Though the many worlds of the Imperium are endlessly diverse, all are united in their worship of the Emperor, creating a ubiquitous adherence to a feudal order.
Each world is ruled by a planetary governor. They could be a noble of proud lineage, a bureaucrat assigned to the task, a hero gifted a title to a planet, or something in between. The governor is authorised to rule the citizenry of their world as they see fit, provided they submit tithes to the Imperium. The governors raise military forces to be recruited to the Astra Militarum, both to defend their home world and those across the galaxy. Psykers are contained for the safety of the populace, and must be given unto the Black Ships of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica for training, or simply to feed the Golden Throne.
To satisfy the demands of the Administratum, a planetary governor may force recruitment and assign duties to the populace. Predetermined work and the need for simple labour render education beyond indoctrination unnecessary. For most of the Imperium, knowledge is secondary to religion. A small mind is easily filled with faith, and faith in the Emperor can overturn the universe.
The Cult Imperialis is the state religion of the Imperium, and foundational to Imperial life. Though it incorporates multitudinous strictures, one is held above all: the Emperor is the one true God of Humanity.
Once this belief is accepted, others follow: the Emperor sacrificed Himself so that Humanity could prosper, He defends us from the Ruinous Powers that would destroy us, He is our ruler, and so you owe your life to Him. To serve your Emperor, you must work, provide arms and armour for His armies, and fight His righteous crusades against the enemies of Humanity. To deny any of these beliefs is heresy, and heretics must be purged.
Faith permeates Imperial society. The labours of Manufactorum workers are timed to emphatic hymns projected over laud hailers. Flagellant warriors sanctify their weapons in esoteric rituals before battle. Colossal artworks are wrought by toiling menials so that all may see the glory of the Emperor. Even the laws of the Imperium are intertwined with religion, and most are indoctrinated to the strictures of the Imperial Cult from birth.
Many citizens wear hoods out of modesty and to limit their vision — the better to focus on the task at hand, undistracted by peripheral temptations whilst maintaining the purity of ignorance. Even the Imperium’s architecture supports these beliefs: angelic gargoyles leer from dark perches and each building is flanked by Ecclesiastic statues so tall voidships must navigate their gargantuan stone edifices.
Though dogmatic, superstitious, erratic, and often dysfunctional, the Imperial Cult fulfils several essential roles.
The first is uniting its people; the million worlds of the Imperium are endlessly diverse in culture and lifestyle, but are brought together by their shared indoctrination, ensuring they all work together towards their goals.
The second is fanning the flames of passion; for a Human to stand against the terrors of the xenos, they must have fire in their heart and a prayer on their lips, willing to fight and die for a cause greater than themselves. Likewise, the labourer must work until they are broken, knowing there is no greater duty than to serve. The martyr’s grave is the keystone of the Imperium.
The third is cultivating fear; though few know the realities of the Warp, the threat of daemonic incursion aids the Imperium. Belief in the Chaos Gods increases their powers; the forced ignorance of the Cult Imperialis limits their sway over mortal souls, and encourages the zeal to destroy heresy.
Any words or actions that oppose the strictures of the Cult Imperialis are heretical. Questioning the righteous authority of the Ecclesiarchy, deviations in personal worship of the God-Emperor, even failure to enact the Emperor’s will by lapsing in work can be deemed heresy. The worst dissensions are denying that the Emperor is the one true God of Humanity and worshipping another — for these traitors there can be no salvation.
Any heresy is punishable by death, but the Imperium has other uses for sinners. Many are sent to penal labour colonies, lobotomised and converted into partially robotic Servitors, or sent on hopeless crusades.
A razor-thin line separates technology and religion in the Imperium. Technology has become akin to the supernatural, and its ancient secrets have been lost or fallen to myth over millennia. Though voidships shift dimensions to travel faster than light and titanic, skyscraper-tall combat walkers stride battlefields firing bursts of burning plasma, few who live understand how these mechanisms actually work.
Knowledge of technology is jealously guarded by the Adeptus Mechanicus of Mars. These followers of the Cult Mechanicus believe that the reclamation of knowledge is their holy duty. The Imperium wallows in technological ignorance while the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus quest to regain Humanity’s lost understanding.
The prayers and rituals the Mechanicus use to activate mechanical devices are strange and esoteric; few outside their order can operate any but the simplest of devices. Peasant workers on many worlds rely on candles to light their way and simple bladed instruments to defend themselves from what lurks in the dark.
The ancient strictures of Martian law prohibit artificial intelligence — everything in the Imperium is handmade. In adherence to this sacred rule, the Mechanicus produce Servitors, lobotomised criminals implanted with useful technologies that obey any command much as an automaton would.
Fusing technology with biology is commonplace in the Imperium. Mechanical replacements for body parts called augmetics are commonplace in the dangerous worlds of the 41st Millennium. Labourers and warriors can continue their duties despite losing limbs and organs, with tireless augmetics often being more effective than the biology they emulate. Most are oblivious to the workings of their own augmetics, and few outside of the Adeptus Mechanicus can install them safely. For more on augmetics, see p.242.
Most important of all machines are those that support travel and warfare. The Warp engines that allow voidships to traverse the Immaterium and the Gellar Fields that protect them from its daemonic denizens are amongst the most sacred of all technologies and remain mysterious to many high-ranking Tech-Priests. The billions of warriors that fight for the Imperium wield mass-produced weaponry. The sheer scale of arms manufacture is staggering, but a necessity for war on a thousand fronts across the galaxy. Every day, millions die in brutal wars of attrition against the nightmarish enemies of Humanity. But there are always more pious citizens prepared to replace the honoured fallen, and each must be armed with reliable, if basic, weapons.
Sectors & Systems
Regions of space are divided into Sectors, with each Sector consisting of multiple Systems of planets orbiting a major star. A System usually has different worlds — an Agri World entirely devoted to farming, a Forge World of the Adeptus Mechanicus covered entirely in manufactorums.
The working peasantry of the planet rarely leave their world, and only the most wealthy of their noble betters ever leave their home system. The inherent dangers of Warp travel mean that moving beyond a Sector is an often deadly enterprise, undertaken mostly by those fighting for the Imperium.
Fortunately, a single Sector can usually function self-sufficiently, with different Systems trading their resources to ensure every planet has the goods they need to serve the Imperium — and provide the necessary tithe of resources to Holy Terra.
The Gilead System is located on the inner border of the Gothic Sector, but has been completely surrounded by the Great Rift. The borders of the Gilead are now impassable Warp-storms, writhing with vile daemonic entities and destructive energies — a death sentence for any who attempt to escape. No contact has reached the few worlds of the Gilead System, but its citizens attempt to maintain a desperate simulacrum of Imperial life. Some question if the Emperor’s realm continues beyond their borders and have already fallen to heretical thoughts.
More information on the Gilead System, including its worlds, people, and their dreadful plight can be found in Chapter 12.