Crafting Canon: The First Female Space Marine

Female Space Marine

Art by Sorrowking @ Deviantart.

I have always been a fan of Warhammer 40k and like many fans, I had mental images growing up of Space Marines bashing alien skulls. At least, that was the image the Games Workshop marketing department seemed to plaster across every store window. Big guys clad in advanced-yet-archaic armour staring down at you with a sneer that would make the Punisher jealous.

The Space Marine was the unchanging face of the universe,  even though I know so much has been changed over the years. The setting has gone from just grim to grimdark, the squats (space dwarves) were now being snacked on by tyranids, and orcs lost quite a bit of their initial zaniness. Hell, the Horus Heresy is even now being expanded and retconned in new books every month. Still, there were quite a few things that always remained constant. Such as Space Marines being male.

When I became interested in running Deathwatch, the setting all about space marines, for Fandible, my initial thoughts were to make Angela a Sister of Battle, an Inquisitor or a male Space Marine. The thought of making her a female Space Marine wasn’t even considered. It wasn’t because I was vehemently anti-female Space Marine. Truth be told, the idea of male-only Space Marines was so ingrained in my mind from various media that I simply didn’t think of a gender swap at all. It wasn’t until later that I thought of it as a possibility. I even went through the initial mental gymnastics most people go through to justify their initial choices. As an Inquisitor, she would be in charge of and giving orders to the Space Marines. Of course, thats not the same as being a badass Adeptus Astartes warrior. As a Sister of Battle, she could have almost the same level of awesome gear… but she wouldn’t have all the bits that would make her a real Space Marine. As a male Space Marine, she would be a Space Marine. but she would have to play a different gender. Fine if the player chooses to gender swap, but not if the game forces her.

What bothered me the most after I had some time to reflect on it, is how long it took me to make this mental change. I skimp, skew and modify canon all the time when I think it will make a game more interesting. My Rogue Trader game has twisted so many aspects of the Warhammer 40k universe, I am pretty sure we landed in Star Wars at some point. For whatever reason, boobs on a Space Marine actually made me stumble a bit. Still, my job as a GM is to make sure my players have fun and goddammit no bit of fluff can change that.

829_largeThe next issue was how to integrate it. I saw two possible routes. The first was a full integration. In my version of Warhammer 40k, there would have always been female Space Marines. Space Marines have been a coed cult of murder since the Great Crusade. That established, we could easily say she was part of any number of chapters. A quick and easy way to get her into the story from the beginning. But honestly, not the most interesting way. The most interesting way was to make her gender the issue of the series. Female Space Marines are impossible in current Warhammer 40k lore. The Emperor himself, gene father of all Space Marines, could not perform this task using hyper advanced technology. So, what happens if one suddenly shows up? How did this impossibility occur and how would the various factions deal with this obvious abomination?

So, the story of The First began. A creation born of the will of a power-hungry bishop and the techno-heresy of a Techpriest Heretek. She was to be the first of a line of female marines to set the Imperium right, under the bishop’s rule of course. The First, not a mindless slave, felt the corruption of the bishop and contacted Imperial forces. She chose to serve the Imperium of Man, which is the only reason she wasn’t purged immediately. The Inquisition, never an organization to let resources go to waste, put her to work. She became part of the Deathwatch, hunting xenos abominations across the sector.

As more of her back story came to light, more questions were raised about her that made for interesting story and role playing opportunities. She had to face the Imperial church, which called her an abomination. She had to gain the respect of her own Space Marine brothers, who initially treated her as a potential liability. Finally, she had to face her true origins and all the mental anguish that accompanied it. All this lead to the all important question, did she deserve to exist?

Overall, I think the campaign went well and The First lives on in our Rogue Trader game. Angela actually wrote an article about the game for the Gaming as Women blog. It gives her insight into the experience and makes for a great read.

So, I ask you readers. Do you think changing established canon for the players is a good or bad thing? Does it risk changing the feel of the world or does it lead to potentially interesting role playing opportunities?


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About the Author
Jesus “Arvandus” Rodriguez is the founder and website tweaker of the Fandible podcast. When he isn't out creating imaginary worlds for his players, he also runs a youtube channel where he writes short fiction in various fictional worlds. https://www.youtube.com/c/ArvandusTheStoryteller

29 comments on “Crafting Canon: The First Female Space Marine

  1. CaptainStabby says:

    I can’t say anything bad about canon changes. I’ve run an entire “Alternities” Star Wars game where I completely turned things ass over teakettle.

