Monday, June 19, 2017

Dawn of the Nurgle Poxwalkers

This weekend the new Warhammer 40K was released and I have to admit I was rather excited about this one. In the footsteps of Age of Sigmar it promised a full overhaul of the rules. This past week I took in a lot of Warhammer TV shows (what a fascinating age we live in, Warhammer on tv) and I liked what I saw. The content of the boxed set: Truescale Primaris Space Marines and a band of the most interesting followers of Nurgle since the famous Palanquin of Nurgle was releases (a release I regretfully did not but at the time). My ambition for this getting started box is to get everything painted, preferably in a time scale measured in weeks or months, not years. I decided to start off with the Poxwalkers.

A horde of shuffling Poxwalkers shambles through the ruins of civilization, the new long night is closing in.
These are basically plague infested zombies. I had to get used to their faces at first, expecting a more human look. But as (my slow mind) realized I was looking at a cross between a Plaguebearer and a human they suddenly snapped. The only minus I hold against the models so far is that they are part of the new 'only one way to assemble' strategy. In bouts of enthusiasm I tend to not make time to convert models so I have two batches of ten identical Poxwalkers.

I love the rule that every model slain by poxwalkers joins the unit as a fellow walker. Zombie horde ahead!
For the painting I followed the outline given by Duncan basing the models white and using Reikland Fleshshade for the basic skintone. After that I diverted a bit using patches of purple wash, yellow glaze, camoshade green and red wash. I tried to tie all of it together with Pallid Wytch Flesh highlights/layers. The fun thing about undead flesh is that you can just go into zen-mode, channel your inner Bob Ross and go wild. To my taste the only mistake you can make with (un-)dead flesh is going for flat greens.

I had a lot of fun accentuating vile points on the models using washes, glazes and thinned paints. 
The Poxwalkers look like they've been civilians once, most hold improvised weapons, a few old guns. They are almost begging you to think up their story as you paint. For sanity's sake (I painted these over the course of my Sunday) I decided to split the models into color groups. Five where given camo-green pants (remains of paints). These are the remnants of the PDF forces trying to resist invasion. Another five got Stegadon Scale Green clothing scraps, navy personnel. There are two in what looks like the remains of an NBC suit (or maybe a space suit). Excellent, an excuse to add more color to this dour bunch. I painted one in yellow and had a comrade with decidedly less safe clothing join him in this color choice. They are Hazmat Team #1, formerly the best in the business.

Up until days ago Hazmat Team #1 dressed in yellow and boasted a 100 percent success rate.
I painted the second NBC suit in orange and had five other Poxwalkers join him in that color choice. Hazmat Team #2, they where rebels but they got the job done (used to get...). The orange was just begging for a white(ish) highlight as a nod to X-Wing fighter pilots. I couldn't resist so I picked Screaming Skull to pick out lines and kneepads where possible.

In the back Commissar Helmut, still wearing his coat of office, shuffles around, performing his new calling in life.
The final two poxwalkers walk around in long coats. I painted one white and had a rather messy bit of fun painting crusted blood on the bottom and sleeves of his coat. Working all night to save the poor people from an unknown disease, joining them in the morning in his new occupation as a Poxwalker. The final one got a black coat, I'm quite sure he used to be a commissar so he'll be around te keep order. I treated the guts of both of these guys (and some others) with a mix of Vallejo Smoke and Blood for the Blood God. Building up to pure Blood for the Blood God. This gives it a bit more of a half dried blood look.

I love the pose and the look of the guy all the way in the back there, he reminds me of the Lord of Plagues.
As the models lacked a certain rancidness I decided to take out the Flash Gitz Yellow and thinly coat a selection of the bigger soars on their bodies. Off went my appetite signalling a proper Nurgly choice there. I love the model in the back there, he gives off the same vibe as the AoS Lord of Plagues. The bases where a bit of a rush job as I could not find my collection of spare 25mm rounds to do some proper basing I went for Vallejo Dark Earth paste covered with an Agrax Earth wash. The pools of slime have been painted (into the wet) Dark Earth paste with Ogryn Camo and covered (after drying) with Nurgle's Rot. It had to be on the base somewhere...

Next up I've got seven Plague Marines set-up on my painting station. Now to go for flat greens, bone
color or something darker? I really don't know, we'll see.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Age of Sigmar primer: The Silver Tower, Excelsis, Shadespire and witch hunters

With 8th edition Warhammer 40K appearing tomorrow I’m getting ready to do a bit of sci-fi wargaming in the near future. Having said that, I’m going to finish my overview of the Age of Sigmar background first. This is the third and (for now) final installment of the background overview. In part one I’ve discussed theRealmgates, the transition from the Old World (the world that was) to the newand some of the other (global) changes to the realms, Slaanesh and other races. My second blog was a condensed version of the Realmgate Wars as described in the five hardcover source books (with a few bonus facts from the Black Library novels). This post will deal with the realms as they are now.

Games Workshop has pushed the clock/story forward by about a century (I think) after the Realmgate Wars. The Grand Alliance Order (led by Sigmar) is trying to resettle areas formerly terrorized by Chaos. Grand Alliance Destruction is rampaging across the realms doing what it does best (destroying things). Death (so far) is shaded in mystery. Nagash has refused to ally with Sigmar and Mannfred is somewhere out there betraying (and angering) everyone. Not much action is taken on a large scale.

Last but not least is Chaos. The brunt of the fighting in the Realmgate Wars was against followers of Khorne and Nurgle (and Chaos undivided led by Archaon). In part because the realms Sigmar primarily assaulted (Aqshy and Ghyran) where theirs. Also in part because these two gods do rather well in an open war setting. With Sigmar ascendant the god of betrayal and change is more in his element. So Tzeentch has been given a lot of love in the past year (our time).

The Gaunt Summoners rule the Silver Tower (and are in their turn ruled by Archaon who holds their true names).
The Silver Tower
At the end of the Realmgate Wars the nine Gaunt Summoners of Tzeentch met and created the Whispervane. This is a location that appears in the realms as a silver tower. It offers a direct gateway into the Crystal Labyrinth of Tzeentch. In WarhammerQuest: Silver Tower players get to explore this ‘dungeon’ with its ever shifting hallways and rooms.

