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Resisting the Grim Dark in 40K

Laying down the law in the Grim Dark future of the 41st Millenium

In these turbulent times of political unrest, en masse immigration of xenos and the fall of treasured institutions, it can be hard not to feel the grim dark pull of the 40K universe.

As Eldar start to push their way to Macragge, and Chaos get down to having a really good celebration over Cadia exploding, this Time of Ending in the galaxy can lead people to some very dark and depressing army themes.

This is not unusual.

Ever since the conception of 40K, the crazy metal themes of the past have been moving ever more into the Serious Business of dark and gritty stories. Whereas before we had Black Ork Rockers, we now have Grey Knights smearing themselves with the blood of Sisters of Battle. In the past, Harlequins would graffiti Land Raiders for the lulz, and now they are sober and determined fighters of Chaos, presumably trading in their spray cans for "cutting political satire which you will laugh at otherwise you're anti-Cegroachist".

I lost the point of the paragraph back there, so lets get back on track.

Either way, you need to resist the temptation to go full blown emo teenager in this setting. Because it's boring.

The theme of the universe is already a bleak and desolate, with the average human life being worse than that of cattle. The only time they will be of value, and little value at that, is when they are handed a laser pointer, and put in between artillery and monstrous alien forces as a speed bump. If they do their duty well, they will be forgotten. If they fail, their family will be branded as heretics, as clearly they did not have enough faith in the Imperial cause.

Enter you the player/collector, and you make an army of super depressing arrogant <insert insult>, who bemoan their misfortune at every turn. That just means they tend to drift into the background, part of the white noise of Grim Dark that pervades the universe.

Look at all the factions... of all of them, there is only one race which is universally liked by the player base; the Orks.

And they are silly. Oh so silly.

And people love them for it!

In a setting where technology has a lot of depressing notes to it (powered by dead Eldar, run by lobotomised humans, or literally powered by pain), their stuff works because they want it to. They come from fungus, just like their pets do, their meat does, and their beer too.

Granted, they’re not all that competitive these days, but you don’t play orks to win fights. You play orks simply to have fights! And everyone knows orks are never defeated in battle. If they win, they win. If they die, they’re just dead, so it don’t count as a defeat. If they runs away, den dey can come back for annuva go, see?

They are a sprinkling of sugar in the bitter coffee of 40K.

This is why you need to make room for the goofiness in your own armies. I'm not saying go an make an army of clowns (or do so if you like Harlequins), but try to poke fun at your creation. If you do have super-serious, straight laced professional soldiers, who are completely by the book, give them something ridiculous to contrast it!

And the first place this begins is choosing your colour scheme. How many times have you looked at the armies arrayed in your hobby shop, and only seen dark and moody colour palettes?

As I oversee my student neophytes painting up their own armies, I've seen them all choose one of two options; dark colours, or crisp white. The thought of bright green or blue never crosses their minds... it must be dark, and grim. Admittedly this is easier to paint, but it does make for a somewhat dull miniature shelf in my classroom.

This is part of the reason I paint what I paint. My War Walker for the painting competition was offensively orange. 

eldar aeldar war walker
Blinding your opponent with loud colours is like an infinite cover save.

My level headed Space Marine Deathwatch are space cops. 

Judge Dreadnought is always super serious!

At every step, I try to counter the Grim Darkness of the setting. That way, they will stand out. I do the same thing to Age of Sigmar, that grand and epic fantasy of battles between immortals and gods. 

I give one of their immortal angelic warriors a flower and pink armour.

The Flowers of Sigmar fight Chaos with the power of Love and Friendship!

So try to resist the urge to go full grim-dark. You'll just end up drifting into the background (like the Ultramarines). Make your army interesting with some contrasting silliness (like the Space Wolves) or bright colour scheme (like the Imperial Fists).

Or just play orks. You'll never lose another game!

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  1. I love Orks for this very reason. My first army was Iron Warriors, speak of bleakness... And while I can appreciate Blanchian style for it's art and skill, I would much rather play against an army full of color.
    "Blinding your opponent with loud colours is like an infinite cover save." I will have to use that one some day...


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