Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Of Changes, Playtesting, Army Choices, and Much Length; Part the Second

Ok, are you still with me after the last epistle? Yeah? Good! No real ado at all for this post, just picking up where I left off. If these two posts were a hashtag, they'd be #FullForceFriday...

The 986th currently counts two formidable Contemptor Dreadnoughts amongst its strength - Zhukar the Unyielding, entombed within Ferrus Pertinax, and Malbeus the Harrower, entombed within Perditus Magnificat:

Zhukar was the first Iron Warrior I painted

Brother Zhukhar stood alongside Centurion-Marshall Uborevich in the Emperor’s name, purging heinous agri-cults in the Nordafrik Conclaves and debased data-warlock tribes in the ravaged cities of the Francks, earning a reputation for unerring marksmanship, cold strategy and merciless humours.

When the Wars of Unification became the Great Crusade, the CMLXXXVI Grand Company voyaged far from Terra and their Legion brothers alike, reclaiming world after world from the clutches of Old Night. They fought xenos predators and tainted petty-fiefdoms alike, and always did Zhukhar form the tip of the Iron Warrior’s spear, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tauromanch; matching his commander’s hammer blows with brutal firepower. Upon the benighted world of 15-986-22, the Iron Warriors stood against a nameless xeno-kind, strange creatures that took the forms of others to disguise their own, armed with beam weapons of an unknown design. The fighting was cruel and constant, and casualties were high, forcing the Iron Warriors to construct long chains of redoubts and fortifications to house their supplies and for their Apothecaries to minister to the wounded.

The largest of these was ringed with many-layered defences; bunkers and trenches in an impenetrable pattern, and it was here that Zhukhar’s command came under an attack in unprecedented strength. The xenos-breed seemingly ignored the defence lines, attacking directly into the central keep and seeking out wounded Space Marines with blasphemous vigour. Zhukhar ordered his brothers to withdraw, personally forming the rearguard and pacing steadily backwards. His rotor cannon burned red-hot with his ceaseless fire, and the alien beam-weapons inflicted terrible wounds upon him. Zhukhar cared not, and despite his torn flesh managed to overload the great antomantic arc-reactor that powered the keep, outnumbered hundreds of times over. The resulting blast engulfed the majority of the xenos force, and Uborevich the Tauromanch was able to isolate and destroy the remainder with ease. Zhukhar’s remains, blind and horribly rent, were recovered in the midst of the shattered keep and by some fluke chance life still burned in him.

The Contemptor-pattern dreadnought Ferrus Pertinax had recently been delivered to the 986th by the Mechanicum Forge-Barque that accompanied the fleet, and Zhukhar – already being called The Unyielding for his stubborn and uncaring defence – was entombed within it. The weapon he so often fielding in life was replaced with an early-pattern Kheres assault cannon, and restored, Zhukhar yet stands alongside his Centurion-Master in war undending.

Brother Malbeus was once a Centurion-Moritat of the 986th Grand Company, a dedicated and implacable killer who cared only for victory at any cost. Considered ill-omened by some, the rank of Centurion-Moritat was unknown among Ieronim Mitras’ troops throughout the Unification Wars until, in the ancient land of Franckia, a coven of heinous data-warlock tribes renounced the Emperor’s just rule and rose up in bloody rebellion.

Furious at this betrayal, Mitras was granted sanction to use weapons otherwise forbidden, and the first of the 986th’s Destroyer cadres was formed by then-Captain Malbeus from amongst his own company. At his order, the proscribed horrors of rad-weaponry were brought forth to mar the ailing soil of Terra once more; the data-warlocks’ own forbidden lore scant defence against the steady tread of Malbeus and his Destroyers. Attacking unlooked-for in support of the main advance of the 986th, the ominous chitter of rad-counters and the terrible blight of chemical fog were Malbeus’ banner and herald, and before long the last remnants of the data-cult were besieged in an ancient and crumbling librarium, deep in the heart of a long-dead and nameless city.

