|It's all about the fluff. Delicious fluff|
As I've stated before, for me fluff is very important. It seems in world of Warhammer for a while the fluffy player is second best, it's the tournament types that seem to have been the most vocal. This all seems to be shifting with 6th edition, and I'm rather happy about that. Even beyond the games of GW, fluff is till important. I don't care how good the rules are or how pretty the models are, if the fluff is lacklustre I'm not going to invest in that game or model set. And I love well-written rules, they're important, I love beautiful miniatures, I am a big fan of conversions big and small- but without the fluff the game and the miniatures are pointless and lifeless. The fluff gives them purpose and a whole other dimension. You're painting a particular faction and maybe know why they have such a livery, the models your converting have a reason they look like they do. Colonel Scipio's posts particularly bare this out (as would mine if I wasn't so lazy...), our games contribute to a continuing and interconnected story.
|There's more to fluff than this|
Different people obviously have different levels of fluff they consider to be the bare minimum. Some people are happy with just a name before they get rolling the dice. These people are naturally a waste of human life. No, that's not true at all, I really don't expect people to have the same obsession with fluff as me (and I'm not even the sort of person that argues the minutiae of “canon”...). There is space in this hobby for everyone to focus on what they want to focus on, and as long as everyone accepts that people do have different focuses forum bickering could become a thing of the past. Who am I kidding, there's always someone on the internet who's wrong...
Anyway, back to the point. I often get questions about my Space Marine stuff. It seems for a fair few people, Space Marine fluff is what they read about Blood Angels, Ultramarines and the Horus Heresy books. They don't even think that there is a brilliant framework there for them to create their own Chapter – or Guard Regiment, or Chaos Warband, Eldar warhost or whatever. Many are new to wargaming, so this is fair enough. But I would love for all them to take the plunge and have a go at creating their own stuff – it's much more fun than painting up another Cadian or Ultramarine clone force (without knowing or embracing their existing that fluff that is). If you're going to invest reasonable amounts of cash in these models, make the army yours. It doesn't take much to make the army more personal, just naming your characters instantly adds another dimension and makes them more than just a miniature.
|The Importance of Visuals: Key reference images for the Spears of Mawdryn (credits below)|
So without further ado, here's Headologist's Undefinitive Guide to Background Creation
1. Be a little bit different
This is not necessarily too important, but I think it's a good starting point if you want something that is very much yours. When I say be different, I don't mean fight against the existing fluff, because that really doesn't seem to work to well. Nerds will hate you. I know how it feels, I actually like Squats, and as such am a pariah in their eyes. That's not really the reason, I just find you end up with a better narrative. It's better to look for interesting twists within the existing framework.
2. The right fluff with the right force
Firstly, think about the sort of army you want to play: fast hit-and-run types, slow besieging types, very shooty, or very stabby? This will be important in developing your fluff as your fluff will work best if it reflects this, and although I went on about the importance of fluff, it's really a healthy balanced diet of fluff, gaming and models that's preferred by 9 out 10 gamers. Well, I think so.
It also means picking the right army for the fluff, if you have a burning desire to see Napoleonic troops wielding lasguns, then Imperial Guard are the best choice for you, whilst Eldar have pointy hats, they don't fit shakos too well. When looking at historical themes, Space Marines tend to fit pre-gunpowder themes, whereas Imperial Guard are better for post gunpowder. If you want to do something slightly anime inspired, Tau or even Eldar are obviously the way to go. Every army requires a slightly different approach, but if you look at the existing fluff there's always a starting point there to make the army a little bit more personalised.
3. Look at the Source Material
Looking for that slightly different twist starts here. Firstly, the better you know the generally established fluff, the easier it is the write your own. Secondly, once you've chosen your army, break down the existing concepts, ideas and inspirations as that gives you a guideline of where to start. Let's use the example of Space Marines and for this step ask the question, what are Space Marines? Well, they're a few things (overplayed...? Can you tell I'm really a Chaos / Nid player in unspiky Power Armour...), they can be defined as:
- Genetically / Technological Advanced Super Soldiers
- Crusading Knights... in Space (or Vikings, Mongolians... Samurai – generally a pre-gunpowder historical parallel)
- Warrior Monks
- Conspicuous.... Whilst they can be sneakyish – they do tend to be a bit conspicuous (being 7-foot tall armour-plated killing machines and whatnot), so I think “fast” rather than proper stealthy works better for Marines – something implemented in the Mawdryn fluff genesis
There are other ways the Marine definition could be broken down, but these will do for now. The other key thing to be thinking about in the early stages is a strong visual theme, again despite my fluff evangelism, this is a tabletop miniature game and the fluff and concepts are going to need to be clearly visible in some way in the miniatures to really have the whole package.
