Balancing Age of Sigmar: Narrative Battles

While the Matched Play rules for Age of Sigmar are now starting to make their way out into the wilds (and we will be giving those a good swing of the bat in the very near future), up to now we have been playing what is now Narrative Play, with nary a points value in sight – and we will continue to do so with the ‘storyline’ battles for the foreseeable future.

Some people have taken to this style of play like ducks to water, while others have been left scratching their heads and wondering how they can go about creating a ‘fair’ battle. So, I thought it might be interesting to go through the process of creating armies for a specific Battleplan.

Battletome: Sylvaneth has just landed on my desk, so one of the Battleplans in this book will do as well as any, though bear in mind that the principles detailed here will be applicable for any Battleplan.

The first Battleplan in the Sylvaneth book is The Sacred Glade, and that is the battle we shall work on.


First Principles

A Golden Rule first: when planning armies this way, you do not need to be precise.

Even if we were using points, there is a huge amount of latitude available in Age of Sigmar, as we shall see. The primary objective, and this is very important, is to give two players a fun time that will last 1-2 hours.

If this is achieved, who wins is completely immaterial.

Now, some of you may disagree (even if it is just a little bit!) with that last statement, and if that creates a queasy feeling, then using Matched Play rules may serve you better. However, I would try to convince you to try this type of Narrative Play a few times at least. After all, what have you got to lose? A couple of games where you might actually enjoy yourself? And what have you got to gain? Potentially a new style of play that can sit alongside your Matched Play (not replacing it – I should stress that).

One final caveat: This approach needs to be embraced by both players. If one is set on competitive play, you may well run into issues with the enjoyment of one or both being diminished.


The Battleplan

The first thing we do is take a look at the Battleplan itself. Does it favour one side or the other (Battleplans often do – The Ritual is a great example of that and, it should be noted, is often listed as a favourite among players regardless)?

The Sacred Grove requires a bunch of Sylvaneth to stomp across the table and awaken four soulpod groves. This is relatively easy to accomplish if two or three Sylvaneth units approach a grove, not so easy if they approach piecemeal.

The battle lasts for only five rounds and the Sylvaneth have to cross some distance (on a standard table, 24″ to reach the first groves, a little more than 36″ for the rest). Not a massive distance, but they will be fighting Rotbringers in this battle (as we shall see in a moment) and Rotbringers in a defensive position can be an absolute sod to get past.

The Sylvaneth have access to some extra rules, which includes returning slain Dryads to units (this is a really minor bonus, and can probably be discounted in terms of ‘balancing’), and they can also potentially bring back whole units if their forces start to get seriously reduced.

There are two other points to consider with this Battleplan, and these are biggies. First off, the Rotbringers start spread out (no unit within 10″ of another). This can be easily countered by choosing fast units (such as Chaos Knights), so we will deliberately avoid doing that – Battleplan rules like that should rarely be circumvented, as they will lead to a more interesting (and fun!) battle.

On the Sylvaneth side, they start with just three units – a painfully low amount. True, they can bring on more during the battle (only a 50% chance of a unit appearing in the first turn, mind), but this is the definition of piecemeal.

Overall, while the Sylvaneth have some benefits, this will likely be an uphill struggle for them, so we would expect their total force to be larger than that of the Rotbringers and can be quite generous on the size of their starting units.


Time of War

Not every battle needs a Time of War sheet in use – but I would usually recommend it, as they always add new dimensions to games of Age of Sigmar, and are one source of why so much happens in an average battle.

Fighting Nurgle in the Realm of Life, we could consider using the Rotwater Blight sheet from the earlier Realmgate Wars books (though note that Time of War sheet seriously boosts Nurgle forces!), but Battletome: Sylvaneth adds the Places of Power sheet and battle seems perfect for it. It mostly supports the Sylvaneth through the Awakening rule (the Sacred Glade will slowly come to life as the battle goes on) but it adds a dimension to the Chaos force to slow that happening – this will create another layer to the battle, so we should remember to include a Nurgle Sorcerer on the Rotbringers force.


