Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war.
There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.
Warhammer 40,000, known informally as "Warhammer 40K," "WH40K," or just plain "40K," is a miniatures-based tabletop war game released by Games Workshop in 1987. In its beginning it drew heavily on GW's previous Warhammer Fantasy game, and was essentially "Warhammer In Space," but over time grew distinct from (and much more popular than) its counterpart. It is currently in its eighth edition, released in 2017.
More than anything else, 40K stands out from other tabletop wargames because of its extreme darkness. Set roughly thirty-eight thousand years in the future, the most basic summation of the game's plot is that our galaxy has been twisted into a unfathomable horror where an eternal, impossibly vast conflict occurs between several absurdly powerful genocidal, xenocidal, and (in at least one case) omnicidal factions, with every single weapon, ideology, and creative piece of nastiness imaginable turned Up to Eleven... and even it has a Hell.
As bad as the Imperium is, however, all the other major factions are just as bad, if not far worse. The Eldar, an ancient, mysterious and manipulative race nearly destroyed by the fallout from their ancestors' decadence, are best known for contriving wars that see billions from other species dead to spare mere thousands of their own that fate, while their depraved cousins, the Dark Eldar, happily perpetuate mass slaughter and Cold-Blooded Torture, both trying to stave off the hellish afterlife looming over their entire race. The Tyranids, an extra-galactic race of ever-hungering virus-like monstrosities guided by an animalistic but highly intelligent Hive Mind, are rampaging across the galaxy, consuming everything they come across (including planets' biospheres) to evolve and become stronger. The Necrons, The Remnant of an ancient alien civilization transformed into vast legions of incredibly advanced, undying, living metal warriors, are awakening after millions of years of slumber to reclaim a galaxy they see as rightfully theirs and scour away the taint of organic life. The Orks, a genetically-engineered warrior species infesting every corner of the galaxy, cheerfully battle anything that might give them a good fight — including each other, if nothing better presents itself — because it's literally hard-wired into their genetic code to do so... and because it's fun. The T'au, a comparatively small and young race with an insurgent cross-species empire on the galaxy's fringe, readily seek new allies through diplomacy, but are reputed to absorb those who refuse through orbital bombardment, concentration camps and possibly mind control, all to further their philosophy of the "Greater Good".
Worst of all are the Chaos Gods, four ruthless, destructive deities who can only exist in the Warp, but are the root cause for most of the setting's darkness. Sustained by the beliefs and emotions of living beings, they exude a deadly energy force that taints anything it comes into contact with, including people's bodies, minds and the ground under their feet. Their fighting forces, which include Chaos Cultists (humans, mutants and aliens perverted into Chaos worship), Chaos Daemons (fragments of the Chaos Gods given life, who are well-known for their capacity to strike deals with, manipulate and possess people) and Chaos Space Marines (heretical Space Marines who have turned against the Imperium for a variety of reasons, including greed and lust for power but also disillusionment and revenge), sow ruin and bloodshed wherever they go. Most infamously, the forces of Chaos frequently rip open portals and large rifts into the material plane from which they emerge to wage war, the most recent of which stretches across the entire galaxy and has split the Imperium in two.
The models are divided into nine distinct categories: Lords of War,note HQs,note Elites,note Troops,note Dedicated Transports,note Fast Attack,note Heavy Support,note Fortifications,note and Flyers.note The 8th edition rules allow players to build their armies either as Open Play (basically bring whatever you want), Narrative (recreating historical battles from the fluff or themed campaigns), or Match Play (building armies along an organized structure with specific numbers of certain model categories, determined by a Force Organization Chart). There are six default FOCs, each with a set number of HQ and Troops slots as base requirements and varying numbers of slots for other model types. Match Play armies also get bonuses that the other play styles do not, and give the player certain amounts of Command Points which can be used during the game in various ways.
For each army, the models available in each category have both a Power rating and a base point value relative to their worth in gameplay, which covers the # of models and their default weapons and armor. The Power rating is generally geared toward Open and Narrative games while the points values are geared toward Match Play. The rules give the player specific options to change the weapons, armor, and other bonuses depending on the category and model or unit in question, and to add models to certain units. Power ratings will generally only increase if models are added to units while points values will often increase with both additional models and weapon changes. Players assemble their armies to meet an agreed-upon total Power rating or number of points per army prior to play, with the upper limits usually determined by the type of game being played.
