Well, this is going to get some interesting reactions from people.
Even just looking at a list of the armies currently supported by Games Workshop, the average player will notice an unfortunate trend: The Imperium makes up roughly half the armies in the game. Even discounting the Space Marines, everything from the new Imperial Knights to the severely under-powered Sororitas count as their own individual armies.
Now to top all of this off we yet again have rumours of a full Mechanicum army potentially in the works, with all the gimmicks and firepower you would expect. It's an old rumour, repeated many times, but it's one which has been cropping up more and more lately. Now, in the interests of fairness it's a cool army with plenty of good lore, a justified massive military force, and one which would have good reasons to occasionally fight even other humans. Also in the interests of fairness though, it would be yet another Imperial army to add to the mix of an already over-saturated game.
So, rather than giving the Imperium one more army to play with, or some Chaos variant of it, what about the many aliens who keep getting overlooked? Here's a short list of six factions, races and sub-sets of the universe who could offer a unique spin on things.
6. Tau Empire Auxiliaries
This is a blindingly obvious one and it remains astounding to this day that Games Workshop has offered so little support to this idea. Of all the factions present in modern 40K, what makes the Tau Empire truly unique is its variety. Rather than just being one race or a handful of survivors, they are a massive cluster of united species growing in strength over time. We have seen this with the main army itself, with constant mentions of the Gue'vesa, and the presence of kroot, vespid and various mercenaries allied or joined with the Empire. Honestly, if you count the idea of Gue'vesa manning Hammerheads or the like, kroot as troops and vespid as fast attack, there's already the starting point for a legitimate army in play here.
There's already enough of a framework here in terms of models to justify a new army, but imagine for a moment this was taken a step further. Imagine for a moment that the army itself took time to actually focus upon the minor races mentioned in the codex or otherwise ignored within the greater scheme of things. The codex lists a multitude of minor races who fulfill a variety of roles, and we've seen even more present in other books, especially Battlefleet Gothic. These have ranged from spider-like creatures to stand-ins for the Yeerks (hats off to anyone who gets that reference) and even a race of potentially psionic beings skilled at void faring. Any one of these could easily be adapted to a battlefield role in some way, with many being noted to carry out the role of light infantry or garrisons among the Empire's armies.
The variety of aliens on hand means they would be able to fulfill niche roles in a manner akin to the Craftworld Eldar and even cover areas which were missed in the main book. No psychics among the Fire Caste? Not a problem, the Empire itself is noted to have multiple psychic races and psykers in its employ, despite what Codex: Farsight Enclaves might claim. They wouldn't be limited purely to what was on offer in Codex: Tau Empire and many could bring a variety of unique and different vehicles, weapons and ideas into play.
This is also before getting to an obvious point: With so many aliens on offer there is the opportunity for players to create their own races. Perhaps by adding a generator similar the stuff we used to see in fanatic or even the old Chapter Trait rules, players could be coerced to add a bit of individuality to their own forces. Just that little bit of a personal touch to make the army their's rather than the kind we've been getting over past years involving re-painting characters.
This is also before getting to the lore. Codex: Tau Empire had a starting point on many of these races, noting their role or even early interactions with tau emissaries, but it was just a start. If this was written with the page-count of a full codex, even a small one like that given to the Imperial Knights, it would be more than enough to fully expand upon them. Perhaps each would gain a page or two to expand upon their histories, role within the empire or even battlefield mentalities. Then there's the role of the army itself, which could emphasise how they exist within the Empire or coincide with the Fire Caste. Perhaps it could even outline the role they could play as a vanguard force, acting as bodyguards to emissaries trying to introduce new worlds into the Empire and show some form of unity.
There is a truly massive wealth of ideas and knowledge present here, and it's more than enough to build a new book off of. Let's just hope that Games Workshop realises that one day.
5. The Empire of the Severed
In past reviews, you might have noticed i've been especially hard on the remade necrons, often criticising many points when it came to their new direction and aspects. While I do personally stand by many of those points, especially the eldar comparison, i'm not about to say the army had no potential. The big problem more than anything else came from a lack of skill on the part of its writer and the complete unwillingness to retain anything of the old interpretation of the army. Fall of Orpheus has corrected that latter point somewhat, but prior to that we had The Empire of the Severed.
While barely focused upon in the book save for some brief info, the Empire was originally seen as a token effort to appease fans, with some mixed results. While it was definitely mis-aimed in that regard and really failed to understand what many jaded players had a problem with, the Empire itself has a great deal of potential behind it. The idea is effectively that, while slumbering, a Tomb World suffered catastrophic damage which wiped the minds of those within and damaged the master computer. Now known as the Sarkoni Emperor, the computer began to send out warriors under its control to enforce its will upon as many worlds as possible.
