Warhammer 40,000

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Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

Warhammer 40,000, known informally as "Warhammer 40K" or just plain "40K", is a miniatures-based tabletop strategy game first published in 1987 by Games Workshop. Drawing heavily on their previous Warhammer Fantasy Battle Fantasy game, it began as "Warhammer In Space", but has over time grown distinct from (and much more popular than) its counterpart.

What makes 40K unique in the gaming genre is its extreme darkness. Set thirty-eight thousand years in the future, the game's basic setting, insofar as it can be summed up, is that of a universe twisted into a horrifying hell where an eternal, impossibly vast conflict occurs between several absurdly powerful genocidal, xenocidal, and (in at least one case) omnicidal factions, with every single weapon, ideology, and creative piece of nastiness imaginable turned Up to Eleven. And even it has a Hell.

More about the setting

The central faction, the Imperium of Man, once held immeasurable glory, but is now a paranoid, fascist theocracy whose messiah has been locked up on life support for the past ten millennia, laid low by his most beloved son. An incomprehensibly vast Church Militant commits horrible atrocities in his name on an almost-daily basis. Millions of capricious, fanatical, genetically engineered Super Soldier Knights Templar and equally fanatical, pyromaniacal battle nuns serve as the Imperium's special forces, while its trillions-strong regular army takes disregard for human life to new and interesting extremes. A futuristic Inquisition ruthlessly hunts down anyone with even the slightest taint of the heretic, the mutant, or the alien, even destroying entire planets just to be sure. Technology has, at best, hardly progressed for ten thousand years, is largely considered magical because the science behind it has been long forgotten, and the deranged machine cult that preserves and replicates what remains of it considers innovation to be blasphemy against the wisdom of the ancients. The Warp, the Faster-Than-Light Travel the Imperium must rely on, carries with it a good chance of being torn apart by daemons in more ways than one, and the Astronomican, the navigation aid used to negotiate Warpspace, is powered by the God-Emperor's soul and has the souls of one thousand psychic humans sacrificed to it every day, dying by inches to feed the machine.

The problem is, as bad as the Imperium is, it's equaled in evil by many other factions; dying when facing them is about the best fate you can hope for. The ancient and mysterious manipulator race, hovering near extinction, contrives wars that see billions dead so that small handfuls of their own may survive, while their depraved cousins must spend their lives perpetuating mass slaughter and Cold-Blooded Torture to stave off their own destruction. Vast Bug Swarms are trying to eat every organic thing in the galaxy as part of their natural life cycles. An entire civilization of incredibly advanced, undying, living metal conquerors are awakening after millions of years of slumber, ready to reclaim a galaxy they see as rightfully theirs. A genetically-engineered warrior species infests every corner of the galaxy and is cheerfully trying to kill everything else (including each other, if nothing better presents itself) because it's literally hard-wired into their genetic code to do so... and because it's fun. The closest thing to the "good guys" you can find in this setting is a tiny alien empire sandwiched between all the other factions, and they may or may not have a thing for forcing new subjects into their empire through orbital bombardment, concentration camps, and possible mind control by a few benevolent elites... but at least they'll offer you admittance into their club before doing any of that stuff. Many of these factions have a common foe in the forces of Chaos, which infests the Warp, exists to corrupt all it touches, and is best known for two light-years-wide holes in reality through which countless daemons and corrupted daemon-powered super-soldiers periodically attempt to bring the universe to further ruin.

How the game is played

The actual game is played on a table top or other flat surface which can be customized to feature terrain, obstacles, and other objects. The players assemble their armies to meet a certain number of points per army prior to play. Point values for a player's army are determined by the individual units, vehicles, weapons, and armor available, and the upper limits are often determined by the type of game being played. For instance, games where the goal is to capture objectives or simply battle to the death are typically in the 1000-2000 point range, whereas Apocalypse games (featuring huge numbers of units per army and, often, the faction-relevant Humongous Mecha) can be many thousands of points.

