Thursday, 24 April 2014

Index Chaotica: Garden of Nurgle (Warhammer 40,000 Digital Edition Review)

Of all the most basic facts long established in Warhammer 40,000 lore, the Warp seems to be the one which eludes some writers the most. While all get its basic ideas right, the birthplace of daemons and realm of the Ruinous Powers, it seems that evermore authors just keep getting facts wrong. 

Perhaps the absolute biggest problem people keep forgetting is that the dimension is completely inhospitable to mortals. It is total anathema to them and none survive without a daemonic patron protecting them or a Gellar field. What's more is that much of what mortals understand and know about the Warp comes purely from diluted information, broken down to a point where they can comprehend them properly. Khorne does not have daemons quite literally strutting about a fortress of blood within the Warp and the god does not physically sit upon a throne of skulls. Tzeentch's city is simply a concept, an idea of what his realm is, you cannot simply stride into the Warp and find it with easy directions.

Index Chaotica: Garden of Nurgle is the single biggest example of just how badly some authors understand this. The biggest one since Kaldor Draigo was sent strutting about the Immaterium merrily skull humping any daemon foolish enough to face him. There really are no words as to just how badly this gets things wrong.

Now, normally we would break down such a horrific book page by page. We would go through it section by section, citing the biggest issues as they appeared and break them down. We're not going to do that here. Instead I am going to start by citing one single incident which sums up this work's greatest failing. One moment, from two specific bits of the book, which shows the writers had no concept as to what they were doing or any kind of proper respect to what Chaos God actually means. Behold:

"Seldom has the manse itself been breached successfully and have the intruders escaped with their lives. One incursion is said to have involved a squad of Fire Hawks Space Marines, a Chapter long since declared lost in the mortal realm. While Nurgle was preoccupied drowning a Lord of Change in his cauldron, the Space Marines arrived engulfed in an inferno of flame and bolter fire to reclaim their fallen captain, whom Nurgle’s minions had once overtaken all-too easily from Khorne’s Wrathgate. The Lord of Decay has his suspicions about the source of this event, laying blame at the feet of the Blood God for the foul deed, for while the Fire Hawks brought their inferno, several blood relics and skullseeds also vanished from the garden."

"Ten Space Marines of the Fire Hawks Chapter slip through the ethereal void and enter the realms of Nurgle to free Captain Tirek, who is held captive within Nurgle’s manse. The Fire Hawks are enveloped in a spiritual fire, a cleansing inferno of their wrath made manifest. They fight their way through the thick, ever changing gloom and assault his dwelling, burning back the drips of ichor and clouds of spores. Fierce fighting rages throughout his oubliette, their weapons furiously dealing with diseased creatures. Their cleansing flame purges disease from the very air around them. The Fire Hawks’ incandescent attack results in the deaths of hundreds of the Nurgle’s subordinates. Having lost only two battle brothers in the melee, the Fire Hawks finally leave with Tirek. However, little do they realise that Nurgle’s Rot has taken root beneath their captain’s power armour, and the bubbling plague is spreading throughout his body. The Fire Hawks venture back out into the Immaterium, their captain slowly succumbing to disease, becoming a vector for the horrific Red Plague."

Oh sweet lord. Where do we begin.

Shall we go through just a few of the problems here?

  1. The former section tries to set this up as the Legion of the Damned being involved. The latter tries to set this up as the possible origin for the Legion of the Damned, showing the sheer laziness when it came to editing this book.
  2. The book suggests Khorne himself directly intervened to assist these astartes, suggesting one of two things. A- Khorne is so petty he will micromanage something so low a subordinate could have easily accomplished and will personally listen to anyone. B - The Legion of the Damned, a force whose original lore cites their sheer loyalty to the Emperor keeps them going, willingly does deals with the Ruinous Powers.
  3. The incident treats Nurgle as some physical being who can be distracted by a single event, a single daemon of a rival god. Not, as has long been established, as an omnipotent presence driven by primordial aspects of the universe and emotion.
  4. Even in his most powerful domain, filled with his most powerful servants, it can easily be set alight and his creatures cut down by the hundreds. By a single Tactical Squad.
  5. The book treats the Garden of Nurgle as a physical location, which can be walked around in and is a literal garden. Not something formed out of the very concept of decay itself and completely unlike the physical world in all respects.
That last point is perhaps the most important of all of this and is only reinforced by later events. There are long, extremely lengthy descriptions of the Garden and how it is built up, treating it like some physical location which is orderly and easily comprehended. A place easily sane enough for mortals to move in and out of with only extreme danger to themselves, not complete obliteration the second they enter it. 

