Rumours abound of the next Slaaneshi battletome. What is certain is that it'll represent a definitive direction for the god in Age of Sigmar, and so I'm anxious to see what direction they'll take it in.
The rumours about Slaanesh being 'toned down' to be more child-friendly can be pretty much discounted based on the surprisingly extreme models in the Wrath and Rapture box (fiend mammary glands and the tendon harp are pretty disturbing details). However, it's not enough for Slaanesh to keep its 'teeth': what I'm looking forward to is an interesting and iconic exploration of the inherent potential of a Chaos god of 'pleasure'. GW has produced some of its best lore out of relatively limited ideas (Flesh Eater Courts and Kharadron Overlords becoming instantly iconic) so I think it's entirely possible the background writers can knock it out of the park. What follows is a kind of mix of sepculation and fan theory, trying to artoculate what I think is so interesting about Slaanesh, and why I'm so excited about a Slaaneshi mortals release.
6 Aspects of the Pleasure God
The aspects are not rigid categories, and indeed a follower may embody many simultaneously to varying degrees. Each aspect describes a form of hunger for pleasure; the desire that serves as an avenue through which a person comes into the Slaaneshi fold. They're also arranged in three pairs, with each representing a contrasting duality of ways in which Slaanesh may be worshipped: a mirror of the light/dark duality.
The Glutton, The Hedonist, The Debauchee
Indulgence is perhaps the most commonly manifested aspect of Slaanesh, yet still comes in a variety of forms. It may be expressed through gluttony of food, drink, carnal activities or other sense-pleasures. The commonality of all such pursuit is excess; overstimulation of corporeal pleasure. Within this aspect, there is a thin yet profoundly meaningful line. It is the difference between the proudly hedonistic bon vivants and the compulsively overstimulated; the slaves to their own addiction. It is usually only the former category which has a chance to rise to the status of champion. The latter group is likely doomed to an eternal, unrestrained sensory excess. The Prince of Pleasure is grateful for this self-sacrifice, and he looks upon his thralls of addicts with fondness.
The Thrill-Seeker, The Adventurer, The Explorer
The neophile shares with the glutton a desire for overstimulation, but seeks it through the novel discovery of the-not-experienced. The insatiable thirst for newness means they rarely over-indulge in any one thing, but quickly tire of one activity and are thus spurred to seek another. Slaaneshi neophiles are perhaps the least reliable followers, given their penchant to abandon their masters in order to seek new adventures. They tend to favour mounts, as a good steed will allow them to cover more ground and explore more lands. They tend not to get too attached to their mount, though: there's often some strange new creature to tame just past the next hill...
Aestreth the Magpie Lord, great plunderer of Ghur, was a notoriously fickle Slaaneshi champion. His military exploits earned him the favour of his patron in the form of a Demonic sword, said to have been forged from a shard of Slaanesh’s fingernail. This formidable blade earned him yet more victories… for a time.
As the novelty of the weapon began to wane, so too did Aestreth’s enthusiasm. One day, he stumbled across a particularly fluorescent warpstone blade, which he pried from the dead claws of a Clan Skryre Emissary. Any Duardin could have told him that a Skaven blade isn’t worth a Grot’s expulsion. However, mesmerised by its jade glow, Aestreth dropped The Prince’s Nail into his massive hoard of trinkets and decided to use this new blade instead.
Aesthreth had the misfortune to christen this warp blade in a duel with an Urruk Megaboss. The first sweep glanced off the brute’s shoulder plate and the second shattered the skaven-forged blade to the hilt, and Aesthreth soon found himself splattered into a cautionary about respecting one’s gifts. It is said that, following the Urruk massacre of Aesthreth’s Chaos horde, Aesthreth’s trove of exotic treasures is still somewhere in the realm of beasts. The Prince’s Nail waits impatiently for a new wielder.
