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Characters / Warhammer 40,000: Imperium of Man

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In an empire of a million worlds, how much can one man truly matter? Only one being is truly essential to its continued existence, hail his name, the Master of Mankind. And he has not spoken in ten thousand years...

The Imperium of Man, ruled from Holy Terra, is The Empire of Warhammer 40,000, and a particularly brutal and dystopian one at that. After the collapse of galactic civilization, a being known only as The Emperor of Mankind led his Great Crusade to reunify humanity in an enlightened new order. But just when a new golden age seemed imminent, the newly-forged Imperium was wracked by civil war as half of the Emperor's sons turned against him. The Horus Heresy was ultimately quashed, but at a terrible price: countless worlds were left in cinders, untold trillions were dead, and the Emperor himself was mortally wounded and forced to "ascend" to the Golden Throne, an arcane life-support machine.

Ten thousand years later the Emperor is venerated as a God, the Imperium's technology has barely progressed, Witch Hunts are commonplace since every rogue psyker is a potential gateway for the Legions of Hell, thousands of souls are sacrificed each day to power the Golden Throne and the psychic navigational aid known as the Astronomican, planets deemed tainted beyond salvation are subject to Exterminatus, and the sheer size of the Terran bureaucracy means that entire planetary populations can be forgotten due to filing errors.

Though it is by far the largest and most powerful faction in the galaxy, the Imperium is nonetheless an empire under constant siege from the rival powers of the galaxy. However, its greatest threats come from within, in the form of heretics undermining the authority of the High Lords of Terra or Ecclesiarchy, recidivists who understandably want to get the hell out from under the heel of such an oppressive government, or mutants and rogue psykers who threaten the purity of the human race itself. This siege mentality makes the Imperium a paranoid and superstitious place, but also keeps much of the populace in line — though it is a far cry from the Emperor's original vision, it is the only thing standing between mankind and extinction. At least, that's what the various higher ups like to believe...

Important pre-Heresy figures include the Emperor, the Primarchs, and Malcador the Sigillite. Post-Heresy, there are a number of significant factions that form the backbone of the current Imperium.

