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Dark Heresy Background Images

This page showcases four pictures that are composites of multiple individual watermark images used in the background of pages in the Dark Heresy role-playing game core rulebook. The Dark Heresy role-playing game was originally published in 2008 by Black Industries (a Games Workshop imprint), with some early releases in 2007, before it was subsequently licensed to Fantasy Flight Games. As such, being a GW-created product, it is entirely canon.

Note that there was no equivalent sigil of Khorne in the Dark Heresy background images. However, Dark Heresy supplements did also include backgrounds made from the fairly standard Chaos Star image. There are no interesting runes to discuss on that one, so I've not included it here.

The related role-playing games (Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade, Only War) did not use these images, utilising instead other watermark backgrounds as appropriate to each of those game lines.

[ Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path | Sigil of Slaanesh | Sigil of Nurgle | Sigil of Tzeentch ]

Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path

Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path

The Chaos Star

The overall framework of the image is the Chaos Star, the ubiquitous symbol of Chaos throughout the worlds of Warhammer. This is, of course, a direct reference to the Symbol of Chaos from Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series. As an interesting aside, an eight-pointed star as a symbol of divinity goes back much further than that: the cuneiform sign dingir was used to represent gods by the Sumerians in some of the earliest surviving records of human writing.

Moorcock's dichotomy of Chaos versus Law was first included by Games Workshop in 1986's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. This had an alignment range of {Chaos, Evil, Neutral, Good, Law}, with Chaos and Law being extreme fundamental mindsets beyond just Evil and Good (p65). A total victory by Law would be just as problematic as a total victory by Chaos (p210). The rulebook also described three Gods of Chaos (Khorne, Nurgle, Malal) and three Gods of Law (Alluminas, Arianka, Solkan) alongside illustrations of those three Chaos Gods (p210).

The inclusion of Chaos in Warhammer was heavily driven by Games Workshop's managing director, Bryan Ansell. Under his guidance, we saw the publications of the classic Realm of Chaos books: 1988's Slaves to Darkness (with a focus on Khorne and Slaanesh) and 1990's The Lost and the Damned (with a focus on Nurgle and Tzeentch). Hence the shout-out to him in the 1999 edition of Codex: Chaos Space Marines (alongside Michael Moorcock and Frank Frazetta):

Codex: Chaos Space Marines (1999), p20 — Wargear

Spiky Bits: Chaos Space Marines often add ornate and fearsome spikes to their armour. Why they do so, no one is sure, though some say it may be in praise of the minor Chaos powers Mo'rcck, Phraz-Etar and An'sl. Whatever the reason, a Chaos Space Marine adorned with spiky bits may re-roll one close combat To Hit dice per assault phase.

Inner Runes

In the centre we have a variation on the Chaos Star, but with waving tentacular lines rather than straight arrows. Surrounding this, we have eight additional runes, four of which are the well-known symbols of the four major Gods of Chaos (Slaanesh, Nurgle, Khorne, Tzeentch), and interspersed between them are four additional runes which presumably represent additional Chaos Powers.

We have an excellent interpretation of these thanks to The Burning of Ohmn-Mat, an Age of Darkness exemplary battle supplement for Warhammer: The Horus Heresy that showcased the rules for Daemons. This was released on Warhammer Community on 14 March 2023.

Ætheric Dominion

The image directly above is from page 12 of The Burning of Ohmn-Mat. This shows us the relative positions of the Ætheric Dominions around a Chaos Star. Using that, and our knowledge of the four Ruinous Powers, we can identify the central rune of the Dark Heresy background image (pictured to the right) as representing the Primordial Annihilator and then map the surrounding eight runes.

Rotating the Chaos Star from The Burning of Ohmn-Mat by a quarter-turn anticlockwise matches the known Chaos God runes with the clear matches in the Ætheric Dominions. The list below starts from the top of the central vertical axis of the Dark Heresy background image and continues clockwise.

Rapturous Sensation

Rapturous Sensation: The Rune of Slaanesh.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p14 — Ætheric Dominion (Rapturous Sensation)

A maddening screech of sensation and wild impulses. For some among the numberless tide of Chaos the ends of violence truly mattered not, merely that they were there to take part and to experience its vicissitudes, inflicting overwhelming pain and gorging on mortals' fear. These daemonkind revelled in the sensory overload of war, bounding over shell-sundered battlefields to deliver blissful death as they exulted in each blinding flash and deafening blast.

