Play It Fun

Play.
It.
Fun.

Three words, and a simple message, but for me at least they mark the beginning of a journey to reconnect with the roots of why I got into this fantastic hobby of ours in the first place.

“Fine”, you might say, “but why, Rob, are you bothering to tell the rest of us this?” Fair question. Over the last few years I have been more involved in the hobby and my local gaming community than at any time of my 25 years, or so, involvement in the hobby, and over the last 3 years in particular I have noticed (and this is particularly prevalent in the 40k community) a trend towards win at all costs gaming and a discourse mono-focused on the tournament scene as the arbiter of ‘what counts’ as a game of 40k and whether a new release is good or bad. Let me be clear about something up front: I have participated in the tournament scene in many ways over the years and I enjoy tournaments for the different focus they give to my games and approach to list-building. I have never gotten to the stage where tournament participation is the be all and end all of my gaming though and that seems to be where many in the community have ended up today. Again, if you are a player who enjoys tournaments so much that it’s the focus of your hobby then all credit to you, I am not sitting here criticising anyone else’s approach to the hobby. What I am concerned about, though, is the effect that the shift in emphasis towards tournaments as a primary mode of playing games does to new players entering the hobby.

The On-Ramp to Gaming Goodness

More and more, players are coming into gaming with the tournament scene forming their first impressions of what this community of ours is and what they should expect from joining it. This is worlds apart from the situation when many of the ‘old guard’ (and depressingly I probably have to count myself amongst them) [And me. -Ed] got into wargaming for the first time. Like many, I got into the hobby via the Games Workshop on-ramp; no-one can deny that over the years they have done a fantastic job of producing a product that sells brilliantly to the teenage market and draws us into the wider wargaming community. The ramp no longer exists in the way that it once did, and I think that’s a bad thing, because Games Workshop used to deliver something that independent stores find more difficult, simply because they aren’t focused on one company’s games.

Gone are the days where you would begin your journey by playing an intro game at Games Workshop and then maybe bring a squad or vehicle to join in on a Saturday in one of their huge battles with your friends, pitting yourself against the wits of the store staff on some crazy mission dreamed up by a key-timer whilst hung-over on a Saturday morning (yup, in the dim and distant past, I was that key-timer) [And me. -Ed]. You would complement these games with games against your friends at home, on the dining table, or floor, with crap scenery (everyone remembers books under tablecloths as hills, right?) and no aim other than to use as many of your models as possible and shoot loads of stuff. The rules, whilst not unimportant, were usually second fiddle to the cultivation of enjoyment.

In Games Workshop stores certainly, the rules were often tertiary. Staff would be called upon to arbitrate in occasional disputes during the “veterans” evenings (that have long since departed) and often store managers, in lugubrious mood, would cock an eyebrow and make up something on the spot that bore little relation to either the initial dispute or the rule book. But it didn’t matter, because the game was isolated from some ‘wider world’ of “the rules” vs “the fluff” (which seems to have become the medium of the back and forth between players these days.) These were the days when Games Workshop ran huge campaigns, like the Eye of Terror, Armageddon (for 40K) and The Storm of Chaos, Albion and The Nemesis Crown (for Warhammer) and it felt like they had the resources and the desire to engage the community as a whole and not solely ‘as customer’. Of course it would be naive to think that they weren’t aiming for a financial return off the back of these events, but at least as a gamer it felt like they were trying to involve you in something bigger than your local store and the ‘usual suspects’ that inhabited it for hours over the weekends and school holidays. More importantly it set the tone of new gamers’ understanding of what it meant to be a wargamer, to have a bloody good time, laugh a lot and maybe win. It simply doesn’t work this way any longer, and the shift in emphasis that the Games Workshop are bringing with their one-man store model is making it harder for new gamers to get anything other than a tournament-centric introduction to the hobby.

Where does it all begin?

There has been an explosion of independent gaming club/store combos in the last few years and this hybrid model, which let’s face it is modelled on the Games Workshop approach to combining gaming and selling spaces, has led to a massive increase in the number of tournaments run. Shops need to bring players in and tournaments are a fantastic vehicle for doing so, unlike Games Workshop, you can’t just set up a store in every town to increase your pull. To get the players they have to offer good prizes to make the travel worth-while, and prizes breed the kind of competitive approach that leads to net-list armies and “can’t be bothered” paint-jobs.

For me, the tournament scene works best as a way of delivering that sense of something ‘bigger’ than your local players and club hobby community, which we used to get from better engagement from Games Workshop and their big campaigns. Unfortunately, community and competition don’t always make comfortable bed fellows, and it is especially difficult for new players to pick their way from those first few friendly games at their local club through their first tournament with nothing in between.

What do we need to do?

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom though, and several of the podcasts I listen to (The Independent Characters, The Overlords, Dwellers Below, Garagehammer, ODAM (of course!), and many others) are already either trying to diagnose why things are “going bad” and or discussing how to turn this situation around. In both 40K and Warhammer scenes there is a general dissatisfaction with painting standards and the approach to playing the game, but we can meet this with positivity and attempt to shape the way it ends up, unlike the Games Workshop release schedule or codex content this is something we have a say in and, in fact, control over. Games Workshop has, quite obviously, never had any interest in the tournament scene. We do have an interest in the tournament scene; it’s our main way of meeting new gamers, playing different kinds of army and learning about how others approach the hobby. It’s also become the main ‘next step’ for new gamers, which is why it’s so important that we find a way to change our approach collectively.

What is Games Workshop doing?

We also have the recent positive developments from Games Workshop itself. There are three things I would bring up in this context: White Dwarf Weekly and the shift to weekly releases, the new Community Manager role, and the Imperial Knight release.

First up, White Dwarf and the weekly release schedule. After five weeks I think this has proven to be a good move. Ff course back in the old days, releases were always done this way and White Dwarf, whilst a monthly magazine, had a different role to fulfil. The tone is right in White Dwarf Weekly, focused on the hobby and the models with a smattering of rules content. I’ve heard people complain that they’d never buy a model without getting the codex/army book first and that the weekly schedule is a mistake. I disagree completely. For one thing there is already more talk (and it is positive talk) in the community about the releases each week, not less. Secondly Games Workshop are releasing rules alongside the models and they are the right rules, that give an insight into the army as a whole without giving the whole game away; they are the ‘right’ rules to be giving away in that they generate more talk and give all stores an opportunity to be a hub for chat about the hobby again, though I still believe that until they address the problems that the one-man staffing model causes in this regard, they won’t really be able to take the maximum advantage from it.

Secondly, the new community manager role. If taken at face value this promises to give Games Workshop a chance to listen and to adjust a few things. Now, of course, you could be negative and say it’s nothing more than lip-service to make it look as though they’re listening. I see no point in adopting that perspective, it brings us nothing and only serves to potentially dampen the impact that whoever gets that role will have. This role will report to the CEO, it will have the ear of the right people to effect the right changes and that has to be a positive thing. I have my own ideas what they could do, but we’ll just have to wait and see, it will obviously be a balance between risk and reward for Games Workshop.

Thirdly, the Imperial Knight release. Why? Well, just look at the social media channels; they are on fire with positivity about this release. It’s a classic “do no wrong” release, it’s straight out of the rich tapestry of background material that Games Workshop have to draw upon. It comes with a book that itself extends and expands that background and brings it to life with a model that is spot on. Finally I love it because of what it shows the top-tier of the company – that if they let their studio deliver content that is based on what they know the community love that it will sell by the bucket-full. For me, it’s as if someone in the main studio said “Hey, how about you let us act like we work at Forge World for a month and release that?”, someone (a very smart someone) said “sure why not” and the result is the awesomeness that is currently causing all of us die-hard gamers, who were last week depressed about how crap everything was and how Games Workshop were going out of business and couldn’t get it right, to cream our collective pants.

So, slowly, I believe changes are being made that will help us rejuvenate some of the jaded inhabitants of our community and we should take these changes as positively as we can and push them further through our clubs and events.