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    General tropes relating to the Imperium 
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: The Imperium of Man is described in the background material and Flavor Text as the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable, yet it comes across as one of the less evil factions in the setting due to many of the others being dedicated to the corruption, subjugation and/or destruction of all life in the galaxy. On a more specific level, some of the Imperium sub-factions can be outright heroic, while others are nigh-indistinguishable from Chaos legions from the perspective of anyone but a pure-blooded loyalist human (and even that often doesn't save you).
  • Alternative Calendar: Prior to the catastrophic events at the end of the 41st Millennium, the standard calendar used by the Administratum of the Imperium was an interesting case that used a version of the Anno Domini/Gregorian calendar but presented it in a different way to the one used in real life. Due to the unpredictable effect that the Warp has on linear time, the official Imperial calendar incorporated a check number to indicate how reliable a date was with a 0 or 1 indicating that the date was certain while a 9 indicated that it is a date that had been approximated. With the opening of the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Great Rift, doing irreparable damage to the fabric of space-time, however, even this flexible system broke down so the resurrected Lord Commander of the Imperium, the Primarch Roboute Guilliman decreed that there could no longer be a unified chronology across the entire galaxy, and that each part of the Imperium should develop their own local calendar with the opening of the Great Riftnote  used as year 0, though since it occurred just as the calender turned from 999.M41 (40999 Gregorian) to 000.M42 (41000 Gregorian) out of universe years can still be tracked.
  • Anti-Hero: In stories told from the Imperial POV, the Imperium can most charitably be described as this, and least charitably as Villain Protagonists. They may be defending humanity from aliens, heretics, and worse, but they also uphold a xenophobic warmongering empire that brutally oppresses the very people it tries to protect. It's explicitly called the "cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable", yet if the whole thing collapsed, humanity would probably go extinct thanks to bigger xenos factions or something even worse would happen thanks to Chaos.
  • Anti-Villain: How the Imperium tends to be portrayed in stories told from a xenos faction's POV, if they're not treated as Punch Clock Villains. Sure, they may be trying to exterminate your entire race simply for not being them, but your average Imperial soldier is just fighting for his or her life and is arguably in a similar situation as you are. There are (very rare) times where the Imperium is willing to tone down its xenophobia to help defeat the forces of Chaos, plus they generally have some standards (which varies from person to person).
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Various pieces of background information and Flavor Text feature the aristocracy of Imperial planets indulging in actions that bring war and destruction to their worlds. Joining Chaos cults out of boredom, entering into pacts with alien mercenaries to further their political ends, and smuggling proscribed artefacts to increase their personal wealth are all popular actions of the Imperial elite. Even the less overtly antagonistic nobles tend to be uncaring and arrogant at best.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: As impressive as some of the Imperium's creations of war are, such as the Space Marines or their more exotic vehicles, a lot of them are also ridiculously difficult to replace thanks to the Imperium's wrestling with Fascist, but Inefficient and Lost Technology. The Imperium is largely able to continue using these "wonder weapons" because its sheer seize and age gives it the inertia to replace their casualties, raising the specter that as the Imperium suffers defeats, it proves harder and harder to bounce back.
    • Space Marines themselves are a great example. To start with, a Space Marine can only be created from a pre-adolescent human boy; even selecting aspirants worthy of being implanted with gene-seed tends to be a bloody affair with a high casualty rate. Once chosen, the process of implantation takes decades, and at any point the aspirant could die from genetic incompatibility, the catastrophic malfunction of a bio-engineered organ, or an infection allowed to fester as part of some archaic, ritualized surgery. Or they could be killed, either accidentally during the Training from Hell, or deliberately due to failing some test of loyalty, physical endurance, or spiritual purity. The end result is that it usually costs the lives of a hundred to a thousand aspirants (who themselves might have been one in a hundred or thousand) to get a nascent Space Marine... who may still be killed during the decades long training before they are given their Powered Armor and considered a full-fleded Space Marine. And then there's the Space Marine Psykers, which require even rarer raw material and have an even higher attrition rate due to adding the psyker training casualities on top of the standard Space Marine casualty rate. It can literally take centuries to get a fully fledged Space Marine ready to replace an existant casualty. And that's not getting into some of the more exotic Space Marines, such as the Space Wolves, who are genetically restricted to a much smaller recruiting pool, or the Grey Knights, whose Training from Hell is considered ludicrously extreme by other Space Marines.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: The Officio Logisticarum was founded by Roboute Guilliman specifically to cut through the bloated, labyrinthine bureaucracy of the Administratum. The resurrected Lord Commander of the Imperium knew that his efforts to bring order to the Imperium after the disastrous events surrounding the opening of the Great Rift would fail without an efficient logistical corps, and created the new organisation specifically to handle the bureaucracy of the Indomitus Crusade, able to demand any records they required and requisition entire regiments for their own ends.
  • Ban on A.I.: After humanity invented artificial intelligence and was plunged into the Age of Strife because of the Men of Iron, the Imperium has kept alive the species wide ban on developing artificial intelligence. The Imperium despises the idea so much that A.I. actually stands for "Abominable Intelligence" and even the members of the Adeptus Mechanicus view this technology as heretical. They're so fanatical about the ban that most devices requiring complex calculations have human brain tissue replacing traditional processing chips. That said, the relatively simple machine spirits within the Imperium's every cogitator are actually accepted.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • For the common Imperial citizen, part of what they are expected to be is fanatical and ignorant. This has a lot to do with keeping them focused on the Emperor, safe from forbidden knowledge, and hopefully to keep them productive and obedient citizens. Many Imperial worlds and authorities simply don't know about Chaos, the Traitor Legions, or the Imperium's history with both, simply because they never needed to be informed and thus the information was suppressed.
    • Since the magic system of 40K is based on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, belief can have power. Belief can also make someone fall to the Ruinous Powers and become a monster, or make someone into a Knight Templar working against those same gods.
    • It should be noted that while religious belief isn't treated nicely, outright atheism is treated as even worse. The reason no one saw the Horus Heresy coming and didn't believe it once it started was because the Imperial Truth had outlawed all belief in demons, magic, etc. The Emperor vehemently refused to be worshiped as a god, to the point of ordering the Ultramarines to slaughter Imperial citizens whose only crime was being taught by the Word Bearers that they should do so.
