Friday, March 08, 2013

Coven of the Unmarred

Despite having started as a commission for another modeler, this little Coven that I have been working on has colonized ever growing parts of my heart and creative mind. Commission or not, the initial concept for it was an original one, and my plans for it go pretty far beyond the limits of the commission I entered into.

Thus, on this first Flesh Friday in a long while, I’m going to attempt to explain out the concept and background I’ve come up with for the Coven. But, before we get to all of that, we need to address one thing: the Coven’s name.

I call them The Coven of the Unmarred.

I came to the Coven of the Unmarred in a somewhat circuitus fashion. I remember back when Dark Eldar first came out, and I started an army out of boredom with the lack of any new tyranid releases and the absolutely abysmal, sickly-vanilla rules for the bugs in the Big Black Rulebook. The newly-purchased 3rd Edition boxed set that PinkPonny and i had split came with Dark Eldar, so why not start an army of them?
Back then the standard Warrior sprue came with a whole pile of additional spikes and barbs with which you were meant to further adorn the models. I remember wanting nothing to do with these gruesome grubbins as they broke the clean, smooth lines of the excellent, multi-part plastics.

Looking back on that now, i can't help smiling at how far i've fallen: from not wanting to put supplementary blades on the models to sculpting on exposed spinal columns and all manner of bony growths.
Still, I come back to this story for a purpose: despite the gribbly, twisted excess of the Coven units I have created so far, there is a part of my creative mind that still yearns for the simplicity and balance of clean lines.

This juxtaposition between organic/twisted and smooth/clean is the chief thematic element in my concept for my Haemonculus Coven. Now, "Unmarred" may seem an odd descriptior for a coven, which is meant to be a circus of mutated horrors, so let me explain.

Birth of The Lord of Flesh

The Dark Eldar background recounts how the Haemonculi serve the lords of Commoragh by using their unique combination of alchemy and genetic manipulation to provide the lords and their disciples with an elixir of eternal youth, distilled from purest pain. The party line seems to be that the Haemonculi give this gift away, never seeking to keep any of it for themselves. They are content to remain twisted and subservient to the Kabalite Lords.

Well, no more.

A Haemonculus Ancient by the name of Aronak realized the sway he held over the petty Kabalites, and he asked himself "why should i give away this great secret?" He had developed a particularly potent process known as Narcynogenesis, and he was determined that, having spent his life crafting the process, he would keep its youthful fruits for himself. However, those long years of research and experimentation had left his gaunt, emaciated form beyond the ability of the Narcysogenesis process to cure.

He resolved that his revenge on the Kabalites would have to be tasted vicariously. He sought out a young and gifted Coven accolyte who was free of the coniving servitude that seemed to run rampant among the ranks of the Coven's followers. The boy had ambition that could rival the legendary Vect, and he had an oddly ironic aesthetic sense. He found the Wracks and Grotesques that surrounded him revolting, but he also took a perverse pleasure in how, among their ugliness, what beauty he posessed seemed to be magnified.

In this young acolyte, Aronak believed that he had found his champion. What the boy lacked in natural beauty was very quickly recovered using the Narcynogenesis process. When the procedure was complete, and the chiseled avatar of perfection stepped from the pain pod, Aronak told him that his old name and all that he once was would now be discarded. Henceforth he would be known only as Narcysus, Lord of Flesh, High Haemonculus of the Coven of the Unmarred.
And, in his first act of deference to this new Lord that he himself had elevated, Aronak encased the ruin of his haggard face in a mask of steel, sealing its hideousness away for all eternity.

Once he had installed Narcysus as the Lord of Flesh, Aronak set to work building a court of advisiors and protectors around the young Haemonculus. It was a group that would have been fitting for an Archon of the Dark City, but its members were all promoted or bred from within the Coven itself. With the exception of Aronak, the whole of Narcysus' innermost circle was formed of those like himself, who had successfully come through the Narcynogenesis process and numbered themselves among the ranks of the Coven's "Unmarred." Among these disciples there was beauty that harkened to the regal forms of the ancient Eldar at the peak of their civilization.

From outside this circle and from behind his his self-imposed prison of a mask, Aronak looked on with pride at his creation. However, the Archons of the Dark City who heard tell of the Lord of Flesh and his fledgling court had less reverence for it. They began referring to the court of the Lord of Flesh, and the coven as a whole, as the "Circus of Flesh." These Archons were sure to make it clear how much it displeased them that a lowly biomancer would seek to attain their level of refinement.

