Monday, 18 November 2019

Franchise Familiariser: Warhammer 40,000

It’s quite likely you’ve heard the phrase "Warhammer 40,000" thrown around. Forty thousand what? It is it a board game, a novel series, a video game series? You may find this Franchise Familiariser course useful.

The Basics
Warhammer 40,000 is a science fantasy franchise created by the British game company and publisher Games Workshop. Set in the 41st Millennium (approximately 38,000 years in the future), it originated as a tabletop miniatures wargame called Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, published in 1987 but drawing on an earlier game called Laserburn (1980) for inspiration and ideas. The game was conceived as a science fiction equivalent of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle line (1983-2015), although the two settings are not directly related.

Rick Priestley is credited as the co-creator of both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, with Andy Chambers listed as a key collaborator on the first edition of the game. Bryan Ansell, the creator of Laserburn who was working at Games Workshop at the time, was also a key creative figure. Many dozens of designers, novelists, artists and playtesters have contributed to the expansion of the setting since then.

Since its release in 1987, Warhammer 40,000 has gone through eight editions of the core wargame and spawned numerous spin-off board games, the best-known of which are arguably Space Hulk (1989) and Space Crusade (1990). The setting has also spawned a series of role-playing games and card games. The background setting has been fleshed out through a huge amount of fiction, which by August 2019 comprises some 382 novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies and audio dramas in the core Warhammer 40,000 line and 149 novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies and audio dramas in the spin-off Horus Heresy series.

Since 1990 no less than 49 video games have also been released in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, the best-known of which is the Dawn of War real-time strategy series (which is also credited with helping break the setting in the United States). However, Warhammer 40,000 may be considered even more influential as being the inspiration for the WarCraft and StarCraft video game series from Blizzard Entertainment, which reportedly started as failed attempts to develop officially-licenced Warhammer video games based directly on the wargames but then became their own, self-contained (but very similar) universe.

Warhammer 40,000 was popular from launch, with the setting’s unusual mix of magic, aliens, psi-powers and warfare being considered much more original and distinctive compared to Warhammer’s more standard epic fantasy (with elements of steampunk) setting. However, its popularity was dramatically increased by the board games Space Hulk (1989) and Space Crusade (1990); the former was a nerve-shredding game of tension against overwhelming odds and the latter was a more straightforward game aimed at children with highly detailed miniatures. The extremely detailed and well-designed miniatures for the game proved to be its biggest selling point, with both adults and children spending significant amounts of money to acquire a full army of miniatures with accompanying vehicles and scenery, not to mention painting them. By the late 1990s, sales of Warhammer 40,000 and its spin-offs were lucrative enough to allow Games Workshop to open a string of speciality shops across Britain, selling the games, figures and paints, and providing a meeting place for gamers.

The popularity of the setting expanded with the addition of novels in the setting, which began with Ian Watson’s Inquisition War trilogy (starting with Inquisitor in 1990). Watson’s Space Marine (1993) was also important in establishing some of the background for the series. Starting in 1999, Games Workshop decided to begin publishing a full line of novels, starting with Eye of Terror by Barrington Bayley, Space Wolf by William King and, most importantly, First and Only by Dan Abnett. The latter began a series called Gaunt’s Ghosts, about the adventures of the Tanith First-and-Only, a division of the Imperial Guard fighting in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. Loosely inspired by Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series of novels, Gaunt’s Ghosts is one of the most popular novel series in shared world history, help drive Abnett to sales of over 3 million (making him individually Britain’s third-biggest-selling living SF author).

More recently the novel series was boosted by the Horus Heresy spin-off series. Set ten thousand years before the rest of the setting, the Horus Heresy tells the story of the massive civil war that tore the Imperium apart and provides the backstory to the rest of the series. Beginning in 2006, this sub-series remains incomplete in 2019 with fifty-five main sequence novels and dozens of short stories, novellas and audio dramas, although it has entered its last phase with six more books projected to bring it to a conclusion.

The first video game in the setting was Space Crusade, a turn-based tactics game released in 1990 and based on the board game of the same name. It was followed by Space Hulk (1993), a real-time combat game which required the player to control four Terminator Marines in first-person simultaneously. It was infamous for its punishing difficulty. However, the setting did not really take off in video games until the release of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War in 2004, a real-time strategy game from Relic Entertainment. A massive success selling millions of copies, Dawn of War helped boost the success of the Warhammer 40,000 setting in the United States. Although Warhammer and 40K were known in the States and had enjoyed a cult following, it was only with the success of the novels and Dawn of War (and numerous sequels) that sales of the franchise started going stratospheric. More recent video games in the series include Dawn of War III (2017), Space Hulk: Tactics (2018) and Battlefleet Gothic: Armada II (2019).

Despite the setting’s immense popularity, it has only resulted in one feature film being made, the CG movie Ultramarines (2010). It was not a huge success, and was criticised for having a low budget and underwhelming visuals. However, in 2019 it was confirmed that Games Workshop were working with Hollywood producer Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files, The Man in the High Castle) to bring the Eisenhorn series of novels to live-action television.

A lot more after the break...

The Canon
The Warhammer 40,000 canon is immense, one of the largest I’ve covered in these articles to date. It comprises the backstory or lore in the eight editions of the wargame (although some material in the earlier editions of the game has been retconned out of existence) and the accompanying dozens of army books and expansions; the background information for various spin-off board games; and all of the novels, short stories, novellas and audio dramas released to date, with well over 530 canonical sources released to date. This doesn’t include the video games (which are considered semi-canonical, or canon until another source says they are not) and numerous articles (now in the thousands) published in White Dwarf magazine since the game’s release.

Note: the following lists are not exhaustive.

Warhammer 40,000 Miniatures Wargame Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1987) • Second Edition (1993) • Third Edition (1998) • Fourth Edition (2004) • Fifth Edition (2008) • Sixth Edition (2012) • Seventh Edition (2014) • Eighth Edition (2017)

Other Warhammer 40,000 Miniatures Wargames Adeptus Titanicus (1988) • Space Marine (1989) • Space Marine: Second Edition (1991) • Titan Legions (1994) • Necromunda (1995) • Epic 40,000 (1997) • Battlefleet Gothic (1999) • Lost Patrol (2000) • Kill Team (2011) • Epic Armageddon (2012) • Lost Patrol: Second Edition (2016) • Kill Team: Second Edition (2018)

Board Games Space Hulk (1989) • Space Crusade (1990) • Advanced Space Crusade (1990) • Ultra Marines (1991) • Space Fleet (1991) • Battle for Armageddon (1992) • Tyranid Attack (1993) • Gorkamorka (1997) • Horus Heresy (2010) • Forbidden Stars (2015) • Speed Freaks (2018) • Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress (2018)

Roleplaying Games Dark Heresy (2008) • Rogue Trader (2009) • Deathwatch (2010) • Black Crusade (2011) • Only War (2012) • Dark Heresy: Second Edition (2014) • Wrath & Glory (2018)

Stand-Alone Novels Space Marine (1993) • Pawns of Chaos (2001) • Farseer (2002) • Daemon World (2003) • Fire Warrior (2003) • Double Eagle (2004) • Lord of the Night (2005) • Eldar Prophecy (2007) • Titanicus (2008) • Relentless (2008) • Brothers of the Snake (2008) • Assault on Black Reach (2008) • Space Hulk (2009) • Sons of Dorn (2010) • Fire Caste (2013) • Seventh Retribution (2013) • Valedor (2014) • Dark Hunters: Umbra Sumus (2015, unpublished) • Assassinorum: Execution Force (2015) • Warlord: Fury of the God Machine (2017) • Spear of the Emperor (2018)

