Can I just say, the Indomitus Crusade went from “oo dats cool” in its little trailer at the launch of 8th to one of my favorite things in the current lore. Here’s why…
At the start of 8th, things were very grim. Almost irritatingly to me, as things are just perpetually always grimmer in 40k and it made me realize I always need that glimmer of hope — I need for the good guys (lolgoodguys) to rack up wins too. Otherwise, the Imperium would have collapsed long ago. When Cadia fell, I saw it as inevitable for them to move the story forward. The narrative of Cawl, the Ynnari, and Big Pappa G’s return were all very cool, but also very comic-bookish. Hero focused story arcs in which they constantly go up to and past the limits, with their own sets of defeats (and even being captured) before having dramatic escapes and victories in epic duels. Very cool – but again, comic book. I think that style should only be used sparingly in Warhammer, and they haven’t really copied that with the newer stuff (which I’m glad of). The Vigilus books were a bit in that style though they attempted to aspire to the FW book style, that being almost a history textbook in feel, giving a sense of realism and weight to a crazy sci-fi setting.
Then after that you have the layers of grim grim grim chaos victories, nid’s expansion, orks rising etc. Very fitting and set the tone down again. There is a lot more there, all good stuff for another time.
The Indomitus Crusade was originally shown as Guilliman taking charge, reorganizing the Imperium’s forces, building, and recruiting new armies all with the intent of to stemming the bleeding. The lore and text of that time was light, though what there was portrayed it almost as “too little, too late”. While to a degree those sentiments remain correct the additional lore about it is fascinating and gives some additional hope to the readers. If you really want to learn about it yourself, the two best places overviews are in the July 2019 White Dwarf, and Voxcast episode 22 with Andy Clark
So why do I love this so? It comes down to three things:
- The cost & impact of it in narrative terms.
- The logistics and mechanics of it.
- The opportunity for hobbyist storytelling.
Let’s break it down
The Narrative Impact
The greatest victories in 40k seem hollow to a reader if the cost isn’t also substantial. Narratively speaking, what is the emotional impact of a victory that is taken without loss? Loss as a concept is endemic in 40k, part of its lifeblood. Coming into this time period, there is clearly a lot of it with everything this new age heralds, yet the Indomitus Crusade itself comes with fresh costs.
Guilliman can’t miraculously conjure new forces out of thin air. They must come from somewhere. While he certainly does use his logistical prowess to usher in the creation of new regiments & naval assets, the vast bulk are pulled from elsewhere. In most cases, this means fleets, armies, and chapters are drawn away from campaigns. Worlds are left to die or defend their realm without aide, which in and of itself nets some interesting story possibilities. What of those commanders who refuse to retreat? Who are those that won’t leave their people to die in the name of the Imperium?
The novels and lore tend to focus on the places where the crusade relieves embittered worlds, but I’m curious to read more about the worlds left behind by the forces that join the crusade.
There is also mention of Guilliman working with the less “noble” arms of the Imperium to swiftly purge any potential dissident elements and factions on Terra. This is great narratively, as it helps reinforce that this isn’t a great place to live – its not a “fascist utopia” that certain internet-people like to idealize it as – and Guilliman, despite all his attempts to be balanced & just, still must act without mercy or due process in order to ensure the survival of the Imperium.
All that said, this is a relative footnote in the lore today. What then of the Crusade’s impact in the ongoing narrative? A few big pieces stand out. For one, it allows them to pull back a lot of stories that left major characters & factions at the brink of destruction, while still moving the story forward in a meaningful way. The Blood Angels & the Tyranid threat being a prime example (I highly recommend reading Devastation of Baal) with them suffering permanent losses, while granting them new life and new narrative interest as they take on a primary role in Imperium Nihilus. I do see this being used as a convenient crutch in some stories, which to be fair it kind of is, though most authors seem to be handling it appropriately.
A unique piece in 40k lore is the “Torchbearer Fleets”. In some ways a continuation of the rebirth concept, the Torchbearers are dedicated task forces comprised of a wide range of Imperial forces, led by Custodes and some Sisters of Silence, but bearing a singularly vital task: Providing the Primaris geneseed & technology to Space Marine chapters across the galaxy. In most cases, these also include a contingent of greyshields – Primaris Marines awoken without a designated chapter. The threats faced by these task forces mirror what we see elsewhere but carry new dimensions of internal conflict. I won’t go deep here so I’ll leave it with a prompt to read this fantastic little story around one such fleet upon finding the chapter they went to save had turned traitor. I’m starting to get long-winded, so let’s move on to number 2.
A problem with an IP as vast and as full of canonical conflict as 40k is that things can sometimes seem… hand-wavey. By that I mean things can become so complicated, so they get explained with a hand wave and a reference to something like “the Warp”, rather than fleshing out the details of how it works. Thankfully, Andy Clarke and the team have broken it down, and it really lets you sink your teeth into it.
Here is the short version (Check out the links I shared earlier to get into the nitty gritty)
Guilliman pulled himself off the front lines, knowing full well his individual impact on the field is nothing compared to his impact on the structure of the greater Imperial war machine. He organizes this new crusade, building in flexibility and autonomy as key strategic concepts. An entire new arm of bureaucracy is created with the Officio Logisticarum, and this new crusade is built around 10 major fleets.
Each fleet is overseen by a fleetmaster, who themselves acts with incredible authority and autonomy. They’re able to requisition from worlds, to subdivide as they see fit, and to execute their general orders at their own judgement. Each Fleet is subdivided into Battlegroups, which themselves are vast armadas, and then divided again into Task Forces. Again, these groups act with similar authority and autonomy proportional to their level. The Torchbearer fleets I mentioned above are specialized Task Forces.
An example breakdown is provided in White Dwarf about what one small segment of that might look like:
Between what is spelled out by GW and what they leave open to imagination, there is SO MUCH opportunity for creativity, which takes me to the third and final point. Thing. The pointthing.
Point-Thing Tertius: Hobbyist Opportunities
The single greatest thing about the Warhammer IP is that it allows hobbyists to create their own legitimate stories in 40k. There’s a great video by Luetin about 40k not having canon which goes into this, but generally we as players can create factions & characters, and they aren’t just fan-fics that are overridden by the lore. They’re living and meaningful pieces of the Warhammer tapestry.
Its abundantly clear in how the Indomitus Crusade is fleshed out that this is structured to be yet one more tool in the hobbyist’s kit. A source of inspiration AND structure in which unique stories can be developed. All the elements you could hope for in good storytelling are at your disposal between this and the landscape of the current 40k lore, and I EAT THIS SHIT UP. (I don’t… I don’t literally eat poo)
Here’s a general plug for a concept I want to explore myself building on everything discussed so far — feel free to steal this or use it as inspiration, as its something I evolved off of established lore anyways!
Torchbearer fleets set out with the aim to reinforce and provide new life to battered chapters. Certainly, there are examples of this working out in novels and other official sources – and a lot can be written about how the old marines take to the new style of Astartes warrior and what it means for their own identity. I’m particularly intrigued with what happens when a torchbearer fleet arrives too late. What do several hundred Greyshields do in that case? In Sub-Sector Audax, I am foaming at the mouth for what that could entail. Specifically, this gives me a chance to have those marines decide (along with the Custodes and Task Force elements) to create a new chapter. Whether that is a reincarnation / tribute to their predecessors, or a net new cultural structure based on worlds they settle, it’s a fantastic narrative.