Recently I have done a fair few posts on the models released for Age of Sigmar, along with some of the games we have been playing. However, Age of Sigmar is a little more than just a new game – it is a whole new setting, a brand new universe being created from (almost) scratch. While the rulebooks and White Dwarf have been taking the strain for much of this since the game’s release, the Black Library has been releasing a veritable salvo of novellas and ‘shorts’ to shine more light on the Realms being fought over – and, to my mind, to give inspiration for the types of scenarios you can create yourself or which forces to include when playing the scenarios in the rulebooks.
So, I thought it might be an idea to do a quick review of the stories that have been released thus far. I should note that these were all read on a Kindle, and that spoilers are kept to an absolute minimum.
The Gates of Azyr was the first to appear, and it serves as a quick introduction to Age of Sigmar. It concentrates on the events depicted in the starter set, where the Hammers of Sigmar, led by Vandus Hammerhand, launch the beginning of Sigmar’s new crusade. Each of the scenarios in the starter set is drawn from this book, from Vandus tackling a Khorgorath early on, to the Prosecutors battling past Bloodreavers to open the Realmgate, thus allowing the rest of the Stormcast Eternals to enter the battle.
That is the story in a nutshell – if you have the starter set and have read the scenarios, you already know what happens. In fact, if you have the starter set, you have already read part of this story, as excerpts from it are scattered about the primer rulebook.
However, the point, I think, of this story is to breath life into the Stormcasts (and their enemies, for that matter), to see how they fight and live , getting into the actual ‘mechanics’ of the setting. For example, the starter set tells us that that the Stormcasts can be ‘hurled’ onto the battlefield by the power of Sigmar. In this story, you see how this actually happens (big bolt of lightning, dome of energy, Stormcast appears). You also see what happens to a Stormcast when they ‘die’ on the battlefield. It is this kind of detail where game fiction can shine and it lends a fuller perspective to your games as you play.
It also explores the idea of Stormcasts being drawn from past lives, and what this means for the individual characters. And I will be coming back to this soon…
The Gates of Azyr is not a complicated tale, and it is not really intended to be. As an introduction to the new setting it is perfectly competent, and it succeeds in what I presume was its main function, breathing life into the recently released models and giving them a new depth. If you want to know more about your new Stormcasts, you cannot really go wrong.
While some ‘shorts’ were released between The Gates of Azyr and War Storm, this was the next release that was ‘substantial’ (a relative term, a full novel has yet to appear). It is split into three sections, each showing the events of a different campaign, this time linking to the hardback rulebook. The first, Borne by the Storm, is by Nick Kyme, and it is more or less a direct sequel to Gates of Azyr. In fact, as Gates reflects the scenarios in the starter set, this one goes through the scenarios in the hardback rulebook and, again, is quoted throughout.
So, by this token, if you have read the hardback, you already know what happens. However, this story does have good value by suggesting the types of units you might want to use in those scenarios (as they are all free form with regards to armies) and, on this note, I was quite gratified to see my decision to paint up Bloodletters was well justified! It also introduces a new Lord-Celestant who is playing second fiddle to our old friend Vandus, and begins to explore some of the rivalries and friendships the Stormcasts have among themselves. Like Gates, this is a very competent story that does what it says on the tin.
Storm of Blades by Guy Haley is the next story in this collection, and it begins with a Stormcast Flashback. Imagine my joy. However, the pace picks up quickly and, like Borne by the Storm, it does a good job of exploring the different unit types that appeared after the starter set, such as the various Paladins, Lord-Castellant, and so forth (gryph-hounds appear too!).
Set in Chamon, the Realm of Metal, this story entangles the Stormcasts with a powerful sorcerer of Tzeentch who is the personal plaything of Kairos Fateweaver. So, that Lord of Change is still knocking about. It also involves an attack on a Chaos fortress (nicely timed with the release of the model next week), and a lovely trap for the Stormcasts – and, I won’t spoil it, but the fortress contains a secret that, if you don’t know it is coming, will get you re-reading the passage that reveals it!
The final story in War Storm is The Gates of Dawn by Josh Reynolds – and, I have to say, this was probably my favourite of the lot. This one is set in the Realm of Life and features the Hallowed Knights (the Stormcasts I am painting up, though that was not what swayed my favour on this story) battling against the forces of Nurgle as they seek to form an alliance with Alarielle who is lurking about her forests.
Now, there is a big fight involved here (and Alarielle has yet to show up, though Sylvaneth Treelords and Dryads appear), and I found myself thinking it would be good for a fairly-sized battle – a bunch of Stormcast heroes, a Great Unclean One, waves of Plaguebearers coming out of a corrupted Realmgate… What is not to like? It was when the eight Great Unclean One appears, quickly joined by a horde of Pestilens Skaven led by a Verminlord that I began to thi nk that maybe I would not collect all the miniatures needed for this one just yet!
Overall, I think War Storm is the strongest showing yet for Age of Sigmar fiction, and would recommend it to anyone looking to dive into the setting. These stories have plenty of action, start to explore the idea of Stormcasts losing their identity as they get reforged, and give you a good view on how things actually work in the setting. And Gates of Dawn really is quite a good read.
