In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at different armies of the Warhammer universe, examine their history and heraldry, and look at several different methods for painting them. By popular demand, this week we’re looking at how to paint the terrifying VIII legion, the Night Lords.
The Night Lords
The Night Lords are the VIIIth legion of the First Founding, and one of the original nine Traitor Legions that turned to Chaos during the Horus Heresy, though their fall began well before Horus decided to rebel. The legion’s Primarch, Konrad Curze, landed on the mining planet of Nostramo as a baby, where he was left to fend for himself. Nostramo was a world of perpetual twilight, whose moon continually blocked out the light from its nearest star. It was also choked with corruption and crime and ruled by brutal crime lords who preyed upon the civilian population. As Kurze aged, he took it upon himself to put an end to these injustices, stopping and killing criminals with his own hands, working his way up the ranks. His shadow war caused him to be known as The Night Haunter on Nostramo, and by the time the Emperor arrived to find him, Kurze had transformed the planet from a crime-ridden hellhole into an incredibly compliant world with a population terrified of stepping out of line, lest they face Kurze’s justice.
At the head of a legion of space marines, Curze wasted no time instilling his philosophy of fear and brutal subjugation within his ranks, and the Night Lords quickly became known for their terror tactics and brutal methods ensuring Imperial compliance. They were known for using excessive force, and publicizing this fact, sowing fear that would prevent future rebellions. In the latter years of the Great Crusade, it was not uncommon for worlds to immediately drop talk of rebellion and submit to full tithing on just the rumor that the Night Lords might be called to put down their rebellion. Before Curze was found, recruits for the Night Lords came from the prisons on Terra, where they grew up never knowing the light. This made them ideal recruits for the kind of work the Imperium and Curze were demanding. After Curze left Nostramo, the world quickly slid back into its old status quo and soon the Night Lords’ ranks were being replenished not with the best and bravest the world had to offer (whom the corrupt lords kept for their own security details), but its most degenerate murderers and criminals. This would in turn further contribute to the legion’s descent, as its methods would become more and more brutal. In time, Curze would come to hate his legion and what it had become and when he realized the extent of his adopted home world’s betrayal, he directed his legion’s fleet to open fire on the world, utterly destroying it.
Curze’s actions had finally gone too far and the rogue primarch was called to submit to Imperial judgment and sentencing for his crime and for completely wrecking Rogal Dorn in hand-to-hand combat when the primarch questioned Curze’s loyalty. But before he could be brought in to answer for his crimes, word of Horus’ rebellion broke and the Night Lords were one of the legions sent to destroy the Sons of Horus, Emperor’s Children, World Eaters, and Death Guard in the Istvaan System. Of course, upon arrival, they eagerly joined Horus’ rebellion, and the Night Lords turned on the loyalists, helping nearly eradicate the Iron Warriors, Raven Guard, and Salamanders.
Following the Heresy, the Night Lords continued a terror campaign against the fringes of the Imperium until an Imperial Callidus Assassin, M’Shen, was dispatched to kill Curze. Ultimately, the self-loathing Curze allowed the assassin to kill him, causing his legion to further fracture following his death. Currently, the Night Lords operate as a series of warbands, traveling the galaxy sowing terror on unsuspecting worlds wherever they go. The Night Lords aren’t devoted to one of the Ruinous powers, and many do not worship the Chaos Gods in any form. Sometimes seen as cowardly by the other traitor legions, the Night Lords prefer to strike quickly and brutally, and prefer to fight only when the odds are stacked in their favor. Their primary methods involve sowing fear and discord in the enemy ranks to soften their targets before they engage, and they’re masters of psychological warfare.
Where to Read More
Thanks to the efforts of some of Black Library’s best authors, the Night Lords have a few excellent books on hand for you to read. Here are some suggestions:
- The Night Lords Trilogy (Soul Hunter, Blood Reaver, and Void Stalker) by Aaron Dembski Bowden. The classic go-to text for Night Lords and post heresy Chaos Space Marines. This trilogy is considered a must read for any 40k fan and it’s a fantastic look into the day-to-day lives of marines in the Traitor Legions following the Horus Heresy. Void Stalker also has one of the sickest fight scenes written in any 40k book.
- Lord of the Night by Simon Spurrier. A long lost Night Lord from the heresy goes up against an entire planet alone. Until ADB’s Night Lords trilogy this was the go-to for source material about the 8th legion.
