Friday, 29 November 2013
Clan Raukaan: Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)
So here we are yet again. Another month, another codex supplement.
This is the second Space Marine supplement, third if you count Codex: Black Legion, and surprise, surprise it's pretty sodding bad. If you've read any of the previous reviews, expect more of the same criticisms. The team behind these just keep making the same errors over and over again and this isn't a change for the better. In some respects it's also a change for the worst but we'll get to that in a minute. This review is also going to be a bit different from the last ones as we'll be looking at the lore first. Why? Because it's really the make or break point of these books.
The basic rules you can use in vanilla Warhammer 40,000 only make up a small fraction of the overall book with lore being its major selling point. Pages upon pages of lore consist of most of the content and it's usually what people seem to be after. Chances are if you're going to be trying to buy this, you're a fan of the army with an investment in its unique style, history and nature more than tabletop rules. This isn't true for everyone, some wanted Codex: Farsight Enclaves so they could have Battlesuit armies, but it's mostly what i've seen in comments here and elsewhere.
If you're not a fan of this set-up please speak up and let your mind be known, if not this is how future reviews of will normally be. That done, let's begin.
A few here might be overjoyed to hear some details from the preview were wrong. An effort was made to look beyond just the titular Clan Company and actually examine both the chapter's history and its structure overall. Furthermore, despite having no mention of any kind during any part of the preview, the chapter's connections among the Mechanicus are still present and explored.
Unfortunately, none of this is news for celebration given the poor execution of this book.
Let's start at the very beginning. Right after the introduction, any reader is slapped across the face with the near total destruction of what made the Iron Hands unique.
Their unique Clan Company system, with each one acting as a semi-autonomous mini-chapter?
Gone. Now they're completely Codex adherent in their structure, with the usual mixture you'd expect with 10th company consisting of Scouts, 7th of Assault Marines and all the rest. The titles and Clan names in of themselves are purely traditional titles of no real meaning.
The rarity of Terminator suits and the traditions they had, giving many to figures of prominence such as veteran sergeants than a normal full company?
Gone. Now they are given only to members of the first company and no such structure as previously outlined exists.
The individual mobile fortress monasteries belonging to each of the separate Clan Companies?
Completely unmentioned and ignored. Facts are also added which utterly contradict the previous idea of the Clan Companies individually recruiting for themselves. Namely with this being given over to the 10th Company and all recruits being tested before a giant monolith of stone during the time of the Iron Moon. A ritual which seems to be present only to destroy any possibility of autonomy.
The Iron Fathers, who combine the role of Techmarine and Chaplain in serving as a spiritual head and leaders of the chapter, and Clan Commanders? They're no longer an actual rank. Instead, the rank of Iron Chaplain has been added with "Iron Father" being reduced to an honorific rank anyone can get. Seriously, read it for yourself:
"by the dawning of M41 it had come to be an honorific, an additional title awarded to the esteemed individuals who were voted into the ranks of the Iron Council. Any battle-brother of rank within the Iron Hands can become an Iron Father, from mighty Iron Captains, Iron Chaplains and Librarians, to Apothecaries and Veteran Sergeants."
Oh, and Clan Commander has been replaced entirely with "Iron Captain" as a leadership role among the forces. Why? No apparent reason, probably just to make them sound more Codexey and because the authors love saying "Iron" every couple of sentences.
This isn't some change for the better or authorial choice. This was a systematic stripping down of a huge part of what had made the chapter what they were. The authors went through and specifically removed elements which made the chapter unique or altered them to the point where they were barely noteworthy. Elements which had defined the chapter since the days of Index Astartes and were a huge part of their character, giving them a theme and traditions to make them stand out. This isn't some effort to make the chapter evolve and build upon the ideas present, the authors actively tore the heart out of the Iron Hands and defecated upon the remains!
You know what the real shame of this is through? These were some of the less damaging changes. Far worse was done to the things which they retained.
Some aspects of the chapter were kept, such as the Great Clan Council and, despite what the promotional material displayed, their links with the Mechanicus.
The former aspect, now called the Iron Council (Because naturally everything must be called Iron!) are a guiding force of the chapter. Unlike Codex adherent chapters, the Iron Hands are not led by a single Chapter Master but a group of figures consisting of Iron Fathers, Commanders and Dreadnoughts which serve as a command group. It ultimately decides upon the chapter's future and their direction during their countless centuries of war. The reason I'm explaining this is that one of the big criticisms of the Fifth Edition Codex: Space Marines, beyond their kind being almost completely ignored, was that the Iron Hands were presented as having a Chapter Master by name of Kardan Stronos. This suggestion they had a Chapter Master, and by extension were Codex adherent, was strongly criticised and corrected in the next edition.
