- "You fear the monsters of Chaos, mortal? Well you should. They will shrive your soul before the altar of their infinite lust. They are powerful, and terrible. But, and here is the root of all forbidden knowledge, even such creatures as these are nothing but the creations of the minds of men. Without our dreams, they are mere phantasms. It is our thought that conjures them into the world of flesh. And so this is the most dangerous lesson of all. There is nothing so perilous in all the world as the unlocked mind of a man. There is no escape from the consequences of our nature. In our unfettered imagination, the very thing that makes us great, lies the seeds of our ruin and damnation."
- —The Proscribed Scrolls, Folio XIV Mavolion, The Heretic of Framburg[3a]
Chaos is the term used to describe the universal and usually malign spiritual force of supernatural disorder in the Warhammer World. It is a potent force that can unleash physical mutation and spiritual corruption upon sentient beings. In perspective, Chaos is akin to the ocean, a constant roiling force of emotion-fuelled change. Like the ocean, its power is one that waxes and wanes over time, but this tide constantly batters and invades the plane of the physical universe.
The Realm of Chaos, from which the force emanates, is both a mirror-reflection and antithesis of the natural world. The existence of the natural world is defined by physical laws and the natural order, while the psychic emanations of mortals' subconscious desires shape the landscape of the Realm of Chaos. While the Realm of Mortals is constant and stable, far south of the true "Realm of Chaos" exists the Chaos Wastes, a dead region of icy desert, mountain, and tundra that overlaps both domains.
In the Wastes stand the citadels and monuments of the proud Champions of Chaos, those who have proven their worth to the Chaos Gods and have earned their blessings. The wastes echo with the perpetual sounds of battle, as brothers fall on each other as eagerly as they fall on their enemies, in the hope that one of the Chaos powers will take notice and raise them up as one of their favourites, bestowing upon them supernatural gifts. Yet Chaos has the potential to exist in all realms of the world due to the dark desires within mortal hearts. There are dark, secretive Chaos Cults hidden in the Empire, and there are rumours of Chaos worshippers amongst the Dark Elves.
Chaos is embodied by the malevolent intelligent entities comprised of magical energy that live in the Realm of Chaos, who are shaped by the same the psychic emanations as the land itself. The beings of the Realm of Chaos are malevolent, always watching with amusement as mortals destroy each other and the world.
No one truly knows the origin of Chaos in the world. Even the long-lived scholars of the High Elves can only speculate as to where the forces of Chaos first originated. War, famine, natural disaster and the destroyer known as time have eroded away nearly all indications of the roots of Chaos.
What is known is that in the long distant past, the world was paid a visit by an already ancient star-faring race of creatures never met by Man. These beings, the so-called "Old Ones," arrived on the world and quickly established two interdimensional gateways which floated above the northern and southern poles. These gateways were linked to the rest of their transportation network, allowing them nearly instantaneous transportation between gates scattered across the many worlds they had settled.
Time passed, and due to an unknown accident the polar gates eventually shattered. They unleashed raw Chaos energy and sent a cloud of warpstone (a green crystal substance formed from condensed Dark Magic which is a strong mutagen and highly volatile) dust high into the atmosphere, from where it drifted all over the planet. The warpstone caused horrible mutations and ultimately gave birth to many of the monstrous creatures in the world today.
When the polar gates shattered, they also tore a hole into the fabric of space-time, allowing the Chaos energies of the Aethyr, the parallel dimension where the Chaos Gods dwell, to flood into the physical world. The daemonic servants of these deities flooded through the newly formed entrance into this world, no longer regulated by the Old Ones' gate, and began a crusade to claim the world for their own.
After centuries of daemonic incursions into the physical plane, the forces of Chaos withdrew to the northern Chaos Wastes, as new races began to arise in the world. Later, the High Elves during the Great Catastrophe would set up a system of Waystones around the island continent of Ulthuan which would drain away the Chaos energy spewing forth from the portals to the Realm of Chaos at the poles, and confine the majority of the unstable Chaos energies to the areas around the poles.
While this greatly reduced the ability of Daemons to appear in any place at will in the physical world, magical energy still saturates the planet and Daemons are able to enter the world when summoned by the mortal champions of Chaos. But it is this energy, the Winds of Magic, which also make possible all the magical abilities and creations of Elves, Dwarfs and Men alike.
