Tag: Warhammer 40k (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: Word Bearers Omnibus

I will admit to a certain degree of professional jealousy when it comes to the writings of others. Most of the time it’s when I read something good, which encourages me to push myself, to write more, to craft better stories. I’ll watch John Green spiel into a camera or read Chuck Wendig‘s writing advice or see a particularly amusing or thought-provoking tweet from the likes of Susan Arendt or Amanda Palmer and think, “Man, I can get there, if I just get off my ass and work more at it.” But there’s a darker jealousy I also contend with. It’s the jealousy that comes from reading a published work that is irredeemably, completely, and blatantly awful. This happened with Quest for Karn, it happened with the Warcraft manga, and now it’s happened with the Word Bearers Omnibus, a trio of Warhammer 40,000 novels collected into one bulky volume for easy shot-putting through the nearest window.

Courtesy Black Library

The Word Bearers are a legion of the infamous Chaos Space Marines, genetically enhanced super-soldiers who betrayed their Emperor in favor of the gods of Chaos for reasons I’m not going to get into. The ranks of the traitors are many and varied, from the foaming-at-the-mouth World Eaters to the stoic and eerie Thousand Sons. The Word Bearers are a middle-of-the-road bunch of incredibly powerful killers, favoring a unified approach to the Chaos god foursome over following a single deity. While twisted and warped, theirs is a doctrine based on faith, and the potential is there to examine and explore what motivates and perpetuates the hearts and minds of those bound to such a doctrine.

I spent most of Dark Apostle, the first book in the omnibus, waiting for these ideas to arise, then I waited for the story to get going. For a long time, Anthony Reynolds introduces us to characters and begins fleshing them out just before killing them, often in a rather grotesque fashion befitting the grim darkness of Warhammer 40,000’s dark future. If a character doesn’t die and isn’t a Chaos Space Marine, than something even more horrible is going to happen to them the next time we see them. It does something that is the death knell of just about any work: it makes things dull. The repetition not only defangs the entire enterprise right from the start, it kills the story’s momentum and throws the pace way off. On top of this inherent flaw, the main characters, the Word Bearers of the title, are also dull and uninteresting. Their rivalries are flat and boring, and their battles are unexciting. A lot of bolters get fired into a lot of chests and a lot of faceless humans are killed instantly by this. Reynolds just really likes to talk about it.

Dark Disciple began, and to be honest, I was waiting for a twist. If the first novel was just so much ‘bolter porn’ to draw in some of the target audience of the miniatures game, perhaps the author was setting things up to become more interesting later on. Perhaps this is part of my disappointment, expecting this sort of development, as it never showed up. More bolter fire, more pointless characters, more dull and uninteresting ranting on how weak the false Emperor is and how his followers need to suffer as gloriously as possible. The story has no momentum, the characters have little motivation, and stakes never escalate, meaning the ultimate end of this tedious tale is a tedious ending. Considering all the things that could be done with warrior-priests of Warhammer’s interesting pantheon of Chaos gods, the disappointment merely deepens.

I must confess I only read the first few pages of Dark Creed. I was not invested in any of the characters. I was not interested in how the plot was developing. Reynolds had had two whole novels to engage me, and had failed utterly in doing so. I actually started to feel anger at the book in my hands, which somehow had stumbled into publication likely due to its licensed tie-in nature, and its author, who really should have known better than to waste so much time with this absolutely interminable dreck. For a cadre of warriors chosen by both the Emperor and the Chaos gods for their faith and their skill in battle, there’s no real conflict to be had in any of this story, not in any of the three novels. There’s no scheming by or on behalf of the Chaos gods, no interesting rivalry or betrayal within the ranks as they vie for position, nothing. Everything plays out in the most flat and boring ways possible, any potentially engaging plotting or characterization is smacked down almost the moment it’s raised, and even possessed chainswords and face-violating tentacle masks can’t save this entire omnibus from being a complete waste of time.

