Codex Space Marines – A Review

warhammer 40000 logoSo to mix things up a bit from my barrage of Warhammer Fantasy Battles articles for A Tale of Two Armies I thought I’d take a look at the new Codex Space Marines. Written, as it goes, by Robin Cruddace who wrote both the Empire book and Warriors of Chaos.

CodexSpaceMarines

The good news is that Robin Cruddace collects Space Marines so he hasn’t completely shafted the army like he did the Empire. The bad news is that it’s the most boring iteration of any Codex Space Marines I’ve ever read. And I’ve read them all. Robin’s strength isn’t creative writing. And that’s fine, we can’t be good at everything, but his lack of flair means that much of the background is lack lustre or just copy and pasted from previous iterations. The worst bit being that none of the background except the Raven Guard entry reflects any of the stuff written in the Horus Heresy novels. Seeing as they’re canonical* that’s really rather poor form and a bit of a slap in the face. It also reads like he was terrified of offending someone as just about every Space Marine chapter mentioned in the book is a brotherhood of warriors without peer with more victories than any other. I defy you to read the book and tell me I’m wrong. The funniest one being the Howling Griffins which he collects and he may as well have just written, in crayon, these ones are the bestest. It’s all just so unnecessary. It’s also rife with typos, some sentences with multiple errors which really pisses me off and goes to show how little care was shown. Yes I make mistakes and use the wrong word from time to time, but I don’t charge you for it.

The good news is that, for the first time ever, the first founding codex chapters actually get proper sections now, which makes for a very thick book. And despite the average writing there’s some good stuff in there and it’s nice to see those chapters finally getting a mention rather than the book being Codex Ultramarines by any other name. As an Ultramarine player I did feel like something was missing but that’s just me being spoilt. The book is lovely. Much of the artwork is from previous books, which isn’t a complaint as it’s in colour for the first time which is nice to see. There’s a full-page piece of art of a Raven Guard Thunderhawk which is superb. So kudos to the art studio.

As has been established, the Space Marines new kits were in the form of re-releases and Centurions as well as the official additions of Storm Talons and Storm Ravens. I was slightly disappointed about the latter as I never had a problem with an army or armies having exclusive units. That said, they will undoubtedly perform a vital battlefield role and give Codex Chapters a real edge over…well everyone. As does a lot of the new gadgets and gizmos. The graviton guns are a new weapon option that wasn’t needed and will spank Chaos Space Marines. The army that frequently kicks Cruddace’s Griffins about the board all the time.

The Centurions I was a bit mixed on at first. I know a lot of people have slated the models but I kinda like them. And I kinda like what they’ll do for Space Marine armies. Their addition to the Codex is a little on the woolly side but it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. They’re nasty buggers that’s for sure and actually with the right force composition could be really nasty. The Devastator Centurions are, on paper, better than a Devastator Squad thanks to being able to move and fire. Assuming they make it into range. The Assault variation will need a transport because both types are slow and purposeful. But if your opponent lets them get into combat then things will bleed. A lot. At 190 points for 3 they’re not a casual addition but the strength & toughness of 5 with 2 wounds is a real consideration and potential performance verses points they’re actually pretty good value.

There’s a few subtle changes throughout Codex Space Marines. Vanguard Veterans don’t get to assault on the turn they deep strike any more which is a real shame as that was their one big advantage and offset the horrendous points cost. So in terms of assaulting they’re a bit worse than Warp Talons now. But they’re now much much cheaper which is good because it means you can juice them as much as you like. They are Elite choices now though which is shit. And there’s still no way of fielding a first company outside of robbing rules of the Dark Angels which is massively disappointing. But even if it was, having Vanguard & Sternguard together makes fielding the Ultramarines 1st Company impossible. Which is a real shame I suspect grouping them together was a convenience thing rather than it being a carefully thought out decision.

There’s also been plenty of points changes throughout the book. So Captains are cheaper, as are Space Marine Tactical, Assault & Devastator squads. Which is a massive deal as across a 3,000 point game you’re going to gather up, across the army, quite a few spare points. Some weapons have gone up in price, almost arbitrarily, and assault cannons have got much more expensive. Because they’re amazing in 6th edition. It’s a shame someone noticed as I rather enjoyed taking advantage of that.

Big changes in the Codex, or changes back, is the flexible squad sizes with special or heavy weapons in tactical squads. Which is great news for the less conventional armies. Being an Ultramarine player I shall still be taking the full ten men as Guilliman intended. Squads that have split into combat squads now get to occupy the same Rhino which game changing. It means that for the first time since Second Edition you can move a squad up the field and then send them on their separate ways. It gives Space Marines a massive tactical advantage over everyone else and will actually mean the kind of flexibility you read about in the books.

But the biggest change/reversion by a mile in Codex Space Marines is the introduction of chapter tactics. They’re actually very good – which makes up for the fairly average warlord traits – and reflect the personalities of the armies incredibly well so full marks to Cruddace on that front. Ultramarines and Imperial Fists seem to benefit the most with their traits being very much performance enhancing across the entire army, which rather does reflect the personality of the chapters. That’s not to say the others aren’t without teeth they’re just far more specialist. Again, as one would expect. The Raven Guard’s ability to infiltrate everyone is pretty bad ass.

