave one short column of text for each of the original traitor legions. And – I kid you not – they even forgot the Word Beareres altogether! And what artwork there was was so small as to be pretty much insignificant.

Now a minimalist approach like that might have worked for the Dark Eldar (at least at first), seeing how they were a brand new faction with very little backstory in the setting. But for the Chaos Space Marines, it was a horrible idea: All the depth and tragedy fell by the wayside in favour of a very stripped down rulebook. The one thing about the Codex that has really managed to age rather gracefully (apart from the impressive cover artwork by Wayne England) is the ‘Eavy Metal section, featuring lots and lots of creative and interesting conversions:

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As a matter of fact, this may also be the only section of the book that actually hints at what a compelling faction chaos can really be, showcasing one of the greatest aspects of the army: its versatility and the potential for customisation and conversion. The rest of the book seems more like an Excel spreadsheet, though. And a general fondness for old wargaming publications notwithstanding, I feel that it’s probably the weakest CSM Codex ever.

But back then, it was all I had to work with, so it had to be enough. I was immediately drawn to the World Eaters, since I have been a worshipper of Khorne ever since my WFB days, and there was a new plastic kit just coming out for the Khorne Berzerkers back then — how time flies: Almost twenty years later, and that same plastic kit is still available — in fact, I bought my last one some time last year…

Anyway, I kept plugging away on my own for a couple of years, and then, one day, discovered a copy of the second edition Codex Chaos at a comic book store. A quick glance made it clear that this was the book I had been pining for: Just skimming across the background for the traitor legions gave me more ideas and inspiration than the whole 3rd edition Codex. So I picked up the book in a heartbeat (and for a pretty penny, at that), hurried home and spent the next few days tugging into the background for my favourite 40k army. And with that, we finally arrive at our main subject, after a rather wordy introduction.

After the meagre 3rd edition Codex, nothing could have prepared me for the 2nd edition book. In fact, it still remains my favourite chaos army book ever. And even for somebody getting into the hobby today, it would still be an ideal place to get information on the traitor legions.

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The book’s background section is simply fantastic: Each traitor legion gets about half a page of background, but the fluff is concise, well written and cuts straight to the heart of each legion. And even though the following years have seen the HH series flesh out more and more of the backstory, changing around some things while completely dropping others, very little of the background presented in the 2nd edition Codex has been completely invalidated by the newer material. It’s all there: The Word Bearers as the original traitor legion. The sundering of the World Eaters at Skalathrax. The Thousand Sons’ descent into mutation and madness, as well astheir subsequent death and rebirth at the hands or Ahriman. The duplicity of the Alpha Legion. It just goes on and on…

Sure, subsequent iterations of the fluff have added layers of complexity: The Word Bearers are a far bigger (and even more sinister) influence in the more recent material. The Alpha Legion’s allegiance has become far more ambiguous. But reading through the material in the codex still gives you a compelling and completely viable rundown of the traitor legions. And all the backstory and narrative potential isn’t merely being obliquely hinted at.

Of course it helps that the book is lavishly illustrated, featuring brilliant artwork by such luminaries as Mark Gibbons, Wayne England and, of course, John Blanche himself. Did you know JB actually did some World Eaters artwork at one point?

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From haunting, Blanchian daemonworlds and Mark Gibbon’s quintessential Khorne berzerker art to Wayne England’s brilliantly evocative legion badges, the book is overflowing with cool artwork. Some of it may seem slightly goofy today, but it’s a great collection, with influences from the RT era still clearly evident, while the newer pieces would work flawlessly in a modern codex. In fact, one of John Blanche’s most iconic spreads was subsequently republished both in WD and the fourth edition codex:

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Two pages full of crazy conversion and customisation ideas. And even though none of the bitz mentioned may be available any longer, this spread instantly tells you what building and painting a CSM army is about: It’s about giving it your all to make sure your legionaries actually look like the 10,000 year veterans they are! It’s about tweaking each model and going the extra mile, to end up with an army that is truly special and unique!

The ‘Eavy Metal section of the book shows all the available CSM models from the time and has a nice showcase for most of the traitor legions. As a matter of fact, the two page spread showing the World Eaters models available back then has more background for the legion than the 3rd edition book’s entire background section:

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And, of course, there’s also advice on how to customise and convert your chaos models. This nicely complements John Blanche’s ideas, and I am still rather fond of some of the conversions shown in the 2nd edition Codex, even though miniature design has come quite a long way since then.