When this ciriticism would filter down to Aronak or Narcysus, they had little time for it. The two were far too busy expanding and improving their Coven. Under the tutelage of Aronak, Narcysus excelled and came to understand the unique strengths afforded by the shambling forces of the Coven. When they found that the Coven lacked certain expertise that was normally provided by contracted forces from the Kabals or the Cults, Aronak and Narcysus worked together with their disciples to spawn new horrors to serve those roles. It was Narcysus who brought in the wayward band of Kabalite warriors who would eventually be augmented and modified into the role of the Coven's Hunters. And it was Aronak who married artificial facial architecture and contraband combat drugs to craft the delicate, deadly women who soon became know as the Nurses. The pair of them continued in this way, inspiring one another to new feats of creation, ever dedicated to building up their Coven from within and never turning to the factions of Upper Commorragh for aid or succor.

Narcynogenesis and the Unmarred

Only Narcysus’ closest, most promising disciples are granted the gift of Narcynogenesis. Thus, positions that would be held by the oldest, most twisted of Haemonculi in a normal Coven are, instead, occupied by the youngest, most beautiful of acolytes. They are the Unmarred: the most perfect fruit of the Narcynogenesis process.

However, the technology of Narcynogenesis is still far from perfect, and for every success there are a slew of failures. It is these “fallen” who make up the bulk of the Coven, along with all of the other half-born experiments that Narcysus and his Unmarred disciples create on their road to perfection.

Though Narcysus takes greedy pride in surrounding himself in walls of twisted flesh, he finds imperfect faces to be beyond his ability to tolerate. Thus, he mandates that all the mutated constructs in his coven cover their hideous visages permanently, locking them away behind steel masks, where the Lord of Flesh never need look upon them.
This practice is obviously applied most generously to Wracks and Grotesques, but it is also the case that Narcysus has forced a mask upon some of his most promising Unmarred disciples should an experiment go wrong or should they be gored in a raid. Though some may initially resist, such is the hypnotic, rabid nature of Narcysus’s beliefs around perfection and beauty that disciples who have been marred will often don a mask willingly, even without the Lord of Flesh having to ask it of them, as they see imperfection as a sin to be punished.
Once these disciples have become marred, they are cast out from the Court of the Lord of Flesh, and they go on to lead groups of Wracks into battle, taking on the role of Acothyst.

The Pit

One of the other strongest ideas that came out of the brainstorming of a full Coven force was the image of The Pit. With a lair full of Haemonculi, experimenting on flesh all day every day, I asked myself “what happens to the experiments that aren’t properly realized?” An easy answer is that they are reduced to some kind of genetic slurry and fed back into the feeding vats to spawn new horrors (somewhat like the Somnis in Cloud Atlas). However, a far more twisted, far more Coven-like answer would be for the experimental off-casts to be physically CAST OFF into The Pit.
Think of your bits box. Now picture all of those arms and legs and heads and torsos as actual living flesh. Then set that pile of appendages and half-built models in a colossally expansive dark pit at the bottom of some subterranean cavern system, and that will give you a good idea of how I envision The Pit.

Mostly, The Pit serves as a genetic landfill, wherein the Coven of the Unmarred disposes of its experimental dead-ends.


However, sometimes something survives, fighting its way from the bottom of the seething mass of limbs and blades and teeth and claws. These survivors, who have fought their way into whatever dim light there is in that deepest cavern are utterly rabid, grown permanently unhinged from a life of struggle and motivated only to tear apart and consume anything that steps before them. Pit Masters are set to seeing that these alpha abominations do not escape the pit, flitting out of their reach on skyboards and using agonizers in order to drive the abominations back into The Pit.

However, Narcysus is not blind to the usefulness of such howling horrors, and when his need is great, he will occasionally instruct the Pit Masters to select some of The Pit’s more violent denizens to accompany the Coven on its Real Space Raids. As these creations are little more than whirling tornados of talons and death, it is difficult to extricate them from The Pit and deploy them on raids without the loss of lives, but it is the hope that they kill slightly more of the Coven’s enemies than they do the Coven’s servants.

The Pit Abominations are exempt from Narcysus’ stringent requirement that mutated disciples of the Coven be masked in his presence, for to cage these creatures’ hungry mouths would be to rob them of one of their most deadly weapons!
Pit Masters and their twisted charges are meant to represent Beatmasters, Clawed Fiends, Khymera, and Razorwing Flocks.

