Wednesday, 30 July 2014

5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Space Wolves Needs

After a very long break we're finally getting back to these lists. With proof that the Space Wolves will soon be getting a number of updated units and rumours that Codex: Grey Knights is following close behind (believe me, i'm going to have a field day with that one) it seemed time to really get going again. Unfortunately this is a bit of a difficult one.

Unlike most of the others, I do not have that much experience with the Space Wolves as a chapter. While I have personally kept up with the lore, I have not played or played against Space Wolf lists that frequently, so there is very little I can personally say about changes they need on the tabletop. Reading the book over and over again only brings so much understanding in my case, so there's a chance that a point might miss some vital problem or mislabel something. As such this is going to instead focus upon their lore and what changes that needs.

So, without further ado, here's the top five changes Codex: Space Wolves needs.

5. On The Edge Of Annihilation

One point which has always seemed odd about Fenris is its location. Along with Medusa, Cadia and a number of other worlds, the home of the Space Wolves is extremely close by to the Eye of Terror. However, whereas the Iron Hands are suggested to have fortified their homeworld's entire system, and the Cadians have enough resources to make Abaddon reconsider a direct assault more than once, Fenris is alone. It might be a Death World, one so deadly that it has kaiju sized sea-monsters, but no more so than others Chaos has successfully invaded and corrupted. Of the three major times Fenris has been attacked, two have come from the Imperium and another was during early M32. 

So the question is, why has Chaos never attempted to never launch a full blown assault against the world?

Abaddon would have much to gain from launching an attack or even a full blown Blood Crusade against them. After all, they're a massive First Founding chapter with far more astartes than a traditional chapter and a higher recruitment rate than most. They also have a controlled genetic flaw which does give them a major edge in a number of situations, a vast number of relic weapons, and are the only chapter with Leman Russ' gene-seed. Given how frequently they've responded to threats from the Traitor Legions and thrown a spanner in the works of whatever plan Chaos has in store for the Imperium, you'd think a major Chaos power would want them gone.

Given how Perturabo was able to attack Medusa and Magnus previously assaulted Fenris, it seems extremely unlikely a large Warband or fledgling leader would attempt to take down the world. Perhaps consisting of the tens of thousands of marines, all seeking glory and all seeking the blood of Russ' sons. In the face of that it's difficult to see how the Space Wolves might survive an assault. It's even more surprising that there's no big story explored where Chaos has attempted to bring the world to ruin.

Even accepting such an approach might be suicidal or extremely difficult thanks to Fenris' nature, it would surely be the target of multiple Chaotic cults. The earliest novel featuring Ragnar Blackmane featured a Thousand Sons plot to corrupt the planet, mentioning that there had been previous attempts before this, but the lore never really makes use of this. The idea of how they are constantly under threat never seems to be in full focus nor the state of constant vigilance they need to remain in with their planet so close to the heart of humanity's traitorous forces in the universe.

If the codex wants to flesh things out further it could focus upon this. Present times when Chaos has tried and failed to launch massive invasions against Fenris or how the Space Wolves have prevented them nearing the world through prior planning. Perhaps also how scouts among their number keep track of tribes or teach them to recognise the signs of Chaos among their number, preventing cults from arising upon the untamed world. It would be a nice area for the lore to focus upon and problems for it to fully address at long last, not to mention opening up possibly story opportunities throughout the chapter's long, lauded history.

4. Former Executioners

Since the time of the Great Crusade, many chapters underwent changes. Along with fragmenting into smaller forces in accordance with the Codex Astartes, many had to suffer from the losses of the forefathers, dramatic genetic failings, corruption from within and new threats. Compare the Iron Hands or Blood Angels today with those of the past and there is a dramatic difference, but none more so than the Space Wolves.

Originally deemed the Emperor's executioners, the chapter was tasked with doing the unthinkable and being unleashed against other legions who turned from the Imperium. They were a dark element in a brighter galaxy at that time, tasked with performing necessary evils so that the Imperium might survive. Even in comparison to the likes of the World Eaters or Night Lords they were suggested to perform horrific acts of savagery, and that many elements of their nature were more of a facade. 