With all of the potential tension and rivalries between the Chaos gods, the inherent dichotomy of the nature of faith with the nature of perpetual warfare, and the colorful history of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Word Bearers Omnibus could have been an interesting work of licensed fiction. It could have cast the villains of many a tale in this setting as complex, diverse characters instead of just heretics to be gunned down. Instead, we get over 700 pages of pointless gore and meandering plot that goes nowhere and adds nothing to either the overall fabric of the universe or our lives. Save yourself the time and money this omnibus would waste, and skip it. I hear there are better novels on the Word Bearers in the Horus Heresy series, and I may check those out. This, however, shames the followers of Chaos, and the devotees of the dark gods should likely destroy it on sight. I could see followers of Khorne, especially, getting so pissed at its go-nowhere story and flat, dull characters that they start eating it.

There Is Only War

Courtesy Relic Entertainment

For all of its great design work, innovative storytelling through games, flat corporate structure, and altogether positive image, Steam can be downright insidious at times. This past weekend, for example, they held a sale on everything related to Warhammer 40,000 and its games. I got Dawn of War II as a Christmas present, including the Chaos Rising expansion, and had only played the demo of the over-the-shoulder shooter Space Marine. So how do the games hold up, and how do they do representing the universe from which they come?

Dawn of War II & Chaos Rising

I’d played the previous Dawn of War game and its expansions, so I knew the sequel would likely continue being a different experience from other RTS titles. Not only does Dawn of War II provide that gameplay, it surprisingly also showcases a coherent narrative with interesting characters. Rather than split its single-player campaign between the different races available, it keeps its focus on the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines, and the tale of a young and untested Force Commander (that’s you) dealing with the invasion of the chapter’s recruitment worlds.

Space Marines can come across as taciturn, even sullen warrior-priests in the lore, which as I understand it is a departure from their first appearance in 40k back in its first edition. The characters in Dawn of War II that make up your closest allies and battle brothers, by contrast, show a diversity of personality and motivation that works very well. Minor characters, such as the governor’s adjutant on Meridian and the Eldar farseer, also offer glimpses of depth and complexity you might not expect from this setting. All of the characters are voice acted well, which I’m sure is a relief to anybody who is at all familiar with the last original Dawn of War expansion, Soulstorm.

The gameplay is focused more on squad-based tactics than it is building a huge army and tossing it at whatever looks at you funny. Especially on Primarch difficulty, things like using cover and timing attacks properly is essential. The rewards for doing well are improved gear for you and your sergeants, as well as experience you can use to enhance abilities. It gives the game an RPG feel while holding onto its RTS roots. I didn’t really touch multiplayer in Dawn of War II, given the way the single player draws you in, and I do plan on running through and finishing the campaign again on that highest difficulty. It challenges my brain.

Dawn of War II: Retribution

The second expansion to Dawn of War II sees it returning to some older RTS & Dawn of War staples. There are now multiple single-player campaigns, which I suspect all play out along very similar lines. However, voice acting and characterization remain top-notch. I am, in particular, fond of the Imperial Guard’s Lord General, a man whose stiff upper lip can be difficult to see under his mighty mustache, moonlighting as a big game hunter when he isn’t sending waves of impressionable young men into the fray armed with glorified flashlights. I believe some of the characters from the base game and Chaos Rising return for the Space Marine campaign, so I may need to play through that one, as well.

Unfortunately, the tight focus on squad tactics has been lost, in favor of more traditional RTS structures and strategies. Building up sufficient forces to deal with incoming threats feels a lot easier than manipulating the limited resources of the previous campaigns. It’s still fun, but to me it just isn’t quite as challenging. It was Retribution, though, that introduced me to the multiplayer mode known as The Last Stand.

Being interested in MOBA-style cooperative strategy, The Last Stand is right up my alley. Three players, each commanding a single ‘hero’ unit, must hold off wave after wave of incoming enemy units from the various races available in Dawn of War. Each hero has unique abilities, equipment, and strengths. The speed at which you dispatch your foes, the number of rounds you survive without a player becoming incapacitated, and the strategic points you hold all factor into your score. Between games you level up your heroes and assign them equipment and abilities. As quick little bite-sized morsels of RTS & MOBA-flavored fun, it works quite well.