The object of the game is to find an amulet that will force the resident Gaunt Summoner to give the characters a boon (‘let me leave this horrifying tower!’ springs to mind). The Silver Tower gives Tzeentch direct access to the mortal realms and allows promising recruits to be picked up for training. As it turns out this was the vanguard of Tzeentchian machinations. Hopping from realm to realms and causing trouble (or even better: laying the seeds of trouble at a later date).

In tandem with the Silver Tower Games Workshop ran a global Age of Sigmar campaign called Season of War that further reinforced the setting. Three cities in three areas were presented where settlers from Azyr and local survivors tried rebuilding civilization. The four grand alliances fought over these three cities to determine their fate. All three cities where defended successfully by the Order Grand Alliance.

Greenskinz, including Troggoth Hag Mothers, are terrorizing all the Mortal Realms. 
To rebuild the realms
This is the key to understanding (most of) the mortal realms right now. It reminds me of the old Earthdawn roleplaying game by Fasa. The premise of Earthdawn was players emerging from magical fallout shelters to rediscover a world shattered by horrors, in Age of Sigmar the inhabitant try to rebuild realms ravaged by Chaos.

Colonist coming from cramped but safe life in Azyr have to settle newly conquered territories and mix with the locals. The cities are under constant threat from newly risen Chaos armies, roaming forces of Destruction and even the occasional attention from the Undead. Protection is offered by Stormcast although these are mostly aloof and rather overeager to go into exterminate-mode when Chaos is present. Occasionally survivors and even surviving cultures (like the Kharadron Overlords) are rediscovered.

The novel City of Secrets is the first one (as far as I know) that gives us a view of life in the realms as it is for normal humans (and humanlike creatures). It is a rather interesting story about a plot to bring down one of the cities. Without spoiling too much I’ll try to pick out a few nice details from the book to give a taste of the current setting.

With the return of human cities on the Mortal Realms siege warfare (of non-chaotic castles) is a viable game plan again.
Excelsis, the City of Secrets
City of Secrets is set in the bay-city Excelsis. This city is built around a rather suspicious (Tzeentchian?) oracle called the Spear of Mallus. Currency in the city is formed by Glimmerings. These are small shards of the Spear of Mallus that can be used to get a glimpse of the future. The city itself has been built by human and duardin from Azyr. As the world outside is rather dangerous everyone wants to live within the city walls making the poor quarters cramped (think of a shanty town build on a shanty town within the space allowed by the city walls). Duardin technology provides things like limited steam power and electric light analogues, giving the place a renaissance (Old World) meets Steampunk feel. Nothing luxurious like this is available to the regular folks living in the shanty towns of course.

The mix of Old World races makes the setting unique. Dark Aelf Scourge Privateers are responsible for security of the bay. Now there is a deterrent for piracy (or is that a hiring tool?). As we know from their Oldhammer ancestors, Dark Elves are not a nice bunch (neither are their woodland and highborn cousins but that is another matter). The entire city sits on a razor’s edge of tension because the factions living there do not like or trust each other. To complicate this, inhabitants with an Azyr heritage do not trust their potentially corrupted counterparts who stayed behind. This is not entirely illogical as these people have been born and raised in Chaos infested territories.

So Excelsis is, like most other cities in the realms, under constant threat from outside the walls. It has little to no comradeship inside the walls and there is no room to give each other space. Add to this a lot of magic and weird items, most of them very attractive and likely corrupted by chaos. The setting is quite dark. The constant wars against rampaging Orruks draw Stormcast and warriors from the Freeguilds (humans) out into the wilds, upping the pressure. To make matters worse, it is rumored the resident Stormcast have at some point in the past eradicated the entire city population because they suspected chaos corruption had taken hold. Warriors of Order can be as awful as their Chaos counterparts.

The return of witch hunters and a skirmish game almost begs you to rebuild the old Morheim warbands again, here is mine (painted in 2015).
Witch Hunters in the Age of Sigmar
In this setting one of the Old World favorites reappears in a slightly new guise: a Witch Hunter from the Order of Azyr. Apparently Sigmar wants to stem the chaos corruption, but good help is hard to find. The order of Witch Hunters numbers too few to adequately safeguard the lands. They read like their counterparts in His Most Holy Imperial Inquisition of Terra in 40K. These seemingly all-powerful hybrids of spy, politician and warrior rather frequently discover that power doesn’t work if the agencies you’re trying to control have been corrupted by the arch-enemy (or just plain don’t like you).

The Mortal Realms setting differs from the Old World in being more fully high fantasy, but manage to morph with the grim darkness that makes Warhammer what it is. Whereas the Old World featured German (Holy Roman Empire) analogue cities where magic was illegal and trade was by rickety ship and risky coach here we get flying ships, vessels made giant crabs and other odd contraptions. Still the prevalence of magic seems to make the world more dangerous, politics more unstable and it gives Chaos even more room to corrupt and destroy. You just know that even if they manage to settle down and conquer more territory Slaanesh will jump out and add to the mayhem.

The realms give writers room to dream up really unique locations and it shows in the setting. Shadowsover Hammerhal, the second Warhammer Quest game, is situated in the city of Hammerhal. I have to write this based on what I’ve heard described (as I don’t have this game yet and can’t get my hands on a background booklet), but Hammerhal is situated around a permanently open Realmgate that connects Aqshy and Ghyran. A lava flow from Aqshy rolls down the green slopes of Ghyran burning away vegetation that – because of the strength of Ghyran – grows back almost as fast as it burns away. Apparently Tzeentch is busy being naughty underneath Hammerhal.

A city cursed by Nagash and filled with undead? Krell and Kemmler approve!
Shadespire 
The final bit of setting I have come across is the city of Shadespire set in the realm of Shyish. This city was built in the Oasis of Souls on a waypoint between two important realmgates. Some arcane forces keep the malign influence of the realm off Shyish at bay here. As the location also offers water and vegetation grows here, it is inhabitable. The settlers soon discovered a special glass made within the Oasis of Souls called Shadeglass. This allows you to store your soul at the moment of death, preventing it from being sucked into one of the Underworlds of Shyish. Yeah for immortality. The combination of a good waypoint for merchants, food, water and immortality for sale set Shadespire up to become a very wealthy city.

