Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Space Wolf Flyers and Advanced Astartes Weapons

When I first started getting into the hobby, I briefly looked at Space Wolves. Unfortunately, the unruly (and often ridiculous) hair on many of the models drove me back to Vanilla Marines.

Although I've long since realized that I haven't the time or the energy to focus on anything but my Ultramarines, it's still fun to look at what other armies are getting. Ever since the first photos leaked, I've been inexplicably interested in the new Stormwolf transport and the Stormfang Gunship variant.

Aesthetics and Aerodynamics
At first glance, the flyer struck me as being immensely ugly. It looks like someone threw a cockpit and a bunch of engines on a cargo container. Within a couple of days, though, I started to think about it the same way I think about Space Marine Centurions; it's big, it's ugly, it's a Space Marine vehicle. That's just how they are. If you want elegance, the Eldar have it in spades.

It seems that a lot of gamers passionately decry GW's lack of aerodynamic sense. Honestly, I care a lot more about design consistency with the rest of the army. For example, my one complaint about Forge World's Storm Eagle flyer is that it seems a little too sleek. The Stormtalon, Stormraven, Stormwolf, and Thunderhawk all look like they decided to use oversized engines and a healthy dose of sci-fi technology to defy all aerodynamic theory. It's as if they said, with a defiant sneer, "I will hurl this slab of metal as fast as I want and nothing as insubstantial as a mere gas will stop me." If anything says "Space Marines" to me, it's that attitude.

Besides, the game is supposed to take place in the bizarre universe of the 41st Millennium; between various technological advances and the apparent effectiveness of placing one's faith in a vehicle's Machine Spirit, I wouldn't expect many flyers in the 40K universe to be particularly dependent on classic aerodynamics.

In my mind, the Stormwolf's most apparent sin against modern aerodynamics is how much weight is located in front of the main wings. To maintain a level attitude, the wings of a modern airplane are generally located at or near (in the case of aircraft with a fly-by-wire system) the craft's center of gravity. A design like the Stormwolf's would constantly try to fly directly into the ground. The tiny control surfaces near its nose wouldn't be able to compensate for how far back the wings are, especially at low speeds.

However, the model's designer seems to have understood how unbalanced a real-world Stormwolf would be and threw in a few features to compensate. In the White Dwarf that introduced the flyer, the designer says that the Space Wolves prefer to stay close to a planet's surface and that the flyer is designed to accommodate that preference. The Stormwolf incorporates larger versions of the Land Speeder's gravitic plates along the nose to repel the flyer from the ground, which would solve the balance issue at low altitudes. However, gravitic plates are supposed to be less effective at higher altitudes. Although he doesn't state it explicitly, the designer must have considered that too; a group of four thrusters located underneath the nose could aid in keeping the flyer level when the gravitic plates aren't fully effective.

New Weapons and New Fluff
With the Space Wolves about halfway through their release, it's starting look like they'll be sticking with the new helfrost weapons instead getting of grav-weapons, the Stormwolf and Stormfang will be their only flyers, and they won't be fielding Centurions. This is good news; I would be tremendously annoyed if a non-Codex Chapter got their own special units and weapons as well as the Vanilla Marines' new goodies.

Although I wasn't in the hobby when the 5th Edition Blood Angels Codex was released, I can understand the frustration that Vanilla Marine players experienced when C:BA, which had plenty of its own special units, also got Sternguard and Vanguard. To add insult to injury, they also got cheaper Devastators (so much for being a close combat oriented Chapter). Back in 2011, I remember seeing at least one player post, "why play Vanilla when Blood Angels do everything they do and more?"

I've found helfrost weaponry to be one of the more interesting additions to Space Wolves. According to White Dwarf, helfrost weapons instantaneously chill a target to absolute zero, which causes even extremely durable materials to shatter. The weapons are supposedly powered by "glimmerfrost crystals", which are only found under Allfather Peak on the Space Wolves' homeworld of Fenris. Although the Adeptus Mechanicus is unable to explain how the crystals work, the Space Wolves are content to accept them as a gift from the All Father and believe that they started to grow when the Emperor discovered Leman Russ.

TL helfrost cannon (far left) and helfrost destructor (middle and far right)

For me, one of the most entertaining aspects to the 40K universe is the mysticism that surrounds the technology. Like so many other things in the 41st Millennium, the question of whether helfrost weapons are in fact mystical (i.e., psychic-based), or simply so advanced that the technology is indistinguishable from magic, will probably be left unanswered.

A Possible Origin for Advanced Astartes Weapons
Not long after I first saw the conical emitters and glowing components of the helfrost weapons, I was reminded of the grav-weapons of the Codex-compliant Space Marine Chapters:

One one hand we have a hyper-advanced weapon that can instantly drop an object's temperature to absolute zero and, on the other, we have one that can suddenly increase the local gravitational field. From the similarity in appearance, I suspect that the technologies behind helfrost weaponry and grav-weaponry are meant to be related. Although mankind saw a brief renaissance during the Emperor's rule, the heyday of human technology ended thousands of years before the Imperium's founding. The fluff makes it unlikely that a device that could make use of glimmerfrost crystals could have been developed after the crystals' discovery.

In both cases, the science behind these weapons is either hopelessly lost or shrouded in mysticism. Assuming the two are related, both would have originated during the Dark Age of Technology; a period of ten millennia during which mankind made fantastic scientific advancements and began to colonize the stars in earnest.

During that era, humanity undoubtedly would have come across examples of alien technology from races long thought to be extinct. Although the backwards society of the 41st Millennium don't even understand how most of their own weapons work, what if humans from the golden age of humanity had the know-how to reverse engineer advanced alien devices?

As soon as I saw the general shape and green glow of 6th Edition Space Marines' grav-weapons, I was immediately reminded of the weapons of another faction; one that was entirely dormant during the Age of Technology and that may have left examples of their scientific prowess lying around:

Grav-weapons bear a surprising
resemblance to Tesla Destructors

The Doomsday Cannon and the Helfrost Destructor aren't too dissimilar

I admit that it's entirely possible that the GW model designers just don't have a lot of imagination when it comes to designing advanced directed energy weapons. However, it seems odd that some of the Astartes' most powerful and mysterious weapons deviate so significantly from anything else the Imperium of Man has. And it's suspicious that these weapons just happen to resemble the weapons built by a mysterious, absurdly ancient race that was taking a nap while mankind was at the peak of its technology capabilities.
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