Warhammer 40k is the most popular wargame on the planet, full stop. It is a sprawling franchise that encompasses novels, video games, a theatrically released film, RPG’s, board games and miniature games (that happen to dominate its industry). The grimdark future world created by the Games Workshop design team decades ago still captures the imagination of gamers across the world and drives sales of a massive product line and supporting hobby supplies. This doesn’t surprise me; the world of 40k (and 30k) is pretty fucking cool. Even as I’ve aged out of their core demographic, Games Workshops dark vision of space has a lot that can draw me back in. Powerful imagery, insane power struggles and every aspect of military cultures turned up to 11. Massive hive cities where 100’s of millions of inhabitants live on top of each other in Dickensian despair, in their midst hide alien conspiracies and brutal gang warfare. Powerful manifestations of chaotic gods pour forth from a rip in space and time so massive its swallowed whole planetary systems.A devout order of space fascists, sitting in a fortified monastery on a surviving chunk of their destroyed planet, secretly hunting traitors from their own order. This world is batshit crazy and insane in some of the best possible ways. It’s a Tolkien fantasy world ripped to pieces, thrown into deep space andstitched back together with a punk rock ethos, space opera drama and a heaping helping of gothic trappings. Warhammer 40k is without question the showpiece game of the hobby (for better or for worse). It is the most popular, best selling, widely known and most visible game of the entire wargaming world. Sadly, it’s a game that is still lacking in female representation, and that’s some shameful shit. It’s a world that quite frankly deserves female Space Marines.
In one of my desperate bouts of wargaming loneliness, those barren stretches of the hobby where you just aren’t getting a game, I tried to convince my wife to play some Warhammer. She bluntly declined my offer, but didn’t want to miss the chance to teach me a lesson, so she asked, “do you have an army for me to play that is entirely women?” A quick mental inventory told me I didn’t. “What about one that is led by women?” she followed up. I said no. My armies were predominately male, with only a small number even having female figures. “Well, maybe that is why I’m not so excited to play.” Now she was just attempting to prove a point. If had instantly produced an army of warrior women, Adeptas Sororitas or something similar, I doubt rolling dice and imaginary battle on our dinning room table would have suddenly excited her. She had, at this point, become incredibly skilled at swerving participation in the nerdier of my hobbies. More female miniature representation in the game wasn’t actually going to convince my wife to play now, she isn’t interested, but what about others? What about people first coming to the game at any stage of their life? Is this game I love, this hobby I adore, as welcoming as it should be to all?
Wargaming in general is a male dominated hobby. While there are a stalwart crew of women 40k gamers out there, observe just about any tourney, store game or convention, and women make up a serious minority. Miniature gaming isn’t always the friendliest environment for anyone that doesn’t identify as straight and male. This doesn’t mean the players are throwing up tree house style signs saying “No Gurls Allowd.” There are a ton of players who are awesome and welcoming to whoever shows an interest in the hobby, instead, there are more subtle forces at play here. Just one of those forces is the representation and availability of female miniatures in the game. If someone wants to build an army that shares their gender, and they happen to be a woman, the choices are pretty fucking limited. Now I know there are plenty of women who don’t care about playing with female miniatures. Not everyone wants a proxy of themselves, but having the opportunity, especially as it is so clearly given to men, is something we as a gaming culture should be striving towards. This is about inclusiveness, about someone just potentially getting into the hobby and looking at their options. When they do so, when they look at the choices, they’re primarily seeing penises, real talk. Seriously, the lack of female Space Marines is disturbing.
Now there is a very good reason I’m concentrating on Space Marines. There are, in the entirety of the 40k model range, some representation of female figures. Both flavors of space elves have a handful; some of the other races also pitch in with some female sculpts, and there are non-obviously gendered races as well that “could” be male, female, or some other specific flavor. There are even Adeptus Sororitas who represent an entire female force. But being honest, Space Marines are 40k. Taking a quick look at the current web catalog, Adeptus Astartes (Space Marines) have 167 products listed (the Adeptus Sororitas only have 27). This isn’t even including other chapters with their own listings such as Blood Angels, Dark Angels and Space Wolves or the traitor legions in Chaos Space Marines. All together we’re looking at well over 300 unique products that are Space Marines, and pretty much none of them female. There are more Space Marine figures in 40k (counting loyalist and chaos) than any other range by far. The 30k universe is essentially just battles between these armored space fascists. GW’s latest big release was just a box of Space Marines ready to beat the hell out of each other, they didn’t even bother having a different side, just all Space Marines all the time. Every 40k starter box set in its history has involved Space Marines. Sure there are other armies with rich back stories, but the best selling, most played and most officially supported armies, by a massive fucking amount, are these power armored hulks. And when the most popular army, from the most popular wargame, by the biggest wargaming company includes no female miniatures, this is a problem.
