- "These poor, simple folk - too fearful or too dull-witted to see the vulgarity and evil in their own midst. They wail and complain about my... uncompromising methods, but who among you can say that hanging half a village is a high price to pay for the assurance that corruption has been exposed and destroyed this day?"
- —Ernst Traugott, Templar Witch Hunter
One of the most visible and recognisable characters in the Old World is the Witch Hunter. Characterised by his tall wide-brimmed hat, dark clothing, no-nonsense demeanour, and penchant for arresting and burning Mutants, few evoke terror in the guilty and the innocent like Witch Hunters. Much has been written of these dedicated men, and rumours swirl about them like the smoke from their pyres. But they conceal the truth behind a mask of competence and fiery zealousness.[4a]
Feared and respected, loved and hated, Witch Hunters are both the bane of civilisation and its salvation. Ruthless killers, they serve the interests of the Empire by putting torch to corruption wherever they find it. Anyone or anything they find that is unnatural, they oppose. Witches and Warlocks, Hedge Wizards, Mutants, cultists, Chaos Spawn, Undead, and anything else that does not conform to the good and righteous is cast down, a victim of another purging.[4a][4b]
Of the devout Hunters, The Holy Order of the Templars of Sigmar have done more than any other group to ferment the gruesome and terrifying reputation enjoyed by all hunters. The broad brimmed hat, brace of pistols and propensity towards mass burnings have all been ‘inspired’ by this zealous group. They are an organisation dedicated to the eradication of Witches: including Hedge Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, fortune tellers, Necromancers, worshippers of the dark Gods, servants of Daemons, deviants, Mutants, blasphemers, or sinners in general. Indeed, there are few who escape the suspicions of these Witch Hunters with the possible exception of other Templars.[2a]
Long supported and funded by the Cult of Sigmar, these Templar Witch Hunters are granted their powers by the cult and the Empire. A Templar’s holy duty is to protect the Empire and its citizens from the Infernal Powers, their allies and those who would serve them. This includes Daemons, Chaos cultists, Chaos Sorcerers, Necromancers, unsanctioned users of magic, Mutants, Beastmen, undead creatures, Warlocks, and Witches. Many Witch Hunters specialize in a particular field of investigation, and spend years, or even decades, travelling the Empire to track all the members of a certain cult, or on the trail of a particular priest of a dark God.[2a]
For nearly four hundred years, the Empire had languished in decline. Daemonologists, Necromancers, and cults were growing with startling frequency, and the Empire, such as it was, proved powerless to stop the spread. With a weak and ineffectual leader on the throne, the people turned to the cult of Sigmar for assistance. To meet the needs of the beleaguered provinces, Grand Theogonist Siebold II formed the Order of the Silver Hammer: a group of Warrior-Priests and investigators, they were committed to ferreting out the agents of Chaos. Armed with a letter of commission with the seal of the Grand Theogonist, they could reach anyone, anywhere.[4b]
For the next sixty years, these Witch Hunters were not regarded as a significant threat, but they slowly expanded, building a network of spies and informants. Their reputation grew, and people began to fear their power. In response to the reckless destruction wrought by Daemonologists and Necromancers, the Grand Theogonist authorised the Templars, as they were called, to use force in curbing the practice of all magic, ushering in a new era of brutal suppression of Wizards in all of their forms.[4b]
With power comes corruption. The Witch Hunters expanded their thin ranks by accepting nearly anyone of religious dedication to join. And so, in the years that followed, they recruited uncontrollable zealots and men of low character to aid in the fight against Chaos. And then the Grand Theogonist dispatched the Templars to cleanse the sinful city of Mordheim. Believing the Sisters of Sigmar—the only order of Priestesses to serve Sigmar in any official capacity at that time—to be heretics and corrupted by the evil in the city, the Grand Theogonist branded these women heretics and excommunicated them from the cult. War raged for a year before a twin-tailed comet dropped from the heavens and wiped the City of the Damned from the map.[4b]
Over the next three centuries, the Witch Hunters carried on as before, but the spread of Chaos proved too great a threat for them to contain. So terrible was the hold of the Ruinous Powers that in 2111, the Grand Duke of Middenheim, who was also a Witch Hunter, had the entire town of Rotebach hanged, branding them all worshippers of Chaos. This event outraged the other cults, and those of Ulric, Myrmidia, and others founded their own organisations to protect their congregations, though these never amounted to anything more than a few bands of poorly funded zealots.[4b]
However, in 2301, though, the world changed with the coming of Asavar Kul, sparking the Great War Against Chaos. Once Magnus and his armies repulsed the horde, he was faced with reuniting an Empire that had largely disintegrated over the previous centuries. To bring the unruly provinces back under the Imperial banner, he bound all Witch Hunters under the control of the Lord Protector. This man would answer to both the Emperor and the cult of Sigmar. By partially secularising the Witch Hunters, Magnus lessened any fears of an unchecked police force that would condemn followers of other Gods to the same fiery deaths owed to Mutants and their ilk.[4b]
However, Magnus was arguably the last strong Emperor for nearly two hundred years, and through the ineptness or ignorance of his successors, the Templars gradually slipped back to their old ways. Within a generation, the Order of Sigmar was burning and killing anyone it wished without regard to the law, and slipped from the emperor’s control again. This continued until Volkmar von Hindenstern was selected to replace Grand Theogonist Yorri XV. Through the efforts of purer members of the Templar order, corruption within the Witch Hunter organisation was revealed to Volkmar the Grim, who immediately took control over the unruly and violent faction. Some whisper that the Lord Protector’s post had been compromised by a hidden Cult that was responsible for the widespread slaughter that had gripped the Empire for years. Whatever the truth, the Grand Theogonist dissolved the Lord Protector position and created three posts, titled General of the South, General of the North, and General of the East. These Witch Hunter Generals controlled their territories with an iron grip, dispatching Witch Hunters under their control to the dimmest reaches of the Empire.[4b]
Once Magnus the Pious acknowledged the legitimacy of the Order of the Silver Hammer and bound it to the throne in addition to the Grand Theogonist, he made the Witch Hunters the official state-sanctioned and funded inquisitors of the Empire. This granted the Witch Hunters considerable power, placing them above their rivals in other Cults. Though they have incredible authority, they are now bound by the law and must work within its boundaries.[4b]
The reforms Emperor Magnus brought in charged Witch Hunters to work within the law: they could no longer serve as prosecutor, jury, judge, and executioner, or, at least, not with the frequency and freedom that they used to. They have the power to arrest any imperial citizen they believe is guilty of Witchery or Daemon-worship, and can call for that person to be tried at once—a request very few town councils refuse. The accused has the right to a fair trial, although the definition of fair varies from place to place.[2a]
The Templars always serve as prosecutors in such a trial, and since there are no laws about sticking strictly to evidence, some use oratory, implication, suspicion, and even veiled threats to persuade a lord, judge, or magistrate (and jury, if there is one) of the accused’s guilt. If found guilty, the usual sentence for the accused is death by burning—thought to be the only way to destroy the body and purge its foul spirit at the same time. No Templar would ever use arcane magic to fulfil their duties.[2a]
They are taught magic is a force of Chaos, and to use it against the thing that created it would be like fighting a fire by dousing it with oil. Partly as a result of this, many Witch Hunters believe all magic users are tainted with Chaos in some way—even Collegiate Magisters.[2a]
To become a Templar Witch Hunter, a person must join the one of the Holy Order’s chapter houses. There are many of them all over the Empire, but authorisations to join are not granted freely. Some chapters train Witch Hunters and monitor them closely; others grant licences to anyone who seems qualified and motivated. In some of the northernmost regions of the Empire, Witch Hunters are widely thought to be out of control, but then such are the dangers the Empire faces that these few think their actions wholly justified.[2a]
The Sigmarite Witch Hunter are a member of the Holy Order of the Templars of Sigmar or simply as the Order of Sigmar in short, which serves as one of the militant arms of the Cult of Sigmar, and as a law enforcement organization for the Empire. As such, the Order of Sigmar operates under the joint supervision of the Grand Theogonist (although the Theogonist's many duties often makes this post more official than practical when dealing with day-to-day policy) and the Emperor (with the same restrictions apply). This arrangement prevents either the Church or State from gaining too much power through misuse of the powers of the Witch Hunters. Up until the deposing of Thaddeus Gamow, the Order was lead by a Lord Protector. Following his removal on suspicions of heresy, the Order was re-organized on a more decentralized plan; the Witch Hunter Order was divided into the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Districts, with each District commanded by a Witch Hunter General. While each District is semi-autonomous in its activity, the Order is generally organized into a quasi-military hierarchy defined by rank and responsibility:
- Witch Hunter General - Officer, responsible for an entire District of Chapter Houses.
- Witch Hunter Captain – Officer, responsible for maintaining a Chapter House.
- Witch Hunter Templar – field agent of the Order, the archetypal Witch Hunter. Field agents operate rather autonomously, hunting down whatever targets they seek to destroy on their own, often accompanied by a small retinue of followers. However, Templars do use the Chapter Houses regularly as places to rest, resupply, share information, house prisoners, cooperate with Brothers or Sisters in need of assistance, and receive orders from their superiors.
- Apprentice – trainee of the Order, assigned to a Templar or a Chapter House to learn the physical skills, spiritual discipline, and esoteric knowledge needed to seek out and destroy Chaos.
In addition to Apprentices, a Witch Hunter might have many different kinds of followers in their retinue. These kinds of followers include:
- Mercenaries - act as bodyguards, additional military support.
- Priests - provide religious and holy protection.
- Licensed Wizards - Witch Hunters are rather divided about the use of magic. Many of the more conservative Witch Hunters view all magic as the work of Chaos and think the Empire would be a better place if every Wizard were to be burnt. However, the more radical Witch Hunters argue that you need to fight fire with fire and bring along Licensed Wizards in their retinue to help them fight the supernatural threats of Chaos.
- Zealots, flagellants and other followers - similar to their brothers-in-arms the Warrior Priests, Witch Hunters often attract and make use of particularly pious (or unhinged) believers of Sigmar in their retinue, both to help spread the correct doctrines of the faith regarding Chaos, Mutants, Heretics, and so forth, and also to lend their unique battle-frenzy to the cause.
In addition to the traveling retinues of the individual Templar, the Chapter Houses of the Order require a large staff to keep the Order functioning smoothly. Some of these civilian assistants include:
- Preceptors - teachers, often priests or monks of Sigmar, who help train Apprentice Witch Hunters.
- Chief Librarian, Scribes and Sacristans - these learned men are responsible for recording, maintaining, and researching through the vast amount of written records that the Order compiles. Everything from forbidden texts that list the true names of Greater Demons to the transcripts of interrogations, to the mission reports of returning Templars, and many more mundane documents besides are stored in the Libraries of the Chapter Houses. These stores of information are one of the mightiest weapons the Order has against the minions of the Ruinous Powers.
- Sister-Aids, Artisans and Labourers, Domestics - sister-aids are the nurses, often priestesses or nuns of Shallya, who provide medical care for wounded or diseased Witch Hunters and their staffs; artisans and laborers keep the buildings of the Order in repair, and domestics keep them clean.
- Cellarer, Animal Trainers - Cellarers are responsible for the provisioning of the chapter houses (and the maintenance of the gaol cells), and animal trainers are responsible for the keep of the various horses, messenger pigeons, bloodhounds, and other useful animals.