While not an opportunity to return to the Cthulhu style Lovecraftian horror of old books, it does none the less provide a few interesting concepts. Consider that the Sarkoni Emperor has no real value for the individual necrons, uses them as nothing but tools and weapons to help enforce its will further. It would be far more willing to mutilate and alter the bodies of its warriors into the weapons it needed and morph them into outright abominations when needed. Imagine it for a moment, siege weapons formed of the compacted, crushed and compressed bodies of countless necron warriors, wired to work as a single entity. Imagine new airborne units formed out of the galvanized bodies of Destroyers and Tomb Spyders, or even what sort of intentional terror weapons they might use to bring "order" to new worlds. And this is just what new units and models could be made by building upon the old ones.
There's also the idea of the army working to conquer and subjugate other worlds and species via the use of mindshackle scarabs which is particularly interesting. Now, on the one hand a writer could easily make this go wrong by having this be a poor Borg copy in many regards. On the other, it could be taken in a very different way if it were used to bring back certain ideas or take other influences.
One of the big things a few players took issue with was the removal of Pariahs from the book. While never the most popular unit, people liked the idea and designs behind them enough to warrant some fondness. If the Sarkoni Emperor ended up in a war against Chaos or Warp entities, it would fit with its chilling intelligence to seek out and take blanks or the like for its own armies. Perhaps crafting them into generals or leaders of a very different kind. Perhaps this could also be taken to the other extreme, if it took psykers as weapons and used them to rip open reality in battle, heedless of what it would unleash.
Then of course we have the point of how the lore could be presented to the reader. Some of the most effective Necron lore has been depictions through the eyes of their enemies, written in a manner reminiscent of horror stories and data extracts. It adds a layer of the unknown, of unfamiliarity to the army, and would help to hit home just how different, just how wrong the Emperor's existence might be.
Whatever the case, there's clear potential for a true army here, one both returning to an older idea while trying something new.
|Click here to view artwork|
Yes, the Squats are on this list and really, after the Sixth Edition, why not? After so many years of giving them the non-person treatment, Games Workshop finally acknowledged that they were once part of the universe and hasn't changed their fate. As such there's still ten thousand years of history to work with when it comes to them, and many of the problems which caused them to be unpopular to arguably ill fitting with the setting could be easily remedied with a new spin on things. Also, yes, they're subhumans but they're the only one not rolled into the
As daft as their old designs and look might have been, that was back in an era where just about everything emulated that same neon cartoonishly grimdark look. Space marines were more ape-like than their current selves, eldar were even more multicoloured than their modern selves and the guns were so huge that the venerable bolter looked tame by comparison. If you want a good example of how much things have changed, compare the old Imperial Knights with their modern redesign in recent years. There would be nothing to stop Games Workshop just throwing away the aesthetic they didn't think worked or radically altering them, perhaps as much for the army as a whole as its look.
One of the chief attempts to bring back the idea of Squats was via the Demiurg, a Tau Empire allied race of short miners who operated in brotherhoods. Unfortunately they were sadly sidelined and overlooked beyond Battlefleet Gothic and a couple of mentions in Xenology. This said those same ideas could easily be re-worked into this to some degree. Perhaps here the Squats could keep the nomadic idea, one of constantly being on the move rather than chained down to a handful of worlds and avoiding direct fighting. Perhaps many of their weapons and armour could be reverse-engineered mining equipment to give them a unique aesthetic. Beyond the obvious use of mining lasers, the armies themselves could consist of small numbers of actual Squats, augmented by countless drones and controlled purely mechanical units. It's territory which other armies have touched upon (Tau sniper teams etc) but never built an entire army out of.
That could be enough to start building the army in terms of giving them a more individual spin on things. In terms of lore though, the main priority would just really need to be emulating certain aspects of dwarves without going full bore into the Fantasy interpretation. As this was the problem which had them removed in the first place, and the whole "tradition, honour, grudges" angle has been absorbed into the average Space Marine chapter, focusing upon their role as miners and mechanics would be a better direction. If they were quietly invading Imperial space, that and their use of massed mechanical units would be enough of a reason to keep them separate from the Imperium. Humanity could see them as a slowly invading force and they could easily be set up as having a lengthy enmity with the Mechanicum, which would allow them to remain truly individual. What's more is that if they were mining precious metals from within humanity's realm and selling it to xenos races, there would be definite storytelling potential behind their activities.
If this sounds a little more general than the previous ones, that's primarily because of what would be required to truly incorporate past ideas and interpretations. That said though, there's still enough potential and infamy behind the army to at least consider resurrecting them.