Where am I going with this? Because it's the most prominent part of their structure to actually survive when everything else changed, meaning someone was listening to the criticism, just not the arguments involved. Or perhaps they were and wanted to spite people, because the Iron Council is only ever presented as a weakness and failing.
Despite the reasoning behind its creation given, the Council is near relentlessly used as a means to show the chapter as being weak or suffering from utterly lore breaking problems. Chief among these is the fact that the Adeptus Mechanicus have a place on the Council. A seat, called the Voice of Mars, on the Iron Council made up of senior Tech Priests which has a say in how the chapter operates. This effectively gives the Mechanicus their own specially linked chapter to carry out their own private ambitions and goals. If this sounds familiar, it's because this happened before. A now unfortunately little-known chapter known as the Steel Confessors was originally created by the Mechanicus in secret to give them their own private force. Being an act of heresy, they were forced to relinquish all direct control and ties over the astartes' actions and the chapter pledge an oath of loyalty to the High Lords of Terra.
So yes, we've yet again run into authors recycling ideas from other works, retconning the originals, and trying to pass it off as their own creations; all without the slightest bit of competence or understand of why it actually worked in the first place. Take for example the reasoning for the Iron Hands showing such loyalty to the Mechanicus and making such an allegiance. While it does have some points which link to their similar ideologies involving steel over flesh it's mostly due to this:
"The Priesthood of Mars and their Titan Legions had long fought beside the Iron Hands during the days of the Great Crusade and the Heresy alike, forging ever stronger bonds as they did so. [...] In the devotees of the Omnissiah, the Iron Hands saw a mirror of their own doctrine of steel over flesh, a reliable ally who would not fall prey to hubris and pride as had the preening braggarts of the Emperor’s Children."
The former point is contradicted entirely by the fact the Iron Hands were nowhere near Mars and specifies they were not any kind of significant force during the Heresy, and the latter is entirely false. Both in novels and codicies the Mechanicum has displayed thoughts of pride, hubris, self-indulgence and general attitudes of snobbery despite their cybernetic enhancements. Even if this was the reason to begin with and they lacked such traits in the early years, this is supposed to be an alliance which lasted ten thousand years, with several points based on falsehoods. This isn't even something they eventually break off either, with the Mechanicum changing over time, and is supposedly still going strong right up to the end of M41.
The deal itself also proves to be utterly contradictory to the way the Iron Hands are presented. Their whole attitude towards humanity, warfare, even their most basic outlook on life can be summed up on one quote:
"The Iron Hands are not saviours, nor should we be. A man who cannot save himself is weak, and the weak do not deserve to be saved. For such a man, only death is fitting. This, we can provide." - Iron Chaplain Furnous, Clan Company Raukaan
This detail is repeatedly bashed over the readers' heads, yet time and time again they move to serve in the defence of the Mechanicus and Martian interests. The exact terms outlined for the alliance between the Mechanicus and Iron Hands was for the chapter to act as their muscle in return for the goodies the Tech Priests could provide. The book specifically says "In exchange for the Iron Hands’ alliance and protection, the Martian Priesthood would grant them unprecedented access to the sacred mysteries of the Omnissiah, augmenting their Techmarines’ knowledge far beyond that possessed by their counterparts in the other Legions of the Adeptus Astartes." However, the chapter's whole attitude towards everyone else is entirely different. They will merrily fly out, fight somewhere the Mechanicus' usual forces cannot hold and serve in their interests, but when it comes to Imperial Guard or other space marine chapters they instantly screw them over. It just ends up making the chapter look like hypocrites, ones with a xenophobic streak to anyone without a USB port sticking out of their head. A move which, given what happens later on, is entirely intentional.
Take for example these two instances:
In M34 the Mechanicum calls upon the Iron Hands' aid to deal with an influx of orks, eldar pirates and forces fleeing from an unknown phenomena known as the Pale Wasting. The Iron Hands dutifully hold a cordon of a quarantine to their exact orders, even up to the point where they fire upon an ally who moved to their position thanks to a communication error. Not a single figure speaks of why the Mechanicum could not deploy their own vast military forces to achieve their own protection here, instead relying heavily upon the astartes for defence.
