Monday, 23 March 2015
6 Points Codex: Skitarii Needs In Order To Succeed
It seems at long last that, in their efforts to market new armies, Games Workshop might be wheeling out a Mechanicus force at long last. Arguably the final big force the company can bring out short of a Custodes or Arbites army (or if they could give us a legitimate Sororitas force), there is an understandable level of hype behind it. Unfortunately, the company's success record when it comes to loyally sticking to their own ideas has been very chequered of late, and there is some understandable trepidation. After all, of all the Imperium's armies, the Mechanicus are easily one of the most unique.
This is ultimately written with lore as the main focus over rules and how to better explore the universe. At the same time it's focused on the Adeptus Mechanicus as a whole rather than merely their militant Skitarii given it is the Tech-Priests who still lead them. In the same way the Tau Empire isn't Codex: Fire Caste, a book needs to cover the big picture to really get a concept across.
So, in order to stick to the bare basics, here are six points which the codex needs to nail in order to be a true success and a loyal adaptation. Why six? Because there's one very special one which needed to be highlighted above all others.
6. The Many Cog-Toothed Faces Of War
Of all the forces in the Imperium, the Mechanicus have never been one which has definitively been nailed down in terms of a solid idea. Okay, they have faith in tech, they often have access to relics and incredibly advanced weapons, and they have their own militant arm. However, how that military emerges and is depicted has varied heavily form work to work.
If you were to compare the Skitarii in Dark Adpetus to those found in Dark Apostle and Titanicus, you quickly come to realise no one is alike. Because there was no solid definition of exactly what the Skitarii were like every author was able to follow their own ideas. As such we've ended up with an incredible variety of forces, from only moderately enhanced elite Stormtroopers to borderline Servitors to combat drugged techno-barbarian berserkers implanted with all manner of weapons. Rather than being a weakness however, this often proves to be a far greater strength than any realise as it makes the universe feel far bigger.
Beyond the Imperial Guard, and arguably not even that, far too many armies within settings are often overly regimented. Because they are created to copy and promote what people find on the tabletop, all too often sub-faction after sub-faction is found being relatively similar. We could have craftworlds hidden for countless millenia in isolation, and they would have the exact same Aspect Warriors, vehicles and styles as Ulthwe because that's what's in the codex. Even astartes aren't immune to this as they are found constantly using the same patterns of vehicles, the same weapons and all too often the same basic troops.
By comparison the Skitarii are one of the few to truly break that mold and because of that variety it makes the Mechanicus feel like a vast and varied organisation. Because there are so many varied forms of troops, because there are so many diverse alternative regiments and forces, it seems truly universal. More than that however, it's one of the few areas which reflects how ideologically diverse and conflicting the Mechanicus can be, with so many of their forces sculpted to best reflect the visions of one cult or another.
If the codex was to lose sight of past depictions, if it stamped down one single idea or lost the ability to show such diversity, a better part of the setting would be lost to players. A better part of a wider world would be shut off for good and ultimately the narrative Games Workshop so often tries to claim it wants players to forge would be weakened.
5. Alliances, Hereteks and Untrustworthy Comrades
As the last section mentioned the various factions and sub-factions within the Mechanicus possibly shaping its armies, it seems only right that the next section would expand upon that. The Adeptus Mechanicus is rooted into the very core of the Imperium itself. It remains a vital cog keeping humanity alive and fighting, and is spread across the Imperium via countless Forge Worlds. Easily as big as the Inquisition, capable of rivaling the Administrarum, the Mechanicus' presence is easily seen and arguably even more keenly felt across many worlds. The factories producing Titans, the engines keeping Hive Cities going, the very guns of the Imperial Guard, all are kept going by the Mechanicus giving them incredible political clout. Enough that they can, and will, happily get into headbutting contests with just about everyone from astartes to the Ordo Hereticus.
