How (and Why) Did the Warhammer End Times Happen?
We assume you're aware that the beginning of Age of Sigmar was actually the end of a game that lasted for more than 30 years, Warhammer Fantasy Battles. We've discussed the reasons why Warhammer Fantasy had to die (basically, it wasn't bringing new people into the hobby and wasn't selling well). But how did Games Workshop wrap up this 30-year storyline and progress to an entirely new reality?
For the purpose of this article, we're going to assume that you aren't entirely familiar with the lore of either Warhammer Age of Sigmar or Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and we'll do our best to explain how the one ended and the other started.
(A lot of people got very agitated and aggravated that the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy, and we totally get that. We're going to look at this as optimistically as possible. The people who love Old World are fine and the people who love Age of Sigmar are fine. It's a hobby and people can enjoy what they enjoy.)
1. What was Warhammer Fantasy Battles?
Warhammer Fantasy Battles (hereafter referred to as either Warhammer Fantasy or "the Old World") was a rank-and-flank game, meaning that the vast majority of the units were on square or rectangular bases so they could all be bunched up together and moved around as blocks of troops: a big block of infantry, or a big block of archers. It mattered a LOT which direction a unit was facing--getting hit in the flank or rear was a big deal.
Also the Old World was essentially a fantasy version of earth (at various times in history). The elves lived in what was basically the British Isles, the vampires lived in Eastern Europe, and the Tomb Kings lived in Egypt. The humans, or The Empire, was sort of The Holy Roman Empire.
2. How Did Games Workshop Go About Ending Warhammer Fantasy?
The Black Library has hundreds of books, and the Old World had many, many books written about it, and Games Workshop knew that it couldn't just finish off the Old World without wrapping up some really epic, long-standing characters, relationships, and races.
Think of this like Avengers: Endgame: there were dozens of stories that needed conclusions, characters we loved were going to die, there would be triumphs, there would be losses, and ultimately the world was going to be radically different.
So Games Workshop released a five-book series about the End Times were designed to wrap everything up and lay the foundations for the beginning of Age of Sigmar.
The first of these books was The Return of Nagash. Age of Sigmar players will recognize this name, and he was, indeed, a lord of the dead, though in Warhammer Fantasy he was not as powerful as he would become in Age of Sigmar. He was the master of death magic. He had died and been reborn multiple times, and Nagash came back this time in his most powerful form. Once he is risen, he begins an all-out war of the undead.
Nagash went to his Black Pyramid in The Tomb Kings, and he starts sucking all of the power out of all the Tomb Kings heroes and characters. He was growing more and more power over death.
In the next books, Archaon (who we outlined here) came forward with an army of Glotkin (Nurgle's boys) but him being Archaon he also was leading armies from other Chaos Gods, including Khorne. He led an all-out battle against the Empire, a battle which, ultimately, the Empire would win, but Archaon was okay with losing because he had seriously crippled the Empire and the Emperor, Karl Franz. (It should also be noted that during this war, many cities that had been in the lore since the beginning were being wiped off the map.)
But the way that the Empire won is because they were supported by Nagash and his armies of death--he didn't want Archaon to win, either.
Meanwhile, the elven factions (the high elves, the wood elves, and the dark elves) could see how bad everything was, and one of the powerful elves, Teclis, had an idea that if he could bind the eight Winds of Magic to eight heroes, he could stop Archaon. But when he does this, the island kind of falls apart and Chaos is released.
Slaanesh, the God of Excess (who has a penchant for elves) is drinking in so many souls of the elves that he was just getting bloated and glutted on eating so many souls. This is essentially the last thing that we hear about Slaanesh before he is imprisoned in Age of Sigmar, and it's fair to assume that it was his gluttony that weakened him to the point he could be captured.
Then, in the fourth book, it was the rise of the Skaven, doing all kinds of crazy Skaven things. For example, they literally blew up the moon (the moon is where warpstone come from) and huge chunks of the moon come crashing down. Many of the Lizardmen are completely wiped out by the asteroids, the city of Nuln is destroyed, and the capital of the dwarven kingdoms is destroyed. Moreover, the Skaven finish off the Lizardmen with plague and battle.
The last book refocuses on Archaon and his plan to destroy the Old World. A massive battle begins with all the big named characters who survive into Age of Sigmar fight, with Sigmar duking it out one-on-one with Archaon.
And... the world is destroyed. Archaon literally tears the world into pieces and Sigmar is left clutching the core of the Old World hurtling through space.
3. What Made So Many People Upset About the End of the Old World?
A big part of the reason that players got so upset is that the End Times was SO GOOD as a series (and reflected in new models, characters, and books). These people said "If Games Workshop could reinvigorate the game with so much life and depth, then why not just use that reinvigoration to jumpstart Warhammer Fantasy?"
And it's a good question, but I think it misses a few points.
4. Why Did Warhammer Fantasy and the Old World Have to Die?
We all know that Warhammer Fantasy wasn't selling well, and especially that it wasn't bringing in new players. A TON of that had to do with rules bloat. When the End Times finally came around, the rules for Warhammer Fantasy were so complicated that the errata--not even just the core book, but the errata--was an inch and a half thick. And most of that was movement based because....
Rank-and-flank games were (and still are) going out of style, because movement is just so difficult. Yes, you still see a lot of rank-and-flank in historical games, but a) they're usually not this difficult to play, and b) historical wargamers tend to be more concerned with historical accuracy and are willing to put up with more complicated rules if it enables better historicity.
Warhammer Fantasy was reducing the importance of monsters, war machines, and characters, and increasing the importance of big mobs of soldiers. This made it not only less fun to paint (because instead of painting five different types of units you were painting sixty spearmen) but that meant that Games Workshop was selling fewer models, because people were getting sick of painting just endless infantry.
And of course all of this (rules bloat, complicated rules, the need for tons of models, and the lack of interesting models) meant that new players were not getting into the game.
It's no surprise that when Age of Sigmar was released, Games Workshop strongly touted their 4-page rulebook. (Which turned out not to be entirely true once you saw the additional rules, but the principle of the thing was true. The rules were extremely streamlined.)
(And, of course, whether this was the direct REASON for the End Times or just a HAPPY ACCIDENT, Age of Sigmar allowed Warhammer to rename all of their races to things that could be copyrighted: Orruks instead of Orcs, Gloomspite Gitz instead of Goblins, Sylvaneth instead of Wood Elves, and so on.)
5. Where Does The End of the Old World Leave Us?
It's worth noting that the new rulebook for Age of Sigmar 3.0 comes with approximately 120 pages of rules (though, admittedly, some of those pages are pretty photographs, and some are Battleplans.)
In the Lore, many of the characters and races from the Old World have survived: we still have Sigmar, Archaon, Nagash, Teclis, etc. The Lizardmen remain (now as the Seraphon) as do the Skaven--still called Skaven, because that was always trademarkable.
Age of Sigmar still has Battletomes (it's army lists) posted on their website giving rules for running Old World armies in Age of Sigmar. (You could, if you wanted, still run Tomb Kings--provided you put them all on round bases.)
There is still the rumor (dropped openly by Games Workshop in 2017 or 2018) that the Old World, or some version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles will return. But it's been a long time since they said that and there's been very little else mentioned.
But, people continue to play the game. If you have a Warhammer Fantasy army, still on square bases, odds are you can find someone else who will play with you if you look hard enough. But now that we're in the 3rd Edition of Age of Sigmar, I think it's safe to say that it's here to stay.
Do you think that Games Workshop was right to kill off Warhammer Fantasy Battles? Do you think it will ever come back?