The oldest and most powerful data-warlocks gathered in a deep and hidden vault, hundreds of their slaves being sacrificed to the Iron Warriors’ guns while they took forth their most ancient and powerful of digital sorceries. Into this vile gathering, Malbeus plunged like a thunderbolt, plasma pistols burning hot and the hideous blasts of his rad-grenades sloughing flesh from bone all about him. When the main assault forces of the 986th broke through the chaff of the data-warlocks, they found a charnel house at the centre of the complex – the high priests of the cults, ravaged and deformed by the terrible weaponry of Malbeus, lay dead or dying, their forbidden magics and malign yet it was a hollow triumph to the fell warriors of the hand-picked cadre of Destroyers. They bore the ragged corpse of their commander solemnly out of the shattered vault complex, and delivered him to Warsmith-General Mitras and his Apothecarion.

Some vestige of life still burned within Malbeus’ body, and he was duly implanted into the first Contemptor-pattern Dreadnought chassis to be supplied to the 986th, dubbed Perditus Magnificat. Although his new form precludes Malbeus – now called the Harrower for his brutal campaign against the data-warlocks of Franckia – from utilising the rad-weaponry he so preferred in flesh-life, he wields the scorched multi-melta of his chassis with the same skill and cold fury, often acting in support of the Destroyer cadre he originally created.

The Elites section of the 986th is currently rounded out by Digamma-Omicron-Zero-Mu Rapier Battery (yeah that's right, D-O-0-M) and the dreaded veterans of Bessonov Tyrant Squad:
D-O-0-M Alpha

D-O-0-M Beta
D-O-0-M Gamma
(once the subject of feverish speculation about new Forge World kits)
Always seeking to ensure every possible tactical advantage, the Rapier armoured carriers of Digamma-Omicron-Zero-Mu Battery were first manufactured for the IV/986 Secondary Expeditionary Fleet aboard the great Forge-Barque Isomorphic Paradox as the fleet left the Sol system and set course for the trackless void. The grim crewmen of these workhorses of the 986th perhaps epitomise the philosophy of the IV Legion as a whole, stoically accepting any duty no matter how gruelling, and taking a certain malign pleasure in carefully positioning their weapons in optimal firing positions to corral and channel an enemy force with overlapping graviton blasts; the laser destroyer of Unit Beta acting much as an infantry sniper would to deliver the killing blow to a trapped and ailing mechanised or heavily-armoured target.

Originally built to playtest the rules for these bad boys, they proved their worth against Alan Bligh's Iron Hands in one of the best games I've ever played

The massive armoured form of Tyrant Siege Terminator armour is a relatively new sight amongst the ranks of the IV/986th, introduced in the closing stages of the destruction of the Nozhetarushi Technomancers.

As the worlds dominated by this fell civilisation were slowly taken by the forces of the IV/986 Fleet, ever-larger and more powerful machine constructs were deployed by the Technomancers in their desperation. Konstantin Bagramyan, senior sergeant of the 986th’s Terminator elite, identified the potential benefit of adapted Cataphractii armour mounting significant heavy weapons to target and destroy the dreadful engines of the Technomancers. After various experimental designs and combinations of armament being tested by the magii of the Isomorphic Paradox, the addition of a Cyclone missile launcher was deemed the most tactically flexible.

The first battlefield deployment of the Tyrant armour was during the Incident at Khalkhin-Gol, a massed counter-attack by the Nozhetarushi with the intention of crushing and eliminating the greater part of the 986th’s strength and its command and control elements. Teleporting directly into the path of the rampaging speartip of Technomancer war engines, the five veterans of Bessonov Terminator Squad immediately came under punishing fire. Trusting in their armour, and striding forth into the fray, however, they stood unbowed in the storm of munitions, Sergeant Bagramyan’s enhanced targeting systems identifying optimal firing solutions for each of the estimated six hundred enemy war machines. The horror of the Technomancer armies was in their use of abominable intelligences – fighting machines that did not require a human element in their construction and deployment, unlike the glorious battle-servitors and war-robots of Blessed Mars – and unfettered by any mortal concerns, the slaughter wreaked during the Kalkhin-Gol engagement was great indeed.

