- "Decay and corruption of the flesh are their secret joys, and they are abominations in the eyes of men..."
Plague Marines are those Chaos Space Marines who have wholly dedicated their lives and souls to the service of the Chaos God Nurgle. Within their corpulent and disgusting Power Armour their bodies are bloated with disease, swollen with corruption and rank with decay even as they no longer are capable of feeling pain, the greatest mutational "gift" given to them by the Plague Lord.
The origins of the Plague Marines can be traced back to the early 31st Millennium. During the opening days of the Horus Heresy, Ignatius Grulgor was the Commander (Captain) of the Death Guard Legion's 2nd Grand Company. During the massacre of the Traitor Legions' Loyalists on Istvaan III that initiated the Heresy, Grulgor was posted on the Imperial frigate Eisenstein to kill the Loyalist Captain Nathaniel Garro and his hundred-strong company of Death Guard Astartes. Grulgor was initially killed in a firefight on the gun decks of the Eisenstein, after a stray Bolt Pistol shot released the Life-Eater virus that had been intended to be used against the Loyalist Astartes on Istvaan III. After the successful escape of the Eisenstein and the following trip through the Warp, the body of Grulgor was reanimated by the machinations of Nurgle as the first of the Plague Marines. After a desperate battle, Grulgor's body was destroyed after the Eisenstein made an emergency transition into realspace. His soul banished into the Warp, the Plague Lord eventually raised Grulgor as one of his Daemon Princes. In 999.M41 Grulgor would return to haunt the Imperium during the Forces of Chaos' assault upon Medusa V.
The Plague Marines later appeared en masse at the start of the Horus Heresy. The Death Guard Legion had become becalmed and trapped within the Warp where the virulent Destroyer Plague, later known to the Imperium as Nurgle's Rot, attacked their bodies. For the Death Guard, there was nothing more terrifying as the plague that rendered their legendary resilience meaningless. These were warriors who were immune to the diseases, contagions, toxins and pollutions that bedevilled normal men. What the Death Guard endured was unimaginable, yet none suffered more than Mortarion himself. Unable to endure the suffering any longer, the Primarch and his Legion offered themselves up to the service of the Lord of Decay in return for their lives. Their bodies became bloated and swollen with the corruption, festering within them, but they no longer felt the agony of the Warp-pox and did not die from the horrific symptoms. When the Death Guard Legion fleet emerged from the Warp, they bore little resemblance to the proud Astartes who had entered. Their once-gleaming grey armour and the proud heraldry of the once-Imperial champions was no more; in their stead was a sickly pall of greenish hue. Each Astartes was now a bloated grotesque, covered in pock-marks and boils, scabs and putrescent sores. They bore the stink of corruption as the very air about them was clouded with swarming flies. Even their weapons and war machines had been mutated and were now powered by the sickly sorcery of Chaos, glowing with lambent green energy and oozing gangrenous pus. The Death Guard had become walking pestilence carriers; they had become Plague Marines.
Since that bygone era, many Chaos Space Marines have dedicated themselves to Nurgle, though few achieve the vaunted ranks of the Death Guard. Those who truly wish to join these most foetid of followers must first prove their loyalty to the Daemon Primarch Mortarion. Only then will Nurgle bestow upon them the corrupting plague that created the Plague Marines. Outside of the Death Guard, a favoured few Chaos Sorcerers of Nurgle know the secrets of the Plague Marines, and Abaddon of the Black Legion has won many of these spellcasters to his cause. In return for loyalty and long service, these so-called blight mages will bestow their pestilent gifts in the cause of Chaos Undivided.
Plague Marine bodies are bloated and swollen with the foul corruption of Nurgle festering within them. They no longer feel the agony of the blighted Warp-pox of the Plague Lord and cannot die from its horrific symptoms. Though their armour may appear corroded and rusted, and their bodies continuously ooze slime and the stink of decay, the Plague Marines are still fearsome, skilled warriors. Since the days of the Horus Heresy, many other Space Marines have dedicated themselves to the Lord of Decay, but few have ever manged to join the ranks of the Plague Marines. Those who truly wish to enter this most elite of foetid cadres must swear loyalty to the Death Guard Traitor Legion and their Primarch Mortarion, though they need not join the Death Guard itself. Only then will Nurgle bestow upon them the corrupting "gift" of Nurgle's Rot that created the original Plague Marines.
The weaponry and wargear of the Plague Marines may be pitted with erosion and corroding away, but they are still terrifying opponents. Plague Marines have an inhuman tolerance for pain, enduring injuries that would cripple even other Space Marines, their nerves dulled by disease or even mostly rotted away, which is the Plague Lord's greatest enhancement of those who embrace him. Plague Marines are normally armed with some manner of Bolter with which they unleash a steady rain of firepower, but they may also carry other weapons. They sometimes arm themselves with a close-combat Power Sword that can communicate Nurgle's Rot to the victim. The ability to spread Nurgle's Rot is a special psychic power granted to a Plague Marine through his connection to the Plague Lord that allows him to summon the horrific plagues of Nurgle from the Warp and unleash them upon the enemy. Those not tightly armoured against biological infection are instantly affected and quickly killed by the infection. Plague Marines also make use of Blight Grenades, which are sometimes made from the shrunken heads of those who have been killed by the Plague Marines that have been filled with a noxious, poisonous gas. Upon impact, they release this cloud of deadly, decaying vapours.
Plague Marines make up the majority of the Death Guard Traitor Legion of Chaos Space Marines, but not all Plague Marines are members of the Death Guard; any Chaos Space Marine or Renegade Space Marine who dedicates himself to the Plague Lord Nurgle may become a Plague Marine.