The conflicts, debates and occasional infighting between Mechanicus and other forces are well documented throughout the setting. Various novels have featured the Mechanicus going to great lengths to cover up certain activities or go their own way, especially in Storm of Iron, Soul Drinker and Hammer and Anvil. Others will go out of their way to try and ensure that no other forces interfere with their work, such as Magos Explorator Delphan Gruss, and others will play politics however they can just for their own personal gain. This is rooted into their very core and many armies have ties to them one way or another, either directly as allies or complete enemies. The Knight Worlds in particular often have a rather tumultuous relationship of self determination facing off against fealty to the Mechanicus. There are countless story opportunities or possibilities to be done with allies as a result of this, and that's without getting into how the various ideologies within the Mechanicus could affect things. While the allies chart was previously a biased joke, so much so the recent one had to be incredibly simplified just to stop screwing things up, there needs to be more variety here. Something to help reflect that rivalry and their role ranging from staunch ally to, well, the Imperium's Starscream.
Of course, then you also have to consider what opportunities there are beyond the puritanical or loyalist elements. Save for the Traitor Legions themselves, the Adeptus Mechanicus have the best known organised force of traitors worshiping Chaos, the Dark Mechanicus. While ultimately supposedly destroyed, large chunks of the force still exist in one way or another, with new recruits. We've seen them over many books appearing with insane weapons combing purifying flesh with machinery and the energies of the Immaterium. The previously mentioned Dark Adeptus novel in particular showed a true nightmarish world of creations with all sorts of wonderfully dark machines of war. If the company was willing to allow for players to make their own custom creations, then the book could easily be made to cover both sides of the conflict. That or, and heaven help us that they get this right, set the stage for a smaller mini-codex covering the Dark Mechanicus themselves.
However, there's no reason that the codex's writers need to even go quite so far as Chaos aligned heretics. There are factions within the Mechanicus who could easily add some variety, rogue or secret elements examining xenotech and even building new ideas from it. A few background elements have listed some interesting ideas in the past, such as rogue Mechanicus factions examining recovered eldar Wraithguard to try and replicate their basic function and the like. It wouldn't take much to add a few potential tables, alternative units or even wargear to reflect this, and there wouldn't be so many dramatic changes required as with the Dark Mechanicus.
The various faces of the Mechanicus have been seen from every side, as an ally, rival, tyrant, enemy and a heretic. If the codex truly wants to fully cover the organisation and bring the Tech-Priests to the tabletop, it needs to show more than a single facet of itself.
4. Ignore Codex: Clan Raukaan
Yes, something more important probably could be put here, but this one really speaks for itself. While the codex, which was less of a rulebook and more of a tabletop gaming hate crime, was focused upon the Iron Hands, it heavily involved the Mechanicus.
At every turn the writers of this bastardised work got massive details wrong and quite frankly went increasingly nuts with some of the worst defilement of established canon since Codex: Grey Knights. Not to mention a waste of good story opportunities. Take the very idea of the Iron Hands' relationship with the Mechanicus. Previously it was something not so clearly defined by thought to be down primarily due to some ideological alliance or something far more unclear, perhaps thanks to some unknown agreement or goal. What did they do instead? Turned the Iron Hands into hired muscle for the Mechanicus over battles they never fought and events they could not possibly have participated in. It only got worse from there.
The codex massively hurt both armies, stripping away vast chunks of interesting information about both. The Steel Confessors were mysteriously retconned into oblivion so the Iron Hands could be lumbered with ham-fisted poor copies of their concepts. The Mechanicus themselves were depicted as utter hypocrites and possibly full blown heretics, and the few bits we did get about them only served to harm their concepts. While whatever codex the Adeptus Mechanicus get ultimately shouldn't focus upon the Iron Hands or their relationship with them, this is an opportunity to go things right this time and throw in a few ideas from older, better written, works.
In fact, if the writers have any shred of respect for the setting, they should go out of their way to directly conflict with everything in that codex. Re-write the lore, discard the rulebook, shoot Codex: Clan Raukaan twice in the head and shove its decaying bloated corpse into the gutter.
