Who Are the “Baddies” in the Warhammer 40K Universe?

So, yesterday I found myself putting myself in a 40k hypothetical. I was putting my socks on (so, naturally I was day dreaming as you do), and there I was thinking about what side I would have taken in the Horus Heresy. I realised I’d just hit on a damn moral dilemma. If you think about answering my question it’s a tricky one. On reflection, I feel proud and have now declared myself leader of a new group of gamers, the “Warhammer ethics committee” (it’ll catch on trust me, and then I’ll have the last laugh).

Anyway, back to the question at hand, “If you existed in the 31st millennium as a member of the Imperium, (be it a space marine, a member of the solar auxilia, or a humble member of the working class on Terra) would you join Horus or resist him? Firstly, it’s really important that the whole notion of “picking the side that you know won” is tossed out the window because at the time you had no idea, and hey who knows, maybe you could tip the scales in the traitor’s favour anyway.

Nevertheless, the implications of either decision on your own moral conscience is massive. For myself the decision would be a very tough one. From my perspective I’d be either risking my life to maintain a Totalitarian dictatorship, which takes for granted the worth of human life, and uses any individuals regardless of anything as a means to an end. It doesn’t matter whether you’re “good”, “bad”, peasant, Primarch, or anything in between. You all receive the same treatment from the Imperium. You are all used as pawns in the Emperor’s game of chess. On the flip side of this, if you were to turn renegade you’d be promoting an incredible amount of anarchy (I mean chaos by name, chaos by nature), potentially consuming the entire universe, bringing about more suffering and pain than even exists under the Emperor’s rule. Pretty scary stuff to be honest.

And that’s really the interesting part of this question. It’s not about if you’d rebel if you were a powerful influential leader amongst the imperium, or whether you would if you were a nobody. It’s about principles and making a decision, albeit a pretty bleak decision, but one which has real life worth, as often in so many situations in real life we are posed with such crappy choices.

See, for me the imperium is the Third Reich and Horus’ traitors are like Stalin’s red army. The imperium’s rule is a safe bet, after all it’s existed for so long. Although bleak and, well – grim and dark, it’s not going anywhere and there’s always hope. A chance, an unlikely one, but a chance nevertheless that things will get better, and that one day a person might actually hold some value on a real level to those who actually make the big decisions. Alternatively, join the rebellion, fight against the regime, and stick it to that arrogant bloke who’s behind all this evil and suffering, hopefully doing more than just giving him a permanent seat for the next 10 millennia (I mean the Golden Throne pfffffft it’s an easy job really). One must be careful of what they wish for however. Think a little further ahead of decapitating the emperor and you’ll soon realise that the future without him is also pretty bleak, like chaos level bleak.

My decision

There is a third choice I suppose. Take no part in any of the mess, and go off on a jolly around the universe as a fully fledged third-party renegad. Rob a spacecraft, and go out and explore the big wide world! Perhaps I’d join up with my personal favourite Alpha legion, and go along with their shady plan in the hopes that they know best. To be honest, I’d TRUST Alpharius to create a better world order than Horus or the Emperor (really can’t believe I just put that in writing, I mean you know you’re in a dire situation when you’d trust a dude who is probably not even who he says he is). This is a slightly romantic option, but I think easily the most attractive to me, even if it could be seen as a bit of a cop-out. If I had to choose between one or the other, then I’d begrudgingly stick with the Imperium because realistically the chaos alternative under Horus’ rule is going to be nothing short of indescribable awful.

However, the question is simply about what you would personally do if presented with the situation and how would you justify it. In short, I’d justify my renegade non-involvement with the fact that I want no part to play in the immense suffering both options pose in both the long-term and the short-term, and would seek a more passive way of living my life. I think the thought of “feeding the beast”, and contributing to the maintenance of a system that causes such a level of pain sickens me, but equally being a part of replacing that beast with another one makes me feel the same way. For me, I suppose, the choice between each option isn’t really a choice at all, and so I think opting to seek something that doesn’t endlessly produce war is the best choice, even if it is almost certain to be fruitless (at least I tried right!).

It’s then worth thinking about your own real life. By this think back to any decisions you’ve made, will make, or didn’t make, and think about whether you stayed true to your justification. For example, I can think of scenarios in my own life where I’ve both opted to take no action in a situation where two parties could suffer, and situations where I’ve opted to take action in favour of one party and pick a side. I don’t know if that makes me a hypocrite, a situationalist, or something else entirely.

Either way, the moral feel train that I set out of the station just by daydreaming with my socks is steaming down the track. Now I’m considering whether I should be having some kind of a meltdown at the fact that I may be immoral (I’m not but maybe I possibly should be… hmmm).

Regardless ask yourself the same question, then justify it and let me know what you would do at the outbreak of the Horus Heresy, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Laters Traitors!


  • As much as I love Chaos, the reality is it’s more fun playing the “bad guys” than actually being them. So, I would side with the Emperor. I mean, less chance of being killed by your own side…right?

    • Android

      Yeah In reality order is always reliable and naturally if you’re chilling with traitors then they may just do what they do best… BETRAY YA!

  • Interesting idea but even your answers used future knowledge to craft it. You wouldn’t know or even guess Horus would lead to Chaos, most people who followed him didn’t.

    Ultimately I think it comes down to if you met Horus, the Emperor or a Primarch in person. From the fiction there personalities were so overwhelming you would follow them anywhere.

    • That’s a great point. Pretty much the only ones who made choices were the Primarchs themselves. If you were under the service of a Primarch then his choice was yours; same of the Emperor.

