The rain hissed down, drenching the ferrocrete rubble and smoking lightly where the weak acid scorched the power armor of the assembled Chaos Space Marines. Chion’s atmosphere was befouled from centuries of careless mining. Now, when the seasonal rains came, they were increasingly acidic. Soon enough, the acidity would increase to the point where the structural integrity of the Imperium’s bulk landers would be compromised, and at that point, Chion would be abandoned to the scavengers who prowled the dark corners of the Occulta Manticora Sub-Sector.
None of that mattered to the Night Lords. Their attention was fixed on their uninvited guest. Torrigahl Bitterborne perched on an outcropping of rubble, his taloned feet hooked deep into the ferrocrete, looking for all the world like a gigantic bird of prey crouching in ambush. The acid rain hissed where it fell upon his ancient, baroque power armor, but merely pebbled on the surface of the daemon prince’s pallid, ice-blue skin. He was swollen, monstrously huge with power, and his armor strained to contain his corrupted bulk.
Together, Torrigahl and the Night Lords watched the firefight play across the shattered cityscape. Nearly a mile distant, in the ruins of what had once been an ore processing center, a squad of Night Lords was pinned down, exchanging fire with a force of Imperial Guard that seemed to be gaining the upper hand. The blue armored forms of the Heretic Astartes were visible in muzzle flashes and grenade detonations as they fought a desperate close combat duel against the miserable curs of the Corpse-God. They were hemmed in by advancing men and armor, and the vox crackled with pleas of assistance.
“Shall we move in to assist, Lord Torrigahl?” asked Harcuul, the squad’s leader. His bat-winged helm was emotionless, betraying no hint of his own tactical perspective.
Torrigahl Bitterborne chuckled, the sound rumbling like thunder across the vox network.
“No, lieutenant, we shall not.” The prince of chaos swung his massive horned head around to regard the Night Lords arrayed behind him.
“Squad Edgion had the upper hand in that fight for more than an hour. Before the Imperial armor arrived, they could have slaughtered the handful of infantry that opposed them.”
Torrigahl’s teeth gnashed together, the snapping sound audible even through the Astartes’ helmets.
“But they did not. The moment for slaughter was lost to incompetence on the part of that entire squad. Now, it is they who will be butchered as they pay the price for their ineptitude. No, we shall not intervene, because I do not wish to to suffer their ilk in my warband.”
Apparently satisfied, Torrigahl swung his head around and resumed watching the skirmish play out in the ruins. The Night Lords behind him exchanged glances, but they were smart enough to avoid voxing any remarks that ran contrary to their new liege’s directive.
Torrigahl Bitterborne had been in command of the Oath of Midnight for less than a year, since the daemon prince had been wrenched through the warp and deposited among the Night Lords as they were raiding in the dusty backwaters of the Caluphel Sector. His arrival had been portended by the warband’s sorcerors, so the assembled Astartes knew a leadership change was imminent. Torrigahl’s ascent had been swift and brutal — the warband’s previous lord had been bested by the daemon prince in single combat and sent packing, lucky to escape with his life — and now the surviving Night Lords were adapting to the casual brutalities of their new leader. Squad Edgion, it seemed, was to pay the butcher’s bill this day.
This little narrative tried to put a sheen of success on one of the most disappointing games of Warhammer 40,000 I’ve ever played! John and I got together last month for a small 50 Power Level game, mainly so we could get some newly painted models onto the table — Tempestus Scions for him, and a new Daemon Prince for me.
Through no fault of our own, we fell victim to the vagaries of narrative gaming. Namely, our scenario (pulled from the rulebook) allowed for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to deploy my entire army if I whiffed a series of reinforcement rolls at key points during the early turns. In fact, that’s exactly what happened. I rolled four 1’s in a row trying to bring reinforcements onto the table. The bulk of my entire army, including my new daemon prince, remained off-board as John chewed my lone sentry squad to pieces with his massed infantry and armor.
This is the sort of thing that sometimes happens when you don’t play totally balanced, tournament-style games. Sometimes you get soaring epics worthy of commemoration; other times, your army decides to stay on the sidelines.
After the game, as I was gnashing my teeth in frustration and preparing to sell my armies and quit the game, John mentioned that it was obvious that Torrigahl Bitterborne intended for that lone squad of Night Lords to get massacred. Thus was born the narrative intro you read a few moments ago.
I had been looking for a suitably badass opportunity to introduce Torrigahl Bitterborne into our Caluphel: Eternal War campaign. Having him seize control of the Oath of Midnight warband, then summarily allow the massacre of an incompetent squad, seemed like an introduction worthy of the Night Haunter himself.
My fortunes were redeemed a week later, when my Night Lords acquitted themselves well against Jim’s Imperial Guard tank battalion. Narratively, this game was a pitched battle in the Erigaea Sub-Sector, on one of the many moons of Cantho, the home planet of Jim’s 42nd Auxiliary Armored Fist Battalion. With Torrigahl Bitterborne firmly in control of the Oath of Midnight warband, he was intent on testing the mettle of the Night Lords against the might of the Imperial Guard.
We used the Open War deck to generate our deployment area and victory conditions, and as it happened, our deployment zones were touching. This meant that I had the opportunity to start the game basically in Jim’s face, threatening close combat by turn two.
This played to the strengths of the army that I had mustered — Khorne Berzerkers, tricked-out HQ units, backed up by a pair of Helbrutes and my battle-scarred Land Raider. In addition to raw power, I also assembled my army in a much more strategic manner, and I was able to deploy some potent stratagems at key moments throughout the game.
Despite these advantages, Jim had a lot of beef on his side of the board, and the battle was an absolute slog. The sheer number of gun barrels on that Baneblade was just astounding! We ended up calling the game at the end of the night before we reached a definitive conclusion. The battle was going in my favor, but I can say honestly that Jim could have mustered a comeback with a little luck.
With the results here, it seems that the Night Lords have flushed the Imperial Guard defenders from their garrison on one of Cantho’s moons. (Guess we’ll have to come up with a name for it…) This means that the Erigaea Sub-Sector suddenly has to deal with a bloodthirsty Chaos army on their front porch! Can they exploit this strategic position, or will the forces of the Imperium rally and drive them away?
So there you have it — two games of 40k with two dramatically different outcomes, woven together to create a (hopefully) cohesive narrative. That’s wargaming at its best, as far as I’m concerned. Who knows where things will go from here? Last I heard, some of the other guys in our club were going to try out the new Apocalypse rules. Maybe we’ll get a battle report from them, too?