- "Blindness may be the price I pay for the God-Emperor’s sacred touch, but I see more than you can possibly imagine. I see worlds rolling countless and wondrous beyond, I see colours and sights that would burn your mind to cinders by their merest glimpse. I see...Them, lurking in the spaces between realities, their claws ever scratching to get in, ever wanting. No, it is you who are truly blind, ignorant and imperiled as a helpless child in the blackest night with ravening wolves all around. For they are here, right now around us and you cannot see. In the dark, in the light it matters not... for they see you and they hunger."
- —Astropath Plenipotentiary Aldus Col
Astropaths, referred to in older sources as "Astrotelepaths," are psykers who are responsible for carrying out all of the superluminal communications that tie the Imperium of Man together using their telepathic abilities. Chosen from the multitudes of psykers born across the vast breadth of the Imperium, these individuals are detected and incarcerated within one of the fearsome Black Ships of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and brought to Terra due to their great power and their potential use to the Imperium.
The fate of the vast majority of these psykers is to fuel the insatiable fires of the Astronomican so that the Imperium might be held together for another day. Of those allowed to live, a tiny fraction are judged strong enough and possessed of enough willpower to undergo training and go on to serve the Imperium in a staggering array of capacities as a Sanctioned Psyker, from Inquisitor to Astra Militarum Battle Psyker to Astropath.
The Warp influences communication between worlds spanning the Imperium and between vessels travelling between these worlds. This is the domain of the Astropaths, who stretch their minds deep into the Immaterium to connect with the psychic resonance of their own kind throughout the galaxy to pass information, messages, or warnings in an instant. Solar decades of training and the torment of the Soul Binding ritual strengthen the will of these psykers to withstand penetrating the terrors of the Warp without suffering mental instability or daemonic possession.
- "Of course humanity was meant to cross the void between the stars. It is our destiny, and it is for this purpose, the God-Emperor has seen fit to grant us the power necessary to ply the roiling Warp. The Navigator guides us by His light. The Astropath carries His torch to the darkest corners of space. We go in His Name, by His Will, for His Glory. And, of course, for the tidy profit we earn for our efforts in His grandest of plans."
- — Rogue Trader Raol Straud
Psykers first emerged amongst Mankind in the middle part of the long distant Age of Technology, a period of human history about which all but nothing is remembered in the 41st Millennium. Since that time, among the ever-greater numbers of humans within the Imperium of Man, some people are born different. Some fickle turn of fate or chance twist in the genome has seen them join the growing ranks of psychic individuals within the human race, and others still come into such powers later on in life.
These psykers labour under a blessing and a curse. They have the rare talent to draw power from the Warp, the hidden dimension of Chaos that lurks beneath the fabric of reality, and shape it into all manner of strange and supernatural effects. Using such power, however, comes with a terrible risk. Whether they know it or not, the mind of each psyker shines brightly within the otherworldly dimension of the Warp, or Immaterium as it is also known. This psychic realm is home to unspeakable beings, hungry predators that look upon such soulfires with great anticipation. The denizens of the Immaterium -- Warp beasts, daemons and worse -- find great sport in weak and unprotected minds. An unwary psyker is easily attacked, consumed or used as a gateway from the Warp to the physical realm.
Psykers are regarded in many different ways across the Imperium's countless worlds. On the more primitive planets, they are thought of as shamans, witches, and sorcerers. More sophisticated societies are usually aware of psychic abilities and refer to psykers by other titles such as "gifted" or "the touched." But in almost all cases, and on all worlds, they are feared for the darkness and chaos they can bring down on those around them. There are many that believe psykers represent a gross perversion of all that humanity is and a constant reminder of the terrible powers of the Warp. This idea seems to hold some weight as the majority of psykers succumb to madness and ruin, often at the cost of countless other lives. Those that can master psychic power, however, become a prized, if somewhat dangerous, commodity to the Imperium.
The great sweep of the Imperium of Man far outstrips the reach of normal communications in size and breadth. Astropaths are capable of broadcasting and receiving messages across the vastness of space, although a message may be delayed, mangled or even lost by the turbulence of Warpspace. By their powers, the Astropaths can do what no others can; reach beyond the limits of time and space to allow humanity to continue communicating between its scattered domains in the vastness of interstellar space.
At times the availability of an Astropath has determined whether entire worlds have lived or died, and whether millions have survived in the glorious light of the Emperor, or fallen to the darkness of humanity's enemies. In the nightmare depths of the Empyrean, the Astropaths listen to the missives of Mankind, and occasionally, those of a viler cast, braving terrible and constant danger to their sanity and souls in order to allow the Imperium to function as a coherent entity. The Adeptus Astra Telepathica oversees the arduous task of recruiting and training Astropaths in service to the Imperium, and regulating their number in operations.
Astropaths themselves are born with the psyker's gift; taken by the Black Ships of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica and selected -- owing to the nature of their gifts and other arcane criteria -- to become Astropaths, by undergoing years of training and extensive indoctrination culminating in a techno-arcane ritual initiation called "Soul Binding", in which the body and soul are scoured clean of the taint of the Warp by the searing purity of the Emperor of Mankind's beneficence. In truth, the Emperor uses His own psychic strength to reshape the neural architecture of the psyker so that he or she will possess the willpower to better resist the temptations of Chaos. This process is what makes an Astropath what he is, and without it there would be no Astropaths.
The benefits of the Soul Binding are that it allows the Astropaths some safety while opening their minds to the Warp's currents in communications from afar, and sifting the truth from the psychic static and perilous lies whispered beyond, and projecting their own messages into that void to be heard by others of their own kind. The Soul Binding is not without its price however, and despite the quality of candidates selected and their extensive preparation, not all survive or retain their sanity.
Those that do are almost all permanently blinded by the ordeal for the Emperor's power can damage some of the more delicate neutral structures in the body, such as the optic nerves. However, in most cases the Astropath's abilities more than make up for this deficiency, and others might never know, but for their disturbing whited-out eyes or in some cases, empty, shrunken eye sockets. So intense is the ritual that the supplicants' sensory organs are almost totally overloaded -- leaving them blinded by the experience -- with many suffering further nerve damage, incurring loss of smell, touch, or hearing. What the Soul Binding does on a fundamental level is combine the psyker's own abilities with the merest fraction of those of the Emperor which transforms him and protects him in a way that makes the Astropath unique among human psykers.
