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.

Forgeworld Open Day – Event report

 

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Forgive me, gentle reader, should my fingers stumble in the scribing of this missive, because I’m knackered right?

A 5am 6am start (stupid daylight savings time!) saw me heading off to Nottingham to Warhammer World and the Forge World Open Day!

I arrived and was greeted by a huge queue which, once I defeated, lead to yet another queue. Yay! This time however it was the queue to buy ALL OF THE THINGS! I saved that for later and dove straight into the design studio, with the aim of tweeting the hell out of anything new and shiny I might find. And there was some great stuff on show.

Probably the most talked about new model on the day was the Cerastus Knight Lancer:

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They also had some rather nice heraldry shields on display:

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The new knight model is easily two inches taller than a standard knight and built to stride rapidly across the battlefield. I think we should expect its slightly bulkier brother to make an appearance in the not too distant future as well. The model is a plethora of pose-able pieces, and apparently any purchaser can look forward to positioning each piston individually. It’s definitely more flexible in its assembly than the plastic kit given that the three I saw on the day all looked very different (as you can see from the unpainted vs. painted shots above). There have been some rules doing the rounds now as well given that the third Horus Heresy book was available on the day, which also contains a lovely Mechanicum army list (more on them later).

Speaking of Horus…

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There were several painted examples of him on the day, this was my personal favourite. He was on sale as well, would’ve been extremely rude to turn him down, so I didn’t – here’s a little ‘unboxed’ shot. I’ll be doing a more detailed kit review once I start work on painting him up.

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There was plenty of evidence of the new Salamanders content and a strong sense running around the design hall that the next primarch release would be at the Horus Heresy weekender in May, and that it would be none other than Monsieur He’stan himself! They did have a work in progress sculpt (looked pretty finished to me!) of the new Fire Drake terminators:

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fire-drake-2There is some beautiful detail on that shield.

The other main work in progress things that caught my eye were the new Gorgon Terminators, which are very definitely ‘in progress’ given their general lack of all of their necessary appendages:

 

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And last but not least the new Mechanicum models. Man I’ve developed a serious model-crush on these guys. Picked up a bunch of stuff on the day (would’ve been more but the Krios tank had sold out by the time I got to the front of the sales queue), but the general style of these guys really appeals to me. The kind of “Weird War I/II” with a smattering of Victoriana/steam punk is right up my street. The Krios weaponry options have been added to as well, with the Venator sporting an Ordnance 4 (eek!) bombard gun of doom (that is its technical name) and the Lightning Cannon, whilst only having a Strength 7 AP4 main stat-line, also having just about every special rule in the entire world (Shred, Rending, Instant Death, 3″ blast…)

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The Mechanicum also receive my (soon to be coveted by absolutely no-one) “most awesome model of the day” award for the rather tasty Thanatar Class Siege Automata:

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It’s big. It’s bad-ass. It’s got a cannon on its shoulder that will blow the head off the most well-set pair of shoulders. I want so many of these it hurts (my bank balance, presumably). Here he is with a bunch of his new friends, the combi-weapon toting Thallax and Castellax

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Finally (and I can only apologise for the pics of this, the lighting was terrible in this cabinet), the Tyranid hive mind can look forward to something called the “Dimacheron” appearing at some point in the future, looks like it will be almost biotitan sized (those legs are big!) and undoubtedly scary, it has lots of talons, and a sort of Mawloc style head.

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There was a smattering of Warhammer Forge stuff there as well, but not much in the way of brand spanking new content, though the Dread Saurian looks very nice in real life!

Finally then, the event-only models, a Minatours heavy bolter and a rather nice Chaos Dwarf Daemonsmith. I didn’t grab either of these myself, though I do now have a nice bright red horus mug to drink my tea out of.

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So, despite a hideously early start and some lengthy queues it was a great day. I gorged myself on lots of stunning Forge World models (and stuffed myself on nachos in Bugman’s as well) and would definitely go back again next year. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with a few #warmongers and talk state of the game and Games Workshop. Everyone I spoke to was certainly looking forward to the re-development of Warhammer World and, as would be expected at a GW event, positive about everything the day had to offer.

I’m now even more disappointed I won’t be at the Horus Heresy weekender. I suspect that will be rather special indeed.

And no, I didn’t win the Reaver Titan in the raffle. I am outraged.

An Interview with Nick Kyme

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That’s right ladies and germs, the Godfather of all things Salamander graces The Shell Case with his presences and waxes lyrical about the Green Marines, the Blue Ones and the Horus Heresy…

TSCNick, thanks for taking the time, I know you’re mad busy at the moment. First off, what was it like taking the leap from editing to writing a novel? Did you get any helpful tips along the way from fellow BL legends?

