Games Workshop seemingly announced the first non-binary human character in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, only to apparently renege by editing the unit’s pronouns.
An update to the fantasy miniatures wargame’s community page detailed two new anniversary models slated to release in 2021. One was Sylas Beastbane, a Knight Questor of the Stormcast Eternals - the universe’s flagship scions of good and order. The short paragraph description, now changed but reposted to fan Reddit page r/Sigmarxism, described the miniature using they/them pronouns, leading players to surmise Beastbane was non-binary.
“Few foes can stand up to the one-two punch of their Questor Axe-hammer, a new weapon that allows them to strike an additional time at anyone they hit.”
At some point later, an update to the description added more details to what’s included with the anniversary miniature but also changed Beastbane’s pronouns to he/him. Strangely, the first sentence retains an instance of the original non-binary personal pronouns. The listing now reads thus:
“Even the Astral Templars respect the monster-killing prowess of Knight-Questor Sylas Beastbane, and with that monstrously heavy head in their hand it’s easy to see why. You can use this model to replace a Hero in any Stormcast Eternals army. He also comes with a unique warscroll for use in narrative and open play games, where you’ll quickly discover that few foes can stand up to the one-two punch of his Questor Axe-hammer.”
Fans were originally happy about the supposed addition of a human character in Age of Sigmar who identifies outside of the gender binary. “Not to make GW sound cool, but they just introduced a non-binary Stormcast Eternal, once again proving AOS Superiority,” said Reddit user leiablaze in the title of their post. The comments quickly pointed out the change, which prompted several to voice their disappointment.
“Disappointed but not surprised,” one commenter said. Several others called Games Workshop “cowards” and “spineless”. The initial post garnered little to no outcry from conservative or reactionary parts of Age of Sigmar’s playerbase, leaving little clue as to why the publisher edited Beastbane’s description to remove some, but not all use of non-binary pronouns.
The Stormcast Eternal could have been the first human to not use they/them pronouns, but Games Workshop’s fantasy world has an established history of non-humans - robots and aliens, for example - falling outside the gender binary. Slaaneshi unit Shalaxi Helbane has been referenced using they/them pronouns in marketing material from as early as 2019, although official community posts have also used “it” and led to similar disappointment among fans that Warhammer would indulge in a practice historically used to dehumanise non-binary people in the real world. The god Slaneesh is characterised as epitomising pleasure, excess and decadence - a stereotype often used to characterise queer characters and people as deviant and sexually rapacious.
Non-binary aliens are a longstanding genre trope that can be a double-edged sword, creating space for an expanded understanding of gender but too often othering them in a fundamentally non-human way.
“Referring to robots and aliens and spirits and lizardpeople as non-binary is cool in a fantastic/sci-fi sense and can still be used for interesting stories, but it can also kind of overshadow or otherwise blot out portrayals of actual real non-binary humans, like exist in [real life],” Reddit user genteel_wherewithal said.
Dicebreaker reached out to Games Workshop to clarify Sylas Beastbane's intended pronouns and why the change occurred but did not hear back before publication.