How to Play It Fun

So, Play It Fun, what is it? It’s not complicated, there’s no mandated approach, it’s not a demand to never play in tournaments, or to do more painting or anything specific. It’s simply a call to arms for anyone who wants to recapture that initial spark that got them interested in gaming in the first place, it’s a prod to get you to look at your and your opponent’s models on the table top and yell “this is frickin’ cool!” Bring this enthusiasm to your club, to your next tournament and encourage others to do the same.

As a friend recently said to me, the moment you start pretending to yourself that you aren’t just a 6-year-old shouting “pew-pew!” with toy soldiers is the moment you may as well pack up and go home. You’ve forgotten why you’re there.

ODAM 8 – Now with Added Content

ODAMRoundel copy

I’m not quite sure what happened with Episode 8. We were reduced to a skeleton crew either due to scheduling conflicts or Ashley not getting her emails. The result? Content. Now you all know how I feel about talking about actual things so I was eternally grateful when Jason joined in half way through the show.

With special guest Kevin Bryant (@KevinBryant76), we talk about Warmachine (a lot), the Horus Heresy and Special Characters. And I think there was some prattling on about fluff.

As always our shows have bad language from the start so it’s now for young ears. Or, at least, easily offended ears…

Episode 8 – Now with Added Content

How important is fluff?

I’ve been reading over Codex: Eldar the last few days and trying to write a couple of different lists so I have some vague plan behind what I end up buying.

It got me thinking – how important is the army/faction fluff to the list you play? Phil’s feelings on this is well documented but let’s look at it from another point of view.

With my Space Wolves, I have kept it relatively fluffy – everything is painted in Harald Deathwolf’s Great Company colours, and I’ve made sure to include a few squads of Thunderwolf Cavalry to fit in with that Great Company (or did I like Thunderwolves so chose that Great Company? Hmmmm…)

When it comes to the Eldar, there’s a wide range of Craftworlds to choose from, and each (of the main Codex 5 at least) is distinctly different from the others. Ulthwé for example, is, according to the fluff, heavy on Seers and Guardians, and light on Aspect Warriors. Saim-Hann favours Jetbikes, and Iyanden have a large Wraith contingent and Biel Tan has aspect warriors up the wazoo.

So when it comes to putting together a list and starting to buy models, where do I begin? I’ve currently got 3 lists that I’m toying with, each one suited to a different Craftworld.

However, what if I prefer the fluff behind Ulthwé for example, but don’t fancy painting everything black, or just prefer the Iyanden colour-scheme? Should I limit myself to Ulthwé black, or should I force myself to do a Iyanden Wraithguard list just to fit the fluff?

At the moment I’m leaning towards Saim-Hann in terms of colour-scheme, as I think the red will be a nice contrast to the grey of my Space Wolves. While I could easily build a jetbike list (bank balance permitting), I’d rather go for something a little more balanced and throw in some Aspect Warriors and Wraithguard. Does this mean I should choose a different Craftworld? Or even consider rolling my own? I don’t believe so, because we shouldn’t necessarily feel beholden to an faction’s fluff. That said, I’m also of the opinion that creating a brutal list specifically to exploit rules loopholes, while completely ignoring the fluff of your chosen army isn’t the right way to go either. It’s all about finding the right balance.

It’s also dangerous to assume that Saim-Hann only use jetbikes. In reality they would lose 9 engagements out of 10 fighting against the Imperium in such a way simply because they would lack the mobile fire support to deal with the heavy hitters. There is a fine balance to be struck between fluff and playability.

For example Phil, a while back, had a Space Wolves army that consisted of Logan Grimnar and his bodyguard of Wolf Guard. There were some land raiders involved and a dreadnought but all in there was 56 infantry in a 3,000 point army. He had tried to find the balance between fluff and playability but ultimately acknowledging that it was going to be an all or nothing kind of army.

The point is that just because Ulthwe don’t have many aspect warriors, doesn’t mean you can’t use them. And there’s nothing to stop you fielding an all aspect Ulthwe army if you really felt the need as the narrative can come from you, the gamer from your understanding of the fluff and novels as well as the fluff and novels themselves. Remember, just because someone at your local games club has gone heavy with the aspect warriors in their Ulthwe army doesn’t mean there won’t be enough on Craftworld for you.

Granted this doesn’t sit well with everyone and sometimes it will completely fly in the face of the existing background but the codices exist to permit you a varied and interesting force. Not taking an all jetbike Saim-Hann army doesn’t mean you’re not being loyal to the fluff, the Craftworld or the Codex, you’re just not taking the obvious route or perhaps taking advantage of their obvious strengths.

Ultimately, fluff is what makes the game more than a series of profiles and dice rolling. But you, the gamer makes that fluff real and the games fun so as long as you’re happy and you can play fun games with your mates then that’s all that really matters.

Of Dice & Men – Episode 2

It’s here, episode 2! Now with 200% more content!ODAM

In episode 2 of Of Dice & Men the team talk about their hobby, wargaming blogs that have caught their eye and the importance of background in the building and playing of a game, and does poor fluff mean poor army lists?

We also learn that Jason’s mental, Adam is a deviant, Nate is in a sulk and Phil goes off on a rant. Again.

Of Dice & Men Episode 2

Covenant of Antarctica 5th Fleet Reinforcements

As promised, here’s the background for the new additions to the Covenant of Antarctica 5th Fleet which I first chronicled here.

The Department of Time Manipulation and Displacement is the only part of Covenant society that operates with any kind of secrecy in what is an otherwise open and Utopian society. Founded in 1865 whose founders, combined with the knowledge in the great repository,  were fascinated with science fictions writings by the likes of Jules Verne who played around with notions of multi-dimensionalism and the accepted natural order of the world.

Within the year the first Dimensional Transmogrification Emitter was built and tested with mixed results. Professors Pendleton and Kline having pioneered the field of time and space manipulation had attempted to teleport a bowl of fruit 6 metres, from one side of the laboratory to the other. They, instead, teleported the bowl of fruit 6 hours into the future, the bowl reappearing right where it had disappeared in shower of tachyons as Pendleton and Kline stood arguing over who had made the fatal miscalculation.

Further experiments were met with similar results with very little being achieved in way of instantaneous transportation – the military application of which would have granted the Covenant and insurmountable tactical advantage. Despite months of testing and the destruction of their original lab (and the surrounding facility) the professors were forced to admit defeat. Instead they focussed their energies on the areas that had met with some success. Specifically the ability to impact upon the flow of time on an object or objects.

Pendleton and Kline discovered they were able to project and sustain temporal distortion fields that would alter the flow of time, allowing objects to seemingly speed up or slow down depending on the polarity of the field. In essence a time dilation field, as they would become known, could alter the flow of time around an object to allow it to skip ahead or slow down to a stand still.

By the time Jules Verne himself had fled to Antarctica to pursue his life as a writer free from persecution in his native France the art of time dilation had been all but perfected. When Pendleton and Kline heard that Verne was the Covenant’s latest refugee they immediately descended on the writer with bottle of brandy. It was during this raucous, alcohol fuelled, meeting that a break through was made. Verne proposed that the problem was they were trying to move mass through space rather than trying to move space to allow the object to pass through it.

The resulting experiments resulted in success, albeit limited. The power output required to bend the fabric of space was tremendous and meant that the generators were few in number and excessively large for a relatively short-range. It forever laid to rest the hopes of Pendleton and Kline for an effective transportation system beyond supplies being moved more effectively across the Empire of Ice. Militarily Time Dilation Generators could be deployed to allow units to be rapidly redeployed as needed as well as afford nearby ships or armour protection from incoming fire. Although temperamental to the point of fatal, their potential gains were enough for the Antarctica generals to petition the Department of Time Manipulation and Displacement to allow them to deploy the time dilation orbs in theatre of war.

