Advancing the Storyline
"You think you've caught me, huh? Vile cat thing! You know what's MORE ANNOYING?! THE END TIMES. You ever wonder what happens if you peer beyond the veil, planet-spawn?! Galaxy-rending terror and destruction! I won't have it! Our galaxy is in perfect equilibrium, thanks to me! No unhinged researches, no extraneous discoveries, and no End Times! Just enough war to keep [my empire] rolling, and to keep you flesh-bags in stock! There is no narrative to drive us to the brink, just sweet, beautiful, setting!"
Advancing the Storyline is what a great number of neckbeards believe that Games Workshop
needs needed to do with Warhammer 40,000. On /tg/, Warseer, Bolter and Chainsword, and Dakka Dakka, people complain and grumble about how the storyline never moves beyond the year 999.M41, with Abaddon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade on the very brink of taking Cadia, for real this time (he actually did in The Gathering Storm, released in 2017 and the setting has now reached 000.M42. Unfortunately the name "Warhammer 41,000" just doesn't have the same ring to it), the Tyranid Hive Fleets closing in on Terra, the Astronomican flickering and fading, and the Golden Throne being one Adeptus Custodes' sneeze away from shutting down permanently.
Recently, GW seems to have been inching the plot forwards in parts around the Imperium, with expanded information on the 13th Black Crusade, Daemon Primarchs coming about, and Super-Super-Soldiers being forced into the fray, GW is upsetting the status quo that's been stagnating for the last ten millennia and past four editions (give or take), laying the groundwork for moving things forward. And with rumblings about 40K 8thEd., it seems 40K is moving towards its own version of The End Times. For reasons listed below and in the End Times article, this is all but guaranteed to be the largest mass of skub /tg/ has ever seen.
Oh, and FYI? It Happened.
- 1 Why they're wrong
- 2 Why they're right
- 3 Other points
- 4 Beyond the 41st Millennium
- 5 Fundamental Misunderstandings
- 6 Exploring 10,000 years of factions and history
- 7 Warhammer Fantasy
- 8 Yep, They're Doing It
- 9 Was it worth it?
- 10 See Also
Why they're wrong
Some people — Daddy Issues Dembski being one of its most frequent proponents — hold the view that this attitude is a load of shit, and that it completely misunderstands the nature of the 40k setting.
This is because 40k isn't a story, and in fact, doesn't have a "storyline"; while events from it, such as the Black Crusades and the Badab War, have had their stories told, there's no single, overarching story that the setting exists to tell (unlike universes such as those of Star Wars or Doctor Who, where all other stories are anchored to one central, unifying narrative). 40k is simply a setting in which stories take place, and has ten thousand years and a whole galaxy in which to set them, so expecting the timeline to "advance" to "continue" or "finish" the "story" is a stupid idea.
The other, more practical issue with advancing the storyline is that a major change to it is likely to have severe reprecussions on one or more of the different factions, which may not always be welcome changes. To use the most obvious example, consider what effect story progression would have on the Imperium of Man. The majority of 40k players favor one of the many Imperium-aligned factions. Assuming that the God-Emperor doesn't get resurrected and the Golden Throne isn't fixed before it fails (which itself is rather unlikely and has a good chance of causing problems of its own), the sheer number of threats that the Imperium faces on a constant basis will tear it apart as soon as the Emperor snuffs it, leading to the enslavement and/or destruction of humanity. And no Imperium means that about half of the armies currently in the game will no longer exist, leaving numerous fa/tg/uys stuck with unusable armies and a serious grudge over being given the Squat treatment. Needless to say, Games Workshop's profits would be hit incredibly hard by the departure of so many paying customers, so they have no choice but to keep the Imperium afloat. Although this has the infuriating side effect of causing the setting to grow stagnant and unchanging (much like the Imperium itself), GW can't afford to appease one group of complaining neckbeards over another which would complain even more loudly if their armies were suddenly made unusable.
