Xenos: Seven Alien Species With A Shot At Conquering the 40k Galaxy

I was recently on a seminar panel talking about the Xenos – the myriad species of the Warhammer 40,000 galaxy. A good number of my novels and stories deal directly with or touch upon the Xenos and the seminar really got me thinking about these races. From an author’s point of view, any of these races can be represented as a devastating threat and as the background continues to evolve, some become more or less dangerous. Naturally, I reserve the right to change my mind or be persuaded otherwise, but here is my current take on those races who have the greatest chance at completely conquering the galaxy. In reverse order:

7. The Eldar
A species appearing superficially similar to humans, although often described as taller and more elfin. They are both a technologically advanced and psychic race, wielding great power through their martial experience, mystical weaponry and prognostic capabilities. The Eldar suffered a social, cultural and spiritual collapse at the height resulting in fragmentation, stagnation and slow deterioration. They are an elder race of the galaxy, dwindling in number - whose time has passed, despite still being a powerful force to be reckoned with. While anything is possible, they are not serious contenders in respect to galactic conquest due to reduced resources and capability. They seem uninterested in such a broad goal, instead concentrating on the survival of their species in a hostile and ignorant galaxy.

6. The Necrons
The Necrons are a race of robotic, skeletal warriors - the soulless creations of terrible Star Gods from galactic myth and legend. They have lain dormant in secreted stasis-tombs for longer than other xenos races have been in existence and are slowly awakening – ready to mobilise and make the galaxy their dominion. Armed with ancient and terrible technologies, and seemingly self-repairing, the Necrons are regarded as an implacable and impassive force intent on cold victory. The Necrons are certainly more apparently aggressive than the Eldar - the other elder race of the galaxy – but suffer from the same issue. Their time has passed and in the eons they have lain dormant in their tombs, other aggressive and pervasive races have evolved to stand in their way. They are more of a shadowy threat than a likely contenders for conquering the galaxy.

5. Minor Xenos Races
There are innumerable minor xenos races in the galaxy who have achieved sentience but have yet to make their mark: the Kroot, the Nicassar, the Vespid, the Demiurg, the Fra’al, the Galg, the Q’orl, the Hrud, the K’nib, the Tarellian. All bring different attributes to table. The Hrud might be seen as the galactic equivalents of rats or roaches and it would be unwise to bet against a race about which little is known beyond the fact that they are difficult to eradicate while swiftly growing to number to become interstellar plagues. With some, like the Kroot and the Q’orl, much depends upon evolutionary steps that unlock great possibility for the races. Others are already technologically advanced and hostile – like the Fra’al – and a growing threat. One of the reasons that such minor xenos races might not individually appear a threat is the propensity for some of them to form protective alliances with one another. On the other hand, this might signify a greater collective threat for other races who refuse to join their ranks. What makes these minor races more of a threat than much more ancient races is that the galaxy has already witnessed what these older species have to offer: these minor races have yet to have their day (as every Tarrelian ‘dog’-soldier must have). They have possibility on their side: the threat of the not-yet-known.

4. The Tau
The Tau are a young, humanoid race, who are highly technologically-advanced for their age. In a very short time they have carved out a small empire in the galactic east and have proved successful in territorial wars against neighbouring, established civilisations. While bringing fantastic new technologies to bear on the battlefield, the Tau are also experts in extraterrestrial diplomacy, bringing many other minor species into a confederacy against other, more hostile species. In exchange for technology and protection, the Tau have recruited a variety of xenos species with different specialisations and abilities to their cause. Each of these races help address weaknesses that the Tau perceive in themselves and this makes the Tau an increasing galactic threat. They regard themselves as a ‘Greater Good’ in the universe and there is little wonder that other species gravitate towards them when confronted with the bloody example of other brutish and tyrannical races. As well as the Tau’s technological and social advantages, being such a very young race, they also benefit from the potential of continued evolutionary development. They learn quickly and seem undaunted by the threat of other alien civilisations on their borders. It is hard not to root for them and their galactic ambitions.

3. The Orks
The Orks or ‘Greenskins’ are a barbaric and warlike race spread across the galaxy, who have the potential to be the most successful alien species in the galaxy. They are one of the most numerous species, split up into thousands of despotic empires. They have a natural affinity with technology and a savage desire to destroy and kill. Unfortunately for Greenskin dominion, the Orks are so war-like that they cannot help warring with each other as well as everyone else, making it unlikely that they will pool their strength for any great length of time and conquer the galaxy. From time to time their colossal warmongering Waaagh!s remind other species of the devastating potential and the massive swathes of interstellar destruction they can wreak across entire sections of the galaxy. They are certainly numerous enough and stupid enough to attempt a mindless and bloody galactic conquest.

