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  • Writer's pictureAlex Payne

Miniature perfection: An ode to Jes Goodwin's Drukhari range

Drukhari range refresh Jes Goodwin models

Let me tell you a tale of Commorragh, and the best miniatures ever made


My favourite faction in all of 40k is the duplicitous, dastardly Drukhari. I became intrigued by the Drukhari a year or so into getting back to 40k, when I realised how weird and different the Drukhari range was. No one I knew collected them, and the opportunity to do something different from the ubiquitous Space Marines or T'au in my local gaming group was a huge draw.


One thing I've been fascinated by is just how good the Drukhari range is. They're gorgeous models, full of character, and with options that really allow a huge amount of kitbashing and customisation.


I also adore the slightly goofy third edition range, too - from bondage mandrakes to the more angular, muscle-car style raiders. But there's no denying the beauty of that fifth edition revision to the dark kin, which still stands today as among the prettiest ranges in the entire GW catalogue.


So this article is, essentially, going to be a love letter to the best range Games Workshop has ever produced, and in particular to Jes Goodwin - the man who crafted it*.

"This article is a love letter to the best range Games Workshop has ever produced, and in particular to Jes Goodwin - the man who crafted it."

In doing some research for this article, I came across a now-defunct YouTube channel for the Games Workshop Studio from 2010. The content is definitely less polished than their modern output, but one of the few surviving series up on the site is a three part interview with Phil Kelly and Jes Goodwin about the creation of the Drukhari range refresh that (at the time) had just gone up for pre-order.


It's a fascinating historical artifact, from a time before the studio closed ranks in the 2010s and before GW re-entered the social media space with the advent of 7th edition. In it, Phil and Jes describe the process by which they created not just a brand new range for the Drukhari in fifth edition, but also completely restructed their lore and playstyle from the ground up.



The range


One point that comes up fairly regularly in that interview is the wish to create a sense of inter-connectivity across the various aspects of the force. This is an amazing decision, enabling incredible flexibility and customisation across the various units of the range, and made possible because of the root and stem nature of the refresh. Everything is replaced or updated for the new range, given a beautiful but deadly new aesthetic that nails the diversity and yet overarching similarities between the Cults, Covens and Kabals of the dark city.

"There is an incredible synergy between the disparate archetypes of the Drukhari that ties their range together into a cohesive whole."

The Drukhari are a uniquely varied faction with three very distinct aesthetics making up their armies, but there is an incredible synergy between those disparate archetypes that ties their range into a cohesive whole. GW would later realese the Drukhari Sketchbook featuring the works of Goodwin and his team, which show a near flawless translation from mind to pen to tabletop. I'm very sad this is no longer on sale.**




As to that range itself, the principal troops of the dark kin all have armour and options that have been specifically designed to be interchangeable. The armour between Wyches and Kabalites, for example, are close enough in design that it is possible to mix and match components to your own content to satisfy the unique style or background or your particular Cult or Kabal.


More than that, almost every model (including specialist troops like incubi and hellions) employ the same scale and style of armour, opening up an absolute plethora of kitbash options - imagination really is the limit. That was clearly the intention, with interplay between the rules, models and story of the Drukhari being referenced multiple times in the interview as a key part of the design process. If the lore demanded a particular weapon, or unit type to explain aspects of Drukhari society, it was created for the game. Conversely, if the army needed a particular tool to work on the tabletop, it was created in the lore.


The haemonculus covens are fleshed out, the Wracks created as a new, zombie-like servant class for their conniving masters, while grotesques became hulking brutes and the Talos gained a host of new options. The design language across those models is what originally drew me to Drukhari in the first place. Though diverse in shape, size and armament, the consistent shape of the covens weaponry and, in particular, their implacable, unreadable, iron masks really captured my imagination. The possibility that, really, many kits could become a wrack, grotesque or Talos with some spare bits - a mask, a weapon or two, some poison or stim vials - is a testament to the strength of that design methodology.

