Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Universal Death Squad

So as my Tabletop future continues to bleed and burn, I finish the first of my new Tau army's units - a team of Firewarriors.

I'm starting with Firewarriors for a number of reasons - they're one of my three favourite Tau models of all time to start with, and they'll be a major component of the finished force. Most importantly though, I always start a tabletop army with some basic infantry units - because you can bomb it, you can strafe it, you can cover it with poison, you can turn it into smouldering glass, you can consume it with eldritch extra-dimensional energies, but you don't own it unless your infantry is on it and the other side's isn't.

First, let's take another walk down memory lane. 

This is the first Firewarrior team I ever owned, I think I must have been 9 years old when I got them. I still remember having endless fun putting them together over an afternoon. At the time I was still digesting the shiny new 4th edition 40k rulebook (which still remains my favourite 40k BRB) that I had gotten for Christmas the previous year, and I had recently started exploring the Dark Millennium hobby section in more detail. Something that had particularly caught my eye while going through it was the sections on Kill Team (real Kill Team, with one player using a Kill Team and the other controlling Brute Squads and more references to action movie tropes than you could shake a machine gun at. Ahh those were the days) and Raid scenarios with sentries. In particular, I was fascinated and immensely inspired by the various conversions of infantry models showcased in the sections, and quickly decided to take a recurring passage from the Kill Team section to heart and make every model in my new Firewarrior team unique. Some were actually given specialised roles, while most were simply just normal troopers, but I gave each one a distinct personality even if it was only in my imagination. Much of them are now sadly lost to time, but I still remember a few of the more specialised roles.

You may notice that there are two Firewarriors in the team with white markings. The story behind this is that when I had finished assembling the team I then stopped to decide which one of them should be the team leader, using the only relevant and worthwhile metric there is to a 9 year old - which one of them looked the coolest! I had of course been naturally building up one in particular with an eye towards being the team leader, but when it came time to decide I was torn between that one and the one immediately next to it, who had ended up with an awesome action pose that I have never quite been able to replicate, much to my frustration. In the end I decided to settle the matter by simply painting both of them with white leadership markings, making my first candidate the Shas'Ui team leader and the alternative choice the team's second in command, a tradition that has carried over to all of my Firewarrior teams ever since.

This Firewarrior team also marks one of my earliest experiments with basing models. I had already read through the instructions in the 3rd edition Tau codex on how the studio Tau models were based (which I've been following for this new Tau army), but at the time it seemed rather complicated, and required paints I didn't have, so instead I simply went through the more basic method suggested by the Lord of The Rings Strategy Battle Game magazines I had also been getting a steady supply of, got a bag of flock (back when GW still sold bags of modelling flock) and began to apply it to the bases of my Tau models. Since it was already green, I saw no reason why it would not yield a passable version of the typical grassy field basing scheme commonly found. The end result was less than spectacular - my child motor skills and perception abilities proved insufficient for the task at hand, and the flock ended up being applied very chaotically. Ultimately I deemed it such a disaster that I avoided basing models at all until four years ago when I started my Wood Elf army (and used the simple innovation of finishing bases separate to the models to avoid getting any basing materials on feet and shins).

At the time I was (and still am, all things considered) awfully proud of this Firewarrior team. Now let's see how their successors stack up. 

Firewarrior Team Kais (as if it was going to be called anything else given my love of the old Fire Warrior computer game) is my first new Firewarrior team in over a decade, though it is also a homage to the previously documented one and contains several throwbacks to it. Like the first team before it, I've taken the idea of personalising and special roles to heart and made the unit a sort of 'Kill Team lite', including several specialised members. Some, like the tech specialist and honour guide, have been carried on from the first team, while others, such as the demolitions expert and medic, are entirely new. Almost no component swaps or kitbashing was used to make the team - I am keeping conversion work in the army down to a minimum, because A) I already think the models look fantastic as they are and don't really feel the need to modify them too much, B) I'm looking at focusing more on getting the most out of the model kits themselves and pushing them to their limits rather than introducing lots of outside elements and C) it will make the major conversions I actually do really stand out that much more.

Thus, the only component used in this unit from another kit was the Shas'Ui's markerlight, taken from the new Pathfinder kit. I think most of all, more than anything, my favourite part about the 2013 6th edition Tau releases was the introduction of a readily available separate markerlight bit, and I have obtained an entire box of Pathfinders purely to harvest for markerlights for my team leaders (though other bits on it will be coming in handy also). It is a testament to the flexibility of the old Firewarrior kit that I was able to make all of the specialists that I wanted (5 in total) using only the parts contained within it. Plus a little greenstuff and a piece of sprue frame (and the ubiquitous florist's wire for the Shas'Ui's stylish data-cables).

The team also carries on the tradition of a Team Second painted with a white helmet and shoulder guard panel, now with an in-universe justification as a deceptive countermeasure against enemy snipers. It also allows me to split the team and field it as two units of 6 Firewarriors with minimal fuss if I so wish (I can also conveniently make both teams Bonded by simply including the honour guide in with the Second's group). Her pose is a direct reference to the first team's Second, though not an exact copy (mostly because I wanted that set of legs for another use), with the other major change being a worn helmet, as I am moving to the old 3rd edition GW studio Tau army's pattern of only one bare head per Firewarrior team. Even then all of the infantry models will have a helmet somewhere on them, as what I've read suggests that going into an active warzone without some kind of head protection is widely regarded as a bad move.

