Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

A Tale of Five Heretics

A Tale of Five Heretics: Dramatis Personae

I – IV – VI – IX – XX

 After infinite delays, let’s talk some hobby. Specifically, let’s talk Heresy armies.

As my 40K campaign grows ever-larger, I find it’s sprawling into this behemoth that almost defies discussion. Battle reports are tough to write out, because we’ve not played any traditional battles. Instead, the fights are a matter of ad hoc narrative deciding the game. Like 5 Chaos players all using a Lord and one squad as an ambushing strike to ambush the same 1-Commander / 1-retinue counterparts on the Imperial side, representing an assassination attempt as the Blue Team’s commanders gathered on neutral ground. Another of the battles involved the Eldar, Imperials and Chaos forces beating the snot out of each other downtable, while the Adeptus Mechanicus happily shelled all three forces from the objective zone.

Smug bastards.

So it’s happening – that’s a good thing – but it’s difficult to sum up. I love the new edition. You might think I have to say that, but that’s an assumption which doesn’t take into account how often I’m in trouble with my publisher Black Library (and the powerful, nay, monolithic entity that is Games Workshop behind it). I wasn’t huge on 5th Edition; a lot of its rules reminded me why I’ve always been more of a Warhammer Fantasy player. But I digress. I love 6th Edition.

The next 40K weekend will take us to 1,500pts. Since the last meetup was an icebreaker to get everyone acquainted and learn the rules, that weekend (which will take place in my new games room: The Aaronorium), will be the real deal. I’ll be able to discuss it with a little more coherency closer to the time.

So I’ll backburner all that for a while, and talk some Heresy. I’ve set this up before, with hobby talk and avoiding author bias. No more excuses. Time to get into it.

Here’s my ragged attempt to build a Heresy army with some friends. Katie said no. Her 40K Marines are enough work. Thus, I went hunting beyond the borders of the family unit. If anyone has any mega-inspiring advice, pictures of their own armies, or any general chatter, feel free to chime in with whatever you feel like. Consider this an open book.

We’ll start at the beginning. That seems wise.

So who’s doing this with me, and what armies are we all playing?

The First Legion

Eddie Eccles – Tournament Player, Painter, Marketing Guy, Poet, Lover.

This is Eddie. In the future, when Eddie’s writing, I’ll use this delicious green text, right here.

A cursory Google check (or perhaps your own unpleasant memories) will reveal the uncomfortable truth that Eddie is ferociously, ball-achingly good at Warhammer Fantasy. He’s been at a bunch of tournaments where he took home every award (except sportsmanship. Ha!) and my fave story about him illustrates this point nicely. Before I really knew who Eddie was, I knew this about him: At a tournament, there was one award – a measly lone certificate out of about a dozen in total – that his team hadn’t claimed. The tournament organisers wanted to share it in a joint-first-prize situation with another team. Eddie’s team resisted this act of honest and merciful charity, pointing out that they deserved it because they’d won more games and earned more points. The organiser tried one last time, one last vain hope to appeal to the sense of kindness that Eddie had clearly left in his car.

ORGANISER: “How about we share this prize? Look, you’ve won all the others. Some of these guys just came here to play games with their collections.” 

EDDIE: “I collect trophies.”

Given my utter disinterest in the whole concept of tournaments, you’d think I’d despise Eddie for this attitude. I don’t despise him. I fear him. That’s a crucial difference.

Eddie works in Black Library, as some of marketing overlord. I’m not even sure what he does anymore, to be honest. That place is like the Webway when it comes to who’s doing what, why, and where. All I can reliably say about my publisher is that I have a dinosaur picture I need to send to Rachel, Princess of eBooks.

Eddie is fated – nay, destined isn’t too strong a word – to make the rest of us look like absolute hacks in this project. His conversions are irritatingly masterful; his painting is frustratingly superb (“Ooooh, I’m Eddie, I can fucking wet blend, lah-di-dah”), and he also paints shockingly quick compared to, say, me. But then, so does everyone in full possession of at least one limb. As we’ve discussed, I’m really slow.

