"And thanks to Moorcock, whose fault all this is."
- – Warhammer Fantasy, crediting Michael Moorcock
"The urge to destroy is also a creative urge."
- – Mikhail Bakunin
"What could possibly go wrong?"
- – Every single being who ever signed a pact with a demon.
Chaos is a concept which appears in various games, including 40k, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, WFRP, Warhammer Fantasy Battles and the Fighting Fantasy books. There is even a board game dedicated to Chaos where you get to play as the major powers. It means more than simple disorder, and incorporates elements of the Lovecraftian concepts of godlike tentacled abominations, evil cults, and "things man was not meant to know" with a 1950s B-movie interpretation of nuclear radiation. There is even a material, warpstone, which is analogous to fissile material with regard to chaos.
Common features of Chaos include:
- Secrets that the ordinary man cannot be permitted to know.
- Becoming a colossal dick (mostly figuratively but sometimes literally).
- Knowledge that corrupts the bearer and leads him into service of the dark gods.
- Dark gods who capriciously reward as much as punish their followers.
- Summoning Daemons, by letting them (temporarily) escape the Warp/Realm of Chaos.
- Mutations both as a result of the radiation-like influence of Chaos and as gifts from the chaos gods.
- Failing so badly against the Imperium of Man and High Elves that GW retcons decades worth of plot as if the dark gods were merely pretending to be retarded
- Areas blighted by Chaos (such as the Chaos Wastes or the Eye of Terror) and uninhabitable by sane or irreligious people.
- Roaming warbands or dark cults of Chaos-worshipers.
Chaos, as 40kfags know it, was inspired by Moorcock's ideas about Law vs. Chaos from the Eternal Champion series, (and the ancient Egyptian concept of Ma'at vs Isfet). Radiation-like qualities are likely the result of the games in question having been written during the Cold War, with the paranoia that entails. Curiously, Chaos seems more radiation-like in Fantasy than it does in the "sci-fi analogue" 40K (where warpstone isn't really a thing), where it is more likely to be seen in a more metaphysical/spiritual light.
In more recent Warhammer canon, Chaos exists in a multiverse and is connected to numerous other Warhammer settings other than the two (three, with Blood Bowl) known to us. This means any Chaos entity with an external origin was once a mortal being in every universe they appear in, who combined in the Warp like a terrible comicbook reboot. (Take this with a pinch of salt)
A little more humorously (but likely just doomed wishful thinking) the fact there are good aspects of Chaos implies that if you worshiped or practiced rites focusing on those things then Chaos would give you non-horrific blessings and boons. It's not like they care about what emotions and such they feed on so long as its within their sphere of influence. Perhaps you could do the same with bad things. Like praying to Nurgle to "Please let my body find symbiosis with disease without mutating or spreading illness to the unwilling because forcing things on people is mean" to be effectively immune to disease as a mere carrier of disease instead of diseased. Or pray to Khorne to make you immune to bleeding out "Please let my wounds heal but grant me infinite blood so that I can continue shedding my blood and my enemies blood". Use your imagination! Of course, in true Warhammer fashion, Chaos likely is all of their emotional preferences simultaneously all up to eleven and totally inseparable. So those prayers would be answered along with turning you into a poxy undead thing that never stops bleeding. This sort of worship seemed to be more or less what was going on in the Daemon World novel but straight and honest instead of rudely adding all the bad with the good. Which kinda made you root for Chaos in the story.
Followers of Chaos
There are lots of followers of chaos. Every single one of them has to be considered "armed and dangerous" even when unarmed.
- Sorcerers: Guys who have magic powers.
- Psykers: Guys who have psychic powers.
- Beastmen: Savage beasts made because of freakish warp exposure. Might be furries but are actually more useless without someone to lead them. (Are Tzaangors "featheries?
Does that make humans "fleshies?"*BLAM* You would denigrate the purity of the Human form? Suffer not the anthropomorphic to live but the anthropic alone!)
- Chaos Cults: Your average joe who decides that life sucks, might as well get that sense of community and brotherhood in a group that extols values such as "flaying yourself for Khorne" or "bathing in pus with Nurgle." More enjoyable for the aforementioned average joes, however, is "fucking every bitch, and in turn, being fucked by every bitch for Slaanesh." Because hey, if you're gonna worship a fucking demon, it might as well be one that gets you laid.
- Lost and the Damned: Cultists on crack! Joking aside, the LatD consists of every chaos follower in 40k who is not a space marine or daemon. While Beastmen and Cultists are technically part of the LatD, the Lost and the Damned is mostly used in reference to renegade Guardsman.
