The Nagathar Campaign

Coming Up With Something

Peter and I are not hardcore about the "historical" accuracy of our Horus Heresy campaign, but we do want it to fit into pre-existing narrative as best we can. Peter's a little stiffer about this; I'd play Prospero with Word Bearers and Dark Angels without any qualms but he'd balk.

Book 6 of the Horus Heresy big black book cycle, Retribution, offered a very neat solution well beyond the book's overall purpose of providing expansive room for ahistorical personal campaigns. Flipping through, Peter found some text on page 14 which works perfectly for our purposes:

"History can never make a full accounting of the number of such actions fought by stoic and self-sacrificing Loyalists far from the main war zones; indeed, only they and possibly those they protected will ever know of the sacrifices made. Recently surfaced is a rare account of such an action - the Defence of Nagathar, where several scattered Legiones Astartes forces sought refuge in a pocket of relative calm against the suddenly tempestuous Warp. Not all of these groups were loyal to Terra though, for one belonged to the Legiones Astartes Word Bearers and was somehow able to navigate the surrounding warp routes and avoid the horrendous calamities that had befallen so many other
vessels attempting to do so. Nagathar itself remained untouched as the storms swallowed nearby worlds, but the Word Bearers sought to prey upon its scattered settlements and enslave its peoples, and it was only the efforts of the Loyalists of the Imperial Fists and Dark Angels that saved a million souls from being sacrificed by the sons of Lorgar for an end that no sane man would attempt to perceive."

This paragraph has everything: Word Bearers, Dark Angels, no real fleshing out of what Nagathar is like so we can mold it to our needs, the Ruinstorm for demons, and the implication of a 40k-esque meat grinder which blends both 30k and 40k aesthetics. Perfect. So we sat down and hammered out some background which will work.

The Cuestea System and Nagathar

Nagathar is the only inhabited planet in the Cuestea system, a star system of five worlds in Segmentum Tempestus. It is a feudal world with a technology level similar to that of the Terran medieval period in the directly pre-plate mail era. Gunpowder is unheard of and vegetarianism has spread cross-culturally due to the advanced agrarian societies and limited number of native animals species with herd instincts. Politically, the land is a patchwork of small kingdoms which have largely (though not entirely) eschewed territorial warfare in favor of elaborate martial tournaments.

The fates of entire kingdoms can rest upon the outcome of these tournaments. Tales persist of a queen who was so smitten with a peasant from a rival's lands that she wagered her birthright on the outcome of a duel between royal champions. She lost, and her rival had her executed quietly the next day in the promenade outside his new palace.

There are more far-reaching outcomes to these contests, as well. The planet's moon, designated Gilgamesh by the nascent Imperium, is a forge world run by elements of the Divisio Linguistica and which holds a very important Dark Angels bastion on its surface. The moon is blue-green from its rich deposits of copper carbonate, and, while it has fewer factories than many other forge worlds, those which are there are impeccably run and extremely productive.

The Dark Angels monitor the goings on of Nagathar with great interest. Winners of the tournaments take part in a rite which varies little across Nagathar, called the Great Thar. The triumphant warriors go to the ancient standing stones which dot the landscape on the longest day of Nagathar's 273 day year. There they fast and drink hallucinogenic beverages, singing songs to the sky while nude, letting the starlight caress them. The Dark Angels come for them then, recruiting them into their ranks and replacing those who were lost on the Great Crusade. The Dark Angels have done this for the past 100 years and claim sole recruitment rights from the planet's warrior population.

This has been going on for long enough that it is now becoming part of Nagatharian religious custom and, just like their vegetarianism, cuts across local cultures. The natives have a remarkably accurate, if crude, idea of what happens: the best of all warriors ascend to the heavens through a portal on the moon, never to be seen again but to fight tournaments for all eternity in the inky black sky. The strange lights coming from the moon are the sparks flying from their swords as they are tempered into starmetal.

Nagathar globe (top) and map (bottom)

Because Nagathar is such an important recruiting ground, at least locally, the Dark Angels have strict proscriptions on how, when, and why contact is made with the Nagatharians. The Mechanicus and others inhabitants of Gilgamesh are under express orders to never go to the surface, a command which has been obeyed almost without exception, the one outlier being a small group of linguists and a single remembrancer who crashed in the central mountains of Nagathar's pangaean continent; they were never found and no messages were ever intercepted.


That crash landing wasn't so unintentional. As it turns out, the tendrils of Chaos extended into mechanical hearts well before the Heresy started in earnest. The linguists who were lost were forerunners of the Dark Mechanicum, those cultists who turned to Chaos when Horus began his long march to Terra.

On the surface of Nagathar, tucked away deep in the mountains, a warp gate hums. The team was sent to find it - by whom is unclear - and to light a psychic beacon to forces best not contemplated. The Divisio Linguistica, meek linguists guiding their studies by pale electronic lights, engineered the expedition and waited.

Frankly, they chafed at the presence of the First Legion. Feudal world or no, Nagathar demanded study, especially in light of the presence of a warp gate. So much to study, and to have it sealed off at the word of a bunch of barbarians? That was too much.

Gilgamesh was a tinder box waiting for a spark. The arrival of the Ruinstorm and the Word Bearers, the heralds of the apocalypse, provided it.

The Ruinstorm

Once rebellion was in full swing, the Dark Angels of Gilgamesh were under express orders to protect Nagathar. They were not a huge force, but they pledged their lives to those who didn't even know they existed outside the intonations of idiot priests. They waited; it never seemed to come. Until it did.

The Word Bearers (elements of the Twisting Rune and Serrated Sun chapters) fell upon Nagathar like locusts, with smaller forces assaulting Gilgamesh. As Gilgamesh burned, the bulk of the local Cult Mechanicus rose up against the Loyalist forces, besieging the bastion of the First Legion on the moon.

A terrible race came into shape: Can the Word Bearers find Nagathar's warp gate before the Dark Angels and elements of other Legions in the vicinity, cut off by the Ruinstorm, can figure out what's going on and stop them?

Shape of the Campaign

We want to pull the full range of our appropriate forces into this, so we're going to be playing rather loose with structure. That said, we're going to try to hold to the Shadow War narrative campaign structure found in Horus Heresy 6. The exact web structure of it will be in a future post, but there are a few big things we want to make certain we get in.

  • Big, open battles on the agrarian/feudal Nagathar surface. To this end, both Peter and I are concentrating most of our terrain building on flexible, pretty standard scenery: hills, woods, rivers, etc.
  • The Warp Gate. We've toyed with my not being able to have Daemon allies until and unless I win a battle on a Zone Mortalis board representing the gate. That's not going to be a capstone, but it will be one of a series of climaxes.
  • The war on Gilgamesh. I'm going to be using standard 40k Mechanicus and Skitarii forces for this. I really like the 30k Mechanicus stuff Forge World makes, but I'm not made of money and it's not too flexible (I can take 40k Mechanicus in 30k but, as of now with the 8th edition rules, not vice versa). This is going to be almost all city fight stuff and should be godawful bloody.
We've still got more painting of armies and assembly of terrain to do before we start this in earnest, but we're close. I suspect if we feel froggy and lose all sense of self-consciousness, you may get some really indulgent 30k fiction in these pages, too.