Before the game begins, dice are rolled to determine the Mission for the game,note how the battlefield will be divided between the armies,note various challenges and model abilitiesnote that influence gameplay, and who gets to begin deploying their army first. There are twelve Missions in the core rulebook, six "Eternal War" Missions that are carryovers from older editions and six "Maelstrom of War" missions introduced in 7th edition. These have a general theme like the Eternal War missions but also use Tactical Objectives which give specific tasks that the player can attempt to accomplish during each turn. The first player to finish deploying his army gets to choose whether or not to start the first turn; if he does, the second player has a chance to roll to go first, or "seize the initiative."
Games have a maximum of 7 battle rounds; whether or not rounds 6 or 7 happen is determined by die rolls starting at the end of round 5. Each round has two player turns, each having six phases: Movement, Psychic, Shooting, Charging, Assault, and Morale. In the movement phase, the models' stats govern how far they can move and how movement affects what they can do in the subsequent phases. The moving player can also elect to Advance a model or unit, passing up the chance to shoot to move it further. Anything being held in reserve can also be potentially brought in during the movement phase, so long as all such models are deployed by the start of turn 4. In the psychic phase, the attacking player attempts to use psychic powers by rolling 2D6 to meet or beat each power's casting cost, with failed rolls, "Perils of the Warp," and/or the defending player attempting to negate successful rolls factored in. During the shooting phase, dice are rolled for each weapon being fired to determine whether it hits and then whether it actually causes wounds. In the charging phase, die rolls determine whether or not a unit can move into range of a target unit to enter melee combat. In the Assault phase, units pile into each other and engage in melee combat, with the player that charged in the previous phase getting first strike and then alternating between players. As in the shooting phase, die rolls determine hits and wounds. In the morale phase, the players determine the number of models lost from each unit and, if needed, roll a D6; if the combined result is greater than the unit's max Leadership value, the unit loses a number of additional models equal to the difference. In the psychic, shooting, and assault phases, if possible, the defending player can roll for armor or invulnerable saves to attempt to negate wounds, and can potentially counterattack in the assault phase. Characteristic tests, special abilities and features unique to each faction, weapon-specific rules, terrain effects, and other such actions also influence the progress of each phase. A battle round is complete at the end of the second player's Morale phase; the process then starts over again with the next round.
Players acquire victory points as they eliminate sections of the opponent's army from the game, when Mission-specific objectives are achieved, and when Tactical Objectives are achieved during a turn. All Missions are won by majority of victory points; draws are possible. "Tabling" the opponentnote is an automatic win regardless of the score.
Possibly even more important than assembling the models is painting them. It's generally seen as bad form to field an unpainted army, especially for factions like the Space Marines that have many different chapters and where a lot of the models look exactly alike, making painting them the accepted way to determine which particular chapter you're playing. Painting models to a "tabletop" quality levelnote is considered the norm, and tournaments will often require a certain level of completion of painting, but players can put as much or as little effort into it as they wish, although they're often encouraged to go beyond tabletop quality. GW produces painting guides and free online tutorials, but other tutorials are readily available through YouTube and dedicated painting sites. GW uses Citadel products for its models, paints, glues, and tools, and all of its painting methods and tutorials are built around using them, but equivalents from other companies are readily available, and tutorials will vary wildly between paints, glues, and other materials. There are many different ways to go about painting models, and settling on one is up to the player's tastes and budget and the availability of supplies... the general rule is "find what works for you and run with it."
Thus, 40K is just as much a hobby as it is a game. It's perfectly fine to ignore the game aspect altogether and devote yourself to building and painting the miniatures, whether it's for simple recreation, for display and competition, or even as a business. There are many artists and sites who do commission work for others, doing anything from simply painting minis to the entire process of assembly and painting, and from quality levels ranging from tabletop-quality to work similar to what you see on show cars. GW recognizes the best of the best through an annual competition called the Golden Demon Awards, where painters show off models that have been painted and based to standards far beyond tabletop-ready, to the point that they have become works of art.
