Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Unforgiven: Building a Deathwing Command Squad

Never forget!  Never forgive!
Ever since starting a Deathwing army way back in 4th edition, I have wanted to build a command squad to accompany Belial into battle.  When starting the army, this task always fell behind building normal squads to fill out the core of the army.  Eventually, towards the end of fifth edition, I had the core army where I wanted it, 5 squads of terminators, a host of dreadnoughts and Land Raiders, and a trio of Landspeeder Typhoons.  This got me to thinking about building the command squad again, but I still put it off, knowing that 6th edition would likely change optimal loadouts, and that a new codex was coming, one that might offer new options and maybe come with new models to aid in the conversion process.

Now that the 6th edition is almost a year old and the Dark Angels codex out for a few months, I decided there was no better to time to start building some terminators for the much delayed command squad.
Although the Dark Angel release came with a very nice Deathwing box, I knew I did not want to base the models too heavily on it.  While the box has a lot of options, very little of the contents really brought any new elements to, or expanded on prior Dark Angel motifs.  I did not simply want the command to be regular terminators with swords on them (admittedly, the sword emblems and any such detail on the models is fine and well-crafted).  This left me to look more at the Dark Angel art for inspiration.  The new codex did not really have new art for inspiration, but it maintained the fantastic art from the former book, which contained many images that have come to define the Dark Angels for me.
One particular illustration has long stuck in my mind, in the 4th edition codex they called it: the Last Rites of Brother Rhamiel. It is a very dour scene in which Azrael, the Supreme Grand Master the Dark Angels is holding the Sword of Secrets high above the body of another Space Marine surrounded by the hooded Watchers in the Dark. The image captures the brooding mystery and archaic rituals that surround the First Chapter.  Azrael stands in a cavernous hall, atop etched runic symbols, flanked by two somber individuals, their faces completely hidden underneath fraying hoods.  One has a hand outstretched and is framed by a radiant halo, the other a Librarian, holds a mighty tome and is strung with femurs and other bones.  Finally, standing in the background are a host of terminators, each face covered in a hood.  There is so much dark life within the image. And while Space Marines are familiar, these ones are so steeped in ritual and esoteric practices (something very alien to that of most Codex chapters), that they are fresh.  It really taps into the wonderful unsettling mysteries that make Warhammer 40,000 interesting.
Last Rites of Brother Rhamiel, one of the most iconic images from the last two Dark Angel codex books
Looking over the picture, I realized I really liked the gloom that their hoods imparted.  Although, the new Deathwing box came with multiple hooded heads, I disliked them immediately.  All of the opposing effect of the hoods is lost because their faces are so exposed in them, jutting far out, suggesting their necks are craned and of an unnatural length.  The matter is not helped by the faces not being particularly inspiring.  Pondering this, it occurred to me that those faces could simply be carved out.  This would eliminate the awkward head placement, and more importantly re-establish the shadowy terror the hoods were to instill in those around them.  With some careful cutting, I was able to remove the faces from the hoods, and am quite pleased with the result.
By simply removing the faces, these hooded heads are instantly more menacing. 
Another image that always drew me back to it since I first saw it in the 4th edition codex is the Company Master.  His ornate armour, winged helm in the crook of his arm, impressive dagger at his waist, and slender two-handed battle sword are all awesome in their own right, but what really captured my imagination was his non-conventional iron halo.  This wooden shrine atop his armour is testament to his grim work, staked and nailed with skulls and parchments.  Although a grim display, it is not one of wanton cruelty and gore that you would expect to grace a Chaos Marine’s armour, but rather a pragmatic reminder of the Dark Angel’s eternal task to root out corruption, slay heretics, and scourge the universe clean of xenos.  I knew I wanted to try to capture this element in some of the models in the command squad, so I set about trying to construct one out of bits, thankful for Brian Nelson’s redesigned Vampire Count Skeletons years back (they are finally a reasonable scale!).
Another fantastic image, with many excellent modeling opportunities .
An  attempt at creating a halo of skulls like the Grand Master painting, using pins to fashion stakes.
The winged spector on the Company Master’s shoulder has always intrigued me as well.  It inspired me to experiment with giving one of the members of the squad a winged companion.  Looking through my bitz, I found an excellent little crow and and a vulture from the plastic giant kit.

I am still a little uncertain of how best to equip the squad.  With the advent of the new edition and codex, I was hoping that another option would open up other than simply all having Thunder hammers and Storm Shields (THSS).  While good, it results in a very uninteresting melee centered unit.  Also the current thunder hammers, while nicely sculpted, are overly big for my taste, and would need converting (unfortunately, very few smaller hammers exist...).  Because of this, I decided to forgo making the optimal unit, and instead want to focus on making dynamic exciting characters.