Being soul-bonded with the Emperor is necessary, however, as it greatly heightens an Astropath's already formidable psychic powers and gives them the ability for which they were chosen -- to send telepathic messages through space instantaneously across large interstellar distances, thereby becoming the main network of interstellar communications in the Imperium. Most Imperial starships have an Astropath on board and most Imperial planetary governments have access to Astropaths. Without the Astropaths' unique ability, long-distance communication in the Imperium would be impossible. However, their powers are still susceptible to the local conditions of the Warp (such as Warp Storms) and as such, their messages can be greatly delayed or lost. Due to the strenuous nature of their job and the result of their soul-bonding with the Emperor, many Astropaths are physically frail and can die quite young through mental exhaustion or overexposure to the energies of the Warp.
- "I see an angel in red, his eyes plucked from his skull and his wings torn from his shoulders. A hot wind blows from the north, bringing with it the scent of crushed lotus and rancid iron. I hear the drone of the blood wasp and the whisper of the third mad son. I see...I see...a warning!"
- — Auto-cryptaesthesicon transcript of the last words of Astropath Xhora, slain in a Chaos reaver attack solar hours later
Just as travel within the Imperium is a complicated and inexact science, so too is the business of exchanging messages between the many and varied planets that make up the Imperium. Planetary communications systems such as Vox-casters, hardwired telegraph and telephony lines and the more advanced Vox-communicators suffice to pass messages amongst the nations of a world, yet have almost no use beyond the bounds of the planet's surface. Such devices require many Terran years for their signal to reach even the nearest planet of a star system and have no surety of even being detected when they arrive. The perils of Warp travel ensure that human or Servitor messengers are just as unreliable and potentially as slow as radio or other electromagnetic wave communications.
The Imperium is forced to rely upon communication by psychic, or astro-telepathic means. Astropaths communicate with symbols and iconic images, projecting these messages through vast distances of space by means of psychic power drawn from the Warp. This process is usually exhausting and requires ritual and focus in order to keep the psyker in the right frame of mind. These can take a wide variety of forms, such as use of the Emperor's Tarot, vision quests, automatic writing, trances, séances and the like. The Gaolist Astropaths of Hredin for example, spend many Terran years etching their messages onto painstakingly illuminated sheets of iron and then destroy the work of art upon a massive grinding wheel when they are ready to transmit the information. The pain of annihilating a much-loved labour is said to produce psychic messages of unparalleled clarity.
These messages are received by fellow Astropaths in various ways. Some appear as vague and troubling dreams, whilst others appear as visions or mystic portents. Others appear within whatever ritual method or divination technique the receiving psyker happens to practise. Thus warning of an Ork invasion might appear as a glistening imperfection in fish entrails, a looming cloud of smoke, bleeding orifices or a worrying combination of runes or sigils within a holographic matrix. Astropathic messages must not only be transmitted from one Astropath to another but decoded at the other end. Each Astropath employs slightly different symbols and each has a preferred style or "flavour." Some messages take solar weeks of poring over tomes of augurs and symbolism before they can be reconstructed, though the best Astropaths can do this word for word. Some remain a mystery forever. Some messages are received by Astropaths at entirely the wrong end of the galaxy and must be passed on to others who are nearer the place in question.
Some messages simply do not get to their intended recipient or are drastically misinterpreted along the way. In addition, there are too few Astropaths. Most worlds, especially those with small populations or on the fringes of the Imperium, have no Astropaths at all, and must rely on the infrequent visits of passing Chartist ships or Administratum census-takers to make contact with the outside galaxy at all. For this reason the Adeptus Terra cannot react quickly to every event in the Imperium, even when an event occurs that is great enough to attract the notice of the vast and ponderous bureaucracy. On most worlds, the Imperium feels very far away.
Rites of the Soul Bound
Each Astropath has his own different way of utilising his power. An extensive ritual has to be performed to ensure that the Astropath is fully protected against the rigours of the Warp before he can impart his message, and he has to mentally shroud his message to protect it lest it be intercepted by the malign intelligences that traverse the æther.
Ideally, the Astropath should remove himself to a quiet retreat to prepare for the projection. He must centre his mind, unperturbed by the material world. Most Astropaths insist on having their own quarters separated from other officers and crew, to which they can retire to perform their talent. These quarters are set out according to the individual's taste. Some might be little more than ascetic cells, a brilliant white from floor to ceiling, sealed from sound to allow no sensory interference. Or they might be cavernous grottos draped with tapestries decorated in esoteric designs, the floor etched with hexagrammatic wards to keep the ravenous Warp at bay, brilliantly lit by an array of candles and choked with heavy incense that cleanses the Astropath's mind as a prelude to projecting a message. A certain Astropath might prefer to inhabit echoing libraries whose walls are crammed with tomes and scrolls, brimming with arcane knowledge. Vox Servitors might line the walls, reading aloud from selected grimoires, their monosyllabic chants sending the Astropath deep into a hypnotic state. Another might surround himself with the iconography of the God-Emperor, his quarters decorated with sacred statues and the relic-bones of martyrs and heroes, with Servo-skulls droning incessant hymns to bring his mind to peace.
The setting prepares the Astropath's frame of mind for his task, and helps him clear his psyche of all distractions. He must spend time contemplating the mental odyssey ahead, cleansing his mind of all unnecessary thought. Many Astropaths find that external stimuli help with this process and resort to practices such as physical deprivation, bodily punishment, the ingestion of psychotropic substances, or the incantation of religious dogma. Some Astropaths might have Servitors suspend his fleshy frame on hooks swinging from the ceiling, or plunge their places of meditation into extremes of heat or cold, so that the physical anguish focuses their mental effort. Others might consume rare poisons that lift their mind free of physical baggage, leaving their bodies twitching and drooling during their meditative state. They might achieve a similar effect by inducing religious ecstasy with sacred mantras and hypnagogic prayers to the God-Emperor. When the Astropath finds himself in a heightened state of consciousness, he can begin to strengthen his mind against the dangers of the Warp and prepare himself for the psychic journey ahead of him.
