"...for there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men."
- – Moby Dick
Luthor Harkon is the primary pirate of the Warhammer Fantasy setting, dating back to the Warhammer Armies: Undead Army Book for 4th edition, having been mentioned throughout Warhammer history since.
Harkon is a Vampire pirate, leader of the Zombie Pirates faction, which is found off the eastern coast of Lustria. Thanks to being such an old character that has been touched on a lot and expanded very little, there're some substantial differences in editions between versions of Harkon. But his primary defining trait, being
FUCKING CRAZYLUUUUTHOOOR HAAAARKON!!!, is consistent, while the rest of the details can actually be resolved with each other using minimal mental gymnastics.
Depending on his current mood, he calls himself the Arch Grand Commodore, the King Of the Vampire Coast (or some derivative of that), or, in the End Times event, the Mortarch Of The Abyss.
Also, he's the only Warhammer character with an official themesong: the Tattered Sails Shanty.
Luthor Harkon began life in Nehekhara, as a member of a tribe called the Harkoni. At the time, he was called Lutr. He was brought into the city guard of Lahmia by Abhorash, due to his skill in battle (this particular bit of lore comes from the Master Of Death novel), and appointed one of Abhorash's four primary lieutenants. Luthor guarded the harbor while his cousin Walak Harkon guarded the palace (this is a retcon used by Gav Thorpe to minimize confusion with the two having the same last name but not previously being related). Either Abhorash or Walak made him a Vampire; it's unclear who.
How Harkon participated in the fall of Lahmia and the second defeat of Nagash (start clicking links to read that story, its not relevant enough to retell on this page) is still vague, but we do know that he traveled with Abhorash afterwards, meaning he probably fought valiantly against the living to defend the city until there was nothing left to defend. At some point he became separated from Abhorash, instead finding refuge in Mourkain under the command of Ushoran. After that city ALSO fell (again, not relevant enough to get into here) Harkon once again left. Technically this makes him either a Lahmian, a Blood Dragon, a Strigoi, or nothing in particular, depending on how you look at it.
None of the above actually matters, since Harkon doesn't remember his own origins and never exhibits any Bloodline traits.
During the year 876 of the Imperial Calendar an Empire merchant ship was attacked by Norscan pirates, who stole everything aboard and slaughtered the crew. Unfortunately for the Norscans, Luthor's coffin was among the loot. We never found out how he got there; he doesn't remember it either. The ship sailed towards Lustria, and at some point Luthor turned them all into zombies. He made a home where he landed, turning all the corpses that washed up on the shore for various reasons (this is after all a setting where you can just kind of dig in random places and find pits full of skulls) into members of his zombie empire, which eventually became known as the Vampire Coast. High Elves and Norscans, the two primary naval powers of the setting, both stayed away, since Harkon managed to pull everything from Banshees (which he calls "Syreens") to ghost ships into his service. His zombies are far more impressive than what could normally be called a zombie, retaining intelligence and personality from life (although no willpower to disobey), as well as the dexterity needed for sailing and even using ranged weaponry.
Eventually he found an abandoned Lizardman city in the jungles, called Huatl. In the city's temple he found an undisturbed chamber, but the undead he sent to excavate it were disenchanted by the glyph protections, turning them back into lifeless corpses. Out of frustration, he tried to blast it with magic, not realizing that the protections were strong enough to keep fucking Greater Daemons of Tzeentch out. As the glyphs began to drain the magic out of his body, the chamber began to collapse around him. Only with all of his willpower was he able to break himself free and escape with his unlife. This experience had two unique effects. The first was that it transformed him into a peculiar type of being: an undead animated by magic, but cut off from the Winds Of Magic (other than his power to animate zombies). His detachment from the Winds is so strong he exudes an anti-magic field stronger than that of an entire army of Dwarfs. The second is that it shattered his mind, resulting in Harkon gaining an extreme case of multiple personality disorder; his body plays host to twelve Harkons. At any given point his body is controlled by one of these personalities, although he occasionally lapses into a semi-comatose state when they are evenly matched, until a victor emerges to take control again. On the other hand, when mental strain becomes too much for one of his personalities, another will take control, allowing Harkon to continue on with whatever he is doing with renewed morale and focus. All of his personalities have different goals, save one; stealing Lizardmen shit, which all of them think will help them find a way to heal the split.
