Worldbuilding for the Adepta Sororitas: Creating the Order of the Alabastrine Candle
Naming the Adepta Sororitas
I love a warrior-philosopher. She’ll kick your entire ass, but feel ways about it. To the best of my knowledge there aren’t many philosophers in the canon 40K universe. That doesn’t mean I can’t add one. That’s something else I love. Warhammer is pliable, plastic enough to admit its players creative juices. It’s a grimdark tres leches cake.
Put a bird on that thought process. I promise we’ll come back to it in a moment.
Restrictions breed creativity. Faced with unlimited possibility I often get stuck in a quagmire of options. Give me some restrictions to work around, and I’ll figure out a way to work around them. That propensity made me a nuisance in school, but as an adult I can channel it in useful ways.
One restriction I set for myself: any new Warhammer armies start at 500 points. A combat patrol that can only grow through use of the narrative campaign rules. This applies a limit to how much I spend; armies that I play the most, grow the most. It also provides the start of a narrative arc. When I set out to build that initial 500 point list I’m often thinking about what kind of story I want to tell. Who will these units be when there’s 2000 points of them?
Lately I’ve been thinking about a new force of the Adepta Sororitas. I was very into the Adeptus Mechanicus when the Sororitas update landed, so I’m a bit late to the party. Better late than never?
When I create a Narrative Force I often start with a name. An evocative and interesting name is itself a form of limitation. Why do they have that name? Few names spring out of thin air, so what qualities would lend to the name they have?
I asked a bunch of my friends to pick between four candidate names. Many of these friends aren’t into the hobby, and I provided no context. I wanted to see where people would gravitate when they didn’t know the purpose. Which words, wholly divorced from their meaning, resonated.
My friends seemed to like “Obsidian Sepulcher.” It’s definitely evocative. Why is it obsidian? Sepulcher to whom? It didn’t feel right. As thoughts about the order started to coalesce in my head, it didn’t match up with the other ideas I was having.
I ended up going with The Order of the Alabastrine Candle. Imagine a single candle made of carved marble. It shouldn’t be lit, there’s no wax or oil or wick, yet it burns eternal. A miracle of the Emperor’s grace made manifest; an entire order of the Adepta Sororitas to protect it. Where did this candle come from? Why is it lit? Who carved it?
Building the World
I knew a few things about the Order from the start. They would be a small force. In my mind, the 500pts limit that I set for a new crusade army would represent the entire order. The Alabastrine Candle would be a miracle of some kind. They would inherit the Order of the Sacred Rose, but be a custom Order for lore reasons.
I wanted to avoid, as best I could, anything that I term “warp shenanigans.” Warhammer is full to the brim with warp shenanigans. They’re not inherently bad, but the story I’m trying to tell is not about how weird the warp is.
Kaldor Draigo, chapter master of the Grey Knights, is lost in the warp. He shows up in battles across the galaxy, sometimes at the same time. Sometimes at opposite ends. It’s awesome. The warp is a first class character in his stories and the shenanigans feel earned.
Imagine the same story from the opposite side. A lone unit of space marines, cut off from reinforcement, striving in vain. At the moment where they’re about to suffer total defeat, Kaldor Draigo appears and saves the day. The story wasn’t about him, it wasn’t about the warp, he’s a deus ex machina that solves an intractable problem. It doesn’t feel earned.
Sometimes warp shenanigans are necessary. The Warhammer 40K sandbox is big, and lots of people are playing in it. From time to time they’re going to step on each others toes. Some day I may need to retcon my own lore to fit, and that’s fine. I don’t want to start out with unearned warp shenanigans, for where will I have left to go later?
Setting the Stage
With that in mind, my first question: where does this happen?
At first I thought the sisters may have been abandoned, lost, or forgotten for some time. I needed a location where that could have happened. What about on the far side of the Great Rift? On the surface it seemed like the ideal candidate. The Cicatrix Maledictum left many worlds unable to contact Holy Terra. Yet, most of the current canon narrative takes place centered there. The bulk of the Imperial Navy is there. The risk of stepping on the lore’s toes, or having my toes stepped on, was too high.