It’s a real shame that the background isn’t as strongly written as the rest of the Codex. There’s some good stuff buried beneath the average writing – and it really comes down to someone needing to take a firm hand. The repetition phrases and poorly constructed sentences is embarrassing. However, the army list, chapter traits and tweaks and new additions are actually pretty spot on with the exception of making the Vanguard, cheaper, in the wrong place and shitter.

The Centurions do, after some consideration, fulfil genuine battlefield roles that is more than just dreaming up something new for release. Well, actually, no it was dreamt up for release but it works is my point. And it gives players – particularly Iron Hands and Imperial Fists – a different way of fielding an army whilst still making it competitive. You may notice I’ve not really commented on the new anti-air Rhino variants. And that’s because they’re a necessary unit and they are what they. They shoot down flyers. Hooray. The rules for them are actually pretty nasty and they’re pretty good value for points but they’re Space Marine anti-air guns, there’s not much more to be said.

Overall Codex Space Marines is a good book. The background isn’t terrible, not by a long chalk. It’s just not as well written as it should have been and would have taken little more than a couple of proof reads to make it better. This said it’s tolerable enough that those new to Space Marines or only got in to collecting Space Marines with the previous Codex will still enjoy reading it. The rest of the book is pretty sound and the army list works. The point adjustments are for the most part valid and the chapter traits and flexibility in army selection is a welcome change and will make a lot of gamers very pleased. And interestingly thanks to the subtle change that you can now take Techmarines as part of your HQ choice, you can free up an Elite slot in battle company list. Which is rather handy. And it may just be in the shape of some Assault Centurions. And the free Heavy Support slot may just have to feature a Storm Raven. Just saying…

Codex Space Marines is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

*A heated discussions has erupted over my use of this word which I’ve deleted because I felt it was inappropriate. This isn’t censorship but avoidance of an argument that simply could not be settled on a comments board and shouldn’t take place there either. I’m all for healthy debate but when there is a fundamental disagreement that cannot be resolved there is little merit in making it public. My use of the term may have been incorrect but refers to the simple truth that the games developers reap a tremendous harvest from the ideas and characters in the BL novels. To say they’re non-canonical is as inaccurate as saying, apparently, they are. Equally the Forge World Horus Heresy books rely so heavily on the novels for material it would be a great injustice to the series, the writers and those that have enjoyed reading them to condemn to little more than fan fiction.

Corax: Soulforge Trailer

Okay, a little late to the party but it looks like there’s another limited edition Horus Hersy novels on its way and this time it’s Corax kicking some serious face. So…may have to get that. Because, you know, Corax…and face kicking…

Space Bikers vs Space Ninjas

So rather than painting my Ultramarines, I’ve been wrestling, instead, with the idea of starting a new Space Marine army. I could do something, dare I say it, different, but Space Marines are awesome and they’re the only army (whatever the Chapter) that has ever excited me. I’ve dabbled with others over the years but I’ve always come back the Adeptus Astartes. So why fight it?

Now I’ve been struggling to decide which Space Marine army to collect because, realistically, the likelihood is that I won’t be collecting another time and money being an ever diminishing commodity. Thanks to Nick Kyme I had to add Salamanders to list to be considered because, well, they’re awesome. But in the end they were cut for two very important reasons.

1. I don’t like painting green (after years of painting Dark Angels badly)

2. I wanted to do an army that was significantly different to the Ultramarines and beyond taking a butt load of flamer/melta weapons I’m not sure the sons of Vulcan can offer that.

So it came down to the White Scars – Space Bikers – or the Raven Guard – Space Ninjas. So how to choose?

Well, Lee of The Chaps argued that Raven Guard would be a quick army to paint in so much as the process is; spray black, edge highlight the armour, paint the metal bits silver, base, done. This is valid but ease has never been a consideration for me on a project, but how excited I am about the army. I don’t give a monkey’s about how tactically viable or hard-hitting an army is. If I did I wouldn’t field a Battle Company of Ultramarines because, let’s be honest, you’ll always have a fight on your hands in doing so.

The idea of fielding a rapid strike force either in the form of White Scars or Raven Guard is just awesome. Be it hordes of jump pack enabled assault marines and drop pods or hordes of bikers tearing across the battle field is very evocative. And both colour schemes are incredibly striking at the same time. Plus it brings with it a host of new tactical challenges and a whole new mentality.

Playing with Ultramarines and embracing their background, as I do, it’s hard not to play as you expect them to behave in real life. Grim faced determination, faith in the battle plan and their brothers, disciplined ranks and coordinated volleys of fire. And, above all, courage and honour. Getting into the mindset of a very different Space Marine Chapter is absolutely one of the best bits about starting a new army. Working out an army list to reflect the Chapter faithfully is hugely fun and so rewarding when it finally takes to the field of battle.

