Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Building a gaming legacy, the Games Workshop series, part 2...

In the previous blog I mentioned that the sculptors working at Games Workshop create some fantastic miniatures for the Warhammer 40,000 system. Specifically these sculptors, sometimes freelancers, work for Citadel, the studio responsible for making the paints, models and tool kits for Games Workshop. Citadel is owned and operated by GW but have the responsibility of all the hobby elements that go into the system. In 40K the sculptors have to create vehicles and machines that reflect the aesthetics of each race. From human to alien, each species has a certain look, a certain style. The designers at GW help put together the back story and origin of each species. The sculptors at Citadel help translate the paintings and illustrations of the artists into three dimensional figures. The work that they do is beyond exceptional, they are awe-inspiring. For example in 40K there are aliens called the Eldar. Think of them like space elves. They are tall, slender and have weapons, armor and vehicles that are sleek. The lines on their war gear are smooth and flowing, inspired in many regards by the beauty of nature. Their weaponry is run on an exotic crystal fusion. By comparison the humans have weapons that we could imagine are forged from iron and steel and are run on diesel fuel. Take a look at the single-pilot walkers that the Eldar and Imperial Guard use in combat. Both machines are prime examples of science fiction storytelling. They have mounted weapons on a robotic frame with two legs but one seems to be half the weight and able to glide across the battlefield while the other stomps around like a clumsy wind-up toy.

These aesthetic choices are by design and help reinforce the species that make up 40K. The Eldar are very proud of themselves and think that all of the other aliens are primitive and crude. The word that they have for humans is Mon-kei. Some of the aliens that they speak of certainly fit the bill. The Orks for example have heavy, cumbersome weapons that double as clubs for the savage greenskins. They manage to cobble together weapons, artillery and spacecraft using whatever crude material they have on hand. In a way they are engineering savants. Their work is not pretty but it gets the job done. On the other side of the cosmos are the Tau. The gray-skinned aliens are very advanced and are trying to bring peace throughout the cosmos, by conquest of course! The technology they exploit is neither fluid like the Eldar or gothic like the humans but instead something completely different. I would compare the design aesthetic applied to the Tau like mecha designs featured in Japanese anime. Not surprising is how well it balances out the technology exploited by the other aliens. These things are especially obvious when you look at the robotic armor that the races can field. Space Marines have Power Armor, Terminator Armor and other forms of armor and battle suits that they can wear. They are not the only ones that benefit from this type of armor.


The Tau have a fast and powerful suit called the Crisis Battlesuit. By comparison the Orks have a crude, but equally lethal, robot they can pilot called the Killa Kan. Even though the subject matter of a future that was eternally at war was quite grim the game designers always found a way to put some humor in the system. It's easy to see the differences in alien technology when you compare the weapons side-by-side. When GW was designing the 40K system they learned early on that every alien race needed some sort of counterpart to a particular troop type or weapon. If an alien had a single-person speeder then humans and other species ended up with their own variation on that speeder. If an alien had a tank or transport then humans and other creatures had their own version as well. This sense of balance went from small handheld weapons and armor all the way up to gunships and space craft. The 40K universe always had a great sense of scale. The volumes written and drawn about the universe gave audiences an idea that there were countless other planets and stories waiting to be discovered. When it came to war there were giant robots that made human soldiers seem inconsequential. The artists and sculptors working on the gigantic models never forgot to reflect the technology behind each species. Take a look at the enormous Ork Stompa and Tau Riptide. They were not far removed from their smaller robotic suit counterparts.


Robotic suits of armor were the backbone of the Space Marine armies. I mentioned that there were more than one set of power armor that a unit could wear. There was a reason for these different types of armors and as you can imagine the bigger ones were designed for more dangerous encounters. The sculptors at Citadel had been refining the armor designs for almost three decades. These are easily some of the best miniature figures you will ever see. The detail applied to each piece is amazing. When you see them side-by-side you can only imagine that the team spent countless hours not only creating these models, but they had to turn around and create a balance for each of the alien races as well. Of the single-pilot suits of armor the largest is the Imperial Knight. This was the armor featured in the game Freeblade. This suit of armor was at a scale to combat the enormous robots like the Riptide and Stompa.

What made the robots used by humanity, and specifically by the Space Marines, different than those piloted by the aliens was the neural interface. Pilots of the Imperial Knight actually became a part of the machine. Their brains and life support systems were tied into the robot during a process called the "Becoming." The consciousness remained with the robot for centuries if not for thousands of years. Only in death would the service to the Imperium end. At which point the robot would be taken apart, reassembled and a new pilot be selected. The robotic host was a tradition that went back to the early days of 40K. The Space Marines were long-lived and super resilient yet even the greatest Space Marine eventually succumbed to injury. Rather than "retire" those warriors and lose much valued military knowledge and experience the best underwent something similar to the Becoming. Those marines were interred in Dreadnought Armor. Their life support systems were connected to the machine and they would be able to fight on for centuries more.

