Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Militarum Tempestus: Part 1 - The Lore (A Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)


One of the big changes which have rubbed many people the wrong way of late has been certain alterations to the lore of the Imperial Guard. Along with details which seem to be trying to tone down the grim darkness of the Imperium in their main codex, the then recent backfire of Games Workshop's legal bullying caused a number of big changes. In an attempt to make their copyright more defensible, the hobby has seen a number of old established names abandoned in favour of faux Latin variants. As such, what should be Codex: Storm Troopers is now Codex: Militarum Tempestus, along with a few definite changes to their lore. Despite this however, it's not all that bad. It's hardly a failure, and certainly makes up for a lot of past mistakes.

Focusing upon a number of particular killers churned out by the Schola Progenium, Codex: Militarum Tempestus examines the history, structure and lives of the Ordo Tempesus. An elite rapid response force within the Imperium intended to bypass the Administratum's miles of red tape, their highly trained squads and regiments are sent for the toughest of assaults and surgical strikes. When the astartes aren't available, Inquisition has no answers and the Last Chancers are nowhere to be seen, the Tempestus are the forces sent in to clear things out.

Now, to give the book the credit it is due, many good elements from the Storm Troopers are kept. The same "glory boy" irritation by the Imperial Guard is specifically referenced here, with the various Scion regiments seen as little more than exaggerated tin soldiers who take credit and leave taking casualties to them.

Similarly, the old idea of there being only a single organisation is kept to a degree. The old idea behind the Storm Troopers was originally that there was only a single regiment of a few thousand, which sent out squads to where they were needed. This was gradually abandoned over time (besides on brief mention in the 5th Edition Imperial Guard codex) as ideas of Storm Trooper regiments, exclusive Inquisitorial detachments and similar things were added by authors. There's also a good chance writers began to realise how big the galaxy actually was, and how ineffective ten thousand troops would be when even the Adeptus Astartes outnumbered them. While the numbers of troops have been expanded, and we have regiments in place of squads, the same spirit of that idea is present.

The above isn't the old idea to return either, as many old concepts make a comeback. Back in the days of 2nd and 3rd Edition, large chunks of 40K were presented as a kind of intentional parody. Much like Judge Dredd, while there were big chunks which could be taken seriously, and as an effective force, dark deadpan comedy was laced throughout the books. The codex sees the return of a number of these elements; emphasising upon the near psychotic brutality of Imperial discipline, apparent incompetence of Imperial command and the "you will not be missed" attitude of their military. However, unlike the writer who declares "They can never be Ultramarines" there is a definite sense in the writing that the team behind this read Second Edition lore but were in on the joke. It might be played straight faced but there remains a few distinctive indications from the writing that they are not expecting the reader to take this with total seriousness.

These elements begin with the lengthy emphasis placed upon Tempestus training and the Schola's regimes. Rather than skipping this point entirely or leaving it to a few sparse paragraphs, massive sections go into the whole process behind training and recruiting children for Imperial forces. Brutal beyond belief, sections describe how the intense training and extreme processes are used to ensure the weak are weeded out and only the toughest, most loyal and most disciplined forces make it through to their various organisations. 


Two of the stand-out points which emphasise this nature are a brief description of a final test for a Commissar which is to execute a comrade and the gristly method used to put down an uprising. However, these aren't simply done for the ebilz and to exaggerate the Imperium. In the Commissar example it's backed with the suggestion that this is only one of a number of final potential tests, and the cadet himself is being disposed of due to some critical failure. The Schola is taking advantage of it to ensure that another student succeeds. As for the other, well, read it for yourself on the right. These are monstrous, morally repugnant methods, but there is a twisted kind of logic to them to help ensure success against Chaos.

This sort of brutality backed by a twisted logic even carries over to the most basic recruitment methods. Rather than targeting anyone and everyone for induction to the Progenium, the sons and daughters of noble birth are specifically sought out. These consist of survivors of great catastrophes, sons and daughters of now deceased Imperial heroes and similar figures orphaned by circumstance. Others are taken by the Progenium through far darker means to ensure they have a constant flow of recruits. The idea behind this is to ensure that the blood and linage of their forces remains strong by having ties of the Imperium's greatest warriors within its ranks, an idea which somewhat hearkens back to Napoleonic attitudes involving officers.

