Death Guard (Warhammer 40,000)

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The Death Guard are a group that features in Warhammer 40,000.



The Death Guard were a legion of Space Marines who once served the Imperium of Man. When the twenty Primarchs of the Space Marine Legions were scattered across the galaxy in a mysterious accident, one came to rest on the planet Barbarus, a world wreathed in poisonous fog. The population of the world was split into two groups: the controlling warlords; necromancers with fantastic powers along with the human settlers, who had been trapped on the planet millennia before and were now forced to seek out an existence in the poison-free valleys of the planet, fearing the wrath of the warlords and their creations. The Primarch-child was taken in by the most powerful of the warlords, who found him amongst the corpses of a battlefield, screaming and wailing where a normal child would have suffocated and died long before. The Overlord of Barbarus took the child in with the intention of creating a son and heir, naming him Mortarion - child of death. Mortarion was kept in a fortress positioned at the limit of even his superhuman tolerance to the toxins in the air, while the Overlord moved his own fortress to the highest peak of the world, beyond where even Mortarion could go. He trained the child, who had a highly keen intellect and voracious appetite for knowledge; Mortarion learned everything from battle doctrine, to arcane secrets, from artifice to stratagem. However, the young Primarch's questions began to turn towards subjects the Overlord did not want to talk about, namely the pitiful creatures in the valleys that the many warlords preyed upon for corpses to reanimate and bodies to warp. Finally, knowing he would be unable to find the answers he desired from his adoptive father, Mortarion broke out of the fortress that had been his home and prison after killing several guards stationed at the gates of the fortress, and headed for the valleys of Barbarus. Breaking through the poisonous mists, Mortarion discovered that the prey of the warlords were in fact the same species as he, and swore to deliver them from their oppression. The people of Barbarus were slow to accept this pale, gaunt stranger from the mountains, but Mortarion was given a chance to prove his worth when creatures enthralled to another warlord attacked the village. Seeing that the peasants were unable to effectively fight back, Mortarion joined the fray, wielding a massive harvesting scythe that made short work of the beasts. The warlord smiled when Mortarion advanced upon him and withdrew to the apparent safety of the deadly fog, only to be pursued and butchered by this inhumanly resilient Primarch. Accepted into the village without further reservation, Mortarion began to train the villagers in the art of warfare. Soon, representatives from other villages journeyed to learn from Mortarion, while the villages scattered across the valleys of the world were transformed into strongpoints. Mortarion travelled from settlement to settlement, teaching, building and defending his people. He recruited the toughest, most resilient men he could find, forming them into small units that trained under his supervision. He enlisted the aid of blacksmiths, craftsmen and artificers to create suits of armour that would allow men to travel through the poisonous fog. As each battle in the mists was fought, Mortarion and his Death Guard would learn how to better adapt the armour, and themselves, to reach the more poisonous heights. Eventually, only one peak denied them access, the one on which Mortarion's adoptive father had made his home.

Despite his adoptive father being a ruthless necromancer, Mortarion felt reluctant to attack the man who took him in and called off the planned attack. Returning to the village, Mortarion's mood darkened when he found his people talking not of his victory but of the arrival of a benevolent stranger who promised salvation to the people of Barbarus. Finding this stranger in conference with the village elders, Mortarion claimed that his people needed no outside help. The stranger commented that even Mortarion and his Death Guard were having trouble pacifying the final warlord, and offered a challenge. If Mortarion could defeat the Overlord, the stranger would leave. If not, Mortarion had to swear fealty to the stranger and the Imperium of Man he represented. Ignoring the protests of his Death Guard, Mortarion left alone to confront his adoptive father, motivated by a compulsion to prove himself to the stranger below. The confrontation was brief. The air surrounding the Overlord's fortress was so poisonous, that parts of Mortarion's armour began to rot. He collapsed at the gates of the Overlord's citadel, bellowing challenges. The final thing Mortarion saw before he passed out was the Overlord of Barbarus coming to kill him, then the stranger leaping between the two and slaying the Overlord with a single sword thrust. When he recovered, Mortarion swore fealty to the stranger, who revealed himself to be Mortarion's father, the Emperor of Mankind. The Emperor granted Mortarion command of the XIV Space Marine Legion, then known as the Dusk Raiders, who quickly adopted the name and dogma of Mortarion's Death Guard. However, the Emperor's slaying of his adoptive father proved to become a grudge Mortarion long held against him. Mortarion believed that victory in battle came through sheer resilience, and Horus, who used the strengths and weaknesses of the different legions to create the most efficient fighting force possible, used his legion in co-ordination with Mortarion's frequently. Mortarion and the Death Guard would draw out the enemy and tire them down, and then the Luna Wolves would strike. This combat tactic worked brilliantly, and Mortarion grew close to Horus. Mortarion was a grim and driven Primarch, his breathing apparatus and scythe an inseparable component of his aspect. The pallid, hairless Primarch was viewed by others as a freak, and was distant from all his brother Primarchs save Horus the Warmaster and Konrad Curze the Night Haunter, the leader of the Night Lords Legion. Some Primarchs, such as Roboute Guilliman, feared that Mortarion was more loyal to Horus than he was to the Emperor; however the Emperor claimed that loyalty to Horus was de facto loyalty to the Emperor. Events would prove the Emperor sorely mistaken.