- Prince of Crows by Aaron Dembski Bowden. Set in the Horus Heresy, fan fave Night Lord Sevatar chews the scenery and generally shows the Night Lords at their worst (i.e their best).
Playing Night Lords
Until they get new rules with the second Psychic Awakening book, there isn’t a lot to recommend Night Lords in Warhammer 40,000. They’re a standard Chaos Space Marines subfaction, with a trait that gives nearby enemy units a -1 Ld penalty, stacking with multiple units up to -3. While the ability to stack these modifiers with something like Butcher Cannons and Raptors’ -1 seems like a strong play, too many armies have ways of ignoring or mitigating morale, and every faction in the game has access to the Insane Bravery Stratagem. It’s a shame, because the Sons of Kurze have never really gotten their due rules-wise. They had a few cool rules at the end of 3rd edition and the end of 7th, but currently aren’t bringing much to the table.
Chaos Space Marines struggle in Kill Team, lacking the variety that many other factions enjoy. Among Chaos Space Marine subfactions, Night Lords aren’t particularly strong, but have Ld modifying abilities that can cause opponents to fail nerve tests, rendering them unable to act as they cower in fear. For more on Chaos Space Marine Kill Teams, check out our Chaos Space Marines Kill Team Tactics article.
Painting Night Lords
Despite being the 2nd edition poster boy/studio army faction, Night Lords have one of, if not the, most complicated color schemes of any of the Chaos Space Marine legions. This is because of the army’s signature lightning bolts — their dark blue armor is streaked with lightning bolts , and the process of painting these can be very daunting for a new player. Add to that gold or brass trim and you’ve got a difficult scheme to tackle. The upside is that, aside from 40k models having more gold trim to paint and fewer chunks of flayed flesh, the paint scheme for the Night Lords is pretty much the same for 40k as it is for the Horus Heresy. And as always, we’ve got your back and are presenting multiple ways to tackle painting your Night Lords.
I fell in love with Night Lords back in 2nd edition, when they were inexplicably the studio army for Chaos Space Marines. In retrospect, they were an absolutely terrible choice for a first army to paint, just because of the sheer difficulty of their paint scheme, but they’ve always been my favorites so I’m glad I started with them. Most of my Night Lords are older, metal models at this point, but I occasionally paint some new stuff for the army. I also still scour ebay for decent 2nd edition metal finds to add to the army, though. Painting-wise, I’ve changed how I paint these guys significantly over the last few years. I used to paint them a much lighter blue, such that they almost resembled Ultramarines, then I started shading those marines with Drakenhof Nightshade and Nuln Oil to get a darker look. These days I’ve got a more reasonable, consistent way of painting them that starts with Night Lords Blue. Even with my new scheme, my Night Lords are modeled off the 2nd edition paint scheme, which means I use bright reds for their weapons and greens for their cabling.
Because this paint scheme requires a little more work than usual, I’ve got a full step-by-step planned today instead of just a quick color rundown. Note that I don’t use an airbrush when I paint, and doing the lightning bolts and highlights with an airbrush is almost certainly easier, particularly when it comes to doing gradients.
So let’s walk through this:
0. Prime Black – Always black, but this is especially true for Night Lords, whose armor is midnight blue.
1. Basecoat with Night Lords Blue – The new Night Lords Blue is great. It’s a little more saturated than Kantor Blue, and it’s the right darkness level to start with. Give your primed mini two thin coats of Night Lords Blue, and put an extra thin layer on the top spots to make them a little bluer.
2. Coat with Nuln Oil – Most of the infantry I paint follows a basecoat > shade > coat > highlight process, and that’s true here. Cover your model in Nuln Oil, and hit the lower areas and edges with a second coat of Nuln Oil.
3. Layer on the blue again – Here’s where I come back in with a second layer of Night Lords Blue, then I mix that with a few drops of Reaper Snow Shadow (you could also use Ulthuan Grey or another light blue for this) and do a few passes of progressively lighter blue, moving upward on the model, to get a blended look that puts lighter blues on the raised spots.
4. Block out the Lightning Bolt Auras – We’re going to freehand in some lightning bolts, but we want to have lighter areas around where those bolts are going, so let’s do that. At this step I use a lighter blue mix and I do a blobby blocking in around where the bolts will be. You can see this most readily on the shoulder pad.
