Flattening the DG Learning Curve, pt. 1

Given that I’m only fully committed to building and maintaining two Warhammer 40K armies (and two is more than enough for me) I made a point of pre-ordering Codex: Death Guard and the Datacards when they launched – more than two months ago. Unfortunately, between delays in Games Workshop shipments getting to my FLGS, real-life commitments, and now the possibility of having to pack up and move on the horizon, I didn’t have the chance until recently to do the kind of deep-dive into this Codex that I really wanted.

I think in some ways the previews – and the promises of Contagion Abilities with Contagion Range, and changes to Disgustingly Resilient – gave me a real spook. I started Death Guard once I’d gotten into playing Eldar in 8th Edition, and they seemed like a very beginner-friendly army to get in on. There were plenty of great new models, and between splitting starters with people and buying models second-hand they were also a cheap army to get into. For me, already being a starving student, not having a lot of time to commit, and knowing it was a faction that had relevance and “beef” with the Craftworlds Eldar, it was a perfect fit.

Pictured: The Holly-Jolly Death Guard that I did up for Christmas this year.

So…even when I had the Codex, I think part of my delay in going over it was my own trepidation – have I fallen from grace as one of Grandfather Nurgle’s chosen? Lockdowns in my area are loosening up though, and I have my first Warhammer 40K game in about six months on the horizon. I want to do a battle report, I want to use the models I painted over the holidays, and that gave me a solid reason to dive in and go full cover-to-cover on this. I’ll go over the “tactica” in a following post, but since I’m in this hobby first and foremost as a hobbyist, and as one who really digs the universe, I wanted to go over the book, the design, and the “fluff” content separate from the minutae of rule changes and nitty-gritty numbers. Now that I’ve taken a deep-dive into the text I have some pretty mixed feelings about the Codex and about the formatting for 9th Edition, assuming that this is consistent with 9th’s other offerings.

To start, there’s a lot of good, solid things that this book does. Mortarion and Typhus are front-and-center as central characters in the Death Guard narrative, and their history through the Horus Heresy and beyond are covered in good detail for someone not intimately familiar with the characters. The Plague Companies and their chain of command hierarchy are covered in good detail, and I feel like I have a better understanding of how the Death Guard are set up, what kind of structure and resources they have to work with, how they “recruit,” and what a lot of their in-universe strengths and weaknesses are. The details on Typhus and the Terminal Est, on the Death Guard navies, and on other groups like the Weeping Legion connect this army to the Pariah Nexus campaign and also foreshadow the key role this army will play in the Charadon setting and the upcoming Book of Rust.

Pictured: What this Codex sold me on. This bad boy, right here.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how a Blight Launcher works, wanted to know who Nauseous Rotbone is, or wanted to know what’s actually on the inside of a Myphitic Blight-Hauler, this book effectively fills in a lot of those blanks – as long as you have the time to look for those details. The first and perhaps biggest of my criticisms with this book is that it’s not user-friendly, especially not for someone who’s just getting into the hobby or who’s just getting into the Death Guard themselves. If you go into this book with the simple question “What is a Plague Marine?” there is no one-stop shop page for getting answers. I might be spoiled by 8th Edition, but in the Craftworlds Codex, if you wanted to read up on a specific unit there was a dedicated “fluff” page with illustrations that would fill in a lot of the blanks. The closest I could find to that here for the humble Plague Marine was a paragraph on page 28 and a sidebar on page 70.

This also isn’t a resource that’s friendly for hobbyists. Pages 26, 38, and 60-61 are about all that I could find that really offer any help for somebody picking up their first couple boxes of miniatures or looking to choose how to paint up their army, and…there really isn’t a whole lot to go on here. Page 38 itself is more or less a full-page advertisement for the Death Guard Combat Patrol box, talking generally about how the units in the box can be used, and how the Poxwalkers and Typhus synergize. In a sense, I like that there are pointers for somebody who’s picked up the box and wants to know how to use it for their first small games, but I think something like this would just have been better suited straight-up as an insert into the Combat Patrol box itself – here, it eats page space in an already-expensive Codex that’s only really useable if you’re buying or considering buying a more-expensive Patrol box anyways.

