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Why I love: Adeptus Mechanicus

or, how I learned to stop worrying and make everything Skitarii

Strap in your bionic eyes, give up your mortal flesh for steel and set your chronometers for fun because it’s time we talk about the Omnissiah.

The Adeptus Mechanicus are both one of the oldest parts of Warhamer 40,000 lore, and are also blessed with one of the most flexible and fun ranges currently available.

Do you want to ride into battle on a cybernetic hound wielding two pistols? We got you.

What about robots? Tell me you have robots! Yeah we got robots, we’ve got robots that you can accidentally set to ‘Kill all humans’ and just leave to get on with stuff.

What about posthuman vicars with cybernetic augments, literally bloated with data and covered in sacred oils? You bet we’ve got that.

You get a Skitarii, and you get a Skitarii

There are a myriad of ways to begin talking about your friendly local cyborgs. There is a version of this article which begins with a rumination on how Ad Mech really are the Warhammer endpoint of today’s tech-bro moonshot projects, launching themselves into space for… reasons? There is another one where I try to convince you that recent ‘meta’ shifts are well deserved for what had previously been a fairly mid-tier army.

Three 28mm Skitarii rangers with deep blue cloaks in an out of focus crowd of other miniatures
You can’t go wrong with classic Skitarii Rangers

Nope. Gonna talk about Skitarii my friends.

The crux of my robot obsession is built from three sprues that positively sparkle with potential.

Many people bemoan how, as time marches on, Games Workshop’s design has shifted to more dynamic plastic models with less customisation and variety, and while I would argue that this is not really as true as people seem to think, the Skitarii Rangers and Vanguard sprue from 2015 is a design masterpiece.

These three sprues build two units, hooded and masked Rangers or tin helmeted Vanguard. Each of these is made up of nine Skitarii and an Alpha. Following the instructions gives you a few options for weapons and you get a dynamic set of models. But ohoho what is this?

You chose Rangers did you? Well.. there are 10 arms free! For the Vanguard! And over 10 heads! And extra weapons?! 

Beautiful bits for the bits box.

But what if… you used those bits?

The Skitarii sprue gives you that generous, glorious thing that can be missing from modern kits: Enough bits to kitbash the other unit from something else.

Bits for the bits god

I’ve always been… prone to taking stuff apart. Before I fell back into the hobby, I was really into synthesisers. Not playing them, that would require talent, but opening them, poking around what is inside, building my own and making fun sounds. I still am a huge fan of the chiptune scene, hacked Game Boys and such. 

It should be no surprise that the thing that I get the most joy from is sticking things together that may, or may not, match.

Ad Mech is the perfect storm of generosity and creativity. Nearly every unit builds two options, and you nearly always have enough parts to bash together something that could be used as the other option.

Each kit is an utter treat for the snippers. Hundreds of parts. Generous on a level that many newer factions can’t hope to match.

Five 28mm Skitarii Rangers on a rusty walkway
Delaque based Rangers add some variety (and height) to the army

You can slice and dice a full half of the Games Workshop webstore into your own post-human nightmares.

Let’s see… Empire Greatswords? Pop a vanguard head on. Necromunda Delaque? Get the Ranger heads on those. Cawdor? Those would fit a Radium rifle for sure. Hero characters? A few mechadendrites and an axe, and you got yourself a priest.

What’s more… This just works. Any scale creep that has occurred over time just means you have more variety in your models. Combine this with a little bit of lore wrangling and you have an entire army of robotic weirdos. Nothing gets me more excited than when a new kit is announced, and I rub my hands with glee.

“How can I use these in my Ad Mech?”

Necromunda for instance has the excellent Cawdor and Delaque kits, as well as Orlocks, Enforcers and more. Warcry has the excellent Unmade plus many others and oh boy, let me tell you about Age of Sigmar’s Nighthaunt!

Four unpainted 28mm soldiers with bluetack holding them together
Empire Greatswords + Vanguard make a nice quick bash

Big open spaces with big cloaks that you can chop and change? Nighthaunt offers a wealth of possibilities when combined with Ad Mech kits. I personally find the Electro Priest kit a little too Venice Beach for my idea of the Mechanicus, so combining the weapons with ghostly fantasy models just became a route to a unit that I felt matched the aesthetic that I quickly found was developing around my swiftly growing army. I learnt to use a green stuff roller, I dug out other spare bits from previous Skitarii kitbashes and more grim dark priests were born.

Robed 28mm ghostlike miniatures with large electric rods and snaking mechanical tentacles
One of the earliest units I built for the army. Glaivewraith Stalkers mixed with Electro priest parts with heads from the Necromunda Delaque kit.

You can probably tell that this is all very much my jam. Even the new Death Korps of Krieg have got me all hot under the collar, not because they are plastic guardsmen that look rad, but because I’m thinking about how each would look with a galvanic rifle.

