The Navis Nobilite is an ancient organisation of mutant Terran nobility predating even the creation of the Imperium of Man by several thousand standard years. It is comprised of noble families who are all human mutants called Navigators who have the unique psychic ability to navigate spacecraft through long distances in the chaotic transdimensional eddies of the Warp. The Great Houses of the Navis Nobilite are some of the wealthiest and most politically powerful collections of nobles in the Imperium.
Navigators are both a human sub-species as well as a collectively powerful political organisation of the Imperium known as the Navis Nobilite, a guild of Imperial nobles that represents all of the Navigator bloodlines or Houses of the Imperium. The members of the Navis Nobilite are exempt from many Imperial laws, and even the Imperial Inquisition tends to be careful in the handling of individual Navigators due to the political power of the Navis Nobilite. However, Navigators guilty of treason, heresy or something equally serious are hunted down without mercy. Such affairs are many times dealt with internally by the Navis Nobilite itself before the Inquisition has any reason to act and potentially blacken the name of Navigators as a whole amongst an Imperial population already superstitious and distrustful of them. Each Navigator family is very close and often very large, and different families are often allied by marriage, while others are political and economic rivals. Although individual Navigators are not directly employed by the Imperium, every Warp-capable spacecraft in the Imperium has at least one Navigator who acts as the Warp pilot.
Navigators are organised into families known as "Houses" (sometimes "clans"), through which both the Warp Eye mutation and their esoteric but priceless knowledge of Warp navigation has been passed down through the generations. Because of their monopolies, ancient lineages, and accorded Imperial rights, Navigator families are usually both immensely wealthy and influential, their power extending to all corners of the Imperium. In particular, their influence on matters of interstellar trade is beyond that of any other group in the human-controlled galaxy. Perhaps most importantly, they have an Emperor-given right to conduct their own affairs as they see fit and thus are effectively outside of the laws and authority of the Imperium in most cases. This freedom is only void in particular circumstances of overt rebellion or treachery, and even then great care is taken by the Adepta in confronting and punishing such crimes. A Navigator clan's private retainers, soldiers and bodyguards can number in the thousands. The Houses largely police their own, binding themselves together within a shared culture and through lines of alliance, fealty, and marriage. However, wary of the balance of power, the high master of the Navis Nobilite, the Paternova, and his agents are often merciless when one clan or family should, by its treachery or excess, endanger the others.
Whilst ostensibly the role of the Paternova, and by extension the Novators who lead the individual Houses, is to manage the power of the Houses and protect their interests from the greed of the Administratum or the ignorance of the Ecclesiarchy and Inquisition, they do in fact have a far more important role to play. This role is in the cultivation and protection of the Navigator Gene. Vital to the survival of the Houses is the continuance of the birthing and training of skilled and potent Navigators. However, the competition between the families has also led to each tampering with and altering the evolution of some of its children, in the hopes of creating more powerful and able Navigators with which to defeat their rivals and win more lucrative and farther-reaching contracts. Over many centuries, these deliberate alterations of the Navigator Gene has created many different Navigator lineages, giving rise to some strains of bloodlines possessing the Navigator Gene in which certain powers, abilities, and mutations are more prevalent.
An Unpleasant Necessity
One of the fundamental tensions that exists between the Navis Nobilite and the rest of the Imperium is the fact that Navigators are patently mutants in a culture that does not often suffer the mutant to live save as a brutally oppressed underclass. Many dark legends and fables of excess, witchery, and murderous power have grown up about them, and not all without cause. As a result, Navigators are often shunned and feared, and the popular dread at meeting the gaze of their three-fold eyes means that many prefer to have dealings with them only when they absolutely must. The maintenance of the valuable Navigator Gene has also meant that over thousands of standard years most Navigator families have acquired malformations, strange afflictions, or mental abnormalities. In some Navigator families, the genetic corruption of the line has become so severe that only a few members of the clan can move amongst the rest of the Imperium. The remainder remain confined to the family's great estates or in sealed tabernacles aboard ship, their deformities hidden from sight.
These differences have often led to conflict in the past, and localised factions of the Ecclesiarchy have, on a number of occasions, burned Navigator holdings and executed Navigators as Heretics. Such incidents are often brought violently to heel by the Ecclesiarchy itself, before the wrath of the High Lords of Terra is visited upon the culprits and any above them in rank that allowed such action to come to pass. After all, no one can afford to offend those who hold the key to voyaging between the stars. The Inquisition is one of the few bodies that can truly move beyond the immunity of the Navigators' charter, and its eye is ever kept on the Navigator clans. Even the Inquisition must be circumspect and certain in this task. However, in rare extreme cases, the Ordos have destroyed entire clans and carried their patriarchs and matriarchs off in the Black Ships for final sanction.