Ravenous Dissolution

Ravenous Dissolution: The description of a self-consuming Chaos power is a match for Malal (later known as Malice in Warhammer 40,000), who was replaced by Necoho and Zussavin in The Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Note that Malice already has a known symbol (a skull-mask, parted vertically, half-white and half-black) but all of the Chaos Gods have multiple symbols beyond their Dark Tongue rune.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p14 — Ætheric Dominion (Ravenous Dissolution)

Such is the hatred that swirls within the Warp that it encompasses all things, and like the dragon of eternity that feasts upon its own tail, this hatred extends even to itself. To expect rational and sane logic from creatures such as these would be foolish, for Chaos was both its name and nature. Yet, in its self-destructive hatred there was no ally to be found, only a new and more unpredictable foe.

Putrid Corruption

Putrid Corruption: The Rune of Nurgle.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p13 — Ætheric Dominion (Putrid Corruption)

A slow corruption, rotting away body and soul, with no final release in death. Among the hosts of Chaos there were those who cared nothing for victory or defeat, only that suffering was spread to as many as possible. Such creatures were ushered forth into the material world in a miasma of disease and filth, content to spread their vile gifts to the world of mortals.

Formless Distortion

Formless Distortion: The description of continuously changing mutation most likely refers to Morghur, a minor Chaos god in Age of Sigmar that was originally introduced as a Beastlord in Warhammer: Beasts of Chaos (2003, p72-73).

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p13 — Ætheric Dominion (Formless Distortion)

Even as Daemons manifest as obscene parodies of mortal forms, the true essence of Chaos is endlessly shifting and unknowable, twisting, changing and perverting everything it touches. Some Daemons who crossed the veil into realspace embodied this ceaseless distortion to its fullest extent, shaping themselves into roiling agglomerations of immaterial flesh and bone, for whom death was simply one component of the eternal metamorphosis they would inflict upon the material world.

Heedless Slaughter

Heedless Slaughter: The Rune of Khorne.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p13 — Ætheric Dominion (Heedless Slaughter)

The dark fury of battle and the red joy of life's final end. For some among the hordes of the Warp, the only goal was to fight and to die - it mattered not where or why as long as blood flowed. Such vile entities would appear garbed in the trappings of conquerors and executioners, caring only for the tally of skulls and death they might reap from the mortal world, irrespective of such concerns as 'friend' or 'foe'.

Encroaching Ruin

Encroaching Ruin: This rune is a variation of the rune for the Chaos attribute "Skull Face" with the addition of small circles at the three corners.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p13 — Ætheric Dominion (Encroaching Ruin)

Chaos in its purest form is a terror that few can stand before and remain sane. It hungers only for destruction, that all things mortal meet their predestined end and crumble into dust to be forgotten. To this singular end it moves inexorably, driven by a nightmarish purpose which subsumes the petty divisions of daemonkind.

Infernal Tempest

Infernal Tempest: The Rune of Tzeentch.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p14 — Ætheric Dominion (Infernal Tempest)

Some hosts of daemonkind brought forth a maelstrom of raw warpstuff with them, manifesting the energy of the Immaterium as sheer elemental power. Around these entities roiled tempests of prismatic balefire, the air riven with crackling arcs of unreal lightning as the earth twisted into fragments of shimmering crystal. To these Daemons there was no higher purpose than the promulgation of that power and of its profligate use on the battlefields of the material realm.

Malevolent Artifice

Malevolent Artifice: This rune is a variation on the rune for Kweethul, with the addition of claws to the lines that cross the square. Kweethul Gristlegut is an example lesser Chaos power presented in Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (p92-94, 101-102). The description, however, sounds much more like Vashtorr the Arkifane in Warhammer 40,000 and Hashut in Warhammer Fantasy / Age of Sigmar.

Warhammer: The Horus Heresy - The Burning of Ohmn-Mat (2023), p14 — Ætheric Dominion (Malevolent Artifice)

Just as Chaos reflects back a twisted mockery of humanity's every facet, so too is the very drive to create perverted into a malevolent and destructive force within the Immaterium. Conjured forth into realspace, such daemonkind harnessed the works of mortals as a vector for their own annihilation, their monstrous machine-entity forms at once a mimicry of flesh and artifice, every action made to demonstrate their supremacy over both mortal beings and everything they deigned to create.

