- "To the north lies our past, and to the north lies our future."
- —Baron Fallon von Kelspar
The Chaos Wastes, also known as the Northern Wastes, the Shadowlands or simply the Northlands, is a hellish region of barren tundra that lies far to the north of the Old World, the New World and Cathay. It is the legendary home of immortal gods and, so it is said, of infinitely worse things: the numberless, nameless monstrosities that dwell in the eternal planes. In truth, it is this and infinitely so much more, but for the sake of mortal understanding, the legend alone must suffice.
Were a cartographer to take his compass and inscribe a circle of the area throughout the world's northern pole, the circumference lying roughly on the northern shore of the dreaded Sea of Claws, it would serve to roughly demarcate the boundaries of the Chaos Wastes. These unholy lands are seen as a place of absolute holiness by the Norse tribes, as well as by the Kurgans and Hung. It is the dream of any man or woman of those races to one day journey here, overcoming the challenges and indescribable horrors it has to offer, and thus ultimately submit themselves to the judgement of their Dark Gods, ascending to the vaunted ranks of the Champions of Chaos.
Built before the dawn of the mortal races, the Polar Warp Gates were constructed by the ancient Old Ones and their Slann servants, who travelled to the world from beyond the stars. The original purpose of the gates was one of instantaneous, inter-dimensional transportation of resources to other worlds within the Old Ones' vast, interstellar, cross-dimensional empire. Built from alien technology, the gates were vast, capable of transporting massive quantities of resources at a time, and were located at each pole of the planet due to the world's geomantic web, a series of channels of magical power that were necessary for the gates to function.
However, after many millennia of efficiency, something in the mechanisms of the gates went catastrophically wrong. Quickly growing uncontrollably unstable, the gates collapsed, their physical structure shattering and breaking apart, and without them in place to keep the otherworld in check, pure Chaos spilled through the ruined portals, causing widespread mutations and creating the first of the Beastmen race. Warpstone, the solidified stuff of raw Chaos, spilled out from the tears in reality, and rained down on the planet causing even further mutations. This was known as the Great Catastrophe.
When the mechanisms of the gates were finally and fully destroyed by the catastrophic failure, the hellish otherworld of the Warp began to bleed into the physical dimension, creating forevermore the hellish Chaos Wastes. The Old Ones, realising their colony-world was beyond saving, fled the planet in their ships, never to return. While the southern pole was relatively isolated, thanks to the continent on which the gate was built being surrounded by vast oceans, the northern pole was surrounded by other lands, allowing the mutated creatures and worshippers of Chaos to cause mayhem in those realms, influenced and controlled by the malevolent entities that exist in its the hellish dimension.
The Chaos Wastes are an impossibly vast area of land, bordering the savage land of Norsca to its south, and the northern portions of the Dark Lands to the south, the Eastern Steppes to its south-east, and the cold region of Naggaroth to the southwest. The Wastes are not an altogether natural phenomenon, having been created aeons ago with the collapse of the Warp Gates of the Old Ones, causing the true Realm of Chaos to, for want of a better term, bleed into the material world. In this respect, the Chaos Wastes are the result of the overlapping of the Realm of Chaos and the Realm of Mortals, and thus provides a constant reminder of the fate that shall befall the kingdoms of the Old World should their defenders falter in the struggle against Chaos.
To this day, the Chaos Wastes continue to encroach across the Northern hemisphere, having already claimed the lands of Norsca and portions of the great Northern Steppes, and infusing those lands with the very essence of Raw Change. The corruption of the Wastes is highly evident in all who live under its shadows: in the vicious Northmen as well as the Kurgan and the Hung. Whilst the stigmata of physical mutation is a rare and often fatal affliction in the lands of the south, amongst the tribes of the Savage North, it is common and considered to be a gift of the gods to their people.
The Chaos Wastes serve as the principle arena of the mortal world in which the Dark Gods of Chaos play out their apocalyptic struggle for supremacy known to scholars of Daemon-lore as the Great Game. Amidst the impossible landscape, the armies of the Dark Gods clash in never-ending battles. These wars are fought not for glory, nor plunder, but simply to advance the unknowable designs of the Four. Every day, the Wastes rock and shudder with titanic conflicts the likes of which unmatched by even the most incredible battles of the Old World.
The Wastes are seen as a site of Holy Pilgrimage by the tribes of the North. It is the ambition of every man of Norsca and the Kurgan realms to grow into a mighty warrior, and eventually to travel to the Uttermost North and submit themselves to the judgement of the gods. Those who survive on this path are changed forever, transformed into some of the mightiest warriors of all the world and welcomed back into the fold of their people with spirited roars and bellowing song. Warriors of Chaos already blessed by the gods may also lead their warbands to fight and raid and adventure in the north; for where better to seek glory than in a land that houses more monsters than men.
