Getting deeper into Warhammer 40k lore can feel hard. Thankfully, there are ample spots to hop in once you know the basics.
While the scope of the lore is massive, we can make it easier to digest. To achieve this, understanding the outline of the Warhammer 40k setting is recommended. After that, there are plenty of resources to indulge in, be it other media or online wikis full of information.
The setting and background of the Warhammer 40k universe
One of the key parts of the Warhammer 40k is its vast lore. We cannot ignore just how wide the entire setting is. This is both a blessing and a curse, there is a lot to explore but it’s hard to get started. Many inspirations formed the setting, which is why the presentation can feel so varied.
Where and when does this universe exist?
The setting of Warhammer 40k takes place in the Milky Way galaxy. Other galaxies are thoroughly unexplored yet and the world in them is unknown.
Most of the setting’s events take place in a sort of 5 minutes to midnight situation. This is to say that the majority of impactful events take place during the latter half of the 41st millennium.
How big is Warhammer 40K lore?
Warhammer 40k has one of the most extensive lore ever. There are hundreds of novels, rule indexes, video games, and even animations set within the world. With all of the pieces of fiction, the lore itself has expanded over hundreds of planets.
This considerable lore can’t be approached as one whole. Rather, it’s best to find a topic within the setting you like and start from there.
Warhammer 40k lore explained
The lore of 40k tells of the rise and fall of many space-faring races. All of it builds up the current state of the galaxy as a climax of millennia of conflict. The focal point for much of the lore is the Imperium of Man and its inception.
Imperium of Man is the primary human faction with hundreds of planets under its control. It used to be a more prosperous union but has since sharply declined into an oppressive and brutal dystopia. Imperium’s enemies haven’t ceased either. Millions die daily to keep humanity safe from all sorts of aliens and the corruption of Chaos itself.
Does the 40k lore have a beginning?
There are two points of origin for the lore. One is the beginning of the universe and the prehistory of the world.
The second is Horus Heresy, a massive civil war that started the sharp downfall of the Imperium of Man.
Best way to start with Warhammer 40k lore
While all of the intense events and concepts present some form of decent starting point, the Imperium of Man is still the best to begin with. You will be able to learn about all of the factions found within and find some extra insight on elements such as aliens, psykers, or even Chaos Gods.
Some good points in the Warhammer 40k Lore to start your journey
There are many jumping-on points in the lore of Warhammer 40k. Learning these pieces of lore allows you to jump into different sections of lore much easier:
An ancient being and a protector of humanity. He has been around since the early days of mankind but has only revealed himself during the Age of Strife. To reunite the fading humanity, the Emperor started Reunification Wars.
Learning about the Emperor opens many new things to explore, be it Imperium of Man, the timeline of humanity, or how Space Marines came to be.
Also known as the Sea of Souls or the Warp. This is an alternate reality made out of psychic energy. The Warp ebbs and flows based on the emotions of the living world. It is an emotional mirror to the material world filled with daemons.
The Warp is also the source of all magic, making the act of magic itself prone to corruption from this realm.
After learning about the Warp, you can expand to Chaos Gods, psykers, or the prehistory of the world.
There are four major Chaos Gods, all with their domains and followers.
Each Chaos god individually work towards usurping the material world. The end goal is the destruction of all so that Chaos can take over existence once more.
They tie into the same parts as the Warp. However, their cults and servants also allow for some extra points of interest.
Sometimes referred to as Star Gods, are believed to be the oldest intelligent beings in the Warhammer 40k universe. They precede even the oldest of races and hate the warp.
These beings were made out of pure energy and fed on the energy of stars. Later, they received physical bodies crafted by the race of Necrontyr. This race would later get tricked by C’tan and turned into Necrons.
Eventually, Necrons rebelled against C’tan, breaking them into shards and trapping them.
The mighty Star Gods are now used as weapons by Necrons. C’tan offers a great jump-off point for learning about Necrons, prehistory, and even Eldar.
Rise of Humanity
This is the period in the world’s history when humanity first showed up. This period spans the entire 40,000 years of humanity’s existence. From the early years until the fall of Aeldari, the Rise of Humanity persisted.
Rise of Humanity ties to many significant cosmic events, serving as a splendid branching point.
Fall of Aeldari
A cataclysmic event that shook the galaxy.
The galaxy-spanning race of Aeldari, having achieved dominance across the stars, became complacent. In their boredom and superiority, they started many pleasure cults that embraced extreme hedonism.
Eventually, their extreme indulgence resulted in them spawning a Chaos God of pleasure into existence. This event destroyed much of their civilization and their souls while simultaneously concluding Humanity’s descent into the Age of Strife.
Aeldari are old, with connections to most other factions and events. Their psychic powers also allow fresh readers to get into the lore of magic in this setting.
