Why the 40k universe should stay right where it is

rogue-trader-emperorHi everyone,

So I had this big convoluted post written about why I don’t think the 40k universe needs to be advanced in terms of storyline. It was inspired by a conversation I had with Thor and a few other assorted riff-raff the other week. I think it’s great that we have a community here where all the writers don’t have to tow the line with one another or pay lip service to a particular audience or style of gaming. We’re all good people here, and it’s a rare and valuable thing to have an online community like that. Even when half of them are crazy foreign devils with too many (or not enough) stars on their flags.

I said I had it written, but then I realized I could say in a few words what I had planned to say in a ginormous essay:

I don’t think Warhammer 40,000 is a story. I think it’s a setting. And it doesn’t make sense to advance or rewind a setting.

To me, the 40k universe’s main purpose is as a game setting, and we as gamers provide the stories (our games). It is a moment in time, and that moment is ten seconds until lights out on the poor old human race. And it’s one hell of an emotive setting. It’s a cliffhanger of a setting. It’s good. You can’t get much more emotional investment than a cliffhanger for our entire species, and I suspect this emotionally charged setting is the single most important reason the game has persisted so strongly for over thirty years.

The Sisters of Battle exemplify for me the hope of Humanity in the 40k setting. Just ordinary people who can do extraordinary things because of their faith in a dead man.

The Sisters of Battle exemplify for me the hope of Humanity in the 40k setting. Just ordinary people who can do extraordinary things because of their faith in a dead man.

The thing is, it can only end one way: in the destruction of the setting. Because for it to end at all is to resolve the cliffhanger and turn it into history, and thus take away the power of players to make their own stories in that once-shared emotionally charged universe. Once the “plot” advances, the new setting becomes the present, and what we think of as the present becomes the past, just like the Horus Heresy is the past. It becomes part of the history of the setting.

I put it to you that if you feel the Warhammer 40,000 setting needs advancing, it’s not because it actually does – it’s because you personally have explored it very deeply, and right now everything feels illuminated, and you feel that as far as you’re concerned, there’s no more room for stories within it. You have grown tired of the unresolved cliffhanger. So what you personally want is a whole new setting. GW actually understands this. That’s why Age of Sigmar happened. They couldn’t advance the “plot” of Warhammer Fantasy Battles without dissolving the setting, and so that’s what they decided to do.

But I don’t believe that a game setting can be exhausted simply by time passing in the real world. Unless it becomes a dorky relic of the past because the wider culture moves on, like uh, Dragonlance (zing!). Every game we play is a new story, created by the players.

Tasslehoff_burrfoot

Kender were so OP

Anyway that’s enough about that. I suppose I just want to urge those of us who call for advancing 40k to stop for a moment and think of someone coming to it for the first time. It’s a pretty damn good setting. It held your attention for a long time didn’t it? Have you ever heard of anyone playing three games of 40k and saying: “yeah bored with this now. When are we going to find out what happens next with the Emperor and the broken throne and stuff? Is Chaos going to win or what?”

Me neither.

Now that’s sorted out, I also wanted to share something with you and issue a challenge of sorts. If the storyline of everybody’s favourite grimdarkness were to be advanced, what do you think would be a good way to do it? I’ve tried to come up with ideas, but I keep hitting walls. It’s really hard to come up with ideas that make sense within the established rules of the setting, yet still retain elements of conflict. Whatever happens, we have to be able to play a wargame in that setting, remember?

This is the best I can do right now:

The Throne fails and the Emperor dies, entering the Warp finally and irrevocably. All living psykers are killed instantly, their souls being drawn into the Warp and merging with the Emperor’s. At the same moment (in realtime), the gestalt Emperor/human soul-thing immediately coalesces with the Chaos gods, as humanity’s hopes and dreams are re-united with their fears and despair. Balance is restored. Chaos and the Daemon realms all cease to exist. The Eye of Terror becomes ordinary realspace.

