[40K] Traitor Legions Theoryhammer: Night Lords

Yes, it’s another Theoryhammer post. I write these when it’s too dark out to see one foot in front of the other, and too dingy for painting without a daylight bulb: mine blew out earlier in the month and I haven’t yet been arsed to replace it. Probably optimal conditions for writing about Night Lords, to be honest…

I talked a little bit about the boys from Nostramo Quintus in my original review of Traitor Legions, specifically outlining the way Legion benefits and Formation rules and Detachment rules stack to inflict heavy morale penalties and improve charge reliability. Since writing that I’ve been idly fiddling with my calculator and working out the costs for various units and detachments.

Fear Bomb

Primary Detachment: Murder Talon

Core Formation: Raptor Talon

Chaos Lord: Vox Daemonicus, aura of dark glory, jump pack
5 Warp Talons
5 Warp Talons
5 Raptors: 2 meltaguns, Champion with power weapon and melta bombs

Auxiliary Formation: Heldrake Terror Pack

2 Heldrakes

Total: 905 points

(Aside: The core formation of my Murder Talon is a Raptor Talon: three units of Warp Talons, plus a Chaos Lord. He could well be the Talon-master, and he only passed up the Talons of the Night Terror because the Vox Daemonicus synergises with the detachment better. People say the Space Wolves lack imagination when it comes to names, but the Wolves are not alone…)

Obviously this isn’t quite done: that Chaos Lord needs weapons, for one thing, and I’m debating extra bodies in the Raptor squad. Nonetheless, that’s about how many points it costs to lay down your -6 modifier to Fear checks and -4 to Morale checks. I’ve opted for Warp Talons over Raptors for the most part, because this formation really wants to be charging into combat and Warp Talons are more likely to do damage in such circumstances. Had to take one squad of Raptors because the Chaos Lord can’t join a Warp Talons unit (he’s not a Daemon, they are), and because the formation might need to crack a shell before they go for the nuts inside.

Sons of Anarchy

This one arose out of a Reddit discussion about Bikes and Raptors and who benefits most from the ‘Legion Tactic’ and other spoddy stuff like that. Since Bikes get a terrifying 2+ Jink out of being Night Lords, it was suggested that Night Lords’ mechanics make them more like the Sons of Anarchy Legion than the Raptor Legion. I am surprisingly OK with this. Here’s the basis of a CAD which makes the most of Raptors in Troops and the consequent relief of pressure on the Fast Attack slot.

Combined Arms Detachment

HQ: Sorcerer: Mastery Level 3, Bike, spell familiar, melta bombs
HQ: Sorcerer: Mastery Level 3, Bike, spell familiar, melta bombs

Troops: 5 Raptors: 2 meltaguns, Champion w/power weapon and melta bombs
Troops: 5 Raptors: 2 meltaguns, Champion w/power weapon and melta bombs

Fast Attack: 3 Bikers: 2 w/meltaguns, Champion w/combi-melta
Fast Attack: 4 Bikers: 2 w/plasma guns, Champion w/power weapon and melta bombs
Fast Attack: 4 Bikers: 2 w/plasma guns, Champion w/power weapon and melta bombs

Total: 970 points

This is what I’d consider the solid core. You have your bike-mounted Sorcerers (I figure you might as well, in the absence of anything to move around between slots by Marking a Lord), each joining a unit of plasma Bikers to push them over the sweet spot in terms of Morale. Your third Fast Attack slot goes on the customary “suicide melta” unit, because why not?

Another configuration which suggests itself involves a Daemon Prince replacing one of the Sorcerers, in which case I’d probably go for two three-man Bike squads and one four-man bodyguard unit. I’m not sure how big Bike squads need to be, though: prevailing wisdom suggests 6 for some reason, maybe for melee potential?

Anyway, this one fills out to whatever points value is being played by adding more Raptors to score more objectives, and potentially some Heavy Support. A Vindicator or Predator squadron might work – maybe Vindicators, since so much of the detachment will be going for the throat anyway. Maulerfiends are another possibility, to lend some melee weight and also, frankly, because they can keep up.

