"When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him."
- – Revelation 6:3-4
"When I was a young boy
My father took me into the city
To see the Black Crusade
He said,"Son, when you grow up
Would you be the leader of the broken
The beaten and the damned?"
He said, "Will you unleash them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers
The plans that they have made?
Because one day I'll leave you
A phantom to lead you in the summer
To join the Black Crusade."
- – Abaddon on Horus M.30
Just as the Imperium of Man wages Crusades against Xenos and Chaos, starting with the Great Crusade, led by the Emperor of Mankind Himself, the minions of the Ruinous Powers have launched several crusades against the civilisations of the galaxy.
The Horus Heresy might be thought of as first and the biggest Black Crusade of all, when Warmaster Horus, Primarch of the soon-to-be Black Legion, led his Legion and eight others, the very first Chaos Space Marines, to try and overthrow the Emperor. They left the Imperium in ruins, but were narrowly defeated in orbit around Terra.
Abaddon's Black Crusades
Ezekyle Abaddon is the galactic champion of launching failed assaults on the Imperium. Despite having titan legions, traitor legions, neckbeard legions, daemon legions, and the backing of four literal gods, Abaddon has managed to accomplish nothing but get his shit wrecked for millennia. Eventually he throws a tantrum so hard that he just drops a Blackstone Fortress on Cadia, destroying what might be the last weapon capable of hurting some of Chaos' most dangerous foes. That's why his arms fell off and why he will look mad forever.
A new perspective
These constant failures have not escaped the eyes of the fanbase, and so Games Workshop (read: Aaron Dembski-Bowden) has rewritten the first twelve Black Crusades, now explaining that the first twelve were not for the purpose of conquering Cadia or Terra: they were simply aimed at gathering various superweapons, undermining the Imperium, and generally preparing for the "main event" of the thirteenth. Regardless, /tg/ tends to continue to mock Abaddon and his "failures", because memes are fun and/or everything Games Workshop does is to be mocked. Conversely in the fluff, a White Crusade is an Imperial led equivalent against Chaos, although it never really caught on.
A full list of what he actually did is as follows:
- 1st Black Crusade: Abaddon cemented the dominance of the Black Legion - and his rule over it - by defeating his chief rival Thagus Daravek and then scouring hundreds of worlds in Segmentum Obscurus. Even though his fleet eventually had to retreat, it took Sigismund's and (allegedly) Rogal Dorn's life to stop the crusade. He also acquired Drach'nyen from the Tower of Silence on Uralan.
- 2nd Black Crusade: Abaddon destroyed an Imperial Navy base and the shipyards on Belis Corona and cursed the planet's moon to unleash a mutagenic plague upon the planet's inhabitants in the future. Later sacked the Inquisitorial vaults on Nemesis Tessera – butchering the Imperials and freeing all the Daemons imprisoned in the fortress.
- 3rd Black Crusade: The Daemon Prince Tallomin is unleashed on the Cadian Gate. Tallomin is banished by a dozen Chapters of Astartes, after slaughtering many millions of Imperial soldiers. It was all a distraction, as Abaddon could now desecrate the tomb of Saint Gersthal on the shrine world of the same name without any resistance, thereby preventing a prophecy of ultimate Imperial victory from coming true.
- 4th Black Crusade: Abaddon assaulted the world of El'Phanor, a stronghold of the Cadian Gate. The planet was left a dead wasteland, leaving Cadia vulnerable to later attack.
- 5th Black Crusade: The one where Abaddon summoned Doombreed.
- 6th Black Crusade: Acting on a tip-off from Be'lakor (yes, the same guy from Fantasy), Abaddon allies with the Sons of the Eye, a splinter faction that had broken off from the Sons of Horus shortly after the Siege of Terra. After annihilating a Forge World with their help, Abaddon executes the Sons' warlord and forces him to watch his men pledge their loyalty to the Black Legion as he dies.