There are no human psykers any more, and never again will there be any. The Astronomican snuffs out, and humanity is left alone in a universe of hostile aliens, barely understanding their working technology and unable to communicate between systems or travel at warp speeds. Of course, there is still the Imperium, and the Ecclesiarchy, and the Space Marines, huddling suddenly alone in a cold universe. What happens next is up to you…

So this is maybe even more grimdark than the current setting. It maintains all the conflict, but it sacrifices all of the fantasy elements, and several favourite factions. There are no more daemons and magic, it’s just SF now. In many ways it’s not Warhammer as we know it. I think this kind of illustrates my point that the setting would have to be destroyed to be advanced, but maybe I’m just not imaginative enough to do it.

Are any of you?

Looking forward to reading your responses!

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  • It is by all means a setting but of course it’s also a story. As a story I feel we need the next chapter. I’m by no means saying give it the AoS treatment, rebuild the setting and invalidate all that has come before. Just simply move things forward some. It could be as little as a few years because we know a lot of conflict and events can occur in just a few years with 40K. There’s no need to kill the Emperor or anything so dramatic, though that could lead to some great story lines, but move along the 13th Black Crusade. One day they’re at Cadia and it’s been claimed by Chaos and the next they haven’t reached it yet. Move along some of those events, press humankind even more, make the struggle that much more desperate.

    • Hi Thor 🙂

      Of course you’re right, it’s also a story, insofar as any history is a story. But it’s not a story in the sense of a moving narrative we follow for enjoyment. It’s necessarily frozen at a point so we can play games. I guess you’re suggesting that where that point is could be moved forward a little? That’s fair enough, but didn’t they just do that? 6th edition was advanced slightly from 5th edition (which was essentially the same since Rogue Trader), what with the whole failing throne thing. They ramped up the grimdarkness by making it explicit that Things Were Not Fine. I think everyone’s getting a bit sick of Abaddon continuously failing at the last minute though.

      The distinction between background and main story can be hard to make with SF and fantasy, because the setting has so much more importance than it does in a story set in the real world. People sometimes begin to enjoy the background more than the actual plot at hand, and you end up with fanfiction and those books where the world feels more important than the characters.

    • Von

      There is a trend in recent Codexes to do just that, it seems. The Ork Codex gets Ghazhgkull away from Armageddon and sets the stage for Ragnarork, as he stamps around the galaxy kicking all those huge static Ork ’empires’ into Waaagh-readiness again. The Necron book makes it quite clear that squillions of the metal gits are rising, Imotekh wants to rebuild his empire, Anrakyr is swooping around turning dead tomb worlds back on etc. Chaos is kind of the stalled horse (and has been since half its core tropes were farmed out to the Necrons, the Tyranids and the Dark Eldar, and since the Tau turned up as a species who don’t have an omnipresent Enemy Within to worry about), but the pressure is on from a few of the Xenos factions…

  • The Warlock

    I have a Dragonlance boardgame sitting around somewhere.

    Pretty much agree on all points- 40k can’t really advance into the future. Chaos is taking Cadia, the Throne is failing and the Orks are amassing for the biggest WAAAGH! yet. Even if a faction were to gain the upper hand, Tyranids are a comin’. Once Big E dies, the Imperium is really out of luck as there’s no lightbulb to replace for the astronomican. Chaos, Necrons, Orks and Nids really seem to have an ‘I win’ scenario that sounds half feasible.

    The death of WHFB and the Old World is an example of how advancing the setting might not be the best of things especially for a game. A hypothetical if: What if Archaon lost and chaos was broken and routed? We could easily have a mass battle game alongside a skirmish game as we’d have small ‘mop ups’ of chaos warbands in conjunction with routing the last strongholds of chaos/chaos trying to push back. The old world would be forever changed but it’s still the same world ultimately.

    A criticism of the Old World (sorry, still on a tangent) is that there weren’t any more races to introduce as opposed to 40k’s er, 20 something? Chaos Dwarfs, non-Empire/Bretonnian humans, daemonkin for fantasy, Fimir could all be contenders. Hell, the sigmarines could fit in easily as chosen warriors hastily made by an ascendant god, or “good” daemons from a valhalla.

    I’m not sure what most 40k fans want from a fluff advancement, though a push past Cadia for chaos would be welcomed. 13th times a charm right?