Many Plague Marines, particularly those who were originally members of the Death Guard Legion, still prefer to wear the Mark III Iron Pattern suits of Power Armour first used during the Great Crusade. Even though more modern marks of Power Armour had become available to them before the Horus Heresy, the Death Guard retained a large stockpile of the heavier Mark III Pattern, preferring it both for its durability and the ease with which they could customise it to better handle the rigours of the often-toxic battle zones in which the Legion excelled. The armour of Plague Marines, regardless of its type, usually suffers from severe corrosion and structural breaches over its millennia of service with a corrupted Astartes. Plague Marine Power Armour is often further modified with the inclusion of a heretical pattern "open vent" reactor backpack and blasphemous inconography as well as swelling or even cracking like a broken egg shell to contain the grotesquely mutated physique of its wearer.
The flesh of the Plague Marines is always bloated, distended and corpulent, seething with corruption and decay and it is a terrible sight to behold. The stench alone given off by Plague Marines is enough to incapacitate many enemy troops. Yet this seemingly necrotic and decaying flesh makes the Plague Marine almost impossible to kill with small arms fire and they are able to shrug off injury and damage that would destroy even the superhuman physiology of the standard Astartes. When Imperial forces enter combat against these horrific servants of Chaos, the mass concentrated firepower of weapons more commonly employed to deal with armoured vehicles is recommended as the key to bringing down these monsters of corruption.
A Plague Marine's decaying flesh also attracts maggots and flies. These insects commonly accompany all of Nurgle's forces, and some of his faithful even cultivate them, considering them sacred animals. It is not uncommon for a Plague Marine to maintain a hive of maggots on his body which constantly produce a new cloud of large black flies through the structural cracks in his Power Armour.
Plague Marines often make use of Heresy-era or more updated versions of standard Imperial ranged weaponry intended for the Astartes, including Bolters, Bolt Pistols, Plasma Pistols, Missile Launchers and other standard weapons. These weapons often develop the same signs of corruption and ill-repair as a Plague Marine's armour and the tortured Machine Spiritsof these weapons make them prone to catastrophic failures that would likely kill even a Space Marine. Yet given the Plague Marine's unhallowed tolerance for injury and pain, these dangers often prove inconsequential for one of Nurgle's chosen.
Of unknown origin and design, Plague Marines sometimes carry a "cleaver" type of close combat weapon not inaccurately called a "Plague Knife" by Imperial observers. Wielded with the superhuman strength and speed of a Chaos Space Marine, these unpowered blades can pierce most forms of body armour, and can breach the protection offered even by the hardened ceramite casing of Power Armour if a vulnerable location is struck. If the skin of a victim is penetrated, the contaminated and necrotic slime that coats the blade will almost invariably infect the wound and poison the bloodstream, leading to a slow and agonising death in over 90% of cases. Even the genetically-augmented immune systems of the Astartes are not entirely protected from this effect. As yet the Magi Biologis of the Adeptus Mechanicus have no known antidotes or pharmaceuticals to combat this toxin. Rumours persist that some of these weapons are further empowered by the dark sorceries and taint of the Warp, against which no flesh can be spared, much like the Kinebrach Anathame that mortally wounded Horus before the start of the Heresy. Only the Ordo Malleusknows the truth.
Plague Marines also carry weapons known as Blight Grenades or Death Head Grenades. These grenades are made from the heads of conquered foes of Nurgle. Constructed by Nurgleite Chaos Sorcerers, the severed head is covered with a waxy mix of organic slime and contaminated blood until it is watertight. The brain cavity is then filled with pus and left to fester, becoming a poisonous gas. The result is a missile that bursts on impact, releasing a deadly acidic vapour laced with various pathogens that is capable of eating through most forms of personal armour.
Plague Marines prefer short-ranged firefights, where they can see the festering wounds inflicted upon their enemies whilst they shrug off the bolts and las-blasts directed back at them. Their decaying brains are inured to the agony of the bodily corruption that runs rampant in their diseased carcasses, making them all but immune to the pain or discomfort caused by battle wounds. When their enemies close within assault range, the Plague Marines make use of their Blight Grenades and release the virulent toxins that they contain, which proceed to eat away at armour and fill the air with thick noxious clouds of blinding, pathogenic spores. The most virulent and flamboyant of these Blight Grenades are made from the severed, decaying heads of their fallen enemies.
The Plague Fleets of Nurgle are often led by the Plague Marines of the Lord of Decay, spreading their filth the width and breadth of the galaxy. These Plague Fleets carry Nurgle's followers to inhabited worlds where the Plague Marines' destructive raids are inevitably followed by massive outbreaks of no less destructive contagions. Once these Plague Ships are abandoned or their crews finally destroyed, their hulks float back into the Warp and eventually find their way back to the Plague Planet where they may be re-crewed for new incursions into the material universe.
The Plague Marines have dedicated their loathsome existences to spreading corruption and decay across the universe. The Plague Fleets of Nurgle that periodically spew forth from the Eye of Terror are captained by the Plague Marines, spreading Father Nurgle's Warp-spawned contagions and pestilences across the myriad star systems of the galaxy, forever spreading the death and decay that are the hallmarks of Nurgle's kingdom.
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (6th Edition), pg. 46
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pg. 38
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition Revised), pg. 29
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (3rd Edition, 1st Codex), pg. 11
- Codex: Chaos (2nd Edition), pp. 31, 75
- Imperial Armour Volume Seven - The Siege of Vraks - Part Three, p. 182
- White Dwarf 264 (US), "Index Astartes (First Founding): The Lost and the Damned - The Death Guard Space Marine Legion," pp. 68-75
- White Dwarf 204 (US), "Plague Marines: Chaos Plague Marines of Nurgle," pp. 33-35
- White Dwarf 170 (US), "Chaos Space Marines," pp. 36-37
- Flight of the Eisenstein (Novel) by James Swallow