Talking About Ratlings

The current iteration of Ratlings in Warhammer 40,000. Nice models I guess, but way too Sam Gamgee for my liking.

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.

Yarr, oi be a pirate hobbit with a space musket!

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.

A Dungeons and Dragons Halfling, circa 3rd edition. Note the athletic build and steely gaze.  And the boots.

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.

A Svirfneblin, or ‘deep gnome’, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st edition. This is actually what I think Ratlings should look like. Though with a rifle instead of a pick axe obviously.  As you can see, Svirfneblin are also sensible enough to wear shoes.

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 . . .


10 responses to “Talking About Ratlings

  • Thor

    I guess I don’t share your disdain, though I understand where you’re coming from. I think those current models are well sculpted and could see myself adding them to my army if I played IG. I see those models as more of a cross between a Dwarf and a Hobbit. The feet are distinctly Hobbit but the rest isn’t so bad.

    That being said, there are a handful of GW models that just bug the shit out of me (Obliterators, Mutilators, those old Raptors were disgusting, etc), so again, I know where you’re coming from.

    • James S

      @Thor, yeah, like I said I like the models in terms of sculpting, and I like the idea of small mutant humans who are expert marksmen. I just don’t like Space Hobbits.

      And the old Raptors were horrible.

  • Jon

    I have about 9 old school ratlings that I’m planning on stripping and converting to match my vostroyans/greatcoat guard. And yes my little buggers will be wearing shoes.

    • James S

      @Jon, good to hear! I’m sure commissars punish the not-wearing of one’s regulation boots with execution, and ratlings should be no exception!

  • Kieran / Headologist

    I actually quite like the Ratlings :/ I like the fact there’s still something of an overhang from old 40k and it’s not been completely sterilised. Maybe I’m just a sadist.

    My good friend Scipio has some in his Guard army, which is quite surprising as he’s tended to have been more of a fan of the “proper military” style of Guard.

    • James S

      @Kieran, yeah, maybe I didn’t get it across, but I do like the idea of ratlings. I just don’t like them being hobbits.

      You can be a population of small stable human mutants without being hobbits dammit! I’m normally pretty sympathetic with old school hangovers, but space hobbit snipers just . . . could be better I think.

  • Kieran / Headologist

    Saying that, I do like the idea of something more Rogue-like, or Gnoblar-based (I quite like Gnoblars generally, perhaps some Space Gnoblars are needed too :P)

  • Kieran / Headologist

    No, that definitely came across James, I just meant I quite like the hobbit-ness (I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help myself…)

  • Von

    I hate hobbits.

    Actually, that’s not strictly true. I hate hobbits outside The Hobbit, where it’s important that the protagonist be this bucolic, unworldly, unadventurous fantasy-Tory waster. I hate them marginally less in The Lord of the Rings, where they are at least at home even if they’re emblematic of that trilogy’s political and social biases, oversights and failings.

    I do hate them outside of Tolkien, though. They’re there entirely because he put them there, and because that makes them canonical and standard – as if that’s something to be prized in fantasy or speculative fiction. The best use the Warhammer World ever put them to was that scenario with Marius Leitdorf in, where the Mad Count of Averland decreed that his army should “slaughter every last one of the malodorous runts”. Now there’s a leader I can get behind in troubled times. Horseback swordsmanship lessons for all, and a purge of halflings.

    As far as the Ratling goes, I liked the touch of making them indolent, thieving little snipers, but I agree that the implementation is off. Your suggestion of buying a fire team of three or four who deploy separately and are trusted with really good sniper rifles (which would be like heavy weapons to them, surely?), and having them flak-suited and leather-booted, in fact like little Guardsmen in much the same way as Ogryns are oversized Guardsmen, is a good one. You don’t see Ogryns wandering round with clubs and loincloths (any more) so why stick the Ratling in the past? If we must have Space Halflings, Ogres, Dwarfs, Orcs, Elves and all the rest of it, let’s at least make ’em interesting…

    • James S

      Damn straight. Although I have another related issue with Ogryns. Why are they stupid? I’m pretty sure human beings wouldn’t devolve into drooling cretins as a side effect of being big and strong. There’s absolutely no reason why they should be dumb as a post. Oh, except that Ogres are traditionally stupid. But Ogres are also not traditionally human beings.

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