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Warhammer 40k - Ancient Races

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Warhammer 40k
Introduction | The Imperium of Man
Ancient Races | The Forces of Chaos | Alien Aggressors

The tabletop game Warhammer 40k is played between two or more players who each choose an army of miniatures to fight against each other. Each of these armies has their own story background and unique traits. Some of the alien races in the game are older than humans can imagine. Their fight is one against extinction and to renew the power they once had. But this time they do not only face each other but also the younger races which have risen on many planets in the galaxy.

Billions of years before Mankind travelled out into the galaxy, there was a sentient race commonly known as the Old Ones. They studied the universe and travelled to many planets where they left their seed of life and created new species. The Old Ones travelled through Warp Space, a dangerous parallel dimension which races with psychic abilities can access to take shortcuts to distant places. Then they created the Webway, a network of portals leading to a space between the dimensions that made instant travelling over large distances possible and made them independent from the Warp.

The Old Ones once fought a war against a species known as the C'tan and later against the Necrotyr, who wanted to learn about the secret of eternal life from the Old Ones. At first they could be fought, but then the Necrotyr and C'tan united and a terrible war ensued. The Old Ones created many warrior species in their defence, but the so-called War in Heaven set loose powerful creatures from the Warp; in the end the Old Ones were destroyed and also many of the C'tan died. On the other hand, many of the species they created survived; among them are Mankind, Orks and Eldar.

The Eldar

He who sees his own doom can avoid its path. He who sees the doom of others can deliver it.
– Eldrad Ulthran, Farseer of Ulthwé; Codex Eldar 4th edition

The Eldar were created as a long-lived species with great psychic abilities, and they inherited much knowledge from the Old Ones. Amongst it is the knowledge of how to travel the Webway, which makes them independent from travelling through the Warp and allows them to get from one place to another very quickly. The Eldar built up a huge Empire of many planets. The routes between the planets were travelled by the Craftworlds, huge structures in space made from living wraithbone1 that the Eldar control. During this time the Eldar were the dominant species in the galaxy.

The Eldar became more and more arrogant, feeling invulnerable and regarding themselves as a superior race. A large part of society was living in excess and searching for dark pleasures. Some tried to prevent the inevitable, but the Fall of the Eldar came in the form of a civil war, the rise of a new, dark cult and the birth of the Chaos God Slaanesh who was nurtured by the Eldar's desires. This event set free such a massive amount of psychic energy that a huge warp rift was created and Slaanesh devoured the souls of the Eldar. Most of the former Eldar Empire is now occupied by what is today known as the Eye of Terror, a place where the Warp leaks into our dimension, and no ship voluntarily gets close to that region. Only the few Eldar and Craftworlds which were far enough away survived this event, and it is said that almost all of the Eldar gods died.

Today only little is left of the former glory of the Eldar Empire. Their numbers are dwindling more and more, but the Eldar fight against extinction, although they are sure that in the end they will not survive. There are tales about a future time when a last war between Chaos and the forces of realspace is fought, which will end in the destruction of both. The knowledge and psychic abilities of the Eldar are still greater than that of many other races. Most of the Eldar live on the remaining Craftworlds, of which each has their own distinct culture. Over time the Craftworlds grew and are now self-contained biosystems, just like a natural planet. To protect their souls from the threat of Slaanesh, when Eldar die their spirit is secured in a Spirit Stone which is brought to their Craftworld, where all spirits join their world's group consciousness. In times of need the spirit contained in a stone can also control war machines, guided by a psychic Spiritseer. To the other races the Eldar seem mysterious and hard to understand.

The forces of the Eldar consist of small, fast and highly-specialised troops. To focus their minds and to not become threatened by Chaos, every Eldar chooses a Path to follow and to master. The most important paths of the Eldar army are the Path of the Seer and the Path of the Warrior. The Farseers and Warlocks are highly skilled psykers who manipulate reality and see into the future, which makes it possible for the Eldar forces to strike long before a threat becomes obvious to other races. The warriors are themselves split up into different Paths known as Aspects, each of which is specialised on a certain combat skill. In times of need even civilians who have chosen other Paths are called to arms. Those who have left their Path and stand outside of society often scout for enemies and protect the Craftworlds as Rangers.

In the game an Eldar army consists of relatively few miniatures and, as opposed to many other armies, their troops are almost not customisable at all. The player can choose between a decent number of different troops of Aspect warriors which are all dedicated to a certain purpose. Only the troop leaders have a small number of choices of weapons and special abilities. This must not be seen as a disadvantage, as the choice of an Aspect allows the player the same freedom as the choice of certain weapons in a different army. There are, for instance, the Striking Scorpions, highly skilled close combat fighters, the Warp Spiders, who warp themselves from one place to another in the blink of an eye, or the Dark Reapers, who specialise in the use of heavy weapons. The choice of the right Aspects to fight against a certain enemy or in a certain mission can be a difficult one. Every Aspect has their own unique look and combat style. At the head of each Aspect stand the Phoenix Lords, the greatest of their Aspects and often their founder. They can act as headquarters for an Eldar army and embody a more powerful version of the warriors or their Aspect.

Almost every Eldar army contains a certain number of Warlocks, who can guard their allies and attack enemies with psychic powers. They are also needed to guide certain war machines made from wraithbone which are powered by Spirit Stones. The more powerful Farseers can lead a whole army, just like the Phoenix Lords.

Just like a player of the Imperial Guard may choose the forces of a certain planet as their favourite, an Eldar player can choose a Craftworld as the home of their army. Every Craftworld comes with its own unique heraldic colours as well as specialities in how its army is built up. The basic design of all Eldar is very similar: tall, slender, elegant warriors with high-tech wraithbone armour, which is decorated with Spirit Stones and runes. Almost all of them wear high helmets which hide their faces, making them anonymous strangers, and only sometimes you can guess from the shape of their body that some of them may actually be women. Their design is inspired by classic fantasy elves and other fantasy warriors as well as historic armours and mythological creatures. In the detail every Eldar Aspect is unique and lives up to their name, like the winged Swooping Hawks, or the Howling Banshees with their white armour and flowing hair.

The Dark Eldar

Death is my meat; terror my wine.
– Asdrubael Vect; Codex Dark Eldar 3rd edition

During the time of the cataclysm some of the Eldar were in the Webway, where they had built whole cities at important crossroads in the maze. Slaanesh could not reach them in the Webway, so they survived. But, unlike their brothers, they did not give up their dark cults and search for pleasure. The opposite was true. After a while they noticed that Slaanesh pulled at their souls and slowly devoured them. However, they also discovered that they could protect themselves by feeding off the pain of other souls. To escape their enemy Slaanesh, they became what is today known as the Dark Eldar, a people of raiders and enslavers, always searching for new souls.

Commorragh, the largest Webway port of the Eldar, became the major city of the Dark Eldar. A place between dimensions, where Slaanesh still has little influence, and from where they can reach any place in the galaxy to raid distant planets. Unlike their cousins, the Dark Eldar do not use psychic powers, to not attract the attention of the Warp. Their advanced technology is not grown from wraithbone but manufactured by uncounted numbers of slaves in the factories of Commorragh. The physical strength and reflexes of the Dark Eldar are superior to those of the Eldar and they can move faster than the human eye can see.

From the pleasure cults of the Eldar before the Fall evolved the Kabals, strictly hierarchic organisations within Dark Eldar society which control territories in Commorragh, organise raids and often also fight against each other. Smaller organisations that specialise on close quarter combat are the Wych Cults, which work together with Kabals most of the time. The third pillar of Dark Eldar society are the Haemonculi covens, the masters of torture as well as valued healers and providers of surgical enhancement, who can even bring people back from death.

The raiding parties of the Dark Eldar are mainly built up of Kabalite Warriors and Wyches. They are accompanied by higher ranking members of the Kabals as well as fast anti-grav vehicles and various evil creatures. All Dark Eldar only wear light armour which gives them little protection; they rely on their superior combat skills and reflexes. A player who chooses the Dark Eldar as their army has a force of very fast and potent warriors, but when they are hit they die rather quickly. Their greatest advantage are poisoned weapons, which have the same chance of wounding a huge monstrous creature as a lowly foot soldier. Additionally the Dark Eldar get stronger the more enemies they kill.