3. Eras Of Old Night And Lost Ages
The Imperium has gradually evolved over time with many relics, secrets and old ideas lost while others have been reclaimed. Over the ten thousand years the Imperium has undergone many shifts in political power and lost many of its great secrets, and even repeatedly risked civil war. All throughout this, while many have been heavily effected, the Mechanicus have often been at the center of each storm. Whether it was Vandire's atrocities or the schism created over the potential future merging of the Ecclesiarchy and Mechanicus, at every turn the Tech-Priests have seen themselves at the centre of events. Sadly however, many of these have all too often gone unremarked or were simply shoved into the background of events.
We covered this previously in an article citing how going back and fleshing out the past was more important than any future. For all its long history, far too many parts of the Imperium's existence were simply skimmed over or barely commented upon thanks to its focus upon conflict and armies. Just about every codex in the game, even those supposed to cover multiple ancient civilisations, all too often skim over any details beyond the battlefield. While there have been the odd concessions here and there, because of this Warhammer 40,000 has sorely lacked some of the ideas and more dynamic elements found in other works. Battletech, Legend of the Five Rings, even Strike Legion outdoes them to a surprising degree in some areas. It's saying something when nearly all of the non-combat ideas in the universe these days come exclusively either from Fantasy Flight Games or Forge World.
A true Codex: Skitarii an opportunity to change the status quo which has plagued creativity in this setting for two reasons. Firstly, while it might be an organisation with a militant arm and plenty of guns, its primary focus has always been upon exploring the galaxy, preserving knowledge and building machinery. Secondly, it's old enough to have experienced all of the aforementioned events and to have witnessed them first hand. It would have documents covering its own involvement in them, the conflicts, perhaps even the issues of trying to maintain their cohesive power when the Imperium was split in two. There wouldn't need to be pages upon pages covering this, but just enough to truly start expanding upon it. Perhaps it could be put in place of all the padding so many codices feature with repeated images of the same models, that would be an improvement.
However, there is also one more way this could be taken a step further. Perhaps the codex could account in some way for the differences across these ages on the tabletop somehow. Perhaps, just as an experiment, to lock out certain technologies to M36 and others to M41 and the like. Then perhaps have some advantages and disadvantages stem from this as a result of the time and both better and worse technological understandings. It wouldn't be too dissimilar to what Forge World have done with the Horus Heresy in some respects, and it would be a small enough part to be an experiment. If it failed to catch on, then it could be easily abandoned.
Overall though, Games Workshop here has a real chance to truly try something new. Let's just hope they take advantage of it.
2. Where Do They Get All Those Wonderful Toys?
I apologise for nothing.
While the Mechanicus might provide vast amounts of tech for just about every part of the Imperium, they tend to keep the best aspects for themselves. The few times the Skitarii have been called into battle or seen defending their worlds, often they have brought to bear various weapons the Imperial Guard can only dream of. These have ranged from Great Crusade era heavy weapons mounted on combat Servitors to experimental designs which are still largely tied up in red tape, and even some truly insane things. Sometimes relics, sometimes a man portable rapid fire cluster missile launcher capable of homing in on its targets. Yeah, for all its degenerating technology, the Imperium can still produce some new ideas.
The chief thing to bare in mind though is that, much like the sixth point made, this army can produce some truly weird and wacky weapons. This could be like the example above, or it could be multiple tanks on legs, armed with several dozen mechadendrites to harpoon and drag units over to it, then rip them apart at close range. What's more is that this could also be the opportunity for players to see a wider variety of Imperial technology than before. Perhaps something closer to, but obviously cruder than, the Horus Heresy range. The same sorts of weapons being emulated, substituted or cobbled together out of newer parts to create some strange mishmash of current and ancient technology.