The Department recognised the advantage the generators would provide and so designed an articulated chassis to house the generators for field operations. However, the Department of Time Manipulation and Displacement, which had grown to a staff of hundreds with Pendleton and Kline at its head, shrewdly refused to allow themselves to co-opted into the Covenant military. To this day this has meant that a commanding officer wishing to use a time dilation orb must petition the department in writing who may refuse or recall their assets at any time.

The additions of the CATDO Jules Verne and Thomas Kuhn to the 5th Fleet was as much a surprise to Commodore Stone as it was to his command staff as he had put in his request to the Department of Time Manipulation and Displacement when he was first given command. Something bordering on tradition, most fleet commanders requested a time dilation orb as a matter of course.

So it is with much rancour from Stone’s detractors in fleet command that he was assigned to by the mysterious department. Completely autonomous from the admiralty they were powerless to prevent it and going against the whims of the Department and the last ranking officer to decry them to the Covenant council found himself commander of a fishing scow.

Stone is yet to use the Verne or the Kuhn to their fullest potential, the tactics required forcing a commander to think in 4 dimensions rather than the standard 3 but already he is realising the potential of catapulting his battleships forwards to deliver a hammer blow before teleporting them back to the safety of the line.

To serve aboard a time dilation orb requires the utmost bravery. Aside from being a primary target for the Covenant’s enemies, rending the laws of space and time is a risky affair. Any time a glitch causes a vessel to be trapped in space/time the potential disaster on board a time dilation orb is immense. Crews are fortunate if a catastrophic malfunctions results in the destruction of the orb. If they are unlucky they can be catapulted through space and materialise inside bulkheads, generators or even gun barrels of nearby ships or teleported to unknown point in time never to be seen again.

When the 5th fleet returned to the New Halley docks for repair and resupply, following a successful campaign in the North Pacific against the Russian menace, they found, on the South Halley Aerodrome, the Daedalus Class Apollo and the imposing and revered Epicurus Class Sky Lord commanded by Wing Commander Francois Audet, being repainted in the distinctive 5th fleet colours. An imposing and dour man, Audet was a ruthless fighter pilot in his youth and an intractable and deadly sky captain since fleeing France at the head of an entire air division, every man under his command defecting to the Covenant cause.

Audet’s decision to defect was for no love of the Covenant’s way of life. Indeed he finds much of its reckless need for discovery distasteful but not as distasteful as the what the Republique of France had become since Prussian oppression had set in. Sent to bomb civilian targets in Poland Audet instead took his airman South leaving France behind them. Although he knows his decision to be the righteous course of action he carries the burden of condemning those under his command to a lifetime exiled from their families, never able to return home to the country they loved and served.

To add further insult to injury, Audet and his airman are enemies of the French state with great bounties on their heads making the French military fight all the harder whenever he or the other defectors are identified in theatre.

Whereas Stone relishes the opportunity to bring the fight to his former nation, Audet regrets every French life he is forced to take in his duty as a commanding officer and a Wing Commander of the Covenant of Antarctica. This simple ideological difference was enough to make Audet distrust Stone and wary of his growing renowned within the Covenant. It was no accident that Audet and Captain Emile Rodin and their sky ships were assigned to Stone’s command and beyond professional courtesy the two men disliked each other immediately and in the short time serving as part of the 5th Fleet both Audet and Rodin have clashed with Stone on several occasion, usually over his overly aggressive tactics.

Indeed Stone seems quite intent on the destruction of the Apollo and the Sky Lord thrusting them into the thickest fighting but in reality his acute understanding of Covenant technology and the superlative tactics couple with the command ability of his sky captains means that his air elements always win the day, albeit bloodied enough that they much rely on the rest of the fleet to tend to their wounds.

How long this flimsy and fractured relationship will last can only be guessed at but for now, at least, Audet and his airmen are helping win the 5th fleet greater victories and ironically Stone the fame that Audet so deeply detests.

The Myriad

M’Comrade Rob aka @peppermint_cat, friend, staunch #warmonger and writer of themossop blog has, thanks in no small part to me, abandoned his stand point on fluff not being important and written some fluff on his WIP Nurgle Chaos Space Marine army.

You can call me the puppet master…

Never let it be said that I’m anything but contradictory by nature, I have a kind of internal devil’s advocate that encourages me to switch back and forth for no particular reason, other than because I can. You lucky people get to benefit from that :-P

So, you know that post I wrote about not being bothered by writing fluff for my armies… Weeeeeell I was musing over my current Nurgle army, wondering how I might modify it with the new codex now out and I had a bit of an idea and because it’s an idea that doesn’t sit neatly within the ‘standard’ Nurgle approach it requires some justification, aka some flippin’ fluff! I blame @TheShellCase; anyway, I wrote this…

Read more here.

The Path to Damnation

What with the new codex for Chaos Space Marines now out and with the models in the Dark Vengeance box so awesome I’ve decided to collect a small(ish) Chaos Space Marine army. I’ve always ummed and erred about collecting a Chaos army. I’ve bought every iteration of the Codex and started collecting an army but always ran out of steam very very quickly.

In fact, when I was a young and plucky key timer for the Games Workshop I put my discount to good use and acquired myself a 3,000 point undivided army which included a squad of Noise Marines, Iron Warriors, Khorne Bezerkers and Plague Marines all with the appropriate metal bits and bobs, lots of the old metal terminators and a Daemon Prince with the plastic wings which cost £8 a set.

I managed to build the 3 land raiders, the Daemon Prince and the terminators. And I even painted some of them. But between taking on too big a project and being skint, even that army was eventually eBayed.

And so, in the closing months of 2012 I am once again wandering down the dark path to damnation. The big question was, of course, which Legion to collect. I’ve always liked, as much as you can when it comes to evil psychotic super soldiers, the Alpha Legion for their complexity and the Night Lords for basically being Batman super soldiers.

The problem I have is that I’ve got 2 companies of Ultramarines. That’s 215 Space Marines, 4 servitors and a butt load of tanks. I’ll be the first to point out that they’re not all painted. And won’t be for ages because I’m lazy. But I’ve painted and still have to paint a lot of blue. And collecting either of those Legions would mean, well, more blue. And the thought appalled me.

So I resigned myself to collecting Word Bearers which is fine as they’re way cool in the Heresy books but I felt like I wasn’t even settling for the Silver Medal as they were my favourite of the Legions I liked less than the other two. Then, whilst on Twitter today I had the realisation that I don’t have to do an established traitor legion, or, more to the point I can do a successor traitor legion. So rather than just opt for renegades or fallen space marine chapters I’m basing my force around an off shoot of the Night Lords which means I still get to encapsulate all the sinister intent but I don’t have to paint anything blue. Huzzah!

And so I present to you; the Dark Knights.
FOUNDING

In the aftermath of the Horus Heresy and the death of Night Haunter the Night Lord’s Legion, like many, were almost destroyed by a period of civil war and power struggles. Fragmented almost into none existence, dozens of ‘chapter’ sized forces broke away from the Night Lords determined to forge their own path, either cleaving out their own small, cruel, empire in real space or to wage their own personal, rage driven, war against the Imperium. A small few fell upon any of the traitor legion within striking distance in an orgy of grief fuelled violence.

Of those to abandon the Night Lords to their fate in the warp was the 15th company known by the Legion as the Dark Knights. So named for their own peculiar, if twisted, sense of right and wrong. Forever earning scorn from the more savage of their brothers both before and during the dark days of the heresy for their restraint. Although still masters in the art of terror, their twisted attentions were only ever directed at military targets or those they deemed guilty of a crime. What constituted a crime was decided by the Dark Knights themselves and their brand justice was swift, uncompromising, and violent in the extreme, striking from the shadows as the Night Haunter had always taught them and leaving nothing but death and mind bending horror in their wake.

Commanded by the dour and usually silent Malakai, the Dark Knights were among the few that refused to leave real space and flee to the relative safety of the Eye of Terror when the fleets of the Imperium sought to bring the traitors to task. Instead Malakai sought to find his Dark Knights a new home from which they could launch a campaign of vengeance against an unjust world.

