The dark counterpart to a Battlefleet of the Imperial Navy is a Chaos Warfleet dedicated to the service of the Dark Gods. Abaddon the Despoiler may have led a unified Chaotic warfleet in the service of Chaos Undivided during the Gothic War, but this is the exception, not the rule, for the Forces of Chaos possess no unified naval force like the Imperium of Man. Instead, there are numerous Chaotic warfleets dedicated solely to the service of one of the Ruinous Powers of Chaos – Khorne, Nurgle, Slaanesh and Tzeentch.
Shape of ChangeEdit
Just as the Dark Gods of Chaos visit their warped and twisted blessings upon those of their followers who prove themselves worthy, so too do their "gifts" fall upon the great and aged machines devoted to them. A ship’s form, its very material essence, may be warped by the touch of Chaos to take on a shape ever more pleasing to its patron. So it is that a ship might come to truly bear the mark of its patron God. It is not merely the will of a Chaos God that can alter a ship. A dedicated and worshipful crew will lavish much time on their vessel, reshaping it in their God’s preferred image, branding great runes all across it, covering it in colours, symbols, substances or geometries favoured by their divine patron as testament to their fervoured devotion. By foul enchantments and dark rituals, daemons, spirits and other Chaotic entities likewise in the service of their patron may be summoned up, or even granted whole areas of the ship, invited to dwell within its engines, sustained in the material realm by the same bound psykers and Warp engines that once allowed the ship safe passage through the Immaterium. Alone amongst the material creations of Mankind, these magnificent starships are designed to travel both the material and the immaterial, and so offer a sanctuary to daemons which cannot be found elsewhere. These beings of Chaos might slumber within a ship’s guns, launching fire from them with an unnatural fury; sweep formlessly throughout the ship’s decks like a wailing ghost, driving off would-be boarders; or even lurk deep within the hull of the vessel itself, binding their own ancient malice with the intangible and resolute will of the aged machine, birthing a vessel with a true heart of Chaos.
Chariots of Slaughter - The Fleets of KhorneEdit
To all but the blindest and most deranged of Khorne’s followers, the need for ships to transport them across the stars is obvious, though beyond such cold utility even the most ancient of vessels deserves little more reverance. To Khorne’s followers, such vessels are nothing more than steeds, chariots even, to take them to new fields of slaughter. Where other Gods might visit their blessing equally upon their followers and their machines, Khorne cares little for the beasts of steel, and it is instead upon the deranged and bloodthirsty warriors that slay in his name that Khorne’s blessing falls. Khorne’s lust for blood eschews as cowardly and unworthy the long-ranged weapons of many Traitor vessels. Even a perfectly well-armed and equipped warship of Khorne may forgo all weapons fire as its frenzied crew plough furiously forwards, impatient to fall upon their enemy in hand-to-hand combat within the narrow confines of the enemy vessel. With little love of psychic sorcery or arcane technology, followers of Khorne are often equally loathe to rely upon such tricks as teleportation and instead enact the will of the Blood God with their frenzied boarding actions.
So insanely devoured by the lust for blood are some that they forsake any form of ranged warfare entirely, and instead populate drifting Space Hulks, from where they can fall upon enemy fleets, or even worlds, in an unstoppable tide of boarding actions or bloody planetary assault. Khorne is not blind to the need for firepower, though he gives no favour to it, and his fleets remain rigidly utilitarian in this regard, willing only to utilise those weapons and those tactics which will ultimately bring them closer to their target, closer to the slaughter.
Floating Palaces of SlaaneshEdit
Those vessels favoured by Slaanesh are nothing short of palatial – the finest and most delicately crafted of galleons, carefully maintained and lovingly restored, their every inch bedecked in the most precious metals and glittering gems, smothered in the richest and most extravagant of dressings, details and iconography, decorated with the most exquisite portraiture, sculpture and art, invariably portraying acts of extreme perversity and artistic horror. Within the followers of Slaanesh slumbers a malaise of ecstacy, drawing themselves into action only to further their exhausting pursuit of pleasure and new sensations.
