Dr. Bilespume or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Grandfather Nurgle


As you can probably guess this article is all about my favorite of the four Chaos gods: Nurgle.  Although I like all of the Chaos gods to one extent or another, I find Nurgle the most interesting and most easily relatable.  Nurgle is known by many monikers: Grandfather, Grandfather Nurgle, and the Plague Lord to name a few, but these cover only certain aspects of what he is.  He’s not only the god of decay and pestilence, but also of new life and rebirth.  Unlike the other Chaos gods, he embraces all of us regardless of our feelings towards him, as entropy and decay are inevitable.  He’s both dour and mirthful in everything he does.  I’m not a psychologist but you can easily see the strands of mania and depression coming forth.  But I digress, for now.  Before we dive into the why portion of my adoration for Grandfather, I want to take a few moments and define what Nurgle is for the Chaos pantheon uninitiated.

A Brief Primer on Chaos

Within the Warhammer universes, and with Warhammer 40K in particular, there resides two dimensions.  The first is what is called real-space.  Real-space is the world as we know it.  Concepts such as time, mathematics, and science all work in ways that we as humans understand them: gravity is present, electricity works in predetermined ways, time flows in a linear fashion, and so forth.  Most importantly there are rules in which everything behaves, and even if we don’t know those rules we can eventually discover and understand them.

An example of traveling through the Warp.
Fate’s Edge by artist VookaSheen on Deviant Art

In turn there is a fabric that separates real-space from another reality.  That other reality is known by many names: the aether, the Empyrean, the Sea of Souls, and the Realm of Chaos.  But most commonly it’s referred to as The Warp.  Warp space is composed of psychic energies from all creatures within the universe and is derived from emotions.  There are no rules in the way that we can comprehend them: what feels like a week within the warp could be years or decades in real-space.  Riotous colors and patterns are forever present and changing, and to look at them with a mortal mind would invite insanity.  Concepts like physics, chemistry, and biology don’t apply here.  It’s a sea of raw emotions that in most cases are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ in ways that we would define them.  However, like attracts like, and when enough common energy and emotion coalesce together it can form consciousness and begin to take shape.

Which is a very simplified version as to where the Chaos gods emerged.  Each god is very different from their siblings and each is the polar opposite of another.  Where Khorne focuses on pride, honor, and martial prowess, his opposite is Slaanesh, who focuses on excess and decadence.  Tzeentch is the god of change (for the sake of change) and instability, where Nurgle is change (but rather cyclical change), decay and entropy.  Each god has their own realm and said realm is a manifestation of concepts we can apply and understand with our limited knowledge.  Nurgle’s realm is one of swamps, mires, and rotting forests, and is known as Nurgle’s Garden.  New life continually spawns in the forms of deadly insects, disease carrying fungi, and toxic creatures.  In the center of the garden stands a rotting manor house known as Nurgle’s Manse.  Inside, Nurgle sits with a giant cauldron continually adding ingredients to make the perfect disease.  If the disease doesn’t meet his standards, he drinks the cauldron’s contents and expels it back into the container to start over.  If it does pass muster, he passes it to real-space through affliction and starts anew.

Nurgle’s Garden is so gross you can smell the stank through your monitor.
Image copyright Games Workshop

Of the four gods, Nurgle is the eldest.  Emotions such as fear of death, fear of pain, despair, and hopelessness are what feed Nurgle to make him stronger.  Mortals in times of great desperation pray to Nurgle for relief to their plight.  They may pray for rain after severe droughts and bad harvests.  They may reach out and make a pact to avoid a painful death from plague.  But like all of the Chaos gods, Nurgle is the root cause of the problem.  However, he is a happy god that considers everyone one of his children, and ensures that he takes care of them all through his blessings.  Rains befoul the land and people become inured to the plague only to change somehow for the worse.  New life is spread although it’s not the life mortals want.  His blessings are a true testament to the adage ‘be careful what you wish for’.

