40K: The Death of Lord Varlak


Here’s the thing. I know you –liked– 40k. So what happened? The Death of Lord Varlak…

Regardless of what your feelings are now, you –liked– it at one point and judging by the fact you are on a news and rumour site reading this article I’m pretty sure you –really liked– it.

I’ll tell you why I liked it (enough to review old back issues here). The answer is simple, Lord Varlak.

The name will either mean nothing to you or bring back floods of near overwhelmingly happy memories, so apologies if you’re reading this while driving, conducting surgery, operating heavy machinery or base jumping.

It’s possible that the name means nothing to you and that’s fair enough, it was back in 1995 which was virtually the dark ages by most accounts, however regardless of how long ago it took place it is my opinion that this character is the focus of the greatest Warhammer 40k battle report ever written.

This took place in White Dwarf 187, but first a little bit of background: It’s 1995 and 2nd Edition 40k is in full swing, miniatures are being produced at a rate never before seen and Space Marines are a hot topic, until now there have been many battle reports featuring Eldar and Ork armies, however due to the focus on metal miniatures these reports were focused on infantry skirmishes with the occasional vehicle as a centrepiece.

Then along came the Imperial Guard who got a completely redesigned 40k model range and a legion of Epic (or Space Marine or Adeptus Titanicus depending on which edition you want to say their range began) scale tanks with which the designers could draw inspiration from. Before you could say “what about Eldar Falcons” they had Leman Russ main battle tanks, Chimera armoured personal carriers and the terrifying Demolisher siege tank, which looked (and still look) great and were easy to put together and paint.


This was all well and good but it wasn’t long until someone pointed out how awesome all these vehicles would look if they were matched up against the Rhino, Razorback and Predators of Games Workshops poster children the Space Marines.

Voilà: the Heretic battle report was born. There were 4 players each side due to having to go through the painted collections of many different people to build up a force of vehicles large enough. On one side two Demolisher tanks defended the center of the board with some weapons teams in fortifications and Lord Varlak the flamboyant Imperial Psyker Lord (looking like someone straight out of Dune) with his bodyguard of Ogryn abhumans while 9 other Imperial Guard tanks sped towards them. To complete this visual spectacle, the design team included Imperial Guard infantry models that weren’t even released yet, leaving the advertising strategy and rumour squashing departments in the dust.


Meanwhile rushing towards Varlak was a spearhead of 15 Ultramarine, Space Wolves, Dark Angels and Blood Angels tanks including 5 Predators and several squads, a support weapon and 3 Land Speeders. The studios Ultramarine Landraider wasn’t used at this time for reasons unknown (I think it might have been out of production or would have unbalanced the scenario).

The mission was simple: the combined Space Marine commanders had to kill Lord Varlak, the Imperial Guard commanders had to get him off the board preferably in the back of a Chimera. The final stipulation to this matchup was that due to it being fought with 2nd Edition 40k rules, all units had to fire at their closest viable targets so if the Space Marines wanted to target him, they had to go in and get him.


What followed was the greatest battle report ever written, Andy Chambers did his best to bring the character of Lord Varlak to the table but this wasn’t what truly made it special. What really fired up my interest was not down to the story, not down to the spectacle, not down to the previews of unreleased models or the house rules they introduced into the game to tone down blast weapons; the part that interested me most was that almost every unit and tank taking part looked good and all the players looked like they were having fun playing it.

The new Leman Russ Demolishers looked awesome weathering a storm of fire and psychic attacks from the Space Marines, the armoured Guard reinforcements looked awesome speeding on with their individual paint schemes and engaging the lead Predators, the Deathwing contingent looked terrifying getting close in (back when they could ride in Rhinos) and tearing apart the approaching tanks in close combat. The Ultramarines new chief librarian Tigurius (the superior old model) looked awesome causing the heavy siege tanks to back away from his devastating short range powers. Just look at the graphical map of what happened:


The battle ended when the surviving model from the combined squadron of Land Speeders managed to hit Lord Varlak with a Multimelta just as the Blood Angels Death Company and Space Wolves Blood Claws started overrunning the defenses, it was pretty awesome.