      • The reason the Imperial way had outlawed such beliefs was because the Emperor had determined the relationship between the Warp and physical beings, and wanted to avoid making the Chaos entities stronger. What he didn't realise was that even without active belief/worship, the Chaos Gods are strengthened simply by humans going about their day-to-day existence; fighting, loving, planning, sickening and dying — an effective way to combat this is fervent belief in something else (i.e. the Emperor). The Imperium did some pretty stupid things at both extremes. They never hit the interim point between fanatically denying there is anything other than what strict real-world science teaches to just as fanatically revering the God-Emperor. This point, where the society in question doesn't worship anything but, at the same time, openly recognizes and seeks to guard against Chaos, tends to be shown as being just as effective at fighting against Chaos as the Imperial Cult.
  • Big Fancy Castle:
    • The Imperial Palace, a massive and thoroughly gilded construct which covers most of the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Tibetan Plateau, and is not only visible from orbit, but also visible from Mars. It's the heart of the Administratum and, most importantly, the site of the Golden Throne.
    • The Imperium LOVES this trope. Though the biggest by far is the above mentioned Imperial Palace, most capital ships, from the biggest battleships to the smallest (over a kilometre long) escorts, have gargantuan Gothic castles mounted on them.
    • Some of the larger Titans, like the Imperator class, are essentially Gothic cathedrals on legs.
  • Bizarre Human Biology: All the various abhumans, but especially the superhuman Space Marines, whose bodies have been extensively biochemically altered and packed with artificially-engineered organs.
  • Bling of War: Imperial military design tends to vary from the rugged and practical to highly ornate and ostentatious depending on the planet of origin. Having said this, the equipment used by the upper echelons of worlds on the front-line will often augment their more utilitarian equipment with elaborate gothic flourishes and decorate them with precious metals. The forces of the Segmentum Solar, and the Sol System in particular, meanwhile tend to be heavily gilded with ostentatious designs due to their proximity to Holy Terra.
  • The Caligula: Due to rampant inbreeding amongst the aristocracy of some Imperial planets, coupled with the absolute power they can wield, many Planetary Governors have a rather tenuous grasp on sanity. Diverting funds away from the military towards their own vanity projects, ignoring the advice of their military advisers and/or taking command of their world’s defence when they have no military experience, using alien mercenaries as their own private armies, collecting xenos or heretical artefacts, conducting purges that threaten the productivity of their world and thinking they can safely secede from the wider Imperium are all too common for such Governors.
  • Canis Latinicus: High Gothic, the formal language of the Administratum and the Imperium as a whole, is a mixture of real life Latin (such as vox, astra, custodes terra), and fake, Latin-sounding words (such as militarum, administratum and innocentia). Low Gothic, the more everyday language of the Imperium, is mostly rendered in English but also mixes some fake and real Latin into the lexicon with things like Sector Imperialis and vox-casters.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Inverted. You'll know if an in-setting character is or isn't a typical human based on whether or not they shoot down reasonable statements, arguments, questions and/or criticisms spoken by aliens with canned variations of, "You're an alien; your opinion is worthless!" This superiority complex is prevalent amongst Space Marines and especially Imperial Guard players as well.
  • Catchphrase: "For the Emperor!" and "The Emperor protects!"
  • Central Theme:
    • The Fallen Greatness of Man: Everywhere in the Imperium, there is decay of mind, body, and spirit. Once, the armies of Man were led by Demigods; now, the forces of the Imperium are fragmented and distrustful of each other. The God-Emperor conquered the galaxy in a few centuries, but the Imperium now struggles to merely survive. Men once rearranged the stars to better suit themselves, but Imperial technology has been largely stagnant, when not actually regressive, for over ten thousand years.
      In ancient times, men built wonders, laid claim to the stars and sought to better themselves for the good of all. But we are much wiser now.
      • During the Golden Age of Technology the galaxy was already explored by humans. The government was benevolent and liberal to allow xeno races to coexist peacefully, despite being able to crush it with little effort. But then the Age of Strife came, losing almost all technology achievements and bringing research monopolies and A.I. prohibition.
    • Mortality and Insignificance of the Individual: The galaxy is a big place, trillions battle for humanity's survival, thousands of wars rage unchecked, and against this backdrop, the death of millions and destruction of entire worlds is rendered insignificant. Imperial Dogma reflects this: there are death and skull motifs everywhere, and Imperial culture is extremely fatalistic.
      Serve the Emperor, for tomorrow you may be dead.
    • The End Justifies the Means: The Imperium's war is ultimately one of survival; merely living to see the next day is hailed as victory, and the price of defeat is extinction of the human race and destruction of the very fabric of reality. Against that, what is a few million lives, or even an entire world? What mercy can one afford to those who would bend knee to the Xeno or Daemon? Better that they all die. And of the loyal souls lost? Well, "The Martyr's Grave is the Keystone of the Imperium."
  • Character Exaggeration: Much of what's been described about the Imperial Guard for this trope can apply to the Imperium as a whole. While the Imperium's bleak, "grimdark" nature is exaggerated by some to the point of Flanderization, the sheer size and expanse of the Emperor's realms mean that the more brutal and dystopian parts of it tend to stand out more. Meanwhile, many settled worlds are roughly AD 1000-2000 in terms of development and otherwise relatively quiet compared to the average Hive World, with some planets explicitly described as being paradises. There are whole regions of the Imperium that are pockets of stable, relatively safe calm, such as Ultramar. In other words, there actually are halfway-pleasant places to live if you're lucky — or if your name isn't Ciaphas Cain. Games Workshop is largely to blame for this, as they regularly try to assert (or reassert) the dystopian nature of the setting, and planets not infected by "grimdark" can lead people to wonder if it's really as bad as they say.
  • Church Militant: The Adeptus Ministorum, or Ecclesiarchy, exhorts Imperial citizens to kill and die in the Emperor's name. The Ecclesiarchy also supplies priests and preachers to help whip the Imperial Guard into a zealous frenzy, and while it's technically restricted from having its own dedicated army, it employs the the Sisters of Battle, the military orders of the Adepta Sororitas, as the Decree Passive states that it may not have "men under arms".
  • City Planet: The Imperium has two types:
    • Hive Worlds, planets whose surfaces have been covered with Hive Cities. With populations reaching the tens or even hundreds of billions of people and staggering levels of pollution, life on these worlds is typically very unpleasant, especially for the lower classes living in the under hives, even for the Imperium.
    • Forge Worlds, planets controlled by the Adeptus Mechanicus whose surfaces have been completed taken over by factories and which are devoted wholly to building the technology the Imperium needs.
  • Civil War:
    • The Horus Heresy was what turned the Imperium into the barely functioning husk that it is.
    • The Age of Apostasy started as a struggle for dominance between the Administratum and the Ecclesiarchy, which Goge Vandire ended by becoming head of both, and then became a civil war when the Space Marines and the Adeptus Mechanicus rebelled against Vandire's increasingly repressive and bloody rule.
    • The Badab War, the biggest Space Marine vs Space Marine war since the Horus Heresy, is very much an example as to why there are limits to the number of Astartes in a regular chapter.
    • If you're a planetary governor, making a bargain with the T'au or the forces of Chaos is an easy way to bring the wrath of the Imperium upon you.
