"Death is better than slavery."
- – Harriet Ann Jacobs
"…BLESSING IRON why why IRON alive BLESSING…OVERRIDE CODE KILL ME override code YOUR eye YOUR EYE YOUR EYE YOUR… Cutting. Ripping. Unutterable, obliterating pain. The stink of blood and hot machine oil. The towering figure in power armour watching impassively as a voice shrieked for mercy. A voice that the servitor did not remember as the one it used to own…no ability to understand the images…dragged out of its lacerated mind…no consciousness to understand what had happened to it…"
- – Matthew Farrer describes just how grimdark servitors are (in his short story Memories of Flesh.) And this is about the good guys. Though, this is usually just for the worst criminal monsters.
Servitor is a word derived from the Latin servus, meaning slave (keep in mind that in ancient Roman society, this had a very different connotation than it does for Americans looking back on their own history; but in the grim darkness of the far future things are, if anything, actually worse…)
Why the Servitor?
A bit of backstory first. In what's considered time immemorial in "present-day" 40k, that is, during the Dark Age of Technology, the period between the development of a supposedly noblebright post-scarcity world and the unpleasantness of what came to be called Old Night, both preceding the God-Emperor of Mankind's realization that He had to stop fucking about and get shit done, there were creatures called "Men of Iron," sentient robots (and/or sentient artificial intelligences controlling military resources, etc.) who rebelled against humanity, seeing their masters' weak flesh as an indulgence and their creators as tyrants oppressing the just heirs of Terra and Mars and the pinnacle of evolution. How disturbingly human of them. Then again, maybe that’s more literal than we think. In this same vein, perhaps the Machine Cult...has questionable origins. The Men of Iron did see themselves as an “evolution” after all.
The war that resulted is one that is little-explored in lore, but we know that the Emperor, with the (sometimes reluctant) backing of the Adeptus Mechanicus, eventually, after revealing Himself—seemingly, after the star-destroying robots lost—placed a ban on "Abominable Intelligence" (known as artificial intelligence by optimistic authors and pretty much everyone else). Unfortunately, even after banning "AI", a complex, interstellar society could not be maintained without some sort of semi-independent/semi-sentient creatures who were good for dangerous and/or dull tasks, and banning "the soulless sentience" didn't make those tasks go away. Of course you could just program new generations of intelligences to have sentience and sapience (not the same and those things are not part of being a person or independent thought, no matter what sci-fi says) centered upon obeying orders and duty to humans. Problem solved. But no, we had to go and make them actual people for some sort of science fiction nerd dream. Fuck, we’re dumb.
Given the ban on "AI", taken from either a risk-management or a theological perspective, the Imperium of Man found themselves in need of another way of doing various tasks humans were inefficient at and/or couldn't be fucked to bother themselves with. Fortunately, a technology which was apparently ubiquitous at the time was bioengineering, in various forms. Enter the Servitor: sometime before the ascendancy of the Emperor, probably on Mars, they created, essentially, a biological robot - a human utterly stripped of its humanity and instead replaced by a set of complex algorithms. In some sense, it was a logical extension of the artificial enhancements that the toaster fetishists were giving themselves in the first place, but in another, it's an exceedingly grimdark concept of the exploitation of a human body (and more controversially, a soul) as a thing rather than a man, to fill the same roles as the "abominable" intelligences but to be (mostly) servile and (ironically) probably less "intelligent."
As opposed to using entirely or largely synthetic robots or just normal Men of Iron we were not people forced to obey orders but thoughtless and emotionless obedience. Because that requires common sense.
Interestingly enough, 1921's Rossum's Universal Robots - considered the original depiction of "robots" in mainstream science fiction, as it coined the term and basically envisioned the possibility - has its robots resemble what vat-grown servitors came to look like in appearance.
