Friday, 8 April 2016

Horus Heresy Army Building: Who Were The Unknown Legions And Why They Might Have Survived

The two missing legions are one of the single greatest mysteries in Warhammer 40,000 today. Ever since the II and XI were mysteriously left expunged and empty during the Index Astartes era, fans have speculated as to just who these primarchs were and what role their legion might have played. Others have wondered why they might have committed so grievous a sin as to be erased entirely, and what was the ultimate cause for their downfall prior to the civil war which fragmented the very galaxy itself. It's just one of those tantalizing hints which often leaves fanatics irate and wondering what in the hell might be hidden just out of sight.

Now, veterans will know there have been a few screw-ups and old lore tidbits which have been left over from past authors. The Valedictors were infamously listed as being led by a primarch thanks to a severe miscommunication, and the Rainbow Warriors were once listed as a First Founding chapter in the days of Rogue Trader, only to be largely omitted from many future releases. Some sources have alleged that the legions were both killed off and never replaced thanks to their dishonor, a move mimicing ancient Rome's Damnatio Memoriae.
The more modern take upon the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy itself has continually alluded to some great disaster or even betrayal. Time and time again it has been suggested that the Space Wolves were unleashed, while a few others have strongly hinted that generic degradation was a key part in their eventual erasure. While ideas have repeatedly gone back and forth over and over again, with some supporting an active role in the Crusade while others suggest they failed to even become a true legion, each suggests that they are no longer about.

So, old and new lore is based upon the idea of their complete annihilation, so how could you build an army based upon them? Simple: The Emperor lies. 
He tends to lie a lot, often for his perceived benefit of humanity over everything else, but we have seen it time and time again. The Imperial Truth was the big one, but then we had hints of him lying to his own sons. In fact, the Emperor went so far as to telepathically erase certain facts from them, as proven in Vengeful Spirit, keeping his source of power hidden from them. So, if he's willing to erase that one detail, why not the existence of two legions which might be very important to his plans?

Think about it for a moment. Each legion was intended to carry out a single role within the Imperium or Great Crusade, from the fearmongers to the builders to the annihilators; so is it not so unbelievable that two might retain so great a role they would be hidden from all others? Some would argue that the Alpha Legion ultimately fulfilled this role as His Majesty's Hallowed KGB, but they were ultimately very terrestrial in nature. Like all other legions their role focused upon conquest of new worlds, the annihilation of xenos races and reuniting humanity. What if each legion needed to be left completely forgotten to history in order to play some great part in the Emperor's plan, or defend his realm against threats from beyond?

We already know that the Webway was a core part of the Emperor's plan just for starters, and even in its early years it was hardly a perfected science. Even without Magnus' ill advised efforts screwing things up, there was always the perpetual risk of daemonic incursions, corruption or the degradation of the ancient network. This would require a force to continually patrol each route, slowly expanding throughout the Imperial Webway and guarding it against all invaders. While the Thousand Sons might well have been suited for this role, what we see in A Thousand Sons does subtly suggest that their slow instability may not have been a mistake. If what we see in that book was to be believed, Magnus' role required him to be bound to the Astronomican itself, having severed all earthly ties and serving as a psychic lighthouse for travelers. Such an act would leave a legion bereft of their father - and may even give them reason to rebel if they saw his intended plan - or even cause difficulty in maintaining gene-seed stability. Even if you don't accept that however, a more numerous and more specialised force to accompany the Thousand Sons is hardly out of the question.