    I think some settings are more suited to canon changes than others, for example. I always hated playing in the Dragonlance setting for D&D, why? That story has already been told, it’s by and large the same problem with Star Wars.

    I will fully own that when I heard “female space marine” my first response was an eyeroll, having been a huge 40k nerd since the days of Rogue Trader, in my general experience when those words are put together it ends up being some mary sue nonsense of the highest order. You guys handled it awesomely though and didn’t fall into that pit and the story you told was great.

    There are probably very few things in any setting that MUST stay as official canon, like, you couldn’t take Warjacks out of an Iron Kingdoms setting and have it be the same thing. I guess it all depends on what you and your group want.

    There is also something to be said for familiarity, when you run a game in an established universe, you cut out that whole discussion of “ok, in my made up world…” It’s super easy to just tell people, “Ok, we’re playing Star Wars, you all know how that works? cool, lets roll some dice.” Which can be nice sometimes.

    FWIW, when I run 40k the Squats are still alive cause space dorfs are awesome!

  2. Warren says:

    Is that thing about the Emperor trying, but failing, to make female space marines canon somewhere?

    I think changing canon in a game is fine, assuming that you know your players’ feeling about things in the setting.

    For me, it wouldn’t be Star Wars if the Force wasn’t around; at least an NPC or two who are devotees or something. My friend couldn’t give a damn about the Force. Stripping it out would make it not quite Star Wars-y for me, but he would feel like he was in the SW universe without ever hearing the ‘f’ word.

    I know that my wife’s a big Space Marine fan (including the console game) and there’s no way that I won’t be integrating a female, or coed chapter, if we get around to playing. It won’t detract from the fun of the other players and it will be much more fun for her.

  3. Barsher Da Barsher says:

    First of all, your friend and me would get along wonderfully. I’m okay with some… some… mention of the force in my SW games. Some. But too many times, people don’t use a subtle approach to the Force and try to pull ISD down from space.

    Not my cup of tea.

    Honestly, my favorite SW novels were the ones that barely had the force in it. The Han Solo Trilogy (Newer one, not the older ones) is one of my favorite trilogy in the SW canon. Though, that isn’t to say I don’t mind the force because I also like the Witches of Dathomir just fine too. At the end of the day, I just like the Force to be in the background. Sort of like magic. I like it to be there but sort of not in the public view.

    But getting back to the discussion about female space marines – I think your wife is a great reason why I am for allowing female space marines. Space Marines are the bad asses of the bad asses. They are ‘epic’. If a female doesn’t want to play a guy, it’s not the same if you make her the Inquisitor or a Sister of Battle. Yes, those two options are ‘epic’ in their own way but Jesus Christ! Space Marines! They kick ass! They kick so much ass! I wouldn’t keep someone from playing it just because they didn’t want to be a dude.

    lol – didn’t proofread this response so good luck on it making sense. peeeeace out!

  4. CaptainStabby says:

    I don’t think the Force is a requirement for SW games either, but if you tell someone that’s the universe you are playing in, if they have even seen one movie, they “get” it. It’s a much lower barrier to entry than Generic Homebrew Fantasy World Type A. That however doesn’t mean you should be a slave to the canon if it doesn’t work for you.

    There’s a great webcast series that I cant remember the name of, but one of the guys rants is “all Jedi or no Jedi.” It’s pretty spot on. Spoony… something something something. I forget.

    For me, when it comes to Astartes and the question of gender, in my head it really comes back as “who cares” they are post human child soldiers who are indoctrinated to the ends of the universe and back and pretty much exist only to smash things. In all honesty with the level of genetic modification and everything else done to them you likely wouldn’t be able to tell male from female marines anyhow, also they really should have chem-geld in game mechanic terms. Unless you are telling a story like the one you guys did I don’t see the gender of an Astartes really being key to what they do.

    I know that sounds dismissive, but I’m meaning it like that. What I’m trying to say is people make too big a deal what kind of naughty bits their giant genetically engineered murder machine may or may not have.