Before an Astropath sends out his signal, he should cloak his message in psychic wards to protect it from interception. The creatures of the Warp can pick up stray thoughts projected through the æther. Mindless entities might simply consume the signal, feeding on its psychic residue, especially if its sender instilled fear or panic within the message. More cunning denizens delight in twisting the message to cause confusion and disorder upon its receipt. If the message contains information that might be of use to the enemies of the Imperium, it is vital that it should not fall into their hands. It is not just daemonic intelligences that can prove a problem -- xenos and Heretic sorcerers are known to scry the Warp precisely to apprehend Imperial signals, and even another Astropath might attempt to tamper with the contents of a rival's message.
As well as attempting to hide their signals from the prying Warp, Astropaths encapsulate their messages in obscure mental ciphers known only to other Astropaths. Signals are often not just relayed as simple images or sentences. Information might be projected as whispered, coded messages, bewildering hallucinogenic visions, psychic puzzle boxes that must be mentally solved and unlocked, prophetic dreams masked in obscure allegory, solemn hymns whose sanctity repels the unclean, or even grand operatic performances whose subtle metre and notation hide clues to the meaning of the experience.
Encrypting the Message
An Astropath shrouding his signal does so as part of the ritual described earlier and the base amount of time spent performing his contemplation increases from 5 to 25 solar hours. If he does not encrypt his message, there is a greater chance that his signal is intercepted by a malign intelligence within the Warp, and of its meaning being understood if intercepted.
The final stage of the Astropath's act of astral telepathy involves the projection of his thought-signal into the Warp. To do this, he must open his psyche to the Warp -- an extremely hazardous act that might lead to madness, daemonic possession, or death. However, a Soul-Bound psyker is strengthened against the dangers of Chaos as long as he maintains his composure. Before determining the effectiveness of his projection, an Astropath must decide whether he wants to send a focused message or a broadcast message. A focused message must be sent to a specific Astropath (or group of individual Astropaths) known to the sender. A broadcast message is simply projected out into the Immaterium in the hope that it is picked up by any Astropath.
Focused signals are intended for a specific recipient. This individual is almost always another Astropath and, at the very least, must be psychically prepared in order to receive the message.
The signal strength of a broadcast message is equal to the amount of the Astropath's psychic power used to send it, just as with a focused signal. However, broadcast signals grow unstable much more quickly than focused signals. A broadcast signal must cover a massive area, while a focused signal need only find a path between two points. As with focused signals, broadcast signals can only be picked up by individuals and entities which are gifted with psychic abilities and have a certain measure of psychic strength.
Sending the Signal
Once the Astropath has completed his preparations, he can launch his mind-missive into the Warp, hopefully into the waiting consciousness of an ally and not an enemy. His concentration will be tested. The difficulty of this test is defined by his distance from the intended recipient (or the area he wishes to cover with the message).
When he opens his mind to the Warp, an Astropath endangers his physical body as well. The deluge of swirling energies assaulting his psyche can manifest as bizarre and disturbing effects on his recumbent form.
There is a chance that the message might be intercepted by malign forces. Frequently, these are Warp entities, but sometimes mortal agents such as sorcerous Renegade psykers or even other Astropaths might attempt to intercept a message.
Receiving Astral Signs
The way that an astral signal is received depends on whether it has been sent as a focused message or a broadcast message.
Deciphering the Signal
An Astropath who picks up the signal may still not understand the message encrypted within it. He might receive it as a blur of conflicting images or a faint whisper in the back of his mind. His mind may have to sift through the message and make sense of any hidden meanings or puzzling oracles contained therein. This might involve not just strenuous mental agility, but also the perusal of arcane lore. A powerful Astropath can employ an entire army of Scribe-Servitors to pore through an archive of tomes, ancient data-slabs, and oracle-bones to interpret the garbled utterances he pronounces as he imparts his visions into words. Less influential Astropaths might only have a few scraps of parchment recording obscure prophesies that may or may not help decode the signal. The Astropath receiving the signal must determine whether he can make sense of it and how long that takes.
Rogue Trader Service
- "I am soul-bound to the Emperor, and through His grace, I speak across the voids."
- —Arradin Vykis, Astropath
The cold depths of the void far beyond the outer limits of Imperial space are a lonely place indeed. Were a starship to rely only on mere technology, it would be isolated; even the strongest Vox-caster would take Terran years, decades, or longer to transmit a signal, and its reception, if it arrived at all, might be faint or garbled from astral interference or void anomalies.
Therefore, the Imperium must resort to more esoteric practices to enable the long-range communication that is vital to its survival. Just as the Warp provides a dimensional short cut between planetary systems, so it provides a link between the distant worlds and galaxies that comprise the sprawling Imperium of Mankind. Astropaths reach their minds across the madness of the æther, relaying messages to each other across unthinkable distances, and their minds must be strong, for always the denizens of the Warp scrabble for a handhold that allows them to slither into reality, bringing Chaos and woe in their wake.
Rogue Traders consider Astropaths essential members of their crew. Operating beyond the protective wings of Imperial space, the Astropath is a Rogue Trader's only link to Imperial civilisation. A Rogue Trader's forays into the unknown are usually the first tentative steps of Imperial rule into uncharted space and it is vital that the secrets he unveils find their way back to the authorities so that they can plan the annexation of new worlds for the glory of the Emperor. It is also important for a Rogue Trader to keep tabs on his holdings back home and instruct his proxies how to divert crises or deal with challenges to his influence. No doubt his rivals seek to undermine his business interests and political influence while he is gone.
In addition, keeping the officers and crew abreast with matters from home is good for their morale. If one severs that link, despair very often settles upon a ship -- a captain should broadcast news of the Imperium's latest victories to his crew to keep their spirits high when possible. Finally, in times of extreme danger, the Astropath is the ship's only means to summon help. Aid might never be forthcoming because of the vast distances from Imperial space that Rogue Trader vessels often operate, but at least the Astropath can give hope to an otherwise doomed ship. It might take many solar months, or even Terran years, for a stricken ship to be rescued, but a captain and his crew can cling on to that desperate chance of survival. At the very least, the Rogue Trader can send out warnings to other would-be explorers of what perils they might face should they attempt the same passage.
