So the Gathering Storm continues to drift in a direction that looks very much like Age of Sigmar for 40k. That doesn’t mean that all is lost, though. In this post, I’m going to give you a reason to take the shotgun out of your mouth.
For starters, the barrel is probably cleaned, if at all, with fluids that are intended to make it safe to hold, not safe to lick. A lot of the things we use to make objects more hygienic to handle are in fact poisonous when imbibed. If you wanted to die writhing in stomach churning agony, you would presumably just play Age of Sigmar until you dehydrated.
More importantly, let’s circle back around to Age of Sigmar. After all, the main reason why the Gathering Storm has filled us with apocalyptic anxiety rather than just making us roll our eyes at more Ultramarines Mary Sue bullshit like it’s 5th edition all over again is because Age of Sigmar happened. The stakes are higher now. Games Workshop has demonstrated a willingness to engage in setting destruction on an unprecedented scale, and 40k is looking less and less safe from that Armageddon every day.
But I actually have hope that Age of Sigmar may end up as something non-awful, and the reason for that hope is Cubicle 7. Cubicle 7 produced the One Ring RPG, and it has very effectively threaded the needle between respecting its source material while still allowing and encouraging enough flexibility for people to actually tell stories in the setting, rather than falling into the trap that many Lord of the Rings games do of slavishly following events laid out by Tolkien (reducing players to little more than bystanders to books and movies that they could be reading or watching instead of listening to the GM give them a half-assed recreation) or turning the actual Middle-Earth into another tone deaf generic fantasy world from the “misunderstanding Tolkien” school of design.
Cubicle 7 preserves the tone and themes of Tolkien’s design while explicitly encouraging players to change the minor details of the setting and even let players significantly alter the course of Middle-Earth’s history – after all, as the One Ring RPG points out, Tolkien made lots of tweaks and adjustments to Middle-Earth while he was alive. The One Ring RPG isn’t just a good RPG unto itself (although it is certainly that, deftly executing many new ideas in a way that is not perfect, but is far better than you might expect from something so experimental), it also espouses the kind of philosophy that leads to good RPGs in general. I have full confidence that Cubicle 7, unless crippled by executive meddling (and Games Workshop exercises almost no executive power off its spin-off materials at all), will produce an RPG for Age of Sigmar that will take the bland, uninspired setting and turn it into some actually good epic fantasy.
It still won’t be Warhammer Fantasy, nor will it be a real successor to Warhammer Fantasy. It will be epic fantasy, not gothic fantasy. It will be good epic fantasy, but the foundation of the setting will still be Order vs. Chaos duking it out. The important thing, however, is that it will probably be good, and if Age of Sigmar can change from something terrible into something good, then anything is possible. Especially since Cubicle 7 is also producing the fourth edition of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG. The best thing to ever happen to Blood Bowl was Games Workshop ceasing to produce it and the fans taking over. Now something similar is happening to Warhammer Fantasy and it might ultimately be better for it. The same thing could happen to 40k, and after a rough few years where GW makes it clear that they are never going back to the way things were, we may get a Renaissance of pre-Guilliman material, going back to how things were from 3e to 7e, with the clock frozen eternally at five minutes to midnight and the timeline mainly advancing backwards, filling in details of things that happened between the Heresy and the End Times.
Whatever happens, Warhammer Fantasy and 40k are more than just a Games Workshop property at this point. They couldn’t kill them if they tried (and boy howdy are they trying). The Gathering Storm is bad, and it is probably going to get worse, but after Games Workshop finishes shitting itself, 40k will still be there.