- "Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd."
- -- Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays.
In Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man uses "xenos" as a catch-all term for any non-human life forms. For example, the Ordo Xenos is the branch of the Inquisition which deals with aliens, and they have whole litanies about what happens to Xenos they get their hands on, like "Mark of the Xenos" (also the name of a Deathwatch supplement).
Please note that "Xenos" is the plural AND singular spelling of the noun and adjective. This practise of using the unified form of this term for both singular and plural is inconsistent with the actual declension of 'xenos', which takes Greek inflections to reflect case and number as a noun, and case, number, and gender as an adjective. The technical plural form of 'xenos' in the nominative is 'xenoi' and accusative as 'xenon.' "xeno-" is a prefix used to denote the xenos origin of something, and Xeno is a character from Tau Quest whose name derives from "xeno-abomination".
If a scenario like that of Alien Nation or Men in Black happened in which extraterrestrials come to Earth in search of citizenship, the word Xenos would quickly become listed as Hate Speech due to the actions of /tg/.
Xenos in the Galaxy
The setting of 40k is full of Xenos that are completely original and in no way inspired by any other source (quietly kicks a copy of Lord of the Rings discreetly under the table)
Each Xenos faction comes with its own rich and engaging history, play style and unique aesthetics that set them apart from their foes. They also bring a nice change of pace from the constant presence of the Adeptus Astartes. Do you play the brutish ramshackle Orks, the elegantly swift Eldar or the never ending chittering swarms of the Tyranids the choice is yours?
Each faction presents a powerful threat that could, maybe, eventually prove to be the Imperium’s doom should the forces of the Emperor falter in their duty or weaver in their devotion. To be a human in the armies of the 41st Millennium is to face powers beyond imagining. To stand against such nightmarish enemy’s, that even now move to bring doom upon the domains of man is to stare into the very face of madness and despair.
Although playing a more support role within the setting with the Imperium taking up the primary protagonist’s role and the main antagonist being the forces of Chaos, Xenos do still have a role to play.
With the Fall of the Eldar and the calming of the Warp storms that had up until then isolated the many human colonies that were spread across the galaxy the Emperor took advantage of the newly created galaxy wide power vacuum to launch his Great Crusade. During the Great Crusade the Emperor announced that Humanity had a preordained destiny to rule the stars and was the one to pen the phrase "Suffer not the alien to live", giving orders for the extermination of Xenos. So stringent were his orders that when Primarchs like Horus and Fulgrim did seek to interact with Xenos, their men protested that it was against the standing orders of the Emperor to do so. The armies of the Emperor of Man spread across the width and breadth of the galaxy butchering all that stood in their way, including many human civilizations that had survived the horrors of Old Night and refused to bend the knee in submission to this man that claimed the title of Master of Mankind. The resulting genocides led to the extinction of entire species including many of the older races that had existed since before humanity had first looked up at the stars. Even groups such as the Diasporex, a combination of humans and Xenos living in harmony, were exterminated simply for existing, their human membership slain as well for refusing to abandon their Xenos compatriots to extermination.
Since then the threat of Xenos has mostly always remained a frontier matter, with most noticeable concentrations of Xenos restricted solely to the outer reaches of the Galaxy, or contained in sectors where they posed little threat to the Imperium. Excluding the Orks, most Xenos have been eradicated or reduced to such small numbers that they present no significant threat to the Imperium, with the Xenos population of the Galaxy combined being inferior to that of the Orks or Humanity. Between the end of the Horus Heresy and the beginning of the 41st Millenium the only major Xenos threat to emerge was that of the Beast Waaagh!, a potent combination of powerful Ork Warlords and their armies, who assailed the Imperium briefly, before being slain and their forces totally destroyed.
The beginning of the 41st Millenium saw two new Xenos threats rise to actually endanger some parts of the Imperium; the extragalactic threat of the Tyranid Hive Fleets, and the rising of the Necron Tomb Worlds. Both of these pose a more considerable threat than any Xenos before, the scope of the Tyranid attack being impossible to know, and the Necron representing a species possibly as numerous and technologically advanced as the Imperium itself.
With the dimming of the light at the end of the 41st millennium humanity may find that the old proverb “as you sow, so shall you reap” may hold more truth then they might want to believe.
- Orks -The Orks are the endless green tide ready to sweep across the galaxy in an unstoppable waaagh should they ever be united with a singular purpose. It is the saving grace of the other inhabitants of the galaxy that they remain a divided force devoid of a central command. If a Warboss was ever able to unite the many Ork klans under one banner then the very heavens would tremble in fear.