Stand-Alone Audio Dramas Thunder from Fenris (2009) • The Madness Within (2011) • Mission: Purge (2012) • Perfection (2012) • Chosen of Khorne (2012) • Doomseeker (2012)

Into the Maelstrom (1999) • Dark Imperium (2001) • Deathwing (2001) • Words of Blood (2002) • Crucible of War (2003) • What Price Victory (2004) • Bringers of Death (2005) • Let the Galaxy Burn (2006) • Tales from the Dark Millennium (2006) • Planetkill (2008) • The Book of Blood (2010) • Fear the Alien (2010) • The Space Marine Script Book (2012) • Lords and Tyrants (2017) • Rites of Passage (2019)

Inquisition War by Ian Watson
Inquisitor (1990, vt Draco) • Harlequin (1994) • Chaos Child (1995)

Gaunt’s Ghosts by Dan Abnett
First and Only (1999) • Ghostmaker (2000) • Necropolis (2000) • Honour Guard (2001) • The Guns of Tanith (2002) • Straight Silver (2002) • Sabbat Martyr (2003) • Traitor General (2004) • His Last Command (2005) • The Armour of Contempt (2006) • Only in Death (2007) • Blood Pact (2009) • Sabbat Worlds (2010) • Salvation’s Reach (2011) • Sabbat Crusade (2014) • The Warmaster (2017) • Anarch (2019)

Dark Angels by various
Eye of Terror (1999) • Angels of Darkness (2003) • Dark Vengeance (2012) • The Book of the Lion (2013) • Lords of Caliban (2015)

Space Wolves by various
Space Wolf (1999) • Ragnar’s Claw (2000) • Grey Hunter (2002) • Wolfblade (2003) • Sons of Fenris (2007) • Wolf’s Honour (2008) • Sons of Russ (2012) • Deathwolf (2013, audio drama) • Hunter’s Moon (2013, audio drama) • Blood of Asaheim (2013) • Stormcaller (2014) • Curse of the Wulfen (2016) • Vox Tenebris (2016, audio drama) • Legacy of the Wulfen (2017) • Lukas the Trickster (2018)

Last Chancers by Gav Thorpe
Thirteenth Legion (2000) • Kill Team (2001) • Annihilation Squad (2004)

Gothic War by Gordon Rennie
Gothic War (2001) • Shadowpoint (2003)

The Inquisitors by Dan Abnett
Eisenhorn: Xenos (2001) • Eisenhorn: Malleus (2001) • Eisenhorn: Hereticus (2002) • Ravenor (2005) • Ravenor Returned (2006) • Ravenor Rogue (2008) • Bequin: Pariah (2012) • Eisenhorn: The Magos (2018) • Bequin: Penitent (2020) • Bequin: Pandaemonium (tbc)

Iron Warriors by Graham McNeill
Storm of Iron (2002) • Iron Warrior (2010)

Soul Drinkers by Ben Counter
Soul Drinker (2002) • The Bleeding Chalice (2003) • Crimson Tears (2005) • Chapter War (2007) • Hellforged (2009) • Daenyathos (2010, novella) • Phalanx (2012) 

Ultramarines by various
Nightbringer (2002) • Warriors of Ultramar (2003) • Dead Sky Black Sun (2004) • The Killing Ground (2008) • Courage and Honour (2009) • The Chapter’s Due (2010) • Eye of Vengeance (2012, audio drama) • Calgar’s Fury (2017) • Blood of Iax (2018) • Knights of Macragge (2019) • Calgar’s Vengeance (tbc)

Ciaphas Cain by Sandy Mitchell
For the Emperor (2003) • Caves of Ice (2004) • The Traitor’s Hand (2005) • Death or Glory (2006) • Duty Calls (2007) • Cain’s Last Stand (2008) • The Emperor’s Finest (2010) • Dead in the Water (2011, audio drama) • The Last Ditch (2012) • Old Soldiers Never Die (2012, novella) • The Greater Good (2013) • Choose Your Enemies (2018)

Black Templars by Jonathan Green
Crusade for Armageddon (2003) • Conquest of Armageddon (2005)

Shira Calpurnia by Matthew Farrer
Crossfire (2003) • Legacy (2004) • Blind (2006)

Dawn of War by various
Dawn of War (2004) • Ascension (2005) • Tempest (2006) • Dawn of War II (2009) • Dawn of War III (2017)

Iron Hands by various
Iron Hands (2004) • Medusan Wings (2016) • The Eye of Medusa (2017) • The Voice of Mars (2017)

Grey Knights by various
Grey Knights (2004) • Dark Adeptus (2006) • Hammer of Daemons (2008) • The Emperor’s Gift (2012) • Warden of the Blade (2016) • Castellan (2018)
Blood Angels by James Swallow
Deus Encarmine (2004) • Deus Sanguinius (2005) • Red Fury (2008) • Black Tide (2010) • Heart of Rage (2009) • Bloodline (2010) • Bloodquest: Prisoners of the Eye of Terror (2012) • Bloodspire (2013) • Dante (2017) • Dante: Darkness of the Blood (2019)

Imperial Guard by various
Fifteen Hours (2005) • Death World (2006) • Rebel Winter (2007) • Desert Raiders (2007) • Ice Guard (2009) • Gunheads (2009) • Cadian Blood (2009) • Redemption Corps (2010) • Dead Men Walking (2010) • Imperial Glory (2011) • Iron Guard (2012) • Commissar (2013) • Baneblade (2013) • Straken (2014) • Shadowsword (2016) • Scions of Elysia (2017, audio drama) • Renegades of Elysia (2017, audio drama) • Martyrs of Elysia (2018, audio drama) • Taker of Heads (2018, audio drama) • Honourbound: Severina Raine (2019)

Deathwatch by various
Warrior Brood (2005) • Warrior Coven (2006) • Xenos Hunters (2012) • Deathwatch (2013) • Deathwatch: Ignition (2016) • Deathwatch: The Last Guardian (2016, audio drama) • Shadowbreaker (2019)

Necromunda by various
Survival Instinct (2005) • Salvation (2005) • Blood Royal (2005) • Junktion (2005) • Fleshworks (2006) • Cardinal Crimson (2006) • Back from the Dead (2006) • Outlander (2006) • Lasgun Wedding (2007) • Terminal Overkill (2019)

Rogue Trader by various
Rogue Star (2006) • Star of Damocles (2007) • Corsair: The Face of the Void (2018, audio drama)

Sisters of Battle by various
Faith and Fire (2006) • Red and Black (2011, audio drama) • Hammer and Anvil (2011) • Celestine (2019) • Requiem Infernal (2019)

Word Bearers by Anthony Reynolds
Dark Apostle (2007) • Dark Disciple (2008) • Dark Creed (2010)

Dark Heresy by Sandy Mitchell
Scourge the Heretic (2008) • Innocence Proves Nothing (2009)

Space Marine Anthologies by various
Heroes of the Space Marines (2009) • Legends of the Space Marines (2010) • Victories of the Space Marines (2011) • Treacheries of the Space Marines (2012)

Salamanders by Nick Kyme
Salamander (2009) • Firedrake (2010) • Nocturne (2011) • Tome of Fire (2012) • Rebirth (2014)

Bastion Wars by Henry Zou
Emperor’s Mercy (2009) • Flesh and Iron (2010) • Blood Gorgons (2011)

Night Lords by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Shadow Knight (2009) • The Dark Parth (2009) • Throne of Lies (2010, audio drama) • Soul Hunter (2010) • Blood Reaver (2011) • Void Stalker (2012)

