First of the old “Dropship” Warhammer 40,000 articles for the archive is all the way from 2001 and describes the Eldar units I converted and painted for the 2000 UK Grand Tournament. It also taught me a valuable lesson to make my conversions a little more ‘obvious’ for the judges as the entire army scored zero points not featuring “at least one conversion”. As you can hopefully see from the photos pretty much every miniature is a conversion to one degree or another. Oh how I laughed at the time. Anyway, enough pre-amble here’s the archive in all its pointy-eared glory.
Back in 2000 I originally created the Biel-Tan Swordwind army as my entry for the 2000 UK Grand Tournament (Open Category). As my initial army the previous year was the Space Wolves, I decided I wanted to assemble something brighter and more colourful (not that the Space Wolves are particularly dull of course, just that it was a more limited palette).
Before I began, I set out two objectives for the army. Firstly that even though each unit would have its own palette of colours, it would nevertheless fit into the overall look of the army. This was achieved by picking a few keys colours that were identified with the Biel-Tan; namely green, white or bone and deep red. By introducing these into each of the Aspects palettes I helped bring together the overall look of the force without losing the individualism each of the Aspects had. The second objective was to further emphasise the look of the Aspects as variations of the Guardians. This meant significantly rebuilding each of the Aspect units from the Guardian plastic squad wherever practical. I have often been asked why I chose to do this rather than use the new Aspect models and the answer is really not that strange. I worked on the basis that for the Eldar, the most basic aspect they take when going to war is that of the Guardian. I wanted to show that the other Aspects were merely extensions of the Guardian Aspect, albeit on a more permanent basis for the Eldar that chose to stay on the path. Following this the Dire Avengers should be more ornate versions of the Guardian armour and other Aspects such as the Swooping Hawks and Fire Dragons should again, be further evolutions derived from the basic of Eldar armour. Some Aspects just wouldn’t easily fit this pattern for practicality sake, such as the Dark Reapers, so I had to make some trade-offs between the end result and practicality. Nevertheless, the Swordwind is still an army I am very satisfied with and feel the end result was worth the conversion effort.
In 2000, the Grand Tournament was briefly divided into three separate competitions, of which one was an Open Category. I decided on this category as it gave me a little more scope in terms of what I could take, plus the chance to field an additional 500 points in the form of an ‘allied detachment’. Rather than choose a separate unrelated army for the extra 500 points, I decided to field a selection from a different Eldar Craftworld. This gave me the opportunity to choose some slightly different models to work with in the form of the Jetbikes and Vypers. The choice of Saim-Hann was really determined by one of the additional rules of the Open; that being you had to field a Special Character. As the Eldar are quite limited on characters and I didn’t really fancy either Ulthwe or Iyanden, I settled on Nuadthu Fireheart, the one character Games Workshop had never released to date.
All of this led to a final tally of 2000 points and a lot of midnight oil burned in the weeks leading up to the tournament, which I hasten to add was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. The army in its basic form was eventually photographed for White Dwarf, which was a very pleasant surprise and has become one of my firm favourites.
Since competing with this army, the Studio has caught up with me somewhat and new models have now long since been released for Dire Avengers based on the Guardian plastics, along with new sculpts for the Scorpions, Fire Dragons and Reapers to name just a few. With the likely re-release of the Eldar Codex under 4th Edition 40K most likely to be sometime in 2006, I have a few plans yet for my Swordwind and Wind Rider units, including a few more Aspects, some rather large and heavy support and possibly yet another crack at the Wave Serpent conversion (Number 3). I know the plastic Wave Serpent has ‘finally’ seen the light of day and been released by GW after I don’t know how many years of waiting, but frankly I prefer my own now. Conversion number three is planned to combine the front elements of my own conversion with the Forge World version Will Hayes designed making it something of a hybrid of the two designs.
Avatar of Khaine and Nuadhu ‘Fireheart’
The Avatar was converted slightly to give him a more dynamic pose with his foot up on the rock outcrop (this was before foot on rock was fashionable amongst Space Marines) and sword swept back by cutting and re-pinning the right arm at the elbow. The model was also positioned slightly twisted at the waist to emphasise the pose more with the left arm raised slightly and pulled back from its original position. Once pinned at the gaps were then re-filled with green stuff and sculpted back to match the model.
