Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Star Marine Heavy Armor Assembly and Review Part 1...

Well as I said I was really waiting to do a blog about my Star Marines.  Now I'm going to do this as a review of sorts.  Yes I know it seems stupid to be reviewing my own work but it’s necessary.  I’ve had a lot of questions about print quality with shapeway’s miniatures so I thought this was a good time to address that issue.  Also I felt it was a good time to address some of the ways we have to handle Shapeways products that is different than traditional miniatures.  So hopefully you’ll be getting an honest critique along with some lessons learned to fulfill your plastic addiction.

OK so first off, packaging and shipping.  I ordered these miniatures on March 31st at around 8 pm and they arrived Tuesday April 9th at 2:02 pm according to the packaging slip.  That's a Sunday and there is a weekend in between so that's roughly 7 business days to print these models and ship them to me from Shapeway's New York facility.  Realistically they probably shipped out the Wednesday or Thursday after I placed the order.  I'd call that pretty good turn around considering GW ran out of Dark Vengeance boxes day one on release and it took almost 3 weeks to get more stock to my local game store.  Ironically Shapeways sent a little apology note to me because they think 7 business days is to slow.  I really applaud Shapeways for their standards of service here.

The box is a sturdy cardboard box and the product is completely wrapped in large bubble wrap.  No bubble mailers or flimsy card stock packaging.  Inside the bubble wrap everything is in its own thick zip-lock polybag.  Nice little resealable bits containers for those who want them.  I use them for partitioning out models my wife sells on ebay. 

I will say I'm not sure how larger items ship.  Plastic miniatures in a baggie seems fine to me but two pieces of metal jewelry sliding across each doesn't make me feel good about the finishing.  I'd hope they bag metal items individuality and wrap larger items directly in bubble wrap before bagging. No idea though because all these are small scale parts and I'd say good packaging for what I ordered.

Here we have the gravity hammers and torso's in bag.  Sorry for the glare, the polybag is about 4 or 5 mil thick and glossy so its hard to get a great picture.  Shapeways actually sorted all these bits themselves, my model simply put them in the smallest amount of space possible so clearly their people are good at their jobs.

They packed the legs, shields, and backpacks together.  Torsos, legs, and backpacks were all hollowed to lower the price a bit. Even though they are hollow they are still quite sturdy and all survived the printing process without problems.

Everyone's favorite, shoulder pads.  These are just generic shoulders, no iconography.  But they turned out well enough.

Here are the arms sprues. I chose to make sprues for the arms rather than loose bits because the hands are extremely small and I thought they might get lost.  this is also the only place we see any breakage.  A couple of hands and arms came off sprue.  Because the parts were in the bag i'm guessing this happened in shipping.  Specifically the break point was the sprue where it joins the base of the part.  This was a 1mm diameter wire that was supporting the weight of the pieces and no damage was done to the bits themselves.

Ok so here we are getting into the interesting shots.  I've removed the bits from their bags and washed them (not shown).  I've ordered these miniatures in Frosted Detail.  Frosted Detail and Frosted Ultra Detail are essentially the same material.  FUD has a lower possible thickness and a slightly lower minimum detail than FD but thicknesses below .8mm are extremely weak in both materials making them very brittle.  As a result the price for FUD can’t be offset any farther by thinning and still have a model that won’t break during game play.  Ultimately it comes down to the minimum detail, 0.2mm vs 0.1mm doesn't sound like a lot and I’ll argue isn't enough to justify the cost of FUD over FD.  I have more opinions on print materials I’ll cover later on but basically keep in mind the cost difference is more for the printing time that it takes to print in FUD than for the actual material costs.

Photographing Frosted Detail is like trying to photograph an ice sculpture.  It main body is transparent and it’s outer surface has a white “frost” to it making it hard to make out detail.  In these photograph’s I’ve increased the contrast so you can see a bit more detail than the original unedited photo.  

Here we see the Shield and Backpack design.  You’ll note the raised plates on the shield’s face have flattened out a bit during printing.  Each step of the plates is approximately .25mm because the minimum detail is .2mm for FD its hard to discern exactly where the levels change, they are still noticeably different levels just a little flatter than originally designed.  This detail loss is minor but worth noting, I’ll be pointing it out as I go along.