The Handsome, The Aesthete, The Paragon
Slaanesh’s vain followers are numerous, and it is rare for any disciple of the Dark Prince to truly not care about their appearance. However, the true path of vanity is not simply a superficial one. It is those who strive toward self-centred perfection in all things, in intelligence, grace and a thousand different skills who truly embody the path of the vain. While those who embody the aspect of dominion strive toward leadership, those who embody Slaaneshi perfectionism become leaders as a product of their quest for mastery. Thus, the selfish desire for perfection creates some of the most powerful and important leaders within the faction. This aspect's desire for power invites the lure of Tzeentch, but while the changer can only offer diverting boons and obstacles to their ambition, Slaanesh lavishes the fruits of their vain ambition with admiration.
The Artist, The Poet, The Musician
Least likely to worship Slaanesh via the blade is the artist. Painters, musicians and poets pay homage to the dark prince with their craft tools instead. The creative aspect is similar to ‘vanity’ in a preoccupation with aestheticism. However, instead of focusing on themselves, the object of the creative follower’s aestheticism is transposed into the art. The creative aspect is perhaps most reverently respected among the Slaaneshi hosts, even if this doesn’t always extend to the creator himself. Every self-respecting Lord has a chronicler, chef and musical band: one of the perks of leadership. Most common are the various types of musicians who serve in the command of units, and these individuals invariably take more pride in their craft than the crude hornblowers and drummers of the other gods' armies. Slaanesh is the patron of all aestheticism. No piece is too explicit, too strange, or even too Heretical.
There are whispers of Sylch, a mighty Slaaneshi Sorcerer Lord who resides in the Realm of Hysh. He is rumoured to have gazed upon a vision of Sigmar and has since dedicated himself to painting the god king’s likeness in portrait. Though perceived by the other chaos gods as heresy, Slaanesh has blessed Sylch for his work. The Dark Prince understands that examining and re-creating beauty is a worthy task, even if such a pursuit glorifies his enemy. For if Sigmar's glory can be painted on canvas, perhaps his power can be understood...
The Tyrant, The Patriarch, The Mentor
This aspect is embodied both by the sadistic tyrant and the benevolent protector of his people, for the aspect does not dictate HOW the dominion is exercise, only that an individual's power/influence exerted upon others. Indeed, many a benevolent voivode who think they know best for their subjects falls into the worship of Slaanesh, who encourages them to take pleasure in their power and control. Yet this can also entail sadism and tyranny, for how the master plays with his pets is up to them. What matters is the impulse to assert one's will onto another. Mortals who embody this aspect feel the temptation of Khorne but it is only Slaanesh who allows them to savour the experience of control, while Khorne encourages domination for its own sake.
The Acolyte, The Servant, The Maaasochist
Opposite the aspect of dominion is that of the submissive. These souls are often insecure or fearful, wishing to transcend their sad existence by dedicating themselves fully to a rapturous cause. Few who worship Slaanesh recognize their 'death drive' enough to articulate it, but the dark prince senses their existential terror and gives them what they truly want: a warm, accepting oblivion. Such despondent souls might also be tempted by the embrace of Nurgle, who will free them from their pain if they give into dispair. However, Slaanesh offers them something more: if they relinquish not 'sensation' but their very 'self', they can experience the rapture of oblivion. These zealots form a foundation for any Slaaneshi revolt of civilization and they serve in the armies as loyal minions to the cause.
I've fitted these aspects on the oppositional axis below, as well as which of the three categories of Slaaneshi follower the aspects tend toward (in context of how they are reacting to the absence of the god: either seeking to find him, asserting themselves as replacements or simply pretending everything is fine). This text post has gone rather long, so I'll save my speculation/wishlisting of new releases for another time.
Oh, and just for purposes of starting an argument, here is my subjective ranking of the philosophical depth of each of the four chaos gods:
(Swap Nurgle and Tzeentch and that's how I rank my preference of the aesthetic style). Thanks for reading, let me know if you share my passion for the dark prince.