The important things to remember is decide how big you want the army to be. If it’s Battle Company size fine. If it’s more like 1,500 points fine. But settle on a points value and then write a list accordingly as not only will you know what you’re aiming for so you don’t make wasteful purchases that you can’t fit in or don’t suit the army style. Plus, as you acquire toys you’ll be able to field smaller forces as you will already know the army structure you’re working to.

So, who to choose? The Space Bikers or the Space Ninjas?

I’ve always had a great fondness of the Raven Guard. Their background is awesome and they’re just so damn cool in all the books featuring them. I like them so much that I even used them as a basis for the Void Stalkers Chapter, my example Origins post for the Shell Case Shorts 4. So, they look cool, they are cool. But, and I think this is what’s stopped me from making that crucial first purchase, they’re just not as cool on the board as they care in the books. In the books they are, literally, Space Ninjas. They’re armour is more sophisticated that standard power armour allowing them to infiltrate and generally be a sneaky bunch of…well, Space Ninjas. You simply cannot reflect that in a game of 40k. And that’s disappointing.

But it’s more than a case of I can field a whole army of bikes in a White Scar army, although I can. Or that it reflects the background far more faithfully, which it does. It’s the fact, as well, that it is a huge departure from what I’m used to which is very appealing. It’s also a very different colour scheme that emphasises individuality, with the tribal markings, than the far more rank & file Ultramarines.

This penchant for lunatics on motorbikes is quite a revelation to me. I didn’t realise how much I liked the White Scars. Yes, they’re background is awesome but I never thought I’d prefer to the Space Ninjas. But, it would seem, the White Scars give me everything that the Ultramarines aren’t, which is kinda the point…

Origins

I thought, to help get some creative juices flowing, and because I really wish I could enter my own competition this month, I’d share with an example of an origins piece written by me for this month’s Shell Case Shorts. It’s, unsurprisingly, about a Space Marine Chapter called the Void Stalkers.

Space Marine via Bolter & Chainsword’s Space Marine Painter

FOUNDING

The exact date of the Void Stalkers founding is somewhat unclear within the records of the Adeptus Terra. Archives indicate that the first confirmed sighting of this little known chapter was during the Uribe Uprising 588-592 M39. After 4 years of grinding attrition that cost countless lives, and all but decimated the once plush garden world, the Imperial forces had driven the secessionist back to the walls of the Governor’s Palace. The Governor himself had been executed a decade before by his council of advisor’s who had turned from the Emperor’s light and embraced the foul whisperings of Chaos. The Kabal of Rebirth, as they dubbed themselves had locked down the palace and ordered their followers to fight to the last.

The palace defences were such that not even siege cannons could breach its walls and all attempts to infiltrate the palace had been met with utter disaster. After 6 months of siege the ground between the Imperial liberation force and the palace was a plague choked quagmire of shell holes, razor wire and the bloated remains of thousands of soldiers, from both sides of the conflict. On the eve of the final push that would send tens of thousands of men and hundreds of tanks into the teeth of the palaces defences, in the hope of breaching the walls, a single jet black Thunderhawk gunship streaked through the leaden sky. Bearing a white dagger agaisnt a field of midnight blue, it failed to respond to any vox hails and when the order was given to shoot it down, the air defence batteries failed to register anything was in the sky at all.

The Thunderhawk touched down just long enough to disgorge a single ten-man squad of Space Marines. Equally coloured in black with midnight blue pauldrons, and bearing the winged skull of the Imperium on their chests, the Void Stalkers moved through the crowds of gawping Imperial Guardsmen and officers without word or noise; the usual hum and mechanical clunking surrounding powered armour ominously absent.

The Space Marines stood a top the trench network that ran like veins through the ground they stared intently at the setting suns of Uribe, their green eye lenses glinting with the last rays of the day. As darkness bled across the world the Void Stalkers walked into no-man’s land.

As the suns rose the following morning there was no sign of the Space Marines but the palace gates now laid wide open. A scouting force was immediately dispatched. As the two Chimeras bounced over the ruined terrain every soul aboard expected to be blasted to pieces by artillery fire, yet they made it to the gates unhindered. Moving through the gates the Imperial Guardsmen were met with a charnel house. Bodies littered the walls, bunkers, gun emplacements, barracks, corridors and chambers. Every one of the traitors had been killed by bladed weapons of some description. It was only hours later when more units had been brought in to search the palace did the Imperial Forces find the ten traitorous members of the Kabal impaled to the walls of the throne room by exquisitely crafted combat that could only belong to that of the Astartes.

The Void Stalkers’ reputation follows a very similar track through the 2,000 years since. The Void Stalkers arrive unannounced, often in small numbers, vanish within moments of arriving and rarely resurface but wherever they tread death follows them. Not only do the Void Stalkers have a flare for terror inducing wide-spread and bloody slaughter, they have a skill or more surgical operations, performing services to the Imperium that even the Departmento Assassinorum would balk at. Countless traitors & heretics have fallen at the hands of suspected Void Stalker intervention before their heretical ways could contaminate others.

The brutality with which they carry out these executions and terror campaigns has been met with sanction from the High Lords and the Inquisition but if the Void Stalkers are aware they certainly show no interest.