  5. CaptainStabby says:

    er I mean I’m NOT meaning it like that.

    ugh proofreading

  6. Nymie the Pooh says:

    Before Games Workshop decided that all Space Marines were male, they released two female models wearing the same power armour as Space Marines. These two models were later renamed Female Adventurer in Power Armour #1 and Female Adventurer in Power Armour #2. They were originally part of a set of models and did not have their own “names” until after it was determined all Space Marines are male.

    In the Black Library novels there was a female Chaos Space Marine for a short time. Well, sort of. She was probably a Space Marine genetically speaking, but she was created to give birth to baby Chaos Space Marines that matured to adulthood quickly and she was kept under a tight reign. It proves it should be possible if someone really wanted to do it.

    Going back to the Loyalist, there are two whole Legions of Space Marines we know absolutely nothing about. All information concerning them had been wiped from all records before the Heresy ever occurred.

    Ultimately I think your solution was an amazing one. I loved the story. I am a little sad it was basically a one off, but y’all keep so many great stories coming that I am sad when most of them end. Keep up the great work and please continue to twist concepts and expectations.

  7. Arvandus says:

    @CaptainStabby If you want a good example of space dwarves, check out http://www.beardybastards.com/. They sadly stopped in 2012 ( I think they got the GW hammer) but its still a good read.

    @Warren If I ever ran a Star wars game, if billy doesnt beat me to it, I probably have a no jedi or only force sensitive rule. At least in the beginning. They always felt like the space marines in warhammer 40k. When a jedi shows up, regular people run!!!

    @Nymie Wow, I didnt know about the female models. I wonder what sort of decision they had in the beginning to make it male only. It might be interesting to see if they retcon that in the horus heresy. Probably not though.

    Thanks for the comments guys.

  8. Warren says:

    @All I think there’s a misunderstanding on how much Force I feel is necessary for SW. For me, it needs to exist in the universe, not necessarily felt/controlled/sensed by any of the PCs.

    @CaptainStabby Oh, You’re TOTALLY meaning it like that. 🙂

  9. Warren says:

    Also, I think canon provides a useful jumping-off point, but agree that it should never be adhered to at the expense of the fun.

    No matter how bad-wrong one’s group’s fun is. 🙂

    “This is the 40K universe, but Orks believe blue makes things go faster and the Necrons are really just misunderstood, skinny, metal-fetishising goths. Otherwise, exactly the same. ….Oh, except space travel is totally safe and corpsecrackers were never invented.” “….aaaand the Ecclesiarchy is really very tolerant of all religions.” “……and Snickets”

  10. Jake says:

    Female Space Marines I don’t have a problem with, though my headcannon Space Marines are asexual so sucks to my Seneschal who swapped minds with a Chaos Space Marine Psyker.

    That being said, I was driven to a brief moment of frothing rage about how RED makes things go faster, and BLUE is for luck! Come on, just remember the simple Orkish rhyme:

    BLUE IS FOR DA WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!
    RED IS FOR DA WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

    It takes so much longer to say it in the blue verse. That’s how you know.

  11. CaptainStabby says:

    There were also Half-Eldar Ultramarine Librarians back in the day. Space Marines were also penal legionnaires back then.

    Post RT/Early 2E GW really started to try to organize their fiction and sort of aim for established tropes, that’s where the Space Marines as “Space Warrior Monk Knight” fiction got laid down. Orks as fungus monkeys, Imperium as Nazi Germany, Eldar as… scuzzy space elves.

    As far as the BL stuff goes, Chaos cheats, so I don’t really count that, plus they let people like Aaron Dembski-Bowden write novels and he makes baby Chtulhu cry.

    Even GW has flat out said “there is no canon” they can’t be bothered to codify it, so I just pick and choose, plus Squats!!

    @jesus I would highly recommend the new Starwars stuff from FFG, its a very narrative system, I think you guys would dig it, also, no jedi in the first core book, because hunting down lvl 1 characters with Darth Vader would kinda be a dick move. Oh, it does have goofy dice though :/

  12. crawlkill says:

    when you guys did the Deathwatch game, my kid brother–maybe fifteen at the time? so not remotely kid enough to excuse the behavior–messaged me in incredulity how there’d been a female space marine so he’d had to turn it off immediately. I stared at it, dismayed that apparently I was related to a burgeoning misogynerd, and replied asking him what the fuck the problem was, who cared about “canon.”