The backpacks are much more detailed because their surface changes are much larger than the subtle rounding of the shield.  The only real loss of detail is in the vents along the sides of the pack which have filled in during printing. this is because I didn't make the vent's surface deep enough to really pop out. If you are using FD for making masters for casting your surface detail will be very important to you and sadly this lose, while minor to me, might be deal breaker.

Here we see two parts, the Torsos and the Hammer. The torso’s are hollowed out so they have a more transparent quality than the other bits.  The inside of the torso is a hollow bubble that I’ve put holes in the bottom and sides (shoulder mounts) on headed torso’s I also do a neck hole.  You’d think this would make the model fragile but it’s actually quite sturdy.  Think of it like an egg, structurally the force applied when squeezing the torso is spread across the entire surface making its crush strength much higher.

The detail on the torso turned out quite well.  You can clearly see the joins along the ab armor as well as the ribbing on the power cables.  Some detail is lost along the top of the capsule.  It's hard to make out in the photo but the square visor plate that is in the center of the capsule's face is almost totally gone.  this is caused by two things. First if I go back to my 3d model I can see the square's raised rim is extremely shallow, I can't get a clear measurement but it is probably below that 0.2 mm detail level.  Secondly you can just make out slight lines going left to right along the surface, this is the print grain of the model.  The printer head orientation gives all 3d printed models a grain and sadly that grain has caused some loss of detail.  It happens and can mostly be avoided if I had made the detail deeper to begin with.

Frosted Detail’s plasticity is lower than the ABS plastics used by most miniatures companies that do plastics but it’s still higher than most resin products.   That means it will flex rather than break most of the time but it’s still brittle enough that if you step on it, it doesn't so much smoosh down as it does shatter like glass.  I was particularly worried about this issue with the Hammer’s handle.  The thinnest part of the handle is 1mm exactly so it’s right on the line of minimum wire detail.  However the hammer, both head and handle, turned out quite well.  The lines on the head are pretty crisp, the detail on the hand grip of the handle filled in slightly but over all this is a symptom of me again designing to close to the 0.2mm minimum detail thickness.

Ah the legs.  I won’t deny I’m a bit of a leg man and I’m quite proud of the quality of the legs on this design.  Here we see the photo’s of the design’s legs so you can get an idea of their quality.  The hollow in the legs here is not uniform and has trapped raw material inside the leg design. The result is these bits look a lot whiter than the other bits.  The surface texture of 3d printed materials isn’t smooth.  In the case of FD and FUD it leaves a white frosted glass sort of texture but this is slight enough that very little detail is lost in printing (provided we mind the minimum detail levels).  The legs surface have nice subtle curves as I intended.  You can clearly make out details like the thick cabling and the hydraulics on the caves.  I’ll count these as the best printed bits so far.

The arms, these are the only parts I put on sprue and the only parts that “broke” during printing.  As you can see several hands fell off the sprue, I have them I just didn’t bother photographing them here.  One piece of advice, don’t sneeze around these bits.  FD and FUD are much lighter plastics than traditional ABS and ABS is already pretty light.  A slight breeze sent the hands flying and a strong blow made the legs hit the wall of my living room.  Luckily I lost nothing but bare that in mind when working on these.

Anyway, all the sprues are 1 mm and they warped a lot.  The hands are the smallest pieces of the actual figure, each knuckle is 0.7 mm, they are quite well defined and you can see the definition in the fingers. Sadly the photos of the hands are blurry because my camera hated photographing tiny white objects.  I believe because of the backdrop it was confused.  You can roughly see the shape of the fingers in the photos thanks to some contrast manipulation but they are there.

The whole lot of figures and weapons waiting to be assembled.  No real detail in the pictures but it gives you an idea of how big this lot of plastic is.

Once I had cleaned and photographed everything I went to work assembling.  I've modeled my designs so they assemble in much the same way as GW’s miniatures do.  Waist ball joint, neck ball joint (if a neck is present this doesn't have one), and a flat arm joint on the torso. My arms have a round joint so you can sand them flat at various levels to make different arm positions.  I've assembled my first Star Marine in a fairly generic pose and mounted him/her on a 40mm base.