Unfortunately (as shown in the Realmgate Wars) Nagash has little appreciation for people that meddle around with souls (whose name is not Nagash). The inhabitants of Shadespire have been annihilated by the Great Necromancer. Other cities – fearing Nagash – have tried to erase all mentions of Shadespire from their history. But the dusty city of the dead harbors a lot of treasure, not the least of it Shadeglass. This setting forms the basis of the Age of Sigmar Skirmish game that allows you to build a warband from existing warscrolls to fight over treasure and Shadeglass. It brings to mind a certain asteroid destroyed setting called Mordheim that had us fight over Warpstone Shards.

With the end of the Realmgate Wars the time has come to really start carving out the setting of the Mortal Realms in Age of Sigmar. So far I love the intriguing locations Games Workshop has dreamt up. It also invites you to go wild inside your own mind (or borrow wildly where imagination fails). You can be sure that whatever you think up van easily be added to the wider setting. I can’t wait for the announced RPG in the Age of Sigmar setting. It has been slated for release in 2018 (after a new edition of Warhammer Fantasy (we live in a golden age of gaming)). With the Age of Sigmar roleplaying game I’m already planning to have my players revisit the remnants of Maisontaal, this time deep in an Underworld of Shyish. Perhaps I’ll followed this up with a visit to Hammerhal, Shadespire, one of the ruins described in the Realmgate Wars or the shifting hallways of a Silver Tower. Only another years wait, and a new edition of 40K to fill that wait with. Now about family, work and those other things….ah never mind ;).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Age of Sigmar background primer: The Realmgate Wars

In an effort to give the Age of Sigmar background more love I previously madea post with a general Age of Sigmar background primer. Here you can read (a bit) about the fate of the Old World, the Mortal Realms and their gods and – most importantly – the realmgates and the setting in general. This post deals with the Realmgate Wars. These are the wars that kick off the Age of Sigmar, got us started on the current background story and are dealt with over the course of five sourcebooks.

Black Library published a number of novels and audio books on the Realmgate Wars. More importantly Games Workshop released five hardcover books telling the story, adding rules and giving rules for themed battles. I’ll be using these books as the basis for this post. In the books Games Workshop tells the story by jumping from one realm to the next, slowly following the timeline up to the finish. I’ll be summarizing in a slightly different fashion, giving descriptions of the events on a per realm basis. As with the other post here’s a ‘here be spoilers’ warning. I recommend getting the Realmgate Wars books. They are quite an entertaining read and a collection onto themselves.

I don't have any Stormcast painted up to show here, so I went with a nice old Skaven model instead. Ignoring the fact that this makes no sense whatsoever. 
Stormcast Eternals
It is quite impossible to tell any wargamer you play Age of Sigmar without having to talk about Stormcast. For troops riding the lightning to battle, they sure act as lightning rods for the ire of some. Personally I did not like the models when they were released. I’ve painted a few test models so far and I’m still torn. Occasionally I love them and get ready to build a small army. At other times I hate their constipated faces and stuff what I have back in a project box. Recently I’ve seen a few paint schemes that really bring them to life. Now here’s to hoping I can steal one of those (and add some uncovered faces to the lot, I like seeing faces).

As characters in the story they work surprisingly well. They get nicely fleshed out backgrounds and read like fascinating tragic heroes. The Stormcast form the vanguard forces fighting Chaos. Basically Sigmar took the souls of the most defiant heroes from the start of the Age of Chaos to Azyr. He re-forged them (gave them new bodies) and armored them in Grugni-designed battle-plate. Stormcast are organized by Stormhost, each host has a different battle doctrine and its members have a shared background (they were all royalty of a certain nation, all died defying chaos with their last breath, etc.). When a Stormcast dies, his soul is whisked back to Azyr in a flash of blue. There he is reforged over an unpredictable period of time. After being reforged the warrior loses a bit of his old self (mostly memories), so over time the Stormcast seem to slowly turn into animated suits of armor.


The Realmgate wars
At the start of the Realmgate Wars Sigmar unleashes his first host of stormcast on Aqshy to re-open a gate to Azyr. His plan is to open many more Realmgates on every realm and use these to send reinforcing waves of Stormcast. The overall goal is to find the Seven All-Gates and close them. These are the Realmgates that lead to the All-Points that is currently hosting the citadel of Archaon the Everchosen. By cutting Archaon off it might become possible to fight Chaos armies that don’t have an endless supply of reinforcements coming in.

Secondary goal of the Realmgate wars is to reconnect with old allies and reforge the alliances. This will be a difficult as quite a few of the other gods do not like Sigmar. Nagash, the god of death, considers him a traitor and a thief. GorkaMorka is bored by Sigmar and just wants to fight everything. The Everqueen Alarielle might just be rather angry about Sigmar leaving her to her fate, and so on. For clarity’s sake I’ll describe what happens in the wars on a per realm basis. If you want a more chronological order, read the books.

Ghorkos Khul is introduced in the Age of Sigmar starterset as a very mighty lord of Khorne.
Aqshy, the realm of fire
The Age of Sigmar begins on the Brimstone Peninsula in the realm of fire Aqshy. The first Stormhost commanded by Lord-Celestant Vandus Hammerhand takes on a mighty Chaos lord called Khorgos Khul (both the main characters in the boxed starter set). Vandus wishes to open the first realmgate to Azyr and summon reinforcements. Khorgos has been spending an inordinate amount of time looking for the skull of an immortal to complete his tower of skulls for Khorne (and ascend to daemonhood). They fight and Vandus manages to both keep his skull and open the realmgate.