They are the most numerous Xenos species native to the galaxy, or at least most numerous until such a time as the Necron are all awakened as some fluff has implied the Necron are just as numerous if all are awakened. Orks are actually a bio-engineered warrior race, or at the very least a degraded version of a bio-engineered warrior race, known as the Krork. Orks live for conflict and battle, their entire society and civilization revolving around it, and as a result are perpetually in conflict or, otherwise, seeking a conflict. This behaviour has also left the Orks disunited as a species, with Orks being prone to battling each other as much as other species.
- Craftworld Eldar -The Eldar are the dying light in an ever darkening galaxy but even as their flame flickers they refuse to allow themselves to be extinguished. Many among their kind seek to regain what was lost and to transform their weak flame into a burning light to bring about a new dawn for their race; but if this is to be their end then they will face the growing darkness standing with blades ready in hand not cowering upon their knees.
Craftworld Eldar live, predominantly, within enormous ships known as Craftworlds that at one time served as vast trading vessels for the Empire of old. Within the Craftworlds the Eldar try to preserve what remains of their Pre-Fall history and culture as best they can but even they cannot stop the slow and inevitable degradation of time as older generations are lost and the memories of their glories pass into myth and legend. Like all Eldar, they are survivors of the calamitous event known as The Fall, which destroyed the old Eldar Empire. Those who live on the Craftworlds attempt to control and direct their emotions and psychic power in order to prevent it corrupting them like it did their ancestors, and thus have a highly regimented social system known as the Paths.
- Dark Eldar – The Dark kin are the very incarnation of cruelty in all its many forms. From their shadowy nightmare realm the strike out to bring misery and horror upon an unsuspecting galaxy. Those who know of them know that it is better to die then be taken by these sadistic bastards. Pray they do not take you alive.
Dark Eldar represent the portion of the population which has refused to give up on the cruel and barbaric lifestyle which caused The Fall in the first place. Instead, they have moved into the alternate dimension known as the Webway and mostly exist within the enormous Port City of Commorragh. Dark Eldar must feed on the pain and suffering of others to stave off their souls being consumed by She Who Thirsts, and as a result have developed a society and culture predicated on the capture and torture of others in increasingly inventive manners. Dark Eldar are among the most notorious corsairs and raiders of the Galaxy and are the bane of many an Imperial admiral.
- Exodites - The original Eldar exodus, the first to notice the decay of their old Empire and leave it, were the Exodites, effectively Eldar Hippies of a sort who decided to renounce advanced technology in the belief that it had fostered decadence and spiritual corruption. Instead, they live lives in tune with the nature of their Worlds, attempting to eke out peaceful existences there.
They live an almost nomadic existence following the great herds of “dragons” and although they may appear highly vulnerable to attack they are still capable of defending themselves with their Dragon Knights and their reptilian dragon mounts. They also in time of great need have their own guardian equivalents of the Wraithknights known as the Fire Gale’s, Bright Stallion’s and Towering Destroyer’s. Against greater threats such as a large Ork waaagh however they are still heavily dependent upon the Craftworld Eldar to defend them from harm.
- Harlequins - One of the smallest but also the most elite the of the Eldar groups, the Harlequins are Eldar who worship the sole intact and surviving Eldar God: Cegorach. Masters of moving through the Webway, Harlequins are mostly devoted to attempting to find ways to defeat the Chaos Gods. They serve as negotiators between the different branches of the Eldar society, helping to forge alliances between the different groups in the name of a greater cause at times.
- Ynnari - Perhaps the smallest of all the Eldar's numerous subfactions, the Ynnari are Eldar dedicated to the worship of Ynnead, the newly born Eldar God of Death. The Ynnari have only recently emerged and follow what is known as the Seventh Way, a prophecy which supposedly reveals a way through which their god Ynnead can be fully roused without exterminating all living Eldar.
- Necrons -They are the terror from a forgotten age that intends to reclaim the Galaxy from the weak parasitic races that now claim ownership of what was and always will be theirs. To the Necrons there is no war in the future only pest control.
Among the oldest species of Xenos in the galaxy, Necron are a largely mechanical species of ancient Xenos who are beginning to awaken throughout the Galaxy. Due to a process in the distant past most Necron have become little more than mindless robots, with only their leaders displaying true self-awareness or intelligence. The Necron are an ancient and powerful species, who's numbers are bolstered by the consistently increasing number of their worlds which are reactivating.