In the case of Astropaths serving on board Rogue Trader vessels, the arrangement is not one of commercial interest, but of duty. The most ancient of laws requires the Adeptus Astra Telepathica to play its part in the ongoing expansion of the Imperium. Even though both Navigators and Astropaths are, in effect, hirelings of the Rogue Trader dynasty, they often gain such high status on board its vessels that they become more like partners. Astropaths, like Navigators, are often part of a Rogue Trader's most trusted entourage, for it is through their minds that the Rogue Trader's most valued secrets are transmitted. Even if the message is couched in such terms that the Astropath himself is unable to decipher its meaning, he nonetheless retains memory of it and its intended recipients.
It is within the power of an Astropath to undermine or betray any endeavour or transaction his employer enters into and, as such, even the most haughty of masters show these psykers the utmost respect and consideration. When in the service of Rogue Traders, many Navigators and Astropaths come to take on some of the qualities of their master. They might become every bit as adventurous and buccaneering as any Rogue Trader and sometimes develop their own flamboyant mannerisms or idiosyncrasies. Amongst the crew of a Rogue Trader vessel, this might go entirely unnoticed, for many vessels are served by a bizarre mix of outcasts and miscreants. If and when they return to the fold of their parent organisations, however, such individuals are likely to be regarded with a combination of distrust and horror. For this reason, those that become enamoured of the perilous freedom they enjoy beyond the borders of the Imperium are often reticent to return.
The Astropath Transcendent is a rare individual, indeed. He is a psyker whose powers and very essence has been touched by the light of the God-Emperor Himself and who is able to form a lifeline of communication across the limitless gulfs of space, his soul armoured against the gnawing taint of the Warp beyond. Each Terran year, uncounted millions of psykers are born across the vast breadth of the Imperium. Most are detected and interred until collected by one of the fearsome Black Ships of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. These vessels travel the galaxy in great circuits, their stygian holds inexorably filling with nascent psykers with each stop they make. The fate of the vast majority of the psykers is to fuel the insatiable fires of the Astronomican so that the Imperium might be held together for another solar day. Of those allowed to live, a tiny fraction are judged strong enough to undergo tutelage and go on to serve the Imperium in a staggering array of capacities.
As noted above, those chosen to become Astropaths undergo the ritual of Soul Binding, in which the body and soul are scoured clean of the temptations of the Warp by the searing purity of the Emperor's beneficence. After solar months of fasting, prayer, and ritual preparation, the psykers are brought into the very depths of the Imperial Palace in processions of a hundred at a time, there to undergo a ritual that will kill them, drive them insane, or bind them for all eternity to the Emperor. So intense is the ritual that the supplicants' sensory organs are almost totally overloaded -- leaving them blinded by the experience -- with many suffering further nerve damage, incurring loss of smell, touch, or hearing.
Relying as heavily as the Imperium does on the Warp for galactic communication, it has a great demand for Astropaths, and each newly created Astropath who survives the Soul-Binding is inducted into the ranks of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. There he learns to send his thoughts singing across the galaxy via the medium of the Warp, adding his psychic voice to entire choirs of his fellows, and communicating with others of his kind on planets light years distant.
It is a rare Astropath indeed who rises beyond his given duties and responsibilities in the ranks of the psychic choirs. Of those few who do so, most are placed in charge of Astropathic facilities and relay stations dotted across Imperial space. Those with the sharpest wits become itinerant emissaries or officials of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica itself or serve on the staff of Inquisitors or Lord Militants. Some of the most self-aware and strong-willed of their kind serve their vigils alongside Rogue Traders, casting their thoughts out far beyond the realms of Man into the great voids beyond the Emperor's domains.
It takes a special type of Astropath to serve on the fringes of what is known, and such Astropaths must be both hard-hearted and savvy individualists if they are to persevere. Though the experiences vary wildly from one Astropath to the next, many are driven slowly mad by what they describe as cold, alien thoughts echoing in the black gulfs at the edges of the galaxy, while others find themselves growing increasingly alone the further out they travel, as the psychic voices of their fellows recede into the celestial distance. Those few that can endure these rigours are granted the title of Astropath Transcendent, and are both respected and a little feared by their contemporaries.
The duties of the Astropath Transcendent are a microcosm of those performed by the more established and ordinary psychic choirs of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. Most Rogue Trader ﬂeets are accompanied by little more than a handful of Astropaths, with perhaps only one being stationed on each vessel, and so their position is one of grave responsibility. They provide the only means of viable communication between widely scattered vessels, not to mention across interstellar distances, and as a consequence are highly valued members of the Rogue Trader's inner circle. Many Rogue Traders would not even consider setting foot on the soil of a new world without an Astropath Transcendent at their side, ready to summon aid at a moment's notice should disaster strike.
Choirs of the Astropaths
Within the borders of the Imperium and beyond, psykers and Navigators are a necessary evil without which Mankind has no hope of fulfilling the destiny of which the Emperor so long ago dreamed. Every Warp-capable vessel numbers amongst its crew a cadre of Astropaths, generally formed into an Astropathic Choir and led by a Choir-Master Telepathica. Certain Astropaths are chosen to journey into the unknown void aboard Rogue Trader vessels; these are individuals able to face the awful void far from Terra without being driven utterly insane. To travel beyond the haven of the Emperor's light is, for an Astropath, a dreadful prospect, for the ever present song of so many other, similarly attuned minds is replaced with a limitless void, where the cold, alien thoughts of unknowable xenos species, some aeons dead, resound.
Most vessels carry as many Astropaths as their masters can secure from the Astra Telepathica, for the majority inevitably perish or go mad amongst the alien stars beyond the Imperium's reach. Most Astropaths who survive their tenure in an Astropathic Choir go on to perform a more specialised role. Some ascend in the ranks and become masters at directing the mind-voices of their choirs. Others are scattered across the galaxy to serve as the personal Astropaths and advisors of powerful Adepts such as Inquisitors or Praefects, or are seconded to organisations such as the Administratum, the Adeptus Arbites, the Astra Militarum, or even the Adeptus Astartes. A very few return to Terra to take up a role in the Scholastica Psykana, mentoring other would-be Astropaths and teaching them the inner secrets of their order's vocation.
