Armies of the Jungle: Dvergar Steeljacks

In this series, we showcase armies used by your humble Jungle Guides. By detailing how the army was collected, how the background and color schemes were developed, and how the army is used on the battlefield, we hope that this series will provide inspiration for those interested in collecting similar armies.

If Inquisitor Varman Kumar was tired after the 26 continuous hours he had spent working in the interrogation chamber, he showed no sign of it as he stepped out into the stone hallway.   The plasteel door slid shut behind Kumar, and Wolf Priest Horsa Drachenbane stepped forward from the alcove where he had waited.

“What have you learned?” Horsa asked. 

“I’m glad you asked me to examine and investigate your captive before you began your expedition,” Inquisitor Kumar said.  He nodded to a servitor, who brought a bowl of water and towels.  Kumar began to wash from his hands the grey ooze that was the alien’s blood.  “He—if it properly can be called he—is very interesting.”

“Did he tell you anything about the Wolf King’s ring?” Horsa demanded.

“He doesn’t know anything about it,” Kumar replied.  Horsa was visibly disappointed.  “However, I learned—at least, I think I learned—a great deal that might be useful to you and your men.”

“Mmm?”

“First off, he—and all other members of the Dvergar race—communicate by telepathy.  They don’t have a spoken language.”

“But we’ve intercepted their transmissions,” Horsa protested.  “We have hundreds of hours of vox recordings—”

Kumar shook his head.  “Have you and your fellow Wolf Priests deciphered them yet?”

“No, but we’re getting close to figuring out their langua—”

“They don’t actually speak.  Any vocalizations you’ve ever heard are gibberish: play-acting performed solely to mislead and confuse you—and waste your time. Your men should ignore anything they hear the Dvergar say or shout on the battlefield: it’s all distraction or intimidation.”

“How did you determ—”

“I’m an Inquisitor: my task is to find out answers that people—and xenos—don’t want revealed.  And it helps to have some telepathic ability of my own,” Kumar admitted.  He finished washing his hands, dismissed the servitor.

They started down the hall.  “What else?” Horsa asked.

“What appears to be facial hair on them—”

“Their beards,” Horsa said, nodding.

“—is not actually that.  I suspect so because when I cut some off him, our dear little friend was in quite a lot of pain.  At least, I think he was.  He—and his kind—might be very good at pretending.”

“The beard—”

“A mass of organic filaments, I believe,” Inquisitor Kumar replied, “thousands of them, each capable of independent motion.  When I began exerting some substantial force on him, his ‘beard’ lashed out in all directions, either as an expression of pain or in an attempt to stop me—or both.  Each tendril has some prehensile ability, but they aren’t very dexterous or strong—although they are harder to sever than human hair.  They also maintain their ability to move for quite a while after I cut them off our subject.  And would you like to learn something really interesting?”

“Go on,” Horsa replied.

“Even several hours after I had removed some of these ‘hairs’ from our dear little friend, he was seemingly able to feel it when I cut, burned, or otherwise mistreated one or more of those filaments.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t pretending?”

“To confirm my hypothesis, I conducted some of my dissections and examinations behind a curtain.  His psychic screams were very powerful.”

“What are these…‘hairs’ for?  What do the Dvergar do with them?”

“Obviously, they carry nerves, but what their actual function is, I don’t know. Perhaps they’re part of their sensory system, like whiskers on a cat.”

“A cat?”

“A Terran carnivore used for rodent control.  Never mind.  I’m hungry. Is this the way to the mess?” Kumar asked, pointing. 

“Yes,” Horsa said.  As they continued their way through the Fang, they passed scores of servitors and thralls—and the occasional Space Wolf.  “What else?”

“As the time passed and I continued to examine our subject, the thought struck me that he was bit too convenient.”

“It was not at all convenient to capture one alive,” Horsa assured him.  “It took our Scouts quite a whi—”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Kumar said.  Inwardly, Horsa fumed at being interrupted again.  Certainly, no Space Wolf would dare to do so.  For now, he ignored the slight: Kumar was, after all, an Inquisitor.

