Codex Adeptus Astartes – A Review

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I must admit, when I saw a new Codex Space Marines had been released I had to check the date of my last review to make sure I wasn’t going mad. The previous edition was just 2 years old. Now I’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress (stop laughing) but that does seem a little soon and understandably makes people nervous about committing to a £35 book if it’s going to be replaced just 24 months later. It’s little wonder the illegal download underground is getting bigger all the time.

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As with other, more recent, Games Workshop publications, the by line is absent. Presumably to stop the bilious tirade directed at any one person that ensues when a new codex comes out. Bringing a new book so soon is bound to cause a certain degree of justified gnashing of teeth.

As with the previous book it’s just lovely to look at. From the cover art to every picture on every page is glorious and much of it, if I’m not mistaken, is new. Which for us old buggers is a bit of a treat. But there’s also a couple of images realised in colour that I’ve only seen in black and white, which is nice.

The quality of production has been increasedThe lining paper is a better fit and feels less luck it was stuck down by PVA. The hateful fold-in reference sheet is gone and with it the embarrassingly shonky folds.

Sadly the increase in quality doesn’t extend to the writing. There are fewer typos than the last book and they weren’t on the first page but they are still there. There’s also some stellar mixed metaphors, the worst of which is in the opening gambit. The background of Codex Adeptus Astartes feels, if I’m honest, nearly as lacklustre as the previous version. There have been some improvements for but the overarching theme doesn’t have any of the sense of urgency, drama or presence that previous books sweated from every surface. This book kinda feels like the Codex equivalent of the Amazing Spider-man 2: it’s drips with obligation rather than inspiration. It’s fulfilling of an intellectual property requirement rather than a promise of excitement, heroism and valour.

So Codex Adpetus Astartes isn’t worse than the 2013 Codex Space Marines. Hooray! Although I’m fairly certain there’s a smaller word count despite it being a thicker book (200 pages to 180). The artwork, splendid as it is, occupies a half page apiece on average. Sometimes more. The timelines in the previous edition were not only far prettier to look at, but more substantial. Each of the first founding chapters got fluff and timelines, that’s all been replaced by three of four paragraphs. It’s shame because the Ultramarines end up dominating the book more than they did before which does nothing to smooth over the – by this point – fairly mean-spirited bitching and belly-aching that is abound within the 40k community towards them. It would be good news for Ultramarines if the their background was written with any personality what-so-ever.

That said there’s some interesting tweaks to the background, one of which actually makes the Iron Hands interesting. Like: Horus Heresy books interesting. Like they’re all a bunch of repressed, self mutilating, sociopaths that are all one tin-man joke away from losing their shit and killing everyone. It’s brilliant. The best bits about the Heresy Salamanders is also evident, emphasising their compassion and their place as leaders of humanity rather than rulers. So whilst Codex Adeptus Astartes does condense, it does work harder to draw gamers towards the more exotic adherents of the Codex Astartes.

Overall though the layout of Codex Adeptus Astartes is strong and brings it in line with Codex Orks, which is a fantastic book. The army list is long but clear. The variety of Space Marine units available means there’s going to be a fair bit of flicking backwards and forwards for the purposes of army list writing but the upside it that you shouldn’t miss any notes or special rules with everything right there in front of you.

It does get a bit woolly in places and the Imperial Fists and their successor chapters are relegated to tertiary chapters whose histories focus around Lysander, Helbrecht and Grimaldus. But the good news for Black Templar players is they get an apology by way of really good Chapter Tactics. The Black Templars used to piss me off royally with their bullshit list of special rules. Whilst this list is thankfully a thing of the past, they still fare far better than most benefiting from bonuses to running, bonuses to Deny the Witch rolls, they get Counter Attack and Rage and all its cost them is the use of Librarians.

