A beginner’s guide to the world of Warhammer 40 000

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Warhammer-(5)

These days, you can’t step one foot outside without having a gigantic Space Marine demand that you swear loyalty to the Emperor of Mankind. Warhammer 40 000 is everywhere. There’re dozens of video games out there and on the way, starring soldiers who like Iron Man had a one-night stand with the Terminator T-800 assembly line.

It’s a massively deep universe, one born from decades of lore and expanded universe content from the tabletop game. So where do you even begin? I’ve been doing some reading, to try and understand how this Michael Baysplosion of a universe functions. Here’s a massively condensed timeline of Warhammer 40 000 history, to get you started.

What’s this Warp thingy that keeps being referenced in the games?

Warhammer-(1)

You know how our universe is sort of…normal. Well something has to balance that out. A mirror universe if you will, a dimension built from the emotional energy and psychic resonance of our own reality. That’s the Warp, a domain where the laws of physics are given the middle finger and life tends to flourish when you’re about ready to go play hopscotch in the chest cavity of your angriest daemon.

Thanks to the constant wars and massive death tolls in our universe, the Warp is a hostile reality that is still essential for faster-than-light travel as ships pass through it during regular journeys. But it’s not the place that you’d want to find yourself stuck in, as the Chaos Gods would eat you alive in Warhammer 40K.

Chaos gods?

Warhammer-(1)chaos

Oh yeah, these entities rule the Warp, and serve as forces of nature that want to use us as meat-puppet playthings. Major Chaos deities:

  • Tzeentch the God of Mutation, Change, and Hope
  • Nurgle the God of Pestilence
  • Khorne the God of Blood and Lord of Skulls
  • Slaanesh the God/dess of Hedonism and Excess

There’s an entire pantheon of minor and forgotten Chaos gods, but the four above are the big guns in the Warp, who seek to dominate our universe.

Okay, but things have been just fine here, right?

Warhammer (1)

Oh hell, not even close. The only reason why the Warp is such a powerful entity, is because our entire universe has been at war since the Big Bang was still cooling off. One if the first major events that really wrecked things good and proper, was the War in Heaven. Long before Humanity rose to become a main-event player, the Old Ones ruled over the cosmos.

They mastered the Warp and had plenty of super-cool technology. Naturally, a rival race known as the Necrontyr were all like “you gonna share bro?” and went to war with the Old Ones.

Sounds bloody

Warhammer (2)

Only if you were of the Necrontyr. They got their asses handed to them in round one with the Old Ones, as that first war was the equivalent of Brock Lesnar fighting a puppy. Round two went differently however, as the Necrontyr tapped the power of the star-eating C’tan. By trapping their energy forms within into living metal shells known as Necrodermis, the Necrontyr could start kicking some serious ass.

And then they got tricked.

No way

Yes way. Thanks to one C’tan who became known as the Deceiver, the Necrontyr transferred their essences into Necrodermis bodies, which had the slight side effect of them losing their souls. And then things turned really ugly. The War in Heaven raged out of control, newer frightening weapons were created and the Warp was flooded with more negative energy than leftover homeopathic crystals.

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The Old Ones would fight back with new servant races such as the Orks and the Eldar, but an invasion from the Warp by the Enslaver Plague shattered their race and pretty much wiped the Old One presence out of our universe. The Necrontyr then went to war with the C’tan gods, rebranded as the Necron and decided to have a nice afternoon hibernation for a few million years after the dust had settled.

What about the Eldar then?

Eldar_Warlock_2

Right, so the Necron have embarked on an epic siesta, the Orks are running around like intergalactic football hooligans and the Old Ones are gone. That left the Eldar to pick up the pieces in Warhammer 40K, as they had managed to survive the Enslaver Plague. And for a while, it was a good time! They established their own empire that spanned the stars, created new technologies and kicked ass.

And then they fell into excessive hedonism, with enough excess to give birth to the Chaos god Slaanesh in the Warp. This event also ripped a hole in our universe that led to the Warp, a location known as the Eye of Terror. The Eldar split into two major groups, one that favoured being pure and above excess and the other party-time civilisation that would become known as the Dark Eldar.

