Friday, 28 February 2014

Building Venators : A journey from Laserburn to Necromunda via Confrontation

A little warning before you start reading, this post is going to be a bit lenghty so you might want to get yourself a drink and sit properly before reading.

You're back? Good.

I've recently tried to gather all the information I could on the venators to capture them the best I could. I need to have a clear vision of how they were portrayed in the designer's mind to see what I like in them and how I can make my own interpretation.

My main source of inspiration will be the confrontation rules published in white dwarf in (information below taken from LEXICANUM).

  • White Dwarf 130: Introduction; background to the planet and hives
  • White Dwarf 131: Necromunda Gangs; background to the hive gangs
  • White Dwarf 132: Creating a Gang; background and rules for creating a gang including generating equipment, a stash and skills, with a short story
  • White Dwarf 137: Combat Rules (first half); game rules for characters, group coherency, game sequence, turns phase, actions, visibility, firing and rules for trading equipment
  • White Dwarf 138: Combat Rules (second half); game rules for hand-to-hand combat, hit locations, damage and injuries
  • White Dwarf 142: Weapons; rules for weapons 

 You can find pretty much everything in those articles but I'm going to concentrate on venators.

Background :

First mention of Venators in the conforntation rules is found in the characteristics of Hive gangs :

"The word 'gang' describes many different types of armed bands on Necromunda. Gang is a generic term which includes clan warriors, bands of ash nomads, savage gangs and mutant bands from the undercity, scavvies from the shanties, armed bands of techs, bands of fugitive psykers, unruly brat gangs of the upper hab layers, as weil as sanctioned gangs and professional bounty-hunters, guards and retainers such as the Venators and Custodians."

OK so from that we get that Venators are professional bounty-hunters. Next bit is in the description of clan warriors :

"The co-operation between the clans and Lord Helmawr is an accepted part of life. It operates at many levels, with gangs recruited into the Planetary Defence Force, given semi-official status as Venators and Custodians, or secretly used for Helmawr's hidden dealings."

So now, we also get that they are bounty-hunters with a semi-official link to the imperial commander Lord Helmawr who is the governor and ruler of the Necromunda Hive world.

imperial commander Lord Helmawr

Amongst other informations on Helmawr and his duties, you can find this part :

"Another important obligation is that Lord Helmawr sucessfully controls the numbers of dangerous psychic mutants. These psykers, or witches, are a mutation which is becoming increasingly common on ali worlds in the lmperium. On most worlds they can be dealt with fairly easily, but on a hive world like Necromunda with its vast population the matter is much more difficult.
If psykers were to go unchecked throughout the Imperium human society would soon coliapse. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the Emperor clings so tenaciously to life, as only he understands the true dangers of possession and psychic destruction."

This information about psykers is important to understand the following which can be read in the psyker gang description  :
"Life is hard for psykers on Necromunda, as it is throughout the Imperium. Some fall prey to daemonic possession. More fall victim to the witch-hunting Venators and bounty-hunting gangs."

So now we have a group of  professional witch-hunters who probably hunt mutants and heretics too (though it is not mentionned yet).

Rules :

What can be learnt form the rules? Quite a lot actually.
Looking at the Gang determination chart, you can actually see Venators are quite a rare gang with a chance of getting rolled of 5.5% just like Brat gangs and Tech gangs.
They are the second rarest gang after Psyker gangs and mutant gangs (both having a 2,7% rate of getting rolled), far more rare than Clan gangs who represent a 3rd of rolled gangs :

The newly rolled gangs receive a a number of credits (imperial currency) rolled from the table below. You can see the Venators do not appear in this table but an unknown gang called "Vigilantes" is mentionned instead.
Now here is something interesting. A vigilante is a member of a self-appointed group that undertakes law enforcement without legal authority so that does not fit the desription of the Venators we had so far. However there is a link between vigilantes and venators. Each one is meant to enforce law where the official forces can't. 
Vigilantes may have been the original concept which was later turned into some bounty-hunters. The design studio may have wanted to avoid using such a concept in the final game but this would be surprising since at the time, penal troopers, commissars, inquisitors and other concepts of the sort were already romaing the table tops... this is mere suppositon from my part though.

Anyway, assuming the Vigilantes stand for the Venators, they are actually the second richest gang after the techs. They are at the same level as Brat gangs (gangers form Noble Households).

You can also see from the charts to determine equipment for your gangers that Venators do get to roll fancy stuff :

Their chances to roll fancy/pricey gear like power swords or plasma pistols is far higher than that of an average gang.
It actually reinforces the idea the Venators are actually a group of highly trained, reliable and skilled  professionals.

Design :

Much of the design we know about the Venators comes from the drawings and sketches by John Blanche . The most famous one is of course the one depicting a Venator leader with uzi with Jervis Johnson's face in the bottom left corner

But the sketches you can find in the "Clan warriors" section are really helpful too.
 The text says :

"Official bounty-hunters, witchfinders and mutant hunters - From traditionally executioner families - traditional costume : hoods, grotesque leather mask, leather clothing, axe and noose symbols of trade - groteque faces and crossed axes icons."

All of these can be found in the sketch below :

The other source about how the Venators look is obviously the models themselves :

From the collecting citadel miniatures wiki
You can find the hoods, grotesque masks, executioner axes, leather clothing and icons on them. Like most marauder miniatures though, they are a bit bulky and somehow lack the elegance shown in the drawing by John Blanche.

The reason I'm planning to build my own version of the gang is that these models are actually quite rare and hence very expensive and they somehow do not correspond to what I'm looking for with this band.

I thougt it would be interesting though to see what became of them. There is one thing we all know about GW, it's that they rarely lose a good idea, they always find a way to recycle it, even if the new version may sometimes (or always if you're a GW basher but I'm not) be less intesting than the original concept (but that's another story).

The future of Venators and confrontation :

Even if you were not familiar with the confrontion game to begin with, I believe you've now guessed it is the game from which Necromunda was developped.
The setting is the same, the principle is the same. The main differences are the rules and the  ambiance actually.

Confrontation rules come from Laserburn, a 15mm scale sci-fi wargame written by Bryan Ansell (co-author of the confrontation rules with Rick Priestley) and published in 1980.

The confrontation background is tied with the rogue trader setting which was still in development at the time. I'll develop the background of the game in a later post but those familiar with the Rogue Trader universe get the cyberpunk vibe form this.

Necromunda on another hand derives directly from Warhammer 40k 2ed and was published in 1995. It actually comes at the end of the "Red Era" with its caracteristic bright colours.

Amongst the numerous gangs available in Necromunda, 2 are actually really intriguing if Venators are of interest to you :

- House Cawdor :

Here's the description you can find about them :

"House Cawdor is the stronghold of the Cult of Redemption. For this reason all of the gangers wear masks in public to hide their faces from the 'infidels' of the other houses. They are known to hunt mutants and heretics to the point of fanaticism (part of the Redemptionist influence) which bring them into conflict with gangs who would utilize them."

And here are the models available when the game was released :

Funny How I see a bunch of mutant/heretics//witch hunters wearing hoods, masks and leather clothes very close in style to the marauder venators ! They even have the nooses all around !

 Now let's move on to the redemptionsits which are tied to the cawdor.

- The Cult of the Emperor's Redemption

The Redemptionists are actually a nod to Laserburn (what a coincidence!). Here's the description you can find about them :
" They have an extreme hatred of mutants and deviants from the Imperial creed. The most dedicated among them take up arms and hunt these mutants and deviants. They often wear red robes decorated with flame motifs and favor incendiary weaponry. House Cawdor lends much support to the cult of Redemption and have gone so far as to adopt it as their official religion."

And here are the models made for them :

I see hoods, grotesque masks, nooses, I'm actually just lacking the axe here! You even can find one with the grotesque face like the ones on John Blanche's drawings :

 oh but wait ! Here is the executioner axe !
So now, the witch hunters in Necromunda still wear leather clothes, hoods and masks. They still carry nooses to apply law as soon as they can. The main difference between them and the Venators is that they are no longer semi-official professionals, no, they are now just a bunch of fanatics who have decided to cleanse the underhive from its filth by fire and blade.
Doesn't that make you think of the Vigilante definition somehow? Looks like back to square one...

I think it is really interesting to consider the basic difference between Venators and redemptionists : The former do it for money and the latter do it because of their faith and belief. 
It is quite an ironical position considering the venators come from the Rogue trader period caracterised by the freedom the designers had and by the fact the design studio was mainly a group of very talented enthusiasts and how the version created afterwards under the Kirby era is about fanatics...
Rogue traders have left 40k to leave the place to inquisitors...
Poorly shaved smoking Space marine beakies arresting punks have left the place for zealot mk7 monkmarines...
and venators have left the stage for cawdors and redemptionists religious fanatics....

Hopefully, Venators may have gone back to their origins, who knows (well Mr Ansell and Mr Priestley may...).

I think I'll be enjoying building my venator gang even more now I know all of this....


  1. Great post! I really enjoyed all this info and the artwork that accompanies it. Makes me want to sketch and/or build my own Venators :)

    1. Thanks a lot. I think there's so much to dig in these old publications. There are ideas to make at least 5 different Brat gangs in those rules and they are incomplete!

    2. scabbies and Muties can be done with the old RoC books. It takes a little tweaking but is do able.

  2. Lovely to see all those different eras tied together, makes the background seem more alive and malleable too.

    1. Sure thing, so much to play with actually ;)

  3. The Necromunda background in the Confrontation rules is possibly my favourite bit of 40K colour text, in competition with the Eldar background in WD #127. Although I am familiar with each of the elements shown in this post, seeing them all together was far more interesting than I expected. Nice work :)

    I always wanted a Brat gang, but they were replaced in some respects by Spyrers, but mostly left to disappear. I never knew those Venator miniatures existed until relatively recently. Im glad that I didnt know of their existence in the early 90s: knowing that they were out there and unavailable would have driven me nuts.

    1. I agree about this part of teh background, it's one that did not live since I discovered it in the mid 90's.
      Hopefully Brats are way easier to collect and they are very nice models (thanks to Jes Goodwin). The fact that so much Brat gangs are presented in the rules is a mind tearer for me. I'll have to make them all or none. The only solution is to make my own...

  4. Excellent article! I have been drooling over the scan you were kind enough to share with me and comparing the rules with Laserburn, which I know own (an official hardcopy!). I've posted a rather lengthy reply to your post over on the FB Oldhammer Community in this regard.

  5. Always remember the massive year long campaign we ran with Confrontation, at an old games club. It had players aged from 8 to about about 57 and all got on well with the rules, enjoyed the system and the game. It really pushed the envelo0pe of what GW could do when they wanted to and it was a massive shame they let it drop to what it became.

    It was great because the Old RoC bits were addable and the rules were flexible to allow a little gaming flexibility and mature updating.

    1. That's nice! I'd really be interested to know what you learnt from the system and what you altered or improved (if you altered anything) to make it work nicely.
      How many gangers per team did you have for example or how many teams were playing on one table ?

    2. We ran the system as is, average figure count with gangs was around 4-8 most gangs started out about 6 and lost some players along the way. Could go to about upto 12, though they were usually really bad types like kids.

      It just took a little refining with character sheets, adding weapons that are in list but not in weapon lists.

      added drugs, and a few rules on dependency and effects.

      Gangs like Scabbies and muties can be dealt with via the RoC books as the system is binary and the books have rules for WHFRP which is also binary so you can add in with a bit of tweaking.

    3. have been thinking over the rules and about what you could do with them, tweaking is easily possible, and the combat system needs a little more flexibility.

    4. I'll try rules as they are and if I'm lacking flexibility I'll use typical Warhammer combat rules for their coveniency (people are familiar with them and you can find stats for everything). The initiative system though is definitely a very good thing to allow multiplayer games.

    5. If you are gong to use the WH combat rules, then might as well use Community Necromunda rules.

    6. I was actually considering using the inquisimunda rules for combat since they're using it at the local hobby store. ;)

    7. Quote "That's nice! I'd really be interested to know what you learnt from the system and what you altered or improved (if you altered anything) to make it work nicely"

      From a personal point of view, the irony was that if they had stuck with the game and pushed the chart idea and damage just a little further they could have taken a possible further step and made it the same but quicker. With taking it further forward.

  6. Good read!

    Have occasionally wondered about the masked Cultists from Dark Vengeance being >redemptionists<.

    Also the Chaos Agents in Chainsaw Warrior have a similar design.

    For completions sake I've got to mention the Disciples of the Red Redemption as a branch of the theme :-)

    1. You are right, I actually considered stealing the faces of the dark vengeance cultists for this project but that didn't really turnned the way I wanted...
      Disciples pf the red redemption, yes of course... I thought about mentionning them but I was afraid to get too far.

      Tony Ackland precised on the FB page that the redemptionist concept is actually derived from "Lone Sloane" by french Author P. Druillet (what a coincidence...)

      Thanks for the comment.

    2. Yes, I picked up "Slaambo" after Tony had mentioned it before, but haven't read Lone Sloane. Have posted up on the forum a double-page spread here, where the back-story of the Red Redemptionists are explained. Looking forward to seeing your Venator gang take shape.

  7. Had a bit of thought on this game and was wondering if it would be worth working on it in the Oldhammer forum.

    1. Sure thing, I'd happily contribute ! There are several people who could definitely help in that regard.

  8. Fascinating! This is such a well put together post. Reminds me of Zhu's style.

    I remember Confrontation being so evocative as I came across snipets of the rules in WD as a kid. It was one of the concepts that really intrigued me about the Rogue Trader universe, but few in my gaming circle had even heard of it and soon 40K 2nd Ed was king!

    Don't panic, by the way. I'm not going to comment on every single post as I go through :)

    1. This game along with Space fleet which was around at the same period are the games that have inspired me the most honestly. They're still what I want to go back to.

  9. Comprehensive insight! I didn't know the connection between Cawdor and Venator as the fanatic angle threw me off.

    1. Cheers, building new venators right now using redemtionists, the link seems even more obvious.

  10. Of course we should not forget that Tony Yates was responsible for the artwork in Laserburn and on the various other early productions he worked on.

    1. I should have added pics from Tony's, that's right, It's probably time for me to refresh some of the dead links and add a bit about Laserburn. ^^
      Thanks a lot Bryan !


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