(Pair of my women Space Marines)
Maybe it is our DIY and punk roots, but here at Corehammer, if a huge and faceless corporation doesn’t provide something, we advocate just doing it your fucking self. Sure Games Workshop could, and probably should, be doing more, but I don’t have control over that, and my bout of ranting on the internet probably isn’t going to change their mind. So since I think female Space Marines should exist, I’m just going to make some. This is actually shockingly easy as far as conversions go. I hesitate to actually call it a conversion since it is really just building marines for the most part. You see the great thing about female Space Marines is that, while in armor, they’d look exactly like the giant Games Workshop range of male Astartes. Seriously, helmeted figures don’t need an ounce of conversion. Those models without helmets, because for some reason, these space knights fucking love the “helmet off” look, just need a quick head swap with a suitably heroic female head and they’re all set. Replacement heads can either stolen from other miniatures, or purchased quite easily from online shops such as Bad Squiddo Games (my source).
It is important to understand, when men and women are genetically modified into giants and placed in bulky power armor, there would be almost no perceptible differences, especially at the miniatures scale. Looking at women in armor, whether bulky modern versions, or more accurate for Space Marines, medieval armor, you’ll see almost no change in the silhouette. Since Space Marines are essentially space knights wielding space swords and axes, it makes sense that they’re in essence, clad in space armor. Therefore, the best places to look critically at how women would look in “space armor” reside in the all-encompassing plate armor of the later medieval period. While helmeted, it’d be pretty hard to tell if it were a man or woman encased in all that steel. This means that ridiculously modeled boob armor can (and should) be avoided, as it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. So it really is that simple, re-purpose the entire existing range into women, swap out the heads for anyone bareheaded and you have a female marine army. Sorted.
But could female marines exist within the game world of 40k? To answer this question, it is imperative to understand how the “world” of 40k tends to shape the armies players build. There are three distinct sections of the 40k universe something can fit into.
- Canon: This has been written about or explained by Games Workshop. Players sticking strictly within the boundaries of what has been defined by GW in novels, rulebooks, expansions etc… Canon is relatively easy to define, as much like a historical event, one could simply explain the source that confirms their army’s choices (colors, formation, backstory etc…).
- Possible: These are things that could be in the 40k universe, but don’t strictly follow the written material. This range goes from “probable” to “unlikely” and can be imagined as closer or further from “canon.” Probable could be an Ultramarine successor chapter that closely follows the Codex Astartes but is not mentioned in the books. “Unlikely” would be something that could exist but is much more of a leap from the “canon.”
- Everything Else: This is where the dreaded “Counts As” armies would live. These armies, while sometimes incredibly creative, would not possibly exisit in the 40k universe. This is where pipe cleaners shaped to spell “Blood Letters,” Despicable Me Minion armies and Smurf Marines etc… would fit in.
Most Warhammer 40k armies fit into the “Possible” category, adhering to the universe but taking a small amount of liberties to bring something unique or interesting to the table. I firmly believe female Space Marines would sit just within the possible category, right out near the edge, but definitely within the bubble and not a “Counts As.” Although Games Workshop has not to my knowledge written of the existence of women Astartes (and has repeatedly represented it as an all male order), a little creativity fits them into the world on either the loyalist or traitor side. Space Marines are recruited from human worlds, taking young members of the native population that display the warrior traits required to serve the Emperor in his elite core of space fascists. It seems quite possible that a number of worlds had women develop as the warrior caste (or fuck it, both men and women could be warriors, crazy thought) and would therefore provide the recruiting stock for a legion. The geneseed would have to be modified, an art long thought lost in the 40k universe, but possibly desperate times, chaos mutations, luck or an accident created some form of female compatible geneseed. Maybe there was a female primarch whose geneseed has been kept secret? We don’t know anything about a couple of them as they’re missing/stricken from the record. The 40k universe is ridiculously massive, and intentionally has large sections left unexplained after almost 30 years of constant detailing. These gaps in the canon can and should be used by people to tailor the world to their ideals, to the details that make them happy. Who knows what lurks in some corner space. The idea is not to find something that makes women Space Marines canon, as that is not the point, it is merely to find possible narrative hooks or explanations that allow you to express your creativity and preferences within what should be an extremely creative and welcoming game.
So what should you do when you encounter women space marines across the table from you? I would suggest simply saying, “That’s cool, what is their backstory?” What you shouldn’t do is attack their creative choices, question their validity to be there or try and argue them into submission. We should be having fun remember. Basically, you should be doing the same thing you do when you encounter any opponent, don’t be a dick. If for some reason the idea of someone making a female Space Marine chapter, or a chapter that includes female marines, is so upsetting to you and your vision of the 40k universe that it would ruin your enjoyment, you really need to have a long hard look at yourself. It might not actually be true, but one of the ideas I hold dear within gaming (and punk/hardcore as well) is that we’re a band of outsiders, people who live a little bit off center from the rest. There are a lot of kindred spirits out there, I want it easy to find each other, and only having Space Marines with XY chromosomes just doesn’t make it as easy as it should be. If you’ve added some women Astartes to your force and someone is acting like a bag of dicks about it, I’m sorry, I hope you can find some better people to game with and know that we support you.
Here is a solid set of images featuring a lot of women in armor that AREN’T chainmail bikinis. Here