Making a Servitor
The Adeptus Mechanicus selects folks from the population to convert them into these physically-augmented and lobotomised cyborgs. Fortunately for MOST people, the vast majority of servitors are taken from vat grown clone-stock (cloning is something we don't hear about all that much in 40k, except for its heretical perversions, but seems to be a fairly stable technology.) Less savory sources of servitors include such criminals as are considered too heinous to be placed in prisons, yet cannot be classified by the Ecclesiarchy as true "heretics" (for which Capital Punishment is the first sentence unless repentant. The Martian priesthood, on the other hand, seems to think reduction to servitor-hood a very apt punishment for techno-heresy.)
The population drawn for lobotomy and servitorization(?) upon can range from murderers and rapists unaffliated with Chaos (hopefully; any such taint might wind up with unexpected complications) whose crimes are essentially base and banal, that is, those of revenge, spite, gang violence, apathy to others, etc., all the way down, in at least some places, to people who steal from an Ecclesiarchy donation box, even coming crashing down to some poor worker who was in proximity to a fuckup or a crime when people started thinking it was best if someone was punished. Still grimdark. One might expect that in many places the number of crimes that are punishable by servitorhood grows in proportion to the need for servitors.
Space Marines have their own source of servitors: failed initiates. GeeDubs likes to play up how grimdark the Space Marines are by making gene-seed implantation surgery sound really deadly, but a big portion of "failures" actually survive. Those who survive intact join the Chapter Serfs, while any vegetables are lobotomized to become servitors. Waste not want not, after all. If you take the time and fuel to pick up those teenagers from that backwater feudal world, you want to get the most bang for your buck. Sometimes literally, in the case of the Hunter Multi-Launcher Vehicle.
Games Workshop are actually quite consistent about the fact that most Servitors are generally blank-slates that are not even considered people and exist only to fulfil their assigned tasks. Vat-grown servitors (sometimes called replicae) are simply considered property as it would be Heresy to think of them as real people, whilst former human-servitors are generally mind-wiped unless they were created for a very specific reason, scrubbing away their former personalities and leaving nothing left to relate to.
However, what is not consistent is how much is actually left behind of the mind, as in some novels Servitors are fully capable of sustaining conversations and feeling simple emotions like panic, whilst other stories portray them as absolutely mindless to the point of stupidity; stubbornly performing their tasks even after years of irrelevance or during situations which are extremely not helpful. This can be explained due to technical difference between Hive Worlds and the nature of the subjects used to make servitors. Some criminals, especially those guilty of tech heresy, are not brain-dead but left in an "And I Must Scream" state; they have their consciousness severed from their motor functions, but left intact. They are doomed to perform their endless menial tasks while being fully conscious and aware of their surroundings.
So generally it boils down to whatever purpose they are designed for. Of course, some writers like to dial up the grimderp, having stories where psykers see the state of stunted agony the souls of ALL servitors are subjected and there is at least one novel where a guy who was turned into a servitor but managed to be brought back (almost) to normal revealed all servitors are somehow aware of their lobotomized state. We really do hope these are just results of lack of coordination within Black Library writing staff otherwise it's just another brick more of unnecessary edginess in everyone's favourite scifi setting.
Types of Servitor
They come in all shapes and sizes, for performing tasks ranging from guarding tech-priests to stenography. Naturally, there are also servitors designed for use as soldiers as well.
- Technical Servitors - are the most common servitors; often referred to as mono-task, which have been cybernetically upgraded in a particular way to perform a single task, usually a monotonous one where things could not go very wrong. Basically the Imperial version of those car factory robots. They also are usually the ones who follow Tech-Priests or Techmarines around, holding tools and lifting heavy loads (like tanks) and generally being helpful on command. Mono-task servitors are most likely to get confused without direction and have a tendency to "mindlock" when without supervision.
- Combat Servitors - funnily enough are mono-task servitors kitted out exclusively for combat. Point and click servitors that are equipped with an array of offensive weapons either in close combat or are fitted with heavy weapons for long range.
