Dreams to Reality: Thematic Armies

There are countless reasons why you may want to get thematic army on the tabletop for you next GT. Maybe you want to be a special snowflake and have something that everyone oohh’s and aahh’s over. Maybe you just finished a great book from the Black Library and are desperate to replicate a force featured in the book. Or maybe you are eager to earn points on the hobby track and are looking for ways to include conversions in your army. Regardless of why you want a thematic army, there are several tips to keep in mind when starting this sort of army.

From grot to boy to nob, each model here has war paint, thematic details and a splash of accent color to help tie the whole army together.

Stick with the theme for the entire army. Nothing will destroy the immersive effect of a truly thematic army like having a unit or two that are simply bolt standard or aesthetically don’t meet the flavorful character of the rest of the army. Unloved units that do not look like the rest of your thematic army, will have eyes drawn to them as they stick out like sore thumbs … and this is exactly what you do not want people focusing on when you have such awesome stuff on the table. So keep in mind that even the lowliest of guardsmen should do a proper job of fitting in with the rest of the army.

The standard 40K grots on the left had feathers added to them so that they followed the aesthetic requirements set for the theme and fit in better with the forest/spider goblin grots from AoS on the right.

Head swaps are easy to do and totally affect the whole appearance of a model because people naturally first look at faces. So a mini may be entirely standard, but a head variant on it, can make the entire mini seem like a custom sculpt. Full on kit bashes of course take things even further and can lead to some astonishingly creative builds. Finding two kits that work well can inspire the entire theme for building an army. The torsos and legs of the AoS Freeguild Greatswords set can allow for a very thematic medieval vibe which a full detachment of various infantry troopers can be built around. Or as I have done with my army, the Savage Orruks box became the foundation for the majority of the models that make my 40K Feral Orks.

These Snakebite feral 40k orks all have a foundation based on the Savage Orruks from AoS.

Search the FLG Second Hand Shop and the web for hard to find old/classic models that could be units in your army. Games Workshop has been around for a surprisingly long time and there are plenty of gems that are no longer in production but have so much potential for use in an army going for a certain aesthetic or theme. So many out of production minis make great character choices or can help fill out multi-model units with thematic anchors.

Each of these is an old , out of production metal model that simply had to be included in the army because they fit the them perfectly…even if it meant spending way too much on a beat-up old Warhammer Fantasy Ork Shaman.

Tacking on little details can make a big difference in how the whole army is viewed. Simply adding a backpack, or icon, or doodad to each model in your army can quickly make it fit a theme. Especially if these little items are highlighted with brighter paint colors or techniques to stand out and get attention. GW already sells upgrade packs for various Space Marine chapters that have accessories and details to theme-up your power armor troopers. But you can find plenty of details from all sorts of kits that can be combined with the base model that you are building upon. Have an aquatic themed Eldar army? Then conceder taking bits from the new Idoneth Deepkin range from Age of Sigmar. Want to make your Astra Militartum army come across as a Imperial militia or PDF detachment? then Genestealer Cult kits have auto guns and random grenades/pouches that should do the trick. There are so many awesome sets between AoS, 40K, and the specialist games, that chances are several options you can buy that would work perfectly for your theme.

Little bits not only add huge personality, but they are crucial in helping to tell a story about the army and carry the theme to each and every model.

With a thematic army you can, and likely should, take the opportunity to totally go all-out on converting and themeing-up key centerpiece models. Whether they are character models on 40mm bases or massive Lords of War that dominate the table landscape, these are the units that will really carry the army’s concept and get the most attention. Take time with these and really get creative.

Paint is a simple, safe way to keep your whole army cohesive even if some models are crazy conversions while others are built straight out of the box. Using the same color palette can blend even the most generic of models into the rest of a fighting force that may be filled with over the top customization. This is especially the case with models like Space Marines that have such defined colors schemes- you can branch away from those GW created schemes and paint your minis in a totally unique way that fits the theme you envisioned even if there are zero kit bashes or bits added on. Find a color palette that you like and are comfortable with. It needs to include some bold accent colors. Then use this set of colors on every single model in the army.

The orange of skin of the dino, brown leather straps, and bone color of the teeth /claws all match the accent colors of the infantry used in this army.

Make sure you have a theme you love; A theme you are passionate about. And then you must also accept that you will likely never be uber competitive with this army. It will take you far too long to kit bash and lovingly paint models to meet the pace of the ever changing meta with a totally converted army. Plus, some themes simply do not lend themselves to ever being that good. As much as you may love Leman Russ Battle Tanks, making an entire army that is purely armored units with zero infantry is probably not going to do that good in an ITC event. If you love the concept of your thematic force enough, then getting your your butt kicked during competitive matches should not deter you from playing with your army.

When using this fun, thematic hoard of feral orks, the final score is really not that important.

Thinking about the above points should hopefully help you finally get a fully built and painted thematic army on the table top…even if it means your next GT record is going to look more like 1-4, than 4-1.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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About Kicker

40K fanboy with a long term career plan to become Han Solo somehow. People say I have a lot of energy, am loyal, and love walks outside- so I am basically a Labrador. When not rolling dice, recklessly roaming around in a national park, training for some expedition or road race, then I am busy running DamnDog: www.DamnDogHQ.com

10 Responses to “Dreams to Reality: Thematic Armies”

  1. Avatar
    Jace April 15, 2020 1:17 am #

    These look awesome! Do you have a full gallery anywhere?

    • Avatar
      Kicker April 15, 2020 5:46 am #

      Hey Jace ! Thanks! Glad you like the army! And this is just a small part of it! haha! I have 9 deffkoptas made from Ripperdactyls too. I don’t have a full gallery of these guys yet, but I hope to post more pictures in future hobby blog articles.

  2. Avatar
    John Bush April 15, 2020 3:43 am #

    I think spellcheck changed aesthetic to atheistic. Pretty sure you’re talking about the look of the models, not their godlessness. 😁

    • Avatar
      Kicker April 17, 2020 4:51 am #

      Hahaha ! John you are absolutely correct! Thanks and I just made the update!

  3. Avatar
    Fisheyes April 15, 2020 6:25 am #

    That is beautiful. Reminds me of the orks in the artwork from the D&D novel “The Thousand Orcs”.

    Something I have always wanted to re-create, but time/money/life never allowed. Glad to see someone else doing it!

    • Avatar
      Kicker April 17, 2020 4:53 am #

      Thanks Fisheyes! This was literally a year long passion project that used up all my hobby $$$ for the year. It was fun, but not something I ever want to do again!

  4. Avatar
    Office Waaagh! April 15, 2020 8:13 am #

    Awesome stuff! Have you had any trouble playing these in a tournament?

    I’m in the planning stages of a pirate ork army that uses the Kharadron airships as trucks and battle wagons, as soon as I can get models again. I kit bashed some nobz with flash gitz parts to make pirate nobz and they fill me with joy.

    • Avatar
      Kicker April 17, 2020 4:56 am #

      I have had zero problems with playing in RTT and smaller events with this army. People get they are orks and the bigger the thing is, the more dangerous it is likely to be. Plus, all weapons and bases sizes are correct. And almost every conversion is made to be bigger than the model it represents- meaning harder to hide. The Pirate orks sound amazing!!!

  5. Avatar
    Rasmus.H April 16, 2020 1:12 am #

    Awesome inspiration.

    In the start-up of doing something very similar myself, using the savage orks models. But the theme will be an ork army in the style of the Octarius Wars. A very battered ork army that fought tyranids endlessly for years. Weapons being ad-hoc choppas made out of tyranid claws, vehicles being “looted” carnifexes, artillery being enslaved biovores with ork tech strapped on. All orks covered in scars and tyranid slime/blood, bases being a planet that went through having two destructive endless forces going at each other for years.

    I would very gladly take advice on how you managed to put the shoota army on the savage ork bodies. And some other things, if you can spare the time.

    Cheers.

    /Rasmus

    • Avatar
      Kicker April 17, 2020 5:02 am #

      Hey Rasmus! Your army sounds very creative and could lead to great conversions! The shoota Boyz were the biggest pain in the butt. Torso, legs, and head is savage ork. Just the arms and gun were 40K boys. I glued the arms to the torsos but because they fit differently then the standard savage orks arms, there is a large gap and some weird disfigurement let when using the 40K arms. I went back to each and every one and added green stuff to fill the gap and make it look like part of the shoulder blades and back muscles. Not pretty if inspected closely, but with painting everything blends in pretty well. Good luck with your project!

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