Oh, and as a final note, I am finding these stories (and War Storm in particular) to be very good in suggesting what unit types from the old Fantasy are still alive and kicking – not in a ‘this can easily be squeezed in’ kind of way, but which ones have a solid foundation in the new setting. I know some who read these books could not care less about that (!), but I am reading these stories to form a link to my gaming, so it is of value to me.
There are two ‘series’ of shorts being released at the moment, presumably building up to novella or even novel size tales. The first of these to appear was The Black Rift of Klaxus series, with the first story entitled Assault on Mandrake Bastion.
This story is set a little after the events of Gates and War Storm, and follows the exploits of a different Warrior Chamber, though it is still set in Aqshy (the Realm of Fire). The Stormcasts have been successful in their beachhead and are now bringing the forces of Khorne to battle – in this case, it is a different force from those led by Khul in the first stories, holed up in the aforementioned Mandrake Bastion.
There was an issue with the file for this story, in that it was well over 50Mb in size (a result of a rogue bloated image, I am guessing), which meant it was too large to send to my Kindle. This delayed my reading of it by a little while, so I did not come to it straight after Gates of Azyr, which was when it was released (as I recall). That said, a quick call to the Black Library had the file revised to something far more manageable within an hour (nice chaps on the phone!).
Now, my timing in reading this may be a factor, but there was something I noticed about the Stormcasts – the major characters tend to have their backgrounds described in terms of who they used to be before Sigmar plucked them out of trouble. All well and good, but… by the time I got round to reading this story, I was getting a little tired of the flashbacks involved in doing this. There comes a point where you start to think ‘I just don’t care! Go back to hitting the Chaos guys in the face with your hammer!’
Your mileage may vary on this, of course, and I can see that there could be some interesting ‘reveals’ done in this way. I should also point out that the flashbacks/backgrounds in Mandrake Bastion are no worse than any others that have also appeared in print. I would just hate to go through a flashback every time a Stormcast Eternal is introduced in future books. But that is just me.
Something else that popped up – there is a scene where it is very clear that the Khorne boys have access to magic. I don’t recall any previous Warhammer Fantasy novels dealing with this idea (I certainly have not read them all), but Khorne has always been portrayed as very anti-magic. However, the magic described in this story is very much behind-the-scenes, back-at-base sorcery, not used in battle. And I am kinda okay with that.
The battles in this story are large, though certainly not the largest that have appeared in Age of Sigmar fiction thus far, and it does seem to suggest that the setting is not all about skirmish-level fights.
The second part of the Black Rift of Klaxus series has just been released (In the Walls of Uryx), but I have not had a chance to read it yet – it really has only just been released!
The second series of shorts is called Call of Archaon, and this seems to be more a collection of short stories, with the focus (at least with the first two releases) bouncing across different characters and different realms.
This series seems to be concentrating on the forces of Chaos, being told from their point of view – and in this, it goes a long way to making the bad guys more than just your average bad guy.
Beneath the Black Thumb is set in the Realm of Life and portrays a Nurgle warband who has been joined by a Plague Priest of Clan Rikkit (it actually says here that Pestilens is no more, which is… interesting…).
Overall, this one was probably my least favourite of the current Age of Sigmar line up. It is not bad, by any means, but it seems to lack the ‘X factor’ that has popped up in some of the others. The Skaven, for example, lack that light touch of comedy that often accompanied them in the Old World, and the Plague Priest seems to have a ‘racial memory’ that allows him to identify Lizardmen (Seraphon) units across a time period of thousands of years. It also has to be said that the Lizardmen do not seem to have been developed much beyond their Warhammer Fantasy roles – I find myself hoping that will change as if they are going to be the ‘good daemons’ (for want of a better term), I would like to see something more than Aztec dinosaurs – but that is beyond the scope of this story.
That said, it is a decent enough introduction to Nurgle forces in general and Skaven in particular in this part of the Stormcast campaigns.
This short is the second in the Call of Archaon series, and follows the endeavours of Zuvius, a champion of Tzeentch who is working to gain the notice of the Everchosen (who, like several other characters, seems to be still alive and kicking after the events of the End Times – he has not appeared yet in the background material, so we do not yet know if he has survived unchanged). Again, told from the point of view of Chaos, it shows how followers of different Chaos gods work alongside one another, in this case Tzeentch and Khorne. Sort of. There might be some bloodshed involved…
I liked the way that the action ‘popped’ in this book – there is fighting, plenty of it, but it never gets old or tired, and there is always a purpose to the slaughter. Not always the purpose that those fighting expect, but I won’t spoil that for you.
I would give Eye of the Storm a good recommendation. You certainly can’t argue it over the cost, and it begins to bring a cohesive feel to the Call of Archaon series that suggests that this is not a side show by any means, despite being told in ‘shorts’, and that it will form a fundamental underpinning to the Age of Sigmar background. And you probably won’t want to miss that.