Apart from the game itself and its rulebooks, faction-specific, setting-specific, and campaign sourcebooks, 40K has spawned a range of spinoff games and publications. Dozens of novels and short story anthologies are published by the Black Library, a subsidiary of Games Workshop, who also published the now out-of-print comic book Warhammer Monthly and short story magazine Inferno. Boom! Studios now publish comics set in the 40K universe, in the form of various mini-series, rather than an ongoing title. There is even a full-length fan film, Damnatus, which was approved, made, banned over conflicts between British and German IP laws, then leaked online. An official CGI movie, Ultramarines, was released in 2010, following up on a number of live-action shorts shown at various Games Day events in the 90s.
In the meantime, you can track down an old Games Workshop VHS release film called Inquisitor, or even watch Event Horizon (which has long been accepted as an unofficial prequel, since the creators seem to have accidentally matched the franchise's premise and style with remarkable exactitude, though not the time period). There is also another fan film being produced called The Lord Inquisitor, which will be fully CGI. Unlike the incident with Damnatus, Games Workshop is perfectly fine with the existence of the movie and will not be taking legal action against its production.
As you may have guessed from the incredible size and attention to detail on this page, 40K has a huge, diverse, and fanatical following, despite the niche status of the hobby. The franchise has a lot of appeal even to people who don't play the wargame itself (or used to play it and only keep in touch with the lore), and who only follow the spinoffs (many of which are perfectly good in their own right). You don't have to spend all your money to experience the inimitable insanity that is Warhammer 40,000.
- 40K Lexicanum and 40K Wiki — Two large and comprehensive wikis. Formatting and citation methods are very different between them, and the Lexicanum tends to be more concise.
- 1d4chan — Another wiki, a spinoff of 4chan's /tg/ board; it covers many games, but Warhammer 40,000 is highly represented. It features a lot of info about the game's fanon and fan works as well as the game itself. It's very informal in tone, steeped in 4chan's lingo and culture, and generally NSFW, so be prepared.
- Websites and YouTube channels featuring battle reports, painting lessons, discussions of rules, codex reviews, and other game-related items:
A more in-depth look at the tropes specifically embodied by the various major factions can be found here.
Spin-offs and games of Warhammer 40000:
- Battlefleet Gothic: Space Is an Ocean naval combat involving the major powers in the game fighting over the Gothic Sector of Imperial Space.
- Inquisitor: A 54mm scale RPG. Extremely detailed both in minature, rules and backstory and the narratives involved in the gameplay. The backstory discusses a factional civil war at the highest levels of the Imperial Inquisition, the most powerful organisation of humanity.
- Necromunda: A skirmish-level small unit combat set on the human Hive World of Necromunda, with mostly human factions fighting an underground gang-war. It is the Sci-Fi Counterpart to the Warhammer skirmish game Mordheim.
- Gorkamorka: A skirmish-level game similar to Necromunda but featuring Ork gangs fighting for fortune and power, to dominate the other tribes and lead the Waaagh! offworld. Considered a less serious game than the others, due to the Orks' role as what passes for comic relief in the setting.
- Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team: A skirmish-level game that sees small units fight each other in covert missions.
- Black Crusade: The fourth in the series, this switches the focus from Imperial heroes onto dark villians working for the ruinous powers of Chaos.
- Dark Heresy: Spiritual Successor to Inquisitor and noted for eight gruesome pages of critical hit charts. Narrative revolves around the Inquisition, corruption and conspiracy.
- Deathwatch: The third in the modern RPG series that started with Dark Heresy, this gamebook revolves around the Space Marines of the Ordo Xenos Deathwatch, a special operations group tasked with defeating alien horrors.
- Rogue Trader: The first game by this name was the original name for 1st Edition Warhammer 40K. The second is the 2009 follow up to Dark Heresy, an RPG that is about exploration and adventure in what has been called a grimdark version of Star Trek.
- Only War: The fifth in the series; it turns the focus onto the Imperial Guard and more traditional warfare.
- Wrath & Glory: A new RPG from the team behind the Dark Eye.
- Necromunda: Underhive Wars: An upcoming adaptation of Necromunda made by the same developers behind Mordheim.