This photo has no contrast manipulation or anything like that going on, it’s simply under the work lamp on my bench.  Thanks to the lighting you can make out some of the detail on the miniature but just barely.  You can see the gritting on the hammer head, the segmented plates of ab armor, the raised rim on the shoulder pads, etc.  Everything goes together smoothly and apart from pinning the hammer and sanding the shoulder joint on the arm to make a flat surface I’ve not manipulated the figure.  

A side by side picture.  Though really dark, the figure on the left is a plastic space marine terminator from games workshop, shown for scale only (painted as an art lesson by a friend).  The Star Marine in contrast is much taller than its counterpart.  About 8mm at the top of head, 3 at the top of the back icon.  That’s a pretty big difference and one that is a systemic design flaw on my part.  I know from my measurements that the torso’s and arms are completely correct scale wise with other figures.  The Star Marine is just to leggy.

I had this trouble with my original Female Marines as well. Basically I’m human accurate on my anatomy which means the legs aren’t foreshortened like most 28mm figures. The result is they are just to tall compared to the rest of the body on the table top.  I need to revise the legs to make them shorter.  That alone should bring the model into line with other 28mm figures, though an entire rescaling might be in order.  Not sure, tweaking is always a battle.

One thing, the figures aren’t bad for 28mm but they would be closer to being a “true scale” soldier than I intended.  I’m not sure but I might make two separate lines, one “true scale” one “heroic scale” depends on demand and how much work it is to maintain both.

Side by side the GW Termi is much chunkier than my Heavy Star Marine.  The position of my figure's head would be above the Termi's which makes it a bit awkward like standing next to a pro basketball player and trying to reach the top shelf.

I also had another concern with the figure which will likely prompt a design change.  The Hammer's main handle survived printing without issue but then was to small for me to drill and pin. Maybe i'm not coordinated enough but it proved to be a bad idea to drill a 0.75mm hole in a 1mm plastic rod.  I opted instead to remove the 1mm handle body and instead drill into the 1.5mm grip and pin directly to the hand.  I'm considering the idea of redesigning the hand and hammer, and probably a lot of weapons, to eliminate this wasted handle all together.  Possibly going to hollowing the handles entirely so they fit over 1mm or 0.75mm brass rod.  This would make the weapons a bit cheaper and make the models easier to assemble. Its also something that casters can't do easily that makes sense for 3d printing.

I've done a light drybrushing of flat white paint onto the figure.  It allows you to see some of the detail that was obscured by the frosted surface.  A trick of the light means that the white turns gray here so the gray spots are the highest spots, raised edges and such. Most of the figure has nice clean edges but you can see that the face has a sort of horizontal grain that just shows up in the wrong spot this time.  There is also a light pebbling everywhere that's about as noticeable as the soft pebbling found on metal models. After painting it generally disappears.

Wide shot of the figure under better lighting.  You can see the white on the surface of the translucent white figure.  A bit more detail is visible here but more detail will be visible once the figure is fully painted.  I really can't stress enough how hard it is to photograph translucent white models with a 10 year old digital camera.

My Thoughts
Well quite obviously I must admit that I have some kinks to work out with my modeling.  Its must easier to scale a weapon than a human figure.  The inconsistencies of the figure jump out a lot more on printing than a slightly over sized sword does.  Weapons and other bits like that are much more subjective and can be less accurately scaled than a body part.  I also need to make detail elements larger to insure they show up correctly. This is an extension of the same problem I had with WSF but its much more manageable at this detail level.

I also have to say that FD and FUD aren't perfect materials.  I'd like to see materials with a lower minimum detail and a more crisp surface texture than the fuzzy frosting on these materials. I've also seen a lot of home projects that appear to turn out better detail on materials and some projects like wax and photo resins can print at much smaller details.  FD is the best price point though which makes it at least passingly acceptable.  If shapeways is listening do a kickstarter for a higher resolution 3d print material for a lower cost. In fact, start several kickstarters one for high res material, another for 3d wax printing for molding capabilities, and another for actual 3d printing of RTV mold products, and maybe one for adding automated spruing for models uploaded.  Anyway point is FD is the best we can get right now balancing price and material availability so I will have to live with it.

