Yesterday I kicked off the archive fortnight with Will Hayes 2002 UK GT Death Guard. I followed this up in 2003 at the UK GT Winter Finals with my own Death Guard, an army I both loved and hated in equal measure. I still have this army and if it wasn’t for the huge number of other projects on the go would love to revisit it some day and both refine the paint job as well as introduce some new units which I’ve collected over the years. Although I don’t actively play 40K anymore, it doesn’t stop me from dipping into a background rich force like the Death Guard to indulge purely in the painting. This article was written shortly after the 2003 Finals.
If anybody asked me a few years ago, which Chaos army I would probably never paint, my answer would have been Death Guard. Ironically, this was the very army that I chose to do for the Warhammer 40,000 UK Grand Tournament in November 2003. So why?
Strangely enough it came down to two things, firstly Will Hayes excellent Death Guard army from the previous Grand Tournament which I really found refreshingly original and secondly the Forge World Death Guard Dreadnought which I thought was a truly beautifully crafted model. Inspired by both of these things I decided to have a go at creating my own Death Guard force and commenced work in the autumn.
As I’d be entering this army for a GT I knew that two requirements would have to take precedence; that the army was competitive yet still characterful and more importantly looked good if I was to stand any chance competing for Best Army. Making a Chaos Nurgle army look pretty actually proved to the toughest of the two challenges.
Out of all the 40K armies I’ve painted over the years, this was the one I enjoyed painting least, yet was satisfied with the the most. Coming up with a technique and palette of colours than would give me the result I wanted was incredibly challenging and even up to the final models the palette was continuously evolving. Overall the look I wanted to achieve was one of corruption without being over the top. I wanted to ensure the Death Guard Legions original white armour was still very evident even after millennia of service under Nurgle. This also needed to be reflected in the vehicles.
Each of the squads is covered in more detail with my thoughts at the time by clicking on the link below, but after six fantastic Tournament games the Death Guard became one of my favourite armies to game with.
Daemon Prince Lord Scirrhus
As the Daemon Prince would in an official tournament, it was even more important that any equipment or abilities were reflected on the model. In addition I wanted Scirrhus to be one of the centrepieces to the force so needed to ensure his stature was appropriately imposing. I took the Warhammer 40,000 Daemon Prince as the basis and to this I added a pair of wings from the previous Chaos range, which I pinned just above the shoulder blades. To blend the wings into the model I used green stuff to build up a muscle structure and then blended the flesh back into the armour to give it the appearance of having mutated. To finish I added a few details such as the Mark of Nurgle as stigma in the flesh of the left shoulder and lesions in the skin. To bloat the face I used green stuff to extend the chin and throat as well as break off one of the horns giving the head a lopsided swollen appearance. The guts underneath the main chest armour were also extended and lowered to further enhance to stigma of Nurgle to which I added further rents and a large closed wound.
To give the model increased stature I used the plastic Dreadnought base over which I added several large flat sections of slate. Modelling clay was then used to blend the stone together and create a soft surface into which I could embed several skeletal parts from a plastic Skeleton Boxed Set. All of these things helped add even more height to the model without making it look way out of scale.
The final change was to remove the Chaos sword and replace it with an appropriate model of Manreaper, the filth encrusted Nurgle Scythe. For this I used version found on Typhus which I cut and pinned to right hand at an appropriate angle. This was then pinned in place on the model at the very end.
When I came to paint Scirrhus I used a darker palette than I had been using on the rest of the army to create a more ancient look to the armour. For the base I used Catachan Green to which I added Bleached Bone for highlights. The armour was then given a wash of watered down green and brown ink and then re-highlighted with several mixes of Plague Brown (Vallejo) and Rotting Flesh. The flesh is a mix of Dwarf Flesh, Rotting Flesh and Palid Flesh highlight. Over this a wash of Red Ink mixed with Flesh Wash was applied neat to create the glistening sticky redness in the jowly recesses.
Death Guard Squad Pyrosis
Pyrosis is one of two Death Guard Squads in the army and was the first one I assembled. As character was paramount, keeping the squad numbering seven in total was naturally preferable. It being the favoured number of Nurgle it allowed me to upgrade a single Plague Marine to an Aspiring Champion for free. To help keep each model in the army looking unique I deliberately chose to mix up the latest set of Death Guard models with some from the previous editions archives. By adding the arms and weapons of the new boxed set to the body of an archived Plague Marine, a new hybrid was created that merged the two ranges together. By adding a few modifications to detailing, poses or shoulder pads I created seven Plague Marines that fitted the look I wanted. The entire squad was then mounted in a Rhino transport and the Aspiring Champion given two Chaos Hounds as Followers.
Aspiring Champion and Icons.
