I’ve not done one of these for a while, but in light of our latest codex, I thought I’d take a look at the humble Eldar Guardian in today’s Miniature Focus article. It did bring up a problem though as perhaps the Guardian is a little too humble to get much of a story out of, but let’s find out what we can about the Eldar’s most basic troops.
A Bit Of History
Let’s head back to the beginnings of 40k in the 1980s and consider the influence of Tolkien on the hobby. Along with D&D (itself indebted to JRR), Tolkien is one of the main inspirations for GW’s games and Tolkien used his elven characters which he called the Eldar, to represent a dying age. Some argue that the elves that appear in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit represent Tolkien’s father’s generation – those of a dying empire, still noble and fierce, but resigned more to being part of history than a future. Think of how this too fits with the fluff from the Eldar that appear in 40k and you’ll see where we’re coming from.
The Guardian is not a warrior by trade. Those who don the pointed helms and take up arms to defend their Craftworld are artisans, tradesmen and civilians (much like those older soldiers and Tolkien’s final elves). They sign up when they are needed and show nothing but bravery in the face of often overwhelming odds. Compared to the professional soldier that is the Aspect Warrior, the Guardian may not possess such skill at arms or such knowledge of war, but arguably they are braver.
Their first incarnation in lead(pb) is a little hard to pin down. The model above is actually a ‘Dark Elf Space Trooper’ from the Rogue Trader days, but you can definitely see something of the Guardian in his stance. The model below is from 1991 and is the first to have the term ‘Guardian’ assigned to it officially, (but the chap above is worth a mention if only because it’s technically the first Eldar miniature ever).
Jes Goodwin is almost solely responsible for the early Eldar sculpts and along with the artists of those days took the Eldar away from being a purely ‘Space Elf’ deal. By the time 2nd Edition hit, their fluff was fleshed out with much greater depth and they began to see some plastic sets, including the first Guardian box. And really, that’s where much of the interest ends in terms of their looks. Sculpts improved over the years, but really, the basic Guardian has looked pretty much the same ever since.
In a way though, that suits the fluff. As Wraiths and Aspects have become more refined and elaborate (though again staying relatively true to their early forms), Guardians now look better, but still lack anything elaborate. Aside from the introduction of Storm Guardians in 3rd Edition, they remain humble, and the core of many Eldar forces to this day.
Let’s Get Fluffy
The Eldar empire is dead. Slaanesh has devoured the vast majority of this once pre-eminent race, and all that remains of that society now floats isolated in the void upon the great craftworlds. Too few in number to ever regain their place in the universe, they have become shadow players, subtly influencing the other species in the galaxy, from the ambitious humans, to the marauding greenskins. However, they cannot avoid open conflict all of the time, and when they are called to bring together a warhost, every Eldar is expected to do his duty. Those that might never have taken up arms in the old Empire among stars now, when they are called, grab their shuriken catapults and mesh armour, and stand beside their seers, ghosts and aspect warriors ready to defend their craftworld, laying down their lives if they must. These are the Guardians.
They wear the colours of their craftworld and stand as a great militia, not only supporting the armies on foot, but also operating the heavy weapons platforms, jetbikes and war walkers that bring weight of fire and new tactical assets to any conflict. Their natural grace and speed in war is not restricted by their light armour, but as their enemies grow bolder, and greater weapons are brought to bear against them, the numbers of the Guardians dwindle along with those of their brothers and sisters.
Storm Guardians are a little different to those more common Guardian soldiers. Storm Guardians have walked one or more of the aspect paths and might have retained some of the weapons that they used in those days. When called to war, they support the Aspect Warriors as a specialist militia, wielding pistols, swords and fusion weapons, and bringing death to their enemies.
Time To Talk Tactics
Full disclosure time – I haven’t played the new Guardians in the new codex, so a lot of what I’m going to say here (which won’t be a great deal) is pretty much second hand. That being said, Guardians are pretty much there to do one thing – win objectives.
If you’re using the old-school FOC style of building armies, Guardians/Storm Guardians are still one of your very few troop choices along with Dire Avengers. The latter got some pretty sweet buffs in the latest book, but the Guardians are still a pretty standard choice and they are really cheap too. They have objective secured of course, and the sheer numbers of them should help to make the unit survivable, but they are still pretty darn squishy. Wave Serpents and cover will keep them alive for longer, so keep them hid near an objective until the end game comes around.
The big new shiny thing from Codex Eldar Craftworlds is the new Warhost build and with the new Windrider jetbikes flying(sic) off the shelves to fill up one of the mandatory slots, the Guardians might not see as much play. Basically, to make it legal and get to all the fun stuff, you need a warhost core, and the two most popular choices are going to be the one with jetbikes and then the one with Guardians at a distant second. That means, if you’re taking on an Eldar Craftworld army anytime soon, you need to worry more about the windriders and I’ve got no answers for you there. It doesn’t take much to smoosh Guardians so just throw a couple of frag missiles at them and a couple of bolter rounds and they’ll be dead or running away. Saying that though, with this codex, you’re going to have a lot more problems than Guardians.
If Looks Could Kill…
The Guardian is, I suppose, the archetypal Eldar. All of the Aspect Warriors, their looks are essentially Jes Goodwin riffing off the design of the Guardians. That conical helm, the armour’s smooth lines and of course the iconic shuriken weapon can be seen repeated often and across the whole army.
The frame still appears elven and fragile, but the triumph of the design is that it still looks solid and warrior-like. I’m sure it would have been tempting to give them a cloth-armour, like their WFB-kin, with guardians sporting flowing robes, but thankfully Mr Goodwin moved away from this and created an armour style that is truly unique, not just for the Guardians, but for all Eldar. These warriors will never attain the iconic looks of Striking Scorpions or Fire Dragons, but they’re not meant to be anything more than the grunts, so it wouldn’t fit if they were flamboyant and grand. They are simple, yet stylised, and that’s why they work.
Ah, The Memories
My first encounters with the Eldar Guardian is a bit of an odd one really, as they aren’t from 40k, but instead they come from Jervis Johnson’s cardboard-token game, Doom of the Eldar (I still have my copy too). The game, if you don’t remember it, was centred around the Tyranid invasion of Craftworld Iyanden (this was the game that introduced Yriel). There were plenty of Guardian tokens as I recall and not one of them was any good. As soon as a hive ship disgorged its contents onto the Craftworld it promptly ate the Guardians without so much as a “bon appetite”. Quite the annoyance when playing as the defender, I can tell you.
In 40k itself, I have generally avoided using them (when I am an Eldar player, though it be rare), perhaps in part due to those experiences with DotE. Mainly it was because I preferred Dire Avengers (remember the old bladestorm rule from 5th?) and I didn’t have the patience to paint so many of them. With the latest release though, my mind has wondered about creating my own craftworld, so who knows what the future will bring. One day I might bring my Warhost to the defence of the Eldar.
They’re not much to look at, they don’t survive for very long, and there’s nothing that special about them. So why, oh why would anyone waste their time writing an article like this about such a unit? These are the units upon which the armies of 40k are built. They are not flash, nor are they even that fun, but they are the core of our game. Not every warrior can be a prince or a hero, and so it falls to those such as the Guardian to fill the role of simple soldier. They have helped to craft the very look of the Eldar for decades now, and are as synonymous with that space-faring race as the Avatar or the Wraithknight in whose shadows they will forever stand in. For all grace and glory in this ancient race, one day you’re going to need a squishy blob to sit on an objective and deal out very average damage for you. When that time comes, these are your space elves.