Painting wise it's nothing that hasn't been already shown on the test models, with the exception of the white panels on the Shas'Ui and his second. I experimented with them after the thought suddenly occurred to me that the erroneous colour choices listed in the 3rd edition codex's painting instructions might have been a typing/publication error (as they say, never attribute malice to what could simply be incompetence) and they really meant Bleached Bone instead of Vomit Brown. Thus, I tried a 3:1 mix of Skull White and Bleached Bone (that's White Scar and Ushabti Bone for you youngsters reading this) for the main white colour and was tickled with the results, which were much closer to the white on the studio models. The only question left after this breakthrough was how to highlight it, for which I used a 3:1 mix of White Scar and Screaming Skull followed by a final highlight of White Scar. The Shas'Ui also has a simplified pattern of team-markings on his helmet and shoulder guard, indicating his team is a 'tactical' Firewarrior Team armed with a mixture of pulse rifles and pulse carbines.

This update was delayed for a long long time as painting the team ran dangerously behind schedule. I had originally intended to get it finished before the start of the month, and was confident I would by using a production line painting method. The last army I worked on was a Wood Elf one for Warhammer Fantasy, where an overall production line was impractical on the plastic Glade Guard that formed the core of the army - units in Warhammer Fantasy are tightly ranked, and thus all the models in them must fit side-by-side, and since I was also working in sub-assemblies for maximum access during painting this meant I had to go through an entire unit one model at a time to make sure they all fit together when fully assembled (I tried keeping unpainted ones together with blu-tack at first, but that proved to be of little help as they kept falling apart or leaning over), and thus production line painting was only used for metal units. Since 40k units act in loose formation, this was not necessary, simplifying things considerably, however going through the entire unit in a gigantic production line quickly proved exhausting, and after two weeks I finally gave up and started working through it two models at a time. The end result has left me almost a month behind my initial planned schedule, and I fear the delays have meant that I will now never end up playing a full game of 40k at a GW store (unless they relax their policies on using older rules editions for games in there), as I will not use the coming 8th edition rules - I have already heard enough about them to know that they are not what I am looking for for 40k gaming.

Still, all in all it is a fine start to my Tau rearmament program. Now to give them some backup...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Fight'n Four

Sorry, no metal puns today. On the upside though there should also be a minimum of violent furious ranting about the Donald Trump of tabletop wargaming that is modern GW's latest misdeeds (and trust me, I could write a LOT of ranting about them. But too much horror and rage is bad for my health, so I'm trying to limit it to just the occasional topical swipe. Any hardline conservatives out there are just going to have to put up with the occasional bit of snowflaking unless they want more thousand-word rants).

What there is, however, are pretty pictures of the last two of my Firewarrior guinea-pigs test models.

There weren't that many wild experiments this time, as I've pretty much nailed down the paint scheme I want. The main one this time was on the bases, marking my first ever use of a new basing element - tufts. Much like everything else about this project, I spent a long time beforehand thinking about what I wanted to do with the bases. The bulk of it was easy to work out - like the classic T'au desert camouflage scheme used in the 'Evy Metal studio army, I also wanted to emulate the desert/badlands basing theme that was used in it. This was pretty straightforward, as I conveniently already had everything I needed for it, but I decided that I also wanted something more for my army bases, some kind of little extra embellishment or doodad to really spice them up a notch, and decided that some grassy tufts would be just the thing (I thought my model bases needed tuft-ening up). This then resulted in a decision to use two kinds of tufts - one that was a very strong green to contrast with the more barren base colours and make the whole thing really pop, and one that was a more subdued sandy colour to enhance the overall theme of the bases and go more with the colour scheme on the models. Putting all this together would ideally result in a kind of Savannah wastelands look - something similar to the Badlands map theme from Starcraft is essentially what I'm trying to aim for here.

The third test model isn't anything special painting wise. The main innovations with her were in the assembly stage, where I manage to refine my greenstuff skills to an acceptable level. I'm using only the older kits for the Firewarriors in my army, for several reasons of varying importance, which came with rather infamous mold defects on the leg armour. The obvious solution would be to reconstruct the deformed sections with greenstuff, which seemed simple enough on paper (the leg armour being comprised entirely of simple shapes and lines), but proved somewhat infuriatingly troublesome in practice. My original plan - to take an ordinary staple and bend it into the right shape to use as a press for the panel lines - fell through when I was unable to get it into the right size and shape (the shape wasn't too hard, but getting it into the right size was another matter entirely). So instead I tried scoring into the greenstuff with a needle, which had always worked before when I needed lines in greenstuff, but this ran into the problem of getting sharp corners - they would inevitably either come out curved (which didn't look right) or deform into one straight line. I tried making greenstuff molds from incact leg armour pieces, but they couldn't quite get the right pattern on.

The breakthrough finally came when, as I was going to bed after another fruitless night, my thoughts turned to the recent Disney film Moana. I thought about a brief shot in that where a character is getting tattooed and suddenly had a Eureka moment - I could simply tattoo the details on with a needle! I conducted a quick experiment the next day and the concept worked like a charm, although it was still imperfect and the sculpted leg armour came out rather wonky. But it was progress, and I quickly came to the conclusion that the problem had been too much greenstuff on the section, which was causing the detail to cave in and 'lip' when I pressed in too deeply with the needle. I tried again with another set of legs using a much thinner layer of greenstuff and the results were much better, though there was still some deforming towards one end (the moral of that story is never work with greenstuff in less than ample light conditions). But I considered it good enough to start painting with, and indeed it's far less noticeable now.

The other important breakthrough was learning to work with the leg armour sections, only using greenstuff on the middle area where the panel lines are supposed to drop down. Any missing panel lines on the sides of the armour were simply carved into the plastic using - very, VERY carefully - a razor saw.

The tuft I tried out on her base is the current planned sandy-coloured tuft, a GW Mordheim Turf tuft. I doesn't look quite right to me, but I suspect that may be because it was squashed by the fingers of god as it was being peeled off the sheet and glued down. Further study may be required.

