Of the four Chaos Gods, Slaanesh has always been my favourite. I find the idea of corruption through the pursuit of perfection, vanity and obsession a really cool hook for a faction. With the recent release of the new Slaanesh Battletome and an expanded range of mortals, I thought it might be a good idea to dive into what makes the Hedonites of Slaanesh my favourite faction in Age of Sigmar. First, a quick note: Slaanesh themself is referred to with different pronouns in different places to reflect them appearing differently gendered on a whim. To be as inclusive as possible, I will be using they/them pronouns in this article.
A Stunning Model Range
I absolutely adore the model range. The Prince of Pleasure’s followers got a significant refresh in May 2019, and I loved all of it. The new models are a strange mashup of Arabian Nights, Paris Fashion Week and traditional daemon weirdness. The best example of this new style is the Keeper of Secrets, Slaanesh’s greater daemon. The Keeper is a sleek, beautiful, and horrifying avatar of excess, its androgynous body (Èliphas Lèvi’s Baphomet is a clear touchstone) bedecked in jewelery, flowing robes and reality defying stockings that blend into their skin.
The named character variant, Shalaxi Helbane, has an amazing Carnivale-style headdress and wields a long spear rather than a sword, and I do have a soft spot for spears. I firmly believe that the Keeper of Secrets is one of the best kits Games Workshop have ever made – not only do they look awesome, but I found the kit super easy to assemble, and it comes with great head options too.
Honourable mention must also go to Syll’Esske, the Vengeful Allegiance, a hero model made up of two characters who fight as one. Syll Lewdtongue, a whip wielding daemonette (The ‘standard’ type of Slaanesh daemon) astride a metal scaffold mounted on the back of Esske, a hulking daemon prince carrying an ornate two-handed axe and covered in ritual scars. It’s a gorgeous model, and really conveys the sense of two devoted companions fighting in synergy. Esske’s cloth sashes, jewelry and armoured boots are rooted in the near-eastern theme prevalent in the new mortal range, a design choice I genuinely love.
The new mortal range is, frankly, spectacular. The return of my favourite Old World character, the Geld-Prince Sigvald the Magnificent, coupled with some excellent line infantry, cavalry, and archers, has driven my Slaanesh hype through the roof.
I have eagerly started painting the new Slaanesh mortals – the Myrmidesh Painbringers are a particular favourite of mine. These armoured Hedonites have an incredible aesthetic, with aspects of ancient Greek and Persian warriors throughout their design. I can only speak for myself, of course, but they are everything I wanted from Slaaneshi mortals.
The Lore of Slaanesh
I’m deeply enamoured with the lore surrounding Slaanesh and their followers in Age of Sigmar. If you want a bunch of writing about depraved daemons and corrupted mortals just having the best time, causing carnage and committing unspeakable atrocities often for no other reason than boredom – then Slaanesh is the Chaos god for you.
The battletome is full of great writing and characters – take the Masque, for example. The Masque is a daemonette who was, for a time, the Dark Prince’s favoured Herald. One day, Slaanesh returned to their palace in a foul mood after a crushing defeat, and the Masque, desperate to console the angry god, decided to perform a dance for them.
Slaanesh, being the capricious and mercurial god that they are, thought the Herald was mocking them, and cursed the daemon to dance forever, with no hope of reprieve. If that story doesn’t grab you, then it’s unlikely that the rest of the Slaanesh lore will either, but it grabbed me, and it remains one of my favourite bits of lore in all of Warhammer.
Slaanesh’s place in the current Age of Sigmar lore also presents plenty of exciting opportunities. Their throne has been empty for a long time as the god was imprisoned in a secret realm called the Hidden Gloaming, located between Hysh, the realm of light and Ulgu, the realm of shadow. After the End Times and the destruction of the World That Was, Slaanesh gorged themself into a stupor on all the Aelf souls that had ever existed (Everyone knows that Aelf souls are the tastiest and most decadent). After the Chaos gods found their way to the Mortal Realms, Slaanesh was lured into a trap by Teclis, Tyrion, Malerion and Morathi and shackled with magical, unbreakable (in theory) chains, whereupon the Aelf gods started drawing the souls of their lost kin from Slaanesh’s gullet to remake Aelfkind in their own image. This led to the creation of the Daughters of Khaine, the Idoneth Deepkin and the Lumineth Realm-Lords (no word yet on what Malerion is up to with his portion of souls).
Here’s where the ‘in theory’ part of ‘unbreakable chains’ comes into play. Slaanesh is a Chaos god, a primal, eldritch being of impossible power and a master of illusory magic. Rather inevitably, they began to break their chains, one by one, replacing them with illusions to evade detection by their captors.
Not only that, but in Wrath of the Everchosen, a campaign book primarily focused on the Slaves to Darkness and Ossiarch Bonereapers, Archaon the Everchosen, Exalted Grand Marshal of the Apocalypse (The full title is always necessary, in my opinion) found Slaanesh’s prison and began releasing them (while having a very passive-aggressive chat with the god, which is a great bit of lore in itself) before having to go home to deal with the invasion of the Eightpoints.
This is further expanded on in Broken Realms: Morathi, where Morathi’s final play for true godhood inadvertently leads to some of Slaanesh’s devoted worshippers figuring out that the key to finding their absent lord lies in Ulgu.
These events culminate with a portion of Slaanesh’s essence escaping from their bondage, in a form referred to as ‘the Newborn’, drawing Hedonite hosts from all corners of the Mortal Realms to its location. I’m very excited to see how these developments progress as the Broken Realms series continues.
