Those of us with longish memories remember a time when things were a little different in the 41st Millennium and the Warhammer world. A time when things developed, when things changed. Cities fell, new races rose up, mighty heroes died and, well, stayed dead. In other words, the timeline progressed.

This phenomenon was created under the rule of then-Games Development supremo Andy Chambers. There were broad, sweeping storylines that could be discerned from stories and background text published in White Dwarf, new army books, supplements and the major web-based campaigns that GW ran.

For Warhammer, the Ogre race started its migration into the Old World, the mad count Maruis Leitdorf was slain, the Supreme Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic was replaced, Eltharion was blinded – and then there was the Storm of Chaos. This, the last of the history-changing worldwide campaigns, saw Archaon launch the next major incursion, rivalling the Great War Against Chaos. The Grand Theogonist got himself captured by Daemons, Sigmar’s heir (allegedly) appeared in the form of Valten, and it all culminated in the siege of Middenheim. In theory the city could have actually fallen, had the bad guys’ battle results not been so rubbish.

In 40k Ghazghkull invaded Armageddon for the second time, Captain Tycho was killed, the entire Necron race awakened (heralded in subtle ways in the Gorkamorka supplement), and the Tau Empire came to power suspiciously quickly. The Eye of Terror campaign saw Eldrad Ulthuan slain, and had the potential for a major shake-up – the introduction article in White Dwarf claimed that a big win for Abaddon could see Chaos gain territory in the heart of the Imperium, while the opposite might result in a new age of expansion for the Imperium. As it turned out, the results were fairly even - not a massive surprise, statistically speaking, but the possibilities were huge and far-reaching.

More recent years have seen a much more conservative approach. The summer campaigns, while perfectly entertaining, have been ring-fenced or limited in scope, so that no ongoing consequences were possible – not fundamentally different to the campaign a large club might invent and run. In fact, a lot of the ‘progress’ I’ve mentioned has been back-tracked or ignored. Tycho seems remarkably well in the new Blood Angels codex and the current Empire Armies book scarcely mentions the events of the Storm of Chaos.  The background of both games now presents an unchanging snapshot – a moment in time.

So why the new approach? There are two main reasons that I can envisage. Firstly, the static method means you’ll get the same worlds to play in whether you start gaming now or in ten years’ time. Because there’s always the danger that a new storyline may not be as good as the old one – a new age of expansion for the Imperium may seem superficially tantalising, but is it really as dramatic as the Imperium approaching destruction? Look at any long-running TV show – series 5 is never anywhere near as good as the early days, as the producers struggle to keep things fresh, integrate new cast-members and new ideas, but still keep the spirit of the original show alive. The frozen time method is more like remaking a classic film – the effects get better, but the essential story remains unchanged.

The other obvious advantage with keeping time still is that they don’t invalidate older books and models. Of course you’d never have expected them to kill off an entire army or anything, but imagine how disheartening an introduction to the hobby it would be to collect an Empire army, paint it blue and white following the Army book, only to find out that “Sorry, Middenheim got destroyed.”

I understand both these sensible reasons. Yet like it or not, there is something undeniably appealing about change. World of Warcraft is doing it in a big way with Cataclysm – a massive sweeping change that will get existing and lapsed players excited, and no doubt net quite a few new ones too. Of course it’s not a trick you can pull very often (there’s only so many times you can nearly destroy the world), but I do wonder if, some time in the future, that Games Workshop will be tempted to stage their own cataclysm?

2 Responses to “Stuck in time”

  1. Reds8n says:

    I think it would certainly be well worth them doing so at some point.
    I remember hearing some fairly..WTF ..rumours to do with some of the ideas floating around before one of the 40K new editions ( may have been 4th edition) about Ultramarines and Space Wolves withdrawing from a new Imperium after Cypher ( I think, it might have been Abaddon and then his sword was going to be revealeld to be either the or a part of The Dragon C’tan…?! ) slew the Emperor and freed him… Ultrawolves Legion was mentioned and all manner of oddness. Overall — assuming there’s even a nugget of truth here — I don’t think they’d need to go that far, but I think the 40K setting could easily advance, say, 100 years for each edition. Given the way the setting works that’s next to nothing really, but would allow for some storyline progression.

    I take the point that the new story may be worse than the current…. but it might be better as well, and if it is worse… then change it again.

    I don’t mind the staticness of the setting , but it does annoy me that GW are so slow to exploit the opportunity to explore the past events. FW are, bless them all, finally getting into this idea with their Badad War books, there’s a huge amount of similar eras that could be explored.

    I can understand them saving the Heresy stuff for a rainy day/ a sudden need for a massive cash cow (marine joke of your choice here ;) ) but.. lets see more historical campaign and settings, with limited eidtion character models too perhaps.

  2. Pete Rees says:

    I enjoyed the idea of the storyline advancing, it really makes it more interesting and is really what Blizzard seem to be good at doing – having been a GW tabletop fan and Blizzard real time strategy then MMO player [not now though]… Between StarCraft and WarCraft they’ve told 2 amazing stories that with each edition of the game – advances in way of story in ways to me that I cannot describe even with the supporting novels that Blizzard has released / endorced it really adds to the fluff but not as much as the Black Library…

    Alot of people do pre-heresy armies with (Emperor’s Children example…) Fabius, Saul Tarvitz, Lucius before what became of them so there is nothing stopping people having an army from a set point in time, heck even say a “survivor” force in your Middenheim example if you do not want to say ‘from this point in time’.

    Wishing there was a proper campaign – ala Abaddon’s crusade, Fall of Medusa which advanced the 40k storyline… As with the BRB (Big Rule Book) it is supposed to be the End of Times, however what do the players have to relate to this other than knowing that the Goldern Throne is failing…

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