Army Design

Designing My Personalized Army or 'What, Exactly, Are You Trying to Prove?'

One of the joys of wargaming is a well-painted army with a compelling character that suggests a story to go with every battle. The problem becomes the need to paint a new army (and buy hundreds of dollars in figures) to try out a new game. I thought to myself, why not create a reasonably 'vanilla' force, sort of my own household troops that could work in nearly any universe. The idea was interesting, but I shelved it for several years. When I decided to build a few new armies when Warhammer 40K 3rd Edition came out, I decided to create a 'force genericus' which would serve as my own household troops in whatever game we were playing.

When I decided to model this 'force genericus' wargame army, it quickly became clear I needed a reasonably flexible background to suggest scenarios, fit my science fiction miniatures collection and be reasonably adaptable to the other game settings. This lead me to the Imperial Guard. The new plastics are reasonably 'vanilla' that they can fit into almost any science fiction universe, in fact any Imperial Guard range is reasonably generic. The Tau are classical 'UFO aliens' and of course, space bugs... since Heinlein wroteStarship Troopers space bugs have been a staple of science fiction from Alien to Predator. This dictated my figure collecting goals, now I needed a workable - but reasonably generic - back story for my forces.

Creating the Fluff for the Army

This lead directly to the next problem, while Guardsmen, Tau and Tyranids were all reasonable vanilla, how could I make them compelling without tying them to any one game universe. Tyranids are the easiest to divorce from 40K without doing much violence to their back story; they are, after all, extra-galactic space bugs bent on eating everyone and everything. Think Alien on steroids, Starship Troopers arachnids without the charm and grace... no sweat. Even the Tau are pretty self-contained. Soldiers of a small, relatively minor power with a collectivist, caste-bound culture determined to expand against all odds and possessed of relatively high technology - higher than most of their enemies - but hopelessly out numbered. Anime samurai aliens anyone? No, the problem was with my guards which were going to be my main army.

The strong resemblances between the 40K universe and the Imperium of Frank Herbert's Dune-a-verse  got me thinking, the galaxy is a huge place and the Imperium rules over a million worlds, each with its own government and internal (and external) issues to deal with. I wanted to model my own household army and stamp it with my own personality and tastes.

This presented my first hurdle. One issue I have long wrestled with vis-à-vis WH40K is the annoying tendency of the background material (a.k.a. 'fluff') to get in the way of my own ideas. In the case of WH40K, I personally find much of the fluff to be borderline blasphemous and definitely sacrilegious. For a one off game, it is easy enough to ignore the fluff but this project requires the army to have a detailed but modular back story. I had considered chucking the entire 40K universe and developing a purely house setting. However, I was inspired to try to work within the official universe one last time by Kenton Kilgore's excellent site Fighting Tigers of Veda site. Kenton based his space marines on Hindu iconography and found a way to create a Hindu version of the Imperial Cult (my Chaos Marines are based on Islamic iconography and the Is'Malal cult of the Alpha Legion, inspired by Kenton's excellent example).

Making the Army Your Own

My original primary requirements for this army is that it be reasonably generic, that meant Imperial Guard. Standard issue human troopers fielding less than super-science weaponry could fit in any game setting I have thus far encountered. Secondly, the force had to reflect my own personality and tastes. While generic enough to work with several game systems, this had to be my army; first, last and foremost. That means more than I had to lay aside any concerns for 'mini-maxing' the force (no 'Ardboyz Tournaments for me), the force had to feel right and adhere to sound military principles.

Being a wargamer of over 30 years vintage (YIKES!), I am pretty clear on what sort of armies appeal to me. That left me with the following requirements:

1) The army had to be human, call me parochial but I best identify with human forces.

2) The army had to be a 'good-guy' army. Most of my gamer friends seem to like the bad guys (it's the Dungeon Master in all of us, I guess) but I can't really get into the villain's role. Call me old-fashioned but I like to play the good guys. I realize that WH40K prides itself on having no 'good-guys' but I could address that in the fluff.

3) The army had to be 'non-goofy'. This is pretty subjective. Orks are very goofy - indeed, it's part and parcel of being Orky in the first place. Space Marines as also pretty goofy, Guards can be goofy if you want them to be but they also have access to lot of non-goofy goodness making them a good candidate.

4) The army had to have a Jewish theme. Again, this is one of those personal things. I am an observant Jew and I want my signature army to reflect that fact. I also have a reputation among my mates that all my fantasy and SF armies sport Jewish iconography, my signature force had to incorporate this.

5) While I am far from a canon-monger and the army does have to be portable to other settings, it shouldn't do undue violence to the established setting and should at least sit comfortably (if not perfectly) with the established canon. At the same time, it should be portable to other settings.

6) The army should have an interesting back story and have lots of room for personalized fluff, fiction and growth. I want this force to reflect my ideas not some game manufacturer's.