The Imperium of Man divides the galaxy into five Segmentums, like the directions on a compass. The Segmentum Pacificus, to the galactic West of Terra, is an ideal candidate. First, there’s not a lot of official lore there. The Macharian Crusades happened there in 5th edition. The Sabbat Worlds Crusade as well. But most of the Segmentum is open space, both literally and rhetorically. Second, the Night of a Thousand Rebellions happened there.
The Night of a Thousand Rebellions is fluff from the 6th edition of 40K. A thousand planets were overtaken by the forces of Chaos on a single night. That’s an interesting idea to attach to. What if my Sisters were able to repel such a rebellion? Was the miracle of the candle somehow related?
I set out to create a timeline of events. The Order of the Sacred Rose was founded in the 38th millennium, M38 in Warhammer’s notation. The night of a Thousand Rebellions happened late in M41. So far, so good. Except wait: the Night of a Thousand Rebellions took place in December, 40,999, and “now” is roughly 41,020.
For characters with lifespans that can last hundreds of years, the rebellion happened “yesterday.” If the sisters had been lost or abandoned, how would the forces of Chaos know to attack? Those two ideas didn’t feel like they went together anymore. So they weren’t abandoned, they had always been small. This would need to be a galactic backwater. Tatooine. Notable only for how un-notable it was.
I named the planetary system Valria. The name rings of “valkyrie” and “valor.” The convent would be on Valria IX, chosen because it sounds cool. Since it’s supposed to be a nowhere, I decided Valria IX would be an agri-world. Populated enough to warrant a protective presence, but not so that it would be odd that the Order was small.
But what is the Candle? When I picture it, I see an average-sized marble candle, carved to create the appearance that it’s lit. Wax dripping down the sides. The implied motion of a breeze causing the light to dance.
An orb of radiant light rests above it, inexplicable and pure. The candle is not lit, yet it’s clearly the light of the candle. A beacon of hope in the long, dark night.
The connection struck me like thunder from the proverbial heavens. For the Adepta Sororitas, miracles do happen. They’re a routine part of the backstory and mechanics of the army. They’re the Emperor’s chosen. Whatever is going on with the Candle, it’s proof of the Emperor’s divine work and a blessing on the Sisters.
Imagine a small force of Sisters defending their convent against the sudden incursion of Chaos. They won’t win. They can’t win. It doesn’t matter, the Emperor will guide and protect them. And he does. A wave of daemons tries to press forward. When all hope seems lost the Candle erupts with the pure light of the Emperor’s grace, and no weapon can break through the sisters' ceramite armor. They expel the forces of Chaos.
Battered, bruised, but unbroken, the Sisters win the day. The convent stands. The Alabastrine Candle remains lit.
In light of the miracle, the convent dedicates a new order. No longer will they be a backwater outpost of the Order of the Sacred Rose. They become the Order of the Alabastrine Candle, their sacred duty to protect and promulgate this proof of the God-Emporer of Mankind’s holy beneficence.
Junica Celestane, Cannoness of the Valria IX Convent
There remains one major question to answer at this point. Why does the Alabastrine Candle exist in the first place? For that we need to go back a few thousand years to the 39th millennium.
A strong contender for the name of the Order was the Obsidian Sepulcher. Imagine the tomb of an unknown warrior, their name and deeds lost to time. The black stone edifice carved in their honor stands eternal. The name didn’t resonate, but the mental imagery did. What if the Alabastrine Candle stood at the center of the Obsidian Sepulcher? The contrast is stark. The white stone of the candle, alone, surrounded on all sides by smooth black obsidian.
