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[40K OSR] Dark Communion: the Return of Termite Art

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This is where it started, you know. Bill King. John Blanche. Three pages, tucked away at the back of the second edition Wargear book. Four columns and a massive illustration in which Chaos is not explained but exemplified. I want you to hold on to that idea – not explained, but exemplified. I think we fall into bad habits, as nerd-folk: habits of codifying and classifying and explicitly stating I-think-you’ll-find-that-it-said-on-page-62-of-that-novel-that… and I can’t even be assed thinking of an example, because I’m pretty sure you’ve thought of one already. What we have here is an impression of what it’s like to be a Chaos Space Marine, to be something old and spiteful and powerful and yet lost in its own body and its own memories. It doesn’t baldly tell you things; it shows them to you, obliquely and elegantly articulating by example.

I can’t articulate some things without people articulating in songs for me. People can’t articulate what Shakespeare said without quoting Shakespeare chapter and verse. Not that I’m setting myself up against Shakespeare; I’m just saying that some things can only be articulated in Art. That’s what Art is for.
— Andrew Eldritch (again)

And is what we’re doing here Art? That’s one for the ages – what is Art, and what is Worth, and does what we’re doing have the signifiers of either? I’m not at liberty to say. It sounds to me, though, like what we can do with this is have some sort of vision, or impression, or concept in mind and communicate that vision through a medium, and it just so happens that our medium happens to be little toy soldiers and funny voices. I’m suggesting that if something can be articulated in a story or in a painting or in a sculpture then it can be articulated in something that has about it elements of them all and is, more to the point, something not consumed – look, don’t touch! – but created actively by a small group of people here and now, in the moment: something tactile and tangible and yet ephemeral, something gone in the morning. Art that renders you complicit in the act of making Art.

This of course brings us back to the art of making, and to Termite Art. Now do you see why I reposted the old Frugal post? Everything I said three years ago still stands – while purporting to encourage conversions and creativity the contemporary Games Workshop (and, increasingly, other manufacturers, including those who pal up with Army Painter and Battlefoam to shill their expensive gamer-brand hardware) doesn’t encourage you to make stuff out of crap you found in your house but instead out of the official brand-name conversion kits (and don’t think getting yours from Kromlech or Chapterhouse or wherever places you beyond the reach of my grand and arrogant swinge; it does not, it simply shows that you’re a smart consumer with aesthetic taste). However, there are a couple of things doing the rounds which have extended my worldview a little.

The first is this alternate usage of ‘Termite Art’ as a term by Manny Farber, meaning not art-as-scavenging but art-as-digestion-and-excretion:

Good work usually arises where the creators seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn’t anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite- tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.

The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.

We’re not operating under any pretence that what we do is High Culture or Great Art; the officer of my WoW-RP guild reacts with polite horror to the very suggestion that it has any artistic merit whatsoever. We are, I hope, acknowledging that what we do is in Farber’s sense an artistic practice. It’s not for anything other than the fun of doing it, and – if we discount the witless pursuit of Official Best Nerd status at events – we become better at it through a rather haphazard process of continually doing stuff.

The other thing that’s gnawing at my soul, post-Gamer-Gate, is the idea of the gamer as defined by what they consume. It’s about video games, of course, but I feel that much of it applies to the likes of us as well.

Gamer identity is tainted, root and branch, by its embrace of consumption as a way of life. If gamers suddenly became completely inclusive, if all of the threats and stamping of feet went away and the doors were flung open, conspicuous consumption would still be the essential core of their identity. The mythical gamer who does not exist to consume is not a gamer. A raisin is not a grape, and no amount of rehydration will turn it into one.

And let’s be honest here; primary or secondary markets, bought or traded, we’re all consumers here. The question is, are we smart consumers? Do we buy the shit that’s shovelled at us or do we say “this is shit, let’s make something better out of stuff I found in the kitchen cupboard or bought in the hardware store or have had in the loft forever”? Embracing Termite Art means, I think, that we take some degree of ownership; we don’t buy ugly models because they’re official or because they have good rules, we don’t spend a hundred and fifty quid on injection-moulded plastic when a perfectly decent 6’x4′ table with basic scenery can be hand-made for half that sum, and we don’t play Borehammer or Stallroller-type Warmachordes, obediently lining up to fit into the out-of-the-box experience that the siege mentality provides.

Embracing Termite Art means playing in a way that gnaws at the edges of the table, that spills over into other kinds of expression, that are bigger than just another pick-up game. I have so much that I want to do, so much that I want to write and draw and model and paint and play and, yes, all right, collect. Without, it must be said, automatically buying only models for parts, or even only buying things for parts. It’s still gaming as conspicuous consumption; but what’s consumed demands excretion, and that’s the principle of Termite Art. It’s not what we buy that counts, it’s what we do with it.