Ok so that's it for now, don't worry I'm not done yet. I'm going to assemble these guys and paint them up so you can see the quality. As I paint the models I hope the detail will pop out better. Till next time, enjoy...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

In Defense of the Breast Plate

This is the second post I’ve done without major 3d modeling content so I’ll try to keep this somewhat short. My last one, a background piece, was long. Maybe long enough people lost interest but I hope it was satisfying for those who read it.  I like background so it kept me entertained to write a foundation piece for a mythos I’m slowly creating with my miniatures. Not that GW’s existing mythos isn’t entertaining, just, sometimes you want to do something new and interesting.  Really the primary impitous behind this is that I want to kill sometime while waiting for miniatures to arrive so I can blog them.

Anyway, this time I wanted to blog a bit about an aspect of my personal projects that has gotten me some flak in my gaming circles.  Namely, as one female gamer put it, my “Fetish for Tit Armor”.  Now I don’t expect this to matter to a lot of gamers.  Sexy armor is as old a fantasy trope as Eleves being archers or Dwarves carrying hammers.  But the propensity of games to do “babe” armor on their miniatures has been criticized recently.

There are a number of bloggers that have attacked chainmail bikini’s and skimpy space suits with a vehemence that makes you less than proud to be gamers.  The often spoken notion that gaming is becoming less of a man’s hobby has encouraged these critiques.  This is generally done out of the perception that the sexy armor trope is sexist and thus should be discarded.

Obviously not everyone feels that way, and I myself don’t as you could have guessed from the title of this article. It’s hard to form a cogent argument against something like this.  The perception goes that if you support the sexy armor trope you are automatically a sexist pig, and admittedly there are a lot of those in the hobby.  But beyond that I really think very few people really have considered why armor like that exists in fantasy or scifi literature.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against sexy armor.  The most prominent among these arguments being safety and/or impracticality.  This argument goes that receding body coverage is unsafe on the battlefield or simply impractical to be considered armor.  I always agree with this to an extent but it’s also an issue of cultural subjectivity.  There has been an obsession in first world nations with the value of human life for a long time now.  Throughout the first world nations in Europe the movement from hide and leather armors to part and full plate has captured the imagination of fantasy authors.  To such a point that we interpret full plate armor as the standard of the world when it isn’t now nor was it then.  The more affluent countries in Europe and other areas like Japan used full armor extensively for hundreds of years but that wasn’t the norm.  Throughout Asia, Africa, Mesoamerica the standard was lighter armor that protected the core of the body and the head.  Limbs, regardless of how important to you or I were considered expendable and rarely armored.  These lighter armor often left large swaths of the body exposed. They also tended to hang on the body making female anatomy more visible when women were allowed to be warriors.  The fantasy trope of the nomad barbarian half naked living among beasts is essentially true in some parts of the world.  The primary concern with these lighter armors was generally speed and maneuverability.  Segments of the body, like arms and legs, were uncovered so the soldier didn’t have as much weight to move while in action.  Even into the middle ages common soldiers were only lightly armored. Archers rarely wore anything more than chain shirts, while city watches and spearmen were lucky to have breast plates to shield their hearts and lungs.