Still, ignoring the Webway, what else is there? Well, how about extra-galactic threats or creating a bulwark against outside invasions. Several Imperial Armour books - notably the Badab War volumes - have repeatedly emphasized that the Imperium made various expeditions beyond the galaxy's edge. The Marines Errant were part of several such operations, and the Space Sharks Carcharodons were even suggested to operate far above the galactic plane. While they were suspected to bear Corax's gene-seed, we never did learn just who the primarch of that chapter was, or how they could survive for so long in the void. Only a few scant records note any vessel from the chapter returning to Imperial strongholds to engage in campaigns, let alone rearm and re-supply their forces. As such, they would need a massive base of operations or vast network of resources on hand to help keep them operational, something far more extensive than merely a few battle-barges and cruisers. Add in the fact that one thousand marines is an awfully small number of astartes to even scout out such a vast region, and it's ripe for new story details. Also, if you don't like the Carcharodons? Well, just claim they're a chapter of a much bigger legion, much like everyone else.

Even if you don't like the idea of them patrolling those areas and merely defending an empty void, there are other opportunities to be had here. Perhaps the Emperor tasked them with hunting down sleeper ships lost during the downfall of the Human Empire or even bygone relics from eras past. They might have been tasked with recovering ancient pan-galactic fortresses leftover from humanity's golden age, or even silencing ones of xenos origin before they can become a threat. That or, if you want to go for the most obvious excuse, claim they've been spending the last nine thousand years kicking the living hell out of the Tyranid Hive Fleets.

Of course, there is a third option which may or may not work depending upon what berserk buttons you have about the lore; you could have them permanently stationed in the Warp, carving out strongholds against the forces of Chaos. Yes, this is going against a point I have personally long railed against - That Games Workshop has forgotten that no mortal can survive physically entering the Warp. It's something they've broken time and time again, from Draigo's rampage to the Fire Hawks raiding Nurgle's Garden to turning many previously conceptual or metaphysical ideas into literal locations. It's been going on for years now yet one of the most frequent commenters on here - grdaat - pointed out, they never do anything with it.

The Imperium seems to actively ignore the fact they can happily launch successful crusades right into the realm of Chaos itself, beat the daemons on their home turf and slowly purge the realms of Chaos themselves. They could be sending wave upon wave of Imperial chapters right into Nurgle's garden torching everything in sight, or even just causing enough of a distraction to stop the daemons emerging in the materium. So, if this bit of canon defilement doesn't make your blood boil, you could have them doing exactly that. Imagine close to a hundred thousand astartes hunkered down behind vast psychic fortresses or defended by Gellar fields, fighting an endless tide of daemons to hold onto humanity's few strongholds in the Warp. Actually, thinking of lore of late, they probably wouldn't even need Gellar fields given how tame the Warp is these days. Furthermore, as time is meaningless, some could have been doing this since long before the Heresy, or even be completely unaware that Horus turned traitor at all. There's certainly a lot of leeway on offer with this one if a writer is inventive enough about such things.

These are just three examples, and there's certainly many far less insane ideas you could drum up. By simply going with the fact that they would have held an important role no other legion fully fulfilled, you can mold them into any number of various ideas or concepts. If you have a few ideas you'd like to list or even criticise those brought up, please feel free to list them in the comments. As always, other viewpoints are always welcome in these "what if?" articles.


  1. Love this, but will Games Workshop ever have the brains to do something like this? Their latest hope ADB is busy stating chaos will win the long war. And now its dark angels vs space wolves.. and the tao fluff has them as super competent. Humans are idiots per GW authors.

    1. Honestly, that's why this was written to address fans first and foremost over all others. GW, even while its expanding upon some prior armies, will keep a hands off approach with those legions so it'd be up to the community to explore things further. That said, I do share some of your concerns about those story elements, especially ADB. Lord knows the man is a great author but he's got an anti-Emperor pro-Imperium-will-Fall streak a mile long. Fun as it'll be, it makes me worry where Master of Mankind will end up going.

  2. I like the idea that any survivors from the 2 legions became part of the ultramarines
    2 + 11 = 13
    And the ultras were a huge legion

  3. My own attempt, the Halcyon Wardens, are greatly detailed on Bolter and Chainsword.

    The quick summary is that they're a Legion specializing in defensive warfare with a dash of divination psykers to give them added survivability.