The final model is where things start to get more interesting, as she is a testbed for a number of tricks, mostly for the Shas'Uis that are planned. On the building side of things I tested out a new conversion. I want to give all the markerlight equipped infantry models in the army data-cables running from their helmet aerials in the same manner as the original 3rd edition Pathfinder (and Stealthsuit Shas'vre) models, because it just looks aggressively awesome. Much like the component repairs above, this seemed simple enough in theory, as all I'd really need is two pieces of wire cut to the right length, bent to the right shape stuck together, with a little bit of strategically placed greenstuff to cover where they met the gun and aerial. Closer inspection of the 3rd edition Pathfinder models that I own revealed that there's also a small circular... thing... part-way down the cables at about chest height, but that seemed easy enough to replicate with greenstuff too. The trouble came in finding the right wire. I initially planned to use regular old 1mm wire, which is the standard wire I've used in every other hobby project so far and something I am now swimming in after buying a ton of it in preparation for this one. The 1mm wire however proved to be much too thick for the infantry models, effectively making it look like the Firewarrior helmet had tusks and blowing the greenstuff details all out of proportion. I desperately hunted around in local shops for something suitably thinner, before finally finding the answer in very thin Florists' Wire from the local flower store. It was available for a very reasonable price, and proved to be the perfect size for the infantry when I tested it at home.

Painting wise the model represents my first real attempt at the bane of any painter's existence - painting white. The only real experience I've had so far with white has been my Tau fleet, which just used very heavy drybrushes of Skull White (and later White Scar). This worked fine for Battlefleet Gothic models, but I had the feeling it wouldn't quite cut it for 28mm heroic scale models. I searched long and hard for an answer to how to layer white properly, but could find very little online. Eventually I talked with a painting goddess I encountered at the local GW store and she confirmed what I had already begun to suspect from squinting at examples of white 'Evy Metal painting (start with a grey and work up), and then pointed me in the direction of which colour I should use as a base. Conveniently, it was one I already had from painting the ATT orbital. Thus began the basis of my attempt at painting bright white on the scanner. starting with Fenrisian Grey (forever Space Wolves Grey to me) as a base and then layering it with a mixture of White Scar with a little bit of Fenrisian Grey, then highlighted with White Scar. It seemed to work out well enough for small details like the scanner, which is all I really need it for at this stage.

The bone white on the helmet and shoulder guard were an attempt to recreate the bone white panels in the old studio example Tau army. I initially tried following the driections for painting white helmets in the Crisis Suit painting guide on page 40 of Codex: Tau, but quickly ran into a problem with the main colour. The guide specifies that this should be a Skull White-Vomit Brown mixture, with a ratio very heavily Skull White's way, but my experiment quickly proved that all such a mixture would produce is a very light sand ochre (this might seem to you to be simple common sense, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt at the time under the reasoning that the old 'Evy Metal painters might know something I didn't). Thus I defaulted to an old method of painting bone white that I used in a couple of places on my hobby minions, starting with Ushabti Bone (which I actually had to physically stop myself from typing as Bleached Bone) and then highlighting with Screaming Skull and White Scar. It seemed to work out good enough, but I can't help but think I could get it closer to the studio examples by using a mixture of Ushabti Bone and White Scar as the main colour instead (of course, that would then raise the question of how to highlight it...). It also represents my first real attempt at painting Tau markings at 28mm scale. They turned out reasonably well, I suppose, but I can't stop thinking that they're slightly crooked.

The tuft used on this model is an Army Painter Woodland Tuft, which I discovered in a local hobby store and plan to use for the rich green tufts. The actual production infantry models are going to have the smaller size Woodland Tufts on them, but the sheet came with more medium tufts so I decided to use one of those for the test case.

And finally here's the whole group together. All in all I'd say these tests have proven successful. This paint scheme is now approved. Full scale production: AUTHORISED.

Friday, 17 March 2017

We Rise

Hot off the painting space, here is the second of my pre-production Firewarriors (out of a planned 4). This time I decided to use the bare head so I could practice painting Tau skin, and a pulse carbine so I could try out how the colour scheme looked on something other than a pulse rifle.

I have never been able to quite master painting faces (one of the reasons why I love the Tau models so much; almost none of them have visible faces), and to this day it remains one of my weakest areas in painting. This one represents a quantum leap in my face-painting capability however, as not only is it one of the best ones that I have done so far, but it also marks the first time I have come close to successfully painting eyes.

During the buildup for this project, which took multiple years, I put a lot of thought into how I was going to paint the eyes on my bare-faced Tau. Most background material I've come across suggests that they're usually mostly black, with a bit of reflection or traces of colour. In the GW studio army the bare-faced Tau usually have their eyes painted red, which doesn't quite look right to me, but at the same time just painting them black wouldn't do it either - that would look like they had no eyes, just empty eye-sockets (or like they were possessed by one of the demons in Supernatural). The solution I came to was inspired by older Tau artwork in the first and second codexes, specifically the close-up of a Firewarrior's face on page 60 of Codex: Tau and the artwork of Shadowsun in the 4th edition Codex: Tau Empire. The impression I always got from those two pieces (and Tammy Haye's colour scheme on Aun'shi, until I looked a little closer and realised she had painted his eyes red too) was that the Tau eyes in them were reflecting goldey-yellow or pure white light, which gave me the idea to paint my Tau eyes yellow. I experimented with a few different colours for the eyes on this one, before finally settling on Yriel Yellow (or Golden Yellow - I still know and recognise the Citadel range by its older names) for the effect I wanted. I was a bit worried it might end up looking like my Tau all had Jaundice, but it seems to have turned out not quite as terrible as I feared.

I also experimented with leaving the backpack separate during painting. In theory, this would give me better access to a couple of areas, at the cost of increasing the number of painting sub-assemblies from 3 to 4. In practice it resulted in a lot of very awkward fiddling around for little comparative gain. I don't think I'll be doing that for the other Firewarriors, but then that's exactly what these test models are for - to find out what works and what doesn't.

Finally, I experimented with the undersuit on this model. The Rhinox Hide (or Scorched Brown as I call it - see above) main colour was drybrushed on rather than layered, and I tried using Mournfang Brown instead of Steel Legion Drab for the highlight colour. Here's the two test models side-by-side so you can see the difference for yourself.