The rest of the rules are largely unchanged with a few points changes here and there. There’s been a subtle push towards flyers and anti-flyer units as the Stormtalon’s weapons systems have been halved in points and they get +1 to their jink save when hovering which makes them a massively more appealing option albeit at the cost of the Escort Craft special rule (this has been thrown into a formation instead). Equally the Stalker’s gun has lost a shot but can now split fire with its remaining three shots at Ballistic Skill 4 or, if it shoots at a single target it’s twin-linked. That’s nasty.

One of the changes that’s tickled me and is up there with equipping Havoc squads with plasma guns and a rhino as something to try is you can turn Tactical Squads into Wraightknight hunters. All you need to do is equip the squad with a grav-cannon, grav-gun and a grav-combi bolter. Although you could do similar with Devastator squads in a Rhino. You’d need to pick your moments wisely but it’d certainly make a real mess.

Master of the Forge appears to have gone the way of the Dodo and instead the humble Techmarine has had a 15 points increase but got an extra wound for their trouble with the option of all the cool and groovy upgrades. This is by no means the end of the world as you can still have a Techmarine leading your army but you’ve saved 25 points and it’s cost 1 point of Ballistic Skill.

The formations are no doubt what will get many hot and hard as it affords lots of big delicious bonuses for taking certain combinations of models. I deliberately missed out the word ‘expensive’ because it was obvious. Unfortunately it’s those with the deepest pockets or the biggest collections (they’re not necessarily the same thing) that will really benefit from these formations and they’re bonkers special rules.

Regular readers will know that I have two full companies of Ultramarines – 1st and 5th. This means I can, and often do, field a full battle company. This means I get all my transports for free. Hurrah! I can also field a Land Raider Spearhead the bonuses of which means I get to ignore everything but immobilised and vehicle destroyed results on the damage table as long as they stay in formation. Oh, and re-roll failed rolls to wound or for armour penetration. I mean really? I would actually feel embarrassed fielding that. I mean I’m gonna, but I’ll blush slightly as I kick the shit out of whoever I’m playing against.

Although there’s still no way to take a legal 1st Company army list which is such a shame, especially as the 1st Company formation feels more like they’re trying to push expensive models than because it’s accurate. It’s not the end of the world as gamers can just use an unbound list, it just would have been nice to give the option.

The hobby/showcase section in this Codex is huge. A fairly indulgent 43 pages compared to the previous 28 pages. So 15 of the extra pages in this version have been given over to pictures basically. Although I shouldn’t be surprised as most of the pages in the book have been given over to pictures. That said, because of the way the images are presented it’s going to make painting and marking Space Marine chapters are less painful experience now which is an extremely good thing. Thinking back to my staff days, one of the hardest things younger gamers had to deal with was getting that stuff right and it’s nice to see the book written inclusively rather than targeted at one audience or the other. I just wish it wasn’t quite so much of the book.

The reality of Codex Adeptus Astartes is that it’s essentially the second edition of the previous one. The background is blah rather than bad. The rules have had a review and there’s been a few interesting changes. Some subtle, some not so much. The presentation of the army list is clear and concise. The irritating things about the old book, like the folded reference sheet, are gone. It’s a nicer, better put together book.

I do still yearn for the days of Chapter traits because they made them all far more interesting. The tactics are fine and being an Ultramarine player I certainly can’t grumble but it still doesn’t quite grab me by the hobby spot. This said, there is still some improvements in there that’ll please one or two of the wargaming community. Unfortunately this book is, again, very much aimed at gamers that use Codex chapters. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing in there for Salamander players etc but there’s just not as much. Actually I’m pretty sure there’s less than before but I suspect that’ll be remedied with supplement books.

Overall Codex Adeptus Astartes is an average offering fixing many of the bugs in the previous books whilst introducing some interesting – albeit Easter egg sized – changes that will have far more impact than some appreciate. The formations are interesting enough that people will want to take them and broken enough that they’ll feel guilty doing it. But with some of the combinations out there, they won’t be alone. The background is a little stale but it is better but there’s still huge room for improvement. It is, end to end, beautiful. It’s also a big book about Space Marines.

