Introduction | The Imperium of Man
Ancient Races | The Forces of Chaos | Alien Aggressors
In the tabletop game Warhammer 40k, countless alien races inhabit the galaxy; some live only on a single planet while others colonise larger areas of space. But only few of them can be a real threat to other races. Those players who want to take the side of an alien race to challenge their opponents have the choice between three very different armies.
We iz gonna stomp da 'ooniverse flat an' kill anyfing that fights back. We iz gonna do this coz' we're Orks an' we was made ta fight an' win.
– Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka; Codex Orks, 4th edition
The Orks are probably the most numerous species in the galaxy. They were created millennia ago by the mysterious alien race known as Old Ones, although their own legends tell of a lost species of Brain Orks. The Orks are primitive, tough and aggressive and therefore their race is not united but split into many tribes which are just as likely to fight a war against each other as against another race. This is one of their greatest disadvantages, as together they could easily conquer the whole galaxy. Only occasionally large numbers of Orks unite under a single Warboss to fight a Waaagh! against a common enemy. When the goal is reached, or the Orks are defeated, this unity breaks up again.
Not only the Orks but also a smaller goblin-like species known as Gretchin live in the Ork society. They are all related to each other through a unique biological system of fungus. This fungus grows on every world inhabited by Orks and serves them as food and a biological weapon. The most remarkable feature of this fungus is that it is part of the body of the Orks and more Orks and Getchin may grow from its spores – which can lie dormant on the surface of a planet for a long time.
Orks are already born with a large part of their knowledge, so they require only little training to perform their tasks. Some inherit the ability to tinker with technical equipment, but nothing fabricated by an Ork can reach the quality of the machines of other races. Their machines are usually built from scrap and pieces of equipment looted from other races during wars. They are unreliable and clunky, sometimes exploding in the hands of those who wield them. Even their larger war machines are strange agglomerations of rusty bits and parts which seem to work only by chance, but if they do, they can have a great impact on the battlefield.
Orks love fighting, no matter which enemy they choose. The largest part of an Ork army is a huge number of Boyz, their ordinary warriors, equipped with a more-or-less reliable hand weapon and armour made from leather and old metal plates. They may be accompanied by many small Gretchin, who make up for their bad equipment by their sheer numbers, and also by some squads of Boyz with special weapons or fighting abilities. There are also some Orks who are born with special talents, for instance the Meks who take care of the Ork's equipment, Painboyz who tend their wounds, and Weirdboyz with psychic abilities.
The larger and stronger an Ork, the higher ranking he is in society. Therefore the elites of Ork society are the larger Nobz who get better equipment in battle and often lead a mob of Orks. The strongest and best equipped are the Warbosses. The weakest are the little Grots, who are often used as cannon fodder and sent ahead of an army. Sometimes they are even used as living ammunition.
A player who chooses the Orks as their army will have a large number of greenskins at their disposal. They are tough but have only relatively small firepower, which is the reason why they have to overwhelm their enemy with numbers. In addition to the dozens of small Ork and tiny Gretchin models, a player usually chooses from a number of interesting war machines with all kinds of more, or less, improvised weapons. Or they can just reuse a looted tank of any other race and make it 'orky'. Orks have nothing of the elegance of the Eldar or the organisation of the Imperial Army. They are a bunch of large, bulky, muscular green-skinned warriors with large teeth and custom-made armour who fight with, and against, anything they can find. If a player wants something a bit more special they can build up their army as a Cult of Speed, for instance, with many fast vehicles.
Orks are the most humorous army in Warhammer 40k. The names and language alone are often funny, but so are the looks and the rules. They are an army for gamblers, for those who are not afraid of a one-to-six chance of blowing up themselves instead of their opponent. All models are extremely detailed and every Ork can be built to have a unique look. Opposed to the general perception of many players, this makes Orks an army that takes much work to build and also to paint - especially if you want to create the typical used-and-rusty look. In addition the player has many possibilities to use their own imagination and build their own custom Ork boss or vehicles.
The Tau Empire
Our conquest is inevitable, our ascension a matter of time.
Let none who are wise deny our destiny.
– Aun'va, Ethereal Supreme; Codex Tau, 6th edition
The Tau are a young race who, after a few thousand years of rapid progress, have very advanced technology. Their society is divided into different castes, each of which fulfil an important task. They evolved from the different tribes of Tau who lived on their home planet. Tau of different castes do not interbreed and every Tau inherits the caste of their parents, therefore they also show different physical features. For instance, the Earth Caste consists of farmers, engineers and artisans, and supplies the Tau society with everything it needs, while the Water Caste takes care of trading, bureaucracy and diplomacy. During their life every Tau rises through several ranks of their caste and takes on different responsibilities. In war, the Tau's most important caste is Shas, the Fire Caste, their warriors. Most of these men and women stay warriors until their death, only few live to an age at which they are allowed to retire from active battle. The ruling caste of the Tau are Aun, the Ethereals, political and spiritual leaders. They united all other castes after a civil war on their homeworld and showed them the way to Tau'va, the Greater Good. By working for the Greater Good all Tau will have a better future - or so they say. For some reason the Ethereals have complete control over all Tau, who would do everything they wish and never doubt their decisions.
In the name of the Greater Good the Tau are expanding their Empire and already control many star systems. Of course they meet other races on their way and those who are willing to join the Tau society are very welcome to do so. Everyone who helps the Greater Good is seen as a valuable part of Tau society. All those who resist are absorbed into the Empire by force or are eliminated. Even some human worlds at the fringe of the Imperium have joined the Tau Empire.
