The tag-line for Games Workshop’s fictional universe known as Warhammer 40,000 is, “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.”
It’s like an odd mash-up of The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones in space. Humanity is beset from all sides (and within) and hope is in short supply – some even see it as a mark of insanity.
Cover of Codex: Space Marines, from the Games Workshop web site.
In this twilit millennium, our greatest defenders are genetically engineered, powered armour-clad warrior-monks called Space Marines, and even they aren’t much better than the universe they inhabit – they’re xenophobic, shoot-first-and-let-others-deal-with-the-questions types.
It doesn’t seem like much of a place to Make Fun in. (Many have made fun of it, sure – the shorthand ”grimdark” is used as a joke in gaming circles.) Most of the other science fiction premises I enjoy usually start with an optimistic premise. Babylon 5 was about different alien races meeting up to solve their issues. Firefly was based around the idea of starship-as-home, crew-as-family.
Hell, my favourite TV show is Doctor Who, which virtually guarantees you forty-five minutes of smile-on-your-face mischief and adventure, even when it’s dealing with serious drama.
Yet as I find myself getting back into the tabletop roleplaying game hobby, it’s the Warhammer 40,000 universe that I’ve made my most recent hobby purchase within.
Of the first three main sets of rules that publisher Fantasy Flight Games (who’ve licensed the Warhammer roleplaying rights from Games Workshop), I didn’t pick Dark Heresy, the game about investigators who seek truth in the dark corners of the galaxy, or Rogue Trader, the game of interstellar merchants out to make riches at any cost.
No, I bought Deathwatch – the roleplaying game that’s all about the Space Marines.
What the hell was I thinking? Why did I possibly think that it could be fun?