Most Astropaths serving Rogue Traders in the Koronus Expanse come from amongst those serving in a Choir on the fringes of the Imperium. Such Choirs are generally those found aboard Imperial Navy defence stations guarding the outer marches, or perhaps those sitting on the very fringes, in the anarchic grey area between the frontiers and the lawless wastes. Serving in Choirs in such places, Astropaths inevitably pick up on what is variably thought of as the psionic background field, the echoes of the death cries of long dead species or the resonant thoughts of slumbering things that bear no relation to humanity's field of existence. Service in frontier Astropathic Choirs exposes the Astropath to numerous dangers, not least of which is constant low-level exposure to half-heard alien whispers that drive many to burn out or break down. Those able to survive, however, are considered ideal candidates to serve as Astropaths aboard Rogue Trader vessels.
A traveller passing out of the Calixis Sector towards the Maw would be wise to layover at the Imperial Navy void station of Port Wander, if only because it represents one final opportunity to turn back. Port Wander serves numerous functions, acting as a naval depot, a defence station, and a port, as well as a refuge for numerous individuals of distinctly low character. The decks heave with crowds of off-duty voidsmen and the crews of Rogue Trader vessels. Its decks and companionways are at once violent and lawless and also subject to the brutal justice of the Imperial Navy provosts who prowl its depths in search of fresh meat to be press-ganged.
Like any other Imperial Navy frontier station, Port Wander is served by a substantial Astropathic Choir. Those serving in the choir must contend with a vast range of unique trials. Most significantly, the proximity of the Calixis terminal of the Koronus Passage, as well as the Great Storms through which the Warp route plunges, places huge strain upon the psyches of any Astropaths using their powers here. In particular, the storm known as the Screaming Vortex is said to emit a shrill dirge that, when it reaches a periodic crescendo, can cause dozens of Port Wander's Astropaths to fit and convulse, cutting off communications for solar days. To make things worse, the Choir is subject to the capricious and tyrannical rule of a Regent Choir-Master, as the Adept assigned that role has not been seen outside of his sanctum in living memory.
To ascend from service in the Port Wander Astropathic Choir, an Astropath must have proven himself able to survive the ebb and flow of tumultuous energies that are the result of the Great Storms raging nearby, as well as the incessant politicking of the Choir's own masters. Such individuals are often held to be somewhat cold and jaded, as if inured to human suffering and able to shut out the feelings of others on a whim. They are valued by those willing to risk the outer edges of the Great Storms, as well as the numerous other raging ætheric tempests to be found within the depths of the Koronus Expanse, for such places appear to hold less fear for them as they do others of their calling. Oddly, this state of mind does not extend to the Rifts of Hecaton, a region that veterans of the Port Wander Astropathic Choir hold in the greatest of dread.
The Pits of Voices
At the other end of the Maw from Port Wander can be found the void settlement known as Footfall. Unlike its opposite number, Footfall lies outside of the domains of the Emperor, and the laws of the Imperium hold no more sway there than the rule of the despots, recidivists, and assorted scum who call it their home. Without an official Adeptus Terra presence, there can be no conventional Astropathic Choir in Footfall.
Despite, and perhaps because of its outland status, Footfall is host to a group of Astropaths, though one quite unlike any within the Imperium's borders. The so-called Pit of Voices is a tragic, ramshackle imitation of a true Astropathic Choir, one served entirely by outcast or masterless Astropaths. While few are actual Renegades, the majority of Astropaths serving the Pit of Voices are broken in some manner. Some have been judged wanting in their abilities, or perhaps unsuitable in some other way, and somehow escaped being shipped to Terra to fuel the Astronomican.
Travelling incognito beyond the reach (or so they hope) of their erstwhile masters, these outcasts come to such places as Footfall in the hope of fulfilling their destiny. Like many psykers, Astropaths who do not exercise their abilities grow afflicted by a cruel malaise known as "psisickness," and so a position in the Pit of Voices is to them a blessed release. Even if they court madness and worse under the direction of the Pit's mistress -- the soothsayer Attar Soloket -- the Astropaths are content to be plugged into the rusty, blood encrusted psi-caskets and to add their voices to the atonal dirge of Footfall's Astropathic Choir.
On several occasions, the Choir's Astropaths and their leader have come under attack or been subjected to brutal assassination attempts. Most are carried out by bounty hunter scum, while others are the work of highly proficient assassins. On at least three separate occasions, a force of highly professional warriors clad in black Carapace Armour and bearing no insignia have infiltrated the void settlement and assaulted the Pit of Voices. In each case, it was only the mobilisation of the various underworld organisations that rely on the outcast Astropaths that fought them off.
Very occasionally, Mistress Soloket recognises in one of her reject Astropaths a talent that, in her belief, should not have been rejected by the Scholastica Psykana. Though it is not actually within her power to do so, she lifts the choirmember from his station and declares him a "true" Astropath, perhaps using her celebrated powers to discern something in his future that may yet serve Humanity. How many Rogue Trader dynasties have unknowingly taken on an Astropath formerly rejected by the Imperium cannot be known, and most Rogue Traders who might have done so know better than to ask too many questions when taking on crew at Footfall.
Most examples of Humanity to be found beyond the borders of the Imperium exist there because they shun the light of the Emperor -- pirates, rebels, Heretics, and worse. Others are there because they know no other existence, including lost human worlds that have every reason to believe themselves the sole survivors of the wars that shattered the galaxy during the distant Age of Strife. Only a small number go beyond the Imperium's frontiers with the blessing of the High Lords of Terra, and these include the Rogue Traders, far-ranging Space Marines, and the Explorator Fleets of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
When the Adeptus Mechanicus travels into the outer void, they often leave behind them a trail of way stations. Staffed almost entirely by mono-tasked Servitors overseen under the care of aged Explorators approaching the end of their service to the Machine God, these way stations act as storage depots, repair facilities, data depositories, and often as astropathic relays.
Those Astropaths seconded to service in choirs operating under the Adeptus Mechanicus are often left aboard the way stations seeded by the Explorator Fleets across the empty void as they plunge ever further into the darkness. They exist and operate in a very different way to their compatriots serving in more conventional Astropathic Choirs elsewhere in the Imperium. The way stations are almost exclusively served by mind-scrubbed menials and those few Tech-priests attending them have often undergone the Rite of Pure Thought or are otherwise so advanced in their service to the Machine God they are incapable of interacting with those outside of their order.
