StarSword 700

StarSword 700 cover rough artwork

Foreword

Warhammer has been around since the late 80's. I had just missed the Rogue Trader era when I discovered Warhammer in the early 90's. I collected some 40k Eldar, EPIC Chaos and some Escher, but like most people I bought many miniatures at random because I they looked great and I thought I would start something. Like most people I only painted a small fraction of my stuff.

I remember sitting next to an older guy at a convention, overhearing him complain about the then new 'clowny' Orks. It made me a bit uncomfortable because Paul Bonner's Ork art was instrumental in getting me into the hobby. Today's Orks are too much growl and riveted plasticard for my taste.

I've already mentioned that I collected Eldar and Escher, so you might have figured out who my favorite sculptor was. Almost everything Jes Goodwin did had nice proportions, balanced clear detail and dynamic poses. He could do females faces too, and that's hard, judging by the many not so pretty female miniatures that are out there.

2012 addendum/revision

Games Workshop's 40K setting presents a wonderful creative playground for players, sculptors and painters. It's fun to give whatever army you're collecting that personal touch, fixing the little things which didn't suit you, getting the coolest looking figures.

However, as an artist, I've found that with age, and the competence and aesthetic demands which follow, one feels increasingly uneasy about pouring time into someone else's product. By now, I want to change so much about the 40K/Epic setting and miniatures that I might as well get my own boulder rolling.

However, GW has sort of monopolized a lot of great archetypes. How do you do Space Marines, Chaos powers, Orks, Tyranids, military iconography and whathaveyou, while not looking like you're infringing on GW's IP? None of the above are something GW invented ("Space Marines" have been around since the 30's). They just popularized the... epic cake which they baked using those ingredients.

So, I will have to bake a different looking cake, and there will have to be a big "BUT" for every faction and plot element which is similar to that of 40K. It would have to be something which raises an eyebrow enough, something big enough to create a separate gravity well in the user's memory.

It's perhaps less necessary to do this with the Orcs, Elves and Dwarfs, as people are used to those archetypes being mirrored all over the place, and perhaps it would be more confusing if I turned the Elves into stupid Orcs and made the Orcs really elegant, clever and unorky, or just gave them a sort of random alien personality.

Currently, the 40K setting has deviated from its more silly roots with a lot of exotic aliens. I think, as long as the story is serious, the visual design of the actors does not have to be. I'm pretty fine with a race of ferrets and moose-men locked in an epic, interplanetary struggle for survival with skeleton warriors, if it's written in an immersive manner which makes internal sense.

Designwise, I'll stick to the same scale (28mm heroic I believe it's called), but I like to do hands and feet a little smaller, and the limbs thus a bit less trunky.

Factions and fluff

Fluff is quite important. In some cases, bad fluff can make me project negative feelings onto the physical miniatures. Good fluff can make a mediocre miniature look more attractive. I'd probably opt for releasing the fluff for free on a web page as a form of advertisement. I've pretty much stopped buying physical magazines anyways.

To begin with, I'd like to throw out many different races and see which ones stick, and leave others for future development. I like the idea of planting seeds early, for use later. It gives the setting a history of width one doesn't get with "retconning".

Elves and Mankind

Design note: The Elves will pretty closely mirror the standard type of Elves. They're both mentally and physically superior, and are seemingly immortal. As common with Elves, their numbers have been tragically decimated. Only their ruler and her retinue appears to have survived. Perhaps the Elven genes made them susceptible to one of the corrupting powers (detailed later), and very few or none are able to reproduce without producing monsters.

The surviving Elves (perhaps temporarily shielded from corruption by ancient artifacts) arrived to human space. At this time, mankind was in trouble too. It lacked a leader, and faced a major threat (probably the same which nearly wiped out the Elves). This event could be the parallel of 40K's Horus Heresy (a giant conflict with great turmoil, some time in the past). The punch-line is that Elven ruler eventually becomes the saviour and Empress of mankind (somewhat mirroring the role of the "Emperor"). Her retinue members each create their own army from genetically altered earth creatures.

