Monday, 1 June 2015

Cult Mechanicus Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

So, welcome to Codex: Kastelan Robots, featuring countless Kastelan Robots supported by Kastelan Robots with a surprise appearance by Kastelan Robots. Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots. Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, Kastelan Robots, KastelanRobotsKastelanRobotsKastelanRobots, Kastelan-Robots and Kastelan Robots. Also Servitors.

Yeah, the actual title of this book is a misnomer. This isn't a Cult Mechanicus codex exactly, it's a big vehicle to push the re-release of Kastelan Robots into the game with a few bonuses on the side. Honestly it's amazing they're not on the front cover, because at every point the codex goes the full mile to try and push, tout and encourage people about how awesome they are. It's almost as bad as a supplement at times, and as you might guess it's rather to the detriment to the book's overall quality. It reaches the point of insanity as, following the requisite several pages of padding showing the colours of each forge world to stretch out the book's length, it then goes the extra mile to have a bonus addition atop this featuring nothing but other colour schemes for Kastelan Robots.

Honestly, even the codex itself is misnamed because it doesn't actually represent the Adeptus Mechanicus at war. This is basically a full blown retconning to re-introduce the Legio Cybernetica into the setting en mass. If anything what you're getting here is the dregs of a prior codex. The Mechanicus military arm was covered in Codex: Skitarii which was the one actually supposed to focus upon anything the Mechanicus had in their military smaller than an Imperial Knight. In all prior depictions they were presented as following the orders of Tech-Priests, being led by Tech-Priests, operating directly alongside combat servitors and never separated out from other forces. This really is just a small handful of units which should have been in a previous book to make a full army.

The sad truth seems to be that we've honestly reached the point where what could have easily been a single full codex for a whole army has now been broken down and is being sold piecemeal. Say what you want about the Tempestus and Harlequins, at least they were supposed to be new books helping to augment older ones. This though? It's a full blown brand new release which has been stretched out to try and milk more cash. What we have here is basically the tabletop gaming version of horrible micro-transaction schemes; and the last thing we need to see now is Games Workshop starting to more closely resemble Electronic Arts.

Now, some of you might be arguing that a codex could be useful while being separated. With it being divided up between two books you could have lore helping to focus first upon the military arm of the Mechanicus and their role in direct battle, then another which could easily serve to better expand and examine the organisation as a whole, delving into things like Explorator fleets and looking into how they operate as a bigger organisation. Yeah, don't hold your breath. While the codex does contain a few definite efforts to actually represent the organisation as a whole and a promising start, it quickly goes downhill. Thanks to rampant padding and the determined push to try and promote the new models more than anything else, what we get is really a surface scan. It covers the bare basics, some of the general roles of the Mechanicus in general, but lacks even a fraction of the depth you'd find in Lexicanum or Warhammer 40K Wiki. So much so that, in all honesty, i'm not even sure I saw the Void Dragon mentioned at all in the book. Even some of the bigger ideas are absent, like the conflict between the widespread belief of the Emperor and Omnissiah being the face of the same god, or the Tech-Priests who consider them to be potentially two different beings.

Gun against head however, it's hard to say that the book doesn't give a reasonable start. While it follows Codex: Imperial Knights' approach of giving a two page spread of their history, three quarters of which is taken up by art, the four paragraphs are very atmospheric. It gives an exceedingly grim-dark impression of the army and one which suggests they might well be a necessary evil, not overly good but fighting far worse things. This is helped considerably by the framework of presenting the army as a holy procession rather than a standard crusade, and despite some oddly negative points (especially a lot of pushes to present them as inhuman and closer in some respects of the older necrons) it certainly grabs your attention. 

The following four pages help to give a solid impression of many of the army's greatest elements and defining aspects. The Cult Mechanicus details how vital they are to the Imperium with some very nicely atmospheric details ("More than a vital organ of Humanity's galactic empire, the Cult Mechanicus is an autonomous creed older than the Imperium itself.") While the second half does start to push points like the Electro-Priests rather heavily and focus upon the war aspect, it still gives a wider view with mention of the Ordo Reductor, Collegia Titanica and other elements not core to the book's few models. This is further helped with a full diagram of the organisation's hierarchy and tiered structure, followed by two pages on Tech-Priests. While it would have been easy to just focus purely upon the ones at war, the codex casts a far wider net with this part:

"The term 'Tech-Priest' covers a thousand different roles. Genetors probe the mysteries of the biological, creating ever stranger cyborgs and slaughtering xenos by the thousand in order to excise yet more secrets. Artisans create and restore truly wondrous weapons of war, from gamma pistols to the mind-boggling immensity of the Ark Mechanicus. Magi of all stripes pursue esoteric adgendas as likely to end in triumph as they are disaster. Across the galaxy, Transmechanicus, Lexmechanics, Engineseers, Secutors, Trifactors, Myrmidons and Technoshamans labour alongside the wider Imperium to bolster Humanity's war machine."