It is a lonely existence indeed and, to make matters worse, when the Choir does receive a message to relay back to the Imperium, it is inevitably formed according to the unique frame of reference of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Many of these Astropaths go mad through a combination of exposure to the soulless grating machine code of the Adeptus Mechanicus that drowns out all other sensory inputs and the sheer isolation of their existence. Those few that survive their service are changed forever, but are invariably stronger for their ordeal.
The task of an Astropathic Relay is to serve as a conduit through which the astrotelepathic traffic of entire sectors is sent and received across the vast, trackless depths of the void between each sector. The psychic interchange is relentless and constant, and the burn-out rate phenomenal. At times of all-out war or other calamity, dozens, even hundreds of Astropaths might be sacrificed each solar day, simply to keep the relay open and communication flowing to and from the affected region. Were the relay to fall silent for even the blink of an eye, untold thousands of lives might be lost and entire worlds could fall. Needless to say, such relays are vital to the continued existence of the Imperium and the members of the Astropathic Choirs are fortunate indeed to survive them.
An Astropath who has served, and indeed survived, in an Astropathic Relay is a rare individual indeed. He is able to withstand the raging torrent of the Warp, to shape it to his will, and send it onwards towards its ultimate destination. His mind-voice is strong and clear and other Astropaths find his messages much easier to rapidly comprehend than those of others with different histories.
The Koronus Expanse is scattered with the ruins of colonies established as some grand endeavour and laid low by the countless perils that haunt the outer voids. Most of these settlements were built according to some Rogue Trader's vision of building a new society, even the foundation of a new empire, with himself as the sole ruling authority. Almost all colonies founded in this manner fail within a generation, most within a solar decade and a significant number within a single season.
No planet is without some danger to Mankind. Hostile fauna and flora can wipe out a colony overnight, especially if the initial survey overlooked it due to some unusual migration or breeding cycle, but numerous other threats exist. Aggressive bacteriological factors can destroy even the most well-prepared colony, as can environmental ones. Needless to say, the deathblow is often delivered by the hand of marauding xenos, in particular the Rak'Gol, but even more common are attacks by other human factions, from brutal slavers to bitter isolationists. Most of these colonies are little more than a few thousand "volunteers" desperately trying to survive in a hostile environment.
A smaller number are provided with some basic resources, such as a light defence force, sub-stellar fleet assets, and, in some cases, a small Astropathic Choir. To acquire such a choir, a Rogue Trader dynasty must be exceptionally rich, influential, or just plain lucky, for the masters of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica are none too keen to risk their valuable Astropaths in such a way.
Astropaths who have served in the lonely Choirs beyond the frontier have lived a life of extraordinary privation and danger that few others of their order could imagine. Cut off from the greater Imperium by the Great Storms, they have led an existence finely balanced between survival and extinction. Tasked with communicating with their masters, they have had to learn when to send their mind-voice singing out across the void and when to fall silent lest reavers and xenos be drawn to them. These individuals are blessed of a taciturn self-reliance rarely seen amongst others of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, and, as such, are highly prized by ambitious Rogue Traders.
- "We act under the guidance of the God-Emperor, only through the grace of His protection and blessing. You have no authority to question us."
- — Astropath Veyla Trein's last words to Inquisitor Frankl
There are many different psychic powers that a psyker may possess, for the mutability of the Warp is as limitless as the human imagination itself. Some examples range from telepathy -- the power to communicate between one living mind and another -- to rarer and more occult arts such as the destructive force known as pyromancy, astral projection of the soul away from the body, the summoning of daemons, and the transmutation of matter at will. These abilities usually begin as a basic, almost rudimentary form of the power -- the first technique of the psychic discipline -- and over time, a psyker can learn more ways to fine tune that power for a greater variety of effects.
- Astral Telepathy - As part of the Soul Binding process, Astropaths become able to send and receive messages across vast distances using the Warp as a medium. Using astro-telepathic abilities in this way requires careful concentration, meditation, and freedom from distraction, and so cannot be done "on the move," let alone during combat or strife. Astropathic communication in this way is a matter of sending and receiving messages that must themselves be encapsulated and encrypted lest they become lost in the Warp, hopelessly garbled, or worse yet, intercepted. As a result, messages sent over long distances are often "packets" of information, akin in some ways to letters or brief recordings from the real world absorbed and sent on their way to be (hopefully) caught and possibly relayed on by other Astropaths to their intended destination. This process is not instantaneous. However, it is considerably faster than Warp travel -- an astropathic signal will cross a solar system in moments, across a subsector in solar hours, a sector in solar days and, if strong enough, a Segmentum in weeks and so on. An Astropath's "signal strength" broadly refers to how far, in average conditions in the Warp, they are able to clearly transmit with a successful focused use of their power.
- Smite - Lethal bolts of bio-lightning leap from the psyker's fingertips, tearing his foes apart.
- Terrifying Visions - The psyker fills his enemies' minds with nightmarish images and visions of torment, seeking to send them fleeing in terror.
- Gaze of the Emperor - The psyker cages the immense power of the Immaterium within his physical form, and his eyes blaze with the Emperor's vengeful fury, unleashing pure psychic energy to smite the Master of Mankind's foes.
- Psychic Barrier - The psyker weaves an aegis of pure psychic energy around his allies, against which enemy fire sparks and spatters harmlessly.
- Nightshroud - Calling upon the power of the Empyrean, the psyker cloaks his allies in a flowing curtain of shadow, concealing them from the enemy.
- Mental Fortitude - Drawing on boundless reserves of inner strength, the psyker shields his allies' minds from mortal fears and the threat of sorcerous assault, dramatically improving morale.
- Psychic Maelstrom - The psyker unleashes the full telekinetic might of his mind, summoning a roiling psychic tempest that envelops his enemy, lifting them from the ground and wrenching them about like a rag doll.
Other Astropathic Disciplines
Among the stars of the Koronus Expanse, thousands of Astropaths plumb the depths of the Warp as they pass messages between those loyal to the Imperium of Man. The vast majority of these psykers utilise the central disciplines of their training -- particularly the telepathic path. However, these worlds are incredibly distant from Terra and the training that transformed their minds.