    • Android

      That’s a very good point actually, I didn’t even realise! Although much of the Imperium were informed so far down the line that his descent to chaos was the first thing they’d head. However assuming I only knew Horus had betrayed the emperor then my decision would still stand because although I wouldn’t know Horus to be a chaos worshiper I would have known him to be a Tyrant.

      And yeah I’d like to think i’d be able to resist a Primarch or the emperor but in reality there would be a very good chance that i’d join their cause.

      So who knows, your point certainly makes me realise that circumstance has a big part to play!

  • jack shrapnel

    I think you’re missing a fourth option, in the four armed emperor, who’s sure to bring salvation from the skies when the hive fleet gods come to get rid of both the imperium and chaos. I mean this magus guy was handing out pamphlets the other day and he seemed totally legit. There’s this meeting tonight in the miner’s guild where we get to meet this “patriarch” dude who apparently is going to enlighten us on the true nature of the imperium. I’ll let you know tomorrow how it goes!

    • lol. Awesome.

    • Android

      The guy you met sounds a lot like Donald Trump actually, did he talk about making the imperium great again?

  • By judging myself, I believe I would have been recruited and then served the Emperor to the best I could, but I have a tendency to use all resources available, turn the enemies weapon against them. The strict doctrine and attitude from the Imperium would brand me an outcast much like what happen to the Thousand Sons. That sadly would lend my strategic mind to Horus side and thus down the road of Chaos. Perhaps we don’t have choices 8(

    • Android

      Pretty dark and deep stuff… I LIKE IT!

      It’s always a weird one when we think about fate because the more I think about the idea of having choices I realise that I actually don’t particularly get to make a decision all that much at all

  • Eisenwolf

    My first impulsive reaction actually was “no ! horus is the bad guy and i would stick to the imperium” . then i thought a while about it, considering that your not that wrong with your description of the imperium and started thinking again. “Well, the imperium has bad sides and horus probably has right and his intentions where good.” But that satisfied me either. Whats with the resulting chaos ? with all the dead that would cost. But like a bushfire there would be new life afterwards ? But who knows that this life would be better and not just replacing one dictator with the other. Which let me think that all the pressure the imperium put onto its people keep the people on the safe side. Chaos and being converted to chaos with all its bad sides isn’t supposingly a good thing.

    I think i would choose the third option. Trying to keep whats good and trying to change it to the better. Change is a good thing but just vaporizing everything old is imo the wrong way.

    • Android

      Agreed, my opinion was that there is nothing good that could come out of the existence or the destruction of either force. I think peace is so hard to find in the 40k universe but i’d rather spend a lifetime fruitlessly searching for peace than promote one of the two proposed options

  • Damn I cannot answer! I think that a person’s culture ( both in an antropological meaning and in a “humanistic” meaning) could influence the decision: I mean that I could not imagine my decision without knowing my plausible context during the Heresy and furthermore, I can’t imagine my context during the Heresy to do some conjectures.
    The Empire is so vast and different, living on Terra could influence your decision for example than living on another planet. It depends also how you live the Empire, if you are oppressed or not -or oppressor-.

    Also, now we know what after the Heresy happened, so for example living like a renegade of in the Eye of Terror could not be a nice future, above all if you have something to lose!
    I can’t find something like “ok in the Heresy, looking your current life, you should be this and here”, so I cannot decide.
    However really cool post!

    • Android

      Beautifully articulated response, the way I thought about it was what if I got teleported into the situation right at this moment, it was sort of my way of thinking “who should I be rooting for”. So if you were thrown into the scenario right now, like you blink and you’re suddenly part of the imperium, say a pilot of some delivery ship. That’s the way you can sort of determine an opinion on who, if anyone actually was fighting for a cause you deem fighting for.

      • Chaos, become immortal, return in the past i.e. today (I mean, I suppose that lawns of Physics could be ignored when you are half god) and rule the world lol!

        • Android

          The powers of chaos have always been tempting haha

  • I think, were I just some regular citizen of the Imperium on some random planet, I’d not really choose a side until forced to by whatever force. Even then, you may not have a choice anyways.
    If you’re conscripted into the Imperial Army, you fight and die for the Imperium or you just die. If your planet declares for Horus, same deal. If your planet is invaded by either, you’re dead anyways.
    Ordinary citizens fight to maintain the status quo most of the time.
    Space Marines and other organized military units follow orders of their superiors. Some might not agree with the choice and try to rebel or desert, but not a lot. A commander who’s thinking of switching sides makes damn sure he has the backing of his men before making a move.

    In short, the decision relies too much on individual characters and situations to make a blanket declaration for one side or the other.

    • Android

      I sadly agree with much of what you say, but my thinking is that shouldn’t we as humans aim to rise above it though, like shouldn’t we do good for the sake of doing good and not only when it’s easy to do, i’d like to think that’d i’d make the decision I said i’d make no matter what my situation was, because in my mind not contributing to the suffering and the regimes is worth dying for, and so i’d like to think that i’d make that decision no matter what my situation was.

      Sadly though I probably wouldn’t I mean my track record of doing the right thing no matter what is inconsistent in my own life, although I think we can all think of a situation where we’ve put ourselves in a bad spot for the sake of doing the right thing, you know like standing up against the bullies even though we’ll get our own arses kicked by them. I think we all have it in us, the ability to make our own decision no matter what the circumstances would be, but as much as i’d love to say that your view of “you do what you have to do to survive” wouldn’t be true for me, it most likely would be in practice.

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