The Knight Worlds are technologically-advanced planets within the Imperium of Man that are allied with both the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus yet still maintain feudal cultures and social structures reminiscent of the Terran High Middle Ages during the 2nd Millennium. These planets are descended from the venerable human colonies that date back to the Dark Age of Technology. Ancient oaths of ealty mean that the Knights are sworn to protect the citizens of these worlds, and also to fight against the Imperium's enemies when called to do so. These worlds are ruled by feudal noble houses called Knight Houses because their members are trained to pilot the massive humanoid war machines known as Imperial Knights. Most Knight Worlds are closely politically and economically linked with a nearby Mechanicus Forge World.
There are many hundreds of Knight Worlds scattered throughout the vast empire of Mankind. The bold explorers of Humanity's first interstellar expansion during the Age of Technology travelled far and wide into the galactic wilderness seeking habitable worlds or planets that could otherwise be terraformed to sustain human life. Many of these exploratory fleets were equipped with Knight Standard Template Construct (STC) technology, enabling them to protect the colonies they established. More than fifteen millennia after their ancient ancestors set out into the stars, the distant descendants of these human colonists dwell still on Knight Worlds scattered across the demesne of the Imperium. Though many knightly houses have risen and fallen over the ages, those that remain can trace their heritage back to a time before the birth of the Imperium, and are justifiably proud of their ancestry. Thus is every Knight World heavy with the weight of the past, regardless of its galactic location or level of technological advancement.
Long before the rise of the Emperor and the birth of the Imperium, during the Age of Technology humanity reached out to the stars, eager to occupy new worlds and expand its burgeoning empire. Vast colonisation ships carried eager human settlers, along with all the resources they might require, and landed on far-flung, often isolated worlds.
The first Knight Worlds were founded at the very start of the Age of Technology, when scouts from Terra travelled far through the galaxy seeking planets to use as agricultural worlds to provide food for Mankind's burgeoning population, or as mining colonies to provide the materials needed to fuel their expansion across the stars. Indeed, the Knight worlds had already been established for thousands of years when the Imperium was first founded. When those first human scout ships discovered a suitable planet for colonisation, gigantic spacecraft were dispatched to settle them. These ships were part of Terra's Long March fleets, named after the duration of their voyage and their destination among the stars. The name was apt; each of the Long March colony ships carried thousands of settlers on a decade-long journey to a far distant planet. Upon arrival, the colony ship would land and be immediately cannibalised by the colonists to provide the raw materials needed for their first settlements; there was no hope of return.
The struggle for survival on many of these worlds was grim. On some, the settlers found themselves the prey of vicious predators or were attacked by native alien races, which saw the human settlers as invaders. On other worlds, extreme weather conditions or an unbreathable atmosphere made travel outside of domed habitat-zones next to impossible. However, problems like these had been anticipated, and in order to deal with them, the settlers were supplied with Standard Template Construct (STC) that allowed them to build powered suits of exoarmour. The pilots of these bipedal walking machines were protected by a hard shell of plasteel and armed with an array of military-grade heavy weapons. The suits proved invaluable: few, if any, natural predators or hostile alien warriors could stand against them, and they could travel through even the most dangerous environment with ease. The towering armoured figures soon became a common sight on the colonies, where they were known as Knights by the settlers, after the legendary armoured warriors and protectors of ancient Terran history.
Compelled by the mind-altering effects instilled by the Thrones Mechanicum (a control platform that allows a pilot to interface with their Knight battlesuit), over the course of a few generations, these elite warriors gradually developed a society that evolved into the knightly houses. The plasteel plates of the original exo-skeleton suits were slowly replaced with more ornate armour made from adamantium, providing better protection as well as a panoply befitting the wearer’s prestige and rank. The more mundane duties that the Knights had once taken part in on the colony worlds -– logging with their mighty reaper chainswords, for example, or blasting apart rock ore with their rapid-fire battle cannons -– were delegated to those of lesser ranks, allowing the Knights to focus on the arts of war and governorship. Dwelling in tall strongholds, the Nobles strove to protect the lives of their subjects (as they now saw the settlers they protected) and to bring order to the primeval maelstrom on the planets that were their homes. The knightly houses proved to be highly successful at both of these things, and soon became a vital part of human society during the Age of Technology.