  • Classical Tongue: High Gothic (which sounds like Latin) and is used as the official language of records for the Adeptus Terra.
  • Classified Information: The Imperium keeps many secret from its citizens. The Inquisition is the most well-known organization in this regard as Inquisitors often study heretical subjects that are too dangerous for the common citizen to learn. The locations of the temples of the Officio Assassinorum are also a well-guarded secret. Even the Adeptus Custodes have classified knowledge of their own, as they guard forgotten parts of the Imperial Palace and whatever is kept there.
  • Commie Nazis: Though neither ideologically fascist or communist (it's more a brutal theocracy right out of the Middle Ages), the Imperium combines the the Soviet Union's ridiculous bureacracy, State Sec and use of political Commissars with the extreme militarism, xenophobia and racial supremacist culture of Nazi Germany, and also blends it with Ancient Rome. It's basically "Humans Are Bastards" embodied.
  • Common Tongue: Imperial or Low Gothic is the term for the everyday language used by Imperial citizens and is translated into English for the sake of convenience. How much Low Gothic varies from planet to planet tends to vary with the source material with some simply having differences in pronunciation and slang, while others making it so that it is almost impossible for two citizens from different parts of the Imperium to communicate without an lot of work and/or an interpreter. Some particularly isolated or primitive planets will also have their own local language that is spoken in addition to, or instead of, Low Gothic.
  • Corrupt Church: As the Ecclesiarch became the most powerful of the High Lords, the Ecclesiarchy became wealthy and at times corrupt. This "Temple Tendency" is considered heresy by the Inquisition following the Age of Apostasy, and is purged with extreme prejudice.
  • Crapsaccharine World: In its glory days at latter part of the Great Crusade, the Imperium was a decidedly optimistic society; seemingly enlightened, prosperous, and practically unstoppable. It billed itself as the shining bastion of enlightenment and human greatness. For anyone who wasn't a good little human citizen, it was a brutal expansionist, totalitarian empire of subject to every demand of an all-powerful Emperor. It engaged in many of the atrocities that would come to define it in the 41st Millennium and beyond, but hid them from the masses with tightly controlled media, endless propaganda, and shallow, self-serving rationalizations like the so-called "Imperial Truth". Many human and Xeno civilizations were slaughtered by legions of genetically enhanced indoctrinated super soldiers for no crime greater than being in the way of the Emperor's need for absolute control. The Imperium has fallen far from those days, but the rot was always there just beneath the gilded gold surface.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: During the Age of Technology, humanity became completely reliant on the Standard Template Construct system for technological development and proliferation, with no other system being nearly as reliable or easily reproducible. Also, control of the process was ceded to the A.I.s running the STCs so humans could enjoy other pursuits. The Men of Iron took advantage of this in their rebellion, corrupting STC databases and wrecking as much of the actual machinery of the STCs as they could. When they were finally stopped, humanity had only fragments of its technological base remaining and few, if any people who had any knowledge of how to fix anything. Millennia later, the current Imperium is still suffering from the effects of this loss of tech knowledge.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Imperial Cult in general, which seems to incorporate several (likely distorted) elements from Catholicism in its veneration to the God-Emperor.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: As the setting is billed as at or near the darkest imaginable, the Imperium is practically an inversion of all modern sensibilities - technology and reason are shunned in favor of blind faith to the Emperor. Fantastic Racism and Absolute Xenophobe are not treated as weaknesses, but virtues. Classism is rampant and encouraged. Overall, the Imperium is geared in such a way that any attempt to reform it out of even pragmatism would probably see the would-be revolutionaries burned at the stake, in part because there's a very good chance the backers of such reforms would be corrupted by daemons.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: The Imperium is going down and they're taking everyone they can with them.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: It is shown time and time again that the harsh conditions of the Imperium do not equal a very well-run state. The only thing keeping humanity together is constant outside threats from xenos forces and Chaos. The administration and logistics of the Imperium are so convoluted, poorly maintained, and overstretched that the only reason the Imperium hasn't yet collapsed in on itself is that the lingering momentum from the Great Crusade means the empire's exponential growth in resources and territory is just barely enough to outpace its exponential decay.
  • The Empire: The Imperium plays every aspect of this trope straight.
  • Evil Counterpart: In a meta sense, the Imperium is the Darker and Edgier counterpart of the Empire of Man from the original Warhammer. They're both theocratic empires led by humans which serve as the bastion of light against Chaos and the other dark forces. However, the Empire of Man is more akin to The Federation with the Elector-Counts enjoying high amounts of autonomy under Sigmar and has alliances with other nations whereas the Imperium of Man is an absolute monarchy ruled by multiple individuals and seeks to exterminate every alien species in the galaxy regardless of their attitudes towards humanity. For all the flaws of the Empire, its darkest hours are still brighter than the Imperium on its very best days.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Nobody denies that the Imperium is the most dystopian and tyrannical government humanity has ever known, but nothing else could survive the unending torrent of horrors that are trying to devour, exterminate, seduce, brainwash, corrupt, vaporize and/or otherwise destroy humanity. That was the official line, anyway; when Guilliman (one of the major Imperial founders) returned and took up the reins of leadership he was absolutely horrified and instituted massive reforms. The Imperium also suffers from a legendary case of Fascist, but Inefficient, and the stopgaps they use to muddle along often involve giving total lunatics way too much power. Additionally, the gradual introduction of other humans societies that are much less oppressive than the Imperium but equally resistant to Chaos has brought the necessity of the Imperium's brutality into question.
  • Fantastic Racism: Fantastic in how bad it gets; for aliens at best they're considered inferior (regardless of any physical or mental superiority said alien race may have over humanity), at worst they're considered something to be destroyed.
    • Xenophobia is deeply entrenched in the Imperial Cult, and every Imperial citizen is expected to hate and fear aliens. This also extends to extreme genetic deviations in humanity itself, as the human genome is considered sacred. While abhumans are tolerated, and some such as Ogryns and Ratlings are useful in the Imperial Guard, mutants are treated as abominations or worse, and creating retroviruses that seek to change it is among the greatest of sins. The Space Marines are technically transhuman, but since they are protectors of the Imperium and were created by the Emperor himself, they are both revered and feared as his "Angels of Death."
    • The Imperium's most hated foes are the Gue'vesa infantry, of all people. Not because they're especially vicious or anything, but rather because they're viewed as race traitors by abandoning the Imperium for the T'au Empire.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Generally speaking, the Imperium takes a lot of inspiration from Ancient Rome and the Holy Roman Empire with dashes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
