The Chaos Gods, also called the Dark Gods or the Ruinous Powers, are powerful entities who inhabit and control the psychic dimension that underlies all physical reality known as the Immaterium or the Warp, created and sustained by the emotions and collective desires of every sentient being of the material universe. When an emotion or belief grows strong enough, it becomes embodied one of the sentient denizens of the Warp. The most powerful and most malevolent of these have become the Gods of Chaos. 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 mortal creatures, especially the hordes of humanity, for their power and continued existence. As a result, the Chaos Gods strive to convert all mortals to their worship and service so that they may ultimately dominate the universe. However, if they were to win such a dark victory, it would likely destroy all of reality when the dimensional separation between realspace and the Immaterium broke down in its wake.
The Chaos Gods and the Forces of Chaos that serve them are the greatest enemies of the Imperium of Man, the Eldar and most other sentient forms of life in the Milky Way Galaxy, even if they are not fully aware yet of the threat Chaos poses, like the Tau Empire. The Chaos Gods are able to devote a fraction of their psychic power in the Warp to create daemons, whose appearance and character reflect their patron God's own nature. These daemons may be reabsorbed into the God at their whim. The least of the minor Gods may be so limited in their power that expending that power to create a daemon means their entire power is expended; in effect, the God becomes a daemon.
In the Warp, the psychic reflection of similar thoughts and emotions gather together like rivulets of water running down a cliff face. They form streams and eddies of anguish and desire, pools of hatred and torrents of pride. Since the dawn of time, these tides and waves of psychic energy have flowed unceasingly through the mirror realm of the Warp, and such is their power that they forced creatures made of the very stuff of dreams and nightmares.
Eventually, these instinctual, formless entities gained a rudimentary consciousness of their own. The Chaos Gods were born -- vast psychic presences composed of the fantasies and horrors of mortals. These are the Ruinous Powers, and each one is a reflection of the mortal passions that formed them. First amongst them is Khorne, the Lord of Battle, possessed of towering and immortal fury. Tzeentch, the bizarre and ever-changing Architect of Fate, weaves powerful sorceries to bind the future to his will, whilst great Nurgle, the Lord of Decay, labours endlessly to spread infection and pestilence. The last of their number is Slaanesh, the Dark Prince of Chaos, indulgent of every pleasure and excess, no matter how immoral or perverse.
As the intelligent species of the Milky Way Galaxy prospered and grew, so too did their hopes and ambitions, their anger and wars, their love and hatred. This burgeoning flood of raw emotion fed the Chaos Gods and nurtured their power. Before long, the gods reached back to their makers with a curious and hungry sentience, planting seeds of corruption in the souls of those whose dreams they passed through. So were the first mortals bound to the will of the Ruinous Powers, and seeing the fruits of their labours, the gods began their eternal work to influence the physical realm and its myriad sentient races.
Lured by promises of extraordinary power and immortality, some mortals serve the Chaos Gods willingly, fomenting misery, war and death amongst their people in order to sustain and elevate their dark masters. Yet the Chaos Gods are fickle, prone to reneging or altering a deal on a whim, and few of these worshippers are ever granted the rewards they seek.
A Chaos God can only grow in power through the actions and thoughts of mortals. Those who worship a Chaos God, and behave in a way that feeds it, are rewarded with strange "gifts," extraordinary powers and potentially, immortality as a Daemon Prince. As the Chaos Gods battle in the Warp, so their mortal followers wage war in the material universe. The victors of the battles earn more power for their unworldy master, though the twisted plans of the Chaos Gods are such that often victory is not necessary; merely the acts of sacrifice and battle themselves. When devotees of Chaos die, their souls do not fade in the Warp and disappear like the spirits of others to some unknown and unknowable fate. Instead, their immortal energy is swallowed into the greatness of their gods, their souls sustained forever, bound to the eternal power of Chaos.
As a Chaos God gathers such energy, it expands in power, and its influence and territory within the Warp's Realm of Chaos grows. As extensions of the gods, the appearances of these domains are formed upon the same emotions that created their masters: Khorne's realm is founded on anger and bloodletting; Tzeentch's lands are scintillating constructs of pure magic; Nurgle's territory is a haven of death and regeneration, and Slaanesh's dominion is a paradise of damning temptations. Though realm and god are as one, the Chaos Gods each have a form that embodies their personalities and dwells at the very heart of their territories. Wreathed in unearthly power, the Chaos Gods watch over their realms, seeking any disturbances in the pattern of the Warp that signal intrusion or opportunity
In the early history of the galaxy, the powers of the Warp had yet to form into distinct, intelligent entities. At this time, the emotions of sentient mortals flowed and ebbed as water does in a stream. As the intelligent mortal races grew and prospered, so did the strength of their emotions. Eventually, the Gods grew to such a point where they could act independently of the general flow of emotions and thus became the Gods of Chaos. They reached into the dreams of mortals and demanded praise and servitude in order to increase their own power, as the more one emotion is exhibited (in both thought and action) by a large group of sentient beings in the physical universe, the stronger that Chaos God becomes.