At the same time, it would be equally risky for GW to risk upsetting the status quo for any other race. For example, if the Tyranids started arriving in full force, the Tau would cease to exist as well because they'd be the first to get nommed; naturally, this would infuriate Tau players. The Eldar dying out completely and forming Ynnead would meet with an equally chilly reception from both Eldar and Slaanesh players. Similarly, unified Necrons would be such a juggernaut that they'd be able to wipe out all other factions effortlessly (unless the Mechanicus shares with other Imperial factions, which will never happen), which is also something GW wants to avoid. If the removal of the Squats (which were always a rather small army with only a handful of players) was enough to produce a major outcry, then the rage produced by the removal of a major faction will be truly unimaginable.
Basically, in order to keep everyone happy, any advancement of the status quo in 40k would have to result in all the factions still being more or less equally matched. That is, the same essential status quo would have to be maintained, making the plot advancement meaningless. Meaningfully advancing the story would logically spell death for a playable faction, and GeeDubs has no financial incentive to kill off a playable faction. Would you want to play a faction that gets canonically boned no matter how well you play? No, no you would not,
and GeeDubs won't ever do that to you. WRONG, see the End Times below.
Why they're right
On the other hand, Privateer Press has managed to pull off a metaplot in a wargame just fine with WARMACHINE and Hordes, and there's no reason that it should be any different for 40k. Besides, given the fact that GW is already expanding the scope of the game to include the previously untouchable events of the Horus Heresy, it's perfectly possible for them (and probably quite profitable since it would give them an excuse to make a new line of minis) to start encompassing events further into the future as well as into the past of the setting. (Some can say that they're already doing so now with the increased emphasis on the "Time of Ending" in the current codices.)
On top of that, it can be argued that the central story of 40k is the story of the Imperium's fall from glory and slow decline, which must by definition end with either the Emperor getting revived or the destruction of the Imperium of Man, and failing to resolve this central storyline is slowly causing the whole story to stagnate as it runs out of events and gaps to fill in. Even the evolving stories that your dudes were once capable of creating can no longer exist because there is simply nothing left to evolve. Remember how the Eye of Terror Campaign ended in a victory for Chaos? Instead of allowing its results to change the background (via Abbadon taking Cadia), GW instead decided to backpedal in a way that ultimately made the events of the campaign utterly meaningless. How can you have an emergent narrative take place when any sign that it might upset the way things are now results in it being retconned or otherwise made insignificant?
Another major problem caused by the setting's stagnation is the presence of numerous plotholes which form as a byproduct of GW's insistence in squeezing the shit out of 999.M41. A good example of this is the Knights of Blood defending Baal AND attacking the Farsight Enclaves in the same year despite the fact that they are on opposite sides of the galaxy. The only way to fix that would be to retcon the date, which would create problems of its own depending on where they inserted the new date, or to use warp fuckery since warp travel occasionally has you appear at your destination some time before you left, and because there's always a helpful retcon lying around.
The biggest problem is that Games Workshop loves their status quo. They'll advance the story in bits and pieces but never anything that changes the status quo. In 40K, in Games Workshop's vision:
- The Imperium will always be stagnant and rotting, but they'll never be destroyed
or fracturedDark Imperium (helps that they're a Creator's Pet and, due to all the updates and attention from GW, the bestselling faction(or the other way around; it's hard to say at this point)).
- The Eldar will always be full of arrogant people, dying and trying to rebuild their empire, but never progress, succeed or go extinct.
- The Tau will always be a new, expanding empire with hints of grimdark beneath their benevolent façade, but never get too grimdark or expand to the point where they threaten the Imperium.
- The Chaos Space Marines will always be trying to overthrow the Imperium, have a grudge against it and be under Abbadon's leadership, but never succeed in a way that puts the Imperium in jeopardy or puts someone besides Abbadon in charge.
- The Chaos Daemons will always be corrupting things and fighting, but never win a lasting victory or suffer a permanent setback.
- The Necrons will always be an ancient empire slowly reawakening with each faction following the dictates of their Overlord, with the C'tan either enslaved or in hiding and planning to restore themselves to their former might; but never fully awaken, fully be destroyed, or fully unite, and the C'tan will never be completely enslaved to the Necrons or completely free.
- The Orks will always be fightan and winnin petty wars, while Ghazghkull Thraka will always be attempting to gather the greatest waaagh of all time.