Skip forwards to M41 and they have effectively become the complete antithesis of their previous role within the Imperium and most basic attitudes. Rather than using it as a facade, the chapter seems to embrace many elements of its more bombastic viking nature and rather than performing necessary evils, they are one of the few chapters fighting for the common man.

This has come about thanks primarily to the writings of Dan Abnett and Chris Wraight, and the revelations made during the Horus Heresy series. However, as a result of this the current codex does not knowledge this new information nor the apparent change the chapter underwent over the last ten thousand years. We saw the beginnings of this in Battle of the Fang and some sections of Scars which openly stated that the galaxy, and the chapter, were both changing. However, there has been no effort to produce real reasons as to why this truly happened or what provoked such a shift in behaviour.

The codex could easily bring up stories or events over the past ten thousand years which resulted in this. Even without inventing new ones, cataclysms such as the Age of Apostasy took place where the common man was crushed beneath heels of an insane tyrant and the inquisition has purged entire planets for merely knowing of Chaos' true form. It would be easy to show the Space Wolves reacting to such events (especially the former, due to the very direct role the played in bringing down one Ecclesiarchy tyrant) and becoming more focused upon something the Imperium once held dear, only to ignore it in its descent into becoming a dystopian nightmare. The very fact Bjorn still lives, telling tales of the times before the Heresy would add reasons as to why this might happen, reminding them of what the Emperor had once truly desired and what the goals of the legions had been.

Most importantly however, it would be a rare opportunity to truly focus upon the Imperium's ten thousand year history. It would allow the book to bring up various points over several thousand years which helped to bring about this change, one step at a time and truly give a more in-depth focus upon the setting rather than just the very end of M41. That last part in particular has been a failing of a great many codices, as it fails to truly bring about a sense of how ancient the Imperium is and prevent the book being focused upon the tales of just a few living figures.

3. More Heroic Sagas, Less Heroes

A major problem which is at the core of every codex produced in the last few years is that there are far too many characters. As a whole Warhammer 40,000 has been pushing for a much more hero focused gameplay, with names characters and HQ choices coming first, then the rest of the army coming second. Big flashy units are pushed along with characters who can punch Land Raiders to death, and common troops choices and a focus upon the army as a whole is effectively gone.

The Space Wolves in particular are problematic in this regard with a grand total of eight named characters making up their number. While some are thankfully not reserved for the HQ slot, this is an obscene amount for any army and it only goes to show just how extreme this problem has become. Many stories and events are far more about these characters than the army in question and far too often they seem to valve them over the army's long history or legendary wars in the past. It also offers players less of an opportunity to individually craft their own force and customize it for their own needs, and things will only become worse if more characters are given.

If anything I would personally wish for the book to scale back in the sheer volume of characters it utilises, or at the very least do not add any more to this number, and instead focus upon sagas. Like so many other space marine chapter, the Space Wolves have countless long and ancient tales they can call upon, and it would be entirely in character for them to recite them at a drinking table. The codex could feature this in small fragments or areas if not as entire pages, with warriors recounting conflicts of millennia past. Perhaps those who originally fought in the Battle of the Fang against Magnus the Red, or those who returned from the Deathwatch with new tales of combating against xenos threats, perhaps even just stories of meeting other armies.

These elements would help to give a better impression that the chapter is a living, breathing organisation filled with warriors just as notable and driven as the heroes which lead it. It would allow the book to really give an idea to new players that they can give their own heroes with their own stories rather than just using Blackmane or Grimnar, and focus more upon their history. As with the previous example, these need not be tales from the End Times or even M41 at all but from years past. Again helping to flesh out the chapter's history and making them feel more like a long established army.

2. The Balance Of Parody With Seriousness

One thing which made Codex: Space Wolves stand out from all of its contemporaries was its willingness to poke fun at itself. A rarity in modern Warhammer, the book did not present every event with complete seriousness and was capable of going back and forth between black humour and dramatic storytelling. While some fans did have problems with this, I personally believe it was a definite strength of the book. 

Whereas Codex: Blood Angels and Codex: Grey Knights presented the events so ridiculous that they would be laughed off of, Phil Kelley showed self awareness. He knew when to play things up as jokes and when to pass off the more overly hammy moments by working with the chapter's more barbaric elements and reputation as elite violent drunkards. As such, while people rightfully balked at the Grey Knights murdering Sororitas because reasons, they were not so unhappy when Lucas the Trickster had one heart replaced with a vortex grenade.

