[40K] Chaos and Counts-As – Realising Dark Visions

I have rather strong feelings about Chaos; I see it as an integral part of the 40K milieu: the ultimate corrupting power, rooted in the very worst of human nature, a source of delightfully Boschean horror-tropes.  Chaos is the formless night into which the Traitor Legions’ failings – primarily the hubris of Horus – casts them, in a sort of Paradise Lost in space kind of way, and the Treachery itself is fundamental to the crumbling, decline-and-fall nature of the Imperium.

The Chaos I know is a rich, fulfilling stewpot full of sinister.  It has the Traitor Legions, to be sure, with their ten thousand years of hateful, bitter exile, and it has the Daemons alongside them, working one another’s strings; it also has mutants and beastmen and cultists galore, radical Inquisitors and recidivist organisations embedded in the Imperium, and it even has freebooter Orks and Khorne-worshipping Stormboyz tagging along for the ride.  Tactically, I think of Chaos as a ragged horde of the galaxy’s most desperate, with the Traitor Legions at their malignant heart; oh, I like playing raids and incursions of the Legions as much as the next fanboy, but I cherish a Chaos that’s more than Space Marines with spikes on and all their shiniest wargear traded out for daemonry.

Aesthetically, my ‘vision’ of Chaos has always been what I call ‘mutant baroque’ – the sort of thing John Coulthart does so well.  Elaborately trimmed armour and architecture; visually complex structures, upon which are graven dark sentiments that hover at the edge of comprehension, but certainly bode no good.  Superficially, it is an ordered construction, finely crafted and functional, but the order is perverted with growths, with a slippery kind of organic quality.  There is a person, or something resembling a person, in there somewhere – this is cruelty with a human heart, jealousy with a human face – but where meat begins and metal ends is indeterminate.

I mentioned Paradise Lost, although I’m not too keen on epic poetry as a form; the polemic visions of Blake at his most overwrought and fervent are more to my taste, and there’s a tension between madness and method, expressed in a unique cosmology characterised so often by its anger, that feeds into my concept of Chaos as well.  This probably sounds a little pretentious, but it’s the way I think about these things, and if it bothers you, consider that the original developers named a Primarch after a poet.  (I’ll be producing another post on these matters at some point; it’s in the queue, I swear, having been drafted the better part of six weeks ago.)

So much for the vision, but what does it all have to do with counts-as?

It may not come as a surprise to you that I used to play the Word Bearers, lured into it by the text from the second edition Codex (reproduced to the right, courtesy of Lexington, bless ‘im).  Hopefully this will clarify why I place Chaplains and Icon Bearers above Daemons in my Big List Of Word Bearery Qualities; from my point of view, that’s what came first.

I’m rather old-school in my background tastes: to my mind, I have to be, since so many of the thematic aspects of Chaos have been farmed out to various Xenos races over the years. Omnipotent, inscrutable force from Beyond The Stars We Know? Tyranids. Lurking evil from the dawn of time, intrinsically wound into the human and other sentient races’ psyches? Necrons (and they get ‘brought low by their own hubris/swearing pacts with eldritch nightmare entities’ as well, the lucky tin buggers). Just plain gross, violating the senses of all right-thinking beings, and yet still strangely seductive and symbolically powerful? Dark Eldar.

Thematically, that leaves the Enemy Within aspect of Chaos, but that’s sort of hard to represent in an ‘Enemy Without’ army book that’s set up around Traitors, Renegades and Daemons. The need for Chaos to be a distinct army means that the current Chaos material is shackled to the most devalued aspects of its theme, which is a prime drawback of it for me.

The other, of course, is that the book is a bit dull.  It’s not terrible on the tabletop, although it is behind the times in that it lacks duality in many choices (particularly notable when you compare the Rhino to a Razorback or worse, a Chimera, and note the lack of combat squadding which affords extra activations and thus more firepower and positiioning control) and many units are distinctly overpriced for what they can do.  My issue is not that Chaos Space Marines of the present day are bad, it’s just that they’re boring; they look terrifying, they’re instilled with this fantastic, epic themery, and yet they’re just a Marine statline that does pretty ordinary things in game.  Compare the ten-thousand-year-old Chosen to, say, a Grey Hunter, and you’ll see what I mean pretty swiftly.  One has Universal Special Rules that enable a breadth of tactical options and evoke the idea of a consummate warrior who’s forged a strong bond with his squad-mates; the other has learned to move a bit further forward than the rest of the army and picked up a meltagun from somewhere.

Apropos of nothing, save that I won one in a contest once.
It will also serve as a handhold on the WALL OF TEXT I seem to have produced.

