Friday, January 3, 2014

Punk-Dark Imperium: Looking at the Ultra-Marines (WD 97)

WD 97 (via
Happy New Year, folks!

I've been working on my Punk-Dark Imperium setting for Starslugs, and have made a reasonable chunk of progress. Still need to flesh out the careers, since I'm adjusting Mongoose Traveller for 40K assumptions rather than its existing Golden Age ones. The basic combat rules are good to go in theory, but will need playtesting. Over New Years', I began rolling up my subsector; right now the process is more tedious than engaging, but I suspect that it may yet grow on me.

Going back to my musings on theme, tone, and game style, I found an old White Dwarf (#97) that had an article on the "Ultra-Marines." Interesting to look at how things have changed in GW-land...


  • The Ultra-Marines (yes, hyphenated every time) were founded "during the inter-legionary wars of the thirty second millennium" - a conflict now known by GW as the Horus Heresy and expanded in excruciating detail from its hazy, nebulous, and evocative roots. Current GW materials call the chapter the Ulrmarines and state that their founder essentially created the Marine System of Organization (tm), called the Codex.
  • The Ultra-Marines got the kit and paraphernalia of a disgraced legion that had been banished to the Eye of Terror, interestingly enough. Generally a no-no in later 40K.
  • They are one of the few Space Marine chapters to be called "Adeptus Astartes;" the term is reserved for marine chapters that also hold planetary governor positions. Later 40K sees all Space Marines called Adeptus Astartes.
  • Their home planet of Macragge is an inhospitable shithole with an economy based around shrimp farming from dust oceans. Current 40K has it all idyllic and just and Grecian.
  • Official positions within the chapter aren't restricted to Space Marines; regular folks "(or even morphs or half-humans)" can can hold the rank of Master within the Ultra-Marines. Current 40K has everything entirely Space Marine all the time, barring some flunkies designated as "chapter serfs." In the original writeup, they're just bluntly called slaves.
  • Scouts are not young neophytes being sent in to prove their worth, but regular troops wearing power armor and jetpacks. Because, y'know, you might actually want to have effective scouts. 
  • THERE ARE BROWN FOLKS IN THE CHAPTER WTF GUYS. Characters have names like Cha Lee, Asata, Singa, Yu-Wan, Butt, Hajadin, and Idu. This is throughout the command structure - senior officers, junior officers, and staff officers. (Current 40K can barely acknowledge that Spess Mehreens might not have names so Gothic that they shit cathedrals.)
  • Also, go back to the bit about having staff officers, like a military organization that isn't a bunch of dumbasses.
  • One of the masters of the chapter is a half-elven (excuse me, half-eldar) psyker who's served with other Space Marine chapters. (Ah, how far current 40K has fallen from ELVES IN SPAAAAACE!)
  • The Master of the Ships is named Christo Columbine. The half-eldar psyker is named Illiyan Natase, apparently riffing off of a Romanian tennis player from back in the day.
  • Ultra-Marines using camouflage!
    (From WD 105, via Arcadia Prime)
  • The chief medical officer of the Ultra-Marines "has an acute if rather unnerving love of chainswords, having the idea firmly set in his mind that this is the only way to remove troublesome armor when attempting to deal with a wound."
OK, so what's the upshot of all of this?
Early 40K has a sense of humor (I suspect that there are other pun names I didn't pick up on). It's got a greater willingness to approach things from a "classical wargaming" standpoint, with a lot of discussion of things like communications, medical systems, and ecologies, even though the article is ostensibly just about the Ultra-Marines.

The Space Marines are not shown as being fundamentally removed from humanity, and there's a much greater integration into human society. Think Dune's Sardaukar, an elite force but with still human concerns and outlook, versus the mono-murder-machines of current 40K. Look at the images below - same fella, Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultra-Marines - but such a difference in proportion! And that also applies to how they interact with the setting; later 40k seeks to have its Space Marines mythic and gigantic and writ large, while this look, at least, has them human in scale, rocking goofy looking cloaks, and dealing with paperwork.

Also, the WD 97 version has dinosaurs, because fuck you, that's why.

Marneus Calgar then and now...
Image comparison by HakoMike, here.


  1. The racial aspect is rewarding and a little depressing at the same time.

    I had always assumed that the 'Magic White People In Space' part of it was kind-of baked-in from the beginning. It didnt really offend or bother me that way. Now I can see it's not just happenstance, its a choice, albeit a mainly-unconcious one. It makes it feel more like a failure than it did.

    1. I'm of the same mind - I assumed it just happened by accident too.

      I like these Ultra-Marines a lot better.

  2. Nice write up...glad you discovered Oldhammer. ;)

  3. Hey Punka,

    Thanks for this. If 40K fails to be punk, it is nothing.

  4. I always thought 40k's eurocentrism was part of the whole package. It's the anti-Trek; the future where everyone is xenophobic and superstitious. The imperium is a world where the bad guys won.