[Frugal Gaming] Termite Art

Every so often, my blogging worlds (all this nonsense and Doctor Who fandom, in case you’re keeping score) collide. This piece is one such incident, dating back to 2011 when I was undertaking a Year of Frugal Gaming. I repost it here as germane to the direction this blog will be taking and the manifestoes I’ll be belching out over the next few weeks in lieu of sufficient funding to actually do any of the stuff that I want to do.

Who pundit and novelist Lawrence Miles, before he effectively shut down in despair at the state of the current series, pontificated about about brands, making things, and TV spinoffs. Specifically, the rather cool Deadly Art:

But Deadly 60 has its own pilot-fish programme, Deadly Art. This is the latest and most carnivorous offshoot of the Take Hart format (or Art Attack, if you’re dead common), and you can probably see how it all fits together. We get a precis of the accompaying Deadly 60, and then two artists in the studio – usually young women, y’know, like with Tony Hart – make A GIGANTIC SODDING PRAYING MANTIS WITH GLOWING EYES OUT OF SCRAP METAL. Only pausing to run off a smaller version out of the sort of thing you might find, ooh, in your bins.

I mention this less to rattle on about children’s TV and more to pad the entry while explaining the term ‘Termite Art’. Y’see, Miles goes on to make an Interesting Remark:

If the Termite Art version of television provokes the viewer into going outside and poking around to see what’s there (and I still hold that this is what most good telly does, especially children’s telly), then this is more like siege conditions. Branding always closes the gates. This is your product, you don’t need anything else.

Now, you can probably sense where I’m going with this. Back when I was a lad, there was a lot of the miniature wargaming hobby that was a bit DIY. Actually, quite a lot DIY. Sure, Citadel made trees (they weren’t very good) and produced their own paintbrushes and paints and clippers and stuff, but there was never a particular drive for everything to be Official. White Dwarf ran frequent articles on how to make modular chipboard battlefields, with terrain crafted from of bits of toilet and the ridiculous amount of white packing material that their larger kits came in, and they showed this stuff in battle reports; it was part of the Right Way to do the Hobby, and it was mostly pretty damn cheap. Names were dropped in painting articles – Humbrol, Tamiya, Airfix – and there was a culture of crossover and usage between manufacturers. Furthermore, it meant there were relations, however tenuous, between my hobby and the sort of shops my grandfather loved to visit and random bits of crud picked up from skips or beaches or the moorlands that spread out to the north of our house at the top edge of Plymouth (I’m still sulking that I didn’t bring home that sheep skull I found, but the ants hadn’t quite finished it and there was no. fucking. way. my mother would have had that in her car or the house). The hobby sent me off into the big wide world looking for stuff to do things with.

Nowadays, of course, there’s a Citadel-branded everything, and a definition of the Games Workshop Hobby that actively avoids mention of any other kind of Hobby. The terrain you see in White Dwarf these days is exclusively the stuff you can buy in kit form in your local GW. Mention of other manufacturers’ paints and tools and miniatures and goodness knows what else is strictly off-limits. Privateer Press have entrenched behind the same thing, although their terrain line was an expensive series of disasters (I quite liked the Cryx piece though, and if anyone has one that they don’t want, I’d be happy to take it off their hands). Things are a bit woolier once you move further away from the Evil Empire and the Imperial Remnant, but I still see a lot of people talking about Army Painter as though they’re the only people who make primer or big tins of dark glossy stuff to dip your figures in. When I were a lad we did that with woodstain.

This saddens me, and it does so beyond the staggering expense of the stuff (I still reel at the cost of the Realm of Battle board complete with SKULLS UNDER THE TOPSOIL, even three years on). I like to keep the gates open and to have a steady flow of people outwards as well as in. I like initiative, and re-use, and re-cycling. I like putting things to strange new purposes. I don’t like having the Official Product and being told that I don’t need anything else: especially not when it’s four times the effective price of what I’ve come up with.

[40K] Index Astartes: Lightbringers Chapter

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Early iteration of Lightbringer Chapter colours. Note the preservation of Dark Angel iconography.

Founding: Seventh

Genetic Origin: Dark Angels

Homeworld/Homeland: The fortress-monastery of Carceri, on Kaymakli. The Lightbringers also retain Chapter Keeps for recruitment, resourcing and training purposes on Sephira Major Kappa and Darkling Gamma.

Chapter Colours: Gold armour, dark green panelling, off-white insignia.

Chapter Emblem: A hand, holding a sword, with a wing at the wrist – probably derived from the parent Chapter’s Ravenwing emblem. The First Company replaces the sword with a key.

Motto: Deferimus lucem – “We bring the light.”

Beliefs

The Lightbringers have a noted martyr complex and a tradition of ancestor worship. Their Roll of Honour is recited at the start and end of every campaign, and repeated as a catechism in times of strife. Brethren derive great spiritual fortitude from the prospect of being added to the Roll – they are not, however, frequently suicidal, or inclined to throw their lives away in pursuit of a glorious sacrifice. Admission to the Roll is not bought by mere death in battle, but by death assuring victory.

