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Official Index Astartes Articles: An Evaluation


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#1
Brother Tyler

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Although the topic title and discussion is about Index Astartes articles, we're really talking about the broad range of factions and sub-factions within the setting and the articles that might be published for each, so this is appearing in the main Liber forum instead of the Liber Astartes forum.

It is probably fair to say that a significant segment of hobbyists that develop articles for the organizations for the Warhammer 40,000 setting do so with the conceit that we want to craft something that would be worthy of inclusion in White Dwarf Magazine. I certainly include myself among that group, and many of us have voiced such a sentiment in various discussions over the years. This is probably one of the factors that drive many of us to use the Index Astartes format, or to emulate some other format that has seen print in White Dwarf Magazine or other official publications such as a (mini-)codex or the Badab War format. Naturally, there are many other valid reasons to use such formats, but the recognizability of official formats plays a part. While crafting an article isn’t the true purpose of the Liber forums, it has become the most popular aspect of participation herein. The presentation of one’s organization, after all, is integral to discussing that organization with others.

Since the Index Astartes format is the most popular for DIY articles here at the Bolter & Chainsword, and since many of us aspire to crafting work of sufficient quality to be considered worthy of inclusion in White Dwarf Magazine [by our peers], I thought it would be interesting to flip the script a bit and examine some of the recent Index Astartes articles that have been published in that magazine. While the Index Astartes articles have actually covered a diverse range of topics about the Adeptus Astartes such as the process of creating a Space Marine, the organization of a Chapter, Apothecaries, etc., I’m most concerned here with those articles that are about specific Chapters. Many Chapters have been covered in articles over the years, including all of the First Founding Legions and the Chapters named for them (IInd and XIth Legios being the exceptions, of course); a few of the more notable Second Founding Chapters such as the Crimson Fists, Black Templars, and Flesh Tearers; some very distinct Chapters such as the Blood Ravens and Relictors; and even those Chapters that serve as the Chamber Militant of one of the Ordos of the Inquisition. However, the focus here is on two Chapters that have appeared very recently, both being developed as mascot Chapters for official publications.

The Silver Templars were developed as the mascot Chapter of Warhammer Conquest Magazine and the Tome Keepers were developed as the mascot Chapter of White Dwarf Magazine. As mascot Chapters, they [will] serve as the vehicle for much of their respective publications’ development in future projects, being used as the example Adeptus Astartes Chapter in place of other more venerable Chapters such as the Ultramarines or Space Wolves. This is a valuable tool for these periodicals, providing them with room for creativity that doesn’t infringe on other elements of the company. Similarly, it invites much less risk of antagonism from established fanbases who might take issue with development of “their” Chapter that they find objectionable (as if anyone on the Internet has an opinion that matters msn-wink.gif). This is a similar role performed first by the Red Scorpions and later the Minotaurs for Forge World – giving Forge World campaign protagonists that they could develop more fully (though Forge World used some well-established Chapters in a few of their campaigns). A mascot Chapter can be risky, however, as our Legio [Bolter & Chainsword] demonstrates. Ultimately, one might even call the Ultramarines the mascot Chapter for Games Workshop since they serve as the example of the typical Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes.

The goal in this discussion is to evaluate how well the respective articles performed in terms of informing hobbyists about their respective subject Chapters. We’re not here to discuss whether or not we personally like either of the Chapters (though that will be a difficult subject to avoid). If you really want to discuss minutiae about each of the Chapters and whether or not they appeal to you and/or you have an interest in playing them, you can find an ongoing discussion about the Silver Templars here and a similar discussion about the Tome Keepers here. What we’re looking at here is how well the articles stack up in terms of quality – how would they fare if they were presented here at the Bolter & Chainsword by a regular hobbyist? Do they meet the benchmarks we look for? Naturally, the pronouncements here will be very subjective and will likely be contentious. Regardless of any individual’s feelings about either of these articles, they were published in White Dwarf Magazine, so they meet (and likely exceed) the minimum level of quality necessary for publication. In this, what can we observe in them that we might apply to our own articles? I’m not concerned with production quality (White Dwarf Magazine is a professional publication with highly skilled contributors, so we should expect a high level of quality in terms of their production value), nor am I worried about petty details such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. (though we should expect few or no problems in these areas since there is a rigid editing and proofreading process at White Dwarf Magazine). It’s fair to identify any [perceived] failings in these areas, but I’d really like to focus on the creative work of developing new Chapters and meshing them into the established setting.

