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Designing a Chapter

“My chapter is called The Lords of Pawnage and they own. They’re totally hard and mean and even the Grey Knights say they’re the best fighters in the galaxy. And the Emperor himself got off his throne and ordered them to be better than any other chapter, and…”

Sigh. I’ve been playing and painting for a few years now, and whenever I hear something like this, I end up wanting to put my head in my hands. The Space Marines are by far the most popular army in 40k, and are often the one with which players start. It’s always a shame, then, when people do the same tired things when creating a chapter. In this article, I hope to suggest ways of approaching a new chapter, so that you end up with something that’s interesting, unusual and still has the capability to kick backside on the battlefield. I’ve divided the article in two: firstly, the more practical side of thinking up how your army will look and why, and secondly, a (very) rough guide to how to approach writing background.

Of course, these are just my opinions: feel free to ignore them as you wish. But a marine chapter is like a character from a book – just saying he’s tough won’t make him interesting. Something more is needed, preferably something original or just cool. And frankly, in a galaxy where the Dark Angels and the Legion of the Damned are on the side of mankind, a chapter whose only distinguishing feature is how grim and covered with skulls they are may not stand out that much…

Chapter Hooks

So, how should you go about designing a chapter? To my mind, it’s a lot like creating a character in a story. Like the hero of a novel, the best chapters have a personality of their own and the strengths and weaknesses that entails – there’s a lot of difference between a Space Wolf and an Ultramarine, for example. You know that, chances are, a Space Wolf is going to be rough, hearty and keen on fighting things up close (he may also have red hair and an unusual smell, but let’s not stereotype too much). The typical Ultramarine, however, will be disciplined, organised and more willing to take down the enemy from long range.

Here then are some ideas – hooks, if you like, on which you can use as a starting-point to hang the look and character of your chapter:

1) Colours. Got a favourite colour? Really like the idea of violet marines? Then why not paint them like that. You may well find that the chapter background flows from there. A reddish-orange chapter might come from a world a bit like Mars, and have painted their armour in memory of their homeworld. Those chequered patterns on their shoulder pads might be their founder’s heraldry.

In a world of block-coloured plate armour, a chapter of well-painted, original marines will really stand out. Although not very fashionable at the moment, it seems, the brighter, more heraldic chapters like the Howling Griffons and Storm Lords look incredible when painted well.

2) Chapter philosophy/history. Some chapters are obsessed with one particular aspect of the 40k world – take the Iron Hands, for example. Their fascination with technology leads to them having large amounts of bionics. A chapter of penitents might all wear a ball and chain, or be covered in sacred texts. What would a chapter look like who particularly revered their librarians? Or their battle banners, or apothecaries, or whatever?

3) Real history. Several existing marine chapters are futuristic versions of people from history. The Black Templars are like crusading knights, whereas the Space Wolves are a lot like Vikings. More subtly, the Ultramarines use a lot of Roman symbols.

Most cultures have produced heroic warriors that could be the starting-point for a marine army: Apaches, Incas, Prussian lancers and so on. Even if they didn’t wear plate armour, their culture can be reflected in their power armour. My own chapter, the Sons of Empire, are inspired by Victorians. Their armour is polished brass and covered in bolts and scrollwork, as was much of the machinery of that time.

4) Battlefield Practicalities. A friend of mine feels that armour should be painted the same way whether it’s on a tank or a space marine. So, he airbrushed his marine chapter in the same way that historical modellers paint tanks. He painted in the details later, but left some of the ornamentation – skulls on armour and so on – painted in camo. His logic is that his marines rely on stealth to survive. It’s unusual, and although some players don’t approve, to my mind it works because it suits his chapter’s circumstances. Similarly, a chapter known for its long missions may use a lot of repaired and battered armour, perhaps with many trophies from one particular foe.

There are many more ways to do this, but these are a few of the easiest hooks on which to “hang” a chapter. Once you’ve got an idea behind your chapter, you can design their armour and background around that idea, perhaps adding some Traits from the marine codex to represent their character on the field.

