Friday, June 5, 2009

ATSKNF - The History and Background of My Army

When I refer to myself as a "long-time player" above, I was being quite truthful. I got into the game around middle school, which - since I am now 25 - puts my original purchases in the last days of 2nd Edition and on the cusp of the stream-lined and (in my honest opinion) rather pathetic 3rd Edition. While this might not make me as venerable a player as some (I do know me some quite grizzled veterans), it does make me one of the older players in any of the groups I've run with.

Considering I began when I must have been... 11? 12? 13 oldest ... it is of no surprise to me that I started with the Space Marines, as they hit me on two levels. To me, they represented all that was utterly awesome and cool about the science fiction genre: superhuman warriors, utterly wicked armor and armament, beautiful and impossible vehicles. However, being a devotee of medieval history, particularly the ideal of chivalry and knights in general, they represented not just the futuristic perfection of the fighting man, but its most respectable end goal: the superhuman, unstoppable defender of Mankind. (As is obvious, in those days I didn't pay as much attention to the fluff , as that did, especially in later editions, nuance their GW-role as "Humanity's Ultimate Defenders" with the xenophobia and extremely disproportionate use of force that is also their trademarks.) And while I've come to expand my armies - I am currently in possession of a Eldar and Chaos force - my primary focus in the 40k-verse has always been Space Marines.

In Ye Olde 2nd Edition, I started my collection with the epitome of Space Marine perfection: Ultramarines. However, over the years and over three editions, the Legion-cum-Chapter that was considered all that a Space Marine should be started to take brutal hits to their preeminent position*; only now in 5th Ed. does it seem like GWs making any real effort to revitalize their poster Chapter. In that time period, as my interest in the now-utterly, intolerably dull Ultramarines waned, I began to formulate my own army composition, paint scheme, and background.

I first began by changing my army's name, as any subsequent paint scheme necessarily followed (in my opinion) from a name. I can't recall why I settled on the name I finally did - "Ice Jesters" - but I grew to like it and it stuck.

This was followed reformatting my army's paintjob. I had been working with Ultramarine colors, but now needed something new that was more appropriate for this new army. Being quite the talented little art geek back in junior high and still having a modicum of that knowledge/talent despite years of rampant neglect, I decided to go with a generally cool-colored model of Ice Blue armor, Royal Purple trim, with a touch of Hawk Turquoise on the guns (it looks amazing) and Brazen Brass for the aquila and other places where something just needed to be shiny in that "look at how eloquent and awesome I am" kind of way.**

(I apologize for the quality of the photos; I'm new to this, so my shots could be better, and my girlfriend's camera has issues with taking photos up-close.)

Next, character and bearing of the army. Every major GW Chapter out there has an exceptionally distinctive "feel" to it. Even though many of these often are themselves adaptations of common fantasy/sci-fi tropes and fill in , they all have been fleshed out to fulfill a niche in this constructed world. You have the repentant knights (Dark Angels), the knights as bastion of chivalry (Ultramarines), the knights who are slowly being corrupted by a flaw in their nature/aka "Vampirism = Bad" (Blood Angels), the Warriors as Noble Savage/Vikings (Space Wolves), the Warriors as Noble Savage/Mongols (White Scars), etc., etc.

As a rule, I've personally been most attracted to the more noble Chapters that strike a common chord with that "chivalric knight" mentality discussed above. For me this includes (with brief explanations): the Space Wolves (at least as epitomized through the countenance of Logan Grimnar and his extreme loathing of the Imperial treatment of the survivors of the first Armageddon War); Salamanders (their dedication to the average civilian is representative of the best the Space Marines have to offer); and, at times, the Ultramarines. Also, I have a softness for the White Scars and Raven Guard (admittedly not out of any excessively inherent nobility; I just really, really like hit-and-run tactics and fighting underhandedly).

However, there have been elements in the back story of many (quite possibly all) of the Chapters that have bothered me. In order they are the rampant brutality epitomized by: 1) the "leave none alive tactics" the Space Marines and the Imperium tend to use; 2) the complete lack of female characters in this army (or, with scant exceptions, any army, Imperial or other***); 3) the many Chapters (coughDark Angels!cough) exemplify the xenophobia I noted above in their worst forms.

For 1) and 3), there's not much to be done about it; the Space Marines are the ultimate warriors, defending not just humanity but the bloated and corrupt rulers that oversee them. (Plus, as I've despairingly mentioned to my friends, while the xenophobia and hatred of the mutant/magic users has demonstrated to be an extreme response, it isn't a completely unwarranted reaction; GW has created a dark and terrible future where such wanton callousness seems necessary, not just every once in a while, but with alarming frequency.) However, I figured at least fluff wise, I can do a bit to mitigate that. By placing them in a fairly remote region of space, where the Imperium holds less sway, the Chapter is allowed to develop further as an even more autonomous branch. Therefore, in their corner of the galaxy, they brook much less hypocrisy and corruption than other places allow and are much more focused on fighting those foes that are intractably enemies (Tyranids, Chaos, Dark Eldar, and Orks) than those that could be allies or, at the very least, respected neutral bodies (chiefly Tau and Eldar). This is not to say that they will not fight the latter category, just that they do so less readily, preferring to iron out their differences their diplomacy first. (Though with those damn tricksy Eldar, you never know what tomorrow will bring...) In this way, I present my warriors in the knight mindset in a Knights Templar and Hospitillars cast than in the normal knight, who was normally a privileged, brutal, and callous killer with no regard for the plight of the common man or woman.

