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  • Abaddon's 40K Bolter Is Rubbish

    Abaddon's Bolter Is Crap


    Why Chaos' Greatest Strength Is What Means It Will Never Win.

    In many American cities (and in all Western cities to a lesser or greater degree), there is a war that is fought by two huge armies. It is fought daily, in a variety of urban landscapes, everywhere from the rooms of the city hall, all the way down to the ruined couches on the projects and council estates of the poorest boroughs.

    One of these armies has extremely competent soldiers. Educated, intelligent and capable, these infantry are significantly more competent than those of the opposing armies. This is because the first of the two armies can call upon significantly better resources, supply lines, and, most importantly of all, has a significantly greater portion of control than their opponents. However, this army has two fatal flaws. The first is that the very control it commands, also stifles it; caught up in it's own successful use of bureaucracy, it can often be enslaved to that same system as effectively as it is its master. The other problem – and often the more damaging one – is that to rise to a position of command does not call for battlefield skills one might assume. In fact, it call for skills with politics; the ability to play the social games of those with real power. Needless to say, this does not attract the most competent soldiers, but the best politicians. Thus it is that the first of the two armies, seemingly the most powerful, is hamstrung by corruption amongst those who should be leading it. Effective at the bottom, but deeply inefficient at the top, this army could easily rise to dominance, were it not for the nature of its own internal bureaucracy.

    The second of these two forces is almost the polar opposite of the first. It does not have the luxury of recruiting skilled combatants. Instead, it must make do with what it gets – less educated, less competent, more undisciplined, and more dangerous to one another than the enemy, these footsoldiers are usefully expendable, but unrefined. They lack the finesse of the first army, but compensate with numbers and enthusiasm. Where this army excels is in the strength of its leadership: because of the brutally Darwinian narture of its organisation, where every soldier is out for themselves, those who lead, lead by sheer personal competence. This is for a simple reason: those who do not, are killed by those they thought their lessers. Thus, this army is led very effectively, and this strength of leadership enables it to compete on an equal footing with the first army, despite the poorer quality of its military forces.

    We ordinarily refer to the first army as the police, and the second army as the drugs trade, and the interactions of these two bodies makes for a useful starting point when looking at the nature of the struggle between Chaos and the Imperium.

    Why Is 40K Abaddon's Bolter Less Effective Than 30K Horus', Even Though It's The Same Gun?

    Chaos is one of the iconic armies of 40K. It's a huge fan favourite, and because of that, it inspires real passion. People can get so lost in the ideas, that they kind of ignore the truth about what Chaos is and how it functions. Here's the thing: I really like the idea of Chaos armies, but I think I like them for different reasons to other people. What I'm aiming to do here is kind of break down for you why I like Chaos, and why I think it's cool. And what's important to get, is that the things that make it cool, are also things that limit it. They're things that get in the way, and mean that Chaos can kind of never win – not in a tabletop rules sense, more in a 'Damn Abaddon, 13 tries and you still can't get it right?' kind of way.

    So here goes.

    The thing about Chaos armies? It's that they're not an army. You cannot come to the table with the assumption that the Chaos forces are symmetrical to the Imperium's; it’s a classic case of what has come to be called asymmetric warfare: where two unequal forces engage one another.

    But why is this? Chaos has Marines and Cultists and Daemons, and all sorts – why aren't they wiping the floor with the Imperium?

    On the surface, it seems logical. There are Chaos Chapters, and Loyalist Chapters. There are Chaplains, and there are Zealots. There are Sergeants and there are Champions. There are Dreadnoughts and there are Helbrutes. The armies are functionally the same.

    Aren't they?

    In a word: no. No they aren't, and it's not because Chaos is EEEEEEEEVIL. It's because of something far more important; more important than anything else. Resources. Even in the 41st Millenium, money talks.

    You see the thing about money? Money is just a medium of exchange. It's not 'real'; it's just something we all agree has a set value of exchange, in the same way we all agree that the word 'tree' refers to naturally occurring ligneous structures which survive through a process of photosynthesis. It's a useful term. Even if you don't use money (and I'm pretty sure a lot of people can't imagine Khorne Berzerkers reaching for their wallets) you still need stuff.

    I mean, those Chain Axes need fuel, Bolters need shells, and every Chaos Marine except the Thousand Sons still needs to eat.

    Hell, the Thousand Sons probably still need WD40.

    So even if you don't use money, you still need to get stuff. Sure, you can steal those bolter shells… But what if you don’t have any to start with, your Chain Axes are all out of fuel, and those Power Armour batteries have gone flat? Good luck taking on those Astartes with their shiny-clean weapons that don't have daemon-gunk blocking the barrel.

    I hope this illustrates my first, and most important point: Chaos is poor.