- 7th Black Crusade: Circa 811.M37, also known as "The Ghost War". Abaddon steals some Eldar artifacts from the Adeptus Mechanicus of all people, and leaves before the Imperium can muster a response. The Blood Angels respond at chapter strength on the planet of Mackan but even with the Rampagers giving them back up they're outgunned and outmanned by many magnitudes. In a dickish parody of the final battle between Horus and Sanguinius, Abaddon rips Captain Acrion of the Blood Angels completely apart with the talon of Horus, and the Ravagers 7th company was completely slaughtered. In a surprising turn of events, Reclusiarch Thalastian Jorus of the Blood Angels decided to be awesome that day. The Blood Angels Death Company, now bloated from the rage induced from their loss, plagued the Black legion for weeks on end, before their gambit payed off. The lines of the Black legion were over-stretched and left them easy prey for the Death Company. The Blood Angels murdered their way through the Black Legionnaires until eventually the Death Company and the Bringers of Despair themselves locked blades. In the midst of the fray Reclusiarch Jorus fought the Despoiler in single combat to avenge his nearly extinct chapter. Almost the entirety of the Bringers of Despair honour guard had been destroyed and Abaddon himself had been gravely wounded - presumably including the loss of his arms - by the Reclusiarch. Lheorvine Ukris, one of the Legion's founding members, was mortally wounded, most likely during this fight. Still, the numbers were terminally against the Blood Angels; the Black Legion eventually rallied and finished off the surviving Death Company and the Despoiler's wounded form was spirited away as Jorus was butchered--presumably with the smuggest of all grins on his face. In the aftermath, the Carcharodons burst from the warp with the Imperial Navy and the remnant of the Blood Angels--itching for a rematch. After mopping up the stragglers they were only greeted with a whole heaping helping of nothing as Abaddon the Despoiler had quit the field already and high-tailed it back to the Eye. All they found on the planet were the ruined corpses of the Blood Angel's who fell on Mackan, all of their progenoids ruined beyond all recognition--except for the Reclusiarch and the Death Company brethren. They were whole (save for the wounds the slew them of course)--their progenoids were untouched. To add to the unmitigated awesome of this entire story, Abaddon had taken the corpses and power armour of the slain honour guard and Black Legionaires and made a throne and dais for each and every one of the fallen Death Company. Reclusiarch Jorus was enthroned above them all for achieving the honour of leaving the Warmaster of Chaos scars he wears even to this day; a claim that very few can boast.
tl;dr a cool retelling from the new index astartes that really makes everyone look fuckawesome, and adds a bit of character to ol' Abby.
- 8th Black Crusade: The Black Legion engages in a ritual sacrifice known as the Skullgather. They slaughter specific numbers of people on specific worlds, and arrange the dead in specific patterns. Hundreds of adepts of the Inquisition are driven insane in trying to break the cipher, while Imperial forces are too busy pursuing Abaddon's fleet to realize what he's doing. It ends with the council of Tech-Magi being sacrificed in the gears of the Forge World Rithcarn, completing the sequence of death and pleasing Tzeentch. Unbeknownst to anyone else, he also destroys several planets that were part of the Necron pylon network Cadia was a part of- something which wouldn't be discovered until the 13th Black Crusade.
- 9th Black Crusade: Abaddon musters several Traitor Legions for the purpose of strangling the power of Cancephalus, a naval fortress that acted as a base for Imperial ships patrolling the Eye of Terror for any activity. Abaddon proceeds to massacre and mutate the people of Antecanis, a heavily populated world that provided most recruits and officers for Cancephalus. The Traitors depart after having annihilated the response fleet from Cancephalus, thereby crippling the Imperial Navy's power and opening up new routes for Chaos Space Marines to exit the Eye of Terror.
- 10th Black Crusade: Abaddon assaults the Helica Subsector (of Eisenhorn fame) with the aid of the Iron Warriors, sending out some of his minor warlords as a distraction while he and Perturabo attack the Iron Hands' homeworld of Medusa. The Iron Hands barely hold on, and Abaddon and Perturabo leave after they are satisfied with what they have learned about Medusa's defenses. While technically victorious, the Iron Hands have suffered severe casualties and many of the worlds in their system have been destroyed.
- 11th Black Crusade: After binding a Daemon of Tzeentch within the oculus of his vessel in the hope that it may find new routes through the Warp storms, Abaddon gets caught in a warp storm and ends up in orbit over the planet Relorria. There the Traitor Marines encounter Orks, and a three-sided war breaks out. Abaddon takes many Orks as prisoners, after which he departs and leaves the humans of Relorria to deal with the remaining Xenos. He later discovers their connection to the warp and begins experimenting with them to create Ork-Daemon hybrids (Cute, Abby, but Morty did it first in M36).
- 12th Black Crusade: The one where he got the Blackstone Fortresses. See Battlefleet Gothic.
- 13th Black Crusade: The latest Black Crusade, launched at the closing years of the 41st Millennium. For the longest time, this was where the timeline literally stopped, and remained the case for several editions. Until, that is, The Gathering Storm happened.
The 13th Black Crusade V.1: The Eye of Terror Campaign
Back in Third Edition, GW ran the "Eye of Terror" worldwide campaign to determine the outcome of the war. Going by the numbers of the battles sent in (admittedly not a tamper-proof measure), the forces of Chaos actually won the ground war, and the Imperium won the space war, since this was before GW had the "fuck our customers" mindset, they actually did wrap up the 13th Black Crusade... In the 18th issue of their Battlefleet Gothic Magazine. Yep, the major event that the whole setting stops at was wrapped up in an issue nobody bought (so a lot of people thought it never ended). Abaddon's fleets (including the Planet Killer and a Blackstone Fortress) were crippled and he and his generals were stranded on a dozen worlds. They continued to win the ground war on most planets, including Cadia, but even if they did capture those they'd be left stuck without any way of proceeding whereas the Imperium could just virus bomb the captured worlds.
The 13th Black Crusade Ver 2.0: The Gathering Storm
Four game editions and twenty-odd real world years later, Games Workshop decides to revisit Abby's 13th temper tantrum, as new company policy dictated that the timeline would finally advance.
While it followed the same general beats of the Eye of Terror campaign, the massive Chaos force that broke upon the Cadian system was no longer the bulk of Abbadon's forces... but its vanguard. A much larger Chaos fleet was inbound, led by the Vengeful Spirit itself, with the Blackstone Fortress Will of Eternity now as the Black Fleet's ace-in-the hole (which begs the question where the Planet Killer went to).
Despite all of this Abaddon wasn't going to get a victory handed to him on a golden platter, as the Imperials fought back as hard as anyone with their backs to the wall could. Battered battlefleets harried Abaddon's ships as they pushed through to Cadia, trying to buy as much time as they could for the defenders on the ground to shore up their fortifications.
And then when no one was expecting it, the Phalanx transitioned into the midst of the Black Fleet, and with its mighty bow guns, crippled the Blackstone Fortress. So much for that ace in the hole.
The ground war fared much better for Abby's forces, but here again the Imperial forces fought tooth and nail, and although they were gradually pushed back from their ramparts and trenches, they made the Despoiler's lackeys pay for every bloody foot they took. Kasr Kraf, the last bastion, eventually fell, but the fight continued under the shadows of the Elysion Pylon fields, where Abaddon himself finally deigned to make an appearance to try and take out Creed and his command. The Lord Castellan escaped to fight another day, but not before losing his BFF Kell in the process.
When the Pylon Fields suddenly came to life (the results of a collaboration between Archmagos Belisarius Cawl and the Necron Trazyn the Infinite), Abaddon was forced to make a tactical withdrawal back to his flagship. Having enough of all this nonsense, Abaddon triggered his Plan B: throw the Blackstone Fortress at the planet.
Cadia burned, and with its ancient pylon fields toppled, the Eye of Terror could no longer be contained. The Great Rift was born, and the Imperium of Mankind suddenly found itself effectively cut in half.
Despite a predictable amount of fragmentation among the constituent warbands occurring after Cadia's fall, the Black Crusade is still ongoing.
14th Black Crusade
/tg/ has gotten tired of the so-called "Failbaddon's" antics, and so somebody decided to take matters into his own hands and launched Abaddon Quest, in which /tg/ controls Abaddon's 14th Black Crusade. He's doing much better this time around (barring a few acts of sexual deviancy that even Chaos Marines found unsettling).
Minor Black Crusades
While Abaddon is the favored son of Chaos; several other Chaos leaders, like Chaos Lords, Sorcerers or Daemon Princes have launched their own Black Crusades. Usually, these minor crusades will be launched from a coalition of sorts between several chaos warbands, as few have the resources needed to launch them on their own (Think about Marines, heretics, tanks, daemon engines numbering in the hundreds of thousands and a Titan or several). However, those who have them (like Abaddon, some Daemon Princes or VERY successful Lords like maybe Huron Blackheart) also have the benefit of a centralized command and honor no pact to an external force, which sometimes lead to a more successful campaign.
These engagements pale in comparison with Abaddon's but they're far greater than your average saturday-night chaos raid. These conflicts can reach anywhere from sub-sectors, whole sectors or several; depending of the objectives or ambition of the one who put themselves in charge (usually by skullbashing) and the bloodlust of his troops. Regardless, these "minor" Black Crusades are awful events (save for Chaos, obviously) that see billions dead and war at great scale, to the point that even Astartes' plot armor barely make it and many forces are drawn into the meat grinder to halt them. However they're usually halted, or not. It depends of the mood of the gods or the importance the Militarum Command puts on them.
To finish: Have you ever played a multi-game or map campaign with your CSM army, specially with Chaos Allies? Or you and your heretic friends thought of make some use to the tons of troops that pledged themselves to you and start a war to gain the last ounces of favor needed for Apotheosis? Then congrats, you have, or are on the way to, lead your very own Black Crusade! Now go out there and smack some more loyalist ass, champ!