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40K Grimdark Theories: There Are Actually Two 40K Timelines

6 Minute Read
May 7 2020
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Let’s talk about another crazy Warhammer theory, this one going way back to the origins of the game.

Warhammer 40,000 has a long and complicated history, both in and out of game. Over the years the story and setting has changed and evolved a lot, parts of the game have been retconned and others reinterpreted. This has lead to conflicts and confusion over time. In particular Rogue Trader, the First Edition of the game was very different from what came after. The theory we will look at today attempts to reconcile these differences. Let us take a look.

The Weirdness of Rogue Trader

Rogue Trader, the first Edition of Warhammer 40,000 was launched in 1987 and was a very different game and setting from what we know today. While you still have a lot of the basic details there, such as the Imperium, the Emperor and the Space Marines all of these looked far different back then. Space Marines where mostly just normal humans in advanced armor, and only sometimes using better guns. They functioned more like a modern military with commanders and members transferring between Chapters. The Imperium was still pretty horrible but it was far less Xenophobic as well, with Eldar/Human half-breeds being accepted and trusted. The Emperor was given solid origins– that have since been disputed.

Weapons and equipment where different and weird and the various races of the galaxy had a lot more communication and even worked together at times. While their were always 20 First Founding Chapters the idea of Legions wasn’t around and we were told that only seven of the First Founding Chapters survived till the 41st Millennium. There a ton of other weird and odd details. Terra was still called Earth, the calendar was different, the Emperor had a bunch of kids and the Rainbow Warriors where a preeminent Chapter. It was a pretty chaotic time for the fluff. While the bones would remain the same in later editions most of these more “out there” details would get changed.

The Ties To Warhammer Fantasy 

While 40K has also had connections between it and Warhammer Fantasy hinted at back in Rogue Trader the connection was more of an official fact. The original announcement of Rogue Trader, by Rick Priestley himself, in White Dwarf confirms the two games share the same universe, and mention that certain factions, such as the Slann and Chaos cross over. Later the Realm of Chaos books where designed to be used for both games at the same time tying the settings together even more. After Rogue Trader however GW worked to distance the connection between the settings. There where still hints here and there, Chaos Deamons existed in both, even the same named ones, and occasional items from one setting would find there way into the other. Still the connection between 40K and the Old World become a rumor and theory instead of fact.

The Theory

So how can we reconcile the oddness of Rogue Trader with the current state of 40K? Was it all retconned away and meaningless? Was it just a mistake? Well one theory has a rather genius way of resolving a lot of oddities. The theory states that there are in fact two separate timelines/setting for Warhammer 40,000. Rogue Trader, the First Edition, is in fact its own valid setting and separate from that of the later 2nd-8th Editions of the game which follow an alternate timeline. In this theory Rogue Trader and Warhammer Fantasy are actually set in the same setting, with the World That Was likely being hidden in the Eye of Terror and some cataclysmic event later leading to the Age of Sigmar setting. This actually makes it pretty likely that Sigmar was one of the lost Primarchs. 

Which one is the darkest timeline? 


On the other hand modern 40K is its own separate timeline and setting and does not exist in the same Universe as WFB/Rogue Trader. It’s timeline also doesn’t include Age of Sigmar and is of course radically different from the Rogue Trader one. It still is possible for some tangential connection between the two settings via the Warp, but there is no World That Was hiding in the Eye of Terror in the current timeline.

The Point of Divergence

If the timeline’s are different then there would have been some point where they split and diverged. It’s mostly impossible to tell when this happened. It could have happened way back during the War in Heaven or even before that. However in general the overall timeline of both 40K’s seems mostly similar up until around the founding of the Imperium. So one possible point of divergence could be the Emperor’s Trip to Molech. Here he entered a direct portal to the Warp and gained something, godhood or the power to make Primarchs or something. Given the multifaceted nature of the Warp it is possible that this event was so important, and the Emperor such a being, that His journey caused the timelines to split, one Emperor came out with the idea of massively genetically altered human super solders and a dream for a pure Imperium and the other came out more… enlightened, willing to embrace half breeds. Likely we can’t ever know where the timeline split but it is interesting to think about.

Final Thoughts


Overall I’d rate this theory plausible. There isn’t really anyway to prove it’s wrong and it being true would clear up a number, though not all, of the inconsistencies of early 40K. It would also mean that 40K and Rogue Trader really were totally different games, with different rules and a different setting, maybe we are actually playing 7th Edition of 40K right now, not 8th? Of course the Theory is mostly academic, it being true has no effect on game or really on the current fluff. At most it would mean we’d be able to discard the bulk of the Rogue Trader era fluff that’s still sticking around as being from a different timeline. Still its a fun thing to consider, that somewhere out there the Rogue Trader timeline is still going. What would that setting, and the more… lose… ideas of it look with 30 extra years of development focused on keeping the wacky ideas, what stories would we get about the Sensei and Illuminati, what adventures would the  half eldar/half human Librarians get up to, and could one day a Rogue Trader breach the deepest warp storms and set foot on rich and hauntingly familiar world? I suppose we will never know.


Let us know what you think of this theory, down in the comments! 


Author: Abe Apfel
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