    Alexandros VonSalim was a diplomat and a high-level psyker. If we go by Primarch roles, he was supposed to be the internal affairs agent, the 'good cop' to Russ' 'bad cop'/executioner role.

    He and his legion become Lost, when he discovers the true nature of the Warp and Chaos early on. After arguing with the Emperor over it, he and most of the legion disappear through a Webway portal.

  4. I've been writing my own version of an alternate heresy (though I haven't shared it) just looking at what if the Imperium expanded into the warp, since it's one of the biggest loopholes and I'm very curious about what would happen in a lot of cases. For example, one Priest can hold back a tide of Daemons, what can several hundred do? What can a whole Shrine World at full strength that gets sucked into the warp do? If the current lore's anything to go by it'll be a safe haven in the warp that can't be touched by Daemons, not to mention the Imperium's done this before, the moon Titan was sent into the Warp for a long while and came out later perfectly fine, so it's not like the current lore has any notion of it being impossible to live there.

    I do like the idea that the missing Legions have successor chapters now that nobody really knows about, it goes along with 40k's record keeping not making too much sense, and it also explains why some chapters are similar to others. It's also the same reason I like chapters that could be descended from traitors, since just having them get absorbed into the Ultramarines seems very wasteful (not to mention it might corrupt their gene-line if they used the seed from a marine who used to be a part of the Iron Warriors alongside a regular Ultramarines).

    1. I'd definitely be interesting in seeing that, and the idea of a much more stable Warp done properly. As you say, if they actually stuck with this idea it would open up whole new areas of the setting to explore. Plus, atop of this there's then the consideration of just what impacts them negatively or positively. After all, does the Adeptus Mechanicus' faith in the Machine God help them repel Chaos as well, and is there any difference? Also, what about the various factions and splinter arms of the Imperial church, or even those of alien races confirmed to have gods. There's a lot of a lot which can be done here, and that's before we even get to the fact you could make the sisters of battle a key part of the setting again.

      Also, yeah, in all honesty that's something i've been playing with for a few years now. Suggested a few years back that certain legions (Dark Angels, Salamanders etc) could have founded chapters in secret to operate outside of the Imperium's sight or even other reasons. Can also agree upon the fun idea that certain chapters might retain traitor gene-seed, as i've always felt as if the Minotaurs had Angron or Mortarion's Gene-Seed.

    2. When I've fleshed it out more I'll post a link to it, I've still got a lot of ideas I'd like to explore (like Lorgar getting a penitent crusade instead of Monarchia destroyed and accidentally discovering the webway).

      When the Minotaurs were first shown in the Cursed Founding chapters I had no doubt they had Angron's gene-seed, but with their redone version in IA12 they were quite different (though these might be two different chapters under the same name, but I doubt it since the Cursed Founding chapter is still credited with beating down the Lamenters), and I hadn't considered that they might have Mortarion's gene-seed, but it's a very good point. They're hard to kill, just look at what Asterion Moloc's survived, to the point that it's suspected his name is an inherited one, they're also very callous and pragmatic. Letting a good portion of the Imperial Navy fight and die against the Necrons so they can learn how the Necrons fight (and figure out how to beat them) is exactly something Mortarion would have done, not to mention they've both got a nasty reputation because of what they do, they have really durable shock troops, and they love their heavy weapons and don't care for the casualties said weapons cause (or their aftermath, since they've certainly got Mortarion's level of ethics).

      No matter what though there's always strange chapters, you brought up the Carcharadons who were thought to be Raven Guard successors, but certain things about them would make that impossible, such as organs that don't/have never worked for the Raven Guard working for the Carcharadons (a dead giveaway they're not successors), or how about the Red Scorpions? Supposedly they have the purest gene-seed, but the only way that would be possible is if they're from one of the two missing legions, or a traitor legion (Likely Emperor's Children, since the Ultramarines had the purest geneseed among the loyalists).