5. Freehand in some Lightning Bolts – I do this using Reaper Ghost White. If I’m doing larger bolts, I’ll do a thinner bolt of Reaper Pure White inside that, but for smaller models I just do the one off-white layer. I use a 10/0 brush for this. Put paint on your brush and start at the top, then drift downard using a light touch. Wherever your brush first touches the model is gonna get a drop of paint, so if you add branches I find it’s easier to start higher up and go over the bolt center again. I do all this before I do the trim work, and I’ll paint over the bolts a little as well. Generally, I do bolts on the shoulder pads, the sides of the thighs (if that space is open), and the sides of the greaves. On models with cleaner chest plates, I might add a bolt there as well, or on the tops of lightning claws.
6. Gold Trim – I do my gold Trim with Retributor Armour. I used to do it with Balthasar Gold, then a few layers of Auric Armour but that took forever and came out too yellow. This new method is faster and looks better. Basically I do Retributor then hit it with a couple coats of Agrax Earthshade.
7. More Details – A good half the work on modern chaos models, particularly Night Lords, is filling in all the base colors. I use Warpstone Glow for the cables, Mephiston Red for the cloth and bolter, Rakarth Flesh for any bone parts, Leadbelcher for the metals, Balthasar Gold for the brass on the backpack exhaust parts, and Mournfang Brown for the belts and holster. I used Mephiston Red for the gemstone too.
8. Washes – time to do some fast shading. I use Carroburg Crimson on the red parts, Nuln Oil on the metal parts, Coelia Greenshade on the cabling, and Agrax Earthshade on the gold trim and bone parts. I also use Carroburg Crimson and Nuln oil to shade the upper right corners of the gemstone.
Ok, now it’s time to paint the shoulder pad. I really dislike using transfers, and I hated how goofy the old Night Lords transfers looked and I hate trying to make transfers fit on rounded shoulder pads. So what I’ve been doing for the last few years is freehanding shoulder icons. And today, I’m going to show you how that process works for my night lords.
9. The Wings first – Start by blocking in the wing shape. There are a few different ones you can use, but I’m going with the most basic shape here. We’re gonna layer this up, so I start by painting the full set of wings that’ll go here. For the wings, I use Mephiston Red.
10. Now the skull – Next I block in the skull. There are several shapes to do here, but the basic top half of the skull with fangs is the easiest. I use Rakarth Flesh for this.
11. Details – Now it’s time to add some details. I use Evil Sunz Scarlet for the bony parts, Abaddon Black for the eyes and nose, and then I use Reaper Polished Bone to touch up and highlight the skull to give it a little depth.
Great, Icon finished. Let’s finish painting this bad boy.
12. Adding more layers – I highlight the cabling with Moot Green to give it a brighter look that pops against the dark armor. I edge highlight the Bolter with Evil Sunz Scarlet and use Mephiston Red and Evil Sunz Scarlet to build up the cloth tabard. The eye lenses are Mephiston Red with a spot of Evil Sunz Scarlet. I also wash the leather parts with Agrax Earthshade and Nuln Oil.
13. Edge highlighting – The metal and gold parts get an edge highlight of Ironbreaker, and I use the same color for the rivets. For the armor, I do an edge highlight with The Fang and the another smaller edge highlight with Snow Shadow on the corners and top edges. I edge the leather parts with Mournfang Brown. I do a standard gemstone pattern on the gemstone on his shoulder pad.
14. Finish the model off with some basing. I do all of my Night Lords with snow/winter bases. So for most of them, I paint the base with Reaper Ghost White, then I cover the base with Valhallan Blizzard texture paint. I used to use Mourn Mountain Snow for this but that stuff looked like white dirt, and the new texture paint looks much more like actual snow.
I’m pretty happy with how this guy turned out, and I think the process is repeatable enough to do another three dozen times, not that I’m looking to do that. Working with Night Lords Blue is a lot easier than my prior methods, and it’s a great paint to use for the base coats.
The C.O.D.A Method
My Fellow Hams.
We live in dark times. With the Imperium shattering we need new leadership structures to come though. We need the bravest space marine legion. A legion that doesn’t specialise in running aw-
Wait. Shit. I’ve just been informed that this is a Night Lords HTPE.
