The Vaarshan Dogs
Non magnitudo canis in pugna, sed pugnae in cane est.
Make no mistake: the very existence of the Vaarshan Dogs borders on heresy. The Tactica Imperialis is very clear in the proper use of criminals; human cover at best, entirely unworthy of anything approaching support, proper armament or even basic training in some cases. Though there have been exceptions to these rules in the past, by and large the life of a penal legionnaire is nasty, brutish and short.
Commander Merra “Mad Dog” Istan sees things differently. Put in charge of the penal colony at Vaarshan, Istan decided that her inmates (most of whom had previously served in the Guard or a Planetary Defense Force) would become soldiers once more, rather than the simple cannon fodder that doctrine would demand.
Though her resources were limited, Istan is a clever and forceful woman. Years of trading, back-room favor brokering and occasionally bold-faced threats have resulted in a surprisingly well-equipped force. Though they have extremely little in the way of luxuries or replacements, the Dogs would be difficult to distinguish from their regular Guard counterparts were it not for their traditional prisoner jumpsuits.
The concept of the Dogs as a legion of drop troops was actually an accident. Sent to hold back an incursion of Tau forces on an unimportant world long-since forgotten, they were actually sent a shipment of grav-chutes… instead of lasguns. Istan, naturally, “commandeered” a couple dropships and had her men make do with knives and locally-sourced pistols once they hit the dirt. And Emperor praise her, it worked.
Since that incident, however, Istan has chosen to emphasize close combat training, ever aware that the fickle ministrations of the Administratum might leave the Dogs with little but the armor on their back and whatever hunks of steel they can get their hands on. And by issuing each soldier their own sword, she can at least hope to make sure that hunk of steel is the best one they can find. Naturally, giving a bunch of hardened convicts swords has resulted in… an interesting view of esprit de corps. Specifically, a strong dueling culture, facilitated by Commander Istan through the use of a tiered tournament system for material rewards or lessened sentences. Participants often proudly display their dueling scars as signs of status.
The sentence for most penal soldiers is death, and naturally the Dogs have a fairly high casualty rate as well. However, there is more on offer for those who fight in the name of Vaarshan and Istan than the promise of redemption in the eyes of the Emperor: Dogs that survive 1,000 drops can apply for a transfer.