A collection of servitors, or robotic servants would attend to the Dreadnought when not in battle. A Dreadnought was treated like a holy relic. The servitors cared for the mechanical and organic parts with incantations, litanies and sacred oils. The robots received the same care that a nun would give a leper in the slums of poor countries. In many instances the warrior within would sleep for decades at a time until his services were needed once more. One of the great examples of the importance of a Dreadnought in the universe was explored in the comic book Damnation Crusade. A portion of the story is told from the point of view of Tankred, a member of the Black Templars. It's one of the best examples of the sacrifice that the Space Marines make in order to keep humanity alive against the cruel aliens and twisted demons of Chaos. It was great science fiction storytelling and went over amazingly well in the game system.

Each legion had its own unique Dreadnoughts, they were honored members and brought into battle an assortment of heavy weapons. The weapons they used, the literal arms on each robot, could be replaced depending on the battle. They had robotic hands that could tear open tank armor, flame throwers that could burn down buildings and plasma cannons that could blow holes through the biggest opponent. The idea of man and machine unified was something that made the science fiction in the world dark and foreboding. This technology was not exclusive to the Space Marines but had a variation in the alien races as well. The most interesting combinations of living tissue and robot came in the forms of the Chaos engines of destruction. The forces of chaos could turn man into beast and heroes into demons. Those that were previously pilots and crews on tanks and artillery became fused with the machines. Not thanks to technology but the magic of the warp, that part of the galaxy that exists beyond our concepts of time and space. Bones became forged into the structure of the machines and blood replaced oil in the infernal contraptions. Skin was stretched across the joins like some macabre hide. Just look at how more intense the Chaos Defiler looks when compared to the already enormous Dreadnought.

The more powerful the demon the more powerful the living weapon they would become. Some of the larger machine and creature hybrids dwarfed the mighty Dreadnought. Just take a look at the Soul Grinder. The multi-legged robot was far more than a Defiler and yet not quite a demon prince but instead something in between. The forces of Chaos rewarded their champions with awesome powers. Some became larger and more grotesque monsters, some were given weapons with magical properties. Other machinations of chaos were metal birds that could take on any assault jet. The larger weapons of chaos had a purpose, they were a counterpart for the most powerful artillery in an army. Citadel did a fantastic job bringing these creations to life. The designs created by the studio went on to influence other miniature gaming systems and even video game development as well. Several of these monsters-turned-vehicles began popping up in Games Workshop video games.


For years the Dreadnought was considered the most valuable single-pilot robot in canon. The Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines made great use of these machines. Just a handful of the robots could change the course of a battle. Yet as the system grew over the past 30 years the threats became bigger and stronger. Thanks to aliens that became more aggressive and dangerous it was not enough for a Dreadnought to take on the most powerful opponents. Games Workshop began creating more powerful armor for the Space Marines. The Terminator Armor was the best for a long time, then the studio introduced Centurion Armor as well. Gray Knights even had access to a gigantic walking frame so that they could face demon princes in hand-to-hand combat. Yet these bigger and better armor choices were not always enough for the biggest enemies in the 40K universe. This would become the task of an even larger robot. The Imperial Knight, the star of the mobile game Freeblade, would become the most powerful single-pilot robot in the ranks of the Imperial Army. The best part of this robot, aside from its awe-inspiring design, was that it was created so that it could freely move between armies. It did not have to adopt the livery of any particular army. Instead it was a freelance robot that had its own legacy recorded on its own armor. It could have its own insignia and even custom weapon choices to wear in battle. Then it was free to move to another sector of space where it was needed by a different legion.


The Imperial Knight was a force to be reckoned with. The forces of Chaos and the different races learned to feel the mechanical giant in battle. Yet when it came to the history of Warhammer 40,000 it turned out that the Imperial Knight was not at the top of the robotic food chain. If you can believe it there were robots even bigger helping keep the torch burning bright for humanity. The next blog will feature these colossal machines.


  1. Woo! Walkers and Monsterious Creatures! It is kinda funny that 40k has two different rule sets for huger than huge powered armor, either they still have some of the fleshy weakness of infantry or you fight them like you would a tank.

    Of course, once you start going into Lords of War class walkers and creatures, there isn't much difference between the two in terms of how they play.

    Honestly, I'm more a fan of just having wound-hull point damage in my more than 1 on 1 battle games.

    1. I noticed I missed a sentence.

      That you can destroy walker's mobility and weapons, as well as randomly kill them outright, but you can't do that to monstrous creatures seems kinda odd to me.

      Lords of War and similiar super-heavy units ignore the weapon damage and can only take extra damage when hit by high strength weapons