July 6, 2013 by brennon
October 1998 saw a seismic shift in Warhammer 40,000, the release of 3rd Edition. It is perhaps difficult for anyone who wasn’t there to understand exactly what a huge change the transition from 2nd to 3rd Edition of 40K was. The move from Rogue Trader to 2nd edition was a gradual move with the rules being refined over time. The move to 3rd edition was like stripping the corpse down to the bone and rebuilding from the ground up. I remember getting to look through a pre-release copy of the hardback book and my eighteen year old mind trying to understand how the game worked without any modifiers and the apparent butchery of the close combat system. Ever since then any new edition has only tweaked what has come previously, sometimes to improve gameplay mechanics, sometimes to introduce more model retailing potential.
With the coming of 3rd Edition the Eldar became very much the ‘fast’ army. It was always intended that this be so but for so much of their existence the Eldar had needed to walk everywhere with only light vehicles such as jet bikes to give them any real speed. With the release of the Falcon kit towards the end of 2nd Edition the Eldar now had a transport that could move them from one end of the board to the other rapidly. The 3rd edition Codex released in 1999 was sparse at only forty eight pages but it managed to introduce the Wave Serpent for the first time to 40k. This dedicated transport had up until then been the preserve of those gamers who could source and afford the third party resin Armorcast kit of the Epic Wave Serpent. Although there was no model the rules being present in the Codex meant that people could easily convert up Wave Serpents until the model was eventually released through Forge World.
3rd Edition was still a shock and even a new Codex didn’t entirely help salve the pain of nerfed shuriken catapults. Some consolation was at hand as this was the time of the Starcannon ascendant. Third saw the move away from merely having all forces use Imperial equipment with a handful of token weapons mixed in. Now Codices for xenos races exchanged these Imperial weapons for race specific equivalents. Where before Vypers and Guardians had fielded heavy plasma cannons now they brought Starcannons to the game. These were Marine killers. At strength 6, AP2 and heavy 3 heavy infantry everywhere feared a Starcannon pointed in their direction. This wasn’t to last though and with the advent of 4th Edition Starcannons went down to heavy 2 and their popularity waned.
The 3rd Edition Codex introduced two new special characters. With the Phoenix Lords this brought the Eldar Special Character total up to nine! Iyanna Arienal introduced the concept of Spirit Seers. The Wraith constructs of the Eldar were now described as having trouble perceiving the world of the living without the guidance of a psyker. Spirit Seers were effectively necromancers, psykers who commune with the dead and exhume their souls from the Infinity Circuit to inhabit a wraith construct. The raising of the dead to walk to war is taboo within Eldar cultures and is only tolerated in the direst of circumstances.
The second new addition was Nuadhu ‘FireHeart’ a Wildrider of Saim Hann. In 2nd Edition characters could ride on the back of a modified Vyper atop a fighting platform and use them as chariots. This had been dropped from the new Codex but a remnant of this option remained. Nuadhu would fight from the back of his modified Vyper steed, Alean, named for the legendary black steed ridden to war by Khaine. It is a shame this awesome sounding character never got a model.
In 2001 the Eldar received their second codex for that edition of 40K! Codex Craftworld Eldar was a supplement for the standard Eldar Codex and though only 24 pages long it managed to cram in enough new material to allow Eldar players to field armies specific to one of the five main Craftworlds. 3rd Edition was to see several supplementary codices with the larger Space Marine force that did not follow the structure of the Codex Astartes, having their books come out as supplements rather than full books in their own right.
Alaitoc would be based around their many Outcasts as the Eldar of Alaitoc were conservative and strict in their adherence to the Path causing many of the young to seek escape and adventure and those loyal to Alaitoc would be the most skilled of all Rangers, the Pathfinders. In the current book we have been introduced to Illic Nightspear a special character who is the galaxy’s best sniper and who can improve a unit of Rangers in your army.
The aggressive and war hungry Biel Tann Eldar were given The Court of the Young King. Led more by its Exarchs than by its Seers Biel Tann actively sought war with those inferior races that stood between them and the resurgence of the Eldar Empire. A Court would be an assembly of Exarchs who would form a unit with the Avatar, an incredibly powerful melee squad to unleash on the mon-keigh that infest the stars.
