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IN DEPTH: The Curious Case of the Orphan Ruleset

5 Minute Read
Jan 17 2012

Warhammer 40,000 players know a ruleset arrived on the scene last week.  But the more you study it the more confusing it becomes…

First some basics.  No one outside the halls of power knows what’s really going on here, and I will say upfront, that we still have no idea what these rules are, or where they came from.  We have spent days tracking down leads, assembling a large whiteboard of notes from dozens of individuals, and tried to assemble this jigsaw puzzle.

So instead, we will look at this ruleset forensically and lay out the basic events of its arrival as best as we can.  It will be up to you, the reader to make your own conclusions:

Patient 0 – Day One
-Conflicting reports place the origin on either a major anonymized internet forum, or to an initial tipoff link on a medium sized Warhammer 40k fan blog.

-The file quickly propagates to several large internet free hosting services

-Links to the file appear on a handful of large Warhammer 40k forums and several well read blogs.

-Early reader conversation begins regarding the contents of the file, and its origin.

Day Two T+24 Hours
-Word of the file is now prevalent and it has spread to a large number of internet hosting locations.

-Reader activity is very high and details are starting to emerge about the file itself.  Overall reaction is split regarding authenticity, and overall feedback is net-positive as a next edition of the game.


-Several bloggers receive anonymous word that the file is a hoax, with a variety of different characteristics given as evidence.  Each of these assertions is proven incorrect upon comparison to the file in question.

-Some (not all) of the initial hosting locations of the file go down, with messages saying that the file is no longer available.

-The first second and third hand reports appear of low level GW employees saying the file is a hoax.

Day Three T+48 Hours
-Multiple first and second hand reports of professionals with GW connections appear regarding the file.  They are contradictory in terms of its authenticity. Quotes range from “it’s the real thing” to “its an impressive document, but its not ours”.

-Word of a mass email issued by GW , directed to all retail stores appear, reporting the file as a hoax.

-There is a report of a “well written, polite apology” appearing on a large anonymous internet forum saying the file is a set of casual rules designed for alternative play of Warhammer 40,000.

-Several 40K fan blogs are split on authenticity, with some declaring a hoax, others feeling it is legitimate.


– The readers continue to actively comment on the ruleset, the first test games and more detailed rules analysis appear.

Day Four +
The jury is still out…

File Characteristics
-The file has a timestamp of May 2011

-The file has no metadata indicating author, or geolocation of origin

-The file has metadata indicating it was published in Adobe Acrobat

-The file describes itself as a ruleset for Warhammer 40,000

-It is 130 pages

-It is formatted in dual columns, with the correct fonts used in other Warhammer 40,000 documents, and includes placeholders for art and rules diagrams. Footers and pagenumbers are in place. It begins on page 22 and ends on page 150

-The ruleset is complete, with all major sections seen in past editions in place from introductory sections, all major rules sections, all the way to missions.


-The ruleset is fairly divergent from 5th Edition, both encapsulating all the current Games Workshop paradigms, while adding several new core concepts.

-The ruleset is complete internally – meaning it doesn’t contain overt design holes or sections that are missing. It works as a coherent whole.

-The ruleset mentions by name certain pieces of wargear that appeared publicly in the Necron codex in October 2011.

-The ruleset mentions by name certain unknown units assigned to existing races.

-The files include a 35 page FAQ for every codex in the game updating them to work with the new ruleset, EXCEPT for Sisters of Battle, Black Templars, and Necrons.

Ancillary Factors

-Official playtest documents are described to have a different format entirely from that of the file in question.

-Past Hoaxes such as the fake Blood Angels codex were ignored by Games Workshop.

-Contractual Issues – It is said The Hobbit contract with New Line Cinema was the origin of the no-leaks secrecy policy at Games Workshop, and the origin of the ten-day upcoming information regimen.

-General Timelines – Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition is broadly considered to be arriving on store shelves in Q2 of this year, meaning that if true, the final rulebook is all but done, and either into final localization and proofreading, or already off to the printers.


Final Thoughts
I can’t seem to get to the bottom of this after days of research.  The closer you look, the murkier it gets.  For every reason to think its a hoax, there is another to think its legit.  As one poster mentioned, in the presence of contradictory human testimony, its is best to focus on the physical characteristics of the file and the actions of the major players to help reach a conclusion.  Another noted that there are specific changes noted to both Black Templars and Tau, the two codices said to be coming next.  In March we will be able to see what comes out next and look back to the document and compare.

In the end the community is left with a mystery.  We are left with a fully complete ruleset for Warhammer 40,000 that has been received overall positively by the readers – yet which has no one to claim it – an orphan.  It is certainly not the work of a couple of college pranksters, as it is too well written and exhaustive to have been a quick couple of weeks work.  It does contain many elegant design solutions to some of the the current game’s sticky problems.  In general, after seeing years of homebrew efforts by enthusiastic players, most are eager for feedback and attention, not hiding in the shadows, avoiding the limelight as their creation is looked upon by their peers.

So once again – who own’s these?  Are they now destined to be a blueprint for a public domain ruleset that could be generalized to any sci-fi setting and used by homebrew groups going forward?  They are certainly superior to many offerings from small companies out there. I’ve seen a lot of odd cases over the years, but this one takes the cake.

~Its been one hell of a ride, and I don’t know if anyone outside the halls of power will ever know the entire truth.  Its certainly been interesting running all this stuff down.  Your thoughts are welcome.

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