Army Showcase: SRM’s Warhammer Empire

In our Army Showcase series, Goonhammer contributors take a look at the armies we’ve been collecting for years, and the new ones we’ve just finished – what drew us to them, why we keep building and painting, and how they play on the table. This week SRM is talking about his classic Talabheim Empire army.

The Painter: Campbell “SRM” McLaughlin
The Game: Warhammer Fantasy Battle/Age of Sigmar/The Old World
Points: A lot, probably
Collecting Since: July 2016

The Past

It’s mid-2016. 40k is, at this time, not very good. I’ve just completed my first Empire campaign in Total War: Warhammer. A worm deep in my skull is obsessed with ranked troops, heraldry, and the pageantry of the uniforms and banners of old. Old Empire kits are going for peanuts on the secondhand market as Warhammer Fantasy Battle is dead, and Age of Sigmar is only now clawing its way towards becoming the game I love today with the first General’s Handbook. With my local game club somewhat fractured on what to play next, I figured I could paint some Empire models for funsies and maybe play old editions of Fantasy or The 9th Age (lol) with them. With that, I snapped up an old Battleforce and the Uniforms and Heraldry of the Empire book and got to painting.

For this army I settled on Talabheim, a central city in The Empire and the classic “box art” scheme for the faction. The red and white halved/quartered/whatevered uniforms were striking, and represented colors I didn’t paint very often. I quickly established a “good enough” standard of painting for this army – a simple process of base coat, wash, redefine, edge highlight for each model, with a similarly simple basing scheme. I still covet those lovingly painted Empire armies with freehanded banners and meticulously blended uniforms, but that was beyond my abilities at the time, and with the scale of this force speed would be important.

My old core Boston crew of Dylan, Cody, Kyle, and Jimmy had been playing Age of Sigmar and insisted it was good now, so I obliged and started playing with them. I expounded upon some of this in an ancient video from my brief stint as a YouTuber, which has been particularly helpful as a means to recall information for my bowling ball-smooth and Adderall-addled brain. I also have some unpainted models on the field in that video, please don’t cancel me. After just one game I was hooked, and this army quickly grew into a respectable fighting force. I got deep into Age of Sigmar in 2nd edition with the first Cities of Sigmar Battletome, writing articles about it for Goonhammer, playing tons of games with my crew, and even winning a store tournament with them at Alpha Omega Hobby in Quincy, MA.

The Present

This army doesn’t see much play these days. Cities of Sigmar are firmly their own thing now, and Karl Franz’s Pyjama Pals have had their time in the Mortal Realms. I was playing this army up through 2020, getting Covid-compliant games in backyards with my local crew. These days, I’ve leaned into the Age of Sigmar setting much harder with Stormcast Eternals, Slaves to Darkness, and the newer Cities of Sigmar, but I found this army to be a gentle way to transition from the World-That-Was to the Mortal Realms. At the moment these guys live in their KR cases, with this article’s photoshoot likely being the first time they’ve emerged since September 2020 when I got bodied by Cody’s Ogor Mawtribes.

Lords and Heroes

Empire Captain. Credit: SRM

Again referring to those distant YouTubing days, I’ll begin with the model that started this army. The mix of noble decor and down to earth grit make this one of my favorite models in any Games Workshop range, and a wonderful encapsulation of The Empire as a whole. I used him in every single game I ever played with this army. His Hold the Line ability in the last few editions of Age of Sigmar was crucial for buffing my troops to punch well above their collective weights. He was outclassed by any and every other character on the field, but he still showed up and made this army work.

Empire Witch Hunter. Credit: SRM

The Witch Hunter aesthetic is strong; so much so that it survived the destruction of the World-That-Was into the Age of Sigmar. This dude was also one of the reasons I started this army, and remains one of the most characterful models ever released by GW. I love all his trinkets, his embarrassment of wargear, his loud as hell hat and Vash the Stampede coat. There have certainly been better proportions and sharper details on witch hunter models since, but this one remains my favorite. He would usually hang out near my Captain in-game, on rare occasions actually hunting a witch with his silver broadsword or capping a guy with his flintlock.

Empire Master Engineer. Credit: SRM

I’ll be straight up, I never really liked this model. There’s a Terry Gilliam-esque sense of whimsy to it, but he’s too busy and awkward looking to me. I pretty much just took him along to buff my Steam Tank and cannon, or maybe plinking the odd wound off a character.

Empire Amber Battle Wizard. Credit: SRM

I’ve never been wild about wizards (despite loving wizard vans and occasionally enjoying prog rock) so I liked the imagery of a humble hedge wizard as opposed to some grand spellcaster. I’m pretty sure I painted this guy in an afternoon, wondering “just how many browns do I have” before using each and every one of them. He was a solid, cheap, easy to hide buff character for the army.