Eddie’s Legion: The Dark Angels.

Admit it. You hate him a bit, too.

A picture of me hating Eddie.

A picture of me hating Eddie.

Admit it, you hate him a bit, too.

Eddie's WIP Contemptor - I look at this, and I realise that I wouldn't even go to Eddie's funeral if he died.

His WIP Contemptor – I look at this, and I realise that I wouldn’t even go to Eddie’s funeral if he died.

Hate, hate, hate.

Hate, hate, hate.

His first month’s pledge is absolutely ludicrous compared to the rest of us (I’ve begged him to slow down). Here’s what he had to say about choosing an army, and the first month’s pledge:

“Picking a Space Marine army is tough.

There’s a lot of choice, and they’re all awesome in their own way, (even the yellow ones). It’s not a decision to rush. Colour schemes must be considered, tactics, play style, background.

Its not like the olden days when all you had to do was pick your favourite primary colour. These days, the legions and chapters have their own identities and heroes, histories and tragedies.

When all said and done though, it still comes down to the same basic male calculus that you use to pick you favourite super hero: who would win in a fight. (its batman by the way)

The Dark Angels were the first Warhammer 40,000 army I ever collected back in the Age of Strife(second edition). To me, the sons of Caliban embody 40k like no other Legion, proper Space Marines: knights in space. Anyone who chooses to go to battle wielding a sword when perfectly functioning guns are available, must be the ultimate badass (see also, Optimus Prime and Jedi).

Also, they have those stylish robes – the Dark Angels are a legion that isn’t willing to compromise fashion for battlefield utility.

At the time of the Horus Heresy, the Dark Angels went to battle in stylish black.

Armies composed of entirely black miniatures can sometimes look less than awe inspiring on the tabletop, so I have covered my warriors in a Blessed Load-out of Imperial Neo-classical Gadgets (BLING). The Dark Angel plastic kits are amazingly generous when it comes to spare components, and I supplemented these with ForgeWorld MKIII marines, mainly for the techno-knightly look of the Iron Armour helmets.

My main inspiration for the paint scheme is going to be this awesome looking piece of Horus Heresy art by Neil Roberts. I’m going to try for some chequered shoulder pads on the units (we’ll see how that turns out).

as well as the power armoured Marines, I built a dreadnought.

I love dreadnoughts. To me, nothing sums up the gothic tragedy of 40k like a half dead hero of legend in a walking tank. This ancient champion has refused to let his near-death stop him going to battle with a sword, and now strides to war swinging a 4m long blade of calibanite steel. A weapon whose awesomeness is matched only by it’s impracticality.

The next addition to the army will likely be some vehicles (because the First Legion isn’t going to walk to battle!) and maybe some kind of character to lead the force.

Watch this space!

(the space in question being Segmentum Obscurus)”

The IX Legion

John French – A cog in the grinding mechano-bowels of the great GW war machine. Not a particularly warlike photo, but he’s one of my closest friends, and this picture of him and his son Henry always breaks my heart a little. I don’t have any half as good of me and Alexander.

This is John French. The man who inevitably ends up chairmanning and overseeing every games weekend we have, because… well, just because. You may know him as an author for Black Library (and if you don’t, you really should), and every time I go over to Nottingham for Heresy meetings or BL events, I have dinner and drinks with John to chew over the complicated chaos of fatherhood, writing, gaming, and being married. It should be noted that he always blows the candle out on our restaurant table, in case it looks romantic and/or gay.

Or maybe he’s scared of fire? I don’t know. It could be.

John has a hand in the Forge World side of things, too – he writes material for the Horus Heresy rulebooks. When he writes here, I’ll use this rather attractive dark red font. Like so.

John’s Legion: The Blood Angels.

WIP - Blood Angel Destroyers of the Sixth Chalice.

WIP – Blood Angel Destroyers of the Sixth Chalice. John’s promised us all that he’ll get around to drilling the gun barrels.

He has to play the Blood Angels, since I bought him a bunch of Blood Angel bitz for his birthday, effectively guilting him into a corner.

