+ inload: How Old is a Space Marine? Part I +

+ Worldbuilding: How old is a space marine, and how does a Chapter function? +

+ Space Marine age has generally been a bit fluid, beyond the occasional explicit mention of 'X is the oldest Y' or 'the A are the longest-lived of all Space Marines'. So, as with everything in this hobby, to an extent, it's mainly up to you. +

+ Of course, that's a bit unsatisfactory as an answer, so in the following inload, I outline my thinking on how Space Marine Chapters function. Before I begin, I'd like to note that it's very easy to start throwing around huge numbers when writing. The temptation to say that Character X 'fought in thousands of campaigns' or 'trained for many centuries', but if you spend a minute or two thinking about that, it quickly becomes incoherent. For this reason, I prefer to be a little more conservative in terms of numbers and time. +

+ Secondly, there are some references to warfare, ancient and modern. These are used in general terms to get a grip on necessarily vague numbers. While the 41st Millennium is a dark mirror to our own times, equally its important not to conflate depressing real-world conflict with blackly-comic space fantasy. +

+ Why is this important? Well, the short answer is that it isn't! However, it's fun to delve into the background of our shared universe and see whether we can find an answer that helps tie off a niggling thought. Over the next couple of inloads, I'll be looking at Space Marine ages, which will in turn inform how a typical Chapter operates. If you're doing any writing, or coming up with your own background, information like this can help to create a coherent background for your story. I hope it's useful, and if not useful; at least diverting! +


+ Neophytes and the Reserve Companies +

+ Marines start their training young. Our starting point is the implantation process (see image below), which gives us Games Workshop's numbers for suggested age of implantation. Assuming training of a Neophyte (i.e. not yet officially a Scout, and thus not a space marine) starts from around the point at which they receive their first phase of implants (between 10–14 years old), the Scout Company will be made up mainly of child soldiers. +

+ We're told that the implantation process should be complete between 16 and 18 years – by which point they are already well-versed in fighting as part of the Chapter, under the protective auspices of a Veteran Sergeant. +

+ That's immediately fairly startling – I imagine most of us think of scouts as the sort of thirty-year old actors we see as soldiers in action movies; but the reason Scouts are not yet full Battle Brothers is mostly that they're unable to wear Power Armour (though there are other factors), and the upper limit for the Black Carapace implant is 18. +

+ Because marines are a precious resource, I'm led to assume that most initiates 'graduate' from the Scout Company relatively soon after they can wear power armour, so as a bare minimum, there will be members of the Reserve Companies who are 16 as a lower limit. More typically, I'd say that most new members of the reserve companies join between the age of 18 and 21. They will then continue to train while serving, gradually building up their skills and experience in combat. +

+ It's tempting to say that they'd spend years or decades training, as on the face of things that sounds impressive; but considering that Astartes are:

  • The cream of the population – exceptionally capable individuals
  • Enhanced mentally and physically
  • Spending the majority of their waking time training
  • Assisted by sci-fi hypno-indoctrination
  • Utilising STC technology, noted for its solidity and ease of use
+ In short, they require nowhere near as much leisure, rest or sleep as humans, while picking things up faster. As a result, I think it's fair to assume that they're going to pick up any skill – whether cleaning a lascannon, driving a tank more-or-less within a month. +

+ Of course they'll benefit from further practice and experience, but I think it's a push to assume that a Marine wouldn't be well-versed to do any of the major roles – Tactical, Assault, Devastator, (i.e. excepting specialisms like becoming an Apothecary) – within a year or two; during which time I would anticipate he would have fought in a number of battles. We'll look at how many later on. +

+ I think it would be vanishingly rare to see a marine on the battlefield who had not 'graduated' to Tactical, simply because of the timelines involved. For these reasons, I think of the Reserve Companies being mainly filled with Astartes who are roughly equivalent in age to armed forces in the modern age – typically in the late teens, twenties and thirties – plus a cadre of Veteran Sergeants and officers, who I'll get to later on. +


+ Going on Campaign +

+ Warning: shonky mathemagick ahead +

+ I think the major delay in getting promoted to the Battle Companies would be casualty rates. There's an interesting and well backed-up article here [+noospheric inloadlink embedded+] on historical casualty rates. As a gross simplification based on that (excellent) article, I'll take a 10% casualty rate to be typical for real-world warfare up to the modern period; not all of whom are fatalities. Note that this 10% figure is an average for both victors and defeated; typically the victors is much lower (we'll assume 5% with a fifth of those fatalities), and the defeated considerably higher (let's assume 15%, with half of those fatalities). +

+ Let's 'grimdark it up' and triple that casualty rate for the Imperial Guard to 30% (a figure roughly equivalent to the bloodiest wars of the real world) to take into account how horrid the 41st Millennium is. Taking that as a baseline, we can immediately reduce the casualty rate for Space Marines back down to 10% owing to their skills, physical resilience and modus operandi. Whether winning or losing however, the fatality rates above apply to regular humans. Space Marines are far less likely to die of their wounds; I think it's fair to half their chances of being fatally wounded. +

