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Tales of the Tigers
The Gray Tiger
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3 <> Writing the Story of "The Gray Tiger"

Writing the story of “The Gray Tiger”
When a movie comes out on DVD, it usually has additional “behind-the-scenes” footage of how the movie was made. So, in that spirit, consider this article to be “The Making of The Gray Tiger,” which debuted on May 28, 2001. For those of you who have ever been interested in how a 40K story is written, let me share with you some of the more interesting aspects.

The Inspiration
In July of 2000, my old friend Thom White (a former U.S. Marine) sent me an e-mail where he described an idea he had about Space Marines. Here’s what he said:

A true Marine always puts honor above all, even if they have different opinions on what exactly is or is not honorable. My idea is to have a sub-unit of Marines which exists to perform the dishonorable tasks. Since the 40K universe merges religion with honor, dishonor would be presumably be related to damnation. Imagine a team of Marines loosely attached to the Tigers, for instance, which are not referred to in any written documents. Imagine that it is ritually despised, and referred to only as “the Damned.” 

The greatest sacrifice a Marine can make is his soul. For that, the other Tigers would spit on them, challenge them to duels, never look at them, never mention them, and likely, most would never know of them. They would simply be suits of gray, unmarked armor, spilling from gray, unmarked troop carriers, onto the landing zone as occasionally seen by a lone Tiger through the small window in the Tiger troop carriers lifting off after a successful mission. 

Thom’s idea intrigued me but I stowed it away as I worked on other projects. Months went by, until I received some free i-Kore miniatures as part of a promotion for the VOID game. I particularly liked the Tactical Androsynths (see below); they looked like Games Workshop’s Space Marines, and yet—not. They seemed a bit more sinister-looking, but not monstrous, like Chaos Marines. 

i-Kore Tactical Androsynths
Photo © copyright 2001 by i-Kore Ltd.

I soon realized that the i-Kore figures, these “not-quite Space Marines,” would be perfect to use as Thom’s “Gray Tigers.”

Refining the Concept
While I liked Thom’s idea, it was, I felt, a bit too dark for the Fighting Tigers. I have always imagined the Tigers as a bright, heroic (and probably doomed) element in the 40K universe, a “spark in the darkness.” Though they have their failings (such as their near-pathological resentment and hatred of the Ultramarines, Blood Angels, and Dark Angels), the Tigers are, for the most part, “the good guys.” This is reinforced by Hindu mythology, where the heroes epitomize virtue and always fight against evil and depravity. The idea of a small band of anti-Tigers roaming the universe, virus-bombing cities, tossing rad-grenades into orphanages, and releasing Genestealers inside Craftworlds didn’t sit well with me.

And yet, the idea of disgraced (but not evil) Fighting Tigers appealed to me. Drawing on the little bit I know about Hinduism, I decided a long time ago that the Tigers have hundreds of sacred vows they uphold. These vows range from the very general (to protect the weak, to preserve ancient Vedic traditions, to always learn more and promote the spread of knowledge) to the very specific (to never harm or eat frogs, cows, tigers, or any other sacred animal).

Undoubtedly, there had to be Tigers that failed to uphold or (less likely) deliberately broke a sacred vow. Minor infractions—failure to say one’s daily prayers; insubordination; pride, gluttony, or idleness—would warrant additional instruction from the Tigers of Varuna (Fighting Tiger Chaplains), acts of penance, or both. Major infractions—massacring civilians, negligence that resulted in the death of another Fighting Tiger, harming of sacred animals—would result in expulsion from the Chapter.

The Harijan
For thousands of years, Indian society has been divided into castes, or social groups. The lowest caste (formerly referred to as “untouchable”) was despised and shunned by the other castes. Who was “untouchable?” In simple terms, any who:

  • Made their living by taking life (for example, fishers);
  • Killed or disposed of dead cattle or worked with their hides for a living;
  • Pursued activities that brought them into contact with bodily emissions (feces, urine, sweat, spittle); or
  • Ate the flesh of cattle, domestic pigs, or chicken.
Disclaimer: the Indian caste system is more complex than I describe here, but I hope I've given you an idea of it.

The “untouchables” were segregated from the rest of society, forced to live outside villages and towns and forbidden access to temples, most schools, and water wells used by members of higher castes. They were not allowed to touch members of other castes (hence the name) and even, in some cases, were not allowed to be seen, forced to stay indoors during the day and only come out at night. 

Mahatma Gandhi called the “untouchables” harijan, (“The Children of God”) and championed their emancipation. In 1949, the “untouchable” caste was abolished in India and it became illegal to discriminate against former members. Of course, it’s far easier to legislate against prejudice than it is to actually eliminate it, but in the 50+ years since, Indian society has become more accepting. 