The Bloody hand had thin pieces of brass wire added to the fingers which were then dipped into PVA glue. Once dry they were painted with multiple layers of red ink to give the effect of dripping blood. The red is achieved using Red Gore as the base colour then adding progressive coats of blood red and red ink. the rest of the armour was picked out in bone and scaly green/jade green.
As one of the key HQ’s for the Eldar, the Avatar needed to be the first example of how I was going to tie in the Biel Tan Craftworlds colours into each of the models, while still keeping its original scheme.
With the Avatar this was very easy as although the model was predominately red and black, the tabard and head crest gave me plenty of scope for working in greens and bone.
The other command element of the army was the Farseer and Warlocks. Leaving the Farseer as an independent character, I spread the Warlocks between by Guardian and Jetbike Squads for maximum effect. This gave me two initial problems; firstly how I would convert the Farseer and Warlocks to match the artwork in the Codex, and secondly how I would get one onto a Jetbike as no Warlock on Jetbike model had been made at the time. The first problem was solved by my good friend Dave Stone, who took up the challenge of assembling a unit of Warlocks and the Farseer to match the various character art in the Eldar Codex. While he was tackling that, I set about converting a Warlock and Guardian into a Jetbike mounted Warlock.
The first stage was to remove the Witchblade from a spare Farseer model and pin it to the torso of a Warlock which I had used a modelling saw to remove the lower half. The body was then pinned onto a set of jetbike riders legs and right arm.
Green stuff was then used to fill and gaps and resculpt the lower half of the cloak and the sleeves over the replaced arms. To help make the Warlocks jetbike stand out a little more from the others in the squad, a Wraithbone pattern was sculpted over the top of the jetbike.
By this stage, Dave had completed his work on the Farseer and other two Warlocks; all which now matched the artwork in the Codex. The Farseer’s helmet in particular is a little over the top, but not so much that it looked out of place with the rest of the squad.
With the command units completed, it was time to move onto the basic troops including the allied Saim-Hann leaders.
Nuadhu Fireheart came about from my requirement to add a character model to the 500 points Allied detachment for the Open Category of the Tournament. In a way this model decided for me which allied force I would take as I wanted it to be another Eldar force to stay with the theme. Looking through the Codex there were very few character options for the Eldar, most notably Ulthwe’s Eldrad Ulthran and Iyanna Arienal of the Iyanden. In retrospect a ‘Ghost’ detachment of Wraithguard and a Wraithlord with Arienal would have been interesting, however without access to the Craftworld Codex at the time of the competition I couldn’t take that option. Instead I was more intrigued by The Saim Hann Nuadhu as he was mounted on the ‘Steed of Khaine‘ Vyper. This allowed me to select a fast and mobile allied detachment of Nuadhu and a second Vyper, a Jetbike squad and a minimum troop of Guardians mounted into a second Wave Serpent.
Converting Nuadhu wasn’t as difficult as I first imagined as Dave quickly spotted the Wood Elf War Dancer model was a pretty close match face and hair wise for the artwork on Nuadhu in the Codex. A few small conversions to give a Guardian Chestplate Nuadhu’s trademark large spirit stone and a Warlocks spear and all that left was to create the Steed of Khaine. Starting with a basic Vyper I replaced the twin shurikans with a Shurikan Cannon and used the base from a Weapon Platform as the rear part of the Vyper for Nuadhu to stand on along with the rear vanes from a Wraithlord and some green stuff for the hand rails.
The Jetbikes I tackled the same way as the Biel Tan versions and used the new Guardian torsos and heads throughout. Similar to the Warlock on Jetbike I converted the Farseer so that he was mounted and again sculpted some extra wraithbone detailing onto the bike. The side wings in this instance were taken from an Epic Vampire Raider (one of Dave’s clever ideas) and rear vane from an Epic Revenant.
I have plans to replace all of the Wind Rider Jetbikes with a newer set of conversions, but that is for another time when the Eldar Codex is given some fresh life under 4th Edition.
For the Guardians it was just a case of mixing and matching some of the parts between the Guardian plastics and the metal Wood Elf Maiden Guard to give me a few more characterful female troopers. The danger with an Eldar force is all of the troops can blend into one look and you lose some of the interesting themes to an Eldar force, such as the mix of both sexes in the army. Using some of the bare heads for both the male and female warriors helped reinforce that theme.