The Elves are very domineering and command with the authority of a Goa'uld guy (the evil guys from StarGate), and sometimes argue internally (throwing the lives of their human subordinates away).

So, there we have it. Female "Emperor", "Chapters", and sexy "Primarch" figures.

Astro knights

The Elves and mankind now form a sort of symbiotic relationship, even though the Elves think less of mankind, and mankind sometimes worship the Elves like gods. The Elves sought mankind because they were genetically compatible. While humans are physically and mentally inferior to Elves, they aren't nearly as susceptible to the corruptive powers which decimated Elvenkind.

The Elves needed a super warrior to do their dirty work, so they altered their blood, injecting it into humans and select earthly animals (which are not too dissimilar from their point of view), transforming enhancing the abilities of the receiver. These "knights" are also given a master crafted motorized armour. Each Elven retinue member has their own army, each with different composition and abilities. The Elves hope to one day use mankind to achieve a pure genetical immunity against corruption, and rebuild their species (and perhaps dump mankind, who knows?).

Some sculpting process pics (failing/experimenting/learning as I go): Photo environment 1 2 3 4 5 Duping 6 7 Refining design 8 Almost done Sprue and accessory ideas

The Queen's retinue consists of 700 immortal Elves. Many are commanding their own Astroknight army. A few retinue members have fallen in battle, or by corruption.

humans and elves

I'm experimenting with a chunky lightly armed Rhino troop transport here. Generally when I design transports, I like to keep the focus on "smooth box", since that suggests a transport function. IMO, It's dangerous to throw superfluous features and shapes around, since that changes the meaning of the 'sentence' so to speak ("It looks like I have space inside, can move around, and maybe shoot a little" to "I have super-cool spiky track-legs, streamlined insectoid bulges and a huge mysterious device making up 30% of my mass").

Corrupting powers

Design note: I like the four Chaos powers in 40K, but it would be silly to copy those for my demon factions. Then I remembered reading the descriptions of the 72 Daemons in Ars Goetia. Most of those aren't very interesting as far as monster designs go, and I remembered wanting to write my own set. Here's the opportunity!

Long ago, a pantheon of Gods and Demi gods occupied the otherworldly realm now known as the Infinity Plane, a vast, flat world. As time went by, many of these entities would grow bored of their existence. Some self annihilated, others went to sleep, but the majority transcended into singularities of perfect existence. Those who remained were the ones which took petty and sometimes morbid interest in the affairs of the mortals in normal space.

Some fortunate, or unfortunate mortals were brought to the Infinity Plane, where they saw great cities, fantastic landscapes and alien creatures, each God trying to outdo the other. Some Gods brought up mortals just to poke and prod them, to use as play things.

Eventually, conflict arose as what to do with the mortals and the material universe. Most of those who argued that nothing much should be done had already left. There were those who argued that the mortals should all be transcended, and perhaps even promoted to Demi Gods, but this was not a popular view. The result would be chaos, as the too numerous mortals held a wide variety of viewpoints, and this would only further the discord which already existed. And what would be the point of the mortal realm if it couldn't be used as a play thing for the Gods?

Many of the Gods wanted to transform the mortal realm into a platform for their worship, within moderation, they promised. This is how it was for a while. Their games grew larger, more serious, and more territorial. Eventually, one of the Gods obliterated another in a fit of jealousy. The brawl escalated into a full-on war with many sides, each trying to usurp the powers of the others. As the massively powerful entities tore at each other at the raging epicenter of battle, the last of the sane ones watched at a distance how their realm was reduced to rubble and chaos. Then they moved on elsewhere, barely avoiding the shock wave from the inevitable result of Gods battling.

For a long time, fragments of dead Gods drifted like stardust after a supernova across the lifeless, desolate plane. Eventually, like attracted like, greed to greed, lust to lust, death to death. Entities reformed, still dead and void of personality, but full of malicious power.

