"Within the Imperium, crime can be so prevalent that entire worlds are given over to the dumping of humanity’s dregs. Inmates—or just plain unlucky inhabitants—scrape by on worlds that barely support indigenous life, let alone tide of humanity dumped upon it. Not that it matters, as everyone from your world is considered to be a devious, lying criminal and the planet seen as sprawling den of thieves."
Astra Militarum Icon

Icon of the Astra Militarum

A Penal World is a class of Imperial world that functions as a military prison planet. A single such world's population consists entirely of criminals drawn from hundreds of different worlds.

This type of world tends to be a barren, barely-habitable planet that has few other uses and has little, if any, indigenous population. Military formations are often raised from amongst the prison population as necessary, to serve as Penal Legion troops within Astra Militarum regiments. There, they might earn redemption in the eyes of the Emperor through their term of service, which is for life.

In the Imperium, crime is widespread enough that entire worlds are given over to incarcerating the refuse of society. On these Penal Worlds live the criminals of the Imperium, the guards that keep them there, and any luckless denizen unfortunate enough to have been born there.

Here, the criminals labour and toil at various menial tasks while serving out their sentences; and only a few parole out. On some worlds, the worst criminals (those whose crimes aren't severe enough to warrant death) might be segregated from the rest, but this practice varies from world to world.

Thus, murderers and rapists might mix with petty thieves and con-men. From this melting pot comes a brutal society, where survival comes only when one forgets morality and is willing to do whatever is necessary to make it to the next day.

Where most world classifications stem from the types of terrain or lifeforms found there, penal colonies are defined by strict Imperial Law. In every expansion, there are recidivists, looters, murderers, and thieves who appear in its wake. The most violent or persistent offenders, if not granted summary execution at the time of apprehension, may be shipped off-world to facilities designed to house them permanently.

These purgatories made real are often ruined worlds left forgotten due to their lack of strategic importance or natural resources. Buildings are repurposed and retrofitted to accommodate massive numbers of inmates, and automated defences are brought in to keep the new residents in line. It is here that the lawbreakers are left to wither and die -- though some survive to escape their sentence, and fight for the Emperor on other fronts.

Life on a Penal World

"Welcome to Allegro! You are here because you have failed in the eyes of the Emperor. Any chance for redemption starts now!"
— Warden Abel D'Arce's announcement to new inmates

A Penal World is a planet used to exile prisoners. Within the Calixis Sector, inmates sentenced to Penal Worlds are marked with a barcode tattoo that is typically placed on their neck, forehead, or other easily-spotted area of the body. Here, many inmates die of disease, starvation, infection, the environment, an escape attempt, an encounter with the brutal enforcer-guards, or one of a hundred other maladies. Inmates are sentenced far away from their homeworlds and most never see that world again.

Inmates condemned to a Penal World are those found guilty of crimes that don't warrant outright execution. Some feel that those who are executed are the lucky ones, for those sentenced to Penal Worlds are sent to hellish places where death is slow in coming. The only denizens that have any real freedoms whatsoever are the warden and his guards.

On many Penal Worlds the Planetary Governor is also the global prison's warden, and his authority is absolute. The warden and his guards often brutalise the inmate population, adding to their considerable misery and mortality. The populace tends to be hardened, ruthless, shifty, and untrustworthy. However, they can also be resourceful and possess a low cunning. They are haunted individuals who are witness to the kind of atrocity most will never see.

Life on many penal colonies is extremely regimented and heavily monitored. Daily menial labour maintaining the grounds -- or more rarely, mining or extracting resources -- is designed to tax even the heartiest individual’s energy levels, thereby reducing the incidence of violent encounters. Food is largely bland and heavily processed to inhibit muscle growth and dull the senses. Constant lockdown when not working or eating all but eliminates the ability to hope for a better day. These calculated practices break the wills of the inmates, but even with all of that working against them, human nature knows no limit to its baser instincts.

When the demand for expendable soldiers is highest, Lord Generals send word back along the worlds they have conquered and request additional troops from all planets capable of sending them. Penal colonies are often able to send viable troops who seek little more than a final taste of freedom and redemption in service to the Golden Throne. Founding Tithes for war efforts are rare on these planets, for such penal legions are difficult to control, but the flood of inmate volunteers continually feeds the insatiable, unending Imperial war machine on fronts across the galaxy.

