Wednesday, May 20, 2015

HOBBY: Developing a Story for your Army

We all love our armies and often form lasting connections with some of our models. Why not give them a more lasting place in our hearts and the grim, dark world they hail from?

I used to just paint the main chunk of my army to get it done and be "there" for my games. The only models I held dearly were maybe some of my characters or a lowly Tactical Marine who somehow manages to take out a Land Raider in almost every game. I would rush through painting the meat and potatoes of my army to get to the good stuff and lavish all my time and thought on them. Often just gluing my models together in the most basic (read: boring) pose possible because it was the quickest. Then came the great wargaming internet boom of the 2000's and I got to start seeing how other hobbyists out there really lavished as much time and detail on every model of their force. Not just with painting either, but with establishing a back story, a name and lore that gave tactical marine 37 some more substance and depth.

This is easiest to do with a small elite army, such as Space Marines, since you generally have less infantry models. When I started my newest Marine army, my Astral Claws, I was determined to give it a shot. In the lore Space Marines are described as being larger then life heroes, even the average line trooper and I wanted to reflect that with my army. You can do this several ways. You can establish a story before you even start to build your model and use your story cues to influence your design choices. You can finish your model entirely and then write your story based off of his finished appearance or you can do a little of both as you go along. This is generally what I do. I start with a basic idea: This guy is a little unhinged, or this guy is quiet and brooding, and use this to influence my design. I then flesh out the rest of the story at the end.

I also did quite a bit of research into the Astral Claws overall character before I started which gave me the little nugget of information that they are supposed to be somewhat influenced from early Babylonian design. Hence all of my names come from a Babylonian name data base.

Here is an example:


Balathu was recruited from Badab Primis itself. In his youth he had joined a local hive gang to survive and became a ruthless murderer. When the Astral Claws went throughout the hives to recruit, one of their number was attacked by Balathu, who saw it as a chance to prove his worth and either join the astartes or elevate his position within the gang. He was defeated, but not without nearly slitting the marine's throat. Normally this type of attitude would not be tolerated within the astartes, but with Huron's drive to expand his chapter to the strength of a full legion Balathu was given a shot, he clearly had the martial talent.

Once within the ranks of the Astral Claws his brutal attitude made him a perfect fit for the Retaliator squads that were being formed. He served amongst their number for a decade before a lucky greenskin managed to take his left leg. The bionic replacement slowed him down to much to keep up with his brother retaliators and he was re designated as a Tactical marine. While he was a more then competent warrior he did not get along well with others and mostly kept to himself. He connected most with Sin-Nasir and Rihat and to everyone's surprise Arshaka. His friendship with Arshaka was merely a means to an end however. He knew that Numas was wary of him and did not fully believe in Huron's plans so he used Arshaka to keep tabs on the Sargent. Before a boarding action against the Red Scorpions Arshaka confided in him how Numas planned on switching over to the "loyalist" side if things became to dire, unfortunately Arshaka, Numas' only true ally, never made it off the enemy ship. Underneath the Palace of Thorns it was Balathu who slit Numas' throat and led the remnants of 2nd squad back to safety. The one item that Balathu always kept with him since his youth as a ganger was his combat knife, which was refitted with a mono-molecular edge after becoming an Astartes.

Post-Badab War: Since the end of the war a marine fitting Balathu's description, known as "the Flayer" has been seen leading groups of warriors in the ranks of the Red Corsairs. His bionic leg has since been replaced with a mutation granting him all the stealth and speed he could need after receiving the blessing of the dark gods and he adorns his armor with the flayed skin of his enemies. His rank is unknown, some say he is a Sargent while other claim he has formed his own warband within the ranks of the Corsairs. What is known is that even other members of the renegade chapter keep their distance from him; his friends have a tendency of turning up with their throat slit and their face missing, only for it to reappear stretched across Balthu's armor.

Balathu's fluff came from his menacing helmet, his bionic leg, and most of all his unique combat knife.


Little is known about Kuri's past, in fact it has been rumored that he was originally a member of the Tiger Claws chapter before being absorbed into the Astral Claws. He is considered massive even for a Space Marine and stands a head taller than most of his peers. He largely keeps to himself and rarely is seen without his battle plate, despite this he is not cold or cruel like other members of the squad. It may take a lot to gain his friendship, but once you have you would be hard pressed to find anyone more loyal. Kuri never showed any animosity or favoritism towards the members of squad Numas but consistently would put his life on the line to save any of his battle-brothers. This steadfastness and loyalty has made him the rock upon which second squad would often rely. No matter what the situation, Kuri could be relied on to keep calm and continue to lay down suppressing fire until the squad was clear. Due to his massive frame he was a natural fit for the heavy weapons specialist in the squad and is as equally skilled with a Lascannon as he is with his favorite Multi-Melta.

As the Badab War escalated Kuri continued to follow whatever orders were assigned to him without question. It was noted that he was less brutal with the mortal allies within the Legion but he certainly did not show them any compassion either such as Numas did. During many campaigns second squad's survival was attributed to his unwillingness to back down, having single handily saved several of their lives on multiple occasions. When thanked for his help Kuri would simply grunt an acknowledgement before moving on to the next task. There was only one time when he was known to have turned on one of his battle-brothers. Underneath the Palace of Thorns after Balathu took Numas' life Kuri strode up to the psychotic marine and back handed him with enough force to crack his helmet and send him sprawling several feet backwards. When everyone thought he was going to kill Balathu he simply stood over him and said "Never again," before continuing with their retreat, leaving his brothers to help the marine to his feet.

Post-Badab War: A Marine matching Kuri's description known as "the Bull" has been seen fighting with the Red Corsairs on several occasions. If battlefield reports can be believed he has grown even more massive since retreating to the Maelstrom. He does not appear to have gained any sort of command and still commonly carries a heavy weapon to war although it is not unknown for him to close into assault either. On the few occasions where Balathu and Kuri have been reported fighting together it has been noted that the former tends to keep his distance from the latter. Whether this is out of fear or respect is unknown but operatives within the Inquisition are currently devising way to exploit this discovery.

Again much of my fluff was influenced from the model. I said he was tall because due to the way I posed his legs he did end up being about a head taller then an average marine and something about his pose just struck me as the silent type. Its also worth noting that at this time he was the 5th or so marine to get a back story so his story was influenced from those before. It helped me evolve a mythology for this squad that interconnected.

I really find this type of storytelling enhances my modeling projects because I care so much more about the end result. Its exciting for me because much of my story for this army is not planned out and just kind of evolves in the moment, so I don't even know where the next one will go. The last two from Monday had their stories developed as I was writing them. I have already started thinking about how Squad Illinos' story will progress. Do I want them to be as twisted as Squad Numas, or will they be more down the middle? I really enjoy bringing a little more life to my models since I spend so much time modeling and painting them. I even do this with my Tomb Kings, but only for my characters so far.

Have you done this for any of your models?

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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