Roland of the Red Athaneum

The Brotherhood of Between the Bolter and Me has produced one of the most original and elegant conversions ever posted on sleet for their Pilgrym group. Over to Adam.



Over the last few days I have been working on creating my headless mercenary Roland (who is posing as a missionary for the Church of the Red Athenaeum, but is a agent for Inquisitor Molnar, Ordo Mechanicus). He is still work in progress, but I wanted to show some pictures to get everyone’s thoughts and suggestions. Since he is posing as a warrior priest/missionary, we thought that he would be armoured much like Church’s armed force, the Order of the Crimson Hour. Although the Order is modeled after the Adepta Sororitas, they will not have power armor (the Church would not have those kind of resources), but more practical tactical gear.

We ended up deciding the general armour for the Order, and therefore Roland, would be based on the Death Korp Engineer models (nice genderless body armor), with robed legs from the Empire Flagellants. To fit with the Church’s desire for its members to have ritual wounds, and Roland’s warlike ways, we decided to give him a partial bionic arm. We were thinking that while the most fanatical members of the Church do not like to use bionics to fix their ritual wounds, the Church as a whole has gotten somewhat lax on the issue. To maintain their fighting effectiveness, most members of the Order of the Crimson Hour, for example, replace their severed hand (a requirement to join the fighting Order) with a bionic one.

We wanted to make Roland’s submachine gun look similar to a Thompson. Finding small weapons is somewhat difficult in the 40k range, so we ended up using an Arc pistol as the base. To it we extended the butt of the pistol and added a stock. We also replaced the small drum magazine with a straight one, and did a bunch of green stuff work to make it more convincing.

Roland lacks a conventional head (lost in a prior engagement); his brain was transferred to an armored case that is fitted to his back (used some piece from a Kataphron Destroyer servitor). Although without a head, his neck is still intact, although it is covered in an armored sheath, to protect the remnants of his spinal cord. This was also important to give some visual clue that his lack of head was an intentional modeling choice, and not just lazy modeling (ie. simply leaving the hole where a head would be placed). I am in the process of adding various sensors that are connected to the brain, allowing him to interact with the outside world. The first thing I did towards this end was add some targeting lenses and other bionic optics to his shoulder, which is attached to his brain via a thick armoured bundle of cables. I will likely add more apparatus like this too him as well.
When thinking about how Roland communicates with others, we go the idea that maybe he could have some form of companion that was linked to him that served as a ambulatory vox-caster. We found a little owl in the Wood elf Dryad kit and thought it would be perfect. A speaker grill was recessed into its chest and one of its eyes was converted to be a bionic one. The vox owl seemed a fitting companion for a missionary, allowing him to project his fiery sermons. But its true function is to serve as a messenger and and spy for the Inquisition. The bird allows Roland to keep closer tabs on the Church, and allows him to easily transfer information to Molnar’s other agent on Terra. We still need to determine what to perch the owl on, allowing us to base it. Initially we were going to have it attached to Roland, but we decided against it because we thought it might detract from Roland himself. Currently we are thinking of perching him on a wooden sign post (like in some of Thistle’s wonderful artwork) or a weird tree of sorts.

We have also been thinking about adding some manner of vox/speaker directly on Roland, so that he does not rely solely on the owl. And while we could recess some speaker grill somewhere on the model, we also considered putting it within a skull that is suspended ominously above his head. This skull would not be any old skull, but in fact his own skull, reconstructed from the bone fragments after his injury. Our thought is that he carries his skull around as a reminder of where he has been in life and where he is going. Normally, when working as an official agent of the Inquisition, he would not brandish the skull, and just keep it somewhere on his person. But to play up his role as a zealous missionary, allowing him infiltrate the Church of the Red Athenaeum, he displays it as a solemn reminder of one’s mortality and to help incite fervor in those he addresses Also, many members of the Church carry around their loose bones from holy wounds they inflicted on themselves, like carrying around the metacarples of a lost hand, or long bones of a limb amputated in the quest of feeling the Emperor’s pain. This idea might be a little overboard and crazy, so we wanted to know what people thought about it, and if it is worth pursuing.

