Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E is for Eldar!

(Note to self - before starting a post make sure that you can still find the books or minis or whatever in question BEFORE writing most of the thing.)

I thought they looked alien and really cool
Moving in yet another direction for this month's theme we have the Eldar from Warhammer 40,000. They are a humanoid race in that universe and started out as "Elves in Space". In fact, 40K was originally just the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game with the rules tweaked a bit and repurposed for sci-fi-ish battles instead of fantasy - the "40,000" stands for AD 40,000, in case you were wondering. Instead of bows and swords we have guns and... swords.  It came out in 1987 with many cool ads in Dragon and other places and by 1988 I was playing pretty regularly. In those days there were not a ton of miniatures available for it - you had your Orks, you had your Space Marines, and you had your Eldar,  and boy were those Eldar cool-looking. I went out and bought a few and got pretty busy painting.

These are the first 40K mini's I  paintedI went with Yellow for the major color, offset by light blue on my original  efforts. 
There was no real structure in those days. You had a points limit for each side, troopers and various weapons and gear cost points, and you put together a force based on what you had. It's a lot different now but things were pretty wide open then. The Eldar were usually presented as a sort of pirate raiding force that plagued the vast Imperium of Man. The only structure was a basic "Trooper - Champion - Minor hero - Major hero" concept that gave 3 levels of character advancement beyond grunt trooper. It was almost an RPG back then as often we would promote a trooper who survived a skirmish and did something noteworthy (or sometimes just for surviving if things really went bad). It was pretty free-form, unlike the heavily structured tournament-style forces you see today and that inspired some very creative narratives to go along with a series of battles and the rises and falls of various characters therein. Captain Harthrax was one of mine, always accompanied by a trooper with a web gun to allow him to take captives for ransom or other purposes. He eventually met his end at the hands of a rival Eldar band in a particularly bloody encounter I have managed to block out of my memory even to this day.

That color scheme on the left really appealed to me as "alien" so...
So what drew me to the Eldar? The look - at the time those helmets were like nothing else and the artwork in the game just did it for me. They also had walker vehicles called dreadnoughts and war walkers that I thought looked cooler than anything else out there too. As the background of the universe solidified it became clear that the standard Eldar weapons was something called a "Shuriken Catapult" which was a crossbow-looking gun that fired tiny razor-sharp discs of force and were quite nasty. Other forces had motorcycles and buggies for scouting - Eldar had "Jet Bikes" which were like the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi except they looked cooler. Basically it all came down to the look and the early background.

... That became my standard color scheme and it still gets looks today because it doesn't match up with anything in the recent books about Eldar.

As the universe developed more, it turned out that the Eldar were a doomed race. Unlike most fantasy universes where the Elves are fading or slowly dwindling, the Eldar are pretty much faded. They had a huge space empire that turned inward and went decadent - so much so that it eventually birthed the fourth power of chaos, Slaanesh the Lord of Pleasure, and caused their former empire to implode and rip a hole into the chaos dimension so that it now overlaps our universe in that part of the galaxy and is know as the Eye of Terror. The former Eldar worlds may still exist there, as may the former citizens - time moves differently in the chaos warp - but it's not a place anyone wants to go. Now that's a way to collapse a civilization! No fading into nothing or  going quietly - nope, they got so bad their space exploded! And it was their own fault! The only Eldar left now are some of the ones who lived on distant frontier colony worlds and some who were out on great trading ships outside the home worlds. Those ships have morphed into giant city-ships called craftworlds and are the main type of Eldar represented in the game. Each has its own color scheme and heraldry and preferences which makes for a variety of brightly colored armies.

From early in the Eldar development came the Harlequins...
Because of the way their empire (and race, pretty much) went down it means that when an Eldar dies his soul automatically goes to Slaanesh. The Eldar don't like the thought of this so they now all carry a soulstone, which is a crystal that will hold their soul upon death. These stones are implanted into the core of their craftworlds (which are psychically active - there's ton of background I'm skipping here, but leave it at Eldar ships are grown, not built) in the hopes that someday they can gather enough souls to create a counter-god to challenge the power of Slaanesh and maybe save their race. It's an interesting background but a very dark one, and it makes them feel quite different from the more typical enlightened wise leader types you see in fantasy fiction.

