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.

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. 


  1. A very interesting explanation of the new age of sigmar. The last games I played was with the 8ª edition, I didn´t play any of the End of times games. Now I ´m more focus on Frostgrave and painting a lot of scenery, finishing my Dreadfleet game, and some W40k scenery and Tau forces. I don´t think i´m going to jump into age of sigmar in a near future, but eventually I´ll do some day starting with the skirmish rules.

    1. Too many projects, sounds familiar :) The Skirmish rules look quite nice although I do have to find the time to get a game in. Will be hard with 8th edition 40K coming up.

  2. Great read! I was a bit confused by the new storyline myself but you've done a great job of summarizing it with clarity!