The actual vehicles themselves could definitely be a truly interesting point if handled correctly. Most Imperial tanks have traditionally been tracked, but there has been the occasional mention of legged APCs and the like in the lore. Along with the obvious advantage of not being immobilised quite as easily as tank tracks (arguably anyway) it would allow for some further close combat capabilities with such vehicles or for them to pull some stunts not seen before. Perhaps some bonus to scaling through dangerous terrain or the like, or even deploying Skitarii directly from its underside rather than side hatches.
This is a real opportunity to show the army as both being a force unto itself, having some elite edge over many other Imperial armies, while serving as an armory of sorts. One being used as a test bed for as of yet not widespread weapons and relics from yesteryear. This is a chance for the design time to go truly nuts and throw in some inventive designs. So long as we don't end up with another Storm Raven or Taurox, this could be a truly outlandish army to help it stand out, no matter how big or small the release.
Even if they don't it'd be a massive amount of wasted potential to even miss that in many of the background descriptions.
1. Technology, Creativity and Faith
This is a primarily lore related one above all else. While it might have a little standing on the tabletop, for the most part it relates to some of the staggeringly massive misconceptions surrounding the Mechanicus. Namely in how they, above all others, are supposedly single-handledly responsible for damning humanity and failing it as a species.
The big fact about the Mechanicus is that they are extremely cautious and exceedingly orthodox in their approach to technology. Above all else, they will stick to the tried and true methods or older STC designs over anything else and mark truly new ideas as complete heresy. The problem is that fandom perspective surrounding this aspect of their existence has reached truly ludicrous levels over the past few years.
Normally fans are now believing that the Tech-Priests are simply complete nut-jobs. Ones with no clue what they are doing and simply dress up instruction manuals as holy books, then shooting anyone who comes up with any actual technological improvements. The argument is that there is no truth in their beliefs, is there is it's that they worship a C'Tan in secret, and they're responsible for holding back humanity on every front. This has unfortunately bled through into some official material. The Fantasy Flight Games books, especially Dark Heresy, tend to turn up the technological stagnation angle to the Nth degree. In those books there are the occasionally infinitely dubious remarks such as the apparent idea that cogitators can no longer be made and CCTV is treated as some sort of lost relic of a bygone age. This isn't entirely true.
The Mechanicus do have an aversion to certain forms of creativity, they do dress up some aspects unnecessarily with ritual (though even that point is debatable) and they do put technology ahead of lives. They will focus upon frantically gathering up STC constructs over new ideas, but the problem is that while fans focus on these details, they ignore many essential ones. Perhaps the biggest point to make is the same reason the Imperium is such a fascist hellhole. Many of their policies are downright immoral or would make them a villain in any other setting, but this is thanks almost entirely to circumstance and the threat of Chaos.
When the Horus Heresy broke out, many of those who sided with the Warmaster were those pushing for new ideas, pushing for concepts which had been deemed by the Emperor to be dangerous and trying to repeat the mistakes of the past. Their concepts, as a result, were susceptible to Chaos' influence, from a rogue AI machine to various designs which quickly became corrupt. This led to the Mechanicus barring research into any areas and sticking primarily to what they knew, but the problem is that much of their knowledge was lost during the conflict. On Mars the loyalist elements were dealt a blow they never recovered from, and the designs for many critical machines were lost across the forge worlds. As a result, the Mechanicus itself was left on the back-foot and scrabbling to recover however they could.
Now, despite their losses, the Mechanicus themselves never stopped developing their designs along lines they deemed safe. While they effectively abandoned war robots entirely thanks to a loss of knowledge and heretical influence, others kept being developed and altered as time went by. If you'll note, even in the older works, the Imperium kept developing newer and more effective machines of war whenever it could. The opening chapters to Execution Hour, a fairly early Black Library novel, had entirely new variants of attack fighters being brought into service. That was also the same book which went above and beyond to focus upon the decay of the Imperium's tech. So while they wouldn't try something completely new, reinventing or redeveloping older designs was never out of the question. It's because of this that many forge worlds have countless variations of different weapons, each with the same basic purpose but with some better suited to certain tactical stratagems over others.