The Dark Eldar may have also made things even worse for our universe, as they constructed their capital city of Commoragh inside a Warp travel system known as the Webway. Which pretty much destablised the Warp and left future travel sort of buggered.

What about Humanity?

This is where we started making a name for ourselves in the Warhammer universe. While the Eldar were splintering, Humanity started colonising the galaxy. This was Humanity at our best. We terraformed worlds, bred like rabbits on steroids and created the ultimate 3D printer known as the Standard Template Construct. Life was good.

Awesome!

And then everything went to shit.

Dammit

Warhammer-(3)

Yep. Rogue AI such as the Men of Iron decided to war with us, in an event that almost extinction-slapped our young civilisation. Humanity brought amazing weapons to the battlefield and eventually won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory that cost us a lot of our technological achievements. We’ve pretty much been at a standstill ever since, with precious few new breakthroughs being discovered in the millennia since then and our ancient technology being regarded as holy hardware.

The awesomely-named Psykers began popping up in greater numbers, a double-edged sword that resulted in more Daemonic incursions from the Warp and led into the Age of Strife. This was also the time in our history, where the Emperor would be born.

Sounds sort of evil

Quite the opposite in fact. The Emperor of Mankind is like Superman, Jesus, Buddha, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Batman and Iron Man all rolled into one powerhouse super-messiah. Born of the psychic energy tag-team of hundreds of Earth Shamans, the Emperor has been guiding humanity for centuries. He eventually took control of our first Earth, using his sheer willpower, charisma and battle skills to kill the shit out of anyone who stood in his way of completely uniting our civilisation into the dominant universal player that we would eventually become.

One man did all this?

Warhammer (6)

Enh, sort of. Thanks to the help of the Adeptus Mechanics, the Emperor decided to have some sons, children who could help balance the workload of running an empire and who would be kickass warriors much like him. He donated enough DNA to father twenty kids, but then the Chaos forces decided to throw a spanner into the works and scatter these Primarchs around the galaxy.

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The Emperor would launch the Great Crusade to find all of his sons, a quest that would reunite him with all of his superhuman progeny and lead to the establishment of the Space Marines. And for a time, life was good again.

I feel like the fan is about to be hit with some major crap

Yeah, life has a habit of going quickly south in the Warhammer universe. So listen, out of all twenty primarchs, Horus was definitely the favourite one. Imagine the charisma of Grant Gustin on the flash, bundled into a mountain of muscles that He-Man would be jealous of. And then he was corrupted by the forces of Chaos and launched an intergalactic assault on the Emperor in an event that became known as the Horus Heresy. Some tough parenting was needed at this time.

This sounds like Humanity’s greatest war

Warhammer (4)

It pretty much is. It’s like the bastard child of Wrestlemania and World War Two, only with a lot more cannon fodder helping to move a brandy cabinet a few planets closer at the time. The Horus Heresy splintered the Primarchs, with half of the brothers siding with Horus and the other half standing against him as loyal Space Marines fought corrupted Chaos Space Marines.

Horus almost obliterated the Imperium of Man, and delivered a heavyweight KO to the Emperor that left him reeling. Horus would have taken over, had he not he turned heel, killed his brother Sanguinus and massively pissed the Emperor off to the point where he went over 9000 with his power and freakin’ shattered the soul of Horus into oblivion.

The Emperor was pretty much knockin’ on heaven’s door at this point, so his comatose body was bundled into a kickass life support system so that he could still protect mankind with his vast psychic powers. Provided that he was fed a daily sacrifice of a few hundred Psykers or so. But after ten thousand years, the Emperor’s Golden Throne (the life support, not his toilet) is starting to fail…

So what’s the state of the universe now?

Warhammer (7)

Not too good. Everyone is at war, Horus Lieutenant Abaddon the Despoiler has risen to become the defacto leader of the Chaos forces and is currently working towards some grand scheme that has made use of thirteen black crusades to acquire ultimate power. Several of the Chaos-loyal Primarchs still survive, while the the rest of the loyal Primarchs are either dead or missing in action.