- Tyranid -Fear the shadow in the Warp for they are coming to consume all and when they are finished nothing will remain.
A Xenos race not native to the Milky Way Galaxy, the Tyranid are a voracious species of Xenos linked through a gestalt intelligence known as the Hive Mind which directs the species. The Tyranid are largely a predatory species, seeking to consume as much biological matter as possible in order to make use of it for themselves. Thus far their forays into the galaxy have usually been blunted before they made significant headway, but due to the nature of their existence as a species outside the Milky Way Galaxy, it is difficult to know the extent of the Tyranid at current.
- Genestealer Cult - One of the most nefarious weapons deployed by the Tyranid are the Genestealer Cults. These cults, born from the intermingling of Genestealers with other beings, can emerge on numerous worlds and work to undermine the defenses of said planet due to a mistaken worship of the Tyranid as saviours, in turn making it far easier for the Tyranid swarm to consume.
- Tau Empire - A recently emerging faction within the Galaxy, the Tau Empire is an expansionistic state which seeks to incorporate other Xenos into it where possible. Adept at technological advancement and well-known for their ideological commitment to the Greater Good, or Tau'va, the Empire is at current still very naive regarding what is waiting for them beyond their boarders. Within the confines and safety of their boarders the Tau confidently look towards the future but they are blissfully unaware that although they may be the big fish in a small pond at the moment, within the deeper waters there are leviathans waiting to be discovered.
- And All the Rest - There are millions of habitable worlds in the galaxy, as well as pockets of space or unreality capable of supporting life. The number of xenos species in the galaxy beyond those that have star-bound armies (and therefore codecies) is staggering. Scythians, Hrud, Ambul, Vampyres, Lacrymoles, and a thousand others are out there. Some act as traders, others pirates, others parasites. Some have never been offworld. Some have destroyed entire star systems. While the power struggles of the big players play out, a million lesser empires lay in wait for their moment to rise.
Within the galaxy of Warhammer 40,000 Xenos are the least important and influential of the three main factions, rarely managing anything of note on their own other than catastrophic defeats at the hands of Space Marines. Whilst the Imperium are the Protagonists of the setting and Chaos the primary Angtagonists, Xenos tend to fill a spectrum of lesser roles in between these two poles, usually only being important in the way they assist or impede these two larger factions. Part of this is also due to the fact that Xenos inhabit less of the Galaxy than anyone else, with the vast majority of the material galaxy being controlled by the Imperium and the majority of the Warp being controlled by the forces of Chaos. Broadly speaking Xenos can be divided into three broad categories concerning their Role in the narrative of 40k;
These are the Xenos who tend to exist as a largely faceless horde of mooks who are gunned or chopped down in droves, usually with little dramatic tension, and more as a way to demonstrate how badass or awesome the protagonist is. These Xenos tend to play the role of a lesser antagonist, not as dangerous as Chaos, and having little true power, but an antagonist nonetheless. These are the antagonists against whom it is most common for the protagonist to win bloodless victories or overwhelming victories, to demonstrate the difference in strength between the protagonist and these lesser antagonists. Similarly the NPC Xenos also often plays the role of demonstrating how powerful Chaos is, without allowing Chaos to actually beat the Imperium, by either losing or being supplanted by Chaos at a point in a story line, to make clear the true threat was Chaos all along. Orks, in particular, are adept at this tactic of being an initial, rather minor, threat who is then replaced by a more severe Chaos threat later.
Chaff are characterised by the fact that, no matter what, they will almost always lose the war in the end, regardless of all circumstances, and there will rarely be any long term negative consequences of battles with them. They will also usually be vastly inferior to the protagonists, being killed in one-on-one duels and such to showcase the superior fighting abilities of their foes. Ork Warbosses and Eldar Avatars of Khaine are two of the most commonly used examples of this, often dying to establish some or other protagonist as a badass.
Although Orks and Tyranid tend to be the most commonly used Chaff, as of late the Craftworld Eldar have seemingly become quite prone to being Chaff too, with battles such as the attack on Yme-Loc, the Battle of Orar's Sepulchre and more usually having the ancient and elitist soldiery of these factions gunned down in enormous numbers and absolutely powerless to do anything.