2. Humanity
When examining the potential for galactic conquest, it is difficult not to consider humanity – that most dangerous of species. From the point of view of other galactic species, humanity is probably the middle ground and demonstrates many different advantages. To the Eldar, humanity is probably considered an upstart race – not unlike the Tau appears to humanity. Humans are a technologically advanced race - who have experimented with devastating weapons of mass destruction as well as unlocking the generic possibilities of their race in the Primarchs and the Space Marines. Humanity is relentlessly prejudice, xenophobic and expansive – aggressively defending the vast empire known as the Imperium and mobilising colossal armies across the stars in order to bring extinction to other races. Humanity is also evolving and unlocking further potential in the form of psychic abilities and dangers. Like other aggressive races, one of humanity’s most significant weaknesses is its inability not to fragment and war against itself. For this reason, races that are single-minded of purpose stand a good chance against the Imperium and wider humanity – despite all of the advantages humans retain in a war of galactic conquest.

1. The Tyranids
The Tyranids are a terrible extra-galactic race that travels the universe as a monstrous superorganism. Tyranid fleets move from planet to planet, defeating defending species with supra-evolving bio-constructs before assimilating all living matter into their hive fleets to fuel the further creation of terrifying, Tyranid organisms. Every time a Tyranid host defeats an enemy, it takes on its strength and numbers – not only in the raw biological building blocks of new fighting organisms – but also in terms of genetic advantage. If the Tyranids assimilate a psychic race then their new constructs receive the genetic benefits of psychic aggression; defeating hardy races make the Tyranids hardier; defeating races adapted to harsh and unusual environmental conditions makes the Tyranids similarly so. It is this simple approach to galactic conquest that makes the Tyranids clear front runners in the race for domination. Beyond being amongst the most horrific creatures in the galaxy to fight, they are driven by a single hive mind that is relentless in its desire to realise a deep, alien need to assimilate all other races. Victory makes them stronger in every way. The thing that makes Tyranids the most likely galactic conquerors is the fact that they have more than likely already achieved such a feat in their own galaxy. They have form for success. For all any of the other races on this list know, the Tyranids have left innumerable galaxies barren and devoid of other alien life. A chilling, if impressive, notion.

Do you agree?


Schaferlord. said...

The Tyranids only hit the number 1 spot if you presume them to have been victorious in whatever galaxy they have been in before this one and with the assumption that the other galaxies that got eaten long ago were in some way directly comparable with regards the amount of life in the galaxy and capabilities of those life forms. Neither of which may be the case.

The Tyranids may be fleeing something else, the Zoats have been moved from being a tyranid race now to my understanding but that doesn't mean the initial Zoat conceit of "fleeing a great threat beyond the galaxy" may not apply to the Tyranids still.

Also arguably much of the nature of life in the Galaxy is part of the Old One legacy, if there weren't Old Ones and wars in heaven in the other Galaxies then it could be seen as understandable why the great Tyranid menace is still chewing through the galaxy fairly slowly having had many hive fleets stopped and splintered.

Which isn't to say I disagree but if we're going to buy into the propaganda of some of these species let us not forget that the Eldar have earmarked planets ready for restarting their Empire properly when the time is right.

Simon (@sqyiggle) said...

I think I do agree mostly, but I'd argue humanity should probably be further down the list - if we are arguing in terms of sheer potential then Tau should be higher and humanity lower as humans are, IMO, almost aligned with Eldar in terms of having "had their shot" and fumbled it. Orks are never going to get it together enough to conquer the entire galaxy, which as you quite rightly point out leaves Tyranids as the only xenos race single minded enough to carry the crown! Interesting article though, and certainly food for thought. Cheers! Simon

Troglodytes'r'us said...

One of the fun things about the 40k galaxy is that nearly all races still have some hope. Ranging from the Eldar god of the dead Ynnead, or the ever evolving technology and political power of the tau to the simple power struggle between orks and tyranids in the Octavius system which may result in a galaxy conquering force for either side that wins.
One of the sad things about 40k however is the fact that all these cliffhanger endings will never be resolved. It is 40k and not 41k afterall.

Anonymous said...

G'day Rob,

Been meaning to comment on this post for ages...I've commented plenty on my own blog about this topic, but as this relates, was interested to hear what thoughts you had on the change to the Necron background.

I always loved the Lovecraftian horror they represented (which I now feel is gone) and in relation to this topic would suggest that under the previous background, the necron were a significant (albeit still shadowy) threat - both due to the fact that the C'tan were still 'whole'and on the verge of resurrection and more creepily, the 'pariah' agenda which now seems to have disappeared?

Also wondering if there was any video taken of the BL event for us non UK-ers?

Sigil @Imagined Realms

Frid Kun said...

Tyranids are not united. Different splinter fleets wage war on each other, killing and consuming each other's organisms. The reasons for that are not clear.

Frid Kun said...

Tyranids are not united. Different splinter fleets wage war on each other, killing and consuming each other's organisms. The reasons for that are not clear.

Jørgen Bender said...

Hello Rob

Interesting list - and I would agree entirely with from a background fiction point of view. With the lacklustre rules the Tyranids currently have, I think that it is actually Eldar - Tau - Necrons who have the greatest chance of achieving galactic domination :-)