- "You may call us heathens, savages or even brutes, but we are closest to the gods. We see their work in all things. And we do not create new, seemly gods to conform with our hopes for the world."
- —Alakreiz, Kurgan Marauder.[1c]
Kurgan is a term used to describe a race of mighty, nomadic, copper-skinned horse-warriors who dwell under the shadow of Chaos, in the vast Eastern Steppes that border the Chaos Wastes. The very term is derived from the burial mounds raised by the Scythian horse-warriors of old, from whom both the Kurgan and their traditional foes, the Gospodarin, descend, and the Kurgan have thus come to be known by the name, for it is said that they desire to bury the peoples of the south under such similar hills.[5a]
In the Old World, there’s much confusion as to who and what the Kurgan are. Some believe they are a breed of Mutants, closer to Beastmen than to Human. Others believe they are a race of super-Humans, being huge, muscular, and all warriors. Others still, especially those who’ve survived a raid, suspect they are not Human at all, being Daemons trapped in the flesh of men. The fact of the matter is simple. The Kurgan reputation stems from those who encounter the warbands that descend from the Eastern Steppes to harvest slaves and destroy the works of civilisation.[1c]
Since Old Worlders only ever encounter these people as antagonists, they believe that the entire race consists of nothing more than bellicose brutes bent on rapine and plunder. In truth, the Kurgan have as much of a complex and rich culture as anyone else. They are a deeply spiritual people, seeing the works of their Gods in all things, from the whispers on the wind to the swaying grasses of the Steppe. Theirs are dynamic Gods, beings who keep the world in its natural state: being one of constant change and perpetual flux. Everything is in the process of becoming. Thus, mutation is not an affliction but rather an evolution of divine will made manifest in the flesh. When a mortal gains some change in his form, he is said to be favoured by the tribal God and is accorded a place of special status. To hasten these changes, many Kurgan bind the heads of their children so they grow oddly, being elongated and malformed. Since the body is the physical expression of divine will, the Kurgan place special emphasis on strength and mastery of the physical form.[1c]
- "It is better to take your own life than to fall into the hands of the Kurgan."
- —Karl Althaus, Imperial Pikeman.[1b]
In the very distant past, most if not all of the Northmen's ancestors were descended from Humans who ventured northward during Humanity's earlier migration. Whilst the more "civilized" tribes colonized the lands of Tilea, Estalia and the Border Princes, some of these tribes continued northward until they've reached the frozen tundra's that separates the rolling plains of the Eastern Steppes from the frozen wastelands of the Chaos Waste. Being in such close proximity to the Northern Warp Gates, it was inevitable that in time the Dark Gods began to slowly corrupt and enslave the minds of the Northern Human Tribes.[3b] Those that did not bend to the Dark Gods had since fled southward, such as the people of the Gospodar and Ungol, who themselves were once tribes living within the Eastern Steppes. Those that remained eventually grew ever-more warlike, forsaking the benefits of civilization and instead transform themselves into the ultimate warriors.[3a]
The resulting centuries of Chaos influence eventually led to wide-spread mutation and social stagnation. While the people of the south developed into powerful semi-unified nations, the people of the North still regress to primitive savages living within isolated Tribes scattered all across the northlands. However, the centuries of harsh living within an even harsher landscape had since bred the Northmen's into unparalleled warriors, whose swollen frame and large stature had made them stand far taller than even the most powerfully-built southern warriors.[3a]
Doom of the Great Kurgan
- "The Kurgans are huge! Ten-feet tall, muscled, and violence in flesh. They’re not Human. I swear it."