Examples incude: * Orks * Tyranids * Craftworld Eldar (To a certain extent only)
This type of Xenos usually poses little to no actual threat to the protagonist, although expect the story to usuall start with the protagonist battling them to showcase the protagonist's superiority. The Ally is almost always in possession of some critical knowledge or device, usually relating to a Chaos Threat, which the Ally will prove impotent to handle on its own, instead resorting usually to giving the protagonist the role of actually ending the threat, often after trying and failing themselves. Although a betrayal is not always necessary, and more than enough of these alliances will not have a betrayal occur, expect at times a final twist in which the protagonist also kills the Ally before they can backstab them.
Although in general these alliances tend to be momentary and not have longer lasting ramifications, it should be noted that the recent plot development of the Ynnari subfaction of Eldar seems to have seen the Imperium gain a possible permanent vassal Xenos faction.
Examples include: * Tau Empire * Craftworld Eldar * Harlequins * Ynnari * Necron
These are Xenos who fall into the same category as the oft-mentioned 'there was a Cult Uprising' fluff extracts in 40k. These are characterised by tending to be nothing more than a mention of their existence, before a quick mention that they are now all dead, usually due to some Space Marine force attacking. These Xenos tend to not even have an illusion of threat, such as Chaff Xenos, and are very much just hand-waved away the same way Cult Uprisings tend to be, being very quickly destroyed and without any significant impact.
Due to the very nature of their existence there are few examples of these types of Xenos, seeing as they tend to simply exist as a single name mentioned to have already been destroyed. Two common examples which are frequently reused, however, are the Genestealer Cults and Exodites. Exodites, in particular, are usually only brought up in a story to describe how they die awfully.
Examples incude: * Genestealer Cult * Exodites
Separate to these well-defined roles, all Xenos play the part of the 'Worf Effect' role, dying or losing so as to establish their opponent's power. Whether it is to Chaos or the Imperium Xenos will frequently only appear to be bested in some or other manner, usually to solidfy how powerful a particular character or faction of the Imperium or Chaos is. This category is very much often occupied by specific Xenos characters too, and tied to certain events, and can be found most frequently in Black Library novels, in which almost any Xenos antagonist introduced will be built up as a threat but, almost, inevitably be either dead or running by the end of the story.
Xenos and Chaos
As a whole, the Chaos Gods seem to have little interest in Xenos as humanity on its own provides them with such an abundance of easily manipulated and corruptible beings that they have quickly become the Ruinous Powers favourite playthings. With the sole exception of Slaanesh's desire to devour the Eldar, there is rarely much attempt by the forces of Chaos to corrupt the more well known xenos species, but it is highly likely many minor xenos races that are not given much attention in the fluff are under their influence. During the Great Crusade there were a number of Xenos who worshipped Chaos, but these were rather quickly and effortlessly annihilated by the Imperium; but not before they had spread their teachings to those within the Imperium itself who proved to be far too easily swayed. By the 41st Millenium there are no known large or significant concentrations or factions of Xenos serving Chaos, mostly due to the ones that escape Imperial notice being as small and disorganized as any other Chaos cult.
- Eldar- Despite having souls that burn brighter and stronger within the Warp, they are not taken by the other gods as they are the sole property of Slaanesh who claims and devours their souls upon their deaths, unless precautions have been taken to avoid such a fate. Sporadic hints of Eldar who willingly gave themselves up to Slaanesh have been made, but are considered to be mere speculation both in-universe and out-of-universe. Even the Dark Eldar, who would otherwise be ideal servants of Slaanesh, fear and despise it (if only for purely selfish reasons).
- Necrons – They are what you could describe as being the very opposite of what the Chaos gods are looking for due to not having souls. Without souls, they're absolutely worthless even as slaves, and their innate anti-Warp attributes make them a threat rather than a potential too. Although they are not beyond corruption themselves, as seen with Lucius' capacity to possess them. Additionally Chaos has been known to frequently possess advanced machines despite their not possessing a soul so Necron may be more vulnerable than first thought.
- Tyranids – Their minds are too alien for Chaos to corrupt them; an individual Tyranid can no more be turned against the collective than an individual cell can voluntarily rebel against the organism it belongs to. When the two sides come into conflict, it’s like watching a battle between an immovable object and unstoppable force; the daemons are weakened by the presence of the Shadow, and the Tyranids gain nothing from victory other than continued survival.
- Tau Empire – The Tau have a very weak presence in the Warp and possess a small fraction of territory compared to the other races of the galaxy; however, their disbelief in Chaos means that should the Ruinous Powers choose to move against them they will be as blindsided as the Imperium was during the Horus Heresy. The kroot, on the other hand, have a much more robust warp presence and can, do, and have been corrupted by chaos.
