I was discussing the Horus Heresy over on Dark Reign's forum, when a heresy of my own popped into my head. Instead of the Primarchs betraying the Emperor, what if the Emperor betrayed the Primarchs! In this re-image the betrayed Primarchs would have to fight back with everything they have, seeing as the Emperor is so powerful, and this would drive the Primarchs into the arms of chaos. As they draw heavily on warp energies, in their desperation to survive, they become corrupted. This links into early descriptions of the Primarchs are being 'warp enhanced' (in strength, and special powers). So if they push their abilities, the assumed built in safeguards start to breakdown.
Now all I need is a good rationale as to why the Emperor would betray the Primarchs?
The Emperor is a magnitude of power greater than the Primarchs. The Emperor can see much of the future, and makes some very harsh choices based on what he sees coming down the line. Without detailed explanation others can not hope to understand, and even if explained it may not sit right with someone. This re-image could be quite complex, and perhaps draw upon Earth's religious mythologies and fables and revamp them for a modern audience. The Primarchs would be much more the 'angels who can not disobey', until one does...
A good model for this type of thinking would be the saga involving Magnus and Russ. Where Magnus was not disloyal as such, but the Emperor sent the wolves in anyway, and was probably aware of the outcome.
Basing the Horus Heresy on this type of concept, it could be that Horus was loyal until ordered to do something he thought was utterly wrong; for a result he could not foresee?
Perhaps the Exterminatus of an 'innocent' world with no obvious, or un-obvious, reason? Perhaps Horus takes the order to be a whim, a mere 'proof' of obedience rather than part of a great master plan, and refuses?
Maybe Horus thinks the Emperor has gone mad.
If this was the case, once Horus refused he is denounced as a traitor and the other legions sent to bring him down, even if they were none to sure of what the Emperor was up to either. I would imagine that the Ultramarine would follow the Emperor without question, but legions like the Emperor's Children may not see the 'perfection' in their father's decisions. They may sympathise with Horus, and their Brother Lunar Wolves, and seek to play the middle man: only to find themselves on the wrong side of the fence too (and feel betrayed too).
I think this would have created a much stronger story, and tie the Horus Heresy to many of the myths of antiquity, and provide much stronger character base for the Primarchs. They do not fall to chaos out of weakness, they fall to chaos out of desperation to fight an 'all powerful' Emperor bent on their destruction. They came to this path as they followed their own mortality. They thought they were right and the Emperor was wrong (they sure had the egos), and this belief in themselves (and rational thinking) led to the erosion of their faith the Emperor. This could only happen if they though their morality and logic was just as valid as the Emperor's, that they were just as worthy. In essence they fell for pride - the greatest of the classical sins.
It would also allow, in the stories, for the Emperor to be massively powerful with none of the (what I see) plot devices to purposely crippling him, and disadvantaging him, in the fight. The Emperor could raze whole worlds, the 'traitors' trying to stop him as he unleashes Armageddon hunting for the only beings in creation who could hope to challenge him. In their desperation, they turn to deeper powers within themselves (they are warp enhanced after all) and fight back for the greater good. This further provokes the Emperor to extreme acts. Some of the Primarch may even submit: horrified by the carnage, and what they had become to resist the Emperor (Konrad Curze).
It also makes chaos a bit more sympathetic than the usual pantomime villain. Chaos becomes the power of the 'weak' to change the order and fight back, and the order of the Imperium seems even less moral than ever before.
The Emperor is less 'god' and more 'devil', though neither is really fair. He simply sees all, and knowing that telling others of what he sees can change events, he keeps it to himself.
In the end, he may have seen this possible civil war, and provokes the 'key stone' to all the events, that being Horus. If Horus backed down maybe nothing would ever have happened and the Imperium would have flourished (or the civil war was minor, and to be won with Horus on side). If events were left to play out naturally, perhaps there was a strong possibility of the whole Imperium going up in flames, but if the gambit is played: it limited the outcomes to full victory, or at worse loosing half the legions (as opposed to loosing all).
So the Emperor played his hand, but got caught out in the end. Horus nearly kills him. I suppose a case of playing the odds rather than having faith in his beloved son (to cheat the odds).
Hearing feedback is very important to me in developing my ideas. Much of my designs are inspired, and crafted, by chatting to fans on forums before snowballing into a full concept you'll find here. I would like to thank all those who have contributed critiques and participated in discussions over the years, and I would especially like to thank all those who commented on this specific topic. If you would like join in, you are most welcome!
To support my work: Connect