The End of Days
With the opening of the Great Rift at the end of the 41st Millennium, the daemonic incursions that had plagued the galaxy since time immemorial escalated in both scale and frequency. A new era of terror and bloodshed was ushered in by that galaxy-spanning tear in the fabric of reality, and the armies of the Chaos Gods, mortal and daemonic alike, began to conquer and consume the worlds of Humanity and the alien races with unprecedented impunity.
Had the Chaos Gods worked in unison in the wake of that terrible event, it is doubtless that realspace would have been utterly consumed by the sprawling madness of the Warp. Yet true to their nature, the dark brothers saw the anarchy as an opportunity to fulfil their own agendas: to kill, to change, to pollute, to bathe in excess. So divided, they are unable to fully overcome the fierce resistance of the galaxy's inhabitants.
The Imperium of Man, the largest single empire in the galaxy, has been galvanised by the return of the legendary Primarch Roboute Guilliman, and with him fights a new breed of warrior in Humanity's defence, the Primaris Space Marines. The older races of the galaxy, such as the Aeldari and the Necrons, continue to exhibit a stubborn refusal to bow before the Chaos Gods and accept their extinction, while upstart new species like the T'au gain a greater understanding by the day of the Realm of Chaos and the ancient and malevolent beings within it. The barbaric Orks are only incited by the surging conflicts around them, and greet the prospect of battle against the daemonic legions with the same reckless enthusiasm they always have. The intergalactic devourers known as the Tyranids regard the immaterial daemons with a special distaste, seeing them only as undigestible threats to the biomass they wish to consume. So the ultimate battle for the galaxy continues, the Chaos Gods and their daemonic legions threatening to annihilate everything, including each other, in their eternal quest for dominance.
The Dark Gods
The Chaos Gods are the supernatural rulers of the Immaterium (the Warp) and have a great impact upon the events occurring in the physical universe. Numbered amongst the most powerful of the Chaos Gods are Khorne, the God of Warfare, Violence and Murder, Nurgle, the God of Disease and Decay, Tzeentch, the God of Change and Sorcery and Slaanesh, the God of Pleasure and Pain. There is a fifth major Chaos God named Malice who embodies Chaos' tendency to turn in upon itself and who acts against the interests of the other Chaos Gods whenever he can, though he is certainly no ally of the Imperium either. Occasionally, the Chaos Gods can set aside their innate rivalry and unite in the pursuit of a larger goal, such as the overthrow of the Imperium of Man and its Emperor, who represent the strongest current force for Order in the Milky Way Galaxy. During this time, the forces of the Ruinous Powers can be considered to serve a concept known as Chaos Undivided.
The Ruinous Powers generally draw their strength from the sentient minds of the galaxy's inhabitants, whose collective unconsciousness shapes the psychically-reactive substance of the Immaterium and actually gives birth and sustenance to the Chaos Gods and any other spiritual entities who are empowered by a sufficient level of belief, like the Eldar's lost Gods or the Emperor of Mankind Himself. The Ruinous Powers possess the ability to interact with the material universe in a limited way as the entities of the Warp can at times enter the material universe through the minds of those individuals gifted (or cursed) with psychic powers. The Ruinous Powers can also shape lesser supernatural entities from the psychic substance of the Warp who are extensions of their own wills and are generally referred to in the Imperium of Man and among the Eldar as daemons. The T'au are excluded from worrying about possession by Warp entities like daemons because of their limited psychic abilities and thus their limited presence in the Warp. The Necrons, as intelligent yet soulless creatures composed of living metal, no longer project any psychic presence in the Warp, while their former C'tan masters are beings purely of the material realm who are unusually vulnerable to psychic attacks because of their lack of a presence in the Immaterium.
There exists a hierarchy of sorts within the ranks of the Ruinous Powers, though it ebbs and flows according to the vagaries of the Great Game for supremacy fought constantly between the Dark Gods and their servants. Currently, in the late 41st Millennium, Khorne is held as the mightiest of all, for the practice of murder and blood sacrifice stretches to the dark beginnings of the universe.