The Tyranids have also made their presence known (think even bigger, nastier versions of the Xenomorphs from the Alien series) and life is tougher than ever for the Imperium of Man in a universe under siege by hostile forces both internal and external. And that’s how the Warhammer 40 000 universe works these days.

Quick note: I’m still new at all of this, but I hope I’ve covered the basics. There’s still so much information out there, on massive events that will be covered in the future. Please don’t shatter my soul and set the remnants of it adrift in the Eye of Terror if I got a fact or two incorrect.

Last Updated: February 24, 2016

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia’s M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

  • Viking Of Science

    You forgot the Fun of the Orks…. They’re Basically plants who’s tech is powered purely by belief.

    • Viking Of Science

      From Wikipedia on ORK Technology: “the generalized Ork belief that vehicles or aircraft painted or otherwise colored red have higher top speeds than those painted or colored otherwise (‘da red wunz go fasta!’) actually results in measurably higher top speeds for Ork vehicles painted red.”

      • That explains how placebo pills gave me the power to shoot lightning from my hands.

        • Captain JJ the “saviour”

          XD
          Seriously though. The orks from Warhammer are not your average orcs.

          • Commander Bob

            Exactly, they have a “k” for starters.

          • Captain JJ the “saviour”

            XD

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          Does that mean Palpatine was the CEO of a alternative medicine company?

    • Captain JJ the “saviour”

      That’s the coolest thing ever about them.

    • HairyEwok

      Belief in the mighty DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA god

  • Captain JJ the “saviour”

    For Khorne, for Chaos.
    Awesome awesome write up Darryn. 😀

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Purge the heretic!

      • Viking Of Science

        BURN THIS UNBELIEVER!

        • Captain JJ the “saviour”

          The day will not save him. And we own the night!

  • Hammersteyn

    TL;DR

    • konfab

      IN THE GRIM,DARK FUTURE, THERE IS ONLY WAR.

      • Hammersteyn

        XD

  • Viking Of Science

    Also: BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD! SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!!!!!!

    • Captain JJ the “saviour”

      !!!!

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Another one. This comment section may require Exterminatus.

      • Viking Of Science

        FOOL, YOUR EXTERMINATUS MEANS NOTHING!!! YOUR DEAD EMPEROR HAS NO POWER HERE!

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          The emperor of man rules this galaxy, deluded Chaos worshiper. Your foul masters will soon be vanquished.

          • Viking Of Science

            KHORNE WILL BATHE THE SECTOR IN YOUR CHAPTER’S BLOOD!!!!! FOOLISH MORTAL, EMBRACE TRUE POWER, EMBRACE THE WARP!!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            The emperor’s light shines brightly and guides me. Your power is poisonous and my holy chainsword the cure.

          • Viking Of Science

            LONG SHALL BE YOUR SUFFERING! JOYOUS WILL BE YOUR PAIN!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Remember those words when the emperor’s might blinds your eye and consigns you to eternity in the warp with the rest of your foul, treacherous brethren to trouble mankind no more.

          • I assume you are reciting the usual ‘Be silent Trevor’ you hear at the dinner table?

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Silence, mutant. You live only through the grace of the emperor and the hope that one day you may prove useful.

          • Lies! You have no HOPE! That died along with your ability to hold normal relationships with anything other than rubber!

          • Hammersteyn

            So that makes you glue?

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Don’t remind me, I had such high hopes for teflon but… nothing stuck!

          • Hammersteyn

            I heard good things about Velcro

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Tupperware gives nice tight seal.

          • 0_O

          • Damn dude, you are on a slippery slope…

          • Commander Admiral Chief

            THIS IS SO ENTERTAINING TO READ!!!!

  • Original Heretic

    I started out thinking “Meh, more Warhammer crap”, but then got sucked into the story.
    Methinks I need to start reading some of these books. Now I just hope they’re well written and not a slog.

    • Captain JJ the “saviour”

      Warhammer is awesome
      But there’s a LOT of stuff out there

      • Original Heretic

        Considering how much I read, that’s not a bad thing. The biggest challenge is going to be finding book 1….