The Age of Strife
Tragically, the Age of Technology was doomed to fall and devolve into a shadow of its former glory. Around M22, Mankind's vast galactic empire began to suffer a pandemic of terrible wars and massive invasions, caused, at least in part, by the emergence of the first human Psykers and the widespread use of quasi-sentient machines. By M25, ferocious Warp Storms had largely isolated the widespread human colonies, and the era that came to be known as the Age of Strife had well and truly begun. This lamentable era became known as the Age of Strife, also sometimes referred to as Old Night, interstellar travel to many of these human-settled worlds was made impossible due to the massive Warp Storms caused by the birth of the foul Chaos God Slaanesh during the Fall of the Eldar.
Although swathes of Knight worlds fell to this storm of death and destruction, some survived, aided considerably by the innate conservatism and resistance to change of the knightly houses. Where other planets welcomed psykers into their midst, and revelled in the luxurious lifestyle that advanced thinking machines could provide, the knightly houses had largely shunned both, preferring to stick with the traditions and technology of the past. Thus, when the violence that presaged the Age of Strife struck, hundreds of Knight worlds were sidelined or ignored, and took little direct part in the terrible conflicts that tore the rest of humanity apart. Cut off and alone, the knightly houses were quickly forgotten by the other colonies. Left to their own devices, the warrior aristocracy cemented their control and –- encouraged by the psychological manipulations caused by the process of imprinting their suits of Knight armour -– almost all of them enforced neo-feudal systems on their home worlds.
During the latter years of this tumultuous age, the Mechanicum of Mars began sending out many starships that made use of sublight drives to explore the galaxy in search of Standard Template Construct (STC) technologies on lost human colony worlds. In the course of their travels, these slow-moving exploratory expeditions discovered large clusters of human-settled star systems that had once belonged to the ancient interstellar human confederacy that had existed during the Dark Age of Technology. But these worlds had regressed during the Age of Strife to become Feudal Worlds possessed of a pre-industrial, feudal culture dominated by castes of warrior aristocrats. The societies that evolved were built upon concepts of fealty, honour and duty; three things that all Knights hold in the greatest regard. All of the Nobles on a Knight world owed their allegiance to a knightly house, whose ruler could call upon them at any time to carry out his commands. Each house could also field large numbers of men-at-arms, either mounted or on foot. The houses also had groups of artificers and technicians who maintained the suits of Knight armour as best they could, and over time, became an integral part of society on all of the Knight Worlds.
Sometimes the ruler of a knightly house would come from the same family for generation after generation, but more often than not, the death of an incumbent ruler would lead to a period of political manoeuvring or even outright warfare until a new ruler was selected. Competition between different knightly houses on a planet was just as intense, and although full-scale battles were rare, all strived to outdo their rivals in any way they could, be it in the field of politics, ancient traditions, or contests of their skill at arms. On the Knight world of Higroxias, for example, once every ten years, the three major houses compete against each other in a series of trials known as the Honour Games, the winner of which rules the governing council for the next decade. As the Age of Strife stretched from centuries into millennia, the Knight worlds became increasingly insular and inward looking. Each developed its own titles and terms, so that on one Knight world the ruler of a knightly house would be known as a Lord, while on another they might be called a Ritter or Patriarch, and a Noble's stronghold could be known as their castle, fastness or mansion. Without any outside contact, ritual and etiquette started to dominate daily life within the knightly houses, and the only escape from stultifying tradition lay in donning a suit of Knight armour and taking to the field of battle.