So, taking the Samurai concept briefly mentioned above, that would be visually stunning – but I think every man and his dog has thought of Samurai Marines, and various companies now produce components for such. This doesn't make it a bad idea, but we're looking to make this army yours...
So let's take a side step, but sticking with a Japanese-inspired theme, most Space Marines are monastics or some sort, so how about Warrior Monks of some sort. With many of the warrior monks of Japan, there is a clear visual concept to be inspired by, whether the robes, or the naginata glaives.
There is also the opportunity for the emphasis of the monastic life of the Marines, perhaps look to the strict discipline of Zen monastic life for ideas of structuring the day-to-day lives of your Chapter's Marines.
Look at the concepts of Zen. There are the ideas of mindfulness and meditation. With the idea of mindfulness, the Marines' daily lives can be about single mindedly focusing on the task at hand, whether eating or repairing their armour (just like real Buddhist monks) developing their battlefield awareness as a result. Similarly this ties in with the ideas of Kyudo, Japanese archery, in which focus is key. So you could have bolter training done in a very similar, ritualised way – and as a result the Chapter doctrine becomes one of precision. No bolt is wasted, no shot of a lascannon is without a purpose. They never wildly spray the foe with heavy bolter fire, every shot is carefully considered – and with the genetically enhanced mind of a Marine combined with Chapter training this is plausible in fluff terms. This is a quiet, implacable foe, calm and collected on the field, reserved in their speech. Silent but deadly ;) As a result you have a clear visual theme, a clear character, and plenty to build on.
You can also choose to go in different directions with the fluff, you could have zealous adherence to a particular holy text (a la the Lotus Sutra) which could then lead to problems with the Inquisition and give a route for further fluff development. You could also take a further sidestep and look at Tibetan Buddhist culture. Tibet has rather unique names, a rather unique script for use on banners, shoulder pads and whatnot, and certain strong visual themes. Lamas of a certain rank have plumed headdresses, this is something easily converted for your troops, or just your Chaplains perhaps. These are very specific examples, but hopefully it highlights the creative route I like to take when coming up with this nonsense.
Mythology and history – it all has something that can be built upon for fluff.
The fluff of the Spears of Mawdryn is very much based on history and increasingly mythology. Their fluff has gradually evolved over the years, inspired more by (predominantly) 13th-century Welsh history combined with the idea of using elements of the Welsh Mabinogion mythology, the early adoption of Late Roman imagery and a realisation that no matter how much I tried to make 13th-century Welsh tactics fit Space Marines (very light infantry ambush and run away...) it just didn't quite work; and so the the fluff slid much more towards the Romano-British/Arthurian theme as a whole, and allowed me to tie up various elements. They're a good example of getting everything to “fit.”
But there are of course otherwise of developing fluff, with Marines as an example, is there something wrong with their geneseed? What are the consequences of that? Do they have particular recruitment rituals? Gladiatorial combat perhaps (if so maybe, they can provide a bit of a visual reference too). These are all starting points from which to plot your fluff path.
Always try and think of something a little bit different to give your army that unique look and feel.
How about the Imperial Guard? Well, that can also be something cultural (Highlanders, swamp dwellers....) or tactical – something I've always loved is tunnel fighters and sewer rats (tunnels and urban decay are something I have an unnatural fondness for).
Maybe in their doctrine they're tightly drilled like Scipio's Palladian Guard, or perhaps they're little better than militia. If so, why?
Do they have particular ties to the Ecclesiarchy or the Adeptus Mechanicus? With Ecclesiarchy ties, perhaps they carry Russian style icons of the Emperor and Saints into battle and have Confessors that look like Rasputin (already working on this one with Scipio...).
Another “tactical” idea would perhaps be a bio-chemical warfare regiment, lots of hazmat suits. Maybe they have ties with Adeptus Mechanicus biology specialists, who are rather dubiously synthesizing Tyranid toxins and whatnot, which then leads to conflict with the likes of the Inquisition...
There is a lot of flexibility with Guard. You could make them the private army of a Rogue Trader, they don't necessarily have to be actual Guard.
And for the likes of Chaos, they don't need to be all spiky, they can have well thought out ideology and motivations for their adherence to choices. In fact, it probably works better.
And of course it's not just mythology and history that can be a starting point, films, books, games, TV shows, anything and everything. The key is boiling down the ideas and taking the key elements and transferring them to match with the right elements.
I think that's enough waffling for now, so in summary:
- Be a bit different
- Look at the source material and break it down
- Have a clear visual idea and strong theme
- Explore the variations
- Make sure the fluff fits the relevant army
Mawdryn banner image creditsImage 1: Jon Hodgson, cover for "Age of Arthur" WAB Supplement - link
Image 2: Comitatus Late Roman Living History Group - link
Image 3: Angus McBridge, Plate for "Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars" Osprey Book - link
Image 4: Britannia Living History Group - link