Warhammer 40,000 (informally known as Warhammer 40K, WH40K, W40K or just 40K) is a science fantasy tabletop miniature wargame, produced by Games Workshop.
The intellectual property also has expanded in recent years to include other related tabletop miniature games, video games, novels and animated features.
Warhammer 40,000 is the science fantasy companion to the dark high fantasy world of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer Age of Sigmar, and originally shared many of the same game mechanics and some of the setting elements with those properties.
The game depicts combat between the armies of the fictional universe of the 41st Millennium using 28 mm scale (approximately 1:65) miniature figurines which represent futuristic soldiers, creatures and vehicles of war.
The universe of Warhammer 40,000 is strongly dystopic, using many elements from Gothic, dark fantasy and Lovecraftian literature.
There are no unambiguously "good" factions; for example, the Imperium of Man, which most players might be expected to sympathise with, is a corrupt, uncaring, and stagnant interstellar government that dominates the Milky Way Galaxy.
Mankind is xenophobic, fascist and tyrannical at its best in this time, though also for good reason considering the sheer hostility of the universe that Humanity inhabits.
The mood of the franchise is concisely summed up in the slogan: "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war."
- 1 History
- 2 Tabletop Game
- 3 Setting
- 4 Spin-offs
- 5 Sources
First Edition (1987)
The first edition of the game, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, was published in 1987. Game designer Rick Priestley created the original rules set and the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
This original version came as a very detailed, though rather jumbled, rulebook, making it most suitable for fighting small unit skirmishes. Much of the composition of units was determined randomly, by rolling dice.
In addition, supplemental material was continually published in White Dwarf magazine, making and providing rules for new units and models. Eventually, White Dwarf provided proper "army lists," which could be used to create larger and more coherent forces than were possible in the main rulebook.
A few elements of the setting (bolters, Frag Grenades, Terminator Armour) can be seen in a set of earlier wargaming rules called Laserburn produced by Tabletop Games. The influence of these rules can also be seen in the prototype Necromunda game mechanics.
The major expansions for Rogue Trader were the sourcebook Chapter Approved which gave army lists for the Space Marines and the Eldar among others, the Warhammer 40,000 Compendium (it contained the army lists for the Imperial Guard and the Eldar Harlequins) and the two-volume Realms of Chaos (1988 and 1990, respectively) which introduced the storyline of the Horus Heresy that began the Age of the Imperium and the Ruinous Powers of Chaos.
Games Workshop began its drive to reduce the points values of many vehicles in the latter days of this version of the game and experimented with a number of methods for targetting and damaging vehicles.
Second Edition (1993)
The Second Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was published in late 1993. This and later versions of the game were developed under the direction of editor Andy Chambers. Second Edition Warhammer 40,000 came in a boxed set including Space Marine and Ork miniatures, scenery and dice, as well as the main rules.
An expansion box set titled Dark Millennium was later released, including rules for the use of psychic powers. Although Second Edition Warhammer 40,000 was very similar to the First Edition in many aspects, it was designed to be both more structured than Rogue Trader, and to allow larger battles than the skirmish rules in First Edition.
Second Edition also introduced the concept of the "army codex"; a separate book that contained the rules information for a single army. This is the only edition of the game to have won the Origin Award for Best Miniatures Rules (1993).
Third Edition (1998)
The Third Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was released in 1998, and again concentrated on streamlining the rules for larger battles. The points values of all troops were reduced, and the use of individual heroes was also heavily reduced.
Games Workshop did not, however, reduce the points values for an average game, encouraging players to lay out more money to purchase more units for their initial forces. Third Edition rules were notably simpler (leading to some references by fans to this set of rules as "Special K" or "Kiddy K"), and players using these rules were less prone to use wildly random or overly powerful abilities than in the previous editions.
Third Edition also limited the variation in armies by making them more homogenous and predictable from game to game. The rulebook was available alone, or as a boxed set with miniatures of Space Marines and the newly-introduced Dark Eldar. The system of army codexes continued in Third Edition. In addition, a supplemental rulebook titled Cityfight introduced special rules for fighting in urban conditions.