The Model Line

Simply put, the model line from Games Workshop absolutely rocks.  Whether someone wants to play an all daemon army, an all mortals army, or a combination, the range of models are extensive and well supported for both 40K and Age of Sigmar.  But for purposes of this article I’m focusing on daemons and Death Guard from Warhammer 40K, although there is ample opportunity to kitbash and convert models from the Age of Sigmar line into your army.  For daemons an army’s core models consist of Plaguebearers and Nurglings.  Plaguebearers are bloated, cyclopean horrors from another realm that carry out the Plague God’s whims with a dour nature.  Conversely, Nurglings are one of the closer physical manifestations to Nurgle, and are happy, manic creatures that move in packs causing untold havoc and devastation.

Plaguebearers do the real work while Nurglings scamper and ‘play’.

Supporting the Plaguebearers and Nurglings can be Beasts of Nurgle and Rot Flies.  In the same, these creatures are evolution made manifest.  Beasts of Nurgle can be described as huge, lovable puppies that tend to smash and tear apart their ‘friends’ while trying to play with them.  With enough time, Beasts will eventually run out of friends to play with and become sullen, developing a knot of despair and bitterness.  At this point they’ll shuffle off and cocoon themselves to later change into Rot Flies that are ridden into combat by Plaguebearers.

Plague Toads that I proxy as Beasts of Nurgle along with what they will become: a Rot Fly.

Finally, leading the daemons into battle are either Heralds of Nurgle, known as Poxbringers, or massive entities called Great Unclean Ones.  All daemons created using a small portion of the god’s power, and Poxbringers are those Plaguebearers that have demonstrated leadership and trusted with a more than normal amount Nurgle’s power.  Great Unclean Ones are towering, bloated monstrosities that are truly Nurgle made manifest.  These are his true generals and masters of the battlefield.

Great Unclean One from my army.  I absolutely love this model.

For his mortal followers, Cultists and Pox Walkers form the core of his armies.  These are individuals either succumbing to or irrevocably infected with numerous diseases and mutations.  Space Marines can also be afflicted and some of the more common Astartes that walk in Nurgle’s shadow are Plague Marines.  These monstrosities combine the combat prowess and armor of an Astartes and Grandfather Nurgle’s most virulent gifts, making them nearly unstoppable.

Tough and deadly are the Plague Marines at Nurgle’s disposal.

Supporting the mortal troops can be massive war machines such as Plagueburst Crawlers and various daemon engines.  Plagueburst Crawlers are highly armored vehicles that mount mortars and plague-spewing weapons to better spread contagion and inflict disease on opponents.  While daemon engines, such as Plague Drones, are machines infused with daemonic essence and scour the battlefield looking for ripe targets to attack.

Plague Drones and Hellbrutes support their mortal counterparts in combat.

Lastly, leading the mortals into combat are dread warriors and psykers, such as Lords of Contagion and Malignant Plaguecasters.  Through bolt, blade, and psychic manifestation of the Plague Lord do these champions set forth to scour the universe clean of all life and bring about true entropy and decay.

A pair of Malignant Plaguecasters and a Lord of Contagion leading mortals and daemons alike.

And while the Nurgle line is highly supported through Games Workshop, there are a number of other vendors that provide great unit and centerpiece models that can be proxies for various units.  Creature Caster’s Lord of Virulence or King of Ruin make great stand-ins as an alternative Nurgle Daemon Prince.  In fact many of Creature Caster’s Ruin Demons line could be used as alternative heroes, leaders, or named characters.  Additionally the BaneBeasts line from Mierce Miniatures could provide a number of proxy models, from larger Nurgle daemons to corrupted Dreadnoughts and Hellbrutes.

