17 June 2015

Future Military Profiles: The IMPERIAL KNIGHTS (WH40K)

Science fiction is filled with fictional military organizations that control lightyears of space and field hundreds of warships, like Starfleet. I felt it was time for FWS to profile these fictional military organizations. One of the largest military organizations in military science fiction is from Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man's vast imperial military forces. In this first of many articles that guest author Galvars, he will present the numerous military organisation inside the Imperium of Man. This time, one of the more unknown: the Imperial Knights. The Knights are one of the latest addition to Warhammer 40.000 universe, they feel in the gap between the mighty and iconic powered armor wearing Adeptus Astartes and God-like Titans of Collegia Titanica.

Who are the Imperial Knights?
In vast galactic space in which Imperium exist there are many colonized worlds. As everything in the Imperium every planet have its classification according to the role it fulfil. Some of them are no more than mining colonies or whole planets devoted to food production. Others are covered by continent sized cities that towers pierce the atmosphere. The one we are interested are Knight Worlds the subclass of Feudal World. Those strongholds build on the remains of ancient colony ships that sail through deep space in the Golden Age of Expansion are one of not that many human settlements that survive collapse of Golden Age and Age of Strife that came after it. That don't mean that every Knight World survive, most of them also fall under attack of hostile Xenos forces or internal struggle. Those who survive own their lives to unique warrior caste of nobility, the knights. Those mighty warriors control fast moving ancient battle suits, protected by powerful ion force fields and armed with array of mighty weapons. Those war constructs are the living wall of adamantium and fire that stand between human colonists and nightmares of Old Night. When Age of Strife end and Imperium was reborn under guidance of Emperor and his legions the Knight Worlds become priceless asset.
In new Age of the Imperium that start with monumental Unification Wars every card in the deck was important, especially when it is an ace. Many technological wonders were lost or forgotten, societies move back from highly developed to almost feral in many cases. Knights Worlds were unique mixture of primitive Feudal Words and technological advance Nobility. Even if the ability of construction of new battle suits were lost and every one of it was treated as sacred relic, some of noble houses were able to maintain them. Some of suits are old as whole colony itself. This put the Knight Worlds on high position on the list of worlds to be integrated in to Imperium. Especially Mechanicum of Mars was intense searching for them or to be more precise, the technology they possessed. As always adepts of Red Planet try to find and take under own supervision every piece of technology they can find, no mater if they gain it by peaceful means or not.
Generally, Knights Worlds join Imperium by their own free will, use of force was not needed. There are cases when nobility refuse and they were forced to compliance by Imperial Expedition Fleets of Great Crusade or Mechanicum fleets working outside Imperial jurisdictions. Way of reintegration also define the nature of cooperation between nobility and rest of the Imperium. If planet was discovered by Imperial forces knights receive large autonomy under Terra rule and they were obliged to serve under Imperium banner. But if it was discovered by Mechanicum, it was bind by highly complicated oaths of Sidon Protocols. That complex web of obligation and duty bound Knight house to nearest Forge World of Mechanicum. With time it grows from symbiotic relation as Forge World did serve as maintenance and house as elite shock troops, to almost relation master - slave. In most extreme situation some of houses were treated as attack dogs and were released from underground prisons only to punish enemies of particularly Forge World.
Knight Household is based on single world and exist as elite class of society on it. The first one, Crysis was rediscovered by Rogue Trader Militant Jeffers at the start of Great Crusade and represent the strickt feudal system that is common for every Knight World. On the top of pyramid sit the nobility, they ruled from mighty ancient fortresses mostly built in place where first colony ship land. Inside of them still exist ancient artifacts and mighty power generators from those ships that give the nobility power to conquer and rule the planet. Nobility are descendants of first colonist, the upper echelons of colony ships command and the most important persons on board of it. Only having that blood relationship can give privilege to be member of that class. They are also bound by ancient oath to protect those under them. By accident or highly possible intentional actions this create a interesting relation. Nobility relay on lower classes in terms of supplies and them rely on nobility in terms of protection. This symbiosis create system that is highly resistant to armed uprising. But that do not mean that nobility is always fair, as always power can corrupt and arrogance of nobles lead the to downfall from time to time.
Below them sit the class of Sacristans, main role of artificers is to maintain the battle suits of nobility. Ranks of that group can be drawn from every class, from nobility to common peasants. In opposite to the nobility the bloodline is not important, only the skill of single person is taken in to account. After rediscovery Sacristans became more powerful faction on Knight Worlds, they became more than simple artificers with time and take role of diplomats and advisers that stand as counterpoint to more warlike nobility. The training that Sacristans take on Forge Worlds also in secret integrate them in to Cult Mechanicus and they became agents of Mars on household domains.Another level is occupied by soldiers of household, drafted outside the nobility, men-at-arms. Mainly recruited from lower class of town folks or peasants they stand on guard for the nobles. In many cases they represent the same level as Imperial Guard regiments from less advanced worlds. Limited to only light weapons like laser or slug rifles and most basic heavy ordnance they are tasked with maintain order inside household. On the bottom are town folks, servants, peasants and drovers. All those men and women provide higher classes with food and raw materials and in response they are protected by nobility.