The central symbol together with the eight inner runes form nine: the same as the number of Traitor Legions of Chaos Space Marines. Under that interpretation, we have four aligned Legions matching the four Chaos Gods, and an additional set of Ætheric Dominions remaining. We could perhaps, given their descriptions, try mapping the nine Traitor Legions to the nine Ætheric Dominions, but the connections are not necessarily that strong as this may not be intended. One possible mapping is:

Ætheric DominionTraitor LegionPrimarch
Primordial AnnihilatorXVI: Black LegionHorus Lupercal, the Warmaster
Rapturous SensationIII: Emperor's ChildrenFulgrim, the Phoenician
Ravenous DissolutionXX: Alpha LegionAlpharius Omegon
Putrid CorruptionXIV: Death GuardMortarion, the Lord of Death
Formless DistortionXVII: Word BearersLorgar Aurelian
Heedless SlaughterXII: World EatersAngron, the Red Angel
Encroaching RuinVIII: Night LordsKonrad Curze, the Night Haunter
Infernal TempestXV: Thousand SonsMagnus the Red, the Crimson King
Malevolent ArtificeIV: Iron WarriorsPerturabo, the Lord of Iron

Outer Runes

The outer runes are all directly decipherable. Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned describes the Dark Tongue of Chaos and even gives a two-page spread of runes (p82-83). From this, we can translate the outer circle of runes. We see two types of rune here: symbols for each of the greater daemons of the four major Chaos Gods, and also symbols for a range of personal Chaos attributes (powers that may be granted to mortal followers by their patron Gods). Interestingly, none of the greater daemon runes are aligned to the location of their patron powers within the inner runes.

The list below starts from the top of the central vertical axis and continues clockwise.

Servant of Nurgle: Great Unclean One — Dark Tongue rune pictured to the right


Chaos Attribute: Horns

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p123 — 466-475 Horns

The mutant's head grows horns, and it gains a gore attack if it does not already have one (A +1). The mutant also gains one fear point. As the horns develop they often twist together into a likeness of the symbol of the mutant's Power, marking it as a servitor of its Chaos lord.

Chaos Armour will change to accommodate this attribute, but other headgear must be discarded.

Rapid Regeneration

Chaos Attribute: Rapid Regeneration

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p129 — 756-760 Rapid Regeneration

The mutant can recover very rapidly from injuries received in battle.

At the end of any turn during which the mutant has suffered one or more Wounds it may try to regenerate, even if it is 'dead'. Roll two D6. If either (or both) throws result in a 4, 5 or 6 all lost Wounds are recovered. If the regeneration roll is unsuccessful the mutant loses the Wounds in the normal manner and cannot regain them during this battle (WFRP: must heal as normal). A mutant may regenerate Wounds any number of times, so long as it continues to roll a 4, 5 or 6 on either die when testing for regeneration. It may even return from the dead several times during the course of the same battle.

Metal Body

Chaos Attribute: Metal Body

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p127 — 636-640 Metal Body

The mutant is made up of living metal - a marvellous contrivance of gold, steel and silver. Divide WS and BS by two and increase Strength by three. The mutant's Toughness becomes seven. It also gains three fear points.

The mutant is immune to fire-based and cold-based damage, and cannot be hit by non-magical weapons. Electrically-based attacks (such as Lightning Bolt spells) cause twice as many hits as normal.

The mutant may still receive attributes, including 621-630 Mechanoid, which replaces its living metal body with a machine-like construction.

Servant of Tzeentch: Changer of Ways (i.e. Lord of Change) — Dark Tongue rune pictured to the right


Chaos Attribute: Magician

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p125 — 596-600 Magician

The mutant is granted magical powers. It received one magic level, plus the associated spells (determined randomly or chosen from any list), magic points and power level.

If the mutant is Mindless or Moronic it still receives its magical powers, but it may not be capable of using them! The mutant's Chaos Power just happened to be in a humorous, if fickle, mood.

Followers of Khorne can receive these magical powers, but their use earns Khorne's great disfavour.

