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...


  1. Love it man, great reading and the models look wonderful. I especially like the dried mud weathering technique on the tracks and guns, really really cool!

    1. Thanks mate :D I wanted to do a bit more weathering on the army as a whole, not slather them in damage but give them a 'campaigning' feel. Lets face it, letting your gear get all messed up degrades its efficiency ;)