The Gathering Storm Is Bad: Lore Demolition

More nerdrage about the Gathering Storm below the break. Be sure to read part 1 about why the Age of Sigmar is bad to get caught up, and now we’ll dive into why the same pens that wrote the Age of Sigmar are making some very familiar mistakes over in 40k.

40k was originally just Warhammer Fantasy But They’re In Space, but it pretty quickly became its own thing. The Imperium is vaguely similar to the Empire in that both are ultimately based on the Holy Roman Empire, but the Imperium is vastly more fleshed out, containing within itself at minimum close to half of the game’s armies. Chaos uses the same gods in both settings, and they are clearly the exact same gods, but 40k has Chaos marines and Fantasy has the Horned Rat and the two would not benefit from cribbing from one another. Warhammer Fantasy wood elves are tree hugging hippies and 40k exodite eldar are dinosaur riding badasses (who have yet to get a proper codex, which we can all agree is a tragedy), and if the wood elves got the dinosaurs they’d be stepping on lizardman toes and if the exodites got the power to turn into tree people it’d mess with their Conan aesthetic something fierce.

In short, what’s bad for Warhammer Fantasy isn’t necessarily bad for Warhammer 40k. For example: Space marines. Space marines are an integral part of 40k even though they were bad for Warhammer Fantasy. So, going all Age of Sigmar on 40k is going to present a different set of problems, because while it is still a bad idea, it is a bad idea for a completely different set of reasons. And the Gathering Storm is looking pretty End Timesy, which means the Age of Sigmar may be right around the corner.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Before talking about how bad things might get, let’s look at how bad things have already gotten by taking a peek at the three books of the Gathering Storm already released and the leaks from the fourth. Starting with the Fall of Cadia, there were some immediate warning signs. Cadia is a longstanding pillar of the 40k setting, and to have it actually fall to Chaos can put the lore of a lot of armies in disarray. Cadian regiments are the most common of all Imperial Guard regiments. Anyone who fluffed their army as being stationed primarily on Cadia itself is going to have to figure out what happened to them now that Cadia has fallen. If they said they’d defend Cadia to the bitter end, then either they’ve been wiped out and the player needs to refluff them from scratch or else he needs to find some excuse why they did not actually defend Cadia to the bitter end.

White Wolf’s Old World of Darkness had the same meta-plot issue: Players have no contact with or influence over the writers, yet the writers have serious influence over other players. 40k (like oWoD) is played with other people. If you decide to stop following the main lore, that’s something you have to explain anytime you want to tell anyone about your army’s lore. That’s fine at first – if the fall of Cadia is the only bit of fluff you end up breaking with, you can just say that you’re ignoring that one plot point and that doesn’t take a lot of time nor will most reasonable 40k players find it a difficult pill to swallow for however long they’re dealing with your army.

The problem is the domino effect. If the fall of Cadia means anything to the rest of the setting, then claiming that Cadia isn’t actually fallen can drag you more and more out of sync with the setting. Anything that happens as a direct result of Cadia’s fall can’t happen in your lore, and anything that happens as a direct result of that can’t happen either. You can fix this by saying something like your regiment is holding out on the last fortress still untaken by Chaos or something, but abandoning the official lore like that tends to box you in pretty quickly. If you’re stuck on Cadia, how are you fighting Imperium forces ever? Sure, the Imperium isn’t really unified and there’s internal conflicts all the time even when none of them are turning to Chaos, but surely any Imperium forces on fallen Cadia would have better things to worry about than internecine squabbles. And what about Tau? How do they even get there?

You could make something work, and if the new fluff of Cadian regiments without a home was compelling enough, a Cadian player might feel the need to do so. The problem is that the Fall of Cadia (that is, the book about the event, not the event itself) has barely anything to say about regular dudes. The emphasis is strongly on the Triumvirate of Saint Celestine, Belicarius Cawl, and Inquisitor Greyfax. If you’re playing AdMech, Inquisition, or (of all things) Sisters of Battle, you have at least some idea of what your army can be doing, because as long as you attach yourself to the movements of one of these heroes, the lore will have you covered. Meanwhile, the only IG hero of note on the battlefield, Creed, ended the battle either dead or about to get a face full of Chaos corruption. And remember, Cadia is the home to Cadian regiments. It’s not a Sororitas planet, it’s not an Inquisition planet, it’s not a Mechanicus forge world, it’s an IG fortress world. A significant pillar of IG lore was demolished and GW gave IG players nothing else to build on, just left them all in lore limbo.

We still don’t know if Creed was defiant to the end or if Games Workshop plans to give the ultimate insult to Cadian Guard by having Creed return corrupted by Chaos, but even in the best case scenario – Creed died the death of a total badass at the conclusion of an epic battle – there were still no IG heroes left standing to represent the Guard in the aftermath, nor was much attention paid to what the Guard itself was doing now that Cadia fell. Cadia has fallen, so what do Cadian regiment players do with that information? The possibilities were endless, but the threat of being invalidated by later books in the Storm hung over every one of them. Making it obvious what parts of the meta-plot are being left intentionally and indefinitely open-ended for players to fill in is an important part of writing good meta-plot, and in the Fall of Cadia, Games Workshop completely failed to do so. They don’t even seem to have been trying.

This overemphasis on heroes at the expense of setting information critical to people’s actual armies continues in the Fracture of Biel-Tan. One of the primary characters of the Fracture is a Biel-Tan eldar who goes rogue and comes to Commoragh. After Khaine’s Gate is broken and a vast host of daemons invades Commoragh, this ex-Biel-Tan eldar escapes the city and returns to her erstwhile home to further the plot.

This is concerning because of how it’s condensing factions in a distressingly familiar way, but we’ll get to that later.For now, we want to focus on the fate of Commoragh. What is the fate of Commoragh? I’m trying to get these posts out daily so I didn’t have enough time to reread the entirety of the Fracture of Biel-Tan, but I don’t remember the book actually saying what ultimately happened to the city nor did any of the plot summaries I read online to pay lip service to due diligence mention it. The general consensus seems to be that the city is still contested since that’s the state we saw it in when our viewpoint characters left, but it’s been at minimum several days since then, and considering the distances covered by Roboute Guilliman in the next book (and the leak of the one after) probably weeks to months. Is Commoragh still contested? Have the dark eldar recaptured it? Have the daemons overrun it? Once again, any of these are possible and no matter which one a dark eldar player picks, they run the risk of having their army’s lore invalidated the next time Commoragh comes up. Just like Cadian IG before them, any dark eldar player who tied their army’s lore to Commoragh (and just like Cadian IG before them, that is the majority of dark eldar players) is in limbo, with no idea what their army’s place in the current lore is.

As the name implies, the Fracture of Biel-Tan also includes the eponymous craftworld getting its teeth pushed in. This is a moderately big deal to craftworld eldar players, especially Biel-Tan players specifically, but although Biel-Tan got stomped on, we know that Biel-Tan got stomped on, and what condition it’s in now. Unlike Cadia, where we have no idea where the next line of defense against Chaos is being put up, or Commoragh, where we have no idea what the extent of the destruction or duration of the daemonic invasion is, with Biel-Tan we actually know what happened and eldar players can write their army’s lore based on that knowledge.

The only book that’s been free of lore demolition is Rise of the Primarch, and we’ll get to that clusterfuck tomorrow.

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