THE WFRP STORY XIV: LORDS OF CHAOS

This post continues my history of WFRP1, which started here. It is the first of several which will conduct a thematic review of the material covered in parts IX to XIII.

I remarked in part VII of this series that Chaos was notably absent from the earliest incarnation of the Warhammer world. WFB1 contained scattered references to a future supplement that would deal with Chaos, but no specific content.

The omission was rectified quickly. If my chronology is correct, the gods of Chaos appeared soon after WFB1‘s release in ‘The Quest for Chaos’ and ‘The Mausoleum of Ifram’ (August 1983).

… The Chaos Gods are trapped helplessly on their side of the Crack of Desolation – prevented from crossing by the Guardians of the Three Bridges which connect the realms of Chaos to those of men. In the cities of Irysia the inhabitants go about their business, only dimly aware that one day the frontiers of Chaos will advance over their homes, transforming Irysia into part of the Chaos domain.

– ‘The Quest for Chaos’

Here the gods of Chaos are unnamed. That changed with Citadel’s Chaos Marauders boxed set, which introduces Khorne (August 1983).

The extinct cult of Laerial was the fanatical warrior order of worshippers of the mad god Khorne. Every seven years the blood-crazed Priests of Laerial would gather at the Great Arena of Dakron for ritual carnage, [sic] few were the warriors of the world who could stand and give a good fight against a Priest of Laerial, and so the Killer Priests turned to their brethren for worthy opponents to better glorify their god through the arts of war.

The Priests would divide themselves into seven great armies, and proceed to smash each other to pulp for the glory of Khorne. The seven High Priests; [sic] Laerial amongst them, were each armed with a mighty enchanted weapon in order to deport themselves in a suitably effective and bloody manner during this frenzy of ecclesiastical slaughter. … Laerial’s death in the arena fractured the Cult into feuding factions; [sic] one High Priest after another dying in the ensuing vendetta. Now only the small sub-cult of the Sudden Priest-Warriors of Khorne survives, the Sudden Priests fling themselves, fearless and manic, into battle for the glory of heedless Khorne, hiring themselves out as mercenaries all over the known world. The ritual of arena combat is extinct, the Great Arena converted to a temple for the vile Llickspaar.

– ‘Chaos Marauders’

Khorne is not described as the Blood God, but is already associated with violence and slaughter. However, it appears this may be just one of his aspects. The cult of Laerial is described as “the warrior order” of Khorne, implying both that it is the only martial order and that there are other orders worshipping Khorne in different aspects.

What those other aspects might be is at this stage undocumented. Khorne is described as “mad” and “heedless”, but they are generic adjectives appropriate for a Chaos god. Bryan Ansell has stated before that he based the name Khorne on Robert E Howard’s god Crom, a unforgiving god of endurance (in turn derived from the Celtic Crom Cruach, who was associated with human sacrifice). But that does not necessarily entail that Khorne’s character also followed Crom’s (or Crom Cruach’s).

Khorne was derived from Conan’s “Crom”, who is an “actual” Celtic god who can also be spelt Krom or Khram. Good name for a war god.

– Bryan Ansell, Realm of Chaos 80s

The reference to the oddly named Llickspaar is interesting. Is Llickspaar another god? Or a mortal priest, like Laerial? As far as I am aware, this name never reappears.

It is also notable that the ‘Chaos Marauders’ insert introduces gladiatorial combat (albeit as extinct). This is a theme that recurs in the early inserts. ‘The Duelling Circles of Khorne’ (November 1983) returns to the subject and describes arena battles in the city of Horvenghaast.

Circle-duelling is a team sport, performed for the honour of Khorne, an event of honourable blood-letting. It is the great entertainment spectacle for the peoples of Horvenghaast, and, during the peak of the season, ornithopters and riding dragons of every kind gather like a cloud over the island, bringing mighty wizards and necromancers to wager amongst themselves, recruit Troglodyte-Gladiators for their bodyguards, and even captain teams in the arenas.

Duellists may be professional Gladiators, devoted worshippers, enthusiastic amateurs or desperate men in need of money. The usual purse for a bout is 1,000 Crowns, but side-bets may often greatly increase the stakes. The winner is also entitled to the equipment from the bodies of the slain.

The combat takes place across the roofs of the city. The leader, or Captain, of each team stands on a raised circular dias [sic, ie dais] at opposite ends of the area designated as the Arena, and the two teams fight across the area between them. Bridges, walkways and collonades [sic] often feature in the combat area.

op cit

The same insert provides more information on the deities and cults of Chaos.

… The Martial Orders of Chaos have founded their grotesquely ornate temples and training establishments, [sic] the bulk of these are dedicated to Khorne, the Angry God, or one of his many sub-cults, but small temples exist in the service of most Chaos Lords and Godlings.

ibid

Here the pantheon of Chaos is more developed. It is made clear that there are Chaos gods other than Khorne. None are named explicitly, but there are references to the Black Gladiators of Khorne and Red Gladiators of Suth. From this it can perhaps be inferred that Suth already existed to some extent as another deity of Chaos.

There appears to be a hierarchy of deities. There are Lords and Godlings, and there is reference, without explanation, to sub-cults of Khorne.

Khorne is now known as the Angry God. He is also for the first time associated with the symbol of the skull. The insert describes insignias, known as the Skulls of Khorne, which denote gladiatorial victories.

Skulls of Khorne

The Skulls of Khorne

The gods of Chaos were further developed in ‘The Warrior Knights of Chaos’ insert (November 1983), which describes duelling Champions of Khorne.

All of the Warriors are devoted members of powerful chaotic sects, each sect being one of those associated with the war god Khorne. Khorne’s divine retinue includes the insane, weird Tuluk, tricky Wenwoch and obscene Gorth. All of these gods have their own peculiar characteristics which enable their followers to aquire [sic] equivalent chaotic attributes.

