Warhammer Fantasy (setting)

Warhammer Fantasy (setting)

Warhammer Fantasy is a fantasy setting created by Games Workshop which is used by many of the company's games. Some of the best known games set in this world are the table top wargame Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay pen-and-paper role-playing game, and the MMORPG Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.[1] Another game, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, was a free-to-play release.[2]

Warhammer is notable for its "dark and gritty" background world, which features a culture similar in appearance to Early Modern Germany crossed with Tolkien's Middle-earth. Chaos is central to the setting, as the forces of Chaos are attempting unceasingly to tear the mortal world asunder. The world itself is populated with a variety of races such as humans, high elves, dark elves, wood elves, dwarfs, undead, orcs, lizardmen, ogres, and other creatures familiar to many fantasy/role-playing settings.

The first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WFB) was released by Games Workshop in early 1983. Prior to this release, the company dealt primarily with the importing of American Role-playing games, as well as support and review of gaming products, either through their White Dwarf magazine periodical or as separate commercially available products. The game was a mix of a simple rule system with a background that was drawn from standard fantasy themes. The dedication was, in part, "to Michael Moorcock… whose fault it all is". The game thrived, and subsequent supplements added the particular background to the game. Each "Army List" included a partial history and some related aspects such as notable figures or short illustrative stories. With the publication of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in 1987 the setting had moved from background to the game to a full-fledged fantasy setting.

Besides Warhammer Fantasy Battle, now in its eight edition, and WFRP, there have been novels set in the same background. Material published in White Dwarf (some of it subsequently republished in the game itself), the Citadel Journal and a number of other games using the same setting have all added to the background. Games-Workshop has also announced 8th edition to be released in July 2010.



To many players, the story or background of Warhammer is just as important as games and miniatures. Alongside Dungeons & Dragons' Greyhawk setting, Warhammer is among the oldest of commercial fantasy worlds, a direct descendant of both that game and Tolkien's Middle-earth though the 1st edition cited Robert E Howard (Conan) alongside Moorcock and Tolkien as influencing fantasy table top games. What is currently recognizable as the Warhammer World began with the first edition of the game, but took off as its own setting with the release of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the 3rd edition in 1987.

Warhammer has developed a very recognizable stylistic image set. Skulls feature prominently, as well as gothic architecture, absurdly large weapons and shoulder-armor, and bizarre imagery reminiscent of director Terry Gilliam's work, as well as a strong dose of black comedy. From its inspiration from Michael Moorcock's novels, the Warhammer World is centred around the classic Man vs. Himself literary theme. The Chaos Gods are the flaws of humankind personified; the inner literal daemons of living things come back through a magic medium to torment and kill. The ultimate victory of these forces is often hinted at, highlighting a strong assumption that sentient beings are fundamentally flawed and will eventually bring about their own destruction via the forces of Chaos. This is especially tragic in light of the outside, non-Chaotic forces that threaten civilized beings; rampaging Orcs, political strife, and general warfare.

Chaos was introduced into the Warhammer World by the "Old Ones"; star-travelling gods responsible for the creation of most of the setting's sentient races. These Old Ones were brought low by the daemonic forces inadvertently unleashed by the collapse of their Warp Gates (one at either pole), leaving their creations to fend for themselves. This backstory also provides an easy explanation for the variety of familiar fantasy races, and provides a logical framework for them to fit in. Ogres and Halflings, for example, are closely related. Both are resistant to the mutating effects of Chaos energies (fuelled by hearty appetites and efficient metabolisms), but have opposite physical templates.

The Warhammer world borrows considerably from historical events and other fantasy fiction settings. The Old World is recognisably Europe approximating to the Renaissance period - the Empire being set over what is modern Germany. Many events are lifted and modified directly from real-world history, including the Black Plague and the Moorish invasion of Spain, and others from original fantasy sources. Like Middle-earth, Warhammer's Elves are declining in population, and a Great Necromancer is reborn after defeats in his Southern stronghold.

Of the races that inhabit the world, Rick Priestley identified their origins as being based on British themes, the dwarfs like blunt-spoken Yorkshire men, Elves having a touch of Southern England and received pronunciation about them, the Orcs speaking with a working class London accent.

