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The Warhammer 40,000 game takes place in a science fantasy universe, whose extreme dystopianism inspired the word "grimdark" – from the game's tagline, "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war" – as a shorthand for similarly ultraviolent or amoral fiction.
Most stories are set in the 41st millennium, ie some 38,000 years in the future. Humans have settled more than a million worlds across the galaxy, most of which are ruled by the Imperium of Man, a brutal theocratic regime united in its worship of the immortal God-Emperor of Mankind. Despite its size and power, the Imperium teeters on the brink of collapse due to a combination of escalating war, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, and technological stagnation.
The Imperium is in a continuous state of war with a number of hostile forces:
The Chaos Gods live in the Warp, a parallel dimension of unpredictable psychic energy from which psykers draw their power and through which faster-than-light travel is possible. Chaos is central to the setting and is the fundamental cause of much of the conflict in the galaxy. Over the millennia, the forces of Chaos have destroyed all the once-glorious and enlightened civilizations of old, most recently sabotaging the Emperor of Mankind's attempt to lead humanity back into a new age of enlightenment and prosperity. It corrupts the body and soul and decimated the Eldar race. It forces the Dark Eldar to perpetually new lows of depravity, and regularly sends armies of daemons and corrupted mortals to terrorize and massacre the denizens of realspace. Chaos exists only to persist and spread, the Dark Gods delighting only in the destruction and disorder they sow.