Codex Adeptus Astartes is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

The Tragedy of Ferrus Manus

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When Ferrus Manus awoke to find himself alone amidst the wilds of Medusa he, as one would expect from a child, was scared and confused. However, unlike a normal child, he was scared and confused because he assumed that he was there because he was weak. Unlike many of his brothers, Ferrus did not seek out human contact but instead set about testing himself against the very worst creators Medusa had to offer. Only once he had bested the Great Silver Wyrm, in the process encasing his arms in living metal, did he seek out humanity and set about teaching them engineering and other secrets of technology.

At every turn he set out to assert his superiority. The living metal of his arms made him a warrior without equal and an artisan of extraordinary feats of engineering. Yet for all his efforts Ferrus Manus was never able to create anything of beauty and warmth. He ruled through fear of an unparalleled temper and his creations were cold functional things despite their sophisticated design. Even when the Emperor came to Medusa, Ferrus Manus challenged his authority.

As Manus took his place amongst his brothers he suddenly found himself but one of a flock of luminous beings. Many far more luminous than he. Horus was charismatic, Guilliman wise, Vulkan compassionate, and Dorn an architect without peer. All he had achieved turned to ash and Manus resolved to push him and his newly named legion to the limits to prove their mettle and supreme worth to the Emperor.

It was this crushing sense of inadequacy that would drive him to deliberately restrict the combat doctrine and units available to the Iron Hands to make them stronger, hardier warriors to prove that they were better than any other Legiones Astartes. He also allowed his sons to believe that flesh was weak, allowing a cult of personality to form around himself and his metal arms, the legion seeking to augment themselves at every turn. Unaugmented Legionaires were treated with mistrust within their ranks, it being seen as a slight against the Primarch. The sadistic truth of his actions wouldn’t be realised until after his passing in the Neimerel Scrolls in which he detailed his loathing for his metal arms and the horror with which he beheld the self-mutilation of his sons. The bitter and sad fact was that Manus’ loathing of flesh – particularly that of mortals – was actually the misdirected loathing of his contaminated body.

But he remained silent because Manus was, for all intents and purposes, a psychopath. He was utterly self obsessed, born of a staggering sense of inadequacy and self loathing that led to fury and abuse towards his sons. Failure of ill news was met with tantrums and violence. The successes of his brothers only further fuelled his rage, pushing his sons even harder even at the cost of their lives. Questioning his orders lead to scorn and derision because deep down Manus didn’t trust his instincts. He only new explosive violence that came from fighting the malignant influence of the living metal of his arms.

The only peace he could find, it seemed, was in the company of Fulgrim, the Primarch of the Emperor’s Children. On the surface this pairing seemed an unlikely one but Manus enjoyed Fulgrim’s beatific countenance and poets heart, it salved his tortured soul and helped him channel his energies in forging weapons of sublime beauty and devastating power. But even in these Manus took no pleasure beyond the weapon he crafted for Fulgrim. The hammer Fulgrim forged for him proved to be a psychological anchor for the troubled Primarch often wielding it as much to focus the humanity at his heart rather than channel the cold fury in his arms.

The true tragedy is Ferrus Manus is that he was always on a path to destruction. The rivalry and resentment he haboured for his brothers pushed him to seek out the worst of the fighting. To conquer the unvanquished foe. To prove his worth above all others. It’s entirely possible that when he heard of Horus’ elevation to warmaster his isolation was sealed, every kindness and gesture of fraternity would be met with hostility and derision, hiding the abject sense of failure and irrelevance that lay at his core.

