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Warhammer 40K: 1987’s Birth of the Grimdark

4 Minute Read
Jan 27 2023
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In September 1987 Games Workshop rolled out the announcement for an all-new hardback named: Warhammer 40,000. The Grimdark was born!

In September 1987, White Dwarf 93 hit the shelves. Within its covers were games such as AD&D, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, and a new hardback for something called… Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader. Here’s what fledgling GW had to say about their all-new game to explain and sell it to a new world of unfamiliar gamers looking for something new:

Welcome to the Grimdark

Within the magazine was the first introduction to the game with a 6-page article that went through exactly this game was, how it related to the existing Warhammer games and why gamers should give it a try. It was written with the expectation they knew nothing about the universe (how could they), and the language used laid bare a lot of things that would become more opaque or obscured in later years. Let’s go through it:

The now familiar logo with some mysteries along the bottom of the page. Even back then, the sense of mystery and the layout of unexplained lore and plot hooks were underway. As we go through the advertisement, note that the BOLD text is purely product description aimed at the buyer, while the non-bold text is in-universe material.

Right off the bat, you get the description of 40K as Science -Fantasy, a blending of sci-fi and high fantasy. You can play the game with as few as a dozen models, and it uses familiar rules mechanics taken from Warhammer Fantasy to ease new players into it. Note “Warhammer 40,000 takes the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay background into the galaxy itself.”

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Here we get a quick summary of the background of the new game. Note the “almost medieval attitude amongst the human societies” and “common folk see technology as witchcraft – so do the technicians.” We get teasers of both metal and plastic vehicles this early and future supplements being planned.

The Deep Space Combat Floorplans product never actually showed up – perhaps this item morphed over time into Space Hulk. More interesting is this: “The Warhammer 40,000 background is an extension of the Warhammer game series, linking the Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games into a complete background.” Hmm…

Read the 2nd paragraph on the upper left. Remember you, players, with refined sensibilities – the Eldar are for you! Then they go quite a bit into the Slann and how Warhammer players will recognize the race and see its fuller role in the unified Warhammer universe. 35 years later, the Slann, Enslavers, and Catachan Devils are mere footnotes, but they were originally envisioned as playing a much larger role at 40’s inception.

On the last page of the preview, we get a direct comparison of the Rogue Trader book to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Call of Cthuhlu, and Runequest III, as well as some discussion of the extensive amount of artwork in the book.

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It’s interesting to see some of the unvarnished and just a tad anxious descriptions for the product that would grow in 35 years to be a global dominating tabletop game. But it is easy to forget that way back in September 1987, it was just another new gamebook that could have so easily died in obscurity alongside so many others of it’s brethren.

Luckily for us all, GW was really onto something with Warhammer 40,000. Anything in there that caught your eye?

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