- —Gregor Romberg, Merchant.[1b]
Before the raising of the Great Bastion of Cathay, or even the rise of hammer-handed Sigmar in the verdant lands of the Reik, it is said that in their vast lands in the east, the Kurgan had established an empire whose dominion spanned the length of the mighty steppes and ranged yet further afield. An empire of swift horsemen, snarling beasts and dread sorceries that cut down their foes far swifter than any arrow, and whose warriors' blades were ever whetted with blood. So mighty was this empire bereft of fortress or border that its ruler was known simply as the Great Kurgan, the mightiest warlord his people had ever known, for his dominion was but an extension of his bloody will. By war and conquest, the Great Kurgan gathered all the war-like tribes who bore his name under his yoke. Those who opposed him he destroyed. Those who prostrated before him he enslaved, for only the mighty would he allow to dwell amongst his ranks.[4a]
With a never-ending hunger for power over the steppe lands and their people, the Great Kurgan prayed to the myriad gods of his people -- he prayed to the winds of the North, South, West and East. He prayed to earth and sky and rain. By day to the sun and by night to the moon, giving up great offerings of slaves and plunder to curry their favour. The Great Kurgan was mighty, but he was wise enough to know that the Dark Lords of the Uttermost North were mightiest above all -- and so in pact with Chaos's dark lords did the Great Kurgan pledge himself and his race in fulsome service, and swore before the Gods that he would never falter in his dues to them. The Great Kurgan had taken many wives from amongst the clans, but they had only borne him four sons: Four brothers who were rivals to each other for their father's favour and the glory of conquest. Sons whom their father had, in his greed, pledged to the Four Great Gods.[4a]
In the legends of the steppesmen, it is said that the Great Kurgan drew his sons to his side after gaining victory in a great battle. There, within his ger, the warlord spoke of the favour he had been granted, and how by the grace of the Gods he had been allowed to forge the Kurgan peoples into a mighty empire, driving before them the hosts of Man, Orc and Dwarf to ruin. With this, his sons roared their battlecries and boasted of how they would expand their father's domain yet further and spill the blood of his foes. Yet the chieftain also spoke of how there are debts that not even a king can avoid to pay, and of how it pleases the gods to take from a man that which he loves above all. In great despair did the mighty Zar fall to his knees as the Children of the Dark Powers began to walk amongst his people, driving many to the darkest depths of insanity and debased obeisance. Within his tent, the myriad trophies and battle-honours of the Great Kurgan were cast contemptuously down, and the Dark Gods did take from the Great Kurgan that which he treasured most. His four sons, taken screaming from their father's city, each transfigured with the stigmatas of the Dark Gods. Khorne -- Gore-clad Lord of Battle, Slaanesh -- Prince of Fell Pleasures, Nurgle -- Corrupt Father of Plagues, and Tzeentch -- Changer of Ways.[4a]
With his beloved sons taken from him, the Great Kurgan withheld his tears and instead raised his skull-chalice in thanksgiving to his masters, though he knew well now that every victory he would attain from henceforth would ring hollow, and every joy would turn to ashes in his mouth. The bargain complete, the fickle gods grew bored with the Great Kurgan's exploits, turning their attentions to their other servants, and met the Great Kurgan's prayers with cold silence. Though still mighty beyond all reckoning, a shade of ill-omen followed the warlord closely. His subjects whispered dark things in his passing, and warriors began to offer sacrifices in the hopes of avoiding his fate. Soon, with no bloodline to follow him, his lords gave in to cruel games of politicking, each vying for greater power and glory and rulership of the empire. Thus it was that the Great Kurgan saw his mighty empire, which he won through strength and cunning, fall from within thanks to the quarrelsome nature of his own people. All glory it once had now ground to dust and forgotten. When finally the Great Kurgan fell in battle, none would speak of his fate, and so it was that he became all but forgotten, a fireside legend amongst the men of the North. As the centuries passed, many warlords arose in the Steppes, claiming descent from this legendary father of the Kurgan people, but none could ever hope to match the legendary strength of this ancient warrior-king.[4a]
Vengeance of the Norsii
- "The hordes of the Kurgan are more than the stars in the skies. They are savage, fight without honour, and want nothing more than to eradicate the Empire, root and branch."
