I got the demons codex recently, and whilst I toy with writing a review for it (it’s coming, trust me), it’s given me time to think back on Chaos in its myriad forms. From first reading about the pantheon of Chaos in Warhammer & 40k, it’s been by far the most fascinating concept of the two universes to me. As as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best thing Games Workshop have developed (originally created but not copyrighted by Michael Moorecock – numpty) and released to the world. It’s close to perfection as an idea. To poorly mangle a famous saying, if Games Workshop hadn’t invented Chaos, someone would have had to invent it anyway*. The concept of Chaos is so intrinsic to both settings: so key to how they work, that without them I truly believe that Games Workshop would not have half the success or fan base it does now.
But what makes the concept of the Chaos Gods so appealing or compelling? Beyond simple lustings for power, eternal life at the head of Empires, fantasies, wish fulfilment and golden toilet seats that is? I believe it’s that there is a complexity to them. Admittedly there’s always been a section of the fandom that like to pigeon-hole each of the gods into something simple like Khorne = close combat, Nurgle = disease. Etcetera etcetera. And I can understand why and that’s fine, the hobby is broad and inclusive and not everyone needs to delve into the lore to enjoy it.
Since third edition 40k, Games Workshop have always tried to keep things simple in the main army books. Its only been the introduction of books like the Libre Chaotica and the original Realms of Chaos books that came close to truly describing the eldritch terror of the Chaos Gods.
More than that I think what makes people identify with them so much is because of how, deep down, we recognise how easy it would be to become a disciple of the Ruinous Powers. Because to truly understand nature of chaos, you have to understand that all the gods are intrinsically linked to the underlying theme of addiction.
Now am I saying that all addicts are potential Chaos worshippers? Or that to truly understand the nature of them you have to be an addict yourself? Of course not. For a start, that completely denigrate anyone involved in the argument and is a disingenuous one at best, that undercuts the real world horror of substance misuse and dependency. It’s just acknowledging that to me at least, that the two groups share some similarities and that it may be why a lot of people have trouble grasping that nature of Chaos. As a society we’re all fairly egocentric and struggle to empathise unless we have gone through or know people in such situations. There’s also a lot bad information, opinions, misconceptions and good old fashion bollocks out there.
Being an addict is not something you just ‘give up’. You often just replace it with something else**. I remember reading the origin of Haargroth the Blooded One when the idea of Chaos first properly ‘clicked’ with me. The story of a young man abused by society who finally snaps and gains fulfilment and acceptance in mindless anger. It really struck a chord with a younger me. I realised how in reality he wasn’t much different from how I felt at that age and just how seductive that could be to a person who had had no power before. That’s what Chaos is at its core. It’s a way of seeking refuge from a world you can’t quite gel with, be it elevating yourself above it via Tzeentch or Nurgle, or succumbing to crazed desire via Khorne or Slannesh. But what all their followers have in common is obsession. That’s the key driving point of addiction and dependency.
To give it a frame of reference: The film ‘Get him to the Greek’ starred Russell Brand as a washed up rockstar and Jonah Hill of Superbad fame. It’s ok, if not brilliant. But something Brand (and if anyone has experience of addiction and dependency) said struck a chord with me:
“You know I used to be sober. When I was sober I was worried about: ‘Aw, is this the twilight of my career?’ ‘Is the mother of my child a cruel, evil, brilliant, savant, idiot genius?’ ‘Am I bringing up my kid the right way?’ Now, I just worry about drugs. Your life’s to-do list must be a baffling document. You’re worried about so many things, Aaron. You’re worried about: ‘Will we get to the show?’ ‘Will I perform well?’ ‘Will you get the credit that you deserve?’ Mine has on it but one word. Do you know what that word is?”
Now, go and approach everything you have ever thought about Chaos and its worshippers from that perspective. See how that changes everything?
To be a worshipper of Chaos is to start from a point where every addict starts. It’s one where the tempted dip their toe in and get a taste for something. Then they slowly take more and more until the effect generated compared to the side effects is no longer an equal balance. That’s what makes the Emperor’s Children chasers of excess in any form. Their addiction has rewired their entire brain and body chemistry until they can only experience the world properly via an ever-increasing excess. Of course they can still rationalise. Of course they can still operate as functional beings. But to those Chaos worshippers who are so far down the path as to be almost unreachable, the world is a grey to them unless they are experiencing that high.
I mean sure, real world addictions don’t end up with you growing an extra arm or becoming a writhing ball of mutation. But the path taken to that end is very similar.
It’s a reminder that we aren’t so far removed from desperation and just how great fiction of any sort can be exploring the parts of humanity that we would rather not dwell on. It’s what makes the Chaos Gods so scary to me, because I know, that if the Chaos Gods existed I would have already joined them.
Forget super powered marines of death. Forget daemons that want to feast on your soul. The Chaos Gods would have a lot of us within seconds and it would have been something we would have willingly offered. Now that’s terrifying.
*I’ve been told the sentence should really read “If Games Workshop hadn’t plagiarised and then stolen ownership of the idea of Chaos from Micheal Moorecock, they would have had to hire someone to do it for them anyway”, but its diverting attention away from the main topic of this post and I’ve found it doesn’t really trip off the tongue that easily ;). Still, perhaps something for a future column. **I could talk for thousands of words about this, but it’s not the time or place. As it is though I’m so far left field from most normal topics covering wargaming that I don’t want to invite even more Editorial wrath 😛