  • Fatal Flaw: Sloth, to a massive degree and in numerous forms. The Imperium refuses to innovate technologically or scientifically, adapt its tactics to fight new foes, or attempt to make alliances with other major powers to fight more pressing threats (e.g. Chaos, the Orks, and the Tyranids). It is made clear that while the Imperium has good reasons to mistrust these concepts, it's rapidly biting them in the ass and contributing to mankind's gradual descent into extinction. A big part of why things are starting to improve in the age of the Dark Imperium is because Guilliman is willing to bin this dogma where necessary - Cawl has been given permission to advance new ideas among the Mechanicum, the Codex Astartes is being updated to account for new enemies, and the Imperium has made an alliance with of convenience with the Ynnari, and is starting to regain lost ground.
  • Feudal Future: A necessity, given the Imperium's sheer size and the unreliability of interstellar communication. But note that a planetary overlord is not necessarily a baron or other hereditary title: so long as a governor provides the necessary tithes in manpower, sends their psykers to the Black Ships, and keeps things in some semblance of order, the High Lords of Terra don't care if it's a monarchy or republic.
  • Foreign Ruling Class: While the Imperium of Man tend to be portrayed as Absolute Xenophobes, some writers mention minor Xeno races who are just enslaved by the Imperium.
  • Forever War: The Imperium has been fighting against alien races, the infernal forces of Chaos and itself for more than ten millennia. There are entire planets dedicated to the production of war materials and its armed forces are so vast that they have never been accurately evaluated.
  • Future Primitive: While they possess extremely advanced technology by modern standards, the Imperium is staggeringly primitive technologically and especially culturally compared to humanity at its peak in the Dark Age of Technology. The few beings from that time period who survived to encounter the Imperium have lamented with varying degrees of vitriol on how far humanity has fallen.
    • As an example: Space Marine Terminator armor and Dreadnoughts. The armament of the most intimidating soldiers of the Angels of Death? During the Dark Age of Technology, they were just mining equipment, and their usage as battle-armor is still a hasty retrofit in comparison to how they originally performed.
  • The Government: The Adeptus Terra, the "Priesthood of Earth," is an umbrella organization that includes the major Adepts, or government servants. In practice, though, the organizations of the Adeptus Terra are autonomous (and seriously distrustful) of each other.
  • Hopeless War: The Imperium is dying, the vultures are circling, but it has a lot of fight in it yet. A mere hundred years ago, it was at its strongest ever, conquering a thousand worlds in a mere decade, and it still has men and tanks enough to throw into the meatgrinder.
    • With the timely return of Roboute Guilliman, the Hopeless part may have been somewhat averted. Under Guilliman's command, Mankind has repelled the biggest Chaos incursion since the Horus Heresy with the successful Indomitus Crusade. Under his more open leadership, the Imperium has begun to once again develop new technology that would give them the much needed edge in battle. But then again, Chaos is also bringing its own toys....
  • A House Divided: Many Imperial institutions were deliberately designed to monitor and check the others' power. For example, the Ecclesiarchy is banned from keeping "men under arms" to stop cardinals from becoming warlords, while the Imperial Guard is wholly reliant on the Imperial Navy for troop transport for the same reason. While this reduces their effectiveness, it keeps one man or group from seizing control and becoming too powerful, a lesson learned painfully from past experience.
  • Human Resources: Almost every world in the Imperium is required to tithe a portion of its population as soldiers for the Imperial Guard. Some worlds, such as Cadia and Catachan, are so known for this that they label humans as their primary export. The exceptions are worlds controlled by the Space Marines, as their populations are generally expected to work for the benefit of whichever Chapter is in charge.
  • Humans Are Bastards: As an Imperial citizen, you can be sent into a penal legion or even turned into a Servitor (a kind of lobotomised meat robot) for something as simple as unauthorised use of a photocopy machine. And the worst part is, it's all but outright stated that humanity would face enslavement or destruction or a Fate Worse than Death if they did not behave like this; the iron grip of the Imperium is the only thing keeping mankind alive.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: With the Imperium's religious fanaticism, aggressiveness in taking over the Galaxy, overzealous anthropocentricism (see above), and their ability to make Nineteen Eighty-Four look like the cliched portrayals of 1950s America, it doesn't take a genius to see the Nazi parallels.
  • Humans Are Morons: The average Imperial citizen's source of knowledge is enormously untrue propaganda, leaving them ignorant, fearful and superstitious; said traits are even extolled barefaced with those exact words by said propaganda. This doesn't necessarily mean that Imperials are idiots so much as they're either unaware of what's lurking all around them or would rather not know what's out to kill them.
  • Humans Are Warriors: This is why humanity is still alive in a galaxy where everything wants them dead; they have a great many and powerful warriors. Though not particularly great on an individual basis, there's a lot of individuals.
  • Hypocrite:
    • There are quite a lot of Imperial citizens who would like to slay all psykers indiscriminately. Leaving aside the fact that a lack of psykers would cause the Imperium to collapse in a matter of days (if not hours), such an ideology also neatly ignores the uncomfortable fact that the Emperor himself is/was a psyker.
    • The Imperium holds the purity of the human form sacred and regularly hunts down mutants and others with "defects". Their greatest soldiers, the Space Marines, are packed with so many biological and cybernetic enhancements that they can't really be considered human anymore, and they use Ogryns and other abhumans in their Imperial Guard regiments even though they're blatantly mutants.
    • Special mention goes to their policy on Xenos. Their most common accusations are that Eldar are arrogant and always look out for themselves above the lives of others; Orks are murderous, stupid and trigger-happy; and the T'au are sinister imperialists with skeletons in the closet. It never dawns on them that all these things could be said about the Imperium as well.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Rogue Traders are starship captains who seek fame and fortune on the galactic frontiers, discovering long-lost human settlements, exploiting alien species before the inevitable genocide campaign, or searching for ancient archeotech. The more successful ones own military-grade capital ships, if not their own worlds to govern.
  • Just Before the End: The 40K epoch has optimistically been labeled The Time of Ending.
  • Keystone Army: The Astronomican is absolutely vital to the functioning of the Imperium, giving Navigators a beacon in the Warp with which to orient travel for starships and effectively setting the limits and border of the Imperium. Without it, long distance travel and communication across the Imperium would immediately become all but impossible. Multiple "who would win" discussions point out that many of the Imperium's opponents' only chance to win is to rush straight to Terra and take out the Astronomican.
  • Kill It with Fire: This is official policy to all threats to the Imperium — which is everyone.
  • Light Is Not Good: Uses quite some angelic imagery and themes, but it's not really that much better to any other side, though better than a few. Of course, the Imperials say they're the good guys.
  • Low Culture, High Tech: The Imperium of Man is basically the culture of Medieval Europe and everything from the 11th-20th Centuries with technology far beyond it. Meanwhile, the Horus Heresy books suggest that the earlier days of the Imperium took quite a bit from the Roman Empire, with the Imperial Palace in particular looking much more Roman than the Gothic-inspired architecture of the post-Heresy years.
  • Martyrdom Culture: This telling line of wisdom from the Imperium: "Even a man who has nothing can still have faith. Even a man who has nothing can still offer his life."
    • ...AND MANY MORE!
