• Robison Wells

Warhammer 40k Lore: Where to Start -- The Inquisition


The Inquisition, also known as The Holy Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition, is a powerful organization within the Imperium which acts as judge, jury and executioner with the goal of preserving the humanity. Like the T'au in concept (the Inquisition is doing things for the "greater good") an Inquisitor might find that a single heretic or group of heretics has been inhabiting a hive world and, for the sake of stopping this heretical contagion from spreading, the may purge the hive--innocent and guilty alike. It is the Inquisition who has the final say in the ultimate order: the Exterminatus--destroying a world by orbital bombardment from cyclonic torpedoes.


How the Inquisition Began



There are two conflicting stories about how the Inquisition began. The first is that during the Siege of Terra, while the Emperor could still give commands, he ordered Malcador to find "men of character, skill, and determination" who would root out the aliens, the mutants, and the heretics. Malcador found twelve such people, ranging from Space Marines to Sisters of Silence, and presented them to the Emperor. The Emperor blessed them, and thus began the Inquisition.


The second story of the start of the Inquisition is that after the Emperor was incapacitated post-heresy, four people came before him: Promeus, Moriana, and two more. Their intent was to decide what should happen next, and Promeus and Moriana believed they needed to do everything they could to restore the life of the Emperor. The other two started the Senatorum Imperialis, with a group to stop Promeus and Moriana: the Inquisition.


Ordos of the Inquisitors


There are three primary Ordos (orders) of the Inquisition, and they are dedicated heart, mind, and soul to their work:

  • Ordo Malleus, who investigates "The Threat Beyond", or Chaos

  • Ordo Xenos, investigating "The Threat Without", or the Aliens

  • Ordo Hereticus, investigating "The Threat Within", or heresy.


There are several minor Ordos, which include:

  • Ordo Aegis: the Cadian Gate

  • Ordo Astarter: The Space Marines

  • Ordo Astra: Astronomy

  • Ordo Barbarus: Pre-Industrial Worlds

  • Ordo Chronos: Time (this ordo has entirely vanished without a trace)

  • Ordo Custodum: Terra

  • Ordo Desolatus: *Unknown purpose*

  • Ordo Excorium: Exterminatus

  • Ordo Machanicum: Adeptus Mecahnicus

  • Ordo Necros: *Unknown purpose*

  • Ordo Originatus: Concerned with covering up the origins of the Inquisition

  • Ordo Redactus: Keeps a history of the Inquisition

  • Ordo Sanctorum: The Ecclesiarchy

  • Ordo Scriptorum: Imperium Records

  • Orod Sepulturum: Plagues

  • Ordo Sicarius: Officio Assassinorum

  • Ordo Thanatos: *Unknown Purpose*

  • Ordo Vigilus: Oversees Ordo Necros


What Does an Inquisitor Do?


This is a very broad question because, as we've seen from all of the different Ordos of the Inquisition, the Inquisitors deal with a lot of very different things. The fact of the matter is that Inquisitors are among the most high ranking members of the Imperium--if not *the* highest, (debatable with a Primarch).


Inquisitors have a very free range of authority to do what they like, when they like it. They can enter a city and demand a full investigation of everyone from the lowest to the highest of the high. They can commandeer a starship. They can skulk around quietly in the bellies of the Underhives and investigate leads. They can sit in libraries for ages, scouring ancient texts for the key to their puzzle. And, of course, an Inquisitor can order and Exterminatus.


Inquisitors are, therefore, an extremely powerful group in the Imperium who answers to (hardly) no one and can make (almost) anyone answer to them.


What is the Organization of the Inquisition?


The Retinue and Recruitment


Most Inquisitors start their career as members of the Inquisitor's retinue, but that is not to say that everyone in the retinue has equal opportunity to become Inquisitors. Many in the retinue are there as hired guns, as researchers, or even as prisoners used for their powers. An Inquisitor has the right to call on anyone in the Imperium to be in his or her retinue, and the person must obey.


Some Inquisitors don't recruit any new Inquisitor to one day fill their shoes, while others may train a handful or dozens of new Inquisitors. There are no strict conditions that must be met--male or female, warrior or scholar, young or old--the only requirement is an absolutely loyalty to the Emperor and high intelligence.


Sometimes these proto-Inquisitors in the retinue will be called Novitiates. Sometimes they will merely be fulfilling their role as navigator, assassin, or investigator.


To follow tradition, a new Inquisitor is bestowed their authority by a the witness of three other Inquisitors and an Inquisitor Lord, but this isn't always followed and some Novitiates become Inquisitors with the dying breath of their trainer, or as that Inquisitor leaves to pursue other avenues.



Hierarchy of the Inquisition


  • Inquisitor: This is the lowest rank, but don't confuse lowest for weak. Even the lowest Inquisitor can order an Exterminatus.

  • Inquisitor Lord: This Inquisitor watches over the Inquisitors beneath him or her, rarely giving orders, but monitoring the situation.

  • Master: Mainly present in areas where many Inquisitors are operating and there are multiple Inquisitor Lords, this is the next rung up the ladder.

  • Grandmaster: This title is reserved for an Inquisitor who runs an entire sector of the galaxy.

  • Inquisitorial Representative: This is an Inquisitor Lord who represents Senatorum Imperialis. Although only an Inquisitor Lord, his or her position grants them a great deal of power.


Puritanism vs Radicalism


Not all Inquisitors have the same philosophies, even though they may be trying for the same broad goals.


Puritanical Inquisitors destroy all who are alien, chaos or heretic. They are fervent in their belief that the way to achieve their aims is by strict adherence to the code of the Inquisition and to the perceived goals of the Imperium.


Radical Inquisitors have a more practical approach, with an "ends justify the means" quality to them. They are more than willing to use Xenos technology, Chaos weapons, or even to have Daemonhosts as part of their retinue.


While all Inquisitors work for the good of the Imperium, not all Inquisitors approve of each other, with some being outright hostile and antagonistic toward the others.


Groups Who Align With the Inquisitors



While an Inquisitor may collect a retinue of two or three (or fifteen or thirty), there are also factions of the Warhammer 40k universe who align closely with each of the Ordos. The Deathwatch aid the Ordo Xenos in their fight against aliens. The Grey Knights have an affinity for the Ordo Malleus as they're equally devoted to rooting out Chaos. And the Ordo Hereticus is helped by the Adepta Sororitas.


Games Workshop released a short-lived game, Inquisitor, which had a lot of promise but which suffered from several design flaws (primarily being too much a departure from the standard Warhammer games.) We'll do a deep dive into the Inquisitor game in another post.


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