The Lore Explainer: Flesh Eater Courts

You have been haunted by nightmares for months; visions of indescribable horror. You scramble from your sodden bed, shrieking. Your good lady quips it is the late-night feasting that’s to blame. Perhaps one should not eat so well. It makes your stomach play tricks on your mind.

But you feel no guilt at enjoying the finer things. This kingdom is a fair one, a shining light to its neighbours. All its subjects, whether serf or courtier, are happy, fed and true. 

As Ruinous evils desecrate the land, and brutish storms thunder upon the lowly, this nation shines its light.  Defenders of the defenseless. Wardens of decency and long forgotten values.  Is it not for your selfless valour and chivalry that you have been gifted this place at the king’s table?  Eat well then.

But the dreams!  The unbridled terror. How real they seem. 

Reeling from the preceding night’s visions, you stand before the mirror and dab your kerchief against your forehead. You pin each of your medals upon your tunic, remembering each gallant deed they represent. You try not to dwell on your own reflection, pride is unbecoming but, by god, you are handsome.

Walking into the court, your lady on your arm, you nod and greet dozens of gracefully smiling faces. The minstrels strike up a jig and the hall erupts with dancing and laughter. You barely notice the time passing until the pangs of hunger, exacerbated by mouth-watering aromas, draw your attention towards the feast being laid upon the table.

You pick at platter after platter as they are brought before you. Each morsel a flavour that dances elegantly upon your pallet. “Verily I say unto thee,” you declare to those courtiers around you, “there is none other like our blesséd cook. Surely there is some arcane trickery at work upon my tongue.” Goblets are raised to the royal chef.

You lean back and wipe your brow once more. But your kerchief feels warm and drips with thick goop. Blood. You recoil and throw it to the floor. As it splats upon the cobbles you see not a handkerchief, but a dripping chunk of bloodied flesh.   

A metallic tang stings your tongue and you begin to choke on something at the back of your throat.

All over the table lay clumps of raw meat and bone, seeping with viscera and gore. The air trembles with tortured screams and inhuman howls. Hideous gaunt creatures hunch over the table, grabbing at the entrails and body parts scattered about it, gnawing on bones and chewing on gristle.

You look before you, into the eyes of a terrified face.  It is attached to a body that is now little more than a gory torso, writhing on the splintering wood of the table. It screams and pleads in agony, slipping in and out of consciousness, twitching in horror. You notice your own fingers rummaging about inside the offal spilling from the unfortunate wretch’s bowels.

“What is wrong, my beloved?” your lady speaks. You turn to face her, beautiful as ever. “Thou hast not touched thy supper.”                

Your eyes return to the table and your mouth starts to water at the sight of the succulent venison before you, so fresh it could almost jump right off the plate.

Credit: Richy P


Imagine a society without hardship and injustice, where citizens are content to play their part, no matter how lowly. Where privilege is earned through noble deeds, and not bestowed at birth. Imagine a society built upon gallantry and honour instead of greed and nepotism.

Imagine a nation where rulers are held accountable for the treatment of their subjects, where those at the top of the pile are expected to protect and serve those at the bottom.  Where codes of chivalry spur the powerful to take to battle to defend those incapable of defending themselves.

Imagine a country of plenty, where the table is always full, and no one wants for anything.

Imagine this near-paradise-on-earth. And keep on imagining, and imagining, and imagining… never stop imagining.

Welcome to the Flesh Eater Courts.

Delusions of Grandeur

Back in the day, in the Age of Myth, Nagash, god of undeath, selects three vampiric mortarchs to serve him and champion his agendas in the realms: Neferata, Mannfred Von Carstein and Ushoran

Ushoran turns out to be particularly gifted and carves out for himself a huge empire in the very heart of Shysh, realm of the dead.  He is popular and his cities are prosperous.  He also begins to plot against Nagash.