Objective Insecurity

For some reason I can’t get the idea of a conventional Chaos Warband formation out of my head, even though I know perfectly well that I’m not that interested in line Chaos Space Marines, Metal Bawkses, or formations which make the Dark Vengeance era figures co-exist alongside their older, gawkier kin. (Dear reader: this is the sort of thinking which ends with you ordering whole squads of Forge World Mark V models, i.e. the sort which must be resisted, strenuously.)

I have two ideas for this formation. The first is my cunning plan to get my Chosen on the field in an army otherwise based around Raptor Talons and the Lost and Damned formation. It’s still in the early stages, being comprised mostly of:

Chaos Warband Formation #1

Chaos Lord
6 Chosen
?? Chaos Space Marines (instincts suggest two 5 man squads with a plasma gun apiece)
5 Warp Talons/Raptors

That’s a lot of effort for the sake of some Chosen without going Unbound. I dislike Unbound that much. Giving them all Objective Secured is nice too.

Chaos Warband Formation #2

Chaos Lord: Terminator armour
Chaos Sorcerer: Terminator armour, Mastery Level 3, Heretek powers

3 Chaos Terminators: combi-meltaguns: Land Raider dedicated transport
5 Chaos Terminators: 4 combi-plasma guns, Reaper autocannon

?? Chaos Space Marines (instincts suggest two 5 man squads with a plasma gun apiece or larger squads with plasma gun and autocannon): Rhino dedicated transports

3+ Chaos Bikers: 2 flamers
3+ Chaos Bikers: 2 flamers
3+ Chaos Bikers: 2 flamers

?? Havocs: missile launchers? Rhino dedicated transport?

Again, this is a work in progress. The idea here is finding a home for all of the similarly-dated Chaos Space Marine models which I sort of like, and which I think have something to gain from being Night Lords, and for which I have some cool conversion/customisation ideas. It’s probably close to a 1500 point army.

The Lord, Sorcerer and three-man Terminator squad pile into the Land Raider, with Heretek powers being deployed to keep it going. The Bikers operate on the principle that they’re going to be Jinking every turn to take advantage of that sweet sweet Stealth bonus, so they’ve been kitted out with weapons that don’t care about the downsides of Jinking; they rush into assault and do the business, making the most of being Night Lords in a Murder Talon Detachment. The Havocs, I suppose, are anti-air/anti-tank/midfield firepower, as are the Chaos Space Marines, operating out of pseudo-Razorbacks. The five-man Terminator squad are my home objective campers – they crack a tank with the Reaper, or they unload with a once per game hail of S7 shots against a foe within optimal range. I’d consider a Helbrute as alternative to the Havocs if I could build or obtain a decent ‘box’ style Dreadnought model, to go with the generally old-fashioned aesthetic here.

I’m going to confess something: I can’t quite put this detachment idea down, even though I think it’s of dubious tactical use, even though it’d be quite expensive, even though I have no idea how Havocs should work.

I’m going to confess something else: while the aesthetically cohesive “slightly older Chaos figures” detachment was swimming around in my head since the planning of this project began, I was spurred into actually starting to run the numbers by this battle report from Grim Resolve. I’ve been watching these while I crank out paid articles for my day job. This one’s my favourite, for reasons which will become obvious upon its conclusion.

Skarre, Queen of the Broken Coast - still the best model I've ever done

[Hobby] Painting Principles

I am a man of many principles (but only one scruple, which I keep in my wallet with the loyalty cards). These are a handful of the ones which have become Relevant to How I Do My Hobby. I’m going to try and explain each of them in about 100 words. I will fail to heed this restriction, because I over-write as a lifestyle choice, but hopefully I will fail in a manner that makes things clear.

Branding = Chod

Brand loyalty is a sign of closed gates.  If you can only conceive of building your Citadel miniatures with Citadel tools and Citadel glue, painting them with Citadel paint and basing them with Citadel sand, you’re in a terrible mind trap and you need to get out. These models are painted with an oddball mix of Vallejo and Citadel Colour and Formula P3 and Bob Ross’ art supplies – whatever worked.

Your Dudes

My wise and patient friends have taught me, and I agree, that it’s good to have Your Dudes, and to make them Yours. Imitating the house style of a proprietary manufacturer is a sign that you have the brain worms discussed above. You don’t need to paint exactly like the books. Neither do you need to chase whatever technique is currently fashionable on CMON merely because it’s what the good painters are doing and we all have to rush towards getting gud without thinking if it’s worth it.

Arm’s Length Painting

This isn’t Von’s Amazing Macrophotography Blog. I don’t paint things to look good under close-up 4000 dpi super-snappy camera-wrangling. I paint them to look good from the distance at which miniatures are traditionally viewed, i.e. arm’s length at best, while they’re on the table.

Three Chances To Impress

Every model has three chances to impress itself on the viewing eye. Firstly, as part of an army: a bunch of dudes who are all painted up semi-decently. Secondly, as part of a squad: a smaller bunch of dudes who are in some way discrete from all the other dudes around them. Thirdly, as an individual dude, discrete from the squads, yet still manifestly part of the army because of the common elements. Key point: not every dude has to impress on this level. Vehicles, monsters and characters have to. Everyone else can afford to blend in.

Colour Palettes and You

Better colour theorists than me have talked about the whys and wherefores of this –choosing paints and manipulating colour and putting a colour scheme together. Another really good theorist of the hobby has spoken at length about stylistic choices and selecting appropriate colours with which to make a statement. What it all comes down to for me is deciding what I want an army to look like and only selecting pieces which can fit in with that overall aesthetic direction. Or selecting an overall aesthetic direction which suits every piece I might conceivably include.

Lead with the scary bits

Iron Warriors have this so much easier, what with being able to slap hazard stripes on anything they feel like, but it still helps if the sharpest, pointiest, most murderiest bits of the model stand out somehow. This is Robbie’s old trick, which I attempted to adopt on my abortive Tyranid army and, to an extent, on my Retribution. I’m wondering, at the moment, if you can even use it to signal ‘bullet catcher’ status by not making a weapon/fang/gnarly bit stand out, or reserving the technique for special/heavy weapon guys and leaders.

Bases and Faces

I forget where I took this idea from, but it’s a good one, an alternative to the ‘scary bits’ approach above. If a model’s face looks good and stands out, it looks… well, ‘alive’, for want of a better word, sort of personal and personable. If a model’s base looks good and stands out, it’s easy to distinguish from the tabletop and it’s tied in to all its friends.

Bases as Extensions

I took this from Brian, the gentleman of ones, the man who would b. smoove. The base should be treated as an extension of the model. This means it should be treated with three colours and a wash at the very least, same as the rest of the model. It should also share its colour palette with the rest of the model. The visceral hate directed at those Goblin Green bases from the mid-Nineties is often down to Goblin Green having NOTHING in common with the colourscheme of the model above, particularly if that model sported the vivid shade of Blood Angels Orange which characterised the Red Period. Red/green clash. It’s an invitation to colourblindness.

There. I think that was relatively restrained, don’t you?

If you’ve made it this far, have a picture of my best paint job to date: the only model I’ve done where I think all these principles are successfully upheld.

Skarre, Queen of the Broken Coast – still the best model I’ve ever done

[Hobby Tutorial] The Blagger’s Guide to Speed Painting

[The following was my entry to HOP IDOL way back in 2011. I still think it’s one of the most useful things I’ve ever written, so I’m bringing it back under my own roof. Here and there you’ll find statements like this one in square brackets where I’ve changed my mind or improved my technique since originally writing this. Anyway, on with the show…]

I’m not a man given to writing hobby tutorials. See, my hobby is in essence utilitarian; a practice concerned primarily with getting models built, painted and on the board, looking suitably colourful and personal but not by any stretch of the imagination being works of art.

I don’t often enjoy reading tutorials either, because too many of them are either overly simplistic exercises in particular techniques or overly technical pieces on how to use an airbrush to perfectly highlight red in seventeen layers, which is fifteen more than I’m interested in painting.

What I always look for is the tutorial that’s pitched somewhere in between, toward the ordinary geezer who just wants something that looks decent and doesn’t take forever to do. With that in mind, here’s some advice on blagging it like a good ‘un.


For starters: prime with gesso. Gesso is amazing. Yes, you have to brush it on, and yes, that looks like it takes time; but if you’re anything like me, you have to touch up your spray prime jobs with a paintbrush anyway, and then that has to dry before you can start. The gesso can be slapped on before bed and ready to paint over in the morning; it’ll shrink to fit the surface of the miniature and it has a lovely toothy surface that takes paint very very well. I use Bob Ross’ brand, largely because one big tube of that’s cheaper than two little pots of anyone else’s for the same amount of marvellous priming goop.

[2017 update: it’s also thinner. Stuff like Daler-Rowney or Liquitex tends to gloop and gob up in weird ways – detail is lost and subsequent layers look weird.]

Also, prime grey. Black is great for metals and very forgiving but it eats light and obscures detail and flattens anything that isn’t painstakingly layered up. White is great for washes and brightness, but distorts some colours and doesn’t like metal and it’s really obvious when you’ve missed a spot. Both require too much layering and basecoating for some things, and priming some areas black and some areas white is fussy and needlessly complicated.

[2017 update: I’ve since come around to black primer – on models which are at least 80% metalwork – and white – on models which I want to have a sort of pale wooden tone, like my Revenants or Skorne. For the vast majority of projects I stick to grey.]

Grey gesso is neither one thing nor the other. It’s dark enough for metals to look good over, light enough not to deaden everything else, and it’s dead easy to prep in a manner that suits any colour you like. Witness, stage two!



Step two: stain the whole surface with a heavy glaze which picks out the details and allows you to cut corners later in the process. Look for the fiddliest details on the model – which, on Laris, are the filigree bits on the armour – decide what colour you want them, and then stain the model so that the fiddly bits end up at their ‘finished’ colour. As a bonus, this tends to tie the colourscheme together since everything has a trace of the original lurking underneath it.

[2017 update: if you’re not planning on leaving ANY areas in your basecoat colour, or if you’re in ANY doubt about what colour to use: black glaze on grey gesso. Also, when you’re using that pairing, it means you can leave drab cloth in a nice deep grey colour, which saves the assmongery of painting it.]

For Kaya and Laris, I started with Citadel Scorched Brown and a drop of Vallejo Glaze Medium. That stuff is a godsend, by the way; I don’t know where I’d be without it.

There are two ways to progress from here and which one I pick depends on how busy the model is – how many little details there are lurking around on it.

Basecoat: Inside Out

For crowded models, look for the ‘insides’ of the model – the recesses, the armour plates beneath the filigree, the things that you can’t paint without having to reach past something. Do those first. Never come back to them. DO. THOSE. FIRST.

‘Insides’ are often quite fiddly – the flat surfaces on filigreed panels, for instance – and so you need to do them first while you’re fresh. Trying to do them when you’re tired and cross and just want the model to be DONE for gawd’s sakes is a bad idea.

[2017 update – received wisdom says you should NEVER reach past something you’ve already painted. This is sound advice IF you are painting your models ‘properly’, i.e. if you plan to spend forever and a day picking out all the filigree once you’ve done the plates. This is not a guide to doing that. This is a speed painting guide, which means it’s trying to save you from spending forever and a day picking out small details. Now do you see why I’m telling you to do it ‘wrong’?]


Kaya is quite fiddly, so I did all her armour plating at the start. Note that I’ve done two colours here; the plates in purple and the bands/cloth in red. That’s your three colour tournament minimum laid down. Bosh.

[2017 update: I’ve recently taken on board the Warhammer-TV inspired meme “two thin layers, thin your paints”. My Night Lords have two layers of Vallejo Stormy Blue, Vallejo Glaze Medium and water in a 1:1:1 mix. This allows your basecoat to maintain some presence in the finished piece, and also gives you a bit more control over your paint – especially if you’re using one of those fancy Windsor and Newton or Rosemary & Co. brushes, size 1 or 0, for this bit.]

Basecoat: Mess First

For Laris, I opted for the other route; doing the messiest bit first.

This technique emerged when I was still priming black and needed to do huge areas of plain metalwork while picking out the details for later stages. Before I did anything else, I’d drybrush the whole model with some metallic or other. This would lay down a basecoat for the metals, and pick out the details so I could see what I needed to basecoat in ‘proper’ colours.

If you’re going to drybrush or overbrush or wet blend or anything mucky like that, do that first. You don’t want to be messing about with sloppy paint and quick brushwork when you’ve already meticulously done the armour plates right next to where your paint’s going.

[2017 update: again, the Night Lords are an example of this method in action. All that trim/cabling/greeblestuff got a drybrushing or two with Formula P3 metallics and a layer of brown or black ink over the top before I touched anything else.]

A Note On Wet Blending

My general rule with techniques like wet blending is that if you have to convince yourself that the last stage has made a difference, you’re done. With Laris, I achieved what I wanted to in four stages, blending dark and light greys up and down. A quick test of a fifth stage on his shoulder revealed no real difference that I could see, so I called  it a day. You don’t have to do this sort of thing in fourteen stages just because some tutorial says you do. Look at the model in front of you and ask yourself if you’re happy with it. If you are, stop.


Whether you started with the fiddly bits or the messy bits, take some time to make sure that all your base colours are applied to the places where you want them. This is also the last possible moment to think about composition and make sure that – for example – you haven’t painted Laris to look like his throat’s just been ripped open. Whoops.

All the base colours now get a nice drop of shading on them. There are two ways to do this: either carefully select and control an ink for each colour on the model, applying them with a small brush, or slather the whole thing in Nuln Oil and hope for the best.

I generally do the first one on characters and centrepiece models, and the second one on rank and file troopers. I’d say “anything that’s not likely to be picked up and looked at” but I know from bitter experience that people will grab Random Chaos Cultist #42 half the time, so the criterion is more “how many times will I have to do this before I’ve finished the job?” If the answer is “more than three” I say “fuck it” and apply Nuln Oil.

What happens next? Well, that depends. Are you tired and cross yet?

IF you are NOT tired and cross, AND there are still some areas showing primer, i.e. stuff that’s not part of the core colour palette, like Kaya’s skin, hair and cloak, THEN basecoat and ink those. This is also a perfect time to fix things like Laris’ ears not being painted at all.

IF you are tired and cross, THEN start doing bases. They’re messy and you don’t have to think as hard.

Fine details and fixing

Small areas of off-palette stuff like skin and hair and gems should be done in as many layers as it takes for you to stop noticing the difference, and no more. Eyes are a dot of colour – a neutral off-white or a glowy primary colour – and a dot of ink over the top, either black or matching the primary colour but usually black, because that automatically black lines the eye and makes it stand out.

For Kaya, I did three layers on her skin and hair. Basecoat, wash, and another flick of the basecoat as a highlight. Done.


Of course, sometimes the paintbrush will slip while painting bold ginger hair, even if you are painting inside out and not reaching past anything like a good drone. This means you’ll have to go back and either lightly scrape off the layers or paint over them.

Kaya’s face was so delicate that I figured a scrape was called for – another layer would have deformed the detail too much. As a result, my Kaya now has something of a skin condition. I put it down to living in the woods, miles away from the nearest moisturiser, which I suspect Morvahna probably hogs anyway. She looks the type.

A Note on Bases

[2017 update: my stance on bases has changed substantially since 2011, to the point where I’ve actually ripped out my advice on choosing colours for bases. There’s a whole different post in this. The important part, for speed painting purposes, is the part that remains.]

Your models represent soldiers. They are engaged in battle. They are going to get mud on themselves at some point, so flick the base colours casually upward to stain shoes, trailing cloaks and dragging knuckles. Don’t overdo it, we don’t want anyone looking like it’s been squeaky bum time, but don’t fash yourself about keeping the boots clean.


Now. Details on bases. This might seem like fuss and effort, but look at it this way. A boring base with only one thing done to it makes the miniature look flat and tired and, more crucially to our purposes, makes it obvious that you weren’t really trying. Blagging isn’t just about phoning it in – it’s about hiding the extent to which you’ve phoned it in. The important thing is not to spend ages on techniques, and instead to make the most out of each stage you’re using. You have your PVA glue out anyway, so go nuts and put a couple of different bits on there. Even Blood Bowl teams can have flock and static grass.

There you are. These models aren’t going to win any painting contest, unless it’s the “you actually bothered to paint your stuff” random draw, but they’re done, and they’re done fast. I painted Kaya in a couple of hours, in between stages on my Pureblood, and Laris took a little bit longer as his blends had to dry for a bit. You’ll note that I had three ‘centrepiece’ models on the go at once – if the paints are out, don’t sit there watching them dry, do something on something else. Use that time and that flash of mojo while you have it.