+ Assuming most of a Chapter's campaigns are victorious, then, they'll have a casualty rate of 5%, with a tenth of those fatalities. From a company of 100, you'll lose a Marine only every second campaign(!), which seems suitably heroic.
Conversely, assuming most of a Chapter's campaigns end in defeat, they'll have a casualty rate of 15%, with a tenth fatalities. This time, from a company of 100, fifteen will be injured, seven of whom will die. +

+ Taking an average, then, let's assume that any one Campaign results in a Company taking three Astartes fatalities, and – throwing it out there – an Astartes who is permanently crippled and rendered non-combat capable, for a total of four Astartes lost from the Company. Bear these non-combat marines in mind, as I'll come back to them in a bit. +


+ Promotion to the Battle Companies +

+ With the numbers above in mind, we can now have a think about how many campaigns our Chapter can typically conduct, and how quickly members of their Reserve companies filter through to the Battle Companies. Of course, this is entirely up to your imagination and preference, so you can adjust my thoughts below to taste. I offer a couple of examples that might fit your view of the Dark Millennium. +

+ In both scenarios, the Chapter is split into four Armies. Each is made up of 100 Battle Company Marines, plus 100 Reserve Company Marines (50 Tactical Marines from the 6th and 7th, 25 Assault Marines from the 8th, and 25 Devastator Marines from the 9th) plus 25 Veterans and 25 Scouts. 250 Marines sounds about right to me – it's the sort of army the stories and games make us familiar with – able to break up into smaller Strike Forces or combine for a big battle. +

+ Scenario 1: Only War; permanent combat ++ Famously, in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war, so in this example I'm assuming that the entire Chapter is permanently on campaign. As a result, at any point, each of the four Armies will be engaged. +
+ Ignoring the Scouts and Veterans for the moment (I'll get back to them), the Battle Company does the bulk of the work during each campaign, and so will take most of the casualties. As a result, we half the casualty rates for the other elements. +
+ With four permanent casualties being sustained by the Battle Company and two by the Reserve 'Company' each campaign, the Reserve Company elements will be depleted after around sixteen or seventeen campaigns as the members are killed or shifted into the Battle Company to replace fatalities there. +
+ In both examples, the forces can conduct further campaigns if the accompanying thirty Scouts are old enough to press into the Reserves. In fact, that answers Brother Rhetorical Device's question, 'So why send Scouts to fight at all before they can wear Power Armour?' The simple reason is that there's at least some pressure from above to replenish the ranks. + 
+ Without recruitment, the Army as a whole will be destroyed after around 35 Campaigns, as even the Scouts and Veterans are killed. If all four Armies are fighting simultaneously, the Chapter will become extinct. +
+ Scenario 2: Sustainable War; intermittent combat ++ This works on a similar principle as the above example, except that at any one time, one of the armies is not engaged. Either there's no war to fight, they're in transit, or they're stationed at their Fortress Monastery on their Homeworld. +
+ This scenario gives you sufficient 'spare' marines to recruit and train new members,  send Battle Brothers off to train as Techmarines, be seconded to the Deathwatch and generally do all the things the background tell us Marines do when they're not fighting.+
+ In this scenario, the Chapter can still be on a permanent war footing, but with a quarter of them 'at home', it'll take longer for the Chapter to be wiped out, assuming no recruitment. I prefer this second model, as there are sufficient marines at home to do the necessary recruitment (and everything else) without sacrificing too much of the sense of constant warfare. +

+ Replacement +

+ For the second scenario above to be true but for the Chapter not to be wiped out, the Chapter will have to replace each Army's casualties between campaigns, at a rate of six per Army per campaign – a total of eighteen per campaign. If we can work out how long a campaign lasts, we might get our average marine's age. +

+ As Space Marines fight lightning warfare; I'm assuming a campaign takes a year on average, and that the Guard arrive to finish things off (or turn into an unending meat grinder) if it goes on much longer. Given that most Chapters recruit from a single world, getting 18–24 new initiates every year sounds fairly plausible and follows the background of recruitment being fairly deadly. +
[APPEND + As an aside, it's also noted that some Chapters recruit 'once a generation' or similar. Marine recruiting worlds tend to be pretty deadly, so lets be generous and call a sustainable period for a new generation there twenty years. This would mean that these Chapters needs to recruit at least 360–480 candidates during their recruitment drive – in fact, probably many, many more, as most will fail the Chapter's tests. +]
+ With these thoughts in mind, we know that an active Army's force can last for around sixteen or seventeen campaigns. The period for recruits to work through the Scout company to the reserves is around six to nine years based on the numbers above; so there will be at least sufficient new Scouts making it into the Reserve companies every year to make things sustainable; even assuming some campaigns that cause above average casualties. +