Almost nothing is known of the earliest history of the Navigator Houses, though some amongst the Ordos of the Inquisition suspect that the ancient stasis vaults beneath the mansions of the Navigator's Quarter on Terra must contain records and artefacts rivalling those of the Inquisition in age and significance. Whatever secret histories of Mankind's darkest ages are hidden beneath those marble palaces are likely to remain obscured, for the Novators of the Great Houses are beholden to no other authority and even the most determined and relentless of Inquisitors would find it all but impossible to breach their closed society and force them to acknowledge any external law. Few organisations within the Imperium hold as much power as the Great Navigator Houses of the Navis Nobilite. Their position of control over nearly all Imperial shipping and interstelar commerce places them in a rare position of power, one that sits almost beyond the reach of both the Administratum and even the Inquisition itself. It is a position that the Great Houses have mercilessly exploited down through the millennia and used to gather vast wealth and influence. Though across the long span of years this power has risen and fallen, it has endured longer than almost all other Imperial edifices. The only aspect of the Great Houses that matches their political endurance is their constant struggle with each other. In their internecine struggles for position and favour, the Houses use all manner of means to outdo their rivals, sometimes even engaging in open warfare against one another. Only the strict control of the House Novators and the carefully maintained codes of behaviour and tradition of the Navigators keep such conflicts from spiralling out of control.
Whatever the details of their roots, the Navigator Houses appear to have enjoyed a special status since time immemorial. They must have been an established and powerful body at the beginning of the Emperor's Great Crusade in the late 30th Millennium, which would have been impossible without their services. Were it not for the Navigators that guided each Expeditionary Fleet, the Great Crusade would have taken millennia to prosecute, not the scant two Terran centuries it actually took before the calamitous events of the Horus Heresy plunged the nascent Imperium into galaxy-burning civil war. It must be presumed that a number of Houses fell to the insidious lies of the Warmaster Horus, for it would not have been possible for Horus to deploy his fleets with the speed and cunning he did were this not the case. Whatever the truth, the Navigator Houses appear to have emerged from the Heresy with their power and reputation largely intact -- confirmation, were it needed, of their critical role in the very existence of the galaxy-spanning interstellar empire that is the Imperium.
In the Imperium, there are thousands of Navigator Houses, each with a history that can be traced back hundreds if not thousands of Terran years, but still the number of Navigators is a literal drop in the ocean compared to the numberless masses of humanity. All these Houses are not the same either in strength or makeup, and over the millennia many have diverged from the first great families that are said to have exhibited the Navigator Gene at the time of the Great Crusade. Some have dwindled and died off over the years, some few turned outlaw, whilst many others have prospered in divergent ways of life creating branches and offshoots of the Great Houses across the Imperium. Whilst it would be impossible to catalogue and critique each of the Navigator families, many can be grouped into broad categories, representing their unique strain of the Navigator Gene as well as their area of influence and way of life. The four groups which are prevalent throughout the galaxy are known variously as the Magisterial Houses, the Nomadic Houses, the Renegade Houses, and the Shrouded Houses:
- Magisterial Houses - A Magisterial House is a Navigator dynasty most closely related to one of the original Navigator families dating back to the time of the Unification Wars. These Houses are amongst the wealthiest and most traditional of the Navis Nobilite and will possess great holdings within the Navigator's Quarter on Terra. Their influence reaches to the very edges of the light of the Astronomican. The Magisterial Houses maintain traditions, customs and practices that have served them for millennia. They are masters of the traditional Navigator crafts and have more control over the malign mutations that afflict those with the Navigator Gene. To be part of a Magisterial House is to know without question the purity of one's blood and the ancient power and nobility of one's family. Due to the long-established maintenance of their bloodlines, the Navigators of the Magisterial Houses are less susceptible to the symptomatic mutations which often affect Navigators because of their exposure to the power of the Empyrean.
- Nomadic Houses - A Nomadic Navigator House has forsaken ties of sector and star system, relinquishing their terrestrial holding within the Navigator's Quarter on Terra or other Imperial worlds. Instead, over the centuries, these Navigator Houses have taken wholly to the stars to become wanderers and gypsies, their bloodlines preserved on vast fleets of starships constantly on the move. Due to their void-based lifestyle the members of the Nomadic Houses are perhaps the most skilled of Navigators in the Imperium due to their long exposure to both the void and the Immaterium and the inherent necessities of astronavigation. This gives them an understanding of space and the Warp second to none, but like all of the Voidborn, these Navigators may have a great deal of difficulty relating to the Imperium's varied planetary cultures.
- Shrouded Houses - A Shrouded House has suffered great losses or shame within the more established dominions of the Imperium. They have opted to move their powerbase completely to the edge of known space, where they cling to the barest strands of their former status and power. Though they may be rich in skill, knowledge or lore, something in the past of Shrouded Houses has blighted them and reduced them to a state so far from their once exalted position that they are sometimes cruelly called "beggar houses" by other, more fortunate (and far less polite) counterparts. A Navigator who is a member of a Shrouded House is part of a fallen bloodline that is slowly rising again to stand defiant against those that once cast them down -- or at least, so they are told by their elders. A Shrouded House's loss in standing has often forced it to flee to the margins of the Imperium and to develop a cunning and opportunistic mindset alongside a skill that is often lacked by more comfortably indolent Houses. This tends to make these Navigators far more resourceful than their more well-established kin, while at the same time their Warp Eye often becomes more perceptive.
