Why Warhammer Confuses Me

In the grim darkness of the distant future there is only war, apparently. But you know what? That’s fine because:

1. The Imperium has vast armies at its disposal to fight the limitless hordes of aliens, mutants and heretics

2. The aforementioned aliens, mutants and heretics also have near limitless armies

3. The Space Marines are fucking awesome and do an awful lot of arse kicking on behalf of the Imperium

4. There are no shortage of worlds to rustle up a few million more soldiers to feed into the meat grinder.

However, in Warhammer there is just as much emphasis on the scale of the battles, the destruction and the loss of life yet. somehow, the Warhammer world doesn’t appear to run out of people. The rule book, army books, artworks and novels all point towards battles involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides. Throw in the fact that the games are, themselves, a part of the living history of the game and you start to wonder how there is anyone left alive.

Think about it. Considering the frequency with which large engagements occur, the carnage wrought every time Archaon gets a bit bored, or an Ork horde goes a plundering. I have to wonder where all these people are coming from, both in the Old World and in the Northern Wastes because there would have to be millions upon millions of people. And perhaps there are but it’s quite at odds with the fluff depicting the sparsity that the Empire is populated. Yes cities are densely populated but at the rate that wars start and are fought I struggle to believe that populations could recover fast enough. The Empire, certainly, would be pressing boy soldiers into service.

And this is what confuses me about Warhammer. Or, perhaps what is confused about Warhammer. The GW has never been able to put their finger on, in the same way as they have 40k, the scale and level of peril the Warhammer world should have. It can’t be ramped up too high because there would simply be no one left. But take the Storm of Chaos campaign from a few years ago. When Middenheim was besieged it was done so by uncountable foes. The campaign caused tremendous damage to the land and the people that would take years to recover from. It wouldn’t take much for someone to take advantage of that.

Perhaps the point is that it’s all supposed to be told as legends from the perspective of those chronicling events so the numbers of enemies appear limitless either for effect or because the person telling the tale simply couldn’t count that high.

Either way, although the background to Warhammer is good – otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted for as long as it has – it just seems a little fragmented to the point that I’ve never had a clear idea of what’s going on. And I’ve beenplaying it for 20 years. Ish. For example; something bad happens resulting in a war that the ‘good’ side is ill prepared and out numbered for. They fight valiantly knowing that their demise was moments away until something magical happens and the day is saved. This doesn’t sit well with me because if there were that many bad guys there would be no one left. Especially as Chaos Warriors, in the fluff, are hench and there’s loads of them.

But here’s a thing – in the fluff Chaos always bugger off to fight another day when the good guys inevitably get those reinforcements they desperately need, which is at odds with how Chaos are otherwise decribed, especially Chaos warriors. It’s far more likely that they’ll just keep on fighting, even if the battle is lost and all the beastmen have legged it. No, they would fight to the death and bring down as many of their enemy as they could. And the result would be devastation to the point that, based on the frequency battles break out (taking into account fluff, fiction and us lot playing games), there would be no coming back from it.

Of course the funny thing is that the GW are trying to make games of Warhammer more epic, to reflect the background but all it does is further shred its credibility simply because continuous war on such a scale, coupled with the tremendously destructive elements in the Warhmmer world means prolonged war would not be sustainable and result would be a few survivors fighting over the remains of a dead world. The reality is that the population isn’t going to be in the millions of millions, so how can the Chaos Wastes be so full of damned souls and still have sufficient people in the Empire and Bretonnia to keep the armies mustered and have plenty of able bodied souls should the need arise. It just doesn’t tally up.

Don’t get me wrong, the fluff is good, as are the models etc, I just would love to see the grandeur of the battles scaled back because it’s so over laboured that it starts to become difficult to suspend ones disbelief, which is a shame considering it’s supposed to be a fantasy game.

9 thoughts on “Why Warhammer Confuses Me

  1. In the grim darkness of the far future an Eldar Guardian blasting you to pieces with a Shuriken Catapult will kill you. In the world of Warhammer Fantasy an Elf sticking you with a blade isn’t going to kill you all the time.

    My point is that the vast majority of people that fight in the great battles of the Old World are veterans from many many battles. They are fierce and battle hardened and so can probably weather a lot of minor injuries before being bought low. But of course…thousands will die.

    A lot of people do indeed occupy the areas of the Empire especially. It might not seem like it but their cities are incredibly rich in numbers allowing them to feed their armies. On top of that there are countless villages and towns in the forests and such which can supply them with soldiers. They shouldn’t be running out any time soon.

    In terms of something like the Storm of Chaos; these events happen once in a very blue moon. Massive titanic battles like that happen then a long time goes by before anything else of that scale meaning children could be born and raised to fighting age (their teens in the Old World) before another massive conflict.

