Imperial Guard

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Imperial Guard is the collective military of normal humans and the military backbone of the Imperium in Warhammer 40,000. It has been said that if the Space Marines are the tip of the Imperium's spear, the Guard are the rest of the spearhead, the shaft and the man holding it. While often the designated victim in works featuring other forces, the Guard appears to have considerable success in the 41st millennium, as well as having a considerable favor with the fans.

Besides the popular Gaunt's Ghosts and Ciaphas Cain series, they feature in Fifteen Hours, Death World and Rebel Winter (collected in the Imperial Guard omnibus), Steven Lyon's Ice Guard, Aaron Dembski-Bowden's Cadian Blood, Steve Parker's Gunheads, Desert Raiders, and Henry Zhou's Flesh and Iron, just to name a few. They also commonly appear in other Warhammer 40,000 works, such as Henry Zhou's The Emperor's Mercy, Graham McNeill's Storm of Iron, and The Last Chancers series. And in third quarter 2012, the guard will get their own game in the 40K roleplaying series: Only War.

Not to be confused with Praetorian Guard,[1] which is the trope of imperial/elite guards as a whole.

Tropes used in Imperial Guard include:
  • Armchair Military: Many commanders, especially those part of a 'high command', are armchair generals. The 'garden variety' commonly resides within command vehicles such as a Leviathan. Alternatively they will command an HQ far behind the front.
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: The Chimera or the larger Gorgon.
  • Badass Army: Most regiments that last more than one theatre. And some that don't, too.
  • Badass Normal: Guardsmen as depicted especially in the 5th edition.
  • Base On Tracks: Leviathan Command Vehicles and Capitol Imperialis.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Mental battles with psykers/daemons or the simple mind scrubbing that war manages to do, usually to characters that have been in field longer than their psyches can handle.
    • A Tanith trooper, in the first few pages of First and Only, flips out and begins to shoot at vermin in his own trench. He is dealt with accordingly.
    • Bifurcated Weapon: Bayonets are common in the Guard. Underslung (or even built-in) grenade launchers, flamethrowers and shotguns are much less common, but some units carry such weapons. E.g. lasgun with integrated grenade launcher is a squad support weapon of Elysian drop troops.
  • Boxed Crook: Penal legions, but Savlar Chem Dogs especially. Criminals imprisoned in a toxic world, sent to fight in the poisonous undersides of hive cities.
  • Brass Balls: One common saying (in fanon) about the Imperial Guard (the Redshirt Army) is that on the first day, each recruit is handed "a T-shirt (flak jacket[2]), a flashlight (lasgun, one of the weakest possible weapons [3], and a wheelbarrow for their pair of giant steel balls".
  • Bug War: Typically Guard vs Tyranids. "Desert Raiders" is a Bug War with a twist.
  • Cannon Fodder: Quite obviously Penal Legionnaires and Conscripts.
  • Conscription: Patently Conscripts [4]. What else?
    • Well, there is mandatory service on worlds like Cadia.
  • Crew of One: Sentinels, every last one.
  • Death From Above: They do love their artillery.
  • Demihuman: The Ratlings, Ogryns and, in older editions, Beastmen. Technically these examples are 'stable' mutations, much like the Navis Nobilite.
  • Drill Tank: The Hades Breach Drill, used by the Death Korps of Krieg.
  • Drop Ship: Mentioned in the fluff (often in Gaunt's Ghosts) but yet to recieve a dedicated model representation. Until then the Arvus Lighter and Valkyries are many players substitutes.
  • Due to the Dead: The Black Bell of Terra is said to ring whenever a true hero of the Imperium is martyred. It is, of course, tolling constantly.
  • Elite Mooks: Stormtroopers (Inquisitorial or otherwise), veteran squads and pretty much any carapace armoured guardsman.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: The Cadians in general and the Kasrkin, oh boy the Kasrkin.
    • The Kasrkin had a standout moment in the second Eisenhorn book. Totally dedicated badasses. The squad escorting Eisenhorn are surprised by a daemonhost, and the ones that die don't go down like Red Shirts.
    • In-universe, elite units like Storm Troopers or Kasrkin are often derided as "Glory Boys" and "Toy Soldiers" by the regular soldiery.
  • Empathic Weapon: Weapon's used by psykers.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Side-effect of Psyker powers, anyone?
  • Fast Roping: Valkyrie can hover, so it's an option for insertion - when landing would be troublesome, but there's no immediate resistance, so grav-chutes are unnecessary. One of the stratagems in Cities of Death expansion. Only War rates drop harness "common" for availability, implying that these are used fairly often, whether from hovering transport or to move around in urban or mountain warfare.
  • Field Promotion: Happens in Gaunt's Ghosts a fair bit, due to attrition.
  • General Failure: The inexperienced/impatient/incompetant generals often are, although Cadian Generals are suprisingly skilled General Rippers.
  • General Ripper: Case in point Captain Kubrick Chenkov. Has expended the lives of millions of Valhallans in the name of victory.
    • Then again, so did the successive commanders of the Vraks campaign. Only this time with German inspired troops (rather than Russian) - Kriegers.
    • However they only killed 16 million over seventeen years, Chenkov killed ten million in one battle
    • Stalin would be proud.
  • Glory Hound: General Hechtor Dravere. Totally. Infamously wore ALL his medals most of the time. Many of which it was felt he did not fully deserve.
    • Referred to as the 'Old Gong' by Warmaster Slaydo.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: Mordians, Praetorians... pretty much anyone who has a uniform that doesn't blend in.
  • Humongous Mecha: Titans, although strictly they are not part of the Imperial Guard, they are allies.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Most regiments hate the regiments from other planets. Particularly those from opposing class spectrums. Some veteran units invert this though and instead respect each other as competent warriors.
  • It's Raining Men: Drop troops, most famously Elysians. Enough said.
    • Storm Troopers typically are deployed this way; in the latest codex Valkyries can deploy their passengers this way if they've moved flat out.
    • Harakonis, too.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Bolt weapons (reserved for officers, usually), Ogryn Ripper Guns and most vehicle mounted weaponry. Of support weapons, there's Heavy Bolter and Autocannon (neither dakka multilaser or heavy bolter pour downrange, nor armor penetration anywhere near lascannon, but may be a decent option if you must choose only one and don't know what you'll face).
    • Averted by the Imperial Navy where weapons such as lance batteries far outshine their kinetic counterparts. Nova Cannon is devastating, but at long range it's not that accurate, and at close range, a broadside is more practical. Torpedoes are another good option, and for the same reason: they can be launched in a big salvo.
  • Land Battleship: Super heavy tanks and other vehicles such as the massive Capitol Imperialis, the huge Leviathan Command Vehicle and the staggering Ordinatus.
  • The Men First: Most good commanders have this attitude. Commissars - not so much.
    • It is noted as unusual, in universe, that Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and Commissar Cain are (relatively) humane commissars. In some cases the attitude is looked down upon by peers and superiors alike.
    • Commissar Viktor Hark, who joins up with Colonel-Commissar Gaunt's regiment, has an interesting moment when chastising another Guard unit that retreated in battle at a critical moment. He executes their commander rather than any of the men who followed him in retreat, saying that if their commander had held the line, his men would have done so as well.
  • Mildly Military: Depends on what planet you're from. Soldiers from Cadia or Mordia outright avert this, with strict adherence to rules and regulations. Catachans embody American GI's from the Vietnam War and have looser rules. Other regiments use this trop out of necessity, such as the Tanith First and Only, or come from their leader's tendencies, like Ciaphas Cain's regiment.
  • Mini-Mecha: Sentinels.
  • Mounted Combat: Attilans and some Kriegers.
  • Mutants: Plenty of these in the Imperium of Man, plenty enough to be used as cannon-fodder or low grade troops. For more stable mutants look further up to Demihuman.
  • Rank Up: Tona Criid, Ceglan Varl or Flyn Meryn in Gaunt's Ghosts for example.
  • Rare Vehicles: Super-heavy class vehicles and Titans, but not quite so much a heavy emphasis on rarity in later editions.