The Horror that is Fluff

Now comes the tricky bit – fluff, ie background material. Note that you don’t have to write reams of the stuff, or any of it at all: it’s just nice to be able to fit your chapter into the 40k universe. Be warned, though: people vary immensely about what they’ll consider acceptable fluff or not. Some players are very defensive about the ways a marine is recruited, others get irked if a chapter starts being too “nice” and so on. It’s up to you to decide what level of criticism is fair enough and what isn’t. As a rule, the forums on L.O. are very good for sounding out what’s possible, and the help is pretty constructive.

Certain things need to be remembered when working out fluff for a chapter. Firstly, and most importantly, How do they fit into the Imperium? The Imperium is a big place, and many chapters have their own mini-empires of planets they control, just as the Ultramarines have Ultramar. Such empires can vary enormously, but they are all part of one big over-empire, and as such are all technically answerable to the Inquisition, and to Earth.

Some principles apply across the whole Imperium. Whatever planet you’re on, tithes may have to be paid to the Imperium, either as money, goods, Guardsmen, Marines, leisure facilities or whatever else you can think of. All planets run the risk of producing psykers, to different degrees, and may be obliged to export their psykers for sacrifice to the Emperor on Earth. Many marine chapters are linked to the Imperium by debts of honour – and all can be ordered to carry out work for the good of the Emperor. Of course, a wily Chapter Master may be able to negotiate his way out of this, or to reinterpret some of the orders he receives to his own benefit. But one who simply declares himself independent and doesn’t get out of Imperial space very quickly will soon have a lot of trouble coming his way.

Similarly, the marines themselves may have different ways of living – but all can be guaranteed to train hard and be tough as old boots. Marines in a codex chapter may spend their time living like warrior monks, praying and fighting all day long. More feral marines may simply walk into the wilderness and fight monsters for practice.

Most marines live together, away from the populace: the Salamanders don’t, and your chapter needn’t either. Your guys may spend their time praying, meditating or giving inspiring talks to the community – but no matter what, they’ll need to be able to fight.

(A small aside. The question of whether a marine would have a family – or whether he’s got the inclination or equipment to do so at all – is always guaranteed to get a vigorous argument going. You’re best off avoiding this issue. The average marine is celibate, whether by choice or necessity).

If your chapter’s history involves any of G.W.’s characters, be a bit wary. Raven Guard players won’t be impressed if you claim that your Chapter Master once scared Captain Shrike into running (well, flying) away. The motto here is not to do anything that treads on anyone’s toes or can’t fit alongside the existing fluff: your chapter may have tried to capture Ahriman – they may even have met him on the battlefield – but they’ve clearly not killed him because in the current edition of 40K, he’s still alive. Pretty obvious, really.

In conclusion, the galaxy is a very big place, and the further you are from Earth, the harder it gets for the Ecclesiarchy and the Ordo Hereticus to make everyone behave exactly as they want. Just keep it reasonable, and remember that there’s plenty of ways to make an interesting chapter history without your chapter master having beaten up the Emperor in a fight and waltzed off to make his own rival empire. Balance is everything: a chapter that worships Chaos is going to get splattered sooner or later, no matter what, but what about a chapter that tries to use Chaos artefacts for the good of the Imperium? Relictors, anyone?

My Own Chapter – an example

The reason I’m talking about my own chapter is not that I’m claiming it’s especially good, just that it’s the only chapter I know from the inside, so to speak. Seeing how I went about it might inspire someone else – not to follow exactly, but to use the same principles to invent something of their own.

I love the look of Victorian machinery: all the polished brass and scrollwork, the primitive levers and steam-powered technology looks really cool. When I started my marines I wanted to reflect this look in their armour. I chose a brass and Dark Angels Green colour scheme, as DA green is similar to traditional British racing green, with red chest-plates to suggest the red uniforms 1890’s soldiers used to wear. To reflect the bolted-together look of Victorian technology, I stuck bolts cut from spare Ork weapons onto the armour. I cut the backpack vents and turned them upward, so they would be spouting steam like chimneys behind the marine’s head.