As they travel the distant stars, often far from others of their kind, many Astropaths experiment and develop new ways to engage their abilities. Through the centuries, these experiments have led to countless new techniques. Only a subset of these have been properly documented and classified into formal disciplines. While it is entirely possible for an Astropath to develop alternative techniques, the Voidfrost and Soul Ward disciplines presented below represent two that have become better established among the Koronus Expanse.
It is not uncommon to encounter an Astropath who knows one of these Disciplines, and some may even be willing to pass on their knowledge. In addition to the existing repertoire of Disciplines and Techniques, an Astropath may also choose to learn powers from the Voidfrost and Soul Ward Disciplines.
As they travel the far stars, often shrouded from even the sacred glow of the Astronomican, many Astropaths spend countless solar hours searching for any psychic resonance among the void. As they stretch their minds ever further into the darkness, many begin to study the emptiness that surrounds them. A few even come to embrace the chill of the vacuum that extends endlessly beyond the boundary of their vessel's hull. It is believed that psykers who came to grips with the essence of the void were the first to develop the Voidfrost Discipline. The sharp distinction between the icy, uncaring void and the warm glow of the God-Emperor's embrace became a focal point for their new studies.
- Basic Technique: Ward the Chill - As psykers begin to embrace the ways of the Void, they must first grasp the necessities for unprotected survival amidst the very environment that they seek to master. The most crucial first step to this is learning to overcome the risks inherent in survival without a pressurised atmosphere and without the warmth necessary for life. Establishing the necessary techniques for calling forth a survivable environment from the depths of the Warp is a rite of passage for those who seek to master the Voidfrost Discipline. For some psykers, this first step is simply an intuitive reaction -- their understanding of the void naturally compels them to create a liveable environment. However, some psykers inadvertently exhibit this ability under life and death conditions -- such as being involuntarily expelled from their vessel.
- Embrace of Emptiness - Within the depths of the void, it is not uncommon for a vessel to suffer a catastrophe that leaves its crew injured and the craft distant from any aid. By exercising his understanding of the void, a psyker who has mastered this power can wrap himself or an ally in the void's icy embrace, stabilizing the target and allowing it to survive the harshest of conditions for some time. This technique requires delicate focus to take its full effect, and so it cannot place an unwilling target into the protective sleep it grants to allies. However, in a pinch, some Astropaths have used it to slow and disorient attackers. The psyker activates this technique intuitively. If he succeeds and his target is a willing ally, the target's core body temperature drops and all of his metabolic processes virtually cease. The person immediately enters a trance, which lasts for a number of solar days (the psyker chooses the number of days at the time of activation). For this time, the target does not need to breathe or eat, ignores environment effects including that of the vacuum, and he can even survive ongoing negative effects such as blood loss. Under the effects of Embrace of Emptiness the Astropath appears dead to all mundane senses. Further, they may not take any normal actions, nor may they exit this state until its duration expires or they have the assistance of a psyker trained in this technique.
- Quest for Warmth - Many psykers who embrace the Voidfrost Discipline do so as part of an effort to find other minds amongst the expanse of the void. This is typically a reaction to their desperate need for respite from their isolation -- particularly common among those Astropaths who man facilities that are distant from all of humanity. As these Astropaths continue to extend their minds into the void, they become ever more capable at identifying any signs of sentient life -- including the minds of xenos. A psyker who activates this power extends his mind deeply into the void, searching for any other active minds. If successful, the Astropath can sense from any direction and distance, any concentrations of sentient life within range and are immediately identified, regardless of any shielding or attempt at concealment.
- The Void's Touch - As a psyker's relationship to the dark chill of the void grows stronger, he often gains the ability to draw upon its inherent nature. One of the first stages of this process is in the mastery of a technique that siphons warmth from objects or individuals into himself, ripping the heat out of any objects between himself and his target, creating a frozen path straight to his foe. The attack seems slow-moving at first, but rapidly accelerates as the psyker directs it on towards the object of his enmity. It is also notoriously difficult to avoid this power, as the psyker can easily redirect the trail of frost with his mind, trapping his foe within an ever-shrinking cage of cold.
- Breathstealing Barrage - The void is tranquil, but that desolate quiet can kill. Life can hardly survive without some shelter from the lifeless emptiness. Some psykers embrace this destructive nature as a method to overcome their foes, while they maintain their own composure through contact with the icy chill of the void. The psyker focuses his will as a cluster of energy bolts. These bolts are a physical manifestation of the cold energy drawn from the depths of the void. These bolts first appear near the psyker, then must physically travel the distance to his target or targets where they blast the foe with frigid power.
- Black Sheep - The embrace of the void can offer comfort to an isolated psyker, but those who master its ways soon discover that it can also be a powerful ally. The chill of the void offers a myriad of options to those who commune with it to such a degree that its nature becomes an inherent part of their psyche. Critical among these abilities is the knack for inflicting the void's essence upon a foe's mind by forcing him to confront his insignificance in the vast, cold universe. While a psyker who has come to understand the nature of the void may find such truths comforting, other individuals who are less accustomed to the perspective rarely find it so pleasant, producing a raging, incapacitating terror.
- Void Substantiation - Through discipline, practice, and self-affirmation a psyker can come to embody the chill of the void. In doing so, he can learn not just to dwell within its isolation, but to find unity with the emptiness in doing so. An Astropath who masters this ability becomes capable of surviving and acting normally without warmth, pressure, or breathable air, and can also use this power to blunt the effects of extreme cold or toxic atmospheres.
- Freeze the Soul - There are few prodigies of the Voidfrost Discipline, but legends circulate of those who have completely mastered its ways. The stories tell that they drop the temperature in a room with their entrance and can freeze a man solid with a stare. The most terrifying of these tales are likely based upon the few psykers capable of using techniques like this one upon their opponents. The psyker is said to draw a chill wind from the lightless depths of the void down upon his foes, surrounding them with enveloping layers of ice and freezing their blood even as it pumps through their veins. Targets of this power die an agonising and rapid death, wracked by solar hours of exposure in the blink of an eye, shattering or crumbling in the unforgiving ethereal gale. This is a rare power, yet it has caused countless nightmares for those who have seen it used. Few can speak firsthand of the horror it inflicts upon its targets, for those who find themselves trapped within its pitiless blast rarely survive to recount the tale.