Black Skin

Chaos Attribute: Black Skin

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p115 — 191-195 Black Skin

The mutant's skin becomes completely and unremittingly black, so that even light falling on the mutant vanishes into the depths of its darkened surface. Its eyes, however, turn milk-white and lose their pupils and irises. The mutant's sight is unaffected by this alarming change. The mutant's physical make-up is otherwise unchanged; only its colour is altered. Add one to the mutant's fear points.

WFRP: +20 to hide tests at night or in dark surroundings.

Servant of Slaanesh: Keeper of Secrets — Dark Tongue rune pictured to the right

Plague Bearer

Chaos Attribute: Plague Bearer (which is distinct from Plaguebearer!)

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p128 — 706-715 Plague Bearer

The mutant carries some form of hideous Chaos-tainted disease. Followers of Nurgle with this attribute automatically have Nurgle's Rot (see The Lost and the Damned for further details).

Followers of other Chaos Powers should roll a D6 and consult the table below to determine the nature of their plague and its hideous effects:

1The Shakes
The mutant is afflicted with uncontrollable shaking fits, to the extent that it can no longer control its muscles and limbs properly. Reduce Weapon Skill by 1/10 and Attacks by one as a result of this palsy.
2Eye Rot
The mutant's eyes swell and distend, growing large and bulbuos with retained fluid. Reduce the mutant's Ballistic Skill by 1/10.
3Creeping Buboes
The mutant's limbs are covered in foul and ulcerous open sores, which restrict movement and cause great discomfort. Reduce the mutant's Move by one, and its Initiative by 1/10.
4Bone Ague
The mutant's bone structure changes, growing enormously in places, withering to nothing in others. The mutant's form is twisted and distorted as a result. Reduce Strength and Toughness by one each.
5Grey Fever
The mutant's brain is seized by a strange wasting fever, which brings hallucinations, premature senility and dementia. Reduce the mutant's Leadership, Intelligence, Cool and Will Power by 1/10.
6Green Pox
The mutant develops hideous green spots and pimples over its entire body, and grows thinner as the pox takes its toll. Reduce Wounds by 1/5.

No characteristic can drop below one as a result of being a Plague Bearer. The mutant gains one fear point.

Whenever the mutant hits an opponent in close combat it may have passed on its infection. No damage need be caused for this to happen. The opponent makes a Toughness test, failure indicating infection. Apply the effects of the plague immediately. No characteristic can ever be reduced below one by the effects of a plague.

At the end of every battle (WFRP: 24 hours) any survivor with a plague must make a Toughness test. If this is failed its profile is again reduced, but no characteristic can drop below one.

Magic Immune

Chaos Attribute: Magic Immune

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p125 — 586-590 Magic Immune

Magic has no effect upon this mutant. It automatically passes any Will Power/magic test required as a result of spells cast against it. A save may also be made against magic not normally allowed a saving throw, although this is not automatically successful. Magic and enchanted weapons (other than Daemon Weapons but including Chaos Weapons) are treated as non-magical when used against the mutant.

Servant of Khorne: Bloodthirster — Dark Tongue rune pictured to the right

Burning Body

Chaos Attribute: Burning Body

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p118 — 226-230 Burning Body

The mutant's body is wreathed in the flickering tongues of hellish flames, and burns with an unnatural light. Increase Toughness by one, and add three to the mutant's fear point total.

The hell-born fire causes an additional S4 hit every time the mutant strikes an opponent in hand-to-hand combat. Opponents in hand-to-hand combat subtract -2/-20 from their to hit throws as they attempt to avoid the terrible flaming heat. Furthermore, when an opponent does hit the mutant, roll a D6. On a result of 1, 2 or 3 the opponent takes one S2 hit from the flames as he moves in close in order to land his blow.

Finally, the mutant may only carry equipment which is of a magical origin or has been granted as a Chaos gift. All other objects touched by the mutant are consumed by its unearthly heat.

