Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Iron Hands: A little back-story


Hello everyone.

It’s been a while.

How are you?

Well, that’s nice/unfortunate (delete as applicable).

Anyway, back to it.

Ages back, I wrote an Iron Hands fandex for a codex competition.  I possibly wrote too much, as the word count for that little project topped that of my University dissertation.  There might be something wrong with me.  The Iron Hands are, I think, the least representing of the loyalist Legions.  Even now, I believe that’s true, although the White Scars are similarly under-represented (but at least they get a Special Character in the Marine Codex).  The Iron Hands get nothing.  They don’t get a Special Character, they don’t get their own Chapter Tactics, they don’t even get a larger than average chapter description in the codex.  They are paid as much heed as the Mentors or the Death Spectres.  Nothing against those two chapters, but as one of the original Legions, I would expect a whole lot more.

Especially as they were one of the things that got into 40k in the first place.  The idea of genetically enhanced super-soldiers in hulking power armour was cool enough to the fourteen year old me, but ones that voluntarily cut off their own limbs and replaced them with robot ones?  That was just creepy.  In precisely the right way.  Anyway, this is all just a roundabout prelude to what I actually wanted to talk/write about today.

Chatting with people at the Black Library Live event last month got me thinking about the tenth legion, and I decided to invest myself in them a little more.  The epically overblown fandex had been lying fallow for yonks and I thought that if I wanted to make the Iron Hands feel right in the game, I’d need to find out a bit more about them before crafting rules.  So I picked up the Iron Hands novel, which was available there in its reprint format.  It helped that the book is very nice looking to boot.  There is precious little illuminating back-story for the Iron Hands (until Wrath of Iron comes out, I think that they only have one novel), but this has the side-effect of almost allowing me a greater sense of authorship in deciding (at least in my own head) what this chapter is like.  Wow, that was a crappy sentence.  I’ll try to phrase it better.

It’s one thing to be told that a chapter does this thing and that thing and have these habits and so on, but another thing to be told why.  With little pre-existing written about them, I was relatively free to make up my own personalities to give the chapter.  They favour Dreadnoughts; they prefer the mechanistic to the biological, considering the latter to be flawed and inferior.  They don’t brook weakness and (in the 41st millennium at any rate), they are relatively outcast; partially due to unacceptably close ties to the Mechanicus and partially of their own volition.  They are looked down on by most of the other chapters and they look down on most of the other chapters in turn.  But these are all superficial aspects, all effects rather than causes.  What type of personality would be the root of all these quirks?

That is one of the things that I had most fun with and that I found most gratifying in creating the Iron Hands fandex.  Constructing the personality that I felt best fit the preferences of the chapter and I found that personality fascinating.  I understand that this may seem like egregious self-praise.  It’s not meant to be.  I’ve always been good at rationalising things so, when it came to the bizarre nature of the Iron Hands in the grand scheme of things, the personality I hit upon was a mix of self-loathing and arrogance.  A constant striving towards improvement, to overcome perceived weakness in themselves.  A lot of this reaches back to the Heresy.  The value of replacing the ‘flawed’ biological system with machinery was something that had existed since Manus, so that was not new.  However, back then it was in emulation of a father figure and according to a creed of instruction.  The Heresy, I believed, had turned this into a full-on psychosis.

The Iron Hands were hit early by the Heresy and hit hard.  In practically the first full engagement against the fresh traitor legions, their Primarch was cast down and desecrated and much of the Legion was destroyed.  This had caused the self-loathing of the chapter, the belief that they were not strong enough, that they were imperfect.  Their father had told them that through the Creed of Iron after all.  Their contempt for the other legions though was probably because the betrayal of Manus by Fulgrim was that much more personal.  Anyone who’s read the Horus Heresy series (or pieces thereof) will have figured out pretty quickly that a lot of the Primarchs don’t like each other.  In fact, full-on friendships between them were quite rare.  The friendship between Fulgrim and Manus was one of the rare, honest ones (at least before it all kicked off).  And Fulgrim tore it up, killing his friend and brother brutally.  And if a friend can do that, it is natural to shy away from such bonds in the future.

This happens (albeit less hyperbolically and more metaphorically) in real life.  If a good friend betrays you if you perceive that s/he has done so, then it’s not only that friendship that suffers.  The seed of doubt has been planted in all your other relationships too.  Are they really you’re friends?  You thought this other one was your friend and s/he betrayed you.  Why are these other friendships so different?  It’s natural to close yourself off, to isolate yourself from future possibilities of betrayal.  It’s a variant on the whole Night Lords ‘betray before you are betrayed’ ethos, but focussed more on preventing betrayal by never giving anyone the opportunity.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on a little, and lunchtime is definitely over.  So I’ll leave this cod-psychological analysis where it is.  Next time, I’ll go over a couple of pieces of literature about the tenth legion and review and compare: Iron Hands (the novel) and Flesh (the short story).  Who knows, I may even try and wax pseudo-psychological again.

So long!


Gnash said...

Definitely looking forward to more Iron Handsy goodness, especially after reading your last snippet

Ty said...

I find the parallels between the Iron Hands and Emperor's Children to be interesting. They both strive for perfection (at least in 30k) but by totally different means. The fact it was Fulgrim who killed Manus, and the Emperor's Children (at least in part) who devastated their Legion must have had a very negative effect on the psyche of the Iron Hands.