Wrath & Rapture goes on pre-order today, so I think there’s no better time than to start rambling about a subject that is fairly close to my heart, being a long-time fan of the Dark Prince: let’s talk about the youngest of the Chaos gods, and perhaps the most problematic of them – Slaanesh, the Prince of Pleasure.
I’ve been a fan of the youngest of the Chaos gods pretty much since I learnt about the wonders of Warhammer. I’m sure you all think I’m some kind of pervert, after making that statement! But there has always been something quite interesting to me when you see the followers of Slaanesh in comparison with those of the other Chaos gods. They aren’t always brutal, half-mad killers, or putrid and disgusting rot-bringers. They can be quite elegant, with their slight and subtle mutations hidden beneath silks and velvets. I think this perhaps sums up a lot of the ideas behind Slaanesh pleasure cults in the Old World:
Warhammer Fantasy did a lot to form my opinion of Slaanesh, and while a lot of the emphasis there was on the debauchery and degeneracy, the basic idea of Slaanesh being the god of excess has been there all the way through. Cultists of Slaanesh may look pretty normal, save for a forked tongue, but the idea of something daemonic being hidden behind the glamour is definitely a powerful factor in the image of Slaanesh and what he represents.
Let’s talk for a moment about BDSM, though, and the overly-sexualised way Slaanesh has been portrayed in the past. Slaanesh is forever linked with the pain/pleasure principle, it seems, and I don’t think GW will ever remove themselves from it entirely. What was initially intended as something of a 1980s punk-style Chaos god has matured over the years, GW are definitely trying to play down the sexual nature of Slaanesh – presumably to make the range more palatable to their target market. I think this is a pretty sensible move, if I’m honest, as I think the hobby in general does struggle with an image problem a lot of the time, and having mostly-naked miniatures to play with does absolutely nothing to improve that image. I don’t want to be pushing around miniatures of naked women, as I kinda feel like it’s inappropriate and a bit too teen-angst-y for me. I mean, I’m 34 on Tuesday, so I don’t want people thinking I’m still in the mindset of a 14 year old. Of course, I’m not trying to tell anybody how to have their own kind of fun, but for me, things like the Juan Diaz Daemonettes or Seekers are just silly and childish, and I’m really glad GW have dressed the Daemonettes a little since then.
“Boobs for the Boob God”, I hear you all cry…
I’m not trying to get all SJW here, and I’m aware that there are plenty of arguments for allowing artistic representation the freedom it needs. If you enjoy the sort of overly-sexualised miniatures such as these, or the current stuff being made by companies such as Raging Heroes, then that’s fine – you like what you like, and that’s all there is to it. Personally, I don’t like it, and I don’t really want to be associated with it. There is a very definite problem, to my mind, with female representation in a lot of geekdom and, without getting into that debate here, I think anything that GW can do to tone things down is a step in the right direction.
In recent years – particularly since the re-launch of Warhammer Fantasy as Age of Sigmar – GW have gone down the route of having Slaanesh be more about the allure, and temptation, rather than anything overtly sexual. Slaanesh is supposed to be about Excess, which can be represented by more than just sex. The ‘sergeant’ for the Daemonettes is called an Alluress, for example, and there are references to Slaanesh daemons enticing their foes closer before they slash them apart. It’s an interesting move, for sure, as allure is pretty much all about the tease, the promise of more to come.
Slaanesh is now mostly about speed, with rules in 40k and AoS that allow models to advance (run) and charge, and gain additional attacks for charging, etc. In 40k, there are rules that allow you to adversely affect your opponent’s characteristics while nearby Slaanesh units, reflecting the beguiling nature these daemons possess. They’ve become the Sirens of the Warhammer universe in a classical Greek way, and I have to say, I really prefer that!
I’m also quite pleased to see a more standard approach to Slaanesh as an entity too – for years, there were references to a male and female half, as represented by the models having a female right-side and a male left-side of the chest, for instance. The “problem” was compounded by the fact Slaanesh was named the Dark Prince, but also called She Who Thirsts by the Eldar of Warhammer 40k. In some of the artwork there are still visual cues of androgyny, but overall it seems that GW have adopted the masculine pronoun for referring to the deity now, which, I feel, further helps to bring the line away from sexuality and more about simple lethality.
I would love a model of a Slaanesh sorcerer like this guy, though.
So far as the models go, I do love the current range for just how weird they all are. While Khorne models are all pretty much classic devils, Nurgle are all disgusting, and Tzeentch are just weird, there is a much more subtle wrong-ness about Slaanesh that I think is particularly impressive overall. They do tend to be very spikey, and there are several shared design cues such as the crab-claws and the reverse-articulated legs, but I think that GW have managed to hit the nail on the head when it comes to what these things represent. Daemonettes in particular are supposedly beautiful maidens who seduce folks into getting too close before eviscerating them. I think the idea of the beguiling daemon using a glamour to lure people in, then revealing the much more daemonic face beneath, is really strong here – from a distance, we see the half-naked daemon women and get a completely different idea of what they actually look like.
