Monday, 25 November 2013

Warhammer's Toothless Lore

One of the things i do, that competes with warhammer for my free time, is play video games. And one of the video game universes i love the most is the warcraft universe. I have played Warcraft 2 and 3 and try to keep up to date with whats going on in World of Warcraft lore wise because i find the lore of warcraft so interesting. It occurred to me last night (while watching a WoW lore video) that, in comparison warhammer lore is toothless and dull. To help make my point i will compare two characters from both the warhammer and warcraft universes. Specifically the Emperor Karl Franz and King Varian Wrynn.

Karl Franz:

In case you forgot what he looked like
So Karl Franz has been the emperor since the 4th edition Empire army book. His back story is short and brief. Here is a excerpt from the GW wiki Lexicanum about his election.

Although the exact circumstances and precise details are unknown, it's likely that Karl Franz was considered far too young and inexperienced. He himself did not believe that he would be elected and Boris Todbringer, the count of Middenland, was the other candidate. The first voting was 8 against and only 4 in Karl Franz's favour, the remaining 3 Electors presumably abstaining. Maximillian von Konigswald, who was an old friend and count of Ostland, managed to persuade all but one of the other electors to cast their vote for Karl Franz. The Church of Sigmar also supported him with 3 votes. In the end Karl Franz won the election. 

So not much of interest there. The current army book doesnt add much. It mentions his griffon, Deathwing, and the bond they share. In my view he is a fairly shallow character without much of a character arc or development.

Varian Wrynn:
The King
Now i went to WoW wiki to back what i know about Varian Wrynn (while a know a fair bit about Warcraft there is still a lot more i have learn). Where Karl Franz's wiki page was small, Varian Wrynn's page was about 30 A4 sheets long, he has a deep back story that has character development and is compelling to read. During his life he has been kidnapped by rebels, split into two versions of himself by a black dragon. Eventually, after a ton of notable deeds, became one again and murdered the aforementioned black dragon. And thats just a (brief) version of one of the important events that Varian has taken part in. And keep in mind that Varian's back story (as well as every notable warcraft character) is constantly expanding and growing, often allowing the players of WoW to take part in key events. (if you want to read the full version of Varian's back story you can read it here). 

And its not just in depth of their characters that warhammer falls short of warcraft. In the warcarft universe the horde (a main faction) has, over the course of 2 expansions, gone through three different leaders. There is no race in warhammer that can claim that.

Now the reason why i call warhammer lore toothless is because it doesn't take risks, every special character is immortal, in that none of the die, they never loose the status they hold (Thorgrim is STILL high king of the dwarfs, where as warcraft's dwarf rulers are ever changing). And its not just special characters were warhammer lore falls short. Take the storm of chaos, not only did the empire win (which, while makes for good reading, is boring and predicable) but now GW has erased it from the lore, we are now in a pre storm era across all warhammer army books. Meanwhile, in warcraft, you have notable events like the wraithgate where notable characters in the warcraft world died.

Now the point of this post is to lament how bad warhammer lore is when compared to warcraft (or indeed any fantasy universe). Nothing interesting of exciting happens, no risks are taken with ANY of the races or characters. Its dull, boring and really just a poor excuse for lore. Which is sad given the potential for exciting things. Its a waste and i kinda wish Blizzard (warcrafts creator) would release a table top wargame. Until next time



  1. Vlad Von Carstein, Manfred Von Carstein (though he has been ressurected in the latest Gotrek and Felix), Konrad von Carstein, Azhag the Slaughterer, Gorbad Ironclaw, Grom the Paunch, Gorthor the Beastlord (i think, not sure on that one), Duke Merovech, Valten, Marius Lietdorf, Mandred Ratslayer, Keilman Blackstaff, Lhoigor Goldenrod, Ulrika Magdova (technically). The special characters in Warhammer are generally set up to be those that are ready to fight come the Storm of Chaos. none of them are invincible (except maybe the daemon ones and Kholek Suneater) and their are and have been plenty of charecters in the books and novels that have been killed off to further the background of Warhammer. Rather than compare it to other fantasy series look to the period between 962 and 1806. Also i see a need to hold the books at a consistent point so that the narrative of "it is at a pivotal point where the world could tip into darkness or be pulled from the brink" can be extended. Yes some of the previous books looked at the storm of chaos but even then they only ever went to the last days of said conflict. Also do you get to play with any of said characters in Warcraft?

