40K: What if the Primarchs had never been found?

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What would the galaxy look like if the Emperor had never found his greatest sons…

Everyone knows the story of the Primarchs. From their mysterious creation that draws on “dark arts” as well as science long forgotten, to the eventual betrayal and tragedy that is the dominating narrative force in the 40K world — the Disappearance of the Squats okay FINE, the Horus Heresy. Which, sure, it pit brother versus brother and is the entire reason the galaxy looks the way it does (and is ultimately at the root of the biggest conflicts in the galaxy). And what a tragedy it was, leaving six definitely dead, probably. As long as you don’t look too hard. And six more have since become Daemon Princes–maybe getting picked up by the Emperor wasn’t as great a deal as they thought it’d be.

So this week, we’re going to take a look at what some of those Primarchs might have gotten up to if the Emperor had never found them.

Roboute Guilliman

Alright–we’ll start with the current Primarch to step up and take center stage. Recently resurrected and freed from stasis, Roboute Guilliman is known for empire building and being a leader’s leader.

In the past:

Roboute was a prodigy, growing fast in both body and intellect. By age ten, he had mastered every subject the wisest men of Macragge could teach him, and his insights into matters of history, philosophy, and science often stunned his elders. However, his greatest talents were as a military leader. These talents led his father to give him command of an expeditionary force to Illyrium, a mountainous region in the far north of Macragge, whose wild inhabitants had terrorized the civilized regions for years and successfully resisted every previous military campaign. Not only did Roboute fight a brilliant campaign but he also earned the respect of the wildmen who never again threatened the more civilised parts of Macragge. However, on his return to the capital Roboute found the city in chaos, as his father’s co-Consul, Gallan, had attempted a coup. Gallan led a faction of Macragge’s nobility who were used to enjoying their wealth and position at the expense of armies of slaves, and resented Konor’s legislation favoring the common people, among whom he was immensely popular.

Approaching the city, Roboute and his soldiers saw the city in chaos, being sacked by mobs of Gallan’s men, while the Consul House was under siege. Roboute left his men to restore order to the city, while he rushed to the Consul House and lifted the siege, only to find his father close to death, surrounded by his loyal bodyguards. He had been mortally wounded by an assassin in Gallan’s employ, and with his dying breath, told Roboute who was responsible. Roboute swiftly crushed the rebellion and, amid a wave of popular relief, assumed the title of sole Consul of Macragge. He set about punishing the treachery and carrying out his father’s vision. Gallan and his co-conspirators were executed, and their lands and wealth were redistributed to the people. With superhuman energy, Roboute reorganized Macragge’s entire social structure, creating a meritocracy where office and honours were given to the hard-working, rather than the wealthy and influential. Under his leadership, Macragge prospered as it never had before.

So Macragge was the place to be when Guilliman was in charge of it. By the time the Emperor found him, Macragge had basically had its economy reorganized and had things like: a standing (paid) army and the ability to send their resources where they were needed/wanted–Macragge had begun to trade with other, nearby systems.

So assuming that the Big E never made his way to the future site of Smurftown, what might have happened? Well Guilliman’s natural talents for empire-building would have gone to work. I imagine he’d have started with nearby planets like Espandor, and from there carved out a sphere of influence for himself. Macragge would be at the heart of it–but I think Guilliman is the sort of guy who knows his limits. I don’t think he’d have tried a big crusade against the galaxy, especially without the legions of Space Marines and powerful ambition of the Emperor–but I could see him having something a bit larger than the Tau Empire.

And without the Imperium’s anti-xenos doctrine, I can definitely see Guilliman’s meritocratic system allowing for the inclusion of various xenos within–call it the Pax Guillimana if you will. But I can see his empire growing rapidly but then ultimately stabilizing once they reach the size that rebellions in the far flung reaches of the Guilli-sphere couldn’t be easily put down. With a keen mind for science, his empire is probably technologically advanced, though perhaps not as much as some of the others. And since Guilliman never fights Fulgrim, he never goes into stasis–and is probably still on his first life, ruling his own version of Space Rome like a triumphant Scipio.