Of all those on this list, this is certainly going to be the one few mainstream 40K fans will have heard of. Having originated from the Rogue Trader RPG, the Rak'Gol are a surprisingly well fleshed out and creepy background race. If you want the full details they can be found here, but the short version is that they are a highly advanced race of psychotic marauders. Having recently emerged from the Halo Stars, the aliens have emerged indiscriminately killing all they see before retreating once again, their warriors appearing as horrifically warped and altered sub-species of their kind.
Now, already many will be pointing out the obvious: This sounds a lot like the Dark Eldar. Both the pirate, body horror and terror angles are areas which that army has already covered. What's more is that the Rak'Gol themselves are primarily set up to offer GMs plenty of freedom. Their lore never gives full answers so they might serve as a malleable enemy to be shaped into whatever the campaign requires.
Now, in fairness there is a definite degree of truth to such accusations and it would take some reworking by a talented writer to really get the ball rolling here. At the same time though, a lot of the basic groundwork for this race is already there. The detail given by Fantasy Flight Games is far in advance of what's usually given by Games Workshop and does a lot to set the overall themes of the army.
In addition to this, the Rak'Gol's overall aesthetic design and many of their elements actually more closely emulate Tyranid Swarms. They are seen to be some strange mixture of reptile, mammal, insect and other creatures, splitting off into various different sub-species but lack the Hive Mind element. They use technology, are driven by an insatiable hunger and hunt down others in a frantic rush. If anything they could be used to make a much darker take upon the old idea of the Zoats, some intelligent offshoot of the Tyranid Hive which has gone rogue. After all, the Zoats mainly failed due to having little real direction or unique presence behind them resulting in their unpopularity. By comparison, the Rak'Gol here have a distinct style, theme and enough here to make them unique from the get go.
Tactically the race seems to favour various swarm tactics or rapid sledgehammer strikes to instantly cripple and bring down their foes. Their lore so far emphasises the use of infantry and vessels over vehicles, favouring hunting parties more than anything else. This can be a hard sell, and means that much of their armour would have to originate from aircraft rather than true ground vehicles. At the same time though, it would fit the same sort of glass cannon archetype that many races beyond space marines fall into there's a lot to be said for the army's themes of bionic enhancement and sheer savagery. Given how surprisingly low tech they are, if added the faction could easily fall into a slot which could combine tactical elements of orks, dark eldar and tyranids, an interesting mix of points to be sure if given to the right designer. Oh, and they also happily carry nuclear powered lasers, axes and weapons into battle, so there could finally be some fun radiation related rules in the game with them.
I'll freely admit that the reason they have been picked out is largely thanks to the effective atmosphere and depth given to the race by Fantasy Flight Games, and they are written as a minor race. With all that said though, they are one of the few truly minor races who seems to retain the potential to be a full army in their own right.
2. Eldar Exodites
Yep, all of you saw this one coming, but really how could they not be on this list? This is an army of highly psychic survivalist elf ninjas who ride dinosaurs with laser cannons on their backs. Much as they might be used as a punching bag (a bad one even by eldar standards) there's everything here needed for a great new army if given the time and development. Better yet, rather than just being treated as another craftworld there are elements here which make them stand out on their own without being simple substitutes.
Now, some elements of the army could easily use bits and pieces from Codex: Eldar or Codex: Dark Eldar forces as inspiration. Their Dragon Knights for example do bare some distinct similarities in descriptions and the methods they strike to Shining Spear Aspect Warriors, and the main weapons found on their bigger beasts of war are often outlined as being variations of eldar weapons. As such, the main risk her would be supplanting too many elements from another army and effectively copying and pasting them into this one. Something which is sadly a definite potential issue given what we've seen in codices of past years, especially in terms of lore. This said though, there could be a good balance struck by emphasising upon their lower tech nature which would help them break away from the others a little.
Effectively 40K's equivalent of Fantasy's Wood Elves, the Exodites blend high tech firepower with a more peaceful nature attuned to their world. While voluntarily primitive, their odd mixture of rustic and advanced aspects of society could be an interesting angle to pursue. In the old kroot army list back when White Dwarf did more than advertise new products, the idea for such an army emphasised stealth, guerrilla tactics, traps and ambush points. These ideas could be taken a step further from what we know of the Exodites. While much more physically and psychically hardly than their Craftworld cousins, they would still be a glass cannon force. As such would probably favour any method which could weaken or slow down a foe, then swoop in for the kill. While perhaps not utilising punji traps, they could instead rely upon other methods: ghosts drawn up by the World Spirit to inflict terror or psychicly harm invaders, or have a World-Shaper repeatedly shift the terrain to cause an enemy force problems.