“What I mean is that—well, look,” Kumar said, stopping in the middle of the wide hallway as others flowed around them.  “I recall reading in this place’s records that the Fenrisians were the first to encounter the Dvergar, even before your Primarch served the Emperor.”

“Yes,” Horsa replied.

“That, indeed, the Dvergar are ancient enemies of the Fenrisians, and are often mentioned and described in myths and legends, along with other, similar beings, like trolls and dark elves.”

“Yes.  What does this have to do with anything?”

“Just this: don’t you find it a little odd that a creature so obviously alien so closely resembles a human, albeit a smaller one?”

“Eldar—and Dark Eldar, too—resemble humans, to some extent,” Horsa replied. “What of it?”

“Yes, but most aliens don’t,” Kumar reminded him.  “Think of Tau or Orks or Tyranids, or Hrud, or Orgmanii.   Some of them may have four limbs and walk on two legs, some of them may have bilateral symmetry and appendages resembling hands, but very, very few of them look so similar to humans.”

“Are you saying that Dvergar are related to humans?”

“I started to think so at first—until I brought some videographs of our dear little friend to some of the other captives—alien captives—you have here.”

“That must have been before I came on duty,” Horsa replied.

“It was,” Kumar said, “but I found my way around.  I started with that Ork warrior you have three cells down.  I showed him the Dvergar’s image and asked him to describe what he saw.  Do you know what he said?”

“What?”

“‘Ugly li’l zogger.  Eyes.  ‘ordes and ‘ordes uv nasty li’l eyes.  And why all da moufs?’”

“‘Ordes?’”

“The Ork term for any number over five.  Did you see more than two eyes on our subject?  Or more than one mouth?”

“No,” Horsa replied. 

“Me, either,” Kumar replied.  “But I made sure—repeatedly—that our Ork friend was not lying or playing games with me.  The Kurindan four cells down from the Ork asked me why I was showing him what looked like grey running water.  The Tau said it was a poorly-rendered vidpic of concentric rings of light.  And the Eldar at the end of the corridor, she merely sneered and wished me luck in ‘dealing with all of them.’  She wouldn’t elaborate—despite my attempts to persuade her—on what she meant.”

“But it would seem—”

“—it would seem that how we humans see our dear little friend is not how he is perceived by non-humans.  That each race looks at a Dvergar and sees something different.  Which would help explain why our dear little friend looks so human despite being alien.”

“We’re seeing some kind of illusion when we look at them?” Horsa asked.

“An illusion either generated by some technological device—which I doubt—or by telepathy—possible—or some kind of gestalt.  The Fenrisians who first encountered Dvergar may have expected them, on a conscious or unconscious level, to resemble creatures from their myths, so that is what they saw.  And that is what humans still see, somehow.”

“But you’re not Fenrisian,” Horsa countered.  “How is it that you see him the same way I do?”

Kumar shook his head.  “I don’t know.”

They kept walking, came to the mess hall.  “I’ll leave you here,” Horsa said.  “You recall how to find the guest quarters from here?”

Kumar nodded.  “Thank you.”

“Anything else I should know?” Horsa asked.

“They can will themselves to die,” the Inquisitor replied.  “In the end, the little fellow just went dead, as easily as you or me turning off a light.  I was monitoring his thoughts.  He had no fear of doing so.  None of them seemingly have any fear of death.”

“Why didn’t he make himself die when he was caught?  Why didn’t he do it before you interrogated him?”

“And vivisected him?” Kumar shook his head.  “I don’t know.  He was in terrible pain.  He could have ended it any time.  He knew he had no hope of escape. Maybe he wanted me to carry out my work, to learn things about him and his kind.” 

“Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know—who can understand the mind of an alien?” Kumar asked. “Unless, of course, what he wanted me to learn was all wrong.”

