40K Fluff: Is Chaos Really All Bad?

A guest article by Whitedragon.

Chaos is one of, if not the most interesting aspect of the entire Warhammer 40,000 world that Games Workshop has created.  Some of y’all are probably already raging and frothing at the mouth while banging your fists on the keyboard.  “NEVER!” You decry, “GAMES WORKSHOP TOTALLY RIPPED OFF MICHAEL MOORCOCK!”  I don’t really want to get into that can of worms because, well it will just devolve into more of a flamefest, so I’ll just sidestep and say we’ll table that discussion for another day.

Regardless of what you think about GW’s fluff “pilfering,” the concept of Chaos is very intriguing and worthy of further exploration.  Now, lately, and by “lately” I mean in the last several years or so, Games Workshop has tried to make the fluff and descriptions of Chaos more black and white.  Chaos is bad, and wrong and evil, and Chaos Space Marines are evil spiky versions of regular space marines.  Spikes make them bad, but not skulls.  (Write that down kids.)  Chaos is just evil and that’s that.  However, back in the day, Chaos was actually more “grey,” almost 50 shades really.  The hints are still there if you know where to look, though.  The older fluff showed quite a lot more variation into the nature of Chaos and what it represents.  You had minor Chaos Gods, gods of Order, Sensei and the Starchild, and all other manner of oddities.  The Realm of Chaos in and of itself wasn’t evil unless you were one of the Four Powers.  This is one of the possibilities that I’d like to explore.

We already know that the Warp is a realm of energy and emotion, and endless possibility.  Now, the Warp energy corrupts and perverts everything it touches.  The Chaos gods are fueled by emotion and can even twist noble intentions into malice.  Is that really the case?  Should Chaos followers be reserved as nothing more than bad guys with spiky helmets twirling pointy mustaches?  Recently the Black Library Night Lords trilogy gives a powerful look into what really goes on inside a renegade legion, and it’s not quite as cut and dry as you may think.  Heck, most of the story will have you rooting for the Night Lords and hoping that they could actually regain some of their former Astartes glory as heroes.  This is the image of Chaos I’d like to think of.  A tragic hero or a gradual fall from grace makes for a powerful story and a multi-faceted character.

Why couldn’t a Chaos lord and his band be more than just traitors?  In their mind, the Emperor betrayed them, and they are still fighting the true fight.  Fast forward 10,000 years later and have a look in the mirror and they’d be just as shocked to see their twisted self staring back at them.  What happens at that moment?  Do they finally accept their fate?  Would a band of “renegades” aid an Imperial Guard unit in a pitched battle against Orks or Eldar?  Also, since the Space Marines are figures of legend in the 41st millennium, would the Imperial forces even know they were staring at renegade Astartes?  (Assuming they cleaned their armor up a little bit of course.)

Finally, since the realm of Chaos is based on emotion in realspace, could someone of pure enough soul and intention create a shining beacon of order out of the Chaos?  Could one become a “champion” of order so to speak, energized and gifted by the warp and strengthened by their own purity?  Grey Knights are described as being so pure as to be anathema to the denizens of the warp, yet are still psykers and draw their strength from the warp.  Could this be how they focus their power?  And yet, on the other hand, is it actually “wrong” to be a thrall of the Chaos gods?  That’s an interesting point to turn on its head, since the Imperium itself is not known as the nicest place to live either.  Being a pawn of the gods actually affords the Champion quite a bit of freedom that being in service to the Imperium lacks.

Let me know what you think!  I just love to turn the fluff on its head.


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

13 Responses to “40K Fluff: Is Chaos Really All Bad?”

  1. Son Of Dorn July 5, 2012 12:31 am #

    I’m gonna say you’re running in many directions at once. The Chaos gods’ are ‘bad’ because they want to destroy and consume humanity (and all other life). CSM are bad because they worship these foul entities. Only VERY recently have we been given a story about how Horus and his ilk were duped into turning. Until then, CSM were bad for the sake of being bad.

    Also, as the Night Lords in AD-B’s novels don’t usally worship the dark gods, I think that’s sort of a bad example for your argument. Many of the Astartes and the crew look upon the possessed characters with extreme distaste. While I did find myself empathizing with the character’s (to AD-B’s EXTREME credit) when they eat the gene seed of a tortured marine, you remember they are most definately evil.

    Also, the beacon of light from good emotions? The Astronomicon? Embodied by the Emperor, beloved by all. It seemed to me quite obvious that it was the theme for the Emperor’s energy to be generated by his immense psychic ability and empathy from all of the prayers and good emotions that humans are capable of.

    Sorry I’m sorta scattershot with my answers here. It’s late and I’m not thinking as clearly. But allow me to close with this: in regards to GW stealing story elements, they’ve always done so. They’ve borrowed from historical events, as well as writings/tales of cultural significance. They also tap into the myriad of established sci-fi tropes as well. Many authors/franchises have (Star Wars) and will continue to. Good artists copy, great artists steal 😉

    And just for some laughs, having never heard of Michael Moorcock, I initially assumed the name to be some derogatory for the annoying documentary maker Michael Moore. So I hope my ignorance can bring a few laughs there. 🙂 Now, OFF TO BED!

