I had never really liked Dark Eldar thanks to an annoying acquaintance being the only person I knew to play them, but with Ynnari tying them every closer to my Craftworlders, I felt I had to take a look and found myself liking Dark Eldar.
As has been noted, I am generally a Craftworlds kind of person. I like the controlled philosophy through which they approach life and how they have figured out how to overcome their baser inpulses. But, as of late, I started looking into Dark Eldar, and where I had been somewhat repulsed by the whole murder pirate vibe (yes, I actively dislike pirates – especially the wierd trope they are in pop culture), the more I dug into their lore – at least what is presented in their 7th Edition Codex and a few Wikia pages – the more I liked them. I could not exactly put my finger on why or what about my perception had changed, but it eventually unfurled after some in-depth discussion with my husband and a thread I made on DakkaDakka.
So, while a lot of people might play them just for the sake of being unapologetically evil, although their model line being gorgeous is another really strong factor, I wanted to share exactly why I have gotten to this point.
Unlike a lot of other factions, the entire feel of the Dark Eldar fluff that I got from reading the 7th Edition Codex gave the impression of meritocracy; being in such an anarchic state of affairs, Dark Eldar really only get where they are going in life through the merit of their abilities. Some running themes are the low rising to become the high – Asdrubael Vect was a vat-born slave that started with nothing and rose to become the overlord of all Cormorragh; Aestra Khromys rose to become an Archon by tirelessly working to perfect weapons crafting – and the high being cast low and forced to rebuild – the Lords of the Iron Thorn rebuilt themselves by perfecting the construction of war machines after a failed coup against Vect; Archon Ariensis had to rebuild his entire Kabal outside of Cormorragh after being exiled for a failed coup.
Their culture is almost the logical extension of feudalism into a more modern setting. Political intrigue is rife and incredibly important, and everything is held together by the power of the cunning. In a way, it is almost a pure expression of minimalist government – no one can save you but yourself and those you have been smart enough to ally with or gain control over. Still, when things really go wrong, Vect and the Kabal of the Black Heart come around to restore what sort of counts for order.
Cunning and Agility
Unlike most of the other 40k races and armies, Dark Eldar really emphasize intelligence since their leaders must be adept at politics and speed. There seem to be no tales of Dark Eldar rising to power because they were blessed by a god (Lady Malys almost disqualifies this, but I have it that she was in power long before who-was-supposedly-Cegorach started supporting her). I found only one tale of a Dark Eldar being some born-to-it, better-than-you-without-trying kind of savior – Lelith Hesperax – although the lore seems to be somewhat scarce about exactly where she came from or how she rose to power, so I can appreciate the one person that is just good while the rest had to work hard, especially since it was stated that Lelith is not particularly great at politics.
The part of this that really drew me in is the Wicked Cultured trope, which equates evil with intellectualism and high-society. I will admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for intelligent villains.
Running through all of Dark Eldar society is independence. There is very little that is not allowed in the Dark City, so its denizens are allowed to be whatever they want and do pretty much whatever as long as they are willing to accept the consequences. This allows them to achieve self-fulfillment in pretty much all cases, but my favorite aspect of this is that Dark Eldar can unabashedly pursue whatever kind of research they want, regardless of the harm it might cause its test subjects. Without morality, they could advance at some incredible speeds – note that a lot of research is not allowed to progress because of ethical concerns (notable examples in the field of psychology include tests similar to the Stanley Milgram experiments and Little Albert). Thus, if anyone was going to find a way to overcome mortality completely, it would be Dark Eldar, and they have after a fashion. The Kabal of the Last Hatred know how to bind a soul to a corpse, and Dark Eldar as a whole are functionally immortal as long as they feed off suffering.
One interesting question this led me to is why Dark Eldar choose this route instead of soulstones, infinity circuits, ship spirits, and world spirits. The only explanation that I could come up with is that the methods used by their kin may fascilitate funcitonal immortality as well, but it leaves them vulnerable still. Soulstones can be crushed, and infinity circuits can be infected. The protection offered is not absolute, and the world of the dead offered by it is not necessarily something that everyone would desire considering it is likely Limbo. Plus, if given the chance, a number of people would probably choose to continue living, even if doing so required them to be morally abhorrent; there is more the world of the living has to offer.
Ultimately, it came down to the questions that Dark Eldar society posed that really drew me in. Their style of living is so different that it raises a number of philosophical questions, and I find that fascinating.