[40K] Eighth For Eighth – Not Dead, But Dreaming

Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven?

Honestly, you could be. Forgiven, that is. For thinking I’d forgotten. It’s been awfully quiet around here, and that’s because I’ve been moving house, and playing a lot of Total War, and there are kittens now, and – yeah. Excuses, excuses.

It’s also true that the shape of the project has changed slightly. There was a lot of ambitious talk about 40K and 30K, a lot of plastic flying around; a series of bargains, swaps, trades, and payments-in-kind left me with two Burning of Prospero sets and three Dark Vengeances’ worth of Chaos and another twenty-five Cultists from somewhere and –

OK, look. It was all a bit much for me, especially after I went to see Ben and Jess and, in return for workshopping her undergrad dissertation (2:1 in Theatre Studies, our girl done good), I walked away with Jess’ entire Shelf of Shame. There was a whole Chaos Space Marines army there that she’d had for years, getting as far as painting a handful of them eye-scalding orange and then leaving matters lie.

The final straw came when the new Chaos Space Marines Codex arrived, and made it clear that huge units of Cultists were a Word Bearers thing, while my Night Lords would do best with the time-honoured Multiple Small Units. That’s fine. I infinitely prefer building Multiple Small Units these days. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Note the MkI Land Raider on the left. I have eyed this thing covetously for years and now it’s mine, provided I actually use it and give it a good and loving home.

Once I’d Had Enough, this bounty of miniatures found itself sorted in several ways.

Firstly, those who were generic and samey and who I could not bear the thought of having to crank out, batch-style. These included the Mark IIIs (painting the same dude sixty times – retch!), the second and third Dark Vengeance batches (the first one was fun, but I’m not doing it twice over for an army that looks like computer game sprites; that’s what computer games are for!), and the rest of the Cultists (although I kept an odd five for display purposes, since I don’t like Chaos Cultists in neat, points-optimised ten man squads – outside of the game environment, anyway).

This category were boxed up ready for the next Firestorm Bring and Buy, where they were Brought and then Bought, in that order, before the first hour of the event was out. The five bright orange Chaos Marines and Defiler went the same way. I do like Defilers, but it’s a huge, unsteady model that’s a bugger to move and store and transport. Compared to the later Daemon Engines on their sensible bases (which also harmonise with the army around them better, putting everyone on the same height – I’m even putting the Land Raider on a base, for the same reason) they are showing their age, aesthetically and ergonomically.

Secondly, those who I liked but needed work. The Terminator Sorcerer, who is a great model and for whom I had the perfect conversion that I’d been wanting to do for years. The Possessed – I like them, but they’re a little bit too Chaos-grobbly for me, burdened with the kind of features that work better in isolation and contrast to a more sober model. The Chaos Space Marines. I don’t like these – they’ve dated badly, they don’t sit right next to modern greeble-tastic kits and they don’t have the charm or heft of the old metals – and had originally envisioned an army with none of them. Now I had eight or so, an awkward number since I’d rather have two squads of five or one of ten…

That’s when the madness came. I had a bunch of Forge World chainglaives lying around from the abortive 30K concept. If I acquired a bunch of Forge World helmets and chestpieces, plus some bionic legs and arms to fill out the squad (the Iron Hands pack would do nicely here), I could combine them with Possessed bits and knock together a squad or two of Night Lords who salvaged those old kits and made them look good. I’d also have some more ‘restrained’ Night Lords helmets and shoulderpads and arms to bring the Possessed back under control.

So I did.

Brother Hexendra, consulting his notes. This pose has haunted my dreams since I first saw the kit – the Chaos Sorcerer atop his outcrop, incanting his dark incantations – and he even had the perfect book holding hand thanks to the chainglaive sprues.

I don’t know what this is, but I had a broken chainglaive (Forge World compensated me by sending me a whole extra set of chainglaives, making this project possible) and that plastic Slaughterpriest and a spare Terminator shoulder pad. Things sort of happened. Those legs don’t half look like Mark V armour, or at least like they have it in their ancestry somewhere. I think he was a Space Marine once, before Khorne took an interest in him.

This chap exemplifies the approach I’ve taken with the boring Chaos Marine infantry. As an Aspiring Champion he is marked out by his bare head, exciting Possessed backpack and grobbly Chaos hand. The VIII Legion may not believe in Chaos, but Chaos believes in them – hence the ‘blimey!’ facial expression. He wasn’t expecting this.

