Today I’m going to return to Warhammer 40,00 and talk a little about a subject near-ish to my heart (maybe somewhere in the vicinity of the pancreas) – Ratlings. That’s right, Games Workshop’s throwback space hobbit snipers.
I’m genuinely surprised whenever they manage to sneak into a new Imperial Guard book, so someone in the studio must like them. You can tell how the community really feels about something though by looking at Black Library novels. I can’t remember the last time a Ratling was even a character in one, but Ogryns for example pop up quite regularly.
Online you see almost universal disdain for the little buggers. I think there are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, there’s a pretty strong argument that snipers are just not represented well mechanically in 40k. In other words, they suck balls and don’t do what you think they should do.
I think it’s a bit different now in 6th edition with them all having precision fire: they can actually single out important targets, which is kind of the point. But still, when you get Ratlings and things like Eldar Rangers sneaking around in squads of ten, or one guardsman carrying a sniper rifle huffing and puffing along with nine of his mates armed with lasguns, it’s a bit odd. I always thought they’d be better represented as an elites choice of up to three separate teams on heavy weapons bases, or independent models, who can deploy separately. As they are, they’re more like a squad of sharpshooters armed with regular rifles than dedicated snipers.
The other reason people hate them I think is, well . . . hobbits in space. Not an idea that immediately appeals to most of us these days. Hardly grimdark and, while he might have been at home in Rogue Trader, Space Bilbo doesn’t fit too well with the modern hyper-macho Warhammer 40,000.
To an extent I’m sympathetic with both these objections, but I’m also not. I think firstly, Ratlings are pretty decent soldiers to have in an army. They’re cheap, and annoying to the opponent, and sometimes might do something amazing, all of which are traits I prize in a unit.
Secondly, Ratlings could be interesting and believable in the current 40k setting. They have potential. But they need to get away from the hobbit thing. They’ve done that to an extent, by giving them features such as a larcenous streak, but they still have furry feet! Why do they have furry feet? Why does living on an idyllic world make people’s feet huge and hairy?! And convince them to stop wearing boots? Aargh! It annoys the crap out of me. In case you can’t tell.
I think one way to go is the direction Wizards of the Coast took Halflings in D&D from third edition onwards: they are athletic, thieving little wanderers rather than stay-at-home West Country farmers. Those are the sort of Halflings I can get behind. I can easily imagine little Ratlings smoking, drinking, dealing drugs and then showing up to the battlefield bleary-eyed and still making that amazing shot. But they need to look different.
I imagine New Ratlings as either slim, shaggy-haired little nomads with dreadlocks, beads in their hair and primitive hunting-rifles, or ugly bald little scrawny gnomes with a ciggie in their mouth and a hip-flask (hey I like that one).
They are not fat. They do not have hairy feet for no reason. They do not come from paradise worlds, but worlds where cramped conditions or terrible predators made them small and furtive.
I have been searching high and low on the internet for models that I can use or convert to fit this image. So far I’m dead out of luck. Everyone’s Halflings are fat with furry feet, except the D&D minis by Reaper and they’re . . . well they’re D&D heroes. They’re dramatically leaping about with short swords, or holding fancy-pants lutes or wizard staves, and there’s no way an experienced but average modeller like me can reposition a metal Halfling doing capoiera to be holding a rifle, let alone firing one.
The best I can come up with is an extensive conversion project involving GW Gnoblars and some appropriate heads. Or maybe actually commission a sculptor. Both those options sound like more effort or money than I’m willing to put in, sadly.
Why, why are they still space hobbits after all these years? Come to think of it, why do they keep growing? I saw this great post on a blog called Hungry Ghosts Chaos Squats of Khorne(!) I particularly like the way he replied to the one commenter . . .