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DIY Musings: How much detail is enough?


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#1
Brother Tyler

Brother Tyler

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One of the biggest problems I've seen with DIYs over the years is that people try to explain too much. There's a natural tendency to try to make everything "work" logically. While this isn't inherently a bad thing, there are times when too much detail actually creates more risk than leaving some things as mysteries or with an incomplete level of explanation. There have been plenty of organizations that have been presented with only the briefest of information. For many, the only information may have been a spotlight on one particular event or short period in history. For example, the original information about the Celestial Lions was published during the Third War for Armageddon campaign:
 

CELESTIAL LIONS

The Celestial Lions have a long and glorious history, stretching back over four thousand years, but events set in motion a decade ago may now prove to be the Chapter's undoing. During the Khattarn Insurrection, five companies of the Celestial Lions were attached to the forces of Inquisitor Apollyon to aid him in crushing the revolt. The orbital defences were no match for the Space Marine battle barges and the initial landings were virtually unopposed.

As the campaign progressed and the number of prisoners taken by the Celestial Lions grew, it became increasingly clear to them that there was more to the revolt than they had initially been briefed. The corrupt priesthood of Khattar had fallen prey to the vile god of decadence and led the ruling castes into the depraved worship of Slaanesh. The Planetary Defence Force and local Imperial Guard regiments could not stand against the righteous fire of the Space Marines, who easily swept aside all resistance. Within the space of three months the rebellion was crushed and the Celestial Lions were boarding their ships, ready for the journey back to their Fortress Monastery on Elysium IX.

As the Space Marine craft achieved high orbit, the Navy ships in the Inquisitor's force began bombarding Khattar, systematically obliterating every trace of life on the planet's surface. This horrified the Celestial Lions who roundly condemned Inquisitor Apollyon. Their force commander, Captain Saul attempted to halt the bombardment, but he was unable to prevent the Inquisitor from wiping out the planet's population. The Celestial Lions were highly vocal in their condemnation of the Inquisitor's actions and began a series of loud and highly public criticisms of him and the entire Inquisition. A delegation of the Chapter's senior officers left for Terra to further their cause, but the ship failed to arrive. A freak warp storm blew up around their vessel, sending it hundreds of light years off course and into Ork held space. The wreckage of their craft was finally discovered nearly two years later. This was not enough to deter the Celestial Lions from their course and they continued to demand an investigation into the extermination of Khattar's population.

Their efforts were to prove in vain however. The Inquisition answers to no-one but the Emperor himself. With the outbreak of the third war for Armageddon, the Celestial Lions were ordered to mobilise their entire Chapter and deploy their forces in Hive Volcanus. Within a month of their deployment, the Celestial Lions had suffered appalling casualties. Intelligence provided to them on the Orks strength and disposition proved to be woefully inaccurate and each battle found the Space Marines vastly outnumbered and cut off from support. Several of the higher ranking officers within the Chapter began to suspect that this was deliberate, but could prove nothing and had no choice but to continue their attacks on the Orks as before. In one disastrous battle, four entire companies were wiped out in the Mannheim Gap by the combined forces of Warlord Thogfang's Gargant mob and the Razor Speed Freeks. Losses continued to mount, culminating in the Orks launching an uncannily well co-ordinated attack on the Celestial Lions base camp. The battle raged for over three hours, hundreds of Space Marines falling to the overwhelming numbers of the Orks. Unerringly accurate sniper fire from the mountains blasted through the camp, relentlessly targeting the Chapter's Apothecaries. A depleted company was finally able to break through the Ork ring of firepower and fight their way back into the hive. Only ninety six brothers of the Celestial Lions survived, and even worse, the last of the Chapter's Apothecaries took a bullet in the head within hours of arriving at Hive Volcanus.

The gene seed of the fallen now lies unharvested on the battlefields of Armageddon and the surviving battle brothers have all sworn to die alongside them, fighting the Orks until the last breath has been crushed from their bodies.

That article included the Chapter Approved image of the Celestial Lions' basic livery (lacking a squad badge for some reason), two images of shoulder pad variations, and a campaign badge (curiously, on the left greave instead of the right).

That was all there was. They were mentioned a few times in campaign updates, but these tended to be nothing more than a sentence or two that basically summarized information presented above. Despite that dearth of information, the Celestial Lions attracted a respectable fan-base and found themselves the subject of attention in later Black Library novels. That short article led to the Chapter's later rebirth. The amount of information known about the Celestial Lions is far less than that found in a typical Index Astartes article, even counting the additions that A D-B provided in Blood and Fire and Spear of the Emperor. In spite of that dearth of information, many hobbyists find the Celestial Lions to be compelling.