Knights Ranks
The main formation that Knights operate is wing, consisting of senior knight with two adjutants. The numbers of suits in cadre is not strictly determined, it always depends on number of suits available in service or in this theatre of war. Some Houses especially the Great one's can muster large numbers of knights, other only a handful. But even in small numbers Knights are very potent weapons, serving in shock troops role. Knights can operate independent or even solo, without support from Imperial Guard or Adeptus Astartes. They are used as heavy support to fight against enemy heavy units when serving with the Space Marines and/or the Imperial Guard. In service of Mechanicum they fight alongside Forge World Taghmata or as escort and skirmishers of Titans.
Nobles hierarchy is generally similar to every house, the titles can vary in names but generally they are the same. The Household war cadre is usually commanded by Seneschal. This rank is reserved for old veterans who represent full of martial and aristocratic tradition of house. Those who bear the rank of Seneschal are not only seasoned warriors but also skilfull commanders. Under them is rank of Lord Scion, they are somewhat similar in role of Seneschals but knights of that rank did not get achieve the fame to be nominated as one. Rank of Veteran Knight bear the leaders of wing, those as other knights are veterans of many conflicts and battles. If Scion of that rank gain special favour of commander he can be raised into the rank of Scion Martial, the one who carry the Houshold banner in to battle. The bulk of ranks in cadre are reserved for Scions that past the all tests and training and are ready to fight. They are assigned to Veteran Knight wing and train in real combat under his watchful eyes. In particularly dangerous situation when Knight World is in danger the house can muster the battle line of Scion Aspirants, but as they are only recently start training in battle suit this is a desperate move of last resort.
There are also some specialised ranks inside cadre that vary in names. One is the Preceptor, particularly skillful in arcane technology Scion that master the use of battle suit systems. Preceptors are valued as expert scouts as they can use the potential of augur sensors of the knight suit on higher level then ordinary knight. Or Aucteller that can be described as berserk of old. Scion Dolorous that are expert hunters or Scion Uhlans, the most hot headed Knights that favoured use of lance above all. Some of Knights prefer to fight from range then eye to eye, those are Scion Arbalester who is an expert in long range attacks and Scion Implacable expert in siege warfare. The Noble that was chosen to fight inside the battle suit is taken from the brightest of sons, usually the oldest one. But he need to pass many other tests and rigorous training before he even will be taken into account. That's way every future knight is trained from child to become professional warrior. But mental and physical tests are only the beginning of the long road. Next phase is the chirurgical implementation of sacred neural sockets in to the body and joining them with central nervous system. They are needed to integrate pilot with the machine interface. Whole process is done inside the Sanctuary in the heart of Household stronghold.
This system is smaller version of Mind Impulse Unit used in Titans and Astartes Dreadnought. After connection to suite manifold pilot became one with machine, augurs became his eyes and adamantium armor his skin. Interface man - machine must be perfect, any deviation from that doom pilot as not compatible with battle suit. Only one of ten men survive this process, rest died from neurological feedback or driven mad. The imprinting process have side effects, candidate need to be perfectly calm and concentrated. If he is afraid, then flaw of fear can be transferred into the suit's manifold. The emotional state of the Knight at the time of transference, those also will be transferred. Every emotion can affect how machine will act in combat. Every pilot ad a little from himself to machine manifold, some part of his mind and emotion, and after generations of use and different pilots suit can create some kind of personality. After the success of implantation and integration with Throne Mechanicum this element is send to Communion Dome where he awaits for action. When Knights are called to war pilots enter Dome and instigate Protocols of Joining. They are connected to the Thrones and closed in theirs armored shells, then capsules are transported to the massive hangar of Vault Transcendent where suits awaits for command Thrones.