This one’s a little clearer–Angron would definitely (probably) be dead if not for being discovered by the Emperor:

During the Scattering, Angron was thrown to the Civilised World of Nuceria, far from Terra. He plummeted into the icy mountains of that planet, and not long after a slaver found him, and a scene of carnage. Surrounding the wounded young Primarch were the corpses of numerous Xenos. Imperial scholars would later theorise that they were Eldar who had foreseen the great bloodshed that Angron would cause and had tried unsuccessfully to stop him. After being enslaved and nursed back to health, Angron was brought to the planet’s capital called Desh’ea. There, he was modified with the psycho-surgery known as the Butcher’s Nailand forced into the techno-gladiatorial arenas, where he proved to be undefeatable and a fan-favorite. Several times he tried to lead his fellow gladiators in revolt and failed each time. Finally, he succeeded and after butchering his way through the crowd he led his rag-tag army into the mountains of the planet, where he lived for several years. The civilized cities sent armies to destroy Angron, but none were able to oust the Primarch and met the same demise. Nonetheless, the issue was never in doubt, his forces had little to eat in the barren mountains and were exhausted from the constant battling.

His fate seemed sealed when seven well-equipped armies surrounded Angron and his starving forces. Just as the battle was about to begin, the Emperor of Mankind‘s Fleet arrived in orbit over the planet…

And even once the Emperor did find him, he wanted to die with his brethren instead of getting effectively batmanned when he is teleported away only to watch his parents family army(yeah let’s go with that) die in front of his face. So instead the Emperor never shows up, and Angron, being driven mad by the Butcher’s Nails fights that last battle and gets that glorious last stand he so desperately craved.

Even Primarchs aren’t invincible–and though it may take seven armies, he probably gets killed, though his is an end that leaves the world broken and devastated. So much would that final battle have consumed that the world is all but doomed afterwards. Although…perhaps there is another path Angron might take.

Perhaps he draws the eye of Khorne, impressed by the slaughter, carnage, and the fact that Angron basically has anger right there in the name, snaps up his soul and reforges it into a great champion, giving himself a powerful new colonel.

At any rate, that’s just two of them. The whole galaxy would look a lot different… who knows what would have happened if Guilliman and, say, Fulgrim’s forces met with both of them at the helm of their own empires–what do you think would happen?

I think we can all agree that Sanguinius would probably go around making Ziggy Stardust-esque contact with other worlds… what would happen to YOUR favorite Primarch?

  • MechBattler

    Emps probably wouldn’t be a bonepile on a golden toilet and the Imperium wouldn’t be a barely functional bureaucratic wasteland.

    • william timonen

      I have the opposite theory, the Emperor would have died fighting the warboss of Ullanor, And the retreating imperial forces would later be overrun by the ork-horde. Resulting in an ork-controlled galaxy.

      • euansmith

        U say dat like it iz a baaaad fing.

        • Rafał Pytlak


          • ZeeLobby

            I think that story came before that nonesense. Why they had to go all twilight on the series is beyond me.

          • MechBattler

            Nonsense? Big E was like, 30 since 10,000 BC. They just put a term to the condition.

          • ZeeLobby

            Er… They could have just said he was immortal. Rather than a race of reincarnating special beings…

          • Bellumvinco

            They’re not a race, they’re HIS children.

          • ZeeLobby

            That’s just speculation, whether the sensei are the perpetual and whether any of them are his children. Unless some recent novel has outright stated it? Abnett even said he left it open ended.

          • Shawn

            huh? Twilight?

          • ZeeLobby

            The perpetuals is like a very tropey excuse for why things are the way they are. It added a Deus ex machina to the universe so things could just work out. It’s kind of the bad plot writing of the twilight series. Don’t get me wrong, I love the HH series otherwise.

          • Shawn

            Gotcha. It’s probably because I thought Twilight was stupid from the word “go” that I never watched them, thus don’t know anything about bad plots, etc.

          • ZeeLobby

            Haha, I’ve only “perused” them, and they’re pretty bad, haha.

      • ZeeLobby

        Without primarch assistance they may have never made it as far as Ullanor.

        • william timonen

          I meant it in the way that even if he had some supreme legion masters that made it possible for them to get to Ullanor, Emps would still be killed by that primork if Horus wasnt there to save him.

          • ZeeLobby

            Yeah. I just imagine they struggling with no primarchs. I mean while the emp was plowing ahead, his sons were growing an empire of support systems and logistics alongside him. Without those resources it might have been impossible.