The Sylvaneth

We could start with either force, but I have less Sylvaneth in my collection that Nurgle models, so if we start with the tree people we can be sure that whatever they bring to the battle, the Rotbringers can match.

To begin with, we go through the narrative that led up to the Battleplan, the fictionalised account of what happened. As we read through the text, we make a note of specific units whenever they are mentioned (it saves time to do the Rotbringers as well, but we will cover what we find there in the next section).

The force is led by a Treelord Ancient called Haaldhorm, so we start with one of those as the general, and Dryads are mentioned. There is a mention of huge arrows hitting the Chaos force that can only come from Kurnoth Hunters, plus Tree-Revenants, a Branchwraith and two more Treelords, one of which is an Ancient.

So, that gives us:

Two Treelord Ancients
A Treelord
A Branchwraith
Kurnoth Hunters
A bunch of Dryads
A few Tree-Revenants

Now we turn to the collection of Sylvaneth models I already have, and what I plan to put together from the new releases (basically, what am I prepared to paint to fight this battle).

I have three Treelords, but only one of them is an Ancient. So, the first thing I am going to do is ignore the presence of that other Ancient and make it a ‘normal’ Treelord (I don’t think the GW Police will bust down my door for that). We can say one of the Treelords is very old, but has not quite reached true Ancient status yet.

I have a Branchwraith, so that goes in, and I have 30-odd Dryads. Two units of 16 would seem like a good start for this battle.

That just leaves the newly released units. I don’t want to paint up entire legions before we get round to playing this battle, so we are looking at fairly minimum units – a single unit of three Kurnoth Hunters armed with bows will be fairly ‘representative’ and the Tree-Revenants seem fairly easy to paint at first glance, so lets go for ten, either in one unit or two, as the mood takes us on the day of the battle.

So, that gives us a final battle list of:

Treelord Ancient
Treelords x 2
Tree-Revenants x 10
Dryads x 32 (two units of 16)

I am guessing that the starting forces (we can only deploy three at the start, remember) would be the Treelord Ancient, a unit of Dryads and the Kurnoth Hunters. A nice mix that will start annoying the Rotbringers early in the fight.

One final job, that will allow us to spot check the balance between the two forces – we are not looking for precision here, of course, but if one side ends up ten times stronger than the other then it is unlikely to work for this Battleplan (though it may be perfect for others!).

We will count up the total number of Wounds in this force – this will give us a ballpark figure to aim for with the Rotbringers, which we will come to next. The little force above comes to 96 Wounds.

However, while we have ascertained that the Battleplan is hard going for the Sylvaneth, the Rotbringers force will be slower to move and thus less able to react to their enemies, and (this is a big one) the Sylvaneth have three Monsters on their side, and I have already decided the Rotbringers will have none (no mention of any monsters in the narrative). Monsters are worth a fair bit more than most troops in terms of Wounds (Heroes too, but we don’t have too many of those in this battle, so they can be safely ignored for this) so, despite the Sylvaneth having the rough end of the stick in the Battleplan (it is hard but not completely awful by any means), I would expect the Rotbringers to have between 10-25% more Wounds in their force than the Sylvaneth.

That becomes our target as we start to build the Rotbringers.


The Rotbringers

We go through the same process now with the Nurgle force. Reading through the narrative text we can see they are led by a Lord of Plagues, and it mentions Plague Monks and Censer Bearers – we can jot those two down and worry about how many to include in a minute.

Lots of references to the Rotbringers themselves are mentioned but, crucially, nowhere does it say what those units actually are!

Now, in the main, Rotbringers means a combination of Blightkings and Chaos Warriors, which suits my collection well. However, it could suggest other units as well, so you can style the force to fit in with your own models – Chaos Knights with the Nurgle keyword would be an option, though we have ruled them out because of the nature of the Battleplan. It could also mean Chosen (I am going to avoid this unit as I want to keep them relatively ‘special’) or Marauders (I haven’t painted any of those up yet, and have no intention of doing so for this particular battle). In fact, it could mean almost anything from the Slaves to Darkness faction with an added Nurgle keyword, and nor would Beastmen go amiss.