7) The army should fit the look of my existing miniatures collection. I have a wife, two kids and two cats to support on a civil servant's salary, I can't go spending a ton of cash on this project.

8) I want an army that fits my own style of play easily. This means a shooty but mobile force that is able to take best advantage of cover. The army should be flexible, able to take advantage of terrain and be able to move if the situation demands it. This seems to imply a commando or drop formation, a Guards or elite regiment of the household troops.

I don't ask for much, do I? Okay, so I was left with non-goofy, professional, Jewish Guardsmen... so how do I work that one last one into the decidedly idolatrous Imperial setting? I began scanning the fluff, it seems that there are many 'tolerated' religions within the Imperium and not all of them regard the Emperor as a god. The original Dark Angels Codex makes is very clear that the Dark Angels never regarded the Emperor as a god, but they did respect him as the gene-father of all space marines and the protector of mankind. Okay, not bad, I thought to myself. Then I noticed all the Dark Angels have Hebrew names. Azrael (Ezra in English) means 'G-d is my help', Ezekiel means 'G-d is my strength', Naaman means 'Trustworthy'. The white tunics they wear always reminded me of the Gittel that orthodox Jewish men wear on the High Holidays. Okay, that'll work. But I am not building a space marine force.

Putting It All Together

It's one thing for a secretive chapter of space marines hiding on the great-grand-daddy of all space hulks to hold to religious opinions out of step with the Ecclesiarchy but is that going to fly for a group of ordinary Imperial citizens? Besides, Caliban is near the Eye of Terror and I want my guys to fight Tau and Tyranids in the Eastern Fringe as well as the occasional Chaos incursion. Getting around the inconvenient location of Caliban is easy enough, we'll use a Dark Angels successor chapter - let's call them the Maccabees. Chaos incursions can happen anywhere, we can even assume a smallish warp storm in the area to house our Chaos reavers. But how do these people get away with worshipping the G-d of Israel instead of the Emperor. Well, the question is how comfortable the Inquisition feels more than anything else. What if the cultural and religious norms of this society actually discouraged psykers better than the Imperial cult and impeded Chaos at least as well? Perhaps not good enough to satisfy every canon-monger out there but as it won't impact game play, it's in-bounds for my purposes. It also establishes the first piece of fluff for both my Guards and their Space Marine allies... no psykers (Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live - Exodus 22:18). That means no sanctioned psykers for the Guards and the Space Marine minor drawback 'Have Faith in Suspicion' for the Marines that bars the use of Librarians. 

Like the Space Marines they are allied with, the people of Lyubov acknowledge the political supremacy of the High Lords of Terra but do not worship the Emperor as a god. They suffered terribly under the Chaos forces that occupied their world over two centuries ago, anything even remotely connected to Chaos is reviled by the people of Lyubov and the ruling House Gilead. Psyker activity is so anathema that even latent powers among the people remain safely suppressed.

Of course, as the Inquisitors say, 'Innocence Proves Nothing'. To date, the Inquisition has paid numerous visits to the Glimmerdrift sector but has found nothing particularly unusual. If anything, the relative lack of Chaos cultist activity and the strong support for the Imperium in Lyubov during the Tyranic and Tau Wars and the 13th Black Crusade is unusual and has the Inquisition maintaining an active, if low key, presence in the sector. The political patronage of the Maccabees has kept the Inquisition satisfied as to the loyalty of House Gilead... for now.

Lyubov is located near the Satyressia Expanse, a Warp Maelstrom in the Eastern Fringe, and clashes between its armed forces and Chaos raiders are common. Particularly raids by the Jieshi Is'Malal of the Alpha Legion Chaos Marines and their allies in the Qadi Cluster are common as well as the occasional Tyranid incursion from the galactic fringe. Xenos Raiders from the Tau Collective are also a persistent threat.

Modeling the Army

In addition to justifying fights with the Tau, Chaos, and Tyranids - I have left the door open to fights with more 'conventional' Imperial factions, Eldar  and no one needs any real excuse to fight Orks or Dark Eldar. Having at last found a way to incorporate monotheism into the 40K universe without going the 'separatist enclave' route (not that there is anything really wrong with that but I didn't want to have to file off all those Imperial Eagles from my guardsmen) I was set to proceed. It also helped me determine that if I ever collect a space marine army, it will be a Dark Angels successor chapter force called the Maccabees. As you can see, I have developed a fair amount of fluff without painting (or even buying) a single figure. The upside is, I know exactly what figures I will need to complete this project.

This leads me to my boxes (and boxes and boxes) of unpainted figures. Fortunately, matching my miniatures collection is the easiest part. I used to be a GW Outrider, before GW ended the program. As a result, I had a huge collection of Imperial Guard figures, including a complete army of metal (and now out of production) Valhallans. This appealed to me since Cadians and Catachans are very much the 'flavor of the month' in Imperial Guard circles (with a very few going for Vostroyan First Born - I may use some of those figures eventually but for now, I'll pass). The fact that the Valhallans are unusual is a plus in my opinion.