Being survivors of The Fall, and with Eldar Empire technology being as diverse and fragmented as it is, there's also no telling what the Exodites might have brought with them to help defend the planet. The last update they received had the Exodites as the sole groups still retaining access to Eldar Knights (eldar versions of Imperial Knights) and artwork has often featured the race wielding strange and previously unknown weapons. This would leave the door open to entirely new ideas and would help create some story ideas, perhaps with the Mechanicum or even dark eldar seeking to steal any items of value for their own research. The very fact they have access to the Webway, are frequently in contact with multiple craftworlds like Alaitoc and Biel-Tan, and are more frequently met up troupes of Harlequins are all threads which could be developed for narrative appeal.
Going further into ideas which could help bolster the army's lore, there are a few distinctly unique aspects which remain interesting but unexplored. While the basics of their society has been outlined, enough to make them a very stable and detailed civilisation, little has been done to cover a few interesting points. Chief among these has been the presence of the World Spirit, an alternate version of the Infinity Circuit found within Craftworlds. It's been seen to act very differently in a manner to them, ranging from drawing up ghosts of the departed to outright melding them into one entity. A few people have even suggested that the destruction of several prominent Exodite worlds might have resulted in the creation of mini-Ynneads. Then of course we have the way in which each one has adapted to their new world, potentially allowing for some variation and individuality between player armies and just what each one might value as opposed to others.
Really, of all the ones listed on here, the Exodites remain one of the easiest ones to adapt and get right.
Yeah, much as people might love the Exodites there's one more which has a few very interesting traits to help them stand out: The Hrud. Initially an attempt to build up a 40K version of the Skaven, the Hrud are a massive race lurking in the dark deep places of the universe. Staying constantly out of sight, they remain hidden and avoid outright conflict, yet are an extremely dangerous race, one which could easily be adapted to a full army.
While initially only kept to the background, a few stories over the past years have seriously helped make them stand out. Chief among these was Xenology, which gave a highly detailed account of their biology, society and a few hints of their true nature. This showed them taking humans as slaves and managing to build warrens beneath heavily populated worlds, remaining hidden beyond sight yet managing to build massive city-sized underground labyrinths. It gave the impression of an alien force capable of nestling away within the Imperium's heartland effectively unseen, capable of infiltrating and hiding away to a degree only matched by Genestealer Cults.
However, while high numbers and infiltration make them effective, what allows them to remain truly deadly is their biological traits and technology. Hrud thrive amid toxins which would outright kill most humans and actively refine it, making directly attacking their warrens a dangerous task but more threatening by far is the entropic field they can generate. The reverse of a stasis field, it can accelerate decay, aging and entropy at an astounding rate, to a point where even the greatest of the Imperium's warriors can fall before them. These are usually best displayed during the race's migrations from world to world, with particularly large ones being responsible for both the near destruction of the Star Phantoms chapter and a Crusade era Iron Warriors taskforce. Oh, and if that wasn't enough they also have guns which fire raw Warp energy at people.
Much like the Rak'Gol, these seem to lean much more towards a massed infantry assault army, but there's enough here on the tabletop for it to be adapted into a variety of roles. The few direct confrontations with the Hrud have been sketchily detailed at best, but each and every time has required a massive response from the Imperium. These have ranged from either from the astartes themselves or multiple entire regiments of Imperial Guard. As such, despite their superior numbers and design, Games Workshop could easily turn this into a tank race, with heavy armour and firepower but few real numbers. They have details, but they are extremely malleable as a concept.
In terms of lore there is distinctively less to go on than the Exodites or others here, but what little is given is very interesting indeed. Foremost among these is their religion, which has the race retaining some link to the Old Ones, worshiping Qah and having fought against the C'Tan armies during the War in Heaven. Atop of this, Qah is supposedly one of the few to survive to any degree, splintering into shadowy beings known as the Umbra and prophesied to return upon facing a mysterious foe.
So, what game designers are left with is this: An unused race with access to superior firepower and numbers, linked back to the War in Heaven itself, with connections to the future, yet are still a relatively blank slate. Yeah, if any one on here was going to be created here and now, it seems like this one would be one of the best choices to flesh out into a full blown faction. They're more widespread than the Tau Empire or Rak'Gol, more numerous than the Squats or Exodites and have a long history to play about with. If anything they're really set up to be the perfect faction to fit into whatever future Games Workshop has planned for the franchise.
So, there's a few suggestions. This isn't a top six list so please don't think that one is being ranked atop the other, but it does show how vast a universe designers have to work with and how much they could alter or adapt things to focus more upon aliens. These are just a few examples after all, some of the more prominent ones, and many more could easily be made to fit in with the setting without disrupting any existing canon. Let's just hope Games Workshop realises this enough to start focusing upon more aliens and less space marines.
If you have a few suggestions of your own, or even objections to those listed here, please feel free to add them in the comments. There's probably a few good ones i've missed.