Beyond these low-level interventions there has only ever been 4 recorded instances of the Void Stalkers deploying in greater than company strength. The most recent was the Ork invasion of Ulgren 3, 811.M41, a planet populated with pre-industrial human tribes inhabiting the western continent. Located on the border between Segementums Tempestus & Solar it was of little strategic value yet 3 full battle companies met the Ork invasion and crushed it utterly. Only intercepted astropathic signals from the Void Stalker fleet to an indeterminate location gave the Imperium any indication that there was an Ork incursion at all. How the Void Stalkers knew of the threat and why they responded with such overwhelming force remains a mystery to this day.

Beyond these scattered, and often second-hand, reports little is known about the Void Stalkers beyond their current Chapter Master is Vivos Finem, the third Astartes to hold that title in the Chapter’s history and this is only because Chapter Masters are required to attend the High Lords of Terra to renew the Chapter’s vows of loylty to the Imperium. It’s founding master was formerly the 5th company captain of the Raven Guard, Shinji Dasvaan. He served as master for eight hundred years before vanishing without a trace mid operations in the Uluhis Sector. Not even the Void Stalkers know where he went. Some believe he returned to his brother Raven Guard, others that he transcended. A few believe that he left the Silent Intent, the Void Stalker’s single battlebarge, in search of the last great kill.

HOMEWORLD

If the Void Stalkers have a homeworld there is no record of it although there are reports of small installations with the Void Stalker livery dotted across the entire Imperium. No one has thus far been brave enough or foolish enough to attempt to break into one to determine its contents but military experts hypothesise that they are resupply stations with capacity for no more than 10 Astartes at a time.

Sightings of Void Stalker ships in orbit over various worlds for extended periods with no obvious sign of resupply or conflict has led to speculation regarding recruitment words but there is no indication of training grounds, temples or a fortress monastery. The only parallels that can be drawn from these suspected worlds is that they all posses pre-industrial civilisations, all are nomadic and all prefer skirmish and hit and run tactics rather than waging all out war against one another.

Sharing geneseed with the Raven Guard, their ancestral home remains Deliverance and Void Stalkers periodically make pilgrimages their to walk amongst their kin and share tactics and intelligence. It is the one and only time that a Void Stalker will willingly remove their battle helms and walk and converse with beings other than their own battle brothers. The Void Stalkers hold the Raven Guard in awe and with the utmost respect. Every undertaking made by the Void Stalkers is measured against the achievements of the Raven Guards 10 millennia long history.

Indeed, the day that Corax liberated Deliverance is the Void Stalkers’ most sacred day and where possible as much of the Void Stalker fleet gathers and a day of thanks giving is declared. It is a day of intense mediation, and purification at the end of which the entire Chapter, or at least as much as is feasible to gather, feasts in the great hall of the Silent Intent to represent Corax’s triumph and the birth of the 19th Legion.

Much like other ‘crusading’ Chapters, the Void Stalker’s possess a large fleet, however, where they differ is that overwhelmingly their fleet leans towards smaller vessels; frigates and destroyers, allowing them to quickly and quietly disperse kill teams all over the Imperium, where they move from warzone to warzone doing the most good before moving onto the next. The only time, outside of Deliverance Day, that the Silent Intent will see one of its sister ships is for resupply or on those exceptionally rare occasions that decisive force is required. And such a feat of co-ordination is only achieved by a truly prodigious number of astropaths on board each of the Void Stalker’s ships. How such a feat came about is a mystery but can have only come about through extraordinary ties of kinship between the Void Stalkers and the Psykana Telepathica.

DOCTRINE & ORGANISATION

The Void Stalkers, like their Raven Guard cousins, follow the Codex Astartes organisational structure in so much as there are 10 companies, each with 10 squads. However, where they differ is that the Void Stalkers do not use reserve companies in the convention sense, nor do they utilise devastator squads, preferring to utilise a greater number of assault marines. Even the 10th, Scout, company being divided between weapons and close combat specialists. Devastator Squads are considered too inflexible and slow-moving for the Void Stalker’s chosen style of combat and as such train tactical squads extensively in the use of special weapons allowing a balance between maximum hitting power and manoeuvrability.

Their chosen style of combat is overwhelmingly geared towards low-level surgical strikes and assassinations. It is said that a Void Stalker can move so silently that one could loom over you and you’d never know it until it was too late. Eye witnesses describe the Void Stalkers as like living shadows. One minute they are there and the next they’re not, as if they slip into your blind spot. Even sentries struggle to remember seeing Void Stalkers despite the Astartes having no choice but to pass through their checkpoint.

Although the Void Stalkers have and will take to the field in conventional warfare they much prefer to root out decay before the rot sets in. Five out of the Eight battle companies are seeded across the galaxy, each squad operating independently of their company. Squads themselves are often broken down into one or two men teams to infiltrate a world, seek out the alien, the traitor or the deamonic and destroy it.