+ With sustainable recruitment, we then get a typical Astartes of the Battle Company lasting sixteen or seventeen campaigns before he is killed and replaced. We halved the attrition for the Reserve Company, so that would give us a marine staying in there for a maximum of thirty-two or thierty-four years; more likely filtering through in half that time. +


+ Age +

+ Coming back to the original question, then; how old are marines? So far, I've outlined my reasons behind thinking that:

  • Scouts are aged between 12–21
  • A Battle Brother in a Reserve Company will be between 18–55
  • A Battle Brother in a Battle Company will be between 34–72

+ That sounds about right to me, for the reasons outlined above. So how about veterans, officers and the like? And just where do those non-combatant casualties end up (told you I wouldn't forget them!) +

+ That'll have to wait for tomorrow, I'm afraid. There's already enough of a wall o'text here! +


Lasgunpacker said...

Hurray for the wall of text!

Thanks for working through this, interesting to read. Also reinforces the divide between rules and fluff, as it seems like every battle has much higher casualties than 3-4, let alone the campaign!

Modhail said...

Interesting mathemagick you wove there, Apologist. As a point of feedback I'm a bit doubtful about the assumption that a campaign will average one year in time. Much of the campaigns in the background last for several years, up to a decade. Then again, these campaigns often consist of many more battles. And there are the occasions where the Astartes swoop into an ongoing war, eradicate the enemy leadership structure and are gone again within a week. There's also transit times to consider. (Which would lead to the follow on questions of "How far would a Chapter need to travel on average?", in turn leading to an evaluation of relative Chapter density within the Imperium.)
A gut feeling tells me that the delaying factors of transit and variations in campaign length and intensity could mean you can safely double the time it takes a marine to "filter through" the companies, except for the scout company as that is more or less designed as a meatgrinder so only the tough survive. And I guess that once you make veteran you have the skills and tenacity to survive for decades if not centuries.
I'm looking forward to the rest of your musings on this subject!

Gonfrask said...

I really liked this one. I would like to mention the novels of William King about Ragnar, in those, you can find that a Blood Claw join the ranks of the Grey Hunters not only when his temperament has been tempered (is this correctly said?) but also his hair is becoming grey, so with the Astarter physilogy this must happen when they are 60 years old or even older. Also we find that a secundary character, the "sargent" Harkon is wounded in the head and he is left quadriplegic, the last time we see him, is being transported by servitors and never came back.

Is good to think about these thing sometimes, and I also do it sometimes

apologist said...

Heh, yeah; it does seem surprising. Beyond the usual disjuncture between background and rules, it's worth noting that models removed from the tabletop aren't necessarily 'killed'; simply rendered non-combat capable. The estimates in the inload take into account the ability of Space Marines to survive wounds that would be fatal to most humans.

apologist said...

Hey Modhail, cheers. On the length of campaign, I settled on a year as that seemed a good average based on the background. While Marines do occasionally get into a continued slugging match, those tend to be either exceptional cases (in which case more than one of my proposed 'Armies' would be deployed), or balanced against the much quicker strikes that you mention (a desultory week-long campaign against a rebelling Feudal World, for example). The latter example (of 'easy wins') also partially accounts for the low casualty rates – sometimes the very presence of Marines is said to quell rebellions; and this drags down the average.

You write: 'A gut feeling tells me that the delaying factors of transit and variations in campaign length and intensity could mean you can safely double the time it takes a marine to "filter through" the companies, except for the scout company as that is more or less designed as a meatgrinder so only the tough survive. And I guess that once you make veteran you have the skills and tenacity to survive for decades if not centuries.'
I agree to a large part with that; there are some thoughts on why I ended up deciding for a shorter approach in the follow-up inload :)

Glad you enjoyed the read, and looking forward to your thoughts on part II.

apologist said...

Thanks very much; and it's very worthwhile to note that this is all based on conjecture and guesswork for an 'average Chapter'. The Space Wolves in particular seem to have a lot of oddness to their aging... Suspicious? ;)

Lasgunpacker said...

Yes that is true, and we can also assume that our table top battles are the schwerpunkt of the larger battle, and so consequently have higher casualties than the battle as a whole. If 50 marines are present at a battle (as shown in a game), the other 200 from your "army" are off camera, killing orks by the thousands without breaking a sweat (or a nail).

WestRider said...

The Space Wolves are heavily implied in several areas to be pretty unusual, not just in their geneseed, but also in terms of Dark Age of Technology genetic engineering of the original Fenrisian colonists whose descendants they recruit from. They're far and away the worst of the Founding Legions to generalize from.

D said...

Wow, definitely something to bear in mind when writing fluff for one's own Chapter. 40K and HH IS a fantasy story in the end, but without a bit of sense of realism people will lose interest. Thank you, this must have taken some work, and it shows!

This certainly makes one appreciate the older individuals all the more.