Towards the end of the Third Edition, three new armies were introduced, the alien T'au, and two armies of the Inquisition: the Daemonhunters of the Ordo Malleus, and the Witchhunters of the Ordo Hereticus; elements of these armies had appeared before in supplementary material such as the Realms of Chaos sourcebooks.
These were re-released with all new artwork and army lists. These new and remade armies had codexes that were far more in-depth and detailed in regards to the background of each army within the game's universe, which would later be utilized by the codexes in Fourth Edition. Because of this, these later books are sometimes referred to as "Edition 3.5".
During this time, Games Workshop also held several world-wide events, telling the stories of important wars fought in the game's universe. Players were encouraged to sign up for these events, where they could send in the results of their battles, with the overall results of all the players in the tournament having an influence on the outcome of the war and the future direction of the Warhammer 40,000 universe's metaplot.
The last of these in 2004, which allowed players to engage in the 13th Black Crusade of Abaddon the Despoiler, resulted in a stalemate on the Fortress World of Cadia between the forces of the Imperium and their Eldar allies and Chaos.
This stalemate was reflected in the later lore of the game and marked the last major advancement of the Warhammer 40,000 universe's metaplot in the 41st Millennium until 2017's Gathering Storm sourcebook series for Seventh Edition.
Fourth Edition (2004)
The Fourth Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was released in 2004. This edition was not as major a change of the rules as the prior editions were, and was "backwards compatible" with each army's Third Edition Codex.
Fourth Edition was released in three forms: the first was a standalone hardcover rulebook, with additional information on painting, scenery building, and background information about the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
The third was a limited Collector's Edition version of the hardcover rulebook and was leather-bound, its front cover embossed in silver with the Warhammer 40,000 Fourth Edition logo, each page edged with silver foil, and was packaged in a protective black leather slipcover.
In addition, there are multitudes of variant rules and army lists that are available for use with the Fourth Edition, typically with an opponent's consent. These rules are found in the Games Workshop publication White Dwarf, the Games Workshop website, or the Forge World publication Imperial Armour.
As of June 2008, the Space Marines, Tyranids, Black Templars, Tau Empire, Eldar, Dark Angels, Chaos Space Marines, Orks, and Daemons of Chaos codexes have been published for Fourth Edition Warhammer 40,000. Two expansion rulebooks, Cities of Death and Apocalypse have been published, introducing additional rules for fighting in highly urbanised areas, and rules for fighting very large battles, respectively.
The Black Templar and Dark Angel Codexes are stand alone codexes, unlike their Third Edition counterparts, which were additions to the Space Marine Codex. This is supposedly the way all Fourth Edition codexes were to be developed as there were no "sub-codexes" released, though according to Jervis Johnson, (one of Games Workshop's long-term strategy managers), the Fourth Edition Chaos Space Marines Codex was released as a single codex, which was opposite to rumours circulating at the time that the book would be split and released separately for the different Traitor Legions available.
The sister army, Codex: Chaos Daemons was released with a new set of miniatures on May 10, 2008. The Blood Angels Codex was published in White Dwarf in two parts, in UK issues 330 and 331 (although a long-term a printed codex was later produced), and was available for download on the Games Workshop Website.
The last major expansion for Fourth Edition Warhammer 40,000 was Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse, which was released on October 13, 2007 and included new rules for much larger battles than previously allowed, with a minimum of 3000 points needed. Apocalypse also included the rules for the use of large units, such as Squiggoths and Baneblades, as well as battle formations such as daemonic Warp Rifts and Space Marine Battle Companies.
Fifth Edition (2008)
The Fifth Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was released internationally on July 12, 2008. There were major rules differences between the Fourth and Fifth Editions of the game; Fifth Edition made use of true line of sight.
Models were now able to "Go to Ground", granting them a +1 cover save. They were also able to run in Fifth Edition, allowing them to move in the shooting phase instead of being able to fire weapons or launch assaults.
Vehicle damage was simplified, with ramming rules applying to vehicles made available.
