"Bah! Not even the deepest Tyranid hive was as foul as that scum!"
- – Sergeant Avitus after prolonged exposure to a Plague Champion
Plague Marines are Chaos marines who have sworn themselves to The Plague God. In return for their loyalty, they've been blessed by Nurgle's many contagions and tasks them with spreading their gifts to the rest of the galaxy. Because the galaxy isn't too keen on having a diseased bag of liquefying flesh masquerading as a human being get within visual range, Papa Nurgle's diseases and power have bestowed them with near limitless endurance to aid in their endeavors, allowing Plague Marines to shrug off attacks that would cripple space marines like they were mere scratches. The most powerful of plague marines are called Plague Champions, who are the most horribly diseased and strongest of the bunch. They are essentially sort-of zombified space marines, although unlike traditional zombies, plague marines still retain their higher brain functions, so despite their situation they still possess a taciturn mind to wage war.
A combination of being encased in power armor (even if it is already corroded beyond reasonable use) and being bestowed the characteristics of an undead corpse makes Plague Marines incredibly tough to kill, as nothing short of being blown to smithereens or being thoroughly bathed in promethium will stop them (seeing as flames purify microorganisms and turn flesh to dry ash, the marines effectively lose their advantage in the face of fire). Like all of Nurgle's servants: a Plague Marine's highest ambition is to die and rot, as that is the greatest gift Nurgle can give to his followers, although being the benevolent servants that they are, the marines are more content to share the gift of death and decay to more "unappreciative" individuals before receiving it themselves.
Plague marines are usually armed with a bolter, although they can still use any other weapon that the traitor legions possess like heavy bolters, plasma guns, and missile launchers. They are typically in bad condition due to lack of maintenance and the generally poisonous environment plague marines bring with them. Because corrosion and ruin is but another aspect of Nurgle, they're not keen on repairing their equipment, although despite their weapons decaying, they never seem to have any problems with them malfunctioning at all. They've also recently been spotted with a wide variety of toxin-spewing "plague weapons", such as the blight launcher and plague-belcher.
They can also arm themselves with a Plague Knife, a combat blade that can unleash Nurgle's Rot on its victims. This doctrine dates back to the Horus Heresy where Mortarion equipped every member of the Death Guard with a bolter, bolt pistol, and a close combat weapon and told them to figure out for themselves what weapon to use. Another one of their custom pieces of equipment are blight grenades, which are frag grenades shaped like diseased heads (or made from an actual head taken from a plague victim, who can sometimes still be alive and aware of its fate.). The grenade's damage is two-fold: first is that its shrapnel is infected with diseases, afflicting anyone wounded by it with a myriad of Lovecraftian horror plagues. The second is that it also spreads toxic spores into the air upon exploding, ensuring that even if a squad takes cover from the grenade; they still aren't safe if they inhale the poisoned air that surrounds the blast radius.
Plague Marines originated from the Death Guard and still serve their lazy boss in his Plague World, where they drink tea and don't do all that much. Although currently, Plague Marines have spread outside of the Death Guard and have been a staple in many undivided warbands. In fact, some warbands unaffiliated with the Death Guard can be entirely comprised of Plague Marines, comprised of veterans and newly corrupted marines.
However nowadays, Morty's finally got off his lazy ass and gone to get shit done. He's rallied up his Legion and is currently leading them in the Plague Wars.
Dawn of War 2
Plague Marines came to the Dawn of War series with the Chaos Rising expansion pack for Dawn of War 2, and they are literally broken. They have 4 members ( 500 hp/model ) in a squad, 3.5 health regeneration per model, emit an aura that slows down enemy infantry, slow down less in suppression and fires at normal rate, explode on death which heals allies ( and themselves ) and damage enemy with a knockback. And I haven't started to talk about their weapons yet. They carry 1 missile launcher and 3 plague bolters. The missile does satisfying damage to enemy vehicles ( 6 second cooldown ) and slows them down 25% for 10 seconds. Their bolters don't do huge DPS, but they do damage over time to enemy infantry.