Personally I think I'm leaning more towards the Steel Legion Drab highlights, as I think they stand out and make the model 'pop' more. The drybrushing, however, was a definite success I think. It provided a close enough level of coverage to layering to be satisfactory for me, bur with much less fiddling around trying to see where all the folds in the undersuit were.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Start A Revolution

In a world... 

Where Tabletop Games are dominated by ugly CAD models... and shitty metaplots... 

When your tabletop characters and armies are no longer your own...

ONE MAN.... will take a stand... 

And say NO MORE to modern GW... 


From the creator of Symphonic/Folk metal elves... 

Comes a sequel seven years in the making... 

And so it begins - my return to 40k. I always knew this day would come.

You may not know it from reading this blog, but the Tau in Warhammer 40,000 were the first ever tabletop army I properly started. Since then they have always been one of my favourite factions in Battlefleet Gothic, but since around 2010 or so I've neglected the army in favour of building up the Tau fleet in Battlefleet Gothic that I've posted about on here. The last few years, when my tabletop capacities have really taken off, were focused on Battlfleet Gothic and Warhammer Fantasy (don't I have the best luck when it comes to picking tabletop games?), leaving 40k to languish on the back-burner.

This all changed a few days ago when I started on a long-awaited massive rearmament program to totally modernise my ground-sloggers.

To start with, let's go back a bit and take a look at where it all started, with this guy.

A metal XV15 Stealthsuit Shas'vre (plus his faithful gun drone) - and the first Warhammer 40,000 model I ever owned and painted, when I was 8 years old.

This wasn't the first tabletop model I owned and painted. I had been collecting Lord of The Rings models in the form of the old Lord of The Rings Battle Strategy Game magazine series by DeAgsostini, (what a fantastic stroke of brilliance that was), but those were only ever meant to be a stepping stone to 40k, something to practice on until I got to the models I was really after.

Thus, I consider this to be the official start of my journey into 40k and tabletop games. He came from my first ever trip to a GW store, which in those days was conveniently located just downstairs from my optometrist at the time. I had been doing some research beforehand (read: spending hours on the GW and Forgeworld webpages ogling all the gorgeous Tau models displayed on there and ravenously devouring every scrap of information about the Tau I could find on there), so I already had a good idea of what my first model was going to be, the one GW kit (not Forgeworld) that had so far captured my admiration and imagination more than any other - a Hammerhead Gunship. Extrapolating from Forgeworld (which I did not know at the time was a separate subsidiary of GW and not usually stocked in stores), back when Forgeworld still listed normal GW kits on its website, I initially assumed that the Hammerhead would be a relatively small model no larger than a Rhino, and with a cost of around $25. You can perhaps then imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was in fact a massive $72 beast of a kit, which put it squarely in birthday and Christmas gift territory. This disappointed me somewhat, especially when my plan B - a Broadside Battlesuit - also proved to be out of financial reach at $55, but that was quickly forgotten as I started my first introductory game of 40k, commanding 6 Firewarriors against 3 Chaos Space Marines. It was a quick victory as I ended up shooting one or two to death and then beating the remainder in close combat with zero casualties sustained (I still have lingering suspicions that the staff member opposing me might have fudged the results somewhat to get me more enthusiastic about it), and then ended up walking out of the store with the models posted above after being allowed to get "One little thing" from the shelf of blister packs. My primitive childhood reasoning for choosing them was simple - I loved the Firewarriors (remember the Fire Warrior artwork that first got me interested in the Tau), so naturally when I saw a Firewarrior with a Gatling gun I picked him. I was wild with excitement when I got home and actually read the label on the blister pack to find that I was in fact now the proud owner of a Tau Stealthsuit - a Firewarrior with a Gatling gun, a jetpack, a robot sidekick AND he can turn invisible? Hell Yes! Even now I'm still very fond of Stealth Teams.

In addition to the Stealthsuit, I also went home with a Citadel Paint set, which went on to serve me well for over a decade - in fact I still use some of the paints from it to this very day. The Stealtsuit went through several changes in colour scheme over the years. You can see the colour scheme he was originally painted with on the gun drone, and it was a crude attempt to recreate the Fire Warrior cover artwork that was so compelling - my child logic was that I wanted an army of troops just like the one on the Fire Warrior cover, and that one was wearing yellow armour, and I had a pot of Sunburst Yellow from the paint set, so naturally I should paint my new models yellow, with some red optics. I then spent the next two nights lavishing Sunburst yellow on the two models until I was satisfied with the coverage. The end result can be best described as a pair of mostly yellow blobs, but I was still very happy with the results. This continued to be how the Stealtsuit looked until one day after school I suddenly thought to myself "You know what would look really cool? A gold Tau army! Think about it, an entire army of high-tech Tau in solid gold! Gold is cool and high-tech, and lots of cool ancient cultures had gold everywhere, and they looked cool, so I should make my Tau GOLD!"

It never occurred to me at the time that this would have resulted in my army all looking like C-3PO, so I rushed home and immediately painted all the Tau models I had at the time (3 of them) in a full coat of Shining Gold over a Mithril Silver base. I eventually converted most of them back to what would become the colour scheme I settled on, but this guy remained gold for a bit longer before I finally decided to get serious and painted him in the crude attempt to recreate the GW studio stealthsuits that you see today.

The Drone was lost down the back of the desk I did my hobby work on back then, and so was spared the many colour scheme revisions I made. I no longer remember whether the orangeish-tanish splotches were an attempt to paint over the yellow areas with Vomit Brown, or if I just put so much Sunburst Yellow on it that it ended up looking that way. There was originally a second pulse carbine on it, but that has since been lost to time along with the flying stand that I foolishly decided to glue it onto. Working without any kind of assembly instructions, I was confused about which way to stick the antenna on - I had faint memories of seeing it pointing backwards on the back of a Firewarrior box, but then seeing the artwork on page 60 of the Tau codex (which included a gun drone with the jetpack exhaust facing forwards and the antenna away from it) threw me off, causing me to end up gluing the antenna on the wrong way. You will be glad to know that I did not make the same mistake again.