Empire Battle Priest. Credit: SRM

No Empire army feels complete without a Battle Priest, and this metal one was fit to serve. I didn’t use him that often as his rules were never all too great, but the metal model has this grit so indicative of the early-mid 2000s Middlehammer aesthetic. As you can likely tell, I love humble footslogging heroes. Even in the comparatively more grounded Warhammer Fantasy setting, they’re still in an uphill battle against all the orcs, trolls, and daemons of the setting.

Empire Volkmar the Grim on War Altar. Credit: SRM

As probably the first model to be invalidated in my army, I didn’t get to use Volkmar all too often. He fried a few Skaven with his holy laser and had some buff effects in the few games I used him in, but he was generally too ostentatious, easy to target, and easy to kill for any given army with more than a handful of ranged weapons. As a visual centerpiece though, I love this model. He was an exercise in subassemblies when I was far less accustomed to them, but his mobile pulpit and big honkin golden griffon are right out of the background of a Paul Dainton painting.


Empire Handguners. Credit: SRM

These were the star unit of the army, without a doubt. Not much could stand up to a volley of 30 handguns, especially with a few buffs and the ability to shoot out of sequence in the enemy charge phase. One of the places where I chose to treat myself was by getting the Ironsides Handgunner regiment, a set of handgunner bodies in platemail from Forgeworld. I justified this as an “economical” purchase since it let me use the leftover bits from my crossbowmen, as crossbows and handguns shared a kit. It added some diversity to the unit, and told a bit of a story about the haves and have nots of the Empire. State Troops would often have to procure their own gear, hence why there are some dudes with breastplates, some without shoes, some with helmets, and so on in each of these kits. It’s one of those wonderful details of the setting that finds its way to the miniatures, even if that can sometimes be a pain for a batch painter like yours truly.

Empire State Troops with Halberds. Credit: SRM

My initial goal was to paint a big block of each kind of State Troop, but I only got through 10 of these, not even painting a command section for them. I don’t like the assembly for the spear/halberd on this kit which is probably why. Resultantly, these were just a cheap speedbump unit I’d run in my games, hopefully taking the charge so my shooting units could keep firing in relative safety. They were also early in this army’s development, as I hadn’t introduced yellow as a contrasting color yet. That really makes the feathers pop, unlike here where they sorta blend in.

Empire Flagellants. Credit: SRM

These were my first go at using Contrast, slathering it over Wraithbone primer and giving it a simple line highlight at the end. I wish I could have done this for more of this army, but Contrast didn’t exist yet when I started. Flagellants are one of those “Blanchitsu in a box” kits, a dose of trademark Warhammer weirdness that differentiates The Empire from your average 15th century European army. They were a fragile and late addition to the force, so they never saw much play.

Lumpin Croop’s Fighting Cocks, counts-as Empire Archers. Credit: SRM

As a connoisseur of weird little guys, I particularly enjoy halflings. Hell, I like halflings so much I review their models for games I don’t even play. Wanting to better represent The Empire by incorporating The Moot, I painted up this old Regiment of Renown from 6th edition. The goal was to use them as Freeguild Archers, but I don’t think I ever got to. Instead I used one of them for a D&D campaign where I played a halfling rogue based on Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants. I like it when games are at least a little dumb. 20 more of these guys have been sitting in a tub of Simple Green in my garage for 3 years.

Empire State Troops with Swords and Shields. Credit: SRM

I added to this regiment time and again, probably painting 10 more guys every year for them until I hit a horde of 40. They’re a hugely modular kit with a load of variety, and the superfluous little baubles hanging off their belts are exhausting. They’re far too laden with detail for models you need so many of (history repeats itself) but I can’t help but feel inspired when I see them all ranked up. I got my time and money’s worth, as this regiment saw play in every single game I played, being the sturdy anvil on which my hammer would strike. There were a bunch of ways to buff their saves for a while, so they’d serve as a curiously durable brick of cheap idiots on the line while my firepower did the actual work.

Empire Crossbows. Credit: SRM

This regiment was actually the first in the army, where I had fully bought the hype of the coverage on the somewhat recent Citadel range of Base and Layer paints. No matter how good Mephiston Red and the old recipe of Ulthuan Grey were, painting over black was a mistake. Working in a batch of 20 models was a different, bigger mistake. However, I did establish my scheme and process with these guys, so it wasn’t for nothing. I added the hunting horn to their banner at a later date when I wanted to practice some freehand. While Handgunners took priority, the crossbows saw battle fairly often. They had slightly longer range and were a reliable source of firepower in a game and meta without too much of that sort of thing.