Saim Hann got access to a Wildrider Chieftain and Wildrider Kindred. The Chieftain was a character to lead your army mounted on a jetbike and the Kindred were jetbikes who were more geared towards close combat with half of them being able to take Shuriken Cannons.
Iyanden was able to field a Ghost Army where Wraithguard and Wraithlords could be taken as troops and where all other troop choices were relegated to other parts of the force organisation chart. To keep them aware of the fight Spirit Seers became upgrades for Warlocks providing the dead with an anchor in the world of the living.
Ulthwe the Damned maintains a close watch on the Eye of Terror. The Path of the Seer draws many of its most talented and the Warrior Aspects are less well represented. To compensate, the Black Guardians of Ulthwe have become a highly trained militia and are the most deadly of their kind on all the Craftworlds. To lead them a Seer Council would be convened. A unit formed of two Farseers and three Warlocks. The Warlocks had access to the Augment power which doubled the range of the Farseer’s psychic powers.
This book also gave us our first mention of the Eldar’s plan for ultimate vengeance against Slaanesh. It had long been established that the Infinity Circuit was a repository of Eldar Souls but the ultimate purpose for this other than to protect against Slaanesh had not been explored. Now the ever increasing tally of souls had a purpose. As more and more collected together a second consciousness was being slowly born. When the last Eldar died then he would awaken and defeat Slaanesh, Ynnead, God of the dead.
This revelation was a bombshell to me. The Eldar had always been portrayed as a dying race with no hope. Through a bitter act of spite Ynnead represented a glimmer of hope for the Eldar after all, what if Ynnead awakened before the Eldar were extinguished? Would they be saved? This revelation was to be topped very recently with the release of Codex Iyanden. A superb well of fluff on Iyanden both familiar and new this book unleashed another revelation. Iyanna Arienal is determined to awaken Ynnead as soon as she is able, collecting the Tears of Morai Heg the crone Goddess who holds the threads of fate so that she can add as many Eldar souls to the growing consciousness of the God of the Dead by force.
As a counter point to this insane plan is a vision granted to Prince Yriel. Now a special character with a model of his own since 4th Edition and the introduction of the Autarch, a politician who has trod many Paths of the Warrior and who has access to his old wargear, Yriel is a doomed figure who wields a cursed spear that is killing him bit by bit. As he stands before the altar from which it was drawn, ready to return it and succumb to death he is told to stay his hand by a Harlequin Shadowseer who grants him a glimpse of the Eldar Gods reborn like the phoenix of Eldar legend. Emboldened and revitalised with this future Yriel strides from the temple determined to see his people returned to glory.
This possibility that the Eldar may be redeemed and saved, to return to the bosom of their creator gods and thrive once more is an awesome reworking of their tragedy laden lore. In Codex Chaos Daemons and the later Codex Daemons we learnt that the Eldar mother Goddess Isha was saved from Slaanesh by Nurgle and that she is his beloved guinea pig forever testing his virulent concoctions. The Eldar are aware of this though all attempts to free her have failed. The possibilities are boundless though unlikely to ever reach fruition with Games Workshop’s strategy of the perpetual now.
Ulthwe would feature again in the 2003 campaign book Codex Eye of Terror. The Eldar had played a part in the earliest campaign summer for the Battle for Ichar IV where Ultramarines, Imperial Guard and Iyanden battled side by side against a Genestealer cult infiltration that erupted into a full scale Tyranid invasion. Back then results were posted in via regular mail but in 2003 something called the internet made posting results even easier.