At some point in the past the other antenna on the Stealthsuit's jetpack broke off. I think I might still have it somewhere, but never attempted to glue it back on again.

Now, let's come back to the present and see what 13-14 years of experience and progress (like learning to actually layer colours) can do. 

This is the first of my revamped Tau army, a Firewarrior test model. The colour scheme I am going with is the same one I attempted to recreate when I first started a Tau army - the classic T'au desert camouflage scheme. This project is to be a homage to and celebration of the old Tau army I first fell in love with as much as it is a renovation and modernisation.

Thus, the process I used was almost exactly the same one described in Codex: Tau, substituting in newer colours for those no longer available. I had originally planned to follow the process as described to the letter, but eventually found out (as I had already discovered when building my Wood Elves) that even the older GW painting instructions are a lot like the cooking recipes my grandmother used to share - an accurate general set of instructions, but they don't tell you everything you need to know, missing out one or two key details that are on the 'Evy Metal examples. To compensate I added an extra stage of highlights - Ungor Flesh for the armour and Steel Legion Drab for the undersuit, and applied the same process used for the Battlesuit mechanical areas on the darker areas of the gun and backpack. The other final details were relatively straightforward, and this is one of the very few models I've ever painted that I'm genuinely happy with - I still have trouble believing that the highlights and jewelling on the helmet were done by my own hands.

All in all, I'd say I've come a long way since the days when yellow blobs roamed the earth. Now to see what I can do with a full army...

Monday, 6 March 2017


 And now to begin this blog with what is fast becoming my favourite part of the tabletop hobby - reminiscing about old books.

 I actually got most of the above books for Christmas, but in typical me fashion I completely forgot about them when I came to write the last post. Once again, the nearby second-hand bookstore proved a goldmine, yielding two (well ok, 1.5 really) Warhammer 40,000 codexes and a 6th edition Warhammer Army Book.

The 3rd edition Codex: Eldar represents the first 'true' early 3rd edition codex in my possession (as opposed to the Tyranid codex, which is really closer to a 3.5 edition book in most regards), though not the first one I have encountered at that store - that title belongs to the 3rd edition Ork codex I was never able to get. Interestingly, the 3rd edition Eldar Codex was also the first codex outside of the 3rd edition Tau codex that I ever looked through, making it the second codex I ever looked through, ever.

At the time, I was very impressed by it, considering it a truly worthy gamebook that any Eldar player should be proud to use. It certainly seemed a lot larger and more comprehensive then, but overall my opinion about it hasn't changed, and it's probably my favourite Eldar book I've encountered so far. It still has what I think is one of the best cover art for a 40k codex, a piece that does a brilliant job of reflecting both the wondrous sprawling space fantasy epic and the more sinister and malevolent sides of the Craftworld Eldar, and the book itself is full of amazing artwork, including a number of suitably bizzare Blanche pieces (incidentally I've also noticed a lot of John Blanche artwork in the other early 3rd edition 40k books I've come across - it seems that there was a particular drive to promote that style of 40k at the time). There's also some fantastic background material (I think my favourite is a long speech from a captured Ranger that starts out praising Eldrad Ulthran but slowly devolves into a venomous screed against his/her human captors) and a colour section giving collecting advice and painting tips.

Early 3rd edition 40k books often get a bad reputation, with many people considering them too short and bare-bones ('pamphlets' is a common derogatory slur levelled their way), but really I honestly don't see what the problem is. Yes, the early 3rd edition 45-pagers are a little short, and I certainly wouldn't say no to more little short stories and what not (after all, my favourite 40k codexes, the 3.5 generation, are full of that stuff), but really they're small but perfectly formed, and I can't think of anything more that I'd really need from one. Maybe I'm not greedy?

Perhaps most importantly of all however, this book and its companion supplement managed to do something that no other book has ever done before - get me excited about starting an Eldar army. Reading through these two books finally made me 'click' and understand the appeal of the Eldar, in much the same way that the Witchhunters codex made me click and get the Imperium. If it were not for the current circumstances regarding 40k and GW, I know exactly what kind of Eldar army I'd build and would hardly be able to wait to get started on it. However, at present I will never end up building it, or any of the other 40k armies I had planned. GW (and pretty much the entire Tabletop industry, for that matter) just seems to be going in a direction I can't follow or enjoy.

Oh well, it's not like I would have been able to afford it at any rate.

I think I mentioned it before in an earlier post, but the supplement Codex: Craftworld Eldar was one of those 40k books I never really understood the purpose of when I first got into 40k - the Craftworld Eldar already had a codex, why do they need a second one? The answer only came years later through internet readings and a closer inspection. It provides some extra background information and hobby advice for Eldar players, as well as 5 variant army lists for major important Craftworlds (Iynaden, Saim-Hann, Alaitoc, Biel-Tan and Ulthwe), and is best viewed as an extension and part of the 3rd edition Eldar codex (funnily enough, if you were to combine the two you would get roughly the same page length as a 3.5 edition codex). What's most striking about it though, is the model photographs. The Craftworld supplement was clearly published at least a few years after the Eldar codex, as it shows the Eldar model range as it was during the later part of 3rd edition, when it had finished maturing into the 3rd edition model range that I remember. Gone are the 2nd edition Guardians, with their chain-mail undersuits. Gone are the 2nd edition Dark Reapers with their conical helmets. In their place are a new wave of Eldar models that would define the Eldar aesthetic for the rest of 40k's lifespan. The Eldar range at this point in time is probably my favourite, with a good blend of both old and 'new'. Indeed, most of my favourite Eldar models come from this period (with the rest coming slightly before).