Myths and Legend
How it all began; the origins of thousands of years of Human suffering; what opened the eye in the north -- no one knows for certain. Tales of Old Ones in silver ships sailing on the seas of stars have as much credibility as the myths of the Norsemen Shamans who claim such-and-such god slew so-and-so Daemon. Of course, those who truly know, the Elves, say little.
What we see as truth has been cobbled together from a hundred different stories from people all over the Old World, and none-too-few from the lands beyond. One thing remains constant with all the tales told of the early days of the world: a great calamity befell the planet. Something glorious, wonderful, and powerful died, and when it did, it tore reality asunder, bringing Chaos to the world.
The oldest legends speak of a race of advanced beings called the Old Ones. It is said they came some 15,000 years before the birth of Sigmar, bringing with them a race of reptilian servants called the Slann. It is believed these servants still live on in the foetid jungles of the continent of Lustria in the New World.
The Old Ones were powerful, capable of changing the world, altering its movements, raising oceans, mountains, changing the lay of the land to fit their vision of what the world should be. At the time of their arrival, the world was trapped in ice that blanketed all lands, even those of the fabled Tomb Kings, where the sands can strip flesh from bone. But, through their agency, they caused the ice to melt, and remade this world.
The Old Ones were as gods. They cultivated the Elder Races, placing them in the world. The Elves settled in Ulthuan, and the Old Ones placed the Dwarfs in the mountains. And who knows what other races were born?
For all their efforts, and for whatever purpose they had, it would not last. These beings drew their power and magic from great arches in the north and south, vast gates that opened to the heavens. And, from them, they gained their power to change the world. But, the gates fell, tearing the world asunder. Where once this source of good and benevolence stood, suddenly there was only a terrible and angry wound.
Boiling out from the hole were the Daemons and their warping powers of magic. The effects of the gate's destruction created all manner of abominations, and so the first Incursion of Chaos began. The few remaining Slann strove to contain the damage left by the polar gates' collapse, but they were too few in number, and as more and more died off, Chaos grew mightier. The world seemed doomed.
It was, but it was not dead yet. Replacing the Slann in their struggles against the Daemons were the Elves. Emboldened by their blessings from the Old Ones, and committed to saving their world, they rallied and fought the Daemons for five centuries, doing their best to contain the spreading stain of darkness.
But each victory was matched by two failures, and the Elves were pushed farther and farther south until they fought on the very shores of their islands. But then a great Elf hero, Aenarion, passed through the sacred flame of divine energy and emerged as the first Phoenix King of Ulthuan.
Empowered by the powerful energies of the Old Ones, he and a cadre of Elven sorcerers wove a spell of incredible power, creating a vortex to draw all magical energy in the world to Ulthuan. By doing so, the Daemons were stripped of their power and ability to manifest in the physical world, and the evil from the Realm of Chaos withdrew.
Aenarion had a son, Malekith. A powerful warrior and sorcerer, he was believed to be the heir and the clearest choice for the next Phoenix King. However, he was tempted by Dark Magic, and, ultimately, he was consumed by it, and black ambition bloomed in his heart, earning him the title Witch King. Ulthuan would know little peace through the years, as the Witch King waged endless wars against his kinsmen.
Chaos, though briefly contained, was let loose once more during the Sundering, a dark time triggered when the Witch King strove to undo the vortex. This terrible act damaged the vortex that held the power of Chaos in check across the world and loosed it once more. Though his efforts were thwarted, the wickedness of Malekith fed the Dark Gods and gave them strength and influence in the world.
March of Doom
On the world turned, and the Elder Races made room for the Men who emerged from their caves. The Elves and Dwarfs traded with these primitives, though slowly at first. But soon Humanity spread north from the southern continent, founding simple communities along the coast of the Tilea Sea and the Black Gulf. Eventually, these peoples moved north and erected the first cities. Of these early settlements, Tumas dwarfed them all. But it would not last, for in punishment for their arrogance, the gods cast them low, rained the fires of heaven onto them, and sent plagues of rats. What remained would be forever after known as Skavenblight, the festering, black heart of the Ratmen.