To continue the theme, I painted decorative scrollwork on the armour and gave some of the marines pith helmets and large moustaches made from Green Stuff. Vehicles were fitted with new exhaust funnels, extra bolts and more ornate, primitive-looking guns taken from Orks and Chaos marines. Several have Victorian girls’ names, like WW1 tanks: the Land Raider’s kill markings show that it has destroyed some of H.G. Wells’ Martian war machines. By working out the ways I could suggest the theme, and repeating them through the army, I was able to make the same concept run through the entire force, giving them a strong visual identity.

Now that I had a painted and converted force, I decided to write the fluff. I wanted them to reflect the real Victorians: tough, confident, and eager to increase their power. Like the Ultramarines, they would have a small empire of their own, which they’re eager to enlarge by capturing more territory. They prefer putting aliens to work, rather than wiping them out – a policy which would not be much liked by the Adeptus Terra.

So, I’ve positioned them close to the galactic edge, where the Inquisition’s control is weaker, and said that frequent warp-storms have isolated them from the Imperium and encouraged their culture to develop on its own. They keenly protect their own population, but regard aliens and other chapters as foreign and not quite right – much like their historical counterparts. Their history is one of conquest and a desire to expand their own influence – reflecting the era they’re based upon.
What this means is that they won’t play a massive part in the history of the Imperium – but to my mind, that’s a small price to pay for having invented something I can be proud of and genuinely call my own.

Posted by on January 5 2008. Filed under Fanfiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

36 Comments for “Designing a Chapter”

  1. [...] backed up on 02:14:2008Originally Published: Sat, 05 Jan 2008 10:36:10 +0000http://www.librarium-online.com/2008/01/05/designing-a-cha… “My chapter is called The Lords of Pawnage and they own. They’re totally hard and mean and even [...]

    • my chapter is called “shadow soldiers” and are a space marine army, why i choose to have a space marine army is because simpley they are very good to hit, to wound and to pass cover save plus more

  2. my chapter is called “shadow soldiers” and are a space marine army, why i choose to have a space marine army is because simpley they are very good to hit, to wound and to pass cover save plus more

  3. My marines are called The Emperor’s Light.

    We are based on the fictitious warp-clouded asteroid belt between Neptune and Pluto, recently dubbed “the Rings Around Uranus.”

    Our armour is black the Emperor’s bumhole and gold like the light that shines from it (hence the name).

    That’s about as creative as I can get at the moment. But I’m new to this whole WH40K thing (I did play Space Hulk when it first came out) and I dig articles like this. They give me good things to think about and a fresh excuse to put jollies like this on forums.

    For the Emperor!

  4. My marines are called The Emperor’s Light.

    We are based on the fictitious warp-clouded asteroid belt between Neptune and Pluto, recently dubbed “the Rings Around Uranus.”

    Our armour is black the Emperor’s bumhole and gold like the light that shines from it (hence the name).

    That’s about as creative as I can get at the moment. But I’m new to this whole WH40K thing (I did play Space Hulk when it first came out) and I dig articles like this. They give me good things to think about and a fresh excuse to put jollies like this on forums.

    For the Emperor!

  5. My marines are called the Blades Of Mir and live in the Mir system (hence the name)
    there also black with a gold trim and prefer bickers land speeders and assault marines – basically fast stuff

  6. My marines are called the Blades Of Mir and live in the Mir system (hence the name)
    there also black with a gold trim and prefer bickers land speeders and assault marines – basically fast stuff

  7. My chapter is called “The Awsomes”, because they are awsome(hence the name). Their colours are awsome and they are situated somewhere awsome. They prefer an awsome cobat style and are totally awsome.

  8. My chapter is called “The Awsomes”, because they are awsome(hence the name). Their colours are awsome and they are situated somewhere awsome. They prefer an awsome cobat style and are totally awsome.

  9. I actually like the zeal portrayed trhough the middle ages whenever religion was involved in a campaign ex: the crusades translates to black templars. I chose to make a Pagaen army using orkshade hide as the base green for the model. For the deep rich forest green color. Highlighted with a little dark angles green and completed with custom white ankh’s water slides.