The Age of Strife
An era after a cataclysmic birth of the Chaos God. Colonies of humanity lost all contact due to incredible disturbance in the Warp. It would keep degenerating human civilization until the Emperor revealed himself.
After the Emperor reunited Terra, he started another military pursuit. This Great Crusade involved about 200 years of battle to unite the old human worlds under a single rule.
After the Great Crusade slowed down and scattered into multiple paths, the Emperor retreated to Terra to work on a huge project to change humanity. This event and the following civil war, named Horus Heresy, are wellsprings of lore. Effects of which can be felt in the current setting of 40k.
Warhammer 40k timeline
- Prehistory: All the events before humanity formed. Star Gods, Aeldari domination, and Necrontyr, all fall into prehistory.
- Rise of Humanity: Starts at the inception of humanity. Involves its rise into the skies with an era called the Stellar Exodus and continues far into the future. Some count it as ending around the 25th or 30th millennium. It is succeeded by the Age of Strife.
- Fall of Aeldari: The event which caused massive psychic distress in the universe. It firmly sent humanity further into the Age of Strife while fracturing the mighty Aeldari empire. The event itself was around 25th to 30th millennium.
- Age of Strife: Post-apocalyptic age of humanity. Many of the planets were hit hard by the loss of contact between other colonies. Most impacted was Terra, in-universe name for Earth, which relied on other planets to supply it.
- Great Crusade: At the end of the Age of Strife, when the Emperor reunited Terra under his rule, he launched a Great Crusade to reunite all colonies. This lasted for about 200 years.
- Horus Heresy: Massive civil war led by primarch Horus, one of the Emperor’s sons. Ends the prolific age of Imperium and sends it into another decline. The event started around the start of the 30th millennium.
- Age of Imperium: This is the age that began in the 30th millennium. It continues until the current age of the setting.
Key Events and Timelines in the Warhammer 40k Lore
Events worth checking out when exploring 40k lore are many.
Some of the most important events remain the following:
- War in Heaven
- Fall of Aeldari
- Great Crusade
- Horus Heresy
- War of the Beast
- 13th Black Crusade
Explanation of the different factions and races within Warhammer 40k (get into the 40k Lore)
Various factions make the galaxy of Warhammer 40k feel not only big but also fleshed out. These can be split into factions of the Imperium of Man and alien factions. The latter can be broken down further but due to their generally similar goals, we’ll lump them together.
The key factions and races within the Warhammer 40k universe
Adeptus Astartes, better known as Space Marines, are the powerful bulwark of the Imperium of Man. A faction made out of thousands of superhuman soldiers that keep the planets of the Imperium safe from enemies.
They are split into many different chapters. Each of which has its specialization and quirks.
The main military branch of the Imperium of Man, Astra Militarum is composed of billions of well-trained soldiers. These are your standard infantrymen who survive by grit alone.
Astra Militarum’s military power is expanded by its vehicles. Powerful machines like this have taken many victories for the valiant forces of this faction.
Tech-priests of Mars are members of the faction known as Adeptus Mechanicus. Mechanicus is the most scientifically advanced faction in the Imperium and contains many pieces of ancient technology from the Dark Age of Technology.
This faction is what keeps most of the Imperium’s forces going. Their vehicles and gigantic Titans provide a massive edge to the armies.
While the other factions take care of the Imperium of Man’s external foes, the Inquisition deals with internal ones. These dangers include daemon possessions, terrorism, and conspiracies.
However, Inquisition is far from a just faction. Some Inquisitors abuse their power or exude overwhelming zealousness in their work. It’s not rare that Inquisition causes countless deaths over the smallest suspicions.
While not properly organized, Chaos is one of the most important factions of Warhammer 40k. Chaos covers any daemons, traitors to the Imperium, or worshippers of Chaos across the galaxy. The goal of Chaos is to return everything to the primordial soup of consciousness and emotions.
Chaos represents the greatest enemy of the Imperium, with humanity being a rather emotional race. The four Chaos Gods feed on those emotions, growing in power constantly. The only relieving factor is that these gods rarely cooperate, which makes their forces spread out.
The race of Necrons is fully made out of living metal called necrodermis. This allows them to regenerate and even reanimate, turning Necrons into formidable foes. Necrons rise from their buried tombs, led by their dynasty’s rulers.
Their original goal was to eliminate all living beings in the material world but has evolved into many varied and intricate goals tied to specific Dynasties.
Aeldari or Eldar are an ancient race that used to rule the galaxy. Now they hide on Craftworlds, massive living spaceships fueled by psychic power. They hope to once again rise, reclaiming the old glory of their civilization.
