Slaanesh is the Chaos god of excess, pride, and sensation. In both Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40k his mortal worshippers and daemonic children are devoted to debauchery, perversity, and sensory abandon. The recently released Battletome Hedonites of Slaanesh talks a lot about “sensation” and “excess” – but it’s incredibly prudish about sex.
Here’s an example: one of the six circles of Slaanesh’s domain within the realm of Chaos is described as “The Circle of Carnality, where every sensual desire is taken to terrible extremes”. So far, so Hellraiser. But as far as examples of those “sensual desires” go, the book mentions “dancing daemons” that will “stroke the skin” of travellers… before eating them.
That’s pretty consistent with how Warhammer addresses the beast with two backs: it might gesture in the direction of sex, but it certainly won’t go there.
On the positive side, no sex also means no sexual violence. Sexual assault is used as a terror weapon in real world wars. By refusing to address what, precisely, Slaanesh’s servants get up to in their pursuit of perverse pleasure, GW draws a line that keeps sexual violence out of the book.
At the same time, the book doesn’t blush away from depictions of pure violence. Which, yes, is what you expect from a book of rules and stories for an Age of Sigmar army. But, when this is happening in a book centred on the supposed Prince of Pleasure, it shows a commitment to a conservative Anglo-American idea: the idea that sex is taboo but violence is entertainment.
That’s not the only conservative sexual attitude that the battletome reveals. Slaaneshi daemons are gynandromorph, with one masculine and one feminine side. In the art and models their corsetry hides their female-presenting nipples but not their male-presenting ones, despite being attached to the self-same entity.
Please, internet people, don’t assume that I’m so nipple-starved that I’m much interested in seeing these hypothetical daemon tits. My point is: the only reason for the daemons of excess to treat male-presenting and female-presenting nipples differently is to obey the real-world double standard that calls female nipples sexually explicit and male nipples sexually inert.
And yes, this is probably “for the sake of the children”, which is to say for the sake of the parents who decide whether or not their children can buy the book. But I doubt that any parent put off by a drawn nipple or a description of coitus won’t already be repulsed by the genderfluid daemon in BDSM lingerie right there on the cover.
Some games engage with sexuality in ways that enhance, or even underpin, their gameplay or aesthetic vision: Ennie Award Winning Thirsty Sword Lesbians is all about desire and connection; Fog of Love makes it onto our list of the best couples board games for its exploration of the complexities of relationships; monster hunting dungeon crawler Kingdom Death Monster explores primal themes including survival and reproduction; the classic horror videogame Silent Hill 2 is famous for its exploration of sexual repression and guilt.
Kingdom Death Monster is an example of another pitfall in addressing sex in media: there’s a chauvinist aspect to its primitivism, and its rules and models featuring objectifying depictions of women. The fantasy genre as a whole defaults all too easily to a cheesecake fantasy art style aping Boris Vallejo or Frank Frazetta.
The Hedonites battletome deploys sword and sorcery tropes without producing standard fantasy cheesecake, and it does manage to lean away from heteronormativity – the newly released Lord of Hubris model is male and (proudly) sexualised. But there’s nothing as arresting as Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2, the Cenobites from Hellraiser, the Wet Nurse or Forge God from Kingdom Death Monster – both extremely NSFW, so Google with caution – which all owe their genesis, at least in part, to their creator’s willingness to incorporate sexual desire into their art.
Despite promising outré transgression, the Hedonites of Slaanesh battletome doesn’t engage with the complexity of sex at all. Morally, it still takes a stance, one that’s surprisingly close to conventional Anglo-American sexuality. Aesthetically, why have a god of perverse hedonism if you’re not going to do anything with that idea? Slaanesh would disapprove.
If you’d like to know what we thought of the book as a whole, check out our Hedonites of Slaanesh battletome review.