At first I thought the Sisters might have founded the convent on the site of the Sepulcher. Thousands of years of history exist before the Adepta Sororitas were even founded. It could have been an unknown martyr to the Emperor’s cause from the time of the Horus Heresy. That idea could have worked, but it didn’t feel right.
What if they buried a sister there? She would have needed to be extraordinary. A saint of some kind? There are plenty of saints in the history of the Adepta Sororitas. Each of the founding sisters of the original Orders became a saint. It felt right, but who was she?
The forces of Chaos are ever at work. They released a plague on Valria IX and the Sisters fell deathly ill. Cannoness Junica Celestane, wracked with pain, began to prophesy. She warned the sisters of the dark provenance of the illness and impending invasion. They called for reinforcements, which arrived in time to repel the invaders. Before the illness took her, she issued several more prophesies. One stood out above all others: a living saint would rise on Valria IX.
For the miracle of her prophetic visions the Ecclesiarchy declared Junica a saint. The convent interred her body in the Obsidian Sepulcher beneath. A sister-artisan carved the Alabastrine Candle to represent her light shining like a beacon in the darkness, a monument to the lives she saved.
She was the first saint of Valria IX. She would not be the last.
Developing the Convent
To the west of holy Terra the Segmentum Pacificus reaches out to the very edges of the galaxy. Countless have spent their lives toiling in obscurity. Feeding the Imperial war machine’s many crusades. Deep in the Segmentum’s wilds, far off the beaten path in a star system named Valria there is a planet. The 9th from its star, it is home to a minor convent and a miracle.
In 843.M39, late in the 39th millennium, the saint Junica Celestane had a prophesy. A living saint would rise on Valria IX. Now, at the dawn of the 42nd millennium, that prophesy is beginning to come true.
A Word on Living Saints
As I’ve mentioned, I approach building a crusade army in a very specific way. It doesn’t completely align with the Warhammer 40K core rules. I build my crusade armies around a combat patrol force of 500pts, rather than the 100 power level in the core book. I use points for a few reasons. The simplest: it gives me the flexibility to run them against non-crusade armies.
Codex: Adepta Sororitas provides rules for the rise and fall of a living saint; a sister blessed by the God-Emperor of Mankind, a font of miracles and proof of his beneficence. A crusade force of the Sisters doesn’t have to be telling this kind of story, but it’s the easiest kind of story to tell.
At the start of a crusade one (non-named) Sororitas Character can become a Saint Potentia. She will then have to undertake a series of trials. Success grants powerful boons, but the path of a saint is not without risks. Each time a Saint Potentia or Living Saint fails an Out of Action test, they gain martyr points. Gain enough points, the character dies a martyr. Remove them from the army’s Order of Battle. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
This is the story loop I want to build my Adepta Sororitas around. A living saint will rise from Valria IX, or die trying.
I imagined the entire convent of Sisters would be a single combat patrol. A convent needs a leader, so the patrol needs a Cannoness. Welcome Cannoness Ephreline Celestane, Daughter of the Hallowed Candle. Though she shares a last name with the saint Junica Celestane, they aren’t related. Perhaps her superiors considered it good fortune when assigning her to the post, perhaps it was fate.
Recently promoted Palatine Serissa Rose leads two units of Battle Sisters. All that remain of the martial force assigned to Valria IX. Pure of faith and with an unmatched zeal, Serissa will soon walk the path of the living saint.
The Alabastrine Candle is a small order, far from reinforcement. Without the care of Hospitaller Decimendra Stone they would not long survive. She provides for both the physical and spiritual needs of her fellow sisters. Trained in a non-militant order she joyously marches into the waiting arms of darkness when called upon to protect and heal.
Finally, Dogmata Josmynn Drake maintains a watchful eye over her sisters. Ever vigilant for signs of impure thought or deed. She is the spiritual backbone of her Order. Ever ready and willing to remand any who do not maintain sufficient purity or zeal to the Repentia.
Painting and Color Schemes
We’ve talked about the who, the what, and the where of the Alabastrine Candle. A small Order from a little-known backwater where miracles are about to happen. There’s one last bit to consider: how to paint the models.
