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Chaos Cults
"Is it so wrong to want to be on the winning side? Year by year the Beastmen grow bolder and the Marauders stronger. Year by year there are more Mutants, and worse, within the borders of the Empire. The Emperor is fighting a losing battle. I am a pragmatist first and foremost; the Empire has made me rich, but Chaos will help me survive when Middenheim is in flames and its people are food for Beastmen or sacrifices to the Blood God. Survive and even prosper. The Master of Fortune is good to those who revere him."
—Klaus Goethe of the Merchant’s Guild High Council, Middenheim; Tzeentch Cultist

Hidden just beneath the surface, Chaos is everywhere in the Empire. From the decadent cults of Slaanesh in Altdorf, to the secret temple of Khorne beneath the Imperial Barracks in Nuln, among the plague survivors who turn to Nurgle in thanks and supplication, to the power-hungry merchants making sacrifices to Tzeentch, there is almost no section of society that is untouched by the corruption of the Ruinous Powers. They have something to offer anyone who is not completely satisfied with his or her lot — and that is almost all humans, whether in the Empire or without.[1a]

Chaos Cults vary enormously in size, strength, purpose, and membership, from tiny conspiratorial cells in the heart of the Empire to whole villages that have secretly given their allegiance to Chaos. Scholars, politicians, priests, craftsmen, farmers, soldiers, and members of almost every other profession have come under the sway of Chaos in their time, and often recruited their fellows. Indeed, a number of clandestine groups have a charitable public face that they hide behind and many have joined a Chaos cult without realizing just what they were getting into. Some sects are dedicated to the overthrow of society, attracting revolutionaries and agitators in great numbers, whereas others are solely concerned with the pursuit of personal power, or simply the endless pleasures that can be found in the worship of Slaanesh.[1a]

The one thing all cults have in common is that their existence is concealed from the common eye, so that Witch Hunters and templars are not immediately alerted to their existence. Since the Empire has a number of different secret societies that have nothing to do with Chaos, this makes discovering actual Chaos cults to be a far more daunting task for those that seek to destroy them. Due to this necessarily widespread tendency towards secrecy and the relative independence of each cult, it is often the case that cults have wildly varying objectives, even ones that are in direct opposition to another cult. This sometimes leads to a cult fighting another cult, with or without realizing it. The Chaos Gods do not seem to mind, and even support such behaviour, just as they encourage the Chaos Marauders to raid each other’s villages.[1a]

Cults Defined Edit

Many servants of Chaos in the Empire are cursed Mutants, individuals who have been touched by the hand of Chaos. While they might retain something of their beliefs and honour, the corruption siphons away their resolve, turning them against the very things they love and respect. If allowed to survive, they will become unthinking abominations, bent on carnage and destruction of all.[2a]

The rest are the cultists. Where the Mutant is a victim of Chaos, the cultist embraces it. Where the Mutant sees his afflictions as curses, a Cultist sees these changes as rewards. The cultist can be anyone, of any social class or profession. Men and women are drawn to Chaos in equal numbers. They are hidden, fully installed in the Empire, from the grandest palace in Nuln to the dirtiest hovel in the Wasteland.[2a]

Contrary to common belief, the average cultist is indistinguishable from an ordinary Old Worlder. He may have a family, own a home and land, and even attend the services of the Sigmarite Temple. A cultist is likely to be a positive force in his community, well-liked, beloved by all. Cultists generally conceal their double lives behind a veneer of respectability, explaining why the Witch Hunters have such a hard time stamping out the many and varied cults that erode the morality of the Empire.[2a]

It would seem that the Ruinous Powers take great pleasure from corrupting mortal servants, even more than when their Daemonic servants wreak havoc during one of the many incursions. The reasons can only be theorised, but regardless of the cause, many mortals succumb to the temptations, sending their damned souls screaming into the cavernous maw that is the Realm of Chaos. And the cultists ride the crest of this wave of souls, exulting in their own madness and corruption to seek the rewards of Chaos.[2a]

While describing why people join cults reveals much of a cult’s purpose and function, it says little of how and why cults form. What could drive an individual to disgrace everything he is by founding an organisation whose soul purpose is to dismantle the order of the Empire?[2a]

Cults are often formed around a personality, an individual charismatic enough to seduce men and women away from right thinking and good beliefs. He is a corruptor, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he knows full well what it is that he does. He has no illusions about the power of Chaos, what it does, and the danger it poses to the Old World. He corrupts with relish.[2a]