    “I want to listen to a Warhammer 40K game. that’s not Warhammer 40K.”

    so to him, the non-permissibility of chick participation was more important than -every single other thing about the universe.- forget all the other stuff: if there are girls in the treehouse, it’s not even a treehouse anymore! he went on to bluster that “there are the Sisters of Battle for that,” and I’m like, yeah? so have they gotten the same level of support that the shriveled-dick masculinity fantasy space marines have? “that doesn’t matter.” and Angela just being allowed to play what she wants, this bullshit magic space fantasy universe’s “canon” is more important to you than her having fun on her own terms?

    apparently so.

    as so often, it’s one of those things I wouldn’t really care about until hearing someone say it SHOULDN’T happen. maybe it’s not inherently toxic to say “the geneseed bullshit space magic technology has only been used on males because Emperor clone etc etc nonsense excuses because tits are scary,” but if someone comes along who says “hey, I’m gonna expand on that” and the response is, as it -always is,- NUH UH THAT RUINS EVERYTHING–well.

    it’s sick to be obsessed with “canonicity” in the first place, and using it as an excuse to keep the gross giiiirls out of the cool content is just vile. go back to being a medic, gross girl! go back to being my mom! men are such. fearful animals. it’s so, so strange.

  13. Daniel says:

    Fandible: Growing Fat And Happy On Fanboy Tears

  14. Spencinator says:

    It’s cool that you decided to introduce a female space marine, but have you guys explored the creepier ramifications introducing one would have on the Ecclesiarchy?

    Have factions of the Church/Chaos tried to capture her and make her a breeding tank or is she completely sterile? Are there split factions in the Church who are on board, and want to push the idea of further experimentation for the convenience of naturally bred space marines? Are people trying to recreate this anomaly since they now know it’s possible?

    I guess I’m asking because I’ve seen so many dumb rationalizations against the idea, I’m curious to see how you tackle stuff like that.

  15. Barsher Da Barsher says:

    Well, we’ve posted the sessions that involved the female space marine, and there are factions who are for letting her live and there are factions who want her to die.

    The church is relatively certain that she’s an abomination since she was the creation of a twisted Cardinal.

    The jist is pretty much that everyone agrees that the experiment to create her was an abomination. However, the creature (Angela’s character) could possibly show that at least she wasn’t. It’s sort of how some people in Dark Heresy view using Chaos tools as a way of fighting fire with fire.

    As for breeding tank and the like, while these are interesting ideas for maybe a novel, we wouldn’t ask a player to be put into the position of ‘forced breeding’. I believe Jesus might have said at one time that she was sterile like all other Space Marines.

  16. Arvandus says:

    Knowing what I know about the the setting, I am sure there are smaller factions who would want to run experiments on The First, but the church as a whole decided that she is a evil abomination that needs to die.

    I personally decided not to pursue this potential story line because it would make everyone, including me, very uncomfortable. I would especially not ask Angela to be put in such a position without consulting her first. In the end, its all about what you and your players are comfortable with.

    It would, as Billy stated, make for a particularly dark Warhammer 40k novel though. Most Warhammer 40k stories I’ve read tend to be extremely violent and grim but stuff like “forced breeding” is simply alluded to, not actually shown. They try to keep the theme of Warhammer 40k about the grim dark war/violence which I am personally fine with.

  17. Peripheral says:

    Having been in a game where a player kept insisting my character’s potential as breeding stock be part of the plot, I’m not sure I can express how quickly my reaction jumped to “fuck no, why would you do that to Angela?!”

    That’s the sort of arc you volunteer for your own character, never spring on someone else’s. It’s a pretty tired trope and one that doesn’t need to be trotted out every time there’s an exceptional woman in a story.

  18. Spencinator says:

    Apologies, I completely understand not wanting to do that to your players given the nature of those ideas and how uncomfortable it would make for the player, I was mostly just curious about how you explain her impact on the fluff.

    As Billy said, such ideas are probably better suited for a novel, though the idea of Female Chaos Space Marine beating the shit out Chaos Scientists for trying to capture her is an amusing mental image.

    @Periphreal: Yeah, no, I wouldn’t want to force such a thing on my players either. As for the trope being tired or not, well, I can’t really say one way or the other. I’ve never really seen much fiction where that trope’s explored all that often, but the idea popped in my head regarding 40k in particular given how dark and desperate the setting can come across.

