Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Tyranid Archive - 3rd Generation (2001)

In honour of 40k's 25th Birthday this year, I'm working at an ongoing series called "The Tyranid Archive," which is meant to be a historical look back on where Tyranids came from and how far they've come. Here's our next installment.

3rd Generation (2001)
(Also known as the Birth of Mutable Genus or What Is The Least Number Of Genuses I Can Get Into An Army, We Can Get Them For You Cheap, and Screw This Grinfex: Where's My Plastic Carnifex?)

The third edition codex brought with it a whole world of Tyranid evolutions that we still enjoy to this day. It created Scything Talons and Rending Claws where before there were just Random Slashy Things. The strength of ranged weaponry went from being absolute as defined by gun to being variable as defined by the bearer's strength (Venom Cannons, for example, fired at the strength of the creature carrying them +2, and a devourer on a carnifex was Str 8!). We were introduced to the importance of Synapse and the requisite consequences of Instinctive Behaviour. It was the birth of the Tyranid Monstrous Creature, with its ability to ignore armour and roll 2D6 penetration, and it was the first time Tyrants ever got wings. Genestealers, with their armour-munching rending claws, became the bane of many folks' existence. However, you were lucky if your genestealers ever made it to combat because the newly-introduced, Tyranid-specific "shoot the big ones" (no joke; that was actually the name of it) rule meant that our opponents could ignore standard rules for target priority/screening and fire on any Tyranid unit they liked.

The codex was set up in a similar fashion to others of the era, with a complete list of Tyranid creatures at front of the book, allowing a few options per squad, and you could build a full army from that list.

But then there was this mad, secondary list at the back of the book that fell under the heading of "Mutable Genus List," and it detailed the various "Mutable Genus" species of Tyranid (Gaunts, Warriors, Rippers, Carnifexes, and Tyrants).

Each genus' entry had a stripped-down versions of each creature that you could mutate, using a limited number of biomorphs, into the specific type of spawn you were looking for. The spastic, essentially-broken-but-damn-fun wargear-like Biomorphs of second edition were streamlined and simplified into a list of options available to each of the mutable genus creatures. Each option could be taken once and would affect a given statistic (Str, Ini, WS, BS, etc). Weapons "slots" were also standardized with gaunts having access to one option while larger creatures gained access to two.

It was a brilliantly Tyranid idea. Not only did the codex give wider access to biomorphs, but with the mutable genus rules, Tyranid players could guide the evolution of their swarms. What's more, these mutable genus creatures could be combined with the "fixed genus" or vanilla creatures from the front of the book. There was even a system for achieving special, individual, mutant creatures based on the number of species you had in your army vs the number of wounds you had in a unit. These mutants could take the form of Hive Nodes to include a single creature with LD10 to help with Synapse/Instinctive Behaviour. They could have Acid Blood to damage opponents when they were slain in close combat. Or, best of all, they could be Weapons Beasts, which gained them access to any Tyranid weapon, so you could have one model in a squad of gaunts rocking rending claws or something as absurd as a venom cannon.

It was, as far as Tyranid players were concerned, the COOLEST system. However, it was also a system that was ripe for abuse or plain misunderstanding. Players would strip down their forces to include only 3 or 4 different genuses of Tyranid so that they could maximize on the number of mutants in each squad. Others would try to field mutable genuses/swarms that were illegal, claiming that the mutable genus rules were too complicated. The most popular abuse was filling squads of combat units with hidden rending claw mutants (mostly among hormagaunts or the wound-rich rippers) as rending claws were the best bet Tyranids had for tearing open tanks at that time.

Thus was one of the most innovative things to ever happen to the Tyranid swarm lost due to the misunderstanding/abuses of a few players. Even before the 4th edition of 40k was released, the mutable genus rules had been banned at Games Workshop Tournaments.

However, it wasn't all bad. To accompany these mutable genus rules, the father of the swarm, Mr. Jes Goodwin, provided Tyranid players with some of the most mutable models they had ever seen: multi-part plastics for Termagants, Hormagaunts, and Tyranid Warriors.

PLASTIC TERMAGANT - Sculpted by Jes Goodwin

PLASTIC HORMAGAUNT - Sculpted by Jes Goodwin

PLASTIC TYRANID WARRIORS - Sculpted by Jes Goodwin

Granted, some of the models (the warriors) were more modular and multi-pose than the others (the gaunts), but when you're fielding scads of gaunts as cannon fodder, how many poses do you really need? Heck, these plastic models even came with ripper swarms included in the box!

PLASTIC RIPPER SWARM - Sculpted by Jes Goodwin

Fun Fact: when these new plastic gaunts were released, they weren't segregated: you got one box of 16 gaunts, and 8 of them were termags while the other 8 were hormags. Thus, anyone who'd been into Nids since 3rd Edition likely had no problem rounding up enough Termagaunts for their Tervigons as, back when they were trying to pad out their Hormagaunt broods, they'd been forced to buy just as many Termags. Then again, this was the age when the cheapest cannon fodder unit the Tyranids could muster was the spinegaunt (mutable gaunt + spinefist) for the bargain basement cost of 5 points per model, so it's likely a lot of those spare termags saw action as spinegaunts.

