Fleets of Chaos
The Imperial Navy's spikier and crazier opposite number, Chaos Fleets are a catch-all term for ships that over the millennia went renegade, and now swear loyalty to the Ruinous Powers. Most of these make their home in large Warp Rifts like the Eye of Terror or the Maelstrom, but many also haunt the lawless frontiers of many subsectors as pirates.
While most of these are disorganized rabble, there are also those who retained some sort of discipline and coordination, with the fleets of the Traitor Legions foremost among these. A single Renegade ship will be a terror to the tradeways of a system, but a Traitor Legion fleet can bring entire planets to heel (see the Word Bearers and their invasion of the White Consuls protectorate world of Sabatine).
Often these renegades assemble under the banner of a powerful Warlord (like Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs), but rarely the Warmaster of Chaos himself, Abaddon the Despoiler, will rally a massive fleet to his command. When this armada finally sallies forth from the Eye, entire sectors burn, their populations becoming sacrifices to the Dark Gods.
Interestingly, Chaos ships are usually made for kiting the enemy from long range. This can be seen either as the cowardice common to bullies or as an impersonal, clinical approach to war. Chaos forces are anything but impersonal in a fight. Just saying. Although, since their ships used to be Imperial...
It is also worth noting that most Chaos ships were not always discontinued by the Imperium due to a habit of turning renegade (some classes suffered this, but not all). Some of them were simply phased out and replaced by ships that honestly don't even fill the same role as the vessels they replaced, defeating the entire concept of phasing out old designs for new ones. Not so inferior, too, seeing as Black Crusades kick a lot of ass with those supposedly "outdated" warships.
The general explanation for phasing out older ships is that their older tech is harder to maintain to the standards of the Imperial Navy, and that they no longer fit current fleet doctrine. (Consider a few things, though. The forces of Chaos manage to maintain them adequately, and while they're nowhere near as reliant on hand-me-downs from the Imperium as some may say, they've still got nowhere near the resources or logistics. The explanation that they don't fit into fleet doctrine also doesn't make much sense, since there's not many situations where banks upon banks of long range, powerful lance batteries wouldn't be helpful for supporting your brawling ships.
The Claws of the Dark Gods
Compared to the ships of the Imperial Navy, who have a common Gothic design theme to them, the ships of Chaos are an eclectic sort, made up of a hodgepodge of classes and sizes. That said, the bigger ships have a tendency to have a wider and sleeker profile to them (those that haven't been mutated extensively, that is), with older ships lacking the armored prow so common for Imperial ships.
Another thing common to Chaos ships are how much faster they are compared to Loyalist ships, with even Battleships being able to outpace their opposite numbers easily. This makes sense, as your average Renegade ship is as much a raider as it is a ship of line, and speed is always a consideration if one wants to get away with plunder before the Navy arrives to investigate.
More importantly, they are usually long-range vessels and take advantage of the speed boost from not having an armored prow by mounting a plethora of short-range missiles and sometimes torpedoes (more rarely than Imperials, though). This lets Chaos ship classes and their loyalist counterparts either kite heavy ships and use short-range firepower to quickly overwhelm torpedo boats that get too close (or finish off charging heavy ships) or charge at the enemy and rely on massive short-ranged prow-mounted weapons to interfere with enemy incoming fire (due to the distances in space combat) or enemy torpedoes (one of the biggest threats in 40k naval warfare) and literally shoot through enemy escorts. Armored prows counter this in their own way, resulting in Chaos and Imperial ships being roughly equal through different, conflicting methods.
Due to being relatively less armored compared to Imperial vessels, Chaos vessels focus on being able to destroy things from extreme range. So they focus on using laser/lances weapons, missile macrolaunchers & launch bays to send Attack Craft (either possessed by daemons or manually controlled by servants or slaves) to strike their enemies. That way, the traitors can do raiding strikes easily & pillage planets & ships without much effort, and then fuck off when the enemy reinforcements come; And when its time for a massive attack against Chaos enemies, they will deal enormous damage to the enemy before they reach at attack distance of the Chaos fleet....which could just try to still keep their distance, or just fuck off to the Eye of Terror with no much damage, while they have to lick their wounds, damaged, and less prepared for any future battles. In this way, Chaos fleets have been the bane of the Imperium commerce, and void control for millennia. Heretic Astartes ships are a different matter entirely, of course, as these still have enough armor to duke it out in a close-ranged brawl.
Add to this mix the variety that Marks of Chaos bring, and this means that one fleet can be very different to the next despite having the same numbers and classes of ships. Because of course a Cruiser dedicated to Khorne will act very differently compared to one worshipping Slaanesh. And this isn't even getting into actual Daemon-possessed ships...