When Warmaster Horus turned to Chaos, he did not require much effort to drag Mortarion and his Legion up with him. Horus had been one of the few Primarchs with whom Mortarion had felt comfortable, and as such he showed more loyalty to the Warmaster during the Great Crusade than to the Emperor himself. In addition to this, First-Captain Calas Typhon, Mortarion's right-hand man, had long been a secret follower of the Ruinous Powers and eagerly manipulated the rest of the Death Guard into treading the path of damnation. Mortarion revealed his true colours during the scouring of Istvaan III, when he willingly sent potentially disloyal elements of the Death Guard into Horus' trap. Once the Astartes who remained loyal to the Emperor were purged, the Death Guard then fought alongside their traitor brethren during the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V. During the subsequent assault on Terra itself, the Death Guard were part of Horus's invasion force. However, en route, the entire Death Guard Fleet became trapped in the Immaterium due to the actions of Typhon. Typhon slew the fleet's navigators (claiming their loyalty was still to the Emperor), then promised to lead the fleet himself with his psychic powers. The Destroyer Plague infected the fleet while they drifted aimlessly through the Warp, making a mockery of the Death Guard's legendary resistance to poison and contagions. Desperate, Mortarion offered his Legion and his own soul in exchange for deliverance. In the warp, drawn by the actions of Typhon, the power known as the Chaos God Nurgle responded, claiming the Death Guard for his own. The Death Guard emerged from the warp vastly different from when they had entered, now fully dedicated to the cause of Chaos. Mortarion himself was transformed into Nurgle's greatest daemonic servant: the Prince of Decay. In the end, Horus was defeated by the Emperor, but unlike the other Legions, who splintered and fled into the Eye of Terror, Mortarion's Legion, calling themselves the Plague Marines, made an orderly withdrawal, force after force breaking themselves on the Legion.

Within the Eye of Terror, Mortarion claimed a new world, and shaped it into the image of Barbarus, placing himself in his adoptive father's position. He was elevated to Daemonhood by Nurgle, and is believed to still be alive in the 41st millennium. Typhon (now Typhus the Traveller) took a more active role in continuing the war against the Imperium by abandoning his master and striking out on his own, bringing the 'gifts' of his patron to the Emperor's followers. Typhus was especially active during the 13th Black Crusade, securing his own plague-ridden stronghold by the end of that conflict.


When Nurgle's Rot laid the Death Guard low, their pride and arrogance in their strength and contempt for those they deemed weak was laid bare. The Plague Marine's subsequent surrender to Nurgle left the Death Guard with an incredible depth of self-hatred and despair that only fuels their sole desire: to infect the strong, slay the weak and bring everyone and everything to rot and ruin. Their own debasement would no longer seem so shameful if Nurgle's pestilence dragged the rest of the galaxy down into the same depths of ruin and despair.

Mortarion was an infantryman, and the Death Guard Legion was organised around these principles. Obedience was extended throughout every rank, and the Legion was renowned for operating as a single body in combat. The Death Guard were organised into larger Companies than other Legions, each company possessing a near identical cross-section of the Legion's equipment and specialists.

After Mortarion's ascension to Daemonhood, the Legion began to splinter into smaller forces, although the Plague Marines endeavour to organise themselves into multiples of seven, Nurgle's sacred number. What few vehicles remain go unmaintained, sustained either by daemonic possession or controlled by packs of Nurglings. The members of the Death Guard are also known as Plague Marines. A result of their servitude to Nurgle, they are rife with all manner of deadly diseases, which renders them immune to pain. In game mechanics terms, this makes them harder to wound and kill than other Chaos Space Marines. While all members of the Death Guard are Plague Marines, not all Plague Marines are from the Death Guard Legion; other Chaos Space Marine armies may field Plague Marines as part of their forces. Plague Marines under the tutelage of Mortarion know how to win a battle with sheer attrition. Because Mortarion based the Death Guard heavily on infantry, the Death Guard are short some measure of fast assault vehicle and heavy weapons. As a result, Death Guard without Terminator Armour normally have to settle for special weapons such as the Melta Gun and Plasma Gun to replace Heavy weapons such as Lascannons and Autocannons. Also, because the Death Guard are infantry based, a Death Guard army can be made solely of marines with no vehicles or daemons whilst still functioning as well as any other army. The average Death Guard can lay down a heavy rain of bolter shells while still standing his ground if charged. This is because they have blight grenades, high toughness and feel no pain. Also note that there are marines dedicated to Nurgle that are not Plague Marines. These have a greater range of equipment but do not have as many gifts of Nurgle.

The Death Guard believed that victory came through sheer relentlessness. Their weapons, while not ornate, functioned without flaw. They did not manoeuvre in fanciful patterns to confuse the enemy, instead standing their ground and waiting for the enemy assaults to falter before striking back with fatal force. Any environment or situation Mortarion and his advisors could not compensate for, the Death Guard would overcome through sheer stubborn resilience. Mortarion learned warfare on a world almost covered in mountainous terrain, and even though his massive intellect allowed him to grasp the use of tanks and vehicles, the primacy of the foot soldier remained the Death Guard's trademark. Each Marine was well trained in a variety of disciplines, able to function in almost any role or environment.

The original homeworld of the Death Guard is assumed destroyed by the Inquisition, like the other worlds belonging to the Traitor Legions. Mortarion has crafted a new home from a daemon world within the Eye of Terror, which resembles Barbarus in many regards. Human slaves are kept in villages below the poisonous mists of the world, while the Plague Marines and other servants of Nurgle reside in fortresses constructed on the mountainsides.

The Death Guard have no battlecry, believing that like plagues and pestilence, death should come silently. Pre-Heresy they used "For Terra and Mortarion" and the seventh company used "Count the Seven"


  • Mortarion :
  • Typhus the Traveller :
  • Nathaniel Garro :
  • Ignatius Grulgor :



  • Warhammer 40,000:

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