Introduction

I’m a huge fan of Dwarves, and back in the Bad Old Days of Rogue Trader and 2nd Edition 40K, I envied my friend Pat’s collection of Squats (“Space Dwarves,” for you new players and those of you who have to sit at the kids’ table during family get-togethers).

In 2008, I decided to make my own “Space Dwarves” army, but I immediately had to answer two questions:

  1. How to make them look like they belong in 40K?
  2. What rules to use for them?

I discuss the answer to the first question in the “Modeling and Painting” section below.  For the second, I considered several options.

In doing research online, I’d seen plenty of suggestions to run them as Imperial Guard/Astra Militarum, but I thought Guardsmen were too weedy to stand in for “Space Dwarves.”  Strength 3, Toughness 3, and leather jackets for armor?  Hard pass on that.

I had also seen several armies done as either Space Marines or Chaos Space Marines, but I already had collections of those (the former, overly large).

I decided to use the rules from Codex: Orks.  Why? Because Orks, while not being great shots, share the Dwarven attributes of being tough (T4), good hand-to-hand fighters (WS 4, 2 Attacks base), and virtually fearless (Mob Rule).

For many years–up until fairly recently, really–that’s how I played my “Space Dwarves,” with lots of proxied Boyz loaded into proxied Battlewagons.  It was simple, it was fun, and it worked.  I even developed a “shooty” list that was very successful.

But then, it occurred to me that in the small circle of people I game with, my army was redundant.  My brother-in-law Drew plays Orks, and my best friend Pat has an enormous collection that he can configure in a number of ways.  So, I looked to do something different.

I looked through the various Indexes that came out at the beginning of 8th Edition, reorganized my minis, and tried them out as a Genestealer Cult with Leman Russ tanks.

The first—and only—battle I did with them went well, but halfway into it, I was bored as all get-out.  When assembled with a “shooty” focus, Stealer Cults are the diet soda version of Astra Militarum: lots of guys in crappy armor, with crappy guns, and their vehicles aren’t anything to get excited about, either.

So, it was back to the Indexes, whereupon I discovered the joys of the Adeptus Mechanicus.  More about that in the “Waging War” section below.

Modeling and Painting, Part 1: Getting Started

I first started collecting this army in 2008.  I could have gone to e-Bay and found old Squat figures from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but I didn’t want to resurrect that old concept with all its baggage: no, I wanted something different.

Originally intended as a proxied Ork army, this force would need a lot of figures.  To keep costs down, I went with the very affordable plastic Dwarves from the Warhammer Fantasy game that has since given way to WH Age of Sigmar.

To make my figures look more “40K” and less “fantasy,” I didn’t give them shields; I didn’t use winged or horned helmets; I mounted them on round bases, not the square ones they came with; and I painted their armor in a dark tone, which, at a distance, fools the eye into not noticing that each figure wears chainmail.

Original Dvergar figures using Warhammer Dwarf miniatures

I had a horde to paint, so I kept the scheme very simple and easy to do.  I primed the figures black, then went over armor, helmets, clothes, and boots in Chaos Black.  Skin was (what was called) Codex Grey (for an alien look), hair and beards were Codex Grey with Skull White drybrushed over them.  I also drybrushed Boltgun Metal over weapons and Shining Gold over medallions and other “bling” that each Dwarf figure might have.

In homage to my favorite American football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, I painted a gold stripe down the middle of each helmet.  I “dusted” the black areas with Codex Grey for some highlighting, and washed each figure in thinned-down Chaos Black.  Bases were sand flocking, painted Codex Grey with a black wash and highlighted with Space Wolf Grey.

Because I went for quantity and not quality, I didn’t worry about detailing fiddly bits like eyes and belt pouches and such.  The painting went very quickly, and I really enjoyed it (which is surprising, because usually I consider painting a chore).

I included some WHF Gnoblars (for Gretchin) and trolls (for Meganobz).  Later on, I decided that they detracted from the Dwarven theme, so I gave the former to my brother-in-law Drew for his army, and retired the latter.