Most interestingly is that all this effort isn't purely for the codex's sake, and gives some insight into the Imperium on the whole. The Schola Progenium's forces are also used to train Sororitas, Arbites, Administratum and other core parts of humanity's defence against the alien, daemon and traitor. It's a nice world building focus, but unfortunately things do begin to suffer once the book actually moves onto describing the Tempestus itself. While we get some fantastic illustrations and looks into the Scions' tools and equipment, the two pages actually spent focusing on the organisation itself largely repeat what was just explained. While there are some good details here and there, far too much focus is placed upon detailing the processes behind the cadets, most of which was told far better just a page before. This unfortunately robs the army of some of its identity and potential insights into how they are organised as a military force. 


What helps make up for this failing to a degree is actually the stories. Unlike the many supplement codices we have had up to now, this codex thankfully avoids trying to turn the entire book into one massive narrative. Instead follows the successful approach of previous codices - Missions and certain figures are used as an example for what the army as a whole is capable of. They are used to exemplify some of the concepts behind them, and the characters involved are used as a part of the army, rather than the only important figure with a lot of cannon fodder surrounding them. 

The examples given are a desperate boarding action against an ork infested space hulk which needed to be intercepted, a Commissar leading Catachan Jungle Fighters to extract an Imperial figure of authority from a threatened world with Scion assistance, and the last heroic act of a Scion leader before he succumbs to a plague. Some of these do suffer from the odd definite minor lore issue (especially Catachans following a Commissar as they do), it's nothing which can't be forgiven or put down to interpretation, and for the most part they work. Unfortunately, we now have to move onto the problems. Believe me, the book has some very serious ones you would not expect.

The flaws in question can't be put down to any single bit of fluff within the book or particular incident. Instead they come from the writers' general approach to covering the army. These can mostly be put down to two particular issues. 

The first one of these being the lack of freedom when it comes to interpenetrating the Scions or integrating them into the universe. The Storm Troopers have featured heavily in a multitude of various books and codices in the past, each with varying different styles and depictions. Anthony Reynolds' Word Bearers trilogy featured them as special forces glory boys with an element of humanity. The Ciaphas Cain books featured them as extremely professional soldiers trained to work from an early age as a unit, to the point of having a near telepathic unity and co-ordination. Ben Counter's works showed Inquisitorial troopers as almost robotic individuals, clipped and focused only on the mission thanks to repeated mind wipes to avoid corruption and insanity. 

The Scions don't leave any room for this sort of interpretation or variety. While it is mentioned the various Schola do vary in their methods, they each come down to similarly brutal tactics and specific methods. They also are not so widely spread as before, with no regiments put into service as the militant arm of the Inquisition or other forces, and it creates some very big continuity entanglements across multiple books. This could have easily been avoided if the Scions were specifically mentioned to be a part of the Storm Trooper Corps, or were a sort of second generation version of the Troopers. Unfortunately as it stands, it's one more big problem to be dealt with.

The other very notable issue comes from one big problem which is very noticeable from the design of the models to the very early descriptions of their training: The writers behind this were trying to turn them into astartes lite. From the distinctive and ornate helms to the oddly similar methods of mental conditioning, it doesn't take much to draw up a vast number of parallels between the two forces. 

Things only become worse when their depiction as rapid shock troops seems far more like space marines than before, and the Scions' many regiments seem to be integrating elements usually found in chapters. Their distinctive carapace armour is styled in a manner similar to that of a space marine, bearing a less military design and colours than before, and their very names are something which fits better with space marines. Rather than the 188th Storm Trooper Regiment, or 222nd Heavy Assault Corps and some nicknames, now we have forces specifically called the Psian Jackals, Deltic Dragons, Epsilic Eagles and the like.

This issue would be bad enough in of itself, but we even have entire regiments following aspects outlined with chapters. While some are well thought out and well written, others are obvious rehashes of notable aspects from space marine chapters/legions. The Lambdan Lions follow the special relationship the Iron Hands have with the Mechanicus, acting as their hired thugs when need be. The Deltic Lions meanwhile are noted only to be extremely resistant to chemical and germ warfare in a similar manner to the loyalist Death Guard, with Nurgle even taking a special interest in them. The Alphic Hydras, Betic Dragons and Alphic Lions are all only notable thanks to emulating the tactics of/fighting alongside specific chapters repeatedly. Combined with brief mentions of details such as elements of the Codex Astartes being a part of the Scions' training, and it's fairly obvious someone wanted them to emulate the astartes.


The same even goes for each regiment's vehicles, with Taurox Primes and Valkyries being named in a similar manner to Thunderhawk Gunships and Land Raiders. Each presented as a kind of venerated relic rather than a mass produced military vehicle like those so often found within the Imperial Guard.