Due to this solitary style of combat Void Stalkers are trained to be incredibly independent and resourceful. Most have customised their armour in some way or carry additional equipment that will allow a Void Stalker to operate in the field for extended periods of time. In fact there has been numerous instances of supply officers catching Void Stalkers scouring Imperial Guard supply dumps for items or in workshops concocting bespoke pressure bombs and other such devices. A Void Stalker doesn’t reach this level of resourcefulness by accident.

Aspirants and (for those that survive) initiates spend much of their time alone on Death Worlds required to survive the predation of an entire planet for months on end. It teaches aspirants two things – initiative and the art of the hunt. It is no coincidence that the worlds the scouts find themselves on have some of the most efficient hunters in the galaxy. The message is simple; be better or die. In reality, Void Stalkers do not stay scouts for long as the nature of their combat operations requires them to be afforded maximum protection that only the advanced stealth systems of the Void Stalker power armour provides.

Company captains of the five Interrogation companies rarely deploy in operations unless a company strength response is required. Instead they stay aboard the company Frigate and use the retro-fitted communication and sensorum equipment to monitor the progress of their battle brothers and arrange for rapid redeployment as needed.

Should a threat prove too great or the cancer of heresy too deep for one Void Stalker to cope with they call upon the aid of the three reserve, or Purification, companies to bring ruination to the enemies of the Emperor. As one would expect demand on these three companies is great and elements of the 1st company are relied on heavily as the Purification companies are often divided in half to tackle multiple threats.

When Purification does come to a world their tactics on the field of war are reflective of their more clandestine opreations; strike, contain and eliminate. Stormravens and drop pods deploy elements with such overwhelming force that the enemy are crushed before they can react.

This style of warfare, however, presents two majors problems for the Void Stalkers. The first being that it is impossible to determine the actual number of Void Stalkers active in the field as they can drop out of contact for decades at a time which requires the Void Stalkers to keep a far larger scout company than the Codex Astartes dictates or the Inquisition would prefer. The second is that the Void Stalker fleet is too widely dispersed to lent any real military support when called upon. Combined with their singular approach to war and the high number of smaller craft, they are more often seen slinking away from naval engagements rather than lending support, much to the consternation of the Imperial Navy. The knock on effect of this is that the fleet is sometimes unable to round up its operatives immediately often forcing them to make their own way home. This is, needless to say, a tremendous waste of a valuable resource.

The Void Stalker’s achievements are legion but few are public knowledge as most prevent the outbreak of war before they start. The only evidence ever left behind after a Void Stalker has completed his hunt is the ceremonial dagger required to make the kill. The stylised eagle talon handle carved from ivory, to give the impression of an Aquila clutching a blade, is a potent symbol the Imperium over as the cost of betrayal. The excessive nature of the Void Stalker’s purifications, both in scale and brutality, as well as their penchant of terror tactics has made many in the upper echelons of Terra and the Inquisition extremely nervous of the Void Stalkers and where the dark and solitary path they tread may truly be leading them.

BELIEFS

As with all Space Marine Chapters, the Void Stalkers revere their Primarch and the Emperor. They also have a special admiration for the Raven Guard and follow their exploits intently, using them as exemplars. In many ways this veneration is tinged with a competitive streak as the Void Stalkers attempt to hone their stealth skills to beyond that of their cousins.

At the core of the Void Stalkers belief system is that the Imperium of man is salvageable, but only through rooting out the rot that eats away at minds of the powerful and the weak. The Void Stalkers possess a wide and far-reaching intelligence network made up of clerks, Imperial officers, bounty hunters, gangers and even planetary governors. No one is beneath their notice and no lead too flimsy to follow-up. Often a Marine’s deployment will be as much as about observation – sometimes for years – as it is about dispatching an enemy of the Imperium. And sometimes, just rumour that a Void Stalker is at large on a planet is enough to quell the early stages of heresy, lest the instigators be made a violent and bloody example of the price of betrayal.

This intelligence gathering earns them many favours across the realm of man, if not out of gratitude then fear of what the Void Stalkers know. Although they are quick to share information that can benefit brother chapters, the Departmento Munitorum or the Machine Cult of Mars they are viewed with suspicion and are tolerated rather than trusted. Favours usually extend to transportation when the Void Stalker’s own fleets are stretched too thin, or resupply and medical attention. The Void Stalkers are careful never to take too much less their allies become too resentful of the imposition.

The Void Stalkers possess an almost preternatural awareness of their environment to the point that their reflexes are viper quick even by Raven Guard standards and excel in close combat to the extent that 70% of the Void Stalker’s 1st company are vanguard. This sixth sense is especially acute for the Chapter Librarians picking up on the slightest change in a battle brother’s aura, or even a shift in body language. So acute is this connection that the Librarians double as Chaplains and wander the galaxy on their own recognisances, arriving at the side of a stricken Void Stalker at just the right moment to either give them council or lend them martial aide.

The Inquisition is deeply suspicious of this bond, have demanded numerous investigations and openly rail against those touched by the warp offering spiritual guidance to the Chapter but all objections have been ignored by the Chapter’s upper echelons, understanding, only as they can, the profound importance the shared connection is amongst a Chapter that works in almost complete isolation.