Bessonov stood unyielding, however – the very fabric of their Cataphractii armour beginning to fray and fail under the hellish bombardment. Just as it seemed they would surely fall, Sergeant Bagramyan’s targeting data was fed to each of his brothers, and the counter-bombardment began in a hail of Cyclone missiles. The Technomancer war-engines were systematically bracketed and destroyed in volley after volley of co-ordinated strikes, and within a matter of minutes, hundreds of the infernal devices were burning wrecks. The tide was turned by Bessonov, and since that day the use of Tyrant Siege Terminator armour has been enshrined in the tactical doctrine of Warsmith-General Mitras.

I can feel myself getting the itch to paint! To avoid bombarding you (see what I did there) with too much text at once, dear reader, I'm going to make this at least a 3-part post. Next time, Troops! And for now, I leave you with some shots of the army as a whole on the field of battle, fighting against Carl Tuttle's Word Bearers.

Talk about a refused flank!

The Iron Curtain shuffles forwards...

That Spartan fills me with concern... Lorgar Himself is in it (clue: I lost this game)

You can probably guess my plan - the Predators are about to commence a 'danger close' fire mission...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Of Changes, Playtesting, Army Choices, and Much Length; Part the First

So it's been a while, no? I think I last put fingers to keyboard back in January 2014, and I have to say it's been a tumultuous year or so since then.

Those of you who I know either through Facebook or in the traditional face-to-face sense will be aware that I have parted ways with Games Workshop, and moved away from Nottingham. To answer the obvious question, no it wasn't voluntary. But these things happen. It was definitely more of an opportunity than a setback, as I've been able to stop having a long-distance relationship and live with my better half again, which is awesome, and my new job is pretty cool also.

So all's well.

A while ago, I linked one of my posts to a tweet about Space Marines. Guy Haley, of BL, SFX and Writing fame, was kind enough to tweet it and I had some kind words about my writing which is always nice. So here I am again, blowing off the cobwebs with (eventually) some shiny toy soldiers (not in gold, either).

Iron Warriors. The IV Legion of the Great Crusade. Malign, paranoid, pragmatic, uncaring, masters of siegecraft... are these guys sounding familiar? Before I show you them, a brief digression...

Forge World have, of course, been releasing Horus Heresy stuff for a good while now, after slightly 'testing the water' with the hugely popular Badab War campaign books (remember that teasing newsflash assuring you it was definitely a 40k supplement?). I was kindly asked to be a playtester by everyone's favourite Dark Lord, Alan Bligh, and so my Minotaurs got rejigged and thrown into the Age of Darkness, pretending to be a Legion. In those early games, exactly which Legion was rather irrelevant, and so a lot of what I posted on here was actually being used in 30k playtest games to represent various different things.
Not like this, thankfully...

The outcome, of course, was the Legion Crusade Army List from HH1 - and then it got more involved. I often get asked how Forge World playtesting actually works, and the glib answer would be 'well, a bunch of friends get together and play a load of games, and then John French crunches numbers and creates graphs'.

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only statistical analysis

Actually, that's not even the glib answer - Alan comes up with rules, we game, we diligently record our results, John number-crunches and we collectively discuss changes which Alan makes - repeat until the end of playtesting. All this means that the early versions of the units and characters you eventually see in Imperial Armour books are often quite different.

My favourite example of this would be everyone's favourite malign badass, Asterion Moloc. Alan and I played perhaps the first Boarding Action game of the Badab War playtesting, using our respective characters (Moloc and I think Thulsa Kane, although he may not have been written/built at that stage). Alan, cackling as is his wont, charged a Dreadnought into Moloc after he strayed away from his bodyguard. There was probably a triumphant comment, I checked the stats, we determined that Moloc went first, and he stuck the Black Spear through the dreadnought and killed it in one blow, and no doubt a spray of slo-mo amniotic fluid. Cue a fist pump and an 'ah...' respectively.

So anyway, the Iron Warriors. I used my Minotaurs throughout the playtesting, standing in for most of the Legions at one time or another, and it was a blast. We averaged something like a 98% casualty rate on both sides - games were horrendously bloody massacres, with troops dying in droves, squadrons of tanks being deployed and just as swiftly taken off again - all of which you have, no doubt, experienced yourselves.