Space Marine

My first impressions of this shooter/spectacle fighter were good enough that I picked up the full game while it was on sale. The action maintains its weight and ferocity, and the story seems coherent enough so far. I can’t say the Ultramarines are showing quite the diversity of the Blood Ravens from Dawn of War II, but the voice acting is still good and the characterization thus far is coherent and consistent with the flavor and atmosphere of the source material.

With the full version I’ve also been able to try my hand at the multiplayer, which is a decent experience. Joining a small squad of Space Marines, be they loyal or Chaos, to control points, annihilate the enemy, or seize control of an ancient weapon has appeal in and of itself, but some of the nuances of the gameplay make it feel just different enough to be worth a look. At the start of the mission or when you respawn, you can pick from several different kits you’ve unlocked through gameplay: standard Tactical, a Devastator/Havoc heavy weapons loadout, and the high-flying Assault/Raptor kit. The biggest attention-grabber, for me at least, is that when you get killed, you can copy the loadout of the player that killed you. Even if they’re twenty levels above you with access to equipment and perks it will take you hours to acquire, you can load yourself up to mirror them and engage in a little payback.

It does have some issues, such as mics always being hot and the peer-to-peer lobby based system that indicates the console port nature of the game. Unlocks happen at a snail’s pace and there are a few weapon balance problems. I’m going to try the Horde mode and see what else I can unlock through some casual dabbling, but I don’t see it replacing TF2 or Tribes: Ascend any time soon.

For Holy Terra: The Tenebrous Wraiths

If you’re into Warhammer 40,000 I heartily recommend the blog For Holy Terra. They recently had a cool little “Reverse Painting Contest,” and I thought I’d share my entry with you, since this week has been extremely busy and I have nothing else prepared.


Tenebrous Wraiths

We were unprepared for the sheer amount of civilians turned by this cult. You have to understand, most of the men under General Corvinus’ command were career Guardsmen who’d chosen to settle on Serevar, raising families and establishing homes. To see those homes burned and familes and friends turned to mindless, screaming followers of some blaspehmous god was too much for some to bear.

Even the sight of the Chaos forces arriving through tears in the Warp didn’t shake some of them from their catatonic states. The laspistols of the Commissars were working overtime. I was worried that so many summary executions would leave us without adequate forces to defend ourselves. The cultists had taken out our orbital links. Help would not arrive in time. It looked more and more like my Kasrkin and myself would be the last line of defense between those stalwart enough to hold to their faith and the seething, stripping, screaming tide of human flesh craving their blood.

We’d taken our positions. Thoroughfare barriers made for poor fortifications against the traitors and their archaic plasma weapons and artillery, but it was all we had. We told people to stay in their homes. We checked and re-checked our hellguns. We listened as the command post was overrun, General Corvinus falling back to behind our line. And I lead my men in prayer.

When I heard the bike engines, I feared the worst.

I couldn’t see them, at first, but I could hear them. When I did catch a glimpse, it took precious seconds to register what I’d seen. It wasn’t the garish colors and deadly spikes of the enemy armor. It was gray, like slate or cold steel, blending into the ferracrete of the buildings. Other figures took positions on top of the buildings behind us. I heard the phut-phut-phut of sniper rifle fire, and former friends and family began dropping, perfect holes in their faces, trampled underfoot by the meaty shields pushed by the traitorous warriors.

The sight gave my men hope. We opened fire with our hellguns. We burned body after body as they hurtled towards us. I couldn’t count on our weapons being as effective on the ancient but powerful armor once worn by the Emperor’s finest warriors, but what choice did we have? Kasrkin don’t back down. Even when the traitors broke rank and charged us, raising vicious chainswords and opening fire with their bolters, we stood fast. We began to fall but we returned fire. I prayed I would live long enough to take at least a few of the blasphemous monsters with me.

And then the drop pods began to fall.

The one that landed directly behind us shook the ground, forcing us to our knees. By the time we recovered, between each one of us left standing was a Space Marine with a heavy weapon. In the field, the pods split open and gleaming warriors in the same grey armor I’d seen poured into the fray. One was sheathed in blue, the mark of the psykers they call Librarians. Was he the reason they’d arrived when they did? Had the path of the Chaos forces through the Warp gained their attention? Whatever the cause, the Space Marines destroyed the traitors and their heretic followers in short order.