When massed Iron Hands forces arrive in the Aebrasyn system which has come under attack by Alaitoc, they do nothing to assist in defending the Emperor's realm. Despite a sizable Imperial population and an Imperial Guard battlegroup fighting the eldar, the Iron Hands completely ignore all requests for help. They do nothing to communicate with them, nothing to even keep track of their progress or do so much as pass on basic recon information. Instead, they let them all die so that the astartes might follow their agenda. Well, theirs and the Mechanicus' agenda anyway. The only reason they are on the world is thanks to necron xenotech having been uncovered which they promptly arrive, steal and then flee once the eldar return for revenge. Leaving everyone on the world to die and a planet of the Imperium to be crushed under alien assault. If this sounds more like a marauding band of tech-priests than a space marine chapter then congratulations, you know more about this universe than the people writing this book.
The Iron Hands share the cold logic of the Mechanicum, but they are still astartes and view events with a military perspective. They would recognise that ignoring this world's fate would only encourage future assaults and losing it would be to diminish the Emperor's realm. They might sacrifice many of the inhabitants to bring down their enemy, perhaps drawing them into certain Imperial Guard positions then bombard them from orbit, but utterly ignoring them without reason? It's wildly out of character and is written with another force in mind.
Also, yes, the Iron Hands took the necron technology for themselves, but they're so closely tied to the Mechanicus that they would probably hand it over upon request. Hell, the Mechanicus would probably be fine with it on Medusa as it's a stronghold which is effectively under their control. Still, all this is ignoring the fact that the Iron Hands, if these were actually written as Iron Hands, would more likely destroy such heresy than loot it for themselves. Something which would both quickly deny the enemy a point of interest and prevent potential corruption which could come with guarding it. What's worse though is the message left to the invaders which tries to evoke their ideals. One which portrays the Iron Hands as hypocrites as they are fleeing the battle to escape fighting powerful forces:
"If you are strong you will survive. If you are weak you will not. Fight hard, General, and prove your worth."
The story just presents the Iron Hands as little more than the Mechanicum's lackeys, serving as their muscle to protect their personal investments when they cannot protect them themselves. Combined with this treatment of everyone else, it really does drive home the idea that the Iron Hands are utter hypocrites who betray their own ideals when their Archmagos masters yank their chain. Of course, this is a problem which stems from a far greater failing in the writing department.
One aspect which has been commented upon in the past has been how the Iron Hands were ruthless fighters. Figures who could be counted upon to make hard choices and would sacrifice other troops in an effort to gain an upper hand, the sort of people you wanted so close to the Eye of Terror and traitor legions. While this has been a major factor in their forces for a long time, authors seem to keep screwing it up.
When it was first introduced, the Index Astartes defined exactly where they drew the line with their efforts to progress personal strength. However, of late this coldly logical streak has been used less for showing them making hard decisions to win the day, and instead to try and justify them acting like utter bastards whether it made any sense or not. Wrath of Iron was one such example, with the Iron Hands refusing to communicate with a Legio Titanicus Princeps and Lord Commander even when they were sacrificing their forces to speed up their operation. Rather than doing the logical thing and explaining "We need to get to the middle of the city to stop a ritual or we are all doomed" to two figures who would be accepting of losses with reason, they seemed to snub them purely due to their humanity. That's unfortunately taken even further here and used for situations which make even less sense.
One already infamous example of this is the events on Colmnus, a forge world of the Mechanicum under attack by orks. Despite dozens of Imperial Guard regiments, sizable numbers of Skitarii and over thirty Titans assisting in the planet's defence, the Iron Hands rush to assist in the world's defence rather than saying "prove yourselves strong" and watching the fight play out.
However, they're not the only forces present, with the Raven Guard having already been on the world for months leading a fighting retreat against the orks. Despite being a chapter who the Iron Hands know are capable of holding their own, and have advanced reconnaissance knowledge of the orks, they all but openly mock their allies. Their commander sees them a force which cannot be relied upon, with his reasoning boiling down to "it is in all we do as Iron Hands to avoid the fate suffered by our Primarch." He then refuses to even exchange information let alone actively cooperate, claiming their simulations more than adequately account for anything the Raven Guard have seen with their own eyes.
Now, bear in mind the major excuse for the Iron Hands' increasingly psychotic streak has been put down to logic. They will ultimately yield to cold logic and total pragmatism at nearly every turn, and while they do place heavy blame on the Raven Guard for the loss of their primarch, this is stupid beyond words. They are opting to not only to completely ignore the advice of a renowned chapter, perhaps the single best guerrilla fighting and stealth force in the entire Adeptus Astartes, but every single moment they have proven themselves from the opening blows of the Horus Heresy onward. Like everything else in this book, the Iron Hands grudge with the chapter has been ramped up to the point of being petty and contradictory. They are shown to more or less hate Ferrus for allowing himself to be led into a fight he could not hope to win. Yet at the exact same time they blame the Raven Guard for failing to win that very same battle; then proceed to use it to snub them ten thousand years on, as if their later victories have meant nothing.