Cult Organisation Edit

Cults can be of any size, from a few misguided fools to a large and insidious secret society composed of thousands. Many double as innocent organisations, military fraternities, orphanages, or even established temples. The larger and more prominent the faction, the more attractive it is for infiltration by established cults since its easy to get lost amidst their ranks.[2a]

Anyone can found a cult, and indeed there are hundreds, if not thousands, of small cells scattered throughout the Old World and beyond. However, the most pernicious cults of Chaos are those led by a Cult Magus, a being of great power who interacts with a Daemon or the Dark God itself. Identified by the telltale Mark of Chaos, he commands his group through lieutenants called Acolytes, and together, they form a coven, or inner circle.[2b]

Cult Acolytes Edit

Although a Chaos cult can involves a great number of people, only a select few are aware of the organisation’s true purpose. This inner circle manipulates the rest, guiding the larger body down into ruin. The diseased heart of any cult is the coven. It includes the true members of the cult who understand their allegiance and actively further the interests of the group. They serve as the Magus’ (the cult’s leader) most trusted servants. To become an Acolyte, as many call themselves, they must have earned the mark of whatever God to which the cult owes its allegiance. This sign of favour is instantly recognised by the Magus who, in turn, ushers the individual into the coven.[2b]

Cult Magus Edit

The most dangerous cults are those helmed by a Cult Magus. This leader is deeply corrupted by Chaos and bears one of its horrid rewards. Too twisted to walk among mankind, the Magus must operate behind the scenes, issuing commands and edicts to his Acolytes, who in turn communicate the cult’s wishes to the rest of the organisation.[2b]

Some Magi can communicate directly with their patron, but most must rely on intermediaries such as familiars. These magical creatures are similar to those employed by the Magisters but are always lowly creatures or impish Daemons. A few Magi use magic items that house the essence of a Daemon to bridge the distance between the world of Men and the Realm of Chaos.[2b]

Cult Activities Edit

Once a Chaos cult forms, there’s no telling what it will do. Cults simply seek to sustain themselves, and if growth results, all the better. A few might seize control of a town or village, seducing well-placed members of government and drawing them deeper into the Magus’ plotting. When so installed, a cult can become extremely dangerous, for if it controls the lives of many citizens, it can condemn them to a fate of corruption. In such instances, a cult can act with impunity, snatching people from the streets for dark sacrifices, and maintain extensive temple complexes right beneath the noses of the authorities.[2b]

Governments are not the only groups at risk of infiltration. There are plenty of stories of corruption within legal cults, from the rural shrine to the established High Temple in the capital city, Altdorf. Temptation also runs strong in the Colleges of Magic, seducing would-be Magisters with the power offered by Dark Magic. Even the most virtuous and charitable institutions are at risk, and far too many orphanages have been hunting grounds for terrible cultists in search of innocent flesh to offer up in a blasphemous ritual.[2b]

The instructions issued by the patron, regardless of whether it sources from the familiar or the God itself, seem to follow no logical course. One cult might declare war on a rival group, and the results of the conflict are a series of unexplained and unconnected deaths. Likewise, the cult might broker to gain a foothold in a profitable trade, positioning itself for some future plot and machination. One thing is clear: A Chaos cult’s success or failure in their workings is always the clearest sign of divine favour.[2b]

Cults of Khorne Edit

Khorne is the violent, angry, and murderous God of Chaos. His creed of mindless, wanton destruction appeals only to the utterly psychotic and violent, which take to the battlefield with the unabashed urge to kill, burn, and maim. Because this overt behaviour makes them so noticeable, Khorne’s cultists are chased to the far fringes of the Empire, where the powers of Chaos can hold greater sway over the populace than the local governments.[3a]

Those few cultists of Khorne who remain in the larger cities and western portion of the Empire become solo mass murderers. They stay at large only for as long as they can elude the angry mobs who clamour for their heads. Witch Hunters claim that finding and rooting out cultists of Khorne is the easiest of their tasks — just follow the trail of bodies, and the killer will be at the end of it.[3a]

Organised cults dedicated to Khorne can only successfully operate where there are no real laws. The head of the cult is invariably an extremely powerful, merciless individual who goads his minions into battle with promises of blood and gore. The cults must behave like sharks — they must be constantly on the move, killing whenever possible. Cults of Khorne that cannot find enough innocents to massacre turn upon themselves in short order, both to sate the desires of their foul god and to appease its members’ own lust for death and chaos.[3a]