All of this still focused upon war to a fair degree, but there's much more of a focus upon it being an organisation rather than a simple army. Many other points show the organisation in a less backwards light by presenting them ever working and ever trying to unlock more secrets and even developing new ideas, and then there's mention of things like the Ark Mechanicus, the first of several shout-outs to Graham McNeill's Priests of Mars series. Unfortunately you see the exact point where the book promptly starts to go off of the deep end in the very next paragraph:

"Ultimately, though, the Cult's citadels of knowledge are built upon a foundation of lies. the ability to truly innovate has long been lost, replaced with a reverence for times when Humanity was the architect of its own destiny. No longer the mater of its creations, the Cult Mechanicus is enslaved to the past. It maintains the glories of yesteryear with rite dogma and edict instead of discernment and comprehension. Even the theoretically simple process of activating a weapon is preceded by the application of ritual oils, the burning of sacred resins and the chanting of long complex human. And yet so long as the process works - or rather, so long as the Cult's armies can obliterate those who displease them - the Tech-Priests are content to tread the slippery path towards entropy and ignorance."

This isn't some contrast of views or anything taking into account the varied points suggesting the Mechanicus might be right or not. This is just slamming down the point that all of their beliefs are utterly wrong and their rituals needless, rather than being a vital part of actually appeasing Machine Spirits. A point which, over the years, has varied on writers from being entirely vital as each weapon has some echo in the Warp and a genuine spirit to genuinely pointless. Here though it's just "Yeah, all of this is wrong, none of their rituals have any point to them nor to they actually comprehend things, screw you".
Such problems were reflected in Codex: Imperial Knights, where the titular mecha were presented as lost technology which could no longer be built (ignoring how much that contradicts their entire relationship), and it carries over to here as well. In this case it's the War Robots, though at least this is a bit more justifiable given their lack of ability to build new ones was something long established.

Speaking of the Robots, the very next page promptly spends two pages (or rather a lot of artwork and a few paragraphs) presenting the Cybernetica, with as much detail and attention as it game to detailing the entire Mechanicus. It pushes the idea of Kastellans being awesome as hard as it can, before the book repeats itself. Just a few pages before we had the point of how the Mechanicus operates as a procession in war and shows their overall general organisation. On pages twelve and thirteen? We abruptly get an outline of how the army serves as a procession of war, the units involved and its hierarchy. All information which was conveyed just as well right at the start. Apparently the padding is getting so bad they now need to repeat infodumps again and again when it comes to the basic way in which the damn army operates.

The book's overt focus upon war above all else unfortunately stymies the organisation's real establishment and overall feel. Why? Well, because all of it is focused purely upon war, conflict, how the worlds are defending themselves and who they are fighting. There's little about how the actual organisations have diverged from one another in smaller ways or even progressed in new forms of faith. For example, over half the sections on Lucius and Agrippa (two of the big forge worlds which aren't Mars) focus entirely upon wars against Chaos or the Tyranid Hive Fleets. The rest of their bits then instead focus upon general points which, while well written, are less about those particular worlds than they are the organisations as a whole such as Explorator Fleets. The same goes for Ryza and Metalica, which are just as short and focus purley upon fighting others on their world, and the only exceptions to this are Graia and Stygies VIII. Of course, it doesn't help that writers promptly shift gears from "WAR!" to "DAMN THE CANON, FULL SPEED AHEAD!"

Stygies VIII hoards xenotech by the truckload. No, that's honestly what it accomplishes, and it doesn't even keep quiet about this fact. This isn't even for research either, with the article emphasising how they are hunting down "forbidden xenos technology" and goes so far as to actively attack other alien races not to purge them but to attain loot. Apparently this has become so bad that they have somehow breached the Webway and many are now actively hunting down the Black Library, though why the hell they'd want that given it records knowledge of Chaos rather than technological secrets is anyone's guess. So, what's the Imperium done about this? Nothing. The excuse is simply that the forge world is far too valuable to risk slowing its production, so the High Lords of Terra turn a blind eye to it. Save for the odd Deathwatch Kill-Team, no one actually tires to stop any of this. What in hell the ones on Mars and thousands of other Magos are doing to ignore such blatant heresy is never explained.