- "My soul bears the imprint of the Emperor. I do not fear the bolter or the lasgun, as He doth shelter me."
- — Astropath Nadine Gyrhardt
Every Astropath enjoys the grace of the God-Emperor as a consequence of his spiritual bond to Him on Terra. While all such psykers rely heavily upon the protection that this grants, a few are capable of making this trait the core of their abilities. Practitioners of the Soul Ward Discipline exploit their Emperor-enhanced essence to protect them and to grant the divine blessing of the God-Emperor to their allies. While still agents of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, such psykers are typically strongly devoted to the Imperial Cult and may even be mistaken for members of the Ecclesiarchy.
- Basic Technique: The Emperor's Guidance - Psykers who learn the Soul Ward Discipline expect to rally their allies so that they can hold the line against any threats to the Imperium. While a portion of this ability comes from their divine faith in the God-Emperor, a far greater portion comes from their direct connection to His grace in the form of their Soul Binding. By calling upon the power of the Warp through this connection, they can share the power of His grace with their allies. This can swiftly bolster their faith in their cause, so that their opponents might be vanquished.
- Know Thy Place - Through the majesty of the God-Emperor, the psyker comes to understand his place in the galaxy, particularly with reference to the majesty of the God-Emperor and the terrors of the Warp. This understanding represents a reassurance for a psyker who has come to grips with it, but to the uninitiated, the perspective may be terrifying.
- Heresy's Price - Those who oppose the God-Emperor cannot hope to stand before His majesty. The divine grace of the Astropath's soul bond represents a manifestation of His presence. A psyker who has studied the discipline of the Soul Ward is often capable of focusing the Warp's energy to display this glory in a way that may distract his foes. As they lose focus, they often become prone to mistakes in battle, so that His presence serves as their downfall.
- Bastion of the Imperium - A psyker who has begun to master the discipline of Soul Warding may pass the protection of the God-Emperor on to those who most need it. After focusing his will through a moment of prayer, the psyker hones in upon the essence of his Soul Binding. Channelling the energies of the Warp through his focus, he grants the target a temporary physical manifestation of that sacred protection, making them more resistant to attack.
- Chorus of the Righteous - Drawing upon his connection to the God-Emperor through his Soul Binding, the psyker may motivate his companions to fight with ever greater fervour. The psyker and all emblems of the Imperium briefly flare with a blinding white light. As this happens, targets can hear the voices of an Astropathic Choir join in song, in praise of their mission, and casting damnation upon their foes. All targets immediately sense a powerful rush of vindication in their battle against those who would dare to oppose their sacred cause and are able to fight more effectively.
- Strength of Truth - Those who choose to master the skills of the Soul Ward invariably have an incredible degree of trust in their abilities and in the cause of the God-Emperor. For some, this faith was instilled in childhood; for others, it came as part of their life experience. In all cases, an individual's survival of the Soul Binding process served as a confirmation of this faith. With this power, the psyker gains the ability to share his faith with others, using the Warp to make it physically manifest within the bodies and minds of allies, making them mentally more able to endure any obstacle.
- Enduring Faith - It is said that the God-Emperor lends His strength to those who display the faith required to help themselves. A psyker who has learned this ability may grant a restorative boon to those who have served Him already, that they might continue to do His most holy work without the need for rest. Legends say that some Astropathic Choirs have remained continuously active for Terran years by sharing this technique amongst their members.
- Reward of the Renegade - Those who would dare to act against the Imperium do so with the knowledge that they are in opposition to the divinely mandated will of the God-Emperor. To undertake such a path is to betray all of Mankind. This treason is a folly of the highest order, and yet there are those who continue to follow this path towards destruction. With this technique, the psyker uses his Soul Binding to punish these offenders, shielding his allies with a luminescent corona and turning the wickedness of his foes back upon them.
- Glory of the Just - As an Astropath's mastery of the Soul Ward school grows, so to do the methods by which he may grant the Emperor's blessing upon his allies. There are no limits to the number of ways that the God-Emperor may bless those who act in his name. He may reach across time and space to aid those who act in His service for the good of all Mankind. Those who receive the blessing bestowed by this technique may begin to realise just how far His reach can extend. Targets can feel the flow of time slow for their enemies as they become more capable of granting justice to those who have offended Him.
- Call of Faith - Those who have faith in the God-Emperor are often capable of performing actions of superhuman endurance. While many do so through nothing but their faith, those under the influence of this technique are aided by the energy of the Warp as focused through a psyker's Soul Binding. In this way, they may continue to serve the Imperium, overcoming even the most potent of foes.
Astropath Shipboard Actions
The following actions can be used in starship combat by an Astropath. Any Astropath or Astropathic Choir aboard a vessel can perform these actions provided that the primary Astropath meets the individual prerequisites, given the scale of power required to have a noticeable effect in the cataclysmic battles between voidships.
- Control the Mind - The Astropath reaches out and temporarily controls the mind of a gunner on the enemy ship, making him fire on a chosen target.
- Dark Labyrinth - The Astropath disguises the interior of his ship, shrouding it with dark shadows and illusory twists and turns.
- Flash Fire - The Astropath attempts to cause psychic flames to burst alight aboard the enemy vessel.
- Ill-Omens - The Astropath spreads unnatural terror among enemy boarders, blunting their assault by eroding their will to fight.
- Mask of the Void - The Astropath makes his ship appear to perform a manoeuvre to trick his foes. The vessel shimmers and warps, seeming to be in more than one place at once.
- Psychic Deflection - The Astropath attempts to deflect an incoming shot with his psychic might, turning aside a blow that might fell his ship.
- Quell Flames - The Astropath dampens a fire within the ship with his mind, willing the flames to sputter and die.
- Unnatural Resolve - The Astropath dampens the crews' primal instincts with psychic energy, making them supernaturally fearless.
- Codex: Astra Militarum (8th Edition), pp. 102, 137
- Codex Imperialis (1st Edition), by Rick Priestley, pp. 36-37
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 246-264
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 48, 154, 158, 162-167, 168-170, 171-172
- Rogue Trader: The Navis Primer (RPG), pp. 22-24, 42-46, 92-99
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pp. 133, 147-148
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (5th Edition), pp. 104, 124
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (4th Edition), pp. 94, 123