- Renegade Houses - A Renegade House represents a Great House that has completely forsaken the traditions and ancient practices of the Navigator families in their quest for power, or it may have been turned on by the rest of the Navis Nobilite, harrowed, and driven into exile. Dabbling heavily in the alteration of the genes of their children in order to improve their lot, the tampering of Renegade Houses often leads to the development of hideous mutations and the existence of unconscionable monsters in their lineage, which in turn leads to rejection by the Paternova and a hunt to extinction by the Inquisition. In some cases, however, a Renegade House's actions have birthed new strains of the Navigator Gene and given rise to families with unique abilities and potent powers. Navigators that are a part of a Renegade House have cast aside the sacred Navigator traditions as small-minded and restrictive and instead have embraced the glory and limitless potential of their ancestry -- or so the houses believe, to comfort themselves. It is whispered that such regions as the Koronus Expanse is home to several Renegade Houses like the secretive Gazmati and the infamous Nostromo.
- House Aleene - This Navigator House now enjoys the favour that was once the preserve of Lord Angevin's inner circle of Navigators within the Calixis Sector. House Aleene has profited greatly from the upheavals beyond the Periphery Sub-sector.
- House Belisarius (Magisterial House) - This is one of the oldest and most respected Houses of the Navis Nobilite. House Belisarius maintains an ancient and close relationship with the Space Wolves Chapter of Space Marines and exclusively provides Navigators for the Space Wolves' Chapter fleet. In return, the Space Wolves gift the House with a small contingent of Space Wolves Astartes called the Wolfblade who serve as the House Celestarch's (Novator) bodyguard and his strong right arm when the House's interests need to be defended by military force.
- House Benetek - This Navigator House now enjoys the favour that was once the preserve of Lord Angevin's inner circle of Navigators within the Calixis Sector. House Benetek has ascended to great wealth recently and it was "Mad" Abenicus of that House who first postulated a route through the Warp Storms the Calixis Sector into the Koronus Expanse, having made an exhaustive study of ancient texts as well as being wracked by a series of prophetic visions.
- House Brabazon (Nomadic House) - House Brabazon is a far-ranging Navigator bloodline that chooses not to abide in one single location. It scions guide vessels the length and breadth of the Imperium, seemingly gripped by a wanderlust that keeps them from establishing the sort of permanent holding most other Houses maintain. At one time, the Navigators of House Brabazon were counted amongst the most able in the entire Segmentum Obscurus, their star charts the most accurate, but in one fell swoop, something happened that caused the House's charts, no matter where or how they were stored, to become corrupted according to some grand and unreadable pattern. Unable to trust the firmly established Warp routes of their once jealously guarded charts, they instead seek to forge new ones and pray the curse upon their House does not lay them low once more.
- House Cassini (Magisterial House) - A Navigator House as ancient as the Imperium itself, House Cassini was at one time a rising star within the Houses in and around the Calixis Sector. But the events of the Chorda Succession laid House Cassini low, providing a salutary lesson in the dangers of becoming too embroiled in the dealings of those who acknowledge no limits to their ambition. Now their fortunes are much reduced, and its scions have been forced to take to the Koronus Expanse in an effort to claw back something of their former glory.
- House Castrana
- House Dakkar (Renegade House) - The name of this Navigator House is a byword for hubris. House Dakkar came into conflict with the Paternova, most prominently during its notorious trade war with House Malaspina during the Angevin Crusade. What had begun as a quarrel over shipping rights into the newly conquered Calixis Sector soon escalated into outright assassination and sabotage. Without the intervention of Saint Drusus, the war might have plunged the entire region into an age of renewed bloodshed and destruction. The Paternova ordered the two Houses involved to be declared outcast. While House Malaspina was eventually allowed back into the fold after some years of penance, House Dakkar was stripped of all its assets and holdings and cast into the darkness between the Calyx Expanse and the ill-fated Mandragora Sector. What little is known of the returned House Dakkar suggests that they harbour a venomous hatred of the Imperium and their erstwhile brothers in the Navis Nobilite, and are determined to act in any way possible against the interests of both.
- House Davor-Jarni
- House Ferraci
- House Granicus - This Navigator House is notable for being one of three Navigator House who work exclusively for the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, providing Navigators for their fleet of Black Ships.