Things don't get much better with the timeline. On the one hand it's a little more fleshed out than with Codex: Imperial Knights and features a push for a little more information. It's also a little more evenly distributed across ten thousand years, with the first half focusing upon events prior to M41 and featuring a few neat ideas and even mention of the Telok Expedition. The problem is that the font is beefed up in scale and artwork is used to try and excuse the writers from actually expanding upon any information here. As such, the infamous Twin Empires era is mentioned and the Moirae Schism as well, but what actually triggered each or the long term results of  the split are never gone into. To make matters worse, we get some vague mentioned of continual warfare between each side but nothing else. This means that many of those which work the best art the shorter or briefer examples of storytelling such as The Howling, The Caverns of Calth and The Souring of Johan's Eden. Actually, you'll want to see this one as it's one of the examples of 40K humour done right:

The Sourding of Johan's Eden
An ancient data-cache is found upon the jungle planet of Johan's Eden. The cult Mechanicus descends, only to find the planet's modest populace slain by Necron Canoptek constructs. Several war congregations launch a simultanious attack. Eight years of war follow before the Cult Mechanicus recover the data-cache. Three intact STCs are recovered as a result - one for self-heating cookpots, one for parchment autoquills, and one for stable flux-core bolt rounds that can melt ceramite as if it were wax."

To contrast this though, just take a look at the book's attempt to push the timeline on a bit, sans context or sanity:

Desperate Measures
The Tech-Priest custodians at work in the Emperor's Palace uncover irrevocable failures in the mechanisms of the Golden Throne. A dozen contingency expeditions are immediately launched, including a Xanthite war procession sent through the Exhubris Portal. The Xanthites fight through Harlequins Troups and Daemon hordes alike before reaching their intended destination. In the grave-cold oubliettes beneath Commorragh, a dark bargain is struck."

Sorry, but this is The End Times level of contrived stupidity and bad storytelling. It's a plot where all characters are morons and act purely because the story says they do. To make matters worse, this isn't the only place this happens. The forge world of Lucius is noted to have red as one of their primary colours purely to reaffirm their legion following the "disastrous Inculcata Schism" but what in hell that actually was is not even vaguely hinted at. It's actually not even mentioned in the book beyond that one sentence.

The codex also features a larger push for short stories again, with a few very brief ones and some lengthy ones. The effectiveness and use of them has waxed and waned from book to book, with some abandoning them entirely or using them purely to push new models, and this unfortunately falls into the latter category. Almost every single short story focuses less upon the army and more upon the damn Robots, practically bending over backwards to include them at every turn. This gets so bad that they're basically retconned into being one of the first Imperial units who fought against the encroaching Tyranid Hive Fleets. We don't see it put on an army scale so much as shilling a handful of people, and it doesn't help that the writing quality for these bits is surprisingly poor. Honestly, it's eye rolling when you see the story suddenly depict a group of Imperial units appear "from nowhere" and instantly take down the enemy creature.

The last bits really just focus upon the units, which are a decidedly mixed bunch indeed. Some do feature some great world-building concepts and do at least try to fit in with the canon somewhat. Th Corpuscarii for example might be overtly insane and over the stop, but there's a fun style to their dialogue and fanaticism. They electrocute and burn people to death. Why? Because "For a brief second before death, the unbelievers see the light" allowing them to spread the will of the Omnissiah to heretics and the faithless. Sure, it's nuts but it's the right kind of nuts for this setting. 

By comparison you then have the Kastellan Robots, which feature some insultingly daft decisions. The lore confirms that the Mechanicus have lost the ability to build them, good, it confirms that there was a major split and that many sided with Horus, good, it also confirms that many of the more advanced or careless designs were the ones corrupted because they were determined to get closer to being like the Iron Men of old, a little off but okay still reasonable. Then we get the information that the ones who turned traitor had programming and "animus" based upon Warp entities, daemons and the like, and that's why they went rogue.


Who the hell wrote this? No, really, who the hell produced some of the crap here? There are shades, ideas and points where this could have visibly been a halfway good codex, but then you have stuff like this squirted out into the lore. Honestly this reads less like a concerted effort by a design team than it does a tug of war between competent writers and a bloody maniac who reveres the likes of Codex: Grey Knights as being the pinnacle of good writing.

If you're in this for the lore, do not bother with this one. It's plagued with problems, padding and some seriously weird choices when it comes to writing, especially in terms of sticking to basics of the setting at times. It doesn't reflect on the organisation well, the basic lore is very bare bones and so much of the detailed atmospheric writing is often shafted in favour of explosions or shilling the new models. This didn't even get into most of the times the damn Robots were shoved into the book, and they seem to feature in at least half the artwork in the codex, if not more.

