The elite who rule over the worlds of the Imperium, obsessed with power and the politics to maintain that power; they may rule from piles of fur on a barren plain, or from the crystalline windows at the top of a hive spire, but all know the precarious nature of power and the ever-present enemies ready to snatch it from them.
“Yes, I especially liked that vintage, so I enslaved the village to ensure a steady supply.”
–Leisi IX, Governor of Pallon Secundus
Highborn are the elite of Imperial worlds, the nobles, princes, and lords of cities, systems, and worlds who rule over boundless populations alongside other equally-privileged scions. To be born into such a setting is to have been given the best the planet has to offer, raised apart from the struggling ranks of Mankind, and destined to take on positions of great import and power. These luxuries might be the finest pelts and grox meat of a feudal world, or the most potent of narcotics and offworld delights on a mainstay hive world. To be a highborn is also to enter into a world of deadly politics and ancient feuds, where children grow up with terrible enemies and sleep knowing there are those that would cut their throats for a taste of their hereditary position.
Highborn often live their lives apart from the rest of their world, sometimes never leaving the high castles, spire cities, and sky palaces far above the swarming masses. They are content in the knowledge that they are the instruments of Imperial dominance on their world and the voice of the Emperor to their people, and anything that would disrupt such a state is unthinkable anathema.
Life as a highborn
Highborn exist on nearly all Imperial worlds, from the towering spires of its hive cities to the stone forts and caves of its feral kingdoms. They are the privileged and powerful of their worlds, those fit for governance not by the will of the people but by the providence of their birthright. While their powers and purview might differ from world to world, their function remains the same: to lead their people and control the resources and political might of their planet. Most highborn grow up being groomed for this power, either taught to govern justly by fair and evenhanded peers or, more likely, instilled with a disregard for those below and ingratitude for the influence and position they have been given. Many are so ingrained into their opulent lifestyle that they have little or no notion of how the majority lives. Generations can be spent in supreme—if relative—comfort, be that a heated cavern shielded from perpetual blizzards or an orbiting pleasuresatellite that rides auroral clouds. Here they are content to shield themselves in the trappings of wealth and privilege, while focusing on the real threat to their existence: other highborn.
The scale and size of the Imperium is reflected in the nobility of its worlds. Just as it has endured for millennia and covers the majority of the galaxy, so too are there noble families, sector lords, and planetary governors whose lineage stretches back thousands of years, and whose holdings comprise whole systems or wide regions of space. It is also reflected in its diversity, with each world’s ruler as unique as the world itself. Some worlds are ruled through agencies such as the Adeptus Ministorum or Adeptus Mechanicus, where the rulers are more the result of power plays than hereditary bloodlines or the decree of the Adeptus Administratum. Some rulers flicker and fade, having barely made their presence known.
Others form dynasties lasting the entire history of a world. Often a family or lineage can draw great power to itself, slowly but surely acquiring planetary control and resources, seeding its progeny throughout positions of influence and authority until there is no place on a world untouched by its grasp.
Being a highborn means more than being born into power and position; it means the lifelong obligations and struggles both to protect the interests of the family or clan, and to try and better them. It is the nature of power that those that do not have it crave it, and those that have it crave more. Noble families thus conduct warfare with each other to garner and defend power, in battles often masked with subtlety, disguise, and innuendo, but no less deadly than open combat. At such levels, mere currency is worthless, and power is traded in favours and debts. In these struggles for power there are few rules, and should a family fall from favour they have little recourse for justice when targeted by blackmail, treachery, or murder, save to respond in kind.
While born to power, highborn characters might also be born with little or even nothing to look forward to beyond a lifetime of idle excess and family infighting. Even among the most powerful families, there are usually dozens if not hundreds of heirs to the true positions of power, and a highborn, while afforded all the luxuries of his station, may find little with which to content himself. This idleness can lead them in wildly different directions, either choosing to try to climb the social ladder of their family, proving themselves in the bloody politics of the Imperial nobility, or rejecting the control their family has placed upon them and seeking their own fortune elsewhere. Those that remain find they are never truly free of their family. The ties that bind them to the home are always present, as is the taint of their family and its reputation, which clings to their name as long as they wear it.
Even those that try and escape might not be able to run far enough to outdistance their noble obligations and their family’s long reach, inevitably dragged back into its petty squabbles and bids for power long after they considered themselves free.
A highborn character not fortunate enough to have a place of real power could spend his days in luxurious indolence, or find adventure on his own in other areas of his world to pass his time. Some might be ceded to one of the Imperial organisations operating on his system or world, thus extending the influence of the family. Here the highborn might rise through the ranks or be as idle as he desires, putting in token effort and continuing a decadent lifestyle secure in the knowledge that the weight of his family can protect him from any chance of dismissal. It is not uncommon for a highborn youth to be given a commission in the Imperial Guard or Imperial Navy. While it falls to such a highborn to decide if he cares to strive in his position, he might easily earn the resentment of those officers who have had to earn their rank, at least until he has proved himself in some way.
Those that endeavour to escape their families also often choose the Imperial Guard or Navy, hoping it can take them far away from those that know them. In this role they strive to earn their place upon their own deeds and not the word of their family, but it is a dangerous game. Imperial forces are filled with those of noble blood, and the chance of encountering someone that recognises the highborn never goes away. Some truly cut ties with their family, becoming criminals or pirates after first stealing as much of their house’s wealth as possible. Others, even worse in their family’s eyes, forge a reputation for themselves as liberators and freedmen, living lives impossible for their relations to comprehend.
Sample highborn setting:
The Platinal Palace of SnoPe’s World
Far atop the main hab-city on Snope’s World lies the glittering Platinal Palace. Formed of fractalised sheets of iridescent metals, it shines like a beacon above the solemn clouds and polluted swamps that cover much of the planet. It is said that the palace’s surface holds a million million angles, each one unique across its conical form. Within are the hive’s ruling families, each as superficially gleaming and beautiful as their dwelling. Here they plot endlessly against each other. None dare openly battle, fearing expulsion from the archaeotech supported environs, but instead use pain-poisons, rumour plagues, and other soft weapons to cripple their rivals.
A highborn character applies the following benefits during character creation:
- Fellowship, + Influence, – Toughness
- fate threshold 4 (Emperor’s Blessing 10+)
- Home world bonus
Breeding Counts: Any time a highborn character would reduce his Influence, he reduces it by
1 less (to a minimum reduction of 1).
- Home world aptitude
- A highborn character starts with 9+1d5 wounds.
- Recommended backgrounds:
Adeptus Administratum, Adeptus Arbites, Adeptus, Astra Telepathica, Adeptus Ministorum