This one came as a pleasant surprise to me. It is the 6th edition Lizardmen army book for Warhammer, and in very good condition. The Lizardmen have always been somewhat intriguing to me, and I flirted with the idea of starting with them in Warhammer from time to time, but ultimately settled on Wood Elves in the end. I still find them a fascinating part of Warhammer, and this book still has my curiosity piqued. It is the first Lizardmen army book I have been able to really get to grips with, but it certainly does not disappoint, especially with all the characterful 6th edition trimmings in it such as variant army lists for Southlands Lizardmen and the legendary Sacred Spawnings. Like other 6th edition books, I've found its magic item selection somewhat lacking, in that nothing really resonates with me like the magic items in the 6th edition Wood Elf and Bretonnian books, though like the other 6th edition books I've found the magic item selection is nonetheless perfectly serviceable. There's also a whole bunch of fun lore, including a schematic of a Temple City.

The crown jewel in the lineup, however, is this.

That is, of course, a copy of the 3rd edition Warhammer 40,000 core rulebook. I thought I had lost my chance to own one forever when the copy in the Second Hand Bookstore vanished, but either they had a second copy brought in or the one I found was never bought at all and simply went into storage, because there it was when I walked in, nestled discretely amongst a shelf of sci fi and horror art books. It is a softcover, version, which lines up with what I have heard, as it would appear it never received a hardcover print run, unlike the later rulebooks that are its direct descendants. It is an open question as to whether this one came from a starter box or not - from what I have read it would appear that the 3rd edition core rules were never sold outside of the starter box, and yet I swear I can distantly recall seeing 3rd edition core rulebooks being sold on their own at multiple legitimate locations. It bears a strong resemblance to the 6th edition Warhammer Fantasy rulebook that is its direct contemporary, with a largely identical content layout and the same display of complete 2nd edition model ranges, with no sign of the glorious Silver Age models that would be destined to follow it.

The important thing though, is that it is the crucial piece I needed in order to play games of Warhammer 40,000 in one of my two favourite editions, the legendary 3.5 era. It seems that it is missing some later rules additions, the most egregious one to me being a total lack of access points on transport vehicles (they are essentially all open-topped for the purposes of disembarking passengers, regardless of how impossible it would be to exit them from a given direction), so I will likely have to hunt down some Chapter Approved annual collections as well for the full 3.5 experience, but it is a big step forward nonetheless. And in the meantime I still have the 4th edition core rules to use...

As well as all this fun with the best years of GW, I also painted up these Glade Guard for my Wood Elf army.

This is the fourth and final regiment of Glade Guard in the army, Forever Autumn, proving that I don't just shamelessly rip my unit names from Symphonic and Folk metal - I rip them from funkitronic 70's sci-fi rock operas too. Not only is it the last Glade Guard unit for the army, it's also the last core unit - all of the core choices in the main Wood Elf force I envisioned are now finished (always a good thing when building an army). It's also the last plastic kit for my Wood Elves - from here on out, everything left to do is in glorious, glorious metal.

It's been fun relaxing in the Enchanted Forrest and roaming the lands of fantasy this last month, but now I find myself looking up at the night sky again. War calls in the future, and I'm now gearing up for one of the big projects I have for this year (actually last year, but then 2016 happened). With the tabletop hobby crashing down in flames all around me, I'm going back to where it all began.

I have work to do...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Great White Fleet

Finishing off the last of my Battlefleet Gothic Tau from yesteryear is this wave of Forgeworld attack craft models.

It turns out I actually bought more Barracudas then I thought I had. Originally my plan was to just cover the attack craft compliment of the two Hero class starships and maybe the orbitals, but upon further examination I found I actually had gained all the fighter stands my fleet would ever realistically need (Though there'd still be a shortage of Mantas).

This also marks the first appearance of blue trims in the fleet. As you can see if you dig back far enough in the thread, my plan with the fleet was to differentiate ship configurations by colour - ships in the standard configuration (Vash'ya for Explorers, Kel'shan for Merchants and so on) would get a red trim, while ships in a variant configuration (Bork'an for Explorers, Dal'yth for Merchants and so on) would bet a blue trim instead, and command elements like the flagship would have a green trim. Unfortunately the untimely demise of the Specialist Games meant that I was never able to get all the ships I wanted (for reference, the fleet I have now is about half the size of my initial vision), which means that there currently aren't any capital ships that are in any variant configurations, so everyone has red markings except for the flagship and its attached escorts. Like I said though, I actually picked up enough fighters to fill out the launch bays on the extra ships I never got, and I do plan on opportunistically expanding my fleet further with whatever comes my way on Ebay and other places, so I painted up a few blue squadrons just in case. I painted one squadron with a green trim too to represent my attack craft commander, B'Aloh.

And with it, my Tau fleet is more or less finished. 

It's still not fully done. There's a second Custodian I'll be painting at some point, and I have plans to make some celestial phenomena at some point. I also will be writing background stuff for every ship and escort squadron. But the bulk of the work is now done. 

Space has been great and all, but I think now I'm ready to come back to my enchanted forest for a bit now. That administrative work won't do itself you know. 

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Merchant Madness

Ok GW, I take it back, I stand corrected. That is now three good things you have done recently. 

My local GW store was giving these away for free on... Wednesday (it would have been Boxing Day, but Christmas was on a Sunday and the store is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) for free if you made a sufficiently large purchase. Apparently they were officially sent out from GW HQ itself and were presumably distributed to other GW stores as well as an officially sanctioned giveaway. It's a complementary bag of loose bits (y'know, just like the old White Dwarf subscription bonuses the Mail Order Trollz used to put together), and it is the most rock thing they have ever given away at a special occasion since the giffle bundles I've showcased before on here (which I estimate to have given me a rough total of 1000 pts of free Tau overall). The standout best inclusion in it by far is an almost-complete metal Daemonhunters Inquisitor (he's missing a hand and a base, but that's easy to solve), the very same one in fact that I've wanted for years for an Ordo Hereticus conversion I had planned. 