  19. Spencinator says:

    Oh, and to follow up about the forced breeding thing, I did not mean that the character in question should be captured and experimented on, I was thinking more along the lines of factions she might have to fight, etc.

  20. Angela says:

    I will say, nuanced conversations like this are why I love Fandible’s fans. Y’all are awesome.

    And while the idea of forced breeding makes me recoil in horror, as a player and as a human being, I will say this thread has sparked lots of thoughts for me. Expect to see a blog post from me ruminating on some of these topics in the near-ish future.

    Warhammer 40k: The Gift that Keeps On Giving.

  21. Syren says:

    To jump on the mountain of disgust on the forced breeding this hasn’t come up in our Shadowrun game, though we’ve had our own horrors here and there we’ve had to face, it is a distinct part of one of the factions we’ve been known to associate with. The organleggers of Tamanous, and is probably the most disgustingly evil thing genuinely written about in the game. Even with the incredibly awkward morality of my character it isn’t something he would respond well to. Feel free to do further research if you desire, but its hard for even me to stomach.

  22. Arvandus says:

    @Peripheral I am sorry you had to go through that. I’ve read numerous stories about GM’s forcing their female players into that position and it seems that either the GM is forcing a artificial relationship with the player or is simply pursing a storyline they think having a female player gives them permission to do. Both are rather shitty reason all around. If you feel your story needs this, you need to talk about it to your players beforehand. If they say no, its your job as a GM to change the story. You can have fun as a GM, but it is paramount that your players are having fun and are comfortable with the game.

    @Syren I just read about them and ya, I am feeling a bit sick. If Granik ever met them, he will be sure they partake of his famous diplomacy skills. And by diplomacy, I mean bullets.

    @Spencinator No worries, I know you simply meant the potential story involving that faction wanting to grab Angela and not her being experimented on. Still, having that story can lead to that potential circumstance or allusions to that potential circumstance and I have found its better to nip that in the bud than let the natural flow of role-play force you to artificially divert the path of the game. It disrupts the game, it makes everyone uncomfortable, and it makes for a crappy podcast.

    @Peripheral @Spencinator As for the “forced breeding” trope, it seems to come in different forms. I’ve read some fiction where the darkness of a group/faction is laid bare by this action. Some examples are:

    *spoilers and possible trigger warnings*

    In Warhammer 40k, the Death Korps of Krieg, there are rumors that the tech priests use ancient and forbidden tech to make their women breed faster since their male soldiers are so suicidally fearless and are such exceptional soldiers. I remember one novel where a Commissar visiting the world commentated that the women seemed to be in a haze and constantly pregnant.

    In the newer dune novels, which take place before dune, House Tleilaxu had taken over house IX, and it is later discovered they are capturing Ixian women and turning them into artificial biological spice manufacturers.

    In the Belgariad novels, the women of the Thull race made themselves constantly pregnant because the priests of their god couldn’t sacrifice pregnant women. Those Torak priests were very sacrifice happy so circumstances effectively meant they had to choose between pregnancy or death.

    There are also numerous aliens in comics and novels who artificially breed women to create soldiers, food sources, etc. Off the top of my head, one of the later volumes of marvel zombies where the aliens from war of the worlds breed women to eat their babies, one of the older issues of The Authority where an alternate earth turned a entire continent into a alien/human hybrid breeding facility, etc.

    Am I saying that this trope should never be used in a novel, no. It always depends on the story and the author. But, like many similar tropes, it seems to be used mostly to show that the bad guys are just really bad.

  23. Peripheral says:

    @Arvandus In my case it was a player and not the GM, but that’s not a lot better. And forced breeding is also an easy way to explain why there aren’t any women around in a story or setting or why there’s only one (and probably an infertile one). For example, I was once told that if there were female dwarves in Middle Earth and other settings, they wouldn’t be seen above ground because they’re too precious a resource to risk and must be kept safe. It’s a quick excuse I’ve seen men cite without considering just how horrifying that idea is, and it usually has to be broken down pretty clearly before they get the revulsion factor. Eurgh, makes me sick thinking about it.