- —Dmitri, Kislevite Blacksmith.[1b]
In 9 IC, the Kurgan tribes bestirred themselves for battle once more with the rise of the mighty Norsii in the north, who gathered under the leadership a great king who was exalted in the eyes of Khorne. His name was Cormac Bloodaxe of the Iron Wolves clan, and already had he forged a reputation as perhaps the greatest warrior of his age. Cormac, son of the slain High King of the Norsii, had thirsted for the chance to avenge the offences the Emperor Sigmar and his people had made against the Norsemen when he drove them from the Reik decades ago, and had thus resolved to make of the Empire a sacrifice to Khorne. As tales of the Norse King's valour and exaltedness spread throughout the north, the Kurgan, their shamans recognizing the signs of battle, journeyed west and joined their forces to Cormac's banner. In time, the Kul, Mung, Khazag and other great tribes marched alongside the axe-wielding armies of the Norsii, intent on bringing about the End Times upon the weakling Empire of Sigmar.[2a]
Under Cormac's leadership, the Norsii decisively defeated Sigmar's army, slaying a thousand men and routing them. The horse-tribes had played an integral role in this triumph when they surrounded the Thuringian vanguard and bogged them down, thus allowing heavily armoured Norsii cavalrymen to run down and slaughter the berserkers, spelling the end for Sigmar's army. The Kurgan chieftains enjoyed the spoils of victory alongside their Norsii counterparts. Sacrifices were offered to the Dark Gods in droves, with hunchbacked Kul shamans ritualistically disembowelling their captives while daemons gibbered and screamed at their shoulders, bidding them to devour the entrails. Khazag strong-men pummeled their prisoners to death with their bare fists, and yet other tribes made more gruesome sacrifices in their own traditional ways.[2b]
The Norsemen and Kurgan then laid siege to Middenheim, the great mountain city of the savage Teutogen. In a long, gruelling siege where the Northmen carried the walls, Cormac Bloodaxe is said to have ascended to daemonhood, becoming an avatar of Khorne's fury.[2c] The Daemon Prince scaled the mountain and shattered the city walls, allowing the Northmen to pour through and slaughter, but whatever havoc they could wreak paled in comparison to the utter devastation Cormac now unleashed upon the Imperials. At last, the Daemon Prince thundered its way to the menhir ringed Flame of Ulric to face Sigmar Heldenhammer himself in combat. Strengthened by Ulric, Sigmar struck the Daemon Prince down, sending Cormac screaming back to the Realm of Chaos. At the king's downfall, the spirit of his hersirs was broken, and the Norsii were routed from Middenheim, though none would quickly forget the terror and horror of their invasion. This was the first instance of contact with the Norse in the Kurgan's history, and was also the first instance of the Kurgan waging war against the Empire, as allies and sword-brothers to a Norse force. It was also the event that would mark the beginning of relations between the Norsemen and the Kurgan, where both races would begin to influence each other greatly.[2f]
The Rise of Asavar Kul
- "Why do we raid your lands? It is the will of the Gods..."
- —Zar Seizask, Kurgan Chieftain.[1c]
Almost three centuries later, the grim tidings of another 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 at 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 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. This mighty chieftain had proven himself a capable warrior and great leader among his kind.[1a]
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 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.[1a]
By autumn of 2301, the Empire 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.[1a]
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 Empire 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 Kislev’s armies, turning hungry eyes to the fertile heartland of this defeated nation. Facing almost certain destruction, the people of Praag readied their city for the inevitable siege.[1a]
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, 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.[1a]
In 2302, 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. They 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.[1a]
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 host. Slowly the horde disintegrated and the Mutants, Beastmen, and Warbands melted away, fleeing back the way they came.[1a]
With the Great War 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. 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 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.[1a]
Tamurkhan the Kurgan
- "We are the prophets, we are the servants, we are the warriors of Tchar, and we will destroy you."