Page 26 makes me sad. There is some discussion of how you can paint your Death Guard in “sickly greens, lurid browns, and the tinge of rust,” along with other colors like reds, pinks, cerulean, cobalt, off-yellow, etc. There is no reference guide for individual Vectoriums like The Tainted Sons, The Pallid Hand, or The Rotworm Brotherhood as examples. This isn’t to say that everyone has to pick from one of these canon entities, but the charts that display different colors in older codexes can be a great resource for hobbyists to distinguish between color schemes, to see how different color combinations work, and to decide for themselves how they want to tackle their army and make it their own. If you don’t know a whole lot of color theory or color balance and don’t have a lot of experience painting, this can be extremely helpful. Here, the beginner is just kind of left to tread water and figure it out themselves.

Now, the Pallid Hand does – in a sense – get some focus as as a color scheme in pages 60-61, where Citadel Armies and Battlefields Painter Tom Moore displays and discusses his Pallid Hand. There are some very useful hobby tidbits here: the article discusses doing head-swaps and part-swaps with different models, making small modifications to models’ weapons, and making changes to identical kits to make models look distinct on the tabletop. While I think that some of these suggestions are helpful – especially given how much fun you can have kitbashing a Nurgle army – there isn’t a whole lot discussed on how Moore actually painted the army, or what sorts of colors produced the effects he describes. I also worry that giving pro-painted displays more space than color combinations and beginner-friendly tips are going to result in a vicious cycle of new painters giving up at the starting line because they don’t know how to begin, but also don’t know how to make their work turn out looking like what’s in these fantastic expositions.

I know that I’ve mentioned Typhus already, but he comes to mind for me as an example of what’s the best and worst at the same time about the fluff in this book: it reads like a 90’s toy commercial, albeit a compelling one, only missing the foam bricks. And, certainly, it works – one of the first things I intend to do after picking up Plague Purge for my local Crusade group is get my hands on a Typhus model. Typhus is foregrounded as a distinct character, with strengths and weaknesses and a distinct history, and there is plenty of exposition on him to “hook” the reader. At the same time, the longest stand-alone “fluff” passage in the book, from pages 18-19, is just as much an advertisement for the Miasmic Malignifier and the Lord of Virulence as page 38 is for the Combat Patrol box. I wanted to just read through and enjoy the book and the fluff for what it was and learn more about the army I felt invested in, but every once in a while I’d get that feeling in my stomach that someone was intentionally selling me something, and I wasn’t fond of that.

The Codex is a useful 95 pages overall, but the specific items that it chooses to highlight (and the space that it frequently wastes where it doesn’t) definitely give the impression that there are models that Games Workshop cares to headline and many that it just doesn’t. The Miasmic Malignifier’s Datasheet page is a full, jam-packed spread, where the humble Plague Marine’s has a ton of blank space in the sidebar, and the still-relevant Chaos Rhino gets no photographed model image and only a loose sketch filling otherwise empty space. I feel as if the book also suffers from a sort of identity crisis – when it tries to be “grimdark” it can indeed be grimdark but spoils this at times dropping silly, campy (and easily trademarkable) redundant names for things. (Gangrengoop, Lumpen Splatter, and Slopjaw Maggotmancers come to mind.) While helpful in some regards, I wish that (especially for the $70 MSRP cost locally) that the book felt like a more cohesive and useful resource, rather than a hardcover flyer for new toys.

Pictured: Felthius and the Lads wanting to have a word with whoever lost The Tainted Cohort’s datasheet.

(More to follow next time, when I discuss Datacards and my new tactical choices. Spoilers: I picked The Inexorable.)

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