        • Matthew Holliday

          No, that “a LOT” is not exaggerated.
          you’re better off finding a race/chapter you like, buying/reading their appropriate codexes/rule books for the board game and using that to research which books to start with. lol.

          One does not simply start at book one, its: “which book one did you want to start at?”
          space marines alone have the ultramarines, dark angels, blood angels, black templars, space wolves and imperial fist as their “main” chapters, each having a rich and expansive backstory.
          The same applies to imperial guard, chaos, tau, eldar, dark eldar, necrons and orks.

          there is a a LOT of content.
          understanding the chapters/factions, makes choosing where to go with the novels, a lot easier.

        • Progressive Pariah

          Dozens.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      There are a lot of them. I’d recommend Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghost series which it about an Imperial Guard unit. So much fun & action.

      • Captain JJ the “saviour”

        I didn’t think I’d like the Imperial Guard. I was wrong.

        • Commander Bob

          Who doesn’t love a good meat-shield? 😛

          • Captain JJ the “saviour”

            Haha. That’s all they pretty much have been in the games.

          • Commander Bob

            In their defence, their heavy armours/ vehicles are pretty good. If you field a nice balance of infantry and armour then I think IG players have a more than fair chance at a win. Unless its against necrons.

          • Matthew Holliday

            if i were to go back to the board game now, Imperial guard would prolly be my first pick.
            their artillery and unit cost are ridiculous.

            necrons would be a tough match up, but so would any team that has extensive deep strike options.

            Imperial guard would be one of the best teams to fight up against their monoliths though.

      • Is that a type of toilet cleaner?

        • Captain JJ the “saviour”

          Is that what she said?

          • 0_O

          • Captain JJ the “saviour”

            Yea. It got weird.
            Sorry.

          • You went too far!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Don’t ever apologise to him.

          • Captain JJ the “saviour”

            Haha.
            I just choked on my coffee.

          • You shut it

          • Hammersteyn

            ROFL

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          In a sense, they certainly clean those Chaotic stains.

      • Commander Bob

        The Blood Angels omnibus and the Blood Raven omnibus are also very good. Blood Raven’s pretty much follow the Dawn of War games but I still enjoyed them. Blood Angels was pure epicness.

        And I agree with the Dan Abnett recommendation.

  • Captain JJ the “saviour”

    What’s a Starcraft anyway?

    • Hammersteyn

      It’s a top paying profession in Korea

  • Darren Peach

    Awesome counter culture universe. If hollywood scratched a little deeper, they might find something worthy, and when I say worthy, I mean potential movies that would be far superior to this new young adult fad…..

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Mechanics? Adeptus Mechanicus you n00b! Who only have Titans. You’re lucky you wrote that disclaimer or I’d send the soul destroyer Rince after you.

    • YOU CALLED?

      • Commander Bob

        It was a reference not a summons. Back from whence you came, foul demon!

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE WITH CHAOS!

          • Commander Bob

            There is only the Emperor, and he is our shield and protector.

            I fear no Chaos.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Well said, battle brother!

          • HA!

        • You have no power here!

          • Hammersteyn

            Says the mod tagged as caveman…..oh wait

          • HAHA!

  • It’s like the same story repeated with different skins…

    • Captain JJ the “saviour”

      I never know if I should refresh when someone ends…

      • haha

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        I wish he’d end.

        • Captain JJ the “saviour”

          LOL

        • Oi!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Oh… did I say that out loud?

          • No but the obvious look on your face was obvious

  • Darren Peach

    Common, Anything that has the spirit of dead soldiers coming back as Mechs deserves more respect than Shakespeare…….pffh

    • Captain JJ the “saviour”

      Shackle the soul and forge the flesh. Bind the machine and butcher the rest.

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        Your talk of subjugating the machine spirits sickens me.

    • Darren Peach

      I meant come on…………

  • Darren Peach

    Speaking of coolness, anyone here a fan of Raymond E Feist, Goodkind ( they butchered the Sword of Truth series with that joke of a TV series ) David Eddings etc etc ? Who wrote Waylander and Druss the Legend ? So much goodness but we get young adult crap.