Insecure and jealous, Nagash finds it hard to tolerate anything but absolute loyalty and subservience.  To Nagash, his followers are merely extensions of his own self and will.  Feeling threatened, Nagash locks Ushoran up in the Shroudcage, where he is bombarded with images and whispers showing all the worse things about himself.  Imagine your parents getting out the home videos of you having a bath, or singing on the toilet as a kid, to show your new partner over Sunday lunch – for eternity.

Having his own ugliness played on repeat snaps Ushoran’s brain.  To survive, he retreats into himself; into a world of delusion.  A world in which he is still a great king, commanding a vast and chivalrous empire.

Ushoran, Mortarch of Delusion
Ushoran, Mortarch of Delusion. Credit: chimp

Following Nagash’s betrayal at the Battle of Burning Skies, Sigmar rampages through Shyish with the intention of hunting down and killing Nagash.  In the process of this monumental temper tantrum, Sigmar knocks over the Shroudcage and Ushoran, now twisted and mutated in mind, body and spirit, escapes.

This has devastating consequences for the Mortal Realms. Ushoran’s delusion is highly contagious, first passing to those vampires within his own bloodline (the abhorrents) but then to those mortals unfortunate enough to come too close to them.

Those who succumb to the delusion become mutated ghouls with an unquenchable hunger for human flesh.  Not that they see it that way.  Sharing in Ushoran’s delusion, they believe themselves to be part of a thriving and goodly kingdom.  Whether their communal delusion frames them as knight, courtier or surf, they are contented to play their roles.

So, hordes of jabbering ghouls descend on a defenseless village and slaughter every last man, woman and child, eating their flesh raw and building crude structures out of their bones – but in their minds they are a rank-and-file army bravely battling against an invasion of bloodthirsty barbarians.

One ghoul stuffs body parts into the soil, believing herself a farmhand planting crops.  Another shoves human body parts inside other human body parts and chef’s kisses his handywork as he looks upon a slow roasted turducken fit for a king.  Yet another rubs a bloody scalp over a skull, seeing himself a knight polishing his helmet.

Empire Reiksguard Knights. Credit: SRM

Flesh Eater Courts lore is a singularly unique, but equally terrifying concept.  And also very funny.  But for much of AOS so far, that is all it has been; a concept.  A very, very cool concept, but not one that was massively fleshed out.  But with the latest Battle Tome, we can start to see real character and story being infused into the faction.  Give it a few years and Flesh Eater Courts could may very well become one of Game’s Workshops most original, interesting and creative intellectual properties to date.

Firstly, Ushoran is fleshed out much more as a character (well, as multiple characters.)  The Battletome starts with an alternative history, told in outlandish Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe renaissance fair English, making it clear this is just a part of the Flesh Eater Courts fantasy.  It paints Ushoran not as a would-be usurper, but as a gallant hero who embarks upon a dangerous mission to the edges of the realm in to protect Nagash’s realm stone caches from bandits, only to return a mad man.  The Shroudcage is actually a recuperative measure, designed to heal Ushoran from his affliction.

We also find out what Ushoran has been doing since he escaped, having set up base in Ghyran, switching the realm of death for the realm of life (FEC endlessly teeter between the two states after all) where he rants and rages and battles between the multiple personalities colliding within himself.

Fellow mortarch, Neferata, takes advantage of this madness and begins to syphon off Ushoran’s blood.  She then distributes it among the high society of the Cities of Sigmar, marketing it as King’s Blood – a fine wine.  You can picture aristocrats and toffs paying through the nose to acquire this elite beverage, and then upon seeing the rancid thick, bloody liquid, drinking it anyway because, hey, they can afford to.  They’re rich.  It’s a status thing.

It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes retold, and skillfully reminds us that there is already a certain measure of delusion already inherent within the human psyche.

The Battletome interweaves the story of the Courts into the setting’s grand narrative effortlessly. During the Necroquake the Flesh Eater courts were emboldened by the prevalence of death magic in the realms.  Whilst ghouls are not truly dead, their abhorrent overlords are, and their society is infused with death magic.