With the basic troops out of the way, bar the two Waveserpents which I will cover later on, I moved onto the central theme of the Biel Tan which is of course the numerous Aspects squads.
As mentioned in the introduction, where possible I wanted to use the Guardian plastics as the base for each of the Aspects conversions to tie the look of the force together. Some lended themselves easily to this, such as the Fire Dragons and Dire Avengers. others however as in the case of the Swooping Hawks needed much more work tbo achieve the look I was going for and substantial converting. Since producing this army, most, if not all of the Aspect models have been updated by Games Workshop and some of these, such as the Striking Scorpions and Shining Spears I will add to the force when I next come to update it. In the meantime though, its on to the Aspects as I fielded them for the tournament.
Fire Dragon and Dire Avengers
The Firedragons were one of the first units to be converted using the Guardian plastics range as the basis for the model and in a way were my test unit to see if the look would work. As conversions they are very simple to plan for and were in the main just head and weapon swaps from the older metal Fire Dragons. I began by converting a couple of them to have either kneeling or more dynamic leg positions to put some variety into the models. This is where using the plastic range as the base for the model rally pays off as they become far easier to convert and work with. Once they were in the positions I wanted I removed the weapons and heads from the metal variant and pinned them to the new models, using greenstuff to fill any gaps. For the squad leader I wanted to add a female as although predominately the Howling Banshees and Guardians are more commonly represented with female Eldar (obviously female only in the case of the Banshees), I felt they should also be represented to a degree in each of the other aspects. Again, like the Guardians I used a Maiden Guard head as the basis to which I sculpted on the front rebreather.
Thankfully now the current Dire Avenger range are based on the plastics, unfortunately they were not available at the time I did the army so I had to do that through conversion. following exactly the same approach as I did with the Fire Dragons I removed the heads from some old metal Dire Avengers and simply pinned them to Guardian bodies. these were even easier in that I did not have to replace the weapons as well; Dire Avengers being armed with Shuriken Catapults just like the Guardians. At this stage some of the other themes started to take shape in the force, such as the use of black synth suits under the armour. I found that by painting the suits black in each case, the armour was given that much more contrast and shape. Additionally it also helped emphasise the fact that in most repects throughout many of the aspects, the armour was identical, it was only the helmets and ornate markings that were subtly different. Again this helped reinforce the suggestion that all permanent aspects were really just variations of the initial Guardian Aspect.
Although not part of my original force, I wanted to include one of the Shining Spears here as it emphasises what I mean about tying the colours together across the aspects. By the Codex the Shining Spears are predominately blue and white; the colours reversed for the Exarch. As I would be including them as part of my Biel Tan I wanted to alter the scheme slightly so that although the aspects colours were still featured, they were subtly altered to incorporate the Biel Tan primary colours, in this case the green. By simply replacing the white markings on the Jetbike with green ones the Shining Spears retain their identity, but tie in that much better with the overall theme of the army.
In this instance I also converted the lance to be a little more ornate by using the middle section of a High Elf one and added the helmet crest also from the High Elves range. Similar to the other jetbikes in the force, I sculpted a wraithbone relief onto the front using green stuff.
Unlike the Fire Dragons and Dire Avengers which were pretty simple to convert, the Swooping Hawks proved to be one of the more challenging tasks. Having established a prescribed look for the army, I knew I would have to use the same method on the Hawks, but additionally their poses would need to be converted considerable to be more dramatic. Similar to the Fire Dragons I began by working on the plastics separately working the legs into different positions and angling feet downwards to look more natural when mounted onto flying stands. Each figure would ultimately also be mounted at differing heights to give the impression of the entire squad coming in to land, this being emphasised by the final model, the female landing with the wings swept back. This would prove to be one of the most popular conversions I did in the entire army and I was surprised by the responses I received at the tournament about it. The principal theme was one that really came about by accident when I looked at how to include the wings on the models. I felt that the basic Swooping Hawk wings looked too small when used, so opted instead to use the wings that were on the Phoenix Lord model Baharroth. By separating the wings from the pack they could be pinned into the spaces on the plastic torso that would normally be occupied by the vanes. This allowed me some movement in how I positioned the wings so I increasingly opened them out wider for the models that were closest to touching the ground. This got me thinking about how the wings would work once the Swooping Hawk had landed and I thought it would be interesting if they automatically folded and retracted back out of the way. I mentioned the idea to Dave and after some sketches and planning he set about modifying the female’s folded wings for me while I worked on the rest of the model. The end result is the female to the centre of the photograph above kneeling on a rock with the wings folded behind her. Other than her, who I gave a resculpted Maiden Guard head to, the rest were simple head and weapon swaps again.