GENESEED

The Void Stalker’s geneseed is taken from that of the scions of Corax. However, where the Raven Guard suffer loss of pigmentation ot their skin over time, it afflicts the Void Stalkers almost immediately, giving their skin an eerie, translucent, quality. Equally their eyes become inky pools and it profoundly disturbing for non-Astartes to look upon an un-helmeted Void Stalker for more than a few moments. Not that any living mortal has been given the opportunity to do so.

Also, as with all sons of Corax, the Void Stalkers do not have the Mucranoid or the Betcher’s Gland.

BATTLE CRY

The Void Stalkers operate independently for months at a time and when unified it is to bring swift vengeance upon the foes of the Emperor, a duty they undertake with utter seriousness so a battle cry, to the Void Stalkers would be trivialising their duty to their father and the Emperor.

Squad to squad communications are clipped and precise, and all missions are undertaken with the utmost discipline. This means the Void Stalkers lack the comradary and vainglorious bragging found amongst the rank and file of other chapters to the extent that on those rare occasions when they have been forced to fight alongside other chapters, they are largely ignored. Which suits the Void Stalkers just fine.

An interview with Gav Thorpe

Yes, my extraordinary jamminess continues with yet another interview. This time with author and Games Workshop living legend Gav Thorpe.

TSC: Gav, thanks for taking the time to chat with The Shell Case. During your 14 years at the Games Workshop, am I right in saying you worked on 18 books across the 40k and Gothic? Which one are you most proud of and why?

Gav: Codex: Sisters of Battle. It was my first Codex and is still my favourite. It was a chance to delve into an area of the Imperium that had only been mentioned previously in passing – the Ecclesiarchy. These days the imagery and background of the Adeptus Ministorum is well-established and has seeped into other armies of the Imperium, but at the time the possibility to write mad Confessors and Missionaries and, of course, shape the Sisters of Battle was an incredible opportunity. Not only that, I was allowed to detail the rise and fall of one of the Imperium’s best megalomaniacs, Goge Vandire.

TSC: It was a cracking book. For me it was a big leap forward towards creating 40k as a Universe. You’ve also had the opportunity, and challenge, of writing Black Library novels for the Imperial Guard, Eldar, Space Marines and the Horus Heresy series. Which book was your biggest challenge and which was the biggest achievement?

Gav: Each has its own challenges and rewards. Deliverance Lost for the Horus Heresy came with the burden of expectation, given the success of the series as a whole, but I would say that Path of the Warrior was the greatest challenge. Eldar had not been that well-served from BL previously, and I had taken it upon myself to rectify that, so I put quite a lot of pressure on myself to deliver not only an interesting story, but a narrative that could only be based on an Eldar character, as well as wanting to delve into the roots and background of the Eldar as I went. The fact that I also then decided that three inter-woven novels was the best way to go, with each giving a unique viewpoint on the same sequence of events, pretty much moved the challenge level up to eleven in terms of writing the actual books.

TSC: Three books retelling the same story about an incomprehensible Alien race from three different totally different perspectives on existence does sound like quite the challenge. Deliverance Lost, the 18th Horus Heresy novel, came out not so long ago, written by your good self. For those that haven’t read it, give us an overview of what we can expect?

Gav: Deliverance Lost focuses on the Raven Guard Legion, who have fallen victim to the traitor ambush at Isstvan V. Suffering about 95% casualties, the Raven Guard seem to be out of the war, but thanks to divisions in Horus’s followers they are able to escape from Isstvan. Their Primarch, Corax, travels to Terra to seek advice from the Emperor and eventually takes possession of an important gene-resource that will help him rebuild his Legion for the war to come. This task is made all the more complicated by the fact that the Alpha Legion have infiltrated the Raven Guard and plan to steal the gene-data for themselves and destroy Corax’s Legion.

The book concentrates on the Raven Guard post-Isstvan, but readers also get to see flashbacks of Corax’s early days during the uprising that took him to power, as well as the continuing story of Alpharius and Omegon.

TSC: Sounds awesome. Everything I’ve read or heard about the Raven Guard makes me crave an army so Deliverance Lost hasn’t helped and it’s no surprise that reviews have been hugely positive. How did you go about tackling the task of writing about the Raven Guard and how much freedom were you given to develop the legion’s background compared to Dan Abnett with Prospero Burns?

It all started when I was thinking about the Raven’s Flight audio drama. The extant background of the Heresy doesn’t deal with the Raven Guard very much – the Collected Visions book barely mentions them and their old Index Astartes article doesn’t explain how they managed to survive the massacre (TSC: That’s easy – they’re space ninjas!) or what they got up to other than Corax’s misguided attempts to rebuild the Legion. So the first thing I did was to compile a list of questions and outstanding issues that could be examined in the HH novels and stories.

In regards to the freedom I was given, really the biggest controls came from myself – wanting to adhere to the letter of what had been written already as much as possible, even if there was an extra layer of complexity behind the ‘official’ history. The other factor to be borne in mind was how much of the Raven Guard of the 41st millennium already existed at the time of the Heresy, and how much of it has developed over the ten thousand years since.