Credit: Serotonin

However, at the conclusion of the Soul Wars, and the waning of death magic in the realms, Alarielle, goddess of life, performs her Rite of Life, unintentionally empowering the ghouls even further, for they have as much stake in life as they do in death.

Boosted by both life and death magic, we now see the Flesh Eater Courts on the ascent.  With Nagash laying low, following his beatdown at the hands of Teclis, Ushoran is now free to emerge from hiding and fight for all that is noble, upright and true.

Upon seeing Nurgle’s Shudderblight unleashed upon the world, (a malady that brings intense lethargy, even to the point of death) Ushoran declares the War of Red Errantry, hoping to push back disease, decay and despair and restore all that is fair.  This makes perfect sense.  Nurgle has long been the god that embodies what lies between life and death, but now there is a contender to that space, albeit in a different way.

The conditions are ripe for the Flesh Eater Courts at the moment.  Where empires crumble and once-proud cities stand in rubble, there will be found countless people who long for the good-old-days, when the minstrels played and the pantries were full; longing for a romanticised past, at the expense of dealing with reality.  We all know people like that.

This is where the abhorrents come in.  They find little resistance when they offer their victims a delusional world to live in, where life is easy.  Often the delusion is based on the victim society’s own past and values. The only cost… reality.  Populist politicians do it all the time.  Conspiracy and delusion are rife, making cannibalistic ghouls of the poor souls trying to find some break from the horrors of reality.

Credit: Doug 2+ Tough

So long as there is faded glory, hardship and dreams of an idealised by-gone age, there will be prime material with which the descendants of Ushoran can weave their delusion.

What does a Flesh Eater Courts army look like?

Well… what does it look like, and to whom?

  • To the ghouls: A disciplined, virtuous and honourable force, armour glinting in the sun.
  • To their enemies: A tide of viscera-smeared, crazed ghouls.  At least, that is what they see for now.

When your city becomes a target for the courts, firstly, you may notice a hunched Marrowscroll Herald standing on a tuffet, waving a large bone around and jabbering indecipherably.  To any ghouls listening, he is a skilled diplomat; articulate and compelling, pronouncing impeccable truth and sound logic, and they cannot understand why you do not listen and repent.

Soon, the ground starts to rumble.  Wave after wave of sickly bodies breach the hill.  Most of them are nattering Crypt Ghouls, pouncing upon your front lines with hungered frenzy, ripping and tearing with their bare hands and claws, or crude bone weapons.  Among these are the Crypt Ghast Courtiers, the officer class.  Refined and dignified leaders, apparently, but you’ll likely not be able to discern one crazed cannibal from another.

The Cryptguard are those ghouls who are slightly more elite, using rusty weapons instead of tooth and nail.  In their minds they fight wielding worthy ancestral blades.  In reality, these weapons have been retrieved from rotting corpses, festering in charnel houses, and are marinated in the death and delusion that took their former owners.  Even the slightest nick from one of these is enough to drag you into the same fate.

Flesh Eater Courts
Little (blue) green ghouls, buddy! Credit: Fowler

Towering above the tides of pallid flesh are the Crypt Horrors and Crypt Haunter Courtiers.  Hulking great ghouls with the strength of ogors and appetites to match, often with bones beaten into their flesh.  According to the delusion, these are mighty knights, mounted on faithful steeds.

By this point the atmosphere of delusion is probably starting to set in and you too are beginning to see the graceful figures of angels descending from the sky, chanting beautiful and ethereal battle hymns.  In reality, these are Crypt Flayers and Crypt Infernal Courtiers; their leathery wings the mutated by-product of their feasting on the flesh of Morbheg’s chiropteran descendants.  (Morbheg, god-beast and father of bats, is to Ushoran what Dracothian is to Sigmar.)

You now find it hard to tell that those graceful, winged horses, bearing gleaming knights, swooping down to the field are actually nightshriekers, deformed bat-creatures fed on abhorrent blood, bearing snarling Morbheg Knights to the feast.

