Well, I’m more excited for this than I first thought I would be, I have to admit! When I first got my hands on the Deathwatch: Overkill game, my attention was mainly drawn to the space marines, and while I did build up a couple of the genestealer cult models, I haven’t done anything with them yet. The Deathwatch were formally launched into 40k in August, and I kinda threw myself behind that release, and while a lot of the internet has been excited for these cult minis, I can’t really say I feel the same way. I think a lot of that excitement is based in the nostalgia for the genestealer cult from back in 2nd edition (early 1990s), replete with cult limousine…
Obviously, I can’t speak for this nostalgia myself, having only become interested in Warhammer 40k in the last couple of years, but I have to say, I really like the mining aesthetic that the models have from the Overkill game, even though I don’t tend to go for that kind of grungy look for my miniatures. I’ve started to assemble a lot of the minis from Overkill, at any rate, partly after being inspired by a post from a Facebook group earlier in the week.
Genestealers are linked to some of my own nostalgia for 40k of course, as one of my first experiences with the setting was the 4th edition Space Hulk boardgame released in the autumn of 2014. Blood Angels vs Genestealers in the narrow confines of a derelict space hulk, the game features a horde of the tyranid vanguard, and if I hadn’t already become so enamoured with my Necrons, I would very likely have bought into the new tyranid bugs that were released around the same time…
So I’m not going to go all-in on genestealer cults, but I am thinking about getting some more models to build up and paint. All of this interest, however, has got me thinking about these cultists, and what the story is all about. So sit back, while I educate myself about all this stuff!
The genestealers are the vanguard for the invading tyranid forces, sent forth in advance of the massive hive ships to subvert a planet to make it ready for conquest. The genestealer infects hosts with its DNA, causing hybrids to be born when that host reproduces. For a generation or two, the offspring will appear vaguely like its parent, though further generations will reveal more of the genestealer look – more arms, tails, bulbous heads and blue/purple skin.
I find this kinda fascinating, possibly due to having enjoyed the Shield of Baal series so much. Genestealers are fairly intelligent for a tyranid lifeform, able to operate away from the hive mind or synapse creatures for extended periods thanks to its own form of brood mind, directed mainly by the Broodlord. With enough genestealers operating under this brood mind, the tyranid hive fleet can sense the planet ready for conquest through the warp. Which brings us to Genestealer Cults!
These cults are formed from the first offspring of infected hosts, and band together into a vague sort of family that has a vague sort of worship of some kind of figurehead – sometimes referred to as the four-armed emperor, I’ve heard? Anyway, by banding together like this, the psychic resonance they create attracts the hive fleet, and the cult attempts to sow dissent against the Imperium to ease the way for the tyranids to then invade and digest the planet.
While a Broodlord is the military leader of a genestealer force, a distinct entity referred to as the Patriarch is the head of a genestealer cult, and provides the psychic link for the rest of the cult members. The Patriarch itself is a powerful psyker that can last for hundreds of years, readying the way for the approaching hive fleet. It sounds like a wonderfully creepy way of leading the little bugs, with more, well, cultish overtones than the Broodlord itself.
The Patriarch is served by the Magus, another psyker though almost human in appearance. Its primary role is to serve as the public face of the cult, and relays the orders of the Patriarch to the members. By the time of the Magus’ birth, the cult will have grown significantly, allowing a more widespread control of the planet. This is achieved by the powers of hypnosis and mind-control possessed by the Magus. The Magus is a fourth-generation hybrid, but any children it has will first be purestrain genestealers once more. A pretty horrendous thought, giving birth to six limbs and chitinous exoskeleton…
Something that I’ve found interesting, in the run-up to the Genestealer Cults release from GW, is how/why they can ally with Imperial Guard, never really seeing the link between the two. Well, as it happens, there is a further element of the cult referred to as Brood Brothers – the original infected hosts that started the spawn cycle. When these folks have their hybrid babies, that hybrid psychically dominates its parents, enslaving it to the cult and the whims of the Patriarch. Being normal humans in any other respect, they are able to operate the machinery of the Guard or any Planetary Defense Force, and so open the door for all these types of ally shenanigans that I find really interesting.
So there you have it, the results of my research into these subterranean cults and why I think they’re so cool! I’m definitely going to be picking up the Codex next week, along with a box of ten more neophyte hybrids!