– Adam Wier



40 thoughts on “Roland of the Red Athaneum

  1. Nice figure, and really well done on the gun conversion as usual.

    I like his posing, but it’s almost too bad that he’s leaning forward that much – it might be amusing to put the owl on a perch mounted on the top of the neck-stump plating.

    I like the idea of the vox/skull, but I would differentiate it from a servo skull, and perhaps either have it hanging from his belt on that forward thigh space, or, construct some sort of small gibbet on the neck-stump plate, and have it hanging/swinging from that – as you say, suspend it rather than have it floating above him as a servo would.

    This is a very interesting figure. I really like this.


    1. Thanks! Glad you like how the model is coming along.

      Yeah, we have been trying to come up with ways to ensure that his lack of head was done on purpose. We considered having the owl on the stump of his neck, but felt it might imply a bit too much comedy; the bird is pretty big as it is. If we do the skull thing, you are right, we need to ensure it does not look too much like a servo skull. I think having it around his neck, while very fitting for a crazy fanatic, would not be in the best interest of a warrior (a skull would be a pretty big thing to have around your neck). We want to have him look as though he is riding a fine line between a fanatic (to “fit in” with the Church) and a functional warrior with the Ordos in mind. That is why we thought having it suspended above his head on a little shrine (like Thistle’s last piece of art) might work well.


      1. Another possibility I had thought of is similar to what I’m doing with the Kingdom Death figure, where his skull could be held in some fashion (either mounted aloft on the stump, or held somewhere else on his person) by the bones of his own severed hand.


  2. The character and the sect have always been inspired… the fact that the would-be warriors must lose a hand is excellent, it fits very well. The bionic arm looks as I imagine it would deliberately be, crude and painful. The brain-case and the eyeunit are excellent. The creeping laxity even in such a fanatical sect seems to fit the corruption and pragmatism of so much of Terra, even in this holie citie-temple. You mention that the Chronicler, at least, has been involved in a deal with a corrupt Sancti Exanimus house in the Lady Novellis post.

    I think the idea of the members of the Church carrying the bones they severed is excellent — I particularly like Odie’s idea of a rather macabre skull swinging on a chain back and forward over his stumped neck on a gibbet… either elaborate or crudely done by the Church…

    The tabard fascinated me — the eye, half machine, half flesh, representing the painful union of Machine and Flesh on the Golden Throne… the pain of each of the Emperor’s Wounds sustained over millennia by machinery. The skull-pupil represents His death, which they intend to allow so that the whole Galaxie in pain and chaos is the perfect representation of His pain… At least that’s how I see it.

    The servo-owl I like very much and wait to see what you do with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful look at the model and reflection of the background material we are working on! I really like the bone idea too; it seems very fitting for such a grim organization and it also allows for interesting modeling opportunities. I think it will also help with the notion that creating models without limbs and other body parts could look odd, but adding the missing bones to them will help visually.

      I admit, the tabard was just taken off an electro-priest because it looked cool and was fitting to the character we were trying to make. But I think your interpretation is perfect, reflecting aspects of the character, and drawing parallels to Roland’s interesting condition and that of the Emperor, who is also maintained by machines.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your interpretation of the symbology on the tabard is fantastic Patrick! Ever since adding the tabard on Roland, I had been thinking of slightly modifying it to include an Imperial Eagle. What about adding a small brass Imperial eagle at the bottom? It would then look like rays of light are emanating from it (and in some sense representing the foundation of the Imperium).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Both Wier brothers:
        Thank you very much. I agree about the bones and the aquila on the tabard — I am very grateful and deeply honoured that so many true artists like my interpretations.

        I think all of the skull-suggestions (shrine, censer, not at all) are fascinating and I am sure as artists you will weigh them and choose the best.

        The rays of light emanating from an aquila would indeed represent both Emperor and Astronomican which is an extended psychic agony… the emperor’s life is suffering. Also note that if you position an aquila there, the lightening-bolt which would strike the Aquila — I see that as representing the Talon of Horus, a lightening-claw, that tore the Emperor’s divine body and created the wounds which the Church reveres.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. P.S. I looked up Athenaeum as well = an association for the advancement of learning. It fits the Church very well — it’s an association devoted to advancing, by better and more agonising representations (each mutilation, obviously without anaesthetic, with blunt knives and saws dragged slowly over the wound again… again… again… with drugs to keep you awake, to prevent a coma, rather than to dull pain, I imagine the wounds or stumps rubbed with brine or any other painful irritant or agonisingly cauterised, is a more perfect representation of the Emperor’s pain, being more painful than the last) , mortals’ knowledge of the Emperor’s pain and planning to agonise the Galaxie in a perfect representation of his pain.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all the owl is fantastic, really quirky and very much in keeping with the 40k vibe.

    As for Roland himself, I really like him, my only issue is the head itself (or rather the lack of it). Obviously the nature of the character calls for him to have no head but I worry that the finished piece might end up looking like a nicely converted model that’s lost its head somehow, rather than a nicely converted model of a character without a head. Your suggestion of suspending the skull over the truncated neck might be a rather neat way to solve this – but I’d strongly suggest having it held in place by clearly mechanical means (in fact I’d echo Odie’s suggestion of a gibbet). If it floats, as a servo-skull would, it risks making the model look like a ghostly/undead creature – a headless horseman if you will (only without the horse) with a spectral skull face. Alternatively attach the skull elsewhere and add detailing to the truncated neck (perhaps just rivets across the top or something similar) to make it clear at a glance that the lack of a head is intentional and not the result of a ‘real life’ misfortune.

    On another note, the background and concept for Roland and the Church itself is superb, particularly the idea of them carrying around their own severed bones. The thought of a holy warrior carving words of devotion into the preserved bones of his own severed limb is just too wildly grim and crazy not to love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for all the suggestions! Yeah, we have really been thinking a lot about what we can do to ensure that everything about the model looks intentional, and it was not a “real life” accident. One thing we had been planning on doing was sculpting some consecrated parchments nailed to his neck stump, just to add more detail there. Although I did not explicitly state it, the intent was to have a very obvious mechanism holding up the skull, to distance it from a servo skull. Our initial thought was to have it on a little wooden shrine, sort of like some of the Deathwing terminators we made in the past ( Part of what I liked about his idea was that it would be placed behind the neck, resting on the brain-case perhaps, giving the model an odd disjointed feeling. The skull would still be in the “proper” place, but it would be more visually alarming because it it set back further than where a head would normally be. All of this giving the model a very alarming and grim look.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like the idea of parchments on/around the neck, and I think you could probably do something interesting with a very long piece tied around the neck stub like a tie or a cravat. Adds a bit of humor and draws attention again to the lack of a head.

        (and it goes without saying that I love the gun)


      2. I think that’s actually a cracking idea – I’ve always really liked the little shrines worn by the Dark Angels and others and thought you did a great job of recreating that with the Deathwing. My only additional suggestion in that case would be to use an unadorned skull (rather than one with any bionic implants) in order to reinforce the idea that it’s not a servo-skull. There’s a few in the vampire counts range where the tops of the crown are smashed in – which would add to the idea that they weren’t able to retrieve/reassemble all of his head. Again though this is an amazing model – really looking forward to seeing how he works out in the end.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this model and his avian companion, your attention to detail is incredible!

    I think it may be a somewhat unpopular opinion but I actually like the complete lack of head, with the abnormal empty space. It just looks so unnatural and pulls apart the silhouette that you’re expecting to see. Suspending the skull over the stump would ruin the effect and make him look like just another skull-faced guy, which, whilst always cool, takes away from the uniqueness that makes this such a brilliant conversion. Maybe just have it on his belt, or hanging from a chain in his empty hand like a censer.

