Thursday, 12 November 2015

Where does my army come from? Developing the background of your army

Hey everyone, today I've got a post lined up for you on background - one of my favourite parts of the hobby!

This post is going to be a working example of how I build up the background to an army as a whole - not so much focusing on individual characters, but rather things like the origins of the army and their fighting style, colour scheme etc.

See other articles in the series here

Now I've dealt briefly with the origins of my Tau collection before, though it was very much the initial stages of designing the army not the sort of work I'll be doing here.

So, where do I start?

Unfortunately, the first step is that most elusive of commodities when we need it in our hobby - inspiration!

It was a particularly dull meeting and I started doodling. I didn't just want to go with one of the Sept Worlds created by GW - I'd used a pre-designed scheme for my Iron Fists so I wanted to be a bit more creative this time.

Now the inspiration this time came from a colour scheme - I wanted the army to be based on a black colour scheme, and nothing screams black to me more than obsidian, and so the idea popped into my head of calling them the Obsidian Enclave. So I had a name, and a base colour. From then I needed some colours to provide contrast and interest in the models. A quick internet search revealed that some obsidian rock is shot through with streaks of other colours. In particular, a purple and green stuck out, and the scheme was settled, Mainly black, with narrow stripes of green and purple to provide interest. Finally I needed a little tweak to go with the black, in particular the cloth parts of the models. A dark grey seemed perfect, with a wash of black to tone things down.

So now I've got the colour scheme figured out I need to decide why the army would develop in that way. Now Tau armies in particular tend to be 'owned' by a particular Sept world, so I needed to come up with a fluff justification for not using one of them, or even making up a Sept of my own. Now in the end I decided that there would be a link to a Sept world, and that the link would be loosely held, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

I've got a name - The Obsidian Enclave. We know it can't be a Sept world so what could it possibly be? The only other enclave written into the history of the Tau that I'm aware of is the Farsight Enclaves, which are a group of worlds conquered by Commander O'Shovah himself in response to the Imperium's Damocles Crusade. The Enclave title seems to suggest a group of stellar bodies, but not necessarily worlds, so I figured that a mining colony on a major asteroid belt sounded pretty convincing. Without the proximity to a Sept they'd also need a protective force, and therefore the idea that there was a colony across a group of asteroids with a military protection force seemed plausible. So what were they mining? Well, obsidian seemed to be the obvious choice given the name of the army, I figured that it could quite easily be the basis of some advanced Tau tech, and therefore the army could easily contain all the most advanced parts of the army list. What it would be unlikely to include for that reason though would be any of the Tau allies - you don't employ those whose loyalties can be bought to guard your most precious installations after all!

So, we've got a mining colony, but where did they originally come from, and therefore would there be any influences on their fighting style from their origins.

I had a good look through the Sept listings in the new codex when I got my hands on it, and one in particular stood out - Bork'an
The Sept world of Bork'an is a centre of learning and academia, and its system has many rich mining planets. Bork'an has a high percentage of Tau from the earth caste, and Fire Warriors from here are frequently outfitted with especially fine weapons and equipment.
It seemed a pretty reasonable logical extension therefore for such a Sept to extend out its mining operations beyond its own boundaries, and the Obsidian Enclave would be a highly equipped force protecting a rich and valuable project.

The idea of an elite force protecting a valuable asset also leads nicely into my philosophy in terms of some of the army selection elements. I wanted a heavy lean towards the stealthy side of the Tau list (thank you so much for including the optimised stealth cadre GW!) and didn't really want to include many units that weren't mobile in some way (I read a really interesting article on Facing the Grey Tide yesterday, which noted that most of the most feared units in 40k are also extremely mobile assets) so the Fire Warrior squads I included would need to have devilfish transports. This flows nicely into the background of the force being a guardian and rapid reaction force - the stealth suits would regularly patrol the area making use of their camouflage to ensure they could observe without being seen, monitoring enemy movement in the area and calling in the support when it is required. This also segues nicely with the Kauyon method of warfare that suits the style of play I wanted to use with this force (eventually).

What this does mean is that I could reasonably expect large parts of the army to deploy via reserve or deep strike (retaliation cadre, my other favourite formation)!

Now obviously the highly specialised army tends to lean away from the msu style list (I'll post about this later in the army building section) but that's ok, as I do quite like the way elite armies play and look on the tabletop, even if msu is often more competitive.

I think that's probably it for this part of the background building, we've gone through initial inspiration to understanding how and why the army would develop the way I want it to, without (hopefully) straying too far from any established tendencies of the race in question.

You can easily apply this philosophy to most of the armies in the game, from codex space marine chapters (prevalence of flamer and melta weapons in the salamanders armoury for example) through imperial guard regiments (steel legion requiring transports for each squad due to atmospheric conditions), ork clanz (kult of speed), eldar hosts (Iyanden...) all the way through to chaos warbands (you could just as easily justify a solely power armoured chaos warband through a cultist horde to the possessed).

They key thing when developing your background is to have one of the two following key principles established in your mind.

1. The background influences your army selection. Take Iyanden as an extreme example - their background clearly establishes that a high proportion of their army will be wraith constructs. Use this approach when you have a clearly developed idea of your background but no preference for tabletop composition.

2. The background is developed around your preferred units. There are probably fewer pre-existing examples of this in GW simply because they are presented as falling under point 1 - many of the GW themed armies could very well have developed from the theme first, developing the background later, and that's the main part in doing this successfully - your army should not come across as having been selected with a theme in mind and a background written to fit - a well established background will always appear to influence army selection rather than the other way round. An example of this may be you want a space marine army that is entirely deployed by storm raven. There's little justification for such an approach at first glance, but then consider possibly that their home world is a water planet (actually, let's say it's not water, but an acid substance vital to the production of admantium), with small pockets of civilisation collected on the few landmasses that exist. The only viable means of traversing the corrosive seas is by air and therefore the chapter maintains a high proportion of such transports, but rarely deploys ground vehicles, preferring the speed and flexibility of airborne deployment supported by ground attack craft. Obviously that's a fairly crude initial example but you get the idea.

One final passing thought - generally speaking it's far easier to create a believable background if it restricts your force in some way, rather than allowing you access to all of the codex's most powerful units whilst not having to justify taking weaker elements. In my own example above, the devilfish is rarely considered to be an efficient use of points (I'd be far more comfortable with it if it cost 65pts rather than 80) but for the sake of fluff, and to a certain extent playing style, I'm willing to accept that it restricts my army in other ways.

Till next time, hope you found this useful!