- —Deitzaad, Kurgan Shaman.[1c]
Tamurkhan would become one of the most infamous Kurgan Warlord in recent history. The Maggot Lord, as he called himself was not as other warlords and warriors of Chaos, but was subject to a terrible mutation, as truly hideous as it was rare. In mortal form he had been transformed into a befouled, maggot-like creature the size of a human child, grey-green and rotting, studded with lambently glowing corpse-light eyes and a needle-like snout that split open to reveal rows upon row of glassy, razor-barbed teeth. More awful yet than even his form was the creature's ability to fall upon a human or near-human victim and spear into its flesh, bore deep within and devour it from the inside out, inhabiting its dead flesh like a puppet, turning his victim into a stolen second skin in which to do battle. Thus empowered did Tamurkhan prove all but unstoppable, and many mighty foes fell before him.[4b]
Even if the enemy managed to best him, the true beast would show its face and the temporary victor would become Tamurkhans newly rotting host. At the outset of Tamurkhan's attempted incursion into the Old World, he wore the flesh of Sargath the Vain, once a powerful Champion of Slaanesh, and took great joy in the slow decay of the warrior's formerly beautiful flesh and the corrosion of his bejewelled armour. This body, which he had worn for nearly a year, failed him however in single combat against the raw strength and brute skill of the Ogre Tyrant Karaka Breakmountain and was cut down, only for Tamurkhan to rise again in the Tyrant's flesh and bone. This perhaps proved his undoing, as never before had Tamurkhan tasted such unrestrained strength and fury, and even though the body continued to rot and sustain grievous injury, he would not abandon it. There were those even in his own camp that maintained that something of the Ogre king's savage spirit remained within it to worry at the Maggot Lord, who seemingly became increasingly dull-witted and, crude as the hulking frame rotted around him.[4b]
- "The Kurgan are Human, at least in the sense they have the proper number of limbs, a head resting on a neck between two shoulders, and walk upright. But they are quite unlike other Old Worlders in appearance. The Kurgan have a swarthy complexion, with raven-dark hair and tanned, almost-brown skin, and black ever-so-slightly-slanted eyes. They have large frames, towering over other men, with bodies that are naturally muscular and powerful. They walk with an easy grace, fluid in motion, resembling the jungle cats of the Southlands in poise and stance. Even the females are strongly built with the same severe mien and dangerous attitudes."
- —Odric of Wolfenburg, Historian.[1b]
The Kurgan are a people of mystery and fear, a savage race that ride such fleet steeds as to allow them to fly across the land as fast as birds. Their domains lie far from our borders and yet their speed of movement is such that one can never be sure where or when their next attack shall fall. Those few cartographers who recognise the Kurgan's existence do consign them to a far corner of the map, but in fact their territory far outstrips that of any other human realm. Indeed, all the land that we call our own up to the World's Edge Mountains would fit many times within the area they control.[3b]
The Eastern Steppes are massive plains with seemingly endless stretches of dry, treeless grassland, which lie beyond the great mountain range known as the Mountains of Mourn. They are bordered by the freezing wastes to the north, by a great desert to the south and by the mighty lands of Cathay far to the east. Over this vast territory there are many tribes, both of humans and of other races, but of the northern areas that lie within the Umbra, the Kurgan are undisputed masters. In truth, however, not even this expanse gives proper extent to their dominion, for the Kurgan recognise no borders or boundaries, except perhaps for that ultimate frontier at the north. No obstacle can stop them; their driven mounts carry them like the wind over high mountains, great deserts and gushing rivers. They travel where they will, and there are few indeed who would dare oppose them.[3b]
The Kurgan live in tribal families like the Norscans do, but these are not settled towns or villages, but rather travelling groups that wander the vastness of the Steppes and the Wastes with their livestock. They are led by chieftains who claim a special connection with their gods, who dictate to them the direction they ride. They travel with their entire families, so that it is literally the case for many of them to be born in the saddle. Most of these show some taint of Chaos upon them, whether it be benign or otherwise, and these marks are flaunted and displayed with pride as a sign of their blessing. Many of them go further and try to make their children even more grotesque by binding their skulls while young, so that their heads grow in the long and thin manner so distinctive of their people.[3b]