However I didn't actually build and paint any Heresy stuff - 'I have loads of Marines already,' I cried. 'I just enjoy painting gold,' and other excuses. Which were all quite plausible, I think. In the later stages of playtesting, I happily took on the Iron Warriors, because I've always quite liked them, bitterly following orders and not seeking glory - and of course when John French wrote The Crimson Fist, I was blown away (ar har) by the way he portrayed Peturabo. I also had a spare Contemptor lying around, which I painted up quickly in IV Legion colours just to see what it would look like.

Enter New York Times-bestselling novellist Aaron Dembski-Bowden.

'I'm doing a Heresy Tale of X Gamers project' says he, from beneath his hat.
'That's nice,' say I, quick with the repartee, 'But I don't think I'm going to bother with Heresy stuff. I've playtested, sure, but I just enjoy painting Minotaurs at the moment.'
'OK,' says he, adding me to the Facebook group created for the Tale, and proceeding to act like I'd already agreed. The scoundrel!

So that was that. I was working on an Iron Warriors army. I decided that, despite beginning another Space Marine army with a metallic colour scheme that could be quickly drybrushed, I wanted to try some new techniques - heat bloom on weapons, weathering, battle damage and paint chipping on vehicles.

Nothing too flashy or technical (because as you will have gathered by now, I don't care for doing that sort of thing despite being amazed when I see it on other people's models) but enough to make the army look dirty and mid-campaign, rather than my rather pristine Minotaurs.

At the time, Alan and I were talking about the Shattered Legions, among other things which I cannot reveal, and the idea that, because the Crusade Fleets set out every which way into the galaxy, it was entirely plausible that elements of the Traitor Legions both remained loyal and never met their Primarchs, by virtue of having gone the other way or whatever - this stuck, along with the whole 'wave of Soviet infantry backed up by tanks' concept of Iron Warriors warfare. 

Building a force like this, a typical self-contained Crusade force, also neatly allows me to build in Mechanicum and Imperial Army support too, as allied forces or stand-alone armies should I decide to. So which way did they go, in order to never meet Peturabo? Well, why not have them strike out towards the enigmatic Madragorian Sector? Alan does love to seed his maps with little bits and pieces for later use, and in any case, going 'off-map' means I can do what I like! Huzzah!

So the Secondary Expedition Fleet led by my Iron Warriors would consist of several Legion capital ships, the Terran Resolve, the Carcosan Pilgrim, the Merciless and the Icarian Revenant, supplied by the great Forge-Barque Isomorphic Paradox and various other vessels. A full regiment of Imperial Army troops, the 'Bloody Glory' 87th Chonsar Dragoons accompanies the fleet.

So, this is the seed that became the Iron Warriors' CMLXXXVIth Grand Company, which voyages under the command of their proud and sinister Warsmith-General, Ieronim Mitras.

Shown here in 'post-assault casual' stance

Mitras commanded the fledgling 986th Grand Company from its formation during the Unification Wars, earning renown and respect for the succession of victories he won against the myrid scavenger-tribes, hereteks, and rad-barbarians who stood against the armies of the Emperor as he strove to bring order to the ravaged wastes of Terra. Of particular note are the brutal and merciless campaigns he commanded against the agri-cults of Europa and the Nordafrik Conclaves; degenerate worshippers of primal deities of fertility and harvest that refused to cast aside their beliefs and stand with the Emperor.

The campaign was long planned, and meticulously detailed. Magos-logisticians and calculus-logi defined the parameters of the deployment, calculating vectors of advance and fire, precise timings of engagement, and even the number of shots that each warrior of the IV would unleash; all under the cold and calculating gaze of Ieronim Mitras. His field commander for the campaign was Aleksandr Uborevich, and the once-numberless devotees of the agri-cults were scattered like chaff before the cold strategy of Mitras and the merciless assaults of Uborevich. Great swathes of the Europan plains were left smouldering in the wake of the 986th's advance, and after barely a month of brutal onslaught, the Emperor's banner flew over the ruin of the agri-cults in their Norafrik heartlands.

Since taking to the stars, Mitras' reputation for meticulous planning and heartless assault has grown, and many worlds have been restored to humanity by his efforts. Of late, however, the IV/986 Fleet has been slowed by the unexpected defiance of an ancient human empire, the Nozhetarushi Technomancers; heretek degenerates who hold fearsome technological secrets.

