Friday, 20 May 2016

The Stormhawk Interceptor - The Ultimate Failure of Space Marines

As the year rolls on towards the Summer, death is ready to descend upon the Emperor's foes. Taking the form of an boxy, outright anti-aerodynamic fighter outfitted with enough guns to solo whole squadrons of tanks, the Stormhawk is set to be Games Workshop's latest big money maker. True, the orks are getting a much needed and very well deserved bomber of their own, but the interceptor has been at the forefront of promotional material. Each release pushes to emphasise its speed, abilities and how it further augments the astartes' already considerable flying corps. 

Snark aside there is admittedly an odd classsic charm to the vehicle's aesthetics. The stubby design and sheer number of guns allow it to look as if someone unearthed an old design for a Rogue Trader model. Yet, despite this, it just about manages to draw the line at its insanity just before getting into Stormraven territory. This said, there's an innate problem behind the model, one which has been quietly bubbling under the surface for a while now: 

The Stormhawk's very existence is a betrayal of the very ideals the space marines stand for.

Now, let's be fair, the Stormhawk Interceptor isn't alone in this act of blasphemy. The Stormtalon falls into that same category, the Nephilim and Dark Talon brazenly stroll right on into it, and even the Xiphon Pattern Interceptor straddles the line with its post-Heresy antics. Ever since their introduction, they have helped to emphasise a growing problem behind the astartes. Specifically, how Games Workshop is willing to employ lore only as and when it needs to, especially when it comes to the Codex Astartes. 

You see, many players are unfortunately sick of the Codex itself. Likely all those reading will know of the moaning, the frustrated groans and even the desire to criticise the book's every decision, spurred on by Games Workshop's own antics. It all started with an infamous edition of Codex: Space Marines, all the way back in 2008 and it has continued to spread since then. Whereas army variety was once accepted, the Codex was reshaped from a big book of war into a cudgel for writers to beat other chapters into matching the Ultramarines. 

While many of the most insulting aspects of the 2008 Codex: Space Marines have thankfully disappeared, this desire to enforce it as the one true way of war has quietly kept going. We have seen this in the continued restructuring of chapters to match it The retcons of multiple First Founding successors into following its every word, and even some suspicious bits with the Black Templars are all proof of that. While there is admittedly certainly some argument for promoting the importance of the Codex - and even Logan's Wolves retained a copy out of respect for its ways of war - the desire to emphasise its importance often overwhelms certain founding ideas.

While writers focus upon the tactics, the structures and the SUPERIORITY it offered, they forget just what limits the Codex imposed upon chapters. Just take a look at this little extract from Battlefleet Gothic when it comes to astartes and their ships:

The Codex stripped them of several major offensive assets and gave them to new organisations to more evenly distribute power; specifically to prevent one force from having enough control to start a new Heresy. While that article specifically cites starships as its key example (and now you know why their capital ship is dubbed a "barge") this was supposed to extend to almost all aircraft. It's one reason why for so many years the Thunderhawk Gunship was the only aircraft fielded by the astartes - To retain devoted interceptors, bombers and attack craft would be seen as a breach in the Codex. True, many forces were subservient to the astartes, but there were more high ranking officers who could prevent the marines strong-arming them into following every order. As discussed a while back in our two joint essays about the Codex, it really was a way of ensuring chapters had to remain with the Imperium; its limits forcing them to negotiate with other powers than strike out purely on their own.

The very existence of devoted fighter craft goes completely against Guilliman's ideas, and that makes it all the more galling when so many images always present them with Ultramarine colours. By rights, the Mechanicum or Lords of Terra would have taken one look at these designs and instead handed them over to the Imperial Navy to help their own conflicts. There really would have been nothing to stop Games Workshop doing this, as the allies table does accurately reflect the unity between strictly defined individual militaries the Codex encouraged. All they would have needed was their own supplement or, if push came to shove, to even include them in Codex: Space Marines but with the note that they were seconded to them via the Imperial Navy.

The sheer variety of them is a growing concern as well. Despite being the one army in the entire game who is by law supposed to have no attack aircraft, they have more between their chapters than several rival armies combined. Throw in the likes of the very dubious Stormraven and they have far more tactical flexibility as well, far more than even the Imperial Guard. You know, the guys most frequently operating directly alongside the Imperial Navy and using their dropships, freighters and troop transports. However, let's say that we were to openly ignore this gross violation of the astartes' founding laws. Well, even if you do that then you bump into the next big problem - There's a space marine in the cockpit.