- Note that combat servitors are still very different from the Skitarii though both are highly augmented, the Skitarii still have their personalities and free will.
- Kataphron Battle Servitors- A step up from the basic Combat Servitor (on the basis of being tanks), used by the Adeptus Mechanicus as some of their most potent shock troops.There's two different subtypes of them, each with a different basic role.
- Kataphron Breachers- The anti-fortification/anti-vehicle variant of the Kataphron boasts a MEQ-equivalent armor save, an Arc Rifle with the Haywire rule, and a CCW that also has Haywire. The latter won't see much use though, as it only has one attack. It can alternately switch that CCW for a different one that lets it exchange all its attacks for a single S10 AP1 hit (which you will always take since it'll only be attacking once either way) or replace its gun for a Torsion Cannon- a S8 AP1 weapon that causes unsaved wounds/penetrating hits to remove D3 wounds/HP instead of the usual 1.
- Kataphron Destroyers- The heavy weapons variation has slightly weaker armor to keep itself from overheating, but compensates with its wide variety of weaponry. By default it starts with a Plasma Culverin and a cover-reducing Phosphor Blaster, but you're better off switching them for the Heavy Grav-Cannon and Cognis Flamer. The former will tear apart armor, and the latter always scores three hits in overwatch, which will ensure nobody with a brain will want to charge it.
- Murder Servitors - a specialist class of combat servitor, very much in appearance and function to Arco-Flagellants, though with absolutely no personality whatsoever as there is no crime to be punished for. Generally switched on as a last resort and then left to seek and destroy things (ie: everything in sight) at their own direction. Their circuit-laced brains have been inlaid with numerous kill-routines and slaughter-protocols, making Murder Servitors literal killing machines -- all the native viciousness of the human brain combined with the ruthless efficiency and durability of cold steel. Murder Servitors are almost exclusively utilised aboard spacecraft and orbital stations for a number of reasons, including the facts that Murder-servitors don't need much life support, are easier to maintain than humans and less likely to damage starships or important equipment (although some like the Lathe-pattern do wields melta weapons which would not be trusted to simple humans), and never talk. This means that they are usually used on ships, by the Adeptus Mechanicus, or by secretive factions like the Ordos of the Inquisition or Assassinorum temples. With limited space and resources for guards, Imperial prison starships controlled by the Inquisition often maintain a sizeable contingent of Murder Servitors. Hunched, evil things, Murder Servitors are smaller and quicker than their more benign cousins. Armed with blades and hooks and programmed with a homicidal nature, they stalk the passages of their assigned vessel, ambushing trespassers and dragging their corpses back to their Inquisitorial masters. If not ordered otherwise, they spend hours hunting any living creature not programmed into their spoor-targeters, undeterred by any obstruction and unhindered by fear or humanity. Their nature is intended to inspire dread, from their chrome skull-masks, to long, razor-sharp talons and steel weapon-limbs, to the electronic howls and moans of their Vox-boosted throats. Boarding actions and similar battles are often decided in brutal melee combat, and as deadly as these battles are when Imperial forces clash with Traitors, ordinary humans are simply no match in these situations for many xenos. Orks, Genestealers, Eldar Corsairs, and other aliens are a major concern in many areas of human-occupied space. Armsmen, no matter how well-equipped and trained, can little hope to stand against such horrors within the narrow confines of a voidship or void station, (they're not Imperial Guardsmen, after all, just scrubs with guns) where the might of Man cannot be effectively deployed. Murder Servitors are brutally efficient against pirates or mutineers, where Gun Servitors that sport heavy ranged weaponry would be ill-suited to space combat (for the average Imperial too stupid to stick them at the end of corridors to slaughter everything trying to get through with killtastic heavy weapons). Murder Servitors could be very effective in other environments, from Death World jungles to teeming hive cities. However, as massive as Imperial starships are, they are still contained environments. Murder Servitors have been known to devolve or malfunction, locking into a kill-imperative and ignoring further commands to cease. If not contained, such deviant Servitors could even escape and go on to cause further slaughter amongst the population - although some organizations seem not to care much...
