Codex Death Guard is cementing Chaos as THE primary Antagonist of the Grimdark – Where they should be.
First let’s get something off my chest – I LOVE Xenos. From my beloved and 25 year old Eldar to my Tau Empire to my newly arrived Necrons, I love the variety and spice that Xenos offer to the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
In the earliest days of the game – there wasn’t a central theme to form an axis upon which the galaxy would turn. The original Rogue Trader book was – if we are being honest a giant melting pot of every sci-fi trope out there mixed in with some heavy gothic, dark age Roman Catholic Church and just plain Roman Empire themes. You can flip through the pages of Rogue Trader and see Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, Asimov, Heinlein and everything you could grab off a sci-fi bookshelf in the late 80s.
It was incredibly fun, almost impossibly large in ambition and scope, but also had a lack of narrative focus.
Ask any writer what a solid setting needs and they will tell you: strong protagonists and antagonists.
The Protagonists were easy. Hmm, if only 40K had some kind of impossibly brave super soldiers, desperately holding the line against a hostile galaxy trying to extinguish mankind…
Oh right – these guys!
The Antagonists were harder. Certainly there were many choices, but back in the early days they all felt kind of like the alien-of-the-week on Star Trek.
Cool, but not exactly terrifying…
Yes any of these guys could be dangerous, and certainly deadly – but there was no real narrative “sizzle” to any of the original non-humans. It was pretty much a “leave them alone and they will leave you alone” kind of vibe – and that just won’t do for the Grimdark.
Luckily the Realms of Chaos books came out and introduced perhaps GW’s greatest piece of creative IP – the entire pantheon of Chaos and it’s followers.
Now THESE guys are villains of the first order!
Chaos represented Immortal threats to all life, unrelenting with deamonic legions. Better yet were their mortal followers – TRAITOR Space Marines. I’m sure it needs no special explanation, but for time immemorial there is a special place in the halls of villainy where societies place traitors. Since ancient times, countries often reserve their harshest most horrific punishments not for external enemies of the state – but for traitors. Traitors elicit a far greater emotional response then mere enemy conquerors or criminals.
The CSMs were the real villains of the Grimdark with “sizzle” and they always should be.
For decades we saw the slow expansion of the Loyalist side of things. As far back as 2nd Edition, there were already separate codexes for Ultramarines, Space Wolves, and the Angels of Death. Chaos shouldered on, eventually seeing Chaos Daemons split off into their own codex.
But the imbalance was always there. For almost a decade, Chaos lost it’s teeth on the tabletop and the universe lost a lot of it’s narrative energy. It’s hard for the Black Library staff to sell a faction as the ultimate bad guys when no one will take them on the tabletop due to weak rules.
But in the last 12 months all of that has changed. The arrival of first Thousand Sons and now Death Guard as standalone codexes/books is a BIG DEAL. First, I believe it will only be a matter of time till we see World Eaters and Emperor’s Children codexes. Next the return of the Primarchs isn’t just about selling models, it’s about introducing a new set of immortal heroes and villains who again are estranged brothers – you can’t ask for better storytelling than that. Most importantly GW’s investment in new CSM minis and books to support them means that the company has returned to it’s best villains and intends to make them the ultimate bad guys the game needs to work on a narrative and emotional level for the fans.
I couldn’t be happier – and as always – DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!