Though Khorne sees the use of psychic sorcery as the refuge of cowards, his closest rival, Tzeentch, thrives on the raw stuff of Chaos and uses it to influence a million times a million plots, his devious mind always a step ahead of his opponents. Where Tzeentch would see hopes thrive and fortunes change, Nurgle, the Father of Plagues, revels in despair and hopelessness. In times of galactic pandemic, Nurgle's power can eclipse even that of his brothers in darkness. Last in the pantheon is Slaanesh, who knows well how to play on the obsessions of his rivals. Khorne's single-minded bloodlust, Nurgle's quest to infect every living thing, and Tzeentch's compulsion to dabble in the fates of mortals -- all are obsessions which the Lord of Excess can turn to his will with a whispered promise.
While the Chaos Gods are all enemies in the Great Game, each bears a special enmity for one of their brothers in particular. Khorne most despises Slaanesh, whose earthly decadence and sensual lusts are at odds with the Blood God's martial pride and desire for indiscriminate slaughter; the Dark Prince finds Khorne's artless brutality dull, and takes a perverse delight in agitating him. Similarly, Tzeentch's desire to foster the corrupt ambitions of mortals is at odds with Nurgle's spreading of despair and death, and so a special rivalry exists between the two.
The four primary Chaos Gods are:
- Khorne, The Blood God - God of War, Murder, Battle - Khorne is the Blood God, an angry and murderous God of Chaos whose bellows of limitless rage echo throughout the corridors of time and space. His great brass throne sits upon a mountain of skulls in the midst of a plain of splintered bone and lakes of mortal blood formed from the remains of his followers slain in battle and those who his minions have killed in his name. Khorne embodies mindless and absolute violence, destroying everyone and everything within reach, shedding the blood of friend and foe alike. The followers of Khorne are always ferocious warriors and never make use of psychic powers, for the Blood God abhors the trickery of magic and cowardly sorcerers, particularly the servants of Tzeentch. Men turn to Khorne for the power to conquer, to defeat their enemies in battle, to wreak bloody vengeance and to attain unmatched martial prowess against all comers. The most fanatical and dedicated of his followers, those whose souls are trapped fully within his bloody embrace, know that he truly desires only constant and wild slaughter for its own sake. Khorne cares not from where the blood flows, only that it flows without cease for all eternity.
- Tzeentch, The Changer of the Ways - God of Change, Sorcery, Fate and Hope - Tzeentch is known by many titles across the galaxy, including the Changer of the Ways, the Master of Fortune, the Great Conspirator and the Architect of Fate. He is the Great Sorcerer, the God of Sorcery and Change and master of the mutable stream of destiny and time. Tzeentch is, without question, the most disturbing and least comprehensible of all the Chaos Gods. His skin crawls with constantly changing faces that leer at and mock all who look upon him. When Tzeentch deigns to speak to other beings, these faces repeat his words, often with subtle but important differences of intonation and meaning. Plotters and schemers find themselves drawn to Tzeentch, especially those who crave psychic or sorcerous power to achieve their goals. Politicians and leaders, magisters and Chaos Cultists, all find themselves drawn along the convoluted paths of fate, using Tzeentch to achieve their dreams and aspirations, though ultimately all are led to play their part in Tzeentch's own eternal schemes. No man can fully comprehend the full nature of the intricately-woven, multi-layered plots of Tzeentch and to attempt to do so can only lead to insanity. Yet in reality Tzeentch has no grand plan, no ultimate goal to fulfill. For Tzeentch the mere act of plotting and entwining the brief fates of mortals is purpose enough. There is no end to his scheming for he desires no end to the creation of change. Tzeentch can never achieve any ultimate aim for to do so would be the end of ambition and thus the end of the Lord of Destiny.
- Nurgle, The Plague Lord - God of Death, Disease and Decay - Nurgle is the mighty Lord of Decay who presides over all physical corruption and morbidity. Disease and putrefaction, the inevitable entropic decline of all things, are the favours he bestows upon the universe. The God's immense body is bloated with corruption and exudes a sickly, diseased stench. His skin is greenish, leathery and necrotic, its surface pock-marked with all of his various boils, running sores and favorite infestations. From his exposed guts spill tiny Lesser Daemons, his Nurglings, who dine upon the filthy fluids that ooze from Grandfather Nurgle's many festering wounds. It is to free themselves from despair -- the eternal mortal dread of disease, starvation and death -- that men turn to the Plague Lord. Despite his appearance, he is a warm, welcoming God who prides himself on the achievements of his followers, gifting them with his most hideous diseases even as he protects them from all pain and the cold sleep of death. The fear of death can be found in the hearts of all the sentient beings of the universe, and so there is no shortage of mortals willing to sacrifice their immortal souls in return for the corrupted preservation of their physical bodies for all time.