Still, this was just part one. Follow us to the second part on this codex's rules here.


  1. The title's wrong, good sir.

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with most of your points, though.

  2. Ah, my apologies, but thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Yeah overall this wasn't a good Codex. Not for its lore (even though there are some good parts here and there) and certainly not for its rules, which are HORRIBLY BROKEN if you bought the most recent White Dwarfs that contained almost all of the rules in the codex.

    That's not a joke, for $15 you could have the equivalent of the codex, the only thing you'd be missing are the named relics and formations (literally every Cult Mechanicus unit was in White Dwarf along with their regular armoury), but on the plus side you'd also have the most powerful formation of all time since it allows you to easily take 800+ point upgrades FOR FREE. Maybe they wanted to make a list that was as powerful as the Horus Heresy Mechanicus, in which case they absolutely succeeded.

    Anyway back to the lore, I was really disappointed that they ignored the purpose of the ritualistic nature of the mechanicus. I had been worried they would do this since the Skitarii Codex came out and had hinted this would be the case, I wasn't expecting the reasons the Castellax and Vorax automata were no longer in service though, that being their programming and even the machines themselves were inherently "animalistic" (in itself a stupid reason that you mention).

    Now I know that the Mechanicus lack the tools necessary to build more of a lot of what they have (which is now a plothole thanks to this book but I'll get to that) but if there's one thing they good at (or supposed to be good at) it's reprogramming machines and communicating with machine spirits, to the point where they could convince alien machines and even demonic machines to tear themselves apart and turn on their enemies, not to mention even replacing machine spirits, so there's no reason whatsoever that they couldn't have altered the battle-automata which are FAR better than a punch-card operated version (yes that isn't a joke, they actually are card operated via slots in their chests). It would also be another thing if the knowledge of how to make them was lost or destroyed/corrupted in some way, but apparently they just made and used the Kastelan Robots so much they forgot how to make them.

    I really don't think the writers cared about any continuity either, not only were the Kastellan robots THE first mechanicus units mentioned to have fought the Tyranids, but the Corpuscarii and Fulgurites were close behind. This probably wouldn't be worthy of note, but they fought the Tyranids on Tyran. What was the militant arm of the Mechanicus doing on Tyran? They certainly didn't show up while the Tyranids were en-route (at least none of the codex's mention this) and they shouldn't have been able to leave when the Tyranids were on their way meaning they were stuck there for years if not decades (so much for that fulgurite/corpuscarii crusade bit). This is also not mentioning that (according to the artwork) they were from Mars of all places.

    Now the reason on why they cannot rebuild/innovate is just stupid. The Mechanicus have several groups dedicated to restoring/making new technologies, the storm bolter is an example of something they made and look at how many people use it! In just this Codex alone they mention groups in the mechanicus that create and innovate! In this codex they have two items specifically designed to render things down to their component parts so that the Tech-Priest can study them, the purpose of which is reverse-engineering! They even undermine this in the book through quotes where one person says that the Mechanicus "are obsessed with what can be created" and this is after saying their chants empower their machines during times of war which goes against them claiming that all of their rituals are pointless! This is also before the timeline which says the same (that the rituals have function) several times.

    All in all I thought this Codex was just a mess that only gets worse the more you examine it.

    1. Okay, as someone who stopped reading White Dwarf once they moved over to just being a promotional catalogue for the new miniatures, that's really surprising. It's certainly not like Games Workshop to readily release anything for a cheaper price these days, even if it is only a portion of the rules rather than the full thing. Hell, if it were to try and win over fan support, this is something they probably would have promoted the hell out of, but I honestly heard no mention of this at all. I'd really like to know the exact reason behind this and how things went down to allow this to happen.

      Also, yeah, the rules are broken as hell. I'm still playtesting them a little more with a couple of friends before covering that bit, but already it's equaling or running rings about a lot of tougher unit designs. So far the only thing we've found to seriously hurt them are the Craftworld Eldar, Imperial Knights and certain Tau Empire Lists. They rip through Space Marines and Imperial Guard like there's no tomorrow.