How the mortal realm managed to connect to this realm of dead gods is not known, but it happened many centuries ago, in an era when Gods have been relegated to mythology by most species. The Infinity Plane was a desolate place, a dark landscape with terrain varying from large plains, to floating twisted rock formations, sparsely populated the writhing, gastrulating entities. The plane could be exited by neither by flight or excavation, as it's resolution steadily decreased along that axis, breaking its laws of physics and any exploring entity apart, The increasingly chaotic gravitational forces which helped form the plane also made it impossible to push out. Eventually though, exits along another dimensional axis was found, but not by the mindless entities. Some blame the Elves and their experiments, but for a human to do so is blasphemy, and the Elves claim that the Infinity Plane may have simply started to leak.

It was too late, anyways. The entities had spilled into our universe, their primal essence filling the first thing which attracted them, transmuting their combined form into a horrendous embodiment of its immutable obsession.

The combined perversions of the last Gods had been reborn in flesh, and now freely move between the different realities. Their primary drive seem to be to attract, twist and assimilate creatures of this new frontier into something which resonates with their embodiment. The Infinity Plane, home of the Great Corruptors, has also been repopulated and transformed, though not into something which bears resemblance to its former self. The inventive... multifarous monotony now characterizes the domains of each Corruptor.

From a human perspective the forces of corruption are evil in an otherworldly, morally ignorant way. But, given their varied nature, a few of them are not so easy to dismiss as purely evil. Some of them have formed uneasy alliances with mortals from time to time, in a war against some temporary enemy.

Higmus stood in the rubble of what once had been a grand, solitary mansion. His bulky power armour would be easy to spot, but he had Duckmen scouts keeping watch on the surrounding hills. The lichen which dominated the flora on this forsaken planet had made little progress in breaking the building down. Nor did it provide much cover for his scouts. He swept his eyes along the rolling horizon, but his advanced visual systems could not pick up anything, so he assumed his scouts knew what they were doing.

Whomever had destroyed this place, centuries ago, was long gone. But, one could never be too careful he had learned. Only primitive colonists lived here now. He had come in secret since people still felt uneasy about his kind, as did he himself.

Only a small ivory skull adorning his chest plate, and the retinue emblem on his shoulder gave a hint about his purpose here. He liked to keep things simple and discrete, as if he didn't want to remind himself too much about who he was. Others of his kind took greater pride in their profession, but he had been one of the first, and indoctrination programs have gotten more and more fine tuned over the centuries. Regardless, he did his a job well as any other, if not better, and could pride himself on that.

Bricks and charred trinkets crumbled beneath the feet of his power armour as he waded on through the ruins of the mansion towards the rustic, improvised cemetery on the shallow mound beyond.

On his way out, a portrait encased in trans-metal caught his eye. He stared at the woman in it, and she back at him, centuries passed providing no barrier of communication. Even though he had been bred for unquestioning loyalty, he too knew the truth of things. He had seen too much to believe the propaganda of... hope. Only hell awaits man, in this world and the next. Oblivion for the lucky.

Not for this one. He took his eyes of the portrait, continuing on through the soft lichen field towards the mound at the back. To the eye it looked like, maybe 100 graves, but he knew bodies would be stacked, graves would be unmarked. Perhaps the crypt was the woman's.

He came to a halt in the dead center of the grave yard and reached into the compartment of his mind containing the dark gift from his mistress. 430 souls drifted in an unseen mist beneath his feet. None too faded. Their bodies in mostly good condition. No children, but they were unusual in an era where the future seemed bleak, and people grew to be older than in man's distant past.

The numbers were within his limits, and he gathered up the necessary strength to condense the broken souls and bones back into cohesion. The earth begun to howl and chatter. With no excavators available for this mission, he waited for his minions to claw themselves out of the earth, giving them extra strength where necessary.

