Tomes of the Librarius – 40k Technology: Warp Travel

Hello 40k (and 30k) fans! Chris Morgan, Chief Librarian of the Forge the Narrative Podcast, is here again with the next weekly segment of Tomes of the Librarius. Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles!

Just as a reminder, in this series we will explore facets of the history and legends of the Grimdark. This is meant to be an easy summary and introduction geared towards new players or people unfamiliar with the setting, but should still be an interesting read or fun refresher for those already familiar. There’s so much detail in this lore that a bare summary seems so inadequate, but for new people this should be the right portion to get a feel for the history of the universe we enjoy our games in.

While top five lists are the meat and potatoes of internet content, I wanted to shift gears (heh, technology pun) and talk about some of the wacky and wild 40k tech. Every science fiction has its own quirky way of crossing the cosmic void. Dune had folding space, Star Trek has Warp Travel, Star Wars has hyperspace, and so on. Space is huge! Considering how long it took us to get the omnissiah to Mars just barely, you can imagine how getting from one end of the galaxy to another might get difficult in the span of a few years. For most of the galaxy, the way to do this is by traveling through the warp, and boy, what a terrible idea that was…

The Warp

The warp is a reflection of reality. To put it simply (because defining the warp would probably take a few thousand words), every negative emotion, thought, feeling, deed, memory, and even most souls eventually find their way to this dimension. It is your worst nightmare, and everyone else’s worst nightmare, plus a few other things thrown in. Imagine the collective awfulness of all time gathered together into one place, and then make all the awful things come alive and talk to you, and then you might have grazed the outside margins of how the warp might be understood (as an aside, it has always bothered me that the warp never reflects good things and feelings, but hey that’s the grimdark for you). Its like if your thoughts were alive, and you got to meet them, and they wanted to kill you. Oh, and everyone else’s thoughts wants to kill you too. Sounds fun, right?

Why Go There?

Ask yourself, would you every really want to go to that place? Probably not, but you’d have to so you can get where you want to. It’s kind of like when you are a kid and your parents tell you they need to stop at the craft store on the way home, and you realize that you’ll be spending the unforeseeable future surrounded by strange people, weird crafts, and their associated smells, hoping you get home sometime reasonable (but who knows when you’ll actually arrive home). Sometimes you wonder if walking would be faster. What? Why are you looking at me like that? No, this never happened to me. Shut up!

Well, as the Warp is in another dimension, it doesn’t operate by the same rules as in the material universe. For that reason, you can travel ridiculous distances in a short period of time by taking a shortcut through hell, and its about as fun as it sounds. The alternative is to go the slow way in realspace, and that’s not really an alternative. How the Tyranids manage to get around so fast is a real mystery, considering they don’t go through the warp at at all. I guess I also tend to drive faster when I’m hungry.

Okay, So How Does It Work

For humans, it took millenia of eugenics and genetic experimentation to create a sanctioned mutant called a Navigator. Navigators have a third eye that lets them see the immaterium and guide their ships through the whirling madness. Really cool navigators can shoot some kind of laser out of the eye that can injure otherworldly creatures. Anyone who looks into an uncovered navigator eye is instantly killed, so they have their own chambers on the ships they serve, and wear a covering when interacting with other people.

Of course, none of this would work without gellar fields. Gellar fields create a barrier between the ship and its occupants and the raw, roiling psychic stuff that is the warp. Without the gellar field in place, the ship and its crew would be immediately devoured by the malicious entities and demons that make the warp their home. It’s like bringing a nice little slice of reality into your nightmares.

Navigators only have one frame of reference to guide their ships by – the Astronomicon. This golden light in the mad warp acts as a lighthouse by which the navigators can orient themselves, and without it there would be no telling where they might end up, no matter their skill. If the light were to go out permanently, the Imperium would crumble instantly. It is the light of the Emperor himself, generated and maintained via his ridiculous psychic might interfacing with eldritch technology, and it burns the chaos of the warp with its ordered patina.

You will still need a warp reactor to do any of this, despite not knowing how it works. Of course, the technology to rip a hole into a nightmare dimension is complex to say the least. Even many in the Adeptus Mechanicus have no real understanding of how warp reactors work, and just tend to hope they keep running. When the Tau – greedy for new technology – captured imperial ships and tried to get a grasp on how warp travel worked, they eventually gave up trying to get answers that made sense. This seems to be the most realistic part of warp travel, because if anyone has every tried to help someone figure out why their car is dead on the roadside, you understand what it is like to not really understand how your (or someone else’s) car works.

What Can Go Wrong?

Everything. Warp travel can be unpredictable. If any of the technology fails, then everyone dies. Often in horrible ways that ultimately end up with souls getting eaten by some malicious or capricious entity. Sometimes you find that the journey took an extra hundred years in realspace, even though you were only in the warp for a week. Sometimes you can arrive before you even left in the first place, meet a girl, and become your own grandfather. Many ships that are lost end up getting smooshed together and barfed out into realspace as amalgamated space hulks, which can be full of all kinds of nasty surprises. Surprises like demons, or Tyranids, or Orks, or ancient technology alive for no good reason, or maybe the walls talk to you. With that said, its no secret that Orks love it when space hulks show up, because it will either have a fight in it or take you to a good fight somewhere else.

Would You Like An Uber Now?

Well, that’s the basics of warp travel. I hope all of you have safer methods of travelling for your end of year festivities. With the holidays upon us, this may be the last entry for Tomes of the Librarius this year, so allow me to say to you ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’ in advance.


Captain Morgan

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Chris Morgan

40K philosopher, LVO Judge, Chief Librarian of Forge the Narrative, Blood Angel enthusiast extraordinaire, and slayer of traitors, xenos, and heretics; I'd rather be playing 30k right now or neck-deep in a good book. Follow me on my FB page - Captain Morgan's Librarius

12 Responses to “Tomes of the Librarius – 40k Technology: Warp Travel”

  1. Avatar
    WestRider December 18, 2018 2:05 pm #

    IIRC, the Warp can reflect positive emotions as well, but because it interacts back and forth with realspace, it’s not a stable equilibrium, and once things started to tip to the negative for whatever reason, it kind of snowballed, with the negative influence from the Warp making realspace more unpleasant, which generated more negative emotions, and so on.

    Apparently the Nids use some sort of gravitic effect to distort space-time. It’s pure handwavium, but probably closest to the description of Star Trek travel in that second pic.

    Also, because I’m a huge Buffy fan, the Gellar Field always makes me think of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy standing on the outside of the ship and hitting Daemons with an axe or something 😀

    • Reecius
      Reecius December 18, 2018 2:28 pm #

      It always makes me think of Event Horizon!

      And yeah, the Nids pull themselves using their Psychic might to cross interstellar space. It is a bit silly, but oh well.

      • Avatar
        abusepuppy December 18, 2018 5:16 pm #

        The fluff on Nids transporting themselves has shifted a bit over the years, but the basic idea is that there are specialized organisms in their fleets that “grab” onto distant stars and somehow use their gravitational pull to “drag” themselves through realspace towards their target. Supposedly it is a lot slower (but more reliable) than warp travel, although this doesn’t really seem to be reflected in the fiction when the Imperium are chasing down hive fleets and whatnot.

      • Avatar
        WestRider December 18, 2018 9:17 pm #

        For me, the association is the other way around, since I’d played 40K for some years before I saw Event Horizon. But yeah, that flick is the best cinematic take on Warp Travel I’ve ever seen, even if that wasn’t the nominal intent.

        • Reecius
          Reecius December 19, 2018 10:26 am #

          As I understand it, it was actually meant to be a 40k film and sort of got mixed up in the shuffle and went its own direction.

          Also, rumor is that there is somewhere out there a director’s cut of the movie that is even more gnarly and gruesome with unseen scenes! What I wouldn’t give to see that….

          • Avatar
            Pyrothem December 19, 2018 11:31 am

            Here is a scary fact: They tried to make a directors cut years after the movie released (the studio did not give the director the time or money after filming).

            They tracked down the only surviving master copy to a literal SALT MINE and the film was deemed too corrupted to be used but rumor has it that they are slowly trying anyway.

            That is Corrupted STC story ripped right from 40k into our reality!

          • Reecius
            Reecius December 19, 2018 12:11 pm

            I didn’t know that, lol, that is awesome! Ah, I hope we get the full movie.

          • Avatar
            WestRider December 19, 2018 1:58 pm

            I didn’t know any of that. Pretty awesome!

      • Avatar
        Office Waaagh! December 18, 2018 9:58 pm #

        The tyranid means of propulsion is actually one of the more plausible descriptions of interstellar “FTL” travel in 40k based on current physics, IMHO. I put “FTL” in quotation marks because in your local frame of reference you would not be travelling faster than the speed of light. Relativity is a funny beast, and the whole “you can’t travel faster than the speed of light” thing from special relativity goes out the window as soon as gravity gets involved, since gravity isn’t a force per se so much as a curving or bending of a space-time manifold. In principle, it would be possible to use gravity to compress space and reduce the distance you needed to travel by manipulating spacetime itself, reducing the “amount” of space between you and your destination, so that you could cross interstellar distances without ever having to travel faster than light.

        You can look up the “Alcubierre drive” for a warp drive proposal that works similarly and that would actually achieve FTL travel in real life.

        Mind you, this is all speculative. It requires an ability to control gravitational fields that may or may not actually be possible in practice, probably requires exotic “negative mass” material that so far as we know doesn’t and can’t exist, and relies on solutions to Einstein’s field equations that may or may not survive once we come up with a quantum theory of gravity.

        • Reecius
          Reecius December 19, 2018 10:27 am #

          Yeah, that is one of the current models for FTL travel, is to create a bubble of relative space and then basically squeeze it, allowing it to violate the universal speed limit.

        • Avatar
          WestRider December 19, 2018 1:57 pm #

          Yeah, the comment about “pure handwavium” was more directed at how GW used that concept, rather than its actual potential, which is probably better classified under “unobtanium”.

          • Reecius
            Reecius December 20, 2018 8:33 am

            Yeah, I was reading about the tech and the part that got me was: all we need now is a way to create exotic matter to fuel it….lol.

            Well, all we need is magic go juice! We’re so close! =P

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