I also added some figures from Reaper Miniatures for leaders and elite units, and I was happy with what I had.  “Happy,” that is, until I saw what Mantic Games had done with “Space Dwarves.”

Modeling and Painting, Part 2: Forge Fathers

My pal James Arnold painted and gave me some of the Mantic Forge Father figures as a gift.  I bought some more, and for a time, I considered a mad plan to re-do my entire army using models from this line.  But while these minis are just wall-to-wall awesome, I simply didn’t have time, so I incorporated them into the rest of my existing army.

One of my Warlords is represented by a Forge Father Iron Ancestor (the photo below was from the Mantic site, and is not how mine is painted).  In terms of scale, this figure is similar to a Dreadnought: a Steel Warrior miniature from above is only as tall as the Iron Ancestor’s legs.  So, it looks mighty impressive on the table!

If I were starting over with this army, I would use exclusively Mantic figures and vehicles, but those weren’t available back when I started.  I could also use Kharadron Overlord minis from AoS, but I prefer the Mantic hard sci-fi look over the “steampunk Dwarf” approach.

Modeling and Painting, Part 3: Vehicles

When I originally conceived of the army, it would use nice, sturdy Battlewagons (open-topped to allow for assaults, of course) to get my proxied Orks into the fight.  But what to use for models?  Ork vehicles look too…well, Orky, and Imperial vehicles look…well, too human.

For a Dvergar version of a Battlewagon, I wanted something low to the ground, really tough-looking, and distinct from anything else one might see in the game.  After scouring the Internet, I settled on Revell’s 8-wheeled, 1/35 scale SpaePz 2 troop carrier, patterned after real-world tanks used by Germany.

While not nearly as expensive as a GW tank, it wasn’t exactly cheap at $25.50 (+ s/h) online, especially not when I plan to have loads of them in my army.  But then, if I wanted to save money, I wouldn’t be playing 40K, now would I?

Upon receiving the model kit in the mail, I was alarmed to discover that it is meant for expert modelers intent on building near-exact replicas of real-life vehicles, not gamer schlubs like me looking to slap something together ASAP and put it on the table.  The model had all kinds of fiddly bits, and the directions called for about 10 steps just to assemble the vehicle’s axles and suspension system, and putting on the wheels.

There was no way I was going to [fornicate] around with all that fussy stuff: I cut all kinds of corners, starting with simply gluing the wheels to the hull of the tank, and I very quickly had a stripped-down version assembled.

To make the vehicle distinctly Dvergar, and not something that had been liberated from an Imperial Guard motorpool, I added some bits from the many, many Dwarf Thunderer and Warrior sprues I had lying around after I had built some basic guys.  I glued them on, painted the tank black, and accented in gold.

Pleased with how the first Crawler turned out, I ordered four more, then found out upon arrival that while they were the same type of model from the same manufacturer, they were nevertheless a different version from the first one.  Each of the four is slightly larger than the original, and, most notably, they do not have the nice open space in the back to serve as a “transport area” for passengers.  Each does, however, have a larger turret than the first, so I left the turret off, leaving a big, round open space up front, which will serve as the “transport area” for riders.

Keeping track of all those Crawlers and which squad is in which one could be a hassle, so I painted numbers on them. In another tip of the hat to the Steelers, I made the numbers correspond with my favorite players:

Background

To those who have heard of them, Dvergar are often confused with a race (perhaps extinct) nicknamed, by Imperial forces, “Squats.”  It is unclear if the Dvergar and the “Squats” are the same, distantly related, or share nothing save basic physiology.

The Dvergar inhabit several large asteroids within the Angrboda Nebula, not far from Fenris, home of the Space Wolves.  Dvergar are grey-skinned humanoids, roughly three-quarters the height of the average human, notable for what appears to be white facial hair, usually worn in the same style as a long beard.

