Elessar here, to host my first ever edition of Mecha Monday. About as esoteric a subject as I could possibly find.
Of my hobbies, one of the most expensive and time consuming is playing Warhammer. It, and it’s sci-fi version Warhammer 40,000 (often abbreviated as Warhammer 40k, or just 40k) are two of the oldest and most well regarded miniature games in existence. And since I’m here to discuss mech, I’m going to drop the pretense of talking about Warhammer Fantasy, even though that’s the system I like better, and just talk about 40k.
40k is the more well known of the two systems, in America at least, and is basically two hundred different sci-fi tropes thrown together, injected with enough darkness to make Lars von Trier squeamish and pumped up to 11. Space Marines, Orcs and Goblins (here called Orks and Gretchen), space Elves (called Eldar, or Dark Eldar depending on how evil they are), basic human infantry, alien bugs, daemons, drop pods, massive amounts of tanks and walkers, it’s all accounted for. It also has a few elements that are relatively unique to it, such as Robotic Mummys (Necrons), anime inspired space communists (Tau Empire), and a massive and all powerful church with an army of flamethrower wielding nuns (Adepta Sororitas).
The game itself is…far too complicated to discuss here, but suffice it to say, it’s the basis for almost all D6 based miniature games. As you can probably already tell, the game has a reputation for being somewhat over the top and kind of ridiculous. But one thing I’ve always admired about it, despite how over the top it can be, is that it has very consistent visual design. Part of this is merely practical; you generally want to be able to tell what a model is and what kind of threat it might post just by looking at it. But they also manage to tell you a lot about the army, its background and its playstyle, just by looking at them. So today we’ll be examining how mech design in 40k tells you about each army, by examining a few famous mechs from the game, and how they’re well (or poorly) designed.
Space Marine Dreadnoughts:
The Space Marines are basically Games Workshop’s cash cow franchise, so they come up a lot in discussions about 40k. And Dreadnoughts are one of the most symbolic things about the Space Marines, behind the Marines themselves, Terminators, Rhinos, Drop Pods…okay so they’re not THE most symbolic thing about Space Marines, but they’re still pretty darned symbolic.
You can also tell a lot about them, and the army, from looking at it. For starters, it looks like a Marine, or maybe a Terminator, blown up to huge proportions. The mix of long range weaponry and the powerfist is a good indicator of the Space Marine’s versatility and the religious-esque writing on it is a good indication of the Space Marine’s “Warrior monk” status. It doesn’t do a great job of communicating its personal background (quick version: when a Space Marine is badly wounded enough that they get put in Dreadnought so they can still fight) but the coffin thing on the front does hint at it.
There are various different kinds, for different versions of the Space Marines army (yes, there is more than one Space Marine army, told you they were something of a Cash Cow) but none of them really switch it up enough to make them worth talking about. Well, maybe the Chaos Space Marine one (Evil Space Marines. Really, that’s about it, without getting WAY too into lore discussions).
The main difference between the regular Marines Dreadnought and the Chaos Marines one is that, while regular Marines see getting put in a Dreadnought as an honor, Chaos Marines see it as a fate worse than death, so they tend to be driven crazy by being in there. And I think the model (the new one, not the old one) does a pretty good job of selling that. Both the pose and the face really sell the insanity aspect.
And speaking of insanity, and fates worth than death, we have…
Adepta Sororitas Penitent Engines:
Goddamn do I love Penitent Engines. I mean look at it, just freaking look at it. This is an Adepta Sororitas unit (one of three armies I play, alongside Eldar and Dark Eldar) and like most Adepta Sororitas models, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I mean, this is the army that has a tank with a pipe organ that shoots missiles on top, this is an army that has a visual theme and really rolls with it.
The visual style on this one pushes the religious element of the army even harder than the Dreadnought, which is appropriate for the army, as the Adepta Sororitas are really defined by their religious aspect. The dual chainsaws and flamethrowers also emphasize the army’s aggressive nature (their tactics rely rather heavily on close range weapons, like flamethrowers and short range anti-tank shots), but the reason I really like this model is in the way they incorporate the model’s background into the model.
See, as you can probably tell from the name, people who are piloting a Penitent Engine aren’t doing it entirely voluntarily. If you’ve committed some major sin or transgression against the Adepta Sororitas, they’re strapped in and constantly fed images of their sin and drugs that induce guilt. So when battle comes around, they’re told the only way to earn forgiveness is to die gloriously in battle. Hence why the pilots are out in the open where they can get shot in the face. It’s a unique take on a mech and a glorious looking model to boot.
Imperial Guard Sentinels:
And on the lower end of things we have this.
Okay, that’s not fair to the Sentinels, they look kind of cool, even if they are clearly
ripping off inspired by the AT-ST walkers from Star Wars. I think they really showcase the Imperial Guard’s practicality and emphasis on quantity over quality (this is an army with a character who, when a specific kind of squad is wiped out, can immediately create a new one. An ability called “Send in the Next Wave.” Yeah.)
I think one could argue that this thing doesn’t make as big an impression as the other mechs I posted above, but in a way I think that plays into the army. Not only are these mechs supposed to be forward scouts, but the army as a whole isn’t supposed to be the heroic specialists the way Space Marines are, or the religious fanatics the Adepta Sororitas are. The Imperial Guard are supposed to be normal dudes, handed the worst guns in the universe and a set of armor that usually runs between ‘kinda useless’ and ‘entirely useless’ and shoved out onto the field. And that’s kind of what I like about them and these mechs. In a world full of giant monsters, powerful heroes, and psychotic villains, they just get stuff done.
I’d love to go on about the Imperial Guard, or 40k mechs in general, but I’ve already broken 1,000 words so I should probably wrap this up. Plus, if I tell you about all the mechs in 40k, I won’t have anything to talk about the next time I host Mecha Monday. Unless I decide to do a rant about Escaflowne but no one wants to read that.