For example, the Raven Guard as a Chapter of about 1,000 space marines have this behind-the-lines, hit-and-run approach to warfare. That works fine for a few models on the tabletop, but what does that mean for a Legion of 80,000+ Space Marines? They can’t all be jump packers, they need fire support & flexibility. On top of this, I looked for an area that meant that they were unique from those around them. They weren’t constantly mobile attackers like the White Scars, and their guerilla warfare had to be different from the subterfuge of the Alpha Legion and the terror tactics of the Night Lords. In the end, there is a self-sufficiency, make-do-and-mend, adapt and overcome attitude in the Legion. They are very pragmatic in their approach, adapting to the changing needs of the battlefield, but always with one central tenet: attack, withdraw and attack again.

This tenet was created by Corax during the rebellion of Lycaeus before the coming of the Emperor and it is not only a tactical doctrine for his Legion but a personal mantra; stay mobile; never get caught; always be ready to respond; do everything that must be done for victory; keep fighting until the last. These qualities have been adopted by his Legion and taken to heart.

TSC: The whole ‘bodge it and make do’ attitude is very British. I like it. What’s it been like to work on a project as huge and as awesome as the Horus Hersey series?

Gav: It’s great, but it comes with a lot of difficulties, such as the continuity issues. It’s easy enough to write a 40K story, separated from any wider narrative. With the Horus Heresy all of the authors are sharing a timeline, a narrative and a cast of characters. I might not be the next person to write about Corax, for instance, so my treatment of him has to be such that another author can take on his story and bring their own take on the matter. The logistics of it – who is where, and when, and at what events, and communicating with the other authors – is another thing that takes more time than on other series. On the flip side, I get to be part of this huge story, one that is the most successful range of Black Library books, and it is a beast that has far outgrown its original stature and taken on a life of its own. It is a third setting, and in terms of novels bigger than the 40K universe that spawned it. I’m glad I am able to find little pieces and areas where I can lay down my mark on what is going to be a sci-fi series that will live long in the memory.

TSC: It really is a great series. And more than a few people, I’m sure, would love to see alternative Warhammer 30,000 rules released. Moving away from GW, back in September 2010 Angry Robot published the first part in The Crown trilogy; your entirely original fantasy series. Can you tell us a bit about the trilogy?

Gav: The setting is quite different from Warhammer, with a, bronze age, Roman and Persian feel to it. The main character, Ullsaard, is a general of the Askhan Empire, and a very good one at that. He has a problem though – the expansion of the empire has stagnated of late and he is chafing to push back the boundaries even further. The empire is ruled over by the Blood, descendants of the First King, a man called Akhos. Despite the name, the Blood are not vampires, as some people have assumed. When the heir to the Crown of the Blood falls ill on military campaign, one of Ullsaard’s allies, Prince Aalun, drags him into a conflict for the succession, and soon the future of the empire is up for grabs.

It is a very ‘adult’ book, in that it has sex and swearing and a healthy dose of violence. It deals with the psychology of conquerors and men of power, and has a healthy dose of real politik as various factions and individuals vie for control of the Askhan empire.

TSC: Sex and swearing? I’m on board! How did you find it moving away from Games Workshop IP and creating your own? Were there any moments in editing the trilogy when you suddenly realised you’d taken a wrong turning and found yourself in downtown Middenheim?

Gav: I deliberately took The Crown of the Blood a good distance from Warhammer, in setting and tone, so there has never been any clash in my mind. The only thing they share, I suppose, is a military angle. It was good to have a clean slate and just get on with the storytelling, the world-changing to the needs of the narrative rather than trying to fix a particular story in a world already defined. The downside is that it’s nobody’s work but my own, so if there is something a reader does not like, it’s always going to be a decision I have made rather than, perhaps, something I have inherited from the existing background.

TSC: Again, the reviews thus far have been very positive so I’d say you’re on to a winner. With Deliverance Lost already out and part three of The Crown trilogy out in August, what are you working on next? And what are you allowed to tell us about it?

Gav: What I am working on and what comes out next aren’t the same thing… Part three of the Path of the Eldar will be out in September – that’s Path of the Outcast, and deals with the character Aradryan, who leaves Alaitoc to find purpose in his life and ends up getting involved in rather more than he can handle. I’m just about to start Ravenwing, the first in a new Dark Angels trilogy that follows on from Angels of Darkness. The trilogy is called Legacy of Caliban, but I’m not sure when it will be coming out. The title sort of tells you what that is about. At the moment, I have a Horus Heresy novella being serialised in the e-mag Hammer and Bolter, and that will also be published in an Anthology called The Primarchs. The novella is simply called The Lion and deals with what the Dark Angels have been up to since Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s short story Savage Weapons in Age of Darkness. Iron Hands and Death Guard get involved too. After that…well, things get a lot more vague. Hoping to do some more Warhammer for Black Library, maybe something involving a Dwarf and some beer. I’m also hoping to do more with Angry Robot, but whether that is Crown-related or something totally different we’ll have to see.