- Chaos Gate: A turn based strategy game from 1998, notable as it was built before the introduction of the 3rd Edition of the tabletop game which radically changed so many elements of the lore.
- Dawn of War: A Real-Time Strategy series created by Relic Entertainment. The storyline of the first game is a campaign by the Blood Ravens chapter to rescue the planet Tartarus from an Ork invasion. The plot of the sequel revolves around the Blood Ravens' efforts to regain control over the Aurelia Sub-Sector.
- Dawn of War III: A sequel to the second Dawn of War series, again developed by Relic Entertainment but now published by SEGA.
- Fire Warrior: A First-Person Shooter where you play as a Tau Fire Warrior. There is also a novelization of the game which greatly expands on the story and characters so much that it could be considered its own entity.
- Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team: Downloadable twin-stick shooter.
- Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: A third person shooter created by Relic Entertainment involving Ultramarines Captain Titus fighting against Orks on the Imperial World Graia as both sides fight to recover an Imperial Titan.
- Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade: An MMORPG announced on E3 2013.
- Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus: An upcoming strategy game from Bulwark Studios about the Techpriests encountering Necrons.
- Gladius - Relics of War: A 40K Four X Game from Slitherine(who also made the 40K game Sanctus Reach).
- Adeptus Titanicus - Dominus: A turn-based strategy game from Membraine Studios about the Titan Legions.
- Space Hulk: A game based on the board game of the same name. Three iterations have been made with the third releasing in 2013.
- Warhammer 40000 Regicide: A Chess Strategy game developed by Hammerfall.
- Dark Nexus Arena: A MOBA game developed by Whitebox Interactive.
- Battlefleet Gothic: Armada: A Space-Battle Strategy Game developed by Tindalos Interactive.
- Inquisitor Martyr: A Action-RPG game developed by Neocore Games.
- Eisenhorn Xenos: A third-person action game based on the novel Xenos, the first book of the Eisenhorn trilogy.
- Battlefleet Gothic: Leviathan: A Battlefleet Gothic-themed Turn-Based Strategy developed by Grand Cauldron.
- Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus: A Turn-Based Strategy Dungeon Crawler, developed by Bulwark Studios.
- Space Hulk: Space Marine Terminators attempt to cleanse aforementioned Space Hulks of Genestealer infestation. Has video game and tabletop game variants, and is notable for being particularly beloved by gamers of a certain age in its native UK, for whom the game was a gateway entry into wider tabletop and 40K play.
- Death Angel: A card game variant of Space Hulk.
- Conquest: An LCG based on the franchise. It pits different armies against each other for the control of a planetary system.
- Assassinorum: Execution Force: A 2015 limited-release board game in which a quartet of Imperial Assassins attempt to stop a Chaos Sorcerer from opening a Warp rift in the heart of the Segmentum Solar.
- The Beast Arises: An interequel between the Horus Heresy and larger 40k universe, depicting the cataclysmic war waged between the Imperium and the most powerful Ork Waaagh! to have ever existed.
- Black Legion: Previously known as the Luna Wolves and later the Sons of Horus, they feature prominently in the backstory, and are an essential element in the Horus Heresy series. They have an upcoming series written by Aaron Dembski-Bowden in the works.
- Blood Angels: Covers the early history of the chapter, later moving to cover their inherent genetic flaws (the Red Thirst and Black Fury) and the effect they have on the chapter.
- Blood Ravens: These are the protagonists of Dawn of War.
- Brothers of the Snake: The adventures of the Iron Snakes Space Marine chapter, focusing on one Marine named Priad.
- Ciaphas Cain HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!! follows the titular Commissar of the Imperial Guard through various conflicts. It is quite unique as these stories are written in a tongue-in-cheek dark comedic style while still maintaining the normal grimdark horror of the setting.
- Dark Angels: Half the number of this Space Marine chapter rebelled during the Horus Heresy. These books follow the general idea of hunting their Fallen brothers and keeping the secret of their failure from the rest of the Imperium.
- Dark Heresy: A series of novels written by Sandy Mitchell based on the tabletop rpg of the same name
- Eisenhorn: A trilogy of books, Xenos, Malleus & Hereticus, that follow Inquisitor Eisenhorn's adventures and attempts to avoid being named a rogue heretic.