Swathed in darkness and bathed in radiation from the surrounding nebula, Dvergar worlds are, at first appearance, lifeless asteroids of rock and ice.  In truth, Dvergar clans live beneath the surface in vast cities, mining for metals and minerals and growing fungi for foodstuffs.  Under such harsh conditions, Dvergar society is cruel and pitiless, with no allowance for weakness or mercy.  Dvergar have mastered space flight and Warp travel and constantly send out expeditions to plunder new resources.  To the Dvergar, lives, even their own, are worthless: only objects have any value.

Ancient and bitter foes include the Space Wolves, the Aeldari, and Orks.  Chaos has no sway over the Dvergar, for they are followers of Order, albeit a brutal, oppressive one.

Because Dvergar are rumored to amass huge quantities of gold, titanium, and other precious metals, they are often the targets of raids and campaigns by Rogue Traders, Drukhari, and greedy Imperial governors.  Such assaults usually end in disaster for the attackers, as Dvergar asteroids are well-fortified, and the Dvergar are masters of close-range fighting.

To the Imperium, the Dvergar are considered a negligible threat, comparable to that posed by other, “lesser” aliens such as the Hrud or the Dark Eldar.  While they are technologically advanced, their weaponry is not on par with the awesome firepower of the Eldar, the Tau, or the Necrons; they are not as numerous as the Orks or Tyranids; nor are they as far-ranging and destructive as the Chaos Marines.  This is small comfort, though, to those who find themselves under attack by them.

Waging War

Codex: Adeptus Mechanicus as a ruleset works very well with what I want the army to be.  The AM use lots of cool weaponry, funky rules, and dirt-cheap units that can be tooled up to hit really, really hard.

 

Because my collection is very large, I’ve split it in two: a “Black” list geared for close combat; and a “Gold” list that emphasizes shooting (the colors are taken from the Pittsburgh Steelers, my favorite American football team).  As of the time of this writing (December 2019), each list is about 2000 points, with the former having a Power Rating of 109, and the latter a Power Rating of 140.

In the lists below, I’ve named the units to fit the theme of the army, and what they are or “count as” in parentheses.

Dvergar Steeljacks, “Black Army” List

This force consists of two Vanguard Detachments that make extensive use of Secutarii Hoplites, Elite close-combat specialists that one can find models and rules for on the ForgeWorld site.

To get into melee, the Hoplites rely on (proxied) Skorpius Duneriders, a fairly recent addition to the AM product line.  The Hoplites are backed up by 6 Kastelan Robots, which are worth every single point of the 630 they cost.

  • Detachment 1:
    • Warspar (counts as Tech-Priest Dominus)—Warlord w/ Necromechanic Trait
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 1-3 (each count as 10 Secutarii Hoplites)
    • Three Dvergar Crawlers (each count as a Skorpius Dunerider)
    • Steel Troopers, Squad 4 (counts as 16 Secutarii Hoplites)
    • Master Smith (counts as Cybernetic Datasmith)
    • Steel Centurions (count as 6 Kastelan Robots w/ fists, incendine combusters)
  • Detachment 2:
    • Engineer (counts as Tech-Priest Enginseer)
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 5-7 (each count as 10 Secutarii Hoplites)
    • Two Dvergar Crawlers (each count as Skorpius Dunerider)
    • Steel Troopers, Squad 8 (counts as 17 Secutarii Hoplites)

The army uses the Shroud Protocols Dogma, penalizing opponents at -1 on their “to hit” rolls when they shoot at my guys from more than 12″ away.  And, of course, there are Canticles* and Stratagems that make the Dvergar even better.

*I’m a big fan of Shroudpsalm, which gives units not in cover +1 to their Save, as if they were in cover.

I chose Hoplites over units like Electro-Priests or Ruststalkers because they’re a mere 9 points each, have 2 Attacks at Strength 6, and have Saves of 4+ and Invulnerable Saves of 5+ or 4+ vs. melee attacks.  Being so cheap, I can bring 93 of them in this list.  Ninety-three dudes packing S6 weaponry—who let me do that?