- Warriors of Chaos: Badass evil mother-fucking vikings clad in armor that looks fucking awesome. Basically the fantasy equivalent to chaos space marines. In war, they are lead by a Champion of Chaos, a sorcerer, or really anyone capable of leading a couple of deranged, superhuman war incarnates into battle.
- Chaos Space Marines: A bunch of guys whose leader had a few daddy issues with Empy. Basically the 40k equivalent to chaos warriors. In war, they are led by a chaos lord or a sorcerer or really anyone or anything capable of leading a handful of deranged, superhuman war incarnates in battle.
- Daemons: Creatures made of rape and lemon juice and the jizz of their gods. Exist because you have bad thoughts.
- Matt Ward: Skub given flesh.
- Grand Alliance: Chaos
Gods of Chaos
In both the Fantasy and 40k settings there are four chief Chaos deities, and a number of minor gods. Perhaps these main four gods' primary contribution to the true horror of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 (especially that one) is that they are in below order: Honor, Hope, Compassion, and Love. Yes, in Warhammer the gods of everything good in the universe are evil.
On the worse side, it seems the Gods of Chaos must be pulling double-duty as the Gods of Order considering they also have aspects that can be associated with Order or Law. More clear when Chaos Undivided is considered as the pros and cons of each power tend to balance out and compliment when put together (change and stagnation, bloodshed and endurance, planning and perfection, etc.).
God of Hate, Rage, Blood, War, Battle, Combat, Violence, Strength, Wrath, Fighting and Killing, Survival of the Fittest, and Honor
Stated as being the strongest Chaos God due to all the violence in the Warhammers (one of which has only war, or so we're told), and the Chaos Gods themselves being nothing more than palpable manifestations of abstract emotion and philosophy who thus are fed whenever these things are exerted in the real world. In fact, just by playing the game you make Khorne stronger. In a parallel version of the Warhammer Fantasy universe, Blood Bowl, he has his own football team.
God of Change, Lies, Hope, Ambition, Manipulation, Scheming and Sorcery, Politics, Planning, Knowledge, Fate, Hope, Trolling, (formerly) Magic and Lulz
"Chaos exists in a state of permanent victory over you - you dance to our tune, mortal one, you butcher and torture and repress one another because the gods of the warp require you to... My lord Tzeentch won your war a long, long time ago."
- – Ghargatuloth, Daemon Prince of Tzeentch
Tzeentch is prone to utter the phrase "JUST AS PLANNED". Second strongest and the most successful Chaos God for some reason. Probably because the oppressed peasantry and ambitious warriors are always hoping for food/death/glory. Respectively. Since the nature of Chaos is stated above. In Warhammer Fantasy he's more important as he's the Chaos God of magic,
which is ironic because not only does he do all of jack and shit in Fantasy but he also has the weakest Daemons in the army (even his own special magic lore sucks) Gameplay and Story Segregation/ maybe Games Workshop hates Tzeentch or aren't skilled enough to write him well. He claims to be the origin of all magic, but that's bullshit since that would make him the origin of everything, including the other Chaos Gods; so we know he's a fucking liar on top of being a NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERD! Super nerd, really, as Tzeentch is made of every thought and idea that has ever existed, does exist, and will exist.
God of Decay, Despair, Acceptance, Destruction, Rebirth, Disease, Persistence, Endurance, Tolerance, Compassion, and Empathy
Also known as "Papa Nurgle" or "Grandfather Nurgle", the bloated lord of disease arose from man's fear of death. His followers are afflicted with various awful plagues, but do not suffer or die of them. As well as this respite, he offers those who worship him a sense of family and belonging which is incongruous with the usual attitudes of the chaos gods and his own fearsome appearance. Cited in books as being the third strongest of the gods, until a jolly plague party pops up, where he temporarily overshadows his brothers until the party(participants) dies off. He runs a carnival in Warhammer Fantasy proving once more that all clowns are evil beings full of disease that want to take you away from your parents.
God of Excess, Decadence, Pain, Pleasure, Perfection, Aesthetics, Self Indulgence, and Love
Slaanesh gave us Daemonettes. PLEASE NOTE: Daemonettes are not as attractive in the canon as they are in the pictures on this site (sometimes). In fact they traditionally only have one breast and have crab claws for hands. For one edition, Hordes of Chaos, they got a revamp to be much sexier, with a mixture of scythe-blade hands and human hands, and being pretty obviously feminine (often with multiple breasts), which is where most of the love for them comes from. They got changed back the very next edition, along with the loss of Chaos Undivided as its own force. Slaanesh is fairly active in the 'hammer universes. In 40k they were birthed from the non-stop 80's mosh orgy of the Eldar and as a result has claim to each and every Eldar soul, which they eat like popcorn. In Fantasy they prefer making Elves into Daemonettes, enjoying them as an occasional dessert while they watch their figure (in a mirror, at all times).