In some editions, Chaos Champions can gain random rewards from duffing up enemies in challenges – this chap has obviously done just that, and now his lightning claw’s gone all peculiar.

(Incidentally, I do like eighth edition’s Power Points. They let me build the kind of armies I want to: rather than splitting hairs over the cost of every single upgrade, I know that a squad of five Chaos Space Marines costs this many points and can take that many special weapons or other upgrades and the Champion can have this kit and it’s all one in the end. That’s why all my Champions are grotesquely overequipped, with lightning claws and plasma pistols. In prior editions this would be a Waste of Points since they were just one wound Marines and you could get a whole extra body for the same cost as each upgrade. Now there’s an option for Borehammer players who care about that sort of thing and an option for people like me who want vaguely balanced games but also want to take interesting options without too much fretting about the opportunity cost. I draw the line at spending three extra Power Points to put two extra Cultists on the table though…)

This one was a bridge too far. I like his Bane-style mask (you’ll note an absence of topknots and huge horns on my Chaos Marines, because I think those look silly), but two grobbly mutant arms and the bionic legs? He has a plasma pistol in his left hand now, nicked off a Dark Vengeance Lord. I like to think he lost the leg in a tragic plasma backwash.

Most of my plasma gunners have bionic bits on them, for just that reason. Also, it makes them more visually distinctive, as befitting a special weapon model who’ll have attention paid to him. The Champions, likewise, have ‘open’ poses which show off the Forge World chesticles and make them stand out.

My regular Marines are… well, I did all right within the limitations of the kit. There’s a few spiky shoulderpads and sights on boltguns, but at the end of the day there’s three blokes in the traditional ‘braced to fire’ Marine pose and three blokes who are sort of posing with their boltguns, looking across them while they advance. I divide the squads up like that: Posing Squad and Shooting Squad.

Finally, there’s these knob sandwiches. I don’t know if it’s the resin casting process or if they were designed for kits with smaller chesticles or what, but fitting these arms onto those bodies was a holy terror. Also, and let me say right now that I will brook no disagreement on this point, materials which demand superglue can get in the fucking sea. Moving most of the range to plastic is the best thing GW has ever done.

With poses like this, where there are four points of contact between components and everything has to line up just so or things look stupid and painful, the instant bond of superglue is the devil’s work. No amount of dry-fitting or sneaky blu-tacking can guarantee that things will line up properly once they’re on. With poly cement you can stick or twist; you have those precious seconds of tackiness during which components can be nudged and realigned to ensure that nobody’s wrist is twisted around their arsehole. Which is what these guys are. Arseholes. Squad Arsehole.

At least they look decent now they’re done. Finished off with the garish Night Lords shoulderpads of the mid-Noughties, they still have the essential WTF quality of the Possessed, but they’re dialled back to the point where they look like dolled up gnarly Space Marines rather than the sort of “and and and SWORDS growing out of his TROUSERS” adolescent frothery that the pure Possessed kit embodies. They’re a Terror Squad now. If they’re Possessed, it’s by accident, and with all due reluctance.

[40K] Eighth For Eighth

Eighth Edition 40K looms and I’m back on the Eighth Legion bandwagon. Synchronicity, innit?

Well, the shiny new 40K is out on pre-order, the complete rules have been ‘leaked’ so the blogosphere can get on with calling out what’s a must-take and what’s unplayable garbage (the only unit types that really matter), and we’re back to business as usual. For me, of course, that means adamantly refusing any pre-emptive Thought Leadership and probably not even playing the damn thing until three months after release.

If you want a line, here it is: “funny how we’ve ended up back in second edition again”, what with all these movement stats and modifiers, albeit with the best of the subsequent editions – Force Organisation Charts, formal game modes for cityfighting and planetary assaults, dice-based psychic phase, and no cocking templates. Finally. “Hits d6 guys” worked fine in Cityfight and it’ll work fine here; bending double over the table, trying to centre the template, rolling partial hits… good sodding riddance. I hate those things, they make me hurt my back and strain my eyes and they generate fussiness over precision and half the time you still end up rolling a bunch of dice to see if that millimetre graze on a base counts for anything or not. Roll one die, it hits that many targets, lovely. Your resident cripple is delighted.

Anyway, I’m taking the opportunity to break out my Drakenhof Nightshade again and crack on with my Night Lords project. There was some brief uncertainty about exactly what I’d be doing with my Astartes models, but in the end I had to listen to my heart. Besides, Forge World sent me those extra chainglaives a while back (very fine customer service there), and I came into Something Big that I think I could fit in better than with Thousand Sons. Eighth Legion it is. For Eighth Edition too. See what I did there?