  10. I actually like the zeal portrayed trhough the middle ages whenever religion was involved in a campaign ex: the crusades translates to black templars. I chose to make a Pagaen army using orkshade hide as the base green for the model. For the deep rich forest green color. Highlighted with a little dark angles green and completed with custom white ankh’s water slides.

  11. my chapter is called the hunters of solestice
    there colours are half black and half bone .they prefer close combat than ranged but do not oppose to using a flamer or any weapon that makes a large explosion.
    they are currently in a campaign against tyranid splinter fleets and they prefer to kill chaos.
    the librarians secretly change the training program and indoctrination so the space marines worship malal but just see him as an aspect of the emperor killing chaos

  12. my chapter is called the hunters of solestice
    there colours are half black and half bone .they prefer close combat than ranged but do not oppose to using a flamer or any weapon that makes a large explosion.
    they are currently in a campaign against tyranid splinter fleets and they prefer to kill chaos.
    the librarians secretly change the training program and indoctrination so the space marines worship malal but just see him as an aspect of the emperor killing chaos

  13. My chapter is still in the first stages but ive worked out most of it in my head and on the computer
    Chapter name: Steel Spades
    Colors: Crimson and Deep grey (almost black)

    They have a good infantry base but are more inclined to veichles, especialy ones they have created or modified to better suit diffrent situations. Their name comes from their planet which was man-made, (from multipul metals but mainly steel hence the name) not given to the chapter commander by the emperor, but built for the emperor by the chapter (I am trying to cut down on the fluff that comes after this.). Their Crowning achivement is the Decimator(currently named) Landraider, and the rainmaker Whirlwind.

  14. My chapter is still in the first stages but ive worked out most of it in my head and on the computer
    Chapter name: Steel Spades
    Colors: Crimson and Deep grey (almost black)

    They have a good infantry base but are more inclined to veichles, especialy ones they have created or modified to better suit diffrent situations. Their name comes from their planet which was man-made, (from multipul metals but mainly steel hence the name) not given to the chapter commander by the emperor, but built for the emperor by the chapter (I am trying to cut down on the fluff that comes after this.). Their Crowning achivement is the Decimator(currently named) Landraider, and the rainmaker Whirlwind.

  15. I’ve been playing my chapter for about a year now and I guess I could use the input or opinion.

    Name: Razor Angels
    Color Scheme: Purple, with bone secondary and bronze highlights on a healthy dose of suitably archaic-looking Dark Angel bits, (emphasis on feathers and wings) and a lot of very small, hand-written scripture.
    Modus Oparandi: Rapid-Insertion tactics, Two-front strikes (Chapter is Fleet based)

    The Razor Angels are a relatively new addition to the ranks of the Astartes, being only a few thousand years old, and a tertiary founding of the Dark Angels. Originally stewards of the Bellerophon system, the Tyrranid swarm that descended upon their homeworld (born by a sundered space hulk) not only taxed them to their limits in terms of men and material, it tainted them for all time.

    The death of Bio-Monstrosity that governed the slavering hordes chapter Abbot Armitage Grimlocke emitted a psycich death screech that slew thousands of gaurdsmen and drove dozens of stalwart Razor Angels irredeemably mad in an instant. Those that survived (but a handful near the epicenter) would unwittingly bear a creeping doom unto their chapter. All those who survived the battle with the Maw of the Void, would one by one, in the centuries to come, develop wild and uncontrollable psychic power. Too wild to be inducted into the librarius, and too powerful and dangerous to be allowed to remain in ranks of their brothers, these Forsaken would undertake the Death Crusade, the final act of contrition and absolution; scattered alone and set upon enemy hordes in remote locales to die in whatever carnage they could engender.

    Unfortunately, the taint had taken, silently slipping into the Angels’ gene-seed, and quietly corrupting some of their number, and time would mark out those thus afflicted…

    The Razor Angels are thus a fleet based chapter, operating from a couple of battle barges, including the mighty Angelus Dominae. Taking on men and material wherever they might they make a special mission of rapid intervention actions, particularly to foil planetary or continental invasions, saving a special ire for the Tyrranid, whom they abhor and pursue above all others.