As with the style at the time there were closing words from the players involved and you could tell they really enjoyed it, Andy Chambers sounded mighty cross that he had his character vaporized.


I would have given everything at that time to be a part of that battle report, it looked excellent. The best thing was that it wasn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that I might actually play a game like this, all I had to do was to buy more models…

So there you go. Back when Games Workshop used to ignore its own points limits, re-write the rules of its own game systems, show off models before you could buy them in the shops and use non Eavy Metal painted miniatures in battles they managed to convince me to buy more of their products.

~ Food for thought?

Chilvers Industries

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  • SYSTem050

    It was a great battle report. I remember really wanting a demolisher tank. Alas it was just as I was attempting to “put away childish things and become an adult”.

    • euansmith

      That didn’t work out for you either, huh? It cost me an entire run of 2,000AD 🙁

      • SYSTem050

        Nope stayed away for 3 editions (3rd 4th and 5th) picked up the of rule book on line to read for fluff. Moved house and was finally forced to take stuff from my parents attic and thought you know what I am starting this up again.

        Not sure how chuffed the wife has been random D&d and WoD stuff was Ok but now I am really needing my own room 🙂

    • wibbling

      Adulthood is highly overrated.

      • euansmith

        The being mature enough to realise being cool isn’t that important is nice.

        • SYSTem050

          There is a quote somewhere about only the young being worried about acting grown up.

        • The money earned through a salary to buy that stuff isn’t too bad either.

          • euansmith

            Ooooooooh, yesh!

  • euansmith

    I get the impression that this is how GW still play their games. They have certain advantages, like being able to discuss things during breaks at work, and actually play on proper tables after work in the office.

    What a fantastic miniature Lord Varlak is.

    • Stealthbadger

      I think you are right. It’s why when people come to them with ‘rules conundrums’ and power combos I can imagine that generation of designers just staring forlornly into the middle distance.

      The above ideas work great for a group of friends trying to tell a story which seems to be all they really ever focussed on.

      The problem is that players also want to be able to play pickup games and tournaments and you just can’t do that with the above mind set.

      GW made us a comfy pair of slippers but people want to use them as running shoes.

      • euansmith

        Of course, if someone is willing to put in the work to create a narrative event or campaign, there will normally be a few others willing to give it a go.

        • Stealthbadger

          True. The above shows you can have fun without worrying too much about points parity and balance. But the trade off is more work pre game to agree it.

          The inverse is spend no time pre game other than agreeing a points limit and jumping straight in.

          I’m not saying any player’s approach is the wrong one, I like both, is wrong just that they are two irreconcilable.

          • euansmith

            Yeah, a nicely balanced point system would be great for both pick up and narrative play. It would be disappointing to put loads of work in to a narrative scenario, only to discover you’ve accidentally created a one-sided mess.

      • kobalt60

        slippers vs running shoes is perhaps the best analogy for fluff vs competitive play that i have come across. I’m giving you 37 interweb points, to spend as you see fit

        • euansmith

          I thought that was a cracking analogy too. 😀

        • Stealthbadger

          Thank you.

          It’s a Brit thing I think. Nothing beats a nice comfy pair of slippers and a cup of tea.

      • Arthfael


    • Wayne Molina

      It is. They like to come up with a little story about each game, something in all honestly I think more people need to do to get enjoyment. Too many people just want to plop down a 1500 point army or whatever and start rolling dice without any care as to why they’re playing this battle on this table. Honestly it makes me sad. I love creating characters and squads that have a backstory, it’s not just a random tactical squad, it’s 4th squad of 3rd company led by the noble Sergeant Aggrias who has a bionic arm after losing his old one in a battle against the fearsome ork boss Badskar on Seltan IV, etc. etc.

      • euansmith

        Decades ago, my Dad was involved in running a game at Sandhurst for officers in training. The board was set up in one room with the guys playing the unit commanders; while the higher echelons were in another room, with a map. The two rooms were connected by phone to represent the radio network. Every so often, a phone would be disconnected to add to the confusion.

