Part of the fun of Warhammer 40,000 is that no one is really the “good guy” in the setting. Take the Imperium of Man, which largely serves as the point-of-view faction in 40K books and games. The Imperium is made up of a coalition of absolutely terrible sub-factions, including murderous nuns who torch their foes, indoctrinated child soldiers transformed into transhuman combat marines, and flesh-hating tech priests who make brain-computers by lobotomizing criminals.
But there’s one group of guys in the setting who are so comically evil, so ridiculously rude, that I can’t help but love them above all else. These aliens just aren’t happy unless they can fit a few war crimes in between breakfast and lunch. I’m talking, of course, about the Drukhari, also known as the Dark Eldar, or the most evil space elves who have ever existed.
Who are the Drukhari? They’re a specific culture of Aeldari, a species that once had a dominant galaxy-spanning empire. These psychically gifted elves achieved a post-scarcity society and enjoyed easy access to technology so sophisticated that it’s basically magic. Sounds like a pretty sweet setup, but this is the grimdark far future where there is only war, so obviously everything had to go terribly wrong. In the case of the Aeldari civilization, that meant falling to hedonism and excess.
In 40K, there’s a second, psychic realm that exists parallel to reality. The Warp, or the Immaterium, is a reflection of the universe’s psychic energy. Dark forces dwell in the Warp, feasting off extreme emotion, and the Aeldari unwittingly gave those forces a feast. While some factions decided to pack up and leave in favor of a nicer space neighborhood, many Aeldari chose to stay. The Aeldari empire eventually collapsed into orgies and hideous violence, and it all culminated in the birth of the fourth Chaos god, Slaanesh. Slaanesh’s birth tore open a massive Warp rift called the Eye of Terror, killed the vast majority of the Aeldari, and shattered their pantheon of gods.
Worse yet, Slaanesh hungers for the souls of all Aeldari to this day, seizing them upon death without appropriate precautions — and no countermeasure is perfect. After dying, Aeldari souls are subject to eternal torment as they’re consumed by Slaanesh in the Warp. Not great! The Aeldari call Slaanesh “She Who Thirsts,” and the subfactions have each found their own way to deal with this existential guillotine blade.
The Drukhari are notable for making the bold decision of looking at the collapse of their empire and saying, Fuck it — let’s keep the party going. They still hate and fear Slaanesh, and Slaanesh is continually supping on their souls and slowly killing them. The Dark Eldar choose to replenish that by constantly chugging the spiritual Gatorade of sentient suffering.
I don’t mean to be controversial, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that’s objectively evil stuff. That’s why I love the Drukhari so much: They make absolutely no efforts to pretend otherwise. They are pirates and raiders, venturing out of the city-state of Commorragh that’s safely tucked between the Warp and realspace. If the Drukhari show up, it’s usually for long enough to grab a bunch of people and steal all of their stuff.
If you just look at the surface of the Drukhari, it’s easy to get the impression that their fiction and lore are just about gore. But the faction has gotten more of a spotlight later in recent Games Workshop works; a Warhammer Plus series called Iron Within has the Drukhari show up to raid an Imperial world, and the Rogue Trader RPG features Commorragh as a major content hub. But the Drukhari’s total collapse into evil and refusal to improve or try to be better makes them a fascinatingly Machiavellian, and I’m eager to see them have a larger presence in Warhammer 40K.
The Drukhari are constantly infighting, as their society is a violent meritocracy. They staple skeletons onto everything, show off all the cool stuff they’ve stolen, and mercilessly scheme against one another. When someone took a run at the Drukhari big dog Asdrubael Vect, Vect sent them a lovely present in response. Inside the box was a black hole, which consumed everyone in the noble house’s vicinity. That’s a level of villainy I absolutely love; it’s like a reality show, except everyone is a Skeletor. Plus, Commorragh is stuffed with interesting concepts, like mad scientists and flesh-sculptors, or trading ports and gladiator rings for those brave (or unlucky) enough to work with the Dark Eldar.
Right now, a lot of attention has been focused on the Emperor and his big sons — and it’s no wonder, since fans love Space Marines so much. But sometimes I don’t want to read about bolter battles or tank combat. I want to read about drama queens opening extra-dimensional rifts in the throne rooms of their political rivals. That’s an itch that the Drukhari are uniquely equipped to scratch.