Having seen the first WIP pics of John’s Blood Angel Destroyers, I look forward to the uproar of “WHY ARE THEY WEARING SANGUINARY GUARD DEATH MASKS?” and so on. Also, John was the first to mention the sacred words: “I’m going to use bits of Mk7 and 8 armour without giving a shit in the slightest. I’m also going to convert a Storm Talon and Nephilim.”

The purist in me shudders just a little at that. On one hand, I know that an Armour Mark is something built with a thousand variations on a thousand forge worlds. The Marks we see are a template, and individual forges, foundries, manufactories and artisans will design their own versions and equivalents. I know the Space Marine Legions had hundreds of vehicles we’ve still not seen, and never will, and that in 40K that scale is magnified a hundredfold. Yeah. I get it, I really do. I love that. Scale, people. Scale.

But if I see something that’s clearly an Errant-pattern  collar without some fantastic unit description and cool lore behind it, then I’ll pop his eyes out with an ice cream scoop, and ask Phil Kelly if he wants to join, over John’s twitching corpse.

The VI Legion

This is me. You know who I am. This unintentionally shit photo is one of my favourites, as I was trying to get the daemons and Khorne icon scenery in the cabinets, but someone said “That’s Aaron Dembski-Bowden” just before I took it, and it made me smirk/jerk, screwing up the pic.

If you’re reading this here, you probably know who I am, already. If you don’t, no worries, you’re not missing much. I drink, I write, I scowl. This is life.

My Legion: The Space Wolves.

I chose the Space Wolves for several reasons. Firstly, most importantly, tribal/clan fantasy races are my absolute Number One joy. I love the primal archetypes and shamanic mysticism of it all, as well as the deviations and variants between the noble/ignorant savage tropes. Think of the Cimmerians and Vanir in Robert E. Howard’s works. Orcs, trolls and tauren in WarCraft. The Aztecs. The Vikings. The Mongols. Slaine, the Celtic Fantasy series. The Thirteen Tribes of Werewolf: the Apocalypse. The list goes on and on, and I’m trying to be at least relatively brief. I don’t assume these cultures are better, deeper or more profound than any other, just that I find them fascinating to read and write about.

Secondly, I love the Space Wolves, because I love pretty much every Legion. The Space Wolves will have a longer wait than most Legions when it comes to bitz from Forge World, given that the next rulebook looks like Isstvan V, but they have some awesome bitz already available from GW in the basic Space Wolf pack. So we’ll see how that goes.

Speaking of packs, that’s what comes next. One of my favourite themes in fantasy and sci-fi is the feeling of a pack of characters. A coterie, a brotherhood, a warband. They don’t have to get on well, but they have to be close. it has to be them against the world.

You see it done to perfection in Robin Hobb’s writing, where FitzChivalry and Nighteyes are their own pack: it’s them back to back, against the whole world. Bernard Cornwell does it, too – Derfel Cadarn’s warband of wandering spearmen, with their shields marked by the Star of Powys in reflection of Derfel’s bride. They even have the little traditions that make these things actually matter: the warriors of the warband that went with Merlin on the hunt for one of the Treasures of Britain have five-pointed stars painted on their shields, but those who remained behind to guard their farms only have four-pointed stars. That’s what I love: the notion of a pack having its own rituals and rights of passage, unknown to most outsiders. It was a vibe I wanted to show with First Claw, and I hope to show with Abaddon and Khayon’s inner circle, in The Talon of Horus.

I really want that feeling with my Space Wolves. Every squad will be its own pack, with its own legends, heroes, traditions, markings, and rituals. I hope I can have it reflect in the models, as well as the background I’ll do for them.

Admittedly, I hesitated with the Space Wolves because – as I’ve said before – I try to avoid playing anything I write about. That’s pretty cowardly, so it’s time to knuckle up and ignore anyone who’s ignorant enough to genuinely think that implies bias one way or the other. People will always, always generate their own reasons for why other people do things, and no matter how wrong they are, reasonable discussion rarely changes anything.