As the years wore on Manus felt his control over the living metal of his arms slipping, pushing him further and further down a dark path that only Fulgrim or the crucible of war could salve. Manus was as doomed to an eternity of bloodshed as Angron unless he could win the battle of wills that he fought every single day against the constant and indelible symbol of his first and greatest failure. It remains to be seen if the Emperor was aware of Manus’ struggle. If he did he gave no indication which only further deepened his sense of isolation and his brothers mistook his profound and enduring depression as moodiness and ill cholor.

When the betrayal came Manus led the merest fraction of his Legion to Istvaan, determined to see the treachery for himself. It was as much about disproving his worst fear – that Fulgrim had become corrupted. If a being as perfect as Fulgrim could fall from grace what hope did he have? This was coupled with the betrayal, not against the Emperor but against him. Fulgrim was the only soul in the galaxy that understood him and even liked him. That Fulgrim should turn from grace was unforgivable to Manus and had he been victorious and slain Fulgrim there’s every chance that the despair that would have taken hold of him would have pushed him into the embrace of the Dark Powers.

It seems that Ferrus Manus was the doomed of the Emperor’s sons. The moment he landed on Medusa he was set on a path that would see him dead at the hands of one of his brothers, it would have just been a question of whose banner that brother rallied to. But tragedy over tragedy is that his passing left his sons pursuing a goal that he abhorred. Their continual augmentation in his name would be the final cut in a tortured soul as he was little more than an abusive father, lost in the shadow cast by his kin, justifying his choices. And with his passing the cycle continues and the Iron Hands embrace ever deeper an ill conceived truth until one day none of their humanity will remain and the legion will cease to exist, and Manus’ failure will be complete.

An Interview with Chris Wraight

It’s been a wee while since I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with a Black Library author so who better to interview than the author of the awesome Battle of the Fang and the upcoming Brotherhood of the Storm. Of course I refer to none other than Oxfordshire chap, Chris Wraight.

TSC: Chris thanks for taking the time to speak to me, I know how busy you must be with the White Scars novel. Now, you had the great fortune and great challenge of writing the utterly awesome Battle of the Fang which came out shortly after Dan Abnett’s revolutionary Propsero Burns. What was it like working on a Space Wolves novel with the background so recently redefined?

CW: It was both fun and frightening, as you’d imagine. The Space Wolves were ripe for a reboot, and the work Dan did on Prospero Burns was incredible. I was already writing Fang while Dan’s book was going through production, and only saw a copy halfway through the first draft. Encouragingly, the direction I’d taken was similar in some respects, though nothing like as deep and imaginative as Dan’s treatment. A rewrite followed, in which I tried to keep some level of continuity going. I hope the results make some sense.

TSC: I think so. Although you wouldn’t want it to be identical as you’re broadening the lore further. You’ve also written novels about Kurt Helborg and Ludwig von Schwarzhelm, two of my favourite and most iconic characters in Warhammer and the Empire. What considerations did you have to make when writing about such an important part of the canon?

CW: I wanted them to be different in character but equal in interest. It’s a classic theme: brothers-in-arms at war with one another as much as the enemy. In terms of the canon, there was very little actually written down about either of them, so I felt quite free to come up with my own ideas (in contrast to, say, Bjorn or Magnus). I’m glad that people seem to have liked what I did with them. The omnibus edition of their exploits, Swords of the Emperor, has just come out, which is a first for me and something I’m very proud of.

TSC: I’ve got the separate books but I have to admit the anthology looks beautifully put together. Jumping back into the 41st Millennium, your second Space Wolves novel is out in March entitled Blood of Asaheim. What can you tell us about it?

CW: Blood of Asaheim is the first in what I hope will become a new Space Wolves series. In terms of its tone and theme, it’s more like my e-short Kraken than Battle of the Fang. The Imperium is a very different place in the 41st Millennium than the 32nd, and the Wolves are a darker, more compromised breed. The story follows a single pack of Grey Hunters of Ragnar Blackmane’s Great Company. Having written a big set-piece battle narrative with the Wolves in Fang, I wanted to delve into the detailed mechanics and characters of the warriors fighting the Long War. I’ve aimed to make it an immersive, sombre look at the Sons of Russ in the gathering darkness of the Imperium.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Your audio drama, The Sigillite is out in the new year and further fleshes out one of the most pivotal and enigmatic characters of the 40k universe. What was it like writing for such an important character?