One of the things that I’m really not a fan of is Chaos Icons being represented as a long pole or stave with a metal icon stuck on the top like a badge. Seeing several such identical items within an army seems to me very, well, un-Chaotic. I prefer to think of icons as meaning any article consecrated to a particular god, whether that item be as large as a banner or as small as an amulet. With that in mind I make sure that I tell my opponent in advance which models are icon bearers and ensure that in some way they stand out from the rest of the units in the squad. Each of the Aspiring Champions are also easy to identify as I have made sure they are mounted on a larger 40K infantry base. Again, similar to the Daemon Prince I raised the base up slightly before adding the model to give a little more height and help the figure stand out. The Aspiring Champion here is made from an archive Plague Marine to which I have added an up to date Chaos Backpack and Death Guard right arm. The war grave on the base was made from an Imperial Guard Lasgun with helmet and small piece of plastic card carved into a piece of wood.
Painting Death Guard armour
After undercoating the models black I painted a base colour of 50/50 Bubonic Brown and Rotting Flesh over any armour areas. I then highlighted this in vertical streaks by adding increasing amounts of Rotting Flesh to the base mix. For final highlights I added Bleached Bone to the mix before giving the entire model a wash of 50/50 Green Ink and Brown Ink mixed together and watered down. Once the ink had dried I then re-highlighted a few streaks with 50/50 Rotting Flesh and Bleached Bone.
The banding around the armour was initially painted with a mix of Brazen Brass and Boltgun Metal. This was then highlighted with Chainmail Silver before receiving a brown ink wash.
Death Guard Squad Decubitis
Similar to Pyrosis, the Death Guard Squad Decubitis consists of seven Plague Marines, one of which is upgraded to an Aspiring Champion. Again I used a mix of archived Plague Marines and the current boxed set, the Aspiring Champion this time coming from the current edition. In addition I also used parts from the plastic Chaos Space Marines boxed set to equip some of the models with Plague Swords as well as create the Icon Bearer (The one with the trophy pole).
Painting Death Guard Flesh
One of the most distinctive features of Death Guard and the thing that separates them most from other Chaos Legions is the horrific stigma of diseased and decaying flesh. This meant that getting the colours and textures of the flesh correct would make or break the overall look of the army. Traditionally purples and livid greens have been liberally used on most Death Guard armies I have seen in the past which works to great effect, but isn’t the look I was going for in this instance. What I wanted to achieve was a look that was more graphic yet less vivid (if that makes any sense?). After trying out a few different methods I eventually settled on the following palette. For the base colour I used a Mix of Dwarf Flesh with Rotting Flesh. I then added increasing amounts of Rotting and Palid flesh to the mix for each successive highlight until the palette was almost pure Palid Flesh. Over this I generously applied a heavy wash of Red Ink mixed with Brown Ink which gave the flesh a dark unhealthy pallor. For a final highlight I blended a watered down mix of Rotting Flesh and Palid Flesh into any highlights, concentrating in particular on any open sores or pustules. The end effect was something really quite unpleasant, particularly the sticky looking dark redness from the ink that had pooled into recesses and open sores.
Although both of the Rhino’s initially appear similar, I actually approached the construction and painting of the vehicles slightly differently. Both have been given extra armour; the first from Forge Worlds Chaos range and the other scratch built out of plastic card. Forge Worlds excellent Death Guard icon doors have also been used in both cases.
The first Rhino is for the Possessed Squad Myelitis. As this would be carrying one of my most precious units I gave the Rhino extra armour and smoke launchers to help get them into combat safely. Unlike the second Rhino I wanted this one to show a few small signs of stigma and mutation. As I mentioned earlier I don’t like overdoing vehicle conversions as it is very easy to go from a characterful looking tank to something that frankly looks comical with its profusion of tentacles and spiky bits. I settled instead for a twisted face in the front armour and a small number of bony structures and changes to surface textures such as rust and pitting. The main difference to the first Rhino was the addition of hinges of the top hatches (which do work!) and the decay sculpted inside the crew compartment using green stuff.
The extra armour on the front and rear was made from plastic card, as was the extra armour at the front of both vehicles. For the crewman I used a number of Chaos Space Marine and Death Guard parts as well as green stuff to fill and finish any gaps in the detail.
The second Rhino is part of the Death Guard Squad Pyrosis and has been converted to appear corrupt and filth encrusted as opposed to mutated in any way. The icon on the roof was based on the metallic fly icon from Typhus’s armour and was sculpted in green stuff. For both models the painting consisted of a black undercoat over which a Bestial Brown undercoat was heavily dry brushed. Over this I then painted Bubonic Brown in a streaked pattern across all of the armour plates to which I added increasing amounts of Rotting Flesh for subsequent streaks. Once the armour was painted in its entirety I added a few streaks of Bleached Bone to any highlights and edges before giving the entire model a wash of green and brown ink.