Interestingly, the Command does not have a sergeant (they are all veterans I suppose), and therefore is not limited to a power sword (no model in the squad can even take one for that matter) like their elite choice brethren.  In an optimization standpoint, this is good in that every member of the squad can get the coveted THSS.  For reasons unknown, Games Workshop FAQed the normal terminator squads such that their sergeants cannot get THSS (since the rules state you need to replace your powerfist, which the sergeant does not have...).  There is an option for upgrading a model to a Champion, which replaces their wargear with a Halberd of Caliban (AP2 +2S power weapon).  While I was not very impressed with the weapon design in the Command box, it is too bulbous and extravagant, the arms holding it are nice, and it looked to be a nice haft for a hammer (large enough to accept one of the large thunder hammer heads and make it look reasonable).  In short order, I pinned the hammer head from the Grey Knight terminator daemon hammer atop the haft and replaced the bottom portion of the halberd with something more subtle.
The Halberd of Caliban model is large enough to make the oversized  daemon hammer look natural!
A while back I purchased Forge World’s Lugft Huron, Chapter Master of the Astral Claws, but the one I received was poorly cast and I put it away for some future conversion.  When trying to determine the proper body and legs for the terminator holding the hammer I just made, I was surprised how well Huron fit.  After this discovery, the rest of the model fell together rather quickly; I found a hooded head that fit nicely and added the halo of skulls and the model was basically complete.

Work in progress of the champion, using Lugft Huron as the base.
Although I had used the majority of the Huron model for the previous terminator, I still had his lightning claw.  The claw always really impressed me with its esoteric design, in that he has a normal mailed hand nested inside the large body of the powerfist.  Then on the knuckles of the fist are are a series of lightning claw blades.  The one I received from Forge World had a few of these blades broken off and missing.  By trimming the rest of them off, it was easy to fashion a very unique looking powerfist.  Better still, the shouldpad attached to the fist has the visage of a savage lion.  The lion theme invoked from the Dark Angel’s Primarch Lion El’Jonson is a symbol not often depicted on Dark Angel models, but is a unique element of their history that I wanted to portray.  When looking for a suitable body to take Huron’s powerfist, I came across Tyberos the Red Wake.  I had purchased him a while back in the thoughts he would make a good Deathwing, but had not built any with him.  The powerfist fit nicely with the model, and the wide stance of his legs provided an excellent firing platform for the left-handed storm bolter from the command box I talked about before.  Removing the awkward scope that it came with, I added a small rail made from a strip of plasticard.  This allowed me to add on one of Anvil Industries excellent reflex sights, a much smaller and more practical optics system for such a close range weapon.

Work in progress of the first deathwing command squad member.
Removing the ridiculous scope from the storm bolter, I added a reflex sight from Anvil Industries. 
A small, but important detail that I knew I needed to be added to the terminators were the iconic broken daggers at the Deathwings’ waists.  The spartan looking blades that all the old 2nd edition Deathwing terminators had always stood out and tied the unit together.  I was thrilled that the new Deathwing Command box finally included nice plastic daggers for this purpose.  The small blades fit nicely on the two terminators and I feel they unify the two warriors together in their hunt for the Unforgiven.
The daggers the Deathwing command squad comes with are excellent, small and unobtrusive.
The Deathwing Champion, complete with a little raven from the Warhammer giant kit.
The second command squad member; to make both should pads consistent, I sculpted leather pteruges on the storm bolter arm.
It was a long time coming, but those are the first two members of my Deathwing command squad.  What do you think?  Any suggestions on how to improve the models or thoughts on the other members of the squad?  I am considering making one holding a banner, allowing me to use the Sacred Standards, but am hesitant due to how difficult such models are to store.  I also need to create one with a heavy weapon; I am leaning towards the cyclone missile launcher due to its versatility and that the terminator retains his storm bolter.  Time will tell!

-Godwyn Fischig


  1. I really like how you removed their faces. I really liked that they included hoods for the terminators, but like you, I wasn't a huge fan of the faces. Maybe I'll have to carve mine off too. I'm thinking of converting my halberd of caliban with the big axe from the Sanguinary Guard kit, but I like the thunder hammer idea too. And very nice use of Lugft Huron. I love that model and will probably get one myself eventually. Overall these are some great conversions! Can't wait to see what you do with the rest!

    1. Thanks! Harlon Nayl helped a lot with the models, they have been a collaborative project between us, each brainstorming ideas. The idea to carve out the hoods really excited me about the project. Like you said, I too was happy they included hooded heads in the box, but just was not thrilled with the faces, making me not want to bother with them at all. But looking back at the artwork, I realized that it was one of my favorite aspects of them, and knew I had to do something.