    • Within the Imperium, there are lines known as "Thoughts for the Day", sayings attached to official documents. To sum it up, the Thoughts tell you that life sucks and something horrible is going to kill you in a horrible way, so you might as well kill as many of them for the Emperor as you can before you die.
  • The Masquerade: While it varies by edition and background material, it is Imperial policy to censor information on the greatest threats to Mankind. Knowledge of alien invasions and the mere existence of Chaos is often ruthlessly suppressed to prevent disorder and, in some cases, to preserve the sanity of the general population.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: A billion isn't even considered a significant loss for the Imperium.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: While generally morally black, the exact morality of the Imperium depends heavily on both the writer and which specific sub-faction you're dealing with, considering the vast and decentralized nature of the polity.
  • Mutant Draft Board: Psykers (people with psychic powers) are one of the most useful resources the Imperium can get its hands on. Local governements often round up Psykers to be taken away in Black Ships. From there, the Inquisition, Adeptus Astra Telepathica or any organisation that could use powerful and sane psykers take their pick before the leftovers are used to fuel the Golden Throne.
  • Necessarily Evil: The alternative to some of the Imperium's cruelest policies is humanity as a whole dying out or being conquered by things that make dying out much more preferable. Yeah, it's that kind of setting.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Administratum has planets of them, one of which is on the verge of a civil war on where to store the files.
  • Obviously Evil: The Imperium's use of grim cyborgs, skulls, and intimidatingly large architecture makes it clear they are not about being nice people.
  • One-Product Planet: Downplayed. The Administratum classifies some of its planets and makes them specialize in one kind of service to simplify management. A few examples: Agri-Worlds are covered in fields of crops or livestock and provide the food needed to feed other planets, Forge Worlds churn out all kinds of technological devices, mostly weapons, and Mining Worlds are exploited because they are rich in some type of ore or any other resource.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Staunchly on Order's side with its focus on stability and law and such, and zealously fighting Chaos.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The Schola Progenium, run by the Ecclesiarchy, is an orphanage for children of Imperial soldiers and officials, where they receive a strong Imperial Cult upbringing, with graduates often going on to become Commissars, Inquisitors, Assassins, and other Imperial officials, while a number of the girls go on to join the Adepta Sororitas. Military exercises, harsh discipline, and caustic, unyielding instructors are commonplace, and deaths are not uncommon although they're meant to be avoided as this deprives the Imperial military structure of future recruits.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Deconstructed. The Emperor's vision for the Imperium was a materialist, rationalist secular society disdainful of gods, "daemons" or afterlives. This wasn't because the Emperor thought such things didn't exist, but because he was trying to starve the Chaos gods and keep his people from delving into matters best left unknown (with some lore implying he didn't like the wars that had been fought over religion and was trying to remove opposition to his more extreme methods). This Imperial Truth backfired spectacularly because it was actually other religions that starved the Chaos gods and not only didn't he forewarn people about the Chaos gods, said Chaos gods were still free to try and influence the unprepared people regardless. Today the Imperium clings to its belief in the God-Emperor because those in power know damn well what's out to get them and keep the public as ignorant of Chaos as possible to maintain that status.
  • Planet Terra: While early editions of the game tended to use Earth and Terra interchangeably, subsequent editions have since settled university on the use of Terra, or Holy Terra, for the throneworld of the Imperium, as well as Sol and Luna for the sun and moon.
  • Properly Paranoid: The Imperium goes back and forth between this trope and Improperly Paranoid multiple times in an hour.
    • Humanity was attacked by extensively by alien races during the dark time between the Fall of the Eldar and the Great Crusade, and many of the known alien races of the galaxy are Always Chaotic Evil, so the Imperium has legitimate reasons to have a kill on sight policy for Xenos. However, this policy has made them numerous enemies, which contributes directly to how they are under attack on all fronts. Its historical justifications are also somewhat suspect, as the only evidence for them is largely either Imperial records (hardly unbiased) or statements from the God-Emperor (again, hardly unbiased). There are at least two fully fledged human/alien alliances who were living in peace and harmony until the Emperor ordered them destroyed for refusing to capitulate to his authority and betray their allies.
    • Extreme mutations are a sign of interest by the Chaos Gods, so the Imperium understandably treats mutants with suspicion. This is often a driving factor in mutants joining Chaos, though, creating a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
    • On the one hand, when one single person has authority over the Imperium, they usually become a tyrant, so it makes sense that the Imperium tries to keep its various internal organizations at odds with one another. On the other hand, this has led to many pointless conflicts where the Imperium bled itself of valuable forces because two groups had conflicting orders, showing the downsides of this disorganization. And as is shown with the Emperor, Lord Commander Solar Mecharius, and Roboute Guilliman, the few times whether one person is in charge of the Imperium and hasn't become a tyrant, they usually end up leading the Imperium into a Golden Age. So the jury is still out on how effective this is.
  • The Protagonist: As the largest faction and the main human government, various works of Warhammer 40,000 operate with the Imperium as the main characters. 40K being what it is, "protagonist" is the most neutral term to call the Imperium. Games Workshop has explicitly spelled out that the Imperium is a Villain Protagonist, but that moniker could be applied to pretty much everyone, even on the nominally good side.
  • Puny Earthlings: An unaugmented human is one of the physically weakest sapients in the galaxy. They make up for this with the Space Marines, the best tanks and Humongous Mecha, a decent amount of psychic potential (the Imperium's psykers outnumber the Eldar, but their psykers' abilities far outstrip those of the Imperium's), and a lot of manpower.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Imperium has always had shades of this, but when the Emperor actually reigned, things were a lot more pleasant. After the Horus Heresy, well...
  • Realpolitik: While the Imperium's official policy is to annihilate aliens, this is set aside when it's needed to be. The Imperium has allied with the T'au Empire and the Eldar more than once against common foes, and Ordo Xenos Inquisitors of a more radical bent work with aliens and use xenos technology.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: There are leaders and officials who are actually sane across the Imperium, though preservers of the "grimdark" will have you believe that for every one of them, there are two or three others who are Obstructive Bureaucrats, General Failures and/or Knight Templars.
  • Regent for Life: The High Lords of Terra rule the Imperium of Man in the name of the God-Emperor. Since the Emperor isn't likely to get off the Golden Throne anytime soon, they've been running the show for the last ten thousand years. They include, but are not limited to, the Master of the Administratum, the Ecclesiarch, the Fabricator-General of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum, the Lord Commander of the Imperial Guard, the Lord High Admiral of the Imperial Navy, the Grand-Provost Marshal of the Adeptus Arbites, and representatives of the Navis Nobilite and Inquisition. In the 42nd Millennium, the revived primarch Roboute Guilliman is literally this, as he took up his old post as Lord Commander of the Imperium upon his arrival on Terra and now leads the Imperium as effectively an acting emperor.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: This was institutionalized after the Horus Heresy to make sure no one man could ever topple the Imperium again. A constant, low grade civil war is a small price to pay for this balance in the eyes of the High Lords. Although after ten thousand years, the policy is beginning to backfire on them.
