Today sees the release of Battletome: Skaven Pestilens, the latest book for the Age of Sigmar. Having purloined a copy yesterday, I think I can now answer that eternal question – is it any good?
It is another hardback release, so it looks like we will only see softbacks for the Grand Alliance books (maybe supporting the idea that the Battletomes are to stay, while the Grand Alliance books are intended to be replaced every so often to keep up with the miniatures range?). At 88 pages, it is on the smaller side of Battletomes but it is covering just a single Skaven clan and, at £20, you pays your money and makes your choices.
Ultimately, if you are a hard rules buff, you will have just about everything you need for Pestilens in the Grand Alliance book, so this review will be done from the point of view of the fluff fanatic, those who are getting into the background behind the Age of Sigmar and its ongoing storyline.
There is the odd bit of artwork on this book that has been repeated elsewhere, such as the spread that explains gnawholes, but it is just the odd piece here and there, and won’t be enough to irritate – mostly because the original artwork that is present, such as the piece shown above, is really quite fantastic. A Verminlord Corruptor leading its scurrying minions against the Fyreslayers? Brilliant stuff.
The background section begins with a look at how the Great Horned Rat was able to accumulate so much power in the World-That-Was that the Chaos Gods were more or less forced to allow him into their pantheon (albeit begrudgingly, and they do not exactly show a great deal of respect). The aforementioned gnawholes spread comes next, though it has to be said that the text has been changed to make it Pestilens-centric.
Some deeper aspects of the Pestilens are also touched upon – their quest to recover the Thirteen Great Plagues, how they have already found seven of them, and what they believe will happen to the Great Horned Rat and the Skaven when the last has been found (it is not good news if you are not Pestilens!). There is also a look at the relationships the Pestilens have with both the Great Horned Rat and Nurgle.
Overall, there is a very good feeling of depth in this book, making the Skaven of the Clans Pestilens a living, breathing force that does not just have a place in the Mortal Realms, but are helping to actually define it.
The organisation of the congregations that make up the Clans Pestilens is detailed, along with some nice artwork covering the Virulent Procession of the Foul Scourging and the Church of the Green Bile, two congregations within Clan Morbidus. I believe these section has been presented not so players will copy the characters and paint schemes (in the way you might with, say, a chapter of Space Marines) but rather that it acts as a jump off point for your own collection of rats and their stories on the tabletop. Frankly, I think you could have an immense amount of fun just coming up with titles for your Plague Priests – Most Mighty Deacon of Rancidity, perhaps, or the Priest-Sire of the Squealing Pits.
Four pages are given over to suggested paint schemes, and I think these are a big improvement on those that have appeared in past Battletomes, both in variety and quality of art (the colours are a lot less blocky), and they serve to demonstrate that Pestilens rats need not wear green!
A variety of banners are also displayed, though I fear most will be beyond my painting talent so I’ll be waiting for transfers…
There is at least a page given over to every unit within the Clans Pestilens, from the Verminlord Corruptor to the humblest Plague Monk. There are some interesting bits and pieces strewn throughout this section; Verminlord Corruptors often take up arms against other types of Verminlord, especially Warpseers; Plague Censer Bearers are usually mad, but some monks are forced into the procession, being beaten senseless and coming to to find the censer chained to them; the crew of Plagueclaw Catapults become so saturated with filth that one day they will become one with the Great Corruptor (or so the rats believe…).
Incidentally, take a look at that picture of the Plagueclaw. It really does not look like the current kit. Can’t believe GW will change the kit anytime soon, but still…
The hobby section follows, and it is the standard high-class fare you would expect from GW here. It is nice to see that not all the models have been drawn from the same force, so expect to see Plague Monks garbed in green, yellow and purple. You should get plenty of ideas for your own rats here.
Next up is the Quest for the Great Plagues chapter, which introduces Clans Pestilens-specific Battleplans. These are rapidly becoming my favourite part of the Battletomes, due in no small part to the way they slot into our own ongoing Realmgate Wars campaign. There are only two in this book, whereas the other army Battletomes have had three, which is a bit of a shame.
