The Warhammer Ethos

Finally. Later than I’d hoped for, Sword of Justice has been sent off for the first round of editorial comments. While it’s a relief to have it finished (I can sleep again now. Maybe even eat.), this is my least favourite part of the process. I’ve been living with the project for months, and now I’ll find out if it works. It’s just too nerve-wracking.

So I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the whole ethos of Warhammer Fantasy. What makes it tick. What makes it different. Nick Kyme wrote a blogpost a while back on this subject that captures a lot of what I think about it.

The essential thing, it seems to me, is that Warhammer essentially embodies a uniquely British sensibility. That doesn’t mean, of course, that other nationalities can’t enjoy it, or contribute to it, or take it in new directions. But there is something quintessentially UK about the general outlook. Perhaps it’s the fatalism. Most Fantasy is pretty optimistic, pretty uplifting. The good guys win, the bad guys lose. Warhammer’s not like that. Not only do the bad guys win a lot, but there’s a lot less separating good from bad in the first place. Malus Darkblade is a hero, for God’s sake.

The shades of grey, the moral complexity, is what makes Warhammer so interesting. Though there are moments of heroism, snatches of optimism, the overall picture is bleak. And that reflects our national character. We like to see the potential for disaster, the scope for disappointment. Any nation that’s been reduced, within a single generation, from having a world-spanning empire to owning a few islands in the mid-Atlantic and six tanks is going to feel a bit insecure.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being cynical and world-weary has its compensations. It makes a nice change from all that strident confidence out there. And it gave the world Warhammer. If you’ve ever trudged through Bristol city centre on a Monday morning with the wind whipping rain into your face, the buses on strike and the streets still covered with the gruesome remains of the weekend debauchery, then you’ll know all about the Empire. It’s just like that. But with undead, rat-men and mutants too. Brilliant.

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