It's almost as if the people writing this don't like the Iron Hands or something.
The actual scene itself and the Iron Hands' reasoning seems to be present little more than to show the book's obscenely overblown emphasis upon how Ferrus' death impacted upon them. Not his teachings, not his thoughts, gene seed or even most basic concepts, just his death and Isstvan itself. The Iron Hands are utterly obsessed with his murder more than anything else, even more so than any chapter to have their primarch die fighting the Great Enemy. Just as was the case with their bionics and attachments to the Mechanicus, this element has been exaggerated and expanded upon until there is no nuances or elements to the chapter beyond a very crude watered down version of the original idea. Unfortunately, this isn't even the worst moment of it for Ferrus, the Iron Hands or even the Raven Guard.
Holding their position within a fortress factory where they can fight the orks, the Iron Hands combat the Waaagh! as they slam into the planet and send Imperial regiments reeling. Holding their position they ignore the outside war as everything from Titans to regiments are destroyed beyond the fortress' protective shields. With the orks outnumbering them many times to one, the Raven Guard sally forth. Their aim is to try and slow the advance of several forces to stop them engaging millions of orks at once while rescuing as many valuable elements as they can. Naturally, the Iron Hands effectively sneer at this. They utterly ignore the fact their Clan Companies are only alive thanks to the fortress' void shields, with this lovely statement highlighting their thoughts: "No effort wasted in attempting to rescue those too weak to save themselves."
Even when the Raven Guard return, having successfully managed to retrieve several tank squadrons and Reaver Titans to help in the defence, they do nothing to assist them beyond basic supporting fire. The space marines believe that they must save themselves and not require the Iron Hands help; ignoring the very fact they are on this world is to protect it because it cannot save itself. This results in several tanks being lost, Raven Guard Rhinos among them, and both Titans. Even when the Raven Guard get inside, desperately trying to communicate with the Iron Hands to warn them of an impending threat, the scions of Ferrus completely refuse all communications with them. As such, when the Weirdboy with a psychic power level apparently on par with Magnus the bloody Red comes screaming towards them, they do nothing. Well, actually no, the Raven Guard go to fight them and the Iron Hands use it as an excuse to kill the other space marines and the Weirdboy at the same time.
Oddly enough it's not actually the sacrifice of the Raven Guard which is so bothersome here. Sacrificing a rook to take out the king is in character for Iron Hands, even if doing it to another chapter is pushing things a bit. The problem is the execution and what it means for the book.
Now, they're effectively committing heresy here by killing off a first founding loyalist faction, which could lead to major repercussions against them.
Do they make it look as if this was a last resort with no alternative? No, it's made quite clear the Iron Hands are extraordinarily slow to respond.
So, do they engineer events to make sure the Raven Guard die in a heroic sacrifice, something which could easily be brought about and absolve the Iron Hands of all possible guilt? Nope, they make sure they are the ones with their fingers firmly on the trigger when it comes to making sure they all get killed.
Do they order the Raven Guard back and let one of many other much more expendable units take their place? They don't even try.
What they do is they wait until the Raven Guard are all slaughtered en mass by the orks. They make sure the Shadow Captain and his forces see them standing, calmly watching them die as if to spite them, refuses them even an honourable death and then unleashes Land Raider Redeemers. Burning all the orks they were fighting at once, killing the Weirdboy leading the Waaagh! and likely destroying any Raven Guard gene-seed left there. This entire sequence is written to make it as clear as humanly possible to the reader and everyone involved that they're killing the other company. They park their units right next to the battle and do not fire, even with their commanders "watching impassively" while doing nothing. Actually, no, they do worse than nothing. They even block Raven Guard communications with one another so they cannot call in help from their Strike Cruiser; even when the only thing it could do by that point would be to bombard their position and allow the company to take a few orks with them.
The entire battle is written to make the Iron Hands look needlessly vindictive, bitter and quite frankly petty in both its wording and displays. They're supposed to be smart enough to consider thousands of minute calculations on the battlefield around them and single-handledly hold the fortress factories, yet they cannot think of a simple way to take out the ork leadership while sacrificing a loyalist element yet drawing no attention to themselves in this act. The image to the side? That's this done right, where someone pulls of killing an ally while leaving no ties to themselves. The incident outlined above? A sham of a manipulated cover up, thought up by a halfwit, only done to try and make the Iron Hands look as monstrous and hypocritical as possible.