I could go with the basic ice warrior theme but that would be passé. I instead opted to have my army come from a cold but hardly glacial world, one with a short, temperate growing season and a long, bitter winter every year. Again, so far so good. I went into my copious science fiction role-playing collection and found a little gem of a book called 'The Space Pioneers' Handbook', a little piece of utopian tripe written in the late 1970's but it has some very detailed descriptions of several planets and their cultures. One of the planets in the book is called 'Yom: The Wintry Home of Three-Sided Life', that seems to fit the bill rather nicely. Included in the book is a nice map of the world (it will take some editing in Photoshop but that's alright) as well as the stellar data. I will probably rewrite the cultural and biological reports for the world and rename it  but at least I have a basis to work off of. The details of the world, its history and culture will all have to support the look and feel of the regiment as I have laid it out. Writing up the homeworld of the regiment (and House Gilead) will be a separate hobby project but one that will suggest some cool terrain and figure conversions.

Troop Types and Paint Schemes

Now for the fun part! Figuring out what doctrines, troop types and paint schemes to use. Given my requirement that the army have little or no goofiness, Ratling snipers and Ogryn troops are right out (though the new Ogryn figures for Armageddon look so yummy, I may flex here... but for now, no Abhumans). We have already eliminated Sanctioned Psykers as an option as well. The thumbnail sketch of the army I have developed thus far requires a highly professional force, using characters like Creed, Chenkov and Al'Rahem (modeled and renamed to fit into my army) and a complete set of advisors will nicely simulate a highly professional officer corps and a well-equipped force. The idea of elite guardsmen dropping from orbit then approaching their target by stealth and attacking with highly directed fire sounds like just what I am looking for. Using easily man-portable heavy weapons like sniper rifles and missile launchers fit well with the notion of this army - something like the British Light Infantry Regiment or the American Light Infantry Brigades. These are the guys are the elites, used for special operations, meaning some organic raider capability makes sense, so a few units of Stormtroopers looks like a good choice. Keeping with the elite drop formation idea, these guys rely on integral support rather than lots of armor, so having Heavy Weapons and Special Weapons squads as an organic part of the infantry platoon fits my theme very well. That was easy, this army was beginning to design itself.

Okay, now to design a relatively generic and flexible TO&E that will work for WH40K as well as the other wargames I play (Stargrunt, Striker, and Starship Troopers). Looking through my many notes for these games, I came across a really interesting OB for an Light Infantry battalion originally designed for Stargrunt.   In brief, the battalion is a three company unit consisting of a Headquarters with an aid station, regimental artillery and a transport section attached, an armor company consisting of four platoons (a HQ section, two platoons with SPAs and two with AFVs), and two rifle companies consisting of a Headquarters (with a Pathfinder squad and heavy weapons platoon attached), and two rifle platoons and an armor platoon typically attached from the armor company. This looks pretty much like my guys. In the old codex an Imperial regiment can have up to five companies attached but the example of the Cadian VIII given in the new codex shows that is not hard and fast. Assume my regiment has twelve companies broken into three battalions each containing four companies of various types - that should keep me busy for a while. Of course, I am not going to model each individual trooper but it does give me an idea of what my TO&E and OB should look like for map based campaigns. There's the germ of lots of fluff to support my army here and the sort of fluff is useful in that it can serve as a modeling guide helping me determine what units will fit in with the overall scheme of my regiment and which ones won't. I am envisioning creating a document similar to the 23rd Bruttiam regiment detailed in the old codex by Jervis Johnson as time and interest allow.

Taking It on the Road

An isolated Imperial house is easy to incorporate into the Traveller setting for striker battles (making this a TL 11 force by Traveller standards if I swap out some grav tanks for the Leman Russ tanks). If I am using it for Starship Troopers, this is the militia of an isolated human world near Arachnid space. In Stargrunt games, these boys are New Israeli militia men, perhaps the hue and cry of a border colony. I made their primary background 40K-ish simply because 40K is the most popular SF tabletop game hereabouts. I tend to think of the House of Gilead a noble house in the tradition of Frank Herbert's Dune Imperium. Since there is a lot in common between the 40K universe and Herbert's universe, this isn't much of a stretch meaning I have accomplished all the goals I laid out to begin with.

My basic framework is now complete, and I am pretty pleased with the results. My regiment fulfills all the design requirements for a 'force genericus' and has the germ of some pretty cool fluff. I have fodder for some special characters (see the article on Creating Characters). My army's basic force structure can also be used in WH40K, Stargrunt II, Void, and even 6mm games like Epic 40K, Dirtside or OGRE just as I set out to do in the beginning. The rest of this site will detail how all the back story and TO&E fleshed out. As always, your feedback is most welcome.

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