- Slaanesh, The Prince of Pleasure - God of Pleasure, Sensation and Desire - Slaanesh is the youngest of the Chaos Gods and alone of all the Ruinous Powers, the Prince of Chaos is divinely beautiful. He is as seductive as only an immortal can be, disarming in his innocence, utterly beguiling in his manner and irresistibly tempting with his words. Slaanesh can assume male, female or hermaphroditic form at will and it is impossible for a mortal to look upon him without losing his soul and becoming a slave to the Prince of Pleasure's slightest whim. Mortals that seek charisma and fellowship turn to Slaanesh, for his gifts can make one popular and inspiring. Poets and artists are drawn into his gaze by the promise of inspiration and fame, while even the hardiest warriors might seek the adulation of the masses and the ironclad loyalty of their followers. Yet as one continues in the service of Slaanesh, such pleasures soon grow stale and his servants are driven on to search for ever greater sensations and ever more self-fulfillment until only the most decadent and debased of acts can stir their emotions or provide the pleasure they have come to crave.
There is a fifth major Chaos God who appeared in earlier editions of Warhammer 40,000 but who is almost never mentioned save by the most arcane of texts:
- Malice, The Renegade God - God of Anarchy, Vengeance and Nihilism
The Chaos Gods' most devoted and powerful mortal followers are known as Champions of Chaos, and are spiritually bound to their patrons. Chaos Champions are rewarded with the Mark of their patron Chaos God, mutational or psychic "gifts" unique to each God and the potential blessing of ascension to become a Daemon Prince of that God. When a follower of a Chaos God dies, their soul is absorbed into the greater psychic mass of that God within the Warp, adding its energy to the already formidable power of that deity. It is for this reason that the Ruinous Powers seek to corrupt and turn to their worship as many mortal souls as they possibly can.
The Great Game of Chaos
The Chaos Gods are rivals of each other -- the constant war between them mirrors the struggle between their followers in the material universe, and vice-versa. This struggle for dominance over the Warp and the physical universe by the Chaos Gods is known as the "Great Game."
The Warp is not merely the home of the Dark Gods; it is also their primary battlefield, the arena for this Great Game of Supremacy. Since time immemorial, the Chaos Gods have warred with one another, vying for power amid the immaterial planes. Despite their myriad differences, the great Gods of Chaos have the same goal: total domination of the universe. There is no realm that they do not wish to claim for their own, and each seeks absolute rule, the mere concept of sharing power with another anathema to them.
With the ebb and flow of energy within the Warp, the power of a Chaos God expands and contracts, and his realm will shift accordingly. For long periods, one god may dominate the others, fed by its own success and leeching its foes' energy for its own growth. Eventually, the other gods will ally against the dominant force, and through combined efforts reduce him in power until another of their number rises to prominence. This pattern is played out again and again through eternity. It seems unlikely that any Chaos God could ever truly be victorious, and it is unthinkable what might happen should such an event ever occur, but it certainly is not for lack of trying.
When the gods do battle, the Immaterium shakes and Warp Storms rage across the galaxy. Within the Realm of Chaos, hordes of daemons are sent forth to do their creators' biddings, and the lands of the gods strain and heave at each other in physical assault. Possessed of personality and intelligence, the daemons of a Chaos God aspire to draw favour from their master, and often launch their own attacks into the domains of rival daemons. The armies of the gods pour from one territory to another in a ceaseless frenzy of invasion and defence. As intrigue, feints and lures lead forces into traps, elsewhere pacts are forged, and opposing sides join forces mid-battle as a common cause creates a temporary amnesty between rivals. It is never long, however, before the merest possibility of advantage arises, and the brief cessation of open warfare between two parties is readily abandoned so the daemons might once more fall upon one another. Vast swathes of the Immaterium are in a constant state of flux, every moment a new territory won or lost. When an invading army emerges victorious, they immediately set to work on turning the ravaged battlefield into part of their god's realm, moulding the raw entropy of that section of the Immaterium into whatever form best pleases their master.
