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Warhammer 40K’s new Arks of Omen lore, explained

It’s like a buddy-cop comedy, with more daemon murder

Vashtorr the Arikfane’s Warhammer 40k model, showing a terrifying demon crafted of metal and gears. Image: Games Workshop
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Warhammer 40,000 has a new tabletop game type, which launched in January, based around boarding parties that can be played with Citadel miniatures. Boarding Actions is a 500-point game mode, accompanied with a book full of lore to explain why your miniatures are duking it out. A new, more compact way to make your miniatures fight is always interesting, but Arks of Omen also adds intriguing lore spread across four books, only one of which has been released so far. The first book, Arks of Omen: Abaddon, sets the stage, and it looks like the 40K universe is about to get even spicier.

Instead of large-scale battlefields, Boarding Actions is based around smaller boarding parties fighting through the claustrophobic environments of enemy ships, like the new and mysterious Balefleet. The Arks of Omen plot explains why Boarding Actions are happening, and sets up tons of lore around the mode. This new storm of enemy ships is due to an unlikely buddy-cop-style team-up between two of the setting’s baddies. One is a longtime veteran of the setting and a terrifying Chaos Space Marine, and the other is an intriguing new daemon demigod.

Abaddon the Despoiler, the Warmaster of every corrupted and disloyal Space Marine, wants to take down the Imperium of Man and become a new, better Emperor — with anarchism and feats of strength! In order to do so, he vies for the favor of all four Chaos Gods without ever pledging himself to any one of them. In Warhammer 40K, the Chaos Gods all play the Great Game of vying for constant dominance, and they’re as likely to betray each other as fight an enemy together. It’s like the world’s worst Thanksgiving dinner.

Warhammer 40K’s Arks of Omen books, starring Abaddon the Despoiler, Angron, Vashtorr, and a mysterious fourth entry. Image: Games Workshop

Enter Vashtorr the Arkifane. If you’ve ever played Doom, you might have wondered: Where are all of these skeletons getting jetpacks and guns? In 40K, that’s Vashtorr’s job — he’s the demonic arms dealer who peddles to the big four Gods, and he wants a seat at the table for himself. Every Chaos God feeds off some kind of extreme emotion. Khorne is all about blood and skulls, Slaanesh feasts on excess and the pursuit of perfection, Nurgle focuses on disease and decay, and Tzeentch loves nothing more than playing 5D chess. Vashtorr is about obsession, creation, and invention.

Warhammer 40K is a sprawling setting with decades of lore spread across video games, source books and tabletop games, novels, animated series, and short stories. The big-picture lore, which has often been stagnant, paints the picture of a galaxy where nothing will ever get better. Humanity rules the stars under the enormously corrupt and decayed administration of the Imperium of Man, toiling under the eye of the decayed corpse Emperor who sits upon the Golden Throne. The Imperium will fail, either from civil war or one of the many hungry alien threats who wait at the door.

It’s intriguing to see Games Workshop move the setting forward in recent years, first with the Dark Imperium plot — which saw the Imperium split in two between a massive rift in reality — and now the Arks of Omen. Things certainly seem as grim and dark as ever, but new characters like Vashtorr show that despite the massive setting, there’s always room for a surprise reveal or mysterious plot twist.