Space Marine Battles by various
Rynn’s World (2010) • Helsreach (2010) • The Hunt for Voldorius (2010) • The Purging of Kadillus (2011) • The Fall of Damnos (2011) • Battle of the Fang (2011) • The Gildar Rift (2011) • Catechism of Hate (2012, novella) • Legion of the Damned (2012) • Architect of Fate (2012) • Wrath of Iron (2012) • The Siege of Castellax (2012) • The Death of Antagonis (2013) • The Death of Integrity (2013) • Malodrax (2014) • Overfiend (2014) • Pandorax (2014) • Damocles (2015) • The World Engine (2015) • Sanctus Reach (2015) • Flesh Tearers (2016) • Blades of Damocles (2016) • The Plagues of Orath (2016) • Crusaders of Dorn (2016) • Calgar’s Siege (2016) • Storm of Damocles (2016) • Tyrant of the Hollow Worlds (2016) • Shield of Baal (2017) • Scythes of the Emperor (2017) • The Eye of Ezekiel (2017)
Path of the Eldar by Gav Thorpe
Path of the Warrior (2010) • Path of the Seer (2011) • Path of the Outcast (2012)

Inquisitor Czevak by Rob Sanders
Necessary Evil (2011) • Atlas Infernal (2011)
White Scars by various
Savage Scars (2011) • The Last Hunt (2017)

Raven Guard by George Mann
Hellion Rain (2011, audio drama) • Labyrinth of Sorrows (2012, audio drama) • The Unkindness of Ravens (2012, novella) • With Baited Breath (2012, audio drama) • The Geld (2017, audio drama) • Soulbound (2018, audio drama)

Dark Eldar by Andy Chambers
Path of the Renegade (2012) • Path of the Incubus (2013) • The Masque of Vyle (2013) • Path of the Archon (2014)

Adeptus Mechanicus by various
Priests of Mars (2012) • Lords of Mars (2013) • Gods of Mars (2014) • Skitarius (2015) • Tech-Priest (2016) • Servants of the Machine-God (2018) • Belisarius Cawl: The Great Work (2019)

Macharian Crusade by William King
Angel of Fire (2012) • Fist of Demetrius (2013) • Fall of Macharius (2014)

Commissar Yarrick by David Annandale
Chains of Golgotha (2013, novella) • Imperial Creed (2015) • The Pyres of Armageddon (2016)

Lords of the Space Marines by various
Mephiston: Lord of Death (2013) • Arjac Rockfist: Anvil of Fenris (2014) • Lemarets: Guardian of the Lost (2016)

Dark Angels: Legacy of Caliban by Gav Thorpe
Ravenwing (2013) • Master of Sanctity (2014) • The Unforgiven (2015)

Chaos Space Marines: Ahzek Ahriman by John French
Exile (2013) • Sorcerer (2014) • Unchanged (2016)

Chaos Space Marines: Abaddon the Despoiler by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
The Talon of Horus (2014) • Black Legion (2017)

Silver Skulls by S.P. Cawkwell
Portents (2015)

Space Marine Legends by various
Lemartes (2015) • Ragnar Blackmane (2016) • Cassius (2017) • Shrike (2017) • Azrael (2017)

T’au Empire by Phil Kelly
Farsight (2015) • Farsight: Crisis of Faith (2017)

Chaos Space Marines: Khârn the Betrayer by various
Eater of Worlds (2015) • The Red Path (2016)

Legends of the Dark Millennium by various
Farsight (2015) • Deathwatch (2016) • Genestealer Cults (2016) • Ultramarines (2016) • Shas’o (2016) • Sons of Corax (2016) • Astra Militarum (2016) • Space Wolves (2017)

Chaos Space Marines: Fabius Bile by Joshua Reynolds
Primogenitor (2016) • Clonelord (2017)

Carcharodons by Robbie MacNiven
Reaping Time (2016) • Red Tithe (2017) • Outer Dark (2018)

Phoenix Lords by Gav Thorpe
Asurmen: Hand of Asuryan (2016) • Asurmen: The Darker Road (2017, audio drama) • Jain Zar: The Storm of Silence (2017)

Chaos Space Marines: Lucius the Eternal by Ian St. Martin
The Faultless Blade (2017)

Cadia by Justin D. Hill
Cadia Stands (2017) • Cadian Honour (2019)

Adeptus Titanicus by various
Warlord: Fury of the God-Machine (2017) • Imperator: Wrath of the Omnissiah (2018)

Space Marine Conquests by various
The Devastation of Baal (2017) • The Ashes of Prospero (2018) • War of Secrets (2018) • Of Honour and Iron (2018)

Alpha Legion by various
Shroud of Night (2017) • Sons of the Hydra (2018)

Imperial Knights by Andy Clark
Kingsblade (2017) • Knightsblade (2018)

Mephiston by Darius Hinks
Blood of Sanguinius (2017) • The Revenant Crusade (2018)
Genestealer Cults by various
Cult of the Warmason (2017) • Cult of the Spiral Dawn (2018)

Inquisition: Vaults of Terra by Chris Wraight
The Carrion Throne (2017) • Watchers of the Throne: The Emperor’s Legion (2017) • The Hollow Mountain (2019)

Inquisition: The Horusian Wars by John French
Resurrection (2017) • Incarnation (2018) • Divination (2019)

Inquisition: Agents of the Throne by various (audio drama)
Blood & Lies (2017) • Truth & Dreams (2018) • Ashes & Oaths (2019) • Our Martyred Lady (2019)

Rise of the Ynnari by Gav Thorpe
Ghost Warrior (2017) • Fireheart (2017, short story) • Hand of Darkness (audio drama) • Wild Rider (2018) • Shadows of Heaven (2018, short story)

The Gathering Storm by Guy Haley
Dark Imperium (2017) • Plague War (2018)

Death Guard by Chris Wraight
The Lords of Silence (2018)
Orks by Guy Haley
Prophets of Waaagh! (2018, audio drama)

The Horus Heresy
The Horus Heresy by various
Horus Rising (2006) • False Gods (2006) • Galaxy in Flames (2006) • The Flight of the Eisenstein (2007) • Fulgrim (2007) • Descent of Angels (2007) • Legion (2008) • Battle for the Abyss (2008) • Mechanicum (2008) • Tales of Heresy (2009) • Fallen Angels (2009) • A Thousand Sons (2010) • Nemesis (2010) • The First Heretic (2010) • Prospero Burns (2011) • Age of Darkness (2011) • The Outcast Dead (2011) • Deliverance Lost (2012) • Know No Fear (2012) • The Primarchs (2012) • Fear to Tread (2012) • Shadows of Treachery (2012) • Angel Exterminatus (2013) • Betrayer (2013) • Mark of Calth (2013) • Vulkan Lives (2013) • The Unremembered Empire (2014) • Scars (2014) • Vengeful Spirit (2014) • The Damnation of Pythos (2014) • Legacies of Betrayal (2015) • Deathfire (2015) • War Without End (2016) • Pharos (2016) • Eye of Terra (2016) • The Path of Heaven (2016) • The Silent War (2016) • Angels of Caliban (2016) • Praetorian of Dorn (2016) • Corax (2016) • The Master of Mankind (2016) • Garro (2017) • Shattered Legions (2017) • The Crimson King (2017) • Tallarn (2017) • Ruinstorm (2017) • Old Earth (2017) • The Burden of Loyalty (2018) • Wolfsbane (2018) • Born of Flame (2018) • Slaves to Darkness (2018) • Heralds of the Siege (2018) • Titan Death (2018) • The Buried Dagger (2019) • The Solar War (2019) • The Lost and the Damned (2019) • The First Wall (2019)