Knight Armor

The Battle suit of Knight is complicated and ancient technology machine. Hard to replicate and maintain every loss is a tragedy. Retrieve of fallen Knights and returning them to House stronghold is no less important task then fighting the enemy. Vulnerable sacred relics all of them are surrounded by aura of power created by sometimes millenia of combat records and uncounted foes they killed. Suits comes in variety of size, colors, and roles; each possessing their own weakness and strength. But they all combine the speed, protection and firepower on unparalleled level for that size and mass. Knights are protected by thick adamantium skin and potent but rare ion force fields. Ion field is work different then powerful void shields of Titans, it don't absorb full power of enemy attack but only slow them down and deflect. In this form the quality of protection depend of setting and position of shield in relation to the enemy, that means that effectiveness of shield is dependent on the skill of pilot. Some types of suits use additional solid or energy shields in one "hand" like human knight of old to increase protection.
Weapon systems are generally installed in two "arms" and they can vary in role, from male like power or chainswords to battle cannons and heavy flamers. Typically one type of armor is designed to operate with specific combination, pilot try to perfect use of those systems in the best way. Additional weapons are integrated in to armor itself, the more heavy the suit the more weapon he can carry. Knight Paladin is the most common type of battle suit, also most of other versions is based on Paladin chassis. He is an universal platform that can engage variety of targets from long range and close combat. Typically it is equipped with battle cannon that had an co axial heavy stubber and chainsword, also another heavy stubber is mounted in the swivel on the left side of suit torso. It's universal weapons and proven construction is favourite amongst Knight Households.
Other version of Paladin is Errant, that type of suit is preferable by more aggressive Scions. Errant are the spearhead of attack, they move fast in to battle and attack enemy from close range. As Paladin is flexible the Errant is close combat specialists, armed with chainsword and terrified thermal cannon. This short range weapon generate intense level of heat that can melt even the strongest armor and fortification. Knight Warden is more heavy version of Paladin, it's armed with Avenger Gatling cannon and massive Thunderstrike gauntlet. Additional he possess a carapace multiple missile launcher, smaller version of Apocalypse type mounted on Titans. Heavy stubber in chest is often replaced by Meltagun. His variant, the Gallant replace Avenger Gatling cannon with Chainsword. Both Knights are designed to close quarter fights.
Knight Crusader and Castellan are the heaviest and the most powerful types of suits. They are the less nimble and fast then other models but they are the favourite of Scion Arbalester. Packing the long range firepower they are perfect in support of other Knights. Crusader is armed with two heavy weapons systems, typically one battle cannon and one avenger Gatling cannon. In addition to standard mounted heavy stubber in the main body he have a double barreled autocannon turret on his back to engage air targets. This level of firepower is more then enough to break even the best enemy defense line. And if the battle cannon is replaced by heavy lascannon he is a potent armor killer. Castellan is design to anti infantry role and typically replace the battle cannon with additional avenger Gatling cannon or heavy flamer.
Knight Lancer is based on different chassis then Knights from Paladin line. The Cerastus pattern is designed to be more light and nimble then Paladin pattern. This also made him rather rare and uncommon type of battle suit in service of Houses. Lancer is purely melee combatant, armed only in close range Cerastus Shock Lance mounted on magneto hydraulic system it can generate electromagnetic plasma blast of enormous power. Single discharge can eliminate even the heaviest enemy with ease. Lance is single type of weapon this suit have, for additional protection Lancer have Ion Goutled Shield. Those Knights have opinion of hot headed and extremely aggressive.

Knight Castigator is more flexible than Lancer, but he is also designed to fight on close range. Especially deadly for infantry, armed with twin linked Castigator bolt rotary cannons. Castigators shine if fight against massed waves of infantry, like orks or tyranids. When enemy is close enough Knight can use a power sword that can cut through most armor. Knight Acheron is even deadlier pattern of Castigator. Armed with fearsome Reaper Chainfist linked with twin heavy bolters and Acheron pattern flame cannon he is a terrified weapon of destruction. Knight Magaera is unique pattern of Paladin used by oath bound Households of Mechanicum. They are less decorated then Imperial Houses battle suits and wear of large sigil of Adeptus Mechanicus. Also their appearance is more mechanical than regular Imperial Knights.
Megaera have bad opinion of dark and ill-omened relic, only a handful of them still exist. They are extremely powerful but... cursed. They were gifts from Mechanicum and accused of being the element of enslave the Houses. Pilots of Megaera were often permanent seal in to Throne without the ability to live the life outside the suit.
Armament of this pattern is very impressive, including extremely rare and forgotten technology. It use a complex lightning cannon, using focused EM beams to vaporise infantry and blast apart armour. Phased plasma fusil and Hekaton Siege claw linked with Rad cleanser. It's defence is also rare Ionic flare shield, more powerful then standard ion shield of other Knights and a advance self repair system. To fuel every of those systems reactor of Megaera is pushed to the limits creating dangerous situation of overcharge. Knight Styrix is pattern of Knight Magaera, even more heavily armed with arcane Volkite Chieorovile and backed up with a graviton gun and twin linked rad cleanser. At close range he can eliminate enemy with powerful Hekaton siege claw.