The Coming of the Imperium
After five thousand years, the Imperium arose from the ruins of the Age of Strife. Under the guidance of the Emperor, Humanity returned to the stars and began the Great Crusade in 798.M30, to reunite Mankind. Nothing was able to stand in the way of the resurgent Imperial armies, and soon, human colonies on planets all across the galaxy were brought within the fold of the newly formed Imperium. When Rogue Trader Militant Jeffers rediscovered a Knight world, Chrysis, for the first time, he quickly realized the knightly houses could be valuable allies for the Emperor's armies. In his reports, he pointed out the Knights' many virtues, and emphasised the world's value to the Imperium as a source of born and bred warriors. The Administratum agreed with Jeffers' findings and set about finding the rest of the long-lost Knight worlds. Although there were thousands of Knight worlds at their height during the Dark Age of Technology, the vast majority had been destroyed or died out during the Age of Strife. Now, only several hundred survive, scattered all across the galaxy. Most of the Knight worlds share certain features, hallmarks of the instructions followed by the original settlers. The Nobles themselves occupy sprawling walled strongholds, each a gothic, ancient structure of dusty, lifeless halls and corridors. Many are built on the same location as the first human settlements on the planet and include at their core parts of the giant colony ships used to transport the first settlers to their new worlds. They can vary in size from small keeps to entire cities bordered by vast outer walls.
Huge farms or strip-mines surround the strongholds, providing foodstuffs and raw materials for local use and export across the galaxy; the colony ships' purpose was always to generate resources for Mankind. It is in these settlements that the vast majority of citizens on Knight worlds live, with few venturing more than a dozen miles from their place of birth. In addition to these settlements, vast grazing herds of beasts wander through the wildernesses between the strongholds – more often than not, these are huge reptilian creatures that were introduced to the planet as livestock in the Age of Technology. Packs of local predators will often pursue the grazing herds or attack the farms surrounding a stronghold, and it is the duty of the Knights to fight to keep them at bay. Even on planets with less ferocious flora and fauna, the Knights must be constantly vigilant in order to keep the herds and farms safe from alien raiders and rapacious pirates.
The Forge Worlds
Most knightly houses, though by no means all, are are associated with a Forge World, and in return for fighting alongside that forge world's Titan Legions, they gain access to advanced technology and knowledge that only the Adeptus Mechanicus possess. The association between the knightly houses and the Adeptus Mechanicus dates back to the time of the Great Crusade. When the Knight worlds were first discovered, the different organisations that made up the Great Crusade competed ferociously with each other to gain control of the valuable resource the Knights represented. This Machiavellian political contest went on for decades, until the Mechanicum of Mars was finally able to establish their dominance in the right to exploit the Knight worlds. The Mechanicum were driven in this by a desire to gain control of the archeotech that could be found in abundance on the ancient Knight worlds, but were also aware that the vast natural resources and military might of the knightly houses could make them a valuable asset. To this end, once they had established their right to exploit the Knight worlds, they set about making them dependent upon the Mechanicum for their continued survival.
At the time of the Great Crusade, the Tech-Priests' space fleets found an anarchic galaxy where the ancient confederacy of interdependent human planets no longer existed. The surviving Knight worlds that were discovered had not retained all of their old technology and had devolved into feudal states ruled by aristocrats. The Tech-Priests settled amongst these feudal empires, founding many forge worlds, and established contacts with the knightly houses, trading with their worlds and investigating the ancient ruins where surviving technology could still sometimes be found. The ferocious warrior Knights proved invaluable in combating enemies such as marauding Orks and land-hungry Eldar Exodites. In return, the Tech-Priests promised technical expertise and helped the Nobles to rebuild their planets. The most important thing that the Tech-Priests brought to the Knight worlds was the knowledge and technology needed to maintain the Nobles' suits of armour. Over the course of the Age of Strife, much of the expertise needed to keep the complex Knight armour working had been lost. Local technicians and artificers did their best to maintain the suits, but in many cases, they simply did not have the necessary ability. When the Knight worlds were rediscovered, most had only a handful of operational suits remaining, and even these were in a poor state of repair. The Mechanicum promised to remedy this situation by inducting the local technicians that had been caring for the armour into the Cult Mechanicus, and teaching them the skills they needed to keep the Knight armour in good repair. Because of this, nearly all suits of Knight armour now bear the mark of the Cult Mechanicus as a reminder of the debt of gratitude they owe to Mars.