From time to time there arises a being, place, object or event in the material universe that attracts the attention of all the Gods of Chaos. So important is this new element, so desired by the Ruinous Powers or so dangerous to their shared ambitions, that all rivalry is temporarily put aside in order to take advantage of this particular opportunity, or thwart the threat it presents. In such an instance, the gods will work together, and the galaxy trembles before their combined power as Chaos Undivided.
For Mankind, the most significant occasion of this type was the rise of the Emperor. During this period, the Chaos Gods set out to bring about the Master of Mankind's downfall, beginning with the spiriting away of his infant Primarchs from the laboratory on Terra where they were created, and culminating in the spiritual corruption of half their number and the civil wars of the Horus Heresy. Other events have led to briefer cessations of conflict in the Realm of Chaos: particularly promising Black Crusades, for example, or the extermination or birth of a new race.
Such interest in mortal affairs is fleeting, and as soon as their objective is achieved, the gods resume their Great Game. Sometimes treaties will be broken even before their mutual goals are met, with one god or another, or all four, overstepping the bounds of their agreement and attempting to usurp their rivals. Once again the Realm of Chaos will thunder to the march of the daemonic legions, and their age-old feuds will spill over into the domains of realspace.
Daemons and the Conquest of Realspace
A daemon is an entity of pure pyschic energy formed from a fragment of a Chaos God's consciousness. They comprise the armies of the Chaos Gods within the Warp, and frequently battle the daemonic armies of other Gods and unbelievers on the material plane.
The Chaos Gods often send their daemonic legions into the galaxy. Such invasions may be part of a long-engineered plan, or merely an opportunity seized -- for instance, taking advantage of a newly opened rift or swirling Warp Storm to materialise a daemon host that will run rampant across the mortal worlds. Dark omens, Chaos Cultist activity and mutation frequently herald and accompany their arrival in realspace, and when the armies of the gods blaze into being, reality itself bows before them. Each of these dread legions are characterised by the unique aspects of their founding power.
Khorne's daemons advance as a great host accompanied by blaring horns; beneath brazen banners, the whips of roaring monstrosities urge on rank upon rank of bloodthirsty footsoldiers. With raw anger and violence, the legions of Khorne cut a swathe through enemy territory, the blood spilt by their attacks a tribute to their almighty maker. Acts of slaughter and mutilation are rewarded by the Lord of Battle, and even those that fight against his daemons unwittingly empower him with their rage and blood sacrifice.
Tzeentch is perhaps the most devious of all the gods, for he will look to create a weakness to exploit before sending his servants to war. There is always a plan to his attacks, although it is often beyond the understanding of mortals, and may take untold millennia to unfold. Through plotting and sorcery, the Changer of Ways will set his enemies against each other, sowing confusion and distrust; when the time is finally right, Tzeentch's cackling minions and manipulative magisters sweep forward upon a carpet of magic, striking at the weakest of the targets, opening unseen seams of Warp energies or setting the stage for future catastrophes.
When Nurgle's minions are set free, they march forth to spread disease and decay. Sonorous chanting and the dolorous clangs of rusted bells herald their attacks, while the army advances under an impenetrable swarm of flies. Capering daemon-mites carpet the ground before the host, and the noxious poxes of the fleshy hulks that command them kill everything in their path, rendering all life down to mulch from which corrupted fungi and poisonous plants erupt.
The invasions of Slaanesh begin in an insidious fashion before developing into a full frontal assault. The tendrils of the Dark Prince's power inveigle their way into the souls of mortals, perverting them from within and giving them over entirely to the pursuit of their base desires. By the time his lithe and sensuous legions arrive, the foe is utterly beguiled, and his minions will sweep forward with unmatched speed to slice through opposition in an orgy of mayhem and debauchery.
Minor Chaos Gods
- Ans'l, Mo'rcck and Phraz-Etar are minor Chaos deities. Chaos Space Marines were rumored to praise them by putting spikes on their Power Armour. Their names are puns on the last names of Bryan Ansell, Michael Moorcock, and Frank Frazetta, writers and artists whose work all contributed to the look and feel of the Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 universes.
- Malice is an entity worshipped as the Renegade God of Chaos and the Hierarch of Anarchy and Terror. The Renegade Space Marines Chapter called the Sons of Malice number among his followers.
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition)
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition, 1st Codex), p. 20
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (4th Edition)
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (6th Edition), pp. 6-17
- Codex: Chaos Daemons (8th Edition), pp. 6-9
- Heroes of the Space Marines (Anthology): "The Labyrinth" by Richard Ford
- Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness
- Realms of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned