For my 100th post I thought that it would be appropriate to talk about theming an army... as if my army has anything, it's that. Now there are a couple of obvious ways to do this- choose an existing force, give them all the same paint job and intimidate your opponent through your conformity. There are a couple of benefits to this approach- people can guess what your army is easily if it's a canon approved force, and giving them all the same scheme makes it easy to tell which guys belong on which side of the field.
Unfortunately, I've got a bit of ADD kicking through my system and sticking to one scheme just won't do. But I want to make my army cohesive, so it needs to have something else sticking it together.
For me, it's my card theme. I absolutely love card playing and can be found most of the time with a deck of cards on my person or close at hand. So when I started this hobby just over a year ago I decided to go to one of my favorite card games for my inspiration for my new game. Each of my units would belong to a different suit of cards and have their number be their rank. Since I chose Euchre as my game of choice the numbering system became a bit easier, 9-Ace.
Squad/Platoon markings are on the left shoulder- Squad #, Suit, Rank
Now, I've talked about and shown my themes before, so I won't bore you with repeating it. What I want to talk about are the advantages, disadvantages and quirks of this particular method of theming. I won't say it's better or worse than any other theming system, just different. Which is what I like.
We'll start with the good. First of all, you will almost never be bored with your schemes, as you will always have another one to jump to. I began with Clubs, grew bored with the black and moved to Hearts. Then when I got bored with that I started kitbashing Cadians and Catachans into Diamonds and Spades, and they in turn demanded another paint scheme. Then my commanders needed their own, and the tanks couldn't follow suit that easily... at which point I was ready to paint some Clubs again.
All of the suits together in my command squad. A different base rim color sets them apart and above.
Another good point is that it becomes very easy for you and your opponent to tell which unit does what without having to squint at what WYSIWYG weapon is on this or that squad. I can also do silly tricks like intermixing my squads to get communal cover saves and still be very easily able to tell which model belongs to which squad. And if there's no confusion, there's no arguments. And if there're no arguments, then you get to have fun!
Finally, it gives the army a very distinctive look. Most people go for variations on the same thing- different colored pants to differentiate squads but all have the same helmets/shoulderpads/carapace/etc. My force, with it's radically different paint schemes but completely focused theme, looks hodge podge at first but quickly makes sense as the import of the different suits sinks in. Plus the card theme (or whatever theme you choose, be it seasons, elements, etc.) gets people talking and makes sure that they remember it.
Now, there are some downsides. One thing that I've run into again and again is having troopers of the wrong suit sub into squads in order to make them WYSIWYG, or even be used for roles that I didn't intend for them. It's not that I don't have painted and assembled models... I just don't want to have a lone Hearts meltagunner slumming it with all of my Clubs troopers or a platoon squad acting like a Veteran when he knows that he can't shoot worth a damn. It doesn't look as pretty, which is really half the point of the theme.
I've run into this problem also with my intra-suit markings. Sometimes I really want the plasmagunner from a command squad to join his suit, but the gold band on his base spoils the image. I often just go through it anyway, but it still bugs me. A lot of this is simply due to the evolution of my list- my original markings just don't follow my current thought process. Fixable with a coat of paint or a less OCD viewpoint, but still harder to do than with a similarly painted force.
There has also been a cool, quirky result of this process: my army has developed back story and more depth to its theming. For example, the first models that I painted were in the Clubs paint scheme and happened to include a few heavy weapons teams. From this point they became the Heavy Weapons platoon, tasked with defending important locations and utilizing all of the hallmarks of Guard warfare- trenches, foxholes, and generally blasting away in the hope that the enemy will be dead before he reaches our lines.
But then I learned about Al'Rahem, and I happened to be painting Hearts at the time. They became the outflanking Recon Platoon, equipped for rapid warfare with their high level of special weapons and lack of heavy weapons. The theme then took another leap as I rationalized that they must have some kind of precognitive ability to know when and where to show up, leading to them becoming a suit known for its psykers. This led to my Psyker Primaris becoming the King of Hearts and my planned Psyker Battle Squad being the Jacks of the suit.
Diamonds and Spades started out on equal footing, but when I painted the Stormtroopers in Spades colors I knew that there would have to be a divergence. Spades are now either Stormies or stormies in training, while Diamonds have become devotees of the machine god. Now the army is neatly split in four- none of them can operate independently and require the specialties of the others to form a winning force... which is what the Guard is supposed to do anyway.
The theme bit continues with my basing. I don't do flocking or scenic basing because my Guardsmen are supposed to be expendable pawns. Giving them just a coat of paint and a suit symbol on their base reinforces the idea that they are game pieces, both in fluff and in life. No one will care if they die, or miss them when they are gone.
All of these choices and backstories were definitely not in mind when I started the army. It was simply the theme and my painting whims that built up the fluff and let it run free throughout my force.
So try this method out if you want a bit of an unusual theming method, as sometimes forcing a rigid theme can allow for some interesting, organic results both on and off the field.