  • wibbling

    Wot? An article not espousing must win at all costs, cheat and twist every rule, keep to absurd ‘balance’ or tournamunt rules? However will people cope!

    • SilentPony

      Madness! Utter madness! No one is allowed to have fun playing 40k! I’ve been to tournaments, and there are fewer smiles there than a meeting of Tragedy Mask Aficionados

  • Liam Wolf

    A month or so back I retrieved all my old white dwarfs from my parents house. This was the first thing I looked for 😀

  • khegrow

    IIRC one more special rule during that scenario was that Lord Varlak (A.C) watched the battle, then went out of the room. He recorded instructions for his generals (the players who had control over the various I.G. Detachments) and then returned to play the record to his generals.

    This was the most narrative game I’ve ever read.

    • euansmith

      Decades ago, my Dad was involved in running a game at Sandhurst for officers in training. The board was set up in one room with the guys playing the unit commanders; while the higher echelons were in another room, with a map. The two rooms were connected by phone to represent the radio network. Every so often, a phone would be disconnected to add to the confusion.

  • Deacon Ix

    This was and still is one of the best battles ever reported on – for years my friends and I wanted to do similar but never had enough tanks.

  • Shinnentai

    Classic 2nd edition 😀

  • benn grimm

    Haha, brilliant! Loved this bat rep, thank you for bringing back some great memories from the golden era of 40k 🙂

  • Wayne Molina

    GW always tended to ignore (or at least be very flexible with) points and introduce house rules to make scenarios better. They also always said they had no problem refighting a battle if it ended too abruptly to make for an interesting report.

    It really is and always was the intended way to play, not just show up and upack a 1850 point force and throw down, but actually some up with a little story for the battle; what I loved the most about most of the old WD battle reports was naming every squad and character, I still try to do that even if nobody cares. It’s a shame that not many people (from what I’ve seen anyways) want to do that.

    • euansmith

      Indded, Billy the Kid (the powersword/metabomb weilding Beastman/Space Marine Scout Close Combat Sergeant) and Bosun Higgs (the elusive Squat Space Maine Sniper Sergeant) from my Ion Pyrites (rather suspect but apparently still loyal privateer Iron Warriors Successor Space Marine Chapter) still remain my favourite 40k dudes.

      Any battle they survived was a victory. Once, scouts all got bladdered in a nearby tavern and failed to turn up to an entire battle (I forgot to deploy them).

      That, to me, is so much more fun than fielding some generic super fiends build.

  • Paul Sinanan

    still have the WD! the first published mega-battle… probably one of the bits of material responsible for my long term addiction

    the old second Ed studio terrain is still unsurpassed, especially the landing pad

    • SYSTem050

      Funny I was just scouring the pictures to see the landing pad as I had noticed it on the battle map and rembered it being awesome.

      But then I am a massive fan of the “3rd army”

  • Lord Solar Mac

    Man, I miss those days!

  • Defenestratus

    Perhaps this, and the other battle reports that I read in WD (and some that I wrote myself) are the reasons why I loved 2nd edition so much.

    • kobalt60

      2’nd edition took the clumsy awkward brilliant skirmish game that was RT, and made it into a clumsy, awkward brilliant large scale game. It would take an hour or more to pick and outfit your army list and set up the game, and 5 hours to play a game. It was also the most fun to play, imo.
      3’rd streamlined the game by removing the fun. Or maybe my nostalgia googles are on too tight

      • Shinnentai

        3rd edition removed a lot of a player’s tactical options : no more overwatch, hiding or marching. Still, streamlining let them increase the typical model-count and sell more models.

        It also made cover less effective and encouraged troops with basic weapons to remain stationary, removing a lot of the benefits of manoeuvre.

        If your nostalgia goggles are too tight then you may be interested in Bionic Nostalgia Eyes : Detect hidden 2nd Ed miniatures on Ebay within 24″ and +1 to hit.

  • Nogle

    Back when terminators could ride in rhinos

  • blackbloodshaman

    Kevin Roundtree- I will make warhammer 40k great again

  • Andrew Thomas

    Tankies gonna tank. Oh, the memories.