Though many may write the names of certain tribes upon a map, this will only give the narrowest indication of their true extent and location. For in the vastness of the Steppe there are no confinements, and far greater reliance is placed upon the kin-band that the horsemen ride with rather than in the greater tribal name. To an extent, a Kurgan's tribe is those people with whom he travels, no matter their origins, and his property is what he carries with him, and his land is wherever he finds himself. The Kurgans almost invariably travel on horseback, some with wagons to carry tents and altars, others without. There are a few groups who do not ride, who choose to either wander on foot, possibly because they have lost their mounts through some ailment or accident, or who have settled permanently in some forsaken spot. Why they would choose to completely alter their way of life in such a manner is unknown.[3b]
Perhaps there is something of significance to the site. It is not completely unheard of for a tribe to seize and settle the land it has attacked, and then attempt to defend it, while they wrest riches from the earth. Most though are almost constantly on the move, either along age-old routes between summer and winter lands, or seemingly at random across the Steppe. It is this fluidity that allows them the greatest favour when the Shadow creeps out and the dark legions march forth. It is the Kurgan that are most willing and able to join these cursed crusades, for they are able to bring to bear each and every one of their race. For them there is nothing but advantage in attaching themselves to a larger horde, for they may ride ahead as scouts and take the easiest of the plunder, and when the horde is inevitably reversed or gain stayed, they may always escape the forces of retribution that move against them. In this way, tribes of the horsemen may follow these hordes and then find themselves far from where they began when eventually they strike out on their own.[3b]
Thus, they may be found all around the known world, these ravagers lie not contained in distant lands to be dealt with by stranger folk, hardier than most. Rather they may come to any town, any door, even while the blinkered folk slumber in their false security. No border, no castle, no country can be a defence against the horsemen of the Shadowlands, for they care for none of them. They move at will across plains and hills and rivers, no barrier can withstand them, nor no levied troops restrain them. For our armies are snails and slugs that must drag themselves forwards, and may fight only where its foe proves willing. The horseman have no honour, no courage, they will never meet our forces straight on a decisive battle, but flee when confronted by men of mettle and only turn to strike and slaughter against the weak, the innocent and the ill-prepared.[3b]
- "Quick to serve, they tie themselves to the vast hordes that follow the Champions of Chaos, believing it is their duty—their obligation, in fact even their sole purpose—to visit war on the lands of their neighbours. Such men and women cannot be reasoned with. They are slaves to darkness, soulless creatures little better than the Beastmen wandering the dark forests of the Empire. They are a force of nature unto themselves."
- —Kristoff, Imperial Scholar of Talabheim.[1c]
Though there are differences between each of the tribes, most notably the God whom they serve, they all value strength over any other virtue. They are a people of hardened warriors. Courage, skill, and brawn are their celebrated traits. The most powerful warrior of the tribe is called the Zar, their name for the Chieftain and in imitation to the Tzars of Kislev. He holds his position by dint of his power, the favour of his divine master, and the loyalty of his warriors, which he earns by bestowing onto them gifts for their service. Facial scarring is the clearest sign of a Zar’s ability, and once a battle is won, the Shaman (a Chaos Sorcerer) makes an incision on the leader’s cheek. Beneath the Zar are his bold and savage warriors that live to fight. After each battle, the Zar distributes the spoils amongst his warriors, and those who have his favour receive the best rewards. Gold, silver, and other precious metals are melted down and formed into arm rings. He with the most rings has achieved the most victories and is greatly respected and feared by the rest of his tribe. When not waging war, the warriors serve the rest of the tribe as hunters. They ride off into the steppes to bring down antelope and wild cattle to feed the rest of the tribe. This is also an opportunity for a warrior to prove himself to his kin, and often times, Spawn and other creatures are brought back for great feasts. Not only do these efforts feed the tribe, but they also keep the warrior’s skills sharp for when he is called to battle.[1d]
- "There is nothing if there isn’t war."