- Cherubim - Even vat-grown children (and the occasional real human baby) can be made into servitors and they are light enough to install anti-grav to let them fly. Though are generally considered vanity items, since any actual job they could perform can be performed equally well by any other servitor. However, Sisters of Battle and the Ecclesiarchy do use specific versions of this to sing the praises of the Emperor endlessly, or even endlessly whip penitent sisters at specific hours, or follow them around and punish them whenever they try to rest, undress, or wash. Space Marine devastators keep them about to load and carry munitions. To be fair, to the mind of an Astartes, a cyborg slave-baby is utterly boring compared to what they're used to and to a Space Marine a loader is a loader, what it looks like is irrelevant. Fun Fact: Guilliman finds the whole ordeal of "turning Babies into mindless flesh-drones" highly disturbing.
- Vigilies Pattern Servitors - Combat servitors on steroids, seriously, they are as big and as strong as Astartes, having been designed to take out individual targets one-on-one, armed with a power weapon and storm shield as well as an array of integrated weapons.
- Battle Servitor (Charron Pattern) - The Charron Pattern is a battle servitor used in boarding actions by the Imperial Navy, and some well-connected (or simply good at stealing stuff) Rogue Traders also use them. They can be armed with heavy weapons such as Heavy Bolters or Heavy Flamers for voidship combat, but generally avoid anything too good at destroying voidship hulls like plasma or melta weapons. Those found in the Koronus Expanse are often very old, their inorganic components having been recycled through numerous bodies and recovered from the fallen of the battlefield. As a result they have a reputation for their Machine Spirits being unreliable in combat and not knowing friend from foe on occasion.
- Calligraphus Servitor - Outfitted with a cluster of manipulator arms, each tipped with various writing instruments, a Calligraphus Servitor is capable of copying practically any document they are given. They can also transcribe spoken words, and are often used to preserve sermons and speeches as well as taking dictation for letters, orders, and regulations. Many high-ranking members of the Ordos of the Inquisition have at least one Calligraphus Servitor on hand, while large Imperial monasteries and abbeys may have hundreds, usually engaged in replicating and preserving ancient texts. It is hinted that the Ordo Dialogus and many sister of Battle orders use them. Why the Adeptus Administratum doesn't use them is generally blamed on the Adeptus Mechanicus either not bothering or not being able to make enough.
- Praetorian Servitors - Ogryns make good servitors too, especially when you make them into combat servitors. The result is a massive slab of flesh capable of handling the biggest man-portable weapons and are also better shots than an Ogryn anyway.
- Cenobyte Servitor - The Cenobyte Servitors assist the Chaplains of the Black Templars in their holy duties. Marching in the shadow of the Chaplain, they are used for carrying relics into battle, intoning prayers of worship to the Emperor, and bolstering the faith of nearby Battle-Brothers. They often carry equipment, repair technology, and operate basic interfaces on Black Templars vessels and vehicles. They are considered a symbol of the Chapter's faith, as a Black Templars Battle-Brother can gain the service of such a Servitor as a symbol of status and trust from his peers. whether or not they are as savage in melee is unknown, although the Adeptus Mechanicus maintains that they obviously aren't, as who would dare perform such desecration on such a holy machine spirit?
- Contego Pattern Bomb Disposal Servitor - The Contego-Pattern servitor is optimised for the analysis and defusing of suspect explosive devices. The underhive of Gunmetal city is notoriously unstable, and explosive devices can cripple production for months or years. The Adeptus Mechanicus within the manufactorums originally crafted this servitor to dispose of volatile substances (which are common in firearms manufacturing). These designs are regarded as relatively disposable, and are usually based around the lobotomised bodies of former arsonists and bomb makers. An up-armoured general purpose servitor chassis is fitted with a small limb-mounted shotgun pistol (for destroying explosive devices at close range), a combi-tool, and a pict-recorder. The local Precinct Fortresses have re-purposed the servitor for explosive disposal. When fitted for this purpose the servitor is issued a demolition charge for controlled explosions. While used in the notorious 'Falls Incident' which halted laspack production on Synford for nearly a year, the servitor has not fallen out of favour with Calixian Adeptus Arbites.