The Soul Drinkers

There is a rumour in the Dark City that the Haemonculus Ancient Aronak’s decision to strike out on his own was not entirely voluntary. Some whisper that even before his coup, the lord of the Dark City had come to resent and avoid the flesh crafter. It is said that Aronak’s Narcynogenesis process is so successful because it uses more than just rarified pain and suffering to power it. They say that it uses actual souls.

Kabalite Lords who claim to have visited the lairs of the Coven of the Unmarred tell of glimpsing two gargantuan Cronos Parasite Engines, enshrined in places of honour in the Haemonculi grotos. The way the engines were described, they looked more like twisted demons than augmented individuals. Their flesh writhed under scars carved into the pattern of arcane runes. This vaguely-glowing flesh was punctuated by what appeared to be great, gaping sores, until, upon closer inspection, it was seen that the sores had tiny, sharp teeth within and were, in fact, hungry mouths. A brighter glow lit the cavern roof above the constructs, and it sounded as if faint, moaning cries were issuing forth from the nest of twisted spines and bony growths on the creatures’ backs.

A rumour spread that Aronak was only able to achieve his wonders of youth and beauty through a secret pact with the Great Enemy—that the perfection he pedaled was in fact a gift of Chaos.

Whether or not these whispered accusations have any basis in reality, it is true that the Narsynogenesis process requires a deal more energy than your standard Coven procedures, and Aronak has been experimenting with Cronos Parasite Engines for years to hone their dark capacity as life-force syphons. Whereas Cronos are normally created by modifying less promising Talos, Aronak has found a method for influencing the genetics of particular victims who he personally plucks from The Pit. His mastery has become such that he can “breed” Cronos parasites, raising them and nurturing them over a period of months as they grow and twist into vast, tentacled bulks.
In times of dire need, when the Coven’s supplies of purloined life force are running low, or when Narcysus devises a raid against a particularly hated foe, Aronak has been known to deploy not only his completed Cronos Engines but also the fledgling Cronos Spawn. On the battlefield, these spawn take up a role similar to that usually assumed by Mandrakes.

Edit: Here's the actual models I cranked out for the Cronos Parasite Mandrakes.

In Game Terms

For all the fluffy basis for my coven, a lot of this background was created as a means of linking up and explaining choices I made based on the stats and abilities of actual Dark Eldar units.

For example, Narcysus was born out of a want to include an Archon and his court in my Coven force. That may seem like I want to use the Archon’s combat prowess to overcome a failing of the Coven forces, but I assure you that real reason was the similarity between a Slyth statline and a Grotesque one.

After I figured out my Paulson Bio Terror to Grotesque conversion, I was so happy with the results that I wanted an excuse to include this giant, shambling constructs in my force in other ways. Two opportunities presented themselves: Slyth and Clawed Fiends. Both are near-Grotesques in terms of their stats, so why not rep them with Grotesques. Now, I do intend to model them differently from the Rank and file Grots: The Slyth stand-ins I intend to realize with something very closely resembling Eye of Error's Hordes conversions.
They will look slightly more stately than the rank-and-file grots with their armour and proper proportions—like something more fitting to be part of a Court.
 As for the Clawed Fiends, they will make the normal Grots look like dapper gentlemen by comparison to their screaming, toothy maws and twisted shapes.
There are a number of other cases like this, where I have looked at a codex unit, thought “hrm, this could be a good opportunity to flesh out a part of the Coven,” and have begun tinkering with bits and potential models in my head. I don’t want to give them all away, but the Hunters are my first attempt at Covenifying non Coven troops.
Also, I've made a first start on the Nurses, so here is an idea of what direction I'll be following with them.
Rest assured that many more new Coven units will follow!


  1. Maybe the leftover arms from a talos might be an approach on the Nurses? Might give them a wicked look. And their long and spinderly appearche might be a good contrast to the big heads :D

  2. Yeah, I don't know, man. I've seen people just plunk those Talos arms onto wyches and call them "Coven Wyches," and it feels like the easy way out. I feel like I would rather they have scalpels and syringes, but I guess that would require a lot of work. I think I'm going to try to convert up some splinter pistols to look more like stinger pistols, and we'll see where that takes me.

    Thanks for the advice, though, and I will, likely, wind up following it in the end :P