With Codex Death Guard almost here and Slaanesh maybe coming soon, Chaos is 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 growing and redone Necrons, and Orks, 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…
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. More exactly, they were almost all races from Warhammer Fantasy, in space. The Eldar were pretty much just High Elves in space, the Squats were Space Dwarfs, down to the last trope, and the Orks were Orcs. There was one little glimmer something sci-fi and new… the Tyranids who looked like this:
Cool, but only the one model and not exactly terrifying…
Yes, any of these formative 40K antagonists 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 its followers.
Now, THESE guys look like central-casting 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 than mere enemy conquerors or criminals. No knife twists so deeply as one from a fallen brother.
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. Black Templars, Grey Knights and Death Watch would pile on later. 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 its teeth on the tabletop and the universe lost a lot of its narrative energy. It was hard for the Black Library staff to sell a faction as the ultimate bad guys when no one would take them on the tabletop due to weak rules.
But in 2017 all of that has changed. The arrival of first Thousand Sons as standalone codex/books was a BIG DEAL. First, It marked the start of bigger and better things for Ruinous powers. The Next year with the launch of 8th Edition we got Death Guard and chaos started to get real. Both of these Traitor Legions arrived with their Primarchs to the jubilation of fans worldwide. Later we got Vigilus and an all new Abaddon, the perfect foil for Guilliman.
I believe it will only be a matter of time till we see Emperor’s Children and World Eaters codexes. 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 its best and most emotionally charged villains and intends to make them the ultimate bad guys the game needs to work on a narrative and emotional level for the fans.
With the updated 9th edition Death Guard codex coming and all those new Age of Sigmar Slaanesh minis coming, I have my fingers crossed that 2021 may bring us Emperor’s Children sooner than later.
I couldn’t be happier – and as always – DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!