The Horus Heresy: Audio Dramas by various
The Dark King (2008) • The Lightning Tower (2008) • Raven’s Flight (2010) • Butcher’s Nails (2012) • Grey Angel (2012) • Prince of Crows (2012) • Warmaster (2012) • Strike and Fade (2012) • Veritas Ferrum (2012) • The Sigillite (2013) • Wolf Hunt (2013) • Honour to the Dead (2013) • Censure (2013) • Thief of Revelations (2013) • Khârn: The Eightfold Path (2013) • Lucius: The Eternal Blade (2013) • Cypher: Guardian of Order (2013) • Hunter’s Moon (2014) • Wolf’s Claw (2014) • Master of the First (2014) • Templar (2014) • The Long Night (2015) • The Eagle’s Talon (2015) • Iron Corpses (2015) • Raptor (2015) • Red-Marked (2016) • The Heart of the Pharos (2016) • Echoes of Imperium (2016) • Children of Sicarus (2016) • The Thirteenth Wolf (2016) • Virtues of the Sons / Sins of the Father (2017) • The Binary Succession (2017) • Echoes of the Revelation (2017) • Dark Compliance (2017) • Blackshields: The False War (2017) • Blackshields: The Red Fief (2018) • Hubris of Monarchia (2018) • Nightfane (2019)

The Horus Heresy: Garro by James Swallow (audio dramas)
Oath of Moment (2010) • Legion of One (2011) • Burden of Duty (2012) • Sword of Truth (2012) • Shield of Lies (2014) • Ashes of Fealty (2015)

The Horus Heresy: Novellas by various
Promethean Sun (2011) • Aurelian (2011) • The Reflection Crack'd (2012) • Feat of Iron (2012) • The Lion (2012) • The Serpent Beneath (2012) • The Crimson Fist (2012) • Brotherhood of the Storm (2012) • Corax: Soulforge (2013) • Scorched Earth (2013) • Macragge's Honour (2013) • Tallarn: Executioner (2013) • Ravenlord (2014) • The Purge (2014) • The Seventh Serpent (2014) • Tallarn: Ironclad (2015) • Cybernetica (2015) • Wolf King (2015) • The Honoured (2015) • The Unburdened (2015) • Garro: Vow of Faith (2015) • Meduson: Ultimate Edition (2016) • Weregeld (2016) • Sons of the Forge (2016)

The Beast Arises (2016) by various
I Am SlaughterPredator, PreyThe Emperor ExpectsThe Last WallThroneworld Echoes of the Long WarThe Hunt for VulkanThe Beast Must DieWatchers in DeathThe Last Son of DornShadow of UllanorThe Beheading

The Horus Heresy: Primarchs by various
Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar (2016) • Leman Russ: The Great Wolf (2017) • Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero (2017) • Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia (2017) • Lorgar: Bearer of the Word (2017) • Fulgrim: The Palatine Phoenix (2018) • Ferrus Manus: The Gorgon of Medusa (2018) • Jaghatai Khan: Warhawk of Chogoris (2018) • Vulkan: Lord of Drakes (2018) • Corax: Lord of Shadows (2018) • Sons of the Emperor (2018) • The Lords of Terra (2018) • Angron: Slave of Nuceria (2019) • Konrad Curze: The Night Haunter (2019) • Valdor: Birth of the Imperium (2019) • Scions of the Emperor (2019)

One of the Slann.

Note on dates: the Imperium still uses the familiar Common Era calendar but the dating format has changed. Years are given as derivatives of the greater millennium, such as 999.M41; the 999th year of the 41st Millennium, or 40,999 AD. The current year of 2019 CE would therefore be realised as 019.M3. The latest-recorded date in Imperial history is 127.M42, or 41,127 CE (in the 412th Century).

Ancient History

More than sixty million years ago, the galaxy was the domain of the mysterious Old Ones, a powerful and mighty civilisation. The Old Ones were destroyed in a titanic war with a race known as the C’tan, who in turn were overthrown and destroyed by their own slave warriors, the undead cybernetic species known as the Necrons. The Necrons in turn disappeared, going into a deep slumber on their Tomb Worlds.

After this flurry of activity, the Slann arose and tutored many younger races, chief amongst them the Eldar (in their tongue, the Aeldari). The Eldar had been gifted with psi-powers by the Old Ones and also the use of the Webway, the Old Ones’ faster-than-light portal network which spanned much of the galaxy. The Webway was important as it permitted interstellar travel without using the Warp, an alternate dimension which provided shortcuts through realspace but only at the cost of sanity and death, for the Warp was the domain of Chaos, raw and elemental forces of destruction and evil. However, use of the Webway was not always practical, so the Eldar did use the Warp for exploration and the spread of their empire.

The Slann abruptly abandoned all interstellar travel, effectively disappearing from the galaxy (although their distant descendants reportedly can still be found). The Slann appear to have foreseen that the Warp would become a major threat to the galaxy and would destroy any race that tried to master it, so simply gave up their technology. Some Eldar heeded the warning, building the vast planet-ships known as the Craftworlds to travel between the stars at slower-than-light velocities, but many did not. The Eldar developed sophisticated technology and indulged themselves through the pursuit of art, beauty and pleasure.

During the latter part of this period, the race known as humanity arose on Terra (Old Earth). A primitive species, they nevertheless had great psi-potential, and their appetite for conflict and war was remarkable. A species of tremendous emotional power, their emotions touched the Warp and slowly, over the course of centuries, gave birth to the first three Chaos Gods: Khorne, God of Anger, Violence and Hate; Tzeentch, God of Change, Sorcery and Destiny; and Nurgle, God of Plagues, Decay and Corruption. These three entities soon began to hunger to touch the mortal world, and became instruments of Chaos, creatures with a will and intelligence where before the Warp’s Chaos energies had been unguided and undirected.

However, many millennia earlier (some records suggest c. 8000 BCE), a human was born in Anatolia on the shores of the Sakarya River. His name is unknown. History records him only as “The Emperor,” a human wielding tremendous psi-power. According to some stories, he is one of the Perpetuals, the one-in-one billion humans born with immense powers including natural immortality. According to others, he was not born but was psychically summoned into existence by a group of Shamans, humans wielding psi-powers who wanted to bring forth a saviour or messiah. The Emperor did not wish to rule or conquer, only preserve and guide humanity. For the next 38,000 years (approximately) he worked from the shadows, guiding and shaping humanity and helping it survive myriad threats, from plague to nuclear war.

Humanity expanded away from Earth in the Third Millennium (M2-M3), but was unable to unlock the secret of FTL travel. For approximately fifteen thousand years, humanity was forced to travel between the local stars at slower-than-light speeds. Frustrated, c. M18 the Emperor undertook a long journey to the planet Molech and there found a gateway into the Warp. He struck a bargain with the Chaos Gods, gaining the secret of Warp travel and the ability to genetically engineer superhuman warriors in return for promising to serve them in the future.

This unlocked the potential of the human race. From M18 to M25 humanity expanded across thousands of light-years in a period known as the Dark Age of Technology, achieving glories undreamt of…and horrors to cow the soul. Humanity made its first encounter with xenos races, but quickly learned that these other races could destroy them with ease, so opted for a lower profile. It is unknown how many worlds were colonised in this time but some speculate it to be in the millions.

The Emperor’s pursuit of his perfect genetically-engineered scions led down many blind alleys. It is theorised that the creation of the “Men of Gold” (wise humans who flourished for centuries but then died out) and “Men of Stone” (hardy humans who could better withstand the vigour of Warp travel and radiation) may have come about due to the Emperor’s machinations. The Men of Stone in turn dramatically increased the power and capabilities of robot servitors and artificial intelligences, creating the “Men of Iron.” These servitors served humanity well until late M23, when they rebelled in the Cybernetic Revolt. The rebel AI systems were obliterated in the resulting war, but only at great cost.