I simply can’t blame people for wanting to do something else with their Chaos.  I know I want to.  I can produce a perfectly satisfactory army using the Chaos Space Marine book, it’s just that it’ll be a boring one, especially if I eschew Cult troops in favour of ‘pure’ Word Bearing (although, for the record, I look askance on anyone who looks askance on me for wanting to put Thousand Sons or Plague Marines in my Word Bearers army; the Legion that prays together stays together, but that doesn’t mean they don’t invite the neighbours along on their little road trips).  What I’m about here is looking for ways to represent my Chaos – baroque, physically and psychologically tormented by what they’ve become, and yet fanatically devoted to it, attempting to turn all that horribleness outwards – because if they don’t, they have to admit that they were wrong.

I mentioned Grey Hunters earlier, and not without reason.  Space Wolves appear to be the most popular choice for Chaos Space Marine proxying, and I can totally see why:beyond the similar equipment and USRs that enable better use of it, there’s the option for four HQs with named, potent weaponry and Sagas and such, and Wolf Guard unit leaders; you can really do the champions of Chaos justice with that Codex.  For most of the Traitor Legions, I’d buy that.  For the Word Bearers, though, I want to represent that kind of synergy thing they have going on, where the Chaplains keep their company together; the Chaplains are as important for what they do for their brethren as they are in their own right.


The option that springs to my mind is Codex: Blood Angels.  The idea here is that the Flaw at the heart of that book manifests itself as furious aggression and a total lack of fear – behaviours that could easily be borne out of, and represent, religious mania.

If we take Furious Charge and Fearlessness as manifestations of Chaotic faith, the Death Company seem ideally placed to represent Possessed Marines, more invested with power by their God of choice, and given their close relationship with the Chaplains, that makes a strange kind of sense.  Sanguinary Priests, far from being apothecaries awakening blood-borne powers, become icon bearers, again serving as magnets to the roving Eye of God.

As a bonus, they even have Dreadnoughts which are crazy without being a pain in the arse to adminstrate (again, the Chaos Dreadnought isn’t bad: what’s bad is the common misconceptions concerning vehicle line of sight and the arguable grey areas in resolving Fire Frenzy).  I have no intention of overloading on jump packs to use Descent of Angels, or taking Librarian Dreadnoughts, Land Speeders, Stormravens and other shiny loyalist toys or anything like that; this isn’t about playing Blood Angels, this is about using elements of the Blood Angels list to do what I want to do.  Anyway, that’s one option.


The other that immediately springs to mind is the option of Imperial Guard, which Tallarn over at Flashlights and Fury suggested a while back as a way to represent a Chaos Space Marine leading their horde of cultists and other treasonous sorts.

In this setup, Straken is used as the Marine demagogue at the heart of the army, unlocking a degree of combat-readiness in the Guardsmen; the bias in the list is toward Priests and Psykers, and away from Commissars and Storm Troopers.  Ogryns get in as large Chaos Spawn spitting toxic sludge around themselves, and the vehicles would probably be low-tech: Chimeras and Russes are in, Deathstrikes and Manticores are out.  Maybe even go for Heavy Weapons Platoons to provide the mandatory autocannon fire instead of Hydras; it’s not perfectly efficient, but this is meant to be a Chaos Cult, not a fully-equipped Guard unit.

Ultimately, I have other visions for either of these forces.  I’ve been toying with the idea of a corrupted Blood Angel successor chapter – the Lightbringers, really milking that Paradise Lost thing – and Shiny suggested ‘recidivist Guard’ as an army choice a long time ago, citing my long-held lust for the Vostroyan figures.  These are possibilities, and arguably less contentious ones… and yet, if this lumbering brute of a post has shown you anything, it’s that I care about Chaos in a way that I don’t about other armies, and not realising my dark vision seems more disingenous than a little Codex-swapping along the way.

7 thoughts on “[40K] Chaos and Counts-As – Realising Dark Visions

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  1. >excellent post, thanks for the time and effort it must have taken. this is the kind of thinking that i believe anyone can applaud. you have shown that 'counts as' isnt always about using more powerful rules (though that is also an acceptable reason if you are honest about it), it is often simply about making your army into something you feel better represents your own vision.

  2. >Thanks very much, folks! (And hey, I don't think I've seen any of you 'round these parts before; this pleases me!)@Alex – indeed! There are some things that it does do right, like the focus on more archaic weaponry like autocannon on the infantry squads, and the capacity to draw together different Cults and Legions if that's your thing, but they're few and far between, and they don't address the fundamental tedium of actually playing the army.@boxhead – glad it's not just me who looks at them and thinks "Renaissance! IN! SPAAAACE!" Maybe I should cite Tycho and Dante as evidence that at least some GW authors are trying to do something clever, or at least allusive.@Atreides – you're welcome! Did take me a while but it was a nice break from work, so I'm not complaining.

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