Of all the units in the 41st Millennium, the Dreadnought remains my all time favourite. In all its forms, these hulking beasts have forever held a special place in my heart, and I want to spend a little bit of time today talking about them, their history, their looks, their fluff, and why, to me, dreadnoughts will forever be my 40K Favourites.
In The Beginning…
I remember vividly the first time that I saw a dreadnought in the flesh (or ceramite). It was in the old Games Workshop store on Cheapside in Reading. Before they were called Furioso Dreadnoughts, Furioso was a Blood Angels Space Marrine Dreadnought. He could be found in White Dwarf battle reports and Eavy Metal pages, and someone had painted up a very nice one that sat in the window display case of this store. Among a clutch of the old metal/plastic Death Company, stood this giant. His yellow multimelta, the smoke launchers which at first I mistook for his eyes, the chubby fist and bulky boy, and the Furioso flag that fluttered (alright, technically it hung statically, but in my rose-tinted memories it definitely fluttered) above him… I was enthralled. Right then and there, I had found my favourite.
When I got the 2nd Ed box set, the guy working in the store asked if I would like a Furioso for just £5 because it came with no feet but extra hands and I snapped it up. That humungous lump of lead was my first dreadnought, and though it was sold long ago, ol’ Fist-feet has a spacial place in my heart. But when I was flicking through the pages of the rulebook, I found this page:
Everyone gets dreadnoughts? And what’s that thing with the Inferno banner!? I suddenly realised that there was a world of dreads out there, and I wanted to paint all of them. But I never really did get the chance to do that. I never had the patience to save up the money to buy them back then. Hell, even the Eldar had dreadnoughts before someone clever came up with the whole wraith-schtik. What a time it was…
Since my return to the hobby, I’ve painted more than a few dreadnoughts, and my love for them remains. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as finishing a dread, and there’s nothing quite as fun as painting them. They offer just the right amount of bare space to have fun with freehand, while still having so much detail. Every Space Marine army that I’ve worked on has had at least one of these monstrous behemoths hauling an impressive array of weapons. And every now and again, I still get the urge to buy one and paint it up, and I’m having one of those urges right now. More on that in a bit.
The Stomping Dead
The story of how Space Marine Dreadnoughts came to be, and how they exist, remains an interesting part of the 41st Millennium’s narrative to me. In such a cold a callous setting as it is, where death is a part of everyday life, the idea that any warrior could be so great as to be entombed is an intriguing one. While Space Marines feel the pain of their losses, the Imperium as a whole does have something of a “Meh, we’ll make another one” point of view when it comes to their resources expiring. So a warrior has to be something truly special to deserve entombment in a Dreadnought.
Snatched from the arms of death, these warriors are interred in their sarcophaguses – words that conjure up the idea of death in no uncertain terms. And then they are sent to sleep. They dream away the months, years or even decades before being summoned back into the land of the living again only to fight the unending war. As far as grimdark nightmares go, this is pretty atrocious – being kept alive in perpetuity only to fight the unending war until a second death befalls the husk of a warrior buried within the metal shell. And yet, there is something noble about it all. To become a Dreadnought is to serve a legion or chapter as few others ever could, and the sacrifice that comes with that is truly frightening. This is yet another reason why I love these beasts.
While more whimsical is the Ork dreadnought, which is just a Mek’s way of showing off, has now become a terrifying beast in its own right, though the driver gets to be alive (until it blows up because her pressed the wrong button). One of my favourites is still the cardboard Ork dread that came in the 2nd Ed box. I heard a tale of someone bringing it to a tournament once and because it was an officially produced unit, there was nothing against using it. I dare say there is now a ruling against doing this now, but it made me laugh when I heard about it.
Chaos dreadnoughts of course have their horrifying daemonic qualities, while the wraith constructs of the Eldar are perhaps now something too far removed from the term ‘dreadnought’, though still the souls of ancient warriors are used to propel these giants of the battlefield. However you look at it, being a dreadnought can’t be a lot of fun, but in every case, there’s something unquestionably cool about these walkers.
There’s almost too much to cover here. Just thinking about it all is intimidating enough as there are now so many options to choose from. If we’re just talking about the boxy Space Marine dreads, we’ve got the classic box, the up-armoured Ironclad, the Blood Angels Librarian, Furioso and Death Company versions which reflect that chapter’s fighting style, classic venerable dreads with all their embellishments, and all the Space Wolf variants too, including two characters! And while the boxy dread still looks good for its age, it’s now dwarfed by other imperial variants, from the now diminutive Contemptor with its smooth lines, to the hulking Leviathans and Redemptors. Forge World even offer three character dreads themselves among the vast quantity of variants that they produce. You can now buy a dreadnought for any occasion. In fact, when you consider the weapons options, you could probably paint a dread a week for two years and still not be close to completing the range.
Beyond the Imperium, you have Decimators and Helbrutes for Chaos, while Orks have a range going from the Kill Kan to the Mega Dread. All of these help to add character to those armies, and the dreadnought is a great way to show off an army’s personality and embellishments – they’re almost caricatures of the species or faction they represent.
But all of these do share one thing – size. Not as big as a knight, they still tower over troops, and that’s where they fit in. They still look massive next to your average rank and file warrior, but whether you’re sitting them next to a grot or a Primaris Marine, they match the scale better, and occupy their own space. And for smaller games, they are about as much of a beast as you’ll be able to fit onto a table. To a new player now, I wonder if they seem small compared to the other things that appear on the tables in hobby stores these days. To me though, they will always be huge. Giants, striding over the battlefield, death spilling from their weapons, instilling fear in the opposition like nothing else.
The Redemptor just about breaks the rules around scale as these things are absolute colossuses, but I like how traditional elements of the Dreadnought have been included while expanding both the scale and aesthetics of this unit. And it does fit in with the Primaris look and feel. It feels like a good blend of boxy and contemptor, with a few of Cawl’s growth hormones added for good measure.
I keep thinking that we’ve had as many dreads as we can take, but Games Workshop and Forge World keep finding new ways of creating more, and I’m not even mad about that. In fact, I’m thrilled by it. I’ve yet to see anything with the ‘dreadnought’ monicker that I haven’t wanted to paint (ok, those ancient Eldar ones push this statement to the limit but even they have something about them). They appeal to my ‘giant robot in space’ sort of sensibilities. I’ve been in love with these models ever since I first saw one, and while they are no longer wrist-snapping lumps of lead, they are still a heavy part of my hobby enjoyment. They have always been part of my hobby experience, and they always will be, and I think that the reason I still love them to this day, is because I remember being that wide-eyed kid, staring up at Furioso in the store window, and just being amazed.
And that brings me to the other point of this article, or rather the reason I’m writing it. As much as I love waxing lyrical about Dreadnoughts (and I really do), I’ve got the real urge to paint one. But I don’t know which one! I’ve got so many options now, and there are old favourites I’d like to do again, as well as new things that I’d love to try working on. This is the very definition of being spoiled for choice.
I need your help, readers. Give me suggestions and ideas. Tell me about the dreadnoughts you’ve enjoyed working on, or tell me what you’d like to see me turn my hand to. Help me!!
I hope you enjoyed that long, stompy ramble. I’ve had a lot of fun looking at these old images, but I’m still frustratingly trying to work out what to paint next when it comes to these big chaps. I look forward to reading your ideas. Onwards!