Other arguments include that it’s entirely an aesthetics issue.  That the idea of curvy armor only has the purpose of being pleasing to the eye, specifically the male eye.  Again this is quite true to some extent. As a man I admit that female curves are attractive, that’s why most sports cars are so curvy.  It’s just bred into me to like those soft curves.  At the same time that isn’t the only thing that is forged into those curves.  Most men can attest that there are times when women are simply frightening.  Like a tigress protecting their young a woman can be more fierce and brutal than any man could hope to be. Along with the attraction of those curves a woman’s body calls to mind that absolute willingness to destroy anything that threatens her family.  This dichotomy of beauty and ruthlessness is a part of femininity that shouldn’t be forgotten. Stopping sexism is all about gender equality but it also is tempered with the truth that some things men or women can’t do.  No one can complain that women not peeing standing up is sexist, it’s a fact of human physiology and as such must be accepted. All we can do is offer equal bathroom facilities and be done with it. It’s true that women can be soldiers just as well as men can but we must also acknowledge that they have tools at their disposal that men don’t. Both the disarming allure of the female body and the frightening ferocity of a woman’s mental and biological drive to fight for what she holds dear are weapons that men rarely can achieve.  There is a psychological component to warfare that aesthetics plays a big part in.  No matter how gruesome we don’t question the idea of littering things with skulls and wicked blades in table top gaming.  The ancient Greeks would mold chiseled abs and pecks into their body armor for psychological effects.  There are even some accounts of Pict women fighting naked on the battle field against roman soldiers.  Regardless of how you feel about the female form arguing that because it’s aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place on the battle field.  That may mean it has more of a place there than you’d like to admit.

Bullet trap cleavage theory, somewhat addressed as a safety issue, is also one particular argument trotted out.  This goes essentially that the cleavage shape on a breast plate makes it either A. funnel weapons fire to the heart, or B. structurally unsound.  There is some scientific evidence that would support this except for the fact that no scientific study has ever been done that actually examines this.  As a practical issue in melee combat the “breast” shape of the armor is no more or less effective against blows.  At range, any shot that would fall inside the “V” of the cleavage was already a center of mass shot which if it has the velocity to penetrate your armor was already a kill shot anyway regardless of whether it glances to the heart or passes through the lung.  I read one very scientific sounding article that said a women falling on her face in breast armor would die from a shattered sternum. An interesting scientific quandary that totally ignores any internal padding worn under fitted armor.  As though, the soldier was totally naked under the armor.  There is a certain amount of truth that surface bends, such as the concave cleavage area, are structurally less durable than a convex surface.  But most male armors aren’t a simple convex shape like classic plate armor.  They are often just as sculpted, albeit as a male body or generic design, as a female armor plate. The issue here is simply it may be less structurally sound than a classic breast plate but is it any less structurally sound than the male counter parts? Truth be told probably not.

There are of course concepts I can’t really defend in the field of sexy armor.  I don’t understand the concept of combat heels.  High heels have no purpose other than to affect posture.  Some shoe design are intended to shift the weight of the body off the heel towards the ball of the foot but there really is no evidence they would serve a tactical purpose.  There could be said to be a cultural significance to the incorporation of heels in a female boot.  If the culture has a specific focus on feminine posture as a key sexual trait of women you could lump that into the argument for aesthetics of psychological warfare.  However from my perspective the added mobility of flats vs heels on the battlefield would trump any psychological benefits.  Alternatively, in science fiction settings where zero G combat is the norm magnetic, spring, or rocket heels would be a tactical advantage but only if the heel actually represented these design integrations, a normal heel would still be a detriment to movement.

Of course the overriding reason that is the real impetus behind these arguments is simply that it makes female gamers uncomfortable.  Truthfully, some portrayals make me uncomfortable too a lot of the time.  There is always a balance between a strong feminine characteristic and a sexpot pinup girl.  It’s sometimes hard to fix where that line is drawn in your mind. It generally has to come down to the question of is this sexy for no other reason than its sexy to me, or is it part of some larger design aesthetic that is helping me represent a kick ass character that also happens to be female, and yes sexy to some degree.  Truthfully the worst offenders in my opinion are GW’s Madonna Warriors.  I’m ashamed to own a Sisters of Battle army even though I got it second hand.  And over the years as I tried to push the sisters out of the army first by adding storm troopers and then by adding inquisitor retinues I’ve come to grips with the fact that the army is just sexist drivel.  The Power Corsets and bra’s pointier than their swords is of course now considered quant in 40k.  They are a throwback to the age of 1980s female rockers like Madonna and Cindy Lauper.  That doesn’t make them right with modern sensibilities but at least it makes them somewhat understandable.

