How to stop a teenage girl from playing Warhammer

Warhammer 40k art of a Battle Sister kneeling in prayer
(Image credit: Games Workshop)

Being a woman who plays Warhammer can suck. This isn’t news, of course.

At least as a woman playing video games, you can mostly cross enemy lines without a hitch, even if you play online multiplayer. After all, disguising your gender can be as simple as turning off your mic and resisting the deep-seated urge to play a healer (I’m joking… mostly).

Playing in person - often a prerequisite for wargames and the best tabletop RPGs - can throw a real spanner in the works. What you share of yourself is no longer your gamertag or your avatar. It’s your face, your body, your voice – each an element carrying with it its very own cultural baggage.

When you pick up tabletop games, you’re often looking for a little more than just someone to play with; you’re looking for a community. As the heated 'discourse' around the place of women in Warhammer 40K’s canon surges on, it’s a stinging reminder that finding that community is not always so easy if you’re not a dude.

As a 15-year-old girl with a voracious desire to play TTRPGs and a friend group who couldn't be less interested in the idea, I struggled to organically tap into the tabletop hobby. My first contact with wargames happened on the suggestion of a teacher of mine. Apparently, her son (a fellow D&D nerd) wandered into the Warhammer store after the Age of Sigmar launch drew in him like a moth to a fantasy flame. Cue the friendly sales assistants initiating him into the wonderful world(s) of Warhammer. Yes, please. I’ll have what he’s having.

Once I convinced my best friend to stray from our usual Saturday routine of drinking bubble tea and buying tat at Forbidden Planet, the plan was in motion. I was going to the Warhammer store. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly receive the same warm reception. 

Warhammer store, Dublin, 2015

Sisters of Battle / Adepta Sororitas codex cover art

(Image credit: Games Workshop)

Technically speaking, your money is worth the same no matter where you shop. Although, if you really pay attention, you’ll start to notice that your presence is valued a little differently everywhere you go. Those women’s clothing stores that stocked cheap crop tops? Hell yeah, 15-year-old girls are the gold standard there. These were the places where the sales assistants shot us easy smiles and called us pet names. 

At least at this particular Warhammer store, things were very different. The employee there floated stiffly behind my friend and I as we inspected the boxes of minis and tiny pots of paints. He never engaged us as he did with other customers; he just watched accusingly. It took me a good while before I built up the courage to start asking questions about what was on the shelves:

Are those aliens?
Do you just paint them?
Do you have to pick those exact colors?
Oh. That’s cool, what do you do after that?

He indulged my first few questions with a cold yes/no before breaking the pattern with a sharp sigh: “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then why are you here?” Oh god. My cheeks went hot. This wasn’t a question, this was a poorly concealed request for us both to piss off.

Battle sisters engaged in combat with T'au Empire faction

(Image credit: Games Workshop)

It’s hard to know why he turned on us like this. Was he a virulent sexist? Was it some kind of Revenge of the Nerds-style lashing out against women that had disparaged his hobby in the past? Was he just having a bad day? I’ll admit, I can’t know for sure.

All I know is that it was a familiar antagonism. It was an antagonism I had felt before from especially bristly GameStop employees, from customers at my retail job who would look right past me and seek tech advice from my male co-workers, and from rock fans who’d ask me to name songs from the band whose t-shirt I was wearing. It was the feeling of being subjected to gatekeeping.

His words carried with them a belief that not only did I not know what I was talking about, but I also was not welcome to learn. So, of course, I took this as my cue to leave. Thankfully, this isn't a universal experience and I'm sure it's not part of Games Workshop's staff training to scare girls off playing wargames.

Still, interactions like this (however rare they be) can be enough to make newbies feel unwelcome and even unsafe with those they're hoping to share the space with. Hell, it can even scare them off the hobby completely. I passed that Warhammer store many times in the years following my first poorly-received visit. I did not go back in. 

Warhammer store, Bristol, 2023

Morathi, in her Shadow Queen form with a serpent tail and wings

(Image credit: Games Workshop)

It was one emigration and almost a decade later before I found myself in a Warhammer store again. It was one of many stores my boyfriend and I had planned to pop into on a leisurely trip in Bristol.

But I had evolved. As an adult, I had learned a little more about how to get by in spaces I felt I didn’t belong in. The plan was to hide behind my boyfriend, play the role of the bored but supportive girlfriend, and learn by osmosis through what the employees would tell him. It was just safer this way, I thought.

What I didn’t anticipate happening was the sales assistant reaching out to me and asking about my experience with Warhammer. I told him was a total beginner and sheepishly downplayed my interest in getting started. I really didn’t fancy getting shot down again.

However, not only did he enthusiastically answer questions I posed to him, he started delivering advice apropos of nothing, recommending books and starter kits, and opening the door for me to find out more about the hobby and the people who enjoyed it.

Once I was talked into painting my first mini, the support only deepened. He stood guiding me through rudimentary techniques for creating texture and feeding me cool chunks of lore surrounding the army my tiny plastic man was supposedly a part of. By the time I looked up from my beautifully battle-ready mini and checked the time, I realized I had been in there for three and a half hours. Of course, I wound up spending a frankly shameful amount of money before I left too. 

Painted Stormcast Eternal Vindictor mini. It has gold armor and a blue and white shield

My first ever Warhammer miniature. Not exactly Golden Demon standard but go easy on me! (Image credit: Future / Abigail Shannon)

I’m grateful that things turned out differently. Yet I can’t help thinking of my 15-year-old self and the opportunity she was denied to join a hobby that she had the potential to love. I think of my seven-year-old sister and I wonder if she’d ever be interested in me taking her to the Warhammer store. I wonder what her experience would be like. I know that, particularly for those who don’t fit the 'archetype' of a Warhammer player, that first impression is crucial for establishing a feeling of belonging. 

Progress is being made in representation for women, POC, and LGBTQ+ people in Warhammer games. No doubt, this is a worthwhile development (even despite the slightly scary, very politically charged backlash). Even in the absence of this, the most meaningful inclusion happens at your local store and within the community itself.

In hobby spaces like Warhammer which have developed an unfortunate boys club reputation, it's just as important to see female players around the table as it is to see female minis on it. In order for that to happen, they have to feel accepted and welcomed.

So make an effort to engage new players, be kind, and try be receptive to their questions. As turns out, it's pretty easy to stop a teenage girl from playing Warhammer if you don't.

If you're hoping to make your Warhammer debut, why not pick up one of the best Warhammer 40K starter sets? Or, if TTRPGs are more your thing, give one of the best D&D books a try.

Abigail Shannon
Tabletop & Merch Writer

Abigail is a Tabletop & Merch writer at Gamesradar+. She carries at least one Magic: The Gathering deck in her backpack at all times and always spends far too long writing her D&D character backstory. She’s a lover of all things cute, creepy, and creepy-cute.