Here’s what I did of a lazy Sunday afternoon. Ten lads with boltguns, the backbone of the Legion, in some fairly bog-standard posing – getting an idea of the basics the kit can do.


I don’t plan on barging ahead and building every single Mark III body I possess, because there’s a lot of them…


The approximate plan here is to use the Forge World bodies and chainglaives to build some suitable squad leaders, and put together squads that’ll be broadly useful for Heresy-era gaming as well. (While the Horus Heresy is staying with the old 40K, I predict something like the lil’ red books will come along and enable people who prefer the new rules to rock those.)

Of course, they’re not going to look particularly Chaosy, but I have a fix for that; lost Legion brothers, imprisoned in an oubliette of imaginary time? Or a captured foundry world cranking out new Mark III suits for new recruits? Either works. I’ll have a hard core of more Chaos-touched Marines and break these guys out when more manpower’s demanded. (I am feeling like I might flog off the Tartaros Terminators though; I’m not especially keen on them aesthetically and goodness knows those rulebooks and Forge World transfer sheets don’t come cheap.)


Not that there’s not a lot of good stuff on there. I like the presence of a banner or two, and I like the huge ominous grim reapers too. I have a use for those in mind. See, in amongst my pile o’plastic is this little gem I acquired on the relatively cheap a while back:


This ‘un can wait though. I don’t want to have big things staring me in the face. I’ve built up a stash of stuff to work on one squad, or half a squad, at a time. It’s all very ‘mature hobbyist’. This lot’ll keep me going through the summer, or at least until I stop being interested again.

[Theory Thursday] The Ultimate Spirit of Wargaming

Part I – Dethroning Pedantry


There’s a story behind this, but it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that, toward the end of my time with Warmachine and Hordes, I had to go and hunt out the first No Quarter that I ever bought, just to make sure I remembered “don’t quibble about millimetres in a game of inches”. Finding it gave me a few slaps in the face and reminded me what a sinner I am. I have kvetched about #3 and #4, I will be dead before I cam capable of #7 and I have indulged in #8 a few times, admittedly because I’m either dying of heatstroke or because someone’s due a bye anyway and I’ve had three miserable games. Finding it also vindicated me. See #1, #6, #9 and #10.

When I started playing (2005, would you credit it?), Playing Like You Had A Pair didn’t involve sticking the lip of your base right-next-to-but-not-within the woods so you could have the bonus without the penalty, or hanging one laser-calculated millimetre inside someone’s melee arc so you didn’t take a free strike. We accepted that blast templates are awkward, that one careless buttock passing by the table could send everything whole inches out of place, and that these awkward tactile objects of ours mean we’ll never be perfectly precise in our measuring and placing. We got on with the business at hand and gave a certain benefit of the doubt provided that intent was declared and mutually understood as acceptable.

Nowadays it seems unreasonable to expect a quiet game of giant robot smackdown fun after work without precision-cut measuring widgets in a range of sizes, a grab-the-geometry scenario presented in layers of legalese, a laser line and a cry of GOTCHA! for when someone forgets exactly what one of the two hundred or so warlocks or warcasters in the game can do.

At some point in the last decade, the game I loved has been taken over by, and become engineered for, rules lawyers and pedants and bean-counters. I find the resulting culture toxic: it brings out the worst in people who are often perfectly pleasant away from the game. Back in the day the most hardcore competitors I knew were the most chill, at-the-end-of-the-day-it’s-just-toy-soldiers guys you could imagine, and I can’t imagine anyone from Komitatus revelling in the pedantry that characterises the modern game.

I don’t begrudge people their high-end BE! ALL! THAT! YOU! CAN! BE! HUT HUT HUT! playstyle, if that’s what gets them through the day, but for me to have my fun I need at least a few people to cool their tits and remember that wargames will earn no paycheques, save no lives, and herald nobody’s place in Valhalla.

Part II – The Apparent Hypocrisy of Nigel Stillman


Something similar was recommended to me in the Dark Ages of Warmachine (Mark I!) by a fellow from the Komitatus. “You people spend too much time and money on this shit,” he said. “Pick an army, pick a points value, build it, paint it, stick to it.”