Even ignoring the fact those two examples of codices were so bad it would be generous to call them amateurish, it helped to offer far more emotional variety than other works. While serious storytelling has a place in Warhammer, it's hard not to realise that even the best of codices like Codex: Tau Empire and Codex: Imperial Knights were lacking in emotional range. They seemed to be afraid to even begin joking about themselves or offering anything beyond showing their armies as invincible and depicting events with the utmost seriousness. Without anything else to break up such moments, these books can become monotonous unless extremely well written and often it can seem like the authors have forgotten that Warhammer was once a dark parody setting. By keeping element of humour, Codex: Space Wolves pays tribute to earlier incarnations without ignoring or contradicting the modern depiction of the setting.

The chief problem was that the book often veered towards parody a little too often with these elements, making it hard to see just where the humour stopped and the serious moments started. One notable example was the events on the Iron Isles, where Iron Priests were so consumed by their work they failed to notice thousands of kraken-spawn descending upon them. The end result of this was Arjac Rockfist defending the entire island more or less single-handedly, and this feat earning him his position within the chapter.  It's so over the top that, despite supposedly being a more serious moment in the book, the humour seems to bleed over and effect it.

There are numerous cases throughout the book where this keeps seeming to happen. For example, the book tries to bar them from certain units by claiming the chapter is afraid to fly and pushes certain conflicts with the Ecclesiarchy are presented in a darkly humourous light despite serious impact. On the one had it is good that there is a degree of blurring between the two themes to prevent the book feeling like it's jumping from one theme to the next. On the other however, it feels as if it's leaning too hard towards humour and the next edition needs to clear this up. Definitely have some areas where the two themes meet, but they should make it have a much clearer divide and not allow one to overshadow the other in such events.

1. Less Wolf, More Viking

This is without a doubt the biggest failing of the entire codex. Above all else, the key thing the writers got completely wrong was their focus on which element to follow of the Space Wolves, ultimately favouring the more fantastical one than the warrior aspect. Rather than making them more like Vikings or Norse warriors, Phil Kelley was completely focused here upon the Wulfen and werewolf aspects of the Space Wolves. This isn't saying that their genetic curse should be overlooked, but you only need to skim through the codex to see the serious problems here.

In a massive change from prior editions, we now suddenly have space marines riding giant wolves into combat, usually at the behest of Wolf Lords, all the while fighting with Wolf weapons and at the side of the Wolf Guard. The word is littered throughout the entire book with iconography, model details and points all being designed to incorporate wolves however possible. Even by the standards of Warhammer this is cheesy beyond belief and it really detracts from the book, making it feel far too cartoonish and cheesy. The same problem would go on to plague many other chapters (notably the aforementioned Blood Angels and Grey Knights) but it's visibly at its worst here and it just makes the book feel dumber with this choice.

Novels and other works seem to have recognised this, abandoning many of this book's terms and using more traditional Norse terminology in its place. Wolf Lords for example are just called Jarls, the Wolf names of iconic weapons are frequently dropped and many of the more wolfy aspects (such as helmets and the rear head of thunder hammers) are neither mentioned nor depicted. This makes the army feel far more genuine as a warrior race and actually fits in better with the setting thanks to its more feudal style. 

Were the next group of writers to spend time looking at the many novels, from William King to Chris Wraight, and see how they are depicted as more Beowulf than Underworld, then the book would see a definite step up in quality. Well, that and if they opt to remove "claw" from half the squads of young initiates. that's really all that needs to be done here, just change up some of the terminology and stop making them ride giant wolves into combat. Well, that and rename/completely re-write Canis Wolfborn without half of his more erogenous elements.

So those are the top five changes the next Codex: Space Wolves needs. There are definitely more points which could be made, but these are the core ones which would ultimately improve the book. So long as the quality doesn't decline in other elements while they are improving these, the next edition's book ought to be a decent release.

Many of you likely have your own thoughts and opinions on this subject. Perhaps your own preferred changes to the lore or even just a stance against the army in general. As ever, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be interested in hear them.