Each player arranges his army in the way he wishes, a die is rolled for first turn, and play begins. During each turn, each player gets a movement phase (where the units and vehicles are moved around to facilitate attacks), a shooting phase (attacks with projectile, flame, and plasma weapons), and an assault phase (close-quarters combat). For each attacking phase, dice are rolled by the first player to determine the total number of attacks that hit and then for the number of hits that actually cause damage or wounds. The second player can then roll for armor saves to attempt to negate damage or wounds, and can also counterattack. Psychic abilities, morale checks, special abilities and features unique to certain races/factions, and other such characteristics also influence the action in each phase. Once the first player's assault phase is complete, the second player goes through the same sequence of phases, with the first player reacting accordingly. A turn is complete at the end of the second player's assault phase; the process then starts over again with the next turn.

Depending on the type of game being played, the game is over when one army controls the majority of a set number of objective points on the play field, or has completely eliminated the other army.

As well as the game itself and its rulebooks, faction-specific, setting-specific, and campaign sourcebooks, 40K has spawned a range of spinoff games and publications. Over sixty novels and short story anthologies are published by the Black Library, a subsidiary of Games Workshop, who also published the now out-of-print comic book Warhammer Monthly and short story magazine Inferno. Boom! Studios now publish comics set in the 40K universe, in the form of various mini-series, rather than an ongoing title. There is even a full-length fan film, Damnatus, which was approved, made, banned over conflicts between British and German IP laws, then leaked online. Spinoff tabletop games include the space combat game Battlefleet Gothic, large-scale strategy Epic 40,000, gang-based Necromunda, all-Ork Gorkamorka, small scale Alien-influenced Space Hulk, RPG-influenced "narrative wargame" Inquisitor, and the more traditional RPGS, Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, and Black Crusade. A small but growing number of 40k videogames have also been made; early examples include the Space Hulk series and a slightly obscure isometric Genesis / Mega Drive game called Aspect Warrior. More recent are Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and its sequel Dawn of War II, a pair of Real Time Strategy games for the PC; Warhammer 40,000: Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior, a First-Person Shooter; Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command, a turn-based tactical game; and finally, a third-person shooter, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium is currently in development. An official CGI movie, Ultramarines, was recently released on DVD, following up on a number of live-action shorts shown at various Games Day events in the 90s.

In the meantime, you can track down an old Games Workshop VHS release film called Inquisitor, or even watch Event Horizon (which has long been accepted as an unofficial prequel, since the creators seem to have accidentally matched the franchise's premise and style with remarkable exactitude, though not the time period). There is also another fan film being produced called The Lord Inquisitor, which will be fully CGI. Fans are desperately hoping Games Workshop holds onto its lawyers.

As you may have guessed from the incredible size and attention to detail on this page, 40k has a huge, diverse, and fanatical following, despite the niche status of the hobby. The franchise has a lot of appeal even to people who don't play the wargame itself, and who only follow the spinoffs (many of which are perfectly good in their own right). You don't have to spend all your money to experience the inimitable insanity that is Warhammer 40,000.

You can start with these pages or better yet, watch this.

A more in-depth look at the tropes specifically embodied by the various major factions can be found here.

Spin-offs and games of Warhammer 40000 that have received indexes of their own:

Other Miniatures Games

Tabletop Role-Playing Games

Video Games

Board Games

Book series

These pages are for tropes related to the literary fiction (novels, short stories etc.) and only this. Please resist the urge to shoehorn tropes about the Chapters the novels are following onto these pages. Tropes which are exemplified by the Chapter in Codices, rulebook fluff and the like go on the relevant Characters pages: Warhammer 40000 and Warhammer 40000.


Spin-offs and games that do not have their own pages:

  • Aeronautica Imperialis (air-combat spin-off game)
  • Epic 40000 (large-scale miniature game allowing to field huge armies and extremely powerful units such as the largest Titans and Gargants and even Daemon Primarchs)
  • Final Liberation (Epic-based turn-based strategy video game)
  • Aspect Warrior (isometric shooter video game)
  • Gorkamorka (Spin-off game and racing video game)
  • The various counter-based Board Games, including Battle for Armageddon (and the add-on Chaos Attack), Horus Heresy, Doom of the Eldar, Warmaster and Arena of Blood
  • The card games
  • Dark Millennium Online (Upcoming RPG)


Thought for the Day: Even a man who has nothing can still have faith. Even a troper who has nothing can still browse indexes.