- —Zar Uzelek, Yusak Chieftain.[1c]
The Kurgans are nomads. They prowl the Eastern Steppes following the herds for food. They have no sense of a permanent home since the world is ever-changing. And so, they are content to wander and live off the land. A common mistake made by most Old Worlders is to lump the Kurgan into one group, and it’s easy to make this mistake since the Kurgan are constantly on the move. In truth, the people named the Kurgan are several independent tribes with no fealty owed to any one chieftain or any concept of nation. They war with Kurgan and non-Kurgan alike, fighting each other in brutal wars to the point of extinction, much as they do when they raid Kislev, Norsca, and the Empire. Although there are countless tribes, the most famous include the Kvelligs, Gharhars, Tahmaks, Hastlings, Tokmars, Yusak, Khazags, Avags, Dolgans and the terrible Kul.[1d]
In the Old World, there’s much confusion as to who and what the Kurganare. Some believe they are a breed of Mutants, closer to Beastmen than to Human. Others believe they are a race of super-Humans, being huge, muscular, and all warriors. Others still, especially those who’ve survived a raid, suspect they are not Human at all, being Daemons trapped in the flesh of men. The fact of the matter is simple. The Kurgan reputation stems from those who encounter the warbands that descend from the Eastern Steppes to harvest slaves and destroy the works of civilisation. Since Old Worlders only ever encounter these people as antagonists, they believe that the entire race consists of nothing more than bellicose brutes bent on rapine and plunder. In truth, they are this but much more, for the Kurgan have as much of a complex and rich culture as anyone else. They are a deeply spiritual people, seeing the works of their Gods in all things, from the whispers on the wind to the swaying grasses of the Steppe.[1d]
Theirs are dynamic Gods, beings who keep the world in its natural state: being one of constant change and perpetual flux. Everything is in the process of becoming. Thus, mutation is not an affliction but rather an evolution of divine will made manifest in the flesh. When a mortal gains some change in his form, he is said to be favoured by the tribal God and is accorded a place of special status. To hasten these changes, many Kurgan bind the heads of their children so they grow oddly, being elongated and malformed. Since the body is the physical expression of divine will, the Kurgan place special emphasis on strength and mastery of the physical form.[1d]
The Kurgan are also notorious slavers. As part of the battle’s spoils, they collect the survivors and tattoo them on the face with the marks of a particular Zar. The ink used almost always includes some amount of Warpstone to start the mutation process and to dissolve the slave’s previous loyalties. A slave is considered an investment. The Zar must feed and clothe his slaves, keeping them healthy and hale enough to serve him. In exchange for his efforts, he expects his slaves to fight. Rival tribes will pit their slaves against each other in fighting rings. Since they harvest slaves from the same places, it is all too common to have former comrades fight each other in bloody deathmatches. Those who win these contests are accorded more freedoms and greater status, and those with continued success can throw off the shackles of slavery to become a full member of the tribe, possibly even displacing the Zar himself.[1d]
As the Gods are very active in the lives of the Kurgan people, their servants have an incredible influence on the tribe. The shamans attach themselves to warlords who have had great success in battle, in a sense wedding themselves to a Zar. To gain the service of one of these Sorcerers is a sign of great favour by the Gods. Shamans conduct rituals, cast spells, and use foul sorcery to aid the warband in its forays against the hated Empire. Kurgan tribes dedicated to the Skull King have little use for magic, and, therefore, slay these Sorcerers wherever they are found.[1d]