And though Chaos wended its ways into the hearts and minds of these peoples, and launched attacks from the swirling regions in the north, it was limited in its hold on Mankind. Throughout the millennia, Chaos would produce Daemons and let them loose, but these creatures were not of this world and could not last for long on the physical plane when the powers of magic did not wax strong. The corruption of warpstone and the lashing Winds of Magic created herds of Beastmen to inhabit the dim places of the world, but still Chaos could not thrive for overlong, for without mortals to fear the Dark Gods, they could not sustain their will.
But, then Be'lakor was born. A savage primitive from an unknown land, Be'lakor is remembered as the first mortal to give his soul to the Ruinous Powers. A powerful warrior and stalwart Champion of Darkness, the Dark Gods favoured him, luring him north to the Chaos Wastes, where he penetrated deeper and deeper into this bleak land until he came face-to-face with the maddening Realm itself. The Dark Gods rewarded his courage by destroying his mortal shell and recreating him in their image: that of a Daemon Prince.
In this new form, he was a terrible force. He stood at the heads of his legions, destroying any and all who crossed his path, attracting mortals from all over to join his legions. In time, he was worshipped as a god. But, as his power and influence grew, so too did his pride. It was his arrogance and his belief that he was an equal to the Greater Gods that spelled his downfall. The Four Powers cast him low, and Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways, cursed him, transforming him from a demigod to a confused and crazed spirit that would ever-after exemplify Chaos. He became the Harbinger, He Who Crowns Conquerors. He would never champion the cause of Chaos. He would for all time be a servant and thrall to those mortals who attracted the attention of the Ruinous Powers.
His first Champion was Morkar the Uniter. He, with the help of the Harbinger, launched a massive war from the Chaos Wastes. He might have succeeded in defeating the lands of the south had it not been for the great and united effort led by Sigmar. His defeat, and the continued defeats with each failed Champion, refreshed Be'lakor's pangs of loss that he suffered since being cast down. The horror of his fate stripped away his sanity, and he screamed for centuries, only slowing to place the Crown of Domination on the next fool who sought glory in the name of the Dark Gods.
The Enemy Grows
Though the Uniter was defeated, the Old World had to deal with its own problems. The Empire was in its earliest days when it pushed back the forces of Chaos, and after its few fledgling steps, it struggled to retain its coherence. In the years that followed, Norse raiders preyed on the coasts, sacking villages in the north, and it was clear by their foul shamans and witch doctors that they served the Dark Gods. All manner of Daemons and Chaos Champions launched wars from the Chaos Wastes, but each was sporadic and disorganised, and so the Empire was free from a massive invasion for centuries.
The rest of the world was not so safe. Chaos launched invasions into Cathay, Naggaroth, and even the Dark Lands, sparking conflicts that would last for decades and take the lives of thousands. But back in the Empire and the Old World, it seemed mortals were content to pave the way for the next Incursion. Undaunted by the trials of following centuries, the people of the Empire embarked on the road to decadence and corruption. While Humanity dabbled in the forbidden, the Cult of Sigmar grew into a mighty force, rivalling the might of the Ulrican faith and overshadowing the other gods of Men. Heated arguments broke out into open confrontations, and such rivalries simply pushed Old Worlders even farther from the doctrines of the gods.
Humanity drifted from the light of piety and good living, and turned to darker matters. No level of society was exempt from this growing, moral failing. Nobles withdrew into their palaces to bask in excess, while commoners turned to Hedge Wizards and Witches for succour from the occasional plague or supernatural threat. During these centuries, the first Cults of Chaos formed, starting as intellectual societies or those who held heretical beliefs. Some of the most profane volumes ever written, including the ravings of Necrodomo, were spawned and circulated among the intelligentsia. The Ruinous Powers reached from the beyond to mould and twist the hearts and minds of good citizens everywhere.
Then, in 1111 IC, the Black Plague struck the Empire. Believed at the time to be a curse for immorality, it spread from city to city, following the paths of roads and waterways, reaching the most remote places in the land. People died by the thousands, and panic set in. Camps of diseased Humans squatted outside the walls of the Empire's great cities, while the plague claimed entire neighbourhoods inside.
And, with the spread of disease came despair, and with despair, Mankind turned to Nurgle, the Master of Plague and Pestilence, to relieve their suffering. And then the Ratmen came. Appearing like grotesque parodies of man and rat, the mutant humanoid rats called the Skaven boiled out of the ground, red eyes gleaming, slavering tongues thirsting for the blood and flesh of Humanity. Still gripped by the Black Plague, the Empire was ill-prepared for this new threat, and the casualties mounted while soft nobles wept and wailed at their misfortune.