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It’s also worth mentioning that there are no more conversions in today’s codices, which I think is a crying shame!

The book continues with an in-depth look at the most notorious champions of chaos, introducing characters like Abaddon the Despoiler, Kharn the Betrayer, Ahriman of the Thousand Sons and Fabius Bile. And it has to be said that some of the artwork featured in that section not only managed to blow me away back then, but is just as impressive today. Check out this piece of artwork depicting Fabius Bile.

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Best version of the character ever, if you ask me!

And there’s more: A huge wargear section, not only featuring the rules for the different items but also containing interesting tidbits about the state of technology at the time of the Great Crusade (sadly, this – along with the rules section – is one of the parts of the book that have been invalidated by the newer fluff and material). A section about traitor chapters of the Adeptus Astartes, featuring the notorious Red Corsairs and – for the first time – their Lord, Huron Blackheart. There’s also a chunk of background about the Fallen Angels and Cypher. The book just goes on and on and lets you discover a thousand different and cool details about the servants of chaos.

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Certainly one of the greatest things about the book is its sizeable appendix, though, providing you with rules for chaos cultists and traitorous planetary defense forces. And it even gives you rules for daemon world armies, eternally waging war in the Eye of Terror. This effectively allows you to use parts (or indeed the entirety) of your WFB chaos army in 40k games to represent the twisted armies of the Eye — a nice callback to the blending of WFB and RT that occured in the “Realm of Chaos” books of yore.  The section also gives you information about the great four’s original daemon princes, along with corresponding rules.

In fact, this section is a perfect representation of what’s so great about the book in the first place: You get the feeling that Jervis Johnson and Andy Chambers just decided to throw in every cool idea they had, and to make as comprehensive a book about the ruinous powers as they could. Some of the rules may be experimental and unbalanced (in fact, the authors even specifically point this out with regard to the appendix). Some ideas may seem goofy nowadays (and, in all fairness, they were probably just as goofy back then). But the book is clearly a work of love, and that fact shows through on every page. Even the very last page of the book is used by the authors to impart yet more ideas for narrative games involving the forces of chaos. You cannot help but violently fall in love with a design philosophy like that!

So, where does that leave us in regard to the versions of the CSM Codex that came afterwards? As you may have gathered, the less said about the 3rd edition Codex, the better. The fabled “3,5 Codex” still stands tall as a fan favourite, because it allowed players to play each chaos legion with its own custom rules and wargear — however, this came at the price of making chaos armies somewhat unwieldy and frankly impenetrable for non-chaos players. The oft-maligned fourth edition codex, derisively called “Gav Dex” by some, went for a far more streamlined solution, alienating quite a few players along the way. Personally speaking, I rather liked the codex for its flexibility, and I think much of the criticism leveled at its authors is actually rather unfair (you can read my thoughts on the matter here, in case you are interested).

And the sixth edition codex? I like the book: It has great production values, and the rules set seems robust enough while retaining the flexibility of the last edition’s codex. But the legion specific background is back to one short column per legion, and that’s certainly not an improvement.

In all fairness, giving chaos players a book they are actually happy with may be an unsolvable task: A Codex to make every chaos player happy would probably have to be 500 pages long, feature full rules for each and every legion (and, as a consequence, probably cost 250 Euros). So I think Phil Kelly’s effort was probably the best possible compromise. The situation today is also far different from that in the mid-90s: With places like Lexicanum and the 40kWiki and publications like the BL novels available, you have all the background you might need at your fingertips at all times. There’s also a huge online community of hobbyists to discuss the background and fluff with. So today’s codices may actually no longer be requird to be the be-all and end-all when it comes to describing the background.

Still, the 2nd edition Codex Chaos still stands as possibly my favourite chaos army book ever. It delivers a fantastic amount of bang for the buck and is still just as good an introduction to the traitor legions now as it was back then. And even though the rules are no longer viable, the book is still a great puchase, just for the background section and the crazy amount of ideas on display! So if you’re a chaos player, and should find yourself in any position to pick this up, go for it: It’s still totally worth it!

 

So yeah, that was my rather wordy – and probably completely inadequate – love letter to one of my favourite GW publications ever, I guess. Provided you didn’t fall asleep in the first place, should you have anything to add regarding the book, or any feedback to this review, I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments section!

And, in any case, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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Totally worth it: 40k 2nd edition Codex Imperialis and rulebooks

Posted in 40k, Fluff, old stuff, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by krautscientist

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It’s time to take a look at another true classic of my personal hobby life, and today’s contender will most likely have played a role in many people’s formative hobby years. This time on Totally worth it: The Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition Codex Imperialis and rulebooks.