- Forges Of Mars: A trilogy of novels centering on an Explorator Fleet of the Adeptus Mechanicus and its assorted hangers-on as it searches for the lost Archmagos Telok and the impossible technology he claims to have found.
- Gaunt's Ghosts: The Tanith First & Only are an Imperial Guard regiment who had to evacuate their home planet Tanith after an invasion by the forces of Chaos. They were the only people to get off the planet alive, hence the name. With over a dozen novels in the series, and spin-offs, it has spawned a mini-continuity called the "Sabbat Worlds Crusade" inside the overall lore of the game.
- Grey Knights: Follows the exploits of Justicar Alaric and his squad battling various daemonic and chaotic enemies of the Imperium. The Grey Knights are an ultra-secret, ultra-pure, ultra-elite chapter of Space Marines dedicated to fighting the most dangerous threats that the Imperium will face.
- Horus Heresy: This extremely popular (showing up regularly on the New York Times best seller list) series of 50+ novels, audio dramas, and related books that cements the canon story of the Horus Heresy, the foundation on which the Warhammer 40000 universe is built around, set around 30,000 AD.
- Imperial Fists: The novel Sons Of Dorn is about the chapter, who can be described as the good equivalent of the Iron Warriors.
- Imperial Guard: There are numerous novels revolving around the Imperial Guard, an army comprised of normal humans.
- Inquisition War: A trilogy revolving around an Inquisitor's attempts to battle an insidious plot hatched by his fellow inquisitors, only to succumb to corruption himself. Written in 1990, its first installment was one of the first two books published by Games Workshop and is based on many elements of now-defunct 1st Edition lore.
- Iron Warriors: Feature in a series of 7 novels as Villain Protagonists, a Chaos Space Marine legion dedicated to siege warfare.
- The Last Chancers: A trilogy of novels concerning the 13th Penal Legion of the Imperial Guard, led by Colonel Schaeffer. The regiment is comprised of Imperial criminals that Schaeffer drags through hellish battlefields to build up an elite human suicide squad.
- Night Lords With 4 novels, 2 shorts stories and an audio drama, these stories provide an Alternate Character Interpretation for the previous "deranged pyschopath" image of this Chaos Space Marine chapter.
- The Path of the Eldar: A set of two trilogies. The first is a "Rashomon"-Style story revolving around three Eldar of craftworld Alaitoc. The second follows the path of three Dark Eldar warriors.
- Ravenor: A trilogy of novels featuring the heavily disabled psyker Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor and his Five-Man Band.
- Ravenor vs. Eisenhorn: A trilogy that is a sequel to the Ravenor and Eisenhorn trilogies.
- Salamanders: The Tome Of Fire trilogy follows the 3rd Company as they uncover a relic from the past, fight the Dark Eldar, and defend their homeworld.
- Shira Calpurnia: An Arbitor Senioris of the Adeptus Arbites who is the central character of a trilogy of novels.
- Sisters Of Battle: A series of books detailing the missions of Sister Seraphim Miriya and Hospitaller Sister Verity.
- Soul Drinkers: A 6 novel series about this Marine chapter who nearly fall to Chaos, reject it, but do not return to the service of the Imperium.
- Space Marine Battles: A series of novels about the various Space Marine Chapters' notable conflicts and battles against the many enemies of the Imperium.
- Space Wolf: Vikings IN SPACE with a wolf motif. 6 novels centered on Ragnar Blackmane.
- Thousand Sons: A Chaos Space Marine legion that makes extensive use of sorcery, has a trilogy centering around their most famous sorcerer, Ahzek Ahriman.
- Ultramarines: The adventures of Captain Uriel Ventris of the Ultramarines, a mainstay of the Space Marines in the 40k canon.
- White Scars: Featured in the Hunt for Voldorius, one of the few Asian factions in the entire Universe.
- Word Bearers: A trilogy of novels regarding a search by Dark Apostle Jarulek and his apprentice Marduk as they search for an ancient artifact.
- Warhammer Adventures:
- Damnatus: Fan film. Was banned due to German intellectual property law but eventually leaked to the internet.
- Ultramarines: CGI Animated official film.
- The Lord Inquisitor: Animated fan-film.
- Exterminatus: French live-action short film.