Playing with Depravity
The Hedonites of Slaanesh are a really fun army to play with on the tabletop: it’s an army that rewards aggressive play while still having some weird and nasty tricks up its sleeve. Slaanesh units are generally fast and lethal but can take very little punishment, meaning that a war of attrition is likely to be a loss for the Slaanesh player.
Slaanesh heroes are strong magic users who can cast and unbind twice in the hero phase, and have access to a decent selection of fun and interesting spells. My personal favourites are Hysterical Frenzy, a horde killing spell, and Progeny of Damnation, a healing spell that can keep Slaanesh heroes in the fight.
A Slaanesh army, like the other God-specific Chaos armies, can summon daemon units into the battle.They have a unique currency called ‘Depravity Points’ to use for summoning. Depravity points are accumulated in a variety of ways depending on which subfaction you choose, but the main way of gaining them is having your units take damage without being completely wiped out.
This is a cool, themey mechanic: Slaanesh worshippers want to savour the thrill of battle and pain, taking themselves to the peaks of agony and ecstasy before killing or being killed. To a devotee of Slaanesh, the idea of killing someone quickly with no flair or élan is just plain boring, and they get an inordinate amount of pleasure from excessive sensations, both pleasurable and painful. I feel that the inclusion of this mechanic is one of the more successful examples of theme informing rules.
Slaanesh heroes can also employ a rather nasty ability called ‘Locus of Diversion’. The Slaanesh player chooses an enemy unit within 6” of a Slaanesh hero and rolls a dice, adding 2 to the roll if the hero is a greater daemon (A Keeper of Secrets, basically) – on a 4+, that enemy unit cannot pile-in in the combat phase. This means that you can prevent your units from being swarmed by more numerous or dangerous foes, allowing you to put the hurt on them without them being able to hurt your units back.
When the first Hedonites of Slaanesh Battletome was released, the faction rocketed to the top of the competitive meta. It was almost impossible to look at the results of a tournament and not see at least one Slaanesh army at the top tables.
It’s a strange experience to collect a top-tier competitive faction when you aren’t a competitive player. I’ve always been more interested in telling an interesting story with my army than crunching numbers or searching for netlists to run absurd, busted lists.
Thanks to Twitter and hobby sites with a competitive bent, it’s hard to escape the discourse – whether it’s people shouting about how overpowered and broken the faction is, or people telling you that if you aren’t running 3 Keepers of Secrets you’re playing it wrong. Eventually, Slaanesh was tweaked in an update which, among other things, made summoning more expensive and made Locus of Diversion more difficult to pull off. At the time of writing, a new Battletome has been released which is, in my opinion, more balanced with interesting changes to the existing summoning mechanics and Locus of Diversion.
Slaanesh is still a powerful faction if you build your list with a tournament in mind, but they are no longer the dominant force they were. The new Battletome added shooting units in the form of Blissbarb Archers and Blissbarb Seekers, something of a rarity for Chaos factions. It’s hard to say at this stage where Slaanesh will ultimately end up in the meta, as the Battletome has only been released very recently, but I think they’re in a good place. Their new rules are more thematic, and the new units are interesting and fun.
Painting my Slaanesh
My Slaanesh army has been a joy to paint. There are a lot of different directions to take them in terms of colour choice, and some of the schemes I’ve seen people come up with have been beautiful. I’m personally a complete sucker for purple, pink and gold, so my Slaanesh army isn’t wildly different from GW’s in-house ‘Eavy Metal scheme, but it’s different enough to feel like it’s ‘my’ army.
I’ve painted the majority of my Slaanesh models with Citadel Contrast – I’m quite impatient, and my personal painting goals are generally to get something looking decent at a tabletop standard in a relatively short amount of time – as I have no plans to enter painting competitions or Golden Demon. Slaanesh models generally take Contrast quite nicely, and I’m happy with how mine have turned out. I’m quite proud of my purple tinted silver, and Contrast allows me to blast through units of daemonettes in short order. I was also able to use Contrast to create a gradient from dark purple to pink on the stockings of my Keeper of Secrets, using wet blending. By no means am I an advanced painter, but my Slaanesh army has been a project that has allowed me to experiment with more advanced techniques than I’ve used before.
One great thing about Slaanesh armies is that when it comes to painting, it has a fairly low skill floor, but also a high skill ceiling. You can get good results pretty quickly with simple techniques like Contrast, but if you really push the limit and apply advanced painting methods like blending, glazes and fine highlighting, the results can be astounding.
I’m proud of the Slaanesh models I’ve painted, and I know that as my painting continues to improve I’ll be able to make them look pretty special.
Wrapping Up (In Fine Silk)
It seems that Games Workshop have really tried to move away from having Slaanesh exist purely as the ‘horny BDSM god’ that they seemed to be a few years ago, and it’s a move I welcome enthusiastically; It feels like the faction has matured and found its feet in the Age of Sigmar.
The move to bring vanity, perfection, obsession and excess to the fore is really great – the earlier aspects of hedonism and lust are still in there, but they are now more interesting by dint of the other aspects that sit beside them, and the shift in the model range away from “Look, it’s a snake with boobs, how edgy!” means that I don’t feel embarrassed when someone who isn’t necessarily au fait with the hobby asks to see my collection. The Hedonites of Slaanesh are brilliant, and I look forward to painting, collecting and playing with them for years to come.