Night Lords. Aka the marines that should probably have a rule called “Actually, they know quite a bit of fear”.
We are so totally doomed.
Jokes aside, Night Lords are my fave traitor legion. Their lore is great and the concept of various warbands of these major screw ups roving around the galaxy is great for creating your very own group of deluded murderers. There is also an element of Kurze totally and utterly failing his sons on every level, dooming them to their current tragedy of an existence that I personally enjoy.
My scheme for Night Lords was developed so I could backdate the army to the HH and have it useable for 40k as well. I also looked to the 2nd ed John Blanche artwork for my scheme concept, an idea I totally didn’t steal from TheChirugeon.
So, we have very, very dark blue with a lightish gold and a lot of red. This combo looks great if you can pull it off.
Anyway, here’s how I paint them with the award winning (awards pending) Completely Ok Dark blue Armour method.:
Start with undercoating your scary boi with a Matte Black Spray. Chaos Black is a good GW spray. I use a local hardware store one.
For the love of god, don’t do the armour 1st. Start with the fresh hell that is gold trim on chaos marines.
We want a nice, colder gold over a warm redish gold. So don’t worry about putting down a layer of retributor armour. Instead….
Just slap liberator gold on there.
Seriously. Trust me. Lib gold right over the matte black. Go for it. You’ll be fine. LIBERATE yourself from your inhibitions and go for gold.
Hit rivets etc with Army Painter Soft Tone, be as precise as a laser guided bomb here. Use it sparingly.
Mix in some Stormhost Sliver in your Liberator Gold. Do a thicc highlight. Seriously almost layer it on.
Do a small spot highlight with Stormhost sliver on the extreme edges/rivet heads.
Cry in the corner.
Basecoat Kantor Blue, leaving some black in the deep recessed areas of the armour.
Shade the shit out of the entire model with Drakenhoff Nightshade. Really go to town on this. GW reccos Nuln Oil for this, but I feel that destroys the really nice blue you get if you use Drakenhoff.
Re-coat in your Kantor, leaving a lot of the shade in there.
Highlight thickishly with Alaitoc Blue
Highlight thinly with Hoeth Blue
Vallejo Black Grey
Drown with Army Painter Dark Tone
Highlight with Eshin Grey
Drown with Army Painter Dark Tone
Highlight sparingly with stormhost or leadblecher, depending on how ‘clean’ you want the metal.
Vallejo Model Colour Carmine Red Base. Just do a single thin layer. This is here just to give your later reds something to grab onto.
Vallejo Model Colour Dark Vermillion
Carroburg Crimson Shade
Slight highlight Dark Vermillion to your liking
Vallejo Model Colour Vermillion highlight
For eyes, a spot highlight of Vermillion mixed in with Troll Slayer Orange will make them pop.
You remember crying in the corner about the trim? Prepare to cry EVEN HARDER.
Do a bunch of lines in Alaitoc Blue
Do a thinner line inside the Hoeth Blue Lines with Lothern Blue
Do an EXTREMELY thin line of White Scar Air (I used the layer. The air would be so much easier though) in various bits.
SWORDS!/Claws as well I guess.
This is a really easy blend, that even a bad like me can do:
Do the smoothest coat you can of incubi Darkness
Mix a ton of Lahmian Medium into Kabalite green. Do a few layers of this Starting at the mid point of one half of the sword. The at the same point, hit the otherside of the sword blade and go towards the tip. Continue to do layers of this, progressively moving away from the center of the sword.
After this starts looking ‘good’ add in some ‘cool’ by mixing Lahminan Medium with Ulthuan Grey, repeating the above process but further down the blade.
Highlight the blade edges with Ulthuan Grey, the more grey bits of the blade get a white scar air highlight, then add in LIGHTNING with white scar air.
The Power Nodes are Ulthuan Grey with White Scar highlights.
Bolter and Chainsword users have created a sweet Nostramn Alphabet to use on your minis. I doodle these on kneepads and shoulders as squad/warband markings.
Ave Dominus Nox
That wraps up our look at how to paint Night Lords, a daunting — but rewarding — legion with some extremely cool hobbying opportunities. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, or you have Night Lords of your own that you want to share, feel free to drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’ve got some great models you’re proud of, hit us up about linking to them in a future Content We Liked post–we’re always looking for stuff to add to those.