I could go on and on but really I have made my point. Generally the truth is that sexy armor isn't just about sexism.  There are real reasons that armor should be feminine.  Femininity is a part of the human condition.  The idea that women must emulate men to be perceived as strong is has been an aspect of the women’s liberation movement and its one that has been changing slowly.  Women can be feminine and still be strong without giving up what makes them feminine. Those who balk at the female form on the table top I must ask is it the sexy armor you don’t care for or is there something so psychologically terrifying about the idea that women are part of your gaming reality that you are afraid to acknowledge their right to be there and be themselves, in the game or playing the game.

Star Marine Heavy Armor, Softsuit Variant, Outfitted for Female Operator.
The Softsuit variant of the Star Marine Heavy Armor replaces the Tactics and Logistics Capsule  (TLC) for a breast plate of hardened thermo-ferric composites. The term Softsuit is something of a misnomer as the armor has nearly the same level of operator protection as its TLC equipped Hardsuit cousin.  Often used in atmosphere or controlled environment engagements where total vacuum seal is unnecessary.  It is favored by officers for its mobility and freedom of vision not afford by the TLC's visual assist systems.  The body of a Softsuit is fitted to its occupant in a process that is performed by the operator's house, often making some or all of the suit's equipment a heraldic heirloom.

Star Marine Joslyn of House Crowan being fitted for heavy armor.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Fluff Piece

Imperial Archive Item 978-2-9002999818-1. 
Excerpt from Prime Austerean Hercanius’s Treatis on the History and Culture of the Star Marines
Transcript of videolog 17… Dated 9th of Azzigas Vorpal, in the Year of our Empress Ompheria 2013
Marker 1. Origins and Legends of the Star Marines
Screens 23 to 37
Sol Prime Institute of Philosophy:  Department of Reasonist History: Chair Ameritus, Master of Reason, Physician of Imperial History, First Duke of Io, the Lourde Prime Austerean  Hercanius of the Noble House Thormalian by way of House Xaratian

… to best understand the nature of the Star Marines one must understand the anvil upon which they were forged.

               Officially the Star Marines are comprised of those noble households who carry the title of Knight of Stars in Service to the Empress.  However this was not always the case.  In the early days of colonial expansion before the formation of the Empire Solus Humanity was ruled by various competing religious organizations known as Corporations. It is believed that this early colonization effort was done in effort to seek freedom from religious censure.   As such these Corporations lead the people’s spiritual journey even as they funded their physical migration across the stars.

                For several hundred years mankind expanded across the Orion Spur.  During this period humanity encountered countless worlds teaming with life however sentient life proved elusive.  It was eventually hypothesized by Reasonists that while life was common sentience was a cosmic rarity reserved for only a handful of species throughout the galaxy, possibly the universe.  This lead humanity to define the “Mandate of the Heavens”.  The mandate was a political and social doctrine expounded as part of the Corporate religions of the day. It stated that humanity, due to its intelligence, was entitled to colonize the galaxy without end.

               Without external conflict it was inevitable that humanity created conflict from within.  The Corporations divided humanity along lines of their particular faiths.  Coupled with the relative isolation of early colonies due to the primitive nature of spacial travel the result was drastic cultural drift between colonies.  Social, economic, and political rifts between the colonies and their governments resulted in war.

               A group of colonies petitioned to secede from the colonial government.  What followed has variously been called the Civil War II, the War of 10 Corporations, and the First Imperial War. Lasting 14 years various Corporations formed military organizations and swallowed other colonies.  Secessionists fighting for freedom from the oppressive theocracy of monetization formed a new organization.  A culture of merit based on nobility and coherent family social structures was formed.  Nearly 2000 years ago the outmoded religious worship of wealth  was swept away and the First Emperor Volcunas The First united the colonies under the banner of the Empire Solus.

               In their earliest inception the Star Marines functioned as a militant arm for one of the many Corporation Theocracies.  They proved themselves to be highly skilled and honorable warriors during the war.  Thus Emperor Volcunas took them into his service and granted them title of nobility within the empire in return for their fealty.

               The Star Marines and their households were integrated into the structure of the nobility and ordered by Emperor Volcunas to toil in service to the Skylourde.  For much of the life span of the Empire they did just that.  The Star Marines became feared acting in the name of the Skylourdes in service of the Emperor.  But this was not to be their destiny for as we know we are not alone in the galaxy.