    Storms of Magic are a little different. Sure this creates cataclysmic battles but once again these are rare things. On top of that what’s to stop a mage magically imbuing the spirits of a city to fight for their master? It’s all in the way you fluff something like that.

    With Chaos too you have to remember that they aren’t idiots. If a Chaos Warrior is outnumbered and looks like he might die he will run away to fight another day. They are tainted by the Dark God but not blind servants. They have egos and are greedy – so if they are dead, they can’t rise to fame and glory. Also remember in the Storm of Chaos the Orcs under Grimgor Ironhide were basically wiping the field with Archaon and his forces so they would have been more compelled to retreat seeing their master defeated.

    Hope this helps.

    1. I don’t buy it. Taking into account all factors – fluff, novels and the games we play that essentially become a part of the narrative both when global campaigns run or our own personal histories there just wouldn’t be enough men of age to be mustered into the armies of the Empire.

      Yes the ‘storm of Chaos’ type battles are rare, but the introduction of Storm of Magic (or Warpocalypse) has made them far more common. Let me put it another way. If the Warhammer world is in a state of world war but without the 20 year gaps that the real world had the population could not be replaced quick enough to sustain the loss of life. And yes you’re more likely to get wounded rather than killed in ‘old school’ wars but injuries would still cost lives just not on the day. The majority of wounded men in medieval battles did not survive.

      And as for Chaos Warriors, yes some would run but if they’re encircled with no hope of escape they would try and reap as high a tally as they could. And as the background depicts them of warriors of extraordinary skill and ferocity the tally would be extremely high. It wouldn’t take many battles against such a foe for a province to run out of able bodied fighting men.

  2. Great post on the WHFB issues, like you say the Fantasy world struggles with scale from
    a fluff perspective.

    What is your opinion on an idea I had that to interest more people into WHFB gaming it needs a set of apocalypse style rules. Apocalypse renewed my interest on 40k could a similar thing happen for Fantasy?

  3. I’ve wondered the same thing. THe battles we actually fight on our table tops aren’t that huge. A few hundred souls say. But the battles in the fluff are described as huge. Why don’t they just describe the battles the way they are on the board? Lots of small battles seems more plausible.

  4. Another thing to think about is timescale. WHFB often has timelines in each book and often significant time has passed between each major incursion.

    1. That’s true but considering the nations are in a near constant state of war those major incursions either follow or preceded minor ones. The fact is it takes a generation to recover from large scale warfare. If you’re always at war, without billions of soldiers to fight for you, you run out of men very quickly.

  5. So for my few cents I kinda agree with the shell case! It makes no sense that in a finite world you can have infinite materials and soldiers (The Black Library authors ought read the song of fire and ice saga to see how a real fantasy world with finite resources ought to operate). This is why i’ve come to a quantum mechanical meta-physical conclusion, SPAWN POINTS! Yes thats right spawn points!

    You see when a soldier dies in warhammer world old Karl (come on he must be ancient in real years…) has a button attached to his throne. Now when he presses said button a new soldier immeadiately spawns in a barracks somewhere in Middenheim (which if i’m correct means “dump” cause a midden is a pile of old rubbish left behind by people for archaeologists to find a beejillion years later…but I digress). SO NOW we have a brand spankin’ new soldier (in sprue grey of course!) to replace the old one!

    Meanwhile in the icy lair of Archaeon (lets face it he is warhammer world’s equivalent to S. Claus cause he lives at the North Pole!) he has his own Spawn buttons!

    TA DAH!

    There you have ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! SPAWN POINTS answer all questions related to how Warhammer World is able to maintain a self destructive cycle of violence, mayhem and all manner of shennanigans!!!

    Love ur work Shell Case! Keep it up!


    P.S. if you want me to write for you u know where to find me!

  6. Except Storm of Chaos never really happened well at least it seems to have been removed from all the fluff 🙂
    As this was in part a player led campaign and if taken in context of the fact that in the 20+ years I have been playing the hobby the fluff hasnt really advanced in any way you could make a very strong arguement that the warhammer world we play in is one frozen in time
    This means every battle we fight is just a strand of possability in a endless sea of possabilities in a world that never moves forward to reveal if any of those strands was the correct one.

  7. I think it’s a sense of scale we as gamers apply to the game.

    To be fair I’m not really that well up on the WHF fluff, but I guess it is of a scale of magnitude lower than the 40K fluff. Are people carrying that galaxy spanning scale and bringing it to the fantasy world?

    Looking at Agincourt the reports are of armies of 12,000 a side or so, and that would be a massive battle in terms of fantasy. (Oh and they weren’t equal on points either!). And that was the numbers that Henry began the campaign with, not finished.

    Though for me the real problem is that both sets of rules began their life as skirmish scale games, and the rules while changed, are still more suited to that type of game. So the number of figures on the table grow to represent more ‘real’ men and the sense of scale skews further.

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