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‘Saving’ Chaos Space Marines

May 22, 2016


Rumours of 40k’s 8th edition are starting to leak through, so let’s rehash this argument.


Warhammer Fest is in full swing and if the titbits leaking out of it are anything to go by, work on the next edition of 40k is ongoing, with the aim being to streamline a lot of clutter (somehow: 40k feels like several different games crammed into one at the moment – they’ve even brought back the flyer fighting rules the 3.5 edition vehicle design rules first showed off).

With a new edition of 40k on the horizon, the CSM fans who feel they have been victimised by Games Workshop for the past few editions are surging, with a number of them rather vocally wishlisting these past few months are reminiscing about times that never quite existed.

I’ve had a CSM force since 3rd edition dropped and have always had a new force on the go, as well as owning the rulebooks for Chaos from the beginning of its existance in the world of games workshop games. Whilst that doesn’t make me any more qualified to pontificate on the future of the faction, (for some informed talking about the limitations of the creating an army book for the faction, read the words of guy who wrote one) it does give me a bit of a longer view than a lot of the posters these days, who started collecting during later editions and are now talking about “Little Timmy’s*” and “Spaaaace Mureeens” as if they are the problem.

Today I won’t be talking about what I would like to see happen to the faction. That’s for another day. Today is all about the fallacy that exists about the vague, nebulous faction of ‘Chaos’.

What is Chaos?

That really is the question. What edition you came into 40k will fundamentally change how you see Chaos, and by definition Chaos Space Marines. The main question many grapple with is, what is the focus of Chaos? Some see them just the original Traitor Legions. Some as renegades preferred by Games Workshop at the moment with residual Traitor elements. Others as the Lost and the Damned, a mix of renegade elements who overwhelm the imperium in sheer numbers. And a small number see the focus as the demonic aspects.

The truth is that it’s sort of ‘all and none of it’. That’s what catches people out. Chaos has never really been a solid ‘thing’, shifting and mutating in a wonderfully Chaotic way through the ages, as different writers and designers have brought their own influences to the faction.

Still, if you look at the core of it, Chaos has spent more time being a faction where the focus is Chaos Space Marines, and CSM post the legions, than it has ever been focused on any other element. It seems GW wants to focus on the current 40k setting, where the Traitor Legions don’t really exist anymore in any organised fashion outside of the Black Legion. Instead CSM’s represent the underlying spiritual corruption of everything, slowly picking away at what you hold dear and twisting it into a form more pleasurable to it.

There’s just one problem.

The elephant in the room



You *@!$#^> terrible thing you.

Ah, the fabled 3.5 edition** Chaos Space Marine codex. The definition of a ‘junkfood codex’ something that felt very enjoyable as a player at the time, but which was absolutely terrible for any future iteration of the game and the faction. Nothing more defines the bugbears of the current irritated part of the Chaos fanbase than this.

Looking back on it now, it stands as a testament to what happens when fans are allowed to run the asylum. All of a sudden, if your miniatures acquired a certain paintjob, they gained bonuses for it. Along with certain paintjobs granting massive upswings in power, which some have suggested lined up with some of the designer’s favourite traitor legions. It was a massive frack up.

What was a codex that clearly had the design ethos of ‘let CSM players make a chaos force of their choice’ (as long as you didn’t like Lost and the Damned/Daemons) full of lots of mutations and choices that were thematically appropriate, instead became the same mutations and wargear chosen because it was the most powerful, all fit inside whatever paintjob was the most powerful that quarter, no matter how tenuous the link was. You rarely saw a Night Lords force for example, or a Emperor’s Children warband. Those rules that went with them weren’t powerful enough.

Now I don’t begrudge players for this. After all, the rules allowed it and the internet mentality of optimisation seems to trickle down to even the most casual of games now (not helped by the somewhat uneven design philosophy when it comes to different factions and their rules). But what this philosophy produced was truly something monstrous.

The Long War

It changed how Chaos players viewed their armies. Instead of armies where you may design a sweet looking retinue for your lord because, well, it looked cool, turned into “Why bother including something unless it was powerful?”. It also raised a generation of Chaos players to think that they deserved the best of everything, all the time. If another faction got something they didn’t or as equally powerful, well then it wasn’t fair. That didn’t play into the projection of Chaos as the greatest evil ever in the 40k universe, instead of just one of many factions capable of ending it all should they get their act together.

It was a wonderfully ironic twist to turn some chaos players into representations of the bitter, hate filled marines of the background. It couldn’t have been planned if people tried.


How many CSM players view themselves. Art created by Wayne England.

This seems to be the root of a lot of Chaos players angst at the moment. Chaos Space Marines aren’t a faction for those wanting a powertrip anymore. They’ve been returned to how they used to be, which is a faction that plays well if used by a competent player who thinks outside the box a bit and who enjoys modelling projects.

Which is how they should be. Is the army list as current perfect? No, but then nothing is. Allies being a part of the game has helped a lot with this though – now I can include a small Daemonic faction to supplement my main chaos force and with some creative counts as, have that Lost and the Damned force I’ve always wanted. Chaos have a dedicated identity now, instead of just being ‘Space Marines with spikes’.

In other words,the future is bright, the future is chaos.

Next time: What I would tweak to make the new codex ‘perfect’ without going back on everything I’ve just said. Yes, another wishlisting post on the internet. Never enough of those :p


*Little Timmy; noun. A derogatory slang term used by nerds worldwide in the same way racists refer to people of other ethnicities i.e. If only GW stopped pandering to teh Little Timmy’s of the world, 40k would be great again!

**If you want to know how an edition can have a .5 of it with accompanying codex’s, the best way to think about it is that geeks have too much time on their hands.


From → Rant, Reading, Writing

  1. Another very interesting read. Keep those footnotes up, most amusing

  2. Chris permalink

    Funny thing you’d say that: Night Lords and Emperors Children were the two warbands I started with the 3.5 Codex 😉 because I liked their fluff. That’s how I still put my armies together: fluff-based and rule of Cool 😀 I loose quite often, but I’m having fun!

    • There’s always one ;-).

      Nah, I’m glad and know I was generalising a bit to make a point. I know I ran an Emperors Children force too and was constantly derided for choosing fluff over power. It depends on your gaming group and one day I really have to get round to talking about the effect the internet and the competative mindset has had on wargaming…

      • Sigvald permalink

        I think you’re right but also wrong on this one. Yes 3.5 did definitely create a bunch of crunch focused players.

        But at the same time it also bred a new generation of fluff based Chaos players who enjoyed the subfaction diversity. For me that’s the main point of contention(And one that while not cure by the tabletop, has funnily enough been acknowledged by other forms of Warhammer gaming such as the new MMO and the god dedication diversity in BFG: Armada.)

        Which I don’t think is a bad thing, and is worthy of concern. The tricks acknowledging that fluffy playerbase without making the crunch insane, the intent was noble but the results…less so.

  3. Maxis Lithium permalink

    Gav Thorpe has seen, and passed this post around. that means someone in the dev team might see it, and that’s a good thinkg. Congrats.

    • Oh gosh. Wow – I did wonder why the numbers on my blog spiked all of a sudden! Thanks Maxis and thanks Gav!

  4. John permalink

    I think you made your point well, but I disagree with parts of it. To me, you seem to me saying that chaos players became spoiled with the 3rd edition Pete Haines chaos codex and getting rules for free. While that may be true, chaos players’ main complaint comes from the fact that the most exciting and compelling background comes from the legions and the horus heresy. It’s the reason why 30k sells and why forgeworld has made a mint in sales. Players want those legion rules. And getting rules for free isn’t a huge issue with the formations gw has put out. Iron warriors are nothing compared to free vehicles or a free 600 points of wargear like current armies allow. 40k chaos codexes have been phoned on since 4th edition, have been badly balanced, and have not been what players wanted. And the gall from players comes when they see regular marine armies getting rules for their original chapters. Chaos gets….crimson slaughter, the army list that no one wanted, but we got anyway. I’m not saying the current codex isn’t workable. But it’s just pants on head stupid that players are clamoring for something like legion rules and GWs response is to leave that money on the table.

    • I think you are being a bit reductivg, especially with your points about ‘phoning in codexs’ and being ‘not what players wanted’, given what the designers of those codexs have admitted (they worked to the spec given to them, not the other way around).

      As for the current codex, it can represent all of the legions if you are creative. I do agree it’s not perfect by any means (there are small patches you could make here and there and more intelligently using formations would work wonders) but the whole attitude of ‘we DESERVE legion rules’ is very easily tractable back to the entitlement created by the 3.5 ed codex.

      If you ask me, the main problem is less with the codex itself, but with the proceeding codex releases which seem to have had different design specs when writing and playtesting them. But that’s just speculation 😉

      Nonetheless, people are allowed to disagree with what others say, so thank you for taking the time to comment 🙂

  5. Gregor permalink

    FFS this ignores the bonuses for paint jobs now in the space marine codex, including paintjobs that are a massive upswing in power. The paint job boost/Legion flavor is what players who want a return of the 3.5 are essentially after. Huge swing and a miss.

    • Thanks for your comment Gregor.

      Whilst I disagree (I think the codex is only a few tweaks away from being darn near great) it seems that many others do not. That’s ok. Perhaps some of the design ethos of the HH books will be incorporated into the next Chaos Space Marine book, which will please some players I hope.

      Who would have thought that on the internet people disagree so much? 😉

  6. Kendrick permalink

    He’s making the argument that army level bonuses are bad. If that were true, they wouldn’t be giving out chapter tactics to other factions. They wouldn’t be giving out formation bonuses.

    He’s making the argument that army level bonuses prevented people from painting things that look cool because they weren’t powerful enough. I’d say that the current iteration is just as bad in that regard with maybe the exception of Iron Warriors being able to take 9 obliterators with 4 heavy support choices, which was a bit ridiculous. There is currently no reason to buy possessed. There is no reason to take chosen over trooper CSM’s. Probably the only chaos things that look cool and are terrible that people buy are warp talons. I’d argue that raptors were in the same boat during 3.5.

    The only argument that he makes that I agree with is that Chaos is mutable and legions are mostly not legions anymore. However, that just means they need to make army level bonuses more changeable and not restricted to legions.

    GW is responsible for the poor balance within codexes and between codexes. That is not the players’ fault.

    Give us something to make the army interesting outside of whatever stories we make up. Give us rules that help us make up interesting stories. If it’s powerful, then scale up the point cost to keep it worth taking without making it overpowered. Having army and group level bonuses is not inherently bad.

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  1. ‘Fixing’ Chaos Space Marines | Braindroppings

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