Having retained his ability to create undead, he continued to expand his armies, and no force that has come against him, by land or by sea, has stood a chance. Luthor has been such a major factor in Lizardmen plans that there are literal prophesies in their history that they work to ensure come true about their battles against him. In the year 930, it took both a Slann and the fucking legendary Kroxigor hero Nakai The Wanderer just to keep him from gaining an invasion route into central Lustria. In 1011, he cast a spell to draw ships from all over the world to his coasts for sixteen years, then sent the resulting undead armada of armadas to capture even more ships and bring the corpses back. By 1351 his pirate army was so enormous that he was able to defeat the full strength of the Lizardmen, sacking the sacred city of Axlotl and looting everything that the Skinks weren't able to haul away (literally EVERYTHING. No stone remains in its original location). Since then, the Lizardmen have considered Harkon their most pressing threat, after only Chaos.
As for Harkon, he spend 400 years learning what he could from Axlotl. At the end of it, he was able to create legendary relics called "Ebony Skulls", which he sent throughout the world as gifts to pirates, raiders, and just about every other aggressive and power-hungry potential ally. When thrown at the ground the skulls grant necromantic powers to the user, but doing so enters them into a contract with Harkon whereupon their souls belong to him. These invaders now swarm Lustria as well as the rest of the world, bringing corpses and treasure alike to Harkon either by his command or simply their own greed and ruthlessness. All things that die end up on the Vampire Coast.
Oh, he also stole a Hellhammer Cannon from the Empire, the "Queen Bess", which is THE single biggest cannon in the entire world. Its mounted on the front of his ship. Just in case the rest wasn't enough.
He also gained a second in command at some point, the dimwitted but intensely loyal Captain Drekla, who had a hook for a left hand which he lost in service to Harkon.
Despite being immensely powerful and insane, Harkon immediately surrendered to Nagash the moment he got word Nagash had come back to the world of the living. Why is unclear, possibly loyalty from his origins if one of his personalities remembers, possibly boredom, possibly because he thought either Nagash could cure him or could be tricked into invading Lustria. Either way Nagash granted him the title of Mortarch Of The Abyss for his loyalty, then commanded him and his fleets to sail up the River Mortis (Warhammer version of The Nile) and defeat the immensely powerful (but generally unused) fleet of the Tomb Kings, which he accomplished easily via not only Queen Bess but also several secret weapons including fire ships made using Salamander bladders, undead sea monsters of every variety, boarding parties from civilizations who perfected naval battle over the course of history, and many more. His armada was massive and made up of ships from every nation in the world at every point of history, but large numbers of them just smashed against the rocks or beached themselves on the shore with the zombie crews shambling out to take the coastlines. Harkon met up with Mannfred Von Carstein as instructed and the two made up the bulk of Nagash's armies in Nehekhara with Drekla reinforcing both as needed, although Harkon looted just about anything not nailed down along the way which slowed their progression, and everywhere he went he left zombies and Tomb King skeletons alike buried in sand and mud continuing to fight long after their masters abandoned them. At one point he secured victory with a giant swarm of bats and himself in bat form assassinating the enemy Liche Priest.
Harkon was left to his own devices after that, doing what batshit insane pirates do with their spare time, until Nagash called on him to join Mannfred in defending Sylvania against the forces of Nurgle, which were lead by Drachenfels and the Daemon-possessed Isabella Von Carstein. Mannfred had come to hate Luthor and generally disregarded the concept of working together while looking for an opportunity to take over Harkon's zombie apocalypse-tier army, although instead he spent the battle weakening Harkon's magic and allowing the already badly deployed force to be mulched by the Daemons.
Harkon's zombie army was eventually taken over by Drachenfels, forcing him and Drekla to flee to a small inn called the Dead And Buried. Mannfred killed one of Harkon's captains and shredded his soul to keep his own Dread Abyssal mount alive after it contracted a disease from the Daemons, and in return Harkon was about to behead Mannfred until Nagash's small reinforcement force arrived and saved him. They were joined by some of the most powerful Vampires in the world in that ironically named inn, including Vlad Von Carstein himself. The Vampires were overrun however, and in the battle Harkon slipped into one of his most insane personalities which attacked without thought for self-preservation and swore in barely coherent pirate ramblings. Drekla died protecting him from a Great Unclean One which Mannfred and Harkon killed together, only for Mannfred to steal it's soul to fully heal his Dread Abyssal and flee the battle to escape Isabella. Harkon attempted to hitch a ride only for Mannfred to cut his hand off and let him fall into the horde of Daemons (not because Harkon hindered his escape of course, just because Mannfred is an asshole). Harkon, alone with broken legs but at the peak of his rage, managed to hold off the literally infinite horde of Daemons until Isabella herself simply appeared before him and cut off his hand, instructed the Plaguebearers to hold him down, and via a simple touch to the cheek managed to transfer a rot that instantly killed him (despite external working around him) by melting him.