The Howling Banshees were far less problematic, the newer models having been released just in time for the tournament and needing little conversion. In the main I simply bent some of the arms carefully to slightly alter the poses so there were no duplicates and looked at adding an Exarch model. As I had already used some of the Phoenix Lords models for the Swooping Hawks (not shown) and Dark Reapers, I needed to continue the theme and used Jain Zar as a basis for the Banshee Exarch. I changed very little in her pose other than the addition of two small blades on the wrist guards to represent the Power Blades wargear as I always try to represent wargear onto the model as accurately as possible.
With two more Aspect squads completed, I moved onto another problem conversion; the Dark Reapers and the far less challenging Rangers.
By the time I got around to adding the Dark Reapers I had something of a dilemma. The older Dark Reaper models simply didn’t look right with the rest of the force and also looked woefully small in comparison. The newer models, which I preferred unfortunately had not been released at that point and no amount of persuasion was working on Mail Order at getting them to let me have some samples early. The only option left to me that fitted my requirements was to use the hulking model of the Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra. As I don’t like duplicates in the force I knew I would have to convert them, even if only subtly. Thankfully, with the assistance of some of Dave’s cutting, grinding and re-sculpting we came up with four different poses, even if only slightly. Again, to keep theme I made one of the Reapers a female and the ever useful Maiden Guard range provided a suitable head.
The differences do tend to get lost in the overall force when it is all together, however the hulking size of their armour does help them to stand out, so in retrospect using Maugen Ra as the base for the model did turn out to be the right choice for me. Adding in an Exarch in the future however that looks right may turn out to be more problematic, but I will solve that thorny issue when I get to it.
The Rangers by comparison were very straight forward, the range having ample variations to choose from. I used four fairly stock models which I left unconverted and concentrated instead on adding in a female Ranger. Unsurprisingly another High Elf provided the head which I pinned to a standard Ranger model and re-sculpted the hood back on.
Each of the models does have a thorn pattern to the robes, but in retrospect I made it too fine and didn’t give it enough contrast with the predominately dark green robes, something I may fix at a later date.
That about wrapped up the bulk of the troops for the army just leaving me with the Wave Serpent transport and Heavy Support Falcon.
When I first started the Swordwind back in ’99 there was no model of the Wave Serpent for 40K, the only versions being for Epic 40,000, which is what I based these two on. Later on Will Hayes created a conversion kit for Forgeworld and right up until only recently there still wasn’t a plastic version made by the Studio. In the end what was released was a badly molested version of Will’s elegant design in my opinion and a sad end to the saga. Unfortunately I had no such designs to go on at the time so I made do with my own version based on Epic. The key feature for me was the curved prow plates flanking the sides of the hull. These really added weight and depth to the model and along with the extended rear compartment significantly increased the overall size of the model compared to the Falcon. The deflector plates were all created out of plastic strip and mounted to follow the curves of the Falcons prow, the wave generator a combination of the Fire Prism Cannon parts and Dark Eldar Raider components. Similar to the plating, the rear compartment extension was made out of plastic strip and accommodates a detailed interior seating and working rear door. The turret was cut down from the Falcon and I mounted twin Scatter Lasers and Twin Shuriken on the Saim Hann and Biel Tan versions respectively.
Overall I was pleased with the look of the model and how closely it matched the Epic version, especially the deflector plates. It’s not to everyone’s tastes though I am certain. I do have one final Wave Serpent planned though before I finally draw a line under the conversion, that being a hybrid of both mine and Will’s designs. I much prefer his sleeker more organic compartment extension and turret, but still prefer my heavier deflector plates. With that in mind I intend to make a third variant as a hybrid of the two using the Forgeworld kit as a starting point and adding the additional plating to broaden it out more like my versions above. If I didn’t it would look far too small in comparison, so I kind of have to stick with it and continue what I started over five years ago.
Even though this wraps up a look at the army I fielded back in 2000, I am by no means finished with the Eldar and will be adding some new additions and a fresh look to the army in the future including some real heavyweights. But that will be for another time, until then happy painting.