I took the concept of the harijan and adopted it to my story. The Gray Tiger Sudra Patel is forced to live alone and may never communicate with another human. But just as the real harijan were not “evil,” neither is Sudra. 

Incidentally, at no point in the story do I ever say what it was Sudra did to be expelled from the Tigers. My initial concept was that Sudra had had some kind of romantic involvement (possibly unrequited) with a Vedic village woman, but that idea raised a bunch of questions (Can Marines feel love? Can they have any kind of physical relationship?) that would only sidetrack the story. Rather than take a gamble on alternate reasons that might suspend reader disbelief (“They kicked him out of the Tigers for eating a hamburger?”), I opted to leave Sudra’s dismissal to the readers’ imagination. Why Sudra is a Gray Tiger is not really so important as what he does to redeem himself.

Sudra's Redemption
To redeem himself, Sudra could, I suppose, sit around and contemplate his navel for a few decades, but what kind of story would that be? It’s a game about war, so there should be some fighting. Hence, Sudra was going to redeem himself through suitably heroic actions against the vilest of enemies. 

While plot drives the story, it is only one element. Setting has been very important in my writings for many years now, and one of the things I wanted to do with this story was make one part of Veda seem very real to the reader. I elected to keep all the action on Veda—which presented a problem. Previously, I’ve described Veda as a peaceful planet under the protection of the Fighting Tigers. Unless I wanted to introduce an enormous Chaos or Tyranid fleet bent on Veda’s destruction, there seemed little opportunity for Sudra to redeem himself. 

My first idea was for Commissar Acosta to be the “bad guy” of the story. At this stage, Acosta was going to be an extremely powerful and dangerous person with considerable influence within the Imperium. Acosta would come to Veda while most of the Tigers were away, not approve of what he saw, and threaten to tell his superiors in the Administratum about all the “rules” the Tigers were breaking. Sudra’s task would be to stop Acosta before he “ratted” on the Tigers. 

An okay premise, I suppose, but assassinating Acosta didn’t sound particularly heroic—in fact, it sounded exactly like something Thom’s “dishonorable Marines” would do. After writing the section introducing Acosta, I knew I wanted to keep him, but I didn’t want him as the enemy Sudra would have to face. 

Bring on the Drowboys
Dark Eldar are great fun because they’re such blatant villains. You don’t have to work hard to introduce them into a story because if there’s something nasty to be done, they’re all for it. 

Villains need some angle to make them interesting. Generic bad guys doing generic bad guy things simply bore audiences. To combat this, you can try two things. First, you can make what the villain does really reprehensible; given today’s moral standards, this approach is hard to effectively pull off. Even if you do, you risk offending many of your readers, who may turn from your story in disgust.

Or you can invest in the character of the villain. For instance, your villain can be:

  • Tragic (Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi);
  • Funny (the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves);
  • Sympathetic (Robert De Niro’s character in Heat);
  • Brilliant (Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs);
  • Vengeful (Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan); or 
  • Just out-and-out cool (Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace).
Ozone ScorpionIn choosing to use the Ozone Scorpions as the villains of my story, I decided that I would emphasize the over-indulgent nature of the Dark Eldar and portray them (for the most part) as spoiled brats. Of course, being Dark Eldar, they would also be dangerous, sick, and psychotic. So in the story, the Scorpions whine, complain, and bicker. They get bored easily. They think of nothing more than the next “fun” thing they can do—regardless of what the consequences are. One of them literally throws a temper tantrum and then cries afterward—and he’s their Archon. 

In addition to their weird physical appearance and bad attitudes, I wanted to make the Ozone Scorpions even more different from any other Dark Eldar. Mutated by bizarre radiations, the Scorpions absorb life-energy through touch. Eklavdrah plucks a leaf from a bush and the leaf withers in her bare hand. Later, she licks Acosta and the skin where her tongue touches him dies. Jheste literally sucks the life out of a captured Guardsman. In the story, I don’t dwell too much on this aspect of the Scorpions, but I think it’s a neat touch (pun intended, thank you). 

Incidentally, I had to rein in myself with the scenes where the Scorps torture the Guardsmen. My first inclination was to describe some really twisted, S&M type stuff, particularly between Eklavdrah and Acosta, but I backed off that (the Jungle has a fair amount of younger visitors, you know) and merely alluded to what the Dark Eldar were doing. As with Sudra’s dismissal from the Fighting Tigers, sometimes leaving things to the reader’s imagination is better.