Such are the delights within that these palaces of Slaanesh are as beacons of seduction to those that look upon them. Vessels nearing them might find their Vox-links bombarded not by the expected hails of identification, allegiance and intent, but rather by a cacophony of giggles, screams, moans and gasps, both disorienting and enchanting, broadcast by the fickle followers of Slaanesh, seemingly uncaring, perhaps even unknowing. For those whose inadvertent frequency scanning or attempts at communication open up such a channel, it is a voyeuristic gaze at pleasure beyond comprehension and an aural enticement that would bring the weak to their knees.
But pain is pleasure also, as the incautious should not forget. To turn their guns upon the entranced crews of nearby ships is as much ecstacy to the followers of Slaanesh as it is agony to their victims. To board their vessels and take what captives may be found for purposes that may not be spoken is, to Slaanesh, not remotely a betrayal of the apparently harmless sensation which first proved so alluring to those same unwary victims. Such is the fate of any fool enough to stray close to the screaming Palaces of Pleasure which are the vessels of Slaanesh.
The Beasts of TzeentchEdit
Alone amongst the Dark Gods, Tzeentch cares little to bring the starfaring vessels of Mankind under his service. The Warp is as much home to these vessels as the material universe, for they must travel through it at great length, and at greater peril, and cunning Tzeentch knows that it is within the Immaterium that his true power lies.
Within the Warp exist countless writhing entities, beasts of the Warp, born there or forged there by powers unspeakable. It is Tzeentch’s great gambit that in his service these beasts are changed into the forms by which Mankind might know and fear them most – great, hungry leviathans and all consuming serpents are the pets of Tzeentch, creatures born from the hellish depths Mankind has conceived of since first his eyes gazed out upon the great oceans of Terra and knew that something truly terrible must lie beneath. That humanity's own origins and birth lie also in such murky waters only adds to the instinctive dread and insurmountable fear such monstrosities awaken.
When his power is at its greatest, and when his loyal followers offer conduit and sacrifice enough that it might travel beyond the Immaterium, Tzeentch sends such beasts forth into the material universe itself, riding upon the tides of Chaos which surround the warfleets of the Ruinous Powers, buoyed along by the surging waves of sorcery and eddies of unreality which Tzeentch’s followers bring in their wake. Given form for a time, these leviathans fall upon Tzeentch’s enemies like great predators, rending metal, flesh and soul apart with equal ease. The only mercy, perhaps, of such horrors is the inescapable impermanence of such Warp-spawned nightmares.
The Plaguefleets of NurgleEdit
Starships whose crews met their end through disease and decay are the most pleasing sacrifices to Nurgle. Ships are cramped, claustrophobic places at the best of times, and the air which feeds their living crews is a commodity that must be endlessly recycled and filtered back into the vessel. Such lifeless air as this often becomes stale, and the stench of sweat and grime hangs heavy in it. Under this mask of filth, Nurgle and his dedicated followers find little difficulty in spreading something rather more virulent throughout a vessel. Such plagues aboard ships are not uncommon and Nurgle laughs gleefully at such works. A ship’s entire crew may weaken beneath this malady, and in such desperation they will turn to Nurgle for protection –- and so a new Plagueship is born, its crew spared the sorrow of death, but instead gifted an eternity beset by the same plague which first laid them low.
But decay does not affect merely the living. Nurgle beams all the more proudly to see the creations of mortals broken down by decay. The most virulent of his ills do not only strike at flesh, but also bring with them a noxious, stinging acidic feel to the air which can sicken even the metal of a warship. Like the bloated and pocked carcasses of his human followers, Nurgleite Plagueships bear these scars of decay like a badge of worship –- liquified rust running like blood across the hull of his Plagueships, cankered and broken power supplies, plasma coils and radiation conduits seeping their magmas like pus. Such decay defines the vessels whose crews serve the Plague Lord.
- Battlefleet Gothic: The Powers of Chaos, Chaos Fleets in Battlefleet Gothic, pp. 5-9