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Dream’n up a Theme: 1

What’s the secret ingredient to make an amazing army?

Put it on a T-shirt

That’s a question I ask myself year after year, and am inspired and excited to see the creativity delivered from across the Arc40k community.

In a couple of connected articles I’ll give some insights into how I’ve created themes for Armies that I’ve taken to Arc40k. Hopefully they will help make creating a theme a little easier.

I know that one thing consistently comes out in a majority of the best presented armies - many have a strong theme or story.

But where do you start in making your own army theme?

Inspiration is different for each of us, the triggers as well as the keys… but whatever source you use, then it will give you the reason to create models and colour schemes that are captivating, innovative or in some cases downright crazy, it helps pave a way to creating something unique about your own army.

It’s also important not to be daunted by a need to be or feel creative - inspiration might not be something you work at day to day… or even have considered it in your hobby adventures to this time… but inspiration isn’t limited by your own imagination.

If we all had to create every part of some fantastic idea that is the background, the story to your army… well most of us will fall short. But it can be learned, and you will get better at it. Starting is usually the hardest part.

Luckily in the Warhammer Universe there’s many rich sources to help point the way to finding the inspiration that can drive you to building interesting and exciting armies.

Let’s look at the range that sells the most models and more people collect than any other - Space Marines. Their position at the centre of the rebellion which frames the conflict of the 41st millenium gives Space Marines and their Chaos antagonist a rich back story.

The Space Marine’s background allows for traitors and loyalists, Chapters and Legions, successors and succeeded.

At their heart there’s a mix and match nature to Space Marines that allows you to create a simple reason for the army you collect and paint. You can choose any number of the officially created Chapters from across many foundings. All have strong schemes, rich stories and if you choose one you can still create your own story that directs and themes your own colleciton.

Naming your Captains, Lieutenants, Librarians, and Sergeants gives you Characters to help establish a narrative. Fight some battles and see a few heroic table top actions and you can tell the tale of your tactical squad’s adherence to bolter doctrines to take down their enemies earns them the nickname Firestorms. Or a mighty Dreadnought earns the title Smashfist Foeslayer because he excels at defeating his opponents in melee.

Creating your own Successor Chapter offers both the opportunity to create a stunningly unique colour scheme and iconography, as well as a deeper background story - albeit one built on the larger background under which Space Marines exist.

For Arc40k in 2020 I did just when I built my Ravens of Redemption Space Marine Chapter. But I didn’t start with the story - that came together and became more defined as I made various choices for the army.

The first choice I made was to use the relatively new models from the Shadowspear Box Set. Until that time, Reivers were the only Phobos Armoured units. Shadowspear gave a load of new models and options for a building and painting project based upon Space Marines.

I’d done some test models of Space Marine Heroes based upon the Lamentors - a Blood Angels Successor Chapter. But I wasn’t certain that I’d like to paint up to 50 shoulder pads with bleeding hearts and Checkerboard pattern… If you’ve painted Harlequins then small squares are too close to tiny diamonds - a paint to execute consistently across an entire army. But yellow was the colour I chose back in April 2019 as the one that I’d perfect and use across the following year’s event

Given the Vanguard nature of the new models I choose to create an Indomitus founding successor to the Raven Guard. I had the opportunity to explore stealthy, infiltrating deployment by choosing Infiltrators, Incursor Squad, 2 Scout Squads, Eliminators and Invictus Warsuit.

I continued the rapid deployment theme with a Land Speeder Storm, Scout Bike Squad, Suppressors and Reivers with grappling hooks. The force was rounded out with a Captain, Librarian and Lieutenant all in Phobos armour.

I scavenged bitz from the Corvus Cabal range from Warcry. This gave me Raven Skulls and hoods to replace some of the heads for models across the army. Plus a number of Characters were given real Raven models as sidekicks.

So you can see I used the Raven Guard progenitors to theme the army. That extended to creating an Icon for the army. I found some Native American symbols as inspiration.

Then using two old Imperial Guard transfers which I cut up, with paint filling in any gaps, saw me create something unique. I even cut out a large version of the icon to sit proudly above the gates to the Ravens Fortress used in my display board.

You can read my background text which I created towards the end of the project. It’s short and tells the way it is. Shared in an image I created to make my presentation army list look awesome.

The Models I wanted to use and convert, the colour I wanted to paint, and the play style I decided would suit the army were all interlinked.

Choosing the 10th Company of the Ravens of Redemption allowed me to describe and build the army as a Strike force. And well yellow is a stealthy colour… especially in the middle of the day when the sun is blinding the eyes of the enemy.

I also made sure I named and created a short background for each of my Characters and then units from this growing force. Finally, I started play testing and firming up the army list that would ultimately be the force I presented and fielded at Arc40k in 2020.

You can download that list to see how theme is woven throughout:

Ravens of Redemption Background
Download PDF • 4.69MB

Best Painted - Arc40k 2020 - Best 40K Staff Armies on Parade 2020 Ravens of Redemption

So, there you go. Space Marine successor chapters can offer the opportunity to build on some deep and detailed background to create your own 40K story. It also doesn’t have to be particularly long or use creative language. A simple description that builds the narrative does the job.

With a clear theme you can then build a force that is more cohesive - but only if the units, conversions, and colour scheme link to the theme.

Is there a colour you've wanted to challenge yourself to paint? Does it start with some test models and a theme to support it?


In the next article I’ll talk about how an existing story within the Warhammer 40,000 universe can be the source of inspiration for an army. Twisting the story to fit yet still retaining enough links in the colour scheme and design so that people look at the army and immediately recognise what it is.


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