Women occupy a strange place in the Kurgan tribe. As a people, there is no concept of marriage, only of breeding. A woman selects her mates based on his fame and prominence on the battlefield. Women who birth sons of great warriors are accorded a special place in the tribe, whilst those who content themselves with the weak and the unsuccessful warriors are shunned until their sons prove themselves. Though the men provide much of the food, the women also harvest food from the steppes. Each day is spent gathering grains to grind into flour and other foods culled from the flora as they pass through the land. At the end of the day, the women scatter seeds to replenish what they have taken for when they next pass through the land.[1d]
- "These primitives have no conception of good and evil, have no understanding of the dangers of Chaos, and certainly have not heard of the Man-God Sigmar. Instead, they embrace the primal forces of nature, seeing spirits in all things. The blasphemous Gods of the north are their masters, twisting and turning their forms, deluding them into believing the failures of their flesh are actually boons, gifts from the Dark Gods themselves. So when the Daemons sound the trumpets of war, it is these violent tribes who answer its call"
- —Kristoff, Imperial Scholar of Talabheim.[1c]
The Kurgan venerate the Ruinous Powers. They see these Gods as aspects of the natural world. A stroke of lightning might be the will of Tchar, the Changer of Ways, whilst an outbreak of sickness is the blessing of Nieglen, Father of Plagues. Every stone, every plant, and the very clouds that float through the skies hold the secrets of the Gods. No one Ruinous Power holds more sway than the rest. An individual tribe may uphold a single God or even a pair of them. Some tribes venerate all four and throw in a few other Gods as well. Generally speaking, the Kurgan know the Ruinous Powers by the names of Khorne, Loesh (Slaanesh), Nieglin (Nurgle), and Tchar (Tzeentch).[1d]
- "There was so much killing and bloodletting that no one could number the dead. The Kurgan pillaged the temples and the shrines and slew the Priests and virgins. They so devastated this land that it will never rise again and be as it was before..."
- —Marcia Naissus, On the destruction of a city in the Border Princes, extracted from Liber Chaotica.[1b]
For the Kurgan, it is their duty to wage war, for war brings about the greatest change of them all: Death. Such forays are opportunities for plunder, to advance one’s position within his tribe, or even to gain the favour of the Dark Gods. Further west, the Kul, Dolgans, and Hastlings regularly harass Kislev, sending raiders through the high pass to savage the stanista scattered in the shadows of the mountains. The rest of the tribes conduct nearly constant warfare amongst themselves, stealing each other’s women and supplies until some other tribe returns the favour. Even though raiding is a large part of Kurgan life, many make forays into the Chaos Wastes, where they hunt for flesh or prove their might to their infernal masters. Living a life of constant battle makes this people especially hardy and dangerous. Warfare is a cornerstone of their beliefs, and they see death in battle as the ultimate expression of divine glory. When the armies of Chaos gather in the north, the tribes of the Kurgan respond.[1d]
They abandon their herding grounds to take up arms alongside the swollen hordes of Daemons and Mutants in their crusade to wipe out the Old World. This willingness not only stems from their sense of duty to the Dark Gods but also because such wars are advantageous. The destruction of an enemy city gives the Kurgan access to more resources and keeps their own population in check. And when the war winds down, the Kurgan are just as quick to break off from the horde to settle in their newfound land.[1d]
If anything, the Kurgan are thorough in the slaughter of their enemy. They butcher anyone who thinks to stand against them and pursue those who flee to the ends of the earth. Any survivors—those who don’t succumb to their injuries—face a life of slavery and misery. At the end of every battle, the Kurgan divide the spoils and pile up their kills on great pyres that burn for days. When the flames die down, they use their slaves to search for the skulls, which they pile into mounds. The Kurgan with the most skulls and who piles them the fastest is accorded a great honour: a scar on his cheek to mark his victory.[1d]
- "A foul people, they prostrate themselves to the enemy of Humanity."