Dark Eldar or Drukhari are an offshoot of Eldar. During the Fall of Aeldari, the inhabitants of some of the highly corrupted and hedonistic worlds escaped into the Webway.
In this space between spaces, Drukhari made their city of Commorragh to escape Slaanesh and continue indulging in their foul rituals.
The youngest of the races, Tau is a naive race with highly advanced technology. These once primitive people were raised to a star-faring level by a group known as Ethereals. Their tech is unmatched and has brought them quite a few victories.
Ethereals are spiritual leaders of the Tau, leading this race toward the Greater Good. Greater Good itself is a belief that states every being should strive to make the galaxy better for as many other beings as possible.
Simple in motivation but not in biology, Tyranids are a race that aims to eat everything in the galaxy while frequently evolving to adopt new tactics against their enemies.
Tyranids are split into hive fleets, each utilizing the power of the Tyranid hive mind to constantly mutate and adapt. They are further assisted by Genestealer Cults, which prepare planets for Tyranid domination.
Aggressive, brutish, and numerous, Orks were once the greatest threat to the Imperium. These aliens live to fight, even when there’s no enemy they will fight themselves. Orks reproduce through spores which allows them to keep their numbers despite the bloody lifestyle.
Additionally, Orks have passive psychic powers which allow them to bend reality by the power of collective belief. This ensures a lot of their wargear and machines work rather than fall apart.
Important Characters to know in the Warhammer 40k Lore
- Emperor of Mankind
Emperor of Mankind remains one of the most important parts of the Warhammer 40k lore. The Emperor presents a great yarn of lore to disentangle. He is present as a figure in a lot of important events while also being an immortal psyker.
Primarchs are important characters in their own right. They are genetically modified humans and “sons” of the Emperor. They were made to lead Adeptus Astartes chapters, or Space Marines.
Most notable is Horus, who incited the Horus Heresy. This was a long civil war that ended with Emperor being mortally wounded and most primarchs disappearing.
- Trazyn the Infinite
Trazyn the Infinite is the most interesting Necron active in the galaxy right now. This Phaereon is incredibly invested in collecting various parts of the galaxy for his gallery.
The entries in Trazyn’s gallery include quite a few living beings and important figures, all of which are frozen into a permanent exposit for this powerful Necron ruler.
- Eldrad Ulthran
Eldrad Ulthran, the most powerful psyker among the Aeldari, is associated with many important events. This involves navigating and warning loyalist primarchs of Horus’ betrayal as well as saving some key Aeldari members.
Important principles in the Warhammer lore and universe
The principles of the world are those of conflict. Quite a few different concepts are being thrown around but constant war remains one of the defining features of the setting.
The general grit and oppression of the setting form a forever grim backdrop for even the most lighthearted of stories.
Even triumphs of the Imperium of Man are weighed down by the extreme sacrifices that were required for success.
Further Reading and Resources to get deeper into the Warhammer 40k lore
Once you are keenly aware of the basics of the setting, it’s time to dig in deeper. Taking a shot in the dark and going for a random event works but here are some recommended reads.
Novels can be a good way to expand your knowledge of a specific alien species or part of the Imperium.
Space Marine chapters have their own novels, multiple inquisitors have a series of novels on them, and Mechanicus have a couple released as well.
A few novels worth reading to get a better understanding of the Imperium are:
- Inquisition: Eisenhorn
- Astra Militarum: Gaunt’s Ghosts
- Space Marines: Ultramarines, Space Wolves, Blood Angels, etc. (usually, the chapter’s novel series is simply the name of the chapter so just find one you like most)
- Mechanicus: Forge of Mars
If you want to indulge alien species more, there are a few interesting books to read:
- Necrons: The Infinite and the Divine
- Tyranids: The Great Devourer: Leviathan Omnibus
- Aeldari: Path of the Warrior
- Drukhari: Path of the Dark Eldar
- Tau: Fire Caste
- Orks: Deff Skwadron
If you want a direct source of knowledge, Lexicanum and Warhammer 40k Wiki provide great and concise patches of lore. However, don’t merely read entries.
There are sources at the bottom of each page that can help shed more light on your topic of choice.
Additionally, video games such as Mechanicus can add to your understanding of the lore. The better of the bunch does a great job of representing different factions and races while telling an interesting story.
While vast, Warhammer 40k lore is far from impenetrable. When getting into the Warhammer lore, choosing a point of entry is the most you’ll need to do. After that, new terms and events will quickly have you scouring all the available sources for information.
Quickly, you’ll catch up with the most important parts of the setting, left free to indulge in any specific area you are keen on.
https://www.warhammer-community.com/press-room/images/ (Killteam FC Art)
https://www.warhammer-community.com/press-room/images/page/2/ (Dark Imperium Web art)