    Sorry fanboys, but it's true – check out FFG's 'Black Crusade' RPG, and compare what a standard Chaos Marine gets compared to a Deathwatch as far as equipment goes. Why does the Chaos Havok start with a Heavy Stubber? Because bullets are cheap! Why do Cultists use autoguns instead of lasguns? Because bullets are cheap!

    This is something that is part of the Chaos fluff – going rogue, you're like Genie in Disney's 'Alladin':

    PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS!!! Itty-bitty wallet.

    Now, is this a bad thing, fluff wise? Depends how much you subscribe to our culture's notion that 'poor=worthless'. Personally, I think it's part of Chaos' appeal. You're not an army; you're a f***ing warband. You're a group of like minded lunatics, pledged to a Darker Power, determined to pull down the super-fascist regime of the Imperium through sheer chutzpah.

    Now, does this mean that no Chaos dudes have money? Of course not. Someone's paying for the gold plated banding on those Black Legion's Terminator suits. That would be those aforementioned Champions: the hyper-competent leaders from my first example. They take all the cash for themselves, hence the Champions get all the kewl gear. Once you stop thinking of Chaos as 'The Imperium Only Evil' and start thinking of them as 'Terrorist Cell of Religious Madmen' or 'Death Squad For Criminal Kingpin', the comparison becomes clearer. That Chaos Lord isn't General Patton with horns (although there is always room for that guy, probably in the Iron Warriors); he's Tony Montana in power armour. A crazed lunatic who's risen to the top through sheer personal charisma, daring and skill with violence.

    Of course, that does lead to the question: why is Abaddon's 40K bolter worse than Horus' 30K one, even though they're the same gun?

    Pictured: perfect conditions for complex electronic maintenance.

    Well, ignoring the corrosive nature of the Warp (which is a BIG thing to ignore), the fact that 10,000 long-*** years have passed, that Horus' weapon was a bespoke bit of kit in the first place, well. We get to the problem of Predator Scientists.

    If She Spends All Her Time Hunting, Who Makes The Predator's Spaceship?

    It's that perennial plot-hole of science-fiction: the Noble Warrior Savage Aliens (Predators, Klingons, etc…) who have a culture built exclusively around horrible violence, yet somehow have access to absurdly advanced technology. Most sci-fi doesn't try to justify it. Who built the Predator's ship?


    Pictured: the last dying threads of your heterosexuality. You're welcome.

    40K on the other hand, justifies quite a lot. Orks have genetically engineered racial memories; they can build stuff because their Abusive Precursors built the knowledge into them. I don't know about you, but I've always though that was a pretty damn cool bit of justification.

    Chaos on the other hand? Well, they've got the Dark Mechanicus.

    Yeah. Good luck dealing with these f***s.


    "I require 47,392 round of bolter ammo. How much?"



    "Oh. Cool, I'll get right on that. But about fixing my cool Horus Talon?"



    "Hmmmm… Was not expecting that."

    The Dark Mechanicus owe the Chaos Legions nothing. Not one thing. And in case you're unsure just how utterly scary these f***ers are, one of their characters in Horus Heresy book III had his flesh melted clean off his bones, at which point his metal endoskeleton killed the thing that did it, then went off and made himself a new, house-sized body made of stitched-together Servitors.

    Then he got back to the hard work of building Chaos Titans.


    Your pissant little Chaos Lord does not scare them.

    Especially not you, Night Lords, with your fruity little bat-winged helmets.

    Here's the thing: Imperial technology may have stagnated, but it turns out if you're part of a culture where people are not trying to kill each other, you're pretty good at getting stuff done. Chaos doesn’t have that, so its technology has stagnated even further. Even Horus' prized Talon has been worn down by the grind of 10,000 years of constant warfare. It's an old doddering man of a gun, more symbolic artefact than weapon. Chaos' equipment is basically rusted, falling apart, and obsolete.

    And that's just the stuff that doesn't have daemons in it who are actively trying to eat you.

    I mean, someone on the front page of BoLS recently complained that Typhus' Manreaper has become Unwieldy since the Horus Heresy. Because apparently it makes no sense that the Herald of Nurgle, the daemon god of decay, might be living in conditions which are less than perfect for the correct maintenance of complex electronic equipment.

    Seriously, Nurgle's soldiers are held together by rust and duct tape. I'm amazed Manreaper only has Unwieldy, instead of a rule that says it bends like foil the first time he hits someone with it.

    Pictured: a man who places a high premium on proper weapon care and maintenance.

    The problem with Chaos is that the Warp is an unbelievably hostile place to live; even without the daemons (DAEMONS FFS!) who live there constantly trying to kill you, the simple environment will wreck your equipment. Everything falls apart, and the only people who can put it back together are lunatics who live in the aforementioned stitched-together corpse bodies.

