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 fanfiction.net, 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.