Tau are humanoids with a grey-blue skin and hooves instead of feet. Their faces are flat and have no nose, but their eyes are very sharp. One thing that sets Tau apart from other races is that they have no psychic abilities at all. This makes them immune to the corruption of Chaos, but also restricts their access to the Warp1 and therefore their travels take longer. This hinders the expansion of their Empire.
The most prominent race allied to the Tau are the Kroot, tall, slender carnivores with beaks and skins of many different colours. By eating other species they can absorb some of their characteristics and they therefore eat their fallen opponents in battle as well as their own dead to preserve their 'soul'. Because of this the Kroot vary greatly in appearance and some have evolved to mere beasts, of which some are now used by the intelligent Kroot in battle. Due to their superior physical abilities Kroot serve the Tau as mercenaries, with better abilities in close combat than the Tau have themselves.
The Tau themselves rely more on their technology than in their own physical abilities. They have powerful long distance weapons as well as many different battle suits which protect the more experienced warriors, and arm them with the deadliest weapons, giving them special items like jetpacks or stealth technology. Their size varies greatly and can range from that of usual armour to huge mech2. Additionally, a Tau army contains a number of anti-grav tanks and flying vehicles. Even Ethereals may lead an army to battle and inspire the troops.
In game Tau are one of the most efficient armies in long distance combat; they have the best long distance weapons in the game. A vital role in the Tau army is taken by Pathfinders who have the option to mark a target in battle which can then be more easily hit by the other troops. The Tau's abilities in close combat are limited and this part is mostly taken over by Kroot, but they are easily wounded. Another race allied to the Tau are the flying Vespids, who can get into combat very fast and have strong short distance weapons. On the battlefield Tau do not only rely on allied races but also use small swarms of drones, small flying discs which can protect the Tau or attack opponents. The Tau tanks can have one of the strongest weapons available in the game, which can shoot incredibly long distances.
The design of the Tau is clearly inspired by mostly Japanese science fiction. The battle suits and armour give this army a distinct feel of an Asian high-tech society.
From the unspeakable cold of the intergalactic void an immeasurable alien intelligence moves ever closer. Barren husks of countless star systems lie in its wake.
– Codex Tyranids, 4th edition
One of the greatest threats to the galaxy comes from outside. Nobody knows where the Tyranids come from or how many galaxies became their victims on the way. One thing is clear: the current invasion is only the vanguard of the actual fleet, which is still travelling through the void between the galaxies. They know no other goal than to devour every organic substance they find and use it for their own reproduction.
Tyranids are a species of insectoid with exoskeletons. They come in a great number of shapes and sizes because each of them is a bio-engineered creature, made for a specific task. Their weapons and armour are not pieces of technology, but grown parts of their bodies. Even their spaceships are alive, as well as the ammunition of their weapons.
Tyranids cannot be seen as individual creatures because although their fleets may have billions of bodies they have a shared consciousness known as the Hive Mind. This Hive Mind is the collective psychic presence of all Tyranids and controls the actions of every individual as well as the hive as a whole. It is such a strong psychic power that it distorts the Warp and makes navigation in it difficult for other species, as well as disrupting telepathic communication. If a Tyranid loses contact with the Hive Mind it is guideless. To ensure this communication is not lost on the battlefield some larger Tyranids act as synapses which connect lesser specimens with the Hive Mind.
To find the resources they need to reproduce, Tyranids scout star systems for life - preferably complex life forms. When a suitable planet is found and infiltrated, it does not take long until the Hive Fleet arrives. Millions of Tyranids are deployed and they start to kill and devour everything they can find. But they are not mindless creatures; the Hive Mind gives them intelligence to fight with tactics and even trick their opponents. The planet is systematically stripped of all life, and the organic matter - also of the Tyranids themselves - is collected in pools and pumped to the Hive Ships. The DNA found on the planet is added to the gene pool of the Tyranids and helps improve them; this way they adapt to their opponents. In the end even water and the atmosphere are stripped off the planet, leaving only a dead rock. The Tyranid fleet move on to their next target.
All Tyranids resemble each other in a way. They have strong exoskeletons, hooves and usually strong claws and teeth. Tyranids of one Hive Fleet also show the same colours and patterns on their carapaces. In detail all kinds of Tyranids look remarkably different from others, while in fact being the same species. Their design is certainly inspired by the Alien film series as well as Starship Troopers. There are large numbers of Gaunts of about the size of ponies which overrun the battlefield in swarms; some of them even have wings. They have two cloven feet and two arms with large claws or shooting weapons as well as a mouth full of pointy teeth and a long tail. The larger and more powerful creatures are not as common and take over the role of tanks and other large vehicles.
Many people make the mistake of regarding Tyranids as an army focused on close combat, but this is not at all true. While they certainly have very good close combat abilities, they also have powerful long distance weapons at their disposal. They are also fast runners, which allows them to get to their opponents very quickly. One of their few weaknesses is the Hive Mind, which doesn't allow all units to move independently and can render them useless if a creature which serves as synapse to the Hive Mind is killed.
Tyranids are certainly the most alien of all species in the universe of Warhammer 40k. They have no resemblance to the other species which largely look at least vaguely humanoid. They cannot be bargained with and do not make allies, which makes them the enemy of all other species.