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My first contact with 40k didn’t happen by way of the rules or the background. It happened by getting glimpses of the miniatures. Ever since getting into the hobby through of HeroQuest and its futuristic counterpart, Space Crusade, I had been in love with GW’s two major settings — although I didn’t even realise back then that those two universes were actually part of a greater whole (and an IP of the same corporate entity): While HeroQuest seemed to me like a hodgepodge of all kinds of Tolkienesque high fantasy tropes (which, in all fairness, it was), Space Crusade looked like a simple remix of HeroQuest…IN SPACE! I already mentioned in passing how the horribly butchered background in the German version of the game did a fantastic job of making sure no one had a chance to realise that it was basically set in the 40k universe (or, indeed, that there was such a thing as a 40k universe).

So it took my good buddy Phil to actually bring me up to speed: He had gotten himself a copy of the then-new 2nd edition 40k starter box, and it was by seeing the models arrayed on the gaming table in his bedroom as well as by getting short glimpses of the rulebooks accompanying the game that I got my first basic impressions of the 40k universe.

Make no mistake, though: Back then, I saw 40k as a mostly straightforward Sci-Fi setting, only with orcs and dwarves and chaos involved. So I will never forget the Saturday morning I spent rolled up in bed, reading through the 40k sourcebooks I had borrowed from Phil to get a grip on the bigger picture behind the game. The experience blew my (much younger) mind, since the setting was actually nothing like I had imagined it:

Where I had expected the usual Sci-Fi tropes of technological progress and towers of glass and marble and the like, I learned of a galaxy in steady decline instead: All the great times had already passed, all the good things already happened, and the whole Imperium of Man was still trying to get to grips with the fallout from an event 10,000 years in the past: The Horus Heresy.

I was shocked by how dark the whole background was. And I couldn’t help but laugh at the audacity of it all at the same time: A universe 40,000 years into the future (just try to actually imagine that for a second, instead of just skimming over it and moving on!). Battleships looking like cathedrals. The Emperor of Mankind sitting on a throne that was nothing more than a glorified life support, trapping a last spark of life in what was, for all intents and purposes, a withered corpse. The brightly coloured, clean-cut Space Marines I had witnessed on the tabletop the result of half-remembered genetic experiments, likely to malfunction and create horrible results as often as not. The “Space Ogres” and “Space Dwarves” were actually mutated humans that had adapted to their new homes in space – the whole thing just couldn’t have been any more over the top and sinister and quirky — but somehow it still worked. And it rocked! Hard!

One of the reasons for that may have been the fact that all the background was accompanied by some of the most disturbing and brilliantly rendered art ever, such as these iconic John Blanche pieces:

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Even though GW’s two main universes may have been a mashup of all kinds of well-established tropes and influences to begin with, 40k succeeded at finding its very own voice: Something between classic Tolkienesque fantasy and the disturbing visuals of the David Lynch version of Dune. Looking back at it now, the Orks and dwarves and chaos warriors using machine guns weren’t even the most interesting thing about the setting in the first place. They were just a point of entry. What I found much more compelling was the Imperium’s neo-Luddite approach towards technology, the promise of technological progress (so omnipresent in the Sci-Fi genre) fractured and broken and twisted into something else. A galaxy-wide Imperium, able to perform technological miracles by today’s standards, but still seeming strangely antiquated and dystopian, like a blend of 1984’s Oceania, Brave New World’s sinister view towards genetics and Victorian design sensibilities — there was nothing quite like it, and I guess there still isn’t.

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After reading these books, I was immediately hooked. It would take years for me to get around to the actual gaming, and even longer to purchase my first own starter box for 40k, but ever since reading through the 2nd edition Codex Imperialis, I have found 40k to be by far the most original and interesting setting in GW’s catalogue.

But the Codex Imperialis wasn’t the only book in the 2nd edition starter box, so let’s take a closer look at each of them in turn:

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Codex Imperalis

I already described most of what I found fascinating about the book, so let’s just mention some interesting details here: The whole book is full of small pieces of additional background, story vignettes or simply “soundbites” from the grimdark future of the 41st millennium. Most of these were written by veteran author Bill King, supposedly, and he did a fantastic job of it: Though pieces of the background may have changed (or disappeared altogether), it’s often the single lines, the quotes out of context, that really breathe life into the scenario.

