Another way to use chapters bearing traitor geneseed: Berserker Chapters
If the Imperium does retain gene-stocks from the Traitor Legions, it’s an interesting exercise to speculate what they might use it for.
Let’s say that the Imperium, if given a choice, would always prefer to use the stable, reliable Ultramarine geneseed (I call it the Ultra Helix.) for Chapters who are active within its boundaries. If that geneseed is not available, or in short supply (a rare occurrence) there is geneseed from other loyalist first founding Legions available. So why would they use traitor geneseed at all?
Perhaps they retain stocks of traitor geneseed to use in what I would term “berserker” chapters.
A “Berserker” chapter is one that is designed to be utilised in an all-out assault on a single, overwhelmingly powerful enemy objective, in a conflict which the chapter is not expected to survive. Equipped with second line, poorer quality equipment (old patterns of armour, mothballed, unreliable vessels, captured pirate frigates rather than warships etc.) than a “normal” chapter, and possibly smaller in size than a codex chapter, berserker chapters are expected to destroy the enemy and themselves.
The chapter is built from the ground up with this objective in mind, and as such there are a number of options available to Imperial forces in selecting the geneseed available. If they want to grind an opponent down in a protracted campaign, Death Guard geneseed is a good choice. If they want to use a berserker chapter for a simple direct assault, then World Eaters geneseed is a good choice. If they want to utilise a small berserker chapter who can do maximum damage in a brutal campaign of running battles, Night Lord geneseed might be utilised, and so on.
The Imperium doesn’t trust the Berserker chapters, and doesn’t want them to remain active within its territory at the end of their campaign. So one imagines that a number of measures have been taken to ensure that they are totally dependent upon the Imperium. Perhaps their ships are rigged to explode if regular signals are not received from Terra. Perhaps the marines have all been secretly injected with a slow poison, and must regularly consume an antidote provided in their food. Or perhaps they all bear implanted cortex bombs designed to snuff out their lives at the first sign of rebellion.
Berserker chapters are likely led by a cadre of marine officers who do not bear traitor geneseed, who are tasked with carefully watching their charges in action for sign of genetic deviance or warp taint. These marines-probably from very loyal and stable chapters like the ultramarines-are at once the commanders, gaolers and executioners of the Berserkers under their charge.
Key to the operation of the Berserker chapters is that the marines themselves are ignorant of the history of their geneseed, and regard themselves as loyal and dutiful servants of the Imperium, bearing loyalist geneseed. They themselves don’t know the dark secret in their blood, instead regarding themselves as the Imperium’s penultimate line of defence, issued with special orders, standing ready to combat the greatest threats facing mankind.
Eternal guardians of the Imperium
Key to the operation of a (theoretical) berserker chapter is stasis technology. Using this technology, a chapter can be created during a period of peace, and then placed “on ice” in a stasis field until required. Understandably, the Imperium doesn’t want Chapters kicking around that use traitor geneseed, so they “store” berserker chapters in this way until required. One thing the galaxy does not lack is space…there are endless dead worlds, rogue planets and stable, empty star systems, where a chapter could be entombed in this way until required.
Stasis fields are expensive, so it’s not like an entire world would be placed in one; rather portions of a specially constructed, heavily automated chapter fortress would be set aside to “store” marines in stasis. Perhaps a number of small halls each containing 100 marines closely packed together within a stasis field would be used. The rest of the chapter fortress would stand empty and deserted, filled with vacuum-stored war material and silently panning automated sentry guns…until the call for battle from Terra closes down the stasis fields and stirs the Marines within.
One imagines that it is conceivable that the Segmentum Solar is ringed with silent worlds containing hidden fortresses filled with sleeping marines, ready to awaken at any time upon the order of the High Lords, to do cataclysmic battle with a deadly foe of the Imperium.
Alternatively, they may be stationed at the edges of the Halo Stars, ready to deal with any horror from beyond the galaxy that comes roiling out of deep space.
The Berserker Chapters are told that they are to stand ready for any one of a number of Doomsday scenarios, stored away like weapons to be used against some unknown enemy in the distant future. This knowledge-that they are the Imperium’s secret sentinels standing ready for the end times- gels well with the elitist, fanatical and martial mind-set of most marines, so Berserker Chapters swallow this lie without question. They are quite prepared to die in battle without a second thought. Were they to become aware that they bear traitor geneseed, and that they are not trusted to survive their first encounter with the enemy, it would undoubtedly shake their faith to the core.
The Lost Chapters
Taking the concept further, once could speculate that perhaps an entire founding consisted of such “berserker” chapters, perhaps one of the earlier, more mysterious foundings. If such a founding took place beyond living memory of the Horus Heresy, but before the Imperium became completely dominated by the religious mind-set promulgated by the Ecclesiarchy, then it is conceivable that there could have been a period where the High Lords of Terra might entertain the creation of such an “emergency” force. This might be more likely where the Imperium is facing pressure on its loyalist geneseed stocks, or where external threats seem all too real.