Even approved designs still have to be checked for risks of corruption or flaws however, which could damn an entire new part of a major army's arsenal. The Dreadclaws had their own failing overlooked, resulting in the deaths of countless loyalists to malfunctions or self destructing to kill their occupants. The same can be seen with other designs, especially those now a part of the Traitor Legions. Classes of Imperial vessels such as the Acheron Heavy Cruiser, Despoiler Class Battleship, Hellfire Class Heavy Cruiser, all fell to Chaos thanks ultimately to overlooked design flaws, with many other potentials atop them. As a result, new designs are often required to undergo extremely lengthy periods of testing and are tied up in red tape. Progress is still there, it's just moving very slowly.
Then of course you have to also consider that the Mechanicus' goal really never changed. Think about it for a minute, even at the time of the Great Crusade, their ultimate focus was upon recovering old technologies and STC fragments. They would keep building new designs, keep trying to refine what they had, but STC fragments were always a massive leap forwards. Why? Because they were ultimately designed by a far more advanced society at the pinnacle of its power, and even at that time an outdated design would mean a major edge against any foe.
The Tech-Priests could spend all their time trying to design new weapons, risking corruption, but ultimately the Mechanicus would still be woefully behind something which had been made thousands of years before. The big difference between the Horus Heresy Mechanicus and the one of today in this regard was that they had a major setback. They were forced to try and recover any old designs they could and start putting them back into production, sometimes successfully as seen with the Storm Eagle. Atop of this there have been new discoveries since that time, new STC templates for weapons which have given the Imperium an edge over the Traitor Legions in battles. This could be anything from new weapons to, as noted in Tanith First and Only, new, far more effective, designs for trench knives.
Then, finally, we have the point of faith and the idea of machine spirits. The machine spirits themselves are often put down simply as AI programs the Imperium is trying to ignore via loopholes in their faith. While on this one hand this might be true to a degree, especially with certain vehicles, it's not universally true. A number of books, novels and codices have cited points where machine spirits have more or less been confirmed to exist in a quite literal sense. Guns without any programming, when treated with respect and venerated, will avoid jamming or misfiring. APCs anointed with holy oils can end up resisting blasts which might otherwise destroy them. Power armour seems to be able to protect the protagonists of Black Library novels from everything the plot can throw at them. Then of course there are those which develop personality quirks. Certain guns will develop certain reload times or have sensors act up in certain ways to keep crews alert or mindful of the ammo the expend.
The concept of such machine-spirits developing these quirks was originally brought up with Titans. The old idea was that their battle computers developed personalities through being linked to so many members of the crew, and it seemed to snowball from there. As a result, codices and novels alike have frequently brought up instances where they seem to matter. The Tau Empire's technology is comparatively "soulless" thanks to the lack of any faith behind it as deemed in some novels, while Priests of Mars was written with the idea they were effectively real. Then of course there is the old idea of how the Void Dragon might be influencing this one way or another.
This isn't to say that the Mechanicus is perfect by any means. They're often power hungry thugs, often limited by their own rivalries, and the main reason more technology isn't spread further is thanks to rivalries between forge worlds. That said, if the codex starts to reflect these misconceptions or add some sort of relevance to them rather than correcting them, it would be bad for the faction as a whole. It would make the Mechanicus bigger villains than Chaos in many respects and a joke unto themselves, effectively damning the book. The last thing we need are the authors behind this believing that, or trying to pull a Codex: Clan Raukaan to "correct" the problem of being coldly logical.
So, those are six concepts which Codex: Skitarii, or possibly Codex: Mechanicus, needs in order to be a success. Certainly more lore related than anything on the tabletop, but at the same time these are points which help to give the army some real flavour and make it stand out. Without that, we might as well be playing a glorified version of chess with each side indistinguishable from the next.
If you have your own ideas or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section, and i'll look forward to reading them.