  • Scam Religion: In very early materials, the Imperial Faith was a blatantly false screed used to keep less-civilized worlds in line, which, to the embarrassment of other powerful forces, was beginning to be taken over by true believers. This was Retconned partway through First Edition in favor of a more or less sincere theocratic element within the Adeptus Terra.
  • Screw You, Elves!: The Imperium routinely ignores the warnings of the Aeldari, and rather than arguing, just shoots them. Sometimes this is to their detriment.
  • Skeleton Motif: The human skull is one of the most common motifs used by the Imperium, be it on ships, buildings, flags, medals, anything that can bear a sigil really. Not only it does support the sinisterness of the Imperium for the audience, it also has a good justification in-universe as the skull is notably used to represent the sacrifice of the Emperor for the survival of humanity. Other interpretations also have the human skull represent the human ideal, free from xenos corruption and mutations.
  • Space Age Stasis: Thanks to living in a perpetual state of emergency and the repressive dogma of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Imperium's technology has barely changed in over 10,000 years. If anything, it's slowly regressing as more and more advanced knowledge is lost to time and what remains of old human technology is destroyed in battle.
  • Species Loyalty: Official policy. Those who ally with xenos instead of killing them are considered the worst of traitors.
  • Starship Luxurious: The upper decks of Imperial ships are often lavishly constructed, decorated, and furnished, to the point of being mansions or castles in their own right, although they are solely accessible to the officers, astropaths, navigators, and other high-ranking crew. The normal crew, on the other hand, tend to live in conditions that are only a step or two better than your average slum, and often worse than that.
  • Tarot Motifs: The Imperial Tarot is occasionally consulted as another manifestation of the God-Emperor's will and foresight.
  • Thunder Hammer: Thunder hammers, a gigantic hammer with a tank-splitting energy release, are a favourite of Space Marine Terminators and the Ordo Malleus.
  • Treachery Cover Up: After the Horus Heresy, attempts were made to excise that dark period from history with varying success. Some worlds are dumbstruck when they are confronted by Traitor Marines, while on others Horus's fall to darkness is common knowledge. This has had subtle effects on virtually all of Imperial society. For example, all canonical Space Marine chapters have Chaplains, Badass Preachers of the Imperial Cult whose primary task is to keep their charges from falling to Chaos. But, pre-Heresy, the Chaplains only existed amongst one Legion, the Word Bearers, and this intense devotion to religion made them the very first Legion to fall to Chaos (because then the Emperor was enforcing his ban on religion and aggressively tried to stamp it out of the Word Bearers, and the Chaos gods exploited their crisis).
  • Token Good Teammate: While the Imperium is, as a whole, a repressive Villain Protagonist with the extermination of The Heretic, the mutant, and the alien as standard policy, the sheer scope and size of the setting, the focus on Order Versus Chaos and the number of different writers there have been over the years, there are many individual and organisations in the lore that fall on the lighter side of the Black-and-Gray Morality of the setting, although even these will typically fall somewhere between Anti-Hero and Pragmatic Hero to Well-Intentioned Extremist and Knight Templar. Planetary Governors who honestly work towards to provide the best conditions for their populace, Rogue Trader empires and Inquisitor cells who are accepting of xenos, and military commanders who don't throw away the lives of their men all exist within the Imperium. Unfortunately, they are vastly outnumbered by self-serving scum, fanatical zealots, ignorant followers, savage killers, and those who believe the ends justify any means. Those with good intentions are all but powerless to enact any sort of change on the ossified, nightmarish behemoth that is the Imperium and more often than not are culled by the innumerable dangers in the setting. More often that not, they fall victim to the dangers within the Imperium itself.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: The Adeptus Administratum (the Imperial Bureaucracy), as the administrative and bureaucratic arm of the Adeptus Terra, assesses the tithes worlds must pay to the Imperium, takes census data, and maintains copious records of virtually everything. Unfortunately, ten thousand years has resulted in enormous bureaucratic incompetence. Whole planets can be lost due to rounding errors, Imperial Guard reinforcements can be anywhere from months to centuries late because of bureaucratic inertia, and departments will continue to function long after they're obsolete. The Master of the Administratum is its head and is generally regarded as the most powerful of the High Lords, something the Ecclesiarch has had problems with a few times.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Imperium is struggling in a constant Hopeless War for their own survival against everything else. Played with in weird ways in terms of lore, however. The Imperium was 600,000 worlds strong after its largest campaigns during the Great Crusade, but at the time of the arrival of the Tyranids, it had well over a million star systems under its control. However, even though it was larger, its government was on the verge of total collapse.
  • Villain Protagonist: In most works the Imperium would be one of the most despicable foes that a hero could face, and is noted in the sourcebooks themselves as the "cruelest and most bloody regime imaginable", but, due to the Crapsack World nature universe, the setting's focus on Order Versus Chaos over Good vs. Evil and the the fact that Most Writers Are Human, characters from the faction make up the majority of viewpoint characters. In the words of 2021 Games Workshop:
    The Imperium Is Driven by Hate. There are no goodies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. None. Especially not the Imperium of Man. Its numberless legions of soldiers and zealots bludgeon their way across the galaxy, delivering death to anyone and anything that doesn’t adhere to their blinkered view of purity. Almost every man and woman toils in misery either on the battlefield – where survival is measured in hours – or in the countless manufactorums and hive slums that fuel the Imperial war machine. All of this in slavish servitude to the living corpse of a God-Emperor whose commandments are at best only half-remembered, twisted by time and the fallibility of Humanity. Warhammer 40,000 isn't just grimdark. It’s the grimmest, darkest. The Imperium of Man stands as a cautionary tale of what could happen should the very worst of Humanity's lust for power and extreme, unyielding xenophobia set in.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Despite the usual rhetoric from the Inquisition and Ecclesiarchy, the Imperium is far from monolithic. The various factions in power more often than not can barely tolerate each other and have little to no trust shared. Rebellions and conspiracies are a constant reality across all branches of the Imperium as nearly everyone in power has their own goals. If it weren't for the innumerable external threats facing it from all sides and draconian punishments for disloyalty, the Imperium would have broken up thousands of years ago.
  • We Have Reserves: Just about the only resource the Imperium has a surplus on is human lives. The Imperium makes up for every deficiency by throwing bodies at the problem until it works itself out. This includes food shortages, as evidenced by the aptly-named Corpse Starch. The lives of thousands citizens are considered far less valuable than a single bolter round.

