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Characters / Warhammer 40000 Xeno Races

"Contact with alien races always renews one's faith in humanity."

The alien factions in Warhammer 40,000 are treated as...well, alien. Mankind had made non-aggression pacts with a number of alien races during the Age of Technology, but when human civilization fell apart during the Age of Strife, many of these aliens turned on human worlds and attacked them for plunder or simple destruction. A fundamental tenet of the Emperor's rise to power was the superiority of humans to all things alien. In the time since his interment in the Golden Throne, this has become a fundamental part of the Imperial Creed, albeit exaggerated from the Emperor's own views. A level of xenophobia which ranges from suspicion to virulent and violent hatred is cultivated in all parts of the Imperium, and "Fear the alien" and "Suffer not the alien to live" are common themes and catchphrases. The Inquisition's Ordo Xenos was specifically created to study alien races to discover weaknesses the Imperium can take advantage of, and works to crush or subvert alien influence on Imperial worlds or worlds the Imperium would like to control. They also work with the Deathwatch, a specialized division of the Space Marines consisting of Marines from many different chapters who have shown particular skill in fighting aliens.

Despite this bias, temporary alliances or truces with various xenos factions do happen on rare occasions, especially when dealing with common enemies or when Inquisitors deem them necessary to further their plans. There are a very small number of xenos races, such as the Jokaero, who have actually been embraced by the Imperium for various reasons, mostly their lack of sentience. Possessing xenos weapons and/or artifacts would most likely mean a messy end for any normal Imperial citizen if discovered, but Rogue Traders can freely handle and deal with them as long as their overall goal is in the Imperium's favor. Some Inquisitors, especially in the Ordo Xenos, also use xenos items, but this is often frowned upon by more Puritanical Inquisitors and the Ordo Hereticus.

In keeping with this general theme, very few stories from the Black Library have been told from an alien perspective. A trilogy of Craftworld Eldar-centered books concluded in late 2012, and a trilogy of Dark Eldar-centered books concluded in 2014. The short story collection Fear the Alien contains two stories which feature sections from the points of view of an Ork warboss and an Eldar Harlequin as well. The video game Fire Warrior and its novelization follow the adventures of a Tau Fire Warrior. In addition, the sixth edition of the game's basic rulebook introduced various ways for Imperial and xenos races to team up in combat, although these come with their own conditions and drawbacks. The seventh edition rules kept this system but tweaked it to allow all xenos races to ally with Imperial forces, something the previous version didn't allow for Tyranids.

A list of known aliens is available here.

Of the countless alien races in Warhammer 40000, only five present enough of a threat to Imperial power to get their own codexes:

  • The Eldar, elf-like humanoids who once ruled the galaxy, but were undone by their own decadence, and have fractured into a number of different factions. Though fragile and few in number, they possess deadly warrior skills, exotic and advanced weaponry, and formidable psychic powers.
  • The Necrons, living mechanical automatons with frighteningly advanced technology and weapons who have been asleep for millions of years, but are slowly awakening.
  • The Orks, animal/fungal hybrids who live to wage war against any adversary (including themselves) and literally infest any territory they come across. Despite their bloodthirst and barbarism, they also serve as comic relief because they are partly based on soccer hooligans.
  • The Tau, blue-skinned humanoids who are divided into distinct castes with unique specialties. They are primarily known for their skill in long-range combat and use of mecha-like war machines. They are also one of the few spacefaring races to ally with other species on a long-term basis.
  • The Tyranids, an extra-galactic race which combines the worst aspects of a rampaging insect swarm and a virus. They are best known for massive wave attacks of disposable soldier units and for adapting to match combat strategies used against them.

Tropes for the lesser alien races or aliens in general include:

  • Aliens Are Bastards: A central tenet of Imperial philosophy, who are little better. A close examination of all races will leave one with the conclusion that the Imperium's belief is largely accurate, assuming one remembers that humans are aliens to other races.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Even in this universe, the Barghesi are considered so ferocious that "hyper-violent" almost always precedes a mention of their name. The only things we know about them are that they have several Space Marine chapters dedicated to fighting them, they live in the Grendel Stars, and judging by the name, they may have something to do with the legendary Barghests of North England, malevolent and gigantic spectral black dogs.
    • The Rak'Gol are so unstable that they actually make Orks look well-adjusted in comparison.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: This applies to all alien races; even the humanoid Eldar have different biology, including blood that crystallizes instead of scabbing. The Tyranids go above and beyond, as all their technology is organic.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The Jokaero are amazing artisans who have given the Imperium devices such as digital weapons, but aren't even sapient. Everything they create is done fully by instincts coded directly into their genes.
  • Captain Ersatz: The Umbra are basically smaller versions of Leliel.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: The Jokaero are essentially orangutans (from space!)
  • Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: The Thyrrus are a squid-like race with an unusual approach to warfare, emphasizing spectacle and huge casualties over actually winning the battle.
  • Expy:
    • In third edition, the Hrud were rough expies of Warhammer's Skaven, a race of rat-men. By fourth edition, they had been Ret Conned into creatures with large eyes and exoskeletons. They still retain the aspect of sentient vermin, closely associated with trash and decay.
    • The Rak'Gol (whose name reminds one of the Rakghouls). They resemble Tyranids by quite a bit, sans their penchant for eating DNA.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: It is impossible to keep a Jokaero captive or coerce it to build something for you; it'll just put together something to let it escape.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In-game, this is represented by the 7th edition rules' version of the "Come the Apocalypse, but Not Before" level in the Allies matrix. In the 6th edition rules, this level was reserved for the Tyranids and kept them from allying with any other faction. In the 7th edition rules, this was tweaked to mean factions so antithetical to each other that teaming up is only done as the most desperate of measures — or, depending on how you play it in the narrative, two enemies who just happen to attack a third mutual enemy at the same time. This is represented by these allies following the Desperate Allies rules (see Teeth-Clenched Teamwork below for details) but with the further restriction of not being able to deploy within 12" of each other on the battlefield. Tyranids are still at this level with all other factions, but Imperial forces are also here with anything Chaos-related.
  • Humanoid Aliens: Eldar, Orks, Tau and Necrons. Lampshaded in Xenology. Of these, the Eldar and Orks were both created by the Old Ones (as were humanity's ancient ancestorsnote ), while the Necrons were intentionally styled after humanoid skeletons to put the fear of death in the younger races.
  • Humans by Any Other Name: Humans are mon-keighnote  to the Eldar, Gue'lanote  or Gue'vesanote  to the Tau, 'umiez or 'oomiez to the Orks, and the living to the Necrons. We're not sure what the Tyranids call us but we think it's something along the lines of "tasty".
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes:
    • The Eldar, naturally, find mon-keigh to be (at best) brutish and ignorant barbarians blundering their way through the Eldar's birthright, and at worst as little better than vermin. To the Dark Eldar, humans are basically livestock.
    • Orks find humans to be entertaining foes (ironically enough for a lot of the reasons that humans find Orks dangerous), though they don't understand how we can tell who's in charge since, with the obvious exception of the Space Marines, we're all about the same size. This is part of the reason Orks like taking Commissar's caps as trophies, as their distinctiveness, to an Ork, must mean they're a better fighter than the other 'umies.
    • Necrons vary from tomb to tomb. Some want your body, some want your skin, some want you dead, and some are just regular dudes who'd rather you just leave them alone.
    • The Tau see us as a tool to achieve the Greater Good (although, they are unique in this setting of trying to get us to join them willingly, at first anyway), having no ill will to humans that don't directly oppose them.
    • Tyranids see humans as just another source of biomass.
  • Idiot Savant: The Jokaero. They can build almost any kind of machine, but have only animal intelligence. Due to this they are one of the only xenos races tolerated by the Imperium.
  • Insectoid Aliens:
    • The Rak'Gol are eight-limbed creatures resembling a strange cross of a lizard, spider, and insect.
    • Tyranids are also fairly insectoid, but with reptilian traits mixed in.
  • Living Shadow: The Umbra's method of attack.
  • Precursors: The Old Ones, who are believed to be the creators of the Eldar, Orks, Jokaero, and other races.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Viskeons, a race mentioned in the background for an Inquisitor special character, believed in honorable conflict and so completely disdained ranged weaponry. Eldrad Ulthran subtly steered a splinter of Hive Fleet Kraken away from an Eldar Maiden World toward the Viskeon homeworld. They didn't last a single night.
  • Shape Shifter: The Thexians have multiple forms, the only one mentioned being the Combat Form.
  • Starfish Aliens: Plenty.
    • Under a Hrud's tattered clothing they look sort of like several human spines fused to an equally bony torso. They also have in effect by default an entropic field, meaning that anything which comes in contact with them is rapidly aged.
    • Saruthi have an oblong, flat body suspended by multiple, multi-jointed arms joined at a single point with hands with differing numbers of extremely flexible fingers, overall following no human idea of symmetry. Their head (itself an oblong structure with no eyes or mouth and multiple nostrils placed asymmetrically around the skull) is suspended from the body on a long neck at a random point of the body. Due to a lack of most human senses, they instead sense things through a mixture of smell and taste, allowing them to milk Alien Geometries for all its worth.
    • An Umbra is literally a sphere that floats around and creates Living Shadows.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: In-game, this is the essential meaning of the "Allies of Convenience" and "Desperate Allies" levels in the Allies matrix. Allies at these levels are treated as enemy units, but can't be acted against by your primary detachment; they fight alongside each other but that's it. The difference is that at the Desperate Allies level, a die roll can potentially paralyze your forces, representing them being so paranoid about their "allies" that they're spending all their time watching each other for betrayal instead of the real opponent. For instance, in the 7th edition rules all Imperial forces are Allies of Convenience with the Eldar but are Desperate Allies with the Tau and Necrons. Interestingly, the Tau are Allies of Convenience with Eldar and Necrons and Desperate Allies with the Orks.