  1. This is a good list, and I especially agree with #1, I remember showing a friend this codex (he stopped playing 40K at 4th edition and wanted to pick it back up) and he was kind of astonished when he got to Canis Wolfborn, after reading his gear (he has almost everything in that book with wolf on it) he turned to me and said "what is this, third grade?"

    I think one I might have added is something along the lines of "Stop making them better than everyone else." Grey Knights was horrible with making everything in it better than the standard Space Marines (while at the same time trying to make them just like regular chapters), and I can't help but feel that Space Wolves is only slightly better in that regard, if that, regular armies have power swords, and power axes, but the Space Wolves have frost weapons, which are much better (and only cost 5 points more for +1 Str, or 10 more for +2 Str and AP2), other armies have artificer armour, Space Wolves have runic armour, which is better (but costs the same), other armies have lightning claws, Space Wolves have wolf claws, which are better (but cost the same), you can see where I'm going with this.

    That was just the equipment though, in the lore, way too many of their battles seem to devolve into "we were better than them, that's why we won." And this happens with their spaceships somehow, even when heavily outnumbered/outmatched to a ridiculous degree they win anyway (with no real explanation), in a situation where anybody else would lose. Some of these are so bad that even Matt Ward wouldn't think of doing it, like having 30 Space Wolves fly through space (who knows how far) latch onto a CHAOS SPACE MARINE FLAGSHIP, break in by punching it a lot (yes, literally), take control, and then use it to cripple an ENTIRE CHAOS FLEET.
    There's the bit where they intentionally fight the Ordo Malleus allowing a Radical Inquisitor Lord to escape, and yet, even though they eventually back down, they're not reprimanded for this in any way, there's the bit where they open fire on priests for no reason at all, and then open fire on three full orders of the Sisters of Battle (presumably killing hundreds of them given how long the fighting went on) before they're left alone, and they're not reprimanded for this either, both of which I find about as bad as the Bloodtide, because it makes no sense for them to do either of these, and because they're so great, they can't be harmed in any way because of them.

    These can be fixed though, explain how exactly they managed to get through the Chaos Flagship quick enough to use its guns on the rest of the fleet (I'd love to see them try to explain that away), as for why they aren't reprimanded, I've felt the rest of the Imperium views the Space Wolves as strong idiots that don't know any better, and this is kind of helped by their codex, where they are so proud to have held off against the Tyranids for a while before retreating, while thinking "I bet they're sure scared of us now!" They could bring something like that across a little more in the new codex, or they could make the Space Wolves intelligent, and have the writers intelligently resolve their problems, for example, maybe a previous Apostate Cardinal is the reason the Space Wolves don't trust the Ecclesiarchy (one did attack them in the past but it isn't mentioned in their codex), maybe the Sisters stumble across some Fenrisians, and hear from them that the Space Wolves aren't Pagans and that's why they decide to leave.

    1. Well honestly the main reason I didn't bring up that lore point is that Games Workshop (or at least a few authors at it) have been fixing it themselves. The last few modern 40K novels to feature them have involved their behaviour coming back to bite them or backfiring in some way. For example, the Months of Shame you mentioned weren't entirely without consequence. Both sides had taken heavy casualties, the Fang needed to undergo extensive rebuilding and both sides knew the other would be gunning for them. As soon as the Inquisition left, members were already discussing how to better control the chapter in the future while the Space Wolves themselves were effectively readying for a shadow war.

      A more direct example of where this Chris Wraight's Blood of Asaheim which seemed to be trying to humble them. On the one hand it repeatedly tried to mock and insult the Space Wolves whenever possible, trying to present chapters as more learned and doing a terrible job with the Codex Astartes. For starters it tried to present the Space Wolves as having an outright hatred for it (whereas before they just didn't give a damn) and lacking any shred of caution or real planning, with the only competent member being someone who had returned from the Deathwatch.
      On the other hand, the book did a great job presenting the idea that the chapter was effectively involved in a shadow war with several Imperial organisations. One which was specifically confirmed was the Ecclesiarchy, with one dying Sororitas mentioning that a number of casualties had been taken by assassins and sabotage. There's been a couple of stories along this line and it does seem some authors are aware of this failing.