- —Reiholt von Krishoff, Demilancer.[1d]
- The Great Kurgan - The first great Zar of the Kurgan hordes, the Great Kurgan united all the tribes of the Steppe into a single, indivisible whole, a feat unrivalled by all his successors, even the mighty Asavar Kul. With his people united into a single great force, he unleashed untold destruction upon the Cathayan Empire, shattering all their armies with the might of his hordes of savage horsemen. He subjugated the Hobgoblin Khaganate and crushed them, breaking the power of the Greenskins for centuries. He led the Kurgan to victory against the bloodthirsty Hung, driving the easterners before him and enslaving them. It was the Great Kurgan who first drew his people to the dark service of Chaos, making unholy pacts with the Dark Gods in order to forge his endless empire on the Northern Steppes. When he at last fell in battle, his monumental legend faded into myth. A fireside legend amongst the warriors of the East.
- Asavar Kul - High Zar of the Kul tribe of the Kurgan people and 12th Everchosen of Chaos, Asavar Kul was renowned as the single greatest warrior the Kurgan people had ever known. A bloodthirsty warlord clad in lacquered armour, with the fire of forsaken gods burning in his dark eyes. Though many great warlords followed him, none could match the Kurgan in strength or ferocity. His armies destroyed all foes they met, and from the east they came and ravaged the lands of Kislev and the Empire. Despite his might, Kul was slain at the walls of Kislev, having been betrayed by one of his own warlords and left for dead with a jagged blade buried through his horned warhelm. Despite the Everchosen's death, few men of the North truly believed that a man as vicious as Asavar could truly be killed. In the centuries following his death, his name became a source of pride for the Kurgan tribes, and many arose in the Steppe claiming descent from the great warlord.
- Tamurkhan - A Nurglite warlord of unsurpassed power, matched only by the fearsome Glottkin of Norsca or the ferocious Valnir the Reaper in favour before the Lord of Decay, Tamurkhan was a mighty Kurgan warlord who earned the right to lead a great invasion of the Empire after triumphing over the armies of the other Chaos Gods at the forgotten city of Zanbaijin. His maggot-ridden horde of Nurglite warriors and Dolgan steppesmen penetrated deep into the southerly lands of the Empire, and even wreaked untold havoc in the lands of the Kurgan tribesmen's ancient foes, the Cathayans. His horde's bloodthirsty advance was finally thwarted by the armies of Karl Franz at the gates of Nuln.
- Surtha Lenk - A mighty warlord dedicated to Tzeentch, Surtha Lenk's Kurgan horde served as the vanguard for the later invasion of Archaon Everchosen in 2523 IC. His Spring Drive into the lands of the Kislevites dealt the Gospodars a terrible blow, and it was only by sheer luck that his armies were halted at the Battle of Muzarond. In addition to Kul, Dolgan, and Khazag tribesmen, Surtha Lenk's vast horde was also joined by savage Aesling berserkers sworn to the worship of Khorne. Surtha Lenk's horde also penetrated deep into Ostland and annihilated the Imperial city of Wolfenburg.
- Vardek Crom the Conqueror - Successor to Asavar Kul as the Zar of the Kurgan tribes, he eventually pledged himself as the Herald of Archaon Everchosen. Pledging himself to create an army worthy of the Lord of the End Times, Crom conquered the other Kurgan tribes by slaying their Zars and Khans in single combat, asserting his dominance over the clans. He then led the horsemen in a whirlwind of brutal conquest, charging out of the steppe, besting Grimgor Ironhide himself in combat in his quest to slaughter his way through the Empire. He fought his way through the defences of the Auric Bastion in order to raid the northeastern Empire, where he was slain by Valten, Herald of Sigmar.
- Vrkas - A mighty Kurgan warlord who led his people against the great empire of the Tong, and who eventually rose to daemonhood as the Skulltaker.
- The Kurgans may loosely be based upon Turkic and Scythian nomads. Some tribes, such as the Khazags, are named after real-world Turkic groups such as the Kazakhs.
- 1 Tome of Corruption (2nd Edition Fantasy Roleplay)
- 2: Time of Legend: Empire (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- 3 Liber Chaotica (Background Book)
- 4 Tamurkhan: Throne of Chaos (Expansion)
- 5 Ursen's Teeth (Novel) by Dan Abnert
- 5a: Chapter VI