- House Hals-Viati
- House Helmsburg
- House Jenassis
- House Locarno
- House Malaspina (Shrouded House) - This particular Navigator House has always been held in a measure of distrust by certain bodies of the Imperium. While the matter is not common knowledge, not a single Space Marine Chapter of the First or Second Foundings ever allows a Malaspina Navigator to operate on their vessels, nor do they ever embark upon a starship navigated by a scion of House Malaspina. The reasons for this prejudice are unknown even to the most senior members of the Adeptus Terra and the Ordos of the Inquisition, though a few suspect that the House's tenebrous origins lie in the shrouded past of the cataclysm known as the Horus Heresy. Since that distant time, House Malaspina has striven to expand its fortunes, though it has never truly succeeded in doing so.
- House Mercator (Shrouded House) - Very little is known of this mysterious Navigator House, for it deliberately keeps very much to themselves. They maintain very few obviously grandiose holdings. Over the millennia, the scions of House Mercator have come to be regarded as cursed in some manner, though not in any way that can be easily defined or because they have suffered some obvious misfortune. Rather, the House's name simply appears to be linked to numerous others who have met their doom beyond the borders of the Imperium, from the grandest Rogue Trader dynasties to the most far ranging Explorator fleets. Because of their veiled past, the Navigators of House Mercator exist in a shadowy world of service and espionage.
- House Modar - House Modar is one of three ancient Navigator Houses that form a powerful triumvirate that traces its roots all the way back to the conquest of the Calyx Expanse by the Angevin Crusade over a thousand standard years ago. Houses Modar, Yeshar, and Rey'a'Nor earned a special place in the history of the region. They served with such honour and distinction during the Angevin Crusade that each secured its fortunes within what became the Calixis Sector for generations to come.
- House MacPherson - This Navigator House is notable for being one of three Navigator House who work exclusively for the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, providing Navigators for their fleet of Black Ships.
- House M'edici
- House Mercator (Shrouded House) - Agents of this ill-starred House have learned of House Ortellius' misfortunes in producing viable gene-stock, and their masters are actively using this knowledge in exchange for information useful to their own shrouded interests. Ortellius continues to prepare for the coming political storm, when House Mercator reveals the truth, and countless rivals are likely to descend upon them in what will surely be the bitterest war of the House's long history.
- House Nostromo (Renegade House) - Nostromo is an ancient and notorious Navigator House whose fate has ever been entwined with that of the Rogue Traders of the Haarlock Dynasty. Ever since the reforming Ecclesiarch Sebastian Thor himself bestowed upon the Haarlocks their Warrant of Trade, the line had been served by Navigators of House Nostromo. Despite its links to such a glorious dynasty, the House of Nostromo has ever been considered ill-starred.
- House Ortellius - A substantial rival of House Visscher both in wealth and status, this Navigator House's holdings in the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse are far more visible to the populace at large. But over the last two or three generations their Navigators have slowly withdrawn from those regions' Warp routes. This decline has largely gone unnoticed, but most would conclude that Ortellius has merely taken up more lucrative positions in the Koronus Expanse and elsewhere. But the truth is much darker, for around a standard century ago, it was discovered that the purity of Ortellius gene-stock has substantially declined, and by the close of the 41st Millennium it was likely that the House would be unable to sire any viable offspring at all.
- House Ptolemy - This Navigator House is notable for being one of three Navigator House who work exclusively for the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, providing Navigators for their fleet of Black Ships.
- House Re'a'Nor - One of the three ancient Navigator Houses that forms a triumvirate that traces its roots all the way back to the conquest of the Calyx Expanse by the Angevin Crusade over a thousand years ago. Houses Rey'a'Nor, Modar and Yeshar earned a special place in the history of the region. They served with such honour and distinction during the Angevin Crusade that each secured its fortunes within what became the Calixis Sector for generations to come.
- House Sixtus
- House True
- House Typhon (Renegade House) - Once a mighty Navigator House, House Typhon has fallen as far as it is possible for a Navigator House to fall. Even before its fall from grace, House Typhon was known to have associations with a variety of undesirable factions within the Imperium's vast institutions, having links to a number of Radical Inquisitors, of which several were Excommunicated. Its last Novator, Orthrus, is said to have delved into realms thought forbidden to the bulk of Humanity. Over time, Orthrus forged his own school of vile philosophy, coming to believe that the Navigator Gene represented the only true and ordained path for the human future. The foundations of what would eventually become known as the Elutrian Confederacy were laid in this way and the doom of House Typhon was ensured.
- House Visscher - One of the most ancient Navigator Houses operating in the Koronus Expanse, House Visscher maintains extensive holdings across the entire segmentum and its palace on Terra in the Navigator's Quarter is held to be one of the finest ever built. Despite its wealth, this Navigator House is not well-known outside the Navis Nobilite. This is due to the manner in which it has amassed its fortune by specialising in clandestinely gathering new astropathic data by serving great Rogue Trader dynasties and far-ranging Explorator fleets.
- House Xan'Tai - This Navigator House now enjoys the favour once the preserve of Angevin's inner circle of Navigators within the Calixis Sector. Xan'Tai has negotiated an all-but exclusive charter to provide its best Navigators to Battlefleet Calixis.