    • Hi Warlock, yeah, 40k factions seem to generally be of two kinds: big and mean enough to eat the galaxy, or holding on by their fingertips. The Tau are interesting because they are the latter but they think they are the former. Anyone else think the Necrons don’t seem as powerful as they used to be? I can’t imagine them coming out on top if it came down to them or the Nids or Orks.

      What you said about the Fantasy races kind of plays into my last bit in the post. If you felt like it needed more races, then maybe you were just tired of it? Maybe when the majority of a games’ players feel that way, that’s a pretty good sign that the game is done. Not that anyone ever admits that anything is done these days. But that’s a post for another time. You know they’re making a fucking He Man movie, and nerds are quietly excited about it? I loved He Man as a kid, but I just feel angry at the emptiness of our culture that we would revisit something so vacuous and that some of us would actually be excited about that and speculate about fucking teaser trailers and stuff 🙁

      Wow I’m turning into a cranky old man 😀

      • The Warlock

        Unless the necrons awaken en masse, they probably won’t be a top two contender. They have the numbers and the tech but need both of those to be awakened and mobilised.

        Re: fantasy races, the only race I’d have liked added would’ve been non FW chaos dwarfs purely to add to the Legion of Chaos. 8th failed due to pushing 10 man boxes at double the previous price when the game demanded blocks of 30+. Add in initiative test based doom spells (about half the races had I2 base) and well, yeah. Considering I played orcs and gobbos during most of 8th (I2 FTW) it gets a little frustrating having a 20 strong unit get deleted outright from a dodgy roll.
        I guess I wanted a tidying up of 8th and a decrease of prices/model count rather than a complete overhaul.

        Never saw much of He-man on the tv, though he was before my time. Things like this and Pixels seem to be trying to tap into the 80’s-90’s crowd and play off nostalgia. Then there’s always the risk of turning out like the new fantastic four movie :X
        When it comes down to it, I don’t feel angry about remakes/rehashes. I just shake my head and hope that the remake isn’t so horribly mangled.

        • I think the issue I have with remakes is not whether or not they mangle the original, but whether or not the original was worth remaking. He Man was a crappy show invented by Mattel to sell toys. The fact that it’s being remade as some nostalgia-fest movie (again, and not even with Dolph Lundgren this time), makes me feel as though our culture is doomed to an eternal cycle of He Man, recurring for ever and ever. It’s depressing to me.

          • Thuloid

            Ahem. *checks avatar* He-Man was a crappy show invented to sell awesome toys. As a show, completely derivative of Thundarr the Barbarian, which is absolutely superior (esp. the recognizable locations in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles). Toys were great, though, and the little comics that came with them were fun. The show itself isn’t bad, if you’re between 6 and 9. Take it for what it’s worth– something out there was doing sci-fi/swords and sorcery for kids in the 80s. That’s a gateway drug. And it didn’t cost $55 for a box of 5 plastic idiots.

            The only way to do a He-Man movie is to do what they’ve refused to do with GI Joe and Transformers–don’t take it remotely seriously. As campy as the original, with sly references to it being a toy commercial and He-Man or Man-at-Arms pausing every half hour to give a couple of children a lesson on being themselves or sharing.

          • Like I said, I loved He Man when I was in primary school. I had lots of the toys and so did my friends. In 1999 as a student, I once wandered into a music store and the proto-hipster staff had He Man going on the big screen. I stopped to watch it and was staggered by the awfulness. It really shocked me, and was a moment of epiphany for me: you can’t go back.

            I just… whenever I hear about something of questionable quality from when I was a kid being remade I have a whole lot of complex feelings and they’re mostly negative. We grew up in a world where there was no internet. I presumed (without ever thinking about it) that things like He Man were ephemeral. They were going to be the things I fondly looked back on as a man, things that were gone and done, and the kids today would have new terrible shows designed to sell toys.

            Like I said to Warlock, it depresses me to think that things just keep repeating, and that they’re not even good things. They’re the things that should have been remembered as being “bad but good” because we were just kids and didn’t know any better. Where are the new things?

            I especially feel this ennui, for lack of a better word, with F&SF because since the rise of geek culture the nostalgia business is re-animating almost everything I remember loving as a child. I feel as though if I made a vow to not deliberately watch anything that was a remake or reboot or re-whatever for one year, I’d realise that that’s all geek culture and genre stuff is now. I was reading an article on i09 the other day and the writer was complaining about the over-use of an unimaginative method for rebooting (telling the story of how two cranky team-mates learned to work together, e.g.Kirk and Spock in the Star Trek reboots. I was shocked – most of the comments were telling her to shut up, and the one that really stuck with me was a person who said “do you even like media?”

          • Thuloid

            It’s true–there’s plenty that doesn’t need to be told in detail. Part of the fun is the illusion that there’s loads of iceberg underneath the surface. The odd thing about “moving the clock forward” is that it’s largely background reveal, not plot. My wife watched Lost fanatically–I hated that show once I realized (about a season and a half in) that the writers had not much story, that nothing was happening, and that instead of telling a story they were stringing out “reveals” like crumbs for fans who wanted a real iceberg to be there. Whatever is happening now is just an excuse for more flashbacks and the faked sense of discovery.

            Much of 40k background is like that, and the only way to move the clock forward is to be even more aggressive with the reveals. That means inventing more background for the sake of revealing it. Somebody like Cypher is cool as long as he’s a mystery. But that works because, in fact, nobody anywhere on Earth knows what the real deal is with him. There is no real deal. He was never going anywhere -he’s there to be mysterious. Move the clock and now you have to invent who he is, who he was, and that’s likely to be a letdown. 40k is stuck in hindsight.

          • Von

            Cypher’s purpose is the like the Doctor’s given name or Judge Dredd’s face; the moment you even THINK about revealing it, you’re disappointing everyone.

            The whole thing reminds me of what those TVTropes kids call “Epileptic Trees”: the tendency of a fandom to latch onto little details and speculate on whole galaxies of meaning from them. This has a tendency to backfire. Erfworld’s Rob Balder recently explained, his patience seeming to creak with every keystroke, that part of what burns his artists out so fast is the level of detail and attention to detail and quality control he feels he has to impose, because his fans are the sort of people who’ll reinvent their understanding of the world if someone’s eye happens to have been drawn differently in one panel of a nine-panel comic page. As soon as you chop down an Epileptic Tree, you’ve pretty much lost a member of your audience, along with anyone else who climbed up there with them.

          • Thuloid

            Yup. What I think is most genius about 40k isn’t the grimdark so much as the fragmentary, self-contradictory and looping narratives that the grimdark allows for. Ships lost in the warp show up at the wrong time altogether (what if one showed up before it left?), messages come unreliably, garbled, and not when they’re meant to–the story told in little illustrations and boxes in the margins of rulebooks. What does the Golden Throne really look like? Who knows? Lots of art there. All of it, and so none, is “canon.” Filling in all the gaps and papering over the inconsistencies is just wrong. It destroys the only thing that was truly cool about the setting. Fans won’t stop asking what things are “really” like, but that way lies fundamentalism of the first order, not fun, wonder or any other serious thing (says the guy whose career involves intense attention to a set of fragmentary, self-contradictory and looping narratives).

          • I love how if you read a codex, you come away thinking that faction are either heroes or misunderstood rebels. If people only ever read/believed their own codexes, you’d have this cool situation where every time you fought someone you’d both think you were in the right. Just like the real world.

          • Von

            You know as well as I do that a He-Man or GI Joe or Transformers revamp will be taken entirely seriously, because of the kind of people for whom it’s made and who’ll rupture their gussets at the very thought of it.

      • Von

        You’re turning into Alan Moore. Which is awesome.

  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    I agree, it needs to stay at 5 minutes to midnight forever. However what GW could have done, if they were sensible, is engineer various campaigns and character’s careers which could be ongoing (because they are in the past of the setting) and constantly advance, end and replace those. FW have done it with the Vraks and Badab War settings, and Black Library authors have done it, but GW has never created a big ongoing ‘sub setting’ that we could get emotionally involved in the way FW has. Imagine if GW had done the Vraks campaign with models and lists for all the factions, backed it up with BL books released in ‘real time’ over the 8 years or so the campaign lasted in the story? Almost making it into a multi-media sci-fi soap opera. Combined with a campaign tracking mechanism so your battles took place and contributed to the story it could be a real winner.