Because he was too awesome to stay down he was added to Total War: Warhammer 2 via the Vampire Coast DLC alongside a host of other pirates, Luthor Harkon has to battle against Lizardmen, Elves, greenskins, the forces of Chaos, and other pirates in his quest for regained sanity as well as, if he wants it, command of Amanar the Merwyrm of the High Elves. Also, fight anyone else he wants because he's fucking Luthor Harkona and he can do what he wants, besides he deserves a timeline where he doesn't end as nurglish sludge . While he certainly has multiple personalities still, the one on display in the cinematic reveal trailer for the DLC is surprisingly amiable as he cheerfully tells his life story to the corpse of a dead sailor, pausing to watch a battle between his fleet and the Empire several times, until he digs up a Lizardmen artifact. In the TWW canon he is confirmed to have been turned into a Vampire by Abhorash and thus inherits a Blood Dragon statline, but his Strigoi influence is shown by being the only non-Strigoi who can ride a Terrorgheist outside of Age of Sigmar.
You can actually succeed in restoring him to sanity by doing a quest to collect Slann Gold and unearthing a Lizardman vault in his home settlement, and if you do so the rewards are great as he regains the ability to use magic and becomes a very powerful Lore of Deeps caster. Sadly none of his in-game dialogue changes and his animations still have him spasm like a lunatic.
Harkon's personal army, first introduced in White Dwarf issue #305. Unlike the zombies of the Vampire Counts, Harkon's undead are functional enough to use ranged weaponry; they favour black powder weapons. Furthermore, they aren't impeded by water hazards.
The army isn't particularly powerful, but it's wacky, and can hold its own, somewhat, outside of competitive play.
As mentioned miles above this section, on November 8th, the Vampire Coast faction for Total War: Warhammer II will be launched; its roster is based primarily on this one, with some new stuff listed at the very bottom.
- Vampire Fleet Captains: Captains chosen by Harkon to be raised as Vampires rather than zombies. Sometimes he calls them his "Shipwights", even though the pun doesn't work because they’re neither Wights nor shipwrights. Fleet Captains are generally insane, aside from Drekla who is just an idiot.
- Syreen: Banshees. Their name is yet again more of Harkon's curious name choice.
- Deckhands Mob: The lowest of his forces, using rusty melee weapons.
- Gunnery Mob: Zombies with dakka.
- Bloated Corpses: Zombies that explode from the gasses and deadly bacteria living inside.
- Scurvy Dogs: He probably only raised these for the pun. They're zombie dogs.
- Razortooth Rats: Zombie rats. Yep, Harkon is pretty scary.
- Deck Droppers: Fell Bats. Carrying a zombie to drop on the enemy. And the zombies have guns. Fucking hell, Harkon is broken in the head. In Total War: Warhammer II, there's a variant that can drop bombs on the enemy instead.
- Carronade: A cannon, manned by zombies. Inferior to those of the Empire, obviously still powerful.
- Animated Hulks: Zombie Ogres. Less scary than they should be given zombification seems to work more like normal compared to Harkon's usual intelligent zombies. Although its still a fucking zombie Ogre commanded by Luthor fucking Harkon. In Total War: Warhammer II these are Bloated Corpses 'adjusted' by necromancers instead, but they fill the same role. The TWW version has them armed with either anchors as melee weapons, or with cannons strapped to their arm.
- Deck Gunners: Swivel cannon gunners. Better than Carronades, but it's still zombies taking aim, so you still have a chance. Until you get a zombie dropped on you by a giant bat, anyway.
- Rotting Leviathan: It's a seamonster of some kind, like a giant crab called a Promethean or a sea dragon. A dead one that's been turned into a zombie anyway. In Total War: Warhammer II, these are all big Prometheans, and have multiple riflemen on the crow's nest atop the monster.