- The Tyranids will always be a major galactic threat answerable only to the Hive Mind and will never ally with non-Tyranids, but will never win, be wiped out or wipe out or weaken a playable faction.
- The non-playable factions will always get a token mention, but never get time in the limelight or become powerful enough to challenge a major faction.
There is also the matter that some of the Ciaphas Cain books take place in the early years of M42 (though his adventures are not exactly Imperium-shaking events). If those can be considered part of the fluff now, what's to stop it from going further than that?
It also bears mentioning that changes can be made to the storyline without altering the tabletop. Warhammer Fantasy kills off major characters (for example all the named characters currently available to the Vampire Counts army, half of the Orcs and Goblins characters and now ALL the Skaven.) and they are still fieldable in the game. The plot of the setting progresses beyond that point and introduces new characters, encouraging players to not simply play "in the present" but instead just pick someplace in the timeline for their battle. Sure you run into inconsistencies when someone long dead is fighting the army of someone not even born when they were alive. But hey! Necromancy, gods intervening, and Chaos fuckery make a good explanation, as does the age-old rationalization of "shut up and just play the game". If one were to take that approach to 40k via advanced technology of some kind, Warp-related time distortions, or the aforementioned Chaos fuckery, then anyone can appear at any time if the players wish it despite them being killed off in canon. Plot can progress, everyone gets to keep their favorite canon from the past, everyone wins. In fact, this has already happened in canon- Captain Tycho has been dead since the Third War for Armageddon, as is Lord Solar Macharius, but that doesn't stop either of them from being playable. Hell, even Eldrad was dead for a while before the retcon hit. Don't forget about Aun'va. (Tycho is a bad example here because GW has obviously been trying to make it so no one plays him anyway because his rules are a steaming pile of shit that get worse every edition. So, yeah?)
TL;DR- While shaking up the setting some might leave some people rather grumpy, making significant changes has just as good of a chance of making things better instead of worse for the players, and if handled well those chances go up. Unfortunately, GW is really, really bad at it.
Beyond the 41st Millennium
Of course, while Games Workshop may never enter the 42nd Millennium, that doesn't stop us from writing up fanfics that do so (or from bickering over which possible portrayal is more likely to actually occur).
- The ship moves, a setting where, in the grim darkness of the 51st Millennium, the God-Emperor of Mankind orders the construction of a giant ark to leave the failing Imperium behind.
- Story:The Shape Of The Nightmare To Come 50k, a plot that manages to become even MORE grimdark than it already was, with the Emprah croaking, the Imperium splintered into Khaine-knows-how-many pieces, and several other incredibly crappy things changing the universe even further.
- Return of the Primarchs, where the fall of Cadia coincides with the fleets of the fallen/dead Primarchs from before the HH, the Lost Primarchs get found and they all band together to help the living ones get up and bring the Imperium to a more presentable state. Elements of this seem to have popped up in 8th.
- End Times (Warhammer 40,000), Emps dies and is re-incarnated as a woman.
- Legion XI: Age of Sigmar is actually lost primarch Sigmar's madness in the warp. The Emperor finds him. Galaxy goes Imperium-hating even more than now. Warhammer fantasy returns.
- If the Emperor had a Text-To-Speech Device is a sillier, more Noblebright interpretation of the setting.
The problem in 40k is basically the date. That's it. The fluff writers can really just play grab ass going back and forth over and over for another ten thousand years, with no real setting defining changes easily enough. After all, they've already done that once - The whole timeline from the heresy to today, has resulted in basically no major changes but has still felt interesting. The status quo doesn't need to change, but there really does need to be some space for new fluff going forward, so it's not just being stuffed in around existing events. We already have canon conflicts and it'll only get worse to the point, where everyone in the fluff is established as being at one specific place in 999.M41 and that's it. No more new fluff. You can leave out the major events, just takes us some number of years forward so things are actually interesting again. Or, hell, go BACK. There's absolutely nothing wrong with filling in TEN THOUSAND YEARS of time over a galaxy of space, to make an interesting story!