If you ever get the chance, go back and read some classic Black Library novels about the astartes. Most will do, although Wolf's Honour does stand out personally, and you'll quickly notice something odd: Nearly all the pilots are human, or at least once were at any rate. Rather than astartes, these duties were fulfilled by serfs and servitors; skilled ones to be sure and experiences warriors, but ultimately those who were not limited by the Codex. Given each chapter was limited to roughly a thousand marines (with certain specialists excluded from that small number), they could ill afford to have warriors carrying out roles which could just as effectively be performed by humans. Sure, sometimes a Techmarine or Sergeant would take the controls of a gunship for vital missions, but these were exceptions rather than the rule. By limiting an astartes purely to the role of pilot, many decades of training, generic enhancements and rare power armour were going to waste; with a rare metahuman warrior stuck behind a cockpit rather than on the frontlines where they are best suited to.

Yet, despite the long established role of serfs as pilots, if you look into just about every model now you will always find an astartes in these aircraft. Why? Honestly, that's a difficult one to decide upon. The best guess most people have is either to just stick with the definitive look of the army's personnel or even to just definitively declare that these fighters belonged to the marines. Whatever the thought process behind it, it's difficult to justify within the established lore and many founding ideas seem to have been thrown side at a moment's notice, despite the multiple books making it clear this is a big no-no.

So, if so much of the lore is against the very existence of these models, why are they being made? Honestly, because they're what's selling at the moment. Alongside Knights and super-heavy walkers, flyers are making a big splash, and plenty of folks will happily shill out big money for them. They make for great centerpieces, they're an aspect of tabletop warfare people can will afford to ignore and, unlike the Knights, many armies are more reliant upon having multiple fighters working in unison to have a big impact upon enemy units. Now, this isn't inherently bad and unlike the super heavy vehicles it's not nearly as over-saturated or causing so many problems for the game in terms of firepower/balance. The problem instead stems from the lore reasons cited above and the attitude present there.

You see, it's not the fact that these models break the codex which is wrong here. There could have been ways to write around that, many countless ones which could have made plenty of sense. It's the fact that the lore was ignored entirely, thrown to one side and quietly throttled to death in some dark back alley to make way for new units, which is so galling. No sane fan minds the lore evolving, developing and building over time or adapting in certain ways, so long as it accounts for past ideas or improves upon what we have. What truly irks them is when the nuances and themes are thrown aside as if they never mattered or openly ignored in favour of cold hard cash. It's only made all the more galling when, as pointed out above, certain ideas are rammed down the fandom's throat and treated as gospel, while equally important elements of the same subject are cast aside.

Lore is supposed to matter to this universe. It's supposed to be the foundation of this very setting, but models like the Stormhawk Interceptor prove that it's all too often treated as little more than window dressing. Will we still get great stories and ideas? Yes, there's more than enough talent and enthusiasm there to see great codices now and again. At the same time though, it's hard to not take a cynical view at the world when - even after the likes of Codex: Grey Knights - the building blocks of entire armies are so easily overturned to make a bit extra cash.


  1. This is something I didn't realize, but you're absolutely right, the Astartes really shouldn't be flying dedicated fighter craft. It raises a lot of questions, and I was able to sort of ignore them until now.

    These questions include things like why are they strictly Astartes only? The AdMech should still have a number of these, even if it was just their servitors using them, same with the Imperial Navy, did the Marines just call dibs or something?

    Why don't the Marines have fighters from other Imperial factions if they have these ones? There's plenty that seem to be Imperial Navy only, is there a no Marines allowed rule that I'm missing on those ones specifically?

    Then there's the big one, why is a Marine in the cockpit? You went into this a little but it bears repeating, the Marine doesn't add anything to the vehicle that a servitor/serf can't already do. At the very least if there's a Marine in the cockpit I'd expect him to do something like be able to survive if it crashes, however his power armour is worthless in that environment, same with all of his training.

    1. In some of them the justification is supposedly that they fly so fast that the strain reaches levels only astartes endure, but that's fairly rubbish. As you pointed out as well, Servitors fulfill that role just as well and are fairly hardy, as do tech thralls. Hell, even before getting to that, the fighters themselves should have some kind of inertia dampeners, which the Imperials are shown to have on plenty of their big and small craft alike. It really just seems like a hell of a lot of lore and logic has been tossed aside in order to give the marines one more shiny big model.

    2. So even if I bought the explanation that these super craft fly so fast only an Astartes could survive using them, why do the Marines not use Valkyries or Vultures alongside them?

      I'd figure that given the capabilities of both, not to mention reliability, that they'd be shoe-ins for any Chapter and especially one that doesn't have a lot of resources.