    1. The books dont matter, nothing in the books has world changing events. Any notable characters (like Orion say) dont have any actual development and end the book as they began it, unchanged. The other type of warhammer books take normal people (captains of regiments say), have them go on journeys and thats it, they dont appear in any army books and non of the trials matter. Gotrek and Felix books are the one exception, however character development doesn't occur, Gotrek and Felix seem to go through each adventure and dont change much, also they dont do much to change the world. Now warcraft is a different story. You do get to play as warcraft characters during world changing events, thats pretty much what warcraft 3 was. You played as important characters as they did import things that reshaped the world, in WoW you play alongside these characters (as you cant really play as important characters in MMOs). In Warcraft characters die, change, shape the world around them and this makes for a compelling and exciting world.

      Take Arthas, a major character in warcraft that you spend 50% of W3 playing as while he does some pretty world shaping things, he goes from being a paladin, a champion of the light, to becoming the lich king a supreme and powerful lord of the undead, all while you control him. Where is the warhammer character who does that.

  2. Archaon, lord of the end times started as a priest of Sigmar, before being corrupted by a "truth" discovered in the bowels of the chapel, yes you cant play with him at the major turning points of his life but that opens it up to creative scenarios which are some of my favourite moments of the game. I can see your reasoning for the majority of the books but have you read the Nagash trillogy, or the Maleketh trilogy. both start of as good guys set in their ways who are changed by the things that happen to them. Also you will find they change the world far too often, and are actually responsible for some of the terrible things that happen during the course of the latter Warhammer timeline.
    i will put a little aside here as i agree with you on some points, but would have to argue that with the Gotrek and Felix books it really depends on the writer. the latter books are full of character development for Felix and (through snippets of past information) give you a look at what turned Gotrek into the hard-arsed beer quafer he is in the books. also though their isn't much development on them the assisting characters are always developing. like Max, Ulrika, Snorri and Kat.

    1. The problem is that yes Archaon did change but hasnt changed since he was introduced as a special character. His backstory has changed (weridly) but he is still the same old Archaon, he hasn't done anything or developed in any way. Now the Nagash and Maleketh. The problem with books about their backstory is that you know how it ends and can guess that something big will happen to get them to that end point. When playing Warcraft 3 you never could have guessed that Arthas would have changed so dramatically, and although it wasn't a sudden change (it occurred over the course of about 6 missions) you always felt that he could still pull back and regain his former self, right up until end cinematic for the human campaign.

      A example i forgot to ad to my post was the fight between Archaon and Grimgor during the storm of chaos, Grimgor beats Archaon and doesn't kill him. This huge hulking black orc, who never stops killing things and likes the endless tide of death that he produces, doesn't kill his opponent. It would have been amazing if Grimgor killed Archaon and then in the next chaos army book suddenly you couldn't use Archaon as he was dead. However instead Grimgor shows Archaon mercy (!?!?!?!?).That is a prime example of why warhammer lore is so toothless

  3. Your point their is well made. However the point of warhammer is to create an unending narrative to allow as many "what if" scenarios as possible. the histories of the world have been developed to the point so that their can be a narrative of why armies are fighting, but no conclusion so that no one feels like they have coped out like many people felt at the end of the storm of chaos. i think this is why they have reverted to the pre storm years where anything can still happen. If you had read any of the recent fluff you would know that Orcs are not dumb one dimensional characters these days (check Skarsnik to see what i mean). Yes Grimgor loves to fight, but their was only one fight that he ever considered worthy of himself. He let Archaon go in the hopes of getting the chance to fight him again as it was the only time he ever felt joy in the fight. Unfortunately they have now relegated him to fighting Crom and only losing because his army retreated from around him as someone high up must have felt that Grimgor beating Archaon didn't seem right for some reason. I don't know.

    1. I do see your point that the aim of warhammer lore is to create an unending narrative to allow as many "what if" scenarios as possible. And stagnating the lore just before the break of war, when everyone has their nice unbroken armies is the way to achieve that. The issue is that it makes people, like me and I think you who like the lore of a given setting, bored because nothing ever happens. Nothing ever changes and all the races (constantly) waver on the brink of war.

      Also just to jump back to Archaon Vs Grimgor, the way that fight went down (up until the ending) was great, Valten and Luthor Huss had both tried their hardest to beat Archaon but he bested them both, then Grimgor shows and beats Archaon. If Grimgor had killed Archaon then I would have praised it as the best bit of warhammer lore in a long time, as it stands it’s a good fight with a disappointing ending.

      And while the WHFB orcs are better character wise the race as a whole is one dimensional. They have no significant cultures (aside from killing things), their gods both represent different ways of killing things and their entire history (from start to finish) is about killing things. Compared to Warcraft Orcs (who have a far superior backstory that involves them being corrupted by demons, breaking free of that corruption, founding a army that respects honour above all else, worship of the elements via shamans and banding together with humans to thwart a demonic attempt to take over their world) WHFB do seem rather shallow and 1D.

      AT the end of day I still like fantasy and will still play it but I just wish that the lore was as good as warcraft’s lore