Exploring 10,000 years of factions and history
Interestingly GeeDubs has actually made fluff from periods other than the end of the 41st millenium, The Horus Heresy is perhaps the biggest example of how the long timeline of the Imperium can be further exploited for new settings, with the armies of the 31st millenium being factions of their own and quite different than the current space marine chapters and Adeptus Mechanicus forces, and while some of the novels of that period have been lacklusting we have got other which are rightly among the best productions of Black Library. Similarly Battlefleet Gothic was set during the 12th Black Crusade and allowed the fans to take a look to the naval forces of the different factions, with a recent videogame allowing a sort of resurrection and rumours about a possible resurrection of the tabletop game.
It can be pointed out that Gaunt's Ghosts were set centuries before the current time period, yet it has allowed for a very popular book series without actually requiring to interact with the 13th Crusade, showing an actual good use of the Galaxy.
The novel series The Beast Arises has been covering the War of The Beast and the Beheading, allowing for new possible scenarios and campaigns and exploring the fate of Sisters of Silence, the emergence of the Deathwatch and the Ordo Xenos as well as bringing a new array of characters and potential new units as well as revealing unsuspected secrets from well establisehd factions, and while some people didn't take it well other have quite enjoyed the chance of checking back the 32nd millenium with hopes of seeing other events explored.
Unlike Warhammer 40k, the plotline of Warhammer Fantasy
d̶o̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶d̶v̶a̶n̶c̶e did advance, but in small increments - which could amount to something big. Each edition and army book usually adds a little more fluff to the past (and maybe a retcon or two), rarely an update to the big prophesied battle between good and evil that decides the settings future, and a plot hook in the present.
For example, the 8th edition Vampire Counts and High Elves army books (Codex for 40k players) added a new story to the end of the army timelines that mentions how Mannfred von Carstein kidnapped the Everqueen's daughter Aliathra, and is going to sacrifice her like a Frazetta painting to bring back the setting's big BIG bad Nagash and that the greatest hero of the High Elves, Tyrion, has saved her and is riding at the head of a large High Elf army about to clash with a large Undead army.
Smaller updates (mainly gimmicks to sell a book and some models) like Storm of Magic will add a whole new event that extends the "present day" by a few months to a year. The infamous Warhammer Online was entirely non-canon which may have been what doomed it from the start. Regardless, Fantasy wasn't, for a long time, THAT adventurous about advancing its plotline, but advancing it some didn't sink the ship. Well, not until...
The End Times and Age of Sigmar: The Ultimate Arguments against Advancing the Storyline
In late 2014, GW finally decided to advance the storyline just as the players wished. The original consensus of this was that it was pretty cool. The fools...
The Nagash book introduced these major changes by bringing back Nagash as a superpower in his own right. Heroes were killed and Chaos was for once not the big title threat, except to the Empire, since Nagash was getting ready to kick them out and take the world for himself. Many non-playable human nations were decimated and Nagash led all the Vampire Counts to Nehekhara. After a series of lengthy battles he overthrew Settra, forced most of the Tomb Kings to serve him and effectively destroyed Nehekhara's cities so it ceased to exist as a nation. In the epilogue, Settra got offered a Faustian bargain by the Chaos Gods that could turn the tables on Nagash.
The Glottkin book saw the Empire become leveled between the titular triplets, Festus, and the others. Kurt Helborg filling in for Emperor as Kark Franz was MIA following his duel with Walach in the previous book. Little else happened except an undead cameo with Vlad laying the groundwork to become Vampire Emperor. It...didn't work, though he made progress. The epilogue had Karl Franz, imbued with the power of the heavens, give a dire warning.
The Khaine book was the book where the outlook of the End Times started whipping around. All of a sudden, Teclis became a master manipulator bar none, Malekith threw Naggaroth away like a used tissue and was revealed to be the true king all along with everyone else being cheating usurpers. Tyrion became an utter asshole and turned into Khaine incarnate, only to die like a bitch to Alith Anar. The end result meant that Ulthuan was destroyed and all the elves got slapped into a single army, which caused frustration among the separate bases. The epilogue has Araloth hook up with Lileath and leave the Warhammer world to rebuild in another dimension.
Thanquol just made things even worse, as the rest of the Empire finally collapsed with Valten's death and the loss of Ulric's flame. After being worked over by the Skaven, Lustria and the Southlands got blasted by meteors, the surviving Lizardmen go "Thanks for all the fish" and fly off into space. Speaking of Skaven, they destroy everyone who isn't the Empire, Bretonnia or elves offscreen (and Bretonnia is also destroyed offscreen as well), and more Dwarfs get chopped. Also Gobbla got eaten, cue Goblin tears. The epilogue has the Skaven conquer Karaz-a-Karak and ally with the forces of Chaos.
Now Archaon was where shit broke. To make a long story short, Chaos wins and everyone dies, and there wasn't a damned thing anyone could do to stop it. And that they had been doing this to every universe that had preceded the then-current one, so they would just keep winning over and over again no matter what anyone did about it. By the end of the book, the entire Warhammer World had ceased to exist and every army and named character was killed off if they weren't already dead. In short, it was what GW wanted Storm of Chaos to be, but without that irritating "player interaction" messing up the plot they had planned out. The epilogue had a mysterious figure riding what's left of the ruined world perform an unspecified miracle.
In a sense, one could see this as a monkey's paw wish; the fanbase finally got the Fantasy setting to advance, but it led to said setting being destroyed and replaced by a completely different setting. One could fearfully wonder now just what would happen if the End Times treatment happened to 40K, and the general consensus is "even the complete stagnation we have now is better than their insane ideas of progression." But if Games Workshop does the same to 40k, it likely means they're going out of business, because that setting has, among other things, their creator's pets. (And as it turns out, several of their new books seem to be showing disturbing parallels to The End Times...so make of that what you will.)
Age of Sigmar added another monkey wrench into the works; while the plot is nominally progressing with the promise of further developments in the future, it's not necessarily going to be a good thing given GW's track record thus far, and beyond a few shared characters who lack most of their original defining characteristics, most of the "new" Warhammer setting is barely recognizable as being connected to the old one at all. Two long-time factions, Bretonnia and the Tomb Kings, were squatted without even an explanation. In short, advancing the storyline only works when the people writing it aren't absolutely clueless on how to do so, and GW has shown absolutely no signs of being remotely competent enough to pull it off. Unfortunately, recent events in 40k suggest Geedubs has learned nothing from the experience and is on the verge of doing the same thing again.
While the game has certainly improved since its release, especially in the gameplay sector, it took a very long time for the setting and lore to reach a comparable state to that of Fantasy. This (coupled with the destruction of a setting that was well-liked narratively, if not competitively) means Age of Sigmar can still be seen as an against to advancing the storyline (though what the New Games Workshop(tm) has so far shown us regarding 40k is promising). Then again if you read the beginning of this section that's what we all thought about Fantasy.
Yep, They're Doing It
2017 barely had time to start before GeeDubs released Fall of Cadia. With this, the clock has finally struck midnight and the year 41,000 officially begins. And this being 40k, instead of just dropping the Times Square Ball in a shower of fireworks and cheering, they drop the entire planet in a shower of shredded limbs and howling of the dead. Creed loses his arm AND Jarran Kell, Abbadon loses his spleen, Trazyn shows up and gives the Imperium instructions on how to supercharge the pylons to the point that they close the Eye of Terror for a moment, and
the Chaos gods call a bullshit DM fiat and blow up the planet AFTER the Necron anti-warp pylons have been turned up to maximum Abaddon sacrifices his Blackstone Fortress and rams the planet in a failed gambit to finally kill Creed, blowing up the pylons and giving the Cadian 8th the best fucking last stand ever as the Eye opens up and spews forth all of the Chaos all over Cadia. Creed barely survives, and is taken by Trazyn as a souvenir before he can bleed out because this is Trazyn we're talking about here.
Eldrad got himself put on trial for being a dick even by Eldar standards, but was vindicated when it turned out he really did manage to awaken Ynnead early. The rebirth begins with Ynnead empowering his herald in Commorragh, which causes all sorts of strife in the Dark City, forcing Yvraine and some Dark Eldar defectors to flee Vect's wrath. Ynnead's fledgeling faction of followers has since rallied members of all three major Eldar factions to itself, with the goal of bringing Ynnead to its full strength. Following the near-destruction of Biel-Tan by Chaos, they resolved to seek an alliance with the Imperium against their common enemy- no tricks or deception this time, just an agreement to not kill each other while the Dark Gods are on their doorsteps.