General Corvinus came out to greet his saviors. I was too tired to protest. The Librarian met him, then stepped aside for an even taller warrior. He carried his helmet under one arm, his right hand resting on the bolt pistol holstered at his side. I heard Corvinus greet him as “High Commander”. They traded a few words before the High Commander drew his sidearm and shot General Corvinus in the head. The Space Marine then turned his attention to me.

“You will lead these men.”

With that, he and his battle-brothers left the field. My promotion was waiting for me when we returned to the garrison. We later learned Corvinus was engaged in heresey and Chaos worship himself, at least according to Inquisitorial sources. The agents who informed me of this also disclosed the Inquisitor who employs them is upset that the Space Marines arrived here before they could. That is, however, their opinion even if it is only one I share.

Repairs on the planet’s surface continue and members of the Ecclesiarchy minister to the survivors. All is well, for now.


General Abram Kadeen
Interim Commander, Callimar 41st, Callimar Proxima
Report Filed [date redacted]

++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Educate men without faith and you but make them clever devils. ++++


Tenebrous WraithsThe Imperial Wraiths were mustered out of the Imperial Fists during the Second Founding. The goal was for the Force Commander at the time, Titus Obscurus, to take initiates showing promise in infiltration and develop those skills along with standard combat training to carry out covert operations against the enemies of the Imperium. The Imperial Wraiths were ceded the second moon of Xellious VII in the Hawking Sector, with other planets in the sector serving as recruitment worlds.

However, not long after the chapter was established, tragedy struck. An excavation on Xellious IV unveiled an ancient artefact of unspeakable power. Before the Inquisition could intercede, the artefact was activated and Chaos energies swept over the planet. Aspects of every unclean god overthrew the minds and bodies of the population, and traitorous legions spewed forth from the Warp. Within a fortnight, the entire sector was in turmoil and the fortress-monestary on the second moon of the seventh planet was scoured by the fires of Tzeench.

After pitched combat with these forces, the Imperium managed to reclaim the sector. It seemed, however, that the Imperial Wraiths had been lost. Decades passed before evidence to the contrary emerged. On the other side of the Imperium, before any other Space Marines could respond to a planetary distress call, a massive cathedral-dreadnought dating back to the Horus Heresy emerged from the Warp. Drop pods in shades of grey rained from the sky, producing Space Marines with grim determination and heavy weaponry. They bore iconography that was a pale reflection of their previous symbols and called themselves the Tenebrous Wraiths.

Rumors are that it was one of the Wraith’s own Librarians who oversaw the excavation of the artefact that nearly destroyed the chapter and they have chosen to remain apart from their battle brothers out of shame. An even more insidious contention is that they are in the throes of a Chaos god, a tool of deception to lull mankind into a false sense of security. While no injunction has been issued forbidding them from approaching Holy Terra as yet, the Dies Irae Veniendum Est invokes as much dread as it does relief when it appears in orbit around a world. Their unpredictable movements, taciturn behavior and nihilistic prayers make others uneasy, but in combat they are every bit as implacable and righteous as their more boisterous battle brothers.


In an attempt to allay some fears amongst the Inquisition, High Commander Brutus Obscurus submitted a general report on chapter strength to the Ordo Hereticus. His first contention was that at no time has the chapter deviated from the Codex Astartes, despite tumultuous periods in which the chapter astropaths struggled to navigate their massive home successfully through the Warp. He claimed the cathedral-dreadnought is home to four battle companies, each consisting of three tactical squads, three devastator squads and two assault squads, as well as a dedicated recruit company and a command company of five librarians, six chaplains, four squads of veteran space marines. The report contains a total mustered strength of just under four hundred battle brothers.

The only individuals permitted to ascend to the Dies Irae Veniendum Est are recruits. Dignitaries, regional commanders and other Space Marines are always met elsewhere. This makes it difficult to gauge the exact nature and capabilities of this vessel, which is slightly larger than a battle barge but appears to carry fewer weapons. The Chapter does not maintain any other battle barges, only a handful of strike cruisers to escort their final bastion. Manufactorium parts and raw materials are either acquired in the field of battle or ‘requisitioned’ from planetary governments. Still, the Techmarines of the Tenebrous Wraiths appear to be up to date on current pattens of Imperial wargear, and no Space Marine of the chapter bears any appearance of Chaos influence.