However, we have a fairly small Sylvaneth force and I want to keep this battle relatively low key (otherwise I am going to end up painting loads of new models for both sides, and I don’t fancy that!). It is also suggested that the Skaven are allies to the main Rotbringer force, so we want to lean more towards the the latter.

Because of this, I arbitrarily decide on a single unit of Censer Bearers (I have just five, so they are all in) and one unit of 20 Plague Monks. We need someone to lead them too, and a Plague Priest fits the bill nicely.

We have also already decided that the Rotbringers should have a Wizard, so we add a Chaos Sorcerer of Nurgle in as well.

This gives us a total Wound count so far of 38 – we can now pad the rest out with Chaos Warriors and Blightkings.

I originally went for 24 Chaos Warriors (two units of 12) and five Blightkings, but this brought the total up to 102 Wounds, a smidgen lower than we were aiming for. I was initially going to adds more Chaos Warriors, but instead went for another unit of Blightkings – they are very iconic of the Rotbringers and, frankly, a lot more fun to play!

This gives us a final force of:

Lord of Plagues
Chaos Sorcerer of Nurgle
Putrid Blightkings x 10 (two units of 5)
Chaos Warriors x 24 (two units of 12)
Plague Priest
Plague Monks x 20
Plague Censer Bearers

For a total of 96 Wound on the Sylvaneth side vs. 117 for the Rotbringers – right on the ball for what we were looking for!

Now, using Wounds in this way to balance armies against one another may be fairly horrifying to some – however, remember that we were a) not looking for precision and b) if both armies are fairly representative (and this gets easier the larger they get) then Wounds will be fairly accurate to within 10% or so, a small enough variation that it will make little to no difference to games. By representative, I mean similar (but no need to be exact!) numbers of Heroes, Monsters, elite vs. common troops, Wizards, and so on.


The Final Goal

What I am saying is… don’t sweat it. Don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to construct forces that are perfectly matched (that balance will be stuffed by the first few dice rolls anyway). If you take into account the relative difficulty of the Battleplan, plus keep an eye on the actual units being used (such as one side having Monsters and the other not, as in this example), then you just need to get both forces in the same ballpark – and Wounds are a perfectly good mechanism for doing that.

Do that, and take the First Principles above to heart, and you will find the battle works just fine and it will be fun.

Which is the whole point.


Another Way to Check Balance

With the arrival of the General’s Handbook we do, of course, have another mechanism to balance forces – points!

You can use the points system to help eyeball armies. You can even use both Wounds and points to check one way or the other. However, a note of warning…

Two forces at the same points value does in no way guarantee a balanced match, even if the Battleplan itself is ‘level’ and ‘fair’. Which many are not.

Remember, the points system is designed to be used with the Matched Play Battleplans, not the narrative ones. It can still be a useful tool though.

So, counting up the two forces we have designed above, we get the following:

Sylvaneth: 1660 points
Rotbringers: 1380 points

The Sylvaneth have the lead here. However, I would be reluctant to panic too much about that – remember the downsides they have in terms of deployment and the goals they must achieve (which are not, of course, reflected in terms of points). There might be a strong temptation at this point to add in, say, another unit of Chaos Warriors or perhaps give the Sorcerer a small summoning ‘pool’ of Plaguebearers and Nurglings.

However, the Rotbringers are already fairly numerous by this point. I think I would let the forces stand as they are, though if you have some Nurgle Daemons you are dying to use – add them by all means!



I have explained all this in a really long-winded fashion and went into more detail than I normally might for most battles. In practice, this kind of balancing takes maybe three or four minutes. You can rattle through it while your opponent sets up the table and be finished by the time he is done.

Looking at these two forces and the Battleplan, I honestly have no idea who will win – and that, of course, is why we play. However, I am fairly certain that, with an agreeable opponent, it will be a fun game.

And I will be proving that just as soon as I get some more Sylvaneth painted up – watch out for the battle report!

Oh, and one final word… This is just one way to create forces for Age of Sigmar, one that I use. There are lots of different approaches to this game, and you will refine your own just by fighting more battles. Use this method, or create your own – just make sure both you and your opponent have had fun by the end of it. That really is the only requirement.


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