Oh, and there were plastic genestealers, too, but they were the same plastic genestealers we'd been using for an age, born of Space Hulk (long ago discontinued) in the distant mists of time. They were even still casting them in that weird-o dark blue plastic until GW realized that they should probably switch them over to the same grey plastic everything else was being cast in to at least give the illusion that they were in some way new. (/rant)

But they came in Hive Fleet Kraken colours now!


And that was the end of the plastic line for the time being.

To compliment the shiny shiny new plastic models, the entirety of the rest of the Tyranid line was redone in pewter, from the somewhat familiar looking Hive Tyrant...

 HIVE TYRANT. I PROMISE. DEFINITELY NOT A HIVE QUEEN. the even-more-hellish-to-assemble-and-no-less-tippy metal gargoyles...

GARGOYLES. LET'S SEE HOW LONG THEY STAY AIRBORNE THIS TIME. the Lictor, who, it is my opinion, came with one of the sexiest pairs of rending claws that have ever been cast...


...the first of the floaty-brain Zoanthropes (possibly my favourite)...


...and, finally, the obviously-ork-inspired Biovore, who could now, awesomely, choose between three separate Spore Mine types: the anti-armour, flamer-template Bio Acid; the wounds-all-comers Poison; or the quick-and-dirty Frag.


A decent line, all told, but I can't help feeling that the pewter models never really measured up to the quality of those fantastic plastics. It's a niggling thing that, likely, isn't helped any by once having overheard Someone Who Should Know at GW (not a redshirt) commenting on how the 3rd Edition Tyranid line had kind of been rushed out the door.

That being said, rushed or not, there were some new additions to the line in 3rd Edition. We received a much speedier, though less synapseful, warrior-type critter known as the Ravener:


Now that the rules had changed, and all our opponents could point their lascannons right at our Tyranid Monstrous Creatures with glee, the Hive Tyrants gained a few ablative wounds in the form of their first retinue, the Tyrant Guard, who came equipped with a lash whip, a rending claw (one), and the newly invented spineshield (basically a fancy spinefist).


But, coolest of all in 3rd Edition, was the fact that the Tyranids received their first independent characters...of sorts. They were unique mutations that were limited to only games of a certain size. There was the carnifex Old One Eye, who is still kicking around in our current codex and whose model I'll get to later, but the real star of the show was The Red Terror.

This bad boy was meant to be a massive Ravener who made a habit of swallowing his prey whole--a fluffy bit of backstory that was actually reflected in the rules for the model. Should you hit home with four attacks, you could instead elect to use a single swallow attack to remove your opponent from combat as the Red Terror gobbled him down. Now that's a cinematic way to rid yourself of a powerfist.

Oh, what? Carnifex? Oh, yeah, I guess there was a new carnifex released in third edition. The only problem was that in the interim between the release of the 2nd and 3rd edition Tyranid codexes, I'd picked up a little book of Games Workshop art entitled Inquis Exterminatus, and somewhere near the back of the book I came across this:

...and it was the most bad-ass, face-ripping, carni-fexing thing I had ever freakin seen. It haunted my dreams every night. It had to be the direction that Games Workshop was going to take the Tyranids' biggest, baddest killing machine!

And then they released this:
CARNIFEX. - Sculpted by Mark Bedford

The Grinfex. The most disappointing bit of this line (and that's saying something--did you see those guard?). I mean, they tried to bad-ass him up a bit (and, perhaps, get him a little more in line with that sketch) by tearing out one of his eyes, slapping some barnacles on him, giving him some crushing claws, and calling him Old One Eye...
OLD ONE EYE - Sculpted by Mark Bedford

...but I still wasn't having any of it (though I did take a run at making the fex of my dreams with Hel). Likely, that's not fair, and after seeing that Dave Gallagher sketch, it's likely that nothing would have ever lived up to my expectations for the carnifex. To make matters worse, this was back before the draconian rules about rumours, and I swear that Jes Goodwin would run his mouth at any event he attended about how they were working on a plastic carnifex, and how it was right around the corner, and how--MY GOD--it was going to change our lives.

...and that freakishly talented git was right, but that's a story for next week.


  1. 3rd edition Tyranids were awful (most of them), Carnifex and Guard are the worst.
    The only merit they had, it was that with third edition GW started trying to give them a coherent look. Well, apart the silly idea of making them derived from other 40K races (Zoanthropes-Eldar, Biovores-Orks, etc).

