6th Ed Imperial Knight Codex cover.. An Imperial Knight from House Terryn looming over a bunch of puny Space Marines (Ultramarines? Doesn't look like them).
Knights are bonded to their Noble pilots through a rite known as the Ritual of Becoming, aptly name because the Noble "becomes" the Knight by fusing his mind with its machine spirit. Since the pilots are awesome Nobles with nerves of steel and sound mental fortitude, they don't go crazy, but just end up listening to the psychotic whispers of past pilots urging them to give in to the Dark Side...HERESY! BLAM! Ahem...give in to their bloodlust and rampage on the battlefield. This also allows the Noble to take control of the Knight inside the Throne Mechanicum, which is simply a fancy name for cockpit. C'mon, Games Workshop, even Gundam makers Bandai aren't so desperate to give their cockpits some sort of attempting-to-be-cool-but-failing name.
Knight Worlds were founded at the dawn of the Age of Technology, and right after that (some era of great expansion before the Imperium was founded). As such, these worlds are usually habitable planets that Mankind stumbled upon while searching for exploitable resources. They brought their technology with them to fight off the evil dangers inhabiting these planets, often in the form of monstrous predatory beasts or xenos races that resented the invasion, and used them to build giant robots! Using Standard Template Constructs, they were able to mass-produce a specific object flawlessly without the need for skilled engineers...so what did they build? Awesome giant robots! Huh, towering bipedal exo-suits sound cooler, and Knights sound cooler.
Anyway, these Knights are then piloted by a single pilot because he wants to monopolize such an awesome suit (and who could blame him?), and with their firepower, armor and shields, they were invincible in combat. They could combat colossal beasts and wipe out raiding armies, and thanks to their awesomeness, Mankind propsered in their attempts at interstellar colonization. Apparently, the machinery that bonded the Knight's pilot to his suit had mind-altering properties such as notions of honor and duty, nobility and fealty (which is actually not bad considering the alternatives...wouldn't want a psychotic nut to pilot that scary, amazing suit that's supposed to protect you, not destroy you) being ingrained in his psyche. This turned him into an amazing guy who ended up ruling because of pure epicness...so they actually started out as commoners and turned themselves into Nobles sworn to defend their home world. Cool.
Unfortunately, Mankind's darkest age arrived, the Age of Strife or the Long Night. Good thing the Knights were controlled by their pilots witout any sort of Artificial Inteilligence, or Humanity would have gone extinct. Thanks to that foresight, the AIs that "got smart" and swore allegiance to Skynet, uh, decided to rebel against humans didn't have these incredible machines on their side. I think we dodged a bullet...or at least a battle cannon round. Unfortuantely, the psykers went mad and inadvertently opened portals for daemons to jump in, and Warp storms joined the party to cut humanity off from each other. Damn. Across the galaxy, Mankind was assailed by unthinkable terrors from all sides.
Thankfully, the Knight worlds withstood the calamity, thanks to the awesome Knights offeering unmatched protection. These guys continued to shore up their defenses and ruled over their world with an iron...or adamantium hand. A lot of these knightly houses were warrior aristocrats, and they ended up ruling over neo-feudal societies, and this continued for five thousand years. That's a pretty long time. Eventually, these Knight worlds were rediscovered by the Imperium when the Emperor launched their Great Crusade and found all of Mankind's lost colonies. The Imperium managed to assimilate the Knight worlds, eager to get their hands on a rich bounty of archeotech and unexploited resources, and the Mechanicum of Mars craved the STCs, so they desperately pursued alliances with them. This led to trade between Knight worlds and the Mechanicum, particularly because the former relied greatly on the latter to repair and maintain their Knights, as well as to build new ones. Tech-Priests and technicians seconded to Knight Houses are known as Sacristans, usually trained in Mars or some Forge World before returning to their Knight Houses, and thankfully they're more loyal to their Houses than they are to mars. Yay. In any case, the Knight worlds and Forge worlds were entwined with each other in mutual support.
Knightly houses are actually self-contained organization, ruled by a single leader called the High King, or if closely aligned with the Adeptus Mechanicus, Princeps. They are also known as Ritter or Patriarch or even Shogun on different planets. The most powerful of the knightly houses are known as the Great Houses, which include House Cadmus, House Terrun, House Griffith and House Hawkshroud. They kind of forgot House Raven, and I'm going to introduce House Yato (and their allied House Uesugi and House Takeda) as another. Yay.
Anyway, Imperial Knights are devided into those Knightly houses loyal to the Imperium and those aligned with the Adeptus Mechanicus. The latter are often called upon to support Titan Legions, and escorted by Skitarii (wow, I actually have a fluffy army if that's the case). Anyway, the alignment with Mechanicus gives these Knight worlds ebnefits such as greater technological resources. On the other hand, an Imperial-aligned House would have more freedom and greater autonomy, and are not bound by ancient apcts with the sinister Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, who often conceal insidious motives. Go ask Baron Roland of House Cadmus if you don't believe me. He got so pissed off by an idiotic Tech-Priest, Adept Nemonix, that he took his entire Knight army off the planet of Vondrak and left them to the jaws of the Great Devourer when the dumb Adept tried to backstab and have him killed. Serve him right.
7th Ed Imperial Knight codex cover. Featuring Baron Roland from House Cadmus, perhaps?
Anyway, here's a list of Knightly houses and their worlds.
House Taranis - Mars (Man, these dudes were awesome in the novel Mechanicum by Graham McNeill! If you haven't read that yet, I urge you to read it...NOW!)
House Raven - Kolossi
House Terryn - Voltoris (They're tearing the upstart Tau Empire a new one! I want a novel on how the Imperial Knights kicked the Tau's asses on Voltoris! I hope they keep it up and avenge their defeat in Kauyon by wiping the Tau out in Mont'ka!)
House Cadmus - Raisa
House Griffith - Dragon's End
House Hawkshroud - Krastellan (These are the guys you want on your side - once they owe you a debt, they'll always come running to you whenever you ask for help. YAY!)
House Mortan - Kimdaria
House Althalos - Kimdaria
House Thalmus - Kimdaria
House Vulker - Aurous IV
House Krast - Chrysis (Take the h away and you'll get Crysis, an awesome game by Crytek)
House Agaron - Silverdawn
House Aramos - Rapture
House Blackskull - Scuptium VII
House Borgius - Dutonis
House Navaros - Dutonis
House Brahmica - Alaric Prime (Go read Sanctus Reach: The Red Waaagh! It's an awesome campaign featuring the Cadian Imperial Guard and the Imperial Knights of Alaric Prime!)
House Calestros - Alaric Prime
House Col'Khak - Atar-Planitia
House Curtana - Karastus
House Degallio - Alaric Prime (Ouch, this poor House ended up being destroyed by the end of Sanctus Reach: The Red Waaagh! campaign...or at least in the Hour of the Wolf. Sigh)
House Helmast - Alaric Prime
House Hermetika - Kaldeia
House Illius - Vorinth
House Nero - Vorinth
House Kamata - Alaric Prime
House Kestren - Alaric Prime
House Khord - Avalane VI (Cerastus Knight-Lancers! WOO!)
House Orhlacc - Dark Haven (That sounds ominous)
House Trainor - Mancora (why not just name them Trainer?)
House Vornherr - Luhnborg-IX
House Vyronii - Damaetus III/II (the awesome Knight house who fought against the Horus Heresy after being stabbed in the back by traitorous Mechanicum Adepts)
House Wentorth - Baroda
House Yato - Draconis III
House Uesugi - Draconis III
House Takeda - Draconis III
The last three houses, House Yato, House Uesugi and House Takeda, will be written in a separate article because they're my original creations and I would like to expand a bit more on their fluff and history. Yay.
And then there's the lovable Freeblades, such as Gerantius, the Forgotten Knight, and the Obsidian Knight! They are basically pilots who broke off from the Knight houses and become independent, fighting wherever they want and whenever they want. I kid you not. Well, it's usually because they have sworn revenge on a particular enemy and decides to hound them to death, chasing them to the ends of the galaxy to wreck bloody vengeance. And stuff. So yeah. Plus they are legendary characters who kill their enemies LIKE A BOSS! Just look at what Gerantius did to the Orks in Alaric Prime! And the Obsidian Knight...there's no killing him! I know he fell into a ravine in Kauyon, but I bet my entire Imperial Knight collection that he will be back in Mont'ka! Yeah! Whoever takes me up on my bet, give me a spare copy of your 7th Ed Rulebook and we'll call it even. And whatever Imperial Guard, Mechanicus or Mechanicum or Imperial Knight leftovers you're willing to get rid of.