Hi guys, something a little different in this post - I'll be discussing how to build an army to a theme. (See title, duh!:p)
Well, the first thing you need to begin this process, is decide upon a theme. This is truly a lot more complicated than it sounds...basically, you are looking to find one major unifying force for the soldiers you command - you want to pick some aspect of the background that feels cool to you. Never mind what other people think of the theme - this is something that I cannot stress firmly enough. This is YOUR army, and it's YOUR time, money, sweat, blood and tears (the last two less often...) that get poured into it. Unless taking a theme that other people have genuine cause to take offence at, then anything goes.
Once you have picked what you see as being a cool theme, the next thing is to start with the army list. This will be the guide towards what you need to buy and paint, and, more importantly, the process of writing the list should indicate to you just how competitive this list can be. While competitive play may not be your cup of tea, if your army is at least semi-competitive it means you are more likely to have fun when a stranger rolls into your FLGS with an Uber-List of Doom. In addition, if you plan yourself into a hole with the initial list it could become ludicrously expensive to expand the list...or it may make it weaker as points go up. These are things it will be important to know, because none of us have infinite money (having a job, yes, technically is similar...bleh. Still not infinite, cos you can't live forever...) and so we need to spend our monies appropriately, and don't want to feel like one of our expensive plastic or metal purchases was a waste.
In order to illustrate this, I will choose a theme ,and write a list now. For me, the Craftworld Ulthwe has always been a phenomenal draw to the game. The idea of seeing glimpses of the future and this dying race trying desperately to shape events in order to preserve a single life in the future by causing the deaths of millions from other species is just incredibly cool. lol
So, for an Ulthwe list, obviously my starting point is the greatest Farseer of all time, Eldrad Ulthran. Now a lot of people take exception to the use of Special Characters, even now...this is a 2nd Ed hangover for a lot, probably most of these people. In fact, it riles me so much, I'm bound to rant about it plenty...but I'll keep on topic for now. ;) I like Special Characters, they add exactly that, and there is no more fitting and appropriate way, in my view, to represent Ulthwe's forces than by taking the character that symbolises the Craftworld.
Next, we look at the background for the army and see Black Guardians. Well, these aren't in the Codex, so we HOLD ON! TKE, you're discussing composition of the army. That's the exact opposite of what Ron asked, you numbskull! Oh, you're right. Huh. Whoops...
Once the army has been chosen and bought, the next stage is building and painting. This is where theme becomes important - if the theme of the army isn't immediately apparent to people, and you have to explain, trust me, it becomes frustrating. Blaming them for not seeing what is obvious to you is all too easy, but the hard part is looking at you own theme and army, and trying to see if perhaps they are right.
Converting squads is the first aspect to this - since my army uses Dire Avenger rules to represent the Black Guardians of Ulthwe, the first thing I aimed to do to represent this was to convert said Dire Avengers. That led to this:
While a WIP picture, this clearly resembles a Guardian, while retaining the improved armour of the Avenger (thus making the models WYSIWYG) For comparison, a Dire Avenger that is, in fact, an Avenger...
Note how the armour and highlights are the same, but the application of the contrast colour (yellow) varies between squads. Simple changes such as this are the perfect way to help the opponent differentiate between squads, and also to look different at even a glance, whilst retaining the overall feel of the original scheme.
Now, we need to tie the army together in a more concise fashion than even this. Look at this Pathfinder, and see if you can spot the common element...
If you said 'the base' have a cookie. Each of the infantry bases in my Eldar army will eventually have this same scheme, easily recreated. Essentially, it involves Snot Green highlights to Dark Angles Green, and a little wash of Devlan Mud. The exact mixture, again, changes from squad to squad - but the basic colours remain tightly enough bound that the commonality remains. Sadly, I cannot seem to find any pics of them, but the Grav Tanks flying bases are flocked and painted the same - to further tie the army together.
Another example of keeping a virtually identical paint scheme, but editing one visible area between units, is my Wave Serpents.
As is hopefully clear in these photos, the left Serpent (for Fire Dragons) has an orange spirit stone attached. The left (Dire Avengers) is green. Simple shifts like this in an otherwise identical scheme gel the army very well on the tabletop - see my banner! :)
So, conversion to differentiate units, and solidify theme, painting virtually identical models with contrast shifts between units, and basing models virtually identically can all help to tie the theme of the army to said army, and gel the visual bonds in that army. Anything else? Well, sure. You could convert an army of identical models. AoBR, or older plastics are perfect for this. Metal models, obviously, have excellent opportunities for this too - see Sisters of Battle! However, for any army other than Necrons, I imagine this would be dull beyond words. really, only the 'hobby' side of the Hobby can be used to tie an army together, visually. Writing an army list is part of the puzzle, yes, but it doesn't stand out on the paper/screen, and scream 'THIS IS MY THEME! DO YOU LIKE IT?' in the way that buying Forge World Shoulder Pads, and making a Salamander army does. Painting an army the same is a lot more thematic than attempting to deploy the army in a fashion that befits the theme...and everyone knows that a battle plan never survives contact with the enemy (or the dice!) anyway.
Well, I'm out of stuff to say on the issue* - I hope this article has fired up a few synapses, and you are inspired to link your own army through some cool theme! I'll leave you with a picture of my army arrayed on the trays used to ferry it between tables at tournaments. Y'know, I should really base the trays...
- the model on that Dread size base is Yriel, that's his display base. Pics of my Yriel conversion can (iirc) be found somewhere on the blog.
* - Actually, not quite, but I liked the way that paragraph went. Painting your objectives the same as the army is an excellent way to extend the theme, and is visually very impressive**. See below:
** - Oh, and dice. Use dice that colour coordinate with the army - my Ulthwe use 2/3 Black ,and 1/3 bone. They are from the same place (both are GW standard dice) so no size difference or anything, neatly sidestepping suggestions of cheating - but the effect is awesome...though perhaps my opponents aren't fans of the mild OCD-esque preference I have to roll in the same proportions, where possible (eg, black scatter dice, plus one black and one bone...) Superstition? Perhaps, but I don't really feel it gets better results...I just like to do it. lol