While the book at least cites this incident as being a major cause for concern by the Iron Council, believing Iron Father Kristos may well have let emotions cloud his thought, it never properly addresses it. There's never a moment where they truly decide this was a mistake and it's mainly used as a kind of inciting incident in the book's plot. Yes, like Sentinels of Terra the authors are trying to tell a story yet again rather than tell the reader about the army. Quite frankly though, that's the absolute least of this codex's problems. Perhaps the worst of them is what it does to Ferrus Manus.
Apparently it wasn't enough that he was one of two primarchs to be brutally murdered, have his legion sidelined for the entire Heresy, then write the chapter as utterly betraying any of his wishes with their very act of bionic enhancements. No, they go the extra mile of turning any surviving element of him into a daemon.
Formed out of Ferrus' rage, frustrations and raw emotions at the exact moment of his death was a being known as the Sapphire King. Despite being a daemon of Slaanesh, your guess is as good as mine as to how any of those emotions led to a daemon of corrupted ecstasy being created, it proved to be extremely good at manipulating others. Obsessed with the Iron Hands it proceeded to initiate a massive long term plan to corrupt the entire chapter, constantly poking them in the right direction so they would perform acts which served Chaos and embraced traditions which made them easier to corrupt.
It's eventually beaten at the very end, when the codex's "protagonist" orders the Iron Hands to vent their rage and display emotion. Because (despite coming from a realm where gods are created by pure emotion and daemons are drawn to the raw primal feelings of creatures) apparently it was the lack of any of that which made them weak, and an excess of it which defeated the beast. No, this makes no more sense on paper than it does here. This eventually leads to the character declaring that the Iron Hands attitudes to caging and controlling their emotions entirely to be completely wrong and spew tripe about them having to move away from what they have been for ten thousand years. While it doesn't go so far as to completely reject their traditions entirely or with some platitude about "bionics is morally wrong" it's still a betrayal of the worst kind. Turning what little remains of their fallen primarch into a being serving their worst enemies, the only one of a loyalist chapter to turn traitor in any form.
Actually, no, let's make this clear: The very first primarch to refuse to turn traitor is effectively reborn as a willing tool of Chaos.
Even ignoring the fact that this is yet again looting ideas from the Soul Drinkers series with Daenyathos' plan, the authors do everything but outright bring back Ferrus as a daemon prince. This codex strips out all their long-standing traditions, turns them into hired thugs of the Mechanicus, openly has them displaying hypocrisy towards allies and one another, pointlessly simplifies many founding ideas to the point of insulting the reader's intelligence, and directly contradicts the Horus Heresy novels. This isn't a codex. It's a poorly constructed essay of seething hatred directed towards any person who might ever cared about this chapter.
This review couldn't even begin to cover a third of what's wrong with the book. I don't even know where to start with other subjects, such as the retconning of two Iron Hands successors into oblivion, the fact they are depicted as performing repeated cover-ups from the Inquisition and even acts of outright heresy. A later point has them using what are strongly suggested to be Chaos-corrupted machine spirits against necrons, with a part describing their early beginnings having them cover up various factions going rogue. Any good element here is utterly mired beneath sheer spite, poorly thought out efforts to jam a storyline into a book which doesn't need one, and complete disrespect to the lore. The fact the book doesn't show them as utterly incompetent in battle is rendered moot by their longtime manipulation and spend as much time needlessly getting loyalist killed as the enemy. I can't even praise the genuinely great art because almost every single piece gets the bloody initiation bionic on the wrong arm! This book is the tabletop gaming version of a hate crime; destroying, defiling or mocking anything this army's fans once held dear.
If you're interested in the Iron Hands, if you care about the chapter or Warhammer in any way, do not buy this book. It is a travesty, a monument to how far Games Workshop's assurances of quality have fallen and the total disrespect by authors for any source material. They are now churning out these books with a clear emphasis upon quantity over any shred of quality, to the point where this sort of betrayal is not even a surprise anymore.
If you want to read about the Iron Hands, find Wrath of Iron, Angel Exterminatus, John Green's Iron Hands novel or other stories. None of them are perfect, some even don't even do that great a job of portraying the marines, but at least they're by authors who aren't determined to openly shit on the chapter.
Still, we're not done yet. There's the rules to do but you just know what they're like in these books. Their analysis can be found here along with a recommendation for a vastly better alternative to this book.