    • whitedragon July 5, 2012 10:31 am #

      Thanks for the comments, I love to gab about fluff! I didn’t want to give the impression that I disliked GW for “stealing” fluff, and actually I thought I said just the opposite of that with a light hearted jab!

      What I really miss the most about the older fluff, is the myriad ways one could worship the Chaos powers, they weren’t so pigeon-holed into these “archetypes”. For example, just because Khorne is the god of War and Blood, doesn’t mean that every Champion of Khorne has to be a bloodthirsty psycopath that only likes to spill blood in close combat. As we know, Khorne cares not from where the blood flows, so there is no reason why a talented marksman couldn’t be a Khorne worshipper. One could imagine that he even anoints his rifle with the blood of the slain while offering a quiet prayer to the Blood God before each and every shot. Khorne also used to embody martial pride and honor, and this was one of the many avenues that would eventually damn a Champion along the path to Chaos, but was much more subtle than just…..”I’m a berzerker now because I has Skull Rune!”

      That’s the kind of ambiguity I’m talking about with the four dark powers.

      As to your comment about Chaos wanting to destroy the galaxy, I don’t believe they actually want “destruction” more than just complete subjugation. The Warp can’t exist without real-space after all. Now, GW would have us believe that the Imperium of Man is our knight in shining armor from the depredations of Chaos, but in reality, you’d be trading one form of Tyranny for another! Subjugation by Chaos or by the Adeptus Terra doesn’t sound appealing on either end I think.

  2. Son Of Dorn July 5, 2012 12:33 am #

    Oh, and I’ll leave this here for the Frontline crew. Enjoy. 🙂


    • Reecius July 5, 2012 11:27 am #

      That sir, is AWESOME!

      • Son Of Dorn July 5, 2012 2:05 pm #

        I was snorting some warp dust and came across it. Thought everyone would like to see it 🙂

        • Reecius July 5, 2012 2:27 pm #

          Hahaha, not my Holy Passage!!

          • Son Of Dorn July 5, 2012 6:50 pm

            I laughed super hard at that line too. 🙂 I can’t wait to see what stuff those guys come out with. They’re gung ho for Lordi so maybe they’ll make an animated prologue or epilogue or something. Be great to see their talents turned to serious stuff, too 🙂

  3. Desaster July 5, 2012 1:09 am #

    The Chaos gods are not good or bad, but just pure emotions.

    Actually there are many hints in the fluff and novels that more than the four big ones exist, like Malal or the god of the Raptor cults.

    Anyway, it is more than likely that positive emotions like compassion and sacrifice have their own manifestations in the Warp. Just look at the Eldar gods – Isha is the goddess of fertility and healing, and exists in the same realm as the Chaos gods (because she is captured by Nurgle).

    Traitors – Just look at the Soul Drinkers. They left the Imperium, but they are still battling for humanity.
    If you don’t want novel fluff take the Knights of Blood – Excommunicate but still purging the galaxy from the Alien

    • whitedragon July 5, 2012 10:32 am #

      Desaster, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Plus I think the characters become much more interesting when you look at them in a different light, rather than just being Mustache-Twirling villains always out for their next dastardly schemes!

  4. pascal July 5, 2012 4:00 am #

    the sanguinor is almost definitely a minor warp entity, worshipped second only to the emperor, sanguinius or the belief in his greatness allows the sanguinor to exist[or azkaelon to keep poppin up and live forever etc]

    so, uh, there’s a good bit of the warp I suppose.

    also those chaos marines think they are the right ones, everyone does:). so of course you empathise from thier perspective. hitler thought he was doing the right thing…oops lost any argument.. damn:P

    • whitedragon July 5, 2012 10:36 am #

      Pascal, the Sanguinor is definitely an individual that defies some of the “black and white” we’ve come to be told from GW. What or who is he? The same is true of Saint Celestine. How can these “beings” exist, without being somehow tied to the warp. Also, look at Draigo, trapped in the warp.

      Would these be examples of “Chaos Champions of Order”, or Champions of the Emperor as a Chaos god? That would be pretty interesting, and could also be part of the reason that the Inquisition is always so quick to keep everything under wraps and mind wipe everyone all the time! (Maybe not, but its more fun to think of all the possibilities than to just discount them. It is a big galaxy after all!)

  5. Platuan4th July 5, 2012 11:29 am #

    I think it’s a bit sad that you didn’t touch on that the “Big Four” actually weren’t even 100% evil back in the older fluff. They had some “good” and redeeming aspects, too, such a Khorne’s respect for honor, even among enemies. It wasn’t just BLOODHATEKILL all the time like GW wants now.

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