Races and nations

There are numerous nations and races in the Warhammer World. Mankind, the most prominent, often proves to be the most susceptible to the corrupting influence of Chaos. Most of the featured human nations are based in the Old World (analogous to real world Europe). The Elves were the first truly civilised race to walk the world. Brought into creation by the Old Ones, the Elves showed a natural talent for magic and superlative skill at arms. The once glorious civilisation of the Elves was torn asunder many thousands of years ago by a bitter civil war, resulting in the sundering of the race into three distinct kindreds: the evil, twisted Dark Elves, the proud, noble and magical High Elves who continue the ancient traditions from before the sundering, and the rustic, sylvan and mysterious Wood Elves. The High Elves inhabit the magical island of Ulthuan (analogous to Atlantis) while the Dark Elves inhabit the continent of Naggaroth (correspondent to Canada and the north parts of North America in the real world), a desolate icy wilderness.

Dwarfs are an ancient, grim, and determined race integral in the founding of the Empire. Dwarfs are the greatest craftsmen in the Warhammer World, a skill largely matched by the Chaos Dwarfs who split from their brothers after being corrupted by Chaos.

In the jungles of Lustria are the Lizardmen who were created by the Old Ones to aid in their great works. The Slann now lead the Lizardmen blindly, via ancient prophesies containing almost-incomprehensible instructions from their fallen gods. The culture and aesthetic of the Lizardmen are heavily inspired by those of the Aztec and Mayan cultures, and the New World continent (Lustria) which they inhabit corresponds to Central and South America in the real world.

Orcs and Goblins and their kin (also known as Greenskins) are relatively primitive and disorganized but their instinctive belligerence threatens the various nations. Their violent nature can be noted to commonly cause all out wars among their own kind. They are found predominantly in the forests and mountains of the Old World, in the jungles to the south and stretched across the steppes to the East, but their kin can be found all over the world, inhabiting almost all continents and adapting to their environments. Thus there are many sub-species of Orcs and Goblins such as Black Orcs and Night Goblins.

Many races have fallen to, or been engendered by Chaos. The barbaric Warriors of Chaos (They used to be called Hordes of Chaos) invade the civilized nations from the far northern Chaos Wastes. Beastmen, the half-men half-beast products of Chaos are found in the dark forests of the Old World. Also a product of Chaos are the shrewd and evil ratmen, the Skaven, whose vast, subterranean and labyrinthine "Under-empire" riddles the earth.

Besides these there are the Undead who are a result of the black sorceries devised by the first necromancer, Nagash in the long distant past. His legacy has left the Tomb Kings in the hot desert lands of Nehekhara to the south of the Old World, the Vampire Counts in the Old World itself and Nagash in his own city of undead.


Outside of games, there have also been numerous novels and short stories by various authors set in the Warhammer world, the most famous of which are the Gotrek and Felix novels by William King (The Gotrek and Felix series was taken over by Nathan Long starting with Orcslayer in 2006).

Early in his career, Kim Newman wrote several Warhammer novels under the name 'Jack Yeovil'. Some elements from these books (in particular his heroine Genevieve Dieudonné) later reappeared in the award-winning Anno Dracula series. Early novels were published as "GW Books" by Boxtree Ltd, but more recently novels have been under Games Workshop's publishing arm, the Black Library.

Warhammer Monthly was a comic book, published by Black Library, which ran for over 5 years. As well as the fantasy settings it also included strips set in the other areas of the Warhammer Universe.

Generally running concurrently with Warhammer Monthly was Inferno! — also published by Black Library — a magazine which compiled short stories and occasional unconnected illustrations set in the various fictional backgrounds of Games Workshop.

Recently Games Workshop licensed out the rights for comic books, Boom! Studios are currently working on a series of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 comics, written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton. The first was the Warhammer 40k strip Damnation Crusade, but this was followed by one in the fantasy universe: Forge of War. When this was finished they again started with a new series located in the Warhammer fantasy universe. Their newest project is called: Warhammer - Condemned by Fire. This series features a witch hunter fighting chaos minions in the remote regions of the Empire.

See also


  • Cavatore, Alessio (2006). Warhammer. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-759-X. 
  • Gallard, Richard Wolfrik (1998). The World of Warhammer. London: Carlton Books. ISBN 1-85868-488-9. 
  • Priestley, Rick; Tuomas Pirinen (2002). Warhammer. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-051-X. 
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Rick Priestley et al. Games Workshop 1989

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