Welcome to Retro-Hammer, a series here at Master of Magic that has a look at the long and varied history of Games Workshops product line. Since the worlds of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have been around for quite a while (and Games Workshop itself has been producing games even before these were a thing) it is unsurprising that there are a decent number of weird and wonderful products that have been produced by our favourite miniatures company.
Today we will be looking at a particular specimen that has a long but tragic history within the canon of the 40K universe. An abhuman strain that has kind of gotten the raw end of the stick in terms of the fiction and model representation. No, we aren’t talking about the Squats (but I should really cover them at some point). No,today we will be looking at the humble Beastman and their history in the grim dark future.
For those of you who are not as familiar with the worlds of Warhammer Fantasy and Age of Sigmar, Beastmen are large bipedal creature that resemble half-man/half-beasts. Most of the time the beast in question is a goat or ram, but canonically Beastmen can be an amalgamation of any wild animal and a human. In the realms of fantasy these creatures are the product of the chaos energies that mutate regular humans into twisted creatures of savage intent. Firmly allied with the forces of chaos, they seek to tear down the civilized worlds of men and return them to the embrace of chaotic wilds.
As a big part of the fantasy lore it won’t surprise you to learn that like many other fantasy races, Beastmen were ported over to 40K universe when Rogue Trader hit the shelves. It might however might surprise you to know that the Beastmen of Warhammer 40,000 were not vile mutants hell bent on the destruction of mankind. No, the Beastmen of 40K were actually part of the imperium of man, and even served in the Imperial Guard.
Instead of been the product of chaos mutation, the Beastmen of Warhammer 40,000 were a strain of abhumans. Like Rattlings and Ogryns, they were the descendants of human colonies that evolved along a different evolutionary path after becoming isolated from the rest of humanity during the Age of Strife. Once reunited with the rest of mankind during the Great Crusade, Beastmen would be recruited into the ranks of the Imperial Army. They were regarded as useful but highly undisciplined warriors, ideal for suicidal assaults where brawn rather than tactical intellect was required.
While other troops disliked them for their rowdy nature, they proved themselves in multiple theatres of war and became invaluable assets to Imperial commanders. Following the events of the Horus Heresy, and the subsequent restructuring of the Imperial armed forces by Roboute Guilliman, Beastmen regiments were established in the new Astra Militarum (more commonly known as the Imperial Guard).
On the table top these loyal servants of the Imperium were represented by a couple of single piece sculpts that were designed by Jes Goodwin, as well as Trooper Gaxt of the Imperial Army set. Compared to the some of the Rogue Trader sculpts from this era, these miniatures are rather nice if a little two dimensional. I could easily see them fitting in into Guard armies now a days, looking suitable heroic despite the limitation of the sculpting technology at the time.
However, they weren’t the only Beastmen miniatures to be released during 1st edition. In 1989 Games Workshop also brought out some limited release 40K Minotaurs, which were far more unique what with the gun horns and combat fatigues. Unfortunately for collectors, these are pretty rare these days running up quite a price on second-hand sites due to limited availability.
Sadly, Beastmen like the Squats didn’t really survive past 2nd edition. In later editions of the game, Games Workshop sought to move Warhammer 40,000 farther away from its Warhammer Fantasy counterpart and create more distance between both intellectual properties. In canon this was achieved by writing in a political shift within the Imperium. Beastmen would no longer be seen in Imperial military service, as more Puritan elements of the Inquisition convinced the Departmento Munitorum that Beastmen could not be so radically different from the genetic human baseline without having been in some way affected by the taint of Chaos.
As a result, Beastmen would often be classified as mutants and be subject of sever persecution by the Adeptus Arbites. This severely affected their rights on many Imperial worlds and forbid their conscription as part of an Imperial Tithe obligation. On some worlds they would even be hunted down during anti-mutant operations conducted by the Adeptus Arbites on worlds where they had sizable populations. This persecution led many Beastmen to seek protection in the service of Chaos, bringing true the fears of the Inquisition (even if is a self-fulfilling prophecy).
However, thanks to the recent wave of nostalgia that has come out of Games Workshop in recent years, Beastmen are once again making their way into the grim dark future that is 40K. They were mention in a list of recognised abhuman strains in the Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition Rulebook, while the more Chaotic elements made their way to the table top in the form of the Tzaangors as part of the Thousand Sons army lists and more traditional specimens in Blackstone Fortress. We even got a Beastman special character in the form of Gor Half-Horn, a licenced bounty hunter available to use in Necromunda.
While it might be sad that we will never again see the likes of a full Beastman army, I’m glad these savage warriors are not totally absent from the tabletop. While Games Workshop might want to distant 40K from its fantasy roots, I personally love the more fantastical elements of the grim dark future. And who knows. Maybe one day we could once again see cyber minotaur’s with laser horns standing shoulder to shoulder with Space Marines. Well, a man can dream right.
We hope you have enjoyed this drive into the retro past of Games Workshop’s product line. What would you like us to talk about next? Let us know in the comments below or find me on twitter @MTGTengu and maybe we will talk about it next time.
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