The Adepta Sororitas are sometimes called the gun nuns, for good reason. Their default color palettes match common religious motifs. Lots of black, white, and red. The Order of the Sacred Rose puts white front and center, then accents with black and red. A stylized rose symbol is often painted low on any capes or robes.
Picking a color scheme is always a challenge in two parts. The first, to pick colors that would look good together. The second, to pick colors I won’t hate painting. White is a notoriously painful color scheme to get right. Advances in painting technology have made some shades of white easier than others. Citadel’s contrast range has Apothecary White, which isn’t actually a white paint. It’s the correct shades for a white undercoat.
Another concern is that I want my armies to look distinct from each other. I don’t want to use the same colors over and over again. We haven’t talked about my other armies much (I promise, we will!) but they’re in the back of my mind.
Step one, what are the primary colors implied by the lore? The Sisters are likely to want to wear their faith on their literal sleeve. The Alabastrine Candle itself implies white, from the stone, and yellow from the flame. The Obsidian Sepulcher implies black. This is almost, but not quite, the colors of the Order of the Sacred Rose, their parent Order.
I have one other army that uses white as a primary color: The Ghostwolf. There are some open questions about The Ghostwolf. (Really, a lot of questions, many of them by design.) In this case I mean questions about how to paint them. I’m currently trending blue-grey, red, or black as their accenting colors. That won’t conflict with the Sisters.
Step two, which colors go where? One idea would be to mimic a candle with yellow at the top of the mini, white through the body, and black on the accents. It could work, but it’d be a little too on-the-nose. Another way to lead with the candle is to think about the proportion of white to yellow. The bulk of a candle is the wax, not the flame, so the bulk of the models should be white.
White with black accents is the default color scheme for the Order of the Sacred Rose. The Alabastrine Candle only recently split off in the last few decades. In that time they likely would have made only slight adjustments to their raiment. All-white armor. Cloth that’s black on the outside and yellow within.
Step three, what about iconography? As painted by ‘Eavy Metal the Sisters usually have their Order visible somewhere. I’ll be honest, I’m nowhere near the level of talent needed to freehand a candle icon. I do have access to a color laser printer, and it’s possible to print decals. I’m one commissioned candle SVG away from being able to make as many of them as I need. Likely in yellow, to help tie the colors together.
Imagine a Sister, proud, white ceramite gleaming in the sun. Vestments fluttering in the wind, alternating black and yellow as the fabric curls. Defiant in the face of insurmountable odds. Sure in her faith that the Emperor will guide and protect. A group of her fellow sisters approach from behind. They gaze out over a sea of the enemy. Their work begins.
Order of the Alabastrine Candle Adepta Sororitas - Combat Patrol - Eternal War ( 3CP - 495PT - 5PT ) Adepta Sororitas Patrol Detachment ( 2CP - 490PT ) SUB-FACTION: Order of the Sacred Rose HQ WARLORD: Cannoness Ephreline Celestane, Daughter of the Hallowed Candle (65) Rod of office Palatine Serissa Rose (50) Plasma pistol TROOPS Battle Sisters Squad (130) 8x Battle Sister 1x Battle Sister: Simulacrum Imperialis 1x Sister Superior: Combi-plasma Battle Sisters Squad (130) 8x Battle Sister 1x Battle Sister: Simulacrum Imperialis 1x Sister Superior: Combi-plasma ELITES Dogmata Josmynn Drake (65) Hospitaller Decimendra Stone (50) Total Command Points: 2/5 Reinforcement Points: 5 Total Points: 495/500
Building a backstory for your narrative forces is a great way to give them a sense of purpose. The Warhammer 40K sandbox is huge, and knowing where your army fits into it makes them feel more real. Their trials, tribulations, defeats, and triumphs all become grander. No longer a pile of plastic, they gain a spark of narrative life.
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