By M25 the Cybernetic Revolt was over, AI was completely banned on every human world and peace apparently restored, but not for long. Psykers began to emerge on many human worlds, creating a new period of discontent and fear as people tried to understand this strange new phenomenon. The edicts against AI also halted technological development, threatening to plunge humanity into a new age of decadence and fear. At the same time, Warp Storms began to increase across the galaxy, as the Eldar Empire began to decay, becoming degenerate and consumed by the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. This resulted in the 5,000-year period known as the Age of Strife. Terra was completely cut off from the rest of human space by Warp Storms, which also bisected the galaxy and divided it into small pockets of space that could be traversed safely and vast regions that could not be reached at all.

In M28, the Emperor, sensing that the Warp Storms were starting to abate, finally revealed himself, seizing control of territory on Terra and fighting border wars against rivals. Having secured a stronghold, the Emperor began genetically engineering the first super-soldiers to secure his territory and defend it, the Thunder Warriors. In M29 he finally began the Primarch Project, planning to finally perfect and create his superhuman beings to lead humanity into a new era of peace. Through late M29 and into early M30, the Emperor fought the Unification Wars on Terra, eventually culminating at the Massacre of Gaduare in Franc in c. 675.M30 (c. 29,675 CE). Shortly after this, the Emperor purged the Thunder Warriors, judging them to be unreliable and unsuitable for the period that would follow, one of galactic conquest.

In 750.M30, a cataclysm unlike any seen before in galactic history took place. For five thousand years, the growing decadence of the Eldar Empire had been feeding into the Warp. Just as the depredations of humanity had given rise to the first three Chaos Gods, so the perversion of the Eldar gave birth to a fourth. But because the Eldar were far more numerous than humans had been thirty millennia earlier, and because the Eldar experience emotions at a far higher level of intensity than humans, this birth was a supernova compared to the relatively mild eruption of the previous births. In the blink of an eye, the Chaos God Slaanesh, God of Lust, Perversion and Desire, was summoned into being, generating a Warp explosion that tore open a hole in the fabric of reality, light-years wide. Thousands of Eldar worlds, including their homeworld, were obliterated in an instant, trillions of lives lost. The Eye of Terror, a Warp Storm larger than any in history, appeared in place of those worlds. The forces of Chaos erupted from the Eye, consuming those Eldar worlds which had survived.

The cataclysm – the Fall of the Eldar – was profound and terrifying. Overnight the Eldar were reduced from a race of trillions spanning thousands and maybe millions of worlds to perhaps a handful of billions, mostly located on worlds incredibly distant from the Eye or on the Craftworlds, the great exodus craft making their way slowly through the void.

The Fall, however, proved fortuitous for the Emperor. The formation of the Eye of Terror sent a Warp shockwave across the galaxy which destroyed the Warp Storms, opening the roads from Terra to beyond. Having conquered the Solar system, made alliance with the tech-priests of Mars and built the Astronomicon, a massive beacon which allowed human ships to use the Warp safely across fifty thousand light-years, the Emperor launched the Great Crusade, the conquest and unification of the thousands of worlds of humanity under his rule.

Almost too late, the Chaos Gods divined the Emperor’s plan and that he planned to betray the pact they had made millennia previously. In a brazen attack using the Warp, they stole the twenty gestating Primarchs from the Emperor’s laboratory and scattered them across the galaxy. The Emperor was stripped of his greatest generals before they had even been born, but he had enough DNA samples to clone them, creating the twenty Space Marine Legions of the Legiones Astartes: the Dark Angels, Emperor’s Children, Iron Warriors, White Scars, Space Wolves, Imperial Fists, Night Lords, Blood Angels, Iron Hands, World Easters, Ultramarines, Death Guard, Thousand Sons, Sons of Horus (Luna Wolves), Word Bearers Salamanders, Raven Guard, Alpha Legion and two more whose names have been lost.

According to tradition, the Emperor unleashed the Legiones Astartes in the Great Crusade in 798.M30 (29,798 CE) in a conflict that would last until 005.M31 (30,005 CE). In just over two centuries, the Legiones Astartes would conquer tens of thousands of human planets and small empires, albeit at the cost of the destruction of two of the legions (whose names were struck from all records). In the process they gradually discovered all twenty of the Primarchs and the Emperor restored them to command of the Legions. The greatest of these wars Horus Lupercal, a noble and skilled warrior and general without compare. In 000.M31, the first year of the 31st Millennium (30,000 CE), the Emperor named Horus as his Warmaster, the greatest of all his “sons,” as a reward for destroying the Urlakk Empire, a formidable ork dominion spanning many systems.

With Horus commanding his fleets, the Emperor returned to Terra to consolidate his victories and begin planning anew. However, by directing so much of his military power into the hands of his son Horus, the Emperor had given the forces of Chaos a target. Not one to kill, but one to corrupt. 

Warmaster Horus and the Emperor confront one another at the conclusion of the Horus Heresy.

The Horus Heresy
Sometimes known as the Great Betrayal or the Great Rebellion, the civil war known as the Horus Heresy lasted for nine years (from 005.M31 to 014.M31) and nearly destroyed the Imperium of Man.

The causes for the war are complex and numerous, but mainly fall to the corruption of Horus by the forces of Chaos. They played on Horus’s paranoia after the Emperor abandoned the Crusade to return to Terra, but not inform any of the Primarchs of his plans. They showed Horus of visions of a dark future where the Emperor was worshipped as a tyrant and god, and the Primarchs reduced to effective police captains maintaining order over a decadent empire.

Horus rebelled at such a vision, and his treachery became contagious. The Word Bearers, World Eaters, Emperor’s Children, Death Guard, Night Lords, Alpha Legion and Iron Warriors joined Horus’s cause in secret. The Thousand Sons discovered Horus’s betrayal and sent a massive psychic surge to Terra to warn the Emperor, but this disrupted the Emperor’s true plan: to breach and conquer the Eldar Webway, and use it to supplant the Imperium’s use of Warp travel. This resulted in a breach between the Webway and the Warp, allowing Chaos creatures to pour onto Terra. It took the combined power of the Emperor and is personal minions and legions to halt the incursion, and the construction of the Golden Throne to seal the portal. The Emperor, furious, refused to believe that Horus could betray him, so declared that the Thousand Sons had betrayed him, ironically forcing them to join Horus’s cause.

Horus openly betrayed the Emperor at the Battle of Isstvan III, devastating the planet with plague bombs and killing twelve billion loyal subjects of the Emperor. A contingent of loyal Death Guard fled to Terra and alerted the Imperium to the threat. In response the Emperor sent seven full legions to Isstvan, but was unaware that four of them had already sworn to Horus. In the resulting massacre, the Raven Guard and Iron Hands were almost completely wiped out, but managed to link up with the Salamanders to effect a retreat.

The massacre dramatically tipped the war in favour of Horus: eight legions on each side, but the Imperium’s strength was now reduced to five effectives, giving Horus superior numbers of Space Marines (although inferior numbers of ships and standard soldiers). Shortly after this, the Adeptus Mechanicus, the tech-cult of Mars, was riven by internal conflict, with the so-called Dark Mechanicum emerging victorious. Mars was seized for the enemy and the Imperium was unable to retake the planet without levelling it, which would deal a blow to the Imperium’s technology and engineering it could not recover from. Mars was instead besieged.

The war ended at Terra. The Traitor Legions finally breached the Imperium’s line of defence at Beta Garmon, but only at the cost of titanic losses. They swarmed into the Solar system, eager to end the war thanks to the advent of the Ruinstorm, a Warp Storm that had cut off Terra from reinforcements. The Imperial Fist legion successfully defended the system, but only at great cost. The Blood Angels and Space Wolves managed to reinforce the Fists and even assaulted Horus’s flagship, but were driven back.

