»In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future there is only War« Warhammer 40,000, Transmedial Ludology, and the Issues of Change and Stasis in Transmedial Storyworlds

By Robert Baumgartner

Warhammer 40,000 (or Warhammer 40k) is a science fantasy tabletop war game set in a dystopian vision of the 41st millennium, with a xenophobic and fascist galaxy-spanning ›Imperium of Man‹ fighting in numerous neverending wars against various inhuman opponents, among them transdimensional demons, ancient robots and swarms of planet-eating bugs. Since its release in 1987, the game has become one of the most successful tabletop brands and has given birth to numerous spinoffs in the form of (more than 120) novels, pen-and-paper role-playing games, comics, and video games. This article acts as an introduction to the complex structure of this particular transmedial franchise, but also explores the consequences of a ludic ›mother ship‹ for further transmedial extensions: as players experience the world by simulative means, they gain a unique ›empirical‹ approach to the facts of the world, which will influence their further dealings with other elements of the storyworld, be it a game, a novel, or a comic. Using a ludological approach, the article then attempts to find the common structural elements shared between the games of the Warhammer 40,000 brand, thus opening the way for further explorations from the perspective of a transmedial ludology. Further more, it sheds light on the franchise’s attempts to advance its storyline with the collective help of fans and players of the original tabletop war game ›mother ship‹, in the process revealing a conflict between the conception of the transmedial storyworld as (mostly) static setting, on the one hand, and as dynamic storyline, on the other.