The story continues with another Stormhost contacting Fyreslayers living in Aqshy. These are Duardin (Dwarves) that live in the realm of fire. They use Magmadroths (a sort of magma emitting dragon) to tunnel around active volcanoes. Fyreslayers paint their hair in bright colors, are nearly immune to heat and spend most of their time looking for Ur-Gold. This is a special type of gold left behind when their god Grimnir was shattered. The Fyreslayers hope to resurrect their god by finding all his pieces and putting them together. The Stormcast buy the loyalty of the Fyreslayers by emptying the vaults of Azyr of Ur-Gold.

At first a Fyreslayer and Stormhost alliance attempts to enter Bloodkeep. This is a huge fortress that features a prison where Skarbrand is locked away. Skarbrand is the greatest of Bloodthirster Greater Daemons of Khorne. Tricked by Tzeentch he once attacked Khorne himself and was punished rather severely. Now Skarbrand is chained in Bloodkeep and occasionally released to cause mayhem. The Stormcast plan to steal Skarbrands chain. It is forged by Khorne himself and as such the only thing that can hold Skarbrand down. In the end they fail and (without realizing it) they accidentally release a bit of true name of Kiathanus, a Greater Daemon of Tzeentch.

Kiathanus has been a naughty daemon and Tzeentch has him locked up on Anachron Plateau where he has to serve as the Oracle of Thruths. For a Tzeentch daemon there is no greater punishment than being forced to always be truthful. A Stormcast Stormhost fights to get access to the oracle of truth. Unfortunately for them Archaon has received the last bit of the true name their colleagues released in Bloodkeep. In the end Archaon wipes out the Stormcast and claims the oracle as his personal property.

Another big battle is fought over the Orb Infernia. This is a gigantic malevolent eye in the sky that is closed as long as four floating islands are out of alignment. A rather clever Slann starmaster called Lord Xen’phantica has manipulated the four daemon princes (The Infernal Tetrarchy) inhabiting this orb to constantly fight each other. In the end they betray Khorgos Khul on another battlefield. The Lord of Khorne hops on by, bashes in (a lot of) Chaos heads and takes control. Khul follows up by defeating the Seraphon, killing Xen’phantica and by that action destroying a bit of the soul of the Slann. In the end thanks to Khorgos Khul the malevolent eye of the Orb Infernia looks out over Aqshy. I’m not fully sure what that does in the end, but it does not sound very promising.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Aqshy, a fight to control the Hengegate Realmgate ends up with Stormcast and ragtag human survivor allies fighting a joint Nurgle and Khorne force. This force features the raging Greater Daemon Skarbrand. A rather clever Stormcast realizes that the local bloodquartz crystals amplify hate and rage. He lures Skarbrand between cystal pylons and the amplified rage of the daemon kills all mortals Choas followers present, and the Stormcast, and their human allies. It also the lands of Nurgles taint. A bit of a Phyrric victory there, at least no one is around to complain about it.

Also on Aqshy Fyreslayers fight with Stormcast to stop Archaon from capturing the godbeast Ignax. Godbeasts are humongous creatures, like dragons that curl around the sun for a quick nap or giants that name a gigantic floating island their ‘torc’. Archaon manages to snap the chains binding Ignax (not a mean feat, as they are forged by Grugni himself). He misses a defiant action by a Fyreslayer Runesmiter. This guy manages to secretly place Ariakh the Father Rune of Binding on Ignax, giving the Fyreslayers a secret way to control the Godbeast.

In the end it all comes down to a fight over the Brimstone Gate. This is the All-Gate on Aqshy and it is protected by the eight-castles-that-were-one. Sigmar decides to attack the eight castles at once, slay all champions and leaders in them and use the confusion to capture the gate. A humongous battle follows. Near the end Archaon sends Ignax to kill everybody, but the Fyreslayers use the secret rune to force Ignax to kill only a large part of the Chaos horde. Lord-Celestant Vandus Hammerhand duels and vanquishes Skarbrand in the end. The Stormcast take control of the Brimstone Gate and close it, making Aqshy (slightly) safer from Chaos.

Ghyran, the realm of life, gives you the best excuses for sticking fake plants on homemade scenery.
Ghyran, the realm of life
The realm of life Ghyran has the special attention of Nurgle. As a disease god he is rather interested in adding this realm to his garden in the Realm of Chaos. The realm also hides the Everqueen Alarielle. Nurgle wants to cage her and use her to decorate his garden (if only Nurgle had heard of garden centres, so much trouble could’ve been avoided). On Ghyran we meet unpleasantly filthy champions of Nurgle like Rotgut Spume and Toglug the Despised. Lord-Celestant Gardus enters the realm looking for the Everqueen to make an alliance.

During one of the first fights Gardus falls through the Gates of Dawn to stop a Great Unclean One called Bolathrax. The Gates of Dawn is a corrupted realmgate that leads straight into the Garden of Nurgle. With the help of Sylvaneth voices Gardus manages to escape the Garden of Nurgle. The Sylvaneth are a new faction consisting of Dryads and Treelords (and some new models) that serve the Everqueen (she has soured on elves during the End Times).

Meanwhile Lord Castellant Lorrus Grymn takes over command of Gardus’s Stormhost. He continues searching, meets up with an escaped Gardus just in time to find the Everqueen in her hiding place The Hidden Vale. With their discovery they accidentally reveal this location to Nurgle’s henchmen. A fight ensues, Gardus is killed and returns for a reforging. Grymn takes charge again and defends the retreat of Alarielle’s court but the Everqueen herself is badly hurt and turns into a seed.

Grymn defends the remnants of the court during their long retreat all over Ghyran. After a lot of running and battles and a mysterious voyage through mystic pathways, the Stormcast make a last stand on an ice plain. There the Celestant Prime, wielder of Ghal Maraz, appears and saves the day. In the end they plant Allarielle’s seed in the remnants of a warriors civilization and wait.

A rather interesting thing storywise is the death of Torglug the Despised. It turns out this rather tortured general of Nurgle was an involuntary fighter to the cause. Inside his disease wracked frame he held on to a sliver of good. Sigmar takes this sliver, and uses it to cleanse Torglug’s soul. He is turned into a Stormcast. The reborn Tornus the Redeemed joins the fight against Chaos.

