Yeah, but nerds have money and toy soldiers are more awesome than most other things you can waste your money on. Warhammer refers to a fantasy setting and a number of distinct tabletop and computer games. This thread is concerned with the original, a tabletop miniatures wargame.
The Warhammer story, or background, is vast. It begins tens of thousands of years before the current day with the Old Ones: beings of vast power that sailed between worlds on a sea of infinite potential (known as the Warp, Aethyr, or Realm of Chaos). Armed with incomprehensible techno-magicks and knowledge, the Old Ones raised the races of the Warhammer World from barbarism, teaching elf and dwarf how to draw upon the Realm of Chaos to shape extra-dimensional potential into physical formsâ€¦ or magic, and bestowing upon them the joys of enlightened civilization. This golden age ended too soon, however, as the Old Ones were exterminated or driven away by things from the Aethyr: the daemons of Chaos and Ruinous Powers native to that Realm. Given form and purpose by the Warp-reflected flaws of mortals, these daemons invaded the Warhammer World, ending the age of Law and advancement brought about by the Old Ones. Many millennia later, the children of the Old Ones continue the battle gainst Chaos.
It is important to note that there are many, varied, implementations of Warhammer lore; none are more "right" or "official" than others. To put it quite simply, according to GW: THERE IS NO WARHAMMER CANON. Players are free to pick, choose, and research the bits they like.
WHERE DID GAMES WORKSHOP COME UP WITH THIS STUFF?
Warhammer's imagery and style are influenced heavily by gritty, classic fantasy authors, such as Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft, as well as real-world history and a bit of Tolkien. Designers also list influences such as Terry Gilliam, Black Adder, and Monty Python. The Warhammer world is a playground-like amalgam of everything from Napoleonic gun lines, to sanity-blasting tentacled horrors, to halfings and their giant cocks (depictions of a large rooster that serves as a provincial symbol for the little folk). Those interested in learning more might be urged to pick up some of these older books; Warhammerâ€™s roots are clearly evident in Conan, Elric, and Martin Luther.
THE WARHAMMER WORLD
The unnamed (to its inhabitants) Warhammer world roughly resembles our own. Maps can be found here
. At the â€œheartâ€ of the known setting is the Old World, analogous to Earthâ€™s Europe. Here one finds the human nations of the Empire, Bretonnia, Kislev, brutal Nosrca, Tilea, and Estalia as well as the remnants of the Dwarfsâ€™ ancient empire beneath the mountains. Scattered pockets of wood elves (both civilized and less soâ€¦) share lands with the Empire and Bretonnia. To the south, past the rogue settlements of the Border Princes and orc-infested Badlands, lie trackless deserts. Cut through by the great River Mortis, the ancient, dusty realm of Nehekkarha lies not-as-silent as it should be, duly earning its title as the Land of the Dead. Past here, one finds the mysterious human nation of Araby, rife with proscribed cults and unknown magic, with the dark jungles of the Southlands engulfing the rest of the southern continent. Nothing but sun-mad orcs and the remains of the Old Onesâ€™ world live here.
To the east lie the dead plains of the Dark Lands, choked with the fumes of Chaos Dwarf industry. Yet further east, in the Mountains of Mourn, are the Ogre Kingdoms. These inhospitable vaults are dotted with the scattered ruins of forgotten civilizations and shaggy prehistoric beasts, pierced in the south by the Silver Road, the sole not-so-safe route between the lands of the Old World and mysterious Far East. Of the kingdoms of Ind, Cathay, and Nippon little is knownâ€¦ other than that the presence of Chaos.
In the middle of the Great Ocean hides Ulthuan, the last great holding of the Asur, first and favorite children of the Old Ones. This magic and mist enshrouded isle contains the kingdoms of the High Elves, including mystical Avelorn and stately Eataine; recently opened to outsiders by the Phoenix King Finubar. Unknown to most of the Warhammer world, Ulthuan is of critical importance. In ancient times, the elves created a vortex of Chaos energy, woven of the structure of the island itself. This vortex drained the Chaos-stuff feeding daemonic legions after the fall of the Old Ones, allowing the elves to fight back and forestall the end of the world. Were this vortex to ever fail, Ulthuan would sink beneath the waves, heralding the final invasion of Chaos.
