The Dark Eldar are the corrupted and twisted relatives to the Eldar, an ancient and advanced race of elf-like humanoids. Their armies usually have the advantages of speed and technology, though they are often lacking in resilience and numbers. The Dark Eldar revel in piracy, enslavement and torture, and are sadistic in the extreme. Dark Eldar armies make use of advanced anti-gravity skimmers to launch high speed raids on their enemy while still transporting a large number of their warriors. Due to their use of the galaxy-spanning interdimensional labyrinth known as the Webway, they are extremely mobile, striking from seemingly nowhere, with little or no warning, and vanishing with their captives before significant military reaction can be mobilized. The Dark Eldar are unique amongst the races in the sense that they do not occupy many planets, but rather one dark city called Commorragh. They are mainly pirates, though are sometimes used as mercenaries.
The origins of the Dark Eldar can be found in the Fall, the great cataclysm that nearly destroyed the entire Eldar race. It was an event so terrible that not only did it kill trillions of Eldar, but it breached the gap between real space and the warp, and gave birth to a Chaos God.
To understand the reasons for the Fall, it is necessary to know something of the Eldar mind and soul.
An Eldar's mind is incredibly complex. Their senses are extremely sharp, able to perceive incredible levels of detail. Their emotions can be so strong that a human’s are merely pale shadows by comparison. They are extremely intelligent; their thought processes are much faster than a human’s. All of this means that an Eldar experiences the universe and all its sensations to a greatly heightened degree.
Similarly, an Eldar's soul is much brighter in the Warp than those of 'lesser' sentients. Eldar are able to affect the nether-realm much more than most other races. They are all latent psychics and have the ability to become very powerful psykers with training. It is the strength of their souls that was one of the causes of their downfall.
Before the Fall, the Eldar had an immense galaxy-spanning empire comprising millions of worlds, larger and more powerful than even the Imperium of Man at the height of its power. The Eldar lived in relative peace—barbarian races such as the Orks were kept at easily manageable numbers and never had the strength to threaten the might of the Eldar empire. The humans were not yet virulently xenophobic and did not have a large domain, and the Tyranid Hive Fleets were unknown. The C'tan and Necrons, ancient foes of the Eldar, were long ago defeated and still remained dormant.
Life on the Eldar worlds was idyllic, with fantastically sophisticated machines to take care of all labour and manufacturing required, leaving the Eldar free to indulge in other, more aesthetic pursuits. With all menial work taken care of for them, the Eldar became indolent and decadent. They began to explore more and more the arts of pleasure, delving ever deeper into hedonism. The descent into decadence spanned millennia. Tradition and order disintegrated as they limited the pursuit of pleasure. Sects called Pleasure Cults were formed, dedicated to achieving the highest levels of hedonistic sensation, and their ceremonies and practices became ever more wild, eventually devolving into violence and sacrifice of their own kind. Some Eldar hated what their race had become and left the Homeworlds for the virgin Maiden Worlds, or left on the newly-constructed Craftworlds, leaving the Pleasure Cults to their madness.
Meanwhile, something terrible was stirring in the Warp. The millennia of Eldar hedonism had made a massive impact in the psychic realm of Chaos. Within the warp the decadent Eldar civilization was giving shape to a Power of Chaos, which grew and grew over thousands of years, getting stronger and more defined until suddenly it sparked into an intelligence – a shatteringly huge and malign intelligence, with an immense and bottomless thirst for Eldar souls. This was the birth of Slaanesh.
The process lasted for thousands of years, corresponding to mankind's Age of Strife, although when Slaanesh finally came into being, the results with the universe were apocalyptic and sudden. An almighty psychic shockwave scythed across the galaxy. The souls of almost every Eldar were stripped from them in an instant and devoured by the new-born Chaos god. There were few survivors. Most were driven mad, their minds trapped half in the real world and half in the swirling insanity of the Warp. A great warp rift was created, encompassing the entire Eldar empire and creating the Eye of Terror.
Of the few survivors of the Pleasure Cults, some remained sane and able. They found to their horror that Slaanesh had not yet finished with the Eldar – S/he was slowly draining their souls while they still lived. To escape this these survivors fled in small groups to the Webway, the system of sealed tunnels that run through the Warp and enabled the Eldar to traverse the galaxy safe from attack by Daemons and other Warp creatures. Deep in the Webway, these small groups came together and laid the foundations of Commorragh. More and more survivors began to arrive, and added their own parts to the new city, making it even larger and more heavily populated.
Some Kabals can trace their history back to the creation of the Dark City, including Asdrubael Vect’s Kabal of the Black Heart.