    Which is before you even get to the final, and most severe problem Chaos has.

    On Doctor Lecter's Disadvantages.

    Here's the thing about being insane: it makes regular life really hard. I have OCD; genuine, f***-with-your-life OCD. It doesn't give me super powers, or a skill with attention to detail, or a need to clean my hands. What it mostly does is mean I can't listen to music I like (because if I do, people I love will die), as well as occasionally showing me traumatic images which then circle through my head like a catchy Beyonce song only more unpleasant. Sometimes, it can be so bad it's like a physical pain.

    Mental health issues aren't glamorous, and they don't come with benefits. Mostly they just ruin your day, and make life more difficult.

    Now, Chaos Marines are described as being insane. Which, yes, they probably are. However, a head full of PTSD does not an effective soldier make. Yeah, she might be really comfortable with killing, but that urge, that need to kill? It's going to get in the way of good strategy. And that's before you even get to the real lunatics; the ones who have to collect heads so they can offer them to their god's throne. Those guys just want to get into the fight as soon as possible, so your strategies have to take that into account.

    Madness isn't a power. It's an annoyance at best, and a bloody liability at worst, and a Chaos army is an army that runs on madness. Remember the description at the start? Of an army of incompetent soldiers with hyper-competent generals? Chaos doesn't succeed because of its infantry; it succeeds in spite of them. It succeeds because its lords and mistresses are so utterly ruthless, they don't care about who gets got on the way to victory.

    Daemonic ascension is the ultimate elevation of the self in 40K; the end of a lifetime spent in total megalomaniac self-love. The Chaos Lords who achieve it don't do so because they failed, or because they doubted themselves, or because they gave a s*** about the people who died in their name.

    Chaos is about self-sufficiency and self love. It's about being the best YOU you can be, and sacrificing literally everyone else to your name.

    And that's a weakness.

    Psychopaths don't work well with others. They make stupid decisions, because their condition leaves them as fatal short-term thinkers. They have poor impulse control, and undermine themselves, their relationships, and what's worse, is that their condition means they are literally incapable of seeing this as a bad thing. They cannot understand that the power of friendship is an actual power with real, cogent benefits.

    Or to put it another way, Voldemort didn't lose to Harry Potter. He lost to Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasely, Ginny Weasely, Mrs and Mr Weasely, Dobby The House Elf, Luna Lovegood, Neville 'Suprise, B!tches!' Longbottom, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Aberforth 'Aren't I Convenient' Dumbledore, Tonks, Professor Lupin, Professor McGonagall, That One Short Guy Who Taught Them The Vital Skill Of Levitating Powers, The Other Two Guys Warwick Davis Played, Hagrid, Buckbeak, Shovel Face...

    The list goes on and on and on. For all his PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER, Tom Riddle's psychopathic nature let him down, because the psychopath always stands alone, and one will never be as mighty as many. This is especially true in 40K; if Horus couldn't get the job done with eight fully-equipped Legions of well-supplied Astartes, eight Primarchs, a metric frakton of top-level Dark Age Technology and the advantage of surprise, what hope does any modern, middling Chaos Lord have? Oh, he can be a pain, and he can sow all kinds of misery; she can bring lamentation and despair...

    Then her second in command stabs her in the back as a sacrifice to Tzeentch because Chaos.

    They're not called the Ruinous Powers because they bring you success...

    Why Chaos' Greatest Strength Is Its Greatest Weakness

    Chaos succeeds because it is so utterly brutal. It succeeds because the nature of the warband is Darwinian; the weak are weeded out, the strong prosper, and the best ascend to PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER the likes of which will never be achieved by mere mortals.

    And all it costs is everything else.

    Chaos indulges the individual at the cost of the group. Chaos, by it's nature, can only be as strong as it's strongest link. The Imperium, on the other hand, can field enough soldiers to take that one link down, and then it's game over for Chaos. Once that one heavy-hitting ubermensch is gone, what's left?

    Some Marines with cheap guns, a handful of Champions who now have to fight one another to see who the new boss is, and fifty scared Cultists who are probably getting sacrificed to open the portal out of there.

    And that's why Chaos is its own worst enemy; it always undermines itself. Even when it can afford the bullets, even when it can get the lunatics to do what the commander wants, even when it can keep ancient equipment from back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth working, it will always ultimately fall apart, because an army in which every soldier is doing their own thing isn't an army.

    It's a herd of cats.

    And good luck getting a herd of cats to do anything.

    Pictured: the 13th Black Crusade's most competent unit.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Abaddon's 40K Bolter Is Rubbish started by YorkNecromancer View original post