For the banding, similar to the Plague Marines I first painted a mix of Brazen Brass and Boltgun Metal. This was then highlighted with Chainmail Silver before being given a wash of brown ink. To break up the uniformity of the armour I then picked out a number of panels in dark red.
Possessed Squad Myelitis
The Possessed Death Guard with Daemonic Talons were completely inspired by Will Hayes fantastic army from the previous Tournament. I have never really been a great fan of ‘general mutations’ for Possessed Marines and hadn’t really come up with a way of getting around the problem. Fortunately Will came up with the inspired idea of basing the Possessed on the look of Plaguebearers, which I thought made perfect sense!
I added a few touches to the idea to create the Possessed Squad here, all at various stages of manifestation and shamelessly used Will’s approach for the Daemonic Talons which were from some archived Dark Elf Harpies. This squad in particular involved the most conversion work consisting of parts from both current and archived Death Guard, plastic Chaos Marines, Plaguebearers and Gorkamorka Muties, not to mention a liberal amount of green stuff to blend them all together. Without doubt this was my favourite infantry unit out of the entire army.
Painting the Possessed.
To paint each of the possessed I used exactly the same techniques covered in the other sections for armour, diseased flesh and Plaguebearer flesh, all of which helped tie the entire army together into a uniform look. Coupled with their corrupt Rhino transport this unit in particular did more damage than any other in the army making them a must have in my opinion for any Death Guard General.
No Death Guard army would be complete without Plaguebearers and their festering miasma of Nurgle’s Rot spreading flies. As I do like lots of troops in my army I took two units of seven; the favoured number of Nurgle. With two units at my disposal the chances of them turning up on the second turn are very high, especially with the +1 to their summoning roll from being favoured. Fortunately there are a good selection of different Plaguebearer models in the current range which meant few duplications in each unit. As I liked the models just as they were I did not feel that they needed to be converted in any way and based them pretty much as seen.
Most Plaguebearers I have seen tend to be a combination of greens and browns and to a degree I didn’t want to move away from this palette too much. I did feel that in order to match the look of my army I would need to incorporate a few flesh colours into the mix as well as the ink mixes I had used up to that point on other units in the army. For the base colours I chose either Bubonic Brown and Dwarf Flesh mixed with Rotting Flesh or the same mix again, but with a drop of Sick Green added to turn the base colour into a dark sickly green. I varied these colours between the different models to create variety and highlighted each by adding increasing amounts of Rotting Flesh and Palid Flesh to the respective mixes. The Plaguebearers, including weapons were then given a wash of 50/50 green and brown ink. For areas of intestines or tumours, I painted a basecolour of Dwarf Flesh, which I highlighted with Palid Flesh. These areas were then given a wash of neat red and brown ink to give them a truly slick and black-blooded appearance.
Children of Nurgle
Creating a Death Guard army without Nurglings is about as characterful and fun as eating a hotdog without any of the trimmings. Nurglings may not be the greatest or most powerful unit of all time, but they have bags of character and frankly at ten points a base the only reason I can ever see for leaving them out is to ‘Max Out’ points allocations on wargear. At the very start of creating this army I said that background and character were at the top of the list of requirements. What I wanted to prove is that you could create an army that was true to its background AND competitive without having to resort to cheap tactics like including three Defilers or the maximum number of Five Man Tactical squads just to include lots of heavy weapons and assault weapons. Sadly over the years I’ve seen an increase in 40K ‘power’ gamers at the expense of keeping to the background which is a great shame in my opinion.
Anyway, enough ranting. Suffice to say Nurglings featured in my force to the full number of units permitted (one for each Squad or Character with the Mark of Nurgle, four in my case). Rifling through a large bag of past and present Nurglings I stuck down a selection of roughly five per base onto large 40K infantry bases with a few pieces of incidental terrain. The Nurglings were then painted in a variety of colours to match the Plaguebearers (see the Plaguebearers page for more details).
The two Chaos Hounds were attached to the Aspiring Champion of Squad Pyrosis as followers and were painted with a mix of Scorched Brown and Rotting Flesh. Increasing amounts of Rotting Flesh was then added to the mix for each successive highlight before giving the entire model a wash of watered down green and black ink. A couple of Nurglings were then added to the base purely for detail.
All of the bases in the army were textured with a sand and gravel mix after a few small rocks were added. After undercoating black the ground texture was then dry brushed Graveyard Earth and Bleached Bone in that order. Static grass and flock was then stuck down in patches with watered down PVA glue before painting the base edges Graveyard Earth.