Over the millennia, the forge worlds have grown powerful with the Knight worlds flourishing alongside them. Year-long, the Knights battle and patrol until the great cargo ships arrive from a forge world, bringing new Knight suits, weapons, tools and mining machinery. They leave with their holds packed with ores and food. The Tech-Priests and the Knights are now mutually dependent, and many forge worlds form the hub of a tiny empire consisting of a forge world and its surrounding Knight worlds. In return, the Knights have gained much from the Tech-Priests, their worlds gradually returning to being technically sophisticated cultures. However, the relationship between forge world and Knight world is not always an easy one, and nowhere is this more true than in the fraught relationship between the Knights and the Sacristans trained by the Adeptus Mechanicus to maintain their armour.
Notable Knight Worlds
- The Stryken System - Situated far in the galactic north-west, the Stryken System's principal planet is the smoke-wreathed forge world of Stryken Primus. The system's industrial heart is protected by a ring of three Knight worlds in close proximity –- Stryken II, IV and V –- and each is home to several knightly houses. These verdant planets were once Maiden Worlds of the Eldar. The ancient tribes of Exodites that once dwelt there, herding the many different species of giant reptiles and bipedal carnivores, were ruthlessly driven from these worlds by the knightly houses that were established shortly after Mankind's arrival. With the combined might of no less than eleven knightly houses to call upon, including such luminaries as Houses Arokon and Dorath, the forge world of Stryken Primus has no Titan Legion stationed upon its surface. The planet instead focuses on supplying munitions in enormous quantities for the Imperial forces defending the Cadian Gate. A standing guard of Knights –- the Order of Iron -– is always present on the surface of the forge world to ensure its protection. Drawn from amongst the greatest and most capable Nobles from each House, competition to be accepted into the Order of Iron is fierce, and it is considered a great honour to join their ranks. The head of the Order is given the honorific title of Forge Warden, and leads the Knights in battle as if he were a ruler of his own knightly house.
- Avarris - Just beyond the far eastern reaches of the Ultima Segmentum lies the war-torn Vidar Sector. The barren Knight world of Avarris can be found within this system, founded unwittingly by its first settlers on a planet once belonging to the Necron Sautekh Dynasty. Thus, it was a great surprise to the knightly houses established on Avarris when, in 975.M41, legions of reawakened xenos machines emerged from their tomb complexes far beneath the planet's surface to assail them without warning. Fortunately, the Gauss Weaponry of the Necrons, normally so mercilessly efficient at eliminating armoured targets, was somewhat confounded by the ion shields of the Knight suits. With no less than three knightly houses present on Avarris, Imperial forces were able to respond to the sudden Necron attack with immediate and brutal effect. War still rages on Avarris, but the Imperial Knights have already made several successful forays into the vast underground tomb fortresses of the Necrons. Indeed, the rulers of the three knightly houses are confident that the xenos threat on Avarris will soon be overcome, and they will be able to lend their aid to the other Imperial forces fighting throughout the sector.
- Chrysis - House Krast hails from the Knight world of Chrysis, and was the first of its kind to be rediscovered at the outset of the Great Crusade. The proximity of Chrysis to the Sol System saw it quickly fall under the jurisdiction of Mars. However, Krast was the only knightly house on Chrysis to survive the calamitous events of the Horus Heresy, forcing its ruler to rely heavily on the forge world’s support to recover his losses. Thankfully, Mars was happy to oblige, for it was desperate for resources and Chrysis still had them in abundance.
- Dragon's End - The volcanic Knight world of Dragon's End named for the winged drakes that, millennia ago, soared on the thermals and preyed on the vast megasaur herds that grazed in the valleys before they were hunted to extinction. It was the arrival of the planet's first human settlers, and the foundation of House Griffith soon thereafter, that saw irrevocable changes made to the planet's primordial ecosystem. The colonists brought with them a huge number of Terran horses, and the Nobles that would eventually go on to found House Griffith became adept riders. But as their colony expanded, the humans sought to claim dominance over the megasaur herds, leading to inevitable confrontation with the dragons that fed upon the giant creatures. Before the first Knight suits were completed, the Nobles took to fighting the dragons on horseback, clad in baroque armour crafted from locally-mined obsidian. Against such terrible creatures, the Nobles were forced to become great warriors in order to overcome them. The mightiest of their number was Nathaniel, who slew three dragons with his dragonbone lance before eventually becoming House Griffith's inaugural ruler. Even though the Knight suits enabled the Nobles to finally overcome the dragons, they never forgot the skills they had mastered. To this day, Griffith's Knights are amongst the very deadliest in battle.
