If you talk to most of the 40K players about the armies they field, they’ve got a story. If it’s a marine army and one of the few official armies like Ultra Marines, Black Templars, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, etc. then they have the official published histories. If it’s one of the other official named armies then they may have a bit of backstory. If they made up their own chapter, then they usually have an involved backstory and history. Often they have a notebook full of info and are more than willing to share this with you.
My chapter, the Dead Heads, only has a simple idea for a backstory – and that only came about when I was painting them. They were originally going to be Space Wolves. I had painted them the Space Wolf Blue Grey as a base color and then inked them with a wash of Blue ink. The color that created was a very rich deep blue – a good match is Phthalo Blue. Not wanting to cover over this with another layer of Space Wolf Blue Gray and then Space Wolf Grey, I left it and then decided to have my marines be one of the nameless alternate chapters. I just had to come up with a chapter symbol and a name.
I had a t-shirt with a smiley face with a bullet hole and liked the graphic. It was an easy and striking symbol and easy to modify for the different types of troops. A standard circle shape for the Tactical squad, a sunburst for the Devastator squad, a face with a tongue sticking out for the Assault squad, and an octagon for a Terminator squad. The blood trails on the symbol would reflect the campaigns in which the figure participated. The helmets were also a smiley face yellow with the bullet mark and blood trails – which looked pretty cool with the old beakie helmets.
For the name, I settled on ‘the Dead Heads’. I’m not a big Grateful Dead fan – but their video ‘Touch of Grey’ was big at the time. The other reason was the Ork books – I was assembling a Death Skulls army so it seemed a good match.
My only idea towards the backstory was that the Captain was on the battlefield when he had a brief moment of doubt – a caress of a touch of Chaos – when he was hit in the helmet by a bolter shell that failed to fully detonate. His resolve renewed, he fought on with vigor. The helmet and chapter symbol serve as a reminder of his temptation and mark his repentance.