      The Sanguinary Guard axe is a good thought. It too is one of those weapons that is a bit too large for its own good, unless on a really sizable haft, like the halberd of Caliban.

  2. Drill the barrels out on the storm bolter - other than that no crits! Great conversions both of them and the idea to gouge out the hoods is really cool. Very nice work.

    Conserning the Azrael piece... Very moody artwork and beautifully rendered, but them dark angels sure have long legs... Hard to understand the art director didn't step in there...

    1. Thanks for the kind words! Worry not, I was planing on drilling out the barrels, he he.

      I agree about the legs being too long on the Azrael piece, but sort of like the imposing effect it imparts. Having said that, they could be shortened a fair amount, and still have a similar effect. Overall, it is still one of my favorite 40k images, simply due to the mystery surrounding it, and the fact that it is depicting something other then shooting people, he he.

  3. That is flippin' awesome work all 'round! The empty hood effect is a stroke of genius, that unit is going to be fantastic.

    Can't wait to see more!

    1. Glad to hear you like them! I am pretty pleased with how they are turning out. I am still very much in the planning phase for the rest, but want to create a bunch more, including a new version of Belial. I have some Cataphractii terminators, and have been considering trying yo use their arms on normal plastic terminator bodies, so they have the layered should pads and leather pteruges. Forge World also just released a Horus Heresy Praetor in terminator armour, that might be suitable for basing the banner bearer on, since he has two normal gloved hands (no power fist). Time will tell; any suggestions are welcome though!

  4. If you don't mind, how did you make the inside of the hood so smooth after you carved it out? It seems like that would be hard to do with a hobby knife, and you couldn't really fit a file in there.

    1. I did it all with an x acto blade. It took a while, but I used the sharp cutting edge to remove the majority of it, and then used the back part of the blade to scrape over the entire area to make it smooth. Different blades have a better back surface for this. I find x actos are some of the best, since the back part of the blade has squared sharp edges that easily scrape away plastic. I hope that helps!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Okay. Well thanks for the tip. I haven't fully decided, but I'm about 99% sure that I'm going to do this too. Thanks for the idea!

    4. If you fold up a piece of fine grit sandpaper to a small size, you can use that to smooth it out too. But the majority of it can be done with the x acto itself. Good luck with it, if you do!

  5. These guys look fantastic. Great use of the various kits.

    The last Dark Angels codex had some of the best art work out of any GW had put out.

    Carving out the hoods would have been tedious, but look at this stage to be worth it.

    I think the skull halo looks great - the pins were a nice touch.

    1. Thanks! The artwork in the previous DA codex certainly has been a major inspiration; it has been fun trying to recreate small parts of it in the model, particularly the halos. I think they are the aspect of the models I am most pleased about, Nelson's skulls are wonderful and nicely scaled. And I was happy how well the pins worked, without too much effort.

      I thought carving out the hoods would be harder then they ended up being. A sharp x acto knife and a few minutes and they were done. I am really happy with how they turned out.

      I am excited to start on the next few members of the squad too, and will be sure to post the updates.

  6. These are STUNNING models! Thanks ever so much for linking. Consider me instantly subscribed. The Dark Angel imagery and the most recent models are so tempting. For the longest of time I had the parts ready for a one off Dark Angel lord conversion - but looks like some of those parts will now end up into the "Good" part of my Inquisitor trilogy.

    1. I am glad you like them! I am in the process of making a few more to complete the squad. The longer I have been in the hobby, the more I have my own image of the universe and what it should be like. It has been very satisfying to take GW models and convert and modify them to fit that image, or more closely align to some of the artwork that GW produces.

      I find it amazing how one can extend some of GW's models and completely change their feel and character, provided you have the vision and are willing to do some cutting!

  7. Great post! Some fine work there. Thanks for sharing, I look forward eagerly to see MOAR!

    There is a lot of great stuff here, but that really is an excellent idea on the hoods, I want to do this but I'll need new hoods as I've used mine on my Sniper Scouts :p (I guess carving out the Deathwing hoods will also make them look different to the Snipers now, as I was concerned with them looking the same.)

    1. Thanks for the kind words. The hood idea just sort of came to me as I was trying to determine what elements from some of their excellent artwork stood out to me. And I realized it was their lack of faces. After I discovered how easy it was to carve out the faces, these two models came together really quickly, such was my excitement about them.

      Your scouts sound cool, I would love to see some pictures of them! Jes Goodwin's old metal sniper scouts were some of my favorite models, ones that really made an impression on me when getting into the hobby years and years ago.