Friday, July 1, 2022

The First Eldar Miniatures in WH40K Rogue Trader

Original Eldar first Space Elf miniatures

The first Eldar miniatures were sculpted by Jes Goodwin and released by Citadel in September 1987. There were twelve models in the range, which was labeled RTO4 Space Elves and later renumbered to RT401.They're an astounding achievement of design: The peaked helms, the organic lines and the heavy armament! In one fell swoop, they made "space elves" an instantly recognizable race while also highlighting the newness and strangeness of their values.

Illustration by Tony Hough (1987)
The genius of WH40K Rogue Trader was that it accomplished two different things at the same time. On the one hand, it shamelessly borrowed concepts, tropes, characters and conflicts from pre-existing settings. All these stolen goods gave Rogue Trader a welcoming familiarity. We recognized parts of Star Wars (armoured space troopers, a frail and psychic emperor, laser swords) or Dune (navigators, personal shields, assassins). We especially recognized the main races, because they were lifted en masse from Tolkien.

But on the other hand, Rogue Trader did a wonderful job of defamiliarizing the borrowed elements by giving them a twist. And nowhere was this twist more potent than with the Space Elves.

The Space Elves of the Rogue Trader universe were not the benevolent nature-lovers of The Lord of the Rings. Rather, they straddle good and evil. Their capacity for malice didn't fracture them into two different races (like the High Elves and the Dark Elves of Warhammer Fantasy). In this sense, the original Eldar resemble humans: both races are capable of moral ambiguity. Unlike humans, they seem to be motivated by boredom more than greed. As the Rogue Trader rulebook tells us, the Eldar trade, adventure, and fight "simply as entertainment":

For many Eldar the peaceful, idyllic monotony of the craft-worlds becomes so dull and uninspiring that they are driven to associate with other, younger and more hot-blooded races. Aside from the traders and merchants, there are some Eldar who throw themselves wholeheartedly into alien society, becoming adventurers or mercenaries... The most famous, or rather infamous, mercenaries are composed of renegades from Eldar society; the psychotic, the malcontent, murderous or evil...

Both the Rogue Trader rulebook and the Book of the Astronomicon (1988) make it clear that most of the Space Elves appearing on the gaming table are either pirates, raiders, or mercenaries. These are not the guardians of craft-worlds, but a wild bunch of killers.

Well, enough talk - let's look at the miniatures! Here are the first four from the RTO4 range of Space Elves...


First is "Aedui Starborn". A simple, classic design. An early sign that Space Elves are badasses is that he (and many of his colleagues) are armed to the teeth with two guns. The crossbow design in the shuriken catapult recalls the Eldar's origins in fantasy settings.

Aedui Starborn RTO4 RT401 Citadel 1987 painted miniature

Second we have "Belgae Strongwill". Why bring a rifle when you can carry a vehicular laser cannon?

Belgae Strongwill RTO4 RT401 Citadel 1987 painted miniature

"Gaedhil Quickshadow" is next. If you can tell me what weapon he (or she?) is carrying in the left hand, please leave a comment. I see that weapon all over the place in early Rogue Trader minis, but I've never been sure whether it is a shotgun or a lasgun.

Gaedhil Quickshadow RTO4 RT401 Citadel 1987 painted miniature

And finally, here is "Sgt. Mael Nightwing". I am particularly fond of this miniature because of the strange way that the casing for the weapon blends into his (or her?) gauntlet. It's a subtle touch that you see in a lot of these early Eldar sculpts: a melding of implements into armour. 

Sgt. Mael Nightwing RTO4 RT401 Citadel 1987 painted miniature

Stay tuned for more of the original Eldar next week!

Happy Canada Day!


22 comments:

  1. The 1991 blue catalogue lists Gaedhil Quickshadow's weapon as a las pistol.

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    1. Laspistol? Well, I'll be jiggered.
      Thanks Ethan - that's some good sleuthing you did.

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    2. Looks a lot like a laspistol in his right hand. The left hand looks like it's holding a plasma pistol. Look at the coils. No other weapon at that time would have had coils I think.

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  2. Lovely classic candies!
    Great work sir.

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    1. "Classical candies" is a good way to put it, Michal. Thanks!

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  3. Happy Canada Day! Glad you're back posting.

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  4. Great work Matthew on these classic sculpts, great analyse of the origins as well.

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    1. I am LOVING your recent sculpts for Battle Beyond the Stars.

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  5. Wonderful Oldhammer painting on these, they could be straight out of an 'Eavy Metal feature! Jes Goodwin really is a design genius.

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    1. That is high praise indeed. You've made my day!

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  6. Oh, sir, what an awesome work :O
    You just got me directly to RT years. I love your paintjob on these, they look totally fresh and classic at the same time, it's wonderful!
    I think Ethan gave you the answer, but before I saw it I was to say it looked like a lasgun of some kind. Las weapons were not unknown to RT Elves, ant that one certainly looks like one by its aspect.

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    1. Lasgun it is! (Although I still have a niggling suspicion that guns with these shapes were originally supposed to be shotguns and were later retconned into laspistols. But that is not more than my intuition at this point, and intuition isn't worth much).

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  7. Oh man! Love your Eldar! The classic blues and yellow's of the Space Elves! They are so fun to paint. You're making me want to expand the Alai further...

    Also I really love that you are weaving the history into your writeup. I didn't get into the hobby until second edition, so I missed some of the early lore. Thanks for helping me catch up a bit more.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoy my historical musings, Hobbs. Wait until you read my next post on the Eldar...

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  8. Great work - very nice indeed! And I agree with your thoughts about the original eldar in RT.

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    1. Thanks!
      I spent a lot of time looking at the Eldar you painted before I tackled these guys. I love your stuff.

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    2. Thank you - I appreciate the comment very much! :)

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  9. And we who thought W40k was just "take the WHFB races and place a laser pistol in their hand" ... Thanks for this reconstruction, and for this much more nihilistic portrait of the space elves.
    So can we say that RT / 40k is less set up as a contrast of "heroes" versus "villains" than WHFB? Do you think this is due to the fact that WHFB initially remained more tied to Tolkien's conception, while RT / W40k is a new world, with no influential models behind it? Or is RT simply a few years later and is affected by the tendency that GW has adopted over time to blur the opposition between good and evil?

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    1. Those are good questions, Rodor! I think the original conception of the world in WH40K: Rogue Trader was morally ambiguous. Astoundingly ambiguous! To give one example (besides the Eldar): the Emperor is a vampiric monster sucking the lives out of hundreds or thousands of innocent people every day. But he's the "good guy." Or think of the Inquisition. That term has no good connotations for anyone who studies real history. But in WH40K, the Inquisition is portrayed as a beacon of order, precisely because it burns heretics and punishes thought-crime.

      I think later editions of WH40K gradually de-emphasized this moral ambiguity. Things like the Horus Heresy, or the Necrons, or the Tyrannids, are so clearly "evil" that they make the Eldar and the Humans "good" by default.

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  10. Always thought these were great models, definitely on the 'wish I'd got some at the time's list'. Really enjoying g the classic blue armour and yellow tiger stripe helmets. I also concurring the Laspistol interpretation, it's one of the nice details of early Rogue Trader models that the often had a sidearm.

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  11. Vell written, formatted and photographed. I just unpacked my very similar army after 30 years in storage. I'm now at a point where I want to finish things i started, so I"m doing that. One last piece I need is the 'Dark elf space trooper' model, you've also written about. Should you , or anyone have a line on one of these things, please share

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