Friday, September 21, 2012

The Genesis of Warhammer 40K

The Warhammer family of tabletop games has been around for a long time, with the original Warhammer 40K (aka Rogue Trader) being released in 1987.  What many gamers may not know was that some of the original concepts behind the game and the universe were formed well before that year, even before the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules were published.

Digging around in my basement this week I stumbled across an old set of rules I had called "Imperial Commander."  These were the mass-battle rules to accompany the "Laserburn" skirmish/RPG rules published by Tabletop Games back in the early 1980's.  I used to play IC with some friends when I was in high school & college back then, using the 15mm figure line that TTG produced as well.  The games were short, bloody and a great deal of fun.

Imperial Commander rules & Forces of the Imperium Supplement
Here are the original books in their black & white, simple card cover glory.  The copyright date on the rules are December, 1981, and the authors are Bryan Ansell & Richard Halliwell, both of whom went on to become co-authors of Warhammer Fantasy Battle (with other individuals as well), and Mr. Ansell was the founder of Citadel Miniatures and later became owner of Games Workshop and (after selling GW) Wargames Foundry.   

You can see hints of early space marines in the imagery used for the Imperial Marines here.

The troop types include armored infantry (i.e. regular space marines), powered armor (Terminators) and Dreadnoughts.  The main weapon used by the Imperial marines are the Bolt Rifle & 'Heavy Bolter' (sound familiar?).

There are references to the 'Forces of the Emperor and his Lord Knights (primarchs?)' and the Inquisition as well.

Laserburn & Imperial commander had no concept of Chaos, Orks, Eldar or any other major xenos races.  It was mostly humans being horrible to other humans with some aliens thrown in for good measure.  You can still buy the original 15mm figures and some of the Laserburn manuals at

Rouge Trader was heavily influenced by further developments from GW as well, but reading through the old Laserburn material it's easy to see where a lot of the core ideas and imagery came from.  I hope you found this interesting! 


  1. love this! Played Laserburn at university, and having recently taken up 40k again I now feel the call of fifteen mm! Working on a lot of terrain at present, in a campaign in the eastern fringe just south of the Tau. Black Templars vs tyranids, but set up to have tau against IG as things progress. Blog at 'Shield of the Imperium - warhammer 40k on the eastern fringe' if you want a peek. Will certainly follow you, especially when I get onto painting my Tau...

  2. Thanks for leaving a comment! I hope to post more regularly once I get some more time at home. I travel for work quite a bit which cuts into hobby time, unfortunately. Thanks for linking to my blog. Will return the favor as well.