CW: Just great. I love the character of Malcador, and think there’s a lot to be written about with him. He’s enigmatic – and that needs to be preserved – but there’s also scope to uncover so much about the Emperor’s plans for humanity by looking at his role. He’s the ‘human’ face of the Imperium; not a Primarch, not a Space Marine, not a living god. Set against all of them he’s so weak, and yet, in more subtle ways, so unbreakably strong.

TSC: Not to mention the fact that his humanity keeps the Emperor grounded and guides him in the matters of mortal men. And, you know, founded the Grey Knights. Sort of. So, 0n top of the Sons of Fenris and the Children of Sigmar you’ve also written about the Iron Hands, specifically in the exceptionally well received Wrath of Iron. What drew you to such a culturally complex chapter?

CW: The Iron Hands were a bit of a departure. I’d written the short story Flesh, and was asked whether I’d like to write a Space Marine Battles book with them in. I love the core idea of the Hands, though they’re not a very attractive Chapter in psychological terms. They’re about the darkest of the Loyalist Chapters, showing how in 40K the boundaries are blurred between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. After all, who would you rather have a drink with: Ferrus Manus or Ahriman?

TSC: Fair comment. Beyond the work you’re doing for the new year, what can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?

CW: Aside from more Space Wolves and White Scars at some point, I’m really looking forward to returning to the Old World with the Time of Legends title Master of Dragons. This will be Book II of the War of Vengeance series, which kicks off with Nick Kyme’s fantastic The Great Betrayal. I’m really stoked for this at the moment, and bursting with ideas for it. The central character will be Imladrik, one of the great heroes of the conflict. Plans are at an early stage on this one, but expect to see a truly epic tale of bloodshed, tragedy, forbidden love, vengeance – and, of course, armies of dragons turning the sky dark.

TSC: Sounds epic. I interviewed Nick a while back when he was still working on The Great Betrayal so it’s great to see the story progressing. Writing licensed fiction is a great way of indulging in all your favourite IPs in a very personal way. What IPs would you love to work on in the future?

CW: I don’t have any plans to work on non-GW IPs in the near future, mostly because my schedule is full of BL stuff I’m dying to get started on.

TSC: Understandable. Plus there’s no shortage of material to write about. Being an established Black Library author you’ve no doubt been invited to cool planning meetings with Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill et al. What was the moment when you suddenly realised that you were a part of the very exclusive and very awesome club that is the Black Library authors?

CW: I still see myself as one of the newbies, but I guess I’m going to have to stop that soon. Next to guys like Dan and Graham it’s easy to feel very green, but the list of books with my name on it gets a little longer every year. It was a great experience being invited to my first Heresy meeting, something I hope happens again at some point. In the meantime, it’s a privilege being involved with the franchise. All the guys, new and old, are just a very nice bunch of people.

TSC: I won’t ask who your favourite is. As a treat to the readers, what little tid bit can you give us about the next phase in the Horus Heresy series?

CW: They’d have my eyes if I spilled the beans. Let me tell you what I’m most looking forward to discovering: what Guilliman’s up to, what the Emperor has been doing since Magnus interrupted him, and (of course) the Khan’s role getting fleshed out.

TSC: You wicked tease. Next time I’m in Oxford I shall have to get you outrageously drunk and get it out of you. And finally, Chris, what advice could you give budding writers out there?

CW: 1. Take criticism on the chin. 2. Think hard about how the stories you like work. 3. It’s the characters, stupid.

TSC: Thanks again Chris, it’s been a pleasure. Good luck with the Brotherhood of the Storm and all the other projects. Keep up the outstanding work.