    • Kinsman

      Wouldn’t he just have created more thunder lords (or whatever they were called) and continued the crusade?

  • TDog

    Magnus was perfectly happy cooling his heels on Prospero. When you can mentally project anywhere in the galaxy, why bother with all the muss and fuss of warp travel?

  • benn grimm

    I think had they not rediscovered the primarchs they may have instead rediscovered the ancient art of stand up comedy, simultaneously birthing a fifth Chaos God of cruel humour (Fraankeeboy’le) and the imperium would be a much happier place today. Or not…;)

    • euansmith

      Fraaankeeboy’le is but a shadow in the Warp of the darker god, Jerree S’adowit; within whose scabrous domain lies the flayed soul of the Universe… also he swears a lot.

    • Iconoc1ast

      Mostly it would be triggered into submission

  • Mr.psyker

    I like this article!!! I think all we need to do is look at the parallels of RL history. Angron would have been just like Spartacus the body politic would fear any future slave revolt and the return of someone like him. The Emperor used the primarchs to reaffirm his right to rule. If a primarch did not fit his agenda of all powerful ruler and replicate his actions on terra he shunned them. The primarchs are a psychological weapon more then anything. With out them popping up on his crusade he would have been overthrown just like all tyrants. The traitor legions are controlled opposition!

  • william timonen

    Yeah, considering how Khorne already would have had his eyes on Angron. It might be possible that Khorne wouldve turned him into a daemon prince. He would then proceed to stomp the enemy armies and turn it into some kind of Khorne world.

  • euansmith

    I could see Konrad Curze turning from Murder Batman Night Haunter in to Space Ra’s al Ghul the Old Man of the Mountains.

    As the head of a Galactic Cult of Assassins, he would be sending out his agents to terminally right wrongs wherever they were discovered.

    Of course, he could still be plagued by visions, but, maybe these would form the basis of his campaign of terror. Maybe his visions would reveal where his agents should strike next.

  • ReverendTiberiusJackhammer

    Overall, the Primarchs served to be (generally) strong leaders, and to bolster their Legion’s ability to create Space Marines. With smaller crusade-groups headed by slightly poorer leadership, the Emperor would probably be traveling between crusades to put out fires as they arose, and without a candidate to be Warmaster, he would have been unable to retire to Terra to work on the Imperial Webway (and would likely have left that research to the side entirely, since he would not have had a suitable Psyker to plan to place on the Golden Throne to regulate that Webway).

    So, much, much, slower expansion, but things probably wouldn’t have become as volatile as they did with the Primarchs around. That said, the Chaos Gods would likely have targeted mortal leaders of the Great Crusade, so the more geographically and culturally isolated crusade-groups would have had a high-ish rate of turning traitor, further slowing any expansion.

    The Emperor would likely have had to put the Great Crusade on hold when it was only partly the size of what it would become with Primarchs, then fortify and reevaluate.

    (Of course, I’m not sure if most of the Primarchs could have gone undiscovered too long – their own Empire-building urges would have taken them to the stars before long.)

  • Kevin Maloney

    Perturabo would be happy, I think. Without any intergalactic wars to fight, he would be able to rule Olympia as an architect king, and would be able to live his life as a creator rather than a destroyer.

    Khan, on the other hand, always feared entropy and the idea of growing soft, so uniting all of Chogoris would be the worst thing to happen to him. I can see him taking such drastic measures as dissolving his own empire, fostering rebellions, even leaving his crown and living as a hermit– anything to avoid becoming one of the same soft, decadent kings he once fought against.

    • Deathwing

      Unless he gets off world. Then your basically looking at a less evil human version of the dark eldar. never ending raids of any system they could get to for all time

  • Bellumvinco

    Can’t stand the what if crap. It’s like a terrible x-girlfriend wanting to play the what if game that traps ya in a argument. Or says what if I wasn’t fat, would you still have broken up with me?

    They were found… 😉

  • Jabberwokk

    The Tyranids would have eaten the galaxy unopposed. Without Inquisitor Kryptman, The Salamanders chapter, or Ultramarines Hive fleet Leviathan and Behemoth would have rofl-stomped all the way to terra.