When we discussed this over on the House of Paincakes, Stillmania was referred to as “a purist’s form of pick-up gaming”, and I think in this extreme form it is. The thing is, despite my general contempt for the pick-up form, this holds a certain weird appeal to me.

I think it’s the opportunity for closure. Malich over at Tabletop Gamers UK brought this up a while ago: when is an army finished? In the past my efforts have often petered out once the event which stimulated me to collect the force in the first place is gone, or once I’ve had enough of the league (or game system), or simply when there’s a lack of regular gameplay to encourage me. The last few models have lingered, either unpainted or forced for completion’s sake – and it’s always obvious when a model was forced above and beyond the normal level of “I don’t know if I like painting…”

Stillmania offers a rigid, unyielding sense of completion. It includes the deep and fundamental obligation to create Your Dudes and abide by them. It refutes the theoryhammer tinkering beloved of people who spend too much time talking about wargames on the Internet. It forces people to paint and to reject the czars of fashion. It is… compelling.

It is also not how Nigel himself seemed to end up doing things. When unleashed at article length the great Stillmaniac acknowledged playing smaller games with a champion and a handful of followers, and building the 1000-2000-3000 point blocks that were commonplace back in the Day. There’s an implied flexibility and nuance there which isn’t present in his principles as directly articulated… and it’s that flexibility, that sense that I have my 3000 point army and will pick units from it and make small variations for smaller games, that I’ve managed to achieve only once in my long career of wargaming.

It’s what I’m edging toward doing with the Chaos lads, though. I have a vision, with its core elements strictly defined, and other things not collected until they have ceased being nebulous and collapsed into something concrete. The list itself is tinkered with, thought about, adjusted as part of a process in which the collection grows and changes, but it will one day, probably when just shy of Apocalypse, be considered Done. There will be a collection to which no further models are added. There will be a List or two for games of various sizes and these Lists will only change when the rules on which they are based change. I am going to get this right, one more time.

Part III – Pick-Up Gamers Are Doin It Rong

Before any game, players must agree how they are going to select their armies, and if any restrictions apply to the number and type of models they can use.
— Warhammer 40K rulebook, ‘Choosing an Army’, emphasis theirs

I’m of the opinion that ‘any’ might as well read ‘every’.

We take this stage for granted: in the interests of a nice easy game we speed through this section and rely on unspoken standards, un-negotiated social contracts and undiscussed expectations.

This is why new players get flattened by melts who throw three Knights at them in their very first game. This is why tournament players wail and lament when they encounter an army that doesn’t use their preferred comp. This is why I reject the pick-up game: the idea that I and Joseph K. Meltsworth, who I don’t know from Adam, can whip out our respective 1500 point lists and have that be “good enough”, ready to play, sight unseen.

This is barking mad. I don’t know if Joseph has the same understandings of what is and is not acceptable as I do. I don’t know what he considers to be fluff, or cheese, or beard. He may have brought the latest donkeyflop laswing tri-Knight D-spam 30 warp charge psychic malarkey and I may have brought a handful of desperate Chosen tooled for melee and hiding out behind Cultists and shambolic vehicles.

Neither of us is Doin It Rong but both of us think the other guy is. We need to discover that before we begin preparing to play, not when we’ve already sunk time into writing a list and packed our case and come straight from work to get our game on. That way lies madness, disappointment, and Nerd Rage.

Fie on that noise. Skip the pre-game agreement and negotiation stage at your peril. Curate your experience. Don’t be afraid to say no to a game if you can’t agree on how to play it. No gaming is better than sad gaming and good gaming is better than either.

GW doesn’t develop its games to be played in the way that we normally play them. Look at all the occasions on which they describe building an army as “organising a collection” – you collect the dudes and then you fret about the army list and the Detachments and the Formations.

We have turned our back on this Way for valid reasons: an army we’ve planned is a collection and an expense we can  control, a pick-up game using by-the-book scenarios relieves us of potentially having to say no to someone. Nonetheless, when we play pick-up games, we are Doin It Rong in a subtle and insidious way that extends beyond the unwritten rules and assumptions that we all bring to pick-up games and which are far more valid on a subjective level.

I no longer drag myself down to the Friendly Local Gaming Store once a week for a ‘blind’ game against whoever’s there. I only really play wargames a handful of times in a year, by appointment and arrangement, in this more curated environment where we have to make agreements about things in order for the game to happen at all.

According to Da Roolz, this seems to be the Right Way. The Ultimate Spirit of Wargaming, at least as Games Workshop envisages it.