This is a subtle art.
So as you might suspect it’s something that gamers tend to screw up in dramatic fashion. There are many steps that one needs to consider when undertaking this sort of monumental endeavor; not the least of which being the name of your Chapter. One of the most common mistakes that gamers make is to think up a name first. In truth this is one of the Last things you should be considering before taking into account things like Lineage, Combat Tactics, Theme, and Colors. So what is the first thing you need to consider? What primary trait should you be taking into account before you name your Chapter “The Green Devils” and start making up shit to fill in the missing parts?
The first thing you should consider is your Chapter Lineage. This is easily the most important factor and will influence every other aspect of your Space Marine army. The reason why this is an afterthought for most gamers is simple… they want to be unique. The idea of creating something that is derived from existing canon can make gamers feel like they are not the pretty little snowflakes that they feel they need to be. This is a strange but well known part of nerd culture that I won’t get into now, however the point remains the same… gamers have a strong impulse to be unique.
Having worked in a Games Workshop for years I was forced to listen to scores of gamers explaining to me just how awesome their own created chapter is compared to every other. However, when asked what Founding Legion was the source of their geneseed most would either shrug or explain how it was a mysterious mystery. Which was really just another way of saying, ‘I haven’t put that much thought into it.’ I’ve always liked to refer to these types of Chapters as Bastard Marines. So as I said before, this is an important decision that will shape your chapter. Do not make it lightly but at the same time do not ignore it. Examine the traits, Primarch, and themes of the Founding Chapters and make your choice according to those details.
Now it’s safe to assume that you have done this properly and chosen a Founding Legion to be the progenitor of your Chapter. If you fucked this up somehow… just stop reading. Now that this is completed you can move on to the theme of your Space Marines!
Theme & Tactics
Once again, this is something that must be taken into account when creating a Space Marine Chapter. Why? Because it will help to form everything else that will complete your new chapter. Do you think that the Space Wolves first chose their name and then just randomly decided to have a debilitating Furry fetish? No. Their name was derived of what was known, or what would be known, as defining features of either their chapter or their Primarch. And yes yes, I know that the original Founding Chapters were created before their Primarchs were found, but in some of these cases the Chapters names were changed due to these qualities. Also the Emperor see’s all, so of course he named these Chapters with knowledge of their primarchs and the traits of their geneseed.
Remember though that theme is not another word for Fetish. As much as Games Workshop loves the idea that every Space Marine Chapter has to fill every spare space on their armor with the symbol or theme of the army, does not mean that you should do the same. If you want your army to be themed around Chaplains for instance, and you plan to make all your characters Chaplains, this does not mean that you should give every single Sergent, Terminator, and Dreadnought a Crosius. I say this because I once tried to do exactly that myself and half way through the conversion realized how fucking stupid it was.
Theme will line up side by side with Combat Tactics no matter how hard you try to separate the two ideas. In truth this is where it gets hard to build your own Chapter into something you feel is cool while at the same time trying to keep the actual tabletop composition competitive. No one wants to build an army of nothing Assault Marines then go and name their Chapter the Death Gophers.
This one, at first glance, isn’t a terrible idea. The gamer who created the Chapter explains their founding Chapter with some rationalization in terms of army composition, and also explains that the Chapter is a “Fast n’ Light” fighting force that specializes in stealth combat. He even goes so far as to say that he intends to add silencers to his bolters in order to really sell this theme. Have you noticed the issues with this yet? Firstly, there is nothing stealthy about a ten foot tall superhuman wearing the equivalent of a Ford Taurus for armor flying through the sky on jet engines. Also, I know it’s the 41st millennium and all but how exactly does one go about silencing a weapon who’s ammunition detonates upon impact? Lastly, white and neon green was a uniform option that was turned down by the Navy Seals a few years back… so yea, maybe you should mute those colors a tad.
