Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop miniature wargame produced by Games Workshop, set in a dystopian science fantasy universe. Warhammer 40,000 was created by Rick Priestley in 1987 as the futuristic companion to Warhammer Fantasy Battle, sharing many game mechanics. Expansions for Warhammer 40,000 are released periodically which give rules for urban, planetary siege and large-scale combat.
The Warhammer 40,000 game takes place in a science fantasy universe, whose extreme dystopianism inspired the word "grimdark" – from the game's tagline, "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war" – as a shorthand for similarly ultraviolent or amoral fiction.
Most stories are set in the 41st millennium, i.e. some 38,000 years in the future. Humans have settled more than a million worlds across the galaxy, most of which are ruled by the Imperium of Man, a brutal theocratic regime united in its worship of the immortal God-Emperor of Mankind. Despite its size and power, the Imperium teeters on the brink of collapse due to a combination of escalating war, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, and technological stagnation.
The Imperium is in a continuous state of war with a number of hostile forces:
- the Tau, a young, idealistic race that wants to unite the races of the galaxy under their rule, in the name of "The Greater Good." Although they prefer to peacefully absorb other races, they are quite willing to use military force, forced sterilization, and mind-control implants to subdue resistance.
- the Necrons, skeletal robots patterned after the decorative and architectural culture of ancient Egypt. They are a relatively recent threat, having emerged from a 60-million year slumber, and seek to restore their old empire and regain their old flesh bodies.
- the Eldar, humanoid aliens patterned after the high elves common to fantasy fiction. Eldar are long-lived, but dying out. They often see human as lesser beings, and may either help or fight them to suit their own interests.
- the Dark Eldar, cousins of the Eldar who ritually torture other beings to stave off death, as the Chaos God Slaanesh will consume their souls should they permanently die.
- the Tyranids, swarms of rapidly evolving, all-devouring creatures from outside the galaxy, controlled by a gestalt Hive Mind that seeks to consume all life.
- the Orks, whose simplistic personalities, reckless tactics and ramshackle technology make them the comic relief of the setting, but are no less brutal and deadly for it.
- The forces of Chaos. A combination of Chaos Space Marines, corrupted humans, and daemons, who serve the Chaos Gods.