Six of the nine Traitor Legions joined the final assault on Terra in 014.M31. Over the course of fifty-five days, the planetary defences were overthrown and broken, the planet subjected to a brutal orbital bombardment and then the Imperial Palace put under siege in one of the longest and most violent engagements in human history. Nevertheless, the Traitor Forces gained the upper hand and invested the inner palace. An intense battle resulted, during which an orbital Sky Fortress crashed into the Traitor Legions’ ranks and obliterated many of them, but enough remained to continue the siege.

Horus’s moment of triumph was short-lived. He received word that military offensives he had launched against the Space Wolves, Ultramarines and Dark Angels had been defeated, and elements of all three legions were now approaching Terra. Horus had expended his reserves and rearguard to attack the Imperial Palace and he had nothing left to hold them at bay. His numerical and strategic superiority was about to be lost. In a bold gambit, Horus lowered the void shields on the Vengeful Spirit and invited the Emperor to come aboard.

The Emperor accepted. He teleported onto the Vengeful Spirit, accompanied by Sanguinius of the Blood Angels and Rogal Dorn of the Imperial Fists. Sanguinius engaged Horus in single combat and was slain. The Emperor then engaged Horus and suffered horrific injuries, including a broken spine, one of his eyes being torn out and one of his arms being severed. It was only when a lowly trooper interrupted the battle to engage Horus (a distraction lasting seconds before he was flayed alive by Horus’s psyker powers) that the Emperor rallied to deliver the killing blow. Horus died, but the Emperor was critically wounded. Rogal Dorn saved the Emperor by teleporting him back to the Imperial Palace and, at his command, placed his remains on the Golden Throne. The Golden Throne saved the Emperor’s life, but only at the cost of him becoming fully dependent on the machine to live. Knowing he would soon be unable to move or even speak out loud, the Emperor commanded his remaining loyal Primarchs to defend the Imperium from material harm whilst his own energies were directed to maintaining the Webway Gate portal and ensuring the continuation of the Astronomicon.

Then the Emperor lapsed into a silence that would last ten thousand years.

The Age of the Imperium
The Great Scouring began almost immediately after the battle. The losses sustained by the Traitor Marines on Terra were devastating, whilst several of the loyalist Legions had sustained relatively moderate casualties. Outnumbered, the Traitor Marines lost many of the worlds they had conquered and eventually, after many years of fighting, retreated into the Eye of Terror under the command of Horus’s former deputy, Abaddon the Despoiler.

Of the surviving Primarchs, all would suffer terminal fates over the next ten millennia. Several were killed and others disappeared, presumed dead. The only apparent survivor was Roboute Guilliman, commander of the Ultramarines; at the end of the Heresy he had suffered mortal wounds in battle but had been placed in a stasis field on Macragge before he could die. He could not be awoken either, at least not without advanced healing methods, but he could at least live on as a beacon of hope to the Imperium.

In 021.M31, seven years after the Siege of Terra, the surviving Space Marine Legions were reorganised as Chapters in the Second Founding. Many new Space Marine Chapters were founded to replace the losses of the Heresy, with eventually over a thousand Space Marine Chapters coming into existence. The Imperial Guard (Astra Militarum) and Imperial Fleet were reorganised into their current forms.

The Imperium fortified the planet Cadia near the Eye of Terror and established vast reserves of men and material there to resist any future outbreak, although this process was still incomplete in 781.M31 when the 1st Black Crusade was launched. Although the Traitor Legions were defeated and driven back, it was only at grievous cost to the Imperium. Twelve more Black Crusades would follow, each apparently defeated, until the 13th Black Crusade began in 999.M41.

Over the course of the next ten thousand years, many Space Marine Chapters were founded (eventually numbering around a thousand). Great wars and crusades were fought, against both the Traitor Legions of Chaos and xenos threats such as the Orks. The Imperium weathered these conflicts, often at great cost, in the name of the Emperor. 

A Tyranid swarm.

The Time of Ending
In 745.M41, the Imperium was invaded by a vast fleet of living, organic starships disgorging millions of aliens apparently genetically-engineered for war and slaughter. The Ultramar Sector, guarded by the Ultramarines, suffered the brunt of the assault. The aliens were dubbed tyranids and their fleet became known as Hive Fleet Behemoth. The destruction of Hive Fleet Behemoth came only at the cost of a devastating invasion of Macragge, the Ultramarines’ homeworld and one of the most heavily-defended single locations in human space. The devastation inflicted by the invasion shocked the Imperium, which soon scrambled to fortify itself against further incursions.

Several further vast tyranid hive fleets entered the Milky Way galaxy and launched devastating attacks on everyone they encountered, be they human, Chaos or xenos. Hive Fleet Kraken was defeated in 993.M41 after grievous losses. Hive Fleet Leviathan began its assault on the galaxy in 997.M41, an assault which remains ongoing.

Starting in 897.M41, many Necron Tomb Worlds were discovered and Necron forces were unleashed upon the galaxy. Although these incursions have been defeated, both Imperial and Eldar forces believe there are many thousands of Tomb Worlds left undiscovered.

In the final century of the 41st Millennium, the Imperium was stricken by numerous threats. Massive ork forces attacked Armageddon (as the planet Ullanor had been renamed) and were repulsed twice. Further tyranid invasion fleets arrived. The light of the Astronomicon began to dim. In the final year of the millennium, great victories and great defeats simultaneously occurred.

The Eldar sect known as the Ynnari successfully resurrected Ynnead, the Eldar God of the Dead. A powerful Warp being, Ynnead’s purpose is to destroy Slaanesh and free the Eldars’ spirits from his perverse grip. This would achieve a tremendous victory over Chaos on its home turf in the Warp. Although Ynnead has begun to awaken and his avatar Yncarne has taken the field to help win great victories over the forces of Chaos, he has not yet mustered enough power to take on Slaanesh.

In 999.M41 the 13th Black Crusade began when Abaddon sent cultists among hundreds of worlds. They preached a corrupted form of the Emperor’s teachings which soon attracted masses of followers. The Imperium was ill-prepared to deal with such a (relatively) subtle incursion into their worlds. Simultaneously, the energies of the Eye of Terror began to increase, threatening to overload the Warp-dissipating pylons on Cadia, the Imperial world closest to the Eye. The Imperium concentrated an astonishing number of military forces at Cadia (including almost one-fifth of the entire Imperial starfleet) and eventually won the day, but only through an alliance of convenience with both Eldar and – astonishingly – Necron forces. Not only did they defeat Abaddon and drive him back, they restored Cadia’s pylons to the point where they began to collapse the Eye of Terror itself.

In either an act of spite or frenzied terror at the loss of the Eye, Abaddon used every weapon of mass destruction at his disposal to obliterate Cadia from orbit. The planet exploded and the Eye of Terror grew larger. The forces defending the planet were either slain or escaped via the Eldar Webway. Abaddon realised that the Webway portal led to Ultramar and sent forces to that sector to complete the annihilation of the Imperial forces, but he was too slow. Using secret technology and knowledge gained over the centuries, some hidden away by the Emperor’s order as a contingency, the Imperium was able to awaken Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines, and heal him of his ancient wounds. Guilliman in turn ordered the implementation of the Primaris Project, the creation of an even more powerful version of the Space Marine. At great speed, Guilliman secured the Macragge system and then the entire realm of Ultramar.

The Chaos Gods howled their fury as the 13th Black Crusade lost momentum. A series of Warp Storms tens of thousands of light-years long opened and bisected the Imperium, the so-called Great Rift. Thousands of worlds were destroyed and others sucked into the Warp. The Imperium was divided into two, but Guilliman reacted with surprising speed, delegating command of the far side of the Imperium to trusted individuals and organising a series of counter-strikes and crusades that drove Chaos forces back into the Eye of Terror, or the Rift.