In the great fighting arena’s [sic] of Khorne, where devotees enter into ritual combat, the Warrior Knights fight great battles against each other, dying and suffering for the pleasure of their gods. The disciples of each of these Chaos sects have their own characteristics.

op cit

Khorne is now defined as a “war god”, and we learn more of his sub-cults. The Warrior Knights of Chaos worship not Khorne directly, but members of his retinue: Dark Zoonbar, Dim Ponn the Unholy Grimace, The Divine Tuluk, Far-Reaching Alaman, Gorth the Great Obesity, Heinous Suth, Insane Gotd, Laughing Jokkle and Wenwoch the Waylayer.

The Divine Tuluk is a quiet and proud god. He is also very vengeful.

Gotd is the insane aspect of Khorne’s divinity.

The ghastly laughter of Jokkle resounds throughout the known universe; a paian [sic] to hatred and hymn to Chaos.

Gorth is the divine form of the decadence and self indulgence [sic] of Khorne. He is huge. His holy body is said to resemble a mountain, wobbling horribly with the gods [sic] obscene laughter.

Dark Zoonbar is a great emptiness, part of the vast tracts of nothingness that lie within the bottomless, fathomless depths of Khorne’s mind.

Wenwoch is a curious and interfering god, he also likes to steal things. [His is] a cult devoted to thievery and living off booty.

Dim Ponn represents the Lawful aspect of Khorne – as a God he is that part of his master that is most able to rationalise and organise. It is strange to think that one of the aspects of a Chaos God can be Lawful, but a Chaos God can encompass any possibility within his divine make-up.

Far Reaching [sic] Alaman is perceived only as the cry of a flying arrow, or distant scream of the falling hawk. As a deity he stands for sudden death from afar.

Of all the divine Chaotic followers of Khorne, Suth is the most human. He is a martial god, driven by lust for conquest and power.

ibid

It is curious that not all of these deities are associated with war (and one is even deemed to be Lawful). Even more curious is their relationship to Khorne. At times they are described as separate gods in Khorne’s retinue. At others they are called “forms” or “aspects” of Khorne, or even in one case “part” of Khorne. This inconsistent depiction should perhaps be seen as mysticism and is perhaps analogous to the Christian Trinity.

The name Suth reappears, and now explicitly refers to a martial god of Chaos.

Tantalisingly there is a mention elsewhere in this insert of a god called Slaneesh (sic). This appears to be an early form of Slaanesh’s name. Slaneesh is, however, associated with “booty and riches”. The god Gorth is associated with the notions of decadence that would eventually be linked with Slaanesh.

‘The Mark of Chaos’ in the first Citadel Compendium (November 1983) seems to describe the same pantheon as developed over these early inserts. It also mentions the “Chaos Godling Kka”.

Ngaaranh was once a Harpy, but centuries of unspeakable deeds serving in the marauding pack of the vile Chaos Godling known only as Kka (and those who are wise speak that name only in whispers), [sic] have twisted her body and soul to the shapes of Chaos.

op cit

By contrast, Forces of Fantasy (March 1984) presents a quite different and (to a later audience) more familiar pantheon of Chaos. It mentions a group of four “documented” gods of Chaos “at the time of writing”: Khorne, Slaaneesh (sic), Nurgle and Tzeentch.

Slaanesh was meant to be a sibilant, erotic, breathy, whispered/murmured sound. The models didn’t turn out quite as erotically charged as I’d hoped.

Nurgle is an “actual” god (honest). Nergal is a Babylonian god who goes back to prehistoric times: he was still around to be worshipped by the Assyrians. I changed the spelling because I thought that “Nurgle” was more amusing. Also, it could be the sound of a death rattle, or air being expelled from a rotting, putrescent carcass. Nergal is god of death, disease and pestilence. Also god of war and ruler of the underworld (or sometimes his wife is).

Tzeentch was meant to be the sound of a spell blasting out. Like in a Dr Strange comic. It also has a sort of Aztec feel: which goes with the feathers and the bright pastel colours.

– Bryan Ansell, Realm of Chaos 80s

It is a striking example of how much the Warhammer setting changed after the first Citadel Compendium. There is a sudden leap from oddities like Heinous Suth and Laughing Jokkle straight to the deities that would become cornerstones of the Warhammer background.

It is not necessary to look far to see the inspiration for Warhammer‘s gods of Chaos. I have discussed before how they resemble those in Michael Moorcock’s books.* The earliest incarnations of Warhammer‘s gods exhibit that resemblance even more markedly, with a greater variety of gods of different powers and aspects that were less gruesome and more fantastic.

FOOTNOTE

* Of course, Moorcock in turn derived his ideas of Law and Chaos from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions and Zoroastrianism.

The next post will look at the early development of Chaos warriors.

Title art by DHDarkHeretic. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.

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3 thoughts on “THE WFRP STORY XIV: LORDS OF CHAOS

  1. I always look forward to these arriving in my inbox and this one did not disappoint- thank you.

    Interesting what you said about Gorth and Slaneesh. I thought the physical description resembled Nurgle.

    Like

    1. You’re welcome! It’s always a pleasure to hear someone enjoys the posts.

      You are right about Gorth’s huge size, though his sphere of influence is obviously very different from Nurgle’s. I suspect many of the elements we see here were rearranged in various ways and aspects of Gorth could have ended up in Nurgle.

      Like

  2. Only just discovered your blog, lord knows why it’s taken me so long. Excellent work, you are opening my eyes to all the stuff pre-compendium that i didn’t know about. Keep up the good work!

    Like

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