Among the most unique, exciting and setting-appropriate additions to Inferno introduced for the pre-Heresy era Space Wolves was the Deathsworn. Unlike Varagyr who were essentially just Wolf Guard Terminators, or Grey Slayers who were – once again – a sort of pre-Heresy equivalent of Grey Hunters (and actually seen before in the 41st Millenium in the 13th Company army list from the Eye of Terror campaign codex), Deathsworn are a very interesting unique unit for the VI Legion. A prequel of sorts to Wulfen – the idea is that they were PTST-afflicted Astartes whose part in the atrocities of war had led them to develop an unhealthy fascination with death and killing. Compared to their contemporaries in brother legions, the Vlka Fenryka were keenly aware of the potential consequences of leaving this unchecked (there are no Wolves on Fenris) and so such individuals were surrendered to the authority of the Priests of Fenris, who would put their unique talents to careful use as part of the Deathsworn – the Black Cull; essentially a suicide squad to give the afflicted the chance at an honourable (or at least useful) death as an alternative to succumbing to the Curse of the Wulfen.
The thing that I love most about this unit and their (incredibly limited, but I’ll get to that) fluff is how perfectly this unit seemed to slot into both the fluff and ideas of the Space Wolves as we know them from Warhammer 40,000 as well as the established canon in the Horus Heresy setting, as far as the existence of things such as Destroyers and Moritats. Rather than just a completely out-of-left-wing unit, or just going balls-out and putting Wulfen in their army list, ForgeWorld decided to go for a more restrained approach, and based their pre-Wulfen concept on the previously established Destroyer Squad. The result is a unique unit laced in the superstition of the Cult of Morkai, but with a practicality and grim pragmatism absent from the likes of the Wulfen or Thunderwolf Cavalry of 40K. For my money, this unit absolutely embodies everything that I find so captivating about the pre-Heresy era Space Wolves legion that is absent from their 40K counterparts.
Of course, one could maybe argue that perhaps the Deathsworn are so able to capture my imagination is that information on them is immensely limited. How limited, you ask? About two paragraphs in the unit’s fluff sidebar in the army list section of Inferno, one cauldron illustration on the Heraldry page, and a solitary passing reference in the main body of fluff, referring to the VIIth Great Company’s large amount of Deathsworn and Destroyer units. Cool, so.. pretty limited. Pauldron aside, there is very little to go on how they look aside from a mention of their wolf skull helmets, and one could make some assumptions about the comparison to Destroyer units also. Finally, their alias – The Black Cull – could potentially be used to make some assumptions, although that depends on how much you want to take literally vs metaphorically.
Although there is was never any question about whether I eventually add them to the army or not, I have been on the fence about converting a bunch vs waiting for an official ForgeWorld release. Given how comprehensive the releases were for Custodes and Thousand Sons, I had honestly expected official sculpts to surface around January alongside the Varagyr, Grey Slayers and Praetor. And so I waited.. and waited.. aaand..
Then we started seeing releases for Rogal Dorn, Alpharius, and a slew of Alpha Legion releases. At the time, I was a little hacked off – as I just mentioned, every other faction in Inferno got several great releases, whilst my beloved VI Legion received a kinda dodgy Praetor, some very dodgy Varagyr and a kinda-sorta-okay Grey Slayers upgrade pack. Indeed, it seemed the Wolves had received their unique Praetor, special terminators and special infantry releases. Job done, move on. It was only after a little reflection however that it occurred to me just how long Alpharius and Rogal Dorn had been around without any models – and those were coveted Primarch sculpts, never mind specialised unit sculpts (the latter being somewhat easier to kitbash in a pinch). With this in mind, I felt a little less hard done by – and the idea that Deathsworn may yet be years away is a little easier to swallow. Kitbash, it is!
This was without a doubt the most fun unit to conceptualise and kitbash in my whole VI Legion, the amount of kitbashing involved, characters exempted, was only matched by my hybrid Varagyr, the impact of which lessened somewhat over time by a variety of factors (disappointment in ForgeWorld, poor tabletop performance and a number of more pressing items in the backlog postponing the assembly and painting of the unit being key there). I took some very obvious inspiration, once again, from the incredible work done by the Upplander on his fantastic Vlka Fenryka blog, though I did differ in a few areas in my own assembly and paint job, which I’ll discuss below.
The core of this unit is two packs of Destroyers from ForgeWorld. Specifically, I opted for the jump pack-equipped Destroyers – because, hey, they’re only £1 more and if I replaced the packs, I’ve got 10 official Mk IV jump packs, which can be a pretty handy thing to have lying around for conversions. I thought that Destroyers would make an excellent core to the unit – after all, this is the unit that Deathsworn are often compared to (or lumped in with) in their fluff, so what better unit to form a nice base? The Destroyer units are also pretty legion-neutral, and thus make an excellent basis for further conversion work. The arms all seemed to suit pistol/ccw configurations out of the box, which was really nice. As far as bitz are concerned, beyond being a rare source of Mk IV jump packs. the kit was also a great source of spare Tigrus-pattern bolt pistols – both sets netted me a good 6 or 7 spare right handed bolt pistols in the end, which is extremely handy when converting anything from Grey Slayers to characters. None of this is mentioning the rad grenades for the grenade launcher either – a nice little WYSIWYG touch to add to the unit. The only cons for using this set up was that the Destroyer models needed shaving the extra bolt pistol holster off, as well as having phosphex grenades on the model – in the case of these, I decided to leave them on with the notion that they could, perhaps, simply be a different model of rad grenade, but it probably wouldn’t have been too much of a task to have chopped these off either.