It’s a whole way of engaging with the hobby. No longer am I looking for that ‘new project’ or army, but looking for ways those new miniatures could be augmented into my existing army. It’s freeing, it’s creative, it’s fun and what’s more, it’s personal and unique.

a collection of modified 28mm models, the central figure is upon a floating mechanical dias
If a model has robes that touch the floor, it’s a prime candidate to become a tech priest

I know the hobby is a place where people can express themselves, from colour schemes to kit bashes to play styles and more, but nothing speaks to me quite like Ad Mech. They are the perfect storm of flexible design language that can be pushed and pulled across so many other Games Workshop ranges. The long flowing cloaks of the models really make painting a breeze, while those fine details? Yes of course you can focus on them, and I dare you to not drool over the finely painted Tech Priests of Instagram, but they take a wash and dry brush incredibly well.

Oil up your Omnissiah

It would be very mean of me to share my joy of owning one hundred plus Skitarii, and not sharing a little about how I painted them.

These will just be a few tips, as you can find many excellent guides on painting miniatures online. My first goto was the official Games Workshop ‘How to Paint a Skitarii’ video. Since then I’ve found other ways to capture what I want.

First up! If you are going to paint one hundred skitarii, they don’t all have to be incredible. You are dealing with big numbers, these are not Space Marines or Custodes.

Next up, enjoy your washes. Adeptus Mechanicus are complex models with a lot of fine details. My secret sauce is the much under-rated Nuln Oil Gloss. This gives everything a bit of shine as well as getting in all that metal detail. I then go in with Agrax Earthshade to knock back the gloss, and dirty up the metals some more. I also use Agrax to shade the insides of the cloaks and any of the dirty off-white areas. Using a single shade across the whole model like this really ties everything together,

Picking out a few details on each model, like purity seals, eye lenses and monitors add a bit of colour and variation.

Rust is another common feature of the Mechanicus, and really suits the dirtier style of my army. You can make a rust wash by watering down Skrag Brown. Get a hefty blob of paint, then add enough water to get it as thin as a Starbucks latte. Dab the mix into a few recesses and on joints. You may want to do a second round, depending on how you like your dirt. I also now use a bright orange Humbrol rust powder, but this is very bright, and the Skrag mix is a lot more subtle.

Speaking of weathering powders, brushing on a soil coloured powder around the bottom of any cloaks and legs ties the model to its base, and adds even more grime. Use a dry brush to apply and make sure all the washes are dry. You can use your finger or thumb to rub off any places you may have added too much.

I am Becoming

Models are only part of the picture when it comes to Warhammer. There is always the murky depths of the lore that you can dive into and let your curiosity wander.

The Adeptus Mechanicus have remained a feature of the grim darkness of the far future since its earliest days. It’s a lovely thing to open the Codex Imperialis book that came with my second edition box and note that the foundations are all there. The tech priests of Mars, the alliance between Earth and the red planet, the greedy hoarding of knowledge, the worship of data.

There were even stat lines for many of the tech priests and even Electro priests.

In fiction however, Ad mech are a little more underserved. In the 41st Millenium they often appear as side characters, rarely the main event, and even when they are, as in Belasarius Cawl’s novel ‘The Great Work’ much of the story is told through the eyes of another Space Marine.

A tall robot on long striding legs is in focus at the back of an army diorama
When you have bits to spare, why not build a robot?

The good stuff however lies 10,000 years previous in the Horus Heresy. ‘Mechanicum’ is a fantastic entry to the overstuffed annals of the ‘You might be wondering how I got here’ chapter of the Imperium. Following a young tech priest as they witness the fall of Mars and the great civil war erupt is a great primer for many of the weirder aspects of the universe. The teases of the Dark Mechanicum too are also sprinkled throughout much of the Heresy. A faction who have been in the lore for many years, the dark counterpart to the Mechanicus, has been lurking on the sidelines with only a handful of models to its name.

Slim pickings in the Black Library aside, the rich lore of the army itself gives you enough hooks to cook up your own backgrounds with a ‘crusade’ here and a ‘lost STC’ (That is Standard Template Construct, essentially big ol’ database machines of all human knowledge) there. 

An Ad Mech Tech Priest mixed with a Nighthaunt Craven King model. A flying mechanical throne with attendants on either side clad in blue robes
A Tech Priest Dominus riding his fancy chair he borrowed from some ghost lad

My blue robed cybermen hail from a backwater planet (of course) that was plagued by warp storms (stop me if you’ve heard this). Before the calamity that befell their world, the priests slowly brought the planet’s moon into a synchronous orbit, and built a vast space elevator to connect the surfaces of the worlds in a feat of pure hubris. The ‘chain’ grew and filled out, becoming a vital connection between the moon’s vast knowledge banks and space ports, and the planet’s manufacturing and agriculture.

Obviously this did not remain stable. As the galaxy split, the space between the planet and moon flexed, snapping the chain and devastating both. As the priests of the moon struggled to maintain order, the Mechanicus Cult on the planet’s surface became ever more desperate. Struggling to defend the surface from uprisings, the surviving Priests enslaved cities to attempt to maintain order. 

A diorama of 28mm ad mech miniatures descending from a wooden house embedded in dust and rusted junk
Cawdor based Vanguard exit a half buried home. Combining the Middle Earth Lake House kit with big pipes gives me such Final Fantasy VII vibes.