While this represents the majority of these “colonies,” others are so far removed from the rest of the Imperium that they are merely dumping grounds for what the sector or sub-sector governments consider human refuse. On these worlds, transport fleets often arrive in the system festooned with one-way drop pods filled with convicts. Once in orbit they fire off all the pods and then depart for a hasty transition back to the Warp, leaving the accused to fend for themselves. On some of these worlds, a single established bastion provides updates or provides the basis for rounding up and honouring a Founding Tithe. In others, those who survive form their own tribal groupings and struggle to exist with the remains of their pods and any gear they were given.

Those hailing from a penal colony fall mostly into one of two camps: either inmates or their progeny. A few others come from the ranks of guards, gaolers, and wardens who oversee these wretches. Regardless of which group they fall into, those living on a penal colony develop survival strategies to inure themselves to the horrors around them. Many prisoners band together in gangs to provide support, protection, and strength; some rely on intimidation or reputation to keep potential threats at bay.

Those unable to cope find their way to their graves, or end up more deeply imprisoned by servitude to fellow inmates. The few able to survive and emerge from this environment stronger and more defined are often the kind needed by both Inquisitors and the Imperial Guard.

Individuals who have skills and talent outside the norm are often noticed by those with a keen eye for such abilities. Wardens are tasked with readying prison recruits for duty in Penal Legions as required. At times, an Inquisitor might seek out those with the capacity to move in the world of shadows and depravity, and there are few better places to find those with the resolve and ability than in prison.

Working for an Inquisitor brings significantly more freedom, but infinitely more danger than even the highly terminal nature of their service in the Imperial Guard. Still, very few reject an offer made by someone who can make a warden cower.

Penal colonies hold all kinds of criminals and therefore also all kinds of hidden talents. While most doomed to such a world are rough thugs or insane killers, some inmates are gifted thinkers, skilled procurers, rousing orators, or budding technomats who were captured and incarcerated for activities that local rulers deemed heretical or revolutionary (or simply bothersome).

Once imprisoned with others of their ilk, they might hone their skills or develop new ones. If ever unleashed upon the Imperium, most are eager to share their new abilities with unsuspecting enemies on the direction of their Inquisitorial masters.

Notable Penal Worlds

Planet Name Segmentum Sector Sub-Sector System Population
Ferroxian Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
Jubilus Segmentum Obscurus Askellon Sector Asphodel Depths Unknown Unknown
Katara Unknown Unknown Unknown Sevasmos System Unknown
Komarg II Unknown Unknown Unknown Kormarg System Unknown
Maleziel Unknown Koronus Expanse Winterscale's Realm Unknown 10,000
Morros Lachrymal Segmentum Tempestus Orpheus Sector Capitoline Sub-Sector Unknown Unknown
Savlar Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
St. Josmane's Hope Segmentum Obscurus Cadian Sector Cadian Sub-Sector Unknown N/A (Destroyed)
Zartak Segmentum Pacificus Unknown Ethika Sub-Sector Unknown N/A (Inquisitorial quarantine lifted in 876.M40, repopulation in progress)


  • Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition), pp. 14, 24
  • Dark Heresy: Enemies Beyond (2nd Edition) (RPG), pp. 28-29
  • Imperial Armour Volume Ten - The Badab War, Part Two, pg. 135
  • Imperial Armour Volume Twelve - The Fall of Orpheus, pp.13-15, 20, 23-24
  • Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (RPG), pp. 13-14
  • The 13th Black Crusade (Background Book) by Andy Hoare, pp. 23-24, 33-34, 36-38, 81
  • Warhammer 40,000: Chapter Approved - Annual 2003, pg. 26
  • Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 153
  • White Dwarf Magazine 287 (UK), "Eye of Terror Worldwide Campaign - Death by a Thousand Cuts," pg. 38
  • Carcharodons : Red Tithe (Novel) by Robbie MacNiven
  • Warlord : Fury of the God-Machine (Novel) by David Annendale, pp. 251-252

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