Just like the Eldar, Dark Eldar are tall and slender, but their skin is almost translucent because of the sunless life in the Webway. Their armour is clearly derived from Eldar armour, but it has added spikes and blades and is usually a dark colour. They often do not wear helmets and show weaving hair of various unnatural colours and daring styles. Other units of their troops are abhorrent creatures with cruel weapons. The pirate-like nature of the Dark Eldar becomes most obvious in the style of their tanks – fast, lightly-armoured anti-grav vehicles which closely resemble sailing ships.

The Necrons

Order. Unity. Obedience. We taught the galaxy these things long ago, and we will do so again.
– Imotekh the Stormlord; Codex Necrons, 5th edition

Billions of years ago the Necromantyr evolved on a hostile, barren planet. Their lives were short and their settlements full with the tombs of their deceased. To find a way of a better life they built ships of living metal and went out to the stars. As a race without psykers they could not enter the Warp and had to endure long travels in stasis. They settled on many planets and on their way they met the Old Ones, and envied them their immortality.

As the race of the Necrotyr settled on more and more planets their society began to break up and it was decided by their leaders, the Triarchs, that a common enemy was needed. This enemy became the Old Ones, because they wanted to gain the secret of eternal life. However, the Necrotyr soon saw that they could not win the fight against this superior enemy and they were driven back to the outer regions of the galaxy, where they lived for thousands of years.

Because of their hatred for the Old Ones, the Necrotyr attracted the attention of ancient ethereal beings whom they called C'tan, Star Gods. The C'tan lived by draining the energy from stars and they had fought a war against the Old Ones long ago. The Necrotyr built bodies of living metal for the C'tan, who immediately went to suppress the Necrotyr and use them for their own purpose: they wanted to feed from the energy of living beings and the Necrotyr should obtain these. But they also promised their help with fighting the Old Ones and eternal life for the Necrotyr. They tricked their slaves into leaving their bodies and taking on bodies of living metal instead, and thus the Necrotyr became the Necrons. Together the Necrons and C'tan defeated the Old Ones, who were weakened by creatures from the Warp which they had unleashed, and the fact that the C'tan and Necrons had found their way to the Webway. But the Necrons found out that they had been tricked and their minds had been dulled during the transfer to their new bodies. They turned against their masters and the C'tan were shattered to shards.

Weakened from the battles, and afraid of the rising Eldar, the Necrons went to sleep in the stasis crypts of their tombs for many million of years. Many were destroyed during this time of the Great Sleep, but many more stayed intact. Now the Necrons are rising again to restore their dynasties. One by one the Tomb Worlds become active again.

Every Necron dynasty controls several planetary systems. At the top of their rigid hierarchy are the Phaerons, Lords and Overlords. Members of these three classes control one or a few Tomb Worlds while at the bottom of the hierarchy are billions of almost mindless, badly manufactured warriors. Only the Necrons of higher rank could retain their mental capabilities during the transfer to their new bodies, which are of far better quality than those of normal Necrons.

The Necrons' greatest advantage in battle are their bodies of living metal, which are able to repair damage very fast, so the Necrons are often unaffected by hits. They are very tough and even if they fall to the ground and 'die' this does not mean they cannot stand up again a few minutes later - this is also incorporated in the rules for playing a Necron army. When they get killed the player always has a chance to revive them. Necrons often seem indestructible. A Necron army typically consists of many slow warriors with strong, long distance weapons that disassemble the atomic structure of their opponents. They are accompanied by a wide range of robot-like creatures and vehicles as well as their Lords and Overlords who control the dim-witted lower ranks. As opposed to the warriors, every Lord has their own individuality and specialities. The Necrons can even bring a C'tan Shard to battle and let these ancient powers fight for them with many variations of interesting and deadly powers.

In design Necrons resemble a skeleton army made from silvery metal. They also have a distinct touch of the Terminator and their culture is clearly very much like it could be found in ancient Egypt. This becomes obvious when looking at one of their most feared war machines, the Monolith, a black pyramid.

1Wraithbone is a substance sensitive to psychic powers. It is self-healing and can be shaped to form weapons, armour, vehicles and machines of all kinds.

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