In the present day, approximately 100.M42 (41,100 CE), the Imperium stands battered and bleeding, but standing nonetheless. Guilliman’s return and the advent of the Primaris Marines have given the Imperium hope, whilst the impending return of the Eldar God of Death has distracted the Chaos Gods from their usual pursuit of war and chaos. What the future holds remains to be seen.

A map of the galaxy during the Dark Imperium era.

Warhammer 40,000 is set in the Milky Way Galaxy, approximately 39,080 years in the future. The galaxy is riven by multiple wars between humanity and xenos (alien) races, and within humanity between the forces loyal to the Emperor and those loyal to the Chaos Gods.

The principle faction in the setting is the Imperium or Imperium of Man (or Imperium of Humankind). The Imperium spans most of the galaxy, roughly a circular region 100,000 light-years wide centred on Earth. The Imperium is non-contiguous in territory, as the vagaries of Warp travel may allow for two worlds separated by thousands of light-years to be bridged in a few days, whilst worlds separated by a few dozen light-years may instead take months to travel between. In this fashion the borders of the Imperium are sliced and intercut with those of other races, including the T’au, Necrons, Orks and the worlds held by Chaos. Warp Storms can also cut off entire sectors for years (or even centuries) at a time.

According to the popular saying, there are approximately one million worlds in the Imperium. However, the true number is unclear. It is believed that considerably more than one million worlds were settled by humanity during the Dark Age of Technology, and not all the worlds colonised in those ancient times have since been re-contacted by the Imperium. This is because Warp travel has become much more dangerous since the Horus Heresy, when the Emperor built the beacon of the Astronomicon to make journeys safer. As a result, Imperial ships do not stray beyond the 50,000 light-year radius of the Astronomicon, and what lies beyond is almost completely unknown.

The Imperium is divided into five administrative regions: the Segmentum Solar (including Earth and Mars); Segmentum Pacificus (the region directly rimwards or “galactic west” from Sol), Segmentum Obscurus (located to the galactic north of Sol, including the Eye of Terror), Segmentum Ultima (the vast region located to the galactic east of Sol, including the Galactic Core) and Segmentum Tempestus, located to the galactic south of Sol. The light of the Astronomicon begins to fail on the far side of Segmentum Ultima, in the region known as the Eastern Fringe, where Warp travel becomes very chancy indeed.

The Milky Way Galaxy is the only galaxy that plays a major role in the franchise; the Tyranid Hive Fleets are known to have originated in another galaxy, but otherwise the distances are too great to be penetrated even with the Warp.

The Golden Throne.

Factions of the Imperium
The Imperium is a vast, overwhelmingly bureaucratic empire. It is enormous, implacable and dictatorial. The Imperium holds that it is the sole legitimate government of humanity and the sole guarantor of the survival of the human race. Rebellions are put down mercilessly and without quarter. Newly-discovered human-settled worlds are annexed without pause. Worlds are valued depending on what they can produce for the benefit of the Imperium: vast forge worlds produce technology, vehicles and weapons, whilst agri-worlds grow immense amounts of food. Other worlds serve as recruitment centres for the Imperium’s endless armies.

The Imperium is ostensibly ruled by the Emperor of Mankind, who sits immobile on the Golden Throne of Terra. However, the Golden Throne is a life support machine that has to be fed by psi-energy, with ten thousand psykers daily giving their power (and lives) into the Throne. The Golden Throne maintains the lifeforce of the Emperor, which in turn maintains the Astronomicon and holds shut the entrance to the Webway. Should the Golden Throne fail and the Emperor die, the hordes of Chaos would be able to breach the Webway and invade Terra. Some believe the Emperor could be saved if removed from the Throne, but this would have the same result as it failing. It is a precarious and tenuous balance. The Emperor is still capable of communicating from the Throne using psychic power, but such are his burdens that only the gravest threats are brought to his direct attention. It is also believed that ten thousand years of constant vigilance from the Throne and dealing with the Warp have irrevocably changed the nature of the Emperor, but this is unclear.

Under the Emperor sits the twelve High Lords of Terra. The heads of the respective orders and factions of the Imperium, the High Lords determine policy for the entire Imperium. It is known that nine of the seats are taken by the leaders or representatives of the Adeptus Administratum (the imperial bureaucracy), Inquisition, Adeptus Ministorum (the Imperial Church), Adeptus Mechanicus (the tech-priests of Mars), Adeptus Arbites (the Imperial police force and judiciary), Navigators, Adeptus Astronomica (who maintain the Astronomicon), Officio Assassinorum (the assassins’ guild) and Adeptus Astra Telepathica (the guild of psykers). The other three members are usually drawn from the Imperial Navy, Holy Synod of Terra, Adepta Sororitas (Sisters of Battle), Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard), Estate Imperium (the keepers of the Imperial Records) or the military forces defending Segmentum Solar. The Adeptus Astartes typically do not take a seat on the council in keeping with the Emperor’s command that they serve humanity, they do not rule it.

Recently this organisation was shaken up by the return of Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines, following ten thousand years of stasis. Guilliman travelled to Terra and held a direct conversation with the Emperor. Following that meeting Guilliman was declared Lord Commander of the Imperium, the effective single ruler of the Imperium in the Emperor’s name. The High Lords continue to serve as his chief advisors and commanders, and rule in his absence when on campaign.

Adeptus Astartes or Space Marines of the Blood Ravens chapter.

The Adeptus Astartes
The most notable faction within the Imperium is the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. Genetically-engineered super warriors, Space Marines stand over eight feet in height and are clad in massive power armour. They wield tremendous weapons, such as bolters (effectively rapid-fire railguns) and plasma rifles, and are fanatically devoted to the defence of the Imperium and the Emperor.

The Space Marines are divided into chapters, with each chapter effectively being a self-contained army consisting of a thousand Marines, at least dozens of starships and the various support systems used to maintain each chapter. Most chapters have control of a region of space, ranging in size from a single world to an entire galactic sector (such as the realm of Ultramar, controlled by the Ultramarines), with each Chapter’s Chapter Master serving as its supreme commander.

There were originally twenty Space Marine Legions founded during the Great Crusade. Two of the legions were destroyed before the end of the Crusade. The remaining eighteen Legions were divided by the Horus Heresy, with nine declaring for the Emperor and nine for Horus. At the end of the war, the Traitor Legions were defeated and forced to retreat to the Eye of Terror. The nine loyalist Legions (the Ultramarines, Dark Angels, Blood Angels, Iron Hands, Imperial Fists, Space Wolves, Salamanders, Raven Guard and White Scars) suffered severe losses during the conflict, and shortly after its conclusion were permitted to splinter into smaller, more mobile chapters. New chapters were also created.

As of 100.M42, there are approximately 1,000 chapters in existence, putting the total number of Space Marines in existence at any one time at one million (and frequently less, as the Astartes are constantly suffering losses from engagements). Although this sounds formidable, that’s only one Space Marine for each planet in the Imperium, the most populous of which have populations in the tens of billions.

Space Marines are capable and extraordinary warriors, wielding incredible weapons and possessing superhuman strength, reflexes and stamina, augmented by cybernetic implants and assistance. One Space Marine is worth between fifty and one hundred standard Imperial Guard on the field of battle. They also deploy air support and artillery. Space Marines who survive battle but permanently crippled can continue to fight by being implanted inside a heavily-armoured cocoon known as a Dreadnought, effectively a small battle-mech with tremendous destructive power. The upper lifespan of a Space Marine has never been fully tested, due to their exposure to highly dangerous situations on a regular basis. The oldest Space Marines in existence are over a thousand years old. Some are considerably older in absolute terms, but this is due to spending time in stasis or being spat out of the Warp many years after entering it, but only with seconds passing from their own relative timeframe.