Empire Free Company Militia. Credit: SRM

Here is the only regiment I ever gave a name to: The Talabheim Tappers, a regiment of mercenary hooligans paid in beer for their services. I wanted to go with The Altdorf Alehounds, but that’d be a different color scheme. I tried to show this story with their banner of a spilling tankard, as well as the models holding drinking horns, bottles, mugs, and so on. I even converted the Handgunners’ powder monkey to be holding a beer keg with a little tap at the front. I was lucky enough to find a few boxes of the Free Company Militia box without spending an arm and a leg, and I went to town making a big ol’ gaggle of weirdos with it. After building my first 20, I dug up more weird bits like the General’s gryph-hound, a Dwarf from the Battle of Skull Pass issue of White Dwarf, and the regiment’s champion. I believe this champion was an unused sculpt from a former GW sculptor who independently released it as a resin miniature. Dylan gave him to me some years ago. I ran this regiment as Black Ark Corsairs, as their mix of ranged and melee weapons adequately represented the unit. I even used the champion as a Fleetmaster character once or twice to give them some unique boosts. They were always a fun unit to bust out, often screening huge swathes of the army and occasionally putting out a surprising amount of damage.

Empire State Troops with spears and shields. Credit: SRM

Tiring of the hyper-detailed State Troops kit, I grabbed a bunch of spearmen from the old 6th edition Warhammer Fantasy starter set. These paint up fast and easy, as they’re essentially historical miniatures sculpted by the Perrys. They were missing a few shields as they were secondhand purchases, so I stuck a few I had lying around in there, and Dylan again gave me some random 3rd party model for their champion. The banner bears a heraldic boar’s head. The familial insignia of my namesake, clan Campbell, is a boar’s head with the slogan ne obliviscarus, or “do not forget.” My feelings on family range as much as anybody’s, with tepid positivity on one end of the spectrum and the familial sinkhole of dreaded obligations on the other. Maybe I’d recently had one of the former experiences, sharing scotch with my dad from a glass with this very heraldic device printed on it. While the slogan implored me not to, I can’t for the life of me remember.

Rare and Special

Empire Steam Tank. Credit: SRM

This was my one positive experience with Leadbelcher spray, which always dries too glossy for paint to stick to it. That also meant the wash didn’t pool too badly, so painting this ironclad on wheels was a breeze. For a model so small, it had a huge impact on the battlefield whenever I used it. It’s jarring that it’s still in the modern Cities of Sigmar range as it is so obviously an Empire model, but maybe there will be a new yassified version for the Mortal Realms in 2025.

Empire Great Cannon. Credit: SRM

When I was painting the new Cities of Sigmar Ironweld Great Cannon, all I could think about was how it was practically a 1:1 remake of this classic artillery piece. The guns themselves are even pretty close in size, save for the giant gunshield and crane bit on the newer kit. They weirdly even have similar rules all these years apart, being just a hair too unreliable to truly be great. I have another one of these in a box, waiting to be turned into a mortar.

Empire Demigryph Knights. Credit: SRM

These were one of the later additions to the army, a genuinely useful sledgehammer of a unit that could give the army some real oomph on the battlefield. I have distinct memories of building them on a broken IKEA couch in the second apartment my wife and I shared together. I never painted up a suitable character to keep up with them, so they often would overextend or not hit quite as hard as they could. They were also like the one expensive unit in the entire army, so I’d either baby them or put them into something I thought they could kill but couldn’t. I’m not very good at this game.

Empire Reiksguard Knights. Credit: SRM

These were some of the first models I painted for the army, and they’ve seen better days. I didn’t fully understand the significance of the bits in this kit when I built it, so you’ve got some Knights Panther bits in there even though they’re in the Reiksguard scheme. I used them regularly in AoS, running them as Knights of Order then Drakespawn Knights, and they underperformed every time. Still, an Empire army isn’t complete without at least one block of Knights, and I’m yet to meet a Warhammer player who won’t fist pump at a good cavalry charge.

Empire Outriders. Credit: SRM

These dashing fellows never did all too much damage, but were the one actually maneuverable unit in the entire army. Combing through pictures I took in years past, these guys were always nabbing midfield or backfield objectives, blunting charges by tying up my opponent’s units, or otherwise being a light nuisance. Fast, cheap, and versatile, I really wanted to add a second unit to the army before remembering how much I hated painting horses. Now that I use a wet palette and do a lot of blending, I think I’d enjoy the experience far more.

Empire Regimental Mascot. Credit: SRM

I don’t have anywhere else to really put this guy, but as the most recently painted model in this army, I thought I’d put him last. He was my first model of January 2022; a gift from Dylan when I visited him in 2021. The varnish had some problems since it was January with all the weather that entails, but he was a delightful reminder of how things used to be: heavy, flat, and hand sculpted.

The Future

If The Old World takes off in my area, I could absolutely see myself getting some of those movement trays that increase the frontage of 20mm bases to the new standard of 25mm. I’ll be damned before I rebase 200+ infantry models for a game I might only play occasionally. I’ve also got piles of stuff still in boxes – more Handgunners, Knights of the White Wolf, Von Zeppel’s Steam Tank, and of course, Karl Franz on Deathclaw. I never got to paint up more artillery or Greatswords for this army, and there are so many random characters I’ve got in boxes and blister packs that remain unloved. I’ll never say never, but without a significant push to play ranks n’ flanks in my area, this army will remain dormant. At the very least, I got the desire to paint a landsknecht army out of my system.

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