Talking About Army Background

This image comes from Tears of Istvaan, a blog that showcases a lot of beautiful and creepy art and some fantastic models. You can find it in my roll off to the right there.

Pretty soon the Invasion of St. Arkham campaign will finally come to an end, in a huge Apocalypse battle.  Because of this, I thought today I’d post up some brief background I’ve worked up for my Warhammer 40k collection.

I’m not really one for writing up encyclopeadic histories for my armies, but I do enjoy mentally placing them in the setting, and it’s about time I wrote down my floating thoughts seeing as I have a blog and all.  Speaking of that, sorry I seem to have stopped putting up many pictures lately – I’m very busy these days and don’t have much time to trawl for non-essential images unfortunately.

Anyway.  I think there are at least two ways to enjoy the background of the games we love.  One is what I call the historical approach, where you accurately re-create elements of the background.  I call it the historical approach because this is what historical gamers usually do.  They give their soldiers all the accurate insignia and details so that when the army is arrayed it becomes a realistic tableau of retreating Russian infantry at Stalingrad or whatever.

People can do this with 40k too.  The GW games have such well-established background that you can make an army that is, say, an accurate depiction of the Ultramarines 4th company during the Tyrannic Wars, or the Thousand Sons in the 31st millennium.  I can definitely see the fun and the challenge in that.

The other main approach (which is the one I just can’t seem to avoid taking), could be called the inventive approach.  This is where you invent your own take on an army, for example making up your own chapter of space marines or unique Ork warband.  The challenge is to make it fit into the established setting in a way that is believable and makes people say “hey that’s pretty cool.”  There is obviously limited scope for this in historical gaming – although I know that the inimitable SinSynn at House of Paincakes has aliens in his Flames of War army.  And that warms my heart.

So, I normally engage with the setting inventively, not historically.  Below, if you’re interested, you can read the little bits of lore I have invented over the last few years to get my imagination going between games.

St. Arkham

St. Arkham is an industrial world with strong ties to the Ecclesiarchy.  It is named after the martyr St. Arkham the Intractable, who was born on the planet six thousand years ago.    There is a huge basilica in the capital, (the imaginatively named St. Arkham City), where his bones are interred.  Most of the planet’s land masses are covered with coal-smudged brickworks and cities that have built up around the sprawling factories that supply tank parts to the departmento munitorum.  The majority of the factories are dedicated to the manufacture of rivets, used in the cupolas of leman russ and chimera variants.

The people of St. Arkham are dull but stubborn, and possessed of an unassuming character that makes them suspicious at times of ecclesiarchal pomp.  Nevertheless, they are proud of their saint and their status as a minor shrine world.  The regiments of St. Arkham that are tithed to the Imperial Guard are mainly infantry and armoured, though there are also light cavalry regiments: the St. Arkham dragoons.  The regiments have a distinguished history, and while their officers are not usually known for subtle (or even, it has to be said, clever) strategy, the readiness of the faithful Arkhamites to act as single-minded assault troops is well-regarded.  The commander-in-chief of all of the St. Arkham Imperial Guard regiments at the close of the 41st millenium is the Lord General Drake.  Drake is the scion of an old military family and the proud wearer of mechanicus-gifted power armour that allows his normally frail human strength to match his amazing courage.

Battlegroup Wyvern

This Imperial Guard battlegroup was recuperating on St. Arkham after a bloody campaign against the Tau when the Ultramarines attacked from a clear sky with no warning or explanation.  Battlegroup Wyvern is made up mainly of St. Arkham regiments, but has elements of the veteran Cadian 129th regiment, the 8th Kasrkin, Krieg Lancers and armour, and some Ogryn auxiliaries from the nearby world of Gloominwald, among others.

The Order of the Revenant Maiden

One of the many Orders Minoris of the Adepta Sororitas, the Order of the Revenant Maiden is a splinter of the Order of the Bloody Rose formed in the surge of zeal that followed the miraculous rising from the dead of St. Celestine, Hieromartyr of the Palatine Crusade.  The centuries-old chapel of the Order based on St. Arkham is charged with guarding the shrine of the saint and defending the high ecclesiarchal dignitaries of the world from danger.  The current canoness commander of the St. Arkham Chapel of the Revenant Maiden is Paxila IX.  The sisters of the Revenant Maiden seek to emulate St. Celestine in tenacity and courage.  Although Paxila soars on a jump-pack rather than invisible wings of faith, many heretics and aliens have died on her flaming greatsword after she crawled back from what looked like certain death.

Orphans of Iybraesil

In 744.M41 the farseer Balora and autarch Skaia of craftworld Iybraesil led an ill-fated exploratory force into the Eye of Terror to explore a Crone World.  Tragically, they were ambushed by an overwhelming force led by a Daemon Prince of Tzeentch and narrowly escaped, emerging into realspace confused and without a space-worthy vessel.  Cut off from their craftworld, the motley band of Eldar have been buffeted from place to place, sometimes serving as mercenaries, allying with Corsairs or Harlequins, and desperately pursuing Balora’s visions in an attempt to return to Iybraesil and further the aims of their goddess.  At the time of the Invasion of St. Arkham, Balora determined that they should secretly oppose the Ultramarines and their allied titan legion.  To allow the Astartes to crush the spirit of the faithful defenders would result in a psychic weakening of the area, and thus an increased probability of Daemonic incursion in the future.  Ever the careful strategist, Balora sent a dream to a passing Ork wierdboy to join the fray, and readied her small band for battle.


The freebooter warboss Def Zed and his Meks are obsessed with heavy infantry tactics after being impressed by the dakka and choppiness of Tau battlesuits and Space Marine terminators respectively.  They have welded together a Tau vessel and various chunks of space detritus, and it now crawls with Orks dressed in clanking iron plates and wielding huge guns.  After their crazy Wierdboy Zapface dreamed of Gork and/or Mork ordering him to go to St. Arkham and smash the beakie boyz, the Orks turned their passing vessel around and aimed it at the war-torn world, preparing to test their ‘eavy gear against Humanity’s finest.  Def Zed has ordered his boyz to (mostly) ignore the little ‘umies until they’re finished “smashin da blue ones.”

So now the stage is set for the final battle.  There are plenty of hooks for future games as well I think, that can be slotted in at various points in the timeline.

I’d be interested to hear how any readers engage with the setting.  Do you use the historical approach, or are you inventive?  Or something else (Hello Kitty marines anyone?)

9 responses to “Talking About Army Background

  • Von

    I’ve always tried to engage inventively with the game worlds I use (a shocking notion, I’m sure). With some it’s been more successful than with others.

    With Warmachine I named a few minor characters in my armies, like poor Blaksol the Skarlock, who was my point of view character for thinking narratively about Cryx, and I came up with justifications for colour schemes too. My Mercenary army (the original one) had dark blue (ex-Cygnaran military) or plain metal (scrap-built) warjacks, Steelheads with green cloth under and around their armour (the Blackwater branch of the Company) and Long Gunners in Cygnar’s Third Army colours (traitors from the Dead Line). The idea was that Cryx had paid Asheth Magnus a healthy sum of money to raid the Khadoran border and make like Cygnar was responsible, distracting the Khadorans from an effort to install Asphyxious and Mortenebra in the Khadoran mainland.

    With WFB, I came up with that whole parallel history where my Vampire Counts were bit-part players in the von Carstein wars – so far, so Steven Savile, and I’ve already posted about this anyway.

    With 40K… oh gods. There’s a blog post in how I’ve gone about doing that and what I’ve done with it; suffice to say that I’ve been writing fanfiction for that universe for a very long time, and much of it has been shaped by the games I’ve played (both tabletop and electronic – much of the work is, ahm, heavily influenced by Chaos Gate, Rites of War and Final Liberation).

    There’s been a second draft, a heavy revision of the original work, rolling around my notebooks in the outline stage for a few years now. I forbear from writing it chiefly because doing that amount of work in someone else’s universe for no money has seemed somewhat irresponsible in these troubled times, but who knows – I have long bus journeys and not much else to do with them. Maybe the time’s right for time-displaced rogue traders, inquisitor’s daughters, elaborate Chaos plots and whimsical Necron Ladies…

    • James S

      Thanks for commenting Von. I’ve written exactly two pieces of 40k fan-fiction in my life (not counting the little fragments on this blog that are attached to models): when I was thirteen I wrote a short story about Orks and Squats(!) being forced into a desperate last stand by a Tyranid invasion. And last year I managed to get out four and a half thousand words for NaNoWriMo in what has become my er… third abandoned novel.

      “I forbear from writing it chiefly because doing that amount of work in someone else’s universe for no money has seemed somewhat irresponsible in these troubled times.” Ha ha, that’s a good way to put it. I like to read on long bus trips, and what with my real work and plugging away at my original fiction I don’t really have time to mess about.

      I don’t write much about my actual armies anyway – I like to just have a quick vague idea, and if I can I try to capture a little of the black comedic feel of the original setting as I remember it.

  • Von

    Squats! Yay for Squats.

    The thing with me and the buses is that I can’t spend too much time not looking out of the window, on pain of copious vomiting, but I might be able to knock out a page a day before I have to start staring at the horizon and gritting my teeth…

    Those quick vague ideas are probably the right way to do it. On the same principle that your D&D character is not as interesting to people who aren’t you, I can’t imagine that many people being that interested in the joined-up history of your army unless you’re at least a competent writer and you’re presenting it as a work of fiction, not pouring it down the earholes of anyone who asks about your toys.

    That’s another thing to bear in mind when engaging with settings. Not everyone cares. Sad, but there it is.

  • corbeau77

    Superb stuff James, and thanks for the shout out Von, really really wanting to do that article again with a more thematic approach. I think there’s a way of having your cake and eating it with historical / imaginative fluff. If you’re using something historical as your basis as I’ve done with my rather scruffy Space Marines, there’s another dimension in terms of reflecting that history/mythology whatever (although perhaps not the exacting minutiae). I try and avoid being too smugh and self-satisfied with my cunning and subtle references to Arthurian myth and legend neatly translated into 40k terms

    • James S

      Thanks corbeau77! I had actually read your article before, it’s really good.

      You mentioned samurai marines in it. Have you ever seen them done well? I’m a bit of a samurai fan. I can’t remember if you’d said you’d tried them yourself.

      Also, I’m sorry for the late reply to your comment, and thanks for reading and taking the time to post 🙂

  • Fulgrim

    Hello James,

    Thanks for the link. Sorry I’d only just noticed it, I’ve been pretty busy this end with one thing and another.

    Sterling stuff as usual!

  • Kieran

    Thanks James, sorry for the late reply to your reply 🙂 I’m doing a 1.5 version of “creating fluff” at the moment… I recall seeing samurai done while rather a long time ago but haven’t really seen them done at all since – but I haven’t really looked. I think they suit games like Infinity better, but saying that I would like to see them done in 40k

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: