• On Playing a Female Space Marine

    by  • July 5, 2012 • People & Events • 26 Comments

    For the past two years, 99% of my gaming has been recorded and put on the internet for posterity (that remaining one percent is the odd con-game or game-we-played-while-too-drunk-to-be-coherent). Playing for a podcast has a whole set of challenges and rewards, with the number one being the fact that there is an Audience. An Audience who (usually) loves you, wants to help you out (I can’t tell you how many times we get reminded of bonuses we were forgetting to take in the comments), and makes suggestions.

    And sometimes, they won’t stop making that suggestion.

    Which is how the Fandible crew ended up tackling Warhammer 40K’s Deathwatch setting. Specifically, playing a bunch of space marines.

    For those unfamiliar with WH40K canon, space marines are the elite of the elite. Giants of men, capable of superhuman feats of strength even before they strap on their ridiculous power armor, wielding weapons that can flatten a regular person with just a glancing blow.

    They are also all, very explicitly, men. Space marines are made, not born, and “something” about that process doesn’t work on women. Women have a separate (oh, but totally equal /s) class, the Sisters of Battle, who are cool in their own right…but they aren’t space marines.

    My group plays a lot of WH40K so, considering all of the questions we were getting about whether or not we were going to try Deathwatch, we knew we had to at least address it, either making some sort of unequivocal statement that it wasn’t going to be played, or figure out a way to make it work for our group. Our group that is 3-4 men at any given time, and then little ol’ me.

    We figured there were three ways we could go about setting up Deathwatch:

    1. I play as a male space marine
    2. I play as a Sister of Battle
    3. I play the Inquisitor, a more-or-less badass normal who leads the Space Marines
    4. We say “screw canon” and include a female space marine.

    Well, since I’m writing a post about playing a female space marine, I think it’s pretty obvious which route we decided to go with.

    But my GM went about including my female space marine with what I found to be a fairly deft hand. He crafted a backstory that would explain my character’s existence and underscore how out of place she was without totally spitting in the face of WH40K canon.

    Or, well, so we thought – when we posted the first podcast of our first session, we had one listener say that he loved our stuff and intended to keep listening to our podcast overall, but this particular game was going to be deleted without even listening to it, because “Deathwatch is a no go for me now so long as the above mentioned FSM is still around.[…] Seriously, if you have to change a basic, fundamental fact..[sic] if you must change the universe in order to tell a story, then you’re a bad story teller.”

    But aside from that one voice of dissent, we actually had a lot of positive feedback from that first session, and Deathwatch became a four-part game telling the story of my character, The First, aka Boudicca.

    It was a very interesting experience for me on multiple levels. For one thing, I’ve never been the center of a campaign before. My characters have been the focus of an individual gaming session maybe, but the whole story of this campaign was first, Boudicca proving herself worthy of fighting for the Emperor rather than being shot on sight, and second, tracking down the heretical Cardinal who thought he could overthrow the Emperor by creating his all-female space marine army.

    Playing a space marine is a wholly unique experience. There is almost nothing that can stand in the way of an individual space marine, and fewer things that can stand in the way of three or four of them working together. So while there was often a moment when meeting new NPCs that they would be surprised to see a woman under the power armor of a space marine, no one outside of one NPC on our side was going to make a big deal out of it, because Boudicca could literally squish most people under her (massive) boots. Gendered insults and violence are often a risk in a “dark” and “gritty” setting like WH40K but, again, not for a freakin’ space marine.

    But as a player and as a character, my female space marine was more cognizant of her gender than almost any other character I’ve played has been. Subconsciously at first, but eventually as a purposeful character choice on my part, Boudicca volunteered to run in first – or just would do it without consulting her male colleagues. The psyker couldn’t use his big fire blast abilities half the time because I was in the middle of melee combat with a horde. Even after it was no longer an explicit plot point, Boudicca was going to prove she was worthy of being a space marine – worthy of continuing to live – by following through with that old adage that a woman must work twice as hard and be twice as good as a man to be seen as competent. While for the first session I had her following orders like a good little marine, after that she started running in, chain sword blazing, to make sure no one could accuse her of being weak/cowardly/etc.

    As the campaign went along, the GM crafted an amazing story to explain the existence of a female space marine – there’s a reason why her name became Boudicca and it was a name that was a surprise gift at the end of the first session. The GM knew me well enough to figure that all he would have to do is give my character a mysterious vision of an ancient battle against some Romans and mention the name “Boudicca” for me to get excited. You can’t tell in the podcast version, but at the table I remember doing a big fist pump at the first mention of the name before letting out a big “FUCK YEAH!” Turns out, in our group’s version of this universe, that the “souls” of great heroes never truly die. The soul of Boudicca found a scared, broken young girl, taken away from everything she knew and loved at the hands of a mad man with a heretical idea, and Boudicca gave this girl the strength to not only survive, but to thrive, and become the first successful female space marine. Boudicca wasn’t the only soul we ran into over the course of the campaign, and it was awesome to see this story get woven together bit by bit and piece by piece, until the epic, grand finale where Boudicca the space marine finally earned the respect and the trust of her fellow marines.

    Deathwatch probably isn’t a game that we’re going to be returning to as a group. Boudicca’s story has been told, and the insane power level of space marines just isn’t something that holds my group’s interest in the long run. On the one hand, I’m glad that we tackled such a restrictive setting because I don’t think this story would have been as unique in a setting that had total gender parity. On the other hand, I think the idea of limiting a fantasy class to just one gender is boring and ignores that part of this hobby that is supposed to be fun. I’m already told I “can’t” do things in the real world because of my gender, why on Earth would I want games trying to pull the same line?



    Lifelong geek and feminist, my geeky passions include YA books, movies, and role playing. I've been playing table top games on and off for almost ten years with a wide variety of games under my belt in that time. Born and raised in Michigan, I've fulfilled a life-long dream and now live in New York City with my spouse and three cats. My gaming exploits are recorded at http://www.fandible.com

    26 Responses to On Playing a Female Space Marine

    1. avatar
      July 5, 2012 at 16:18

      I’m curious why your group chose to go the “only woman in the Space Marines” place. Not that I think its a bad choice, but my initial instinct is to go even farther and discard the idea that the Space Marines are a gendered organization. Maybe in this particular W40K universe the Space Marines are 50/50.

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      • avatar
        Angela Craft
        July 5, 2012 at 17:10

        If I’d been the GM, that’s absolutely how it would have gone. But the group as a whole had an interest in exploring the idea of a singular female space marine, paying respect to the game’s larger canon that says “this should not exist.” I think that helped us create a unique story for our group – we often do big action/adventure stories, but by having just the one female space marine it let us explore some socio-political issues that Warhammer in general, and Deathwatch in particular, doesn’t often give us a lot of room for.

        (I’ll note that I’m by no means a WH40k expert. This may just be a peculiar quirk of my group and there are Warhammer iterations that allow for more personal stories, and we just haven’t discovered/taken advantage of them yet)

        • avatar
          July 5, 2012 at 17:15

          Female Space Marines and WH40K canon is very much a hot-button topic within the fandom. The only only *short* discussions on the matter are the ones that end with “MOD POST: Yeah, I’m closing this thread before it gets out of hand.”

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    2. avatar
      July 5, 2012 at 16:54

      … /Boudicca/. Pardon me while I quietly squee. :) I really, really love the dichotomy you describe between her being a potential object of IC contempt (“Ew, a FSM!”) and the fact that people will tend to be afraid to *express* that contempt, what with her being /a damn Space Marine/. I will be checking out the Fandible podcast /forthwith/.

      I once talked a (very kindly patient) GW retail staffer’s ear off for an hour about my disapproval of the lack of female Space Marines. I have a draft of a *very* long post about it saved somewhere.

      The big thing that bugs me is (1) no one is as individually bad-ass as the Space Marines (not even the Sisters of Battle), and (2) the Space Marines are the center of so much WH40K marketing. The way GW presents it to the general public, their world *is* the Space Marines, and the Space Marines are a boys-only club. Boys’ clubs tend to stay boys’ clubs unless you take active steps to break this cycle, and GW, far from taking such steps, instead takes steps to reinforce it. When I walk into a GW store, it looks the way comic shops looked 10 years go.

      In my army, about half the named Marines are construed as female; for those with heads not concealed by helmets, I’ve used third party female heads on the models.

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      • avatar
        Angela Craft
        July 5, 2012 at 17:16

        Psh. Why squee quietly? I sure didn’t 😉

        The “separate but equal” thing with the Sisters of Battle *really* irked me. If it were actually true, I think I could handle it, but when has “separate but equal” worked as well in practice as it does in theory?

        That’s really interesting that GW presents the world as filled with Space Maines. We’ve played through several different WH40K games now and we rarely run into the Space Marines. I don’t pay attention to the marketing, just wait for my GM to tell us there’s something new going on with the game and wait for him to put a character sheet and a new book in front of me.

        • avatar
          July 5, 2012 at 17:37

          Yeah, they’re definitely not equal, in-universe or out. I haven’t read the /Deathwatch/ sourcebooks, but in the core tabletop WH40K strategy game, standard Space Marines are in most ways mechanically superior to standard Sisters of battle. This inequality is reflected in the difference in army built-point costs for them – 12 for a Sister vs. 15 to 18 for a Space Marine (depending on chapter). D’you know if there’s a similar mechanical disparity within /Deathwatch/?

          “That’s really interesting that GW presents the world as filled with Space Maines.”

          Sorry, I phrased that badly – it’s not that the universe is presented as filled with Space Marines (there are only supposed to be a million-ish of them in all the galaxy – 1,000 chapters with 1,000 members) so much as the “Warhammer 40,000 EXPERIENCE!” is filled with them. Space Marines are emblematic of the setting, and the Sisters are relegated to a quiet little corner of the fandom. The general non-WH40K-knowing public could be readily forgiven for never having heard of them.

          A few points of comparison:

          Apart from the general “Space Marine” faction, WH40K has four specific Space Marine chapters statted out as distinct, playable factions, each with their own Codex. (A Codex is an army-specific rulebook that you must own to play as that army.) The Sisters of Battle, meanwhile, had their Codex published as part of an issue of “White Dwarf”, GW’s monthly magazine; unless you own this back-issue of “White Dwarf”, you can’t play as the Sisters.

          Models for the five mechanically distinct Space Marine factions are available in-store, with as much shelf-space as any other faction. The Sisters have to be ordered online.

          GW sells a “starter kit” – a boxed set with a miniature rule book, measuring sticks, specialized dice, blast templates, and about 500 points worth of models from each of two different armies. (500 points is a very small army, but fine for a beginning player just learning the game.) The last two editions of the starter set (the only two I know anything about) featured Space Marines as one of the armies (with Tyranids and Orks as the others). Noob players are thus /by default/ encouraged to collect Space Marines in some form.

          Heck, my local GW retail store has an 8-foot tall Space Marine statue in its front window.

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          • avatar
            Angela Craft
            July 5, 2012 at 18:01

            I don’t think the Deathwatch book even addresses the Sisters of Battle, except to note that they exist as another arm of the Imperium. The rule book to create a Sisters of Battle PC is actually in the Dark Heresy line, which strikes me as kind of bizarre because Dark Heresy characters are usually the lowest ranked characters. If Sisters of Battle are supposed to play alongside Dark Heresy characters, then they certainly don’t start off nearly as strong as Space Marines do.

            I think that default encouragement to collect Space Marines plays into some larger issues role playing has with gender representations in books that I know the GaW folks have talked about exhaustively. Male is the default, woman is other, in everything from pronoun choices in rulebooks to art. By making the Space Marines so easy to collect, it’s yet another way of demonstrating that masculinity is normal and desirable in this setting, and femininity is something that you have to go out of your way to find.

          • avatar
            July 5, 2012 at 18:37

            It boggles me just /how many/ things have to go wrong for us to get to this point.

            Okay, GW, so you’ve made the decision to make the Space Marines all male. Gender in WH40K is kind of awesomely all over the map, including among playable factions. We have an all-boys army (Space Marines – really several armies) and an all-girls army (Sisters of Battle). We have a technically sexless army with stereotypically male presentation (Orks), we have an army that’s a eusocial species with countless different castes of all sorts of potential sexes (Tyranids), we have gender-integrated factions (Imperial Guard). We even have a faction (Eldar) that includes a military order that are officially Always Female, even if a few of their members are biologically male (the Howling Banshees).

            And that’s just limiting ourselves to armies that are playable in the tabletop game. If you want to look at organizations that don’t currently have their own playable faction, there’s the Inquisition and the Adeptus Mechanicus…

            I mean, there are still all kinds of *problems* wrapped up in there, but there’s kind of an awesome mix.

            GW could lead with one of the integrated factions, or sexless factions. They could make the Space Marines and Sisters of Battle a dual-focus. They could take a more ensemble-centric focus – marketing images of all the factions together, Avengers/Justice League style.

            But no. No no. WH40K is about Space Marines, and Space Marines are always male.


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          • avatar
            July 16, 2012 at 17:56

            Under the “Bringing Dark Heresy into Deathwatch” section in the Deathwatch sourcebook “Rites of Battle”, here’s something that specifically addresses the gender issue:

            “Introducing an Ascension-level [scaled-up, using a specific set of rules] PC into Deathwatch addresses a particular quirk of the setting–that of gender. Space Marines are highly archetypical figures, the warrior knights of the 41st Millenium, and although a vast range of character types exists within their ranks … they are exclusively male. However, that is not to say that players wanting to play a female character should feel left out. Any of the Ascension-level characters can be female, and there are plenty of reasons one might be attached to a Deathwatch Kill-team, potentially for an extended series of missions. In particular, an Inquisitor chould essentially lead a Kill-team on a number of missions … Furthermore, the Dark Heresy supplement Inquisitor’s Handbook contains the Adepta Sororitas career, allowing players to roleplay an archetype every bit as singular as the warrior-knight. Having a zealous Battle Sister assigned to serve alongside a Deathwatch Kill-team provides a huge range of roleplaying and interaction opportunities, and the sister has access to a range of abilities that the Space Marines do not. The Battle-Sisters and Battle-Brothers each have abilities that should compliment each other well.”

            I think it’s good that they openly address it. Another good thing about the setting presented in Deathwatch is that there is no lack of powerful female figures throughout, and many of them are in prestigious military positions. The Inquisitor in charge of the primary Deathwatch headquarters in the setting is herself a woman.

            Though Fantasy Flight deserves credit for that, the trouble still lies more with the canon set down by Games Workshop. It seems to me that there’s an extremely easy excuse for female Space Marines, though: Just say that a mutation in your Chapter’s gene seed allows both sexes to be enhanced by it. Seeing as how that same reasoning is behind canonical Marines exhibiting everything from unnatural skin colors to incredible psychic abilities, saying that it doesn’t descriminate between sets of chromosomes isn’t much of a stretch.

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    3. Pingback: Playing a Female Space Marine – on Gaming as Women « The Fandiblog

    4. avatar
      July 6, 2012 at 10:21

      Just to add a bit to what Cythraul has already written…
      There are a couple reasons withtin the backstory why Space Marines are male (if not great ones), the first being they were partly derived from thunderwarriors, techno-barbarians that were engineered for massive upper body strength for the conquest of Terra (and also engineered to expire, they were never meant to last).
      The second reason could be that as they were partly based upon the Primarchs DNA, who in turn were based upon the Emperors DNA and for whatever reason decided he was going to keep the augmentations all male, what with himself being male. Though if this was through necessity or choice isn’t really explained.

      As for the sisters of battle, whilst they make use comparable equipment, and indeed training, they receive no notable biological augmentations, seemingly as they don’t exist outside Space Marine Chapters at all. Though we do know why they are exclusively female, the Ecclesiarchy (the name of the priesthood for the imperial cult) had a decree put against it to limit its power, they may not maintain any “Men At Arms”. Being religious zealots, only getting more so as time progresses, decided that the literal interpretation of the text was the more sacred interpretation and founded the sisters of battle.
      It should also be noted that the Ecclesiarchy aren’t entirely trusting of Space Marines, partly as they hold little power over them and due to there many augmentations, many of the priesthood don’t even consider them human anymore.

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      • avatar
        July 6, 2012 at 11:42

        I’m not going to get into the internal logic of these IC reasons, though I’ll mention that when I described them to a friend with a degree in biology, she burst out laughing.

        I am going to point out: they are IC reasons. They are within GW’s power to alter, retcon, enhance, supplement, and otherwise change. Do you read comic books at all? Marvel and DC monkey around with much bigger details than the ones you cite all the time. There’s usually an outcry, but then everyone shrugs, and gets on with it.

        The establishment and continued maintenance of every point you make is a decision on the part of the thinking humans who steer the ship at GW.

        GW could come up with any number of ways to introduce female Space Marines; they merely choose not to.

        GW could introduce a female or integrated fighting force with the might and prestige of the Space Marines, or build up one of the existing fighting forces to that level, but they choose not to.

        GW could make one of the integrated factions the center of their public image, but they choose not to.

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        • avatar
          July 6, 2012 at 12:39

          “though I’ll mention that when I described them to a friend with a degree in biology, she burst out laughing.”
          Really? I don’t have a degree in biology, just Electronics, what part of the augmentation is laughable? To me alot of it sounds interesting but the plausibility is lost on me. Its also worth noting that the Imperium doesn’t really have Engineers, or a grounded understanding of Technology, they believe its all part magic and long since stopped innovating. If anything the imperium is slowly falling into another Dark Age.

          “Marvel and DC monkey around with much bigger details than the ones you cite all the time. There’s usually an outcry, but then everyone shrugs, and gets on with it.”
          I thought they just added a new alternate dimension for that kind of stuff, isn’t marvel upto over a 100 different versions of earth now? I seem to recall reading comics were nearly everyone becomes a Zombie, clearly thats not a retcon. And didn’t DC just collapse all the universes into one, trying to explain all the retcons in some multiverse battle.

          “GW could introduce a female or integrated fighting force with the might and prestige of the Space Marines, or build up one of the existing fighting forces to that level, but they choose not to.”
          This is more or less what they did with the Sisters Of Battle, and in the background are generally better regarded by other troops on the field of battle than Space Marines (Sisters are held in awe for being holy warriors, Spaces Marines are often observed with fear by friendly troops).

          “GW could make one of the integrated factions the center of their public image, but they choose not to.”
          GW have long since convinced themselves that the only market they can sell to is 10-16 year old boys. Its why you never see Eldar/Tau/Orks/Tyranids/Chaos as the center of there public image either.

          Unless Space Marines are shooting them.

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          • avatar
            July 6, 2012 at 13:02

            The main issue with the biological arguments is that the vast majority of the human body doesn’t have a sex. My genitals are male, but my lungs, kidneys, nervous sytstem, immune system, etc. are not. Hence the vast majority of the enhancements involved with becoming a Space Marine would be sex-agnostic.

            “I thought they just added a new alternate dimension for that kind of stuff, isn’t marvel upto over a 100 different versions of earth now?”

            They definitely do that too, but that’s just one of the many, many tools for altering the history of a setting. Have a look at the examples under Continuity Drift and Retcon over at TVTropes.

            They also don’t have to explain it at all. There’s nothing stopping them from printing a new edition of a Codex – whether for one of the existing Chapters, or a new one – and simply use inclusive language, without justifying it. Whether that means occasionally referring to a Space Marine as “she”, or including women among the named Unique Characters. The universe will not end if they outright overwrite what’s gone before – especially since it’s been a long, long time since they’ve outright stated that women can’t be Space Marines.

            “This is more or less what they did with the Sisters Of Battle, and in the background are generally better regarded by other troops on the field of battle than Space Marines (Sisters are held in awe for being holy warriors, Spaces Marines are often observed with fear by friendly troops).”

            The rule books will occasionally make mention of the Space Marines being bad news for everyone they meet, and being regarded as such, but I don’t see that borne up in any of their depictions. Not in the novels, not in the video games, not in the anecdotes in the codices… Heck, not even in the game mechanics, which forbids friendly fire. (Also, the new edition – published less than a week ago – lets Imperial Guard ally comfortably with any chapter except the Grey Knights.) The Space Marines are nearly always depicted as being regarded as Our Courageous Protectors, whereas the Sisters are regarded as terrifying fanatics.

            And they’re still less mighty than the Space Marines. There’s still the implicit message that “only men can be this awesome”.

            (Said biologist friend asked me, “Lemme guess – they’re weaker, but faster?” I pulled up their stats, and had to reply: “Nope. Just weaker.”)

            “GW have long since convinced themselves that the only market they can sell to is 10-16 year old boys. Its why you never see Eldar/Tau/Orks/Tyranids/Chaos as the center of there public image either.”

            Yeah, I know. See my earlier comment about GW taking steps to reinforce the boys’-club nature of their hobby.

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    5. avatar
      July 8, 2012 at 14:18

      I’ve always seen the Astartes as being so post-human that gender stopped concerning them a long time ago. For example, nowhere in any book or fiction does a Space Marine ever have romantic thoughts (for either gender), sexual desire or ever sire children. Somewhere along the way of their 20 odd surgical interventions and genetic re-formatting and hypno-indoctrination, I’m pretty sure they are castrated – if not physically then at least chemically – if only to give them additional resistance to Slaanesh.

      To that extent, whether a Space Marine started off male or female, the process of transforming them seems to strip away sexual and gender identity and leaves behind only a weapon desiring to defeat the enemies of the Emperor. Gender becomes irrelevant (like playing ‘male’ and ‘female’ robots). Given they are denied gender roles like mother/father or lover, did you find any difference in playing a female space marine compared to how the males ran theirs, other than overcoming percieved sexism?

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      • avatar
        Angela Craft
        July 9, 2012 at 15:37

        If WH40K had chosen to define Space Marines as a third gender, I would have been *all over* that. It would be so cool! But the constant use of male pronouns, plus the fact that they all start as normal human males, means that it’s hard to read them through anything but a masculine “lens.” Gender is defined by much more than being a lover or a parent (asexual people still have gender, after all), so gender still has an influence on the characters.

        Because sexism was such an important part of the character development of Boudicca, I don’t know if I can separate what I was doing in reaction to sexism and what was different just because I’m a woman playing a female character and the rest of the group were men playing male characters. I made a lot of choices to do things specifically because they *weren’t* stereotypically feminine traits, such as the running in without a plan and staying in the thick of a fight longer than necessary. If I were playing a male space marine, or if the setting had allowed for more than one female space marine, I think I would have used different tactics because there would have been nothing for my character to prove about herself.

        • avatar
          July 9, 2012 at 17:44

          Astartes as a third gender would make a ridiculous amount of sense.

          “Space Marine” is a whole personal identity that affects (even dictates) self-image, lifestyle, sexuality, patterns of interaction with each other, patterns of interaction with mundane folk, etc…

          It also wouldn’t surprise me if the male and female Astartes would be hard to distinguish on a physical level. A lot of the novels mention that there’s a common pattern to their facial features, often described as “telltale signs of gigantism common to the Astartes”, or something to that effect. (I’ll have to remember to dig up quotes.)

          The “Space Marine identity” and the likely indistinguishability of those with or without a Y chromosome combine to suggest a lot of sense in Astartes-as-a-gender.

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      • avatar
        July 11, 2012 at 00:14

        Some Space Marines do have romantic thoughts, or at least experience lust, and some seem capable of procreating. The Ultramarines have several dynasties on Ultramar, and both the Salamanders and Space Wolves have been mentioned as having sexual urges. One ongoing joke within the fandom is that the “dark secret” of the Dark Angels is that they’re all gay (the basis of this joke becomes more obvious when one looks up who Lionel Johnson was IRL and what his poem “Dark Angel” is about).

        I’m not a particular fan of GW’s setting, but the Space Marines are presented as hyperbolic exaggerations of a certain kind of masculine identity rather than as sexless or other-gendered.

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        • avatar
          July 11, 2012 at 13:25

          … I didn’t know that about the Dark Angels! Cool! :)

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          July 14, 2012 at 19:01

          Can you cite your sources for Space Marine romantic thoughts, procreation and sexual urges please, Pseudoephedrine?

          I’ve read a majority of the BL novels and all the codexes and dont recall that.

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          • avatar
            July 16, 2012 at 07:49

            It’s all over the place, but most of the really obvious stuff comes from the Rogue Trader era.

            One example is that the early write-ups of the Ultramarines (WD 97) mention concubines and “gene-sperm”. Another, later mention, involves Lukas the Trickster in the 5th edition Space Wolves codex, who slept around extensively before becoming a space marine (though how this works chronologically is questionable), and doesn’t appear to have lost any of his urges. In Ian Watson’s non-canon Inquisition War series, Lexandro at one point feels lust for an eldar woman he’s fighting, before shrugging it off. IIRC, one of the Ragnar Blackmane novels mentions that the Space Wolves have harems in passing.

            There’s tons more out there once you start looking for it. None of this is to say that the space marines spend much time on love or lust, or that it overwhelms their sense of duty.

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            July 16, 2012 at 17:36

            That’s all pretty old stuff, from the sound of it. A lot of what was initially written about Space Marines has been dummied out/retconned as the setting evolved.

            I know this particular game, Deathwatch, treats them as completely asexual. There’s a spot in one adventure where the players run into a demonic temptress-type, and the flavor text, directed at the Space Marine PCs, goes something like, “You notice that this person is attractive, in the same way that you notice that the sky is blue.”

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    6. avatar
      July 17, 2012 at 00:17

      Mazed> There’s definitely been a bunch of retconning going on, but the issue of SM sexuality has basically been avoided since GW defined their target market as adolescent boys. BL works touch on the issue from time to time, but there’s no consistency across authors.

      My personal tendency when playing 40K rpgs is to keep it around (albeit rarely as a prominent element) simply because it’s a way to make SMs interesting. When I ran a Deathwatch game last year, one of the things I constantly tried to struggle against was the one-dimensional macho fanatic stuff, because it becomes so incredibly boring over extended play. I tend to favour interpretations of 40K that swing more towards the Abnett-verse than the GRIMDARK versions.

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    7. avatar
      July 26, 2012 at 08:44

      “I think the idea of limiting a fantasy class to just one gender is boring and ignores that part of this hobby that is supposed to be fun. I’m already told I “can’t” do things in the real world because of my gender, why on Earth would I want games trying to pull the same line?”

      Kudos upon kudos for this quote!

      I’m not sure if I’d actually enjoy playing in this setting, given not only its gender inequalities – which sound so utterly and totally *oppressive* that I’d feel like I was about 14 again – but also (as I understand it) its aura of religious fanaticism, which would be about as pleasant as living with a permanent toothache.

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    8. avatar
      July 26, 2012 at 11:28

      Although I’m just finishing GMing a Deathwatch game among work colleagues which was great fun, I have mixed feelings about it all. Deathwatch is a much tighter system and setting than the previous offerings (Dark Heresy – Or Catholic Space Nazis – Or Cthulhu 40k; Rogue Trader – 40K Privateering), so it certainly worked better mechanically, even if at the height of the power the rules were less robust.

      But I think the wealth of party variety and topics covered by potential Dark Heresy (and the higher-powered ‘Ascension’ variant) and even Rogue Trader were simply more engaging to play for the inter-party role-playing. I even took part in a themed Sisters of Battle-only short campaign, which while similarly restrictive in choice was great fun to work with.

      In the end, I think that 40k’s strength lies in the ability to twist the world significantly towards a particular genre, interpretation, whatever of the group that’s playing. And the Deathwatch setting is the most restrictive in that regard, and after a while… well, there’s only so far a group of disparate Space Marines can go. There isn’t quite the range of other characters. They’ve been pushed too far in all the wrong directions by GW marketing and there is only so much that the Fantasy Flight designers could do I imagine. (And from the other 40k books I think the FFG team have done fairly well in terms of male/female balance, although except in examples they always refer to the player as male, which noticeable grates.)

      In terms of Space Marine vs Sister of Battle system comparison, we had a Sister of Battle join the Space Marines in our campaign after a couple of missions. To be at a similar level to the Space Marines, she had to be high-ranking (if anyone is interested – if you have Blood of Martyrs, the Sisters of Battle expansion for Dark Heresy, and Ascension, the high-level expansion for Dark Heresy, there are downloadable rules on Fantasy Flight’s website for making an Ascension-level Sister of Battle). While the Space Marines were tougher and could flat out do more damage than the Sister of Battle, she did have access to a lot more variety of skills, could raise her characteristics higher (in this case she was the best shot out of everyone) and use ‘Faith Talents’ to do some pretty useful things (such as constantly heal the Space Marines who were a little too gung-ho) and effectively power herself up to do incredible damage in certain situations. An adaptable very glassy glass cannon who, remarkably, has basically gotten away unscathed from almost every encounter.

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