Rather than strengthening them, all this does is really weaken any sense of identity behind the army and makes them appear as a second rate version of Games Workshop's pet mascots. The Storm Troopers might never have been the most glorified or focused upon army, but they still had a more unique identity to themselves than what is found here. This might not have even been all that great a problem were it not for the extremely obvious padding which is present throughout the book. Even accepting the repeated information, a grand total of twenty pages are given over purely to examining each regiment in turn. This is almost half the codex's pages devoted to the army's lore! These feature only one or two paragraphs per regiment, or vehicle, and one massive image of a Scion. the number of pages could have been halved or even quartered without loosing any information had the writers simply opted to downsize the text and each image. Hell, the book even proves this with two pages featuring two regiments per son, yet still get the same amount of info across.

The other real issue of note is the frequency in which the Scions are killed despite being the best of the best, and the surprisingly low quality writing within some of the snap-shot stories. 

Now, on the one hand it's actually good to see a codex not presenting its army as completely wanked out invincible with no signs of trouble. On the other, a little over a third of the stories within the timeline involving the Scions are humiliating defeats, a phyrric victory and complete decimation by their enemy. Many are often making a complete mockery of the Scions' skills and don't match up with what we know of them, and others even render their victories completely pointless. A few of these definitely work and present the eldar and kroot as dangerous adversaries for once, but one or two less of these would not have gone amiss. 

As for the writing several short bits are almost cartoonishly overblown in how they are written. Perhaps the intention was to present them as a kind of war-time propaganda piece, but it just doesn't come across that way. The descriptions, depiction of events and near god-like glorification of Commissars all raise this to the point of insane cheesiness, when this could have been presented in a far better manner without too many changes. The same sort of exaggerated style can still be done with just a little more restraint and a greater emphasis upon the dark nature of the universe, the 3rd Edition rulebook proves this with almost every page.

Is Codex: Militarum Tempestus bad? Definitely not, but it's not exactly good either.

It really only benefits from standards being so insanely low thanks to the supplement codices and in terms of lore it's a definite step down from Codex: Imperial Knights. That said, it does for the most part successfully return to the semi-satirical style lost for the past several editions, and avoids the many problems which have plagued many books. There's no emphasis upon characters over the army, no massively lore-breaking aspects and no moments of complete and utter stupidity which throw you out of the moment. Not to mention that it avoids recycling some art and features some fantastic new pieces depicting the Scions in action. The quality differs from section to section, and a little more editorial involvement and focus on the part of the writers could have definitely improved the book. In terms of lore, it's just okay rather than being truly great and a bit of a disappointment given the wasted potential here.

Still, we're not done just yet. We've still got the rules to cover and to see how the army actually holds up on the tabletop. Join us in a few days when we examine Codex: Militarum Tempestus' rules in detail.

Or you could just click here and read them now




4 comments:

  1. Only found this on getting back into 40 he interesting thing about storm trooper background is in some of the INQ stuff where we are told two important things.

    1. The entirety of the schola program is a front for INQ recruitment as training units in that way makes them.worthless to add combat loss.replacements too.

    And 2. Everything we have been told.is written from.someone else's point of view and my view.of the boom is that it's a primer for.schola boys bein indoctrinated into believing.in heir. Duty in parts and part.a primer for.inquisitors with the famous regiments being notable potential issues

    the schola isn't the Only source of storm troopers as there are examples of.regiments with their own on world schools, (volpone bluebloods all come from the volpone military acadamy system).

    All the tempestus are is broadly speaking the power behind the commisariat. A group of elite.troops whose loyalty is to the commisariat first..not any officer, not any family name, not any home world, not any regiment not even to the guard or the munitorium.

    Meaning they can be used.to.crush a naval mutiny, bring in a rogue guard officer or find and execute a crooked adept. I can.see.the scion being a propig and a unit, and a punishment detail..

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  2. It's refreshing to read that the judge dread sarcasm tone is back since that humour is a great contrast to the grim dark which lowers the enjoyment of the 40k universe.

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    1. Indeed, and it helps liven up things quite a bit when done properly. The problem is that it's only showed up a scant few times here and there, and this is probably the most prominent codex to try and make use of it.

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  3. I couldn't agree more about the regimental naming convention. It's dire and quite lazy.

    My army are the 666th Airborne Brigade 'The Screaming Hawks' of the Schola Progenium Stormtroopers!

    No one is going to tell me otherwise XD

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