West of Ulthuan one finds the brooding forests and icy mountains of Naggaroth, the Land of Chill. Now refuge of the Druchii, exiled for millennia from Ulthuan, this is a land as cruel as its inhabitants. To the south is fabled Lustria, where the seat of the Old Ones lies rotting in the jungles. Overseen by things blindly following the edicts of the lost Old Ones, many attempt to enter these jungles to secure the gold and riches within. A few even make it back.
Finally, at the very ends of the Warhammer world lie madness and infinity. The collapsed interdimensional gates of the Old Ones spill Aethyr into the material, and thoughts of mortals into the Realm of Chaos. Surrounding the northern pole gate are the Chaos Wastes, lands of blended Warp and Material, realms of madness, eternal war, and the whims of the Chaos Gods. No one can leave this place entirely untouched by Chaos.
Beasts of Chaos
Hidden in the darkest places of the world are the Beasts of Chaos. Beastmen, Minotaurs, Centaurs, and other spawn of the Dark Gods, these things are Warhammerâ€™s version of the archetypal medieval daemonic satyr or beast in the woods. Beastmen were once human, but became the true and favored children of the Dark Gods when the Warp Gates fell, spilling pure Aethyr into the world. Theyâ€™re still closely linked too; often a human baby is born horned and hoofed. These turnskins are either killed by Witch Hunters and priests, or taken by insane but loving parents into the woods, where theyâ€™re left for the Beasts.
A thousand years younger than the Empire, the Bretonni tribe became the nation of Bretonnia under the guidance of Giles le Breton. Eschewing the philosophy and science of the Empire in favor of mysticism and feudalism, Bretonnians rely on the martial strength of their lordly knights in battle. They follow the edicts of the Lady, a goddess of suspect origin, but sometimes uphold her message of honor and mercy. A curious blend of pre-revolution France, English fighting styles, and Le Morte dâ€™Arthur, the Bretonnians are a bit of an anachronism compared to the rest of the Old World.
Warhammerâ€™s version of the Melnibonean archetype, the Druchii have little to do with D&D dark elves or Tolkienâ€™s fading perfect beings. Inheritors of the Phoenix Kingâ€™s crown by way of heredity, the dark elves followed Malekith, son of the first Phoenix King, into exile after he was driven from Ulthuan by conspirators. The Druchii respect strength above all, and solely worship Khaine, the elven god of war. Taking a cue from the original sorcerers and their Chaos vortex, the Druchii do not fear Chaos, but seek to bind it to their will and purpose. Some would say this has corrupted them as a race and nation, but the dark elves donâ€™t (officially) worship the Dark Gods- just see them as a means to an end.
Daemons of Chaos
At the heart of the Ream of Chaos lie the architects of the Old Onesâ€™ fall. Born of fear and rage, ambition and despair, the most primal of these beings are the most powerful; the Great Gods of Chaos, four brothers who would see the end of the world. First among them is great Khorne, lord of all that is war, hatred, and bloodshed. There are few the martially-minded god hates so much as his sibling, the passionate Slaanesh. Patron of excess and indulgence, Slaanesh is least amongst the Chaos gods but popular with depraved cults of the Empire. Jovial grandfather Nurgle seeks to enrich the worldâ€™s despair by blessing mortals with virulent plagues and pestilences. Finally, of primary import to WAR is Tzeentch, the Architect of Fate. Tzeentch brings hope. Hope of change without reason or balance; Tzeentch is a manipulator, plotter, and sorcerer. His touch brings ambition and madness.
At times, the powers of Chaos put their differences aside and send splinters of their selves into the material world; where the skin of reality is thin, daemons can step into the mortal realms and fulfill the urges of their patron.
Dogs of War
As an army, Dogs of War include everything from Tilean pikes and crossbowmen to suicidal Dwarf pirates to an exiled Asur prince and his dragon. This has allowed GW to release a number of unique and interesting models over the years, often from nations that donâ€™t warrant their own armies. Araby, Tilea, Estalia, and rogue elements of other armies have all been detailed.