The main ships are battleships, cruisers, escorts, and fighters .Each ship can also be classified by its weaponry, and role in the battlefleet:
- Basic: Jack of All Trades ships, due to having multiples weapons types, and not being specialized into any. Lunar class cruisers are the prime example, having macrobateries, lances & torpedoes. Where Imperial basic ships tend to take a half-and-half approach, Chaos basics tend towards a heavier leaning on weapons batteries or lances, like two-thirds of one and one-third of the other (not literally, just to give the general idea).
- Lance-boats: Ships that focuses into Lance weaponry, used for long-range focused attacks, especially against small ships & unshielded ones. Rarer as they have a weakness to Void Shields and require better drives due to the power requirements of the lances.
- Ordnance-boat: Opposite of the Lance-boat, replaces Lances with more Macrobatteries, focusing mostly into medium & short range brawls against enemy ships. Usually this is because they need extra power due to mounting a Nova Cannon or having power-hungry macrobatteries such as Plasma Cannons.
- Carrier: A favored one on the Traitors & Chaos fleets, which are focused on raiding & striking fast and from a distance, and so this class of ships is more common in said fleets than on the Imperial Navy.
A design predating the Heresy, and by being designed to emphasize range and carries Torpedos, Broadside Lances and Dorsal Macrobatteries the Desolator emphasizes killing things at extreme range, and it does that really well. It comes with front-facing Torpedo Launchers, Lance broadside batteries, and macrocannons up the wazoo.
- Desecrator: The carrier variant of the Desolator. Replaces half the Broadside Lances with Landing Bays. Shared the same fate as its sister class and is now only seen in Chaos fleets. Traitorous despite its clearly pious and Emperor-loving name.
A Carrier based around a design found on Barbarus, the homeworld of the Death Guard Primarch Mortarion. Flaws in its Geller Field led to many going renegade through the millennia (as if the name wasn't a clue). Possibly even more dangerous at long range than the Desolator, the Despoiler supplements its already impressive Lance and macrocannon batteries with several Launch Bays worth of fighters and bombers.
- Despite being a new class, GW fucked up their fluff and had Rogal Dorn disappear aboard a Despoiler, 5000 years before the class was created. Note this class was actually already named "Despoiler-class" by the Imperium. Yet, they were surprised the things went traitor. Wow. Also, after fixing the Gellar Field problem, the Imperium still decided not to build more, which was stupid since there was no longer a reason not to. I get not wanting to chance it, but beggars can't be choosers.
A massive and rare class of Battleship, the Gloriana was created to be flagships of Primarchs. When half of them joined Horus Lupercal's forces, they took their flagships with them, and when Horus lost his fateful duel with the Emperor, these followed their commanders into their escape to the Eye of Terror.
Originally called the Corinus-class, many went over to the Despoilers cause when the experimental drives it used interfered with its Geller field. Whoops. Suddenly, the Mechanicus spending centuries testing every little thing before producing that thing makes a lot of sense, and still isn’t always enough. The class itself is armed with both Torpedoes and Macrocannons, which oddly enough gives it a (relatively) shorter range than other Chaos ships.
An old design from which current-day Battlecruisers and Cruisers are descended from. Though still used by the Imperium, many had gone over to Chaos' cause over the centuries. Due to its suite of Lances and long-ranged macro batteries, it fits with the preferred M.O. of Chaos disturbingly well.
The Carrier of the Grand Cruisers, it carries a mix of Macros, Lances, and Launch Bays. Because of experiencing the same drive issues as the Repulsive, many went renegade.
The Lance-boat of the Grand Cruisers, the Executor class swapped out its broadside Macros for more Lance batteries. The last of these left Imperial control when its fleet pursued raiders back into the Eye of Terror.
Despite being armed with a mix of long-ranged Macros and Lances, the Styx is actually the Carrier of its class, armed with SIX Launch Bays. SIX squads of bombers or Dreadclaw Assault Boats = a whole lot of pain. The Imperial Navy no longer uses this class, and had replaced it with the Mars instead.
Armed with a mix of Lances and Macrocannons, the Hades is comfortable at both extreme and medium ranges. The closest thing to a Brawler for Chaos cruisers. Its a Murder Class with extra 60cm strength 2 Dorsal Lances, simple but practical.
The Lance-boat of the Heavy Cruisers, barring the front-mounted macro turrets and missile launchers Was initially a testbed for mixed-Lance/Macro batteries, the prototype promptly went Traitor. Underpowered because its broadside Lance batteries are only Strength 2, which the common Devastation cruiser also has but that also has Launch Bays.
