A Plaguefleet is made up of those ships who met their end through pestilence and death who willingly gave up their souls by pledging their allegiance to the Chaos God, Nurgle, the Lord of Decay. Many of these vessels are the remnants of the Death Guard Traitor Legion's fleet, who in the wake of Horus's defeat during the Horus Heresy, retreated to the Eye of Terror alongside the other Traitor Legions. The Nurgle-corrupted Legion continues to strike out at their Imperial enemies, their massive plague ships bursting with diseased followers eager to bring despair and desolation to Mankind. Since their fall, the Legion has utterly dedicated itself to propagating Nurgle's corruption, its diseased fleets spewing from the Warp to spread his vile plagues across countless worlds.
The Poison Ships
The origins of the Plaguefleets can be found in the bygone era of the Horus Heresy in the early 31st Millennium. One of the most fearful developments of the engulfing "Age of Darkness" which followed the initial calamities at Istvaan, Phall and elsewhere in the early years of the war, was the creation of what have become known as the "poison ships." These were Traitor vessels, many operated by members of the Death Guard Legion and the Dark Mechanicum, but not exclusively so. Most were either frigates or second line cruisers in classification, outfitted to operate alone on deep range independent missions and retrofitted to bear the deadliest cargos: toxic, pathogenic and viral weaponry. Their task was to each carry out a dark pilgrimage across the stars, conducting raids and visitations, often covertly, on isolated colony worlds, Imperial outposts and lynch pin sectors, spreading contagion, contaminating water supplies and tainting biospheres. Although these attacks were on many worlds to slay millions, not simply by plague and poison, but by the civil unrest, famine and anarchy that would often follow in their wake, their purpose was not one of wholesale annihilation. Instead it was to create panic, to spread fear, to wound and weaken the Imperium ahead of the Traitors' advance, rather than to outright destroy; for a wounded world demanded costly aid and assistance from its allies, whereas a dead world required nothing. Furthermore, a world already reeling from such a scourge that could not find succour from the Imperium was ripe to fall to the Traitors' cause. For this reason, Exterminatus class weaponry was rarely employed by the poison ships, but more insidious and subtle agents were instead used, many of them bred and manufactured by Magos Biologis in the Warmaster's faction or within the bio-weapon vaults and labratoria of the dreaded Death Guard world-killer, the Mia Donna Mori, which had been darkly infamous for its stockpiles of such weapons long before the outbreak of the war.
Once the nature and tactics of the poison ships became widely known to the Loyalists, they unsurprisingly became a priority target for destruction, and were hunted to destruction wherever they were encountered. The desire to purge the threat of the poison ships was so great that specific hunter-killer missions were launched against them by several separate Loyalist factions and Legions during the Age of Darkness, and Terra itself placed a high bounty on the destruction of such vessels, drawing the attention of avaricious Rogue Traders and even unaligned renegade and corsair forces to the task.
Fall of the Death Guard
When Horus led half the Space Marine Legions in rebellion against the Emperor, he was able to sway Mortarion, the Death Guard's pallid and grim Primarch, to join him in tearing to the ground all that his father had accomplished. What exactly motivated Mortarion to betray the Imperium is lost to history, yet he and his warriors eagerly joined the other traitors in their campaign of destruction, crossing into the Warp en masse to aid in the assault on Holy Terra. However, shortly after their transition, the Death Guard were becalmed within the fickle Warp tides, while a strange and devastating plague of unprecedented virulence ravaged the Legion and their attendant fleet. Even the legendary physiologies of the Space Marines could not save them as one by one each of the Death Guard was overcome, their superhuman bodies bloated and distended as the foul contagion transformed them into shambling, diseased grotesques.
Yet none are believed to have suffered as greatly as Mortarion, who was forced to watch his progeny stumble in unending anguish through the disease choked confines of their helpless vessels without hope of escape or death. In desperation, Mortarion offered up his soul and the souls of the remaining Death Guard to the Warp in exchange for his Legion's salvation, and it was Nurgle, Lord of Disease and Decay, who answered his prayer, saving the Death Guard and ensuring their eternal damnation. What eventually emerged from the Warp within their filth-covered plague ships were not the stoic and austere Death Guard of old, but the first and most deadly of the Plague Marines. Led by their Primarch, the transformed Legion burst forth upon the Emperor's Palace of Terra like a tide of putrid corruption, their disease-encrusted bulks and rust-covered weapons wreaking a devastating toll upon the Imperial defenders.
Heralds of Decay
Starships whose crews met their end through disease and decay are the most pleasing sacrifices to Nurgle. Ships are cramped, claustrophobic places at the best of times, and the air which feeds their living crews is a commodity that must be endlessly recycled and filtered back into the vessel. Such lifeless air as this often becomes stale, and the stench of sweat and grime hangs heavy in it. Under this mask of filth, Nurgle and his dedicated followers find little difficulty in spreading something rather more virulent throughout a vessel. Such plagues aboard ships are not uncommon and Nurgle laughs gleefully at such works. A ship's entire crew may weaken beneath this malady, and in such desperation they will turn to Nurgle for protection –- and so a new Plagueship is born, its crew spared the sorrow of death, but instead gifted an eternity beset by the same plague which first laid them low.