And to cap it all off, Roboute Guilliman was brought back to life with the help of said Eldar and became Lord Commander of the Imperium once again. Predictably, he was rather upset with how far the Imperium had fallen since he was last conscious and slaps the High Lords collective heads together to actually fix the Imperium.
Warhammer 40,000 8th edition has been putting all of the above into overdrive; when the giant Warp storm dividing the Imperium in half is one of the smaller changes seen thus far, you know things are going to be shaken up. Hard. Throughout 2019 and early 2020, GW released the Psychic Awakening series of books, an interconnected series of battles and stories that, despite its massive reach affecting every faction to some extent, it proved to change ultimately little in the narrative...
- A solid example of this "progression" would be any lore created since 8th launched that involves the Ynnari. Though they spent the better part of 8th edition flitting to and fro, going on adventures to reclaim the Croneswords and gather new allies, almost everything they manage to achieve is either completely negated by the price they paid to accomplish their goals or ultimately doesn't do anything for them or their cause whatsoever. It doesn't help that the Rise of the Ynnari series of books was canned, though it's not exactly hard to see how a series depicting the Ynnari constantly getting their collective cheeks clapped and accomplishing absolutely nothing for all the rape they endured wouldn't fly off the shelves.
Until the end, where they then introduced Warhammer 40,000 9th Edition right alongside the final book of Psychic Awakening, and just to match Bib Bobby G's return in 8th, 9th is seeing the Silent King make a dreadful return.
Was it worth it?
In reviving Guilliman and presenting the Imperium as outright angelic in newer pieces of artwork such as the 9th edition core book cover, the setting of 40k has shifted away from the themes of "an empire in decline" to something moreso resembling "heroic fantasy in space!" The Imperium is technically still declining, sure, but GW's way of showing off the progress of that decline is quite literally half-assed: Only half the galaxy is actually experiencing what it's like for the Imperium to finally begin to balkanize and crumble, while the other is seemingly experiencing a sort of Renaissance. To top it off, the Imperium is beginning to be portrayed less as "the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable" and moreso as "noble defenders of humanity", seemingly because it's the safe option. Compound this with the fact that the Primaris Marines bring a host of new toys with them that fly in the face of "forget the power of science and technology, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned" and you have a recipe for an Imperium that isn't in decline, but in an upswing that allows GW's posterboys to come across as noble, child-friendly space paladins instead of monstrous post-human killers who doomed humanity to a slow, painful death spanning several millennia through the Horus Heresy.
Would it have been better if Guilliman hadn't returned, and the Imperium had truly begun to balkanize? To reinforce the theme of decline and give players more narrative justification for the Imperium mirror matches that so often appear on the table? Sure, it's not going to please Timmy the Imperium fanboy once he realizes that the setting was all about his faction's slow death since the days of Rogue Trader, but it could be more narratively satisfying and cohesive to double down on what had already been established instead of going for something altogether more, well, marketable. Hell, there's still ways to justify new models, too - there's a million ways to introduce the new Primaris range into the setting, be it through marines beginning to manufacture new gear based on designs the Mechanicus hoarded for millennia or just plain retconning.
Not to mention the fact that the more "noble" image of the Imperium, combined with a seemingly benevolent dictator taking power being the reason for its survival, leans into narratives that would make the average /pol/tard cream themselves when you consider the fact the Imperium is still the xenophobic, genocidal, totalitarian nightmare it always has been, just portrayed in a more sympathetic light.
Or maybe we're better off with what we have right now. It's something worth thinking about. Regardless, the 40k fandom would've accepted just about anything when it comes to new narrative developments - they were starved of it for decades, after all.
- Your dudes
- Eberron - A setting with the explicit objective of not advancing the story
- Dark Sun - A setting where advancing the story forward too quickly proved to be a bad idea
- World of Darkness - Two settings actually, one where advancing the story ate everything else, and one where advancing the story became a dirty word as a direct reaction to the former.
- Emperor James - A setting was marked but still visible of the writers mistakes