Combat Doctrine

As a Chapter, the Lightbringers favour a high-risk high-reward approach to warfare; their focus on exceeding the achievements of their own predecessors demands an opportunity to accomplish as much as possible. Punishing air strikes are the order of the day; the Lightbringers tactical doctrines observe that a drop pod makes a passable bunker if defensive warfare is called for, and so the air-strike remains the favoured approach even when on the back foot.

The Chapter’s focus on personal glory and valiant martyrdom means few brethren volunteer as vehicle crew – it’s too safe inside the metal boxes – and those who do favour the dangerous and daring business of piloting, where there is flak to be avoided and dogfighting to be done. Furthermore, many Lightbringer officers disdain APCs, preferring to arrive at the right place in the first place. However, for those occasions when an airdrop or teleport attack prove impossible, the Chapter does maintain a pool of Land Raiders – the Raider’s capacity to pull triple duty as mobile bunker, line-breaking transport and duelling tank par excellence make it a prime choice for a Chapter with limited numbers of specialist vehicle crew.

Force Organisation

On the most basic level, the Lightbringers adhere to the organisational structure imposed by the Codex Astartes – ten companies of a hundred Marines each. However, there are significant divergences in logistical and spiritual organisation.

The First through Fifth companies are, as normal, Battle Companies, the First comprised of Terminators. The Chapter’s Dreadnoughts are exclusively assigned to the First Company, and – curiously for a Chapter so preoccupied with its ancestry – are seemingly never consulted on matters spiritual or strategic.

The Sixth and Seventh companies fulfil the standard role of reserve forces, based on Kaymakli. The Eighth company is a roving patrol force, responding to distress signals and escorting the Chapter’s tithe fleet on a semi-fixed route around the Sephira sub-sector. The Ninth is a garrison company, based on Sephira Major Kappa. Sephira produces a truly staggering quantity of promethium, representing such a major strategic asset that the permanent guardianship of a Marine company is justified. The Lightbringers receive a tithe of the fuel and draw many of their recruits from Sephira’s moons, shipping them to the Tenth Company on Darkling Gamma for intensive training before redeploying them.

The remaining divergences are spiritual in origin and nature, rooted in the deep-seated morbidity that characterises the Chapter. Each Company maintains an Exemplar, a favoured warrior who seeks out particularly dangerous enemies to engage in single combat “to draw the Emperor’s gaze”. The Chaplains are Extollers, and their role is to spur the brethren on to mightier deeds through comparison with their predecessors. The Librarians are effectively biographers – the lower-ranking Memoria observe and record the deaths and achievements of their brethren, while the higher-ranking Obituarists transmit those achievements to the Keeper of the Roll of Honour. Finally, there are the Apothecaries – the Wardens, who stand at the gates of death and refuse admittance to the unworthy, who still have deeds left to do.

Tactically, these roles are compatible with the conventional functions of standard bearer or company champion, spiritual leader, psychic reconnaissance and communications officer, and battlefield medic, although other Imperial forces have noted some difficulty in parsing Lightbringer communiques, phrased as they are around individual deeds rather than direct appraisals or reports on the situation at hand. They also serve to bind together the Lightbringers’ formations and detachments, which often include troops drawn from up to five companies and operating under unfamiliar officers.

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Lightbringer Dreadnoughts in action against Death Guard holdings on Jericho IV.

Significant/Defining Moment

While the other Unforgiven Chapters hunt, redeem, and destroy the Fallen, the Lightbringers are the gaolers of the damned. Those Fallen who end up in the Lightbringers’ hands are not granted the luxury of death. Instead, they are consigned to a Dreadnought suit; incarcerated in that silent shell, they expunge the stain on their souls by slaughtering the enemies of the Emperor for as long as they live. The First Company, those Lightbringer veterans who have thus far evaded glorious martyrdom, earn through continued survival the responsibility for their penitent brethren – yet even they do not know all that is to be known.

Only the Librarians, the incumbent Chapter Master, and the Inner Circle of the Dark Angels are aware that the Lightbringers Chapter represents a terrible experiment by the Unforgiven collective – their gene-seed is derived from Fallen stock. A lieutenant of Luther’s treasonous company begged, in his dying moments, for a chance to make good on his recantation and prove that the Fallen were not intrinsically damned. Substitute gene-seed was – and is – supplied to the Adeptus Terra, and the Chapter assigned a homeworld hard by the Ghoul Stars, on the fringes of known space.

Some of the longer-serving Librarians are troubled by this prospect, suspecting their entire history to be a Fallen conspiracy, a double-bluff. Among the shadowy ossuaries of Carceri, there exists a whispered rumour that the Lightbringers’ ancestry taints them all, and that their institutionalised rush toward a hero’s grave is a culturally and psychically encoded check, preventing them from living long enough for the taint to manifest. Among the privileged few who know the secret, there is a saying, a secret motto for the Chapter, raised like a warding prayer against the future: “the longer we live, the farther we fall.”

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