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Good and Evil

13 October, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Here’s a slightly updated version of the cover I was sent a couple of weeks ago. Darius has been tweaking it a bit, and it still looks just as fantastic. Any excuse to post it again ;-). By the way, I should have credited the artist in my original post. He’s called Cheol joo Lee, and has been responsible for some cracking covers for BL already. It’s a real honour to have his artwork adorning my book.

Sword of Justice

Anyway, there’s been a great response to my last post, and they’ve got me thinking. WHFB (and 40K) has this great tradition of moral ambiguity. This raises the question of what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actually mean in the Warhammer world. After all, as some posters pointed out, characters like Malus and Horus basically think they’re doing the right thing. There are no ‘cut-out’ evil baddies in Warhammer. Even the most depraved Chaos sorcerer thinks he’s on the side of the angels (so to speak). Does this mean that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ lose their meanings? Is it just one moral system up against another?

Well, no. Not in my conception of it. I love the ambiguity of Warhammer. It’s even more pronounced in 40K – the Imperium can be a terrifying place. But there is – just – a real distinction between the forces of Order and Disorder. The Empire and the Imperium are brutal because they have to be, because the alternatives are ultimately worse. The forces of the archenemy, even though they may have a moral system of their own, have given in to baser, more non-human urges. The reason we care about the survival of the forces of Order is that we recognise that they’re basically part of a moral system we can see as our own (however flawed it may be).

So moral relativity only goes so far, at least as far as I see it. Cue passionate denunciations from Chaos players!

Categories: Warhammer Fantasy
  1. 13 October, 2009 at 15:40

    + end insertion +

    ++ insert actual opinion ++

    **beware. rambling ahoy**

    I think you’re right. I think the distinction between what we, normal human beings in the twenty first century would consider to be ‘evil’ is made flesh in the forces of W40K Chaos. Were we to consider W40K to be a true account of the future, by the time it arrived, what we think of as evil today is piddling by comparison.

    The best analogy that springs to mind is that of smacking your child’s hand before they stick it in the Oooh Bright Shiny Fire. You make the child cry by smacking them, sure – but it’s arguably preferable to letting them incinerate themselves out of a naive curiosity.

    The key to W40K is in the very tagline. ‘The grim darkness of the distant future’. It’s all grim. Even the light of the Emperor has really lost its power. And all because those bad forces of Chaos found a chink of uncertainty in Horus’s armour.

    The concept of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ doesn’t apply in the usual context. Take…I don’t know. Say you have an Ultramarine fighting a World Eater. The Ultramarine is all ‘graargh! In the name of the Emperor and Robot Googleman!’ The World Eater is all ‘graargh! Blood for the Blood God!’ Both of them are doing, as you rightly state, what they feel is right. They share something, which neither of them truly appreciates – and that is loyalty to their own cause.

    I don’t think ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as we term them in this day and age is applicable. There is light and there is dark and then there are all the shades of grey inbetween. The majority of the W40K-verse exists somewhere in that shady spot, running around trying to either find a dark spot to keep the beer cold, or running towards the light in a desperate attempt to stay warm. Naturally, the goalposts keep moving.

    Hang on, we’re back to the NHS…

    ++ end incoherent ramblings ++


    Where does your lap go when you stand up?

    End of line.

  2. 13 October, 2009 at 17:28


    Thoughts on the cover. The artwork is totally sweet, that’s for sure, and I definitely prefer the font that has been used on the second mockup. But I’m not sure that the black does it justice. It just seems too…well, black, really for want of a better word. Almost as though something is missing.

    I’m not very good at articulating aesthetic, clearly.

  3. Ghurlag
    13 October, 2009 at 17:49

    Well as a moral relativist myself, I would be happy to say that the Imperium and Chaos are in fact mere opposing philosophies. The Imperium follows a path of brutally enforced Order, whereas Chaos follows exactly the opposite (but retaining the ‘brutal’). Neither is intrinsicly bad or good for doing so – the disorder of Chaos can be seen as a result of liberty(something we think of as good) whereas the order of the Imperium can be (and is) a result of oppression (bad). This can all be flipped around at will.

    I think the best way of looking at it is to follow the old roleplaying grid for your character. You have Good, Neutral and Evil, crossed with Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. In the 40k universe, we see the Imperium firmly on the ‘Lawful’ side, and Chaos self-evidently on the ‘Chaotic’ side. Whether they’re Good or Evil is up for debate and, to my mind at least, largely irrelevant in such a (lovably) grim universe.