This backwater planet had been untouched by Zelfor's wasteful scourge. The long dead were harder and harder to come by these days. Their weakened will made them easy to control, perfect for bone cyborg conversion. Reapers, was the rumor. If so, their service would be a long one.

Soon, the 429 Skeletons before him stood chattering and jittering, as the newly risen often do. He had scattered the soul of the woman into nothingness, letting her know oblivion. Old fool! He knew he would be reprimanded for it and regretted having stumbled upon that portrait. Perhaps he would say nothing of it.

Undead Skeleton cyborgs

Zelfor the Necromancer / Lord of Bone / Lord of the Dead

When Zelfor's powers to control the long dead became apparent, it did not take long before the easy to convince dead rose out of the graveyards throughout the Empire. The massive, rampant, but under-equipped army of undead was the first close contact with a corruptive power that many commoners had, especially those on backwater planets. It did not take long before cremation was mandatory throughout the Empire. Zelfor responded by simply using his minions to strip the live or newly dead of their flesh. It appeared "long dead" was not a strict requirement, as the process could be accelerated. Combined with the other threats to the Empire, it looked as if his skeleton hordes could tip the scales. But, just as the dead were easy to control, it turned out that Zelfor himself was easy to control. After a daring raid, the entity was captured and forcibly tamed by a Retinue with great mental abilities. The new "alliance" with the dead has made people uneasy to say the least, but there has also been cases of people volunteering their bodies for service after death, and it might even become mandatory in the near future. As for now, a large chunk of the Empire's forces consists of the dead and cybernetically enhanced dead, known as the Bone Cyborgs.

Undead Skeleton cyborgs

Porgos the Lord of Greed

The species most willing to be corrupted was perhaps the Dwarfs. Whispered promises of earthly treasures and a vast domain of planets to conquer and stripmine was all that was needed. Corrupted Dwarves are all that's left of the species, but they remain relatively unchanged, and are currently wasting no time conquering the universe with their war machines and concoctions. Comorgh the Enslaver now provides them with slaves for their mines.

Comorgh the Enslaver

Czukol (-vzizchjes-bqzchen Sztl) the Joker

Zarbarbe the Dominator / Dominatrix.

A former Retinue who proved mightier than the entity which corrupted her, and has now taken its power and place. She remained corrupted however...

Zohl the Devourer of Minds

Commands the Squid-men and legions of mindless (mind-tapped humans).

Zeol the Curious / Pursuer of Knowledge / Great Experimenter

Zil the Mindful, Great planner

Obulon the Foul Cheater / Lord of Flies and Lies

Hordred the Swift and Fickle / the Traitor

Has on a few occasions fought on the side of the Empire, only to abandon them in precarious situations.

Mullum the Filthy

Dutales

Rigal

monsters and cyborgs

Orcs

The Orcs were used as slaves by the Dwarfs for many centuries, never being allowed to grow old and slightly wiser (young Orcs being just the right amount of stupid to perform menial tasks without question or much objection with proper indoctrination). When the Dwarfs were corrupted and left their homeworld and colonies during a siege campaign by the Astro Knights, some Dwarfs and Gnomes were neglected. Free at last to realize their potential, the Orcs and Tinker Gnomes (an isolated offshoot of the Dwarven species) spread across space like wildfire. A consequence not foreseen by anyone.

The Orcs are capable of lateral gene transfer using spores, and reproduce by means of dozens of eggs which hatch internally once the host body is dead. While Orcs can grow very old, most die in battle, and death represents something joyous, as battlefields are also a place of rebirth. The hatched Orclings feast competitively on the host body, and then any surrounding bodies and even each other (most do not make it). Orcs are unashamed omnivores later in life, but leave the dead on battlefields for their young.

The skeletons of mature Orcs are massive and sturdy, with the ribcage having a scale mail sort of construction. However intact skeletons are rarely found, as they provide a rich source of minerals for the growing Orclings. However, skulls are sometimes preserved by veteran Orcs for decorative purposes.