Warp Frenzy

Chaos Attribute: Warp Frenzy

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p135 — 956-960 Warp Frenzy

The mutant becomes subject to frenzy of a particularly violent type. When it becomes frenzied, it gains D6+6 extra Chaos attributes. These extra attributes can be generated randomly whenever the frenzy strikes, determined now and noted down for later use, or you can roll a D6 and consult the table below to determine the extra Chaos attributes that the mutant gains when it is in the throes of its terrible frenzy:

D6Attributes gained
1Albino (p114); Bestial Face - goat (p115); Bird's Feet (p115); Flaming Skull Face (p121); Pseudo-Daemonhood (p128); Regeneration (p129).
2Additional Eye (p114); Crest (p118); Elastic Limbs (p120); Fangs (p120); Horrible Stench (p122); Mace Tail (p124); Mercreature (p125); Puny (p128).
3Alcoholism (p114); Bestial Face - goat (p115); Bulging Eyes (p111); Headless (p121); Extra Joints - legs (p120); Furry (p121); Long Nose (p124); Plague Bearer - Grey Fever (p121); Temporal Instability (p134).
4Blood Rage (p116); Crown of Flesh - fingers (p119); Eyestalks (p120); Iron Hard Skin (p122); Overgrown Body Part - feet (p127); Mechanoid - arms (p125); Plague Bearer - The Shakes (p121); Spits Acid (p131); Vampire (p134); Weapon Master (p135).
5Blood Substitution - maggots (p116); Clouds of Flies (p118); Extremely Thin (p120); Horrible Stench (p122); Razor Sharp Claws (p129); Rotting Flesh (p129); Shrink - quarter size (p130); Tail (p131); Tentacles - one arm (p134); Warty Skin (p135); Zoological Mutation - lion face (p136).
6Bestial Face - goat (p115); Enormously Fat (p130); Hopper (p121); Irrational Fear - blue objects (p123); Mane of Hair (p124); Multiple Arms - two extra (p126); Multiple Heads - one extra, eagle's head (p126); Poisonous Bite (p128); Scaly Skin (p130); Technology - bolter (p132); Transparent Skin (p134); Wings (p136).

The mutant's frame warps into its new form for the duration of its frenzy and then changes back to its original form when the bout of frenzy is over. Its original Chaos attributes are retained at all times, and it is to this form that the mutant reverts after its frenzy.

While it is frenzied the mutant adds five fear points to its total in addition to any other fear points its new attributes may give it. This may alter the psychological effects it induces in its opponents.

Featureless Face

Chaos Attribute: Featureless Face

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), p121 — 406-410 Featureless Face

The mutant's facial features disappear, leaving an entirely blank face. Despite the lack of features, the mutant's senses are unimpaired. Increase the mutant's fear points by one.

[ Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path | Sigil of Slaanesh | Sigil of Nurgle | Sigil of Tzeentch ]

Sigil of Slaanesh

Sigil of Slaanesh

The major motif here is the symbol of Slaanesh, and at the centre we see the Dark Tongue rune for "Face of a Keeper of Secrets".

The Dark Tongue text in the outer ring, transliterated from English, starts at the top and goes anti-clockwise. The following phrases are separated by double vertical lines:

Interestingly, many of the "E"s (should be single dots) and "I"s (should be double dots) are switched, giving the text the feel of being written in an accent. A close transcription is: "E SUMMON THI, E BhENDh THI, E ChOMMAaNDh THI, THENE PhOWERh ES MENE TO ChONTRhL".

[ Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path | Sigil of Slaanesh | Sigil of Nurgle | Sigil of Tzeentch ]

Sigil of Nurgle

Sigil of Nurgle

The sigil's core is the triple-circle symbol of Nurgle, with each circle holding a stylised fly. The bottom-left fly contains the Dark Tongue rune for "Plague". The bottom-right fly contains the Dark Tongue rune for "Nurgle's Rot". The top fly contains a rune that is not documented in Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned, but by extension from other similar runes it is something to do with skin.

The text running around the two concentric rings is all English transliterated into the script of the Dark Tongue, running anticlockwise:

[ Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path | Sigil of Slaanesh | Sigil of Nurgle | Sigil of Tzeentch ]

Sigil of Tzeentch

Sigil of Tzeentch

The symbol of Tzeentch, wreathed in warp fire, overlies a background of a twisted eight-pointed Chaos star. At the centre is the Dark Tongue rune of Tzeentch.

The Dark Tongue text in the outer ring, transliterated from English, starts at the top and goes clockwise. The following phrases are separated by wider spaces:

[ Chaos Star of the Eightfold Path | Sigil of Slaanesh | Sigil of Nurgle | Sigil of Tzeentch ]