As those following WAR are probably aware, Warhammer dwarfs are the Nordic and Tolkien archetype taken to an extreme. More obsessive, drunk, and gold-hungry than most settingsâ€™ dwarfs, these guys are a major reason for the success of the Empire, having taught humans ironworking, gunpowder, and numerous other advances. The friendship between the dwarf kings and Empire is one of the few true alliances in the Warhammer world. The dwarfs once held a mighty empire running the length and breadth of the Old World. A mysterious cataclysm befell them many years before the founding of the Empire, followed by battles against the greenskins, then a costly war against the elves known as the â€œWar of Vengeanceâ€. These events saw the dwarfs greatly reduced in power, but through sheer spite and stubbornness, the race continues to survive.
The point-of-view for most of the Warhammer World (and setting for WFRP), the Empire is an especially mad take on the 16th century, pre-Protestant Holy Roman Empire. The Empire learned metalworking and industry from the dwarfs, and were taught magic by the elves. The last true hopes of civilization against Chaos, Imperial armies combine gunlines, professional soldiers, knights, artillery, and magic to defeat their foes. Founded by Sigmar two and a half millennia before the current game period, Imperials now worship their founder as a god. It was Sigmar who forged the first true alliance with the dwarfs, saving their High King from capture by a superior band of orcs. For this, Sigmar was granted the hammer Ghal-Maraz, an heirloom dwarf runic hammer (and the titular weapon for the setting)â€¦ which is probably still carried by Karl-Franz, the current Emperor.
First experiment of the Old Ones, these ancient and lawful beings taught the elves their magic, art, song, and civilization. Unlike other experiments, elven history vaguely remembers the Old Ones, giving them a racial memory and learning that vastly exceeds all others. Physically resistant to Chaos, the elves still suffer the moral and mental effects, especially when succumbing to their own arrogance and passions. High elf culture is extremely rigid and controlled because of this and they see themselves as the protectors of the world, justifying their near-fascism and unchallenged control of major sea-routes. Unlike the Tolkien archetype, the Asur are warriors and imperialists, with a strong fascination in the arts of warfare and bloodshed.
During their time elevating the races of the Warhammer world, the Old Ones also created servants to help them with their work. After their fall, these servants blindly continued the Old Onesâ€™ inscrutable plans, carrying on adjustment of the planet itself and battling Chaos in all its forms. The mighty Slaan, beings of immense Aethyric and psychic ability, interpret the Old Ones plans, while the Skinks act as their agents. Saurus warriors emerge from spawning pools, ready to defend their Lustrian homes, while Kroxigor and other prehistoric beasts are used for industry and war.
One of the final experiments of the Old Ones, Ogres are among the most physically robust and resistant to Chaos. Not completely resistant, however, as an event early in their development lead them to worship of an entity known as the Great Maw, and granted the race an all-consuming hunger to fuel their massive bodies. Ogres have no allegiance to Chaos, though, nor hatred of it, often showing up as Dogs of War or mercenaries in the armies of humans, Orcs, Chaos, and anyone else willing to pay a bit of coin or bucket of stew.
Mushrooms? Monsters? Degenerate barbarians? However one classifies Orcs and Goblins, the only certainty is that theyâ€™re as certain as death and taxes. Little more complex than human two-year olds in massively tough and muscled bodies (or quick and wiry in the case of Goblins) greenskins enjoy nothing more than scrappinâ€™ and fightinâ€™. Deyâ€™s ded â€˜ard too, and dem Gobbos is pretty kunninâ€™ too, tho deyâ€™s a buncha weedy gits. All â€˜oomies need to know is dat da Waaagh! canâ€™t be stopped and yous gonna get yer â€˜ed bashed right in!
There is no such thing as skaven. Just because youâ€™ve seen evidence of rat-like beastmen doesnâ€™t mean thereâ€™s some sort of intelligent Chaos beats below all the cities of the world, with technology that surpasses the Empire and a master plan to rule the ruins of civilization. Thatâ€™s ridiculous.