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, certainly in hindsight. I think my problem was receiving these amazing plastics that were so fantastically sculpted, and then a metric ton of comparably uninspired tin to accompany them. The really cool thing that we should have been celebrating is that GW redid the ENTIRE tyranid line in one fell swoop, a feat that they haven't really replicated since until the huge dark eldar redo.

  3. Kinda late to the party here, but I actually got into 40K with this 5th edition. Still, I absolutely adore that book, with its fluff and that wonderful modelling section. I wish GeeDubs would put stuff like that in its newer books.

    I must also confess to being a huge fan of both the Grinfex and the Tyrant Guard. The Grinfex gave me the impression of a big scary crab, and to be honest I think they'd be much more imposing with a less adorable face. In fact, if the current plastic 'fex is ever replaced for some reason I'd like to see them try and blend all three Carnifex designs for it- the hunched-but-upright posture of the Grinfex with the modern aesthetics of the plastic kit and some options to hark back to the classic design. Perhaps they could make the scything talons three part- talon, forearm and upper arm, each connected by ball-sockets- and have them sculpted such that they could be assembled either in the modern "raking claw" design or as classic Screamer-Killer "hugging arms".

    The Tyrant Guard, meanwhile...I dunno, I like 'em. The Spineshield was a great idea that I'd like to see resurrected for the next Tyranid rules update, and the pincer-tipped lash whips were (IMO) pretty great too.

    Maybe it's just nostalgia (I'm too young to have ever played 3rd edition) but I did love that book. I still use it for model inspiration.

    1. Never too late, Peter!

      The second and third edition codexes were two of my faves, but I can't agree with you on the grinfex and tyrant guard. They are just too hideous to love! That being said, I do find it real interesting that your love for the 3rd edition Nid codex did not actually originate in third edition!

      I like your idea of having the talons being ball socketed in a way that you could choose how they work, but that's not too hard a conversion to do, and I'm pretty sure GW is sold on the Tyranid aesthetic as it is.

  4. Ye gods, the long wait for the 3rd edition Codex was agonising as a teenager... and that first sneak preview of the revamped Tyranid Warrior was electrifying. I feel the same way about the kit that you do about the 4th ed plastic Carnifex. And then I left the country to live overseas two weeks after its release, and didn't so much as see a 40K model for a year. Sigh.

    I quite like a lot of those rushed 3rd ed metal sculpts. Those first Raveners are my favourite of all their iterations. The later ones just resemble Warriors with tails. These ones have a deranged, nasty, intelligent edge to them. The later ones look like animalistic predators - but these Raveners look like alien psychopaths. You just know they enjoy their job.

    As for the grinfex, it does look a bit goofy (especially the gimp mask), but the model has potential. If you give it four of those huge plastic claws from the 3rd edition 'monstrous weapons sprue', it looks much more intimidating--and much closer to the classic Screamer-Killer than the later plastic Carnifex is. Maybe also fill in the eye sockets so it's as blind and featureless as a Xenomorph.

    But the most important thing about the 3rd ed release was of course the PLASTIC HORMAGAUNTS. Praise be. No more tipping over, gouging scrapes in the terrain, or impaling your unwary hand on a sharp metal spear-arm.

  5. I know I’m super late, necromancing this practically, and you def don’t agree, but I adored most of this line. The Tyrant guard was hideous, yes but I thought the Carnifex was one of the coolest I’d ever seen until the one in the new Leviathan box. It was in contrast to the previous Carnifex thought which just looked so … “80’s” by then. It’s also when I played the most, so I’m nostalgic for it. I also never noticed the grin, to me it was more of a snarl or teeth grind. It always reminded me of when the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park would pull their lips back. I know I won’t change your mind, but that was my 12 y/o take. I also adored the more organic and cohesive look the whole range had (which this Carnifex fit with), the previous range being “random gribblies e’rrayware!” Feeling. That lictor is still my favorite lictor, in fact, I found this page wondering why today’s look back at the evolution of tyranid models ignores the 3rd edition molds almost completely (it even says the next Lictor after the first lost it’s “spines bursting from its chest” … you know, “flesh hooks,” the thing that was an actual equipment option for an age … the 3rd edition lictor def still had them). The step away from actual scythes is a huge mistake, the poky spiked bits just don’t look practical erring more on the “lets make it look more icky than scary.” The tyrant I loved both for what it was and what it reminded me of, though I do appreciate the update since. I think that Biovore was one of the best (the upcoming one is really great, but the fact that it’s a gun swap away from being a pyrovore ruins it for me. I can’t even tell them apart and that’s just wrong). This was an incredibly strong update to the range even if the pewter bits were less than the plastics, it made Tyranids feel like an actual force with lore and history as opposed to a random mish-mash of alien tropes. The one thing I always hated though was the “monstrous parts sprue” you would get in the Tyrant and Carnifex kit. Those scything Talons looked awful by comparison to the metal ones which meant buying a whole lictor or something to make it look like it does in the pictures.