Painting Models

One of the wonderful things about Nurgle, especially with daemons, is the ability to be messy with your paints.  Nurgle related models are incredibly easy to paint and great effects can be generated with just simple washes and drybrushing.  Minimal effort can go into models while maximum results are achieved.  Plus, with the advent of contrast paints from different vendors, it makes painting an army to a decent tabletop standard super quick.  For many of my daemons, I simply primed the model green, did a light drybrush to bring the color up, washed it back down with green, and then did the drybrush/wash combination again.  To wrap things up I simply picked out prominent areas to highlight: teeth, eyes, wounds, weapons, etc..  Easy peasy and looks good across the table.

Additionally, different weathering techniques such as rusting, slime trails, boils, buboes, diseased flesh, and decaying flesh and bone can be experimented with easily.  Corrosion and leaks are never out of place with any of these guys so go to town with that drippy goo.  One of the best parts is if there is a mistake made, simply add some slime over the top to cover it up.  Chances are it would show anyway.

Why I Like Nurgle

We’ve talked about a lot of things so far: what the Chaos gods are, who Nurgle is, various model lines, and even a little on how to paint some of these cats.  But one thing we haven’t really discussed is why I like Nurgle and will always continue to collect and paint the models, and read the stories about him.  First and foremost, I love the gross.  All that stink and slime kicks my inner eight year old into fifth gear.  Next, more than any other daemons in the range I absolutely adore Nurglings.  They’re mischievous little bastards that are constantly causing trouble, trying to ‘help’ whenever and wherever they can, and let’s face the fact that they are super cute.  And we throw in that the whole army is shades of green?  Yes, please.  Green is my favorite color so any time I can paint these guys, Orks, or my Raptor Marines I’m happy.  Plus when the lore is thrown in it simply becomes the cherry on the sundae for me.  Just like sleight of hand, I’m a sucker for a good story.

But what really and truly hits home for me with this army is something I alluded to in the introduction.  It really doesn’t take much, but digging a little deeper you quickly see the ties to mental health in each of the gods: egotism, obsession, mania, and depression to name a few.  And it makes perfect sense: they are the thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears of mortals across time and space.  What hits home most for me is that Nurgle, more than any of the other Chaos gods, lures people in with promises of friendship and belonging.  As I liken it to people he tends to say, ‘It’s ok, just sit with me in the pit a little longer.’  And when people feel isolated and alone, having a ‘friend’, even if they are disease-ridden and stinky, in the pit with you can be a hard pull to resist.

With that said, the aspects of isolation and depression are my biggest draws to Nurgle.  It’s not the easiest topic to discuss but I suffer from severe depression and aspects of PTSD.  And although I’ve struggled with it my entire life, I try not to let it define me as a person.  I recognize when bad spells happen, take my meds regularly, and have been in and out of counseling for a long time.  I don’t have many friends, which easily creates those moments of isolation and loneliness.  I’ve sat in that pit with Grandfather more times than I care to admit.  Sometimes it’s legit sadness where he feels like my only friend.  Other times it can be funny where I think he’d agree with me about how messed up a situation is.  But it’s definitely hard work in either scenario, and fortunately I’ve been able to come out the other side relatively unscathed.  Ultimately that’s why I believe people choose the armies and play styles that they do: they connect to the faction or models on a personal level.  Even though he’s not the best for my mental health most days, in the end I will always choose Nurgle as my force.  I embrace all he’s got to offer: stink, slime, and the eternal offer of ‘friendship’.

That’s how he always gets me, too.  That damned smile.

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


A New England transplant that originated from parts westward, Ryan is a bit of a nerd that knows a little bit about a lot of things, all while claiming to know nothing about anything.  Seemingly part Khajit a logistician by trade, he’s the kind of guy that can get you virtually anything if there’s coin to be had a problem to solve.  Ryan began to learn the scrounging arts while serving time in parts east as a Loggie and has been perfecting them steadily over several decades.  He has a problem with continually purchasing models, paints, and terrain that he doesn’t really need but his wife doesn’t seem to mind.

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