... then I saw what they could do in the game and went out and got a box
There's a lot of other cool background information in the game, so much so it would seem to be a natural for an RPG but somehow that didn't happen. Despite Warhammer Fantasy having an RPG even before 40K was published, there was not 40K RPG for 20 years. The game went through 4 or 5 versions, numerous bvideogames were published, other miniature games set in the 40K universe were published, fans created their own RPG's using everything from GURPS to Hero to Savage Worlds to FUDGE and still no game. Finally a few years ago one was published using a very similar system to the then-current Warhammer Fantasy RPG (Deja Vu)  and has been very successful. I looked at it but do not own it because, oddly enough, most people who are really interested in the 40K universe seem to prefer playing actual Warhammer 40,000 and not an RPG version of Warhammer 40,000. Maybe they were on to something all those years ago...

Two of my Eldar Titans (and some of my better work) from Space Marine, the game of Epic Scale 40k battles - a trooper is about as tall as their foot in that game, so these are centerpiece figures. Notice the pink & blue/green - yes I even did it in that game.
So over the last 20 years there have been multiple books published defining and codifying the Eldar way of life and their military in particular and I still like them. I'm not quite as fond of them as I used to be but they are still very cool. There's not nearly as much free real estate as there used to be, and the Eldar as presented as sort of stratified and set in their ways compared to the old days. After being flavored as alien space pirates in the original book, the background eventually got to the craftworld military and presented it as the norm and while not quite as anarchist they are still pretty wild. When they go to war they sacrifice one of their own to bring their "Avatar" to life. The Avatar is a fragment of the Eldar war god who was shattered when their empire fell, and a piece of him now rests at the center of each craftworld and he acts as the war leader when called. We end up with a high-tech army of amoral space-elves containing some war machines piloted by the spirits of their dead ancestors led by a demonic animated statue brought to life by sacrifice of a sentient being - the 40k universe is different from most things in some special ways and that's a good example of how.

I don't have a specific named character here to talk about. Many many Eldar troopers and leaders lived and died in the summers and weekends of 1988 and 1989, which is about the time I got interested in Space Marines and the Eldar gradually fell to 2nd place and eventually 3rd. I finally traded most of my Eldar force to a buddy who played them constantly, in return for his Orks. I kept a few though, and that's what you see in the pictures. I am very slowly working on rebuilding an Eldar force for the current version of the game but it's a slow process and I have no pictures worth sharing yet.

That said, 40K does use a 1-10 scale for statistics, much like Icons...hmmm

The Avatar of Khaine for Icons:

Prowess: 10 (Unearthly) His weapon skill in 40K is a 10 out of 10 so it seemed appropriate here
Coordination: 9 (Monstrous) 
Strength: 8 (Amazing) Strength 8 in 40K
Intellect: 10 (Unearthly) 1st edition 40K actually had an intelligence stat and he had a 10
Awareness: 10 (Excellent) He's initiative 10 in 40K which is used to detect things when some kind of stat roll is called for
Willpower: 10 (Unearthly) Leadership 10 in 40K, plus he's a WAR GOD INCARNATE!

Stamina: 18
Determination: 1

Origin: Unearthly (+2 to two stats)

Specialties: Occult (Master)

Strike - 10 (Unearthly) - The Suin Daelae (The Doom that Wails), a sword or spear that is part of him.
Life Support - 10  (Unearthly) - He is not really alive in the normal sense and is a god-fragment besides
Invulnerability - 7 (Incredible) - Iron-bodied godling
Immunity to Heat

"Relentless Hunter of Chaos" - particularly Slaaneshi beasts and followers

"Patron of the Eldar" - he is the last surviving member of the Eldar pantheon and will not act against them or their interests. 

"Incarnation of the wear god of a nearly extinct race from the far future" - I'm sure you'll think of something

"Body of molten metal" - the avatar radiates enough heat to kill people touching him unprotected, so he's not a big fan of clothes, vegetation, or enclosed buildings. He also would leave tracks in asphalt.

This is most likely an opponent for a team of heroes. Those numbers are based on the 1st & 2nd edition of the game and they are high. He is way overpowered to be a character outside of a cosmic level game where he's teaming up with Thor and the Silver Surfer. Possible scenarios include some kind of accident where an Eldar ship ends up back on earth 38,000 years in the past, or the heroes end up in another dimension or get sent way forward in time, possibly to recover some artifact*. There's really not a power gimmick to beating him, it would be more about convincing him to leave, help, or to go fight those chaos guys over thataway through that nice dimensional gateway.

*The Eldar apparently left "artifacts" of various types all over the galaxy, and many wars start when foolish short-memoried humans build a colony on top of some ancient Eldar gateway. The Eldar sense it and come in to investigate, the humans get scared and call in the Space Marines or the Imperial Guard, then some chaos cult opens the gate and lets a bunch of demons in and the Orks hear about the party and decide to join in. This isn't unusual in the 40k universe - it happens all the time.

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