- Queen Bess: Stolen at some point from the Empire, nobody knows when or from where. Its type was counted among the number of the biggest cannon in the world before Harkon modified it during one of the events of what is apparently an engineer personality taking over which included reducing its size. Normally mounted on his flagship, he's not above bringing it into any battle he needs that she's needed. The TWW version causes units caught in the blast radius to take a movement penalty, making them vulnerable to follow-up attacks.
The following units were added by Creative Assembly to help round out the faction. No official rules exist for them, but since we’re assuming you’re reading this article because you were inspired by the DLC, they’re included for completeness. Many of them are poached from Dreadfleet, the Monstrous Arcanum, or elsewhere in Warhammer lore. The Zombie Deckhands and Gunnery Mobs also have a few new options in terms of kit, such as polearms, rifles, blunderbusses, grenades, and so on. The pre-launch roster information is here and here.
- Depth Guard: Heavy infantry vampires armed with axes or polearms. Their armor resembles that of the Blood Knights, but the closed helmets and general colors make them look like antique diving suits. Functionally similar to the Vampire Counts' Grave Guard; however, they have sacrificed their ability to hold for the ability to deal more damage and as Vampires they have independence by themselves before they start to disintegrate. They also don't have shields, making them vulnerable to missile fire. In general though, the Coast's playstyle is being about doing a shitload of damage very quickly; the entire army doesn't have much staying power. These guys are essentially to the other infantry forces the same way Blood Knights are to Black Knights and Hexwraiths.
- Rotting Promethean: CA decided to create a smaller version of the Leviathan to allow the army to field more tanky units to shore up the otherwise relatively weak zombies. Comes either naked or with a two-man crew of gunners on their backs. They also have charge defense vs. large, so you can use them to protect your artillery and missile troops against those pesky lancers.
- Mourngul: Take the wendigo of Algonquian legend and give it the Warhammer treatment. What you’ve got left is a terrifying beast that is disembowled from the waist down, and a mouth full of needle-like teeth. This beast works well as a DISTRACTION CARNIFEX, since they are fast, scary, and can heal themselves while engaged in melee - most likely by devouring its victims. The model is still sold by Forgeworld.
- Necrofex Colossus: Do you like pirate ships, but hate that you can’t take them with you on land? Now you can! The Colossus is almost like the vampiric equivalent of a Daemon Engine; to power the construct, it has a core of undead corpses in the center of its hull, allowing it to walk and use its weapons. Speaking of weapons, this thing uses four cannons strapped together for devastating long-range attacks. Oh, and when something finally knocks it down to half health, some of those corpses fall out and start biting at whoever was stupid enough to get within melee range. Sadly it never got a model. The fanbase was obsessed with trying to figure out how it reloads itself, then CA showed it in a video, animation and all, which demonstrates once again they are boss. If you want one for the tabletop, Reaper Miniatures sells a decent proxy here.
- Gunnery Wight: Still not actually a Wight, apparently. Carries a very large rifle, which it can use surprisingly effectively given it's a zombie, but its really marketable skill is that it can refill the ammunition of nearby units. Since Vampire Coast missile units get a damage buff when their ammo levels are over a certain threshold which is when the army makes or breaks a battle, this is a pretty big deal.
- Death Shriek Terrorgheist: You know this thing from the Vampire Counts army list. Big undead bat-thing that scares people and also eats people. There's nothing particularly unique about it, except that Harkon has somehow figured out how to ride one. At this point its shocking he didn't decide to ride a Deck Dropper like a surfboard and throw Scurvy Dogs like bombs.
- Mortars: They send rounds up, and then the rounds come back down again. Hopefully on top of an enemy unit, and not one of your own, but crewing these things with zombies means shouldering some amount of risk. Supposed to be good in conjunction with Queen Bess, since in Total War she slows down anything she hits. In practice this is best as a campaign tactic, since the cost of loading up Mortars AND the Queen in battle leaves you with not a lot else in case your opponent can react fast enough.
An older piece of art depicting what is implied to be Harkon, by Adrian Smith.
A John Blanche piece depicting Harkon.
...aside from this miniature, a conversion featured in a republishing of his army list in Warhammer Chronicle.
The Norba Miniatures version of Harkon, because 3p do what official don't.