Dark Eldar, like most Eldar, make use of advanced technology, including anti-gravity devices, dark matter weaponry, nanotechnology and psychic artifacts. While Dark Eldar do make use of psychic devices, they do not use psychic powers themselves. Psykers are treated as playthings in Commorragh, and given the twisted sadistic nature of the Dark Eldar, this necessarily involves pain and torment for the psyker. The technology, weapons and wargear of the Dark Eldar are analysed in the Dark Eldar Armory.
Over time, Dark Eldar begin to suffer more and more from The Thirst. They develop an all-consuming and ever-increasing need to drink the souls of other beings. It is postulated that the cause of this is the Chaos God Slaanesh, the Great Enemy of the Eldar, who leeches the soul-essence of the Dark Eldar while they still live. Dark Eldar drink souls to stave off this leeching - perhaps by sating the thirst of Slaanesh, or perhaps by replenishing the essence of their own souls with that of the consumed one. Slaanesh will also consume the souls of Dark Eldar whole should they die. Dark Eldar are long-lived but not immortal; drinking souls has a rejuvenating effect that reverses aging, thus Dark Eldar need not fear falling into the clutches of Slaanesh due to death from old age, if they have a constant supply of souls. The usual source of souls are those of the many captives taken during Dark Eldar raids.
Dark Eldar Armory
- Splinter Weaponry These weapons fire shards of splintered crystal using a powerful magno-electric pulse. The shards are covered in incredibly virulent and fast-acting toxins the better to ensure a painful death. While highly effective against biological/organic infantry and even capable of affecting the largest of monsters, they are near useless against vehicles and other mechanical targets (such as Necrons). These are the primary anti-infantry weapons of the Dark Eldar.
- Darklight Weaponry Advanced weapons that fire a dark matter beam in the form of a laser that can tear through any type of armor and material regardless of thickness and composition. The beams are also capable of permanently scaring the retinas of targets who do not wear the right eye protection. These are the primary anti-tank weapons of the Dark Eldar.
- Fusion Weapons Heat-based weapons which work by sub-atomic ignition of the air that causes the molecules of a target to hyper-vibrate, generating so much heat that the target bursts into flames before suddenly liquefying, and then evaporating into nothingness. These weapons are notoriously short-ranged, but make up for it with their ability to melt through virtually any material, turning tanks and buildings alike to molten slag.
- Disintegrator weapons These are highly advanced rapid-firing plasma/dark matter hybrid weapons that can fire a burst of particles composed of unstable matter taken from a stolen sun (literally) and do not suffer from any overheating problems like the plasma weapons of less advanced races.
- Power Weapons Advanced melee weapons that are sheathed in a field of destructive energy which disrupts solid matter, allowing them to easily tear through any armor like a hot knife through butter. They can take many forms, from swords and axes to hammers and fists.
- Monomolecular melee weapons Dark Eldar melee weapons are made from light-weight, but still surprisingly durable materials. Furthermore the edges are usually honed to a single molecule thick. This allows even a basic combat dagger to cut through space marine power armor if sufficient force is employed. Monomolecular blades are sometimes coated in deadly, crippling poisons to bring further pain to their victims.
- Agonizers Sophisticated bioelectrical weapons that commonly take the form of whips or gauntlets that are designed to attach themselves to a target's nervous system, take control of it and inflict immense levels of pain which can disable or even outright kill the victim. Any biological being, regardless of size is affected. It has the capability to harm vehicles as well, disrupting a vehicle's systems or disabling the crew.
- Husk Blades Advanced melee weapons which can turn victims to shriveled corpses that turn to dust in moments. The blade drains the moisture of anything that comes in contact with it and those victims that are only slightly scratched by such a weapon find their vitality completely taken away, leaving them weak and vulnerable.
- Shredders A unique ranged weapon which when fired unleashes an expanding mesh of monofilaments with miniscule barbs along their length. The mesh entangles the victim in an invisible net that slices apart the target as it struggles. It has little to no effect on armor.
- Haywire Blasters An extremely effective and light-weight EMP gun that can destroy any vehicle's control system in a single well-aimed shot. It's so surprisngly light-weight for it's size that it can be fired somewhat accurately on the move.
- Heat Lances A weapon that combines high-yield laser technology with the power of a fusion weapon into one. This results in a mid-ranged weapon that fires a laser beam of intense heat that can cut through virtually anything. A recent discovery, it is regarded as a great technological breakthrough.
- Liquifier guns These are ranged weapons which sprays a huge amount of potent acid that can melt through body and armor alike. Most commonly used by the Haemonculi and their minions, the extremely sadistic and cruel mad scientists/fleshcrafters of the Dark Eldar.
- Storm Vortex Projectors These are large electromagnetic wave cannons which can fire either a single confined beam of extreme force, or a large blast which detonates on impact in a storm of energy.
- Shock Prows Energised rams that can send out a directional wave of electromagnetic force, which is powerful enough to shatter the hulls of the heaviest enemy vehicles and carve through infantry like mincemeat. These are frequently mounted on the front of Skimmercraft, such as the ubiquitous Raider.
- Void Lances Extremely advanced weapons that are typically mounted on Voidraven Bombers, the super-sonic jet fighters of the Dark Eldar. This weapon fires pulses of highly destructive eldritch energy harvested from shattered portions of the Webway. Flesh and bone is vaporized and any armor is torn apart.
- Void Mines Considered to be one of the most destructive and awe-inspiring weapons in the Dark Eldar arsenal. Carried as a bomb by Voidraven bombers, these mines introduce darklight into real-space which when dropped create a catasthropic implosion that annihilates anything caught within it's grasp and the only thing that usually remains in it's wake is a hemispherical crater.
- Plasma grenades Grenades that explode with the fury of a miniature sun, severly damaging and blinding affected targets.
- Haywire Grenades Advanced EMP grenades which can send out a powerful electromagnetic pulse that shorts out and destroys electrical circuits and systems.
- Phantasm Grenade Launchers A weapon that consists of a specially modified backpack that can hurl disc-shaped grenades from twin tubes, the ammunition of Phantasm Grenade Launchers are canisters which contain a powerful nerve gas, capable of plunging victims into a fit of horrific nightmares and delusions. They are frequently used by wealthy dark eldar and leaders.
- Torment Grenade Launchers Hull-mounted launchers mounted on the skimmers of the Dark Eldar. When fired they unleash spinning barbed grenades which spews out an ochre cloud of gas that causes sheer terror in the minds of those nearby.
- Terrofex grenades and launchers A cruel and psychological weapon of war which causes horrible hallucinations to occur in their targets. The effect is short-lived, but is usually enough to cripple a victim's sanity.
- Wraithbone grenades and launchers Another psychological weapon of war. These grenades explode above their targets, releasing soul-impregnated energy, paralyzing victims with fear and sadness.
- Kabalite Armor Kabalite Armor is a thin, light-weight bodysuit, pressurised to allow soldiers to traverse the vaccum of space. They have a unique feature which allows the suit to respond to neural impulses from their wearer and harden on command. This allows the suit to shrug-off basic small-arms fire, but still must rely on a Dark Eldar's superior reflexes and combat abilities to survive engagements against more heavily armed foes. Kabalite Warriors (the primary soldiers of a Dark Eldar Kabal/Army) are the main users of this armor.
- Ghostplate Armor A heavy, but light-weight form of armor that combines substantial protection with mobility. It is fashioned from hardened resins containing pockets of lighter-than-air gas. it also incorporates mini-forcefield projectors for additional protection. This armor is usually worn by the leaders (such as Archons) and elite soldiers (such as scourges) of the Dark Eldar.
- Shadow Fields A unique form of forcefield that is virtually impossible to pierce. It creates a dark miasma of energy around the wearer, that is proof against nearly any attack, and the wearer within cannot be targeted easily. However should a really lucky blow or shot connect, the field's instability will cause it to collapse almost immediately. These are only used by leaders (such as Archons) and the most experienced of Dark Eldar soldiers.
- Clone Fields A Clone Field projects holographic duplicates of the wearer, all identical in aspect and moving in perfect and lifelike synchrony. Only through precise trial and error can the true wearer be identified, and very few combatants have the time to find the real threat amidst a swarm of falsehoods.
- Webway Portals Dark Eldar frequently carry portable versions of webway portals to quickly enter and exit from the Webway. These devices do not self-destruct when used, so they can theoretically be deployed an infinite number of times.
- Black Hole Caskets Exotic devices which holds the deactivated containment field of a black hole. When opened or activated by it's user it can suck a whole realm into oblivion. These are notably used by some archons, including Vect himself to get rid of major rivals, tricking them into believing they are generous gifts.
- Obsidian Orbs An extremely advanced and rare form of dark eldar soul-technology. When an Obsidian Orb is used against living opponents, it can suck out their very souls and use their stolen life-energy to heal the user's wounds. So far only Asdrubael Vect (leader of the Dark Eldar) is known to make use of them.
- Nightmare Dolls Among the rarest of all items that exists in Commorragh, the reason being that the user is required to have psychic ability to make use of one, and psykers are often used as playthings and looked down upon in Dark Eldar society. Despite the risk, some rare individuals are willing to make use of one as a nightmare doll emits a literal aura of pain and may even grant it's user reliable visions of the future.
- The Dark Eldar are the Warhammer 40,000 universe's equivalent of the Dark Elves of Warhammer Fantasy - much as the Eldar are the equivalent of the High Elves.
- The Dark Eldar seem to be inspired by the Cenobites from the Hellraiser franchise. Both are masochistic individuals who takes great pleasure in delivering pain and suffering to their victims.