               In 1818 of the new imperial calendar the outer colonies were struck by a powerful imminent threat.  The Aether invaded human space to “cleans” planets of human “infestation”.  Though it would take the empire much time to know the Aether’s intent it was immediately clear they were a technologically superior malignant force.

               Perhaps most tragically humanity’s only saving grace was the thorough and methodical nature of the Aether’s attempted Genocide.  Colony by colony the Aether deployed their fleets in blockade systematically hunting and eradicating humans regardless of their age, race, or affiliations.  Emperor Tricerras and the Conclave of Noble Houses proposed diplomatic solutions and refused to hear propositions to the contrary.

               Then Skylourde Daltrian made a pact with the crown prince Voldayaas to assassinate the Emperor.  Prince Trivoltas, second in line to the throne, discovered the plot and called his brother out in council.  But by then it was too late Emperor Tricerras died by heart failure attributed to pulmonary micro fissures likely caused by nano-explosives inside the heart wall.   Voldayaas and Trivoltas both declared themselves Emperor before the funeral rights were complete and the War of Succession began.

               During this time the Aether had the run of the outer colonies.  It was widely claimed that the Imperial Core Provinces were better protected. And with good reason, many sectors included both Provincial Defense Fleets as peace keeping and humanitarian forces as well as the Independent Noble Fleets used to protect the shipping interests of the Nobility.  During the War of Succession these fleets were mobilized by various groups to fight for various governmental factions. Initially it was merely a quarrel between bothers as Voldayaas and Trivoltas fought for the throne.  However other factions appeared and vied for political or economic superiority.

               With the war taking its toll in the Provinces the Colonies were left to fend for themselves. Less wealthy, and often with limited military and technological resources the Colonies stood little chance against the Aether. Refugee fleets migrated core ward with each newly decimated colony.  Survivors of the atrocities were rare but other colonies were easily inspired to evacuate.  In the provinces the refugees found little respite as military forces were often used to blockade their entry or otherwise engaged in military actions of their own.

               For their part the Star Marines refused deployment until the Empire was stable again.  Skylourde Daltrian ordered the household lands of the Star Marines ceased claiming they were in violation of their oaths.  In response the Star Marines declared then 3rd princess Collianna the rightful heir of the throne.  As the princess was merely 13 and no female had inherited the throne in a thousand years the Star Marines were publicly mocked for their allegiance.  But that mocking ended following the summary execution of Skylourde Daltrian.

               Claiming orders from the Empress the Star Marines publically forsook their homes.  In a broad public show they burned their ancestral homes and joined into a single fleet.  While vastly outnumbered the Star Marines were quite a fighting force and dispatched any forces that stood in their way.  They didn’t bother attempting to capture strategic systems instead battling their way to Sol where they enthroned the Empress. One there they left a small but well-armed honor guard and took the primary fleet into the Colonies.

               For many among the nobility it became a simple choice, support one of the brothers who had been fighting a bloody war across the Provinces or accept the arguably illegitimate rule of their younger sister who willingly sacrificed her own safety to protect the Colonies.  For the people the choice was much simpler. After two years of war and the constant threat of annihilation from the Aether the Empress was a sign of change and hope, a fresh beginning.

               Initially perceived as a week monarch the Empress changed such perceptions by her first declarations in office.  Only days after the Conclave of Noble Houses ratified her coronation the Empress declared the Matriarchy.  The Empire Solus would be ruled by an Empress, the eldest daughter of the ruling house. The eldest son would become Regent of the Empire and master of the ruling house in absence of the Empress.  The second eldest daughter would be the Duchess of Blades, a rank formerly titled Blade Lourde colloquially known as the master of assassins.  The second eldest son would inherit the title of Lourde of the Watch, charged with enforcing the succession and counting the genealogy of the noble houses.