Finally, it's uncommon to see undead Orc skeletons, but they do make for better warriors than human skeletons.

orks

Not Tau

I'm thinking that the Tau (a somewhat sympathetic faction compared to the others in 40k) could be replaced by intelligent humanoid bugs (MoO's Klackon or Starguard's Dreenoi). These civilized and thoughtful bugs would stand in interesting contrast against the more typical mutant-beast-like Tyranid-Zerg-Alien. Perhaps they are skilled with forcefield tech, allowing regular troops to look insectiod on the battle (and not like another armoured humanoid). Alternatively, they could have 4 legs or something. Exploration needed.

The vicious aliens who spread quickly

How about plants? I'm thinking Bellsprout (Zergling), Victreebel, Scyther (Genestealer), Cactuar, Sudowoodo, Bulbasaur. We'll see.

plants and bugs

WIP

Some seeds, waiting to... blossom. Some of the thumbnails started out as EPIC scale redesigns. I need to find a demonette design. Maybe cybernetic.

miscellaneous

And some Gretchin sized creatures, based on the Goblins/"Svartalver" from Prince Augusts Fantasy Armies line. They're kind of beaky and interesting, as opposed to the needle-nose-needle-chin goblins we typically see.

krimps

Some Demon Engines.

exotic tanks

I quite like the Demon Engines in EPIC, so I decided to paraphrase them. Seen here are the Juggernaut of Khorne, Brass Scorpion, Doom Blaster, Cauldron of Blood, Tower of Skulls, and a Doom Wheel / Lord of Battles hybrid. And a Plague Tower, top. Top left: Blood Reaper, and Cannon of Khorne. I should migrate the Slaanesh mechs on my Slaanesh page to this project , because those are paraphrases anyways.

Scale feel test.

scales

I prefer to use scales like 1:xx. Millimeter scales can be confusing, because sometimes the measurement includes bases, or you just measure up to the eyes, not the top of the head. Ideally, the scale description should contain information about proportion too, so you can tell if the figures from different systems work together.

It seems like the 40K scale has fluctuated over the years and with different sculptors. Maybe the older figures were a bit more squat. I'm assuming that human figures are close to 180cm tall, maybe taller for male warriors, shorter for females. My Escher might be around 1:58. I have a Cadian Soldier that appears to be 28mm tall, so that's more like 1:64. The heads are generally 5mm or a bit more (in some cases closer to 6mm). I found a Dark Elf crossbow guy who seems to be around 1:57. I don't know how big these guys are in the fluff. Space Marines are certainly not to scale with other figures (7+ feet in the fluff). If my Space Marine scouts are just taller-than-average guys, they might be around 1:58.

So, maybe the 40K scale can be described as 1:59, 5.8 heads, chunky (trunky/malt cross), where the parenthesis describes the nature of the chunkyness. My Red Blok AT-43 guys are 33-34mm for males, and 30-31mm for females. The heads that I measured are just a tiny bit smaller than 40K's. I would describe the scale as 1:56, 7 heads, with a slight chunky trunkyness to the proportions.

A realistic 1:72 scale would just be 1:72. 7-8 heads, and a non-chunkyness would be assumed values.

Proportions

Proportion types.

Rules

Another thing that pushed me away from 40K was the rules for unit design becoming stricter. Nowadays I don't have time to paint up armies. I always liked painting more than playing, so I want each figure to be a little fun project. I don't want to paint 10 Space Marines with bolters then roll some dice to see how many that die each turn.

I'd like to support a kind of "everything goes" army building structure, but with point penalties for odd weapons and gear outfitting and army compositions.

Army composition

In 40K, one often has to compose the army from a set ratio of certain ingredients, such as, HQ, Rare and common units, and vehicles. IIRC, there are some rules which allow for unusual compositions, but as a player I want a little more freedom to break the rules and build that... Banshee only Eldar army or whatever.