      The reason I didn't bring up the examples you did specifically was because, well, I honestly thought that point No. 2 covered that. Such moments feel as if they're trying to get away with the audacity of the humour and take too much of it to try and excuse some of the more exaggerated elements.

    2. As far as the parody goes, I was debating initially if I should write a bit on the lore, then I decided that if I thought it was more nonsensical than parody I would, I'm perfectly fine with them fighting the Tyranids and giving themselves a pat on the back for retreating (it's funny to me), I like the entry regarding The Lost Company of Svengar the Red, it's funny enough for the setting (especially how they find out that the people on the planet aren't actually people) that I don't even care they shouldn't know what happened to them, same with the Abomination of Cyriax, the regular people thinking that the wolves are Daemons is great for the setting because the people just don't know any better based on what they've seen, so I didn't include any of those.

      Actually the example I used for the Space Wolves against the Inquisition was The Daemonbane War, and considering what the inquisition normally does to people who help Radical Inquisitor Lords, it's kind of astonishing to me that they just let them go (as according to their codex).
      I'll admit I haven't read the novel The Emperor's Gift (I've mostly just looked at plot summaries for the months of shame), but do they mention The Daemonbane War in it? That seems like a much better reason to me for them going to war with them than Armageddon's aftermath (at least initially). I'm also a little worried that if I do buy and read those novels, then the new codex will just retcon out a lot of what happens in them, kind of like how the Months of Shame retcon what happens in the Codex.

      It's nice then that they fleshed out what was happening between the Wolves and the Ecclesiarchy in Blood of Asaheim (I haven't read it, but I'm going to now if the new codex doesn't retcon it), but did they ever explain, in any novel you know of, how they were able to capture that flagship? I've searched online but can't find anything, and I had mentioned it first because I can't help but feel it's the worst out of all their entries, there's parody, then there's full on Mary Sue territory.

    3. Ah. Now I had not actually heard of the Daemonbane War (terrible name by the way) and having read up on it I definitely agree with you entirely. That situation was where this presentation went completely wrong, and could have been handled far better. I could personally see the Space Wolves being begrudgingly willing to stick up for the Inquisitor despite his apparent heresies due to their loyalty, but not to the point of attacking the Inquisition. It would more likely be forceful bribery or distractions than exchanging bullets. A good example of this was actually in William King's Space Wolves books where Logan Grimnar forces an Inquisitor to back down from taking civilians for interrogation. However, he does this with veiled threats, shadowy terms and logic that the world they were on was under the chapter's protection, not putting a bolt round through his skull.

      Unfortunately no, The Emperor's Gift has no mention of this to my memory, but it is a far better display of how such an event would go down. Truth be told I would still personally buy it as it's a great release and is one of several acts of damage control for Codex: Grey Knights. Even if it is rectoned, it's still something which could be brought up in arguments for what good writing is actually like and why Games Workshop clearly has no idea what's its doing anymore.

      Sadly no, I don't think there was any mention of the flagship but i'm personally willing to ignore that one due to presentation in other books. One Iron Warriors short story during the Horus Heresy, the Iron Within, featured a group of loyalists hijacking a warship by teleporting onto the bridge. It makes a surprisingly good argument as to how they could take control, at least for the time, due it its size and the crew being ingrained with loyalty to astartes in general. They then spend the next several days quietly taking out the other astartes left on the ship as a skeleton crew until they have full control. It's better put than that but i'd need to find the story and properly quote the pages.

    4. Looks like I'll pick up the Emperor's Gift then, anything to make up for the last codex, and the summaries I've looked at have said that the months of shame happen much later in it, so there's still a very large amount of book I haven't spoiled myself on.

      That story sounds pretty cool, and it makes a lot more sense to me than the ship being entirely under chaos's control, fighting all the way to the bridge, and then destroying a fleet which, since it's a fully fledged fleet, should have enough firepower to destroy the flagship that's shooting them.
      I'm going to get that one too because that sounds like a really neat idea for a few fights if not a small campaign.

    5. Well, I hope you enjoy them both. Just be aware that the bit of The Iron Within mentioned here is mostly the ending, but it's still well worth reading given how the story plays out and the Warsmith it introduced.