Recently the Tenebrous Wraiths acquired the means to produce Terminator armour from the forges aboard the cathedral-dreadnought, but the Techpriests of Mars insist that such manufacture is time-consuming and costly in raw materials. Nevertheless, the chapter’s armored strength remains diminished, with only six Land Raider variants, eight Predators and two Vindicators. They have no Whirlwinds or Land Speeders to speak of. They do, however, have a great number of Rhinos, Razorbacks and bikes, and it appears that the Dies Irae Veniendum Est was retrofitted in such a way that most of its planetary bombardment capabilities have been replaced with increased Drop Pod capacity.


The cloaked spectre of the Imperial Wraiths is gone, replaced with the stark skull-and-scythe iconongraphy the chapter now bears.

Previously, the colors of the chapter were white with yellow trim, in honor of Dorn’s Imperial Fists. After their disgrace and absence, they opted for a gray pallate with brass trim that harkens back to the glory days before the Horus Heresey. The left pauldron always bears the icon of the chapter, while the right is colored to match one’s squad: white for scout, green for tactical, orange for devastator, red for assault and silver for veterans.


The Wraiths often dispatch a Thunderhawk with scouts on bikes before making their main assault. These scouts report on enemy positions and strength. Once the field is mapped, drop pods rain from the sky. Against entrenched enemies, armored units may be dispatched, but in those cases the task of the armor is to breach the enemy defenses to allow rapid transports to surge into the enemy and dispense death by bolter and chainsword.

++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: It is better to die for the Emperor than to live for yourself. ++++

“Let it be known we choose to stand in shadow.
We who have seen Man’s heroes become villains.
We who remember the best of us falling to the worst.
We who seek to cleanse our Galaxy of our weaknesses.
Let it be known we protect the light of the Empire,
and in its shadow we stand eternal and vengeful.
We are the Wraiths. We shall not forget.
From the Shadows! To OBLIVION!” – Pre-battle benediction of the Tenebrous Wraiths

An Aborted Dark Heresy Experiment

Artist unknown, will happily credit

My original plan for what follows was to get people at conventions around a table at night for a little Dark Heresy. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a convention and I’ll probably be far too busy at PAX East to run a role-playing game. Still, I thought some of you might find the following take on pre-generated character dossiers interesting. The following tidbits of data are meant to help a player choose a character, without imposing things like looks or gender upon them and allowing them to fill in a few blanks while giving them a general structure to work with.

][ +++++++++ INQUISITOR'S EYES ONLY +++++++++ ][

AUTHOR: Brother Ignatius, Comptroller, Office of Inquisitorial Logistics & Tabulation, Calixis Sector
RECIPIENT: Inquisitor Tyburn Graves, Ordo Hereticus, Calixis Sector
SUBJECT: Dossiers – I through III

SALUTATION: To my most esteemed lord, Tyburn Graves, your most humble servant Ignatius extends greetings.

INTRODUCTION: Per your instructions I have begun parsing the observational reports from various sources to determine the candidates most likely to accept an invitation to become an Acolyte in your service.

DOSSIER I: The Adept
LOCATION: Office of Calixian Conclave High Council, Lucid Palace, Hive Sibellus, Scintilla, Calixis Sector
HISTORY: Native to Scintilla. Not born to nobility or wealth. Lack of physical prowess precluded subject from inclusion in Imperial Guard. Natural ability for languages and literacy caused invitation to Calixian Conclave High Council Archives.
CURRICULUM VITAE: Noted for meticulous record-keeping, concise reports and ability to meet deadlines. No indication of career advancement efforts at this time. Has research several Inquisitorial visits and functions taking place in and around Lucid Palace, Hive Sibellus, Scintilla. Knowledgable in various languages and studies of history and local lore.
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: Introverted and disinclined to engage in major social activity. Keeps quarters within Lucid Palace well-appointed and clean. Curious in pursuit of knowledge and new languages.
RECOMMENDATION: Extend invitation through official channels of Conclave High Council, with incentives including hazard pay, recommendations to superiors and access to Inquisitorial records (lowest levels, monitored usage).