It could simply be practical to get a HQ, because it gives global benefits to the army, as well as local range based benefits on the table. Also, Rare units could have increased costs depending on their cost to total army cost ratio, or points could be subtracted from the total available for the army.

Rare units >25%>50%>75%
-20pts per 1000pts-40pts-60pts

Odd outfitting

Using the familiar 40K terminology, let's consider the idea of putting a Shuriken Cannon (an Eldar heavy weapon) on the following units:

.Eldar GuardianGretchinSM Dreadnought
Racial compatability NativeAlien (+ cost, - to shoot)Alien (+ cost, - to shoot)
Lifting Heavy (- to shoot, - to hit, - to move)Very heavy (Heavy * 2)Ok
Handling Not trained (- to hit)Not trained (- to hit)Not trained (- to hit)

These penalties would modify cost as well as the ability to aim and fire. It would discourage players from doing certain things, but if they want to, they can have fun and still be legal. The can of course be factions, like certain types of Orks, who are naturally talented at using looted alien weapons and thus are not penalized as hard.

The penalties can be stacked, so two "- to hit" penalties would become "-- to hit". Movement penalties might become so severe that the trooper starts to stumble under the burden, or simply falls to the ground immobilized. Of course, a small Gretchin could handle an immobile heavy weapon if it is mounted on a tripod or something to that effect. However, this doesn't count as carrying the weapon, and the weapon might still be a bit hard to aim, unless the tripod pivot is motorized.

...If the tripod also has wheels, the Gretchin could ride around on it. Needless to say, stuff like this would add to the cost. Anyways, all sorts of fun could be had with simple physics based rules like these. Perhaps it would be possible to come up with a working system, then turn the best exploits into official units. This would sort of make the system consistently internal to the game universe, as if the inhabitants really tried to make the best units they could and aren't using arbitrary restrictions because of some 4th wall breaking game balance god pointing fingers.

Reactions

I've been wanting to use an reaction stat for turn order control. It's sort of realistic of models with a high reaction stat moves last since they have a better view of the battlefield state then, and shoot first in the shooting phase. A unit which is slow to react has to move first, not knowing where other units will end up, and shoot last, risking having been eliminated before. This creates a problem with close combat though, since high reaction units can just move out of close combat with low reaction units which moved first. Maybe close combat is a form of shooting, giving the unit a short distance of extra movement. This would make it possible, but unlikely for a low reaction close combat unit to catch a high reaction one. Running units can't shoot, but gets extra movement in both the movement and "shoot self into combat" phases.

Thoughts on the future of tabletop wargaming

Tabletop wargaming products are a bit like MMOs. If they don't reach a critical mass of participants, they sort of fizzle out. I've been eyeballing single player solutions. Perhaps it would be possible to make some form of single player rules where various AI tables (with a random element for surprise) are used to control the enemy army. In an analog system, a player could easily cheat himself though, and it's doubtful that the system would provide a realistic challenge.

So, I started thinking about how a roof mounted screen projector + computer simulation driven tabletop game might look and play. It would allow for a number of neat features:

Drawbacks include:

So, how about an Augmented Reality solution? The models and terrain pieces would need a bar code on the base. Something like an iPad held over the board could scan the playfield state and show a tactical map, and a realtime camera view with a HUD overlay with model stats and so forth. Possibly it could also judge the legality of things using its virtual representation, and even do AI opponent stuff (showing the player where to move enemy troops using the HUD image). Furthermore, since there's no need for the player to match the physical state of the game with the virtual since with AR scanning this is done automatically.

The roof projector / laser system might work if, sometime in the future it's possible to place a small ID device into the base of each model, allowing the scanner to read ID, position and angle, matching it against it against the virtual army database. Moving a model on the board would update the projector view. The player could select a model with a unit selector device (or hand gesture UI) and get a detailed stats, list of movement and shooting ranges, all drawn on the board. One problem is that tabletop figures need a lot of light to look good, so maybe a laser drawn hud would work better.


- by Arne Niklas Jansson, 2011