As for 2) -- well, I know many fans out there in the 40k universe loath the idea of women Space Marines and write it off as completely. And to them I say, "PHHBBTTTTTTT!" Yes, the official canon has been written to all but preclude female Space Marines not existing, but it's been based on two key bits, neither of which is necessarily insurmountable: A) the fluff says that the hormones used to make a human into a Space Marine requires male hormones and B) the fluff has no record, past or present, of any female Space Marines.

A few counterpoints to these arguments, many of which work with the grain of the fluff rather than against it*****:
1) As has been pointed out elsewhere, any hormone found in a female body is also found, albeit in differing quantities, in the male body. (Also, investigate intersexuality, a not-as-uncommon phenomena where-in a person is born with a genetic combination or sex types that violate our society's insistence on XY/XX duality.) Ergo, either naturally in rare occasions or through alternate methods (lost and rediscovered or, shock!, a completely new procedure), the hormonal requirements could be overcome.
2) Two Primarchs are missing and all records of them and their genetic children are missing. Quite possibly, one of them might have been female, providing (through her genes) an alternative technique that could be employed to allow female as well as male Space Marines. These Marines, relegated by the Great Crusade to a far corner of space and who've lost records of their origin (10k years is a long time), have been either able to keep this distinctly odd (and perhaps heretical!) ability to themselves through such means as keeping their female Space Marines a secret from the Inquisition (not the most elegant solution, admittedly, but a plausible one - Space Marines are fairly secretive), or have simply just recently (last hundred years or so) rediscovered this ability.
3) Pulling a sub-part out of answer #1 to develop it further: I truly believe that not all parts of the Imperium are as scared about innovation or modification as the Imperium writ large is. B/c, no matter how delightful the infrastructure provided by the Emperor when he walked among men, if nothing new had grown or been developed in 10,000 years, the Empire of Man wouldn't have just slowly rotted as the fluff would provide, it would have outright collapsed. This is not to say that they're about original research, or vast innovation; simply that there are certain minds out there who have no problem on tinkering with an existing procedure or creation and making it better. The Land Raider Crusader and various other weapons that have been introduced in the last few years say as much in their fluff. In this vein, the process that creates Space Marines could have been tinkered with to side-step the hormonal requirements of the old method. Thus, while still stringent and likely to kill the would-be neophyte, the process of creating Space Marines would be expanded so that any new recruits could be of either sex. (I would however maintain my private belief, unsubstantiated by fluff as it probably is, that the process that makes you a Space Marine makes you infertile. So, female or male, it matters not -- you don't get to bear children, thus explaining why we haven't seen a whole passel of super-human tykes running around in the 10,000 year existence of the Marines.)

Examples of female Space Marines: a Captain in my Army (possibly the Chapter Master) and my Chaplain. For the Captain, I've subbed in pieces of a Sisters of Battle Seraphim model; the Chaplain is, well, a Chaplain. But underneath the armor, well, presumably.... okay, it's meaningless fluff, but it's my army, so there. (With argumentative skills like that, is it any wonder I'm going to law school?)

So, that's it for now; will be back soon with some afterthoughts about an Apocalypse game that happened a week and a half back (with pictures!). Tschuess.


* Space Marines have always admittedly been GWs 40k posterchild; no arguments there. They get the first releases, they get some of the best gear, they get, overall, the most love. However, as far as Space Marine Chapters go, the Ultramarines fell precipitously from their 2nd Ed. position (where they were - or were at least presented as being - 'Teh Baseline of teh Awesome') to becoming merely blue Space Marines in 3rd Ed., with nothing truly special (or overly useful) about them.

** At this moment, I would like to personally curse to the darkest bowels of Hell whoever in the GW bureaucracy thought it was a great idea to stop carrying at least two, possibly three, of the mainstay colors in my army.

*** Yes, yes, there are the Sisters of Battle and a few (SCANT few) women in the Eldar and Dark Eldar armies. However, my issue is twofold. 1) It isn't that they aren't there, but that they're RARE. Sisters of Battle (a.k.a. Nuns with Guns) seem to fall very clearly into that "Virgin" sector of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy of classic feminist lore. (If you need any clearer indication of the "Whore" model, kindly check out the rest of the "Witchhunter" books, specifically the pictures of the, I think they're called, Sisters Repentia. It's almost pornographic and done so in the most disturbingly S&M fashion.)(Granted, it could just be that I'm in the middle of American Psycho and have subsequently had my fill of sexualized violence, rape, and torture.)

