Great stuff Kid_Kyoto!
To misquote Doctor Who: 'It's the 41st millennium. The Church has moved on.'
This retro review, along with the upcoming plastic Sisters release, inspired me to finally sort out and base up my old metal Sisters that have been praying in a toolbox for a dozen years. (I bought them secondhand and they were all on square bases for some reason.)
It also occurred to me that both the Sisters and the Necromunda Escher from around the same time were both sculpted by Jes Goodwin. Which means the faces look kinda similar. Conversion city, here we come...
I agree with other posters that the 2nd edition codex is really Codex: Ecclesiarchy, and was probably intended to be part of a still greater whole (Codex: Imperial Agents). Here's the relevant quote from the end of the 2nd ed Guard codex:
2nd ed Codex: Imperial Guard p82 wrote:IMPERIAL AGENTS
Imperial Agents covers several quite separate and independent fighting forces. At the time of writing  this Codex is in preparation, but it is intended to represent forces of the Inquisition and Grey Knights, the Adeptus Arbites, the Ecclesiarchy including Adeptus Sororitas, the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Ordo Assassinorum.
That's... quite a lot of ground to cover. Not surprising they had to break it up and change plans when 3rd edition loomed.
We did get Codex: Assassins at the end of 2nd ed (which was more like Pamphlet: Four People You Wouldn't Want To Meet On A Dark Night, Plus Early Mention of Dark Eldar And Sneaky Setup For C'Tan).
Amusingly the same thing happened in 3rd edition. IIRC
there was going to be an all-in-one Imperial Agents codex for 3rd called 'Codex Apocalypse', but that project strayed within the Roche limit of the Inquisitor game and broke into several codexes--Daemonhunters, Witch Hunters and the missing-in-action Alien Hunters.
Structural reorganisation (or, the first time we had to to destroy the 40K universe in order to save it)
Looking at it now, it's intriguing to note that the structure of the SoB
codex foreshadows the transition from 2nd ed to 3rd.
Previous 2nd ed codexes split the troop type info into two sections. Midway through the book you'd get a 'forces/bestiary' section with all the fluff for each troop type, a stat line and any special rules. Then at the back you'd have the army list, with the stat line again, the points cost, some (but often not all) the special rules, and the weapon options. This used to annoy the God-Emperor out of me. You had to flick back and forth between sections to make sure you didn't forget any rules that were mentioned in one place but not the other, such as 'dispersed formation'.
In 3rd ed, after the big rules bomb changed a Rick Priestley game into an Andy Chambers game, they slimmed down the Codexes and consolidated the two sections into one. You had a sidebar with the fluff for the troop type on the same page
as the points, stats and special rules. All in one place. I loved that format--it made army list construction and mid-game reference a breeze--and was infuriated when the 4th ed Eldar codex went back to the old system. If you want a big separate background section, great, but don't stick rules in it!
The 2nd ed Sisters codex does the 3rd ed thing: it incorporates the fluff for the troop types into the actual army list. No doubt this is one reason why the book is slimmer than the other 2nd ed ones. As a sign of things to come it's an interesting development.
It's so fluffy!
As for the fluff itself... I'm not exactly Gav Thorpe's biggest fan, but I reckon he did a good job with this one. The background has a few wobbly bits, but it's mostly solid work.
However, even though the focus on the Ecclesiarchy is understandable, I do find it a bit annoying that most of the cool fluff and stories are about the preachers, cardinals and so on, rather than the Sisters themselves. We don't really get an insight into what life is like inside a convent, or what it's like to be a Sister. We get very little on the Saints, for example.
Even in 3rd ed, when they leaned heavily into 'in-universe' first-person fluff snippets, there's not much. The bit with the spiky pen from the 3rd ed rulebook is the only one that springs to mind.
Some of this might be due to GW
's... hesitant... attitude when it came to portraying women. They often seemed to be operating from a bewildered male "but what do women WANT?!" perspective. (Except maybe for Richard Halliwell, who was all about the Amazons and the oldhammer Witch Elves.)