Other Races and Factions

The forces of Chaos are a mixed bag. Some are anarchists and libertarians believe in absolute freedom away from any kind of outside control. Others are evil and perverted followers of the dark Chaos Gods. The taint of Chaos is arguably the most feared and reviled force in the Imperium, with the Inquisition constantly seeking out those tainted by Chaos to kill them before they can spread the taint to others.

Although Chaos cults are active on many worlds, the true threat to the Imperium comes from the entire sectors ruled by Chaos forces. These answer to Abaddon the Despoiler, the former right hand of Horus himself during the Heresy. For much of the past ten millennia these forces have been restricted to the Eye of Terror, a huge, permanent Warp Storm protruding into our reality. During the Fall of Cadia, a fresh series of warp storms tore open, forming the Great Rift and bisecting the Imperium in two. The forces of Chaos now roam freely across thousands of light-years, forming a major, existential threat to the Imperium.

The forces of Chaos are numerous and varied, consisting of ordinary human soldiers, demented psykers, fanatical religious cultists and creates from the Warp, including the formidable daemons and archdaemons. Particularly feared as the Chaos Space Marines, the remnants of the Traitor Legions who are as formidable as the ordinary Adeptus Astartes, if not even moreso as the Traitors often wield supernatural powers beyond that of their unchanged kin. 


Genetically-engineered by the Old Ones to fight the Necrons, the Orks have spread vastly out of control and are now almost a pestilence infesting thousands of worlds. Orks are tall, brutish humanoids who live for battle and combat. They reproduce through spores, so even a world where an Ork invasion has been defeated has to be carefully scoured clean lest more Ork warbands emerge years later.

Presumably as part of their genetically-programmed nature, Orks have an instinctive understanding of technology, allowing them to build war machines and spacecraft, although these are ramshackle in nature. Orks are also cunning and crafty in battle, and more intelligent than they first appear. The largest Orks are a match for Space Marines, but they are truly dangerous in numbers. When enough Orks are fighting together in a warzone, they become linked by a powerful psychic phenomenon known as a Waaagh! When under the influence of a Waaagh!, Orks become even stronger, faster and more formidable in combat.

Orks are seen sometimes as more of a nuisance than an existential threat to the Imperium, although that is a mistake. Several times, a powerful Ork Warlord has united thousands of Ork warbands under his command and rampaged across entire Imperial sectors, unleashing as much carnage as a Chaos incursion or a Tyranid Hive Fleet. They are not to be underestimated.


A relatively new threat to the Imperium, Tyranids are a xenos species consisting of hundreds of different sub-breeds, apparently designed for war. Utilising bio-technology, Tyranids breed quickly and are savage, unrelenting and fearsome in combat.

Tyranids originate from outside the Milky Way Galaxy, although it is unclear if they originated in another galaxy millions or tens of millions of light-years away (it has also been suggested they did originate in our galaxy but left for some reason millions of years ago and have now returned). The Tyranids travel in immense Hive Fleets consisting of thousands of bio-ships which swarm and destroy opposition through weight of numbers. The sheer number of Tyranids in a swarm also cause a shadow to form in the Warp, inhibiting both FTL travel and psyker activity by enemy forces.

Two major Hive Fleets have been destroyed: Hive Fleet Behemoth at the Battle of Macragge in 745.M41 and Hive Fleet Kraken after the battles of Ichar IV and Craftworld Iyanden in 993.M41. Hive Fleet Leviathan began its invasion of the galaxy in 997.M41 and, although several tendrils of the fleet have been destroyed, other parts of the fleet survived and scattered through Imperial space, causing immense damage over the following decades (at the same time the Imperium’s attention was divided elsewhere by the formation of the Great Rift).

Dozens of smaller Hive Fleets have also entered the galaxy, causing immense damage before being defeated by the Imperium, Eldar or even the Orks and forces of Chaos. The Tyranids are a force of nature, not discriminating between enemies, and a threat to all inhabitants of the Milky War. More concerning is that the true size and disposition of the Tyranid forces still outside the galaxy remain unknown.


The Eldar (also called the Aeldari) are an ancient race of long-lived humanoids. Active in the galaxy for several million years before the arising of humanity, the Eldar at once time controlled an empire larger than the Imperium. The self-declared heirs to the Old Ones, the Eldar inherited their method of travelling FTL without using the Warp, via the Webway portal network, and also their mighty psyker powers.

More than ten thousand years ago, the Eldar civilisation was obliterated overnight when the hedonistic depredations of some of the species led to the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh. This event created the Eye of Terror, a permanent Warp Storm protruding into the galaxy. This cataclysm consumed thousands or tens of thousands of the Eldar homeworlds, obliterating trillions of Eldar lives in an instant.

Some Eldar, foreseeing a time of great strife, had constructed immense starships, tens or hundreds of miles across, known as Craftworlds. Travelling slower than light, these Craftworlds hurled themselves into the void and were thus spared from the annihilation of the rest of the species. However, the combined population of the several dozen Craftworlds believed to exist is likely in the low billions, making the Eldar one of the rarest and least numerous races known to exist.

The Eldar field elegant and advanced technology, but lack stamina and constitution. They make excellent skirmishers but lack the hardiness and numbers required to fight long wars of attrition. Their attitude to the Imperium, which they regard as brutish, cruel and unintelligent, is decidedly contemptuous and the feeling is mutual. However, the Eldar regard Chaos, the Tyranids and Orks as greater threats, and on very rare occasions have deigned to work alongside humans against mutual threats (most recently sending forces to help defend Cadia from Abaddon’s forces).


The Necrons are regraded as one of the most formidable threats in the galaxy. Originally a powerful race of aliens known as the Necrontyr, they waged war against and destroyed the Old Ones, but in the process were enslaved by the C’tan. The Necrontyr effectively killed themselves, becoming a race of undead cyborgs known as the Necrons. They obliterated the C’tan and went into suspended animation for millions of years.

In recent centuries, the Imperium has come to realise that there are thousands and maybe tens of thousands of Necron tomb worlds scattered across the galaxy, each with many thousands of Necron warriors waiting to be awoken. Dozens of tomb worlds have been discovered and triggered over the past few centuries, sometimes unleashing wars that raged across entire sectors before the threat was put down. More inscrutably, the Necrons have occasionally allied with other forces (such as joining the defence of Cadia before its fall) for reasons of their own.

The Necrons are a dangerous and unpredictable foe.


The Tau or T’au are a blue-skinned, humanoid species located in the far galactic east. Their territory is relatively small, but powerful enough to dissuade attacks by their neighbours. The Tau believe in an ideology known as the “greater good,” and, unlike most galactic species, believe this extends to cooperation with other species (with the Tau in command, of course). The Tau do not want to annihilate other races, but instead convince them to join their ideology. Several species, including the Kroot and Vespids, have done so.

The Tau are arrogant, idealistic and sometimes naïve, but they are also capable of diplomacy and intrigue; they are one of the few xenos species that the Imperium has actually had diplomatic relations with. The Imperium has fought several conflicts against the Tau, but the Tau’s lack of interest in destroying the Imperium and their low numbers means that they have been dismissed as a relatively low threat level. However, the Tau are highly technologically advanced, fielding sophisticated railguns and other long-range weapons technology which is among the most formidable in the known galaxy.

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Sam said...

Great article Wert, brings back memories of days gone by!

Neil said...

So are their novels covering the destruction of cadia and the return of the primarch.

If there is, what novel would be a good point to start.

Neil said...

What novels cover the period of the fall of cadia and the return of the primary?

I would like to read up on this time period.

LeftHanded Matt said...

This is immense! Well done for putting it all together. I only vaguely knew of Warhammer. If you had a recommendation of where to jump into all this for a newbie, what would it be? A video game? A book?

Ja D said...

Thank you.