Oh, and the Codex Imperialis also contains what may be the best piece of World Eaters related art of all time:

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Vintage Mark Gibbons FTW! 😉

 

The Rulebook

Well, I’ve told you often enough that rules are usually a bit of a blind spot for me. What’s more, my actual memories of the 2nd edition rules are as hazy as they are ambiguous: I only ever played one game using them (or rather: a pared down version of the rules that our young minds were able to deal with), and my memories of that game, against Phil, once again, are a bit of a mixed bag: I remember one of his Space Marines picking out my powerful models with a rocket launcher with effortless ease, while my own special weapon spectacularly misfired, wiping out even more of my guys (I got to play Orks, by the way, and that was definitely the short end of the stick in those days). Actually, at one point, my Dreadnought exploded and we had to chart its trajectory by some arcane means as the burning carcass made a few last jumps around the battlefield …killing yet more of my own models. Actually, that’s the main memory I have of the 2nd edition rules: Stuff blowing up in my face. And using strange mathematics and rather clunky mechanisms to precisely calculate how badly I had managed to mess up.

To be fair though, not only was it all a bit too complex for my younger self, but 40k was also still very much tied to the Rogue Trader days back then: The game was basically still a skirmisher in many ways, its system becoming more and more idiosyncratic and clunky as army sizes and unit complexities grew.

But the magic wasn’t in the somewhat obfuscating rules for me (not unlike today, come to think of it): I was drawn in by the dark and quirky setting, by the artwork and by what remains, to my mind, one of the most iconic colour sections of all time:

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I cannot tell you how many of our school breaks we spent poring over those pictures, marveling at the fantastic models and their equally fantastic paintjobs — little did we know that both better sculpts and better painting would be available one day. Still: Good times!

 

Warhammer 40,000: Wargear

Having an own book for weapons and pieces of equipment may seem quite luxurious today, but 2nd edition 40k pulled it off in style: The wargear compendium features detailed descriptions of each weapon, both in relation to its background in the fluff and its actual rules on the table. Most weapons also got an accompanying piece of artwork, which is definitely a nice touch! Still, filling a whole book with this stuff was (and still is) pure madness, of course. But even so, it’s nice to be able to find out what sound a Meltagun makes (answer: pretty much none at all, except for an unimpressive hissing, it’s the target blowing up that makes the sound) or to marvel at the fact that, back then, pretty much every alien race in the galaxy was using trusty Lasguns and Bolters along with the Imperium’s finest.

Like the other books, this one also featured little vignettes of background, among them a fascinating short story about one Brother Captain Karlsen (of the Thousand Sons traitor legion), exploring what it must be like to have lived for ten millennia and the havocs such a lengthy lifetime would wreak upon even a superhuman mind. Fun fact: Brother Captain Karlsen actually appeared in the 6th edition rulebook! What a nice shout out!

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Warhammer 40,000: Army Lists:

To tell you the truth, I never actually got a look at this. The book, also known as “The Black Codex”, as far as I know, supposedly contained army lists for the different factions in 40k along with the point costs, which probably made it super important back then and highly superfluous now. Moving on…

 

War for Armageddon Scenario Book

A thin black and white book containing some beginner missions designed to get people into the game, set against the background of the Second War for Armageddon. It’s mostly the usual beginner scenario fare, so let me point out the most interesting fact about the book (to me at least): It features one of my favourite depictions of the Emperor of Mankind during the days of the Great Crusade:

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I really love this piece, clunky Space Marine design notwithstanding, since it shows the Emperor as more of a fighting man among his troops and less of a demigod in totally blinged out armour, pointing his huge sword everywhere. It also looks like the Emperor actually isn’t twice as tall as his Space Marines, which makes much more sense than some of the more recent depictions, in my opinion.

Anyway, when Phil sold me the remains of his 40k starter box some time during the early 2000s, it was missing the Codex Imperialis as well as the “Black Codex”. While the latter did not seem like too much of a loss, I had such fond memories of the former that I got a replacement for the former off ebay for a song, and I still think it was a great, maybe even an essential, purchase.

In fact, if you ever get the chance to pick these up for a good price, go for it! Some of the background may have been retconned, some of the artwork may be quirky, the rules are no longer viable, but the books are, of course, still totally worth it. And at least in my case, this is where the magic started!

 

Do you have your own memories of the 2nd edition books (or indeed of the game proper)? If so, I’d be happy to hear them in the comments section!

In any case, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!