"The talos kit in particular is incredible, providing an absolute buffet of gourmet bits owing to the various weapon and head options and its alternative build as the cephalopodan Cronos."

Even better, the generous nature of the Drukhari kits made kitbashing such a force a possibility. The Talos kit in particular is incredible, providing an absolute buffet of gourmet bits owing to the various weapon and head options and its alternative build as the cephalopodan Cronos.


For me, kitbashing is entirely the reason I love the army so much. The Drukhari range is, at its heart, so weird and esoteric, and the dark city in lore so diverse, that it is possible to really let your imagination run wild when creating your own miniatures.


Commorragh Dark city Drukhari

The lore


The other thing that I feel is particularly pertinent to Drukhari in 10th edition is that the new range is absolutely steeped in its lore.


Phil Kelly did a fantastic job of - somehow - making the city of Commorragh one of the most believable places in the 41st millenium. An ancient port city of the webway, fallen to incredible excess, steeped in the seductive politicking, intrigue, commerce and cunning befitting of its denizens. The reasons why the Drukhari make war, their endless games, and how their vampiric, parasitic society persists are all wonderfully realised. The Drukhari, more than any other 40k faction, have always felt so alive to me; they have lives outside the battlefield, pass-times and interests that are all horrible, but also so much more vibrant to me than monastic Space Marines, or stoic Custodes.


This new Commorragh is also strangely meritocratic.*** Every single Drukhari, from slave to Vect himself, believes themselves the hero of that great city's story. They're wrong, of course, but that arrogance is a fantastic invention and makes them incredible villains to read about and play.

"They are the monsters that dwell in the dark, terrifying, eldritch and other, but they can - on occasion - be bargained with."

I also especially adore the dark kin because, at their heart, the re-imagined Drukhari are born of fairy tales. They are the monsters that dwell in the dark, terrifying, eldritch and other, but they can - on occasion - be bargained with. The bargain won't go the way you want, of course. But in that way they are fae in the very oldest meaning of the term, drawing on Celtic myth (as do their wraithbone-clad kin) but also the notion of changelings, goblins, hobs and skinchangers. They delight in treachery in the misery of others and in weaving lies, deceit and furthering their own stories. As a lover of ghost stories and folklore, its no wonder I'm so taken with them.


Drukhari army warhammer 40k
My own Drukhari army - the Twisted Visage

In conclusion


The entire Drukhari project is, for me, the best that GW has ever produced. There was no disconnect between the story that Phil Kelly wanted to tell, and the story that Jes Goodwin's range was able to depict.


More, for me, these models have such a strong sense of personality and style which can only come from a team physically designing and sculpting them, and being given the freedom to do so. Games Workshop has created incredible ranges in recent years, from the Votann to the Black Templars to the imminent Kroot release, but for me the Drukhari range stands as a cut above for its inherent style, storytelling and creativity.


Nowadays miniatures ranges are typically comprised of beautiful, mono-pose minis, which invidually are works of art, but en-masse can appear ever-so-slightly...off. The human brain is very good at picking out patterns and it is very quick to identify duplicates in a wider picture. One squad of new guardsmen is an incredible thing. But put four of them on a table, and the reptition in loadout and stances becomes unavoidably obvious. The Drukhari range doesn't have that problem. Its models may be more simple, but in doing so they are also more flexible. With a little imagination, there is no end to the combinations you can create for your force; to tell your story. Every single one of your sadistic space elves feels unique. Feels yours.

That is, for me, why the work of Jes Goodwin and Phil Kelly and their teams on the fifth edition Drukhari will stand the test of time as the absolute best in the business.


 

What's your favourite citadel range? Let me know below and on socials!


Until next time,


Alex


*Along with a host of support from the design team, I'm sure. So if you read "Jes Goodwin" here you can take that as ubiquitous with the whole team.


**There is a great review of the books with lovely pictures on Tale of Painters (https://taleofpainters.com/2018/04/review-eldar-collection-by-jes-goodwin/)


***It isn't, of course, but the illusion of meritocracy keeps their society alive. Much like ours. (Scything political commentary, boom).





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