- Orks - While there are sporadic examples of Orks turning to Khorne, Gork and Mork have been proven to be real gods and are highly unlikely to allow any sort of poaching in this manner. The other three Ruinous Powers simply have little appeal for Orks, as they lack any real ambition for Tzeentch to exploit and do not fear death enough to turn to Nurgle's protection. That being said, being resistant does not mean immune, and corrupted orks do show up from time to time bearing the plagues of Nurgle and some of Khorne's demons are green instead of red.
Despite this there are still examples of Chaos affiliated Xenos in recent Fluff; a Genestealer Cult corrupted by Nurgle, a commune of Eldar worshipping Slaanesh, but these are never large or substantial groups, usually being very small and inconsequential incidents. It does, however, indicate the possibility of corruption. Most likely the lack of corrupted Xenos can be put down to either their resistance to Daemonic corruption, although it could also be that like the Imperium, who have their holy symbols that hold the Ruinous Powers at bay, that some xenos like the Eldar with their Runes and the Orks that create effigies to “scare” away the creatures of the warp, may be in possession of their own effective counter-measures against Daemons.
Overall, however, the Chaos Gods hold little interest in Xenos and tend to ignore them in favour of humans. Almost all, if not all, the greatest and most powerful servants of the Chaos Gods are themselves human, or were once human, with almost no Xenos counted among the ranks of Daemon Princes. The only possible exception to this is the Daemon Prince Be'lakor who's origin has never been explicitly confirmed but, considering his age, is presumably a Xenos of some sort.
Part of the Chaos Gods' lack of interest does also stem from the fact that humans, in particular Space Marines, are simply more powerful servants than any other form of life in the galaxy. Compounding this humans have so effectively conquered the majority of the Milky Way that they provide the largest body of servants for the Chaos Gods to use, making the near exclusive focus on them somewhat pragmatic if ironic considering that, at the same time, the Imperium of Man is also a far greater threat to Chaos than any Xenos because the majority of xenos either lack the ability to understand why Chaos is dangerous or are more easily manipulated by them due to the lack of influence the Emperor has over them.
The Other Side
The irony of the setting is that, from the perspective of most of the Xenos species in the galaxy, the Imperium of Man is as dangerous and constant a danger to their existence as the Orks or Tyranid. From the Great Crusade onwards Xenos species such as the Tarellians, Demiurg and Eldar have been powerless to do anything as the Imperium constantly expanded its borders, genociding more and more Xenos every century, pushing them further and further out as all resistance in the face of the Imperium proved utterly futile.
Thus to the Tarellians, Hrenians, Tau, Galg and many more the Galaxy is a terrifying place since most of it is the Imperium, an all-powerful empire devoted to the relentless expansion of its domain and extermination of all other forms of life. For over 10 000 years these species have watched as nothing has set the Imperium back, it has simply grown from strength to strength, overcoming all enemies and expanding its borders continously, dooming to extinction untold numbers of sapient species and creating a galaxy where Xenos mostly live in hiding or cling to the frontiers, with the exception of the Orks and Necron.
Not for nothing are the zones which contain the most Xenos limited to areas which the Imperium considers outside their control, the Ghouls Stars and Eastern Frontier for example. In the galaxy of the 41st Millenium to be born a Xenos is to be born within a Galaxy where the most brutal and vicious empire in history is determined to kill you, your family and everyone you've ever known.
To compound this fear for the Xenos there is also the fact that, as a species, humans always seem to outcompete all other species at everything. Due to their vaunted position within the setting and general favouritism directed towards the Imperium, and more importantly the Space Marines, they are unfortunately burdened with the dubious honour of always being the best at everything. No matter how stealthy a Xenos might be there is always a human stealthier than them, no matter how skilled a commander there will be a human more skilled than them, no matter how strong a Psychic the human psyker within the story will always prove to be the stronger.
The 41st Millenium is a dark and foreboding existence for the Xenos, one where the most bloodthirsty and xenophobic species in the galaxy is set on conquering the galaxy, eradicating all other life in it and, worst of all, looks set to achieve this no matter how stiff the resistance. Considering this it is hardly surprising that Xenos would rather side with the Tau, who offer surprisingly lenient membership into their Empire, or the Sautekh Dynasty who, though making subjugated nations vassals, still permit them to exist. Of course one could also just be Orks and not care about it at all.
- Dark Eldar
- Monstergirls, which is what happens when xenos meet Rule 34.
- Skaven, apparently.
- Old Ones