The first Battleplan, On Tainted Ground, starts in typical Skaven fashion. It is supposed to be a joint Pestilens-Rotbringer assault on a Sylvaneth glade, but the Plague Priest turns on his Nurgle allies before the battle starts. He then launches the attack against a combined Sylvaneth and Stormcast force.
There is a note in his Battleplan that the Pestilens player should have at least twice as many units as his opponent – with Plague Monks going up against Stormcasts and Treelords, yeah, that sounds about right!
The twist in this Battleplan is that the Pestilens player can slowly corrupt the entire battlefield, which will cause some serious problems for the guardians, and it becomes a tactical choice between hitting hard and fast, or moving more slowly but getting the battlefield to work for you. Looks nicely done, and we will be playing this Battleplan very soon.
The next Battleplan is At Search’s End, and pits the Pestilens against the Seraphon. A Verminlord is after a Serpentstone, a vital ingredient for one of the known Great Plagues, and he means to possess it – unfortunately for the Pestilens, that is not Seraphon policy.
The first twist in this Battleplan is that Verminlord get a new spell – a very, very nasty spell that could end up spreading infectious diseases to every unit on the battlefield, friend or foe! So, Pestilens players will have fun with that…
To counter that, the Verminlord is central to the Pestilens’ plams and if he dies, much of their army may immediately disappear as they run away! Other than that, the Skaven will be scurrying around the battlefield looking for the Serpentstone while avoiding the attentions of the Seraphon. It may be a little while before we get round to playing this one, as it does seem it would work better with rather more Pestilens than I currently possess – still, it gets added to the list of ‘Games to Play!’
Finally, the Warscrolls. In terms of units, there is nothing here you will not have seen (and downloaded for free!) anyway. Scanning the Warscrolls themselves, nothing strikes me as having been changed, and all the usual suspects of the Pestilens are here – the Verminlord Corruptor, Plague Furnace, two flavours of Plague Priest, Plague Monks, Censer Bearers, and the Plagueclaw.
There are four Warscroll Battalions and I think I am right in saying that they are all new.
Congregation of Filth: 1 Plague Furnace and 2 (or more) units of Plague Monks gives you a re-roll on charges and a save against all wounds. Given the models it requires, I think this one will get used a lot.
Foulrain Congregation: 1 Plague Priest and 3 Plagueclaws gives you re-rolled hit rolls and +1 to wounds. Very, very nasty, but you will need three catapults.
Plaguesmog Congregation: 1 Plague Furnace and 2 (or more) units of Censer Bearers gives your opponent a penalty when shooting at you, and dishes out mortal wounds if they get too close.
Virulent Procession: 1 Verminlord and 2 (or more) Congregations of Filth gives the Verminlord the ability to deal mortal wounds while healing himself, and deal yet more mortal wounds as rabid rats bundle out of nearby terrain. If you have enough Plague Monks (and two furnaces!) this will be well worth a look.
The book ends with, of course, the four page rules set, always welcome (though I am not sure when I last even glanced at the rules while playing Age of Sigmar!).
I would call this Battletome short and sweet. In truth, I like it a lot. You always want more of a good thing, of course, but for £20, I think it hits just the right note. Most of the Battalions seem useable (some in the other Battletomes require a rather frightening amount of specific models, but these are all eminently doable), the two Battleplans have a good spark of originality and while there are no Great Secrets revealed in the background, you are going to be left with plenty of ideas about what your Plague Monks are doing and why.
If you have any interest int he background behind Age of Sigmar, I would certainly recommend this Battletome.
Incidentally, if the Clans Pestilens are your thing, I would seriously recommend reading the Pestilens novel that has also just been released. It not only gives a fantastic insight into the way the Pestilens rats work (?) together, but also takes a good look at the Seraphon – if you thought the Seraphon were merely weird dream-lizards with little substance, read this book. It nails them beautifully.