For ten thousand years the Dark Knights have done just that. From adopted homeworld of Equinox they have launched countless raids not only against the Imperium but against any they consider unjust or guilty of hurting the weak. This has often brought them into conflict with not only other traitor marines but the Night Lords themselves.

HOMEWORLD

The Dark Knights occupy a small forge world in the Eastern Fringe. Outwardly the world of Equinox is a loyal and tithe paying world of the Imperium. It meets it’s quotas of small arms, munitions and light vehicles. Inwardly the world is ruled by the Dark Knights and is a world in a state of barbaric martial law, the citizens striving to be the model member of society for fear of what may befall them should they transgress. And beneath the surface further still is the unmistakable taint of Chaos.

Manufactorums run at full capacity throughout the year and even the darkest streets are safe to walk but few would ever dare leave their homes at night lest they incur the attentions of their masters. The Dark Knights lurk in every shadow and atop every tower, watching, searching out any infraction against their word and delivering judgement upon them. Whatever the crime the punishment is almost always death. The lengths at which the Dark Knights draw out the death is directly proportionate to the severity of the crime. For those that would take another’s life the Dark Knights would keep alive for weeks, if not months, whilst they went about the business of punishing the guilty.

For all the barbarity that their masters bring down on the heads of the unwary, the people of Equinox remember a time when the world was in anarchy. When the Dark Knights came to Equinox at the turn of M.32 it was on the brink of civil war. Ravaged by the Heresy and left to die, it was too small to get the aide of either the shattered Imperium or the Cult Mechanicus. The manufactorums were silent, the streets a danger to navigate by day or night and the Governor all but powerless to stop the ever pervasive wave of violence that was destroying his world.

When the Dark Knights descended in their transports, the livery of the Knight Lords emblazoned on their flanks, the over stretched security forces gave up arms, all to willing to accept a swift end rather than beaten to death by the hands of their own people. Instead the Dark Knights fell upon the rioting masses with barely restrained fury. Within hours the worlds populous was either dead or cowering in the shadows.

The Governor threw himself at the mercy of Commander Malakai who, with a grunt of contempt, beheaded him where he knelt. Turning to the commanding officer of the Equinox Security Force, the body of his former master cooling at his feet, appointed him governor of Equinox. Malakai gave him a single instruction; be prosperous and just. Transgressions of any type would be severely punished, however, in exchange for obedience and keeping their presence on Equinox a secret, the Dark Knights would defend the world from all threats wherever they may lurk.

In reality the arrangement was not quite so clean-cut. Although Malakai did keep his word and allowed Equinox to prosper over the millennia, the people were forever at the mercy of the Dark Knights’ cruel justice and the less savoury aspects of their nature. Indeed as the Dark Knights’ secret war against Imperium and traitor alike continues the inner circle of the chapter are forced to make ever greater packs with the denizens of the warp which inevitably requires human sacrifice.

Fortunately Equinox’s population stretches in to the billions so a few hundred citizens snatched from hab blacks across the world is barely noticed. Or, if it is, nothing is ever reported. The people of Equinox understand that safety at the hands of the masters comes at an often grim price.

It’s high production rate, regularly paid tithes and thriving society means that it draws very little attention from the Imperium as a whole and the Dark Knights go to great lengths to keep it that way. Warp lanes and transition points are rigorously monitored for the slightest sign of unscheduled traffic to the world giving the Dark Knights ample time to either attack or go into hiding in the even of an official visit by a member of the Administratum.

During such visits the entirety of the Dark Knights vanish from sight. No one knows where they go but most believe that they stalk the shadows, watching not only the visitors but the citizens of Equinox for the slightest hint of duplicity. Any they believe to have attempted to convey to the Imperium of Equinox’s true purpose is publicly mutilated and their corpse left on display as a warning to all.

BELIEFS & TRADITIONS

The Dark Knights have an all-consuming, if twisted, sense of justice and a strong moral code. However, this code is not only rigid as iron but requires the harshest of punishments for every conceivable form of transgression. And only the Dark Knights themselves know this code and see their actions, however violent, as a necessary and righteous administration of justice.

The Dark Knights are, at heart, traditionalists embracing the oldest teachings of the Night Haunter, his earliest writings speaking of how the strong must protect the weak. The strong that abuses the weak is to be cut out like cancer. The weak that would steal from their betters is as to a scavenging animal and deserves no more kindness than to be put down.

But the most important lesson that the Dark Knights embrace, that their father taught them, is to move silently, embrace the darkness and strike swiftly.

Indeed this is drummed into initiates into the Dark Knights from the onset. Either recruited from defecting warriors from other traitor factions, renegades or the small number of gene breds, all must undergo the same final test in which they are required to evade detection for a single 32 hour day on Equinox whilst Malakai’s personal retinue attempts to hunt them down.

Only a handful have survived the full day but of those that don’t there is a varying degree of violence waiting for them dependent on how quickly they are caught. Any initiate thought to have been discovered too quickly will be lucky to escape with their lives.

It is also tradition, once an initiate has joined the ranks of his brothers as an equal that he be branded with the Dark Knight insignia across their back. The brand is worn with tremendous pride. Indeed veterans of many campaigns have fashioned smaller brands and marked their skin to denote significant triumphs in the name of the chapter.

Within the Dark Knights there is little active Chaos worship although they are allied with the Dark Powers. Initiates and novices are forbidden from worship and may only bear the mark on their armour.

As Dark Knights work their way through the ranks they are gradually educated in the power and dangers of Chaos. They are also free to pray to the Gods and make pacts and oathes to earn favour and gifts.

This not only prevents the chapter from descending into madness and mutation but keeps the chapters structure stable and prevents the scheming and infighting that plagues other traitor factions.

The highest tiers of the chapter have their fates forever entwined with the Dark Gods, their bodies forever changed but their souls fighting against becoming completely consumed by Chaos. Although Lord Malakai is under no illusion that not even his iron will can resist forever.

ORGANISATION

Totally roughly a chapter’s strength the Dark Knights are unorthodox in their organisation to say the least. The Dark Knights do not have a formal structure, seeing the rigidity of company’s etc at odds with their preferred method of waging war. Malakai is the chapter commander, with the honorific title of Haunter and at his command are 6 captains to lead his forces in battle as and when the need arises.

When forming a strike force, Malakai and his men simply call upon those warriors or squads that best suit the demands of the theatre and the objective allowing them to equip themselves as best suits the mission parameters, their superior officers trusting them implicitly to organise themselves.

Indeed the Dark Knights trust each other completely. Descent is rare as is friction amongst the rank and file. All are focussed on their goal which is to bring order to the galaxy starting with the cutting away of the old, tired, Imperium.

TACTICAL DOCTRINE

Relatively few in number, barely a chapter strength force, the Dark Knights are reluctant to get drawn out in open combat, lacking the armour that many of their foes possess. Instead they are the masters of psychological warfare and the lightning strike, preferring to lure enemies into a trap and attacking them with frightening speed, leaving mutilated bodies in the path of the enemy.

The Dark Knights, like all of Night Haunter’s children prefer the use of jump packs, closing swiftly with their foe and dispatching them in mortal combat. Devoid of scout companies the Dark Knights are adept at stealth operations. Indeed their natural flair for barbarism is ideally suited for sowing confusion behind enemy lines.

Additionally, through circumstance and necessity the chapter has a higher than normal number of Helbrutes and Heldrakes, despite their reluctance to promise too much to the Dark Gods. Despite that fact, the black and grey monstrosities are a common sight amidst the Dark Knights’ lines.

The Dark Knights reluctance to invest too heavily in the promises of Chaos has meant a resistance to all but the most concerted whisperings has developed naturally over the millennia. Only Malakai, his captains and his elite chosen have allowed for any gifts to be bestowed upon them. However, this resistance has also meant that those few members of the chapter that have become possessed are not fully taken by the daemon creature they have let in. Instead a symbiosis occurs making them a far deadlier threat. However this battle of wills takes a great toll on the physical form, as such any possessed marines of the Dark Knights are incredibly short-lived.