    Anyhow if I had to try to advance the setting, I would have a radical Inquisition faction round up the last of the Sensei and sacrifice them to the Star Child, as they also fight their way (possibly with allies from the Alpha Legion) to the Golden Throne and shut it down, ‘killing’ the Emperor.

    A terrible inter-regnum follows as warp travel becomes impossible and the Imperium breaks down into local empires. The 13th Crusade reaches Earth and Abbaddon crowns himself a new emperor and takes the Golden throne for himself. A great genocide ensues.

    Some communication is still possible via astropaths however and many Space Marine Chapters and Imperial forces try to keep pockets of order and organise some local opposition to the Tyranid and Chaos threat.

    Eventually after some 15 years the Emperor who has been reborn on a planet in the Maelstrom, becomes the young leader of a great ragtag army of criminals, space pirates and a growing force of believers and pilgrims and marches for Earth to reclaim his throne. Not all loyal Imperial forces are convinced by this ‘young pretender’.

    Elsewhere the Eldar teach the Tau the secrets of the Webway and a combined Eldar and Tau strike force is assembled. Almost all living Eldar join the battle against chaos and the Emperor as they seek through the release of many souls and the destruction of many soulstones to awaken Ynnead the God of the Dead and destroy Chaos (and humanity) once and for all.

    This would be the five minutes to midnight where my new setting would pause!

    • Hey Knight. That’s actually really cool. Better than my idea. It keeps everyone still around, just changes the balance of power, and resets the Emperor at the beginning as a weaker version of himself. It’s a good combination of a beginning and a terrible looming end. Nice one!

      Your idea of realtime campaigns is good too. Didn’t GW used to do things like that back in the 90s, where people participated? I was too young to really be involved but I remember ads in White Dwarf.

      • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

        they did run worldwide campaigns, but these ran for relatively short times, were focussed on a single campaign book. They were also in the ‘present’ of the setting. They didn’t have the multi year multi media thing going that I am suggesting, and there was very little focus on individuals you could sympathise with and follow.

  • Zab

    Any story that results in more minis for me to paint is ACE. And beakies. beakies are great 🙂

    • Hi Zab, yeah you can’t have Warhammer without the beakies. Hey have you done any of those Forgeworld MkVI marines? I kind of want to buy a squad of them and have some beakie allies for my Inquisitor. They look awesome.

      • Zab

        NAh i haven’t taken the plunge yet. Mainly the HH character series. I am dying too because now the Dark Angels finally have their upgrade sets and the exchange on the CAD is so bad right now that it is literally 2x the price to buy anything from FW 🙁

  • We have actually had this discussion a few times before and I completely agree it’s a setting of many stories not a soap opera the over thing that defines 40k is that sense of helplessness in an uncaring universe any attempt to advance the storyline risks injecting hope into the setting and although it would be briefly satisfying it would ultimately change the very nature of the experience

    • Cedric Ballbusch

      That’s the thing really. GW (or anyone) can effectively tell small stories within 40k without effecting the overall setting. Worlds are gained and lost, borders move, but the setting’s core ‘rules’ remain set.

      The issue is too much focus in the fluff on potentially galaxy shattering events instead to creating detailed comparatively low intensity conflicts and then resolving those.

      • Yeah it’s a risky game. The low intensity conflicts are meant to be our games, but if we feel as though we as players are excluded from the big events, it can be unsatisfying. It’s kind of like when you’re playing D&D and you finally get to facing the big bad for the fate of the kingdom and the DM has some NPC Mary Sue come in and kill the bad guy for you.

        • Cedric Ballbusch

          Low intensity is a matter of prospective. From the standpoint of the Imperium the various Ork wars on Armageddon would be ‘low intensity conflicts’. What’s a few planets one way or another when you’ve got a million? But, you can make a campaign out of them and a story.

          You can create dramas, conclude them, and start new ones, advancing individual stories without advancing the ‘plot’ of main 40k.

