Making your Space Marine Captain stand out

Making your HQ model stand out is something we all strive to do in some way or another. Whether it be a slightly taller base or a much embellished model, making your force commander stand out on the tabletop can do nothing but add to the look of your army.

Forge World carefully explains to us what a true Space Marine Captain is:
Each Company in a Space Marine Chapter falls under the command of a Captain, a hardened veteran and a master strategist. These lords of war read the battlefield’s ebb and flow with enhanced reflexes and a post-human grasp of the ever-changing arena of combat in which they spend their lives.
Right, right, right, but how do we translate that over to our model? Sounds good on paper, but how do we make it look good on a miniature?

Fantasy armies do it all the time, they have the rank and file troops and then a gorgeous centerpiece type commander to lead the whole thing. Wit Forge World releasing a very nice Captain model as seen above along with an accompanying Standard Bearer, I thought I might take a look at the idea of making your commander "stand out" from the rest of your army.

It doesn't take much to make your commander stand out
You can make your commander stand out by doing any number of things to him. Starting at the top and working down, let's look at a few simple things you can add to your model to separate him from the rank and file.

The helmet
This is an easy one. Some folks opt for the helmetless look as well to designate an officer. Yes, Space Marines are tough enough to go without their helmet in the most dire conditions. Besides, it looks cool and people can see your nice hair.

You can order any kind of helmet under the sun from online bits providers too. I get the individual bits I use from Spikey Bits. Get yourself an older MK helmet and you're all set. You can look at modifying the existing helmet your commander is sporting. Roman style helmet crests are a great way to give a model a very unique look. It's not just for Ultramarines either. Secret Weapon minis has a handful of these crests that you can attach right to your commander's helmet. You can make them, but for the work it takes, you're far better off buying them and saving yourself the trouble.

If you're a fan of the helmetless look, then facial hair (especially for Space Wolf players) can set your Captain apart from the younger, less experienced officers. You can sculpt just about any kind of facial hair if you know where to start.
Not interested in sculpting, then you can faux paint a shaved head for the monastery look as well.

Clothes make the man
Changing the armour or adding things to it can make a huge difference as well. A simple shoulderpad swap for something more ornate can often make the difference with minimal work involved.

You can add things like half tabards or even the leather strap ones seen in the picture above. Those require a bit of sculpting skill, but are not impossible to pull off and change the look of a model immediately.

Exotic weaponry helps
The rank and file guys get standard issue. The important guys have the good stuff. Adding a scope to a gun or changing out the weapon to something like a combi-weapon can give your captain a distinguished look. When it comes to close combat weapons like power weapons, you can try something different there too, maybe something from another line or a combination of two weapons to give it a unique look.

Nothing more than a weapon and head swap

It doesn't have to be complex
Sometimes the best conversions are the most simple. A weapon swap, a different head or a set of shoulderpads changed out. That combined with a nice paint job and a detailed base go a long way towards making a model stand out from the rest of the force.

A while back, I put together a three part series that asked, "Did I build and Paint my HQ wrong?" It looks at why your painting and modeling matter and then some tactics for using your HQ. I know, there are no tactics on this blog, but I went all out for that series since it made sense to explain it through.

Make sure to check out these posts as they might help:
Did I paint and model my HQ the right way?

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Make sure to share your hobby tips and thoughts in the comments below!


  1. What a great subject, Ron! I would actually love to see you elaborate on this some more, since I think making HQ models stand out is very important and ultimately an art in itself. Like you said, we should indeed take more of an inspiration from Fantasy armies here. And that's not even starting on icon and standard bearers...

    Regarding suitable heads for Space Marine characters, here are some additional ones off the top of my head:

    - one of the helmetless options from the Chaos Lord in Terminator armour is one of the most characterful heads available, in my opinion. Also works fairly well for a loyal marine.

    - The half-bionic one that comes with some of the loyal boxed sets (not sure which ones, though) is very nice too, especially for Iron Hands or - gasp - Iron Warriors.

    - The Sanguinary Guard kit is chock-full of awesome heads for Marine officers, especially the Death masks.

    - the WFB Imperium Knights have a bearded head with laurels that works pretty well if the aesthetic fits your army

    Anyway, I could go on and on about this, it's just such a great subject ;-)

    Oh, and Ron: You'll have to do "Making your Chaos Lord stand out" next, please ;-)

  2. Yeah, there are some games where you have to ask where the commander/captain is. (Got to know where the snipers should be firing!) But these are some helpful hints.

  3. Ron, do you have any additional thoughts in regards to IG commanders? I have a converted Straken model from the Cadian HQ bits, but he doesn't stand out enough, in my opinion. An e-mail + picture may be in order.

  4. KrautScientist: Thanks. There really is a ton of things you can do to make your model stand out.

    Fayte: Sometimes folks like to make their commander blend in... and I can understand that approach too.

    BoxerSaint: I don't have much experience with IG. I'm sure there are a few things that could be done like adding smaller elements like a specific type of hat or maybe a different colored jacket or stripes on the sleeves.

    I think the trick is making his uniform stand out from the rank and file. Like terminator sergeants do with their red helmets sometimes.

  5. That Captain looks almost creepy! Great job.

  6. This is a timely article for me. With my Space Wolves army, each of my troops is a unique 'hero' and I'm struggling to have my HQ stand out as more than a regular Space Wolf!

    The only thing I can think of spending more time on the HQ's paint job and perhaps a higher base.

    Thanks for the article. I give it a reread and see if I can pick a way highlight my leader.

  7. Ergotoxin: It's his pale skin that does it.

    Brainwashed: I'm actually working on a Space Wolf commander now... that's why I didn't include things like tabards and cloaks in this post, They will be getting their own post in a week or so.

  8. Yet another great article. Will use this -if thats ok- in my painting clinic next week :D

  9. Ah of course, cloaks would be perfect. well as beardier beards! :)

    Have you seen the great looking wolf pelt molds available from Micro Art Studios? I have two of the molds sitting here needing some use. Want me to send you them to give a test spin?

  10. My other favourite option, make the bastard 10ft tall!! Sucks for LOS, but it serves as an inspiration to your dice.

  11. olberon: By all means! Share it with as many folks as you'd like.

    Brainwashed: If you want to send them to me, that would be great! I'm actually going to show folks how to make their own as well.

    Adam: Truescaling or artscaling your models can have a huge impact in how they are viewed across the table. I'm playing around with that very thing now, but my results as less than spectacular. I'm working on it though.

  12. Another great little article on thrifty conversion goodness, thanks Ron.

    While i love to make my own special dudes, i really like these FW ones, and the steps you have given can still be used on the FW kit, i am guessing capt is a 2-3 part model and standard will be about the same.

    even adding in the combi weapons like you posted up the other day, adds even more flavour to either converted capt'ns or the FW ones :)

  13. cpt codpiece: Very true. These are nice models and don't require any real work be done to them. But, like you said, the addition of a combi-weapon or any other small element will tie these guys into your existing force and make them stand out from the rank and file.

  14. As my army is painted in dark colours (black and Dark Angels green) adding lighter colours to some models is an easy (and cheap) way to make them stand out.

    I used a mohawked Space Wolf head (hair painted dwarf slayer orange) on my captain, who is otherwise made from the standard commander set. He's also the only character other than the company champion to have gold on his armour.

  15. Edd: I do that all the time myself. I use silver on all my rank and file guys and save the gold for my commander.

  16. An important part I think should be mentioned is the pose.

    Both the forge-world model and your Sicarius conversion both have quite static poses with weapons held at rest which suggests they are scanning the battlefield rather than actively fighting.

    Simply converting your captain to hold his helmet under his arm or resting his sword-tip on the ground gives him a classic can give him a look of a tactical genius.

    The pose you give your commander should fit your chosen army though, a Khorne Lord would be better served holding his weapon above his head while striding over a mound of corpses.

  17. Anon: A very important point. The pose can do a lot for the feeling your model portrays and your example is spot on.

  18. Ron, they loved it, next week, "how to build a captain" cant wait to see the results

  19. olberon: Excellent, glad it went over well!


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