Mitras's (semi)trusted Consuls are Centurion-Marshal Aleksandr Uborevich, named 'Tauromanch', and Centurion-Artillereist Graegor Zhdanov:

The grim and implacable Centurion-Marshall Uborevich has stood at the right hand of Wasmith-General Mitras ever since the Unification Wars became the Great Crusade. Named 'Tauromanch' for his brutal pogroms against the agri-cults of Europa and the Nordafrik Conclaves during the Unification Wars, Uborevich is a merciless commander who epitomises the IV Legion’s unfeeling way of war; a front-line commander who inspires fanatical loyalty in his men by his willingness to share the line of battle with them. His great Aquila shield, it is said, was gifted to him by Constantin Valdor himself at the outset of the Great Crusade, and the mighty hammer he wields was taken as the victor’s due from the shattered fingers of the last and greatest warlord of the Europan agri-cults.

Uborevich is unsubtle in his approach to battle, most commonly deploying his Warsmith’s troops in staggered lines to maximise their firepower and advancing implacably on the enemy. His rival in Mitras’s favour, Centurion-Artillerist Zhdanov, is always ordered to concentrate his artillery units into a single battery, with more mobile armour committed in a flanking thrust against whatever foe the 986th are deployed. Uborevich is notorious, too, for the creeping bombardments with which he commences his attacks, advancing his line within feet of furious shellfire without care or tolerance for errors on the part of Zhdanov’s gunners.

Accompanied in battle by the stalwart warriors of Suvorov Breacher Squad, under the command of the equally brutal Sergeant Golenischev, Uborevich anchors the centre of his line with an unyielding shield-wall, like the fabled Grekan warriors of Ancient Terra. These twenty Iron Warriors led by Uborevich were the first to engage during the Incident at Khalkhin-Gol, fighting without relief against the unrelenting Technomancers until they stood, battered shields thick with gore, unbroken atop a great mound of corpses.


Massed batteries of artillery and overwhelming pinpoint armoured assaults have long been a hallmark of the IV Legion in general, and of Warsmith-General Mitras’ 986th Grand Company in particular. Centurion-Artillerist Graegor Zhdanov commanded the armour of the 986th, renowned for the precision of his targeting and the impeccable timing and perfectly-calculated strength of his spearhead assaults.

Legionary Zhdanov displayed an affinity for machines and technology from his very earliest days with the IV Legion. Before the outset of the Great Crusade he had gleaned much knowledge of the lost secrets of mankind’s technological dominance in the Unification Wars, and under the tutelage of the Machine-Cult of red Mars. As the Crusade Fleet of the Iron Warriors’ 986th Grand Company cut further and further into the dark of the void from Terra, Zhdanov was thrust into a tank commander’s role during the Incident at Khalkhin-Gol. The Iron Warriors fought against an ancient human kingdom, the Nozhetarushi, the Technomancers; strong in war and fiercely aggressive.

Upon their capital world, designated 15-986-07, a charge of their terrible sentient machines, thousands strong, supported by light artillery of outlandish design, threatened to overwhelm the lightly-crewed emplacements of dug-in Iron Warriors’ Medusae. Zhdanov, at the time engaged in maintenance work on the main weapon of an Executioner-pattern Predator, immediately engaged the motive-drives and targeting cogitators of the tank and surged into combat. The great plasma cannon of his commandeered Predator burned white-hot, such was his furious prosecution of the foe, and his example rallied the rest of the squadron to his advance. The attack was resisted, turned, and then crushed by the re-sited batteries, with Zhdanov calling in constant fire missions from the van of the counter-assault, in spite of his own proximity to the target locations.

Since the destruction of the Nozhetarushi, Zhdanov’s star has risen in his Warsmith’s esteem. His armoured brigades still heavily favour the Predator Executioner, while the ever-increasing isolation of the 986th put many of the more esoteric armoured vehicles fielded by the Legiones Astartes beyond his reach. Instead, older, reliable vehicles and weapons are used alongside the trusty Medusa – Zhdanov’s only requirement being a large-bore cannon with which to bombard the foes of humanity.

These malign and somewhat grumpy heroes are joined by a reasonable horde of troops and tanks - all with their own, similar, bit of background - and I'll round off this fairly length post with a few teasers for the second instalment, coming soon...