The Lance boat of the Chaos cruisers, the Devastation supplements this long-ranged firepower with a pair of Launch Bays to for fighter and bomber support. It's also armed with medium-ranged macro batteries in front, in case battles come a little closer in than usual. Chaos lords love these things, as they use those Launch Bays to sortie assault boats full of mutant fodder.
A mixed-weapons class, the Murder has front-mounted Lance battery and medium-ranged macro broadside batteries. Historically this class preceded the Lunar-class, but Imperials have since stopped using it even in Reserve fleets.
The long-ranged ordinance-boat of the Chaos Cruisers, the Carnage features plasma macro batteries on its front, top, and broadsides. The Imperial Navy intended the class to be plasma-heavy fleet support ships, but the tendency of crews to go Renegade made them abandon its plans.
A high-speed Cruiser, thanks to its Scartix Engine Coil drive, it has the highest speed of any cruiser, period. The Slaughter bucks the usual Chaos S.O.P. by having medium-ranged macro batteries for its front and broadsides. This means that it can get in close, hit its enemies hard, then get out before they retaliate in kind. The Imperium doesn't build the Class anymore, as the designs for the drive were destroyed when one eventually went Traitor.
The equivalent of the Dauntless class of Imperial Navy Light Cruisers, the Hellbringer comes in two types. The first one comes with a pair of Launch Bays, while the second replaces those for Lance batteries. Both come with long-ranged heavy macro turrets as standard.
A mixed-armed Raider, the Idolator features a prow-mounted Lance battery and a Macro launcher. One of the best Escorts in the game and a complete upgrade over the Imperial-Firestorm class for only 5 points more. The multi-directional macro cannons can fire 45CM and dont take a penalty for distance, while moving 30cm a turn. a Bargain for its effectiveness.
Known for the unusual placement of its bridge (right in front), the Iconoclast featues firepower 3 Macro launchers. Rogue Traders and Pirates seem to like it, for some reason, even when its generally seen as mediocre at best.
A warship-turned-daemon engine, Daemonships aren't a specific class, but refers to any spaceship that has been taken over by a Greater Daemon of Chaos. It is no longer a "ship" in the conventional sense as a daemonship is a living entity, a machine given flesh and soul. The further it mutates: the less it looks like a ship and the more it resembles a flying colossal daemon: growing things like teeth, eyes, tentacles, and other organic appendages. As it's alive, it technically doesn't need a crew to function, although it may allow mortals to board and ride around in it if the ship feels generous (like with Typhus and his horribly corrupted flagship: the Terminus Est) or if some guy binds it to his service forcibly (easier said than done).
They've been around for millennia, even in the early days of the Imperium: and there has been many an Imperial ghost story, where these lone ships suddenly haunt an area as a malign apparition, before it suddenly translates into realspace for an attack. After its appetite for slaughter had been sated, said phantoms disappear back into the warp, leaving devastation in their wake.
How exactly Daemonships are created isn't fully understood. A leading theory is that the crew willingly offer themselves up to the Dark Gods, and a daemon proceeds to infest their ship and turn it into an abomination of corrupted, living metal. Some info from captured renegade Navigators say that the crew may make certain forbidden pacts that would allow a daemon to infest a space vessel. While some say that daemonships were lost ships that have spent so much time in the Warp unprotected, that daemons eventually found it and took over.
Whatever the case, Daemonships are fearsome and terrifying opponents whenever they appear, and woe betide anyone who has the ill fortune of having to deal with one of these warp-tainted abominations and survive.
In Battlefleet Gothic
Due to the faster-than-usual speeds, long-ranged weapons, and less-reliable armor, Chaos fleets are more suited to a sniper's playstyle. Bombard from afar, then use your superior speed to keep away from your enemies once they try to move in.
A fleet may have up to three Chaos Lords commanding ships, and each Chaos Lord may select a specific Mark of Chaos. The Mark of Khorne doubles the effectivity of Boarding Actions, while the Mark of Slaanesh hits any enemy warship getting within spitting distance a big Leadership hit. The Mark of Nurgle makes ships tougher and impossible to Board (due to how disgusting such ships are), while finally the Mark of Tzeentch allows a single re-roll.
It's assumed that the crews of the ships are just Renegades, but if a player shells out more points, a vessel may have a Chaos Space Marine crew instead. If taken, one can then get Chaos Terminators. Both increase the effectiveness of Boarding Actions as well as Hit and Run strikes.