The first expansion for the Fifth Edition was Planet Strike. This supplement, which was released on July 4, 2009, had elements of Apocalypse in that it allows warring factions to stage full-scale invasions of worlds, and modifies the core army component lists, granting more fast attack and elite choices to the attacking player and additional heavy support choices to the defending player.
Additionally, it modified the terrain mechanic in that the defender placed all the terrain to provide the best defensive options.
Sixth Edition (2012)
The Sixth Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was released internationally on June 23, 2012. Changes to this edition include the adoption of an optional Psychic Power card system similar to that of the game's sister product Warhammer Fantasy Battle as well as the inclusion of full rules for flying vehicles and monsters and a major reworking of the manner in which damage is resolved against vehicles.
It also includes expanded rules for greater interaction with scenery and more dynamic close-combat. In addition to updating existing rules and adding new ones, 6th Edition introduced several other large changes: the Alliance system, in which players can bring units from other armies to work with their own, with varying levels of trust; the choice to take one fortification as part of your force; and Warlord traits, which will allow a player's Commander to gain a categorically randomized trait that can aid their forces in different situations.
Replacing the Assault on Black Reach starter box set is the Dark Vengeance box set which includes Dark Angels and Chaos Space Marine models. Some of the early release box sets of Dark Vengeance contained a limited edition Interrogator-Chaplain for the Dark Angels.
Seventh Edition (2014)
The Seventh Edition was released in May 2014 and is very similar to the Sixth Edition, but the rulebook was released in three separate volumes and there were more liberal rules for creating new army lists.
Seventh Edition was perhaps most notable for its decision to finally advance the universe's timeline with an expansion of the metaplot for the first time since 2004 with 2017's release of the three linked sourcebooks collectively entitled Gathering Storm.
Eighth Edition (2017)
The Eighth Edition was released in June 2017. It continued the advancement in the timeline seen at the very end of Seventh Edition for the first time since Fourth Edition in 2004 with the completion of the 13th Black Crusade, the opening of the Great Rift and the dawn of a new era, the Era Indomitus.
There were also name changes for the various Eldar factions, who were renamed the "Aeldari" as a species. The Eldar of the craftworlds became known as the "Asuryani" while the Dark Eldar's new moniker was the "Drukhari." The Tau were redesignated the "T'au" to better capture the flavour of their native language.
For the first time, Eighth Edition saw a major reworking of the game's rules to allow units to have multiple hit points and variable damage spreads.
The Eighth Edition was warmly received by the community and was considered a massive improvement over the Seventh Edition.
As a result of the popularity of the rule set and the advances in the Warhammer 40,000 universe's timeline, Eighth Edition would provide Games Workshop with the most profitable year in its history as a company.
Ninth Edition (2020)
The Ninth Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was announced in May 2020 and its core rulebook was released in July 2020. This is the current edition of Warhammer 40,000.
Unlike Eighth Edition, Ninth Edition was essentially a continuation of much of the existing rule set, rather than a complete overhaul as had occurred between the Seventh and Eighth Editions. For instance, the existing Eighth Edition faction codexes remained compatible with Ninth Edition rules even as new codexes for each faction were prepared.
In terms of metaplot, the Ninth Edition made few changes to the Era Indomitus setting introduced in Eighth Edition, simply promising to follow more of the plotlines that had come into existence as the Imperium and other factions sought to survive the birth of the Great Rift and carry out the ongoing Indomitus Crusade.
Each player assembles an army of metal and plastic miniature figurines (models) - each, usually, representing a single military figure from one of the official army lists. These armies are constrained by rules contained within the current edition's Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, as well as in several army-specific codexes.
The size and power of the army is determined on a points system, with each unit being assigned a number of points proportional to its tactical worth on the battlefield. Before a game begins, the players agree on how many points will be used as the maximum army size and each assemble an army up to that maximum limit.
Common game sizes are between 400 and 2,000 points, but it is possible to play much larger games given time and inclination. In addition, there are more detailed rules for many games, using more book-keeping for each individual figure. Games generally run from half an hour to several hours in duration depending on the point size of the armies.
Play is divided into turns, with each player choosing specific actions for all of his units on his turn (usually some combination of movement, firing, and close combat), and using dice to determine the results of those actions. Each battle, at the onset, is assigned a set of additional rules and a goal (collectively called a "scenario") specific to it.
The most common of these is a basic "cleanse" mission (which was the "default" mission in Third Edition), which ends after six turns, the victor being declared based on who controls the four quarters of the battlefield; more complex goals can include night fights, bunker assaults, and ambushes.
Some players organise a series of scenarios, called a campaign, where two or more players fight against each other in a number of battles. These campaigns may feature their own special rules, and are tied together by a storyline set within the universe, which might alter according to the results of each scenario when it is played.
Every few years, a global campaign is held in which people submit the results of their games to Games Workshop. These results are collated, and together affect the overall storyline of the game, which is then accounted for in the next rulebook and fiction releases.
The most recent of these global campaigns was the 2006 Fall of Medusa V campaign which ended in a massive Imperial victory.
In addition to the current line of units, Games Workshop makes available past model lines as a part of their mail-order-only "Classic" series. These are models that have been used for earlier editions of the game. This is one of many ways to get certain miniatures which have been discontinued.
As of June 2006, new players wishing to start playing should expect to spend at least £200 (about $300) but may need to spend much more, for a basic playable army with ample room for customization (1,000 points). This figure includes the costs for the rulebook, the army's codex, and modeling equipment such as paints and glue. Players must also purchase individual units in squads or in boxed sets.
The cost of boxed sets varies widely (£18 to £100, about $30 to $150), depending on the contents. However, the boxed set may not provide for all available options, meaning that players may choose to purchase additional blister packs, each containing one to three models. A typical blister pack costs around £7 ($10-$12).
Since the models are all hand-painted and assembled by the player, people are encouraged to design their own paint schemes as well as using the pre-designed ones displayed in the various books and codexes. They are also encouraged to further modify their figures and vehicles using parts from other kits and models (known as "bitz" or sprues to players), or scratch-built from plasticard (Sheet Styrene), modeling putty and whatever the modeler has at hand.
These conversions are often entered into contests at Games Workshop-sponsored tournaments and similar gaming events. Terrain is a very important part of play. Although Games Workshop has terrain kits available, many hobbyists prefer to make their own elaborate and unique set pieces. Common household items like soft drink cans, coffee cups, styrofoam packing pieces, and pill bottles can be transformed into ruined cathedrals, alien habitats, or terrain with the addition of plasticard, putty, and a bit of patience and skill.
The Warhammer 40,000 game universe is most readily characterized as a Gothic science fantasy setting.
The central and most popular elements of the Warhammer 40,000 universe are the Space Marines, anachronistic combinations of sci-fi super-soldiers and fantasy knights and the finest warriors of the Imperium of Man, the dystopian, galaxy-spanning Human interstellar empire they are sworn to serve and defend.
The physical setting of the story is the material universe or the Materium, with all action taking place in the Milky Way Galaxy in the far future thirty-eight thousand years from present. Most of this space is controlled by the Imperium of Man, though it is not the only power in the galaxy.
Other intelligent, starfaring species include the Orks, a green-skinned, orc-like race, and the Aeldari, the elf-like former rulers of a great galactic empire, the anime-inspired T'au and the rapacious insect-like aliens called the Tyranids.
A dynamic, galaxy-spanning story line is possible because of a separate plane of existence, the Immaterium or "the Warp." The Warp is described as a realm of pure thought and psychic energy, where desires and emotions can take physical form, and with currents and eddies that make traveling vast interstellar distances difficult, yet possible.
As this is a realm of thought, a coalescence of extreme emotion often yields the birth of a sinister Warp entity. The strongest of these entities are the Chaos Gods, Khorne (a god of rage, bloodshed, and war), Nurgle (a god of despair, decay and pestilent disease), Tzeentch (a god of change, deception, scheming, sorcery, and, oddly enough, hope) and Slaanesh (a god of pleasure, pain, depravity, pride and decadence).
The gods of Chaos are the result of the strongest impulses in the living souls of the universe's sentient inhabitants. Their cults have a dynamic and antagonistic relationship. Khorne opposes Slaanesh, while Nurgle opposes Tzeentch.
Nurgle is the personification of stagnation, while Tzeentch personifies continuing change, Khorne personifies duty and rage, and Slaanesh personifies the epicurean or the sensual.
These four powers are not the only entities in the Warp, but they are the greatest and most powerful. It is said, in the background to Warhammer 40,000, that the true nature of the Warp is beyond Human comprehension and is truly unknowable.
The background history for the game draws on many previous works of fantasy and science fiction, including Games Workshop's previous fantasy tabletop miniature game called Warhammer Fantasy, Frank Herbert's Dune series of books and the Aliens movies as well as real historical elements such as the two World Wars and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.
The Warhammer 40,000 game, and consequently its fictional universe, is made up of many intelligent races and species who uneasily share the Milky Way Galaxy. The main playable army factions in the game are the Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Craftworld Aeldari, Imperial Guard, Orks, Daemonhunters, Drukhari, Necrons, T'au, Tyranids, Witch Hunters, and the Daemons of Chaos, an army that was the most recently introduced into the game.
Most of these races have variant armies. For example, the Space Marines are divided into over 1,000 separate armies known as Chapters, which sometimes have unique traits that make them different from standard Space Marine armies or may even possess their own rules as separate armies, like the Blood Angels, the Dark Angels and their various Successor Chapters.
Examples of variant armies include the following (however, this list is far from exhaustive):
- Space Marine Chapters: Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Dark Angels, Black Templars, Blood Ravens, White Scars, Imperial Fists, et al.
- Astra Militarum regiments: Catachan Jungle Fighters, Mordian Iron Guard, Praetorians, Cadian Shock Troopers, Valhallans, et al.
- T'au Empire: Kroot Mercenaries, the Farsight Enclaves
- Asuryani Craftworlds: Iyanden, Ulthwé, Alaitoc, Biel-Tan, et al.
- Chaos Space Marine Traitor Legions: Death Guard, World Eaters, Thousand Sons, Emperor's Children, Iron Warriors, et al.
- Orks: Speed Freeks, Feral Orks, Badmoon Clan, et al.
- Tyranids: Hive Fleet Behemoth, Hive Fleet Kraken, Hive Fleet Leviathan, et al.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe and game are made up of many different characters, each important in some way. Some of these characters are more important to the universe and game than others.
The list below contains a small selection of the figures and characters that have had the greatest impact on the Warhammer 40,000 fictional universe.
- The Emperor of Mankind
- Roboute Guilliman
- Abaddon the Despoiler
- Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka
- Eldrad Ulthran
Warhammer 40,000 has, over the years, inspired many spin-off games. The most popular of these include the following miniature-based games, all of which are available as "Specialist Games" from the Games Workshop website.
- Battlefleet Gothic
- Epic Armageddon
- Gorkamorka, a now out of production tabletop game
- Space Crusade
- Space Hulk
- Adeptus Titanicus: Horus Heresy
The Warhammer 40,000 game has also inspired many video games, below are listed just a few of the most well-known.
- Dawn of War, including the expansions Winter Assault, Dark Crusade and Soulstorm
- Dawn of War II, including the expansions Chaos Rising and Retribution
- Dawn of War III
- Fire Warrior
- Chaos Gate
- Space Hulk, including the expansion Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels
- Final Liberation
- Rites of War
- Space Marine
- Eternal Crusade
A wide number of Warhammer 40,000 novels and background books has been published by Games Workshop's fictional publishing subsidiary, the Black Library. This list contains just a few of the most well-known.
- The Gaunt's Ghosts series
- The Eisenhorn Trilogy
- The Ragnar series (Space Wolf)
- The Ultramarines series
- The Blood Angels series
- The Grey Knights Trilogy
- The Soul Drinkers series
- The Horus Heresy series