But the backbone of any Flesh Eater Courts army is the hierarchy of courtiers and aristocrats that maintain social order.  As well as the abovementioned courtiers, you will also find the long-limbed Varghulf Courtiers, piously meditating (or sulkily prowling – depending on the level of delusion you have succumbed to) on the battlefield.  Ordinarily they shun the finer things of court life in order to contemplate in solitude within their cloisters, but when battle commences they are present to bring their religious inspiration to the troops.

Others are separated from the courts for different reasons.  Flaymasters are aristocratic vampires who are too willful or unpredictable for polite society, so are given charge of a Royal Beastflayers band and sent to hunt down any creatures that might threaten the kingdom.  They are expert monster hunters.  Royal Decapitators, like most professional executioners, are also often estranged from the company of decent folk, but they live by a strong code which says that even criminals deserve an honourable end.

Then we come to the abhorrents, the vampire overlords of the Flesh Eater Courts.  They’re the reason you and your fellow troops are now completely enthralled in delusion, and probably having a good nibble on one another.  The Abhorrent Gorewardens cut an impressive figure as they soar over the battlefield, shouting commands and delivering irresistible delusion deep into the enemy ranks.

The Abhorrent Cardinals are missionaries, preferring to bravely infiltrate a society and spread delusion from the inside.  They dwell in the crypts and tunnels beneath Order cities and convert adherents through illicit wine-tasting events whereby the rich and powerful come to sup the maddening King’s Blood, which Neferata has secured directly from Ushoran’s veins.  When the Flesh Eater army finally arrives at the city gates, the Cardinals are ready with a small army of recently turned ghouls, ready to attack from the inside.

Finally we have the Abhorrent Ghoul Kings (and Queens,) the court’s epicenter of delusion.  It is their delusion that powers the whole army and society.  They are pillars of valour and virtue, and an inspiring presence for their followers.  Often they ride to battle on mighty monsters, such as Zombie Dragons and Terrorgheists showing that they are not afraid to fight in the very front lines along with their people.  In recent years, the courts have grown under the influence of Ushoran, forming even bigger courts, which are presided over by Abhorrent Archregents.

Flesh Eater Courts also now have two named characters.  Ushoran’s story is mentioned above, but Judge Goremayne really adds some wonderful depth to the lore.  He’s a criminal, turned high judge of Ushoran’s fair and just laws.  But what sets Judge Gormayne apart from the other abhorrents is that he has the ability to read the writings of other races and is therefore able to see through delusion and glimpse reality.

Flesh-Eater Courts heroes
Flesh-Eater Courts heroes. Credit: chimp

He knows who and what he is, and he knows it’s all a charade, but does ‘the truth set you free?’  No. Gormayne has to continue to play along lest he ends up as the next course on the table.  It’s a sorry existence in many ways.  Ernest Hemmingway once wrote ‘Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.’  It can be a lonely place, watching everyone else reveling in their delusions while you know the truth, that you’re just some lanky ghoul with a pile of guts on his head.

So as this horrific army bears down upon you, would it really be so bad to abandon yourself to the delusion they offer?

Remember that these ghouls are not mindless automatons like zombies, or emotionally tortured spirits like nighthaunts, their minds are in-tact and sound… it’s just that they’re not attached to reality in any way.  It’s delightfully cartesian.

There’s no question that out of all the races struggling to eke out some sort of existence from the harsh, unforgiving, war-torn Mortal Realms, it is the ghouls of the Flesh Eater Courts that are living their best lives.  They’ve taken the blue pill, and have no regrets.  They live in free societies with everything they might need, and who are we to spoil their fun?

All this begs the question, would you rather live a happy and contented life of delusion (albeit as a cannibalistic ghoul) or face the hard and grinding realities of the Mortal Realms?

Flesh Eater Courts. Credit: Doug Gibbs

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