02 June 2011

Fuck Space Marines

Seriously, fuck Space Marines. The entire Warhammer 40k universe is a playground with a hundred thousand themes you can choose to play around in- between cyberpunk-esque scenarios with a corrupt government, black and white morality plays against chaos, epic stories of heroism from common men against overwhelming forces, backstabbing politics, religious folly, and on and on. It's the reason that I like playing Dark Heresy so much; the first game I ever played of it took place on an abandoned mining planet that was being taken over by roving swarms of chaos-tainted mutants, with abandoned cities, sand worms, lunar mining lasers, all kinds of science fictionary.

And that's the point, I think. The galaxy is huge. There's a thousand worlds with a million problems on it. The scale is beyond staggering. There's literally anything you can do with it- it's like a GM's wet dream, to have a setting that's both extremely flexible and extremely detailed.

And yet, all anybody ever talks about is the damn space marines, or worse, the stupid eldar. Oh wow, so interesting. Giant guys who kill everything and everybody they're up against, who always win because they have the best training regiments and are bred to be huge and tough and are superbly organized. So interesting.

I mean, really. Is there anything less interesting than space marines qua space marines? Nobody bothers to give them a personality, or anything more than maybe a color scheme and then their weapons. They're designed to be the best, and I'm really more of an underdog man.

See, the Imperial Guard have personality. They're run by a monolithic, religiously fanatical government who doesn't care about their individual lives. Their commissars are more concerned with getting their objective done than any massive casualties they might incur, because fighting men are plentiful and easy to recruit, so suicide charges and the like aren't uncommon. Their armor tends to be scraped together across their careers, and if they're lucky, they can become tough, experienced veterans who hardly flinch when artillery slams into the foxhole across from theirs. The Imperial Guard are outclassed, and they know it. They haven't got the sorcery and brute force of chaos, the sorcery and brute force of the space marines, the sorcery and technology of the eldar, etc etc. All they've got is a fighting spirit, some world-class tanks, and the drive to succeed.

Every Imperial Guard victory is a story against the odds. Every space marine tale is a "and then we mopped up the remnants."

In case you're wondering, you're forgiven if you play Space Marines on the 40k minis game (how can you afford the prices, btw?), because that's entirely different. But if you're a space marine fan, the kind that argues about how many space marines it would take to level a planet or about the difference in effective ranges between a bolt pistol and a chain-bolter, then I hate you a little.


  1. I like Dark Heresy as well. I just couldn't get any of my fellow 40Kers to play it for the same reason. Everyone loves space marines. I'm working on the Deathwatch to get a game started.

    I don't hate SMs entirely. They can be used in game with players who don't take them so seriously. In 40K, I'm the guy who uses whacky chapters like the Emperor's Pointy Sticks. I've been tempted recently to build a small Kung Fu Panda company.

    What some players don't realize is that, in my games, I make the challenge in proportion to the players' charcaters abilities. If your an Inquisitors band of mutants and imperial guard, you'll face some demons, etc. If you're a SM, then you'll face situations that don't call for a bolter. Or a chaos battlecruiser firing at the planet their on.

  2. I like Chaos Space Marines rather more, I think, because they have that automatic extra level to them. Your Chaos Space Marine has had some experience that's turned him against everything he's supposed to be - he has, at some point, developed as a person beyond the fanatically loyal killing machine he's supposed to be. I spend a lot of time insisting that the Horus Heresy is Paradise Lost in space - in that context a Chaos Space Marine is like an angel who, for whatever reason, chose to side with Lucifer. They must have had some reason to do so, something that dissatisfied them - even if they were just following orders, there'll come a point where they realise exactly what that means.

    Furthermore, they've often had thousands of years to grow - to go their own way if they must, and appear in the kind of contexts that a loyalist Space Marine may not. I have a vision, now, of a Chaos Space Marine as avatar of the Powers in a mortal cult; not even leading it, but just an aloof, distant figure, almost an idol in his own right.

    At least, that's what they should be. It's too easy to make them ANGRY SPIKEY SPACE MARINES WITH SPIKES ON and rob them of their malevolent dignity, but that's people for you.

  3. I appreciate your point, but would ask if you're more annoyed that players see SMs as so one-dimensional, or are you saying that's how FFG presents them? If the latter, I'd disagree, as they've gone to a lot of effort to differentiate between the characters of different chapters, classes etc, which only the use of service in the Deathwatch could make possible. Ultimately, FFG give us three entirely different gaming paradigms (my favourite is Rogue Trader!) but if you want combat, where else would you but to the elite of the elite?

  4. @Grendelwulf: I definately hear you about the silliness. I think they're presented as a tad too serious, and a tad too straight-laced and that's probably what irritates me. I'd love to see the Emperor's Pointy Sticks in action.

    Luckily, the people I game with aren't enamoured of Space Marines (many of them are entirely ambivalent to 40k in general, except where gaming with me is concerned), so we get to run Dark Heresy instead.

  5. @Von: Oh hell yes. Chaos Marines are the interesting ones in the equation. If I didn't know better, I'd say that Chaos Marines are the real main characters and regular Space Marines are essentially the grunts of everybody else. Why else does every other organization get to call on them when the going gets rough? '

    If you haven't read the Horus Heresy series of books, by the way, they're fantastic and very much like Paradise Lost, where the angelic guardians of humanity are corrupted, mostly through their own hubris. They've been told they're the best of humanity and who wouldn't let that sort of thing go to their heads a little?

    Dark philosopher warriors are pretty interesting protagonists. Maybe a chaos-themed Deathwatch would be an interesting experiment, where the players are tempted by Chaos in a very real, and very subtle approach, over multiple sessions. Maybe that's too Forge-esque for my group, but it's something to think about at least.

  6. @ Colonel Kane: I don't own the Deathwatch book and have no real interest in doing so. I don't doubt that FFG has presented a very interesting, nuanced view of Space Marines, seeing as how everything they do they treat with respect and intelligent thought. At least, from what I've seen so far.

    I think that your last bit is why I'm pretty lukewarm to the big lugs. It really is a lot about combat, and combat qua combat is pretty meaningless. We all know that when you play as a Space Marine you want to shoot big explody bullets at meanies, and that's their role. Nobody's going to point Space Marines at anything that doesn't require overwhelming force and little else, and that's really more in the scope of a wargame than a roleplaying game. I've got no problem with that sort of approach per se.

    I'd just rather not play games like they're tactical exercises. If I wanted tactics, I'd bust out Panzergruppe Guderian again, or Descent: Journeys in the Dark, or Warhammer: Warbands and screw around with an army of dwarves again.

    Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.