          • Von

            The biggest mistake with Armageddon was ramping Ghazghkull up from “a dangerously clever Ork warlord who’s obsessed with this one target of opportunity” to, basically, Abaddork. Not everyone has to be the herald of the end times. Especially not Orks.

    • A few times, really? Daaamn. I mean we’ve probably all talked about it before but I don’t remember it being posted about here. Oh well, I’ve done it now, so you’ll take what you’re given young man!

      “…any attempt to advance the storyline risks injecting hope into the setting…” I know what you’re saying and I agree. But it does kind of make you sound like a Care Bears villain.

  • Von

    “Unless it becomes a dorky relic of the past because the wider culture moves on, like uh, Dragonlance (zing!).”

    At one point during the endless Female Space Marines Argument, I think some blog pundit or another asked if Tom Kirby’s quintessentially Nineties-‘grimdark’ sexism (their words not mine) was out of date yet. I don’t know about yet but I think we’re going to reach a saturation point sooner or later, as a culture that extends beyond gaming, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Auld Beast Gee-Wubbleyou can survive that.

    You might argue that Age of Sigmar represents the first step in that direction. It’s still covered in ludicrous amounts of gothicry, but the backstory – what I know of it, at least – is less pre-millennial “we’re poised on the edge of the abyss” and more “we’ve assembled humanity’s greatest heroes here in what’s basically Valhalla, taking the fight to the Bloodwrongmen beyond the grave!”

    It’s a more heroic, optimistic, let’s-go-out-and-kick-the-bad-guys-in-the-nards kind of Warhammer than the one before. Aesthetically, everything’s big and stylised and idiotic: it’s not a pseudo-historical any more, it’s a chunky bright cartoon with implausible weapons and…

    … holy crap, it’s World of Warhammercraft. They did it. They finally did it…

    • Quite.

      I wonder what’s going to happen next. Do you think it’ll take off, or struggle along in mediocrity for a while, or what?

      • Von

        I’ve no idea. The one huge thing in AOS’ favour is that all the old saws like “but you need so many models to play a game!” and “the buy-in cost is too high”, the practicalities of getting people through the door, don’t really hold up for a game with no points or mandatory choices. It’s all very pleasant and anarchic. I’m not particularly into it because … well, I liked the pseudohistorical Warhammer World, and the new thing just seems … generic. Epic, but generic, and full of units with silly names like Bloodbound Bloodreavers of Blood. The design team which thought ‘Skarr Bloodwrath’ was a cool name* has come up with a whole setting and it all feels a bit like a teenager’s first D&D setting. Which, I suppose, it SHOULD do, and in fact WFRP was my first proper RPG, and we return to the old problem: there IS something about Newhammer that strikes me as puerile and daft but when I look at Oldhammer the same thing is there too, so I feel like a hypocrite for having a go at it. It might need to be turned around the other way: what’s Oldhammer got that Newhammer hasn’t? The pseudohistory, the snide 2000AD-ish satirical tendencies, and a sense that it’s using its daft self to make jokes that have something to do with the outside world. It’s telling that the joke rules in AOS are all on old models: I’m told that the new releases don’t laugh at themselves in the same way. The new stuff is absurd but I have the feeling we’re supposed to take it seriously.

        Ramble ramble. Short answer: I don’t know. It’s not taking off with me at all, but I don’t think it’s meant to: I think it’s meant for people who expect something else from their fantasy worlds.

        * – It has been suggested that, as someone who owns Skarre Ravenmane, I have no real business criticising GW for coming up with Skarr Bloodwrath. Skarre Ravenmane is also a very silly name but at least her model’s better.

        • “I think it’s meant for people who expect something else from their fantasy worlds.”

          I’m starting to feel (fear) that what I want from fantasy worlds is for them to not be fantasy. I’ve always been more attracted to swords and sorcery and low-magic settings, and now as grown-up with examined tastes I can safely say my favourite fantasy has the fantastic embedded in the subjective experiences of the characters, not the world. So often it’s not fantasy at all, it’s first person historical fiction set in pre-scientific eras.