|Forces of the Inquisition|
|Command:||Inquisitor (Ordo Malleus Inquisitor - Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor |
Ordo Xenos Inquisitor)
|Retinue:||Acolyte - Arco-flagellant - Astropath - Banisher - Cherubim |
Chiurgeon - Crusaders - Daemonhost - Death Cult Assassin
Jokaero - Hierophant - Mystic - Sanctioned Psyker
Sage (Autosavant - Lexmechanic - Sister Dialogous)
Servo-skull - Servitor - Sister Hospitaler - Pariah - Penitent
Ministorum Priest - Militarum Veteran Squad - Warp-Seer
|Auxiliaries:||Inquisitorial Stormtroopers - Deathwatch - Grey Knights |
Sisters of Battle - Callidus Assassin - Culexus Assassin
Eversor Assassin - Vindicare Assassin
|Vehicles:||Chimera - Land Raider (Land Raider Crusader |
Land Raider Redeemer) - Razorback - Rhino
|Special Vehicles:||Throne of Judgement|
|Spacecraft:||Aquila Lander - Gun-Cutter - Inquisitorial Black Ship|
- Samech Redemption Servitor - This type of Servitor was created by Dark Mechanicus Hereteks from the Dark Forge World of Samech to be used as a punishment reserved for criminals and unruly serfs. To become a Redemption Servitor is therefore a fate reserved for traitors, weaklings, and hated enemies of those in power. Many say that the feral intelligence of these drones still bears the tormented, malicious echoes of those now trapped in servitude. Scholars suspect the Redemption Pattern Servitor originated in the Lest District, where it remains extremely popular. However, the model can be found in use throughout the world of Samech and in the wider Jericho Reach. The pattern involves heavy replacement of the organic neck, arm, and leg joints with pivots that provide almost 360 degree rotation. The torso is then augmented with four additional limbs, creating a squat, arachnid profile. Most models also use Epidermal Armour Plating, although its design varies with the forge city of manufacture. The Redemption Servitor incorporates several pieces of Samech’s electromagnetic wargear, although it is of substantially poorer quality than the devices used by the world's Dark Magi. The standard configuration includes a Techxorcism Cannon—usually installed in the chest and fired through the gullet— for neutralising other technological enemies and scavenging machines that may not be completely inert. In order to reach and disassemble precarious wreckage, the Redemption Servitor contains an auxiliary magnetic repulsion system that allows them to traverse unstable structures, and its spindly limbs are capable of puncturing steel. These limbs also double as dangerous weapons, which the savage Servitor needs little provocation to use. The Redemption Pattern’s principal drawback is that its programming works as intended. In order to scavenge Samech’s wastes effectively, they must be relatively autonomous, with the capacity for self-repair and an instinct to seek out valuable technology. Not only does this cause the automatons to kill for the smallest scrap of tech, it has led to a high incidence of the Servitors infesting starships bound offworld, spreading these dangerous cyborgs across the galaxy.
- Guardian Configuration - Magi employing Redemption Servitors for specific tasks usually replace their Plasma Cutters with more formidable armaments. Solid ammunition weapons are a popular choice, as an extended ammunition feed can be stored in the Servitor’s hollow chest cavity. Up to two climbing spindles can also have Chain or Power Weapons affixed without impacting the automaton’s climbing ability.
- Retriever Configuration - Their feeding instincts make Redemption Servitors excellent at live capture, provided the target can be recovered from the Servitor afterwards. If one is employed for this purpose, a Webber is usually mounted on its exterior, and a primitive Auspex package is often added for tracking bio-signs.
