Chaos (Warhammer)

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In Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 fictional universes, Chaos refers to the malevolent entities which live in a different timespace, known as the Warp in Warhammer 40,000 and as the Realm of Chaos in Warhammer Fantasy. The term can refer to these warp entities and their influence, the servants and worshippers of these entities, or even the parallel universe in which these entities are supposed to reside. The most powerful of these warp entities are those known as the Chaos Gods, also sometimes referred to as the Dark Gods, Ruinous Powers, or the Powers of Chaos. Similarities exist between the Warhammer idea of Chaos and the concept of Chaos from Michael Moorcock's Elric saga,[1] which also influenced D&D's alignment system. Further similarities can be seen with the godlike extradimensional Great Old Ones of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft's stories.

Conceptual origins[edit]

Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer Age Of Sigmar, and Warhammer 40,000 depict universes that are out of spiritual balance. The concept of Chaos Gods has been more or less integral to both ever since they were first conceived. The Chaos Gods in Warhammer are essentially deities worshipped and feared by various groups and that is what makes these groups followers of Chaos. In this idea there is evidently a strong influence from the English fantasy writer Michael Moorcock. Many different Chaos Gods were named in the various early miniature catalogues released by Citadel in the early eighties. But it was never clearly explained what the fictional pantheon looked like. The idea of "Four Great Powers of Chaos", i.e. Chaos Gods, was first introduced in the two Realm of Chaos sourcebooks released 1988 and 1990 respectively. To date these remain the original and amongst the most detailed pieces of work published by Games Workshop regarding Chaos. The Black Library "artbooks" of the Liber Chaotica series (released from 2001 to 2006) and Black Industries' Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay supplement, the Tome of Corruption: Secrets from the Realm of Chaos (published 2006) contain as much detail as the original Realms of Chaos sourcebooks (and, in the case of the Liber Chaotica, taken directly from the original books), but with the various additions and changes to the Chaos imagery that GW has introduced over the years – although these latter two books focus mainly upon Chaos as perceived through the Warhammer Fantasy imagery. A major factor in both universes about Chaos is that all four of the gods represent things that are good in moderation, but are taken to extremes. For example, Nurgle is the god of life, but the unrestrained, unwholesome life, such as a tumor.

Chaos Gods[edit]

The main four Chaos Gods appear in both Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy. The two settings are not actually related to each other despite their names, but in concept the Chaos Gods are similar in both.

  • Khorne: the Chaos God of bloodlust, war, death, blood, honour in battle, and skulls. Khorne favours close combat, abhorring wizards (in Warhammer Fantasy) or psykers (in Warhammer 40,000), considering them cowardly. His Dark Tongue name, "Kharneth,", means the Lord of Blood. Khorne is also the god of courage and honor, but these trappings are always eventually discarded in favor of the primary goal of killing. While he blesses his followers by granting them strength and martial prowess, Khorne does not truly care who spills blood, so long as the blood continues to be spilled. His material form is a mighty being wearing brass armor and sitting on a throne of skulls. His holy number is 8 and his main enemy god is Slaanesh. Those who worship Khorne are mighty warriors seeking to earn his favor by slaying mighty beasts and murdering mass populations. His main daemons are the Bloodletters (his soldiers), Flesh Hounds (his beasts), and Juggernauts (his daemonic, metallic steeds). They are led by massive Greater Daemons called Bloodthirsters. His realm is described to be a giant killing field with warriors constantly fighting and dying at his feet. His followers often use "blood for the blood god, skulls for the skull throne" as their battle cry.
  • Tzeentch: the Chaos God of change, fate, mutation, hope, and knowledge. Tzeentch's followers are powerful sorcerers who prefer to channel the energies of the Warp (Warhammer 40,000), or Winds of Magic (Warhammer Fantasy) at a distance rather than get close to enemies. Tzeentch is always scheming, his every action feeding into his great plots that only he can comprehend. Tzeentch controls and manipulates the fates of all and weaves them intricately into his devious web of manipulation and hunger for power. He has no material form, as it constantly shifts and changes. His holy number is 9 and his main enemy god is Nurgle. Those who worship Tzeentch are sorcerers and magicians hungry for knowledge and the pursuit of a greater understanding of the universe. His main daemons are the Horrors (his soldiers), Flamers and Screamers (his beasts), and Discs (his flying, metal discs). They are led by avian Greater Daemons called Lords of Change. His realm is described as a maze that constantly shifts and distorts, leading people entering into unimaginable levels of madness.
  • Nurgle: the Chaos God of plague, despair, disease and death. Nurgle is a warm and welcoming god who gifts his followers with poxes and boils, rashes and sores. His Dark Tongue name, "Nurghleth", means the Lord of Decay. His power comes from the inevitability of death and decay, and Nurgle is often referred to as 'Grandfather Nurgle', as entropy is the most ancient of forces, and he is the only one who cares for his followers. Nurgle thrives in death and decay, growing more powerful as great plagues spread, and his servants seek only to spread disease. Nurgle prides himself on the achievements of his followers, "gifting" them with hideous diseases while sheltering them from pain, and his followers rejoice in their blessings, shrugging off lethality and disfigurement in a state of rapturous undeath. People in sickness might pray to Nurgle for relief, but rather than heal the sick, Nurgle helps them endure their illness by removing their pain and misery, all the while exacerbating their physical degeneration. His physical form is a large blob of putrid sickness and disease. His holy number is 7 and his main enemy god is Tzeentch. Those who worship Nurgle are those suffering and wanting freedom from sickness and pain, unaware that they are rapidly becoming more sick yet feeling less pain. Nurgle welcomes all who desire to worship him. His main daemons are the Plaguebearers (his soldiers), his Nurglings (smaller, minuscule versions of himself), his Beasts, and his Rot Flies (his flying, disgusting beasts). They are led by Greater Daemons known as Great Unclean Ones, which are physically manifestations of himself in the material world. His realm is described to be a massive rotting garden filled with death and decay. It is said that he has captured the Eldar (Elven) goddess Isha, who whispers the cures of Nurgle's plagues to those in the material realm.
  • Slaanesh: the Chaos God of lust, pleasure, desire, and excess. In both settings, he is the youngest of the four gods; he is typically considered androgynous, and while he is usually referred to as being male, in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Eldar races consider him to be female. His Dark Tongue name, "Slaaneth", means the Prince of Pleasure. His followers seek only to indulge in whatever fleeting whims and desires they feel, and they tend to become graceful, beautiful warriors who harbor selfish, cruel souls. In the Warhammer 40,000 background, he was birthed from the excesses and hedonism of the Eldar society. His birth created a psychic shockwave that spread across the galaxy, killing most of the Eldar population and their gods; the survivors split into the various Eldar factions. It also created the largest warp storm in the Milky Way, the Eye of Terror, which later became the main residence of the scattered Chaos Space Marines. The fall of the Eldar empire paved the way for the rise of the Imperium of Man. In Warhammer Fantasy, his followers are partly responsible for the corruption of an important Elven leader named Malekith, and the subsequent schism that led to the formation of the Dark and High Elf races. His physical form is an androgynous being of the most physical beauty. His holy number is 6 and his main enemy god is Khorne. Those who worship Slaanesh are those who either wish to achieve the most popularity amongst their fellow men or the most ecstatic pleasure, pleasure beyond imaginable. His main daemons are the Daemonettes (his soldiers), the Fiends (his beasts), and his Steeds (his serpentine mounts). They are led by Greater Daemons called the Keepers of Secrets, lithe creatures with unholy beauty. His realm is described to be a massive castle in the middle of seven circles, each representing one of the classical seven deadly sins. People cannot make it through without succumbing to some type of flaw.

In addition to these Chaos Gods, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (the sequel game to Warhammer Fantasy) features a number of new members who have ascended to the Chaos Pantheon:

  • Malice: the Chaos God of anarchy, also known as Malal in early Warhammer canon, is one of the most disputed and lesser known of the Chaos Gods. He represents the anarchical nature of chaos, and so seeks to displace his fellow gods completely. While he does not appear in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar or Warhammer Fantasy, there is a Chaos Space Marine warband in Warhammer 40,000 called the Sons of Malice, which are his followers.
  • The Great Horned Rat: the Chaos God of blight and pestilence, is a recent addition to the Chaos Pantheon, only found in the universe of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. After the destruction of the Old World and the capture of Slaanesh, the god of the chaos race known as the Skaven, the Horned Rat, was renamed the Great Horned Rat and made a Chaos God. He longs for the destruction of civilization and desires for the respect and becoming the equal of his brother gods, who look down upon him. His physical form is a gigantic anthropomorphic rat. His holy number is 13. The only ones who worship him are the race called the Skaven, half rat and half man monstrosities who formerly living under the earth of the Old World, now spread throughout the Mortal Realms. His main daemons are the Skaven themselves (his soldiers) and their monstrous beasts and machines that they have created. They are led by "enlightened" priests called Grey Seers and large Greater Daemons called Verminlords, gigantic rats armed with armor and large weaponry.
  • Hashut: the Chaos God of darkness. Known as the Father of Darkness, Hashut is the god of the Chaos Dwarfs, now stylized as the Legion of Azgorh. He is described to have a brazen bull head and rules a great city called Zharr-Naggrund, the City of Fire and Desolation. His main followers are the chaos dwarfs and he has some daemons, notably bovine like monstrosities such as the Lammasu and the Great Taurus.

Warhammer 40,000[edit]

Parallel to realspace, where mortal creatures live, is the Warp, a realm of pure psychic energy. This realm is influenced by the thoughts, emotions, and urges of all sentient beings. The psychic energies sometimes coalesce into sentient entities. The most powerful of these entities are the four Chaos Gods. They are served by a host of daemons and constantly seek to expand their influence over humanity. In essence, the mortals of the galaxy are molested by monsters spawned by their own collective id. Though they are often at odds with each other, the Chaos Gods' common goal is to crush the worship of the God-Emperor and convert all of humanity to their cult. Chaos is the root of much of the universe's problems.

Chaos is a malevolent force that twists the bodies and minds of mortals exposed to it. Followers of Chaos are often lunatics who sport hideous mutations. Many humans worship the Chaos Gods in the hopes of alleviating their misery, advancing their ambitions, or gaining access to magical power, perhaps not understanding the terrible price they will ultimately pay. By far the people most vulnerable to Chaos influence are those with psychic ability. Unless they are carefully trained to resist daemonic possession, psykers can become living conduits by which daemons can enter the mortal world and wreak havoc.

There are no "good" gods in Warhammer 40,000, or at the least the good ones are greatly weakened, if not completely destroyed. The God-Emperor barely survives in a persistent vegetative state after a terrible battle with his son Horus who was corrupted by Chaos, and he is powerless to remedy the brutality, corruption, and ignorance that plagues his empire. After the Eldar gave birth to Slaanesh, their pantheon are all either dead or can do little to help their beleaguered people: most were killed by Slaanesh shortly after its birth, Cegorach (the Laughing God, an archetypical trickster) and Khaine (god of war and bloodshed) both fled, Isha (The Eldar Goddess of Fertility, Life, Healing and Growth) is captured by Slaanesh, and later "rescued" by Nurgle. Since she is captured by Nurgle and fed the diseases he concocts, the best she can do is whisper the cures for his diseases into the material universe. The Necrons were cursed to undeath by their gods, and eventually rebelled against them. The Ork deities are as anarchic, violent and cruel as they are, while the Tau and Tyranids have none at all.

Positive human feelings like love, altruism, valor, and invention are perverted by the Chaos Gods. For instance, Nurgle might represent acceptance and mercy, as he genuinely adores his worshippers and considers his plagues to be blessings. Tzeentch represents innovation and change, and a human who delves in science, invention, or social change risks becoming corrupted and mutated by his influence. Khorne thrives on violence of any sort, including that used by the Imperium to fight his own cultists.

Chaos is the root cause of most of the galaxy's problems. While Slaanesh gestated in the Warp, widespread warp storms cut off interstellar travel, leading to the collapse of the glorious human civilizations of old. When Slaanesh was finally born, the psychic shockwave slaughtered most of the Eldar race, leaving a tiny fraction of nomadic survivors. The Emperor of Mankind tried to reunite humanity, to bring it into a new golden age, but the Chaos Gods seduced and corrupted roughly half his Space Marine followers in an event known as the Horus Heresy and he was felled in battle, and his empire plunged into a dark age that has endured for 10,000 years.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar[edit]

Chaos stems from the Realm of Chaos, a mysterious dimension of raw magical energy and the home of the four Chaos Gods. Long ago, massive amounts of raw Chaos energy spilled forth into the world, its mutating power giving rise to many monsters such as trolls and the Skaven. Most forms of magic practiced by wizards use some form of refined Chaos energy, which are classified as the Winds of Magic. For instance, when Chaos energy filters through the natural world, it transforms into the Green Wind of Magic, which Jade Wizards and Druids can use for healing spells. Jade Wizards are at their most powerful wherever life is most abundant, and at their weakest where life is sparse (deserts, winter, etc.). Dark Magic makes use of unrefined Chaos energy and is thus the most dangerous.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warhammer 1st Edition


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  • Ansell, Bryan; Priestly, Rick (1990). Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-52-2. 
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  • Thorpe, Gavin; Priestley, Rick; Reynolds, Anthony; Alessio Cavatore (2002). Warhammer Armies: Hordes of Chaos. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-222-9. 
  • Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; Hoare, Andy; Kelly, Phil, and McNeill, Graham (2002). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Chaos Space Marines (2nd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-322-5.