TSC: So it’s reasonable to say, you’re quite a busy chap, then. But, if you could work on any IP, be it a game, novel or script, what would it be?

It would be something new, that nobody has seen yet. If someone gave me a big bundle of money, some talented artists, sculptors and about a year, I would love to see what sort of game I would come up with. Failing that, a video games development studio and a few million pounds would be nice. Really I’m at a place now that being involved in the creation of something new from day one is where I really want to be. The Crown of the Blood is cool, but the universe I’ve invented for that is very much suited to the purpose of the story I wanted to tell, although there might be some room for expansion. Given the time to indulge myself, I would create something more suited to multimedia exploitation – RPGs, miniature games, novels, comics, and so on.

TSC: You can come work with me then, I’ve been trying to get my game finished for years!

Gav: In relation to existing IPs, then my favourites would have to be those of 2000AD when I was growing up – Strontium Dog, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper. There is so much that could be done with them, in terms of stories, games and other applications.

TSC: You’ll have to get Dan to have a word. And finally, because I have to ask; what advice would you give all us budding writers?

Gav: It’s hard to give catch-all advice to would-be writers because each has a different path to follow, and each stumbles at different obstacles. With that in mind, I have two pieces of advice:

The first applies to many things, but ‘keep it simple’. Do not try to write your magnum opus straight out of the gate. I’m almost into double digits now for the number of novels I’ve written and I still think my best is yet to come. Find some good characters and an interesting story and don’t go overboard with trying to be revolutionary. Most readers just want a good story, well told. Work on your style and structure on something straightforward before trying to get too fancy.

Secondly, find your writing process. Lots of starting writers over-think while they are writing. They agonise over every word, comma and clause, thinking that through sheer persistence they will stumble upon their style. Don’t. Concentrate on story-telling, style can come later. To that end, I always tell people to Think-Write-Think. That is, think about a scene, chapter or the entire story before you start trying to write it. Make notes if you need to. Come up with cool lines of dialogue. Fix an image and a purpose in your mind – why this scene? Why this character and how does he or she act? What is the point of what I am writing? Then just write something. Write the scene or the chapter. DO NOT read what you have already written until you have finished the scene or chapter. DO NOT edit as you go along, just leave in the typos and the mistakes. Do this quickly, go with the flow. When you have words on the page you have a raw material to work with, and then you can think again. This is the edit stage – look at what you have written and think about what you were trying to achieve. This is where the style and the language can be finessed. Most of all, though, find what works best for you, and remember this: writer’s write, but authors finish!

TSC: Great advice that I know many of my readers will appreciate. And I do too actually. One more question for the road; fancy a game?

Gav: Yes, in theory, though I have not played Warhammer or 40K for about four years, and I am horribly out of the loop as far as the game system goes. So don’t expect anything competitive, or even competent. Always happy to try out new games though.

TSC: That’s fine, it’ll just make me look like a half competent gamer for a change. Gav, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks for taking the time.

Deliverance Lost is out now and available from Games Workshop hobby centres, the Black Library website and all good book stores. The Crown of the Blood & The Crown of the Conqueror are available through the Angry Robot website and all good book stores. The concluding part, The Crown of the Usurper is available later this year.

Scratching That Itch

One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to forgive the Games Workshop for all the wrong doings I’ve felt they have inflicted upon the hobby community. There’s a few reasons for these ‘wrong doings’; like any company with share holders they have to do whatever it takes to make money. Combined with business, rather than hobby, focussed senior staff it’s little wonder things are the way they are.

The bottom line is that me getting all bitter and twisted that in 12 years a Space Marine tactical squad has gone from £15 to £28 is pointless. It changes nothing. And it’s actually damaging because I’ve not played with, let alone painted anything in my Ultramarine army in more than a year. And it’s also meant me putting distance between me and friends of mine who work for the company. Which, again is daft.

What all this boils down to is that I feel like I’m betraying my principles every time I see new models from the Games Workshop I want. Which, again is pointless. So in summary, I’ve spent a lot of time being pointless.

I’ve also being feeling the lure of starting a new army. Between Chapter’s Due and Raven’s Flight I’ve fallen in love a little bit with the Raven Guard, and after a natter with Gav Thorpe about Deliverance Lost (so it’s all his fault), that love is burning bright in my breast to the point that I think I need my very own company of Corax’s Ninja’s in Space. So this means accepting it’s gonna cost me a few quid and/or being a bit savvy about how I build this army up.

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To be honest only being able to afford bits and pieces will mean that I’ll actually get something painted. Because there’s fewer motivators more powerful than that new army feel. And it is my hope that having a hobby project slightly removed from my blog related mumblings will get my arse into gear to the point that I’ll paint the piles of other toys I’ve got.

Bottom line, I’m done being cross. I’m done being resentful. I’m still gonna wince everytime the total is rung up on the till, and I’m still gonna moan about the big kits and the rule rumours I don’t like the sound of.
But I’m gonna get back to enjoying the games I like. I’m not gonna buy every sack load of shit the GW are shovelling, but I am gonna let it worry me less.

So, brothers of Deliverance, the scions of Corax, to arms!

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