So, that was the core of the unit, but what about the flash? First of all, I really liked the Upplanders approach to using the Sons of Horus Reaver Attack Squad models as the basis – especially for the spikey backpacks. Using a bitz site, I picked up 10 of those backpacks for the unit to replace the jump packs, and while I was there I picked up 2 each of a couple Reaver bodies – the two with exposed cabling and Sons of Horus iconography limited to a shallow Eye of Horus sculpted onto their kneepads, just to introduce a little more variation into the squad. The other obvious staple here is the KFStudio Space Viking helmets, which I’d previously used on my Speaker of the Dead, as well as my Deathsworn-influenced Wulfen squad for 40K.
Here’s where things diverge a little for my own interpretation. The next piece the models needed was their power axes, which I stumbled upon searching eBay for power axes – I managed to find a bitz seller who had exactly 8 of the lovely, utilitarian looking axes from the Imperial Fists Phalanx Warder upgrade kit in stock. These power axes just looked perfect to me – they were just beautifully proportioned looking axes, with the same leather wrapped hilt aesthetic as the two Great Frost Blades that I took from the Wulfen upgrade kit, but a little more delicate and less chunky – as one would probably imagine from a single-handed weapon. I opted for Great Frost Blades as my ‘special weapons’ in the squad over Thunder Hammers or Power Fists for the simple reason that I didn’t really have any Great Frost Blades in my army up until this point, and utilising the specifically VI Legion wargear felt like the fluffier choice. The Great Frost blades took a bit of work to repurpose them for the squad, and so one frost blade was being wielded with two hands, while the second simply had the 2nd hand cut out of the hilt – the minor issue of the wolf-hands was less of an issue that you might expect, and simply shaving the chunky hand a little more flat with an X-Acto blade, and chopping the claws off to form flatter fingers was enough to make the hand look like a glove once again.
Another important addition to this models wargear is their grenades! An often overlooked part of the Deathsworn warscroll, their Yimera-class stasis bombs are a pretty unique piece of wargear for them, capable of absolutely nuking Terminator Equivalents and Primarch’s in equal measure, as well as making life easier for the Deathsworn looking to sweeping advance. Bizarrely though, I don’t believe this particular piece of wargear is seen absolutely anywhere else in the 31st Millenium, which makes representing them on the model a bit of a challenge.
I looked at a great number of potential candidates for the stasis bombs, with the grenade packs from the Van Saar gang in Necromunda being the most obvious candidate (a pair of unusual grenades, one of which is identifiably a Rad Grenade, would make the perfect WYSIWYG addition to a model capable of equipping both), but availability of bitz websites was sparse, and the thought of buying 5 boxes of Van Saar gangers for the take of about 3 grams of tiny grenade bitz seemed prohibitively excessive. After an awful lot of humming and hawing, I came to the decision that the models were already illegal in an official Games Workshop capacity thanks to the 3rd party heads, so I may as well look elsewhere for the grenades too. In the end, I settled with the Anvil Industries Grenades/Explosives Pack, which is an incredibly handy little upgrade frame with a number of viable options. I was tempted to use the simple/clean looking split cannister grenade, or the futuristic landminey looking one, but in the end I settled on the large cannister grenades – while twice the size of a frag/krak grenade, they still remain smaller than a meltabomb, and asethetically live somewhere between a Meltabomb and a Rad Grenade, which seemed appropriate for Stasis Bombs. Heck, if I’m going to the effort of modelling unique grenades/explosives onto these minis belts, then I may as well pick something that’s going to be noticeable, right? Right.
The final pièce de résistance to the unit – as with any VI Legion entry – was adding wolfy bits. I didn’t want to go completely overboard on this, as I don’t tend to go overboard on my other units in this regard, but as a somewhat special unit and my final major conversion to complete Inferno1, I figured I may as well see what I have in my bitz box – the VI Legion as a whole tend not to be overly concerned with their units looking particularly uniform, but I imagine this is moreso the case with Deathsworn – a unit that doesn’t even have a Veteran Sergeant of their own to lead. The key additions this unit received were the trimless Space Wolves shoulder pads from the Space Wolves upgrade frame (which looks surprisingly good in combination with the super thin trimmed Mk IV pads), as a nice means of getting some extra fetishes and wolf teeth on there. I also added various wolf pelts, including some Spellcrow cloaks and tabards that I had leftover from my Grey Slayers/Veterans/Terminators/etc, along with pelts and wolf tail talimans cut from bitz in my Wulfen spares bag (as far as conversions go, that’s the kit that just keeps on giving). On the whole, I’m really happy with effect that the sporadically added bits and pieces has on the unit as a whole – there’s members that are fairly minimal, while others have anywhere from a tail talisman or a tabard to a full wolf pelt adorning their armour, and will help bring in another bit of colour to help break up the look of the squad a bit.
So, that’s my unit of converted Deathsworn built and ready for a coat of paint. At the time of posting this, I’ve already begun working on their paint job – but I’ve got a whole other set of thoughts and musings on that aspect of these minis, so check back here for more updates soon3.
1 I recently converted Hvarl Red-blade from a Praetor Tribune mini, which you can see on my Twitter feed.2
2 Oh yeah, I have a Twitter feed now, as an outlet for sharing my works in progress, along with my smaller projects or anything that doesn’t require a big long spiel. I’m hoping to get all of my bits and pieces out onto there and use this blog to write bigger, more in depth ramblings, such as this one. Follow me, or check it out on the embedded feed below!