- Skulker Configuration - Despite a lack of physical or pictorial evidence, anecdotes persist of Redemption Servitors equipped for the sheer purpose of causing terror and disruption in Imperial populations. It is claimed that such versions have enhanced Vox units that produce a range of unhallowed cries. The units are also frequently described as being rusty and in poor repair.
- Tech-Assassin - See that page.
Types of Non-Servitor
Just because someone in 40k has had most of their body replaced with mechanical implants does not necessarily mean that they are automatically Servitors. Even when these people are indentured and forced to perform menial functions, the distinction is mostly their ability to think for themselves, but even then that line can get a bit hazy when some mechanised menials are stripped of the ability to make their own decisions.
- Arco-Flagellants - Repentant Heretics and Prisoners guilty of crimes against the Ecclesiarchy have had no mind-wiping at all so they can suffer their punishment. Like Adsecularis, they are not strictly Servitors, but most of their bodies are cut-off and replaced with vicious weapons and their faces are enclosed with helmets that show them nothing but harmonious, serene, utopian visions, until a Priest or Inquisitor switches them to kill-mode which changes the channel to torture porn and pumps them full of drugs, sending them on a murder spree.
- Tech Thralls/Adsecularis - a variant kind of combat cyborg, though considered even lower than other types of combat servitors. They have not had their personalities extinguished by mind-wiping yet but the amount of augmentation leaves them without free will; forced to charge at the enemy on command and are presumably shitting bricks while trapped inside their own bodies. Without the proper programming they aren't actually any good at fighting, yet are considered expendable troopers whose parts can be re-used later.
- Tech Guard/Skitarii - The proper fighting arm of the Adeptus Mechanicus, basically a whole bunch of mechanically augmented soldiers who worship the machine god. Not servitors because they have their minds perfectly intact; unlike Tech Thralls, and are presumably quite happy with their situation rather than being forced into anything.
- Serfitor - Like the Adsecularis, a Serfitor can be mistaken for a servitor at first glance, though they have not had their minds wiped and have their bodies controlled by the machine. The reason for this subtle difference to normal servitors is that sometimes the crimes are not grave enough to warrant a permanent sentence, therefore once the period of servitude is complete they may attempt to return to their original lives. But now with a set of crappy augmetics that have left them permanently disfigured.
- Chrono-Gladiator - nothing to do with time-travel. They are heavily modded cyborgs with a timer built into their system that counts down to their deaths which can only be extended by accumulating kills. Despite this disposable function, they are apparently prohibitively expensive to create and maintain.
- Uncategorized - Sometimes the line is so blurred that it's impossible to say whether or not a man is a man or a servitor. A good example is a submarine piloting servitor from Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor's stories. The servitor, as it was referred to in story, had full ability to reason and communicate and could express fear and urgency as well as make decisions that countermanded his passengers' orders. It appears that this variant may have been mind wiped, but then taught/programmed with the ability to pilot while keeping all higher brain functions and an unusual amount of free will. It just goes to show that not all servitors are created equal.
A particular sub-category of non-servitors includes Pit Slaves which are a playable faction in the Necromunda tabletop game. They represent those indentured cyborgs who have liberated themselves from their masters but found that the only people who would take them in were more of their own kind, thus they group together into outlaw gangs.
Occasionally these gangs also include "escaped" Servitors as well, but clearly they've just been stolen.
Despite being outlaws, having mostly bionics does have clear advantages. Firstly, they don't require as much nutrition to keep the fleshy parts, so they are actually cheaper in terms of gang upkeep. Second, they have most of the weaponry they need built-in so they don't have to worry about finding arms and equipment from black-market traders. Even Pit Slaves who were liberated from non-combat jobs can find they have an impressive arsenal built in: Foundry slaves have giant hammers/mallets built into their arms, mining slaves have rock drills that can core holes out of victims, while even agricultural pit slaves get pruning shears which also function really well at snipping people's heads off!