    On another note, if you need any more engineer bodies just let me know! I’ve got a few I don’t really have any plans for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having read this I’m going to to change my mind and go with Remnante’s idea that the headless stump is utterly unique, strange and rather disturbing and would be a shame to lose — I’ll put my chip down on the censer-skull.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks! We really have been torn about adding something like the skull, because we do really like the empty, disjointed look that comes without the head. If we did add a skull, we would add it such that it was not suspended directly above the neck, but rather back further, to still impart some of the off-putting weirdness of the model. Without having the skull it also emphasizes the more subtle nature of the model; despite some of the crazy elements of it, we do not want to go full bore “Grim Dark 40k” and make it look like a caricature (which we would risk with the suspended skull).

      Also, thanks for the offer of the engineer bodies! At the moment, we still have 4 more left. Although we think we might use them to start creating some members of the Order of the Crimson Hour, so possibly we will need more. We will let you know 🙂


      1. I read further up that you were considering styling it like your deathwing terminators shrines, which were (and still are) excellent. I was thinking about this last night whilst I looked through my forge world bits, how about a skull fragment? Perhaps just the eye and nose holes at the front, the rest has been blasted apart. It’d make placement a little easier because it wouldn’t be so cumbersome and it could be a small detail rather than a defining piece.

        I can’t wait to see what you do with the other four! And if you need them I’ve got three bodies, two standing and one kneeling.


  5. I love that you’re mixing your practical, military sensibilities with a much more bizarre concept. It makes for a very fun mix. That electro priest tabard looks perfect there, and I love the shoulder optics. The servo owl is wonderful.

    I can see a suspended skull reliquiary looking great, and I bet one of the tiny arms from the Kataphron kit would work very well, and make for a great silhouette from the side.

    If you don’t include a suspended skull, I could see adding just a few more technical doodads at the top of the neck-stump to it up just slightly, suggesting that maybe his brain-stem survived and is still attached to his spine. Basically I’m thinking about Mike the Headless Chicken:


    1. I am glad you like how he is turning out! And that you picked up on our attempt at adding some tactical/military sensibilities to the generally bizarre character; it was one of our primary objectives with the model, to keep it somewhat subdued despite the concept.

      The use of one of those Kataphron arms is interesting, something we will have to experiment with. It would make for a pretty creepy model! I think you are right, however, if we do not do something with the skull, adding some more sensor stuff might help make our intentions clear.


  6. For some reason I can’t shake the Gunslinger from my mind every time I see the name Roland. Apt in this case though 🙂

    The entire concept and execution is so far extremely interesting but then you know I have a thing for the bizarre.


    1. Thanks! We had been kicking around ideas of making this bizarre character for quite some time, and realized the Pilgrym project was the perfect time to expand it and make it into a reality! I still have not made it around to reading any of the Gunslinger books… Something I should change…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I hope this is the opening salvo of bizarre from you Wier brothers. It suits you just fine. Well for shame mate, you’ve missed out!
        Btw, miniature received. Great piece, thanks again 🙂


  7. I love this model. I think it just needs some simple vision system and the lack of head is fine and turns into central but logical part of this model. A small scope or something integrated on top of the neck plate.


    1. Glad to hear you like the model! We are hesitant to add any visual system directly to his neck, as it would then seem too much like a truncated form of a head. The optics on his shoulder are his first system to visualize the world around him, they are connected directly to his brain after all. We do intend to add more however. He is going into battle, it is good to have some backups. As such, he will likely have some optics on his back too; he needs to be able to see behind him, like an owl 😉


  8. Stellar detailing and a story coming together really well. I especially like that you managed to make a decent size weapon. Currently the headlessness bothers me a bit, but I would not take the skull route. Instead I got an idea while reading your text..