    As to the artwork: I’ll second pyroriffic’s comments. The art itself is beautiful, but the sudden intrusion of the black side-line is a bit jarring. Perhaps a border would be in order?

    • 13 October, 2009 at 18:08

      I’m thinking a gradient fill down the right-hand side from one of the shades of grey-blue that’s predominant in the picture to black myself.

      Not that I’ve played with it in Photoshop or anything you understand.

  4. Maugan Ra
    13 October, 2009 at 17:52

    Since Pyro plugged this over on the BL junkie’s website (where we’re all hiding out, waiting for the official forums to return), I figured I’d add my two cents. Or pennies.

    It is true that there is a great deal of moral ambiguity in 40k (I don’t know a lot about fantasy, except that it has Mattias Thulmann and Grey Seer Thanquol and so is at least worth existing), with most of the people there firmly in the ‘shades of grey’ area. However, there are a few factions that I might just about consider ‘good’.

    Certain Astartes chapters spring to mind, mainly the Blood Angels and the Salamanders. Both of these factions are primarly comprised of rabid warrior-fanatics who would cheerfully gut you for the crime of not being human, but they are still the closest thing to ‘good’ that you have in 40k. Both are somewhat friendly and approachable, and the Salamanders in particular see it as their duty to protect those who are too weak to protect themselves. It’s an interesting point that both of these people come from Death Worlds (indeed, the Catachans are also very loyal and cheerful on the whole. Except for the occasional nutter like Marbo.)

    There are people who argue that Chaos is also good in its own way, and I won’t deny that. After all, it is comprised of emotion, and there are definitely good emotions as well as bad. Its just that negative emotions are so much more powerful than positive emotions, and that any positive emotion can turn bad if strong enough. It is, in a sense, total freedom, which sounds like a good thing. Right up until you realise there’s now no protection from those nutters whose primary desire is to murder you and do horrible things to your corpse…

  5. Lord Lucan
    13 October, 2009 at 17:54

    Morality was the first casualty in the 40K Universe. It is now merely a desperate fight for survival.

    In 40K, only evil can combat evil. That is why every faction must be monstrous.

  6. J D Dunsany
    13 October, 2009 at 17:58

    Firstly, can I echo your and pyro’s thoughts about the cover? Damn, but that’s impressive. The level of detail in the armour and the craggy lines of the face – real spine-tingling stuff.

    As to ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the 40K universe, I’m in complete agreement with your penultimate paragraph. This doesn’t mean that the Imperium is uncomplicatedly ‘good’ in the sense that we understand it – or that there is an absolute good as that concept has traditionally been defined by western thought. It’s just that the Imp is (generally) our viewpoint in 40K fiction and, as you point out, at least its characters are still recognisably human and ‘civilized’ (which is a word that is particularly ambiguous in the 40K setting). That’s one of the great things about the setting – everything is desperate, everything is a matter of sheer survival, everything is horribly contingent and precarious. And the warp is all around us. Chaos is within us. It can emerge on Imperial worlds at any moment. Its effects can be fought, but its root cause can never be entirely disposed of. Quite frankly, that’s what makes the Imperium as desperate, tyrannical, totalitarian and just plain nasty as it is.

    And I love it! 😀


    • chriswraight
      19 October, 2009 at 09:28

      I think we have very similar views on the goodness (or badness?) of Warhammer, JD. Though you’re quite right about the Imperium, I think in this respect the Empire of the Old World is in the same boat.

  7. 14 October, 2009 at 12:24

    I agree with Lord Lukan’s opinion about morality in war.

    In respect of black, white and greys; I’d personally like good old Taoism. For things to work out we need the opposites. Just like complementary colours, there is harmony in contrast. God and the Devil live in the same coin.

    About the cover. As I mentioned before it is a superb illustration. I like the frame as well. If there could be a better colour than black to go with it, perhaps but… What if they have decided to use black for the whole Warhammer Heroes series? We all have our say when it comes to art, but if the artwork as a whole is well done, I put my preferences at one side. Trust your designers!

  8. chriswraight
    19 October, 2009 at 09:28

    forjador :

    Trust your designers!

    That’s very good advice…

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