The older of the two Chapters in real time, and the first of the two to be published in White Dwarf Magazine, is the Silver Templars. Their article can be found in White Dwarf 456. The more recent of the two Chapters, though older in terms of the setting (dating back to the Fourth Founding whereas the Silver Templars were created in the Twenty-Seventh/Ultima Founding), is the Tome Keepers, whose article appears in White Dwarf 458. Of note, the Index Astartes article for the Tome Keepers was preceded by two articles in which the developers described their thought processes and alternatives, those articles appearing in White Dwarf 455 and White Dwarf 456. If you haven’t read both of those articles, I highly recommend them for the insights they’ll provide. Both Index Astartes articles were accompanied by Codex Supplements that provided rules for playing these Chapters in Warhammer 40,000 as well as Paint Splatter articles that provided hobbyists with information for painting miniatures from these Chapters. These three types of articles form the trifecta of basic information for any DIY organization – the lore, the rules, and the models. Any complete presentation of a DIY will include all of these elements to one degree or another.

Something to keep in mind is that each of us has our own perspective on things and that there is no absolute assessment of “good” or “bad” for either of these Chapters beyond the fact that each expands upon the body of information about the setting and each provides players with additional options for enjoying the hobby (both of which might be termed as “good”). Each of us looks at different things, and each of us finds different things appealing or unappealing. While many of us are able to discern the difference between finding something unappealing and that thing being “bad,” there are some among us that meld the two judgments together, finding them inseparable. A valuable element of any feedback provided in this discussion will be a preliminary description of what you look for in order to judge an article/Chapter as “good” or “bad.”

For my own part, I think that the majority of Chapters should be nothing more than variations on a theme. Each should have its distinctive elements, but those distinctive elements should largely be subtle and nuanced. Some will have very distinctive elements, but too much focus on distinctiveness often appears as nothing more than different for the sake of being different. Worse, an excessive focus on distinctiveness or an inordinate focus on a distinctive element can lead to what I call “over-theming,” where the concept of whatever is different permeates the article and dominates how the organization is viewed by the reader. When over-theming is applied to a concept that is too simplistic, the result can be cartoonish, turning an interesting organization into a parody. In this, I think that both Index Astartes articles largely succeeded. Both the Silver Templars and Tome Keepers are recognizable as Adeptus Astartes Chapters in the mold of the Codex Astartes, yet each has minor distinctive elements that set them apart from each other and from other Codex Chapters. The Tome Keepers incorporate a few distinctive elements that are obviously linked to White Dwarf Magazine, but those were intentional decisions in their role as the mascot Chapter of the magazine; and those elements, though obvious, are kept subtle enough that they don’t become the defining elements of the Chapter.

Another area where DIY authors can be too simplistic is in defining a Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes by its genetic heritage. There are times when this is appropriate, of course, such as the successors of the Blood Angels Legion suffering from the genetic curse of their scion. As official examples have shown, though, Chapters are not absolutely tied to the influence of their predecessor. An example of this principle is the Mortifactors who were revealed to be Second Founding Successors of the Ultramarines Legion, but who do not follow the dictates of the Codex Astartes in a manner that battle-brothers of the Ultramarines Chapter find acceptable. Similarly, the Black Templars, a Second Founding Successor of the Imperial Fists Legion, are noted for their disregard for the Codex Astartes and for being entirely unlike the Imperial Fists and Crimson Fists Chapters, both of which are also Second Founding Successors of that Legion and adherents of the Codex Astartes. How often have you seen a DIY Chapter identified as a Raven Guard successor because of their predilection for stealth, or one identified as a Salamanders successor because they like flame weapons or reptiles? In this, both the Silver Templars and Tome Keepers are developed as Ultramarines successors, yet neither is portrayed as being like the Ultramarines Chapter except in their general adherence to the Codex Astartes (with some very minor deviations).

