How to: Warp Travel
Known also as the Empyrean, the Immaterium, the Sea of Souls and by many other ominous titles, warp is a place where every thought, dream, emotion, ambition and fear of the galaxy's sentient races coalesces and finds physical manifestation. Its true form would drive even the most formidable mortal mind to madness. Thus it is most often envisioned as an endless ocean of roiling power whose kaleidoscopic currents are ever in motion. By piercing the veil separating reality from warp space, Humanity tapped into that endless ocean. By plunging into the currents of the warp, spacecraft could cross incredible interstellar distances in a fraction of the time they would otherwise have taken. It was Humanity's gateway into the stars. Yet the immaterium is as perilous as it is powerful. Like any great ocean, the sea of souls knows ferocious tempests and violent storms that can devour unwary craft or spill into reality to ravage entire systems with plagues of rampant mutation and nightmarish phenomena.
Without the Navigator gene and those who bear it, there simply would not be an Imperium of Man. At best, Humanity’s control of the stars would be limited to those planets that could entirely support themselves and a few scattered petty empires. Contact with other worlds would be scant to non-existent, for travel between all but the very closest of star systems would be too ponderous, and too dangerous, to be practicable. Without a Navigator, a vessel is limited to warp jumps of only a few light years at a time, and exact calibration must be undertaken by massive banks of cogitators as even the smallest of errors will have fatal consequences for the vessel and every soul aboard. Without a Navigator, to cross even the smallest of interstellar gulfs without the most detailed and ancient charts is considered a desperate or foolhardy act by most void-farers and suicidal by those who truly understand what horrors lurk beyond the material universe.
A Navigator is the scion of one of the great Navigator houses. These bloodlines are said by some to be older than the Imperium itself and by others to be a direct creation of the God-Emperor when he walked in mortal form. Over the millennia, they have garnered great power and influence thanks to the Imperium’s reliance on them, but at the same time are caged by convention and tradition. A Navigator wants for nothing, yet in reality is often a slave of their station. Thanks to their Warp Eye, they are able to pierce the veil between the Materium and the Immaterium, between reality and the nightmarish realms beyond. Able to perceive the warp’s shifting contours and impossible currents, they can guide a vessel by dint of their skill and the immeasurable aid of the light of the Astronomican, the Emperor-forged and soul-burning beacon that shines across the galaxy from ancient Terra. The life of a Navigator is one of duty and service to their house, yet many would have it no other way, for they are never truly more alive than when ensconced in their navigation sanctum, gazing into the insane, swirling depths of the Immaterium, pitting their will and their wits against the ravening storm of energy and thought that lurks behind all things others call real.
Each Navigator perceives the warp in an entirely subjective manner as a reflection of their own unique nature, for even such as they may not stare into the abyss and face its true form without suffering the utter destruction of mind and soul. Some perceive the dimension in terms of a journey through a storm-wracked forest, knowing that to stray from the path is to surrender to the horrors that lurk within. For others, the warp appears as a raging sea, or a desert engulfed in a sandstorm, or a shifting city of night, or a million other potential forms. As Navigators gain in experience and power, the abstraction fades, and they are capable of observing the true warp through a polarized state—their third eye filtering the horror.
But even for those so designed on a genetic level to endure the warp’s horrors, there is still a price to pay. Navigators who have served the longest may become wracked with bodily failure, incipient madness, and inevitable mutation, and ultimately they become virtual prisoners reliant on the life-sustaining machinery of their sanctums. Conversely, those newly come into their calling often revel in their rank and wealth, affecting rakish mannerisms and caring little for the petty concerns or trivial realities of life in the Imperium, each knowing that such a life is for them a thing that must one day pass. Those that embrace this wild, almost nihilistic attitude are often attracted to service aboard a Rogue Trader vessel, striking out into the darkness almost as if fleeing the inevitable fate they must one day face. Others owe their dangerous service thanks to some hidden crime or misdemeanor among their own kind or through connection to an infamous and some might say tainted bloodline.
Regardless of whatever idiosyncrasies a Navigator might bear, they are essential to the operation of a Rogue Trader vessel and given great leeway by their Rogue Trader, for should a vessel lose its Navigator beyond the fringes, any such vessel, and all who serve aboard her, is surely lost.