               Some noble houses challenged the decree at first but these challenges were swiftly dealt with by force and often lost in the wash of political intrigue of the day.  Her second decree was even more controversial declaring the War in the Heavens.  The Aether’s action had declared war on all of humanity, and so all of humanity would face them.  The Empire Solus was henceforth at war with the Aether and all production and technology in the Empire would be used, first and foremost, to fight the Aether.  In short order a new Skylourde was appointed and each house of noble birth was ordered to appoint a Skymarshal that would oversee their fleet.  The Noble fleets were distributed across the empire with the responsibility of engaging Aether forces where ever they appeared. At the same time the Homeguard Fleets were to be convert for military use and production of ships and munitions was to be increased.  In the colonies the Star Marines had one task, delay the Aether, the longer they held the more time the Empire had to prepare.

               The Star Marines held the Aether in the colonies for 26 years.  Early engagements didn’t bode well for the Star Marines as Aether forces were clearly superior in technology and number.  They soon adopted an ambush strategy. Operating behind Aether lines the Star Marines fractured into Cavalier Fleets, small rag tag forces mixing elements of Star Marine forces with remnants of colonial militias.  These smaller battle groups could react faster and assault Aether forces with greater haste.  Often breaking Aether blockades and freeing civilians and military forces trapped by them.

               For several years the Aether showed no measurable response to the Star Marine’s tactics.  They continued their systematic approach without change.  It wasn’t until the battle of Caldinocht that the Aether changed their tactics.  Caldinocht was a Colonial shipping hub in the Caldaros sector.  The Aether set upon it with only minor warning but instead of their normal tactic of besieging the planet they pyroformed the planet from orbit.   Their biochemical weapons igniting the planet’s atmosphere and turning all life to ash.  This rightly provoked the Star Marines into open conflict with the Aether.

               As Caldinocht burned the Star Marines descended upon the massed Aether fleet.  For days the Aether held ground as the Star Marines and the Cavalier fleets hurled themselves against their enemy. With the death toll in the billions from the one engagement the Aether finally retreated on the 12th day. 

Both sides learned much from the conflict.  Alongside their standard battle tactics the Aether began baiting traps to draw the enemy in.  For their part the Star Marines began using outriders forming a loose network of warning systems to inform other fleets and colonies of Aether were movements.  They also learned that while technologically advanced and extremely powerful Aether vessels were cumbersome and impossibly difficult to maneuver.  Soon after Aether ships began being drawn into Star Marine traps.

Thereafter the war became a great game of cat and mouse.  The Aether and the Star Marines fighting to take and keep ground respectively.  The greatest commanders among the Star Marines were able to make the Aether spend a hundred ships to take a single colony.  But for every Aether fleet removed from the game the Star Marines lost a dozen or more.  Each loss meant the Star Marines took another step towards Sol and the eventual extinction of the human race.  Each ship downed was a resource that couldn’t be replaced with ease.

For 26 years they held against a superior foe.  Early on it was believed that the Aether could be stopped simply by attrition but 26 years of attrition proved that wrong.  One thousand three hundred and sixty-two star systems fell to the Aether in those 26 years.  An estimated 42 trillion souls taken, and for each one the Star Marines made the Aether pay dearly.  On the 5th of Azzigas Nol, 1846 nec the Aetherian 1st fleet entered the Noridian Province at around 1:42 am local standard time.  They were met by the Veridian and Ordanian Home Fleets and engaged seven minutes later.  The battle would last for 21 days and the Alcarian, Boromian, and 5 other Home Fleets would join the battle before the Aether would retreat. This was the first true victory of the war.

It is unknown if the Aether can understand any of the many human tongues.  It is known they can recognize the Banner of the Stars.  Icon of the Star Marines, a cascade of gold and crimson freckled with 1362 stars.  Raised high upon the bows of the Cavalier fleets that precede the counter strike.  On that day the Aether turned tail and fled before it and they have run from it ever sense. 

We have been at war for two hundred years.  Five generations have faced the Aether and pushed them back into the abyss.  The Star Marines, her royal highness’ Knights of the Stars have lead that charge. They have held the line. They have given more fought harder than any human might in the face of such odds.  Thus you must understand that in the forge of battle and against the anvil of sacrifice and adversity they have been wrought.  Nobility, courage, and sacrifice, the shining light of a star guiding for the sake of all humanity.  As they pledge before the Empress herself, “the War in the Heavens began with an act of Genocide it will end with the very stars quaking at our wrath”.