Today we're looking at the design evolution of the Space Marine Jump Pack and to a degree, their backpacks. We're not looking at the in-universe "lore" explanation as I have long ago recognized the fluidic nature of 40K lore and besides others have already done a better job than I could pull off in achieving such a compilation*. 

White Dwarf house ad for the RTBO1 boxset. 

The Space Marine backpack has been part of the design gestalt of the Imperial Space Marines since the very first blister pack hit the stands. Just what exactly it did was something of a mystery and some players may have had debates regarding it's actual function though; at least in the earliest days of the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader game.

The Rogue Trader book was both crammed full of detail and also innuendo. Even after countless hours of emersion early players could still discover something "new" the next time they opened that tome. The lead army for the game were the Imperial Space Marines and most players at the time had this boxed set. Indeed, for many it was their intro to the game and often they had this set before they even bought the rules. And the confusion set in right away with the stuff printed on the back of first plastic boxed set, RTBO1...

The back of the RTB01 box. Still very inspiring to me! particular this bit of detail:

The Parts Guide of Truth. (Apocryphal). 

Notice that the copy under the backpack says "Jet Pack"? Notice also that the holstered Bolt Pistol above it says "Needle Gun"? Well, no one in my circle of friends ever second guessed these diagrams, after all they were so precise, how could these be mistakes?  So many a marine was built holding a holstered Bolt Pistol in firing position and claiming it was a needle gun (this eventually stopped, not just because the mistake was figured out, but because back then the rules for needlers sucked! No really, it was the only gun in the game that ever granted the target a +1 to save from it! ) But also we assumed that these were intended to be Jump Packs. Yes, to be fair the box doesn't say that (it says "Jet Pack") but neither does the Rogue Trader book (i.e. "Stabilizing Jets"). The Legiones Astartes army list in the Rogue Trader book doesn't provide an option to buy Jump Packs either but it does say that the whole squad could be equipped with Flight Packs if the GM's scenario called for it.

Look at... the Nozzle. 

The Rogue Trader book does describe that Marine Powered Armor could be used in space, and it's clear that this is where their breathable air would be stored. Later publications would touch on all this and tell us that these nozzles were to help with zero-G stabilization and short movement thrusts in space. But back in the late '80s this was assumed at best. However some people assumed wrong. It didn't help that even GW's artists didn't seem too sure either. The classic image by Paul Bonner of the Jump Pack wearing Imperial Guardsmen ambushing orks is the obvious evidence of this.

Art by Paul Bonner.

And so it was assumed that those things on the Marines backs had to be Jump Packs and big engine looking things illustrated in the Rogue Trader book had to be Flight Packs. This was not supported by the rules at all, but it was a confusing time.

Flight Packs as illustrated in Rogue Trader.

Eventually White Dwarf published an expanded army list for Space Marines, and for the first time we were introduced to the concept of Assault Marines and in that listing there would be found a 20 point option for Jump Packs. Eventually the catalogs would be updated showing all the previously released metal backpacks, but most importantly the bigger pack now being labeled as a Jump Pack.

Rogue Trader era metal back packs.

You'll notice the Chaos Backpack there also, and the Realm Of Chaos books from those early days did little to explain why these packs were so different from they loyalist counterparts other than that Traitor Marines enjoyed embellishing their armor. A quick search online will reveal that many players in various forums over the years have discussed this topic at length with no precise conclusions (not that I have found anyway). It's also interesting to note that these early Chaos backpacks had a more organic look to them whereas the ones produced after the release of the Second Edition Codex: Chaos had a more mechanical design with countless variants released since then. 

When Warhammer 40.000 2nd edition was released, it was now clear as day that the bigger packs were the jump packs, that the nozzles on the Space Marine back packs were not consequential for game play but were simply part of the defining look of the Space Marines. Also, flight packs were simply no longer in the game and to my knowledge have never returned (unless you count the Tau). In both editions of the game the jump packs simply gave you a speedier movement option. You could still move your models using their standard Movement rate if you wanted too, you just now had this handy option that allowed you to jump up and over obstacles. In Rogue Trader the amount in height that you jumped could reduce your forward movement. Rogue Trader was full of game mechanics more suited for a scaled down simulation than an actual game, but arguably that is that edition's beauty. Same with 2nd edition as well, only it wasn't quite as fine about these details. In both versions there was a chance that jump pack users could deviate and scatter, which made adhering to Unit Coherency a real challenge.

Second Edition era Assault Marines. Yes, that guy has a bolter.

Welcome to Warhammer 40,000 3rd edition, where all that you previously knew has been wiped out and reset down to the most gamey of basic game play. In 3rd edition jump pack wearers can simply move up to 12"  in the movement phase and charge 6" in the assault phase. By simply donning a jump pack your Troop Type changes, which seemed extreme at the time but made complete sense in the context of the game. An important aspect of this is is that instead of the complexities imposed on their movement action by the height of the intervening terrain, they simply ignore it. Unless they land on it. in which case there was a 1 in 6 chance that the model crashes and is removed with no armor save allowed. Ouch! Over 20 years later, we** still speak of Da Masta Cheef's Ultra Marine Chaplin that totally killed himself by trying to land on top of a bunker. It was glorious!

The metal. 

By the end of 3rd edition the cumbersome metal Jump Packs were replaced by the handy and much lighter plastic versions that I believe are still around to this day. This was a real blessing as those old metal pieces were fairly heavy and clunky and got a little frustrating during play. Even more so if one attempted to put a metal one of these on a plastic figure.

The plastic. 

For the next few editions there wasn't much evolution with the specific Jump Pack rules so much as there was with the terrain rules and their interaction. Long gone is the risk of suicide by simply trying to land on a smooth surface just because it's elevation is higher.***

Although the design for standard (Firstborn) Space Marine jump pack hasn't changed since the '90s, there has been a retrospective need to have Horus Heresy era jump packs for games set in that period that kind of feel like the old Rogue Trader era designs but now have a central jet.
So much heresy...

 For those of you who would rather have something that feels much closer to that Rogue Trader design on their Marines, check out Fromthewarp's brilliant D.I.Y. tutorial. 

In the last few decades we have had Blood Angel versions with ornate wing designs and other variations but for the most part the look of the Space Marine Jump Pack has remained fairly consistent. That was until return of The Primarch and the introduction to the galaxy (and game) of the Primaris variants of Space Marine. These guys don't just wear a special pack, they have a unique unit type called Inceptors with specialized armor and weapons with additional thrusters on their legs as well. This design will likely forever change the look of the jumping Assault Marine (for better or worse, depends on one's point of view) as it is more dynamic thanks to it's unique flight stand (which apparently is very fragile and I have seen a lot of grumbling regarding it). 

Primaris Inceptors. 

What I like most about the design is the look of the large thrusters on the back pack that harkens back to the original jump pack model released in the Rogue Trader era, and I appreciate that a lot. Maybe one day I will finally build mine...


Whew! This one took ages for me to write and compile, so I hoped you liked it. I am curious if anyone reading this played as far back as '87-'90 and and can recall anyone else being baffled by the stuff on the back of the RTB01 box or not. Or if you have any stories regarding fumbles and heroics while employing a jump pack in any edition of Warhammer 40,000. If so, leave a comment please! 

* Indeed, check out the \Jump_Pack wiki
**By "we" I mean "me" and like, every chance I get! 
***I like to think that Cheef's Chaplin died in the scientific pursuit for the betterment of table-top terrain mechanics.