    He is quite the badass character, but I think a bit of fragility would benefit him greatly. The part about protecting his spinal cord and all the nerve endings there thrilled me to bits. Imagine the surgical servitors conducting the operation were following orders to spare one nerve ending, and expose it to the world in a protective construction. What feeling would’ve Roland chosen? Would he risk extreme pain to smell his home planet’s air once in a while? Or does he have a single upwards pointing optical nerve in order to detect the true Sol?
    I think adding some kind of a small fragile construct on the neck would serve to highlight his loss even further.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a very interesting concept that I feel is worth exploring. My thinking is that while the surgery able to “reroute” his central nervous system to his back, where the brain is housed, it largely destroyed most of his finer cranial nerves, destroying his olfactory, optic, and auditory nerves. These were partially restored, however, with neural and bionic grafts, but as a result, he experiences the world more through binary data streams than traditional human senses.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Interesting concept, and it’s shaping up nicely, but it certainly is a challenge because you’ve got to lead the viewer to some pretty bonkers conclusions. My initial reaction is that the backpack doesn’t scream ‘brain in here’ to me yet, and I don’t feel drawn to the conclusion you want me to arrive at… I wouldn’t have ‘got it’ without the text. Also, I can’t help wondering how he sustains his biological systems… (i.e. eat)… like I said, it’s a massively challenging idea, but I have no doubt that you’ll nail it. Incorporating his skull may well be thhe magic moment… I can’t wait to see this develop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the constructive criticism, it helps hone our ideas and strengthens them. We knew this concept would be a challenge, and would be hard to “sell.” We still need to add a lot of additional vital equipment to him, perhaps some backup oxygen tank (his diaphragm is fine so, he can still breath, however), and a system to ensure his brain is oxygenated and supplied with glucose (regardless of the rest of his body), and possibly something to inject adrenaline and other chemicals. He largely sustains himself by nutrient injects (and faith in the divine Emperor).

      It is also difficult due to the fact that we want to easily convey the idea, but still want it to be somewhat ambiguous and thought-provoking. Towards this end, while we could have easily made the armored compartment on his back more obvious that it housed his brain, it does not seem like something Roland would actually want. Regardless, we will keep working on the model, and hope we eventually nail it!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m sure you will mate – I figured that there was more that you had in mind for this unique character.
        Can’t wait to see it all come together!


  10. Really cool mini and a terrific concept – reminds me of the Metabarons comic by Jodorowsky (one of the protagonists has his head surgically removed as part of an initiation ritual).

    Absolutely adore the owl.


    1. Thanks! I have not read the Metabarons, but this head removal ritual certainly sounds pretty interesting, and looking at some of the art of it online, it certainly looks to be worth a read!


  11. Maybe you could add a cable or a small cable bundle from the neck to the brain on his back. This would prevent the look of a miniature whith a lost part, it would show that it is intended to be headless . And additionally someone who looks at he miniature would know that his brain is in his backpack, even without an explanation of the history of this character.


    1. Yeah, adding a few cables is a good suggestion, one that will help tell the story of the miniature. It was something we were intending on doing, but hadn’t gotten to it yet, as we are still experimenting with additional auspexes and sensors.


  12. I really like what you chaps have done here. I think the whole concept, narrative and modelling opportunities of the Church of the Red Athaneum are awesome. Roland looks ace, the model has a really cohesive feel despite being made up of so many different elements. I’ve not got much to add except for this, and it could be way off, you mentioned a shrine esque housing. What about the shrine housing from the 2009 Space Hulk Servitor? You could even have the skull of Roland housed within the shrine. Though I’m not sure how it would scale. It could look bloody awful but…. I thought I’d throw the though out there. Fantastic work chaps.


    1. I forgot all about that little Space Hulk Servitor! Looking back it seems it as a Cyber-Altered Task (C.A.T.) unit. It might be an interesting place to house Roland’s skull, provided the scale is not off, as you mentioned. Thanks for the input!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Late to the conversation, I know – and new to the INQ28 thing, too, although it’s how I’ve been modelling/painting and wanting to play games since I first bought Rogue Trader, all those decades ago. I’m happy to find out I’m not the only loon/mad model builder out there!

    Anyway, I just wanted to commend you on the concept – I think the late Mr. Zevon would approve! 😀


    1. Glad to hear you have joined the Inq28 scene! It is a great place to explore your own niche of 40k!

      Glad you like Roland too. It was great to honor Zevon’s legacy 😀


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