The next part of the Ghyran campaign is fought on the Scabrous Sprawl. Beneath this part of Ghyran is the sleeping form of Behemath, father of all Gargants (giants). On Archaon’s orders Clan Skryre has built rather imaginative parasite engines. These huge machines poison the land in an effort to turn Behemath insane (mental not: must make a Parasite Engine as a terrain piece some day). The Stormcast fight Nurgle’s warriors, Skaven and Beastmen up onto a floating landmass called the Great Green Torc. There they fight more Beastmen, are tricked into a fight with Spiderfang Grots and fight Gargants. In the end an insane Behemat arises. The Celestant-Prime shows up and uses Ghal Maraz to split Behemat’s skull.  

The final battle for Ghyran is fought over the Genesis Gate (no relation to the band). The gate is situated in a fortress on a disease infested lake. The lake is fed filth through the Filthfall waterfall. After some scouting it turns out that a Pox Behemoth called pustrol is responsible. Tornus the Redeemed takes some friends along and kills it. A final battle around the fortress ensues and the Glottkin, of End Times fame, enter the fray. Just as everything seems to go wrong Alarielle, now in her warrior form riding a giant beetle appears. The final chapter is called Wrath of the Everqueen. To keep it short and simple: the All-gate to Ghyran is closed.

You can't beat old school Nurgling bases for sheer amount of character per square centimeter.
Chamon, the realm of metal
But where did Ghal Maraz and the Celestant Prime come from? If I’d put this in chronological order, it would have made sense... In the realm of metal Chamon is another special Realmgate called The Silverway. It can transport you to any realm, the problem is it is a one way trip. On the new realm you’ll have to find another realmgate to travel elsewhere. The Stormcast enter Chamon and – to their surprise – easily find and capture The Silverway. Turns out, thanks to Duardin protections, the Tzeentch sorcerer living in Chamon, Ephryx is his name, failed to find it over the decades.

Ephryx commands a fortress in the Hanging Valleys of Anvrok. He is also one of my favorite characters in the series. A complete tool of man with the social graces of a piece of sandpaper and a vile attitude to complete the horrific package. Ephryx takes power and betrays everyone to get a girl (who hates him, doesn’t want him so he kills her rather gruesomely, turning her into a banshee) he ends up with a gigantic fortress around a magical artifact (he can never use) and his best friend is Kairos Faithweaver (who has no best friends and is rather uncharacteristically obvious about that).

Ephryx fights the Stormcast but keeps being defeated until they almost take his castle right from under him. Luckily for Ephryx he has a teleportation spell on his inner citadel and zaps away before his defeat is total. Unluckily for him the Stormcast spot the artifact he is hiding in his castle. It is Ghal Maraz, Sigmar’s magic hammer! Apparently the god threw the hammer away after being tricked by Tzeentch. Ephryx managed to conquer the civilization holding the hammer in a secret vault and has been trying (and failing) to get it to work for him since, building a giant castle around it in the process.

To put it mildly, the presence of Ghal Maraz motivates Sigmar to send more troops. They travel through a lot of very interesting Chamon scenery including a huge lake of molten silver. The silver is molten due to constant heat being applied to it by a Godbeast. In the end Sigmar’s own friend and godbeast Dracoth is needed to distract and fight the other godbeast so the Stormcast can cross the now solidifying silver. They take on Ephryx at his castle’s new location. In the end Ephryx is forced by Kairos to cast the teleportation spell on the castle again. It is placed there to teleport Chamon straight into the realm of chaos. Ephryx tries to use Ghal Maraz to power this spell. It turns out he can’t do this and dies. Kairos’s plan fails and the Stormcast gain access to Ghal Maraz. This leads to the creation of the Ghal Maraz wielding Celestant Prime.

The final fight on Chamon is over the All-Gate called the Mercurial Gate. It is defended by the Ironhold. A clockwork fortress that constantly shifts its configuration. The Stormcast enlist help from Fyreslayers. They use the Magmadroth’s abilities to burn a tunnel straight to the center of the fortress. There they fight their way towards the Mercurial Gate over a broad bridge. During this fight Archaon appears. His appearance explains the name of the chapter ‘Bridge of Butchery’. He swings the fight into Chaos’s favor and slays Lord-Celestant Thostos Bladestorm in a duel, sucking the soul out of the Stormcast and keeping it. At the end of the Realmgate Wars the All-Gate to Chamon remains in Archaon’s hands.

I have a shortage of good pictures of my Death army, so I'll be using this picture of my Skaven Doomwheel for now (no this does not make sense).
Shyish, the realm of Death
I think the realm of death is interesting as in ‘how are you going to portray people living there?’ So far the few inhabitants we’ve met are working quite well. The first is a group of pilgrims on the Blood Wastes. These people go off to voluntarily feed a monastery inhabited by Vargheist vampires as a gift of gratitude for their protection against chaos. The second is a (by now ruined) civilization in Age of Sigmar Skirmish that traded in Black Glass, a magic material that holds the souls of the departed. Nagash took exception to this and ended the city.

On Shyish we also meet Mannfred von Carstein, chained to a wall and hated by everyone (I love this character as well, he is just such an awful person). The Stormcast free him and spend a large amount of time wondering if that was the right idea. In the end they spend even more time regretting it. Mannfred does lead the Stormcast to Nagash. We also meet Arkhan the Black as he reenters the Age of Sigmar from the End Times. On meeting Nagash Mannfred instantly turns on them and offers them as sacrifices. Nagash takes some time to describe just how much he hates Sigmar. Then he tells the Stormcast all their souls belong to him. Being the god of death, he might just have a point there. He also tells Mannfred he is still angry with him. In the end a lot of Stormcast die and their souls do not return to Azyr. Mannfred hightails it out of Nagash’s sanctum and the remaining Stormcast set off after him in pursuit.

Meanwhile elsewhere (in the sourcebooks) we meet Queen Neferata of Nulahmia just as she’s losing her final castle to the forces of Slaanesh. She gets unexpected help from another group of Stormcast and together they drive off the Chaos forces. They celebrate by forging an alliance. Nagash speaks through Neferata but is rather vague on whether he accepts the request for an alliance or not.

In the end we go back to the All-Gate Gothizzar that connects Shyish to the All-Points. Stormcast patiently wait for back-up by Nagash but the Great Necromancer never shows up. In the end the Stormcast decide to go at it without help. They fail, die and the gate connecting Shyish to Archaon’s Citadel remains in the hands of Chaos.

As I don't have any Ironjawz in my collection (so far), I'll make do with some truly ancient Orc Arrer Boyz.

Ghur, the realm of Beasts
On Ghur we meet the Ironjawz for the first time. In the traditional Warhammer background Orcs never stop growing until they die. Age of Sigmar may rename them Orruks, but it keeps this and takes this up to eleven. Ironjawz recruit from regular Orruk tribes by taking the ‘Ardboyz (formerly Black Orcs) with them. These are the biggest and strongest Orruks in a regular warband and the ‘runt of the litter’ in an Ironjaw band. On Ghur is a place called Deffgorge, sort what you get when you fill the Grand Canyon with predators. Ironjawz are expected to travel the Deffgorge alone. If they come out, they have proven themselves. If they come out without new scars and wounds they are assumed to have cheated and have to run the Deffgorge again. If they don’t come out, they weren’t ‘ard enough to be Ironjawz. Shortly put, Ironjawz are big, bad and nasty.

The Stormcast manage to make a few deals with the Ironjawz. Among other things they get help in their hunt for Mannfred. He has fled from Shyish to Ghur and taken refuge on the Plains of Bones (a useful piece of geography for a necromancer). One of the impressive things we see on Ghur are Ancient Orruks the size of mountains, also a rancid bunch of reanimated Ogors (Ogres) in the service of Mannfred. Most of this takes place in the novels.

In the sourcebooks we learn about the Mawgate called Fangathrak. This is the All-Gate connecting Ghur to the All-Points. Being the realm of beasts, Ghur has a rather lively All-Gate. Fangathrak is described as “a burrowing worldworm of immense proportions held chained by six Crawlerforts.” Think of Shai Hulud from Dune chained in place by six Chaos Castles on legs. In the end the Stormcast assault the forts. The Ironjawz, led by Gordrakk, Fist of Gork, join the fight. Orruks being Orruks they attack everyone. In the end both the Chaos defenders and the Stormcast are pummeled into the dust. The Crawlerforts are demolished (we think, or perhaps looted (we hope)) and Fangathrak is free to roam Ghur again. It is no longer controlled by Chaos but it’s also not been sealed off. In theory Archaon can still send troops through, but he’ll never know where on Ghur they will pop-out exactly. Well done Orruks.

No word from Hysh and Ulgu yet, and no new Aelfs either.
Hysh, the realm of Light
Aside from the fact that Teclis and Tyrion are on the realm of light we learn next to nothing of Hysh. The final message in the All-Gates sourcebook is that it “was difficult to decipher whether the war had brought victory or defeat.” Maybe a release of new Aelfs/Elves will bring us more news.


Ulgu, the realm of Shadow
As with Hysh we also know next to nothing of Ulgu. It is inhabited by (at least) two former Dark Elves (who turned out to be mostly right all along in the End Times). Of the Penumbral Gate in Ulgu the fate “remained a mystery, for no word returned.” As with Hysh I think a release of new Aelfs might shed some light.


The end of the Realmgate Wars
At the end of the Realmgate Wars the score is three for Sigmar who controls/closed off: Azyr, Aqshy and Ghyran. Archaon sits at two controlling Chamon and Shyish and still occupying his citadel at the All-Points. The realm of Ghur is doing its own thing (Orruk Style) and the fates of Ulgu and Hysh are a mystery.

At the end of the Realmgate wars we get the news that the Nine Gaunt Summoners of Tzeentch meet and create the Whispervane. This is a magical construct that, among other things, offers entry to the Crystal Labyrinth of Tzeentch. The Whispervane manifests itself on the Realms as a Silver Tower. This concept was also featured in the excellent reimagining of Warhammer Quest: The Silver Tower.


In my next post I’ll be looking at the most current Age of Sigmar background. As opposed to previous games Games Workshop has turned the story into a living document that changes over the years. But we’ll get back to that later. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Age of Sigmar background primer or: How I learned to stop worrying about Stormcast and love the setting

Sometimes I miss the Old World. I played a lot of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventures there, read the novels (even the early ones) and fought a lot of battles over bits and pieces of it. When the end-times was announced I was slightly miffed (hands off my setting!). Having said that, the End Times was a fantastic send-off full of fascinating twists and amazing revelations. What a lot of people don’t realize, is that End Times is also a misnomer. The Age of Sigmar background continues what started in the Old World and adds to it.

Chaos warriors of Tzeentch emerge from a realmgate.
Talking to both fans of the old setting and the new, I’m often struck by how few people have read the new background. Most see the Stormcast (love them or hate them) and decide to play the game (or write long diatribes about its failure). As a story loving player, I’d like to correct that by offering this handy summary of the overall story. Where possible I’ll try to add pointers to the Old World. As this is going to be a looooong story I’ll spread it out over separate posts. Just to be sure, there are spoilers ahead (that happens with summaries). Let’s start with the overall Age of Sigmar background primer or: How I learned to stop worrying about Stormcast and love the setting.

End Times
In the End Times the Old World is swallowed by the enormous Chaos Gate that has been menacingly sitting on its pole. This is made possible (amongst other reasons) by Mannfred von Carstein betraying everyone. Before the world is sucked up, leaving only a glimmer of light and hope behind, a number of famous and not so famous characters jump ship. For instance the Slann all disappear before the end times. This is rather important as a number of famous faces (and races) return in the Age of Sigmar.

After the Old World is gone, new worlds form. The background is (intentionally) vague on this. It hints at a cycle of death and birth with Chaos triumphing and receding. In the end the eight realms form. These are based off the eight schools of magic in the Old World. The background is unclear on what these realms are, they could be planets, clusters of worlds, endless landscapes, etc. For me the easiest way to perceive them is to imagine more beneficent variants of the Realms of Chaos, but instead of a landscape dedicated to a dark god, you get one dedicated to a force of nature. The eight realms are: Azyr (Order), Aqshy (Fire), Shyish (Death), Ghyran (Life), Hysh (Light), Ghur (Beasts), Chamon (Metal) and Ulgu (Shadow). The background describes Azyr as the Realm of Heaven. As that heavens is way too vague for my taste, I think order works better. Being a cocky gamer I’ll stick to it. The Realm of Chaos is mentioned as a sort of ninth realm.

The eight mortal realms give you an excuse to make any kind of terrain to enhance your games.
The eight realms and their old-school gods
Each of the eight realms has its own godlike being in charge. Most of these are from the Old World background. It is hinted that all gods through the ages start as characters with a basic career and 100XP to pick one advancement. For the realms we meet the following characters from the old world:
  • Sigmar (and his friend Dracothian (a godbeast)) rule Azyr, the realm of Order.
  • Tyrion and Teclis rule Hysh (Light), Tyrion is blind but sees through Teclis’s eyes. Not much more is given on these two (so far).
  • Dark Elf Malerion finds his mom, Morathi, in Ulgu (Shadow). Morathi still enjoys a good bacchanal, both are flesh and blood and they have a bit of an argument about the old days. Not much more story is given here either.
  • Grugni rules Chamon (Metal). Being a classically minded Dwarf, Grugni teaches Sigmar some secrets of the forge. He has gone missing.
  • Grimnir wants to rule Aqshy (Fire) and picks a fight with a Godbeast (Vulcatrix, mother of Salamanders). They destroy each other. Grimnir is shattered into (what some dwarves believe) bits of Ur-Gold. More on Godbeasts and Ur-Gold in a later post.
  • GorkaMorka, worhshipped by Orcs, Goblins, Ogres and comparable creatures, roams in the realm of beasts Ghur. He likes to destroy things in Waaaghs.
  • Ghyran (Life) is ruled by Alarielle the Everqueen, formerly lady of the woods in good old Bretonnia.
  • Shyish is ruled by Nagash the great Necromancer of Old World fame. Being a realm with a lot of undead Mannfred von Carstein, Arkhan the Black and Queen Neferata also make comebacks here.
These eight gods form an alliance to keep chaos out. New civilizations, themed to the special attributes of their realms, spring up. Most of these are described as ‘the ruins off’ in the background as we only meet them after their destruction. In my first read through of the story this got a bit confusing as I was assuming the ruins to be of the Old World.

Realmgates
The other important bit are Realmgates. Travel between the realms is possible through these gates. There are many of them some tiny, some huge and a few with very special characteristics. By connecting through these gates trade is possible, people get to meet and other interesting effects are accomplished. For instance people living in Evergrowing Forest (Ghyran) could trade their abundance of food for magic rocks from their counterparts inhabiting Grinning Skull Valley in Shyish (and to think they have not hired me as a background-writer at GW!). Story-wise these realms are insanely cool. You can think up anything and do it. It fits somewhere and (through a realmgate) connects to everything else). Tales from the Floating Vagabond meets Warhammer Fantasy.

Speaking of the Floating Vagabond. Aside from the realms there is one other very important location: the All-Points. This is a junction between the realms. Each realm has one All-Gate Realmgate that connects to the All-Point. By travelling through an All-Gate Realmgate you can quickly and easily go to the All-Points and from there to every other realm.

The ruins build for Mordheim are easily re-purposed for use as ruins in the mortal realms. 
Age of Chaos
Being a game of war, all does not go well. Nagash accuses Sigmar of betrayal. Gorkamorka gets bored and starts The Great Waaagh! fighting indiscriminately over all realms. In the end Chaos seizes its chance and corrupts every civilization it can. Sigmar closes all Realmgates to Azyr, locking out everyone else. Chaos seizes the All-Gates and daemons pour out onto seven of the eight realms (Azyr was closed just in time). The Age of Chaos starts and lasts about three hundred years. After this the realms are smoking, corrupted landscapes, dotted by the ruins of lost civilizations.

This is where the background started off a bit too vague (in my opinion). In the first few books you get the sense that all is destroyed. I started wondering who’s making ‘new chaos warriors’ and what do they eat? I shouldn’t have worried (in part because you shouldn’t wonder so much, and just enjoy the show). But Greenskins, for instance, are still fighting on, humans live in odd hidden places and some small parts of civilizations have actually fought back and survived the Age of Chaos (more or less). An interesting detail is that the lords of the Chaos leading the warbands (like Khorgos Khul) are portrayed as victims of their own success. How do you ascend to daemonhood when there are no true foes left to conquer?

The Realmgate Wars
The Age of Sigmar (and the new background) starts with the opening salvo in a war to retake the seven realms from chaos (Azyr was never conquered). Sigmar unleashes his secret weapon. Stormcast Eternals; immortal warriors in armor based on a Grugni design. The intent: to conquer and close the great realmgates leading to the All-Points. Why close them? Because another Old World character: Archaon the Everchosen has turned the All-Points into his personal super-fortress. He uses the realmgates to make quick appearances in the other realms when needed. This makes his armies almost undefeatable. The first five hardcover background books cover the Realmgate Wars. You can read my summary on these wars here.

Was it your idea of are you being manipulated, with Tzeentch around you can never be sure.
Where is Slaanesh?
A few more details need to be covered in the general background. First a frequently repeated misconception. The Chaos god Slaanesh is not gone from the background. The god has been captured by Tyrion and Malerion working together (secretly being guided/duped by Tzeentch). Followers of Slaanesh make regular appearances in the Age of Sigmar background stories. The name Seekers of Slaanesh does make a bit more sense with the disappearance of the god. So far the impression that Slaanesh has been removed to make everything kid friendly does not pan out in the background that is being told.

Sneakier Skaven 
Within Chaos one of the interesting changes in Age of Sigmar is the addition of the Skaven as full followers of Chaos. While retaining their unlovable personalities, their powers have changed and in a way grown. Skaven not only burrow beneath civilizations, but can actually tunnel through reality. Their warrens form a sort of Realmgate system on its own. They can basically go anywhere they want. There are even references of Skaven spying on Sigmar in Azyr. Their god, the Great Horned Rat has been added to the Chaos pantheon. Being cringy, backstabbing cowards, their popularity amongst the other Chaos followers is still as low as ever.

Even ancient High-Elf miniatures still have their place in the Age of Sigmar (and their rules are free).
Dwarves, High-Elves and others
Most of the Old World races have been given new names in Age of Sigmar. Yes that is probably due to copyright. I have to admit I don’t care. As for the background most of the old races that fall under order have been able to hide out in Azyr. They are the descendants of the ones that were there when Azyr’s Realmgates closed. The story hints at interesting goings on, because for instance Dark Elves (Darkling Covens), Dwarves (Dispossesed) and Humans (Freeguilds) have been living rather uncomfortably close together for centuries. The background writers have just started exploring what this means after the Realmgate Wars. I’ll probably add a post on this later on.

Daemons of Order
The lizardmen are a special case. They are now called the Seraphon. Their masters, the Slann, have fled the old world to floating star fortresses. Slann look at the stars to scry the future. They take action to influence it to create order and stability. When it is needed they descend on a target and summon their minions, Seraphon (lizardmen), to fight. Basically the old lizardmen have morphed into lesser daemons of Order with the Slann in charge. Being godlike star-faring creatures with their own agenda (and concept of reality) makes them very interesting.

But what about those enormous orcs, flying dwarves and slayer look-alikes, etc?
Games Workshop produces Battle Tomes to introduce new factions to the Age of Sigmar background. So far not a single Battle Tome has re-introduced an existing faction. Battle Tomes do sometimes use existing kits to form the new faction. For instance the old Dryads and Treelords are now a separate new faction called Sylvaneth. Ghouls form the Flesheater Courts and Savage Orcs are now Bonesplitterz. The models are the same, parts of the concept can be the same, but the background is mostly new. In other cases completely new races are added with their own background. The huge orcs are called Ironjawz and exist as a separate subfaction of Orcs. The flying dwarves are Khardaron Overlords with their own story. The Dwarf Trollslayer-lookalikes are actually called Fyreslayers. They get a lot of mention in the Realmgate Wars so I’ll definitely be getting back to them. For the others I might make a separate post later on.

Next up: The Realmgate Wars.

So far the overview of the Age of Sigmar. Any questions? Request? Feel free to ask. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Skaven Stormfiends ready to join the fray

Wow I can't believe my first year blogging about this crazy hobby has come around. Time flies and all that. Perhaps I should've planned something interesting for the first anniversary...ah well next year (maybe). Today I finished my three Stormfiends, equiped for fire and close combat.

My team of Stormfiends is ready for battle. Finishing these three incidentally opens up the opportunity to start fielding the different Clan Skryre Battallions.

I should admit that I really did not like these models when they were first released. Come to think of it, that is a bit of a recurring thing that happened during the end times. New model came out, I did not like it and now it is painted in one of my display cabinets (looking at you Neferata and Blight Kings (trying not to look at you Nagash still in box)). I guess in part it was just the shock of seeing something bigger than a rat ogre appear and the guns in combination with GW's paint job made them look a bit more suited to the 40K universe. When you do start to think on it, they are a logical addition to any Skaven army. Clan Moulder can grow huge monsters (Hellpit Abominations) and Skryre allready had all the guns fitted to these in their arsenal (warpfire throwers, poisoned wind globes and rattling guns).

I had a lot of fun following along with this painting blood tutorial on Tale of Painters for the effect on the doomflayer gauntlets.
For my army I wanted the unit ready for close combat. The concept of a steel armored monstrosity with whirling blades and a pair of gigantic crushing mace-hands (doomflayer gauntlets) works for me. By the way on the back of each of these big monsters is a weird unprotected little brain-Saven that apparently controls it. I forgot to take a proper picture so here is a bad one.

These small Skaven seem to be in control of the larger ones in some way, although I do wonder how they can see what's going on.
I wanted my second Stormfiend to have another pair of doomflayer gauntlets but unfortunately the box only contains one pair of these. Also a bit of a pity you  get three Stormfiends, but each can only be constructed in one of two ways. So the first is either equiped with doomflayer gauntlets or shock gauntlets, the second has either warpfire projectors or windlaunchers and the third gives you a choice between ratling cannons or grinderfists. You also get no choice in heads and the dynamics poses up the difficulty for head swaps.

Making a second close combat Stormfiend from a single box requires a blatant unwillingness to follow instructions.
Being a bit of a rebellious sort I decided to glue the shock gauntlets to a different model. It actually worked quite easily and I think it looks ok. I had some real fun applying a glowing green warp-electricity paint job to this model. Again with a new technique for painting warpstone, this time I painted a Vallejo Heavy Green base. I wet-blended this it up to GW Moot Green. Then I took my airbrush and (over-)sprayed multiple thin layers of Vallejo Fluorescent Green over the areas. I finished of with a very thin dash of Vallejo Yellow Green on the tips of the gauntlets (and adding a few stripes to the warpstone shard).

Is there such a thing as too much warpfire? Please step closer to my projectors to find out. 

The last of the three models is equipped with warpfire projectors because there is no such thing as too little warpfire (assuming your the Skaven, I suspect opposing forces have different opinions). Luckily this time I actually remembered not to glue the armor panels to the Stormfiends (and to the warpfire projectors) making it easier to paint some proper metallics. I rather like the result although I should actually go ahead and rust the armor of the electric Stormfined and the fiery one (like the one with the crushing hands), but I don't want to. So I'll assume Crusher is a veteran and the other two are brand new store-bought.

Finishing off these three brings my total Skaven to paint to 10 Stormvermin, 1 Packmaster (Skweel Gnawtooth), 1 Rat Ogor and my second Doom-Flayer. I did have an interesting battle versus Dwarves on Saturday. After slowly rolling to the other side of the battlefield my finished Doom-Flayer quite nicely murdered a handful of grumbling Longbeards. That motivates to get the second one painted up too. You can, after all, never have too many nasty warmachines as a Skaven player.