As one of the reasons for putting together a Death Guard army was the fantastically detailed Dreadnought produced by Forge World, it would be daft not to include one. I left the model pretty much unconverted from the original with the exception of adding a single banner from the Palanquin of Nurgle.
Unlike the other models in the army I actually undercoated the Dreadnought white as a lot of the detail would be obscured by the heavier black primer. To help identify which areas were to be painted as armour I then gave the entire model a watered down brown ink wash which revealed any cracks and pitting in the armour. All of the armour plates were then painted in a watered down mix of Bubonic Brown and Rotting Flesh, to which I added increasing amounts of Bleached Bone for the highlights. The armour was then given a wash of watered down green and brown ink. For legs, torso, weapons and banding I first repainted them black then applied a mix of Tin Bitz, Brazen Brass and Scorched Brown for a basecoat. Over this I dry brushed Boltgun Metal and picked out any details in Chainmail. The metal areas were then given a thin wash of Brown Ink and a final wash of watered down Chestnut Ink.
The flesh areas around the eyes were painted with Dwarf Flesh working up to Palid Flesh highlights before being given a wash of Red Ink and Flesh Wash mixed together. The eyes themselves were then carefully painted white before adding the iris which was a 50/50 mix of Dark Angels Green and Snot Green. A small black pupil was then added to the centre of each eye before they were given two coats of gloss acrylic varnish to make them glisten wetly and catch the light. Red and Brown ink was then carefully applied around any boils and the gaping maw in the left leg as well as at the base of any spines which had been painted Bestial Brown, Bleached Bone and finally White.
Out of all the models in the army, it was this one that I lavished most attention on as it just yells out to be painted. The surface detail sculpted onto Will Hayes original creation by Simon Egan has to be seen and handled to be believed, quite possibly one of the most finely detailed models to be released by Forge World to date in my opinion (perhaps with the exception of the Chaos Warhound Titan, but that’s just unnatural!).
With the Dreadnought finished it just left the Defiler to complete the army.
Defiler of Nurgle
The Defiler was the model that quite simply took me the longest to convert and paint, due to the enormous amount of surface area to cover. In order for the Defiler to match the rest of the army I needed to reshape every single component to give the model a battered and decayed look. I did this in three stages; carving, texturing and surface details. The first stage is very simple, but terribly time consuming and that is to carefully use a sharp craft knife to carve into any straight edges at an angle removing any symmetry and creating a battered and dented look. It also helps if you use a rotary grinding tool to add dents to any flat areas of armour. The second stage was then to retexture the components to appear corroded. I did this by using a cocktail stick to dab very thin super glue into numerous joints and corners. These areas were then dipped into a very fine sand which once dry was vigorously scrubbed with a stiff brush. The sand and glue remaining leaves a rough texture not that dissimilar to rust. For the final stage I carved into a few sections of the hull and added open wounds, pock marks and sores. The head and gun in particular needed special attention to create a more familiar Death Guard look. Whilst I sculpted the head and added tiny filters to match the head of Typhus, Dave kindly sculpted the Death Guard icon over the battle cannon. Overall, the process of converting the Defiler centimetre by centimetre into something more corrupted took just over a month on and off.
With the exception of the back two sets of legs all of the other joints are fully articulated still, in particular the torso which can turn. Very simple to do it involves a length of plastic rod, plastic tube the same internal diameter as the rod and a little green stuff. Before attaching the torso to the lower chassis, but after the rest of the model has been assembled, drill a hole into the base of the torso wide enough to insert the plastic rod. Glue the rod in place and cut it to leave a short length a few centimetres long. Repeat the process with the lower half where the torso is to be attached drilling a wider hole large enough to insert the plastic tube. glue the tube inside the hole as far as it will fit and then cut it so that nothing sits above the height of the socket. You may need to sand the area back into a nice smooth convex shape. At this stage the green stuff is purely to fill any gaps (other than inside the tube!), so you may or may not need it depending on how you got on. That’s pretty much it, the rod on the top torso will fit snugly inside the tube allowing the top half to rotate smoothly. The best part though is the two halves can be taken apart and reassembled easily making the Defiler far easier to transport!
Painting wise I just followed the same steps as I did for the two Rhino’s and the final part of my army was complete. So where to from here?
Well, the Tournament has been and gone now at the time of writing and overall I was very pleased with the way my Death Guard performed, a truly fun army to game with down to their characterful wargear and phenomenal toughness! It also goes to prove that an army can be built with an eye to the background and yet still remain reasonably competitive. Finishing a very close Runner Up in the Best Army competition after splitting the votes with Gary Marsh’s Slaanesh force was an added bonus. As Pete Haines so amusingly described them “The Poster Boys of Nurgle”, which can’t be bad for an army whose look is supposed to be, well, foul!
On that note, I’m off to disinfect my workshop before anything nasty takes hold.