          In real life I’m also interested in how people and cultures experience anomalous things like fairies and ghosts and UFOs, and the borders between imagination, myth and reality. I realised this about my tastes in fantasy after having a discussion with a friend about Game of Thrones. I’d like it better if the dragons and magic and zombies were misunderstood natural phenomena, and it was actually a no-magic setting with different rules from our world; a science fiction.

          All of that is meant to say that yeah, I don’t think AoS is for me either. I see the Bloodwrath Bloody-bloodmans and the big golden dudes and I just go into shock from too much high fantasy in my face all at once.

          Wait, maybe they have done something new-ish. Because it’s not really high fantasy. It’s contemporary pop-fantasy, like WoW, as you said. Video game fantasy – all huge shoulders and giant hammers and simple cartoon violence. Red versus gold.

          • Thuloid

            Sad to say this, but I’m not sure the comparison gives WoW enough credit. AoS is that silly. It’s pop fantasy re-written as a children’s cartoon.

            I don’t mind high fantasy myself, though I have to wonder what people who called WHFB “low fantasy” are expecting. Fantasy can be high or low, more or less similar to our world, but regardless it has to have its own internal logic. AoS is simply half-baked. I’m not sure it’s worth more discussion than that.

          • Von

            Wasn’t that Tom Kirby’s goal to begin with? Every lad in the UK having a football, a games console of some sort, and a Warhammer box under the bed? Roundabout the time that fourth edition WFB and second edition 40K were being pushed toward early adolescents or even pre-adolescents, young enough to be hooked into the playground craze in a time when a lot of young lads were being raised by cartoons?

            Didn’t quite work, I think: the aesthetic legacy of Rogue Trader and the staidness of gentlemanly historical wargaming hovered over the Warhammer games for a generation. AoS, on the other hand… here, after Kirby’s dividend-fuelled retirement, comes his vindication.

          • Thuloid

            That’s the problem–AoS doesn’t have an associated cartoon, and the toys are way too fragile and fiddly. Oh, it could also use a breakfast cereal with colored marshmallows. Maybe some AoS bed linens and a lunchbox, too. Awesome.

          • Yeah it’s a strange thing, to have models – which require a certain level of patience and maturity to build – of these hideous skull-warriors, but with the proportions, colours and overall aesthetic all giving the impression of kid’s toys.

            I think what Von said above about the culture of traditional wargaming hamstringing Kirby’s attempt to make Warhammer ubiquitous sounds pretty spot-on. And we’re still sort of in that space: a weird marriage between adult and childish pursuits and tastes.

            Come to think of it, is that what all of the sorts of games we play are? Again, like Von often says, traditional RPGs make you fill out a tax return so you can pretend to be an elf. Traditional wargames make you build a tiny thing with the complexity of a watch’s innards before they let you play toy soldiers.

          • Von

            “…my favourite fantasy has the fantastic embedded in the subjective experiences of the characters, not the world.”

            Your favourite fantasy is fantasy which prioritises perspective and subtlety over spectacle and exposition? More mimesis than diegesis, maybe?

            If the characters live with this stuff it’s going to be part of their lives, taken for granted almost, and related to the reader in a slightly offhand way. I find that quite stylish and subtle, especially for the in-media-res style of storytelling. (I won’t go so far as to say that I prefer it to the grand tradition of Inklings-era “traveller wanders or is drawn into grand and spectacular fantasy world” though: I’d be a right hypocrite considering how much I like Eddison, respect Tolkien and tolerate Lewis. 😉 )

            I find it interesting that you use the word ‘misunderstood’ in connection with dragons and zombies, and the term ‘no-magic’: I think that indicates something about the lens through which you explore those borders of which you spoke, something which disappoints me slightly if I’m reading it right.

            I’m… coming up against concepts that are very big, too big to fall neatly out of my head and tumble into typescript at half seven in the morning. Empiricism and rationalism. Magic as system for understanding and controlling the environment: pre-science, proto-science, pseudo-science if you like. Clarke’s Law. The Faction Paradox Protocols. Emotional intelligence and instinct.

            I’m barfing all this out in the hope that it provokes some small, manageable questions through which I can start linking things together and illustrating a belief through subjective experience, not faux-objective explanation. The explanation is like playing Lego with bricks five times my size; I can lift them, in a surreal dream-logic kind of way, but putting them down atop one another, fitting studs into sockets and making a structure, seems to be beyond me.

            Basically, you and I need to talk about magic. A lot. It might help if at least one of us was drunk.

            As for AOS: aesthetically, it’s what Warmachine felt like ten years ago when that game was relatively new on the block. Ten years ago I needed that. Right now I don’t.

          • Well now I’m writing this at 6:30 am so we’re even 😀

            I can see how you might be disappointed – no need to be though. I guess I was using those words as a shorthand, given our culture’s basic materialism. It’s interesting now that I come to think of it, and maybe it’s because of my (incomplete) analytic training, but I just presume materialism as a background to any intellectual discussion. Even though I am not a materialist, and that was one the main reasons I didn’t finish my philosophy PhD.

            What I was trying to get at is that I enjoy it in stories and in real life when the “truth”, “nature” or whatever of something is held in abeyance. The best example I can think of right now is Michael Crichton’s Thirteenth Warrior. The whole book is from the point of view of the people experiencing it. It’s clear that Crichton is proposing a possible seed for the Boewulf story. The king of the Norse is called Bulvar. The tribe of matriarchal nocturnal throwbacks are called Grendel. To defeat them you must kill their “mother.” But this modern piecing-together must come from the reader. To the Norse in the story, the Grendel are monsters; it doesn’t matter that the “dragon” is just a line of torches coming down a mountain. Maybe the Norsemen know that, maybe they don’t, regardless it’s still a dragon: a big fiery monster coming in the night to get them.

            So yes. I especially like stories where the fantastic elements are “related to the reader in a slightly off-hand way,” just like everything else. If it becomes clear to me that a dragon is actually a big scaly monster made of magic, and a wizard really is shooting fireballs by saying magic words, and i’m expected to find that interesting in itself… well I find that sort of thing about as clear-cut as a straight up description of a man in our world starting his car and going to work. Which is to say, as interesting as the writer can make it depending on their narrative skill.

            It’s not the nature of the phenomena that’s interesting, it’s how it’s related to us. A man in the modern world who secretly believes his car is powered by demons but doesn’t dare tell anyone is a much more interesting story to me than a wizard in a fantasy world doing magic, i.e., what people normally do in his world in the way they normally do it. Hopefully that all makes sense.

            As for real magic, in our world? Proto and pseudo science and all that stuff? A drink or two would help, I agree. Mainly because all that stuff to me lives in the space between subjective and objective, and is likely to be subjectively true and objectively false or vice versa, and our language, particularly english which is a very materialist language, has trouble with the spaces between true and false. Suffice to say I have at various points in my life believed that it’s possible to do things in impossible ways, or that there are things outside the limits of my physical senses. And then at other times these sorts of things seem to vanish like smoke to me and be the fancies of children. It depends how grounded I am in the real world at any given time. Although I have noticed that some people are always grounded, and others never are. I fluctuate.

          • Von

            Better. Your life will be spared.

            All the interesting people have an elastic grasp on reality (as one of the most interesting people I know describes it). And all of them can relate their experiences in a way which is concrete and more than concrete, which starts with what is and moves on to how it is and maybe has the audacity to squint towards why. As you said, things are as interesting as people can make them sound: the kind of fantasy which treats fireballs and dragons and zombies as things about which I am supposed to be excited simply because they’re there doesn’t interest me at all.

  • Benderisgreat

    So according to the fluff the Emperor’s an eternal, and thus when he dies, like poor old Vulkan, he comes right back. Plus, the Necrons know how to stabilized chaos-warped space and even close warp rifts (indeed, all they have to do is turn the Cadian pylons on). Add to that the Silent King came back to activate his dead empire so as to resist the Tyranids, the Tau evolved their own weaponry several degrees because of said bugs, and a myriad other things going on, and it can only end in ongoing strife. Failbaddon’s not going to do much either, considering 13 crusades in he’s done. All in all, it’s going to be either A) a new kind of status quo or B) they’re gonna wreck everything and it’ll be Age of (Sigmar) the Emperor, We Want Your Money Edition.

    Or nothing will happen, 8th edition will be even more byzantine, and so on. I dunno.