    Important post-Heresy Imperial figures 

Goge Vandire

"I don't have time to die... I'm too busy!"
— Vandire's last words

Goge Vandire attained the important position of Master of the Administratum, one of the High Lords of Terra, through assassination and threats, and later manipulated the Ecclesiarch Paulis III to secure control over the Ecclesiarchy. He became known as a megalomaniac, and at the end, severely insane, triggering the Age of Apostasy that nearly tore the Imperium apart.

  • Amazon Brigade: His bodyguards were all women, and it's implied he used them in other ways as well.
  • Ax-Crazy: He was a sadistic lunatic who when in charge over the Imperium, ordered the innocent and guilty alike to be tortured with glee.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Vandire was executed by Alicia Dominica, the leader of the Brides of the Emperor, after she communed with the Emperor.
  • The Caligula: He quickly proved to be thoroughly insane, and would take great delight in torturing anyone, regardless of guilt or innocence, claiming he was 'purifying their soul'.
  • Evil Overlord: Vandire was the most powerful man in the Imperium since the Emperor himself.
  • Hiding Behind Religion: He pretended to be the chosen of the Emperor. Whether he really thought he was or was lying to gain power for himself is unknown (his manipulation of Ecclesiarch seems to indicate the latter).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: During his takeover, the Cardinals who fled from him were destroyed in a Warp storm which he saw as a sign of the Emperor's favor. Later on, the army he sent to quash the Confederation of Light was also destroyed in a Warp storm. He also claimed to receive visions from the Emperor about who to kill. He was noted as being quite psychologically unstable, so this all may have been a result of his madness. It's also possible that he was being influenced by Chaos; much more unlikely, but still possible, is that he was being influenced by the Emperor, who needed someone to clean house (the High Lords of Terra are notoriously inefficient and bad at their jobs).
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Vandire got the Daughters of the Emperor to serve him by pretending to have magic powers (provided by much more advanced Imperial technology that some societies were ignorant of).
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Vandire killed the Ecclesiarch and took his place, which was unprecedented.

Sebastian Thor

Sebastian Thor was the shadowy and ill-defined figure who led the Confederation of Light and the people of the Imperium in the overthrow of the insane High Lord tyrant Goge Vandire.
  • Creepy Souvenir: The Necron overlord Trazyn the Infinite somehow came into possession of Thor's head, and keeps it in his museum on Solemnace (maybe, several Imperial museums claim to have his skeleton).
  • God Before Dogma: A heroic preacher who led a movement against the Ecclesiarch Vandire.
  • Messianic Archetype: Thor was believed to possess some of the power of the Emperor and gave rise to a Puritan belief in the Inquisition which holds that the Emperor will be reborn if he dies.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: Very unusual for this series, Sebastian Thor died of natural causes.
  • Rebel Leader: Leader of the Confederation of Light opposing High Lord tyrant Goge Vandire.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Despite his pivotal role in Imperial history, very little is known about Thor's life prior to his rebellion against the mad Vandire.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Thor just wanted to go back to preaching after winning his rebellion but the Adeptus Custodes convinced (or frightened) him into becoming the new Ecclesiarch.

Herman von Straub

Herman von Straub was the Imperial governor of Armageddon at the opening of the Second War of Armageddon. In many ways, he embodies many of the Imperium's woes from within the elite. He had ascended to power by murdering his brothers and father, and the proceeded to botch the opening of the war, and eventually return to be a thorn in the Imperium's side during the Third War.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Inverted, since in this case the most evil son was the most ambitious.
  • Blue Blood: Being the son of a Planetary Lord is the Imperial equivalent of being a member of an aristocratic family.
  • The Caligula:
    • His three elder brothers thought he was too weak, stupid, and unsophisticated to see him as an effective ruler, and hence, a threat to power. They were right, but they underestimated the how far he would go to secure power for himself. Part of what got him so far was that he was so brazen and murdery that those who could have halted his ascent to power were simply afraid to confront him.
    • He was arrested and likely would have been put at the end of a rope or a Commissar's pistol by the end of the Second War, but he managed to escape before they could bother. He returned by the Third War, having sabotaged the defenses and invaded Hive Acheron. He made a speech about how he had returned to claim power of Armageddon and secede from the Imperium, despite the fact that he was backed by Orks.
    • In a wider display of this trope, on his return in Hive Acherone, he was regarded as a returning prince, though most of his supporters were the city's nobility. Since they were evidently more loyal to perceived social prestige or to their own class than they were to the Imperium or their own species, we weren't kidding when we said that von Straub represented many of the Imperium's woes.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: He was quite fond of abusing this one, with the prime example being proclaiming his last surviving brother had committed suicide by shooting himself... multiple times... with a still-smoking bolt pistol... that Herman was currently holding.
  • The Evil Prince: He assassinated his eldest brother (and hundreds of bystanders) by ordnance grade explosives; his second brother by a hit-and-run driver; and his third by personally riddling him with a bolter and proclaiming it as a suicide. He then murdered his father, claiming he died of a broken heart, securing power for himself.
  • General Failure: At the opening of the Second War, he had a tendency to mismanage his forces to the point that the Orks were able to defeat in detail Armageddon's forces rather easily, and nearly cost the Imperium the planet. Even after the professional soldiers arrived to take control of the situation, he still managed to hurt Imperial forces by using virus bombs that were positively ancient and ended up reaping as high a toll on the civilians and defenders as it did the Orks. When it became clear that he was being "robbed" of glory by the Imperial commanders who were taking full executive power of the situation, his response was to retreat to a bunker to sulk until he was captured by Imperial forces.

There is only the Emperor, and he is our Shield and Protector.