In Conclusion
Knights are priceless asset that can't be ignored on any battlefield, they represents a link between the mighty God Machines of Adeptus Mechanicus and powerful dreadnoughts of Adeptus Astartes. Overall they are smaller version of Titans, immune to most weapon systems the enemy of Imperium can throw against them, in the same time possessing the enough firepower to take care of any danger. Knight Armor is a serious card in the deck, but also one of the rarest. Numbers of combat ready Knightholds is very limited and in most cases they are bound to servitude under command of Adeptus Mechanicus Forge Worlds. In vast span of Imperium and innumerable theatres of war Knights represents less then fraction of fighting forces.
Also the complexity of Knight Armor arcane technology put them in the slowly dying breed. Only the handful of Forge Worlds can replicate those technologies and the demand is always much larger then production capability. Every loss of construct is deep wound for Knighthold. That's why Knight never will be a serious game changer on larger scale, they can turn the table in one battle or theater but overall impact is limited by number of Knights. In the Warhammer 40.000 universe Imperial Knights are not new addition, they first appear in limited form in 1990. Lack of almost any lore about them and use in Epic scale put them out of memory of most people for more then two decades. The latest resurface of Knights in truly impressive way is dictated by overall trend and new wave of popularity of Warhammer 40.000 'verse. Also this time models are presented in more detailed and larger way. Knights even if not new idea, are definitely something different, new element in already massive universe.

Next Time on FWS...
In the final blogpost about cruisers (thank the gods!), the next installment of Ships of the Line, FWS will discussing the Missile Cruiser, its history, the modern naval missile cruiser, and the sci-fi missile cruiser. In this blogpost will we be also looking at the sci-fi variant of the missile cruiser: the torpedo cruiser. 


  1. I became disillusioned with Warhammer 40,000 in about 2005. One of the (many) things I disliked about the system was that humanity had very few “Mecha” vehicles. I remember the Knights first coming out in “Titan Legions.” The idea behind the knights was not all that different from the Space Marines, but they had mecha. I was disappointed that the idea never really took off. Then a couple years later the Nemesis Dreadknight came out for the Grey Knights. I picked one up to see if I could convert it to the Imperial Knights. That proved to be difficult. If I were still playing 40K, I would be pleased that GW had FINALLY come out with the knights as an army. As it is I will probably pick up a few models.

    P.S. The “Forgotten Tech” bit is getting really old. Humanity can travel among the stars, but forgets how to create things. Some of the technologies that get lost were state of the art during the First World War.

    1. The thing about the Imperium is that, yes, they have space travel and crap, but they have no idea how it actually works, just how it is supposed to work.

      They don't build the machinery, they have access to the STCs which build the machines that build the machinery (including voidships and Knights).
      Since they have no idea how any of it works, and the Mechanicus outlaws innovation of any kind, technology can be lost if the STC is corrupted, stolen, or destroyed.

  2. You need to watch the Flashgitz "Inside GW" video here:
    This will make you laugh the current state of GW and 40K. I always been interested in the world of 40k, and I played way back in 88-90. I mostly played Space Hulk, then moved to the computer games, so I never knew as much about the issues with the game.
    I am very thankful for Galvars for penning this blogpost...I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the Imperium of Man military forces.
    Thanks for the comment!

  3. That video was hysterical. Trashing GW, (in some circles referred to as “The UK Fascists”,) is a little outside the stated purpose of your blog, you can see why I’m working on my own game system.

  4. I love the Flashgitz guys, and yeah, designing your own game system avoids some of those elements.

  5. First edition Titan's/second edition Epic followed by second edition Battle Fleet Gothic IMHO were the two best games GW ever did. So of course they no longer produce or support them. I played first, fourth and fifth edition WH40K and third and fifth edition WHFB so I know about the issues.

    The one thing I will admit is gradually there plastic models became world class kits. And they made the parts to give immense conversion possibilities. Just one example. My back story on my WHFB Ork army was a Savage Ork Shaman had got all the troops hooked on mushroom beer. I didn't like any of the metal models they made at the time (2002 or so) so I dived into the bits box and made one.

  6. Mushroom beer...love it! I always loved Space Hulk.

  7. why would this appear when searching for appropiate anime knight profile pictures