But decay does not affect merely the living. Nurgle beams all the more proudly to see the creations of mortals broken down by decay. The most virulent of his ills do not only strike at flesh, but also bring with them a noxious, stinging acidic feel to the air which can sicken even the metal of a warship. Like the bloated and pocked carcasses of his human followers, Nurgleite Plagueships bear these scars of decay like a badge of worship –- liquified rust running like blood across the hull of his Plagueships, cankered and broken power supplies, plasma coils and radiation conduits seeping their magmas like pus. Such decay defines the vessels whose crews serve the Plague Lord.
Notable Plague Fleets
- Typhus, Herald of Nurgle - Typhus, also known as Typhus the Traveller, originally the Space Marine named Calas Typhon of the world of Barbarus, is the Herald of Nurgle and the host of the terrible plague known as the Destroyer Hive. He is a Champion of Chaos and the former First Captain of the Death Guard Traitor Legion. Typhus is the most feared of all Chaos Lords to command one of the legendary Plaguefleets. He rules the greater portion of the Death Guard's armada from the bridge of his flagship, the Terminus Est, a warship encrusted with the filth of aeons that was ancient even when the Horus Heresy began some ten thousand standard years ago. His skill in ship-to-ship combat has been honed over many millennia of war, and when he broods in his command throne upon his starship's bridge, he and the titanic war machine become one. Though the warship exists on the cusp of Imperial legend, its three-pronged pict-sign is dreaded by admirals and Planetary Governors alike across the Segmentum Obscurus. Wherever Typhus' flagship appears, it heralds plague, death and misery on a system-wide scale. Even whispers of its coming can cause panicked evacuations from worlds in its path, for wherever Typhus goes, pain and despair blossom in his wake.
- Buorgdius, Champion of Nurgle - Scattered warbands of Death Guard frequently operate within and around the Screaming Vortex, ever eager to reduce the many worlds surrounding those unnatural currents to stinking morasses of putrefaction. Though few in number, they frequently swell their ranks with denizens of the Vortex who wish to spread Grandfather Nurgle’s bounty as well as the numerous Traitor Space Marines who have embraced the path of decay. One such malevolent Champion of Nurgle has emerged from the eternal warzones that surround the Calixis Sector. Known only as Buorgdius, this Champion of Nurgle's plaguefleet plies the outer fringes of the Screaming Vortex, unleashing its revolting warriors against those unfortunate enough to fall afoul of their diseased and leprous hulks. In combat, Buorgdius leads the reanimated corpses of his former Space Marine brethren into battle while wielding a massive mace crafted from the diseased bones of his unholy predecessor, and dripping with repellent Warp energies. Afterward, his undead warriors stuff the innumerable dead and dying into the filthy, dank plague holds of his vessels in order that they may moulder in the foetid darkness. In this way, the champion recruits many of his mightiest warriors, and he is said to offer a place in his warband to any who will but supplicate themselves before the Lord of Decay.
Notable Plague Fleet's Ships
- Terminus Est (Battleship, Unique Class) - Few vessels conjure such dread in their foes as does the Terminus Est. Its very name is a curse upon the lips of Imperial ship captains and commanders across the Imperium. It has been present at some of the greatest betrayals and bloodiest days in Imperial history. The Chaos Lord Typhus sits upon its command throne, overseeing its filth-encrusted cannon and infected crew. The Terminus Est has become a harbinger of the Plague God, its appearance above a planet heralding disease and ruin for the citizens below. From its bloated launch bays and pustule-studded holds, rusting dropships are vomited down in putrid brown waves. Inside, Death Guard Plague Marines hunch over corroded blades and pitted bolt guns, waiting for their chance to carry out the will of Nurgle. More than merely a vessel, the Terminus Est is a vile legend and symbol of fear for the people of Imperium. Even a whisper of the ship’s presence in a sector can send planetary governors and system lords screaming to the Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy for protection. However, when the Terminus Est darkens the skies of a world, there is little that can save its people – their fate sealed as the terrible attentions of the Plague God fall upon them.
- Pitted Iron (Battleship) - Commander unknown. Last seen in Ultima Segmentum.
- Reaper's Scythe (Battle-Barge) - Battle-Barge of Mortarion during the Great Crusade. Now the capital ship of the Plague Fleet under Plague Lord Scabarulous the Virulent.
- Greenbottle (Escort) - Despite its relatively small size, the Greenbottle has proven able to slip through defences to release orbital virus bombardments on several Imperial Hive Worlds to devastating effect.
- Battlefleet Gothic: The Powers of Chaos, Chaos Fleets in Battlefleet Gothic, pp. 8-9
- Black Crusade: The Tome of Decay (RPG), pp. 25-26
- Warhammer 40,000: Index Chaotica - Volume I (Digital Edition)
- The Horus Heresy - Book Four: Conquest by Alan Bligh, pg. 55