Monday, 21 October 2013

Black Legion: Part 2 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

Part 1 can be found here covering the rules

As a whole, the Black Legion is mostly regarded as a joke within the fandom. From Horus’ death to Abaddon the Despoiler’s repeated mass slaughters of Black Crusades, it seems their every major campaign ends in total failure. In fact given the latter’s use of a giant flying space gun, Abaddon is seemingly tied with Daala for levels of incompetence and insane schemes. Thankfully it’s with this book this finally changes, fleshing out not only the Legion itself but finally giving some real meaning to the idea Abaddon has been winning all the time.

Rather than just consisting of the remnants of the Sons of Horus, the Black Legion is a true crusading force. Built out of members of the other traitor legions, renegades and traitors, they have considerable strength but more than that they have unity. Beyond perhaps the Word Bearers, Alpha Legion and Iron Warriors they remain the only sizable group to maintain any real cohesion. Rather than repeatedly fighting one another, every faction maintains some degree of co-operation as a result of Abaddon’s presence and serve him. Better yet, they actually have some role within the legion as a larger force.

The book details a fair number of these factions in turn with brief but very well written points covering each. Several of these factions are devoted to specific gods or have additional roles within the force, with the possessed of their number serving as Navigators for the Legion’s ships. Others meanwhile consist of various factions who are listed under a single name such as the Hounds of Abaddon, berserkers who hold Khorne’s favour, Others being the Oath-Broken, those who have failed the dark gods and Abaddon, distinguishable by their reliance upon crude replacements for their broken bodies.

This isn’t to say that the Codex: Black Legion completely denies the idea of Black Legion warbands, and it in fact it finally explains some points people have questioned before. Chief among these is what happened to the elements still loyal to Horus when Abaddon took control of the Black Legion. Specifically it speaks of groups who still venerate the primarch even in death, many of who still bear the old Sons of Horus colours over Abaddon’s black. It gives just enough to make them interesting but no more, not going overboard on its focus nor leaving them woefully underdeveloped as other books might.

More interestingly when showing Abaddon’s reaction to splinter warbands, it makes the effort of showing him to be a shrewder leader than many would guess. When confronting one such warband to bring them into compliance with his Legion, Abaddon is described as refusing the brute force tactics he is traditionally known for. Instead he opts to gain their trust first through a longer means which gives him additional advantages, then behead its leader. A process which, while taking longer, gave Abaddon far more in the long term. This is what a sizable chunk of the book is really about: Showing Abaddon being more than the thug and failure he is often perceived as, and instead as someone playing a much longer game.

The idea the Despoiler has constantly been winning victories through achieving secondary targets in his Black Crusades is hardly a new one. Between gathering a number of Black Stone Fortresses during the Gothic War and taking the sword Drach’Nyen during the first Black Crusade, there have been plenty of hints of this. Codex: Black Legion is however the first time that a book has been able to really present the idea in a truly believable way.

One of the very first things the book establishes is that Abaddon seeks to not repeat any of Horus' mistakes. His primarch's driven for a swift killing blow to the Imperium ultimately resulting in his defeat makes sense for these tactics as it ultimately led to his death. First by directly attacking Terra rather than establishing a true base of power, then getting himself killed when he sought to being a swift death to the Emperor. Abaddon's efforts to make pacts with eldritch forces and gather weapons over the ten thousand year conflict make sense by comparison, as does his plan for the Crimson Path. A means intended to effectively overwhelm the defences of Cadia, then the other systems leading to Terra with continual massed intrusions into realspace by daemons. It's still following the forces' tactics of beheading an army's leadership hierarchy and Abaddon's conquest through overwhelming power but it's written intelligently.

Ultimately the fluff in Codex: Black Legion works so well as it's not repeating the same mistakes Codex: Iyanden and Codex: Farsight Enclaves committed. It's not a book consisting of efforts to try and completely re-write the entire canon or determined to do something massively earth-shattering to the universe, only flesh out the army it features and enrich established canon with new details. We now know why Abaddon is in command, what happened involving him and the daemon primarchs of the other legions. Better yet, the exact objectives of previous crusades are now known, and make a great deal of sense overall with the testing of defences and building alliances with other corrupted forces.

The only real times the book ever tries to truly push for new additions is in minor ways. For example, the 10th Black Crusade was performed in an effort to gain Perturabo's support in future campaigns. Rather than it being directed against the Imperial Fists however, it was instead sent against the Iron Hands with a newly established feud between the forces. This new establishment of a feud seems odd, but it is at least left vague enough to be expanded upon. Something which could easily be put down to a previous single defeat at their hands rather than something reaching all the way back to the Horus Heresy.

The other big flaw is that events where Abaddon is victorious do have the habit of being extremely one sided. Events such as the aforementioned crusade against the Iron Hands emphasis upon how near totally they were defeated while doing little to mention the traitor's own losses as a result. There are three main reason this does work however.
The first is that, unlike the usual products of the hack Ward which fill too many armybooks, they lack bombastic statements of skill above their enemies and winning almost purely through that. 
The second is that the book makes a point of detailing why they lost, often with Abaddon making feints to draw away allied forces and then pulling back/making a fighting retreat before they can truly get bogged down. There's intelligence and planning put into each assault, and it's listed in a believable manner.
Finally, it's a bit more acceptable to see a few one sided massacres after two editions of a character becoming a joke. Namely that Abaddon supposedly lost every major campaign in ten thousand years of war.

There have been fewer quotes this time from the exact pages as they don't really do the work justice. You really need to see Codex: Black Legion as a whole to truly appreciate what it managed and when individual sentences are broken up and quoted, unlike with the other two they're not that great an indicator of the book's quality. However, it is none the less the best lore we have seen in a supplement to date and the standard against any future books should be measured. 

Also, as a special mention, the art of this book is fantastic. With vastly fewer re-used pieces from others than in Codex: Iyanden, the new additions truly help to make the supplement codex worth your money. Artwork features everything from the days of the Horus Heresy to the Gothic War and beyond, and the pieces which are re-used are normally only fan favourites. Notably a piece which was used as the covers for Codex: Eye of Terror and third edition Codex: Chaos Space Marines.

Ultimately if you're after rules, don't bother with Black Legion. You'd honestly do better just to stick with the current codex. However, if you are planning to write about the Black Legion or are invested in why Abaddon's mob are regarded as being one of the best in the Eye of Terror it's well worth your money.

Let's only hope we see other Chaos supplements of greater quality in the future, and the upcoming Sentinels of Terra has equally well written fluff.

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