From this rabble, a hero emerged: Mandred Ratslayer, the Count of Middenland. He rallied the people of the Empire and fought the Skaven for nearly fifteen years. Where others had failed, Mandred succeeded in breaking the spirit of the enemy and forced them back from whence they came. Following his successes, stability returned once more, and he tried to set the course of the Empire for the years to come, purging the land of corruption and evil -- until his assassination in 1152 IC.
Great War Against Chaos
Almost three centuries later, the grim tidings of another Chaos incursion were everywhere for those who thought to look, but such was the pride of the pretender Emperors that no one noticed. The Empire at this time was fractured and splintered into different factions, all vying for control over the throne. Fuelled by religious controversy and infighting, the once glorious Empire was on its knees. And, amidst this struggle, the poisonous touch of the Dark Gods spread. Crops failed as some noxious slime spread, and cattle died of a strange pox. Nurgle's eye was fixed once more on the lands of Sigmar, and though people knew a curse was upon them, they were powerless to do anything about it.
While the Empire languished, a great war for dominance took place in the Chaos Wastes. Among the many tribes of the Kurgan people, the Kul tribe emerged as the dominant force, in no small part due to the efforts of Asavar Kul. This mighty chieftain had proven himself a capable warrior and great leader among his kind. For years, he and his tribe wandered the Shadowlands, waging war with rival tribes and bending their leaders to his will. His armies grew, and soon he was the greatest power in the north. Accounts of this Chaos Champion say that the light of the Dark Gods burned in his eyes, and his red-lacquered armour glowed with malevolence.
With each victory, warbands clamoured to his banner, swelling his legions until he was ready to take the prize that stood in the south.He and his armies turned south and passed through the Great Skull Land, where they sold slaves for Daemonic war machines crafted by the expert hands of the Chaos Dwarfs. They then turned to the High Pass, where they gathered hordes of Beastmen and Dragon Ogres to aid their cause. Meanwhile, the Empire was in no condition to head off this mustering force. Beastmen of the Forest of Shadows were multiplying and claiming large swathes of territory in Ostland and Ostermark. Chaos Warriors drifted throughout the northern Empire, even reaching the shadow of Altdorf’s walls. Unwittingly serving as the Chaos armies’ vanguard were endless hordes of Greenskins, who were driven from their homes by the approaching armies.
World Falls Apart
By the autumn of 2301 IC, the Empire had fully descended into anarchy. Thousands died from a famine that resulted from the blights and poxes of the summer before. Refugees flooded the cities, and those who stayed behind were food for the ravaging Beastmen. Trade all but stopped as the waterways became too unsafe to transport goods, and so more starved and died. These dark times bred fanatics. Street philosophers foretold doom and despair, seeing death in all things. Bands of flagellants roamed the countryside, preying on the agents of Chaos and innocents alike. Whilst the Witch Hunters worked unchecked through the lands, murdering hundreds in the name of Sigmar.
And, through it all, Asavar's armies grew. In Kislev, the Tzar grew nervous as his scouts reported a mustering force of hundreds of thousands readying an attack on their lands. Desperate for help, he sent messengers to the Empire, pleading for them to send assistance. Word reached the Count of Ostland, who for the past few years had been fighting a losing war against the Beastmen. His hatred of Chaos eclipsed all other concerns, and so he and his depleted force rushed to Kislev to lend their swords against the coming storm. But he was alone, for the Empire was too gripped with madness to respond.
Hope would bloom, however. Whilst Men openly embraced the Chaos Gods, a man named Magnus the Pious preached in Nuln and drew a large following. With his mixture of common sense and zeal, he was able to convince the people of Nuln to cast out the darkness that gripped their city and join him on his crusade to save their beloved land. Autumn gave way to winter, and the Chaos armies finally marched south. The combined forces of Kislev and Ostland marched north to meet them, though they knew in their hearts they were too few to stop the enemy. The Imperial forces and Kislev were crushed by Asavar's horde, and few escaped to spread news of their defeat.