Nick Well, I was actually writing novels (and short stories) before I started editing. As well as a slew of shorts in Inferno! (TSC -Ahh those were the days…) I also wrote a Necromunda novel, Back from the Dead, before I started at BL. I would say that Christian Dunn was a tremendous support for me in those early days and I’ll always be very thankful to him for giving me an opportunity. Can’t say I knew many BL legends back then; at least none that I could talk to. I was certainly inspired by the likes of Dan Abnett and William King, however.

TSC Dan is a top chap. He’s certainly been very supportive/tolerant of this blog. Before I get down to talking about the Marines in Green; You wrote Fall of Damnos, part of the Space Marine Battles series, and the Assault on Black Reach novella. What was it like taking the helm on a chapter that had, up to that point, only been written about by Graham McNeill?

Nick A real nice change of pace to be honest. I actually did Assault on Black Reach before Salamander, so you could say I started with the Ultramarines. Graham was awesome as well, seeing it only as a good thing that another author was tackling the same Chapter, but a different character. His work on the Ultramarines is tremendous and served as a real inspiration for me, even though I was determined to put my own stamp on the Chapter.

TSC It’s Graham’s fault I have two companies of Ultramarines!

Nick Getting to write Fall of Damnos a little later was great as I’d had the experience of writing a full 40K novel by then and would be afforded the opportunity to explore the characters from Assault on Black Reach.

TSC I think it’s fair to say that you have a fondness for the Salamanders Chapter. What drew you to them in the first place?

Nick The fact that no other author had written about them was attractive. It allowed me to do a lot with them in terms of the Chapter itself, their homeworld, beliefs etc. I definitely found the dichotomy of their monstrous appearance and ostensible humanitarianism very interesting. The forging rites, Nocturne itself and their history during the Horus Heresy was also extremely compelling for me.

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TSC I never really gave them much thought until you came along. Now they competing with the Raven Guard for my second favourite Chapter. For those that haven’t read the Tome of Fire trilogy, tell us a little bit about the plot and how you went about the process of constructing the trilogy.

Nick The story centres on a sergeant called Dak’ir, who is unusual because he’s the only Salamander to have ever been recruited from the subterranean slums of Ignea, a region on Nocturne. His nemesis within the Chapter is Tsu’gan, a volatile but heroic sergeant who hails from Hesiod, one of the sanctuary cities, and is at the polar opposite of the class scale compared to Dak’ir. The two are thrust together in Third Company, a very uneasy pairing that gets tougher following the death of their captain, Kadai, for which Tsu’gan blames Dak’ir (though, secretly, he blames himself). Matters are complicated further when it becomes clear that Dak’ir could be the focus of a prophecy foretelling the doom of Nocturne and the Salamanders, a prophecy that goes back to when Primarch Vulkan still walked the earth.

Across the three volumes the Salamanders are pitted against the likes of orks, dark eldar and the Chaos Space Marine renegade Dragon Warriors, some of whom, including their leader, Nihilan, used to be Salamanders. The Dragon Warriors have sworn an oath to destroy the Salamanders and were the ones responsible for the death of Kadai. Slowly, as the story unfolds, Dak’ir evolves into a powerful psyker and starts to realise his potential as the saviour or destroyer of Nocturne and Tsu’gan, despite becoming one of the vaunted Firedrakes, descends further into a place of darkness from which there may be no return or redemption.

It’s an epic story and includes a vast supporting cast including Tu’Shan and Vulkan He’stan. The three books: Salamander, Firedrake and Nocturne are very much parts of one large whole and supported by a host of short stories that will be released together in the ‘fourth’ book in the trilogy, Tome of Fire in which there will be a brand new novella that goes back in time to when Kadai was still alive and how Nihilan strayed to the path of Chaos and created the Dragon Warriors.

TSC Sounds awesome!

Nick I always intended it to be a trilogy, the story line is fashioned in that way and although it has elements of self-containment was always intended to be read as three books. One of the biggest surprises for me was the evolution of Tsu’gan and his popular appeal. In the beginning he was only intended as an antagonist, someone to measure Dak’ir against but he became so much more, demanding more page time and story lines for himself. Dak’ir was always supposed to be the solo star and Tsu’gan went and pinched a load of the limelight, which I’m actually pretty happy about. I love telling both their stories. Their arc is an interesting one in that in Salamander you get to really see the needle between them, but in Firedrake they’re off chasing their separate destinies so there’s not the same back and forth. By the time Nocturne comes around they are thrust together again but on very different sides and actually quite changed as characters.

TSC As you say, it’s an epic trilogy and required 40K reading. As is Promethean Sun, the Horus Heresy novella. This was a game changer in terms of the relationship the Emperor had with his sons. Was this revelation planned or did the Black Library just green light your ideas as it was quite a bold move. And how much guidance did you get along the way?