This reads less like the Warp than it does a daemon world, and I honestly think that was the real problem here. This is pure speculation of course, but the descriptions and ideas listed here are something which would be completely at home in the Eye of Terror or where the Immaterium bled through and corrupted a planet. I honestly think the author just looked at that and decided to stick with it rather than actually taking the time to look into the Warp itself.

The real shame of this all though? This could have easily worked. Okay, not so much the sheer stupidity of bits like the Fire Hawks ten man invasion but the actual bits about the garden. The descriptions here are fantastic, very vivid and with a great descriptive quality when they actually focus upon aspects of the garden. It's easily the sort of thing you could see a Sorcerer or preacher of Nurgle's ways citing in his prayers. The problem is that none of this is treated as half truths, warped visions or the mad deluded ramblings of a festering pilgrim. It's stamped down solidly as fact, without a single suggestion, hint or comment made to suggest otherwise.

What made the likes of Xenology and the Liber Chaotica series work so well was because they were obviously opinionated. They were written by the hand (or hands) of individuals within the universe and were prone to potential misinformation and heavy bias. What's more is that they were actually constructed like a scrapbook, showing the thoughts and texts to further impress upon the reader how this was an entirely in-universe opinionated account. Of course, putting together such a work would take more time and money, neither of which Games Workshop is willing to spend when they can churn these out by the bucket-load.

Even ignoring that solution, this still could have been written about a daemon world under the control of one of Nurgle's Daemon Princes. Many sections do show characteristics which his kind are known for and would fit in entirely with such a being. No luck there though.

Another problem is that the book cannot help but relentlessly misunderstand everything about the Warp with every event. Multiple accounts have mortals accidentally or intentionally flying into the Garden or crash landing, with people just walking about the place. One notable event is where an Imperial cruiser somehow accidentally flies into the place, crash lands in the Garden and then has the humans merged into screaming trees. Another one has the dark eldar accidentally flying there through the Webway. Yes, apparently taking a wrong turn in the Webway (that thing which is supposed to completely bypass the entire Warp) can cause you to end up at the very heartland of all corruption and decay.

That second example is especially irksome, but not just for the obvious reasons. It's one of a multitude of stories where the writers just seem to keep applying the wrong aspect of a Chaos God to Nurgle. Have a read for yourself:

"Of the mortal races that have been summoned to Nurgle’s garden at the whims of the gods, few have lived to speak of their efforts. The Archon Drekarth X’uskul once veered off course and spilled unexpectedly from the webway into Nurgle’s domain. While he was in this strange realm, he took the opportunity to capture beasts that would make good sport for the gladiatorial arenas in Commorragh. He led a band of Wyches with an array of advanced weaponry on a raid through the dark forests, but little did the Archon realise that his incursion would lead to his own raiding party becoming the sport itself. 
Bladed whips lashed against Nurgle’s putrid offerings. The Wyches’ web-needles raked through pus-bloated forms. Great phials were filled with all manner of toxic substances. However, the Lord of Decay cheerfully sent forth dozens of his Plague Drones to chase down the raiders. Fierce combat raged beneath low-hanging tendrils and in bacteria groves, as the membranous-winged Rot Flies thundered this way and that. Yet the strange weaponry of the Wyches brought down the bulging airborne beasts, and X’uskul’s swift blade liberated the fallen riders of their heads. Through guile and violence, the Archon and a sole Wych endured; they managed to leave with a captured Rot Fly. X’uskul did not question the ease with which he acquired the beast. Much as the Plaguefather had hoped, the Archon returned with it to Commorragh. Within days, whole sections of the Dark City were contaminated by a strange plague and were accordingly quarantined. Asdrubael Vect himself was forced to kill the beast that X’uskul had brought back, and the Archon has not been seen since."

Yes, this happens more than a few times. People just keep coming in via the revolving door the Master of Pestilence installed into his private domain and head out again with him cackling "Just as planned!" This is Tzeentch they're writing here, this guy's complete opposite! Okay, Nurgle is certainly not without guile of his own, but this happens a few times too often and doesn't reflect his specific type of subterfuge. Often less overly ambitious plans like this and more often a greater reliance upon corruption and spread of diseases en mass; not continual Trojan Horse tactics which require his foes to pinch things from his back yard.