Cults of Nurgle Edit

Disease is an all too common aspect of life in the Empire. Many people live their entire lives suffering from one ailment or another, and almost every household has lost at least one immediate family member to a horrific illness. The cult of Nurgle preys on those who succumb to the grief and despair that result from this ever present disease and decay. In their madness, they come to believe that Nurgle offers some form of salvation or understanding of pestilence and the entropy of the world. Few realise their misguided convictions only fuel Nurgle’s power, creating a never-ending cycle of disease and despair.[3a]

Cults of Nurgle recruit members from those suffering from horrible afflictions, nihilists, and those driven insane from disease or despair. Nurgle drives them to wander the Old World, spreading pestilence wherever they go. While most cultists eventually succumb to the numerous diseases they carry, a few become strangely energised by their afflictions, mutating into disgusting forms. Cultists of Nurgle are also remarkably cheery — Nurgle is seen as a “loving” god who teaches his followers to accept the diseases that mar their body as a sign of his approval and grace.[3b]

Given the number of diseased people in the Empire, locating cults of Nurgle is surprisingly difficult, as they both lay low, blending into the local populace, and stay on the move. These cults insinuate themselves in places of abject squalor and filth, where even hardened witch hunters pause before entering. Entire sections of towns have been burned to the ground after a cult of Nurgle has been uncovered; the cleansing fire is often the only thing that can stop the diseases they carry.[3b]

Cults of Slaanesh Edit

Easily the most insidious and subtle of the Chaos cults, followers of Slaanesh are dedicated to serving their God through the subversion and corruption of others. Cultists are wanton hedonists who seek stranger and more perverse delights to shock their jaded senses into some kind of reaction. Over time, cultists lose all sense of morality or scruples, turning to murder and vile debauchery in the name of Slaanesh, the God of Pleasure.[3b]

The cult of Slaanesh strives to insinuate itself in all levels of society. It is popular among the upper classes, the members of which often do not know exactly what it is that they are worshipping. In their quest for pleasurable moments, these misguided folk find amusement and novelty in paying homage to strange, seductive idols or partaking in debauched gatherings behind closed doors. Artists, poets, and other seekers of sensual things are often drawn to Slaanesh’s cults. Of them all, the cult of Slaanesh is probably the hardest to uproot, as the political fallout of revealing such heresy could topple the entire Empire.[3b]

The cult also has its worshippers among the lower classes, who use its practises to find some form of relief from their harsh, degrading lives. Some festivals and holy days, particularly those with a message of release and letting go of restraint, push into what some could consider blasphemous ground, where Slaanesh holds sway. Cultists take advantage of these times to recruit new followers with promises of delights and decadence. Witch Hunters and priests of the sanctioned cults keep a close eye on these festivals to ensure that they do not lead followers astray.[3b]

Cults of Tzeentch Edit

Those who follow the teachings of Tzeentch are dedicated to change in all its forms. They are the most mystical of the Chaos cults, seeking out forbidden knowledge regardless of the cost it exacts on the mind, body, and spirit. Hedge wizards, ex-priests, and those who dabble in the occult are the most likely candidates to be drawn into a cult of Tzeentch.[3b]

As befitting a cult that worships the God of Change, no two groups are exactly alike. Some are composed exclusively of spellcasters, while others are comprised of lowly commoners who seek to overcome their lots in life. By asking for such change to come into their lives, they call upon Tzeentch, often without a full understanding of the damage that doing so will cause.[3b]

The Colleges of Magic are constantly on the hunt for Cults of Tzeentch, viewing them as horrid aberrations that meddle in things that should be left alone. The Colleges engage in constant pogroms within their membership, rooting out those who have fallen sway to Tzeentch’s control. Although they are never spoken of, these fallen brethren are all too common. Magic is intrinsically tied to Chaos, and its practitioners are more vulnerable to the call of entropy and corruption than the average citizen of the Empire.[3b]

Sources Edit

  • 1: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Old World Bestiary
    • 1a: pg. 8
  • 2: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Tome of Corruption
    • 2a: pg. 63
    • 2b: pg. 66
  • 3: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Tome of Salvation
    • 3a: pg. 135
    • 3b: pg. 136

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