- Commissar and Leftovers: A Russian parody series (with two music videos included) about a Imperial Guard regiment and their Commissar. Subtitle quality isn't always the best, but tolerable.
- Published By The Black Library:*
- Bloodquest: Chronicles The Blood Angel captain Leonatos as he and his most loyal followers go on a bloodquest to retrieve the lost sword of Belarius.
- Deff Skwadron: Follows the adventures of an Ork fighta-bomma squadron fighting a war against another ork Waaagh!
- Kal Jerico: Follows the eponymous bounty hunter in his various adventures in Necromunda.
- Titan: Follows the actions of the Imperius Dictatio warlord titan and its crew.
- The Redeemer: Follows a Redemptionist priest and his followers in their never ending quest to purge the under-hive of Necromunda.
- Deathwatch: Follows a squad of the titular Space marines fighting a Genestealer infestation.
- Published By Boom! Studios:
- Blood and Thunder: Follows the story of an Imperial Guard colonel during his captivity by orks.
- Damnation Crusade: Follows the life of a Black Templar, from his initiation to his final fate.
- Defenders Of Ultramar: Chronicles the titular ultramarine company as they defend Ultramar from an ork Waaagh.
- Exterminatus: Standalone sequel to Damnation Crusade. Follows Inquisitor Alastor as he investigates chaos corruption in the sector following the events of said comic.
- Fire And Honour: Follows the Cadian 71st hell hounds company in their war against the Tau.
- If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: A series of web videos, asking the question of what exactly would happen if the Emperor of Mankind could ask about the current state of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Hilarity Ensues as the Emperor proceeds to have some... colorful critiques about the universe as well as its numerous Retcons over the years, and begins some changes.
- A Day in the Life of a Commissar: A machinima series detailing the horrible day Commissar Steeve is having, and how he Must Have Caffeine but he can't because Nathan Johnson bought (and drank) all the coffee on the planet.
- Aeronautica Imperialis: Air-combat spin-off tabletop game.
- Epic 40000: Uses very small scale miniatures, allowing the players to field huge armies and extremely powerful units such as the largest Titans and Gargants and even Daemon Primarchs.
- Final Liberation: Epic-based turn-based strategy video game, with FMV cinematics that look like a fan film.
- Aspect Warrior: Isometric shooter video game.
- The various counter-based Board Games, including Battle for Armageddon (and the add-on Chaos Attack), Horus Heresy, Doom of the Eldar, Warmaster, Arena of Blood, and Relic.
- The card games.
- Dark Millennium: Upcoming RPG, initially an MMO until THQ's financial difficulties forced cut backs. An unconfirmed rumor claims it has been passed to EA for further development.
- Blood For The Blood God, Hive Infestation and Inquisitor: Obscure live-action shorts.
- Rites of War: Turn-based computer strategy game starring the Eldar, using the Panzer General engine.
- Armageddon: A turn-based computer strategy game, using the Panzer Corps engine, from Slitherine Games, about the Second War for Armageddon involving various Space Marine chapters, Imperial Guard & Orks.
- Space Crusade: A board game somewhat similar to Space Hulk in which up to three players control a squad of Space Marines each, attempting to fight their way through a space hulk filled with a mix of Orks, Genestealers and Chaos troops controlled by another player. Although apparently set in the Warhammer 40K universe, including use of Space Marine chapter names, it was developed jointly with Milton Bradley and, as with other similar joint games such as HeroQuest, never makes any mention of the actual setting.
- Warhammer 40000: Glory in Death: An obscure title for the ill-fated Nokia N-Gage handheld/cellphone combo released in 2006. Either nobody bought it or it had a hilariously limited release because it's got a stub on The Other Wiki and is mentioned on the N-Gage page, and not a lot else.
- Warhammer 40,000: The Freeblade Chronicles: A Rail Shooter/Action RPG hybrid for mobile phones, dealing with a dispossessed Imperial Knight rescued by the Dark Angels.
- Space Wolf: A mobile phone card-battle Strategy RPG.
- Battle for Vedros: A "beginners-level" version of 40K introduced in 2016, with greatly simplified rules. Pitting Space Marines against Orks, it uses the snap-fit models from the old starter set Attack on Black Reach.