Kislev recoiled in horror as the Chaos Marauders despoiled their northern territories, and with a few decisive moves, they crushed the last of the Kislevite armies, turning hungry eyes to the fertile heartland of this defeated nation. Facing almost certain destruction, the people of the Kislevite capital Praag readied their city for the inevitable siege. Thousands abandoned their homes in the countryside for the protection offered by the city, bringing all the livestock they could. In the end, the preparations were too little, too late, and disease broke out amongst the refugees. Asavar's host camped around the city and launched the occasional foray but seemed content to just harass them. The people fought as best they could, barely managing to repel the invaders with each new assault.
Then word of a new hero reached them, and they learned Magnus was coming with an army to destroy the forces of Chaos and save their city. Magnus gathered more and more Old Worlders by his sheer tenacity and his devotion to Sigmar. All manner of people joined him, swelling his numbers to form a rag-tag force of zealots, commoners, and professional soldiers. The Elector Counts set aside their differences and joined Magnus, adding their soldiers to the vast army. And so, Magnus and his followers moved slowly north, but it wasn't fast enough to save the besieged Kislevites.
Fall of Praag
In 2302 IC, the attack Praag had dreaded finally came. Asavar used his entire force to destroy the city. They triumphed over the defenders, taking the city in the name of their blasphemous masters. With its fall, a Black Wind from the Realm of Chaos screamed through the streets of Praag, changing and mutating everything it touched. Men and stone twisted and became as one, their souls screaming from the twisted stones of the city. From its walls, distorted faces gnashed and pleaded for death. Praag had become Hell, a living symbol of what lay ahead for the Empire.
A few escaped to bring word to Kislev, reporting all they had witnessed. The Tzar was frantically training a new army to defend the capital. Magnus pushed his forces ahead to aid the last city of the north and stop Asavar from entering the Empire. But Chaos reached Kislev first. Its forces encircled the city and launched a terrible attack remembered to this day as the Battle at the Gates of Kislev. Aided by the Dwarfs from Everpeak, the city of Karaz-a-Karak, the ill-equipped and poorly-trained defenders faced the Beastmen, grudgingly giving up ground until they were forced to fall back into the city itself. The Kislevites delayed Chaos just long enough for Magnus and his forces to arrive.
Battle of Kislev
Asavar divided his force into two armies. One continued the attack against the city, while the other faced Magnus. The Empire's forces descended like a righteous hammer, cutting a swathe through the Beastmen and mutants. Despite these early victories, the forces of Chaos were innumerable. The tide of battle ebbed and flowed, and it seemed that all hope for the Empire was lost in the face of the great hordes of the Dark Gods. Magnus' military genius would save the day. He launched a separate attack with his cavalry and pinned the Chaos armies between three forces, throwing them into confusion.
On this assault, Magnus managed to slay Asavar Kul in single combat, crushing the will of the Chaos host. Slowly the horde disintegrated and the mutants, Beastmen, and warbands melted away, fleeing back the way they came. With the Great War Against Chaos concluded, the Empire aided Kislev in levelling Praag and rebuilding the great city. The Imperial army returned to Ostland and Ostermark and slaughtered the Beastmen, cleansing the land of their stain. Chaos withdrew to the Troll Country and the Shadowlands, seemingly defeated for the last time.
Yet always does Chaos prepare for its next attack, its next incursion, and for the next two centuries it bided its time, building and searching for its next great Chaos Champion. The Dark Gods didn't have to wait long. Soon after the Great War, a Templar of Sigmar entered the vaults below the Temple of Sigmar and read the prophecies of Necrodomo the Insane. The words warped his mind, and he went mad. He swore allegiance to the Dark Gods and vowed to destroy the Empire and the Cult of Sigmar. His name was Archaon.
For the next 200 years, things quieted in the Empire. With the legalisation of sanctioned magic in the Empire through the creation of the Colleges of Magic, the Witch Hunters confined their efforts to rooting out mutants and renegade wizards. Middenheim spearheaded the efforts to contain the Beastmen inside the Imperial borders, whilst reconstructing the ravaged provinces.
Though peaceful compared to the upheavals leading up to the Great War Against Chaos, this was not a time without strife. Marienburg seceded from the Empire, and a series of weak Emperors allowed the lands to slip back to something akin to the decadence of the twenty-fourth century of the Imperial Calendar. Things changed in 2502 IC when Karl Franz of Reikland ascended the throne of the Empire. Young, charismatic, and competent, this new Emperor took a firm hand in guiding the Empire into the future -- and preparing it for the darkness soon to come once more from the north.