Don’t get too excited… most gamers fuck this up too due to their Snowflake Syndrome as stated in the above comments. Let me say this now so that we can move forward: “There is nothing wrong with a color scheme that is similar to an existing Space Marine Chapter.” Too often people will stray so far away from primary colors when painting their Marines for fear of unwanted association with Chapters that do not conform to the image they have constructed. We all have Chapters we hate for no apparent reason and having similar colors to someone like… hmm, say… Blood Angels can be a terrible thing in the eye of gamers.
With that said… no, there are no “rules” for choosing a color scheme for your Space Marines. They are not “required” to resemble their progenitors in any obvious way. However, just like with Fashion, a little common sense and consideration goes a long way. Painting them your favorite color and simply adding highlights is no different than tossing on that old Metallica t-shirt with the mustard stain on it and heading off to a Wedding. It’s not just a question of color choices but also a question of lineage. For instance…
No, no, no, no, no… When reading the fluff of this particular Chapter we find out that the Bright Blades are apparently a Second Founding Chapter of the Ultramarines. This is a terrible choice considering the canon surrounding their founders. The Chapter that created the Codex, the Chapter the most recognizable color scheme, the Chapter that has easily the most stringent regulations for the creations of new Chapters… approves the Klu Klux Marines?
Here is another great example of bad colors choices. Bland green with a random red helmet makes a for an utterly boring army. Just stop and take a moment to imagine this army on the table painted in this off green and black… Dull, am I right? In this case there were no references to the Founding lineage of this Chapter, but considering the obvious fiction associated with these Marines I would be forced to assume their geneseed comes from Ultramarines. Which just makes this all that much worse. Remember that Space Marine armor is as much a form of Heraldry as it is a way of telling your battle brothers apart from the Chaos scum they are fighting.
Now that you have considered everything else it is time to consider a name for your chapter. This is where you DO get to let your Snowflake Syndrome shine freely as you cannot go off and call them Blood Angels or Iron Hands. This, however, does not mean that you should completely ignore the name of your Founding Chapter. Some of the best names are little more than simple rebranding of a founding. Prime examples include: Sons of Guilliman, Angels Encarmine, or Brazen Claws.
Firstly, try to avoid regional or climate related names for your Marines. Why? Let me ask you this first before I answer: “What makes these marines more suitable for Desert combat?” All marines have micro-climate control within their armor. It allows them to fight on any type of world and even within the vacuum of space. So how are the Desert Hunters any more suited than say, the Black Templars or Relictors? This was a name that was clearly thought up before considering the Theme of the army.
Another good tip is to try to avoid having a dual descriptor name for your space marines when not using the color scheme as an identifier. This isn’t always true, but it does tend to be a failing point for many gamer made Chapters. For instance: Black Templars are a good example of this being used correctly. The name Templars on it’s own is a good name for a Chapter and works on many levels with the canon of WarHammer 40K. Screaming Templars on the other hand completely ruins the name as a whole because it’s too much information and the two descriptors have nothing to do with eachother. Howling Griffons as another similar example is a name where both words are linked to a singular idea. A single descriptor name for your Chapter can say everything you need to say and be cool enough to grab your opponents attention without spoon feeding them too much information.
Here’s a good example of a one word name that tells you all you need to know about a Chapter. It may not be the best image to associate with Space Marines, but it’s clear and perhaps indicates an aggressive theme, even if it does make me giggle a bit.
Lastly, try to avoid specific topics or ideas that do not work with the 40K canon:
Legion/Legio: There are no more Legions, hence the need for Space Marine Chapters.
Chess: You’d be surprised how many gamers will name their Chapter something like the Avenging Rooks or the Storm Bishops. Chess does not exist in the 41st Millennium.
Made Up: Don’t make up words. Just don’t. You sound like a Klingon Cosplayer.
Over used: One sure way to make your Chapter blend into the background is to choose and overused name for your Chapter. Words like Angels, Emperor’s, Fire, Death, Dark, Imperial, or Sons are all seen far too often already in the 40K canon.
There you go!
Now you are ready to begin creating your own Space Marine Chapter and have the knowledge to do it the right way.