I was tempted by several other Legions.

  • The Salamanders, because I think they look seriously lovely on the tabletop. A dead attractive green, and I love writing about fire.
  • The Blood Angels, because red is one of the few colours I can paint to an acceptable standard. And, as I’ve confessed before, they’re my favourite Legion. First among equals, at least. 
  • The Dark Angels, because… so many bitz. So very many awesome bitz. Also, because of Lynn Dunlop – a reader we met at the Black Library Weeeknder – who made Alexander this freaking incredible Dark Angel Chapter jumpsuit:  
...but you get the idea. How badass is this?

Not the best photo I’ve ever taken of him, but you get the idea. How badass is this?

On the other shoulder, it says AD-B II.

Which is, objectively, just too awesome.

For my first month’s work, I’ll stick to a modest single squad. Given that it’s Heresy-style and squads are 10-20 guys, it might actually be a quarter of a squad. But, y’know, leave me alone.

The XX Legion

Lord Alan of Bligh. Forge World’s lead writer, the guy behind the Horus Heresy rulebooks, and quite possibly the most English man I’ve ever met. The best thing about this photo is that it looks like Alan’s sent it out to people with nothing but two kisses in the bottom corner.

This is Alan.

For Alan, choosing a Legion was something of a nightmare, because avoiding spoilers is an absolute bitch. He was originally going to do [LEGION NAME HIDDEN TO PRESERVE MY PRECIOUS CAREER], but wouldn’t even be able to show his models, because of… well, because of spoilers. In the end, he settled on a Legion that I think he’s got quite a bit to say about. I’m not sure how much will make it out of super-secret emails, but bear with me – our jobs make opening up about the hobby pretty difficult.

Alan’s Legion: The Alpha Legion.

Alan's first WIP shot, a Veteran Squad of the Saraph Splinter.

Alan’s first WIP shot, a Veteran Squad of the Saraph Splinter.

As a point of interest, Alan ends up sharing dual campaign management roles at 40K weekends, assigned the onerous task of saying “You need 3s to hit” and “Roll anything but a 1” about eight-hundred-and-seventy-four times a day. He shoulders this burden with a patient smile and a mug of tea close at hand (even when Katie makes him and John build three (yes, three) Rhinos and Razorbacks the night before we’re all supposed to play).

I suspect his models will come out looking second-best after Eddie’s, because Alan has a John Blanche-style of painting going on with his 40K Adeptus Mechanicus, and it looks absolutely killer.

The IV Legion

Ead Brown – Forge World bureaucrat; Chapter Master of the Minotaurs; Happiest and Grinningest Man in Britain. Look at him doing countryside things. LOOK AT HIM.

And here’s Ead, rounding out the batch. I’ve seen Ead’s Minotaurs a billion times (and if you’ve got the Badab War books, so have you), even going up to see a bunch of them in the Citadel Miniatures Gallery at HQ. Ead’s always a sane and stable presence in my professional life, which I appreciate immensely, but he also drinks the most random shit at the Games Day after-party – and gets me to drink it, too – which I appreciate a great deal more.

He’s also informally a member of my test reader circle, and rolls his eyes every time I try to be cool and call a heavy bolter a “bolter cannon”. It’s slang, you Forge World  son of a bitch.

Anyway, Ead’s basically lovely. Getting him into this was a bit of a trial, as Ead does Minotaurs, Minotaurs, and nothing but Minotaurs. I expected him to say no, so I added him to the secret Facebook group without his permission and started acting like he’d already agreed to join in.

Guilt. A potent weapon. Works every time.

Ead’s Legion: The Iron Warriors.

So here’s Ead, in his glorious blue-grey font, saying why he chose the Iron Warriors:

“Why did I chose Iron Warriors? To be honest it’s a delicious combination of a good, quick colour scheme (hazard stripes aside) and a cool bit of background. Peturabo is my favourite Primarch, especially the way that John (French) describes him in Crimson Fist. There’s something about the fact that such a clinical, emotionless statistician needing to actually watch his enemies being crushed that really grabbed me. Plus I’ve been trying to avoid doing a Heresy force for a while – madness, I know, I know, but I also have a large Minotaurs army and I thoroughly enjoy painting them most of the time – and this is a good excuse.
So, month one. I’m going to finish the Contemptor Dreadnought that I started months ago, and also build a Tactical squad. These guys might even get some paint added too!”