No way someone can convince anyone else that Slaanesh isn't all sex, drugs and Rock and Roll.
A renegade Chaos God, representing the paradox of Chaos fighting against itself.
Malal has been reintroduced under the name of Malice through the Short story of the Sons of Malice: "Labyrinth". Long since removed from the setting ever since GW couldn't decide who owned the rights. JUST AS PLANNED. Malal likes random violence and smashing stuff, which makes him chaotic neutral, because he is just as likely to mess up the other Chaos Gods plans as it is to prey on Humans and stuff. In short when all the other 4 Chaos gods got together to hatch a plan, Malal storms in and shouts "SURPRISE!!!" and proceeds to try to kill, mutilate set fire to, and destroy anything within reach. Even Khorne has some self discipline and can (though barely) hold it together to have a chat about how to get more Blood and Skulls - Malal just destroys anything within reach - It is completely unhinged and revels in random destruction and violence. Each time Chaos squabbles, Malal gets stronger.
Now of dubious canonicity between the copyright issues and GW simply not giving a shit.
Chaos Vermin Lord, rebellious 13th God.
Existing only in Fantasy, the Horned Rat is a daemonic entity of unknown origin who has somehow become the patron deity of a race of rat-men called "Skaven" in his image to worship him. As they grew in power, so did he. While possessing an intellect and planning comparable to Tzeentchian Greater Daemons (although without the master nerd sabotaging him), he's also very brutish and when summoned by his followers will oftentimes behave as an unintelligent monster, rampaging through their ranks and consuming his most loyal minions before returning to the Warp.
While they have only been mentioned sparingly, and recent fluff has abandoned them for all intents and purposes, there were once four Chaos entities of Order (Chaos being potential after all, not always "inside out walrus" logic) in Warhammer Fantasy. They are also sometimes called the gods of Law. Their most prominent appearance is in the first edition of the Warhammer Fantasy roleplay. Their canonicity is dubious at best at this point, as they have never been mentioned anywhere else since then. The Emperor of Mankind is speculated to transform into the Warp God of Order should he be allowed to die.
There are three mentioned by name. Alluminas was a god of light who shined eternally, freezing in place anything his light touched. His worship was said to be unknowable by mortal minds. Arianka was essentially Snow White, a being Tzeentch and the Horned Rat both feared, while Malal saw an opportunity to increase his own power, who was trapped in the mortal world in a crystalline coffin. This coffin is supposed to be under Praag and can be opened with a crystal key. Solkan empowered those who fought Chaos, including Witch Hunters, in a manner more akin to Malal with some self-restraint.
The Long War
Chaos as a faction is notable for their meta role in both WHFB and WH40k - keeping the Grimdark at maximum dark grimness. They are one of the most evil factions in either setting, of course, but it goes deeper than that. A big part of the suck in both universes is that the most implacable enemy is not just insanely evil, but that no faction has a working game plan to shut Chaos down. No matter how often the good guys (or bad guys who are not Chaos) win, that's just a temporary victory. But the victories of Chaos are sometimes permanent and universe-changing, such as when they tore the galaxy a new asshole or destroyed the goddamn WHFB world.
An in-universe pep talk the forces of Chaos sometimes give each other is that they're fighting the "Long War" and that they will defeat the Imperium in the end, no matter how long it takes. From what we know so far this is a perfectly accurate assessment. There are some fringe cases where somebody comes up with a plan to save the setting from Chaos forever, but there's no hard evidence that these plans will work and some definite cases of this ending in complete failure. There is one reliable path to smashing Chaos, with a very notable downside - killing every sentient creature with a soul in the
universe galaxy would leave Chaos too weak to do anything, until a new species arises that fits the bill at least. Only the Tyranids or Necrons can "save" us from Chaos through the straightforward process of omnicide, and even then the benefits can be considered debatable at best. And yes, your soul not being devoured by daemons because you were killed before they could get you is a benefit.
The Great Game
The reason the Long War is taking so long. See, Chaos doesn't play well with each other. Khorne hates Slaanesh, Nurgle hates Tzeentch, and every other possible pairing of the four-or-fivesome at the very least don't like each other much. So, they endeavor to be the last man(?) standing, defeating the other gods by conquest, trickery, or just not showing up whenever they need backup against the Emprah.
If you'd like a good perspective of how the gods view this Great Game, try Chaos in the Old World, which turns this Great Game into a literal board game where the players take the role of a specific god in the WHFB pantheon. Special mention goes to how the game incentivizes crabs-in-a-bucket mentality: You don't really win as much as you avoid the rest of the pantheon's attention long enough that they let you win.