But it could also just be that if Sisters are uncompromising religious fanatics, there's not much of interest to show 'from the inside'. At least the Ecclesiarchy is full of dissenting views and arguments over finer points of theology, along with the uneasy tension between spiritual authority and temporal wealth that has dogged the Catholic Church. Plus the occasional power-mad lunatic who takes advantage of his position. There's plenty to explore there. Sisters feel one-dimensional by comparison.
The other issue with the Sisters, for me, is that they're so tightly defined that there's not much room for creativity. It makes sense in fluff terms--any deviation from correct strictures could be a sign of heresy and would be stamped out ASAP--but it makes them very samey and predictable.
People joke about there being a zillion variations of Space Marines, but at least Space Wolves feel recognisably different from Blood Angels. But Sisters? It's as if every single Space Marine Chapter in the 40K
universe was Ultramarines with a different colour scheme. (No Mat Ward jokes, please.
Even their colour schemes in the 2nd ed Codex are limited to black, white, silver and red. IIRC
we didn't get suggested Minor Order alternatives until Witch Hunters, and that was mainly in White Dwarf.
All this is of course fine if you assume they're meant to be just one of several unusual allied organisations, alongside the Ad Mech, Inquisition and so on, which you'll include as part of your regular Guard or Space Marine force. It's only when silly people (such as me) want to treat them as a full army in their own right that the limitations of the concept become apparent.
Weird detail #1: Convent swapsies
In the 2nd ed starter box's Codex Imperialis (still my favourite all-in-one guide to classic 40K
fluff), the Convent Sanctorum is on Earth. Meanwhile, the Convent Prioris is on 'the Eastern Fringe' at 'Ophelia IV'.
In Codex: SoB
it's the other way around. The Sanctorum is on Ophelia VII (note the different planet number), while the Prioris is on Earth. Ophelia VII itself has apparently spent most of 2nd edition migrating across half the galaxy to be much closer to Earth, presumably to make the backstory of the Ecclesiarchy work.
Weird detail #2: Where's Sabine?
There doesn't seem to be any mention of the Order Sabine in the 2nd ed codex. (That's the order that 'goes native' and infiltrates newly discovered worlds that are likely to put in a complaint when the Imperium shows up in force, so that they can lay the groundwork for the Imperial cult, pave the way for the Missionaries and pull all kinds of prearranged prophetic shenanigans.)
The Order Sabine turns up in 3rd ed Witch Hunters, or at least in one of the White Dwarf articles by Andy Hoare around the same time, along with Pronatus.
And yet... despite their apparent absence from the 2nd ed Codex, the page with all the John Blanche conversion ideas features 'Corvus Corax, Sister Sabine'. She's the one made from a Necromunda Escher gang leader. Maybe the background for the Order Sabine had already been worked out, but didn't make it into the book for space reasons? She certainly looks like she's 'gone native'...
Weird detail #3 that isn't really weird at all: This army was brought to you by the letter I
You know that symbol with the capital letter 'I' and the skull with a spiky halo around it? The one on every Sisters model, hanging from her waist?
Because I only started collecting Sisters post-3rd edition, I always thought it was the symbol of the Ordo Hereticus. After all, it looks like an Inquisitorial symbol. I for Inquisition, see?
But upon reflection, that made no sense. It was on all the Sisters models, which as far as I knew had mostly stayed the same since 2nd ed. Since the Witch Hunters connection only showed up in 3rd, GW
would have had to resculpt that tiny detail on all the models--possible, but unlikely.
And when I got hold of the 2nd ed SoB
codex, I was baffled to see the I-with-skull-and-halo everywhere in the art and on the models. The fleur de lys
is described as the symbol of the Adepta Sororitas, but the Codex doesn't explain the I-symbol anywhere, and there was no Inquisitorial connection back then. What heresy was this?
After a bit of internet digging I eventually learned that the I-symbol had nothing to do with the Inquisition at all. Other Imperial organisations had similar motifs (like the Imperial Navy). If the letter I stands for anything, it's 'Imperium'. Or it might not even be a letter I at all. It might be a pillar instead.
So this allegedly weird detail actually makes perfect sense. The I-with-skull-and-halo is the symbol of the Ecclesiarchy, denoting one of the pillars that holds up the Imperium, with a representation of the Emperor (the skull face) and his divinity (the spiked halo). Meanwhile, the pillar with three horizontal bars is the Inquisitorial symbol. The latter just became so prominent in 3rd edition compared to the other 'pillar' symbols, thanks to all the attention the Inquisition got, that it all got a bit confused in my brain.
Future developments may affect you in the future
Chapter Approved 2002 saw a the first revised Sisters of Battle list, including the original exorcist rules (AV
11, BS3, and AP3 missiles), and the first version of the faith rules.
It also included rules for the hospitaller, dialogus, and famulous. All three had models produced but not released for the sisters themselves - the first two becoming inquisition henchmen while the famulous model was never released. It was not until the 5th edition White Dwarf codex that the hospitaller and imagifier could be taken as sororitas units.
I was a bit startled to realise this recently. I went back through all my White Dwarfs, trying to figure out when the Forgeworld Exorcist (the Whirlwind-esque one) came out vs the organ-gun GW
version. I was surprised to find that I couldn't find the SoB
in-progress army list anywhere. Wargear options and Sacred Rites, yes, but not the actual WIP
army list between the 3rd ed rulebook and Witch Hunters. I didn't play Sisters at the time, so had never noticed the omission.
I never owned the Chapter Approved compilations, as I assumed I already had all the articles in my WD
collection, but it turns out I was wrong. No wonder the Exorcist seemed to come out of nowhere...
(For the record, yes, the Forgeworld Exorcist came out before the GW
model, which is why it has that 2nd ed minimalist Sisters look rather than going full gothic bling.)
Other random thoughts
-The special character Praxedes amuses me. She supposedly led a guerilla warfare campaign against Tyranids. Um. Good luck with that.
-Helena the Virtuous is technically an Order Famulous special character. Which is cool.
-The total number of Battle Sisters in the galaxy is absurdly small even by GW
's 'oops we forgot a few zeroes' standards. It made sense when they were Vandire's personal guard, but not later on.
-The 2nd ed Immolator is rapidly becoming my favourite Immolator. Compared to later models, it's just so minimalist and severe. "Extravagant gothic bling? What is this, the Age of Apostasy? There's only one true bright shining way to honour the Emperor, and that's the holy light of our GIANT HERETIC-COOKING FLAMETHROWER. Prepare to be... enlightened
-Despite popular belief, there's nothing in this Codex about the Sisters being incorruptible or that 'only one Sister has ever fallen to Chaos'. That came from licensed material (a Sabretooth card game IIRC
). Sisters are probably hard for Chaos to get its claws into, but I'm sure it's happened now and then.
-Frateris Milita can
take heavy stubbers. In fact, if you have at least 11 models you could have four
heavy stubbers in the same squad. But only hand flamers, not proper flamers.
-When the Sisters were released, White Dwarf featured a few small-game scenarios. And some kind of flimsy card chapel, I think. Unfortunately the Sisters came out around the time White Dwarf was experiencing a bit of a low point. Issues #212-217 were unusually garish, full of 'HEY KIDS!!!' layouts, eye-watering backgrounds that made the text hard to read, hard-selling of official GW
terrain kits (contrasting with the DIY advice from just a few issues earlier), battle reports that suddenly used photos instead of maps and skimped on the detail, and generally dumbed-down articles. #216 (with the Falcon on the cover) is the worst of the lot--ye gods, the typos! Looking back, it's almost like a dry run for 'Buy The Giant'. Fortunately the magazine pulled out of its nosedive a few issues later. Paul Sawyer took over around that time and WD
rapidly improved from #218 onwards. Pretty much every issue from then until the early 300s is a classic. Or at least I think so. The fact that my subscription started with #218 is a total coincidence.
-Because the metal Sisters models stayed the same into 3rd ed and well beyond, they kept their old-style bolters. I only just noticed that their bolter pattern is referred to in the 3rd ed Witch Hunter codex as 'Godwyn-Deaz'.
And finally, apart from the Blanche cover, this is probably my all-time favourite Sisters piece of art: