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Warhammer 40K: The Lore is Disappearing

5 Minute Read
Feb 03

40K 9th Edition is starting to get rolling. But compared to previous editions, it is leaving the lore of the grimdark behind.

Warhammer 40K exists on a continuum. Some editions, the game expands and the rules and combos swell like the belly of Grandfather Nurgle. In other editions it will contract sharply and become a cut down lean and mean tabletop game. Over the decades you can almost feel Warhammer 40k’s ruleset “breathing in” and “breathing out”.

The Lore Matters

The players react to each edition, learn its intricacies, and in general do a good job of forgetting the previous edition ever existed. I find it interesting that many of the long term players are the constant in the Warhammer equation. It is they who provide the stability with virtually identical behavior from edition to edition, while the game itself shifts like sand beneath their feet.

Seriously- it’s kind of nuts to keep track of everything. Credit: Reddit 40KLore

But if there has been one constant in the game itself – it is the lore. Warhammer 40,000 at this point must have one of the largest sized collection of novels and background of any fictional universe. It certainly is orders of magnitude larger than the official Tolkien universe and is up there with things like Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, and Battletech. To me, the lore is one of the primary “glues” that binds players to the game. Fans are able to endure almost any level of game changes, so long as the beloved grimdark is intact and slowly expanding. It is a robust and well-illustrated lore section that is so effective at binding players to their favorite armies.

Where’s the Lore?

But when the jump to 9th Edition was made, slowly and subtly, the lore began to disappear from the main gamebooks. We went back and pulled several examples of categories of Warhammer 40K gamebooks from 8th and 9th edition and averaged out their pagecount of lore and background. Here are some data points:

8th Edition

  • Codex – 8th edition – @65pp lore.
  • Supplemental Codex – 8th edition – @40pp lore.
  • Psychic Awakening Codex – 8th edition – @20pp lore.
  • Campaign Book (Vigilus, etc) – 8th edition – @110pp lore.

9th Edition

  • Codex – 9th edition – @35pp lore.
  • Supplemental Codex – 9th edition – @25pp lore.
  • Crusade Campaign Book – 9th edition – @6pp lore.

What’s Going On?

Now we are still certainly early in the new edition, and it has years to go. But the lore is being cut back severely. In codexes, this tends to be the reduction of the unit descriptions. It is possible some big changes are taking place behind the scenes. Here are some possibilities.

Black Library – It’s possible that GW is moving to a model where Black Library is the main source of extended lore. In 9th we are certainly seeing short series of novels that are defining the “big events” of the current edition. Compare that to before the Horus Heresy series was launched, when Black Library novels tended to cover small scale characters, or “sideshow” events, rather than the most important people doing the most important things.

Narrative Campaigns – It’s possible that GW is going to put out a small number of expansive lore focussed books similar to Vigilus or Psychic Awakening. These could easily be in the years ahead for 9th edition. It is possible that GW is moving to a model where a small number of these books become the primary place for extended lore to live.

Unremembered – This is the worst case and I hope it is not what is going on. It is possible that after so many editions of minor reprints of roughly the same background from codex to codex, it is assumed that the players already know enough, or can access it online if they need to – so why reprint it. I’m sure it makes sense from an efficiency point of view, but I think that line of thinking does a huge disservice to new players who are just getting into the universe. It’s the type of move expected out of a late-stage extremely mature game system with a stable or shrinking playerbase, not one that is growing fast and taking on new players at a breakneck speed.


A Comparison to the Mortal Realms

As I think over what is going on with the Grimdark lore, I keep being reminded of the incredible excitement and sense of the new that is exploding on the Age of Sigmar side of things. There we are seeing new factions and gigantic lore shakeups coming fast and furious. It is no exaggeration to say that more happened in Broken Realms: Morathi book than the entire Psychic Awakening series. While I am trying to figure out what is happening to the lore in the Grimdark, I am anxiously awaiting book two in that series to see what happens.

I love the lore, I want more of it, and it’s a mistake to undervalue the strength it lends to the Warhammer 40K universe.

~Do you want to see more lore in the 40K books ahead?

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