While definitely a better work than the average supplement codex, the lore here contains far too many basic failings to truly represent Nurgle. There was some talent in certain aspects of this book and plenty of good aspects, but the basic concept is so horribly botched that none of this matters. As a result the talent behind this is misdirected and does not bring the ideas here to true fruition. It represents some of the worse problems with the Dataslates and the worst problems when it comes to basic fact checking among some of the company's writers.


  1. ...Well that was a lot of fun, those gardens sure are something aren't they? Aaannnnnd coming up next on your left is the palace of pleasure, where we'll be eating dinner tonight once the 7th sun sets, She Who Thirsts has offered autographs as well as backstage interviews for anybody who's curious about the inner workings of the place, but first we'll visit on the citadel of the blood god, He's currently away because the all doors are being repaired after his latest rampage, so make sure not to bother any of the workers, afterwards we'll take a look at the impossible city, it's really confusing so try not to get lost and stay close to Kairos, he's our inside guide there, Tzeentch is really busy at the moment and wasn't able to conduct the tour himself, sorry to disappoint you, and after we've had supper we'll drop you right off where we picked you up

    1. You know what, standards be damned, if the entire dataslate had actually been written like that all would have been forgiven.

  2. This was awful, really awful, what gets me more about this is they never need to actually enter the warp to do what they're doing here, they have teleporters, just teleport whoever you're trying to save, and if the warp was an actual place, why would ships ever go anywhere near the ground (besides getting that awesome tour)?
    I think most of this problem stems from the fact that the daemon codex makes the warp look like a regular place, as well as having other books mention places that aren't actually places, then the writers don't check anything else and they wrote this.

    There's actually a long list of things GW has forgotten in just 5th/6th edition, one of which I forgot too is about the necrons, how you can't actually kill them because their consciousness just goes to the nearest tomb world that then builds them a new body (it's in the big rulebook).

    Another one is the Big Rulebook shows what the warp looks like to a person, it's a swirling incomprehensible mealstorm of... Nobody knows really, it even has images to drive home how completely alien it is, as well as an image of what happens to somebody who tries to walk it (it doesn't work out).

    How about the Ordo Hereticus is supposed to investigate Space Marines that don't do their duties? This is straight out of the Witch Hunters Rulebook:
    Witch Hunters would fight Space Marines because: Many Space Marine chapters are notoriously independent, and often follow their own agendas with little to no recourse to Imperial policy. One such chapter has refused to give aid when requested, resulting in the loss of a strategically vital world, and the Ordo Hereticus has resolved to bring the chapter master to justice.
    So Clan Raukaan should have been crushed (wouldn't have been hard given their lack of resources, as well as the resources the Inquisition has, yet another reason that supplement sucked), as well as a lot of other Space Marine chapters at least put under investigation, but no, they're just let to do whatever they want.
    Maybe that's why there's Space Marines in the hundreds (if not by the chapter) converting to Chaos, rather than before when there were only a few groups here and there (usually they had a good reason) as well as the former legions.

  3. I just had a horrifying thought, what if this is how the warp is going to be now? What if they're retconning it in all of the codex's so that the warp is an actual place you can just walk around in? Almost all of the newer rulebooks treat it as an actual place that physical beings are rarely affected by (demons or gods have to do something to them, the warp does nothing on it own) with Codex: Daemons being the biggest offender, and Grey Knights being the second biggest offender.

    1. Unfortunately it seems that way. Almost no one respects what it is or just how dangerous a place it can be. The average daemon world seems to be treated as a most hostile place than the Warp. I'd call it a low rent version of Mordor, but even Mordor was a more hostile location than some of the things seen here.

      The bigger question is what will happen thanks to the gaping plotholes this has left. We have so many punched into the canon thanks to poor research and editing but this one is especially bad. Going by this new lore there was no reason the Emperor couldn't have just upped and conquered the place during the Great Crusade.

  4. Until now I thought Codex: Daemons was supposed to represent the Warp as how the Daemons themselves comprehend it, and I thought it did a good job of presenting the whole eternal war from within the warp. And even in as far back as 4th or 5th edition there were daemon worlds within the warp, but there are too many inconsistencies here now. If anything they need to re-ambiguous it up to give players the liberty of deciding for themselves.