  24. CaptainStabby says:

    Forced breeding of an Astartes of any kind wouldn’t work anyhow based on the fiction and how the gene seed works, so it’s kinda stupid that any author even alluded to it in the Black Library books.

    There is no such thing as a “baby” Space Marine. Essentially they are fleshy incubators for the gene seed, that’s why they produce multiple of those organs as they mature. All the special sauce that makes them up is what makes those organs appear, the rest are implanted through whatever instruction manual Da Emprah handed down.

    This is kinda the problem with the GW approach of “everything is canon” is that occasionally really bad fiction gets added to the mix. Like guys in Terminator armor doing backflips :/

  25. Sgt Grimstad says:

    ‘The Grim Dark Podcast’ is a great resource for running a 40k RPG…I went seeking for other resources for ideas in running my Deathwatch RPG Campaign and came upon Fandible’s rendition of Deathwatch…I’m sorry to say I could not make it even part way through a single episode. It’s not just that the game had a Female Space Marine…1st of all there was way too much OOC Chatter & off-topic joking both before and during the game. (wasn’t even funny, just goofy joking, outbursts & interruptions btw) Some might have found this amusing but it completely broke the immersion that this is actually taking place in the 40K Universe.

    In regards to a Female Space Marine, as an avid reader of Black Library this grates against cannon like screeching chalk on a chalk board. Sisters of Battle, Callidus Assassin or Inquisitor would’ve all been viable options. As mentioned, it’s not just that the game had a Female Space Marine but that the Game itself had to Revolve around that Fact…not the Deathwatch Mission, not fighting Aliens, Heretics…no the Game itself and its biggest Plot point is about a Female Space Marine and Role Playing how those around here react/cope with the existence of ‘The First’. Almost as if the GM wrote the game to appease/revolve around his Girlfriend or Wife….No Thanks…

  26. Barsha Da Barsha says:

    Jesus is now married to Angela! You heard it here first, folks.

  27. Sam says:

    Remember kids; Molding canon in interesting new ways is only OK if doesn’t revolve around women! Also ladies only play RPGs because their boyfriends/husbands play! I guess I have to hook up with my GM now…

    Also I can’t believe that Jesus and Angela are an item now. I guess they’re going to be running off with all that sweet sweet Patreon money.

  28. FandibleDave says:

    Look, while I appreciate the thoughtful conversation concerning this episode, I have express sympathy with it’s detractors. The criticism I’ve seen seems focused on one aspect, but I believe that everyone is missing the most glaring fault that lies in the very marrow that makes up this heretical plot line:

    I’m not in it.

    Now, I know that this game in particular addresses what is an uncomfortable yet glaring omission in the Warhammer universe (which is reflective of a shameful and persistent misogyny that furthers a terrible stereotype for all types of gamers that belongs in the past) but the larger error is clearly a lack of my wit, sophistication and charming (and not at all hyena-like) laugh. If the above poster finds the OOC banter distasteful, well I can only agree and say that my presence has opened the way to a more respectable audio presentation, one that quells the onslaught of superfluous chatter and offers a more concise and mature listening experience.

    I’m sure current listeners all agree.

    Finally, I am reminded of our (now sadly missing) slogan: “You must be so smart to role play this stupid,” which appropriately came from a Warhammer session. For any and all who take issue with this story line’s break from canon to dare feature a female Space Marine I can only express a gratitude to their devotion to the above saying, even though they clearly forgo the first part and fully embrace the second.

    We chose (as we see it) to play smart, but you are free to play otherwise.

    Thanks for listening!

  29. MicroBalrog says:

    It’s an amazing conversation but I’d like to add a few things:

    1. I don’t really mind people who enjoy sticking to the canon and having elaborate discussions on what elements of canon mean what (like those Star Wars guys who do elaborate discussions on what the engine output of a Star Destroyer is based on the explosions we see on the screen. I ilke them and they’re bros.

    2. There is room for sticking to the artistic vision of whoever wrote an original work of fiction…

    3. But Warhammer isn’t a single work of fiction with a consistent canon! It’s a game franchise designed entirely around selling miniatures!

    Beyond the fact that there’s nothing wrong with fucking around with the canon in your own game or whatnot, there’s no such thing as ‘artistic integrity’ or ‘canon’ with a franchise like that – this is something GW has been explicit on. GW has altered their fluff repeatedly for marketing reasons or organizational reasons already.

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