When being deployed the Dark Knights will seek to close with the enemy as quickly as possibly, weaken with close support fire power and then break the back of the foe in combat. And should an enemy surrender they will be granted a swift and painless death…

GENESEED

The majority of the Dark Knights are Night Lords either from the Heresy or by descent and therefore carry the lineage of the Night Haunter. When new recruits are needed and initiates from other sources are insufficient in quality they use an ever dwindling supply of geneseed from their fallen brothers. Gene stocks have reached such low levels that the Dark Knigthts have begun actively engaging Night Lords in the hope of killing and harvesting their geneseed.

WARCRY

As stealth and the lightning strike are both preferred tactics of the Dark Knights a warcry is an alien notion. The only noise you’ll ever hear in the presence of a Dark Knight is the screams of their latest victims.

Fluff and the Art of Army List Writing

Rob of the moss[op] (aka @peppermint_cat) has written an interesting post about fluff vs army lists.

A lot of the recent chat amongst #warmongers has revolved around the new Chaos ‘dex and people’s ideas for armies. New army books/codices tend to provoke two reactions amongst gamers:

  1. This is the new uber-combo winning army list of all time, it uses three units, all new and will be called ‘broken’ by all until a timely errata consigns it to the dustbin of beard;
  2. I now have some GW fluff to backup my long-standing idea for an army with ‘X’ as its central theme and I’ve been writing through the night to fill in the back-story for my lead HQ.
I am always caught somewhere in the middle between these two camps (I’m sure I’m not the only one), in that I have a healthy interest in the fluff of the Warhammer universe, but fundamentally I’m after the best looking models that I can play good, competitive games with. I’d say that I’m not a power gamer, but neither am I a ‘fluff-head’, I want my army to have a theme, but not forget that, at the end of the day, I’d quite like to win the occasional game…
Read more here.

Musings on 6th Edition Fluff Revisited

I managed to get my hands on the full version of the 6th edition Warhammer 40,000 rulebook the other day because although I’d read (and played) the new rules I’d yet to cast my eye over the fluff.

Something Ian of The Chaps always moans is about when it comes to buying a new edition of the rules is that you have to pay a premium for a load of fluff and hobby advice that you already know. It’s a tough one because he actually has a point. The stripped out version is ideal for veteran gamers but it’s only available in the starter sets. Which doesn’t make all that much sense. Especially as it’s the beginners that need to bedded into the universe. This could be an intentional marketing ploy by the Games Workshop but dimes to dollars if they released the stripped out version as a stand alone item for £20-25 it would sell like the proverbial hot cake. Especially as most of the gamers I know are either strapped for cash or tight.

That said, this time round Games Workshop when promoting 6th edition (if anything they do can really be called marketing) made a huge fuss about not only the array of new artwork but the extent of the fluff. Regular readers will know how I feel about fluff and, indeed, I have spent an unhealthy amount of time musing on said 40k fluff, drawing conclusions about the Horus Heresy and the like. More on that can be read here. So I was really interested to see what the Games Workshop had done and see how many minutes it had edged closer to midnight for humanity.

The first thing that struck me was the amount of stuff they’d crammed into the rule book. When you break it down the rules don’t account for all that much of the full version of the book. This is by no means a complaint. Granted, from a gaming point of view it’s a bugger because it does mean lugging that big book around when you only need a third of it (at most) to play the game. Another argument for making the smaller version available.

On the whole the background is very well presented. It explains everything in the right amount of detail so novices will understand just what the hell is going on with the universe and experienced gamers can take on any tweaks or changes that have come about and adjust their knowledge accordingly.

One of the biggest changes – and it is a biggy – as I understand is the Astronomican. As I understand it always use to be that the Emperor was the Astronomican. He projected a psychic beacon in space that navigators used as a navigational waypoint to extrapolate their relative position in the galaxy. 5th Edition made a big deal of the fact that the Golden Throne was failing and the beacon was growing dimmer with each passing year.

Now it seems that the Astronomican is a completely separate piece of technology powered exclusively by 10,000 psykers at a time. Although a big change it’s a good one for this simple reason. The Emperor wasn’t always interred in the Golden Throne but had always been the Astronomican. The Horus Hersey novels made it quite clear that the Emperor was a very busy bee and as such was not on Earth the entire time. This would have meant that the Astronomican would have moved about which presents obvious and potentially disastrous problems when navigating. It would be impossible for all elements of the gargantuan crusading fleet to know where the Emperor was at all times and therefore using the Astronomican as a point of reference would have been all but meaningless.

The other good reason for changing that part of the fluff is that it stops the Emepror from technically being a warp entity as the Chaos Gods are, essentially, sentience in the warp. Which is basically what the Emperor was. So now the Emperor isn’t a Chaos god what is he doing with his time? Well, something a bit peculiar. As with all fluff penned by the Games Workshop is vague and left open to be explained at a later date.

It also finally kills the argument about the Emperor allowing 1,000 psykers a day to be killed powering the Golden Throne as that particular detail is now nowhere to be seen.

This time round it seems the Emperor, instead of being a living navigation buoy, is keeping the galaxy from being swallowed by the warp. I’m struggling with this development because it strikes me it’s something he should have been doing in his mortal life as well. It seems like a bit of a random thing to decide the Emperor has been doing for the last 10,000 years. I suppose the implication is that things would be a lot worse had he not been protecting the Imperium projecting a lovely big cuddly psychic blanket.

Two questions that quickly come to mind is; to what end and why has no one noticed? If the Emperor is stopping the Eye of Terror et al from spilling ever more into the material universe then the psychic fall out would be felt the galaxy over and it wouldn’t take long for someone to figure out what was going on and round-up a couple of million psykers to lend a hand. I would have thought. Equally a psychic force that great would rival that projected by the Tyranid hive ships and cause disruption to their fleets. And I’m sure the Eldar would have something to say about it too as it would essentially equate to psychic static. It’s just a really peculiar thing to write into the fluff.

I can only assume that there’s a point to the change but I’m at a loss to know what it is and seems to be a conscious move away from the  whole ‘is he dying, is he healing’ thing. I suppose if the Dark Angels are going to do him in any way then it doesn’t really matter.

Moving on from that, the rule book covers the warp and warp travel as well as the various factions sufficiently but in such a way that the Codices will continue the story. The interesting bit is the introduction to the aliens as it hints at a lot of cool shit in just the artwork alone. Could the Games Workshop be ready to introduce another race to the game? My thought are…no, but it’s still fun to speculate.

I have to admit, I didn’t feel like the story moved on enough in 6th Edition. In some respects it’s been reigned in a bit, but there does seem to be a far greater emphasis on the warp and daemonic being the greatest threat rather than Chaos Space Marines. I suppose because, although the Chaos Space Marines are powerful, they are finite and unless their numbers are continually replenished they will eventually run out. Arguably it’s reasonable to assume that some traitor legions have few, if any, original Legionnaires left.

What they have done, however, is ramp up the stakes to the point that the Imperium stands on the very brink of destruction as with each new codex the games will become bigger and more destructive. Which means that it’s all pointing towards the second coming of the Emperor and the return of the Primarchs. Whether or not this will actually happen as part of the canonical timeline or as a supplement (Forge World or otherwise) remains to be seen, but as Forge World are producing Primarch models already it’ll be little surprise at all if rules and revised fluff make it to the masses.

The Warhammer 40,000 rulebook is available from Firestorm Games priced £40.50

The Covenant’s 5th Fleet – The Night Watch

With my Covenant fleet painted over a 15 day period and finished (for now) here’s the full background for them, as promised, and complete with shiny pictures.

Commissioned in 1860, the 5th Fleet was charged with patrolling the dark waters surrounding the Covenant’s domain. Initially little more than a task force made up of cruisers and frigates, coordinated by the battleship CSS Stalwart, the fleet was forced to spend prolonged periods of time isolated from one another as they plied the vast stretches of waters surrounding the ice floes for raiders or other threats to the Covenant’s sovereignty.

Before the renowned Commodore Aldus Stone took command, the 5th saw little action beyond clashes with the Kingdom of Britannia’s Falklands units that strayed too close to the Covenant’s borders, but these were little more than pot shots. Stone changed all that. A dour man hailing from the home counties of England he made a living as a game keeper in the employ of the Earl of Wessex. A tracker of superlative skill, a master of the silent kill and lethal with an elephant gun. Working for the Earl man and boy it was believed he was destined for great things. However fate had other ideas when the Earl’s eldest son drunk and in a rage with his father accidentally shot and killed Stone’s wife, the Earl’s housekeeper. Were this great tragedy not enough but the Earl utilising his significant influence had the entire matter swept under the carpet. Stone, realising his true place in Britannian society, was a broken man. Tired with toiling for a man whose sole interest was growing fat on the blood and sweat of the people, Stone made the long and dangerous journey South to the Covenant of Antarctica looking for a life with purpose.

Stone was not idle for long, being drafted into the Covenant armed forces in 1862. To his surprise, Stone was assigned to the navy and the 5th fleet rather than the army. His self-sufficiency and innate ability for the silent kill made him perfect for the dangers of patrolling the Covenant’s waters. Initially assigned to the frigate Too Quiet Stone impressed his superiors with his hit and run defence of the Western ice floes against a FSA raiding party. Although his ship was crippled, and eventually sunk, he delayed the FSA long enough that the rest of the 5th fleet was able to surround the FSA and destroy them utterly.

It didn’t take long for Stone to ascend the ranks and find himself at the head of the 5th fleet off the back of a string of daring actions keeping the Covenant’s borders safe. He achieved the rank of Commodore after he led the 5th fleet into the heart of Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands, on an unauthorised but successful rescue of Covenant POWs without a shot being fired in 1867. His first order was to have the fleet painted raven black to reflect the Night Watch moniker the fleet had earned in their many night sorties and defensive actions.

Although a lonely man with a solitary and single-minded command style that sat ill with the Covenant hierarchy, there was no denying that the 5th was clearly wasted as a patrol force and was pressed into front line service as the Covenant’s warmachine took the fight to the rest of the world in 1869. Under Stone’s command the 5th fleet won a score of victories against the great powers of the world,with more and more assets being assigned to the fleet to extent that Stone’s flag now resides aboard the dreadnought CSS History’s Judgement.

Despite the 5th Fleet’s many victories, Stone’s naturally cold nature combined with his unflinching belief in the Covenant’s cause, has seen several instances of excessive force by the vessels under Stone’s command. There have even been reports of executions of enemy sailors stranded at sea. However the fleet seem to reserve their worst brand of violence for the vessels of the Britannic navy. No one knows why this is, not even the crew of the Night Watch itself, but all sailors of the Kingdom of Britannia know that if they spy a black ship on the horizon they should beware. The condemnation of his superiors is never far behind the 5th Fleet but if Commodore Stone cares he gives no sign.

However, Stone’s popularity at home and infamy abroad has made it difficult for any meaningful sanction to be levelled against him or the captains beneath his command. Indeed there are many within the fleet that believe themselves untouchable, and even above the rest of the fleet. To many Stone is a hero. Others see Stone and the 5th as a rogue element that sooner or later will either turn on their own or be brought to task. Which ever the answer be, none can deny that Stone and his fleet of raven black ships are a powerful force both at home and abroad.

The battleships of the 5th fleet share a rivalry that borders on the reckless. The Sword of Truth has a long and illustrious history formerly at the hands of Commodore Stone and now with the firm hand of Captain Jacob Harris. The Shield of Reason however had only just been commissioned 2 years previously. Captain Oscar Ashwind, a native to the Polar South, is determined to see his vessel recorded in the annals of history no matter the cost.

The Sword of Truth was once known as the Stalwart, the flagship of the 5th Fleet prior to the commissioning of the CSS History’s Judgement. A proud ship with an illustrious and bloody history. It was the Stalwart, under Stone’s command, had sailed into Port Stanley during the daring raid to rescue Covenant POWs. When command passed to Captain Jacob Harris there was much pomp and ceremony as few ships in the Covenant navy had seen as much combat as the Stalwart. Captain Harris was one of Stone’s prodigies and was almost as angry and bitter with the world having come up through the ranks listening to Stone’s rhetoric.

Although Harris had every right to be bitter. Hailing from Boston in the FSA and raised Irish Catholic he had a successful fishing business, a well-regarded family and was betrothed to a lady of good standing and better breeding. And all at the age of twenty-two. Harris was a keen boxer and had a weakness for cards although a sixth sense kept him from losing either that often. But his real weakness was the comfort he found in his fiancée. Both were raised as devout Catholics and knew the risks of indulging in carnal desires but neither cared. Until his betrothed fell pregnant.

Buckling under the weight of responsibility, despite the mutual familial support, he fled to the ocean on-board one of his fishing steamers. It didn’t take long for him to realise his cowardice and brought the boat about. However fate intervened and a storm crippled the vessel before it could make port. Set adrift it took a month for Harris to coax the boat home. In his absence his assets had been seized by his fiancée’s family to support her as she was now all but outcast. Ostracised and destitute Harris stole one his former vessels and headed South.

Assigned to the 5th Fleet as a rating his seamanship skills were quickly noticed and quickly ascended the ranks. He saw Stone has a kindred spirit and proof, if any were needed, that a broken man need not stay broken and his could visit his vengeance on those wronged him. Harris was far better at concealing his anger at the world and his promotion to Captain was quickly affirmed. He wasted no time renaming the Stalwart as much to symbolise the passing of a torch as to represent the righteous history the ship had. Her hull black as night, she was a true predator of the oceans and had the kill count to suit.

To list its successes under Stone would take time but arguably longer under Harris’ command. Volunteering the Sword of Truth for any and all covert or surgical strike missions to test the mettle of his ship and crew. The Sword made headlines world-wide for infiltrating and laying waste to the naval yards at both Boston and New York city before slipping off into the night. The attack was condemned by the FSA and her allies for the loss of civilian life and although the Covenant didn’t agree with Harris’ methods, like much of the 5th Fleet, they couldn’t argue with the results.

The Sword of Truth would continue its reign of terror in the Atlantic Ocean both as part of wider fleet actions and on its own attacking supply ships and patrols with impunity, each attack more ruthless than the last as Harris and his crew became every more proficient at their craft until fate once again intervened. The FSA, frustrated with the constant loss of their supply ships laid a trap, arming the supply ships with turrets and concealing torpedo bombers where possible. As the Sword of Truth sailed silently amongst the supply ships all but submerged, it took its first ranging shot. However instead of scattering vessels, the ocean lit up with explosions as turrets responded all around the noble battleship.

In the same moment bombers took to the skies, the air filling with whizzing tracers and the howl of prop engines. Harris, furious at the FSA’s deception ordered all weapons to fire as the battleship fought free of the supply ships that were slowing encircling it. As explosions blossomed in the night sky the bombers dropped their payloads, torpedoes surging towards the Sword, ripping gaping wounds in the ship’s hull. Fires broke out across the Sword as she fought with all her worth to break out. Harris realised he stood at the edge of his undoing and was ready to give the evacuation order when explosions tore through a vessel on the Sword’s port side. A moment later another supply ship blew apart, its hull snapping in two and dropping beneath the waves. In the half-light of burning fuel Harris and his crew could make out the forms of jet black Covenant frigates as they dipped beneath the waves to unleash deadly torpedo salvos.

Seeing his opportunity Harris ordered the Sword to surface and make a break for it however a heavy transport blocked her path, a 36inch cannon mounted on her prow slowly rotating for a killing shot. Harris did not hesitate, ordering the use of the particle cannon. The force of the shot destroyed the transport utterly but the strain on the Sword was almost too much, blowing out systems and relays and all but crippled the ship.

It took 2 months for the frigates to tow the dying ship back to friendly waters, once again giving Harris plenty of time to consider his actions. That was twice his compulsive nature had almost gotten him killed and resolved to do better. Stone saw the change in him and knew he had become the officer that the Covenant needed him to be. It took a further 6 weeks for the Sword of Truth to be fully repaired. Once again a part of the 5th Fleet she has been restored to a position of fear in the hearts of her enemies and pride in those of her allies.

The Shield of Reason although visually identical to the Sword of Truth is the superior ship. All but brand new the Shield has the most sophisticated technology available to it including the type 2 range finders for faster target resolutions as well as the latest IFF device that allows the Covenant to identify its ships in the tumult of battle.

Captain Oscar Ashwind is as new a senior officer as his ship has rolled off the production line. Brought to Antarctica as a child by his South African parents amongst the first wave of travellers seeking a new life, Ashwind is as close to first generation Antarctican as can be. Growing up with his three brothers they were schooled in the discoveries that were being made on almost daily basis. All three excelled at their studies and all were destined for a life at the forefront of Covenant science. That was until the Covenant mobilised for war. Of the three, Oscar was the only one who felt an obligation to serve his adopted people in the coming dark days. Ever the idealist he joined the navy and bade his brothers farewell for what would prove to be the last time.

During his basic training Oscar received word that his two brothers had been killed aboard a science ship that was heading for a small chain of islands South East of the isle of South Georgia by whalers who mistook them for a military vessel. Distraught Ashwind threw himself into his career determined to make his brothers proud despite their misgivings about the armed forces. Oscar Ashwind was bright and eager and his scientific knowledge saw him spend much of his early career in engine rooms or in the R&D division. Ashwind’s potential, however, came to the fore when serving about the Stargazer, a Plato Class cruiser of the 9th fleet, as chief engineer.

Whilst on routine patrol the Stargazer was ambushed by a French flotilla. The initial volley struck just below the bridge, killing the senior staff and sowing disarray through the ship. Realising he was the most senior office on board, Ashwind took command of the vessel. He ordered a general distress call to be sent and then sent the Stargazer all ahead into battle. Through a series of daring scissor actions and hit and run attacks the Stargazer crippled two of its attackers and sunk a third all the while leading the French on a merry chase around the South Atlantic. Ashwind understood the odds all too well but was determined to reap a heavy toll for the craven acts of the French. Ashwind never got his chance as just as the French surrounded the battered Cruiser ready to deliver the killing blow the remainder of the 9th arrived and tore the French to pieces.

Upon his return home he was hailed as a hero and promoted. His actions against the French caught the eye of Commodore Stone and offered him the bridge of the Shield of Reason. The decision rankled his other officers, none more so than Harris of the Sword of Truth. But Stone cared little for their opinions and enjoyed sparking healthy competition as they strove to earn his notice. Stone had chosen Ashwind for his guile and determination under pressure. Not to mention it made an undeniable amount of sense for the most advanced vessel in his fleet to be commanded by a former chief engineer.

Between Harris and Ashwind relations are cordial. Harris loathes the young upstart for his meteoric rise through the ranks and the fame its brought him, not to mention a string of successful naval engagements that will only help his chances of further advancement. Ashwind looks up to Harris and takes his ship into the heart of the fight in the hope of winning his fellow battleship commander’s approval, unknowing that every victory and act of valour drives a great wedge between them.

In contrast the Olympia is one of the oldest ships in the Covenant armada. Of course in reality the Olympia has had just about every component and deck plank replaced for one reason or another by the ships soul remains pure. Before the war broke out the Olympia and all carriers were designed to be exploration vessels, the drones to be used to map vast areas of land, rather than instruments of war. Needless to say the fate of the Olympia took a different path.  The Olympia has been attached to, at one time or another, four different fleets. Prior becoming the only carrier of the 5th fleet it belonged to the 1st fleet. Revered by every serving member of the Covenant military and civilians alike the 1st fleet were at the spear tip of the Covenant warmachine and the Olympia was a grand a proud part of that.

Covenant carriers are tough by the standards of most battleships and the Olympia was no exception. Often found where the fighting was thickest, its drones flinging themselves into the hulls of enemy ships, she had as fearsome reputation as any warship in the warring world. However, one fateful day, during a prolonged and bloody engagement with the Prussians in the mid Atlantic the Olympia was surrounded and set upon by a unit of frigates. With little crew to defend itself the Olympia quickly fell with little crew to defender her.

Beset on all sides the 1st fleet were in danger of being destroyed. Only the timely intervention of a relief force consisting of elements from the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 9th fleets, including the 5th fleet frigate squadron The Coppertails prevented a complete disaster. Lieutenant Sampson Earl of the frigate Clever Girl spotted the Olympia running Prussian colours. Moving the rest of his squadron in position using the rough seas to cover their advance the crews attacked en masse. The Prussians lacked the numbers to make a concerted defence and within minutes the Olympia was once again in Covenant hands.

With the Prussians driven off the 1st fleet was escorted back to Antarctica for refit and repair. The Olympia’s fate however now rested with the 5th as it was Lieutenant Earl that rescued the carrier and was his to command. Being granted a promotion to full Commander, Earl is the most junior officer in Covenant history to command a carrier, but does so with great skill, putting the carriers fearsome weaponry to as great a use as its drones.

The Olympia is not the only ship to have been absorbed into the 5th fleet. Indeed the Titan, Deimos and Phobos were survivors of the Midway disaster in which elements of the 2nd, 7th and 10th fleets were ambushed by the FSA. Surrounded on all sides the Covenant fought valiantly against a vastly superior force.

The squadron of armoured cruisers moved as one, their co-ordination going far beyond the IFF that the Covenant have blessed their ships of war with. Hunting as a pack they punched holes in the FSA formations allowing their comrades to break out. Ultimately it was for nought and few made it beyond the range of the FSA’s guns. Only the Titan, Deimos and Phobos made it home.

Although officially still attached to the 7th, Stone recognised in their captains and crew the same thirst for revenge that burned in his heart and he gave them that chance. Leaving the Antarctic, Stone took the 5th fleet along the pacific coast of the Americas and, under the cover of darkness destroyed the FSA flotilla at anchor in Pearl Harbour. The destruction wrought by the armoured cruisers’ particle cannons was the stuff of nightmares. Such was the destruction the base was crippled for a full year and even now cannot hold a full battle group within its waters. Branded an act of cowardice by the FSA they placed a bounty on the heads of the captains of the Titan, Deimos and Phobos much to the amusement of them and their newly adopted fleet, earning them the nickname The Wanted.

So fearsome are the ships and crew of the squadron they are rarely found far from History’s Judgement when deployed, lending their strength to hers and leaving nothing but destruction on their wake.

The cruisers of the 5th fleet are its solid, immovable, core. Of all the changes experienced by the fleet, the cruisers of Orion Fornax squadrons have endured them all. Before Stone’s ascension to command the cruisers were the mainstay of the 5th fleet. Indeed when it was first commissioned the fleet was commanded by the cruiser  Galileo of Orion squadron. Superlative sailors to a man, the crews plied the icy waves with the ease of men and women born to it.

It was these mighty cruisers that rescued Stone and his crippled frigate from the clutches of the FSA, the cruisers utterly surrounding the American forces to catch them in a deadly cross fire of turret fire and broadsides. Ever since then the Galileo, Pegasus, Constellation, Ganymede, Griffin & Cassiopeia  have been at the heart of every action the 5th fleet has been apart of, both officially and unofficially.

The captains of these fine warships were at first resentful of Stone’s rise to command. Most of Captain Hendrik Boettcher, the junior of the 6. When Stone was given overall command, prior to the commissioning of the Relentless (Sword of Truth), he was given command of the Constellation, forcing him to take overall command of the frigates. In truth it was the best thing Captain Boettcher could have done. So use to fighting on his own against small raiding parties or single ships it reminded him of the importance and benefits of coordinated attacks at a time when the 5th fleet was beginning fleet sized actions.

After the Relentless had joined the fleet and Stone had moved his flag aboard, Boettcher once again took command of the Constellation, bringing with him a wealth of ideas of how the mainstay of the 5th fleet should operate and although Captain Theodore Bern has overall command, Boettcher’s insight into squadron tactics are invaluable.

Bern is a tough man to impress. Formerly of the Britannic navy and an instructor at the Portsmouth naval academy, Bern resigned his commission in protest over a suicide mission into Russian waters to steal the Whit Navy’s experimental glacia generator technology. His firm hand natural teaching ability has made him the ideal candidate to temper the wilder impulses of commanding officers that have graduated from the Coppertails. Those that don’t heed his lessons either find themselves demoted or killed.

Despite his British noble and naval background Stone respects and trusts Bern completely having proved himself time and time again both defending the Antarctic coast and in the open waters in the thick of the fighting. Indeed since taking command of the 5th, Stone has relied n Bern’s council and has become one of his most valuable and trusted advisors and has been granted the honorary title of master of the armoury. An outmoded idea but a sign of respect between the two men, both of whom were native to England. Bern is a master tactician. Indeed having a defector in your midst can certainly provide advantageous tactics and fleet deployments.

Although not as powerful as the larger capitol ships in the fleet they make up for it in adaptability and possessing shield generators makes them a very tough nut to crack, something that the captains take full advantage of. Indeed it is not uncommon for the vessels of Orion Fornax squadrons to sail into the heart of enemy formations, shields flaring, to unleash the full potential of their broadsides and turrets.

Both squads have served Stone with distinction since he took command taking part in the raid on the Falklands Islands, the Olympia rescue, Auckland schism and battle of the West Sturgeon Straights. They wear their black livery with pride acknowledging the achievements of Stone and the 5th fleet as a whole. Going from coastal patrols to full pitched battles in the open ocean was a gear shift that some of the crew struggled to make.

Up until recently the cohesion within the cruiser squadrons has been second to none. However, after Ashwind’s promotion and assignment to command the Shield of Reason tensions have grown between the senior staff as each captain fancies themselves in with a chance at commanding that mighty battleship. All the Cruiser captains covet the Shield and Sword equally and have begun to keep tallies of their kills and their after action reports submitted to Stone have become increasingly florid.

Fortunately for Stone, when in combat the crews of the Galileo, Pegasus, Constellation, Ganymede, Griffin & Cassiopeia conduct themselves with the utmost discipline. They save the bragging for after.

However few are more blohard than the Coppertails. 

Officially designated 109 squadron, the ‘Coppertails’ represent the light element of the 5th fleet under Commodore Aldous Stone. Made up of 12 Diogenes Class frigates it is rare for a Covenant fleet to favour a particular class of support vessel over others so overwhelmingly. However, the composition of a fleet has as much to do with the commanding officer as it does the Covenants ministry of war and Stone’s history with the vessel makes it a staple choice.

Painted black like all other vessels of the 5th Fleet, the Coppertails earned their moniker because of the copper plating encasing the rear or the ships. This was as much an aesthetic choice on the part of Commodore Stone as to improve the signal broadcast by the Covenant’s rudimentary IFF transmitter. The technology still in its early stages, the 5th fleet rely heavily on it due to their preference for night operations as it allows them to co-ordinate their attacks with unerring accuracy.

The crews of the Coppertails squadron are renowned in the Covenant armed services for their cavalier and bragging behaviour, prone to outrageous boasts and wagers amongst themselves and other personnel. This devil-may-care attitude has been carefully encouraged by Commodore Stone recognising the benefit of war hungry crews on board such small ships. Their bravado is born of those that have a considerably shorter life expectancy than almost any other element of the 5th fleet.

In the water the commanding officers of the Coppertails band together in three flights of 4, operating as a pack and isolating much larger vessels and harrying them to destruction with withering torpedo attacks. And boasting rights to the captain delivering the killing blow. Their boisterous and arrogant nature isolates them from their fellow officers, especially those in the 5th fleet who look upon them with mild shame as all officers in the 5th fleet start their lives as officers in the Coppertails and all were as insufferable as their junior fellow officers.

Commodore Stone started his career aboard a frigate and won much fame stood on its bridge. As well as some hard lessons. He sees to it that every newly commissioned officer assigned to his fleet serves with the renowned Coppertails. Some see it as a punishment, others as a test. In reality it’s both and about learning some valuable lessons. The crews of the Coppertails are exceptional having survived life aboard a frigate and in the hands of unproven and arrogant officers. The good officers will listen and learn, the bad ones will get themselves killed one way or another.

Despite this Stone does all he can to stir up competition between the officers of the squadron, offering rewards and plum assignments for valour and confirmed kills. But this too is a lesson; to help them understand the difference between arrogance and confidence and command and leadership. Those that fail to learn these lessons either end up dead, along with the men under their command, or spend their careers as boorish sea dogs taking ever greater risks to win glory and their Commodore’s praise although neither are forthcoming. Stone will never put these poor souls out of their misery as he recognises that a driven and reckless officer has its uses.

These disparate personalities can sometimes mean that the squadron lacks cohesion and will often follow their own objectives but this too has its benefits, quickly highlighting to Stone which are able to bring their flight or the squadron under control for the greater good.

This would normally sow confusion amongst the rest of the fleet but Stone’s will is absolute and his officers know to trust his command. And Stone is quite happy for his Coppertails to engage the enemy on their own terms as this only further benefits his plans. If anything their apparently haphazard approach to war can be a boon, their aggression and speed saved the lives of the Sword of Truth following a FSA trap.

The newest element of the 5th fleet is escort groups Skyshield and Sentinel. How they came to be attached to the 5th fleet is most unconventional and speaks of Stone’s strength of will and influence within the Covenant and the wider world.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbour and the bounties placed on the heads of The Wanted Aldus Stone began to receive death threats that indicated an assassin was within the Covenant. The admiralty immediately assigned bodyguards to keep Stone safe however the man was a cult of personality and as such refused to be seen so weak.

The six men charged with his protection were some of the finest marines ever produced by the Covenant but even they struggled to keep track of Stone. They even found themselves left behind after Stone had managed to slip aboard the Judgement and mobilise the fleet without telling a soul.

In a heated exchange with the admiralty he continually refused to acknowledge the need for protection but his superiors would not be dissuaded. In a fit of frustration he was recorded to have bellowed ‘If you want them to watch my arse, give them some escorts and put them to some real use.’ So they did. Each marine was prompted to Commander and charged with the protection of Commodore Stone. Although now a part of his fleet Stone still doesn’t make it easy on his protectors, choosing to assign them to his battleships rather than be chased around the waves by guard dogs.

This isn’t to say the escorts aren’t put to good use. Indeed the crews have flourished under the command of such hardened soldiers, drilling them to peak efficiency. Working seamlessly as squadrons these plucky escorts go after any threat without a second thought, filling the air with walls of lead or harrying ships much bigger than their own with weapons fire. How they have survived every without loss or serious damage after all this time is miraculous.

The final element of the 5th fleet is the 82nd bomber squadron the Night Furies. In truth Stone dislikes the use of aerial elements but can’t deny their effectiveness in battle. Especially with their extraordinary manoeuvrability allows them to strike and then withdraw with almost supernatural speed.

The 5th fleet’s penchant for night operations combined with their black colour scheme not only gives the Night Furies a tremendous advantage not only when making their attack runs but also their survivability quite at odds with the average life expectancy of similar squadrons in both the covenant and the wider world.

Despite this fact Stone generally prefers to leave the Night Furies in reserve seeing them as a liability due to their relatively limited range. One he commits to the hunt he is relentless and having to hold on station and await refuel for his bombers rankled him and has left them behind on more than one occasion.

For all their kills and valour in combat they remain an all but unused element of the 5th fleet but even Stone admits this must change with his foes relying on air elements more and more and has even requested a Daedalus class to be permanently attached to the fleet to bolster his air arm for when he inevitably needs it.