Other highlights include a classic metal Bestigor standard bearer (minus the standard top, but again it's not too difficult to fix) and a Lord of The Rings Easterling cavalryman (minus a horse), as well as the front of a Death Company Dreadnought. There's also a few Tau bits (I've identified a newer plasma rifle and missile pod, half a stealthsuit burst cannon and half a rail-rifle), some Skeleton parts, most of two Skinks (they're both missing shield arms) and some Eldar jetbike weapons, amongst other things. 

The purchase that got it was this. 

A brand new Crusade figure case to facilitate my grand plans of conquest for this year (they share more than a passing resemblance to my grand plans of conquest for last year, but 2016 ended up becoming a 'lost year' and so they never materialised). I also put a special order through, but that's still in the post. 

In the meantime, I've been working through the last few Tau ships still sitting in my build/paint backlog, starting with a pair of Merchant class starships. 

I don't remember if I've told this story or not on here, but there was originally only supposed to be one Merchant. Back in 2013 when the Specialist Games genocide began I quickly scrambled to rescue as many Battlefleet Gothic ships as I could. My top priority was to get at least one example of every Kor'vattra Tau ship made (the Kor'O'vesh ones from Forgeworld were valued targets of opportunity, but outside of the Emissaries were largely considered less important), and since I already owned one Merchant class starship I initially only planned a second one (to be my flagship) plus a blister of Orca gunships to accompany it. This, however, left me with a surplus two Orcas, since they came in blisters of four and the Merchant only has two gravitic hooks (and I already had enough Orcas for the other ships I owned), so I decided to quickly get another Merchant while I still could to make sure I would be able to transport the extra two into battle if needed. I first went to the UK GW page (the NZ/OZ page having largely run out of Battlefleet Gothic Tau by then) and placed an order, but a processing error meant that the order never showed up as being completed. Thinking that it had fallen through, I searched around for another Merchant class in stock and found one on the Japanese GW page, which I promptly ordered from. 

However, the UK Merchant order had in fact gone through and shipped, and so I ended up receiving it shortly after the Japanese Merchant arrived. I wondered what to do about it for a long time, but in the end there was only one real option - keep both of them! I'm never one to say no to more Battlefleet Gothic models*, especially if it's my favourite model in the entire game (which the Merchant is, in case you didn't know), so they both ended up finding a home in my fleet, though I now have two gravitic hooks without Orcas to go with them. 

Although if I happened to come into two more Explorer class starships and 8 more Orcas... 

While on the subject of Merchant class starships I also came up with some experimental homebrew rules for two alternate Merchant configurations. I've mentioned them before on ATT (and possibly on here as well) in the Merchant class background I wrote, but there are a whole slew of different Merchant class configurations besides the two listed in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada that I've come up with. These two in particular were originally conceived as a solution to a disconnect in the original Tau background in Battlefleet Gothic and 40k. The account of the Damocles Gulf Crusade, found in Codex: Tau, describes the Tau fleet in the Hydrass System as consisting of "Seven Tau warships of approximately cruiser displacement" and were apparently "Capable of launching powerful torpedo salvos at long range". It also describes them launching 'escorts' (attack craft really) from the capital ships. 

Now, on it's own this doesn't sound too out of the question, except that going by Battlefleet Gothic: Armada the only cruiser-sized ship the Tau Kor'vattra has that can launch torpedoes and attack craft is the Hero class starship, which wasn't invented until after the Damocles Gulf Crusade. The only cruiser-sized ship the Tau would have had available at the time this supposedly happened is the Merchant class, and the two configurations in the official Kor'vattra fleet list are both gunboats, without gravitic launchers or launch bays. The Bork'an configuration of the Explorer class starship can fire gravitic missiles (the Tau equivalent to torpedoes) as well as launch attack craft, but the Explorer class is most certainly not cruiser displacement - it's very definitely in the Battleship size range and it's hard to mistake it for a cruiser (seriously, the Explorer class is massive). The solution then, is simple - another two Merchant class configurations, perhaps older setups that were phased out after the Damocles Gulf Crusade. 

Thus, I present the Il'fannor T'au configuration and the Il'fannor Vash'ya configuration. 

Il'fannor (Merchant) Class Starship - T'au Configuration . . . . . . . 155 pts

Though almost unheard of in modern times, the T'au configuration of the Merchant class starship was once one of the most widespread and illustrious variants of the Merchant class starship, and promised to be the future of Tau naval combat. 

Towards the end of the 1st Sphere Expansion, the Tau Kor'ar'tol high admirality had begun to develop a better understanding of the space combat tactics employed by the Orks that were at the time the largest major power the Tau had encountered with frequency. Over the course of their many encounters with Ork ships and fleets, it was observed that the Greenskin craft were most dangerous at close ranges, a distance which their speed and tough front prow armour and shielding enabled them to reach with relative ease against the railcannon armed vessels which formed the bulk of Tau fleets at the time. Kor'Os and analysts theorised that the optimal solution for fighting Ork fleets would be to keep them at extreme range, where their offensive output would be reduced to sporadic torpedo and attack craft strikes. 

The Tau Earth Caste began a program of extensive research and development into new standoff weapons that would be able to engage the Orks at such extreme ranges, which culminated in the development of the first Tau gravitic missiles. While the Tau had made use of unguided missile weapons on warships in the past, the new larger missiles were able to perform sustained flight over far longer distances. Fired from a newly developed gravitic launcher, itself created by expanding the standard naval railcannon design to an immense size and linking the firing sequence to the ship's gravitic field, and equipped with the latest advanced drone guidance processors, the missiles were also able to reach extreme speeds and perform sophisticated course-corrections in flight to ensure a successful attack. Early testing against target drones and mockups of enemy warships proved highly promising, and initial field testing showed the new weapon system to be highly effective. 

