What Is Warhammer 40k? Enter the Grim Darkness of the Far Future

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“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” This iconic phrase is the first thing anyone typically sees when opening any Warhammer 40,000 media. Together with striking artworks depicting various humanoid and alien beings locked in mortal combat, we couldn’t think of anything else that would better answer the question, “What is Warhammer 40k?” Giant armored humans? Check. Freaky bug aliens? Yes. Rambo? Why the heck not? And, is that a Gundam suit in the background? Sure, buddy.

You might be curious about how Warhammer 40k became one of the most popular franchises of all time and continues to thrive in the present day. Or you just want to know more about its fascinating world and how you could get in on the action. Either way, read on to find out more!

Emperor of Mankind on the Golden Throne
Emperor of Mankind

What Is Warhammer 40k All About?

Warhammer 40k, often referred to as just 40k, is a science fiction tabletop wargame and a fictional universe created by Games Workshop. It combines multiple hobby aspects such as collecting miniatures, assembling and painting them, playing, and reading into one epic whole based on a lore-rich, grimdark setting. The main appeal of the Warhammer 40,000 universe lies in its extensive and captivating lore, and it’s the first thing that hooks you. 

Set in a grim and distant future, humanity has expanded beyond the stars and established a vast Empire spanning the entire galaxy. However, this Empire (the Imperium of Man) is now in decline and faces threats from all directions, both internal and external. Players choose which faction to support and decide whether to help humanity rise again or bring about its destruction. 

In the right corner, you got your pick of “loyalist factions” including the superhuman warriors of the Space Marines and Custodians, the gritty soldiers of the Imperial Guard, the Sisters of Battle (nuns with guns), and the techno-priests of Mars.

Sisters of Battle Squad
Sisters of Battle

They engage in fierce battles against the followers of the Dark Gods, the traitorous Chaos Space Marines, and the malevolent entities from the Warp known as Chaos Demons. Blood for the Blood God, anyone?

Aside from these factions, a multitude of alien races exist, ranging from giant insect-like creatures, enigmatic space elves, savage and warlike orks, hi-tech space dwarves, and even an ancient race of terminator-style robotic skeletons and some mecha suit-wearing alien space communists (not really communists). 

Necrons
Necrons

Each of these races possesses its own distinct motives and agendas, which may include wreaking havoc on human worlds or reclaiming their lost empires. But make no mistake, in the grim darkness of the setting, there are no “good guys,” and victory often comes at a great cost.

This is the most concise description we can provide, considering that the lore itself is HUGE, and draws inspiration from ancient and modern history, pop culture, and fantasy tropes, blending them all together. Merely covering the basics would demand a substantial amount of time, not to mention exploring the rules for the core game, its various spin-off games, and the extensive collection of novels published by the Black Library, Games Workshop’s own publishing house. So, a fair warning: it’s a rabbit hole. However, it’s one well worth falling into!

Warhammer 40k Game History

Since its initial release in 1987, titled “Rogue Trader,” and created by Rick Priestley, the Warhammer 40,000 universe has expanded beyond its traditional tabletop format and ventured into various side projects while maintaining its core theme. These Games Workshop publications include books, video games, and other forms of media that have further enriched the Warhammer 40k experience. In recent years, there have even been collaborations such as the partnership between Games Workshop and the collectible card game juggernaut, Magic: The Gathering. But, more on that later.

Games Workshop has had plenty of time to refine its trademark creation over the years, both in terms of lore and rules. The second edition brought major revisions to the lore, embracing the grim darkness for which the universe is known. The third edition focused on simplifying and streamlining the game’s rules. The fourth and fifth editions built upon the third edition rules, particularly benefiting Space Marine armies, and marked the shift from metal figures to resin kits. 

Warhammer rulebooks
Warhammer rulebooks from 1987 and 2023

The sixth edition introduced significant changes, including the Alliance system, warlord traits, fortifications, and enhanced interaction with scenery and dynamic close combat. The seventh edition brought about notable alterations, particularly to the Psychic Phase, Tactical Objectives, and army list organization. The eighth edition was the most radical revision, introducing Open, Matched, and Narrative ways to play, along with an updated narrative of the setting. Finally, the ninth edition featured only minor modifications to the rules established in the eighth edition. As a result, players can look forward to the release of the Warhammer 40k 10th edition in the summer of 2023. 

All we can do is wait and see what the new edition of Warhammer 40k will bring, eagerly anticipating the changes and developments it may introduce. 

Starting Your Warhammer 40k Journey?

So you’ve already checked out broad strokes of the lore, you’re loving it, and can’t wait to get into the Warhammer 40k hobby. What’s next? Well, you’ll need to choose an army. 

We highly recommend visiting the official Games Workshop website to find an army that resonates with you both aesthetically and in terms of lore. Don’t worry too much about the rules, as Games Workshop frequently updates them with each new edition, aiming to align them with the lore…usually.

Once you have that covered, all you need to do is buy the models, assemble them, and paint them. Easy, right? So, why by the Golden Throne do we end up with all these gray plastic miniatures scattered around the house, piling up and seemingly shaming us?

Chapter Master Valrak
Chapter Master Valrak and the dreaded pile of shame

There is a catch to the hobby—it takes some serious dedication. First, you are supposed to get a box, then assemble the models, and then you have to paint them. This process is repeated until you have the minimum number of models needed to play. But many players, in their eagerness to start playing, often assemble a bunch of models without painting them first. While it’s understandable, it can lead to difficulty in finding the motivation to complete the painting process later on. So, here’s a pro tip: prioritize painting your miniatures first, folks!

The other thing that should be mentioned is that while Warhammer 40,000 is a fun and captivating hobby, and the quality of the miniatures is undeniably exceptional, it can be relatively expensive compared to other hobbies. 

For new players, a common suggestion is to consider getting one of the early-release box sets. These sets often feature iconic Space Marines (considered the poster boys of 40k) battling against various threats from the galaxy, and they tend to offer a relatively more cost-effective option when purchased as a set. No wonder most players choose Space Marines as their first army, right? Then again, nothing wrong with a little chaos twist on the poster-boy formula, or some Xeno goodness, if that’s more your speed. The Emperor may judge, but we won’t.

warhammer 10th edition boxed set Leviathan
Space Marine and Tyranid miniatures from the Leviathan boxed set

If you’d like more information on how to get started with this fun hobby, we suggest checking out our article on how to get into Warhammer 40k. It provides a comprehensive guide and additional insights that can help you get started with the fascinating world of Warhammer 40,000. 

Beyond Tabletop Warhammer 40k: Books, Video Games, and Other Media

As mentioned earlier, Games Workshop has successfully expanded the scope of its franchise over the years. They have extended their IP beyond the realm of tabletop and board games, venturing into books, video games, and even TV and movies.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe has become so popular that you can now find a huge variety of miscellaneous merchandise, including scented candles and action figures, catering to the diehard fans of the franchise. Ever wondered how a Blood Angels Space Marine smells? Now you can find out! Do I detect notes of ash, blood, and a subtle hint of rose? Okay, we made those up, but there are certainly some rather… niche products already on the market. Nurgle candle, anyone?

nurgle candle
A gift for your frenemy

Conclusion

Warhammer 40,000 is as fun and fascinating as it is grim and brutal. It is a world where there is only war, and the ceaseless laughter of the Chaos Gods echoes, waiting for the end of all things. A world where you can fully immerse yourself in captivating lore, have dynamic gaming sessions alone or with friends, and even exercise your creative side by painting some miniatures. Just be warned – like the gifts of the Chaos Gods, this hobby may just take over your life without you noticing it!

FAQ

What is the best Warhammer 40k army?

This is a highly subjective question and one that has no easy answer. Are you looking for an army with the best rules? (pro tip – don’t do this – they keep changing between the editions) The one with the best models? Or perhaps the one with the most captivating lore? We suggest visiting Games Workshop’s website for more information on the different armies. This way, you can explore the armies’ aesthetics, lore, and gameplay on the tabletop to find the one that suits your preferences the best.

What is the Warhammer 40k kill team?

Warhammer 40,000 Kill Team is a tabletop skirmish game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It centers around small-scale battles between elite squads, offering a different experience from the larger-scale battles of Warhammer 40,000. With streamlined rules and specialized tactics, players can quickly (and affordably) assemble unique model teams to engage in quick and intense tactical battles on a smaller scale.

What edition is Warhammer 40k on?

Currently, Warhammer 40,000 is in its tenth edition, released in June 2023.