40k: Tyranid Planning - Sharpening the Talon

D&D books and miniature collections both benefit from sharpening the axe. Before starting an ambitious project, I like to have goal and something resembling a plan.

With my Imperial Guard army nearing completion (well over time, budget, and size), and no end to the plague in sight, the time has come to plan another ludicrous timesink. I'm going with Tyranids.

I like pewter as much as anyone, but I've got one Rogue Trader-era army already, 2nd Edition Tyranids are expensive, and the 3rd edition sculpts were fairly rough in places. It's 4th Edition+ for this project. Some pewter, some resin, and some plastic.

Luckily, Tyranids aren't the most popular faction at the moment, so slowly acquiring a suitable heap of used plastic and pewter wasn't too difficult. In Kidnap the Archpriest, I talk about heists being an exchange of Time, Money, and Information. Miniatures are often the same. If you're willing to take extra time, you can get away with very little money. If you're in a hurry, you'll have to pay a premium. I'm not in a hurry.

I also want to use this project as an excuse to learn to properly sculpt (not just fill gaps and fix mistakes), cast in resin (instead of plaster and putty), and try out more airbrush techniques.

Colour Scheme

I like painting with slightly muted colours, and I want a scheme where raw flesh (as opposed to chitin and bone) will stand out. The purple/white Hive Fleet Leviathan scheme is appealing, but it looks terrible if it's not done well. I also need to stick to a black primer (thanks to the aforementioned pile of used plastic).

I think I'll go with the Green/Cream Hive Fleet Ouroboros scheme, used by Marco Schulze to win many awards over the years. It was the official scheme for thy Tyranids in Forgeworld's Imperial Armour 4 book, though all the photos were taken with a thick hazy yellow filter so you couldn't really tell.

Strangely, GW later released an "official" blue/black Hive Fleet Ouroboros scheme. How dull.

I found a few painting tips in this thread, but I think I'll try to use an airbrush for the body and preshading, then finish the carapace and details with traditional acrylics. Who knows if it'll work, but an airbrush will save time when it comes to massed termagants and hormagaunts.


A lot of Tyranid models are designed to slot into their plastic bases. Cutting them off leaves them precariously attached by a hoof or claw. If your basing material is attached with PVA glue, and your Tyranid is attached to that, a light breeze can snap them off and take a chunk of base with them.

Painting models while they're attached to a base is usually frowned upon by skilled people. Luckily, I'm not skilled. I'll probably use a Vallejo texture pot to lay down a dark earth base, with a mix of greys and yellows, and maybe a few clumps of static grass. I don't want to create a "Tyrannoformed" landscape of ash, bare rock, and tentacles. The swarm is on the move.

Using greys and browns will let the bases blend with my current terrain sets and the RT-era Guard army, without perfectly matching either one.

Approximate Source

Army Composition

General Aesthetic

I want a classic carpet-like swarm, with a handful of larger creatures looming above the mass, and a few eerie drifting monstrosities. Three modes of movement: the scuttlers, the stompers, and the floaters. A fleet protected by barrage balloons. A parade with balloons.

I think I'll try to avoid winged flying units, unless I can pose them on a solid base. They always seem to tip over, and they occupy a lot of storage space. While my RT-era Guard army eventually included a lot of superheavy vehicles, I'm not sure I want to budget for a proper biotitan.

The Swarm

The usual mix of Hormagants and Termagants should suffice. I love how these models look in a line. Their tails and claws line up to create this illusion of purposeful movement, like a swarm of fish or a flock of birds. Every model is centered over its base.

I'm going to convert all low-independence units to be eyeless. I think it'll make them more menacing and alien. I'm not crazy enough to resculpt every head crest, but a quick dab of putty in the eyesockets and some careful blending should help. Rippers, Hormagaunts, Termagants, and bio-artillery will be eyeless, guided by the Hive Mind's will. Leader-types and creatures capable of independent action will have eyes.

The original pewter rippers were eyeless worms with eight (ish) tiny legs. Some of the Armorcast designs resembled upscaled Rippers. Also, back in 2nd Edition 40k, any "organic terrain" a Ripper swarm moved over was destroyed. Many plastic trees were eaten.

Forgeworld rippers have broader head and needle teeth. They're a bridge between the original design and the 3rd edition plastic rework, and resemble the Scythed/Barbed Hierodule kits of the same era. The 2001 redesign of the entire Tyranid range introduced the new plastic rippers, which have remained more-or-less unchanged since.

The Elites

I'll probably add a small unit of Genestealers and a Broodlord, with minimal conversion work. I might commit a bit of heresy by running Genesetealers with scything talons (instead of their traditional grabby hands), to maintain visual similarity with the Hormagaunts.

I've seen the occasional Lictor (with the serial # filed off) 3D printed in clear resin. I'm not sure if that's cool or kitsch.

I'm not a fan of the Tyranid Warrior aesthetic. The snake-like Ravener variant (and their larger cousins) are fine, but the Warriors always seemed insufficiently monstrous.

Imperial Armour 4

The Weird

I like the idea of spore mines and spore-mine artillery. While Hydracast's Bio-Cannon is miles ahead of the competion, I may be stuck converting and rescupting existing kits. The grotesque cables of the Pyrovore should be fun to paint.
Larger spores might be fun too. I've always loved the menacing Malanthrope, the sombre gravedigger of the swarm. I think it's the surgical skull-piercing dagger-hands, combined with those brain-devouring tentacles, that makes the kit perfect.

Zoanthropes belong among the floaters, and if I can convert their larger cousin to float as well, I will. A huge brain-orb with lesser brain-orbs around it seems like an interesting formation.

Larger Creatures

I'd like to include a Tervigon or two, but the kits lack some of the elegant horror of earlier models. The spawning... pouch... thing... doesn't feel groteque enough. For the sake of the kit's design, it's bolted onto the existing ribcage like a wart.

Tyranids don't have a full gastrointestinal tract, as confirmed by the models and the lore. The mouth connects to a pouch. This makes a certain degree of sense for a sci-fi hive organism. Eat, get some nutrients out of the meal, vomit the remains into a pit or pool, let specialized bacteria and microorganisms digest it further, then sup on the refined meal. All the benefits of a digestive tract, none of the extra plumbing.

They don't seem to carry a reproductive system around either, so that can't be adapted. In my mind, a mobile Tyranid factory-beast wouldn't have a separate mouth-pouch and spawning-pouch. It'd just be one system. Imagine a Termite Queen, but in reverse.

The Tervigon also has some weird limbs: two claws to spindly spike-legs, and two oddly distorted back hoof-legs. I'm not sure if I'll adapt it to resemble the spindly Heirophant Bio-Titan or a more solid beast.

Tom Markham

Final Notes

I'm not worried about making a competitive, or even entirely legal, army. GW changes the rules so often that there's no point. I just make stuff that looks neat or appeals to me, then pick and choose bits to fit the current rules.

Binging a few blogs or forums is always useful. The Modern Synthesist and Confessions of a 40k Addict are both excellent resources for the prospective 'nid converter.

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