The counterpoint to the above point, though, is too much focus on the “First Founding Chapters” – the Second Founding Chapters that retained the name (and usually the homeworld and livery) of their parent Legions – as the predecessors of later successor Chapters. The majority of extant Chapters can trace their lineage to Roboute Guilliman and the Ultramarines Legion, but that doesn’t mean that they all have the Ultramarines Chapter as their direct predecessor. Realistically, all of the Second Founding Chapters are just as old as the “First Founding Chapters,” with each dating back to the Second Founding. Even the “First Founding Chapters” are pale shadows of their parent Legions. With the other Second Founding Chapters having histories and pedigrees every bit as auspicious as the “First Founding Chapters,” many of the later founding successors should be able to trace their lineage through these Chapters. The Astral Claws, after all, were a later founding successor that are thought to have sired three of their own successors (all four Chapters ultimately tracing their lineage back to the same Legion). In this, I was dissatisfied with both the Silver Templars and Tome Keepers being direct successors of the Ultramarines Chapter. I would have preferred if one or both had traced their lineage back to some other Ultramarines Legion successor as their direct predecessor. The saving grace here is that neither of these Chapters bears too strong of a resemblance to the Ultramarines Chapter, but it’s still a flaw by my reckoning.

The purpose of the organization’s creation (by the author, not in the setting) is also something that must be considered. A Chapter created to serve as the protagonist in a campaign will be developed in a manner and to an outcome different from one that is created to serve as the mascot for a magazine. Similarly, a Chapter that is developed as an exploration of a certain concept will be different from one that is developed to explore a completely different concept. For example, both the Angels of Veneration and the Angels of Vigilance articles I wrote are about Unforgiven Chapters (the latter is an official Chapter that I developed beyond the official information we have been provided). Neither was created as just an Unforgiven Chapter, however. Each was developed with a specific concept in mind. The Angels of Veneration were developed as an exploration of the levels of secrecy within the Unforgiven Chapters and how they might seek revenge against those who had wronged them. The Angels of Vigilance, meanwhile, were created as an exploration of an Unforgiven Chapter created in secret, with their descendance from the First Legion a secret to others. Both of these Chapters were created with the concept that their membership among the Unforgiven is unknown outside of the Unforgiven Chapters, but each led into vastly different territory. The focus of the Angels of Veneration became events that took place after the Chapter’s destruction whereas the Angels of Vigilance were developed as a largely “normal” Chapter, albeit with a few idiosyncrasies. Similarly, the Silver Templars and Tome Keepers were developed as mascots of their respective periodicals, but as mostly “normal” Chapters. The Tome Keepers deliberately incorporate a number of deliberate nods to White Dwarf Magazine. In this, I think that each Chapter was developed successfully in accordance with the underlying purpose of their creation – to serve as a vehicle by which each periodical might explore and feature an Adeptus Astartes Chapter without infringing on other elements within Games Workshop’s auspice.

Each of these Chapters also has to contend with the challenge of meshing with the established lore. For both, fitting into the modern era (the Era Indomitus) is featured, though it is much more prominent for the Silver Templars, who are a product of the Ultima Founding. In this, it is much easier for the Silver Templars to nestle within the setting without too much difficulty. The Tome Keepers, meanwhile, were created during the Fourth Founding, so they have to successfully mesh in over 8,000 years’ worth of lore. A pitfall many DIY creators fall into is trying to work their organization into too many established events. Even when the purpose of a DIY organization might be to explore such an event (such as how my Nova Hawks grew out of a desire to explore the other side of the Abyssal Crusade), incorporating established events into a DIY organization’s history creates a level of risk and can look like you’re trying too hard to work your organization into the lore. On the one hand, if your DIY isn’t mentioned in the official descriptions of an event, working them into that event looks contrived. On the other hand, if an official event isn’t well-developed, there is the risk that it will later be developed in official publications and your DIY lore will become invalidated (much as certain aspects of my Angels of Veneration article were invalidated when Games Workshop added to the body of information about the Tide of Blood). The lore for the Tome Keepers avoids this pitfall, however, instead focusing on heretofore unknown events. As a result, there are no inconsistencies with established lore for either of the Chapters and they successfully merge into the lore without any problems.