The transport Duneriders are 73 points a pop; and the Dominus, Enginseer, and Datasmith are 90, 30, and 49 points respectively.  That leaves plenty of points for the Robots, who 105 each, but smash anything they get their metal mitts on.

Dvergar Steeljacks, “Gold Army” List

This force consists of two Battalion Detachments, which gives me +10 Command Points to spend on hoopy Stratagems such as Tech-Adept, which, for 1 CP, allows one of my Enginseers to repair a vehicle twice in the same turn, restoring d3 Wounds each time.

There’s nothing fancy with this list, just hordes of shooty Skitarii backed up by Skorpius Disintegrators, the Predator tank of the AM catalog.

  • Detachment 1:
    • Warspar (counts as Tech-Priest Enginseer)—Warlord w/ Necromechanic Trait
    • Two Engineers (count as Tech-Priest Enginseers)
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 1-6 (each squad counts as 10 Skitarii Vanguard, including 2 arc rifles and 1 plasma caliver)
    • Three Dvergar Crawlers (each count as Skorpius Disintegrator w/ 3 corgis heavy stubbers, disruptor missile launcher, and Belleros energy cannon)
  • Detachment 2:
    • Two Engineers (count as Tech-Priest Enginseers)
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 7-8 (each squad counts as 10 Skitarii Vanguard)
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 9 (counts as 5 Skitarii Vanguard)
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 10 (counts as 9 Skitarii Vanguard)
    • Steel Troopers, Squads 11-12 (each count as 20 Secutarii Hoplites)
    • Steel Troopers, Squad 13 (counts as 13 Secutarii Hoplites)
    • Two Dvergar Crawlers (each count as Skorpius Disintegrator w/ 3 corgis heavy stubbers, disruptor missile launcher, and Belleros energy cannon)

The army uses the Relentless March Dogma (when Advancing, ignore penalties for firing Assault weapons, and treat Rapid Fire weapons as Assault weapons).

I chose Vanguard over Skitarii Rangers because I prefer radium carbines over galvanic rifles.  Rad carbines are 18″ Assault 3 S3 AP0 D1, but every time you roll a “6” on the “to wound” roll, the Damage goes up to 2.  Galv’s are 30″ Rapid Fire 1 S4 AP0 D1, and each time you roll a 6+ “to wound,” the AP goes to -1.  I’m willing to give up the increased range and Strength of the galvanic rifle for the rad carbine’s extra shots that can do more Damage.

(And the special weapons of arc rifles and plasma calivers?  Gravy.  Thick, rich, creamy gravy)

Because Vanguard are so cheap, I can add heaps of Hoplites for some Assault Phase goodness, not that the Hoppers suck at shooting, either (their arc lances are 12″ Assault 1 S6 AP-1 D1, and when attacking a Vehicle, the Damage is d3).

The Skorpius Disintegrator is not a troop carrier like its cousin the Dunerider; all it does is blast large holes in the enemy.  As in:

  • 9 shots at S4 AP0 D1 (cognis heavy stubbers)
  • D6 shots at S7 AP-2 Dd3 (disruptor missile launcher)
  • 3d3 shots at S6 AP-1 D2 (bellerous energy cannon)

Did I mention that the Disintegrator can move and fire its weapons without penalty?  How neglectful of me.  Each for a mere 91 points.  Again, who let me do that?

Conclusion

I’ve played a couple games with each list, Black and Gold, and have been very happy with the results.  Reconfigured and deadlier than ever, the Dvergar are ready to terrorize the galaxy—just don’t call them “Squats!”


When he isn’t playing or blogging about 40K, Kenton Kilgore writes killer SF/F for young adults, and adults who are still young.  This Wasted Land, his latest novel, isn’t your typical teenage love story.  It’s more like: Boy meets Girl–>Evil Witch takes Boy–>Girl goes to get Boy back.

He is also the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog.  His first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons.  With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Visit kentonkilgore.com, and follow Kenton on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch him on Instagram.

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