      A word to the wise however, if you can try to get Blood of Asaheim out of the library rather than buying it. I'm currently re-reading the book for an upcoming review and there are a lot of problems, especially in how the Sisters of Battle are treated.

  2. Now, for how they play on the tabletop, they're not too bad as far as rules go. They have a few advantages over other equivalent armies thanks to how they're priced, for example the Long Fangs, for one point more than regular devastators, they get Split fire, and can take heavy bolters for 5 points (it's 10 for a devastator) or a missile launcher for 10 (15 for a regular devastator with the same missiles), but that's just a small example there's a few more of these throughout the codex, and it's not as bad in comparison to 6th edition marines as it was 5th edition marines, and I've already mentioned their equipment pricing, and I don't want to bring the Saga's or other truly unique gear (as in stuff that isn't just a better version of something else) into this because at least they make the army unique.

    A much worse idea (that has recently been FAQ'd out) was the Rune Priests, they let them pick any TWO Space Wolf Psychic Powers they wanted (all of which are very powerful), FOR NOTHING, as well as being able to buy an upgrade that allows you to use both, the only real downside is a lot of them are shooting attacks, but that's just fine, you've bought the chooser of the slain, so you're now BS5! They also nullify any Psychic Power cast within 24" of them on a 4+, as well as fleshbane (Daemons) force weapons. They cost 35 points more than regular Librarians, which is a steal (especially since they get two powers versus the Librarian's one by default), since there's no real way to make a regular Librarian measure up to them, you'll never beat their dispel advantage (it affect all abilities, including blessings) or their ability to choose their powers.

    Overall their rules are mostly fine (barring the Rune Priests mainly) and they only need a small amount of tweaking to bring them in line, but I'm worried that it's going to go the way of the Grey Knights after looking at their new flyers and from rumours I've heard floating around.

  3. I just learned something about the new Space Wolves, there's a supplement coming out along with the codex called "Champions of Fenris" (I'm "positive" it'll be great), are you going to review that along with the codex or are you going to pass on it?
    Aside from that, I've also been looking through the eye of terror campaign book, and I find it a little sad that the Space Wolves Thirteenth Company, half of which mutated into actual werewolves, are still far less wolf-like/wolf-obsessed than the regular ones.

    1. That one will depend if I have the time to be honest, i've got a slight backlog of books as it stands. However, supplements can be covered quite quickly due to their size, so i'll definitely try to get the time to do it. It'd certainly be nice to see if it takes another step forwards after Codex: WAAAGH! Ghazghkull and they start to become good.

      Well, look at it another way and consider it to be how the chapter has developed. It's made clear that the legion's original facade has become more of an outright characteristic for the chapter (I believe TV Tropes calls this "Becoming The Mask") and something which has been exaggerated over time. It kind of makes sense in this regard that they would be less wolf obsessed, though I do agree it's sad that even they, with their sheer number of wolfen, do not reach the obscene heights of the last codex.

    2. Honestly, I'd love to see more of the 13th Company, off on their own little supplement or something, but I don't credit GW with being competent enough to make a supplement work for it. I have been very disappointed with the supplements thus far, and would like to see some real work done on them.

      Truthfully, the one reason and the one reason only that I think GW is redoing this codex is to eliminate the Wolf Pack kit from their product line, as it is actually one of the best values in the entire store. I expect the new kit will have half the components for ten dollars more.

    3. I realize this is a bit late Raika, bit if you want a 13th Company supplement, I'd recommend looking up the Eye of Terror book, which contained full rules for the 13th company and in my opinion was one of the good supplements the old GW put out.

    4. Just happened to notice this response, and firstly I notice that I was right, GW has wiped half the components from the kit while raising the price again. Still at least it's not the $60 GK basic set...

      That said, I appreciate the response. I know all about the EoT book though, I've been playing Warhammer for quite some time now. I agree with you, it was pretty darn awesome and I appreciate the info, but unfortunately it's also very outdated. Unfortunately again I don't really credit GW with the ability to do a good job with it any more, as if recent trends are any indication we'd most likely see 13th Company as a strictly Codex-adherent company...somehow...