  • Redshirt Army: A highly capable one, usually (at least in 5th edition).
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: A distinct problem that Hellhounds used to have, what with the rear compartment housing some or all the fuel for its weapon and the sheer variety of weapons that can ignite fuel on contact.
  • Space Romans: Many unique Guard units are modelled after various real armies from different countries and time periods: Valhallans are Reds with Rockets, Steel Legionnaires are Nazis With Gnarly Weapons, Tallarn Desert Raiders are Warriors Of Desert Winds, and so on.
  • Superpowered Mooks: The Death Guard in Cadian Blood.
  • Tanks, But No Tanks: In actuality most Imperial Guard vehicles aren't tanks. But who cares? It's only a game.
  • Tank Goodness: The Imperial Guard takes this trope Up to Eleven, starting with the humble Chimera IFV, the Hellhound Flame Tank, and the ever-reliable Leman Russ Main Battle Tank, all the way up to the massive superheavy Baneblade. Just check out what Forgeworld cranks out. They had tanks coming out of every orifice for a year or two before slowing down again.
  • Tarot Motifs: The Emperors Tarot?
  • Took a Level in Badass: The Imperial Guard has been Flanderized as full of General Ripper type leaders who do nothing but human wave attacks against enemies, but recently, a number of novel series, particularly the Ciaphas Cain series and Gaunt's Ghosts series, have portrayed the Guard has a highly trained and sophisticated modern fighting force combining mechanized warfare, air support, and artillery strikes. Nevertheless, considering all the horrible stuff out there in the 40k universe, it's not always enough.
    • The newest codex definitely made them a more powerful force able to compete with the Badass Abnormals' beefed up codexes following 5th edition's release.
  • Urban Warfare: A common setting for the Imperial Guard, especially on (ex)Imperial worlds.
  • Walkie-Talkie Static: Happens on and off in the literature and now happens in the 5th edition if you botch an Order roll.
  • We Have Reserves: An attitude held by many Guard generals. Usually (but not necessarily) the incompetent ones.
  • Zerg Rush: "Space Marines are the sword of the Emperor, making precision cuts and and stabs in the holes of the enemy's armor. The Imperial Guard are the sledgehammer." Like the above analogy, this explains probably the most common Imperial Guard tactic, in which you try to break the enemy by rushing them with overwhelming men, tanks, and artillery strikes in an attempt to flatten the entire area.
    • A good example of this, from The Armour of Contempt, is a mass charge, as in dozens of thousands of men, by Imperial Guard forces is seen from the ground, inside the rush, including supporting Titan firepower and Titans themselves.
    • There's also the Penal Legions. As punishment for sins against the Emperor, they are deployed with even less armor and weaker weaponry than the standard Guardsman to swamp the enemy with bodies, to clear minefields, and as a screen for tanks.
  1. (which is coincidentally also the name of Imperial Guard regiments from the planet Praetoria)
  2. Acording to more detailed RPG rules, light (6 kg), stops (to safe for average humans level) 3/10 hits from common revolver, assault rifle ("autogun") or lasgun, though doesn't even weaken hits from autogun with AP bullets or heavy machinegun ("heavy stubber"). Good news: it's called flak because it works better against explosive munitions - not so good that a crude frag grenade couldn't One-Hit Kill, but a Guard's chance to survive it without cover is actually pretty high. Bad news: basic kit is just vest & helmet, so a Guard's chance to lose hand is also fairly high.
  3. as powerful as autogun, but no full-auto (except very few variants), twice the magazine capacity (60) and is much more reliable. The downside is that while an autogun can be simply loaded with e.g. armor-piercing ammunition and then used normally, a laser doesn't allow much versatility. The only way to increase penetration of a lasgun is using "hotshot power pack", which is one-shot and as such practical only for sniping. However, Only War improved effect of las volleys and thanks to Lasgun Variable Setting, there's Overload mode, in which lasgun hits armored target as hard as a heavy stubber - but then it's less reliable than most weapons, consumes ammo 4x faster (thus effectively has 1/2 of autogun's magazine)... and still usually has no full auto
  4. The unit in the tabletop game, not the concept.