    Needless to say, the Razor Angels keep their secret to themselves, and more than a few Inquisitors have become suspicious of their reclusiveness, and the discovery of their taint would spell the end of their chapter, or at least a bloody excommunication and exile.
    Thus, the Angels keep their number of chaplains large, and librarians small, to instruct and compel them to duty, and to draw attention away from their perril

    The Razor angels favor large squads of assault marines and frequently use them in pincer actions with drop-pod deployed dreadnoughts. They Especially revere vanguard veterans, have a penchant for power weapons (few sergeants will do without them) field comparatively little heavy ground armor, and lean heavily on versatile and potent (if volatile) Plasma weaponry.

  16. My Army is called the “Battle Reamers” they are called his because they have sex with the assholes of those they defeat in battle (obviously), and they don't discriminate and are therefor one of the most open minded chapters in the Emperium. They hale from the ring world of Buttholia, but after it was destroyed by space pirates they vowed to use their butt lust for the good of mankind. From that day forth they have been Corn holing their way across the universe and leaving nothing but a swore asshole to all those they come across. They're distinctive features that separate them from other main stream non-butt fucking chapters is that they go into battle without a crotch plate and have a strong attraction to assless leather chaps. Each marine's armor is painted to match their specific penis skin tone…which ranges from all sorts of colors (like I said, they don't discriminate). Their gene seed was taken from the Emperors own penis! Although this makes the marines just as strong as any other marine, the gene typically makes the marine go bald, with the acceptance of a few curly black hairs that grow from the top of their heads, as well as giving each battle brother the renown “butt chin”. Aboard their battle barge “the Dick Ship” the chapter sails the space seas giving it to any asshole that threatens mankind. Fear not Emperium, the Battle Reamers are here to defend your ass and fuck the asses of anyone who is in any way different from you!

  17. Awesome chapter man, idk who wouldn't like it!

    • Really dude I mean butt reamers, if people thought this realm of fiction was stupid before well the congradulation you just proved their theory. Really just grow up

  18. not as good as the Butt Reamers man, in the case that you haven't heard of them here's a short history

    My Army is called the “Battle Reamers” they are called his because they have sex with the assholes of those they defeat in battle (obviously), and they don't discriminate and are therefor one of the most open minded chapters in the Emperium. They hale from the ring world of Buttholia, but after it was destroyed by space pirates they vowed to use their butt lust for the good of mankind. From that day forth they have been Corn holing their way across the universe and leaving nothing but a swore asshole to all those they come across. They're distinctive features that separate them from other main stream non-butt fucking chapters is that they go into battle without a crotch plate and have a strong attraction to assless leather chaps. Each marine's armor is painted to match their specific penis skin tone…which ranges from all sorts of colors (like I said, they don't discriminate). Their gene seed was taken from the Emperors own penis! Although this makes the marines just as strong as any other marine, the gene typically makes the marine go bald, with the acceptance of a few curly black hairs that grow from the top of their heads, as well as giving each battle brother the renown “butt chin”. Aboard their battle barge “the Dick Ship” the chapter sails the space seas giving it to any asshole that threatens mankind. Fear not Emperium, the Battle Reamers are here to defend your ass and fuck the asses of anyone who is in any way different from you!

  19. Thats not awesome at all man, in fact that's totally lame…the Battle reamers are the only truly awesome chapter, check it out for a third time…boohhh yaaahhh

    My Army is called the “Battle Reamers” they are called his because they have sex with the assholes of those they defeat in battle (obviously), and they don't discriminate and are therefor one of the most open minded chapters in the Emperium. They hale from the ring world of Buttholia, but after it was destroyed by space pirates they vowed to use their butt lust for the good of mankind. From that day forth they have been Corn holing their way across the universe and leaving nothing but a swore asshole to all those they come across. They're distinctive features that separate them from other main stream non-butt fucking chapters is that they go into battle without a crotch plate and have a strong attraction to assless leather chaps. Each marine's armor is painted to match their specific penis skin tone…which ranges from all sorts of colors (like I said, they don't discriminate). Their gene seed was taken from the Emperors own penis! Although this makes the marines just as strong as any other marine, the gene typically makes the marine go bald, with the acceptance of a few curly black hairs that grow from the top of their heads, as well as giving each battle brother the renown “butt chin”. Aboard their battle barge “the Dick Ship” the chapter sails the space seas giving it to any asshole that threatens mankind. Fear not Emperium, the Battle Reamers are here to defend your ass and fuck the asses of anyone who is in any way different from you!