As the Wastes of Chaos are an echo of the immortal domain of spirit in the grey land of mortality, they invariably wax and wane with the emotions of mortals. It is not by coincidence the people of Norsca adore war in all its forms, for the fell deities of their worship constantly thirst after the strongest emotions of mortals, for these give them substance and power in the otherworld of Chaos. For the Northern Gods, there is no more potent draught than that offered up by the fury of battle, for in times of conflict, the emotions of mortals are at their most rich and plentiful. Thus, the gods of Chaos are war-like deities who reward the warrior, the general and the battle-mage, turning their backs on the pleas of lesser men.
When the Chaos Wastes wax, their shadow strengthened by the minds of mortals, the savage Norscans as well as the other tribes of the north see this as a sign of their gods' favour and an invocation to the War. Thus, these are the times were it is most likely for a horde of warriors to descend from Norsca and lay waste to all who oppose Chaos. At other times, the armies of Champions congregate the Wastes and do battle amongst themselves, drawn by the promise of eternal glory. When the gods can see fit to find common cause with each other, they shall come together to place their blessing upon a single mortal man to lead the people of the North to ultimate victory. The most powerful of these are the dreaded Everchosen of Chaos, but there are other champions who may be elevated to this position also.
Now, the gods are again united in their favour of one man, it is Archaon, Lord of the End Times, empowered with the might of Chaos and joined by thousands of tribes from the Norse, Kurgan and Hung. Now, the men of the North stand ready to unleash the final battle that will bring about the doom of the faithless people of the South.
The Southern Wastes
It was not only the northern pole where the Dimensional Gates of the Old Ones collapsed, ushering the powers of Chaos into the world, for the fall of the Gate in the northern pole was accompanied by the loss of its twin in the south. These wastelands are said to contain some of the highest concentrations of murderous Beastmen in the world. Though thankfully, its distance relative to the rest of civilization makes it a far less immediate concern than the terrors constantly spewing from the northern Chaos Wastes.
The Chaos Wastes are bordered surrounded by many different areas and countries, invariably, these lands are infused with the essence of Chaos due to their proximity to the portal that leads to the very Realm of the Dark Gods located at the heart of the Wastes. These lands are:
- Norsca - Home to the bloodthirsty tribes of the Norse, devout and fierce warriors of Chaos. Norsca is a mountainous tundra, thus possessing a climate and geography roughly analogous to that of the Chaos Wastes. The area is haunted by all manners of Chaos-infected beasts, such as Chaos Trolls, Chaos Spawns, Giants, and even Daemonic creatures. Mutation is common in Norsca, and many tribes are afflicted with the influence of Chaos to at least some extent. The Norse, of course, do not see that as negative, quite the opposite. Indeed, they have no word for 'mutant' in their langauge, the closest equivalent being 'blessed' or 'favoured'. Barbarous and war-like, the Northmen of Norsca are the very epitome of the Warriors of Chaos.
- Eastern Steppes - It is only the northernmost portion of the Endless Steppe that Chaos has a firm grasp, the area that is roughly east of Norsca. This area is a land of frigid plains and barren grasslands, where the second main cultural group of Marauders, the Kurgan tribes, live. Mutation is rife amongst the Kurgan tribes, seen as the embodiment of divine favour. The Kurgans are almost, without exception, horse-tribes. Indeed, they are reckoned to be the most proficient horsemen in the world, and are also notable as exceptional archers. Kurgan raids are a constant and devastating threat for Kislev.
- Troll Country - The Troll Country is the most southerly of the Chaos tainted wastelands, lying south of the mountainous peninsula of Norsca. Yet this does not make it a place were people can easily survive. Indeed, only the hardiest and most fearsome of the Chaotic tribes make their home in this horrid place, such as the Sarls of Norsca. However, the most prolific inhabitants of these benighted wastes are Trolls themselves, hence the name. But these already fearsome creatures have been further twisted into engines of destruction by the touch of the Chaos Gods. Cockatrices too dwell in cavernous lairs, and Manticores dwell in the sky, just as Ice Dragons rule it and make their homes in the highest peaks. In the northernmost point of the Troll Country, on the cusp of far more Chaotic Norsca, the legends of the Northmen tell of a great Troll King who plots the downfall of man.
- Warhammer Armies: Hordes of Chaos (6th Edition), pp. 6, 10
- Warhammer Armies: Warriors of Chaos (8th Edition), pp. 13
- Warhammer Fantasy Rulebook (8th Edition), pp. 216 - 219