Eventually the moon regained contact with the surface. The new ‘recruits’ were brought back into the rigid fold of the Cult Mechanicus, but with them, their own traditions and rituals. Hence the huge variety of Skitarii types and units. See? Isn’t someone’s headcanon a great place to stay?

A floating airship built from an Age of Sigmar kit with many arms and parts added from Ad mech and other sources
“The Boat” – a centrepiece project that took me about a year on and off to assemble.

Playing with the Omnissiah

So here my argument may fall apart a little. I’ve not managed to get a post 9th edition game of Warhammer since restrictions began to lift here in the UK. Yes, I’ve got the rules. Yes, I have the codex and yes, I’m well aware of the current meta. I’m currently reckoning with the fact I have inadvertently stepped into a top tier army. My eighty Skitarii that I finished over the long Covid summer of 2020 was not a thing I expected to be particularly competitive, yet here we are.

The complexity of the new codex is certainly off putting for me. The number of abilities that trigger from other things, plus my lack of experience with the new edition itself has led to what I currently call ‘performance anxiety’. That is for me to get over. I’m not a hugely competitive player, and it’s actually quite a nice feeling to have enough of an army where I can pick and choose a few units that look great and feel like I can at least put up a fight.

A warhammer game in progress with a close up of a drill-like vehicle and blue robed miniatures facing off space marines
The Termite Drill from Forge World was, for a time, the only transport for Ad Mech. It’s surprisingly good in a fight too.

Recent additions to the army list have really given players more fast attack options. While the lore of Psychic Awakening was a bit of a bust, of all armies, Adeptus Mechanicus were certainly treated well. The frankly incredible Serberys Raiders and Sulphur Hounds let you effectively play out a far future cavalry charge, backed up by multi legged spider tanks. You can run a Dune-esque mobile section that is supported by volleys of crushing gravity from tank tracked slave cyborgs. You can attempt a beach landing assault with hordes of Vanguard pouring from hovercraft into the fray. On the table top, Ad Mech are as adaptable as the models themselves.

The 9th edition Crusade rules too are flavoursome treats with your army collecting technology from the battlefields and building new, fun, wonky equipment.

A large game of Warhammer in progress with a blue spider tank in focus at the rear of a troop charge
My Mechanicus charge forth during an Apocalypse game at Warhammer World in the dark ages of 2019

Elsewhere, I am a little disappointed the new units never got Apocalypse rules, as I now have enough painted to throw down in a real big game, but I’m guessing we’ll be waiting for whatever the 9th edition version of that brings. The new edition of Kill Team only makes use of the Infiltrator and basic Skitarii kits too, which makes it easy to jump into a small unit or too, for those of you who are robot-curious.

You can also, if you’ve got the fever for resin, explore the Mechanicum range from Specialist Games / Forge World. Myself? I’ve only really dipped a toe in. The focus for the army in the Age of Darkness is much more vehicle and robot driven. And it’s pricey. It is also in a strange space where the lore frequently mentions skitarii and other Adeptus Mechanicus units, yet has no rules for them in the game. On the flipside, very few of the incredible miniatures have rules for 40k. Cmon Games Workshop, just a little rules? 

a collection of rust covered miniatures from the Horus Heresy range, Mechnaicum
Mechanicum servitors and thralls. Ask your 40k opponent nicely and they can be more Skitarii

In the wider hobby, you may not be surprised to discover that I’m also very much a fan of Inq28 and Blanchitsu, and my large kit bash collection certainly comes in handy for smaller skirmishes, but the cost of entry can be high in terms of time, money and brain space. The rewards are there though, and for games on the stranger side of the gaming table I’ve found my rag-tag robots are ideal mooks and monsters for heroes to pit themselves against.

Formatting and Rebooting yourself

So as much as I’ve canted on about my experience, how would I suggest you, dear reader, get into the favour of the machine god?

Games Workshop’s Combat Patrol box is a great start of course. While it does not quite make the best use of the new rules around Skitarii, it can form a solid foundation for a larger army. It is a shame the Onager Dunecrawler is no longer the default pack in for the vehicle option, but I will concede that the cool hovercraft tank is a much more appealing painting project, and fits better with the Skitarii unit.

However, for beginners I would suggest simply picking up a box of Rangers. After the Kill Team 2018 launch box, and their habit of appearing in Start Collecting boxes, you can pick up the sprues from box splitters fairly easily. From here, the path is yours to follow, you will certainly have parts to spare along the way. Heck, why not dig out some spares now and see what happens?

Skitarii miniatures armed with spears an shield laid out for a game of Warhammer 40k
Secutarii Hoplites, a Forge World upgrade for the regular Skitarii kit

The future is bright for the knowledge seekers. I urge you all to give up some of your flesh, rub on some scented oils and get hungry for knowledge.

And, let’s not forget those sprues, those glorious frames of plastic potential. 

Why not see what you can create?

A kitbashed model of a blue robed tech priest with a plague doctor-esque mask
The Tech Priests will see you now
By James

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