Another trap DIY authors often run afoul of is hyperbole – the dreaded “Mary Sue” syndrome where they make their DIY organization or members of the organization superlative. Too often, players want to make their guys the best there is at what they do, even if what they do isn’t very nice. Realistically, no one but one can truly be the best. In addition, the variation on a theme concept that I mentioned earlier reasonably precludes any serious consideration of trying to be so truly special as to be “the best.” After all, the Adeptus Astartes themselves are “the best” among the military forces of the Imperium (with the exception of the Adeptus Custodes, of course; and they’re not as good against Titans as Titans; and sometimes the use of a lone Assassin can achieve better/quicker results than a company of Space Marines; and the list goes on…). Neither the Silver Templars nor the Tome Keepers are portrayed in a Mary Sue way. Each is described as good, and each is lauded for their various accomplishments, but both articles do so in such a way that is reasonable and justifiable.

From a rules perspective, there is often a tendency to create something different for the sake of being different. One of the benefits of the current 9th edition rules is that there is considerable room for customization, especially in terms of Chapter Tactics and the other things like Stratagems and Relics that one chooses to include in their army. While the 3rd edition series of Index Astartes articles did a lot for fleshing out the other “First Founding Chapters” and traitor Legions, much of the rules development can be attributed to the misplaced desire to differentiate the Chapters/Legions too much by distinctive rules. Games Workshop reined things in a lot in later editions, much to the despair of players that wanted to preserve some of those 3rd edition rules/lore elements in their Chapters/Legions (despite the Big 4 Chapters undergoing changes in rules/lore in each edition). The rules for both the Silver Templars and Tome Keepers are fairly subdued. Both, I think, were deliberately restrained in order to serve as an example of how all of the choices players have in the current rules can be combined with an appropriate level of distinctiveness to create a realistic Chapter.
 
With all of the above said, there are always exceptions. Sometimes a concept is built around a focus on something that is truly distinctive (e.g., the Grey Knights being vastly different from other Chapters, not least in their specializing against daemons). Sometimes a little hyperbole is necessary (e.g., the Grey Knights being the best force their is against daemons). Sometimes any of the other "rules" that I described can be broken. For the most part, this should be done sparingly, and only when it's necessary to the concept being developed. Too often we convince ourselves of the "necessity" for such an exception, though that is more often, I think, a form of wish fulfilment. Still, there will be times when exceptions need to be made. In my estimation, this should be done both sparingly and with great care in order to be done well.

Even though both of the articles I’ve discussed here have been about the Adeptus Astartes, the exact same principles can be applied to any of the myriad organizations creative hobbyists might develop as their own contribution to the setting. One doesn’t need to create a Chaos Lord that rivals Abaddon the Despoiler or Typhus; a DIY regiment of the Astra Militarum doesn’t need to be the Imperium’s best amphibious assault force; a Wych Cult doesn’t need to be led by a Succubus that is the only wych known to have wounded Lelith Hesperax. An Eldar Corsair fleet doesn’t need to have existed for seven thousand years despite all of the efforts of the Imperium to wipe them out; a DIY Ork tribe doesn’t need to be led by a warboss who might one day become a new Beast; an Imperial Knight household doesn’t need to be the dominant household on its knight world. Your DIY Chapter doesn’t need to have fought at Armageddon or Cadia. Small distinctive elements here and there go a long way to making your DIY special without having to go over the top.

All of the above is my own judgment and many of you have your own thoughts on how well you think the developers of the Index Astartes articles for the Silver Templars and Tome Keepers met or exceeded (or failed to meet) the standards of what you would consider a “good” DIY article. I’m interested in hearing about the things you liked and the things that you think the authors could have done better/differently.


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#2
Hrvat

Hrvat

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I managed to track down the IA articles for the two chapters and so far read the Silver Templars. 

 

While the chapter itself leaves me quite neutral the article could do with some improvements both from a stylistic point of view as well as ensuring there are not as many moments that at least for me broke the suspension of disbelief. Otherwise they are quite generic which isn't bad by itself. 






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