In my opinion, one of the worst mistakes hobbyists make when developing their DIY organization is to try to force their creation into the Index Astartes format (or adapting it to some other type of organization such as an Adepta Sororitas order in an Index Sororitas article or some xenos organization/species in an Index Xenos article). Don't get me wrong - there's nothing inherently "bad" about the Index Astartes format. I was the first member of the B&C to publicly extol the virtues of that format and urge hobbyists to use it back when we started seeing the 3rd edition articles published in White Dwarf Magazine. The article I wrote at that time can still be found on the Internet, and though my views on some of the suggestions I made in that article have changed, it still stands as a decent primer on using the Index Astartes format. Prior to that article, hobbyist DIYs here at the B&C were presented in a hodge-podge of (non-)formats, so the Index Astartes format provided a solid and recognizable structure. The problem with the Index Astartes format (or its lesser-used cousin, the format used in the Badab War books from Forge World) is when it doesn't fit the creator's needs. Sometimes a concept for a DIY is better presented in some other format such as the anecdote about the Celestial Lions above or the serial article I wrote about the Angels of Veneration. Neither one of those tells us a lot of facts in painstaking detail, each instead portraying a Chapter through describing a notable event in the Chapter's history.

Don't get me wrong - the Index Astartes and Badab War formats are great when they work with the level and type of information that a hobbyist is trying to provide. Neither format, however, requires hobbyists to go into detail. Each of these formats can be written from a semi-omniscient viewpoint, but each can also be written from the perspective of an unreliable narrator (case in point - the article about the Alpha Legion). When you consider that each format is supposed to be a type of in-universe article, it's entirely acceptable to exercise creativity in your format. The various Index Astartes articles that were published in White Dwarf Magazine included slightly different structures and content. There were large similarities across the board, but each had unique aspects - devices that the authors needed to better portray their subjects that a rigid structure wouldn't allow. If the authors of the official articles could deviate, hobbyists can, too.

The DIY articles that I've written using the Index Astartes format have long since disappeared from the site, all written during the 3rd edition of the game. The first was for the Fists of Purity, re-posted as a case study here. The closest thing I've written to an Index Astartes article in recent years was my Liber Sororitas: Order of the Faithful Sword article. I have written two articles that were based on the Badab War format, however, one an interpretation of the Angels of Vigilance and the other an article for the Chapter that I actually play, the Nova Hawks. In all four of my articles, I tried to avoid the tendency to explain everything. I explained as much as I felt was necessary and as logically consistent as possible to give the reader sufficient understanding of the organization and to engender interest.

Sometimes a hobbyist has interesting ideas for an organization, but trying to provide detailed explanations for some of those ideas proves challenging or creates problems. An example of this is the Legio (which is undergoing a revision right now). In the first version of the article, written back in 2003 or so, we tried too hard to explain things in order to make everything fit. These explanations introduced inconsistencies that couldn't be resolved without either drastic revision or glossing over details. In the end, we've revised the concepts of the Legio and the article over the years, reducing the level of detail that we provide. We've chosen to make the Legio fit as much as possible into the established canon, but we know that we can never make it fit entirely. Reducing detail and not making further revisions wasn't out of laziness. The intent is to provide the concept to the level of detail necessary for success. Providing too much detail/explanation would actually undermine our efforts, so we've had to find the balance point. Each hobbyist will have to find the necessary balance point for their DIY. Some allow for and require greater detail while others can be successful with much less detail. Writing a DIY article can be a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be. It's up to each author to determine the right level of work (the rest of us can provide our input, but we have no decision-making authority in how much work you do).

There have been hundreds (thousands?) of DIYs presented here at the B&C over the years, some going into great detail, some giving very little, and everywhere in between. An excellent example of a highly developed DIY is Commissar Molotov's Castigators (which he has been working on for over 15 years). Two excellent examples of DIYs created with very little information are apologist's Lamb's World Regiments (Astra Militarum) and Ioldanach's Mourning Blades (Eldar Corsairs). Each of these articles (in the case of the Castigators, series of articles) portrays their subject using a different format and to varying levels of detail, but each does so in a manner that allows the reader to have sufficient understanding of and interest in the organization to collect their own army of that organization if they desire - or inspire them to create a similar type of organization or article. Not giving detailed explanations for every little (or even significant) aspect of your organization isn't necessarily "laziness." Sometimes it's the highest form of wisdom.

One thing that the official articles do well is to not dwell too much on trying to explain every little detail. If it's good enough for the official articles, it's good enough for you and me.










Lastly, a plug. Most of the articles I've linked in this little editorial can be found in the Liber Showcase. That sub-forum is meant to be the B&C's showcase for finished articles. When you finish your DIY article, please post the finished version in that sub-forum.

Edited by Brother Tyler, 03 March 2021 - 11:06 PM.
Updated Celestial Lions image link

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#2
Dolchiate Remembrancer

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Fantastic post brother. It almost makes me want to reread my own IA and question their length and detail, yet again lol

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#3
Dosjetka

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Your thoughts couldn't come at a better time, Brother Tyler. I've been fighting with the traditional Index Astartes format for year and I feel foolish for not having myself generated a line of thinking similar to yours sooner. This is partly why I've never managed to complete an Index Astartes article, much to my dismay.

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