I just knew he’d bring up the Minotaurs somewhere in that.

So there we go. That’s the introductions done.

—   —   —   —   —   —

January Summary

—   —   —   —   —   —

The Rules:

  • Every month, a minimum of 5 models, or one Codex unit entry from Horus Heresy Legion Army List.
  • Every unit and character has to come with at least 300 words of history, personalisation, and background.
  • No spoilers from future Heresy releases, despite our spoilertastic jobs.
  • No crying more than once a week over Eddie’s progress photos.

January Pledges:

  • Eddie: 10-20 Dark Angels, 1 Contemptor-pattern Dreadnought.
  • John: Blood Angel Destroyer Squad.
  • Aaron: Space Wolf Tactical Squad.
  • Alan: Alpha Legion Veteran Squad.
  • Ead: Iron Warriors Contemptor-pattern Dreadnought.

Deadline Date / Next Post:

  • Monday the 11th of February. 
  • Potential Theme for Next Month’s Task: “Dreadnought Month”. Other suggestions are totally welcome.

January 18, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Painting Black – Um. Help.

I come to you, asking a favour. Guide me, if you will. Take pity on my poor (currently unshaven) head.

It’s about 6:50am and I really need to crash to catch a few hours’ sleep. Betrayer is going well – going great, in fact, which is lucky since I’ve only got a month to finish it. ‘The Underworld War’ for The Mark of Calth anthology is winding up to completion, too. It’s about the Gal Vorbak left on Calth after Kor Phaeron flees, and they’re slowly coming to terms with the fact that Lorgar isn’t coming to save them. They’re trapped there. They’re going to die there. Night after night, the Word Bearers lose more men to Ultramarine guns.

At this stage, I’m working about 12-14 hours a day, most of which involves going back over sentences I wrote earlier and deleting them before anyone realises I have no right to call myself an author. I don’t mention those hours to incite you to start secreting some kind of oil, ill-deserved sympathy juice from your empathy glands. No, no. I tell you purely so I’ve got an up-front excuse for blogging even less than usual.

I bought two copies of Dark Vengeance. I’m using over picking up a third, but I should probably calm the fuck down on that score, seeing as the Dark Angels in it will see absolutely no use. Some of the Cultists are earmarked for use as models for my Necromunda gang, the Dart Frogs. As you may recall, I play Necromunda. My gang rolled five (yes, five) ‘Slag’ territories, meaning my gang claims a slice of the Underhive the other gangs sniggeringly call Slaghaven. The whole turf is about as valuable and useful as a punch in the dick.


I’m crazy-tired. Excuse my rambling.

I come to you in need. With the new Citadel paints and the step by step guides in White Dwarf, I can actually risk painting rather than just basecoating and dipping. And, for once, I actually quite enjoy it, though I paint about as ‘quickly’ as I write, which is deeply unimpressive. But I’m having a load of trouble with black.

Black power armour, to be precise. I’ve got various reds down really well, but the black is kicking my teeth in.

What I’m after is that “so black that it’s blue” kinda blackness, as shown in these pics:

But, even more specifically, I’m looking for a guide (or advice) using the new Citadel paints, to keep things simple and achievable for my monkeyish paws.

If anyone can give me any advice, or a link, or something more useful than “You’re shit” and “Use different paints”, then you’ll live forever in the Hall of Valour, and when I inevitably ascend to Godhood over the world’s insomniacs, I guarantee* I’ll reward you by totally buying you a rollercoaster.

The kind of step-by-step guides I mean are the White Dwarf ones, like so, that tell you to Basecoat, Layer, Glaze, and so on:

* Not a legally binding guarantee

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 39 Comments