Before the time of Sigmar, the first true civilization of Man arose in the deserts south of the Old World. Living amongst architecture strangely reminiscent of both Lustrian ruins and the monuments of the high elves, the people of ancient Nehekhara considered themselves the favored children of the gods. Over time, they came to fear and worship death above all else, believing their lives were mere preparation for a glorious and shining afterlife; much like the real worldâ€™s ancient Egyptians. For one Nehekharan, however, the afterlife was not enough; a brother of the Priest-King of mighty Khemri, this man sought eternal life and coveted the lands of all Nehekhara to be his shining paradise. After capturing and torturing the secrets of magic from stranded Druchii sailors, this man developed the science that would one day be known as Necromancy; power over the dead and death itself. Distilling an elixir from human blood, he was able to prolong his life, eventually usurping his brother and taking Khemri as his own. Eventually, the other Priest-Kings united and drove him into the desert, where he passed beyond the realm of the living, but did not truly die.
In his bitterness at being driven out, this man, known as the Accursed One to Nehekharans and He Who Shall Not Be Named to modern Arabyans, polluted the headwaters of the River Mortis, the very backbone of life in Nehekhara. Not content with merely bringing the ancient nation to its knees, he then attempted to cast a single spell that would awaken the entire nation from death and bind them to his will, creating an eternal army to rule the world with. Though he cast the spell and tore generations of Nehekharans from their graves, he was mysteriously interrupted at the peak of the spell, losing control of his would-be slaves. The Tomb Kings and their entombed soldiers were not put to rest, however, and have since resumed the activities of their lives, protecting their dusty homes from invaders and warring against each other. All of these undead, however, nurse a hatred for he who tore them from the afterlife, and the dry desert winds carry their whispers of the Great Necromancerâ€™s hated name; Nagash.
As with most undead in the Warhammer world, the vampires have roots in old Nehekhara. When Nagash was driven from Khemri by an alliance of kings, samples of his Elixir of Life and notes were captured and taken as spoils. In the city-state of Lahmia, the queen and her court drank of the Elixir and continued Nagashâ€™s experiments. Soon these depraved nobles learned to sustain themselves indefinitely, not just by consuming the Elixir, but by drawing the very essence of life from living beings. Their souls sustained thusly, their bodies became strong and fast, driven by their own willpower and able to grasp and manipulate the Aethyr. These beings, known later as vampires, were eventually discovered by the Priest-Kings of other cities and driven out, later allying with, then fleeing from, Nagash.
In the modern Warhammer world, the vampires are often split along lines of bloodline and creed, following common archetypes of vampires from all of fantasy stories. Some have infiltrated the nobility of the Empire, counts of the blighted province of Sylvania. Some vampires are physically powerful, while others great sorcerers and necromancers. Some are affected by curses laid upon them by Nagash for their escape and cannot tolerate sunlight or holy relics. All are selfish and driven to make use of their long lives; whether through study, survival, or conquest.
Warriors of Chaos
Mortals who flock to the standards of the Dark Gods can consist of the disillusioned, the corrupt, and the insane. Some are refugees from the civilized nations of the Old World, while the bulk come from tribes of corrupted Norse. Living in the ever-changing wastes beyond Norsca and Kislev, bands of these warriors dedicate themselves to the Gods of Chaos, fighting for glory, the capricious favor of the gods, and the ultimate gift of Daemonhood. At times, a great champion will arise, sometimes dedicated to a single god, others loyal to all Chaos as a pantheon. These champions will then sweep from the north at the head of a vast horde, encased in dark iron armor and wielding weapons of madness and gifts of mutation from their gods.
Long before the birth of Sigmar, the elves withdrew from their extensive colonies in the Old World. Caught between an unwinnable war against the dwarfs and civil war led by Malekith, the Asur were forced to the defensive. Not all the elven colonists followed the Phoenix Kingâ€™s call for retreat, however. Small pockets of elves remained behind, in particular the colonists who settled in an ancient and dark forest known as Athel Loren. One of the most ancient and untouched woods of the world, Loren is a living, breathing entity, jealous of its borders and willing and able to brutally protect itself. Allied with the forest, the former elven colonists, called Asraii have returned to many of their rustic roots, favoring bow and bronze spear, eschewing advanced metalworking and armor. Wood elves owe more to medieval legends of forest spirits than Tolkienâ€™s elves; theyâ€™re feral and vengeful, uncaring for little but defending the forest.