A key in the wrong hands could be dangerous…

In the grimdark future, keys are more than humble objects. They can be a sigil of power for a swashbuckling rogue trader; a device to ignite a corrupt titan of war; or the knowledge of how to unlock an ancient Xenos reliquary.

The Key challenges authors to write about a character who holds the key to something special. Maybe it’s a literal key to escape incarceration, or perhaps a codeword in their mind that holds horrors in check? Whatever the key is – literal OR metaphorical – it will unlock something precious to the character and those around them.

Want to increase your chance of winning? Follow these tips…


Submission deadline is January 15, 2024 @ 11:59 PM PT

Faction Restriction List

In order to encourage creativity, diversity, and exploration of lesser-explored narratives within the setting, Cold Open Stories has added a Faction Restriction List for this contest.

By removing POV stories from factions that have already been extensively covered—those with more than 15 stories featuring them on Cold Open Stories —the contest organizers and judges aim to push writers to delve into the uncharted territories of the setting. This limitation prevents the contest from becoming repetitive and encourages participants to explore factions and storylines that have not yet received as much attention. 

Not sure where to start? The [FACTION] navigation menu on the top of the page is a valuable resource for writers, offering insights into various factions, their characteristics, and potential storylines.

Collegia Titanica (Titans + Knights), Adeptus Administratum, Adeptus Ministorum, Assasinorum, Astra Telepathica, Rogue Traders, Adeptus Custodes, Chaos Cultists, Dark Mechanicum, Traitor Guardsmen, Slaanesh, Tzeentch, Nurgle, Khorne, Drukhari, Exodites, Rillietann (Harlequins), Leagues of Votann, Men of Iron, Necron, Gue’vesa, Kroot, Genestealer Cults, Tyranids, Other Xenos.

Adepta Sororitas, Adeptus Astartes, Adeptus Mechanicus, Inquisition, Astra Militarum, Navis Imperialis, Imperial Citizens, Heretic Astartes, Renegades, Asuryani, Orks, T’au.

What we're looking for

The Setting

Dive into the universe of Warhammer 40,000 and tell your story within its vast, grimdark worlds.


Weave your story according to the theme - as told through the subtext, environment, characters, or conflict.

1000 Word limit

This isn't world-building: Fast Fiction stories must have a beginning, middle, and end and come in at under 1,000 words. No cliffhangers!

Proof Your Work

Review your submission for grammar and spelling. Formatting details can be found below.

New Characters

Create someone new! We prefer original, distinct characters that grow and change through the story.

One Chance

Participants in the contest are limited to one submission each.

How to submit

The Cold Open Stories Discord is a great place to talk with other aspiring authors. Get feedback on your entry before submitting (or scope out your competition!).


Format your entry submission according to the Standard Manuscript Format, and follow British English spelling conventions. The University of Oxford Style Guide is a great reference for this. Fast Fiction submissions should be 1000 words or less.


Save your entry submission as a .docx or .doc and attach it to an email.


In the body of the email, provide a brief paragraph that includes your name, the title of the short story, word count, your social media (or website if you have one) and a maximum 100-word short bio about yourself.


Edit the email’s subject line so it reads: FAST FICTION THE KEY 2024 SUBMISSION followed by Title of Your Story


Email your formatted email and entry submission to coldopenstories.editors@gmail.com 

Meet The Judges

Colyn DeGraaff (He/Him) is a communications director, intercultural advisor, and designer living in Canada. He launched Cold Open Stories with the goal of merging Warhammer’s setting with the presentation of old time radio, and to tackle the stigma behind fan fiction and give amateur authors a place to explore non-canon stories.


Heather Armstead (She/Her) is an elective dominant arm amputee, which explains her affinity for the Iron Hands. She discovered the world of WH40K in the early 90s when she stole her big brother’s White Dwarf magazines (sorry Jamie) and spent hours poring over the pictures and battle reports. Despite a brief flirtation with Bretonnians in 5th ed WHFB she didn’t really get into the painting/gaming side of the hobby until 2020. Now painting with the wrong hand, a prosthetic arm, and prolific profanity, Heather paints Iron Hands, Genestealer Cults, and Tyranids. Her favourite WH40K stories are the Ciaphas Cain series, Gaunt’s Ghosts, and Day of Ascension.

Terms & Conditions

Terms & Conditions

Terms & Conditions

COLD OPEN STORIES is a place for authors to share their talents, get seen, and celebrate fandom. We are committed to helping new and emerging voices get recognized, and no money exchanges hands through our site. We believe that diversity in fiction in an excellent way to find new voices and stories. We want this to be reflected in our content and welcome submissions from every race, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation.

Want to learn more about how your Short Fiction submission will be presented, promoted, and potentially adapted into an audio drama? Expand one of the categories below for more details.

Reply Process

Reply Process

1. Upon submission, writers will receive an email confirming that their entry has been received. 

2. If the piece does not meet submission criteria, the writer will receive an email explaining why the piece has been rejected. If the writer does not receive a letter of rejection at this point, then the piece has met all submission criteria and will be passed on to the editing team for review. (This review process may take some time, potentially several weeks depending on the size of the amount of submissions received during any given period.)

3. Once the piece has been reviewed, the writer will either receive a letter of rejection if the piece needs more work, or an offer to continue with the revision process in preparation for publication.

4. Upon acceptance, the writer will work closely with the editing team in order to further revise the piece and come up with an end product that all parties are satisfied with.

5. Once the piece is ready, both parties will sign a contract allowing Cold Open Stories permission to publish the piece. More about this process can be found below.

Our average initial response time is one to three days, however the tides of the Warp are ever-changing and some astropathic emails may be missed! If you haven’t heard back from us after a week, feel free to contact us as coldopenstories.editors@gmail.com.


1. The Author grants Cold Open Stories permission to reproduce and publicly distribute the short story in digital form on the Cold Open Stories website (http://www.coldopenstories.com).
2. Authors maintain the ability to publish their work with other partners or websites, blogs, subreddits, but a “First published on
www.coldopenstories.com" is greatly appreciated.
3. The Author agrees that the short story was written by them as an unofficial fan work and was made for non-commercial entertainment.
4. The Author agrees that any edits to the short story’s content will be offered for review and consideration, and that creative control over these edits remain with the Author. Control over these edits are waived for formatting requirements necessary for posting on the Cold Open Stories website (font size, colour, page breaks).
5. The Author will maintain ownership of the short story. Publishing, submission, and selling rights remain with the Author if the story goes to print or it is shown there is a demand for it.
6. The Author will receive written credit on the Cold Open Stories website with a “Written By” acknowledgement preceding the short story. The Author will receive links to their social(s) and website (if available) and will provide Cold Open Stories with a brief biography to include on the site.


1. The Author assigns to Cold Open Stories the permission to promote the short story across social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for the purposes of directing traffic, generating readership, and reader entertainment.
2. The Author grants Cold Open Stories the permission to include extracts or passages of the short story in promotional materials.


1. The Author gives Cold Open Stories the option to adapt the story into an audio drama or dramatized narration (digital format) which would include dialogue by actors, composition of original music, and sound design. Creative control to make edits or changes to the short story to fit this adaptation is understood. Authors have the option to opt-out if they are not comfortable with this. 
2. The Author grant Cold Open Stories permission to publish, reproduce, and publicly distribute the produced audio drama or dramatized narration across streaming services (Apple Podcast, Soundcloud, Podbean, Spotify, YouTube) in serialized and completed formats.
3. The Author will receive verbal and written credit in the Cold Open Stories adaptation with a “Story By” acknowledgement.
4. The Author agrees that Cold Open Stories receives an exclusive first right of refusal for other proposed fan audio adaptations.


1. The Author agrees that the work performed in writing the short story was done on a volunteer, non-commercial basis and acknowledges that there is no employment relationship, remuneration, or salary offered by Cold Open Stories for the actions of publishing, promoting, or adapting the short story online.
2. Individuals or organizations who are interested in financially supporting Cold Open Stories or the Author will be directed to support the Author directly on their website or social accounts, or to donate to a charitable organization, identified by Cold Open Stories, which is committed to improving accessibility for multi-barriered populations.