Impressed with the results, the T'au Council of the Highest authorised the development and production of a new Il'fannor model armed with the gravitic launcher system. The end result featured two gravitic launchers to maximise both redundancy and tactical flexibilty by allowing the ship to attack multiple targets simultaneously. The new Il'fannor variant was readily adopted by the T'au Kor'ar'tol, and quickly spread to the fleets of other Septs as Tau analysts and the Tau admiralty predicted it would render all traditional gunnery-based space combat, and ships configured for it, obsolete. The T'au Il'fannor configuration quickly proved highly successful in fleet actions against the Orks during the tail end of the 1st Sphere Expansion, most notably in Por'O Dal'yth Kiv'rai's famous expedition to the Kroot Worlds and the Place of Union. For a while, it seemed as though the Kor'ar'tol's vision of space warfare dominated by standoff attacks with guided missiles would prove to be a reality. 

All this changed when the Tau encountered the Imperium of Man in strength for the first time. As the Damocles Gulf Crusade drove into Tau space, flotillas of T'au configuration Il'fannors suffered heavy losses. The lengthy reloading time for the gravitic launchers, combined with the immense speed of the Imperial Navy warships, meant that while the T'au configuration Il'fannors could initially inflict considerable damage, they were incapable of sustaining such attack power long enough to prevent the Imperial ships from entering close range, where their limited gunnery armament proved insufficient. Ultimately, the Tau had succeeded in creating a capital sized Cobra Destroyer, which lacked the speed and small profile of an escort torpedo-boat, and while this might have been good for a support ship, it made for a lacking mainline combat vessel. In light of the new developments the T'au configuration Il'fannor was largely phased out of service following the Damocles Gulf Crusade, especially as the more modern and capable Lar'shi and Kir'qath class starships began to circulate through the Tau Empire. Most were converted into other Merchant class configurations, and design features and data from the type would end up providing a major contribution to the development of the Bork'an configuration Gal'leath, but a few mothballed examples can still be found occasionally in Tau fleet reserves. 

Il'fannor T'au Configuration 

 Cruiser/4            15cm         45°               1                    5+                    2    

ARMAMENT                         RANGE/SPEED     FIREPOWER/STR       FIRE ARC
Prow railgun battery                          45cm                              2                    Front/Left/Right 
Port gravitic launcher                Speed: 20-40cm                     3                             Front 
Starboard gravitic launcher       Speed: 20-40cm                     3                             Front 

The T'au configuration Il'fannor may combine its two gravitic missile salvos into a single strength 6 salvo fired to the ship's front arc. Alternatively, it may fire two separate strength 3 salvos. If one of the gravitic launchers is damaged, the ship may only fire one strength 3 salvo until the damage is repaired. 
Later examples of the Il'fannor were produced with a drastically superior hull structure, constructed by methods only recently discovered by the Tau. Il'fannors of any configuration may therefore increase their hits from 4 to 6 at a cost of +15 points. 

Il'fannor (Merchant) Class Starship - Vash'ya Configuration . . . . . 155 pts 

The Vash'ya Il'fannor configuration is one of the oldest variants of Merchant class starship to have been employed by the Tau. It is heavily derived from the basic cargo freighter Il'fannor configuration, and was originally conceived as a medium sized colony transport. As conflict with the Orks became increasingly widespread and commonplace however, the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor was pressed into military service, with its extensive cargo space re-purposed to support launch bays so the vessel could act as a light carrier for attack craft. Initially this was intended to provide a more economical alternative to the gargantuan Explorer class starships serving as fleet carriers, but the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor ended up complimenting and serving alongside the venerable Gal'leath to ensure the Tau maintained space superiority amongst attack craft, which was proving to be one of the few areas where they had an advantage over the Greenskins. 

In addition to providing attack craft support in fleet actions, the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor also proved useful outside of fleet actions. Its considerable cargo capacity and extensive support facilities allowed the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor to act as a makeshift waystation for communications, repair and resupply purposes, and the variant was a vital link in the Tau command and control system until the Tau network of orbitals and waystations was strengthened and the Skether'qan class starship was introduced. 

A number of Vash'ya configuration Il'fannors were part of the Tau fleet that first encountered Imperial Navy vessels in the Hydrass system, and it was these ships that formed the rearguard while the Tau fleet disengaged, screening the other ships' escape with their Manta squadrons. The Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor would continue to serve the Kor'vattra for the rest of the Damocles Gulf Crusade, but mounting losses discouraged the Tau and the type was gradually phased out of service as the Lar'shi class starship  began production. Like its contemporary, the T'au configuration Il'fannor, a small handful of mothballed examples can still be found in Tau reserve fleets from time to time.  

Il'fannor Vash'ya Configuration

 Cruiser/4            15cm         45°               1                    5+                    2    

ARMAMENT                         RANGE/SPEED     FIREPOWER/STR       FIRE ARC
Prow railgun battery                          45cm                              2                    Front/Left/Right 
Port launch bay                          Barracudas: 25cm         2 Squadrons                       - 
                                                   Mantas: 20cm
Starboard launch bay                 Barracudas: 25cm         2 Squadrons                       - 
                                                   Mantas: 20cm

Later examples of the Il'fannor were produced with a drastically superior hull structure, constructed by methods only recently discovered by the Tau. Il'fannors of any configuration may therefore increase their hits from 4 to 6 at a cost of +15 points. 


So there you have it, two alternate flavours of Merchant class starship for use in games of Battlefleet Gothic. If you have a Tau fleet and wish to use either of these then be sure to let me know how they perform, I am happy to accept feedback for my experimental rules writing. 

*Unless GW releases a wave of new 'Battlefleet Gothic' ships with obscene new designs. Then I probably will say no to them (but never to classic Battlefleet Gothic ships!).