With the introduction of the Ozone Scorpions, Acosta’s role went from being “the bad guy” to the one who really gets the story moving. His arrival on Veda and his recruiting of native men for the war on Armageddon puts Sudra and the Scorpions on a collision course. Because he is an outsider, scenes and dialogue with him can explore the setting of Veda without sounding like exposition. 

I downplayed (but alluded) to Acosta’s connections to the “higher-ups” within the Imperium because I wanted him to be dangerous to the Tigers (and their way of life), but not overtly so. Instead of being a power-crazed General MacArthur, he became more of a bully. For example, when Daksha Ram refuses to allow him to hunt cattle, he retaliates by cutting rations and rest periods for the recruits under his command. 

His sneaking out of the fortress to go hunt tigers further reflects his antagonistic relationship with Daksha Ram as well as his lack of power over the situation: he wants to get back at Daksha Ram but really can’t do much of anything until he leaves Veda. Acosta’s unsuccessful hunt brings together Sudra and the Scorpions, and propels the story towards its climax.

Commissar Acosta, though a real jerk, has his good points. For one thing, he’s tenacious: the Dark Eldar remark several times about how just about any other human would be dead with all he’s suffered. Not to mention that despite what they do to him, he tells them very little. And, as a true Imperial warrior, he tries to fight back, even when gravely wounded. 

The other characters
After posting “The Gray Tiger” on the web I noticed with some horror that Daksha Ram disappears about halfway through the story and is never seen or heard from again. I had originally planned for him to reappear at the end of the story when Sudra arrives at the fortress with Acosta, but I changed my mind and eliminated that scene. Furthermore, I noticed that I had introduced Talwar Chakram, another Chaplain (Daksha Ram’s superior) through some flashbacks. 

Clumsy, damned clumsy. I replaced references to Talwar Chakram with Daksha Ram, so he plays a larger role in the story and appears throughout it. Not only does he interact with Acosta, but he is the Chaplain who, years before, cast out Sudra. 

I like Fletcher, Acosta’s aide-de-camp. He would seem to be your typical lackey, but I hope he came across as having more character than that. In my original concept, with Acosta as the “bad guy,” Fletcher was going to be the “good guy” who would take over the Imperial Guard regiment and run it well and humanely once Sudra killed Acosta. 

In the final version, Fletcher tries to get Acosta to back down from confronting Daksha Ram, and he is the one who notices the tigers coming to the lake. I tried to add some depth and humanity to him by expressing some of his wonder at Veda’s wildlife; hopefully that came through. My inspiration for him was Admiral Piett from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi: not a bad guy, but forced to work for one.

The Scouts onboard the ship bound for Auros IX are the stereotypical, cocky “young punks” you find in most war movies (including Aliens, one of my favorite movies and a huge 40K influence). They’re the guys with no real experience who nevertheless think they can come in and kick ass. Kazi, the one who dares to speak to Sudra, is the best warrior of them all—and thus, the cockiest. The inspiration for Kazi was not a person, but a miniature: in a recent game, my Scout with the autocannon did a lot of damage to the Orks I was fighting that day. 

Sudra Patel: Tiger of Rudra
The “gimmick” of the last section of the story is that I try to lead the reader into thinking that Sudra is still a Gray Tiger. Some things never change, he thinks, referring to the bravado that all Scouts have, but I’m hoping the reader will think of Sudra’s status. I mention that Sudra is sitting apart from the others and I portray Kazi’s speaking to him as a serious taboo, but the twist is that (unknown to the reader) Scouts are not permitted to address full-fledged Fighting Tigers. 

I start letting on that Sudra isn’t a Gray Tiger anymore when the Scout Sergeant speaks to him and asks his forgiveness; with his reply of “I would be failing my sacred duty if I did not accept your apology,” Sudra shows that he has changed. Just to make sure the reader gets it, I mention that he is wearing yellow and brown armor and is off to meet his old comrades. 

I got a lot of positive responses to the story and I think it’s one of my better ones. It certainly was much easier to write than my last one, Reconciliation, though like all of my fiction, it took several months to do. I tend to write in spurts, starting a story, letting it sit for a few weeks, returning to it, letting it sit again. I revise as I go, and when I think it’s ready I let my friend Pat read it and give me a fresh perspective. I hope you enjoyed “The Gray Tiger”  and I hope this look at how I wrote it was useful (or at least interesting) to you.
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Related Pages
Fighting Tigers Glossary and Pronunciation Guide
Rules for Gray Tigers
Tactics for Gray Tigers
Photos of Gray Tigers

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© Copyright Kenton Kilgore May 2001


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle