The Chaos Gods, also called the Dark Gods or the Ruinous Powers, are powerful, self-aware entities comprised entirely of raw magical and emotional energy. They embody the metaphysical force of Chaos and inhabit and control the hell-dimension known as the Realm of Chaos, the true source of all magical energies.
These entities, belonging to a class of deities known as Elemental Gods, are instead created and sustained by the emotions and collective desires of every sentient being of the Cosmos Arcane. When an emotion or belief in the Mortal Realms grows strong or widespread enough among a large number of mortals, it becomes embodied as one of the sentient denizens of the Realm of Chaos.
Throughout the countless aeons thousands of Chaos Gods have arisen and fallen within the Realm of Chaos. The most powerful and most influential of these beings have become the major Chaos Gods described below. Although they are god-like beings, the Dark Gods are by their nature monomaniacal and completely single-minded since they are formed entirely of a single emotion or concept.
The Chaos Gods are dependent upon the emotions of intelligent mortal creatures -- especially men, aelves, duardin and the skaven -- for their power and continued existence. Yet, at the same time, they possess the power to warp the minds, bodies and very souls of those mortals who take them as patrons.
As a result of their dependence, the Chaos Gods strive to convert all mortals to their worship and service so that they may ultimately dominate the cosmos. However, if the Ruinous Powers were to win such a dark victory, it would likely destroy all of reality when the dimensional separation between the Mortal Realms and the Realm of Chaos broke down in its wake.
It was just such an apocalypse that consumed the World-That-Was so long ago.
From beyond the boundaries of reality, the major Chaos Gods look upon the Mortal Realms with covetous eyes. It is their nature, their all-consuming purpose as embodiments of the force of Chaos, to destroy and unmake, for they are the avatars of illogic and disorder. Relentless and unstoppable, all of their incomprehensible energies are directed to collapsing reason and perverting order.
In the ever-changing Realm of Chaos, source of all magic, the Dark Gods rule supreme. Their rivalry is eternal, each god seeking dominance over their fellows in the so-called "Great Game" played between them and their mortal and daemonic servants.
These dark siblings now number five who afflict the Mortal Realms: Khorne, the Blood God, Nurgle, the Plague Lord, Slaanesh, the Prince of Pleasure, Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways, and the recently ascended Great Horned Rat, the deity of corruption, treachery and strife who embodies the drives of the ratmen called the skaven.
Khorne, the Blood God
"Servants of the Lord of Slaughter stood from horizon to horizon, filling the air with their shrieks, gibbers and howls of blood. Their battle banners strained in the coppery wind that blew across the ranks. It was a banner of deepest, darkest red, with but a single rune and a legend of simple devotion: Blood for the Blood God. At some secret signal all fell silent and then came a single shriek of dark and bloody loyalty, a pact of hate and death. It echoed from leathered skins, and grew to shake the clouds...and far above the daemons' ranks, there was an answering roar of bloody approval, torn from Khorne’s brazen throat"
- —The Tome of Blood
Khorne is the Blood God, the god of war, fury, murder, wrath and violent death. It draws its power from the blood and skulls collected for the Blood God by its followers. The sheer amount of bloodshed and death in the Mortal Realms currently has made Khorne the most powerful Chaos God.
In the Realm of Chaos Khorne sits upon a brass throne, which rests on a massive mountain of skulls, each taken in the Blood God's name by a devotee. In every direction, as far as Khorne can see, the ground is covered with shattered bones and rotted corpses.
As the god of battle, Khorne bestows its favour on those who demonstrate martial prowess. Great warriors are often subjects of Khorne's interest. The followers of Khorne are almost all uncontrollable fighters who excel at the art of killing.
Khorne's warhosts count many savage and mutant warriors among their numbers. Khorne's followers share their god's straightforward philosophy on warfare, preferring to charge directly at their foes in order to defeat them in close, usually melee combat.
As such, Khorne's followers are generally berserkers that pay little heed to tactics or defence in their frenzy for blood. Khorne frowns upon the use of sorcery, magic and trickery, and those who use sorcery or are mages should look elsewhere to find a patron for their studies.
Khorne is the most powerful of the Chaos Gods; given that it is empowered by war and fighting, the ceaseless conflict in the Mortal Realms ensures the Blood God gains power constantly.
Khorne is a god of war who acts outwardly by seeking the death of others, preferring close combat over ranged weaponry; as such, it is completely opposed to the hedonistic Slaanesh, an inwardly acting god who seeks pleasure in every act and experience.
Khorne has a strong distrust of sorcerers and mages, whom it sees as cowards; this means the Blood God is also highly suspicious of Tzeentch, although they are not archenemies.
Khorne is the Blood God, the angry and murderous lord of battle. Khorne is said to be the warrior god whose bellows of insatiable rage echo through time and space back to the first act of violence ever committed. Devotees of the Ruinous Powers have debated forcefully about the primogenesis of the Blood God for millennia. Some hold that it was the will of Khorne that first impelled a primitive to seize a rock and brain one of his fellows in a fit of murderous rage, thereby triggering the spiral of violence that fed the Chaos God into the formidable force it has become.
Others declare that it was the first mortal impulses of fury and rage that breathed life into Khorne, and that the Blood God represents the primitive lust for violence lurking in every mortal heart. However, the true disciples of Khorne care nothing for such debates as they are fully engaged with slaying all that come to hand.
Khorne's followers are the most ferocious warriors in the cosmos, and the Blood God abhors magic, sorcery and other unworthy tricks. The blood of magi is said to make a particularly welcome sacrifice to Khorne's unquenchable thirst. Some justify their slaughter through honour, bravery or pride but the most fanatical know that it is only the bloodshed for its own sake that matters.
Khorne's disciples believe that its great throne of brass sits upon a mountain of skulls in the midst of a sea of blood, evidence of the sacrifice of the Blood God's countless followers slain in battle and the multitudes killed in his name.
They hold that Khorne is the Chaos Power that embodies mindless and absolute violence, the wild blood lust that, once unleashed, yearns to destroy everyone within reach whether they be friend or foe.
Such true believers are few in number and they grow fewer all the time as the Blood God's devoted followers gleefully send one another into its embrace, knowing that Khorne cares not from where the blood flows.
Depictions of Khorne often show the god as a titanic, armoured figure covered from head to foot in armoured plates of strange and alien design. The figure's armour is usually elaborately carved and worked with a repeating skull motif while its head is covered by a great winged helm showing a bestial, snarling face beneath.
In most images, Khorne bears a rune-covered sword or axe, though in more primitive cultures the Blood God is often shown only with fists or claw-like hands.
In spite of its apparently self-destructive aspects Khorne is overtly the most potent and active of all the Ruinous Powers. Endless wars and bloodshed in the Mortal Realms fuel it with the skulls of the slain, constantly drawn into the Blood God's raging depths.
Khorne needs no honeyed promises or convoluted plots to draw mortals into its realm; the anger and fury lurking just below their civilised demeanour is often more than enough. The path to Khorne's domain can be just as slippery as any represented by the other, more subtle Ruinous Powers.
The instinct to violence is a necessary one in a hostile world, and is even lauded in protectors or liberators. Many societies must literally fight to survive and they celebrate their members for their ability to defend themselves and others.
So it is that soldiers, commanders, and even law enforcers begin their slow slide into Khorne's embrace with the noblest of intentions. A desire to protect their loved ones warps gradually into a determination to fight back against those that threaten them.
Martial pride and a sense of brotherhood are fostered to protect against hostile outsiders, and the authorities direct the urge to inflict harm against those designated as undesirable. Under the banners of protection wars are begun that consume whole populations, while under the proclamation of necessity tens of thousands of lives are destroyed.
Those that go into battle commonly beseech Khorne in one of its warrior-god aspects to grant them some measure of the Blood God's boundless fury. Victories are dedicated to one of Khorne's many names and defeats are repaid with blood sacrifices to win back its favour.
Leaders of opposing armies strive to show that the favour of the Blood God is with them, and its greatest Lords of Khorne are capable of winning the support of whole peoples with the very rumour of their presence. Many of Khorne's mortal followers strive for conquest on a vast scale by training armies and fleets to hurl against the Mortal Realms.
Their success or failure is a matter of no import to the Blood God, as Khorne waxes strongest wherever mortal ambitions clash through bloodshed, regardless of the outcome.
Nurgle, the Plague Lord
"Indeed the very process of construction and creation foreshadows destruction and decay. The palace of today is tomorrow's ruin, the maiden of the morning is the crone of the night, and the hope of a moment is but the foundation stone of everlasting regret."
- —The Lost and the Damned
Nurgle is one of the five great Chaos Gods and is the god of disease, despair, death and decay, born out of every mortal's fear of death.
The Plague Lord is the embodiment of the hungry earth, the carrion crow whose poxes and plagues are inflicted upon all. Nurgle's power waxes and wanes over time as its diseased "gifts" to the realms are spread, are cured or simply kill off everything in sight.
Many of Nurgle's victims will eventually turn to its worship in the hope that it will ward off or ameliorate the torment they suffer at the Plague Lord's hands. For entertainment, Nurgle will orchestrate plagues and new diseases and watch bemusedly as the mortals struggle to fight the illness and develop a cure.
Many of Nurgle's wars are indirectly won simply through the plagues that sweep that land before its armies. Of particular note is Nurgle's Rot, which gradually changes a victim into a Plaguebearer.
Nurgle's followers tend to have a strong interest in the spread of disease. Its worshippers become infected with horrific diseases which cause them to appear as disgusting, bloated and rotting masses of barely recognizable flesh, with many sores and open wounds in which infection and decay is rampant. Occasionally Nurgle's followers may become wizened, sickly thin and pale, while still having great power over disease.
The Plague Lord's Lords of Nurgle become so mutated and putrid that they are impervious to pain and almost impossible to injure. While equal in power with Khorne and Tzeentch, Nurgle's power is much less stable. At times, its forces are limitless and unbeatable, numberless rotting armies scouring the land of life.
At others, the Lord of Decay's followers are scattered and weak, hiding in fetid corners of the universe. Nurgle's strength lies in stagnancy and decay, as well as the emotion of despair, which puts it in direct opposition to Tzeentch, who embodies hope, ambition and change.
Nurgle is most commonly called the Lord of Decay but it is known by many names; the Fly Lord, Grandfather Nurgle, the Great Corruptor, the Plague Lord, the Master of Pestilence. The power of Nurgle is embodied in entropy, morbidity, disease and physical corruption.
Of the five great powers Nurgle is said to be the one most involved with the plight of mortals. Through the gifts of raging fevers and shaking chills Nurgle's hand is upon them from cradle to grave. Few escape the touch of Nurgle in their lives. The Lord of Decay is sometimes called the Lord of All because all things, no matter how strong and secure, ultimately fall to physical corruption and death in the end.
Every Chaos God embodies the hopes, fears and other strong emotions generated by mortal beings. In the case of Nurgle, their fear of death and disease is the source of its greatest power.
The mortal's unconscious response to that fear -- the desperation to cling to life no matter what the cost -- gives Nurgle an opening into their souls. The whispered prayer of a parent over a fever-struck child, the anguished pleas of the dying man for one more day of life; these are meat and drink to Nurgle.
Nurgle is typically depicted as an immense, bloated humanoid, its body swollen with putrefaction. Its skin is shown as leathery and necrotic, its surface pocked with running sores, swelling buboes and oozing wounds.
Internal organs bulging with decay spill through splits in the ruptured skin to hang like bunches of scrofulous grapes around the Lord of Decay's vast girth. Nurgle is often illustrated with hordes of tiny daemons bursting forth from its pustules and suckling upon foulness.
The deranged worshippers of the Lord of Pestilence say that it concocts diverse contagions to inflict on the material universe for its amusement, and many of the most infectious and horrible diseases are Nurgle's proudest creations. It is their belief that those who die caught in the grip of one of Nurgle's terrible poxes are swept directly to the Lord of Decay's domain in the Realm of Chaos.
Those that sing the praises of Nurgle loud enough are sometimes spared so that they can spread its blessings further, for the church of the Fly Lord is always open to all. Nurgle has many supplicants but there are few with the fortitude to declare themselves as its champions.
The few that can survive the Great Corruptor's manifold blessings exhibit a feverish, morbid energy and a preternatural resistance to physical damage.
The power of Nurgle waxes and wanes as its pandemics sweep across the Mortal Realms. When untold thousands fall prey to the newest plagues the Lord of Decay's strength can overshadow that of any of the other Chaos Gods for a period.
At other times the power of Nurgle withers away to lie quiescent until circumstances are ripe for it to erupt forth once more.
Slaanesh, the Dark Prince of Chaos
Slaanesh is the Dark Prince of Chaos, the god of pleasure and pain to excess. Slaanesh is the beguiling water, the Great Serpent who lives for pleasure and the experience of the sensations of life and death.
All those who live in the pursuit of pleasure risk falling under this god's deceptive charms. Slaanesh is the youngest of the Chaos Gods, and referred to by the other Ruinous Powers as the Prince of Chaos.
Seductive in the way that only an immortal being can be, Slaanesh is the Chaos God of pleasure, passion, luxury, art, and indulgence. Slaanesh is the manifestation of all hidden vices, cruel passions, and secret temptations that mortals hide fearfully in their hearts.
While not interested in the dirty warfare of Khorne, for Khorne and Slaanesh are mortal enemies, as Slaanesh acts inwardly upon the mortal psyche by seeking selfish pleasure, while Khorne acts outwardly to kill others, Slaanesh does enjoy combat of the artistic sort, rewarding those whose fighting is transformed from a means to an end and thus into an art form all its own.
Slaanesh's followers seek pleasure in every experience, and quickly become inured to more mundane things, including sounds and colours; thus they frequently wear garish, brightly colored armour, or clothing which is extravagantly decorated. Worshippers of Slaanesh are known for their complete lack of fear, as they see losing a battle as a new experience to be enjoyed.
Slaanesh is the youngest and until the rise of the Great Horned Rat the weakest of the major Chaos Gods. However, Slaanesh is constantly growing in power due to the corrupt and dark nature that all sentient beings, but particularly humanity, try to keep hidden within their hearts, for even the mere act of thinking about such dark acts of pleasure and vice are enough to give spiritual strength to Slaanesh in the Realm of Chaos.
It won't be long before Slaanesh sits as an equal of power amongst the other three original Ruinous Powers, and may even rise above Khorne, given time and the incessant quest across the Mortal Realms for pleasure.
Slaanesh represents the locus of mortals' deepest desires; the yearning for luxury and hedonistic over-indulgence, the exercise of cruel and unnatural passions, the pursuit of forbidden vices and unspeakable carnality.
The Pleasure Lord always holds open the thrilling promise of the forbidden and the exotic beyond the boundaries of moral and societal laws. The siren call of its illicit pleasures draws everything from jaded nobles to mass pleasure cults onto Slaanesh's paths.
Of all the major Chaos powers the Prince of Pleasure can offer the greatest temptations to the common man, those without any desire to be conquering warriors or clever sorcerers. The first weavings of Slaanesh's subtle influence can be as humble as a desire for rest or as simple as an end to hunger and the Prince of Chaos is said to capture many souls both willing and unwilling in its nets.
The followers of Slaanesh pursue ever-greater heights of experience, seeking pleasure in increasingly extreme and outrageous fashion. Slaanesh's influence often reaches into the upper echelons of mortal hierarchies where the greatest luxury and privilege resides, corrupting nobility and wealthy families.
Slaanesh's power can be seen at its most insidious among those that strive for rectitude, as if the Prince of Chaos takes particular joy in corrupting those that dare to proclaim themselves as upright souls. Even the most pious pontiff must rest sometime, and when he does the unconscious desires in his dreams betray him to the Master of Carnal Joys.
The more civilised a society becomes, the more frequently seeds of corruption planted by Slaanesh sprout within it. As leisure becomes widespread the unconscious wants of the many are led down dark paths by the subtle influence of Slaanesh.
Countless lands have fallen into complete anarchy when Slaanesh pleasure cults became so widespread that all order was lost in an insane frenzy of self-gratification.
The handful of gibbering survivors that are sometimes left behind are so changed by the experience that they can no longer be called in any sense mortal or sane.
Depictions of Slaanesh show it as an androgynous or hermaphroditic being of unearthly, unnatural and disturbing beauty. Two pairs of slender horns rise from the entity's flowing golden hair. Slaanesh is often depicted wearing luxuriantly lined, form-fitting armour and bearing a jade sceptre that is said to be its greatest treasure.
Its worshippers engage in great orgies involving every vice and perversity to praise the Lord of Pleasure, where the death of many through exhaustion and over-stimulation is taken to be a sign of the Prince of Chaos' favour.
Its devotees say that any extremity of sensation or emotion can open communion with Slaanesh. They pursue a rapturous, tortured, orgasmic drug-fuelled state of hyper-sensuality, their souls burning bright and hot like shooting stars as they plunge ever deeper into the maelstrom of excess that is Slaanesh.
Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways
Tzeentch is the Changer of Ways, the god of change and dark knowledge. Tzeentch is the inconstant air, the Great Eagle who pulls the strings of fate in whichever way it pleases.
The minions and followers of Tzeentch manipulate the magical power of the Cosmos Arcane in its rawest form, and often know the thoughts and fates of their foes even before they do. Not interested in raw strength, Tzeentch bestows its favour upon those who use their intelligence to fight their enemies.
Mortal worshipers of Tzeentch tend to be sorcerers, mages, scholars and other educated elites who desire greater knowledge and power. Some of these worshipers become very powerful sorcerers, but Tzeentch has a tendency to mutate its followers, and the highest levels of power are said to be difficult for its followers to reach, as they frequently find themselves mutated into mindless beasts like Chaos Spawn.
Those who do attain great power in the service of Tzeentch, however, are extremely powerful foes who are often mighty sorcerers as well as great warriors. Tzeentch is as powerful in its own way as Khorne, but with a different style of power, controlling sorcery and magical strength instead of murderous armies.
The plots of Tzeentch are countless, and whenever there is an alliance among the major Chaos Gods, Tzeentch is undoubtedly the cause, direct or indirect. Tzeentch also represents optimism, hope and the willingness to change, thus making Nurgle, the embodiment of despair, its nemesis.
The enigmatic Chaos power Tzeentch is known by many titles, including the Changer of the Ways, the Master of Fortune, the Great Conspirator and the Architect of Fate. These titles reflect its masterly comprehension of the twisting paths of destiny, history, intrigue, and plots.
The hopes and plans of every mortal and every nation whisper through its many-chambered mind. Tzeentch's all-seeing eye watches as plots unfold and intrigues alter the course of history.
Although far from the first to exhibit such traits, mankind is a notably volatile and ambitious species. Tzeentch feeds upon the need and desire for change that is so much a part of human nature.
All people dream of wealth, freedom and a better tomorrow. The confluence of these desires creates a powerful impetus for change, just as the ambitions of leaders create a force that can change history. Tzeentch is the embodiment of that force.
Tzeentch is not content to merely observe the fulfillment and disappointments brought by the passage of time. It works its own schemes, plans so complex and convoluted that they touch upon the lives of every mortal, whether they know it or not.
Tzeentch's true intentions are hidden behind layer upon layer of interweaving plots so convoluted and so long-term that no mortal can hope to understand them. Perhaps Tzeentch plans to overthrow the other Chaos powers, or to extend its dominion across the Mortal Realms, or to achieve some unguessable apotheosis.
Perhaps Tzeentch plots endlessly because that is its driving force, and its schemes can never achieve fruition as they twist constantly into new plans and conspiracies.
Whatever Tzeentch's ultimate purpose, the entity pursues it by manipulating individual lives and thereby altering the course of history. The aura of magic and power around the god commonly draws influential people into its orbit; leaders, generals, and merchant princes looking for a way to pursue their ambitions or overcome their enemies.
A glimpse of the future can be all that it takes to win a political conflict or close a deal, as a simple spell might bury evidence of wrongdoing where no investigator would ever find it. All of these possibilities make irresistible temptations for those that dare to follow the path of Tzeentch.
A subtle nudge here or there and these influential individuals can in turn enmesh millions of lives in Tzeentch's grand schemes, lending it a disproportionate amount of power in comparison to its number of followers.
However, few of Tzeentch's plots are straightforward, and many at first appear contradictory or even seem to act against its own interests. Only the Changer of the Ways can see all the threads of potential futures weaving on the loom of fate.
Of all the major Chaos powers, Tzeentch is said to be the most accomplished magician. Magic is one of the most potent of all the agents of change and wielding it requires matchless ambition and hunger for power. Those who style themselves Disciples of Tzeentch are often sorcerers of the most powerful kind.
Any individual that pursues the learning of Chaos lore eventually discovers Tzeentch and feels the subtle tug of the rewards it can offer. Of all the Chaos Gods, Tzeentch can appear the most rational and safest to deal with, granting huge dividends in exchange for seemingly inconsequential demands. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that once an individual is caught up in Tzeentch's schemes, there is no escape.
Images purported to depict Tzeentch are rare, and normally conflicting in their nature. Some show the god as having the characteristics of birds or fish but most depict the Master of Magic as a long-armed, manlike figure with its face sunk low down between its shoulder blades.
Huge, asymmetrically curving horns appear to spring from the figure's shoulders. Those that claim to have witnessed the Changer of the Ways in their dreams say that its skin crawls with constantly changing faces leering and mocking the onlooker. As Tzeentch speaks, these faces sometimes echo what it says with subtle but important differences, or provide a commentary that throws doubt on the words spoken.
They say that the firmament about the Architect of Fate is heavy with brooding magic. Languid coils of essence weave like thick smoke around its head, forming subtle patterns. The vagrant forms of people and places appear in the vapours as Tzeentch's mercurial mind contemplates their fate.
Great Horned Rat
It seeks ruination of the Mortal Realms, not just for its own sake, but rather to gain primacy amongst the other major Chaos Gods. Viewing them as rivals, the Great Horned Rat believes the elimination of their worshippers will render them weak and therefore set the stage for the Horned One itself to become the paramount power of the pantheon.
To this end, it uses its children, the skaven, to visit destruction upon all surface-dweller societies. However, the Great Horned Rat's love of ruin and treachery is not limited to its enemies; it also enjoys watching its own ratmen children tear each other apart, enact scheme after scheme, commit atrocity after atrocity.
But in true skaven fashion, this skaven-on-skaven conflict also has a purpose and is not merely for the Great Horned Rat's enjoyment. The deity has so primed the minds of its children that the society they create is brutal and merciless. Only the most depraved, cunning, and deadly of the ratmen can survive, let alone thrive.
The weak are forbidden to breed, are worked until death, and barely survive day to day and this is all of the Great Horned One's devising.
It believes the veritable testing ground that is skaven society will only make the skaven stronger in the long term and therefore more able to carry out the Great Ascendancy of their lord to final mastery of the Chaos pantheon in the Great Game.
- Shadespire: The Mirrored City" (Novel) by Josh Reynolds, Chs. 6, 17
- White Dwarf (June 2019), pg. 9