I know you liked 40k. Regardless of what your feelings are now, you liked it at one point and judging by the fact you are reading this article, I’m pretty sure you really liked it.
I’ll tell you why I liked it. The answer is simple, Lord Varlak.
The name will either mean nothing to you or bring back floods of paralyzingly happy memories. Apologies if you are reading this while driving, conducting surgery, or base jumping.
It’s possible that the name means nothing to you and that’s fair enough, it was back in the 90’s which is the pre-internet era and thus the dark ages by all accounts.
However, it is my opinion that this character is the focus of the greatest Warhammer 40k battle report ever written.
This took place in White Dwarf 187. But first a little bit of background: It’s 1995 and 2nd Edition Warhammer 40,000 is in full swing, miniatures are being produced at a rate never before seen and Space Marines are a hot topic.
Until now there have been many battle reports featuring Eldar and Ork armies due to the focus on metal miniatures being produced for these ranges these were focused on infantry skirmishes with the occasional vehicle as a centrepiece.
Then along came the Imperial Guard who got a completely redesigned 40k model range and a legion of Epic scale tanks with which the designers could draw inspiration from.
Before you could say “what about making Falcons for my Eldar army” they had Leman Russ main battle tanks, Chimera armoured personal carriers and the terrifying Demolisher siege tank, which looked (and still look) great and were easy to put together and paint.
This was all well and good but it wasn’t long until someone pointed out how awesome all these vehicles would look if they were matched up against the Rhinos, Razorbacks and Predators of Games Workshops’ poster children the Space Marines.
Voilà: the Heretic battle report was born.
There were 4 players each side due to having to go through the painted collections of many different people to build up a force of vehicles large enough. On one side two Demolisher tanks defended the center of the board with some weapons teams in fortifications and Lord Varlak the flamboyant Imperial Psyker Lord (looking like someone straight out of Dune) with his bodyguard of Ogryn abhumans while 9 other Imperial Guard tanks sped towards them.
To complete this visual spectacle, the design team included Imperial Guard infantry models that weren’t even released yet, leaving the advertising strategy and rumour squashing departments in the dust.
Meanwhile rushing towards Varlak was a spearhead of 15 Ultramarine, Space Wolf, Dark Angel and Blood Angel tanks including 5 Predators and several squads, a support weapon and 3 Land Speeders. Interestingly the studios Ultramarine Landraider wasn’t used at this time for reasons unknown (Most likely its pair of twin Lascannons would have unbalanced the scenario).
The mission was simple: The combined Space Marine commanders had to kill Lord Varlak. The Imperial Guard commanders had to get him off the board, preferably in the back of a Chimera.
The final stipulation to this matchup was due to the 2nd Edition 40k rules, which meant that all units had to fire at their closest viable targets so if the Space Marines wanted to shoot him, they had to go in and get him.
What followed was the greatest battle report ever written, Andy Chambers did his best to bring the character of Lord Varlak to the table, but this wasn’t what truly made it special.
What really fired up my interest was not down to the story, not down to the spectacle, not down to the previews of unreleased models or the house rules they introduced into the game to tone down blast weapons; the part that interested me most was that almost every unit and tank taking part looked good and all the players looked like they were having fun playing it.
The new Leman Russ Demolishers looked awesome by weathering a storm of fire and psychic attacks from the Space Marines. The armoured Imperial Guard reinforcements looked awesome speeding on with their individual paint schemes and engaging the lead Predators. The Deathwing contingent looked terrifying by getting close (back when they could ride in Rhinos) and tearing apart the approaching tanks in close combat.
The Ultramarines’ new Chief Librarian Tigurius (the old metal model) looked awesome causing the heavy siege tanks to back away from his devastating short range powers.
Just look at the graphical map of what happened:
The battle ended when the surviving model from the combined squadron of Land Speeders managed to hit Lord Varlak with a Multimelta just as the Blood Angels Death Company and Space Wolves Blood Claws started overrunning the defenses, it was pretty awesome.
As with the style at the time there were closing words from the players involved and you could tell they really enjoyed it, Andy Chambers sounded mighty cross that he had his character vaporized.
I would have given everything at that time to be a part of that battle report, it looked excellent. The best thing was that it wasn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that I might actually play a game like this, all I had to do was to buy more models…
So there you go. Back when Games Workshop used to ignore its own points limits, re-write the rules of its own game systems, show off models before you could buy them in the shops, use non Eavy Metal painted miniatures in battles and play with out of production models they managed to convince me to buy more of their products.
Food for thought?
It’s certainly an interesting point.
Honestly, I don’t think a balanced gaming experience is ever what GW was good at providing. There’s a reason every Warhammer Fantasy or 40K tournament I ever played in awarded points for army composition – it was the only way to stop the meta collapsing into 2-3 army list variants loaded with whatever was brokenly overpowered at that time.
By contrast the GW games that I had the most fun with were the skirmish games with persistent campaigns. These were even less balanced than fantasy and 40K (since there’s really no way to balance all the possible changes a player’s list can go through). But they had character, and the campaign helped give your gang / warband personality. And that’s what I think made the battle report your describing so appealing – it had personality in a way GW’s modern offerings really don’t.
After the Night of Mystery is complete I think I will start on a old school style battle report in this style. I might need to increase my painting schedule for that though.
Thank you, I have been trying to remember this battle report title for ages, and it inspired me, back then, to make a rogue psyker-led army myself. It never happened because I earned cock all in the way of wages, so now might be the time to look back into it.