- House Yeshar - One of three ancient Navigator Houses that forms a triumvirate that traces its roots all the way back to the conquest of the Calyx Expanse by the Angevin Crusade over a thousand years ago. Houses Rey'a'Nor, Modar and Yeshar earned a special place in the history of the region. They served with such honour and distinction during the Angevin Crusade that each secured its fortunes within what became the Calixis Sector for generations to come.
- House Cedd (Shrouded House)
- House Casa D'Kark
- House Dorel
- House Emed-Useli
- House Gazmati (Renegade)
- House Krassimal
- House Modar (Shrouded House)
- House Nomikos
- House Su-Nen - For eons, House Su-Nen has provided the once powerful Rogue Trader-dynasty of the von Castellan with Navigators for their ships.
- House Term'L (Nomad House)
- House Teshar - One of the many Navigator House oathbound to the powerful Battlefleet Bakka. Following an incident involving a ship piloted by one of their scions, House Teshar has recently come to the attention of Inquisitor Covenant.
- House Vor'cle (Magisterial House)
- House Yimora
Due to their sheer importance to the Imperium's well-being, the Navigator Houses have attained a vast degree of wealth and influence. The Navis Nobilite can trace its formal origins back to ages long past, and since that time the Navigator Houses have amassed unimaginable riches. Every starship that plies the Warp routes of the Imperium and beyond has at least one, and most likely an entire cabal of Navigators to guide it safely through the Immaterium. The Navis Nobilite uses the wealth that it accrues from this critical task to amass still more. None except perhaps the Paternova -- the most senior Patriarch or Matriarch of all the Great Houses -- can have any true notion of just how much wealth the Navis Nobilite wields, and its influence and alliances stretch far beyond pure material riches. Certainly, the Navigators appear to have interests in sundry organisations the length and breadth of the Imperium; some have close ties with Rogue Trader dynasties, the Adeptus Mechanicus, and even the vaunted Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes. The Navigator Houses act as backers and investors in some of the most ambitious undertakings, especially those the most powerful of Rogue Trader expeditions. Thus, as Rogue Traders employ Navigators to forge new Warp routes, the Navis Nobilite profits doubly, for even while establishing those routes, they can improve their charts, to their own benefit and that of the Imperium.
Despite the staggering wealth that the Navigator Houses enjoy, they do not generally maintain the sort of visible power structures that most other Imperial institutions rely upon. Unlike the Rogue Traders and Chartist Captains, they do not operate fleets of starships bearing their livery and, unlike the great Imperial merchant combines, they do not maintain their own trading centres or industrial installations. Instead, they own part interests in all manner of such endavours and sometimes the hand of the Navis Nobilite is very well hidden indeed. The Navigators do not generally maintain large standing armies, although many Navigator Houses employ a cadre of highly trained, well equipped, and sometimes genetically-enhanced household troops utterly loyal to their bloodline. When circumstances dictate, the Navigator Houses draw on their vast wealth to employ the very best mercenary forces available and, with sufficient warning of impending war, can field composite armies rivalling an orbiting Imperial defence force in size and resources. What the Navigator Houses do maintain, however, are the most splendid palaces, exquisite estates, and gorgeous pleasure gardens it is possible to imagine. Most are located far from the eyes of the average man and woman of the Imperium, though they often maintain more utilitarian, if still richly appointed, chancelleries in most large starports and planetary capital cities.
From the outside, even the most modest Navis Nobilite palace is likely to be a rearing edifice dressed with marble and decorated by the most accomplished sculptors of the age. Beyond the walls, delicate towers pierce the sky while glittering domes hint at the untold riches within. What the casual observer might not note is the banks of unseen defences, from automated weapons turrets to the most impregnable forms of Void Shielding. Within, every visible surface is gilded with precious metal leaf or hung with sumptuous fabrics. The domes house vast libraries or ancient texts, sumptuous ballrooms, serene pleasure gardens, and luxurious harems. Lumens crafted from the rarest of cut jewels light dining halls that can accommodate thousands of guests, while serried ranks of liveried attendants stand to attention nearby. Entire armies of servants and menials attend to their masters' every conceivable whim, while the lower levels are hives of activity where the most skilled cuisiniers prepare feasts of delicacies imported from all over the Imperium.
Beneath the servants' levels lies something far darker. In armoured and warded dungeons are housed those spawn of the Navis Nobilite fated never to guide a starship through the roiling Sea of Souls. These are the genetic rejects and hideous by-blows of the long millennia of intermarriage and genetic manipulation. They are mindless, puking monstrosities that bear precious little resemblance to anything born of a human womb. Many are destroyed soon after birth, while others are allowed to live so that the House genetors might study them in the hope of avoiding such mistakes in future generations. Just as the lowest levels hide those of the Navis Nobilite that the Navigator Houses wish to keep from prying eyes, so there are areas where only the most highly ranked members of the House may pass. As a Navigator grows older and his body is ravaged by the curse of his bloodline and exposure to the Warp, he slowly withdraws from the company of his kin and shuns contact with the outside world entirely. While his mind and his ability to navigate a Warpship remain unaffected, he continues to enjoy the luxury his status affords, albeit in his own private chambers attended by his own staff of servants, guards and chirurgeons. Should his mind fall victim to the Navigators' genetic curse, however, then his fate is to descend to the lowest dungeons of his own palace where he takes his place amongst the other vile monstrosities of his House.
The Paternova is the leader, and most powerful both in terms of psychic and political power, of all the Navigators of the Navis Nobilite. The Paternova lives in the Palace of the Navigators, which dominates the centre of the Navigator's Quarter on Terra. From the moment he or she is installed, the Paternova never leaves this palace. The staff, soldiery and other retainers of the Palace of the Navigators are all drawn from the Paternova's own House, and are all replaced with each new Paternova who assumes the office. The chief among a Paternova's servants is the Paternoval Envoy, who often serves as one of the High Lords of Terra, representing the interests of the Navis Nobilite on the Senatorum Imperialis. If anybody were to know the secrets of the Navigators' origins in the lost history of Mankind, it would be the noble who rises to become the Paternova.
The chief role of the Paternova is his ability to somehow amplify the "Warp Sense" of other Navigators. This is a direct result of the extreme mutations a Paternova suffers during his ascension from being one of the Heirs Apparent found amongst all the Novators of the more powerful Navigator Houses. For this reason, the Paternova is sometimes described as the guiding father of the Navis Nobilite whose powers transcend the Warp itself. The importance of this link is demonstrated during the rare interregnums that periodically occur between the reign of one Paternova and his replacement. During these times, all Navigators other than the Heirs Apparent suffer a considerable reduction in their ability to navigate the Warp. If this state of affairs were to continue for long, much of the Imperium would collapse into anarchy, as both commercial and military Imperial starships would be unable to quickly or safely traverse the Warp, with many being lost to the Empyrean completely.
The Paternova can often live for a thousand standard years. When he does die, his successor is chosen from amongst the waiting Heirs Apparent, the most powerful Navigators of the Great Families. From the moment of his death, all the existing Heirs Apparent undergo a dramatic physical metamorphosis. They grow larger and stronger, and the psychic mutations that characterise all Navigators become even more pronounced. The Heirs Apparent gain the ability to survive underwater, in poisonous environments and even in the hard vacuum of space. Their natural aggression is increased, and they are drawn into combat with each other. As each Heir Apparent is killed, those who survive change physically even more, until only one remains alive. It is this vastly changed and extremely powerful individual who becomes the new Paternova.
As soon as a new Paternova is installed within the Palace of the Navigators, all of the other Navigators find the standard strength of their own psychic abilities restored, though not all are always restored to the same degree of effectveness. Those Navigators belonging to the same House as the Paternova find their abilities greatly enhanced, as though their blood ties enables the Paternova to transmit his powers more effectively to his kin. Navigators belonging to the House of the old Paternova lose this benefit, and many Navigators suddenly find their powers greatly diminished. The reasons for this alteration in power levels remains unknown to Imperial genetic science.
The Novator is a patriarch or matriarch that rules over a Navigator House, the figurative—and often biological—father or mother of the family. It is the role of the Novator to hold the family together and manage their fortunes, fostering new contracts and contacts for the House and jealously guarding those already in its possession. Above the scores of Novators stands the Paternova, head of all the Imperium’s Navigator Houses. From his throne on ancient Terra in the Palace of the Navigators, he guides the destiny of the Houses, ensuring their continued place of power within the human-settled galaxy. While the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Great Houses are collectively known as Novators, each House may choose its own name for the nobleman or woman who leads its endeavours.
- "A pleasure to meet you, sir. Allow me to introduce myself. I am your charioteer, your gatekeeper to the stars. These trade conferences are such a bore, don't you think? We have all week to discuss the trade routes of the Expanse. Would you care to join me in a glass of amasec? Wonderful! A toast—to our endeavours."
- — Navigator Gadevillious Obrex, emissary of House Vor’cle
Navigators are a fortunate few of the Imperium born into privilege, their politically affluent clans wellsprings of intrigue as grim and convoluted as their mutating bodies. While some Navigator Houses empower agents to act as intermediaries between themselves and Imperial society, others look within, selecting from among their number cunning Navigators who can wield the political influence of the House to greatest effect. Though the Navis Nobilite are a part of the Imperium, each Navigator House possesses great autonomy, and their influence and power is on par with the Imperium's great Adepta. Thus, it is only natural that many Houses have diplomats and representatives for dealings with the larger Imperium. These Scions of the Navis Nobilite are the faces of the great Houses, groomed to act as diplomats and power brokers, seeing to it that their family's interests are protected.
Equally at home in the estates of the Navigator Houses or the courts of the Imperial elite, Navis Scions are masters of conversation and courtly protocol. Often selected from amongst their fellows based on their relative lack of disfiguring mutations as much as their social skills, these Navigators attract a great deal of attention on their many public outings. Fated to be the centre of attention in virtually any courtly setting, Scions revel in the gawking of onlookers, using their instant fame to woo potential allies and mock known foes. It is rare to see a Navigator in public, and rarer still to see one surrounded by an admiring (or simply curious) crowd. Whether regaling an audience with tales of travel beyond the reaches of the Imperium or wounding a boor's pride with a witty remark, Navis Scions are exceptionally socially adroit.
However, a Scion bears a responsibility far greater than providing dazzling conversation. He is still expected to be an adroit Navigator for ships travelling the Immaterium, and serves as a vital link between his House and its allies. He is expected to act as its agent and representative, seeking out new clients for his House and seeing to it that existing allies have the House's best interests at heart. The intimidating presence of a full-blooded Navigator can quickly sway the outcome of a trade negotiation. Likewise, the enemies of the Nobilite must be careful to hold their tongues when a Navis Scion glides confidently into court. Wielding the political and economic power of his House, a Navis Scion is someone to be feared and respected.
The extensive education and political experience of Navis Scions make them valuable companions. In the course of their duties, many Scions become advisors to Rogue Traders, Imperial Navy Admirals, and other high-ranking Imperial officials who respect their expertise and pedigree. Many an Imperial noble has turned to a Scion for advice in matters of politics, trade, and even personal matters. Though the rumour that a Navigator's third eye can glimpse the future is only partly true, that does not stop most Scions from acting as psychic advisors, knowing full well that the right prophesy muttered in the right ear is capable of fulfilling itself.
One cannot simply choose to serve his House as a Scion. Scions must be groomed from an early age, entering courtly life before the mutations that are their heritage manifest. As a result, the highly public lives and exotic inhuman beauty of most Scions lead many to believe the stories of monstrously deformed Navigators to be no more than fables the Houses use to intimidate rivals. A Navigator cannot escape the betrayal of his own body, and as a consequence, most Scions have short public careers. However, the alliances brokered and social doorways opened in this time can serve a Navigator throughout his prolonged existence, and may even be refined and enhanced through clever manoeuvring later in life. Still, many Scions become so enamoured with the dance of courtly intrigue that they cannot bear to leave it behind when the time comes. More than a few Scions have resorted to extensive reconstructive surgery and invasive bionic augmentation to maintain the almost-human features that once made them presentable and celebrated in Imperial high society.
Each Navis Nobilite House has their own unique traditions and positions within the House's hierarchy dependent upon their own histories and culture. For instance, House Belisarius is led by an individual Novator referred to as the Celestarch and has its own standing military trained by the Astartes of the Space Wolves Chapter. The Space Wolves long ago concluded a special alliance with House Belisarius to provide its Celestarch with a small force of Space Wolves known as the Wolfblade to serve him or her as a personal honour guard. A nobleman or noblewoman known as a Novator serves as the matriarch or patriarch of a Navigator House. A Novator can either be the figurative parent or a biological parent of the other members of the family, but always serves as the House's legal and titular leader. A Novator is expected to manage their household's fortunes and to keep their kin united in fostering the House's political and economic agenda. These duties include fostering trade contracts for the House whilst jealously guarding those profitable enterprises the House already holds in its possession. The strict controls a Novator imposes along with the Imperium's legal Navigator codes prevents devastating economic and even outright military conflict from erupting between the Navigator Houses. Ranked above the many Novators of the different Houses in the hierarchy of the Navigators sits the powerful noble known as the Paternova, who oversees the fortunes of the Navigators as an Imperial elite.
The most common conflict involving the Navis Nobilite are the conflicts between the various Navigator Houses. Each Navigator family's power and wealth is based on the trade it can control, its contracts and pledges to various Imperial mercantile organisations, and the courses that its Navigators can plot. All these matters are areas of fierce competition between the different Navigator Houses and often the focus of campaigns of espionage, violence, and assassination. Such conflicts can cause huge amounts of damage to the infrastructure of the Imperium, often occurring without the direct knowledge of the other human nobility or the Imperial authorities until it is too late. Traditionally, this damage has been controlled by the formal declaration of a "trade war" under the terms of the ancient Navigator Convention. A trade war, once declared, allows all Navigator Houses involved to act against their rivals using military and covert means. According to the terms of a trade war, those outside of the Navigator Houses involved should not be affected or harmed by its progress. However, in reality, subsidiaries, allies, and associates of the Navigator Houses immersed in a trade war are usually dragged into the conflict whether they want to be or not. While a trade war is meant to control and contain competition between the Navigator Houses, many Houses act outside of the constraints of a declared trade war. Such illegal actions usually involve intermediaries, assassination guilds, or mercenary armies for hire -- sometimes even using xenos like Orks or Kroot.
- "I thank you for this lavish meal and for all of your hospitality this evening. As such, I regret - most deeply regret - that I must put forth this filthy accusation of duplicity against your most illustrious House. I am afraid that nothing short of a challenge to a duel of honour will sate my House now. You have until Scarus eclipses the Banestar to select the champion who will most certainly exonerate you."
- — Aristide de Balafer, before his 23rd victorious honour duel
Navigator Houses are highly secretive and highly competitive organisations. They jealously guard the knowledge of safe Warp routes from each other. A House's fame and fortune depends on its ability to safely guide vessels through the Warp and the reputation for doing so that it maintains. The greater the reputation, the more influence and wealth its clients possess. The Imperial Navy, the Space Marine Chapters, Rogue Traders and other Imperial Adepta seek the services of the most reliable Houses. Each House's reputation is dependent on the Warp charts it has recorded and amassed over millennia and each House protects these charts from their rivals. The various Houses employ entire private armies and Servitor security systems to protect the data secured deep within the bowels of a major Navigator House's headquarters. Still, various individuals and organisations still occasionally attempt to steal from rival groups, even if few actually succeed, and many Houses employ agents skilled at such subterfuge. Rival Houses also employ more insidious means of undermining each other. In the loftiest spires, palaces, and courts of the higher echelons of Imperial society, whispered rumours and hints of dark secrets can bring one Navigator House to its knees and raise a rival in its place. The sullied reputation of a single Navigator can stain his entire bloodline.
Sometimes, however, when back-room dealing and silent wars are not enough, one Navigator House openly challenges another in some fashion. In certain sectors, such as the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse, this often takes the form of Navigator duels -- a contest between two massive organisations, settled by two individuals. Though the exact origin of Navigator duels is unknown, the practice of using them to settle disputes between Houses became common in the Calixis Sector during the rise of the so-called Elutrian Confederacy. During this time, Navigator Houses associated with the Elutrian Confederacy, such as House Typhon, claimed that they alone knew the true path to perfection. The champions of this movement began calling for Navigator duels to prove their supposed superiority. When the Elutrian Confederacy was disgraced and House Typhon fell into ruin, the traditions that they had established for Navigator duels remained prevalent in the region and are still used to settle many of the disputes between the Navigator Houses of the Calixis Sector today.
First comes the formal challenge -- Navigator duels are public affairs within the secretive realm of the Calixis Navigator Houses and a family loses much face if it does not accept the challenge. This, and the fact that the loser is expected to pay a hefty fine of money, resources, and knowledge to the winner, means that duels are never issued for frivolous reasons. After the challenge has been issued, each House then has a number of days to select a champion to upkeep their honour and choose a second to act as witness and potential replacement. It is considered a great honour to be chosen as a duellist and a chance for a young Navigator to increase his standing among his family and other Navigator clans. The location of the duel is remote, such as an abandoned spire, the bridge of an empty starship moored in deep space, or a windswept mountaintop on a wilderness planet. The only witnesses are the duellists' seconds. The Navigators prefer to cloak themselves with an aura of mystique, and also prefer that no one outside their secretive society witnesses the full force of their powers.
The duel takes place with careful formality. The participants bow to each other and then slowly uncover their third eye. At a prearranged signal from the seconds, the duellists unleash the full force of their powers, locked together as they gaze unflinchingly into each other's Warp Eye, enduring the horror of the boiling chaos of the Empyrean. It is a duel of physical and mental strength, as each tries to subdue the other with their horrific gaze, and can last seconds or hours. The first to succumb on bent knee yields victory to his opponent. The duel is rarely to the death, for the lives of most Navigators are precious even to their bitter rivals. Even so, one or both duellists might face long months of recovery, their minds wracked by the strain. When the duellists return to their respective Houses, the seconds report the results of the duel and a representative of the losing House must attend a feast in the victor's honour, where he formally signs over the promised compensation. His House suffers a loss of face and a besmirched reputation, which may have vast repercussions in the wider Imperium.
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 255
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 172-173
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pg. 168
- Imperial Armour - The Horus Heresy Betrayal - Book One by Alan Bligh, pg. 16
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 60-63, 72, 78, 81-82, 85, 156, 174-186
- Rogue Trader: Battlefleet Koronus (RPG), pp. 42, 45, 49-50, 71, 95
- Rogue Trader: Edge of the Abyss (RPG), pp. 80, 111
- Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (RPG), pp. 90-91
- Rogue Trader: The Navis Primer (RPG), pp. 6-108
- The Horus Heresy: Collected Visions, pp. 9, 38, 41, 94, 272
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pp. 150-151
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (Digital Edition) (7th Edition), pp. 275, 285-286, 294
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 139, 141, 146, 167-168, 171, 197, 232, 402-405
- White Dwarf 140 (UK), "Space Fleet: Navis Nobilite," by Jervis Johnson, Andy Jones, Simon Forrest and Rick Priestley, pp. 46-75
- Galaxy in Flames (Novel) by Ben Counter
- The Outcast Dead (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Wolfblade (Novel) by William King
- The Horusian Wars: Resurrection (Novel) by John French