  20. I liked the Lords of Pawnage Chapter but I didn't understand the other things.

  21. THE OLD GUARD
    The story of the old guard begins with the emperor (duh). The emperor didn’t seem like a secretive man/god/immortal emperor..thingy guy…yeah…BUT he was! He (supposedly) created 20 legions…but he actually made 21!!! Why 21? Because he loved the song 21 guns by green day! And didn’t want any one to know so he made the old guard! To protect his secret (aka the CD) they are swift siege and prolonged warfare masters (think red corsairs and iron warriors combo smoothie mix) so… the old guard primarch got fed up protecting the lame CD and decided they wanted to use 100 thousand space marines to a greater extent and started going on maniacal rampages through out the universe they were deemed ex-communicate traitors for playing music too loud so they flipped out and fled to a corner of the galaxy no one knew about! WEST SIDE! And they all adopted odd combat techniques like holding their bolters side ways and shooting out of driving rhinos…and odd dancing as celebration…THAT is the story of the old guard!

  22. julian mcpherson

    THE OLD GUARD
    The story of the old guard begins with the emperor (duh). The emperor didn’t seem like a secretive man/god/immortal emperor..thingy guy…yeah…BUT he was! He (supposedly) created 20 legions…but he actually made 21!!! Why 21? Because he loved the song 21 guns by green day! And didn’t want any one to know so he made the old guard! To protect his secret (aka the CD) they are swift siege and prolonged warfare masters (think red corsairs and iron warriors combo smoothie mix) so… the old guard primarch got fed up protecting the lame CD and decided they wanted to use 100 thousand space marines to a greater extent and started going on maniacal rampages through out the universe they were deemed ex-communicate traitors for playing music too loud so they flipped out and fled to a corner of the galaxy no one knew about! WEST SIDE! And they all adopted odd combat techniques like holding their bolters side ways and shooting out of driving rhinos…and odd dancing as celebration…THAT is the story of the old guard!

  23. My chapter is The Dragoons, the only known deceandants of the Salamanders. They are stationed on Ractornus, an planet that lies on the border to the Tau Empire (mainly this becurse my secondary army is going to be Tau :P )

    Thats my chapter basicly, but i am writing an longer story (most of it soo far is about some famous battle, one against Tau, one against Necrons and one gaisnt Orks soo far.)

  24. “Sigh. I’ve been playing and painting for a few years now, and whenever I hear something like this, I end up wanting to put my head in my hands.”

    That’s what I did when I read this article! Did you really need to write a two-score paragraph rant about other people’s lack of creativity?

  25. “Sigh. I’ve been playing and painting for a few years now, and whenever I hear something like this, I end up wanting to put my head in my hands.”

    That’s what I did when I read this article! Did you really need to write a two-score paragraph rant about other people’s lack of creativity?

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  27. I have a chapter of Necrons called the mind lords and (you guessed it) they are the necrons who retained intellect. They were formed 70 millions years ago and are hell awesome

  28. My space marines are skin coloured with purple heads, i call them “The Purple Headed Warriors”. lol

    • The Red Minotaurs

      The Red Minotaurs were founded 7000 years ago of a feudal system planet, but the marines that found the assumed ‘ Primitive Warriors’ were actually advanced, but to there dismay half of there population was wiped out already by a small host of maurauding chaos raiders but were eventually fought off. The space marines of the White Minotaurs found that the advanced feudal warriors had chaos weapons in there tents and chaos vehicles in there camps and so the planet was almost wiped out, the space marines had thought the warriors were heretics but so some of the last warriors told them of the attack and that they were not who they thought and were spared and so with the blood of there peoples adorned on there armour 5000 years later the Red Minotaurs were ready to serve the Emperor and still do so forever fighting chaos pirates away from the surrounding planets

  29. Everything is very open with a really clear description of the
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