- Dutonis - The Knight world of Dutonis is an acrid, volcanic world that sits in the galactic north-east of Segmentum Obscurus. Ever tinged with the bitter taste of sulphur on the wind, it is a world of great material value to the Imperium, for it is ripe with mineral ore and rich veins of adamantium fork throughout the planet's mountainous crust. Despite being bitter rivals, two knightly houses –- Navaros and Borgius –- have long protected Dutonis from those who would seek to claim this priceless metal for themselves. In this task, they have fought against both alien and traitor alike, for it would be unthinkable should such quantities of this invaluable ore fall into the wrong hands.
- Voltoris - Out in the Eastern Fringe lies the tranquil world of Voltoris, home to the mighty Knights of House Terryn. Vast green oceans surround tropical islands the size of continents. Bat-winged monstrosities hunt beneath the jungle eaves, and the giant amphibious predators that are similarly commonplace offer the Knights ample opportunity to perfect their hunting skills. But despite the planet's solitary location having spared this idyllic paradise from many of the terrible events that have beset the Imperium over the millennia, the Knights that dwell there are nonetheless amongst the most warlike of their kind. These Knights commonly travel across the galaxy to defend the Imperium in far-flung campaigns, in a bid to find foes worthy of their skills. In more recent centuries, however, the Knights of House Terryn have been forced to fight ever closer to home. The dual threats posed by Hive Fleet Leviathan and the rapidly expanding Tau Empire ensure that Terryn's Knights remain on a constant war footing, lest Voltoris itself be threatened. Unfortunately for their enemies, these warriors relish any excuse for battle.
- Raisa - Far to the galactic south lies the heavily forested Knight world of Raisa. The native flora of this lush world grows with such virility that only the vast plateaus that pierce the evergreen canopy are free from their touch. From atop the largest of these highland plains rises the towering stronghold of House Cadmus, Golem Keep. This monolithic edifice was named after the mighty elementals that once haunted the planet's wildernesses, before they were hunted to extinction by the first Imperial Knights to settle on Raisa many thousands of years ago. Now, the only sentient creatures to stalk the murky, overgrown trails beneath the forest boughs are an unstable strain of barbaric Abhumans. Though the Knights of House Cadmus could effortlessly slaughter the wild tribes descended from their ancient forebears, they choose not to. But it is by no means a misguided sense of loyalty to these pitiable creatures that stays their hand; it is in fact tradition. Instead, the Knights take part in an annual event known as the Cull to keep the mutants' numbers in check and provide an opportunity to hone their hunting skills.
- Rapture - The paradisiacal Knight world of Rapture was once the shining jewel of the Reductus Sector -– but the terrible aftermath of an attack by a tendril of Hive Fleet Leviathan left the planet a near lifeless husk. Rapture is now a Dead World, uninhabitable by human life anywhere outside of the last surviving hab-dome. Though the fateful Tyranid assault on Rapture was ultimately defeated, the cost to the Imperium was dear. The stalwart survivors of House Aramos, however, refuse to abandon their ruined world, unwilling to sully the memory of their ancestors, who first settled Rapture some fifteen millennia ago. From their stronghold of Auric Keep, the Knights of Aramos launch daily sorties beyond the walls of the hab-dome to hunt the persistent Tyranid broods that were able to endure the Imperium's vengeful purge in the wake of Leviathan's defeat.
- Codex: Imperial Knights (6th Edition), pp. 13-14, 19-21, 23-24, 28-29, 42-44, 47, 52, 60, 64, 70, 82
- Codex: Imperial Knights (6th Edition)
- White Dwarf 5 (March 01, 2014) (UK) , "Codex: Imperial Knights", pp. 5-51, 62-65, 67-68, 73
- White Dwarf 4 (February 22, 2014) (UK) , "Imperial Knight" by Jervis Johnson, pp. 5-15, 28-33, 52-58
- White Dwarf 178, "The Titan Legions," by Rick Priestly
- Titan Legions (2nd Edition), pp. 27-30, 54