If you didn't notice, they are unnecessarily durable as fuck. And this gets worse as the games goes. Their base health, health regeneration, and damage increases as they level up. You literally need to focus your all ranged firepower on this single squad, and then you will fail. It is literally impossible to wipe them out, unless your enemy doesn't really care about them. If they are behind a heavy cover or under Nurgle worship, you just cannot deal with them. Thankfully, they are only useful against vehicles and capping points under fire. They don't have a real threat for infantry (unless they are in melee, since they explode and stuff)
They have two drawbacks. One is their speed which is 4 (a normal CSM has 5), which is not a huge deal. But they are a big pain in the Chaos economy. They cost 500 / 40, which is a huge deal for a req focused race. The main problem is their upkeep. After getting one of these guys, your req income drops directly into hell. If you keep reinforcing CSM models, generators and stuff, you will be unable to find enough req for anything.
On the Tabletop
On the tabletop, Plague Marines have long been one of the most used troop choice in the 4th edition Chaos Codex, possessing an extra point of toughness due to Mark of Nurgle and also having Feel No Pain, and can equip anything from the armory that normal Chaos Marines can, unlike the other cult marines. They were, for a damned long time, easily the most durable infantry unit for cost CSM had. Even better, they also had True Grit, which let them single-hand their Bolters for an extra attack. In 5th edition, however, they lost this advantage, and they finally had competition hitting the table in the form of the Rubric Marines, which whilst they lack FNP, special weapons, and the toughness bonus, came equipped with AP3 bolters and a 4++ invuln save that allows them to tank the one thing that Plague Marines can't normally handle: the likes of Battle Cannons and Earthshaker Guns. Whilst Plague Marines were still objective-holders par excellence (seeing a squad of 9 hold off 40+ Boyz for an entire game isn't unheard of), more efficient for points, and more versatile, the arrival of their Tzeentchian counterparts meant that they no longer held a complete monopoly on such a battlefield role.
6th edition gave them a mixed bag with Feel No Pain's changes, but gave them a few new goodies: they also have poisoned weapons, and since their cost hasn't changed, it's likely that they will remain a mainstay of many competitive lists. Their only drawback, besides cost, is that have lower initiative than other marines, which most players don't care about. While they got buffed by the 6th edition with the changes to Feel No Pain, the Mark of Nurgle applying to Instant Death, and the addition of poisoned attacks, buffs to the rest of the codex means they do have some good competition now.
In eighth they are now the size of Primaris Marines and are covered in bells, making them honestly look like Skaven fans for some reason. They still aren't as powerful as Rubric Terminators, but that's because Rubric Terminators are Terminators. With the Death Guard Codex, they got a buttload of new weapon options that let them excel in almost any role if kitted out right, from short-range fire support to anti-horde melee.
|Forces of the Death Guard|
|Leaders:|| Chaos Lord - Daemon Prince - Sorcerer - Chaos Champion |
Malignant Plaguecaster - Plague Surgeon - Tallymen
|Troops:|| Biologus Putrifier - Blightlord Terminator - Chaos Spawn - Deathshroud |
Foul Blightspawn - Noxious Blightbringer - Plague Marines - Possessed
|Vehicles:||Chaos Land Raider - Helbrute - Plaguereaper - Predator - Rhino|
|Flyers:||Storm Eagle - Stormbird - Thunderhawk|
| Blight Drone - Defiler - Foetid Bloat-Drone |
Myphitic Blight-Hauler - Plague Hulk - Plagueburst Crawler
|Daemons:||Beast of Nurgle - Nurgling - Plaguebearer|
|Auxiliaries:||Cultists - Pestigors - Plague Zombie - Poxwalkers|
|Allies:||Chaos Daemons - Chaos Space Marines|