    • Captain JJ the “saviour”

      I have honestly not heard of it before
      I’m behind on my reading. A lot.

      • Darren Peach

        Stuff I grew up on. Me pappy was an avid reader, caught the bug and read many very good books.

    • Commander Bob

      Been a fan of Feist for years. I’d love to get his books on an e-book reader but its cheaper to just buy the printed copies.

      • Captain JJ the “saviour”

        Yea. And the industry wonders why e-reading hasn’t taken off like they’d hoped. It’s damn expensive, that’s why.

      • Darren Peach

        There is still something to be said for reading a good ol fashioned book. That smell.

        • Captain JJ the “saviour”

          Agreed.

        • Totally. Almost finished with my current book an nothing beats turning real pages.

          • Darren Peach

            If you looking for a treat, Read a book called The Talisman.

      • Darren Peach

        Magician would make a brilliant film. Thomas and Pug are two of my top charaters of all time. The Valheru………. Goosies.

        • Commander Bob

          Oh yeah. They just need to find the right actors and have a budget to do the movie justice. I would hate to see it ruined.

          • Darren Peach

            I doubt a film could ever capture the density and atmosphere of tho book, but given how good LOTR was, there is always potential. Thing is, Feist will never allow it.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      I’ve read a lot of Feist & Eddings, but haven’t touched any of their books in many years.

      • Darren Peach

        I have lost track as well. Life gets in the way.

  • Used to play this years ago and loved every second.

  • Hammersteyn

    Why’s Darryn writing this anyway. Isn’t Pokemon more his thing?

    • Commander Bob

      Well, Warhammer 40K is like Pokémon for adults. There are so many beautiful models that you just can’t help but want to collect them all.

      • Hammersteyn

        I remember seeing them in comic books. never got the chance to get into it 🙁

        • Commander Bob

          And for that, your bank account thanks you. It was expensive years ago and it’s not better with our current exchange rate.

          • Commander Admiral Chief

            So, we up for another raid tonight?

            Seems like our luck is every second night

          • Commander Bob

            Oh yes. Just need to get our hands on T3 Capture keys. Feels like its impossible to get them at the moment.

          • Commander Admiral Chief

            IKR? Sheesh.

            Will ask Otto, he might have

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I’ve got 5 – was saving them for a rainy prime farming day.

          • Commander Admiral Chief

            Well, if you join tonight, our RNG mojo can only be better after last night’s fiasco…

          • Commander Bob

            At least the levelling was good. My volt is almost max. Should be able to start levelling another frame soon.

          • Commander Admiral Chief

            Yeah, I levelled my Kulstar, BoltorP, and the sniper gun for my sentinel to the maxxx

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I’ve killed myself more with the Kulstar than any other gun heh.

          • Commander Admiral Chief

            xD

            I ONLY use Kulstar with Rhino P

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Just remember not to use it with a bow or another explosive primary – it halves your ammo capacity because they share an ammo pool.

          • Commander Bob

            Well, they have let Spira and Nikana Prime out of the vault for a little while. Mostly it’s T3 captures and mobile defence. T2 survival is the easy one to get keys for but difficult for the reward.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I’ve got plenty of MDs. T3Cs & Es are the worst. Blew through so many Es when farming for Nyx P.

    • I like lots of things. That’s why I’m not allowed near stationary after the Checkers 2012 incident.

      • Hammersteyn

        Bwahahahahaha

        • Commander Admiral Chief

          Some say, they are still cleaning up the fluids…

  • Lardus-For the Chimichangas!

    Nice! Love 40K since introduced to it by Dawn of War!

  • chimera_85

    Looks like an insanely awesome universe, I’m so getting Battlefleet Gothic: Armada

  • Samantha Biuso

    Thanks so much on this little summary of the world. I’m currently playing a 40k RP with some friends and needed some info on how the world worked but BOY was it cluttered and confusing. That is, until this article popped up. Thanks for the general overview! now I can specifically look things up and very slowly start to understand how everything works.

    You rock!

    • My pleasure! I barely scratched the surface, but I’m glad that *some* questions were answered.

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