Furthermore, outside of the Sisters, there are dreadfully few female units (Howling Banshees, Callidus/Death Cult Assassins, and Wyches are the only ones that immediately come to mind) and the even fewer female IC (Jain Zar and Shadowsun). To put it succinctly: I *love* the fluff, even as ripped-0ff and hackneyed as it can be and I know it's supposed to be a dark and dystopian future. But, as a 40k player and (especially) as a dedicated Imperial player, the feminist in me is crying.

These two forces were not systematically without reason or lacking in compassion for the local Muslim populations they lived alongside. They were, however, dedicated utterly to the cause of Christendom. See the "The Memoirs of Usāmah Ibn-Munqidh," a Muslim warrior who fought in the crusades under Saladin, who frequently makes reference to the Templars as "my friends."

***** Btw: if you disagree, feel free to. If you feel the need to argue with my points, I ask that you keep them on point, be respectful, and actually address my arguments, rather than setting up strawmen that don't accurately reflect my original statements. If, however, you feel the need to simply say, "Bros before hos, no fem-Space Marines eva!", kindly refrain, as your posts will be deleted and a most amusing quip mocking you will be put in its stead. (This shall be known as my "No Retards" policy.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

ATSKNF - A Somewhat Personal Introduction

Greetings all, and welcome to my first foray into the blog-o-sphere!*

My name is Matthew and, as this is my blog, I figured the best place to start would be to both lay out publically who I am and what my intentions/goals are for this blog.

First about myself. As that bit blurb above me plainly states, I graduated from Carleton in 2007 with a degree in history. After a year spent back in my home state of Indiana, working a job I would have quite exceptionally early on if it weren't for the people there, I was forced to finally confront what I wanted in many realms of life. My discoveries were as follows: 1) I finally realized there was so much more to the practice of law than I had previously allowed and that law school would indeed be a good fit for me, a revelation I had accepted and rejected multiple times over my 25 years; b) as much as I love my home state - because, strangely, I do - I felt it was killing me by degrees at this time in my life; and c) I much preferred my adoptive home of Minnesota, which I found myself missing more and more as the months went by (due in no small part to the girl who I had left behind there and who was graduating her ownself the year after me). So, knowing I wanted a change and without no concrete job prospects in the Twin Cities area, I still picked up and moved back to Minnesota, settling down in the Seward region of Minneapolis. (Which, personally, I absolutely love.)

So, having taken the LSAT and waiting in many ways for the rest of my life to begin, I have been enjoying my time with various pursuits that took on a slightly diminished role during my time in college: specifically, roleplaying games, Warhammer, and - to a much much MUCH more limited degree than the past - Magic: the Gathering. This has been furthered in many ways by the fact that I have been working part time at a start-up retail game store near my house. In the almost a year since I moved here, I've learned Warhammer Fantasy and started creating an army (led by a charismatic madman with some very interesting facial scars), run a now-defunct Warhammer 40k map-based campaign, and gotten way more into Warhammer 40,000 than I was in the past.

So that brings us to, "But, Matthew, you charming devil, you might like Warhammer, perhaps more so than is healthy, but why would you ever blog about it? Isn't that beneath you?" Until the last few months, I would have said, "Yes. Yes it is beneath me." My attitude has changed for two reasons, both of which are related to the the 40k group I run with up here. The first is the fact that they are in many ways more mature gamers; their roleplaying is superb, they have exceptionally well developed characters (or if they're GMing, stories), and the level of thought they've put into their Warhammer strategy is significantly more than I recall seeing in high school. (Part of this "more mature" angle is the additional fact that I feel like I have matured more too and subsequently began to focus more of my attention on the cerebral aspect of the game.) Secondly, two of my friends have started blogs of their own and I've seen not only the at-times useful feedback they've received, but also how much the sheer act of writing has allowed both of them to hone their tactics. (For the blogs in question, please check out the lovely Defending Humanity and the charming Good for the Greater Good.) For those reasons, I started this blog** to showcase my army and get feedback for my tactics. Time will only tell whether it will still feel that way in the future or if, like that tattoo you got while massively hammered, it was more trouble than it was worth.

At the moment, I am leaning towards the former.

NEXT: an introduction to my 40k army, hopefully with a few pictures (!!).

* Blog-o-sphere? Really? What an incredibly ridiculous name.
** I must state here, for all to see, my utter shock that no one had already jumped on this name. We'll see if that's because people were silly and overlooked it or if it's because GW will prove themselves fans of the Stupid Litigation. (A solution that I feel is extremely unnecessary here because, as stated in my rather lengthy legal disclaimer, I am not trying to defame or crib on their intellectual property in the slightest.)