DOSSIER II: The Psyker
LOCATION: Void Vessel Oculus Obscurum, last seen orbiting Grangold, Calixis Sector
HISTORY: Born on spacefaring vessel later destroyed by xenos (ref: Dark Eldar raids on Calixis Sector). Transfered to Black Ships upon discovery of psyker potential. Passed sanctioning test and shipped back to Calixis Sector for tutelage of scholars aboard Oculus Obscurum.
CURRICULUM VITAE: Shows potential in disciplines of telepathy and telekinesis. Has caused no accidental deaths of other Sanctionites. Consistently clear of taint from daemons, the Warp or insidious thought of any kind.
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: Curious about life planetside. Unused to non-psyker interactions. Optimistic, confident in abilities, views Emperor and Imperial servants as trusted shepherds and holy folk.
RECOMMENDATION: Provide temporary lodgings on Scintilla once communication with Oculus Obscurum established, offer payment and training under Inquisitorial psykers.

DOSSIER III: The Tech-Priest
LOCATION: Ambulatory Sub-Structures, Ambulon, Scintilla, Calixis Sector
HISTORY: Descended from long line of servants to the Guild Peripatetica, Ambulon, Scintilla, Calixis Sector. Raised to assist in maintenance of city.
CURRICULUM VITAE: Has used knowledge of machine workings to cut off portions of the city as arbitrators have pursued criminals. Known for inspection of outside technology to compare with works from Ambulon. Has applied for work aboard land trains to Gunmetal City or Sibellus several times (all denied).
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: Thirsts for further knowledge of new machines. Devoted to worship of Machine God and believes all machines related and none are insurmountable. Supremely focused on work and technology, somewhat terse with biological life forms.
RECOMMENDATION: Approve work aboard land train to Sibellus and continue making transfers until aboard vessel of choice.

][ ++++++++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: ++++++++++ ][
Educate men without faith and you but make them clever devils.
][ ++++++++++++ END TRANSMISSION ++++++++++++ ][

Dark Heresy Dossiers: Introduction

Courtesy Fantasy Flight Games

I’m planning on attending MEPACon Fall 2011, and while I’ll be doing demos of both Maschine Zeit and Amaranthine, I’ve been interested in starting a new ongoing campaign. In light of Honor and Blood’s potential return during the convention and my interest in a long-running Legend of the Five Rings game that will also be there, I thought there might be some interest in adding a grimdark sci-fi horror-adventure to the mix.

Rather than simply saying “here are your characters, let’s go” or “okay, here’s how you build characters, we can start playing in two hours,” I’m going to opt for a mix. Players interested in joining the campaign will have a choice of nine different Dossiers, each describing a character on a different career path. Instead of just laying down stats, the Dossiers will instead give a vague notion of a character’s background and set up a few baseline numbers, from which players can build their avatars in various ways.

I think this approach will save time, add intrigue and facilitate storytelling. Getting some of the basic stuff out of the way and focusing mostly on what players want to do to make characters their own, rather than starting from scratch, will help the group get right to the action, especially if someone doesn’t get to the table until others are settled in. But not all of the interesting stuff is limited to that gaming table.

You see, after the initial events that bring everybody together, the events of the adventure as well as aspects from the Dossiers will be brought up to players via email. Players will be encouraged to keep in touch with the Judge and each other. When players gather again in person, the idea will be that much has gone on behind the scenes between meetings, giving them stories to tell each other that will build and enhance their characters even further.

Everyone will have secrets, ties to their pasts and people they’ve influenced, be they enemies or allies. Views on the Imperium, the Inquisition, the Calixis Sector and one’s fellow Acolytes are bound to change. And all of this information, these events and the choices players take, will be added to their Dossiers by the dutiful servants of the Inquisition.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting the initial Dossiers here. I’m looking forward to MEPACon, and I’m hoping this notion will have others looking forward to it as well.

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