      Well, in all honesty, from that lore front there's actually a few issues and points there i'm willing to give a pass for one reason or another. Not all of them, but definitely a few you've highlighted. For example, the Robots idea and reasoning behind their designs was definitely stupid beyond belief and plenty of reasons they could have likely used the same design but just jury-rigged them with the main programming circuit of something else. We've seen this plenty of times before in prior designs of course, and many occasions where it's been made clear where Imperial tech is interchangeable to a degree, to the point where a new Predator could be made by easily mounting man portable lascannons in place of its usual guns. This said, i'd have to personally argue against the idea of them talking to machines to where they could rip themselves apart. One of the big points brought up behind the likes of Ork and Tau technology is how, by comparison, they actually lack machine spirits. The few depictions which go into this see them as being "soulless" creations without that spark of life, and while it might be down to Imperial bias in storytelling, it does make a kind of sense given their direction. In addition to this, The same goes with daemonic machines or those guided by spirits, as they lack that innate link with human creation, and some designs have been abandoned thanks to being potentially Warp tainted beyond purification such as the Deathclaw pattern drop pods. Also, personally, I kind of like the punch card slot idea. Yeah, it's definitely stupid but it's more an amusing kind of stupid than a truly bad one in my opinion, blending older technology with a new update. Plus it brings to mind the idea of the Tech-Priest they are attached to throwing cards into the machine Gambit style. That said, I do think there should have been a few versions of this, including voice operated or MIU operated machines to give some more variety to the tech rather than just one universal design.

      As for Tyran, that actually makes a degree of sense to a point. I did check into this and there is older lore which established that Tyran was a port for Explorator fleets and a major fortified outpost on the edge of the Imperium with a big Mechanicus presence. Even the likes of the electro-priests would be justifiable as there would have been many varied Imperial forces coming and going from the world. On the other hand though, this is problematic as there's no mention in its depiction of any other Imperial forces who would have very likely been there, from the Skitarri to regiments of Imperial Guard, detachments of astartes or even Inquisitorial forces. It felt as if, despite a full page, they were using it purely as an excuse to try and make them seem more important.

    2. As for that final bit, yeah, i'm completely on-board with you entirely with that big problem. Truth be told, the only reason I didn't mention it here is because this sort of contradictory insanity has become an epidemic. It's the editors really dropping the ball, and to make matters worse we've actually seen how such contradictory ideas can be easily presented, and it's from a codex from only the last couple of years. That's for the third and final part though, and honestly i'd rather go into greater detail about this there than in a comment at the moment.

    3. I was just as surprised as you are that they're putting rules in White Dwarf, I knew that they were putting the rules in the boxes of the models I just didn't think they'd put them in the magazines, let alone the entirety of the Cult Mechanicus army and their entire generic armoury in there (including points values).

      You should look up the Adeptus Mechanicus War Convocation though (that formation I mentioned), but if you don't want to then here's the gist of it is it: By taking one of each unit from Skitarii (and only one unit of each) and one Imperial Knight (this can even be the Knight character from White Dwarf who has a 3+ Invulnerable shield by default and It Will Not Die) alongside a regular Cult Mechanicus detachment, your Warlord can re-roll their trait, all of your upgrades are now free (yes, all upgrades on Cult Mechanicus, Skitarii, and Imperial Knights that are in that formation), and you no longer have the Get's Hot! rule on anything in the formation (maximum of 6 plasma calivers if you're curious).

      I was curious on how much the points can differ if you really abuse this with Skitarii and found that the Skitarii section without this formation costs 2635 points (taking every unit and good upgrade option possible) and with this formation it costs 1810 points as I'm only paying for the unit and extra models (as extra models in a unit are on a technical level not an upgrade thankfully).

      I can honestly say I forgot about the Tau/Ork machines being referred to as "soulless" so I retract my statement there, and on reflection the tech-priests in that edition were only meant to be fighting Chaos so it wouldn't make sense in-universe for them to try that on machines that didn't have a machine spirit/daemon (which in universe they could actually harm) so I was wrong about that on a fluff perspective too, whoops.

      That does explain quite a bit on why they would be there, a shame that the codex doesn't cover that, it would have not only made more sense but have also fleshed out the organization as one that does more than just make war.

      Fair enough on wanting to wait to go into detail on a later article, I'll be looking forward to it.

  4. You wrote towards the end:
    "By comparison you then have the Kastellan Robots, which feature some insultingly daft decisions. The lore confirms that the Mechanicus have lost the ability to build them, good, it confirms that there was a major split and that many sided with Horus, good, it also confirms that many of the more advanced or careless designs were the ones corrupted because they were determined to get closer to being like the Iron Men of old, a little off but okay still reasonable. Then we get the information that the ones who turned traitor had programming and "animus" based upon Warp entities, daemons and the like, and that's why they went rogue."

    But I can't really make out what got you so disgusted by this. The next paragraph just shows your sheer disgust at the stupid writing here, but I'm apparently lack the brain cells to figure out why :C Would you be so kind as to elaborate? What's wrong with daemonic corruption of computers?