Eldrad Ulthran shared out rare mobile webway portals between a number of Ulthwe Strike Forces. These forces of Black Guardians were tasked with hit and run attacks against specific targets to help sway the balance of victory towards the forces of light. Though a lifelong Eldar player myself this summer I took control of my other main army, the Emperor’s Children. The forces of Chaos would emerge triumphant after the many weeks of playing and reporting which caused a shift forward for the story of 40k. Abaddon’s 13th Black Crusade had emerged from the Eye of Terror having fought past Cadia and was now free to attack the wider galaxy. Ahriman had almost breached the Black Library via the Webway and Eldrad Ulthran was dead! Lured into a trap by assaulting a Blackstone Fortress, a C’Taan killing weapon that had unbeknownst to him been possessed by a greater daemon of Slaanesh. Currently his souls is its plaything at the centre of the corrupted fortress.
Except it isn’t. The 13th Black Crusade and its aftermath have been ret-conned from 40k lore and the events of that long summer are caught on the tip of a fluff event horizon doomed never to happen. As the Slaaneshi representative on the Planet Killer Council, directing Emperor’s Children players the world over and a devoted fluff fiend I am more than a little miffed!
Looking back whilst writing this article I had forgotten how much 3rd edition gave us. Worldwide campaigns and supplement codices. 4th and 5th Editions may have given us back proper codices and refined the game’s rules but there was never as much going on. 6th Edition appears to be learning the lessons of all its forebears as it brings a little of everything into the now. 4th and 5th were something of a drought however with not much happening. Specialist games were the main source of new Eldar events with the likes of Epic, Battlefleet Gothic and even Necromunda getting an unreleased Farseer and pair of Fire Dragons. The pages of the Citadel Journal and Fanatic Magazine and its predecessors would bring back old units and some new ones. The Venom of the Dark Eldar was originally featured in an army list for Harlequins printed in the Citadel Journal.
Though taken for granted now Forge World was a big deal. Its debut kits were add-ons and additional turrets for Imperial Guard tanks but the Eldar got their turn eventually. Prior to the release of 3rd Edition a new version of Epic came out that used the new Falcon design for the basis for all of the standard Eldar tank variants. Forge World would release these as add-on kits for the Falcon so that soon the Eldar had access to Wave Serpent models that Games Workshop themselves were not producing as well as a model for the Night Spinner and Firestorm anti-aircraft tank. Before long even the Super Heavy Scorpion grav-tank and Cobra saw release.
Since then Forge World has continued in the tradition of Armorcast by releasing models that increase the weapons available to the Eldar arsenal. With Imperial Armour 11: The Doom of Mymera the Eldar army finally had a model for the Phantom Titan its most powerful weapon of war to complement the redesigned Revenant Titans already available. By now the Eldar had a single unified design philosophy and some of the more outlandish elements had been consigned to the past. Accompanying this release were a new warrior aspect, the Shadow Spectres, as well as a Phoenix Lord to lead them. Floating above the ground like ethereal spirits with their jet packs they carry Prism Rifles, compact versions of the weapon mounted on Fire Prisms they combine their blasts to a single pinpoint beam of immeasurable power.
Joining them were Corsairs. Revived from their last appearance in 2nd Edition the Corsairs received a host of new models that pinned down their unit formations and way of war. Comprised mostly of models armoured in a similar fashion to Guardians the Corsairs saw the re-mergence of laser weapons over Shuriken Catapults giving them the range they needed to be an effective hit and run force. Bolstered by their jet packs and man portable heavy weapons with jump pack Wasp Walkers the Corsairs became a force in their own right.
The Eldar of Warhammer 40,000 are well served for fluff and models. Though we are still waiting for new Jetbikes the future is bright. The Craftworld army lists look likely to return with Iyanden being the first of the new range of codex supplements. Whilst these appear to be sourcebooks and campaign books rather than true codices with new units for a fan of the Eldar they are an invaluable new source of background that expands and enhances what has come before. Not only this but with a possible return to glory in the never to be documented 42nd Millennium adventures the future looks bright for the Eldar.
I hope you have enjoyed this abridged look back at the Eldar through the many incarnations of Warhammer 40,000. There will be a series of accompanying articles going over the things that deserve more in depth looks at The Conclave of Har website. Please come take a look.
Advocate of Ynnead art by DeviantArt user Addinarr
Eldar Autarch feature image by DeviantArt user r7ll