The steeds of Slaanesh are interesting for their undulating shapes, which is just the right side of suggestive, but the chariots they pull are all spikey meat-grinders – indeed, the Hellflayer is basically a threshing machine designed to carve up all sorts of folk on the battlefield!
It’s this spikey-ness that is another important aspect of the look of Slaanesh, for me. Bloodletters look like classic devils from common folklore, and we’re inherently averse to them because of that fact. Slaanesh daemons, however, have that lithe sensuality that makes us think they’ll be a lot less vicious – in-game, Daemonettes have a stat line similar to what is basically the standard human, and most weapons will be wounding them on 3s. But they are fast, and they have 2 attacks each at WS3, and their basic claws are AP-1 – these things are vicious!
There’s just something quite dangerous about the look of Slaanesh models.
For all that Slaanesh has been moving away from the boobs-out look of the past, however, I find myself a bit confused by the new Fiends of Slaanesh models that are in the Wrath & Rapture box, as they once again have the suggestion of sexuality about them that I thought we’d put behind us.
They’re good looking models, for sure, but it is a little bit dismaying to see an emphasis placed on Slaanesh being all about the boobs. The models are otherwise fantastic, and definitely an improvement on the older Fiend, which was one of the earliest models I’d attempted to paint!
Which I suppose brings me on to the Keeper of Secrets.
All of the four Chaos gods have almost identical basic structures in terms of how their model ranges run – the lesser daemons as troops, a chariot, an elite choice, a cavalry choice, heralds and a greater daemon centrepiece model. Khorne, Nurgle and Tzeentch have each now got their plastic greater daemon model in the shape of the Bloodthirster, the Great Unclean One, and the Lord of Change. For Slaanesh, we’re waiting for a Keeper of Secrets that is better than, well, this one:
The Keeper of Secrets as an iconic image is actually not too far removed from the new Fiends, as it happens. The reverse-articulated legs, the skin being held up with hooks, the whip-like tongue… I wouldn’t be surprised if many people first saw these than thought we might be in for the big bad itself.
I don’t want to sound like I’m getting too negative though, as I do really like the Slaanesh range for just how weird it all is, and I’m pleased to see new models finally arrive for it – something I never thought I’d see again, if truth be told! Daemons of Slaanesh are some of my favourite miniatures, and I think it would be a load of fun to try and build a force once again out of these bizarre snake-horses and crab-ladies. I’ve been looking at the Start Collecting box as a good place to start, as I’ve always wanted to try and put together that Exalted Chariot.
I’m hoping that the range will continue to be fleshed out, now that GW seem to have lost their aversion to even acknowledging the fourth Chaos god. Early efforts in Age of Sigmar to sideline Slaanesh in favour of the Horned Rat seem to have disappeared, and I think this new box set means that Slaanesh has very definitely not gone anywhere. I do enjoy the efforts with the lore to keep the idea of Slaanesh as an absent god still a part of the universe, however, though I think perhaps now that we’re seeing new plastic miniatures for the range, we might actually be on the verge of a new Battletome for the Hosts of Slaanesh within Age of Sigmar?
Here’s hoping, as I think the Hosts idea is really quite interesting and worthwhile exploring through their own book. Age of Sigmar definitely has more ideas for Slaanesh than 40k, mainly due to the fact that we have additional units that can be taken in the fantasy setting in the shape of the Hellstriders.
These chaps are almost the epitome of Slaanesh as the Lord of Excess – muscular warriors who are driven forth in their desire to cause as much pain and torment as possible. The fact that their wargear is quite perfect, their bodies muscled to perfection – it just screams what Slaanesh is all about, the pursuit of something to excess. They exemplify that unique aspect of Slaanesh as a Chaos god – each of the four is disturbing in his own way, for sure, but there is something a lot more pristine about Slaanesh, and while you can of course model your Daemonettes bathed in blood and reveling in gore, I do enjoy the idea of an unsullied host of daemons as opposed to anything else.
It’s a shame we can’t get these in 40k as some kind of human-style cultists of Slaanesh. Though I would still like to see something like the classic berserker-cultist of Slaanesh realised in model form:
I’ve been rambling for quite some time now about the miniatures line for Slaanesh, but let’s get round to talking about some of my efforts with the army!
I’ve tried to build an army of Slaanesh models a few times over the years, but have never been very good at getting the look right. Most recently, two years ago I’d built up some Daemonettes, a Seeker Chariot, and a Herald, and was trying to get going with some Hellstriders, but sadly abandoned that project shortly after moving house. Well, I think it might have been a case of overloading myself with miniatures to paint, as I have been a bit all over the place with my projects lately, even if I so say so myself! It’s time to cut back a little bit, and try to plan out exactly what I want to be using in games before going all gung-ho and buying loads of stuff that I have no real ideas for… It’s the easiest thing in the world to go to the games store and pick some stuff up, but actually building it and painting it was becoming quite the chore. So I’ve been trying to be a bit more strategic with what I’m picking up, in the hope that I’ll be better at the hobby overall.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about approaching a Daemons army once again, this time with a bit more sense behind it, so you’ll have to stay tuned to see whether I actually get somewhere this time!