Nick I was originally intending to write a 40K Salamanders novella (likely the Dragon Warriors origin tale I mentioned earlier) when my editor, Christian Dunn, asked if I would like to write something from the Horus Heresy era. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and, of course, Salamanders was what I wanted to write about. Yes, BL did greenlight my ideas regards Vulkan and the Emperor but that process is the same for anyting any author writes. Although the story is ostensibly focused on the Great Crusade I wanted to do something that also had a little resonance for the greater Heresy to come, focusing on the relationship between Vulkan and his father seemed like the best way to do that. Fellow author Graham McNeill was a great source of support and guidance throughout the project as was my editor. It’s important as a writer to garner as much opnion from trusted and objective sources as you can. I was really pleased with the way Promethean Sun turned out and I look forward to next year when it will come out as a non limited edition novella so that more fans can read and enjoy it.

TSC Fans are going to be pleased a standard version is on the way for, it’s an outstanding book. I must admit I did get a limited copy. Number 12 in fact. But anyway, Primarchs, the Horus Heresy anthology is out later this year and I believe you have a story in there about Ferrus Manus, who I’ve always seen as quite a tortured souls despite outward appearances. What can you tell us the story and his development as a character?

Nick The story sort of dovetails with Promethean Sun in that it’s the same theatre of war, but totally stands by itself. Ferrus Manus and the Iron Hands are fighting eldar during a difficult compliance and during the course of the campaign Ferrus becomes separated from the Legion. From there he goes on a strange sort of odyssey where he’s forced to confront spectres of the future, his future and make a very difficult decision about his path. It’s a sort of a ‘what if’ story in some ways and throws some light on the importance attached to the choices that awesome beings like the primarchs make, and the resonance that can have afterwards. A little like with Promethean Sun I wanted to tell a story that had meaning and echoed forwards into what was to come in the series, dangling threads that are dragged on the current of the story line and aim towards the unwritten future.

TSC That sounds fantastic. Following on from that you have a novella in the pipeline called Scorched Earth that will have a follow on novel. What can you tell us about it so far, without giving too much away?

NickThe novella is set on Istvaan V, specifically in the aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre and focuses on a bunch of loyalist survivors that tried to escape the carnage but failed. They’re being hunted as remnants of the, now, Traitor Legions seek to wipe everything and everyone out who is still loyal to the Emperor. In particular, two Salamanders are trying to find Vulkan; his ship, his body anything, and have to cross some extremely dangerous territory to do so. I won’t tell you what they find but it will have the Horus Heresy boffins speculating until froth comes out of their mouths.

As for the novel, that’s strictly hush-hush I’m afraid.

TSC You tease! You’ve also got an Emperor’s Children audio drama coming out in October, how do you find writing an audio script compared to writing a novel?

With audio you need to think about the fact that it’s going to be listened to and not read (at least not until we print the script or a prose version of the story). It’s important not to have too many speaking characters as the audio dramas tend to be a small cast. There should also be plenty of action and dialogue, and light on the narration. When writing a script you need to consider scene changes and the atmosphere that should be evoked during that scene, any and all sound effects, the tone of voices and excising words like ‘said’ or anything that attributes a quality to speech – you don’t need it; the actor will provide, you just need to give them some guidance as to how you want something said/expressed.

I actually wrote the short story in prose first and then converted it into a script. I prefer to work this way as prose writing is something I’m more familiar with. I can gauge the pacing and tone a little easier. It takes about another day to work up the script from that, which is generally separating out the dialogue, excising unecessary narration and adding scene changes, atmosphere and sound effect instructions. It’s a very interesting intellectual exercise.

TSC The end results speak for themselves, I live the BL audio dramas. Finally, because I ask all the writers I interview, what advice would you give to budding writers eager to follow in your footsteps?

Nick The same advice I give to anyone who asks me that question: read widely and write a lot. Get feedback from as many objective readers as you can. Pick friends if you like, but only if you want an ego massage; the best advice comes from people who don’t have any stake in you at all – they’ll give you the hard truth and you’ll grow because of it. If you are/want to be a writer, do it everyday and try to enjoy it. Find your own voice, although there’s nothing wrong with emulating your favourite authors until you do. Finally, develop a thick skin. Unless you’re really lucky, you’ll get rejected. A lot. Don’t take it too harshly. Try and get feedback and anaylse what you can do differently/better next time. Don’t think you know it all. You don’t, and never will. As a writer you should be learning and developing all the time. If you think you’re not/can’t then it’s time to hang up your laptop and take up martial arts or something.

TSC Good advice. Nick it’s been a delight, thank you again and good luck with all the projects.