Given the long, confused history of the Imperium, one could further conceive of a situation where much of the Imperium has actually forgotten about the existence of many such chapters. Thus, powerful chapters of Marines whose services in these end days would be vital are lost, through simple neglect and ignorance.
Key features of a Berserker Chapter
-Smaller than a Codex Chapter
-Equipped with equipment that is older or less effective than a normal chapter
-tendency and willingness (even eagerness) to engage in massive campaigns that are capable of completely destroying them
-Less emphasis upon recovering or carefully husbanding their geneseed than Codex chapters
Examples of potential Berserker Chapters
There are a couple of chapters from the canon who meet the profile of a Berserker Chapter. The Astral Knights are a notable example, destroying themselves and a vast Necron War planet in one apocalyptic battle in 926.M41. The fact that at the time of their destruction they numbered less than 1,000 marines and that little is known of their geneseed and founding fits the profile of a Berserker chapter. (Note I’m not suggesting they were intended to be a Berserker chapter when written – I’m merely observing that they neatly fit the concept I’m creating here.) In many ways this a classic example of how a Berserker Chapter should operate – bringing down a hugely powerful enemy (thus saving other, Codex chapters from destruction) and sacrificing themselves in the process.
Another good example that fits the profile is the Knights of Eternity, (p23 Codex Tyranids, 5th ed) who were wiped out by Hive Fleet Kraken. The fact that they were totally destroyed, that they were annihilated in action against a vast hive fleet, and their suggestive name (perhaps a reference to storage in stasis?) all point to a Berserker Chapter.
The Warhawks are another example, mentioned in the Liber Chaotica as having been destroyed during the 5th Black Crusade. Again, I’m not suggesting that the writer who created them intended them to fit my profile, just that they do now! The Warhawks were completely destroyed in a massive battle against forces that repeatedly return to plague the Imperium. It seems logical that Berserker chapters would be stationed around the Eye of Terror. Furthermore, their name seems to link to the War Hounds, the old name for the World Eaters.
One can imagine dozens of potential adventure hooks that could arise from the concept of a Berserker chapter. Here are a few thoughts:-
-The players suddenly encounter an unknown chapter bearing unique heraldry they are not familiar with. This chapter is, unknown to the players, a Berserker chapter accidentally awakened within the Jericho Reach. The Chapter follows its standing orders and prepares to engage in a massive, all out, suicidal assault on the nearest concentration of enemy forces, whether Tyranid, Chaotic or Tau. How do the players react to this situation? Do they stand back and let the Berserkers work? Do they assist them? Or do they try and convince them to use their energies more constructively, for the good of the wider Imperium? How do then players react to the discovery that the chapter bears traitor geneseed? This could be a combat heavy adventure, where the players accompany the Berserkers into battle, and see first-hand how aggressive and violent they are!
-Following on from the above scenario, perhaps the players end up working with a Berserker chapter that has survived its suicidal attack on the enemy. The players end up becoming close allies of the chapter. However, over time, they begin to notice that the tactics and mood of the chapter changes, becoming darker, more violent and more…chaotic. Do the players detect the slow poison of the Berserker chapter’s geneseed tainting them? How do they deal with the risk of an entire chapter of potential chaos marines suddenly being unleashed on the Jericho Reach? This would be an adventure with lots of roleplaying opportunities, and the chance for interaction with fellow marines, albeit very unusual ones.
-Or perhaps the players encounter evidence of the existence of a Berserker chapter in “mothballs” in the Jericho Reach, and must find out if the rumours about its existence are true or not. The players must conduct a secret investigation into the existence and whereabouts of the chapter. This would be a bit like a Dark Heresy campaign, with lots of investigation and a slow drip-drip reveal of terrible ancient secrets. Perhaps there are ancient sentinel cults of Imperial servants/chapter serfs watching over the sleeping marines who seek to oppose the players in their investigations? Perhaps the players discover that a force of Chaos renegades have also discovered the existence of the sleeping marines, and must race to stop them twisting them to their own devices?
-Alternatively, you could run a “historical” campaign, using one of the canon chapters above. The Astral Knights and Knights of Eternity are good examples for a Deathwatch game, as they faced Xenos opponents. The players could be ordered to travel to a remote, dead planetary system and awaken the marines within, instructing them upon the nature of their opponents and unleashing them upon the Imperium’s foes. They could even accompany them into battle to ensure that the maximum damage is done to the enemy. Depending upon the seniority of the players concerned, they might even be advised of the true nature of the Berserker Chapter’s geneseed, and trusted to do their duty to ensure that there are no survivors of the battle.
Anyway, there are a few thoughts on one way to use traitor geneseed in a loyalist chapter. Like I say in my earlier post above, I’m not actually that huge a fan of the concept, but this is one (relatively) logical way for a loyalist chapter to bear tainted geneseed!